The rally that did workers more harm than WorkChoices

The irony is that, even with the lower than expectations turnout for the union IR rally, it has probably done workers’ interests more damage in one day than WorkChoices has in the eight months since it came into force. Many will have lost pay, given up annual leave, or been inconvienced by the the traffic chaos the protests caused.

Out of all the thousands of employers in Australia, the normal statistical spread of personality types suggests that some of them must be bastards happy to exploit workers. But despite being desperate to run a scare campaign, the unions have been struggling to find them. Even the few cases that they have managed to flog to the media have often been borderline – businesses in financial trouble where the realistic choice is a new agreement with employees or bankruptcy, or getting rid of dubious penalty rates for weekend work in exchange for higher normal rates.

Leftist bloggers have been drawing attention to an apparent decline in real wages since WorkChoices came into effect. The ABS’s Australian Economic Indicators, the latest version of which came out today, shows that while full-time adult average ordinary earnings increased by 2.9% in the 12 months to September, the CPI in the same period was 3.9%. Compared to recent times, inflation was unusually high and the average earnings increase unusually low. But what could be driving the wages figure is a very large increase in the number of people in full-time work – Continue reading “The rally that did workers more harm than WorkChoices”

The rise of ‘market fundamentalism’

Back in 2001, I wrote an article for Quadrant titled ‘Naming the Right’ (pdf) which tracked the changing terminology used to describe the free-market right. It argued that ‘New Right’ had largely gone out of fashion, and that though ‘neoliberalism’ was on the rise, ‘economic rationalism’ was the still the most common label. Re-reading it now there is a striking omission: ‘market fundamentalism’, which has attracted recent attention from Kevin Rudd’s use of it in his Monthly article and his CIS lecture (pdf), along with critical commentary from Jason Soon in the blogosphere and Tony Abbott in the SMH.

Market opponents have long used religious allusions in describing market supporters, branding them ‘zealots’ believing in an ‘orthodoxy’ of ‘sacrosanct’ markets as a ‘path to salvation’, including using the phrase ‘economic fundamentalism’ (these are all from a paper on economic rationalism I wrote in the early 1990s). But I am pretty sure that in omitting ‘market fundamentalism’ in my 2001 article I was not making a lexicographical blunder. It just hadn’t caught on then.

These days put ‘market fundamentalism’ in and you will still be going with new examples tens of Google’s pages later. I found only one use, from 1999, that pre-dated my Quadrant piece, though search engines are not ideal for research stretching back into the days before putting things on the web was standard practice. The 1999 link referred to zillionaire speculator and would-be public intellectual George Soros who is fond of using the term; it was also popularised by the poorer but academically far superior Joseph Stiglitz.

As others have pointed out, the term itself cannot withstand much scrutiny in the way Rudd uses it. What interests me here is the sharp shift in the connotations attached to the labels for free-marketeers. We have gone straight from a term that alludes to the anti-religious forces of reason, ‘economic rationalism’, to one that alludes to the irrational dogmatism of religion, ‘market fundamentalism’.
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University students in Australia over 40 years

For the last few weeks I’ve been helping to prepare a speech on Australian higher education policy over the last 40 years (for Adelaide readers, you can hear Glyn Davis give it on Thursday, for others the final version will be published in Australian Book Review). As my memories of the 1960s consist largely of Humphrey B Bear and the milk bottles with yucky cream under the lid they made us drink in kindergarten, I had to do some historical reading.

I knew the broad outline, but the detail can still surprise. Even in 1970, an author writing on ‘access to higher education’ could start a sentence with ‘In an ethnically homogenous society like Australia…’. No essay written on Australian universities today could contain the phrase ‘ethnically homogenous’.

As the student statistics released last week record, 239,495 of the 957,176 people enrolled at Australian universities are overseas students. To these can be added 163,820 domestic students who were born overseas. Between them, they make up 42% of all students at Australian universities.

Previous, though now rather dated, research found that the Australian-born children of migrants were more likely to attend university than 3rd or more generation Australians. We’ll have to wait for the 2006 census results to confirm that this is still true, but given the selection effect (ie, the people who are ambitious for their offspring are more likely to migrate) I’d be very surprised if it was not.

Given that, and a large migration programme favouring people with higher education qualifications (who are likely to pass that preference to their kids), it won’t be long, if it hasn’t happened already, before 3rd or more generation Australians make up a minority of university enrolments.
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Do personal political attacks work #2?

A couple of weeks ago I thought that the polls showed some signs that the personal personal attacks, mainly directed at Victorian Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu, weren’t working – and that maybe Australian voters would resist the American trend of mud-slinging campaigns.

While the Victorian ALP was trying to damage Baillieu by talking about his shareholdings and his real estate firm, NSW Opposition Leader Peter Debnam stuck his hand into Bill Heffernan’s septic tank and chucked what he found at NSW Attorney-General Bob Debus.

Early this week, the two Sydney daily newspapers each released state political polls. We can say fairly confidently that this attack did not help Debnam’s cause. In the SMH/ACNielsen poll the two-party preferred was stable on ALP 51%, Coalition 49% since July, but Debnam’s disapproval rating had increased from 33% to 44%. In the Daily Telegraph/Galaxy poll the Liberal and National parties were down 8 percentage points on the two-party preferred since September, to ALP 52%, Coalition 48%. 57% of NSW voters – including a third of Labor voters – say that the ALP does not deserve to win the state election. But with even lower confidence in the Opposition, Labor will be returned.

In Victoria, satisfaction with Ted Baillieu as recorded by Newspoll was stable over the last two weeks of the campaign, up 1% since my last post to 46%. But his dissatisfaction rating was up 2% to 30%. Both results could be statistical noise. A Herald Sun/Galaxy poll directly asked its respondents about whether Labor attacks on Baillieu’s share portfolio made them more or less likely to vote Liberal. The vast majority, 70%, said it made no difference. 18% said it made them less likely to vote Liberal, and 10% more likely – perhaps to punish the ALP for running a dirt campaign?
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What is happening in undergraduate enrolments #2?

More than a month ago, based on university financial statistics, I predicted that:

Commonwealth-supported undergraduate enrolments actually went down for the third year in a row, and all the growth was generated in the full-fee market.

The student statistics have now been released. These were very hard to analyse, because DEST has changed the way the data is presented, and added in the new private providers.

A declining number of Commonwealth-supported students was one reason why revenue growth for them was low, but I wrongly thought undergraduate numbers were to blame. In full-time equivalent numbers (eg two half-time students would be counted as one full-time equivalent) undergraduates increased by 235. But with postgraduate Commonwealth-supported places down by 760, there was a net decline overall of 525 or 0.13%.

I was right however that the stronger growth was in the full-fee domestic undergraduate market, up by 34.1%. However, most of the increase was due to enrolments in the private higher education providers whose students are now entitled to a FEE-HELP loan. Take them out of the calculation and the growth rate drops back to 7.42%. In the fee-paying postgraduate coursework market things were very tight despite the extension of FEE-HELP, only a 1.26% increase in places overall and .22% on a same institution basis.

The overall picture is of stable enrolments, with FEE-HELP providing an additional element of choice outside the quota system for Commonwealth-supported places.

How many people read The Monthly?

If you are still reading The Monthly, you’re part of a pretty exclusive group – just 42,000 people, or 0.2% of the population, according to the Roy Morgan Readership Survey. Admittedly, Morgan’s call centre would have to ring a lot of people before they found any readers of the magazine I edit, but then again Policy never set out to be an antipodean Atlantic Monthly.

Apart from lacking the Atlantic Monthly‘s circulation, this month’s Monthly was lacking The New Yorker’s famous fact checkers. Crikey had a go at them for publishing Mungo MacCullum’s claim that Robert Menzies had an affair with Elizabeth Fairfax, wife of media proprietor Warwick Fairfax. There is no evidence that such an affair ever took place.

Several people (including me) have criticised Kevin Rudd’s article ‘Howard’s Brutopia: The Battle of Ideas in Australian Politics’. But none of us have yet challenged the claimed origins of the term ‘brutopia’:

Contemporary British conservatives such as Michael Oakeshott have starkly warned against a ‘brutopia’ of unchecked market forces.

It is some years since I have read Oakeshott in detail, but I doubt this is true. Oakeshott wrote little on economics, but what he did – such as ‘The Political Economy of Freedom’ in Rationalism in Politics – is generally sympathetic to markets, though in a non-ideological way. More to the point, it is hard to imagine an elegant writer like Oakeshott using an ugly neologism like ‘brutopia’. And he wasn’t really the type to quote from Donald Duck comics, where the term originated in the late 1950s, in a clear reference not to market dystopias but a dystopia lacking markets, the Soviet Union. Putting pop culture references into academic writing did not start until decades after Oakeshott did his main work.

If it wasn’t Oakeshott, who was it? The closest I can get via Google to a ‘British’ reference is a 2000 article by an academic in Belfast. Rudd clearly defines ‘contemporary’ rather broadly (Oakeshott died in 1990) so perhaps it was a print only usage. But like Mungo’s Menzies affair, Rudd’s conservatives warning of market brutopias sounds like something New Yorker-style fact checkers wouldn’t have allowed into print.

What are community standards on erotic films?

If you want to see the film Viva Erotica be grateful for federalism. The Sydney Morning Herald puts the situation this way:

AS SEX films go, Viva Erotica is tame: 28 minutes of sex and no violence. But because the sex is real, it is classified X18+, a rating that means it is banned from sale in all states.

All states, yes. But not all territories. Our-not-quite-so-conservative-as-it-seems federal government has declined to use its power to over-ride territory laws permitting the sale of X-rated videos or to instruct its wholly-owned corporation Australia Post not to deliver them around the country. But porn peddler Adultshop is seeking to overturn the X classification of Viva Erotica on the grounds that it does not offend ‘community standards’. After all, R-rated real sex is currently showing at your local art house cinema in Shortbus. But under the Office of Film and Literature Classification guidelines (pdf) Shortbus‘s real sex is not the same as Viva Erotica‘s real sex because the former has bothered with a plot and the latter has not.

To help its case, Adultshop had ACNielsen conduct a survey.

Explicit erotic films: Films and videos primarily involving various forms of actual sex, including close-ups, involving consenting adults, with no coercion or violence. In the ACNielsen survey, Australian Adults were asked: Do you personally find this content offensive (ie does it cause feelings of outrage and/or disgust)?

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What do Australians think about education?

Labor MP Lindsay Tanner has excited letter writers to the The Australian with his views on Australians and education. In a speech (pdf) to the Sydney Institute, and reported by The Australian yesterday, Tanner claimed that:

AUSTRALIANS are typically anti-intellectual, indifferent to learning and steeped in mediocrity and ignorance…

These accusations don’t accord with what Australians tell pollsters. Newspoll, for example, runs an occasional survey asking ‘overall, as a society, would you personally agree or disagree that Australians today are…?’ and then listing a dozen possible attributes. In the last of these surveys, late in 2005, 57% of respondents thought that ‘intellectually minded’ was a reasonable description of their fellow Australians. Perhaps by ‘intellectually minded’ they mean reading something other than the sport in the Herald Sun or Daily Telegraph – since it certainly can’t mean having acquired a university degree or reading one of the magazines aimed at intellectuals, none of which sell more than a few thousand copies per issue. But it does suggest that ‘anti-inellectual’ might be a bit strong as cultural analysis.

When Roy Morgan Research last polled us on our most important issues, in 2004, education was the second most important issue after health, with 56% of the population rating it as one of their top three most important issues for the federal government to be doing something about. To this we can add the revealed preference of the nearly one-third of parents who are sufficiently concerned about education to put their kids into a private school, and other research suggesting a third or more of parents with children at government schools would send their kids to a private school if money was no object.

I think Tanner is right that there are problems with educational aspiration among young people, particularly from welfare and working class homes. But the main debate isn’t about whether or not education in general is A Good Thing. It is about how we should go about the task of education – hence all the controversies about curriculum, teaching methods, and financing.

Sphere crossing

How many organisations give platforms to their critics? That’s what the CIS did when Kevin Rudd delivered this speech (pdf) last Thursday. Much of it is a critique of Friedrich Hayek. But the part that caught my eye was a common criticism of markets, that its self-interested values invade other spheres where other values ought to prevail. Rudd is unconvinced by what he regards Hayek’s ‘ex cathedra pronouncements’ that the family and the market can be maintained as separate moral realms, as different ‘orders’, a ‘private’ order for the family and ‘extended’ order for market where altruistic values are less applicable. Rudd says:

…this is formalistic nonsense given that Hayek’s fundamental concern is individual liberty and the same individuals are who are participants in family life are active in the market. Is it seriously contended that behaviours in one sphere do not affect behaviours in the other?

In a quote from David McKnight, he elaborates on the problem:

We must be ruthlessly self-interested in the market and sweetly caring in the family, greedy at work, selfless at home.

I don’t think Rudd realises the difficulties this critique creates for his own position. After all, he does not oppose the market. He maintains that ‘social democrats maintain a robust support for the market economy’, just not of the neo-liberal minimal state variety. Yet this would surely mean that everyone would still have their principal exposure to the self-interested values of the market, ie as consumers. Don’t we all like to get a bargain? How often do we really consider the full implications of our purchases for other people or the environment?
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