SATURDAY’s GOOD READING AND LISTENING FOR THE WEEKENDJun 29, 2019
A regular collection of links to writings and broadcasts in other media
ABC’s Saturday Extra (from 0730 to 0900 or on their website in case you miss it). Hamish Macdonald will again be in the chair this week.
In the contemporary war against migration those who come to wealthy countries are ‘not respecting borders’, ‘stealing our jobs’, ‘just trying to get rich’…but isn’t that just what those wealthy countries did previously? Author Suketu Mehta flips the anti-immigration narrative on its head.
Give me the young Tory at Oxford – and I’ll give you the future leader of the UK …. Simon Kuper who attended university with BoJo, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Jeremy Hunt and many others documents the privileged path to Westminster. (Kuper also has an article from the common room linked further on.)
What’s the appeal of a refreshing dip … in the middle of winter? For a growing number of hardy souls winter swimming is the secret to long life and good health … Hamish chills with the human polar bears…
A Foreign Affair– what will Narendra Modi do during his second term? What would a cyber attack look like and who is likely to launch one? And what about that trade war?
At last an opinion poll
Newspoll and Essential may still be too embarrassed to come out of the shadows, but the annual Lowy Institute Poll has made its appearance. It’s mainly about perceptions and values: the only point where it deals with party politics is where it asks about confidence in leaders, finding that while Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten score equally, they show up poorly in comparison with Jacinda Adern.
In a list of ten threats to Australia’s vital interests “climate change” comes out as #1, while “large numbers of immigrants and refugees coming to Australia” is down at #10.
A clear and growing majority of Australians (now 61 percent) agree that “global warming is a serious and pressing problem. We should begin taking steps now even if this involves significant costs”.
The poll also shows cooling public attitudes to the US and to China, but New Zealand is our “best friend in the world” by a long shot.
We are still highly supportive of immigration, although less so than we were a few years back, and we are concerned that our cities are “too crowded”. Similarly we are still strongly in support of free trade.
Pipped again by New Zealand
Another of those “global surveys” – this time the FutureBrand Country Index – reveals that Australia’s quality of life indicators are slipping relative to other countries. Benedict Brook provides a summary on News.com. (The full report is available on the FutureBrand website, but at a cost of your information forming part of their marketing database.) Brook writes that Australia suffers the burden of high house prices and “has also seen a drop in perceptions of its healthcare and education standards, desirability as a place to live or study, environmental friendliness and safety and security”. (Notably these are all areas that have been subject to the stifling “small government” ideology.)
He notes that while Australia shares its decline with US and UK, New Zealand’s ranking has risen above ours.
What happened to “congestion-busting infrastructure”?
To put it mildly, there is a credibility gap between Morrison’s talk about “congestion-busting infrastructure” and the facts as revealed in ABS data on engineering construction activity. The Guardian’s Greg Jericho analyses that data to produce a series of charts showing not only that total construction activity has been falling for the last six years, but also that work on roads and railways for the public sector – the category covering public infrastructure – is in the doldrums.
The Reserve Bank on our economic outlook
Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe spoke on a panel at the ANU Crawford Australian Leadership Forum. The RBA has provided a webcast of the panel: Lowe comes in after 13 minutes after Su-Lin Ong of RBC Capital Markets.
Lowe outlines the headwinds facing the Australian economy, noting that while firms may be hiring, they are not investing in new plant – an indicator of uncertainty. He explains, as he has done before, the limits of monetary policy – there’s no point in driving down our exchange rate if everyone else is doing the same and in any case there’s no shortage of money in the Australian economy. In the short term he calls for fiscal expansion (which isn’t on the Coalition’s agenda), and in the longer term he calls for economic structural reform (which is also absent from the Coalition’s agenda).
We should be spending more on education and health care – that’s fine
In 1965 the economist William Baumol showed that because different sectors would enjoy different rates of productivity improvement, the costs of some services in intrinsically labour sectors where human interaction is required would inevitably rise. An Economist article points out that “politicians who do not understand the Baumol effect sometimes cap spending on education and health”, thus suppressing economic opportunity (usually as a result of a “small government” ideology).
For those with an appetite for economics, the book reviewed by the Economist article – Why are the prices so damned high: health, education and the Baumol effect by Eric Helland and Alexander Tabarrok – is available online from the Mercatus Center, George Mason University. It’s rich with explanation and supporting data, but if you find the economics heavy-going its conclusions (Pages 72 – 73) provide a fair rebuttal to the neoliberal idea that rising prices in health and education imply that there is something wrong with these sectors and they therefore must be subject to the harsh discipline of fiscal stringency.
