The Merthyr Rising 2015 festival is a three day event aimed at remembering the town’s radical past and promoting a positive image of the town’s future with a mixture of music, film, performance and debate. SCHeP were proud to take part in this year’s event by sponsoring and supporting the Waun Common Debates
These debates were inspired by a historic Welsh meeting which took place at the beginning of the original Merthyr Rising. On May 30, 1831, more than 2,000 workers from Merthyr and Monmouthshire gathered for a mass meeting held at the Waun Common above Dowlais. It helped to set the seeds for the Merthyr Rising, when thousands of workers united to take control of the town in a protest against poor wages and conditions. These events of 1831 are viewed as having played a pivotal part in the emergence of the unions and worker rights movements.
The Merthyr Rising festival 2015 Waun Common debates took place on the anniversary of the event and in the spirit of the original debates sought to explore contemporary radical economic and political ideas . Among the speakers at this year’s event was Dr Mike Berry of Cardiff University, Ross Ashcroft, founder of website Renegade Economist and Professor Steve Keen, author of Debunking Economics.
The first part of the session explored contemporary economics and the notion of austerity. The first speaker was Dr Mike Berry from the Cardiff University School of Jounalism. In his talk Mike set the scene for the whole session where he reported on his research which had examined how the economic crisis had been reported by the mainstream media. From his research Mike explained how although the 2008 financial crisis initially appeared to challenge the sustainability of neoliberal finance capitalism the focus of political and public debate was soon shifted to state spending and the need for austerity. Mike gave examples of how this shift took place in the British press during 2009. He then went on to chart the rise of neoliberalism and its role in financializing the economy and how this impacted on news production and made neoliberal perspectives more prominent in the media. This meant that the key definers of the crisis in the media were some of the strongest advocates of neoliberalism. Reporting of the deficit was characterised by fear, the presentation of misleading data and false comparisons. This in turn led to the whole of the UK media consistently endorsing the austerity narrative even there is little evidence that such a policy approach is effective.
This presentation by Mike set the scene and tone by the next two presenters Steve Keen and Ross Ashcroft entitled “Is Austerity a Scam”. Steve Keen is an Australian internationally renowned economist who is universally credited with being one of the few who predicted the 2008 financial crisis as early as December 2005. Steve is well known for his debt deflation blog http://bit.ly/1JkJhhM and his Debunking Economics website http://bit.ly/1LY5wcA Ross Ashcroft is a British businessman, filmmaker and broadcaster who is known for his Four Horsemen Film http://bit.ly/1EPDBG9 and his Renegade Economist show http://renegadeinc.com/ . Steve and Ross presented their session as a conversation between themselves and which they invited the audience to join in.
Ross explored with Steve his analysis of contemporary economic models and what he saw as wrong with them. In the exchange Steve warned that politicians who promote austerity economics are naïve and argued that austerity economics would not lead to a sustainable recovery due to the problem of high levels of private debt – public debt being more a symptom than a cause of this economic malaise. In the discussion between Steve and Ross he gave a detailed explanation as to why the austerity-heavy economic policy of the Conservatives (and the Liberal Democrats), and the austerity-lite version from Labour is naïve and will lead not to economic growth but to economic stagnation. While not being overtly party political in his presentation he did go on to outline that the economic policies of the SNP, Greens and Plaid Cymru made more sense in his analysis.
The audience made lively, informed and erudite contributions to all the presentations through lively question and answer sessions and general contribution to the overall discussions. This inclusive discussion and debate echoed the spirit of the original Waun Common debates and it is hoped that this initial celebration of radical debate can form the basis of an ongoing relationship between Cardiff University and the celebration of the history and culture of Merthyr Tydfil
About the author: Dr Martin O’Neill is a researcher with the Cardiff Institute of Society, Health and Wellbeing (CISHeW). He is currently working on the Strong Communities Healthier People Project. Martin is a prolific blogger and you read his blog here. You can also follow him on Twitter.