peteg's blog - noise - books - 2018 01 11 DennisGlover AnEconomyIsNotASociety

Dennis Glover: An Economy is not a Society (2015).

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Kindle. A segue from Glover's more-recent and substantial The Last Man in Europe. Here he pines for the glory days when Doveton (his working-class hometown near Dandenong) was a community of workers and social mobility was a possibility; this local boy went all the way to a PhD at Cambridge. Since the economy imploded (the car factories and Heinz cannery have progressively closed from the 1990s) the place has been overrun by drug fiends and hopelessness. A local school (now derelict and destroyed) and the massive spaces vacated by domestic industry are put forth in evidence.

Glover argues from the heart, so while I am completely sympathetic to his concerns and conclusions, I found this polemic unpersuasive. The days of nation building are long gone, long before I became an adult, and certainly on the wane when I was born. (Cynically I'd say the game now is to grab a piece of the pie before climate change makes it a lot smaller.) That the ALP has lost the plot is no news to anyone. Interestingly Glover wants the (now non-)working classes to self-organise, to reclaim the ALP, and asserts baldly that the other classes (e.g. professionals) cannot sufficiently empathise with stiffs working on the poverty line to be any use politically. He claims to want a return to low-skilled work but when pushed it's really about artisanal stuff, like specialized toolsmithing, that are obviously intrinsically rewarding activities. Old ideas such as a universal basic income, or encouraging people to take productivity dividends in fewer work hours (let the robots sweat) are completely ignored; I for one am dubious that there was ever any dignity in working for money, pretty much no matter the work. Glover is down on the deification of RJL Hawke and Paul Keating, and fair enough too. He is entirely right that Gough Whitlam executed a far more progressive agenda in far less time and has now been airbrushed from history.

Glover's biggest fault is to gesture at history and not dig into it. Why did the golden era he experienced and champions here come to an end? Could it have gone differently, or were the forces of what we now call globalization too much for any individual nation to tame? (Glover gestures at the state of the old industrial towns in the USA.) John Quiggin observed that Paul Keating always went with the intellectual flow, and has now come to realize the limits of the agenda he himself prosecuted. (Note also that Quiggin often uses professionalism — consider university and hospital staffers — to combat silly talk of paypacket maximization being the only motivator.) Fellow speechwriter Don Watson made similar complaints to Glover in his old book Weasel Words and his 2014 book The Bush that I've half read. David Ireland's The Unknown Industrial Prisoner suggests Glover had limited experience of industrial relations and work and safety issues in the 1970s. Donald Horne and Hugh Mackay laid out the issues of a changing Australia far more systematically, and scientifically, capably demonstrating that the humanities have more to offer in response to heartless econospeak than nostalgic bleating. And of course Barry Jones's Sleepers Wake! canvassed the changing conditions faced by the Australian workforce in the early 1980s. Glover does not contemplate what the internet has done to things.

There are many worthwhile comments at goodreads.