Taking a break part 4

This is the last of the odds and sods for the year. The blog will be back next year.

One step forward and two steps back

Cambodian Prime Minister, Hun Sen, has been alternatively releasing people, such as opposition leader Kem Sokha from house arrest, while banning him and others from participating in politics or leaving the country.

He has also barred exiled opposition politicians, such as Sam Rainsy, from returning to Cambodia, even while claiming there is no ban and simultaneously arresting 50 opposition activists and massing police at the country’s borders

It is easy for the Cambodian situation to slip from consciousness among the many problems around the world despite Australia’s having a deep obligation stemming from its work in helping the transition from the Pol Pot era.

A good start to understanding the situation is Sue Coffey’s brilliant book Seeking Justice in Cambodia previously written about by the blog.

David Cameron and Jobs and Growth

It is difficult to accuse politicians of plagiarism given that the range of short, unmemorable political grabs is so limited that they end up constantly re-appearing.

But it is interesting to note that Scott Morrison – renowned for his passionate repetition of the slogan Jobs and Growth – was engaging in a bit of plagiarism himself.

It was – as Cameron’s recent biography reminds us – the slogan he used after being advised by Crosby Textor. Perhaps someone from Crosby Textor presented it to Morrison (and the blog, being a former consultant hopes they billed both if they did) or Morrison just picked it up for himself.

One can only hope Scott Morrison goes the way of Cameron taking the slogan with him. And given the common factor linking the pair – hubris – it may just happen.

Corporate lobbying not the whole problem

The role of lobbyists in democracy – particularly in recent decades – has got a lot of attention. There has been a major Grattan Institute report and follow ups in their newsletters and presentations. The blog, along with Clare Shamier, also contributed chapters to each of the books – The Influence Seekers and Advocates and Persuaders edited by Mark Sheehan – about lobbying and backbench MPs.

The latter book also included a chapter by the blog and Clare on think tanks reviewing the international and Australian scenes and illustrating the current situation with case studies on the Grattan Institute and the Institute of Public Affairs.

But in an intricate and subtle paper, Corporate Power Beyond Lobbying (American Affairs August 20 2019) Cornelia Woll demonstrates that it is the inherent power of the ultra-wealthy and large companies which are most influential because of structural advantages. Her argument can’t be simply summarised as you probably need to read the whole article.

Her thesis accepts that many corporate campaigns fail if they don’t have public opinions on side. However, corporate interests are most effectively defended in ‘quiet’ politics Woll says when citing Pepper D. Culpepper and his book Quiet Politics and Business Power: Corporate Control in Europe and Japan (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011).

The Woll paper is also included in the Grattan Institute 2019 Prime Minister’s Reading List – a list of books the PM should read and which the Institute kindly provides to PMs every year.

From Woll and our Prime Minister one can see that the PM’s celebration of ‘quiet Australians’ are just the go to ensure corporates and the ultra-wealthy can avoid excessive spending on lobbying.

A poet to treasure

George Brandis, our High Commissioner in London, demonstrated why he was such a hopeless Arts Minister when he paid tribute to Clive James describing him as the ‘outstanding Australian poet of his time thereby demonstrating that not only did he know little about the arts but even less about Australian poets.

James was outstanding at many, many things but he would never have regarded himself as the outstanding Australian poet of his own time. Well he had a healthy ego so might have been tempted but he was also an acute and perceptive critic. This critical awareness would have driven him to nominate Peter Porter and Les Murray at least as superior.

And, while Brandis thinks he is a superior type (even if everyone else regards him as merely pompous) James was the real thing.

But – while it is probably pointless to argue about leading Australian poets – let alone dead ones – the blog has read various Australian poetry collections this year and a remarkable one stands out. That’s Lisa Gorton’s Empirical – particularly the magnificent series based on Melbourne’s Royal Park and its history. It is vivid, informative and technically impressive. It would be wrong to use the normal formula – if you only read one poetry book this year because you should read more than one. But Empirical should be among the first you select.

Neoliberalism at work

From time to time the demonstrations in Chile get some media attention in Australia. When it does less attention is paid to the fact that a significant part of the anger which has brought people into the street is the pension situation.

Chile was one of the first countries – thanks to the Chicago boys, Kissinger and Pinochet – to introduce a fully privatised pension scheme and the result are now being felt by retirees who have discovered that super fund managers have creamed off much of the money and left them with derisory pensions. Just as the Morrison Government hoped to have achieved by attacking industry super funds in favour of the private sector funds which enriched managers but got sub-standard returns.

Only in Italy (or perhaps Australia)

In Venice the government let contracts for a new flood prevention system. Many years later the city is flooded, the barrage has cost 5.3 billion Euros and it is still not operational.

In Australia we have achieved the same outcome with the Murray Darling – although currently without the floods.

Keynes gets the last word

While neo-liberals scorned Keynes, his towering achievements just wouldn’t go away and more and more his ideas remain relevant and apposite.

The late economist, Alan Kreuger, in his last book Rockonomics (another must read) quotes Keynes to illustrate what the ultimate purpose of the economy ought to be.

“The pace at which we can reach our destination of economic bliss will be governed by four things – our power to control population, our determination to avoid wars and civil dissensions, our willingness to entrust to science in the direction of those matters which are properly the concern of science, and the rate of accumulation as fixed by the margin between our production and our consumption; of which the last will easily look after itself, given the first three.

“Meanwhile there will be no harm in making mild preparations for our destiny, in encouraging and experimenting, in the arts of life as well as the activities of purpose.

“But chiefly do not let us overestimate the importance of the economic problem, or sacrifice its supposed necessities to other matters of greater and more permanent significance. It should be a matter for specialists – like dentistry. If economists could manage to get themselves thought of as humble, competent people, on a level with dentists, that would be splendid!”

Ah, if only that was the foundation for an Australian political party policy agenda.