GOOD READING AND LISTENING FOR THE WEEKEND

A regular collection of links to writings and broadcasts in other media

ABC’s Saturday Extra with Geraldine Doogue

Until January 26 the ABC’s Saturday Extra will be re-broadcasting highlights from 2018.

Other commentary

The future of work and its rewards

In a data-rich set of slides David Autor of MIT shows what’s been happening with work in the USA over the last half-century, and the story is more complex than a simple hollowing out of the middle class. Those with college education have prospered, while those with only high school or lower education have not. In fact the real wages of men without college qualifications have fallen, as demand for mid-skill manufacturing, sales and clerical occupations has fallen. These developments have regional consequences: the urban-rural divide widens, because low-skill jobs are increasingly concentrated in non-metropolitan regions. In cities the cost of living is inflated by the presence of high-skill workers, meaning that cities become too expensive for the unskilled who stay in or retreat to the country.

The work of David Autor and his colleague Anna Salomons is summarised in The Economist (paywall), writing that  “new types of jobs fall into three broad categories: frontier work, closely associated with new technologies; wealth work, catering to the needs of well-to-do professionals; and ‘last-mile jobs’, which Mr Autor characterises as those left over when most of a task has been automated”.

A hundred years after the Treaty of Versailles – a warning about authoritarian regimes

Writing in Foreign Affairs historian Margaret MacMillan’s article Warnings from Versailles: the lessons of 1919, a hundred years on warns of the risks to world peace when countries turn inward and tend only to their immediate interests, “ignoring or underestimating the rise of populist dictators and aggressive powers until the hour is dangerously late”. (Foreign Affairs’ download rules allow non-subscribers one to three articles per month.)

Gender and the new authoritarianism

What values do America’s Donald Trump, Poland’s Victor Orbán, Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro share? In his article The new authoritarians are waging war on women in The Atlantic contributing editor Richard Beinart  finds that they all consider the dominance of men over women to be a natural order. He writes that “besides their hostility to liberal democracy, the right-wing autocrats taking power across the world share one big thing, which often goes unrecognized in the U.S.: They all want to subordinate women.” Defeating the new authoritarianism requires a culture that normalises the empowerment of women.

For once, Dutton says something sensible

Veteran Canberra Timesjournalist Jack Waterford notes that much of what Peter Dutton said in his New Year criticism of Turnbull was fair comment. He writes “One never got the impression that Turnbull, or his economic ministers, were infused with and excited by ideas, or keen on the processes by which debate sharpened and improved a policy or a program.”  As Waterford points out, however, Morrison is unable to explain why he had to replace Turnbull, and there is no evidence that his salesmanship is working with the electorate.

Brexit is no big deal – Britain has been there before

Writing in Fairfax media, Stephen Holt points out that Brexit is not unprecedented. Five hundred years ago the British Reformation was a definitive separation of that nation from the European mainland. Things eventually settled down in England, after sacking of the monasteries, political purges, deposition of one king and execution of another. That return to normal took only 150 years.

Free books

Over the last twenty years there has been a dearth of works released from copyright, but as from January 1 this year, and every year from now on, each New Year’s Day will see the release of a year’s worth of works published 95 years earlier. In addition there will be many other more recently-published works for which copyright hasn’t been renewed. The media site Motherboard has an easy-to-follow guide on how to access digital versions of out-of-copyright books, with links to various sources. The Atlantic has an explanation of the US laws protecting US commercial publishers – laws which make Australia’s tariff protection of the 1950s and 1960s look liberal by comparison.

Remembering Juanita Nielsen

In 1975 the anti-corruption activist and publisher Juanita Nielsen, who had been campaigning against a politically well-connected property developer’s proposal to build an apartment complex in Sydney’s King’s Cross, was kidnapped and murdered. To this day suspicion rests with agents of the developer, but investigation into her death was hindered by police corruption. Running until 23 February at the UNSW Paddington campus the 30 minute video installation The Beehive commemorates her life and work.

Government would be so much easier without Parliament

Do you remember Paul Keating’s unrepresentative swill attack on the Senate? The Australia Institute has released a report on Australians’ attitude to the Senate. We like the Senate: most of us (63 per cent) believe “it is bad for the country when one party controls both houses of parliament”. The report reminds us of the Senate’s role in thwarting the Coalition’s attempt to abolish renewable energy policies, thereby ensuring $23 billion of renewable energy investment that would otherwise have not gone ahead.

