A Right Royal Wedding

With a Royal Wedding in the offing, the Coalition should be full of the joys of Spring, revelling in bonhomie and offering best wishes to the young couple who are just about to tie the knot. However, for the Coalition, it was the worst of times, and showing signs that it was about to get even worser.

Not only is the hated revolutionary regime of Citizen Gillard still in power, but it only stays there due to the class treachery of those traitors who should know better – Tony Windsor-Castle, “Royal” Rob Oakeshott, and “Baron” Bob Katter.

So, for their part, the Coalition has lots to complain about. For example, Citizen Gillard and her oafs have enclosed the commons and other nature-strips, to enforce the implementation of their collectivist NBN (“Neuter Business Now”) five-year chimera plan.

Also, they have infiltrated, with union thugs, the workforce engaged in renovating the landmark communications hub of the Coalition – the Boatphone Bastille. By installing pink batts in the roof-space, they made them self-combust and the Bastille has been burnt to the ground. However, on a more positive note, the ABC has agreed to take over where the Bastille left off.

And, the nature of parliamentary democracy itself is at stake, due to the Machiavellian bastardry of Citizen Gillard and her henchmen, such as “Robespierre” Rudd and “Bonaparte Bill” Shorten. As an example, resort to the dreaded guillotine in the House is on a daily basis, and, “Madam Defarge” D’Ath knits, as yet another member of the Opposition is dispatched by the Speaker, Harry “Jacobin” Jenkins.

And even the Church is not safe. Recently, two bishops, Julie and Bronny, have been imprisoned. A ransom (dubbed by the Opposition, a GNBT – “Gillard’s Nobble the Bishops Tax”) has been demanded for their release. So far, the Opposition say, on a matter of principle, they will not pay it. Off the record, however, the coalition forces reckon they would do a better job with the pair of them out of the way anyway.

But, thankfully, the Opposition is not taking it all lying down. For example, a people’s counter-revolutionary militia, the RAT (“Revolters Against Terror”) Army, has been formed, under the capable leadership of Alan “Aristocrat” Jones.

Also, thousands of journalists from the Fourth Estate, ably led by Lord Dennis of Shandringham, are threatening to go on strike. However, the latest reports say that they will keep on working, as the Coalition reckons they are of more use to them manipulating their Blackberries than manning the barricades.

However, of all the good things going for the Coalition, their most prized asset by far is that intrepid hero, that master of disguise, who can infiltrate any situation, laying the lefties low. He is none other than – THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL!!!

So, to escape the ennui at home, Citizen Gillard and Tim the First Bloke, are happy to get on the plane to Blighty for Bill and Kate’s nuptials.

Having landed and set up base-camp at the Savoy, they are busily getting themselves ready to set out for Westminster Abbey. Tim, however, is down on all-fours, scanning under the bed.

Jooles: Erm...if you’re looking for your cuff-links, darl...they’re over there on the dresser...

Tim: Nah...I’m just checking that the Scarlet Pimpernel isn’t hiding under the bed – you can’t trust the bugger...

Jooles: Oh, don’t worry about him – he’ll still be in Oz, listening to Alan Jones, and stuffing his face with Easter eggs...

[Jooles and Tim head off to the Abbey and are seated with the other Heads of Government, near the front. Jooles looks at her watch.]

Jooles: Hmmm...it’s traditional, I’m told...heh...heh..., for the bride to be late, but so far there’s no sign even of Billy-boy...

[Then, in speak-of-the-devil-style, in marches Bill, down the centre-aisle, and straight up to the lectern. Clearing his throat, he begins to address the congregation.]

Bill: Erm...lords and ladies...and everybody else...I must apologise for the delay...we will have things under way in a jiff...But, now that I’ve got the floor, I would like to take this opportunity to tell a few home truths about the Australian national carrier, QANTAS...And QANTAS indeed it is – Quisling Airlines Network with Traitors And Socialists! I’ll have you know that I recently flew with them and the meals are kruddy and the stewardesses are real bitches!...

[As you can imagine, in the cathedral, you could have heard one of the nails from the original cross drop. Understandably, Jooles is outraged by this sleight on a prized Australian institution. She is just about to get the First Bloke to go and punch him on the nose, when Bill leaps off the sanctuary, bolts down the centre aisle, and disappears out the front door. A few seconds later, however, Bill marches up the centre aisle again, but is intercepted by a retainer who whispers something in his ear. Bill has a look of incredulity on his face. He glances sheepishly at Jooles and approaches the lectern again.]

Bill: Erm...lords and ladies...and the rest of you...I must apologise for my lateness...errr...one of the corgis did a whoopsie on my shoe and it took me ages to get it off...I hope you’ll forgive me...But, on another matter, I need to apologise profoundly for the actions a few moments ago of an imposter, who took the opportunity to pretend he was me and then make mischief...I hope the Prime Minister of Australia was not unduly contrafibularitied...

[Bill sprints away from the lectern and takes his seat in the front pew, awaiting the entrance of the lovely Kate. After a few more awkward moments, the Archbishop of Canterbury enters the sanctuary from a rear cloister and approaches the lectern. Tim whispers out of the side of his mouth to Jooles.]

Tim: About bloody time too – I wish they would just get this show on the road...

Archbishop: My brothers and sisters in Christ...I am delighted to inform you that the bride is on her way and I will journey forthwith to the front door to welcome her...But, before I do that, I need to issue a few words of warning...Y’know, don’t believe all this old tosh, from those revolutionary ratbags in Australia, about this so-called ‘global warming’ – it’s a load of crap actually...and to quote the words of a great, distinguished, Australian theologian and statesman – it was really a lot friggin’ warmer in Jesus’ day...

[Again, Jooles is outraged by such a public sleight on her government’s international reputation, and is just about to extract her bottle of hair-dye from her pocket (she forgot her hand-bag again!) and fire it at him, when the Arch strides down the centre-aisle and out the front door. After a few moments, the organ starts up with the usual ditty and in comes Kate, looking so beautiful, she would make the Mona Lisa look like Bronny, just out of bed, without her make-up. However, the Archbishop can’t fathom why everyone is looking askance at him. He plods up the aisle anyway.

The rest of the service goes to plan, thankfully, with no more outrageous interjections, and the select few head over to Buck Palace for the follow-up shindig. The wedding reception is being held around the Palace pool (a number of the heavier retainers had been chucked in earlier to break up the ice). However, no-one is game enough on put on their bathers and risk the sub-arctic temperatures of the pool. No-one except Prince Phillip, that is. If people thought old Phil was barmy, this merely confirmed their suspicions. After doing a few hundred laps, he gets out and approaches the mic-stand, still in his bathers. Ready to utter a few words of welcome, he is caught off-guard somewhat, by one of the corgis doing a whoopsie right in front of the mic-stand. Phil carries on regardless.]

Phil: I would like to take this opportunity to welcome you here this afternoon to Buckingham Palace...But, before I go on, I would like to speak in favour of introducing that good old Australian system for keeping the staff in their places – WorkChoices! We haven’t been allowed to flog the buggers for a while now, so I’m all for giving the bolshie blighters a good belting...

[At the mention of WorkChoices, for Jooles the penny drops. She pushes her way to the front and confronts “Phil”.]

Jooles: Tony!! That’s you, isn’t it!! You’re not Prince Phillip, are you!! Why, you’re nothing but that arch-counter-revolutionary, the Scarlet Pimpernel – the red budgie smugglers are a dead giveaway!! And, you also impersonated Prince William and the Archbishop at the Cathedral, didn’t you?

Pimpy: But...but...but...I wouldn’t have done it if someone had sent me an invite as well – why do I always miss out...I’m never going to get the keys to The Lodge...boo...hoo...

[The police surround Pimpy and cuff his hands behind his back, ready to transport him to the Tower. However, Jooles raises her hand to stop them.]

Jooles: Hey, Tony...I’ll tell you what – I’ll hand you the keys to The Lodge...

[Jooles stretches out her hand, but, instead of slipping the keys down the front of Pimpy’s budgies, she drops them straight into the do-do the corgi deposited.]

Jooles: There you go, Tony...you can bend over and fetch the keys out if you wish, but, if you do, this time it won’t be me who will be wearing the shit-eating grin...heh...heh...

How do you think about climate change?

Reading two books in parallel recently proved to be an informative exercise. One was Richard Dawkins’ 2009 The Greatest Show on Earth – The Evidence for Evolution, the other Tim Flannery’s 2010 Here on Earth – An Argument for Hope. It was informative because the two books exemplified contrasting ways of viewing and investigating the world in which we live.

Dawkins, arguably the greatest living exponent of Neo-Darwinism, makes out a compelling case for evolution by natural selection. He has arrived at his conclusion through a reductionist process whereby he has ‘drilled down’ to uncover fragments of evidence, mostly fossil, that support his case.

