Meandering thoughts on Daisy Cousens

I’ll admit it, at the risk of supporting her cause: Daisy Cousens gets under my skin.

It’s not, as she’d probably claim, because she’s a conservative and an anti-feminist. There are plenty of women who hold those beliefs who I consider friends, even if I don’t agree with them.

And it’s not because I’m a snowflake or I’m “triggered”, in her gross misunderstanding of that term. There are plenty of others who write about similar things that don’t fill me with rage the way she does.

No, it isn’t her views that bother me about Daisy Cousens. It’s her lack of seriousness. It’s the fact she’s so open about courting controversy and attention. She shamelessly celebrates the worst of modern conservatism’s impulses while undermining the work of both people she agrees with and those she doesn’t.

So when the Sydney Morning Herald published an article by Jane Cadzow about Cousens and two other conservative women today, my first reaction was to be dismissive. I didn’t need to read about her, think about her any more than I already have (even now, I’m unconvinced that I should be spending precious writing time sharing my thoughts on the piece). My automatic and poorly-considered response was that any attention paid to Cousens was inherently wasted.

But as Amber Robinson pointed out on Twitter that she thought the piece was very good because, and I quote, “Cousens in particular comes off as a complete imbecile”, I had to rethink my response.  She was right, of course. The piece draws stark contrast between the three conservative women. The difference between Cousens and Helen Andrews was clear. I may disagree with almost everything Andrews says, but the fact she thoughtfully considers her views is clear.

Cadzow deftly gives Cousens just enough rope. If there’s one takeaway from the piece, it’s that she’s just not a thinker. She plays the provocateur — a time honoured tradition — without the requisite thought to make her positions in any way insightful. It’s not that she’s my political opponent, it’s that she’s a bad one.

And that’s probably why it enraged me so.

She’s often lumped in with Caleb Bond in the conservative wunderkind category – either ironically or seriously – but  I think that’s unfair to Bond. I think News Ltd do Bond a great disservice by publishing him and that most of what he writes is flimsy, poorly thought-out and easily contradicted, but I don’t doubt his seriousness. He believes what he says. I can imagine him having a serious change of heart when he’s older, in part because I thought similarly to him at his age, with similar levels of conviction, and now I disagree fiercely.

I should take a brief minute here to note the fact I know this whole complaint comes from a position of MASSIVE privilege. I am white, upper-middle class, cis-gendered, I am in a straight relationship, I have a child who I stay at home with most of the week in our house with a backyard in the suburbs, while my partner gets the train to work at his job.

I get to quibble with the things about Cousens that I find irritating because who I am is not fundamentally threatened by her and people like her. In fact, my life is probably closer to the conservative script of how you’re “supposed” to live than many actual conservatives.

Actually, you know what? I should just shut up now. There’s no point explaining the rest of my feelings about Cousens because, again, my life is not fundamentally attacked by her and people like her.

She can fully inhabit the role of the Manic Pixie Dream Fascist. She can treat all that as a joke and play the ingénue and think being young and pretty means getting a pass on doing the hard work of thinking critically about what you believe, but that’s far less of a problem than what she actually says. What she says offends me, but it doesn’t affect me* like it affects other people.

The real affects of what she and others with similar beliefs have on other peoples’ lives is by far worse than her posturing.

And now I’ll be quiet.

*”There’s a difference between what offends people and what affects people” is a Kellyanne Conway quote. I have been thinking about it a lot lately because I think it’s really important.

The exclusionary language of inclusion

I have this horrible, sinking feeling that much of the work that was done to encourage tolerance has backfired. Instead of actually encouraging inclusiveness, the language of tolerance is now used by many as an excuse to never reconsider their opinions. Language designed to encourage inclusiveness has become a way to justify exclusion.

I’m glad that we’ve developed a more relativistic discourse. I’m glad that there isn’t a single source truth out there that can’t be challenged, a single authority that determines right from wrong. Pluralism is useful. A world in which ideas are being challenged is a great thing- as long as they’re actually being challenged.

Because here’s the thing: truth still exists. Some things are simply true, and no number of different perspectives will change that. It’s a cliche to say this at this point, but two plus two is four. If you accept that, you start from the position that there are some things that are true. Relativism doesn’t render logic false or useless. If X, then Y. Actions have consequences.

