Tuesday, 14 April 2009
Clearly some markets are more evil than others.
For someone who thinks the market is pure wickedness, Rudd certainly spent a long time trying to get it to provide us with a national broadband network. The Prime Minister has invoked the setting up of the national railways in the 20th century as a forerunner of this latest national infrastructure project for the 21st. But the national railways ended up being set up by government because, unlike the UK, or even the US, the national economy was not established enough to offset the vast distances and make it economically viable. Presumably some of the same considerations led to the half-hearted response of Telstra and the smaller players to the government’s call for tenders for national high-speed broadband.
But it did not stop the government from trying. As Hartcher so well describes, it was only at the last minute, forced to concede a market solution would be impossible, that Conroy and Rudd hastily cobbled together in mid-flight a public/private mish-mash with the details of the government’s actual involvement still to be worked out.
This does not sound like the determined return of Keynesianism. It sounds in fact exactly what we have right now, a reluctant government being dragged ad hoc into patching up the failings of the market but without a clear idea how. Rudd’s attack on ‘neo-liberalism’ is more a political ploy to play with the heads of the right, rather than a plan of action. What he is doing is catching them out on their charming little con over the last thirty of taking credit for the boom as a triumph of the free market.
This is something that George Megalogenis misses in his Saturday piece in which he argues that we are seeing a shift to the left that has in reality been there for some time. If this blogger ever managed to get into George’s office, the first thing to do would be to smash up his calculator. When Megalogenis focuses on providing in-depth political analysis, like The Longest Decade, there are some useful insights, but when he gets caught up in numbers, he loses the plot. Maths is an abstraction, not an argument.
Megalogenis adds the Green vote to the Labor vote (isn’t that pretty well called the two party-preferred?) to show that the ‘centre-left’ have always been the leading political force since the early 1970s to 1980s. He is right in saying that the right’s dominance was always more apparent than real, with commentators constantly confusing the weakness of Labor with the ascendancy of so-called Liberal ‘values’. But Megalogenis makes the same mistake about Labor’s support now.
That Labor weakness behind Howard’s tenure was not a passing phase, but represented the exhaustion of the remnants of the Labor project after Hawke/Keating had finished with it. Indeed it was this that underpinned the Greens’ support; aping much of the old left of the Labor party but for those that felt little need to worry about being part of it. By treating the Green and Labor vote as one ‘centre-left’ entity, he brushes over the hollowing out of Labor that lay behind the Greens’ rise. (Amusingly, one of those commenting takes Megalogenis’s flawed logic to the absurd conclusion it deserves by resurrecting that old Labor chestnut that the Menzies years were an illusion as well, because if you add the DLP vote to ALP’s etc. etc. If the DLP was ‘centre-left’ what on earth was centre-left? The DLP merely showed that the conservatism of Australian politics has always come more from the conservatism of the left than the strength of the right.)
Rather than Rudd representing the revival of Labor, his arrival represented the terminal stage of its decline. The death of the factions, marked by the Ministers in charge of cutting government spending (Tanner) and bringing in Labor’s most anti-union legislation in its history (Gillard) both coming from the Left faction supposedly most against both, or the implosion of the NSW Right in all its glory, show that there is no resurrection for what had been the Labor party for much of the 20th century.
Nor is there much desire for it to revive. While there is a widespread call in the electorate for the government to try to do something about the economic crisis, there is also just as widespread recognition that there is little the government can do in reality. Megalogenis sums up what must appear to some a contradictory mood when discussing the exit polls from the recent Queensland election. Indeed one of the reasons behind Rudd’s popularity is his willingness to express these low expectations about what government can do. His ability to be ‘up front with the Australian people’ by acknowledging that there is ‘no silver bullet’ to the economic crisis would not be possible if there existed high expectations of what government can achieve, and it is this that was a key prerequisite for the recognisable left of the past.
The dilemma for Rudd is that while admitting the limitations of government may fit in with political reality, it leaves open the question of the purpose of government at a time when people will be wanting more and more answers to the increasingly serious questions brought on by the increasingly serious economic crisis. So they need to be appearing to do something, and it lies behind the increasingly moral tone of the government. But, this dilemma is by no means confined to the Australian political class. This need to be seen doing something was why the world’s political class met in London a fortnight ago. But when they are too weak to bring about decisive action together and too weak to go their separate ways, we end up with a glorified photo-op. But ask yourselves, do those smiles look real?
Posted by The Piping Shrike on Tuesday, 14 April 2009.Filed under State of the parties