The words I liked the best

Tony Abbott’s speech at the campaign launch was to the point and a perfect summary of their ambition as they head into office. Once there it will be messier and more difficult since once the battle has been engaged all is obscured from then on forward. But they have the right philosophy and they have a clear understanding of what’s wrong that needs to be righted. The speech showed they understand the pathway they need to follow. But from the speech itself, these are the words I liked the best: “we can’t afford another three years like the last six“, a phrase that showed up twice, once near the start and again near the end.

A philosopher PM

The interview with Tony Abbott on Andrew Bolt brought out just what I admire about Tony Abbott so much. He has many qualities but his intuitive understanding of the political philosophy of the liberal-conservative side of politics is what makes this potentially one of the great governments in our history. This is from the interview.

TONY ABBOTT: Andrew, I would like Australians to feel that each of them – each of us – is coming closer to being our best selves. We all know when we are being our best selves, or when we are coming closer to being our best selves, and I’d like each of us, in his or her own way, to feel that at the end of a term of Coalition government. Because my vision is not so much to impose my views on people, but to give each and every one of us more chance to be our best selves, as we see it.

ANDREW BOLT: You seem to be suggesting you would like Australia to be, in some ways, a freer place, where people can go about acting on their own ambitions. In what way do you want Australia to be freer?

TONY ABBOTT: Well, that’s the classic Liberal position, isn’t it? Lower taxes, smaller government, greater freedom – that’s the classic Liberal position. And then of course there’s the classic conservative position – respect for the family, respect for institutions and values that have stood the test of time, and the Coalition that I have the honour to lead is the Australian custodian of both the liberal and the conservative traditions. And I guess in our culture – our English-speaking tradition – what you’ve seen is a happy marriage between liberalism and conservatism. I think it was Tennyson who summed it up, Andrew, when he talked of ‘a land of just and old renown, a land of settled government, where freedom broadened slowly down from precedent to precedent.’ I think that nicely captures the paradox of freedom and order.

Liberal and conservative. Freedom and order. And able to quote Tennyson from memory! The tensions of government are never ending but the need to find one’s way in the midst of the flood of events every political leader is certain to find before them requires a sound philosophical hold and a clear inner vision. This Tony Abbott most certainly seems to have.

TA on IR – seeking fair and just arrangements

To continue on the theme of industrial relations as discussed below, let me bring this in from the AFR today (p 12). Tony Abbott intends to rein in penalty rates using the existing IR system. These are actual quotes from Abbott with the bit in bold the statement highlighted by the AFR:

Governments of all persuasions have brought submissions to the Fair Work Commission.

The important thing is that these things will always be decided by the independent umpire.

The Fair Work Commission that this government established and this government staffed will be the independent umpire which decides all these things under an incoming Coaltion government.

I accept that businesses are under pressure and I would like businesses and their workers to come to the kind of fair and just arrangments that will maximise employment and maximise pay.

Music to my ears. This is how it needs to be done by a Coalition government. And BTW if you haven’t listened to Alan Jones in the post below you really should.

Wages based on productivity – there’s a new world dawning

A quite seismic story in The Australian today and one that makes me think that in government the Coalition plans to be there for a long time. The obsession with trying to rid us of our unique industrial relations system may be waning and not before time. Instead, we have evidence that the intention is to use the existing structure in a more creative way. The story is titled, Coalition to police wage claims, and the first two paras say most of what needs to be known:

THE Coalition has vowed to crack down on ‘excessive’ wage claims by forcing ‘lazy’ employers and unions to prove they have engaged in an ‘appropriate discussion and consideration of productivity’ before above-inflation pay rises are approved.

Opposition workplace relations spokesman Eric Abetz said yesterday unions pursuing agreements allowing for annual pay rises of, for instance, 5 per cent should be required to show to the Fair Work Commission that they had ‘genuinely discussed’ productivity with their employer before the deal is approved.

Hard to do, glory be, it will be hard to do. But putting productivity back into the equation where unions are involved in wage negotiations is a major step in the right direction.

