Q&A

Examining Contemporary Shifts and Public Policy Responses in Global Capitalism

New SEI Member Dr Gareth Bryant discusses his research into the changing roles of public power and finance in our time of flux, drawing lines between economic, social and environmental justice.

Image by Csong, via Shutterstock. ID 317918237

Anna Sturman: Could you tell us a little bit about your research focus (or foci) and what drew you towards working with SEI?

Gareth Bryant: My research broadly examines the big shifts that are underway in global capitalism, with a focus on public policy and public finance.

Many of my research projects are directly on environmental concerns. I’m part of an ARC Discovery Project that is looking into issues of social legitimacy in renewable energy transitions in Australia, India and Germany. And I am writing a book on climate finance with Dr Sophie Webber from the School of Geosciences.

I have other research projects underway about welfare policy, housing inequalities, and justice reinvestment in Indigenous communities. At first glance, these don’t appear to be ‘environmental’, but they are all deeply connected to climate and environmental justice. SEI is the perfect place to be able to connect these dots.

I also have another role as economist with SEI’s fellow Multi-Disciplinary Institute, the Sydney Policy Lab. I’m looking forward to being able to build new collaborations between both.

You were recently awarded a DECRA (congrats!), for research kicking off shortly. Can you tell us a little bit about the project and what you’re hoping will come from it?

Thanks! The project is about shifts in the way governments are raising and spending money. I am particularly interested in the notion of ‘fiscal space’ – the ideas, rules and politics that shape what is possible in public finance.

The Covid-19 pandemic massively moved the dial both in terms of how much governments can spend and what this spending can achieve. In the face of a massive health and economic shock, the suspension of austerity, at least temporarily, turned out to be entirely manageable.

Climate change shows the need for an even more fundamental reshaping of fiscal space. Governments need to grapple with climate risks and uncertainties on time horizons for which existing budgetary frameworks are ill-equipped. And we urgently need mass, widescale climate investment today (well, yesterday).

In my project, I will be focusing on the ‘new fiscal spaces’ that governments are, or could be, experimenting with, to support public investment. One of the things I am really interested in is how governments can finance much needed climate infrastructure such as renewables as public and community assets.

It’s great to have another political economist on board. What perspectives and tools from political economy do you think will be particularly useful in terms of SEI’s interdisciplinary mission? 

Political economy is useful for answering many of the ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions of environmental change. It can illuminate relationships between our economy and environment, including the environmental basis of economic systems, and the ways we could organise our economies differently for more just and sustainable purposes.

But, understanding, and changing, the world requires more than political economists! I am really excited to be able to connect with colleagues across so many disciplinary backgrounds at SEI, many of whom are closely engaged with those at the frontlines of our environmental crisis.

And for a final, less academic question – when you are not researching and teaching, how do you enjoy spending your time?

I am quite into sport – both watching and playing! I’m a big Sydney Swans fan and try to get to as many games at the SCG as I can. And I’m also part of a few (allegedly) ‘social’ netball teams.


Gareth Bryant is a political economist at the University of Sydney. He works as a senior lecturer in the Department of Political Economy and as economist-in-residence with the Sydney Policy Lab. Gareth researches how public policy and public finance can create more sustainable, equal and democratic economies. His research has focused on issues including climate change, higher education, housing, labour and Indigenous justice.

Gareth is the author of Carbon Markets in a Climate-Changing Capitalism (Cambridge University Press, 2019). His research has been published in a range of academic journals including Environment and Planning A: Economy and SpaceAntipodeEnergy Policy, the Annals of the American Association of Geographers and New Political Economy. Gareth was awarded the Global Network for Financial Geography (FINGEO) dissertation prize and the Australian International Political Economy Network (AIPEN) journal article prize. He has been a Chief Investigator on an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Project on energy transitions and was awarded the Sydney Research Accelerator (SOAR) Prize for early career researchers at the University of Sydney.