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polymathic pontification, bleeding heart economic rationalism and liberal secularist contrarianism

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    Saturday, October 18, 2003
     
    What's wrong with Greg Barns?

    Just when I thought Cambridge University Press was getting back to form with Judy Brett's excellent Australian Liberals and the Moral Middle Class, along comes another unscholarly, uninsightful polemic like Greg Barns' What's Wrong with the Liberal Party?

    One of Barns' main complaints is that the Liberal Party is not a 'genuinely liberal party', a phrase that litters the text. The trouble with this claim is that 'genuine liberalism' is, in a Humpty Dumptyish fashion, simply whatever Greg Barns says it is - anything Barns believes is 'genuine liberalism', anything someone he disagrees with says is 'populist conservatism', 'xenophobia', or whatever.

    At one point he refers to 'the values of liberalism - equality, fairness and a belief in collective security'. Er, no, Greg, that's social democracy, a relative of liberalism perhaps, but not liberalism. At another point he tautologically talks about the 'key values of equality, progressive liberalism and a commitment to an Australia that is committed to genuine global citizenship.' (How can a sentence like that survive editing, even assuming the content was ok?). It's a relief to read that 'key tenets' of liberalism also include freedom of thought and the primacy of human rights. At least he is on the right track there.

    His substantive examples of 'genuinely liberal' policies have only a tenuous connection with the liberal tradition. Further engagement with Asia may be a good idea, but there's nothing especially liberal about it. Indeed, one of the concerns about Keating's engagement was that he was getting rather cosy with illiberal regimes. Historically, a republic has some link with liberalism, but it is a very contingent link, as the monarchists pointed out in the 1999 referendum. Republics are also consistent with tyranny, and the constitutional monarchy has been consistent with liberal institutions.

    Nor do his examples of illiberalism hold up. Work for the Dole may or may not be a good idea, but it is not illiberal as Barns thinks. It is perfectly consistent with liberal principles to expect people to do something in exchange for the money they receive.

    Barns talks about 'tolerance' and 'diversity', but it is clear that he wants only diversity that he approves of. The 'diversity' represented by One Nation and its supporters is not to be tolerated. He seems to see even trying to get their votes as illegitimate. (Barns is especially weak on how the Liberals would get a majority with the policies he advocates.) Even John Howard's mild conservatism is barely tolerable to Barns.

    As so often with Howard haters, Barns' eagerness to condemn everything the man does lands him in logical trouble. In a sympathetic section on 'downshifters' he talks of them rejecting the 'economic growth obsession of the Howard Liberals'. But only twenty pages earlier in condemning what he thinks is low migration under the Howard government he endorses a 'go for growth' strategy based on higher immigration, necessary it seems to support our ageing population.

    There's much else wrong with this book, but perhaps I'd better save it for a proper review. Cambridge University Press needs to take a good look at its Australian arm. Its commissioning, refereeing, and copyediting are all substandard.








     
    Manifesto for Misery

    A new issue of Policy is out, and I continue my look at Australian anti-capitalism. After dealing with Michael Pusey last issue, I turn to Clive Hamilton's Growth Fetish.

    Pusey is a soft target - he is so careless with facts and logic that he is, as economists sometimes say of anti-economic rationalists, 'not even wrong'. Hamilton requires more thought. As I explain in my review, he draws heavily on a long history of anti-capitalist thought, but tries to update it with recent research on subjective well-being, arguing that capitalism makes us unhappy. I think he draws the wrong conclusions, and his policy suggestions would significantly increase misery rather than happiness, but he is a more serious thinker (and better writer) than Pusey.

    Also, see John Humphreys' take on Hamilton (pdf file)>


    Friday, October 17, 2003
     
    Cappuccino courses

    Brendan Nelson's desire to eliminate so-called 'cappuccino courses' has people frothing. Guy Rundle has a piece in The Age this morning, as I will in Education Age on Monday. I mostly agree with Rundle, though these lefties have an odd idea of what constitutes a 'market' - as student places are allocated by quota and there are no price signals it is only a 'market' in the sense that students aren't actually forced to go to university or do any particular subject. If there were true market prices on cultural studies, which he and I agree is one of the worst disciplines in the contemporary university, it would soon shrink. So far as I can tell that's all Dr Nelson is proposing to do (he hasn't actually specifically mentioned cultural studies, though a couple of his examples of cappuccino courses could only be taught in cultural studies).

