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Nice is all very nice, but it doesn’t win elections

It is all very well to be nice and good, but the Labor Party is underselling itself if this is their only appeal to convince voters of their fitness to govern. It is time Labor killed the mainstream orthodoxy that says good economic management and being nice and good are opposing options; that you can have one but not the other. It is time Labor smashed the misconception that to vote Labor, you have to be a nice person who wants to do good things for society, but that in order to do that, you can’t also prioritise economic success. It is time Labor stopped letting the Liberals get away with their tough stance on social issues in the name of good economic management when the world is finally coming to terms with the fact that you can’t have a good economy without a well-functioning society. It is time Labor fixed their narrative to broaden their electoral appeal. It is time Labor said it straight: voting Labor is both a good thing to do socially, and is also the smart thing to do economically. In fact, you can have it both ways, and you can’t have it just one way. Labor should make this story clear.

Cultural habits die hard and so it will take some effort for Labor to undo traditional assumptions about why people vote Labor. It has long been taken for granted that Labor voters are bleeding hearts; they vote for Labor because they are looked after by Labor policies, or because they care about the people who are. The Labor voter is assumed to be the person who wants to solve the homelessness problem because they feel sorry for people who are homeless. Labor voters support Gonski 1.0 because all children deserve the best start in life; their concern extends past their own family and they want to do the right thing by the entire Australian community. Policies like the NDIS, support for Medicare, for strengthening the social safety net are all Labor policies which align with Labor values of caring for people, of having a heart, of redistributing wealth so that people have better lives than they would otherwise, for taking responsibility for everyone in the nation, no matter their wealth. Please don’t get me wrong; it is not a mistake to care for others. Showing sympathy, empathy, doing the right thing, having good values is how we bring our children up and adults who can retain these values are good human beings who should be encouraged.

I know you’re ready for the but so here it comes: BUT if Labor is to rely on people voting Labor because it is the nice and good thing to do, they are letting the Liberals steal voters who believe it is all very well to be nice and good, but what puts food on the table and a roof over their head is hard-nosed business ruthlessness and the do-gooders wouldn’t know a good business opportunity if it handed them profit on a plate.

Labor has long suffered from the notion that their policies are nice to have, but unaffordable and ultimately bad for the economy. This notion has attached itself like an leech to the Liberal’s converse values that there is no money to be nice and good if people get all the social policies they might like in a magic pudding world of unlimited government spending. The Liberals use this notion as an alibi to do really horrible things to society, all in the name of ‘austerity’, under the umbrella of ‘good economic management’ and ‘fighting the debt and deficit disaster’. They cut welfare, education and health spending. They cut regulations (which protect people from harm), they cut taxes, reducing the government’s ability to pay for the policies people need. They undermine unions and prioritise the needs and wants of business owners ahead of workers, all in the name of ‘looking after the economy’.

We don’t just see this in Australia. This issue defines the left-right divide in every democratic nation on earth. Throughout the UK election campaign, if I had a dollar every time I heard Jeremy Corbyn’s policy wish-list described as ‘unaffordable’, I would have had enough money to buy Corbyn a new shirt.

Labor suffers from this perception which influences into not only voting intention, but our very ideas about how business works and what it means to be successful at making money. For instance, the boss who gives his workers a pay rise is seen to be too nice, and not hard-nosed enough to be successful in business. The idea is that the only way to make a business work is to minimise costs and maximise profits. Same goes for government spending. Take the new world-class Royal Adelaide Hospital in South Australia, built by the Labor State Government, and under constant criticism from the Liberal Opposition and their cheerleaders in the media for being ‘too expensive’. No matter that the SA government is in surplus. No matter that it is a state in one of the richest countries in the world. No matter that the old hospital it replaced was falling to bits and full of asbestos. There is an idea from the right-wing of politics that somehow spending on a brand new public hospital which will look after people to the best of the government’s ability is a waste of money. Many voters, who you would think might be a little miffed at the Liberals for telling them they’re apparently undeserving of a world-class hospital, instead congratulate the Liberals for their good economic sense.

Labor has let this situation go on for too long. Because the new hospital is not just a nice thing to have. It’s not a shiny new toy that the people don’t really need. It’s not a sop to the bleeding hearts. The new hospital makes South Australia healthier. A healthy society is a richer society. What is good for people is good for the economy. Sick people lead to sick economic outcomes. There are a million ways to say it; Labor needs to tell the story clearly and loudly so that the misconception is vanquished. Education is not a nice to have, it’s good for the economy. Policies which hurt the environment are bad for the economy. Cutting welfare hurts economic growth. Letting business profits soar to 40% while wages grow a measly 2% in the same period is not just cruel to workers, it’s economically irresponsible and shows an ignorance about the way the economy works which is dangerous for all our livelihoods.

