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Monday message board

October 29th, 2007

It’s time, once again for the Monday Message Board. As usual, civilised discussion and absolutely no coarse language, please.

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  1. al loomis
    October 29th, 2007 at 10:02 | #1

    john garnaut in smh described an evaluation of china’s “village democracy” experiment in today’s smh:

    in spite of the dead hand of the party, with it’s culture of patronage and simple corruption, he reports strong evidence of improved management in those villages allowed to elect their officials. the people of these villages are well aware of their advantages and overwhelmingly in favor of continuing with democracy, and even extending it to county level.

    i watch these reports with the same sense of imminent doom that one feels as new-hatched turtles scamper to the sea, meeting rats, seagulls, and barracuda at every step, till they merge with the deep water.

    but a few of the turtles do survive, and democracy in china apparently is going to survive if not flourish. probably the democratic mammals will have to wait till the party dinosaurs meet an unfortunate occurrence.

    if only hope for democracy in oz was as well founded!

  2. Savvas Tzionis
    October 29th, 2007 at 10:31 | #2

    I get the feeling that I am seeing separate news stories not linked to each other, that show that the ALP is expected to get big swings (up to 10%) in seats they currently hold.

    I get this really bad feeling that the ALP may end up with as much as 53% of the vote….and STILL clearly lose the election. Simply because all the swings are in seats they already hold.

  3. gerard
    October 29th, 2007 at 11:27 | #3

    Al loomis, I couldn’t find that article on the smh website. Do you have a link?

    I really want to know more about these elections, like where exactly they are taking place. Judging from reports of political and economic conditions in rural China I would say that it would have to be quite a marginal and restricted process. And I’d say that they are having no impact whatsoever on urban China, most Chinese people I know don’t know anything about it.

    There are occasional district elections in the cities in China as well, but they involve pointlessly choosing from a ballot full of unknown names, with no information whatsoever regarding the difference between them (of course, those voting know that the results of the election have already been determined beforehand). Those who do participate usually just vote for whoever has the nicest name, as there is no other difference.

  4. gerard
    October 29th, 2007 at 11:30 | #4

    I did find this on the smh website however:

    Schwarzenegger says marijuana is not a drug


    Cool. He’s the GOP’s only hope.

  5. BilB
    October 29th, 2007 at 11:43 | #5

    I’m sure an aid will put him right on that one. and let’s face it, he is big enough and ugly enough to admit when he is wrong.

  6. al loomis
    October 29th, 2007 at 13:21 | #6

    sry, gerard, no link. i’m one of those transitional animals like lungfish, that actually buys newspapers.

    you’re quite right that these rural elections have no influence on contemporary china. they are not secret, but they are few and not publicized. still, the party sees danger if corruption is not contained and open government with some kind of accountability is the only answer.

    more important to ozzies is the result: elected officials perform better. why don’t we have that here? more precisely, why don’t we want better performance and accountability?

  7. Bill Pritchard
    October 29th, 2007 at 13:27 | #7

    During the weekend I was thinking about Costello’s “watch out for the China economic tsunami” comment. It’s a golden rule that treasurers should never talk down the economy, except when they want to use it to initiate a policy shift (Keating’s ‘banana republic’ comment comes to mind). It’s fair enough to question China’s growth credentials, but it strikes me that for a serving Treasurer to do so is highly irresponsible. (Could you imagine Costello saying something similar in the context of the 1997 Asian crisis – when an economic tsunami wasn’t a hypothetical?) So was this just an irrelevant bit of election talk (a bit like Fraser’s comment in 1983 that if Hawke was elected ‘your money would be better off under your bed’) or should Costello be pilloried for it? (The case being, if the international economy was so dodgy, why the hell would you give out $34 billion in tax cuts?)

  8. gerard
    October 29th, 2007 at 14:20 | #8

    “if the international economy was so dodgy, why the hell would you give out $34 billion in tax cuts?”

    Funny thing is that the tax cuts were based on government projections of continuing strong economic growth. Now he’s going off and saying the exact opposite. What a dumbass.

  9. observa
    October 30th, 2007 at 01:03 | #9

    That’s not a drug gerard. THIS is a drug!
    And as Bring Back LSD (or whatever) would say, there’s not mushroom for debate about it.

  10. rodney topor
    October 30th, 2007 at 08:55 | #10

    The government’s line that interest rates now are lower than they ever were under the previous labor governments and that they are less than half the maximum rate under the previous governments appears to be an effective one. But it ignores, of course, external factors that affect interest rates.

    Have any economists constructed graphs comparing Australian interest rates with international interest rates over the last few decades? Such graphs, if done meaningfully, might reveal how little effect Australian governments actually have on interest rates.

    I’m not an economist, but presumably exchange rates are affected by relative interest rates, so these should also be factored into the discussion.

  11. October 30th, 2007 at 09:07 | #11

    Further to my comment in September about Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctine”, the book is now in nearly every bookshop. It is paperback, has 558 pages in all and costs AU$32.95.

    I have only just started to read it, it seems every bit as good as it promised to be.

    Interesting that Friedman’s final major influence on public policy before he died was to exploit the calamity of Hurricane Katrina to privatise many of New Orleans’ public services including housing and schools. Before Katrina there were 123 public schools. After Katrina there were only 4. In the process, 4,700 public school teachers were fired and anly a few were rehired at reduced salaries(p5).

    If Friedman was supposed to have felt remorse towards the end of his life for his conduct in Chile after the 1973 coup, as Professor Quiggin wrote shortly after Friedman’s death, he didn’t show it then.

    Klein hits the nail on the head when she writes:

    The bottom line is that while Friedman’s economic model is capable of being partially imposed under democracy, authoritarain conditions are requred for the implementatin of its true vision.(p11)

    Even having read only this far, it seems impossible to exaggerate the unconscionable lengths to which neo-liberals are prepared to go in order to impose their polices.

  12. gordon
    October 30th, 2007 at 12:35 | #12

    We’ve seen it before, Daggett, or at least our parents have – in 1930s Europe.

  13. October 30th, 2007 at 14:03 | #13

    Thanks, Gordon. Glad that you also appreciate the seriousness of the situation

    Naomi Wolf (note: not Naomi Klein, referred to above) who was born of Holocaust survivors said that she had been told the by people who had lived through the 1930’s in Germany that much of what she had observed in the US in recent years had been observed in Germany back then. The same seems to me to be true of Australia.

    It amy not be too late to turn things around, but if Howard gets back in, I really fear for our future. Of course I still fear for our future even if Rudd wins, but, at least then we stand a fighting chance.

  14. Tom Davies
    October 30th, 2007 at 14:03 | #14

    James, I can’t vouch for the accuracy of this article, but it makes for interesting reading if you want to understand more about what happened to New Orleans schools. There are fewer children in private schools now than before Katrina: http://www.hoover.org/publications/ednext/3853057.html

  15. October 30th, 2007 at 15:10 | #15

    Thanks Tom Davies.

    I haven’t time to look into, but it appears to me to be an argument in favour of what was done in new Orleans by what seems to be a right-wing neo-liberal think tank, the Hoover Institute. From what I have read of Klein’s book so far, the article seems to state excactly what I would expect advocates for the “shock doctrine” to say:

    A student starting public school in New Orleans in the fall of 2005 had little reason to be hopeful about her education. Of her 65,000 schoolmates in the New Orleans Public Schools (NOPS), over half of those taking the state’s high-stakes tests (4th, 8th, 10th, and 11th graders) did not have “basic” competence in math and English; 68 of the 108 NOPS schools receiving performance labels had been rated “academically unacceptable” by the Louisiana Department of Education,…

    A student starting school in New Orleans in the fall of 2006, on the other hand, has some reason for optimism. …

    What happened? The short answer is Katrina, the category 3 hurricane that pounded southeast Louisiana the morning of August 29, 2005, and devastated New Orleans, including its schools. The longer answer is that the destruction, terrible as it was, may prove to be the salvation of a school district that had been drowning for years. Politicians, educators, and parents, long frustrated with the state of public education in New Orleans, suddenly had the opportunity, as the waters receded, to build, almost from scratch, a new school system.

    No actual evidence of the supposed benefits have been provided. The article states:

    It will be years before we know the outcome of this major renewal effort.

    In all likelihood, the ‘long frustrated’ ‘educators, and parents’, if not the politicians, who “suddenly had the opportunity, as the waters receded, to build, almost from scratch, a new school system” were largely inventions of the authors Kathryn G. Newmark and Veronique De Rugy.

    As Klein shows the people who seized the ‘opportunity’ to ‘rebuild’ the school system were, in fact, “right-wing think tanks who descended on the city after the storm” (p5):

    All that week the Louisiana State Legislature in Baton Rouge had been crawling with coroprate lobbyists helping to lock in those big opportunities: lower taxes, fewer regulations, cheaper workers and a “smaller, safer city” — which in practice meant plans to level public housing projects and replace them with condos. Hearing all the talk of “fresh starts” and “clean sheets” you could almost forget the toxic stew of rubble, chemical outflows and human remains just a few miles down the freeway.

    Over the shelter, Jamar (an African American) could think of nothing else. “I really don’t see it as cleaning up the city. What I see is a lot of people got killed uptown. People who shouldn’t have died.”

