SATURDAY’s GOOD READING AND LISTENING FOR THE WEEKEND 

What people in other forums are saying about public policy


How the virus is going and how we are going

Commonwealth policy – glimpses of clarity until Morrison steps in

On Tuesday Health Minister Hunt re-asserted a clear policy towards Covid-19. In a doorstop interview he said:

What we want to do now is to, in particular, consolidate the containment, we want to work towards an effective eradication, but as the Chief Medical Officer actually said this morning, we can never guarantee that absolutely, but we want to work towards that effective eradication.

His reference to “effective eradication” was no slip: further on in the interview he twice repeated the term. It’s a clear policy; we cannot hermetically seal the country, but we can make sure we see every case as one to be acted on.

But there is still the idea that in an imagined trade-off between “health” and “the economy”, policy can be directed to lifting restrictions, and allowing infections to rise up to the point that our health services are fully committed without being overloaded. (This seems to be Trump’s policy as at 1614 AEST 17 April). It’s an unrealistic idea because it loads risk on to health care workers, causes unnecessary death and suffering, and allows hardly any more economic activity than effective eradication would allow. Compared with an eradication policy it requires a longer period of quite heavy restrictions and possible strong occasional lockdowns. Also it’s high-risk: it’s like building up the pressure in a boiler to and holding it at the point that it’s just about to burst.

On Thursday Morrison contradicted the health minister, or at least he seemed to do so, when he said:

We are not in an eradication mode nor are we in the other mode where we would just see some sort of herd immunity approach, these are not the approaches we are following in Australia.

We are not at the Sweden end, nor are we the New Zealand end when it comes to how we’re approaching things. [Sweden initially had a light touch in regulating citizens’ activity and is now having trouble controlling the virus, while New Zealand is aiming for eradication].

Later that day, on a long ABC 730 interview with Leigh Sales, he asserted once again that Australia is not on an eradication path: rather we are on a “suppression” path.

But he then went on to outline three “things we need to get in place” before we can lift restrictions on the population:

  • more extensive testing;
  • better capability to trace contacts;
  • an ability to respond effectively to local outbreaks.

These are very much like the measures a country uses in an “effective eradication” policy.

And in the same 730 interview he stated that Australia is doing better than New Zealand. That statement is backed-up by data: over the ten days to 15 April New Zealand’s new case rate was 4.3 per million people while ours was 3.2. If we’re doing better than New Zealand, why is he saying we have a less ambitious policy? He also said correctly that we have our virus reproduction rate (the “R” factor that epidemiologists talk about) under 1.0.  When the R value is less than 1.0 the virus is on the way out. It may take a long time, and the beast may never be entirely eliminated, but it’s a path to “effective eradication”.

It takes a rare ability to make a simple and effective policy come across as a muddled one.

The Australian coronavirus transmission model: we’re doing well

On Thursday the Commonwealth released updated modelling done by the Doherty Institute. Our case detection rate is above 80 per cent and rising (doing well but we must get it to near 100 per cent with testing). The reproduction rate, R, is below 1.0 and on a falling trend in all states except Tasmania (where the cluster of cases in the northwest has pushed it up).

Credit where it’s due

During the crisis there have been some ghastly incidences of racial vilification, particularly against Australians of Chinese origin. Fortunately most media have not given these vile acts and the idiots who perpetrate them much publicity. To his credit, in an interview on SBS News, Morrison has condemned this behaviour.

Information sources

Over the weeks we have been listing some of the more trustworthy information sources.  We re-present that list here, without repeating the comments and qualifications (which can be read in previous Saturday roundups.)

The WHO daily situation report;

Our Department of Health Coronavirus (COVID-19) current situation and case numbers;

Our Department of Health Coronavirus (COVID-19) health alert;

A group of volunteers’ daily-updated site Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Australia;

The ABC’s daily-updated site Charting the COVID-19 spread in Australia;

The Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center;

Norman Swan’s Coronacast;

The Economist paywall-free Coronavirus hub.

