Every time I blog about economics it gets torn apart, but I can’t seem to help myself.
It strikes me that the policies being pursued to deal with the economic tumult descending upon us by the authorities in the US and Australia are rather sad, a sad reflection on the paucity of controls on the economy under neoliberalism.
The US is rather clearer. The economy is tanking, so both the Fed and the government are doing all they can to leverage it within the constraints of neoliberalism. The Fed drastically cuts interest rates – basically the only thing it can do. Given that the problem is one of people having too much debt, this is both a good and a bad thing to do: good insofar as it takes the pressure off the indebted, but bad insofar as it encourages people to take on even more debt. The government is cutting taxes. This is a bad move insofar as it plunges the nation into even more insane levels of debt to pay for the float. Essentially, the question here is whether the crazy levels of public and private debts in the US are sustainable. For some reason it seems to be widely held that, though unprecedented, they are. I take the view that the economy is teetering on the edge of a precipice - while it doesn’t have to fall over the edge, over a long enough time span something’s bound to happen that will topple it. The US still has an ace in its hand though, viz. the nice fat war that is basically an economic cure-all, should it be possible to amp it up further. We haven’t yet found out how far this strategy can go, but we will. None of the serious US presidential candidates are willing to “take military action off the table”, and as such the wonderful economic and political panacea of aggressive war remains likely to characterise US public policy for the foreseeable future.
The Australian case is somewhat more opaque. Though the ASX has followed the trajectory of the US markets, the RBA sees no sign of recession, but is on the contrary worried about the Australian economy ‘overheating’ because of the rise of inflation. Here is where I’m going to really get in over my head, but it seems to me that this is a shocking misdiagnosis, and that inflationary pressure is not caused by overheating at all. The Aussie economy has been going gangbusters for years, with very low unemployment and high rates of growth, without inflationary pressure mounting – why is it only ‘overheating’ now? The answer is that it’s not. Rather certain extraordinary factors unconnected to economic growth are causing price inflation. The primary one is the price of petrol. This affects the price of almost everything in Australian shops. The drought has also had a big impact, though one assumes that will be abating to some extent now. The other thing is rental price inflation. House price inflation might be a factor too, but I don’t think it is, inasmuch as it didn’t cause inflationary pressure to speak of when Sydney house prices were going through the roof earlier in the decade. Rather, in Sydney at least, the decline in attractiveness of house-buying in outer suburban areas, which is in no small measure a symptom of rising petrol costs, has caused a decline in profitability of outer suburban housebuilding, hence a rise in pressure on rental housing. Even this is probably not decisive, however: what’s really piling on the inflationary pressure here is precisely the high interest rates themselves. Since much rental housing is owned by mortgage holders, higher interest rates drives them to push up rents. Moreover, the high interest rates also put the squeeze on owner-occupiers.
On these fronts, inflation driven by rising consumer prices in consumables and housing, increasing interest rates really doesn’t help. The only thing that could help here is serious state action (e.g. introducing rent controls, creating new public housing, introducing price controls on petrol, creating new public transportation, investing in rail infrastructure for shipping goods). This is the case in the US too (where there is only one possible state action allowable in the conjunction of neoconservatism and neoliberalism in US public policy, namely a military build-up and expenditure). The Rudd government’s only action thus far is to try to constrain government spending. Since I don’t believe that Australian government spending is part of the problem, I can’t see how it can be part of the solution. I regard as at least plausible the arguments of the University of Newcastle’s Centre of Full Employment and Equity that running a public surplus means privatising debt (notwithstanding that in the US both the government and the populace are running up debts like there’s no tomorrow).
Not really, but why should my headlines about Fairfax cleave to a higher standard of accuracy than their own?
First, we had the claim that an HIV-positive man “may have” infected 250 people (currently on news.com.au, but I swear to God that smh.com.au also ran a nearly identical headline yesteray). No-one could reasonably make this extrapolation from the facts, which were that the police were going to talk to every person that the HIV-positive man had been in phone contact with, and that was 250 people. No-one has sex with everyone they speak to on the phone for a month. Seriously. The thing that should be clear from that figure is that there’s no way that the man in question infected that many people, i.e. that whatever the number of infected people is, it’s got to be less than that.
Today we have “Police search for victims of HIV prostitute”. Victims? VICTIMS? Are you fucking kidding me? People who have unsafe sex with a prostitute are victims? Seriously, if you have sex with a prostitute, you might want to use protection. I think that’s kind of a no-brainer. I don’t care of s/he says s/he’s a virgin. You know, this goes for people who aren’t prostitutes either. Having unsafe sex with anyone at all ever carries a degree of risk. Yes, if they lead you to believe they’re safe when they know they’re rife with disease, you might be able to claim you’re their victim, but not if they’re a prostitute. If someone has a financial incentive to pretend that s/he doesn’t have a disease you don’t assume they’re telling the truth. More to the point, if someone you don’t know is willing to have unsafe sex with you, then s/he is probably willing to have unsafe sex with other people, hence it doesn’t matter what his/her last STD tests said.
Health experts have warned that men can be just as much of a target for sexual predators as women, although most men were not aware of the threat that lurked every time they went to the pub.
That’s right punters, EVERY TIME YOU GO TO THE PUB, poofters are lurking around the corner looking to drug you and take your anal virginity. It’s a wonder there isn’t more awareness of this problem considering it’s so prevalent.
Obviously, male-on-male rape happens and isn’t funny, although the problem of homosexuals who rape straight men is a considerably less serious problem than that of straight men who rape women. Men ‘can’ be just as much a target for sexual predators as women, but they aren’t actually now, are they?
The figure the article opens with, “hundreds of straight men are being raped in the city and eastern suburbs every year” (and note, it doesn’t specify how many of those are drink-spikings, just “many”) is 95% dubious. It seems to be based on taking a figure of 44 sexual assaults on men last year, and then multiplying that by “up to 95%” – which of course would give us a figure of up to almost a thousand. The only thing we have about drink-spiking is that “drug-assisted sexual assaults” are “relatively common” among the 44. Common relative to what, one wonders. Do we have any numbers on this? Has it happened five times? Was it perpetrated by people the men knew? Were the victims or perpetrators straight or gay? ARE STRAIGHT MEN REALLY BEING MENACED BY LEGIONS OF DIRTY GAYS WITH ROHYPNOL AT ALL? I love the invocation of the city and eastern suburbs as well, by the way. We all know who hangs out there, right?
Seriously, could Fairfax do something about the Sun Herald already? I genuinely don’t see why we need it given the existence of the Sunday Telegraph.
Despite having long been lukewarm on banning plastic bags (because I like getting free stuff, and use all the ones I get, unlike most people), I am nevertheless happy to see Garrett taking action (maybe) on this issue.
I just want to say that he needs to do it properly (in consultation with the states) and ban plastic bags totally. The logic of the ban is that plastic bags are a serious environmental menace. If this is the case, they must be banned outright. Allowing small shops to use them is allowing environmental devastation on a lesser scale. Introducing a levy is a nonsense, since this is not an area of consumer choice, but an identified absolute evil. Unlike with CO2 emissions, which are to be ‘reduced’,* plastic bags in the environment need abolition.
Now, I’d like to see this action extended to ban a lot more plastic packaging on the same logic. I’m not optimistic, but on the other hand Garrett will have set something of a precedent for government action against crazed consumerism.
*Although meaningful reductions entail severe sanctions, e.g. my personal favourite measure, severely legislatively restricting car use.
By putting our physical bodies inside our extended nervous systems, by means of electric media, we set up a dynamic by which all previous technologies that are mere extensions of hands and feet and teeth and bodily heat-controls—all such extensions of our bodies, including cities—will be translated into information systems. Electromagnetic technology requires utter human docility and quiescence of meditation such as benefits an organism that now wears its brain outside its skull and its nerves outside its hide. (McLuhan, Marshall, Understanding Media, 1964, p68)
This was one of many obscurantist passages I read this morning as my Sydney bus (an extension of both the foot and the armpit) drew me towards my work (an extension of some other unprintable bodily part). McLuhan might have been on to something, but isn’t it all just a fancy way of describing human devolution into electronica?
And is this post not just a fancy if kinda-pretentious excuse for a linkdump of DEVO covers? McLuhan would have shaken his head and despaired at our narcissistic fixation on content over context.
Balls to that. Here’s a bunch of early 80s electronica reflecting itself back onto itself, with a few catchy riffs.
Taking further cues from the last reel of the Blues Brothers (“Use of unnecessary violence has been approved”), I’d like to spend a little bit of time laying out a bit more of my own urban renewal plans for the city I love. The target of opportunity this time is the sleepy suburb of Camden in Sydney’s South-West.
It’s connected to the metropolis of Sydney only by the tenuous links of an electrified train line, a motorway, and the shame the father of the Prodigal Son must have felt halfway through the parable. There can be no instructive resolution here, though; I say we ought, like its more belligerent residents, to take matters into our own hands, and like the Chinese over Taiwan, keep the renegade province as isolated from the rest of the planet as is possible.
Some locals are threatening to take matters into their own hands if the 1,200-student school in Camden is approved by either the council or via appeal to the Land and Environment Court.
Brian Loughnane, in his National Press Club address the other day said:
Labor has been given a clear mandate by the Australian people based on specific promises and this will be the basis on which they will be judged at the next election.
Labor has set high expectations, and voters will expect the new Government to live up to them. They made very specific promises to prevent grocery prices going up, to prevent petrol prices going up and to prevent interest rates from going up. Our research shows the Australian people are watching carefully to see whether Labor’s promises are just more spin or whether they can deliver. The Coalition intends to hold Labor to the standards it set itself. Mr Rudd declared the buck stops with him – it will not be good enough or acceptable to the Australian people for Labor to try and blame the previous Government when times get tough. The Australian people have given Labor a go based on very specific promises and they expect them to be delivered. (Emphasis added)
Incredible really. The Libs are trying to say that the ALP made the same mistake this election as the Libs did in 2004.
Confirmation: there is a God. I can’t believe I hadn’t seen this before. I blame my pre-poll preoccupation with the Australian Federal Election and ensuing post-poll hangover. Anyway, for those who like me have been living under a rock, here we go:
So this is currently doing the rounds. It’s this wierd, horrible video of front-running Republican Presidential Candidate Mike Huckabee doing what appears to be a stand-up routine at what ThinkProgress tells me is a Republican Governors Association dinner in 2004, wherein he purports to have a telephone conversation with God. Yes, he did. And you thought *our* pollies were too influenced by the religious right:
Yes, lord. And you want me to deliver a message. And that would be?
Yes, sir. Well, we want–yes, sir. We want to do what’s right. And our president does. And we’re behind him, yes, sir, we sure are. Yes, sir, we know you don’t take sides in the election.