Saturday’s good reading and listening for the weekend 

What people in other forums are saying about public policy

Because the weekly Pearls and Irritations email did not go out last week, some readers may have missed last Saturday’s roundup.  Here is a link to last Saturday’s roundup.


The budget

Crafted to give Morrison another three years of indolent economic management

Karen Middleton has a substantial article in last week’s Saturday Paper Budget primes Morrison for an early election. The budget’s personal handouts are carefully-targeted at voters (tough on visiting students, asylum-seekers, spouses wishing to join their immigrant partners, and other non-voters). Their timing is also carefully designed: the cuts and concessions will deliver significant lump sums in the middle of 2021. There’s nothing for infrastructure – infrastructure projects are too slow to deliver benefits. There’s nothing about structural adjustment – it’s easier to run scare campaigns against Labor for their structural adjustment plans than to have any of their own. It’s not the budget independent economists would have written, but it is the budget for a government, bereft of ideas, seeking-re-election.

In line with what is known as “median voter theory” the tax cuts are designed to bring financial benefits not to everyone, but to the better-off 51 percent of the population. That’s enough to get the Coalition over the line, assuming Australians are short-sighted enough to be seduced by a few financial handouts while the country sinks into poverty.

The Saturday Paper allows non-subscribers one free article a week: Middleton’s article could be a worthwhile allocation of your ration. (That said, if you enjoy quality in-depth journalism without partisan bias, consider subscribing.)

The budget as prosperity gospel

Most criticism of the budget is that it lacks vision: it’s simply an attempt to return Australia to its pre-Covid-19 state of mediocrity. Writing in the Canberra Times –  Scott Morrison is establishing a new economic religion for tomorrow with the 2020 federal budget – Nicholas Stuart has a different interpretation. It’s about re-shaping Australia into a meaner and less inclusive place:

Morrison is about to preside over one of the biggest mass transfers of wealth in the country’s history, fundamentally shifting our attitudes to pay and rewards and establishing a new, decisive link with aspirational voters that has the potential to keep Labor out of office for at least a decade. … He believes in the prosperity gospel; that money can and should flow freely to those who believe and work hard. The whole point of government is, he believes, to allow this to happen and that’s why he’s throwing money at people who don’t need it.

A better way to spend public money – build a stronger, fairer nation

Phillip Adams on the Late Night Live program discusses the budget and Australia’s emergence from the pandemic with Per Capita’s Emma Dawson and historian Janet McCalman, editors of What happens next?: reconstructing Australia after Covid-19.

The government’s budget may be suitable for a “usual” recession, but not the one we’re now experiencing. We need economic policies that address climate change and inequality.  The challenge we now face is similar to the challenge faced by the Curtin-Chifley Government when they set out on postwar reconstruction. In a process that would bring all Australians together we need to reconstruct our country: we must aim for an Australia that is more progressive, more forward-looking and more sustainable, with an economy that works for all of us. Reconstructing Australia after Covid-19 (34 minutes)

When did the Coalition give up its debt and deficit obsession?

The general view is that the Coalition hung on to its debt and deficit obsession right up to the outbreak of the pandemic. Ross Gittins suggests that while the Coalition held to its spin, its decisions to legislate tax cuts into the future have been undermining the possibility of achieving debt and deficit targets well before the virus arrived.  “It was always folly for any government committed to eliminating its debt to enact tax cuts five years into an uncertain future”  he writes – Budget’s easy future: no more surpluses, lots of tax cuts.

“An abdication of real government”

That’s the title of Crispin Hull’s pithy assessment of Frydenberg‘s budget. The government patronisingly disregards the fact that we have good reason to do some things collectively rather than leaving all economic activity to the private sector. He writes:

There has been no eye to long-term structure or long-term national objectives about any of this. Rather it has been an exercise in handing money to the peasantry so they can buy the capitalists’ output.

