State Formation

Recently I have been reading Francis Fukuyama’s ‘The Origins of Political

Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution’ (Origins – henceforth). This is a fantastic though heavy read for anyone interested in state formation, reproduction and indeed state destruction.

This book is divided into five sections, each containing several chapters. I am slowly working my way through section one (Before The State: Chapters 1-5) of Origins, in fact, I currently reading the final chapter of this section.

While reading this final chapter titled ‘The Coming of Leviathan’, I came across a subsection titled ‘The State as a Hydraulic Engineering Project’ (p.83). In this subsection, Fukuyama outlines a theory of state formation posited by 20th-century historian Karl Wittfogel. Wittfogel claimed that the state, or Leviathan to Fukuyama, may have arisen in Mesopotamia, Egypt, China and Mexico out of the necessity to centrally plan irrigation projects.

Although this seems to be a far-fetched theory, it should not be simply discarded, as Fukuyama has done in Origins. Fukuyama uses the logical tool, the reductio ad absurdum, in pointing out the floors of the hydraulic hypothesis:

“For Wittfogel’s hypothesis to be true, we would have to imagine a group of tribesmen getting together one day and saying to each other, “We could become a lot richer if we turned over our cherished freedom to a dictator, who would be responsible for managing a huge hydraulic-engineering project, the likes of which the world has never seen before”” (p.83).

Fukuyama goes on to indicate that such a passing over of authority would have to be agreed upon by a centralised group of tribesmen, speaking on behalf of all the future citizens of the ‘soon to be state’. This does seem absurd. However, Fukuyama does not actually address the plausibility of Wittfogel’s hypothesis.

Following the so-called agricultural revolution, it is not difficult to imagine that a constant year-round supply of water, may have been hard to come across. I do not find it implausible to think that a centralised body of tribal people or even local farmers, developed a way to manipulate their environment so as to access a scarce resource such as water, and in so doing, monopolise access to that resource and consequently harness a degree of social and political power.

Fukuyama does not consider the possibility of environmental necessity or environmental manipulation as a harbinger of pristine, or original, state formation. Although Wittfogel’s hypothesis is somewhat farfetched, it leads to a broader consideration that ought to be considered, namely, that environmental factors played a role in the development of a centralised bureaucratic state.


			

The US government shut down

The US government has shut down twice already in 2018. The first shutdown occurred on January 20th, 2018 and ended on the evening of January 22nd. The shutdown began after a failure to pass legislation to fund government operations and agencies. The second occurred on February 9th, 2018. This second instance may be called a funding gap rather than a shut down as it only lasted nine hours overnight and did not interrupt government functioning or services.

The third shut down, which appears inevitable, will occur at midnight on December 22nd, 2018. It is unknown how long this shut down will last but there does appear to be stubborn resistance on the part of the Democrats, Republicans and from Trump himself.

On the eve of this shutdown, it is worth considering three points in relation to governmental shutdowns.

First, the people who really lose from a government shutdown are the people who keep the American state running. CNBC has reported that 421,000 Americans will work without pay if the US government shuts down. Despite the shutdown, all workers who go without pay will be paid when the government reopens. But this may not be immediate. In 1995-1996 the US government shutdown for 21 days, the longest shut down in history.

Included in these 421,000 state workers are military personnel, border security staff, politicians and welfare officers. There is some irony in knowing that this shutdown is occurring due to funding for a border wall, which is being sold to the American people as a minimum requirement for national security. Yet this shutdown is going to directly affect the people on the front lines, such as military and border security staff who are keeping the United States safe.

The Republicans are blaming the Democrats, the Democrats are blaming Trump and Trump is blaming everyone. It is not the hard-headed politicians responsible for this shutdown who will have to tighten their belts this Christmas, but the American workers.

Second, government shutdowns are not necessarily bad things. They act as roadblocks to halt centralisation and consolidation of state power. They are designed to ensure that the state grinds to halt before its politicians become too heated and irrational. Although the shutdown is not a good thing for American workers, it reduces the possibility of rapid change within the American political system, and in a nation of nearly 350 million people, this is a reasonably sensible safeguard.

