Sunday, October 23, 2016

Freedom and Mutual Respect - Letters for October 2016

above:  The Herald-Sun commonly questions the right to protest , but doesn't question its own assumptions re: the availability of work , or the right to refuse exploitative employment
The following are a series of progressive letters sent to 'The Age', 'The Herald Sun' and 'The Australian' during October 2016.  The clear majority were not published.  But I am hoping they spark debate here.  

Topics include:

Benefits and Drawbacks of Globalisation'

'A congestion tax for Melbourne?'

In a similar vein:  Immigration, Tax and Infrastructure'

'Refuting Double Standards on Tolerance while Promoting real Pluralism and Freedom'

'Engaging with Feminism on the Complexity of Intersectionality and Privilege'

'Gender, Sexuality and Mutual Respect and Consideration' 

'Refuting the Herald-Sun Again on 'Welfare Shaming'

Refuting the Herald-Sun Again: Misleading Characterisations on the Unemployed'

Dr Tristan Ewins

Benefits and Drawbacks of Globalisation

Jeremy Francis (3/10) observes the benefits of globalisation ; criticising the double standards of Conservatives . He compares free trade with the defence of “strong borders” ; limiting the free movement of people – punishing and indeed criminalising refugees. But globalisation is too complex and multi-faceted for progressives to simply be ‘for’ or ‘against’ it.  Cultural exchange and engagement is arguably a good thing ; enriching cultures and acting as a check on abuse of power by particular nation states.  But the ‘inverse side’ of globalisation is the ‘free movement of capital’ .  Agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are deployed to break down all barriers which would prevent the exploitation of every potential market by the transnational corporations.  This kind of ‘free movement of capital’ disciplines labour, compelling states to provide corporate welfare.  It also acts as a barrier to ‘natural public monopolies’ in diverse areas including water, energy, communications and so on.  Yet such natural public monopolies could drive efficiencies and fairness in the Australian (and other) economies.   The TPP might  also arguably prevent ‘market-distorting’ economic democracy policies such as state support for co-operative enterprise. (nb: that is a criticism of the TPP not an endorsement)  Again: Globalisation is just too complex to simply be ‘for’ or ‘against’ it.

A Congestion Tax for Melbourne?

Daniel Andrews and the Liberals as well have quickly ruled out any congestion tax. (in the state of Victoria in Australia) But there are things we should keep in mind. Taxes have been falling and becoming less progressive for some time.  The Conservatives especially wear that as ‘a badge of honour’.  Before the most recent ALP National Conference Labor also considered holding taxes down as non –negotiable.  But if we don’t provide infrastructure and services through progressive taxes (which tax target the wealthy more) – then we must pay in other ways.  A ‘congestion tax’ is not especially progressive ; but would at least promote the use of public transport , taking pressure from our roads.  Also experience has shown infrastructure privatisation (eg: of roads) can actually stymie possible competition – as governments guarantee profits – shutting down alternatives while consumers pay.  Privatised ‘cost structures’ also include dividends and corporate salaries.  As a matter of fact consumers get a much better deal paying for infrastructure in their capacity as taxpayers than they ever will as atomised consumers in a ‘market’ which involves nepotism and monopolism.  And progressively structured tax can ensure ‘a fair go’ for all.

 In a similar vein:  Immigration, Tax and Infrastructure

Tom Elliot (HS 7/10) takes aim at immigration to explain the failure of infrastructure and services to keep up with population. There is an element of truth that there are logistical limits to how swiftly migration can proceed without running into such problems.  But there’s another side to this.  Cumulative migration creates ‘economies of scale’ in areas like the public service and Defence.  That is: it becomes possible to finance these for a proportionately smaller amount of resources.  The most significant problem we have with infrastructure is that the tax take has been cut unsustainably by Liberal and Labor governments alike for over 30 years.  (though Labor might be beginning to realise things must change) This situation means ‘corporate and middle/upper class welfare’ which average workers and vulnerable pensioners are now expected to pay for. Limited resources and Ideological opposition to debt financing (even when interest rates are so low!) also means roads, communications infrastructure etc are privatised. Consumers end up forking out more for their services and infrastructure because they must pay for marketing, executive salaries, profits and dividends – that go with privatisation. Taxes need to rise – but they must rise fairly.  Increasing the GST is not the answer.

Refuting Double Standards on Tolerance while Promoting real Pluralism and Freedom

With regard to Rita Panahi’s recent Op-Ed in the Herald-Sun ‘Students who Refuse to Learn Tolerance’  (10/10/16) there are a number of observations to be made.  Personally I am sympathetic to some of the ideas of the radical Leftist democrat, Chantal Mouffe- who has argued that: 

“within the ‘we’ that constitutes the political community, the opponent is not considered an enemy to be destroyed but an adversary whose existence is legitimate.”

