Saturday, December 14, 2002

Quote: Patriotism

I thought this remark on patriotism might be of interest in the light of 'the war on terrorism'. I have been using patriotism as love of country.

The remark is from Hegel's Philosophy of Right (para.268) in the section dealing with ethical life, which Hegel understands to be grounded in our social relationships and institutions. Hegel is commenting to his students on a difficult passage that is written in his technical language. He says:

'Patriotism is often understood to mean only a readiness for exceptional sacrifices and actions. Essentially, however, it is the sentiment which, in the relationships of our daily life and under ordinary conditions, habitually recognizes that the community is one's substantive groundwork and end. It is out of this consciousness, which during life's daily round stands the test in all circumstances, that there subsequently also rises the readiness for extraordinary exertions.'

This is quite different from John Howard's understanding of patriotism. This conservative understanding sees patriotism as being embodied in the Anzac tradition---and so patriotism is the readiness to make sacrifices for the sake of one's own country. In contrast, Hegel's conception is closely allied to trust (and educated insight) by which he means that my interest is contained and preserved in anothers. Patriotism is a part of the customs and habits of everyday life experience which we then reflect upon and reason about.
Political Talk in SA

State Parliament is now in recess and Xmas is nearly on us, judging by the decorations in the shops. Things will go quiet on the political front of parliamentary politics as our political representatives holiday in their weekenders by the beach or river. But politics will burn away on the street because SA consumers are faced with a whopping 23.7 per cent rise in electricity prices in January 2003.

How's that for successful privatisation, huh? Could we say that we have lost our way in forming a national electricity market? Or is it because the Olsen Liberal Government cut such lousy deals and were an incompetent bunch to boot?

Whatever, the forecast benefits of electricity reform have not materialised. The national electricity market ain't working for SA, despite the ongoing defence of deregulation and privatisation of SA's public utilities by both the Opposition Liberal Party and the Big End of Town as a good thing. They are toughening the crisis out by grimly clinging to Maggie Thatcher's advice to be the strong men on the right side who are not for turning.

They mutter their well rehearsed lines. The collapse of the Soviet Union showed that collectivism was wrong. And the economic reforms of the 1980s and 1990s have seen the Australian economy really bowling along, despite the 'Asian meltdown' and current world-wide economic slowdown. As a result private incomes are up and unemployment is down. The current market imperfections of electricity reform do not provide sufficient reason for imperfect governments to intervene. Markets should be the sole determinant of resource allocation. What is needed now is a bit of effective political authority in the form of leadership because only weak governments give into the ever-increasing demands of the people for protection from the rigors of competition.

So we have the usual political dialectic. The potential benefits of economic reform by the economic rationalists to create a competitive market and roll back government was calculated to increase GDP by 1.3 per cent a year (a cool $2.4 billion per year); community anger at the negative consequences on them from the process of structural adjustment; and politicians caught in the middle as footloose global capital (NRG Energy) pulls the plug in SA as it goes bust in the US.

Guess what the street political talk will be in the pubs, coffee shops and work places during the usual hot summer in SA? Guess who is going to feel the heat of community anger? And they are right to be angry because the national electricity market is flawed and we are heading for disaster in our regional power market. Consider the following:

the new micro-regulations favour short-term production and profits at the expense of long-term investment in a sustainable electricity grid and so we can expect grid blackouts;

the strong interconnections between the states to create a national market have not been established;

we do not have competitive multi-state sourcing of new generation rather than each state building its own power plants;

we do not have direct relationships between generators and customers;

there is little in the way of renewable energy capacity being built as an alternative to fossil fuel.

I reckon the economic reformers have lost the plot and state governments are left holding the mess. We are now in a period of crisis management.
Blogger Recognition:Three Cheers for Ken Parish

In the Weekend Australian Ken Parish, the Oz weblogger from Parish Pump, was mentioned by Bernard Lane in his article 'Nowhere to Hide' on the recent Australian High Court ruling on internet defamation.

Webloggers are midget media compared to the Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian or The Age, but the Parish Pump is a sophisticated operation. The stirling work done by Ken over a period of time has helped to carve out an important niche for the weblog as the new media in the information economy. Ken is a big blogger.

This niche is informed commentary in the form of public journalism and so it becomes a source of information for journalists in the old media. This niche utilizes the Internet to develop a more democratic forum, and so it counters the corporate conception of the Internet as a toll-road of information services promoted by industry. It fosters a broad civil society and public discussion and so keeps the undertakers of a broad civic society at bay.

This informed commentary is unpaid labour, done at the webloggers own expense and it takes a lot of time and energy to it as well as Ken does. So congratulations Ken. You deserve the recognition.

Friday, December 13, 2002

Sorting the little things out amidst the sounds of the big war drums

Richard Armitage, Deputy Secretary of State, is on his Asian tour of duty. He dropped in yesterday to see that Australia was ggoing to stand by its big mate on the Iraq thing. According to Greg Sheridan, who knows about these things, Armitage said that whilst Australia had to make its decision about the war in Iraq in Australia's national interest the Big mate expects to see us in Iraq (no link to article).

Meanwhile, back in the USA, Steven Den Beste, the captain of USS Clueless modified his previous claim that 'the unspoken basis of most of the leftist political position [is that] America is the real enemy, and everyone else in the world must band together to oppose America.' He now talks in terms of the 'anti-war left' rather than 'the left'. He now accepts that the anti-war left is different from the other sections of 'the left'. And the honourable Scott Wickstein at The Eye of the Beholder denies that he sees 'the 'left' as a great big dragon, huge and hideous, waiting to be slaughtered by the forces of light, goodness and reason and says that he accepts the diversity of views amongst the left'.

This is good to see. These shifts indicate how public opinion forms through an ongoing conversation. Tim Dunlop, in his very fine post on public opinion says that "public opinion" is not formed in a vacuum and that we would all do well to consider some of the structures that impede its formation. If we adopt this perspective, then we Australians continue to debate the 'war on terror' in reference to the US. As Paul Kelly points out, in his Iraqis keen on change,'the debate in this country resolves around the US not Iraq.' We can endeavour to shift this axis by questioning why need to repeat verbatim the strategic policies made in Washington. One attempt has been made by Shahram Akbarzadeh in his Toeing US line is silly and dangerous. He says that it is reasonable for Australian citizens to ask: Why do we need to repeat verbatim policies made in Washington?

'This question is pertinent in relation to Iraq, where there is more than one way of handling Saddam Hussein. Why do we need to adopt US-style bulldozer diplomacy in international forums when our ability to enforce the declared policies is extremely limited? The conventional response is that our alliance with the US demands such policies. But the suggestion that the US-Australia alliance should be allowed to set foreign policy for the junior partner is ludicrous. No other US ally in NATO, with the obvious exception of Britain, felt it necessary to formulate its policy toward Iraq in Washington's language. Some, like France and Germany, have actively resisted the US line on Iraq. This has not made them immune to terrorist attacks, but it has helped pacify public opinion in the Muslim world, and as a consequence kept their security risk lower than those of the US and Australia.'

The consequence of this has been pointed out by the Australian National University's Clive Williams to a parliamentary inquiry on Monday: Australia is being mentioned by name in mosques, particularly in Pakistan, along with the US, as an anti-Muslim country. So why not change the present policy of 'all the way with the USA' in favour of a more measured response to the developments in Iraq and support for the UN as the ultimate arbiter? This would not only undermine the justification for terrorism and fanaticism against Australia in Muslim public opinion but help us to debate the war on terrorism on our own terms. This woudl be one way to avoid the current situation where we can discuss the issue of a war with Iraq without denigrating everyone who opposes invading Iraq as actually supporting Saddam Hussein and being objectively on his side. We need to open the debate to enable the formation of Australian public opinion on 'the war on terror.'

If we come back to the US debates and to USS Clueless we find that Steven Den Beste acknowledges that:

Harold Pinter is not the paradigmatic anti-war leftist. He's something else entirely. His paranoid anti-American rant posted in the Telegraph is something else entirely ... I don't doubt that there are many on the left who disagree with much, even most, of what Pinter wrote.'

After this shift from his previous position Den Beste begins to introduce a few qualifications here and there. He says that:

'I suspect that a lot of anti-war leftists would agree with at least a few of the points he made. None of the arguments he made were unique; everything he said has been said by others on the left at other times, and a substantial part of the anti-war arguments I've read have included at least one of the arguments Pinter included. The anti-war left has not served us well, for it has utterly failed to produce any kind of argument which actually has a chance of appealing to the broad middle of our electorate who, ultimately, will make the decision about what we do. '

I take it that this refers to the US or European left? It certainly misses out the voices of the Austalian left who support a strong response to terrorist oganization in the South East Region; but are anti-war because they can see little point in Australia (not The USA) waging a war against Iraq, are critical of Australia being the deputy sherrif in Asia and do not agree with the first strike strategy in this region as articulated by John Howard.