Unfortunately, too often, the phrases “it’s just my opinion” or “it’s my view that…” are used as cover for “I don’t need to critically engage in this” or “my view should be free from criticism” or “I am not responsible for the consequences of my what I say and think” . It’s absurd, because even though something might be an opinion, facts still inform it and, in some cases, show it to be false. It could be my opinion that two plus two is five. It would also be wrong. Opinions do not exist in a vacuum, even if some like to treat them that way.

If you tell a joke, and it offends someone, that joke IS offensive. You told the joke. A person is offended by the joke. That makes it offensive. Now you might say “well, it is offensive, but that’s an offense I’m willing to make.” Fine. That’s your choice. But it’s still offensive. The offensive nature of the joke is a reality, not an opinion, because someone was offended by the joke.*

The world IS getting warmer. It’s a fact. Now your opinion might be that it’s not, or that people are overreacting, or that there’s an international conspiracy to trick us into believing something. That’s fine. It is your right to have your opinion. But the facts don’t support it. It is objectively true that the world is getting warmer.

Free speech does not mean consequence-free speech**. But everything we do, and everything we say, has consequences. You can have an opinion, but that opinion isn’t sacrosanct. An opinion isn’t a precious object, to be put behind glass, preserved for all to see. It’s meant to be taken into the world, and pushed around a little bit and tested to see if it can survive. If it doesn’t, a new, stronger one will take its place.

If we hold our opinions to be so precious that we daren’t challenge them, we miss out on the opportunity to be really empathetic, to try to understand someone else’s experience, and to broader our own horizons just a little bit.

*Edited to add: Which is, incidentally, why I’m against the “cause offense” clause in the new anti-discrimination legislation. Causing offense is generally not a good thing, but it is entirely too difficult to police. And, frankly, some people are offended by things that I think it should be ok to say, which is why coming to terms with the idea that “this caused offense, but I’m willing to cause it in order to make my point” is important: it deals with the reality of the situation, rather than pleading ignorant.

**Instead, it means legal-consequence-free speech which is, in my opinion, a good thing.

 

The kinds of equality

But seriously, there’s nothing wrong with the social choice to have more leisure and fewer material goods. The problem with leisure, however, is that you can’t tax it to pay off accumulated debt or to finance pensions for your senior citizens.

Matthew Yglesias hits on something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, though in a very different context.  His is talking about stimulus.  I’ve been thinking about it in terms on inequality.

The problem with the inequality conversation is that it tends to centre around a certain kind of inequality: financial inequality.  We have all kind of wealth gaps in Australia, and financial wealth is only one of them.  We have gaps in leisure time wealth and gaps in friend wealth and gaps in companionship wealth.  Any attempt to make society equal through the redistribution of financial wealth ignores the very real effects of the accumulation and distribution of other kinds of wealth.

Some people make a choice to sacrifice leisure in order to earn more money. This is a choice people should be able to make for themselves as free individuals.  And yes, people who earn more should pay more in tax, to some extent.  But the notion that we should be aiming for “equality” through taxation is daft: it imposes requires one idea of what a human life should look like, and it imposes it on all.  It says that work/life balance is a fundamental good which society should desire.

It is, frankly, incredibly intolerant.

What’s more, it assumes that all individuals will derive happiness from the same things.  This is clearly not the case.  Some individuals derive happiness from the accumulation of financial wealth. For others, enough to pay their bills is sufficient, as they’d rather have the time to pursue other interests.  That is entirely their prerogative.  Those who have more wealth should be required to pay more tax to provide services of public good.  But they shouldn’t be required to pay tax in order to facilitate greater financial equality beyond providing basic services (including a safety net) for all.

If you think it is the role of government to increase equality, does that not require considerations of non-material forms of equality? And how do you justify economic redistribution with the goal of increasing financial equality without considering other forms?

I just can’t see any kind of program designed to increase equality that doesn’t look like a giant social project designed to get people to live a certain way that some have determined is the correct way to live.

Theoretically, and I understand this is entirely impractical, I’m increasingly fond of the idea of a tax based on rate per hour, rather than overall income.  Because I don’t think it’s right that the person who earns $83,200 working 80 hours a week should have a tax burden three times that of someone who earned $41,600 working 40 hours a week.  They may be more financially wealthy, but they’re poorer in many other ways.  And any serious conversation about equality ought to consider this.

