The Dog’s Bollocks

Truth is like a dog’s bollocks – pretty obvious if you care to look.

Bloody Powercorp – owed to economic rationalism

Kathy Lord)

Hundreds of people were evacuated from Melbourne's Arts Centre. (ABC: Kathy Lord)

As I began to prepare dinner tonight it was our turn to do without power for two hours so that other folk could get a turn at watching the Plasma TV with the AC on. It reminded me of a similar evening back when Jeff Kennett came to power and he embraced Hawke and Keating’s privatisation agenda and flogged off public transport and the power grid to foreign corporations.

The power failed as I was preparing a family meal one hot evening. I was really pissed off about Economic Rationalism*, Tatcherism, Reaganism, Friedmanism Free Marketism – all I am saying is give public a chance. It was a crock from the start. Sure, there’s a mercantile market, and so there should be, but those assets essential to civil infrastructure are best provided by government on behalf of the public, not given as playthings to greedy, fearful, and oh so fallible market traders.

To all those free market acolytes – thanks a lot!

And another thing. The Rudd government needs to mandate flat-tariff prices for all alternative energy fed back into the national grid. This would encourage individuals to invest in energy generating capacity, if for no other reason than to avoid being at the complete mercy of Powercor. We need distributed energy systems – a bit like an electric internet – flexible, localised energy hubs reducing the burden on centralised generation. Let’s just get on with it. How else is everyone on the planet going to be able to watch a Plasma TV? Might have to cut back on the AC ‘though!

* Here’s the ditty I wrote in the style of a Christie Moore ballad. It sang better than it scans in print. but hey, I wasn’t as musically adept back then. It has been a while. I was older then but I’m younger that that now.

Owed to Economic Rationalism

I was in the kitchen late the other night
Off went the power, and out went the light
Right in the middle of my culinary chores
I tried to ring our private Powercor

There wasn’t a single living soul to be found
A recorded message went round and round
Staff are downsized, from blackouts preserve us
For profits have replaced customer service

Where the bloody hell is the rhyme or the reason
To this so-called economic rationalism
People’s well-being, homes and careers
All sacrificed to the free marketeers

Wealthy men of power, self-interest and greed
Are busy trying to tell us just what we need
We must work harder, there’s no time to relax
To increase their profits and decrease their tax!

Feasting on crumbs from the rich man’s table
Thin men will get fat is the modern day fable
Yet the thin get thinner while the fat get fatter
And a decent job for all no longer seems to matter

Survival of the fittest, is now the daily creed
No more sacrificing for a common need
Now it’s user pays and we must privatise
As public assets vanish before your very eyes

Our factories are told they have to compete
On the global market or we’ll surely face defeat
We must do our best to make a level playing field
Costs must be lowered ‘though unemployment builds

For the common people there is little concern
As long as the wealthy have money to burn
Government policy is more concerned now
With the FT100, the Hang Seng and Dow

For ratings and resources now we must compete
And as in days of old the wealthy are elite
The poor and disadvantaged no longer have a voice
As equity’s replaced by efficiency and ‘choice’

If you need a doctor because you’re feeling ill
You better be sure you can afford the bill
Or you’ll be placed on the waiting list instead
And before you get better you may well be dead

No more public housing can we afford
With private landlords the homeless can board!
And if the rent and the bond you struggle to meet
There’s plenty of room out on the street

Where it will end is anybody’s guess
How long before the politicians confess
That their policies have caused so much sorrow and distress
And left us an economic, irrational bloody mess

I guess if one day the power just doesn’t come back on, all bets are off.

This is my 300th Bollocks post!

Filed under: Economics, Ideology, Politics

Free trade failure

Spooner's ViewFrom the early 1970s until now, we have participated in an economic experiment that was intended to create an international economy without barriers, says Martin Feils. Apparently it’s not working. Who would have thought that selling agricultural produce and raw materials to the rest of the world, and buying back their manufactured goods on credit wasn’t a sustainable or viable economic strategy?

It is instructive to read the dialectic of the past 30 years. We were to create internationally competitive, outward-looking industries. The winners Garnaut picked in 1988 were sustained export expansion of non-primary commodities, education and tourism.

This was the sort of language used by the economic rationalists who morphed into free market economists. The rusty sheds are long gone. But so has most of our manufacturing capacity. We have watched our manufacturers sell their brand names and move their businesses to Asia. The services industries have not filled the exports shortfall.

