Capitalism and democratic choices are a distant memory in Australia

Remember how, back in the mists of time there used to be a clear choice for voters; a party of the free markets and less government spending versus a party representing the working class and unions?

Perhaps we’re looking back with rose tinted glasses and t’was always thus. Nonetheless, Australians were given a very clear glimpse of what lies ahead should the economy take more than a minor dip over the coming months and years; the federal government becomes lender of last resort to crap businesses.

No. Really.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Small Business Minister Michaelia Cash will announce the small business funding policy on Wednesday, promoting the soon-to-be-established Australian Business Securitisation Fund as a way to overcome banks typically only lending to the self-employed when they pledge their personal home as collateral.

To summarise the announcement; “if the banks looked at your business and decided it was a poor bet and you didn’t have enough skin in the game, we’ve just decided the Australian taxpayer and their superannuation funds will lend you the money anyway“.

It’s very easy to be generous with other people’s money, isn’t it?

This is bound to end well.

The irony is that this policy wasn’t announced by either of the openly Socialist parties but by one of the two parties that historically claimed to be champions of free markets and minimal government intervention.

At a state level, similar disconnects have been shown between expressed and revealed preferences. Here’s a “free markets” politician bailing out rent-seeking taxi medallion speculators.

The $2bn fund to lend money to businesses judged by commercial lenders to be poor risks is an interesting development though, coming as it does so soon in to the worst housing crash in a generation, but particularly after this little legislative gem was snuck through onto the statute books with hardly any media coverage or explanation; insolvent banks can be rescued by confiscating deposits.

Bill’s Opinion

Will a “bail-in” of superannuation funds or bank deposits ever happen in Australia?

Unlikely, but not impossible. The risk isn’t zero.

There’s a great and often quoted dialogue in Hemmingway’s The Sun Also Rises;

‘How did you go bankrupt?’ Bill asked.

‘Two ways,’ Mike said. ‘Gradually and then suddenly.’

Perhaps this is the “gradually” part for Australian depositors. If so, it might be an idea to know how quickly you could act to not be caught out by the “suddenly“.

Freedom 2018

Freedom House, an “independent watchdog” has released a study which listed the most free countries in the world.

At least that’s the claim. Others might suggest the report proves something very different. For example, one possible conclusion that could be drawn from the report is that the authors are suffering from deep psychological issues of self-loathing perhaps bordering on Stockholm Syndrome.

Why?

Because the report claims the USA has slipped significantly in the levels of freedom available to its citizens.

Has it? What’s happened in the last 12 months?

Oh, President Trump said some mean words and passed Executive Orders halting immigration from countries with poor anti-terrorism vetting procedures;

The president has also lambasted and threatened the media—including sharp jabs at individual journalists—for challenging his routinely false statements, spoken disdainfully of judges who blocked his decisions, and attacked the professional staff of law enforcement and intelligence agencies. He signals contempt for Muslims and Latin American immigrants and singles out some African Americans for vitriolic criticism. He pardoned a sheriff convicted of ignoring federal court orders to halt racially discriminatory policies and issued an executive order restricting travel to the United States from a group of Muslim-majority countries after making a campaign promise to ban all foreign Muslims from the United States.

Ok, we get that “more than 130 in-house and external analysts and advisers from academia, think tanks, and human rights institutions” didn’t vote Republican in 2016 but has the USA really slipped back to the days of King John’s authoritarian rule?

If only there was an independent data set that showed what the population of the world thought and the subsequent individual choices they were making?

We’ll have to wait for an update to this survey but what’s the likelihood that the results have changed significantly in a year?

By the way, if you look closely, you’ll see Vilfredo Pareto’s observation proven correct again.

Bill’s Opinion

Is there any area of academia and the media in 2018 not tainted with confirmation bias?

The fact that Trump is President and tweets mean things about your friends is not the same thing as a South American dictatorship “disappearing” political opponents and beating the soles of their feet with electrical cable in the basement of the Secret Police building or Putin’s supporters killing journalists.

