The rebound

I’ve been setting myself to write a post looking ahead to when we get out of lockdown, and everything returns to relative normality, though the normal will be different from what we knew before. I wanted to anticipate what the opportunities might be, tempered by what I thought the Australian government might do. In truth, I wasn’t looking forward to writing it. I feel I must because it’s so much a part of me, but I felt fearful that the opportunities might be squandered by the usual dumb fuckery we saw before. If I didn’t write it I didn’t have to face it – but you can’t live like that.

I’m glad I delayed writing because late yesterday a huge, somewhat unbelievable, government update reached the news services.

Way back in March the government committed $130B to help us through the pandemic in the form of support and subsidies, mostly in the form of Jobkeeper. Lo and hold, the government let it slip yesterday that thanks to some sort of accounting error the amount required was only $70B – a full $60B had been removed from the books.

How this actually eventuated is a bit of a mystery. The government claims the forecasting was off, blaming in large part how forms were filled out. It doesn’t add up, in terms of the sheer amount of dollars, or in common sense. The story is unlikely and, even if true, would account for only a fraction of the absent dollars. In any case, they should have had a much better of what was needed long before now. As the opposition has pointed out, this is something that could have been seen from space.

Not surprisingly, the Treasurer has framed this as good news – a windfall, as such. Normally you’d say a saving of $60B was great news, the problem, in this case, is that money needs to be circulating in the economy to stimulate activity in depressed times like these. You can’t just stick in the bank and thank your lucky stars because we’ll be worse off.

Now, if they play it right, it can be a good news story. The obvious thing to do now is to right the wrongs of the original policy and extend job keeper to casual workers, students and universities, foreign nationals. They were excluded for all sorts of reasons that were ridiculous as well as unfair. Now we have the dollars, let’s plug that hole.

There’s a reasonable clamour to do that, but I’m sceptical the government will respond. It has a tendency to dig its heels in once it’s made a decision, especially when they’ve done it on ideological grounds, such as on this occasion. What so many commentators fail to grasp is that for the most part, this government – and Morrison especially – make decisions based on politics, not the common good.

The exception to that has been the response to the pandemic, and many have chosen to believe that might be the new model going forward. I’d like to believe that too. The problem is that it was the state premiers that forced the federal government’s hand, and a huge dose of pragmatism when they realised that ideology wasn’t going to win the day (we can be thankful for that – Trump’s America is the other side of that). Credit where it’s due, Morrison made sacrifices, and though the package was deeply flawed, it was much better than doing nothing, and we’re better off for it.

None of this convinces me that they’ve changed their spots. There’s plenty of evidence already that they intend to return to the neo-liberal agenda of before, even though it’s discredited rubbish. (I should write on that one day – the torrid, nonsensical economic doctrines of Friedman and Hayek that have ruled the world for too long). There’s talk, as always, of reducing taxes – that is, company tax and to the top tax brackets, and not to those where it might make some economic good, the people who’ll spend it. There’s talk, as always, of labour reform – basically making it easier for companies to hire and fire and negotiate. That’s very IPA, though of course, the business council go on about this like a broken record, regardless of economic circumstances.

These are mindless, ideological driven notions. Add to that the latest climate policy, which is all about half-arsed, recycled solutions and promoting gas, rather than addressing the issue at its root. And this is after a summer of bushfires and a plethora of really attractive renewable energy options. Play this right, and Australia might boom, as well as clean-up – but that won’t happen under a Liberal government.

Why is that? For the reasons, I said before – because most of their decisions are made on political grounds. So what makes this political? Well, the sad reality is that the hardcore of their political support and donations come from fossil fuel companies. That’s their base. You could almost say that’s their constituency. The government doesn’t govern for you or me, it governs from them because through them they have power. In that, they’re cheered on by News Limited and Murdoch, who has everyone running scared.

I’ve banged on about this for years – political donations are a blight on our democracy. They corrupt it literally, and visibly so. They’ve created a culture where glad-handing and corruption has become almost second nature. Unfortunately, what government is going to ban the hand that feeds it? What government is going to introduce the means to police and prosecute their own corruption? Self-interest rules, and maybe I sound like a cynic, but I think more accurately I’m a realist – and it kills me.

There is a hard rump of rabidly conservative ideologues in the party, most of whom belong to the IPA. The IPA is a toxic force in Australian politics. The pity of it is that they haven’t got an original idea between them. They swallowed whole the Friedman/Hayek doctrine and extended it to social economics as well. They’re a bunch of unimaginative drones who get wound up every day to spout the officially decreed propaganda. They prance around full of self-righteous confidence in their suits and none of them with the wit to consider anything else. They were lost when the pandemic hit because none of it was in their books. Here’s a bunch of paint by numbers goons incapable of colouring in outside the lines.

I despise them, as you’ve probably figured, but I’m not alone in that. They get a platform they don’t deserve and contribute nothing of value.

So, I’m pessimistic, and that feeling is accentuated knowing that we have the rare opportunity to re-make things. The public is on board with that, too. We want things to be different.

That’s my small hope, that society will have moved beyond the old ways and won’t accept them anymore. I think the old, prevailing economic doctrines have been exposed as being false, and I hope the pendulum begins to swing back towards the much more sensible, and user-friendly Keynesian doctrines. People are fed-up with climate policy that doesn’t suit them, and hardline economic policies that exclude the less fortunate. We’re living through a time of inclusion. The barriers that held us apart before have been dismantled because now we all live the same – privilege and entitlement have gone out the window. We’ve become closer to each other, and to ourselves. We’ve recognised the value of things.

I reckon there will come a change, I’m just not sure it’ll come as soon as we want it. This is the opportunity for the Labor party to seize upon had they the gumption – I doubt it. Already we, the people, are talking about different ways of living on the back of this. These are the possibilities, to remake the work/life balance, to provide better for those who need it, to set in place human-centred policies around climate and tax, to open our minds to opportunities we would never have considered before – such as a living wage.

I’m pessimistic about this government. I don’t think they have it in them to change, nor the talent to do it. I’m not over-impressed by Labor either, but they’ve got more ideas, at least. Regardless, I think the tide is turning back because of the experience forced upon us. I think we will reject what doesn’t fir anymore, and that will change the scale of our political landscape. What we need now is a visionary to lead us there – but visionaries are hard to find.

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