Election 2010

I work in an Australian university and I’m a regular listener to ABC radio. As such, it will surprise almost no one to hear that Tony Abbott voters are in that milieu generally perceived to be heartless, misogynistic, uneducated, racist, morally deficient, Opus Dei-loving reactionaries.

Now that’s why I intend to vote for Tony Abbott, but I’m not sure it’s why half of Australians, more or less, will be casting their vote for him and the Coalition.

Here’s a few of the many other reasons for voting for the Coalition that seem to escape the sneers of the puffed up, sanctimonious ABC worldview.

Start with economics and fiscal policy. The notion that Keynesianism is incontestably correct is rubbish. The worth of stimulus spending is highly contentious, and that’s true even amongst top economists. In Canada the Fraser Institute recently found that Canada’s $47 billion Economic Action Plan had next to no effect at all on the economy’s attempt to recover.

The International Monetary Fund not too long ago looked at stimulus programs in wealthy and developing countries and concluded that the average effect “does not provide strong evidence of countercyclical effects”.

But even amongst that fraction of economists who think a stimulus is desirable there is much disagreement amongst them on the question of how to do it – by cutting taxes or letting government borrow and spend. Late last year a Harvard University professor looked at wealthy country stimulus programs since 1970 and found that tax cuts were a far better bet than government spending to increase growth.

This is not conclusive stuff but it gives good grounds for doubting the path taken here in Australia. It tells us why a lot of people will be voting for Abbott, namely because they think the stimulus spending had virtually nothing to do with Australia’s weathering of the global financial crisis.

It had far, far more to do with the wonderful inheritance Labor was bequeathed by the Howard economic team, and with good banking regulations, and with a buoyant China.

In fact, anyone who thinks just throwing taxpayer money at anything going was a help ought to wonder why the US isn’t powering out of the crisis instead of languishing with high unemployment, low business confidence, and a shaky housing market. After all, they spent even more on stimulus per capita than we did.

That’s not the only economic reason for voting for the Coalition. Another one has to do with the size of government. What’s important here is not simply whether the budget gets back into surplus, but rather how that is done. Will taxes go up, up, up to raise revenue and so balance the books that way? Or will government spending be kept under control and comfortably below 40 percent of GDP?

I lived in New Zealand for 11 years until 2005. The Labour government over there almost always managed to run a surplus, but they did it by ratcheting up taxes as a percentage of GDP, which meant inflating the size of government up to Swedish levels. Most economists think that has bad long-term effects on growth and productivity.

We can put that point more bluntly. There is getting back to surplus, and there is getting back to surplus. And the big taxing, big spending way to do that is not what many voters want.

Of course for every person who votes for economic reasons, there is another who chooses on different grounds.

Amongst the latter there will be some who want to see signs of overall competence in their government. Trying to describe this past government in those terms is a tough sell as you recall its mining tax woes and remember how it has dealt in unrealistic promises and spin while regularly ditching the big promises of yesterday in favour of a new one for tomorrow.

And then there’s the group of voters whom you might think of as the transparency crowd. These voters detest the machinations of the Labor backroom brokers that resulted in the metaphorical assassination of a sitting Prime Minister. This crowd will think that it should have been the voters, not some handful of party barons, that got to pass judgment on former Prime Minister Rudd.

That’s not all of course. There’s also a whole mass of voters who doubt the wisdom of imposing carbon costs on our Australian businesses and taxpayers before the massively bigger US does the same, or before China does, or India, or Canada. These voters want to know what cries of ‘it’s the moral thing to do’ actually mean when action by us here in Australia will have virtually zero effect on global greenhouse emissions.

Are we to believe that Americans will look down under and say ‘Wow, Australia’s done this so we better too’, or is this just about feeling good about yourself – especially if you’re someone whose lifestyle and job security (think of the ABC and the university sector) won’t be much affected by a carbon impost.

Notice that I still haven’t even had to mention voters who want borders to be controlled and immigration to be of the legal sort. And I haven’t brought up the big Australia-small Australia debate.

The fact is that we all know that in a democracy the majority is in a powerful sense never wrong. Part of the deal is that we all get to count equally and then we let the numbers count. The majority wins. You don’t get to whinge because you were on the losing side.

You see we’re all on the losing side sometimes. It’s the price you pay for living in a society of 22 million people. No one can really expect to be on the winning side of every debateable social policy line-drawing dispute, however much one also feels his or her views are the morally correct views. Those who disagree, after all, also think theirs are the morally correct ones.

My complaint, I suppose, is that you might never realise any of that if you only get your political updates and news from the ABC.

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