What could have been…

In 2004 Australia rejected Mark Latham. In 2007 Australia chose Kevin Rudd. We picked the wrong guy.

While Rudd is on his Keynesian orgy of waste and mismanagement, Latham recently wrote an op-ed called ‘the folly of handouts’, outlining quite a different approach.

In the article, Latham attacks the Do Something mentality of politics, saying:

“Every time an issue pops up in the media — fat people, skinny models, souped-up teenagers or unconventional artworks — governments feel obliged to respond with new laws and advertising campaigns. Ultimately, however, these gimmicks are futile. Human nature is not easily moulded by dusty piles of public ordinances.”

and later

“Incredibly, Keynesianism and industry welfare, doctrines thoroughly discredited in the 1970s and 1980s, now form the basis of fiscal policy in Australia. If hand-outs to businesses and consumers are the answer to the competitive challenges of an open economy, why haven’t they worked at any time in the past 35 years?”

He goes on to outline his view of government, saying:

“The role of the state is essentially residual: providing support for people who drop out of the education and economic systems and funding health care for the aged and chronically ill.”

Latham is effectively endorsing a moderate libertarian agenda. He is opposed to the governments financial handouts, industry welfare and bank guarantees, saying that “as ever, government intervention created more problems than it solved”. Amen.

53 thoughts on “What could have been…

  1. Yeah, he might talk the odd bit of sense now, but Latham would have been a terrible choice at the time. Glad he lost… though I agree you (and others) “picked the wrong guy” with Rudd.

    Don’t blame me, I voted for Kodos.

  2. “fat people”

    I seem to recall one of Latham’s campaign promises was to ban fast food advertising on childrens programming. Cant remember exactly, it was a while ago but it was something like that

  3. Agree with Fleeced. Latham may sound a bit libertarian in opposing these ridiculous handouts, but he’s far from libertarian (private schoot hit list, Medicare Gold anyone?), verging on mentally unstable, and would have been an unmitigated disaster as PM.

  4. I agree with Latham that the government should reduce subsidies to education.

    I think it’s fairly clear that Latham has always had libertarian sympathies. Though the nature of politics means that he had to play the populist card during the 2004 campaign.

    If there are any politicians (past or present, any party) that are making more sense than Latham at the moment, then please mention them. Otherwise, give the man some credit.

    As for his “instability”, that is what happens if you continue to act like a normal human while being a high-profile politician. I can assure you that your or I (if we don’t change our behaviour) would look every bit as insane. Indeed — I imagine I’d look much worse. 🙂

    Latham’s biggest crime was excessive honesty and simply being a normal guy when the Australian electorate wants a boring twat. Costa had the same “flaw”. And Hewson also suffered from too much honesty. You may condemn these three honest libertarian-leaning politicians if you like — but I think they deserve some support.

  5. Libertarian tendencies? He was a big time 3rd-wayer in his old AFR columns.

    But good ideas should be appreciated free from the other issues abut the guy.

  6. Costa has smarts, but his downside wasn’t “honesty” as much as the fact that he was an arsehole… though that may be understandable, given the idiots he had to deal with.

    Hewson had some good ideas when he was running, but seems to have become more left-wing since leaving politics.

    Latham was extremely left-wing, and a complete nutcase. I have close to zero respect for the judgement of anybody foolish enough to have voted for him. His policies in the 2004 campaign were far worse than simple political pragmatism.

  7. Now he sounds smart- but it’s always easy to seem smart from the sidelines. If he had been elected, and was now PM, he’d have then been under pressure, and he was a bit erratic under pressure. He also found time to write a diary, which was turned into a book.
    It’s always hard to believe that Labor politicians have libertarian leanings, because Labor seeks utopia through government action, and libertarians think of government action as the thing that gets in the way of Utopia! Still, if he joins the LDP, I’ll think of the past as a learning experience for him, and he has now ripened into a mature thinker!

  8. Latham was clearly libertarian-ish (not left-wing) before he was leader of the ALP. He wrote often for the CIS. And when he spoke about the “3rd way” he was generally speaking of the non-government sector, not about big government. He repeatedly said that big government wasn’t the answer.

    Fleeced — you shouldn’t believe every piece of half-arsed Liberal party propaganda. And the word “nutcase” is not an argument.

    nicholas — I agree that it would be harder for anybody if they actually had power. But it’s good to see that Latham actually understands what is going on. Very few people in politics (on either side) have the first clue about economics.

    As for ALP politicians with libertarian leanings — there is Walsh during the 80s and Emerson now who are more libertarian than the vaste majority of conservatives. Libertarian-ish thinkers will always be rare in major parties, but we should be thankful when they come along and not immediately reject them if they’re in the “wrong” party or if they fight with taxi drivers.

  9. Yes that’s true about his 3rd way writings, except that he saw the role for government to facilitate/direct the social capital. Keating’s (I think) hand on the tiller not the oars.

    You have to love this bit from the article:

    “During this five years as Labor’s shadow minister for foreign affairs he regularly established opposition “command posts”, co-opting staff and resources from other MP’s offices, to deal with various international incidents. The fact he was in opposition and had no practical power to do anything about any of them never deterred him. He loved the thrill of being in charge of something, even if it was only a room full of Australian Labor Party staffers. Rudd is the consummate goalkeeper, an Energizer Bunny who never stops staging or attending meetings.”

    I’d like to know what Peter Walsh thinks of all this.

    I wonder how a genuinely libertarianish person can feel at home in the ALP?

