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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

conservative speak « Previous | |Next »
May 4, 2011

One of the more noticeable contradictions in contemporary conservative discourse is the politics of austerity strand---big cuts the welfare state to reduce government deficit spending (blowout) and the debt--and the opposition to any substantial cuts to Australia's 's bloated, military budget. The military budget is quarantined from the strident calls to slash government spending because government is too big.


The reason for the quarantining is not too hard to see. Conservatives are a pro war party. Their discourse is one of unending war ---its now the never ending war on global terrorism--- and so Australia must be ready to fight the next war and the next one etc etc. They love wars, flags, uniforms, big ships and big strong government. Their love of war is articulated in the wrapping of patriotism and nationalism.

The austerity politics of neo-liberal discourse is started in terms of shoring up Australia's defences against the risks of a new bout of global economic volatility. However, it's claim of the imperative need to tighten our belts has little to reducing government deficit spending and the debt, given the quarantining of the military budget from the slash and burn.

The politics of austerity is more about cutting into the welfare state because the neo-liberals are opposed to the welfare (ie., nanny) state as a matter of principle. Hence the privatising agenda and punitive welfare reform to get rid of the dole bludgers and undeserving poor.

The latter should look after themselves with little help from the government. Big business, or course, should get lots of never ending help (in the form of subsidies, light regulation, low taxes, incentives from the government. So the state bails out banks and tells the polis to tighten up, claiming that the people are too expensive to be borne through their state. They are told that they should feel shame for having wanted more than they could bear responsibility for and are told that they should take satisfaction in ratcheting down their image of the good life. The imposition of austerity involves the affective orchestration of blaming the vulnerable for feeling vulnerable.

The language of personal responsibility shapes the political discourse of ‘austerity’--eg., health paternalism is bad, individual autonomy is good. The national good requires citizens to direct their anger downwards on those who exploit the public without ‘creating wealth’: people who flout the norms through an ‘excess of dependence’, those who regard “benefits as a lifestyle choice” Their ‘shameless’ milking of state benefits allows them to live in inner city areas which low-paid workers can’t afford, and their reckless personal habits burden our cash-strapped public services.

Australian citizens are more likely to prioritize cuts in the military budget before cuts in health care or education. They are quite skeptical that free market policies, will bring about better health, greater wealth and less poverty. They see the welfare state as their defence against the excesses and negative consequences of the free market and the structural inequality of market democracy. The state says, in response that it can no longer afford this kind of protection--its an unbearable burden--so the poor must be publicly shamed.

On the other hand, the neo-liberal discourse of of shame and excess appeals to the traditional notion of a common-sense decency (morality) still to be found in the working-class heartlands that is disgusted at the people who flout the norms through an ‘excess of dependence’, There is a nostalgic appeal here to an older working class solidarity and work ethic in this demand for the people’s austerity.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:41 AM | | Comments (15)


As big businesses become more global and footloose (eg., the big miners) they have less incentive to support public spending on education, health, human services or social safety nets, including unemployment benefits.

For them the unemployed become superfluous as consumers and burdensome as citizens. Cutting unemployment benefits becomes just another means of cutting losses.

These firms will continue to use globalization and the need to remain competitive as an excuse to cut public sector health and retirement benefits.

Here's the contradiction.

If a big bank collapse were to threaten the economy, we'd find the money to bail it out, and we could find the money to provide more help here if we had the will to do so.

On the other hand decent people with families to support, bills to pay, and so on, who are struggling to find employment when there are less jobs than there are people searching, are labeled as lazy leeches living off the system.

For the free marketeers we have a welfare system where you can stay on unemployment for an awfully long time. So we need to create a system of decreasing benefits over time to encourage you to get a job.

For the free marketeers it's the benefits that stop people from taking jobs. They are the "lazy others and don't deserve help.

My memory may be faulty but I reckon I saw a summary of govt spending some time ago that said that the only fderal govt dept to NOT suffer a decrease in funding in real terms over several budgets, was the military.
[Particularly so when McLachlan was COALition minister for militarism].

I also seem to recall at the '07 election a poll that showed that a majority of citizens were prepared to pay extra taxes so extra money could be spent on education, health, pensions of all types and the like [including climate change].
This poll was broken down into constituents and even a majority of voters who were not parents supported real increases in education spending and those who were not 'elderly' [typically asserted to be the age cohort self interested in increasing pensions] favoured lifting pensions.
Calls to the radio shock jocks at the time reflected this awareness and altruism in the public, as much as such calls to such persons reflect anything at all.
In this case the calling public was going against the usual mantras of the shock jocks, so much so that I saw it suggested that they were being dishonest in asserting that their 'hip pocket' was less important than the betterment of society as whole.
I offer theses, hopefully accurate, recollections as evidence that our society is generally not selfish and does not, generally, accept the militarism and self interest of the media and power brokers who control the political agenda here.

