QED

Easy Lessons for the Simple Left

fistYour typical Australian Leftie knows for an obvious and self-evident fact that capitalism sucks. This fervently held belief somehow fails to explain why the oppressed masses of Balmain and Brunswick are not packing their carbon-fibre bicycles into shipping containers and re-locating to Pyongyang. He or she (or whatever this week’s “gender identity” might be) argue that money, power and quality of life are hoovered up by capitalist pigs, leaving the poor worker with no prospect of advancement, rest or real happiness. 

Each time the proverbial hits the fan, as it does whenever the boom-bust cycle bottoms out, your ardent leftoid will exclaim that the worker is ceding more of the little power he has to the barons of capital. We’ve heard it so often there is a mantra-like drone to the whining: labour loses wage-brokering muscle. Pensions, unemployment benefits, education budgets and healthcare are cut. The portion of the economy controlled by class enemies of the loathed and hated “one percent”  rises. Everyone except the filthy rich gets royally screwed.

Here the real world insists on arguing otherwise. Beijing and Hanoi have allowed their peoples to indulge in the vagaries of capitalism over the last thirty years.  And, yes, their rich are getting richer.  And, yes, provision of care to the poor and working classes remains substandard (by our standards). Yet — and here’s the rub — the vast majority of working Chinese or Vietnamese have seen their standards of living rise, their quality of life improve, and their material happiness increase.  Almost all boats in these communist harbours have been lifted by capitalism’s incoming tide.

What about capitalism’s boom-bust cycles?  Yes, it’s true that the downswings always hurt the little guy.  Once the GFC hit Middle America, there were manyAaverage Joes and Joannes who found he market prices of their their sub-prime-mortgaged homes had dropped below what they had paid for them.  Nevertheless, nine years later, those little guys are making their way forward and upward again.  And they are doing so on a wave of newly invested capital, not just on the strength of a brief flurry of (borrowed) government bail-outs. When the GFC hit, their 401K plans — Americans’ version of superannuation — took a beating. Today, paradoxically, it is those same funds  that are helping to provide the capital fuelling the next upward cycle. After winter comes the spring.

Paul Keating once said that he would always back a horse called Self Interest.  At least he’d know it was trying, he explained.  In command economies — the prospect of which has the typical Leftie drooling with delight — self-interest gets loaded down, at best, with punitive weights; at worst it is scratched on starters’ orders.  Oh, and while the handicappers are hobbling the one horse with form, the rest of the field heads off on a hay ride. Minus self-interest, when it’s Wednesday of a wet, cold week at the 17th Workers’ Tractor Factory, what tends to flag is dedication and productivity.

A command economy’s self-chosen elite — a much smaller demographic than capitalism’s fabled 1% — will come up with superbly crafted and centralised five-year plans to maximise collective food production, harness natural resources that “belong to us all”, develop intensive industry to reduce the amount of back-breaking work workers need do, house and de-louse the ever-grateful proletariat, and educate any of their (non-aborted) offspring. Yet as Lenin, Stalin and Mao all discovered, the best-laid plans and favoured theories inevitably founder on the rock of grim reality.

Meanwhile, while the commissars demanded the masses’ compliance, in San Francisco, Atlanta and Los Angeles the invisdible hand so obvious to Adam Smith was busy sewing Levi’s Jeans, bottling Coke, and cranking the cameras that filmed Disney’s Fantasia (which Khrushchev loved). And guess what?  The very same Russians who approved of what their Soviet leaders were trying to do also yearned for what Levi, Coke and Disney were making. Those capitalist-system pleasures and diversions, as they knew and understood, would have made those cold, wet Wednesdays at the 17th Workers’ Tractor Factory somewhat more bearable.

It’s not capitalism that sucks, but command economies. This brings us to the doctrine that seems to have infected the minds of our political class — minds that, in many cases, should know better.

Almost every time Australian politicians are asked what will replace the much-need revenue generated by the mining/resources boom, they cite a purported transition to a service-based economy.  At its most basic, this envisions millions of Aussies taking barista courses and making high-priced coffees topped with cute patterns. Trouble is, with a service-based economy, over time the only people buying the coffee you serve are other baristas.  In old-fashioned terms, a service-based economy is about taking in other people’s washing. There are only so many people who want and can afford to have their washing done.

The flaw in this thinking is deeper than that, however.  Even in a service-based economy we need to import stuff: coffee beans. espresso machines, the canvas umbrella to shade the outside table where you sit and sip.  In return for these goodies, as the Dutch and Native Americans found when bartering Manhattan for beads and blankets, you need to be able to offer some “export-quality” beads yourself.

OK, so our shift to a service economy will see us provide tertiary education to much of Asia, plus some food, and tourism.  Why, if every Chinese person over 50 aspires to visit Australia someday, we can’t lose on this tourism “export” gig!  Or so the theory goes. Yet the reality is rather different. If Chinese fly here in their own planes, stay in their own hotels, eat their own foods and visit their own shops and attractions, the net benefit to Australia may be small: jobs for a relative few air traffic controllers, bus drivers, bell-boys  and shop assistants.  (But perhaps Mandarin-speaking shop assistants will be flown in on contract, clutching 457 visas in their white-gloved hands.) Unless we are very canny about re-investing the purchase price we receive in profitable export industries, this isn’t a sound way to grow the Australian economy

Unless Australia further develops its export industries to pay for the manufactured goods it needs to buy overseas, any “service-based” economy here can only shrink. After buying the fourth coffee of the morning, I might have acquired a caffeine buzz but I’ll definitely still be broke.

Towering above all the other planks in the green-left agenda is a single economic pillar (an odd way to keep up a roof, unless you live in a tent, which some Greens would undoubtedly prefer): we should move to a “sustainable” economy.  The gospel seems to be that this would entail full employment in static, service-based or renewables-resourced businesses, plus many more public servants crafting, implementing and enforcing said policies and initiatives. On top of this, migration must be restricted almost solely to refugees. And Gaia-friendly one-child policies are vital, must not forget that.

Penalising fossil-fuel use in a huge country like Australia would rapidly shrink our economy’s most productive parts. We still make vast mountains of export dollars from fossil fuels:  gas, coal and oil.  Do we just drop these and the money that flows from them, money used to underwrite, amongst other things, government programs dear to greenish hearts (such as supporting refugees)? You would need to match the dim-bulbitude of Sarah Hanson-Young not to grasp that this would plunge the entire country and its economy into permanent recession.

While Australian agriculture is renowned for its efficiency, the vast distances involved require fossil fuels.  Becoming “sustainable” would mean asking Australia’s farmers to abandon productive farms that feed not only Australians but also many millions overseas.  (Not to worry, Greens voters are concentrated in inner cities, where they can walk to their unproductive work or, for a little variation, impede productive commuters in their cars and trucks with plagues of bicycles.)

Assuming Australia were to follow Greens advice and abandoned its fossil fuel-based economy, what next? It seems highly unlikely that new and productive economic activities could be grown fast enough to allow our overall level of economic activity, eventually, to be sustained. Like woollen jumpers, economies that have been shrunk won’t readily re-expand.

How the Greens (and many on the ALP’s Left) would deal with adverse social consequences of destroying Australia’s economy in fervent pursuit of “sustainability” is unclear.  But, according to another of their Party’s policies, voluntary euthanasia might be an option for any Australian finding sudden loss of living standards, employment and government-funded health and welfare too much.

If you want to sustain your economy, you need to go for growth.

21 comments
  • Jody

    And it’s all there for the Coalition to lose!! You who criticize Turnbull are simply providing another tick for the aforementioned Green-Left agenda.

    • [email protected]

      But Jody, Turnbull, at heart, is one of “them”! Only the Nationals and some of the “true blues” left of the Liberals are keeping him in check.

      • Jody

        I absolutely disagree. I’ve formed the view that it’s, in fact, the “progressives” whom he’s fooled, not the reverse. He easily reverts to the business tycoon who is always looking for market opportunities and this is clear in many of his comments. No, I think he’s seduced the ‘progressives’ in a bid for popularity, but I believe none will vote for him in the next election. But he craves popularity, which is what Rudd did, and this may prove a fatal weakness – particularly if he’s training to reign in an effective minister who wants to be a ‘can do’ Treasurer. You would find ScoMo an entirely different Treasurer under a leader prepared to take more risks.

