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Day to Day Politics: Open or Closed Societies.

Wednesday 26 July 2017

Bill Shorten is due to make two important speeches next weekend. Firstly he will address the NSW State Labor Conference, and secondly the Australian Republican Movement. Both afford him the opportunity to expand of the theme of inequality.

At this time last year I wrote about another speech. One given by Chris Bowen.

Last week Opposition shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen gave an address to The Financial Services Council Leaders’ Summit 2016. In it he used the phrase “Open or Closed”. It came as a surprise, firstly because I had written on the subject some time ago and secondly, because I had not heard an Australian politician ever utter the words.

It of course refers to “Open or Closed societies” versus Left and Right.

Here is part of Bowen’s speech:

“But I want to spend a few minutes today to also speak about the Australian election in the international context. Around the world, political elites are dealing with the rise of the disenfranchised and disillusioned. People disillusioned by anaemic growth and growing income inequality are being sold simple messages that the answer to their problems and their nations problems is isolation; isolation from trade, isolation from immigration.

This of course is being established in different ways around the world, but with common themes. Britain was told they would be better off out of the European Union. Marine Le Pen is telling France that they would be better off without migration and globalisation.

In Austria, the two major parties on the centre right and centre left were excluded from the recent Presidential elections by parties on the extreme right and extreme left with equally simple solutions to complex problems.

And of course in the United States, voters are being sold a solution which involves the building of walls and the erection of barriers.

A political debate is raging across the planet – open versus closed.”

The phrase Open Vs Closed originated from a speech by the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg. He explained it this way.

So what is an open society? It is a society where powerful citizens are free to shape their own lives. It has five vital features:

i) social mobility, so that all are free to rise;

ii) Dispersed power in politics, the media and the economy;

iii) Transparency, and the sharing of knowledge and information;

iv) A fair distribution of wealth and property; and

v) An internationalist outlook

By contrast a closed society is one in which:

i) a child’s opportunities are decided by the circumstances of their birth:

ii) Power is hoarded by the elite

iii) Information is jealously guarded

iv) Wealth accumulates in the hands of the few, not the many; and

v) Narrow nationalism trumps enlightened internationalism

Closed societies – opaque, hierarchical, insular – are the sorts of society my party has opposed for over a hundred and fifty years.

If you read the full speech it is easy to understand why there are those who believe that Liberalism in its purest form is arguably the best and most suited political philosophy for addressing the problems of tomorrow.

There is a broad acceptance among political thinkers that ideological philosophies of the old Left Vs Right kind are past their use-by date and are being replaces by Open Vs Closed.

The “new thinkers” on economics even suggest that Capitalism is fighting for its survival with democracy its enemy.

In an interview with Leo Benedictus talking about the film The Divide, Noam Chomsky was asked the following: So have you become more optimistic now you believe a hunger for change is showing itself around the world?

“I think we have the seeds of change. They can flourish and address the massive problems we face. They may not. We don’t know. That’s a choice. And we haven’t even talked about the worst problems: the economic problems are bad enough, as are the social problems, but far worse than these are the major threats to the survival of the human species – the threat of nuclear war and environmental catastrophe. Here, if you look at the US primaries, you have to be impressed and appalled by the utter irrationality of the species. Here are two enormous problems that have to be faced right now, and they are almost absent from the primaries.”

What effect would electing Donald Trump have?

“It’s hard to say because we don’t really know what he thinks. And I’m not sure he knows what he thinks. He’s perfectly capable of saying contradictory things at the same time.

But there are some pretty stable elements of his ideology, if you can even grant him that concept. One of them is: “Climate change is not taking place.” As he puts it: “Forget it.” And that’s almost a death knell for the species – not tomorrow, but the decisions we take now are going to affect things in a couple of decades, and in a couple of generations it could be catastrophic.

”If it were between Trump and Hillary Clinton, would you vote for Clinton?

“If I were in a swing state, a state that matters, and the choice were Clinton or Trump, I would vote against Trump. And by arithmetic that means hold your nose and vote for Clinton.”

How do you turn a plutocracy into a democracy?

“It’s not very hard. In the US, it simply means going back to mainstream ideas. To quote John Dewey, the leading US social philosopher of the 20th century, until all institutions – industrial, commercial, media, others – are under democratic control, or in the hands of what we now call stakeholders, politics will be the shadow cast by big business over society. That’s elementary and it can be done.”