  10. LDP aside I voted for Latham over Howard and subsequently Howard over Rudd. Rudd was always the wrong man for the job although his tax rhetoric was better than Beazley. I was certainly sympathetic to the view that the ALP had been okay under Hawke and could be okay again but I never liked Rudd. I have tried hard to give him the benefit of the doubt but he is exhausting the goodwill pretty rapidly.

  11. John

    Are we talking about the same Latham here? This is the dude tat was pushing for Medicare Gold and wanted to redirect money to government schools that was being used to finance private school ed.

    Honestly, I don’t think even Latham knows what he believes.

  12. The Third Way was Blair’s name for his program, a kind of Labour Lite. It was still socialism, but with a new brand.

  13. jc –

    I think John is suggesting that Latham didn’t really believe in Medicare Gold or the private school hit list, he was just pandering to ALP populism for the 2004 election.

    But John – elsewhere you admit (as Latham does in his book) that he’s an honest straight shooter. I agree with that assessment – he might be as mad as a cut snake, but he does say what he thinks – unlike, say, someone who once said he was an fiscal conservative, and now says neo-liberalism is the spawn of Satan.

    So his straight shooting suggests that he really did believe in gold-plated socialist healthcare and punishing private schools. He was a disciple of Whitlam after all.

  14. JC — from my memory of his education policy, it did not involve more money for government schools. Medicare Gold was crap… but show me a politician who hasn’t endorsed some sort of crap in their lives.

    Latham’s writing has been fairly consistent (and fairly sensible) for the last 10 years, excluding the months prior to the 2004 election.

    nicholas — I would say that the third way is what has existed in the developed world for the past 40 years.

    pedro — I don’t know why you think the ALP is inherently less libertarian than the Liberals. Both have good and bad people. Both have good and bad parts of their history. Both have increased the size of government, but both have dissenters.

  15. It amazes me that everybody here blindly thinks that the current unequal and generous handouts to private schools are beyond criticism. Lathams proposed spending cuts were controversial and badly sold, but not clearly wrong.

    There’s no defending Medicare Gold… but every leader has to put up with some compromise in their agenda.

    Anyway — if Latham is so bad, then show me all these other wonderful politicians (past or present, either side) who have said more sensible stuff. I think Latham has been on the right path about 70-80% of the time… which is more than double most other politicians.

  16. I don’t know why you think the ALP is inherently less libertarian than the Liberals. Both have good and bad people. Both have good and bad parts of their history. Both have increased the size of government, but both have dissenters.

    True, but the ALP are (almost) always more left-leaning and collectivist than the Liberals (in no small part due to trade union influence), and the latter at least say that they support individual freedoms and less government interference, even if their actions don’t always suggest so. So on balance, you’re more likely to find a libertarian in the Libs than the ALP

  17. It amazes me that everybody here blindly thinks that the current unequal and generous handouts to private schools are beyond criticism. Latham’s proposed spending cuts were controversial and badly sold, but not clearly wrong.

    I’ve seen evidence on Andrew Norton’s blog that funding of private schools has actually been a more efficient method of allocating resources rather than simply zeroing private school funding and transferring the money to the public sector.

    In fact it’s next best after vouchers.

    Medicare gold would have been a small proposal especially with the aging population issue. It was a potentially huge future burdon similar in scope to Bush’s rotten PBS.

  18. Anyway — if Latham is so bad, then show me all these other wonderful politicians (past or present, either side) who have said more sensible stuff. I think Latham has been on the right path about 70-80% of the time… which is more than double most other politicians.

    Turnbull’s tax proposal was excellent and certainly better than anything that came from Costello or Howard at the time. In fact it came reasonably close to LDP policy, not quite there but certainly close.

  19. Umm, Mark Latham broke a taxi driver’s arm and got into fights, smashed a photographers camera. He famously tried crushing Howard’s fist with his aggressive hand shake.

    I think culturally, libertarians are supposed to be very big on the whole “non-initiation of violence” principle.

  20. They all probably deserved it, jono, and imagine what fun we’d be having now with PM Latham- our troops right out of Iraq and Afghanistan, a cold war with America, a big budget deficit even before the new depression, Kyoto signed earlier and therefore more exacting, et cetera. Not a pretty sight.

  21. I’m with papa on the ALP libertarians and JC on the education policy thing. From a funding perspective, what difference does it make to a libertarian if schools are public or private? ALP industrial relations policy is always and inherently pushing to the collectivist and every single person in the ALP will proudly say that the ALP believes more in the roll and benefits of government than does the liberal party.

    A true libertarian will find less friction with the libs of the last 15 years than with labor (and with the nats for that matter).

  22. I think Latham himself may have been an okay leader. I was only 19 and living in Japan during the 2004 election, so I didn’t see much of Latham and I ended up voting Democrat/Green.

    What I do know about the ALP, though, is that it’s a much more heavily controlled machine than the Liberal Party. Latham wouldn’t have made his own policy choices, the ALP caucus would have made them for him.

    As for other leaders of a libertarian bent? Well I’m starting to feel more encouraged by the new direction of the Liberal Party. It seems Turnbull needed time to solidify his leadership before starting off in a new direction. 2008 Turnbull just followed the Nelson model, in 2009 he’s really starting to stand up for jobs. I’m hoping we’ll see a fresh more liberal Liberal Party and Rudd as a one term PM.

    I think a Turnbull lead Australia might well end up being worth the 3 years of Rudd we’ll have to endure. Howard had to go and unfortunately Rudd was the only other option. I’m cautiously optimistic that some good will come out of all this.

  23. Shem – not a bad analysis (apart from the ