13 thoughts on “Dismembering government …

  1. Brilliant article! Three cheers for John Quiggin! If I could I would chair him around King George Square or up and down the Queen Street Mall for this article alone. I would need a few suitable assistant chair-bearers, of course, but not too many as J.Q. is quite fit and svelt. I would also need the pandemic to abate for safety reasons and my thrice operated-on left eye to get completely better so that the retina would not pop off the inside of my eyeball. With those conditions met, J.Q’s permission and a few confreres to help me I would do it for his writing of this article alone.

    In all seriousness, occasionally my criticism of J.Q. can be immoderate and unreasonable when I disagree with him on some fine or over-hyped point that I think I am right on. I think it only fair that my agreement and praise for him also be immoderate and threaten an excessive demonstration, even in jest. That’s just me. That’s the way I roll. All kidding aside, it is a brilliant article and an absolute clarion call of the truth about the entire neoliberal era and its lamentable and tragic effects on this country. Ten stars for that article! Five would never suffice.

    I have more to say that is serious but I will try to chunk it down into a few shorter posts: after others have volunteered to assist me in feting J.Q. at some point in the future, in the manner outlined above. 😉

  2. nice collation of your points scattered across a few different articles and publications. in particular I like your point on ATAGI (quoted below) – while the advice makes perfect sense to an individual with a sound grasp of risk, data, and nuance – it is an utter failure for mass communication to a majority that simply wants a single and clear answer.

    “An echo of this thinking can be seen in the disastrous advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation discouraging the use of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. All of the calculations put forward were from the perspective of an individual judging what would be best for them personally, with no apparent concern about the need to restrict the spread of the pandemic. Even the qualification that the advice would change in the presence of an outbreak referred only to the change in the individual balance of risks, with no weight at all on the public-health need to control the outbreak.”

  3. Karlo,

    The passage you quote is interesting. I have another perspective on it. Whether my perspective disproves J.Q.,’s point on this issue or whether it is the exception which proves (tests) the rule, I will leave others to judge.

    The Federal Govt and/or ATAGI have made a blanket rule for all persons 60 to 69 that they MUST receive AstraZenexa ONLY except for those who suffer from specified chronic neurological conditions listed in the ATAGI advice.

    “Migraine Australia has written to ATAGI asking that they stop excluding migraine from the definition of chronic neurological conditions in their advice.” – Migraine Australia.

    To date, ATAGI and/or the government have not responded, to my knowledge. To have a blanket rule without further justifiable exceptions is unjust and medically potentially dangerous. Failing to give more or all 60s to 69s a choice is unjustifiable IMHO.

    By giving choice or at least giving GPs more discretion to nominate a vaccine for their patient, then judging what would be best for a patient personally and/or medically can be combined with concern about the need to restrict the overall spread of the pandemic, provided sufficient vaccine types are available for choices. It is not an “either / or” as J.Q.s’ paragraph seems to paint it. It’s the one part of J.Q.’s article that at least I think I have a quibble with. The rest is excellent.

    “One law for the lion and ox is oppression.” – William Blake.

    One medical or administrative rule for all people in a category, with insufficient exceptions for real conditions and real differences, is also oppression. This is especially so when treating professionals, GPs and Specialist, have their professional discretion, denied and removed by administrative decree. The AMA adopted the WMA Declaration of Geneva which states in part;

    “The health of my patient will be my first consideration;

    “I will not permit considerations of age, disease or disability, creed, ethnic origin, gender, nationality, political affiliation, race, sexual orientation, social standing or any other factor to intervene between my duty and my patient;”

    The state in enforcing considerations of age categorization, without full and due consideration for relevant existing disease or disability conditions and whilst constraining the professional discretion of medical practitioners, in effect may be said to be forcing said practitioners to break their oath by an act of omission, as in the omission, under state duress or restriction, of full advocacy and prescription for their patient as required by medical and ethical considerations. The state should not inflexibly administer and decree to such a degree as to restrain medical or other professionals in the proper execution of their legal, professional and ethical duties and obligations of care. Again, IMHO.

  4. yeah that’s fair enough – I hadn’t considered that, I mostly had the flipping and flopping advice for under 40s in mind

  5. The pendulum may be swinging back to hands-on competence. See Biden, Also the surprising lead of the grey but experienced SPD candidate Olaf Scholz in the German election. HIs slogan, printed on defiantly bright red posters, is “Scholz packt das an” = “Scholz can sort it”. Wouldn’t work for Boris or Scottie.