As Friedrich Hayek “The Road to Serfdom” says:

“By refusing to face the facts, the conservative only weakens his own position. Frequently the conclusions which rationalist presumption draws from new scientific insights do not at all follow from them. But only by actively taking part in the elaboration of the consequences of new discoveries do we learn whether or not they fit into our world picture and, if so, how.’’

In my own piece I wrote:

“Australian politics has descended into a murky pit of corruption, vindictiveness and scandal on both sides. The pursuit of power for power’s sake has taken on an importance that relegates the common good to a distant second. Personal gain has surpassed public service. People of questionable character hold high office and influence. Big business has become the senior advisor. Economics has become the barometer of a successful society rather than the wellbeing of the people.

Political controversy and conflict has always been with us and probably always will be, but for the future of our democracy it needs to be tempered with a contest of ideas. Better people need to be elected to parliament. People with a wide range of experiences. Not just party hacks but people with character, with desire for change, for truth, for equality, for justice and with an honourable understanding of what public service is.”

This then leads me back to my question.

Are the political ideologies of today suited to address the problems of tomorrow?

Well let me put it this way. I am born and bred of the left but I don’t have a closed mind. I do believe that the problems of today and tomorrow are so overwhelming that they require solutions that go beyond an ideology first mentality. A politic that puts it all aside and simply says. ‘’What serves the common good’’

That might be termed good government.

My thought for the day.

“The ideas of today need to be honed with critical reason, factual evidence and scientific methods of enquiry so that they clearly articulate the currency of tomorrow“.


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  1. deanyz1

    Utopia or Dystopia? Open or closed? Left or right?

  2. Owen ...

    The government needs to be audited on outcomes not intent… Their true intent is often hidden from us via false projected outcomes.. Such as trickle down economic policy in truth it works like a wick it draws and concentrates the benefit to the top…

  3. Terry2

    We are about to see a pantomime akin to a Monty Python sketch where be-wigged judges will sit down and determine Matt Canavan’s dual citizenship situation based on the well known legal and constitutional precedent of me muvver done it

    This defence to section 44 of our Constitution has not been tried on before but with the National Party you never know : if a character reference from Gautam Adani can be submitted, Canavan should be home and hosed.

    So, what about Ludlum and Waters ? Well, under our system of jurisprudence there is another important caveat namely : they are Greens. So, sorry about that !

  4. johnlord2013John

    Thanks Owen. Excellent thoughts. Catch you at the footy. Go coppers.

  5. wam

    Wow have you not heard of matty 6.34?

    Closed is easy, Lord, yes or no (truth or lie?)

    When this test was applied in America in 2016 the majority came to the same conclusion as Australians did in 2013 and again in 2016. Are we on target for 2019 or will the libs need rupert and an emergency to influence our choice?

    The certainty is that in future natural skills will not get a job without the enhancement of education or accident of birth and this government is not concerned with educating all.

    ps don’t parents have a new power?? I heard an ABC announcer say that her father applied for Italian citizenship and his children(under 18 at the time?) are automatically Italian citizens.

  6. Harquebus

    Are the political ideologies of today suited to address the problems of tomorrow? – No they are not.
    Physics will trump political and economic ideologies.

    “Humans have a virtually unlimited capacity for self-delusion, even when self-preservation is at stake.”
    “The scariest example is the simplistic, growth-oriented, market-based economic thinking that is all but running the world today. Prevailing neoliberal economic models make no useful reference to the dynamics of the ecosystems or social systems with which the economy interacts in the real world.”
    “we’ve already shot past several important planetary boundaries.”
    “Propelled by neoliberal economic thinking and fossil fuels, techno-industrial society consumed more energy and resources during the most recent doubling (the past 35 years or so) than in all previous history.”
    “Ignoring overshoot is dangerously stupid — we are financing growth, in part, by irreversibly liquidating natural resources essential to our own long-term survival.”
    “Like a mind-altering drug, the compound myth of perpetual growth and continuous technological progress obscures reality.”

    “Our growth-based, winner-takes-all economy has become egregiously unjust as well as ecologically precarious. Perversely, the world community prescribes still greater material growth as the only feasible solution!”

    “Sadly, a big number of people in the world will be unemployed within the next few years. At that point, governments will be insolvent and print money which will be worthless. There will be no social security and no pension system. The health care system will also fail in many countries with disastrous consequences.”