It just isn’t. Grow up.

Pax Kiwi

The Gladiator bloke did much to perpetuate the cross-Tasman rivalry this week by suggesting that Australia and New Zealand should unite as a single country under the leadership of Jacinda Ahern, the Kiwi version of Justin Trudeau, except without testosterone (but I repeat myself);

At first blush, this looks like another case of an uniformed lefty Luvvie (again, I repeat myself) projecting their utopian world view on a reality that is incompatible.

But wait, there might be something in this combined Australasian Über Country…..

A casual reading of the Australian Constitution reveals the following clauses;

Australian Constitution, section 6: Definitions;

The Commonwealth shall mean the Commonwealth of Australia as established under this Act.

The States shall mean such of the colonies of New South Wales, New Zealand, Queensland, Tasmania, Victoria, Western Australia, and South Australia, including the northern territory of South Australia, as for the time being are parts of the Commonwealth, and such colonies or territories as may be admitted into or established by the Commonwealth as States; and each of such parts of the Commonwealth shall be called a State.

Curious. So, according to the Australian Constitution, New Zealand is already defined as a State of Australia.

Really? How do the Kiwis feel about this?

More importantly, what does it mean and what relevant precedents are there?

Well…. Western Australia was not an original member of the Commonwealth, joining 3 weeks after Federation following a state-wide referendum. Interestingly, the time lag between the west and east of Australia has since grown, with Perth now preparing fireworks to celebrate seeing in the Millennium next December 31st.

Interestingly, from my research, it would seem the process for WA to join the rest of Australia was a referendum; by voting “Yes”, the State was granted automatic membership in the newly-federated country. If any students of history can confirm this, I’d be grateful, but it would seem the national parliament didn’t have a subsequent vote to confirm/reject the application.

This has a significant implications for the citizens of New Zealand….

Bill’s Opinion

If New Zealand were to hold a referendum and the majority of Kiwis vote to join Australia, there isn’t a damn thing the Aussies can do to prevent them from joining the federation.

Why would they do this?

Let’s answer that question with another question; hey Kiwis, how would you like a heated pool in your backyards, a speedboat and a new German SUV….. and get the Aussies to pay for them?

Clauses 105 and 105a allow for the Commonwealth to take over States’ debts. So, rack up the credit cards, hold a vote and then ask the neighbours to pay the bill.

Lastly, Clause 25 is, erm, interesting….

If you try to shoot me, don’t miss

Judge Kavanaugh and his accuser faced off at an unedifying Senate hearing last week. Whatever your political hue, I would hope that you’d agree that the spectacle was a new low point in terms of fact-based civil discourse between the different sides of the political spectrum.

Whichever of them was more convincing to you is going to be largely a function of your previous position during the 2016 election.

The purpose of this blog post is not to attempt to convince you one way or another but to put forward a hypothesis;

The likelihood of Roe vs. Wade being overturned in full or in part has increased significantly as a result of the Democrats’ decisions to hold on to Mrs. Ford’s accusation until so late in the process and the subsequent aggressive tactics to block the Judge’s nomination based on such a low standard of evidence.

In other words, the Democrats may have shot themselves in their collective feet.

Why do I believe this?

Because even the most honest and pure of intentions amongst us is human. Judge Kavanaugh is no exception to this, as his barely-concealed rage last week illustrates. Even if he was previously undecided on whether or not abortion should be ruled legal at a Federal level before his nomination, it’s not a stretch of imagination to suspect he’s changed his opinion during this trial by innuendo.

This is not to say Mrs. Ford is lying about the events of 35 (or thereabouts) years ago; her testimony was convincing, she looked like she believed what she was saying.

Similarly, Judge Kavanaugh looked like he believed what he was saying.

And that’s the point…. a robust legal system does not condemn the accused on the basis of a single witness testimony. In fact, if that’s all there is, such cases don’t make it to trial.

