Monday, February 2, 2009

Downer's Holiday Planner

For some unfathomable reason, The Adelaide Advertiser lets Alexander Downer write a column. Mostly it is drivel; but today's was a new low.

His beef today was with Kevin Rudd's essay published in this month's edition of The Monthly. The essay, part of which got a run in The Weekend Australian under the contemptuous heading of "Kevin Rudd's Plan to Rescue Capitalism", outline's Rudd's belief about how Governments need to respond to the Global Financial Crisis.

In the article, Rudd, writing as a 'social-democrat', says the following:

The intellectual challenge for social democrats is not just to repudiate the neo-liberal extremism that has landed us in this mess, but to advance the case that the social-democratic state offers the best guarantee of preserving the productive capacity of properly regulated competitive markets, while ensuring government is the regulator, that government is the funder or provider of public goods and that government offsets the inevitable inequalities of the market with a commitment to fairness for all.

For social democrats, it is critical that we get it right - not just to save the system of open markets from self-destruction, but also to rebuild confidence in properly regulated markets, so as to prevent extreme reactions from the far Left or the far Right taking hold.

Hardly inflammatory stuff. He also wrote:

Social-democratic governments across the world must rise to the further challenge of developing a practical policy response to the crisis that rebuilds shattered economic growth, while also devising a new regulatory regime for the financial markets of the future. This is our immediate challenge. But if we fail, there is a grave danger that new political voices of the extreme Left and the nationalist Right will begin to achieve a legitimacy hitherto denied them. Again, history is replete with the most disturbing of precedents.

We therefore need a frank analysis of the central role of neo-liberalism in the underlying causes of the current economic crisis. We also need a robust analysis of the social-democratic approach to properly regulated markets and the proper role of the state, in a new contract for the future that eschews the extremism of both the Left and the Right. And we must integrate this analysis with the unprecedented imperative for global co-operation if governments are to prevail in their task.

Woah! Talk about fire and brimstone!!! If you're like me, right now you're thinking Rudd must be pretty bloody fun to be around if this is how he relaxes on his holidays!

Basically he is arguing that markets need to be regulated; that the era of a free-for-all has to end, but also that Governments should not go overboard and regulate too tightly.

It's a good argument. One I happen to agree with. I'm also pretty impressed that we have a leader who is confident (and intelligent) enough to write an essay on such big-picture stuff.

But here's Alexander Downer take the essay.

It would be fair to say Kevin Rudd is facing a crisis. The great test for Kevin Rudd is this; can he face that crisis and deal with it or will he just use it for political purposes as a partisan opportunity to attack his political opponents?

Well, while you were having your Christmas dinner, Mr Rudd was writing a new manifesto. Instead of spending his summer holidays trying to work out how to save many of you from the dole, he's been writing an ideological tract condemning what he calls "neo-liberalism" or what most people call market-driven economics.

Yep, that's right, Rudd has committed the crime of spending his holiday writing an essay (presumably on Christmas Day according to Downer's reasoning - the bastard, how dare he write on Christmas Day, doesn't Rudd know he was meant to be putting in a 23 hour day on Dec 25 like none of the Howard ministry ever did).

Perhaps Downer is used to only doing one activity at a time, and thus cannot comprehend Rudd writing an essay and also being able to do other things on his holiday. As most uni students would know, generally you can write more than one essay at a time, though perhaps Downer only did one subject a semester...

But let's cut to the quick here - Downer is having a go at Rudd for not spending his holiday working! According to Downer, Rudd should have spent his holidays working out how to solve the global financial crisis. Eerr sorry Alex, but isn't that Rudd's actual work? Funny thing about holidays Alex, that's the time you don't do work - you refresh, you take time out, you recharge your batteries; if it involved work, you wouldn't really call it a holiday would you, you would call it... oh what is that thing where you are doing work... oh yes, work!!

Look, I understand why Downer is so confused, after all this is the guy who last year thought attending parliament was too beneath him and so went to lunch instead of Question Time. He's also the guy, who while still a serving MP, thought the best way to serve his constituents and earn his pay as an MP was to go on Adelaide radio with his wife for a truly embarrassing performance as talk back host. So I guess it's understandable that Downer does get messed up about the whole work/holiday thing.

However it's not just the fact that Rudd had the temerity to spend his holiday writing (yep, Kevin Rudd is a guy who relaxes by writing political essays) that annoys Downer, it's who he wrote it for: our Prime Minister he should be working for Australians, not wasting time writing a nearly 8000-word ideological rant for a left-leaning magazine.

Oh dear Alex, I guess if he wrote for a right-leaning magazine it would be alright. OK then, what should Rudd have been doing on his holidays Alex?

In particular, he should have spent his holiday time finding out why financial markets collapsed and how the political initiatives of American politicians sent financial institutions broke. Mr Rudd should have spent his holidays reading, not ranting.

Ah yes Alex, your old chestnut that the reason for the Global Financial Crisis is all those government initiatives such as the Community Reinvestment Act that encouraged some institutions to lend (under strict conditions) to people from lower-socio-economic backgrounds. Well read this Alex, it's an article that I referred to a few months back, which shows it was not banks under that regime that caused the sub-prime crisis, it was the ones not subject to the same tight regulations. But then I guess facts don't come into play - especially when you figure Downer is calling Rudd's essay a "rant".

But look, I'm being unfair - it's not as though Downer lacks balance, take this for example:

Australia is emerging from one of its greatest periods of prosperity. No one is going to blame Mr Rudd for the sub-prime crisis.

At this stage the public only ask one thing of Kevin Rudd; take decisive steps to fight off a recession. He'll be cut a fair bit of slack by voters and that's fair enough. But his policies had better work and work soon.

Oh good, Rudd didn't cause the global financial crisis, that's big of you Alex, you only demand that Rudd solve it. Well that should be easy. I guess the fact that you guys blew one of the greatest periods of prosperity is irrelevant...

And Downer even ends by giving out some friendly advice:

Spending the summer writing an ideological tract has been a mistake. Mr Rudd should get back to work on economics. He should not even dream of using a crisis for political advantage.

Oh geez, yeah, you would never have caught Downer's political idol John Howard using a crisis for political advantage... (the bile, it rises I swear...). And yeah Rudd, stop spending your holidays thinking about big picture things; last thing this country needs is a PM who thinks ideas. (After all, Howard stopped having ideas in about 1967, and it served him OK - according to Downer anyway, who, if his stint as leader of the Liberal Party is any guide, is an idea free zone).

But look; it's all pretty harmless - Downer is a nobody after all. Tomorrow the real stuff begins again; and the "rants" of former Ministers will just be chip wrapper material (and a much better purpose they will be serving). What is important are the words of current Liberal Party members - on tonight's 7:30 Report, Malcolm Turnbull derisively (with his usual superior laugh) refers to Rudd spending his holidays writing a socialist "novel" - so obviously the memo on how to criticise Rudd has been sent around the Liberal Party HQ. Julie Bishop obviously got it.

Watch her performance on this morning ABC Breakfast. She still thinks the Budget shouldn't be in deficit, and believes that cutting taxes will actually increase taxation revenue. She also complains that at the moment businesses are subject to "high taxes" which create disincentives. Given that the ALP didn't increase the Company Tax rate last year, I'll leave it to you to ponder what that says about the tax rate under the Howard Government.... I guess what's good for the goose isn't good for the gander, especially when you actually are a bit of an economic goose.

Can't wait for QT tomorrow.

No comments: