June 9, 2015

Robert Manne

Green Army: Persons of Interest


Robert Manne (1947)


Editor, Quadrant, 1989-97

[At the my final board meeting as the editor of Quadrant] discussion was dominated by the question of … the Aborigines.
It became clear that, for half the board, the way the magazine had treated Aboriginal matters raised serious questions about my suitability to edit a conservative cultural magazine.
On the question of the Aboriginal dispossession in general, and the Stolen Generations in particular, I had crossed over to the enemy camp. …

[Following my resignation,] Padraic McGuinness was appointed as my replacement. …
Over the next three years Quadrant led a national campaign against the conclusions of Bringing Them Home and against the quest for indigenous-non-indigenous reconciliation.
Two anti-Bringing Them Home conferences were held. …
Keith Windschuttle's revisionist history was launched.
The McGuinness-led campaign was soon joined by the increasingly influential right-wing commentariat in the metropolitan press:
  • Andrew Bolt,
  • Piers Akerman,
  • Ron Brunton,
  • Michael Duffy,
  • Christopher Pearson,
  • Frank and Miranda Devine.
The cultural Right had clearly chosen the question of the Stolen Generations in general, and the apology in particular, as their key battleground in the Culture War. …

The campaign [contended that] these children had, in fact, been rescued [from neglect and abuse] and not stolen. …
Padraic McGuinness argued that the Aborigines who presented evidence to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission inquiry were suffering from … 'false-memory syndrome'. …

During the campaign, Sir Ronald Wilson [President of the Commission] was, we were told, [suffering from] "moral vanity" — a condition afflicting those who felt deeply about causes of which right-wing cultural warriors disapprove …
Other prominent white supporters of the Aborigines — like Sir William Deane ("Holy Billy") and Malcolm Fraser ("the sanctimonious prig") — also suffered from this condition.
[Such] white supporters of the Stolen Generations … were, in Michael Duffy's delightful phrase, 'white maggots'.
They fed upon concocted stories of supposed Aboriginal suffering.
They secretly hated their country. …
Was it not weird, Andrew Bolt reflected,
that some Australians wanted to believe racist whites — their own forebears — snatched children from despairing mothers' arms?
The members of the elites who were shocked by the stories revealed in Bringing Them Home were not merely politically correct.
They were un-Australian. …

[The] anti-Bringing Them Home campaign [marked] the emergence under Howard of … an authentic Australian version of an international movement on the Right often known as historical denialism. …

The authors of Bringing Them Home argued that, following Australia's signature of the Genocide Convention in 1951, Australian authorities had committed the crime of genocide in their Aboriginal-child-removal policies.
It is now generally acknowledged that they were wrong. …

[The national apology to the Stolen Generations that] Kevin Rudd delivered to the parliament on 13 February was, in my view and in the view of many others, one of the most important in the history of Australia. …
[He] delivered his speech in the presence of every living prime minister, except John Howard.

(Sorry Business, The Monthly, March 2008)


Just as stagflation fatally undermined the Keynesian social-democratic consensus, so too will the combination of the Great Recession and the growing recognition of the destructive role played by neo-liberalism in inhibiting an effective response to catastrophic climate change eventually discredit the idea at the heart of neo-liberalism: the faith in the magic of the free market. …
[However, there] are two important differences between the circumstances surrounding the end of the Keynesian era in the late 1970s and the present unravelling of neo-liberalism.
When the Keynesian consensus collapsed, a party-in-waiting existed, ready to seize its chance.
No equivalent anti-neo-liberal party exists today.
Old-style socialism is dead.
Left-of-centre neo-Keynesians are far less ideological, far more divided and far more cautious than their neo-liberal adversaries.

Even more importantly, at the moment of the neo-liberal collapse, humanity confronts the diabolical problem of climate change.
Those who inherit the post-neo-liberal world will be obliged not merely to strive to reconcile the hope for renewed prosperity with the quest for domestic and global social justice.
They will also be obliged to reconcile both these ambitions with the gravest challenge humankind has ever faced.
No one yet knows what the new era will look like or what it will eventually be called.
Only one thing seems, at present, reasonably certain.
At the end of the era of free-market faith, we will be in a far better position to turn our attention to the kinds of ethical and environmental questions which, for thirty years, neo-liberalism encouraged us to [ignore.]