One we add this week is The coronavirus update from the Harvard Gazette, with short articles summarising scholars’ work on health and policy aspects of the pandemic. (No, Donald, the virus does not go away in summer.)

Interpreting the data – the search for asymptomatic cases

At our present rate of testing we can be reasonably sure that there are some asymptomatic cases in the community, who could be passing on the virus but because of social distancing are not passing it on. That’s why it’s important to boost the rate of testing, and it’s also why it’s important not to react too early on falls in recorded cases: we need time for those people to get over the disease they may not even know they have, and to track down any people they may have infected.

On ABC’s PM on Thursday night Linda Mottram interviewed infectious diseases expert and lecturer in medicine Sanjaya Senanayake of ANU and UNSW on how to interpret Australia’s “reassuring” data, and what the government’s latest model may reveal. Finding asymptomatic cases is crucial, and to date we don’t have robust data on their incidence, but drawing on cruise ship tests he believes that 20 to 30 per cent of cases may be asymptomatic – but we don’t really know.

Strangely, some viruses, such as SARS, quietly disappear (there hasn’t been a case since 2004). He believes Covid-19 will never entirely disappear however.

Those curves

We won’t go on updating the Italy-South Korea-Australia accumulation curves. They’re all looking flat, but that’s only to the eye because there are important wiggles in those apparently flat lines. (Be sceptical when politicians say they’re “flattening the curve”.) We have to look at the rate of new cases normalised by population.  The graph below is an update of last week’s graph of new cases, with New Zealand added.

 

It shows two sets of countries. The first is Italy, Spain, the UK, and the USA, all at different stages and with high rates of infection. Italy and Spain seem to be coming off their peak rate, while the UK and the USA may be yet to reach their peak. The second set is South Korea, New Zealand and Australia: in all three countries rates seem to be heading to zero.

The graph below is a focus on those three countries over April so far. All are heading for zero new detected cases. Of course there are probably undetected asymptomatic carriers: even if the curves hit zero it’s still far too early to lift any controls.

A history of vaccines

On last Saturday’s Saturday Extra Geraldine Doogue interviewed Howard Markel of the University of Michigan on the history of vaccines. In reality his is a very recent history: he starts with AIDS (still no vaccine) and moves on to Covid-19 (he’s confident one will be developed). There is no assurance, however, that once one catches the virus or is vaccinated, that immunity will be permanent.  He also describes the importance of antibody tests and confirms the value of social distancing. (11 minutes)

Gender and government

A Pearls and Irritations reader has sent us a link to this article in Forbes: What do countries with the best coronavirus responses have in common?  We leave it to readers to guess the answer, and the gender of the person who sent the link.

By way of interpretation of the article, the number of deaths may not be the best way to assess a country’s current performance, because deaths relate to what was happening some weeks back. Also, these countries vary in size.  The table below, for the same countries, shows new cases per day over the three days to 15 March – a reasonably robust indicator for countries with a high rate of testing. In all these countries the rate of new cases is falling.  

By way of comparison, in the USA and the UK the new case rate per million is fluctuating at about eighty and in Turkey it’s about one hundred, while ours is about two.  All the countries covered in the article are doing well.


The world during and after Covid-19

IMF Outlook

The IMF has released its promised special World Economic Outlook. Mainstream media has generally reported on its estimates as if they are reasonably assured predictions, but the IMF warns “there is extreme uncertainty around the global growth forecasts”. Their baseline scenario assumes that the pandemic “fades in the second half of 2020”, an assumption that depends on a host of conditions, including good government and international cooperation.  (Its other scenarios are scary.)

The graph below shows its growth projections for selected countries. It should be noted that even before it produced this special report the IMF was predicting only 1.6 per cent economic growth in “advanced economies”.

