Home > Economics - General > Old men behaving badly (repost from 2011)

Old men behaving badly (repost from 2011)

July 26th, 2014

John Howard’s endorsement of Ian Plimer’s children’s version of his absurd anti-science tract Heaven and Earth has at least one good feature. I can now cut the number of prominent Australian conservatives for whom I have any intellectual respect down from two to one.[1] Howard’s acceptance of anti-science nonsense shows that, for all his ability as a politician, he is, in the end, just another tribalist incapable of thinking for himself. [2]

Although not all the tribal leaders are old men, an old, high-status man like Howard is certainly emblematic of Australian delusionism . Like a lot of old, high status men, he stopped thinking decades ago, but is even more confident of being right now than when he had to confront his prejudices with reality from time time. Like other delusionists, Howard has no scientific training, shows no sign of understanding statistics and almost certainly hasn’t read any real scientific literature, but nonetheless believes he can rank clowns like Plimer and Monckton ahead of the real scientists.

The situation in the US is similar but even more grimly amusing, with the sole truthteller in the entire Republican party, Jon Huntsman, recently reduced to waffling (in both US and UK/Oz senses of this term) because he briefly looked like having a chance to be the next non-Romney. This tribal mindlessness is reflected in the inability of the Republican Party, at a time when they ought to be unbackable favorites in 2012, to come up with a candidate who can convince the base s/he is one of them, but who doesn’t rapidly reveal themselves as a fool, a knave or both.

And, as evidence of the utter intellectual shamelessness of delusionism, you can’t beat the campaign against wind power, driven by the kinds of absurd claims of risk that would be mocked, mercilessly and deservedly, if they came from the mainstream environmental movement.

The global left is in pretty bad shape in lots of ways. Still, I would really hate to be a conservative right now.

fn1. Now down to zero. Turnbull has proved he lacks any real substance.

fn2. I’m not saying that all Australian conservatives are mindless tribalists. There’s a large group, epitomized by Greg Hunt and now Malcolm Turnbull, who understand the issues quite well, but are unwilling to speak up. Then there is a group of postmodern conservatives of whom Andrew Bolt is probably the best example, who have passed the point where concepts of truth or falsehood have any meaning – truth is whatever suits the cause on any given day.

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  1. campidg
    July 26th, 2014 at 18:19 | #1

    Conservatives may be gaining popularity as middle class wealth declines in the west and people feel less secure. Votes are more and more likely to go to the reassuring blandishments of the right promising a return to better times rather than left wing ideas that might actually progress environmental issues and improve quality of life.

    ps Third paragraph, second sentence has multiple typos: “ought to be BACAKABLE favorites” (?) and “convince the BASE….”

  2. Rob Stove
    July 26th, 2014 at 18:22 | #2

    Well, I would indubitably call myself “conservative”. It is true that my outlook is far closer to Lord Salisbury’s (indeed Joseph de Maistre’s) understanding of the adjective than to Margaret Thatcher’s.

    What’s more, it is also true that nobody would call me “prominent”. (Except perhaps a handful of American readers and magazine editors. Shades of Frederick the Great’s alleged lament “They think me a master of French prose … but only in Russia”.)

    Still and all, I can assure Professor Quiggin that I have never ceased to respect him and to read him. Besides, far from my having wished myself to hide behind fashionable denialist fig-leaves, any pretentions I might have had to authority in any branch of the hard sciences were squelched long ago in a New South Wales government high school by my long-suffering science teacher, a Mrs Liotta.

    It was Mrs Liotta’s verdict that she had seen some inept science students in her time but that, however case-hardened she might be, my own failure to operate a Bunsen burner correctly or to comprehend even the simplest riffs on the Periodic Table was in her experience unsurpassed. I often wonder what became of her. Deo volente, my scientific ineptitude did not send her to an early grave.

  3. Midrash
    July 26th, 2014 at 18:27 | #3

    Your reference to the Post-Modern made me remember that no one had mentioned on a previous blog Keith Windschuttle as a conservative intellectual. Of course he is not a scientist or economist and therefore able to be misled by some of those who are – which puts him in good company – but his “The Killing of History” (circa 1995) is surely worthy of praise.

    No doubt his editorship of a much expanded Quadrant has prevented him finishing his Fabrication of Aboriginal History project but his first volume did expose some very shoddy purported research by the (presumably) politically or ideologically motivated (earning references from the Aboriginal history establishment can’t be excluded as motives I suppose). Also he did a good job of showing that the Colonial government was better characterised as Christian Evangelical (including the military officers) than by the outlook of sealers and ex-convicts, or, for that matter the more free-booting settlers.
    I suspect that there is an additional reason for the failure to produce more than two volumes in his (anti-) Fabrication project, one that is not discreditable to him. Applying his ferociously thorough standards of research it may have taken him a long time to move on to the history of what was the northern reaches of South Australia and of northern Queensland and he may have realised that there were indeed prima facie disgraceful massacres there which reflected badly on governments.