(Goodbye to All That?  On the Failure of Neo-Liberalism and the Urgency of Change, 2010, p 36)


John Quiggin (1956)


Professor of Economics, Queensland University

The Productivity Treadmill: Doing More With Less

Productivity growth is seen by economic rationalists as a matter of using market forces to squeeze more production out of a given (or, if possible, reduced) number of workers. …
Despite the success of Keynesian economic stimulus in protecting Australia from the impacts of the Global Financial Crisis, economic rationalists remain fixated on the microeconomic reform agenda of the 1980s, centered on a combination of financial deregulation and competitive pressure aimed at forcing people to work [ever] harder.
(p 210)

[The National Competition Policy] was highly successful in bypassing democratic processes [and popular discontent] to introduce market liberal reforms, but it eventually produced a backlash.
The upsurge of Pauline Hanson's One Nation party in the 1990s reflected an inchoate mass of grievances among Australians who felt excluded and looked down on by urban elites.
(p 219)

[The Institute of Public Affairs] was established in the 1940s as part of the reorganization of conservative politics that produced the Liberal Party, and was, for many years, primarily a Liberal fundraising conduit for business.
It was intellectually revitalized in the 1980s under the leadership of the former Liberal parliamentarian John Hyde, but maintained its historical role as a paid lobbyist for business interests, notably including the tobacco and, later, fossil fuel industries.
In this role, the IPA routinely attacked mainstream science and propounded pro-cartel views on economics.

[The Centre for Independent Studies (CIS),] founded in 1976, was more libertarian in orientation and, at least in its early years, more intellectually rigorous and challenging than the IPA.
It is the Australian representative of the Mont Pelerin Society, established by Hayek and others in 1947.
(p 212)

A striking feature of [Paul Keating's new deregulated, market-oriented economy of the 1990s] was the rise to prominence of a group of corporate raiders and speculators, notably including:
  • Alan Bond [— Bond Corporation,]
  • John Elliott [— Elders],
  • Robert Holmes a Court [— Bell Group,]
  • Christopher Skase and
  • John Spalvins [— Adelaide Steamship. …]
A couple of years before [their] entrepreneurial empires collapsed in a heap of bad debts, criminal charges and fraudulent bankruptcies, a CIS study concluded that the activities of "raiders" …
"lead to more profitable uses of company assets, and as such they play a vital role in the capital allocation process."
In reality, the entrepreneurs were simply the latest illustration of the adage that "genius is leverage in a rising market."
They relied heavily on borrowed money.
When interest rates rose, their paper empires collapsed, revealing a tangled web of fraud and malfeasance.
Most of the entrepreneurs went bankrupt, and many ended up behind bars or on the run.
Some, like Alan Bond, eventually bounced back, finding mysterious sources of funding that had escaped the attention of their creditors, who were paid fractions of a cent in the dollar.
(p 217)

[In the mid-1990s, economic rationalists seized on] methods of estimating productivity growth that appeared, [at least for a few years,] to reveal a "productivity miracle" unparalleled at any time in our history.
In reality, the apparent increase in productivity arose from the increase in the pace and intensity of work produced by the combination of microeconomic reform and the adverse labor market conditions that followed the "recession we had to have."
[However, these] increases in effort weren't sustainable [and so] productivity growth slowed to a crawl in the 2000s.
(p 220)


Moral Hazard

[The hedge fund Long Term Capital Management (LTCM)] looked for divergences between the margins generated by the markets and the values predicted by its computer models, then bet that the market would "correct itself" over time.
These bets paid off for a number of years, making big profits for LTCM owners and investors.
But, in 1997 with the Asian and Russian financial crises, all its bets failed at once. …

[Since] the leveraged investments made by LTCM had been financed by huge loans from major Wall Street and international banks [the] failure by LTCM ran the risk of generating a systemic collapse.
[Consequently, the] US Federal Reserve, under Chairman Alan Greenspan, orchestrated a rescue package. …
[In spite of needing a bailout, the] LTCM principals and investors escaped with much of the wealth gained from their earlier successful bets intact.
(p 56)

(Zombie Economics, Princeton University Press, 2012)


John Maynard Keynes (1883 – 1946)


[We] have involved ourselves in a colossal muddle, having blundered in the control of a delicate machine, the working of which we do not understand.
The result is that our possibilities of wealth may run to waste for a time — perhaps for a long time.

(The Great Slump of 1930, 1930)


[In the future, the] love of money as a possession — as distinguished from the love of money as a means to the enjoyments and realities of life — will be recognised for what it is, a somewhat disgusting morbidity, one of those semi-criminal, semi-pathological propensities which one hands over with a shudder to the specialists in mental disease. …

The pace at which we can reach our destination of economic bliss will be governed by four things:
  • our power to control population,
  • our determination to avoid wars and civil dissensions,
  • our willingness to entrust to science the direction of those matters which are properly the concern of science,
  • the rate of accumulation as fixed by the margin between our production and our consumption;
of which the last will easily look after itself, given the first three.

(Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren, 1930)


[The] ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood.
Indeed, the world is ruled by little else.
Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.
(p 383)

There is no clear evidence from experience, that the investment policy which is socially advantageous, coincides with that which is most profitable.
(p 140)

(The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, 1936)


Robert Skidelsky (1939)


From the start 'scientific' economics had been strongly normative.
By increasing understanding of 'economic laws' it hoped to shift actual economic arrangements towards the competitive ideal which would maximise the creation of wealth; hence the strong association between nineteenth-century economics and the policy of laissez-faire.
Adam Smith and his followers were chiefly preoccupied with the failures of government.
Their idea was that government should keep law and order, and get out of economic life.

By the last quarter of the nineteenth century the mood had changed.
  • The failures of laissez-faire were palpable;
  • the competence and the integrity of governments were much improved; [and]
  • the growth of democracy had increased the pressure on the state to 'solve' or at least [mitigate] social problems.

[The Age of Collectivism had] dawned.
Feeding the growth of collectivism was
  • the growth of the social sciences, and
  • the parallel emergence of an activist intelligentsia, claiming a right of direction, vacated by the aristocracy and the clergy, by virtue of superior intellectual ability and expert knowledge of society.
(p 455)

The central claim which emerged from the confluence of these two tendencies was that society was a machine whose working could be improved by deliberate action, with unintended side-effects being equally amenable to correction and control, much as a mechanic fine-tunes an engine.
It was the vision … that we can make of our lives and world the world what we wish.
(p 456)

(John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946): Economist, Philosopher, Statesman, One Volume Edition, Penguin, 2003)


Niall Ferguson (1964)


… John Williamson's original 1989 formulation [of the Washington Consensus advised policy-makers to:]

  1. Impose fiscal discipline;
  2. Reform taxation;
  3. Liberalize interest rates;
  4. Raise spending on health and education;
  5. Secure property rights;
  6. Privatize state-run industries;
  7. Deregulate markets;
  8. Adopt a competitive exchange rate;
  9. Remove barriers to trade;
  10. Remove barriers to foreign direct investment.

(p 308)

One recent study of [economic output] and consumption since 1870 has identified
  • 148 crises in which a country experienced a cumulative decline in GDP of at least 10% and
  • 87 crises in which consumption suffered a fall of comparable magnitude,
implying a probability of financial disaster of around 3.6 per cent per year.
(p 342)

(The Ascent of Money, Penguin, 2008)


Contents


Murdoch's Australian and the Shaping of the Nation
Goodbye to All That? On the The Failure of Neoliberalism and the Urgency of Change
Sorry Business: Historical Denialism in Australia


ROBERT MANNE (1947)


Professor of Politics, Latrobe University.

  • How can climate change denialism be explained?  The Monthly, 8 December 2011.
  • Bad News: Murdoch's Australian and the Shaping of the Nation, Quarterly Essay, No 43, Black Inc, September 2011.

    The Australian is … the country’s most important newspaper. …

    It is an unusually ideological paper, committed to advancing the causes of neoliberalism in economics and neoconservatism in the sphere of foreign policy. …

    The Australian is ruthless in pursuit of those who oppose its worldview —
    • market fundamentalism,
    • minimal action on climate change,
    • the federal Intervention in indigenous affairs,
    • uncritical support for the American alliance and for Israel,
    • opposition to what it calls political correctness and moral relativism.

    It exhibits distaste, even hatred, for what it terms “the Left,” and in particular for the Greens. …
    [The] Fairfax newspapers and the ABC are [both] constantly attacked and belittled …


    Climate Change: “Clear, Catastrophic Threats”


    Those calling for radical action to curb greenhouse gas emissions were "greenhouse hysterics" (29 July 2005), "antediluvians" (9 August 2005), “prophets of doom” (14 January 2006), "neo-Arcadians" (31 March 2007), "deep-Green Luddites" (8 June 2007), "hair-shirted greenhouse penitents" (22 June 2007), "carpetbaggers" (17 December 2007), "utopian fantasists" (19 October 2009), "the hessian-bag brigade" (31 October 2009) and "zealots" (30 December 2009).
    According to The Australian the "deep greens" displayed "a head-in-the-sand mentality" (1 December 2006), a "revivalist fervour" (27 August 2008) and a "mindset" that was simultaneously "medieval" and "totalitarian" (14 June 2006, 12 March 2010).

