My column in yesterday’s Fin was a riff on these marvellously named Republican opponents of environmental protection, and the prevalence of delusional conspiracy theories on the political right.
American adults under 30 are almost evenly divided on the question
Which is a better system – capitalism or socialism?
37% prefer capitalism, 33% socialism, and 30% are undecided. For the US population as a whole, only a bare majority prefer capitalism (53% prefer capitalism, 20% socialism, and 27% are undecided.)
Granted that socialism can mean anything from “Policies adopted by Joe Stalin” to “Policies deplored by Joe the Plumber”, these are quite striking results, and certainly help to explain why the invocation of the socialist bogy by JTP and other Republican hacks has been so ineffective (to the point that JTP has recently taken to adding a “neo” prefix, which certainly made both “liberal” and “conservative” scarier).
I’ll be appearing, via videolink, at a conference at Sydney Trades Hall in Goulburn Street tomorrow (Wednesday 22 April). The conference title is “Crunch Time: Australia’s Policy Future”. Website here and conference program here.
Update: This was the first time I’d used Skype to do a video presentation, and it was something of a challenge. I’d anticipated that I would be able to hear other speakers and questioners, but not see them. In fact, it was the other way round. I could see the speakers, but the sound quality at my end was very poor. I think it was OK the other way. I’ll have to check that aspect of the setup more carefully next time.
The set of ideas that has dominated public policy for the last thirty years has been given a variety of names – neoliberalism, economic rationalism, the Washington Consensus and Thatcherism being the most prominent. Broadly speaking, this set of ideas combines support for free market (or freer market) economic policies with agnosticism about both political liberalism and the relative merits of democracy and autocracy. In response to some demands for definition, I’ll point to mine here.
A striking feature of all of these terms is that they are currently used almost exclusively by opponents of the viewpoint being described, to the point where any use of such terms invariably provokes protests about unfair labelling (this is true even of the most neutral term I can find, “economic liberalism”). Even more striking is the fact that these terms were originally used in a broadly positive sense by supporters of the ideas concerned. I’ve done the story on economic rationalism, Don Arthur covers neoliberalism and you can check Wikipedia for the others.
Why is it that neoliberalism seems to be subject to a political version of the euphemism treadmill? A look at the history will help a bit.
The US Environmental Protection Authority has announced that emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases are a threat to public health, which opens the way for them to be regulated under the Clean Air Act, a measure once promised by George Bush as a presidential candidate but ferociously resisted by his administration.
As Brad Plumer explains here, the regulations will transform the Congressional debate over bills to introduce a national cap-and-trade system. In the absence of EPA regulations, and assuming continuation of current practices regarding the filibuster, the Republicans in the Senate could block any action as long as they could muster 41 votes (and of course, ratification of a treaty like Kyoto requires 66 out of 100 votes). But now the effect of a filibuster will be to leave the EPA to deal with the issue by regulation, which might include establishment of emissions trading schemes, as well as technological mandates to adopt best practice technology. Almost certainly, some Senate Republicans will prefer a deal where they get to protect some favored interests to a system of regulation over which they have no say.
It’s time once again for weekend reflections, which makes space for longer than usual comments on any topic. As always, civilised discussion and no coarse language.
If you’re interested in the relationship between ideas, interests and institutions, the development of intellectual property law provides a fascinating (somewhat self-referential) case study. The intellectual debate has been running hard against strong IP  for a long time, and changes in technology have not only made copying and reproducing all kinds of material much cheaper and easier, but have revealed, on a scale much larger than before, the benefits that can be realised from free access to ideas.
Meanwhile the extension of IP rights, and the expansion of powers to protect them has rolled on as if none of this was happening, at national (DMCA), bilateral (as a standard condition of US-driven free trade agreements) and global (TRIPS) level.
However, there are some positive countervailing developments, one of which has a summer fellowship attached (over the fold).
Here’s my submission to the Senate Select Committee on Climate Policy. It was a bit of a rush job, given competing pressures like the Global Financial Crisis and the continuing (related) problems of the Murray-Darling. Comments appreciated.
After a longer than usual weekend, it’s time for another message Board. Long weekends always make me think this is something we should have more of, and maybe an economic downturn is the right time to start thinking about more holidays instead of higher wages. Your thoughts on this, or any topic, are welcome. As usual, civilised discussion and no coarse language.