Friday, 12 December 2014

How to Promote a Global Economic Recovery? The Keynesian vs. Free Market approach

What are the best economic policies to promote global recovery? Steven Kates, Associate Professor of Economics at RMIT University, tries to persuade Louis-Philippe Rochon, Associate Professor at Laurentian University and Founding Co-editor of the Review of Keynesian Economics, that Keynesian theory just makes economic problems worse.

Painter Duncan Grant with economist John Maynard Keynes. Wikimedia Commons.

Dear Louis-Philippe,
There are about as many versions of Keynesian theory as there are Keynesians but all versions have two things in common. The first is that economies are driven by aggregate demand. The second is that an economy’s rate of growth and level of employment can be increased by increasing aggregate demand, either through higher public spending or lowering rates of interest. Both are wrong and the destructive consequences of these beliefs are everywhere to be seen.
The following was written by two winners of the Nobel Prize in economics just as the fiscal stimulus was being introduced.
“In the middle of the Great Depression John Maynard Keynes published The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. In this 1936 masterwork, Keynes described how creditworthy governments like those of the United States and Great Britain could borrow and spend, and thus put the unemployed back to work.” (Akerlof and Shiller, 2009: 2)

This is what I wrote at exactly the same time.
“What is potentially catastrophic would be to try to spend our way to recovery. The recession that will follow will be deep, prolonged and potentially take years to overcome.” (Kates 2009)

You be the judge. Who was right? We had the stimulus and the unemployed have not been put back to work. We are instead in the sixth year of recessionary conditions which have indeed been deep, prolonged and which will still take years to overcome.
In the 1990s, Japan, at the time the most dynamic and amongst the fastest growing economies in the world, attempted the same kind of Keynesian stimulus. Its economy has remained comatose ever since.
And then, of course, there was the Great Stagflation of the 1970s brought on by the direct application of Keynesian theory to the problems of the time.
You would think after such consistent failure people would begin to understand that the problem is Keynesian theory, the common factor in each case. But so powerful has been the grip of the theory of aggregate demand that in spite of everything, the theory has virtually never been questioned.
If anyone knows anything about what Keynes wrote, it is that recessions are caused by too much saving. Public spending is therefore needed to soak up those savings, which businesses either cannot borrow because expected returns are too low or won’t borrow because interest rates have not fallen far enough. Here was Keynes’s advice on the kind of response that was therefore needed:
“If the Treasury were to fill old bottles with banknotes, bury them . . . and leave it to private enterprise . . . to dig the notes up again . . . there need be no more unemployment. . . . It would, indeed, be more sensible to build houses and the like; but if there are political and practical difficulties in the way of this, the above would be better than nothing.” (Keynes 1936: 128-129 and quoted with approval exactly as shown above in Temin and Vines 2014: 50)

This has been the essence of Keynesian theory from that day to this.
There is unemployment because the community is saving too much. Something must be done to put those savings to work. For various reasons, the private sector cannot be depended on to use those savings and interest rates cannot be lowered far enough. Therefore, public expenditure to soak up these savings must be increased and it is irrelevant whether such expenditure is in itself value adding. Even if a government increases expenditure on projects that are purely wasteful, this spending will increase the total level of aggregate demand. The increase in aggregate demand will then lead to an increase in national wealth and a fall in unemployment.
The specific point made by Keynesian economists is that spending on anything will restore an economy to full employment and raise living standards.
A century ago it was obvious to every economist alive why a stimulus of this kind could not work. Today the problems with such an approach are invisible and apparently incomprehensible.
Certainly a government can itself employ, or can buy from others causing those others to employ. And those additional employees can use their incomes to buy things from others still. And so, for a brief period of time, we can say there has been an increase in employment relative to how many might otherwise have been employed.
But unless whatever has been produced is value adding, as time goes by these additional employees merely drain away the productive capacity of the economy. Savings are indeed absorbed but the value left behind is lower than the value used up during production. The economy not only remains stagnant, it winds even further down as its resource base is diverted into wasteful forms of expenditure.
Moreover, the resource base of the economy is not just misdirected into the particular goods and services sought by governments, but the inputs, whose production has also been encouraged by the “stimulus”, become a further distortion of what was already a grossly misdirected structure of production.
The structure of the economy has thus become even more misshapen than it had been when the stimulus began and the problem cannot be cured until the non-value adding components of the stimulus are wound back. You can call the process “austerity” if you like. But the fact is that there can be no solution to the problems the stimulus has caused until the various non-value-adding projects the government has introduced are withdrawn.
The adjustment process is inescapably painful, far more drawn out than recovery from the original recession would have been, but there is no alternative if an economy is ever to regain its strength. But because they think in terms of aggregate demand, no Keynesian ever understands what needs to be done.
Let me approach this in a different way. This is the fundamental equation of Keynesian economics (leaving aside foreign trade):

