Don’t Follow Leaders, Watch The Parking Meters

The dispute over the Greens apparent intention to oppose a more progressive tax system has heated up again, on Facebook and elsewhere, especially given indications that the proposed return to indexation of petrol excise will be passed, as it should be. In combination, if pursued, these policies can be presented, with some justice, as pandering to the self-interest of the stereotypical Greens voter: high income, inner city, with no need to use much petrol.

I haven’t seen anyone defend the pro-rich tax policy on the merits, but I’ve had vigorous pushback from people whose views I would generally respect, taking the following lines

* Labor is doing the same thing, why pick on the Greens
* The policy may be right, but it’s being advocated for the wrong reason (deficit fetishism)
* The policy may be right, but it’s being put forward by the wrong people (evil Abbott government)
* This is only a small step, we need something much bigger and more comprehensive

I’ll respond to these points over the fold, but for the moment I want to observe that these excuses, or minor variants, can be and have been made for every policy sellout in the history of politics. No one gives them the slightest credence when they are put forward by people who aren’t close allies.

The fact that so many intelligent people are willing to buy this sort of case when it’s put forward by the Greens is evidence of the proposition that none of us is immune to the kinds of biased thinking that have completely corrupted the intellectual base of the political right. Fortunately, I think, the left as a whole is more self-critical, so that this kind of reasoning gets a tougher run. But for me, this emphasises the importance of not being aligned with any political party to the extent that loyalty clouds my judgement on the issues. That doesn’t immunise me from various kinds of biases, but at least it helps with problems like this.

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Voter suppression comes to Oz

I’ve been commenting for a while on the descent of the Australian right into tribalist politics, largely imported from the US Republicans. Even people you might expect to be unaffected like this, such as Joe Hockey, come out with tribal shibboleths such as his statement that wind turbines are offensive[1]. A striking instance of this is the campaign for voter ID, now being pushed by the Murdoch press. Those involved in this shameful exercise include Clive Palmer, Jarrod Bleijie and the Liberal party apparatus, none of which is surprising. More depressing is the fact that Malcolm Turnbull is part of the push. It really seems that there is no hope for a sane and decent conservatism[2] in Australia.

This Republican strategy for suppressing voters works well in the US where registration and voting are both voluntary and (for poor and black people) as difficult as the Repubs can make them (though of course, they have nothing on their own former incarnation as Southern Democrats, in the years before the Voting Rights Act. It’s hard to see this working to suppress votes in Australia, unless voting is made voluntary. Even if you are sent home for not having ID, the requirement to vote is still there. More generally, the whole ethos of Australian electoral systems has been to promote voting[3]

In any case, the timing of this latest foray into tribalism looks pretty bad. US courts are striking down voter ID laws following the obvious evidence that they suppress legitimate voters rather than stopping fraudulent ones. In many cases, the proponents of the law have been unable to produce a single instance of in-person voter impersonation (the only kind of fraud stopped by ID laws).

fn1. As, I think Fran B commented on my Twitter feed, George Brandis will doubtless note that “but they have a right to be offensive”! Brandis, another supposed “wet” has been busy outing himself as a conspiracy-theoretic climate denier
fn2. AFAICT, self-described libertarians are no better on this
fn3. Howard tried some dirty tricks to stop newly eligible 18 years olds from voting, but this is tinkering at the edges.

Wealth: earned or inherited

The efforts of the right to discredit Piketty’s Capital have so far ranged from unconvincing to risible (there’s a particularly amusing one from Max Hastings in the Daily Mail, to which I won’t bother linking). One point raised in this four-para summary by the Economist is that ” today‚Äôs super-rich mostly come by their wealth through work, rather than via inheritance.” Piketty does a good job of rebutting this, but for those who haven’t acquired the book or got around to reading it, I thought I’d repost my own response, from 2012.

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Licenses for cyclists?

NSW Transport Minister Duncan Gay (seemingly one of the few NSW Ministers still in his job) has raised the idea of licenses for cyclists, in response to growing numbers of fatal and near-fatal accidents and (entirely justified) pressure for action against motorists who endanger fellow road users.

He can expect a negative response for a number of reasons. A license scheme is problematic, most obviously because children are (and should remain) free to ride bikes, but can scarcely be expected to pay license fees or sit for an exam. But the policy goal could be achieved without a license. All that is needed is to create a general right to cycle on roads, with no requirement to obtain a license, but with the courts having the power to suspend that right for cyclists who commit traffic offences. There’s no longer any practical requirement for a physical license. If an offender doesn’t have formal ID, a photograph or a phone would be enough to confirm identity in 99 per cent of cases (sad, perhaps, but true).

Then there’s the question of registration. Again, that’s a system that makes much more sense for cars than for bikes. But, if we had a proper system of road pricing, there wouldn’t be much difficulty in including bikes, though I suspect economic analysis would show their contribution to road costs to be very low.