Archive for July, 2010

How to manipulate Europeans

July 27, 2010

Much how you’d expect, according to this CIA memo from March 2010: a ‘consistent and iterative strategic communication program’ that ‘taps into the key concerns of specific Western European audiences’ concerning Afghanistan.

What are these key levers of mass opinion? The ‘plight’ of Afghan women and refugees, the appeal of President Obama, fear of drugs and terrorism.

According to this document, the ‘Afghanistan mission’s low public salience has allowed French and German leaders to disregard popular opposition and steadily increase their troop contributions.’

For now, thank heavens, ‘public apathy enables leaders to ignore voters’. But recent events in the Netherlands have prompted Washington’s concern that ‘politicians elsewhere might cite a precedent for “listening to the voters”.’

So, to give these ‘politicians greater scope to support deployments’, the document recommends ‘tailoring messages’ that allow European constituencies to be ‘prepared to tolerate a spring and summer of greater military and civilian casualties’ without complaint.

What specifically would this involve?

  • ‘Leverage French (and other European) guilt for abandoning’ women and refugees.
  • Promote ‘a president seen as broadly in sync with European concerns’ and exploit popular ‘sensitivity to disappointing’ him.
  • ‘Outreach initiatives that create media opportunities for Afghan women to share their stories’.
  • ‘Media events that feature testimonials by Afghan women [which] would probably be most effective if broadcast on programs that have large and disproportionately female audiences.’

This strategy isn’t just notable for its vertical, anti-democratic aspect, i.e. the pursuit of elite objectives through secret, targeted manipulation of public opinion. (On that matter, though, we should note how ‘tailored messages’ are aimed at touchstones of progressive sensibility: Washington counts on the services of left-liberal, ‘radical’ and especially feminist circles).

Also relevant is the horizontal, intra-elite manipulation.

US state managers aim to prevent leaders of (potential) rival states from formulating or attaining distinct strategic goals (e.g. European military operations outside NATO). Instead, so it’s hoped, these states will be bound to a common imperial project under US tutelage.

Washington aims to achieve the latter by controlling the mass, public-opinion base of these rival polities.

A population is thus wielded as a tool against its own domestic elite by another (i.e. external) set of state leaders from another territorial jurisdiction.

Questions for Australian readers:

  • What are the specific ‘key concerns’ (i.e symbolic weakpoints) of Australian mass opinion, which tailored messaging could possibly exploit?
  • What would a ‘consistent and iterative strategic communication program’, aimed at these popular vulnerabilities, look like?
  • Would you notice this if it were happening?
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It’s fun to shoot some people

July 26, 2010

It’ll take a long while to find everything noteworthy in the Afghan War Diary 2004-2010. But even a cursory browse shows why a series of proconsuls – the latest being McChrystal – have been declared wimps, insufficiently savage, and just not up to it. The troops are hamstrung! As the Australians have stressed, imperial forces need “a better balance between the need to protect the population and of course the need to protect the troops who are out there working very hard.” Thankfully guys like Petraeus and James Mattis, new CentCom Commander, have the right attitude: “You know, guys like that [Afghanis] ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them. Actually, it’s a lot of fun to fight. You know, it’s a hell of a hoot. It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right upfront with you, I like brawling.”

 14 July 2004:

TF Phoenix reported on 14 July 2004 that three Afghan National Army soldiers set up an illegal checkpoint outside Chaghcharan IVO grid 41S QU 063 223, stopped a group of seven civilians on the road, extorted 60 000 afghanis from them, and shot two of the men in the head. The ANA then stole 2 x motorcycles in an attempt to flee…

10 May 2005:

Taskforce SWORD kills a local national and wounds another in a vehicle suspected to be a vehicle-borne IED, 7km SE of FOB RIPLEY.  O/A 0630ZMAY05 two vehicles approached the checkpoint on the road worksite.  Both vehicles were white Toyota Corollas that passed through the AMF security checkpoint unseen by American soldiers.  The first vehicle had four passengers (2 male, 2 female).  The second vehicle had two male passengers.  The vehicles were directed to stop and use the bypass around the road construction project.  The second vehicle, with two passengers, passed around the first vehicle and used the bypass around the worksite.  The first vehicle kept coming toward the worksite. The soldiers stopped the vehicle and directed the personnel in the vehicle to get out of the vehicle. There were no interpreters in the immediate area.  The two male passengers got out of the vehicle spoke to each other, got back into the vehicle and continued driving south toward the worksite. The soldiers on site directed the vehicle to stop, and the Platoon Leader directed his vehicles to back away from the vehicle.  The vehicle continued to move south toward the soldiers on the work site.  The Platoon Leader spotted what appeared to be a suspicious bag hanging from the ceiling.  He pointed his weapon (M4) at the vehicle telling the driver to stop, but he did not.  Thinking that the vehicle was a VBIED, he opened fire with his M4, firing three shots at the vehicle.  The Lieutenant intended to fire at the driver on the right side of the vehicle, but the driver was on the left side of the vehicle.  The shots hit the passenger, killing him and injuring the driver of the vehicle.  The Initial investigation of the vehicle revealed that the suspicious bag with wires was actually an IV bag that was connected to one of the female passengers in the backseat of the vehicle, who had had a miscarriage.  The wounded individual was treated for minor injuries at FOB Ripley.  The soldiers involved in the incident are currently at FOB Ripley and an investigation will be conducted.

