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

the ALP's core problem « Previous | |Next »
October 13, 2011

There are debates about why the Gillard Govt is sinking in the polls and is so very unpopular. Various explanations have been put forward: the ALP's inability to communicate to the public; its ongoing internal leadership conflicts; the faceless factional leaders running the show; the series of unpopular reforms; a woman PM; Abbott's effective no big tax attacks; etc etc etc.

Cassandra Wilkinson, a former NSW public servant and author of Don't Panic - Nearly Everything is Better Than You Think, argues in an op-ed in The Australian that the ALP's core problem is the lack of anyone championing the right-wing agenda on economics or public administration. She says:

The heat and noise in Labor debates is concentrated on shifts to the perceived Left on social issues but the quiet, fundamental shift has been away from Paul Keating's unfinished business..The last politician who carried that torch was Michael Costa, killed off by economically illiterate union leaders and their allies in the party head office.This shift back to Labor's illiberal roots is driven by union leaders seeking to preserve their positions by having taxpayers subsidise the industries from which they derive their membership....The Labor leader who most often contradicts this pessimism and who has challenged left-wing vested interests is Julia Gillard. Despite her troubles elsewhere, she has prevailed over teachers unions and the welfare lobby to introduce reforms. She has called her commitment to superannuation the completion of Keating's unfinished symphony.

The inference is that the Right wing factions who control the ALP are social conservatives and statist and not economic liberals committed to liberalism, free markets and an open society.

I haven't read Don't Panic - Nearly Everything is Better Than You Think but I presume that Wilkinson's position is that though the capitalist system, is not without its flaws, it offers freedom, opportunity, progress and innovation instead of the restrictive oppression, apathy and stagnation that alternative socialist models have produced time and again. A free society is more prosperous and technologically advanced.

The core problem with Wilkinson's account is that the core of the ALP's carbon pricing legislation is a market based mechanism that utilizes the market's pricing mechanism to drive environmental reform to a low carbon economy, and it should be rightly contrasted with the Coalition's state driven approach to reform that rejects the market and relies on tax based subsidies. The contrast could not be greater for a libertarian with a keen eye for paternalistic state that assumes ordinary people just aren't capable of deciding and doing what is right all by themselves.

Ironically, Michael Costa, the last ALP politician who carried the torch of economic freedom according to Wilkinson, was deeply opposed to, and hostile towards, an emissions trading scheme. He was defending NSW's state owned coal-fired power stations in opposition to the emergence of renewable energy and low emissions technology. It was economic protectionism. Keating, in contrast, understood that using the pricing mechanism to drive economic reform was in the Labor tradition.

A little more analysis is required, as distinct from just restating the libertarian position in The Australian. We have moved on from the 1980s with the emergence of the internet, a digital technology and climate change. It's a different world and Keating's unfinished symphony (increasing superannuation contributions) is only a small part of the new agenda of shifting the market economy to a low carbon one.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:03 AM | | Comments (12)


"Cassandra Wilkinson .... argues in an op-ed in The Australian that the ALP's core problem is the lack of anyone championing the right-wing agenda on economics or public administration".

This is a joke right?
A massively silly hoax on the public?
A classic example of cognative dissonance where the comment is based on a world view that is divorced from the reality of the world itself.
If your summary is accurate [cos I haven't read the article, and there is zero motivation to do so] then the sheer effrontery of the claim is breathtaking.

I always try to present those on the opposite of the debate as fairly as possible--in their own words if I can.

I spent a fair bit of time googling Wilkinson this morning --she is centre-left but intellectually associated with the (CIS and IPA) free market think tanks that defend laissez-faire capitalism and a minimal government in opposition to a mixed economy and big government.

The reason for her lefty libertarianism is that she is committed to individual (self-expressive) freedom; and as capitalism allows for more individual freedom than socialism, so she defends free market capitalism. In doing so she opposes welfare dependency and industrial protectionism.

My understanding is that she is defending Paul Keating's (and Treasury's) free market legacy. She argues this is better than the old protectionist stance of the unionists such as Paul Howes defending the old uncompetitive industries and the 'blue-collar battlers'.

Her understanding of capitalism is that it is a system of trade. It is the libertarian one in which capitalism is simply the economic system where people are free to trade what they wish with whom they wish. Capitalism says that if you want to interact with others, then you cannot use force, threats, or fraud. You must interact with others based upon the principle of trade, the principle of voluntary exchange to mutual benefit; and do within a set of rules.

Capitalism is the only social system that rewards merit, ability and achievement, regardless of one’s birth or station in life. Etc etc etc

fred says:

This is a joke right? A massively silly hoax on the public? A classic example of cognitive dissonance where the comment is based on a world view that is divorced from the reality of the world itself.

The world views is a libertarian one, which holds that capitalism is the only social system that rewards merit, ability and achievement, regardless of one’s birth or station in life.

They do acknowledge that there are winners and losers in capitalism. They say that winners are those who are honest, industrious, thoughtful, prudent, frugal, responsible, disciplined, and efficient. The losers are those who are shiftless, lazy, imprudent, extravagant, negligent, impractical, and inefficient. The latter are the undeserving poor.

So no welfare, free education or health care for the undeserving poor. We should celebrate the entrepreneur who is that man or woman with unlimited drive, initiative, insight, energy, daring creativity, optimism and ingenuity.

The main condition that supports the entrepreneur is freedom--the freedom to experiment, invent and produce. The one thing that kills off the entrepreneur dreads is government intervention. Government taxation and regulation are the means by which social planners punish and restrict the dynamic, innovative entrepreneur.

