Thursday, August 27, 2015

Reform, and other lies told by rent seekers

An excellent if highly cynical piece on yesterday's Reform Summit by Liam Hogan in the Guardian:
The one thing I would not have expected out of our democratic, parliamentary, capitalist system in 2015 is how much a lot of its managerial politics would resemble 1970s Soviet “actually existing” socialism.
As a hearkening back to the glory days of the Hawke summits which led to the Accord, it was history repeated as farce: special interest groups and other rent seekers reciting their laundry lists of demands, talking past each other and agreeing only to a meaningless and non-binding communique which was rightly pilloried by Catallaxy Files as being largely pre-arranged. Hogan's cynicism doesn't go far enough.

The appearance of many of the usual suspects from the stable of right-wingers employed by The Australian at an event organised by Labor's Craig Emerson was not all that surprising in view of Nick Cater's summary of the day's festivities, which consisted of listing all the wonderful ways that the Summit would enable Labor to give in to the Right's policy agenda of lowering Australian worker living standards to match those of Asia in the name of "productivity", "flexibility" and "competitiveness" - i.e. to line the pockets of the capitalists in ye olde Reaganite fashion.

If there is to be an actual bipartisan reform platform in this country, it has to be built with a view to the effects of the 1980s reform and how its effects have played out in the intervening decades. Primary among these is how workers were stiffed by the decision of Labor to put a dampener on real wages, because workers have not enjoyed the benefits of their own productivity gains since the 1980s. Meanwhile, capital productivity has lagged considerably even as executive pay has skyrocketed and share dividends have fattened. Multifactor productivity has been dropping over the past decade, by almost a full percentage point, despite labour productivity rising by 1.5% p.a., because capital investment has proved to be wasteful, particularly in mining.

Hogan makes some compelling arguments for the Soviet metaphor, but I also detected some Chinese influence in what is these days an outpost of the Chinese mixed economy. Kevin Rudd may not have been present to speak Mandarin to the assembled mandarins, but there were parallels to the five-year plans by faceless man in the central committees of those other modern faces of the jerry-rigged communist/capitalist hybrid experiment. There was no Xi, or Che for that matter, but one hopes the feng shui of the room was tickety-boo.

Now that the AUD is back within more regular historic parameters, the bleating about international competitiveness should stop. We should not lower our wages and workplace standards to match those of Asian countries, as that is short-term thinking. The next major growth source for Australia is the burgeoning Chinese middle class - and that of India to a lesser extent - and if we are to ride that wave for another boost to prevent recession post the mining boom, we have to work towards an economy which can sell to it.

"Reform" in this country is too often conceived as a zero-sum game where workers and employers fight over the scraps of the world economy in a race to the bottom to serve the lowest common denominator. That is not Australia's natural role in the Asian century. We can't be the Singapore or Hong Kong of the region because those trade hub positions are already filled, and we can't be Taiwan or Bangladesh either with their focus on manufacturing. We can supply the Chinese bourgeoisie with small amounts of high-quality shipped goods and large amounts of low-cost digitally-delivered services. Whatever policies are attuned towards building that scenario are the ones that will underpin our future growth. I doubt anything will come out of the Reform Summit that would come anywhere near towards that.