How to fix the American political situation, in one easy step

Are you ready for it?

Vote.

It’s as simple as that.

Vote in the general election. Vote in the primary election. Vote every time you can.

Maybe there’s an extra step. Maybe you need to register your affiliation with a party or as an independent. That’s easy pretty easy too. If you live in a state with closed primary elections, you’ll want to do that.

But after that, it’s pretty straightforward. Find some time on election day, one day every two years. Make it a priority. Vote.

Are you sick of crazy extremists holding political parties hostage?

Vote.

Water down their influence. Let Republican senators and congressmen know that if they face a challenge from the hard right in their primary, that you’ll be supporting them. Let them know for every tea party person they piss off, they’ll encourage a moderate.

The Tea Party have the power they do because they vote. They show up. They are disproportionately represented in those who vote in primary elections. So they get to elect their own and, worse still, they get to hold more moderate members hostage with the threat of their power.

But you know what? They’re not that great in number. They really aren’t. Their influence can be diluted.

You just have to vote.

 

In praise of Centrism

So Jonathan’s off on his boring “centrism is stupid” high horse again.  But clearly, it’s not centrism, but Jonathan who is stupid.

Centrism is the opposite of stupid: it’s a smart and sophisticated reaction to the world as it is, and to political reality.

Centrism recognises there’s some middle ground between a flat tax and a top tax rate above 50%. Centrism understands that society has some responsibilities to its citizens, but that they also have some responsibilities of their own. Centrism doesn’t think the Government is the solution to all our problems, but it doesn’t think it’s the devil, either. Centrism doesn’t think markets are the solution to all our problems, but don’t think they’re the devil either.

Centrism is about finding a reasonable middle ground.  Centrism is about recognising the complexity of the situation, and of the solution.  Centrism is interested in solving problems, not in grandstanding.  Centrism is interested in reality, not ideological purity. Centrism lives in the real world.

Centrism starts with the problem, rather than the solution. Centrism is willing to look anywhere for the answer. Centrism doesn’t rule out information that doesn’t fit its predetermined narrative.

Centrism is rationalist’s approach to policy.

Centrism understand nuance. Centrism acknowledges the difference between saying “we must do something” and saying “we must do something and it must be this”. Centrism listens to both sides, and considers the merit of each.

Centrism is hard. Centrism is not for the lazy. Centrism never offers a ready-made solution, but requires constant engagement with issues.  Centrism is quiet and does its work behind the scenes.  Centrism doesn’t inspire rallies (well, ok, Jon Stewart’s is the notable exception). Centrism sits quietly in the background, thinking and considering.

Centrism sometimes absolutely takes a side on an issue. But centrism doesn’t do that by default.  Centrism doesn’t ask “what is the centrist’s take on this”, but asks “what is the problem, and what’s the best solution.”

Perhaps the term “centrism” is a misnomer for what I’ve described.  Maybe centrism needs to rebrand. But to suggest centrism is non-ideological is to define ideology too narrowly.  It is ideological in its approach, rather than its outcomes.

There be trolls

On Monday evening, I got home from work and wrote a short piece about my disgust at the fact the Labor party was coupling fairly significant changes to the nature of redistribution in the Australian tax code to their attempt to price carbon.  I thought I was pretty clear: while I absolutely believe in progressive taxation, in pricing for negative externalities and specifically in the need to put a price on carbon, I was mystified and enraged by the government’s decision to compensate some household by more than 400% of the anticipated costs.

And then I stood back and watched the hoards go mad with ad hominem attacks and, strangely enough, conspiracy theories.

Usually, when I talk about policy, I prefer to analyse information and make judgements, rather than focusing on personal narrative (I’ll occasionally frame things in a personal way, but generally try to stick to facts for the core of a piece), but given my own story is apparently an important part of this, it’s worth recounting briefly.

First, it’s rather important to know that it was Jonathan Green, editor of The Drum, who asked me to write the piece, based on a tweet.  He sent me a direct message on Twitter and asked for it, and I wrote it that evening.

