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April 17th, 2013

A new sandpit for long side discussions, idees fixes and so on.

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  1. TerjeP
    April 17th, 2013 at 16:27 | #1

    My comment on the bitcoin discussion is stuck in moderation.

  2. TerjeP
    April 17th, 2013 at 17:04 | #2

    So is the Australian carbon tax too high or is the European carbon market too flawed?


  3. April 17th, 2013 at 17:54 | #3

    TerjeP, given the best estimates of the damaged caused by the emission of CO2, Australia’s carbon price, and thus Europe’s, is too low. And with regards to the article you kindly provided a link to, on the purely financial side of things, if lowering the carbon price would cause an unwanted fall in revenue then not lowering the carbon price would be an option.

  4. April 17th, 2013 at 18:58 | #4

    On “Anthropomorphic Global Warming”, a great editorial from NZ:


    But I’m worried about the editor’s future, given it’s a Fairfax paper.

  5. Tim Macknay
    April 17th, 2013 at 19:10 | #5

    I dunno Megan, he has a point. After all, have you ever seen Antarctica? Seriously?

  6. April 17th, 2013 at 19:32 | #6

    @Tim Macknay

    Now that you mention it, no I haven’t. Hmmm, makes you think.

  7. Sam
    April 17th, 2013 at 20:00 | #7

    Val, just to conclude, and to answer those charges.

    I plead guilty to calling you names and denigrating your knowledge. I honestly think your entire field is mostly worthless.

    I did not put words in your mouth; I represented your opinion fairly as I understood it. If you can point to an example of me doing this I’d be much obliged. I never questioned your legal right to hold these opinions, I simply say they are extremely unhelpful to the debate. As for patronising, I have to protest. The usual definition of the word “patronise” is the following;
    “Treat with an apparent kindness that betrays a feeling of superiority.”
    I never treated you with anything like kindness. I was upfront and honest about telling you I think you are ideologically entirely wrong, and that your presence and views are corrosive of intelligent conversation. In other words, I have treated you throughout as an adult with whom I have a vehement disagreement with. That’s exactly the opposite of patronising.

    If you’d like to continue this conversation, my email is

    [email protected].

  8. Fran Barlow
    April 17th, 2013 at 20:39 | #8

    On “Anthropomorphic {genic} Global Warming

    Anthropomorphic global warming would be the kind that has propertiies or attributes similar to humans. I’m yet to hear of an instance of global warming that is animate or sensate still less self-aware. If one such comes, we’re in even more trouble with the climate than at present. 😉

  9. April 17th, 2013 at 21:24 | #9

    @Fran Barlow

    Look, I’m not an astrologer but I know a star when I see one.

  10. Val
    April 17th, 2013 at 22:04 | #10

    I don’t want to continue the conversation off line, but I must admit I’m really intrigued by one question. My academic background is on history, and my PhD that I’m currently doing is in public health. Do you really think those fields of knowledge are worthless, or are you just making it up as you go along?

  11. Sam
    April 17th, 2013 at 23:30 | #11

    History, usually not, though there definitely ways of doing history wrong. Public health, kind of a mixed bag. It’s a broad area, and it can stand for many things. What’s your specific topic?

  12. rog
    April 18th, 2013 at 03:22 | #12

    @Megan A wonderful piece on the effects of holy (and other) spirit on the invisible hand.

  13. Neil
    April 18th, 2013 at 06:16 | #13

    I certainly have no wish to continue the discussion with Sam. He has no idea what is in the research he dismisses highhandledly, as indicated by his claim that it says we are all prejudiced and there’s nothing we can do about it. He has no wish to know apparently: he is content to be ignorant. More importantly, his responses to Val were breathtakingly sexist. I was especially liked his “I’m not patronising you; I’m just an asshole” one. Val, you have the patience of a saint to continue talking civilly to him!

  14. Val
    April 18th, 2013 at 09:07 | #14

    Thanks Neil no I really don’t intend to continue the conversation with Sam, but as a researcher I must admit I was intrigued by it. The comment that my presence and views are “corrosive of intelligent conversation” followed by the suggestion that I might like to continue the conversation off line – well i don’t quite know what to say about that.
    It sounds like your field is psychology or related – it would be interesting to know what you make of this kind of thing, in a general way – I’m not suggesting we try to analyse Sam as an individual of course. However there’s a lot of information on the net about the personal abuse that women are often subjected to when they comment on line , particularly if they appear as feminist, so would be interested to hear your views on that if you have any.

  15. Neil
    April 18th, 2013 at 09:45 | #15


    Hi Val,

    I’m afraid I don’t have much useful to say. The abuse that women get online is an interesting (and distressing!) phenomenon. Sam (to give him his due) is probably too decent to dream of anything like the viciousness that is often seen (eg, threats of sexualized violence are amazingly common). I suspect Sam suffers from nothing more than the arrogance that is often the opposite side of the coin of being smart: it often leads to thinking that other people can’t possibly have anything worth saying except when they agree with you. We are good at seeing flaws in other people and their arguments, bad at seeing it in ourselves; that’s why we need to reason together to make progress. Alas, the people who most need to reason together with others – that is, to have others serve as check on one’s own work – are the ones least likely to see the need. But everyone suffers from this to some extent, and in some contexts (again, to give Sam his – possible – due, it would not surprise me if there were other contexts in which he exhibits appropriate intellectual humility; maybe we have just encountered him in a context in which he is especially arrogant and that’s not who he is. We won’t ever know).

  16. sunshine
    April 18th, 2013 at 10:19 | #16

    I think ,understandably ,Sam fears uncertainty . I think ‘we are all prejudiced’ , but, there is not ‘nothing we can do about it’ — however it cannot be cured to Sams satisfaction . Neils tests, by indicating ‘unconscious’ bias , cast doubt on all knowledge . I suspect Neil cant simply run some tests to determine the nature and extent of bias and then correct for that to leave pure unbiased knowledge (in a general way or for a specific individual) . Its a can of worms that is opened.