Adani a fake mine?

Many Australians concerned for the future of the planet are dismayed to find that Adani has made a great deal of publicity about starting work on the Carmichael Mine. In spite of not finding any financial institution silly enough to lend it money, it claims that it can finance the project from its own resources. But how real are these works? John Quiggin  describes the on-site huts and earthmoving equipment as a Potemkin Village, giving an impression of activity, designed to “maximize the chance that an Australian government will either pay them to go away or stop the project in a way that leaves open the possibility of a claim under the insidious system of Investor State Dispute Settlement.”

Making way for fake data

Politicians find independent statistical agencies painful because they have the unpleasant habit of publishing carefully-researched data on economic and social trends. In a world of postmodern nihilism such data gets in the way of governments’ efforts to craft positive messages. The Age devotes an editorial to a criticism of government funding cuts to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, cuts which have seen many informative statistical collections discontinued.

Real data on superannuation

The Government has released the Productivity Commission’s report on superannuation, and the media have generally picked up its major findings, particularly the costs associated with multiple accounts, unnecessary insurance and of course the cost of fund underperformance.

Some findings have received less attention. Default funds have achieved better returns than those where people exercise choice and in almost all categories of investment (equities, property etc) not-for-profit funds (mainly industry funds) have outperformed retail funds, the difference being explained by the not-for-profits making better asset allocation decisions. (Perhaps this latter finding suggests that for-profit funds would do well to boost their economic competence by appointing union representatives to their boards.)

A disappointing aspect of the report is its non-coverage of gender issues in superannuation, and it has little to report on the outcomes for those with broken work experiences.

Is the Liberal Party trying to hasten its own destruction?

In an opinion piece in The Guardian, Liberal Party member and former chief executive of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation Oliver Yates writes about the idea among Liberal Party strategists that Peta Credlin should run for the seat of Mallee, to be vacated by the National Party’s Andrew Broad following his “sugar baby” romp on a trip to Hong Kong. “She promotes the view that climate change is some left wing conspiracy and that the science is rubbish”, he writes. “She doesn’t represent real liberal views, and if she appeals to what’s left of the ‘base’, then many people who used to vote Liberal will keep moving for the exits.”

Labor’s new friends – private health insurers

In 1974 the Whitlam Labor Government went to the extent of calling a double-dissolution election to introduce universal tax-funded health insurance, facing down strong and hysterical opposition from the private health insurers.

Now, in anticipation of winning the election and implementing its proposal to refer the private health sector to the Productivity Commission, Labor has released a discussion paper canvassing views on that reference. The Party’s starting point, outlined in that paper, is that private insurance will “continue to play a key role” in funding health care.

In office from 1983 to 1996 Labor established a solid track record in phasing out high-cost inefficient industries, and it let private health insurance slowly wind down. Once again private health insurers are losing membership – it’s crumbling in the words of Canberra journalist Crispin Hull – but this time Labor seems to be determined to rescue it, in spite of its high bureaucratic cost, its annual $11 billion call on the federal budget, and evidence of its role in driving up health care costs, subsidising queue jumping, and worsening the already unjust transfers from younger to older Australians. Private health insurance is the only part of the finance sector that avoided the scrutiny of the Royal Commission into the sector.

The Party is asking for comment (There’s an e-mail link at the end of the document).

Was Friedrich Nietzsche perhaps a friend of Christianity?

On the ABC’s Religion and Ethics ReportAndrew West interviews the psychologist and  moral philosopher Jordan Peterson. He has some challenging interpretations of the Book of Genesis and of the work of Nietzsche whose “God is dead” statement is often misinterpreted. He goes to original translations to re-interpret the aphorism “blessed are the meek”. (Re-broadcast from 4 April 2018)

Australia’s conservatives have some ugly friends

“The St Kilda rally isn’t an abberation. It is the natural conclusion of the moral and intellectual collapse of Australian conservatism” is how The Guardian contributing editor reports on the far-right rally at St Kilda last weekend.  Scott Morrison may have attacked the Nazi symbols and gestures on display at the rally, but Cooke writes that he cannot attack their sentiments because they are “shared by people on his front bench”.

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