Without vision the people perish

In his book “A time of hope”, Donald Horne details a remarkable passage in a speech about how we have all lost our bearings and how we needed to appreciate our environment more, worry about money less etc etc. The thing that was remarkable about it was not what it said it was pretty much mainstream zeitgeist for the time 1971.   But who said it.   Doug Anthony who is probably better known to this generation via his eponymous comedy trio the Doug Anthony All-stars themselves around a decade defunct.

In any event I thought of this when someone sent me an email of the new UK Conservative leader David Cameron’s recent speech and John Kay’s commentary on it.   The speech is about how we should forget GDP and worry more about GWB (General Wellbeing).   Soon he’ll be arguing for higher taxes on the rich after all they shouldn’t be so bothered about money. It’s only money after all not wellbeing.

In any event, it led me to think about how far we’ve fallen off the pace.   In the 1980s Australia was at the cutting edge of policy and of modern sensibility in the Anglosphere. We were being introduced to the importance of markets, but the government that was doing it was a class act (at least compared to what had gone before from both sides of the ideological divide) and also showed how this could be combined with improved social policy which did a fair bit to distribute the gains of reform to the poorest households and so to alleviate the increasing disparities of wealth emerging in the market.

How far behind are we now?   How few ideas do either of the political parties have?   Compare this with Britain where (apart from Tony Blair’s disastrous and inexplicable flirtation with George W. Bush*), government has focused on keeping market forces strong whilst trying to revitalise public services.

Blair’s agenda may not have been any great revolution, but it provided a positive focus on the emerging problems of the society rather than a default into pessimism and playing to people’s worst side.   Although I’m endorsing Hawke and Blair ahead of Howard, it’s only co-incidental that the first two are to the left-of-centre (at least in the political spectrum of their time) versus right.   Kennett didn’t focus on the negative in Victoria, but moved to a quite bold new vision. Hewson may well have done something similar.

My suspicion is that had they done so we’d be in a far better position today to be positively focusing on our problems, rather than find ourselves pretty much becalmed, as we wait until the next bit of manoeuvring for petty political advantage.

* inexplicable from the point of view of his own self interest that is.

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Cameron Riley
15 years ago

I agree. Our political leadership lacks national ambition.

Rafe
15 years ago

I think the defeat of Hewson and the Coalition package in 1993 spelled the end of the serious push for reform. Both parties were divided through the 80s and that meant that a clear message about the desirability of reform did not get projected to the electorate. The chattering classes and special interests never wanted a bar of reform and they showed their bias when they lent huge assistance to Keating to put down the Coalition after they eventually got their act together under Hewson.

Having trashed the Hewson package the ALP then could not claim the credit that they deserved for their own reforms. Howard and the Coalition were seared by the experience and can hardly be expected to undertake anything visionary in our lifetime. Or even some sensible reduction in red tape. The next stage was a kind of pork barrelling war in 2004 and this is likely to be the shape of things to come.

Scott Wickstein
15 years ago

I LIKE leadership that lacks national ambition.

Cameron Riley
15 years ago

Scott, We are talking federal politics, the feds are supposed to have a political vision for the country, otherwise we are electing rent-seekers and re-affirming that we have a waitocracy where the two major parties get “goes” at being in government.

Patrick
Patrick
15 years ago

Isn’t it a little bit pointless to express things so vaguely?

‘National ambition’ makes me queasy, probably because every tupenny dictator and mass murderer has one. Isn’t there a lot to say for conservatism in politics? We have had a good run these last apparently national-ambition-deprived 10 years. One shudders to think what a bit of national ambition might have done…if you don’t, ask your neighbour what his is and see if that doesn’t do it for you.

The point is made stronger by the bizarre comparison with Britain – who in their right mind would trade our government for theirs???? And even stronger by the comparison with Hawke -IIRC, we needed a dose of national ambition when he turned up!

I’m not saying national ambition is inherently bad – gee I’d give you all a dose if I was PM ;) – but rather that it is devoid of any content, and might be something that a country where pretty much everything is better than pretty much everywhere can do pretty well without.

Bill Posters
Bill Posters
15 years ago

Rafe:

“Howard and the Coalition were seared by the experience and can hardly be expected to undertake anything visionary in our lifetime.”

Whatever your view of their merits, those changes to the industrial relations system are surely radical and far-reaching – Howard is finally getting to realise a vision he has carried with him since his earliest days in politics.

Rafe
15 years ago

What vision of simplification and deregulation results in several hundreds of pages of legislation before you even start on the regulations?

On a point of historical detail, I thought he learned about deregulation after he arrived in Canberra.

Bill Posters
Bill Posters
15 years ago

What vision of simplification and deregulation results in several hundreds of pages of legislation before you even start on the regulations?

None, obviously; but I never said this particular vision involved simplification and deregulation.

Scott Wickstein
15 years ago

Cameron, MY vision of politics is where the government minds the store, leaves us alone, and lets people live their lives in their own way.

Why should I have to go along with some vainglorious ego-driven type like Paul Keating pretenting to be a ‘statesman’?

Cameron Riley
15 years ago

Scott, Government is the biggest economic entity in the country, it sucks up about 30% GDP each year and then spits it out again. Which isnt going to change in a hurry. With that much economic power they better have some basis/ambition for how prosperity is going to be achieved, even if it is nothing more than reduce taxes and the burden of state.

I wouldnt invest in a company with that much economic power unless they had a clear statement of how they were going to achieve ongoing prosperity for the company. If they came up with a plan like, “we will buy your votes and just try to stay in power”. I would not be an investor.

Due to the large numbers of dollars government takes and spends they are going to skew any system.

Chris Lloyd
Chris Lloyd
15 years ago

It’s a pity none of the discussion has engaged with what Nick wrote. He didn’t mention “national ambition” but this didn’t stop our right wing warriors attacking the notion. He mentioned GWB as an alternative success measure and a lack of “vision”

Rafe Champion
15 years ago

“I wouldnt invest in a company with that much economic power unless they had a clear statement of how they were going to achieve ongoing prosperity for the company. If they came up with a plan like, “we will buy your votes and just try to stay in power”

observa
observa
15 years ago

It may well be that we will tell our leaders what our varying vision is from time to time, as and when the need arises, in response to various processes, events and external stimuli. They are of course free to try and interpret or outguess us on that vision splendid in healthy competition, as they wish. Just don’t get too far out there, or full of your own importance though.

Rafe Champion
15 years ago

Point taken.

I am not happy with the Howard agenda which is mostly concerned with (a) holding office [not unusual in political parties], (b) maintaining strategic alliances [fair enough] and (c) I am not sure what.

So far as the domestic agenda is concerned, John Howard is clearly not going to risk any of the radical things that I would like to see and he is missing out on the opportunity to move on projects that could gain bipartisan support like infrastructure and the revamp of welfare/tax/wage policy as advocated by Gruen et al.

Add nuclear power and storage of the worlds nuclear waste to the infrastructure list. I can’t understand the NIMBY attitude to waste disposal in a continent that has so much arid outback space.

Rafe
15 years ago

Some discussion of alternatives to GDP as indicators of something or other.
http://austrianeconomists.typepad.com/weblog/2006/02/is_gdp_the_best.html