Australia’s statist right-wingers

This morning The Australian published my contribution to their What’s Right series, based on the political identity survey many of you contributed to earlier in the year.

Perhaps my main achievement is getting a newspaper to print the terms ‘classical liberal’ and ‘libertarian’ rather than blurring them with ‘the conservatives’. Unfortunately, however, when it comes to electoral politics ‘conservative’ is not such a bad catch-all term.

Various surveys over the years have asked voters to rate themselves on a 0 (left) to 10 (right) political scale. In the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes 2007 I classed the right as people putting themselves 7-10 on the scale and looked at their opinions on various issues. They were about 20% of the sample.

Social issues

Censorship of films and magazines has no place in a free society: Agree 14%, Disagree 74%.

The smoking of marijuana should NOT be a criminal offence: Agree 18%, Disagree 65%.

Impt for Govt to regulate- Advertising aimed at selling unhealthy food to children: Not or not at all important 9%, Very or fairly important 90%.

The death penalty should be the punishment for murder: Agree 45%, Disagree 35%.

Politicians should make decisions that follow strong Christian values: Agree 45%, Disagree 30%.

On all these issues conservatives clearly outnumber liberals, interestingly even when the social regulation is typically identified with the left, advertising to children. But we see here a reasonably coherent confidence in state regulation of social behaviour.

Economic issues

Still thinking about this workplace relations system [WorkChoices], do you approve or disapprove of the reforms?: Approve 53%, Disapprove 16%.

Govt do for economy- Support for declining industries to protect jobs: Favour 42%, Against 35%.

There should be a law to protect all workers in Australia against unfair dismissal: Agree 76%, Disagree 13%.

Describe taxes in Australia today for those with high incomes: Too high 44%, Too low 19%.

Views on the economy are more mixed than views on social issues, but generally the attitude of the ‘mass’ right to classical liberal/libertarian positions ranges from lukewarm to opposition. The general statism of Australian political culture limits the broader influence of liberal ideas.

Though my political identity survey found more coherent positions than these among economic liberals, I noted that there was considerably more diversity of views among economic liberals than social democrats, with further diversity still if ‘conservatives’ were also considered.

Overall the two surveys confirm general impressions that there is considerable policy diversity among people described as ‘right wing’.

24 thoughts on “Australia’s statist right-wingers

  1. Good article … sounds like you’ll be having a hard reconciliation with the conservative Right. Good one. Whilst it’s a neutral piece based on evidence it effectively outlines the desires of the inner urban elite that Howard and Abbott always have hated so much. This is why the liberals are an endangered species in the Coalition. They just don’t hate as well for as long ….


  2. It really sems that the “rightwing” label is virtually meaningless. When economic liberals and classial liberals stop using the term “right” then the standard of debate on many issues may be lifted.
    Someone wrote a pamphlet about the Fabians which suggested that the left-right language was pushed by the Fabians early in the 20th century to make it easier to promote the agenda of left. It has certainly worked.


  3. I’m very surprised so many were in favour of unfair dismissal laws while simultaneously supporting the (other?) elements of Workchoices. Maybe it’s just about hating unions.


  4. It seems that many of your respondents have very little understanding of what these terms mean. In particular those classical liberals and libertarians suggesting that a policy need be adopted to tackle perceived global warming. A libertarian would never support subjugating themselves to the coercive hand of government; they would always favor voluntary action.


  5. Rajat – I think it is the very loaded description of ‘unfair’ dismissal. Who is in favour of ‘unfairness’?

    LL – These were the libertarian responses to the climate change response question
    do nothing as there is no problem (16%)
    do nothing as the costs of action exceed the benefits (25%)
    introduce a carbon trading scheme (19%)
    introduce a carbon tax (21%)

    I don’t think libertarianism in general rules out coercive responses to collective action problems.


  6. Indeed the coercive rather than voluntary funding of the national defence certainly seems to enjoy considerable (although I am sure not universal) liberatarian support, as it does from all political traditions.


  7. It would be helpful to know what proportion of the right describes themselves as being in the liberal categories. I suspect that the classical liberal and libertarian unfortunately may have a trivial membership, which is why the right isn’t too concerned about keeping them happy. Maybe ‘economic liberal’ might have a greater percentage.


  8. National defence is one of the key issues separating minarchist from anarchist libertarians. Even minarchists require that government be limited to only providing the essential regulation and framework for a free market to operate. Creating a giant bureaucracy with permits, wealth transfers and caps is never something to be supported from this viewpoint.

    If we actually gave a stuff about reducing co2 you would see people voting with their dollar and purchasing green energy from their power companies and goods produced with minimal co2 emissions.


  9. LL – I have an article in the latest issue of Policy which reports some ABS data on how little environmental behaviour has changed. On the other hand, there is a genuine collective action problem here, in which people could plausibly say that individual action is ineffective, and therefore it only makes sense to act if everyone else does too. Given the level of costs makes freeriding very tempting, coercion looks like the only way of getting an effective outcome which, if the science is right, is in most people’s interests.


  10. Very thorough Andrew, and you have illustrated the point brilliantly that people have options to reduce their co2 emissions but do not want to do it. Put this down to aspiration beyond their means, disbelief of the causality between increases in co2 and temperature or even humans effect on co2 levels and either way the overwhelming majority of people do not want to reduce their co2 emissions when given the opportunity – this truth stands self evident. The concept that people should elect some overlord to force them all to do things they do not want to do is perhaps only practiced by the BDSM fetishists and should have no place in governance of organised society.

    Even if there was indeed quantifiable damage caused to others person or property by co2 then compensation could be sought through the dispute resolution or judicial services as per usual property rights. The advantage to this approach is there is an onus of proof of causality and actual loss suffered and the judiciary is interested in impartially seeking truth, not more research grants and moral superiority.


