5 May 1999

Academic calls for more social impact research on economic rationalism

A University of Queensland academic has criticised economic rationalism as a "dumb" economic theory and has questioned its rise in Australian political thinking.

Dr Paul Smyth of the University's Social Work and Social Policy Department said he believed there had been inadequate Federal government research on the social impacts of competition policy.

"The government documentation shows poor research and unquestioned assumptions about the social benefits of economic rationalism," he said.

Economic rationalism is an economic theory that relies on market forces to determine outcomes in the economy.

Dr Smyth has spent the past 10 years researching the social effects of economic rationalism, especially the Keating employment and labour market reforms of the late 1980s and early 1990s for a book Contesting the Australian Way: States, Markets and Civil Society. Dr Smyth and Professor Bettina Cass, Dean of Arts at the University of Sydney, co-edited the book published recently by Cambridge University Press.

He said the book discussed how successive governments ignored the ways in which ordinary people were affected by restructures of the Australian economy. These consequences included increased unemployment levels and "insecure" employment.

His book also describes the difficulties he encountered while researching the background leading to the government's adoption of the changes.

"I wanted to find out how dumb ideas get through government," he said. "However, I was continually stonewalled while researching government papers on the process."

Dr Smyth said he eventually found documentation demonstrating that only shallow investigations were conducted on the social consequences of competition policy reforms. To redress the imbalance, he said the Australian government and society should place seventies social issues back on the political agenda.

"These issues, including Aboriginal and women's rights, are currently being sidetracked," he said.
Dr Smyth lectures in social policy, and was formerly a senior research officer for the Jesuit Social Research and Action Centre based at Kings Cross, Sydney.

Dr Smyth, Dr Geoff Dow of the Government Department and Dr George Lafferty of the Graduate School of Management were guest speakers at a recent Beyond Economic Rationalism panel discussion in the Speaking their Minds series organised by the University Bookshop at Wordsmiths Cafe.

o The next discussion in the series will be presented by former Victorian Premier Joan Kirner and prominent lawyer and academic Moira Rayner on Thursday May 6 at 6pm. They will discuss their forthcoming book Women's Power Handbook.

For further information contact Dr Paul Smyth, telephone
07 3365 1487.