13th AIPEN Workshop Talk

I’m giving the following talk at the 13th AIPEN Workshop to be held at the University of Melbourne on 9th and 10th February 2023 – thanks to Dr Sara Meger and colleagues for organising.

From Jones to Sunak: How The City and Financialised Hedge Funds Shape The United Kingdom’s Political Economy

Rishi Sunak’s rapid ascension to becoming Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in October 2022 signalled how financialisation and capital accumulation shape the United Kingdom’s political economy. This paper investigates how Sunak’s career in Goldman Sachs and in the hedge funds the Children’s Investment Fund Management and Theleme Partners gave him the reputation and the decision-making skills to outflank former Prime Minister Liz Truss, whose Trussonomics fiscal policies sought to provide unfunded tax arbitrage for her 1% donors. The blow up in October 2022 of Liability Driven Investment leveraged strategies in United Kingdom pension funds created a classic Bagehot-style run on the gilt: financial markets reacted by deligitimating Truss and instead backing Sunak. I show how Sunak was able to use the unique meso-level (organisational) strategic subcultures of hedge funds to accumulate capital and to gain valuable tactical skills for his subsequent political career, from COVID-19 crisis alpha (reflected in Theleme Partners’ position size in the pharmaceutical firm Moderna), to pursuing new fiscal and monetary policies that reflected the City’s Big Bank deregulation experience under former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, far more than Liz Truss’s wishful idolisation of Thatcher as a leadership symbol. Global political economy lessons are drawn for future capital accumulation in Sydney (Australia), Tokyo (Japan), and Singapore financial hubs, despite the high likelihood of a bear market and continued geopolitical volatility. The likely result despite counter-hegemonic demands will be a version of the Matthew Effect: the (already) successful will become more successful.

AIPEN 12th Workshop Talk

The Australian International Political Economic Network is holding its 12th Workshop at The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia on the 3rd and 4th February 2022 (rescheduled due to COVID-19 lockdowns). AIPEN and UQ have kindly provided me with a travel bursary to attend the 12th Workshop: my thanks to Associate Professor Shahar Hameiri, Ms. Monica Di Leo, and Ms. Olivia Formby for their help. Here is the abstract of my proposed talk:

The Political Economy of Media Debates on COVID-19’s Origins

Dr Alex Burns, Melbourne Graduate School of Education, The University of Melbourne.

Since its emergence in China’s city Wuhan in late 2019, the COVID-19 virus has caused an international pandemic, a major public health emergency, and has had significant economic impacts. Two rival explanatory hypotheses developed regarding COVID-19’s origins: (1) zoonotic disease transfer from animals to humans, likely involving bats, and (2) a ‘lab leak’ theory involving a possible accident at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The World Health Organisation promoted the zoonotic disease transfer hypothesis: this became the dominant explanation during COVID-19’s initial global outbreak in 2020. However, Trump Administration officials in the United States promoted the ‘lab leak’ theory in the geopolitical context of a trade war with China. The ‘lab leak’ theory – initially dismissed as fringe conspiratorial thinking – gained further media coverage in 2021 after long-form investigative journalism profiles by Nicholson Baker (New York Magazine) and Nicholas Wade (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists). These profiles led to renewed debate in the media about scientific research funding; the promises and dangers of virology research; the history of laboratory accidents; and the difficulties of international governance and verification. This presentation investigates the political economy of this media debate on COVID-19’s origins, and it also provides a contemporary update to the influential propaganda model developed by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky (Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media).

You can listen to my AIPEN 11th Workshop talk from 2020 here.

The Development of Strategic Culture in Terrorist Organisations

My political science PhD at Monash University – The Development of Strategic Culture in Terrorist Organisations – has been finalised, certified, and archived. It is under embargo until 2023 to facilitate publishing from it. My thanks to PhD Supervisors Pete Lentini, Luke Howie, Zareh Ghazarian, Benjamin MacQueen, and Andy Butfoy. Also thanks to my PhD examiners Kumar Ramakrishna, Andrew Newman, and Brad Williams for their deep expertise and helpful commentary.

ROPE: Pre-Doctoral Research Section

I’m working on my Research Opportunity & Performance Evidence (ROPE) section for future grant applications to the Australian Research Council. Here’s my summary of my pre-doctoral research (1994-2011):

Pre-Doctoral Research: My freelance journalism with original research (1994-2004) and pre-doctoral research (1999-2011) focused on subculture analysis, understanding how global risk events affected journalists, digital culture and internet sociology, and theory-testing in journalism and disruptive innovation. As a freelance journalist I wrote for 21C, REVelation, Marketing, Desktop, Internet.au and Artbyte—including interviews with J.G. Ballard, Noam Chomsky, Jack Sarfatti, Robert Anton Wilson, and Terence McKenna. I also edited and wrote for the United States-based former subculture website Disinformation (1998-2008) for which I covered the September 11 terrorist attacks, and the 2000 and 2004 United States elections. I presented on this original research to the This Is Not Art (1999-2004) and Straight Out of Brisbane (2002) youth culture festivals.

I undertook Masters studies at Swinburne University in strategic foresight (2002-04) and at Monash University in counter-terrorism studies (2005-06) which provided research mentoring opportunities with Professor Richard Slaughter, Dr Joseph Voros, Dr Peter Hayward, Associate Professor Pete Lentini, Dr David Wright-Neville, and Mr Philip Gregory. I contributed Masters essays to several of Professor Slaughter’s projects including The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies: Professional Edition (2005) which have since been cited and re-published in book and peer reviewed CD-ROM anthologies. My 2006 MA mini-thesis ‘Fearful Asymmetries: Herman Kahn’s Nuclear Threat Models and the DPRK’s Nuclear Weapons Program’ with Dr Andrew Butfoy developed an escalation model using Kahn’s insights to understand North Korea’s nuclear missile development and testing.