Our foreign debt has been increasing by $50 billion a year for the past three years, despite the mining boom. We owe $600 billion to the rest of the world. We owed $180 billion 12 years ago. We owed nothing in the ’70s.

The grand experiment hasn’t worked. We were supposed to create outward-looking industries that could compete on even terms with the rest of the world. This didn’t happen.

A lot of people have a vested interest in fighting to ensure that our economic policy continues on its present path. They are the winners who have created careers, power and wealth from the evolution of Australia into a barrier-free economy that focuses on selling services within Australia, selling agricultural produce and raw materials to the rest of the world, and buying their manufactured goods.

Change will only occur if we acknowledge that what we have done in the economy has not been the most successful economic strategy we could have devised.

Changing course a must for Australia | theage.com.au

Filed under: Big Picture, Economics, Ideology, Politics, ,

Bolt explained

Changa’s Boots, at the new Possum Box offers insight into why Andrew Bolt and his ilk do what they do:

[The Right]…“know that by playing to their base in very well-crafted ways, they can shift the very definition of what the middle is. By introducing radicalism into the public discourse (and taking initial heat for it), whatever used to be radical within this context becomes moderate by comparison.”

Australian attack bloggers and the Overton Window « The Possum Box

And here I was wondering whether an otherwise intelligent, educated person (I’m giving Bolt the benefit of doubt), pouring out a relentless excrescence of dishonest and disingenuous drivel for the purpose of cultivating ignorance, prejudice, intolerance and misinformation could have some qualms about his fundamental lack of moral, intellectual and ethical integrity.

Oh wait…

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Filed under: Big Picture, Blogging, Howardians, Ideology, Media, Pseudoscience, Wingnuttery, , ,

‘Failing schools’ are a failure of government

The concept of the under-performing school is simply a tool for politicians to disguise their own unwillingness to provide appropriate resources to the education system to help lessen the impact of social inequality.

So says Graeme Smithies, recently retired from 35 years in schools, in The Age today. A refreshing statement of the bleeding obvious about the state of public education in Australia. These are the best bits:

The apparent underperformance by many of the students in those schools is a direct result of factors outside the control of the school – the socio-economic, demographic and family factors that children have experienced before they start school, and which they continue to experience in the 17 hours of every school day that they are not at school.

For more than 40 years researchers have identified a variety of socio-economic factors that can influence a child’s educational performance. Proponents of the underperforming school fallacy seem to ignore these factors.

I have never seen a definition of what constitutes an underperforming school, but those who use the term generally imply that the academic performance of its students, as measured by VCE results or literacy and numeracy testing, is below expected standards, or the standards achieved by schools in different suburbs.

The implication is that teachers at such a school are not doing their jobs well enough – and if they work harder, improve their methods or are replaced by better teachers, the problem will be solved.

The concept of the underperforming or failing school is based on a number of myths. The first is that student performance is entirely dependent on what happens in school, and that it is a consequence solely of the activities of teachers and principals and not of any factors outside the school.

The second myth is that all students come to school equally prepared, with equal ability and with equal levels of motivation, so that all they need is excellent teaching to excel.

Students who start school with the best chances of ultimate success will come from a home where the parents are well educated and where education is highly valued; where the child’s imagination and cognitive development have been stimulated and enriched by a wide variety of play and other creative experiences; where English is the first language, and the parents and other adults with whom the child has contact have strong linguistic skills in the English language.

They will come from homes where the child is read to frequently, the parents read and are seen to enjoy reading, and there is a large variety of reading matter; and the child has had at least a year of pre-school experience before starting school.

The absence of any or all of these factors will affect a child’s readiness for school. Lower parental levels of education, limited linguistic ability, lack of reading and books in the home, little use of the English language in families of non-English-speaking backgrounds, high levels of family unemployment and non-attendance at kindergarten are all more prevalent in the northern and western suburbs.

Rather than grapple with these issues, Howard chose to divert funds from public education to the private sector, exploiting every opportunity to create fear that public schools are failing, are valueless, only for povo’s, and it’s all the fault of those lazy leftist and elitist unionised ideologues known as teachers, and we’ll spend countless millions on testing the kids to prove it and show you that we’re tough in The War on Education.

Rather than ‘our failing schools’ it might be more instructive to regard the problem as a symptom of ‘our failing society’. Even in relatively affluent but time poor families, many kids from the earliest age grow up exposed to a mind numbing stream of sensational and trivial trash media dedicated to encouraging unsustainable and insatiable consumption of everything from junk food to lifestyles in the pursuit of pleasure and the illusion of happiness. Family and community are sacrificed on the altar of free market capitalism. As individuals we are driven by our vanities and insecurities to fear, anger, anxiety, intoxication, depression and unhappiness in ever greater numbers. And that’s just those of us who are well-educated and relatively affluent! In economically underprivileged areas, the problems are exacerbated with violence and crime.

The only long term answer to these problems is education, and lots of it. To continue the blame game as we have been doing for the last 12 years is simply shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic. We are failing our schools, the students and the families they serve.

Filed under: Education, Howardians, Ideology, Politics,

Of Faith, Hope and Charity

The Oasis: Australia’s Homeless Youth, a heart-rending documentary on homelessness filmed over two years in the life of Salvation Army Captain Paul Moulds as he helps a myriad of broken people. People whose spirits have been crushed by neglect, abandonment, and abuse. People dependent on alcohol and drugs to numb the pain as close to death as you be without being dead.

Captain Moulds, himself abandoned at birth, is a man with a deep faith in the humanity of man. Through his steadfast charity in all his actions he has delivered hope for a better, brighter future to countless young human beings. Faith, hope and charity — the ideal virtues of Christianity, and indeed of all religions.

Perhaps not quite so in the free market place. The homeless are a product of ourselves and the society we create. They are not the ‘other’. They are us. What we do unto them we do unto ourselves.

When Paul gives $30 to one girl from his own pocket, fellow soldier Ken complained that they never give even 20c back to the Salvos. That’s why they never have any money. You have to give as well as receive. The economically rational approach to this problem is for us to give the necessary resources to begin changing the conditions which give rise to the problem. But it will take faith, hope and charity, not consumerism, cynicism, and greed. And we need to do it right.

Congratulations to Kevin Rudd for having the courage to raise the issue again and commissioning some up to date analysis indicating the extent of the problem — a problem neglected and ignored during the Howardian years in pursuit of healthy budget surpluses to spend on handouts come election time.

We have enough information about what works. Now we need sustained public investment rolled out over the next ten years to turn this around. It’ll actually be good for the common wealth and well-being of our nation.

Filed under: Australian values, Howardians, Ideology, Media, Politics, Society, ,

Pilot shortage – the product of free markets

ABC Online“Australia is suffering from a pilot shortage causing the suspension of services around the country. The global demand for pilots is high and many Australian trained pilots are being lured overseas.” The 7.30 Report

Australia once had an abundant supply of the mostly highly trained and highly paid pilots in the world. We also once had a pilot’s union and a more regulated aviation industry.

Well that’s life in the free market for you.

Individual gain at the expense of common good.

Ah, the irony.

Filed under: Australian values, Economics, History, Ideology, Politics

Ad bans won’t stop kids liking junk food but they will reduce consumption

Liberal Party propaganda columnist for The Age, Chris Berg, reckons that because a ban on junk food ads during children’s television programming will not stop them liking junk food there is no point in doing it — it’s just more oppressive nanny statism depriving us of our liberty and personal choice.

Golden ArchesBerg argues that junk food advertising is basically about providing information. Yeah, right. Try junk food advertising to kids is about increasing junk food sales to kids — otherwise why would they bother. You can’t drive more than a few urban kilometres wihout seeing the ubiquitous Golden Arches.

The only freedom being compromised here is the freedom of global food corporations to make a profit by peddling food which is dangerous to the health of the individual, creates public costs through ill-health and obesity, and environmental degradation.

The freedom of children and parents to like and comsume junk food is in no way being compromised.

Asshat.

Filed under: Ass Hattery, Economics, Howardians, Ideology, Law, Media, Nonsense, Politics

The end of the world as we know it?

Dyson - The AgeAccording to Martin Jacques of the London School of Economics the underlying cause of the growing economic crisis is permanent and far-reaching — a fundamental shift in power from the developed world to the developing world — above all China and India. It will be the biggest geopolitical shift since the dawn of the industrial era — the economic and political consequences will be of such a scale that they are impossible to comprehend.

We are entering a period of protracted instability as the old order breaks down, the US seeks to resist change and the world embarks on a conflictual and painful passage towards a new global economic order.

One thing is certain, says Jaques: the neo-liberal orthodoxy will be undermined. It could lead to a rise of protectionism in the US and Europe against developing countries such as China, or new regulations designed to prevent sovereign wealth funds from taking over what are deemed key strategic assets.