In a nutshell, voting Labor is socially good AND economically smart. Policies which write the rules of a society so that everyone has a chance to share in prosperity, is good for everyone’s prosperity. This is because economic growth comes from everyone’s consumer spending – the poor, the middle, the rich alike – and does not trickle down from the top. It is not bleeding-heart to understand this vital economic equation; the IMF, the World Bank, the Australian Reserve Bank, all literate economists are saying the same thing. You don’t have to be a good person to vote Labor; although it’s great if you are. You can care about the economy too. Or, you can care for only one thing – your own bank balance – and still find Labor’s policies are better for the country than the Liberals’, who may I add currently run an economy teetering on the edge of recession.

Labor needs to be proud of its economic record, it needs to tell the story of why its governments have managed successful economies. Labor needs to pull not just hearts, but also minds, over into Labor voting territory. The world is growing open to this idea. Is Labor ready to take advantage?


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  1. Jaquix

    Good article Victoria. Fighting words! Will be interesting to hear Wayne Swan’s address to the ACTU, promises to be a bit more of what you are looking for.

  2. Freethinker

    Good article from a Labor person.
    IMHO, the left faction need to start working hard to take control of the economy policies in the party, the ideas of Bowen are not an alternative , there are not progressive enough, there almost moderate neoliberal and as long as we have him and the support of Shorten on them the ALP will still going down.
    We need an strong an independent ACTU which will look after the interest of their members first and influence the party to have strong policies.
    I am worry about the political options that we have now, with the moderate neoliberal/right in the ALP and now infiltrated in the Greens.
    The electorate is looking for an option and as it is there are no many apart of some independents and small parties that do not have the resources to be well exposed during the election campaign.
    Jaquix I think that Wayne’s input will be ignored.

  3. diannaart

    Good that Labor is not so nice to refugees and pro-coal mining, then.

    Victoria’s suggestion that Labor must, finally, refute the nonsense regarding economic abilities is a good one – they couldn’t have a more fortuitous time than right now after the Abbott years and Turnbull’s ineptitude.

    Also Labor needs to make clear just how much of Gonski, NDIS, NBN(?) belongs to Labor.

    A clear plan for action on climate change would be welcome, not just by voters but by many in business who are ready to go with renewables.

  4. Marcus

    I agree. I am just starting to getting involved in politics and one of the reasons is that as a progressive I am very tired of our side surrendering to the jackboot, small minded neoliberal RWNJs. As progressives not only do we not have anything to apologise for but the evidence supports the notion that our thinking grows economies, builds wealth, well being, equality, self-actualisation and nurtures a world we can actually inhabit.

    Furthermore, I would argue the ALP has largely joined ranks with the neoliberal agenda and has lost its identify and no longer has a compelling vision or narrative. On top of this can we please learn some economics and argue back against the right wing trickle-down economics which not only does not work but had a long litany of failure to point to. Lets get a few things straight: taxes DO NOT pay for Govt services, a sovereign government with a fiat current CANNOT run out of money, and the Government does not need to borrow from ANYONE..Now that’s out of the way…

    The only push-back I would like to offer is we do not have to blindly adhere to the two-party system. The ALP does not have a monopoly on workers rights, upholding asylum seekers rights, protecting the environment, or building a better world. There are alternatives…and quite frankly it could be argued ALP has to some extent betrayed its progressive roots for years…so maybe its time to vote for someone else.


  5. Michael Taylor

    Summed it up nicely, Victoria.

  6. Harquebus

    “Cutting welfare hurts economic growth.”
    “In a nutshell, voting Labor is socially good AND economically smart.”
    “Labor needs to be proud of its economic record, it needs to tell the story of why its governments have managed successful economies.”

    “The idea that economic growth can continue forever on a finite planet is the unifying faith of industrial civilization. That it is nonsensical in the extreme, a deluded fantasy, doesn’t appear to bother us.”
    “And so, as we blunder along with business-as-usual, awaiting the techno-messiah promised by the cornucopians with their free markets and their profit-inspired geniuses, an alternate future awaits us.

    “Economists led the way to financial liberalisation of the past 40 years, which led to soaring levels of debt, crises and financial ruin. Economists dictated the terms for austerity that has so harmed the economy and society over the past years. As the policies have failed, the vast majority of economists have refused to concede wrongdoing, nor have societies been offered alternative economics policies.”
    “The economics profession, and their friends amongst the world’s financial elites, are to blame. They engineered their own political and financial bail-outs after the grave financial crisis of 2007-9. Economists cheered on politicians and effectively urged them to transfer the burden of losses on to those most innocent of the crisis. Conservative and Social Democratic politicians with friends in financial circles, were only too happy to oblige.”

    “Despite the accumulating evidence of impending crisis, the world community seems incapable of responding effectively.”
    “Failure to implement a global sustainability plan that addresses excess consumption and over-population while ensuring greater social equity may well be fatal to the human prospect.”

  7. Michael Taylor

    Victoria, nearly choked on my coffee last night when I saw a comment on Facebook that this article is a right-wing backhand at Labor. No amount of evidence would have the moron (who made that comment) convinced that you are a Lefty. ?

  8. Diane

    What they are also failing to make clear to the general public here in SA is that the new hospital will bring in large amounts of Health Tourist dollars. It will have equipment that people will be coming to SA just to use, and will bring in foreign money in the same way that our Universities do. It continues to astound me that the same bunch of people who deride our state for being backward and blame the State Labor government for that, knock the new hospital and the fact that money has been spent on it in the same breath! People that complained about cuts to other hospitals are now complaining again about plans to spend money on them! You can please some of the people, some of the time….

  9. Harry

    Agree 100% though Labor and other progressive forces need to stop accepting the validity of the “debt and deficit” or “we are running out of money” BS. That requires a more sophisticated understanding of money and macro-economics.

    The conventional view – the accepted wisdom – is that “we” cannot spend unless “you” pay taxes. That’s is actually true for you for State and Local government but its not so for an national government like ours, the US, Japan and others such as the UK government.

    A government with its own currency, its own central bank, a floating exchange rate and no foreign currency debt, faces no financial constraint at all.

    Such a government faces real and ecological constraints but no financial constraints. Every time the Australian Government spends a dollar, it does so by crediting the reserve of a commercial bank held at the RBA (Australia’s central bank) by that dollar and having the commercial bank credit the bank account of whoever is the beneficiary of that spending. Not some of the time, but every time the government spends, it creates money.

    Thus the Federal Government does not need our taxes before it spends and, anyway, where would the money come from for us to pay taxes? We have no magic pudding!

    So if we wish to increase the spending on health care, just “do it”. Spend the money into existence in the same way that we pay for all public spending.

    The conventional view is wrong, and is known to be wrong by ‘many highly credentialed economists’ who justify their public acceptance of it as a mechanism for imposing some restraints on politicians’ — to stop them spending like drunken sailors. I prefer the truth instead of hiding it and the truth is that inflation is the limit: spend more than the total resources that are out there for sale and you will have undesirable inflation.

    About the federal budget: The national government should never attempt to limit its deficit to a specific proportion of GDP. In fact, most governments (including Australia) have hardly ever run balanced budgets or budget surpluses in modern times, and when they occurred they tended to be just prior to economic downturns.

    In Australia, our political class and their media mouth pieces have made a fetish of government debt, and use it as an excuse to limit worthwhile government expenditure such as investment in education, health, communications, transport, research and so on. It is as though the government’s prime task is to balance the budget and everything else is of secondary importance.

  10. Bronte ALLAN

    I agree with most of your comments Victoria, but I most definitely DO NOT agree with what you said re the nRAH here in SA! This (the worlds second or third most expensive building!), is costing the SA taxpayers over a million dollars a day for the next 30 years (!), just to pay for the construction etc.. The “old” RAH may have been “crumbling down”, but because the incumbent Labor mob stopped maintaining it many years ago, naturally it was falling to pieces! There is a Hospital in London (St Johns or something like that), which is over 400 years old, still functioning & regularly being updated as & when it needs to be! Our Labor mob could have done this with the RAH, but no, they insisted on bringing in something called “transforming health” (sic), which is & has been a nightmare for the people of SA! Closing down valuable Hospitals, transferring Departments to other Hospitals, closing down Departments, & the list goes on. Now, after our recent state Budget was handed down, they have decided that “transforming health” is closed & they are now going to re-install some of these closed/shifted Departments back to the Hospitals they came from, & other measures, to try & fool the voters that they are “all well & good” with our health plans in SA! And, everything will be ok in SA if we just vote this inept, lying, obscenely over-paid so-called Labor mob in for another 4 years! WTF??

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