    This doesn’t make Neils research useless .It adds to self awareness ,telling us we are all a work in progress that must remain vigilant and open to the possibility of error and therefore growth . The idea of the ‘unconscious ‘ ( which Freud popularised in the West ) by itself works to undermine certainty . Postmodern ,and more specifically Post-Structuralist , thought does too . If Sam would prefer a mathematical style (logic) proof he (or she) could look at Godel s Incompleteness Theorem .

    To me there is no choice but to accept doubt as (a perhaps essential) part of the human condition -this doesn’t constrain us it frees us .Sam may be worried that if he gives ground on this he wont be able to try and say anything thereafter .

  17. sunshine
    April 18th, 2013 at 12:42 | #17

    Using total number of media references to the marathon bombing and the ones that happened on the same day in Iraq we could work out roughly how many Iraqis one American is worth to us . It looks like both bombings were politically motivated . About 4 times more died in Iraq but references to Boston will end up being thousands of times more . Peter Reith brushed off the Iraq bombs as ‘unremarkable’ for that part of the world . Implying that we tried to help but savages will be savages .

  18. Paul Norton
    April 18th, 2013 at 12:58 | #18
  19. Jim Rose
    April 18th, 2013 at 13:40 | #19

    @sunshine would the iraqi bombing be reported at any higher a profile in any case.

  20. Troy Prideaux
    April 18th, 2013 at 14:09 | #20

    Exactly what I’ve been thinking [sigh]

    & Jim – probably not.

  21. Tim Macknay
    April 18th, 2013 at 17:35 | #21

    I’m not convinced that the level of media attention counts as a measure of human value, but there’s no doubt that our media pays far greater attention to some parts of the world than others.

    It would be interesting to find out whether media in the Arab world paid proportionately greater attention to the Iraqi bombing, or if it also gave the Boston bombing a disproportionately high profile.

  22. Jordan
    April 18th, 2013 at 22:47 | #22

    A really awesome presentation of the situation in EU by Brad DeLong.

  23. Val
    April 19th, 2013 at 10:14 | #23

    Thanks very interesting and I agree with you. My particular interest also related to the kind of contempt towards me as an individual that Sam was expressing towards me and which Ernestine Goss has now started up again on the previous thread. Neil I’m not talking about the extreme kinds of sexual abuse that sometimes happens on the net, thankfully I have never experienced that. I’m talking about the fact that people like Sam and Ernestine are so busy expressing their contempt that they don’t ever engage with the debate I’m trying to have, which is: does “bagging” of Gillard by the left possibly assist the rise of Tony Abbott?
    I think it’s an important discussion, whichever side people are on.
    I’m thinking maybe I should ask prof Quiggin if he could write a piece on the influence of feminism and post-structuralism on contemporary economic and political thought. It might at least create a space in which we could have a sensible discussion

  24. Val
    April 19th, 2013 at 19:11 | #24

    Hi Megan, I’m replying to your question to me on the previous thread here as comments on that one are now closed. You asked me to produce examples of “exaggerated” criticisms of Gillard on this blog. It would be quite time-consuming but if I can find the time I will do that. In the meantime I refer you to the ‘saving the senate’ post and the conversations with Jill Rush. She was saying similar things to me, and received similar treatment. As far as exaggerated claims go, I refer you to Ikonoklast #7 as an example. He/she says that he would, theoretically, say the same things about a man, but that’s a pretty easy out, I’d say.

  25. April 19th, 2013 at 19:37 | #25


    I’m not after an exhaustive collection, you said there were “a lot”. I imagined you might have five or six at hand.

  26. Ernestine Gross
    April 19th, 2013 at 22:58 | #26

    Megan, I believe I understand what you were getting at in your reply to my post on the NBN thread. You referred to the ‘competitive’ roll-out of TV cables some years ago. IMO, this is a relevant historical example of what might go wrong with the copper-end version of a otherwise national fiber optic broad band network.

    I put the word ‘competitive’ in inverted commas to signal the term is often used but hardly ever defined in context. In the context of an infrastructure project, which has a network structure, ‘competition’ does not work in the same way as competion between Coles and Woolworth. My questions were aimed at bringing out this and other difficulties.

  27. Val
    April 20th, 2013 at 07:16 | #27

    Megan I don’t know if it was your intention to sound sceptical, but I’m not a liar and I’m not making things up. I can’t seem to cut and paste so this actually had taken me a long time but here are some comments:
    Under ‘saving the senate’
    Ikonoklast #7 (as mentioned) in particular:
    “She undertook this treachery out of pure opportunism and ambition … In summary, Julia Gillard is treacherous, opportunist, deceitful and essentially a fifth columnist for plutocratic capitalist interests”
    Alan #9 in particular:
    “her failure as a deputy to confront Rudd over the governance issues” (how does he know this, and the suggestion that Gillard is responsible for Rudd’s flaws)
    Ikon # 10 in particular:
    “I give Julia Gillard no credit for her achievements for she has none in the political sphere”
    (There’s more from Ikon, I won’t reproduce them all)
    “I am not sure I have ever suggested that Julia Gillard is anything but either or both of a knave and a fool when it comes to election campaigning”

    Under “there’s a world market for maybe five computers…”
    Apart from John Quiggin’s “nothing but a bad memory” remark, which I know he has defended, but I still believe is more personal, more dismissive and less considered and objective than remarks he made about Keating and Hawke, which were generally made after the election not before, there is also this:
    “@ Sheila Newman
    Rather than saying that the anti-Gillard thing is a media beat up, how about a substantive defense of her policies”
    – which, possibly unintentionally, suggests there hasn’t been an anti-Gillard media beat up, stretching credulity. As I’m sure Neil would agree, we don’t just reveal bias in considered remarks, our unconsidered ones may be equally or more telling.
    “Gillard’s extraordinary conservatism, her extraordinary conservatism”
    David Rhode (while generally agreeing with me)
    “While she has achieved much, most of it is the Rudd legacy she inherited … It was Gillard’s shifting position on the CPRS as deputy and then as prime minister that damaged first Rudd’s reputation and then her own” (ie where she gets it right, it’s because of Rudd, and where Rudd gets it wrong, it’s because of her)

    Sorry I forgot to keep providing the numbers, and also sorry if I’ve misquoted anyone, I’m typing from my longhand notes.

