Missing Link Friday – The crisis of social democracy

A failure in the realm of ideas: It’s crisis as usual for the left. Despite the global financial crisis, left of centre parties are struggling in the polls. Francis Fukuyama puts it down to a "a failure in the realm of ideas" arguing that: "The left has not been able to make a plausible case for an agenda other than a return to an unaffordable form of old-fashioned social democracy."

Forget about ideas, says Bob Carr: In the Financial Review, incoming foreign minister Bob Carr argues that parties of the left are exhausted because they’ve fulfilled their mission and achieved most of their major goals. But according to Carr the problem is not a lack of bold new ideas. To succeed, leaders should forget about theory and improvise. That is how Labor has succeeded in the past.

More ideology! In the UK, Pete Redford takes the opposite view. At the LSE’s Politics and Policy blog he writes:

New Labour provided us with years of policy rather than ideology; for us to be successful again the party needs faith in its ideology and to break free from the New Labour belief that abandoning principles is necessary for power. Ed Miliband’s belief that Labour is not intellectually confident is an unfortunate truth. Not since Hugh Gaitskell and Anthony Crosland has the party had a clear ideological view and it now falls upon us to give an ideology back to the party.

Along with University of Liverpool academic Kevin Hickson, Redford argues that Labour needs an alternative to the Blairite agenda being pushed by people like David Miliband.

Last month David Miliband attacked a recent article by Hickson and former deputy leader Roy Hattersley that argued Labour needed a coherent and consistent philosophy. According to Hickson and Hattersley, New Labour placed too much faith in markets and accepted the conservative idea that the state should be drastically reduced.

Reassurance Labour: David Miliband dismissed this call for ideological renewal as an exercise in feel-good politics. "It is what I shall call Reassurance Labour", he wrote. "Reassurance about our purpose, our relevance, our position, even our morals. Reassurance Labour feels good. But feeling good is not the same as doing good – and it gets in the way when it stops us rethinking our ideas to meet the challenges of the time."

Hattersley hit back in the Guardian arguing:

State action is vital to the achievement of a more equal society. It is the most efficient mechanism for the redistribution of power and wealth, and it enables a genuinely egalitarian government to destroy the institutions of inequality and replace them with systems which unite rather than divide the nation.

Meanwhile at Larvatus Prodeo … Guy Beres suggests that: "the Rudd and Gillard Labor Governments have dipped quite a bit into ‘Reassurance Labour’ economics, pursuing interventionist tax policies on climate change and mining, and betting the farm on the success of the National Broadband Network project."

Too much ‘light on the hill’ rhetoric, says Carr: While British social democrats like Redford invoke the work of theoretical thinkers like Tony Crosland, Carr argues that ideological debate is futile. Other responses to the crisis of social democracy are not much better. In the Financial Review he writes:

Nobody knows what “social inclusion” means and I am getting weary of attempts to invoke Prime Minister Ben Chifley’s “light on the hill”, more being made of it than Chifley ever intended. Education is elevated as the answer to every social problem, as if nobody has ever tried it.

Wayne Swan vs the malefactors of great wealth: In the Monthly, Treasurer Wayne Swan argues for a more equal Australia: "It’s not just about putting dollars in people’s pockets, but about building a better society; a society that creates wealth and spreads opportunity, a society that lifts up the worst-off and gives everyone a decent shot at a decent life." According to Swan, this vision is threatened by the increasing power of vested interests. He singled out mining magnates Andrew Forrest, Clive Palmer and Gina Rinehart claiming that Rinhart had enlisted the help of media figures like Andrew Bolt, Alan Jones and Ray Hadley.

Right wing bloggers scoff: Andrew Bolt mocks Swan’s claims asking: "Which individuals ‘mobilised’ all the conservatives and ‘shock jocks’ and when did that order go out? Was there a secret conference? Are Jews, Freemasons or Opus Dei involved?" At Catallaxy, Judith Sloan dismisses Swan’s article as "unsubstantiated hyperbole and prejudiced mumbo-jumbo."

The continuing crisis of social democracy: "No, Labor and social democracy in Australia are not dead yet but both are struggling." Wayne Swan, 2002.