        And Turnbull’s greatest strength is his savvy and intelligent wife, Lucy!!

        Abbott was not ever and is not now the answer. Have you read today’s “Australian”? I’ve long believed there was much more to that Peta Credlin story than meets the eye!!!!

        • EvilElvis

          Jody, do you really believe that about Turnbull? That he is about to swing full circle and spring a conservative trap that has been almost 8 years in the making, without anyone ever (apart from your good self now) having an incling that he is a closeted right winger?

          I would suggest as per Michaels great essay above that, unlike the aforementioned leftists, one only needs to look to history to see what Turnbull’s character and bent truly is.

  • [email protected]

    It is all patently true what Michael Copeman has said about the wealth creative dynamic that is free enterprise society, copied now with good effect in Asia but originally developed in Western and Christian Europe.
    Population growth however is not essential for prosperity although it can provide a short term benefit like a sugar hit to flagging athlete. Sweden was always an example of a small industrious nation with few natural resources able to export high technology product to the world and with less government control it could have done even better. Sweden has a population of 9.6 million and a growth rate of O.16% which is mostly provided by immigration and family reunions from the Middle East and Africa. The new immigrants give a boost to consumption but may well become an economic drain because of their religiously defined ideology of superiority and contempt for host values that has seen Sweden become the country with the highest rape rate in Europe and the second highest in the world.
    Australia has a very high rate of immigration and when we had open borders some ‘boat people’ came from the same group going to Sweden. Our growth rate of 1.15% [which is less than India at 1.25%] has increased consumption at the food stores and has lead to a booming housing construction industry and ‘urban consolidation’. Along with the population growth there is a growth in required services of transport, schools, welfare, hospitals, and security services at airports, police, and anti-terrorism surveillance. Non of these generate wealth for the country any more than does a Ponzi scheme.
    The unproductive population growth in Australia is concurrent with restrictive work practices and inefficient and declining manufacturing and a conservative government that can’t balance the budget or restore a construction industry watchdog. Where is the freedom and enterprise in that?

  • Lawrie Ayres

    I note agriculture got a brief mention here and I have heard Turnbull mouth the word although I don’t believe he knows what it means. In fact I doubt any politician does judging by current policies. Western NSW is in a prolonged drought that has caused the Darling river to stop flowing and Broken Hill to be without suitable water. The lack of rain is a major cause of this drought but its effects have been exacerbated by Labor/Green policies including the Murray-Darling-Basin plan which has seen obscene quantities of water taken from river towns and farms and given to a nebulous environment. Much of this water flows to the Lower Lakes where a brackish pond is kept fresh by man made barrages. The water so desperately needed by the environment is then evaporated to space. That same water before the era of concerned scientists and delusional dreamers such as Tim Flannery was used to grow various export-revenue-earning crops and “sustaining” country towns. Both State and Federal conservative governments have failed, for five and two years respectively, to encourage, promote and enhance agriculture. The farmers along the Murray and Darling are innovative and agile but they still rely on the water that successive governments have simply evaporated in chasing some green dream but instead creating dust bowls of despair.

  • Patrick McCauley

    ‘Dimbulbitude of Sarah Hanson Young’ . brilliant.

    • Jody

      Isn’t it much more truthful and easier to spell it out thus; she’s just not very bright. And the Greens know it!!

  • Matt Brazier

    Open Google earth and draw a square box with a side of 200km somewhere in Australia. Fill it in with the colour matching that of solar panels, i.e black. That is very roughly the amount of space filled with solar panels required to meet all of Australia’s energy needs from solar power. Note that the land within that space is sterile. There is no wildlife, no farming to produce food, no trees or grass even. Nobody lives there. It is a sea of black stretching off to the horizon. The new solar plant outside of Canberra is a miniature of this reality. Land that was once used for producing food (and oxygen) is now a large black dot that produces electricity.
    That’s not necessarily passing judgement on whether moving to solar power is or isn’t a bad idea. It’s just that this is what it would look like and these are just some of the the tradeoffs that would have to be accepted to go down that path. The point is that enthusiastic renewal energy advocates (such as the Greens) are not presenting a balanced and realistic picture of reality. By all means let’s have a debate about a transition to alternative energy sources, but it must be grounded in reality, not fantasy.