    The competent governance, if we get it, may take the form of technocracy rather than a muscular democracy.

    Straw in the wind 1: the Dutch success in preventing any deaths from flooding in July, against 184 in Germany and 42 in Belgium. The Limburg province water board issued a targeted evacuation order – IIRC order not advisory – a day after the flood warning from meteorologists. Dutch water boards are powerful apolitical agencies with taxing powers. Their competence is shored up by a dedicated flood department in a ministry in The Hague, and the world’s best (and possibly only) water engineering department at the Technical University of Delft.

    Straw in the wind 2: the policy paper on V2G I linked to earlier issued by the UK energy regulator OFGEM, not by the hollowed-out government department it supposedly reports to. It’s a textbook case for strong government regulation. V2G will not only require unreadable ten-page contracts between electric utilities and consumers, but also incomprehensible algorithms embedded in meters, home automation systems and car chargers. The algorithms will be based on the general and local state of the grid, the state of the car, and technical and contractual limits to discharging flows (say “80% battery charge remaining at 7 a.m.”).

    There are times when you really need a nanny state to protect citizens, and these are two of them. If the elected government won’t step up, I’ll take the technocrats.

  6. James Wimberley,

    I agree. I will take technocrats enabled and controlled by muscular democratic socialism. One order to go for my country please.

  7. Are you sure you are not describing Canada?

    Details differ depending on the different distributions of Federal & provincial powers and I would say that our Federal Gov’t has done considerably better than some of the provinces—for one thing I get the impression that some provinces, Ontario in particular, used consultants when in-house resources existed and were more capable.

    The “Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, now privatised as CSL” line was particularly striking as the former Conservative Federal Gov’t privatised Connaught Labs which AFAIK no longer produces any drugs or vaccines. We are desperately trying to develop new resources!

  8. Dismembering government also means disremembering government. I am sure J.Q. had this play of words in mind when he selected his title. I also am old enough to remember when Australian Federal governments actually did things and actually ran things. It was a far better Australia, after adjusting for lesser technology and lesser womens’ and indigenous rights at that stage of scientific and social history. It was also a better Australia because the environment was less damaged.

    It was an ultimate aim of nascent neoliberalism, as early as Thatcher and her guiding Omega File, produced by Madsen Pirie and his Adam Smith Institute, to “restructure the state” so radically (or rather so reactionarily) that the idea of government assisting citizens would no longer by imaginable by the citizens themselves. Citizens would lose the ability to conceive and expect that government (their own democratic government!) would or could help them. Rather, as we have come to see, neoliberal governments would exist solely to help corporations, oligarchs and plutocrats achieve their ends.


    Unfortunately for the neoliberals, part of the populace remained in the conformation of “stubbornly resisting sludge” pitted against this program. Micheal Pusey in his 1991 work “Economic Rationalism in Canberra : A Nation-Building State Changes its Mind,” highlighted that very fact that adopting “economic rationalism” or neoliberalism means changing your mind and goal away from being a nation-building state run by and for the people. It means giving all that up. It means becoming a disintegrating state, like the UK and the USA who are both further along their path of neoliberal disintegration and catabolic cannibalizing of the legacy infrastructures and values of the Keynesian welfare state.

    Part of Pusey’s argument is that economic rationalism recasts “society as the object of politics” (rather than the subject) and thus as “some sort of stubbornly resisting sludge” (to the goals of corporatism and plutocracy). In a flight of morbid fancy, not at all far from the truth, we can imagine the packed unruly street crowds of “Soylent Green” as this stubbornly resisting sludge which has to be loaded up by front end loader rubbish trucks and compacted for a use later to be revealed. Next we can imagine that a naturally arisen zoonotic virus, unleashed by policies consistent with the entirety of neoliberal logic, will perform the clean up of the stubbornly resisting sludge much more efficiently, like bacteria bred to eat a oil slick. The stubbornly resisting sludge are the poor, the homeless, brown people, black people and the old people. Neoliberalism has re-cast them as sludge, by pushing them into poverty, prisons and under-resourced nursing homes, there to have them rot and die.