Nonetheless, Judge Kavanaugh has been put through the wringer due to a single witness testimony, deliberately withheld until the last minute.

Why? Why did the Democrats choose this set of tactics?

Roe vs. Wade.

Everything the Democrats have done to block Kavanaugh has had the ultimate goal of protecting the 1973 Supreme Court ruling in Roe vs Wade, the ruling which made abortion legal in the USA, regardless of prevailing State legislation.

That a Supreme Court ruling disappoints one team and delights another is nothing new or surprising. Perhaps the reason the Democrats have chosen such an unprecedented and, frankly, distasteful set of tactics in combating a perceived threat (Kavanaugh hasn’t publicly expressed an opinion to date) to this ruling is that they know Roe vs Wade was a fudge.

If one reads the history to the ruling, it’s clear that the previous status quo was a hotch-potch of policies along the lines of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and turning a blind eye, inconsistently applied by different States.

To many, the ruling was a Federal over-reach, imposing at a Federal level, power the Constitution gave to the States.

If Roe vs Wade was a ruling on something less emotive than abortion, say, the use of wood-fired stoves in built-up areas of habitation, there obviously would be nowhere near as much angst on either side of the debate. Most likely, the ruling would have been successfully appealed long ago and, following its reversal, some States would have passed legislation allowing for the use of wood-burning stoves at differing times of the year and for differing reasons. In other States, using wood-burning stoves in towns would have remained illegal.

Bill’s Opinion

Brett Kavanaugh and his family have had to endure atrocious abuse by bad faith political actors using the faux cover of due process.

Regardless of whether Mrs. Ford was attacked 30-something years ago and regardless of whether Brett Kavanaugh was the attacker, if he is subsequently confirmed as the next Supreme Court appointee, he is going to have to be the most objective human in history to not be biased towards overturning Roe vs Wade should such an appeal reach his office.

I’m not suggesting he should do this but an argument could be made along the lines of, “I will recuse myself from voting on this ruling as the inherent issues during the controversy of my nomination were due to Roe vs Wade and, as a consequence of the resulting personal distress, I now have a conflict of interest“.

Personally, I hope he is nominated and overturns the law at the first opportunity; the Founding Fathers were rarely wrong in the design of the American Constitution and I see no reason why abortion shouldn’t be subject to the proven efficiency of the “marketplace” that the system of States being able to write their own criminal law code provides. If you can’t legally have an abortion in Texas, you could still have one in California, for example.

Unfortunately, the precedent of allowing such a low standard of evidence to be a credible reason to derail a Supreme Court appointment is likely to have long-lasting negative effects that both parties will have plenty of time to regret.

On banana republics

Banana republic:

A small state that is politically unstable as a result of the domination of its economy by a single export controlled by foreign capital.

Australian voters were handed a new Prime Minister this month in yet another bloodless party coup.

That’s 8 in 11 years….

6 in 8 years….

5 in 5 years…

What on earth is going on?

Well, perhaps the first conclusion we can draw is that it is self-evident the office of Prime Minister can’t be very important to the national interest otherwise there’d be frantic debates about how greater stability might be achieved.

Any further conclusions will require more analysis. Hopefully what follows adds a new dimension of thinking to what currently passes as intelligent commentary in the Australian media.

The hypothesis we are putting forward today is that the revolving door on the Prime Minister’s office is a function of three factors in combination, two of which are systemic, the third is economic.

Reason One – Mandate Illusion

Australia is a member of a very exclusive but not particularly salubrious club; the group of nations with compulsory voting laws.

Here’s the global view (from Wiki);

Apart from those countries mainly being in the Southern Hemisphere, what else do they have in common?

To borrow an expression I can’t recall the source of, most have “green on their flag“. i.e. they are shitholes.

The list of countries that mandate voting by law is almost exclusively made up of places you’d think twice about visiting for a holiday, let alone considering emigrating to.

Why do countries such as Uruguay enforce laws to make people vote? Perhaps because the politicians are afraid of the result if the voters had a choice to stay away from the polls?

