Monday Message Board

It’s time for the regular Monday message board, where you are invited to post your thoughts on any topic. If any NT readers are battened down for Cyclone Ingrid, but still connected to the Internet, now’s your chance for a live report. Civilised discussion and no coarse language, please.

37 thoughts on “Monday Message Board

  1. One issue I would nominate for discussion is the current state of the Aus film industry. Some recent films which people rave about have been fairly poor (Japanese story). The fact they could receive such rave reviews is I think indicative of just how bad the others are. The last good Australian movie was the masterpiece Lantana (the second best film of recent years worldwide after the Barbarian Invasions). Apart from the issue of more funding, I wonder what else needs to be done. With the technical expertise here, the number of high profile Australian actors, the low dollar, the advantage of the English language and the scenery etc, I don’t quite understand why we could not be more successful including in the more commercial areas of film – thrillers etc. Even taking into account some of the insights of the new economic theories on knowledge spillovers and returns to scale, the advantages highlighted above would come into play more in determining where comparative advantage lies.

  2. I am interested that the first comment on SuperMac imposing a speed limit on economic growth here on the Budget was by Ross Gittins today and only in a minor way.

    Unless Cozzy imposes some decent restraints he might find himself falling into deficit on a regular basis given Howard’s panic attack during the election.
    I will state at the outset I doubt very much whether a fourth term government is capable of doing this.


    Dollar’s Fall Silences Africa’s Garment Factories

    MAPUTSOE, Lesotho – Buy a T-shirt at Wal-Mart, fleece sweats at J. C. Penney or Hanes panties anywhere in the United States, and there’s a halfway decent chance that they were stitched together here, in an acre-size garment factory crammed with thousands of frantically clacking sewing machines. Virtually its entire output, 25,000 items of clothing daily, is America-bound.

    These days, that is a disaster. ‘Two thousand people work here, and unfortunately last week I had to retrench 500 people, because there are no orders,’ Boodia Heman, director of the Ever Unison Garments factory, said in a recent interview. ‘The American buyer is not coming to Lesotho to buy.’

    Actually, the problem is not so much the buyers from America. It is the American dollar, and its headlong plunge in value. Three years ago, Lesotho’s garment factories had to sell only $56 worth of clothes to stores in the United States to cover the monthly wage of 650 maloti for a sewing-machine operator. Today, that same salary consumes $109 in sales.

    When the dollar is worth 8.5 maloti or more, Mr. Heman said, ‘we break even and we are satisfied.’ Right now, the weak dollar fetches less than 6 maloti.

    The dollar could not have shrunk at a worse time for southern Africa….


    Free of Quota, China Textiles Flood the U.S.

    SHANGHAI – In the first month after the end of all quotas on textiles and apparel around the world, imports to the United States from China jumped about 75 percent, according to trade figures released by the Chinese government.

    The statistics bear some of the first evidence that China’s booming textile and apparel trade, unhampered by quotas, could be prepared to dominate the global textile trade and add to trade tensions around the world. The quotas came to an end on Dec. 31 as a result of an international agreement reached in 1993.

    In January, the United States imported more than $1.2 billion in textiles and apparel from China, up from about $701 million a year ago. Imports of major apparel products from China jumped 546 percent. Last January, for example, China shipped 941,000 cotton knit shirts, which were limited by quotas; this January, it shipped 18.2 million, a 1,836 percent increase. Imports of cotton knit trousers were up 1,332 percent from a year ago.

    These figures may be understated because China ships a large part of its goods through Hong Kong, and those shipments are not included.

    Fears that China is going to flood the world market with cheap textile exports have already inflamed tensions between Washington and Beijing because of worries about American manufacturing plants being closed and thousands of jobs being lost….

  5. John,

    Why is it that I have trouble believing China is threatened by continuing to keep its dollar peg? Growth of 7% to 8%, surely seems worth the peg to me. What am I missing?


    Our Currency, Your Problem

    If the dollar fell by a third against the renminbi, according to Nouriel Roubini, an economist at New York University, the People’s Bank of China could suffer a capital loss equivalent to 10 percent of China’s gross domestic product. For that reason alone, the P.B.O.C. has every reason to carry on printing renminbi in order to buy dollars.