3 January 2006:

(DELAYED REPORT) Taskforce Devil reported one local national killed and two local nationals injured by an illumination cannister 18km N of FOB Salerno. At 1041Z, TF Devil confirmed that the injuries caused on the civilians were as a result of a friendly illumination cannister falling onto them from a fire mission fired at 031631ZJan06.

4 February 2006:

TF Phoenix reported one of its convoys fired on a civilian vehicle 52 km NW of Garesk. At 0646Z TF Phoenix reported that a jingle truck failed to yield to a traffic stop near a convoy of UAHs, and when subsequent visual and verbal efforts failed to stop the truck failed, the soldiers attempted to disable the vehicle. When those efforts failed, the gunner in the lead HMMWV fearing for the safety of himself and his fellow soldiers fired on the cab killing the local national passenger in the jingle truck. The driver of the truck stopped and he was immediately detained. The unit searched the vehicle and persons for weapons and explosives, but none were found. The unit is continuing to investigate the matter and will submit a report when complete.

19 April 2007:

At 0345Z, RCP 7 WAS SITTING AT A UXO [unexploded ordnance] SITE, SENT UP THE 9LINE UXO REPORT AT 0238Z, HAD THE SITE CORDONNED OFF AND WERE WORKING TO REMOVE THE UXO. A WHOLE LINE OF VEHICLES LINED UP BEHIND THE CORDONNED AREA SHOWN BY ORANGE CONES. THEN, A VEHICLE BYPASSED ALL THE STOPPED VEHICLES, HIT THE ORANGE CONES, THE GUNNER FIRED A WARNING SHOT JUST ABOVE THE VEHICLE. THE VEHICLE KEPT COMING, THE GUNNER FIRED MORE WARNING SHOTS. GUNNER THEN ENGAGED THE VEHICLE WITH HIS M4. AS A RESULT, A REAR PASSENGER LN RECEIVED GRAZING SHOT TO THE HEAD. RCP7 SECURED THE AREA, SECURED THE CASUALTY, PROVIDED FIRST AID AND ASSESSED THE CASUALTY AS NOT LOSING A LARGE AMOUNT OF BLOOD, STABLE, BUT NEEDING IMMEDIATE MEDEVAC. THE PATROL SIMULTANEOUSLY CALLED IN THE 9 LINE AT 0333Z. IT WAS A 15 MIN WAIT, TF PROFESSIONAL DID NOT HAVE AN ESTIMATED STATUS OF THE ARRIVAL OF THE MEDEVAC BIRD, THE LNS GATHERED AROUND, AND EVENTUALLY THE LNS GROUND EVACD THE CASUALTY TO FOB SALERNO. CURRENTLY, RCP7 JUST DESTROYED THE UXO AND DETERMINED IT WAS ACTUALLY AN IED. IN THE PROCESS, ANOTHER MINE WAS UNEARTHED. THEY ARE CURRENTLY ON SITE (CURRENT TIME IS 0446Z) AND THEY JUST REMOVED IT. RCP7 IS AWAITING THE ARRIVAL OF HURRICANE TO ASSIST IN SECURITY. RCP7 IS CURRENTLY FINISHING THE COLLECTION OF EVIDENCE (PICTURES, STATEMENTS FROM LNS). THE LOCAL NATIONAL (14 YEAR OLD FEMALE) THAT SET OF VIA GROUND CONVOY WAS DETERMINED TO BE DEAD ON ARRIVAL AT FOB SALERNO. FURTHERMORE, A 2 YEAR OLD GIRL THAT WAS IN THE LOCAL-NATIONAL VEHICLE ALSO HAD GLASS IN ONE EYE. THE MEDEVAC ARRIVED AND TOOK HER TO FOB SALERNO WHERE SHE IS UNDERGOING SURGERY. ISAF 04-362 Follow-up: A patrol moved to the scene and assisted Rock with the investigation. Our BN LEP was on scene and took statements from local nationals that stated escalation of force was plainly evident and the individual in the vehicle was wrong for attempting to circumvent the control measures emplaced for safety and standoff. The vehicle in question was searched and found to have no explosives. The BN S5 submitted Solatia paperwork for 100,000 afghani for the death, 20,000 afghani for the injury and 10,000 afghani for the vehicle.