Of particular relevance to Australia is a projected fall in commodity prices, including coal and iron ore. Of all commodities listed only uranium and coffee are expected to show any growth in price.

There are media reports drawing attention to the projected zero growth in the Asia-Pacific region, but they gloss over large variations within the region. (See the IMF’s Table 1.1.2.)

Lest anyone still holds the belief that there is some trade-off between “health” and “the economy” the IMF states:

Necessary measures to reduce contagion and protect lives will take a short-term toll on economic activity but should also be seen as an important investment in long-term human and economic health.

Kevin’s take on the IMF

Kevin Rudd, now a member of the IMF’s external advisory group, discusses the IMF’s Outlook on ABC RN Breakfast. He urges caution in interpreting the IMF’s projections, and warns that global economic recovery will probably be bumpy. There could be a financial crisis that would have consequences beyond these so-far modest projections. China’s strong recovery is not assured, there is a risk that it will have a second outbreak of the virus, and it has little capacity to apply a fiscal boost to its economy. As for the pandemic itself, we are yet to see the destruction it is going to inflict on “developing” countries. (Not cheery listening, but his clear explanations remind us that we have had prime ministers in the past who understood economics, and who did not patronise us.) (12 minutes)

Are we in the first world war or the second world war?

You will have to get to the end of Ian Goldin’s 20-minute discussion with Phillip Adams on Late Night Live to find the relevance of that metaphor to the present global crisis.  Goldin is Professor of Globalisation and Development at Oxford, Director of the Oxford Martin Programme on Technological and Economic Change, and co-author of The butterfly defect: How globalization creates systemic risks, and what to do about it. The world has become more interconnected and therefore more susceptible to systemic risks, but we are not equipping ourselves to handle those risks. We need, more than ever, institutions of international cooperation to coordinate and manage our responses to possible crises, but when countries’ reactions are to retreat to nationalism there develops a dangerous positive feedback loop of isolationism, worsening the consequences of crises and resulting in more isolationism.

Not a time for isolationism

On ABC’s Nightlife program Ramesh Thakur is interviewed about the way national governments have dealt with the Covid-19 crisis. A general reaction has been physical isolation, and a look-after-number-one attitude to critical supplies such as testing kits and personal protective equipment. Ramesh argues strongly that this should be the time for international cooperation, not only on possible cures and vaccines, but also on developing reliable supply chains of equipment and pharmaceuticals. The “developed” world cannot cut itself off from the “developing” world. There does not have to be an either/or choice between domestic capacity and use of global supply chains. On the WHO he joins others in criticising its relationship with China: it has been too close to China politically, a dysfunctional situation when Taiwan is probably the world’s most successful country in controlling the outbreak. But the WHO’s faults do not negate the need for a strong body to monitor and control pandemics.

Ramesh’s piece runs from 1:03:00 to 1:20:20


Australia after Covid-19

Win the war but lose the peace?

That’s the title of an article in Inside Story by John Edwards, urging the government to look beyond the crisis. Like Ian Goldin, Edwards’ metaphors relate to the 1939-45 war, particularly Prime Minister John Curtin’s understanding that economic mobilisation as applied in wartime had to be extended into the peace.

When we emerge from the crisis will the our government feel overwhelmed by debt accumulated in their fiscal response to the crisis, and neglect the need to help the economy come up to speed?  After all, it was not doing all that well before the crisis hit.

We will certainly come out of this downturn, but with an economy weaker than it was last year. It will need considerable support, especially for investment and productivity growth. The RBA will have done everything it can. It will be up to the Morrison government and its advisers to continue the fiscal revolution they have so splendidly begun.

Let’s not worry too much about debt: we can handle that. Let’s turn our concerns to the real economy.

Who’s going to pay the bill?

Well before the crisis hit young people were getting a rough deal from government policies. House prices boosted by tax breaks, university fees imposed by a generation that enjoyed free education, cross-subsidies to the aged in private health insurance, and huge tax breaks for supposed “self-funded” retirees, have all resulted in intergenerational inequity. Now there is Covid-19 and its response, where younger people have borne the brunt of job cuts and are at least as much at risk of infection as retirees quarantined in their own homes.