Good on Fred.
MUST the OZ persist with this sort of garbage?
Was Mitchell standing behind Wilkinson when she was on the word processor?

I didn't mean to imply in the slightest that your summary was wrong Gary, or that you would mislead, its just that I'm extremely cautious about accepting what I read on the net unless I have read it myself in which case my faults are my own.
Did that make sense?

In this case it appears that Wilkinson is unwilling or incapable of seeing the dominant right wing paradigm that the media [and govt. bureaucracies and other agencies in Oz] presents and which has in its many hydra forms so smothered public debate.
If she is described as centre-left that is a damning indictment of the narrow spectrum that currently exists, the IPA and CIS are, as you know, extreme right propagandists.

I can think of many examples where right wing libertarianism [is it even vaguely possible to be left libertarian?] has provided the ideological backing for repressive policies in Oz recently.
Such as the NT intervention aka invasion, 'government is bad', 'deficits are nasty', backlash against women in multiple forms, the 'rights' of property owners and specifically recently that of media owners to be the only people allowed to define or restrict 'free speech', the anti-union spin of recent times, say the last 100 years roughly, the confected hysteria over 'boat people', .....blimey the list is endlessly pervasive.

As I said, Wilkinson suffers from severe cognitive dissonance and should consult a qualified historian or similar post haste.

Yes Annon, I know what libertarianism is, although I would not be able to describe as well as you.
Basically I regard it as the 'haves' telling the 'have nots' that they are children of a lesser god, probably Satan.

This may be my last post for a while, my satellite dish is faulty.

She sounds like a vanilla Hayekian libertarian to me. No wonder she defends the loathsome Michael Costa. Not sure how she could properly be described as centre-left, or anything-left for that matter. It sounds like another incidence of an extremist laying claim to the centre in order to move the Overton window.

I'd be interested in how she reconciles increased superannuation requirements with her alleged commitment to individual freedom - shouldn't individuals be able to make their own decisions about financial matters in her ideology? But like fred my personal ideology prevents me nourishing News Ltd by opening any of their web sites without a compelling reason.

I have called her a centre left libertarian because her roots are in sex, drugs and rock and roll. For her the punk movement was a moment of freedom against the old oppressive culture.

There is a left libertarianism. Wilkinson emphasizes links between the self-ownership of our bodies, and egalitarianism, and stresses the socially transformative potential of non-aggression and free markets.

The main reason for the unpopularity is Labor has lost the confidence of a majority of the public. The fall started when Rudd failed to live up to expectation. Then there was some lifting after Gillard took over but not enough for Labor to hold a clear majority in the lower house. Not having this clear majority is the core of the lack of confidence and why every issue becomes a major issue. Gillard saying one thing on this recent issue and doing another lost her personal confidence. To win back the public her and they need to be doing positive things that will be seen by all as positive.
The NBN is a perfect opportunity. They should be acting in terms of OK its behind but thats not because we are poor managers or its a stupid idea. Its because we need to get more people working on it. More trainees more jobs.
Its a long way back but for Labor there is the advantage that Abbott only looks good because they look bad.

The post says " There are debates about why the Gillard Govt is sinking in the polls and is so very unpopular..... Abbott's effective no big tax attacks.."

There was also the dirtiest and most dishonest campaign ever waged before the Australian public. This campaign had two aims:

(1) The first was to claim the tax would be a jobs destroyer and raise the cost of living to unmanageable levels - claims which didn't bear up to scrutiny.

(2) The second was to undermine the science of climate change, and but the government remained committed to science informing public debates

The campaign failed to bring down the legislation, but it damaged the ALP in the process and the failure has made the Coalition even angrier and more bitter.

I'm finding the comment re Wilkinson as "left libertarian" intriguing, I want to know if it's a coathanger for getting into and understanding a purported rebirth of an alliance beween some Rad left feminists and Tankard Reist's conservatives, all very identity or "new" politics re raunch culture, kiddie kommodification and other far worse issues expressed best in their depiction on this week's 4 Corners.
I got taken on by what I suspect is a smart rad feminist who has become part of their campaign at the blog site,"No Place for Sheep" which has ran a campaign sceptical of the raunch culture critics.
She identified a high profile, veteran feminist academic Dr Sheila Jeffreys, from prestigous Melbourne U, as evidence of some of the thinking that has come together to justify the anti raunchers and their public campaigns; has some sort of legitimate scholarly basis backing it rather than just reactionist knee jerking.
I really had to battle to get out a responsible answer for her, giving the cognitive framing of the discussion that ocurred, from a deceptively simple question.

I suspect that Wilkinson as a "left libertarian" would support the raunch culture and would argue it is that an expression of individual freedom. That is how she defended punk culture.

Since the late 1960s, many on the Left have lived libertarianism as freedom of sexual and cultural expression, and gone to war with the state over the right to publish freely.

The ALP does have a counter-tradition in that many of its founding generation set up mutual building societies so they could borrow for a home, or co-operatives for the provision of food.

Interesting link about left libertarians thanks Gary. It does seem like a label in search of a coherent meaning. I doubt the diverse people described at the link could agree about anything. Some for example 'share with "traditional socialism a distrust of the market', which is about as far removed from Wilkinson's ideology as it is possible to imagine.

I know some scholars still insist on trying to fit every discernible political movement into the tired old one-dimensional left-right frame. I understand why they do it - analysis gets very hard if you can't apply the same variables to your your subjects - but to my mind it can be seriously misleading.