12 May 2007:

Helman Prov/Sangin Dist: 09 May07. RC South reporting on recent casualties from coalition forces bombing mission. (40) Taliban killed and (60) civilians killed. NFI.

4 June 2007:

The Provisional Reconstruction Team Executive Officer attended the Logar Provincial Security Council Meeting and shared information with the Deputy Governor, the Provincial Police Chief, and the NDS Director… [The] Police Chief discussed Afghan National Police reaction after an IED in Pingeram (sp?) that resulted in the firing of weapons into a crowd of civilians.

16 August 2007:

[Around] 1600L, 4 x ACM [anti-coalition militia] were seen moving vicinity of the village. It is not clear if they were hiding in the village or just passing through. There was only one section of two vehicles involved in the TIC. They fired their 12.7mm MG at the individuals, but the weapon jammed. The ACM then returned fire. [C company patrol] then emplaced their mortars. They fired a total of 26 rounds according to one report. They fired over and then short and then three rounds impacted within a compound. One impacted on the roof of the house, one impacted in the court yard, and the last went through the roof and detonated within the house. There was a wedding celebration going on in the house, which explains the high number of casualties. As soon as the PBG soldiers saw where the rounds impacted, they moved immediately to the compound to provide assistance. The 4 x ACM escaped.

This information is still to sketchy to assess a cause for the inaccurate rounds.

Current Casualty list:6 x KIA (1x male, 4 female, one baby)
3 x WIA (all female, one of which was 9 months pregnant)

All of the casualties were from the Jalal Zaid Tribe, but not all were from the village, because some were from out of town for the wedding. This will spread the negative effect to a larger area then it would of [sic] otherwise. Today, there were 120 locals rioting at the gate of FOB Waza Khwa protesting the deaths.

6 October 2007:

The Provincial Reconstruction Team CO, PRT CA Officer along with Polish battle group CA Officer and DCO escorted the Provincial Chief of Police, Gen Mulakhel, NDS 5 Deputy, Nabile, and the Provincial Director of Tribal Affairs (native of the region) to the village of Laswanday in the Gwashta region of Waza Kwah, 36 hours following a Taskforce 373 operation on Objective Wolf (42 SVA 34591 80079) which resulted in the death of 1 child, 1 woman, 5 males and the wounding of 3 others (1 small boy, 2 teenage girls of which one was medevacd earlier).
Initial reception was uneventful. About 12 adult males were waiting in the area of the target compound. The group took a tour of the damaged compound while another villager was sent to gather the rest of the villagers from the area.  Villagers present indicated that all persons killed or injured in the attack were from the same family. (Leads to further question as to why one individual, the owners son, was found in the rubble with his hands tied behind his back.)

5 November 2008:

At approximately 0915D*, whilst searching for scrap metal to salvage and resell, a group of children found various unexploded ordnances. It is unknown exactly what occurred, however the munition detonated amongst the group of children, killing x 3 (aged under 10 yrs of age) and wounding a further x 6. It is assessed that the munition, a Projectile 82mm, HEAT, Type 65 had been blind and thrown into the sewage pool where the UXOs were located. Other objects such as expended RPG motors, mortar tails, fuzes, projectiles and empty landmine bodies as well as used syringes and excrement littered the area.

Petty academic squabbles: economics edition

July 24, 2010

There are some funny, scathing lines from Philip Mirowski – starting with the title – in “The Great Mortification: Economists’ Responses to the Crisis of 2007- (and counting)“: 

For the ragged remnants of economic methodologists, it was a sorry sight to watch a few older economists rummaging around in the stale vague recesses of memories of undergraduate courses criticizing Milton Friedman’s little 1954 benediction for believing whatever you pleased as long as it was neoclassical, and coming up with nothing better than badly garbled versions of Popper and Kuhn. Of course quite a few had premonitions that something had gone very wrong, but the sad truth was that they were clueless when it came to the analytical construction of an abstract philosophical argument in isolating just where the flaws in professional practice could be traced and assessing the extent to which they were susceptible to methodological remedies. Mired in banality, the best they could prescribe was more of the same. No wonder almost every economist took their philosophical perplexity as an occasion to settle internecine scores within the narrow confines of the orthodox neoclassical profession: MIT v. Chicago, Walras v. Marshall, mindless econometrics v. mindless axiomatics, New Keynesians v. New Classicals, Pareto sub-optima v. rational bubbles, efficient markets v. informationally challenged markets.