The economic case for child care

Labor, in its response to the budget, outlined its plan to make child care more affordable – perhaps even universal as a free system, similar to Medicare. Danielle Wood and Kate Griffiths of the Grattan Institute defend Labor’s idea – Why cheaper childcare is good economics – in terms of women’s (and some men’s) participation in the paid workforce – a fairly straightforward case. “It merits bipartisan support, because it is good for children, good for women’s workforce participation and good for the economy. It is the policy we need for these times.”

The value of the arts

At a time when policymakers are obsessed with quantifiable economic indicators – an obsession that disregards more basic ideas of value and wealth – those who speak for the arts find it hard to have their voice heard.

In an article in Eureka StreetAttacks on the arts miss their value – Leya Reid reminds us of what the arts have to offer – “connection, understanding, political engagement, ways to hold things to account, to unpack and confront the social meanings and changes in our times, and imagine and welcome ideas and voices that are new, strange and exciting.”

Her case should rest on that assertion of value. Unfortunately she feels she has to refer to metrics such as job numbers and multipliers of the arts into the tourist industry, as if the only way to express value is through the impoverished vocabulary of economic indicators. The budget reveals that it is our policymakers, not the advocates for the arts, whose understanding of economics is deficient.

Barnaby Joyce objects to a budget boondoggle

Morrison has been in Queensland, campaigning for the LNP. He has used the Community Development Grants Program – a taxpayer-financed slush fund for the Coalition – to finance a $23 million stadium in Rockhampton.

Nothing new there – it’s simply a continuation of the Coalition’s sports rorts, and its use of Commonwealth funds for projects with little or no economic merit. (Why does a city of 80 000 need a 16 000 seat stadium, and if they do need a stadium why cannot the local or state government fund it? There is no case for Commonwealth involvement in such local affairs.)

Barnaby Joyce doesn’t usually object to wasting public funds on boondoggles, but what has him riled on this occasion is a ceremony allowing Pauline Hanson to announce the grant, displaying a $23 million cheque emblazoned with her picture.

It’s a reasonable objection. Could we imagine, for example, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, from the centre-right CDU, doing a similar deal with the extreme-right Alternative für Deutschland? In most European democracies, parties of the centre-right reach across the spectrum to parties of the left, rather than reaching further into the nationalistic and xenophobic extremes.


Other links on the Australian economy

The Reserve Bank’s assessment – an unusually uneven recession

In a speech to the Citi ANZ Investment Conference, Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe has reported on the economy’s path through the recession. Most media attention has focussed on hints, towards the end of his speech, that the RBA is looking to a further easing of monetary supply, but they skip over a wealth of analysis about what’s happening in the real economy.

Much of that analysis covers what we already know about the recession’s impact on young people and on those in hospitality. It confirms that employment loss in Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland – states that have effectively eradicated the virus – has been less severe than in other states.

The strongest revelation is that while employment loss has been concentrated among those occupations with the lowest hourly earnings, there has been a gain in employment among those in the occupations with the highest hourly earnings. (So where is the logic in tax cuts that would amplify this imbalance?)

Another unsurprising revelation is that Australians who have the means have been paying off their credit cards and mortgages. This makes good sense in a time of uncertainty, but it reveals the stupidity of government fiscal policies that rely on the assumption that consumers will go out and spend because they are so confident about the economic competence of the Morrison Government. Any Australian would be well-advised to strengthen their household balance sheet rather than going on a spending splurge.

This is not a “normal” recession: don’t expect a “normal” recovery

Writing in Inside Story, Adam Triggs of ANU’s Crawford School challenges the assumption that as the current recession subsides, households and businesses “buoyed by low interest rates, low prices, a weak exchange rate, and supportive fiscal and monetary policies”, will loosen their belts and bring the economy back to life – A V-shaped recovery? Don’t bank on it.

