A couple of commentators in this morning's Fairfax broadsheets (here and here) see this week's Nazi accusation against the Greens as evidence that the major parties are worried about them and see a need to attack the Greens more often. Certainly, the media has been very generous to the Greens, with Bob Brown being treated as an alternative opposition leader despite having only two fellow MPs and only 6-8% in this year's Newspolls, and giving little critical attention to their radical left policies.
But which parties need to worry about them most? The Australian Election Study 2001 gives us some information on this by asking people who they voted for in the 1998 and 2001 elections. There may be some inaccuracies from faulty memory, but the results are interesting. Less than a quarter of Green votes in 2001 came from people who voted Green in 1998, 15% came from other minor parties, 14% came from the Coalition, and a very large 40% came from the ALP. They also did well among new voters. So the Greens are, as their victory in Cunningham and strong showing in other ALP seats suggests, mainly a problem for the ALP.
Maybe George Brandis was doing the ALP's dirty work for them?
I'm not yet sure what long-term implications will flow from the Greens' relatively strong performance since 2001. There's no evidence yet that they have a stable social base rather than just being a flavour-of-the-moment party tapping into the pool of non-major party voters, which has been fairly stable at around 20% of the vote for a while. They have no recognisable leaders apart from Brown; I doubt many had heard of Nettle until her stunt last week, and she is unlikely to be a serious contender for national leadership. From the Greens I know, they seem rather unsuited to the compromises of democratic politics, so a critical mass of MPs may also trigger a split. And perhaps when inevitably the media tires of them they will be exposed to some of the scrutiny the other parties receive routinely. Their only clear strength is that their voter base is reasonably concentrated, so like the Nationals they may be able to achieve a parliamentary presence in lower houses despite a small share of the national vote.
My earlier post on why Labor/Left voters were unhappy led some to conclude that the fact the John Howard was in the Lodge made them more unhappy than they would otherwise have been. This is still possible, but I have now found a similar poll taken in 1993, when Paul Keating was Prime Minister. That, it seems, did not make Labor voters happy either. It was a life satisfaction poll, and I have combined 'delighted', 'very pleased' and 'pleased'. Below that there were five categories from 'mostly satisfied' down to 'terrible'.
Delighted and pleased, by party:
The Greens were the surprise winner, but the very low number in the sample means that may be an anomaly. If we ignore that the Libs and Nats have swapped places, but remain happier than ALP supporters despite Labor's decade in power. The Democrats are again the most unhappy, perhaps because they are essentially a protest vote party. It would be good to see some proper statistical studies controlling for all the other factors that might be influencing these results.
Finally! After years of being treated as a second class citizen, forced to carry my passport around for interstate air travel and even for withdrawing large sums of my own money from the bank - simply for refusing to contribute to noise pollution and adding to the blight of the automobile, the NSW government is finally introducing a non-driver ID card:
A new identification card will be made available to people without a driver's licence as a security-conscious world makes it almost impossible to buy an air ticket, post a parcel overseas or open a bank account without a photo ID.
The photo ID, to be available through the Roads and Traffic Authority, will give almost 900,000 people in NSW without driver's licences an acceptable form of identification ...
The new ID cards will feature the same security features as driver's licences including holograms, watermarks and magnetic strips.
Mr Scully denied this was a type of Australia Card, saying it was entirely voluntary.
Well, paranoid civil libertarians who make a fuss about this long overdue innovation can kiss my arse as far as I'm concerned.
Cultural reactionaries unite Leftie Rob Schaap joins the chorus of discontent about how artless the late 20th century is, seemingly agreeing with his fellow cultural reactionaries on the right, Charles Murray (see post below) and presumably Paul Johnson, the Speccie conservative and author of 'To hell with Picasso'. See how many howlers you can spot in Rob's post:
Vivaldi and Bach started something decent, but what we call classical music has not had a moment worth listening to since Vaughan Williams' Scott of the Antarctic in 1948 ...
There was a short revival of music when the electric guitar met a cohort of teenaged baby boomers and the welfare state that gave 'em the discretionary expenditure to match their demographic preponderance, but as revivals go, it was an ill-fated flash in a very large pan. Chuck Berry and his mates started something that would be interesting and varied for twenty years or so, before the Sex Pistols marked the end with 'Bollocks', which admittedly terrific collection wryly, profanely and proudly admitted there was nowhere much left to go but back to Berry. So that's 1956 to 1976 ...
Anyway, good painting started around 1600 and coughed its last around 1905.
Art has to make meaning happen in our heads. One way that the art of today is unlike pornography, is that the punter of today requires tertiary training and a fifty-dollar coffee-table programme if s/he is to have a clue as to what s'he's purportedly seeing.
No good painting after 1905??! No good non-classical music in the 20th century other than between 1956 and 1976?? All modern art inaccessible? Including photography? I had the good fortune to visit the Tate Modern three times when I was in London - saw plenty of crowds there and plenty of exhilaratingly great conceptual art.
In principle, there is nothing whatsoever wrong in the agenda of science studies: modern science is not a sacred form of knowledge that cannot be examined skeptically. Science and scientists must welcome a skeptical look at their enterprise from social critics. The problem with science studies comes in their refusal to grant that modern science has evolved certain distinctive methods (e.g., controlled experiments and double-blind studies) and distinctive social practices (e.g., peer review, reward structures that favor honesty and innovation) which promote a higher degree of self-correction of evidence, and ensure that methodological assumptions that scientists make themselves have independent scientific support. Science studies start with the un-objectionable truism that modern science is as much a social process as any other local knowledge. But using radically relativist interpretations of Thomas Kuhn’s work of science as a paradigm-bound activity, science studies scholars invariably end up taking a relativist position. They argue, in essence, that what constitutes relevant evidence for a community of scientists will vary with their material/social and professional interests, their social values including gender ideologies, religious faith, and with their culturally grounded standards of rationality and success ...
This, in a nut-shell, is the state of scholarship in science studies. It carries a reasonable idea too far. Its skepticism regarding science is so radical that it does not allow any distinctions between science and superstition ..
This is a case of using Green tactics against themselves – doing something over-the-top and hoping the resultant publicity will illuminate the more modest point underlying, in this case, the hyperbolic analogy.
That modest point prompted by Brown and Nettle’s antics last week is that the Greens don’t accept democratically decided rules, just like the Nazis did not. You could also say, with some fairness, that only a massive, freedom-constraining state could implement the Green agenda, just as only a massive, freedom-constraining state could implement the Nazi agenda.
To compare the Greens with the Nazis is, however, absurd. Neither of these characteristics were unique to the Nazis. What was distinctive about the Nazis was their total disregard for human life, and the unprecedented scale of their killing. Anything less than that isn’t worthy of the Nazi analogy, and indeed trivialises the people who did genuinely suffer and die under Nazi rule.
Yes, the Greens are a disgrace. But they are not Nazis and do not even remotely resemble them. They have not killed anyone. They don't plan to kill anyone. Many of them won't even kill non-human animals, let alone humans.
The Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST) must be the prime suspect in the mystery of how an Education Minister who set out to reduce tape for universities ended up with a 200 page bill that is a bureaucrat's dream, massively expanding bureaucratic and Ministerial (acting on bureaucratic advice) power. The legislation promises unprecedented levels of interference in academic matters, the start of control of student selection, and an attempt to regulate more tightly both total student numbers and student numbers by discipline. Even the supposed benefits in the bill from more flexibility on student charges and full-fee students exist on Ministerial whim.
The bill is conceptually flawed for two main reasons. First, central planners can never acquire the information needed to make the right decisions about product, price and total supply. At best they can redundantly second guess those who have this information- but almost never have the flexibility to respond quickly as information changes. The new legislation will work through 'funding agreements' with universities that are bound to be out of date before they are implemented. Second, a certain regulatory framework is needed for the benefits of markets to work. No university in its right mind is going to commit to improving staff or physical infrastructure when the income stream to pay for them can be arbitrarily cut off by the Minister, as this legislation allows.
Aside from these inherent conceptual flaws, another practical objection is that even within the inherent constraints of central planning DEST is not very competent. The Higher Education Supplement has a story this morning about the Research Training Scheme for postgraduate students, showing it has many perverse effects. I pointed out earlier this year that DEST's planned quota system was going to cause some of the problems it was intended to prevent. And the government claims their new quota scheme was ensure that the labour market gets the graduates it needs - but labour market shortages are partly due to DEST's failure to manage its existing quota scheme.
These people should get much less power, not much more.
Another left-handedness connection Geoff Honnor discusses some recent research on homosexuality surveyed in this NY Times article which finds among other things that:
Many studies also suggest that sexual orientation may be linked to differences in brain anatomy. Compared with straight men, gay men appear to have a larger suprachiasmatic nucleus, a part of the brain that affects behavior, and some studies show most gay men have a larger isthmus of the corpus callosum — which may also be true of left-handed people. And that's intriguing because gays are 39 percent more likely to be left-handed than straight people.
To answer Geoff's question, the corpus callosum is the bundle of never fibres that connects the two hemispheres of the brain. I've long been interested in this correlation because I'm left handed (though not gay) and one major left handedness theory is that left handed people have less 'specialised' brains - this would seem to follow from the larger corpus callosum which presumably facilitate greater communication between the two hemisphere. A less specialised brain also means a brain with more redundancy so that if one part of the brain gets damaged, left-handed people don't completely lose the functions associated with that area. So this suggests that gays have similar abilities.
Public choice and classical liberalism James Buchanan has a nice introduction to public choice theory here. The money quote for me is what he has to say about the implications of public choice theory for classical liberalism or liberal constitutionalism and why constitutions are so important and should place constraints on majoritarian decision-making:
Many sub-programmes have emerged from the umbrella of public choice. One in particular deserves mention-'rent seeking', a sub-programme initiated in a paper by Tullock in 1967, and christened with this title by Anne Krueger in 1974. Its central idea emerges from the natural mindset of the economist, whose understanding and explanation of human interaction depends critically on predictable responses to measurable incentives. In essence, it extends the idea of the profit motive from the economic sphere to the sphere of collective action. It presupposes that if there is value to be gained through politics, persons will invest resources in efforts to capture this value. It also demonstrates how this investment is wasteful in an aggregate-value sense.
Tullock's early treatment of rent seeking was concentrated on monopoly, tariffs and theft, but the list could be almost indefinitely expanded. If the government is empowered to grant monopoly rights or tariff protection to one group, at the expense of the general public or of designated losers, it follows that potential beneficiaries will compete for the prize. And since only one group can be rewarded, the resources invested by other groups-which could have been used to produce valued goods and services-are wasted. Given this basic insight, much of modern politics can be understood as rent-seeking activity. Pork-barrel politics is only the most obvious example. Much of the growth of the bureaucratic or regulatory sector of government can best be explained in terms of the competition between political agents for constituency support through the use of promises of discriminatory transfers of wealth.
As noted, the primary contribution of The Calculus of Consent was to distinguish two levels of collective action, ordinary or day-to-day politics and constitutional politics. Indeed, the subtitle of that book was 'Logical Foundations of Constitutional Democracy'. Clearly, political action takes place at two distinct levels, one within the existing set of rules or constitution, the other establishing the rules or constitution that impose limits on subsequent actions ...
what I have called the 'constitutional way of thinking' shifts attention to the framework rules of political order-the rules that secure consensus among members of the body politic. It is at this level that individuals calculate their terms of exchange with the state or with political authority. They may well calculate that they are better off for their membership in the constitutional order, even while assessing the impact of ordinary political actions to be contrary to their interests.
A somewhat loose way of putting this is to say that in a constitutional democracy, persons owe loyalty to the constitution rather than to the government. I have long argued that on precisely this point, American public attitudes are quite different from those in Europe.
In defence of modified moral relativism Reader, friend and ex-colleague Tim Makinson has written a short and excellent defence of modified moral relativism here. Having recently discussed these issues with Tim recently I have to say I agree with virtually all of it though would describe the resulting conclusions in different language. Here is the conclusion but read the whole thing and discuss amongst yourselves. Regular reader Homer Paxton may well have something to say about Tim's discussion of the sixth commandment:
1) Whilst moralities vary across cultures, certain moral dictates tend to be pervasive and serve a clear and necessary function in preserving society (e.g. some sort of prohibition on killing). These can therefore, in a generalised sense, serve as the basis of a functional moral code.
2) Some degree of variation of moral code across cultures, subcultures and individuals is normal, and even in some circumstances necessary.
3) This variation will lead to a degree of bias in judging others' moral code.
