Passports (crosspost from Crooked Timber)

I was looking over this post from 2016, on the consequences of a relatively successful Brexit

I’m finding it hard to see that anything will happen to justify the massive effort involved. The Poles and other EU citizens whose presence was the biggest single justification for Brexit won’t go away. On the contrary, it seems pretty clear that all EU citizens will get permanent residence, even those who arrived after the Brexit vote. Even with a hard Brexit, the benefits of consistency with EU regulations will be overwhelming. The terms of any trade deal with non-EU countries won’t be any better than the existing EU deals and probably worse. Even symbolically, what’s going to happen? Typically, national independence is marked by a ceremony where the flag of the imperial power is lowered, and the new national flag is raised. But, from what I can tell, the EU flag is hardly ever flown in the UK as it is. The same for national currency, passport, official languages and all the other symbolic representations of nationhood. So, after a successful Brexit, Britain will be a little poorer and more isolated than before, but otherwise largely unchanged. Will that count as success in the eyes of those who voted to Leave. I don’t know.

Most of that still looks about right. But as commenters at the time pointed out, I was wrong about passports. One of the big things Leavers disliked about the EU was the replacement of the blue British passport with EU burgundy. It turns out that the colour change wasn’t compulsory, and the reintroduced blue passports will be printed in France, but at least that is a symbolic win for the Brexiteers.

On the other hand, how does this fit with the oft-repeated claim that Leave voters were “left behind” “stayers”? To be nostalgic for blue passports, you would presumably need to have undertaken a fair bit of international travel before 1988, when they were replaced. That experience, combined with the assumption that Britain is far superior to the EU, sounds like the profile of a stereotypical well-off, middle-aged or older, Tory voter. And, as far as I can tell, it was this category that provided the core support for Leave. That’s consistent with Trumpist voting most places in the English speaking world.

Why Labor lost

It’s always nice to see evidence that supports your prior beliefs, which is why it’s important to avoid confirmation bias (seeking out confirming evidence, while ignoring or discounting the other kind). Since this ANU study of voters’ choices in the leadup to the May election is, AFAICT the only one to be published so far, I can cite it without fear of this bias.

I’m not usually keen on the excuse that “we lost because we didn’t get our message across”, but in relation to the last election, I said this before the election. Commenting at the halfway point, I said

The first half of the 2019 election campaign was the worst I’ve ever seen, especially relative to the possibility for real debate. Both sides ran continuous attack ads focusing on the opposing leader, playing into the gladiatorial model favoured by the Press Gallery. Labor, in particular, seemed to have forgotten it had any policy offer.

As the past tense indicates, when I wrote this I thought things had changed. For a day or two, Labor ran ads talking up its positive policies and focusing on the whole frontbench rather than Shorten alone. But that stopped almost as soon as it started and it was back to the fact that Morrison only cared about “the big end of town”. Apart from the clunky and dated rhetoric, we already knew that. By contrast, even as a close follower of politics I didn’t know Labor had an excellent dental policy until Tanya Plibersek mentioned it after the election.

The ANU study backs this up, first by saying that lots of people changed their minds at the last minute, which isn’t consistent with deepseated hostility to Labor policy, and second by saying that the big negative was reactions to Shorten, presumably driven in part by the Liberals’ negative campaigning.

The crucial point here is that, by playing the gladiatiorial leadership game, Labor was setting itself up to lose. Campaigning on policy would have reinforced the point, obvious since the election, that the coalition didn’t have any.

Not everyone likes the grand bargain

I’ve been very surprised by the extent to which some commentators on the right have been willing to entertain the idea of a carbon price in return for lifting the ban on nuclear power. I mentioned Aaron Patrick in the Fin yesterday. And today, here’s Adam Creighton at the Oz

Reviving the carbon tax debate is probably anathema for many, but if one were set up correctly, with all the money being returned to taxpayers by way of an annual payment, it would make nuclear power stations more viable and provide a political springboard to abandon the massively inefficient clutter of state and federal renewable energy targets.
Carbon dividends for all is a much better sell than a carbon tax on everything

On the other hand, one person from whom I confidently expected unqualified support has jibbed at it. As I said a while back, the proposal should appeal to anyone who seriously believes that nuclear power should be adopted as a response to climate change.

The obvious example, for me at any rate, is Ben Heard. So, I was quite surprised when, in a lengthy Twitter discussion (here’s his feed), he would not endorse a carbon price, or any other specific measure to reduce emissions. Not only that, but he professed greater sympathy for rightwing science deniers than for anti-nuclear environmentalists.

It’s easy enough to guess what is going on here. I imagine Heard started out with genuine concern about the climate, and convinced himself that nuclear power was an essential part of the solution. That entailed arguing that renewables couldn’t do the job, even with storage. At this point, Heard would have got plenty of hostility from environmentalists, and plenty of support from denialists. So, when he’s faced with something like a carbon price (or, for that matter, any effective climate policy) that his new friends will hate (check out the old white male Oz commenters on Creighton’s post), he backs away. I’ve previously seen the same pattern with Barry Brook and (from a different starting point) Ted Trainer.

Underemployment in Australia

I’m working on a revision of a chapter on unemployment (its with Stephen Bell, and the book is the 4th edition of a text called Social Policy in Australia. One of the issues we’ve stressed in previous editions is hidden unemployment, particularly including underemployment.

I haven’t paid much attention to this issue in the last few years, focusing mainly on the set of issues usually tagged as “the future of work”. When I came back to it, I was surprised to find that, even though unemployment has been more or less stable for the last decade, underemployment has risen sharply, and is now at an all-time high of 8 per cent.

The increase is concentrated among 15-24 year olds. I have a few ideas about what might be going on here, but I thought I’d see if readers can point to any serious studies or, failing that, anecdotal evidence on the question.

A nuclear grand bargain ?

I wasn’t expecting much of a reaction to my submission to two Parliamentary inquiries into nuclear power, in which I advocated imposing a carbon price (set to rise to $50/tonne over time) and, conditional on this, repealing the existing legislative ban on nuclear power.

Over the weekend, though, I heard that Aaron Patrick of the Fin was asking a few people about it. Given my past history with Patrick, I was expecting a gotcha hatchet job, or worse.

When today’s Fin came out, I was surprised to learn (via Twitter and email, as I don’t subscribe), that the Fin had run not one, but two articles about my submission, both by Patrick. The first that came to my attention was the expected gotcha, focusing on the recommendation to repeal the ban, while softpedalling the carbon price to the point of near-invisibility (just enough of a mention that he could deny having ignored it altogether).

The second, though, was a reasonably accurate and supportive summary of the proposal (a few digs at me, but I have a thick skin). Money quote:

A carbon price would delight the left, and would be unlikely to upset most of the business community. Small-scale nuclear reactors could be framed as a nascent technology that might not ever happen – giving its opponents a short-term political victory in the long-term national interest.
A confident and pragmatic centre-right government could seize the opportunity to alter the path of Australian economic and environmental history – from one of the worst emitters of carbon, based on population, to among the lowest.

As I’ve said previously, anyone who seriously believes that nuclear power should be adopted as a response to climate change ought to endorse this proposal. I find it hard to imagine that the nuclear boosters in the LNP are in this category, but if they are, here’s their chance to put their hands up.

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