    He was speaking quietly, but an older man in line in front of us overheard and whipped around. “What is wrong with those people in Baton Rouge? This isn’t an oportunity. It’s a goddamned tragedy. Are they blind?”

    A mother with two kids chimed in. “No, they’re not blind, they’re evil. They see fine.”(p4)

  16. Ian Gould
    October 30th, 2007 at 17:26 | #16

    “but a few of the turtles do survive, and democracy in china apparently is going to survive if not flourish. probably the democratic mammals will have to wait till the party dinosaurs meet an unfortunate occurrence.”

    A lot of those dinosaurs actually realise that democracy of some sort is probably inevitable – they’re mostly concerned with preserving their own skins, fortunes and political careers through the transition.

    On a less venal note the twin spectres of the post-Soviet collapse and the Cultural Revolution continue to haunt the Chinese elite.

    The Chinese regard Singapore as their model for future democracy – a very limited version with an entrenched ruling party which nevertheless is much more liberal than China today.

    Informally, the democratic transitions in South Korea and (whisper it) Taiwan interest the Chinese because the former ruling parties (in a nominally different form in South Korea) survived the transition even though they ceded power to the Opposition.

  17. Ian Gould
    October 30th, 2007 at 17:37 | #17

    “There are fewer children in private schools now than before Katrina”

    A very superficial look at the article suggests that this is due to the fall in the overall population.

    Private school numbers dropped from 92 to 60 while the number of public schools (including charter schools ans state-run schools)dropped from 120+ t0 around 20.

  18. October 31st, 2007 at 00:53 | #18

    A friend just sent me this in an e-mail:

    Naomi Klein’s book is fantastic. Drop everything else. Read it.

    Of course, I concur.

  19. gerard
    October 31st, 2007 at 13:27 | #19

    The Chinese regard Singapore as their model for future democracy – a very limited version with an entrenched ruling party which nevertheless is much more liberal than China today.

    I’m sure that they are also quite aware that a model that has worked in one very tiny and very wealthy city-state can work in a sprawling empire of vastly disparate regions and a 1.3 billion population. Maybe it might work for local governments in cities such as Shanghai but on a national scale it’s hard to imagine.

  20. gerard
    October 31st, 2007 at 13:31 | #20

    jeez, I wrote ‘can’ when obviously I meant ‘can’t’. We desperately need an edit function around here!!

  21. Ian Gould
    October 31st, 2007 at 18:33 | #21

    Gerard, I’m not certain either. I’m just explaining the CCP’s long-term strategy.

  22. gerard
    October 31st, 2007 at 22:11 | #22

    Thought this article regarding China and democracy might be interesting.


    How bourses bring democracy to China

    …On the political side, the development of the stock market is bound to have an influence on political development in China. There is now a view that by participating in activities on the stock market, the masses are having a baptism in democracy. The stock market’s nature (excluding those illegal irregular activities) is essentially democratic, with every investor treated equally. Everyone holds his own views and makes his own decisions. And the movement of the market is decided by the majority, which a dissenting individual must accept. Furthermore, small shareholders can freely express their views in general meetings and cast votes.

    Indeed, the “training” in democracy that the massive number of Chinese stock investors are receiving could enhance the country’s possible democratization in future. While the Communist Party is unlikely to give up its rule in the foreseeable future in favor of a multi-party democracy, it has inevitably to develop democracy within the party…

  23. Ian Gould
    November 1st, 2007 at 04:48 | #23

    I think share markets may well help to make china more democratic but not for the reasons given: markets need accurate information top operate efficiently.

    China is going to find it increasingly difficult to treat economic data and the like as state secrets.

  24. gerard
    November 5th, 2007 at 10:35 | #24

    Just out of curiosity, do you have any source regarding the CCP’s view of singapore as a political model for the future? I can’t imagine anyone from the CCP leadership saying that the country should have a political system like Singapore’s

  25. Ian Gould
    November 5th, 2007 at 17:16 | #25

    They’ve got the Singaporean government designing entire cities for them; they’ve spoken about Temasek holdings and the other Singaporean government investment companies as the models for the various Chinese government-owned trading corporations such as CITIC.

    The political copying is something I base on personal conversations with Australian academics and
    a number of low-level party members.

  26. gerard
    November 5th, 2007 at 23:44 | #26

    Sure I can see why they’d be using Singapore as an economic model but I doubt that anybody in the CCP establishment would openly propose a long-term strategy of allowing Chinese opposition parties the right to organize and contest elections for control of the central government. It would be the end of their career if they did.

  27. xztheericzx
    November 6th, 2007 at 04:50 | #27

    i’m eric. joining a couple boards and looking
    forward to participating. hehe unless i get
    too distracted!


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