BOOKS: by R.J. Stove (reviewer)News Weekly
Dry: In Defence of Economic Freedom, by John Hyde
, December 14, 2002
For "Dry", read arid and barren
DRY: In Defence of Economic Freedom
by John Hyde
Institute of Public Affairs, Rec. price: $33.00John Hyde, Federal Liberal parliamentarian 1974-83, is best known for having directed the Institute of Public Affairs during the 1990s.
The numerous economists, editors, and office staff who worked there under Hyde (it was always under
Hyde, never with
him) ranged from such greatly influential thinkers as John Stone and Des Moore, down all the way to such obscure helots as the present writer. They usually emerged from the experience undergoing a sense of relief.
By "dry", Hyde means the whole social-engineering ideology of privatisation, tariff and import quota abolition, and pseudo-libertarian rhetoric that in America is called "neoconservatism". (The difference is that Hyde actually believes in his own nostrums, whereas almost no American is foolish enough to impose such nostrums on his compatriots. They are to the USA what sexual revolution was to the USSR: for export only.)Belief system
Dimly aware that even an Australian apparatchik - Renaissance man though he is by definition - might not possess the ultimate title deeds in ethical authority, Hyde tries to persuade readers of his belief system's basis in Hobbes, Burke, and Locke. (At the same time he praises the anti-Vietnam-War brigade's outright thugs as "high quality idealists" [p. 138], a description which will make most of us ask with fear and trembling how "low quality idealists" could conceivably have behaved. Earlier [p. 8] he lauds - notwithstanding his self-proclaimed Burkean disposition - the events of 1789.)
Every tariff, every import quota, every trade union - indeed every marriage where the wife dares to raise children herself, instead of farming them out to totalitarian crèches while she furthers her own paper-shuffling career - disgusts Hyde because it defies pure economic determinism.
Unwilling to admit economic determinism's logical consequences, Hyde makes occasional efforts in Dry
to sound compassionate. The results are as self-consciously gruesome as Julius and Ethel Rosenberg's repeated attempts to show their American patriotism by chattering about baseball.
Part of Hyde's bluster involves endowing his whole political career with a patina of heroism. He recounts his battles against Sir John McEwen's agricultural subsidies, against the Two-Airline Agreement, and against pegging the dollar's exchange rate, with a detail which gives the impression that the outcome involved real risks to life and limb.
One would think on his evidence that he and his fellow parliamentary Dries were aiding the French Resistance in 1943, or hiding in Cuba's mountains with Castro and Che in 1956, or conducting some other guerrilla struggle which ensured hideous physical tortures for the defeated.
Nobody would guess from Hyde's hyperventilations what his part on the world's stage actually was: that of a backbencher, in an exceptionally insignificant and self-indulgent country, organising mock battles against foes only slightly more famous and more ruthless than himself.
Similarly disingenuous is Hyde's rewriting of IPA history.
He dismisses John Stone (p. 99) as "a poor advocate, tending to patronise lesser minds and moral weaklings" (that these alleged vices of Stone's are in fact virtues
has obviously never occurred to our hero).
Ken Baker, for years IPA Review
's astoundingly intelligent, hard-working and underpaid editor, is omitted entirely from Hyde's account. So are two subsequent Review
editors, Michael Warby and Anthony Rutherford.
So is the IPA's education arm, which included Susan Moore and Alan Barcan as well as the author of these words. So is Dame Leonie Kramer, but for whose fundraising initiatives there probably would not have been an IPA at all. It is a surreal or, rather, a nightmarish experience to read Hyde describing events one witnessed oneself, and to appreciate that in Hyde's depiction half of such events' participants have been airbrushed completely out, the resultant picture bearing the same relation to truth that Falstaff's war stories bear to Falstaff's war.Dry
's concepts of editorial standard-setting include such grotesqueries as "Queensbury's rules" for "Queensberry Rules" (p. 23); "perceived" where Hyde clearly intends the precise opposite, namely "falsely supposed" (p. 64); "sunk" where the grammatical context requires "sank" (p. 117); "Herman Khan" for the American economist Hermann Kahn (p. 133); "Don Haywood" and "Ian Cathy" for the former Victorian Education Ministers Don Hayward and Ian Cathie (pp. 224-225); and "Raynor" for Melbourne Anglican leader Keith Rayner (p. 229). Voltaire, pace
p. 12, did not
say "I disapprove of what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it": this phrase was never credited to him till long after he died.
Whatever the five copy-readers listed in Dry
's acknowledgments section imagined their brief to have been, actual copy-reading clearly played no role in it.
Nevertheless it might not be too late for the IPA to sacrifice its self-esteem to its self-respect by recalling every single copy of Dry
and pulping the complete edition. Or perhaps poetic justice would be better served, given Hyde's 1982 support for retrospective tax tyranny, by sending Dry
's entire print run to the bottom of the harbour.