There is a different public mood in the US. From what I can gather the public mood in Washington War: why it's almost official is that Washington is at war, Washington is going to war war against Saddam Hussein, and that the war against terrorism, which Americans are still living intensely in everyday life, has been transformed into the coming war with Iraq. For the Bush adminstration's foreign policy see National Security Strategy paper. For a critical response see the paper by Todd Gitlin, US National Security Strategy: a gift to anti–Americans everywhere, at Open Democracy (filed under: conflicts:Iraq:war or not). I do not know what the public mood in the US is outside of Washington since it is not reported on in our media.

For what is happening in public debates in the US, see this description of a recent panel debate on war with Iraq at New York University Open Democracy (filed under: conflicts:Iraq:war or not) called Ending the Silence. What does come through the media filters is that those who question the Bush administration's war strategy are deemed to be anti-war. When the strategy is questioned by those in Europe they are simply deemed to be anti-American. Yet there is world wide criticism of the Bush Administration's war rhetoric and a scepticism of its motives in waging war.

It is difficult for me to accept the next statement by Den Beste that,' the anti-war left has not served us well, for it has utterly failed to produce any kind of argument which actually has a chance of appealing to the broad middle of our electorate who, ultimately, will make the decision about what we do. '

Come again? Was not the humanitarian intervention in Bosnia, Kosovo and East Timor an argument that appeals to the broad middle of the electorate? Is not working through the United Nations and the UN inspectors to assess Iraq's most claim that it has no more weapons of mass destruction. Does not trying to find a peaceful solution through the UN Security Council about the use of weapons of mass destruction reasonate with middle Australia as a reasonable strategy than the military invasion to disarm Saddam Hussein by deposing him? Does not the nationalism in Australia should have an independent foreign policy that addresses its own national interest reopnate with its middle Australia? Presumably Den Beste is rather clueless about wht is happening in Australia. Australia is of no concern other than standing beside its good mate.

If we come back to Australia, then we find the worthy and generous Scott at The Eye of the Beholder saying that the left has not changed its spots. What are these spots? Alas, Scott does not say. Well, we can find out by turning once again to Den Beste at USS Clueless, since he gives an explanation for why the anti-war left that utterly failed to produce any kind of argument which actually has a chance of appealing to the broad middle of our electorate. Den Beste says:

'Part of the reason why, I believe, is that the leftist culture includes considerable contempt for that broad middle and a belief that their opinions don't actually matter. There's a strong elitist strain to the leftist position, a belief that if we'd all just trust them to run things, and if all the rest of us just stayed out of it, then everything would run a lot more smoothly. But that's not going to happen, and the leftists have almost totally failed to present their position in terms which make sense to that broad middle.'

This is common position. See Gareth Parker (site down). Another example is the response by Wogblog to Tim Dunlop's fine post on public opinion.Wogblog says:

' The people are not stupid. You got that right, Tim. They do get information, and they do change their minds. There is no disrespect in leaving people alone to reach their own conclusions. Lefties like to spoonfeed. That is because they think only they know how to hold the spoons.'

Well. This elitism towards public opinion is a definite spot of the Fabian socialists and the technocratic Marxists---especially those who had a notion of the scientific experts ruling. But not all those on the left have this spot. There is also a tradition of local on the ground or bottoms up democracy amongst the left in which the public is treated as informed citizens, with this republican conception of civic belonging and participation remain haunted by the classical polis, by Athens, Rome and Florence. In this ideal citizens are obligated to keep themselves sufficiently informed about public affairs that they can judge candidates and issues on their substantive merits rather than on the basis of whim or partisanship. Schudson is by no means opposed to an informed citizenry. Far from treating the public as stupid this tradition focuses on the public side of our lives: how often we vote, how much we know about politics, how we participate, how we express ourselves. It is often seen as asking too much of citizens in follow public affairs in all of their particulars. And we ask too much of or fellow citizens because the hacks, machine men and number crunchers in the political parties have placed so many impediments in the path of the political engagement and civic life of active, informed citizens.

A historically informed discussion of the informed citizen can be found at Middle Tennessee State University, where a conference was held in 1999 under the auspices of the Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence (sorry:link doesn't work. Go to home page and type in Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence under the search button then scroll to conference) that was devoted to Michael Schudson's book,The Good Citizen: A History of American Civic Life.See the papers given by Schudson, Good Citizens and Bad History: Today's Political Ideals in Historical Perspective, and Alan Wolfe's, Have Americans Lost Their Sense of Virtue?

So let us allow a few more voices in this debate and make it our own before the sounds of war drums silence our informed voices.

Thursday, December 12, 2002

Heavens forbid

Here I am blogging away day after day trying to earn my spurs as a public philosopher. I have been writing post after post contra neo-liberalism (its called economic rationalism in Australia) from the perspective of a critical philosophy that hooks into eco-populism in our political life. For two months now I have been courageously firing my arrows in all directions hoping to upset all and sundry; and I have been keeping my fingers crossed that some of the arrows would land on the idols of our wounded politicians who run the country on our behalf. Alas, I have not been noticed by our leaders So I have been trying to scratch the neo-liberal economists where it itches by defending the books they detest; and I have been doing so at great length.

(I pinched the idea of being a public nuisance from Nietzsche---heck, I wish that I could write was well as that great stylist. But secretly folks, way deep down inside I just wanted to be a hero. It has something to do with being a man but don't ask me why).

And what is the result of these feeble attempts to fly like a bird of prey on the lookout for newborn lambs?In revaluing old values I find that I am actually siding with an economic neo-liberal against a fellow philosopher who has written a book that criticizes economic rationalism. Heavens forbid. I am in danger of losing my bearings and going crazy.

The book is by John Wright, a University of Newcastle philosopher, called The Ethics of Economic Rationalism and it examines different ethical systems of economic rationalism, such utilitarianism, desert (as in deserving something), voluntary exchange, and liberty. I haven't read but I gather that it foregrounds the ethics buried deep in the bowls of free market economics that is rarely acknowledged. Wright's book is briefly reviewed ( more noted than reviewed ) by Andrew Norton, a free market economist, known for his advocacy for full deregulation sector and for doing a spot of public policy advisory work. He does this in a recent blog at the Catallaxy Files wittingly called 'Wright off'. (Very clever Andrew, very clever. An economist with humor. A rare species indeed. Rare even to be threatened and in need of green protection).

So what did Norton say that I find myself in nodding in agreement with? The following statement is it. Andrew says:

"In my view economic rationalism can only be understood in the context of Australia’s economic and political history. It wasn’t a conscious attempt to implement any comprehensive philosophy, and so Wright’s background as a philosopher doesn’t help him explain what happened or why. He completely misses, for example, that economic rationalism was a mix and match set of economic policies that could be combined with Paul Keating’s social democracy, John Hewson’s libertarianism, John Howard’s conservatism and Jeff Kennett’s grand state-building projects. All these diverse political leaders faced similar sets of political problems – economic growth was the only way to deal with ever-increasing demands on government and electoral resistance to taxation. Economic rationalism was an economic solution to a political problem, not a philosophical project. This isn’t to say that economic policy in Australia is above criticism, ethical or otherwise. But no sensible critique can be written in isolation from the historical context, and the choices our political leaders actually faced."

Spot on! Well said. Stick it up them nook dwelling academic philosophers. What would they know about the trials and tribulations of public policy.

The overlapping consensus between Andrew, as an economic rationalist and me, as the fool who is critic of this public philosophy, is that neo-liberalism is a mode of governing the conduct of a population. This mode of governance aims to shape our conduct through a variety of market instruments (eg., national competition policy) in order to achieve certain political ends, such as a more open and competitive Australia. It aims to do this by making us entrepreneurial subjects who then use their freedom for wealth creation, thereby ensuring economic growth. Why was this necessary? Well we know why.It is all about the historical context. In the 1980s Australia was on a downward slide in terms of the wealth of nations---it was in danger of becoming a banana republic if we didn't pull our socks up, put our hands to the oar and row together towards a common destination.

So an overlapping consensus has been reached between us. Rawls would have be pleased. Liberalism actually works as he said it would.

But I cannot end without striking a contrary note, fraying the consensus and recovering my bearings. It would only be a philosopher who would spend all that time and energy digging away excavating the ethical foundations of free market economics. Who else would do it? The result has been worth it. It certainly puts a nail in all that value-free, objective science stuff the neo-classical economists trot out doesn't it. And it shows up the ethical contradictions running through free market economics----that-oh so-easy slide from utilitarianism to libertarianism in the free market justifications for capitalism that we see so often.
War: Where does the left stand?---According to the Right

I have often wondered how the nationalist right see the left in terms of the war. Oh I know the left is seen as despicable, beyond reason and lacking any sense of patriotism (love of country). But it is unclear how conservatives define the left's position on the 'war against terrorism'. It seems to be anti-war.

We can get something more in the way of content of the left's position from some brief remarks made by Steven Den Beste at USS Clueless in his angry response to the nonsense by the English playwright Harold Pinter. I raise this because this response by Den Beste has been linked into Australia by my fellow SA blogger Scott Wickstein without comment. I take this to imply that this is how the worthy and excellent Scott tacitly sees the left. If so then it is this view that I want to question because it marginalises the view of John Quiggin. John holds that the position of Pinter and Noam Chomsky, that everything the US does is always wrong, undermines the position of those who want to support some US actions and oppose others. Hence it is critical of the Pinter position.

