archive: November 2020

10 November 2020

John Quiggin: “There’s nothing inherently desirable about competition. If the alternative is collusion against the public interest, competition is a necessary evil. Far better, when it can be achieved, is cooperation to be the best we can at what we do. That’s the core value of the service professions, professions derided by market reformers as ‘producer interests’. Much the same is true of choice. As far as flavours of ice cream are concerned, some people will like butterscotch, some will go for mango and some might even prefer Neapolitan. The more choices the better. But for the human services that matter most to us, it’s not a question of how many choices we have. What matters is the quality of the best choice. We want our doctors and nurses to keep us well, our teachers to educate and inspire us, and our carers to give us comfort and dignity. Trying to achieve this with financial incentives will only benefit those who can game the incentive structure. What is needed is not the maximisation of shareholder value but an ethic of service.”

4 November 2020

Sangeetha Thanapal: “[T]he truth about population growth and its impact on the environment is obscured. The places with high levels of population growth account for just 10 per cent of lifestyle consumption emissions while the richest in the world make up half of the total emissions. Activist Naomi Klein points out that the places with ‘… the highest levels of population growth, (are) the poorest parts of the world with the lowest carbon footprints.’ Since most of the people in countries with rapidly growing populations will be poor (by Western standards), this means their consumption of per-capita resources will be low. Simply put, the people having too many babies are not the ones causing environmental degradation. The environmental movement’s focus on reducing population growth does not make sense in the light of the actual numbers. Instead, looking at capitalism and western colonialism makes more sense. The use of resources and pollution levels are not divided equally across the globe. Environmental devastation is not directly caused by individuals or households, but by corporations. Just a hundred companies are responsible for 71 per cent of the world’s emissions. … [E]nvironmental movements that use the overpopulation argument seek to reduce the human population so that the wealthy can continue to plunder the earth’s resources.”

3 November 2020

Scott W Stern responds to various proposals for reform of the US Supreme Court: “[N]o matter the fix, the courts will always be political — law is inherently political — and politics will always be about power. The Right understands this, which is why they have been so successful in court of late. Conservative political and legal activists aren’t looking to fix the courts or even formulate superior legal arguments; they know that winning in court is simply about having more power. … The point of progressive court reform should not be to fix the courts, but rather simply to use the courts to enact left policy goals. And the best way to do that right now is to pack the courts. The problem with the courts is not that they’re too political or too powerful or too partisan — it’s simply that they’re too far right. The structuralists are misguided because the courts can never be made spaces shielded from political struggle. Stronger courts, weaker courts, ideologically balanced courts, ideologically unbalanced courts — all are political courts. The way to achieve a more just world through law, then, is not to try to fix the courts, but for the Left to utterly dominate them — as the Right currently does. The structuralists are probably right that courts have become far more powerful than they were supposed to be, but no matter. Politics is not about achieving some sort of Montesquieuian ideal — it is (or, at least, should be) about improving people’s lives. If the most effective way to do that is to win in court, and the most effective way to do that is to pack the courts, then pack the courts.

While Christine Holgate has resigned from Australia Post before her full corporate credit card expenditures have been investigated, John Quiggin points out that the latest Australia Post scandal is the result of neoliberal reform: ”The biggest public relation misstep in Christine Holgate’s leadership of Australia Post was … her statement to the Senate that she had not used taxpayers’ money to buy the watches, since Australia Post was a commercial organisation. This statement would be odd even if it were made in relation to the shareholders of a private corporation — after all, the company’s money ultimately belongs to them. When applied to a statutory corporation like Australia Post, it created a firestorm. … The advocates of privatisation have repeatedly failed in attempts to sell off Australia Post. The next best thing is to turn it into a quasi-private corporation, with lavish provision for its senior managers… The transaction that brought Holgate undone … involved securing annual payments from major banks in return for Australia Post’s provision of banking services in areas the banks themselves had abandoned… it was merely a continuation of an arrangement that dated back more than 100 years. For most of this long period, … unthinkable would be a suggestion that renewing the arrangement on a regular basis, or arranging the financial transfers necessary to balance the books, was an achievement deserving of a luxury watch, on top of a million-dollar salary. The Australian public has long since seen through the claims made for privatisation, even if the financial and corporate sectors (the real ‘inner city elites’) continue to push the ideas of competition and choice. Australians want basic services to be delivered cheaply and reliably, by organisations set up to serve the public, rather than to maximise profits.”