Hamilton is no friend of democracy

Recently in The Age Clive Hamilton published an op-ed calling the campaign by the miners against the government’s proposed mining tax an attempt ‘by plutocrats to destroy Australian democracy’.

Sinclair Davidson has already reminded us that Clive Hamilton has publicly contemplated suspending democracy to tackle climate change.

But Hamilton’s suspend democracy op-ed was a rare moment of political candour. The Age op-ed is far closer to his standard modus operandi. This is to provide arguments for some major curtailment of liberty but to stop short of proposing it, or do so only in the most general way.

Unlike Hamilton’s plans for ending the consumer society, his implied argument for curtailing the mining industry’s capacity to put its case has some realistic chance of persuading lawmakers. The various proposals to cap campaign expenditures would inevitably spill over into regulation of interest groups (though this may end up being declared unconstitutional).

Whatever the merits of the mining industry’s case, it is a response to the state launching a major attack on the industry. They have every right to defend themselves. Far from being an attempt to destroy democracy, this is the democratic system working effectively to subject politicians to scrutiny and and perhaps accountability.

Methodological and normative ideology

Martin Krygier’s response to Waleed Aly’s Quarterly Essay makes an interesting distinction between ‘methodological’ and ‘normative’ conservatism. Methodological conservatism offers what he calls ‘well-nigh universal’ lessons: that the world is complex, that radical change will always have unintended effects, that long-lasting things are likely to have something going for them or at least be ‘sticky’.

‘Normative conservatism’ expresses an ‘attachment to familiar features of the society in which the conservative lives’. The problem with it is that these ‘familiar features’ can be ‘lousy’; other ideologies provide some grounds for discriminating between those that are worth keeping and those which are not. We can accept methodological conservatism, but still recognise that ‘sometimes the disease actually is worse than the cure’.

The distinction can be made for other ideologies as well. Continue reading “Methodological and normative ideology”

How expensive is student lending for the government?

The HELP student loans scheme involves significant expense to government. One of these is the cost of carrying around $20 billion in accumulated debts while only getting CPI indexation. Figures DEEWR gave me put this cost at $650 million for 2009-10.

The discount for paying upfront and the bonus for voluntarily repaying early are designed in part to help minimise this cost (their other purpose is to avoid the risk of non-repayment).

The discount especially has sometimes been criticised as an ‘unfair’ lower price to ‘rich’ people who can afford to pay upfront, as one commenter on another post did. While we can sensibly debate the level of the discount, which is now 20% but has been 25% and 15% in the past, the idea of the discount is sound. Given the cost of the interest subsidy, it can be cheaper to write off the discount now than to carry the debt. This either saves money for taxpayers or makes more money available for other government purposes.

Using the same male arts and law graduates in professional jobs on median earnings examples in an earlier post, I compared the cost to government of the different payment and repayment options. I assumed that the government borrows money at 6% and lends at 2.5%. Continue reading “How expensive is student lending for the government?”

Should student contributions be paid upfront?

In starting work on a paper about the student loans scheme, one thing I wanted to investigate was a finding of a survey of first-year students (pp.71-72) that a significant minority – ranging from 23% of those aged over 25 to 38% of 19 year olds – work while studying ‘to save for repaying future HECS-HELP or FEE-HELP debts’.

I wasn’t sure that this would be the right financial strategy for students with cash to spare while studying. The apparent incentive in the HECS-HELP scheme is to pay on enrolment. If a student pays at least $500 upfront, he or she will get a ‘bonus’ of 25% on the amount paid. In one of the examples I use below, an Arts student with an annual charge of $5,310 who paid $2,000 upfront would have $2,500 wiped from their balance, leaving $2,810 to be paid off through the tax system.

If a student makes a later voluntary repayment using their savings they get a bonus of 10%. For example, once they already had a debt they could pay $2,000 and get $2,200 taken off their balance. Could the benefits of saving the money and accruing interest compensate for the bonus shrinking from 25% to 10%? Continue reading “Should student contributions be paid upfront?”

Do Australians know how many migrants we take?

Pollytics blog points out Essential Research polling showing that most Australians haven’t a clue what proportion of overall immigration is made up of boat arrivals:

From what you have read and heard, what percentage of Australia’s annual immigration intake are asylum seekers arriving by boat?

The correct answer for last year is less than 1%, and maybe 3% this year.