  7. Anne has made a lot of the point about the Oz film industry. Oz dollar climb, production fall. These are also productions of a certain kind – big budget, adventure driven, particular amounts of CGI and exterior shooting. Melbourne, for instance, does well if Hollywood is in a wet phase, and needs a horizon tank. Changes in production fashion make a big difference.

    It is important to distinguish between offshore productions made here, and our own stories made into Australian films. There are many facets to the issue and there has been a lot of discussion on the internet.

    With a small pool of films made, long lead times, changing government agency policy, and the effect of decisions by international distributors, it is hard to make decisions based on a short window of time – and several years is a short window here. The word is we may see a bunch of better films out in the next couple of years, which will take a lot of heat off the discussion.

    Much of the current sense of crisis was created by the fact that a local downturn occurred at the same time as the internationals pulled the plug. Both sides went funny at once.

    At the same time, the resource planners in both government and the production companies are working to longer schedules and analyses. Beneath the ups and downs, it is fair to say that the strategists think we should do a lot better, and have been working towards that for around five years.

    But here’s an angle to chew on for now: Australians do really good fantasy films, which are by nature very expensive. We do them from Hollywood and there is nothing overtly Australian about them.

    What we do at home, in the sort of budgets that are available here, are films that reflect our culture and world view. Serious pictures about us, no matter how funny they are, or how daggy the heroes. They are portraits of our own collective psyches.

    Underneath it all, we are not very comfortable watching them. The Australia they present is challenging, a bit dysfunctional. The Castle and the Dish, for instance – are comedies. Or are they?

  8. Some people may have noticed that I am not happy about the blanket labels “left” (good) and “right” (bad) because there are groupngs on the so-called right that are very much at odds with each other. Consider the Religious Right, libertarians, cultural conservatives, minimum state liberals and the neo-conservatives (neo-platonic, statist authoritarians).
    It has been suggested, as a rejoinder, that there is similar diversity on the left.
    Can someone, other than Mark B, briefly indicate some left groupings that are as diverse and divergent as those of the non-left. There is a clear distinction between totalitarian communists and social democrats (most of the original Quadrant people were social democrats). What other distinction need to be made, that is, distinctions that make a real difference in practical policy terms?

  9. Rafe: One clear distinction I can think of is immigration. Hard environmentalists like the Greens believe in reduced immigration because they believe it negatively impacts the environment. Most of the fluffy left prefer open (or at least much wider) borders.

    Of course, the greens feel that we should get rid of skilled migration, and instead increase humanitarian and family reunion intakes.

  10. A small correction to Yobbo’s comment. The Greens policy on immigration does not call for reduced immigration, and calls for a shift in emphasis towards humanitarian and family reunion intakes rather than skilled migration, but does not say that Australia should “get rid of” it. The Greens policy states inter alia:

    “1.2 while immigration has the potential to add to pressures on the Australian environment, this concern is tempered by our:

    * humanitarian obligation to accept refugees and reunite families

    * recognition that population levels and the environment are both local and global issues

    * recognition that existing Australian consumption levels must be addressed

    * recognition of the benefits that immigration programs bring.

    1.3 Australia’s immigration program must be set within a broader population policy based on our:

    * human rights obligations under international conventions

    * global social and environmental responsibility

    * need to achieve our own social, economic and environmental sustainability

    and must be non-discriminatory on the grounds of nationality, ethnic origin, religion, language, gender, disability, sexuality, age or socio-economic background.”

  11. There is an important distinction to be made on the left between social and economic liberals.

    Social liberals favor maximising individual freedom and choice in areas such as sexual identity and drug use and government intervention to assist and protect the disadvantaged.

    Economic liberals believe that limited targetted government intervention can improve the operation of a free market but that, in general, the market mechanism is the best determinant of prices and of what is produced.

    Economic liberals tend to favor deregulation of the economy and free trade.

    Many social liberals oppose these measures because of concern over the impact on low income earners and the unemployed.