    The deeper point Rundle misses is that the current assault on universites as independent institutions is the logical conclusion of their decision - their desire that remains undiminished despite everything - to be dependent on the state. Even if there is a role for the public sector in higher education, it would be far better if it was as assistance to students, not universities. This would keep the regulators at a safer distance. It would also ensure that the system was constitutionally valid, something that cannot be said of current or proposed legislation.


    Thursday, October 16, 2003
     
    On the picket lines

    Crossing a picket line organised by the National Tertiary Education Union is always a fun way to start the day. The University of Melbourne is a lightly unionised campus, and so the picket line near the Ian Potter Gallery was being run by Socialist Alliance student activists, parasites on almost any leftist cause. This was the exchange:

    Did you know there is a strike today?

    Yes.

    Do you know what it is about?

    Yes.

    (Offering me a propaganda sheet) Will you read some more about it ?

    No.

    (As I walk into the distance) I hope your kids can't afford to go to uni.

    Talking to somebody who came in a different entrance they received the same closing insult, presumably the result of Socialist Alliance's very limited collective wit. While I too have been very critical of the government's higher education reform legislation - my objections are probably even more wide-ranging than the NTEU's - this is a pointless strike. It will inconvenience students and achieve nothing.

    Wednesday, October 15, 2003
     
    Orwell's Australia

    Simon Crean's unpopularity means he is not asked to give many speeches, and has given his principal speechwriter, Dennis Glover, enough free time to write a book, Orwell's Australia. The interesting parts of this book track Orwell's influence on other writers. Glover points out, correctly, that Orwell was a socialist, while many of those who cite him are not. But except for the hopelessly speculative debates about what Orwell would have thought of various issues if he were still alive I can't see that this matters much. There is no need to take writers as a package; you can pick and choose. Glover distances himself from Orwell's sexism and homopobia, just like others of us who find something to admire in the man would do. It is just that we would add socialism to his list of flaws.

    Glover says he has tried to leave his party-political partisanship at the office, but in that aim he fails completely. Much of the book is a polemic against the Howard government and various non-left commentators, and could have been a cut-and-paste from any day's Hansard record of Labor tirades against the government.

    The loose link back to Orwell is that Orwell thought we should tell the truth (how radical!) and of course the Howard government is full of liars. We've gone over these issues on the this blog before; my view is that the children overboard affair started as a mistake that was hard to correct during a campaign. It was not a pre-meditated lie, just as I don't think Keating's L-A-W tax promises were pre-meditated lies, though both ended up being untrue.

    Glover also repeats the leftist myth that the election was 'stolen' because of the children overboard story. There is no real evidence to support this view. The pro-Liberal spikes in the polls were Tampa and September 11, well before children overboard. There is a theory that the leftist and journalistic obsession with nailing the children overboard story in the last week of the campaign kept the refugee issue prominent, to the government's benefit. But these stories certainly weren't being generated by the government. If they had an influence, they were own goals kicked by the government's opponents.

    Glover was a contemporary of mine in 1980s Monash student politics. He says that he 'quickly developed a guilty conscience ' about some of his own behaviour as a student politician. He was far from the worst of the ALP Club of the time, and I am curious to know what he felt guilty about.




    Monday, October 13, 2003
     
    It's all our fault
    Scott Burchill uses the anniversary of the Bali bombing to churn out his
    smelly Left-wing orthodoxies.


    What is it about Left-wing academics that causes their minds to turn into bowls of rice pudding on the subject of Islamic terrorism? Bunyip has done yeoman service by compiling a farrago of Leftist nonsense on the subject matter. But his almost all-seeing eye overlooked Scott Burchill's anniversarial contribution to the debate on terrorism, which this C-Filer has decided to turn his irritated attention to, not only because it is ideologically offensive, but worse, it is intellectually regressive.
    Burchy kicks off promisingly, by making a worthwhile distinction:

    To excuse is to defend, to justify and exculpate. To explain is to examine and to understand. They are very different responses...the most important question of all is the one most reluctantly asked - why

    Good point, any fool can contrive an excuse. But we pay academics up to twice the median wage in order to make rational sense of the world, not churn out rationalisations for wickedness.
    But Burchy goes downhill from there on, by in fact using poor social science explanations to excuse abominable political actions. After a lengthy period of throat-clearing and foot-shuffling, including a gratuitous dig at Gerard Henderson, he finally comes to the point of his argument. Why do the Islamicists hate us? Because we, Australians and Americans, are the bad guys who are:
    reaping the results of past relationships with Islamic extremists in central Asia, as well as its support for repressive dictatorships throughout the Arab and Islamic worlds

    Scotty then goes on to approvingly quote Federal Police Commissioner, Mick Keelty, who whilst paying lip service to the traditional penal functions of police thinks that the best way to combat terrorists is through...social work:
    we also need to focus some attention on preventive measures and try to look at the social issues that are creating some of these problems...somewhere along the line, we've got to address the issue of why these people are marginalised, because as long as they remain marginalised, they will be polarising the community and offering people the opportunity to take up their cause on their behalf.

    So the cause of terrorism is Right-Wing capitalist support for repressive Arab elites, aided by conservative politicians. And the cure for terrorism is Left-Wing socialist hand outs to repressed Islamic masses, plus some sensitive dialogue with the bomb-chuckers. This sort of thinking puts Western State apparats in the same position as Basil Fawlty, trying to run an impossible hotel:

    Basil : ...Oh! Oh, I see!...It's my fault, is it?...Oh, of course, there I was thinking it was your-fault because I left you in charge, or Manuel's-fault for not waking you, when all the time it was my-fault!
    Oh, it's so obvious now, I've seen the light! Ah well, I must be punished then, mustn't I? (slaps his bottom) You're a naughty boy Fawlty, don't do it again!.

    But the world is not Fawlty Towers. Sometimes the woes of the world are really not all Basil's, or the West's, fault.
    The foremost scientific analysis of the relationship between social conditions and Islamic terrorism and was done by Alan Krueger & Jitka Maleckova. In their paper, Education, Poverty, Political Violence, and Terrorism: Is There a Causal Connection? they found a little correlation between poverty and terrorism.

    Any connection between poverty, education, and terrorism is indirect, complicated, and probably quite weak. Instead of viewing terrorism as a direct response to low market opportunities or ignorance, we suggest it is more accurately viewed as a response to political conditions and long-standing feelings (either perceived or real) of indignity and frustration that have little to do with economics.

    This squares with common sense. Bin Laden is a rich man and is the arch-terrorist mastermind. Bangladeshis are poor, yet do not seem especially disposed to terrorism.
    A case can be made for a relationship between say US
    financial and military entanglement with the House of Saud
    and the 911bombings.
    But Burchill does not make that case, that would spoil his Chomskyite morality play.
    Islamic fundamentalists do piggyback their theocratic political movement on the many nationalist uprisings that have occurred in South West and Central Asian lands over the past generation. Robert A. Pape, a researcher into suicide terrorism, concludes that, in Islamic societies, the "spiritual" terrorists seek to exploit the secular nationalists goal of political autonomy:

    what nearly all suicide terrorist campaigns have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal: to compel liberal democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland.

    To explain the Bali bombing we do not need to resort to the sophisticated techniques of social science or investigative journalism. It is enough to ask the terrorists: why did you do it? They have been good enough to supply us with the answer themselves.
    The proximate cause of bombing of the Islamacist bombing of Timor was JI's abominable desire to payback Australian for it's "Crusader"-style
    liberation of Timor, under the UN banner. Four Corners reports that Samudra, one of the masterminds of the bomb plot,
    declaring that Bali was bombed to punish Australia for having:
    taken part in efforts to separate East Timor from Indonesia which was an international conspiracy by followers of the (Christian) Cross.