    Of course it would be desirable for people who want to condemn Windschuttle’s move from left to right as he rejected with disgust the unscholarly practices he saw on the left to actually read him

  4. ZM
    July 26th, 2014 at 19:01 | #4

    Midrash, it is an excellent idea indeed to bring up Keith Windshuttle – his battle techniques in the history wars have been adopted by climate science denial it’s very well.

  5. ZM
    July 26th, 2014 at 19:02 | #5

    Denialists – auto correct :(

  6. Midrash
    July 26th, 2014 at 19:21 | #6

    Assuming you are not relying in Windschuttle’s enemies – of whom he has plenty, some of them just because they regarded him as belonging to the wrong leftist sect in his youth – I would be interested in your elaboration of what you say about his “battle techniques”. As the facts relevant to understanding climate are pprobablya billion times the number on Aboriginal history to be found in the archives and the difference in mathematically affected interpretation almost infinite it doesn’t strike me that you have had a profitable moment of inspired comparison.

  7. ZM
    July 26th, 2014 at 20:00 | #7

    I mean that he pretends the people he chooses as enemies are ideological whereas he himself has no ideology or interests that he is pursuing (despite quadrant being funded by the CIA), that he accuses other people of ‘fabrication’ where he himself is just pursuing an honest understanding of the matter involved, that he misrepresents the scholarship of the people he chooses as enemies, and that he uses small errors and people’s interpretative reasoning where there are data gaps to claim there is some great untruthful conspiracy of ‘leftists’ trying to fool the poor unsuspecting trustful public :(

  8. kevin1
    July 26th, 2014 at 20:50 | #8

    Yet conservatives becoming more sceptical if not radical as they age seems an Australian phenomenon ie. Malcolm Fraser, Hewson, Paul Barratt, John Dowd, John Menadue, Robert Manne, Bernie Fraser. These guys give intellectual and rational explanations for their views; they are not ‘grumpy old men’. When did this begin to publicly manifest itself and why? Are there female leaders in this group? Does it happen elsewhere?

    Note I have not included the various Labor giants who wait until their valedictory speech or subsequent book to unveil their cynicism about the system eg. Clyde Cameron, Lindsay Tanner; while the conservative conversion seems to be due to revelation, on the Labor side it seems to be the product of political opportunism and fear of being exiled as a “rat”.

  9. frankis
    July 26th, 2014 at 22:13 | #9

    That was a great piece!

  10. kevin1
    July 26th, 2014 at 22:46 | #10

    Was anyone in the coalition listening when the Conservative Party ex-chairman and Thatcher Environment Minister recently gave his Australian counterparts a huge blast for their climate change denialism? How do they reconcile with this brand of conservatism? Why do our conservatives take their cues from the US nutters rather than the UK, when their affiliations are with the latter?

  11. July 26th, 2014 at 23:33 | #11

    What little I’ve heard of Windshuttle was bad enough. His idea of accuracy in historical matters was to only trust the official records of the day. So if the police reports said that there was no massacre of aborigines, then for Windshuttle it didn’t happen.

    At least that is how I remember it. I also recall having to read it twice because I couldn’t believe I’d read it correctly the first time.

  12. Midrash
    July 27th, 2014 at 02:55 | #12

    Thanks for explaining what you mean. I shall leave Mr Windschuttle to answer it in the unlikely event that he reads this blog. I think I can say with some assurance however that you do your case no credit by the reference to CIA funding. As I understand it the CIA gave money to some journals, including Encounter in the UK and Quadrant in Australia after they had shown themselves to be suitably anti Communist during the Cold War but that this was nearly 60 years ago!

  13. Midrash
    July 27th, 2014 at 03:10 | #13

    I think you are referring to the egregious John Gummer, now Lord Deben (?), whom I happened to see and hear on Lateline.

    Even without someone making something of his starring role in the Westminster expenses scandal which was a bit hard to reconcile with his ostentatious religiosity and some dubious attention seeking stunts as minister his demeanour was such as to guarantee that Australian politicians would dismiss him as a pretentious Pommy twit with zero qualifications in science. While not wanting to suggest for a moment that Barry Jones is a twit the vaguely evangelical enthusiasm for the AGW-threatens-disaster cause of two non-scientists who became fascinated by what they picked up from scientists as ministers (or earlier as backbenchers) seems more than sheer chance coincidence.

  14. Midrash
    July 27th, 2014 at 03:40 | #14

    @John Brookes
    I am not sure that it is very helpful to report “what little I’ve heard of Windschuttle”. He has after all written quite a lot from which you could derive an informed opinion. My recollection from Volume 1 of his Fabrication project was that he did not rely on official – as in e.g. police – records to make his case that the Henry Reynolds’ epigones were lazy fabricators (and that Reynolds overstated his case on Tasmania) but on looking at everything that they had used and everything else that he could find in any libraries or archives and seeking to prove that they must have started with some “black armband” preconception or political case to make and then just skimmed the archives for some factoids. I don’t remember forming a view on what his motivating prompt might have been but I guess there were a few clear cut cases which made him angry with professional historians as you would expect the anti PoMo “The Killing of History” to be if he found them getting something wrong for what appeared to be ideological or doctrinal reasons. He might, for example, have reacted with contempt to a glib mischaracterisation of the worthy and well-intentioned evangelicals who were frequently found in colonial government. Why would he? Well, as an old lefty, he might have seen that one very clearly.

