“I want my country back”

Before the 2008 US election, I wondered how rightwing commentators, quick to hurl the charge of anti-Americanism against anyone who disagreed with the policies of the Bush Administration, would deal with the election of a Democratic President. I shouldn’t have worried. In this , Janet Albrechtsen makes it clear that she sees no need to change her views. An anti-American, according to Albrechtsen is someone who supports the current President of the United States, favors the policies of his Administration, and opposes demonstrators invoking revolutionary slogans against the current government.

All of this is summed up in the favorite slogan of the Tea Party crowd “I want my country back”. In the view of this overwhelmingly white and mostly upper-income group, which started operations within weeks of Obama’s inauguration, the only legitimate government is one that embodies their tribal values and hatreds. If the majority of Americans vote for a different government, then, as in Albrechtsen’s twisted logic, that just means most Americans are anti-American.

Update: Quite a few commentators seem to think I’m misrepresenting Albrechtsen here. I find this bizarre. The first use of the term “anti-American” in her article is para 3, which reads (with emphasis added, given that it seems to be needed)

Not just the sleep-inducing sound and sight of five voices all nodding and shaking their heads to the same anti-American melody. Yes, we all voted for Barack Obama , yes, we all want action on climate change, no to religion, nuclear power, the Tea Party movement, the Bush administration (“evil was being actively pursued every single day”),

Resource rent tax statement

I’ve been busy for the last few days, working on a statement by a group of economists in support of the principle of a resource rent tax to replace existing royalties. The statement calls for informed debate about the proposal and takes no position on particular design issues, such as the choice between the existing system used for the Petroleum Resource Rent Tax (40 per cent on returns above about 11 per cent) and the government’s proposed Resource Super Profits Tax (40 per cent on returns above the bond rate, with a corresponding offset for returns below the bond rate).

My own view is that the RSPT design would be more efficient, but the losers under this design (those who can confidently expect high profits) have been very vocal, while the potential gainers (smaller miners undertaking riskier projects) have not given the government any support. Add to that the fact that the PRRT design is long-established (making scare campaigns a little bit harder) and simpler and there is a strong political case for a compromise along these lines. The most important thing is that the government cannot and should not back down on the basic principle of a resource rent tax.

Here’s the Press Release and Letter.

The policy ratchet and US civil liberties (crosspost at CT)

Apropos of recent proposals to stop giving Miranda warnings to terrorism suspects,

, the reaction is still exactly the same to every Terrorist attack, whether a success or failure, large- or small-scale. Apparently, 8 years of the Bush assault on basic liberties was insufficient; there are still many remaining rights in need of severe abridgment. Even now, every new attempted attack causes the Government to devise a new proposal for increasing its own powers still further and reducing rights even more, while the media cheer it on. It never goes in the other direction.

This kind of policy “ratchet” is quite common, but I haven’t seen a fully satisfactory, or general, analysis of either the metaphor or the phenomenon.

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Kiss of Death

Not that long ago, I said that, in the absence of a policy change on privatisation, I’d be putting Labor last on my next Queensland ballot, behind the Greens and, more relevantly, the Liberal National Party. Doubtless as a result, the LNP has promptly .

Australia Talks

I’ve been flat out with final revisions to my book manuscript and various other things. So I didn’t get time to say I would be on Australia Talks this evening talking about the resource rent tax. It went fairly well, I thought. You can judge for yourselves when the podcast becomes available

Not quite sure when I will surface from my current deluge of work. Light posting until then.

After the Budget

* Budget lockup low point: Only instant coffee, had to get my caffeine hit from Diet Coke. High point: Asked for autograph by Treasury officials. Also, a fun dinner with Robert Gottliebsen, Alan Kohler, Natasha Stott-Despoja, the Crikey crew and others. Not quite as lively as some accounts suggested, but a good time was had by all.
* One thing I missed: Got through some of the confusion on the aid budget but wasn’t able to work out if the money for Copenhagen commitments was additional new money (as promised) or old money taken from elsewhere in the aid budget. Unsurprisingly, it was old money
* A bigger thing I missed: What Possum’s Pollytics correctly calls the most important chart in the budget, a graph showing a regression of the size of economic stimulus against economic growth relative to IMF forecasts. The relationship is highly significant, and the coefficient is approximately 1. That is, each dollar of stimulus resulted in (roughly) a dollar of extra output. No doubt this will be subject to reanalysis, but it’s a striking result.

* Tony Abbott’s reply: predictably weak. Freezing public service recruitment is silly symbolism, not a serious way of cutting spending.

What I wrote in the lockup: Budget summary

Last year’s Commonwealth Budget represented a huge, and, for the most part, successful economic gamble. The gamble last year was that a big budget deficit would yield an economic stimulus sufficient to outweigh the associated increase in public debate and provide a basis for sustainable economic growth in the future.

As the Treasurer’s speech points out, the Australian economy has recovered strongly at a time when the US and European economies are only marginally stronger than at the depths of the recession. Public debt is now projected to peak at 6 per cent of GDP, compared to a developed world average of more than 80 per cent. The government’s claims as strong economic managers have a fair bit of credibility.

This year’s Budget is a political gamble; that the government can win re-election based on that credibility, without offering any significant electoral sweeteners. The government doubled down on this gamble with the series of backflips and repudiated promises in the leadup to the Budget, motivated largely by the desire to achieve an early return to surplus. The political price for these backflips, most notably the indefinite deferral of the CPRS, has been steep, and it’s far from obvious that the Budget will provide any offsetting bounce.
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