Home > Oz Politics > Let’s hear it for Barnaby

Let’s hear it for Barnaby

November 25th, 2005

My column in yesterday’s Fin was about the desirability of more independence and less party discipline. It’s over the fold

Some weeks after the 2004 election, Australian voters found, to their apparent surprise, that they had handed control of the Senate to the Howard government. The crucial result was in Queensland, where Barnaby Joyce scraped in to win the fourth seat for the National Party. In one of the great ironies of politics, though, Joyce has turned out to be the only member of either major party whose vote cannot be directed in any way desired by the party whips.

The rigidity of party discipline in Australia is almost unique in the democratic world. The Blair Labour government in the United Kingdom has been forced to redraft its anti-terrorism legislation after it lost a crucial vote when Labour members crossed the floor. In the United States, although partisanship has been increasing, Republicans and Democrats routinely vote against the party line.

Historically, we owe this to the Labor party. In its early days as a third party, it exacted measures in the interests of the working class by swinging its support between the dominant free trade and protectionist parties. This strategy could work effectively only if Labor members followed the party line, regardless of their own views on the issues in question.

When Labor became one of the two dominant parties, the tradition of Caucus solidarity continued, reinforced by the bitter experience of desertions and splits.

The Split of the 1950s added another wrinkle, as the rival groups within the party formed organised factions, which imposed their own solidarity rules. These factions still survive, though the ideological divisions between them have mostly disappeared. They are now little more than cliques, with subfactions named for the leaders who command their votes.

When the Liberal party was formed under Sir Robert Menzies, it was a point of pride to say, that, unlike the Labor party, dictated to by “36 faceless men� in the party conference, Liberal MPs were free to make up their own minds and follow their own consciences. They did not do so very often, but the distinction was a real one as late as the 1980s. Philip Ruddock crossed the floor on immigration, and Robert Hill went against the party line ten times.

The Liberals have now adopted Labor’s view on solidarity. The crucial event was the successful preselection campaign against Ian McPhee, the most articulate dissenter within the party (though not a particularly frequent floor-crosser). Others have learned the lesson.

Political commentators in the mass media have aided and abetted the entire process. Even critical discussion of party policy by backbenchers, a normal part of the political process a couple of decades ago, is now regarded as evidence of a fatal loss of control by the leadership, or dismissed as the activity of ‘loose cannons’. The cliché ‘disunity is death’ is treated as if it were a statement of the obvious, but it would be far more accurate to say ‘disunity in life’. Politics is about disagreement and debate, and there can be no real debate when participants on both sides are required to stay ‘on message’ at all times.

Rigid party discipline might have made sense in the past, when the two parties viewed themselves as representing radically different interests and values: workers against bosses, socialism against the free market, and so on. But nowadays, the disagreements are, in most cases, manufactured, and party policies are changed routinely at the whim of the leadership. The measures to which MPs are expected to give their loyal support often contradict the platform on which they were elected.

The House of Representatives has long since ceased to play any useful role in the process of debating and formulating public policy. At best Question Time serves as a gladiatorial forum in which the Opposition can, if it is lucky, score some points against the government, marked by the judges in the press gallery, and watched, in brief snippets, by the TV news audience.

Until July 1, the Senate played a balancing role, and Senate committees provided scrutiny of government legislation, often leading to significant improvements. Now, unless some other Coalition Senators decide to start earning their salaries, the entire burden rests on the shoulders of Barnaby Joyce, apparently the only member of the government who regards Menzies as more than a name for ritual invocation.

The problem isn’t just on the government side. Labor should take advantage of its enforced trip to the sidelines and scrap the factional system once and for all, as a first step towards getting rid of Caucus solidarity.

Rigid party discipline may have been a good idea a century ago, but today it does nothing but harm to Australian democracy.

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  1. wilful
    November 25th, 2005 at 08:40 | #1

    Picked up by Crikey.

    Most interesting that the Queensland Nationals are apparently in full agreement with the ALP about the IR laws.

    It annoys me how poor the media is in explaining why Joyce actually owes Howard nothing and he has nothing to be loyal to except for his electors and his party, a very different thing from the Canberra coalition.