    Seeing a TV program which related the false and inflammatory description in the SMH c.1882 of Aboriginal atrocities against a white family on Lizard Island (how like Mr. Putin’s Russian media on the Ukraine) and mentioned the massacres of Aborigines which followed reminded me that Windschuttle may have started with some clear and manageable cases such as early 19th century Tasmania and some specific, much more recent, NW Western Australian events where, from memory, a self-aggrandising fabulist had distorted the record, but that when anf if he tackles the wider northern scene he may find it getting a bit diificult and certainly demanding of more time than he can give it personally if he is to meet the standards required of someone who has accused others of fabricating.

  15. Midrash
    July 27th, 2014 at 03:42 | #15

    “would expect the author if the anti PoMo….”

  16. John Quiggin
    July 27th, 2014 at 06:06 | #16

    “Too busy to produce the evidence I promised” ranks up there with “The dog ate my homework”. Windschuttle can’t even count to three

  17. mandas
    July 27th, 2014 at 07:48 | #17

    So, what are your views on Greg Hunt now?

  18. J-D
    July 27th, 2014 at 08:07 | #18


    Perhaps you’re not familiar with the expression ‘unbackable favourite’?

    The literal meaning is ‘a competitor considered by bookmakers as so likely to win that they will not accept any bets on that result’. Since bookmakers practically never make any competitor literally unbackable, the expression is sometimes used more loosely to mean ‘a competitor considered by the bookmakers as so likely to win that the odds they are offering on that result are prohibitive, or close to it’, or, more generally, ‘a competitor close to certain of victory’.

    So what John Quiggin was saying was, roughly, that the Republicans in 2011 should have been in such a position, close to certain of victory in the 2012 Presidential election (100-1 on favourites, if you like) — not that they were in that position, but that they should have been, although why he would have thought so I don’t know.

    A ‘backable favourite’, on the other hand, might be only, say 11-10 on, which would still mean more likely than not to win, but nowhere near close to certain (with multiple contestants, the favourite might not even be odds-on, but only at, say, 4-1 odds, or even longer — more likely than not to lose, in fact; favourites do win the Melbourne Cup, but more often they lose).

  19. Julie Thomas
    July 27th, 2014 at 08:18 | #19


    I did have a brief conversation via the internet with Mr Windschuttle about 10 years ago on the OLO site – which so rapidly deteriorated because Graham actively supported the stupid old men and more rational commentators abandoned him. He still can’t see how he made the ‘wrong’ choices about how to run a website that has any integrity or chance of making a profit, lol.

    It was a brief exchange and Windschuttle behaved just as one would expect from a typical old man who can’t be challenged.

    He withdrew from the conversation after two responses to me and failed to answer the questions I had asked or acknowledge the ‘truth value’ of my previous responses to his highly questionable ‘facts’ and his irrational conclusions.

    I would have been quite happy to have continued the conversation. I suppose he was too busy saving his homework from the dog.

  20. J-D
    July 27th, 2014 at 08:22 | #20


    Obviously the literal meaning of ‘”The Killing of History” … is surely worthy of praise’ (and was it too much trouble for you to do even the basic fact-check of looking up the date of publication?), once the transparent rhetorical device is scraped away, is ‘I [Midrash] praise “The Killing of History”‘. This led my mind to the question ‘what do other people say about “The Killing of History”?’

    The top hit for my search of the Web was the Amazon.com page on the book. Good! Amazon.com helpfully provides direct links to whichever favourable review has been found most helpful by other Amazon users and whichever unfavourable review has been found most helpful by other Amazon users. It’s trivially easy to find this, but in case that’s also too much like hard work for you, I quote:
    ‘This is one of those books that sends intellectual conservatives like myself up the wall. Those of us who are neither postmodern nor pro-theory do not quite see the need to heap lavish praise on bad work [meaning Windschuttle's] *because* it is anti-postmodern and anti-theory. … On the negative side, Windschuttle’s book is astonishingly lacking in the area that he himself pushes, namely, empirical data. … Claims about a postmodern takeover require substantiating proof [which Windschuttle does not provide] …’

    Perhaps if we knew who the anonymous reviewer was, we would have a candidate to be a conservative John Quiggin could respect, although I suppose most likely not a prominent one.

  21. J-D
    July 27th, 2014 at 08:29 | #21


    I don’t know that the people you list have changed as you think they have. Malcolm Fraser hasn’t changed the way people think he has, I’m sure of that. When he was Prime Minister he was typically right-wing on economic issues but more progressive on a few other issues. Since he left the Prime Ministership he has mostly involved himself with those few issues on which he always had a progressive stance and said little about those economic issues on which he’s still as right-wing as ever. Can you find any example of a specific issue where his specific stance now is different from what it was when he was Prime Minister?

