SATURDAY’s GOOD READING AND LISTENING FOR THE WEEKENDMar 9, 2019
A regular collection of links to writings and broadcasts in other media
ABC’s Saturday Extra (with Paul Barclay for the next couple of weeks: Geraldine Doogue is away in Italy)
(from 0730 to 0900 or on their website in case you miss it).
Paul speaks with Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch Asia Division and Ben Dunant, editor and reporter at Frontier Magazine in Myanmar about new legislation in that country that could mean millions of people, particularly ethnic minorities, will be deemed trespassers on their own land;
The Indonesian free agreement, what it means for both countries with the ANU’s Greg Fealy;
Sir Adam Roberts, professor of International Relations at Oxford University on Brexit and what it means to the UK’s foreign relations;
How do you value artefacts in a museum? Australian museums have developed a framework that is a world first; Guests Kim McKay from the Australian museum and Alec Cole from the Museum of Western Australia;
Christine Armstrong who rose to fame with her book about working mums reflects on what changes have been made in the workplace and if they are assisting or inhibiting female careers.
From an island in the French Channel
In any negotiation it is essential to place oneself in the shoes of the party across the table in order to understand their perspective, but Britain’s Brexit enthusiasts seem to be unable to see Brexit from the perspective of other European countries. That’s Rafael Behr’s analysis in The Guardian We’re divorcing the EU. So why do hard Brexiteers still feel jilted? Following Britain’s vote to leave the EU the fear in Brussels was about contagion: they were concerned that “the British experience should not invite imitation”. It doesn’t invite imitation, Behr writes, “mostly due to the luminous incompetence of Theresa May and her ministers”.
Perhaps the best hope for Britain is that the Brexit process can be prolonged sufficiently for demographics to play its part. Using data on death rates and polling that showed support for Brexit to have been concentrated among older Britons, Nichole Kobie, writing in Wired, points out that as “leave” voters die they tend to be replaced by younger “remain” voters. Remain would win a second Brexit Referendum. Why? Blame death.
From mainland Europe
Former Trump strategist Steve Bannon is in mainland Europe trying to drum up support for right-wing populists in the coming European Parliament election, but, writing in Politico, Maïa de la Baume and Silvia Sciorilli Borrelli suggest that he is having trouble getting through to Europe’s right. Quoting a Euroskeptic group, they write that “Bannon has collided with the mille-feuille that is Europe.”
From the other side of the Atlantic
Writing in the New Yorker (four free articles a month) Jane Myer explains how Murdoch’s Fox News is becoming more embedded in the White House. Fox News has always been partisan, but it is becoming increasingly one-sided, and seems to be morphing from a news outlet to a government propaganda machine, helping Trump shape his message. The Mueller findings will present a major challenge for Fox News: will it continue to cover Trump’s back, or will Lachlan Murdoch try to bring it back towards the centre right? (In Australia it would be beyond our wildest imagination to think that the Murdoch Press may have a special relationship with the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government.)
Much has been written about the polarisation of American politics. In the New York Times columnist Thomas Edsall in his article The Deepening “Racialization” of American Politics explains how that polarisation is largely in terms of racial issues. Quoting political scientist Michael Tesler, he writes: “Democratic and Republican voters do not simply disagree about what the government should do on racially charged issues like immigration and affirmative action, they now inhabit increasingly separate realities about race in America.”
One problem Australia shares with America is a bloated financial sector – a wealth-extracting sector as Mariana Mazzucato points out. Even though America has a smaller financial sector than Australia in proportion to our respective economies, Hawaii Senator Brian Schwarz has proposed a modest transaction tax (a “Tobin tax”) on all financial transactions. Writing in Truthout economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington explains how such a tax would reduce the opportunity for financiers to make huge fortunes and result in a smaller, more efficient financial sector. The only losers, he explains, would be those who “make their money on needless trades”.
