Monday, November 27, 2006

Greens, leftists and socialists

Lost far at the back of the pack in the Victorian election was Socialist Alliance. Launched with hopes of an electoral breakthrough to the left of the ALP. Now the Greens have monopolised these terrain, but this is not inevitable. But at the recent Dutch election the Socialist Party whose origins lie in Maoism won 26 seats on a platform that condemned the Dutch Labour Party for moving too far to the right. GreenLeft, the Dutch Greens (the 'left' comes from fact that the Communist Party of the Netherlands was a founding constituent of the party) won only 7 seats. The Socialist Party is one of the many 'left socialist' parties in Europe that have emerged since the collapse of communism. GreenLeft and the Socialists compete for the left vote, but the Socialists seem to be winning this battle. Radio Netherlands comments:
However, the SP has also modified a number of key points from its earlier election manifestos. The party was always opposed to NATO and the Dutch monarchy and called for both to be abolished - a stance which has now changed. The SP remains basically opposed to both, but is no longer calling for their immediate abolition. The party's support base has grown considerably and now includes people from all layers of society. One major change in policy which has played a role in this respect was the abandonment of the idea that rich people should pay income tax at a rate of 72 percent. Ewout Irrgang, mathematical genius and an MP for the SP, has described such old standpoints as 'symbolic politics' which did nothing to advance the party's cause. The GreenLeft party finds itself having to work harder to attract votes in this election campaign. The party ...has lost much support as a result of the current course being following by party leader Femke Halsema. Under her leadership the party has shifted somewhat towards a more liberal free-thinking approach. Ms Halsema has called for more individual freedom, personal development and emancipation. Currently the only female leader of a political party in the lower house of parliament, she describes her party as the only left-wing liberal party. Remarkably, Femke Halsema was recently proclaimed 'liberal of the year' by the youth organisation of the conservative VVD party (which is itself described as 'liberal' in Dutch).

Here we see an example of why the Australian Greens have been unable to crack key components of Labor's core as shown by their failure to win lower house seats in the Victorian election, still they have suceeded in the easy task of getting more working class votes than Socialist Alliance.

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Nationals, Greens & Elaine

Nationals a good performance overall, although outside their northern heartland poor, they ran behind Families First in Warrnambool. Since 1999 party has striven to develop independent identity, perhaps 1999 victory in Benalla a first sign. Water and environmental management issues can be new point of city-country tension. Strong Nationals performances in Benalla and Morwell influenced by water issues, Lake Mokkan in the later. But how compatible is this National approach with the aspiration to be in a Coalition government with the Liberals? Would a Liberal government impose harsher water restrictions in Melbourne to free up water for farmers? Doubtful. Thus the Nationals reject the idea of a Coalition in opposition although this is sought by some Liberals. But hard choices with have to faced if Labor loses a majority. Greens disappointing again, blaming Peter Garrett is bizarre but they were even doing this in conversation on the polling booth in Warrnambool and in blog comments. They have a constituency but it has peaked in the short-term. Friendly advice: drop this Melbourne obsession and focus on wining more Legislative Council seats. The quest for an Assembly seat has involved massive resources and questionable touchy-feely with the Liberals (not to support Labor's demagogic and dishonest campaign agaisnt the Greens either). Even if the Greens did fluke a lower house seat (and somewhere they eventually will) it unlikely they could hold balance of power, whereas they will come close to this in the Council. Speaking of the Council personal vote of 2504 for Elaine Carbines a rebuff to great minds of Labor Unity who dumped her from top of ticket. Victory for older women in politics. in Western Victoria we contemplate with horror the prospect that Labor preferences may elect a member of the DLP over the Greens.

