Catallaxy Files

polymathic pontification, bleeding heart economic rationalism and liberal secularist contrarianism

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    Saturday, December 27, 2003
    Seasons [sic] greetings

    There was some division among my Christmas cards this year, between those wishing me "season's greetings" and those offering me "seasons greetings". One card had the apostrophe version on the cover and the apostropheless (is that a word?) version on the inside.

    As regular Catallaxy readers will know, misuse (no, abuse) of the apostrophe is one of my pet hates. On this one, though, I held back on my pedantry because while I knew that "season's greetings" was correct, I wasn't sure why it was right. After all, we don't say "Christmas' greetings" or "birthday's greetings". So far as I can work out, the reason is that this is an expression based on the old genitive case, typically used with time, such as "one hour's delay". It is also true that "seasons greetings" is ambiguous, or perhaps just very generous, in sending me greetings for more than one season.

    Anyone who enjoys issues like this will like Eats, Shoots and Leaves:The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss, which has suprisingly become Amazon UK's top-selling book, and is now available in Australia. It doesn't tackle season's greetings directly, but there is a useful summary of when to use an apostrophe which should be compulsory reading for those who went to school in the 1980s and 1990s (and for a certain Catallaxy contributor who regularly muddles his it's/its).

    Thursday, December 25, 2003
    The $pirit of Christmas

    World events in 2003 kept Church leaders' Christmas banalities focused on peace, with materialism receiving only one denunciation on tonight's news (though I expect I would have heard many more, had I bothered to turn up to church). The Herald-Sun stepped in with their Voteline question, which today was 'Has Christmas become too commercial?'

    I think we can guess the likely answer to this. Surveys always show a perception that society is too materialistic. Around this time last year Newspoll did a survey for Clive Hamilton's The Australia Institute. They asked people to agree or disagree with the following proposition:

    Australian society today is too materialistic, with too much emphasis on money and not enough on the things that really matter.

    A huge 83.1% agreed.

    But when asked to agree or disagree with the following question

    You cannot afford to buy everything you really need.

    A comfortable 62.2% also agreed.

    My material wants are needs, your material wants are 'materialism'.

    I rang up and voted 'no', since I think near-universal gift buying and giving is a much more important social institution than the for-the-sake-of-appearances annual visits to church. But I think I will be in a minority.

    Boxing Day update: As predicted, most people - 86.3%, to be precise - ringing up the Herald-Sun Voteline thought that Christmas had become too commercial. A self-selecting, undersize sample came up with almost the same number as Newspoll.

    Giving it away

    In his column this morning Greg Hywood generously mentions my article in the latest issue of Policy before less generously going on to criticise us for our relative stinginess in giving our money away, noting that we do so at half the English rate and a quarter of the American rate.

    I haven't checked these figures, but it is worth noting that while we may be working from a lower base than other countries, our trend is strong. My quick calculations on the tax statistics released last week indicates that annual deductible donations were up 55% between the mid-1990s and 2000-01, and the Australian Bureau of Statistics' voluntary work statistics over roughly the same time period show that volunteering rates went from 24% to 32%. If Xmas retail sales are a guide, we are giving more than ever to those close to us as well as to worthy causes.

    Wednesday, December 24, 2003
    Not new for Xmas

    Ross Gittins really needs to get some new material. I've trawled Google with new sucess, yet today's article by Gittins on the economics of gift giving seems awfully familiar. So familiar I'm sure I've seen him use this before. If anyone can find evidence of him writing an article on this previously please post it up.

    Tuesday, December 23, 2003
    Iron Mark and Little Johnny
    The assertion of my co-blogger Jack Strocchi that somehow Mark Latham is a follower of Howard's 'legacy' is so absurd as to verge on self-parody. The similarities that Jack notes can be broadly lumped into four areas; 1) a commitment to 'smaller government' and market-oriented economics; 2) immigration; 3) identity politics.

    On the issue of immigration, I've already noted in a previous post the position espoused by Latham is one that most people of good sense would adhere to and seems to be a carefully thought out position that he seems to genuinely hold as a representative of a working class electorate. If this makes him a follower of Howard's legacy than most people in mainstream politics are followers of Howard's legacy - and this statement makes absolutely no sense because Howard's rhetoric incensed even sensible people because of its neo-fascist cadences, this being the distinguishing feature between the two politicians.

