The logic of Joe Hockey

When Kevin Rudd suggested recently that in order to fund increased pension payments and unemployment benefits in the upcoming budget, a contribution to that should be forthcoming from those who are closer to the upper income bracket, Joe Hockey protested loudly that Rudd was playing ‘the politics of envy’.  As this term is not in everyday use in this country, I checked out its history.  It’s been around for millennia, but contemporaneously the saying seems to be used by conservatives (Republicans) against liberals (Democrats) to use the US nomenclature, and the Coalition against Labor in this country.  At its core it proposes that those less well off are envious of those better off, and by implication support the redistribution of wealth to give more to the poor by taking it from the rich.  So the moment this is mooted the ‘politics of envy’ tag is attached to Labor, which is seen as promoting this envy.  John Howard used this to great effect by suggesting that the Labor Party attempts to ingratiate itself with the working class and unemployed people by questioning the legitimacy of the wealth of the rich and the super rich.  [more]

Conservatives argue that those with initiative who work hard and take risks deserve any success that attends their efforts, and should be able to enjoy the rewards.  They contrast this with those who do the opposite and sit around expecting handouts.  Like so many who argue their case by referring to those who live at the extremities of the bell-shaped curve, they overlook the vast bulk of people who live around the middle, for some of whom life has been less rewarding, or who are at a time of life when income is reduced – unemployed or on a pension.  This is an age-old issue that defines the sort of society we live in.  Do we want to share this country’s bounty equitably while still rewarding those who are successful through their own efforts?  It seems a matter of balance. 

So what is Joe Hockey really saying when he accuses the Government of playing the politics of envy?  What is he trying to achieve?  What is the underlying logic of his position?  Is it simply the mouthing of a slogan that has been used in the recent past to tarnish Labor’s approach to wealth distribution, which he feels might gain some traction now?   Or does he really oppose giving more to pensioners and the unemployed?  It would not be politically wise to oppose such increases, and the Coalition probably won’t, but from where does he expect the funding to come when revenues have been so grossly reduced, if not by reducing what is now labelled ‘middle class welfare’.  Would he prefer that it be left untouched and the deficit increased accordingly?  As the Coalition uses any deficit as a political weapon, a bigger one would be a larger, heavier and more damaging one.  Who knows?  Does Hockey? 

An unrelated instance also questions Hockey’s logic.  Wayne Swan announced that instead of giving predictions about the state of the economy for just the next financial year when he presents the May budget, which is the usual routine, he would give predictions for the following financial year as well – 2010/2011, and less precise ones beyond that.  This he said was to enable the Government to show how it planned to ease the country out of the debt incurred from deficits arising from the GFC.   Hockey’s response was a protest.  He said that this was a political stunt, that the long-term Treasury estimates were likely to be flawed because Treasury could not get its short term estimates correct, and finished off by accusing the Government of not comparing apples with apples.  Try as I did, I could not comprehend what his reference to apples meant.  Does Hockey himself?

It seems odd that the Coalition could object to receiving more information, even if in the form of estimates, which everyone knows will be ‘softer’ the further out the predictions are.  I suppose they would have preferred the bound-to-be-gloomy 2009/2010 predictions alone, and suspect that the 2010/2011 predictions will be brighter for the Government.  The Coalition seems to welcome economic gloom, which it uses to reflect poorly on the Government.

So maybe there’s some political logic there, opportunistic though it is, but can anyone find the logic in the ‘apples with apples’ analogy?

As an aside, the Coalition seems to be brewing dissonance between it and Treasury with its frequent disparaging remarks about Ken Henry and his Department.  Maybe they’re thinking that by the time they’re in Government again, Henry will have retired.

So Hockey’s logic seems cryptic at best, obscure or absent at worst. Can you fathom it?

