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Australian right a dumping ground for failed US ideas

May 16th, 2014

It’s been obvious for quite a few years that the Australian rightwing commentariat takes most of its ideas from the US Republican party. A more recent development is that they seem to be importing ideas that have already failed in their home country. I mentioned Voter ID recently. My Twitter feed has also been full of factoids along the lines “48 per cent of Australians pay no net tax”, being pushed by Miranda Devine and others. Obviously these are derived from the “47 per cent” line made famous by Mitt Romney in 2012 [1]. We all know how that went for Romney, and of course we also know what’s wrong with the factoid. I’ll talk a bit more about the specifics over the fold, but it’s worth asking what’s going on here.

The most obvious point is that the Australian right hasn’t had any new ideas in 30 years or more. Everything in the recent Commission of Audit report (a more coherent version of the ideology reflected in a distorted fashion in Hockey’s Budget) could have been (and often was) taken from the 1996 version, and everything in the 1996 report could have been found in documents like Wolfgang Kasper’s Australia at the Crossroads published in 1980, and similar documents. Everything useful in this set of ideas was implemented decades ago: what remain are the items that are either permanently untouchable in political terms (eg road pricing) or unworkable for one reason or another (eg handing income tax back to the states).

So, it’s scarcely surprising that they need to import from abroad. But the US Republicans aren’t in any better state. Their big causes a decade ago were the culture war (primarily equal marriage which was seen as wedging the Democrats), climate denialism and the Global War on Terror, which was transmuted into the invasion of Iraq. Most of our current rightwing commentariat (Bolt, Blair, Devine etc) cut their teeth on this stuff, and have never really outgrown it.

The Repubs are now in a state of complete intellectual collapse, unable to produce a coherent position on anything, from immigration to health care to budget policy. They survive only on the basis of tribal hatred of Obama. Since that doesn’t sell well in Oz, the local right is forced to live on discredited failures like Voter ID and “47 48 per cent of the population are takers”.

It’s the combination of tired economic rationalism and imported tribalism that makes the Abbott-Hockey such a mess, and the efforts of its remaining defenders so laughable.

Turning to the specifics of the 48 per cent factoid, the problems are essentially the same as with Romney’s original 47 per cent.

First, the factoid considers only income tax, disregarding GST, payroll tax, excise tax and so on. So, it implicitly overstates the contribution of high-income groups who, by definition, pay more income tax.

Second, since revenue is equal to expenditure [2] in the long term, Australians receive from government, on average, the same as they contribute, whether the benefits take the form of cash transfers or publicly provided services. Assuming that total tax payments are proportional to income, and that everyone gets about the same benefit (both of these are pretty good approximations), people receiving more than the arithmetic mean income will mostly be net contributors, and those below will mostly be net recipients. And, since the distribution of income is skewed to the right, the mean is greater than the median, which means that, when everything is taken into account, most people will be net beneficiaries from the tax-expenditure system. The minority of net contributors (that is, high income earners) are of course precisely the people who benefit most from the social order as a whole.

Finally, it’s worth observing that this line totally contradicts both past Liberal policy (which has encouraged taxation concessions for families) and rhetoric about “middle-class welfare”, which implies precisely that things like Family Tax Benefit should be confined to those in the lower quantiles of the income distribution.

fn1. It was actually developed a bit earlier, in response to the Occupy movement’s focus on the 1 per cent, by the appalling Erick Erickson of Redstate)
fn2. Please, no quibbles on this point. I promise a long post on concepts of budget balance when I get a round tuit.

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  1. Midrash
    May 17th, 2014 at 18:45 | #1

    @Sancho If your name is really Sancho I’m surprised that you ascribe the army of working poor to Reaganite economics.

    It is true that a low minimum wage would have a considerable pat in that but I am not sure that is Reaganite conceptually or chronologically. The much bigger cause is the huge influx of mostly illegal Latino (you might say “Hispanic” but my Hispanic friends don’t think it applies to Mexican peasnts) immigrants which suits a lot of US citizens just fine, but, in the absence of compulsory voting or just a high turnout does in the wages of the relatively unskilled. It interesting that the most cogent recent case for raising the minimum wage has been made by a Californian Republican whose independence of mind includes opposing the Iraq war. (Unlike Hilary Clinton).

  2. Midrash
    May 17th, 2014 at 19:32 | #2

    @Julie Thomas
    I am conscious that Yuri is careful to distinguish between defending or agreeing with me and finding my posts clear enough in meaning but I think I owe him something: the same as he has done for me, no more, no less.

    Ms Thomas I find you trivially nit picking and, worse, distorting his point. So what that some institution has a clinical classification of hypochondria as a disease. There is a perfectly well accepted everyday usage – indeed it is by far the more common – and that is clearly what Yuri was deploying.

    What is more, so you can show off your petty possession of esoteric knowledge (did you say you were a member of Mensa? It fits) you misleadingly suggest that Yuri has made a major point about hypochondriacs when, in reality, he has suggested that it is a minor point in contrast to the serious one he mentions which you ignore. What do you say to his shrewd observation about (some) bulk billing doctors? BTW Can someone also explain how the same problem might be prevalent amongst non-bulk-billing doctors, or would it instead be excessive referrals for path tests and ECGs within the same practice?