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Democrats and sectionalism

Finished reading Richard Bensel's Sectionalism and American Political Development: 1880-1980. A very impressive work that traces the division between the core and periphery of the American political economy and the changing alignments. Published in 1984 it predicts the electoral realignments of 1994 and 2006 that consolidated first the Republic south and then the Democratic north-east, reversing the 19th century polarity. All of this with no reference to culture wars, a triumph of Occam's razor. Curious to see the vehement anti-imperialist rhetoric of the Democrats, which would gratify the contemporary left, combined with a stalwart defence of white power in the south. Much of the book examines the New deal coalition and how the Democrats maintained southern bourbons and the northern working-class in one party by a brokerage system of strong Congressional committees. Bensel brings up how conservative was the old Democrat's southern wing, in particular extremely anti-union because they saw unions as threat to south's competitive advantage. Hence their 'conservative coalition' with Northern Reoublicans. But now allegedly conservative southern Democrats (a silly Australian run of this idea from Stephen Loosely here) are staunch champions of increases in the minium wage and legislation to facilitate union organising as noted by Nathan Newman. This marks the prospects of cross-party 'moderate' co-operation unlikely. Bensel predicted that 1980s politics would pit a protectionist North-Eastern core against a Southern & Western free-trade periphery. The working-class American south is in the age of globalisation part of the world economy core. Nevertheless the South is still more conservative as shown by graph from here. Cultural poltics is important.

The centre-left project

The downside of concern about trade is that it can spill over into xenophobia, says Robert Reich who notes that global capitalism rather than communism is the fear:
Congress’s distrust extends beyond Vietnam, to other areas where global capitalism is expanding. Trade bills now pending with several poor countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America are also in jeopardy. Don’t expect the next Congress to look on these trade deals more favorably. Many of the newly-elected members campaigned openly and vocally against free trade. Whether it’s a renewed fear of foreigners, or fear of job losses to them, this nation seems to be turning inward. Sadly for us, as well as for millions of poor people around the world, America may be on the brink of a new Cold War -- with the enemy this time not global communism but global capitalism.

The trade debate is part of a renewed concern on the left, even the ‘centre-left’ with economic inequality. Harold Meyerson describes two research projects underway to develop strategies to tackle growing inequality and ensure sustainable growth. One by the Economic Policy institute, aligned with the liberal-left and close to the unions, and another, the Hamilton project organised through the Brookings Institute) in which former Clinton Treasury secretary and Wall Street wunderkind Robert Rubin (current director of Citigroup) is a leading figure. The Hamilton Project seen by some as presaging a more interventionist approach by former Clintonites. Rubin notes that:
My recollection is, if you take the last thirty years, roughly speaking, that for twenty-five of them, real median wages have been stagnant despite rising GDP growth.

The Hamilton project argues against economic isolationism stressing the importance of reducing the budget deficit and refocusing public investment in growth-promoting areas. This is congruent with the Democrats’ rhetoric reinvention as the party of fiscal responsibility. It seems an attempt to combine some of the themes of Clinton Mark I on human capital and infrastructure with the Clinton Mark II emphasis on balanced budgets.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Populism in the US

A major theme of American left commentary on the US elections has been the revival of populism. Of course this has received little attention in Australia. A representative sample is in The Nation:
Despite relatively strong growth, manageable inflation, high corporate profits and a bullish stock market, real wages continue to stagnate, productivity gains continue to be captured by the wealthiest 1 percent, income inequality has continued to get worse...None of these trends are new, but over the past six years the problems have grown so noticeable that even the neoliberal economists who crafted the much-celebrated Clinton economic agenda have begun to focus on correcting the perversely inequitable distribution of the fruits of economic success…Aside from opposition to the war, the Democrats focused on attacking subsidies to Big Oil, blasting the corruption endemic to a system in which corporate special interests call the shots and advocating for "fair trade" over the so-called "free trade" agreements that benefit capital over labor. ...At the national level, cable pundits almost immediately focused on a handful of winning Democrats with conservative stances on social issues--Jon Tester's A rating from the NRA, Bob Casey's opposition to choice and, obsessively, former NFL quarterback Heath Shuler, who defeated incumbent Charles Taylor in North Carolina's 11th District while opposing abortion, gay rights and a guest-worker program for immigrants. But what the pundits didn't mention was the role in Shuler's victory of the district's opposition to "free trade" deals. The area's textile industry has been gutted by NAFTA, so when it came time to vote on CAFTA, Taylor was caught between his district, which wanted him to vote no, and the GOP House leadership, which wanted him to vote yes. So he skipped the vote altogether and CAFTA passed by one vote. During the campaign, Shuler hammered Taylor for "selling out American families," and he wasn't alone in using trade as a wedge issue. A post election analysis by Public Citizen found that campaigns cut twenty-five ads attacking free-trade deals, and that trade played a significant role in more than a dozen House races won by Democrats. In the entire election, Public Citizen noted, "no incumbent fair trader was beaten by a 'free trader.'""Democrats have coalesced in favor of trade policy reform over the past decade as President Bill Clinton's NAFTA, WTO and China trade deals not only failed to deliver the promised benefits but caused real damage," said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch division.
The evidence on public opinion largely backs this according to a Pew study that found that Republicans were more divided on economic policy than Democrats and that outsourcing is universally unpopular, although public opinion is more evenly divided on trade agreements.:
It all sounds very heart-warming, but what about the view of some on the left such as Doug Henwood that trade liberalisation came account for only a small portion of increasing inequality in the US? The challenge for the left will be getting people like Shuyler to vote for measures such as the Employee Free Choice Act
that would enable union recognition when a majority of employees have signed cards. It is only by these reforms that the base can be laid for a long-term shift to the left. What are the lessons for Australia?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Focus group fluff and public policy

