Election campaigns are fascinating events for a social scientist. In a poor country with lots of tensions, the issues would be about survival and bitter divisions, whilst in some sedate countries with no problems election campaigns are about the length of socks. Hence the issues in the election tell you about the state of the country. What is particularly striking about the current Australian election campaign? There are 5 loose observations that caught my eye:
1. The blatant display of the growth fetish. Economic prosperity and economic growth just dominate. Its the official slogan of one side and the unofficial one of the other side. This is despite the mublings of mainstream religion (that frowns on all this greed on display), despite the clear tradeoff between the environment and growth, despite the worries about families not coping with the stress of the 24-hour economy (something you only hear about in between election campaigns), despite the fact that large groups at the bottom have not benefitted significantly for decades from growth, and despite the fact that we know it hardly matters for happiness anyway. The de facto religion for which the population demands all politicians bow is the economic growth of the country as a whole. Like a group of dogs getting exited about chasing a plastic rabbit, we see the blatant fetish of the whole population on display and there’s nothing rational arguments have done to change it or even moderate it.
2. The mass adoption of symbolic environmental measures. The number one think Kevin will do when in power? Ratify the Kyoto protocol. John is not far behind with his plans. And this will do what for global warming? Diddely squat. Even Nicholas Stern calls Kyoto largely symbolic and even the magazine Nature apparently doesnt believe ni Kyoto’s healing powers any more either; its a shambles already in terms of complience by those that signed up; and there’s nothing with beef remotely on the horizon to replace it (as I’ve rambled no at length in previous blogs). Whilst CO2 emissions continue to increase and we at the same moment promise the electorate to build desalination plants most likely run on coal-generated electricity and promise everyone more wealth to afford that long-distance gas-guzling holiday, a ‘key’ promise is to perform the rain dance known as Kyoto. Its just fascinating that so much effort and prestige can be spent on something so useless and ineffective and something so completely at odds with point number 1. There is nothing in the standard economic models we teach at uni that explains this strong need for symbolism.
3. The lack of almost any major change proposed by the political parties or even any major disagreement. Who is promising to run down public services in order to have major tax breaks? No one. Who is promising to increase the taxes on the rich to reduce income inequality? No one. Who is banging the drum about major ethnic or religious tensions in this country? No one because there are no such tensions. Who is promising an increase in state-owned firms or even a hint of a seriously different type of economic policy? No one. Who is promising to shut down the agricultural sector because it is uncompetitive and impoverishes third-world farmers? No one despite the odd person pretending to be interested in world poverty. Who is promising to shut the gates to immigrants? no one because they are effectively welcome. Who is suggesting a large break in the foreign affairs doctrine of the Big and Powerful Friend? No one. Not only is there no difference between the major parties on any major item, but nearly everything that is promised can be described as ‘business as usual’. What does that tell a social scientist? That this is a happy country indeed. If so much energy can be spent on so little substantial difference you know that everything of importance is going well.
4. The relentless use of ad hominem campaigning by both parties. Considering that they dont differ by more than a hairs’ breath, its amazing they can pretend to find enough difference to black label each other.
5. The politicised nature of business organisations, newspapers, television, radio, and many other social organisations. You dont see that in the Netherlands because no-one wants to be too blatantly seen to support any particular party for fear the other bunch may get in. That, apparently is not much of a motivational factor in Oz. Why though?