In the 1400s, it was universally believed that the earth was flat and that the sun moved around it. History was viewed as the result of divine intervention rather than the result of cause and effect.
These were absolute or ‘concrete’ ideologies and to question them was to be branded a heretic for which the penalty was at best, imprisonment and torture or more often, death.
Copernicus, Galileo, and Machiavelli challenged and proved these absolutist ideologies to be false.
Until the late 1960s, the dominant ideology toward women was that of Kirche, Kinder, Kamin (Church, Children, Hearth).
Women were expected to remain chaste until marriage, could only enter the workforce in a very limited capacity, and divorce was difficult if not unthinkable.
Greer, Steinem, Friedan et al. challenged these ideologies and overturned them.
From the early 1900s until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, the dominant ideology in Western countries was the fear of the Yellow Peril, which morphed into the Red Menace and the ‘domino theory’, particularly in Australia where defense became the central issue on which elections were contested for more than a quarter of a century.
To question this ideology was to be branded as a communist or communist sympathizer (Pink-o) and in many instances, especially in the United States during the McCarthy era, led to jail sentences, blacklisting, and years of constant surveillance by law enforcement agencies.
With the withdrawal of the US troops from Vietnam in 1975, the domino theory collapsed and by the late 1990s was viewed as quaint and totally misguided as the flat earth theory.
Today, it is not defense but economics that form the main battleground on which the campaigns for election including the one at present, are fought.
This focus on economics by both the left and the right has become so deeply ingrained in political debate to the extent that the prevailing notion in developed countries is that society should tailor itself to serve economic theory rather than economic theory serving society.
Since the 1980s, the ‘concrete ideology’ used for economic modeling is that of the ‘Chicago Boys’, Milton Friedman and Arnold Harberger, which espouses the virtues of the ‘Free Market’ through laissez-faire policies.
These policies rest on an end to government interference in regulating the economy, free and open markets and the privatization of state owned enterprises.
It was the determination by the disciples of Friedman and Harberger to bring these policies to their logical conclusion, unfettered and unregulated capitalism, which led to the Global Financial Crisis.
However, rather than abandon this destructive ideology, which in the main has concentrated wealth in the hands of the few while systematically destroying public services, labour markets, and welfare; governments in the US and Australia opted for mild restraints on some of the more extreme practices of laissez-faire capitalism, and then carried on with ‘business as usual.’
Politically, this has meant that rather than challenging the ideologies of the Chicago School of economic theory, leftist or social welfare policy based parties such as the ALP, continue to play the game on their opponents terms and are therefore at a constant disadvantage.
Similarly to the Inquistion of Rome when faced with Galileo’s theory, the ALP seems to have concluded that other theories of economic modeling may be supported as a possibilty but not as established fact.
This is akin to a debate between scholars in the 15th. century arguing over whether the earth rests on the back of a giant tortise or is supported by four giant elephants. The basic premise of the ideology is never questioned and remains Stat Veritas (the standing truth).
Fortunately, there are challenges arising the the use of ‘Friedmanomics’, the most prominent of which is Modern Monetary Theory or Chartalism.
Economists such as Randall Wray, and Thom Hartmann in the US, along with Bill Mitchell and Victor Quirk in Australia have been arguing the case for MMT economic modeling to replace those of Friedman and Harberger and are attracting a rapidly growing number of followers world wide.
If social welfare policy based political parties such as the ALP wish to recover the ground lost to the rise of neo-liberalism and offer a genuine alternative to the electorate (something that The Post would argue that they are desperately wanting), then they would be well advised to listen to what is being said.
After all, no political or economic theory is ever ‘set in concrete’.