There was no conspiracy. There was no pay. I have absolutely voted for the Labor Party and Liberal Party in the past (and recently), as well as, at times, the Greens, the Democrats  and some independent candidates.  I am someone who taking voting very, very seriously, and I agonize over my preferences.  I number below the line.  I write letters asking candidates to further explain their position on certain issues.

At no point did I receive any kind of request or instruction or payment from anyone except the initial request from Jonathan.  It was not part of some broad strategy.  I was not on Sky News last night pretending to be Eliza. I was at home with a head cold watching the first season of Pretty Little Liars on DVD.

The second thing that warrants clarification is the fact some people have pointed to my profile on here as evidence that I was a Liberal party plant, specifically quoting the words “Classical liberal.” The small-l is important there.  I thought this was pretty clear in my piece but, again, evidently not, since people kept saying if I don’t like redistribution, I clearly could NEVER have been a Labor supporter.  Liberty is a priority for me, both economic and social.  Sadly, there is not a party in Australian with true liberalism as the core of its policy priorities.

Economically, of course, this means I have more in common with the Liberal party.  This does not in any way mean I think flat tax is the way to go: I understand the need for progressive taxation, but generally, I think we should seek to ensure the progressive nature of our tax does not undermine the incentive to work and the responsibility of all able citizens to contribute to the best of our ability.  I do not believe markets are flawless, and I absolutely believe in market intervention when they are flawed.  For this reason, I am a very vocal advocate of socialized medicine.

Socially, though, and perhaps this is the bit that got lost in the piece, I have far more in common with the Labor party.  To be honest, I’m probably somewhere to the left of the Labor party.  I think the Labor party’s hesitancy to support gay marriage is appalling, and I think the government should get out of the marriage business entirely.  I firmly believe all women should have access to abortion.  I think we need to massively liberalise our immigration policy, accept more immigrants, and in fact I think we should be actively recruiting people who would qualify as asylum seekers, not just accept those who can afford to make the journey.  I think climate change is real, and serious, and that we need to do something about it.

I’m an unabashed fan of Malcolm Turnbull, but that is largely because he occupies the space that closely resembles my own political beliefs.  This is also why I can support the Democrats in the US completely- the mainstream view in the Democratic party is in favor of a limited safety net, and progressive taxation that isn’t too onerous.  That’s exactly the kind of public policy I like.

Recently, a strong Labor-advocate friend made a very convincing case that in order to be involved in Australian politics, I should join a party.  The closed nature of our system, something I’ve bemoaned at length, necessitates it.  I would much prefer an open party structure and less party unity, but given such fundamental change to our political culture is unlikely, I had few options. I could start my own party, one that is both economically moderate (and Grant will curse me for using that term, but you know what I mean) and socially liberal.  It would be a true liberal party, not a hybrid liberal-economic, socially-conservative party.

But, I’m one person, with limited time and other interests.  Much as I would like to do that, and perhaps I shall at some point, in the interim, membership of a political party seemed a better way to go, to be a small-l liberal voice.  But given my preference for the Liberal party’s economic policies and the Labor party’s social policies, I was unsure of which way to go.  He said I should join the Libs, but hang out with people who were also socially liberal.  I remained unconvinced, still feeling the pull of the Labor party’s are more liberal stance on social issues.

That was until Monday, when I realised that the Labor party’s fundamental believe in significant redistribution was so central to its beliefs that it would try to sneak it into something as important as a carbon tax.  That it would use the opportunity to remove a million Australians from the income tax system entirely.  That it would overcompensate some households with a combined income of $80,000 more than four times the cost of the program.  I tweeted about my frustration.  Jonathan Green saw the tweet and asked me to write  the piece. End of story.  I have committed many an error in my time, but I do not believe this piece was in any was disingenuous or intellectually dishonest.

Then people went a bit crazy, and accused me of all sorts of things. Rather than engaging with my argument, they invoked my age and gender to claim that I didn’t know what I was talking about.  They claimed I described myself as a “classic Liberal” rather than as a “classical liberal”. For goodness’ sake, they even suggested Media Watch investigate.  And when I offered to explain myself further, I got such generous responses as:

“can hardly wait. I’ll bait my breath in anticipation” (Source)

The sarcastic reply speaks volumes: it speaks of someone looking for dishonestly, looking for a gotcha, looking for a partisan ploy, rather than considering the virtue of an argument. How appropriate, then, that he should accuse me of disingenuousness when he writes questions without any interest in the answer, and challenges without any consideration of the merit of the reply.