    Such despicable people “would sell out the economy and their grandmothers” (27 May 2009).
    • Tim Flannery was "a well-documented global warming extremist" (9 February 2007);
    • Bob Brown would "not be satisfied until everyone is taking cold showers in the dark" (14 March 2007); while
    • Al Gore was an "alarmist" afflicted by "hyperbolic visions of gloom" (15 February 2007, 29 March 2007).

    [The] paper, which remained frozen in its editor-in-chief’s unreconstructed Cold War mentality, consistently regarded the “deep greens” as nothing but the communist Totalitarian Enemy reborn, whose secret hope was not to save the planet but to destroy capitalism and the Western way of life. …

    In its editorial of 5 December 2009 … all three strands of its case against those calling for radical action can, rather neatly, be seen —
    • their embrace of an absolutist politics as a substitute for abandoned religion,
    • their disguised anti-capitalism, and
    • their censorious political correctness.
    That the passion and dogmatic belief that once defined organized religion have been replaced for some people by a commitment to reversing climate change is not surprising.
    As a response to what some see as excessive materialism in the West, fighting for the planet has become a way to scale back development, restrict free markets and redistribute wealth across the globe.
    There was a significant problem here.
    Virtually every climate scientist is convinced that radical action to curb greenhouse gas emissions is vital.
    In creating a new post-Cold War enemy camp — made up of climate scientists and environmentalists favoring such action — The Australian had broken with the values lying at the very center of the Enlightenment, namely Science and the authority of Reason. …

    The Australian's wild, prolonged and abusive attack on the despised “other” it called the “deep greens” or the “true believers” was, then, not merely an assault on the ideal of civility in debate.
    It represented a great betrayal of the very values the newspaper imagined it embodied and upheld. …

    Of [880 articles from between January 2004 and April 2011], about 180 were favorable to climate change action and 700 unfavorable [80%].
    [Opinion] columns opposed action on climate change by a ratio of about four to one.

    In the real world, scientists accepting the climate consensus view outnumber denialists by more than ninety-nine to one.
    In the Alice in Wonderland world of Chris Mitchell’s Australian their contributions were outnumbered ten to one. …


    The Greens: “They are hypocrites; they are bad for the nation; and they should be destroyed at the ballot box”


    In its editorial of 7 September The Australian argued:
    Greens leader Bob Brown has accused The Australian of trying to wreck the alliance between the Greens and Labor.
    We wear Senator Brown’s criticism with pride.
    We believe
    • that he and his Green colleagues are hypocrites;
    • that they are bad for the nation; and
    • that they should be destroyed at the ballot box.
    [Hartigin (former CEO of News Limited) even let slip what had been leaked about the political discussions at Carmel [with Murdoch].
    [We] have things that we think as a company and individually as editors that need to be done.
    One of them is a leadership vacuum by minority government …
    … what Hartigan was saying here was that what the “company” that owned 70 per cent of the Australian press wanted “done” was to bring to an end the “leadership vacuum” that had been created by the formation of the minority Gillard government.
    In the political context, this was an admission that News Limited was indeed actively working to bring about “regime change.”

  • Goodbye to All That?  On the Failure of Neo-Liberalism and the Urgency of Change, Black Inc, 2010.
    Robert Manne and David McKnight: Editors.

    Australia and the Global Financial Crisis


    John Quiggin: Professor of Economics, University of Queensland

    The free-market dogmas that prevented real action to preserve the effectiveness of financial regulation in the late twentieth century have lost much of their force. …

    The starting point for a stable regulatory regime must be a reversal of the burden of proof in relation to financial innovation.
    The prevailing rule has been to allow, and indeed encourage, financial innovations unless they can be shown to represent a threat to financial stability.
    Given an unlimited public guarantee for the liabilities of these institutions, such a rule is a guaranteed, and proven, recipe for disaster, offering huge rewards to any innovation that increases both risks (ultimately borne by the public) and returns (captured by the innovators). …
    (p 113, emphasis added)

    [Henceforth, financial] innovations must be treated with caution and allowed only on the basis of a clear understanding of their effects on systemic risk. …
    [Governments have] a clear responsibility for the stability of the financial infrastructure.
    (p 114)

    [The] crucial issue that has not been faced so far is that publicly guaranteed institutions require much closer regulation than is consistent with policies of financial deregulation.
    (p 115)