  2. November 25th, 2005 at 08:52 | #2

    Pr Q welcomes the advent of Liberal party fragmentation. There has been a bit of it about in the past generation, typically associated with strong-willed independent minded factional personalities. I know that Pr Q liked Don Chip’s Democrats. Does that mean that he also applauds Pauline Hanson’s One Nation?

  3. Chris
    November 25th, 2005 at 09:14 | #3

    Consider, though, the effect of senatorial independence in America, where the party system is comparatively weak, candidates raise their own election funds, and cross-party votes are the norm; the effect is to make every senator worth bribing individually, leading to a precipitous decline in standards. In Australia you have to buy an entire party or nothing, which at least provides a minimum cutoff.

    The deeper problem is that Australian public political theory — the ideals that politiicans appeal to when talking to the public – hasn’t moved beyond 1760. We haven’t really accepted the full implications of the party system.

    Australians are encouraged to think that MPs vote their consciences, which by a happy coincidence agree with the party line; any MP saying “I don’t believe in this motion, but I’m going to vote for it anyway’ is doomed.
    And I don’t believe any political system can operate on the basis that everybody in the house follows their conscience at every point without tradeoffs – “You vote for mine and I’ll vote for yours” – that are under that public theory immoral.

    In theory, wider debate and more independence in votes aren’t necessarily connected – that was what cabinet secrecy and cabinet solidarity were supposed to ensure.

    However, wider _public_ debate is virtually impossible under this theory because it necessarily involves some people — those on the losing side – having to vote in the House against the position they put earlier in the party room, and thus being reproached for toadying, hypocrisy, cowardice, etc.

  4. Katz
    November 25th, 2005 at 09:42 | #4

    Don’t hold your breath in expectation of Barnaby becoming the harbinger of a “Brisbane Spring”.

    The IR reforms are unique in that they represent a conjunction between:

    1. the Rodent’s 30-year wet dream to undo the misdeeds of the Founding Fathers when they included the IR power in the Federal Constitution

    2. a seldom-to-be-repeated absolute majority for one of the governing party in the Senate

    3. the end of Howard’s political career, when he can take revenge with impunity on his political enemies inside his own party. The Rodent can say: “I’ve done it all. Apres moi, le deluge.”

    Once this moment passes, Australia will return to politics as usual, dominated by political apparatchiks, election campaigns funded almost exclusively out of Central Office.

    Any splittists, like Chipp, McManus, Gair, St John, etc. etc., shamble off into oblivion.

    Only the Greens represent an opportunity to form a permanent political and electoral presence outside the traditional Australian two-party system.

  5. Chris
    November 25th, 2005 at 09:45 | #5

    And another thing…
    As I remember my Bagehot, the primary function of the House isn’t to set policy, it’s to serve as an electoral college for the executive – like the American electoral college, except that they’re allowed to change their minds between elections. Though if we haven’t caught up with the 1760s I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that we haven’t caught up with the 1860s.

  6. Vee
    November 25th, 2005 at 10:25 | #6

    Is this a repeat column, I’ve seemed to have read it word for word before and I don’t mean in yesterday’s crikey?

  7. November 25th, 2005 at 10:51 | #7

    Unfortunately the Greens are raving lunatics.

  8. November 25th, 2005 at 14:25 | #8

    I hope against hope that Barnaby might have some kind of impact on the IR laws as they are currently drafted. It’ll be some small compensation for the shafting my daughter and I will get (as women wanting some control over our reproductive lives, that is) when the anti-choicers want their way – Barnaby will be no defence against that.

    My enemy’s enemy is not necessarily my friend.

  9. steve
    November 25th, 2005 at 14:37 | #9

    Yesterday we saw the spectacle of the Queensland Parliamentary Nationals voting with Labor and the independents against the 7 Libs on IR reforms.

    Later the Liberals voted with labor and the Independents against the Nationals on another issue.

    All this against an allegation of bribery which spilt over when the Nats who have already preselected the former the former General Manager of the Gympie Times to run for them tried to tip a bucket on the present Independent member for Gympie and it backfired on them badly.

    This week has not been a good one for the conservative forces in Queensland. If they can’t get Barnaby to make a stand and vote down the Industrial Relations legislation after all the huffing and puffing before the Telstra Sell-out, then they are a split and damaged force with little more than corruption allegations left.