Such a recovery may happen in normal recessions, but this is not a normal recession, and it’s not just about Covid-19. The international outlook is bleak, and domestically we face a number of challenges to do with structural weaknesses in our economy. The Coalition in its budget, and indeed in its whole economic approach, is oblivious to these structural weaknesses, however. “A V-shaped recovery is the goal, but it won’t be achieved if large segments of the population and the economy are left behind. The need to make growth more inclusive has never been stronger”.

Tough time for renters and tougher times ahead

No bond required

The Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute has released a study Renting in the time of Covid-19: Understanding the impacts, based on a survey of 15 000 renters conducted in August. A third of renters have asked for a rent reduction or deferral. There is a great deal of concern about what will happen when “JobKeeper” and “JobSeeker” support is withdrawn or scaled back, and about what will happen when temporary protections against evictions expire.

Extractive industries of the future – they’re not all clean

Most economists would say that Australia needs to wean itself off dependence on extractive industries. But one of the simplest extractive industries involves obtaining hydrogen from water and it’s a growth industry in a low-carbon world. Writing in Open Forum, Lachlan Gilbert explains how hydrogen produced by electrolysis fed by solar power is on the path to competitiveness with fossil fuel.

Another extractive industry, using more traditional mining processes (including on-site pollution), is the rare earth industry. In a 14-minute video you can hear Amanda Lacaze, CEO of Australia’s Lynas Corporation, explain how rare earths are an essential ingredient in current and emerging low-carbon technologies, including wind turbines, electric vehicles and smart devices. She also explains some of the geo-politics in this industry, an industry presently dominated by China.  (You may be an admirer of Tom Lehrer’s recitation of the entire periodic table: Lacaze does a very impressive performance on the rare earth elements.)


Other links on Australian politics

Jacqui Lambie on education

Most of our politicians have university degrees. Some of our older politicians enjoyed free university education under Commonwealth scholarships or between 1974 and 1989. Many have degrees in liberal disciplines.

Senator Jacqui Lambie hasn’t enjoyed these privileges or opportunities. Her constituents in rural Tasmania are in one of the country’s most educationally-disadvantaged regions.

She has given a strong speech in Parliament, expressing her regret that, once the Centre Alliance Senator had sided with One Nation, she no longer had the power to block the Tehan-Morrison plan to dramatically raise the student contribution fees for degrees in social sciences and the arts.  If those who have never known the kind of life she has experienced can legislate to enjoy the benefits of post-school education “the divide between the rich and the poor will keep getting greater. That’s where this country is going”. (4 minutes)

Julian Assange

Fidel Narváez is the Ecuadorian diplomat who arranged political asylum for Julian Assange. His article in the Grayzone, translated by Ben Norton, is a summary of the key points in the British extradition hearings: Julian Assange faces the ‘trial of the century’: 10 reasons why it threatens freedom of speech. He rebuts all charges against Assange, and outlines the unconscionable conduct by American, Ecuadorian and British authorities that in any democracy with a judicial system properly separated from executive government would see the case thrown out of court.  But, as Narváez points out “this ‘trial of the century’” is, above all, a political trial, and there remains the feeling that the ruling was made beforehand, regardless of the law.”

(In the comments on last week’s Saturday roundup, there was a suggestion that we have overlooked Assange’s case.  We don’t keep a running commentary on every violation of human rights or on government corruption. If we did the Saturday roundups would be ten times their present length. But we do try to give links to new aspects, or new interpretations of issues, particularly if they are overlooked, simplified or misrepresented in the mainstream media. The Fidel Narváez contribution is a case in point. And we usually don’t re-link to pieces already covered in the Monday to Friday issues of Pearls and Irritations. For example, on Wednesday this week there is an excellent article by Alison Broinowski Julian Assange and failure of mainstream media.)

Relationships in our region

On Saturday Extra Geraldine Doogue interviewed Jonathon, editor of Australian Foreign Affairs, on Australia’s relationships with its Asian neighbours, particularly in the context of a more assertive China and an America less involved in world affairs: Friends, allies and enemies – Australia in its region. They discussed opportunities for regional cooperation, noting that Australia still tends to turn first to Europe and the USA when new matters requiring international cooperation arise. Even though East Asian countries can give us excellent advice and technical help in handling a pandemic, when Covid-19 broke out we turned to Europe and the US, bypassing Asia.  (It’s fortunate that we didn’t follow their examples.)

Does Concetta Fierravanti-Wells really want ASIO to go soft on Sunni extremism?

Daniel Hurst, writing in the Guardian, reports that NSW Liberal senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells has objected to ASIO’s language when they warn us of the increasing threat from “extreme right wing” terrorists.

The real issue may lie in ASIO’s practice of differentiating Sunni Islamic extremism from other right-wing terrorism. In terms of religious dogmatism, hatred of outsiders, rejection of science, intolerance and misogyny it would be hard to find any group further to the right than ISIS and the Taliban.  From the perspective of Sunni extremism, even Fierravanti-Wells comes across as a soft left-liberal.


The pandemic’s progress

Victoria and New South Wales – they’re different

New South Wales seems to be catching up with Victoria, but beyond the raw numbers there are differences.  To use a fire analogy, Victoria is generally putting out residual fires, while New South Wales is chasing spot fires.

In the last 14 days Victoria has had 138 cases in the community, 83 of which were traceable to a known local source, 55 under investigation. Of the 41 cases in New South Wales (excluding those in hotel quarantine), all but 3 were traceable to a known source. Both states are testing abut 16 000 people a day, which means New South Wales, with a larger population, has a lower per-capita testing rate, but Victoria still has a higher rate of positive cases per 1000 tests.

In spite of these differences, there are strident calls for Victoria to “open up”, on the crude basis that on one day it had fewer cases than New South Wales. Frydenberg emotively calls on the Victorian Premier to “give people back their freedom”. (Presumably he’s referring to freedom to go to a crowded bar, or to have a manicure, rather than freedom from a deadly disease.)

Frydenberg seems to be terrified that Victoria may achieve effective eradication of the virus – an achievement met in six other states and territories, and that New South Wales seems to be close to achieving. Queensland, with a population only slightly lower than Victoria’s, has had extraordinary success. Of course the virus may never be eradicated (only smallpox has that status), but it is credible that this virus could be subject to the same policy approach we have taken to tuberculosis – as something rare and dangerous, that has to be suppressed as soon as it breaks out.

So long as governments tolerate any level of community transmission, in the naïve belief that there is some point at which the supposed health-economy trade-off is optimised (the failing UK policy, and the policy favoured by Australian politicians who should know better), we face the high risk of another Victorian-type outbreak.

One story doing the rounds is that the WHO is urging governments not to use lockdowns. Therefore, the argument goes, Victoria should relax all restrictions as soon as possible. On Thursday morning on the ABC’s Breakfast program, Fran Kelly, on the basis that Victoria has had a run of low case numbers asked WHO Special Covid-19 Envoy David Nabarro whether Victoria should open up. She seemed to be determined to get him to criticise the Victorian Government for sustaining its tough restrictions.

In the twelve-minute interview, Nabarro carefully explained what the WHO actually said – its advice is carefully qualified. He warned that once a region is in a lockdown it should be cautious about relaxing controls. “The most difficult thing when dealing with a dangerous virus that causes infectious disease is how you behave when your numbers are low”.  It’s then that the authorities have to be on their most alert. A government should not relax just because it has gotten down to zero or almost zero cases.

In the interview Kelly and Nabarro also referred to an article in The LancetThe John Snow memorandum – debunking the idea that Covid-19 can be allowed to run through the population (while protecting the most vulnerable) so as to achieve herd immunity. It should not be necessary for epidemiologists to keep repeating the case – biological evidence and even the simplest mathematical modelling show that any path to herd immunity is long (many years) with a trail of mortality and morbidity. Yet many on the right keep pushing the idea of herd immunity.

