Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Kevin Rudd's Reply

Kevin Rudd has been given a reply in the Oz to John Howard.

In part he writes;

The Prime Minister's fundamentalism is driven in large part by the neo-liberalism of Friedrich Hayek, who argued that the only determinant of human freedom was the market. In fact, Hayek also argued that any form of altruism was dangerous because it distorted the market. To avoid inefficiencies, altruism had to be purged from the human soul. Hayek described altruism as something belonging to primitive societies that had no place in the modern world.

By contrast, social democrats offer a different narrative for our country's long-term future. To values of liberty, security and opportunity, we add social democratic values of equity, sustainability and compassion.

Social democrats believe in the market. But we don't believe in market fundamentalism. We don't believe in an unconstrained market. We believe passionately in public goods such as education and health. We accept the reality of market failure, as we have seen most recently and most spectacularly with the failure to respond to global climate change. We also believe in the intrinsic dignity of human beings.

In the final analysis Rudd is wrong in his precepts - it is not right to ask whether one "believes" in the market, whether fundamental or not. The operation of markets is the subject of scientific inquiry, and the question of whether markets "fail" or not is an empirical question.

The question at issue is actually a moral question. The moral question is what does it mean to be good. Or another way - how ought I behave. Hayek believes to be good is to not interfere in the choices of an individual. Rudd, like I and many others, say that to be good is to treat others the way I myself would like to be treated (the so called Golden Rule.

Now is not the time for it - but the evolution of capitalism from feudalism can only occur in the presence of the moral principle of the Golden Rule.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Who Cares About Homicide

Listening to the latest reports about the state of the Civil War in Iraq (well, that's what it looks like to me) I was intrigued by the reports of the number of deaths. That on any one day there could be fifty deaths was reported as an extraordinarily high death count.

But then I got to thinking - what is the homicide rate in the US. In 2004 there were 17,357 homicides in the US, according to the National Centre for Injury Prevention and Control. Of these 11,624 were inflicted by firearm.

How many Iraqis are dieing each year? Maybe George Bush doesn't really care when there are 47 homicides a day in the land of the free? I know the Iraq population is only about a tenth that of the US - but all the same it sounds to me like in the US definition of freedom there is one thing missing - freedom from having your life taken by another.

Howard in defence of Howard

So John Winston Howard has felt it necessary to write an op ed piece for the Oz to respond to Kevin Rudd's claims Howard is "an extremist and a market fundamentalist".

It is an interesting defence that Howard puts up. Lots of arguing that the welfare state is still in place, therefore the charge is wrong kind of stuff. He is big on the idea that the Government has its eye on both the private sector camp and government services. He says "policies such as the private health insurance rebate and support for non-government schools are especially attractive to many low income earners. Why should only high income earners enjoy genuine choice?" It is a cute line but quite misleading - despite all the funding elite private schools charge over $20,000 a year.

The modern Liberal equation of competition equals choice really ignores the reality that such policies only generate choice at the top end of the market. And underneath it all is devoid of any concept of a moral dimension - except a highly inconsistent moral dimension that the role of the state is to get out of the road of economic endeavour other than to guarantee property rights (defence, contract, police), yet at the same time run a line of "ethical" moralising on issues historically associated with the Church.

This gets to the point where the likes of Tony Abbott believe that what is important is choice, except a woman's right to choose whether to become a mother.

The real issue of concern to me is that Kevin Rudd has rattled off his view of still being a social democrat, being a christian concerned with fairness, but not showing any sign yet of how he brings that about.

At least he should take heart that the PM is already digging himself in on a strategy of labelling Rudd as "the same old ALP" - because I suspect that if his Shadow Ministry stops being lazy on policy, they will genuinely surprise Howard.

Merry Christmas

Big topic in the office - and elsewhere - is it appropriae in a culturally diverse Australia to wish colleagues a Merry Christmas or should we wish them a sanitised "fesitive season" greeting?

I've come to a pretty simple conclusion that we should stick to Merry Christmas especially if connected to wishes of peace and joy. In reality we only have a "festive season" because of Christmas - so wishing people a happy "festive season" is referentially the same. Secondly wishing people a Merry Christmas doesn't mean that one is necessarily tieing anything to the date - after all we know the date of Christmas was chosen to coincide with pagan mid-winter festivals, not because it was the date of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.

Finally, even when we practice religious tolerance we don't, and should not, outlaw prosletysing. If someone wants to say Merry Christmas because they are a believer, the fact the other person isn't a believer shouldn't be a reason to stop them. And the person receiving the greeting, even if of a different faith, should not take offence - the wishes are well intended and are offered by someone who cares about you. Only a particularly insular christian would not wish a Merry Christmas to non-believers.