Home > Politics (general) > Make them pay, part 2

Make them pay, part 2

November 1st, 2005

In response to my last post about taxpayer-funded IR propaganda, Things I’ve Seen comes up with a neat suggestion.

At the end of every advert, where we currently have “Authorised by”, add “This advert was paid for by the Australian taxpayer”. Then let democracy take its course.

The neat thing is that if ads were genuinely helpful and informative, tazpayer-viewers wouldn’t mind.

A requirement of this kind could be inserted by legislation, and it would be a brave government that subsequently removed it. Of course, it would only happen if it could be done in the first few days after a change of government, when the habits of power had not yet grown familiar.

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  1. November 1st, 2005 at 20:35 | #1

    “The neat thing is that if ads were genuinely helpful and informative, tazpayer-viewers wouldn’t mind.”

    Sure they wouldn’t. I have a bridge to sell you.

  2. November 1st, 2005 at 21:13 | #2

    transparency is a beautiful thing. too bad that over here in the states, transparency would melt our brains…

  3. November 1st, 2005 at 22:39 | #3

    That is a very clever idea. Sooo elegant.

  4. Terje Petersen
    November 1st, 2005 at 22:50 | #4

    If they stop running these adds do I get a tax cut? Or will the money just get spent creating jobs in other industries?

    Most of what government does is unproductive. So as a taxpayer I was already cranky before the adds went to air.

  5. Dogz
    November 2nd, 2005 at 07:23 | #5

    This is a brilliant idea. But why stop at government expenditure on ads? Let’s apply it to _all_ government expenditure, and then set up a website where people can vote for or against individual expenditure items, and let deomcracy _really_ take its course.


    “This hospital was paid for by the Australian taxpayer – $83M”

    [excellent use of my money]

    “Mr Smith [teacher] is funded by the Australian taxpayer – $80K pa (including on-costs)”

    [fine – he’s a good teacher]

    “Mr Jones [teacher and AEU organiser] is funded by the Australian taxpayer – $80K pa (including on-costs)”

    [no way – the AEU want to turn my kids into know-nothing post-modern politically correct commie sympathizers – he’s out]

    “Prof Quiggin [academic] is funded by the Australian taxpayer – $400K pa (including on-costs)”

    [he’s taxpayer funded? $400K pa??? man, all he ever does is whine about the government that feeds him – out]


  6. Katz
    November 2nd, 2005 at 07:44 | #6

    In these days of almost frictionless transfer of information, the solution to the issue of loaded information is simple.

    Call it the Access to Legislation Act 2005.

    Under the provisions of this Act, any taxpayer-funded information must contain a weblink to the latest draft of the proposed legislation.

    Governments have three choice:

    1. Introduce legislation without benefit of government propaganda. This would arouse suspicions of a ministerially-plotted ambush. But it would save taxpayers’ money.

    2. Leave dummy or misleading drafts on the website. This would confirm suspicions of a ministerially-plotted ambush when the real legislation is introduced.

    3. Be honest and update the draft as changes are made, sometimes in response to public pressure.

  7. jquiggin
    November 2nd, 2005 at 08:00 | #7

    An impressively original point, dogz. You must be only about the 20th to make it.

    One of the great bonuses of my current position is how much it annoys RWDBs.

  8. Dogz
    November 2nd, 2005 at 08:25 | #8

    An impressively original point, dogz.

    Which point JQ? That we should go for democracy across the board?

    I never claimed it to be globally original, although it was original with me and the first time it was made in this thread.

    I think it is a valid point: if you want democracy on any individual issue – as opposed to just letting the elected government get on with it – are you willing to extend it to all issues? If not, why not? In my view, you don’t get to apply it just to the areas that favour your side of politics.

    Orthogonally, I looked up “RWDB” after SJ used it on me yesterday – according to the few web sources I could locate, it means “Right Wing Death Beast”. Sounds pretty nasty – what’s your motivation for calling me that?

    BTW, I couldn’t give a rat’s arse what you earn – I’d vote against you if it was $50,000 pa.

  9. November 2nd, 2005 at 08:26 | #9

    John, RWDBs notwithstanding, I think you’re too generous towards government advertising. I’d argue that for most campaigns (PBS, Regional Telecoms, probably even defence recruitment), the costs exceed the public benefit. Being “genuinely helpful and informative” sets the bar too low.

  10. Dogz
    November 2nd, 2005 at 09:03 | #10

    BTW, I couldn’t give a rat’s arse what you earn – I’d vote against you if it was $50,000 pa.

    Actually, I retract that. It was said in the heat of the moment in response to an outright insult. I may disagree with your views but the country needs at least a few smart people with dissenting views who are not worried about where their salary is coming from.

  11. jquiggin
    November 2nd, 2005 at 09:23 | #11

    Dogz, retraction accepted with thanks.