    The Islamacist' s ultimate cause is equally abominable. JI wants to terrorise vulnerable Islamic societies to impose a Taliban-style fundamentalist Caliphate theocracy over SE Asia. The Federation of American Scientists spells JI's evil designs out

    Jemaah Islamiya is a Southeast Asian terrorist network with links to al-Qaida. The network plotted in secrecy through the late 1990s, following the stated goal of creating an idealized Islamic state comprising Indonesia,
    Malaysia, Singapore, the southern Philippines, and southern Thailand.

    So to sum up, JI bombed Bali to punish Australia for liberating Timor, with the express long-term plan of replacing modernising Islamic governments with theocratic despotism.
    Burchill tries to explain Islamic terrorism in Bali as some sort of prospective blow-back for US/Aust interventions in Islamic states - a thing of which he does not approve. The Bali bombing was actually a blow-back for a US/Aust intervention in Timor - a thing that Burchill did approve.
    Contrary to Burchill's explanation, JI's plan long preceded both the War on Terrorism and War II on Iraq.
    Even where Islamacists are exploiting legitimate grievances, eg in Palestine, it does not pay to give them legitimacy. Prape, rejects the call for dialogue with terrorists:

    Unfortunately, negotiating concessions with the terrorists is also not a solution. The current failure of that approach in Israel is an all-too-common pattern. Concessions are usually incremental and deliberately staggered — thus they fail to satisfy the nationalist aspirations of the suicide terrorists, yet encourage terrorist leaders to see their enemies as vulnerable to coercion.

    So if smart-bombing Islamic countries is not always a good idea, neither is love-bombing Islamic terrorists.
    I suggest a compromise.
    More Western countries should be nice to Islamic people.
    More Islamic countries should be nasty to Islamic terrorists.
     
    It's all our fault
    Scott Burchill uses the anniversary of the Bali bombing to churn out his smelly Left-wing orthodoxies.

    What is it about Left-wing academics that causes their minds to turn into bowls of rice pudding on the subject of Islamic terrorism? Bunyip has done yeoman service by compiling a farrago of Leftist nonsense on the subject matter. But his all-seeing eye overlooked Scott Burchill's anniversarial contribution to the debate on terrorism, which this C-Filer has decided to anihilate, not only becaue it is ideologically offensive, but worse, it is intellectually regressive.
    He kicks off promisingly, by making a wothwhile distinction:
    To excuse is to defend, to justify and exculpate. To explain is to examine and to understand. They are very different responses...the most important question of all is the one most reluctantly asked - why?

    Good point, any fool can contive an excuse. But we pay academics up to twice the median wage in order to make realistic sense of the world, not churn out ratioalisations for wickedness.
    But Burchy goes downhill from there on, by in fact using poor social science explanations to excuse political abominations.
    After a lengthy period of throat-clearing and foot-shuffling, including a gratuitous dig at Gerard Henderson, he finally comes to the point of his argument. Why do the Islamicists hate us? Because we, Australians and Americans, are the bad guys who are:
    reaping the results of past relationships with Islamic extremists in central Asia, as well as its support for repressive dictatorships throughout the Arab and Islamic worlds

    Scotty then goes on to approvingly quote Federal Police Commissioner, Mick Keelty, who whilst paying lip service to the traditional penal functions of police, thinks that the best way to combat terrorists is through...social work:
    we also need to focus some attention on preventive measures and try to look at the social issues that are creating some of these problems . . . somewhere along the line, we've got to address the issue of why these people are marginalised, because as long as they remain marginalised, they will be polarising the community and offering people the opportunity to take up their cause on their behalf.

    So the cause of terrorism is Western Right-Wingers support for repressive Arab elites and the cure for it is Western Left-Winger socialist hand outs to repressed Islamic masses.
    This sort of thinking puts Western State apparats in the same position as Basil Fawlty, trying to run an impossible hotel:
    Basil : ...Oh! Oh, I see!...It's my fault, is it?...Oh, of course, there I was thinking it was your fault because I left you in charge, or _Manuel's_ fault for not waking you, when all the time it was _my_ fault!
    Oh, it's so obvious now, I've seen the light! Ah well, I must be punished then, mustn't I? (slaps his bottom) You're a naughty boy Fawlty, don't do it again!.