    How to clean up the stubbornly resisting sludge? The SARSCoV2 virus appears made to order from nature and comes with bonus mutation kit included. I am not suggesting this part of the neoliberal plan was preconceived. The 600 right-wing policy initiatives of the Omega File show us what was preconceived. However, I do argue that the “SARSCoV2 virus arises and gets unleashed by neoliberalism” event sequence was an algorithmically guaranteed generic outcome (to a significant probability not to absolute certainty) embedded in the neoliberal axioms of the Omega File. The result is a “high probability theorem” of the axioms.

    How can the above assertion be true? The methods of expansion and production in endless growth corporate capitalism ensure seemingly endless expansion into the remaining wilds thus facilitating transfers of novel zoonoses from animals to humans. The methods ensure mono-culture and feed-lot culture of concentrated fflocks and herds of food animal where new pathogens (often new variants of influenza) are hot-housed and force evolved. See the book “Big Flu. It is also as a kind of companion piece to the Big Pharma concept in terms of the animal antibiotics issue. The methods of consumption capitalism also ensured continued globalization as over-connection and excessive international travel as the perfect vectors to spread a new highly contagious pathogen.

    The advent of SARSCoV2 was not expected, not precisely, though perhaps the possibility of a new coronavirus in the family of SARS1 and MERS ought to have been more expected and guarded against more than it was. The advent of a more contagious SARS also was not expected though it should have been postulated as a real possibility. As I say, new flu pandemic variants were much more expected but even they were not guarded against (at the source end of the process) by changing away from feed-lot culture and even by encouraging a shift to less meat in our diets which would also have reduced methane emissions as a climate change forcing.

    Neoliberal corporate capitalism could not countenance changes to protect the environment, wild animals, domesticated animals (from excessive volume and cruelty) or even people, because this would reduce elite profits. The entire system was guaranteed to unleash a pandemic or pandemics at some point. The axioms of neoliberal capital operations possessed, as I say, the high probability “theorem-etic” outcome of pandemic(s) at some point and primed the outbreak(s) to be severe and widespread with a novel pathogen or a novel variant of a known pathogen.

    Now, the axioms of neoliberal corporate capitalism require that its methods continue to be applied regardless of what real situation we find ourselves in. Thus, neoliberal business as usual must continue despite climate change burning our environment, our infrastructure and us and despite the fever of pandemic consuming our vulnerable but still valuable and valued people. Nothing must stop the machinations of neoliberal capital, nothing must stop the front end loader rubbish truck rolling down the street scooping up people or the operations of the virus mopping up the stubbornly resisting sludge of oppressed and neglected people. This is a heartless, pitiless, inhuman and vile system.

    Neoliberal capitalism cannot countenance certain forms of prevention, whether it be prevention of further destruction of remaining environment and wilds or whether it be the prevention of people getting ill from a dangerous life-threatening pathogen by public preventative measures of a non-pharmaceutical nature When only pharmaceutical prevention and/or cure are available, or more correctly when only after-the-fact adaptation and amelioration, in general, are available these too can be capitalized and become grist for the profit machine.

    Here, we come up against the Lauderdale Paradox. James Maitland, 8th Earl of Lauderdale, “wrote an Inquiry into the “Nature and Origin of Public Wealth (1804 and 1819)”, in which he introduced the concept that has come to be known as the “Lauderdale Paradox”: there is an inverse correlation between public wealth and private wealth; an increase in the one can only come at the cost of a decrease in the other.” – Wikipedia.

    The Omega File and neoliberal political-economy theory essentially and with deliberate aforethought leveraged the Lauderdale Paradox towards the side of the private wealth ledger. Public wealth must be broken up or privatized in the same essential manner as enclosing the commons. The method remains the same over the centuries, only the targets change and expand. What was free, either as a free gift of nature or as a “social wage” by provision of public infrastructure and goods, has to be rendered artificially scarce by cordoning it off from the public. Then it can be made an engine for private profit via monopolization or oligopilization.

    The redneck reactionary denialists are useful fools for the neoliberal project. They can be mobilized to deny real science (climate change, the real dangers of mutating COVID-19 etc.) They too are sludge to the elite neoliberals although they the red-neck reactionary denilaists don’t realize it. They are “stubbornly assisting sludge”. They help spread the virus by opposing public health prevention measures (including vaccines!) and then a proportion them also die since they too are so often poor or ignorant or in poor health from poor diet, poor medical help and so on. We see this demonstrated even with their opinion lenders as a number of conservative anti-vax radio hosts who have died from COVID-19 in the US including the one who called himself Mr. Anti-Vax’ who died of COVID-19 at age 65.