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53 Responses to Missing Link Friday – The crisis of social democracy

  1. paul walter says:

    By the juxtaposing of seemingly random and unrelated events and people, Don Arthur has actually got very close to a snapshot of things as they are, 2012.
    Just boning up on the obnoxious LYNAS adventure, Sloan’s assertions of “unsubstantiated” commentary based on “prejudice” is easily dismissed: the elephant in the room remains the massive financial institutions “too big to fail” and it seems, beyond humanity, regulation or reason.
    AS for Carr, we thought he had retreated to his Macbank consultancy after the peculiar revelations that came of NSW infrastructure policy in the first part of the decade. But he demonstrates that it is not the left that is void of ideas,its bots like himself, servants of empire. In his case all that is left is reputation, to obscure the misanthropy that now has a total hold on him and his ilk.
    Miliband (or millipede, or whatever its name is!) knows the power of the City of London, likewise he seeks a sinecure within the system rather than favouring program that challenge globalised capital in favour of the 99%. If he gets in next election it will merely infer a botox of the shopfront.
    The thing is, there IS a need for social change to accommodate human need, more than ever in these times, but like Swan in 2002,I won’t hold my breath,just hope it doesn’t get worse if Gillard Labor is chucked by the Abbott zealots and their tabloid noise-machine.

  2. Bill Posters says:

    Francis Fukuyama? Isn’t he the bloke who said history had ended? That worked out well.

  3. Don Arthur says:

    Bill – Aside from writing best selling books with dubious arguments, Francis Fukuyama has interesting hobbies.

  4. paul walter says:

    Apart from playing “Space Invaders”, his other hobby would be pulling the wings off insects?

  5. Patrick says:

    How badly has it worked out after all? Has any compelling alternative emerged?

  6. paul walter says:

    Patrick, this is the third or fourth time this year you and I have agreed. Much more of this and people will begin to get suspicious.
    For more, you should pop over to LP, where there is a nice fat thread with seventy posts up, altho not before you have completed a read and a comment or two here (hi, Don!).

  7. Don Arthur says:

    Patrick – Azar Gat argues that one alternative is ‘authoritarian great powers’ like China – regimes that embrace capitalism but not democracy.

    The real success of Fukuyama’s end of history thesis is that it sparked an onging debate about modernisation and liberal democracy.

  8. paul walter says:

    You mean like the West, Don?

  9. conrad says:

    I agree with Patrick — if this is the worst that it can get, then it isn’t very bad. Even in current problem hot-spots, like Europe, there are many places which appear just fine, like Germany and France. Perhaps it isn’t utopia, but I wouldn’t even dream of calling it a failure.

    I also don’t think that regimes like China and Russia will necessarily get as far as they would like if they stay in their authoritarian states (which is not to say they won’t get somewhere). The first and most obvious reason is that the people appear sick of it in both countries. Thus, whilst authoritarian regimes might get you somewhere, there’s obviously a limit caused by people wanting to be more free. Perhaps this is just a natural human tendency once you have large numbers of well-educated people that can talk to each other. Now, perhaps both those countries can suppress this desire, but spending lots of resources doing this is hardly conducive to development, and, like the current situation, anybody really good at anything (or even those that just have money), wants to get out. This is inevitably terrible for things like science and technology that allow you to go from being a mid-level country to a rich one. Another reason is that authoritarian regimes almost always have high levels of corruption, and again, this is something that will put a big dampener on development. Why do anything if some higher level authoritarian figures are just going to steal whatever you make?

  10. Nicholas Gruen says:

    I thought Carr’s article was very good, but it isn’t about forgetting about ideas and improvising. It’s about lightening up on the craving for some new Big Idea that will lead us to the promised land. Since he’s quoting the bigger reformers of their time – Hawke, Keating, FDR – he’s not arguing for passivity or for minor improvisation, but for improvising suited to the circumstances. Clearly the circumstances were a lot worse for FDR than Hawke and Keating, but they were all relatively bold in improvising their way through their periods. (though I think there was a grand narrative behind Hawke and Keating – it was neoclassical economics. Fortunately they used it to dismantle the dysfunctional parts of older institutions, and didn’t take it too far.

  11. paul walter says:

    Since you are about, Nicholas, much thanks for the Crikey sub, although it did require a phone call to Crikey itself, due to its unresponsive application page.

  12. Don Arthur says:

    Nicholas – When I read Carr’s article I wonder why anyone would bother joining the Labor Party. Aside from winning elections and being competent managers, what does the party stand for?

    It makes the choice between Labor and Liberal sound like the choice between Coles and Woolworths.

    In this kind of world, won’t party leaders end up repeating voters’ focus group comments back to them in speeches? Won’t it end up as a Milli Vanilli politics where performers read scripts assembled by backroom experts?

