In May 1997, the Declaration of European economists has been published as a response to increasingly neo-liberal economic policies of the EU commission. The Declaration considers employment, social equity, and environment, as the basic economic objectives, which should be pursued for themselves. In spite of recognising complexity as a background ‘logic’ for welfare considerations, the Declaration views that full employment plays a central role, because it strengthens the macroeconomic basis in the ways which facilitate the pursuit of the other main objectives. In our paper this theoretical retreat from the complexity to the macroeconomics is brought forward and refused as an authentic alternative to neo-liberal approach. A presentation of social reality that is reduced to either/or choices (micro-macro; growth-environment, employment-equity) is painfully insufficient in the face of the complex configuration of society. The main dilemma of European economic progress is than not between micro (‘lisbonian’, neo-liberal) and macro (‘alternative’, socially based) approach. Instead, it is a choice between binary and antagonistic or complex and plural approach to welfare considerations.
Receedingly Progressive? Against the Keynesian Alternative to Neo-liberalism
Social reality can be observed as a set of relationships between the goals that should be pursued for themselves because they are incommensurable. There are many social realities, which provide us with different ‘numeraires’ and views of the world, and they are not reducible to only one common denominator (Funtowicz, Ravetz, 1994). Two dimensions of incommensurability are put forward in the Declaration: in scope (employment, social equity, and environment) and in scale (micro, macro). Economic alternatives can be than discussed in complex setting from the aspect of a set of perspectives or relations between incommensurable features of social phenomena. This kind of complexity is pluraly relativistic (Geertz, 2000) because it covers many relative, parallel views of one closed reality/universe containing many (pre)existing substantial contexts.
Consequences of epistemic turn from reductionism to complexity are practical such as to frame discussion about precarity. Precarious as a specific, hybrid form of ‘labour market’ are forced with the government policies to consider incommensurable goals of progress as antagonistic. So in their view, macroeconomy is not alternative to microeconomy but only its negation. What is needed from the aspect of precarious as flexible labour is not full employment (de-flexibilisation) but possibility to choose between substantively (macro) different ’employment’ options on the micro level.
In a complex presentation of social reality, macro view obtains different meaning compared to the Keynesian one – it remains relevant but also increasingly fragmented to focus different incommensurable forms of progress. For the complex thinking, new type of macroscopy is necessary which will basically only maintain system’s ‘consciousnesses of its own complexity or dimensions of incommensurability – but refuses to interfere with judgements on substantive issues. In this way new macroscopy is crucial as a guarantee for society members against exclusion resulting from an application of the reduced concepts of rationality and social reality. We conclude that precarisation of labour is not primarily a result of increased capital mobility, nor of inflexible labour force but primarily a result of decreasingly flexible governance in both, its micro and in its macroeconomic functions.
The ability of correct diagnosis of incommensurable relations is essential to public policies as they operate in an intermediate meso level, serving both actual people, while also pursuing ‘higher’ or macroscopic objectives. Their inability to take into account incommensurable aspects of reality is not a consequence of their incompatibility, but only of the one-sided approach to complex phenomena. The main challenge for the alternative approach to economic policy in EU is not the unbridgeability of conflicts between incommensurable goals, but the basic economic and cultural (Bourdieu, 1989) choice between a one-sided (antagonistically exclusive economism) and plural relativistic (non-exclusive) vision of the world and concepts for its description. To build a plural view of social order obviously, is not only a matter of democracy, it is moreover a matter of rationality (Elling, 2003) as it creates a fundamentally advanced ‘mathématique sociale’ (Condorcet, 1773).
The Alternative ECOFIN, 3.-4. April 2008, Ljubljana; Bojan Radej, independent social researcher, Ljubljana, March 2008, email@example.com;