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).

Hong Kong – is there a circuit breaker in sight for the protests? And who would lead it? Guests: Ben Bland, Lowy Institute, Thomas Kellogg, Georgetown University.

Tensions between China and the US mean Australia is caught between our major trading partner and our major strategic ally. How should we navigate this? Hugh White and Hugh White and John Mearsheimer weigh in.

There’s a currency war looming! But what exactly is a currency war? Peter Martin explains .

What would it take to defeat Donald Trump in 2020 – restitution or revolution? For the US Democrats that question opens up a world of pain as they strive to balance the needs of their base (older, more conservative, centrist) against the voters of the future (younger, progressive, wary of authority). Guests: Lisa Lerer, New York Times, Eyck Freymann, The Atlantic.

If you’re booking your summer holiday chances are you’re using online reviews to choose hotels, destinations, restaurants and deals. But how trustworthy are those reviews – and who writes them?

Other commentary

 “The Australia we were once living in was destroyed”

That’s a quote from Erik Jensen, editor-in-chief of The Saturday Paper, in an hour-long interview with Paul Barclay on the ABC’s Big Ideas. The interview is essentially an expansion of his Quarterly Essay  The Prosperity Gospel, with more coverage of Scott Morrison than he provided in the essay.

The specific context of the quote is Morrison’s tax cuts. which have “destroyed the country’s revenue base”. The tax cuts “will destroy the social security safety net that has defined the stability of this country”.

He portrays Morrison as someone who is inflexible, self-assured and who has a social morality built on an extreme version of Calvinism. (These are not the qualities which make for leadership in a democracy facing many adaptive challenges.)

Morrison’s Australia, Jensen says, is an Australia built on a division “between the worthy and the unworthy, and the worthy in Morrison’s Australia are already rich and they will seek to become more rich”. He describes Morrison as someone who is “very sure of himself”, who is “deeply unable to imagine anyone not like him”, and who suffers “a troubling failure of imagination”.

Lest anyone believe Jensen’s viewpoint is partisan, he assures listeners that his interest is the health of the country. While he was enthusiastic about Shorten’s reformist platform he is damning of Labor’s post-election funk: “The Labor Party has come out of this election, and very quickly said ‘we don’t stand for anything’”.

“Do you feel trapped in a broken economic model?”

So starts George Monbiot’s Ted Talks presentation  The new political story that could change everything. The political “restoration” story of 90 years ago was Keynesian, the restoration story since 1980 has been neoliberalism. Ever since the crisis of 2008 we have witnessed the failure of neoliberalism, but we have also witnessed political failure, because our politicians have offered nothing to replace it: “political failure is at heart a failure of imagination”. “We are a society of altruists, but we are governed by psychopaths”. Monbiot’s offering is a story about how the community can re-capture the commons – our common wealth.

How Facebook and the Coalition led us into the moral void of postmodernism

Do you remember this advertisement? The Guardian’s political editor, Katharine Murphy,writes about her encounters with Facebook: How Facebook’s hall of mirrors led to the prime ministership of ‘Go Sharks’. While accepting that the death tax claims were untrue, Facebook executives essentially contended that electoral lies were simply matters of opinion. “The slide away from fixed points really messes with your bearings”, writes, Murphy.  “We have a serious problem when the primary place where citizens congregate can be a hub for misinformation, which is corrosive for the body politic, and nobody is ultimately responsible for making the environment better”.

Opinion polling: Increase Newstart, shut down Centrelink’s “Robodebt”, regulate social media

This week’s Essential Report is about our attitudes to Newstart, Centrelink’s “Robodebt” and social media.  Most of us are pretty well aware of the rates of Newstart payment, and 58 percent of us believe those rates are too low. When there is a choice between the options “Spend $12B a year to provide tax cuts for Australia’s top income earners” and “Spend $4B a year to increase the Newsttart payment for those looking for a job”, Newstart wins hands down. Only 12 per cent opt for tax cuts (19 per cent for Coalition voters.)  Most of us (58 per cent) want to see the “Robodebt” program shut down, and a very significant majority of us are concerned about social media’s use of personal information and their role as platforms for “deliberately misleading and harmful news stories”.  Eighty percent of Australians support tighter regulation of social media.