    RWDB is a blogosphere in-joke used primarily by rightwingers to describe themselves, and more generally as a description for a fairly well-defined group. See, for example, rwdb.blogspot.com or the listing of sites at Troppo Armadillo. Since you’d used it yourself, I assumed you were aware of this. It’s not generally taken as an insult, and I didn’t intend it this way. Apologies for any offence.

  12. jquiggin
    November 2nd, 2005 at 09:27 | #12

    Andrew, I agree that the relevant test is whether benefits exceed costs. But presumably the viewers will be applying the same test.

    I’m mildly surprised by your reference to defence recruitment. No doubt it’s partly a plug for the defence forces, but I assume the primary purpose is the ostensible one and that someone in recruitment allocates funds between alternative recruiting methods.

  13. Dogz
    November 2nd, 2005 at 09:30 | #13

    I guess I am not “in”. My misunderstanding. I had only used the term when quoting SJ’s use of it.

    I get it now – “we’re here and we’re queer RWDBs”

    Now that’s out the way – the substantive point remains: do we brand everyone and everything in receipt of govt money or just the ones you disagree with?

  14. November 2nd, 2005 at 10:59 | #14

    Dogz, we can brand everything the government does with our money without having a direct democratic exercise in our judgement of its value. But the more aware people are of what the government spends their money on, the better their decision will be at the next election. Pr Q wasn’t suggesting that if the voters don’t like the adverts they clikc ‘no’ on its funding. he was suggesting that if they don’t like the adverts they take it into consideration at the next election. i thought ‘RWDBs’ were all for small, accountable governments?

  15. Dee
    November 2nd, 2005 at 11:04 | #15

    The adverts tell us precisely what the Government thinks of the voters – they are thick and to be manipulated.

    Howard with his majority has gone berserk – look at the proposed anti terrorism laws!

    Where is the right of reply (in advertising form) from the opposing parties/views?

    WHAT IS BEING LEGISLATED (“slipped through”) in Parliament while these pathetic adverts are endlessly stuck in front of the public?

    The endless glossy pamphlets that were letter-boxed on behalf of the Federal Government – the End Violence adverts – they were inaccurate, favouring women (I am one) instead of showing a major increase of violence in the community by women against men and children, I expect this to be dealt with by the Government and respective organisations without all the brouhaha of an advertising campaign. This campaign was simply keeping Howards Mob in the limelight – this little man is obsessed with using any form of the Press.

    Am I correct that the Federal Government is the 2nd largest Advertising contract in Australia.

    Am I correct that the GST Adverts cost the taxpayer $380mill?

    Apart from writing to the Political parties how can we STOP this total waste of taxpayers money that could be used in many vital areas in our community and give one relief from constantly having to change channels when Howard is thrust upon once again?

  16. observa
    November 2nd, 2005 at 11:14 | #16

    I don’t think the punters generally have any misconceptions about who’s paying for these ads. I noticed the NSW govt was to spend $300,000 on advertising the opposite case and Rann has come out and said the SA govt will challenge the legislation in the High Court. Presumably he’ll have some mates among the Premiers. It would appear the genie is well out of the bottle on using the taxpayer’s hardearned to push your political barrow. It really started with public funding of political parties. That was the thin end of the very fat wedge for us all today.

  17. observa
    November 2nd, 2005 at 11:28 | #17

    It’s interesting to look back with hindsight on the capturing of the public purse in order to promote partisan political views. Public funding of these campaigns before getting into office, would appear to have logically led to the notion that it was OK to use the the trappings of office to promote the same. It’s interesting to speculate as to whether public funding of campaigns has cheapened our democracy. When the parties don’t have to sing for their campaign supper funds, then who needs all those messy problematic members eh? That leaves the field to a few factional heavyweights and movers and shakers.

  18. Dogz
    November 2nd, 2005 at 11:54 | #18


    I am all for small, accountable governments. I want the government to tell the public loud and clear everything they are spending. Ads, schools, academics – everyone and everything that is in receipt of taxpayer dollars.

    The ads should carry the message “this ad cost the Australian taxpayer $30,000” or whatever each slot costs. This website should carry the message: “PrQ is funded at $400,000 pa by the Australian taxpayer”. I should be able to look up for each hospital where my dollars are being spent. For each school. For each university. For each public service department. There is nothing like the antiseptic of public scrutinity.

    The principle is actually pretty fair: I have to account to the government for every dollar I or my company earns so the government can work out how much tax to take. It is only fair that in return the government should account to me for every one of those tax dollars it spends.

  19. Dee
    November 2nd, 2005 at 12:35 | #19


    Agreed, we should be informed as to where the billions of dollars put into the common fund i.e. Government (State & Federal) is being spent.

    As the population is becoming more computer & Internet savvy, a web site that shows exactly where the money is being spent should be established by an appropriate body enabling access by all Australians.