4) However some cultures, subcultures or individuals may be sufficiently dysfunctional that their moral code is likewise dysfunctional. It is therefore not always unreasonable to pass judgement on another's code.
5) The validity of these judgments of dysfunctionality may however be affected to some degree by your own bias.
In essense, I am proposing a middle ground between Absolute Absolutism and Absolute Relativism. I suspect that this is how most people actually live their lives most of the time. They merely ascribe to Absolutism or Relativism in order to maintain the option to arbitrarily impose their values on others, or avoid making reasonable and necessary judgements, respectively.
I think that what Tim calls modified moral relativism and his notion that cultures *can* be criticised based on some notion of dysfunctionality isn't far removed from a naturalistic pragmatism that grounds the usefulness of moralities on how they serve the long term interests of its societies, and on a positive analysis of current moralities as having evolved as responses to underlying scarcities and constants of nature (e.g. no society that doesn't regulate the act of killing is sustainable, no society that trusts too much in the arbitrary whims of personalised rule is likely to be make much material advances because of the underlying uncertainty of the environment for investment in any long term ventures, whether economic or non-economic). According to this view, there may be value in treating certain rules *as if* they are a form of absolute morality if there is a benefit in terms of greater certainty in the social environment facilitated by such treatment.
No accounting for taste? Charles Murray, seemingly unperturbed by his consignment into pariah status because of his infamous book on The Bell Curve (90% of it was IMHO nothing more than pretty sensible commentary on the importance of cognitive ability in today's economy and its correlates with real world performance) has decided to invite another bookburning with his new book on human achievement:
Published on Oct. 21 by HarperCollins and accompanied by a publicity release optimistically anointing it "his most ambitious and controversial work yet," "Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950" is well timed to stir debate. At a moment of considerable East-West tension, when the phrase "clash of civilizations" has rarely had greater currency, Mr. Murray has issued what he says is a mathematically precise global assessment of human achievement, a "résumé" of the species in which Europeans like Shakespeare, Beethoven and Einstein predominate and in which Christianity stands out as a crucial spur to excellence. Equally provocative, he maintains that the rate of Western accomplishment is currently in decline ...
Still, if his book does not get a warm reception from scholars, it may be less for political reasons than a technical one: its assumption that human achievement can be reduced to a number and tabulated by a computer. Experts have long sought to explain disparate rates of development in the East and West, from Max Weber, who attributed the economic transformation of early modern Europe to a Protestant work ethic, to Jared Diamond, who linked regional advances to geography and the environment. But while most use qualitative techniques to analyze people and events — making observations and arguments about the past — Mr. Murray takes a largely quantitative approach, relying on a relatively obscure statistical method known as historiometry ...
Of course Murray's willingness to continually seize gadfly status does not necessarily mean his claims are correct:
According to his statistics, a whopping 72 percent of the significant figures in the arts and sciences between 1400 and 1950 came from just four European countries: Britain, France, Germany and Italy. But after weighing a number of possible explanations, including the effects of war, civil unrest, economic growth, cities and political freedom on achievement rates, Mr. Murray still was not satisfied.
Why, he wondered, when he factored in population growth, did the achievement rate in Europe appear to plummet beginning in the mid-19th century, a period when peace, prosperity, cities and political freedom were steadily increasing? In the sciences, he decided, the decline was largely benign, reflecting the fact that in many fields the most important breakthroughs have already been made. But for the arts his diagnosis was grim: a collapse of social values and the advent of nihilism.
In a word, what modern Europe lost was Christianity. While other major religions, like Buddhism and Daoism preached humility, acceptance and passivity, Mr. Murray writes, Christianity fostered intellectual independence and drive. In his account it was Thomas Aquinas who "grafted a humanistic strain onto Christianity," by arguing that "human intelligence is a gift from God, and that to apply human intelligence to understanding the world is not an affront to God but is pleasing to him." And where post-Aquinas Christianity thrived — in Europe between 1400 and the Enlightenment — so, too, according to Mr. Murray, did human excellence ...
For Mr. Murray, an agnostic libertarian, Christianity's appeal is largely pragmatic. In his view it provided all the incentives people need to achieve: not only a sense of autonomy and purpose but a coherent vision of what he calls "the transcendental goods" — truth, beauty and the good — as well. A culture lacking such vision tends to produce art that is shallow, vulgar and sterile, he said, describing it as the difference between "Macbeth" and "Kill Bill."