    I seriously suggest that many of these comments could easily have come from the right wing, that they are exaggerated and biased, and that they do give credence to the right’s campaign. As I’ve said, I am not against criticism of Gillard or the government and I agree with you that exasperation is a factor here. I get exasperated with Gillard and the ALP myself – in fact I get furious with a lot of their policies, and exasperated that they keep shooting themselves in the foot even when they do get policies right or at least not too bad. But as someone who works in publi health, I’m extremely aware of the evidence about the effect of inequity and environmental degradation on people’s health and well wing, particularly people who are already poor and disadvantaged. I would like to think that my grandchildren have a chance to inherit a world that is fairer and more sustainable than the one we have now. I feel certain that Tony Abbott and his IPA mates will take us on the other direction. I believe that writing Labor off now, and exaggerated bagging of Gillard and the government, poses a real threat of contributing to an Abbott victory. I don’t think I want to say anything more about this. No doubt people will continue to misunderstand and misrepresent me, but at least I’ve tried.

  28. Val
    April 20th, 2013 at 07:22 | #28

    Sorry lots of mistakes – getting a bit over it – just to correct two: “extraordinary opportunism” and people’s “well being”

  29. Ernestine Gross
    April 20th, 2013 at 10:40 | #29


    The article by DeLong you referenced contains the following paragraph:

    “4.In order for any monetary union or fixed exchange rate system larger than an optimum currency area to survive, it must be willing to undertake large-scale fiscal transfers to compensate for the exchange rate movements to rapidly shift inter-regional terms of trade that it prohibits. So that monetary union on a scale as large as the Euro zone requires large fiscal transfers. And those are unthinkable without, in turn, something that is for enough intents and purposes a political union.”

    DeLong argues the EU has not learnt this lesson.

    It seems to me the USA has not learnt this lesson regarding Wall Street vs Main Street.

  30. April 20th, 2013 at 15:11 | #30

    As people might be interested, I’ll mention that Spain is planning to build a 250 megawatt solar farm for a cost of 270 million Euros. With a 5% discount rate it will produce electricity for about 6 Australian cents a kilowatt-hour. That’s less than the average wholesale price of Australian daytime electricity. I’ll also mention that Spain no longer has subsidies for solar power.

  31. Jordan
    April 20th, 2013 at 17:50 | #31

    @Ernestine Gross
    I would rather take a view that USA forgot that lesson rather then never learnt the lesson regarding Wall vs. Main St.
    Keynes was well aware of it and 94% tax and Glass-Steagall was keeping Wall St. at bay for long time.
    Keynes was also silenced when USA was implementing Bretton Woods agreement post WWII but succeded with Marshall plan.

  32. Jim Rose
    April 20th, 2013 at 18:25 | #32

    @Jordan So the Fed taking interest rates down to 1% had nothing to do with the GFC? what do you think?

    John Taylor explained the decades from the 1960s as swings between rules and discretion:

    first toward more discretionary policies in the 1960s and 1970s; second toward more rules-based policies in the 1980s and 1990s; and third back again toward discretion in recent years.

    In each of these swings, monetary policy and fiscal policy moved in the same direction.

    These swings are correlated with economic performance—unemployment, inflation, economic and financial stability, the frequency and depths of recessions, the length and strength of recoveries.

    Hence, the great moderataion, great deviation and then the great recession.

  33. Ernestine Gross
    April 20th, 2013 at 19:48 | #33


    I would agree with your way of putting it. There is another bit of regulatory history in America (USA) which it seems to have forgotten, namely to restrict the life of corporations. The rules required corporations to apply for a license (possibly not the right word) to operate for a limited time period with the possibility of extending the time, subject to societal approval (I can’t remember the name of the civil institution). [1]

    [1] Institutional economic history is not my speciality. It would take me a long time to find the original sources and provide the exact terminology and time period. But I am quite sure my memory is reliable on events which are of analytical significance. The corporate form of business with an a priori infinite life is a legal invention which doesn’t fit well into most theoretical frameworks I’ve come across and hence my ears and eyes are allert for bits and pieces of information on this topic.

  34. Jordan
    April 20th, 2013 at 22:14 | #34

    @Jim Rose
    Yes, it has.
    And that would be right if rules based policy on Taylor rule and Philips curve, while discretionary used fiscal policy for employment purpose.
    Difference is that Bush’s years were marked with conservative/Republican preference fiscal spending, not for the purpose of employment as it was before 1980.

    Iraq war and tax cuts for the rich had nothing to do with employment as a goal even tough it had some positive effect on it while at the same time using rules of monetary policy. It was a pure partisan/neocon fiscal policy.

    If they followed targeted fiscal spending for the sole purpose of improving employment instead following neocon wishes Taylor rule should have stayed at 1% since 2003.
    Difference is that targeted fiscal spending would not lead to bubble in housing but to improved employment and income. And would not lead to oil price shock in 2007 but a bit later. Maybe about now.
    That is on presumption that Gore would spend money on solar and wind, maybe natural gas energy instead of letting FIRE economy rule the day. USA could have many more solar projects and many more hybrid cars with solar cell roof or battery powered.

    But 1% rate is not a problem. Employment is the problem.
    1% is a problem as it allows for another bubble if fiscal spending is not targeted, if you let the market sort out such spending then the market will produce a bubble only.

  35. Jordan
    April 21st, 2013 at 17:49 | #35

    This is just astounding presentation by Scot Fullwiler about detailed account on monetary system trough the eye of a buffer stock.
    His part starts at 32:30 but then really conscious and pointed speech about labor as a buffer stock at 1:07:40 and its effect on economy. Can it be presented more clearly then that?

  36. Socrates
    April 21st, 2013 at 18:25 | #36

    Hello, i was just wondering if others thought this report on a study from LSE was as obviously nonsense as I thought?
    [British researchers are warning that effective action on climate change could trigger a new global economic crisis by devaluing the price of fossil fuels.

    The report, by the London School of Economics and the non-government organisation Carbon Tracker, found 60 to 80 per cent of oil, gas and coal reserves owned by listed companies would become useless if global emission targets are kept.]