    Twice a year the Government(s) could “advertise” (print) this same information for people who do not have this Internet access.

    We are the politicians EMPLOYER and we need to actively hold them to account and ask for a thorough transparent explanation of where our hard earned, accountable dollars have been spent.

    In this country we regularly seem to end up paying hugely for inadequate short term decisions made by politicians/bureaucrats, possibly a detailed, audited spending “report” may see a more responsible attitude to the allocation of taxpayers monies.

  20. November 2nd, 2005 at 12:52 | #20

    John, defence recruitment is clearly the most defensible category of government advertising (pun unavoidable). I mentioned it because I wanted to stretch the envelope as far as possible. Perhaps it’s pure as the driven snow, but I rather suspect someone in the PMO knows what’ll be spent on it next year.

  21. davey
    November 2nd, 2005 at 13:00 | #21

    then maybe australia should also publish individual tax return amounts like they do in – um, norway? i think? –

  22. Tony Healy
    November 2nd, 2005 at 13:17 | #22

    I would also like to introduce some workplace flexibility into Parliament.

    As one of the employers of parliamentarians, and to grow the economy, I would like to sign MP’s up to new contracts that make them subject to dismissal at 1 hours notice at any time, and remove overtime for political staffers

    If they don’t like it, they can choose another job, just like the PM says.

  23. wilful
    November 2nd, 2005 at 13:18 | #23

    Dogz, I’m fairly sure that PrQ’s salary/funding etc is available if you dig hard enough through the relevant public records. And also, it’s my understanding that this blog is entirely his own device, and has nothing to do with his being a (worthy) recipient of public funding. Actually, he’s providing somewhat of a multiplier for his funding, disseminating it more widely than it otherwise would be, and thereby doing the public a service.

    Supposedly, all of the information you require is provided to Parliament at least annually. There is a necessary trade-off between aggregating information for the sake of convenience and clarity and providing full disclosure. It was argued in the High Court that funding for these ads wasn’t adequately disclosed, and McHugh and Kirby agreed with that proposition, but oh well…

    Kenneth Davidson bangs on about this topic rather frequently.

    It’s really quite simple: a small government and an accountable government are at least partially opposed concepts. Which one do you want?

  24. November 2nd, 2005 at 13:58 | #24

    The stupidest thing about these adverts is that it’s not even a campaign. No member of the public will get to vote on this issue, and it’s not like they’re trying to convince the opposition since they have a senate majority anyway.

    The adverts wouldn’t have even existed if it wasn’t for the ACTU’s ridiculous scare campaign, but they still seem like a waste of time to me.

    Of course, no matter what sort of policy is being discussed, Labor can run their own propaganda campaigns using both the voice and cash flow of the relevant union to get the message across. So it’s no wonder the left is suddenly so concerned about government spending – such a change could only help Labor.

  25. November 2nd, 2005 at 14:11 | #25

    For some reason “RWDB” always reminds me of that penetrating lubricating oil you squirt into stuck old mechanisms to loosen them up.

  26. Hal9000
    November 2nd, 2005 at 15:04 | #26

    “Most of what government does is unproductive.”

    So which unproductive bits would you like to eliminate, Terje? Perhaps all the bits that guarantee property rights? Infrastructure? Defence? Health? Justice system? Or is it, as I suspect, just the bits that prevent the indigent from starving or allow people to consider having children without facing financial ruin? An essay question Terje: “why the Bush administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina shows how government can get right out of unproductive activity”. Would you happily sign up to Margaret Thatcher’s dictum ‘there’s no such thing as society”? http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/m/margaretth165648.html

    If so, why do you bother contributing to a social democratic website, except to be a nuisance?

  27. Terje
    November 2nd, 2005 at 15:24 | #27

    I must say that I first heard of the term RWDB also when SJ used it to describe Dogz. I presumed it was a term used to vilify.

  28. Dogz
    November 2nd, 2005 at 15:36 | #28


    It’s really quite simple: a small government and an accountable government are at least partially opposed concepts. Which one do you want?

    Both. I am sure the government would run more efficiently overall if it streamlined processes to expose its expenditure.

    If not, then I think next year I’ll tell the tax office that I can’t file a tax return because it’s too hard to find the information. I’ll leave the filing cabinet on the verandah and they can come dig for the information themselves.

  29. jquiggin
    November 2nd, 2005 at 16:02 | #29

    To clarify, this blog is an entirely private activity. My paid work is reported here with a prominent acknowledgement of public funding.

  30. November 2nd, 2005 at 16:12 | #30

    Most of the “productive” things governments do are only productive as compared with nothing at all. However the true alternative is what would be done to meet those needs instead. Simply abolishing those government services would be a bad idea as in the short term those alternatives would not be there; you would need a proper transition to get to them without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Nevertheless, history shows that nearly all those needs were indeed met in different ways in the past, and the need for government provision has actually been caused by various forms of government crowding out and ringbarking of the alternatives.

    That means there is no philosophical justification for government intervention in those areas, but rather that intervention indicates past government failure to meet the underlying need of maintaining a situation in which those alternatives can flourish. So now we face the practical problem of how to get there from here.

  31. rossco
    November 2nd, 2005 at 16:42 | #31

    Gee, I always thought RWDB was an aconym for Right Wing Dead Beat as most of the rabid right are!

  32. snuh
    November 2nd, 2005 at 17:25 | #32

    i never thought i’d say this, but yobbo makes an interesting point. the public has basically no say on workchoices [cf GST and medicare safety net advertising, both of which occured in the lead up to elections], so convincing them can’t be the point. the only plausible rationale i can think of is that they’re spending $40million to convince barnaby joyce.

    can’t they just give him the $40million and be done with it? at least then i wouldn’t have to watch any more of these goddamn ads.

  33. stephen bartos
    November 2nd, 2005 at 17:32 | #33

    A very useful source of information is the Senate Finance and Public Administration references committee inquiry into government advertising (see http://www.aph.gov.au/senate/committee/fapa_ctte/govtadvertising/index.htm) ; make up your own mind about the various submissions, which include my own, and a peculiarly rabid supplementary submission from the Minister concerned.

    In terms of justified advertising, there is a lot of it – not just defence recruitment, but others such as health promotion (immunisation is contested by some but most public health advertising is fairly non controversial), electoral matters (enrolment, location of polling places). In most years the single biggest item is defence recruitment, but in some partisan political campaigns outweigh defence (GST, and now IR legislation). There are two main issues of concern – the content of the political ads cited, which are designed to influence opinion before legislation goes to the Senate, and the pattern of government advertising being ramped up in the period before an election is called – a pattern observed under both Labor and Coalition governments.

  34. Katz
    November 2nd, 2005 at 17:47 | #34

    Yobbo’s point about the irrelevance of this spending is correct, as far as it goes.

    The major function of the ad campaign is to establish an aura of normality around what will quickly come to be perceived by many as a revolutionary change in Industrial Relations and in the balance of power in workplaces.

    The campaign aims to manufacture consent in favour of this new IR regime. The campaign seeks to forestall and to delegitimise criticism and dissent.

    Thus, the campaign is not intended to enable the passage of the legislation, which is more or less inevitable. The campaign is early propaganda for the next federal election, which will be held after the consequences of the IR revolution will have begun to bite.

    Yobbo needs to broaden his timeframe of reference.

  35. Russell
    November 2nd, 2005 at 17:47 | #35

    A lot of the info mentioned above is fairly easily findable on the web – either in the annual report of the organisation, or in the budget papers.

    P.M. Lawrence writes: “history shows that nearly all those needs were indeed met in different ways in the past,” doesn’t seem that way if you read Dickens.

  36. J
    November 2nd, 2005 at 19:47 | #36


    You suggest that a teacher receives funding from the government of $80,000pa. This is rarely the case unless you start adding in some sort of indirect government support. In fact, teacher salaries are generally below $60,000pa before tax. It would only be fair to deduct tax before stating what annual income a teacher receives from government sources.

    Perhaps we should all carry around a little balance sheet setting out our contributions to and support from the government…

  37. Dogz
    November 2nd, 2005 at 20:00 | #37


    I was careful to say “$80,000 (including on-costs)”. I was assuming a $50,000-$60,000 base salary. On-costs include all the added costs of employing a teacher, eg workcover premiums, super, office space, coffee, admin overhead, yada yada. The education departments will have a formula, but I doubt it’s less than 1.5 X base salary.

    I like the idea of a balance sheet.

  38. Terje Petersen
    November 2nd, 2005 at 22:19 | #38

    I noticed in the paper today that the NSW government is running an advertising campaign critical of WorkChoices. Now we have an advertising war fully funded by the taxpayer. Hopefully we will all figure out what to think before this is over.

  39. J
    November 3rd, 2005 at 09:09 | #39

    Dogz, you’re right, you did include ‘on-costs’. My apologies for the oversight.

  40. November 3rd, 2005 at 09:30 | #40

    Dogz, I’m sure you meant the transparency to extend to the large corporations engaged in “public private partnerships” who currently hide behind “commercial in confidence”… didn’t you?

  41. wilful
    November 3rd, 2005 at 09:51 | #41

    Most of the “productive� things governments do are only productive as compared with nothing at all. However the true alternative is what would be done to meet those needs instead.

    An interesting claim. Care to provide examples?

    I note that the US government provides less services in many social areas, and has distinctly different outcomes to Australia in aeas such as healthcare and education. Is that the example you think we should follow?

