Saturday’s good reading and listening for the weekend

Jun 5, 2021
Reminder to Morrison: the buck stops here

What people in other forums are saying about public policy


The pandemic’s progress

The Victorian outbreak

There’s no question about who’s responsible for the latest outbreak: it’s the Morrison Government – a government run by “the subcommittee chair of a suburban netball club buffooning his way through an office to which he should never have arisen”, to quote the editorial of last week’s Saturday Paper. There’s more to the crucial task of public administration than making press statements and paying consultants $660 000 to pull together pieces of public data to write a “vaccine strategy”.

The outbreak is a direct consequence of a failure in quarantine and a failure in vaccination, both Commonwealth responsibilities.

The only responsibility that rests with the Victorian Government is its poor performance with the QR check-in system, but responsibility for that rests not only with the government: it also lies with the business people who don’t take the pandemic seriously, and with those individuals who believe their innate stupidity gives them license to assume anonymity as they go from bar to bar becoming more inebriated and wondering why no one wants to share a bed with them.

Then there are the partisan journalists who seek to make an invidious comparison with the way the New South Wales Government handled the outbreak last Christmas and the way Victoria is handling the present outbreak. They conveniently ignore four facts.

First, the New South Wales outbreak was in an easily-isolated part of Sydney. Sydney and Melbourne are geographically different. Sydney is a decentralised conurbation, while Melbourne is a large “central place” city: Craigieburn and Dandenong are connected in ways that Mona Vale and Campbelltown are not. Victoria’s attempt to contain last July’s outbreak regionally was a failure: many lives would have been saved and the lockdown would have been shorter had they immediately gone into a state-wide lockdown.

Second, the Victorian outbreak is in winter, and Melbourne has a miserable winter keeping people indoors where they exchange viruses and bacteria with one another.

Third, the New South Wales outbreak resulted from a failure in hotel quarantine in New South Wales. Because responsibility for quarantine rests with the Commonwealth, Victorian Acting Premier James Merlino has not sent a bill for several billion dollars to his counterpart, Steven Marshall, in South Australia. The South Australian Government could perhaps have done better, but we should keep in mind that it, like all other states, was using hotels to deal with a surge of virus carriers who arrived in late April, who should have been handled in a proper quarantine facility.

Fourth, the virus spreading in Victoria, although less infectious that the variant presently spreading in the UK, is probably more infectious than the variant that was spreading in New South Wales. On Thursday morning’s ABC Breakfast program Hamish MacDonald interviewed immunologist Catherine Bennett about the virus presently spreading in Victoria. She is unconvinced that the virus strain is more easily spread through casual contact than was the case with earlier strains, explaining her scepticism in terms of improved contact-tracing. That scepticism is confirmed by a subsequent re-classification of two false positives. She is reasonably confident that Victoria’s response will get this outbreak under control. (9 minutes.)

Some people, in defence of the Morrison Government, suggest that it is unfair to blame the Commonwealth for its tardiness in meeting its earlier-promised vaccination schedule: even if we were on track with the Commonwealth’s original vaccination schedule, the level of vaccination would not have been high enough to have stopped this outbreak from spreading. That is so, but the higher the level of vaccination the lower is the virus’s reproduction rate, resulting in fewer cases, an easier job for the contact tracers, and a shorter lockdown.

To put recent outbreaks in perspective we have prepared the graph below, showing community cases in the seven months since November (when the big Victorian outbreak was finally overcome).  Each has stemmed from a failure in our external borders. Each has been costly, not only in terms of the restrictions governments have imposed, but also in terms of the way any outbreak at this stage has a chilling effect on personal and business plans.

Finally, there is no excuse for the Commonwealth’s failures in relation to aged-care residents and workers. Inga Ting and her colleagues at the ABC Digital Story Innovation Team have a graphic of Australia’s ever-changing vaccination timetable: even accomplished jazz performers would admire the Morrison Government’s capacity for improvisation.  Rick Morton, writing in the Saturday PaperVaccine rollout: how it all went so terribly wrong – describes the Commonwealth’s failures step-by-step: his article will surely live on as a case study for students in decades to come.

As at Thursday 4.6 million or 18 per cent of our population had received at least a first dose of vaccination. From here on there should be some pick-up in full vaccination numbers as people receive the second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, after a twelve-week gap from the first dose. It is a race and we’re struggling to keep up with the virus.


Our part of the world

To date it has been clear that East Asia, in comparison with South Asia, Europe and the USA, has been lightly touched by Covid-19. That generalisation still holds, but there is a degree of convergence. The table below shows key indicators of coronavirus in our region (sorted by the per-capita recent case rate), with corresponding data for four large countries outside our area that have had high incidences of Covid-19.

Until recently some countries in our region, including Vietnam and Taiwan, could be grouped with Australia and New Zealand, where the virus was effectively suppressed, but in both Vietnam and Taiwan there have been significant outbreaks. The source of Vietnam’s recent outbreak is unclear, but it has done well for a country with long land borders. Taiwan’s outbreak seems to be traceable to relaxed quarantine requirements for aircrew.  Still, in these countries, as in most of east Asia, infection rates are low compared to rates earlier this year in the UK and the USA, where they were running well above 400 daily cases per million population. There is concern in Japan because the Olympics are due to start on July 23, but it seems that restrictions associated with a state of emergency are bringing infections down from their peak in mid-May. The country hardest hit recently is Malaysia, which has been grappling with relatively high infection rates since late last year, and is now experiencing a case rate almost as high as Brazil’s.


The rest of the world

Globally, reported cases are falling.  India and Brazil still account for just over half of worldwide cases last week.

The global reduction in daily cases is attributed mainly to falls in Europe, the USA and India. In South America and Africa cases are rising and on both continents there may be significant under-reporting. It would therefore be folly to draw too much meaning from the steep fall shown in the graph.

In the EU and the USA infections are continuing to fall to around 60 to 80 new cases per day per million people: even in France the case rate is slowly coming down. In the UK, however, which reached a daily case rate of 30 per million people two weeks back, cases are picking up again, in spite of its relatively high level of vaccination (58 per cent first dose, 38 per cent two doses). They seem to have the most recent “delta” strain.

It’s easy to overlook the simple fact that unless the vaccination rate is high enough to achieve herd immunity, the virus can spread throughout the unvaccinated population, particularly if it is regionally concentrated. So far Israel, with 57 per cent of the population fully vaccinated, has the world’s highest vaccination rate, but no epidemiologist would suggest that 57 per cent is sufficient to achieve herd immunity.

What is notable, however, is that in most “developed” countries with high rates of infection, death rates per infection are falling. It’s far too early to attribute cause and effect: maybe the virus is becoming less deadly, maybe with lower case rates hospitals can deliver better care, maybe treatments are improving, and maybe vaccines, while not stopping the virus, are giving effective symptomatic relief to many who would otherwise be hospitalised. The world is learning.

If, through any or all of these factors, death rates (and by extension hospitalisation rates) continue to fall and reach very low numbers, public policy will most probably be redirected to measures to keep hospitalisation and death rates down rather than to stop infections from occurring. Politically that will be a hard sell in countries like Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Taiwan, where policy to date has been focussed on cases.  None of these countries are at the point where they can make such a policy shift, but they surely should be preparing their citizens for that eventuality.


Sources

See our separate web page of hyperlinks to generally reliable information and analysis about Covid-19, including the ABC’s vaccine tracker. The Economist has a detailed article about superspreaders and airborne transmission. Yes, there really are “superspreaders”, and though few in number they are important contributors to the virus’s spread. On airborne transmission the conclusion seems to be that if you must use indoor spaces choose well-ventilated areas, don’t stay too long, and whatever you do don’t sing.


Economics

Albanese paints a bright future for the minerals sector. Coal isn’t in it.

An opposition leader speaking on industry policy is bound to make claims about the government’s backwardness and stupidity.

True to political form Albanese certainly does so in his speech on Wednesday to the Minerals Council of Australia: Embracing the opportunity of change.

