Catallaxy Files

polymathic pontification, bleeding heart economic rationalism and liberal secularist contrarianism

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  • Jason Soon
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    Saturday, June 08, 2002
    Diana-epherma and the royal jubilee
    This jaundiced view of the Royal Jubilee and its dilution in pop epherma is brought to you by the free thinking ex-bolshies at Spiked and boasts some of the best opening lines and one-liners in the usually staid and proper sycophantic journalism on such occasions:

    As a republican and former revolutionary communist, I do not readily sympathise with Her Majesty. But watching the excruciating performances of the royalty of rock during Monday night's Jubilee concert, I felt her pain.

    Surely the most cringe-making moment was Sir Paul's McCartney's promise to 'make her mine' - Her Majesty, that is. Yes, things have come a long way since John Lennon's quip about rattling jewellery. The Queen responded to Macca's ditty with the merest hint of a frown, the Royal equivalent of a grimace. We gotta get out of this place, her eyes seemed to say to Prince Philip.

    What lies behind the seeming appeal of the Queen to contemporary Britain? 'Mystic chords' as Mark Steyn alleges? (see posting below). Not so:

    The Jubilee showed that public mood towards the monarchy is already lightweight. As described in the Mirror, the Dawkins family are indicative. They had been on their way to the airport on holiday. But having stopped off in the Mall, they enjoyed the party atmosphere so much they postponed their flight and stayed on. Patriarch Peter (38) confessed, 'if anything, I'd have described myself as anti-Royal'. He came on a whim, stayed on a whim, and nothing about the Jubilee was stronger than whimsy.

    The Dawkins family did not need to leave Britain to go on holiday. They experienced the celebrations in the Mall as tourists in their own country: that's how connected they are to both Royalty and/or republicanism ...

    ...there is as much substance behind the celebration of Elizabeth II as there was behind the mourning of Princess Diana: not a lot.

    Republican and monarchist spivs
    Tory Blair gives a serve to the advocates of the Yes vote at the last Republic referendum via a comment on similar remarks by Mark Steyn:

    MARK STEYN identifies the main problem with republican campaigns in England, Australia, and Canada. It's the republicans.

    Steyn is precisely correct; Australia's republican campaign was led by the likes of Malcolm Turnbull (a wealthy lawyer and political wannabe), Thomas Keneally (professional Irishman), Robert Hughes (so long away from Australia that he'd forgotten on which side of the road we drive) and Geoffrey Robertson (an Australian-born lawyer who returned from the UK to demand, in his acquired English accent, that we sever ties with England, and then went back to England).

    Let me state my own biases here. Yes, I voted 'Yes' at the last referendum for a minimalist style republic which would not have invested too much political legitimacy in the President and would have best suited our Westminister parliamentary traditions while still allowing for the much overdue 'brand' change. I voted Yes proudly and would do so again - though I will need convincing on the alternative 'direct election' republican model which seems to create instability where there was none before and seemed like overkill for what I essentially thought was an appropriate change of political symbolism. I have no wish to reprise the tedious debates over this issue but my view is that this perfectly sensible republican model was done over by an unholy alliance between the monarchists and blinkered populists manipulated by the monarchists and their own ridiculous 'anti-elites' propaganda that argued that the minimalist model was somehow a 'power grab' - the same ridiculous propaganda recycled here by Tory Blair and Mark Steyn.

    So according to Steyn and Blair the republicans were elites and the monarchists were .. what? Working class boys made good? Surely this applies most of all to Malcolm Turnbull (who, incidentally is a Liberal) and Paul Keating - two of the most vocal advocates of the minimalist republican model. If one really wants to start characterising a cause by its advocates then I would argue that the preponderance of republicans were meritocrats - working class boys (and girls) who climbed up the ladder through their intelligence and effort - while the majority of monarchists are, as one would expect, private school boys (like Tony Abbot), heiresses and assorted hangers on who cruised through life on the money of their parents or some distant ancestor. Elites indeed! Two can play at this game of smearing a cause by its advocates - to the extent that calling someone a tall poppy counts as smearing - I suppose it would to your typical socialist but Tim Blair?

    The constant recycling of this anti-elitist rhetoric is fruitless and pointless. Let's face it - anyone who gets into the public eye by virtue of his or her expressed opinions, whether they are qualified to expound on them or not, are members of the elite - monarchists, republicans, Laborites,Liberals. As for me, I prefer my elites 'self made' rather than subsisting on 'daddy's money'. No doubt the reason for the latter's self-identification with the parasitical remnant of feudalism called the monarchy - a bunch of know nothing, shallow, socialiate, Nazi appeaser philistines.

    Addendum: In the extract of Mark Steyn's article reproduced by Tory Blair, Steyn argues that one reason the republicans lost was because 'it was a defeat for the hyper-rationalists - the types who are tone-deaf to what Lincoln called the "mystic chords".' Steyn is being either extremely disingenuous here or just plain ignorant. The republican model was not defeated because the majority of Australians had any lingering affection for the monarchy, but because they were scared out of their wits by the 'power grab' rhetoric which the monarchists were cynically exploiting. It is precisely because republicans care about the symbolism behind their political institutions that they are republicans and made their pitch on that basis (though personally I'd have preferred their toning down the 'Blinky bill nationalism' and toning up the argument that monarchies are fundamentally parasitical institutions with their feudal origins in conquest, rather than economic or intellectual achievement - and not fit to head up liberal democracies).

    As for these obscurantist 'mystic chords', if there more hyper-rationalists in Germany who were not susceptible to Hitler's 'mystic chords' perhaps the world would be a better place today.

    Thursday, June 06, 2002
    Andrew Norton joins Catallaxy Files, tells traditionalists to learn to love the market
    Andrew Norton will be joining Catallaxy Files, though he says he will only be blogging sporadically and focusing on higher education issues, which are his specialty. For an example of his work see his excellent piece on higher education reform in the latest Policy which makes the not often made point that the partisans of the 'traditional' university have a better chance of seeing their vision realised in a *more* not a less deregulated tertiary education market. As he argues:

    Over this time of untargeted subsidies, university costs have risen faster than government subsidies, but they must still fulfil government quotas. I've argued that this distorts disciplinary allocations within universities, a view now shared by the left of the debate, with a similar point being made in the recent Senate Universities in Crisis report. The most cost-effective way to fill the quota is to offer cheap courses like Arts, even if the demand is elsewhere. This helps explain why more people enrol in Arts than apply for it as their first preference.

    In a market-based system, the quota and subsidy distortions would be removed. This gives two key flexibilities. First, it lets universities reduce their total student numbers, so that they need only take those students who fit their mission. Uninterested and untalented students would not be needed just to fill out the quota. Second, charging fees allows universities to spend what needs to be spent on the various courses. More money can be invested in Arts to bring down student to staff ratios, and student places can be shifted to meet demand in higher cost fields.

    In addition to improving existing universities, the market option would allow entirely new institutions like the American liberal arts college. These institutions are as close as we are ever likely to get to the traditionalists' idea of a university. Most liberal arts colleges have fewer than 1,500 students. These students are often very bright, with the top colleges typically scoring admission scores close to those required for Ivy League universities. More than half the students major in the basic disciplines of liberal education, science, humanities and social sciences. Student-staff ratios are usually around the 10 to 1 mark. It would be very hard to justify full public subsidy for expensive institutions like these, but there would surely be at least a small market for them, existing alongside the big, vocationally oriented institutions serving labour market needs.
    If it's OK for blood ...
    If the ALP didn't have a problem privatising Commonwealth Serum Laboratories in 1994, why does it have a problem privatising a telco company today? My Managing Director exposes this contrast in today's Australian.