    Surely the “value” of carbon resource holdings are simply a fuel cost other industries will incur if they are burnt. So the flip side of this claim is that other industries will make large savings. Saying carbon fuels are an assett is not true unless they are needed. Remove the need and they have no value. Consumers gain by that much, so how is it a societal loss? The value of the new industries that replace the carbon ones, will be at least the same, so as much value is created by climate change action as is lost. If the value is less, then the cost of energy reduces, which is good. Weren’t rising carbon energy costs cited as one of the causes of global recession in the past?

    Am I missing something? This paper sounds like rubbish, unless it has been badly misquoted.

  37. Jordan
    April 21st, 2013 at 19:09 | #37

    That is a purpose of the carbon price. To prevent all fosil fuel reserves to be used. If it does not prevent so then it has no purpose but a buffer stock for sudden price change which is more damaging then slow constant rise in price.
    OK. Sudden changes in oil price is what kills economies worldwide. To reduce changes and to have it on slow incline is the goal. Hopefully, that will slow down the use of fosil fuels and give time for developement of new sources of energy that does not pollute as much.
    Yes, the price of energy is influencing the growth of production. But steady price increase can give planing the ability to adjust to it.

  38. Jim Rose
    April 21st, 2013 at 19:14 | #38

    @Jordan a carbon tax in not needed. under the companion peak oil hypothesis, we run out of oil very soon. oil prices will skyrocket.

  39. April 21st, 2013 at 21:39 | #39

    @Jim Rose

    Dear oh dear, Jim. Peak Oil NEVER proposed we “run out of oil”. Let alone running out soon.

    Peak Oil is the inevitable point in time at which production of oil no longer increases. This is the weird thing about free market fundamentalist mentality – “growth” must not only be sustained but it must also increase.

    “The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.”

    Unless one subscribes to the crackpottery of ‘abiotic oil’, everyone knows that oil is a finite resource. The discovery of huge oil reserves peaked about 50 years ago. We know there is a vast amount of the stuff down there, the question is whether we can continue to squeeze it out at 85 mbpd (the current rate) or whether it might be getting more difficult/costly to maintain that RATE of production.

    An analogy: You have a billion dollars in the bank. You have a daily maximum withdrawal limit of $100. In 1974 your rent was $50/wk, food $20, expenses etc $20 – fun $30 = $120/wk. No problem! Party on, spend even more on fun!

    In 2013 your rent is $350/wk, food $150, expenses $150 – fun $50 = $700/wk. Hmmm, starting to reach your maximum daily available resources.

  40. crocodile
    April 21st, 2013 at 23:07 | #40

    Jim Rose :@Jordan a carbon tax in not needed. under the companion peak oil hypothesis, we run out of oil very soon. oil prices will skyrocket.

    Jim, I’m not going to argue for or against a carbon tax but there is more to this than just oil. There is enough coal in the ground for instance to keep our electrickery generators going for a good few hundred years yet.

  41. Jordan
    April 22nd, 2013 at 01:35 | #41

    Exactly. Skyrocketing oil price will destroy economies.
    Don’t you want to prevent the skyrocketing price which will destroy most of the economies? Don’t you want to reduce the consuption to delay the price shock that will come?
    Don’t you want to switch to another energy source before the oil price shock so that such shock does not have such impact?

  42. Ernestine Gross
    April 22nd, 2013 at 09:14 | #42


    The original study is linked to in the abc article. I read the LSE write up.

    IMO, it is not so much a matter of misquoting the LSE study in the abc article but rather a misunderstanding of its content.

    The LSE paper contains an examination of the relationship between a ‘carbon budget’ (to keep global warming within 2 degrees C) and investment in fossil fuel companies (their existing physical assets, both mines and equipment, and plans for new mines). The LSE paper correctly (IMO) points to risks (for the misallocation of financial resources) that are usually ignored by the investment advisory industry including rating agencies.

    IMO an implication of the LSE paper is that a continuation of business as usual in the fossil fuel industry is inconsistent with the ‘carbon budget’. If the carbon budget is met, then the securities market values (equity and debt) of unidentified fossil fuel industry companies will crash. Such an event could cause major financial markets disruptions. So this is the message for Australia, I assume.

    I don’t wish to add to the miscommunications of the abc article with my brief summary. I suggest the LSE study is worthwhile reading.

  43. Alan
    April 22nd, 2013 at 12:04 | #43


    How often does the right condemn Gillard for her ‘extraordinary conservatism?’ A simple numeric value will answer the question, there is no need for extended discussion.

    How often do you actually endorse a critique of the Gillard government, as opposed to claiming you endorse some criticisms while condemning every criticism you encounter? Again, a simple numeric value will do.

  44. Socrates
    April 22nd, 2013 at 21:03 | #44


    Thanks, I have since looked at the original article and I agree, the ABC reporter has misunderstood it. The article points out an inconcistency as you say. Essentially the valuations of companies with large carbon fuel assetts contain incompatible assumptions regarding the future of either the world economy or the fuel market. They can’t both be right. Therefore carbon assetts are overvalued.

  45. April 22nd, 2013 at 22:06 | #45


    the ABC reporter has misunderstood it.

    That’s very diplomatic. I would have said “misrepresented it”.

  46. Fran Barlow
    April 23rd, 2013 at 10:12 | #46

    The latest newspoll tends to reconfirm what has been the pattern for some time — the ALP remains a solid 5%2PP short of being seriously competitive in the election due in September. The poll suggests, counter-intuitively, again, that the preferred PM of this country is Tony Abbott. Newspoll is not the only poll that suggests this. If this poll is radically wrong in any of this, it has plenty of company.

    I really don’t want to re-canvas the whole “ruddstoration” thing here. For mine, we’ve done that to death. However effective or ineffective Gillard proves to have been as a leader on September 15, she is as good as the ALP have at the moment, and a return to Rudd would, at best make no difference at all to the outcome in either house. There’s also no reason to taint a future ALP leader with a hospital pass leadership change. My views on that matter are not going to change.

    That noted, when ever one sees a strongly counter-intuitive phenomenon, those of us who are curious are bound to reflect on it. Either the current polls are completely wrong and radically exaggerating the actual substantive support for the Coalition and its leader — which seems highly improbable — or the population as a whole has over the years since late 2009 become far more ignorant, fearful, irrational, self-serving, bigoted, intellectually indolent and uncritical of rightwing cant than it was then.