    As for what Jack derides as 'identity politics' .here is an article that clarifies Latham's position on gay rights:

    Hours after defeating Kim Beazley for the Labor leadership on Tuesday, Latham’s office received a phone call from New Mardi Gras, asking whether the new leader would be happy to have a message of support in the 2004 festival guide, to be released next week.

    New Mardi Gras co-chair Steph Sands told Sydney Star Observer that Latham’s office responded with a very prompt “yes” ...

    Albanese said Latham had been “very supportive” of his (Albanese’s) same-sex-couple superannuation bill, and that he had also opposed the party’s “right wing moralists” on a number of social issues, such as stem-cell research and voluntary euthanasia.

    Regarding economics, to argue that Latham is following in the footsteps of Howard is absurd because the person whose footsteps Latham really is following are Keating's. Jack's argument would lead to the absurd conclusion that because Keating and Howard both seem to broadly toe the economic rationalist line, Howard is following in the footsteps of Keating. The truth is that of the three, Howard is the odd one out. Howard is and always has been an opportunistic conservative and the superficial similarities between the economic legacy of the Howard and Keating governments can be accounted for by the fact that Costello is Treasurer and Howard gives Costello a free hand as long as Costello's policy don't tread substantially on Howard's favourite special interest groups, namely the small business classes. Howard's true economic views, are I suspect, more Poujadist than economic rationalist. By contrast, Keating and Latham are only pro-small business and pro-lower taxation to the extent that it accords with microeconomic reform priorities. Note here Howard's whoring to the pro-tariffs crowd among the textiles community, his crony capitalist bailouts and his ethanol subsidies.

    By contrast Latham has long before Howard been an active exponent, thinker and polemicist in the mould of Clintonite market-oriented New Democrats who combine a commitment to policies which promote equal opportunity, economic globalism, competition and a strong icivil society. Thus his long association with the libertarian-conservative oriented think-tank, the Centre for Independent Studies (until a recent falling out) where he has co-written a book on social capital and written articles on welfare reform. To compare Latham's genuine intellectually oriented and principled commitment to market economics with Howard's class based opportunistic conservatism because of superficial similarities on policy is laughable.
    What is the Bush doctrine?
    The Centre for Independent Studies' latest issue of Policy magazine (now available at good newsagents) has published a critique of the Bush Doctrine (full version not available online, just highlights) by Edward Rhodes of Rutgers University followed by responses from Owen Harries, Alan Gyngell, Peter Jennings, Coral Bell and David Flint.

    Rhodes argues:

    It does not seem unreasonable to describe a policy that proposes to use military supremacy aggressively, unilaterally and universally in order to encourage and, in such cases as Iraq, to attempt to impose a particular form of governance as 'imperial'. One must quickly add the additional adjective 'liberal': the Bush administration's grand strategy may be imperial, but it aims at creating liberal, rather than autocratic or totalitarian, governance wherever the American military pax reaches. The tension between these two adjectives, 'imperial' and 'liberal', lies at the heart of the Bush administration's foreign policy, though it is nowhere addressed.

    One major quibble with Rhodes' essay is that though it is a great critique of the Neocon Doctrine that is now being thoughtlessly and recklessly spouted by many right wing Oz bloggers I'm not so sure the Neocon Doctrine can be automatically equated with the Bush Doctrine - no doubt there are neocon influences on Bush's thinking but in no sense can his recent foreign policy actions be regarded as coherently formed by one group, as opposed to being a moveable feast of influences from Powell to Wolfowitz to Cheney. This is a point made by one of the commentators, Coral Bell, who writes:

    My only real dissent from Professor Rhodes' analysis of the fighting words in the West Point speech and the National Security Strategy is that he seems to take them too seriously as statements of intent. He writes, for instance, that the Bush administration's 'liberal crusade . . . promises to lead to failure and tragedy'. Yes, if policies always matched words. But the two texts should be regarded rather as the 'declaratory signals' of a particular moment in the evolution of US foreign policy-a moment at the peak point of what can only be called nationalist messianism. But a moment which has now passed, Washington having suffered a sharp reality check in Iraq and in the UN Security Council

    Indeed, if there was some coherency to the Bush Doctrine, then the interventions it favours might be less likely to have dangerous unforseen consequences - for instance, if there was a genuine commitment to nation and institution building in Iraq as opposed to, say, crony capitalism in the awarding of infrastructure contracts. This is not to deny that the idealistic vision that Rhodes identifies as forming an essential part of the Bush Doctrine is any less dangerous, even in the hands of its more sincere advocates like Tony Blair.