    • ian.macdougall

      Open Google earth and draw a square box with a side of 200km somewhere in Australia. Fill it in with the colour matching that of solar panels, i.e black. That is very roughly the amount of space filled with solar panels required to meet all of Australia’s energy needs from solar power.

      But will all our energy needs ever have to come from a single source? And so what would you propose, Matt. Let us all pray that the fossil carbon we import for our transport and export for Chinese steelmaking etc lasts forever?
      Even if the expected adverse climate change consequences of a fossil-carbon fuelled economy could be dismissed, we still eventually have to transition to something sustainable, like a mix of alternative energy sources.

      • Matt Brazier

        The point is not what the answer to future energy needs is or isn’t. The point is that proposals about a future economy based entirely on renewable sources invariably tend to be grounded in ignorance and fanciful thinking rather than reality. I have yet to see anyone present a detailed plan for the future based on renewable energy that could actually be executed if the will and resources were applied. Usually the ideas are based on technology that does not yet exist, (i.e. wishful thinking), or there are other inconvenient gaps in the concepts. Often it is a problem of failure to conceptualise scale — i.e. actually running the numbers to scale up from the energy demand of a house to that of a shopping centre for example, say nothing of scaling up to the scale of the energy demand of heavy industry and then the whole economy or the whole world. Common responses such as ‘it will be a mix of sources’ also tend to belie the fact that virtually all renewables originate from solar energy (i.e. wind, hydro, biomass and wave power), and geothermal is actually largely non-renewable with a quite small renewable component. Tidal power is a non-starter for various reasons. Hence in the end it all comes back to the sun.
        This is not an argument for fossil fuels or anything else, or for one particular plan or another. It is an argument to be rational and realistic. We need to be navigating reality as it actually is, not as we imagine or would like it to be.

        • [email protected]

          “Hence, in th end it all comes back to the sun.” Don’t forget nuclear particularly the molten salt reactors.

  • ian.macdougall

    We need to be navigating reality as it actually is, not as we imagine or would like it to be.

    I could not agree more, Matt. However, fossil fuel reserves are finite and have climate effects when burnt. (CO2 is a heat-trapping gas.) People like Tony (“the future is coal” Abbott assume the carbon reserves will (a) last forever, (b) are best used as fuels rather than say, as sources of long-chain organic compounds and (c) create no climate problems when burnt. That, I suggest, is the real “wishful thinking.”
    Climate and AGW ‘scepticism’ rapidly boil down to ‘nothing must get in the way of business-as-usual.’

    • [email protected]

      Ian I can best reply by posting what I have previously posted elsewhere in Quadrant – “I think all catastrophists, especially those in the media, should be vigorously told as often as possible that all life on this planet is dependant on CO2. When it drops below 150ppm all plants start to die and soon after [in geological terms] all animals will also die. All the ‘dreaded fossil fuels’ were once living things that originally came from atmospheric CO2. We are doing all life on this planet a favour by burning fossil fuels. Life on earth will cease in about two billion years time unless we return future life [CO2] to the atmosphere.
      Deserts have already started to ‘green up’ in many parts of the world and food crops have increased production by about 14% from even the modest amounts of CO2 mankind has re-released back into the atmosphere. The worlds temperature has NOT risen beyond natural variation levels since temperature records have been kept, and have not risen at all for the past 19 years despite the extra CO2.” —
      Your fears about Abbott – assuming that ‘carbon reserves’- lasting forever are meaningless,- ‘peak’ oil, gas, coal etc. will not occur in your or my lifetime or even that of my grandchildren. And more importantly if we allow wealth creation by using fossil fuels now we will have a society that when it becomes necessary will be rich enough to develop replacement fuels that are economically viable and not merely mythical socialist pipedreams.

      • ian.macdougall

        [email protected]

        We are doing all life on this planet a favour by burning fossil fuels. Life on earth will cease in about two billion years time unless we return future life [CO2] to the atmosphere.