So what does Steven Den Beste say about the left and the war on terrorism? He is up front about it.

'What he's [Pinter] saying here, more clearly than ever before, is the unspoken basis of most of the leftist political position: America is the real enemy, and everyone else in the world must band together to oppose America. In the immediate aftermath of the September attack, the left attempted to take a neutral position where it both condemned the attacks and those who planned them, but also tried to do us a favor by pointing out the things we had also done which were bad. As time has gone on, most semblances of moral equivalence have fallen by the wayside and the leftist message (especially from Europe) has been that the US is the true danger. Pinter, in this article, abandons any pretense of condemnation of our enemies, and directly aligns with them in this war. He advocates that the entire world combine together to fight against those hysterical, ignorant, arrogant, stupid, belligerent and, unfortunately, extraordinarily well armed Americans.'

Not so. As we all know Australia does not try to pretend to neutrality in the 'war against terrorism'. It was t he government of Indonesia spent most of a year in full denial, claiming that there was no chance of anything like that happening there, and rejected the warnings from the US ambassador. Australians do admit that the war has come to our own nation, and that we should do something about the operations of terrorists in our region. We do so because of the Bali bombing and we do acknowledge that the terrorist organizations will attack anywhere they think they can, and they'll operate where they're permitted to. After all terrorism is a tactic of war just like sending the missiles in.

So the phrase 'the leftist message (especially from Europe) has been that the US is the true danger' is not automatically applicable to Australia. That leftist message is:

'America is the danger. America is the enemy. The terrorists don't matter. Iraq's quest for nuclear weapons doesn't matter. Routine torture of citizens in Iraq (and Saudi Arabia, and everywhere else in the Arab world) doesn't matter. Death squads in those nations don't matter. Executions by stoning don't matter. What's important is for Europe to find the moral courage to stand up to the real enemy, blood-thirsty Americans.'

This is not what is being argued in Australia by "the left" in Australia. If that is the claim then its a projection rather than an engagement. There is not just 'the left position' in Australia as there are many different voices within a very broad and loose framework. This broad framework is built around the following: that Australia is an independent nation-state with its own foreign policy; that this should be primarily focused on what is happening in our region; that the 'war against terror' cannot be reduced to, or equated, regime change in Iraq; that the issue of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction should be initially dealt with through the United Nations and be based on evidence; and that the war against terrorism should not be an excuse to roll back citizen's civil liberties.

The diverse voices of the left would have different nuances about the various parts of this framework and some of the parts may be challenged. But is it not better to engage with the views of real life lefty Australians than deal with projections?
War: Looking back on the present

Last night when I was surfing the web---I was too tired to write---I came across this paragraph in a public debate put on by The London Review of Books called 'The War on Terrorism: Is There an Alternative?' It was held on 15 May 2002 about the time of the US-lead fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan. I found a couple of paragraphs interesting as they indicate just how much things around the geo-political situation have changed with 'the war on terrorism' .

For the record the conference blurb says that nearly a thousand people attended the LRB's public discussion with Andrew O'Hagan in the chair, Tariq Ali, Christopher Hitchens, Anatol Lieven, Onora O'Neill and Jacqueline Rose.They engaged in vigorous, informed, nuanced debate about the politcal, philosophical and rhetorical aspects of the military response to the attacks of 11 September. The panel considered the campaign in Afghanistan; the potential attack on Iraq; what America and its allies had done, and what they should or might do next. They also discussed what it means to talk about 'war on terrorism', and asked how far the US Government can be trusted.

Some scene setting.The speaker is Tariq Ali who is responding to some remarks by Anatol Lieven. Some earlier remarks by Anatol can be found in yesterdays post, War: Alternative Views What Anatol said in the first paragraph below is in response to the opening remarks by Andrew O'Hagan, who started proceedings with a question about the title of the debate. He says..."what does this phrase mean? Bush has called this a 'war', a 'war against evil', a 'war against terror'? The media likes these phrases; is this though in any sense a war and at any rate is it possible to have a 'war on terrorism'?

Latter in the debate Anatol comes back to this question. He says:

'I think if we keep this to a war against al-Qaida, the forces like it and the Taliban, we can't win it. We can never win it completely: they're too spread throughout the Muslim world, there is too much support for them from many different factors which are in some cases extremely difficult to deal with. But we can win a lot of battles and we can do so, yes, with the support of very powerful elements in the Muslim world itself. With regard to the Taliban regime, for example, this was despised even by people who are generally regarded as radical Islamists within Pakistan itself. The Jamaat, for example, who identified with a regime, a system which we also regard as radically Islamist, which is portrayed now in Washington as radically evil, namely the regime in Iran, but which clearly has a very, very, very different version of Islam and indeed the Sharia than the Taliban. It would be the gravest of mistakes to homogenise all the forces of Sharia Islam or Koranic Islam or even - God forbid - religious Islam into one monolithic block. It would be a grave mistake both morally and historically; it would also be a grave mistake because if we let this war become a kind of a war against Islam, or to be seen as such, then we're going to lose this war.'

Tariq Ali responds:

'I agree very much with what Anatol has said. I mean the Taliban regime was despised in large parts of the Muslim world. Especially, I should say, in parts of Pakistan and in Iran it was absolutely hated. There is one country where it wasn't despised, and that is Saudi Arabia. This regime in fact, if you like, is the mother regime of groups like this, and - it's extremely important to point this out - the bulk of the members of this organisation are from Saudi Arabia and partially from Egypt. That's where it has recruited the bulk of its members and that's where it draws most of its support from. And this support started in the 1980s when they were fighting the Russians in Afghanistan. That's how they built up this organisation into the monster that it is. And Brzezinski said as much in a big interview: that the price was worth paying. He was asked specifically, 'why did you do this?' He said: 'Because our big enemy was the Russian Empire, we had to bring that empire down and so we worked with a lot of these groups.' And the Nouvel Observateur correspondent asked him, 'So the fact that these groups have now evolved into this doesn't bother you?' He said: 'No. What are a few jumped-up Muslims compared to the defeat of the Russian Empire?' Well he too got his answer on 11 September.'

These are just snippets of a conversation long gone. They indicate that the geo-political situation of Russian Empire as the big US enemy is history. Russia and the US are now allies in the war against terrorism. That is a remarkable shift. September 11 is a definite historical faultline. It is hard to recall the history of yesterday. It is more like a memory of what things used to be and our memories are a bit fuzzy. We are living a different history today and trying to make sense of it.

That's all I wanted to say.

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

War: Alternative Views
I have been trawling through Tim Dunlop's weblog Road to Surfdom lately, as I endeavour to become familar with blogs in the UK and the US. I came across this, The Push for War, which was linked and partially downloaded by David Yaseen at A Level Gaze (October 4 2002). I found this paragraph of interest.

'To understand the radical nationalist Right in the US, and the dominant forces in the Bush Administration, it is necessary first of all to understand their absolute and absolutely sincere identification of themselves with the United States, to the point where the presence of any other group in government is seen as a usurpation, as profoundly and inherently illegitimate and 'un-American'. As far as the hardline elements of the US security establishment and military industrial complex are concerned, they are the product of the Cold War, and were shaped by that struggle and the paranoia and fanaticism it bred. In typical fashion for security elites, they also became conditioned over the decades to see themselves not just as tougher, braver, wiser and more knowledgeable than their ignorant, innocent compatriots, but as the only force standing between their country and destruction.'

This is a paragraph from an article in The London Review of Books called, The Push for War, by Anatol Lieven (3 October 2002, vol. 24, no.19). I thought that it gives us an insight into the conservative, nationalist right in Australia that has been forming over the last five years, and whose ethical and political voice is given its best expression by John Howard, the Prime Minister. I do mean conservative not market liberal. I thought that the paragraph also gives us an insight into the national security elite in Australia.
Electricity: the disaster that is privatisation

Privatisation of electricity in SA was meant to transfer the risk of loss from producing electricity from the government to private firms, allow the competitive national market to drive new investment in power plants, and bring consumer prices down. It was the one true path to freedom according to the advocates of national competition policy and the free market enthusiasts. So the Olsen Liberal Government cut its infrastructure deals.

Well, we are well and truely on the privatisation path and things do not look too good.

The headline in The Advertiser are $140 Million Disaster. A key electricity supply paper company, Flinders Osborne Trading, which buys electricity generated at the Osborne Power Station in Port Adelaide, has gone belly up. It faces voluntary administration because of the imminent collapse of its US parent, NRG Energy, which has gone broke. NRG is putting Flinders Osborne Trading into voluntary administration.

The State Government, not the private company, is left holding the baby---in this case an aging, loss-making power plant. (It loses $20 million a year). This is at a time when SA is desperately short of electricity plant to cover a hot summer and is facing runaway wholesale power costs. The Government cannot afford to let Osborne close down as the electricity is required to avoid summer blackouts and to provide the steam from Osborne to Penrice Soda Products at Port Adelaide.

So what happens to the other SA power plants currently owned by NRG--eg., the power stations at Port Augusta, which generate 34% of the state's electricity supply and are in desperate need of upgrading? Well they are up for sale. NRG is also selling its Loy Yang and Gladstone power generating plants.

What a mess!

