Borders

by John Quiggin on March 23, 2020

As part of the general lockdown in response to the pandemic, most of the Australian states* have just closed their borders (as has the US state of Hawaii I believe). For those antiglobalists who have been claiming that the pandemic justifies their opposition to “open borders”, this presents a problem. Unlike international borders, those within countries like Australia have truly been open, with the exception of a handful of quarantine restrictions. Once the pandemic passes, does the anti-migration lobby want to introduce internal passports, require everyone to justify their movements to the police and so on? That would seem to follow from the logic of many of their arguments, not just about the pandemic but about overpopulation, competition for jobs and so on.

As regards the pandemic, it has raised the point that on any given day, millions of people are (or were, until recently) crossing international boundaries. The proportion whe are doing so for the purpose of migrating from one country (legally or otherwise) to another is minuscule. For example, Australia (poulation 25 million) is a high migration country, with 162 000 migrants in 2019. In the same year, there were 42 million passenger arrivals. If we assume that half are returning Australians and that visitors stay an average of two weeks, that implies there are over a million non-migrant foreigners in the country at any given time, equivalent to five or six years worth of migration. Are the restrictionists calling for them to be excluded permanently?

A final observation is that our quasi-military Border Force, created to stop refugees arriving by boat, has done a pathetic job in dealing with cruise ships loaded with infected and potentially affected passengers. Thousands have been allowed to disembark and return home without even a temperature check, then frantically chased when tests on fellow-passengers came back positive.

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Sunday photoblogging: Alderman Moore’s allotments

by Chris Bertram on March 22, 2020

We’ve mostly confined outselves to the house now, because of the threat of COVID-19, but Alderman Moore’s allotments provide a safeish place to get some sunshine and grow some vegetables. If the lockdown reaches Italian, Spanish, or French levels then perhaps we couldn’t continue, which would be a pity.

Alderman Moore's allotments

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Free readings!

by Ingrid Robeyns on March 21, 2020

Many of us are currently locked up, in one way or another. For some of us this means no time for leisure – the people who are ill, the health workers currently making heroic double and triple shifts, workers struggling to get their work done in a virtual way, and parents and other careworkers being overwhelmed by the 24/7 homeschooling and carework. But for others, it means more time to read or watch movies, since there is nowhere to go. And given that acts of kindness and solidarity are now especially important, it’s nice to see that some publishing houses are putting out some of their book for free for everyone to download. Thanks!

Let’s share what we know is available. Here’s a start – Verso is offering 5 books (in ebook format) for free, which are all contributions to the post-pandemic world we might want to strive for.

And of course, pandemic or no pandemic, fully open access academic publishers, such as Open Book Publishers, are always providing us with free readings. Not all PDFs are for free, but some are, including Noam Chomsky’s Delhi Lectures on Democracy and Power.

Have you come across other intellectual, artistic, entertaining or otherwise valuable resources that have been made freely available to all?

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Crises and the case for socialism

by John Quiggin on March 21, 2020

The coronavirus crisis is very different, at least in its origins, from the Global Financial Crisis. Both differ in crucial respects from other crises in living memory, notably including the Great Depression and World War II, as well a string of severe but not catastrophic crises that have affected the global economy and society. But thinking about them all together brings home the point that major crises are quite common events. The crisis of the past took each took between five and ten years to resolve. Even if the current crisis is shorter, we can draw the conclusion that crisis of one kind or another is not an aberration, but a regular occurrence in a complex modern society.

What they have in common is that they result in a need for urgent government action. The greater the capacity and willingness of governments to act to protect society from the economic damage associated with such crises the better, in general, the outcome has been.

The most immediate requirements for dealing with a crisis are

  • a strong and comprehensive welfare state, protecting everyone against falling into poverty through sickness, old age and unemployment
  • strong protections for workers, protecting them against arbitrary dismissal, and with a public commitment to restore and maintain full employment
    These will have to be made up as we go along, plastered over the existing patchwork, then properly integrated into the welfare and industrial relations system
    In the aftermath, we need a substantially expanded economic role for government, including control over infrastructure and financial enterprises and increased public provision of health, education and other services. All of this will require a substantial increase in the public share of national income, which can only be financed by reducing the share going to high income earners, and particularly the top 1 per cent. In short, we need socialism.

