Please check out my new blog: Do Not Go Gentle

Hello friends and followers. I have greatly enjoyed running this blog over the last couple of years. I am now upgrading and becoming editor of a new collaborative blog called Do Not Go Gentle. It will cover fairly similar topics as this blog has covered, politics, philosophy, economics, culture, and the like. I might continue to post on this blog occasionally but my focus will now be with Do Not Go Gentle, so if you enjoyed reading what I had to say on here then please follow Do Not Go Gentle :) http://donotgogentleblog.com/

“Grooming Education For The Poodle Class”

This post was originally published by Mike Seccombe at PowerhouseImage. It is an interesting analysis of the coalition’s opposition to the ALP’s National Plan for School Reform inspired by the Gonski review. Many including myself have been incredulous that the Libs would object to it on the basis that some schools will be worse off. For example Queensland Premier unbelievably tweeted on the fifth of June that “Any Fed MP or Senator from Qld that votes to reduce funding to Qld Schools needs to have a long hard look at themselves #qldpol #auspol”. This of course, is not true. No school will be worse off in real terms. Elite schools that don’t need any more money will continue to have their funding increased at the current indexation rate. The most interesting insight of this post from Powerhouse is, for me, that it’s not about “real terms”. It’s about relative terms. Under Gonski, the elite schools will be worse off in relative terms. This is because, although they will continue to have their funding increased, it won’t be by as much as poor schools get their funding increased. And so students that go to elite private schools will see the HUGE advantage they receive over the rest of us be decreased. AND THIS IS WHY THE LIBERALS OBJECT. The Liberal party exists to maintain privilege. If the rest of us are allowed to catch up, they will find themselves no longer born to rule. Their path to the bunyip aristocracy won’t be as clear. And so for the Liberals rely on keeping regular Australians in their place. Hence they oppose the National Plan for School Reform. A cynical view? Perhaps, but I have yet to hear a better explanation for their opposition. Here’s the article.

“Christopher Pyne is the Tom Waterhouse of Australian politics. He seems to be everywhere, and he is annoying. Toothy, insincere and annoying.

We most often encounter Pyne in his role as manager of Opposition business in the House of Representatives, a role which gives him maximum scope to irritate the body politic. He also turns up far too regularly at media ‘doorstops’ and on TV panel shows, a glib and facile presenter of the party line.

There is not a lot of gravitas about Christopher; he is sharp and witty, to be sure, but also somehow lightweight, like he never quite matured beyond the school debating society and undergraduate politics.

Poodle Pyne, they call him around Parliament, and it’s an epithet which captures well his effete demeanour.

But we shouldn’t laugh. For in his other role, as education spokesman for the Liberal Party, Pyne is in the front lines of a class war. He and his colleagues on Wednesday voted against the government’s Australian Education Bill which, if implemented, would see an extra $14.5 billion in state and federal money flow to schools across the nation over the next six years.

The Opposition has marshalled various arguments against the reform measure, but in essence, its position can be summed up in a single word: “choice”.

It is a code word, of course. What it refers to is a fear that the private schools (which most of the Coalition front bench attended) would lose some of the relative advantage they hold over the public school sector (which most Australian kids still attend, despite a big shift in recent years to the private sector).

It was the conservative mantra on school funding all through the term of the previous Howard government, too.

That’s reasonable, isn’t it? Parents should have a choice about how their kids are educated.

Well yes, except that for many families there is no choice. State schools are all they can afford. And, unique among developed countries, Australian taxpayers subsidise the choice of the relatively wealthy to send their kids to private schools.

And that has had dire consequences for the overall educational outcomes of Australian kids. The outcomes were set out in minute detail in last year’s Gonski review of school funding, on which Labor’s proposed education reforms are based.

The fact is that under the funding model used by the Howard government, which is still the Opposition’s policy, Australia slid rapidly in terms of average academic performance.

As Prime Minister Julia Gillard noted at the release of Gonski, on February 20 last year, over the previous decade Australia had slipped in world rankings “from being equal-second in reading … to being equal-seventh, and from being equal-fifth in maths to being equal-thirteenth.”

But let’s not just quote the Prime Minister, let’s quote the research which informed the Gonski report and the government’s major education initiative.

