Liberal democracies are at the tipping point of a tectonic policy shift as awareness has risen in academic and policy circles of the need to transcend the current model of governance – one that aggravated the ecological trauma, generated the 2008 financial meltdown, and transformed the 2020 coronavirus outbreak into a global economic and social crisis. Our current historical juncture contains a remarkable potential for progressive social transformation beyond the reproduction and intensification of the strained neoliberal economic order. In a series of online symposia, the OSUN Economic Democracy Initiative will explore this potential by convening a trans-disciplinary discussion of key aspects of the nascent transformation.
Two aspects of the project set it apart from other initiatives discussing neoliberalism and its transformations:
We focus on precarity as a fundamental force that reproduces the neoliberal economy. We see illiberalism as a consolidation of neoliberalism (rather than evidence of its crisis), largely because liberal democracy failed to address the question of economic insecurity.
We also focus on the interdependence between public and private finance and on ways of emancipating the former from the latter (legally, institutionally, at the policy level). States respond to crises with “whatever-it-takes” financing strategies to stabilize financial markets, profits and investment, but not with policies that secure tight full employment, the social safety-net, or the green transition.
Our conversations are organized in seven rubrics.
While inequality has been at the center of debates on economic justice since the turn of the century, attention to economic insecurity has remained marginal. This symposium will address inequality, insecurity and poverty as distinct socio-economic grievances and will explore the relations among them. It will examine economic precarity as a force that reproduces inequalities. When does inequality become an issue of social concern? Is it a cause or consequence of economic precarity? How do economic inequalities translate into social inequalities? What institutions mediate this process? How is reduction in wealth disparity likely to affect insecurity and poverty and vice versa?
Rule of law backsliding and generally the rise of autocratic style of rule even in mature democracies have become trademarks of the neoliberal socio-economic order. We will investigate the link between grievances of economic injustice and the decreasing public affinity for political liberalism.
The protagonists that interact on the global stage represent various models of political economy. Differences in state-market and state-society relations impact not only dynamics within sovereign states, but also between them. As these actors compete with each other for access to markets and sources of profit, they emulate each other’s most competitive features in a process that has far-reaching consequences for their national communities and the global society. What is the likelihood, for instance, that western liberal democracies inadvertently emulate the Chinese model of autocratic capitalism as they compete with it?
The postwar social compact failed to deliver long-term employment security and decent employment to most parts of the worlds. Prolonged unemployment, unstable employment, and precarious work emerged as fundamental structural forces of the neoliberal economic order. What then is the future of work in the post-neoliberal economy? Does it necessitate a renewed global dialogue around labor rights or a rethinking of public policy along basic economic rights? Will it devise policies to strengthen traditional forms of formal employment or create a framework for economic security that supports informal and increasingly disruptive employment arrangements? Whatever that future, a key and recurrent demand with respect to work has been the need to democratize it. The symposium will focus on the question of the future of work: how to rethink, reorganize, and democratize it.
In its coming of age, neoliberal capitalism has renegotiated the relationship between state and society, between private money and public finance, and altered the role public authority gets to play in balancing societal risks and private opportunities, in managing the distribution of losses and gains. How have the unique financing capacities of States been deployed, constrained, or apprehended by private actors? Are there opportunities and democratizing tendencies to reassign these powers to addressing economic insecurity? How has the ‘digitalization of everything’ affected the power dynamics between financial and industrial capital? What type of conflicts does it engender? At what levels of public authority should we seek institutional solutions to the unwelcome effects of globally integrated, digitized capitalism?
What trajectories of change does the present contain? Are there substantive shifts in the economics and politics of the Global South that suggest pathways for change? What factors may keep windows of opportunity open, what threats can close them quickly? What interplay of factors is likely to decide which paths remain untraveled? In a word, can we identify enabling conditions and democratizing tendencies?
