By Ben Clark
I pity Maurice Newman. For one thing, his conspiratorial rants are beginning to have the distinct hysterical tone of delusion, sounding much like an evangelical doomsayer yelling about mankind’s coming reckoning whilst pedestrians avert their eyes to the pavement. Moreover, his entire understanding of the economy, politics and life itself is unravelling before his eyes. Nature is disproving laissez-faire economics.
Newman is Tony Abbott’s chief business adviser who, on Friday, wrote a column in The Australian suggesting that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the United Nations in order to attain world domination. Yes, you read correctly. A man with near unrivalled access to our nation’s Prime Minister wrote in what is meant to be a respectable broadsheet newspaper views so bewilderingly incoherent, inarticulate and just plain wrong that they make Andrew Bolt look like the thinking man’s columnist.
“This is not about facts or logic,” said Newman, before imploding from irony. “It’s about a new world order under the control of the UN.”
This is not the first ridiculous statement Newman has made about climate change, with another piece in The Australian last year claiming that, whilst we have all been focusing too heavily on the non-issue of global warming, we are inadequately preparing ourselves for the coming “global cooling” catastrophe.
This begs the questions as to why someone who seems otherwise competent could believe things so farcical.
How could a man rise to the positions of chairman of the Australian Stock Exchange, chairperson of the ABC and chancellor of Macquarie University if he so wildly misapprehends scientific consensus?
Newman also fears globalization. In what has been described as the “liberal paradox”, conservatives are willing to embrace globalization in the economic sphere but are worried about its bi-products such as multiculturalism and increasing political interconnectedness. Hence the attacks on the UN.
The UN calls on all nations to stand together to fight climate change and seeks to develop agreements which facilitate this, which undermines traditional concepts of sovereignty in geopolitics.
Furthermore, Newman is seeing the ideology to which his is so heavily wedded, that of free-market neoliberalism, being shattered by the forces of nature.
Neoliberal consensus holds that the market is capable of providing nearly everything (excluding the legal system and military) in the most efficient way, and that state intervention in the market will never do anything that private businesses couldn’t do better themselves.
Yet global warming, potentially the most significant problem human society has encountered in its history, clearly cannot be fixed by the market alone. Private businesses have caused the problem and they are showing few signs of wanting to fix it.
Left to the free market, the world would surely continue to warm and our earth would slowly erode. It is becoming glaringly obvious that measures like carbon pricing, environmental regulation, direct action policies and other state interventions in the market are necessary to combat the threat of global warming.
So what next for the free market? Is it inevitable that liberalism drowns as the sea level rises?
Not by a long shot.
In fact, Adam Smith’s invisible hand may be more relevant today than ever, as few are questioning whether markets themselves should continue to exist but whether they should be oriented towards a greener future. And most of this orientation must use market-based principles, such as the creation of a “carbon market” with an emissions trading scheme.
The state cannot hope to fund enough projects itself to drop emissions, it must engage with the market and affect the forces of private equity to achieve change.
What must cease to exist, or at least cease to exert influence in the Prime Minister’s office, is free-market fundamentalism, the purist view that all state intervention in the economy is bad and all private activity is good.
This view is simply incompatible with the problems faced by human civilization which require collective action organised through the organs of the state.
I imagine Newman reading the news, experiencing a horrible sinking feeling as he reads of how 97% of the world’s scientists resolutely agree that the earth is warming, that states will need to take strong affirmative action to counter the threat, that global cooling isn’t even a thing.
Newman is part of a dying breed of uncompromising political animals, intent on winding back the state regardless of the consequences to the earth around him, or else he is truly delusional. I actually do feel sorry for the man. I can’t imagine what it feels like to be so incredibly wrong.
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