Labour and questioning economic assumptions…

After returning back to University, this week, I am wanting to reflect upon a term we focused upon in yesterday’s seminar: ontology. Without being too complicated, I think the debates around the term relates to the way Labour are framing their own economic and political narrative, at their conference – especially evidenced by Ed Balls’s speech regarding economic ‘credibility’ that essentially means they will bow down to the hegemonic neoliberal doctrine espoused by the majority of those in power. Whilst the IMF prepare a ‘rescue’ plan, world leaders and political diplomats alike are utilising and promoting methods and policies that got us into this mess in the first place.

But are they totally unaware of this?

This brings me onto the question of ontology – a philosophical term, but can be applied to political analysis when trying to outline the nature and subject matter of political inquiry. Different theories have different ontologies. Interestingly, many theorists involved in rational choice theory, associated with the likes of Milton Friedman, accept that their ontology is actually more of an ‘ideal’ than reality, a pretend construction of social and political reality. It is more a means to an end, in order to develop a set of equations/predictions of human behaviour (in rational theory sense), so they need this type of simplification in order to create such a model and consequently, their selfish economic and political policies. If only Milton Friedman’s own analysis of rational choice theory had been more mainstream, then maybe people would have been more critical of the economic and political policies that arose in the 80s and became ‘gospel’:

“truly important and significant hypotheses will be found to have “assumptions” that are widely inaccurate as descriptive representations of reality, and in general, the more significant the theory, the more unrealistic the assumptions” (1953:14-15).

So how does this relate to Labour? Essentially, it illustrates the false premise of most of the economic assumptions closely related to rational choice theory. That theorists associated with such a theory don’t actually believe this (self-interested etc.) is how people are like, is for me, rather problematic especially given the dominance of such views in political, economic and social life. It illustrates the role of ideas, and the power certain ideas have in a society of rampant consumption and capital excess. It brings light to questions such as how much globalisation is used as a term to excuse unfair policies, it illustrates the need to question basic assumptions of political analysis and policies that are put forward as ‘hard’ ‘scientific’ ‘facts’.

Whilst a complicated way of illustrating such a point, it demonstrates the need to question political assumptions and the obvious flaws within the current dominant neoliberal theory that is essential to creating the problems, but is also ironically seen as the ‘saviour’ of them too. We need to fight this, but sadly no mainstream party has yet cast off the shackles of capitalist hegemony.


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