        The ever-evolving Biosphere has been on this planet for the last 3.4 billion years: time enough for it to show that it can look after itself. The normal workings of the water cycle, sedimentation and sedimentary rock formation would possibly have led to the natural geosequestration of all the Earth’s carbon and the permanent removal of all CO2 from the air and ocean, were it not for the reverse processes of the rock cycle and of vulcanism, which return it to the air naturally, and over much shorter timescales.

        The worlds temperature has NOT risen beyond natural variation levels since temperature records have been kept, and have not risen at all for the past 19 years despite the extra CO2.


        Sorry. As I have pointed out many times before when this assertion gets run by whomsoever on this QO site:
        Fact 1: The Earth’s atmosphere and ocean are warming. (How do we know? Not from thermometers, and temperatures – which can be disputed till the cows come home – but from sea level rise. The world’s ocean is rising at a rate of 3.3 +/- 0.4 mm/yr (http://sealevel.colorado.edu/). In the absence of comet ice bombarding the Earth, this can only be due to thermal expansion of ocean water, glacial melt, or both.
        Fact 2: Human economic activities put heat-trapping (greenhouse) gases into the air, mainly CO2 – carbon dioxide: but also CH4 -methane, N2O – nitrous oxide, O3 – ozone, and sundry others. The CO2 proportion of the air is rising, as measured by the CO2 observatories on Mauna Loa in Hawaii (for the N Hemisphere) and on Cape Grim in Tasmania (for the S Hemisphere.)
        Mauna Loa:
        http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/
        January 2016: 402.52 ppm
        January 2015: 399.96 ppm
        Last updated: February 5, 2016
        Also: http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/weekly.html
        Cape Grim: “These measurements indicate a rise in annual average atmospheric CO2 concentrations, from 354.07 parts per million by volume (ppmv) in 1992 to 378.50 ppmv in 2006, or an increase of almost 1.75 ppmv per year, on average.”
        It has long been known that CO2 concentration is a limiting factor on the rate of growth of plants. It is also true that recent studies by the CSIRO show the planet getting greener, attributed to those rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations. However, the authors of the CSIRO study also observe : (https://blogs.csiro.au/ecos/despite-decades-of-deforestation-the-earth-is-getting-greener/) “questions remain over how long plants can keep pace with our increasing emissions in a warmer climate.”
        This IMHO is no mere academic exercise in bet hedging. The classic plant physiology studies controlled all variables but CO2 concentration. So for example, they kept temperature, humidity, soil moisture, air pressure and wind speed constant and thus out of it as factors. But if the rising CO2 concentration leads to increasing atmospheric energy content, and thence to changes in those factors (independently, and up or down) then questions will indeed remain over how long plants can keep pace with our increasing emissions in a warmer climate.
        You have committed yourself to the proposition that the ever increasing CO2 content of the atmosphere is a GOOD THING; with beneficial consequences that are happy side-effects of the burning of fossil carbon.
        I argue instead that there are very good reasons for being sceptical of that. And the pioneers of carbon combustion were understandably more interested in their own short-term gains than in any longer-term consequences.

      • ian.macdougall

        I posted a reply to this (on March 8, 2016 at 6:50 pm). It is now March 14. The reply is still “awaiting moderation” (read ‘approval by the Censor’.)

        • Roger Franklin

          Ian, dear me! Your teachers must have broken any number of straps and canes in attempting to help you absorb simple truths. As I’ve told you before, your comments are not “censored”, nor is there a cyber receptacle to which they are consigned on the basis of your catastropharian views about what the weather will be like 100 years hence. Like the “climate science” you revere, it is the system which produces rubbish results, in this instance delays in the appearance of some of your comments. There is nothing I can do about that, given the publishing platform’s caprice and vagaries, other than check the refuse bin when opportunity allows and lift your warmist epistles from the other drek languishing in there.

          I have now, and once more, done this, so your “censored” comment is available to all.

          And as I’ve told you before, you are much loved at Quadrant Online. Were it not for your lonely voice regurgitating Flanneryisms, Mann-handled stats and Karoly’s carolling for yet more grants with which to produce withdrawn papers, there would be nobody to argue that planet is in more trouble than a pregnant nun. You serve a valuable purpose in reminding readers that intelligent, articulate folks can parrot the most utter nonsense.

          So please continue posting. But please stop with the florid accusations of censorship.

  • Simon

    I refer you to the previous article, on Roger Scrutons book on the idiocy of the left.

