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With Reformicons like this, no wonder the Reactobots always win

July 6th, 2014

Over the fold, a piece a posted in Crooked Timber on the miserable position of the “Reformicons” – conservative writers who are trying to put some intellectual lipstick on the pig that is the Republican Party.

This isn’t a problem in Australia – there are, as far as I can tell, no intellectually serious conservatives left at all. The dominant thinktank is the IPA, a mirror of the US Heartland Foundation, which is utterly discredited, even on the right for its embrace of delusionism on everything from economic policy to climate change.[1] Quadrant, once a serious publication, is now a sad joke.

And then there’s the Oz. Enough said.

Sam Tanenhaus has a long piece in the NY Times, lamenting the failure of the latest attempt to convert the Republicans into a “party of ideas”. His star candidate for this role (one of only a handful of possibles) is Yuval Levin, and Exhibit A is Levin’s journal National Affairs, which he lauds for its mind-blowing wonkiness, in a way that’s impossible to summarise without parody. Here’s Tanenhaus

This was the sterile soil in which Levin planted National Affairs, which exudes seriousness of an almost antiquated kind. Each issue is the size of a small book, unleavened by illustration or even reported narrative. The typical Levin-assigned-and-edited article leads the reader through a forced march of acronyms and statistics and of formulations like this: “The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (P.R.W.O.A.) replaced A.F.D.C. with a new program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Under TANF, families can draw federal aid for only five years, to underline that welfare is supposed to be temporary. And where federal funding for A.F.D.C. had been open-ended, for TANF it is fixed, so that states must pay for any expansion of welfare.”

On it goes, article after article — “Taxes and the Family,” “Social Security and Work,” “Recasting Conservative Economics,” “Reality and Public Policy.” And yet with its stodgy prose, its absence of invective and red meat for the angry right, its microscopic circulation (6,000 subscribers, though some articles reach as many as 100,000 digital readers) and its one blogger who provides links to academic writings, National Affairs has become the citadel of reform conservatism.

Wow! an article that actually names a policy and describes its central features. It’s hard to believe that anyone still does this stuff. The tone is as if Tanenhaus had encountered a tribe in some remote wilderness engaged in ritual debates about tensor calculus.

And of course this is pretty much what is going on. The Republican party is, in essence, a combination of an ethnic voting bloc (Southern whites) and an economic interest group. The latter is dominated by the 1 per cent, but including small business owners, and high income members of the “white working class”, as defined by the lack of a college education. The tribalists don’t care about policy analysis, and the 1 per cent would prefer that their policies be implemented as quietly as possible. Nevertheless, open tribalism is hard to sell to the majority of US voters who don’t fall into the core category of white, (heterosexually) married, non-poor, Christians, so some pretence of having ideas is desirable.

It’s worth looking at the pieces mentioned by Tanenhaus. “Reality and public policy” sounded promising, for example, given that the primary critique of the Republican Party is its divorce from reality. It turns out to be a bizarre panegyric to (now former) Pope Benedict for restating the fundamental importance of the differences between men and women.

Recasting conservative economics” is mostly standard blame-shifting about the causes of the financial crisis (mercifully not peddling the Community Reinvestment Act) but it gives an interesting insight into the assumed intellectual level of the readership with the following definition and gloss

Keynesian economic theory — named for early-20th century English economist John Maynard Keynes — calls on governments to step in with an active program of expansionary fiscal policy when the private economy is contracting.

I couldn’t find “Work and Social Security” but the general line is what you would expect: privatisation and raising the retirement age. This is about as close as the reformicons get to a substantive debate over policy issues.

As I said with respect to Ross Douthat, the point here isn’t to think about policy issues, but to talk about policy in a way that isn’t obviously crazy, while not saying anything that contradicts the interests of the 1 per cent or the tribal taboos of the Republican base.

It’s all a kind of cargo cult. The central dogma is that, if a suitable simulacrum of a landing strip (in this case, a policy “journal” that looks vaguely like the Brookings Papers) is constructed, the cargo of intellectual credibility will magically arrive. At least as far as Tanenhuas goes, the magic seems to have worked.

fn1. The Centre for Independent Studies has gone much the same way, linking up with the utterly loony Spiked group (formerly the Revolutionary Communist Party). They still have some credible researchers, which is more than can be said for the IPA.

