“Finally, there’s the continuing urge to make the economic crisis a morality play, a tale in which a depression is the necessary consequence of prior sins and must not be alleviated. Deficit spending and low interest rates just seem wrong to many people, perhaps especially to central bankers and other financial officials, whose sense of self-worth is bound up with the idea of being the grown-ups who say no.” End This Depression Now by Paul Krugman.
Ok, I can understand why people are confused about left and right. Partly, it’s because people lie about who they are. For instance, I heard someone on talkback announce that they were a “dyed in the wool” Labor voter, but they couldn’t help wonder why people thought that the dole was the first thing that people think of when – like the car industry workers – they were made redundant. As it was on that socialist ABC, the presenter pointed out that their redundancy would need to have run out before they were eligible for the dole. However, if they’d been on the “hard-left” AIMN – as one of the comments suggested about us a couple of days ago – I would have suggested that perhaps this person shouldn’t be a Labor voter, given that his views sounded rather like Joe Hockey’s “personal responsibility” pronouncement.
As someone who has a negatively geared property and owns some speculative shares in a gold mining company, I find accusations that I’m part of the “hard left” in this country rather confusing. I hope that some of my views on subjects may be a bit more nuanced than “Four legs good, two legs bad”. I’d like to think that the person commenting could find some argument with my position that didn’t revolve around me. A few months ago, a little infograph appeared “exposing” the writers on the AIMN. I was exposed as “not independent” because – well, there was an article by me on the AIMN that put forward “left wing” views. Which, I guess, meant that the Communist Body Snatchers had gained control of my mind.
In using terms like Right and Left, we need to remember our history. The origins of “Right” and “Left” stem from the French National Assembly at the time of the French Revolution, when the Right – who didn’t want change – sat on the right, and the left – who did – rather predictably, sat on the left. But in Australia, both have become a way of dismissing a person’s viewpoint. And both are ridiculously inaccurate when applied to the current Liberal and Labor Parties.
While Whitlam’s Government can be seen as one that embraced change, and therefore a true left government, Labor governments since then have been reluctant to make major changes. True, some people will argue that Keating’s superannuation guarantee and the misnamed Carbon Tax were important, but neither were the sort of radical changes of that can be consider an attempt to change the existing structure of our society. Most things that Labor have done since Whitlam have been intended to allow the current structure to continue to exist – with improvements. There’s been nothing as far-reaching as Medibank (now Medicare). And even Whitlam’s changes were far from the extreme left in some of the unions who used to argue that by ensuring that capitalism failed, we would be speeding up progress towards the Revolution. (“Support Whitlam, Comrade? His success is just slowing down our progress in the struggle!”)
It seems to me that Labor – in the current Parliament – is closer to a true conservative party than the Liberals. Does that make them Right wing? Hardly.
In his book, “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion”, Jonathan Haidt talks about differentiating conservatism from orthodoxy.
“Christians who look to the Bible as a guide for legislation, like Muslims who want to live under sharia, are examples of orthodoxy. They want their society to match an externally ordained moral order, so they advocate change, sometimes radical change. This can put them at odds with true conservatives, who see radical change as dangerous.”
And it’s this notion of “orthodoxy” that seems more appropriate when one looks at the current government. Howard’s introduction of WorkChoices was an ideological move with no economic and political imperatives. Part of the Liberal orthodoxy is about reducing the power of unions and decreasing regulations for employers. Many in the Liberal Party are the exact opposite of conservatives, arguing for the need to abolish institutions and regulations that have been around since the early days of Australia. There is nothing wrong with arguing for change, but there is something rather strange about doing it while suggesting that you belong to the party of stability and tradition.
Abbott assured us on a number of occasions that they wouldn’t be trying anything like WorkChoices in his first term. That has slightly more wriggle room than the argument that “never ever” just means until we’ve had another election! So, in order to justify the need for more “flexibily” in the workplace, we need to be told over and over again that these people who were struggling to meet the high cost of living under Labor are actually paid too much, that the cause of unemployment is the unions, not the high Australian dollar or the lack of anti-dumping laws. We need to be told that people who criticise are just being negative and that we all need to do the heavy lifting. Some pain is necessary – but not if you’re sending your kids to a private school or a mining company or a woman on $150,000 benefitting from the proposed PPL – class warfare, you know.
There’ll be those who argue that everything that happens is the result of Labor’s refusal to do the right thing in the GFC – that by not going into recession then, we just delayed the inevitable. The language will be patronising, with the Liberals and their supporters trying to sound like they’re the adult explaining something to a recalcitrant child. And they’ll explain that the Left have no understanding of economic matters. And then we’ll be told that things are better now that unemployment is rising and that the government is selling off assets to private companies who’ll run them more “efficiently” by removing unprofitable services. As Paul Krugman said, it’ll be turned into a morality play where we’re being punished for prior sins. We’re being punished for sin of not going into recession like the rest of the world. There’ll be no point in asking them why the debt is still rising, or why the Budget is still in deficit – these things will be Labor’s fault. And, whatever you do, don’t say how does that fit with a “no excuses” government.
It’ll be best just to ask them if they bought shares in that bridge in Sydney, because you have a few for sale at a bargain price, and you can tell that they’re not the sort of gullible people that’d pay full price.