    Greyerz – We Are Now In The Frightening Endgame

    “Nowadays, money is based on nothing tangible. Money is now created with debt, and they need more debt to pay the interest on the bonds that created this debt/credit/money in the first place. We’ve reached a point where there isn’t even enough money in existence to pay the interest let alone touch the principle. Consequently, everything is slowly turning to shit.”
    “The oldsters want to retire, but can’t and the youngsters can’t find decent jobs. Welcome to the Stealth Depression.”
    “Resource-rich trading partners like Canada & Australia won’t be spared from the next down-turn by Chinese demand like they were during the ’08 – ’09 recession.”

    Throwing these in for general interest.

    “He started to struggle and scream for help and they just laughed”
    “Three days later, his body was discovered in the pond.”

    “After being dragged onto the beach with the very ropes that had ensnared it, the video shows, the creature thrashes helplessly on the sand before being pulled further still from the only thing that could actually save it — the ocean.”

    How Narcissistic Selfie Culture Is Responsible for the Death of a Shark & More

    Our future doesn’t look good.

    Oh, and if any have any doubt as to the statement regarding the doubling of consumption, here it is again. The arithmetic is not difficult.

    Dr Albert Bartlett: Arithmetic, Population and Energy

    “He who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to talk nonsense.” — John McCarthy


  7. Terry2

    Gillian Triggs had a farewell interview with Fran Kelly on ABC RN – sad to see her go.

    However, something she mentioned was that she had just returned from visiting the Yongah Hill detention
    centre in WA : never heard of it ? neither had I.

    Yongah Hill has some 600 asylum seeker detainees, many of whom have been there for over five years.

    Mr Dutton doesn’t want you to know that as it doesn’t look good on his (or our) resume.

  8. helvityni

    Sad to see Gillian Triggs go, why would anyone want to stay when treated so badly as she was.

    Oh dear, another detention centre; ONLY 600 detainees, and so far there for only FIVE years. What’s new ,pussycat…

  9. Aortic

    I agree with the comment that better people need to be elected to Parliament, not party hacks and acolytes but perhaps this is easier said than done. Particularly if you are a dissenting voice you would tend to get howled down by the attendant majority. Part of the solution, I think, could be publicly funded elections. Perhaps if we rid ourselves of the perfidious influence that money has on lobbyists and candidates we could get candidates unencumbered by being beholden to one contributors list of wants or another. If ” Questions without Notice” were actually so it would also add to the democratic process, the present farce being nothing more than a disgraceful sham. The most dangerous of all is when people stop listening altogether and I fear that now this is very much the case. To effect change, however debilitating it may seem, we need to stay engaged and if necessary enraged.

  10. Glenn Barry

    Perpetual growth in a closed system equals extinction, or do the upper echelons of the powerful somehow think that they are going to inherit the depopulated planet?

    Unfortunately for them that’s not going to be the outcome as they are the group most lacking in the requisite survival skills.

  11. Terry2

    Lot of talk around the Murray-Darling rorting of water allowances and outright theft in a number of cases plus massive waste of billions of dollars of taxpayers money.

    Did you know that the National Water Commission (NWC) was an independent statutory authority within the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities portfolio in Australia.

    The NWC provided independent, evidence-based advice to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) and the Australian Government on national water issues.

    The Commission had three core ongoing functions: monitoring, audit, and assessment. It was also empowered to undertake broader activities that promote national water reform objectives. The Commission had additional functions under other Commonwealth acts and regulations: under The Water Act 2007 the Commission had an ongoing function in auditing the effectiveness of the implementation of the Murray–Darling Basin Plan and associated water resource plans. The Commission was required to conduct its first audit by March 2013 and subsequently no later than five years from the conduct of the first audit.

    So what was the NWC doing whilst all this rorting was going on ?

    The National Water Commission was abolished by the Abbott government in 2014.

    Another major achievement of the Abbott administration !

  12. Enslaved

    @Aortic. i agree with your post especially the last sentence but I would like to say that I have sent many emails to all side of politics on many issues and one gets stonewalled and on one occasion I got raided for remonstrating against the crime that is Cannabis prohibition, so it can be very dangerous too! When government can use jack boot tactics I cry revolution!!!!!

  13. wam

    yes terry 2 the rabbottians love to brag about cutting red tape. Unfortunately the result is a loss of accountability and often a lot of cash for ‘mates’.

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