But he’s right. This government is throwing $600 million at a gas-fired plant no private investor will touch; it is wasting $4 million on a feasibility study for a new coal-fired plant (when they can download the latest IEA economic analysis of coal free of charge); it has ridiculed electric vehicles; it has tried to thwart a windfarm project in Queensland; and it is so fearful and ignorant of new technology that it wasted millions on a broadband network that was obsolete before it started. As Albanese points out the Morrison Government is “frightened of the present” and “terrified of the future”

There are two important planks to the policies Albanese outlines. The most concrete is to invest in electricity transmission, based on the recommendations from the Australian Energy Market Operator in its Integrated System Plan. Australia has an abundance of renewable energy, but much is concentrated in “hot spots” that are not connected to the grid. We need a high-voltage transmission system, an essential shared resource for the electricity sector. As economists know this is the sort of infrastructure that only government can provide – in contrast to the fossil-fuel projects the government is funding, for which there is no defensible economic argument.

The other policy plank is to add value along the supply chain that starts with minerals.  Albanese envisages that a significant portion of Labor’s National Reconstruction Fund will be used to boost a domestic battery manufacturing industry. At present Australia is the world’s biggest exporter of lithium: we should be prominent as an exporter of batteries. Similarly we should be prominent in exporting processed minerals, and in securing the future of our aluminium industry by replacing coal with renewables as its electrical energy source.

Writing in Renew Economy –  “Running dead on renewables:” Albanese slams Morrison in clean energy pitch to Minerals Council – Michael Mazengarb reports positively on Albanese’s speech.  Writing in The GuardianPaul Karp and Katharine Murphy are positive about the speech itself, but they note that Labor is not fully behind a rapid transition to renewable energy. Labor supports the idea of gas as a transition fuel, for example, and is mindful – perhaps excessively so – of the risk of being seen as anti-coal: Anthony Albanese sends mixed signals on fossil fuels as Labor wrestles over climate policy.


Australian employers are breaking the laws of economics

The basic laws of supply and demand are straightforward: if companies find it hard to hire workers they offer higher wages, incomes rise, workers are allocated to where they can be most productive, and inflation will probably rise. QED.

But that’s not what’s happening in Australia: although companies are reporting labour shortages wages are not moving, as Alan Kohler reports in one of his regular short podcasts –   Businesses struggle to find workers, but wages staying stagnant (2 minutes).

Perhaps firms are cautious about locking in higher wages, hoping that when the national drawbridge is lowered a ready supply of immigrants will reduce pressure on firms to offer higher wages.

Apart from expressing his distaste for inflation, Kohler does not pass judgement on the situation. But surely we need to see wages rising, thereby increasing incomes and stimulating demand, and allowing inflation to rise by a little. A modest level of inflation within the Reserve Bank’s two to three per cent band could help erode debt, and because it would be followed by a rise in nominal interest rates demand-side pressure on housing prices would ease, allowing for a gentle deflation of the housing bubble.


Financial advice – omens from shoeshine boys

There is a story, possibly apocryphal, about how John Kennedy’s father Joe escaped the 1929 crash. When he heard the shoeshine boy giving stock market tips, he knew it was time to get out.

The shoeshine boys of today are naïve and highly-leveraged speculators in real-estate, taking advantage of low interest rates, egged on by property spruikers, going for what they see as assured capital gains in a rising market.

On the ABC’s website Rhiana Whitson has an article Property boom sees investors return to the market, adding to the pain of first-home buyers. There’s nothing unusual about that: most media are reporting on property sales and prices. (But why do journalists use the term “investors” for people who are simply churning over assets rather than creating anything of value?)

What is particularly telling about her article is a table showing that lenders have been cutting interest rates for short-term and variable-rate loans to speculators, while hiking rates for longer-term borrowers. This is a sure sign that interest rates will rise. Those who have been enticed by low rates will be hurt badly, and if the subsequent correction in housing prices is sharp enough the effects will be felt throughout the economy. The Morrison Government would be hoping that the market holds up until the next election.


Please let us pay for decent aged care

The persistent line from the “right” is that when the government taxes us to pay for shared services provided by the government it is paternalistic.

But surely when people seek to pay for a service collectively, and the government refuses to countenance their wishes, that too is paternalistic.

So it is with aged care. The Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety found that aged care was underfunded and that it should be funded by a Medicare-style tax levy, but commissioners had different ideas about how such a levy should operate.