  3. May 17th, 2014 at 20:16 | #3

    The big right-wing hard-on in the US right now is is trying to kick anyone of the voter rolls who’s not likely to vote for the Republicans. Hence a lot of claptrap about voter fraud and voter ID (as mentioned by JQ). We can definitely expect a hefty round of that in Australia now, as well as a dismal recitation of the old compulsory/non-compulsory voting saw, after a Federal budget that, to a great extent, seems to assume that a lot of the people being shafted by it won’t be voting at all.

    Interesting also that the AEC did note get touched in the budget, despite the WA fiasco and the fire and fury expressed about its competence or otherwise. Presumably they’ll need to be kept intact to implement a new voting roll/ID system? I dunno. Pure conjecture, but the sheer arrogant dismissal of so many poor and low-income losers form the budget’s regressive machinations does leave one wondering.

  4. Sancho
    May 17th, 2014 at 21:08 | #4

    @Peter Evans

    There’s no way they’d get away with the sort of mass disenfranchisement the Republicans have implemented, but it could be that they’ll sail in with the voter fraud argument as a way of opening a path to abolishing compulsory polling.

  5. zoot
    May 17th, 2014 at 22:55 | #5

    @Midrash

    What do you say to his shrewd observation about (some) bulk billing doctors?

    Don’t know about Julie, but I’d say, “Provide some evidence”.
    You could start here.

  6. yuri
    May 17th, 2014 at 23:33 | #6

    @Sancho
    I’ve always been in favour of compulsory voting for two practical reasons which, to my mind, trump any theoretical librtarian or anti-compulsion arguments. (Actually, Gee, think of the inequity: another privilege for the rich who can afford the $20 when they don’t even make up an unsworn excuse for not voting. Oh what an imperfect world we live in run by lackeys of the capitalists who can’t even give clear orders on this one).

    Those reasons are, first, the defence of politicians against the necessity, at least in the US, for almost fulltime fund raising so they can get the vote out next time, first for the primaries, then for the election; second protection against single issue minorities like right-to-lifers who have the one advantage that they will all take the trouble to vote. In Australia their votes tend to be swamped by the uncaring majority who vote because they have to even if disinclined to bother.

  7. Nick
    May 17th, 2014 at 23:45 | #7

    @Midrash

    What is more, so you can show off your petty possession of esoteric knowledge (did you say you were a member of Mensa? It fits) you misleadingly suggest that Yuri has made a major point about hypochondriacs when, in reality, he has suggested that it is a minor point in contrast to the serious one he mentions which you ignore. What do you say to his shrewd observation about (some) bulk billing doctors?

    I’d say that increasing the cost of some 80% of Australians’ healthcare as a means of reducing a few million dollars (at most) in bulk-billing fraud is possibly the daftest thing I’ve ever heard.

    But then yuri also suspects you might be a “quite well known QC”, Midrash! You do like to flatter yourself.

  8. yuri
    May 17th, 2014 at 23:47 | #8

    @Sancho
    I meant to add that I don’t think the abolition of compulsory voting is a right wing or LNP project or aspiration though Nick Minchin who used to be a party apparatchik in Sout Australia has advocated it without engendering any obvious enthusiasm amongst fellow Libs (it doesn’t appear to be a National Party issue at all). If Labor still favours it on the uncertain ground that it helps the ALP most they conceal it with the guilty secret that all those careerist private school boys despise the lumpen proletariat even more than the tough old union leader an hard bitten realist who would sometimes talk privately to the enemy of having to consider the (votes of) the “poor bloody so-called working class”.

  9. Sancho
    May 18th, 2014 at 10:44 | #9

    I’ll be a stickler and point out that Australia doesn’t have compulsory voting. It has compulsory polling.

    The types who argue that being forced to choose politicians is a dreadful affront to their freedom can just draw swastikas all over the ballot, and many do.

  10. kevin1
    May 18th, 2014 at 11:24 | #10

    @Sancho
    The parliamentary library’s paper on the last election estimated that around 7% of eligible voters were not enrolled and 7% of those enrolled didn’t vote. Informal votes were 5.91% in the Reps, and 2.96% in the Senate. So about 20% of potential Reps votes didn’t count.

    About 1/4 of all votes were pre-poll or postal, ie. not on the day, up 700,000 from 2010.

  11. kevin1
    May 18th, 2014 at 11:42 | #11

    @NathanA
    Bernard Keane’s Crikey article “Forget chaplains, what could you do with a quarter of a billion dollars?” eloquently answers his own question: “restoring the $146.8 million cut from science agencies, including $111 million cut from the CSIRO”, and “reversing the $10 million cut to the Bureau of Meteorology, which annoyingly keeps showing that Australia is getting hotter.”

    And the chaplains have reduced reporting and administrative requirements “to allow funding recipients to better focus on delivering chaplain services”. In God we trust.

  12. patrickb
    May 19th, 2014 at 12:25 | #12

    @Nick
    It’s David Flint, got to be. And the strangest aspect of the co-payment is that it’s supposed to go to a fund so the Australia, that shining example of innovation and awesome cleverness, can develop a cure for baldness or cancer or Dunning-Kruger (should help Midrash). The dullness of the govt’s thinking is truly stunning.

  13. David Irving (no relation)
    May 21st, 2014 at 13:12 | #13

    I don’t think it’s David Flint, patrickb. Sure midrash is a pompous fool, but his pomposity and foolishness are subtly different from Flint’s.

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