Reductionism is a regularly used approach in science and has yielded spectacular results. Let me give one personal example. One of our sons, a molecular biologist with a PhD in genetics, along with thousands of others around the world, contributed to the Human Genome Project by sending to a database the results of DNA sequencing done in the course of other work. DNA sequencing determines the order of the nucleotide bases: adenine, guanine, cytosine and thymine in a molecule of DNA. It requires a reductionist approach, drilling down to the smallest components of the gene. Together, all the contributions resulted in the mapping of the whole human genome, which was announced in 2003. The project identified the twenty to twenty five thousand genes in human DNA and determined the sequences of three billion base pairs that make up human DNA. Reductionism is a vital approach that has brought a myriad of benefits in science and medicine to the whole of mankind.

But is it the most appropriate approach to climate change? Is it enough to drill down into more and more detail, but not look at the broader picture? More of that later when I will explain why I think it is not.

While reductionism yields so much, the opposite, the holistic view, gives a different perspective. Let me give another personal example. Another son with a PhD in limnology, a division of ecology or environmental science, which is the study of inland waters: lakes, ponds, rivers, springs, streams and wetlands, did his thesis on the effect of snags (fallen tree branches) in rivers. It involved on the one hand a reductionist approach that delved into the intricate biology and chemistry of waterways that had snags, yet it also required standing back and looking at the whole picture. Too many snags results in obstruction to water flows, and in heavy rain predisposes to flooding. But removing all the snags results in such profound alterations to the biology of the stream that fish and other life is threatened. So not surprisingly the best solution is not achieved solely by the reductionist approach, but by looking at the big picture too, and to coin a phrase, using ‘controlled snagging’. We saw this applied recently in Bourke where it seemed to be preserving fish life yet not creating flooding. I tell that story to emphasize that we must view these natural phenomena from both angles to find the problems and create the solutions. The same applies to climate change.

Before getting to climate change though, let me give you another illustrative example of reductionist and holistic perspectives from my personal experience in family medicine. In teaching students and residents we were at pains to emphasize the need to take both reductionist and holistic approaches. Sometimes the answer to a patient’s problem is to found ‘down there’ at a cellular, molecular or genetic level, so the doctor needs to able to drill down through laboratory tests and imaging to discover the cause, very occasionally a single one, and from that derive a solution. But the doctor then needs to ‘stand back’ and visualize the condition against the person’s nature and background, the family, work and community setting, the physical environment, and as government is involved in health care, against the prevailing political environment. Only by taking all these factors into account, and by assessing how they will likely interact, can a comprehensive diagnosis be made and suitable therapy fashioned. This is the holistic approach.

To reinforce this combined use of reductionist and holistic approaches, we use an analogy – the zoom lens. Using the telephoto lens fine details can be brought up close to establish a diagnosis, down to a molecular or genetic level. This is the reductionist view. Then the lens need to be zoomed out to normal focal length for the doctor to see the condition in the context of the whole person, then zoomed to wide angle to see the person against the many environments: family, work, community, and so on. This is the holistic view. Sometimes the diagnosis is 'out there' in the environment, in the circumstances of the patient's life. The able doctor uses the zoom lens continually, looking sometimes at the fine detail, sometimes at the broad picture, both necessary for understanding the patient’s condition in all its complexity. The operational model is systems theory.

Now to climate change.

Climate scientists use the reductionist approach to measure global temperatures in the oceans and the atmosphere. They measure atmospheric CO2, ocean acidity, study ocean and atmospheric currents and river flows, take into account El Niño and La Niña patterns, drill out ice cores to measure atmospheric carbon concentrations over the years, measure the change in the behaviour of glaciers and the Arctic and Antarctic ice caps, and they do this all over the globe, again and again. But they know that none of these alone can give the answer to the question ‘is the globe warming’, and ‘how much of this is due to man’. They need to take into account all the data, all the operating factors, and the way in which they interact. They need to look at the scene holistically.

In his book Tim Flannery describes an approach to climate studies developed by James Lovelock, born near London in 1919, the ‘Gaia concept’. Interestingly, Alfred Wallace, a contemporary of Charles Darwin had a similar concept, of which Lovelock probably was unaware. Both saw the atmosphere as the key to understanding life as a whole.

In 1965 an astronomer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California told Lovelock about recently derived data about the atmosphere on Venus and Mars, showing that it was composed principally of CO2. Lovelock realized that this was evidence that they were ‘dead planets’, and that Earth was different because living things had reduced its atmospheric CO2, and replaced it with oxygen. Then with data about the temperature of the Sun three billion years ago, Lovelock developed the image of the Earth as a living organism able to regulate its temperature and chemistry at a comfortable steady state. This he described as the Gaia hypothesis that is now regarded as soundly based and profoundly important to our understanding of the evolution of life on Earth. It embodies a holistic approach.

Lovelock describes Gaia as “a view of Earth…as a self-regulating system made up from the totality of organisms, the surface rocks, the ocean and the atmosphere tightly coupled as an evolving system…the system has a goal – the regulation of surface conditions so as always to be favourable as possible to contemporary life.”

Richard Dawkins disputed the validity of the Gaia hypothesis, which prompted Lovelock to develop a computer model he named ‘Daisyworld’, an attempt to see what would happen on an imaginary planet with a very simple ecology that followed the same orbit around the Sun as the Earth. Several modifications of the model all gave the same result: “…life as a whole (albeit virtual life) regulates conditions to suit itself. That is, until a force so great – such as an asteroid or emission of greenhouse gas – as to overwhelm its control mechanism.”  That is what climate scientists warn us about – excessive emission of greenhouse gas has the potential for overwhelming the Earth’s control mechanism. No wonder they are worried, increasingly so as the emerging data suggests that the worst-case scenario is increasingly more likely than a less severe outcome.

Tim Flannery is an advocate of the holistic approach to understanding climate that the Gaia hypothesis provides. I have no data on how many climate scientists hold the same view, but Flannery asserts that a growing number do. My personal experience in other fields leads me to the view that this holistic approach holds great promise. You would need to read Flannery’s book for more detail. I recommend it wholeheartedly, and acknowledge that several of the quotes in this piece are derived from his book.

I personally believe the evidence of a myriad of climate scientists around the world that the globe is warming and that this is significantly due to the activities of man. I’m sure I don’t have to spell out what these activities are.

But how do we manage those with vested interests to oppose action and the skeptics and deniers?

Regarding vested interests, Flannery points out a deep source of tension: “…the deep interconnectedness central to the Gaia hypothesis presents a profound challenge to our current economic model, for it explains that there are… limits to growth…”. Yet business is wedded to growth.

Regarding the deniers, we know some are ignorant rat bags, but one could not apply that label to one of Tony Abbott’s mentors, Archbishop George Pell, who believes that environmentalists suffer from a new ‘pagan emptiness’, and even compete with religion. In 2008 he said of climate science: “The public generally seem to have embraced even the wilder claims about man-made climate change as if they constituted a new religion. These days, for any public figure to question the basis of what amounts to a green fundamentalist faith is tantamount to heresy.” Is it any wonder that Abbott vacillates and changes his position so wildly, so often?

Abbott associates himself with those who argue that because CO2 is a naturally occurring substance it cannot be harmful, after all it is the bubbles in soda water. The scientific stupidity of such a claim is mindboggling. Let me give just one example to illustrate why it is so stupid. CO2 is a normal component of blood, and a necessary one as it is the chemical that stimulates the respiratory centre at the base of the brain so that we continue to breathe. But too much in the blood (hypercapnia) is poisonous and leads to death. We see this in terminal lung disease. So CO2 is both normal and necessary in correct amounts for normal respiration, yet deadly in excess. The same applies to our planet.

I could go on for pages debunking some of the more stupid assertions about CO2, but the example above will have to do.

More difficult to counter are the deniers with a scientific background such as Adelaide geologist Professor Ian Plimer, and Lord Christopher Monckton. Both are highly plausible, articulate and convincing to those who have no scientific background or knowledge against which to assess the veracity of their claims. They cherry-pick the data that suits their argument, misrepresent it by way of word and graph, and argue from questionable historical data. They do not mention the holistic Gaia hypothesis as it does not support their argument. While the rat bags have nuisance value, these deniers are dangerous as they are able to convince intelligent (but scientifically ignorant) people to their cause. They are well funded by vested interests and travel the world, often at the invitation of denialist shock jocks, spreading their misinformation, and often downright lies, often with no challenge from climate scientists, who are not welcome at their performances.

To return to Flannery’s discussion of the Gaia hypothesis, he concludes by pointing to the new science of sociobiology that seeks to explain the social behaviour of animals through evolutionary theory. Its founder, Oxford University’s Bill Hamilton, has come as close as anyone to bridging the gulf between Richard Dawkins’ Neo-Darwinism and the Gaia hypothesis, wedding the reductionist and holistic approach to evolution.

This is not the place to discuss the most appropriate ways of combating excess CO2 in the atmosphere that is leading us towards dangerous global warming. That is for another piece.

But I trust I have explained clearly the reductionist and the holistic approach to scientific problems by reference to my own experience and that of family members, and that you are ready to consider the value of both, and the importance of using them together. I hope too you are willing to consider how these approaches might be useful in the study of climate change, and the folly of limiting consideration to just one of the multiple factors that affect climate, such as the stupid argument that because CO2 is natural, it cannot be harmful.