    I guess you agree with Margaret Thatcher, there is no such thing as society.

  42. November 3rd, 2005 at 10:00 | #42

    “I note that the US government provides less services in many social areas, and has distinctly different outcomes to Australia in aeas such as healthcare and education.”

    Distinctly better, yes.

    “I guess you agree with Margaret Thatcher”

    Much more often than I agree with John Quiggin.

  43. Dogz
    November 3rd, 2005 at 10:29 | #43

    Helen – absolutely. I consider private rorting of taxpayer funds to be just as bad as public waste, in fact maybe worse – at least public waste is usually originally motivated by some notion of public benefit even if it doesn’t turn out that way.

  44. Dogz
    November 3rd, 2005 at 10:33 | #44

    Yobbo – much as I usually agree with you (I’d love to bang Katie Holmes too) – there’s no way US healthcare is better than Oz. At last count I think there were 45M uninsured Americans for whom the only access to healthcare is the hospital emergency room. If you’ve ever been in an inner-city US emergency room (I have), you’ll see it stacked to the eaves with black kids with minor ailments waiting hours to see overworked interns.

    The US health system is not one to emulate.

  45. Katz
    November 3rd, 2005 at 10:55 | #45

    Dogz and Yobbo stand eager to rectify infuriating inequalities exhibited in Hollywood’s gene pool.

    Perhaps offspring with their brains and Katie Holmes’s looks would be no scarier than the alternative outcome.

  46. wilful
    November 3rd, 2005 at 11:49 | #46

    US healthcare? Too easy!

  47. November 3rd, 2005 at 12:24 | #47

    Dogz: I think you would agree that Health care and Health insurance are two different things. The standard of care you get in the US is far superior to what you get anywhere else in the world – the fact that some people can’t afford (or choose not to pay for) insurance is not an indictment on that.

    The other problem of course is that mountains of malpractice suits have made health care and health insurance vastly more expensive than it should be – but again this isn’t really a problem of the health care system but of the court system.

    Government provided health care services (which is what wilful was talking about) like we have in Australia are vastly inferior to their private alternatives, which is why so many people choose to pay extra for private insurance.

    I’ve got no opposition to Medicare type insurance schemes to assist the poor, it’s actually letting the government run the hospitals and schools that is the problem. By all means give people money to use the services, but let private organisations actually provide them.

    We don’t let the government run car service garages or fish and chip shops, I don’t see anyone would think they would be any better at running hospitals or schools. This is why we now simply give people welfare money to buy food with instead of providing soup kitchens.

  48. Dogz
    November 3rd, 2005 at 12:45 | #48


    I lived in the US for several years and I didn’t find the general level of private care to be that much better than available in Oz under the public system. Just my personal experience.

    The motivation for privatization of any industry is usually that market forces ensure improved service. The problem with health care is that the market forces break down in several respects.

    First, there’s the doctors “unions” (the specialist guilds). The guilds decide who becomes a specialist in their area (that’s how it is here or in the US (or UK – so lets say at least anywhere in the anglosphere)). So guess what? They ensure the supply of specialists is always tight to keep prices high. The AMA and its associated guilds are the biggest closed shop in the country.

    Second, there’s no limit to what people are willing to spend on their own health. You’ll mortgage your house and work three jobs to save the life of your own child. That means companies that develop new drugs and treatments under patent have almost zero downward pricing pressure (depending on the area).

    Third, the medical insurance companies have no incentive to keep health costs down because they just pass the increases onto the consumer, which in the US is your employer.

    Both two and three are somewhat alleviated by having a public system: the government negotiates as a bloc with the US drug companies and wrings out massive concessions for the PBS scheme (remarkably, medicaid in the US (public health care for the destitute – nothing like medicare here) is forbidden _by legislation_ from negotiating a bloc discount on drugs – which is why so many americans buy their drugs from canada over the internet); and with the government picking up the tab for a big chunk of the healthcare it can keep a better lid on costs.

    I’m not saying its the best system or that you can’t devise a better private system, I just think there are good reasons to think that “purely private is better” doesn’t necessarily hold when it comes to healthcare.

  49. Diggingest Dogs
    November 3rd, 2005 at 12:47 | #49


  50. Diggingest Dogs
    November 3rd, 2005 at 12:51 | #50

    well – looks like “Dogz” is being moderated. I had a nice long piece extolling the virtues of public health disappear into JQ’s bitbucket.

    _dissent_ …. _will_ … _not_ …. _be_ … _tolerated_


  51. November 3rd, 2005 at 13:17 | #51

    Russell and Wilful, I didn’t say that those things were provided in non-governmental ways in all the past. Disraeli wrote “Sybil” at about the same period that Dickens described, and in that he suggests that much of the shortfall in that sort of service provision dates back to the Dissolution of the Monasteries – which, of course, was an analogue of privatisation that removed the services that monasteries formerly provided. It was done at the hands of the state, just like privatisation.