Y = C + I + G

Aggregate demand (Y) is the amount spent by consumers on consumer goods (C) plus the amount spent by businesses on investment (I) plus total spending by governments (G). The underlying presumption is that the higher the level of Y, the higher the level of output and employment.
In a recession business investment goes down, and as Y goes down, employees lose their jobs. To lift Y back up and therefore raise employment, the policy recommended by Keynesians is to raise the level of government spending on absolutely anything at all.
What you then have is less investment by business and more spending directed by governments. The proportion of expenditure on productive forms of output has been reduced while spending on less productive and often totally unproductive forms of output has increased.
No one wants recessions and the unemployment recessions bring. But a Keynesian response that attempts to lift aggregate demand without first increasing value-adding supply can never succeed. There is no mechanism that can lead from higher levels of wasteful expenditure to higher living standards and more employment.
That so many seem unable to learn from experience, or any longer understand the reasons why wasteful spending can never be a solution to recessions and unemployment, is the most astonishing part about having watched events unfold since the GFC.
Obviously, none of this can be properly explained in a brief note of a thousand words. If you are interested in understanding not only why Keynesian economics provides no solutions to our economic problems, but also what should be done instead, read the second edition of my Free Market Economics: an Introduction for the General Reader. There is literally nothing else like it anywhere.
Best wishes,
Akerlof, George and Shiller, Robert. 2009. Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy, and Why It Matters for Global Capitalism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Kates, Steven. 2009. “The Dangerous Return to Keynesian Economics.” Quadrant.
2014. Free Market Economics: an Introduction for the General Reader. 2nd edition. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing.
Keynes, John Maynard. 1936. The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. London: Macmillan.

Temin, Peter and Vines, David. 2014. Keynes: Useful Economics for the World Economy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
You can follow the reply and the following correspondence on Elgar Blog, where this was originally published. 

Thursday, 4 December 2014

The Next Industrial Revolution

by Professor Milan Brandt, Technical Director, RMIT’s Advanced Manufacturing Precinct

Manufacturing in Australia can survive if we simply think outside the box. 

When Holden and Ford announced they were ceasing to manufacture cars in Australia it was Victorians, along with those in South Australia, who felt the punch the hardest. Whether it’s the value of the Australian dollar impacting on imports and exports or whether it’s the fact that machines have taken over from what humans once did by hand, there has been nothing but pessimism about the future of manufacturing across the country.

I would argue that it’s as much about semantics as it is about the actual demise of an entire industry sector. Manufacturing is largely defined as the fabrication, processing, or preparation of products from raw materials and commodities - be it cars, bottles, pasta, hair ties or aeroplanes.

We need to rethink the way we look at manufacturing. Forget about the old school variety of creating something out of beaten metal. Instead, think along the lines of new ways of manufacturing.

Here at RMIT University we are investing heavily in exploring different ways of manufacturing in Australia, with a focus on additive manufacturing.  Two and a half years ago we opened the Advanced Manufacturing Precinct to help industry transition from the traditional manufacturing processes to advanced manufacturing technologies such as 3D printing. The Advanced Manufacturing Precinct houses some of the latest additive technologies in the world: both polymer and metal based. Our focus is on developing new products and processes using these technologies and high-performance materials such as titanium, plastics and composites.

Manufacturing means moving away from “rapid prototyping” to full-scale production of customised functional final products and parts directly from digital design and without the need for tooling – this is particularly suited to the aerospace, defence, medical and sports sectors.

For example, take additive manufacturing or 3D printing on an industrial scale. A couple of years ago the technology seemed space age and hugely expensive. Now it is being used to create everything from a titanium section of bone tailor-made to fit a particular patient’s damaged leg, to a state of the art titanium bicycle or spacecraft part.

