Sunday, December 02, 2007

A cause for optimism?

A number of times over the life of this blog I have reflected on signs of the political/economic pendulum reversing its swing. The signs have been there, though depressingly slow, but I am seeing ‘on the ground’ signs following the Australian general election that the reverse has begun.

First a disclaimer: I have designated – free market Vs communitarian values; not arbitrary designations I might add, but clearly subjective. I could have equally used the emotional – greed Vs need – or a plethora of other evocative terms. Essentially we are talking about the difference between of extremes of a market dominated economy or one which puts the common good before all else. Extremes are unlikely to delivery any real value to any society.

But why optimistic? Prior to Election Day this country was, socially, an uncertain, unconfident, hotch potch of bravado, negativity and hope. The Monday after Saturday’s conclusive poll there was a new spirit abroad. Apologists for Howard’s regime were suddenly joyful critics.

Why powerful commentators and ordinary people in the street should be equally cowered by the Howard push is beyond me, but the floodgates opened that quickly. More than that, there is a broad call for rebuilding social infrastructure in a careful and measured way. This even to the degree of repudiating personal tax cuts in favour of direct investment in social capital.

I’m in danger of waffling on this, and not conveying anywhere near how dramatic the transformation has been. No one is talking about the new Prime Minister, Rudd, having a ‘honeymoon period’. It is not about waiting for failure but praying that this new light will not only last but will grow stronger by the day.

Arthur Schlesinger argued that politics ran in cycles of between 12 and 30 years, alternating between a communitarian phase favouring the public sphere - public education, health, transport, housing - and a neo-liberal phase that favoured the private economy.

The sense of optimism is that the tide has turned and the market economy experiment will now fade back into history. There is a wonderfully rich history to back Schlesinger’s assertion, which I am happy to share but will back off for now.

With US Presidentials looming these events in the far South Pacific offer a real sense of hope across the free democracies, a sense of real change starting. But it comes with two warnings;

1/ The real sense of hope probably doesn’t emerge until after the vote. The realisation needs to be grounded in reality.

2/ No one really wants to endure a dramatic swing, it can take a decade or more to properly dismantle the excesses of one regime and see the real changes biting.

Australia has done well to choose an economically conservative transition as we strive toward government for the common good.


Praguetwin said...

The sense of optimism is that the tide has turned and the market economy experiment will now fade back into history.

I wouldn't count on it. The market economy is at this juncture irreplaceable. The question is only to what degree that market based economy will chose to divert resources towards the common good.

To a greater degree than we have seen lately, I would hope.

Cartledge said...

PT I am talking gradual, a decade or so before you see much. But I can tell you the mood has changed here to an extent that the market has been warned.
Economic commentators are now warning the markets of what they are facing. It is a delight to watch.

abi said...

I think you're both right, with the difference being semantics. The pendulum does swing towards one extreme and back towards the other, without (hopefully) actually reaching either extreme. And I hope for all our sakes that Cartledge is right, and it's starting to fall back towards an emphasis on community. I don't know about Austraila, but I have serious doubts about it starting to swing back in the US.

Cartledge said...

abi. thanks. I will add that this feeling is after the fact. Depending on election outcomes of course.
I'm watching policy changes here and my mouth is still open in wonder.