Glenn Milne heaps praise on a speech by Michael Chaney of the Business Council of Australia to the National Press Club (official text here). Milne's report has Chaney quoting from focus-group research on popular attitudes (although this is not quoted in the text, presumably it has been shared with Milne). This seems to be focus-group fluff but what strikes me is not a single anti-union statement is quoted, it is full of profundities such as:
Keep the money cogs turning: "Money circulating through the system - through various taxations - so that then you can have the benefits, e.g. infrastructure keeps being improved."
Forward thinking: "If you don't look forward, you'll never get there."
There is solid social-science research on aspirationals (a forthcoming paper by Murray Goot of which an early version was delivered at the APSA 2006 conference), but of course this is ignored. David Peetz in Brave New Workplace describes how BCA research has become flimsier and flimsier in its attempt to link individual contracts to productivity gains, but relying on focus-groups to justify policy is truly bizarre.

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Great moments in Communism

Always good to be reminded of how Communist regimes operated. On the website of Revolutionary Democracy (an Indian Stalinist journal and 99% mad) in the April 1999 issue there is an interesting article about the activities of a tiny pro-Albanian group in East Germany: the German Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist). It quotes the Stasi policy on internal disruption:
2.6.2: Effective Types of disintegration which may be used are:
- Methodically discrediting the public reputation, esteem and prestige on the basis of combining true, verifiable and discrediting facts with false but plausible, non-refutable and thus also discrediting facts.
- Methodically organizing professional and social failures in order to undermine the self-confidence of individuals.- Purposefully undermining convictions in connection with particular ideals, models, etc. and creating doubts about the persons perspective.-

Creating distrust and mutual suspicion within groups, groupings and organizations.
- Creating or making use of and increasing rivalries within groups, groupings and organizations by purposefully making use of personal weaknesses of individual members.
- Keeping groups, groupings and organizations busy with their internal problems with the aim of limiting their hostile-negative actions.

Anthony Downs and Victorian politics

The American elections were a crash and burn for the strategy of polarisation and 'mobilizing the base', but maybe the Victorian elections will show that the opposite strategy of tacking to the centre may have problems also. Victorian Liberals are making progress in the polls. So far a good opposition performance, reminiscent of Bob Carr in 1991 and 1995 and likely to be as problematic in government as promises prove impossible to deliver. If you tack to the centre will the opposition eventually work out how to do the same and win? David Cameron's good poll performance in UK is an example. My thinking influenced by a very interesting book Redeeming the Communist Past on the political adaptation of former Communist parties in Eastern Europe. On one hand a bit depressing, mostly the road to political success for these parties has been through a Downsian pursuit of the middle ground and a mass party membership just gets in the way of this. Czech voters frightened off when door-knocked by elderly Communists who thought life had been great before 1989. But the author does argue that it can be rational for a party to develop on some aspects a distinctive position, even a minority one, both as a means of mobilising its core support and of differentiation in the political marketplace. For the post-Communist Polish left this was secularism and resistance to the Catholic nationalism of the right.

