blogorrhoea
Saturday, September 07, 2002
 
Too ill to blog off my own bat, so here are a few worthy quotes from today's papers - I'd be proud of each and every one of 'em:


Ariana Huffington (!) in 'Trickle Down Trickles Up Again' September 5, 2002:

"In other words, meet the new New Economy, same as the old New Economy. Forget the inconvenient fact that deregulation hasn't worked -- that it's given us an airline industry on the verge of collapse, higher electric and cable bills, a savings and loan disaster, to say nothing of Enron, WorldCom, Adelphia, AOL, Xerox, Merrill Lynch, et al -- the invisible hand is still the magical answer to all our woes.

How did the free-market ideology of the Reagan revolution come to be the political consensus of our times? How did we get suckered by the fairy tale that as long as people kept shopping, the market could keep our prosperity going as far as the eye could see? And that by voting with our credit cards, we could spread the gospel of prosperous democracy to any corner of the earth where American products were made or consumed. Like all fairy tales, it's a nice story. But it's time to acknowledge that
this one didn't have a happily-ever-after ending."


Here's one that isn't quite as surprising, either as to source or sentiment, but Norman Mailer does pithy as well as most. This from today's Drudge Report:

"Clinton made a point of surrounding himself with people who might be 90% as intelligent as himself, but never his equal. Bush is smart enough to know that he couldn't possibly do the same, or the country would be run by morons."


This one's from Mark Steele of The Independent (5 September)

"The other argument for war, that Saddam's evil is proved by his war against Iran and his treatment of Kurds, is poetic in its hypocrisy. It's true he did both those things but we were backing him at the time. The Americans shot down a civilian Iranian plane, vetoed a United Nations resolution condemning the attacks on the Kurds and dismissed anyone who pointed out this barbarism. It's as if Alex Ferguson decided
to bomb Roy Keane, screaming "But this is a man prepared to hack down his own colleagues" at anyone who suggested he shouldn't.

So it could be that because the warmongers are failing to win public opinion, they're suddenly cobbling together "evidence". And there will be piles of it. Just like the stories of Germans raping nuns in 1914 and Iraqis throwing babies out of incubators in 1990, admitted as lies once those wars were over. There will be grainy film of Saddam chucking kittens in canals and crackly tape of him threatening to ruin David Beckham's hair. But the football manager the Americans will try to copy once the war starts will be Arsène Wenger. Every time hundreds of civilians are slaughtered by wayward bombs, the US spokesman will look blank and say: "Well I didn't see that incident so I really can't comment. But aren't we doing well?"


And then there's this pithy pearl, from none other than The Chomster himself:

"Today, Americans do themselves few favours by choosing to believe that "they hate us" and "hate our freedoms". On the contrary, these are people who like Americans and admire much about the US, including its freedoms. What they hate is official policies that deny them the freedoms to which they, too, aspire."

And finally, this one from Harvey Blume (in the latest American Prospect), as he reflects on the passing of biologist, author, philosopher, polemicist, and advocate of the 'evolution-comes-in-spurts' approach to natural history, SJ Gould:

"But sometimes he (Gould) simply called them (the reductivist 'digital Darwinists' like Stephen Pinker, Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins) hedgehogs. The hedgehog, according to one of his favorite parables, knows only one thing and is determined to explain everything with it."

Reckon that neatly nails the public choice theorists, too ...
 
Monday, September 02, 2002
 
LOSE / LOSE SCENARIORRHOEA UNDER THE PARISH PUMP

Quoth Ken Parish:

"Just about the only useful thing Richard Nixon's equally corrupt Vice-President Spiro P. Agnew ever did was give the world the delightful expression "nattering nabobs of negativism". I was reminded of it this morning when I read Rob Schaap's blog titled Lose, Lose Scenariorrheoa."

Bewdy! 'Tis after all a shameless nattering nabob of negativism I proudly profess to be. Haven't always been, mind you. And hope, albeit without current conviction, not always to be.

Ken goes on to say some sweet things and then diagnoses Yours Dismally as prey to a "typical leftist psychic compulsion to always look on the worst side of everything. For Rob, the glass is eternally half-empty, and what's more the water in it is probably polluted by toxic chemicals emitted by evil multi-national corporations."

Au contraire, m'learned Ken! I have a far higher opinion of my species (ie. humanity, btw) than do most people I meet.

And were I not so busy, I'd love to say some negative things about the global water situation, and the ill-considered project to privatise water supply, but I really am busier than an Australian Lifeline operator right now.

Ken goes On: "His latest musing is a perfect example of the genre. Rob observes that US consumer spending was up in July. Good news? No!! Wages haven't gone up, so all it means is an increasingly desperate cycle of corporate-manipulated consumer debt! Then Rob seques mysteriously ... "

I made a point and went on to proffer an example. Not all that mysterious, surely?

Asks Ken (rhetorically): "But hang on, are any of Rob's underlying assumptions actually true? Well, er, no."

Pretty heavy irony for the thin ice you're on here, Ken.

Ken again: "Australians have become steadily wealthier through the 1990s and early "noughties", not only in Aussie dollars but on "purchasing power parity" comparative to all other countries. Australia is, from memory, around the 11th or 12th wealthiest country in the world and the fifth fastest growing economy, according to OECD figures. Moreover, recent ABS data corrections indicate that we are getting richer without increasing inequality."

Fair go, Ken! How about making the distinctions I made? Like the one between wealth-per-national-economy (gratuitous point: 'national economy' is a mental construct) and income-per-worker's-hour (gratuitous point: workers are [corpo]real).

My whole point was that the former was coming along just fine; absent some really serious shit, wealth typically accumulates with time, after all (eg. when the generations that built our roads or telecommunications infrastructure die out,they don't take it with 'em; ideally, we then add to that stock). I'm talking about the tendency for that wealth to head upwards - to such an extent the US wage-per-hour has gone practically nowhere in thirty years, while national wealth has climbed by 72%. If we're gonna talk statistical constructs, we're talking gini coefficient, not PPP.

Talking of which, why not take a captain cook at Conciecao, Pedro and James Galbraith [2000]. 'Technology and Inequality: Empirical Evidence from a selection of OECD Countries' at http://www.computer.org/proceedings/hicss/0493/04937/04937034.pdf

Interesting stuff about the non-necessity of increasing inequality for economic growth aside, gini coefficients are tabulated across OECD countries and over time. The Anglo Saxon economies turn out to be the world's most enthusiastic destroyers of domestic equality, and Australia has been right there with 'em, alternately tracking and leading the decline throughout the last quarter of a century. A ten per cent decline overall - and counting ...

Ken: "( ... standard leftist rhetoric)"

No need for this. I'm not sure there's such a thing as 'standard leftist rhetoric', although I do think the right has lovingly constructed three straw men in their efforts to avoid irksomely genuine debate ((a) the progress-hating romantic sentimentalist, (b) the winter-palace-storming bolshie, and (c) the postmodernist 'all-is-but-contending-discourse' earnest young litcritter - I don't find a home under any of those banners, and neither, as far as I can see, does anyone else on the left wing of Ozblogistan). As I think Don has pointed out, if you look hard enough, you can find and interview 'em for the cheap points, but pretending they represent some monolithic left is rough argument, I think.

So how can Rob's theory about Bata Scouts and Kinks singles (whatever they are) be true? Well, it isn't."

Bata Scouts were THE school shoe du jour. Little animal tracks on the soles, and a hot commodity among the primary school set. And if you can't remember the Kinks, well, I feel for you, mate. Needless to say, 'Dead End Street' is my favourite.

Oh, and I submit the theory has hitherto survived.

Ken: "What about the point on house prices and multiples of income? Well, it's true at the moment in Sydney and Melbourne, because both cities are at the peak of a price bubble. But it isn't true across the rest of Australia. In Darwin, for instance, the average income is $36,000 per year and the average house price is around $190,000. That is, 5.2 times the average income; not much more than the historical average Rob cites. In Adelaide, incomes are a bit lower and so are house prices, and in Hobart both are lower again. The reason prices are so high in Sydney and Melbourne at the moment is simple supply and demand. People have high incomes, they want to live in the 2 biggest capitals, and are prepared to pay the price."

I don't deny that house prices in the lesser cities (as an unrecovered Hobartian, I assure you I mean 'lesser' only on the population criterion) don't all cost eight-times-average-wage. I do suggest they're typically twice the cost, relative to average worker's income, than they were thirty years ago. And were we to speculate on the reasons, we'd have to ask why banks are lending at an unprecedented one per cent margin, what effect the $14000 serve of fleetingly sector-saving pork has had, and, importantly, what the impact has been of the 'wealth effect' (followed by the flight from equity markets into a real estate bubble) among the propertied echelons.

Ken: "Secondly, is it really true that families are forced to have both spouses working in order to make ends meet? Well, yes and no. For a start, does anyone (except maybe John Howard) really want to go back to the days when dad was the sole breadwinner and mum stayed at home, did the housework, and cooked sausages and 3 veg for dinner (and Streets ice cream and canned peaches if you were lucky)? I think not."

Did you read me as arguing this? Did I put my case so badly that a bloke well versed in separating ratio decidendi from obiter dicta misses the fact that I brought the example up to show that what could be afforded by the average worker with a family in 1973 is less easily afforded now? Maybe I should have used a packet of ciggies as my example. I wasn't arguing the virtue of the arrangement, just the affordability of it.

And note to Don Arthur: I was therefore not mistily evoking a lost glory, so I am not quite what you take me for.

Ken: "There are several reasons why the social norm today is for both spouses to work."

I'm big enough to allow this point.

Ken: "First, social expectations have changed. Second, women mostly want to work rather than stay at home slaving over a hot vacuum cleaner and watching Days of Our Lives."

That might be what they want, mate, but I'm not the only one to suspect they're typically now 'working' AND 'slaving'. Anyway, whoever does the housework, someone's gotta do it - or pay for it to be done out of household income.

Ken: "Third, to the extent that there is an element of necessity, it is relative to vastly elevated expectations of living standards, compared with the supposedly halcyon days of the 1960s."

Yeah, but the very thing I'm questioning is the efficacy and veracity of such expectations in the context of the neoliberal regime within which we find ourselves. Hence the reference to marketing and the possibility (probability, as far as I'm concerned) that our expectations of our ability to service the debt we're so busily accumulating are unrealistic.

Ken: "When I was a kid in the 1960s (see, I can go
into Happy Days mode too), my dad was a modestly paid middle ranking public servant,
and my mum didn't work. As a result, we couldn't afford a car until I was about 11 nor a TV until about the same time. We lived in a 2 bedroom house financed by a War Service home loan, and all four of us kids slept in the same bedroom until my parents hit on the idea of subdividing the block and selling the back half to finance additions to the house. You know, shoebox in the middle of the road, Monty Python etc etc. The point is, the wonderful advantage of having mum at home full time came at a price in those days too, just as it does today."

I can grasp the notion of opportunity cost; I'm just saying that was a choice then (given that yer average Mum might find a decently-paid job at that time, of course - as I say, I'm not going all misty-eyed about the sixties either), is not a choice available to nearly as great a proportion of Australian worker-families today. Not if they want to buy a family home within a day's march of the job, anyway.

Ken: "But this has nothing to do with falling living standards, because they're not falling at all, they're rising."

Looks that way if the stats are analysed in terms of the mean. The trials of Oz's Gini coefficient suggest we should be looking at what's happening to the standard deviation ... and I maintain the trend is not good. And I think spiralling residential debt and bankruptcy rates have something to do with this.

Ken: "Now, I am far from being an uncritical admirer of every aspect of neo-liberal feral corporate capitalism."

I realise this. Although I do suggest corporatism buttressed by neoliberal hegemony should be deemed 'feral' by definition.

Ken: "The triumphalist nonsense spouted by some of the more rightist bloggers is every bit as silly as Rob's "we'll all be rooned, said Hanrahan" lament."

My theory may be dumped by a decade of uneventfully rising income, wealth and savings among Australia's working families, but I don't think 'silly' is judicious at this stage. There's real cause for concern, and American mainstream newspapers are beginning to acknowledge it.

Ken: "By all means let's debate real issues, but a bit of balance would help. The OECD and UN figures showing Australia's excellent economic performance are neither a myth nor a fraud."

I realise you genuinely find yourself moving about between the political poles of Ozblogistan, Ken, and I realise that quite often the truth or optimum may be found somewhere between two contending positions. Often, but not always. Anyway, if it's a serious debate you want, you're gonna have to go somewhere for interlocutors, eh?

Now back to what I'm supposed to be doing ...

Cheers,
 
political economic and cultural observations in the register of dismal dilettantism

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