When adopted unreflectively, available formulae of progressive social critique and tools of policy reform risk to hamper efforts of rigorous diagnosis and constructive transformation. What certitudes should we dispel in prevailing patterns of academic analysis and social criticism? What synergies among forms of intellectual inquiry do we need to build? How do we generate critique that is both ambitious and realistic, so as to help us discern available opportunities to travel together towards a better future?
The project is curated by Professors Albena Azmanova, University of Kent, and Pavlina R. Tcherneva, Bard College/OSUN-EDI. In their analyses of modern democracies, most recently they have discerned the insecurity of livelihoods as the root cause of the social malaise affecting these societies.
Pavlina R. Tcherneva, Ph.D., is Professor of Economics at Bard College, the Director of OSUN’s Economic Democracy Initiative, and a Research Scholar at the Levy Economics Institute, NY. She is a macroeconomist specializing in monetary economics and stabilization policy.
Her book The Case for a Job Guarantee (2020) is the ultimate guide to the benefits of one of the most transformative public policies being discussed today. It was named one of the Financial Times best economics books of 2020 and has been published in eight languages. Her early work assessed Argentina’s adoption of a similar large-scale job creation proposal she had developed with colleagues in the United States. Tcherneva has collaborated with experts from the United Nations Human Rights Council, the International Labor Organization, members of the European Parliament, as well as policy makers from the United States and abroad on designing and evaluating employment programs. She also worked with the Sanders 2016 Presidential campaign after her research on inequality had garnered national attention. In 2020, she was invited to serve on the Biden-Harris economic policy volunteer committee, during their Presidential run.
Tcherneva’s areas of research include monetary and fiscal policy coordination, the Bernanke doctrine, and policy responses during the Great Financial Crisis and the COVID-19 economic shock. She frequently speaks at central banks, professional associations, non-profit institutions, and community groups on topics ranging from modern money theory and economic (in)security to inequality and job creation.
Her first book Full Employment and Price Stability (2004), co-edited with M. Forstater, is a rare collection of the lesser-known works by Nobel Prize–winning economist William Vickrey on employment and inflation, and reinterprets his proposals for the modern day.
In 2006, she was a visiting scholar at the University of Cambridge, U.K., where she immersed herself in J.M. Keynes’s collected writings. She developed an interpretation of Keynes’s policy approach to full employment for which she was recognized by the Association for Social Economics with the Helen Potter Prize (2012).
Albena Azmanova, EDI Senior Fellow. Albena is a Professor of Political and Social Science at the University of Kent, Honorary Fellow at the Institute for Global Sustainable Development, University of Warwick, and Affiliate Member of the Bauman Institute, University of Leeds. Her research focuses on political and social transformations, with analyses of social justice and political judgment, democratic transition and consolidation, critiques of capitalism, social protest, and electoral mobilization. In her last book, Capitalism on Edge. How Fighting Precarity Can Achieve Radical Change Without Crisis or Utopia (Columbia University Press, 2020) she identifies ubiquitous insecurity as politically generated social harm, traces its political consequences and charts an anti-precarity policy agenda. The book has received numerous awards, among which is the Michael Harrington Award, with which the American Political Science Association “recognizes an outstanding book that demonstrates how scholarship can be used in the struggle for a better world”.
Professor Azmanova has held academic positions at the Institute for Human Sciences, Vienna; The Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, Cologne; the University of California Berkeley; Harvard University; Sciences Po. Paris; and the New School for Social Research, New York. She has worked as a policy advisor for a number of international organizations, most recently, as a member of the Independent Commission for Sustainable Equality to the European Parliament and as consultant to the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs.
Professor Azmanova is co-founder and co-Editor in Chief of Emancipations: a Journal of Critical Social Analysis, member of the editorial boards of the journals Review of Evolutionary Political Economy, Philosophy and Social Criticism, and member of the International Advisory Board of the “Alternatives to Capitalism in the 21st Century” series of Bristol University Press.