Further comment: I am apparently one of those free market economists who actually has an interest in institutional structures. I am also a Burkean conservative in that I think that the “bank and capital of nations” is a standard from which we should only deviate slowly and with caution. And finally, I don’t want Tony Abbott to be the third Prime Minister in our history to lose his seat while his government is voted out because of their policies on industrial relations.

I wrote an article for Quadrant some time back on this, “A Free Market Defence of Industrial Tribunals“, where I point out why the institutional structures we have are a benefit for conservative governments if properly understood and appropriately managed. It’s not the system that’s the problem, it’s the unions and they are a massive problem. For comparison, the industrial relations system of Singapore was based on the system in Western Australia.

It’s union power ruthlessly used, that needs to be dealt with. The idea that we could have what no one has – an industrial relations system free from legislative rules – is a non-option. We have unions and they have power and they will use that power to bludgeon employers for wage increases that threaten our productivity. The madness of the decision yesterday on apprenticeships will, typically, be sheeted home to the Fair Work Commission and not to the current government that sought the change. A government in which half its front bench are union leaders is a government that will cause economic harm.

So what should you do? Get rid of the Fair Work Act, ensure that workplace decisions are determined at the workplace but also make sure that the system put in place is not only fair to all parties but is seen to be fair. If that makes no sense to some people, we will just have to agree to disagree. But if you are interested, read my Quadrant article. We can then continue the conversation after that.

And in this I am mindful of the commotion that this proposal has caused within the Coaltion. Andrew Bolt discusses this under the heading, A good Liberal idea shut down in a day. An election to win. If trying to raise productivity at the workplace by leaning into union power is no longer a vote winner – that is, if the community no longer has any idea how living standards are raised – then this country no longer has any idea on which side their bread is buttered. I don’t believe that but I’m not running the campaign.

It ain’t over till it’s over

What seems to be missing from the election campaign, at least for some of us, are statements from the Coalition side that point out – using triple underlining, heavy bold and in italics – that over the last six years we have seen possibly the worst government in Australia’s history, now as before led by someone for whom to know him is to loathe him. On the personality of the Prime Minister, Andrew Bolt has an incredible story about the views on the two candidates put on facebook by the make-up artist who did them up before the debate. It is impossible to imagine just how abrasive a personality Kevin Rudd must actually be if you have not experienced it yourself. But here is the testimony of someone who has:

I have had a very similar experience! Must run in the family as Mr Howard and Mr Costello were gentlemen with a capital G. Mr Abbott is following in their footsteps. The other, I could not even face book how he treated the crew. Just abhorrent!

But we are not voting for Mr Congeniality but for the Prime Minister and these things do tend to fall by the wayside. Each of us in the end will have to decide who has the mix of policies that represent our own values and political aims. And on this, the fight is by no means over, polls or no polls, betting odds or not. Longshots get up. Rudd has a strategy and it is the one that he shares with Barack Obama who equally ought to have lost in a landslide but won it nevertheless.

Roger Franklin at Quadrant Online has a quite important article, Labor casts a misleading ad campaign (discussed by Andrew Bolt here), in which he looks at the Obama technique of slicing and dicing the electorate, aiming a message at each voter in an almost personal way. Is there something you really care about more than anything else? That is what you will be promised, and the message will be delivered to you almost as personally as it can be, as a tweet, as an email, as an SMS, or as an ad on your favourite program. And if you go to Roger’s article, as an added bonus, you get to hear my interview with 2GB where I discussed the Obama technique and the way those same techniques are being applied by Rudd.

Leaping from the life-raft onto the burning ship


A fascinating article from JoNova that looks at trends in media reporting on global warming rather than at global temperatures themselves. She starts with “Let the historic dissection begin. Man-made global warming is a dying market and a zombie science” and then continues from there:

The Carbon Capture Report, based in Illinois, tallies up the media stories from the English speaking media on ‘climate change’ daily. Thanks to the tip from Peter Lang, we can see the terminal trend [above]. The big peak in late 2009 was the double-whammy of Climategate and Copenhagen (aka Hopenhagen). It’s all been downhill since then.