And energy market reform has failed to create a sustainable power sector. Fossil fuels, (coal in particular), still dominate energy production whilst the impediments to sustainable power producers are not being removed. What has happened to the key CoAG idea that electricty market reform would deliver sustainble outcomes?

And I notice The Age is running a story about Shock rise in power complaints that stated that many consumers do not have the money to pay their power bills and so they are being disconnected.

Welcome to the new world of competition policy.
SA Democrats to Rebuild?
With the resignation of Mike Elliott from the SA Democrats, Sandra Kanck becomes acting leader. She is reported in The Advertiser as saying that she is taking over at the worst time with all the party implosion that occurred earlier in the year. We'll rebuild, says Kanck. (See state news).

Well, rebuilding means dealing with the feral element in which the Democrats turned on themselves, started self-destructing and then set about destroying the corporate knowledge the Democrats had build up over 20 years. A political madness consumed them for some time, and there was little the party could do to control the madness of purification that made Senator Lees, Murray and Ridgeway the enemy who had to be taken out at all costs and by every means possible.

They lost a lot of street cred. from that little exercise. It will not be easy to regain it. The political sharks are circulating.
Paul Krugman:The Two Cultures Yet Again

In his early 1992 article, 'The Implausible Pundits', ---its filed under Cranks---- the US economist Paul Krugman says that 'our society remains divided between C. P. Snow's two cultures; or perhaps to put it differently, there is a continuing struggle between two ideas of what it means to be an intellectual. One culture is humanist and literary; the other mathematical and scientific.' He says that he has 'become convinced that the divide between two kinds of intellectuals - those who feel comfortable with a more or less mathematical approach to the world and those who do not - is a hidden but powerful force confusing and garbling the public discussion of many issues.'

He adds that 'in a way, economics can be regarded as one of the humanities. Like history or sociology, it is concerned with human beings and what they do. And it is therefore a subject in which many humanist intellectuals are interested. But, as a discipline, economics is firmly on the mathematical side of the great divide. It is, indeed, a field in which ideas are mainly expressed in the form of mathematical models. This means that humanist intellectuals, even when they are deeply interested in economic affairs, generally find what mainstream economists have to say repellent if not incomprehensible. And because such intellectuals are uncomfortable with the way economists think, they systematically favour economic thinkers and ideas that most economists, with good reason, regard as unworthy of serious attention.'

Funny that Paul. I thought that history or sociology would be regarded as a part of the social sciences whilst an interpretative deconstructive philosophy is a part of the humanities. Never mind. Why spoil a good story. Paul continues:

"The result is that the wider public debate about economics, a debate that is largely filtered through publications edited by people who are or would like to be literary intellectuals, is deeply distorted: facts and concepts that research has established beyond a reasonable doubt are rejected or ignored, while views that are flatly wrong but that appeal to a literary imagination remain stubbornly in circulation. And these misguided views directly shape debates over real economic policy.''

Lets face it, we non-economists working in public policy are not only pre-scientific. We are anti-science, ensnared in our prejudices and hostile to a economics as a mathematical science. Now Paul, being quick on his feet, considers the possibility that this might not be the case. Our criticisms could be informed by the inadequacies of neo-classical economics and/or the way that it has been used as a public policy tool by politicians. Krugman says:

'Of course, one might argue that this hostility is a mark, not of the prejudices of [literary] intellectuals, but of their perceptiveness. Maybe economics really is a 'failed profession', and literary intellectuals just happen to be clever enough to realise it. But this explanation does not survive a close inspection: whenever one looks at an issue on which the views of mainstream economists and those of the economic thinkers favoured by the literati diverge, one finds that the opposition to economic orthodoxy rests not on a reasoned critique but on a failure to understand basic concepts. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the discussion of international trade. Free trade is an idea [literary] intellectuals love to hate.'

Oh well, we 'literary intellectuals' just don't have enough brain power. That's why we are not scientists I guess. Why this failure to grasp the basic concepts of economics? The answer Paul gives is not because conventional trade theory is excessively dogmatic or that the views of trade theory are particularly stupid. Nope. It is more about culture and style.

'What literary intellectuals dislike about the conventional economic analysis of trade is that it is necessarily expressed in a language they do not understand or want to understand. Simple as they are, the basic concepts of conventional international trade theory turn out to be as inaccessible to the anti-mathematical intellectual as those of quantum mechanics. And so the same ideas that seem clear, beautiful and compelling to most economists seem like obscure mumbo-jumbo to many highly intelligent people.'

And conversely ideas that seem evidently absurd to mainstream economists can seem plausible to many other [literary] intellectuals. He mentions James Goldsmith's The Trapas an example. Then he draws attention to the peculiar way in which the hostility of humanist intellectuals to mainstream economics has ended up giving aid and comfort to some rightwing politicians. There is a new kind of rightwinger abroad in the land, one who mixes harsh social conservatism with protectionism and nativism---eg., Pat Buchanan in the US and Pauline Hanson in Australia. Their ideas have their roots in the protectionist doctrines of Friedrich List, a confused, early 19th-century German economist.

What we have here is a case in which the hostility of a literary intellectual to conventional economics has helped to provide an intellectual gloss to ideas that every educated citizen should instantly recognise as nonsense.'

Well well. We "literary intellectuals", who are anti-science, ensnared in our prejudices and hostile to economics as a mathematical science, also speak nonsense and are reactionary to boot. My my. We are definitely the dark anti-Enlightenment and so a threat to an enlightened, liberal civilization. Krugman probably articulates what most economists in Australia think but rarely say in public.

Krugman then concludes his story.

'It would be silly to suppose that we can bring the war between the two cultures to an end. After all, that conflict has raged for at least two centuries. But it is possible for the educated individual to become aware of what is going on; to recognise that the negative things [literary] intellectuals say about economics may have less to do with content than with culture and style.'

Note that I have to include 'literary' intellectuals in this text since Krugman slides from literary intellectuals to humanist intellectuals to intellectuals. I presume that this slide means that economists are scientists not intellectuals. There is something bad about being an intellectual and something good about being a scientist.

Don't you admire the rigorous mathematical reasoning here? The clarity and simplicity of the reasoning is breathtaking whilst the logical inferences are so so tight. I joke of course. This is the stuff of fairy tales---it certainly isn't a shining example of mathematical reasoning. It is not mathematical reasoning at all. Krugman is working off texts---interpretations of his texts by editors of magazines---and writing political rhetoric. Is this not Krugman working in the culture and style of a literary intellectual rather than in equations and graphs?
Krugman fails to see what he is doing.

Well I hate to disappoint you Paul. The negative things I say about neo-classical economics also has to do with content because the dogmas of the past are inadequate to the stormy present.

Could we not view the nation-state's trade policies in geopolitical terms rather than in terms of comparative advantage of free trade theory? The high-tech industries would seem to be an example of strategic trade policies being developed with strong interventionist policies that target and nurture selected industries. Competitive advantage in high-tech industries is created by the state not endowed by nature. Australia does not leave the fate of its high-tech industries to the play of global market forces. Nation-states engage in unilateral action to protect their national interest---witness the serious impediments to market access for Australia's agricultural commodities by the US or Europe; or the way that trade is manipulated by government intervention. Free trade seems a long way off.

Was not that the point made by Friedrich List? If you think in geopolitical terms then free trade is used by the dominant world power (the UK in the nineteenth century) as a weapon to maintain their hegemony amongst other nation states. So weaker nation-states can only develop their modern industry through the state intervening to protect in the national interest. For a modern version, see Laura Tyson, Who's Bashing Whom?: Trade Conflict in High Technology Industries, (Institute for International Economics Washington,1992).

UPDATE: Gummo Troksty at Tugboat Potemkin has picked y up the Krugman thesis and evaluated economics from the perspective of someone trained in the natural sciences doing undergraduate economics. What he highlights is the mathematical economist's Platonism, their rationalist disregard for empirical data and the way they slip their politics under the covers of doing "hard" science.Torn Between Two Cultures is a good post. Well worth reading.
War: Unhappy night thoughts

The Australian national security state wants a war with Iraq. Its all the way with the USA on this one sad to say. To question this is to be seen as unpatriotic.

The best way to justify such a war to citizens is to publicly display damning evidence that Iraq is a big threat to Australia. Unfortunately for Howard, HIll and Downer, their souped up intelligence services can't find much in the way of evidence. So what we get is terror alerts, the "Saddam is so evil that we must bomb his country line", the good vs. evil plot of the U.S. vs. terrorism, and a willingness to politicize security issues. We get the national security discourse.

Domestically this discourse involves anxiety-provoking, anti-terrorism actions and messages of fear that are then counterposed to the moral strength of Howard and a respect for, and obedience to, his authority. John Howard is the father of the nation. The world is full of threats and a dangerous place but daddy will protect us and keep the home fires burning. We can feel safe with daddy there. That is the deep emotional undercurrent of the national security discourse.

Overlaid on this emotional undercurrrent is the politics of fear and safety with a tough cop on the beat and a political program to go with it. We are shell-shocked and fearful, and the authoritarian-father taking things under control has been a powerful political successf or the Howard Coalition Government. For this connection between fear and authority see the link to Grappling with the Politics of Fear filed under terrorism.