This was all so boring one can’t help thinking it was being done on purpose, to lull the rabble back to sleep.

Update: Just for some context, the “heterodox” wing of the economics department at Notre Dame, where Mirowski works, will soon be abolished. He’s also written some excellent stuff (the “Viridiana Jones Chronicles”, sadly no longer available online) about the deleterious effects on universities of

  1. The changing form of corporations and the outsourcing of commercial R&D.
  2. The withdrawal of the state from (its postwar roles in) science patronage and management.
  3.  The retreat from the premise that the state should be the provider of education for the populace.
  4. Transformation of intellectual property.

The rise of finance

July 23, 2010

One way to distinguish between “young” and “mature” capitalist economies is to compare the power of rentiers across societies. And the latter is measured easily enough.

Recall from the previous post that an economy’s long-term average profit rate depends on the relative growth rates of three factors: labour force, productivity and capital stock. Rapid accumulation of fixed capital (buildings, machines, equipment) is compatible with high average profitability, but only when it’s balanced by technical progress and growth in the employed population. In the 1990s and 2000s most advanced economies – among them several European countries – experienced a recovery of profit rates. But note that, while profitability rose from its mid-1980s low point, capital accumulation in many of these countries stayed low. Observe how, in Britain and the Netherlands, investment in the early 1980s failed even to cover depreciation, producing a reduction in the capital stock. Thereafter, investment in plant and equipment was barely above replacement levels. This indicates the decline of manufacturing and the rise of finance – Thatcher’s Big Bang – in both countries.

Compare the accumulation rate – both its trajectory and absolute level – of a younger capitalist country: China since the Deng reforms.

What accounts for this difference? In China, the number of wage workers continues to be swelled by migration from the countryside; and importation of advanced technology means labour productivity is still growing swiftly. On the other hand, in advanced economies that have been through demographic transition, the workforce has stabilised. Birth rates are low and agricultural labour reserves are long depleted. And productivity growth can only be sustained at a maximal 2-3 per cent. In these countries, rapid accumulation is incompatible with high profit rates. Unless accumulation slows down, the rate of return will become depressed, with a greater fraction of firms pushed towards bankruptcy. And with slow population growth, high demand for labour and over-abundance of capital, the bargaining position of the working class would rise.

So there’s some truth to Thatcher’s notorious slogan: if the balance of class forces is to be maintained, there is no alternative to the rentier’s rise. Increasing the relative size of sectors like advertising, finance, law and the military (which consume the social product rather than adding to it) means that less of the surplus is available for productive re-investment. The rise of the rentier interest is apparent, then, when we look at the proportion of profits that go towards capital accumulation. Call this fraction the investment rate. Where the fraction of the surplus that is re-invested is 1.0, the growth rate of the capital stock will equal the profit rate. Throughout the 2000s, about 40% of China’s GDP went towards capital formation (due to lack of reliable wage data, we can’t know what proportion of the surplus product this is; but it suggests an investment rate well above 0.5 – an astonishing figure). Compare this to a “mature” capitalist economy with a strong financial sector.

This is one symptom of the neoliberal counter-revolution: a smaller share of profits retained for productive reinvestment, and a greater fraction going towards interest payments and dividends. The lower the investment rate, the larger the portion of the surplus product going towards unproductive expenditure: bankers’ bonuses, private jets, fighter jets, personal servants.

When China’s productivity “catch up” ends, and its labour reserves are exhausted, we might expect a similar social transformation to happen there. Except, of course, that the political victory of neoliberalism depended crucially on the glut of labour produced by China’s re-entry to the world market. In 2020, where will be China’s China?

Immigration and profits

July 15, 2010

‘Progressive’ critics of government immigration policy, seeking to explain the perverse and sadistic, often point towards electoral calculation. Politicians, devoid of conviction, ‘pander’ to a racist populace.

Thus in 2001 the left-liberal commentator David Marr wrote of Australia’s conservative prime minister John Howard:

He looks this country in the face and sees us not as we wish we were, not as one day we might be, but exactly as we are. The political assessment is ruthlessly realistic.