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1/05/2009During the Coalition years, those who benefited most from the boom were already in the upper income bands. Peter Martin did a revealing post on this at his blog on 24 July 2008: Considering these outcomes I think it's reasonable to assume that Coalition policy is to redistribute to this section a disproportionate share of the national bounty. So, when the poorer get given a bite at the cherry by a Labor government, out come the conservative fat cats with their own form of envy: Downward Envy. We see more evidence of this Downward Envy in the resentment with which the Coalition (and their supporters on various blogs) condemn the stimulus "handouts" and "cash splashes" which go to taxpayers of below a set income cut-off point. Something tells me they wouldn't be so quick to complain if they themselves were on the receiving end of said "handouts". As for Hockey protesting the extra detail foreshadowed for the Budget. These aren't ordinary economic times; I don't think anyone is expecting an 'ordinary' Budget. If the Treasurer chooses to give an extraordinary presentation of said Budget, that's perfectly acceptable and responsible in my view. It's only through the grace of fortunate timing that the Coalition's stint in office did not coincide with a protracted global slowdown, against which they had to forumlate budgetary measures. Not having been there or done that, they are, in a manner of speaking, unqualified to criticise. Or, at least, not criticise so belligerently. They would be well-advised to play less the critic and more the student observer. Having said that, their tactic in a nutshell is to oppose, harp, naysay and ridicule. Hardly what you might call gracious conduct, or befitting a so-called "alternative government", is it?

Sir Ian Crisp

1/05/2009*bump* for Ad Astra re comment number 2. Joe Hockey is a professional idiot. I wouldn’t worry about the mantras of the various parties if I were you Ad Astra. Mantras are used as a means to wound the opposition. ‘Dog whistle’ is a fav of one party which is used to denigrate the other party while ‘politics of envy’ is used by the one party as a means of denigrating the other party. Perhaps it might be best if we leave the deeper analysis of “what is the underlying logic of his position?” and other probing questions in the hands of TPS’s resident amateur psychologist.


2/05/2009Well Ad astra, what do you do when you have no alternative policies and/or no answers to the issues up for debate? You fall back on carping, innuendo and phrases such as 'politics of envy' and 'comparing apples with apples'. You do your best to confuse and befuddle in order to cover up your own inadequacies and, in some cases, ignorance. This is Joe Hockey's logic. Of course 'the politics of envy' is a notion that works if you read the blogs but generally I see it working the best among the higher income groups. I'd be wallowing in dollars if I was given just one dollar each time I read a comment along the lines of "I earn so much, my partner earns so much. We pay X amount in taxes. We work long and hard and have put in years of study to get where we are so why should we subsidise the lazy bludgers on pensions or unemployment benefits? Why should 'they' get all the handouts and we get nothing? Besides, all the bludging pensioners do is put the money in the pokies." And so it goes on and on.... After the budget is delivered we can expect an avalanche of anti-government rhetoric and scaremongering, but there will be no alternative solutions suggested or implied. Hockey will be comparing his apples with apples and endeavouring to pour more confusion and mis-information on the public as he drives his debt buggy to and from Canberra and around his own electorate. I agree SIC, he is a professional idiot.

Bushfire Bill

2/05/2009I can't see the appeal of Hockey. Clearly, Howard only appointed him Employment Minister to act as an amiable ("avuncular") dupe to his boss's machinations. Remember when Hockey denied outright that the Fairness Test had been instituted? It already had, that morning. And Hockey - the Minister - was out of the loop! Amiable dupe indeed. Hockey's spoutings harken back to the bad old days of Liberalism when Reds were under the beds and Labor could only be trusted to steal the cutlery and raid the Treasury. What else would ex-unionists and amateurs more comfortable in greasy boiler suits hope to achieve? His quips and rhetoric are so based on the past that the only ones he can hope to be appealing to are old age pensioners, who generally vote as a bloc for the Liberals anyway. Hockey is a good example of where the Liberal Party has been, not where it needs to be going. I actually doubt that anyone in the Party sees him as a potential Leader. I thinks it's mostly a Shanahan or Milne-type fantasy put out to cynically destabilise Turnbull and clear the way for the Messiah, Costello... although God knows why they think [i]Costello[/i] would be any better either... but that's anoher story.

