December 01, 2010
Three Things: the AUSFTA; Water Myths; American Liberalism
John Quiggin on the Australia United States Free Trade Agreement:
On at least one occasion, the extra bite of the AUSFTA proved counter- productive to the goal of limiting public intervention in the economy. Snowy Hydro, an electricity generation company jointly owned by the Commonwealth, NSW and Victorian governments, was a candidate for privatisation. In view of the political unpopularity of privatisation, it has been common for governments to attach a range of conditions on employment and ownership. Under the terms of the AUSFTA, however, the capacity to impose such conditions is strictly limited. Ranald notes that a proposed limit, restricting foreign ownership to 35 per cent of shares, was judged to be in contravention of the agreement. The inability to impose such conditions, and thereby allay some sources of public concern, was one reason for the abandonment of the proposed privatisation. Andrew Dragun on Australian water myths:
What our early leaders did was to create a massive water surplus in the cause of nation building which could only be disbursed and thus justified by essentially giving the water away. In the early days of irrigation, the prices for water captured only a small fraction of the operating costs of getting water to the irrigators, and for a range of institutional reasons it has been difficult to increase those prices since.Roger D. Hodge interviewed about his book The Mendacity of Hope: Barack Obama and the Betrayal of American Liberalism:
My use of the term “class warfare” in the book was meant to be somewhat provocative, since this is typically the most damning charge that our economic royalists can come up with to counter any proposal that threatens their economic and political prerogatives. It also happens to be an accurate, if somewhat melodramatic, term for what happens in any society. Marx was obviously correct to point to the struggle between the rich and the poor as one of the motive forces of human history, but his Hegelianism led him to imbue historical change with metaphysical significance and to posit the working class as the trans-historical carrier of human freedom. It is ironic that workers should be obliged to bear such a load.
The Atlantic republican political tradition that informed the minds of the revolutionary generation also understood history in terms of the struggle of rich and poor, the few and the many, the nobili and the populi. This is an essential attribute of the Roman republican heritage, as Machiavelli makes clear in his Discourses on Livy, in which he observes that it was the productive tension between the patricians and the plebs that preserved Rome’s republican institutions for so long. So-called class warfare, in this view, is necessary for the health of the state, precisely because it makes explicit the natural conflicts that arise between groups with fundamentally differing material interests. By rendering those conflicts transparent, Roman institutions helped preserve civil peace.
James Madison believed that differing economic classes must of necessity grow up in any civilized nation, and that these classes would naturally pursue their own self-interests. The principal role of modern legislation, Madison wrote, is the regulation of these various and interfering interests. What is dangerous, from the Madisonian point of view, is when one narrow interest captures the institutions of the state and uses the power of government for its own purposes, to the detriment of other groups. Madison, in keeping with republicans such as Machiavelli and James Harrington, argued that a moderate balance of wealth must be maintained, that too great a distinction between the rich and poor would naturally lead to the decay of republican governance. Judging from the stench of corruption rising up from Washington, I’d say he was correct.