In a major survey on attitudes towards and beliefs about aged care, the ANU’s Centre for Social Research and Methods has found overwhelming support – 85 per cent – for an aged care improvement levy.  When responses were disaggregated by voting intention, 83 per cent of Coalition supporters were found to be in favour if a tax levy. But the budget contained no such levy.

The survey — Views and experience of the aged care system in Australia – covered many issues other than funding. It found that Australians are very concerned about being able to afford aged care, and have little confidence in the present aged care system.


Productivity Commission on government services

The Productivity Commission has released the latest updates of its regular series of reports on government services. These cover child care, education and training, justice services, and housing and homelessness.

These reports provide huge amounts of data on performance indicators for various aspects of services over all eight states and territories.

We have done no more than to dip into the reports’ spreadsheets: there are enough to keep a data nerd off the streets for a month. At a quick glance we see some telling figures from the data on housing and homelessness – for example that while New South Wales and Queensland outlay around $370 per head on public housing capital expenditure, the people of Western Australia, Tasmania and the ACTa spend less than $70 per head.  To draw any conclusions, however, one would need to look at capital expenditure over many years, and to account for tradeoffs between capital and maintenance expenditure.


Migration

Let’s use the pandemic as an opportunity to re-think migration

A team of researchers at the Grattan Institute – Brendan Coates, Henry Sherrell and Will Mackey – urge us to re-think permanent skilled migration after the pandemic.

“When we reopen the borders, Australia should unashamedly select permanent skilled migrants for their long-term economic potential”, they write.

That may read as simple common sense, but they contrast this approach to the use of immigration to fill specific skills shortages, and to the rapidly-expanding Business Innovation and Investment Program. This scheme is ostensibly designed to attract investment and people with entrepreneurial talent, but it has attracted people who “are older, participate less, have poorer English, and appear to earn smaller incomes than those issued with permanent visas via the points-test”.

While not endorsing the popular view that immigrants take jobs from native Australians and suppress wages, they point out that “concentrated inflows of migrants into particular sectors can put downward pressure on the wages of Australian workers with similar skills. Prioritising high-skilled migrants may therefore boost the wages of low-skilled workers, reducing wage inequality”. This is about as close as they come to criticising the Coalition for its use of immigration as a means to suppress wage growth.


“It’s the aeroplane, rather than the schooner”

Australians can be self-righteous when they look down on America for its past dependence on slavery, forgetting that in the 19th century Australian blackbirders were regularly sending schooners to the Pacific islands (Vanuatu and the Solomons) to kidnap people to work in Queensland’s cane fields.

That’s why, in a conversation with Hamish McDonald, one of the descendants of these slave labourers compares present-day conditions for Pacific island seasonal workers with the conditions suffered by his grandparents: “It’s the aeroplane, rather than the schooner” he says.

McDonald has a well-researched article in Inside Story about the employment conditions of seasonally-employed workers, mainly foreign, titled Bitter harvest. In part it’s a story of exploitation and wage theft, mainly through the intermediation of labour hire companies. Those exploited include people in the Seasonal Worker Programme (sic) from the Pacific islands, so-called “backpackers”, visa overstayers, and refugees awaiting confirmation of status. All are in a weak bargaining position. Below-award payment is common, and even more common are outrageous deductions for accommodation owned and arranged by the same labour-hire companies: $110 a week for a tent, $200 for a bunk in a room shared with 11 other people.

McDonald also reports on how the employers are coping with the travel restrictions imposed by the pandemic. Some are simply whingeing about the difficulty of employing labour and letting their produce rot, while “some growers are even willing to consider hiring local Australian workers” he writes. That may require them to offer decent wages and reasonably-priced accommodation.

Or can they hang on until the borders re-open when they will once again have the upper hand in hiring vulnerable workers.

Although McDonald is cautious on passing judgement, his article carries the strong impression that through weak enforcement of labour laws the Coalition is not too concerned about this exploitation. It satisfies the interests of a rural business lobby and it helps keep fruit and vegetable prices down.

Even if moral suasion does not work on a government devoid of moral principles, maybe hard-headed trade considerations can make the government act. McDonald writes:

The behaviour of some labour hire companies and farmers risks tainting some Australian products — meat, fruit, vegetables and wine — with the modern slavery label, and denying them certification as ethically sourced. This would be a propaganda gift to countries smarting under criticism for their own forced labour. China and Xinjiang leap to mind. Trade sanctions could follow.


