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catallaxy in technical exile

Does Australia need a cultural policy?

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We expect luvvies to write things like ‘the brand of conservatism espoused by the Coalition could be characterised …as a whole-hearted embrace of neo-liberal economics’. But a professor of economics? This statement appears in Professor David Throsby’s Does Australia Need a Cultural Policy?, which was launched by Cate Blanchett last night. I thought this booklet was in intellectual trouble when Richard Eckersley and Clive Hamilton appeared in the acknowledgements. Regrettably, it’s even worse than the stuff that dreadful duo churns out. [BTW I agreed earlier this week to my first on-the-same platform appearance with Hamilton, to occur next month. Icicles will be forming around the lectern it will get so cold in there.]

On page 2 Throsby tries to assure us that cultural policy is not the ‘formal imposition of state culture on the population’. But reading the rest of his pamphlet, I’m not sure that’s entirely true. The soft-left agenda our luvvies are so fond of takes up much of his space. He is critical of the policy emphasis on economic growth, the treatment of refugees, Indigenous policy, the scuttling of the republic and an overly close relationship to the US. (Did I even need to list them? It’s so predictable.) Cultural policy, it seems, would help us reflect on how far these policies are from our actual national culture. Alas for Professor Throsby, it takes more luvvy creativity than he has to make this argument stick.

For example, citing the dreadful duo’s work, he tells us that there is ‘increasing disillusion with material rewards as a source of well-being and happiness’. I’ve not seen any evidence that this is the case. Two propositions seem constantly true: money is not seen as the key to happiness, but most people want more cash than they have. Though Hamilton has marketed the idea of ‘downshifting’, the only reason to believe it is trending up is that, compared to the past, so many people are rich enough to move down without reducing themselves to poverty.

Throsby claims that the PM has shown little understanding (don’t you love the condescension, not that he disagrees, but that he doesn’t ‘understand’?) the importance of land rights for Indigenous people, the significance of an apology, and the centrality of Indigenous culture. Optimistically, he says ‘we might see some disjunction between Howard’s views and those of the majority of the Australian people’. Er, no. In a Saulwick poll in 2004, 61% thought that the government did not have to apologise to the Indigenous people. 41% even thought we no longer needed the reconciliation process.

And while he can’t pretend that people want to open the borders to refugees (they don’t), he tries to argue that their treatment does not accord with ‘traditional Australian values of tolerance, fair play and respect for human rights’. Yet there are equally strong – and certainly longer – traditions of wanting tight control over migration. That’s the trouble with trying to argue from public opinion: it doesn’t always let you go where you want.

While it is true that Howard holds a minority view on the republic-monarchy question, what’s scuttled it is disagreement on the new model, as much as the PM’s political cleverness. And while it is also true that the war in Iraq has mostly not had majority support, it is far-fetched to say that it is ‘an effort to impose a different set of values and to take the country along a different cultural pathway.’ No, it was just a fairly small commitment without any effects on most Australians.

The last thing we need is to pay the luvvies to deliver us yet more lectures on the same old topics. Why should we subsidise things that are already over-supplied? Throsby’s book shows just why we don’t need and should never have a ‘cultural policy’.


Written by Admin

February 9, 2006 at 9:24 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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