Passive evaluation of popular attitudes ‘as they are’ from the politician who concocted the ‘children overboard’ lie, and who deliberately polluted public language with terms like ‘queue jumpers’?

This piece of bienséance has become conventional wisdom. But it neglects a crucial fact: the governing elite holds and is animated by its own sturdy autonomous objectives with respect to immigration  goals that its functionaries, cabinet ministers and high-level civil servants are obliged to pursue regardless of electoral cost (such as it is).

Politicians and bureaucrats, along with technical advisers and business interests, formulate these goals independently of public opinion.

On the other hand, public preferences on the matter are not formed exogenously. They emerge instead from an acceptable range of policy options presented to the population by decision-makers and their media conduits.

‘Perennial’ popular racism in fact waxes and wanes  at least, public expression of it in does  with a period remarkably similar to the business cycle.

Productivity Commission - net overseas migration and population growth

RBA - Inward migration and business cycle

The ‘accountability mechanisms’ of electoral competition then form a very weak constraint on rulers: the shaping of public attitudes on immigration is entirely endogenous to the process of elite policy formation and implementation (and to the version of reality filtered through media).

If the policy elite is in unison (as the Australian one is on immigration), party ‘competition’ merely takes the form of a contest over the language in which immigration is discussed and the mood music accompanying its implementation (which may nonetheless have its own import, as we’ll see below).

If, one the other hand, there are rival factions (representing e.g. the wishes of different property-owning classes), then one fraction of the elite may find its policy goals more readily achieved if they find a mass constituency, i.e. popular support, to leverage in the process of elite bargaining. Only in this latter context is public opinion causally effectual at all (and it’s precisely in such circumstances that vying elite coalitions will have the strongest motives for manipulating public opinion).

So it’s important to consider elite objectives on the question of immigration.

Treasury Intergenerational report 2007 - Projected contribution of net inward migration to population growth

The latter are, naturally enough, remote from popular concerns. But they are uniform, and stated openly in any think tank report, self-respecting editorial page or departmental brief.

The policy desideratum that ‘a larger population is needed to support sustained economic growth in a rapidly ageing Australian society’ has been shared across ruling circles since the National Population Inquiry of 1975, chaired by the ANU demographer W.D. Borrie. (Borrie was appointed to investigate the consequences of the country’s sustained fall in fertility, the most alarming since birth rates dropped below replacement level during the 1930s.)

Adherence of the Australian state leadership to this outlook can be seen in models from Treasury and the Productivity Commission, and in discussion papers from the Committee for the Economic Development of Australia.

All share the premise that, if continued investment by private firms, leading to growth of the capital stock, is not to run up against a bottleneck of available labour — driving up and wages and reducing profits — high inward migration must boost workforce growth.

According to an ANU paper in economic demography:

[The] capacity to meet Australia’s future labour demand through increases in [domestic] participation rates is limited…

[Levels] of migration comparable with historical standards are required just to maintain the labour force growth rate at a zero level.

To maintain the growth of the labour force after 20 years at around its present level (1.25%), under the average participation assumption, NOM [net overseas migration] would have to rise to 239,000  by 2017 and to 405,000 by 2047.

McDonald and Temple - Demography and labour supply

Australia population size under NOM scenarios

McDonald Temple - Migration and labour supply

Percentage Australian population of working age (15-64) under alternative NOM scenarios

What is the basis for this elite position?

In a developed or ‘mature’ economy, in Kaldor’s sense, the long-run growth rate is constrained by the growth rate of the available domestic labour force. After the demographic reserves of farmers have been propelled from the countryside and housewives liberated from the kitchen, local labour supply to the capitalist sector is inelastic.

Pro-natalist policies, and other government efforts to boost participation rates by currently un-utilized sources, do give some flexibility to labour supply. (For example, disabled individuals may be compelled to enter capitalist employment rather than receiving welfare payments.)

In Australia, labour-force participation by women is comparatively low. Many remain available to be driven from unpaid domestic work into paid employment.

Joyce Jacobsen - Labour force participation rates by sex

RBA - Female labour force participation

But the size of these residual domestic pools is limited in the advanced economies. If bottlenecks in labour supply are not to limit growth and boost wages, firms in the advanced economies must be able to tap into the vast global reserves of labour found in pre-capitalist and under-developed parts of the world.

Why is this decisive for Australian politicians and bureaucrats?

