Saturday 28 September 2013

Inequality: Bits and Pieces.


Mark Thoma (h/t David Ruccio) and Chris Dillow have had very interesting things to say about what shapes people's views of themselves and their place in our increasingly unequal society.

Dillow doesn't come up with any answers of his own ("Now, I say all this because I'm confused, and I suspect many others are too"), but just to bring the subject to his readers' attention is already a contribution.

Curiously, though, Dillow frames the question around the notion of "preferences", while quoting from Amartya Sen:
"The deprived people tend to come to terms with their deprivation because of the sheer necessity of survival, and they may, as a result, lack the courage to demand any radical change, and may even adjust their desires and expectations to what they unambitiously see as feasible. (Development as Freedom, p63)".
So, my question is: what "preferences" have to do with people accepting a fait accompli, as depicted by Sen in the quote above?

Thoma, on the other hand, does have a more concrete hypothesis (and one that sounds quite plausible):
"This social stratification leads those at the top to begin imposing [and maybe even believing themselves] a virtue and vice story to justify their desire to stop paying the taxes needed to support social insurance programs [which they don't need]. Those at the top did it all by themselves. They 'built that' through their own effort and sacrifice with no help from anyone else."

Still on the subject of inequality.

I've been reading "Battlers and Billionaires", by Andrew Leigh. Leigh, who has researched Australian inequality, holds a PhD in economics from Harvard (Kennedy School of Government), is a former economics professor from the Australian National University and currently is a Labor MP for the seat of Fraser (ACT).

Leigh did his homework compiling statistics for this book; there is no doubt about this. This is the highlight of the book.

Leigh also attempts to provide an explanation:
"One of the issues I'll discuss in this book is how the very rich make their money. Are they benefitting from hard work or a breakthrough innovation? Or are they earning what economists call 'rents'?"
In this he is much less successful. His explanation sounds contradictory.

At times Leigh attributes certain individuals' fortunes to economic rent and sheer luck:
"One way to see it is to compare Gina Rinehart with her father, Lang Hancock. … Is Rinehart really 190 times more ingenious than her father? Not by her own account. … In explaining the vast wealth difference between Hancock and Rinehart, it's hard to ignore the tenfold increase in the world iron ore price since 1992, delivering economic rents to Rinehart that her father could only have dreamed of".
But then, in chapter 4:
"In this chapter, I will discuss the big factors that drive these differences across countries and changes over time. These include technology and globalisation (which have combined to create 'superstar' workers), union membership, taxation and education".
So, what gives?

From the Cloud Atlas soundtrack (with a reference to Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor):

Image Credits:
[A] "Pyramid of Capitalist System". Public Domain. Author: Industrial Workers of the World. Wikipedia.

Wednesday 11 September 2013

Liberals' "Ethnic Brain"

Being myself an "ethnic" person, I empathize with failed "Liberal" candidate Andrew Nguyen. I feel his frustration. I swear.

Nguyen lambasted the Liberal Party for lacking an "ethnic brain", after being forbidden to speak to the media:
"I was not allowed to talk to anyone, I was told to turn off my phone.
"When the party restricts me, it is very hard for me to win. You have to earn the respect of every individual in the area. I didn't do that."
(See here)
Nguyen claims to have "been hindered by party rules that barred him from speaking freely to the media in the wake of Jaymes Diaz's difficulties".

Another "ethnic" background person unsuccessfully running for election with the "Liberals", Diaz was considered gaffe-prone and -- apparently -- could not be left alone with the media, without embarrassing himself.

Worse still, they could embarrass the Coalition as a whole, which is unfair to all those non-gaffe-prone, "non-ethnic" background candidates, who can be trusted with the media.

After all, people like PM elect Tony Abbott's record on that matter is spotless… Whoever said the "suppository of all wisdom" doesn't work?


While I sincerely empathize with Nguyen, I feel no sympathy for him.

Every "ethnic" person in Australia knows racism, xenophobia and elitism may not be generalized among Aussies, but are not unknown (and, believe it or not, I am speaking of both Aussies of "ethnic" and "non-ethnic" backgrounds).

And, in my experience, racists, elitists and bigots tend to be attracted to the Coalition, like flies tend to be attracted to crap.

If Nguyen, Diaz, and the other unsuccessful "ethnic" "Liberal" candidates didn't know that, it was time they learned the truth.

Saturday 7 September 2013

Consummatum Est.

Or, shit happens...

Yesterday Australia went through the Australian federal elections.

Depending on where you stand, you could say that was a big deal, that a brand new government will be formed.

My own perspective is much more modest: not much really changed.

But, how can that be? How can a government possibly change, without things changing much?

Simple. Let's just remember the new Prime Minister's name… His name is… huh… just a second… Tony Murdoch? No, sorry. Ah! Tony Abbott:

Tony Abbott. [A

The former Prime Minister was called what? Rupert Rudd? No! He was Kevin Rudd:

Kevin Rudd. [B

This is what happened: after 6 years, the Australian plutocrats sacked one prime minister and replaced it with another. They evaluated the performance of Kevin Rudd and the ALP and were not happy with it; so, they decided the "conservative, centre-right, libertarian" LNP and Tony Abbott would be given the job.

In short: Rudd and the ALP lost, Abbott and the LNP won.

Other than a few faces, surnames and acronyms, things did not really change for the plutocrats. They feel they must be at the top of the "natural order of society"; and, well, they remain there. Sure, they invested some money in the guise of donations, they forced their journalists write propaganda material; some will recover their investment and then some; others will lose some pocket change. Not a big deal, really.

The individuals directly affected would see things differently. For them, the election result is the biggest deal. Ask Rudd, Abbott and their closest associates. For them it's a matter of making more money, a chance to further network, a welcome addition to their CVs. More importantly, they think they made it to the top and joined the elites: didn't they win/lose? As long as in their heart of hearts they acknowledge their real masters, those who put them there may even play along for a while.


How about people like you and me? Are the elections' results entirely irrelevant?

It depends, largely on the still inconclusive Senate results. If Abbott and his Coalition achieve majority in the Senate, things could could get real bad, as we've seen overseas (this is my personal guess, for what it's worth). Otherwise,  it could get less bad. Your guess is as good as mine.

This is what the "great Australian democracy" is all about: you are free to vote in order to elect among representatives of the elites. A dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, either an "enlightened" one or a brutal one.


Incidentally, the elections' results did not surprise anybody in Australia. They were eminently predictable. You could see it coming with the unavoidability of a Greek tragedy.

So, dear readers, whenever you hear universal specialists on everything and more saying that human behaviour is infinitely variable and unpredictable, you know that is, strictly speaking, bullshit.

And yet, you also need to acknowledge something: elections' results depend on the actions of individuals. That is, your actions and mine.

So, inevitability does not leave us off the hook. We, together, could have avoided it.

Image Credits:
[A] Tony Abbott in 2010. Author: MystifyMe Concert Photography (Troy)
Source: Wikipedia. File licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
[B] Kevin Rudd. 16/01/2013. Author: Eva Rinaldi Celebrity and Live Music Photographer
Source: Wikipedia. File licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.
My usage of the files does not in any way suggests their authors endorse me or my use of the works.

Thursday 5 September 2013

Internet Filter: Gospel Truth?

"The statements that need to be taken absolutely as Gospel Truth are those carefully prepared, scripted remarks" (Tony Abbott, 7.30 Report, May 17th, 2009)
After the Coalition's stunningly embarrassing backflip on mandatory (?) Internet filtering, one day before the election:
"The Opposition document on enhancing child safety online said an Abbott government would force mobile phone operators and internet service providers (ISPs) to install filtering services to block adult content.
"But in an embarrassing blunder, Coalition communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull promoted the policy on triple j's Hack, before quickly backtracking."
(See here)
One is reminded of the flexible and tenuous relationship between the Coalition's statements and the truth:

Now, it appears, not even "carefully prepared, scripted remarks" can be taken as Gospel Truth.

Brace yourselves for unpleasant surprises...

See also:
Herndon, Colbert and Abbott, or, the Recession we Didn't Have to Have (here)
Chronicle of a Death Foretold (here)

Wednesday 4 September 2013

Game of Seats.

or Thank you Rupert Murdoch, but Australians can choose their own government

Two messages from GetUp!