Mouffe justifies this on the basis that pluralism (a genuine variety of viewpoints) is necessary for democracy to function effectively.  And that we ought respect each other as human beings. 

How refreshing this is in light of the brutality that passes for modern politics. (which are often ‘the politics of personal destruction’)

Democracy demands informed choice. The problem, though, is that much of the monopoly mass media in this country does not promote ‘a level playing field of ideas’ , or ‘tolerance’ of perspectives that diverge from dominant right-wing narratives.  Concentration of ownership doesn’t help.  If we are to argue for a stronger (and inclusive) pluralism in our universities – we must apply the same principles to the broader ‘public sphere’.

(nb: though the narrative of 'left elites in universities' is dubious anyway - when you consider the hegemony of neo-liberal perspectives in Economics faculties for example ; and attacks on the Humanities and Social Sciences)

above: 'body shaming', and body image expectations increasingly affect both women and men....
Engaging with Feminism on the Complexity of Intersectionality and Privilege 

‘The Australian’ (14/10) reports school curricula content which emphasises ‘male privilege’ with a tone of apparent concern.  But promoting a debate on different forms of privilege in our society ought not be a worry if only the curricula is rigorous and inclusive of critical perspectives.  For instance, the most advanced forms of what is referred to as ‘intersectionality’ theory emphasise the influence of class, gender, sexuality, body image, age, ‘race’,  disability, ethnicity, religion – where individuals experience disadvantage or privilege to different degrees on the basis of individual and particular circumstances.  So a ‘white male’ who comes from a background of socio-economic disadvantage – who does not comprise the ‘ideal’ male body type promoted in popular culture ; who does not enjoy the opportunity for higher education – may be less privileged than a woman who is educated, economically comfortable, and attractive according to popular standards.  But definitely, there is a long history of male dominance of the public sphere and  sport ; devaluation of ‘feminised’ professions ; exploitation of women in the home ; and so on.  (which needs to be challenged) We need ‘critical/active’ curricula which encourage ‘political literacy’ ; informed and active citizenship ; on the basis of a robust, far-reaching and inclusive pluralism.

 Gender, Sexuality and Mutual Respect and Consideration

The Herald-Sun reports that women are “victims of sexual attention” (16/10/16). A couple of points are important, here, though.  Firstly, ‘objectification’ increasingly affects men, also.  And men are also increasingly victims of unrealistic physical expectations around body image.  Secondly, we need to be careful we don’t portray male sexuality as ‘essentially bad’.  It is natural for people to feel and express attraction for each other. The question is ‘where to draw the line’ so as to be considerate and respectful as well.  And that cuts across gender lines.   It includes how women and men approach each other when they are sexually interested.  It also includes how we reject a person’s advances if we are not interested.  (ie: kindly and respectfully if possible)   There are also power relations based on physical expectations and body image which cut across gender lines. The question ought be: “how would I like to be treated were I in the other person’s shoes?”

 Refuting the Herald-Sun Again on 'Welfare Shaming'

The Herald-Sun (16/10/16)  reports that welfare-dependency figures are “shocking”.  But Disability pensioners, Carers and the Unemployed should not be ‘shamed’.  Carers save the public hundreds of millions of dollars by providing care and support for pittance that otherwise would cost the state a fortune. If we do not value their work just because it is not part of the ‘market sector’ then that itself says something  disturbing about our priorities.  Meanwhile those with a mental illness – who are commonly looked upon as ‘not-really-disabled’ can expect a reduced life-expectancy of 16 years – or 25 years for those with Schizophrenia. Who would ‘choose’ to be in that position?  Finally, research shows there are roughly five job-seekers for every position.  Were the government serious it would develop an industry policy to create real long term jobs – matched to peoples skills. (as some Nordic countries have tried)  Instead it tolerates an unemployment rate of around 6 per cent (much more if you include those who have given up the search) , and also ‘massive under-employment’ for people looking for full-time, secure work.  Because ‘Ideologically’ it cannot bring itself to support ‘economic intervention’.


Refuting the Herald-Sun Again: Misleading Characterisations on the Unemployed

The Herald-Sun (19/10/16)  proclaims on its front page:“70% of arrested meth users supported by your taxes” and also: “Dole Blown on Ice.”  While the apparent connection between Ice addiction and crime is alarming, the headline was irresponsible for several reasons.   Firstly, for those who don’t read the article thoroughly there may be the utterly false assumption that most Newstart recipients are ice addicts. In fact there is no proof of anything like this.  .Secondly: ice addicts need help overcoming their addiction. Yes there must be compulsory rehabilitation programs. But a purely punitive approach could lead to a downward spiral of desperation and crime.  It seems more than an accident that the headline coincides  with the Liberal Government’s attempt to wind back benefits such as Newstart, the Disability Support Pension, the Carers’ Allowance, and so on.  To ‘make room’ in the Budget to accommodate corporate tax cuts.  And hence to demonise and vilify these people.

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