Ideas@TheCentre – The Centre for Independent Studies


Ideas@TheCentre brings you ammunition for conversations around the table.  3 short articles from CIS researchers emailed every Friday on the issues of the week.

Increasing JobSeeker not an open and shut case

Robert Carling

31 July 2020 | Ideas@theCentre

Should there be a permanent increase in unemployment benefit (now called JobSeeker)? There is widespread support for it, but is this because the case is strong — or is it just another example of group-think?

The arguments most often heard in favour of a permanent increase are that the rate has not been increased above inflation for many years; nobody can live on $40 a day; and Australia is stingier than most other developed countries.

International comparisons of anything are always interesting, but never conclusive. We should never accept that because the OECD average of something is X and in Australia it is Y, Australia should move to X. OECD experiences are full of Xs that tell us what NOT to do, not what we should do.

Australia has been served well by having lower overall levels of government expenditure, taxation and debt than many other developed countries, and if we are to maintain that advantage we cannot match them on every social benefit.

Australia does not have an unemployment insurance scheme like many other countries, where the benefit for an individual depends on their contributions, their earnings, and other factors, and the benefit is often time-limited. The Australian unemployment benefit is the same for all those eligible and has always been maintained in real terms. Nothing has fallen apart because there have not been real increases. The incentive for the unemployed to look for jobs is stronger as a result.

Forty dollars a day makes a good slogan, but what matters ultimately is the household income of the households in which the unemployed live. According to ABS statistics from 2017-18 (latest available) the median household income of households with no employed persons but at least one unemployed person was $400 per week. Many of the unemployed receive a government benefit in addition to the unemployment benefit.

The JobSeeker benefit is currently double the pre-crisis rate and will still be 45% above it even after being pegged back from end-September. If any increase becomes permanent, it will go against the government’s mantra that all extra spending in this crisis is ‘temporary and targeted’.

The cost would be a substantial and permanent increase in the level of government expenditure, and as such it must compete with other priorities.

Build back ‘freer’

Glenn Fahey

31 July 2020 | Ideas@theCentre

The Biden campaign this week announced its vision to ‘build back better’ — arguing “this is no time to just build back to the way things were before”. Instead, it’s “the moment to imagine” for a “new economy” where workers enjoy a “fair return for their work.”

The contest of ideas for post-covid ascendancy is intensifying. But if there’s to be a truly transformative paradigm shift, it must be to unequivocally prioritise building back not to some woke idea of ‘better’ — but instead to build back ‘freer’.

The covid vernacular has constantly evolved throughout the course of the pandemic’s scourge, along with tiresome hypothesised ‘shapes’ of recovery. As competing ideas about what comes next are offered, the only consistent theme is that there’s little enthusiasm for returning to business as usual.

The World Economic Forum has labelled covid-19 ‘The Great Reset’, calling it “a unique window of opportunity to shape the recovery” in an effort to “build a new social contract.”

Reading between the lines of both the WEF and the Biden campaign: dramatic economic upheaval in service of radical progressivism.

Presumably Biden has been motivated by the identically titled — and similarly progressive — policy response package recently conspired by the OECD. Their vision of building back better is couched in the language of building ‘durability’ and ‘resilience’ but is dominated by commitment to structural reform of economies in service of inclusivity and heavily weighted toward economically inhibiting emissions reductions.

Others have similarly pitched bogus ideas for “deploying stimulus for a better world” as cover for introducing radical social and environmental programmes — think ‘Green New Deal’.

An inconvenient problem for such proponents, however, is that the promised ‘green jobs’ don’t neatly match the skills of pandemic-displaced workers (it’s not engineers and advanced tradespeople that have been laid off) nor the current economic deficits (mostly result of incumbered international trade and restrictions on movement). In other words, their proposed solution is to the wrong problem.

As a result, we need to label such concerted efforts for what they are — blatant opportunism.

In any case, in a year in which we’ve suffered an extraordinary whittling of both our individual and economic liberties, the post-covid world should be one that better protects our freedoms.

We’ve suffered unprecedented restrictions of our movement, mandatory orders to use face coverings, and intrusion into virtually every social activity that makes us human. And private enterprise has suffered previously unthinkable suspension of property rights through mandatory shuttering of businesses, and endless prescription on how business is conducted.

But perhaps a legacy of this testing time could be renewed awareness of the (apparently forgotten) perils of unnecessary and excessive expansion of the state — with similar commitment to ‘never again’ as emerged in the wake of the second world war.

Will our leaders be politically courageous enough to demand that we build back freer?

Forget about restraining capitalism and welcoming permanently bigger government in our lives. What we really need is commitment to promoting individual freedoms — not shunning them. And to embrace — rather than curb — free markets.

Cooking up conspiracies

Simon Cowan

31 July 2020 | Ideas@theCentre

Conspiracy theories! Every now and then you get caught thinking only gullible Americans, or the overly paranoid, fall into them; but then you realise just how seductive they are.

Case in point: the release of the palace letters relating to Australia’s one great, constitutional crisis – the sacking of Gough Whitlam in 1975 – has seen otherwise sensible individuals seeking coded language in the correspondence.

All in service of the theory that a cabal of powerful vested interests removed Whitlam from office because he threatened to upset the existing power structures. It couldn’t just be Kerr acting alone: an act of such importance had to have something more significant behind it.

At their core, most conspiracy theories reflect something the believer either desperately wishes were true, or refuses to believe isn’t true.

Those clinging to Whitlam dismissal conspiracies can’t reconcile their vision of ‘Whitlam the great reformer, saviour of Australia’ with the reality that Whitlam was soundly rejected by the electorate after the dismissal. Twice.

Of course, it is impossible to mention conspiracy theories without mentioning Donald Trump. From the Obama ‘birther’ controversy, through to the Steel dossier and the spectre of Russian interference in the 2016 election, Trump is both the author and subject of some of the biggest political conspiracy theories in the last decade.

That it is increasingly impossible for US Republicans to support Trump without having to resort to conspiracy theories is evidence of a significant problem within the US political right.

Yet an equally big problem exists on the left. It was amazing to see the vigour with which politicians with decades of experience pursued the somewhat farcical idea that the only reason Trump won was that his campaign was basically a front for Russian interests.

That a politician like Hillary Clinton, with a track record of policy failures under a cloud of perceived dubious dealings – whose best argument for being made president was that it was her turn, and who ran an awful campaign – could be defeated should need no conspiracy theories to explain.

That the best candidates the Democratic party could muster were previously-defeated Clinton (who comedian Dave Chappelle compared to being asked to vote for Darth Vader) and a Septuagenarian socialist from Vermont who wasn’t even in the party, should have been clear evidence of an internal problem.

Yet her supporters, even as they admitted Clinton’s faults, simply couldn’t believe that the people would reject their vision in favour of the boorish Trump.

If there are two things conspiracy theorists and visionaries have in common, they are absolute confidence in their reality, and complete bafflement that others don’t just ‘get it’.

This is an edited extract of an opinion piece published in the Canberra Times as Conspiracy theories on Palace letters miss the mark