    It is now clear that unrestricted financial innovation played a major role in the advent of the financial crisis by facilitating the growth of unsound lending and by undermining systems of regulation. …
    There is an inherent inconsistency between unrestricted financial innovation and a regulatory system [that insures] market participants against [the failure of those same innovations.]
    (p 115)

    Even the exposure of spectacular fraud at the Enron Corporation, which had been nominated by Fortune magazine as 'America's most innovative' for six years in succession, did little to dent faith in the desirability of innovation.
    (p 116)

    Moral hazard can only be offset by the design of regulatory mechanisms that discourage excessive risk-taking. …
    [The] only sustainable approach to financial innovation is one in which proposed innovations are introduced only after the implementation of necessary changes to regulatory requirements and risk measures.
    If reliable risk measures cannot be computed, the associated innovations should not be permitted. …

    [Despite the scale of the financial-market failure,] resistance even to the most obviously necessary measures of financial regulation remains strong, and progress towards a more coherent system of regulation has been glacial.
    (p 117, emphasis added)

    [Notwithstanding the fact that arguments] against government intervention … now appear as absurd special pleading on behalf of an overpaid and underperforming corporate and financial elite.
    (p 118)

    {With the spectacular failure of financial markets as risk managers, the need for a return to active, social risk management is obvious …}
    [A] view of society as a set of institutions through which we jointly manage those risks … can be supported by reasoned ethical judgments that are consistent with diversity and individualism.
    (p 119)


    25 Years Of Neo-Liberalism In Australia


    Michael Pusey: Professor of Sociology, University of New South Wales

    From 1980 to 2007, the wages share of gross national income fell from 60 per cent to 53 per cent as the profit share rose from 17 per cent to just over 27 per cent. …
    [This has resulted] in a substantial upward redistribution of income [which] has mainly favoured corporations.
    The real whole-of-life incomes of the broad middle class are falling …
    (p 128, emphasis added)

    The deregulation of the labour market has devalued the real worth of nominal wage and salary incomes.
    There is no ready way of discounting incomes to reflect the reduced real value of fluctuating and insecure wage incomes.
    Yet intuitively we all know that a secure income of, say, $50,000 is worth more than a volatile income of $70,000 or $80,000.
    [This is because, when] a job is of uncertain tenure, one needs a much higher income to cover spending in the troughs between jobs and to cover unforeseen contingencies.
    … Australia has the second-highest rate of job-churning in the OECD — the rate at which people change jobs over a lifetime …

    A generation ago, working-class people could realistically expect to purchase their own home with manageable mortgage repayments from relatively secure job incomes. …
    Until 1985, home loans were regulated to limit the amount that could be borrowed to a sum not exceeding 25 per cent of the principal breadwinners earnings.
    The effect was to limit demand (and indebtedness) to comfortable levels and thus to hold house prices in check.
    [Banking] deregulation has [since inflated both house prices and household debt] by increasing the amount of money that could be borrowed …
    [Today,] the typical house mortgage in New South Wales consumes nearly 40 per cent of total household income.
    (p 129)

    [The] deregulation of the labour market has left us with working hours that intrude more into family and weekend time than in any other OECD country except Italy.
    (p 133)

    Moreover, in Australia high levels of job mobility are compounded by geographical factors that are more likely to force relocations that put people out of easy reach of their support and family networks.
    (p 134)


    The Limits To Growth Revisited


    Ian Lowe

    In the English-speaking world, the economics profession embraced a school of thought championed by a small group of Americans, the so-called Chicago school.
    Their extreme market-oriented approach formed the ideological basis of:
    • the Reagan regime in the United States,
    • the Thatcher years in the United Kingdom,
    • Rogernomics' in New Zealand and
    • extreme state governments in Australia, such as the Kennett government in Victoria.
    The approach became known as the Washington Consensus.

    At the heart of the Washington Consensus was an assumption that any social or environmental problem could be solved by economic growth.
    (p 211)

    [Climate change denialism] arguably began when an obscure Danish academic, Bjorn Lomborg, was able to publish a book called The Skeptical Environmentalist.
    Lomborg claimed that he was a reformed ardent environmentalist who, when confronted with hard evidence that all the important trends were positive, had changed his mind and concluded that we can all stop worrying about the environmental risks and go back to promoting economic growth with a clear conscience.
    He even claimed that the best way to improve the environment was to accelerate economic growth! …
    [The] book was a disgraceful exercise in cherry-picking data to support pre-determined conclusions …
    [However, it] became a bestseller and made Lomborg famous because it said what the commercial media and most politicians wanted to hear.
    (p 215-6)

    Would you like to know more?

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