A long and detailed study of various forms of media coverage which had a sudden fall off in interest somewhere in the middle of 2011 just as our Julia was signing us onto the world’s most expensive carbon abatement scheme. Makes you proud to be an Australian:

By July 10th, perhaps the world’s media finally realized what traders, bloggers, then bureaucrats had already figured out. The price of everything to do with carbon credits was falling. It could be that in a brief flurry they woke up, announced that, and then lost interest. Meanwhile all the groups who normally issue press releases were downsizing or closing, didn’t feel like telling the world, and the rain of wind-power and climate change news slowed as the investment money, and the press writers, moved to different industries.

It seems hard to believe, but the July 10 spike could have had something to do with Australian PM Julia Gillard. With impeccable timing and style, as carbon markets fell, Julia Gillard signed Australia up to the most expensive carbon tax scheme in the world. She announced those details on Sunday July 10th. She really did pick the last possible moment to leap from the life-raft onto the burning ship. And hasn’t Australia paid dearly for that.

But the fall off in media interest also means our election is still haunted by the ghost of climate change past. No matter what either side believes in their heart of hearts, it would be death to their electoral prospects to say they think global warming is a hoax. So on it goes and it will cost us billions to feed an idiocy that just won’t go away.

An honest reporter!!

You can find this same video at Andrew Bolt and Tim Blair because it truly is incredible. An honest piece of reporting, at The Guardian yet, unimaginable in The Age, The SMH or at the ABC. The reporter went to find out what working class Australians really think of Rudd, they told her all kinds of negative things about the PM and the ALP, and then she reported what they said.

I keep trying to think of some positive piece of good government we have had from six years of Labor and I cannot think of a thing. Others may wish to help me out, but aside from spending oceans of money on stuff that is entirely directed at the charity end of the specturm of social expenditure, there is nothing there. Most of what they have done has been directed towards making it harder to earn a profit in business, from the Fair Work Act to the mining tax.

I get the Coalition point that they will pay for their programs through the increased tax revenue that will be generated by a return to stronger private sector growth while a serious proportion of the waste we now find in place is wound back. That’s the sort of thing that tends to work. It’s gotta be better than now.

My worry is that after six years of the present government the fear will remain that even if we elect the Coaltion, in six years time this same mob might be back again, to pick up where they left off. There will, by then, be a better bottom line on our fiscal position which they can once more begin to lay waste.

Three more like the last six is not a great election message

The folks over at The Age and I suppose it’s the same at the SMH are impervious to common sense. But for me, the best Coalition ads are the ALP ads that feature Kevin Rudd. Three more like the last six ought to scare anyone. Seeing him there in the flesh is Night of the Living Dead. I just wonder what the features of the record he is running on he would like to highlight. A more miserable looking lot than the campaign workers standing behind the PM it would be very hard to find.

Defending the History of Economic Thought

defending the history of economic thought

My Defending the History of Economic Thought has just been released. As an author, possibly the most interesting part about writing a book is to find the text saying things you had never thought about yourself until you came to write them down. This book is more exceptionally like that than any of the others I’ve written. This is how the text on the back of the book would have read had there been more room:

The aim of this book is to explain the importance of the history of economic thought in the curriculum of economists. Most discussions of this kind are devoted to explaining why such study is of value to the individual economist. It is, of course, but that is not the main point of this book. This book reaches out past the individual to explain the crucial role and importance of the history of economic thought in the study of economics itself. As the book tries to explain, without its history at the core of the curriculum, economics is a lesser subject, less penetrating, less interesting and of much less social value.

It is the orientation that historians of economics give to economics in general that may be its great value. The mainstream is continuously challenged because historians of economics keep bringing other perhaps wrongly neglected economic traditions into the conversation.

The sad reality is that almost no economist being educated today has detailed knowledge of the people who built the ideas found in their texts nor do they know how those ideas evolved. Worse yet, they know almost nothing of those ideas no longer found in our modern texts, many of which had once been central in economic discourse but which have since been moved onto the back shelf for no better reason than because they are no longer part of the mainstream. This book explains not just why anyone who wishes to understand economic theory must understand the history of economics but also, and much more importantly, why the history of economic thought must be preserved as a core component within the economics curriculum if economic theory is to progress.

This fascinating and thought-provoking book will prove invaluable reading for academics, researchers, lecturers and students across the expansive economics field.

The details on where to get a copy of the book may be found here.