Two premiers

The other absurdity this week, partly linked to Covid-19, has been media focus on the fates of the Victorian and New South Wales premiers. Speculation about resignations, and revelation of a quiet liaison, have allowed the media to duck serious public policy issues raised in both cases. These include:

  • the safety of staff in health care facilities;
  • the risk in allowing private immigration agents to handle visa applications – a task once done with a high degree of integrity by public servants;
  • the need for a Commonwealth body similar to ICAC;
  • privatisation of important government services, particularly where safety is involved;
  • sub-contracting and the use of labour-hire firms;
  • Victoria’s governance and administrative structures;
  • the appropriateness of elected politicians pursuing their own business interests.

Europe and America – tough times ahead

You are probably familiar with media reports of Covid-19 outbreaks in the USA and Europe.  They’re true – if anything understated. Europe is going through a second wave that dwarfs the first wave they experienced in their Spring, and the USA is going through a third wave, this time concentrated in the midwestern states.

The Netherlands, France, Belgium and the Czech Republic all have more than 250 new cases a day per million population – if plotted separately they would be off the scale of our graph.  Most European countries have more than 100 new cases a day per million population (while we and East Asian countries have rates around one new case per million.) The figures from which the graph is developed are probably significantly understated, because most countries would find that their testing facilities are now overloaded. And they are national figures; most countries have hotspots of concentrated infection.

In two to three weeks we can expect to see increased stress on hospitals, and in a few weeks after that an increase in deaths – perhaps at a lower rate than in the earlier spike, because we have learned a great deal about effective treatment – but the absolute numbers could still be higher than in the first wave because there are so many more infections.

And it’s not winter yet.

Sources

Sources of generally reliable information on Covid-19 are on a separate web page.


Elections

Australia and New Zealand

Today there are elections in New Zealand and the ACT.  Both are expected to return Labour/Labor governments, although in the ACT, with its five five-member electorates, will probably not see Labor or Liberal with a majority: the most likely outcome is Labor with formal or informal support from Greens or independents. (The media outside Canberra, so conditioned by idea of the divisive “Westminster” system, find it hard to understand this more representative form of democracy.)

The former Soviet Union

Last weekend there was the first round of a two-stage election in Lithuania, which saw the Farmers and Green Party (yes, one party) losing ground to the centre-right Homeland Union.  No commentators are calling it a swing to the right or to the left. If, as is likely, it is to have the strongest claim to govern, it will have to form a coalition, probably with more progressive parties.

There was also a presidential election in Tajikistan, where, in the best of Soviet traditions, President Emomali Rahmon, has been re-elected with 92 percent of the votes. (Can’t these ex-Soviet dictators boost their credibility by using more subtle ways to hold power, such as a one-round first-past-the-post vote with single member electorates as used by the UK Tories, and a rigged electoral college in the US, as used by the Republicans? Both systems give veneers of cosmetic legitimacy to what are deeply unrepresentative processes.)

USA – only 17 more sleeps to October 3

Anything we link to today will be superseded by the time readers open up Pearls and Irritations. Some sites that are frequently updated:

Robert Reich’s website. (Following his service as Secretary for Labor in the Clinton Administration he became Professor of Public Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and is now Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley.)  Remember when Trump said “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters”.  In view of Trump’s callous handling of Covid-19, that claim will be put to the test in the election.

The ABC’s Matt Bevan’s site America, if you’re listening, a podcast about how Donald changed the United States and the world, updated weekly. His entry of 12 October is about Trump’s policies on immigration and his policy adviser Stephen Miller.  His 12 October podcast is on immigration: “Trump promised to make America proud again, but on his signature policy, border control, he not only failed to achieve what he set out to do, but in his attempt horrified the world at what America has become”.  His 19 October podcast will be on Trump’s tax returns.

