A Fake Prime Minister

Letter to the Editor published in Quadrant, April, 2009:

SIR: I suspected that sooner or later the political Right would take revenge for the hoaxing of Quadrant. It seems to have come sooner than I expected.

Wealthy Lefty property developer Morry Schwartz’s Monthly has published an essay of nearly 8000 words under the apparently sincere belief that it was written by the Prime Minister of Australia.

At the moment the identity of the hoaxer is uncertain, save that it is someone lampooning the Prime Minister of our country as a verbose, ignorant, amateur economic and political philosopher, nourished on Fabian Society pamphlets from circa 1944.

Of course, the Monthly should have known that the real Prime Minister has access to the heads of Treasury, the Reserve Bank, the Productivity Commission and in general the crème de la crème of Australia’s economic and financial brains. Not only does he have access to them, he has a positive duty to make use of them, and his highest decision-making function at present is to rank their advice and act upon the best of it—very much a full-time job. The real Prime Minister of Australia would hardly be likely to spend precious time during an international financial crisis writing a rambling pseudo-philosophical essay.

And “social democracy must save capitalism from itself”! That gem of meaninglessness might have been lifted from one of Professor Irwin Corey’s spoof-lectures.

I do not know how the hoaxer thought he could get away with other near-gibberish like: “The great neo-liberal experiment of the past 30 years has failed” when in fact the relative liberalisation of the financial system associated with Reagan, Thatcher, and, in Australia, with Hawke and Howard, has brought staggering benefits and unparalleled economic growth, when it has lifted much of India and the Second and Third Worlds out of endemic poverty, and when, of course, both the publisher of the Monthly and the wife of the real Prime Minister made their fortunes. In any event, “neo-liberalism”, though a widely-used term, has so many different possible meanings as to be useless for intellectually rigorous dialogue.

“Not for the first time in history, the international challenge for social democrats is to save capitalism from itself.” Eat you heart out, Professor Corey! Then there is the amusing statement along the lines that prosperity can be gained by increasing taxes— at least I don’t see how else blaming the current financial downturn on “wave after wave of tax cuts” can be interpreted.

It was clever of the hoaxer to add a touch of verisimilitude by bringing in the name of Friedrich von Hayek, that King Charles’s Head who appears to haunt the real Prime Minister’s imagination and who he has referred to with such notable inaccuracy in the past (for example as if he were a sort of right-wing equivalent to the Soviet dictator Leonid Brezhnev—or was that the same hoaxer?). Anyway, no article purporting to be by the real Prime Minister would be complete without some recurrence of this troubling obsession. “Soros is right” was a neat touch, too.

It is fairly clever if crude and heavy-handed satire, rather like something from the heyday of Mad magazine, but as an Australian concerned for my country’s image I cringe at the idea of anyone overseas picking up a copy and taking this effusion as being for real.

Hal G.P. Colebatch,

Nedlands, WA.

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