Missing Link Friday – 17 December 2010

In this week’s Missing Link Friday — a former Costello adviser compares Australia’s tax and welfare system to a platypus (follow the links to find out why), Tyler Cowen starts a debate about inequality in America, bloggers worry about the demise of serious political journalism and an American 5 year old makes national news by dressing as a girl.


Small government egalitarianism

Small government egalitarianism is how former Costello adviser David Alexander describes the Australian model. As he argues in an article for Policy, it’s a system "that contrasts with both European models of welfarism and the American model of inequality acceptance." Policy editor Andrew Norton writes:

Compared to other OECD countries Australia’s tax-welfare system combines a relatively low tax take with relatively egalitarian outcomes because benefits are more targeted on lower-income earners. Australia also has unusually high rates of voluntary opt-out from full government entitlements, with many people taking partially subsidised private options in education and health.

For Alexander, this policy mix helps Australia avoid some of the pathologies and dysfunction associated with either high levels of inequality or over-sized government.

At Catallaxy Sinclair Davidson writes: "there is little difference between conservative social democrats and the more traditional kind of social democrat. Arguments over spending revolve not around the size of government but the identity of favoured constituents."

At Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen links to David Alexander’s article and there’s a vigorous discussion of the merits of the Australian model in the comments thread. One commenter regards the lack of ‘churning’ as one of the model’s strengths. (Churning is where much of the money raised by taxes is paid back to the same people who provided it in the first place.) Apparently we have system that discourages the well off from claiming benefits. Michael writes: "few rich or middle class people would be willing to endure the stigma of falling from the trapeze into the holey *safety net*."

Some of Tyler’s commenters veer off into a discussion of caribou. Sinclair’s commenters get distracted by Shane Warne’s relationship with Liz Hurley.

"It’s as if the major banks have tapped a hole in the social till and they are drinking from it with a straw"

The "share of pre-tax income earned by the richest 1 percent of earners has increased from about 8 percent in 1974 to more than 18 percent in 2007", writes Tyler Cowen in an article for the American Interest. And if there’s anything objectionable about this, "much of it boils down to finance and activities related to financial markets." He goes on to say that the finance sector will probably bring America’s economy to its knees.

Tyler’s account of how finance fuels inequality in America is generating a lot of interest. Alan Davies at The Melbourne Urbanist has links to commentary by Ross Douthat, Ryan Avent from The Economist, Kevin Drum from Mother Jones and political blogger Matthew Yglesias. Alan also writes:

This is the kind of event that’s never going to happen in the conventional media. Only the internet could draw these thinkers together so quickly and spontaneously, together with hundreds of comments by smart and informed readers from all over the world.

Does more media mean less news?

In How Australia Decides: Election Reporting and the Media, political scientist Sally Young reported that only a small minority of Australians are highly interested in politics. With the rise of specialist news sources like ABC 24, Sky News, online news sites and blogs this audience will have far less influence over the shape of mainstream news coverage. As Young wrote in 2008:

Media companies used to put political news at the front of a TV news bulletin or a newspaper even if they suspected many audience members were only waiting for the sports news or turning to the classifieds. Now, as audiences take a more targeted approach, media companies will follow and may not see much value in putting political news up-front if they know that the politics news junkies have already got their fill somewhere else. Where once political news was seen as a general-news staple it may come to be viewed as a niche product for a niche audience.

In a recent interview with Mark Colvin, Young said that only about 0.5 per cent of Australians were political tragics — the kind of people who watch Parliament Question Time, subscribe to Crikey or watch press conferences on Sky news. Looking beyond the tragics, only about 2 per cent of adults buy broadsheet newspapers. Even adding in those who watch ABC or SBS news or who listen to ABC Local Radio, the audience for serious political journalism makes up no more than 12 per cent of the adult population.

If serious political journalism disappearing from TV news broadcasts and the front pages of newspapers, will social media fill the void? Trevor Cook isn’t optimistic. The "ABC’s social media experiments have been disappointing so far", writes Trevor. Rather than paying for quality journalism, they’ve mostly offered up low-cost commentary. According to Trevor, "what we need is more research-driven content. More real insight backed by argument and substantiated by fact."

Here at Troppo, Ken Parish is similarly pessimistic. On Monday he blogged: "Fatuous Sydney 2UE radio reporter Latika M Bourke not only won the 2010 Walkley Young Australian Journalist of the Year award but has now been employed by the ABC as its Social Media Reporter." The title of his post: ‘OMG Journalism really IS cactus‘.

At Larvatus Prodeo, Kim posts an excerpt of Mark Colvin’s interview with Sally Young and writes that the "devaluation of political debate derives from advances in polling and audience research from the 1950s onwards, which showed politicians that virtually nobody was reading long excerpts from parliamentary debates in broadsheet newspapers, and so on."

In the comments thread John D writes that not all political tragics count as informed voters. "Some political tragics may be informed voters. However, many of them are rusted on supporters who are more interested in collecting information that will strengthen the case for supporting their team than helping to decide who they will vote for." Trevor Cook makes a similar point noting that much of this audience "cheer their side and boo their opponents" like the studio audience of the ABC’s Q&A. "Many of these enthusiasts seem to value the horse race journalism of the sort that Shanahan specialises in, where every issue is judged on which party or politician will benefit or lose the most."

Boys & girls

At American blog Nerdy Apple Bottom, Sarah posts a picture of her 5 year old son dressed up as Daphne from Scooby Doo and titles the post ‘My son is gay‘. Her son is a fan of the show and chose the costume for his preschool Halloween party. Some of the other parents weren’t impressed. "Two mothers went wide-eyed and made faces as if they smelled decomp", she writes. The post went viral attracting over 45,000 comments and leading to stories in newspapers and interviews on TV.

At Forbes Caroline Howard called it a lesson in bad mommy blogging. But at Blue Milk another mother asks whether a girl dressing up as a male character would have attracted the same kind of attention. "No," she writes, "because even for girls, aspiring to some form of masculinity is not an insult."

Meanwhile, back in Australia, Selleys has engaged Belgiovane Williams Mackay to create ads for their DIY products (Hoyden commenter Napalmnacey describes them as tubes "of gooey crap in a GUN"). According to BWM’s Simon Hadfield the TV spots tap "tap into a real insight around blokes putting off the odd jobs around the house. Their better half then loses patience and calls in a tradie." Why should men worry about that? Because “if you don’t do it yourself, someone will do it for you". As the good looking tradie in the ad says: "Do you really want me hanging out at your house when you’re at work?"

At Hoyden about Town, Jo Tamar wonders why Selleys doesn’t want her business any more. Most commenters seem to feel the same way. As Napalmnacey writes:

The sleazy double entendre reduces women to something to be ‘done’. I am not something to be done. I’m a faithful customer who has used your products for years and is just as able to use your goo-guns as anyone else of a differing gender.

Meanwhile at Mamamia, Mia writes that people of a differing gender keep bringing up that story about Shane Warne and Liz Hurley.

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