I trust you have found this interesting and informative.

How do you think about climate change?

Why do Only Fools and Horses Gamble?

As part of his anti-problem-gambling crusade, Andrew ‘Del Boy’ Wilkie manages a Centre for the treatment of gambling addicts, which is trialling his new, ‘BetaGorn Program’. This involves the addict being given a smart card with a $200 daily limit which, when exceeded, fails to activate the gaming machine.

The BetaGorn Cenre is located beside a petrol station and, on this night in particular, Del Boy, as evangelical as ever, walks across to the petrol-station shop, intending as usual to display his placard, spreading his anti-problem-gambling gospel. However, this evening, he notices Tony ‘Boycie’ Abbott standing outside the shop, dressed in his Lycra suit, rattling a collection tin, and shouting, “STOP THE MORTGAGE”, at the top of his voice.

They greet one another and exchange a few polite words.

Boycie: Here, Del Boy...do us a favour and hold on to my collection tin, while I go into the shop...I’m dying with thirst after my Pollie Peddle and want to get a can of coke without paying for it.

[Del Boy is a bit apprehensive about possibly being an accessory, but trusts Boycie enough to realise he wouldn’t do anything illegal. He accepts Boycie’s tin and watches interestingly as he enters the shop. However, if Boycie had taken the time to read and reflect on the words on Del Boy’s placard, they might have provided a source for some soul-searching: “Why do Only Fools and Horses Gamble?”]

Boycie has been inside for a while and, as Del Boy pounds the pavement outside, displaying his placard, he hears an almighty racket from within. He looks in the window and notices that Boycie is having a real barney with the shop assistant. Del Boy enters, intending to do a bit of peace-making.

Boycie (shouting): Now you look here, young lady...I’ve been on the Pollie Peddle for the last two months and I’m dying of thirst...I know I don’t have any money to pay for the can of coke, so why won’t you accept my double or quits offer?

Assistant: I’m sorry, sir, but we don’t do “double or quits” around here...if you don’t pay for the drink with money like everyone else, please put it back in the fridge...

[By this time, a queue of impatient customers, stretched out behind Boycie, is about to lynch him, so Del Boy comes to his rescue, pays for the drink and leads Boycie outside to cool off.]

Del Boy: Okay, Boycie...calm now?

Boycie: Yeah...bloody shiny-bummed bureaucrat in there...no sense of adventure, these young ‘uns...

Del Boy: Erm, Boycie...I couldn’t help noticing you offered a double or quits in there...you haven’t got a gambling problem, have you?

Boycie: Huh, so would you, Del Boy, if you had a big mortgage like I have and only a measly LOTO wage to service it...And not to mention the cost of buying new bikes and Lycra suits...and the Party is debiting me up-front to pay for my stupid maternity-leave scheme when you blokes see the light and put us into government...

Del Boy: Hmmmm...it looks like I might just have the ideal program, Boycie, to help you overcome your “double or quits” and other gambling addictions...

[Del Boy gives Boycie back his collection tin and leads him by the arm over to BetaGorn House, explaining to him how the program works. Inside, Del Boy pauses at the doors of two rooms. One is in silence and darkness and the other is full of vitality, with the whiz-bang sounds of well-patronised one-arm bandits emanating from within.]

Boycie: Righto, Del Boy...what’s the story with the two rooms?

Del Boy: Okay, Boycie, this is the deal...As you can see and hear, only one is in operation...we call it the PC – “Pre-Commitment” – Room...

Boycie: So it’s a bit like signing yourself in?

Del Boy: Yeah, a bit like that, Boycie...You see, when you enter here, we give you a Smart Card with a $200 limit, and if you use it up before the end of the day, you can’t go on the one-arm bandits for the rest of the day...

Boycie: And the dark, uninhabited room?

Del Boy: Yeah, we don’t use that room any more, Boycie...We call it the “Suckers’ Room” – it’s a throw-back to the bad old days when punters could go on the machines and spend everything they had – or didn’t have...Some people would even sell their best friends in there...

Boycie: Maybe you could open it again and I could pretend Malcolm Turnbull is my best friend...heh...heh...

[Del Boy ignores Boycie’s lame joke, and leads him into the PC Room. Inside, there is quite a collection of folk, including some celebrities. Amongst the latter are Adam Brandt, Bob Katter and Julia Gillard. Boycie and Del Boy pause beside Bob’s machine and, after he pulls the handle, he gets three crocodiles sitting on roofs, registering a 10-dolllar win. Bob gives a “yee-hah”, smacks his enormous hat against his thigh, and proceeds to give the handle another tug.

They move on to Julia’s machine, but she doesn’t seem to be having much luck with this particular pull – three large ear-lobes! She tries again, this time getting three gold stars for overseeing the best economy in the whole history of the universe. This nearly makes Boycie puke with envy, so he moves along, just in time to witness Adam Brandt getting up to go, having exhausted his $200 limit.]

Boycie (to himself): Jeeze, this is as boring as batshit...give me the Suckers’ Room any day...

[Boycie tells Del Boy he needs to spend a penny, and ducks out. However, on his way back, Boycie takes a detour into the Suckers’ Room, switches on the lights and plugs in one of the machines. As soon as it’s cranked up, Boycie takes a dollar coin out of his collection tin and inserts it. At the first pull, he gets three Dennis Shanahans, and the machine pays out $10.]

Boycie (to himself): You beaudy! At this rate, by the end of the night, I’ll have made a fair dent in the old mortgage...hee...hee...

[Boycie sticks in another dollar and when the drums stop rolling, he is delighted to see the smirking boat-races of three Peter Costellos, which also pays out $10.]

Boycie: Well, I suppose beggars can’t be choosers...heh...heh...

[Boycie continues to ply the machine with dollar coins, but his initial good fortune appears to have deserted him. He gets a motley assortment of Chris Uhlmanns, Janet Albrechtsens, Andrew Bolts, Piers Akermans, Melissa Clarkes, etc, etc, etc, ad nauseam...but never the three in a row to guarantee a payout. By this stage, he has not only exhausted his earlier winnings but is down to the last dollar coin in his collection tin. He gives it a kiss, blesses it, puts it in the slot and pulls the handle. As the first drum comes to a halt, the stern face of Mark Riley looks back at him. The same with the second one. “One more of that bastard Riley – you can do it – come on you good thing!” However, when the third drum comes to a shuddering halt, the transubstantiating tri-fecta is far from complete.]

Boycie: Bloody Nicola Roxon!! THAT’S BULLSHIT!!!!

[Boycie’s shattered hopes result in him entering a type of catatonic state, staring blankly at the screen, and nodding like a metronomic toy.

Meanwhile, Del Boy has noticed Boycie’s prolonged absence. He exits the PC Room and sees the light on in the Suckers’ Room. He flings open the door, witnessing Boycie in his trance-like state, nodding idiotically at the machine.]

Del Boy (yelling): Boycie!! Come out of there at once!! You must have a serious problem if you are in the Suckers’ Room all on your own!!

[Del Boy’s yelling brings Boycie back to earth and he groggily shuffles to the door, just in time to see Rob Oakeshott, Tony Windsor and Tony Crook walking along the corridor towards them.]

Boycie: Wow! The Three Amigos! By my reckoning, Del Boy, for your BetaGorn Program to get up and running, you need the support of at least one of them...How do you think it will go, Del Boy?

Del Boy: Not sure at this moment in time, Boycie...We’ll just have to see how things pan out in the discussions...

Boycie: And if one of them goes your way?

Del Boy: Well, for you, Boycie, that’ll mean shit really happens...heh...heh...

Boycie: Erm, by the way, Del Boy...in the Suckers’ Room I lost all the money I collected in my STOP THE MORTGAGE tin...you wouldn’t like to do a double or quits, would you...

Del Boy: [Sigh]...you’re incorrigible, Boycie old son...

Not quite joined at the hip but in the same ballpark

I will now attempt to elucidate the points I think Menzies' speech has in common with the PM's thoughts about Labor's polity ensconced within contemporary Australian society, thus to prove how it is not heresy to say that, yes, Menzies and Gillard may have something worthwhile in common with each other. Not everything, or even a majority of things, to be sure because that would be a betrayal of Labor's core reason for being a party opposed to what the Conservative Liberal's stand for in other areas. Instead, I just want to point out that it is worth considering that maybe a Prime Minister from the Labor Party can have a few things in common with a PM from the Liberal Party, which they can have in common with the Australian ethos and its people, in general.

Of course, I will not agree with all Menzies' positions either, and neither would Julia Gillard.

Paragraph 1: 'His (the bishop's) theme was the importance of doing justice to the workers.' 

Now, whilst Labor will always have, as it's core philosophy, 'doing justice to the workers', and rightly so, it's true to say that the definition of a 'worker' has changed in some important ways from the days when the ALP ethos was originally conceived as being, approximately, 'by the worker, for the worker', when 'the worker' was broadly conceived to be, 'not the boss', but an employee.

Now, I think we all have to agree that, and as John Robertson interestingly put it recently in his interview with Barrie Cassidy on Insiders, that these days 'workers' are also Small Businesspeople. To my mind this group also includes Micro Businesses which do not have a shop front and are run from home, Contractors and Sub-Contractors. These are all people who just want to work hard for a decent living and provide well for their families. A fair day's pay for a fair day's work is what they also want. And so, as the party which seeks to protect 'workers' from exploitation, the Labor Party should be seeking to embrace these people and win them over from the Conservative camp where they are parked now. They are there, I believe, due to their now outmoded allegiance to the sort of small 'l' Liberalism principles, which appear to have been superseded by big 'C' Conservatism and Libertarianism, which pays fealty to the multinational corporations, and national monopolies and duopolies, who seek to expand at the expense of the little guy. In the same way that unscrupulous employers have always sought to exploit powerless employees.

So, in other words, it is right and proper for the ALP to proudly say they seek to represent these 'Forgotten People'. Where once, back in Menzies' time, they were an understandable and natural constituency of the Liberal Party, now they are not. In fact, many of these demographics didn't exist back then, and it is just a failure on the ALP's part that they didn't cotton on to them before the Liberal Party did. They are a more appropriate constituency of the ALP.

'His belief, apparently, was that the workers are those who work with their hands.'

As we know, Labor represents not only those who work with their hands, but also those who work in the Services sector, and the Financial Services sector, and the Health Services sector, and the Education Services sector. Also, as I alluded to previously, those in the Brain Services sector, who contract out their brainpower and talents in areas such as IT, Design, Engineering, Economics, Journalism, Life Coaching, and all those new areas of our new Green Economy, which will flower in the years to come.

'He sought to divide the people of Australia into classes.'

Well, as you, I, Menzies and Gillard would agree, Australia strives to be a classless society. However, I would add the rider that, it is not to say that there are not 'Elites' in Australian society today. And not just the 'Intellectual Elites' that the Liberals seek to deride in their malevolent attempts to encourage the spread of anti-intellectualism for their own political benefit. What IS true is that there are Economic Elites and cadres which have formed in Australian society.

There are the wealthy Self-Funded Retirees, who were gifted largesse from the Public Purse and a powerful voice during the Howard years; the Housing and Investment Elite, who made their fortunes off the decisions made by government favourable to them, which started in the Hawke/Keating years, as a result of Capital Gains, Negative Gearing and the subsequent Housing Bubble. Also, there has come to be those financially-favoured by the Resources Boom, plus those who have made their fortunes by investing wisely, and those who have profited as a result of the Liberal Party's weakness when it comes to taxing Trusts equitably and fairly compared to PAYE taxpayers.

I'd say that these new 'Elites' form the base of the Liberal and National parties today.

I think the new 'Demarcation Lines' I have drawn between the Labor and the Liberal Parties should be those that they should now function around.

What do you think?

Blackadder Bolt

In France, the First World War is at its height and the Australian ‘SG’ Regiment is doing as good a job as any in providing top-class cannon-fodder. General ‘Melchie’ Murdock (on loan from the American Army) and Capt ‘Blackadder’ Bolt are in command of the Aussie diggers.

Melchie: Right then, Blackadder...you’ll have to stop staring at that infernal telegram machine...a watched kettle and all that...

Blackadder: I know, sir...but, as you are aware, I’ve applied for an announcer’s position on the Forces’ network, ‘Rank Radio’, and I’m waiting on some news on the success of my application...

Melchie (muttering): Pfffftttt...a radio station would have to be rank for you to get a job on it – are you sure it wasn’t the ABC you applied to...ho...ho...

Blackadder: Sorry, sir – didn’t actually catch that...

Melchie: Oh, I was just saying, Blackadder, that the ranks will be well serviced by being given the opportunity to listen to your dulcet tones...Oh, and by the way, Blackadder, we’re...well, you’re...going over the top soon, so you’d better get out into the trench and ready the company for doing their duty...

[Blackadder skulks out of the bunker and, after a while, Melchie hears an unmerciful scream coming from the trench outside. He exits and comes across Blackadder, who is clutching a hand to one of his eyes, wincing with pain.]

Melchie: What the dickens happened, Blackadder?

Blackadder: Ouch!! I was surveying No Man’s Land through the periscope, sir, and the Hun sent up one of their new NBN (“Nifty Bullseye Nullifier”) weapons and it damaged my cornea...there’s no way I can lead the attack now, sir...

Melchie: An NBN weapon, Blackadder? That sounds ominous...but, never mind, the men will have to go over the top without you...

[Melchie orders the diggers of A Company of the ‘SG’ Regiment to attack. Understandably, they aren’t too pleased – in Blackadder, they can spot a pretender a mile off...As they advance, with the Hun machine guns firing at will, the outcome is inevitable.

Later on, Melchie starts to gee Blackadder up for another tilt at the Hun positions.]

Melchie: Righto, Blackadder...that eye of yours should be right as rain by now – it’s about time you mustered B Company to do their duty...

Blackadder: Yes, sir, I’ll see to it right away, sir...

[Again, after a short intermission, Melchie’s snooze in his bunker is disturbed by the loud wimpering of Blackadder in the trench outside.]

Melchie: Whatever happened, Blackadder? You sounded like you have been hit amidships by a Hockey Howitzer...

[Blackadder is busily placing the last of about a dozen band-aids on his face.]

Blackadder: Erm...it was even worse than a Hockey Howitzer, sir...I was out doing a recce in No Man’s Land when the Hun fired another one of their secret weapons at me...It was one of those new-fangled cluster-bombs, containing a deadly spray of carbon tacks...I got them all over my face, sir – hence the plethora of band-aids...So, there’s no way I can lead the attack, sir...

[Again, Melchie accepts Blackadder’s excuse that he is not fit enough to go over the top, so B Company has to go without him. Their fate is no different to that of A Company.

Later on, whilst the artillery “softening-up” of the enemy is under way, Melchie again orders Blackadder out into the trench, to prepare C Company for their inevitable doom. Melchie bungs on his ear-muffs, and lies down on his four-poster to catch some shut-eye. A few hours later, there is such a loud knocking at the door, even his ear-muffs can’t stifle the sound of the racket. Very annoyed, Melchie drags himself out of his bed, opens the door, and sees a very sorry-looking Blackadder standing there with one foot in a cast, and accompanied by a very stern-faced Military Police Officer.]

Melchie: W...w..why, Blackadder!! What’s going on, Captain – I thought you would have been well over the top with C Company by this stage...And, what happened to your foot, Blackadder?

Blackadder: Well, it’s a long story, sir, but I’ll make it as brief as possible...I was drumming up some support with our Russian allies further down the trench, when I came across a very belligerent bunch of Bolsheviks – the Revolting Peoples Army they called themselves – and one of them ran over my foot with his zimmer frame...so I decided to go and get some medical help...

MP: Huh, good one, mate! We arrested you jazzing it up in the front stalls at the Moulin Rouge in the capital – that’s a funny place, and a long way to go, to seek medical help!

Blackadder (cheekily): And where else, Sherlock, would a person go to get some plaster of Paris put on their leg...heh...heh...

[Melchie assures the MP that if Blackadder survives the next push into No Man’s Land, he will be summarily court-marshalled and shot at dawn anyway. Meanwhile, Blackadder pleads that he is unfit to go over the top. By this stage, however, Melchie is at the end of his tether with the pretender, Blackadder.]

Melchie: Right, you...I have just about had it up to here with your malingering...when I give the order to go over the top, your sorry ass will be at the head of the line...

[Suddenly, the telegram machine sparks into life. Blackadder throws his eyes to the heavens, hoping it is a message from General Gina at GHQ, announcing his appointment to Rank Radio. Melchie rips off the piece of paper and begins to read.]

Melchie: START OF COMMUNIQUE – tell that pretender, Blackadder, he can’t announce for nuts – hence, we have decided to give the job to Corporal Jones instead – END OF COMMUNIQUE...

[Melchie stares for a few seconds at the telegram and mutters under his breath.]

Melchie: Hmmmm...I hope those geniuses had a third applicant, cos yesterday I had enough of Jonesey parroting in my ear and sent him out for some rugby practice in the mine-field...heh...heh...

And so, Blackadder, you can postpone the inevitable no longer...you are going over the top with D Company whether you like it or not...

Blackadder (resignedly): Yeah, fair cop, guv...but, if the Huns win, and in the unlikely event I survive, we’ll have a few nice coldies after they release us from the POW camp...

Melchie: Nah, I don’t think so, Blackadder...If the Huns win, they’ll certainly send me packing on the first available ship back to the States...

[An awkward momentary silence ensues between the MP (whom the officers neglected to dismiss), Blackadder and Melchie. After a while, Blackadder breaks the ice.]

Blackadder: Oh, and by the way, sir, why do they call our chaps, the ‘SG’ Regiment – it’s often struck me as strange...

[Before Melchie can speak, the MP gets in first.]

MP: Why, it stands for the “Stolen Generation” Regiment, sir – I thought you would have worked out that true courage only comes from overcoming adversity...

Blackadder: You...you...you mean, all those chaps of ours are actually Aborigines!! Why, they are as white as I am!!