Third and finally, political conservativism traditionally seeks the minimisation of the state’s social influence, whenever possible and practical. The shutdown of the US federal government is likely to fracture the integrity of the institution that is the American state which ultimately serves to benefit Trump and the conservative Republican party. At worst, Trump and the Republicans look hard-headed, while what is really happening is a dismantling of state strength and effectiveness which leads to a triumph for conservative ideals.

Whether you agree in the necessity of a large US state, the fact of the matter is the US government is the size it is because of the size of the nation. A minimal state or not, 421,000 people will not be paid over the coming days because American federal politicians are to busy arguing, rather than negotiating. The blame game will continue; however, all-American politicians have a responsibility to protect the people they stand to serve. Politicians will not be serving the American people if the US government shuts down.

An Aussie Scam

Yesterday, I heard an ad on the radio station Smooth (95.3FM). There are a lot of ads targeting an older demographic, there are also a lot of ads targeting the ‘working class’ listener. What I mean by these propositions is that there are ads on this station relating to workers compensation, funeral insurance and ‘cheap’ financial planning.

Anyone worth their salt knows that financial planning is a lucrative industry where money can be made. The Australian government suggests that a dedicated financial planner is likely to cost the consumer upward of $10,000 per annum. That is a lot of money to be told to be responsible. Nonetheless, my gripe is not with fiscal responsibility, it is with the financial planning firm ‘Aussie’.

Aussie rose to prominence in the mid 1990’s as a mortgage broker offering itself as an alternative to the major banks. Aussie is, however, 100% owned by Commonwealth Bank of Australia shareholders. Since then, the firm has grown with a market share spanning more than 50 billion dollars of the financial planning market.

The ad that I would like to critique was played on Smooth FM during the afternoon of Monday October 22nd. The ad stated that Aussie is a competitive mortgage broker and if a consumer found a better priced mortgage broker, Aussie would give the consumer $100 for their time. This is an interesting tact to take with financial service advertising within the competitive ‘free-market’ because the consumer is being encouraged to hedge their bets and take a chance on a service offered by Aussie.

“Either way, you win” is the final phrase uttered in this ad. It is unlikely that the consumer will actively seek a better deal if they are promised the best initial deal with Aussie. Aussie stands to gain more than the consumer has to gain, and Aussie stands to lose less than the consumer stands to lose. This is a win-win deal for Aussie alone and it is a stretch to say that the consumer will win “either way”.

This critique of a single radio advertisement points toward a larger problem found within contemporary capitalism and consumption orientated business models. What Aussie is doing is hardly new. Firms selling a service or product that promises the notion of ‘win-win’ for the consumer is common today. One need only look at advertising for gambling, car advertisements or more broadly, political rhetoric.

There is always a consequence to the decisions we make. If you choose the ‘win-win’ option offered by Aussie, then you either lose the service you were seeking and gain $100, if you meet the terms and conditions (see below) or pay upward of $10,000 for a year of explained financial responsibility. I know what I would prefer, but after all you are the rational, self –interested consumer who must make your own mind up.

Enjoy Aussie’s fine print:

“Entry is open to persons who meet the following criteria, are: a) 18 years or over; b) an Australian citizen or permanent resident; c) living and working in Australia and receiving income or wages for duties performed as an employee (including self-employed) or contractor; and d) have savings and/or equity of at least 5% of the value of the proposed security property held for at least 3 months. Must undergo a full Needs Analysis (approximately 1 hour) between 17/9/18 – 30/11/18 with an Aussie mortgage broker. Additional requirements apply, see full T&Cs for details. If unsatisfied with appointment, complete survey online at aussie.com.au/aussieguarantee within 2 weeks of appointment to claim a $100 EFTPOS gift card. Final claims close 11.59pm AEDT 14/12/18. Max 1 claim & gift card per person. T&Cs apply, see aussie.com.au/promotions. Aussie is a trade mark of AHL Investments Pty Ltd. Aussie is a subsidiary of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia ABN 48 123 123 124. © 2018 AHL Investments Pty Ltd ABN 27 105 265 861 Australian Credit Licence 246786.”