  22. ZM
    July 27th, 2014 at 08:32 | #22

    You’re right Windshuttle wasn’t writing for Quadrant during the known period if CIA funding. According to this article the CIA helped to begin the magazine as a counter to Meanjin with advice from Bob Santamaria, and funded it through to around 1966 when the NYT did an expose and the editor at the time said it was ‘deplorable’ although there is some suspicion he knew of the source of the funding or if not it was because he deliberately averted his eyes sincetheeditor of Meanjin had known since the 1950s. During this period Keith Windshuttle was apparently in favour of the ‘New Left’.

    It would be interesting to get a reply from Keith Windshuttle – according to this blog post from 2008 he was rejecting climate change articles in quadrant in favour of denialists articles, even if they were by people who identify themselves as conservative .


  23. John Quiggin
    July 27th, 2014 at 08:35 | #23


    Exactly right on “unbackable”. My view at the time was informed by Obama’s failure to push for a substantial stimulus or defend the stimulus against rightwing criticism, with the result that he was widely blamed for a depression that began under Bush.

    OTOH, “basis” was a real typo, now fixed I hope.

  24. alfred venison
    July 27th, 2014 at 08:43 | #24

    i saw windshuttle take questions on “the killing of history” from a room full of practicing historians – the sydney university history common room – the very ones he accused of killing history. he could not cope, he was genuinely surprised they might not be sympathetic, he could not keep up, he fumbled & flustered and complained they were hard on him, he thought he was entitled to be taken seriously by them even though he wrote trash. i read “the killing of history” when it came out and it is by far the worst book on intellectual history i have ever read. he is an intellectual light weight. -a.v.

  25. ZM
    July 27th, 2014 at 08:57 | #25

    J-D I think Malcolm Fraser’s stance on the US alliance would be different from throne he had as Prime Minister


  26. Fran Barlow
    July 27th, 2014 at 09:01 | #26

    I fancy that Windsor and Oakeshott and perhaps Wilkie*, might be prominent conservatives whom one could respect. Of course, they are the exception that proves the rule. Having resisted the headlong rush to embrace post-truth they have been made pariahs by those now defining official conservatism’s own brand of PC.

    * I say perhaps, because some might regard him as a liberal.

  27. kevin1
    July 27th, 2014 at 09:06 | #27


    So you say that 1. Lord Deben’s demeanour justly leads him to be disregarded as a Pommy twit by Australian conservatives and 2. he is a non-scientist who has been influenced by scientists (quelle horreur!)

    If true, then 1. being a twit is associated with conservatism rather than Pommydom and 2. politicians should not listen to technical experts (sectional interest rather than knowledge is the proper basis for decision.)

  28. kevin1
    July 27th, 2014 at 09:12 | #28

    Yes how did you miss his recent book? From Vietnam hawk to the US as “Dangerous Allies”?

  29. John Quiggin
    July 27th, 2014 at 09:26 | #29

    Fraser, Barratt and Hewson have definitely abandoned the tribal right, though I think Hewson is still a standard market liberal in most respects – it’s just that he is intellectually rather than tribally consistent on climate change. Menadue and Fraser were never on the right: they were old-style public servants committed a non-partisan approach, but I think always privately sympathetic to Labor.

    Any links on John Dowd?

  30. Julie Thomas
    July 27th, 2014 at 09:57 | #30

    I heard Malcolm Frazer on an RN program, sometime back in the last century, along with the Ayn Rand disciple who travelled the world back then speaking about RAnd and her beliefs. I can’t remember who else was on the panel but I clearly remember an exchange in which the topic being discussed was Rand’s attitude toward saving a starving child and that it just wasn’t rational to bother saving that child’s life.

    Frazer said something like ; but … but…. but surely she was speaking metaphorically? and the disciple – I wish I could remember names as well as I remember other things about people – said quite vehemently that, No, she very much meant that in concrete and real terms, it was not rational behaviour and she would not have stopped her car even if she had been driving across Africa and saw a starving child by the side of the road.

    I waited for Frazer to respond but he said nothing more during the rest of the discussion.

  31. kevin1
    July 27th, 2014 at 10:07 | #31

    @John Quiggin
    Well I did say conservatives – a bit broader than “right” – and I did say becoming more sceptical rather than radical. Dowd, as an eminent legal person, speaks out against asylum seeker policy nowadays, including on platforms with Labor and Green dissidents at the Harold Park Hotel. A couple of ex-diplomats Tony Kevin and Bruce Haigh likewise speak and write on this issue, as does Menadue. I think the incidence of “ex-” people speaking out more is a move to the left at a time when the public and official consensus is going the other way.