We are developing new materials that can be used in additive technologies; new metal alloy powders and polymer materials. This will contribute to the growth of additive technology, which is estimated to be increasing at around 16%  per annum and will reach US$3.5 billion by 2015.

Last year US President, Barack Obama, mentioned 3D printing in his State of the Union Address: “A once-shuttered warehouse is now a state-of-the art lab where new workers are mastering the 3-D printing that has the potential to revolutionise the way we make almost everything."

Associate Professor Hod Lipson, Director of the Creative Machines Lab at Cornell University in the US and co-author of Fabricated: the New World of 3D Printing, said that technology will boost manufacturing not so much by replacing old-school products but by creating new business models “based on this idea of customisation.”

Why? Because it all comes down to cost - ask Ford or Holden. They are leaving Australia because it simply costs too much to stay and make things locally. Additive manufacturing – or 3D printing technology – is about cost as well. It’s now possible to 3D print house, a robotic arm or a crucial section of a NASA rocket – all for the cost of, yes, a small sized family car.

Australia is a leading player in developing new applications and feedstock materials for additive technology. It’s a manufacturing skill we excel at and one that could well take Victoria back to being a manufacturing powerhouse.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Direct Action could deliver a useful outcome: carbon trading

By Alan Pears AM, RMIT University

Australia needs to put together a credible sense of carbon policies to tackle climate change. Image via iStock

There’s little point in getting too excited just yet about the details of Direct Action and its merits (or otherwise) as compared with emissions trading.

Why? Because all of the current debate about Australia’s response to climate change is focused on paths that are completely inadequate compared with the action that climate science tells us we must take. If we were really serious, we would no longer be trying to expand our fossil-fuel production.

If we were serious, we would increase the Renewable Energy Target, rather than the government proposing to cut it. We would introduce aggressive energy-efficiency measures, instead of shutting down and emasculating programs. We would protect the carbon stored in our forests. And we would be actively helping to cut emissions in developing countries.

We would still pursue Direct Action, but also put a price on carbon. As I have pointed out here before, the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

Putting together a credible set of carbon policies will mean finding ways of extracting ourselves from the political morass we are now in.

Even Direct Action, based on the Emission Reduction Fund, is opposed by many within the federal government who see climate change as a left-wing conspiracy or an otherwise trivial issue.

While Labor is now once again waving the flag for a price on carbon via an emissions trading scheme, it has shown a remarkable level of generosity to high-emitting industries and a badly misjudged approach to Direct Action, demonising the idea despite having previously encouraged direct initiatives such as the Carbon Farming Initiative.

Regardless of their ostensibly contrasting stances, both major parties are deeply committed to growing fossil fuel production for export.

Given this mess, what do we do?

Individuals, community groups, local governments, progressive businesses, and some state governments are acting in many constructive ways, despite the failures and, in many areas, active opposition of our political and business leaders.

Investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy, divestment to shift capital away from high-emission industries, growing support for public transport, lifestyle changes of many kinds, and innovative business and financing models are just some examples.

The recent decline in electricity consumption partly reflects the effectiveness of these actions.

Indeed, Australia may well achieve its 2020 target of a 5% reduction in emissions in spite of, rather than because of, the efforts of our leaders. This will doubtless be claimed as a policy success, rather than an egregious failure to do even more with the opportunity. But that’s politics, I guess.

Direct Action as a base for progress

We do need to at least begin to rebuild a national government path forward on climate. And, believe it or not, last week’s chaotic events do provide some basis for this. If we were back in 1990, when carbon pricing was first discussed, the government’s grudging pledge to conduct a review into emissions trading might even be seen as significant progress.

At the moment, the Direct Action deal does no more than offer a glimpse of hope that we can plot a pragmatic course on climate policy. It also offers scope for climate deniers and free-market advocates to establish a sham scheme that does nothing but increase subsidies to certain industries.

Nor does it avoid the cost of putting a price on carbon: the money simply comes from the taxpayer rather than requiring polluters to pay. Overall, achieving a given level of abatement is likely to cost more under Direct Action, because it is more difficult to target low-cost options and avoid subsidies.