    But the world is not Fawlty Towers. Sometimes the woes of the world are really not all Basil's, or the West's, fault.
    The foremost scientific analysis of the relationship between social conditions and Islamic terrorism and was done by Alan Krueger & Jitka Maleckova. In their paper, Education, Poverty, Political Violence, and Terrorism: Is There a Causal Connection? they found a little correlation between poverty and terrorism.
    Any connection between poverty, education, and terrorism is indirect, complicated, and probably quite weak. Instead of viewing terrorism as a direct response to low market opportunities or ignorance, we suggest it is more accurately viewed as a response to political conditions and long-standing feelings (either perceived or real) of indignity and frustration that have little to do with economics.

    This squares with common sense. Bin Laden is a rich man and is the arch-terrorist mastermind. Bangladeshis are poor, yet do not seem especially disposed to terrorism.
    A case can be made for a relationship between say US financial and military entanglement with the House of Saud and the 911 bombings. And it is the case that Islamic fundamentalists piggyback their theocratic political movement on the many nationalist uprisings that have occurred in South West and Central Asian lands over the past generation.
    It is certainly true that terrorist organisations seek the removal of Western influence from Islamic societies. Robert A. Pape, a researcher into suicide terrorism, concludes that, in Islamic societies, the "spiritual" terrorists seek to exploit the secular nationalists goal of political autonomy:
    what nearly all suicide terrorist campaigns have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal: to compel liberal democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland.
    But since Australian was, and is not, occupying sovereign Indonesian territory, the national liberation issue is irrelevant to JI's terrorist campaign.
    To explain the Bali bombing we do not need to resort to the sophisitated techniques of social science or investigative journalism. It is enough to ask the terrorists: why did you do it?
    They have been good enough to supply us with the answer themselves. The proximate cause of bombing of the Islamacist bombing of Timor was JI's abominable desire to payback Australian for it's "Crusader"-style liberation of Timor, under the UN banner. Four Corners reports the Samudra, one of the masterminds of the bomb plot, declaring that Bali was bombed to punish Australia for having:
    taken part in efforts to separate East Timor from Indonesia which was an international conspiracy by followers of the (Christian) Cross.

    The Islamacist's ultimate cause is equally abominable. JI wants to terrorise vulnerable Islamic societies to impose a Taliban-style fundamentalist Caliphate theocracy over SE Asia. The Federation of American Scientists spells JI's evil designs out:
    Jemaah Islamiya is a Southeast Asian terrorist network with links to al-Qaida. The network plotted in secrecy through the late 1990s, following the stated goal of creating an idealized Islamic state comprising Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the southern Philippines, and southern Thailand.

    So to sum up, JI bombed Bali to punish Australia for liberating Timor, with the express long-term plan of replacing modernising Islamic governments with theocratic despotism. Contrary to Burhill's explanation, JI's plan long preceded both the War on Terrorism and War II on Iraq.
    Even where Islamacists are exploiting legitimate grievances, eg in Palestine, it does not pay to give them legitimacy. Prape, rejects the call for dialogue with terrorists
    Unfortunately, negotiating concessions with the terrorists is also not a solution. The current failure of that approach in Israel is an all-too-common pattern.
    Concessions are usually incremental and deliberately staggered — thus they fail to satisfy the nationalist aspirations of the suicide terrorists, yet encourage terrorist leaders to see their enemies as vulnerable to coercion.

    So if smart-bombing Islamic countries is not always a good idea, neither is love-bombing Islamic terrorists.
    I suggest a compromise.
    More Western countries should be nice to Islamic people.
    More Islamic countries should be nasty to Islamic terrorists.
     
    A loss to card table book-selling

    I don't know if Jim Cairns, who died yesterday, had a mid-life crisis, but he had outward signs of one - the fling with the younger woman that caused scandal in the 1970s, and the unreadable books denouncing materialism which had no impact in the 1980s and 1990s.

    Cairns was a familiar sight around Melbourne with his card table display of his own books. It was a slow way of winning intellectual converts. At least in the early days people knew who he was. I remember a Labor friend dragging me to a Cairns lecture in the mid-1980s, and he attracted a decent sized audience. But during the 1990s only a few old-timers and politics junkies remembered who he was. It was an undignified end for someone who had once been so prominent in Australian life.

