Saturday salon 11/4 (late edition)


An open thread where, at your leisure, you can discuss anything you like, well, within reason and the Comments Policy. Include here news and views, plus any notable personal experiences from the week and the weekend.

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The gentleman in the image is Voltaire, who for a time graced the court of Frederick II of Prussia, known as Frederick the Great. King Fred loved to talk about the universe and everything at the end of a day’s work. He also used the salons of Berlin to get feedback in the development of public policy.

Fred would only talk in French; he regarded German as barbaric. Here we’ll use English.

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The aim [of this site] is to provide a venue for people to contribute and to engage in a civil and respectful manner.

Here are a few bits and pieces that came to my attention last week.

1. Richie Benaud passes on

The ABC puts it well:

Cricket icon Richie Benaud, who distinguished himself first as a leg-spinning all-rounder, then as a daring Australian Test captain and later as the ‘voice of cricket’ in the commentary box, has died at the age of 84.

Benaud’s skills, drive and determination took him to the top on and off the cricket field, and made him one of Australia’s most recognised people, instantly identifiable simply as Richie.

He played 63 Tests for Australia, was the first player to score 2,000 Test runs and take 200 Test wickets, and never lost a series as Australian captain.

After hanging up his Baggy Green cap, he spent more than four decades as the king of cricket commentators, a man viewed around the world as one of the best callers, watchers and analysts of the game – and perhaps its best ambassador as well.

While acknowledging his record I’d rate him as a top-flight bowler who was a handy batsman rather than a genuine all-rounder, who would be selected for his batting and his bowling absent the other. Genuine all-rounders are rare. I can think of Garfield Sobers, Keith Miller and Ian Botham, also Adam Gilchrist in a sense.

Benaud, I think, gave some respectability to the Packer circus and was apparently quite influential in giving advice.

2. Opinion polls

In Great Britain Ed Miliband overtakes David Cameron in approval ratings, as Labour pulls ahead in the polls.

Here in Oz Newspoll studied quarterly trends with a larger than usual sample. The headlines and much of the reporting was about Abbott’s poor performance in WA. You had to dig to find the national TPP poll which had Labor ahead 55-45. Also:

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten leads Mr Abbott 44-34 as preferred prime minister.

He is now ranked as better prime minister in all states for the first time.

Roy Morgan now has Labor ahead 53-47 and as does the Essential Report.

If this keeps up Labor could lose the election, because they’ll give Abbott the flick and put in Julie or Malcolm.

3. We lock people up too much

Australia’s imprisonment rate at 186 per 100,000 is historically high and getting higher. Moreover:

In contrast to most other developed countries, this rate is palpably high. The rate in Canada is 118 per 100,000. The incarceration rate in Australia is nearly three times higher than in Scandinavian countries.

Standing apart from these trends is the world’s greatest incarcerator, the United States, which imprisons more than 700 people per 100,000 – an increase of more than 400% in three decades.

It’s costing us a pile of money – we spend $A80,000 per prisoner per year compared to $A30,000 in the US. This wouldn’t be so bad if it worked, but it doesn’t:

Sentencing is the area of law where there remains the biggest gap between what science tells us can be achieved through a social institution (criminal punishment) and what we actually do.

In fact

our prisons [are] where the greatest number of human rights infractions occur.

The solution?

The start and endpoint to the solution is to confine jails (almost exclusively) to those we have reason to be scared of: sexual and violent offenders.

Thanks to John D for bringing this article to my attention.

4. Keep an eye on Greece – something unusual is happening

James Galbraith has been to Greece to consult on their problems and reported in an amazing speech to the European Trade Union Institute.

So as these manoeuvres, as I call them, mature, there emerges an interesting possibility. And that is the possibility of a politically stable, anti-austerity government in Europe, led, as I think you probably have observed, by forceful personalities, and presiding over an economy which is so far down that it has no place to go but up. And that may well be, within a short period of time, on a track of some recovery, some improvement in jobs performance and stabilisation of its external debt situation.

This would be in the wake of a crisis that was brought on by the neoliberal financial policies of the early part of the 2000s. Which was then aggravated and prolonged by the austerity ideology that succeeded the crisis, by the profoundly counterproductive policies with which Europe has reacted to the crisis. And so the possibility that an anti-austerity government might lead the beginning of a recovery from the austerity regime is, I think, a present reality and it is, of course, a nightmare in certain quarters.

Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras have faced a wall of grief and pain from a hostile media and European finance authorities. If they prevail it will be because in the end Angela Merkel is pragmatic rather than doctrinaire. The stakes are high:

It goes beyond that to the future of Europe and beyond that, to the meaning of the word democracy in our time.

If you have a spare hour, Yanis Varoufakis talks with Joe Stiglitz. I haven’t yet had time for more than the first half hour.

11 thoughts on “Saturday salon 11/4 (late edition)”

  1. I wondered why the stats showed that no-one read this post on the weekend. The reason turned out to be simple – I’d forgotten to hit the “publish” button!

  2. Yes. Greece is fascinating. The new far left Greek Government is facing tremendous resistance from the upholders of supposed neoliberal financial orthodoxy, whose policies are reducing parts of the world to an economic catastrophe. One can only watch, hold one’s breath and hope the Greeks win out. With luck the RWNJs will have Spain to contend with as well, soon.

