Fortunate in my enemies

That’s how Robert Vienneau described me after some of my stoushes last year.

It seems as if my luck is holding in that respect at any rate. While I’ve had plenty of supportive responses after being booted from the Fin, I’m sure not everyone is sorry to see me go. Most of those in the latter class, however, haven’t seen any need to gloat.

I would have been disappointed, however, if Andrew Bolt had not lived down to his usual form on this occasion. Sure enough, as his fans have advised me both by email and in comments here, he’s written a gloating column, expressing the hope that Laura Tingle (a far better journalist than Bolt could ever be, even if he was trying) will be next to go.

Bolt can’t even manage an original line of attack, dragging out the tired misrepresentation of a 2007 blog post that the Telegraph ran last week.

The great thing about having Bolt as an enemy is that you get his fans thrown in as part of the package. There’s something comforting in knowing that, if someone dislikes you, there’s a high probability that they are the kind of person who comments on Bolt’s blog.

Of course, it isn’t much of a distinction to be one of Bolt’s enemies. With the exception of the late Paddy McGuinness (who at least had some style to combine with the vitriol) I can’t think of anyone who is less discriminating in his hatreds.

Megalogenis messes up the generation game

George Megalogenis is a smart and insightful writer, so I opened his new book The Australian Moment with anticipation. Alas, the very first sentence is the most tiresome of generation game cliches

Every rich nation reveals its character in its most selfish generation – the baby boomers

Showing that invoking the word “generation” instantly reduces your IQ by about 50 points, Megalogenis goes on to support his claim by a discussion of the results of a poll of voters taken in 1972, the year Gough Whitlam was elected, and the year before his government lowered the voting age from 21 to 18.

The baby boom began in 1946, when returning members of the armed services started having big families. The end is usually placed somewhere between 1960 and 1963.

Whichever end date you choose, even the many boomers who were still in primary school ought to have been capable of doing the subtraction that would inform George that anyone born after 1951 (that is, the vast majority of boomers) was not a voter in 1972.

End of an era (for me, anyway)

A little while ago, I got a message from the Fin to tell me they wouldn’t be running any more columns from me, as they are bringing in some new commentators. Given my run-in with Michael Stutchbury (then at the Oz, now Editor-in-Chief of the Fin) last year, and other changes at the Fin since he came on board, I wasn’t surprised. Still, it’s the end of a long-running association, which started, ironically (at least in the Alanis Morrisette sense of the term) when Michael was opinion editor there. My first column, advocating the exclusion of food from the GST, ran in 1992. I wrote occasional pieces after that, and I was a regular columnist for 15 years, which is a very long stint by Australian standards, at least for someone who isn’t a full-time journalist.

I’ve enjoyed it a lot, and I think I’ve made a useful contribution, but now it’s time to move on. I’ll certainly continue to take part in public debate, through this blog and other media, but this gives me a chance to stop and think more clearly about where I want to go with this part of my life.

Swan and plunging revenue

Treasurer Wayne Swan has switched from a “hard Keynesian” to a structural justification of expenditure cuts. Rather than advocating a rapid return to surplus as consistent with macroeconomic balance and full employment, Swan now says cuts are needed because of structural factors like declining capital gains tax revenue, notably omitted the Howard income tax cuts adopted and implemented almost completely by Labor. claiming, as quoted by the Age and other sources.

Tax revenue, which plunged from the 24.2 per cent of GDP once enjoyed by the Howard government to 20 per cent, is set to recover only slowly to around 22.8 per cent by 2016.

Looking that the 2011-12 Budget papers show nothing of the kind. They are for receipts, not revenue, but they show a decline from 24.9 per cent in 2007-08, the last Howard Budget to a low of 21.9 in 2010-11 (I checked and the final figure was 21.7). The 2012-13 MYEFO has (General Government) receipts recovering to 23.9 per cent of GDP by 2012-13 on current policy. Revenue is higher at 24.5 per cent.

Before I talk about the merits and otherwise of Swan’s strategy, I’d like to get the numbers right. Does anyone have any info?

Update An inquiry to the Treasury produced an amazingly rapid response, pointing me to page 363 of the MYEFO, which is the source of the data. I think it’s fair to say that Swan is engaged in cherry-picking the past and relying on rubbery numbers for the future. The numbers represent tax revenue rather than total receipts. The number for the Howard government is not that of its last budget, but is for 2005-06. That was before some big tax cuts, and also before the establishment of the Future Fund, the earnings from which are not counted as revenue, although the debt interest that could have been saved is an expense. The rubbery projections involve claims that the revenue/GDP ratio will remain almost static from 2012-13 onwards, when bracket creep would typically be expected to produce growth, in the absence of policy change.

I’d suggest a more accurate summary of the data is that, on current policy, receipts are projected to be 23.9 per cent of GDP in 2012-13, down from 25.1 per cent in the last year of the Howard government (Labor has, unwisely, pledged to hold itself below this level). The gap is entirely explicable in terms the unaffordable income tax cuts promised by Howard in 2007 and implemented (with modest changes) by Labor.

It would be easy enough to fill this gap by taking a harder line on tax expenditures and tax avoidance, without cutting the services which, according to Gillard and Swan, we are supposed to trust Labor to deliver.