Let’s get this show back on the road

Looking at the latest TV news I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I’m sick of the confected outrage surrounding the Australia Day incident. On the other hand, if this is what it takes to make the Labor Party realise they have to go back to Kevin Rudd, and sooner rather than later, then I suppose I can live with it.

Social democracy and equal opportunity


My critique of Tyler Cowen’s post arguing the unimportance of social mobility has started off, or maybe merged into, of those old-fashioned blog firestorms we used to have back in the day, now also reticulated through Twitter – a few links here, here and here. But rather than criticise Cowen further, I thought I would try to work through the bigger issues involved from a social democratic perspective[1].  In particular, as discussed in comments here, should social democrats favor policies to enhance social mobility, or does mobility between generations make inequality even worse, for example by justifying what appears as meritocracy?


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How (not) to defend entrenched inequality

The endless EU vs US debate rolls on, but now with an odd twist. Although the objective facts about economic inequality, immobility and so on are far worse in the US than the EU, the political situation seems more promising. (I’m not talking primarily about electoral politics but about the nature of public debate.)

In the EU, the right has succeeded in taking a crisis caused primarily by banks (including the central bank, and bank regulators) and blaming it on government profligacy, which is then being used to push through yet more of the neoliberal policies that caused the crisis. And, as we’ve just seen, formerly social democratic parties like New Labour in the UK, are pushing the same line.

By contrast the success of Occupy Wall Street have changed the US debate, in ways that I think will be hard to reverse. Once the Overton window shifted enough to allow inequality and social immobility to be mentioned, the weight of evidence has been overwhelming.

This post by Tyler Cowen is an indication of how far things have moved. Cowen feels the need, not merely to dispute some aspects of the data on inequality and social mobility in the US, but to make the case that a unequal society with a static social structure isn’t so bad after all.
Update Cowen offers a non-response response here. Apparently, disliking arguments for inherited inequality, such as his point 3 (because of habit formation, social mobility reduces welfare) is a “Turing test” for reflexive leftism.

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Not with a bang, but a whimper

Gillard’s abandonment of pokies reform means, as far as I can see, that she has reached the end of the set of reforms she promised as the price of independent support after the 2010 election. Most of the agenda she inherited from Rudd has similarly been either implement, or put on the road to implementation, (typically in a watered-down form) or else abandoned. A visit to the ALP website seems to me to confirm this impression. There are plenty of glossy pictures, but the ideas seem mostly to be taken from Rudd, though drastically watered down in most cases, for example, “School Reform” in place of “Education Revolution”. The only thing that sounds more like Gillard than Rudd is “Trade Cadetships” which reads like a rebadging of Howard’s “New Apprenticeships”.

Can anyone point to any genuinely new initiatives taken by this government (that is, not forced on it, or inherited)? It would be nice to think that there is something more on offer than “Not Abbott”.

Not enough votes = broken promise? (Update: as it turns out, yes)

Update With brilliant timing, I wrote this post the day before Gillard announced that she was in fact breaking her promise, and would not bring the legislation to a vote. Presumably she had already signalled this to the media, which was why the accusations of a broken promise were being made, accurately if a little prematurely. Yet again, Gillard has lived down to my lowest expectations, while Abbott has (of course) been even worse End Update

Regular readers will know that I’m no fan of our current PM and a strong supporter of legislation to limit the damage caused by pokies and other forms of gambling that rely primarily on problem gamblers for their viability. And, having been overseas for much of last year, there may be some political nuances I’m missing.[1]

Still, I can’t see how Gillard can be accused of breaking a promise to Andrew Wilkie on pokies on the basis that she has failed to get the numbers for it. On that basis, for example, Rudd broke his promise on an ETS, not when he dropped the idea under pressure from Gillard and the NSW right, but when the Senate rejected the legislation. And every government in recent history has made election promises then had their proposals rejected in the Senate (the silly idea of a mandate, supposed to require the Senate to acquiesce in government legislation, never had any effect on this). Occasionally, such rejections lead to the PM being criticised for lacking negotiation skills. But I’ve never before seen such a case treated as a broken promise.

fn1. Most obviously, it might be that the government is secretly encouraging other independents to oppose the law. I haven’t seen any suggestion to this effect, but it’s about the only thing that would make sense of the “broken promise” claim.