That said, it now looks as though independent senator Nick Xenophon and economist Danny Price (who advises both Xenophon and environment minister Greg Hunt) are in the box seats to drive progress. We also have a basis to progress some moderately useful, potentially unnecessarily expensive, “direct action” measures. Maintaining the existing Carbon Farming Initiative, originally established by Labor and supported by the Coalition, is important.

Meanwhile, the Emissions Reduction Fund – while not as efficient as a wider carbon price covering more of the economy – will deliver emissions reductions within those businesses who successfully bid to receive taxpayer funding.

The fine print on Xenophon’s proposed “safeguard” mechanism to prevent emissions blowouts under the Direct Action scheme will be critical. If this is weak, as envisioned by the government, we are wasting time we no longer have. If an effective framework is introduced, it could form a basis for a “baseline and credit” emissions trading scheme, which could be run by industry if the government doesn’t want to be accused of a backflip, having promised never to return to what it views as the dark days of carbon pricing.

Perhaps the forthcoming emissions trading review, to be carried out by the Climate Change Authority, could focus on practical ways of making this approach workable and politically acceptable.

Setting these safeguards, however, sounds simple in principle but is tricky in practice. It would involve giving each participant in the scheme a “baseline” emissions level, above which they would pay carbon-related penalties. But, as we have seen with existing baseline and credit schemes, including the Clean Development Mechanism, Carbon Farming Initiative, and energy-efficiency trading schemes in New South Wales and Victoria, getting baselines right is much easier said than done.

In our present political context, baseline and credit has some important advantages over the “cap and trade” approach used by Labor. First, emitters only pay for emissions above the baseline, not all emissions, so it’s cheaper for them. Second, they can gain credits for reductions below the baseline, which they can sell to those who exceed their baselines, giving them scope for profit. A smart business can win a generous baseline, so its chances of profit far exceed its risk of costs.

A baseline and credit scheme could also include internationally sourced permits, subject to government approval of the types of permits and the extent to which they could be used. This is no different from the situation under cap and trade.

If appropriate governance mechanisms are built in, the baselines can be tightened over time, to reduce the scope for gaming and windfall profits. This might work better than Labor’s carbon price tactic of giving free permits to emissions-intensive industries, which effectively locked in subsidies. It also allows Clive Palmer to claim support for his suggested “dormant” emissions trading scheme, because any future tightening of baselines would increase the emphasis on trading.

Progressive tightening of baselines could also transition to a cap and trade scheme. By progressively tightening the baselines, a higher proportion of emissions would attract a carbon price. Meanwhile, the scheme could be gradually expanded to include a wider range of businesses and activities.
You never know, by 2020 we might actually have a useful carbon policy. And it might, in an alternative political reality, be called Australia’s emissions trading scheme.

The Conversation
Alan Pears AM provides advice to a range of sustainable energy and community groups. He and his superannuation funds own shares in the renewable energy industry. He sometimes receives funding from sustainable energy industry organisations and individual companies although, at present he is not receiving such funding.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Friday, 7 November 2014

A real victim of online piracy is Australian indie cinema

By Vincent O'Donnell, RMIT University

How does internet piracy affect independents?

Game of Thrones downloaders need not fear data retention plans, said Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull last Friday.

Perhaps there is nothing for pirates to fear from Turnbull, but the Attorney-General George Brandis, is a dreadnought of a different disposition. Data retention will go a long way to facilitate his crusade to crack down on internet piracy.

But who is the biggest loser in this modern epidemic of online piracy?

Speaking at the Australian Digital Alliance forum on February 14 this year, Brandis said that he stood on the side of content creators in the copyright debate.

Perhaps he should have said “rights holders” because content creators are not necessarily the owners of copyright. Ask any wage slave in an animation film factory.
Brandis told the forum:
I firmly believe the fundamental principles of copyright law, the protection of rights of creators and owners did not change with the advent of the internet and they will not change with the invention of new technologies.
Last week, the commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, Andrew Colvin, confirmed “absolutely” that the legislation could be used in the war on illicit downloading of copyright content.

Knowing the data is there will aid fishing expeditions by interests such as the Dallas Buyers Club LLC, the rights owner of the Oscar-winning film Dallas Buyers Club (2013). They have been pursuing online pirates through the courts in Australia, represented by Antonelli Law.

