STRAWS IN THE WIND: by Max TeichmannNews Weekly
Giving to the have-mores / How long can Labor last? / Degraded educational standards / Future prospects
, December 6, 2008
Shortly after he wrote the following column, Max Teichmann died on November 29, 2008, aged 84. News Weekly's obituary, as well as other tributes and eulogies to Max, may be found at:
http://www.newsweekly.com.au/articles/2008dec20_cover3.htmlGiving to the have-mores
Everyone is talking about the world being in one of those make-or-break situations whereby a new order is struggling to break out and establish itself, while the old order hangs on, with a result of making the future more hazardous and less plausible than it might have been before.
This is the argument for giving someone like Barack Obama a carte blanche, and Kevin Rudd the right to do just about anything that he desires, and only hoping that either leader knows what he is doing.
The trouble is, we don't know whether this is one of those great watersheds, or whether it isn't just simply part of an economic cycle, which, when the dust settles, will see the inevitable capitalist order back in place.
It is not a question of capitalism being permanently creative and able to transform itself in order to preserve itself. There is simply no alternative, or at least no alternative upon which people can agree.
In the meantime, a country like Australia is going to go through a period of confusion and the impoverishment of many classes of people, who will then be characterised as the losers.
Some of the rich and powerful are marked down for extinction, but even there the latest innovation is to get those who have not
, to give to those who have
, so that those who have
can continue exploiting those who have not
I have written about the outside possibility of a catastrophic German 1922 situation ("Barbarossa II", News Weekly
, October 25, 2008), and it is still something that has to be borne in mind.
One thing which has already come out of this drama: it is still true that if America sneezes, everybody gets sick.
And that includes all of the countries, such as China, which are purportedly surpassing the US, relegating it to the margins, and supposing it not to have any lasting influence upon the future. In fact, everyone seems totally dependent on what the Americans do from one day to another.
The China cult is in danger of being replaced by the Obama cult.
What seems clear is that people are going to support a government which will look after more
of them than the other party is willing or able to do, even though the long-term economic consequences may be dire.
So people are going to vote for governments which are willing to hock all public assets and direct the social product towards protecting as many of society's members as possible.
Labor and the left are the natural advocates of such policies, even though they may be taking society away from any prospect of balanced growth, or a viable future.
Malcolm Turnbull, on the other hand, can only build up his own personal reputation — which he has done. He cannot compete with Rudd's vague promises to look after everybody.
We know that it is going to be impossible to look after everybody, and that those who are neglected are going to be marginalised, just as they always have been.
The difference is that Labor is getting away with this marginalisation, and will continue to get away with it — at least until the next budget.
Only then will it emerge who are going to be the real winners and the real losers.
;How long can Labor last?
There was considerable speculation, in which I took part, as to whether Labor was going to be a one-term government. The fact is, since Federation, there has only been a single one-term government, that of the unfortunate Jimmy Scullin.
Even that tragic-comedian Whitlam got a second term in 1974, due mainly to the really maladroit behaviour of then Liberal Opposition leader Billy Snedden, and Gough quite naturally seizing the opportunity at a time when he was already being considered with great cynicism.
No, poor Jimmy Scullin was the only one to lose after a single term, so we should have expected that the Liberals would not be able to do very much about Rudd this time round.
Nevertheless, we do
live in unusual times. Rudd has made it to a year with surprisingly little trouble from his own party. But then so have the Libs, in the face of what could have been a serious breakdown in party unity or morale. Being as mystified as most people as to what's happening, I think Turnbull and his Libs would be quite happy to sit on the sidelines and watch the inevitable disaster they are predicting, were it not for the fact that Labor plans a massive social revolution to be carried out by way of the taxation system. Degraded educational standards
In 1970, I published some articles on education and what was going to happen to it: how it was going to eat up the social product, while at the same time degrading academic and educational standards everywhere, and creating a whole new triumphalist class of anti-intellectual academics and teachers.
I received a phone-call from a Queensland Labor politician much interested in social services, and obviously widely read. He said he couldn't agree more about the new cargo-cult of education, and how it was going to place huge demands on anyone who was going to be federal Treasurer.
Had I, he asked, spotted any new movements on the rise, and likely to go the same way? No, I said. Keep an eye on social work, he told me — it's just becoming popular. In its time it will eat up more of the social product than education ever could, and make the work of a future Treasurer more and more difficult. We agreed to meet when he came down, and Bill Hayden in fact did become Treasurer.
He could not have foreseen — nor could I — the rise of the psychologists, or the march of armies of counsellors. Or the advance of the ambulance-drivers and the physiotherapists, such that in the end the world was to be one for carers and the cared-for.
And as the appropriation of the social product to such activities increased, the actual delivery of services to the cared proceeded to go down, and down, and down, as it is doing even now. Rudd's tactic appears to be to increase the number of carers of every kind, who will be attached to the Labor machine, and divert all the money to potential supporters of Labor.
This makes the promises he has made to single pensioners and ex-servicemen uncomfortable from his point of view. These people are dying out rapidly, but the creation of new categories of support for them may not. Between now and the end of Rudd's first term, of the 350,000 ex-service people coming under the Veterans Affairs regime, three-quarters will be over 75. A large proportion of us will not be around to vote against Rudd a second time, and quite possibly the same is true with single pensioners. So Rudd can afford to break that promise, and all the other pie-in-the-sky he gave us. Future prospects
My personal feeling about the international system is that it is entering a period very similar to the 1930s. Concerns about economic matters are going to discourage support for military conflicts, or political conflicts, and all attention is going to be directed towards enabling one's own country to survive.
Most people will not be in the business of supporting good causes anywhere, nor will their interests continue to flow to dramatic events, or calls for honourable behaviour overseas. It would be not at all surprising if the United States, for example, moved into a mix of free trade and quite ferocious protectionism.
Meanwhile, the Europeans seem unwilling to work in a predictable relationship, either with the world or with one another, as in the 1930s. So, the dictators and the aggressors of the next period are not going to be opposed in any serious way; most countries in the world will be more than happy to leave that job to somebody else.
The heroic choices implicit in free trade — cheaper imports, but decreased job security — are not going to be accepted by people who are already staring at poverty and unemployment. They are not going to support any policies which diminish, even just in the short run, employment or social wealth. In many cases, this would occur with the introduction of free-trade into that society.
It is not entirely surprising that the so-called powerful economies which should be calling the shots are themselves in trouble. So the best that can be said of the likely future of Australia, for example, is that it may suffer less from what is quite likely to be a world depression than most countries.
Although we might well have forgotten what real unemployment and real poverty are all about, it could be that we have the wherewithal to see that such conditions never return to Australia.— Max Teichmann