The activity of state managers (insofar as this requires state expenditure) is ultimately constrained by the scale of fiscal resources at their disposal — that is, by the magnitude of available government revenues extracted from taxes and obtained by borrowing. Since both sources of revenue increase in proportion with the level of private economic output (i.e. tax is just a fraction of GDP), state managers who hope to spend money are obliged to promote the overall level of economic activity, whatever their other motives (sincere reformist or cynical timeserver) or ideological goals (conservative or social democrat).

Economic output is in turn sensitive to the level of private investment, which is based on the expected returns accruing to investors, as well as to investor perceptions of the overall business climate.

State managers must therefore maintain political-economic stability and investor confidence.

Should they fail to do this (say, by ‘irresponsible’ policies leading to wage inflation), their capacity for action is reduced by falling revenues and credits (they’re also likely to face popular pressure due to rising unemployment, capital flight etc). This hard constraint — by which the state’s institutional form restricts the range of policy options available to rulers — is more decisively straitening than any politician or party’s ideological alignment or conscious identification with the needs of business.

So how does this relate to immigration? Let’s look at some details.

The long-run profit rate of any country rises with the rate of growth of the working population. (It declines with the share of profit that is reinvested in expanding the capital stock.) This means, among other things, that historical demography has a big role to play in deciding the wealth of nations and classes.

Unless peasants are rapidly being propelled out of the countryside and into urban centres (as in present-day China), a country’s workforce generally grows at a rate similar to that of its population. The size of a population, in turn, stabilizes once industrialization has occurred, health and sanitation improves and infant mortality falls. Most advanced capitalist economies exhibit the falling fertility rates characteristic of countries that have passed through the demographic transition.

Thus, in Switzerland, fertility fell from 2.5 children per woman in 1965, to 1.5 children per woman in 1990. In Japan, fertility declined less dramatically from 2 in 1965 to 1.7 in 1990. Birth rates in the Republic of Korea, on the other hand, fell spectacularly from 4.7 babies per woman in 1970 to just 1.8 in 1990.

Observe what’s happened to each country’s profit rate (i.e. rate of return on capital invested) in recent decades.*

In Australia, fertility has fallen similarly, from 3.3 children per woman in 1965, to 1.9 in 1990. Fertility in the Netherlands declined from 3.1 in 1965 to just over 1.5 in 1990, and in Britain from 2.8 to 1.8 over the same interval.

But increased immigration can substitute for a low birth rate. The European Union and Australia have been far more open to immigration than Japan. Observe the profit-rate trajectory of Australia and some EU countries.

In the early years we see the same downturn in profitability exhibited by the first group of countries. This is, however, reversed or stabilized in later years.

Unlike Japan, Korea or Switzerland, this latter group of countries  along with the United States  was able to counteract demographic trends, and continue to grow their workforces. In each country, much of the workforce growth was due to high net inward migration. Compare plots of labour-force growth in Australia and Japan.

But of course labour supply is not the only factor at work.

Rising absorption of the surplus by unproductive expenditure (finance, advertising, military) reduces the leftover amount available for productive reinvestment. Slower accumulation of the capital stock helps to raise the output-capital ratio, and the consequence is a rising profit rate. The relative weight of these unproductive sectors (especially finance) in Australia, Britain and the Netherlands is exceptionally large.

Nonetheless we can see that state managers, dependent as they are on growth of the surplus product and continued business confidence, must maintain a growing workforce to satisfy the demands of firms. The Australian elite therefore has a definite interest (after demographic transition has occurred) in high levels of immigration.

This means especially high demand for ‘skilled immigrants’, rather than refugees or asylum seekers.

RBA - Immigration by visa category

The latter, however, may be used to distract attention, act as scapegoats and relieve social tension.

Attacking a small subset of the immigrant population serves to present what is a structural necessity for advanced capitalist economies  and thus a sine qua non of state policy  as the moral failure of a few readily identifiable people: Arabs, Afghanis, South Asians, East Africans and ‘evil’ people smugglers.

And, as a conspicuously ‘foreign’ group (thanks to salient differences of language, appearance and customs), overseas immigrants obscure divisions within the local population (i.e. the existence of a parasitic plutocracy with its own language, appearance and customs, and possessing, far more importantly, a monopoly on society’s productive assets and wealth claims, giving rise to its distinct social role and outlook).

Immigrants are thus doubly useful: a handy pool of labour, freed of their homes or any other means of livelihood; and a safe receptacle for popular anger and frustration.