Even the snarky responses when I said I’d write something answering challenges– the “oh god, she’s writing another piece”-type responses– illustrated the way this debate has gone: rather that looking at the merit of what I said, it was viscerally reacting to me.

Don’t get me wrong, some people challenged me a couple of valid points, and I respect them greatly for it. One criticism that I think is worth responding to was that I didn’t analyze the Coalition’s carbon tax.  My response, of course, is that I didn’t analyze the Government’s Carbon Tax either- my post was rather about the excessive redistribution packaged with the carbon tax.  But I should have mentioned the redistributive effects of the Coalition’s carbon tax plans, which, overall, I am no great fan of.  I do consider them less insidious as they do not fundamentally alter the degree to which our income tax system is progressive, but I should have paid heed to that.

But for the most part, the replies were ill-considered and reactionary, looking for some grand scheme where there was none. One particularly snarky and poorly-argued blog post used my biographical information on this blog as “proof” that I was always a Liberal party voter.  Beside being poorly-researched (a cursory glance at the “politics” tag on my blog will reveal posts such as this and this and this, which describe my political philosophy more fully and the fact it doesn’t really naturally fit with any major political party in Australia), it implored me:

My ardent suggestion to young Erin would be, especially if she’s going to put her ideological views into the ether, that she crystallise them, if they aren’t already,

Well,  here’s one thing I can promise.  I will continue to allow my views to crystallise. I will continue to read voraciously. I will continue to consider the opinions of others and whether their arguments are convincing And I will do all these things in the hope that I never become someone who is so convinced of their own eternal correctness, who becomes so mired in their own ideology out of habit, that they don’t listen to others and consider their arguments on merit.  I long to be like my political hero, Abraham Lincoln:  big enough to be inconsistent.

Prices and Costs and Carbon Tax

There’s a great new blog, Bleeding Heart Libertarian, that I’ve been fondly reading over the last week, dealing with issues of markets and social justice.  There was a quote in a recent post that kind of reflected, in a funny way, my thinking about the Carbon Tax:

Taxation, to be justified, must serve a genuine public purpose (I won’t discuss here what those are). When the majority forcibly dispossesses people of their resources in order to subsidize others in their pursuit of private projects, it violates the principle that persons should be free to set the ends toward which they will use their powers

I would argue that the same hold for minorities forcibly dispossessing people of their resources through their behaviour, which is why I am entirely in favour of a Carbon Tax.  Jonathan says I should never again utter the phrase “price for negative externality”, but I actually think it’s a really important thing for people to understand and consider when thinking about a Carbon Tax.

Markets don’t always work. They don’t work when incentives are wrong (ie. health care), and they don’t work when consumers are disempowered (again, health care).  They also don’t work when part of the cost of something isn’t carried by either the supplier or the consumer, but by the broader public.

Such is the case with carbon.

The price of carbon and the cost of carbon are two completely different things. The cost of carbon already exists. It is somewhat paid by those consuming the carbon, but mostly, it’s paid by people who don’t.  The idea of a carbon tax is for is to bring the price of carbon more closely in line with its cost.

All this complaining about how things will get more expensive is kind of ridiculous. The cost already exists. It’s just that, for the most part, the wrong people are paying it.  So maybe it’s time to turn off the 106cm flat screen TVs if you can’t afford the electricity bill.  Don’t expect others to bear the costs of your TV-watching habit.

Carbon tax is about making a market correction, and ensuring that it is those who consume carbon who are paying for it.  Like all other attempts to account for negative externalities via taxation (alcohol, cigarette, fuel and junk food taxes), it’s a good idea.

*edit* I should note that, to avoid this tax being completely regressive, I do think the additional cost of carbon should be taken into account when adjusting welfare payments. Not an electricity subsidy directly, because it’s necessary that the incentive-correction isn’t nullified, but an accounting for the overall rise in the cost of living that is related to the rising price of carbon, just as all welfare payments should be adjusted for CPI regularly.

