While I’m dubious about the validity of the Dawkins analogy between memes and genes, there’s no doubt that we need some sort of word for a minimal unit of argument that is subject to reproduction and selection, and meme seems to have become that word.
One I’ve noticed in particular among supporters of the Howard government is exemplified by Michael Baume in today’s Fin (subscription required). He writes that the Howard government has halved youth unemployment, then immediately follows up with the small print “since the Keating era peak in 1992″. If seen similar comparisons regarding interest rates and, I think even occasionally on inflation. In all these cases, the majority of the improvements occurred before Labor lost office.
In political terms, this is a straightforward case of claiming your opponents’ accomplishments as your own. Underlying this is the fact, which I’ve pointed out that, in economic terms, the Howard government is essentially a continuation of those of Hawke and Keating, with a gradual (and not continuous) slowdown in the pace of microeconomic reform.
As it’s normally used, this argument is clearly dishonest. There might be circumstances in which it could be used honestly, particularly in relation to policy instruments under direct government control. For example, if the government controlled interest rates, it might say that “we have kept interest rates low, and will always do so. By contrast, Labor allowed them to rise to 17 per cent”. But in terms of targets like unemployment, the natural base point for comparisons is 1996, not 1992, and the government’s performance looks most unimpressive.