    Monday, June 03, 2002
    Fish Talks

    On Thursday last week I had the opportunity to attend a lecture by Stanley Fish, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois. Fish is a fascinating speaker. Although the advertised topic of his lecture was 'Free Speech Post Sept 11', Fish covered a wide range of topics during the formal part of his lecture and the free flowing question time that followed.

    (please note - the following comments are made from memory as best I can but may not be 100% accurate)

    The core of Fish's lecture was centered around three issues. First - is post-modernism dead post Sept 11? Second - is the war in Afghanistan a religious war. Thirdly - what is the nature of the attack on US academics free speech post S11.

    One question one I will say nothing since it is a topic I really don't have a sufficient interest or depth of knowledge to fully comment on. The most interesting point I found myself pondering over in this part of the lecture was the statement by Fish that although individuals can hold to the idea of a single , knowable truth, there is no objective way to persuade (or was it demonstrate) to everyone else that this is the truth.

    One point two, Fish makes a great argument. Most people answer "no" to this question because they don't want to offend people of a particular faith (typically Muslims) and don't want to cast the war as a clash between Muslims and other faiths. My understanding of Fish's argument is that although the war is not between religions per se, it is religious in that is a collision of views on the role of religion in society.

    On the one hand there is the US championed view that religion is separable from the rest of the individuals life, and that the social corollary to this is separation of church and state. The opposing view is that put forward by the Taliban, that ones religion is ones life, and therefore one must not separate church and state. It is an interesting argument.

    Fish then went on to talk about the attack on US academics post Sept 11. He concedes that some academics made stupid comments and should not expect to escape from criticism for their comments. But at the same time Fish stands up for the right of fellow academics to make whatever stupid political comments they wish as it is their constitutional right to. He then goes on to expose some rather underhanded (and McCarthyite) tactics being used by the Republicans to silence critics.

    With the formal part of the lecture over, Fish was given the opportunity to answer questions from the audieince and to make his arguments on a number of issues. Some interesting comments and observations came up along the way.

    1. Opinions have no place in university classrooms. University classes are for the study of arguments and the techniques of argument - not for students or staff to express opinions.

    2. Building on point 1, Political discourse should be kept in the political domain and should not be engaged in by academic. Fish presents this argument in the context of claims by some conservative politicians in the US that something needs to be done to redress the lack of conservative academics. From his [Fish's) point of view, this is nonsense since it shouldn't matter what an academics political views are since they shouldn't be expressing opinions on University time.

    3. Fancy philosophical theories are a useful form of entertainment but have no real use outside of sparring with other philosophical theorists.

    4. Multiculturalism as a demographic factor is important to recognise when understanding social and political dynamics. Multiculturalism as a theology is damaging and there should be no 'cultural defence' . (i.e. Fish seems opposed to forced assimilation and monoculture but apears to take the quite sensible view that if you are going to live in a country, such as the US, that you can't claim exemption from the common standards of law and behaviour on the basis of culture.)

    5. Lastly, he lists one of his hates as being the way the media rush to ask the average Joe coming out of the mall or cinema what their opinion is on weighty issues like cloning, Middle East politics, etc. Fish's view is that we should ignore the opinions of those who lack any special insight into a particular issue and give more time to true experts, thereby helping everyone to actually become more knowledgeable.

    There was a lot more but unfortunately I can't remember it all..

    Aborigines have property rights too
    This article provides some food for thought:

    NSW Aborigines are pressing the State Government for a $250 million trust fund to compensate native-title holders for their share of the expected $5billion value of a new system of selling river water rights.

    If the Government does not agree, it could face a legal challenge based on its water management legislation being inconsistent with the Native Title Act, said Tony McAvoy, a barrister representing the new body for claimants - NSW Native Title Services.

    Individual native-title claimants could also challenge the legitimacy of the Water Management Act, which could be implemented as early as July 1. Under this act, the NSW Government will treat water as private property.