    Here’s what Carr says:

    There are no eternal principles to wave around, just a cranky “socialisation” objective adopted by accident in?1921 that nobody understood or was prepared to implement. The ALP in fact was generally make-shift and improvised.

    There may lie the way forward. Improvisation – smart leaders collecting the best that is around and making it up as they go along.

    Maybe it’s best to stop looking for big, bold new ideas. Whenever you look for them, they have a sneaky habit of evaporating.

    Improvising is fine but Carr’s comments seem to assume everyone agrees on what “the best” policies are when they see the results. Do they?

    To tell the difference between better and worse results you need to have values. And because political leaders have to make decisions about all kinds of better and worse things that voters are too busy to pay attention to, it’s reasonable for those voters to ask what the leaders values are.

    It’s also reasonable for voters to choose leaders who actually believe in the things they say they support. The best way to demonstrate this is to show rather than tell. The message needs to be consistent with the way the leader has lived their life.

  13. Mike Pepperday says:

    I agree with you Conrad. China and Russia will ultimately show Fukuyama to be right.

    There’s a strange thing with both him and Gat: they don’t like democracy. They don’t actually say so of course, but they wish there were another way than democracy. Fukuyama wonders, in his padded-out book, why people prefer democracy. For a brainy bloke you can only think that’s disingenuous. Gat’s “War in human civilization” is is a model of scholarship. Nothing disingenuous there, and though he is not a really good writer, he argues carefully and well. Yet there is a wistfulness, a hint of protesting too much, that indicates he wishes it were otherwise.

    Damn democracy. It’s a bummer.

  14. paul walter says:

    Don Arthur has me in stitches…values!!
    The history of all Labor governments is that they shy away from good policy platforms- as with 2007- even when these may be necessary or desirable, once they get in to government.
    Carr, Rudd, most of the state labor premiers and many other prominent figures remain paralysed by the red smear commo bogy crap of sixty years ago, if not actually brainwashed by rightist propaganda into beleiving it, and it means even timid social reforms and social infrastructure projects are backed off from, even when there is practical need for them.

  15. Peter Patton says:

    The Left was basically a product of Marxism, and was riding high while Marxism was sequestered in the seminar room and trade-union street march megaphoners. Once actual Marxists started taking the guns and the petty cash tins, the whole Marxist edifice was revealed to be error-ridden and really, really ugly. Sans Marx, there is no leftist thought or program; only luvvies – parasites of pork.

  16. Nicholas Gruen says:


    It does depend what you read between the lines.

    Carr doesn’t seem to shy away from boldness, but he does shy away from Big Ideas.

    He says this.

    In a similar spirit, Australian Labor cannot walk away from its legacy and is entitled to define itself as the party of economic liberalism, open markets and rising living standards, leavened by a sense of social responsibility.

    Now you could say that that’s what it’s opponents say. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating. As ex-Liberal Saul Eslake used to say Howard acted completely cynically according to the median voter hypothesis trying to take what he could from the rich and poor and deliver to median voters.

    I think the ALP has a somewhat better record than that. It’s been more progressive and basically sane on

    * economic deregulation and management of the economy
    * redistribution (delivering more targeted assistance to those on lower incomes)
    * climate change (hardly a small matter)

    If you want more than that, well it hasn’t really been on offer for a long time.

    I guess I find the tacit acknowledgement that it’s how you apply what is effectively a bi-partisan framework (as spelled out in the block quote above) rather than in some articulation of some new Grand Principle which somehow distinguishes you from your opponents, a bit of a breath of fresh air. I’ve wasted many late nights long ago writing out rubbish that my minister imagined distinguished him from his opponents. Yet they never ended up saying anything more than that blockquote above.

    Then again, I don’t want to completely oppose what you’re saying. I guess it’s a pretty uninspiring ‘narrative’. Perhaps there’s something corrosive about lowering the aspirations of a political party so much. It’s certainly more in tune with what actually happens.

  17. Don Arthur says:

    Nicholas – Yes, most of the Bold New Ideas turn out to be a waste of time.

    The Third Way is a good example. The third-wayers started with constraints about what they believed they could and couldn’t do (eg it’s not possible to get elected if voters think you’ll increase taxes or run deficits) and then constructed a convenient theory of how the world worked that showed how their party’s traditional values could be achieved within those constraints.