Dallas Buyers Club LLC use the powers of preliminary discovery, hoping to force internet service providers (ISPs), such as iiNet, its subsidiaries Adam Internet and Internode, Dodo and Amnet Broadband, to reveal the identity of owners of IP addresses that have illegally downloaded copies of Dallas Buyers Club.

If the court action succeeds, identified individuals will receive letters demanding substantial cash licence fees in lieu of further court action. Dallas Buyers Club LLC has followed this practice in several overseas jurisdictions with some success, but the practice has been outlawed in the UK.

Back to the biggest loser … Certainly, the rights holders of big successes in cinema or television suffer losses.

The Australian Content Industry Group (ACIG), relying on work by public policy researchers Sphere Analysis that was published in 2011, has made some claims.

ACIG say the annual value of loss of retail sales to Australian content industries was A$900 million in 2010, and the impact of internet piracy to Commonwealth Government revenues was A$190 million. In addition, some 8,000 jobs were lost in the content industries sector as a result of Internet piracy.

However, the methodology that reached these conclusions was not revealed in detail and so, for many, this was an ambit claim from a partisan player. Nevertheless, while some will claim piracy as a victimless crime, it does have an economic impact, however hard it is to quantify.

According to a survey by US data-protection company CEG TEK, in the 30 days leading up to the opening of the American Film Market in November last year, Elysium (2013) was downloaded a massive 162,000 times a day. That amounted to more than 4.8 million times over the sample period.

How directly the downloads convert to lost ticket sales is unclear.

At a conversion rate of 50% at a ticket price of US$15, that is US$36 million lost. Elysium, with a production budget of US$115 million still grossed US$286,140,700 worldwide so the producers didn’t go broke. But after the exhibitors and distributor took their sizable cuts, the net revenue for the film would be small.

But the biggest losers, the rights holders who are really feeling it in their back pocket, are the independent producers, the rights holders to Australian films such as The Sapphires (2012) or 100 Bloody Acres (2012).
The same survey by CEG TEK, based on sampling peer-to-peer torrent services, discovered that little Aussie gem The Sapphires, at 46th out of the 100 most downloaded shows of the 2013 sample and 100 Bloody Acres at 95.

The Sapphires was the top grossing Australian film at the Australian box office in 2012, taking A$14.5 million. In October 2013, it was still attracting a lot of illegal downloads – 123,030 worldwide and 18,720 in the USA. That’s forgone revenue of just under A$1 million.

But coming in at 95, with 1,929 downloads a day or 57,870 for the month was 100 Bloody Acres. It was released on 12 screens in the US in June 2013 but took only US$6,388. In Australia, it made A$18,356 at the box office corresponding to a paying cinema audience of around 1,300 all up.

In the CEG TEK sample, about 50% more people illegally down loaded 100 Bloody Acres every single day, than saw it in the cinema. And compared to gross Australian and US revenues of A$24,744, the illegal downloads were worth perhaps A$434,000 in box office sales. Viewed in this way, the impact of piracy is devastating to small producers and genre films.

So in the Australian case at least, the ones really suffering from piracy are the small independent producers such as Cyan Films, not so much the big players like Village Roadshow.

Piracy such as that suffered by The Sapphires and 100 Bloody Acres has the potential to kill the Australian film industry. And while it is said that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, it might be the best hope for Australian film-makers.

The Conversation
Vincent O'Donnell does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Monstralia – An Australian Way to Halloween?

by Josie Anna Stockdill

Image by Kirill Nadtochiy

In recent years 45% of those Australians that didn’t celebrate Halloween didn’t partake because they view it as an American tradition. Principally, I wonder why we are so ruthlessly anti-American on this? It seems a long lost battle considering that the Americanisation of Australia really kicked off in the 1920s.

Not to mention that Halloween is actually a Celtic tradition, which can also be linked as far back as the ancient Roman feast of Pomona or festival of Parentalia. On this base level alone we can safely claim it as a part of our founding historical cultures.

Moreover, we don’t need to deny that Halloween exists whilst the retail stores fill with pumpkins around us. There is no need to peer out the blinds enraged as garish costumed children loiter on the doorstep this 31 October.

If I had Halloween growing up, it may have taught me more about my culture and my history. I might have had a parade of fabulous Australian monsters and monstrous characters marching through my imagination, each one forming a grotesque costume and new scaring potential.