Robert Breunig of ANU’s Crawford school points out that unless we modify our present tax system younger people will pay the fiscal bill for the government’s response to the crisis: Tax system means young Australians will pay COVID-19 bill. He puts a case for a higher rate of GST, and fewer ways for individuals with high material wealth to avoid tax. For example there is no reason owner-occupied housing should be exempt from the age pension asset test.

A new deal for manufacturing

A call to revitalise “manufacturing” may conjure up images of large numbers of semi-skilled workers sewing Chesty Bonds underwear or assembling Ford Falcons, all behind a Trumpian-scale tariff wall. But the sort of manufacturing Australia needs “in a world where manufacturing is undergoing massive transformation in a fourth industrial revolution” is different. “This is sometimes titled ‘Industry 4.0’ – encompassing robotics and automation, artificial intelligence, machine learning and data analytics.”

That’s the vision put forward by Professor Roy Green, kicking off @AuManufacturing’s campaign: A new deal for manufacturing – five building blocks for a new plan.  Commenting on the Covid-19 crisis he writes of our present vulnerability and need for structural change:

If there is a single factor linking the constituent parts of this experience, it is Australia’s overwhelming reliance in recent years on the export of unprocessed raw materials to drive our growth and prosperity. However sophisticated the method of resource extraction, the truth is we sustain our first world lifestyle with a third world industrial structure.

The plan does not call for subsidies or external barriers: rather it calls mainly for investment in the economically-justified services that can help all firms and industries realise their potential, including research and development, training and skills development, and institutions to bring universities, entrepreneurs and financiers together.

Adapting to climate change – a bias to complacency

The National Centre for Climate Restoration has released a report Fatal calculations: How economics has underestimated climate damage and encouraged inaction. It criticises previous works on climate change on two main counts. One is that they have been biased towards estimating only the costs of adapting to climate change, rather than the harder-to-determine but real costs of not adapting. These costs are not only the damage resulting from climate change (think bushfires, sea-level rises, desertification of once-arable land) but also the opportunities forgone in new industries (think batteries, demand-management technologies) that don’t get developed.  The other shortcoming is that the models have tended to assume linear proportionality between causes and effects, neglecting the probability that some changes can set off dangerous instabilities and positive feedback loops. We should not use simple models to predict the behaviour of interactively complex systems.


Economic and financial indicators

Unemployment – as yet nothing to see here

On Thursday the ABS released its regular Labor Force report for March. The main indicators have hardly moved. (The seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate is up from 5.1 per cent in February to 5.2 per cent in March.)

The ABS points out that the monthly surveys take place in the first half of the month. Social-distancing and other measures had not been announced or taken effect.

On the same site the ABS has a short article on people moving into or out of employment. From one month to the next around 400 000 people move into and out of employment, and about the same number move (two ways) between part-time and full-time employment.

These figures remind us that the Australian labour-force is highly dynamic. Over the next few months, while there will almost certainly be a rise in unemployment, there will be many movements into and out of employment not revealed in gross figures. Because of large numbers receiving “Jobkeeper” support, and therefore not classified as “unemployed”, the figures over the next few months will become hard to interpret. For the immediate future trend figures will become meaningless, while seasonally-adjusted figures will retain some information, but it will be better to rely on “original” figures for the time-being.

(In view of this dynamism in the labour force, rhetorically encouraged by successive governments, it seems to be cruel and inconsistent that the government has excluded many casually-employed people from “Jobkeeper” support.)

Australia’s credit rating – something to see but Frydenberg misses it

It’s a wonder that any country can get a credit rating in this period. You’ll have to go down fairly deep into Standard and Poor’s update of 8 April to see that S&P expects the Australian government debt burden to grow materially as a result of the government’s big fiscal outlay, and that it has “revised its outlook on Australia to negative from stable to reflect a substantial deterioration of its fiscal headroom at the ‘AAA’ rating level.”  That is a minor downgrade.

