Recognising racism (crosspost from Crooked Timber)

Back in 2004, I wrote that

There is only one real instance of political correctness in Australia today and that is that you are never, ever allowed to call anyone a racist.

This was one side of an unspoken agreement among mainstream politicians, the other being that no one would ever make a statement that was overtly and undeniably racist (this was the central content of “political correctness” in its normal usage). Both the use of overtly racist language and the use of the term “racist” in political debate put the speaker outside the Overton Window. The official debate was undertaken in terms of “dog whistle” coded appeals to racism on one side and euphemisms such as “prejudiced” or “racially charged” on the other. The peace was maintained by the fact that the political class as a whole shared a broad neoliberal[^1] consensus in which marginal differences over economic issues were central, and where social/racial issues were primarily seen as a way of motivating the base to vote the right way.

With the rapid rise of tribalism on the political right this tacit agreement is breaking down.
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Edison in reverse

The takeaway from my latest piece in The Guardian on the failure of for-profit provision of services like health and Education

Blair, and like-minded reformers throughout the English-speaking world, have delivered an Edison in reverse. Edison experimented with many things that didn’t work, but ended up with a light bulb. Market-oriented reforms, particularly in the provision of human services like health, education and public safety, have begun with a working system and replaced it with a string of failed experiments.

No iceberg, no tip

When Dyson Heydon delivered the report of the Royal Commmissioner into Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption, he claimed that his findings represented “the tip of the iceberg”. At the time, I commented that, given nearly $50 million of public money and lengthy hearings with the exceptional powers of a Royal Commission, the Australian public was entitled to expect the whole iceberg.

It turns out that I was too charitable. In the months since the Commission reported, a string of the charges he recommended have been thrown out or withdrawn In fact, six months later, there has only been one conviction, resulting in a suspended sentence. The only big fish to be caught since the establishment of Heydon’s star chamber has been the Commission’s own star witness, Kathy Jackson.

And the bills keep coming in. The last budget allocated $6 million more for the AFP-Victorian Police taskforce, which currently has outstanding cases against a grand total of six unionists. By contrast, taskforce Argo in Queensland, focused on child exploitation, has a budget of $3 million.

For another contrast, here are a few of the cases of alleged wage fraud, misappropriation of worker entitlements and so on that have emerged since Heydon’s Commission was launched: 7-11 ( million underpayment), Queensland Nickel, Pizza Hut, Myers and Spotless, and lots of small employers in the agricultural sector. That’s on top of the general run of sharp practive, environmental vandalism, market rigging, and dubious practices of all kinds.

It would be absurd to deny the existence of corrupt union officials and, though it is much rarer, systemic corruption, as in the case of the Health Services Union. But the continued failure of a massively expensive, politically motivated inquisition to turn up more than a handful of cases suggests that the problems are isolated, and that the real drive is to attack unions for doing the job of representing workers.

Human services for profit: the evidence is in

Over at Club Troppo, Nicholas Gruen has a thoughtful piece on the role of competition and choice in human services. He’s responding to the less-than-thoughtful boosterism of the Productivity Commission and the Harper Review on this topic. It’s well worth reading. Before doing so, though it’s important to take a look at the mounting evidence that for-profit provision of human services is almost invariably disastrous.

I’ll write a longer piece on this soon, I hope. But here are three recent examples from the United States, which has led the way in for-profit human services, and is now beginning to pull back

Shonky for-profit educator ITT closes down without notice, right at the beginning of a new semester.

Following a damning report, the US Department of Justice announces it will no longer use private prisons.

Charter schools (some openly for-profit, many others run as businesses) have been failing at a starting rate.