Rewards for being stupid

One of the quickest way for advancement in conservative parties is to perfect the sneering and/or smearing put down when someone on the other side comes up with a new and different policy.

In Australia the greatest recent example is then Treasurer, Scott Morrison, saying “It’s nothing more than a populist whinge” in response to a call for a Royal Commission into the banks.

Although it is closely followed in post-facto exposure for rank stupidity by then Minister for Financial Services, Kelly O’Dwyer’s, famous quote about changes in laws governing superannuation trustees. She claimed that the legislative goal was to bring industry super funds up to the standard of private sector funds – which actually would have been no problem if she just replaced the word up with down.

But sometimes the evidence that the sneer and/or smear is nonsense takes a while to become obvious. The blog thought of this recently when it was announced that Paul Romer had been awarded the Nobel Prize in economics for his work on models of economic growth – known as endogenous growth theory. The theory demonstrates that there is a lot more than neo-liberal nostrums behind growth and that the growth of knowledge was as (if not more) significant than technological progress. Ideas, once created, can be sustainably developed and exploited indefinitely.

Probably the first mainstream political mention of endogenous growth theory was in a 2009 speech by Gordon Brown. The speech, which was partly written by both Brown and his then advisor, Ed Balls, was entitled “post-neoclassical endogenous growth theory.” Now Brown was always a serious chap as befits a dour Scot and perhaps could have chosen a better title.

But nevertheless he didn’t and the Tory Tarzan, Michael Heseltine, pondered who had written the speech: “If not Brown is it Balls?” Heseltine was never popular with many of his Tory colleagues, indeed, one famous put down of him was that he was a man who had bought his own furniture – just like most of us if not like the Tory aristocrats who looked down on him – but he got the Tory tone right on this put down.

Former Australian Treasurer, Joe Hockey, also has form on this front. When Wayne Swan was announced as the Euromoney Finance Minister of the Year award in September 2011 Hockey ridiculed the award by making reference to other winners such as Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the former Nigerian Finance Minister who has also been World Bank MD and now has a raft of high profile private sector directorships and more honorary degrees than Hockey has smoked cigars.

Hockey also attacked another Euromoney award winner – “some Pakistani called Shaukat Aziz” who was Pakistan Finance Minister when he won the award in 2001. Aziz was invited to return to Pakistan by the then government to help fix the massive problems the country was facing. Aziz had been working in the private sector and after his time as Minister joined the board of Blackstone and other international companies.

Needless to say the Liberal-National backbenchers roared their approval of these put downs of the Prize winners and Wayne Swan although, as the Sydney Morning Herald said at the time, “Based on the economic evidence presented thus far, the Liberal member for North Sydney is a pygmy next to Aziz, and that’s saying something. But all Joe really needed was to consult his political patron, John Howard, who knows Aziz well.”

To this day the Liberals have still not acknowledged that it was no fluke that Australia avoided the bullet from the GFC nor that things could have been very much worse if their proposals for an austerity-based response had been followed.

More recently we have seen Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, dismissing the IPCC climate change report as “some sort of report.” Well he was right in some ways – it was quite some sort of report – 1200 pages long, peer-reviewed by some 40,000 people and written by 91 researchers from 44 countries. Although one of those countries – Australia – tried hard but unsuccessfully to water down the report’s findings demonstrating yet again a unique conservative combination of stupidity and incompetence.

And as climate change confirms the truism that the world is a small place it is interesting that the IPCC work has drawn on the insights of William Nordhaus who shared this year’s Nobel Prize in economics with Paul Romer.

The blog’s friend Tony Jacques also recently sent it a link to a website by the Risk-Monger, Professor Paul Zaruk an issues and risk management specialist, who has posted three long articles analysing what he calls the Age of Stupid focussing in on anti-vaxxers, naturopathy and other common delusions. More recently he has started to talk about this as an age of ‘unintelligence’ rather than an age of stupid because so many people took the term personally!

Whether it is the stupid or the unintelligent, he describes the phenomenon as “The ability to acquire and express ideas based on limited associations without proper information or research (which) Involves a willingness to accept widely-shared messages based on anecdotes rather than evidence.”

Adapting a JS Mill quote Zaruk writes: “We are told it is better to be ‘Confused Socrates’ than a ‘Satisfied Pig’….but what I find across most media today is an alarming number of Confused Pigs – lazy opinionated narcissists with an abundance of loudspeakers to express their muddled thinking.”

He does apologise, however, for the use of the word pig reminding us that pigs are sociable and intelligent creatures although also using the term ‘Borish Boars” to characterise those who “splash their muck all over the place, muddying up rational discussions.”

Unfortunately most conservatives seem reluctant to apologise for their resorts to the sneering, smearing or the plain stupid – but then perhaps it’s because many of them are just plain stupid, as evidenced for Australia by the recent Liberal-National Senate voting on the One Nation anti-white racism’ motion because an email told them to.