    You can see how some of these things worked out in the generation that followed. In the short term England didn’t suffer from the lack of education provision since there was still a stock of educated people around. For instance Sir Thomas More got his education in the household of a Catholic bishop.

    But a generation later the shortage showed up, and various charities were formed to fund grammar schools. At the state level, the Elizabethan Poor Law had to be brought in to ameliorate the condition of England’s poor – the people who were displaced directly or indirectly by land being turned over to more directly commercial uses like sheep walks. (Of course, Utopia shows that this process was under way before the Dissolution of the Monasteries, but that privatisation massively increased general distress as it widened the conversion of land to more directly commercial uses.)

    You can see from this that education was adequately provided for the needs of the time by non-state means, even after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, once the need was fully recognised. And even the Elizabethan Poor Law was implemented with high subsidiarity, at parish level. Once you get to Dickensian conditions you see a further shortfall – but that too arose from further encroachment on individually accessible resources.

  52. StephenL
    November 3rd, 2005 at 14:06 | #52

    Do tell, PM Lawrence, what wonderful private services there were preventing cholera until the government stepped in to provide a sewage system.

    True its a pretty easy example, and there are cases where alternatives probably did do a better job than the government. Trying to prove which side has the majority is hard.

    However, the US health system is the perfect demonstration of the problem. You can rave all you like about the quality of care in the best US hospitals, but this is irrelevant – they may be good, but they are so expensive that not only can the general population not afford them, but no nation on Earth could afford to subsidise to the point where everyone has access.

    Assuming you measure the quality of a healthcare system though factors such as life-expectancy, infant mortality etc vs expenditure public wins by a mile. Of course if you think the test of a good healthcare system is one where a few people get truly magnificent coverage and the majority are left to die…

  53. Terje
    November 3rd, 2005 at 14:09 | #53

    QUOTE: I note that the US government provides less services in many social areas, and has distinctly different outcomes to Australia in aeas such as healthcare and education.

    RESPONSE: However US spending on the military ensures that their tax burden is about the same as ours.

    QUOTE: I guess you agree with Margaret Thatcher, there is no such thing as society.

    RESPONSE: Ever read that quote in context? Nobody ever quotes the following part in which she said “It’s our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbour.”


    John F. Kennedy said much the same thing but more eloqently: “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you: Ask what you can do for your country.”

  54. November 3rd, 2005 at 14:33 | #54

    A:) You seem to be under the impression that it somehow costs a private organisation more to run a hospital than it does a government organisation. What leads to this irrational belief?

    B:) Again, the cost of Healthcare in the US is a result of the cost of malpractice insurance and the cost of pharmaceuticals. It’s not (as many lefties seem to believe) that private companies are charging 7000% profits on providing medical services.

    C:) The majority of the general public in the US have their health insurance through their employer, and if this is the case then the rates are quite comparable to the costs of private health insurance in Australia. “The majority left to die” is so far from the truth it’s not even funny. Since the US has a very low unemployment rate this means the poor are actually not the worst affected.

    The people who get hit the hardest are the retired and the self-employed, who usually tend to forgoe insurance because of the cost and get hit hard if they develop chronic conditions where ongoing treatment can become very expensive.

    Of course this is somewhat offset by the fact that they pay an average of 15% less tax than what we do in Australia, which in the majority of cases is more than enough to cover the cost of health insurance.

    D:) Life expectancy is not as good a measure of a health system as you’d like to believe. There are many other factors involved such as diet (I think I remember reading somewhere that Americans have bad diets), exercise (ditto) and demographics. It’s no coincidence that 4 of the top 10 countries for life expectancy have fairly homogenous east-asian populations, and all of those with high populations with African descent have relatively low life expectancies.

    As far as some people would like to tell you that race is a social construct, some ethnic groups are more susceptible to congenital conditions and inherited health problems that negatively affect life expectancy. It should come as no surprise that countries with a relatively homogenous white european population have higher life expectancies than the US which has significant african-american and hispanic minorities (about 13% each of the population).

    That said, life expectancy in the US (77) is only slightly lower than Germany and the UK(78) (whose health systems are significantly more socialist than Australia’s) and higher than Denmark’s (which is too).

    Australia’s health system is much more private than any european system and we have the highest life expectancy of any country with a non-east asian majority. I guess this means that more private = better? Or not?

  55. Dogz
    November 3rd, 2005 at 15:11 | #55


    A:) Private hospitals are run for profit. The users of those hospitals have to pay the profits. Public hospitals are not run for profit per se. All other things being equal, the private hospital will cost more (of course all other things are not equal, but it’s a complex mess isolating where the inequalities are between private and public healthcare – see my previous comment).