That research noted that under this country’s unique, two-tier education system, it is not just parents who chose, but the schools, so that “the schools that cannot choose (mainly the government-sector schools) are left with a student body that is less supportive of good performance for each individual student who remains”.

Advantaged kids were streamed into advantaged schools, and disadvantaged kids into disadvantaged schools.

“Fully 60 per cent of the most disadvantaged students are in schools whose SES [socio-economic status] ranking is below the national average. This is higher than in all similar OECD countries, and the OECD average,” the report said.

Gonski-chart

It pointed to a “compounding effect on disadvantage and underperformance, creating a vicious circle… (which) plays out in teacher morale, community alienation from the local school, and difficulties in attracting good teachers as well as good students. As a school’s reputation worsens, so more and more parents send their children elsewhere.”

The result was that academic outcomes became increasingly divergent, and that overall, the relative achievement of our kids declined.

In contrast, the best-performing school systems in the world, as well as the fastest-improving – in places as diverse as Canada, Korea and Finland – were marked by higher levels of equity.

Gonski proposed measures to address this growing Australian achievement gap. It advocated that school funding should come in two parts: The first would be a standard amount per student. The second component would consist of added loadings, intended to address disadvantage of various kinds.

Smaller and remote schools would attract extra funding, so would indigenous students and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds and students with limited proficiency in English, or a disability.

Now, you can see why the elite schools would not like this; they would get less in relative, if not absolute terms, because they have fewer poor, black and disabled students.

And the Labor government realised it would encounter such opposition. To try to minimise the squealing from the private schools (only partially successful, I might add), they promised that all schools would get more under the new model.

But it was to no avail in the Parliament.

Come the vote in the house on Wednesday, the Coalition opposed it. Perhaps that’s not surprising, given the educational backgrounds of most of them, particularly the Libs. As was pointed out in an analysis by The Canberra Times a week ago, fully 21 per cent of Tony Abbott’s front bench came out of high-fee Sydney GPS schools, and almost all the rest came from other elite schools.

And Pyne, himself a product of St Ignatius College, Adelaide, has made it repeatedly clear that his principal concern is with the private schools.

As far as he is concerned, moves to broaden educational opportunity equate to “the politics of envy”.

As he told the ABC’s Lateline last year: “The fact remains it is one of the most equitable systems in the world and there isn’t actually an issue in Australian schools that revolves around equity.”

Absolute rubbish. The package, whatever its imperfections, is not about anything other than addressing a very real problem. And, I am pleased to report, it was seen as such by the majority in the House on Wednesday.

Now, if we can only see a few more states follow the lead of New South Wales and the ACT in signing up to the reforms, we might just get a better future for our kids, and our country.”

I read some Lenin.

525992_304141206368931_1836399535_nI have been reading Vladimir Lenin’s classic text ‘What is to be done?’ I feel that since we have entered the end of history, Marxism has been pretty quickly and easily dismissed. I am no Marxist to be sure, but you can still benefit from reading and exploring new ideas. Some interesting ideas from Lenin’s book that I potentially (though not necessarily) agree are detailed below.

Before we get to that, here’s a hilarious Katy Perry cover.

–          In chapter one Lenin explains that he sees two trends in left wing thought at the time; the more liberal trend of Eduard Bernstein that demands socialism be compatible with such things as “freedom of criticism”, and the more hard line Leninist Marxism which maintains that the rightness of Marxism is effectively a “scientific” truth. I think this dichotomy continues in a modern form in current left wing thought. I have argued this previously; in what I have called the different between social liberalism and social democracy. I have come down on the side of social democracy. I believe that things such as absolute freedom of speech (which is I assume is what Lenin means by ‘freedom of criticism’) are problematic and often used to exploit the already downtrodden. See an old post of mine about how Andrew Bolt exploits his supposed right to free speech to oppress people. Lenin similarly states that “freedom is a great word, but the most rapacious wars were waged under the banner of free trade; the workers were robbed under the banner of free labour (p59).” At one point, I can’t remember where, Lenin says only those who aren’t sure of their convictions feel the need to allow open criticism. This obviously comes off as arrogance. The nineteenth century notion that social or political ideas can be proven with scientific certainty appears nonsense, and to a great extent I agree. However, as I argued in my Honours thesis, there is a difference between reasonable disagreement and unreasonable disagreement. I for one would strongly argue (and did in my thesis) that if you take fundamental premises of equality and freedom, it is actually unreasonable to argue racist, sexist or homophobic points. Hence if you’re arguing against gay marriage, I don’t want to hear from you. You are unreasonable and don’t get a say in the reasonable debate that should occur in parliament. As Lenin would say, your “freedom to criticise” holds no weight.

