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.
Britain’s annual Glastonbury Festival of contemporary performing arts — a product of the counterculture movement — gave Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn a rock-star reception last weekend. Against all the odds, the white-haired 68 year old has managed to be portrayed as cool and anti-establishment. Had Teresa May turned up, she would no doubt have been booed off the stage.
Glastonbury is a young peoples’ event, and what happened there last weekend is consistent with recent election results not only in the UK (where Labour attracted an astonishing two-thirds of young voters) but also France (where far-left candidate Melenchon came out well ahead with young voters in the first round) and the US (where Bernie Sanders consistently outpolled Hillary Clinton among young voters in the primaries).
In none of these cases did the far-left win, but it came close enough to make everyone sit up and take notice of the choices young people are making at the ballot box. They have always been more inclined to the left or centre-left, but the demographic divide apparent in recent elections is much starker than anything seen before.
The reasons for this phenomenon are conjectural, complex and beyond the purpose of this article. Let us just observe here that whatever reasons young people have for flocking to far-left candidates, in voting for platforms of unaffordable fiscal benefits, re-nationalisation and other features of snake-oil economics, they are voting for a future of penury, higher taxation and higher public debt.
Young voters may not pay much tax now, but they will in the future, and some of them hope to join the ranks of high income earners that are the favourite targets of the Corbyns, Sanders and Melenchons. Even if they don’t care about that, they do need to worry more than any other age group about a future blighted by high public debt, as they will be the ones carrying the burden. But it seems that while Corbyn is cool in 2017, fiscal responsibility is not.
It remains to be seen how the politics of demography play out in Australia, but some of the ingredients for a similar upset are present here too.
Australian preschools might have seen a rush of enrolments this week after media covered an OECD report claiming children who attend preschool for two years prior to starting school have significantly higher academic achievement at 15.
But perhaps they should have looked more closely at the OECD results. Dig deeper, and you find that in around half the countries reported, the relationship is no longer significant when socioeconomic status is taken into account. Australia is one of those countries.
And the data on which this report bases its claims are retrospective self-report data from 15-year olds-themselves about whether they went to preschool or child care, and for how long — far from rigorous research.
International report cards like this one are all too often based on spurious statistics: a report published by UNICEF last week purported to find that the quality of Mexico’s education system is in the top three in the world, despite its low performance in international assessments. These sorts of reports are given a high profile by major media outlets, and credible organisations issue media statements in support of the findings. Yet they often just muddy the policy waters.
Parents who have had the fortune to find a great preschool or child care centre will attest to the benefits of some sort of early childhood education. Schools in disadvantaged areas, in particular, know that children who have been to preschool or had good part-time child care are generally better prepared for school.
This makes sense and proper empirical research supports it — all children benefit to some extent from a good pre-school education, but the greatest benefits are to children whose home environments are not conducive to strong language and social-emotional development.
However, it does not mean a parent panic of packing three-year-olds off to preschool for fear of ruining their little lives.
Findings from the 2016 Census that 30 per cent of Australians report having no religious affiliation have led to renewed calls for an end to state funding for all faith-based organisations.
Rationalists, humanists, and atheists were quickly out of the starting blocks calling for widespread acknowledgement that Australians were, at last, sloughing off the dead skin of religious belief.
‘Hard’ secularists, who dismiss all religion as meaningless and imagine we live in a theocracy, see the Census returns as the green light to finish off the place of religion in Australia once and for all.
One way they want to do this is to force all religious organisations who receive government funding to foreswear the tenets of belief and commit themselves to an entirely secular manifesto.
In other words, Catholic schools can’t be Catholic if they get the government’s dollar; and Christian hospitals need to forget about Jesus if they still want to get funding from the state. God must go.
But this is premature. Remember that 60% — nearly two thirds — of Australians still say they have some religious affiliation. Christianity may be declining, but Hinduism and Islam are not.
Since the last census in 2011, there has been almost a 60% increase in Hinduism; and Islam has seen a 27% increase. Christianity, by contrast, has declined by just over 7%.
But whereas fewer people may go to church on Sunday, religious organisations are still heavily involved in our society. Of the 25 largest Australian charities, 23 are faith-based.
Many schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and welfare agencies, supplying essential services to all Australians, are religious — specifically Christian. And what drives them is religious conviction.
Force them to divorce from their Christian purpose, and those faith-based organisations would quickly fade away and our national life would be the poorer for that.
“Non-belief is the new normal,” said Hugh Harris of the Rationalist Society of Australia. Harris hopes to wave an overdue farewell to what he calls “Christian hegemony” — whatever that is.
Not so fast, Hugh. Despite the protests of the ‘hard’ secularists, religion is not about to disappear from Australia’s liberal, secular society.
Multiculturalism, and our intake of new migrants, means religious faith will still be with us. And people who believe in God will continue to find themselves in the majority for some years to come.