Taking a break…but in the meantime some odds and sods

The blog is taking a break – not for maintenance this time – but while it’s away here are some odds and sods which have caught its attention lately.

PR ethics

Given the controversy over the PR company Bell Pottinger’s issues it is worth noting that the UK Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) set up an ethics hotline some two years ago to provide advice to members on ethical questions. So far it has received nine calls. It should be said that Bell Pottinger was a member of the UK industry body, not the CIPR, although individual employees may be CIPR members.

The NBN gives us the …..(insert appropriate word)

It is awful to describe cartoons but, as a great copyright protector, the blog doesn’t reproduce them. Nevertheless a recent Private Eye cartoon seems so apposite to Australia’s NBN it decided it ought to at least mention it. Frame one of the cartoon shows a van marked Superfast Fibre. Frame two shows a man getting out of it offering prunes, bran and figs to a customer.

Indian priorities

Under India’s Modi Government you can get sent to jail for between five and 14 years for killing a cow. Yet the sentence for killing a human through rash or negligent driving is just two years.

And on Indian history

One of the highlights of the recent Melbourne Writers Festival was the Indian author, politician and former diplomat Shashi Tharoor out here to promote his book Inglorious Empire What the British Did to India. The book is a brilliant, devastating exposure of just how awful the British were in India – as Tharoor says: “a totally amoral, rapacious imperialist machine bent on the subjugation of Indians for the purpose of profit, not merely a neutrally efficient system indifferent to human rights.” No amount of stylish BBC costume dramas can hide the reality of policies which systematically impoverished a country which, before the British arrived, was one of the richest and most advanced in the world. In one chapter Tharoor lists the major famines during British rule – from the 1770 Great Bengal famine to the notorious 1943-44 Bengal Famine when Indian food stocks were plundered, on Churchill’s orders, to be exported to the UK. The estimated combined death toll was 35 million people – more than Stalin killed although fewer than Keith Windschuttle’s former hero Chairman Mao did and the total WWII death toll.

Abraham Lincoln

Sidney Blumenthal, a former Clinton family strategist, is writing a biography of Abraham Lincoln. The second of three volumes, Wrestling with an Angel, closes with a quote from a Whig, John Bunn, who worked closely with Lincoln in Springfield. “Lincoln’s entire career proves it is quite possible for a man to be adroit and skilful and effective in politics, without in any degree sacrificing moral principles.” Perhaps someone should send our Prime Minister a copy.

..and another insight into morality in politics

A team from University of Utah led by Tamar Kreps has undertaken a research project on how people regard politicians who take a moral stance, as opposed to a pragmatic stance, and then change their mind. Unsurprisingly they found that those who base their polices on morality rather than pragmatism are judged more harshly by voters if they change their minds. Keynes comment about changing his views when the facts change are the best encapsulation of the argument for evidence-based policy – but if you are a moralist, the researchers find, you better come up with some transformational personal experience if you want to get away with the shift. The paper will be published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology but there is a preview of the findings in The Economist (24 June 2017)

A plug for Transparency International Australia

The blog is a member of Transparency International Australia (TIA) which is a global group fighting corruption and advocating policies which will enhance transparency and accountability across society. TAI made a compelling submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Economics Inquiry into the Governance and Operation of the Northern Australian Infrastructure Facility. Its submission says: “the NAIF processes for investment decision-making lack transparency, accountability and integrity.” Of course, that’s probably why Messrs Joyce and Adani like NAIF so much. For more see http://transparency.org.au/.

Cost disease

Earlier this year the economist William Baumol died. Baumol developed the idea of the ‘cost disease’ an observation about relative rates of productivity growth between some industries and services with relatively low rates of productivity growth – such as the arts, health care and government. He didn’t argue that in some respects the productivity of these sectors couldn’t be improved just that there were limits using as an example that performing a Schubert piece takes the same number of musicians and time today as it did more than a century ago. In essence the observation should make us wary of governments who claim cost-cutting and ‘efficiency dividends’ can be offset by increased productivity.

…and on deaths

In April the poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko died. The blog and his friend, John Spitzer, were lucky enough to spend a fair amount of time with him during his visit to Melbourne in the 1960s when we were both students. The indefatigable anti-communist, Frank Knoplemacher, described him as “a State-run liberal” and a bad poet to boot. We thought he was not only immensely amusing but also brave and moving in his performance of his poem Babi Yar – performances of which in Russia shamed the Ukrainian Communist Party into finally erecting a monument on the site where 34,000 murdered victims were dumped.

Finally – thanks for the French.

The FT journalist, Michael Stothard, wrote (Weekend FT 26/27 August 2017) about his experiences living in Paris and reporting on business and politics. For instance, interviewing the PM, Edouard Philippe, the PM changed the topic from tax reform to his ‘irritation’ at not being able to understand Dante’s Inferno when he was six. He also confessed to an addiction – reading.  Stothard also recounted the 2015 effort of Macron, then Economy Minister, of reciting the entire opening of Moliere’s Le Misanthrope from memory in response to a challenge from a journalist. As an Australian one wonders which Press Gallery member and which politician could pull off a similar stunt – not counting of course an effort at the first part of the Man from Snowy River. But the anecdote the blog loved best was from a newly- bearded Stothard’s interview with a very senior French businessman. Said the businessman: “Your generation, I don’t get it. You grow your beards but then you shave your pubic hair. I feel the opposite is better.” Then a pause: “That was off the record, right?”