Frozen conflicts and forever wars

The chaotic scenes now playing out as the Taliban take over Afghanistan have unsurprisingly drawn comparisons to the collapse of the South Vietnamese government in 1975. But there have been many similar instances, though most were a little slower: the end of Indonesian rule in East Timor (now Timor L’Este), the French withdrawal from Algeria, and the earlier Russian withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The common feature in all these cases is the attempt by an external (sometimes neighbouring) power to impose and then sustain a government of its choosing, usually in the hope that it will ultimately secure the support of the majority of the population along with international acceptance. The usual outcome is a long period of relatively low-level conflict, during which it can be made to appear that a successful outcome is just around the corner. In some cases, actual fighting ceases and is replaced by a ‘frozen conflict’, in which life proceeds more or less normally most of the time, but without any final resolution.

Very occasionally, these attempts succeed (the US invasion of Grenada is one example, and I expect commenters can come up with more). But far more commonly, the external power eventually tires of the struggle and goes away. Alternatively, frozen conflicts can continue more or less indefinitely, as with Israel-Palestine.
If successful interventions are the exception rather than the rule, it’s natural to ask why they are so popular? Certainly, the military-industrial complex benefits from war and lobbies for it, but the same is true of any activity that involves spending a lot of public money. Then there are psychological biases which seem to favor both starting wars in the expectation of an easy win and persisting when the conflict drags on.

But learning takes place eventually. After taking part in centuries of bloody conflict, all around the world, Europeans seem mostly to have tired of war. And in the US, weariness with ‘forever wars’ seems finally to be eroding the belief that armies can solve complex problems in other countries

Sloppy thinking about vaccine mandates

Michelle Grattan has an uncharacteristically sloppy piece in The Conversation about vaccine mandates. It reads as if she’s chatted to some people in the government,then phoned in an article reflecting their confused position. Among the most notable failings

First after mentioning the decision by canning company SPC to require vaccination for its employees, she says, of other firms that might follow suit:

But the legal position is unclear. In the absence of a public health order, they would be relying on directions to employees being judged lawful and reasonable. Inevitably there would be court challenges

Grattan ignores the point raised by SPC, that if an employee caught the virus at worked and died, the directors would be open to criminal prosecution for manslaughter. On the face of it, that’s a bigger problem than an unfair dismissal action, and a fairly conclusive defence for any company imposing a mandate (other than on remote workers). Maybe there’s a counterpoint, but Grattan (in common with a fair bit of commentary that seems to be based on info from the same sources)ignores it.

Then she says

It is not as simple as “no jab no pay” for the vaccination of children, which only denies government benefits. In the COVID case we’re talking, in the extreme, about people’s access to jobs and livelihoods.

She appears not to have kept up with the shift to “no jab no play” laws which excludes unvaccinated children from kindergarten

Grattan concludes that “Incentives may be helpful, although they shouldn’t be as expensive or extensive as Anthony Albanese’s $300 for everyone vaccinated.” No basis is given for this judgement. If we accept estimates that the Sydney lockdown is costing $1 billion a week, Albanese’s policy would only need to save six weeks of lockdown in one big state to be justified. Again, there may be an argument but “that’s what people in the government are saying” isn’t one.

As I said at the start, Grattan is usually better than this. Let’s hope for quick return to form.

Recipe for a one-term government

Labor’s capitulation on tax policy may help them regain government, but what then?

That’s the headline and standfirst for my latest piece in Inside Story. Key paras

What can be said with more certainty is that, even if Labor wins the 2022 election, its capitulation on tax policy will make holding office for more than one term very difficult. The concession on negative gearing, while regrettable, was mainly symbolic. The lost revenue could be made up in other ways, or else with tolerance of a modestly higher budget deficit.

But the tax cuts are big. They will cost the budget around $15 billion in their first year of operation and the cost will rise steadily after that. That’s more than the entire annual value of the spending commitments Labor took to the 2019 election, which would have reached $11 billion in 2022–23, according to the Parliamentary Budget Office.

In other words, to offset this concession, Labor would need to abandon its entire program, and then find even more savings.

Government reliance on army for lockdowns a weak move

That’s the headline from an article I published in Independent Australia last week. Apparently, rather than offer a serious response to the unfolding disaster, Berejklian and Morrison intend to send in more troops.

Opening para

The incapacity of NSW Premier Gladys Berejklian’s “gold standard” Government to contain the latest outbreak of COVID-19 has become a political liability for Prime Minister Scott Morrison. So, as has become standard in such situations, Morrison called in the army, offering 300 troops for what was described as a “crackdown” on compliance with COVID-19 regulations.

The practical impact of this deployment is virtually zero. The NSW Police Force has over 18,000 officers along with thousands of other employees who could assist with many of the routine tasks involved in compliance checking.

Lonesome George

With the closure of Catallaxy, this blog is now pretty much the last remnant of what was once called Ozplogistan – the Australian political blogosphere, which was, for a while, a serious alternative to the political journalism of the mainstream media.

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Obituary for Catallaxy

On a chance visit to the other day, I found an announcement that the site was closing. It’s now apparently inaccessible, but there’s an archive at the National Library.

As the era of blogging draws to end, this departure is worth noting

Catallaxyfiles was started by Jason Soon in the earliest days of Australian blogging. Jason was soon joined by Andrew Norton, who still has a blog of his own It was one of the first sites I linked to i I started this blog in 2002. Jason and Andrew were and thoughtful people, inclined to the classical liberal version of libertarianism, but not dogmatic about it. We had lots of interesting discussions – here are the results of a search “

Catallaxy declined rapidly after Jason and Andrew left, but until about 2012 I still engaged with them. But after one such exchange got out of control, we agreed to leave each other alone.  Occasional subsequent visits have confirmed me in the view that this was the right thing to do.

Catallaxy was an early example of the decline of libertarianism into what we can now call Trumpism.  By the end, the comments threads and quite a few of the posts were a toxic mix of racism, misogyny and conspiracy theories comparable to Sky After Dark or even Alex Jones

Catallaxy outlived its usefulness by quite a few years. But it was once a valuable contributor to Australia’s intellectual life, as was the early flowering of blogs in general. One day, perhaps, that will return.