Has the achievement rate really plumetted since the 19th century? Does the fact that I am blogging on this and commenting almost real time on a NY Times article count for something? Does the fact that the whole nature of social relationships is starting to change because of mobile communications technology and the Internet not count for something? And though the readiness of 'cultural studies' people to equate Neighbours with Jane Austen is annoying (though I am willing to concede that point, not being particularly impressed by the works of Jane Austen), does that really mean that all of contemporary popular culture is worthless? Though I have never listened to Eminem I know of at least one musically trained person of impeccable taste who thinks that Eminem is a genius of rhythm and expression. Is Jonathan Swift really far superior to Matt Groening (the creator of the Simpsons and Futurama)? What about jazz, Motown, the blues? What about graphic novels and Japanese manga? High quality TV dramas like Law and Order? The movies of Woody Allen, the Kaufmann brothers, and yes, Quentin Tarantino?
One of the best episodes of the ABC's consistently funny CNNN had as its running joke longtime backbencher Alan Cadman's challenge for the leadership of the Liberal Party. Though Cadman was the vehicle for the joke, it was more sending up the media's obsession with any sign of disunity than Cadman's less than stellar parliamentary career. Australian politics would be better off if any backbencher's departure from 100% support for the leader and his policies wasn't major news. But it is, and while that continues Greg Barns' criticism of the Liberal Party for its lack of public debate is just naive. Political parties are not primarily debating societies; they exist to win office and owe it to their support base to maximise their chances of doing so. Only somebody fundamentally out-of-touch with that basic imperative could write a sentence like this:
Although the Liberals were notable in this period for their lack of electoral success – they lost five federal elections to Labor between 1983 and 1993 – it was also a period when the party witnessed its most fertile intellectual debates and greatest cultural evolution.
Losing five elections is OK, provided debate is intellectually fertile!
Barns I think also misreads the history of the 'left' of the party. The big defection of the Liberal left to other parties did not occur during the rightward shift of the 1980s and 1990s, but with the formation of the Democrats in the 1970s, when Malcolm Fraser was leader. I don't think this was fundamentally due to any shift in the Liberal Party's ideology, but to political entrepreneurship by Don Chipp giving left-liberals a more appropriate home. For various reasons going back to the fusion of the protectionists and free traders against Labor more than 90 years ago Australian politics long had centre-left people in alliance with the centre-right. In the last quarter century the party system has changed, giving more natural political homes to left-liberals than the Liberal Party. Greg Barns didn't quit the Liberals for the Democrats until 2002, making him one of the last in a long tradition of centre-left membership of the Liberal Party.
‘The truth is, not only does voting Labor not make you happy, but the blind pursuit of it could be making you-and your nearest and dearest - miserable'. That’s my slight adaptation on Julie Macken’s analysis of money, as critiqued last Friday. While I don’t think voting Labor actually makes people miserable, the latest Australian Unity Well-being Index asks a question about political preference, and finds that Labor voters are a relatively unhappy lot. These were the findings:
The question is whether political preference makes a difference, or there is some other underlying factor (or factors) affecting both well-being and political preference. The survey team don't think it is the most obvious explanation, income, since poor Liberals are much more positive than poor Labor supporters (it is sometimes forgotten that because the Coalition does well in rural areas they in fact hold most of the poorest seats.)
From my experience handing out how-to-vote cards at many elections the Liberals do very badly with the bitter-and-twisted vote. The people who look like they are having not just a bad day but a bad life usually breach polling booth etiquette and neither take all how-to-vote cards nor politely decline those they do not want. They ignore or abuse the Liberal volunteer before taking a Labor or nutter party card.
Or could it be that Labor voters are not intrinsically less happy but that the very presence of John Howard in the Lodge is making Labor supporters less happy, and that the converse will happen when Labor returns to power? (The unhappiness of Democrats suggests that there could be something to this, given their party faces oblivion). If so, are Labor voters getting any well-being dividend from all those state Labor governments?