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How to get to a UBI

by John Quiggin on March 20, 2020

Last year I published a book chapter arguing that the first step way to get to a Universal Basic Income in Australia was to expand the existing benefit system, increasing payments and removing conditionality (relevant extract over the fold).

This is often called a Guaranteed Minimum Income (GMI). I counterposed the GMI approach to the alternative of making a small payment to everyone in the community, and then trying to increase it over time. I suggested three initial steps

Assuming a ‘basic first’ approach is preferred, how might it be implemented? Three initial measures might be considered:

(i) increase unemployment benefits, at least to the poverty line;

(ii) replace the job search test for unemployment benefits with a ‘participation’ test;

(iii) fully integrate the tax and welfare systems

We are already on the way to taking these steps. Having floated the idea of a separate benefit for people who lose their jobs due to the virus crisis, the Australian government has quickly abandoned it in favour of an increase in existing benefits. This is supposed to be temporary, and, in theory, at least, there has been no change in compliance efforts like work testing. But ‘temporary’ will turn out to be a long time, and compliance efforts are going to be impossible until things return to normal.

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Waiting for the wave to break

by Chris Bertram on March 18, 2020

Months at home. Months working remotely. Months during which we may see close friends, family, and even neighbours on a screen. Here in the UK we aren’t at Italian levels of disease and death yet, but we’re getting there.

The streets are getting empty, yet despite government advice, there are still people in pubs and bars and on our local community Facebook page people argue vociferously for the right of publicans to open. After all, “they have a living to make”, and “it is a personal choice.” I doubt people will be saying such things in a month.

In theory we (by which I mean the people in my immediate workplace) are all working from home, but I confess that the anxiety, fuelled by the news cycle, the constant rush of social media updates on CV19 isn’t conducive to concentration. Meetings are happening via Zoom or Skype Business, but a good part of each meeting is taken up with people saying “I can hear you but I can’t see you”, “I can see you but I can’t hear you”, “I think I pressed the wrong button”. There’s alway one person who thinks the sound isn’t working, so you can see them, bemused, trying to fix the problem with someone else in their house, in a loud voice, believing that they are cut off from us all when they’re not. Nice to see people’s pets though, and their bookshelves and decor for that matter. [click to continue…]

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Zoom

by John Quiggin on March 17, 2020

I just gave my first UQ departmental seminar using Zoom. As in most places, our usual practice is to have visiting speakers present their work and meet colleagues in the same field. When large numbers of Chinese students were prevented from returning to Australia in the first round of the coronavirus epidemic, the cost to the university’s budget was such that nearly all travel, including paying for visitors’ travel was cancelled. As it’s turned out, a good thing to. This left big gaps in the seminar program, so I volunteered to present a paper in one of the vacant slots.

By the time the seminar was scheduled to happen, budget cuts were the least of our worries. Lectures were stopped for a week while we switch to all-online teaching, and (nearly all) meetings were cancelled. So, I decided to present the talk from home using Zoom. It went quite well, even though my home Internet is a bit flaky (the much-delayed National Broadband Network is supposed to arrive here next month, and may improve things). In the subsequent discussion, it was pointed out that we could invite people from outside the department to take part. For example, one of our PhD students had a paper accepted for a conference that’s been cancelled, and could ask some of the key people who would have been there to hear the presentation.

It also struck me that we could have gone back to the originally scheduled speaker, and had them do a Zoom presentation. That leads immediately to the question: why carry on with the tradition of flying colleagues in to have them talk to us, when they could just as well do it from home (or at least, from their home campus)? The difficulties are much less than those with online-only teaching.

Of course, I would say that. I’ve been pushing the merits of videoconferencing and related technologies for decades, and regularly respond to travel invitations by offering a video presentation rather than attendance in person. But now that lots of people are experiencing the process and finding it works reasonably well (and in fact has substantial advantages), returning to the old ways once the crisis is over may be too difficult to justify, especially since our budget is going to be stringently rationed for a long time to come.

