We need a new word for “reform”

Hardly anyone bothered to pay attention to the “National Reform Summit” put on by the Oz and the Fin the other day. The word “reform” tells us everything we need to know about this event: yet more invocations of the exhausted policy agenda of the 1980s, all with the implicit message that we need to work harder. Both Jeff Sparrow at Overland and Ben Eltham at New Matilda have pieces today making this point.

“Reform”, meaning “change for the better” was always a problematic concept, but it was a useful word, and we don’t have a good alternative. I don’t think a single replacement is feasible, but I’d like to try out some alternatives, and call for other suggestions

“Redesign” and “restructuring” are reasonably neutral and can be used to indicate a wide range of policy changes, without assuming anything specific. For example, “retirement income policy redesign”.

“Liberalisation” describes a wide range of things for which “reform” is commonly used, for example “drug law liberalisation” or “financial market liberalisation”. This gives a pretty clear indication of the general line of policy change, without the approval implicit in “reform” (except to the extent that support for liberalization in general is assumed).

What is lacking is a good single word term for what was the primary connotation of “reform” until the 1980s, namely, policy changes along social democratic lines. Any suggestions?

44 thoughts on “We need a new word for “reform”

  1. @ tony lynch: Roughly 7billion prisms?

    Good one, though – the ism is encased in a solid and no matter where one takes a slice, it (the projection) looks the same. No change in focus is possible.

  2. @Ikonoclast

    In my experience, ‘ism’ words do not define a ‘concept’ but rather refer to a set of losely arranged ideas such that discourse aimed at clarification is hardly ever possible.

    (Tomorrow morning I am going away for some time – obviously I am missing the ‘discourse’ already.)

  3. Reform saw CSIRO lose its STEM branch from SA. With reforms like that, we should also ask for an extra hole in our head 😦

    Reform is a dirty word, but why replace it? The replacement would be sullied forthwith, and then we would have lost not one, but two words to the Ironic Invocation Club.

  4. Ikonoclast @ #!7 quoted wikipedia on TR’s big game hunting as if bagging a few brutes is an unpardonable sin against the environment.

    In reality elephants can be a bit of a plague to African villagers. They eat their crops and you don’t want to be stomped by a stampeding herd. And elephants are lambs cmpared to to hippos, the most dangerous large animal in Africa. These ridiculous looking creatures turn into psychopathic monsters when they encounter humans.

    Also, selective quoting is not good journalistic practice. The rest of the wikipedia article goes onto note TR’s pivotal role in the creation of the environmental movement:

    Roosevelt was one of the first Presidents to make conservation a national issue. In his speech at Osawatomie, Kansas, on August 31, 1910, he outlined his views on conservation of the lands of the United States. He favored using America’s natural resources, but opposed wasteful consumption.[168] One of his most lasting legacies was his significant role in the creation of 5 national parks, 18 national monuments, and 150 National Forests, among other works of conservation. Roosevelt was instrumental in conserving about 230 million acres (930,000 km2) of American soil among various parks and other federal projects.[169]

    In the 21st century, historians have paid renewed attention to President Roosevelt as “The Wilderness Warrior” and his energetic promotion of the conservation movement. He collaborated with his chief advisor, Gifford Pinchot, the chief of the Forest Service. Pinchot and Roosevelt… used magazine articles, speeches, press conferences, interviews, and especially large-scale presidential commissions…to encourage his middle-class reform-minded base to add conservation to their list of issues.

    The original Progressives were real men of the world.

  5. Ha ha ha. The dialectic of our Westminster system is failing abysmally. Another great column, Professor Quiggin!

  6. @Jack Strocchi

    Shouldn’t you be working on that book you are writing?

    And about African villages; did you know they are based on fractal math?

    “In 1988, Ron Eglash was studying aerial photographs of a traditional Tanzanian village when a strangely familiar pattern caught his eye.

    The thatched-roof huts were organized in a geometric pattern of circular clusters within circular clusters, an arrangement Eglash recognized from his former days as a Silicon Valley computer engineer.

    Stunned, Eglash digitized the images and fed the information into a computer. The computer’s calculations agreed with his intuition: He was seeing fractals.

    Since then, Eglash has documented the use of fractal geometry — the geometry of similar shapes repeated on ever-shrinking scales — in everything from hairstyles and architecture to artwork and religious practices in African culture.

    The complicated designs and surprisingly complex mathematical processes involved in their creation may force researchers and historians to rethink their assumptions about traditional African mathematics. “

  7. I think I like Ernestine’s “refocus”.

    “Refine” would also add meaning, but refocus is all encompassing.

  8. For example, it is true to say that Hockey is attempting to refocus taxation policy for the benefit of the higher income of the community. Refocus requires declaration of intent, reform obscures intent.

  9. re-detonate.

    Usually the shambles left in the debris after reform is qualification enough to refer to it as re-detonation.

  10. Actually at 39 I had that completely around the wrong way. Hockey is trying to focus taxation attention away from income to goods and services. This is the “netball” distraction tactic applied to draw attention away from incomes directly while attacking lower incomes from behind. The ball is in play at the GST part of the court where focus is drawn to the thought of 15% GST. The tactic is to settle on 12.5% while avoiding any discussion of tax rates on the high end, then smoothly slip in the argument about tax brackets and unfairness. It is all slight of hand, which is totally about focus.

    Believe it or not Hockey is playing his best hand right now. Will the community fall for the ploy? or will they emerge from the coma to see that Abbott’s “economic recovery” is pure farce based on the perpetual Liberal line of “we can create a great economy if only we don’t have to pay people for doing the work”. That is the underlying thrust of “work choices”, flat taxation, user pays, social services dependent on “charity”, private only health services, private universities, no minimum wage, etc.

  11. @Fran Barlow

    I vote for “progress” and “progressive”. The fact that the right hates the word is good as it gives it clear social-democratic connotations.

  12. As good a place as any to note:

    That silly old US farcist – Rupert Murdoch – has decided Australia needs a “snap election”.

    The evil old coot has a point, faced with the choice of Abbott or the guy who promises to be exactly like Abbott but less convincingly so, people might just decide that “I’d be exactly the same as the guy you have now” is no basis upon which to be elected to run the country.

    He’s cunning that old rat.

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