SATURDAY’s 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 (from 0730 to 0900 or on their website  in case you miss it).

Are low interest rates actually good for the economy? Or do they signal a lack of confidence and a shortage of other options? Guests Sally Auld from JP Morgan, and Andrew Ticehurst from Nomura

Taiwan is often overlooked in discussions of global affairs, but it has immense strategic significance – particularly for China. With an election early next year, and growing solidarity between Hong Kong and Taiwanese independence activists, it’s set to take centre stage. Guest Chris Horton, The Atlantic magazine.

The long-running, highly secretive and morally questionable case against Witness K and his lawyer symbolises the growing power of security agencies. Guests: professor Clinton Fernandes and Senator Rex Patrick

Lawyer Jamil Jivani was a young man who fell off the rails, so he knows how easy it is for others to become radicalised. He talks about his book, Why Young Men: The Dangerous Allure of Violent Movements and What We Can Do About It.

When author Christopher Hope left his native South Africa it was an apartheid state. Recently he went back and found a country grappling with questions about identity, race and class – and looking for scapegoats. He will talk about his book  The Café de Move-on Blues.

Other commentary

At last a poll on party preferences: it’s bad news for Labor

William Bowe’s Poll Bludger reports on the first Newspoll. On primary vote, support for the Dutton-Morrison Government has risen from 41 per cent at the election to 44 percent now, while Labor is stuck on the same 33 per cent as in the election. That translates to a two-party lead of 53-47 per cent for the Coalition.

Morrison leads Albanese on approval 51 per cent to 39 per cent. His disapproval is 36 percent while Albanese’s is 39 per cent. In spite of exposure of campaign lies and evidence that the Coalition is back to its cronyism, Morrison’s approval is up 5 points and his disapproval is down 9 points compared with the last pre-election poll. Morrison leads 47 to 38 per cent as preferred prime minister.

(In view of Morrison’s ability to frame elections as personal presidential campaigns, this lead as preferred prime minister is surely of more concern for Labor than the two-party lead.)

How will climate change feature in the 2020 US presidential election?

Do American voters see climate change as an issue in environmental protection, or as a symbol of a conflict over fundamental ideologies? The way the issue is framed and perceived could be a determining factor in the 2020 election writes Andy Stone  in Forbes. Americans are becoming more aware of climate change, but to a growing and influential right-wing fringe it can be framed as “part of a global conspiracy to usurp America’s independence”.

And will impeachment be a feature of the election?

The electoral politics of impeachment are fairly clear. Trump would probably welcome it if the Democrats in the House were to become involved in an impeachment process. It would distract from his incompetence, it could be seen as a Washington bubble concern of no interest to real Americans, and it could be framed as the left elites waging a war on an embattled Trump.  On one of Phillip Adams’ regular interviews with Bruce Shapiro on Late Night Live, Shapiro sums up the electoral politics of impeachment.

But Robert Reich, former Sectratary of Labor in the Clinton Administration, and former Professor of Law at Harvard’s Kennedy School, puts the more basic case for impeachment: Trump has acted in contempt of the Constitution and more generally in contempt of the doctrine of separation of powers:

By directing the Attorney General, the Justice Department, the FBI and the Secretary of the Treasury to act in his own personal interest rather than in the interests of the American people, Trump is saying that presidents can run government for themselves.

When Madison, Hamilton and Franklin wrote the Constitution they “anticipated the possibility of a Donald Trump” says Reich.

It’s a question of obligation, not politics.

Sonan Sheth, writing for Business Insider, reports that Justice Department veterans are disgusted at the way Mueller’s testimony was handled. She quotes former federal prosecutor Patrick Cotter:

The criticism that everyone has is that Mueller refuses to reduce his report to a soundbyte. … And with all this circus over who won and who lost and how Mueller performed, we’ve blown past the historical significance of this moment.

Will the US economy hold up until the election?

One person who warned about the 2008 financial crisis is warning once again about an impending economic downturn:

The country’s economic foundation is fragile. A single shock could bring it all down. And the Trump Administration’s reckless behavior is increasing the odds of just such a shock.