Not all are captured by the 'free market' lack of ethics.
Pity the ALP dosen't act accordingly on this and the COALition can't even begin to comprehend the concept.

Recently the Australian Financial Review has frequent articles attacking government payments such as Family Tax Benefit A and B, which provide cash payments to families raising children.

Family Tax Benefit is often seen as giving money to those who don’t deserve it.

However, Australia’s welfare payment are extremely well targeted and quite stingy. Luke Buckmaster, in Money For Nothing? Australia in the global middle class welfare debate a Parliamentary Library research paper says:

The highly selective nature of Australia‘s income support arrangements means that it traditionally has less middle class welfare than virtually all other developed countries

Middle class welfare means non-poor access to particular welfare programs

Mark Bahnisch in his So... why the return to austerity politics at The Drum says that the austerity agenda is being driven by the financial corporations that caused the global financial crisis.

The truth is that to the degree they accept the logic of the supremacy of financial interests, governments take on all the political risk of a path whose trajectory towards economic recovery appears murky.The power of ‘markets’ to dictate to politics stems from the restructuring of value creation, away from manufacturing and innovation and towards financialisation.

He adds that there’a lack of imagination, boldness, and political courage in the de facto adoption of austerity politics.

The finance industry says that economic collapse in the UK and US is the result of fiscal indiscipline---not the reckless behaviour by business actors in the private market. They simply assume that government expenditure in itself is the problem.

Well, it was "sweet", watching the SA welfare minister Rankine trying to restrain herself from gloating at massive spending cuts to a church-run aid and counselling service, on the news last night.
Stock answer no 23 (b) was trotted out- yes, you guessed it- "efficiency".
How interesting to come here and find such a gem of a thread starter up and running at Public Opinion.
I'd agree also with the comment referring to Dr. Bahnisch, they are usually fairly shrewd in their analyses of political issues, at that site.

The progressive element in Gillard's welfare to work is the emphasis on reskilling. Most of that, however, is low grade skill vocational training and apprenticeships.

Rod Tiffen in the National Times says that the public discussion about

public debt and... structural deficits... tends to frame the problem as always due to the perils of overspending rather than under-taxing. It is often pictured as extravagance versus discipline, and all too often as if government doesn't do anything necessary or productive. It tends to concentrate especially on one area of spending, social welfare.

The conservsative postion--eg., that of The Australian-- is that the welfare dream is over.

The Gillard Government is concerned with paid work--getting sole teenage mums into the workforce as quickly as possible--without doing anything about childcare services.

That makes it difficult for sole teenage mums to combine their children's needs with education and career options.

The Rann Government is trying to end the "state's monopoly" of the provision of public services by privatizing welfare services with charity, social enterprise or mutual running and operating aid and counselling services.

Behind this stands the old neoliberal dogma which says that state or local authority provision of public services is inherently undesirable and needs to be ended.

But the Rann Government is also punitive by not providing extra money for the outsourcing of the extra work to charities in order to ensure a budget surplus. The poor must make sacrifices and be punished for being poor.

Neoliberals are determined to destroy the last remnants of the progressive mixed-economy postwar settlement, and are are keen to hand the state's role in delivering public services over to others. As the state's role has been reduced so services have deteriorated and inequalities risen.

OK. I'm all for keeping the welfare expenditures as low as possible.

So let's look at some other stuff... like scrapping negative gearing, first-home grants, baby bonus, and public funding of private schools.

You know it makes sense!

John Falzon in Real welfare reform needs guts, not paternal damnation at The Drum gets to the core of the neo-liberal attack on the poor--the idleness of the poor--- when he says:

You, they are warned, are responsible for your own situation. You need to get up off your backsides. You need to make a new beginning. Then you will have something to be proud of...As life is privatised, the individual who stands accused of having failed to make it in the market is subjected not only to new heights of intrusive surveillance but also to a veritable theology of damnation.

He adds that the people on the margins are made to feel wretched. They are forced underground, especially when they tire of having to seek assistance from charities. They resurface in our prisons or on our streets. They’re forced to hock their furnishings, their personal possessions. They seek consolation in the arms of loan sharks and payday lenders.

"theology" of damnation sums it up well, as this essay points out:

"You, they are warned, are responsible for your own situation. You need to get up off your backsides. You need to make a new beginning."

Almost exactly message we should have sent to Wall Street and the nauseating finance sector.

But, unfortunately, they're too big to fail, right?