Dec 15, 2018

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

On ABC’s Saturday Extra with Geraldine Doogue (from 0730 to 0900 or on their website  in case you miss it).

Donating and political influence, with Kypros Kypri, Professor and Senior Brawn Research fellow at the University of Newcastle and Michael Thorn, CEO of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education.

A call to re-think taxation, both in Europe and Australia, with economist and former politician Craig Emerson and economics editor for The Age, Peter Martin.

Ensuring a viable democracy, with former chief scientist and former vice-chancellor of the ANU, Ian Chubb, Ken Smith, Dean and CEO of ANZCOG, and Tamar Jacoby, President and CEO of opportunity America, a think tank promoting economic mobility

Living in the Arctic and the language of ice, with poet Nancy Campbell. Her book is The Library of Ice.

This is the last program for 2018 and over the next five weeks, Saturday Extra will be bringing you the highlights from the year.

Other commentary

American politics

News of Russian involvement to support the Republicans – Michael Cohen’s conviction and the National Rifle Association’s association with a Kremlin agent – has crowded out other developments in US politics.

On the ABC’s Between the Lines program, Tom Switzer interviews two foreign policy experts – John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, author of The Great Delusion: Liberal dreams and international realities, and Stephen Walt, author of The Hell of Good Intentions: America’s foreign policy elite and the decline of U.S. primacy. They both see Trump’s disdain for a rules-based international order as simply a stronger and more explicit manifestation of trends established under previous administrations. In holding a binary “with us or against us” model of foreign relations the US has not made the most effective use of its power. (18 minutes)

On America’s global economic role, Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren presents a liberal vision in a Foreign Affairs essay A Foreign Policy for All: Strengthening Democracy at Home and Abroad. She says “trade negotiations should be used to curtail the power of multinational monopolies and crack down on tax havens. Workers should be meaningfully represented at the negotiating table, and the resulting agreements should be used to raise and enforce labor standards. Washington should also work with like-minded allies to hold countries that cheat to account.”

Writing in Foreign Affairs Richard Haass presents a history of world orders – their rise, their maintenance (through ongoing statecraft) and their end.  They don’t require universal agreement; rather they work so long as everyone has a stake in seeing the order survive. He traces the rise and fall of the 19th Century Council of Europe (a long-lived order) and the postwar order of the 20th Century – a dual order because of its parallel but separate military and economic components, in which the US played key and constructive roles.  We now need a world order that acknowledges the power shifts of the last decades, but so far the USA is not displaying the statecraft necessary to help bring it about.

Factcheckers at the Washington Posthave been working overtime since Trump took office. For the sake of brevity they have restricted themselves to listing 14 false claims he has repeated 20 times or more, such as the great revival of US steel making, or the unprecedented strength of the US economy.

Meanwhile in the 95 per cent of the world that isn’t America

In India Narendra Modi’s Bhartiya Janata Party has been doing poorly in recent state elections. According to an article in The Economisttitled India’s long moribund opposition shows signs of life, Modi’s Hindu nationalism is losing its appeal. India’s economic growth has been impressive but it has left many behind, including farmers, Hindus of lower caste, and people of tribal origin.

Also in The Economist(remember their free download limits) is an article Forty years after Deng opened China, reformists are cowed, contrasting the policies of Xi Jinping with those of Deng Xiaoping, whose achievements in steering the transformation of the Chinese economy have been somewhat sidelined.  The article includes the tantalising suggestion that “many Chinese liberals put their faith in a surprising champion: President Donald Trump.”

News from France has been dominated by people throwing pavers, torching cars and smashing monuments, in what is portrayed as a resurgence of an angry and populist “right”. But there is also a quieter conservative movement gaining influence, La Manif Pour Tous – the Demonstration for Everyone – based on traditional Catholic ideas of social morality. In an article in the New York review of BooksTwo Roads for the French Right– Mark Lilla of Columbia University compares its tactics to those of the Marxist Antonio Gramsci, who saw changing the underlying cultural norms as a precondition to changing economic arrangements, and suggests they are engaged in a Kulturkampf. “They predictably reject the European Union, same-sex marriage, and mass immigration. But they also reject unregulated global financial markets, neoliberal austerity, genetic modification, consumerism, and AGFAM (Apple-Google-Facebook-Amazon-Microsoft)” writes Lilla.