The Coalition war machine (yes there is one in place) then reinforces the pro-war stance with its continuing emphasis on the permanent war on terror with the general cooperation of the corporate media. Seemingly effortlessly, the government has shifted the pro-war frame from Osama in Afghanistan to Saddam in Iraq, then engaged in strident war talk without any risk of political damage. You would think that the abrupt replacement of Osama as the personification of evil with Saddam, would have been hard to explain, since nothing substantial in the way of evidence to connect Iraq with 9/11 was ever produced. But it doesn't matter. The Labor Party has been badly hold and is taking on water. It is unable to establish a convincing moral opposition. The anti-war peace movement gets no traction at all in the liberal media. The perception is that, as the heads of the antipeace groups are filled up with wild conspiracy theories, so no one need pay them any attention.

I recall watching Bush's ' Axis of Evil' speech on television when the 'long war' against terrorism was proclaimed. I was taken back when Iraq, Iran and North Korea were fingered as the enemies to be done over, because they might be harbouring terrorists who might destroy us in the night when we were sound asleep. Crazy, crazy stuff I thought. It was not that long ago that Iraq was once an ally of the US and its 'friend' in its war against the then Satanic enemy, Iran. Now Iraq is the satanic enemy. Yet this crazy stuff appeared so rational and reasonable and the long war against terrorism is now our reality. So much so that Howard can announce that we must strike first against other nation-states in our region (eg., Indonesia) whenever a terrorist threat is identified, and be able to get away with it.

We are at war. We are at war. We are at war. Can you hear the sound of the war drums?

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

I have downloaded the Stiglitz Prize lecture called 'Information and the Change in the Paradigm in Economics'. It is a very long academic paper, and it will take me some time to work through since it is quite dense. A quick glance as it came off the printer indicates that it transgresses the competitive market model that has ruled public policy for the last two decades and that it does so by starting from important market failures that required government intervention.
Carmen Lawrence
I have waited for the dust to settle from Carmen's resignation from the federal Labor Party front bench before I blogged on this topic. What she said was important because her speech called into question politics as the managing the growing discontent in Australian cities, after riding the wave of discontent and turning it into political power. Peter Botswan called this style of politics the politics of cynical popularism in his Courage to stand up and be counted.

There has been a lot of negative reaction about Lawrence having dirty hands from the Penny Eastman affair in her days as Premier of WA and introducing mandatory sentencing for children in Western Australia. There was the usual journalist stuff about leadership along the lines of the Lawrence resignation from the Labor Party front bench of Carmen Lawrence marking the beginning of the end of the Opposition leadership of Simon Crean. The conservative media had a field day.

The blogger's took a different approach. Gareth Parker had his two cents worth in his Carmen Lawrence: out of touch where he states that 'what she thinks is on another plane to what the majority of Australians think':

'Lawrence cannot be criticised for lacking integrity on the issue of her beliefs on asylum seekers and Iraq. I happen to disagree with every single one of those beliefs, but at least she's showing a bit of courage and saying what she thinks....Carmen Lawrence is totally out of touch with the majority of Australians.'

The WA blogger Robert Corr defended Lawrence in his Widespread support, where he stated:

'Lawrence is being slagged off as "out of touch" with the community. Maybe so, but her ideas are shared by a fair cross-section of Australia's political parties.'

And in his Leading from behind he took issue with the pragmatic school of politics (of Gareth Parker) that thinks that when ideology gets in the way of results, then we should jettison our fundamental beliefs in favour of votes. He says that Gareth Parker:
'misses the fact that you can't have a functioning democracy if you don't have a real debate and that Lawrence wants an ALP that is prepared to be a leader, basing its values on principles and not polls.'

The journalist Padraic P. McGuinness in his Labor being dragged back to the '60s by ideologues on high horses said that:

"Carmen Lawrence is casting herself as the Jim Cairns of the contemporary Labor Party, and the Left and its children hope history will repeat itself, and a small unpopular cause will grasp the imagination of the people and allow them once again to ride to victory and a repeat of the Whitlam Government."

The Australian argued along similar lines in its Editorial: Lawrence loss Labor's gain

"Dr Lawrence was right to say it's time for Labor to show some boldness and to stop playing politics on John Howard's turf. But Dr Lawrence doesn't have an alternative of her own that would help Labor claw its way back into government. Australians do not want more high-taxing, big government, 1970-style supposed solutions to the pressures they face in their daily lives and the threats they feel from an unsettled world."

And there was critical reaction from within the Australian Labor Party. Thus Nicola Roxon, the member for the federal seat of Gellibrand and Labor's spokeswoman on children and youth, said Why I can no longer respect Carmen:

..."because she did not get all her way, she has decided to take her bat and ball and go home, instead of using her considerable stature to promote our policy in the community and move the debate forward. This is not worthy of the Carmen I used to respect ....By taking herself out of the game, she has made her political point at high cost not just to herself, but perhaps also to many of the causes she feels strongly about.I believe that to change our world for the better you need to be in the Labor tent, not out of it. And, unlike Carmen, I believe that staying and arguing for these changes in the community is well worth it.'

Funny, I thought that Carmen was staying inside the Labor tent and not taking herself out of the policy game. Isn't Lawrence campaigning from the back bench for humanitarian policies, rather than trying to come from Howard's right to prove Labor's national security creditionals as does Bob Carr, The Premier of NSW.

So what did Lawrence actually say? Well, quite a lot in terms of the vacuum in public policy, policy debates being informed by values and public opinion. This is what Lawerence said:

'The policy decision on asylum seekers has clearly been a trigger for my decision, but it's not the only reason. I found myself increasingly out of step with the majority of my shadow cabinet colleagues. That may be me, not them. But I don't find my views and values reflected in a lot of decisions made by that shadow cabinet. I'm not a novice to compromise or mistakes. I've done both. But I've got to the point with my colleagues that I don't believe I can continue to support and defend a range of policies as well as the general, if you like, disposition and direction of that shadow cabinet ..."

Lawrence then makes the following point:

"But I'm not able to support and defend policies devised, in my view, with one eye on the polls and the other on media impact. It's not fair to my [senior] colleagues to seek to be an exception to the rule that you don't speak out and you don't dissent. I've simply found the tension too great. I can no longer do that ...

I believe we need to be telling Australians a story about the sort of country we want this to be, what we hope for them, how their lives can be improved. Certainly we have to listen to the community. But we can't continually be responding to what is often the short-term view of [those] most audible. To develop good policies consistent with our claims to be progressive we have to start with a set of values - yes, even of ideals - to which we aspire as political activists. Otherwise, why bother? They shouldn't be for decoration, either, these values. They're not just the preamble to policy statements. They should be embedded in it, both in terms of decisions and language. And they shouldn't be abandoned, either, at the faintest whiff of grapeshot ...

And she concludes:

"I guess what I'm trying to say is that the way we talk about issues and people, and the values that underpin our actions, are often at least as important as the policy detail .... I want to move back to the backbench so I can work assiduously [within] the Labor Party, which I'm not giving up on, to try and change the direction of some of these issues. So that I'm not silent when decisions are made, or even before they're made. So I can act with colleagues, of whom there are many, to take back the heart and soul of the Labor Party away from those for whom it's good enough to get up in the morning just to think we're going to be slightly better managed on that day. Most people I know won't sign up for political activism just to get better managers. Why would we be in politics?"

Lawrence has put her finger on the money. There is an ethical dimension to politics.You cannot dismiss this as a misplaced idealism that wallows in nostalgia for the Whitlam era of the 1970s, then turn back to the economy and say today's prosperity is largely due to the dry economic policies of the 1980s that kneecapped the granny state and made the Australian more competitive. What we have moved into is a conflict about the sort of Australia that we citizens want to make our home and in doing so we have moved the defunct ideas of practical economists like John Hyde who continue to argue that free markets led to efficient outcomes as if by an invisible hand. Governance of a population, it is suggested by these scribblers of a few years back, should rely on markets without government intervention, since there was, at best, a limited role for government.

These scribblers for the competitive model of society forget about the massive unemployment their policies created; or if they did acknowledge it, they then denied that this kind of unemployment indicated that the self-organizing market was functioning badly. Nor were they willing to acknowledge that such long-term unemployment could be the tip of pervasive but subtle market inefficiencies. One got the impression from these economists as social engineers that since the competitive market model was right, reality was wrong, so reality had to be adjusted to fit the competitive model. What didn't fit was rejected as garbage with the whole package being legitimated in terms of an enlightening science leading us to a world of freedom.

Update: Terry Plane is a journalist who writes for The Australian and who shares Carmen Lawrence's humanitarian approach to refugees. Often he writes passionately about their plight in his column in The Adelaide City Messenger. In his latest column (Dec.11 p.10) he calls Carmen Lawrence's resignation 'treacherous'. Party politics is a funny thing. People can lose it and turn feral.
The conflict between Economists and their Critics

In this piece ECONOMIC CULTURE WARS the economist Paul Krugman addresses, and tries to make sense of, the ongoing war between academic economists and their non-economc critics. This is very evident in Australia. Krugman ofers an account of the conflict by way of an explanation.