    Third-wayers loved to talk about ‘investments’ in education and training and the importance of early childhood. Why? Because one of their big constraints was on conspicuously redistributing money from people who worked to people who didn’t (except if those people were old). That made it necessary to believe that things like income support payments and public housing could be replaced by things like labour market programs.

    If Carr is complaining about things like this then he’s got a point.

  18. Dan says:

    I saw a lovely definition of social inclusion in Senate Estimates Hansard, I’ll hunt it down and post it here. It’s brief and common-sense, and should make perfect sense to both social democrats as well as those on the right who claim to think that equality of opportunity is a good idea.

    Carr’s craven and unimaginative piece is precisely why despite growing up in a Labor household, and certainly preferring them to the Coalition, I can never bring myself to vote for them. The Labor Party of today, particularly the NSW Right, seem to think that values are an optional add-on. In fact they’re the very core of democracy, without which the whole enterprise is just a purely management-orientated exercise in shuffling figures around in a spreadsheet, with the KPI of being re-elected.

  19. paul walter says:

    Boy, do I have exponentially massive sympathy for Dan’s “managing the decline” comment.
    But I begin to get some of the more nuanced stuff from others; it’s a global system and isn’t the fractile of a percent extra interest on my bank account likely derived of the exploitation of some form of sweated labor off shore, where OHS and other reasonable propositions long advocated and implemented here are shrugged off as threats to investment security by people stumping up for projects like the Lynas one.
    The trouble is, the move to universalise our system was side stepped by big capital; far from basic human needs being catered to, even the system that accommodates our own is in danger of demolition.
    Some of this process may be legitimate “reform” or “creative destruction” of obsolete protectionist forms; much more is to do with artificially constructed situational goods and bads that squander resources in the interest of owners.
    The US, where the education system itself is under threat, for example, so that the Koch bros or Murdoch type robber barons can maximise a sort of feudal wealth and power, is an example of killing the civilisational goose, of an assault not just on superstructure but the very base itself; as the pomos say, a grievous injury to the very text.

  20. murph the surf. says:

    The anodyne and quietly competent sound very good to me as the template for politicians to follow.
    What one person holds to be a value may look like a prejudice to another.Who really wants the white knuckle ride of the inspired politician taking charge?
    Let’s settle for robust rule of law and minimal interference in the capital allocation process, chuck in vigilance against corruption which has been the ALP’s problem in NSW.
    Bob Carr has impressed me anyway with his articles of late and his move to Canberra is a huge boost to the fuel for the political tragic’s bonfire.
    I also think the Fukuyama bit is well thought out and argued – his analysis that there has been a loss of agenda on the left isn’t necessarily harsh criticism rather observation that circumstances and reality have changed and new challenges need to be envisaged for the progressive cause.

  21. Paul Montgomery says:

    Carr has a hide lecturing us about big ideas. Hey Bob, how about the idea to invest in infrastructure? He is a major reason why NSW is a basket case for transport and planning. His version of realpolitik was so conservative that he had no time at all for nation-building. He will most likely be a fine foreign minister, but I’m glad he doesn’t have any control over domestic policy.

    Carr is the ALP’s version of Turnbull: so far to the centre that he goes past the middle and through to the other side, so he might as well have joined the other mob.

  22. Don Arthur says:

    Murph – That reminds me of Mark Textor’s piece in the SMH.

  23. Dennis Argall says:

    To pick up from Wayne Swan and the malefactors, and to address directly the poor performance of government intervention, we need to see that in large areas of government there are vested interests, entrenched authority, obstruction of the sort of positive ideas espoused by Swan, quoted above.

    This is not to bash the public service generally, but to wonder where to turn. In 1975, the late John Enfield and I were the first after the chair of the Public Service Board to appear before the Coombs Royal Commission into Australian Administration, with a private submission arguing what were then four wild ideas:
    – strategic planning
    – program budgeting
    – coordination of service delivery in the regions, and
    – putting the senior executive on contract.

    We did so with a core concern to see a shift in attitudes from process to outcomes.

    How tragic to see since, how quickly after each of these was adopted, that plans budgets and the rest became instruments of process more than ways of focusing on better outcomes: fill in the boxes and proceed as directed.