  1. Robert (not from UK)
    July 6th, 2014 at 11:11 | #1

    In the 1980s and 1990s, IPA REVIEW published people like C.D. Kemp, B.A. Santamaria, and America’s Russell Kirk. Agree or disagree with what these three men said, they were quite obviously serious social conservatives and never mere stooges for Big Tobacco, Big Gambling, and Big Booze. I see no one even remotely comparable on the Australian Right now. Perhaps analogous individuals still exist, but they’re certainly not being published in this country.

  2. July 6th, 2014 at 11:12 | #2

    A missing “be” – It turns out to be a bizarre…

    Lovely Sunday morning read, thank you. The average Republican voter will probably equate Levin’s journal to the difficult stuff at school, “I don’t understand any of it, but it must be right”.

  3. John Quiggin
    July 6th, 2014 at 11:34 | #3

    @John Brookes

    Fixed now (I hope)

  4. Ikonoclast
    July 6th, 2014 at 16:00 | #4

    The rich 1% or more properly the rich .01% have a plan and they are implementing it. They are winning more and more wealth and power all the time. They are winning hands down. I suspect they are indeed fully conversant with climate change, limits to growth and other challenges. I can’t know what their plans are so I can only guess. Their plan(s) could be either of;

    A. Enjoy wealth and power now. Who cares what happens to the world after we are dead?
    B. Consolidate wealth and power in the rich elite. Keep a much smaller underclass of humans alive but switch to automation as much as possible. Plan for a world with 2 billion people or less with up to 99% of them impoverished peons. Strip the Middle East and Africa totally bare and maybe strip one or more of the other continents. Pay no attention if humans die out in those places or go back to the stone age.

  5. jungney
    July 6th, 2014 at 16:52 | #5

    The tribalists don’t care about policy analysis, and the 1 per cent would prefer that their policies be implemented as quietly as possible. Nevertheless, open tribalism is hard to sell to the majority of US voters who don’t fall into the core category of white, (heterosexually) married, non-poor, Christians, so some pretence of having ideas is desirable.

    Very nice. Joe Bageant made a similar argument by different means. I’m starting to think of you as the Joe Bageant of economics!

  6. Mozzie
    July 6th, 2014 at 17:57 | #6

    A little harsh on the IPA; the ABC’s conservative stalking horse. I doubt the Heartlanders would stand for openly gay spokestypes, no matter how prognathously they toe the line.

  7. wilful
    July 6th, 2014 at 18:33 | #7

    Ikon, have you read Ben Elton’s Stark? Seems to be about the level of planning that is going on. I think that Gina knows what’s good for her, and is going to keep on doing that while she can. I don’t think she believes that there are any real consequences that will affect her.

  8. Midrash
    July 6th, 2014 at 23:02 | #8

    @Ikonoclast
    Aren’t you afraid that your nearest and dearest will have to ring some helpful people up and say “he must have stopped taking his pills: I think he really needs to be taken away for a rest”. “Why? Oh really its another breakout of funny numbers. You see he’s really quite bright and he tries to be logical but at the moment he’s foaming about the 60 million people, or maybe it’s 600,000 that have got together to form a plan they can agree on and to implement”. “I could go on… there’s the Khodorkosky anomaly and those Indian brothers’ rivalry… but, good, you get the point and will be round quickly with all the usual stuff: thank you, I’m relieved”.

  9. Ikonoclast
    July 7th, 2014 at 07:02 | #9

    @Midrash

    I am more afraid for you than me.

  10. Ikonoclast
    July 7th, 2014 at 07:36 | #10

    @John Quiggin

    It’s fun and easy to lampoon the loony right but it seems to me you are paying inadequate attention to the real fact that the oligarchs and the far right are winning.

    1. Are the capitalist oligarchs winning? Well, yes they are. Inequality is increasing. Profit share of the economy is going up and labour share is going down. Tax systems are becoming less and less progressive. Corporations avoid more and more tax. The poor are getting less welfare assistance.

    2. Is capitalist-oligarch propaganda and obusfaction being effective? Yes, it is. There has been zero effective progress on climate change or environmental issues in general since about 1990. Science (where it tells us things we don’t like as climate science does) is in now often in disarray and retreat. Scientists (other than perhaps weapons and surveillance researchers) are being retrenched.

    3. The rule of law is in retreat. The US has the Patriot Act. The executive, military and security apparatus are above the law. People can be and are disappeared indefinitely, tortured and murdered. In Australia, or rather just outside our borders, something is happening to refugees but we don’t actually know what is happening. The secrecy that surrounds these operations prevents us from knowing what our supposedly democratic and representative government is doing.

    Poking fun at the loony part of the far right spectrum probably indicates an under-estimate of the sophisticated nature of their propaganda and control program. Propaganda is tailored for multiple target audiences. Loony theories, denial, obfuscation and promotion of doubt (as four somewhat discrete strategies) are respectively effective on different segments of the population.

    It is quite possible to promote loony theories, appealing to ingrained prejudices, to target susceptible segments, whilst massaging a different audience with a more subtle message and saying “well nobody believes those wild theories but there is room for doubt on such and such”.

    Indeed, it appears that the loony right mask serves another purpose. It allows smug intellectuals to poke fun at the far right whilst missing the clear fact that the serious and more clandestine far right is winning the field and implementing its entire agenda.

  11. July 7th, 2014 at 08:18 | #11

    With Loonylefticons like Ikonoclast, no wonder the Centrobots always win.

  12. Midrash
    July 7th, 2014 at 11:08 | #12

    @m0nty
    You are most unfair towards the poor chap (chapess – or a bit of both – who can be sure about such a ruthlessly consistent and individual online persona?). Thanks to his being at least in part wrong about the rule of law I have just secured a personally undeserved (and therefore especially enjoyable: I’m sure you will understand immediately if you have ever heard someone grumble about just getting what was owing to them. Makes you think doesn’t it – how much more utility could be created by the Nobel committees just tossing in a few extra vaguely plausible names at random. Sorry, this is getting silly: I forgot that they are doing it already; Oslo leads the way with Kissinger, Begin, Obama and Al Gore [don't get me on to the IPCC]. Literature’s an easy one for Welsh speaking Swedish African language specialists and Economics is a brilliant joker in the pack)…. phew… legacy from a great uncle with a truly embarrassing number of noughts attached to it even when transferred out of zlotys and a bit is ripped off by trustees in Bermuda.

    Obviously there might in fact be some clever genes (can there be just lucky ones?) that I share but desserts don’t seem to be overwhelmingly strong beyond those clever genes.
    Still, the point is that I have immediately begun justifying Ikonoclast’s worldview. I want to be an oligarch! New boy on the block and with mere pocket money beside the Slims and Lis and those evil Gateses and Buffetts I immediately found someone to take a message to Gina. “With my brains and your money we could make a formidable oligarch” I said. So far no reply.

  13. Totaram
    July 7th, 2014 at 11:09 | #13

    m0nty: I don’t see anything loony about Ikonoclast. He is absolutely right and if you can’t see that maybe you need to go on some medication. The government in Oz has just won a thumping majority, and then handed down a budget that has the fingerprints of the IPA all over it. If the IPA is “utterly discredited” (according to Prof Q) how could this happen? Being discredited in the minds of a few intellectuals means nothing in a democracy where voting is compulsory. The IPA is in your face everyday, whether it is on the ABC or in the Murdoch Press. They now have a “Freedom Commissioner” who continues to write propaganda pieces in the Murdoch press. I have yet to come across anyone from the Australia Institute being on the ABC. Even the Labor party has adopted the “framing” pioneered by the think tanks of the 1% , with terms like “taxpayer funded” and “balanced budgets” being bandied about. If you look carefully, you may even find “tax relief” in labor’s policy statements. And who, in your opinion, are the Centrobots? What have they won?