    Also, check out the Boyer Lectures by CIS Senior Fellow Owen Harries who also critiques US foreign policy and Australia's 'hitching a ride' policy from a sorely needed realist perspective:

    First, concerning terrorism, the first and overriding responsibility of an Australian government is not to combat global terrorism generally, but to protect this country from terrorism. The two ends are not necessarily identical. By being an early, unqualified and high profile supporter of American policy, when so many others, including long-standing allies of the United States and some of our neighbours, were expressing serious reservations about both the legitimacy and the effectiveness of that policy, Australia may well have increased rather than decreased its chances of becoming a terrorist target.

    Second, the course Australia has followed over the last two years is open to the charge that it has got the balance between alliance policy and regional policy wrong. We are living in the same region as the most populous Muslim state in the world, a state that is less than a model of stability and order, and which is a breeding ground for terror. As well, we are in close proximity to some failed or failing states which are potential hosts for terrorists ...

    third, the case made by the Bush administration for the Iraq War was not compelling. Indeed, it was inconsistent and surprisingly incompetent, with dubious and shifting rationales being offered: one day, weapons of mass destruction; the next day, links with Al-Qaeda; after that, the cruelty of the regime and the liberation of the Iraqi people; and then Saddam’s alleged reckless, unpredictable nature, which, it was claimed, ruled out deterrence and required pre-emption.

    Given all this, restraint and a request for clarification, rather than eager and unqualified support, would have been an appropriate Australian response, appropriate not only in terms of Australia’s own interests but that of its great ally. And it could have been accompanied by a clear statement of our need to give priority to dealing with terror where it was most likely to impinge on us, that is, not in the Middle East but in South East Asia.

    This is a sobering assessment coming from Harries, a former senior advisor to Andrew Peacock and Malcolm Fraser and an establishment conservative who cannot be just dismissed as a wooly-minded lefty. However, he will no doubt be dismissed as another 'Saddamite' and 'towelhead lover' by those profound polemicists of the Rabid Right.

    Monday, December 22, 2003
    Happy Sydney

    The Sydney Morning Herald reported this morning that Sydney has an unusually large percentage of people who are 'delighted' with their lives, 14.4% compared to 11.4% in Melbourne. There are also slighter fewer people who rate their lives as 'terrible', 0.9% compared to 1.1%. I'm pretty sure that I recall from a quality of life conference last year that two other similar surveys, the Australian Unity Well-being Index and the HILDA survey, found an opposite result. They also said that they were having trouble with their survey response rates in Sydney. The National Health Survey, on which the SMH results are based, is conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, whose powers to coerce people to answer questions do wonders for response rates. Perhaps the Sydneysiders missing from the Australian Unity and HILDA surveys were too busy having a good time to answer any questions about how good a time they were having.
    Goodbye Halfpenny

    I won't be shedding any tears over the death on Saturday of troglodyte trade unionist John Halfpenny. Halfpenny was a member of the Communist Party until 1979 - yes, 1979, not 1969, 1959, 1949, or 1939. While he did not bring the misery of communism to Australia, he did his best, with among his achievements the loss of tens of thousands of jobs in the metal industry in the early 1980s, and as The Australian notes, an eight week rail strike in 1976, a nine week electricity strike in 1977, a month long garbage strike in 1978, and as ABC News reported last night a tram strike in the late 1980s that left Melbourne's CBD clogged with trams going nowhere. His tradition of thuggish unionism lives on in the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, a descendant of Halfpenny's old Amalgamated Metal Workers' Union, whose current Secretary, Doug Cameron, has had be put in a safe house because of intra-union violence. While a few rogue unions remain, the passing (into retirement or death) of Halfpenny's generation has been one of the factors contributing to far fewer strikes and less irresponsible behaviour by unions. In 2001, the proportion of people thinking that unions have too much power fell below half for the first time than I can find among the many surveys conducted on this issue. This has been of considerable benefit to the ALP, since the Liberals' union scare campaigns no longer have much effect. Victorian Premier Steve Bracks was being as nice as he could be about Halfpenny yesterday, but he must be grateful that Halfpenny won't be cursing his government in the way he cursed the Cain and Kirner governments.




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