    How then do we change bureaucracy, change the nature of government administration away from process to outcomes? This is perhaps the area where Bob Carr’s call for experiment is most appropriate. And most difficult, given the pervasive tendency of bureaucracy to be cautious and regulated by process rules. So innovation has to be somehow constant, while also enabling public servants to stay moderately sane. It would need a set of ethics behind it that would drive and entrust public servants to risk taking, with new approaches to audit (perhaps much closer, and smaller scale, more immediate, not difficult with modern technology). It would require an attitude by ERC and the ERC-fearful that allowed new programs that work to proceed, not face constant chopping. And facilitated, enabled, the reshaping of the ineffective. It would require an attitude by Opposition reflective of a desire also to govern, a willingness to experimentation and an end to nitpicking, the exemplary model of which (pardon if my mind goes back to riveting nonsense in the parliamentary night) was Senator, now MHR Bishop in Senates Estimates Committee sessions, embarrassing her colleagues. You can stand on a hill anywhere in the public sector and yell like a dog over and over and eventually a rabbit will come out of the ground; so interesting to see when a yelling can’t see the rabbit when it appears, being so caught up with the process of yelling, and her colleagues decline to point it out to her because none of us would ever get home.

    We have to get the parliament out of the attitudes of all the lawyers there who have grown up desirous not of driving hot Holdens but mixing hot words of little point. Again, a shift from process to outcomes is critical, as is an openness to the new.

    I’m not optimistic…

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  25. Don Arthur says:

    Dennis – I think one of the benefits of experimentation is that it helps decision makers develop better goals. And that means temporarily relaxing the bureaucratic demand that every activity must have predetermined outcomes.

    James G March argued:

    Decision makers can discover values, aspirations, and self-conceptions in the process of making decisions and experiencing their consequences. The aspirations that allow decision makers to distinguish successes from failures can themselves be transformed in the process of decision making.

    Government departments sometimes create ‘innovation funds’ so that providers can try out new ways of solving old problems. But I wonder whether it might be better to have funds that enable providers to try doing something new without the constraints of old outcome measures and stale goals.

    If Carr’s right and social democracy is in trouble because it’s fulfilled the old goals, then maybe the most pressing need is to discover new ones.

  26. Tel says:

    If Carr’s right and social democracy is in trouble because it’s fulfilled the old goals, then maybe the most pressing need is to discover new ones.

    Really? Would it kill you to just let people alone for a little while?

  27. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Don, Dennis,

    These are tremendously important issues that you raise. And tremendously difficult to make progress on.

    Hayek reflects on this with his jaundice about central planning – though his motives were overly ideological, rather than driven by open minded curiousity. The problem it seems to me is this.

    1. As any organism – whether biological or political and executive society grows more complex, the extent to which it can be commanded and controlled from above is compromised.
    2. Once one is at this point, one can reconfigure old structures, but – as Dennis has suggested – they somehow conspire to ‘miss the point’ of what one was trying to do.
    3. I think of Toyota’s production system as finessing this a bit in that it built an entire system on the presumption that managers and those in senior positions were there to facilitate the inherent desire of people to do a good job – rather than to surveil them to prevent them shirking.
    4. But systems like Toyota and similar systems require a high degree of morale, trust, and capability. This is already a cultural and technical achievement – and easily capable of being buggered up by an Al Dunlap or some other oaf who comes in and sucks some short term dividends out of the place by undermining long term morale.
    5. The public sector is subject to numerous additional constraints many of which undermine trust. The sensationalism and dumbing down of the media, the corresponding dumbing down of party political discourse, not to mention its reflex adversarialism, the hierarchical structure of accountabilities, the lack of competitive pressure, or even of effective means of measuring which public sector organisations are performing well and which are not, featherbedding and timeserving by unions at the bottom and abuse of position (both political and bureaucratic) at the top and on and on.

    Like Dennis said, not many reasons to be optimistic.

  28. Dan says:

    Tel – if you’re in the business of delivering services that the market can’t or won’t (eg. emergency departments in remote, impoverished areas), then while it won’t kill us, it might kill the people in those areas – and that’s not good enough, particularly in a rich country.

  29. Nicholas Gruen says:

    I would add that I’ve been a big critic of Carr’s introduction of the magic pudding of PPPs. He managed to have Sydney ringed by motorways that would have cost the public about 40% less if they’d been financed in the normal way – as debt on the govt’s balance sheet (at a 5-6% interest rate), rather than on company balances sheets (at 9-10% rates). That was outrageous. On the other hand if you had the choice between that and not having those investments, you’d choose the former. Several of the PPPs have such high rates of return for the investors, who could pay off their investment in a few years and then pocket all the profits for twenty five more years, that the best spin one can put on it is gross incompetence of the public service negotiating the deals.

  30. Dan says:

    Yeah, but also the NSW government not feeling politically able to borrow any dosh, because of an electorate scared to death by junk economics (and junk economists) of public debt.

    Gotta keep that AAA! Gotta keep it!

  31. Patrick says:

    Then again, a few went bankrupt. Maybe no-one really knew what they were doing in Sydney?

  32. Nicholas Gruen says:

    True, but that was poor traffic load analysis by the investor. I guess it could have been the other way with the other projects, but some of the things that Tony Harris published as Auditor were remarkable.

  33. paul walter says:

    Yes, I think Nicholas’ comment at 27 is the key post, also the Ponzi scheme reference (as I take it) at 29. Donald Horne’s “National project” depended on the carry over of community spirit from an earlier era and it produced a good era before the mid seventies, as folk like Hobsbawm have pointed out, as to the global phenomena this was part of.
    It was so successful that it dug its own grave, what with new technologies, near universal education and high standards of living and we slipped to post modernism, as a glutted society slipped from engagement, cooperation and concern to fitful atomisation, neurosis and narcissism, as individuals discovered material prosperity to be the next big frontier to explore, without a directions pamphlet to sooth nerves.
    This at the same time as locales lost out to maverick global capital as to capture of political systems; while we were stoned at the wheel events took on a life of their own and like the sorcerer’s apprentice Mickey Mouse, we have woken up to find that autopilot didn’t work for unforseen situations. We’ve learnt too late that engagement and participation were key ingredients to upkeep of eternal vigilance as the price of freedom.
    OTH, for many the events of the first decade have been a wake up call; blogsites like this could demonstrate consciousness is not dead, but resistance from this point to totalising tendencies looks hard work, this time intelligent people are kicking against the wind, if the goal is defence of civilisation as the groundings for subsequent individual action, even as to the Gina Rinehart types who benefit from freedom without ever understanding what it is or realising its cognitive ecology.

  34. Richard Tsukamasa Green says:

    Nicholas @ 29. Carr didn’t quite introduce them. The Habour Tunnel was a PPP as well as the M4 (which strangely wasn’t that bad until Carr introduced them cashback electoral bribe) and they came in the 1980s. The Fahey government managed to reach full absurdity with the Airport Link station access charges.

    In a way that makes Carr’s sins all the greater. He didn’t introduce an idea so much as eagerly expanded one that had become worthy of ridicule.

    I guess it provided announceables to intersperse the leb bashing.

  35. Pedro says:

    I think the current state of the Australian social-democrat project is nicely illustrated by Anna Bligh’s promise of free swimming lessons for all 3 year olds.

  36. Rafe says:

    Social democracy will be in trouble as long as we can contemplate a Big Brother watchdog to curb free speech. Where is George Orwell when we need him!

    And beware of the the political operators in international bodies like the IPCC who use and abuse scientists to generate scams like the climate caper. Check out the governance of the IPCC.

  37. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Fair point Pedro. Still seems benign compared with the excesses of the Tea Party.

  38. Dan says:

    [email protected]: It’s an inane policy proposal, but I can imagine it coming from any party in desperate times. Maybe that was your thrust?

  39. Nicholas Gruen says:


    there was no reference to a Ponzi scheme, simply the handing over of state assets or monopolies for absurdly low prices.

  40. rog says:

    The Left was basically a product of Marxism

    For that to be true you would have to ignore the French Revolution and it’s consequences – like reforms brought in by nervous whigs.

  41. paul walter says:

    39, Rubbish. The Ponzi part came in the selling of a notion of an illusory state of democracy to lull the public, while the crooks got away with inflating the bubble and then creaming off before disappearing into the woodwork, protected by the “too big to fail” meme, leaving the ninety nine percent to fork out through lost jobs,mortgages and failed businesses.
    What we didn’t understand then was, that moral hazard derived of casino games arising out of the privatisation of assetts, only applies to ordinary people.

  42. Dennis Argall says:

    I must say when as an undergraduate I read Marx I found his histories more sense than the Manifesto. Worth a look Peter. Start here:
    Useful in getting away from tired labels too.

    Gosh, see Marx’s opening words, reflect on recent days and think of the forthcoming presidential elections in Russia :

    Hegel remarks somewhere[*] that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

    Thank you Don at 25 and Nick at 27: general agreement. I think that in central policy areas there is considerable freedom to produce and present ideas, albeit perhaps not as much as in the glorious past.