When the free market and deregulation are the means by which the Western world extends its global economic power over the developing world, then they are deemed highly virtuous. But it is a different matter when they become the instrument by which developing countries can extend their influence over Western economies.

Similarly, during a recession, the state is likely to be called into active service on a far more regular basis as Western governments seek to deal with the mushrooming effects of market failure.

It is not an accident that developing countries — virtually the whole of East Asia, for example — view the role of the state in a far more interventionist way than does the Anglo-Saxon world. Laissez-faire and free markets are the favoured means of the powerful and privileged. The decline of the Western world could well usher in a significant change in this mind-set.

Having had my share of online stoushes with neo-liberal economic fundamentalists I’ve been contemplating lately that the great dream of The Free Market is no less an ideology than Socialism or Communism were in the past, and in reality, no more attainable. All are born of great philosophical ideas which are never fully realised in the real world. Like all ideologies, they are destined to fail because human society is neither purely a common collective nor purely self-interested individuals. Society therefore never quite provides the ideal conditions to allow the great dreams to materialise. Millions suffer in the pursuit of them for the benefit of a prevailing elite.

Also in the Business Section of The Age today Leon Gettler observes that “anyone who has spent time in big organisations knows that expecting them to be restlessly innovative and strategically nimble, on top of being efficient and sticking to the management rule book, is like expecting a cat to tap dance.”

The truth is management techniques have a certain sameness about them. They haven’t really changed that much since the 1960s, whether it’s about setting budgets, supervising teams, setting tasks for subordinates and then reviewing their performances. Buzz words such as benchmarking or quality have lost their fizz.

Organisational DNA makes traditional management programming easy. Corporate DNA allows companies to engage in cost-cutting, continuous improvement, outsourcing and offshoring to make products and services cheaper, better and faster. That’s what companies do, it’s in their DNA, just as it’s in the nature of cats to chase birds and dogs to pee on trees.

According to management thinker Gary Hamel, traditional management principles built around standardisation, specialisation of tasks and functions, goal alignment, hierarchy, planning and control and rewards don’t work in a world where the pace of change is accelerating and more companies find themselves on the wrong side of the change curve.

His book, The Future of Management (Harvard Business School Press, 2007), says present management practices no longer fit. You can’t expect your business to stand out in a crowded market, he says, when you are using outdated techniques.

“There seems to be something in modern organisations that depletes the natural resilience and creativity of human beings, something that literally leaches these qualities out of employees during daylight hours,” Hamel writes. “The culprit? Management principles and processes that foster discipline, punctuality, economy, rationality, and order, yet place little value on artistry, nonconformity, originality, audacity and elan. To put it simply, most companies are only fractionally human because they make room for only a fraction of the qualities and capabilities that make us human.”

What on earth is the world coming to?

Filed under: Big Picture, Economics, Ideology

The Culture War is over. Peace in our time?

DysonThe defeat of the Howard Government marks the end of the insidious Culture War, or at least a temporary cessation of hostilities. The Culture War was waged on Howard’s behalf by a compliant media to foster division and fear within Australian society for naked political advantage – divide and conquer.

Howard came to power when the public had grown tired of Keating’s vision thing and the moral high ground of political correctness. Shock Jocks and rednecks were unhappy with the slow creep of legislation outlawing discrimination on the basis of race, religion, gender and disability. With the aid of Pauline Hanson and a number of dog-whistles, Howard set out discredit Keating’s political correctness and restore ignorance and bigotry to its rightful place in the heartland of Australia. The Culture War became a new conservative political correctness waged against indigenous Australians, immigrants, Muslims, Greenies, teachers, universities, the media, the ABC, the leftist-luvvie latte elites, and even sought to recreate our own history. The Culture War was an unscrupulous tool of political manipulation, wielded without regard for the damage to social cohesion, and used as a smoke screen for a radical rightwing economic agenda.

The Culture Warriors are an aging generation of 60s and 70s Young Labor and Young Liberal student unionists. The substance and style has changed little since the heady days of Leftist ascendancy as the Right were forced to into moral retreat on Vietnam, gender politics, history and multiculturalism. It is as though the Right under Howard have been reliving the battles of their youth. For the rest of the population it has been as relevant as flared trousers and body shirts.

Howard’s Culture War has corroded our values, our public institutions, and eaten away at the very heart of Westminster democratic tradition. It has undermined the cohesiveness of family and community and respect for the primacy of law in matters of race, religion and liberty. It has eroded mateship and the ‘fair go’ – values professed to be held dearly by John Howard.