Nate Silver’s Fivethirtyeight consolidation of polls. Yesterday it rated Biden’s chance at winning at 87 in 100. Four weeks ago his chances were 77 in 100. The site has detail on crucial states, including a graphic “The winding path to victory”, which is an American equivalent of Antony Green’s election barometer. Think of America’s 50 states as 50 electorates (plus a few extras such as Washington DC).

Opinion polls

William Bowe’s Poll Bludger – probably safe for incumbents apart from Trump

The main item on William Bowe’s Poll Bludger this week is a report on the most recent Newspoll, showing a 52:48 TPP vote in favour of the Coalition. The Coalition primary vote is 44 per cent (41 percent at last year’s election), and Labor’s is 34 per cent (33 percent at the election).  Morrison maintains a strong lead over Albanese on personal approval and as preferred prime minister.

The poll shows reasonably strong approval of the budget, and that people have far greater trust in the Coalition than Labor to guide Australia’s recovery from Covid-19.  (Morrison’s marketing spin, helped by a partisan Murdoch media and lazy mainstream media that gives the government uncritical coverage, is working well in his favour.)

The Poll Bludger’s main page reports on a selection of US polls in battleground states (Biden looks good) and on Queensland, where the Palaszczuk Government looks likely to be returned.  He also reports on polls in Victoria and New South Wales, which suggest both the Andrews and Berejiklian governments would be re-elected if an election were to be held today. And in spite of the ICAC revelations, Berejiklian herself looks fairly safe in her position as premier.


Political demography

No country for young men or young women

Thomas Piketty demonstrated the positive feedback mechanisms that allow financial wealth to accumulate in a process that widens wealth inequality.

Writing in Palladium, Byrne Hobart demonstrates a similar process in relation to social capital: The Social Capital Stall Behind America’s Gerontocracy.  “Like other forms of capital, people accumulate social capital throughout their lives—as they accumulate trust, responsibility, banked favors, institutional competence, and markers of social status.”  Those who have a stock of social capital – CEOs, political bosses – “hoard their reputational capital as the price of stability”. Within organizations, and within society more generally, the path to advancement is blocked by risk-averse old men and women defending their positions.

Some might say that it has always been thus, but Hobart describes the mechanisms that have allowed older people to hang on to their positions – how it is that the US presidential election is being contested by candidates aged 74 and 77 for example.  It is getting easier for older people to hang on well past the age when in earlier times they would have retired. Longevity has its social costs.

Baby boomers had it easy

Baby boomers in prosperous countries such as the US and Australia  grew up in a world of material plenty and cultural cohesion. As a reaction they sought liberation and individualism. They were the “Woodstock generation”.

Those born later grew up in a more precarious world of tougher competition and less certainty. And now they have been hit by the pandemic.

David Brooks’ essay in the Atlantic America is having a moral convulsion is about the values and aspirations of those younger people, who have grown up in a less secure world. “The values of the Millennial and Gen Z generations [basically anyone under 40] that will dominate in the years ahead are the opposite of Boomer values: not liberation, but security; not freedom, but equality; not individualism, but the safety of the collective; not sink-or-swim meritocracy, but promotion on the basis of social justice.”

He sees these demographic and political developments through the framework of trust. As a result of, or concomitant with, these developments, there has been a decay of social trust – the trust people place in institutions and in one another. That is the trust that keeps markets functioning, that keeps people paying taxes, that keeps people willing to take the advice of public health experts, and so on. In America mistrust is most prevalent among the most marginalised, including the working poor, and is now prominent among the young.

Through that same framework Brooks analyses America’s turbulence – the election of a narcissistic populist who valorises ignorance and xenophobia, the riots following George Floyd’s murder, and the country’s failure to handle the pandemic.