  14. Ikonoclast
    July 7th, 2014 at 11:23 | #14

    If I am unfair to anyone, it is to Prof. J.Q. His strategy of linking the loony right to the main, manipulative right wing Powers That Be might be the correct one. He is in a sense taking a leaf out of their playbook. I.E. Don’t credit them with being clever conspirators, manipulators and mavhiavellians (which they are but it makes the accuser look like a conspiracy nut). Instead take their looniest propaganda and suggest that they ALL believe their own looniest propaganda to the nth degree. Thus, discredit them that way.

    Such a strategy could bear fruit when disasters unambiguously attributable to climete change and limits to growth do start occuring. Then real events will begin to bear out that the oligarchic right is dangerously mad (megalomaniacal) and leading us down a maladaptive and disastrous path.

  15. Uncle Milton
    July 7th, 2014 at 12:11 | #15

    “This isn’t a problem in Australia – there are, as far as I can tell, no intellectually serious conservatives left at all.”

    How about … thinking … Judith Sloan?

  16. Rob
    July 7th, 2014 at 12:15 | #16

    This makes me wonder about a meta question: What’s wrong with democracy (or at least our implementation of it) if the so-called 1% are wield such control?

    Is it money, which thereby puts paid to the “1 person, vote” fundamental? Much of the reporting on Clive Palmers’ success with PUP, and The Greens success with Melbourne suggests that it was simply a case of money (taking the form of paid advertising).

    And if that’s the case, isn’t the “looney right”, 1% or whatever actually cleverer then they seem, in that they can use money in order to convince the majority to vote against their best interest. If you have that power, you don’t need ideas.

  17. Totaram
    July 7th, 2014 at 13:56 | #17

    @Uncle Milton
    haha, why not those other economists, Henry Ergas, and Sinclair Davidson?

  18. Fran Barlow
    July 7th, 2014 at 14:16 | #18

    “This isn’t a problem in Australia – there are, as far as I can tell, no intellectually serious conservatives left at all.”

    Quoting the above from PrQ Uncle Milton offered:

    How about … thinking … Judith Sloan?

    I shake my head and recall her last foray with “the Kouk” on tobacco consumption figures. Hers was not the conduct of an intellectually serious person.

  19. Midrash
    July 7th, 2014 at 14:29 | #19

    @Uncle Milton
    Well spotted Sir! And Prof JQ may be a little young to have thought of David Kemp, former tenured full Prof and son of the founder of the IPA.
    And what of John Carroll, Robert Manne’s former friend (a mathematician with an economics degree before he took to sociology)?

  20. m0nty
    July 7th, 2014 at 16:02 | #20

    @Midrash
    Dude, I remember the day I used to write like that. 1995, I think it was, in the full callowness of my youth. You’ll grow out of it.

    @Totaram
    I don’t subscribe to such nervous nellyism. I have little time for those who pretend that the IPA is running the country. In reality, very few of the IPA’s agenda items – like those in the Commission of Audit – have any chance whatsoever of being enacted. Don’t mistake media foghorns for the signs of actual change.

    Chief among the current Centrobots is Joe Hockey, who is running mostly pure Keynesianism as does every Australian Treasurer. The most successful framing in this country is done by Treasury, and despite years of attacks by the LNP against them from opposition, Hockey has accepted their wisdom once in government and rejected the silliness of the CoA, to his credit. He’s not planning on actually balancing the budget for the foreseeable future.

    @Ikonoclast
    I’f you’re talking rhetorical “strategy”, I’d much rather laugh at the IPA types for their powerlessness. It is only because they have so little influence that they get so much media time. If they were actually in positions of power then they would shut up, so as not to rock the boat.

    @Uncle Milton
    I daresay you will have that thought disproven by her appearance on Q&A tonight with Stiglitz and Garnaut. It’s hardly a fair fight, intellectually.

  21. patrickb
    July 7th, 2014 at 16:55 | #21

    @Midrash
    Looks like Midrash’s dozed off again. The point is that there were once credible thinkers on the right. Now you have to behave like a raving looney otherwise you get condemned for betraying the cause and told you’re actually a lefty (see Fraser, M). And John Carroll just keeps right out of it these days.