The 2019 National People’s Congress has been underway since March 5. So far there is little emerging by way of analysis. Premier Li Keqiang’s opening address was about practical matters – akin to a speech that may be given by an Australian premier seeking re-election. (He didn’t promise to demolish any perfectly good sports stadiums however.)
Our economy as you didn’t hear it from Frydenberg
Wednesday saw publication of the December quarter’s National Accounts. Per-capita GDP has dived into negative territory, and economic growth for calendar year 2018 has been only 2.3 per cent (December quarter to December quarter). Government budget figures, most recently December’s Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, predicted economic growth this year to be 2.8 per cent, before rising to 3.0 per cent in subsequent years, but those figures seem to be wildly optimistic (or partisan). The OECD, in figures released this week, projects Australia’s growth to fall over the next two years to 2.5 per cent in 2020. These variations may appear to be insignificant, but with population growth of around 1.5 per cent, a 2.3 percent growth means that per-capita GDP is growing at only 0.8 percent a year.
As the ABC’s Stephen Letts writes Australia’s economy just entered recession on a per capita basis.
Writing in The Guardian Greg Jericho analyses the national accounts in detail. Particularly telling (and generally not picked up in other media) are his graphs revealing declining household income and the huge boost in corporate profits contrasting with falling wages.
Also missed in most media has been a major economic report by the ACTU Inequality in Australia: An economic, social and political disaster. It is a wide-ranging compilation of data from known radical left-wing sources – mainly the OECD and the ABS. Its chapter on Australia’s falling living standards carries the same message as Greg Jericho, but with more detail.
Another champion of green-left causes, The Economist has a prominent article Troubling signs for the future of Australia’s giant coal industry. It won’t tell you anything you don’t already know – unless you’re Angus Taylor, Matt Canavan or Craig Kelly.
If our economic performance is slipping it must because Australian workers are lazy
Anticipating a poor set of numbers in the national accounts, and a Pavlovian response from the so-called business lobby (cut taxes, deregulate), Ross Gittins warned that our weak economic performance would be blamed on “poor productivity”, even though evidence does not support that proposition. “We’ve had weak consumer spending because of weak wage growth” writes Gittins.
True to form, confirming Gittins’ prediction, Jennifer Westacott of the Business Council in an interview with Fran Kelly on ABC’s Breakfast bemoaned the failure of the Government to get its tax cuts through Parliament, cautioned against further regulation of the labour market, and warned against ideas of establishing a “living wage”. (She also seemed to be annoyed by the proposition that trustees of industry superannuation funds may try to exercise influence over companies to encourage them to look longer-term in the interests of their investors.)
Lending weight to Gittins’ work, and dispelling BCA’s claims, writing in Social Europe Jayti Gosh, Professor of Economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, exposes the myth that tax cuts and market deregulation promote economic growth. It’s an idea that has become widely accepted in mainstream economics and has influenced government policies throughout the world, in spite of its lack of empirical verification. She describes work of Servaas Storm of the Delft University of Technology that dispels the idea that labour market “rigidities” impede economic and employment growth. Storm’s article The Bogus Paper that Gutted Workers’ Rights is in a more academic-style than Gosh’s summary.
So how much do our income and wealth depend on our own effort (hard work, moral character, disciplined thinking, initiative) and how much do they depend on external factors (inheritance, luck, connections)? On the ABC’s Future Tense Antony Funnel leads a discussion with four experts on the topic Does the meritocratic ideal have merit? They dissect the meaning of “meritocracy”, examine research findings, and show that “meritocracy” may be interpreted in different ways by those on the “left” and those on the “right”.
How to get around WTO rules: start a security scare
Why is it that the Australian Government, in line with the US, has banned Huawei from involvement in our 5G Network on security grounds? The UK and Germany have imposed no such restriction on Huawei. ABC journalists Christiana Zhou and Jason Fang consider the security and commercial issues in the ban (Why Australia is prepared to ban Huawei from its 5G network while the UK and Germany aren’t.) Could the reason be commercial? They report that Clive Williams of the ANU Centre for Military and Security Law knows that many in the industry are suspicious that the ban is intended to give US companies a competitive edge.