Krugman says:
'Academic economics, the stuff that is in the textbooks, is largely based on mathematical reasoning ... I think in equations and diagrams, then translate. The opponents of mainstream economics dislike people like me not so much for our conclusions as for our style: They want economics to be what it once was, a field that was comfortable for the basically literary intellectual'. He adds that a 'strong desire to make economics less like a science and more like literary criticism is a surprisingly common attribute of anti-academic writers on the subject.'

His explanation for this state of affairs links back to the two cultures thesis of C.P Snow:

'This should sound familiar. More than 40 years ago, the scientist-turned-novelist C.P. Snow wrote his famous essay about the war between the "two cultures," between the essentially literary sensibility that we expect of a card-carrying intellectual and the scientific/mathematical outlook that is arguably the true glory of our civilization. That war goes on; and economics is on the front line. Or to be more precise, it is territory that the literati definitively lost to the nerds only about 30 years ago--and they want it back.'

He says:
'It is possible for a very skillful writer to convey in plain English a sense of what serious economics is about, to hide the algebraic skeleton behind a more appealing facade. But that won't appease the critics; they don't want economics with a literary facade, they want economics with a literary core.

Well not really Paul. Too quick. You have forgotten about politics, social science and public policy. The language of political life is neither the literary one nor the mathematical one. Why the pretended ignorance?

Snow walked the corridors of power at Whitehall where treachery had a smile on its face. But he preferred to explain the cultural wars in terms of that old chestnut Enlightenment versus romanticism. It makes for a good tale. But not a convincing one. It is also bad philosophy.

What? Andrew Sullivan Begging?

The begging bowl is out at in the name of 'reader-supported Internet journalism', that will 'help nudge the blogosphere one step further to financial stability'. It is done nicely:

"My plea is: keep us on the road. If we succeed this week in providing a financial basis for the next year, I'll keep on bloggin'. If we don't, I'll have to rethink. I simply can't do what's becoming a full time job for nothing any more. And I really want to avoid making people pay for the site, through a toll-booth or paid-only access. After two years of voluntary work, it's time to move forward."

For tough comment by Jeff Jarvis, see Buzz Machine. Andrew Sullivan like Glenn Reynolds is becoming a celebrity brand. This is all a long way from the blogging cottage industry run by volunteers in Australia.

Andrew Sullivan does capture the current conservative/patriotic mood of the US very well in a few lines: 'we are at war and we need to win .. . The most important thing you have to do in a war is simply win it.'

Is this what John Howard, the spokesperson for the national security state, is trying to create in Australia? We are at war and we have to win it.
Interesting photographic website

In my surfing tonight I came across this website of Photo Dude. It is for James Russell at Hot Buttered Death. Take the Red Rock Road Trip (Its under Road Trips)- you need some time.

Monday, December 09, 2002

Gerard Henderson Makes Sense

For once I agree with Gerard Henderson from the Sydney Institute.

In his weekly column at the Sydney Morning Herald called Howard has hearts, but he needs minds he says that the PM is' politically dominant, but losing the battle for ideas'. Henderson's argument is this:

The Coalition is dominant over national politics in Australia. And the Government has a number of Ministers with political ability. Henderson says that 'without question, Abbott has political ability, along with a number of leading figures in John Howard's Government, including the PM himself, Peter Costello, Nick Minchin and Amanda Vanstone.' (No Robert Hill, Gerard?) However, 'the Coalition seems to have difficulty in winning the battle of ideas---despite Howard's apparent dominance over national politics. Put simply, the political conservatives do not have enough educated and trained foot soldiers in the field. What's missing in the battle of ideas are not political conservatives but, rather, intellectually-inclined conservatives providing lots of fresh ideas.

Well that's roughly right. And it is a problem if we accept Lindy Edward's argument in her book, How to argue with an Economist, that in the current historical moment there is policy vacuum, a political impasse and a reluctance to engage in a debate about values and the kind of life we want to live. Addressing this is not easy for the conservative side of politics if there is a lack of intellectually-inclined conservatives providing lots of fresh ideas.

As Scott Wickstein has observed the plain fact is that the Liberal Party is a gigantic machine designed to enhance the political careers of the leading lights of the party- it's not, never was, and probably shouldn't be a philosophical or debating society. The Liberal Party is about winning elections.' Well the LIberal Party is a political machine---just like the Labor Party. The philosophical or debating societies are to be found in civil society, in the various research institutes and or in the blogging world conservative-inclined bloggers like Professor Bunyip or Tim Blair.

Scott then argues that 'the Liberals seem to have won the economic battle of ideas very well- so much so that the ALP has generally conceded the field; State ALP governments pride themselves on their Liberal virtues of tidy housekeeping and promoting business growth. Economic liberalism remains the dominant philosophy in Australian economic life- it's opponents often can point to holes in the ideals, and flaws in the implementation, but they are reluctant to propose an alternative, and those that do are very much a minority force in Australian life.'

This is a good insight, well argued and and spot on the money. But strength can also be a weakness.

Several quick points can be made here. Economic liberalism is not conservatism. It is market liberalism. And conservatism and liberalism are uneasy bedfellows even at the best of times. Secondly, the economic liberals have not won the argument that the free market is the right mode of governance for managing water issues---yet. The state's resistance at CoAG highlights that. The free market takes us some of the way----increasing efficiency in water usage---but it does not deal with landscape repair or environmental flows. These are the issues that are important not the ideals of optimality or equilibrium. Thirdly, though State ALP governments do pride themselves on their Liberal virtues of tidy housekeeping and promoting business growth, they are currently confronted by the ecological imperatives of water issues to take the turn to ecologically sustainable development. Water, in other words, is the ground upon the battle over economic liberalism will continue to be fought. Things are not as clear cut as Scott makes out.

The other point that Scott makes is that the 'state of the opposition in a wider sense isn't that great- the SMH op-ed pages don't have the traction with the wider community that could damage the government.' True. But environmental issues have traction and they can bite a conservative Federal government in the backside---as well as the State Labor Governments. All governments are on notice.esprecially in the Murray-Darling Basin.

Gerard Henderson does not give any reasons for the PM losing the battle for ideas even though the conservatives are politically dominant. It has to be more than mere numbers of foot soldiers. I reckon one reason is because market liberals fail to address what Lindy Edwards has put her finger on. At the current historical moment there is policy vacuum, a political impasse and a reluctance to engage in a debate about values and the kind of life we want to live. Take the way that libertarians roughly dismiss Lindy Edwards as irrelevant. In his post on December 8th Jason Soon says that he has:

'tried reading the [Lindy Edwards] book but it's difficult because it is probably one of the worst books on economics ever produced - it reads like a compilation of every fifth rate sophomoric critique of conventional economics one finds in those papers produced by student unions. The arguments are not just simple minded but trite and predictable with a pseudo-intellectual, sociological air .... I'm not narrow minded, just not fond of time-wasters. If Ken Parish and Gary Sauer-Thompson want to read a good critique of neoclassical economics they could do no better than read Joseph Stiglitz's 2001 Nobel lecture. Reading Stiglitz's lecture would at the same time also make critics of economics more aware of the complexities involved in rejigging allegedly 'simplistic' assumptions - unlike such critics Stiglitz has actually done the hard yards of thinking through what this would actually involve in terms of a replacement toolset. Unlike Edwards, Stiglitz is truly a first class intellect, one of the brightest stars in economics, as well as being a clear and lucid thinker and writer.'

This response indicates a failure of engagement because there is a talking past each other. The strength of the Edwards book is the focus on politics as the meeting ground between the economic policy policy markers and public opinion---and so is focused on the way economic ideas are used as tool of public policy. It is not primarily a theoretical critique of neo-classical economics for an economic audience of highly trained economists. It is a book designed for politicians and their staffers who want a description of the political state of play. They would not read Stiglitz's work unless they were economic researchers.

And Edwards has her finger on the money here: what is coming up as political concerns is quality of life issues. Economic liberalism is poor on this. The message it sends to us is to work hard, do 80 hours a week, make lots of money, become more ogf a get-up, can-do entrepreneurial and make even more money so you can acquire capital. Competition breeds excellence. Being a baby Packer or Murdoch is the model. That is the successful, fruitful and happy life that we should aspire to.

Oh yeah? What has happened to family, friends, community and health whilst we are getting ahead in the tough highly competitive global market place by by doing 80 hours a week year after year? There is little point in dismissing this as soft-flaky stuff, since it is what everyday life is about for us ordinary folk. These quality of life issues bring the debate about values and the kind of flourishing life that we want to live as citizens into the public arena. And is quite legitimate to look at neo-classical economics from this political perspective and then ask: "How well does neo-classical economics address these issues?' Not very well says Edwards and then she briefly indicates why. She does enough to back her case.

Now notice the economic liberal response to this. The Edward's text, it says, reads 'like a compilation of every fifth rate sophomoric critique of conventional economics one finds in those papers produced by student unions, the arguments are not just simple minded but trite and predictable, and have a pseudo-intellectual, sociological air.' This sidesteps rather than addresses the political issue that Edwards raised. The issue that Edwards raised still stands. And, as I have shown, with respect to living an urban life in Adelaide, the quality of life strikes a chord. It is not pseudo-intellectual, sociology because social life is more than a life in the marketplace.