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Sunday, November 12, 2006

Indian lessons for Australia

Currently writing a paper on Indian Communism. The largest Communist party the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has much material on the web. India has seen a sustained attempt by the conservative BJP to mobilise Hindu nationalist sentiment and an attempt to define Indian national identity not as civic but Hindu. Party supporters have encouraged pogroms and mob violence against minorities especially Muslims but also Christians. This has not stopped Australian conservative commentators such as Greg Sheridan praising the BJP. In Australia we seen the right also supporting an ethno-religious rather than a civic nationalism. Chaplains in schools is the thin edge of the wedge, not just a 'political stunt' much more dangerous. I certainly don't agree with the CPI(M) on many issues (as my paper will show) but they are good on the defence of secularism (both quotes from documents accessible here):
The secular principle is enshrined in the Constitution and the values of secular democracy are proclaimed by the big bourgeois leadership of the State. However, the practice of secularism by the bourgeoisie has been flawed. They try to distort the whole concept of secularism. They would have the people believe that instead of complete separation of religion and politics, secularism means freedom for all religious faiths to equally interfere in the affairs of the State and political life. Instead of firmly combating the anti-secular trends, the bourgeoisie often gives concessions and strengthens them. The threat to the secular foundations has become menacing with the rise of the communal and fascistic RSS-led combine and its assuming power at the Centre. Systematic efforts are on to communalise the institutions of the State, the administration, the educational system and the media…Our Party is, therefore, committed to wage an uncompromising struggle for the consistent implementation of the principles of secularism. Even the slightest departure from that principle should be exposed and fought. While defending the right of every religious community -- whether it is the majority or the minorities -- as well as those who have no faith in any religion to believe in and practice any religion or none at all, the Party should fight against all forms of intrusion of religion in the economic, political and administrative life of the nation and uphold secular and democratic values in culture, education and society. The danger of fascist trends gaining ground, based on religious communalism must be firmly fought at all levels…In conditions of capitalist exploitation the guaranteed rights to the minorities provided in the Constitution are also not implemented. There is the lack of equal opportunities and discrimination against the Muslim minorities both in the economic and social sphere. Communal riots and violent attacks against the Muslims have become a permanent feature. The RSS and its outfits constantly instigate hatred against the minorities and they target the Christian community also. This fosters alienation and insecurity among the minorities, which breeds fundamentalist trends and weakens the secular foundations. Minority communalism isolates the minorities and hampers the common movement of all oppressed sections. Defence of minority rights is a crucial aspect of the struggle to strengthen democracy and secularism. (2000 Program, 5.7-5.9).
The CPI(M) is for championing the legitimate rights of the minorities against discrimination and fighting off the attacks by majority communalism. At the same time, the Party stands for democratic and progressive reforms within the minorities. It opposes fundamentalism and minority communalism which seeks to ghettoize and breed intolerance amongst the minorities. The Party is for special measures to provide education and access to jobs for the Muslim minorities. Attention has to be paid to the rights and needs of the working people and the poorer sections amongst the minorities and to bring them into the common class and mass movements (Political Resolution, April 2005).

Capitalism and preferences

How are we to understand decision of Victorian Liberals to preference to Labor ahead of Greens in the Legislative Council (tickets are here)? We can see the preference of the Liberals' business backers for majority government, as well as a fear that the Greens might pull Labor to the left. But also state governments of all persuasions seek good relations with capitalists. Voters like development projects and are less observant of subsidies and tax concessions. PPPs are an example of this kind of cosy relationship. A minority party in the Council is likely to push for greater accountability. Ted Baillieu himself would be particularly susceptible to such pressure. Of the current generation of Liberal politicians he is something of a throwback, it is rare for conservative politicians since the 1940s to be recruited from an elite business background. The businessman-politician was a 19th century type and their numbers declined steadily from Federation, Menzies reformation of conservative politics psot-1945 saw a final shift in the political leadership of capital to a stratum of professionals and the petty-bourgeoisie socially distant from the commanding heights of capital. I take this point from Class Structure in Australian History. The disjunction between economic and political class leadership was discerned by Marx in The Eighteenth Brumaire. Electoral failure however makes the Liberals more dependent on capital hence their willingness to damage their political prospects. If Labor controls the Council the prospects for inquires into Labor scandals evaporate as does the possibility of tagging a Green-influenced Labor government as too left wing. Good for capital bad for the Liberals.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Two ladies from Maine