Is our region ready for a wave of forced migration?

The Indo-Pacific region faces an increasing risk that events in and beyond the region will precipitate a surge of forced migration, but countries are ill-prepared to deal with these risks.

This is the conclusion of the recent meeting of the Asia Dialogue on Forced Migration, a “second track” process hosted by the Centre for Policy Development.

The ADFM has identified five specific risks. To quote Herizal Hazri of Malaysia’s Institute of Strategic and International Studies:

Events in Myanmar, the continued stalemate around repatriation of the Rohingya in Bangladesh, the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and ongoing threats to peace and stability in countries like Syria and Afghanistan combine to increase the likelihood of both new sudden displacement events, and ongoing displacement becoming protracted.

More details on the project are in the discussion paper The changing criticality of regional forced migration: strategic challenges & responses.


China

Xi Jinping’s life story so far

The first of the ABC’s China if you’re listening podcasts is about Xi Jinping’s upbringing and rise to power – Xi Jinping: the “man of destiny”. Participants in the podcast take us through his upbringing by parents steadfastly loyal to Mao – a loyalty to which they adhered even as they suffered from the idiocy and brutality of the Cultural Revolution. Participants describe Xi’s rise to power that culminated in an extraordinary downfall of his main rival Bo Xilai.

On the program Kevin Rudd describes his impression of Xi when, as vice president, he was on a visit to Canberra in 2010:

He had a profound sense of the history of his own country, a deep knowledge of the history of his own party, as you would expect. And therefore, in my early judgment of him, he saw himself very much as, quote, the man of destiny, that is someone who could reshape China’s future.

The episode concludes with former New South Wales Liberal Party MP, Helen Sham-Ho, explaining why Australia seems to have been singled out for Chinese wrath.  (35 minutes.)


Does our relationship with China have to be so bad?

Why is the Morrison Government deliberately fabricating a conflict with China? asks David Brophy on Late Night Live: A new way of navigating our relationship with China. Why has every aspect of the China-Australia relationship – commercial, cultural, educational – come to be seen from a security perspective?

He sees three possible reasons, none of which justifies our government’s stance. Possibly it’s the influence of industries with a commercial interest in militarisation. Possibly it’s a signal to the US to stay involved in the Pacific and to stand by our side. Possibly it’s the age-old tactic of governments distracting from their domestic failures by conjuring up an external enemy.

He is no defender of the Chinese Government: it is quite right for other countries to speak out about treatment of the Uyghur people, or its suppression of civil rights in Hong Kong. But why do we single out China?

Australia would have more credibility if we were seen as a country that takes a strong and consistent line on human rights. If our government had taken a strong and consistent line on treatment of Muslim minorities in other countries, for example, Australia’s stance on the Uyghur people may have more credibility. (19 minutes.)

Brophy is author of China Panic: Australia’s Alternative to Paranoia and Pandering.


Other politics

Vote Angus out

If one drives along the Hume Freeway, from the southwest edge of Sydney to Goulburn, most of the electorate of Hume lies to the west. The seat is held by Angus Taylor with a primary vote of 53 per cent and a TPP vote of 63 per cent in the 2019 federal election. In spite of urban encroachment, it doesn’t look like swinging left any time soon: Labor’s vote was 27 per cent and the Greens’ 5 per cent.

But that doesn’t mean all feel well-represented by Angus Taylor. Writing in Inside StoryA Taylor-made rebellion – Brett Evans describes a movement called “Voices of Hume”, a movement aiming ““to have an independent installed in Hume, someone who listens to the community, rather than someone who goes into it for their own agenda”, and with a simple slogan “Vote Angus Out”. They are equally assertive about whom they don’t want – “someone who caters to the most influential lobby group or wealthy donors”.

Those priorities say much about how many voters see Angus Taylor. Getting rid of him would be a big but not insurmountable task: Evans describes some of Taylor’s many shortcomings, and the successes enjoyed by other independents in seats with strong regional identities.

You can help the people of Hume, and the people of Australia, achieve better representation by contributing on the Vote Angus Out website, which has a record of his voting record – including, for example, his vote against a federal anti-corruption commission and his votes for privatisation. And you can read about how Voices of Hume is going about its task of “reclaiming Australian democracy”, borrowing from methods used by successful independent candidates such as Zali Steggall in Warringah and Helen Haines in Indi.

Watch out for “Voices for …” movements: we hear that in Victoria a “Voices for Nicholls”, a seat centred on Wangaratta, presently held by Damien Drum of the National Party, is getting off the ground.


Will government of the people, by the people, for the people, endure in  America?

Divisions in America’s Republican Party are illustrated by the actions and beliefs of two women. There is Liz Cheney who was voted out of her position of Republican House Leader for failing to fall in line with the stand that the Democrats stole the election. ”I will not sit back and watch in silence while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former president’s crusade to undermine our democracy” she said. In the other wing of the party is Georgia Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene, a QAnon supporter and avid backer of Trump, who has suggested that Nancy Pelosi could be executed for treason and has compared Covid-19 restrictions to the Holocaust.

Marjorie Taylor Greene’s beliefs and loyalties are still in the ascendancy in the party.  On Saturday Extra Kylie Morris interviews Steve Schmidt and Tara Setmayer – two  politically conservative people with impeccable Republican resumés who have walked away from the party –  Former Republicans on the GOP’s post-Trump identity crisis, and what comes next.

Both are disgusted by where Trump has taken the Republican Party, and are dismayed that Republicans in the Senate have voted down the bill to establish a commission into the Trump-led insurrection on January 6. Whatever views Republican senators may express in private, their concern is to hold on to party nomination at the next election. To keep their party’s endorsement they need the support of fascists, white supremacists, conspiracy theorists and anti-Semites to secure the numbers. Such is the rot that has set into the party. These movements have always been present in America and in the party, but with the help of Trump they have become mainstream.

Schmidt sees Trumpism not only as a threat to the Republican Party but to the very survival of American democracy. It’s a local manifestation of a world-wide anti-democratic movement. The dominant forces in the Republican Party hold values that they prioritise over the value of sustaining democracy. A cult of personality has been built around Trump, supported by a vast propaganda network centred on Fox News. Schmidt sees Murdoch as “the most dangerous immigrant ever to have come to American shores”.


How to revitalise a tired political party

Political parties age and get stuck in their ways. Scott Prasser, drawing on the wisdom of an Australian politician, lists eight defects that established parties need to attend to. Among a party’s shortcomings to be overcome are factionalisation, a lack of clarity of the party’s political objectives, poor communications with the public, poor organisation within electorates, and a loss of relevance to young people.

Prasser’s article, published in Spectator, is a summary of Robert Menzies’ 1944 “Forgotten people” speech, at which he  laid out the principles to resurrect the moribund United Australia Party as the Liberal Party: What would Menzies make of the modern Liberal Party?

In 1944 The United Australia Party was only 13 years old. In 2021 the Liberal Party is 76 years old and the Labor Party is 120 years old (130 years by some measures). Even the Greens Party, founded federally in 1992, is ageing. The National Party (née the Country Party) is formally 101 years old, but its policies and principles date to feudalism.

All our established parties could do with re-vitalisation. Everyone with a stake in party politics could be advised to avoid any ad hominem bias and read Menzies’ advice.


Public ideas

How Keynes was “cancelled”

“Cancel culture” is a fashionable term for ostracism that sees someone, along with their ideas, thrust out of social or professional circles. It’s not new: it was commonplace in Stalin’s Soviet Union, and was well described in Orwell’s Nineteen eighty-four, where Winston Smith was fully employed in “cancelling”. Only the term is new.

The “right” has been eager to portray cancel culture as an oppressive assault on free speech. See, for example, Peter Kurti’s Cancelling the culture: critical theory and the culture of incoherence, published by the Centre of Independent Studies, where he takes a swipe at the Frankfurt School’s Critical Theory by associating it with cancel culture and accusing it of censoring freedom of expression.

Critical Theory is a valid philosophical movement that tries to expose and articulate assumptions and established ways of thinking that shape economic and social relationships. Those assumptions and ways of thinking generally support the power of the rich and privileged: no wonder they don’t want them to be exposed.