Yet trying to imagine what I could have been, I face another problem. Where are all the Australian monsters and monstrous characters? Why does nothing immediately spring to mind? Vampires? No. Zombies? Nope. Witch? Not really. Is R.L. Stine ours? Regrettably not.

There is an array of fantastic Aboriginal monsters. Unfortunately, a problem here is that despite sharing geography with these monsters, I do not share the same cultural consciousness.
That means that these monsters and monstrous characters, despite being awe-inspiring and scary, don’t do everything that they need to do for me culturally. I need more monsters.
Why is this important? What do monsters and the monstrous do anyway? As Professor Asa Simon Mittman explains in his coedited Ashgate Research Companion to Monsters and the Monstrous (2012)
Monsters do a great deal of cultural work, but they do not do it nicely. They not only challenge and question; they trouble, they worry, they haunt. They break and tear and rend cultures, all while constructing them and propping them up. They swallow up our cultural mores and expectations, and then, becoming what they eat, they reflect back to us our own faces, made disgusting or, perhaps, revealed to always have been so.
What culture in particular do monsters need to break, tear and rend? White Australia. To shreds.
We can use monsters and the monstrous this Halloween to critique the cultural logic of Australian collective identity – which is particularly friable. Excluding Aboriginal culture, when you think about it, Australian identity was constructed with no more than a grouping of fragmented people via a hasty collision with an alien place.
Additionally, in the case of the White Australian norm, we then went on to position our fundamental identity on a stratagem of power rather than an authentic distinctiveness. Why should we prod this fragile idea of the White Australian norm with monsters now? Professor Richard Dyer suggests mostly because:
White people need to learn to see themselves as white, to see their particularity. In other words, whiteness needs to be made strange. (White, 1997)
For some timely assistance on Halloween, we can all use monsters and the monstrous as theoretical constructs to better understand our identity, including (but not limited to) the strangeness in our whiteness and the complex relationship we have with our landscape.
By employing monsters and monstrous things in this way, we can creatively navigate an emotive journey through the good, bad, funny, scary and confusing characteristics of our country.
I propose that we create a Halloween tradition here that brings to life the monsters and monstrous characters of our past, present and future. There undoubtedly need to be monsters and characters from other cultures included in this tradition, as they make up our country too. Yet personally, I would most especially love to see some little Ngayurnangalku prowling our suburbs, and perhaps even a Babadook or two.

Halloween is not another negative result of the globalised world. It is an opportunity for Australians to do something culturally invigorating. It is an occasion for us to boast the truly exceptional plethora of Aboriginal monsters we have, while using our other monsters to explore how the people that went to (or were sent to) Australia forever transformed their identity.
What better way to do this than literally becoming the monstrous and exploring our landscape together on Halloween? We can violate reality and creatively consider what skulks behind contemporary Australia and our systems of categorisation. Best of all, you don’t need to be an artist or academic to fully partake in this national experiential investigation.
Spend some time thinking about how you are going to feed your Australian monster pangs this Halloween. Nurture them. Grow them. Test out your best ugly faces. We can start to claim our strangeness and find out what monstrous beings live here too – we might even discover a little more about ourselves in the process.

Your monsters can be an amalgam of the historical, the creative from books, TV, art and films, the personally imagined and feared, cryptozoology, or even the familiar made extraordinary.

You still need some Halloween ideas to get you going?

·     Parade about as one of those upcoming Territorial fellows
·     In a loving relationship? Dress as a steamboat and a Muldjewangk!
·     Perhaps you are brave enough have a Fishman pool party
·     Your kids could be just about anything from a Paul Jennings story 
·     In a last minute fix? Become a ghostly Boggo Road Gaol inmate
·     Feeling retro? What about Bottersnikes and Gumbles or Melbourne’s Deadly Earnest
·     For a new twist on the classic be inspired by artist Kirill Nadtochiy’s interpretation of a bunyip
·     If you have more highbrow tastes you could revive the southern sea monsters mapped by cartographers Abraham Ortelius or Gerard and Cornelis de Jode  (paper mache never hurt anyone!)
·     An Australian of leisure? Crack a beer and watch a few episodes of the Extraordinary for more strange motivations.