    Sunday, October 12, 2003
     
    Conservative hypocrites part XXIV

    Let's take [the] steel [tariff] first. I am not telling anything here that wasn't public. There were two legitimate economic points.... One argument is that tariffs are never good. I certainly taught that in my economics class. The other argument [represented by Zoellick and Evans] is a little bit more subtle. The world has excess capacity in steel. In any market where that is the case, price is going to be at marginal cost, and marginal cost is going to be below long-run average total cost.... Either you say, "OK, we'll let our firms exit, and we'll let other countries pick up [the business], and we'll just import our steel." Or you say, "Well, that's not a very tenable long-run strategy for any country, because you are effectively letting others pick which industries are going to prevail." Do you unilaterally disarm, or do you use laws that are now on the books?.... There is a sound economic case for doing what we did.


    ~ ex Bush advisor and 'free market' conservative Larry Lindsey
    WTF??!!


    Update 1 The quote above was something I spotted on Brad de Long's. He doesn't have an online source but he's a credible enough source that I trust him not to make up.

    Update 2 Godless has a more politically balanced list of examples of hypocrites.
     
    Libertarians for Democrats
    An interesting piece in American Prospect about libertarian activists who are supporting Howard Dean:


    Alina Stefanescu is in the middle of a crisis. The Romanian-born, Alabama-raised 25-year-old has been a libertarian since the 10th grade. A hardcore one. An activist. An academic. A brainiac foot soldier in the broad conservative movement so committed to the cause, she used to wear an Ollie North T-shirt to class in her Tuscaloosa high school. So when there's been a choice between a Democrat and a Republican, Stefanescu has gone with the GOP just about every time ...

    "When Bush won, I was very hopeful," says Stefanescu, who runs fellowship programs at the Institute for Humane Studies, a libertarian foundation. "He sounded like he was going to do some very libertarian things: a less interventionist approach [overseas], school choice, free trade. He says all the right things. He just didn't do them.

    "Normally, I wouldn't consider it," she adds, "but if I had to vote today, I'd vote for [Howard] Dean."

    John Ashcroft gets a big chunk of the blame for libertarian alienation, too. The attorney general's disregard for constitutional niceties and his push for a network of civilian informants ticks off those whose whole philosophy is based on the unfettered right of the individual to do whatever he or she wants. Pentagon programs such as Total Information Awareness, the ultra-invasive database, haven't exactly made Henley or Stefanescu feel any better.

    There are other flash points as well. The president advocated free trade during the 2000 election and then increased tariffs on foreign steel. That's a big libertarian no-no. And the Bush economic plan -- cutting taxes for the rich while sending spending through the roof -- doesn't exactly warm the hearts of those who really believe in smaller government.

    "One party's become tax-and-spend. The other's become borrow-from-your-kids-and-spend. It's not altogether obvious to me that one is better than the other," says Gene Healy, a senior editor at the Cato Institute, the best-known hub of libertarian thought. In recent months, the group has been increasingly acidic in its critique of Bush's management of both foreign and domestic affairs ...

    "The conservatives have proven that they never favored limited government. They only opposed big government that promoted liberal ideas," says Radley Balko, a well-known libertarian blogger who also writes for FOXNews.com. ..

    "I have run for Congress 3 times as a Libertarian . . . [but I'm] supporting Howard Dean for President, and I have recruited other Libertarians to join me," writes Gene Berkman on a pro-Dean Web site. "I don't agree with Dean on everything, especially his opposition to tax cuts, but stopping the warmongers is more important."


    Will Wilkinson argues that the story is a bit of beat-up since these libertarians all come from the same social circle. However I think it's worth noting because most of the concerns noted by these particular libertarians, especially the disillusionment with Bush on free trade and his handling of the war seem widely shared among people of libertarian sympathies, even though they haven't gone as far as to run over to the Dean side. It's also just another indicator of how the libertarian/classical liberal-conservative alliance is breaking down - and all for the better I think.

     

     
       
       

     

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