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.
Universities used to challenge conventional ideas. But today they have become bastions of political correctness where the fragile sensitivities of students are cuddled and protected from emotional and psychological maladies.
Now US social psychologist Jonathan Haidt and academic freedom advocate Greg Lukianoff have warned that restricting free circulation of thought actually endangers students’ mental health.
Vindictive protectiveness prepares students poorly for professional life and can even engender patterns of thought similar to those that cause depression and anxiety, Haidt and Lukianoff say. The therapy of ‘political correctness’ may only make things worse.
When political correctness, or PC, emerged in universities in the late 1980s, it was motivated by a desire to eradicate discrimination. But PC has morphed into a different beast. Twenty-first century PC is concerned with emotional well-being.
On campus, PC presumes an extraordinary fragility of the student psyche and aims to protect the eggshell sensitivities of students from psychological harm. That’s why there are calls to control what can be taught, what can be encountered, and what can be experienced on campus.
And that’s why many students also require their professors to issue ‘trigger warnings’ before covering any topics which may invoke negative feelings – such as when studying the crime of rape.
So here’s a trigger warning about upcoming medical themes: the arteries of learning on our universities have become sclerotic and clogged with the plaques of PC which stifle debate. Excessive PC irradiation zapped in Australian universities is killing free speech in the name of protecting the vulnerable.
When today’s students enter the workplace they will need qualities of strength, resilience, confidence and compassion to address the challenges our country faces. Instead, Australian students are being failed by universities trying to protect them from things they will inevitably encounter later.
Attempting to force the world to conform to your desires is never going to be the way to achieve happiness or success. It’s time to remove the strictures of political correctness, to free up the minds of Australian students, and to help equip them with the skills to master their desires, fears, and habits of thought.
There is a school of thought that says the Abbott government failed to achieve economic reform because of Tony Abbott’s social conservatism.
I discuss this subject in an article in this week’s Spectator Australia, and suggest Abbott’s political demise may in fact make it harder to achieve economic reform as the Left seems to have acquired a right of veto over any Prime Minister who dissents from their version of social and economic progressivism.
I would like to add an extra point. Those who describe their beliefs as economically dry and socially wet tend to think that social conservatism is antithetical to economic liberalism and a limited government agenda. I beg to differ with this trendy idea.
In the UK, the 500,000 most troubled families cost British taxpayers more than £30 billion — £75,000 ($147,000) per family per year in benefits and other services spanning areas including child protection, health, welfare, and justice.
There is no reason to think the situation is different in Australia. The 2015 Review of Australia’s Welfare System drew attention not only to the cost of welfare dependence to the Budget, but also to how it was linked to intergenerational family dysfunction and associated social problems.
‘Troubled families’ is a euphemism for the dysfunctional underclass of welfare-dependent households — in which problems such as drug abuse and single-motherhood are rife.
What this suggests is that the social revolution of the 1960s, and the associated liberalisation of social attitudes towards the family breakdown and drugs, have become a driver of bigger government.
The so-called moral issues social conservatives prioritise — traditional marriage and the war on drugs — are actually policy issues highly relevant to addressing the social chaos that costs taxpayers billions of dollars each year.
Rather than complain about the old-fashioned social values of conservative throwbacks, trendies might instead ponder the ways that being economically dry and socially wet can be self-defeating, given the links between social permissiveness and growth in the size of government.
Many commentators think taxes need to increase to ensure the tax-to-GDP ratio is ‘restored’ to historical levels. But their arguments are wrong.
The tax-to-GDP ratio is currently well above the 10-year average, and about equal to the 20-year, 30-year and 40-year averages (see details here). The mistake that the commentators made is (unsurprisingly) cherry picking data.
For example, the former Secretary to the Treasury, Dr Ken Henry, said taxes are currently too low compared to 2002. However, this is an abnormal year, due to the introduction of the GST. We could equally say taxes are currently too high compared to 2011, after the GFC, or 1993, after the recession we had to have.
Instead, it is much better to average the tax take over many years, including high tax and low tax periods.
And on that basis, tax increases can’t be justified. In fact, the tax-to-GDP ratio is forecast to be well above historical averages by 2018-19, and using this measure alone we should be seeing large tax cuts by then — around $24 billion per year in today’s money.
But this is the wrong debate. It is bad policy to try to target the tax-to-GDP ratio, particularly because we would have to increase taxes in a recession. This is a terrible idea – it would make the recession worse. And given we are currently in a mild slowdown, this argues for tax increases now. Increasing taxes now would be almost as bad as increasing taxes in a recession. And unfortunately substantial tax increases are scheduled to occur as noted earlier.
But even with these unwise tax increases, the Budget deficit doesn’t disappear by 2018-19. So how can we deal with that problem? Through spending restraint as long advocated by the CIS, particularly through the Target 30 campaign. This is a better approach than tax increases based on fallacious historical comparisons.