Levelling an accusation of censorship and suppression of free speech against those who call for social justice is a novel twist of logic. Kurti manages this twist by associating Critical Theory with the drivel of postmodernism and the puerile movement known as “woke” culture.

Writing in the New York Times, Paul Krugman exposes the hypocrisy of the “right” when it rants against “cancel culture”.  He points out that powerful interests at times have effectively cancelled Keynes.

Krugman points out that economists seeking employment at a university or government department would no more mention Keynes than an aspiring young communist in Stalin’s time would have mentioned Trotsky. Keynes was briefly resurrected in 2008 in response to the Global Financial Crisis, and seems to have been given another resurrection in the recent culture, but for most of the last 40 years, since the time of Reagan and Thatcher, Keynes and his ideas have been suppressed, imposing a terrible cost in terms of unnecessary unemployment and impoverished public services.

Krugman’s focus is on Keynes. One can also mention that Karl Marx and his insights into the workings of capitalism have been effectively suppressed: to cancel Marx all the “right” needed to do was to associate his ideas with the brutality of Soviet Communism. Prominent economists, including Samuelson and Stiglitz, who have articulated the economic role of the public sector, have been cancelled. Krugman himself could well be cancelled for his liberalism.

The “right” doesn’t even try to defend the ways it cancels ideas: all they do is to claim that ideas such as privatisation and “small government” are beyond question. Indeed, they are so self-evident that they don’t even have to be articulated, while ideas such as evidence, truth, and logic are simply unfashionable.

So far, in Australia, about the worst damage inflicted by the woke culture has been the re-naming of Coon cheese. That’s pretty trivial compared with the “right’s” cancellation of the world’s best economic thinkers.


Polls and elections

Why the Morrison Government is starving universities

Those who analysed the swings in the 2019 federal election looked for demographic and socio-economic factors that may have been associated with swings towards and away from the Coalition. The most reliable factor was education: the more years of school and post-school education people had, the less likely they were to vote for the Coalition.

Poll analyst Adrian Beaumont has an article in The Conversation looking at this phenomenon in the US and the UK as well as in Australia: Non-university educated white people are deserting left-leaning parties. How can they get them back?. His article does not really deal with race as a factor: there is no binary division “white/non-white” that can even be defined, let alone generalised, across three different countries. But he does find a strong correlation between education and support for “left-leaning” parties.

His conclusion that the left should dissociate itself from elite opinion is rather strange on first reading. Surely Beaumont isn’t suggesting the left should compete with the right in a race to the bottom? But it appears that his term “elite opinion” refers to the language of political correctness, and to over-weighted concern for issues that have little relevance for most people, whatever their education. People may agree, for example, that people with non-mainstream sexual preferences should not suffer discrimination, but they do not wish to throw their weight behind a party that sees LGBT rights as such an important issue that it crowds out all other concerns of injustice.


Syria and Texas

For the sake of completeness we thought we should cover Syria’s election, that saw Bashar al-Assad returned with 95.1 per cent of the vote.

While we’re on the subject of flawed elections, we should mention the attempt by the Texan Government to make it harder for people to cast pre-poll and absent votes and to make it easier for defeated candidates to have election results overturned. The Texan proposed limits on pre-poll voting are similar to those already in place in Georgia and Carolina. Only through a parliamentary manoeuvre were Texan Democrats able to defeat the bill, and it could be re-presented.


Coming events

For those who live in or around Sydney, on Thursday June 10 at 7 pm the Balmain Institute has a talk on Covid-19 and its influence on infants and young people, presented by Jean Skattebol of the University of New South Wales. Register on the Institute’s website.


How the Morrison Government is dealing with the virus

This week we have drawn attention to the Morrison’s shortcomings in quarantine and vaccination. But it is making progress, as revealed in nine graphs that explain the government’s progress in tackling the virus.


If you have comments, corrections, or links to other relevant sources, we’d like to hear from you.  Please send them to Ian McAuley — ian, at the domain name ianmcauley.com

See Michael West Media for more analysis of these and other economic and political issues, and watch out for Peter Sainsbury’s Sunday environment round up.

 

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