  10. Terje
    November 25th, 2005 at 15:08 | #10

    I liked Johns article although I sence that his wish for some division amoungst the Liberals/Nationals is not just a desire for a better democracy. I think he might like them to lose power due to disunity.

    Barnaby seems to be a bit of a nut. He wants secret ballots in parliament for goodness sake. I can’t see that being good for representative democracy.

  11. Steve Munn
    November 25th, 2005 at 19:01 | #11

    While I enjoy seeing Barnaby creating a headache for Howard, I think party solidarity is ultimately best. American democracy is weakened by the extent to which parliamentarians are held captive by special interest groups and campaign funders. I would hate to see groups like Big Pharma and Big Tobacco buying votes as they do in the USA.

  12. James Farrell
    November 25th, 2005 at 20:16 | #12

    The point that the media abet in enforcing ‘party discipline’ is well made. This is connected with the fact that political correspondents in the last decade or two have adopted the mentality of sport commentators. Whereas once their job was to make politicians accountable to the public, now they seem to think they should make them accountable to their party organisations. Instead of ‘who will benefit by selling Telstra?’, their instinct is to ask ‘What are you going to do about Barnaby Joyce?’ or ‘How do you expect to win the next election if you can’t stop your ministers from leaking to the press?’.

  13. Jill Rush
    November 25th, 2005 at 20:25 | #13

    Barnaby Joyce may be a newcomer but he realises that his hold on the senate will be bound to electoral popularity. There are many Liberals who take their positions for granted. However the workplace revolution will rob women of tiem if nothing else.

    Women in general have enough to do an don’t have as much time to devote to getting a great employment contract, often lack skills and have issues with childc are and time with their family. Under the Liberals the Red Tape stragulation of many aspects of life has been immense. The SerfChoices legislation will add complexity and unfairness to the lives of women.

    There is no doubt that wise politicians will sense that women who have sacrificed a lot to improve their status and pay in the workforce don’t appreciate life being made harder. Not everyone wants to run their life like a business or like a lawyer.

    Mr Howard has always had a strong following among women. If they desert him for making their life harder it will result in less and less discipline and more back bencher comment. as politicians fight to keep thier seats. The electorate has shown many times that they like an independent thinker.

    The SerfChoices legislation has many hidden costs and affects almost everyone. The choices on offer strip workers of choices. For instance why do we have to take AWAs when the Certified Agreements are fairer in a social sense. For instance if team work achieves a goal why would everyone be paid differently depending on their individual agreement. Women fought for many years to break down this intrinsically unfair system.

    It is a revolution which takes away processes provided in the Constitution and supported by many years of fair bargaining. It will be a brave senator who is prepared to play lightly with the livelihood of constituents – especially when housing costs are so great , privatised utiities charge such high fees, with child care and education so high.

    Senators do need top earn their money as a State representative, and not take the dough to vote unthinkingly and unerringly along party lines.

  14. Katz
    November 26th, 2005 at 08:45 | #14

    While “serfchoices” packs an emotional wallop, the term does violence to the condition of serfdom and the condtion of labour under Howard’s proposed IR revolution.

    Serfs were tied to the land, trapped in a web of law and customary obligations. Masters strove hard to prevent their serfs from running away. Vagabondage laws punished masterless men and harried them back to their communities (and their masters).

    Howard’s wage earners are to be employed only at the convenience of their employers. The ideal is that the empoyers can chase their workers away whenever they are not required. Howard’s IR laws aim to maximise the incidence of vagabondage.

  15. November 26th, 2005 at 11:10 | #15

    Katz: And the problem is……..?

  16. November 26th, 2005 at 11:58 | #16

    steve at the pub Says: November 26th, 2005 at 11:10 am “”Katz: And the problem is……..?”

    I was going to answer with the missing word “Katz” but there are 8 dots.