    This latter inference, while much less implausible than the idea that the polls are all radically wrong — historically, populations sometimes do become afflicted with momentary madness — still doesn’t strike me as plausible here. In cases where this happens to a population, there typically needs to be some sort of existential crisis within the jurisdiction. Nothing of the sort has occurred in Australia. The economy has not collapsed. There is not massive unemployment or bankruptcy or plunging asset values. There is simply no reason for the population to have radically changed its cultural inclinations.

    If this is so then at least one of the following conclusion is forced:

    a) the current state of people’s cultural inclinations is the result of a much more gradual and structural growth in the number of people who are ignorant, fearful, irrational, self-serving, bigoted, intellectually indolent and uncritical of rightwing cant in the voting population


    b) This is how the population always was — it’s just that the ALP was more effective between 1983-96 and again between 2007-9 in reconciling their rule (or the LNP less effective) with that underlying reality.

    Some combination of both of these latter hypotheses strikes me as the best explanation. In one form or another, I’ve been engaged with politics for as long as I can recall being human. I came from a tribally ALP family and from about 6 years old have put leaflets in boxes, stood at polling booths, helped knock on doors and heard people arguing the toss.

    By the time I was 14 — 1972 — it was clear to me that a large proportion of the poulation was ignorant, fearful, irrational, self-serving, bigoted, intellectually indolent and uncritical of rightwing cant. I went through the Vietnam period as a youngster. I recall the jingoism and misogyny and [email protected] and homophobia and McCarthyism and hostility to organised labour of the late 60s. The antecedents of what we see today in Abbott today were always there which helps explain why Holt could win in a landslide and people like Bolte and Askin — who were certainly no less reprehensible than Abbott could win. The 1960s were a time when unmarried teenagers had to surrender their children and Aboriginal children were still being removed from their families and abused with impunity on “missions”. The Catholic Church and the Armed forces were also getting away with all manner of nefarious activity in relation to minors. People knew, but cognitive dissonance and mute acceptance was rife.

    Yet this didn’t stop Whitlam from being elected in 1972 and re-elected in 1974. It didn’t stop Wran coming to power and holding power for about a decade. It didn’t stop Hawke and Keating or Dunstan in SA. The underlying reactionary streak wasn’t incompatible with officially non-conservative parties winning. Presumably, a good many people who were ignorant, fearful, irrational, self-serving, bigoted, intellectually indolent and uncritical of rightwing cant must have voted for the nominally non-conservative party. When one looks at the way the resultant ALP regimes ruled (and also how they did opposition when it came) it’s very clear that the ALP number-crunchers were very much counting on the votes of the ignorant, fearful, irrational, self-serving, bigoted, intellectually indolent and uncritical of rightwing cant to get them across the line and into government.

    This, it seems to me, makes a narrow and limited kind of sense. In the short-run, to borrow from the language of Graham Richardson, one must do “whatever it takes” to win, because winning is a necessary condition for doing anything at all. Richardson cops a lot of flak from left-liberals and leftwingers for this remark but really it’s simply a redux of Whitlam’s “only the impotent can be pure” uttered back in 1967 to the Victorian ALP that is so often hurled by the right against the left.

    The problem with this reasoning is also obvious however — there’s a serious moral hazard. Once you pander to or consecrate the values of the ignorant, fearful, irrational, self-serving, bigoted, intellectually indolent and those uncritical of rightwing cant as compatible with voting ALP — once you depend on them to win — you become a quite different party even if most of your supporters don’t fit this description. Instead, the active supporters, in order to rationalise what they are doing, must begin what psychologists call “maladaptive behaviour” — in this case apologising for the ignorant, fearful, irrational, self-serving, bigoted, intellectually indolent and those uncritical of rightwing cant. After a long time doing apologia, based on “this is what real people think” and making a virtue of how “un-PC” one is, the supporters start to become infected with the disease. People forget that being ignorant, fearful, irrational, self-serving, bigoted, intellectually indolent and uncritical of rightwing cant wasn’t always what most ALP supporters were about. It starts to look normative — and then the party really is in a lot of trouble, electorally, because the core support for being ignorant, fearful, irrational, self-serving, bigoted, intellectually indolent and uncritical of rightwing cant is with the coalition. You’re handing the other side an enormous political wedge — one easily large enough to ruin your chances of getting within striking distance of winning an election. That Sword of Damocles will hang over your head every minute you’re in office — and so you can never do anything that might offend the ignorant, fearful, irrational, self-serving, bigoted, intellectually indolent and those uncritical of rightwing cant. At best, you can try hiding behind maudlin, vacuous communitarian-populist sentiment, but without a friendly media, that’s never going to work. The power to make or break regimes is transferred, in this model, to the Fourth Estate and to whomever is better at mobilising the ignorant, fearful, irrational, self-serving, bigoted, intellectually indolent and those uncritical of rightwing cant.

    This is essentially how Howard managed to hold power between 1996 and 2007. Backed by the Fourth Estate, and trading on fears of terrorism and asylum seekers and high interest rates and fluffed up by a boom in minerals prices he wedged the ALP repeatedly to its right and convinced people dubbed “Howard’s Battlers” (“aspirationals” in Latham-speak) that their interests lay with the Coalition. Howard overstepped. Work Choices, and momentarily, fears over climate change plus a shift in media coverage and the fact that Iraq and Afghanistan were looking like mistakes even in America allowed a Howard-lite candidate — Kevin Rudd — to run as a non-Labor ALP leader — Blair-style. He swore by fiscal conservatism and autocracy in cabinet. He spoke Mandarin — which to those fearful of China seemed impressive. Howard was sent packing by someone more skilled at being him than he was — or so it briefly seemed. Once the MBCM moved against Rudd — as it did when he began temporising over CO2 abatement in late 2009 and the movement from the global polluters cartel to block abatement gained momentum — he was effectively finished. His attempt to cling to power with RSPT was refuted by the mining lobby and the government was on the defensive. Every boat was a policy failure, screamed the Murdoch press and its yappy puppies, aptly quoting Gillard’s remarks to Howard while serving Beazley. Rudd was dumped in favour of Gillard, who rapidly discovered what happens when moral hazard materialises.