The Culture War has poisoned intelligent public debate by demonising genuine intellectual dissent as the mere delusional notions of evil and envious greenies and leftists. Political discourse has been reduced to a 2-bit black and white polemic with no rational regard for the 256 shades of grey of contemporary society. Political discourse must be lifted from the cesspit of the Culture War if we are to respond intelligently to the pressing problems of developing an environmentally sustainable economy sufficient for a civil and prosperous society

My hope for Kevin Rudd is that he is driven by principle rather than ideology. That he will approach public administration rationally rather than ideologically. Fashions in economics change with the ages. It is insufficient to merely assert that economic rationalism is unquestionably good or that public investment by government agency is unquestionably bad. Effective and efficient public administration must be built on the principles of rationality, evidence-based practice, negotiation and pragmatic compromise.

Democracy is our best protection from those whose particular ideology, socio-economic status or beliefs predispose them to believe they better know the national interest than the rest of us. The swinging voters, formally known as Howard’s battlers, are courted and exploited by political parties even though they are secretly reviled for their lack of conviction by the political classes. Yet they are the great Australian Democratic Bullshit Detector. They protect us from the excesses of extremists. If a government becomes out of touch with common sentiment they are unceremoniously dumped from office by a sceptical and suspicious electorate. Then the other side get a go for a while.

Wild ideological oscillations among the factions of Australia’s political elite are as undesirable as the boom and bust cycles in the economy. Australia is fundamentally a centrist society. Our political discourse needs to be redirected to negotiating solutions for our problems, not waging rhetorical flame wars over irrelevant ideologies from the great class struggles of last century.

Filed under: Australian values, Big Picture, Federal Election 2007, Ideology, Politics

Howard’s vision of The Future (now with welfare for the wealthy)

SpoonerAt his Campaign launch, Howard remarked to the effect that an $800 tax rebate for school fees to millionaires was a break through in public policy – the transformation from a Welfare Economy to an Opportunity Economy is complete. WTF? Middle class welfare is now available to the ultra rich!

Howard’s education policy announced yesterday provides $6 billion in the name of education, yet not one cent of it will go directly to schools, let alone public schools. All it is doing is adding another inflationary cash injection into the consumer economy as reimbursements for money already spent. But based on past form, it would be naive to have expected anything else from Howard, who has doggedly pursued privatisation of education through a combination of funding policies which facilitate the flow from of cash from the public sector to the private sector and a sustained culture war on the teaching profession, portraying them as Maoist ideologues who brainwash our children with an elitist, left-wing, politically correct post-modern view of the world and our history.

Head Girl, Julie Bishop, trumpets the policy as one of giving choice to parents, for they are the best people to decide how best to spend the education dollar. The full manifestation of Howard’s vision would create a three-tiered education system. At the top will be the sandstone colleges – always the exclusive preserve of the wealthy and well-connected. In the middle will be McPrivate Schools, probably built and run in Public Private partnerships with the likes of ABC Learning Corporation, catering for the aspirational middle class who can’t afford the real thing. And the rest? Well we’ll train them to be grease in the wheels of commerce. A proper education can only be obtained in the private school system, and only by those who can afford it. The rest of the population can have a safety net education and access to ‘proper’ technical schools.

Add into that mix yet another underclass – migrant guest workers. Then we can do what France and Britain have done – exploit migrant guest workers for more than a generation and yet not grant them rights of citizenship, creating the conditions for unrest and alienation from the second generation Australian born. I guess it will be good for sustaining The War on Terror. Oops, don’t mention The War!

Chuck in 25 foreign-owned nuclear rectors around the coastline adjacent to Australian cities as a climate change solution, put the Adelaide-Darwin railway to the use intended by its owner, Halliburton – the people who gave us the Iraq War – and ship in US nuclear waste and ship out yellowcake to all comers.

Yep, sounds like a vision for the future all right.

Filed under: Ass Hattery, Australian values, Education, Federal Election 2007, Ideology, Politics

The Dog’s Bollocks

What they say

The Dog's Bollocks: "Bollocks" is one of my favourite words, and this is now one of my favourite blogs and I've only been reading it for five minutes. – John Surname

This is the person who tried to analyse Hayek. This is actually a person who needs a shrink. – JC

Shut up slim. You’re an idiot.
Just you stay honest and keep that thinking cap on. – GMB

Insightful perspectives on politics and discussion of matters epistemological? I’m sold! - Bruce

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