catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

Not dead yet but can he lie

with 14 comments

Two recent posts, one by Andrew Norton, the other by Andrew Leigh, have got me asking whether Australians’ oft-professed disdain for pollies could one day see them supporting smaller government. The distrust I’m talking about is exemplified by this little monument (on the beach at Port Douglas, Far North Queensland). Most people – especially those outside the knowledge classes – tend to have views along these lines. I know I grew up in a community where one of the ‘three greatest lies’ was ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help you’. Another was ‘the cheque’s in the mail’. The third had a sexual reference, which I won’t repeat in a main blogpost and render Catallaxy non-worksafe.

port-douglas.JPG

Andrew Norton thinks not; he points out that for all that people dislike pollies, they still expect the state to do things for them. Andrew Leigh takes a different tack, suggesting that viewing government as part of the problem is a new phenomenon, and one into which progressive parties should not buy with negative advertising on the grounds that it makes them (as advocates of intervention) look particularly bad. Andrew Norton also suggests that although pollies are distrusted, people at the coalface of government services – nurses and police, for example – are generally trusted.

My view is in between the two. There was a time in Australia – quite a few years ago now – when ‘the government said so, so it must be right’. That has changed irredeemably in more recent times. I think people are coming to learn that there never was a golden age of government. Those days when the state was looked on with great affection were also the days when the state was removing Aboriginal children from their parents, when it was allowing nuclear weapons tests on Australian soil, when it made the importation of an electric guitar a criminal offence. For a long time it was not possible to open more than one bank account, or to employ women once they married.

We are, of course, still hopelessly over-regulated, and seem to have lost the principle volenti non fit injuria (for the willing, there is no injury) along the way. So often the state is expected to pick us up when we fall, even though we have made the choices that have led us to where we are. We’ve also elected governments and supported intellectual coteries who are nastily judgmental of difference or eccentricity, or who like policing peoples’ lives.

Maybe our distrust of politicians is a small step along the path to knowledge. Maybe.

Advertisements

Written by Admin

October 21, 2006 at 9:11 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

14 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. It seems to me that whilst it may be true that people don’t generally trust or like politicians, a major reason for that animus is because they are not doing enough. In other words, they are not providing enough public services, enough handouts, and so on. People don’t really seem to have an ideologically-inspired opposition to ‘big government’ so much as they just want a government that looks after them and their interests.

    Amir

    October 21, 2006 at 9:28 pm

  2. I think this is part of it, Amir, but only part. General irritation like this can also be annoyance at government incompetence and shoddiness. The latter has certainly come to the fore in recent times.

    skepticlawyer

    October 21, 2006 at 9:45 pm

  3. Take a look at the tax take and who pays most of it. 20% pay 90% of close enough. Then factor in the fact that everyone must vote. Then allow for the fact that most people are greedy. Then take a look at how spending is carried out and who gets what. Those outside of the 20% bracket get the cash. So Australians love government because they use the deomocratic proces to vote in parties that promise to lavish money on them in some form by stteraling it from the richer citizens.

    You therefore have a tyranny of socialism with the majority forcing the 20% to bend over and take it like a man every year.

    Suspicion of government only means that people see the money isn’t spent wisely. But ask them if the 20% can keep most of the cash they earn without forcibly spreading it round and you would end up with a revolution here. Australians love government. Period.

    jc

    October 21, 2006 at 9:46 pm

  4. The concept of democracy has been hijacked. It was never meant to mean what it does now, which is a stealing of cold cash from the pockets of the bigger earners.

    it’s the word fair that gets me. “Fair”. theft is now classified as fair. FFS.

    jc

    October 21, 2006 at 9:49 pm

  5. I agree with JC.

    I think there are also cultural aspects to this as well. Australians love government because many equate a “fair go” with egalitarianism and therefore a confiscatory tax regime.