    Right now, the MBCM is viscerally hostile to the ALP and given the iron grip that Murdoch has on the MBCM there is for all practical purposes nothing the ALP can do to change this around. There is no ‘cut-through’ message and in a futile attempt to disrupt the flow the government has tried “457 visa rorts” more “tough on asylum seekers” (kids to Curtin) “Gonski” ads on TV for the NBN. It hasn’t worked and now with the budget imminent, the ALP, who, pandering again to the ignorant, fearful, irrational, self-serving, bigoted, intellectually indolent and uncritical of rightwing cant, promised a surplus for almost all of its term is about to fall billions short. Cue a new round of right-wing populist hectoring from the right.

    The irony here of course is that rightwing voters have nothing like a reason for being unhappy with ALP rule. The party has given them pretty much everything they could have hoped a Coalition regime would have given them, had it fallen across the line in 2007 or 2010 and then some. It has reduced taxes as a fraction of GDP, protected asset values of real estate and the share market, secured banks, kept inflation low, kept debt/GDP low, kept interest rates low, given a tax cut to low income earners, is throwing supporting parents onto the dole, locking up asylum seekers, including children, has recalled the troops from Iraq and next year, Afghanistan, blocked gay marriage, turned the mining tax into something trivial … the list goes on.

    But too few people who are ignorant, fearful, irrational, self-serving, bigoted, intellectually indolent and uncritical of rightwing cant care about that to keep the ALP regime competitive. The principal hope of the ALP now is to give these folk a chance to see that what the Coalition offers ought to trouble them. Tim Colebatch’s article in The Age points to the problems an incoming Coalition will need to deal with. The ALP will want to exploit the inability of the the Coalition to promise a surplus to wedge them back. It probably won’t work, because the Murdochracy is riding shotgun.

    It would be wrong to leave this post without noting that I don’t see the Murdochracy as inevitably hostile to the ALP. For the Murdochracy to be effective in protecting the interests of fractions of the boss class it needs two parties of government to be hostage to its support. Unless it can threaten mayhem, it can’t be an effective negotiator of policy or protect its non-news interests. Having effectively boned the ALP, it will need, (assuming the ALP loses badly) a new ALP “hero” with which to threaten the LNP. I’m guessing that might be Shorten who will be a redux of Rudd 2006. I suspect though that if the ALP really is routed, they’ll need some sap as a seatwarmer — probably Simon Crean — until about 2015.

    Really though, if the ALP want to stop being hostage to the right and the Murdochracy, it has to knuckle down and build a new and more coherently progressive constituency with an interest in its victory — even if that means not being competitive until 2019. Murdoch’s presses probably won’t see out the decade — the NY Post is dying and Murdoch himself surely hasn’t long to go. I suspect buyers’ remorse will set in pretty quickly once Abbott can no longer simply troll the regime but is forced to take responsibility for actual decisions. The ALP should use this time to cohere a new and significantly les toxic and dysfunctional party — one that doesn’t think spivs like McDonald and Obeid have any place in it — and that really does place significant priority on questions of equity and social justice — not because they are popular, but because they are right.

  47. Fran Barlow
    April 23rd, 2013 at 10:13 | #47

    oops … forgot to close ital tag at “real” … ;-(

  48. Troy Prideaux
    April 23rd, 2013 at 11:29 | #48

    @Fran Barlow
    Fran, I don’t know about how counter-intuitive these poll numbers are. How can you expect a party to be popular that goes to such lengths to undermine itself. How can you expect a party to be popular that can’t sell or educate the electorate about their policies – especially the controversial ones.
    The asylum seeker dealings didn’t help them; the rottenness in the NSW right didn’t help; the 457 visa issue might be seen by the electorate as pandering to the unions. The state of the economy is worrying a lot of people who aren’t involved in housing or resources and high job turnover and low job security isn’t popular with many. The mining and resource super profit tax might be misinterpreted by the electorate as a sign of more economic incompetence.
    Also, I tend to feel the electorate is sick of hearing governments tell them that an issue is being dealt with by a “review” and then finding out that only tokenistic fractions of such reviews finish up being implemented because of either political or financial constraints – maybe that’s just democracy.

  49. Fran Barlow
    April 23rd, 2013 at 12:13 | #49

    @Troy Prideaux

    Fran, I don’t know about how counter-intuitive these poll numbers are.

    They are counter-intuitive if one assumes that something like rational evaluation of the options for governance is taking place on a scale capable of being measured in a poll. Rational people weigh things up and try, as best they can, to work out which set of options most closely approximates the optimal, based on what is knowable at the time a decision needs to be made.

    The concerns you raise really only go to flaws in the ruling party. A person evaluating the ruling party might set up some key benchmarks and see who closely each of the serious contenders approached these. I submit that nobody could adduce data showing that the Coalition was likely, in practice, to meet these as well as the ALP. Sure, at the expressive/symbolic level, the ALP has some baggage — but the Coalition has even more. Obeid and McDonald is a dreadful look, and people not aware of the organisational structure of the ALP would frown upon this, but this really isn’t germane to the Feds any more than Newman’s problems reflect all that much on their Federal regime.

    You mention “incompetence” in relation to the MRRT and I agree — they messed that up badly. OTOH, the Libs are promising as a matter of policy to collect zero revenue regardless of commodity prices, which surely makes them even less “competent”. The Libs are promising (by implication) austerity, which would make “jobs” even less secure. They opposed stimulus — which underpinned employment. They are proposing to sack tens of thousands of public servants. As to asylum seekers, there is simply no reason for supposing that the Libs will be any more effective in keeping them from arriving on boats and ensuring they suffer out of our sight than the ALP — indeed, their policy of turning them back might lead to ructions in the Navy and possibly prejudice relations with Indonesia.

    In short, unless one is ignorant, fearful, irrational, self-serving, bigoted, intellectually indolent and uncritical of rightwing cant in some combination, it’s hard to imagine how one could support an Abbott-led regime. There have always been many such folk out there, but it seems to me that these days, they are less embarrassed about it — which is surely one of the consequences of the way in which the ALP has configured itself and then dealt, especially post-1975.

