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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 35 no. 20. 1972

An Open Letter to Prof. Philpott

An Open Letter to Prof. Philpott

Dear Professor,

Your address to the Management convention during the varsity holidays showed once again, if further proof were needed, that though radical politics may go on holiday, reactionary politics certainly do not. The theme of your address was not, of course, novel. The assertion that ". . . the only way the economy is going to digest the present frozen wage-price relationship is by a massive expansion of growth over the next year or so," has by now attained the status of a ritual incantation among economic "experts". What was new however, was the way in which you singled out for attack those groups who seem to you to most threaten the attainment of the capitalist millenium - - trade unions, "hippies", "opters-out", and unrealistic, idealistic students. The "message" (whatever that is supposed to imply; penal clauses in industrial relations legislation perhaps) will have to be put across to trade union you suggest, to make them understand that they are being naive if they believe they should not have to choose between higher real wages and a shorter working week. In tact, from the standpoint of a worker as opposed to that of a bourgeois economist such as yourself, the demand for a shorter working week and no restrictions on wages is quite basic. To reject it is to conced that 'the economy" will run less and less in his interests, which in turn exposes the idiocy and illogicality of expecting him to make voluntarily the reverse commitment.

What it adds up to is one of the inescapable contradictions of capitalism; that every individual or sector behaving rationally in capitalist terms, i.e., attempting to maximise gain, gel more for less, tills out a Total picture of irrationality, and chaos. However, since rationalising the irrational is your occupation, a way must be found to obscure the problem and its source. The path is, of course, to equate a partial interest, that of the capitalist class, with the interests of society as a whole by invoking concepts such as the "national good" or "the economy" when what you are really talking about are the businessmen only No doubt you will say that the two are synonymous, but this, as Philip Toynbee has pointed out ..is no more than a tautology which states that it a community allows itself to depend for its health and sickness on the size of the profits made by its capital then this is, indeed, the case". And if more proof were needed that your economic "truth" is one that is very much for sale, it is surely to be found in your statement that. "It is easier and more dignified to correct problems of low living standards by raising the general average rather than by redistributing a static level of income". Easier for whom-for a government with such a strong ideological commitment to private enterprise as the present National one? And more dignified for whom? Certainly not for a family with a forty dollar a week income, four children to keep and no sign of the State house promised to them twelve months or more ago. But then these are not the people you are interested in. And that is not just a ll personal slight. For as Ernest Mandel, (Rarely quoted in your lectures I am told) has said "...unless you are out to deceive people, you cannot sermonize for a more rapid economic expansion, which under capitalism implies an increase in private investments; and simultaneously demand a redistribution of the national income in favour of the wage earner." Similarly even if total production were to rise as massively as you wish, and even in the average [unclear: income c] all groups in society were to rise, income differences and relative income distances may nevertheless become greater, thereby making the contrasts between wealth and poverty stand out more sharply.

On top of all this there are then people ("idealists" to you no doubt) who would say that your blanket call for a massive expansion of growth suggests you have never heard of ecology and the environment. Not that I would recommend the 'no growth" slogan. The question, as Barry Weisberg says, is "..what kinds of growth must be encouraged and what kinds of growth should be prohibited, not whether growth itself should be condemned wholesale. Flowers grow, children grow, personalities grow. So can capital production, and consumption." With capital profitability as your overriding criterion in deciding what kinds of commodity; production to encourage, it is quite clear that you lack the ability and responsibility to make the kind of decisions Weisberg sees as being necessary. The point is that try as you may, you cannot reconcile private gain with public good. To say accusingly as you do, that "Students, some of whom are extremely vocal in their opposition to growth and big business, are exactly docile in their demands for mo resources, especially for housing and accommodation", is to concede that they have recognized this contradiction and acted on it, while you cannot even see it. Moving quickly to the end, one can pass over your pontificating statement that "We should always note that most of the hippies and opters-out of this world are to be found in high income societies where alone do conditions permit this luxury", since the conjunction between "high income italist societies and alienation shows that it is the former which causes the latter. That fact in turn makes nonsense of your prior assertion that the most important quality of life is the freedom to do what one wanted with one's own time and money. To say that a beggar in Calcutta would welcome the opportunity to opt in to the system you revere is to argue from both expediency and sadism. It is after all, your kind of economics which goes to make for beggars in Calcutta. Finally, again speaking of students, you say that, "..one finds that those loudest in their declamation against growth are already in a reasonably high income group and can afford the luxury of then idealism". So anyone who oppose your concept of growth is automatically an idealist. One could suggest that this assertion show a mentality that cannot conceive of a role for people in society other than that of performing seal for the status quo One might also ask whether you consider your type of criticism is attributable to or can be traced back to the social interests you represent. Similarly, I would guess that having a base at university from which to run around doing the establishment's rationalising for it probably yields you a large income. Saying that brings us to the real crunch ; for you are after all, supposed to be a teacher, her, one who encourages the development of critical faculties. Your speech shows, again if further proof were needed, that the two functions do not and cannot mix.

Peter Wilson.

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