That’s hardly news, and not really material. There’s going to be so much money sloshing around the place that governments’ capacity to borrow won’t be compromised – the Commonwealth may even be able to borrow to build the Betoota change room for transsexual footballers.

The Liberal Party claimed bragging rights because the AAA rating had been maintained. It didn’t mention the “loss of headroom”, and more importantly it didn’t mention the report’s mention of our deep-seated structural issues – “the country’s high external and household indebtedness as well as its vulnerability to weak commodity export demand” – both of which result in large part from a long period of economic mismanagement on the Coalition’s watch.


Polls, surveys and elections

Essential – we’re still concerned about the virus

Essential’s poll this week continues to cover the Covid-19 virus. There has been a fall in the percentage of people who think they will develop Covid-19 but it still stands at 33 per cent.  (As a reality check, in Italy so far 0.3 per cent of people are confirmed as having developed the virus.) The percentage of people who believe there has been an over-reaction to the threat continues to fall: it is now 13 per cent.

A growing proportion of people rate the government’s response as “good” or “very good”.  This time there is a question on state governments’ responses, with some clear differences: the governments of Western Australia, Victoria and South Australia score far better than the governments of New South Wales and Queensland.

Unsurprisingly, younger people are finding physical isolation tougher than older people, but they are more likely to be compensating by using information technologies.

Roy Morgan on Covid-19

Roy Morgan has released a poll covering Covid-19 questions. Its findings are generally in line with those revealed by the Essential poll.  One point of difference is that respondents are becoming more likely to see the threat of the virus as exaggerated.  It also has some comparisons between UK and Australian respondents: we are more likely than the British to think our government is doing a good job.

Ipsos on a range of issues – bad omens for Labor

Ipsos has released a one-page graphic on issues of concern to Australians and the party best able to handle them. Unsurprisingly health care has shot to the top, followed by “the economy”, and cost of living, while concern for the environment has tumbled. Labor would be concerned that on all these issues, particularly health care, the Coalition comes out well ahead of Labor as the more capable party.

Governments, bosses, businesses and banks are doing the right thing, but are “other people”?

The ABC reports on a poll done by a firm called “Insightfully” on people’s satisfaction with various parties’ response to the crisis.  We’re mostly satisfied at how businesses and governments (state and federal) are handling the crisis, but we’re a little worried about “other people in the community”.

Maybe booze is not the best way to cope

The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education has published the results of a short survey on a poll on alcohol use during the pandemic. It finds that 70 per cent of respondents report drinking more than usual since the Covid-19 outbreak, and that many are drinking more often, on their own and earlier in the day. Many (28 per cent) report that they are drinking alcohol to “cope with anxiety and stress”. (Would clearer statements from the Commonwealth Government help?)

Writing in The Conversation, Emil Temnyalov and Peter Siminski have some better ideas on how those confined to barracks can use their time.

South Korea – effective action against the virus rewarded

In South Korea the ruling Minjoo (Democratic) Party of Moon Jae-in has won re-election in a landslide, leaving the conservative opposition in a distant second place.  Moon’s fortunes had been flagging, but most media – such as this report in The Economist – attribute his win to decisive and effective action in dealing with the Covid-19 crisis.

(Our thanks to William Bowe for putting links to the Ipsos and Morgan surveys on his Poll Bludger site.)


Politics

Watch out for governments’ attempts to retain emergency powers

Amnesty International has a website devoted to governments’ reactions to the Covid-19 crisis. It draws attention to high-handed enforcement methods used by police, the plight of people incarcerated in crowded prisons and immigrant workers’ camps, and to the way far-right governments in Turkey, Poland and other countries are using emergency powers to solidify executive authority.

