Readers of Troppo will be familiar with my concerns about the Australia Institute’s recent foray (pdf) into name-calling and finger-pointing at city drivers of 4WDs.
A creepy development if you ask me. (And here on what my old friend and occasional lurker Kathy call’s “Pontification central” I just act like you asked me anyway!)
In any event, I said I couldn’t quite put my finger on it in my previous post on it and thanks to commenters for helping work through the issues.
I get a particular pleasure from the rare occasions where dialogue actually does narrow differences – where the persuasion which we practice so assiduously all our lives – actually has the desired effect.
This has happened to me twice already on Troppo which I think is pretty good going in the time I’ve been posting. Once on a matter unrelated to this subject and once on the 4WD issue which I brought before the grand jury of Troppodillians indeed an entire ambulature of Troppodillians a week or so ago here.
Revenge of the Latte Sipping Inner City Elites
“People like that”. We don’t want them here!
Remember how the boat people were demonised? For chucking their kids in the ocean. Yes that’s right the wretched of the earth with sufficient get up and go (or was it just visceral fear?) to flee the regimes we’d denounced as tyrannies we’d go to war with, were media savvy enough to chuck their kids in the water to get our sympathy.
Having had a father come to Australia as a prisoner in 1940 an Austrian refugee interned in Britain as a ‘friendly enemy alien’ no less I know how he felt in a similar, though less dire situation. The scum of the earth was the expression he used though only once in my hearing.
John Howard and Phillip Ruddock started it. And in the wake of the right’s success, both here and abroad in connecting with ordinary people’s anxieties and resentments there’s been much talk amongst the left as to how to respond. American pundits call for the left to give up its technocratic jargon and speak to peoples’ values. They say that if the right wants to talk about ‘family values’ the left should talk about valuing families with better health and schools and tax credits for lower paid workers.
Meanwhile back in sunny Oz the Australia Institute, a left of centre think-tank, has got into the values debate and generated some excitement with a pamphlet called “Who drives 4WDs?”.
Before talking values, lets talk economics and policy.
4WD drivers harm disproportionately more people on our roads. So we should address those hazards by imposing higher registration charges for heavier vehicles. We could also remove tariff concessions on 4WDs. (Though they already bear more and rising taxes because of their higher fuel consumption something which is seeing 4WD demand plummet with soaring petrol prices).
Given their greater harmfulness one might even introduce some kind of accelerated demerit points system to curb aggressive 4WD driving just as we have with ‘double demerit’ points for holidays.
But in ten pages the paper contains less policy discussion than you’ve just read.
So this paper strikes out in a new and more newsworthy direction. Like its title says “Who drives 4WDs?” is about people or rather why we don’t like ’em. Maybe it should have been called “Revenge of the Latte Sipping Inner City Elites”. Because here’s a response to the name calling of the right name calling from the left.
You know how John Howard didn’t like those boat people? Well the Australia Institute doesn’t like people who drive 4WDs! Well maybe not all of them maybe not most of them if you look at the figures closely enough. But statistically speaking those 4WD drivers are a bit more likely to have values that are your left-of-centre think-tank’s regular nightmare.
Using Roy Morgan data the kind that advertisers use when working out how to get inside the heads of consumers the paper sketches the values of city drivers’ of large and luxury 4WDs. In short, and to paraphrase the words of famously grim political philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, 4WD drivers are solitary, nasty, brutish and short well fat anyway. They are typically middle age males on above average incomes (but not at the top of the scale).
A slightly larger proportion of city drivers of large 4WDs don’t feel that good about aborigines or homosexuals. They’re 15 percent more likely to think governments shouldn’t support the unemployed. And they’re disproportionately overweight. Talk about yucky! Don’t you just hate people like that!
The paper ends like this.
1elying on the social conscience of large 4WD owners to change to safer, less aggressive vehicles may be less effective than mandatory measures such as special licences and high taxes.
But what’s all this stuff about relying on social conscience? Since when did the Australia Institute or any other self respecting think-tank or policy analyst advocate relying on people’s consciences when they’re imposing disproportionate costs on the community?
When the Institute argues (rightly) for emissions taxes on pollution it doesn’t do it by prefacing its remarks with “of course you can’t leave it to Australians’ consciences”. That’s what policy’s for, from the criminal law to microeconomic reform to get people to bear the costs their actions impose on others so that the good will of those who do the right thing is not undermined by having to bear the costs of free riders.
Let’s talk about values by all means. But we don’t need to demonise people for making choices different to our own. We should just ask them to pay the full costs of the choices they make like we would anyone else.
When was the last time someone argued that you couldn’t rely on the conscience of one group “people like that” ahead of another group’s. I don’t know about you but my mind keeps going back to kids overboard.
PS, the Courier Mail has published the piece under the heading “Hate binds the new mateship” which is a bit heavy for my taste. For those not familiar with this, the editor writes the headline (even – indeed particularly – if you’ve come up with a good one yourself)