Monday, August 24, 2015

A deleted comment from Club Troppo

I don't want to make a habit of antagonising the Troppodillians, but the following comment was just deleted from a Club Troppo post by statistics academic Chris Lloyd on gay marriage (quoted text from one of Lloyd's comments in italics).
On the contrary, showing an argument may be flawed by showing it leads to untenable positions is quite mainstream.
You did not show this at all, Chris. No one has showed how gay marriage leads inevitably to polygamy or bestiality. There is no logical argument that can show this. It is like saying allowing marriage between two people will lead inevitably to polygamy because once you allow two people to become one, there's nothing preventing three people becoming one. It's just silliness, literally 1 + 1 = 3.
Anyway, I am open to arguments that marriage contracts are more substantial than I realised, and some commenters have claimed that it is (though I have not had time to check the claims). 
"Time to check the claims"? Do you not realise what marriage means beyond the bare contract? Have you been living in a hole? Well, I guess MBS is a bit of a hole. I hope you are not one of those ivory tower intellectuals like Peter Singer who could argue themselves into foolish positions because they don't keep touch with the real world.
If de facto’s are at a disadvantage then there is another discussion to have about whether this is acceptable. 
Not really, Chris. It is discrimination, plain and simple. You're trying to bargain to preserve your privilege. It is unbecoming of an educated man such as yourself to cling to such antiquated thinking.
Finally Paul, I do not accept that my tone is any more arrogant or condescending than yours. And linking it to gender is not OK so I will ask you to not use the word mansplaining again.
Playing the victim is also beneath you, Chris. If you jump into such a fraught issue with weak arguments like these, expect to get pushback.
Not exactly sure what the problem with that comment was; most likely the admittedly gratuitous crack at Lloyd's employer. His post is another in an increasingly frequent series of High Broderist scolding from the right on that blog, which continues to cause me dismay.

Identity politics and Adam Goodes

The Piping Shrike, who posts about as infrequently as I do these days (must be a father also), has pronounced on the Adam Goodes situation. It's a long, meandering essay, as all of his are, with a number of juicy nuggets of wisdom, but is typically hard to sum up. I would take issue with a couple of his points, nonetheless.

Primary among these is the repeated phrase of "the anti-racism campaign against the public", his criticism of which forms the main part of his screed. I suspect the Shrike does not live among or talk to a lot of football-immersed people, thus he would not understand how much racism there was around this issue among the public, and how lonely it was fighting the good fight against people convinced that their racist attitudes weren't racist. The Shrike calls the loose collection of individuals battling white privilege in bars, backyards, dining rooms and social media across the nation a "campaign", as if it was conducted against a united public solely by an elite. No, there are people out here in the public who argued at the grass roots along with the anti-racists in the media.

Anti-racism campaigns are not meaningless, as the Shrike asserts. You only have to look at the wins that anti-racism campaigners are having in the US over removing state support for the Confederate flag and are now starting to have over state-authorised statues of Confederate heroes. In itself, those things won't change living standards for African-Americans but it is an early and vital manifestation of anti-racist strength that will eventually get other things achieved, most notably through the #BlackLivesMatter movement which will shift the Democratic policy platform and thus affect policy of the forthcoming Clinton administration. Symbols matter, culture matters, otherwise we wouldn't be having culture wars over it.

The Shrike asks why the inevitably non-zero cadre of racist Swan fans didn't boo Goodes. In this, he shows he doesn't understand sporting tribalism. If you're among a bunch of supporters of your own team and you start booing one of your own because he's black, you will swiftly discover the rest of the supporter base will turn on you and eject you from the tribe. Fans who go to the game are primarily there as part of their sporting team tribe, not their racial tribe, and the former trumps the latter when there is a clash at a home game filled with team members. Racist Swan fans simply shut up while opposition fans booed Goodes, in solidarity with their dominant tribe.

Much is made by the Shrike of the lack of convictions under anti-racism legislation, but again, that ignores the very real effects that such legislation has in discouraging anyone from engaging in conduct that would come close to meriting a conviction. The threat of incarceration can change attitudes almost as much as incarceration itself. Of course, this effect is hard to quantify, but I don't think anyone who denies it exists has much of a leg to stand on.

Finally, the Shrike asks why the media has moved on, asking if the crowd has stopped booing, why there hasn't been an outpouring of joy at Australia suddenly finding a solution to a seemingly intractable problem. The crowd has stopped booing, but unfortunately there were no miracles to be verified by the Vatican. AFL industry elites effectively made a bargain with the public: let's agree not to keep calling you racists if you agree to stop booing. It was a ceasefire, not a victory. Goodes' withdrawal for a week took the heat out of it, with the home Sydney crowd's voluble support for him in absentia that weekend further turning the tide.

Overall, I was disappointed with the tone of the Shrike's piece, but then that's nothing new on this issue because it seems to cut across political boundaries and many of those on the left or centre have been on what I consider the wrong side of this one. It's the sort of identity politics that we could do without in this country. I'd like it if we didn't turn into America, thanks.