That person is Elizabeth Warren writing in Medium. She notes the early warning signs – an inverted yield curve, high household debt (but not as high as Australia’s), and more Americans having trouble servicing their debt – including credit card debt, auto loans and education debt.  The fragility of the US economy – a fragility resulting in large part from Trump’s tax cuts – is also covered in a short article  by Paul Krugman in the New York Times.

How Google and Facebook have crowded out public broadcasting

The ACCC released its report on digital platforms late last week. Unsurprisingly its main concern is with market concentration:

The ubiquity of the Google and Facebook platforms has placed them in a privileged position. They act as gateways to reaching Australian consumers and they are, in many cases, critical and unavoidable partners for many Australian businesses, including news media businesses.

Google and Facebook, either directly or through their subsidiaries (YouTube, Messenger etc) dominate our time spent online. Because Australians use these platforms as ways to keep informed, there are also implications for access to quality news and journalism – “the production and dissemination of knowledge, the exposure of corruption, and holding governments and other decision makers to account”. One of the ACCC’s recommendations follows:

In recognition of the role performed by the ABC and SBS in addressing the public-good nature of journalism and consequent risk of under provision of public interest journalism, the ACCC recommends that stable and adequate funding be provided to the ABC and SBS.

Why we should be concerned with the politics of a European offshore island

Apart from a few aged monarchists and voyeurs of the private lives of the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha family, most Australians have little reason to be concerned with what’s going on in Britain. Once a source of unreliable cars and a destination for surplus agricultural production, the UK now accounts for only 4 per cent of our imports and 2 per cent of our exports.  But, writing in the Fairfax press, former diplomat John McCarthy warns about the global trade and security implications  of a no-deal Brexit. Also, there is a risk (particularly when we have an Anglophile PM), that we may put too much of our political energy into  our relationship with the UK (or whatever is left of it after October 30) at the cost of our dealings with nations in our own region.

If we wanted lower power prices why did we elect the Coalition?

Laura Tingle reports on comments made by Martin Parkinson, the outgoing Head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet who appeared on the 730 Report. Parkinson makes it clear that Labor’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, proposed in 2009, would have delivered lower power prices. “Whatever else you do, Renewable Energy Target, or anything else, they can be no cheaper than putting an explicit price on carbon.”

It’s official: wages aren’t growing

The Reserve Bank has released a set of papers prepared for a conference on low wage growth.  (The conference was held in April but the papers, prepared by academics, RBA staff and other experts were released only last week.) Among the findings are:

Wage growth has been low for the last five years, with consequences for household consumption and public revenue.

Much can be explained by employees’ age, education, industry of employment and occupation. (In other words our industry structure is becoming increasingly biased towards low-productivity, low-wage activities.)

While productivity has declined in recent times, over the longer term the benefits of productivity growth have gone mainly to capital.

Contrary to the impression created by Über drivers and gardening contractors, self-employment is falling, while other forms of “non-standard” wage employment (casual, part-time) are rising, and these workers enjoy lower hourly pay than those in “standard” employment.

Immigration does not seem to suppress wages; immigrants to Australia are highly-skilled (but the paper seems to be based on official immigration numbers, without taking into account the black and gray economies of students, temporary workers, visa overstayers etc).

Declining unionisation does not explain low wage growth. This is a point some commentators will take out of context, to imply that unions are irrelevant. But the relevant paper points out that there is a large proportion of workers who are not union members but who benefit from union-negotiated pay and conditions.

It’s official: women put in more hours of unpaid work than men

The Melbourne Institute has released the 2019 Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey, a longitudinal study on aspects of Australians’ lives, over the years 2001 to 2017. Some of the findings:

Income inequality, as indicated by the Gini Coefficient, is rising.

Over the period 2013 to 2017 there has been virtually no change (only 0.6 per cent) in real (inflation-adjusted) household income. There have been significant differences by region, with significant falls in WA.

The real cost of child care for pre school-age children has more than doubled over the 2001 to 2017 period. (There have been subsequent changes which may have offset these rises.)

Even in households described as “female-breadwinner”, women put in 13 more hours of housework and child-minding than men each week.