  22. Fran Barlow
    July 7th, 2014 at 18:11 | #22

    And here, a definitive refutation of the credibility of Sloane and Davidson on the tobacco consumption post plain packaging regime:

    https://www.cancervic.org.au/downloads/plainfacts/Industry_claims_on_sales_250614pm.pdf

  23. Nick
    July 7th, 2014 at 20:04 | #23

    Yes, the Oz’s stable of ‘serious’ economists blew what was left of their cover on the cig stats debacle. But they are too big to fail in the Oz’s little pond,and they are the government’s ‘intellectual’ muse the rest of the time.

    The IPA is utterly discredited, but could not care less. They have incumbency, they have the Oz, a dullard puppet government, and that self-serving insanity that Abbott name-checks: ‘if your critics /political opponents attack you, you must be on the right track.’

    Indeed, the right have no credible thinkers, just privileged access and truckloads of business funding. I doubt whether they are too worried about non-crazy policy at the mo.

  24. Rob
    July 7th, 2014 at 23:53 | #24

    m0nty :
    @Totaram
    I don’t subscribe to such nervous nellyism. I have little time for those who pretend that the IPA is running the country. In reality, very few of the IPA’s agenda items – like those in the Commission of Audit – have any chance whatsoever of being enacted. Don’t mistake media foghorns for the signs of actual change.

    So you would disagree with these assessments?

    http://www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/news/politics/2014/05/31/abbotts-faceless-men-the-ipa/

    http://www.crikey.com.au/2013/09/06/institute-of-liberal-party-policy-what-the-ipa-will-get-from-abbott/

  25. July 8th, 2014 at 09:11 | #25

    @Rob
    Yes Rob, I would, and did at my own blog at the time. On Q&A last night, Judith Sloan disagreed with almost every LNP budget item that was raised. The IPA are dries, but the government is run by wets. Hockey has maintained Gillard levels of spending, for the most part. As was said by Garnaut, the major shift has been in putting more of the tax and payment burden on the lower and middle classes, not actually slashing expenditure. This is anathema to the IPA.

  26. David Irving (no relation)
    July 8th, 2014 at 13:04 | #26

    @Uncle Milton
    I haven’t regarded Sloan as an intellectually serious conservative since the first time I read something she wrote. About 1990, I think.

  27. Rob
    July 8th, 2014 at 13:32 | #27

    m0nty :
    @Rob
    Yes Rob, I would, and did at my own blog at the time. On Q&A last night, Judith Sloan disagreed with almost every LNP budget item that was raised. The IPA are dries, but the government is run by wets. Hockey has maintained Gillard levels of spending, for the most part. As was said by Garnaut, the major shift has been in putting more of the tax and payment burden on the lower and middle classes, not actually slashing expenditure. This is anathema to the IPA.

    Hmm ok, but you seem to be very focused on fiscal policy.

    There are many other items on the IPA wish list, or at least seem compatible with IPA world-view, that have been or will be acted on (to some extent) by this government; Climate Change, disempowering environmental authorities, mining tax repeal, pursue various FTAs, etc

  28. July 8th, 2014 at 23:46 | #28

    @Rob
    And there are many more on that wish list that won’t be implemented, like enacting WorkChoices, or repealing s18c or tobacco plain packaging. The LNP is run by conservatives, not libertarians. Sometimes their interests converge, particularly in sucking up to big business, but where there is conflict, the IPA always loses out to the Tories.

  29. Midrash
    July 10th, 2014 at 18:53 | #29

    @m0nty
    “Grow out of it”? With luck you’ll get to second childhood and then find ways to avoid sad seriousness at seeing foolishness and obsessiveness on ancient particulars recycled as if new for the umpteenth time.