    There are problems deep in administration of programs however. I am aware that departments federal and state make use of NGOs in the community services sector, for example, to invent and design and trial new programs… but then the system seems to go weird. An innovative and successful initiative by an NGO, financed by a department, gets taken up – and then offered on to half a dozen others to trial, while denying continuance of the original project. Same sort of approach as clinical trials, perhaps, but hundreds of individual clients can be left in the lurch. A case for secondment, a case for the senior executive to go down to the countryside – Mao, not Marx :-) (my 1975 proposal for senior executives on contract recommended a super arrangement to facilitate the return of the great to lesser levels, how good it would be for the public sector to share the oft-neglected political caution: “The ones you meet on the way up are the ones you meet on the way down.”

    At federal and state levels, central bureaucrats in program areas seem increasingly to favour ‘efficient’ models largely defined by reducing the number of NGOs with which they have to interact and monitor. These larger organisations put the squeeze further through their greater organisational capacity to run the maze of competition.

    But there is a huge loss of individual motivation, again see 25 and 27. There is also loss of tacit or implicit knowledge, which is the cornerstone of local programs and corner shops, see for example: http://www.illawarraforum.org.au/ARCresearch/documents/Tacit_practical_and_visible.pdf

    Centralise everything, lose local career structures, local knowledge, quality of life and quality of staff.

    I think also that the media and other pressure puts a weight on many less secure or inexperienced ministers, who may be happily in their barrister mode, taking and presenting the department’s brief against the outside, in support of the known, in fear of cost and scandal, real or imagined. This works against innovation. To the best of my knowledge, the parliamentary departments in their briefings for new members and senators do not include briefings on public administration and public policy at large, perhaps something you can look at doing, not just the bones but the concerns.

  43. Peter Patton says:

    For that to be true you would have to ignore the French Revolution and it’s consequences – like reforms brought in by nervous whigs.

    No you wouldn’t. Marx dealt with the French – and their revolution – most artfully. In fact Marx saved Leftism from being soiled by association with the disaster of post-revolutionary France. Denis Argell aboves cites Marx’s delicious contempt for France and its revolutions. In the wake of the failed 1848 Revolutions, here is how the Left saw France and its ‘revolutionaries’.

    Hegel remarks somewhere[*] that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. Caussidière for Danton, Louis Blanc for Robespierre, the Montagne of 1848 to 1851[66] for the Montagne of 1793 to 1795, the nephew for the uncle. And the same caricature occurs in the circumstances of the second edition of the Eighteenth Brumaire.


  44. rog says:

    This is tedious, by your definition the left did not exist before Marx then you say that Marx “saved” leftism from whatever.

    I would say that you are wrong.

  45. Peter Patton says:

    No, the topic of the thread is the modern left, and its demise. My point is that the demise of the Left followed the collapse of Marxism. Good luck looking for the Left’s survival in some extant Jacobinsim!

  46. Pedro says:

    NG, as far as I can tell the tea party includes plenty of mad hatters, but free swimming lessons is still part of the insidious creep of govt into areas people can actually do much better themselves and so is a worse development than it appears at first glance. And just imagine how much those lessons would end up costing, and the stupid rules that will be put in place for authorised providers.

    Dan, they’re both social democrat parties, it’s true, but I think the ALP has sunk further. I’ve always thought them more wrong about stuff than the Libs, but in the past you could admire ALP members for their convictions. The current team seems to have plenty of dills and shills, plus downright fuckwits like Rudd, Craig Thompson and Swan. Can anyone watch Shorten and not feel a little creeped-out?

    People used to justly whinge about John Howard’s dishonesty, but jeez, Gillard’s a piece of work in that respect. It’s pretty depressing when reflexive liars like Rudd, Swan and Gillard are running the joint.

  47. Tel says:

    Dan: “… and that’s not good enough …”

    Of course it never is good enough, and that’s kind of the point I was making.

    If you want to compromise with other people, you have to draw a bit of a line somewhere and say, “I’ll take this much and no more.”

    You also have to be willing to stand faithful to what you promise.

    Now I regularly run into people who say, “I know what rational is,” and I tend to reply, “Great! Let’s build one,” at which point I discover they don’t know what rational is. I won’t fall into my own trap, I’ll admit that I really don’t know any better. However, I think that rational might be something along the lines of being asked, “Do you want Total War?” and answering, “Hell no! You would be fruitloop insane to want something like that.”

    But historically, when offered the other option (which was compromise) a surprising number of people decided that compromise was a bad idea. Hey, surprising to me at any rate.