    I’m not trying to exaggerate this, but my impression is that the decline in quality of political leadership and institutional credibility in dealing with various wicked problems propels the experts to speak and technocrats tend to be cautious and non-political. This seems a post – 60s phenomenon, the Left before then was concerned about their tribal leaders being seduced by the Right, they didn’t pay much attention to the opposite moves by conservatism, because it didn’t happen or was hardly observable.

    which is almost part of the job description for Treasury sec isn’t it? A

  32. kevin1
    July 27th, 2014 at 10:10 | #32

    Last sentence was about B Fraser, where I started to say the pinnacle of conservatism is Treasury sec, but I concede less true nowadays.

  33. Midrash
    July 27th, 2014 at 10:18 | #33


    @John Quiggin
    Cute but you are slightly misrepresenting the case I made for not being too censorious of Windschuttle’s failure to complete his trilogy (it was in the end going to have to be more than 3 volumes I guess). Mind you I see more later criticism of him that may tell me something I don’t know and will take on board if I ever consider it my duty or a pleasant avocation to be a Windschuttle expert. However my point was that, giving him credit for diligence in his research and for wanting to maintain his standards of diligence, he may have come to suspect that he had bitten off more than he could chew when, if it is “when”, he projected or promised an attack on historians of frontier conflict whom he believed/assumed/inferred had been as sloppy and ideologically motivated as he was satisfied they were on Tasmania and one or two other cases.

    Given that he is obviously a very busy and productive man – and had been caught out by a hoaxer who relied on him, a non-scientist, also not having the instinct to protect himself with time consuming due diligence – it is surely better that he try and maintain high standards of evidence than be over concerned that he may appear to have joined the ranks of those who have over promised: surely one of the most forgiveable faults.

  34. Midrash
    July 27th, 2014 at 10:30 | #34

    @Julie Thomas
    I wouldn’t have thought Windschuttle could have been thought of as old 10 years ago but his style can be abrupt and combative.

    Still when hearing these reports one does reflect on their being two personalities involved.

  35. Midrash
    July 27th, 2014 at 10:48 | #35

    @Fran Barlow
    Agreed that Wilkie is (or was: time as an MP changes people) in a different class from Windsor and Oakeshott I don’t understand why you think a few simple labels like “conservative” and “liberal” – inevitably coloured by the user’s idiosyncrasies – say anything much that is useful. Why don’t you think of W and O as canny opportunists who were on to a winner as local members who forsook the parties which helped them get a seat, played on local self-interest to hold the seats as independents (think of how they got Rudd and Conroy to bribe them on the NBN: nothing liberal, or conservative there , or principled) and finally got lucky when their votes mattered?

  36. Paul Norton
    July 27th, 2014 at 11:00 | #36

    Today we read that:

    Cost benefit analysis by the Commonwealth on top of whatever the states did was “red tape with no additional benefit”. It would “stand in the way of the government building a stronger more prosperous economy,” minister Mathias Cormann told the Senate.


  37. Midrash
    July 27th, 2014 at 11:05 | #37


    I don’t have a dog in this fight. It is a very long time since I read “The Killing of History” and perhaps I remember my impression from some good hits on the enemy.

    Your selection from Amazon reviews is less than compelling. Who was this self-proclaimed “conservative”? Was he indeed a conservative? Maybe a conservative and a jealous rival of Windschuttle? More generally I have observed that Amazon reviewers can be totally unscrupulous like one Peter Gleich who rushed into defame Donna Laframboise’s book on the IPCC without having read any substantial part of it.

  38. Julie Thomas
    July 27th, 2014 at 11:18 | #38


    Old is a state of mind and ‘young fogeys’ grow into old fogeys.

    Good for you that you recognise when you read these “reports” – an interesting choice of terminology to describe anecdata – that there are personalities involved. It is an insight indeed and the next step you could take to become more intelligent, is to examine your own personality as objectively as possible and wildly speculate how your priors – rather than any reality – are influencing the weighting and truth value that you give to the respective personalities and the circumstances involved.

  39. Midrash
    July 27th, 2014 at 11:18 | #39

    @John Quiggin
    Well here is an area of serious substantial agreement if you were advocating stimulus in the US by way of fiscal measures directed to the US’s vast infrastructure needs. But isn’t it amazing (though as always explicable with hindsight after fiddling with a few figures) that the US and the world have got away with leaving nearly all the heavy lifting to the Federal Reserve? Would you have predicted it?

  40. kevin1
    July 27th, 2014 at 11:20 | #40

    @Julie Thomas

    Nostalgia just ain’t what it used to be. Occasionally I hear Fraser lauded for his enlightened policy towards Vietnamese refugees, but the context in which Fraser was operating is often ignored: the noble leader narrative is easier and more satisfying.

    There was govt reluctance to take boat people, despite the pressure on him as a Cold Warrior from the RSL, geo-political Asian and US factors, the novelty of such an exodus, UNHCR facilitation of 8 re-settlement countries, and substantial public sympathy and perceived obligations to post Vietnam war refugees. People arriving by boat were still seen as a political problem and derogatory comments about queue-jumpers etc. occasionally came from Immigration Ministers MacKellar and McPhee.

