Missing Link Friday – The War on Whinging

With low unemployment, low inflation and 20 straight years of economic growth, the Sydney Morning Herald’s Jessica Irvine is astounded at how so many Australians are carrying on as if they live in a debt-wracked European basket case. Younger Australians have never seen a recession, she says, and many older people seem to have forgotten what one looks like.

So why do people carry on like this? "There can be only one answer", says Irvine, "we are, as a nation, chucking a full-on, all-screaming, all-door-slamming teenage temper tantrum." Voters and business are like petulant teenagers and the government is like a weak-willed parent desperate for affection.

Irvine’s column was the talk of Twitter this morning. "Fantastic piece on what a pack of whingers Australians are", tweeted Bernard Keane while Aleta describes Irvine as "a breath of sensible in a world of stupid". Trent Driver writes: "Best piece I have read in a long time. Wish you could hear the debate by the teenage girls in my ecos classes. :)"

Others were less convinced. "I don’t understand why people like that Jess Irvine thing" said Jason Wilson. "More pundits telling the people they’re spoilt children."

Liam Hogan commented "three things missing from that piece: price of housing, major city rental vacancy rate, homelessness index." Sarah Toohey from Australians for Affordable Housing agreed, "Nice points Liam. Overall econ good, lots quite comfortable, but some have really difficult lives b/c of hsg."

Arriving just after the ACTU conference, Irvine’s column runs into their campaign on insecure work. Jason Wilson asked: "Haven’t we just heard at the ACTU congress that ppl feel chronically insecure?"

According to the ACTU’s Ged Kearney, millions of Australians are in casual jobs, contract jobs and labour hire work. "On top of low wages, and a lack of conditions like sick leave and holiday pay, there is a huge amount of uncertainty about when and how much people will work."

Matt Cowgill and Keiran McCarron took issue with Irvine’s claim that Australia’s welfare state is bloated. Cowgill wrote: "I disagree that our welfare system is ‘bloated’ (unless you include tax expenditures in your definition)" while McCarron tweeted: "I didn’t read your article. But if you’re calling a welfare system smaller than the US’s "bloated" you’re just politicking."

Irvine isn’t the only one arguing that Australians are complaining too much. The Australian newspaper’s George Megalogenis has pledged a "war on whinging". And that’s just where twitter user truckie is filing the piece, under #waronwhinging. Megalogenis says he might pitch a ‘war on whinging’ show to the ABC. Fake Paul Keating tweets: "if you get a show, @Jess_Irvine is in the stop whinging camp, and lot more photogenic than you".

Missing Link Friday – journalism, welfare, filial piety and big metal boxes

How aged care reform slipped off the media agenda: “Confronted with a major policy initiative that, while affecting millions, offered little potential for partisanship or prurience, the media was a little flummoxed”. Mr Denmore, The Failed Estate.

The limits of citizen journalism: “Why was new media able to topple governments in Egypt and Tunisia, but sparked new waves of oppression in Syria and Iran?” Alan Knight, Online Journalism.

Could the NYT make money from its scoops? “how much would hedge funds pay to be able to see the NYT’s big investigative stories during the trading day prior to the appearance of the story?” Felix Salmon, Reuters.

How OECD governments generate tax revenues: Stephen Gordon explains with graphs. Worthwhile Canadian Initiative.

That’s not welfare, that’s good policy: Whether we call it welfare or not, the real question is what government spending achieves. Sinclair Davidson, Catallaxy.

Left-Libertarianism and the Ownership of Natural Resources: “our just rights to natural resources entitle each of us to what has come to be called an ‘unconditional basic income’ or, in its non-paternalistic form, an unconditional initial capital grant.” Hillel Steiner, Bleeding Heart Libertarians.

On telling parents to f*** themselves: “I have received many emails from readers which exemplify or reject one or more of the six moral foundations. I recently received the text below, which is the most forceful rejection of the Authority foundation that I have ever read.” Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind.

How Containerization Shaped the Modern World: Celebrate the anniversary of the first containership in 1956 by watching this TED Ed video. Joshua Gans, Digitopoly.

Missing Link Friday – The end of the age of entitlement?

In a speech at the Institute of Economic Affairs, Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey announced the the end of the age of entitlement. He followed up the speech with an interview for the ABC’s Lateline.

At Billablog, Hockey’s speech inspires a song while Patricia at Cafe Whispers pens a poem about Tony Abbott’s Magic Pudding Budget Plan.

Phillip Coorey at the Sydney Morning Herald writes that Hockey’s approach lacks “consistency with much of what the Coalition has said and done more broadly, suggesting there may be an internal struggle going on.”

Hockey told Lateline’s Tony Jones that: “We need to compare ourselves with our Asian neighbours where the entitlements programs of the state are far less than they are in Australia.” Blogger Matt Cowgill did exactly that:

Hockey could eliminate all social spending other than health and old age assistance and we’d still be at 10.1% of GDP, well above Korea, a country he mentions as a benchmark. In other words, even if we scrapped all help for people with disabilities (the support pension as well as in-kind help), got rid of Newstart, stopped spending anything on helping people find work, and eliminated all housing assistance, we’d still be devoting more than our Asian neighbours to social spending. That leaves health care and old age pensions as the only place left to cut to get down to the sort of levels that Hockey identified. The safety net as we know it would be a thing of the past after cuts of that size.

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Missing Link Friday – ‘Social justicitis’ and other disorders

Classical liberals and social justice: "many defenders of private economic liberty suffer from a malady that I shall call social justicitis. Social justicitis, as I use that term, refers to a strongly negative, even allergic, reaction to the idea of social or distributive justice." John Tomasi, Free Market Fairness (early draft chapter available online).