    In summary, the COVID-19 disaster is an axiomatic or “theorem-etic” outcome of the axioms (prescriptions) of neoliberal capitalism. It IS this in generic terms not in specific terms. We could not specifically have predicted SARSCoV2 and its evolutionary course to date. We could have generically predicted a pandemic disaster firstly epidemiologically, with respect to mass food production, mass wilds incursion, globalization and mass travel. This generic danger WAS predicted at early as “The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance” by Laurie Garrett in 1997. See the book review “Can we Control Disease” by Peter Godfrey Smith in Boston Review 1997.

    What we have to do is add two and two together. What I mean is we have to add the political-economy critique of neoliberal capitalism as an axiomatic prescriptive system leading to inevitable disaster to our scientific understandings of the ecological and pandemic crises its mode of doing business essentially axiomatically unleashes on us. We cannot use adaptation and amelioration of induced harms as our only responses to neoliberal induced disasters. This is like triaging the people mown down by a maniac at the wheel without ever chasing and detaining the maniac. The neoliberals are the maniacs at the wheel and controls of our system. While we permit the sociopathic maniacs to remain at the wheel and levers, we will remain the squashed sludge under the tires and tracks of their mega-machine.

  9. The rub here is that expertise of the sort required takes decades to build, and mere years to destroy. Like the shift of basic manufacturing to China, – it took them decades to assimilate the technical know-how into their workforce to raise quality to acceptable standards (and in some areas they still have some way to go), but a much shorter time to denude the US and other states of the skills.

    Adam Tooze observes that for any given output you only need three figures: how much raw material, how many workers and – third thing – how long have they been doing it. It’s the last that is the rub.

  10. Peter Thomson,

    Yep, right on there mate.

    And a generation of building shall be followed by a generation of destruction,
    Then the third generation shall say alright we’ll build it again,
    But O F**k! There are no resources left… and a total mass of virions weighing about .1 kg to 10 kg has completely outsmarted all of us, except China.
    But they will run out of resources too.
    Woe to homo sapiens sapiens. Why did we ever think even one “sapiens” was warranted, let alone two?


  11. I know I have complimented Ikonoclast may times- for all I know (s)he is a nong, but the posts “work” for me so I must be a fool also, but I dare to hope not and much more so for Iconoclast.

    The only thing I’d like to emphasise in the long post is something Prof Quiggin has been involved with as a subject, and that is globalisation itself, of the neo liberalist form, which is just a little like fascism to me, but without the crudities, although I am not quite sure you’d agree if you lived in Yemen or most other places in the Third World.

    Technology has enabled the mega wealthy to avoid the constraints of a civil society and to corrupt same beyond recognition, with Morrison neoliberalism as exhibit A.
    We are becoming a gulag and as Ikon says in his middle paras, there are no constraints, just a downward spiral toward laziness and barbarity on a Gothic scale because a community has had is right to decision making obviated by unaccountable forces.

  12. paul walter,

    Thanks m8. It’s a rare person who isn’t a nong sometimes and I have some very nongish moments. Keeping each other non-nong most of the time is a community effort. That’s we have public education, universities, informed debate (not media debates). Even then, anti-realist ideologies can take over large numbers of people and lead them over the cliff like… well like humans. [1]

    1. That story of lemmings going over the cliff is a myth created by (who else?) Disney in a “documentary”.


  13. Where is Sort-It-Ion! Eg no hand picked Human Wrongs Commissioner.

    “What future democracy?
    “It’s been four years since we last spoke with leading democracy scholar John Keane. Back then he told us that democracy was at a “tipping point”. Nearly half a decade later he joins us with an update.

    “Also, two radical proposals for changing the way our electoral system works.

    John Keane, Professor of Politics at the University of Sydney and the founder and Director of the Sydney Democracy Network

    Jason Brennan, Associate Professor of Strategy, Economics, Ethics and Public Policy, Georgetown University

    ● Nicholas Gruen, CEO Lateral Economics, former chairman of Kaggle; former chairman of the Australian Centre for Social Innovation

    Duration: 28min 52sec

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