Election analysis: AEC data confirms Coalition’s success in wooing the far right

William Bowe’s Poll Bludger has published Electoral Commission data  on preference flows from smaller parties – Greens, One Nation, and Clive Palmer’s UAP/PUP. The main finding is that over the last three elections the proportion of preferences from One Nation and UAP/PUP to the Coalition has risen from around 55 per cent to just over 65 per cent. (This may explain some of the pollsters’ error if they were assuming historic preference flows.)

Noel Pearson on an indigenous voice to Parliament

Pearson was one of the original movers for an indigenous voice to Parliament. In time his speech to the Garma Festival will become available; for now we can hear his views, and his analysis of the politics around the issue, in an interview with Patricia Karvelas on the ABC’s Breakfast  program.  (11 minutes) Before they lose everything they hold precious, indigenous Australians need recognition says Pearson.

Pearson is disappointed that many people who should know better have called an indigenous voice “a third chamber”, citing Justice Murray Gleeson’s considered opinion in a recent paper  Recognition in keeping with the Constitution.  “What is proposed is a voice to parliament, not a voice in parliament”.

The consumer price index reveals the cost of fiscal stringency

Last week the ABS produced its regular CPI figures for the June Quarter.  Most media interest was on the low annual measure of 1.6 per cent inflation, well below the Reserve Bank’s target range of 2.0 to 3.0 per cent.

It’s revealing to dig a little into the figures, because not all prices move the same way. The prices of many items most people would regard as “discretionary”, such as cellphones and big-screen TVs, have been tumbling, which means other prices have been rising faster than inflation in general. Over the last three years – a period where real (inflation-adjusted) wages have hardly risen – the “all groups” CPI has risen by 5.7 percent, but the prices of health and education have risen by 10.5 and 9.1 per cent respectively. Price rises in these categories stem in large part from state government policies – more privatisation and more user charges – not that state governments should shoulder all the blame, because they are heavily dependent on Commonwealth transfers. We can expect many more price rises in these areas as the Morrison tax cuts and corresponding expenditure cuts take effect.

Why didn’t the Reserve Bank reduce interest rates earlier?

Those with a little stomach for economics, and for economic revisionism, may find a speech by RBA Governor Philip Lowe of interest: Inflation Targeting and Economic Welfare. He explains why inflation is doggedly falling below the target zone of central banks. In large part that’s because of competition in a globalised world. There was a time when low goods inflation would be offset by high services inflation, but services are now subject to more competition. (Think call centres.)

He suggests that because the Australian labour force is very flexible, and because “the trajectory of household debt had lessened” Reserve Bank decisions to reduce rates subject the economy to less risk.  (Note that his tone is strongly in contrast with his more gloomy statements of just a month back, even though there is no data suggesting economic conditions have improved.)

The China-US trade war has morphed into a currency war

We’re living in a strange era when a country with a capitalist/free-market economic system intervenes in the market by imposing tariffs, while its adversary with a communist central-planning economic system retaliates with market measures. That’s essentially what has happened over the last few days, as China, in response to Trump’s latest round of tariff increases, has relaxed controls on the Yuan, resulting in a devaluation, explains  The Economist  Why a weakening yuan is rattling markets.

Rorts when Centrelink compliance is contracted out to profit-making firms

According to the Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business website, ParentsNext  is a program designed to help parents get a job when their youngest child goes to school. For certain people eligible for a Parenting Payment from Centrelink, that payment is conditional on participation in the ParentsNext program. The private corporations providing ParenstNext services can suspend or stop people’s Centrelink payments if they don’t comply with the conditions imposed by these private providers. On the ABC Background Briefing Andy Burns looks at how the these corporations are rorting the program at a cost to public revenue and are subjecting  people receiving Parent Payment  to humiliation, bureaucratic harassment and the risk of losing benefits, even though many of them are exempt from having to enrol in ParentsNext. Whistleblower “Tony” points out how it pays the private companies to recruit and hold clients, and how they punish staff for letting clients know if they are exempt from having to enrol in ParentNext.

