Worst generation game piece ever?

Writing in today’s Oz, Greg Melleuish starts out with the observation

It is not common for the political leadership of the country to be discussed in generational terms

Having read the piece that follows, I’m not surprised. Silly as the usual generation game stuff is, the attempt to classify individual political leaders by their birth year is even sillier (which isn’t to say it hasn’t been done, particularly in the US). The burden of the piece is to attack Kevin Rudd for the heinous sin of having been born in 19571

It’s hard to know what’s silliest in this piece: there is, for example, the claim that boomers like Kevin Rudd were products of the “education revolution of the 1960s” – in reality, the schools of the 1960s and early 1970s were dominated by rote learning of tables and dates. As for the university radicalism of the era, it was confined to a minority of a minority, since few kids got past year 12 in the 1960s. And by the time Kevin Rudd went to ANU in the mid-1970s 2, the days of radical activism were well and truly over.

Or perhaps there is the idea that, as a baby boomer, Rudd is tarred with the brush of postmodernism. As anyone who has followed these intellectual games knows, postmodernism came to the fore in the late 1980s, and was much more associated with Gen X academics, who used it to undermine the “grand narratives” (Marxism, functionalism and so on) which had appealed to the boomers who were now blocking their career progress.

But I think, the clearest silliness is the pairings it produces. It is a commonplace of Australian political discussion that the great adversaries Whitlam and Fraser share more similarities than differences, but Melleuish absurdly pairs Whitlam with Holt and Fraser with Hawke. More recently, and fatally to Melleuish’s silly attack on Rudd, lots of people have observed that Rudd is, in many respects, a younger version of John Howard. But, in Melleuish’s theatre of the absurd, Howard is paired with Paul Keating (in many ways the ultimate embodiment of cliches about baby boomers) on the basis that both were born during World War II. He might want to check the bios of, say, John Lennon and Mick Jagger.

1For aficianados, this makes him a member of Generation Jones, but Melleuish appears to have got his knowledge of the subject at the pub, or by watching game shows on TV

2 I just found this out on Wikipedia. We were contemporaries, it seems, but I never met him

Two steps behind

Over the last week or two, there has been a lot of discussion of the idea of Obama leading from “two steps behind”, initially in relation to the Iran protests1, and then as a general description of his operating style. There’s an obvious link to the famous quote attributed to FDR, “I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it.”

But, how should Obama’s supporters respond to this, particularly on civil liberties issues such as detention withour trial where Obama is not only two steps behind but often appears to be going in the opposite direction? Suppose that Obama really wants to deliver on his campaign rhetoric about openness and due process, but is facing powerful resistance from within permanent power centres such as the CIA. Hence, it might be supposed, Obama has to put up a show of resistance, and needs his supporters to make enough noise to compel him to fulfil his promises

How, if at all does such a situation differ from one in which Obama is a natural centrist wants to backslide on promises made to secure his base in the election year, but can be held to his promises by sufficiently vociferous pressure?

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Even more good news

Via Paul Krugman and the Financial Times news that the World Trade Organization has indicated that it will endorse border taxes on imports from countries that don’t participate in an international agreement to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

That means the end of the free rider problem. Provided the big players (US, EU and China) sign up to an agreement, any country that chooses to hold out will be committing economic suicide. And, in the initial bargaining between the developed countries and China, the pressure on China to reach an agreement has been greatly increased.

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Review of Capitalism Unleashed

Several years ago, Andrew Glyn sent me a copy of his new book, Capitalism Unleashed, which I promised to review. But with one thing and another, I didn’t get to it, and then I received the news of his premature death, which set me back still further. I promised myself that I would do the review as a tribute to Andrew’s memory, and now, I’ve finally managed to do it.

Of course the environment now is radically different to the one in which the book was written, and that means the review must be to some extent informed by the wisdom of hindsight. In the introduction, Andrew notes as the first of the big open questions thrown up by the unleashing of capitalism

Will the ever more complex financial system implode in a major financial crisis and bring prolonged recession

We all know the answer now.

