Furious agreement, parts II and III

It’s an analysis familiar to most on the Left. Support for laissez-faire is a hypocritical pretence, typified by Republicans who denounce a universal health care scheme as “socialist” while backing huge handouts for wealthy sugar producers.

For cultural and historical reasons, the United States has never had a proper socialist party of any significance[1]. Instead

the socialism we do have is the surreptitious socialism of the strong, e.g. sugar producers represented by their Washington hirelings.

In America, socialism is un-American. Instead, Americans merely do rent-seeking — bending government for the benefit of private factions.

As I say, familiar stuff. But it’s mildly surprising to see it coming from George Will.

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The Centre for Policy Development, based in Sydney, runs a series called “Common Ground” in which people who might be expected to be opposed (for example, because of their party-political alignment) explore issues where they have some views in common. On Wed 26 November, they’ll have Bob Carr and Pru Goward on climate change.

Venue is Customs House, at 5:30 for 6

You can register to attend online, or RSVP by email to contact@cpd.org.au.

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Monday Message Board

It’s time once again for the Monday Message Board. Today, I’m particularly interested to learn if readers are finding the site more responsive following the migration to an accelerated server (of course, feel free to post on any topic, but a brief comment on this point much appreciated). As usual no civilised discussion and no coarse language.*

*I hope that the coarse language I have directed at my screen when it displays 503 errors and similar is a thing of the past now.

Furious agreeement

Back when I was a high school debater, my team once had to take the negative position on the topic ‘Australian democracy is dying’. With the Vietnam war at its worst, conscription of 18-year olds (old enough to die, but in those days too young to vote) a big issue, and a conservative government that had been in office since before my classmates and I were born, it didn’t seem likely that we were going to carry the audience with Panglossian rhetoric. So, we decided to argue instead that Australian democracy couldn’t be dying because it was already dead. The resulting debate was somewhat farcical, as we rushed to agree with every piece of gloomy evidence raised by the affirmative side, and pile on with our own. We won easily, but I gave up debating not too long after that.

I’m reminded of this episode by a piece by Robert Kagan, criticising the idea that American power is declining. In effect, Kagan argues that, while things might seem bad for American power just now, they’ve actually been terrible for decades. Unchallenged economic dominance had already been lost by 1960, when the US share of the world economy (around half in the immediate aftermath of WWII) had fallen to 24 per cent. The international image of the US was trashed by Vietnam and other disasters of the 1960s. Military failures are nothing new. So, those who, decade after decade, proclaim that America is in decline have simply forgotten how bad things were in the past.

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Be careful what you wish for

Supporters of social democratic and labour parties have had plenty of experience of seeing their parties in office. Despite some substantial achievements there has been plenty of disillusionment, particularly in the case of coalition governments with centrist or liberal parties. Time after time, the promise of radical transformation has faded to hard slog for modest reforms or even (particularly in times of crisis) capitulation to the demands of capitalist orthodoxy.

By contrast, explicitly libertarian parties have hardly ever scored enough votes to elect candidates, let alone form governments. But now, thanks to New Zealand’s multi-member proportional system, a new government, led by the National Party, has been formed in which the ACT (Association of Consumers and Taxpayers) party (with a bit over 3 per cent of the vote) holds a couple of ministries. ACT was the subject of some enthusiastic commentary in open threads here, and an op-ed piece by John Roskam of IPA in the Fin (paywalled, maybe someone can find a link). They combine libertarian economic policies with the now standard accompaniments of climate change delusionism and coded law-and-order rhetoric.

Unsurprisingly, given the circumstances, the first announcement of the new government was that the longstanding requirement under the Public Finance Act for budget surpluses over the cycle was to be abandoned. At this stage, declining tax revenues are the main factor, but large-scale Keynesian stimulus is going to be needed, and soon.

Labour’s guarantee of bank deposits looks certain to be retained, and there’s every likelihood that more intervention, maybe even nationalisation, will be needed before the financial crisis is resolved.

As far as I can tell, ACT has had to settle for a review of public expenditure (plus the ministers’ jobs) as its price for participation in a government which seems likely to be forced in the direction of interventionism. It will be interesting to see how long they last.

Site maintenance

With some generous technical help, I’ll be attempting a move of the site to a (hopefully) faster and more reliable server. The posts should be readable, but no more comments until further notice please.

Update The move is complete and we’re set to go. You can treat this as an open thread. I’ll try to post something new before long.