Careful where you eat out – you may be complicit in wage theft

“Wage theft seems to have become accepted as a fact of life, maybe even a necessity, in certain sectors and workplaces.” Writing in Open Forum, Sarah Kaine of the UTS Business School reminds us that wage theft is widespread in the food services industry, where it has been revealed in 45 per cent of audits. The highly-publicised George Calombaris case ($7.8 million of underpaid wages) may be typical rather than isolated.

In  Eureka Street  Nicola Heath gives a first-hand account of her experience as a worker in the restaurant industry. “In the decade I spent working in hospitality, my employers very rarely paid me anything approximating the award wage.”

Vale cash

The days when we carry in our pockets heavy pieces of metal, bearing an imprint of a foreign monarch, may be coming to an end, according to an article in The Economist  Rich countries must start planning for a cashless future. In the Nordic countries 80 per cent of transactions are cashless; in Australia the proportion is 60 per cent. A cashless economy has clear economic advantages in terms of tax and wage compliance and security, but it also means we are more dependent on the financial sector, and in spite of efficiencies in terms of low transaction costs banks and merchants are ripping off consumers by imposing surcharges for cashless transactions.

Tallygaroopna – Australia’s new growth centre

What – you haven’t heard of Tallygaroopna, one of Australia’s new growth centres along a high-speed rail line linking Sydney and Melbourne. Writing in The Guardian, Anne Davies reports how $8 million of the Commonwealth’s $20 million to progress high-speed rail has been given to “a consortium led by a man who has no expertise in major infrastructure projects, who had been a bankrupt and who was once a National Party candidate”. The consortium, with a paid-up capital of $400 000, operates out of its law firm’s office, and, according to Davies, “has had some setbacks”. (Here is the Google Maps location, in case you want to join the rush to buy real-estate in Tallygaroopna.)

A short history of the NBN

If you are reading this article you have at least some basic internet technology, but it almost certainly falls far short of what you should enjoy in a country that claims to be “developed”. ABC business editor Ian Verrender has written a short history of the NBN. It’s a story of how successive Coalition governments have made a costly mess of telecommunications – first the Howard Government by privatising the natural monopoly parts of Telstra (giving them massive power to overcharge for access to infrastructure), how the Abbott Government tried to destroy the NBN, and how there are still influential Coalition politicians who have a deep loathing of it.

Fuel security – another case of policy neglect

Six years of Coalition neglect have seen our fuel reserves – gasoline, diesel, aviation spirit, jet fuel – run down to only 50 days of net imports (far less in some categories), in contravention of our IEA agreement to hold at least 90 days of reserves. Energy Minister Angus Taylor puts his faith in relying on the US to support us in the event of a fuel emergency, on the basis that Labor’s pre-election proposal to create a national fuel reserve would be too expensive. (Strange thinking, but the Coalition has never understood the basic economic difference between recurrent expenditure and investment in an asset such as a fuel reserve). On Tuesday morning’s ABC Breakfast program John Blackburn, retired air vice-marshal, and Chairman, Institute for Integrated Economic Research Australia, explains the folly and risk   in the Government’s approach, and points out that we could do a great deal to reduce the vulnerability of our transport sector by making it less dependent on oil. 

Game, Setka, match

That’s the title of a Schwartz Media 7am podcast about the Dutton-Morrison Government’s push for legislation to make union de-registration easier. The Government has made much of the behaviour of the CFMEU and its boss, Mike Setka as justification for this legislation, already passed in the House of Representatives and due to go before the Senate in October. But as Mike Seccombe points out, the government does not need new legislation to take action against the CFFMEU, and he warns of the adverse economic consequences of any further weakening of union power. The typical union member, he points out, is not a tattooed thug  in a blue singlet, but a middle-aged woman working in an aged-care home.

How Sinn Féin can rescue Britain from Johnson

Whoever writes the editorial for The Irish Times  either is a student of Machiavelli or has been schooled by the Jesuits (plausibly both). See how Sinn Féin can use their influence  to avert a no-deal Brexit and preserve a soft border in Ireland.

Three days of peace, love and music – in 1969

This coming week – August 15 to 18 – marks 50 years since the Woodstock festival.  There’s a six minute clip of  Santana performing Soul Sacrifice at Woodstock.

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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