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Good news!

The Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act bill, establishing an emissions trading scheme for the US, has been passed by the US House of Representatives. The vote was close, and depended on the last vestiges of bipartisanship, with the 219-212 majority depending on 8 Republicans willing to save the planet (44 Democrats voted against, a few because they thought the bill was too weak). Since good actions by Republicans are so rare nowadays, I’ll salute all eight, as listed here Bono Mack (Calif), Castle (Del.), LoBiondo (NJ), McHugh (NY), Reichert (Wash.), Smith (NJ), Lance (NJ), Kirk (Ill.). My guess is that the narrowness of the majority is a little misleading. In cases like this, the Administration cuts enough deals to get a majority, but usually has a few votes in reserve.

I have no idea how things will go in the Senate, but I’m feeling optimistic that the bill will pass in the end. The Lieberman-Warner bill got 48 votes in 2008 (including 7 Reps) and the Senate is a lot better now than it was then.

Of course, this good news has the implication that Australia could be left at the back of the pack, among the last developed countries to sign on to emissions trading. That’s the price of having a delusional and disfunctional opposition, and of the Labor backroom deals that managed to give Steven Fielding the balance of power in the Senate.

The secret state and public buildings


Given that we’ve been discussing the transparency or otherwise of public processes, I was interested to get an email saying that ASIO is to get a new headquarters, built on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin. Apparently the public consultation process consisted of some documents posted, for the statutory 10 days, on a Dept of Finance website under the title ‘EPBC referral 2009/8414 Commonwealth new building project’. The project was quietly approved by the Howard Government in 2005 and exempted from oversight by the joint parliamentary public works committee. The Rudd Government continued the secrecy.

You can get links to more info here.

Probity and economic liberalism

Coming out of the utegate/emailgate fiasco, I’ve seen a lot of variants on the claim that interventionist policies, like OzCar, are conducive to corruption, while economic liberalism reduces the scope for wrongdoing. I’ll just offer a few observations (readers with access to Google can fill in the details).

* If the standard of behavior implicit in criticism of Wayne Swan were applied to the Howard government, hardly any minister in that government could have remained in office. That particularly includes Howard and Turnbull.

* The Howard government breached standards of public probity on a scale never before seen with an Australian government, and approached only by the later years of Hawke-Keating and the worst of state governments. Not only did numerous ministers engage in activity that personally enriched them, and would have been regarded as corrupt in any preceding government, but the government consistently undermined the integrity of the public service, engaged in cronyism to an unprecedented extent and (Howard in particular) lied consistently and shamelessly. With relatively few exceptions, economic liberals didn’t complain about this.

* The Thatcher-Major, Reagan and Bush II governments were among the most sleazy and corrupt in the modern history of the UK and US (Clinton, Bush I and Blair were marginally better).*

In summary, the idea that economic liberalism goes with high standards of public probity doesn’t pass the laugh test.

* Defenders of economic liberalism may wish to disclaim one or more of these. But I’m not going to respond, except with derision, to anyone who tries to dodge the issue by any of the standard excuses familiar from apologists for the failure of Communism: never really tried, the fault of the individuals not the theory, etc.Meet the Browns film

Kruistocht in spijkerbroek psp

Refuted economic doctrines #9: Real Business Cycle Theory

Yet another in my series of articles on economic theories, empirical hypotheses and policy programs that have been refuted, or undermined, by the Global Financial Crisis. This one, on Real Business Cycle Theory, is a bit econowonkish, but I’m putting it up here because
(a) I hope some econowonks among the readers might find errors and correct me
(b) Judging by some other recent commentary, RBC still has some interest.

* As indeed, they have. My suggestion of a link between calibration and the GMM has been roundly refuted both here and at Crooked Timber. I can only say, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Thanks for the very useful comments on this point, and on RBC more generally.

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