  50. Troy Prideaux
    April 23rd, 2013 at 13:47 | #50

    Fran, I think the divergence with our metric of intuition in this instance is stemming from the level of objectivity we’re assessing these poll results with. I agree with many of your points, but you seem to be accessing the electorate’s judgment on your beliefs and opinions (as informed as they are and as much as I agree with them). I personally think the government has done a reasonable job in running the country this term, but we can’t escape political realities here. Virtually nobody actually actively downloads and reads party policy 1st hand let alone evaluates it reasonably, rationally and objectively without bias. Most will rely on the objectivity of our wonderful MSM through soundbites or even a preference of our favourite ideological interpretation to educate us about the generalities of party policy. In fact, anything resembling policy is habitually a “turnoff” for a non-trivial proportion of the electorate, so no doubt the claim of ignorance can’t be understated with regards to policy awareness. Saying that, those of us who tend to judge the electorate’s level of awareness of “macro” issues harshly, are too often ignorant to their understanding of local issues which could be argued are just as (or more) important.

  51. Fran Barlow
    April 23rd, 2013 at 15:19 | #51

    @Troy Prideaux

    Virtually nobody actually actively downloads and reads party policy 1st hand let alone evaluates it reasonably, rationally and objectively without bias.

    True … I’m not even sure it’s possible for someone to evaluate policy “without bias”. Everyone starts at the very least with a paradigm for distinguishing the worthy from the objectionable. That wasn’t my point though.

    The world is as it is … there are indeed (and always have been) a very large number of people who are ignorant, fearful, irrational, self-serving, bigoted, intellectually indolent and uncritical of rightwing cant and I very much doubt there’s any quick(ish) remedy for that — even if the ALP were a far better party than it is right now.

    My point is that this reality of the system environment in which parties seek to operate is not being responded to well in a strategic or tactical sense by the ALP. Rather, the party’s responses, though understandable at one level, are maladaptive and ultimately corrosive of the struggle to attain the goals that most of the ALP’s supporters say they want. Their approach to negotiating what is a hostile environment for anyone seeking social justice and equity has been reactive and part of a negatively reinforcing feedback loop. Just as one can never free oneself from a blackmailer by paying him off, in part because the sunk cost losses make every new demand seem minor by comparison, so too the ALP can never be the party of most progressives’ imagination until it decides to write down its past sunk costs and reconstitute itself as a party that can cohere a stable and progressive constituency. That may well mean wearing some serious time out of power — and as that seems, despite their best efforts, to be more likely than not right now, this might be the time to re-imagine why they exist at all. This demand arises every time the ALP is routed of course, but this time we may be approaching a day when the MBCM’s power to bully will begin to decline. That media you are complaining about is partly the result of their pandering.

    If they are to free themselves from being at the disposal of Murdoch, they need to stop pandering, expressly repudiate the xenophobic, populistic and dogmatically neoliberal public policy they’ve been identified with — especially over the last couple of decades and give those who want social justice and equity in public policy a party they could with some reservations, support. Let them keep big business (and dodgy small business) at arms’ length and be a party expressly for working people and their social allies.

    Let the ALP start trying to claim the high ethical ground — on refugees and immigration, in indigenous policy, “law and order”, the “war on terror”, the environment, human rights, gay marriage, economic policy and social inclusion, media policy and so forth. Let them establish a core constituency that is clearly distinct from the centre-right and work on building that into a credible organisation.

    Hardly anyone goes into politics thinking of personal ain or career. If it takes us a decade or more to get a genuinely progressive party into government, then so be it. At least then the victory will be worth something. It will endure and not be hostage to scandal or whiteanting in the attempt to hold on to power.

  52. Alan
    April 23rd, 2013 at 16:08 | #52

    I really don’t think it’s necessary to designate a majority of the electorate as morally inferior to explain the present electoral situation. Labor has not governed in their interest and they want a change of government. The fairly limited choice offered by the party system requires a vote for the LNP to change the government.

    Every time the electoral majority hear that they are fools or knaves their determination to change the government is strengthened. The electorate will not be lectured to by this government.

  53. Troy Prideaux
    April 23rd, 2013 at 16:14 | #53

    Fran Barlow :
    My point is that this reality of the system environment in which parties seek to operate is not being responded to well in a strategic or tactical sense by the ALP. Rather…


  54. Fran Barlow
    April 23rd, 2013 at 18:16 | #54


    I really don’t think it’s necessary to designate a majority of the electorate as morally inferior to explain the present electoral situation.

    Well plainly, I regard it as a compelling inference.

    Labor has not governed in their interest and they want a change of government.

    You say that, but is there any actual evidence that the legitimate interests of the kinds of people who have deserted the ALP for the Coalition have been diminished in some way by the ALP that the Coalition will likely reverse? Is it plausible that this lies at the heart of their change of vote?

    If not, then your claim ought to be rejected.

    The fairly limited choice offered by the party system requires a vote for the LNP to change the government.

    That may be so, but unless one can say that they expect the change of government to lead to better government — at least in relation to legitimate interests of theirs — then all they are doing is a kind of “cut off your nose to spite your face” routine. That’s not rational goal-seeking behaviour. It’s a form of tantrum — and it can’t possibly lead to better government — even for them personally. So again, the action would at he very least fit the descriptor “irrational”.

    Every time the electoral majority hear that they are fools or knaves their determination to change the government is strengthened.

    This is wrong all over the place. Firstly, the mere fact that some truth may be inconvenient does not mean it should not be told. If the majority really are ignorant, fearful, irrational, self-serving, bigoted, intellectually indolent and uncritical of rightwing cant in some combination then that’s worth knowing. Some of them may reflect upon it and seek to be better people and just as importantly, those who don’t fit this description can be in a better position to make sense of the catastrophe that occurs if such folk are used by spivs to seize control of government. Instead of simply blaming the media, we can accept that it is our duty to go out and speak up for sense, shine light in places where there is darkness, expose cant and bigotry — in short — to do our civic duty robustly and wherever it is needed. It’s a call to stop being passive. As the saying goes All that is necessary for the triumph of evil (sic) is for good men (sic) to do nothing. Biting our tongues because knaves and fools may take umbrage is no way to secure authentic community.

    I also see no evidence at all that the current policy — if that is what it is — of pandering to the vanity of knaves and fools has subverted their desire to oust the regime — much the opposite — so even in purely instrumental terms, your claim is implausible.

    There is serious and nearly ubiquitous foolishness and knavery about and it has seriously afflicted both the governing parties. The road to recovery entails accepting that there is a problem and then being determined to overcome it at whatever cost is necessary.

    The electorate will not be lectured to by this government.

    Doubtless that is so. Having pandered to their most unpleasant attributes they scarcely have the standing to say — “well forget that I endorsed your bigotry on refugees as fair enough, or let the big miners get out of most of the tax take, or have been giving subsidies to big polluters or have been sending troops into foreign countries to keep the US happy or throwing supporting parents onto the dole, I’d like to talk to you about ethics and how we can have a more robust an inclusive democracy”. That would be laughed at.

    That’s a conversation they can only begin after they have repudiated the many ignorant, stupid and craven things they have done and just as importantly, explained how in the name of reason and equity they went so far wrong, followed shortly thereafter by an apology and policies that show they have learned how to do better.

    Only then can the long road to a vision that those who are not ignorant, fearful, irrational, self-serving, bigoted, intellectually indolent and uncritical of rightwing cant be taken.

  55. Val
    April 24th, 2013 at 15:24 | #55

    Hi Alan, I wasn’t going to reply your question because it is obviously a set-up and I felt I had said enough anyway. But reading Fran’s recent comments has got me involved in the debate again.
    Firstly, you actually referred to “[Gillard’s] extraordinary conservatism, her extraordinary opportunism” as I noted in my follow up comment. I am sure that “opportunism” is in the right’s song book.
    However more seriously I want to draw your attention to a specific example where the right wing media have used Gillard’s “conservatism” (though I agree they would not use that word) as part of their attack on her. Fran refers to the Gillard government “throwing” sole parents on to the dole. I agree this is a reprehensible policy. However I also know that it started under the Howard government’s “Welfare to Work” program in 2006. Under that program, sole parents whose youngest child turned eight were moved from parenting payment on to Newstart, but sole parents with older children were protected by a “grandfathering clause”. What the Gillard government did was move the “grandfathered” parents on to NewStart also.
    As I say, I disagree totally with what both governments have done. However I also know that there has been a marked difference in the media coverage. As part of my work from 2005-2008, I was involved in a community campaign against Welfare to Work. We got very little response to our campaign from the media – one article in a local paper and one article in the Age. The media response to the Gillard government moving sole parents on to NewStart has been very different, with extensive coverage in the right wing media and on TV. Some people hopefully believe that this is because the media has become more sensitive on the issue, but I would also suggest that attacking Gillard for this measure (when they did not attack Howard) also fits their political purposes, especially since Gillard is more popular with women than men and this is an issue that may help to undermine that support.
    Just to ensure you don’t misinterpret me, I am not suggesting this measure is Ok when JG does it but not when John Howard did it. It is wrong either way. I am saying that the media coverage when JG does it was different, and there is a political agenda in that.
    Finally I also want to point out to anyone who writes the Labor government off now that the (dreaded) social science research also shows that people are influenced by what they think others believe – so the more people say that the ALP does not have chance at the next election, the more likely it is to be the case. And just for the record, yes, I am arguing people should preference ALP before the LNP because they are the “less worse” alternative.

  56. Alan
    April 24th, 2013 at 17:06 | #56


    Of course it was a set-up, but I notice it is one you cannot answer. Defending the Gillard government as less worse just does not cut it or pointing out that Howard’s action was, in terms of the number of people effected, less radically conservative than Gillard’s, doesn’t really help your case. Cutting the single mother’s pension was driven by the deficit promise which, as is customary with this government, was a bad idea, a conservative idea and one they could not deliver anyway.

    If the people cannot or should not change the government under these conditions, when should they?

    Fran’s answer seems to be that if the people are not aversely effected by some objective test they should not change the government. I am not sure that a blogosphere ephorate is going to be very successful in determining the objective interests of the people better than they can themselves.

  57. April 24th, 2013 at 18:19 | #57

    Also, the opinion polls tell us that x% of people will not vote ALP come september but they don’t tell us “why”. Rejection of this ALP gets mixed in with straight up ‘pro’ LNP.

  58. Val
    April 26th, 2013 at 20:23 | #58

    When I said your question was a set up, I meant that the obvious intention is to show that I’m wrong – you are not interested in having a debate in which we might both learn. Your response exactly proves my point. You’ve ignored my key point – the right wing media treats Gillard differently than they did Howard. this was based on an issue where I have years of on the ground experience. If you can just dismiss that because it doesn’t fit with your argument (which is basically that I am wrong in everything I say) then what is the point of me talking to you?
    This is bias in action Alan – you only look for evidence that supports your argument and you ignore everything else.

  59. Mel
    April 27th, 2013 at 00:15 | #59

    Fran Barlow @4:

    “Firstly, the mere fact that some truth may be inconvenient does not mean it should not be told. If the majority really are ignorant, fearful, irrational, self-serving, bigoted, intellectually indolent and uncritical of rightwing cant in some combination then that’s worth knowing. ”

    Wow. You’ve gone from Maoist to Spartacist to Marx1st-Leninist to Marx1st-nonLeninist to general all round hater of the ungrateful proletariat.

    I can’t wait to see what you do next 😉

  60. Fran Barlow
    April 27th, 2013 at 00:33 | #60


    You’ve gone from Maoist to Spartacist to Marx1st-Leninist to Marx1st-nonLeninist to general all round hater of the ungrateful proletariat.

    I went from Maoist to Spartacist at about 17. Spartacists are, by definition, Marxist-Len|nists. I’m now a non-Len|nist — and have been for about 2 decades.

    I don’t “hate” anyone, and certainly not the proletariat. I’m just not someone who says that all things said or done by proletarians serve their interests. Being an oppressed and exploited class turns out not to be expecially conducive to the kind of insight into the interests of the class on a global scale or to other humans more generally that are likely to underpin progress, much as we Marx|sts have long suspected. That is one of the key reasons we favour them not being oppressed and exploited of course.

    I’m not sure exactly how gratitude made its way into your screed. Strawman I suppose.

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