    Fraser said to Fr. Frank Brennan in 2003 that “if any of the political parties had tried to make politics over the resettlement of the Indo-Chinese in the seventies and eighties, Australians would have found it difficult to support the policy.” So both parties can take some credit. That’s not only gone, but even after the election the current govt keeps on playing the illegal foreigner card. No incentive for Labor to bring back good sense.

  41. Midrash
    July 27th, 2014 at 11:26 | #41

    Well no I don’t say those things so why do you waste space saying I do. But the idea that someone raised of conservative politicians here taking a cue from Gummer was too obviously absurd if one saw the way he came across and knew his history.

    As to your other point I think you overlook the tendency of people with some intellectual curiosity to get carried away by all the fascinating things the hear from the experts in an area in which they are complete amateurs.

  42. Midrash
    July 27th, 2014 at 11:45 | #42

    @alfred venison
    Thanks for pointing me in the direction of having another look at “The Killing of History”.

    I see a post from “Rob Stove” above. I presume R.J.Stove is the same – and certainly should be acknowledged as a conservative intellectual. Not only would his view on The Killing of History be of interest but also, FWIW, I seem to remember a curious little passage of arms involving him and another “conservative” intellectual Hal G.P.H. Colebatch which makes me doubt the necessary purity of motive of the self-proclaimed “conservative” whose Amazon review was cited by J-D.

  43. Midrash
    July 27th, 2014 at 11:56 | #43

    Wow! Malcolm Fraser right-wing on economic issues as PM! Just shows the need to have Humpty Dumpty in charge of the lexicon or we’ll all be doing our iwn thing with the the tribal marker words.

    Malcolm Fraser gives the appearance of harbouring great and growing resentment from the moment it became clear to him that he squibbed the chance of reform that many proto-Thatcherite Liberals thought he had when he won his huge majorities. He was a great disappointment to many Liberals and got to know that.

  44. 2 tanners
    July 27th, 2014 at 12:04 | #44

    Love how trolling has changed this debate from one about anti-science to a rehash of the virtues or lack thereof of Windschuttle.

    BTW, should ‘ought to be unbackable’ have read ‘ought to have been’ which would have been pretty strongly disputed by Nate Silver (I’m sorry, I can’t find the best web reference) or should 2012 read 2016?

  45. Ikonoclast
    July 27th, 2014 at 12:08 | #45

    If you are in favour of retaining Capitalism you are a conservative. If you are in favour of continuing our degraded bourgeois democracy controlled by plutocratic and corporate money then you are a conservative. If you can’t see the current system needs radical change then you are a conservative. In this case, it’s no good pointing at old men behaving badly when you should also be pointing at yourself.

    Jerry Mander (great name eh?) “outlines six intrinsic aspects of global corporate capitalism… that make it fundamentally untenable if we are to avoid worldwide social and ecological collapse. They are:

    1. Amorality – increase of individual and corporate wealth is the only core principle of capitalism. Recognition of any social concern or relationship to the natural world that transcends the goal of increasing capital accumulation is extrinsic to the system.

    2. Dependence on growth – capitalism relies on limitless growth, but the natural resources essential to wealth production are finite. Super-exploitation is exhausting those resources and destroying the ecosystems of which they are a part, jeopardizing human survival as well as that of other species.

    3. Propensity to war – since the only goal is to accumulate rather than distribute wealth, resources that produce wealth must be controlled; therefore war is inevitable.

    4. Intrinsic inequity – without any constraining outside force or internalized principle of social equity, capital accumulation leads almost exclusively to more accumulation, and capital is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.

    5. Anti-democratic – democracies are corruptible: wealth can purchase most of the representation it needs to get the laws necessary for further accumulation and concentration of wealth. This means that as the concentration of wealth increases, democracy is degraded and ultimately destroyed.

    6. Unproductive of real happiness – human happiness and wellbeing are demonstrably tied to other factors besides capital accumulation. Extreme poverty is clearly unproductive of happiness, but so is wealth, past a relatively modest level. Happiness is most widespread where there are guarantees that basic needs will be met for all, wealth is more equitably distributed, and bonds between people and the natural environment are still stronger than the desire to accumulate wealth.”

    End of quote.

    Point 5 needs to have added to it the fact that control of an enterprise by any others than those that do the physical and mental work (the workers) is undemocratic. A society cannot become democratic until the relations of ownership and production are fully democratised.

  46. Midrash
    July 27th, 2014 at 12:25 | #46

    Interesting link, including Comments. I think Windschuttle might have had a case for not giving article length space to Karoly (in particular but count me as prejudiced in his case) and other “warmists” back in 2008. The trouble is his own knowledge of science was inadequate to prevent him publishing rubbish unwittingly (Tim Curtin was the perpetrator of one such). Now he seems to be sold on the more primitive Austrians in matters of economics. Still, Keynes wouldn’t have been sorry to see that saving was being given a boost since the GFC and the (albeit) late rediscovery of Fisher’s debt-deflation (and Minsky moments) seems consistent with Quadrant being on the side of sound economic policy. Did I hear someone say something about a stopped clock having its moments?