The "Other" Party Howard's Brown battlers have gone feral
John Howard is haemorraging votes to feral agrarian socialists. The release of
the most recent Newspoll (data abstract below pdf) shows this alarming trend quite clearly. The really
impressive statistic from this poll is the staggering increase in support for
"Other" Parties (OP's), since Howard's 2001 victory. Since 2001,
they have tripled their share of the primary vote, going from 4% to 12% of the
Howard's loss of primary votes to the "OP's" has translated into an
adverse shift in the Coalition's share of the two-party preferred vote.
But it is not time to put out the Red Bunting. Over the last quarter, the
secular trend in partisan-identified shares of the Primary vote has not
translated into positive gains for the Centre-Left:
Centre-Left, Labs/Dems/Greens, remained stable at 48%
Centre-Right, Libs/Nats/ON, slipped from 48% to 40%.
The OP's appear to be redirecting their preferences towards the Labor party.
This is in line with recent state elections have hinged on the volatile regional
vote eg QLD & Vic.
Who are these shadowy folk, the OP's, on whom the outcome of the next election
hinges? Are they:
"Sea Change" Green Economic Lefties?
"Battler" Brown Cultural Righties
I conjecture the OP's are the rump of the rural statist "Brown"
bloc - Oz's National Socialist-lite brigade.
At the risk of sounding like a wanky Hegelian, I propose that modern
Australian electoral history moves to the dynamic of the Regional
Th OP's are the voters who made the agrarian socialist Nationalist/Country
Party, on whose back rode such titans as Billy Hughes, "Black Jack"
McKewan, Malcolm Fraser, Doug Anthony and Ian Sinclair. They are poorer folk,
who might naturally tend to Socialist economics, unless cultural concerns
cause them to swing to a Nationalist culture.
Australia still has an agrarian national socialist constituency, and their
vote is up for grabs.
This Grand Unifying Theory may help to solve a paradox of post-Keating
Australian politics: why the people vote different ideologies at different
levels of government:
Nationalist at Federal
Socialist at State
In 1993, the OP's voted against Economic Rationalism. In 1996 they turned
against Keating's Political Correctness.
The key to Howard's historic 2001 victory was his ability to swing of rural
and workingclass battlers towards the Liberal party, through a mixture of:
bribing battlers and
bull-dusting the balance.
The Libs and Labs now neck & neck on two-party preferred voting
distributions. This is where they were prior to Tampa-security & GST
equity-election. It seems that this is the default Aust political state, given
the End of eco-rat and pee-cee Ideology.
Mumble also believes that the regional OP's are the key to the election:
In today's Newspoll, the Coalition's primary vote has dropped to 39 percent, which is its lowest since the last election. Unlike the ALP, the government has few parties from which to get preferences. One Nation was its biggest source last time, but it now only registers one (down from 4 at the last election). In the notional distribution process, most of the government's 10 percent (to take them from 39 to 49 percent) come from the 12% "other", which are distributed as they flowed at the last election: 52 to the Coalition, 48 to Labor.But back then there were only 4.4 percent "others". So who is this lot, and where will their preferences go? It's anyone's
If they're rural independents, they'll probably heavily favour the
If community-based lefties, they'll help Labor.
ShaunCarney believes that the Liberals are on the nose, given that their primary
vote has slumped by 7% in the past quarter:
there's no longer any point in trying to avoid it: the Labor Party seems tohave the Howard Government on the run...Four months ago, the Coalition was on 46 per cent to Labor's 35. Last weekend, the poll showed the Coalition's vote down to 39 per cent, compared with Labor's 37 per cent. A notional
distribution of preferences even had Labor ahead 51-49.
Carney assumes that the majority of the people are, like himself, naturally
Left-liberals who sip lattes in trendy inner-city cafes. This causes him to
ignore the OP's. So puts most of Labs electoral deficiencies down to it's
leadership difficulties. He underestimates Howard's skill, but Crean's boring
personality is a big minus and Labor's professional apparat seems disorganised
and demoralised. The Labs need to lose Crean and get their sh*t wired tight for
the coming battle.
The OP's are currently disorganised & disenfranchised owing to:
Hanson's persecution & prosecution
waning of various xenophobic crises
The party that can win their preferences will win the election. So long as the
national, this OP's will favour the cultural Right.
regional, this OP's will favour the economic Left
Howard needs some more foreigners to do nasty things if he wants to have a good
chance of win.