Was 2018 the year of living undemocratically?

That’s the title of a program on the ABC’s Minefield. Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens discuss how populist movements have managed to harvest an aggregation of disaffected voters, while traditional political parties have been occupied by denying the legitimacy of their opponents. They bring in Jean-Paul Gagnon, from the University of Canberra, and together they discuss the idea of “negative sovereignty” by the voters. That is “the withdrawal of consent by a diverse and in many respects an incommensurable coalition of the disaffected, who are then incapable of reaching agreement on a positive course of action.”

Economists and the public agree privatisation has gone too far, but governments persist.

“If you’ve always doubted the sense of privatising government-owned businesses, vindication is now flowing thick and faster”, writes Ross Gittins in the Fairfax media. He draws attention to the privatisation of natural monopolies, including electric networks, ports, and airports. Confirming the work of writers in Pearls and Irritations, he reminds us that high electricity prices are a consequence of state governments’ privatisations. He also traces the consequences of the NSW privatising its ports –including unnecessary and unwelcome truck congestion on Sydney’s roads.

Ross’s contribution to economics has been recognised by the award of a Doctor of Letters from the ANU. To quote from the Vice-Chancellor’s citation “Gittins does much more than report economics – he deciphers, illuminates and translates the complex and often confusing language and conceptual bases of the craft of economics”.

And we’re still bickering about energy policy

Centrist voters are increasingly placing a priority on climate change and the environment more generally, according to  an article by Gabrielle Chan Next election test of leadership on climate and the environment, published in The Guardian. She cites the work of social researcher Rebecca Huntley, who has specifically targeted swinging voters in outer suburban areas. Climate change, deforestation, loss of threatened species and coal mining are all concerns to these voters.

Also writing in The Guardianthe Australia Institute’s Richard Denniss asks why Scott Morrison and the Business Council of Australia are still pushing coal, with their claim that a 45 per cent emissions reduction target by 2030 would be “economy wrecking”. Denniss points out that “not even the BCA’s own members believe the rhetoric of their peak body.”  The BCA and Morrison cannot seem to grasp the reality that Australians no longer trust so-called “business leaders” who claim they are advocating in the national interest.

An unsung economic reform

When we think of “economic reform” big policy shifts such as tariff reductions and the GST come readily to mind. Writing in The Conversation  Richard Holden of UNSW points out how the decision of the Hawke-Keating Government to float the dollar, a decision taken in their first year of office, has been so effective in stabilising the Australian economy, providing us with “a giant shock absorber”. (At the time the public servants in Treasury were gripped by anxiety, expecting the announcement to cause a financial meltdown, but it caused hardly a blip on financial markets.)

Don’t worry it’s only money

Do you have thirty $100 banknotes in your wallet? Probably not, unless you’re a drug dealer or are doing business with a tax-evading contractor.  According to the Reserve Bank, on average Australians have $3000 in banknotes, but up to three quarters of them are not in open circulation, and each year 5 to 10 per cent of them are actually lost. That’s in spite of the huge decline in consumer cash payments, falling from around 70 per cent of transactions in 2007 to under 20 per cent in 2016.

Remember that banknotes aren’t real assets; they’re only money, just like the reported market value of your house. The ABC has a neat website House of Cards (developed by Inga Ting, Geoff Thompson and Alex McDonald)  with maps of our capital cities showing year-by-year changes in dwelling values by small urban region. It even has a field into which you can insert your own postcode (try “2110”).  But what does it mean if you learn your house has lost $100K in market value? It’s still providing you with the same shelter and comfort – the qualities youvalue.  (We would all do well to think more about the real economy and less about money. That’s advice for property speculators, bankers and the federal treasurer.)

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