If you want to throw an Australian monster mash or prowl the streets this 31 October please hashtag your terrifying photos as #monstralian

Feel free to share any Australian monster knowledge, original monster notions, monstrous characters or Halloween ideas in the comments below.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Jean Paul Gaultier and the true history of the fashion stripe

By Sean Ryan, RMIT University

What is the history of stripes in fashion? Image via iStock

The publicity material for The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition, which opened last week at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), unsurprisingly came decked in stripes.

The blue and white bars of the Breton jersey, worn by French sailors since the mid-19th century and made fashionable by Coco Chanel at the end of the first world war, have dressed promotional films, merchandise, catalogues, and the figures of those invited to the opening.

So, what is the history of the stripe in fashion?

The marinière is inseparably associated with Parisian Gaultier, who has repeatedly included it in his fashion collections over a 40-year career. At the same time, together with the beret and neckerchief, the sailor stripe goes shorthand for a style that is stereotypically, parodically French.

The horizontal bands remain the most vivid and playful example of a surface decoration more notable for its banality and ubiquity.

The stripe is seen everywhere from the pinstriped business suit, with its accompanying shirt and tie, to the pastel stripes of our pyjamas and bed linen, to the emblematic blazery of the school uniform and football strip.

We are seemingly at home with the contemporary stripe and its implications of rectitude, comfort, identity and energy.

The stripe as mark of the social outsider

It has not always been so. If the wearing of stripes seems a trivial matter, subject to the whims of fashion and the conventions of work and leisure, there was a time when to be striped was indeed to be barred, to be marked as socially marginalised or excluded.

Medieval art frequently depicts, and sumptuary laws (that attempt to regulate consumption) often required, the wearing of striped clothing by the criminal, crippled, and insane. It marks those plying dishonourable trades, such as the prostitute and butcher, and those whose employment entails a degree of disruptiveness, such as the minstrel and clown.

In painting and literature, and sometimes in heraldry, its presence is a marker of treachery, rebelliousness, and cruelty.

All that may seem of another age. Yet the stripe has never quite shaken its earlier connotations of (in-)subordination. If the early modern period sees its gradual social acceptance, it remains primarily the livery of the lower classes and persists in the striped vest of the butler and uniform of the chambermaid. And it is from here, perhaps, that it makes its way out to sea.

For the stripe is the mark of the ordinary seaman, never of the officer.

Until recently, horizontal stripes paired with vertical bars signified the enclosure of the prison cell or the internment of the concentration camp, the memory of which seems recently to have eluded an international clothing label.

We might conjecture that it was its association with the subjugated or disenfranchised that led to the adoption of the tricoloured stripe as symbol of rebellion and liberation during the revolutions in the United States and France.

Today we come in all stripes. The emblematic band of provenance and identity, of the coat of arms and national flag, attaches itself to the uniform. The sign of social liminality we bestow on children, while unconsciously acknowledging that an adult swathed in stripes would be, at best, an eccentric.

The deviant stripe of the demi-mondaine, bohemian, or scoundrel crossed the line into popular culture in the 1950s and 60s. And the upright stripe of the 1930s pinstripe suit, armour of the modern warrior, has never been able to free itself from ambivalence, for it is only the changing subtleties of contrast and width that separate the stripes of the Wall Street banker from those of the Hollywood gangster.

Finally, witness the recent appearance on our intimate apparel of the pastel stripe, unable to decide whether it aspires to the purity of white or the vivacity of colour.

The stripe as cultural marker

It is hazardous to offer an aesthetic or psychological explanation for the symbolism and ideology of the stripe.

Yet there are clear perceptual differences between the neutrality and inertia of the plain surface, the orderliness of the patterned surface, on which background and foreground are distinguishable, and the pulsation of the striped surface, where no hierarchy of planes is evident.

To follow its lines crossways is to be in perpetual transition. To follow them lengthways is to be in dynamic flight – the reason, perhaps, for their popularity in sportswear.

If the restlessness of the stripe is a sign of disorder, its regularity is the imposition of order. The comb, bookshelf, fence, barcode; all are means of ordering the disorderly. The stripe, in a profound sense, is the inscription of culture itself.

The motley tunic once marked the exclusion and reintegration of the medieval fringe-dweller. Is that now the lot of all of us?

The National Gallery of Victoria will host a series of public talks on the Colourful History of the Stripe on Saturdays October 25, November 1 and 8.
The ConversationSean Ryan does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

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