Quiggin on Howard

John Quiggin has an excellent post this morning on John Howard’s economic policies. It provides a perfect bookend to Christopher Sheil’s piece on economic rationalism (see below). I especially like Jason Soon’s comment:

“My reading of Howard’s commitment to free market reform is that he’s never had any. His perceived past free market economics is really an extension of his social conservatism – essentially it was all about creating a society of sturdy petrol station owners.”

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Ron Mead
Ron Mead
2022 years ago

I don’t usually voice disapproval of Howard’s pragmatism, as to do so entails giving the Howard-hating irrationalist lefties a free kick. But from a “neo”-liberal point-of-view I’d have to say his committment to further micro-reforms has been disappointing. But Quiggin’s blog on this strikes me as rather hypocritical given his usual positioning as one of the blogosphere’s chief irrationalists.

Most of the hard yards in micro-economic reform were indeed carried out by Keating (with Hawke’s acquiescence) in the first two terms of the H-K government. After that they decided to have, as John Hyde put is so eloquently in his recent book “Dry”, a tea-break. The trouble is they didn’t come back from the tea-break, and Howard and Costello appealed against the light and the game didn’t resume after tea.

Ken, for someone who’s rather caustic about micro-reform, to the extent of frequently making derogatory comments like “the extreme libertarian/neo-liberal viewpoint that markets are good” I find rather puzzling your disapproval of Howard’s pragmatism, as evidenced by your approval of the Quiggin and Soon commentaries in this instance.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Ron,

You carefully left out the rest of the sentence you quoted: “, governments are bad”. The point was that the extreme neo-liberal/libertarian equating of markets with all that is good, and governments with all that is bad, is simplistic and silly. I remain a strong supporter of market-based solutions, in that I think market capitalism is the best system so far devised by man for maximising and distributing wealth efficiently. Thus I think one should commence with a presumption, albeit very much rebuttable, that non-interventionist strategies favouring entrepreneurial freedom should be preferred wherever reaonably possible.

However, I also maintain that governments have a critical role not only in creating and maintaining stable, transparent markets through regulatory intervention, but also in creating reasonable equality of opportunity without which the “markets” mantra is merely an unconvincing rationale for maintaining the unmerited privilege of robber barons.

Given those views, I don’t think there was anything inconsistent or hypocritical in my linking approvingly to JQ’s post or Jason Soon’s comment. It doesn’t mean I subscribe to all the views of either of them (nor they to mine).

Ron Mead
Ron Mead
2022 years ago

The “governments are bad” mantra is a strawman argument. I know of no reasonable classical liberal advocate who denies government a regulatory role short of manipulating and interfering in markets for the benefit of particular producers or consumers at the expense of others. Certainly I can’t detect any such advocacy in Hayek’s writing.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Ron,

You’re quite correct about hayek and any other respectable economic thinker. However, if you go and read some of the stuff by bloggers at places like Australian Libertarians, Samizdata etc, you’ll find that quite a few of these chaps take the markets faith to absurd extremes. The post i mentioned is a good example.