Late night history
This week Phillip Adams’ Late Night Live has had three sessions on history:
On Monday night The rise and fall of the “Dutch Jerusalem”, with Lipika Pelham, author of Jerusalem on the Anstel: The quest for Zion in the Dutch Republic. It’s the story of Jews driven from Spain during the Inquisition, who found refuge in Amsterdam under the protection of the Treaty of Utrecht, protection that collapsed in 1940 with the Nazi occupation.
On Tuesday night, The Blackburns: husband-and-wife activists, with Carolyn Rasmussen, author of The Blackburns: Private Lives, Public Ambition. Maurice and Doris Blackburn were both social activists in Melbourne early last century. Both served as members of parliament – at different times, one state, one federal. Rasmussen reminds us how until 1914 Melbourne was a centre of progressive thought, and how progressive politics faced a struggle in the grim interwar years.
On Thursday night, The Invention of Australian Voting, with Judith Brett of the University of Melbourne, author of From Secret Ballot to Democracy Sausage: How Australia Got Compulsory Voting. She explains the origin of Australian developments, including compulsory voting, women’s suffrage, secret voting and the voting booth.
Health policy history
In a paper prepared for a Canberra U3A group, John Kerin, who was a Member of Parliament in the Whitlam Government and who served as a minister in the Hawke-Keating Government, describes the struggles Labor went through to establish publicly-funded health insurance – first Medibank and then its resurrection as Medicare. “People are wasting their breath if they try to convince me that the conservative side of politics is not intent on wiping out national health insurance” he writes. The struggle is captured, in part, in the graph below. (Is Labor in 2019 so strongly committed to Medicare?)
Still on that conviction, but in a broader context
In the Brisbane Times Debbie Cuthbertson and Barry Zwartz write about Pell’s legacy as Archbishop of Melbourne, describing him as “a formidable culture warrior” who turned the Catholic Church back to its conservative past, in reaction against the liberalising influences of the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s. He brought the hard-right Opus Dei to Melbourne and remade Melbourne’s seminaries into more conservative institutions. He may be out of the picture but his influence remains:
His is the hand behind the appointment of many bishops who share his authoritarian mindset. From that flows a caste of younger priests who are far less representative of people in the pews than clergy used to be, and who adhere to Pell’s view of Catholicism. Age has removed most of the progressive priests shaped by the Second Vatican Council, through death or retirement.
On the ABC’s The Minefield, Waleed Aly and Scott Stevens, in conversation with University of Melbourne Philosophy Professor Christopher Cordner, ask Do we have an obligation to pity the guilty? They discuss the way the Pell verdict has exposed social divisions in Australia. Drawing on many cases, including the trial of Eichmann, the discussion turns to the question of respect for the guilty person: showing respect to the perpetrator should not detract from one’s disgust at the crime or one’s sympathy for the victim. (51 minutes, including 25 minutes of extended podcast.)
“I would like to see people accepting people for who they are”
That’s a comment from Jacqui Yorston, on an ABC page Her World devoted to five young women who talk about the change they want to see in the world. Let’s keep in mind the aspirations of young women not just on International Women’s day, but also on the other 364.
And the winner is
Last week there was a promise that the first Liberal (or National Party) Member of Federal Parliament who concedes that he or she could do with a brush-up on basic economics would be sent a free copy of Governomics: Can we afford small government?.
The winner, unsurprisingly, is Josh Frydenberg. However, due to a technical fault (presumably sabotage by Huawei), his reply came through Paul Falconer’s Grumpy Geezer site. Josh – can you please drop us an e-mail (ian (at) ianmcauley.com) with your proper address and we will get a copy to you in good time for you to prepare a budget that may get you elected (or at least limit the damage) and save the economy from the crazies in your Party.
Saturday’s Good Reading and Listeningis compiled by Ian McAuley
Watch out tomorrow, Sunday, for Peter Sainsbury’s Sunday environment round up