    "People on the ground are angry," Mr McAvoy said. "The Government is adding insult to injury by going about this process of dispossession at a time when all the rhetoric is about reducing the level of disadvantage.

    "It is entrenching a system which will further cause poverty and dispossession.

    "This is the second wave of dispossession. Our land is gone and now we are having the resources taken without an attempt to include us in the economy.

    I think there is a chance in these circumstances to tailor policies that both promote the economic independence of Aborigines (or Aboriginal self-determination as their leaders call it) and provide for a rational market-based environmental policy. In short, where some tradition of property rights ownership can be traced and proven why stop at native title which paternalistically denies the tribe the right to alienate the property rights for money? Instead vest full property rights, whether it be in a river or land containing mineral deposits in a corporation in which each member of the tribe holds shares. Then let them decide among themselves as shareholders what they wish to do with it. *If* it is economically efficient for the government itself to buy the property rights from the tribe then the government should be prepared to pay market-based compensation in this case as it should be in any other government 'takings' of private property - quite aside from its ethical implications, requiring reasonable compensation for 'takings' is economically efficient because it means that even governments are subject to the constraint that resources should be allocated to their highest valued uses.

    What better way is there to bring Aborigines into the mainstream of the capitalist economy and demonstrate that capitalism is not exploitative but promotes individual autonomy?

    Sunday, June 02, 2002
    New links added
    I've added new links on the left. They include some of my favourite sources of reading on the web as well as blogs which had already linked to me without my returning the favour (not mutually exclusive categories of course!). If anyone else still falls into this latter category and wants a link, drop me an email.
    Barak and his detractors
    Check out this interview with Ehud Barak, who made one of the most radical gestures towards peace with the Palestinians and failed, followed by this response by detractors on the pro-Palestinian side.
    Music and libertarianism
    For the metalheads, Andrew Dodge's reflections on the link between heavy metal and libertarianism are now available in various parts here, here, here, here and here.

    I'm afraid I know next to nothing about heavy metal and don't have much to say on this. However I can opine that, though I know nothing about the politics of jazz musicians and jazz enthuasists it seems to me, as a jazz fan and libertarian that jazz is the epitome of the libertarian zeitegeist.

    Firstly, its polyglot origins - its mix and match nature - born in New Orleans primarily from the minds of the descendants of transplated black slaves in a Western society, blending Africam polyphonic rhythms with the harmonic and melodic complexities of the rest of America and even today absorbing other influences - Latin music, Indian and Arabic modal music. Globalisation at its finest.

    Secondly its status as improvised compositions - a spontaneous order that is borne of a subtle tension between cooperation and competition (as soloists play a game of one upmanship while sustaining the general framework in which each holds their footing). The culture of jazz music - at once highly competitive, meritocratic and collaborative - just as the market is simultaneously an instrument for cooperation (for individuals banding theselves into organisations like firms) and competition.

    Thirdly the fact that it was basically an art form born in the marketplace - in brothels, saloons, speakeasies, nightclubs and the fact that some of its greatest geniuses were artists who had both feet in the market and the popular culture - Armstrong, Bechet, Ellington, Goodman, Holiday. This is not to exclude the later jazz artists who were increasingly more avant garde and increasingly less populist - but the point is that jazz gives the lie to the idea that something that is great art cannot be appreciated by the masses.

    Fourthly the individualism and non-conformity, especially non-conformity to hideous racist mores - 'the only thing that counts is how you blow' - in many cases racial integration was hindered not by the personal feelings of the players themselves but by the anticipated reaction of the more bigoted audiences (though it does strike me as a tad ironic that there were indeed jazz audiences who would have objected to a racially mixed band) - and even so people like Benny Goodman were prepared to take the risk and break the racial barrier (white band leaders were of course in a better position than black band leaders to do this). Interesting also to note that the great preponderance of whites involved in jazz were themselves racial minorities - mostly Eastern European Jews.




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