Pollytics thinks this is because most people have no idea how few asylum seekers there are. But could it be because they have no idea how big the official migration program became under Howard and then Rudd? Continue reading “Do Australians know how many migrants we take?”

Norton vs. Aly on ‘neoliberalism’

The latest Quarterly Essay has responses to Waleed Aly’s What’s Right?: The Future of Conservatism in Australia, and his reply to them. The response of mine that QE published is copied in below.

I wrote it because responding to writers on ‘neoliberalism’ on blogs or in right-of-centre magazines is ineffective, since reading the views of the people who might be the real-world ‘neoliberals’ has not typically been deemed necessary by their critics. By getting something into the QE I thought Aly at least would read it.

The gist of my argument was to be of any political consequence, characterisations of ‘neoliberalism’ must be based on established beliefs or statements of plausible candidates for being ‘neoliberals’ (I didn’t fully go into this, but I took these candidates as people whose views have family resemblances to the claims about neoliberal beliefs made by academics – this is complicated by the fact that the term if not the idea of ‘neoliberalism’ is a left-wing academic one, with very few self-described ‘neoliberals’).

On this basis, I disputed some of Aly’s claims about ‘neoliberalism’ on the grounds that nobody believed them, or that significant ‘neoliberals’ believed otherwise (eg Thatcher, Milton Friedman). I also used results from my online survey from last year.

Aly responded: Continue reading “Norton vs. Aly on ‘neoliberalism’”

The start of gay marriage and the end of gay culture?

Commenter Lomlate makes the interesting suggestion that, contrary to what Bill Muehlenberg suggests, gay marriage poses a bigger threat to the current nature of gay life than it does to the nature of straight sexual relationships.

Though some commenters argued that gay sexual culture is what you get when there is no need to persuade sex-shy and relationship-oriented women, and that straight men would behave the same way if they had the chance, Lomlate suggests that gay sexual culture is what you get when gay people are excluded from the relationships that straight people aspire to and mostly attain. The more accepted gays become, and the more gays can imagine themselves having ‘normal’ relationships, the less need there will be for a separate gay culture or community.

Lomlate cites Andrew Sullivan on the ‘end of gay culture’, and this passage sums up what Sullivan thinks is going on:

A gay child born today will grow up knowing that, in many parts of the world and in parts of the United States, gay couples can get married just as their parents did. From the very beginning of their gay lives, in other words, they will have internalized a sense of normality, of human potential, of self-worth–something that my generation never had and that previous generations would have found unimaginable. That shift in consciousness is as profound as it is irreversible.

That was written in 2005. The Australian Not So Private Lives survey from last year showed just how strongly the gay generations differ in how they see their relationship possibilities. The youngest respondents are twice as likely to personally aspire to marriage as the oldest respondents. Continue reading “The start of gay marriage and the end of gay culture?”

Could the gay ‘lifestyle’ undermine monogamous marriage?

New publisher Pantera Press’s Why vs Why series gives longtime gay activist Rodney Croome and longtime family conservative activist Bill Muehlenberg equal space to put their arguments for and against gay marriage, and rebut each other (with the debate continuing online). It’s a good summary of common arguments for and against gay marriage.

While I generally preferred Croome’s stance, he struggled a bit with one of Muehlenberg’s arguments. Essentially, Muehlenberg thinks that gay marriages would differ from current marriages in more than just the gender mix. He cites multiple gay sources on how, to put it mildly, long-lasting monogamous relationships are not the norm in the gay community. He doesn’t want the idea of an ‘open’ marriage to get started by extending marriage rights to a community that may be reluctant to give up its old ‘homosexual lifestyle’ ways. Continue reading “Could the gay ‘lifestyle’ undermine monogamous marriage?”

Let students decide how much their education is worth

The UK’s public sector financial crisis is putting university tuition fee deregulation on the political agenda there in a way that it is not here. The Browne review of higher education funding, set up by the previous Labour government, is widely expected to recommend at least some deregulation of tuition fees.

This has of course set off the usual worries about affordability and access. In this context a survey of how much existing students are willing to pay by the Opinionpanel organisation is particularly interesting. It asks two questions, one about what price the student would think so cheap that they would doubt the course’s quality, and another about what price would be so expensive that they would not consider paying it at all. They respond by dragging a marker on their computer screen in £100 increments.


Continue reading “Let students decide how much their education is worth”