  47. Midrash
    July 27th, 2014 at 12:35 | #47

    Fascinating. Would you care to fit China and Russia and their capitalism into your scheme or world-view?

    As to your curious use of “democratic” I wonder what you make of the fact, and the literature about it going back to 1937, which is based on the passing of control from old style owner capitalists to professional managers?

  48. campidg
    July 27th, 2014 at 13:15 | #48

    JD and Prof Q, I stand corrected on “unbackable favorites”. In my defence, I’m not a betting man and wouldn’t know a trifecta from a er, some other way of betting on the ggs.

  49. Rob Stove
    July 27th, 2014 at 13:17 | #49


    Yes, Midrash, I am he. To quote Arnold Schoenberg: “somebody had to be me, and nobody else wanted the job.”

    These days I am trying (no doubt with signal lack of success) to stop “Prince Hal” – to coin a phrase – from occupying any more rent-free space within my head than he did in the days when I needed to take (2007-08) legal action against his libels of myself. But as Othello – of whom I imagine Andrew Bolt has never even heard – says, “no more of that.”

    I prefer to side with Evelyn Waugh’s contemptuous (and accurate) dismissal of Churchill’s, Macmillan’s, and Douglas-Home’s pseudo-conservatism. Waugh complained to his diary: “The clock has not been put back one single second.”

    As for Windschuttle, I have praised the elements of his output which struck me as deserving of praise, and have rejected the elements of his output which did not. Which painstaking case-by-case assessment is what intellectuals are supposed to perform, though you would never guess it from current pseudocon cheer-squads.

  50. J-D
    July 27th, 2014 at 14:43 | #50


    What he says himself in that article is not that his position has changed but that the circumstances have changed. He says that strategic dependence on the US is the wrong choice now, but he still says it was the right choice during the Cold War and until the collapse of the Soviet Union. If you could time-travel back to 1980 and ask the Malcolm Fraser of those times ‘Should Australia maintain its close strategic cooperation with the US if the Soviet Union collapses?’ what would he say? My guess is he would have said ‘If you’re talking about the Soviet Union collapsing, you can’t really be serious; it’s not a possibility that merits discussion’.

  51. Ikonoclast
    July 27th, 2014 at 14:47 | #51


    It’s quite easy. Russia, China and the US are converging as Corporate Oligarchic Capitalist states with the state suborned and transformed into a secret security state serving the interests of corporate and oligarchic capital. This late stage convergence of all systems is consistent with Marx’s predictions. It is also uncannily close to Orwell’s dystopian visions.

    The move to professional managers means little in any key sense. It is just a sign of late stage capitalism. Advanced modern capitalists own so much they perforce outsource all work including upper level managerial work. Command still comes from the capitalists and control is executed by the professional managers or mangerialists as I prefer to term them.

  52. J-D
    July 27th, 2014 at 14:48 | #52


    I have no idea who the Amazon reviewer is, just as with most Amazon reviewers. As I explained already, I went to Amazon because it was the top hit in my Web search, and, as I explained already, I went to that particular review because it was the one rated by other Amazon users as the ‘most helpful’ of all unfavourable reviews. There’s nothing to stop you from looking elsewhere for other opinions if you like. There’s also nothing to stop you from explaining what you think was wrong with the review I quoted, if you ever trouble yourself to examine the evidence. If you prefer to stick to the opinions you’ve got and not bother looking at any more evidence, you’re free to make that choice as well.

  53. J-D
    July 27th, 2014 at 14:59 | #53


    ‘Right-wing’ and ‘left-wing’ are by definition relative terms and therefore dependent on context and perspective. The essential point here is whether Malcolm Fraser’s stance on economic issues has changed significantly since he was Prime Minister. I know of no evidence that it has.

  54. John Quiggin
    July 27th, 2014 at 15:35 | #54

    @2 tanners

    Nate Silver did indeed disagree, arguing that the incumbent isn’t harmed as much by economic conditions as might be supposed. I don’t think there is sufficient data to support this. The only comparable cases, in my view, are 1932, 1976, 1980 and 1992, all lost by the incumbent.

    Silver has a great track record in terms of correct predictions based on polling data. I don’t think that necessarily carries over to prediction in the absence of such data.

  55. Midrash
    July 27th, 2014 at 15:40 | #55

    @Rob Stove
    Come come. Unfair to Bolt and to yourself. If, as I suppose, you don’t read the Herald Sun or Bolt’s blog you shouldn’t lower yourself by unfounded comment which implies you know enough about Bolt to say that he probably (at least in your imaginatoon) hasn’t heard of Othello. I may not know much about him and his work either but I eould have allowed you a big bet st 50 to q against that being true.