The Scanlon Foundation is dedicated to promoting the notion that ‘the future prosperity of Australia’ is ‘underpinned by population growth’, and that given domestic fertility rates this means inducing high levels of inward migration. Peter Scanlon is a former Elders and Patrick Corporation executive and AFL commissioner, who operates a private investment and property-development firm called Brencorp.

On behalf of the Scanlon Foundation, the Australian historian Andrew Markus undertakes a biannual research project on ‘social cohesion’. The project is ‘designed to examine cohesion within the context of the social impact of a prolonged period of sustained and significant immigration’, during which, so it claims, ‘the potential for social tension is higher.’

Respondents are surveyed on attitudes to immigrants and various religious groups, etc.

The ABC and Fairfax media (herehereherehere and here) typically use this and other reports as an opportunity to tell audiences that ‘half of Australians are anti-Muslim’, ‘boat people have no friends’ and ‘we fear’ immigrants. The Herald Sun used a similar survey by University of Western Sydney’s Kevin Dunn to declare ‘Australia a land of racists’, while the Daily Telegraph reported that most Australians ‘are concerned about the number of Muslim people in Australia.’

Markus has constructed the Scanlon-Monash Social Cohesion Index, which purports to measure each individual’s ‘level of identification with their country, the fundamental prerequisite for any cohesive society.’

The assertion that high migrant inflow necessarily threatens ‘social cohesion’ echoes precisely the infamous statement concerning immigration from Asia made, in 1988, by then-Liberal Party leader John Howard. Howard claimed that it ‘would be in our medium-term interest and supportive of social cohesion if it were slowed down a little so the capacity of the community to absorb were greater.’

Howard was responding to the FitzGerald committee of inquiry into immigration, appointed by ALP Prime Minister Bob Hawke and chaired by a former Whitlam government diplomat.

With members including the economist Helen Hughes, the FitzGerald committee recommended a reduction in the humanitarian (refugee and family-reunion) intake and a focus on the productive skills, youth and English-language ability of new arrivals.

Of its investigation, the report also declared that ‘confusion and mistrust of multiculturalism, focusing on the suspicion that it drove immigration policy, was very broadly articulated. Many people, from a variety of occupational and cultural backgrounds, perceived it as divisive. The majority of these people also expressed concerns about immigrants’ commitment to Australia and to Australian principles and institutions.’

This opened the door for Howard to announce ‘there are profound weaknesses is the policy of multiculturalism.’ He announced a new policy that ‘requires of all of us a loyalty to Australia at all times and to her institutions and her values and her traditions which transcends loyalty to any other set of values anywhere in the world.’

This was taken up by Hawke’s National Agenda for a Multicultural Australia, released in 1989. It announced that, alongside the rights conferred by official multiculturalism, immigrants incurred certain obligations, including the responsibility to ‘have an overriding and unifying commitment to Australia, to its interests and future first and foremost; to accept the basic structures and principles of Australia.’

hawke_bomb

Consider now the circumstances producing global people movement:

  1. Wage differentials between regions of varying levels of development.
  2. Global capital flows.
  3. The existence of labour reserves in countries which haven’t gone through a demographic transition.

These factors (along with aggressive imperial wars and various forms of state breakdown) combine to cause migration flows toward high-wage regions such as the EU, US and Australia. These migration flows will only stabilize once labour reserves in low-wage regions deplete.

Until this occurs, and workforce growth is reduced to a low or negative level, the glut of labour relative to capital (the latter made ‘scarce’ by international mobility) reduces bargaining power for workers in advanced economies. Profitability, as shown in the figures above, is bolstered. Where profit rates are low (as in Japan) capital is free to flow towards low-wage regions with high labour reserves.

This in turn makes left-wing politics more difficult, while increasing the appeal of racist chauvinism.

In these circumstances, the only effective response  for socialists and for any minimally ‘left-wing’ people  is a consistent internationalism: refusal to take the poisoned (if clumsily laid) bait of a ‘frank, open, honest national conversation about border protection’, and coordination across borders of the ruling elite’s common enemies: that is, the vast majority of the world’s people and the people of every nation.

*These figures use historical data from the Extended Penn World Tables, assembled by Adalmir Marquetti. Profit is calculated as GDP minus wages and depreciation. The profit rate R = Profits/Fixed capital

Frank national conversations

July 11, 2010

It’s often assumed that elected politicians with anti-immigrant policies must be ‘pandering’ to crude popular sensibilities, rather than having their own agenda.