Free market fairness – an online symposium: "Bleeding Heart Libertarians will be running a symposium on John Tomasi’s new book, Free Market Fairness, from June 11-15, 2012. Scheduled participants include Elizabeth Anderson, Richard Arneson, Samuel Freeman, Deirdre McCloskey, and Will Wilkinson." Matt Zwolinski, Bleeding Heart Libertarians.

Tim Andrews doesn’t want to abolish government: He just wants to shrink it a little. At Menzies House Andrews announces the creation of the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance, an organisation dedicated to mobilising Australians against high taxes, wasteful spending and crippling red tape.

"Welcome to the anti-carbon-tax alliance", writes Catallaxy commenter Gavin R Putland. "Right-wing astroturfing good. Left-wing astroturfing bad."

How racist do you have to be to get fired from the National Review Online? After years of offensive commentary NRO’s John Derbyshire finally stepped over the line with a piece on black white relations in Taki’s Magazine. Cutting Derbyshire loose, NRO’s Rich Lowry wrote that the piece was "so outlandish it constitutes a kind of letter of resignation".

What effect with this public shaming have? Not much according to David Sessions at The American Scene: "those who think Derbyshire-type thoughts, the episode only confirms the alternative-universe narrative that truth-telling white people are always victims of political correctness."

Competitive victimhood: "Nowadays whenever a political group is accused of unjustly harming another group, it will invariably play some kind of victim card" Eric Horowitz, Peer-reviewed by my Neurons.

Political difference inhibits empathy: A new study shows how political difference inhibits empathy. As Will Wilkinson puts it: "It turns out politics not only makes us stupid. It also makes us callous."

Journalists side with their employers: "I’m convinced that so much of the reactionary response to attempts to make journalism more democratically responsive – like Finkelstein – stem from a paranoid, Luddite and protectionist urge among employees of mainstream media companies to keep non-tithed operatives off their front lawn." Mr Denmore, The Failed Estate.

The human penis is a puzzler, no bones about it: Unlike humans, the males in most mammal species have a bone in their penis. At the Conversation Lauren Reid asks why.

Missing Link Friday – Innovation, conservatism, web 2.0 etc

Why don’t women patent? "In Why Don’t Women Patent?, a recent NBER paper, Jennifer Hunt et al. present a stark fact: Only 5.5% of the holders of commercialized patents are women." Alex Tabarrok, Marginal Revolution.

Innovation and inequality: What effect do now products and technologies have on inequality? Robin Hanson, Overcoming Bias.

An annoying parable: Is the classroom a good model for the economy? Glen Fuller thinks not.

Friedman’s classical liberalism: According to Milton Friedman "Government has done a lot of good. And the implication certainly seems to be that government has done good in ways that the market on its own could not have done. For Friedman, that’s good enough. For Rand, Rothbard and Nozick, of course, it wouldn’t be." Matt Zwolinski, Bleeding Heart Libertarians.

Conservatives aren’t getting crazier: "Conservatism is not getting crazier, and it’s not going away, either. It’s just getting more powerful." Rick Perlstein, Rolling Stone.

You think Twitter’s annoying now? "Going forwards, all of us are going to find Twitter increasingly annoying. The company has been in hyper-growth mode up until now, getting to its current astonishing scale. But it’s now getting serious about making money, which means selling us, the users, to people willing to pay lots of money to work their way into our timelines one way or another." Felix Salmon.

Gov 2.0 – Get it or go: "As Malcolm [Turnbull] points out Gov 2.0 is also about a change in the mindset of public servants. This raises an interesting question. What about those public servants who don’t change their mindset because they don’t want to ‘get it’? If they are holding back Gov 2.0 then should they be retired?" Steve Davies, Ozloop.

Missing Link Friday – Sinclair Davidson vs Malcolm Turnbull

A commodities boom can temporarily boost government revenue, says Malcolm Turnbull. Mostly that’s a good thing. But when governments respond by making non-temporary changes to the budget, we have a problem:

If, rolling in a big cyclical surplus, a government were to cut income taxes, that may not immediately send the budget into deficit. But when the cycle turns, tax receipts drop, unemployment benefits rise, the tax cut will still be there and reversing it will cause much more political pain than delivering the cut derived political joy. The same is true with increases to benefits or indeed to new benefits – if these are funded from cyclical surpluses then they may be contributing to a long-term structural deficit.

Turnbull suggests that a sovereign wealth fund could help discipline government decision making and encourage governments to use temporary surpluses for long term economic gain rather than short term political advantage through things like "unsustainable tax cuts" or "infrastructure projects in marginal seats".

Turnbull’s reference to "unsustainable tax cuts" prompted this response from Catallaxy’s Sinclair Davidson: "There is no such thing as unsustainable tax cuts, only unsustainable spending." But according to Turnbull: "That is quite wrong."

See over the fold for links to the full debate including posts by Davidson, Turnbull, Terry McCrann and Andrew Bolt. Continue reading

Missing Link Friday – KONY 2012

The Lord’s Resistance Army and its leader Joseph Kony have been in the news for years (here’s a 2006 story from the ABC’s Foreign Correspondent). But this week the issue went viral thanks to a video by advocacy group Invisible Children.

With help from celebrities like Rihanna, Sean Combs, Alec Baldwin and Zooey Deschanel, Invisible Children gathered more than more than 329,000 Twitter followers and more than 2 million Facebook fans in support of their KONY 2012 campaign. Here’s the video, links to some of the controversy it generated, and some background.

White Mans Burden? "There’s … something inherently misleading, naive, maybe even dangerous, about the idea of rescuing children or saving of Africa. It’s often not an accidental choice of words, even if it’s unwitting. It hints uncomfortably of the White Man’s Burden." Chris Blattman.

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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.