Writing in the Canberra Times Joo-Cheong Tham, professor at the Melbourne Law School and a board member of the Centre for Public Integrity, calls for democracy not to be suspended during the crisis, warning that “there is an acute risk that democracy is seen as a luxury the country can ill-afford in this pandemic – that democracy should be traded off in the interest of crisis management.”

In praise of ideology

John Warhurst, writing in the Canberra Times, presents a spirited defence of ideology: Ideological differences will return to politics, and that’s a good thing. He notes that the largely bipartisan approach to dealing with the Covid-19 crisis has been generally welcomed:

We are led to believe that we are in an ideology-free zone, and that that is an outcome of unified and practical responses by sensible men and women to a crisis. Big, bad ideology is on the outer.

But ideological differences are part of life, and parliamentary democracy is one way we deal with those differences.

What we want to get rid of is not ideology — which is an impossible aim anyway, as it is so deeply rooted in all of us – but the way we have got used to talking to and about one another. Modern political argument is too often loud, foul-mouthed and disrespectful of the point of view of the other person.

A recuperating little boy

On last Saturday’s ABC Saturday Extra Geraldine Doogue interviewed Tom Clark of Prospect on how Britain is coping with its prime minister laid low: A very ill British Prime Minister. There are press reports that the country is suffering a “leadership vacuum”. Clark reminds us that from 1953 to 1955 Prime Minister Churchill, recovering from a stroke, often missed cabinet meetings. Does the public not realise that the country is a parliamentary democracy with a cabinet?

Clark describes the UK Government’s muddling and hesitation in dealing with the crisis. He also suggests that experts who knew the virus could have devastating consequences and would require measures that would be “out of the question”, such as a lockdown, downplayed the tone in their briefings so as not to be seen as too alarmist and lose credibility. (The same dilemma faces climate-change scientists, particularly when the Murdoch media is portraying them as extremists.)   (16 minutes)

Turnbull on his successors

Those enduring confinement to barracks and who have had enough Netflix and dog-walking will have to wait until Monday for release of Malcolm Turnbull’s memoir, but in the Canberra Times Finbar O’Mallon has provided some of Turnbull’s cryptic assessments of those who ran the putsch against him – Morrison didn’t deserve to win: Turnbull.

The Annika Smethurst case – the High Court avoids ruling on free speech

On Wednesday the High Court ruled that the Federal Police warrant for searching News Corporation journalist Annika Smethurst was illegal. Writing in The Conversation, Rebecca Ananian-Welsh of the University of Queensland reports that the AFP didn’t really specify what Smethurst was supposed to have done, and essentially made up a new constitutional power to justify their raid.

In a seldom-seen lifting of its paywall, The Australian has published an article by Chris Merritt expressing disappointment that the High Court did not rule on principles of free speech and press freedom in this case. Press freedom: Annika Smethurst warrant-raid win is a hollow victory for freedom of press. The Court focussed on the errors in the warrant, rather than invoking principles of free speech or the role of media. It was “a narrow response to a big issue”.


Beyond satire – Trump’s dangerous narcissism

Trump is not only inflicting misery and ruin on his own country: he is also standing in the way of world cooperation on the crisis. Serious commentary has had to give way to strident warnings, and satire has become serious. We could provide hundreds of links. Here are a four:

The editor-in-chief of the Lancet has described Trump’s decision to put WHO funding on hold as a crime against humanity.

Robert Reich has a seven-minute video clip, with an accompanying transcript, presented as a timeline of Trump’s idiocy. “We have it totally under control”.

The circus that is the White House just got deadly serious, writes Canadian satirist William Thomas. Citing Isaac Asimov, he stresses the danger of a postmodern culture, embraced by Trump and his supporters, where “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge”.

Even Michael Spicer in his Room next door has turned serious:  “There are no small numbers in this any more”.

Is there substance to the allegations against the WHO?