    I consider myself to be both an economic and social liberal. However I beleive that the majority of social liberals are not economic liberals.

  12. Further to my previous point regarding Yobbo’s comment, I think it is necessary to distinguish three broad left and/or green discourses on Australia’s immigration and population debates.

    There is a “deep and narrow” green view which advocates low or no net immigration and immediate action to stabilise and reduce population. This position assumes (a) that population pressures are the overriding driver of ecological deterioration in Australia and (b) that the ecological imperative should simply override social, economic, democratic and ethical considerations in immigration/population policy, rather than an attempt made to optimise the blance between these potentially conflicting imperatives. I disagree with both of these assumptions, and would also dispute that such a position should be called “left”.

    Then there is what Yobbo calls a “fluffy” left view, which I would label less pejoratively a “humanitarian nation-building left” view, which tends to advocate open borders and high net inward migration, and is also sometimes associated with support for a policy of greatly increasing Australia’s population. This is undoubtedly a left discourse based on values which have a long left pedigree, and variants of it can be found in both the social democratic and marxist lefts. Whilst advocates of this view correctly recognise the importance of changing patterns of consumption and production, and technological change, in reducing environmental impacts in Australia, they tend to err on the side of optimism about the ability of such measures to alleviate the impacts of a greatly and rapidly increased population.

    The current Australian Greens policy, whilst it can be criticised for lack of specificity in terms of immigration numbers and population targets, is largely correct in terms of the balance it seems to strike between ecological, social, democratic and ethical imperatives, and also in recognising that overall environmental impacts in Australia stem from a complex interaction of population pressures, current production and consumption patterns, and current technologies. It asks the right question even whilst not providing definite answers to those questions. I would also argue that quite a lot of research needs to be done and discussion needs to take place before we know the answers to those questions in terms of desirable long-term population levels and short- to medium-term immigration levels. In general I believe the Greens position represents the best basis for achieving a synthesis between classical left and contemporary environmental priorities.

  13. A quick question for the peopel pointing to recent developments in Egypt, lebanon and Palestine as justification for the war in Iraq, if Lebanon collapses into a new civil war; Egypt’s presidential elections prove to be a sham and the new Palestinian government proves itsel unable to control the terrorists or reach a final peace with Israel will that be proof of the failure of the Bush Doctrine?

  14. Ian Gould: I think we will need to wait 10 to 15 years before we know.

    Of course Egypt’s elections will be a sham. But the fact that they feel that they need to pretend shows something.

  15. Thanks to the people who have offered suggestions about divisions on the left. I think the nuances of green policy hardly count as fundamental differences in the way that the Religous Right is at odds with, say, the Libertarians.

    Ian Gould wrote about economic liberals and social liberals: “Economic liberals tend to favor deregulation of the economy and free trade. Many social liberals oppose these measures because of concern over the impact on low income earners and the unemployed. I consider myself to be both an economic and social liberal.”

    I could say much the same thing myself, although my “social liberalism” includes the notion that economic liberalism does not do the kind of damage claimed by the opponents of economic rationalism. In my view, it is possible to care about the poor and the weak and also to be a strong economic rationlist, a minimum state liberal or even a libertarian/anarchist.

  16. “Can someone, other than Mark B, briefly indicate some left groupings that are as diverse and divergent as those of the non-left.”

    I think Rafe’s being kind and knowing that I’d probably write at length on this, would rather I write some thesis instead.

  17. Yes I have given Mark strict instructions to stop being a popper-up on lists. Actually that is quite unrealistic, the better option is to allow a certain number of short posts a day, either at hourly intervals as a break from the thesis or as a reward after, say, a good page has been written.
    Actually on that basis the thesis should get written at a rate of about fifty pages a day! But no fudging, they have to be good pages.

  18. “I think the nuances of green policy hardly count as fundamental differences in the way that the Religous Right is at odds with, say, the Libertarians.”

    Perhaps the example Yobbo and I discussed (immigration policy) didn’t show it clearly enough, but underpinning the different positions I outlined is a potential source of quite fundamental differences, namely the extent to which ecological and biophysical parameters should act as constraints on possible economic, social and political alternatives, and the extent to which established Left and Right discourses need to be modified to take account of such constraints.