The value of ease

Last night, I had the privilege of attending a USSC event in Sydney, in which former Prime Minister John Howard spoke about the US-Australian relationship.  I was genuinely surprised by Mr Howard’s graciousness, particularly toward past and present Labor party members, and his humility.  I hadn’t expected to be so impressed by him.

Content-wise, though, there was a lot to disagree with him about, not the least of which were his comments on the US Political system.  He strongly advocated the Westminster Cabinet (and incorrectly said the US doesn’t have a cabinet. Which it, of course, does. It’s just not part of the legislative branch.)

Howard’s arguments seemed to keep coming back to the ease with which legislation can go through and, I think, be controlled by the leader of the government.  He said the big problem with the US system was that it was difficult for the President to make things happen.

That is the absolute and very beauty of the US System.

The accountability, the checks and balances and the separation of powers is what makes the US system so strong and effective. It’s also what makes it slow.  But it was designed to be slow. It was designed not to concentrate too much power in one place. Judicial review is absolutely central- something Howard also argued against- and it is good that it should be.

Effective democratic government requires balancing the ease with which laws can be enacted with the dangers of concentrating too much power in the hands of too few.  While the US may err on the slow side, Australia is far further toward the side in which small numbers of individuals have too much power and too little accountability.

Australians seem to work on the notion that because we haven’t had any really major problems (Whitlam aside), our inherently flawed system is ok. But it’s not.  It’s too insular, it is too restrictive, it encourages division, discouraged bipartisanship, and concentrates entirely too much power in the hands of too few.  Our leaders are still only elected by their local electorate, yet are expected to be accountable to the whole country. They act in secret. There are selected by their party faithful, and protect their own interests.

It’s a system that is too easy to corrupt, too easy to take advantage of, and our lack of judicial review limits the ways in which government can be challenged. The notion that governments are always benevolent is a very poor foundation for a Democratic political system.

Let's talk about risk

So everyone’s talking about the flood tax. The “tax on mateship”. Whatever. Both parties have behaved more-than-a-little cynically in their approach to the situation, and everyone’s talking about the solution- a flood levy- rather than the underlying problem which is, of course, risk. More specifically, it’s a conversation about what risk should be socialized, and what risk shouldn’t.

It makes perfect sense that unforseeable risk should be socialised.  Which is why I like socialised medicine. It makes sense that people shouldn’t have to bear unreasonable financial hardship because of something they had no choice in. It’s also why I like pricing for negative externalities (cigarette, alcohol and junk food taxes are excellent examples): it shifts the cost from the public at large back toward the population that is choosing to take part in a risky activity.

Building a home on a flood plain is a risky activity.

After the Queensland floods, I think helping people who live in, say, Toowoomba, is really wise.  It wasn’t the most logical thing in the world for them to have flood insurance. They lived on a mountain. The risk was comparatively unforeseeable. They deserve help.

But I’m not ok with helping people who not only had foreseeable risk, but benefited from it. People who, say, bought expensive houses in riverside suburbs that continued to appreciate. These people made a decision knowing full well there was the possibility that there could be floods. They took a risk which didn’t pay off, and are now likely to be compensated by the broader public for their loss. (Yes, I know the “the dam will save us” argument, but that doesn’t at all entirely rule out the chance of floods).

So they made a decision. They weighed the risk versus the reward. Presumably, many of these people have had property prices increase substantially in the intervening years.  By socialising their loses, while the rewards remain private, the burden is being unfairly shifted.

Want to live in a flood prone area? If you can’t afford insurance or can’t get insurance, that should factor into your decision making process. I am of the firm belief that people who live in the bush and don’t have fire insurance because they can’t afford it actually can’t afford to live in the bush.  It is entirely foreseeable that when you live in a country with regular fires, in an area surrounded by trees, there’s every chance your house will burn down.

I live in the city. There’s a relatively larger chance my car will be stolen or my home will be broken into, or that one of my neighbours will have a kitchen fire and burn the whole apartment block down.  Accordingly, as part of living where I live, I have taken precautions against those eventualities.  And if I hadn’t, as I didn’t when I first moved to Sydney, it would be entirely unreasonable for me to expect society at large to pick up the bill for a conscious decision I made. I *could* have paid for contents insurance. Instead, I paid for gym membership. I took a risk. But the reward or consequences were mine and mine alone.