MP: Yes, they may look white, mate...but at least they aren’t lily-livered like some other people around here...

Labor Needs to Remember the Forgotten People

Recently there has been debate around the blogs and in the mainstream media about who and what the ALP represents these days, and whether, because in some commentators' opinions they represent no one and nothing any more, that therefore they are going the way of the Dodo and will soon dry up as a political entity, like a puddle after a sun-shower. Or, on the other hand, after the watershed of the NSW State Election, they will now go on to form some new sort of Rainbow Coalition, no longer tainted by the 'NSW Disease' and the influence of the NSW Right. Who will be supporting the ALP if so?

I thought I'd address this topic because I have recently been peppered with questions by D Mick Weir with respect to the future directions, philosophy, support base and soul of the ALP today. To whit he has put up a link to a new Progressive political outfit, Replacing the ALP and has referred to articles critical of the ALP by Rodney Cavalier similar to this one. Which has the observation: “Where exactly does modern Labor draw from? Once upon a time Labor could draw from all the factories in Australia and all the mines, the railways and ships and trucks, the waterfront, the gangs working in the open air. It could supplement that gene pool with a growing army of adherents in the liberal arts, teaching, the law and other professions, essentially anyone we might have characterised as progressive in a whole range of social issues, foreign policy, nationalism, civil liberties. Either directly or through the ranks of union officials, Labor could draw on the best out there for renewal. Each such source of supply has dried up.”

Now, while I support that assertion in a general sense by Cavalier, I also agree with Trevor Cook who rebutted a lot of what Cavalier so often asserts, in his review of Cavalier's book: Power Crisis.

Even more recently, John Quiggin has opined along similar lines to Cavalier:

Wherein Quiggin quibbles at length around the point that in Julia Gillard's Whitlam Oration, she does not refer to 'equality' as a philosophical aim of the Labor Party, only to 'fairness', whereas the Liberal Party does mention 'equality', and 'living a life in dignity', in their party's Mission Statement. As if these tone words mean more than any action. Which I could not understand as a basis for criticism because, if there is one difference between the parties, Liberal and Labor, which is crystal clear to the objective observer, it is that Labor DOES practice what it does not explicitly preach, that is, employs policies which aim to see the most disadvantaged in our society provided for, so that they may live their lives in dignity; and the Liberal Party merely mouths the platitudes, but by their actions create a life undignified for those on the bottom rungs of our society, such as by opposing pension increases, and encouraging unpaid 'Traineeships', and ‘Work for the Dole’ with no training component attached which aims the unemployed towards a worthwhile job.

Of course there are many others who have contributed commentary to the effect of analysing the current state of and future directions of the Australian Labor Party, and I may refer to some of them later.

Also, I would like, in this piece and subsequent ones, to address the assertion that it is somehow wrong for the ALP to appeal to an expanded base, which encompasses Menzies' 'Forgotten People', of all things. I will address the assertion that it was wrong of the Prime Minister to align herself philosophically in any way with the principles enunciated and encapsulated by Robert Menzies in that famous speech, and reflected in the Prime Minister's Whitlam Oration:

Therefore, what I intend to do is take up the gauntlet thrown down by D Mick Weir and others, and attempt to articulate the triangulation between the PM's 'Whitlam Oration' speech, and the Menzies' 'Forgotten People' speech. My interpretation will go to the connections and commonalities between the two which can be clearly shown to exist, and which may actually benefit the Labor Party into the future in ways which are sympathetic to traditional Labor Party and Australian values. For how could Menzies have been such a successful leader for so long in Australia if he did not realise that he must incorporate strands of Labor Party thinking into his own and which would appeal to demographics that normally identify with Labor?

These ideas can benefit the Labor Party into the future, so as to breathe life and purpose back into the party, and so that it can remain a viable political force and not be swallowed up by the Greens from the Left and the Conservatives from the Right. So that it can become the party of the Middle Way and the Middle Class, whilst continuing to embrace its natural constituency of the Miner, the Railway Worker, the Port Worker and the Shop Worker, plus, of course, the disadvantaged, disabled, and the dispossessed.

Don't forget Malcolm Fraser's words, that the Liberal Party of today, under the influence of Tony Abbott and the Conservatives, no longer reflects the party of Menzies. Also that if you are to represent Australians in government you have to take the middle ground electorally, wherever that middle ground may fall. Whilst I also respect John Quiggin's assertion that a Labor Party must lead the way toward 'The Light on the Hill' so to speak, I feel that it must also take the temperature of the middle ground.

Therefore, I hope to present the case to you that says that a lot of what the PM attempted to articulate in the Whitlam Oration, if somewhat clunkily, and with some obvious missteps with respect to her characterisation of Greens supporters, but nevertheless, in the main, it was a valid appropriation of the middle ground that the Middle Class, and those who aspire to it, have always represented in various incarnations, and which any smart politician, from parties on either side of politics, has always sensibly had an eye on.

I intend to show this by taking Menzies' speech apart, theme by theme, and show how it relates to the places where the ALP needs to go in the 21st century, if it wants to refresh and rejuvenate itself. Not entirely and exclusively, of course, because then the ALP might just as well rename itself the 'Liberal Party', and while there's some validity to that assertion, considering how far to the Conservative Right Tony Abbott and his claque have yanked the Coalition, there are still, to this day, aspects of Liberal Party ideology which will never sit well with the Labor Party, and nor should they ever.

Also, I must stridently assert that, in identifying common threads between Menzies’ and Gillard's conception of ALP values, I am not condoning other aspects of the political road travelled by Robert Menzies during his long stay in power in Australia. He truly did some reprehensible things in government.

As the speech is a long one, and as I have a lot to say betwixt and between the lines, in order to keep it all in a digestible form, there will necessarily have to be a Part 1 and a Part 2 to follow this Prologue.

What do you think so far?

Joe Hockey should read John Quiggin’s 'Zombie Economics'

If he did, he would be confronted with the inconvenient fact that the arguments he advanced to demean the Rudd Government’s management of the global financial crisis have been debunked comprehensively. If he has read it, he will be familiar with John Quiggin’s exposé about how discredited ideas in economics don’t die, nor are they alive, they are simply ‘un-dead’ – zombie like. Of course that may simply cue Joe to just go on repeating the same old lines, the same old platitudes, the same old zombie ideas as if nothing had happened to discredit them. After all, what do facts matter, what does truth matter? It’s perceptions that can plausibly be fostered in an unthinking audience that do matter.

Zombie Economics (Princeton University Press, 2010), which has the subtitle: How dead ideas still walk among us, is a good read, even for a non-economist. At times it is heavy going for anyone unfamiliar with the history of economics, but nonetheless leaves one with the strong impression that the author knows his subject backwards. He plausibly argues his case, quotes hundreds of studies that make his case and provides comprehensive references and further reading. I wholeheartedly recommend the book for any non-economist, like myself, wanting to delve into contemporary economics. Whether economists would find it appealing may depend on the school of thought to which they are wedded, and their capacity to entertain alternative ways of viewing the world.

This is not meant to be a book review; instead it is an attempt to expose the flawed thinking and the falsities that Joe Hockey inflicted on us in an attempt to discredit the Government’s response to the GFC.

Many of the quotes in this piece are from Zombie Economics, which I gratefully acknowledge.

At the outset Quiggin points out that “If we are to understand the financial crisis, and avoid the kinds of responses that set the stage for a new and bigger crisis in a few years time, we must understand the ideas that got us to this point…They are:

The Great Moderation: the idea that the period beginning in 1985 was one of unparalleled macroeconomic stability.

The Efficient Markets Hypothesis: the idea that the prices generated by financial markets represent the best possible estimate of the value of any investments.

Dynamic Stochastic [random] General Equilibrium: the idea that macroeconomic analysis should not concern itself with economic aggregates like trade balances or debt levels, but should rigorously be derived from microeconomic models of individual behaviour.

Trickle-down economics: the idea that policies that benefit the well-off will ultimately help everybody.

Privatization: the idea that any function now undertaken by government could be done better by private firms."

As it would take as much space as John Quiggin took to debunk these ideas, I will give here but a brief summary.

Regarding the Great Moderation, Quiggin asserts that the GFC has “…invalidated most of the popular explanations…the idea that improvements in monetary policy have been a force for economic stabilization looks rather silly now…If the pretensions of central banks have been shaken, those of financial markets have been utterly discredited. There is now no reason to accept the claim that financial markets provide individuals and households with effective tools for risk management. Rather, the unrestrained growth of financial markets has proved, as on so many occasions, to be a source of instability.”  He concludes: “The end of the Great Moderation has forced policymakers to relearn the basic lessons of Keynesian economics. Economies can collapse to a point where only large-scale monetary expansion and fiscal stimulus can revive them. But having revived the economy, can Keynesian policies restore and sustain full employment in a system that is inherently prone to crisis? An answer to this question will require radical new directions in macroeconomics. As I will argue…that means abandonment of more dead and obsolete ideas.”

While I didn’t hear Joe Hockey use the term ‘Great Moderation’ he certainly did strongly criticise the Government’s fiscal stimulus, in the end having to concede that it did provide some benefit, insisting though that it was too big and of course the Coalition would have done it much better.