    In debates on economic and sustainable development policy during the period of the Hawke and Keating government, the differences between those on the broad left who supported a traditional commitment to maximising quantitative economic growth and industry development on conventional lines, and those who questioned the “growth paradigm” and asserted the need for ecologically driven restructuring of the economy, were far from nuanced. They amounted at times to quite bitter disputes. Taking a longer view, commentators including Alec Nove, Ken Walker and Ted Benton have shown convincingly that if one accepts ecological, biophysical and resource-availability constraints on a future democratic socialist society, many of the key assumptions of both Marxist and non-Marxist socialists about what such a society would look like would need to be radically revised.

  19. If you want variety, I’ve mentioned before the weird combination of ancient and modern ethics I found spelled out by the Strangite Mormon publications of the mid 19th century. You can look up James Strang on wikipedia if you want to get some links to that.

  20. The Left used to be synonymous with sectarian groupings and splittist tendencies. I recall being denounced as a neo-Zinovievist reformist. And this from a Trotskyite who adhered to the 4th and one half International.

    The difference between the Left and the Right is that there was general agreement among the socialists about what paradise would look like. On the other hand, the Left tore at each other over the question of how to achieve paradise. It was a question of means, not ends.

    The Right, on the other hand, was united by the necessary means of fending off the threat from Below. On the other hand, one Right Wing vision of heaven was another Right Wing vision of hell. It was a question of ends, not means.

    I temper the above remarks with the observation that they apply to a time when there was a socialist Left.

    Now the major split on the “left” of political thought also revolves around ends. Social democrats have inherited scientism and the belief in the efficacy of Reason. The Green Left flirts with mysticism and is more or less deeply pessimistic about the benefits of Enlightenment thought in general.

  21. One issue that cuts across the left-right divide is war, which is related to the ends/means distinction mentioned by Rafe. Looking at Vietnam, both communists and conservatives were pro-war, though supporting opposite sides, while social democrats and libertarians were generally anti-war.

    With Iraq, a lot of former communists are pro-war, some supporting Bush and others the resistance, while nearly all social democrats are anti. The libertarians have splintered, though many of the pro-war libertarians had pretty weak credentials: they were better described as Republicans who were soft on sex and drugs.

  22. Katz,
    The reason the “right” appears to fight amongst itself is that it consists, as it always has, of two very separate beliefs. I tend to look at them as the optimistic and pessimistic right, but they can also be called the liberal and conservative right and they disagree on both means and ends. While on the economic front they both tend to express a belief in the ability of markets to do things correctly the conservative right has always believed that the markets needs to be ‘guided’ by those who know best and that government is the correct instrument to do this. This belief is probably seen in its purest form in the National Party and in elements of the Liberal Party in Australia, with some back up from parts of the Right of the Labor Party. Socially, they tend to believe that a strong moral code should exist and that it should be enforced by government policy. As conservatives they tend to believe in a fairly activist government generally and foresee no time where government will not be needed. In this they tend to agree with more the old left of the Labor Party. The reason I call this tendency pessimistic is in the tacit belief that human nature is inherently bad and will always need a government to socialise and restrict these destructive tendencies.
    The more liberal right, where I believe I sit, believes that government intervention is inherently a negative thing and should be limited to those, few, situations where government interference in either the economy or the social sphere where market failure can be demonstrated and it can also be demonstrated that the intervention will not have serious counterbalancing unintended consequences. The more liberal right would tend to agree more with some anarchists in that the government will eventually fade away as its role becomes more and more diffuse and the control over an individual’s destiny becomes more and more their own. This belief is founded on an optimistic view of human nature.
    This more optimistic / pessimistic split also exists on the left, where the means and ends also differ. This is however, just another way of looking at the political compass.
    Really there should be at least 4 major political parties, but that would lead to unstable government, so we normally just have two and fight internally between the two tendencies.