    The line that sums the Left up is: “In this way, for Žižek, thought cancels reality, when the thought is “on the left”.

    There you have it in a nutshell – it matters not how much common sense, logic and facts you throw at the Left. Therefore
    it is, to all intents and purposes, a blind religion. As bad as anything churned out by the madrassas in Saudi Arabia.

    It is typified by the idiocy we see in Europe today, where, despite the fact that Merkel is directly responsible for the chaos there, there is little condemnation in the media. In fact, the main concern of the idiots over there is the rise of anti-immigration parties!

    • [email protected]

      I thought that Zizek’s statement was supposedly – ‘when you have a really good theory reality becomes irrelevant.”

      • ian.macdougall

        (This comment was posted on March 8, 2016 at 6:50 pm, and is still ‘awaiting moderation’.)

        [email protected]

        We are doing all life on this planet a favour by burning fossil fuels. Life on earth will cease in about two billion years time unless we return future life [CO2] to the atmosphere.

        The ever-evolving Biosphere has been on this planet for the last 3.4 billion years: time enough for it to show that it can look after itself. The normal workings of the water cycle, sedimentation and sedimentary rock formation would possibly have led to the natural geosequestration of all the Earth’s carbon and the permanent removal of all CO2 from the air and ocean, were it not for the reverse processes of the rock cycle and of vulcanism, which return it to the air naturally, and over much shorter timescales.

        The worlds temperature has NOT risen beyond natural variation levels since temperature records have been kept, and have not risen at all for the past 19 years despite the extra CO2.

        Sorry. As I have pointed out many times before when this assertion gets run by whomsoever on this QO site:
        Fact 1: The Earth’s atmosphere and ocean are warming. (How do we know? Not from thermometers, and temperatures – which can be disputed till the cows come home – but from sea level rise. The world’s ocean is rising at a rate of 3.3 +/- 0.4 mm/yr (Check out http://sealevel.colorado.edu/ for more details, esp re the highly accurate satellite altimetry on which this is based). In the absence of comet ice bombarding the Earth, this can only be due to thermal expansion of ocean water, glacial melt, or both.

        • ian.macdougall

          (continued)
          Fact 2: Human economic activities put heat-trapping (greenhouse) gases into the air, mainly CO2 – carbon dioxide: but also CH4 -methane, N2O – nitrous oxide, O3 – ozone, and sundry others. The CO2 proportion of the air is rising, as measured by the CO2 observatories on Mauna Loa in Hawaii (for the N Hemisphere) and on Cape Grim in Tasmania (for the S Hemisphere.)
          Mauna Loa:
          http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/
          January 2016: 402.52 ppm
          January 2015: 399.96 ppm
          Last updated: February 5, 2016
          Also: http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/weekly.html
          Cape Grim: “These measurements indicate a rise in annual average atmospheric CO2 concentrations, from 354.07 parts per million by volume (ppmv) in 1992 to 378.50 ppmv in 2006, or an increase of almost 1.75 ppmv per year, on average.”
          It has long been known that CO2 concentration is a limiting factor on the rate of growth of plants. It is also true that recent studies by the CSIRO show the planet getting greener, attributed to those rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations. However, the authors of the CSIRO study also observe : (https://blogs.csiro.au/ecos/despite-decades-of-deforestation-the-earth-is-getting-greener/) “questions remain over how long plants can keep pace with our increasing emissions in a warmer climate.”
          This IMHO is no mere academic exercise in bet hedging. The classic plant physiology studies controlled all variables but CO2 concentration. So for example, they kept temperature, humidity, soil moisture, air pressure and wind speed constant and thus out of it as factors. But if the rising CO2 concentration leads to increasing atmospheric energy content, and thence to changes in those factors (independently, and up or down) then questions will indeed remain over how long plants can keep pace with our increasing emissions in a warmer climate.
          You have committed yourself to the proposition that the ever increasing CO2 content of the atmosphere is a GOOD THING; with beneficial consequences that are happy side-effects of the burning of fossil carbon.
          I argue instead that there are very good reasons for being sceptical of that. And the pioneers of carbon combustion were understandably more interested in their own short-term gains than in any longer-term consequences.

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