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.