    B:) The contribution of malpractice insurance to healthcare in the US is a convenient myth the US insurers are happy to continue to promulgate. The insurers make a percentage profit on top of premiums – their incentive is for costs and hence premiums to go up, not down. But they don’t want Joe Public to blame them so they stick it to the trial lawyers.

    In fact, what jacks up the cost of hospital care in the US is partly the emergency room patients. They (by law) cannot be turned away, hence the hospitals are providing (very) expensive treatment for the uninsured in their emergency rooms. The hospitals make that up by charging the insured patients a lot more.

    C:) Private rates through employers are comparable to private rates in Oz, if you can negotiate a group rate. But if you are self-employed or your employer has less than 20 employees, insurers can refuse to ensure preexisting conditions of the employees, and they do. I know people who are running their own companies who have children with preexisting conditions that they simply cannot get insurance for. Doesn’t matter how much they’re willing to pay: their children are _uninsurable_. And that’s legal. In my book that’s also disgusting.

    The 15% tax break only works if you ignore social security tax (15c in every dollar you earn up to around US$80,000 pa – employer pays half and employee pays the other half), and local tax (property taxes are way higher because they fund the schools). Otherwise, if you have kids, you are worse off after tax in the US compared to Oz if you earn less $100,000 or so. If you live in a high taxing state (eg California), you can be worse regardless of income. Now most stuff is a lot cheaper over there, so a straight dollar for dollar comparison doesn’t tell the whole story, but as far as tax goes, the US is no haven.

  56. davey
    November 3rd, 2005 at 15:13 | #56

    Australia’s health system is much more private than any european system and we have the highest life expectancy of any country with a non-east asian majority. I guess this means that more private = better? Or not?

    But then again you could argue that Australians’ higher life expectancy is a result of a policy of public health provision over the past helf-century – since it’s only been compulsory for Australians over 30 to have private health insurance for a few years now, isn’t it a bit of a long stretch to say we have a higher life expectancy because of that? Surely the opposite could also be argued?

  57. jquiggin
    November 3rd, 2005 at 16:19 | #57

    “well – looks like “Dogzâ€? is being moderated. I had a nice long piece extolling the virtues of public health disappear into JQ’s bitbucket.”

    Dogz, this is getting tiresome – you’ve made a string of complaints of unfair treatment that reflect your own ignorance rather than having any actual basis. As you would know if you’d been around a bit longer, lots of comments are auto-moderated by the antispam software. They get put up when I get around to checking the moderation queue, as yours was.

    If you don’t like the way I run this blog, feel free to go elsewhere. Otherwise, please stop with the ad hominem attacks, and focus on the issues.

  58. Dogz
    November 3rd, 2005 at 17:28 | #58

    Some “string of complaints”. The one above – which is hardly a big deal given that yobbo got moderated at the same time so it looked awfully like human intervention, and a misinterpretation of “RWDB” from SJ who called me “stupid” in the same breath. I would note that your use of RWDB against me was accompanied by a sarcastic ad hominem attack, so on the evidence my inference that it is a perjorative term was quite reasonable (a conclusion reached by at least one other commenter not “in the know”).

    Lighten up JQ.

  59. Terje Petersen
    November 3rd, 2005 at 20:52 | #59

    QUOTE: Private hospitals are run for profit. The users of those hospitals have to pay the profits.

    RESPONSE: Historically this is not entirely true. A lot of hospitals in the days before the state got big were non-profit community enterprises. For example the first hospital in Alice Springs was built by the community, for the community and it did not make profits (or receive public funding).

    Everybody say “CIVIL SOCIETY”.

  60. Terje Petersen
    November 3rd, 2005 at 20:54 | #60


  61. November 3rd, 2005 at 22:14 | #61

    oh dogz.
    daddy q only deletes things that have cussing and advertising, he gave me a lecture on it. 🙂 LJ likes cussing and advertising, though. come over to the darkside.

  62. Katz
    November 4th, 2005 at 07:26 | #62

    In relation to the IR legislation, the Counter Terror legislation is a straw in the wind.

    The Coalition Backbench Counter Terrorism Committee galvanised themselves to spike the Rodent’s cannons on some of the more dangerous elements of the CT Bill. I see no reason to doubt that they did this for reasons of principle.

    Now it’s time for the Coalition Backbench to begin acting out of self-interest. They deserve a bit of latitude. Perhaps some of the Coalition backbenchers who represent marginal electorates have begun to realise that the IR legislation is for them a short cut to superannuation-free political oblivion. Many voters in their electorates might be inclined to forgive these members any disloyalty they might display to the Rodent by opposing politically unpopular aspects of this IR legislation.

  63. November 4th, 2005 at 13:42 | #63

    It’s of questionable validity to take the absence of adequate healthcare availability before the state provided it, as evidence that the free market couldn’t do it. Capitalism has been massively statist since its beginnings, with the enclosures, laws of settlement, combination laws, and state-enforced special privileges for owners of land and capital.

    But even under those circumstances, with labor being robbed of most of its product, workers managed to create sick benefit societies and other cooperative forms of mutual aid for themselves, as described by Kropotkin, Colin Ward, etc. Imagine what they could have done in a free market where the state didn’t intervene on behalf of landlords and usurers, and they had their full labor-product to dispose of.

  64. November 4th, 2005 at 14:10 | #64

    “DogZ”? “Katz”? Oh, I get it. Therefore something like MouseZ… MiceZ… Aha! Mises!

    StephenL, I can see how this is going. You are presenting areas where you don’t actually know the alternative but you do know what the state did, then if I don’t answer you will decide in favour of the state rather than admit that the point is undetermined. Please do not try to throw the onus of the matter on me, since that simply means that governments are assumed right if not definitely wrong – it’s a false dichotomy, ignoring other alternatives, discounting the possibility of not settling a point, and discouraging enquiry.

    As it happens, I do know a lot about the alternatives in the matter of cholera:-

    – Cholera is a non-problem outside the tropics and population aggregations. The lack of not providing something that was not necessary does not show a private failure.

    – Cholera is an endemic problem in the tropics. But government intervention there isn’t much help anyway. In Nigeria we did not have proper sewage but a septic tank, and although we had tap water we boiled it faithfully anyway.

    – In most of history, population aggregations were caused by state activity, like the great cities of China. One case of poetic justice was when one of Rajah Brooke’s largest tax gathering expeditions against rebels (i.e. non-taxpayers) fell prey to cholera (it was mostly a levy of tribesmen in canoes).

    – Even when sewage is addressed collectively, it need not be handled by the state but at a lower level. See the old LCC boundaries, and in particular its anomalies; one detached part included sewage works, and another was related to the public transport system. Of course, one can take municipal enterprises a step further and not lump all municipal arrangements under one municipal head.

    – Finally, the private alternative to government sewage treatment is to enter the disease cycle at a different point, purifying your own consumption water rather than targetting waste water – as we did in Nigeria. The true cost benefit analysis is not the cost of private purification versus “free”, but as against the hidden cost of government services.

    You may note, post hoc ergo propter hoc, that London’s sewage was reformed under Bazalgette in response to the cholera problem etc. However the turning point was recognising the nature of the problem; the immediately preceding crisis wasn’t cause by private failure but by general ignorance, including public service ignorance.

    In fact the state actually hindered the work of the doctor who – individually – took up the task of tracking the epidemic to its source, polluted water. Government activity hindered his efforts to stop polluted water getting out.

  65. jquiggin
    November 4th, 2005 at 16:26 | #65

    It seems to me reasonable to take the poor performance of the US on healthcare as evidence that movement towards more reliance on private insurance and less public provision is not going to produce good outcomes. This, rather than the hypothetical performance of a pure free market, is the relevant comparison.

  66. November 5th, 2005 at 17:42 | #66

    JQ, that reply of yours at no. 65 is not the relevant comparison. To suppose it is is to repeat the mistake of the man who, when strucggling with alligators, forgot that the reason he was there in the first place was to drain the swamp.

    Remember that I started this train of thought by distinguishing between the lack of philosophical justification for most government services on the one hand, and on the other hand the practical problem of getting to the idealised situation from here. So it is no criticism to point out that the comparison is with a hypothetical ideal; the point of raising the matter was to make it real.

    Furthermore, the palliatives you suggest, government provision of service rather than a shortfall of necessities, have a deeper practical problem; they aggravate the difficulty of getting out of the underlying mess incrementally, tha is, one individual at a time. Once in place these measures not only place more burdens on individuals, they raise the transitional barrier since simply cutting services makes a greater shortfall.

    So while your criticism has all the soothing air of reasonableness, it in fact fails to address the issue of solving rather than palliating and actually prevents us from addressing that, all the while incrementally making the task of cure harder.

  67. November 8th, 2005 at 04:54 | #67

    So, John, your approach is to take as a given the concentration of power in a small number of interlinked state and corporate bureaucracies, and the control of health and other services by a small professional elite, and then determine the most humane way of providing such services to the corporate serfs.

    Well, we’ve certainly narrowed the debate to manageable terms, haven’t we?


    Seems to me the centralization costs of disposing of waste “downstream,” and organizing water distribution through a large-scale system, is a problem of bad design in the first place. Dealing with such issues at the point of production or consumption (as you mention) might make more sense in many cases. Certainly composting of wastes on-site, and recycling them through sustainable agriculture practices, seems much more efficient. Likewise the use of cisterns and other rain-traps for irrigation water, and the on-site treatment of drinking water.

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