Is not this non-engagement one reason why the libertarians are losing the battle for ideas even though they are politically dominant? The intellectual grunt power of Edwards may be less than that of Stiglitz, but she should be given acknowledgment for raising public policy issues in the context of the policy vacuum and having a stab at addressing them.

I will do my bit and read Stiglitz.

UPDATE: I found this paragraph by Iain Murray on England's Sword. It is a warning to those market liberals who think the war has been won because 'economic liberalism remains the dominant philosophy in Australian economic life'. In his piece, 'Keeping politics out of the pulpit', Murray says:

'The British way of life was, in general, worth defending. Yet the battle was lost in the '80s. We concentrated too much on capturing the commanding heights of the economy without thinking where our supplies and reinforcements would come from. Now we look down, surrounded, isolated, our supply lines cut, for the Gramscian march has succeeded in outflanking us. Those heights don't look so commanding now.'
Wonders will Never Cease

Well well well. Victoria has finally discovered that water is a serious public policy issue for the state. The Melbourne Age has devoted an editorial to it called A green approach to an old portfolio that makes water sound trendy. Most of the article is devoted to the appointment of John Thwaites, the new shining of the Brack's Government, to the new portfolio of Minister for Water and the Environment.

Water, The Age realises is not something in the bush that just has to do with farmers, drought or irrigation. It is also about the urban use of water because 'there there are compelling reasons to change our patterns of consumption, in which high-quality drinking water is used to flush toilets and keep lawns green.' Right on. And The Age is even aware that water management is about shaping public opinion so that water use is sustainable.

And, wonders will never cease. The editorial even notices the existence of the River Murray! Heavens. What is happening? Does the shift in the Victorian axis have something to do with the realisation that the Victorians can kiss a lot of their productive agricultural land goodbye, unless they begin to address salinity and water issues in a serious way. Nothing concentrates the mind of a Government more than declining capacity for wealth creation. Suddenly they are no longer seen as good economic managers and they will lose their grip on the levers of power.

What has happened in the post election wash up? Green momentum The Age says 'that is politically savvy is also environmentally responsible. The same could be said of the government's decision to restore environmental flows to the Snowy River, a move that won it the support of independent Craig Ingram, was satisfying to a wider constituency and has had positive consequences for the stressed Murray River system.' The green momnent could be used to reform the regional water authorities in Victoria so they are obliged to deliver real environmental outcomes. These authorities still see the River Murray as organic machines that deliver the right amount of water to irrigators at the right time.

I am unclear about the 'positive consequences for the Murray River system'. Does this refer to the 70 gigalitres of environmental flows that the Commonwealth tossed in to get SA to agree to the Corporatisation of the Snowy Hydro Authority and the increased environmental flows for the Snowy River? Well, we need a bit more than that to begin to restore health to Murray---how about 2000 gigalitres as starters? What do the Victorians plan to do about that? To date they have not been too keen on clawing back water from irrigators for the River Murray.

And all those stressed Victorian rivers? As The Age points out 'only 27 per cent of the state's rivers are in a good or excellent condition, and the century-old open channels that irrigate the Wimmera-Mallee are in dire need of repair.' So lots of water needs to be returned to the state's rivers. To date there has been more spin by way of a multitude of plans and strategies than hard cash on the ground.

It is not obvious that the The Age's judgement, that it 'is good that while the Commonwealth hesitates, the State Government has chosen to act' is a plausible one. There is a world of difference between appointing a Minister and the Minister getting the Government to move on water reform in a serious way. SA is a testament to that. So we will reserve our judgement about the Bracks Government.
Only for those Interested

There is now a website that has the articles of Robert Fisk who I have occassionally heard being interviewed on Radio National when getting breakfast. I came across this website courtesy of James Bertram at Junis. Fisk is a different voice in the Middle East foreign policy debates.

Check his work out even if you don't agree with what he says. Reading an opponent carefully is a good way of questioning our own assumptions and becoming aware of the horizons or limits of our thinking.

Sunday, December 08, 2002

What Happened at the CoAG Showdown?

Nothing. Something about gun control. But nothing about water reform. More inaction. Just like the recent Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council Meeting in Adelaide.

There was little hard news about CoAG in the newspapers over the weekend. All was quiet about the event that had been billed as the big showdown. Media silence means nothing happened. If something happened there would have been spin spin spin. This is what I can gather happened from the AAP wire service.

AAP said that at last Friday's Council of Australian Governments (CoAG) meeting the states and federal government failed to map out plans to compensate farmers to help save the nation's rivers. After months of talks and point scoring all that the premiers, chief ministers and Prime Minister John Howard managed to do at the CoAG meeting was note a federal paper outlining the Commonwealth's position. It was the stalemate I had feared.

I have yet to see a copy of that Commonwealth position paper. The bare summary of the stalemate is this.

On the one side the federal government has been pushing for national tradeable water property rights, enabling farmers who lose access to water the right to compensation. The argument is that by establishing such rights, farmers will be in a position to carry out a range of environmental programs. The Commonwealth is prepared to allow the states to use some of their $700 million dividend from the National Competition Policy for compensation.

On the other side the states, who in some cases already have compensation programs for farmers, have baulked at the deal largely because the total cost could run into the billions of dollars. It would bust their budgets. So they dig their heals in.

The stalemate is a political standoff.

However, this was not the view of the Prime Minister, Mr Howard, who said that he was happy with the CoAG talks:

"We've opened the batting, and scored a few runs and haven't lost any wickets, and I think that's a good start," he told

Well I reckon that the match (ie. water reform) hasn't started. Listen to Peter Beattie, Premier of Queensland. He said that it was too early to start talking about water property rights and its link to compensation.

"We need to maintain a clear ability to bring about reform and to do it in a way that protects the environment. To give blanket property rights, in my view, at an early stage, without those reforms, would deny that."

And listen to John Anderson, the Deputy Prime Minister, who was barred from the meeting by the states. He issued a press statement in which he said that it appeared that the states did not want to talk about the issue, and that they were wasting precious time for both farmers and the environment. He added:

"Quite simply, if the rules remain unchanged, unfair in their application, inconsistent across the nation and subject to
continual change, we will not achieve sustainability and secure futures for our farmers and the communities that depend upon them.

There is nothing about the government enabling a shift to a sustainable agriculture in that statement. The people behind John Anderson, the National Farmers Federation, were extremely disappointed and frustrated at the lack of any clear decision about water property rights. The reasons behind this response Farmers Frustrated at Lack of Result were spelt out by the NFF President Mr Peter Corish. He said:

“Farmers desperately need certainty in regard to property rights, including water, to enable them to plan and invest for the future. Environmental sustainability is also contingent on a clear and transparent framework for resource security. Only with clear and defined resource security will farmers be able to manage their land in a sustainable way. The NFF has been working constructively with the Federal Government for over 12 months to develop a resource security framework. It is very disappointing that the States have rejected outright the Commonwealth’s proposed blueprint.

The tone of Peter Corish then became bellicose as a line was drawn in the sand and the boxing gloves were put on.

“The rejection by the States of the Commonwealth’s policy paper is also a rejection and repudiation of farmers' interests. Farmers all over Australia will be justifiably outraged at the States' refusal to acknowledge a clear property rights framework for water. The NFF urges the States to recognise the environmental advantages of clear and defined property rights. Today the State Governments abdicated their responsibility for natural resource management. They clearly fail to understand the environment and farmers are victims of their inadequacy”,

There is very little here about responsibilities for care for the environment being coupled with rights, farmers producing with a duty of care to the environment, or structural adjustment to a sustainable agriculture. Nor is anything along these lines in their policy position as outlined in Environmental Equity. The National Farmers Federation are belligerent and spoiling for a fight with state governments. There is nothing about our rivers being an ecological commons held in trust by the Crown.

So the stalemate is a standoff. We are still in a situation where too much water is being diverted out from the river system in the Murray-Darling Basin due to state government's allowing the overuse of water through over-licensing. And not enough water is being put back into the Basin's rivers. So the entitlements of irrigators have to be cut. Its pretty clean cut in terms of a policy issue. The key problem now is who is going to pay for the cuts? Who should pay?

The view of the Australian Conservation Foundation is that we are also in stalemate situation. Don Henry, the executive director of ACF, said that far from making runs, CoAG had failed to even start the match on water reform. He added that the ACF were still opposed to the idea of effectively privatising the nation's rivers by giving farmers water property rights.They are in favour of a 'strong national structural adjustment package linked to environmental outcomes to assist the farming community make the necessary changes that are urgently needed to repair our land and water'.

There was little commentary on what happened. Suprisingly, The Advertiser, which once prided itself on leading the water debate in relation to the River Murray, was silent. Was propety rights and compensation too complex to be squeezed into its standard 'SA has been robbed by the eastern states' line? On the weekend The Australian ran an editorial that said The States should fit the bill for water reform in which it rejected the state's argument that it was a federal responsibility. Property rights are a state responsibility even if the river system flows cross state borders. Water rights clearly need reform and equally farmers should reduce water wastage, especially through evaporation. Farmers have accepted price variation in water through trading in licences so the federal and state government should end the buck passing and get on with it.