(The Economist article lies behind a paywall, but with registration you can access a limited number of free articles. You may find a subscription to be good value if you’re tired of reading the right-wing financial and economic drivel in The Australian and The Financial Review.)
What does the Israel Folau case have to do with Christianity?
Quite a lot in the view of those who have contributed more than $2 million to the group known as the Australian Christian Lobby.
Writing in The Guardian, David Marr tries to make sense of the ambiguities and inconsistencies in the ACL’s campaign. He sees “militant Christians all over the shop, blind to their arrogance and contradictions”. Are they seeking some Orwellian freedom to suppress the freedoms of others? How can Folau’s cruelty towards those of different sexual orientation be reconciled with the teachings of Jesus? “If Folau were insisting on vilifying, say, Jews and the disabled, would anyone object to Rugby Australia insisting he shut up about it?” asks Marr.
Head of Catholic Social Services and prominent lawyer Father Frank Brennan SJ is quoted in the Canberra Times as saying the case has nothing to do with religious freedom: rather it is about “freedom of contract”. (Folau seems to be claiming that he is being punished for his beliefs, while the issue is surely about his behaviour.)
Also in the Canberra Times, cartoonist David Pope makes his comment on the Folau case from a more traditional Christian perspective than that assumed by the ACL.
The voice of America’s radical left
Not Bernie Sanders, not Noam Chomsky, but the twenty billionaires who have signed an open letter to the 2020 presidential candidates: It’s time to tax us more. They write:
America has a moral, ethical and economic responsibility to tax our wealth more. A wealth tax could help address the climate crisis, improve the economy, improve health outcomes, fairly create opportunity, and strengthen our democratic freedoms.
Signatories include Alexander and George Soros, Chris Hughes (Facebook co-founder), and Abigail Disney (of the Walt Disney family) who writes: “We’re creating a super-class so far above the vast majority of people that they don’t share the same planet anymore.”
The mute voice of Europe’s left
There is a simple political model that sees the “left” as internationalist, while the “right” is nativist and insular, but Lea Ypi of the London School of Economics challenges this model. While Europe’s “left” is fragmented and bewildered, the “right” is confident and united. “It is a paradox that those political forces most hostile to European integration have also been the only ones to formulate a common vision of what Europe should and should not be” she writes in Social Europe. “The far-right international is here. When will the left wake up?”
From a university common room in one of Europe’s offshore islands
Writing in TheFinancial Times, Simon Kuper takes readers into Britain’s political nursery, the Oxford Union, where students learn “how to speak without much knowledge”, honing their skill of “superficial articularity”, developed in their days at Eton and other public schools. These skills helped them get through Oxford’s academic program without too much need for serious scholarship. Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson have both developed these competencies: whichever one wins will be well-equipped to become the next Conservative Prime Minister. (Our Prime Minister may have mastered the art of “speaking without much knowledge”, but has he missed the articularity bit?)
Cabaret and the rise of fascism
On Late Night Live Phillip Adams discusses politics and cabaret with Robyn Archer. She takes us into Berlin in the 1930s – the Berlin of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. She sees how our present conditions echo those that led to the collapse of the Weimar Republic, when the economic catastrophe of the 1930s produced a disenfranchised middle class and left unemployed and uneducated young men waiting for someone to come up and say “I can give you jobs and growth”. She reminds us that “it only takes one incredibly persuasive aggressive speaker to convince people that his answer is theanswer and then you’re in trouble, because there are no simple answers to the incredibly complex questions that people were facing in those days and that we face now”.
How the freedom agenda fell apart
Writing in Foreign Affairs, Larry Diamond describes how the democratic flowering on the late twentieth century gave way to the rise of authoritarianism and illiberal populism in this century. He mentions “the disconnect between the United States’ admirable efforts to assist democracy, on the one hand, and its diplomatic statements, state visits, and aid flows that often send the opposite message, on the other” (a disconnect that goes back to Cold War days.) He cites Malcolm Turnbull’s observation that technologically-advanced countries are now using “sharp power” – essentially information warfare – to manipulate opinion and to increase their political influence. (Diamond presents a US Weltanschauung, but his emphasis on the US cleaning up its own democracy surely has relevance for other countries that are on the path to authoritarian populism, such as Australia.)
Fashion behind the wall
Some readers of Pearls and Irritations may be disappointed that John Menadue does not include a fashion section.
In a concession to socialist nostalgia, Deutsche Welle presents a pictorial extract from the DDR’s fashion magazine “Sibylle” – Mode für the werktätige Frau (Fashion for the working woman).
Saturday’s Good Reading and Listening is compiled by Ian McAuley
Watch out tomorrow, Sunday, for Peter Sainsbury’s Sunday environment round up .
And remember the third episode of the ABC’s series Who runs this place on Sunday at 0800.