Among people in full-time work, men’s earnings peaked in 2010, while women’s earnings are climbing, but are still lower than men’s earnings.

The economic conditions of older Australians are generally improving. Fewer are dependent on welfare, except for those aged more than 80, who would have largely missed out on superannuation benefits.

Among those aged 18 to 55 who are dependent on welfare, 34 percent are dependent for 4 years or more. (That’s not what the government is saying.)

Time spent commuting has risen by 20 per cent in capital cities, and even more in other regions. In Sydney the mean commute in 2017 rose to 71 minutes. (Don’t believe the propaganda about “congestion-busting infrastructure”: there’s no budgetary appropriation for it.)

In only 56 per cent of couples are both partners born in Australia.

Economic good news: houses in Perth, Adelaide and Canberra became more affordable in July

CoreLogic has released its house price data  for July. Nationally the average price of houses has not moved, but houses have become a little less affordable (by 0.2 per cent) in our biggest capitals – Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane – while becoming a little more affordable in other capitals and in the bush. But when one reads press reports – such as on the ABC– the suggestion is that there is something bad about falling or stable house prices and something good about rising house prices.

Perhaps one of our readers could explain why more expensive gasoline, as revealed in the latest CPI figures, is a bad thing, while more expensive houses are a good thing.

Interest rates at lowest level for 4000 years

On the ABC’s Rear Vision Stan Correy interviews four experts on the history of interest rates, going back to the time of the Babylonian King Hammurabi, who mandated maximum rates.  They have never been so low, and negative interest rates, as are being experienced in many markets in Australia and internationally, make no sense and are certainly not sustainable. Professor Richard Sylla of New York University’s School of Business argues that “normal service will be resumed”, but he isn’t sure when. Professor Andrew Odlyzko, reminds us of Marx’s prediction that a period of sustained low interest rates would occur in capitalism’s late stages.

Read your wine labels carefully

PLO leader Hannah Ashrawi draws our attention to a ruling of Canada’s federal court, which has found that wine originating in Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, has been illegally labelled as made in Israel. Ashrawi calls on Canada and the European Union to enforce proper country-of-origin labelling and to amend theirs trade agreements accordingly.

Countercultures

Is there a line of development linking the youth protest movements of the 1960s to today’s evangelical cults and megachurches? What happened to the energy of idealistic young Christians seeking social justice and an end of the Vietnam War?  How did faith-based countercultures relate to the secular countercultures of the 1960s? On the ABC’s Soul Search Meredith Lake discusses the soul of the counterculture with various experts, religious and secular. (54 minutes)

Can the countercultures of today – Occupy Wall Street, Me Too – bring about political change? Or are they simply performative and decorative fashions, lacking solid grounding and deep roots in society? Does capitalism co-opt and absorb countercultures, rendering futile any movement that attempts to overthrow capitalism? Can the Proud Boys and similar movements be considered as countercultures? On the ABC’s Future Tense  Antony Funnell discusses these questions with five experts offering very different (informed) opinions – Counterculture, consumerism and the far right.  (28 minutes)

These are both part of an ABC Radio National series on countercultures.

Barnaby Joyce discovers bush poverty

With the election campaign over, Barnaby Joyce has been allowed out of the car, and is niggling Morrison and Frydenberg on Newstart: “in small towns and villages in rural Australia, people out of work are not sustained on Newstart”, he writes  in the Canberra Times.

It’s refreshing to read a politician who doesn’t waste airtime and reading time parroting speaking notes, even if some of Joyce’s views are a little weird, particularly on climate change. On one thing he’s right: “The problem at the root of issues for those in the weatherboard and iron of regional Australia is their loss and lack of political power”, but he fails to point out that that loss of political power stems from their unswerving loyalty to the National Party.

How Barnaby copes on $201 000

Barnaby is doing it hard. He has resorted DIY slaughtering aged hoggetsfor his mutton, and is making other gastronomical economies.

Saturday’s Good Reading and Listening  is compiled by Ian McAuley

 Watch out tomorrow, Sunday, for Peter Sainsbury’s Sunday environment round up.

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