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.

Repudiation of the US left

Tom Switzer

12 November 2020 | Ideas@TheCentre

According to the media conventional wisdom, the 2020 US elections represent a repudiation of Trumpism. Is this really true? Is Trumpism dead?

Although Trump has lost the presidential election, he performed much better than the pollsters and so-called experts predicted. After all, the President faced a trifecta of crises (health, economic, racial). The Democrats outspent Republicans in campaign funds, commanding huge support from the media, Wall Street, Silicon Valley and leading cultural institutions. Add to this Trump’s first presidential debate performance, which horrified the world.

And yet, far from a blue wave washing the Republicans out of power and capturing the Senate, Americans reduced Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s House majority and are likely to keep Republicans in control of the Senate as a brake on the Democratic agenda. Which means no death to the legislative filibuster, no new US states (Puerto Rico, Washington, DC), no Supreme Court stacking, no confiscatory tax increases, no Green New Deal.

Trump won five million more votes than he did in 2016 and commanded 48 per cent of the popular vote (higher than any poll during his presidency). He also broadened his appeal to minorities: the Republican message of economic opportunity resonated with minority Asian, Hispanic and African-American entrepreneurs and workers.

Voters remembered the booming pre-pandemic Trump economy (fueled by tax cuts and deregulation), which led to low unemployment and rising wages among broad swathes of workers. At the same time, as I pointed out in The Australian a week before election day, the Democrats, by lurching to what passes as the left in the American context, drove many voters to turn out to stop any ‘transformational’ agenda.

Finally, as former Republican presidential adviser and candidate Pat Buchanan told me this week, Trumpism was not repudiated by the American people if, by Trumpism, one means ‘America First’ nationalism, protecting borders, using tariffs to bring back a manufacturing base, bidding goodbye to globalism, staying out of unnecessary wars and combating the political correctness of the cancel-culture movement.

Tom Switzer is executive director of the Centre for Independent Studies. His interview with Pat Buchanan appears on the ABC’s Radio National.

Low debt is so yesterday!

Robert Carling

13 November 2020 | Ideas@TheCentre

Government borrowings are skyrocketing as you read this. Unfashionable though it is to worry about this, there are still some of us who do.

Among the propositions made to dismiss these concerns is that Australia’s government debt is much lower than that of other advanced countries… so why worry?

It is undoubtedly true that Australia has a much smaller public debt burden than the average of advanced countries, but as a justification or excuse for running up more debt, it is wearing thin.

The chart below, based on IMF compilations of general government gross and net debt of its member countries, shows what has been happening and what is projected to happen in Australia and advanced countries on average.

Our public debt has expanded rapidly since the halcyon days of 2007-08, when it was even negative in net terms. Now that measure heading for more than 50% of GDP. We cannot explain away the increased fiscal vulnerability this presents by pointing to the greater vulnerability of others. There are several reasons why Australia’s relative position does not provide the reassurance often claimed:

  • Our margin of advantage over the advanced country average is shrinking.
  • That shrinking advantage is measured against a level of debt in other countries that is itself rising dramatically.
  • Australia will soon have levels of gross and net debt equivalent to the averages of advanced countries about 12 years ago.
  • The advanced country average conceals huge variation among its constituent members. The average is skewed by very high debt levels in Japan, the US, the UK and a handful of EU countries. Compared with other countries Australia’s debt is similar or higher.
  • It is a mistake to think that economic growth has not been slowed down by in countries with high debt burdens.
  • It should not be assumed that Australia, as a capital importing country that needs to remain attractive as a destination for investment, has the same ability to carry public debt as other countries.
  • It is not only public debt that matters to assessments of financial vulnerability. We have extremely high household debt and substantial corporate debt.

International comparisons are just one aspect of a much wider debate on public debt. There are many reasons to be concerned about the permissive attitude to debt now apparent in economic policy circles.

Vale Jonathan Sacks

Peter Kurti

13 November 2020 | Ideas@TheCentre

With the death of Rabbi Lord Sacks over the weekend, the world has lost a leading religious intellectual figure who could communicate complex truths in simple terms.

Jonathan Sacks came to prominence when, at the age of 43, he was appointed to the office of Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth; a position he held until 2013.

At a time when many were lamenting — or celebrating — the demise of religious faith in the West, Sacks took a strong position defending religion, arguing for its continued importance in public life.

In particular, Sacks held that religion contributed significantly to debates about human dignity, about how best to honour human life, and about how to build a just and equitable society.

In doing so, he demonstrated that, far from being marginal and irrelevant to modern life, religion was integral to human society and was able to confer meaning where science sought only to explain.

But he recognized the danger posed by conflict between (and sometimes within) religious traditions, and he confronted many of the challenges presented by multiculturalism.

One particular challenge is the threat posed by religious violence, an issue Sacks addressed forcefully in his book, Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence, published in 2015.

The threat of conflict generated by religious differences is real and remains with us. Slayings by Islamists and attacks launched against Jews and Muslims by white supremacists remind us of this.

He urged those from different faith traditions to remember the common bond of humanity that we share, and to see religion as a means for building up human community rather than tearing it down.

In Australia, the public sphere has become very fractious in recent times making respectful engagement between opposing voices harder – especially when those voices include religious ones.

For Sacks, the public face of religion is to be understood as “a consecration of the bonds that connect us [and as that which] sustains community and helps reweave the torn fabric of society.”

Jonathan Sacks was a man of great learning and remarkable insight whose prophetic voice carried across many of the divisions in our society. His life bore witness to all the truths for which he stood.

Peter Kurti is the author of Sacred & Profane: Faith and Belief in a Secular Society published by Connor Court.