  23. I’ve often thought that the left/right thing has many resemblances with the way water and oil interact. The interesting thing is that, while from the outside it appears symmetrical with oil associating with oil and water with water, but each avoiding the other, the process is subtler and actually asymmetrical: water seeks water and actively excludes oil, which is left with only oil-type things to associate with. You see the difference with ouzo and water, when the water takes the alcohol and rejects the oil which used to mix with the alcohol.

    In the same way, those of the left, knowing they have ideologies and observing similar right wing party behaviour to theirs, infer a right wing ideology exists. Then they are taken aback to observe apparent inconsistencies between right wing behaviour and their inferred idea of the ideology.

    However, what is really happening is that “right wingers” would have been perfectly happy to avoid party entaglements completely but find themselves tactically obliged to form alliances that work as though they were ideologically driven. Since there is no ideology, exceptions show up (like the alcohol/oil/water behaviour), but that doesn’t mean there is something incocnsistent about right wingery as a whole.

    It just means that there was no ideology in the first place, that “right wing ideology” is a left wing construct, and that the right wing as a whole doesn’t even exist except as defined by exclusion from the left wing.

    (None of this means that ideological right wing parties can’t exist; like Fascists, they can, but the association “right wing” only comes about by exclusion.)

  24. Interesting comment from Katz “Social democrats have inherited scientism and the belief in the efficacy of Reason. The Green Left flirts with mysticism and is more or less deeply pessimistic about the benefits of Enlightenment thought in general.”
    There is a general problem with Reason and it is safer to go with uncapitalised things like reason or rationality, defined as a willingness to listen to counter-arguments and settle for critical preferences rather than Justified Beliefs.
    Scientism has taken a battering from many people from Hayek to C Wright Mills, so its tenacity is surprising. It probably arouses sympathy in some quarters because it is also criticised by pomos.
    The mysticism of the Deep Greens is worthy of further study because it probably reflects one of the manifestations of a particular kind of religious sensibility that would previously have found its outlet in some kind of fundamentalist religion.
    That is not an argument against legitimate concerns about the state of the ecology, but these are very different from hysterical announcements that “The End of the World is At Hand”.

  25. Taking up John’s comment on Vietnam and the left/right divide “both communists and conservatives were pro-war, though supporting opposite sides, while social democrats and libertarians were generally anti-war”.
    It could be that the humanitarian anti-war people like myself misread the play and did not appreciate the difference between a communist dictator prepared to sacrifice as many of his people as it took, and an authoritarian regime that could have moved steadiy in the desired direction if allowed the time to do so.

  26. I appreciate AR’s and Rafe’s comments and observations. Just a few comments.


    “Really there should be at least 4 major political parties, but that would lead to unstable government, so we normally just have two and fight internally between the two tendencies.”

    This would be the case if philosophical predispositions and material interests mapped perfectly with institutional politics. However, historical circumstances and contingencies always militate against these neat solutions. We are not governed by the politics we need, rather we are governed by the politics we inherit.

    Rafe’s comments about the travails of scientism infer the exhaustion of enlightenment-style rationalism. In light of the failure of all a priori systems of analysing and describing the world adequately, the post-modernist programs are the only stance of engaged scepticism. The alternatives are a wild variety of atavisms of which the Deep Green version is one of the less pernicious.


    “However, what is really happening is that “right wingersâ€? would have been perfectly happy to avoid party entaglements completely but find themselves tactically obliged to form alliances that work as though they were ideologically driven. Since there is no ideology, exceptions show up (like the alcohol/oil/water behaviour), but that doesn’t mean there is something incocnsistent about right wingery as a whole.

    It just means that there was no ideology in the first place, that “right wing ideologyâ€? is a left wing construct, and that the right wing as a whole doesn’t even exist except as defined by exclusion from the left wing.”

    Here you are constructing an prelapsarian vision of “pure” politics before the lefty serpent slithered into the garden.

    1. There was no such “golden age”. Read Namier on how these politics really worked.
    2. There is no wishing away the circumstances that generated the rise of the Left.
    3. The Right enthusiastically and expertly adapted the interest politics invented by the Left to their own purposes.
    4. As you imply, the “Right” is riven by internal contradictions, but they readily overlook them when the need to defend Bishops, Banks and Bedroom proprieties.