Maine voted 53.2% for John Kerry in 2004 but Olympia Snowe was re-elected Republican Senator with 74% over a Democrat with 21%. Snowe and fellow Republican Susan Collins are moderates. Their National Journal 2005 liberalism rankings were 52.7% and 53.2%, together with Arlen Specter they are the only Republicans slightly on the left. Some speculate they could shift parties on become Democrat-aligned independents. After 1994 two conservative Democrats joined the Republicans. It is an interesting study in political loyalty. Lincoln Chafee slightly more liberal than them lost in Rhode Island and was interviewed yesterday:
When asked if his comments meant he thought he might not belong in the Republican Party, he replied: "That's fair."… A lifelong Republican who succeeded his father, the late John Chafee, in the U.S. Senate, Chafee said he waged a lonely campaign to try to bring the party to the middle. He described attending weekly Thursday lunches with fellow Republican senators and standing up to argue his point of view, often alone. "There were times walking into my caucus room where it wasn't fun," he said. Chafee said he stuck with the party in large part because it allowed him to bring federal dollars home to Rhode Island. He said he did not regret not switching parties before the election because he felt it kept him in the best position to help Rhode Island to remain with what was then the majority party. He also described himself as a loyal Rhode Island Republican, and said he didn't want to communicate that he was suddenly "flying the coop." He said he worked to build the party since he was a child, when his father first won elected office when he was 3 years old.
One could be derisive of these musings, but even if misguided I think there is something worthy of respect in sticking to a project that had once achieved good outcomes in the past, maybe it’s why I've become less critical of Communists then I used to be. It's not an unworthy tradition that Snowe and Collins defend but it is an exhausted one and trying to keep it alive as Harold Meyerson argues only assists the hard Republican right. Says he:
Historically, the major parties in America have yoked together the most disparate groups for long periods. The New Deal Democrats were a party of Northern liberals and Southern segregationists. But once Lyndon Johnson committed the Democrats to civil rights for African Americans, the white South up and left -- a process that took 40 years to complete but that left the Democrats struggling to assemble congressional and presidential majorities and that converted the Republicans into a party where Southern values were dominant. Now the non-Southern bastions of Republicanism may themselves up and leave the GOP, seeing it as no longer theirs. Susan Collins may protest that she has a quarrel with the Democrats, but it's her own party that provoked this transformation. And in a larger sense, her quarrel is really with history.
Talking of principle and opportunism this is an accurate judgment on Harold Ford's campaign:
This election brought one overlooked blessing. There will probably be less public flaunting of private religious beliefs in campaigns. The voters in one state issued a firm rebuke to that. That’s one way to interpret the defeat of Harold Ford, Jr. in Tennessee. Good Lord, a political commercial filmed in church. Democrats must have sent silence prayers into the ether for relief from that stunt. The voters of Tennessee answered them. Please, let the curse of blunt displays of piety in politics initiated by Jimmy Carter thirty years ago, come to an end. If Jesus had cared that much about politics he would have delivered the Sermon on the Mount in Rome.
Australians politicians please take note.

California and debt

In light of the shift by Australian state governments towards debt-fianced infrastructure this report from the the Los Angeles Times on the fate of California ballot initatives is interesting:
The voters' verdict on ballot measures was clear — no to taxes, yes to debt. Upholding a tradition they set in the Proposition 13 tax revolt of 1978, Californians nixed four proposals to raise taxes — even as they passed immense borrow-now-pay-later bonds for highways and other construction projects. Californians see state government as "a bottomless hole" of wasted money, Republican strategist Wayne Johnson said. But when weighing bond proposals, they say, "At least we're going to get some bricks and mortar, at least we're going to get some asphalt. At least we know what it's going for."