  48. Dan says:


    I’m not sure what you’re arguing here. If I’ve understood correctly, you’re saying that Indigenous outcomes are at present acceptable? That puts you far, far off to the right of the LNP.

    If on the other hand you are bellyaching about someone not really seeing the point of politics unless there are seriously-held underlying principles about equality of opportunity and quality of life for everyone, then I’ll cheerfully concede your point.

    Rationality is of course good, in conjunction with common sense, imagination, ethics, intuition and memory (apologies to John Ralston Saul).

  49. Don Arthur says:

    Geoff Gallop in the National Times:

    Conviction around “the light on the hill” can never be under-estimated. It is true that it needs to be backed up by strategy – and to that end in-depth political research is necessary – but without a vision behind it the all-important trust factor is threatened.

  50. paul walter says:

    Great comment, Don- and isn’t this why many people who once supported Labor to their very bootstraps have become utterly turned off Labor over recent times, this recalcitrant refusal of “vision” in favour of supine Tory-favouring managerialism?
    None so blind as those that will not see.

  51. Dennis Argall says:

    A light may be somewhere, but for it to have a following requires a community engagement with collective ideas and action. Geoff Gallop said ,para before that quoted by Don [49]:

    In my mind two things stand out as having overarching importance – conviction and creativity.

    The creative has to come first, the leadership have to be like cricket, football or film creativists for mass support, not just doing it but creating magic. Thoughful individualists do not follow lights on hills. Masses do not sit over latte and earn for old lights-on-hill. f you want to start at lighton-hill you have to make it worth watching on 52 inch 3D LCD.

  52. Dan says:

    As promised upthread…


    Senator FIFIELD: Thank you for that. In that case, I will move straight to the Social Inclusion portfolio, if I may. I think it was fairly widely publicised after Minister Butler was appointed as the Minister for Social Inclusion that, in answer to a question as to what his portfolio was, he replied, ‘Social inclusion: it means different things to different people.’

    We do not have the Minister representing the Minister for Social Inclusion at the table. If we did, I would ask him what social inclusion means to him. We might hold that for when he pops back. Oh, he is over there!

    While the minister is getting back to the table, can I just ask: after it was announced that Mr Butler would become the Minister for Social Inclusion, when did he receive his first briefing, written or oral, on his new portfolio responsibilities?

    Mr Ronalds: I will need to go back and check the exact date, but it was within some days. However, I recall that the radio interview you were referring to happened on the day that he was actually appointed.

    Senator FIFIELD: Correct. So we cannot blame it on the nature of the briefing from the PM&C if he had not had the benefit of that. But you can take that on notice. Is there a DLO or an adviser in the minister’s office specifically responsible for social inclusion? There are often DLOs for specific portfolio responsibilities in a minister’s office. Is there one for social inclusion?

    Mr Ronalds: I think the arrangements in the minister’s office are still being worked out.

    Senator FIFIELD: Thank you. You can take that on notice as well. Minister Evans, you are now with us. I started off by saying that when Minister Butler was asked what the social inclusion portfolio was he replied that it means different things to different people. What does it mean to you as the Minister representing the Minister for Social Inclusion?

    Senator Chris Evans: What it means to me is an attempt to ensure that, as our society progresses and as the economy grows and opportunities grow, those opportunities are shared amongst disadvantaged groups and people who might otherwise be left behind. It is about ensuring that those with mental health issues, those living in extreme poverty and those with other barriers to full participation in society are able to be included and participate.

    I think it is a view shared by all parliamentarians that we do not want people being left behind or on the margins. The fact is that we have to do more to try and overcome those disadvantages and the government put a great deal of emphasis in the last budget on trying to take along with us people who were not picking up employment.

    As you know, we have a range of postcodes in Australia where there is severe disadvantage and multiple barriers to people’s participation in society. One of the things the government did in the last budget was to try and target some of those measures with a place based approach that said you could not just have broad policies, you had to get into some of those suburbs. For instance, in Kwinana, in Western Australia, the high school completion rate is much lower than the average and that sort of disadvantage can be perpetuated. So it is about devising policies across government which seek to include people in social advancement and try and deal with the issues that prevent people from participating.

    Senator FIFIELD: Thank you. I will provide a copy of that Hansard to the minister; he could probably benefit from your explanation…

  53. Dan says:

    (I don’t have an exact reference, just this text copied in an email, but it was about February.)

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