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Two from The Oz

07 Mar

1. Malcolm Turnbull

I am not going to go here much. Neither has anyone else so far as it stands at 2.20pm with COMMENTS: 0 at the end. Sure is great at phrase-making though – almost Keatingesque:

It is bad enough to have Rudd trying to turn himself, in the blink of an eye, from an adherent of the cautious, responsible economic conservatism of Howard into a slightly more genteel version of a foaming-at-the-mouth radical such as Hugo Chavez.

But to add to that effrontery, we see him every day in the parliament denouncing neo-liberal extremism as he describes me as "the member for Goldman Sachs".

Which seems to be one of Mr Turnbull’s principal beefs in a piece that carries ad hominem to new heights.

I congratulate the Rudds, especially Therese Rein, on their success. Their business grew into a very substantial one in Australia and as other countries followed the Australian approach, grew there as well exporting the expertise developed by them when they seized the opportunity created by Howard’s decision in 1998.

But what are we to think of the wealthiest Prime Minister Australia has ever had, a man greatly enriched by the privatisation and outsourcing of government services, standing up again and again to denounce the very policies from which he and his family have profited so extensively.

It is more than a bit rich. It is as hypocritical, as chutzpadik, as his essay is absurd.

Whether or not Rudd’s essay – which I have read—is the world’s greatest analysis is beside my point really; I would agree that he glossed over the Hawke-Keating years in that essay. On the other hand he is far from alone in his concern that “neo-liberalism” is bearing fruit as we speak.

Whether Mr Turnbull’s essay prevents the Cato-like return from the plough of Peter Costello remains to be seen.

It is probably a good idea to compare Mr Turnbull’s essay with Michael Stutchbury’s feature in the same paper: Too big to resist. Makes Turnbull’s essay seem quite unimportant.

2. Phillip Adams

It’s probably fair to say that Phillip Adams writes and talks far too much, and sometimes it shows. Of course the last person who should say that is a blogger as obsessive as I am. Today is one of his better days.

Early in my newspaper career one of Australia’s most respected educators sent me a stern letter.

Dr James Darling didn’t mince words in his eagerness to mince me. "Dear Mr Adams, I do not approve of you. I do not like what you write. However, I understand that you may have some influence with young readers." He proceeded to attack my most recent column in which I’d been unusually pessimistic about the state of the world.

I’d got a bit rabid, and morbid, from a bite of the black dog, to employ Churchill’s metaphor for depression. Instead of being moist of nose and waggy of tail, as was and remains my puppyish style, a crisis in the Cold War had me snarling at the reader, provoking Geelong Grammar’s most famous headmaster to thrust quill into inkwell. Darling told Adams the cries of pain I was hearing in the world – and these are his exact words – "are not the pains of death but of birth", and recalled other moments in human history when observers had made the same mistake. Confusing – and these are my words – the deathbed with the labour ward. Among his scholarly examples, Greece in the 4th century BC.

Time to reread the old darling’s letter. At a time when the news is not merely of deficit and depression, but of Armageddon and apocalypse. When editorials read like suicide notes. When Obama in his inaugural and Rudd in every other utterance have the sky falling and the end nigh. The bears have killed the bulls and black dogs prowl in packs.

Dr Darling, later Sir James, was right. Forget dodos and dead parrots and cheer the arrival of stork and phoenix…

…This could be the time for the biggest rethink in generations. For improvements to the way we run our businesses, farms, governments, societies, personal lives. We should listen to the Dr Darlings and the Ismail Serageldins because pessimism is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s not enough to rebuild Henry Ford’s Detroit. It’s time to build William Blake’s New Jerusalem.

So why can I share the hopes, but not necessarily the optimism? Because I well remember another moment like this. And so do you. It was quite recent. The end of the Cold War…

The orchestrated dread of communism yielded to the dread of Islam – or what Christopher Hitchens called "Islamic fascism". It was as if we were addicted to fear and couldn’t live without it. The Cold War was reborn as the War on Terror – and we returned to paranoia. The moment was utterly, tragically lost.

Let’s demand better – the best – from our governments, societies, scientists, corporations and ourselves. Let’s not lose this moment.

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2 responses to “Two from The Oz

  1. Benjamin Solah

    March 8, 2009 at 3:03 pm

    Turnbull seems so insignificant in Australian politics right now. He’s just crying to be heard and seem relevant. Whilst Rudd has never been so popular. Though he does make good points about Rudd being a bit of hypocrite changing his tune from ‘economic conservative’ to a critique of ‘extreme capitalism’ but I’d hardly call him anywhere close to a revolutionary and it’s a bit thing coming from a millionaire (or billionaire?) such as Turnbull.

     
  2. Neil

    March 9, 2009 at 11:39 pm

    Not directly related to your comment, Benjamin, but you (and others following the stoush Turnbull has started) may be interested in this from Iceland: Libertarian Experiment in Iceland Fails by Iris Erlingsdottir. She is writing neither about Rudd nor Australia of course, but I think it is relevant.

    …Friedman saw Iceland as his utopia. “I would like to be a zero-government libertarian [but] I don’t think it’s a feasible social structure. I look over history, and outside of perhaps Iceland, where else can you find any historical examples of that kind of a system developing?”

    At first, the policies appeared to be very successful. The economy grew at a strong pace, rising until Iceland achieved one of the highest per capita GDPs in the world. In 2007 it also topped the score for the United Nation’s Human Development Index.

    Iceland rocketed to the top 10 in the indexes of economic freedom. The Cato Institute praised the “Nordic Tiger” for its flat taxes, privatization and economic freedoms, and rated it as the least regulated country in the world.

    Unfortunately, it has become evident that these libertarian policies were not the panacea that Friedman claimed they were. In fact, economists are already using Iceland as a textbook case of how to ruin a nation’s economy. As Paul Krugman recently noted, there is an “almost eerie correlation between conservative praise two or three years ago and economic disaster today.”…

     
 
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