Think tank scholars and policy wonks strive to be both practical and clever. Being practical means proposing policies that have a good chance of getting taken up by government in the short term. And being clever means policies that generate big benefits at little or no cost. But according to American political scientist Steven Teles, the short term benefits of practicality and cleverness have long term costs.
The Liberal Democrats look set to take a Senate seat in NSW after the party scored the best spot on the ballot paper. A libertarian party, the LDP’s website describes it as a "a serious, progressive, small-government alternative."
The party was formed in 2001 partly as a reaction to the policies of the Howard government. The LDP’s founders "had been exasperated by the Howard approach of big government, high taxes and restrictions on personal freedoms", the party’s Peter Whelan wrote on the Menzies House blog. Writing in the Australian, Cassandra Wilkinson describes the party as the "only group which is comprehensively and philosophically liberal".
Asked about Tony Abbott’s policies, the party’s likely senator in NSW, David Leyonhjelm, said: "We wouldn’t stop him from getting rid of the carbon tax … But when it comes to his big spending plans he may be in trouble, such as direct action on climate change and his paid parental leave – he won’t be getting any support from us."
For some people, other human beings are only ever a means to an end. The source of their self-esteem is their ability to realise their own personal vision. They see themselves as powerful creators and believe ideas like empathy, altruism and justice are just tricks the weak use to enslave the strong. As they see it, only those who lack power or self-respect would allow themselves to become servants to the ambitions of another.
The trick modern market societies use to tame egoists is to get them to see money as a natural way of measuring success. The idea that money is both a measure of personal worth and a source of power, convinces egoists to use their talents to serve others rather than dominate them. Because today’s more impersonal market societies are able to harness it for public benefit, they have a higher tolerance of egoism than the communitarian societies of the past.
Nearly "every problem with the Republican Party today could be cured by a neocon revival", says David Brooks. Brooks isn’t talking about the hawkish approach to foriegn policy that urged US military involvement in the middle east, he’s talking about the domestic policy ideas of people like Irving Kristol.
According to Kristol, neoconservatism’s mission is: "to convert the Republican party, and American conservatism in general, against their respective wills, into a new kind of conservative politics suitable to governing a modern democracy."
In a 1976 essay titled ‘The Republican Future’, Kristol argued that Republican conservatives lacked any coherent set of ideals or a strategy for achieving them. So instead of setting out an alternative vision for the country, Republicans spent most of their time criticising Democrats. In office, they were obsessed with budget balancing. "Republican leaders tend to think like businessmen rather than like statesmen," he said , "and therefore bumble their way through their terms in office."
Because they tended to think like accountants instead of political leaders, Republicans saw their job as rescuing the nation from bankruptcy. As a result they ended up administering a policy and program framework constructed by Democrats. As Kristol explained:
There are always more books to read than time to read them. But Paul Frijters’ and Gigi Foster’s An Economic Theory of Greed, Love, Groups, and Networks is on my shortlist. Foster’s preface is personal and captivating:
A longer-term cost that has come from working on this book is a loss of innocence. The story told here offers such a powerful microscope into the inner workings of humans that looking through it can trigger fundamental personal change. As a prime example, while the prospect of understanding the genesis of love is intellectually compelling, actually witnessing the demystification of the love mechanism is also shocking on a personal level. One must find a way to carry on after this experience as a normal individual, despite having deconstructed love (and hence one’s own loves) into constituent parts that are laid bare.
Foster warns that while the ideas in the book may be extremely uncomfortable they could also be intellectually thrilling.
For decades the gun lobby has told us that guns don’t kill people. If only people would stop pointing them at themselves and each other, guns would be completely harmless. It’s not the availability of guns that’s the problem, they say it’s the individual’s decision to pull the trigger.
In a recent post Paul Frijters makes the same claim about food and obesity. He dismisses the idea that changes in the availability of attractive, energy-dense foods have contributed to the increase in obesity. Instead he suggests that somehow cultural change has reduced self-restraint.
Frijters major complaint is that "there is a large constituency of voters and pundits out there who want to believe their obesity is not of their own choosing." He wants them to admit that they are not victims of outside forces but are making themselves obese. He wants them to take responsibility for their choices. While this might make Frijters less grumpy, it’s not clear it would do much to reduce the rate of obesity or lessen its impact on health.
There are parallel conversations going on in social policy, says Matt Cowgill, "Values on one level, data another". How values and data interact is an interesting question.
A decade ago, I was researching the debate over poverty. In 2003 the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs held an inquiry into poverty and small government activists and conservatives like Peter Saunders at the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) were keen to make sure there was no increase in income support payments or easing up on mutual obligation requirements.
The anti-anti-poverty activists on the right were playing a defensive game. They made sure their opponents had to fight every step of the way from definition of the problem to policy response. And in the process they helped lay bare the structure of public problems.
"Welcome to the era of hedged bets and lowered expectations", says the cover story of Time Magazine. A poll of 18 to 29-year olds, found 65 per cent agreed that it will be harder for their group to live as comfortably as previous generations. But despite the lowered expectations, these twentysomethings have the power to wreak havoc in the workplace:
Companies are discovering that to win the best talent. they must cater to a young work force that is considered overly sensitive at best and lazy at worst … These youngsters are starting to use their bargaining power to get more of what they feel is coming to them. They want flexibility, access to decision making and a return to the sacredness of work-free weekends. "I want a work environment concerned about my personal growth," says Jennifer Peters, 22, one of the youngest candidates ever to be admitted to the State Bar of California. "I don’t want to go to work and feel I’ll be burned out two or three years down the road."
"For too long, progressives have been scared off issues of family structure and parenting by a fear of being misinterpreted as blaming some of the hardest-working people in society", says Andrew Leigh. But for many of today’s progressives, raising issues about single parenthood and parenting seems to be a lot less frightening than the prospect of increasing income support payments.
In his new book, Battlers and Billionaires, Leigh argues that we need to think seriously about what happens inside families if we want to reduce poverty and increase mobility.
Drawing on evidence from Australia and the US he argues that children from disadvantaged families suffer from more than lack of income. Even before they have reached school age, children from disadvantaged families are likely to be behind their peers.