Found at: https://www.aussie.com.au/promotions.html

 

Friday’s Rag.

In contemporary society, Friday symbolises the end of the working week. I used to work in an office and Friday was generally considered the best day of the week. Everyone knew that they were about to escape the office for the weekend and could use their time however they chose to. Some people would start early so as to knock off early, to get an early start on the weekend, others would take Friday off altogether if their annual leave permitted them to do so. The general mood was of excitement, some anticipation and subdued joy.

I have little doubt that this was unique to my workplace. The saying ‘live for the weekend’ holds muster throughout much of the capitalist economy. I even heard one of my university professors say that today was a good day because “it is Friday and it’s the end of the week”. It is interesting to note the change of professional demeanour in the workplace as a consequence of the day of the week.

In today’s edition of the Daily Telegraph, the front page boasts two major stories. First, the royal visit. If you have not heard, Australia is hosting Harry and Meghan and the sheer amount of press coverage is incredible. The front page of all the major newspapers in Sydney bears at least one photo of the royal couple. This must be doing wonders for the royal family’s popularity – Australian Republic advocates, like myself, watch on with contempt. The second story on the front of the Daily Telegraph addresses state opposition leader Luke Foley, who allegedly drunkenly harassed a journalist when on a night out.

Working-class attitudes toward Fridays and the front page of the Daily Telegraph both share a relaxed attitude. Does anyone want to hear about the upcoming byelection in the seat of Wentworth that could potentially send the federal government into a tailspin? Does anyone want to hear about the butchered Saudi journalist? Does anyone want to hear about what is really happening?

The answer to all three of these questions is yes. However, the Daily Telegraph consciously decides to keep people in the dark about the stories that genuinely affect their lives. A character assignation on Luke Foley pails in importance when compared to the potential of the federal government losing its majority within two days. The royal couple has nothing to do with the price of petrol, though the international backlash to the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi could lead to inflated petrol prices – making this a tough Christmas for thousands of Australian families.

People read the newspaper to stay informed and to keep up to date. But when a wide-reaching newspaper such as the Daily Telegraph skims over the major issues affecting people’s lives, there is no way anyone can expect to keep informed. The same could well be said for the television networks Chanel 7, 9 and 10. Perhaps it is apt to point a commonality between this major newspaper and the major television networks mentioned. They all rely heavily on advertising. Advertising anything from betting agencies (page 1) to banks (page 2) to toilets (page 20-21). There is more advertising in today’s edition of the Daily Telegraph than there is quality journalism.

More to come.

An Artistic Response

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing Nils Frahm play at the opera house. He is an incredible musician with a seemingly well-rounded personality. The show was something to behold, however, before a single note was played, Frahm explained that it was an honour to be playing his music in “Australia’s biggest billboard”. The crowd roared with laughter and applause, showing their appreciation for the joke that is the shambolic Australian parliament (and its parliamentarians).

Frahm later went on to make a greater point when he said that politicians and the business community often try and hijack the arts for the purposes of financial capital – thus implicitly stating that culture is only ‘a good’ if it is financially tangible. I tend to agree with this assessment of the arts under capitalism and indeed Frahm’s assessment.

There have been calls this past week to allow for human rights groups and NGO’s to advertise on the Opera House to determine whether there is some degree of favouritism for Alan Jones and his lackeys from the Liberal Party of Australia. There most certainly is, we should accept that. However, we should not accept that two wrongs make a right. We ought not to advertise anything other than arts and the celebration of Australian culture on the sails of Australia’s most recognisable building.

The Sydney Opera House is not a billboard, it is a national icon that represents Sydney’s growing culture. If we treat our most well-known building as a political or business tool, we lose the benefits of artistic culture for what is being advertised, whether political or financial.

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