When governments really mess things up politicians look for a scapegoat. It’s convenient if the scapegoat is in some other country, and for politicians of a populist-isolationist ideology, it’s particularly convenient if it’s an international organisation. As the tragic consequences of Trump’s neglect became evident, it was hardly surprising that he went for the WHO.

In an Inside Story article Michael Bartos of the ANU analyses and dismisses Trump’s two allegations against the WHO. One is that it is too pro-China; the other is that it was too slow to call the pandemic. On the first allegation, of course it was heavily involved with China because that’s where the virus broke out. And, whatever one’s view on Taiwan, one has to accept that the WHO is hardly responsible for the internationally-agreed One China Policy.  On the second allegation there is something hypocritical when the Chief Ditherer criticises the WHO for its tardiness. Unlike the Chief Ditherer, the WHO does not have executive authority; it never stopped the US or any country from taking early action and in fact it urged countries to act before it called a pandemic.


A peek into the lives and fortunes of 0.00003 per cent of the world’s population

The Forbes Rich List for 2020 has been released, listing the world’s 2149 billionaires. Every year it becomes a little less dominated by old white men. Of the top 100 billionaires this year, 37 are from the US, 20 from China (including Hong Kong), 11 from Russia, and 19 from Western Europe (none from the UK).  Our Gina Rinehart comes in at #87, with a modest $14 billion; among women she ranks at #10.


Postmodernism: a reader’s reply

Last week we provided a link to an article by Helen Pluckrose, critical of postmodernism. Here is a response from Teow Loom Ti:

The last part of your Saturday roundup about an article by Helen Pluckrose caught my attention. I clicked onto the article written by Pluckrose and read, with increasing despair, her tearing to shreds of Postmodernism , sometimes using examples that trivialise a profound philosophy, often disrespectfully towards its originators. That she is able to do that rests on her opening paragraph which says, “This is partly because postmodernists rarely explain themselves clearly and partly because of the inherent contradictions and inconsistencies of a way of thought which denies stable reality or reliable knowledge to exist.” This allows her to build up a cogent argument against postmodernism often by citing examples which ridicule the underlying concepts.

If anyone doubts the difficulty of establishing “reality”, just take the example of the recent George Pell trials. Although evidence was presented, ultimately it is the human judgement, often in contradiction with each other, that enables us to come to a decision on what we believe to be the “truth”. The question is, how can an imperfect human mind come up with truths or reality except in a relative sense? Some things are truer than others because there is more empirical evidence from science or mathematics to support it. Even science itself is as good as the next new theory that throws out the existing one. No good scientist will ever tell you that they have the absolute truth. Pluckrose cleverly uses the expression “reliable knowlege”, and “stable reality” because underlying all that clever argument, she herself is not convinced that there is an absolute truth or reality. Only one that we can “rely” on and is “stable”.

The Enlightenment got us out of Medieval thinking; but science itself can be misused; as can Postmodernism. Just think of Social Darwinism as an example. The Postmodernist solution to the wrong use of science is an exhortation to examine our assumptions. What is wrong with that?

Ultimately, does the “truth” lie with God? In answering this question, we have to take a huge leap of faith to believe the “truth” that God exists.


Looking for something different to do during isolation?

If you have some basic art supplies and a bathroom you may draw some inspiration from Bansky. (Now we know why people have been hoarding toilet paper.)


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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Ian McAuley is a retired lecturer in public finance at the University of Canberra and a Fellow of the Centre for Policy Development.

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4 Responses to SATURDAY’s GOOD READING AND LISTENING FOR THE WEEKEND 

  1. Avatar Gavin O'Brien says:

    I agree with your philosophy Teow Loon Ti. I like to think back to the great philosophers of ancient times . They might not have got it right all the time, but at least their thoughts have come down to us to consider. I wonder how much of today’s philosophy will still be around in a thousand years, assuming of course that we are still here.