It may help to here explain the terms micro and macroeconomics. The former applies to individual markets, the latter to the economy as a whole.

Regarding the second idea – the Efficient Markets Hypothesis – Quiggin points out that it “…is the central doctrine of market liberalism [his polite term for the somewhat pejorative term ‘neo-liberalism’], born just as the Keynesian era was drawing to a close.” and continues: “It was finally killed, in terms of intellectual credibility, by the Global Financial Crisis.”  He shows that the Hypothesis was beginning to crumble in the 1990s as a number of developing countries experienced severe financial crises, and was finally discredited by the GFC. Even as troubles emerged in 2007 with the ‘subprime mortgage’ crisis, advocates of the Hypothesis still believed that nothing would, or could, go badly wrong, and it was not until Bear Stearns was rescued from bankruptcy in March 2008 that confidence faltered, and with the nationalization of US mortgage agencies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in September, followed by the collapse of the investment banking industry and the bankruptcy of Lehmann Brothers, the Bank of America taking over Merrill Lynch, and Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan forced to seek government guarantees, confidence finally collapsed.

The Efficient Markets Hypothesis posited that the markets always know best and outperform public ventures, and so market liberalism led to more investment in the private sector. Quiggin points out that while some private sector take-overs of public utilities have been successful, for example in Finland where private investment in telecommunications led to the rise of firms like Nokia, the results have been mixed. He concludes that experience suggests: “…that a mixed economy will outperform central planning and laissez-faire.” - in other words an economy that includes a mix of public and private investment will do better. The unanswered question is: ‘What is the appropriate mix?’

You will recall that Kevin Rudd challenged the basic precepts of what he termed neo-liberalism in his essay in The Monthly on the GFC, and was roundly criticized for doing so by Joe Hockey, Coalition ministers and economists who still adhered to the Efficient Markets Hypothesis. What would they say now?

Dynamic Stochastic [random] General Equilibrium (DSGE) is a high-sounding name for an idea that succeeded Keynesianism in the late 1960s, with which Milton Friedman was associated. It has many facets and twists and turns that Quiggin explains in his book, but essentially it rests on the belief that macroeconomics derive from microeconomics and as Quiggin puts it: “Complex macroeconomic models can be reduced to simple relationships between one policy instrument (interest rates) and two targets (inflation and growth in GDP). Since there are two target variables, it’s impossible to hit each target exactly, so the models give rise to a trade-off.” Later he says: “By the eve of the Global Financial Crisis, the DSGE approach seemed to have conquered all rivals and to represent the future of macroeconomic theory. The crisis, and the failure of mainstream macroeconomics to offer a successful prediction, useful diagnosis, or coherent responses to the event, shattered the DSGE consensus.”

He says later: “If the micro-foundations approach underlying DSGE is of little use in understanding the macro-economy, where should we turn?” He replies: “…the best answer has been given by George Akerlof and Bob Shiller, in their book ‘Animal Spirits’: ‘In our view, economic theory should be derived not from the minimal deviations from the system of Adam Smith but rather from the deviations that actually do occur and can be observed’.”

Towards the end of this chapter he canvasses a return to Keynesianism but cautions: “But if a Keynesian policy framework is to be successful, it must be revived. Hopefully, the memory of past disasters will promote a more cautious and cooperative approach in future.”

There is much, much more to DSGE that this very brief account can provide; only by reading Zombie Economics can the complexity of the idea and its many nuances and contradictions be digested and comprehended.

If one can judge from his utterances, albeit couched in the language of politics rather than economics, Joe Hockey would likely be an opponent of a return to a form of Keynesianism. As Shadow Treasurer he needs to thoughtfully consider this option free from any doctrinaire position he may now hold.

The two remaining ideas that have been discredited need little explanation.

Trickle-down economics is an idea that whatever benefits are given to the wealthy, they will filter down to the poorest. Quiggin begins: “As long as there have been rich and poor people, or powerful and powerless people, there have been advocates to explain that it’s better for everyone if things stay that way.” While great economists such as Adam Smith, John Stuart Mills and John Maynard Keynes have supported income re-distribution through progressive taxation, and most economists still do today, there are still some who argue that we should let the rich get richer and wait for the benefits to trickle down to the poor. One could be forgiven for thinking that is what Joe Hockey and the Coalition believe, as they insist on giving tax relief to the wealthy.

Quiggin gives example after example showing the trickle down hypothesis is false, and caps this with a telling graph of household income distribution in the US from 1965 to 2005 that shows that those on the 95th percentile for income steadily improved their position by over fifty percent, while those on the 20th percentile and below were static.

He points out that the biggest challenge of the failure of the Trickle-down Hypothesis is to understand why and how inequality increased so much under market liberalism, and how it can be reversed. Restoring progressivity to the tax system is seen as an obvious move.

Privatization is always better than public provision of services and infrastructure according to some economists, and seems also to be the view of Joe Hockey and his Coalition colleagues. How many times have we heard him say ‘Labour can’t manage anything’, and of course he quotes the HIP and the BER to support his claim. Extrapolating, one assumes he believes that private initiative will always be better than government endeavour, even with a Coalition government.

Government often sees privatization as a way of achieving public works at no cost to itself, or realizing the value of a held asset to balance a budget. Quiggin gives many examples of failed privatization, where governments have had to re-nationalize the enterprise. Other privatizations have worked well. But the mantra that private enterprise will always do better is manifestly wrong.

He concludes by returning to the theme of a mixed economy with the ‘right’ balance of public works and private enterprise.

In his final chapter Quiggin sums up what he believes is needed in twenty-first century economics:

“More on realism, less on rigour
More on equity, less on efficiency
More on humility, less on hubris.”

He concludes: “Every crisis is an opportunity. The Global Financial Crisis gives the economics profession the chance to bury the zombie ideas that led the world into crisis, and to produce a more realistic, humble, and above all socially useful body of thought.” And so say all of us!

I trust this piece has been of some interest to those of you who puzzle about economics and wonder how economists reach their opinions and predictions. You may still be left wondering. It seems to me that the economics profession is encumbered with a plethora of competing ideas, hypotheses, theories and models, many of which seem to be mutually exclusive. There is vigorous and at times heated disagreement among the competing schools of thought. While in one sense passionate debate is essential in any discipline, the conflict of ideas that characterizes economics can leave policy makers up in the air about what to do next, especially when crises occur. They are obliged to select the theories and models that seem most applicable and use them without the certainty of outcome they desperately seek. If only economists could slide out of the procrustean bed in which so many seem to be constrained and look at the whole picture of models and theories with a view to discarding those that have been discredited, and combining the most useful features of the others, we, the victims of economic mismanagement, might, just might, be better off.

But with so many zombie ideas still refusing to die, the prognosis is not promising. Reading Zombie Economics I was reminded of Thomas Kuhn’s 1962 book: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions where he describes how he believes science actually works. Kuhn argues that it is an episodic model in which periods of conceptual continuity are interrupted by periods of revolutionary science. He gives many examples of how a scientific theory (‘paradigm’ is the term he uses) becomes fashionable and is warmly embraced by mainstream scientists, yet as evidence accumulates that cast doubt on it and eventually makes it untenable, too many scientists still tenaciously cling to it, making convoluted attempts to explain away the disparities long beyond when they are overwhelming, until finally the theory is overturned in a ‘revolutionary’ way, what Kuhn called a ‘paradigm shift’, a term he coined. It seems to me that the same phenomenon exists in economics where there are many dominant paradigms to which individual economists and schools of economics cling despite the gathering and finally overwhelming evidence that they are wrong.

At the end of his book, Quiggin quotes Richard Posner, ‘a rare example of a market liberal who has changed his views and embraced Keynesianism’: “Market correctives work very slowly in dealing with academic markets. Professors have tenure. They have lots of graduate students in the pipeline who need to get their PhD’s. They have techniques that they know and are comfortable with. It takes a great deal to drive them out of their accustomed way of doing business.” That just about says it all when we ask why economics zombies continue to lurk, ready for resurrection, ready to wreak destruction on financial systems all over again.

Whatever Joe Hockey believes, he really ought to read John Quiggin’s Zombie Economics from cover to cover. It is a goldmine of systematized information and references that would assist him to make more coherent and logically consistent statements about the economy in the future.

What do you think?

Pushing for the pension

Tony “Andy” Abbott needs to get his hands on more of the folding stuff to pay off his big mortgage. So, having swapped his push-bike for a wheelchair and, in cahoots with his “Little Britain” carer, Warren “Lou” Truss, he turns up at Centrelink to be interviewed by two experienced staff members, Andrew Bolt and Steve “Canny” Cannane.

Bolta: Right, Andy...you don’t mind if I call you Andy...cos I feel I have known you for ever such a long time...hee...hee...So, my colleague Mr Cannane here, and I, believe you are applying for a pension, as you have recently become a paraplegic, having injured yourself seriously playing football...is that the case?

Andy: Erm...before we start, Mr Bolt...I’m not too sure about your colleague there, Mr Cannane – can I just get heard by you on your own?

Bolta: Oh, don’t worry about Canny here...everything will all come out in the wash anyway...After all, as you so elegantly said a while ago, it rains on the just and the unjust, and we all know which of those two sides I barrack for...heh...heh...

Lou: Yeth, Andy...thop making a kerfuffle...juth lithen to the two nythe men and we’ll have you out of here in a jiffy...

Bolta: Yes, thank you, Mr Truss...and I now want to outline all the pensions I believe Andy is entitled to...

Canny: Erm...Andrew...isn’t it a tad premature to be arriving at a judgment even before we have investigated Mr Abbott’s case...

Bolta: Oh, don’t worry your little head about things such as investigations, Canny...Now, as I was saying...Andy, having witnessed the awful state that nasty Mr Riley left you in, I believe you are entitled to a Nodder’s and Starer’s Pension...

Andy: I want that one...

Bolta: And because you are so hairy and virile, you should get a Threatened By Homosexuality Pension also...

Andy: I want that one...

And because you don’t have a brain inside your skull, but a weathervane instead, I believe you should also be granted a Can’t Make Up My Mind On Global Warming Pension also...

Andy: I want that one...

Bolta: And due to your speech impediment, I want to grant you a Can’t Stop Saying “Bullshit” Pension as well...

Andy: I want that one...

Bolta: And because you don’t seem to be able to come to terms with the concept of the will of the people, I think you should also get a Lovers Of Guided Democracy Pension too...

Andy: I want that one...

Bolta: And due to your limited vocabulary, I wish you to receive the Spruikers Of The Three Word Slogans Pension also...

Andy: Want that one...

Bolta: Now you’re getting the hang of it!! And because of your fear of flying and obsessive need to ride a bike, I think we’ll give you the Jet Lagger’s Pension...

Andy: I want that one...

Bolta: And due to your proclivity towards hanging around with senior citizens who listen incessantly to 2GB on the wireless, I believe you are entitled to the Revolting People’s Pension...

Andy: Yeah, I want that one...

[Canny, who has tried on numerous occasions to butt in, is by now totally exasperated. However, he has come to the conclusion that there is more than one way to skin a cat. He maintains his composure and addresses Andy.]

Canny: Okay, Mr Abbott...my colleague here has outlined for you the vast array of pensions you are possibly entitled to, which should, within a few weeks or so, totally wipe out that huge mortgage you labour under and [muttering] that great big black hole of yours during the last election campaign...So, before we go any further, why don’t we all have a tea-break...there’s an urn over there on the far side of the room – just help yourselves...

[Andy, never one to knock back a free feed, gets out of the wheelchair, sprints half-way across the room, only to come to a screeching halt, realising he has fallen, hook, line and sinker, into Canny’s trap.]

Canny (exulting): Yeeeeeeeeesssssssss!!!!!!! Gotcha!!!!!!!! I thought as much, Mr Abbott...your condition, it seems, is a tad more than “potentially treatable”...haw...haw...

[Andy, realising he has been well and truly rumbled, recommences sprinting...out the door he runs, into the street, and disappears over the horizon, making the Road Runner look like Phil Ruddock with a ball and chain around his leg...Later that day, Lou successfully makes contact with him on his boatphone.]

Lou: Well I never, Andy...that woth a major kerfuffle you cauthed earlier...And by the way, where in the dickenths are you anyway?

Andy: I’m up north of Woop Woop somewhere...picking fruit with a load of no-hopers...We get paid by the weight so I’m always on the look-out for the bigger ones...

Lou: Erm...Andy...I don’t know how to break thith to you...but...you’re no longer the Leader of the Oppothition...

Andy: What!! The Indos have seen the light and are now supporting me!!!

Lou: Erm...not really, Andy...

Andy: So that bastard Turnbull has finally got back into the big chair, has he?

Lou: Erm, no, Andy...In fact, Gillard hath granted a 457 Veetha to Col. Gadaffi and the caucuth hath dethided that, compared to yourth, even hith is a kinder and gentler polity...

[There is no reply from Andy. Lou can only hear a squabble going on in the background. It is seemingly between Andy and another fruit-picker. All Lou can hear is, “I want that one...” Lou leaves them to it and presses the red button on his mobile.]

The vilification of our nation’s leaders

No, I’m not referring just to the vile placards that were the backdrop to Tony Abbott’s address to the ‘people’s revolution’ rally in Canberra on March 23. Vilification goes back much further.

The purpose of this piece is to argue that while vilification has been around a long while, it is worsening in recent times, is taking on a distinctly North American tone, and is threatening the political health of our nation.

When I was a kid the term ‘Pig Iron Bob’ was applied to Bob Menzies, a response to his exporting pig iron to Japan, some of which likely came back in the form of bullets directed at our soldiers. Was that term vilification? Only those who remember that era clearly could offer a considered opinion. The context is important and memories of the context then are now dim. So at the outset let us agree that comparison of contemporary events with those long past is fraught.

Before we go too far, let’s agree on what vilification means. For the purpose of this piece I am using a definition from an online dictionary - The Free Dictionary – which defines ‘vilification’ thus: ‘a rude expression intended to offend or hurt or insult; revilement, discourtesy, disrespect, unscrupulous abuse, foul-mouthed or obscene abuse, a remark capable of wounding mentally; invective, vituperation, vitriol, abusive or venomous language used to express blame or censure or bitter deep-seated ill will.’ That definition leaves no doubt that vilification is a serious attempt to denigrate someone or something. Vilification can have its roots in race or religion and of course in politics.

If we confine our reflections to recent times, where memories are less dim, it may be possible to ascertain whether vilification of our nation’s leaders is gathering momentum, or whether it was always thus.

My impressions of the Howard era are that vilification of him and his ministers was unusual and relatively mild. We know the cartoonists made fun of his eyebrows and protruding lower lip – they still seem to believe they have carte blanche to insult with impunity – but vilification was unusual. The Coalition, in response to criticism of the placards at the ‘people’s revolt’ rally could only point out that at union rallies attended by union officials who are now members of parliament – Bill Shorten and Greg Combet – placards depicting Howard as Hitler and a ‘baby killer’ were used. They would fit the definition of vilification, but were there many other instances? If there were, the Coalition would have trotted them out in some detail; if readers can recall others, they can add them in ‘comments’. Of course there were those pivotal pre-election interviews, several with Kerry O’Brien and Tony Jones where Howard was embarrassed and shown up in a bad light with the help of gotchas, but they do not fit the ‘vilification’ bill.

It was when Kevin Rudd rose to prominence and became Opposition Leader that the vilification pace seemed to accelerate. You will recall that even before he became PM, Rudd was assailed with the ‘Brian Burke’ story and the ‘Scores nightclub’ affair, the former being in response to Rudd attacking the Government over nuclear power and its contact with businessmen Hugh Morgan, Ron Walker and Robert Champion de Crespigny. So it was a tit for tat sequence but nevertheless a pretty vitriolic and vilifying exchange.

Then there were a series of episodes in which Rudd was involved – the ‘RAAF hostie affair’, the ‘hairdryer story’ in Afghanistan, the veracity of which is still a mystery, the ‘rude to staff’ and ‘overworking staff’ allegations, some of which turned out to be factual, but the reporting of them was designed to denigrate, to demean, and in some instances vilify him.

But Rudd rode high in the polls, his popularity at near record levels despite these attempts to put him down; indeed the episodes seemed almost to enhance his standing with the people. But the MSM was not to be denied.

Despite his success in managing the GFC, involving as it did stimulus measures, the News Limited media set about denigrating his stimulatory efforts, first the HIP, then the BER. Both were painted as classic instances of Labor mismanagement and profligate waste, a meme that fitted nicely with the ‘Labor can’t manage money’ theme that the Coalition trumpeted relentlessly. The Australian set up a special section to monitor waste and mismanagement in the BER and gave prominence to every story coming out of the HIP, vilifying the Government for the needless deaths of several workers installing ceiling insulation, a misdemeanour now sheeted home to the installation companies who employed them. You may contest the use of the word ‘vilification’ here, but take a look at the definition and see if fits.

Throughout the life of the Rudd Government it has had to contend with a largely hostile media, seemingly hell-bent on destroying it. Andrew Bolt was prominent among those vilifying Rudd, something he did at every opportunity via his Melbourne Herald Sun column, his ’million hits a month’ blog, and through his TV appearances. His venom towards Rudd was frightening to see. He used his vitriol to persistently demean Rudd so as to drive him from office, and as that occurrence came closer he lauded Julia Gillard as the obvious successor. Now he has turned his vilification against her with as much hate as he exhibited towards Rudd.

But there has not been much vilification by the media of Tony Abbott and the Coalition. Why is it so? Even after his ‘shit happens’ encounter with Mark Riley, did you see him vilified by the MSM? I saw them make plenty of excuses for him, instead directing their vilification at one of their own – Riley himself.