–          Trade unionism should be about more than winning better wages and conditions for its members. Lenin disparages lefties who he funnily enough calls Economists (followers of Economism). Economism is I gather the belief that socialism is all about improving economic conditions. At first glance you may be inclined to nod along – of course socialism is all about improving the economic conditions of the workers. Lenin seems to argue, if I have his argument correct, that Economism often leads to short sighted ambitions for the labour movement. If it’s all just about getting more money – and the rest is “the invention of doctrainaires… an exaggeration of the importance of ideology” (p70) – then we can all just focus on our collective bargaining agreements and celebrate if we get pay increases above inflation and leave it at that. For Lenin and I, trade unionism can also be about much more. Unions must be political. To look out for their members they must seek broad legislative and social change. They must always be pushing back against neo-liberalism. They must be fighting sexism, racism and homophobia. I’m not saying unions should be arming their members and overthrowing the state (though Lenin probably is), but they should do more than negotiate on behalf of their members with the employers when contract time comes around. And of course they do. In Australia we have United Voice’s ‘Real Voices’ campaign, where they sought a mandate from their members to lobby media and members of parliament on issues that they cared about even if they did not directly affect them. We have the CFMEU and many other unions marching in equal marriage rallies. And of course we have the legendary BLF ‘Green Bans’ in the 70s. All of this is to be commended.

–          There is a place for the bourgeoisie in the labour movement. Ok, Lenin doesn’t exactly say it like that but it is certainly the (somewhat surprising) vibe I get. He argues heavily that ideas and theory are vital for the struggle. He quotes Engels who said there were not two, but three forms of the “great struggle of social democracy”; the political, the economic and the theoretical. He even reminds us that Marx and Engels themselves were very solidly middle class. The movement needs educated leaders to fight the intellectual fight. Many in the Australian labour movement were uneasy about Gough Whitlam because he was degreed up and had a classical education. Yet to succumb to anti-intellectualism and tall poppy syndrome is counter-productive for the movement. Whitlam should be proud to be the first Labor Prime Minister with a University degree. Of course one shouldn’t succumb to intellectual arrogance either, but being smart is no bad thing. Lenin explains in chapter 2 why having intellectual leadership is so important. It is because ideas filter down from on high. As it is, conservative and reactionary forces tend to control the media, the schools and other sources of information. So it is hardly surprising that even the marginalised often fall into conservative beliefs. Spontaneous movements are usually celebrated as pure forms of social movements. Yet Lenin isn’t a fan. He reckons, citing several nineteenth European worker movements, that spontaneous movements are doomed to fail. This is because without deliberate and decisive leadership, even well intentioned workers will fall prey of the reactionary ideology they have been exposed to their whole lives. Movements will compromise, split or waver as the potential revolutionaries lack the well grounded socialist ideas to guide them. Anyway, I like the emphasis on ideas and the inclusion of the educated.

–          This leads nicely to my final point; that hierarchies can be ok. The main thrust of the book is that Marxists have it all wrong if they think that just because Karl Marx said socialism is inevitable they can all sit around waiting for it to happen. People need to actively seek and fight for progress. This of course is a reminder to all of us that if we care about an issue, even one like equal marriage where victory seems inevitable, we must all lend a hand for the cause because if no one does it actually won’t happen. And for action to occur, some sort of organisation and leadership is necessary. This really is common sense. So sorry to all those Occupy Wall St people but an entirely leaderless consensus model of decision making based on spontaneous action is a bit silly. Of course democracy is a good thing in a movement, as is sharing the decision making. But sometimes someone just needs to say, OK we’re going to do this. This of course is the role Lenin saw for the Bolsheviks. I would suggest that they got it wrong and went quite a bit too far in the direction of hierarchical structures. Nonetheless, structure and organisation is not a bad thing. Anarchism doesn’t lead to progress.

So there you have it, i’ll admit I haven’t read all of it and skipped several chapters but that is my take on Lenin’s ‘What is to be Done?’

“Tory politics: pact to the rafters in contradiction”

This fantastic piece of analysis appeared in The Age today in a piece by Waleed Aly. An impressively subtle reading of political philosophy, politics and economics:

At the risk of blaspheming, allow me to contend that there is something more important in politics than who has power and for how long they will retain it. Power, after all, is a means. Its meaning lies in how it is used, not in who is using it. So let me propose an alternative way of understanding politics: ask not who is winning and losing, but rather who is asking the questions, and who is being forced to provide answers.

In that connection, two remarkable things have happened this week. The first was the federal budget, which announced an $18 billion deficit, cut back on handouts, took more in tax, and funded enormous projects in education, infrastructure and disability services. It’s astonishing because until now, this government’s budgets have been overwhelmingly about answering one question: when will you deliver a surplus? That is the Coalition’s question. For some reason, the government felt compelled to answer it. That might have changed on Tuesday night.

The second was a gobsmacking poll published in The Guardian that showed support for the anti-European UK Independence Party has doubled in the space of a month. Doubled! It’s now polling at 18 per cent – ahead of the Liberal Democrats, who are the junior partner in the governing coalition – and only 10 points behind the Tories. Of those who voted Conservative in the 2010 elections, a whopping 27 per cent are now parking their vote with UKIP. This is like Katter’s Australia Party polling well ahead of the Greens and within striking distance of the Coalition. British pollsters haven’t seen anything like it for decades, or perhaps at all. Now Prime Minister David Cameron is going through all sorts of contortions to placate his euro-sceptic backbenchers. He might be in power, but he’s answering to UKIP.

At first blush, both these developments tell the story of government in crisis. In Cameron’s case that much is obvious. In Wayne Swan’s case, it is as though he has accepted his impending demise, shelving even the customary attempt to win back the electorate with cash. But I think something bigger is slowly being revealed. Something about the nature of modern conservative politics.

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Let’s begin in Britain. You’d presume UKIP’s rise meant Britain was caught in the grip of a raging anti-European fever. Actually the proportion of voters who want to quit the EU has dropped since January, and not even 10 per cent think it’s the country’s most pressing concern. No, UKIP’s success is not really about Europe. It symbolises a kind of anti-politics. Theirs is the ultimate protest vote, based on a sense that the major parties have nothing to say to them.

That is not merely a British feeling. In America, the Tea Party has a clearer ideological purpose, but nonetheless trades heavily on its disdain for Washington insiders. And in Australia the analogy with Katter’s Australia Party suggests itself. The mobilising issues vary, but the fact these movements sit on the conservative side of politics means their disillusionment is most clearly directed at what modern conservative politics has become.

Namely, it has become synonymous with the free market. Indeed, the ideological victory of market liberalism is frequently cited as conservative politics’ most decisive modern victory. But the fact that it was ostensibly conservative leaders like Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan who led the free market charge conceals the fact that, actually, this kind of market ideology isn’t very conservative at all.

It undermines exactly the kinds of social institutions conservatives celebrate – family, for instance – by making us work more irregular and unpredictable hours. It opens the door for the commodification of whatever will sell – even if that means unconservative consequences like the hyper-sexualisation of advertising. The free market is a grand, global, and systemic idea. Conservatism is traditionally particular, local and social. In short, modern conservative politics came to be built on a contradiction: a pact between the opposing forces of free market liberalism and social conservatism.

For a time, that contradiction has been obscured. Good economic conditions certainly helped. But now the pact is beginning to fray. The world is different now. The financial crisis has left once dominant capitalist economies gasping, while the inevitable rise of Asia looms large in our imaginations. We’re entering a new phase in which the Western world is no longer globalisation’s biggest winner.

Bob Katter’s constituency have long been globalisation’s losers. That’s why he frets so much about Australia being a net importer of food. He’s not joking when he talks about farmers committing suicide as their farms became uncompetitive. But now more people are likely to have a sense of what he’s talking about – and he might just do some damage in Queensland this September.

Katter and UKIP are, in some muddled way, attempting to capture what conservative politics lost when it got radically liberal: an abiding concern for the local, and privileging of the local, and a rejection of political programs that bring huge structural change. They’re highlighting the contradiction of modern conservatism; it is a contradiction Tony Abbott will confront when he tries to introduce a parental leave scheme that is as conservative as it is opposed to the free market ideology of his party.

There’s a vulnerability here, and it’s not going anywhere. That’s what makes this week’s budget so interesting. It’s not just introducing a new tax. It’s trying to reset the basic relationship of government and citizen. Government will build lots of infrastructure, and pump massive funds into education and disability services. Citizens will, frankly, pay for it. Hence, no more handouts and tighter tax schemes. The philosophical intent is clear.

As a result there are questions for the Coalition to answer. And Labor’s asking the questions it hasn’t really asked before. What is Abbott prepared to sacrifice on the altar of a surplus? Education? Disability? Infrastructure? What will he cut in order to re-establish the baby bonus? Which government services matter less than these payments?

How Abbott answers these questions threatens to drive him straight into a conflict between the same contradictory forces UKIP and Katter exploit. It’s market liberalism against the more socially minded approach that conservatism is currently neglecting. It’s all too late for September, of course. But it might just matter beyond then.

Waleed Aly is an Age columnist, a host of Drive on Radio National and a lecturer in politics at Monash University.

Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/politics/tory-politics-pact-to-the-rafters-in-contradiction-20130516-2jp35.html#ixzz2TXIxuF1g

‘Twas a good budget

A year ago I wrote that Gillard and Swan should not go gentle into that good night. I wrote that despite looming electoral defeat, or indeed because of it, they should seize the freedom that comes with not having to worry about winning and focus on running the country as well as they can. Tonight I believe they embraced that attitude. They could have handed down a budget that desperately tried to make a surplus for political reasons. After all getting to a surplus is merely a political end. Economists aren’t calling for it, only politicians. Sure it would be nice to fulfill your promise, but that is a political worry; economics demands flexibility. But tonight Swan and Gillard showed they value Australia’s economic future over political populism. They sensibly abandoned the surplus fetish and instead were willing to stay in deficit and raise taxes to fund major egalitarian and infrastructure reforms. This is the Labor party I know and love. And – crucially – it is important to realise that this is in line with the economists. Borrowing relatively small amounts of money to invest in human capital for long term growth is a highly commendable economic proposal. The Tony Abbott path to austerity has long ago been discredited in Europe and the UK.

The other thing the Labor government could have been expected to do (having abandoned the promised surplus) would be to do as Howard and Costello did every election cycle – shower their constituents with gifts. Again, though, Swan and Gillard did not. They again preferred a sensible reforming economic agenda over easy political points. They didn’t get caught up in populism, they had nothing left to lose and so they could afford to do the right thing.

Of course I don’t agree with everything in the budget. The cuts to promised University funding is deeply troubling. The delay of increased foreign aid is annoying. Overall though, most of the money saved is by cutting company tax loopholes and further cracking down on unsustainable Howard era middle class welfare. These are very sensible savings, economically and ideologically. The new spending includes major upgrades to public transport, 14 billion dollars for Disability Care, and 10 billion for Gonski style school funding. An impressive mix of sensible savings and historic egalitarian reform. With this budget the ALP doesn’t aim to win the next election, it aims to – as Ross Gittens pointed out – secure its legacy as a great reforming, highly economically competent, government.

Disability Care: Luck Egalitatianism in practice.

It seems the National Disability Insurance Scheme is about to become a reality. A true Labor reform which will be a lasting legacy of the Gillard government. Disability Care will not solve all the problems of the disabled but it will make an extremely large practical difference to the lives of many who have unfairly suffered because of events outside of their control. I also think Disability Care is an interesting and attractive implementation of third way luck egalitarianism. Specifically the philosophy of the recently deceased Ronald Dworkin comes to mind. In this post I will look into the political philosophy of the NDIS.

Dworkin’s theory of resource equality is not an old school socialist egalitarianism the likes of which I am often attracted to. Yet Dworkin does mount a compelling case. His theory recognises that there can be no such thing as total and pure equality. To use a distinction that Dworkin himself highlighted, if there is equality of welfare than there would not be equality of resources and if there was equality of resources there would not be equality of welfare. Furthermore, as even most egalitarians admit these days, total equality may not even be desirable. After all total equality might not actually be fair. To explain; imagine you had two twins with the same talents and skills and same resources at their disposal. Yet one twin was extremely lazy and the other worked very hard. For them to be granted the exact same income would probably be thought of as unfair. It is this insight that has lead many modern egalitarians away from communism and welfarism and towards third way policies. Dworkin calls this insight the need to be ‘ambition sensitive’. Ambition sensitivity recognises individual responsibility.

He argues that to account for ambition sensitivity we should, rather than simply hand out welfare to all in equal yet potentially unfair amounts, we should look at envy. He proposes an envy test which says that we are equal if we do not envy each other’s lot. The envy test takes into account that we all have different preferences, including our preference of how much effort to put into something. I might value my Sunday morning sleep ins quite highly and so would not be willing to work during that time. You might value going on holidays much more highly than sleep ins and so you get an extra job on Sunday and work hard in order to have the money to go on holiday. Now I might envy your holiday, but overall I do not envy your life in sum because you’ve had to work hard on all those Sunday mornings which I really don’t want to do. So even though you have a more luxurious life of travel, we are equal because neither envies the other.

Yet this situation is only fair if we assume that you and I have had the same opportunity to work or sleep in on Sunday mornings. The factors at play that explain differences in income are a major area of dispute between the right and left wings. I will contend that in practice, it is important to recognise that differences in income barely ever boil down purely to differences in effort. There are myriad factors usually at play – from social and economic opportunities to natural differences in skill and talent that are beyond anyone’s control. The fact that third way policies far too often lapse into assuming there exists something even close to a level playing field for people in life means I am not hugely sympathetic to them. Nonetheless the fact that it is only fair to reward hard work and ambition is an important insight.

Crucially, Dworkin also argues that distribution of resources should be ‘endowment insensitive’. That is, people should not be punished (or rewarded) for natural endowments that are the result of luck and not effort. Natural endowments include social position, talents, and ability. The disabled person doesn’t miss out on going on holidays because they value their Sunday morning sleep ins; it’s because they likely lack the opportunity to work during this time, or any other. So how do we be endowment insensitive whilst remaining ambition sensitive? Dworkin proposes an insurance market. How does an insurance market work? We know there is a possibility that bad stuff might happen to us (our house burns down, car gets stolen etc) and so we pay a fee that goes into a pool with everyone else’s fees. If something bad happens to us we are compensated out of the pool of fees. Obviously buying insurance will not always pay off; our house might never burn down and so maybe we didn’t need that insurance. Indeed if everyone’s house burnt down then the pool of money would not be big enough to compensate everyone. Yet we do buy insurance, if we can afford it, because we think it’s not worth the risk. You might have rightly noticed that an insurance market, even if it is government run, is hardly a socialist policy. The word ‘market’ might lend a clue that this is not welfarism. Yet the next paragraph might explain why lefties should not despair.

Dworkin proposes an insurance market for not just property but for lack of endowments. The idea that we may suffer a car accident that will leave us with no opportunity to work and save up for that holiday is worth insuring against. The idea that we may lose our job and not have money to feed the children is worth insuring against. But so is the possibility that we society might be run in a way that disadvantages us. This is worth insuring against if we can. And so is the possibility that we are born with limited abilities – whether it be we are frail, unable to walk, crippled with depression, or blind. Dworkin’s insurance would not be run by companies but by the government. Indeed it is pretty much what already happens – think of your taxes as an insurance fee. We pay tax, and then if we are in a car accident the government uses our tax to compensate us through the TAC. We pay tax, and then if we lose our job the government uses the pool of tax it has collected to compensate us through welfare. So that’s how it is at the moment. In a recent article it was highlighted that there exists an arbitrary distinction between people who have a disability as a result of a car accident and those who have one as a result of bad luck at birth. The TAC will pay out the car accident victim big time but those born with disability will only receive the small disability pension. This pension is nowhere near enough compensation to make up for the horrible bad luck it is to be born with a disability – mental or physical. Dworkin’s insurance market would pay out on disabilities you are born with. There is no morally relevant distinction there.

You could look at it this way: imagine we are expanding the insurance market to go beyond just our lifetimes but to our children and their children. In this expanded market, we pay insurance fees on behalf of our future generations so that they are compensated if they are born with the bad luck of having a disability. We pay our taxes and the pool of taxes collected will compensate us if we experience bad luck in our lifetimes but also compensate people yet to be born, if they are born with bad luck.

And this is effectively what Disability Care is. It is a national disability insurance scheme. It does not ask for all people to earn the same amount of money. It does not massively raise taxes on the rich in order to give huge welfare payouts to the disabled to the point that the disabled are earning at least the average wage. Perhaps we should aim for this. Yet Disability Care stands as a great step forward and a positive reflection of Dworkin style egalitarian policy that is ambition sensitive and endowment insensitive of which it epitomises.

In fact it reminds me of Obamacare. The individual mandate is effectively the same thing. It is not welfare, it is insurance in the mould of Dworkin and the third way. That’s why it was so laughable that Obamacare was called a socialist policy. Obamacare was a fairly common sense moderate measure. No doubt many, including possibly myself and Mr. Obama, would have liked to have gone further; but what America got though was a great first step. What we get in Australia, with Disability Care, likewise, will not cure all the problems of the disabled and might not satisfy the socialist desires of those of us on the left. It is though, I think, a great example of how luck egalitarianism can be put into practice in an effective and fairly non controversial way.

Greatest ALP Cabinet of all Time

Inspired by this article in The Age I recently came up with my own ‘Greatest Cabinet of All Time’. This may make me a super nerd, but I love making lists. I always like VH1s countdowns of the greatest songs or album of all time, I have always enjoyed looking at All Australian football teams and the AFL Team of the Century is always thought provoking. Applying this fun habit to my passion of politics seems a natural thing to do. So for your pleasure:

Prime Minister: Bob Hawke
Deputy PM, Minister for Defence, Home Affairs and Veterans Affairs: John Curtin
Treasurer: Ben Chifley
Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for The Arts: Gough Whitlam
Minister for Health and Ageing: Andrew Fisher
Minister for Education and Leader of the House: Julia Gillard
Attorney General: Bert Evatt
Minister for Finance and Minister for Indigenous Affairs: Paul Keating
Minister for the Environment and Climate Change: Jim Cairns
Minister for Trade and Leader of the government in the Senate: Gareth Evans
Minister for Immigration and Multiculturalism: Al Grassby
Minister for Workplace Relations: Simon Crean
Minister for Human Services, Families, Housing, Disability and Social Inclusion: Kim Beazley
Minister for Infrastructure, Agriculture and Transport: Wayne Swan
Minister for Small Business and Minister for the Status of Women: Penny Wong
Minister for Resources and Energy: Rex Connor
Minister for Jobs, Tourism and Sport: Lionel Bowen
Minister Innovation, Industry, Science and Research: Lance Barnard
Minister for Communications: Bill Hayden

Some explanation:

Obviously deciding on the top job is probably the hardest decision here. My contenders were Hawke, Curtin and Whitlam. Curtin is often thought to be Australia’s greatest Prime Minister but his whole time in the job was during World War II. He certainly rose to the occasion, but I found it difficult to compare his achievements to the peace time achievements of his peers. Gough obviously had extraordinary vision and was an incredible reformer. Bob gets the nod, though, primarily because of his leadership style. It was based around consensus; he empowered his Ministers and he trusted the Australian people to do the right thing. His government made hugely important changes for Australian society but Bob also brought people with him and sold the achievements properly. I am not necessarily saying he was Australia’s greatest Labor PM. I do think though, that his ability to lead a long term stable and successful labor government puts him in a unique position. His popularity endures pretty uncontroversially because of his ability to connect with regular punters.

Curtin gets the deputy spot because of his undoubted leadership skills, and he gets Defence because of his aforementioned leadership in that area.

I think this cabinet would have the skill and moral compass to govern Australia through any circumstance or time period. I have, though, of course been mindful of the demands of today’s times and the lessons of history. That’s one reason why Curtin cannot be PM. His beliefs fit the time period of the 1940s. He supported the White Australia policy and would not be as a socially progressive as I would require my preferred ALP leader today to be. That’s not to say he wouldn’t have changed with the times if he were still alive (Bob Hawke has come out in support of gay marriage), but we will never know.

