Sharing some fugitive thoughts before starting the seriously nerdish business of the day and the Roundup Oct 21.
Update, something I couldn’t find this morning, the press cuttings attacking the New Right in the 1980s.
Remember the time when Hawke and Keating and the Cabinet of the time were doing some of the things that the Backbench Dries in the Coalition wanted to see on the policy table? The point of this meditation is to work out how come sensible ideas about economic management never penetrated into the Labor woodwork. My suggestion is that apart from some efforts to explain what had to be done, political rhetoric was directed powerfully against anyone outside the party who looked like an economic rationalist and so the party faithful would have gained the impression that free enterprise and classical liberals were still mortal enemies of the people. Something like that has probably happened in China where the leadership has done some of the things required for economic strength without any audible or visible recognition of the power of freedom and markets.
The rank and file of Labor voters signalled their hatred of economic rationalism when some Labor strongholds fell to the Coalition in Griener’s 1988 landslide. The NSW Liberals may have thought they were suddenly very popular but it was really a big finger from Labor voters for the economic rationalism of their party in Canberra.
For a short time (I wonder how short?) there was a bipartisan stand at the Federal level on some important issues although of someone wrote in CIS Policy that the Labor party only wanted better economic performance to fund their Big Government agenda.
After some heroic policy development in opposition, led by the likes of John Hyde (not in the House at the time of course) the Coalition went to the polls in 1993 with the best policy platform that we will ever see (and possibly most inept leader as well, going a bridge too far with the GST which Keating had once wanted to implement).
That was the election when I first realised the incredible depth and passion of anti-Coalition sentiment in the media at large, and so the Coalition lost the unlosable election. In the aftermath the party walked away from the policies that they worked so hard to develop, as though they had got it wrong and not the electorate. Obviously they had to regroup, but not at the expense of trashing the work they did to develop good policy. (The same thing happened with WorkChoices, which was buried the day after the election, instead of pointing out the way it worked and the dishonest way that it was trashed by the rusted-on Labor supporters in the commentariat.)
At that point in 1993 it looked as though there would never be another conservative government in our lifetime but Keating turned his back on the Labor base and that was just enough to get Howard over the line more than once.
Going back to the ’80s and ’90s which was the starting point for this meditation, looking through my press cuttings from the time, it is amazing to see the passionate resistance mobilized on both sides of politics against the dreaded New Right of the free enterprise movement. A battle had to be fought in the IPA to convert the old guard of protectionists.
I wrote at the time that four groups of people confuse the issues. These are the ‘do nothing free marketeers’, the conservatives, the ‘dries’ in the Labor Party and the socialist intellectuals. Malcom Fraser and Joh Bjelke Petersen are examples of ‘do nothings’ who mouth the slogans of free enterprise but in fact do not open up markets or dismantle controls and regulations. Hence rationalism is discredited before it is even tried. The conservatives do not even pretend to support free markets though they claim to oppose socialism, often while they support de facto socialist policies (i.e. the old rural socialists of the Country Party). The Labor dries share many aims of their Liberal counterparts but they are obliged to be especially severe on the ‘New Right’ to deflect criticism from the Left of their own party. And the intellectuals of the Left are so blinkered by their ideological assumptions that they have not started to grasp what Hayek and the market liberals are talking about. I could tongue in cheek throw in an extra group, the Randoids who I sometimes describe as speedbumps on the road to serfdom because they might put their bodies on the line to defend freedom they will not explain the benefits of free trade and markets in language that the median or even the average voter can understand.
The point is that the people in the street were not getting a straight feed on economic rationalism from any party or influential group even while the Hawake/Keating government was doing some of it. I was particularly interested to see the attacks on economic rationalists from members of the Hawke Cabinet who would have known better. And the NSW swing against Labor in 1988 was a big pointer although I don’t think it was picked up that way at the time.
The bottom line is that we don’t need to be surprised that the Labor party stopped doing economic rationalism, we just need to be amazed that they ever did it. Much the same can be said for the other lot.