Winners all round?

Progress has been rather slow partly due to laziness (my house has been rewatching Law and Order SVU episodes, turns out I did actually spend enough time writing my thesis to have missed some of them) and partly because I cannot work out how I am going to work out what is going on in current Victorian and Australian policy. The experience of my research the past few days has been dominated by the fact that I have had some mild migraine headaches which result in pain and nausea along with slightly distorted vision. The thoughts in my brain have to waft through to get noticed.

Headaches are annoying but they can be semi useful, as my attention splits off in ways I do not usually allow. I have found myself questioning whether community is a ‘thing’, and what significance different ontological interpretations of community might have. However, wafting off into the realms of post-modern and anti-post-modern research on communities/ networks/ places is probably not going to help me justify my project to the ethics committee.

So, returning to the question of whether or not what is going on is Third Way &/or neoliberal, I will present a bunch of reports you can download online.

Clearly there are those that argue that the aspect of current policies that seek to enlarge the third sector are really part and parcel of neoliberalism.

For example,

This paper argues that western governments such as those in the UK, US, Canada and Australia have utilised the third sector as a means of quelling potential political opposition by rendering these community organisations dependent on funding tied to performance and outcome measures set by government; silencing these organisations from criticising government and restructuring the sector through amalgamation and closures. Together these tactics are having the effect of institutionalising the neoliberal agenda while quashing political opposition.” (Bassett and Gramberg 2005)

There are also those that suggest otherwise. For example,

In the United Kingdom and the European Union, social policy is losing its economic rationalist spots at an increasingly rapid pace.This paper introduces the concept of the ‘social investment state’, which many are finding apt to describe this transformation of social policy.” (Perkins, Smyth and Nelms 2004).

The lamentation in this report (based on my brief look at the thing and Smyth’s other work) is that this shift (up to 2004) had not happened sufficiently within Australia.

The arguments back and forward about the ideological motivations for and the economic results of devolving power to the third sector can, and do, go on and on and on. I guess eventually I am going to have to map out who is saying what from where but, in the short term, perhaps looking at what processes and outcomes are sought and/or reported on can be something of a shortcut.

The obsession with measuring things may as well be useful. Of course it does not take long to find that, for the Australian Government’s Social Inclusion Unit, …

The Board has prepared a compendium of headline indicators of social inclusion as one means of consulting and providing input on the particular question of how to measure disadvantage and social exclusion.”

While I would need to re-read the Social Inclusion Unit’s work, I do not think that these measures are seen as being a potential replacement for more dominant economic measures. At least it is not as explicit as Stiglitz, Sen and Fitoussi’s 2009 Report by the commission on the measurement of economic performance and social progress commissioned by Nicholas Sarkozy.

In part there is an indication that people are saying economics is not enough, but there seems to be a stronger movement claiming that social inclusion does have a positive economic impact. The 2010 A Fairer Victoria and Helen Mitchell’s discussion paper for the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission both cite data from Wilkinson and Pickett’s book, The Spirit Level. It is very attractive for governments. Why not can claim the ‘rights moral high ground’ and claim responsible economic decision making within a neoliberal framework?

While I am all for social inclusion and I think suffering matters in some way for everybody in the society, I wonder what this research means. Is this a true win-win-situation? Is it not a matter of people modifying economic objectives, but rather a case of better data collection so economic objectives can be met in an even more efficient way? I am not saying that this research looking at the economic upside for equality is motivated by greed or even that it is bad, I am just wondering what looking for a win-win means we will need to ignore. Surely nobody would seriously argue that all social policies need to be justified by economic ends, would they?

I have been partly following through with my supervisor’s suggestion that I need to be really engaging with ‘A stronger, fairer Australia’ and ‘A fairer Victoria’ but I am finding that they are so full of ambiguous language and glossy photos of diversity that make me laugh that I could interpret them very unkindly.

This has been a slow and disjointed post, and it is budget night tonight. Budget night tonight. After high school I started avoiding reading any post-budget write ups until the weekend as the sale pitches annoy me. I suppose this year I should be paying attention to what it is that the government sees as having vote winning potential. After all, our system of democracy is about political parties promoting what they think voters think are good ideas. I will finish with a quote I came along in my web ramblings today.

Sooner or later, it is ideas, not vested interests, which are dangerous for good or evil.” – John M Keynes


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