    Amir

    October 21, 2006 at 9:59 pm

  6. The concept of ‘fairness’ is indeed built into the Australian psyche, but that doesn’t mean that public annoyance at unwise spending may not be the start of something good.

    skepticlawyer

    October 21, 2006 at 10:00 pm

  7. True. However, in order to convert that public annoyance into something positive, the case will need to be made (and people convinced) that much of what government does ineffectively can be done more effectively by private individuals and entities. For example, let’s say the government is spending money but not achieving satisfactory results in the provision of education. The knee-jerk, man-in-the-street reaction is that they need to spend more money — because people they trust, such as teachers are calling, via their unions, for more money to be spent by government in that area. It’s a quantum leap to go from that reaction to a reaction of one of, “well, government is not delivering decent levels of education so let’s privatise it.”

    I’m not saying that this can’t be the start of something good, but I just think there needs to be something more than just distrust or disatisfaction for people to make that leap in thinking.

    Amir

    October 21, 2006 at 10:07 pm

  8. The language that’s used around here is ‘we’ll do it ourselves’ rather than ‘privatise’. Maybe that’s an explicitly country phenomenon, but there is considerable scope for self-reliance around here. And remember CQ was traditionally ‘labor’ territory, albeit ‘old labor’.

    skepticlawyer

    October 21, 2006 at 10:27 pm

  9. As I think Lenin is supposed to have said, “the worse, the better.” 🙂

    Amir

    October 21, 2006 at 10:36 pm

  10. Not sure what you’re getting at Amir, but then I’ve not read much Lenin in my time.

    I’d be interested in the two Andrews’ take on this.

    skepticlawyer

    October 22, 2006 at 9:56 am

  11. My point was that Lenin believed that the more corrupt, mismanaged and ineffective a particular capitalist economy became, the more likely the people would turn against the system and look to a revolution. e,g,. that distrust of the system or its politicians would be seen as an important step along that road.

    But that’s not an idea unique to Lenin, libertarian Murray Rothbard seems to be saying pretty much the same thing in For a New Liberty:when he talks of a “a crises situation” as being a necessary precursor for “radical social change” (i.e. the widespread adoption of libertarianism).

    Amir

    October 22, 2006 at 10:52 am

  12. Yes Amir. There is a streak of what our friend Bird would call Utopian Eschatology in some streams of hard-core libertarianism and you have identified it in Rothbard. It’s not a pheonomenon restricted solely to the Left.

    Jason Soon

    October 22, 2006 at 11:05 am

  13. … viewing government as part of the problem is a new phenomenon, and one into which progressive parties should not buy with negative advertising on the grounds that it makes them (as advocates of intervention) look particularly bad.

    This view is part of the backwash of the failure of communism. It is the moral equivalent of its opposite, the desire to abolish private property, production and exchange.

    We are, of course, still hopelessly over-regulated, and seem to have lost the principle volenti non fit injuria (for the willing, there is no injury) along the way. So often the state is expected to pick us up when we fall, even though we have made the choices that have led us to where we are.

    In general, leftists have done a lot to point out that the badly-informed cannot be counted among the “volenti”. Where they go wrong is to refuse to extend “volenti” to those who are as informed as they are, yet who continue not to share their views.

    Andrew Elder

    October 22, 2006 at 12:55 pm

  14. In general, leftists have done a lot to point out that the badly-informed cannot be counted among the “volenti”. Where they go wrong is to refuse to extend “volenti” to those who are as informed as they are, yet who continue not to share their views.

    This is a particularly good point. Part of living in a democracy where people legitimately have different views on pretty much everything is accepting that people can have access to as much information as you (or as little, but I think Andrew E is referring to the well-informed) and reach very different conclusions.

    Maybe I’m a bit hopeful about people coming to prefer self-reliance, but I’m not certain that Australians love government as much as they used to. Although they did used to. A lot.

    skepticlawyer

    October 22, 2006 at 7:26 pm


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: