“American conservatism used to have room for fairly sophisticated views about the role of government. Its economic patron saint used to be Milton Friedman, who advocated aggressive money-printing, if necessary, to avoid depressions. It used to include environmentalists who took pollution seriously but advocated market-based solutions like cap-and-trade or emissions taxes rather than rigid rules.
“But today’s conservative leaders were raised on Ayn Rand’s novels and Ronald Reagan’s speeches (as opposed to his actual governance, which was a lot more flexible than the legend). They insist that the rights of private property are absolute, and that government is always the problem, never the solution.”
Paul Krugman, “High Plains Moocher” article NY Times
There are three areas where a lack of qualifications or expertise seems to have no effect people’s capacity to comment: Education, Climate Change and Economics.
Now I’ve spent many years as a teacher. I know what’s involved and I’ve seen what’s happening on the ground. Teachers don’t always get it right. There are many practices which will, with the passing of time, be looked at in the same way we look at banning people from writing with their left hand, sacrificing animals to appease the gods or electing Christopher Pyne to Parliament. The most effective way to organise schools to maximise student learning is something that people have spent many millions of hours researching and thinking about, and it’s a process of continuous improvement. Of course, not all theories will stand the test of time and some of it will be trial and error, which is why schools are fairly slow to change, and, in spite of popular perception, many things haven’t changed in decades.
However, this doesn’t stop someone from expressing their views on education to me with all the confidence of the average football fan when talking about the moves the coach should have made.
“You know what’s wrong with education,” they’ll begin.
“I can probably name you four or five things without thinking,” I say, but they have no interest in what I think.
“Kids can’t read or write because they get away with far too much, when I was at school, if any kid had spoken back to a teacher, they’d have been taken behind the shed and beaten to a pulp.”
“Yes, but I don’t think…”
“And then everyone could read and write and add up without a calculator and there was none of this foundation maths, but these days none of these kids can write an essay. That’s because you don’t make ’em write essays any more!”
“Actually, most of my classes write at least one essay every…”
“But the trouble is that you can’t get teachers to listen. If we only taught kids to sound out words, we’d be a lot better off.”
“Phonics isn’t spelt with an ‘F’, you know.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Most spelling mistakes I come across is because kids are spelling things phonetically. And I’m still yet to find a primary teacher who says that it isn’t necessary to teach phonics as one of the strategies…”
“I saw this thing on ‘A Current Affair’ where they…”
“Excuse me, I just have to take this call. My phone is vibrating even though you can’t hear it…”
So when I talk about economics, I’m always concerned that I’ll say something that someone with greater expertise in the area will know to be a monumental blunder. But I can rest easy knowing it won’t be anybody in the current Federal Government, nor any of their supporters. Now, I have studied enough Economics to know that there are things I don’t know, so I’m not a victim of the Dunning Kruger effect, unlike many of the people who feel compelled to tell us that Australia has “no money” because Rudd and Gillard spent it all, and that if I quote anybody who explains why this is simplistic, it’s because the person I’m quoting is “bloody idiot lefty”, even if I’m quoting Milton Friedman.
But that’s also part of the real trouble about discussing economics. The people we read in the media, are just a small subset of economists and it often appears that there’s a general consensus about things that are in dispute, and that there’s a difference of opinion about things where there’s widespread agreement.
Generally, it’s agreed that while there’s a structural problem with the Budget, this needs to be fixed over the longer term, because severe austerity measures at the moment could risk plunging Australia into recession, which would, of course, lead to a reduction in revenue because of less company and personal income tax being paid, exascerbating the government’s problem of too little revenue.
So how do the Liberals propose to “fix” the Budget. Well, if you listen to their rhetoric, it’s really quite simple. At first, we were asked to believe that once they returned to government it would be “business as usual”. The Labor Government was an aberration, as was the GFC, and with the return of the adults, all would be well. Then, well, we needed to give them a few months to “fix Labor’s mess”. Well, not a few months, a couple of years. Oh, let’s say ten years, that’s a nice round number. That’s all they need to get things back to “normal”.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t quite worked out as simply as printing a “Real Solutions” pamphlet, where all you need do is say “We have a plan” or “We believe in Australia and we believe ‘there is no limit to what Australia can achieve’#” Unfortunately, for our “no surprises, no excuses” Liberals, Iron ore prices have dropped to levels not seen since well, 2010, but hey, Labor was in charge then and surely that had something to do with such “low” prices. After all, the Liberals didn’t ask much, they just factored in the iron ore price to continuing to rise, when it was already at historic highs. And while Whitney Houston may have thought that “children are our future”, the PM sees coal as more important, so we can rest easy knowing that this buried treasure will provide Australia’s needs for the twenty first century.
But now Hockey’s mantra seems to be that when things get “back to normal”, we’ll have full employment, growth will be strong again, interest rates will rise, but that’s a good thing because we’re not under a Labor government, and the Budget will be back in the black. And how is this going to happen? Well, by making the economy strong! And what’s the plan for doing that? Returning the Budget to surplus! And how’s that going to happen? By making the economy strong…
I can see we may be here for a long time. So instead I’ll finish with a joke.
Have you heard the one about the government who pride themselves on strong borders who have taken the “skilled” out of the skilled migrant visa?
Well, I’ll let the Sydney Morning Herald tell you that one. Why should Joe Hockey have all the laughs?
#Anyone know why “there is no limit to what Australia can achieve” is in quotation marks on the Liberals’ Real Solutions document? No, I don’t either, I was hoping someone could enlighten me.
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