The Rudd conservative social democrats

Over at Catallaxy, Jason Soon is highlighting the conservative nature of the Rudd government.

In this post, he picks up on the campaign being run in recent days by The Australian on the government’s IR legislation, which will have very negative effects on restaurants and cafes. Modern left-familists and 1950s conservatives are united in trying to make life difficult for those operating outside 9 to 5 Monday to Friday (except of course the Rudd government itself, with its absurdly over-worked staff).

In this post, he has another go at the government’s internet censorship regime. I think the outrage in question may rely on older laws, but even 20 years ago Labor would not have been on the side of the censors like this government is.

He could have added the activities of Nicola Roxon, a 21st century version of the 19th century temperance activist.

And let’s not forget that Rudd is outdoing Howard on family handouts.

On the theory that all Australian governments are some mix of conservatism, liberalism and social democracy, I thought this one might be predominantly liberal and social democrat, but at this stage it looks like it is predominantly conservative and social democrat. My two least-favourite parts of the modern Western tradition.

30 thoughts on “The Rudd conservative social democrats

  1. It will be interesting to see who comes out against the censorship laws. In other words which left-wing websites are prepared to criticize Rudd on the current censorship of the anti-abortion video that was banned.

    I’m not anti-abortion by the way. My argument is what this government is trying to do. My bet is that most of the “Gitmotarians” -those civil libertarians lefties- that waged war against Howard etc. will remain deathly silent on this issue.


  2. JC – LP has had posts on this – I posted this comment there yesterday: “Latest Background Briefing on this topic was excellent. One of the main reasons I didn’t even give a preference vote to the ALP in the last WA state election was our own local versions of Conroy.”
    I’m a 1950s conservative, mixed with a 1970s hippie.


  3. Russel

    Just looked… you mean LP thread on the internet filter? I’d hardly call that an attack on the most recent ban on the anti-abortion site. There would have been 243,321 threads at LP if the Howard government had banned a pro-abortion site.

    But good for you with your vote. This stuff needs to be stamped out once and for all and they need to get into their heads that the people won’t stand for this nonsense.

    It’s actually unconstitutional.

    Brumby, in Victoria has also decided to force Catholics to support pro-abortion services against their religious beliefs. Would he force Muslims to eat pork too?


  4. Andrew,
    Not directly on topic, but I was just getting my morning coffee and a headline on the BBC news made me think of you: “Universities push for higher fees”.

    I really think Australian culture today is much more strongly conservative/social democratic than liberal, in that there is a tendency towards desiring (or at least accepting) government being responsible for everything. That headline just made me think, why can’t Australian VCs even seem to imagine the UK unis’ approach? Our culture just seems to be, when there’s something to be addressed, we think “how can we get the government to address this”?
    And its not just a public sector phenomenon. A friend who is an investment banker in Australia tells me of CEOs of large corporations taking the attitude on analyst calls that “well, the government is going to regulate all of this, and it probably needs to be like that, so we’re going to lose all those markets and there’s nothing we can do about it.” i.e. so shareholders can simply kiss that value goodbye (but my salary won’t be reduced)…
    Why, oh why, are Australians so content to let government run their lives? Why can’t they imagine or aspire to living independently of government?


  5. James – did you read this article in the New Yorker by the wonderful Atul Gawande? Go to the end of the first page where he describes how the British National Health System came about. His conclusion?
    “Churchill’s government intended the program to be temporary. But the war destroyed the status quo for patients, doctors, and hospitals alike. Moreover, the new system proved better than the old. Despite the ravages of war, the health of the population had improved. The medical and social services had reduced infant and adult mortality rates. Even the dental care was better. By the end of 1944, when the wartime medical service began to demobilize, the country’s citizens did not want to see it go…..”


  6. I haven’t read it Russell, but have printed it to read later. What is the point I should take from the article?


  7. Well, you asked why Australians like “government being responsible for everything”, and one reason is that people find government programs give them access to essential services they might not have access to otherwise. In the case of the NHS, people compared a government run, universal system with what they had before, and found it better.


  8. Russell, I’ll read the article and have a think about that, but let me give you one example. I like to think that Australians are generally sensible, pragmatic, common-sense kind of people. But… we have regulated to fine people if they parallel park on a quiet, suburban street pointing in the wrong direction for the side of the road they park on. Why do we do that? Why does it matter which way your parked car is pointing? The British people I have mentioned this to find it bemusing. I am wondering whether it is not evidence of a cultural phenomenon that we (if I may generalise) don’t mind being regulated and controlled by authority figures as much as, say, British and American people do.