  56. Newtownian
    July 27th, 2014 at 18:24 | #56

    Sorry but Bolt is as bad as they come. As to a case example that illustrates his viewpoint are how it gets more circulation than it deserves and does make me wonder about that there is something underhand doing on associated with him – I refer you to an ABC ‘balanced’ (in the modern sense of balancing 50% crap with 50% insight) documentary/debate on climate change that featured Bolt and Ove Hoegh-Guldberg a colleague of sorts of John Quiggin.

    At the time I wasn’t familiar with either Ove or Bolt (Miranda Devine being my pinup of gormless stupidity/or bare faced right wing windbag – she had been running this line that we needed more Dams with an eye to Welcome Reef south of Sydney – showing a. she had no clue about hydrology, and b. that the Shoalhaven was already being extensively exploited so the economics made no actual sense).

    The climate change wars were still at the early stage where the program felt more like a debate to manufacture a controversy to support media ratings than a serious discussion of the issues. Bolt’s arguments were idiotic and ‘we’ seemed to be winning the larger debate. But I was still puzzled and appalled that his unscientific nonsense was left unchallenged. I thought the ABC stood for something approximating to objective facts.

    Overall Ove was caught in the headlights and Bolt won the propaganda battle hands down even though what Bolt was saying was rubbish – at the time climate denialism had not got into full swing. It still bothered me how the science got so distorted.

    Having sufficient background in relevant environmental sciences to understand the nuances of climate change I wondered a bit about what had happened and why these had not been prominent – was this another poor science communicator v. better albeit misguided journalist of moderate consequence. Where did they get this science guy from? Who was Bolt?

    Subsequently from skimming an article periodically in the Oz I came to realize what a lying propagandist Bolt is and his level of ignorance/or acting in bad faith – why was he spokesman for the against case? He clearly had no environmental science knowledge that would make him suitable beyond maybe a sort of anti-Simplicio. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dialogue_Concerning_the_Two_Chief_World_Systems

    It was all a bit puzzling – coming from Sydney.

    Conversely I subsequently listened to Ove give a conference plenary session in Seattle and realized what a superb coherent scientist/speaker he actually was – and after some beers later what a decent down to earth person he is also.

    This first hand reality check was 4 years ago. The rest as they say is history.

    Murdoch’s press has turned rabid and we now know there is an organised denialist conspiracy involving a lot of US vested interest – as they say follow the money. Meanwhile the ABC and apparently the BBC have been flogging this balance nonsense which we continue to get indicators of big changes being real – like glacier retreat, the collapse of the WAIS and microgravity measurements of the icesheets backup the fears. Now the Abbot government is attacking science across the board – except for medicine and neoliberal management which seem to be getting special treatment.

    And where is Bolt? – still denying climate change from a position of ignorance in the best dumb tradition of post modernism that all knowledge is equal – assuming he is PoMo as suggested and not a Nixonian opportunist. I categorically don’t suggest Bolt is somehow doing this for money. Its clear he believes his nonsense. But he is still a fool.

    In conclusion Midrash I am puzzled how you can give Bolt any credit for anything – it just undermines what you say (I’ve leave it that as JQ wants us to be polite and I am still very happy to play by those rules).

    (last point by way of further support – a colleague who works in hydrology was also recently savaged by Bolt. Happily she is made of stronger stuff and is taking this as a curious complement which I would hope Rob Stove is too – an attack by Bolt now potentially provides objective evidence that that person has integrity and so is increasingly a curious badge of honour of sorts – within fields of science at least)

  57. Rob Stove
    July 27th, 2014 at 21:34 | #57

    Concerning Midrash’s comment at 15:40, I can assure Midrash that I do read (although not daily) Bolt. I would be very foolish to criticise any author without having read large quantities of work by that author.

  58. Megan
    July 27th, 2014 at 23:00 | #58

    Since we’re talking Bolt again, I’ll repeat (H/T Shaun Micallef):

    …inflammatory…selective misrepresentation…distorting the truth…cynical…intimidatory…not acting in objective good faith…being gratuitous…derisive…grossly careless…dishonest…factual errors…misleading…lacking care…

    All used by courts to describe Bolt’s work.

  59. zoot
    July 28th, 2014 at 00:49 | #59

    Bolt is an opera buff, so he is probably familiar with Otello by Verdi. However, he is very disparaging about “elites”, so Shakespeare is probably beyond the pale.
    I find it interesting that opera is not “elite”.

  60. Rob Stove
    July 28th, 2014 at 08:20 | #60


    Very well then, Zoot, I stand corrected on Bolt’s operatic interests (and I learned by accident this morning, much to my surprise, that he used to do work for the State Opera of South Australia). If Bolt is civilised enough to be able to take opera seriously, then I should have thought that this ability makes his frequent trahaison des clercs attitude towards the life of the mine more, rather than less, unfortunate.

  61. Rob Stove
    July 28th, 2014 at 08:21 | #61

    Oops, “life of the mind“. Mea culpa. Perhaps this typo in my previous post could be corrected?

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