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Josh DiPaolo Answers Questions about Online Teaching

by Gina Schouten on March 14, 2020

Josh DiPaolo is one of the most thoughtful and skilled teachers I know, and he has a fair bit of experience teaching online. So once I thought about this transition long enough to start feeling really overwhelmed by it, Josh was my first call. And he was generous enough to spend some time writing out answers to questions supplied by graduate students in my department. I’ve pasted our emailed “conversation” below.

One of my favorite things about Josh’s responses is his insistence that we bear in mind all the other ways that our students’ lives are difficult right now. Some of these are quite severe, but others are mundane and it’s fully within our control to avoid compounding the difficulty. For example, Josh reminds us that our students, just like us, are overwhelmed right now with emails. So especially in these early days, we should take extra care in crafting our communications to them so as to avoid the need for repeated follow-ups to correct or clarify. We can try to be a warm and calm voice for them, or at least work hard to avoid adding to their stress and anxiety.

There are lots of gems in here. Here’s one of my favorites:

“One bit of advice I’ve seen floating around seems right and relevant to this question. The idea is something like: ‘You’re not now teaching an online class. You’re moving your face to face class online.’ What this means to me is that the question at hand is not what’s the best way to assess student learning online. It’s more like: what’s the best (or maybe even just a good) way to assess student learning, given that half the semester was in person and that students enrolled in this class with certain expectations and that now I have to assess it using online tools in the context of a worldwide pandemic?”

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Some tips for running online discussions

by Harry on March 13, 2020

As instruction moves online—largely to be taught be people who have no experience teaching online (like me) and mostly with very limited technical support—people are going to need to share experiences and tips, not just about the technologies they are using but about general principles and practices—they will even, I hope, share curricular materials. I plan a post early next week with some preliminary thoughts and to provide a space for people to share ideas, but for now The Discussion Project, a UW-Madison project that trains instructors to manage in-class discussion better, has shared a 2-pager with some tips for managing on-line discussions. And, for those for whom this is new, maybe my ACUE post on how I use online discussion in my face-to-face classes will be useful too.

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COVID-19 and migration: we need a firewall

by Chris Bertram on March 10, 2020

Rather obviously COVID-19 is a global public health emergency. Tackling it, particularly in the absence of a vaccine, means blocking and shortening the chains of contagion through personal hygiene and social distancing, identifying people who are infected, treating those who need treatment, enabling the isolation of the infected for as long as they can transmit. & cetera. And the issue is not just about the risk to each of us, but also about the risk we bring to others. So the fact that the fit and young may escape with minor discomfort shouldn’t lead them to exempt themselves from necessary measures, because the chain that leads from them can be a death sentence for a vulnerable or elderly person.

All of which brings me to immigration and, specifically, to immigrant populations. In recent years governments with good public health systems have moved to restrict access to citizens and legal permanent residents. In the UK, one of the features of the “hostile environment” that has led to the Windrush scandal was the denial of medical care to people who couldn’t prove their entitlement. Others have been hit with enormous medical bills because of their nationality and perceived immigration status. But now, obviously, we can’t have a situation where people are deterred from seeking help because they fear being hit with a huge payment. [click to continue…]

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Sunday photoblogging: St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol

by Chris Bertram on March 8, 2020

I took advantage of being on strike to do some Bristol tourism, and enjoyed looking round St Mary Redcliffe particularly: a gothic wonder that I pass every day but because it is local only seem to enter once a week.

St Mary Redcliffe

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The Prodigal Tech Bro

by Maria on March 6, 2020

FYI I have a new piece up on The Conversationalist about that second most fungible resource; privilege.

“The Prodigal Tech Bro is a story about tech executives who experience a sort of religious awakening. They suddenly see their former employers as toxic, and reinvent themselves as experts on taming the tech giants. They were lost and are now found. They are warmly welcomed home to the center of our discourse with invitations to write opeds for major newspapers, for think tank funding, book deals and TED talks. These guys – and yes, they are all guys – are generally thoughtful and well-meaning, and I wish them well. But I question why they seize so much attention and are awarded scarce resources, and why they’re given not just a second chance, but also the mantle of moral and expert authority.”