  3. Paul, it seems to me that if we had a United States of Europe, that is political union, the federal budget would be ploughing funds into Greece to increase investment. Varoufakis said there were firms in Greece that had export orders they couldn’t fill because they had no access to credit.

    Generally speaking he impresses as a smart cookie. We can only wish him well.

  4. While we are talking about the number of people in jail there are a couple of things that really bug me.
    The first is the amount of time that people who can’t get (or afford) bail are kept in jail while the wheels of justice grind on. I accept that there are some people whose alleged crime is so horrifying that bail should be refused and others who keep breaking bail conditions. However, our slow old justice system should give priority to dealing with the cases of those who have been refused bail and the conditions under which people these people are being held should assume that these people will be found not guilty.
    The other beef is the way that judges declare those that continue to claim innocence are declared by judges to be showing “no remorse” and given longer sentences and blocked from getting parole as a result. Judges of all people should be grown up to admit that the courts sometimes get it wrong and that the current practice will be dealing out extra punishment to people who really are innocent and insist on saying this.

  5. The Australian currency and economic union more or less works because the federal government, not the states, has most of the responsibility for our economy and we are citizens of Aus who can move to any part of Aus and be accepted. Welfare, taxation etc. are federal responsibilities. In addition, the federal government is elected by all adult Australians. Can’t see a federal government would stay in power if it let NSW sink to a similar situation to that of Greece.
    By contrast, the Eurozone is not working because individual states have too much power compared with the central EU organization. Even worse, the economics of the countries that make up the eurozone are very different and the capacity of ordinary Greeks to migrate to Germany and enjoy the same treatment as German citizens is limited.
    The other problem is that the Eurozone is good for Germany because countries like Greece help to keep the value of the currency down. It is not helping countries like Greece because countries like Germany keep the value of the Euro uncompetitive.

  6. Varoufakis said that political union should have, by rights, preceded economic union, except that it just wouldn’t happen.

    In a way the EU is a test case of free trade. I’m reading Tony Judt’s Postwar at the moment, which is the history of modern Europe. He says that continental Europe was basically agrarian and pre-industrial immediately after the war with the possible exception of Belgium. Industrialism was very rapid. It involved mainly making and selling each other consumer goods. Tourism also expanded at an astonishing rate. But the economies were similar or complementary.

    I’m not up to the bit about the creation of the Euro, but I think it only works while the economies are either genuinely complementary or similar and in balance. Greece should have a currency that can depreciate to make them competitive.

    Judt says that in the early days of the EU France made the policies and Germany paid the bills. It seems to me that during the last few years French weakness has meant that Germany has come to do both.

  7. John D. @ 4: I don’t know; every cloud has a silver lining …. and I am sure recruiters for ISIL in Australia would be absolutely delighted with the grossly unjust bail and remand situation here – and, of course, they would be overjoyed every time an unbreathalyzed judge makes a stupid statement based on deliberate ignorance.

    All they have to do is just stand there and catch the victims of our so-called justice system as they fall into their arms.

    Maybe it’s time our security and intelligence people had some heart-to-heart chats with our pampered judicial hoodlums; bringing a cosh and a bludgeon to the conversations may well speed up the necessary changes of attitude among the wigged fools.

  8. Graham @ 7

    ….I am sure recruiters for ISIL in Australia would be absolutely delighted with the grossly unjust bail and remand situation here……All they have to do is just stand there and catch the victims of our so-called justice system as they fall into their arms…

    I didn’t peg you as being in the long conga line of blame deflectors making excuses for islamists carrying out atrocities in the name of islam.

    Say it aint so mate.

  9. Afraid you’re mistaken, Jumpy @ 8. Just saying that the ruthless recruiters for ISIL would be only too happy to latch onto anyone who had been harmed by our unjust justice system and then manipulate them for their own evil purposes.

    Brian re Item 4: Greece does indeed have nowhere to go but up. Why do visions of Gdansk shipyard workers and Lithuanian protesters drift before my eyes every time I think of the current financial mess in Greece? It takes two to tango – and the blame for what has happened there has to be shared with the lenders who did their due diligence and still lent truckloads of money anyway. I’ll bet that right now there are some sneaky billionaires who are praising the virtues of the free market to the skies – whilst scurrying around trying to get onto the next good thing before their beloved free market collapses in a smouldering heap, as did Marxist-Leninist Communism before it.

  10. Phyew!, that’s a relief Graham.
    We wouldn’t like to paint perpetrators as victims when the actual victims of theirs get left out of the equation.
    A bit like Greece blaming creditors for lending them money to live in unaffordable luxury, running huge deficit after huge deficit, when the perpetrators are they and the victims are their children.
    Or blaming the free market when they indulge in distorting, manipulation, cronyism, bribery, monopolies, collusion and every other wrong that undermines free trade ( actual free trade is to benefit the consumer, i.e., us ).
    The crooks don’t engage in the free market, they set up unfree markets.
    The victims are us.

  11. People like the German banks lent money to the Greek government and Spanish banks on the assumption that the German government would back the German banks instead of letting the German banks suffer the effect of their stupidity. In retrospect the Spanish government would have been smarter to let overborrowing Spanish banks fail.
    Spain and Greece would have been a lot smarter too if they had stayed with their own currency instead of, in effect having the value of their currency locked to the Deutschmark.
    You are right Jumpy. Greece and Spain got into trouble once they stopped the currency free market adjust the value of their currencies.

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