15 May 2017
Since the last two world wars were over markets, it was assumed at the conference at Bretton Woods that if there were free markets everywhere there would be no wars and countries who did well would prosper. It worked. Germany and Japan traded in markets that had been denied to them pre-war and ‘won the peace’. The dogma was that because there was efficiency in production we would all be better off as goods would be available all over the world quickly and cheaply. And, helped by the overwhelming dominance of Milton Friedman’s economic theories the market has spread into every aspect of life. The fact that when Friedman’s theories were actually implemented in South America that they failed miserably was merely a blip ignored.
Now the market is assumed to be better than anything else as a way of allocating resources efficiently. It is better than government, better than planning, hey it is infallible, and probably inevitable as well!
Governments do not have to manage anything; they can sell it, even if they do not need the money. Inner city buses are the latest.
If you read Chapter One of most economics books, it tells you about competition and how you cannot charge too much or a competitor will uncut you, so prices are kept down.
The rest of the economics book tells about monopolies or oligopolies, where there is poor competition and you can charge what you like, or there are high set up costs as barriers to competition, or regulatory hurdles, artificial training or registration requirements, geographical limitation, existing facilities, impractical duplication costs etc etc, which make monopoly or ‘supernormal’ profits a certainty. Yet Governments plough on creating private monopolies and compliant political parties are rewarded by campaign funding to keep on winning elections.
What I am writing is not new or original and is known by anyone with even the most basic grasp of economic theory. Do the politicians not read past Chapter One? Do they never think that they are creating uncontrolled monopolies as they transfer assets from ownership by all the society to ownership by a moneyed elite? Are they so ideologically committed to privatisation that they no longer think at all? Do they not care, or will they do anything for their own short-term interest? It seems that the answer to all these questions is YES!
They have sold the airport, the sea port, the water supply (an endless subsidy to an unused desalination plant), the railways, the electricity, the road network and easements under it, the world standard database of land titles registration, the small councils power to control development, the list goes on and on. The health system is being sold by stealth. Medicare is being starved to death, as private health insurance is just subsidised inefficiency, and NDIS disability services will go the same way, no government services, oligopolies for profit paid for by the ‘Medicare’ levy rise, which is not even committed to Medicare. The education system no longer produces tradesmen to do the job and private education rip offs abound from dodgy day cares to non-Gonski funding to schools to post-TAFE colleges selling dubious certificates to phantom colleges ripping off visa-seeking migrant students.
The public service is being ‘hollowed out’. It no longer retains centres of expertise as it can always buy ‘consultants’ who carry briefcases and impressive CVs and have no interest except the public good. It closes offices, hires short term workers, relies on PR driven websites and replaces people with knowledge by ‘Services NSW’ which has someone who might know which department might do what you might want.
Our existing political system seems unable to govern in our interest. The interest of the political parties no longer coincide with the public interest. Our governments’ decisions have been bought like everything else. I do not think that money can be held at bay by electoral funding law reform. When we fought the tobacco industry, it sponsored sport and culture to get political allies. When that was banned, it sponsored ethnic groups, rescue boats and helicopters, any worthy cause that could lobby for it, and that was without gifts in kind, dodgy ‘foundations’ or other less visible influence-buying.
The only answer that I can think of is Swiss-style democracy where major decisions are taken by referenda of the people, and Parliaments merely implement decisions that the people have made. Any other suggestions?