The rabble, their rubble and the hard yards ahead

I sometimes think that our economic problems are the least of the troubles we face, but they are pretty bad and getting worse. Labor, having wrecked the place, is getting out just in time. No doubt they will have much to criticise from the Opposition benches as the efforts to repair what they have ruined gets into full swing.

The uselessness of the media is never better highlighted than their light touch on leftist governments, which are allowed to go well beyond reasonable bounds because criticisms of anyone with a socialist halo is verboten. So what we have is an economy crashing in many directions and from a multitude of directions. Prudence is a great virtue in economic management, a characteristic those with a socialist time perspective never seem to have.

This “QE dries up” from a recent front-page story in the AFR is part of a headline that also reads “Shares, $A plunge”. This news is followed inside with “China credit data fuels doom-mongers’ fears”. We are becoming collectively poorer by the day and our ability to trade our way out of the debt and deficits is becoming a more gigantic task with each fresh decision by the party with the Parliamentary majority.

Meanwhile, those guys in the media, and that includes the likes of the AFR‘s Laura Tingle  etc, they don’t do the Labor Party or the rest of us any good by not having raked Gillard & Co., over the coals for becoming the Beyond Stupid Party. Unless you agree with the range of policies that is ruining us, then it is not just your duty as journalists but your duty as friends to these socialist incompetents that you let them understand the nature of the dangers they run. And if you memers of the Fourth Estate couldn’t see it coming yourselves, what good are your opinions anyway?

Meanwhile, Kevin Rudd is the apparent answer, but only if the aim is to be rid of Julia Gillard. But as a reminder of how we would be trading one disaster for another, let me dredge up an article I wrote for Quadrant in April 2009 just after Kevin wrote his attack in The Monthly on what he chose to call neo-liberalism. It is titled, “Reflections of a Neo-Liberal“. The PM referred to is, of course, Kevin Rudd, but I suspect it applies just as  readily to his successor. If you wish to be reminded of the true nature of our once and future PM, these thoughts ought to be all the warning you need.

So to the Prime Minister’s article. Here we find a polemic on the evils of the capitalist system as it exists today. It is an imaginary system, bearing little reality to the world in which we actually live.

The article is 7700 words long. No précis can give any more than a taste of how extreme the language is and how misconceived the thoughts. He has invented a villain, the neo-liberal, whose demise is now the mission the Prime Minister intends to hasten. The Prime Minister apparently believes that those on the other side of the political fence, the neo-liberals of his imagination, “fundamentally despise” the state and its role. He apparently believes that in the view of such neo-liberals, “government activity should be … ultimately replaced, by market forces”. He takes it as read that these neo-liberals have “sought, wherever possible, to dismantle all aspects of the social-democratic state”.

To capture as least some of the rhetorical overdrive, I reproduce the two insert quotes displayed in large print across the page. The first:

The great neo-liberal experiment of the past 30 years has failed … the emperor has no clothes. Neo-liberalism, and the free-market fundamentalism it has produced, has been revealed as little more than personal greed dressed up as an economic philosophy.[ellipses in the original]

And then there’s this:

The stakes are high: there are the social costs of long-term unemployment; poverty once again expanding its grim reach across the developing world; and the impact on long-term power structures within the existing international political and strategic order. Success is not optional. Too much now rides on our ability to prevail.

We are here not discussing whether some policy or another might make the economic system work more effectively. This is not about whether there ought to be a stimulus package and if so, how it ought to be structured. This is beyond the technical side of economics and into the realm of good and evil. It is a psycho-drama in which Frodo and his mates take on Gollum in a bid to save the world.

We only elect these people so that they can raid the cookie jar. Well, the cookie jar is now well and truly empty (and then some). Soon we will finally get to vote and it will be back to the people who, hopefully, will fill it up again — although if the sole aim is to raid it once again at some point in the future it is hard to really see the point.

Steve Kates teaches economics at RMIT University. His most recent book is Free Market Economics: an Introduction for the General Reader

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