  9. Listen to talk, if you can stand it for a little while, James. Almost every caller is demanding state action for something or banning another thing. People look to the state to almost to tuck them into bed each night.


  10. Russell – interesting article, but not really relevant to the point I was making… I wasn’t making an ideological statement that government should never do anything, only that I sometimes perceive a high level of reliance on and acceptance of state authority in Australia which I think is undesirable and which seems more prevalent in Australia than, say, Britain or the USA.


  11. James – I don’t hear day-to-day British commentary like you do, but their welfare state is far more pervasive, and far worse in my view, than Australia’s. Their private health and education systems are relatively small, and large numbers compared to Australia live in public housing.

    I have not read the Gawande article yet, but I find British attitudes to the NHS quite strange. It has very widespread support, yet for Australians living there it seems to rank slightly below the weather in the things they don’t like about Britain – low choice of doctor, private alternatives extremely expensive etc. I know of Australians who save up their non-urgent medical issues for trips back home rather than face the NHS.

    The Australian compromise seems better – public services for those who can’t cope on their own, private services for those who prefer them.


  12. Yeah the British welfare state is interesting – As somebody living in the UK I was actually surprised how “socialist” the UK is (to the point that David Cameron would never risk tinkering with the core principles of the NHS) and also how it is a bit of a contradiction in terms of being quite socialist but having London as an international financial centre. My experience with the NHS has (fortunately) been quite limited, but I would say the two biggest issues are that I think if you relied on it for your care my impression is that you can basically get “lost in the system” and that if you move out of a postcode area, you have to change your GP! So if you have a particular GP that you like, you can’t stay with them like you can in Australia! And I know for a fact that they cut corners on care, for example they use treatments for particular illnesses that are not as effective as others but they are used because they don’t require an overnight hospital stay so they save beds!


  13. I found the NHS to be absurd. I woke up one day with a blocked ear and was told I had to register with the local GP before seeking an appointment, which I did not get for (a further) 8 days! In the meanwhile, I went to a nurse’s clinic in Soho where someone looked in my ear and told me I had to see the doctor as she didn’t want to go poking around (it was just wax for pete’s sake), so no satisfaction there. Eventually when I got to see the GP, the guy wasted half an hour chatting with me about ears and the problems that can afflict them. If I was a poor person here, I would queue up for an hour at a bullk-billing centre and be in and out of the consultation in 10 minutes flat.
    Every country is more liberal about some things than others, usually due to some long-standing practice. Maybe parking direction is not an issue in the UK because the roads are too narrow to enforce such rules, but until a short while ago, last drinks were at 10:45pm. The US has loose gun laws, but they are as harsh on public smoking as we are and you can’t drink until 21.


  14. I got sick in the UK years ago and ended up in hospital. It was the most horrible experience I have ever had. I wouldn’t allow our pet dog to go through the NHS.


  15. My only NHS “story” (so far) is that a doctor I visited said they couldn’t take my blood pressure (after I asked them if they could do it) because they had to see the next patient – Told me to book in to get the practice nurse to do it! That said, it was a locum, my normal GP is great, but I suppose in the end the system would let down even the good doctors. Having said all this too, I would not want a system like they have in the US (not relying on Michael Moore for this view but relatives that live there and have private health insurance), I get the impression Australia is a happy medium like Andrew says – We have the public system as a safety net and decent affordable private insurers who aren’t as stingy as many are in the US.


  16. Krystian:

    I lived under the US system for 15 years. It’s the best health system in the world bar none. The equipment is great, the doctors a first class and the drugs they prescribe is not the off patent we seem to get in Australia all the time.

    It’s so good that 89% of Americans like their health system and the reason they like it is actually because it’s good, really good.

    ..But his radical prescriptions, which include a call for a British-style, single-payer system, will likely have little resonance with viewers. Indeed, according to a recent ABC News/Kaiser Family Health study, insured Americans are overwhelmingly (89 percent) satisfied with their own care, while broadly concerned about rising costs of prescription drugs and critical of the care others receive.


  17. My relatives have lived under it (much) longer, and I’m not saying it is bad, indeed it probably is the best system in the world in terms of quality of healthcare that is available, I don’t think it is in terms of accessibility. It’s hard to strike the right balance…


  18. Rajad – please try to be more self-reliant, the health system can’t accomodate everyone who wants to turn up just because they have wax in their ears!
    You don’t even have to pay – that useful old gem “Where there is no doctor” is now free online:
    “To remove the wax, first soften it by putting several drops of warm vegetable oil into the person’s ear. Then have her lie down on her side with the ear up for 15 minutes. Next, wash the ear out well by pouring several cups of warm (not hot)
    water into it.”
    I’ve done it a few times over the years (with Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Oil) – it works.


  19. Russell, I don’t know how old you are, but I was 31 and as far as I knew, I had woken up half deaf! I had never experienced anything like it before and had no idea it was wax until I rang my mum (who’s a GP) who suggested olive oil.


  20. that’s atually quite funny, Rajat. I’m not making light of the problem you had.

    If you went through the NHS they would have probably diagnosed it as needing a leg amputation.


  21. Easily frightened then … I could provide details of my appendectomy in Indonesia in 1984. But I’m looking at the title of the post and wondering: social, democrat – what’s not to like?

    “conservative and social democrat. My two least-favourite parts of the modern Western tradition”. Those are your two least favourite? I’d go for materialistic and mendacious, (advertising has helped made lying part of the modern Western tradition). The Howard government was clearly both, probably the Rudd government will measure up too – after all they are politicians.


  22. Andrew Norton says:

    On the theory that all Australian governments are some mix of conservatism, liberalism and social democracy, I thought this one might be predominantly liberal and social democrat, but at this stage it looks like it is predominantly conservative and social democrat.

    All governments will converge on a brand of conservative social democracy. That is predicted by my theory of major party Great Convergence, which is doing very nicely now that Rudd has the whip hand.

    Rudd is not a leader. He is a facilitator, choosing the path of least resistance bw Right-leaning policy interests and Left-leaning public opinion. Neither of which are all that liberal.

    Pretty much everyone wants a large welfare state. If they dont need it for themselves they will vote for it to look after Granny.

    And every one wants to curb immoderate behaviour. Thats because of the massive investment in residential and intellectual capital, highly focused in one point seven trophy children. The costliness of running off the rails has turned most liberal Boomers into born again conservatives.

    As for liberalism, well it works for the middle class. Who, born free, immediately shackle themselves in countless institutional chains: uni HECS, marriage, professional career, monster leafy suburb mortgage, kids at private schools, sports clubs etc et al ad naus. So much for freedom.

    The unter- and uber-class are much freer. And of course they abuse their freedom which is why we need interventions for aborgines and bail-outs for the Masters of the Universe.

    And the CCP-PRC is not going to get much more liberal. Not with AWG and GFC breathing down its neck. Rather, it is evolving into a more accountable form of fascism. Works amazingly well.

    So you can just forget about liberalism until you retire and become a grey nomad, sunshine.


  23. Andrew,

    Most “conservatives” dont want to return to the Dark Ages before late licences were issued. We like our late night tipple and no doubt enjoy indulging in the odd illicit pleasure.

    Its the people associated with liberal causes that get on our goat.
    Cant stand their incessant holier than thou ostentatious halo adjusting. Especially when it turns out they are just as keen to get unearned income as the worst dividend clipper.

    All we want is for the federal government to throw its weight around occasionally when the certain folk are getting unruly and snub certain groups that irritated us in uni and then on through public life the past generation.

    Mainly Left-liberals with their multiple axes to grind and smelly little orthodoxies to churn out. I mean the sainted rainbow coalition of radical feminists, indigenous activists, ethnic lobbyists, gay beat-niks, militant pacifists, civil righteous’ and all the rest of the usual suspects who troop in and out of ABC studios at Ultimo and South Melbourne.

    Its the combination of Left- and liberalism that is particularly toxic. One gets multicultural diversity multiplied by subcultural perversity. On their own these things are tolerable, even fun occasionally.

    But mixed together they are dynamite. Literally in the case of jihadists inflamed by Western immorality.

    So cultural liberalism gets a bad name by being associated with such irritating figures.

    And then there are the financial liberals. Hows that working out now, may I ask? [uttered with mock politeness]


  24. Andrew,

    Also although I understand your terminology I think the terms themselves are often used in a confusing way.

    I suggest the following three-dimensional (spatial and temporal) axes of social structure. Please forgive the indulgence.

    Vertical stratification:

    Left: progressively empower and protect the Lower-status

    Right: regressively establish and promote the Higher-status

    Horizontal association

    Liberal: differentiate individual autonomies

    Corporal: integrate institutional authority

    Temporal modulation:

    Conservatism: change aversive, moderately hankering for traditions

    Constructivism: change-attractive, militantly chasing after fashions

    Economic liberalism is the ideological doctrine for the institutional formation of catallactic capitalism

    Economic corporalism is the ideological doctrine for the institutional formation of bureaucratic statism.

    Cultural liberalism is the ideological doctrine for the institutional formation of democratic pluralism

    Cultural corporalism is the ideological doctrine for the institutional formation of “autocratic”* nationalism

    Liberals can be conservative eg traditional construction of the US constitution.

    Liberals can follow constructivism eg rainbow coalition libertarians who want to make the cultural world over

    Corporals can be conservative. eg social democratic ho want to conserve the welfare state

    Corporals can be constructivists eg revolutionary socialists such as Nazis or Bolshies seeking to uproot the old state apparatus.

    On this schema the AUS party system can be arrayed in a standard four-cell matrix:

    – economic liberals: free marketeers such as the LP

    – cultural liberals: civil libertarians such as the GREENs

    – economic corporals: social democrats such as the ALP

    – cultural corporals: religious authoritarians such as FF

    It is a striking fact that most AUS:

    liberals are constructivists.

    AUS corporals are conservatives.

    There is no major ideological fault line in AUS society. Most Australians are conservative “corporalists” like Rudd.

    The reason why AUS liberalism is on the nose with the populace at the moment is that they are sick of elite-led, fashion-driven social change disrupting “working families”.

    * “autocratic” in the sense of one team with one leader ie Family-father, State-sovereign, God-vicar,


  25. The British government apologised Wednesday after a damning official report into a hospital likened by one patient’s relative to “a Third World” health centre.

    Stafford Hospital in central England was found to have appalling standards of care, putting patients at risk and leading to some dying, according to a report on Tuesday.

    Between 400 and 1,200 more people died than would have been expected in a three-year period at the National Health Service (NHS) hospital, according to an investigation by the Healthcare Commission watchdog.

    “We do apologise to all those people who have suffered from the mistakes that have been made in the Stafford Hospital,” said Prime Minister Gordon Brown, questioned on the matter at his weekly grilling in the House of Commons.

    Receptionists with no medical training were left to to assess patients arriving at the hospital’s accident and emergency department, the report found.

    Julie Bailey, whose 86-year-old mother Bella died in the hospital in November 2007, said she and other family members slept in a chair at her bedside for eight weeks because they were so concerned about poor care.

    “What we saw in those eight weeks will haunt us for the rest of our lives,” said the 47-year-old. “We saw patients drinking out of flower vases they were so thirsty.

    “There were patients wandering around the hospital and patients fighting. It was continuous through the night. Patients were screaming out in pain because you just could not get pain relief.

    “It was like a Third World country hospital. It was an absolute disgrace.”

    The British premier, who has trumpeted huge increases in spending on the NHS since his Labour party took office in 1997, said there were “no excuses” for what happened to patients at the hospital.

    Health Secretary Alan Johnson said: “I apologise on behalf of the government and the NHS, for the pain and anguish caused to so many patients and their families by the appalling standards of care at Stafford Hospital.

    “Patients will want to be absolutely certain that the quality of care at Stafford Hospital has been radically transformed, and in particular, that the urgent and emergency care is administered safely,” he added.


  26. JC – Hardly anyone in the U.K. would like to go back to the pre-NHS days, so I guess this story is proof that people believe that anything is better than being thrown back on the tender mercies of the free-enterprise marketplace?
    Still, having read that, I will, if feeling ill in the U.K., jump on the next plane to Jakarta. I may have had to put up with cats sleeping on the bed (they keep down the rats in the hospital) but the surgeon I had there was fantastic, and I didn’t have to drink any water from a vase.


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  28. Russell

    Who says they would have to go back to pre NHS days? I think we/they have moved on since then.

    Command and control doesn’t work. It doesn’t work for out food supply and it doesn’t work for health services.


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