Alister Crooke, former British diplomat, and founder of the Beirut-based Conflicts Forum, reviews Brooks’ essay in his article The barbarians are threatening us published by the Strategic Culture Foundation. Crooke extends Brooks’ argument beyond America and its current problems. He writes:

… the implosion of social trust in the U.S. is radiating out, and its effects are radiating out across the globe. If the imprecarity of our times – compounded by the virus – is making us nervous and tense, it may be because we intuit that a way-of-life, a way-of-economics, too, is coming to its end.

Crooke writes about how mistrust has a “geo-political” dimension, and how a distrust virus is “rippling its infection through the geopolitical space”.


Other public ideas

We need a new form of capitalism

Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, writing in Project Syndicate, says that the only acceptable response to the Covid-19 crisis is “to pursue a ‘Great Reset’ of our economies, politics, and societies” –  Post Covid Capitalism.  He does not call for the end of capitalism, but he does call for its fundamental reform. It must shake off its ideological burden of neoliberalism, which has seen workers’ rights eroded, more people subject to economic insecurity, and a deregulatory race to the bottom.

He calls for a re-think of what we understand by “capital”, and a re-consideration of the role of the corporation. It is both unrealistic and dysfunctional to continue with a model of the corporation as a profit-maximizing entity separate from society and indifferent to the community’s needs and aspirations.

On productivity

Drawing on the work of Mancur Olson, Diale Coyle of the University of Cambridge addresses the problem of declining or static productivity – a phenomenon in many “developed” countries, including Australia. Her short article The key to the productivity puzzle is published in Project Syndicate. The “key” is a systems-approach to productivity, rather than a narrow focus on achieving efficiencies in particular industries.

(As a footnote, Mancur Olson’s ideas, particularly those in his book The Rise and Decline of Nations: Economic Growth, Stagflation, and Social Rigidities, lay behind many of the economic reforms of the Hawke-Keating Government.)

On liberalism

Victor Menaldo of the University of Washington has a short essay Liberalism and the threats it faces in Areo. He identifies threats to liberalism, mainly from the “right” but also from the “left”, and has some unorthodox ideas about hunter-gatherer societies. Although he does not pose the question explicitly, he is asking whether America can still call itself a liberal democracy.

The political journey of a social-conservative preacher

On the BBC’s HARDtalk program the Reverend Rob Schenck describes his personal journey as a socially conservative preacher in America who once led vitriolic campaigns against abortion – one of which led to one of his followers murdering a doctor. He is still a preacher, he still describes himself as a social-conservative, but he has come to reject the intolerance and hatred of America’s “religious right” and to embrace the religious philosophy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Unsurprisingly his view on Donald Trump does not align with that of the majority of those who identify themselves as “White Evangelical Christians”.  He is deeply troubled about America’s future. (23 minutes)


Happenings and a petition

Beyond capitalism

Getup! is hosting a seminar Beyond Capitalism: A conversation with Warwick Smith, on Thursday October 22, 1730 – 1900 AEST. That’s the economist Warwick Smith of the Castlemaine Institute not the former minister in John Howard’s government.

Follow the above link to register.

A petition for media diversity

So far almost a quarter of a million Australians have signed a petition calling for a “commission to ensure a strong , diverse Australian news media”.  Writing in The Guardian Elias Visontay and the Australian Associated Press explain its origin: Kevin Rudd petition calls for royal commission into News Corp domination of Australian media. Rudd singles out News Corp for criticism – “The truth is Murdoch has become a cancer, an arrogant cancer, on our democracy”. But this is not about Labor-Coalition politics. In fact Albanese has distanced himself from the push – confirmation perhaps, of how fearful Labor is of the Murdoch media.

You can go to the petition directly as it is listed on the Parliament House website.  Note the two-stage process involving a confirmatory e-mail.


Only in America

The limits of the nanny state

Follow the trail of “Jack”, a 13-year old American who tries to buy cigarettes, pornography, lottery tickets and booze, for an insight into the limits of the nanny state. (2 minutes)


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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