  11. “the judiciary is interested in impartially seeking truth, not more research grants and moral superiority”

    I think it’s a bit naive to assert that the judiciary (at least some of them) are not interested in “moral superiority” in the P. P. McGuinness derisory sense.


  12. I always love it when someone deals with a convincing argument by simply refusing to engage with it.

    Andrew, sensibly, puts a very convincing argument why the freerider problem means there has to be a role for large-scale coercion in addressing certain environmental issues.

    LibertarianLach, dimly understanding that conceding this point means he has to concede the identical argument on a whole host of other issues, insists that we can stop global warming by seeking torts through the courts, simply ignoring the massive transaction costs and the obvious power imbalances that make this utterly impractical. I’m sure that will be a comfort for the children of the 100 million+ Bangladeshis whose homes are directly threatened that they can theoretically sue each individual who has enjoyed cheap electricity.

    Of course this resort to fantasy is at least one step above the truly pathetic claims of a giant conspiracy by scientists to create a socialist world government that will reward them all by giving research grants, which he also hints at. But it has the same motive – preventing a beautiful ideology being killed by an ugly fact.


  13. I was merely making the point that coercive action is against libertarian beliefs, and that in in such as system their are measures to protect property rights should they be violated.
    As I stated I feel that some of those who are in favor of coercive action (an opinion which they are entitled to have) should not identify themselves as libertarian.


  14. LL as someone has already explained here, to be consistent your position is really that anyone short of being an anarchist isn’t a libertarian. States, even minimal states by definition cannot be funded by voluntary payment other than by an act of wishful thinking. By definition it is no longer a state of any kind but some sort of private security force, whether non profit or not once taxes are ruled out.


  15. I did make the distinction between minarchist and anarchist flavours and their attitude towards the state and if its existence is tolerated under the minarchist libertarianism then it should only tax and provide for the legal framework for the free market to function. This would never extend to wealth redistribution, regulatory limits on production, scarce permits and so forth inherent in the proposed ETS.


  16. LL you still don’t get it
    Since we’re not debating the science of global warming here but its possible implications if true for libertarian philosophy how better can I put it than this – A market failure in the provision of ‘the legal framework for the free market to function’ is no different from a market failure in internalising the externalities of CO2. One is no more privileged than the other. If either of these are possible then there is no basis for privileging one over the other.

    If the ETS is the most efficient means of internalising these externalities then it has to be treated as part of ‘the legal framework for the free market to function’. (since we’re not arguing about science or efficiencies here but definitions let’s grant this). So either you have to engage with the specific science and efficiency arguments about the ETS in order to keep your commitment to intevrening to ‘provide for a legal framework’ or you junk both and become an anarchist to be consistent. Minarchism is internallly inconsistent. and you can’t define problems away with word games.


  17. Mate your talking rubbish, libertarianism does not recognise externalities or indeed market failure. Instead the spillover effects of ones production which affect others are not remedied under current law due to deficient property rights. We cop it for this position from the left regularly, as it goes against what their Keynesian economics textbooks told them.


  18. it should only tax and provide for the legal framework for the free market to function.

    Whether intentionally or not, you are appealing to an externalities or market failure argument when you argue for a minarchist state. Otherwise what does it mean to talk about ‘helping a market to function’? Even your alternative formulation the spillover effects of ones production which affect others are not remedied under current law due to deficient property rights doesn’t avoid the problem. Why would a free market be deficient in spontaneously producing property rights without a state unless you are already conceding some fundamental albeit limited level of market failure?

    So either engage with market failure arguments consistently or don’t engage with them at all . You’re either an anarchist or some sort of consequentialist in which case the scope of the State cannot be predefined unless you’ve already smuggled your premise into your conclusions. There is no logically coherent in between position.


  19. I say there are deficient property rights in the context of current arrangements, a libertarian society would define them better and there would be no ‘externalities’. Your market failure in this context I view as government failure in not adequately defining property rights so that aggrieved parties have recourse through dispute resolution.

    You may disagree with this philosophy but it nonetheless is the philosophy of the libertarian. From those who want zero government to those who tolerate it as a necessary evil to be limited to defense and judiciary to enforce property rights. Going beyond this is classical liberalism which would entail some amount of government services or infrastructure or even attempts to correct ‘market failures’.

    I dont really care what peoples personal ideology is or the validity of the rationale behind it, so long as in they are categorising themselves appropriately in their responses to surveys such as Andrew’s; which as my original point was that the ‘libertarians’ who want an ETS are confused about their beliefs.


  20. LL – What I think my survey shows is that ideological affiliation does not come from a rigid check-list of doctrines and policy positions. It’s more a case of sympathising with a general worldview but not necessarily sharing 100% of the views of those who would see themselves as hardcore keepers of the faith.


  21. On all these issues conservatives clearly outnumber liberals

    Not necessarily. Some of the questions you cite are so weighted that conservatives and liberals could easily line up on the same side.

    Censorship of films and magazines has no place in a free society

    But what about if a person thought it had a very very small place, only for the most dangerously emotive films that could incite people to harm others? A Millian liberal could hold such a view, but the question is so worded that s/he would have to answer in the negative, just as a conservative would.
    Likewise, criminalising use of marijuana can be justified on harm principle grounds, since the drug has a capacity to induce schizophrenia, which can in turn have rather harmful effects on other people, if, e.g. an episode happens when someone is driving.
    And again, regulating advertising designed to sell unhealthy food to children could be a liberal stance, since a lot of liberals, Mill included, make exceptions for children in their anti-paternalism.


  22. “A libertarian would never support subjugating themselves to the coercive hand of government; they would always favor voluntary action.”

    A libertarian would necessarily oppose privatisation of a government owned asset (the atmosphere in this case)?


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