  30. Midrash
    July 10th, 2014 at 21:13 | #30

    @Rob
    Anyone who thinks the IPA has much influence with government has never got to understand politicians. Politicians want to win elections. A plausible coherent story supporting values and aims which support lolicies is obviously desirable and may be contributed to by a think tank but I suspect that the IPA itself wouldn’t believe it had much weight with government. It is not now representative of business leaders as it was 50+ years ago but much more yesterday’s men. One of those, Michael Kroger has been a great political wheeler and dealer and now far too shrewd to give the game away but can hardly believe that a body increasingly financed by individual donations and inclined to quixotic, if admirable, campaigns for Enlightenment values, Western Civilisation and freedom of speech is going to set the course of government. It is merely a happy co-incidence that George Brandis needed no prodding to see and object to the widely agreed essential vice of Sec 18C, namely its protecting people from being offended.

    I would guess that quite able and mature IPA people would even acknowledge that the vicious campaign against Andre Bolt (which was objectionable but hardly something that Bolt could have won much sympathy over, given his unfairness to some of the plaintiffs) should properly have been successful actions for libel by the few plaintiffs about whom he had been careless with the facts. Still, is it even a left-right matter to find aspects of Sec 18C objectionable? Is it a left-right matter to object to giving a great deal of discretionary judgment and power to judicial figures (you don’t have to go back far in history to the days when the judiciary protected property by sending some of our ancestors to Australia: just look at the fury aroused by SCOTUS decisions – most of the fury being on the left for well over 10 years). In fact the case against Bolt may have been decided mostly on facts which would have grounded a defamation action against him. The judge wasn’t responsible for Merkel’s deplorable reference to Nazis. (And what has been Malcolm Fraser’s excuse? Certainly suffering from relevance deprivation syndrome and resentment at his successor as Liberal leader – whom he had had the wit to promote – behaving as shrewdly as Malcolm by blaming the ex-PM, justifiably, for the Budget blowout he bequeathed to Hawke/Keating. Maybe age too, though JMF’s instincts about underdogs seem to have early roots and manifestations. He wasn’t just showing up Gough in his welcoming of Vietnamese refugees or his misguided opening up of Lebanese immigration. It is told that he made a particular friend of one of Oxford’s few black men in the early 50s, perhaps reflecting the fact that he himself felt out of place and would not have gained admission to Oxford on academic merit – as well as being younger than UK ex-national servicemen, his appearance to some of arrogance being a total misconception. It would be far fetched to imagine that having a Jewish grandfather aligned him with the modern Diaspora manifestion of ancient Jewish values in concern for civil liberties and humanitarian causes).
    I refer of course to the absurd suggestion that returning economic migrants, more Sinhalese than Tamil (!), to Sri Lanka was like returning Jews to Germany when they were expressly discriminated against by law and the subject of such outrages as Kristallnacht.

  31. Megan
    July 11th, 2014 at 00:45 | #31

    @Midrash

    Politicians want to win elections

    That doesn’t hold true if you study the ALP between their landslide 2007 win at the federal election and their bumpy decline through 2010 to their sound thrashing in 2013.

    They abandoned the very policies that got them elected (humane treatment of refugees, taking climate change seriously, equitable social welfare) and they still cling to them.

    The ALP would rather lose elections than revert to their historical policies.

  32. Megan
    July 11th, 2014 at 00:48 | #32

    sorry, rather than “still cling to them” I should have said “still reject them and cling to their opposites”.

  33. Rob
    July 11th, 2014 at 14:26 | #33

    Midrash :
    @Rob
    Anyone who thinks the IPA has much influence with government has never got to understand politicians.

    Yep, that’s me!

  34. July 13th, 2014 at 08:45 | #34

    Midrash :
    @m0nty
    “Grow out of it”? With luck you’ll get to second childhood and then find ways to avoid sad seriousness at seeing foolishness and obsessiveness on ancient particulars recycled as if new for the umpteenth time.

    Like most men, I never fully left my first childhood. Toylike people make me boylike, as the man said.

    My writing grew up, though. Read a bit of Hemingway or Asimov to rid yourself of rhetorical pretence. Words are tools for getting work done, when used correctly. Throwing them at the screen like a Hart art piece is all very well, but it doesn’t accomplish much. You’ll learn, youngun.

  35. J-D
    July 13th, 2014 at 12:40 | #35

    @Megan
    The fact that people lost an election is insufficient evidence to support the conclusion that they wanted to lose the election. That’s about as stupid as seeing people losing chess games or football games and concluding that they must have wanted to lose. I personally have lost plenty of chess games, sometimes by making egregiously stupid blunders, but not because I wanted to lose them. I make a significant amount of stupid blunders because I’m just not much good at the game. Failing to consider the possibility of politicians making stupid blunders because they’re not much good at what they’re doing suggests a serious lack of imagination.

  36. J-D
    July 13th, 2014 at 12:44 | #36

    @Midrash
    Wanting to have judges but not to grant them extensive discretion is ludicrous. There would be no point in having judges without extensive discretion.

    I have only ever observed criticism of judicial discretion from people who are dissatisfied with the particular decisions arrived at by its exercise. When people don’t like the decisions judges make they may see them as going beyond their proper role, but when they like the decisions judges make they tend to perceive them as Daniels come to judgement.

    I should add that I’m not specifically defending any existing system. If I had a free hand to design the system it would be radically different. But it still wouldn’t incorporate judges without discretion.

  37. Midrash
    July 13th, 2014 at 20:17 | #37

    @J-D
    There is a distinction to be made that I think you miss. Courts are in the business of usually making one side unhappy but losing in a case where highly technical questions of property, including IP, or tax law are argued is one thing. No one should complain if the judge or judges have followed traditional judicial reasoning which cannot, obviously, totally eliminate the idiosyncratic or strangely prejudiced but tends to mimimise it. However when judges actually start with untested generalities embodied in new legislation and have, or at least are seen as taking, a free hand to give content to the hitherto undefined invitations to substitute one person’s subjectivity for the never quite nailed down subjective preferences of the legislator one is almost bound to generate resentment and divisiveness.

  38. J-D
    July 13th, 2014 at 22:04 | #38

    @Midrash

    I think your alleged distinction is imaginary and that you have concealed this from yourself in a fog of words.

  39. July 15th, 2014 at 15:08 | #39

    Some people on this thread are in serious denial about the power and influence of IPA.

    One commentator argues that there ubiquity is actually proof that they have no power, on the basis that if they really did have influence, we would never have heard of them!

    What a tortured logic. I understand the comfort of living in such a coccoon, but it does the left no good. IPA have been remarkably successful in placing their extreme agenda into ABC as a standard option to be considered regularly.

    That doesn’t make IPA a sensible academic voice, but it does make them a powerful lobby group for the big corps that pay their bills.

  40. July 15th, 2014 at 15:13 | #40

    I also wonder that some people don’t understand that IPA are all about ambit claims and pushing the debate in a certain direction, rather than a 0-1 “win”.

    So let’s say they make 100 extreme claims, are given loads of ABC air time to spread them around, then 10 are delivered fully and 40 in various degrees…

    Is that a failure? No way. They have still had a great influence considering there may be relatively few stakeholders behind them.

  41. m0nty
    July 17th, 2014 at 13:46 | #41

    @Mark
    Yes Mark, we all know about the Overton Window. Contrast that with the Commission of Audit, which is a textbook case of a grab-bag of extremist ideas thrown out in an attempt to move the window to the right, or the IPA’s wishlist which is much the same thing. I would argue that the fact that so few of those vain demands are ever met is proof that the majority of the Australian electorate – the centre – is knowledgeable enough to recognise these things as rhetorical tactics, not workable policies, and ignore them.

    I would suggest not living in the ABC cocoon, Mark, and not getting so worked up about its partial colonisation. Most Australians don’t consume ABC political content. Practically no one watches The Drum. Your passion is admirable, and I see you’ve started a new poliblog. The blogosphere is where the new generation of leftist content should be growing and thriving.

    The IPA has a right to exist, and it is entitled to enter debate to try to pull the Overton Window to the right. That is only democratic, even (especially) on the ABC. The real question should be why there isn’t an equivalent effort attacking from the left. Perhaps you’ll be one of the new guard. Best of luck with it.

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