The alternative to the CIS-Institute of Public Affairs view, therefore, has to come from elsewhere [ie, not from the Old Left]….
In the absence of a strong contest, the intellectual ideas of the Australian Right are now in danger of hardening into an ideological dogma, dominated by prefabricated and increasingly predictable soundbites.
Now the CIS is all for competition. But it is not clear to me that it is promoting ‘ideological dogma’ against the fresh thinking that might come out of a ‘new progressive agenda’ set by Per Capita.
Per Capita, for example, thinks that a huge increase in public and private investment in education will reduce poverty and increase per capita income. The ‘private’ part is perhaps controversial on the left, but the basic argument about the importance of education is orthodoxy. Every survey finds that the public wants more money spent on education.
Fresh (or at least fresher, since studying intellectual and political history suggests that genuinely new ideas are very rare indeed) thinking would be to question this orthodoxy. Perhaps for example Andrew Leigh’s research showing that we are spending more on schools but getting worse results. Or Peter Saunders’ argument that raising the school leaving age is a bad idea. Or my point that many graduates are working in jobs that don’t need university qualifications.
Perhaps we do, overall, need more spending on education. But in education policy, this is the dogma that needs testing in debate.
Per Capita is big on what it calls ‘full-cost economics’, which so far as I can tell is just another name for the economics of externalities, and the old argument that the government can encourage positive externalities and discourage bad externalities. An emissions trading scheme is an example of ‘full-cost economics’ – while certainly controversial it is not exactly novel, and is being promoted by many others on the left.
And according to Glover’s op-ed:
there is a need to defend a progressive position in the culture wars, particularly when the conflicts spill into the territory of race.
But surely the left is already too preoccupied with race, seeing racists under every bed.
I’ve thought from the start of Per Capita that their problem is finding something fresh in the social democratic tradition. Social democracy is so deeply entrenched in our political institutions that it is in the fine-tuning and adaptation phase, not the original new thinking phase.
The strengh they perceive in think-tanks like the CIS – with its profile events and regular media mentions – could just as easily be interpreted as weakness, that its ideas aren’t so embedded in mainstream political debate and institutions, and therefore the media turn to a think-tank – a tiny organisation with no direct power or influence – for some alternative to what everyone else is saying.
Update: My CIS colleague Jeremy Sammut also responds.