Magic Puddings & Magic Beans
It went a bit unremarked in the past week that Tony Abbott, the 'mad monk' of the Right of politics in Australia - a conservative Catholic who wears his faith pretty heavily on his political portfolios - brilliantly summed up all that was wrong with the government he was part of. Looky here.
Abbott notes that in the later years of the Howard reign of vengeful dullness: "The fact we could have lower taxes, higher spending and bigger surpluses for about five years - in other words, we could have a magic pudding - led some people to think that thrift, prudence, responsibility had somehow become irrelevant."
[The magic pudding in Lindsay's tale replenished itself automatically after being eaten.]
This from the party who all through that time and since have engaged in an orgy of soapbox chest-beating about their fabulous economic credentials and economic conservatism. People with a sense of history going back more than 5 minutes were not suprised that the government under Howard exercised the same fistful of dollars largesse that Howard favoured back in the 1970s and 1980s. It's laughable to think of anything Howard did as economically conservative, he always loved a big spend targeted at an election or re-election. Reagan in the US did too, leaving it with the first of its modern-day super-deficits, which Clinton had to clean up, and yet he too somehow took on the aura of the great fiscal conservative as well. People are just stupid and will believe what they want to believe.
Just think what Australia for example could have done with the more than 300 billion dollars Howard pissed up against the wall in the past decade as election bribes, in cash handouts and tax cuts. The new broadband network could have been built, both of the stimulus packages to counter the global downturn could have been paid for, and you'd still have more than 200 billion in change. The magnitude of the incompetence and outright corruption makes your jaw drop. With that 200+ billion left all of the major highways which have never been finished could have been built, public schools could have had about a 100-year backlog of maintenance cleared and new facilties to bring them out of the 19th century, many of the funding shortfalls in hospitals and the health system in general could have been met. Etc.
What happened instead? The money was spent fuelling the leviathan Ponzi scheme called real estate - and let's not assume there's real estate and then there's speculative and unscrupulous real estate, all real estate is a Ponzi scheme - and on consumer goods, most of which were imported from overseas. Even worse the tax cuts which these staggering surpluses made look affordable will now be a permanent lead weight chained to the Australian economy, just as has happened in the US with the lunacy of supply side or trickle-down economics, which began under Reagan. Unless some poor government raises the taxes again, at which point it will of course be accused of economic incompetence.
Let's throw into the mix the fact that the baby boomers who created and voted en masse for these policies are also the largest beneficiaries of them, and pay almost no tax in retirement, have an overwhelming sense of entitlelment ("we've paid taxes all our lives", as if this were the first generaton in history to do that), and will now expect a shrinking number of younger workers to continue to support them in their 'lifestyle' retirements and medical prolongation of the super-capitalist enjoyment they so gleefully campaigned against in their youth.
Serres once said something like never trust somebody whose idol is music, and the 1960s and other periods in history of social upheaval always tend to worship art in some sort of way. All hail the reign of The Beatles, the shit-eaters, he said i.e. beetles eat shit. He's not at all a reactionary conservative, but asks people to notice that false idols can take many forms. By believing in the power of art to change the world they were settling for eating shit basically, leaving the meat and veg of actual practical existence pretty much unchanged, and ironically then becoming the most astonishingly rich capitalists in world history. People mocked the Soviets for debasing art with their grand murals of women on tractors, but the West were just as good at rallying around art-as-poiltics.
Anyway, the reason Howard thought it worthwhile to spend the legacy of the country in such a stupid way was becuase of the underlying philosophy of such loons. To them the individual is God. Governments shoudn't be out spending billions of dollars making things (except weapons), that's for individuals to do. So it's a magic beans philosophy as well as a magic pudding philosophy - new highways and schools and broadband networks will just spontaneously erupt as millions of citizens storm out into the streets with their fistfuls of magic beans (cash). We've now all seen the outcome of this slavish devotion to the free market, with most of the world economies in near-ruin, spectacular evidence of the marvellous 'efficiency' of the private sphere.
It really is criminal. While most of Oz stares vicariously at the organised thuggery of Underbelly and votes for law and order, ever fearful of just about everything, like letting their kids walk to school in case they get run over, while the huge increase in traffic around schools consists solely in parents driving kids to school to save them from the traffic (how do we get this dumb and not notice?), the organised crime of Howard and Costello Inc. will not only go unpunished, but will be lauded.