  17. November 26th, 2005 at 14:51 | #17

    Not quite, Katz. The condition of being a vagabond itself was the main deterrent to runaways (since there were few non-serf opportunities). In England at least, a serf automatically became free after a year and a day (I believe there was a similar provision in Russia but with a much longer period). Laws relating to vagabonds – sturdy beggars and the like – added to that, but were not aimed at driving them back so much as keeping them from forming any groups that might threaten the peace, groups large enough to strike out on their own as bandits. “Hark, hark, the dogs do bark, the beggars are coming to town”.

  18. November 26th, 2005 at 17:46 | #18

    Helen, you still have control over your reproductive rights, so long as it is consentual. Not even Abbott wants to make sex illegal.

  19. Geoff R
    November 26th, 2005 at 19:34 | #19

    You focus only on dissidents to the left: wet Liberals and interventionist Nats, they are constrained by the party system. But so are many in the ALP, attempts to reform US labour laws to encourage unionisation have foundered on disinterest of many Dems, who are also tied to business financially (will this chnage with Bush encouraging a more partisan congress?).

  20. Jill Rush
    November 26th, 2005 at 20:50 | #20

    For women it will be SerfChoices. Bound to one place and with limited choices. Lots of hard work – sounds like the SerfChoices legislation is quite an appropriate description. The lack of rights in the legislation will result in fewer freedoms.

    Time is of the essence for a mother and there are few enough jobs for mothers now. This will drive down the wages of women whilst increasing the demands on time from the workplace. SerfChoices is as accurate a name as the WorkChoices label preferred by the government.

    Politicians will be increasingly aware of the anger at the dimution of rights experienced by the whole of the workforce. People have for many years relied on the union to get a fair wage with employers and set the benchmark for their pay. Even thoose on AWAs use the Enterprise Agreements as a starting point for negotiation.

    That’s why so many people are upset and could punish the Liberal members of Parliament – the legislation removes too many choices and steals people’s time.

  21. Tony Healy
    November 26th, 2005 at 22:34 | #21

    Actually I think that’s a very good point by Jill, and possibly one of the Achille’s heels of Howard’s plan.

    Howard and probably his entire entourage would have no understanding of the constraints on mothers’ time, and the consequences of lack of flexibility. For them it’s question of which restaurant they will dine at that night. For Mums it’s a question of getting to child care before the cut-off time.

  22. Katz
    November 28th, 2005 at 08:54 | #22

    No PML.

    If the condition of Vagabondage were so unappetising, then there would have been no need for laws to prevent it. Runaways would have seen the error of their ways and, chastened by the scathing experience of freedom, crawled back to the manor.

    Thus:

    1388 The Statute of Cambridge (“Poor Law”) concerning Labourers, Servants and Beggars strengthened the powers of the justices of the peace; distinguished between “sturdy beggars” capable of work and “impotent beggars” incapacitated by age or infirmity; forbade servants to move out of their “hundred” without legal authority; and made each “hundred” responsible for housing and keeping its own paupers, but made no special provision for maintaining the sick poor. This statute pointed the way to the Tudor Poor Laws, but for the next two centuries the aged and infirm depended upon charity for survival.

    1494 Vagabonds and Beggars Act. “Vagabonds, idle and suspected persons shall be set in the stocks for three days and three nights and have none other sustenance but bread and water and then shall be put out of Town. Every beggar suitable to work shall resort to the Hundred where he last dwelled, is best known, or was born and there remain upon the pain aforesaid�. Beggars who were too infirm to work were to remain in their Hundred and be permitted to beg.

    These laws are based on the proposition that the marginal labourer was of greater utility tied to his master and community than “free” to seek his own livelihood as he saw fit. In other words, the master was expected to say to his labourers, “You must work for me and for none other, whether you like it or not.”

    Howard’s IR laws are based on the opposite proposition. In other words, the employer is expected to say to her labourers, “If you don’t want to work for me under the condtions that I find acceptable, there’s the door.”

    As a non-economist, I’ve been impressed by discussion on this site about economic concepts. Discussions about “currency”, “commodity” and “precautionary principle” spring to mind.

    I didn’t mean to be pedantic about this question of serfdom, because serfdom has a fairly precise meaning. And the experience of serfdom was almost universal in Europe and most of Asia. And it is a practice which has only quite recently disappeared from the world.

    As a labour management (IR) device, serfdom is based on the supposition that there will be episodic need for labour that may outstrip its supply at various times of the year, and based on the supposition that the fixed capital costs of keeping surplus labour around at other times of the year will be tolerable.

    Howard’s IR reforms are based on the supposition that the costs of keeping surplus labour during troughs in the economic cycle will be intolerable for employers.

    This represents a long-term and enormous change in the relationship between the factors of production.

  23. gordon
    November 28th, 2005 at 11:24 | #23

    I can’t get as excited about a “Prague Spring” of dissent breaking out among the Liberals or the ALP as some others seem to do. To me, it’s theatre. The Rodent knows the IR reforms will trigger half-remembered dreams of freedom and self-respect. The strategy is to start with really Draconian stuff, then allow it to be watered down just a little so that people think “Wow, it’s good that the Liberals are so sensitive, or we would really be in trouble!”. Both Liberal and National reps. have successfully auditioned for speaking parts.

  24. November 28th, 2005 at 13:50 | #24

    Katz, you are pointing at the conditions after the Black Death had caused an increase in the ratio of cleared land to peasants. The manorial system had definitely broken down by the late 15th century, and everything was moving towards a cash economy.

    What’s more, the statutes were aimed more at mopping up the pool of retainers released from military needs after endemic war than runaway peasants – although motives were mixed, as so often.

  25. Katz
    November 28th, 2005 at 14:12 | #25

    PML, you’re right to hint that perceptions sometimes lag behind changing conditions. Indeed, the same may be said of the Rodent’s proposed IR changes.

    Thus, despite the fact that in England the manorial system was in what turned out to be terminal decline by the end of the 15th century, nevertheless the solution to a congeries of social and economic problems was found in a legal reinforcement of the decrepit manorial system, i.e., forced removal to the “hundred” where the offending vagabond was well known.

    The central point is that the English political nation at the end of the 15th century turned its back upon embracing social change, choosing rather to reinforce old forms.

    Their feudalist reflex may indeed have been a particularly egregious example of “false consciounsness”. Yet there it is — black letter law running counter to the dynamic of the market economy.

    Who is to say the the Rodent’s 19th-century punitive reflex, embodied in his IR reforms, is any less an egregious example of false consciousness in the light of the dynamic of post-industrial economy? Yet there it is — black letter law that bans a wide range of activity of voluntary associations such as union involvement, and a wide range of contractual arrangements such as patterned work agreements.

    Plus ca change, plus ca meme chose.

  26. Andrew Reynolds
    November 28th, 2005 at 15:03 | #26

    Katz,
    This does not represent “…a long-term and enormous change in the relationship between the factors of production.” This is simply a continuation of the process of deregulation that started under the Hawke Labor government. It is increasing (but IMHO not far enough) the freedom of contract between the suppliers of labour and the purchasers of labour.
    The discussion on mid to late medieval serfdom, while interesting, adds nothing the picture. In fact, to me at least, it tends to obscure it. None of the laws are even remotely close to the situation now. On the contrary, under the ‘unfair’ dismissal laws the workers say, to paraphrase you “you must employ me and none other, whether you like it or not.â€? This will always make employers reluctant to hire, increasing unemployment and the general cost of doing business, reducing overall welfare in the community.
    The proposed IR laws go a bit closer to, but do not reach, the ideal – “If you don’t want to work for me under the condtions that we agree on, there’s the door.â€? This is a simple modification of your proposition, the replacement of “I find acceptable” with “we agree on”. The difference is crucial.

  27. Katz
    November 28th, 2005 at 15:17 | #27

    AR,

    1. It appears we are in furious agreement about the difference between serfdom and the Rodent’s IR changes. I believe that my first post on this issue says exactly that. That’s why I reject the term “serfchoices”.

    2. That â€?…a long-term and enormous change in the relationship between the factors of production.â€? I allude to is between the manorial system and modern IR practices, not between Hawke and Howard, whose principles are, as you rightly say, rather more similar to each other.

    3. Again, on the question of “work under my conditions or there’s the door”, we are in complete agreement.

    The interesting perspectives are twofold:

    1. The changing relationship between factors of production over the last 12 centuries or so. As PML hints above, this began in England about 600 years ago, but only recently became universal.

    2. The disjuncture between the economic substructure and the political superstructure (to use some venerable but useful marxian concepts), mentioned in my previous post.

    Bottom line: I don’t like the term “serfchoices”.

  28. Andrew Reynolds
    November 28th, 2005 at 15:32 | #28

    Good to see we agree on somethings, Katz.
    I am interested in the second of your ‘perspectives’, though. I would disagree on the ‘black letter law’ points – the activities that are banned are the ones that the ‘voluntary’ unions typically use to force non-volutary behavior and that only with difficulty can be interpreted to incorporate voluntary actions.
    A 19th century punitive reflex would involve oppressing workers. Setting them free(r) from regulation and allowing them a true choice of whether or not to join a union is not a 19th century option.
    I oppose this bill for other reasons, but the reduction in regulation is a partially redeeming feature.

  29. Terje
    November 28th, 2005 at 16:07 | #29

    Lately I have asked everybody I meet what they think of the IR reforms. The general response is something like this:-

    “I don’t like these reforms however I support them in the areas of x, y and z”.

    In other words most people agree with several aspects of the reforms but not the overall package.

    Of course the people I meet may not be representative of the population at large, although I don’t think it is that far off.

  30. Katz
    November 28th, 2005 at 20:26 | #30

    AR, trade unions aren’t necessarily enforcers of non-voluntary behaviour of either members or non-members. Historically, and especially in Australia, that is how they evolved.

    But we’ve seen the tide of compulsory unionism recede powerfully in Australia without recourse to heavy-handed prosecution of unions. They’ve withered away. Their eclipse has occurred without violence and without confrontation and without the production of martyrs. I believe that there is a good chance that the Rodent’s reforms will stir things up considerably.

    As the libertarian that I take you to be, don’t you find it rather odd and insulting that in his IR changes the Rodent is telling employers and employees what must NOT appear in any agreement? Aren’t Australian workers and bosses grown up enough to come to their own decisions?

    What if unions evolve to take on the role of suppliers of contract labour negotiated on a corporation-to-corporation basis? One of the contractual conditions agreed to might by that for certain classes of work for a certain duration, this particular supplier of labour has exclusive rights to supply the labour, subject to certain performance criteria.

    These contracts are very common in business for the supply of goods and services and intellectual property.

    Why shouldn’t labour be organised and supplied in the same way? And why shouldn’t labour unions be permitted to perform this commercial function?

    Howard’s IR legislation would prohibit these practices, even though they are based on tried-and-true commercial principles.

  31. Andrew Reynolds
    November 28th, 2005 at 21:14 | #31

    Katz,
    For some reason the attempt to put an ‘r’ in brackets got changed into a registered trademark symbol in the comment. I said ‘freer’ for precisely that reason. This bill does improve matters, but it is not a full removal of regulation. A conservative will not remove regulation, they will just try to reduce what they perceive to be its worst effects. One of the features of the bill I like is the reduced regulation, but I did not say that the government had eliminated it.
    If unions acted as labour hire companies with contracts etc. I would have no objection. It should be easy for existing unions to get around the bill – the union could incorporate, issue shares to the members and then act as a contract hire company. I do not know if it would then still be a ‘union’ though.
    The feature I do not like, and why I oppose this bill overall, is the removal of competition between the IR systems in Australia for corporations. I think the ability to ‘regulation shop’ is a good one; exposing the systems to competition is a good way of improving regulation. Of course, removing regulation would be better still, but there is time to move further towards that in the future.

  32. Terje
    November 29th, 2005 at 10:37 | #32

    If the unions incorporated and became labour hire companies then things would get really interesting. I am pretty sure that the unions would not like doing this however. It would expose them to too many commercial realities.

  33. Katz
    November 29th, 2005 at 11:17 | #33

    “I am pretty sure that the unions would not like doing this however. It would expose them to too many commercial realities.”

    Perhaps you are right Terje. On the other hand, this model of labour organisation and supply was quite widespread during the 19th century. Unions proved themselves quite capable of these functions.