  2. Avatar Ken Dyer says:

    This article by Ania Skrzypek, director of research and training at the Foundation for European Progressive Studies, explores how the coronavirus might change our lives in the future.

    https://www.socialeurope.eu/solidaristic-social-and-sensible-reflections-on-progressivism-for-today-and-when-tomorrow-comes

    It picks up on Ian Goldin’s discussion with Phillip Adams.

  3. Avatar Sue Caldwell says:

    Here is a very postmodern statement: There are more things in heaven and earth Horatio, than are dreamt in your philosophy.

    Perhaps it is possible to deeply understand the truth (or otherwise) of any proposition. Patanjali recommended such a discipline or way in his Yoga Sutras. He recommended and practiced a yogic technique of Samyama which is a process of one-pointed and ultimately thoughtless concentration and exhaustive contemplation of any particular object, function, person, process, or condition, until the essence or ultimate obviousness of that subject became clear. Only in that case does the enquirer enjoy native intimacy and understanding, or power, relative to that subject.

    At another level the story/parable of Humpty Dumpty points out once haven “fallen” from the intrinsically native position of wholeness or Cosmic Unity, to the position of seeing reality through the prism of a shattered fragment lying on the ground it is totally impossible to put Humpty back together again, or to see any and everything with total clarity.

    Another metaphor: we are like tiny stick figures running around on the tip of an iceberg, at least four fifths of which is submerged (hidden) in water. From that tiny perspective we can hardly perceive most of reality. All of our philosophy, conjectures and world-views are based upon and limited to such a narrow stick like perspective.

  4. Avatar Teow Loon Ti says:

    Sir,

    Your section “In Praise of Ideology” sent alarm bells ringing in my head. With all due respects to John Warhurst, I am afraid that I find it hard to accept that competing ideologies are good for us. I have always thought that “ideologies” are the roots of all our problems. Firstly, to define ideology I would refer to the Macquarie Dictionary which says” the body of doctrine, myth and symbols of a social movement, institution, class, or large group”. From this one could infer that ideologies defy the passage of time and the change of circumstance. They are deeply seated, culturally derived, ideas which Mr Warhurt himself says are ‘deeply rooted in us”. Two of the most frightful, and all pervasive, groups of ideologies are religious and political ones. Just think of Communist ideologies or Fundamental Islamic ideologies. When they extend ideological conflicts to an armed one, they give and have given, humankind no end of problems.

    Just to elaborate, the ideologies embedded in ISIS’s struggle date from the 7th ccntury AD. Its advocates live physically in the 21st century but harbours 7th century ideologies about the “ideal state” based on the Prophet’s teachings. Such ideologies defy both the passage of time and circunstance.

    Communism for instance views the world from from a struggle for hegemony between the wealthy and the poor with no latitude for compromise. It was spawned at a time, i.e. the 19th century industrial revolution in Europe, when working and living conditions for the workers were horrible. Today, even the remaining Marxism driven countries, China and Russia, have embraced capitalism. Marxism was considered by its creator as “scientific socialism”. For this very reason, we have to thank the Postmodernists for seeing through the folly of such extreme ideologies, telling us that the truth is relative. They do not mean, by saying that truth is relative, that any silly idea has equal standing with carefully research and verified ones.

    My son argues that democracy itself is an ideology. Yes, but built into this democratic “ideology” are certain checks and balances to make sure that current ideas embedded in it are not carried to extremes. There are lots of examples of democratic ideologies that lead us to grieve. One of them is neo-liberal ideologies that the market should be left to run unfettered, leading us into the 2007/2009 GFC; or that the smaller the public service, the better. Conversely, democracy’s ideological fear of communism gave rise to the McCarthism. Without the checks and balances of a true liberal democracy, ideologies become cultural baggages that constrain our thinking.

    My own ideology is to have no ideology but plenty of ideas that can be debated and the best taken as a guide to our world view.

    Sincerely,

    Teow Loon Ti

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