This is a tenacious ideological myth (if these are anything to go by): consider the standard historiography on the so-called White Australia policy. The notion that a politically marginal labour movement could dictate immigration policy would have seemed laughable to late-colonial state managers, who by the 1880s had their own internally coherent position on the matter (and already the legislation to back it up).

Here’s Andrew Inglis Clark in 1888:

It is consequently certain that if the unnaturalized Chinese should at any time become as numerous, or nearly as numerous, in any colony as the residents of European origin, the result would be either an attempt on the part of the Chinese to establish separate institutions of a character that would trench on the supremacy of the present legislative and administrative authorities, or a tacit acceptance by them of an inferior social and political position which, associated with the avocations that the majority of them would probably follow, would create a combined political and industrial division of society upon the basis of racial distinction.

This would inevitably produce in the remainder of the population a degraded estimate of manual labour similar to that which has always existed in those communities where African slavery has been permitted, and thereby call into existence a class similar in habit and character to the “mean whites” of the Southern States of the American Union before the Civil War.

Societies so divided produce particular vices in exaggerated proportions, and are doomed to certain deterioration…

[The] habits and conceptions of the Chinese immigrants make their amalgamation with the populations of European origin, so as to become constituent portions of a homogeneal community retaining the European type of civilization, an impossibility.

Here’s Samuel Griffith, Premier of a colony (Queensland) with a decidedly weak labour movement:

[In] the opinion of this Government, the insuperable objection to allowing the immigration of Chinese is the fact that they cannot be admitted to an equal share in the political and social institutions of the Colony. The form of civilization existing in the Chinese Empire, although of a complicated and in many respects marvellous character, is essentially different from the European civilisation which at present prevails in Australia, which I hold it essential to the future welfare of the Australian Continent to preserve.

Here’s Henry Parkes (‘The man does not live who ever heard me pander to the working class’) in a letter to the Secretary of State for Colonies:

There can be no sympathy, and in the future it is to be apprehended that there will be no peace, between the two races [British and Chinese]… The most prevailing determination in all the Australian communities is to preserve the British type in the population…

There can be no interchange of ideas of religion or citizenship, nor can there be intermarriage or social communion between the British and the Chinese. It is respectfully submitted that the examination of these principle phases of the question can only lead to one conclusion, namely, that the Chinese must be restricted from emigrating to any part of Australasia.

Here’s Alfred Deakin, speaking a little later:

I cannot dwell on the strongest reasons of all why white men should not only be found in Victoria and New South Wales, but in Queensland and every other part of Australia, and that is our peremptory and absolute need for self defence. We have to realise that it is much cheaper to have white settlers planted on the soil than to maintain a standing army to defend unoccupied territory.

Finally here’s Parkes again, addressing the NSW Legislative Assembly on the subject of his Influx-of-Chinese Restriction bill:

I disclaim any possible action on the part of this Government in deference to public agitation out of doors. I am convinced in my conscience that neither have we at any time joined with those who have derided, and, as I think, traduced, the Chinese residents in this country; nor have we at any time yielded to the pressure of popular agitation…

For a generation…and at all times I have opposed the introduction of Chinese upon these, as I conceive, national, and to a large extent, philosophical grounds: I maintain that in a country like New South Wales it is our duty to preserve the type of the British nation, and that we ought not, for any consideration whatever, to admit any element that would detract from, or in any appreciable degree lower, that admirable type of nationality…

I have maintained at all times that we should not encourage or admit amongst us any class of persons whatever whom we are not prepared to advance to all our franchises, to all our privileges as citizens, and all our social rights, including the right of marriage.

Of course these passages are full of dissimulation and rhetoric, and must be read with care. But they show nonetheless that the late-colonial elite had its own independent, widely-held reasons for immigration restriction. These reasons were expressed in closed, intra-elite communications, behind the backs of electorates, as well as publicly before the mass audience.

That’s not to say that popular passions were unimportant. Then as now, the press, the pulpit, the comic papers encouraged division, mistrust, and the identification of scapegoats. Parkes spoke cynically of wives who ‘cherish, encourage, and cultivate a feeling of hostility’ to immigrants who competed with their husbands. ‘Although I may not say anything to encourage it, I can well sympathize with the aversion that grows up in the most influential and most valuable portion of our working-class towards these people.’

In this he foreshadowed, eerily, the words of Australia’s new Prime Minister:

I do understand the anxiety and indeed fears that Australians have when they see boats, they see boats intercepted. It does make people anxious. I can understand that, I really can. And I can understand that Australians therefore say to their government that they want to know what we are doing to manage our borders and what we are doing to manage asylum seeker flows.