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World Book Day – January round-up

by Maria on March 5, 2020

OK it’s World Book Day and as it’s too depressing to work today because – freelance life – God knows when I’ll get paid for anything anyway, and it’s been raining for years, and I frankly have no idea what sort of blog-posts I’m supposed to or able to write these days (but word to the wise, all sarcastic, shitty, trolly or otherwise unpredictably dislikable comments that I won’t define but I know one when I see it will get zapped and their posters banned from here on in because I am DONE with this and I hope some of our lovely women commenters can come back but I completely understand if you, too, are DONE with this), I am going to do a round-up of books I read in January because that may be remotely of interest to some, and no, I will not be pressing the edit button, back button, etc. so this really, really just is what it is.

There are a lot of books because 1) post-Christmas reading days and 2) a holiday I took to beat the winter blues which clearly was worth every penny spent on it.

Rosewater, Tade Thompson, first of a trilogy
Aliens in near-future Nigeria, a new city and its politics built around them, psychic powers, traffic jams, necklacing, biological imperialism and a very good dog. Everyone in SF-world raved about this trilogy and I now see why. It’s fascinating, exciting, much of human life jammed in, funny, clear-eyed, terrific world-building and does so much with and to a well-worn premise that it is completely re-defined – kind of like the first time I heard Radiohead’s Pablo Honey I thrilled to each jewel in its treasure chest of influence, but the second time and ever after, all I heard was the band itself, almost sui generis. A sentence from Rosewater about the alien presence, Wormwood: “When Wormwood surges into awareness, we are unimpressed, even in our knowledge that it is the most significant event in Earth’s history. We’ve seen colonisers before, and they are similar, whether intercontinental or interplanetary.” Read it.
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Europe fails refugees again

by Chris Bertram on March 5, 2020

Once again, Europe is failing in its duties towards refugees. The latest episode is the decision of Turkey’s President Erdoğan to permit and even to encourage thousands of people to cross into Greece in order to pressure the EU to do more to support Turkey in its conflict with Russia and the Assad regime in Syria’s Idlib province, itself a site of mass forced displacement where people who have fled Aleppo and other conflict areas in Syria are now concentrated. Erdoğan’s instumentalization of migrants and refugees is cynical and calculated, but that doesn’t excuse the failure of Europe to do its part. Turkey already hosts 3.7 million displaced people from Syria on its territory and the EU has viewed the country as a convenient buffer to keep them from its borders, paying Erdoğan €6 billion to warehouse them. [click to continue…]

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Rightwing postmodernism

by John Quiggin on March 4, 2020

Next week in Brisbane, I’ll take part in a debate/dialogue with Stephen Hicks, a North American philosopher, who has criticised postmodernism from a right/libertarian perspective. He’s on a tour of Australia, and was invited to Brisbane by Murray Hancock who’s setting up The Brisbane Dialogue which has the ambitious objective of promoting civil discussion across political divides. I ended up being dobbed in (is this an Australianism?) to present the other side, and chose the topic “Postmodernism is a rightwing philosophy”. Longterm readers of my blogging won’t be surprised: I was making this claim as far back as 2003. Thanks to Kellyanne Conway and “alternative facts”, I’ll have plenty of material to work with.
I plan to argue that in the absence of any objective correspondence to reality, it’s the truths favored by the rich and powerful that will win out, not those of the oppressed. Trumpism is the obvious illustration of this, but rightwing postmodernism on issues like climate change and creationism long predates his rise.

Still, I have a couple of problems. First, I’m not a philosopher, so I’m working with a pretty simmple interpretation of postmodernism, roughly stated as “there are multiple truths, and no one is better than another” More precisely, as I encountered it, postmodernism involved a Two-Step of Terrific Triviality, putting forward statements that encouraged the simplistic interpretation most of the time, but, when challenged, retreating to into total obscurity, or else into something more nuanced and not very interesting like “there may be an actual truth of the matter, but we can never know it for sure” . But is there a better interpretation of postmodernism, one that is both interesting and comprehensible?

My second problem is whether constructive dialogue on a topic like this will prove to be possible. I think we’ll agree at least on not liking postmodernism, and probably on some of the intellectual history. I have no idea, though, what Hicks thinks about Trump and Trumpism, or for that matter about climate change and science in general. I’ll see how it plays out.

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