Thursday, November 09, 2006

American election thoughts

Pretty much as I expected, although the cards fell the right way in the Senate. Nathan Newman is right that this is a stronger Democratic majority than in the past when numbers were inflated by Southerners who were effectively Republicans. I wonder if Harold Ford's political cross-dressing came across as insincere. The policy ballots haven't received much attention. The anti-gay marriage wave continued but it is definitely ebbing as shown by the defeat in Arizona, and the lesser margins for the bans that passed. There is a good analysis here at the conservative-ish Volokh Conspiracy. The task is to continue to stress economic issues and to turn down the volume on social issues.
Should the Democrats write off the south and focus on the mountain west which is shifting from the Republicans? So argued Thomas Schaller just before the poll:
There seems to be a developing narrative which suggests that expected Democratic victories this year are somehow the result of Democrats "running as conservatives." Republicans, and conservative Republicans in particular, have an obvious stake in perpetuating such a narrative. But it is patently untrue. Pull back the lens and what appears to be happening this year is a regional-ideological partisan correction in which Rockefeller-Ford Republicans are purged from the NE/NW Rust Belt, and prairie progressives pick off selected seats in the Far West. The regional realignment over the past 40 years, which slowly converted Dixiecrats into Republicans, has now entered its final stage, as voters north of the Mason-Dixon line and west of the Mississippi provide a countervailing response to the southern-led Republican majority. This transformation is occurring at the Senate, House and gubernatorial levels. Indeed, because Rust Belt Republicans will be replaced by progressive Democrats, regardless of the final totals tonight, the 110th Congress, in both chambers, will become more progressive as the Democratic shares grow and less conservative as the Republican shares shrink. As just one indication of this trend, consider this stunning fact: If Pelosi gets her majority, for the first time in 52 years, the party with a minority of House seats in the South will the majority party.
There is a spirited argument against this on The Nation blog. The debate has relevance to Australia and the question of which constituency Labor should be targeting. Chuck Todd describes the regional realignment:
Forget "red" and "blue." The country is basically divided into four voting blocs: the Democratic Northeast, the Republican South, the populist Midwest and the libertarian West. Democrats probably have a decent grip on those populist Midwest voters for a while (at least until the area transforms completely into a new economy). As for the libertarian West (home of the first state -- Arizona -- to reject a gay marriage ban), this is a region that is more up for grabs than it should be. And it's because the Republican Party has grown more religious and more pro-government which turns off these "leave me alone," small-government libertarian Republicans.
One conservative spin is that many of the new Democrats are 'moderates', yes they are but a moderate Democrat is well to the left of a Republican (even most moderate Republicans). The neo-conservative Fred Barnes is partially right:
The media, however, is exaggerating the number of these unconventional Democrats. They are a handful, and the pattern of moderate and conservative Democrats when they get to Washington is to pipe down. Or, as losing Republican Congressman Chris Chocola said of his victorious opponent Joe Donnelly, they become "Nancy Pelosi."
The task for 2008 is finding a presidential candidate who strikes the right balance of being middle of the road on social issues with a populist economic agenda: John Edwards perhaps? For 2007 here the question is where is Australia’s equivalent of the American Midwest?

Monday, November 06, 2006

Party factions

There are two official caucuses in the House Democrats, the moderate to conservative Blue Dogs and the Progressives. Some of the other belong to the New Democrat caucus (aligned with the Clintonite Democratic Leadership Council) but its membership does not seem to be available. Graph for Democrats shows the two caucuses and the rest. The self-defined moderate Republicans are in the 'Mainstreet Partnership' and Republican graph shows this group and the rest of the Republicans. Note there is less of a one-dimensional left-right split in the Republicans; this may be due to paeloconservative tendencies opposed to social liberalism and economic globalisation. Note that there are no economic and social libertarians in Congress, there are socially moderate Republicans with laisser-faire economic views, but they are socially moderate not socially radical. 'Sex, drugs and capitalism' might have a blogsphere presence but it is not an effective political force. Socially mdoerate Republicans probably seem more progressive than they actually are because they tend to be compared, by the media and even by themselves, to the ultra-conservatives in their own party rather than all of Congress.