The scale of the disaster in Queensland doesn’t change the fact it has happened to individuals, individuals who made decisions that had consequences prior to the flood.

Want to levy for the rebuilding of roads and infrastructure? That makes sense. Want to levy for the provision of mental health services for rescue workers traumatised? Great idea.  Levy me to help pay the bills for people who lived on a hill, not in a flood plain, yet were flooded. But levying to assist people who, for whatever reason, chose to take consciously take a risk with the possibility of reward creates a dangerous precedent for risk-sharing in private investment in Australia.

The notion of a permanent disaster fund to respond to anything other than infrastructure concerns is a bad, bad idea. It’s socialising risk without socialising the reward.

PS I should add, I am aware of the problems some have with getting insurance, and I think the government should start a kind of “Public option” for insurance in catastrophe-prone areas, so those paying into the fund are the ones likely to use it.

On a philosophy of government

Some ABC commentator or other- I think it may have been a Liberal senator- said the other day that philosophy no longer had a place in Australian politics.

It was a sad comment, but one that reflects the things I found so very frustrating about the campaign: there was very little talk about the philosophy underpinning any of the parties.  There were superficial policy differences, but neither major party seemed to have a clear, underpinning idea about what government is, how it should operate, who it is responsible to and for.  And so, in reality, little separated the parties in terms of actual policy difference, and we’re left to rely on some vague understanding of the character and personal philosophies of leaders to try to glean what they might actually do in power, which is inaccurate, and lends itself to poor accountability.

And so, during the campaign, I thought I’d write about my own understandings and beliefs about government and what I think it should do.  I posted a shorter version of this on my Tumblr during the campaign, but figured now was a good time to expand upon it.

  1. Monarchism has no place in a 21st Century democracy. A head of state should be an elected representative of the people, not someone who was born into a privileged family.
  2. The moral choices of individuals, providing they are not directly causing another physical harm without permission, have no place in public discourse. Policy should not be made that discriminates against people based on their moral choices. Individuals should be able to make distinctions based on their own morality, but the government should not make law based on individual morality.
  3. Where markets work, leave them alone.  Where they don’t (eg. health care), Governments should intervene.  Industries should be treated equally, in terms of taxation and obligations to employees (though obviously circumstances matter in terms of these obligations).
  4. Catastrophic risk should be socialized. People who are not able to work, who lose their jobs, who get sick, who have to look after a loved one should not be liable for that cost- society should share the cost in the understanding catastrophe could happen to anyone.  Some people are just born unlucky, and when genuine effort to improve their situation won’t work, the nation should help them out.
  5. Governments should provide education to its citizens, but adults undertaking education in government institutions should be accountable for their progress. That means that if university students aren’t making sufficient progress, they should be financially accountable. This isn’t to say that if someone fails, they should have to pay, but perhaps if someone fails a certain percent of their classes, they should be left with the option to either pay, or withdraw from the degree.
  6. Taxes should be progressive enough to not place an undue burden on the poor, but not so progressive that they discourage productivity.  A balance of progressive and regressive taxation is a smart model- progressive income tax plus a consumption tax.  Income taxes, regardless of bracket, should never exceed 50%.
  7. Wherever possible, the negative externalities of products should be priced into their cost via specific taxes.  Things like cigarettes, petrol, cars and junk food should cost what they cost society. The government should not make choices for people on whether they choose to make these lifestyle choices, but they also shouldn’t subsidize, however indirectly, the cost of those lifestyle choices.
  8. Tax incentives should not exist to supplement people’s lifestyle choices. If people want to live a certain way, they should pay for it. It is not the responsibility of other citizens to pay for the lifestyle choices of individuals.
  9. All Citizens should have a number of enumerated rights. No law should be able to restrict these rights. These right should include: Freedom of speech, freedom to assemble, freedom to worship, freedom from unlawful search and seizure, and equal protection under the law.  Fundamentally, these rights exist for the citizen to be able to participate in government without interference.
  10. Members should represent the people who elected them, and political systems should seek to maximise the extent to which they do this.  This means that each elected official should be responsible for one electoral group (whether that is an electorate, a state, or the country), and they should only be accountable to that group.
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