Vilification has been alive and well these last few years, and in my opinion is worsening, evidenced by the extreme messages exhibited on placards at the March 23 Canberra rally, called by Tony Abbott, but orchestrated by Sydney shock jocks and the Liberal Party. There is no need to recount those vile messages here – you know them well enough. But it is worth emphasizing that they were not just about the carbon tax, supposedly the reason for the rally, but about other dark issues that impugned asylum seekers and reinvigorated One Nation’s platform of racial hatred. Other nasty images emerged that exposed the black heart of some of our countrymen.

The nasty exchanges that followed immediately in the House of Representatives aggravated the vilification. Just when the heat of the rally needed to be quelled, Tony Abbott and his front bench set about exacerbating it. The vilification continued with motions of censure supported by some of the most vicious and unbecoming language ever heard there. The street fighter, always the pugilist, pulled no punches in his assault on Julia Gillard, mocking her as ‘being precious’ and describing her with sneering invective using words that ought not to issue from the mouth of a leader of a major political party. His every word vilified her, the Prime Minister of Australia. We were sickened by his onslaught, but not surprised.

From where has this intensification of vilification come?

One can but postulate, but it bears a striking resemblance to the strategies being employed by the US Republican Party and its offshoot, the Tea Party. Aided and abetted by the Murdoch media, their approach has been and still is a strident anti-Obama campaign that began almost from the moment of his election. Misinformation about him has been spread far and wide – 40% of Americans incorrectly still believe he is Muslim despite his denials, because the TV shock jocks on Fox News have said so. Every piece of legislation he has proposed had been opposed, and grossly misrepresented, with even talk of ‘death squads’ to determine who received benefits (presumably life or death benefits) under Obama’s health reforms that will bring some 40 million previously uninsured Americans into health coverage. Every move he makes is demeaned in the most extravagant way with misinformation, deception and downright lies. TV shock jocks invite onto their programs strident supporters of their anti-Obama position, and the occasional guest they invite from the other side is harassed, put down and talked over by their people. It is as flagrant as it is disgusting, but they get away with it hour after hour, day after day, because no one can stop them. Truth is irrelevant – they simply make up stories, shout them from the airwaves unremittingly, and will truck no opposing views.

Sound familiar? Are we not seeing the same here? The grossest manifestation is the shock jock crew, led by Alan Jones, that exist on most commercial radio stations, and a similar, although not as grossly biased set of TV shock jocks and panels that pedal largely a conservative line. Add to that a formidable News Limited media empire, which despite all its open-mouthed protestations, is clearly pro-Coalition and anti-Labor.

To augment this heavily pro-conservative messaging, we are now seeing the emergence of conservative websites, of which Cory Bernardi’s is one of the most extreme, fostering as it does racial discord, particularly directed at Muslims.

We are seeing here a process of vilification of political leaders, mainly Labor ones, at a gathering pace that shows no sign of remitting, and will not while the pugilistic Abbott is leading the pack. The ugliest manifestation so far was the March 23 rally with all its vilifying placards, and the raucous and undignified aftermath in parliament with its own brand of vilification.

The Republican and Tea Party approach of ‘say anything’, ‘allege anything’, ‘tell any lie’, ‘vilify whenever an opportunity arises’, and do it over and over again, is now being reflected here in this country. Do we want this American-style politics here?

Can this be healthy for our democracy? Politicians here are already held in low esteem; vilification pushes them lower still in the public’s estimation. Yet they are our leaders that we have elected to progress our country. How can vilifying them advance that cause? They need more respect, not less.

In my opinion the vilification of this nation’s leaders is rendering our politicians less potent, damaging our nation, setting Australian against Australian, and fostering hatred and anger, all in pursuit of power, all to claim residence in The Lodge.

We ought to be fearful. If what is happening in the US is repeated here in all its dirty and damaging form, we are heading towards a calamitous state where the powerful and the moneyed call the shots, create the messages, and rule the roost. It’s not quite George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four yet, but before we know it, it may well be. Be afraid, very afraid.

What do you think?

Phoney Footie

G’day Swordians

As you know, the AFL season is underway and one of the opening games is being played at the Rooty Hill Stadium. Prior to the game, however, a Celebrity Stars charity match (to help pay off Tony Abbott’s big mortgage) is underway. The two teams are the Coalition and MSM XVIII’s. The Coalition XVIII is captained by Phoney Tony, who gets his nickname for regularly feigning injuries so that he can catch his breath on the interchange bench. And, for their part, the MSM XVIII is led by that curmudgeonly veteran, “Comeback” Kerry O’Brien.

Unfortunately, however, the 2GB shock-jocks have not been able to encourage a big crowd to come along early to view the charity opener to the AFL game. In fact, only three people at this stage are present in the Rooty Hill Stadium to watch – Julian Assagne, the representative from the big Swedish company that is sponsoring the event, SAAB (“Stop All ALP Bullshit”) – and Dot and Alf, two One Nation supporters and regular listeners to 2GB.

Anyway, the charity game is a couple of minutes old and, already, Phoney Tony has scored a number of six-pointers. Playing in his usual rover position, Phoney picks up another loose ball, with no real competition from the nearest MSM player, “Shuffler” Shanahan. Phoney kicks it straight through the middle of the gap between the two big sticks. Everybody knows Shuffler is slow, but it seems that he was deliberately allowing Phoney to show him a clean pair of heels.

Then, as the game progresses, Phoney, in another contest for the ball, comes up against the opposing team’s legendary player, “Comeback” Kerry, who is well aware of Phoney’s tendency to wimp it when the going gets tough.

Comeback: Well if it isn’t the big wuss himself – haven’t seen you around since I did you like a dinner and you admitted you only spoke the truth when it was written down...heh...heh...

[Phoney is just about to get a massive hip and shoulder from Comeback, but falls over before it can be inflicted, slyly holding his hamstring. He signals to the bench and hobbles off, prima donna-style, through the interchange gate. There, the Coalition coach, Mick Murdhouse, knowing Phoney’s reputation for faking injuries, gives him a spray.]

Mick: Listen, Phoney...we need you out there – make sure you are only in contests with our sycophants playing on the MSM team...they know the score, so to speak...haw...haw...

[The Interchange Steward allows Phoney back on, and immediately he is in contest with the MSM’s back-pocket, Chris Uhlmann-Up. Earlier, the two One Nation supporters in the crowd, Dot and Alf, making monkey noises, had chucked a banana-skin at Stan Grant. Chris takes advantage of this particular object and deliberately steps on it, going head over tit. Phoney streaks away and scores another six-pointer.

In the subsequent phase, Phoney is on a roll, kicking goals left, right and centre. Per usual, most of the MSM players are doing nothing to stem the flow. Annabel Crabb, for example, is more interested in asking Phoney for his autograph. Glenn Milne is staggering around, missing so many tackles, he looks three sheets to the wind. Then, however, Phoney comes up against the MSM’s Mark “Ruckman” Riley.]

Ruckman: Hey, I’ve been meaning to catch up with you for a while, mate...Is it true you put laxatives in our quarter-time Staminade and then mocked us with, “Shit happens”, as we had to sprint to the dunnies...

[Before he could retort, Ruckman shapes to give Phoney’s nuts a very firm handshake. However, just in time, Phoney’s head starts to nod bizarrely and the Coalition medicos, claiming Ruckman caused him to have a fit, cart Phoney off, again through the interchange gate. Shortly afterwards, and true to form, Phoney makes a miracle recovery, and is soon back out on the field, making more hay.

Alan Jones rugby-tackles Phoney off the ball, serving up a gimmee right in front of the posts. Laurie Oakes, claiming he has run around enough to last him a life-time, lets Phoney have an unchallenged mark, whilst he slips a few aspirins into a glass of water, then gulping it down. Andrew Bolt is as useful as tits on a bull, misremembering the score as he kept looking up at the board, thereby not keeping his eye on his man. And on and on the farce goes, with Melissa Clarke actually cheering on the other team!

But, one of the few players on the MSM side who is actually doing their job is Laura “Tagger” Tingle. Like the terrier she is, she is snapping away at Phoney’s heels, giving him no respite.]

Tagger: Hey you...I wanna question the finances of this show you’re putting on...With only two paying customers, there must be a great big black hole in your budget – how do you expect to pay off your mortgage as a result of this debacle?

[Again, Phoney realises that discretion is the better part of valour, and collapses in a heap, feigning another injury. He is carted off once more, happy to spend more time on the interchange bench, catching his breath. He is also very happy with the score – the Coalition side is up by two hundred points and most of them are down to Phoney’s boot, albeit not without lots of assistance from many of the MSM ‘players’. The final siren goes and on the tannoy, the SAAB representative, Julian Assagne, announces Phoney as best on field. The coach, Mick Murdhouse, puts a celebratory arm around Phoney, giving him some more news.]

Mick: Hey, Phoney...we’re gonna have a press conference now...

Phoney: Awww, do I have to, boss? You know how much I hate press conferences...they suck...

Mick: Don’t worry, Phoney...You just do your usual – take a few softies from the hacks and then waltz out if you get a curly one...Oh, and by the way, we’ve got another prize to present to you, in recognition of your outstanding ability to show the few decent journos that are around, a clean pair of heels...

Phoney: That sounds like a Golden Walkley, boss...

Mick: Got it in one, maaaaate...