Ad astra reply

2/05/2009Just Me, Sir Ian, janice, BB, When Peter Costello ruled himself out as leader and as Malcolm Turnbull slumped, I thought Joe Hockey might be an alternative because all the other contenders seemed so improbable. But after several months in the Shadow Treasurer’s job he has not shown himself to be proficient at that and therefore is unlikely to be suitable as leader. Sir Ian, I think I have to agree with your description of him. So where does that leave the Coalition? Stuck with Turnbull, whose political nous goes from bad to worse. He’s fortunate to have no current challenge to his leadership; even Costello is now saying Turnbull will lead the Coalition to the next election. Having raised the old yellow peril spectre during the Helen Liu episode, Turnbull’s now criticizing the new Defence strategy saying that [quote]“ makes no sense for Australia in 2009 to base its long-term strategic policy on the highly contentious proposition that Australia is on an inevitable collision course with a militarily aggressive China.”[/quote] How did he reach that conclusion without carefully studying the Defence White Paper? On what evidence does he base the words ‘highly contentious’? We’re fortunate that he’s only the Opposition Leader, and has to take no responsibility for Australia’s security. I note too that he’s decided that the Chinalco deal is not in Australia’s interest and should be rejected. He may be right, but how can he, or Costello for that matter, reach that conclusion so readily when those assigned to assess the deal and make a decision are finding it such a complex, difficult and time-consuming matter? Again, not having to shoulder the burden of living with the consequences of his opinions, Turnbull is ready to make pronouncements in the hope he will score a political point or two. But is anyone, other than his rusted-on supporters, listening? Rx, Your concept of ‘Downward Envy” is plausible. It had not occurred to me that those better off might be resentful about others receiving the bonus when they were excluded. So I suppose we can expect loud protests, motivated by Downward Envy, when the budget removes some of the current ‘middle class’ benefits, as seems likely, to pay for some of the benefits extended to pensioners and the unemployed.

Sir Ian Crisp

5/05/2009Gee Ad Astra, looks like Penny Wrong has come up with her own scare tactics equal to the 'reds under your bed' mantra designed to scare people. Ms Wrong was telling us that unless we put in place a ETS Australian families would be out in a barren wilderness scratching at the dirt in a lamentable food gathering exercise. Now it's been called off. Is Ms Wrong guilty of scaring people with her own mantra?

Ad astra reply

5/05/2009Sir Ian, The contemporary ETS debate is as much about politics as policy. Clearly the Government is trying to wedge Malcolm Turnbull and the Coalition into making a decision, either to support the ETS, which would be a plus for the Government, or oppose it and thereby run the risk of being further burdened with the 'spoiler' tag. Although it seems unlikely that this would be used as a DD trigger, labelling Turnbull yet again as Mr NO, would reinforce the image that he himself has created and the Government has exploited. Penny Wong is pouring on the scare tactics to push Turnbull into making a decision on the ETS, because his fence sitting allows him to have a bob each way, as BB would say, 'Rainmaker' style. For his part Turnbull is trying his best to avoid a decision, and is spreading his own brand of scare tactics. An interesting contest - who will win?

Sir Ian Crisp

5/05/2009You're wrong Ad Astra. Wedge politics is only used by the other mob. The ALP is too simon-pure to use such tactics.

The Facts Jack

29/05/2009Joe Hockey couldn't find his own bum with both hands, a packed lunch and a compass. Besides, Hockey's not a name - its a sport....


17/07/2009I have been looking for content like this for a research project I am working. Thanks very much.


18/07/2009I hadn't been using my rss reader for a while and I have a huge backlog of stuff to catch up on. Glad to have taken to time to catch up on your blog though. Cheers.
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