There is nothing in the editorial about cutting entitlement, or buying out farmers, or enabling a shift to sustainable agricultural systems.

And the Courier Mail ran an editorial on water today Progress needed on water policy which said that:

'The drought has only reinforced the notion that Australia is short-changing its future by continuing to avoid a stricter management regime that ensures a sustainable water supply. The suffering in the bush has brought the issue of water property rights for farmers to the fore. The Federal Government before the last election promised progress on water rights, telling primary producers they should be compensated for loss of water access due to state governments restoring the environmental flow to some river systems. But since then both Canberra and the states have shown little stomach for debating the principles of sustainability and supply which should underpin any workable water policy. They would rather base the debate on a more familiar issue: which of them is going to pay for reform.'

The editorial goes on to say that water reform:

'...will mean giving equal voice to primary producers, scientists and environmentalists while upholding the commitment to ease environmental degradation that came out of the COAG agreement on tackling salinity. The debate on water rights will be complex and, seeing as it involves a large number of stakeholders, most likely divisive. But Australians need to find a way to ensure a stable regime of water rights for primary producers while leaving enough of this most precious of the nation's natural resources to work its ecological wonders.'

Are we having a debate? One way outr of the stalemate was provided by Senator Meg Lees, the Independent Senator from South Australia. She was quoted as suggesting that farmers be compensated for water reform by the introduction of a Medicare style environment levy. Is this one way to resolve the funding standoff? If this is linked to structural adjusment to a sustainable agriculture could this kick start the debate?

So there you have it folks. Nothing happened at CoAG apart from agreeing to circulate a paper for discussion.

The next Council of Australian Government's (CoAG) meeting is in April 2003.Anyone reckon that it will seriously address the need to repair our damaged landscapes, restore flows to the River Murray and cap broadscale landclearing?
Greg Sheridan on Peter Singer and the Green Monster

Where would we bloggers be without that good ole boy Greg Sheridan at The Australian? Without Greg there would be less laughs over morning coffee in the electronic cottage, and we ex-scholars who have reinvented ourselves as bloggers would have to work just so much harder to find our material to interpret, comment and critique. Thanks for the leg up Greg. It is much appreciated.

Now I had to admit that I was somewhat taken back with Sheridan's recent big claim in The Australian last week (5th December). In his piece, 'Left delivers ammunition to Islamists', our good ole boy states:

'The remarkable feature of the present moment is the way the West's far Left has joined in a kind of de facto intellectual alliance with the al-Qa'ida extremists, which is not to say that most leftists, even extremist leftists, endorse terrorism, approve of mass murder or wish to achieve a purist Islamic state."

My eye brows actually moved upwards when I read that last week. Heavens I thought. That's more about Greg's personal state of mind that a journalist reporting on events in the world. The Australian's deterioration as the nation's quality newspaper is gathering pace and it is rapidly losing its prestige status. This decline of quality media appears to be a global trend according to The Rittenhouse Review in the brief comments made ARE YOU BEING UNDERSERVED?.

I presume what Sheridan means by the 'de facto alliance' is that we on the extreme left and right are hard core totalitarians who are out to stomp on human liberty and to destroy a liberal society? But left and right are actually joined in an alliance; ie., somehow working with one another? What Sheridan says is that 'the de facto alliance comes into play in the shared view of the Left and al-Qa'ida of the nature of the West, and the role of the US and Australia ...Chomsky and Pilger provide the Islamists with much of their interpretive narrative of the West'. This interpretative narrative results in ' the mad Left denunciation of their own societies.'

I let this paranoia discourse of the security state slide. I took the advice of Ken Parish at Parish Pump that 'the egregious Sheridan is the ultimate in soft targets'). However, Sheridan's piece was taken up, and worked over by Rob Schaap in his I DON'T THINK GREG SHERIDAN IS VERY NICE. It is a fine piece of work. Have a read.

Then I chanced on Greg's review of Peter Singer's, One World: The Ethics of Globalization, in the Weekend Australian's Review ( December 7-8, p. 13). I didn't pay much notice because Singer is a utilitarian but I had the book to read. So I glanced through the review. It is filled the usual one line that is endlessly recycled that green philosophy is a green religion. A bit hard to pin that one on Singer I thought, since utilitarians pride themselves on reason. Difficult to pull off since Sheridan's big commitment to free-market economics deliver welfare through the rapid exit from poverty via free trade would also make him a utilitarian. And I wondered: have the journalists of the ilk of Alan Wood, Miranda Devine and Greg Sheridan taken advice from the ad man who advises them to find a message---green is a religion---and then to repeat it a million times without let up? Its called getting the message through to shape public opinion.

So I glanced through the review as I would a media release. The advise form the pollie's media advisors is that the journalists read the first two sentences, then the last one if you are lucky. The opening statement reads:

'Peter Singer fulfills the function for green religion that C.S. Lewis once fulfilled for the Christian religion. From the secure perch of a lofty academic reputation he writes apologetics for the moderately intelligent layman who wants to be reassured that his religion is not in conflict with his reason. The key differences are that Christianity is an infinitely more rational religion than greeness and Lewis, unlike, Singer could really write.'

The review ends on the following note:

"I can't imagine anyone reading this dull, plodding book unless required to do so by a sadistic professor or they are a member of the Green party and want all their malevolent prejudices confirmed."

The middle bits of the review more or less endeavours to show that Singer's reasoning leaves a lot to be desired. So we have banal cliches and truisms of international relations spliced together with a wearying series of green prejudices and flummery; pedantic tutoring; pure cliche; pompous sermonising, sheer unrelenting idiocy and so on. We pretty much know the lines. We have heard them so often. What the lines say is that Singer endeavours to reason from this ethical principles but that he fails to do so throughout the book.

Why bother with this stuff? After all isn't Greg Sheridan the ultimate of soft targets? Why not blog on CoAG and water reform or better still, on Carmen Lawrence? Well, it has to do with the facilitating the formation of public opinion through a civic conversation.

Singer is introduced by Sheridan as 'being chiefly famous for his championing of an extreme view of animal rights.' Extreme Greg? Singer based the ethical status of animals on two key principles. The first is Bentham's pleasure-pain principle pain. That is hardly extreme. Singer then uses it to argue that pain is bad and that we ought to avoid causing unnecessary pain to animals. The second principle is the equal consideration of like interests. The latter states that because all entities with a capacity to suffer have an interest in avoiding suffering---of equal moral standing in each case---each such being has a claim to equal consideration. Because interests are not identical, equal consideration for different beings may lead to different treatment and different rights.

This is hardly extreme. It is how many pet owners would act in their everyday lives. Presumably the use of 'extreme' means that Greg wants to retain the deep divide between humans and animals and his is deeply opposed to extending moral consideration across the divide to non-human nature.

Greg has a sharp eye though. He notices that Singer attempts to argue his cosmopolitan case about the era of globalisation with an ethical reason. Singer's case is that we all live in one world with diminishing significance of national boundaries and it is morally wrong for the rich nations not to take a global ethical viewpoint. The big task ahead is to develop a suitable form of government for a single world.

So how do we get from ethics to religious apologetics? The bridge is 'green prejudice' of the malevolent variety. That is why there is flummery rather than academic rigor: the prejudices keep getting in the way of the deductive reasoning from first principles. What are Singer's prejudices? One is strengthening the United Nations for global decision-making because more and more issues demand global solutions; another his critical stance to the World Trade Organization (WTO) because it places economic considerations ahead of environmental protection and animal welfare; reduces the scope of national sovereignty; and the WTO is undemocratic in theory and practice.

Sheridan then claims that the prejudices are in conflict and Singer 'doesn't make any systematic attempt to reconcile them.The loss of national sovereignty is a bad thing if it happens in the WTO but a good thing if it happens in the UN.'

What Singer does is to argue that, 'even if we accept or reject the claim that economic globalization is a good thing, we can still ask if there are ways of making it it work better, or less badly. Even those who accept the general argument for the economic benefits of a global free market should ask themselves how well a global market can work in the absence of any global authority to set minimum standards on issues like child labor, worker safety, the right to form a union, and environmental and animal welfare protection.'

Maybe Singer's "reconciliation of the prejudices" went above Greg's head?

Singer has a point. It is one ignored by Sheridan. So we will spell it out for Greg. Without the global environmental protection (of our fisheries as an commons) there is no reason to expect free trade to be Pareto efficient, let alone to maximize overall welfare. Instituting global standards is one way to control an inhuman form and environmentally unsustainable global capitalism. This requires reforming the WTO so that the current single minded, neo-liberal commitment to free trade and wealth creation is replaced by a commitment to other goals: a more democratically controlled system of regulation that promotes minimum standards for environmental protection, worker safety, union rights and animal welfare. So argues Peter Singer.

In Greg's world when you come across someone who you disagree with on an issue----eg., WTO---then you gotta take them out. There is no other way. Its a bit like the myth of St George and the Dragon, or fighting the aliens to defend the homeland as scripted by Hollywood.

What does go above Greg's head is the very idea of an issue in a debate. In political life we are engaged in debating issues with our opponents with a view to negotiating with them. That is what happens in the Senate Greg.