  27. Now, now. I am not constructing any such thing as a golden age. I was actually pointing out that what actually happens is a reaction (pun unintentional but unavoidable) to organised expressions of active ideas, without itself being a representation of active ideas – even though it is an organised expression.

    That does not imply any situation (other than ephemeral interludes, like the US “era of good feeling”) with no politics. It is, if you like, a comment on the permanency of the fall, if you want to use such metaphors – but not a description of an age of innocence.

  28. On the exhaustion of the Englightenment project as suggested by Katz, critical rationalism provides an alternative to the post modernist programs, as suggested in the comments 6 and 9 on the “All bloggers are liars” thread.
    On the distinction between classical liberals and conservatives, Hayek has offered some incisive arguments in favour of the classical liberals in his essay “Why I am not a conservative”, which is now on line.
    Historically, non-socialist liberals have been forced into ad hoc alliances with conservatives in practical politics to resist the thrust of socialism, however that has confused the issues and it is only recently that we have achieved sufficient critical mass to differentiate ourselves from the wets. In fact classical liberalism had such a low profile from the 1930s to the 1970s that hardly anyone knew that there was any such thing, and that is why most of the leftwing comments on the rise of classical liberalism and economic rationalism miss the mark by a wide margin.

  29. Rafe, economic liberalism had a low profile from the 1930s to the 1970s for a very good reason. Economic liberals were on the margins of economic debate and out in the cold in the formulation of economic policies.

    And there were very good reasons for this. Economic liberalism had “form”.

    1. The British economy, the most classically liberal in 1914, proved itself to be incapable of competing in war against the more statis German economy. (No, I’m not forgetting the US economy, which hid behind high tariff walls and which had rencently submitted itself to the controls of the Federal Reserve system.

    2. Classical liberal nostrums seemed to be impotent against the ravages of the Great Depression.

    3. WWII taught new lessons in the benefits of governments controlling the “commanding heights”.

    4. The Bretton Woods System provided the illusion of financial stability during the 1950s and 1960s.

    Looking forward, it is important to recognise that:

    1. even in this era of “privatization” the share of government in most economies is higher in the early 21st century than it was in the “statist” 1930s and 1950s. (I exclude the WWII years as being hte consequence of “special circumstances”)

    2. it is by no means certain that economic rationalists have explained how their longed-for return to free market fundamentals will cope with the old bug-bear of Keynes’s “animal spirits” which generate giddy booms and grinding panics and attending dislocations in the demand for and provision of goods and services, the employment these activities generate, and the household security that is a prime cultural value in most societies.

  30. Thanks for your comments Katz but I suggest that you are confusing cause and effect. The Great Depression was caused by departures from classical principles of free trade. This of course takes us back to the issue that I raised a few weeks ago, if you want to blame the depression on rampant free trade, just name the major trading nations that were actually practicing free trade.

  31. Rafe, I agree that restrictive international trade policies exacerbated the Great Depression (along with competitive devaluations of national currencies, notable the US dollar and the French franc.)

    Yet, as you imply, this huge event had several interlocking causes.

    Perhaps I should have been more explicit in my comments about the Great Depression. (The inevitable consequence of finding stray moments in a busy day.) My comments about the relationship between economic liberalism and the seriousness and persistence of the Great Depression were intended merely to mirror Keynes’s own comments about the then newly discovered possibility that the state may be a countervailing force in tempering the manic depressive tendencies of investor capitalists. These comments, therefore, refer more to domestic budgetary policy rather than international trade.

    I take it that you agree that the political economy of almost all capitalist states today are subject to greater state intrusion than they were in the nasty old statist 30s, 50s and 60s.

  32. Thanks again Katz, yes I was going to mention that things have not improved on that front despite all the talk about the rise of neo-liberalism. I toyed with the idea of a response to each of several points that you raised but resisted the temptation because I don’t want blogging to take over my days!
    We have some fairly significant differences on fundamentals but I appreciate the possibility of give and take on these issues that we have opened up here.

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