Party overlap?

I have an article on the US elections here in which I briefly sketch factions in the Democratic Party. Attached graph compares Republican and Democrats by economic and social liberalism, as we see little overlap between the two parties. The National Journal ranking for Nancy Pelosi on economic and social liberalism are 91 and 96 respectively. Note that Republican economic and social divisions are more independent of each other than for Democrats. More on this shortly.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Changing times

In retrospect the Victorian election may be seen as significant for indicating emerging shifts in public policy, the focus on water and the renationalisation of rail freight are examples. Interesting to see John Roskam, of all people, criticising Public-Private partnerships, today. Says Roskam:
State governments, burned by the financial disasters of the 1980s, are now so reluctant to carry any debt whatsoever that they rush into any available scheme that promises debt-free infrastructure. Such thinking totally ignores the fact that not all debt is bad. Borrowing to pay for recurrent expenditure is bad debt. Borrowing to pay for long-term infrastructure that benefits more than one generation is good debt. The Victorian Government by refusing to countenance the use of responsible debt is asking current taxpayers to bear the cost of assets that will be enjoyed at no cost by future generations. The growth of a national economy has meant a corresponding decline in the ability of state governments to influence the economic performance of their own state. State budgets still count for something, but they are nowhere as important as they were 20 years ago. State government officials carrying economic functions now have less to do. PPPs have filled the void. Meanwhile financial and legal advisers have, not unreasonably, grasped the opportunity provided by PPPs. Multibillion-dollar projects generate millions in fees.
The left has been doing this for years but he doesn't acknowledge them. Roskam is not unintelligent, and I remember him complaining at the 2004 Australasian Political Studies Association Conference about how boring the Liberal Party was because everyone was over 50 (or was it 60?), but usually his work is partisan hackery, as in his wild overstatements of the level of self-employment (which I refute here). The fact that even he can criticise PPPs is a sign of the times. Will these new times be more favourable terrain for the left?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Moderate Democrats

One theme likely to emerge from the elections is the rise of the 'moderate Democrat', the recruitment of candidates who market themselves as moderate such as Heather Shuler in North Carolina, or the 'Jesus-lovin' Harold Ford in Tennessee (for a bemused view of Ford from the left see here). Democrat stategists are encouraged by reports of defections of moderate Republican voters in Kansas and Washington, Oregon. Even although the Democrats will not depend on their majority for the south and this will be a change from pre-1994 electoral forces will pull them to the middle as Dave Oldenburg argues. How will factionalism play out in Congress? An indispensable guide is the National Journal 2005 Vote Rating that rank each member of Congress by how on average their voting behaviour is liberal or conservative across economic, social and foreign policy issues, a score of 90% for liberalism means that this member of Congress votes more liberally than 90% of his/her colleagues. In the run-up to the election I will use these rating to bring out lines of division and overlap. To start is economic and social liberalism correlated? Definitely yes according the chart that compares each memebr of the House of Representatives.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The onward march of (market) socialism?

Not really, but I was amused by this story:
The Victorian Government has signed a deal to buy back the state's country rail network if it is returned to power at the election. Victoria's regional freight rail track was sold to Pacific National by the Kennett administration in 1999. Treasurer John Brumby says the Government would buy back the country rail line for $133.8 million. He says the privatisation of the rail network never worked. "It will mean better access for competitors who want to use the network and that's important, so it will drive more competition, it will mean better maintenance, we have committed to spend $25 million over the next year on maintenance of the country network," he said. The Victorian Liberal Party's transport spokesman, Terry Mulder, says a Liberal government would also want to negotiate a buyback of the freight rail network. "We are not in government, we don't have access to the commercial-in- confidence agreements that the government of the day have with Pacific National, we can't negotiate with them as an Opposition to buy, that's a role of government, but that is our intent," he said.
More seriously, policies such as this and the rise of the water issuse point to major changes in state, and potentially national politics. Have any of these trends been predicted by the media elite?