    Comparisons may be odious, but the question might be raised as to whether Australian union executives are any lazier than Australian companies’ Boards of Directors are complacent, insular, and lacking in entrepreneurialism on the one hand, (think of all the Australian companies that have been bought out and taken over); or dishonest, profligate, and lacking in due diligence on the other hand. (IXL, Qintex, Bond, Onetel, HIH, James Hardie, etc., etc.)

    Is there a nation with a less edifying recent (post 1980) corporate history than Australia’s?

  34. Terje
    November 29th, 2005 at 11:20 | #34

    Enron comes to mind. I am pretty sure that all nations have their white collar crooks and fraudsters. Just as all nations have government corruption and ineptitude. I think its in our geneome.

  35. Katz
    November 29th, 2005 at 11:35 | #35

    I imagine some sort of objective measure could be generated.

    1. An annual tally of the proportion of total corporate market value wound up due to foreign takeover.

    2. An annual tally of the proportion of total corporate market value wound up due to board malfeasance.

    I wonder whether sloth or greed would predominate.

    Yes, Enron was a stand-out corporate scandal. It is extraordinary that the SEC would allow “mark to market” accounting as a basis for financial reporting. Yet I’d guess that even Enron represented a smaller proportion of US corporate market value than HIH represented for Australia.

  36. November 29th, 2005 at 12:01 | #36

    Katz, you’re also overlooking that the late mediaeval statutes did not aim at forcing vagabonds back to serfdom, precisely. They were free to accept any of the wider range of non-serf work that was springing up by then.

    In a similar way, the last vestige of serf-like laws in western Europe weere Danish laws barring country people from moving into urban areas before the age of 40 – but not specifically redirecting them to specific tied serfdom so much as putting them in front of a limited range of choices so they had to commit to tenancy contracts that achieved the same effect. In poorer English hundreds, the clock was temporarily halted and a quasi-serf lifestyle was the only one possible; but (say) working as shepherds or charcoal burners became ever more practical cash employments too.

    The squeeze came from the reduction in ordinary peasant alternatives, since fewer people were in fact needed by the landlords. The social aim of the legislation was to stop the new underclass swelling to a dangerous point and make the hundreds keep them tied up – it wasn’t usually to provide serf labour, although it did promote keeping cash wages for the new roles lower than they would have been otherwise.

    In the real heyday of the manorial system, it interacted with the feudal system; people werew often glad to give up their independence for security, on the bad terms of village life on offer. That’s more a condemnation of the endemic raiding etc. of the Dark Ages than anything else. One Swiss monastery was raided by vikings, magyars and saracens within a single generation, I gather.

  37. Katz
    November 29th, 2005 at 13:18 | #37

    But PML, I recognise that these Vagabondage laws reflect the fact that the feudal system was under pressure in the first instance, and under severe pressure by the end of the 15th century.

    The “harrying” of vagabonds I refer to in my first reference to the feudal system was indeed to prevent disorder. Law makers didn’t care what the vagabonds did upon return to their hundreds. No doubt these law makers were motivated by fear, nostalgia, prejudice, intellectual laziness, and any number of other motives.

    One motive we can be certain they did not have was an adventurous embrace of the potential of the market economy and a desire to unlock the ingenuity and productivity of England’s labour force by instituting a free market in labour.

    The political classes in Tudor England didn’t like free markets of any kind. The trades were tightly regulated by craftsmen’s guilds. Commercial enterprises were protected by Letters Patent that conferred monopoly rights over a multitude of activities, including the performance of plays, as Shakespeare’s company of actors, and later theatre, exemplify.

    Legal banking and credit creation as legal activities were centuries away.

    Thus the political nation in Tudor times were subject to conservative impulses. Because the idea of “progress” had not been invented yet, they didn’t have to apologise for not being “modern”.

    Similarly, the Rodent’s IR changes are in fact deeply conservative in motivation, “fear, nostalgia, prejudice, intellectual laziness, and any number of other motives”.

    Another major difference between Tudor England and Rodent Australia is that in the interim the idea of “progress” has been invented. Changes cannot be justified to the popular mind unless they can be promoted as “modern”. And this is precisely what both the proponents and opponents of the IR bill have been claiming during the propaganda war. It has been a contest about who is more “modern”.

    And, of course, the concept of “progress” is one of the most potent sources of false consciousness.

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