Gough Whitlam, some may not know, was Foreign Minister for the first year or two of the Whitlam government, in addition to being PM. He misses out on the top spot because, to be frank, he could be a bit of a dictator. Don’t get me wrong I love the man to death but he didn’t always have the best relationship with his colleagues. Yet his passion and skill in foreign affairs makes him an excellent choice in this field. He opened up diplomatic relations with China, withdrew Australian troops from Vietnam and took Australia down a more independent foreign relations path where we wouldn’t simply be bullied by the US or Britain. His main competitors for this Ministry were Bert Evatt, who navigated Australia’s foreign policy during WWII and helped found the UN (serving as the President of the General Assembly in 1948/49), and Gareth Evans, Hawke and Keating’s Foreign Minister. Whitlam also gets the Arts because he pretty much founded the idea of government support for the Arts in Australia; everything from the National gallery to Triple J can be traced back to him.

Some may think that Paul Keating is the obvious choice for Treasurer but I can’t go passed the more old school Ben Chifley, who was Curtin’s treasurer before he himself became PM. His massive extension of the Welfare state (which I love) and his sound economic management during and after the war get him the top job. His investment in infrastructure and focus on full employment laid the foundations of the post-war economic boom. The Chifley government’s introduction of the pharmaceutical benefits scheme also made him a contender for Health, but in the end I felt he deserved the more important Treasury portfolio and health went to Fisher. Andrew Fisher was Prime Minister, leading the world’s first labour/social democratic majority government from 1908-1909, 1910-1913 and again from 1914-1915. His government set Australia on the path of becoming an egalitarian country. He deserves a senior position in cabinet and I give him Health because of all his work he did for the elderly, mothers and children (with the introduction of various welfare benefits and policies). If I can provide just one example, infant mortality rates went way down under his Prime Ministership.

Julia Gillard gets Education. It is one of her main passions and she did a lot as Education Minister. Gonski will make her a true champion of education. She also gets leader of the house because of her obvious negotiation skills which unfortunately don’t always translate into media skills. No Rudd in this cabinet (more on that later) so she won’t have to worry about leaks either. I considered giving Gillard an expanded portfolio to include Environment and Climate Change in recognition of her achievements there but decided that in today’s age the Climate spot should get the full attention of its own seperate Minister. Kim Beazley Senior was another possibility for Education. There were a lot of great possibilities for Attorney General; Lionel Murphy (Whitlam’s reforming and progressive AG who later became a High Court Justice); Gareth Evans who remains an influential player in international law. However the spot goes to Herbert ‘Doc’ Evatt. He was a powerhouse lawyer who served on the High Court of Australia, and as Chief Justice of the High Court of NSW, and as AG, before he became Foreign Minister and helped write the UN Declaration of Human Rights. He could never win an election as opposition leader throughout the 50s, because of the DLP, ASIO and the Red Scare, but he is my Attorney General.

I can’t be bothered going through all the rest but let me point out a few notables. Keating gets Finance, in lei of being Treasurer. His obvious and substantial contribution to aboriginal affairs also gets him the nod there. Jim Cairns may be a controversial choice since his involvement in the Loans affair as Treasurer possibly brought down the Whitlam government; but as a legend of the Victorian left, a visionary and principled social activist, an expert economist, and an unquestionably qualified and talented public servant he gets a spot. Plus i’d like to see a real socialist be there to argue in cabinet. Him and Chifley can argue against Hawke and Keating. His post-parliamentary hippy ways made me think he might like Environment. Tom Uren would have also made a good Environment Minister. Al Grassby served only two terms in parliament, and only one as Minister, and he quite possibly was connected to the Mafia, but as the Father of Australian Multiculturalism, he gets the spot. He wouldn’t fall for Tony Abbott’s race-baiting. Simon Crean gets Workplace Relations more for his leadership with The Accord than his work as a Minister and his recent outbursts have made me think twice about including him, but is deserving of a spot; unlike Kevin Rudd, who I never even thought about including. I used to be a huge fan, but let’s be honest, he is an egomaniac who proved to be, as Paul Keating would say, mostly ‘all tip and no iceburg’. Only having two women is unfortunate; but i’ve only got historical figures to work with here – let’s hope and trust that a similar list made in a generations time would be vastly different in terms of gender balance. Having said that, Penny Wong didn’t just make it in there as a ‘token woman’, she is an awesome Minister in terms of skill, intelligence and ideology.

And there you have it, My Greatest ALP Cabinet of all Time. Make your own, comment, or roll your eyes. I had fun.

(edit for spelling and grammar, I have not changed the list)