Economics in Two Lessons: Acknowledgements

Nearly seven years after I started, I’ve finally submitted the manuscript of Economics in Two Lessons to Princeton University Press. There’s still a lot of work to be done in turning it into a published book, and some changes are still needed, but this is as close to a milestone as I’m going to get.

Over the fold are the Acknowledgements. As I mention, I’m sure to have omitted someone, so if you have contributed comments and your name is missing, please point this out. Also, if there’s anyone commenting under a pseudonym who’d like me to use their real name, or vice versa, I’ll be happy to make the change.

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Our least significant PMs

My son Daniel pointed me a Facebook post starting from the fact that Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Turnbull served almost identical periods as PM, and comparing their achievements. Of course, there is nothing to compare.  I can’t find the post now (another reason to hate the displacement of blogs by Facebook and Twitter) but I thought I’d give my own prize for Australia’s least significant PM. The main ground rules are that I’m counting only achievements as PM, and I’m not judging whether these achievements were good or bad.

And the award goes to …Read More »

LNP not racist enough for Longman?

The Liberals’ disastrous result in the recent Longman by-election obviously played a major role in bringing an effective end to Malcolm Turnbull’s Prime Ministership. But the lesson drawn from the outcome by nearly all political pundits, and particularly those on the political right seems to me to be totally unfounded.

The central claim is that the Liberals lost votes to One Nation, which more accurately reflected the views of their conservative basis. The corollary is that to win seats in Queensland the LNP needs to become more overtly racist, most obviously by elevating Peter Dutton to the leadership.

I won’t comment on the morality of this, but simply on the electoral mathematics. Let’s look at the electoral results for Longman, conveniently collected by Wikipedia. First, compare the by-election to the 2016 result. Obviously, the LNP vote collapsed. But what’s more striking is that the combined LNP-ONP coalition vote also fell by around 3 percentage points, while the Labor-Green coalition gained 5 per cent. The combined vote for each side was about 44 per cent. So, even if ONP preferences had flowed more strongly to the LNP, the outcome would have been very close.

The other part of the argument seems to be that Longman is representative of Australia, or at least Queensland as a whole. In reality, it’s classic One Nation territory*. In its first outing  in the 1998 Queensland election, One Nation won the state seat of Caboolture (central to Longman), one of only a handful of wins in the South-east. In the  Federal election the same year, One Nation got 18 per cent of the vote, more than this time around. That compares to a Queensland average of 14 per cent and a national average of 8 per cent. Interestingly, the One Nation vote in Dickson (now held by Dutton) was just 8 per cent.

The real problem is not that LNP voters as a group have suddenly become racists (or, at best, anti-anti-racists), but that the party’s members, activists and intellectual base have done so, but have had to conceal or blur the fact until relatively recently**.  That’s why they are eager to adopt an interpretation of the Longman outcome that justifies them in coming out.


* To be absolutely clear, I don’t mean that most, or even a large minority of residents of Longman are racists or Hanson fans. Rather, whereas the average proportion of such people in Australia is around 10 per cent, in Longman its closer to 20. Whenever a Hanson-type candidate looks plausible, they can expect to get a fair few of those votes.

** I tried to think of someone who could reasonably be described as a small-l liberal in the way this term was once used. My best candidates were Peter van Onselen and Chris Berg, neither of whom really fit the bill in the way that, say, Ian McPhee did. Any others?


Turnbull’s last chance for greatness (updated)

Since he first entered the Australian political scene as a leading proponent of republicanism, Malcolm Turnbull’s career has been one long series of disappointments, which involved failing (more or less steadily) upwards.  Barring a miracle, his career is now effectively over. In the unlikely event that he survives as PM to the next election, he is assured of electoral defeat and subsequent oblivion.

But, he has one last chance for greatness. It’s now clear that  many of his Liberal colleagues and, almost certainly, a majority of coalition MPs, want to hand the country over to an overt racist, bigot and climate denialist*. Yet it would only take 75 votes on the floor of the House of Representatives to stop this from happening.  A handful of genuine liberals in the Liberal party would be enough*.*

If Turnbull led such a group, he would be reviled by his own side, most of whom hate and/or despise him anyway, but he would finally justify the hopes of millions of Australians (including me) who actually believed he could change politics for the better.

Even if the requisite handful could not be found, Turnbull could resign his seat and recontest it as an independent, or support someone else pledged to oppose Dutton.  That would give at least some electors a chance to have their say.

Of course, this is all said in bitter jest.  Turnbull has never stood for anything and never will. He will hang on to the last possible moment, then capitulate meekly.

Update: Well, he hasn’t gone meekly. But rather than take a stand against Dutton’s racism, and support Bishop, or even Morrison, he’s made it all about himself. His whole political career has been a vanity project.

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NEGative thoughts

I was asked by Bloomberg to comment on what the future holds for Turnbull and the NEG. My comments:

It’s an established convention in Australian politics that a narrow victory in a leadership challenge implies the need for a subsequent challenge in which the incumbent invariably loses. So, I think Turnbull’s future is either on the backbench or early retirement from politics.  Even if he hangs on, the NEG is now finished.
 It remains to be seen whether the various ad hoc interventions announced or canvassed over the past few days take place. My guess is that most will require legislation and that getting this legislation through the Parliament will prove impossible.
  I think nothing much will happen until Turnbull is replaced, presumably by Dutton. I can’t forecast what will happen after that.
This followed some comments I gave yesterday about rightwing opposition to the NEG (over the fold)

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