The result is a false mandate. 98% of Australians vote so the winning party convinces itself it has a mandate to govern.

Here’s an idea; hold a general election and announce that the law isn’t going to be enforced. Who believes more than 40% will be bothered to turn up and vote for a Prime Minister who is unlikely to last longer than 18 months before being rolled by their own party?

Reason Two – Voting Complexity

So, you’ve arrived at the polling booth, under the threat of a fine, what are your voting choices?

Here’s an example from an internet search;

Believe it or not, but this is a simple example. Some can be as wide as 2 pages of A4 in landscape.

You now have two options to complete the form; “above or below the line”.

Marking your choices “below the line” requires you to number at least 12 candidates in order of preference. Marking “above the line”, requires 6 choices.

What you are, in effect, doing by choosing the simpler option is outsourcing your secondary choices to the 6 candidates who will allocate these to whomever they’ve already made a deal with should they be elected.

Of course, nobody wants to hang around in a school hall on a weekend writing War and Peace on a voting form so 95% choose the outsourcing option.

For an example of what can happen with this complex system of preferential side deals, research the Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party.

This is democracy, Jim, but not as we know it.

Reason Three – The Miracle Economy has Made Australians (and the Australian political class) Fat and Happy

There’s not been a recession in Australia since 1992. Well done Australia! Although some unkind commentators might suggest this stellar run of the economy might have more to do with the economic foresight of geological forces laying down iron ore under the Australian earth several million years ago than the careful and prudential management of modern politicians.

Regardless of the cause, this has produced marvellous levels of national and personal prosperity for the population. Many issues that in other countries would be the source of great public debate and contention have simply had money thrown at them as the solution in Australia.

The net result; there’s not much fundamentally wrong in Australia, people aren’t dying of hunger, unemployment is down to levels that can be explained by the IQ bell curve.

Politicians, therefore, feel no sense of urgency or need to concentrate on bigger issues other than their continued ability to use publicly-funded chauffeur-driven cars and expense overseas “research visits”.

Self-absorbed navel-gazing, in other words.

Bill’s Opinion

Australia’s political system is fundamentally dysfunctional whilst having the illusion of an engaged voting population.

To find a solution requires acceptance of the possibility that compulsory voting and a Byzantine voting form outsourced to politicians to complete are not signs of a healthy democracy and, in fact, can mask the symptoms of a disengaged population.

The political class are simply responding to the opportunity to avoid doing their job as one would expect in any other country. To accuse them of lethargy and venality is to misunderstand the nature of those who would seek office.

A banana republic indeed.

We may need a new scale

In the UK, there’s an unwritten rule that Prime Ministers are compared on a scale of Chamberlain to Churchill.

Neville Chamberlain being the Prime Minister who championed the cowardly “appeasement” approach to German (illegal) re-armament and expansionism and Winston Churchill being, well, the Prime Minister who reversed that failed policy and guided the country to victory.

How might David Cameron compare on that scale?

He entered the position as leader of a coalition government. Many commentators suggest that he might have won a majority but for the conscious leap to the left of his party from a free market position to a more social-democratic one. This was his strategy to counter the successful move to a more centrist position by the Labour Party. It was argued at the time that the fact Labour could be successful by being more like the Conservatives was a great data point to suggest sticking with traditional Conservative policies.

Nonetheless, he had to run a compromise government for his first term, which resulted in the concession to his party’s core to hold a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU.

His next term was with a small majority so without much of the horse-trading of the previous four years but the “damage” was done by then; the referendum was locked and loaded.

Although the Conservatives were originally the party who took Britain into the Common Market (the precursor to the EU) in 1973, the party had since grown to regret the move. Perhaps a clue being in the name “Common Market”; the original referendum sold the idea of a trading block, not the United States of Europe project that later emerged.

During the build up to the Brexit referendum, Cameron made much of his efforts to renegotiate the terms of membership with the EU. Brave talk was uttered about “red lines” and “no deal being better than a bad deal”. As any negotiator worth his coin knows, a BATNA is only any good if you’re prepared to actually accept it. The deals he brought back from Brussels were lip service and meaningless and he, like all of us, must have known this.

Yet, rather than follow the wishes of the core of his party and campaign to leave the EU, Cameron chose to campaign for the status quo. The problem being, of course, is there is never such a thing as the status quo, the day following a “Remain” vote there would have seen a massive increase in the “ever closer union” rhetoric from the EU. The voters knew this too.

Nevertheless, “Project Fear” was implemented in attempt to scare the voters away from the Brexit option. The stock market would crash, the pound would be toast, the crops would die in the fields, a swarm of radioactive locusts would eat newborn babies, etc.

None of which happened, as Cameron candidly admits in this “hot mic” recording.

Bill’s Opinion

Either David Cameron is a coward, refusing to make the hard decisions at every opportunity or he is a traitor, willing to sell his country to foreign interests contrary to the benefit of the British.

Over time, we may see the method of comparison for British Prime Ministers is reset to use the Cameron-Churchill scale.

If voting changed anything, it would be banned immediately

Here’s your proof; Spanish police in violent clashes with voters in Catalan.

In case you’ve not been following the events, the Catalonian regional government called a vote on whether or not Catalonia should become independent from the rest of Spain.

The national government, backed by the courts, declared the vote illegal. The vote has gone ahead to some degree but the police have been instructed to prevent it from happening, consequently there have been violent clashes around the “illegal” polling stations.

There might be one or two confusing elements to this for anyone viewing the events from an “AngloSphere” background with its deep history of Common Law and assertion that rights are derived from God to men and then some are delegated to the state to administer on our behalf.

The European view of the rights of man are heavily-derived from the Napoleonic Code which states that rights are handed to man from the state. A subtle but incredibly important distinction but one that manifests itself in police forces arriving in buses from outside the area to stop people from marking a cross on a piece of paper and putting it in a box.

It must also be remembered that Spain has had a rocky relationship with the concept of democracy; following the brutal civil war, General Franco was dictator from 1939 to 1975 and, following his death, there were a couple of bumps in the road back to the “for the people, by the people” concept, notably the failed military coup in 1981.

If Spain were to suffer a schism again, it is most likely to commence in Catalonia or The Basque Country, the two areas with the fiercest movements for regional autonomy. The national government is particularly sensitive to this, as Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland can attest to after being being disappointed to learn that Spain could not be counted as a supporter of her (since failed) independence movement. “Scotland first, then Catalonia. Erm, no gracias.“, was presumably the Spanish Prime Minister’s thought process.

Regardless of whether or not the Catalonian government’s vote was legal under the Spanish Constitution, it seems unlikely that the national government can keep this genie in the bottle much longer. This month it was a traditional vote using ballot boxes, paper and hosted at sports centres and schools; an activity that can be physically halted, given enough political will and a firm control of the police.

It becomes exponentially harder however to prevent a virtual ballot. Imagine a scenario where the government set up an online survey, perhaps hosted in another jurisdiction, linked to the electoral roll, mailed a one time password to each voter and then opened the website for use? It would require a different kind of police force to shut down and, even if they were successful, there’s little to prevent the same thing from occurring next month and the month after, etc. and suddenly the “Streisland Effect” becomes a political phenomenon as each subsequent denial of democracy hardens the voters to the result the national government are afraid of.

Bill’s Opinion

Democracy only works when when local; the further removed the elected are from those who elected them, the less credible is the claim of freedom and democracy.

The 751 EU MPs, for example, pass laws for 350m eligible voters, or one MP for about half a million voters. The UK, has 650 MPs passing laws for 46m eligible voters, or about one MP for 70,000 voters.

The accountability of a legislator to the electorate is paramount. Without the threat of losing one’s job, an important check and balance has been removed.

The Catalonians might well be one-eyed separatists but physically denying them the chance to vote on this will not change them into federalists either, quite the opposite in fact.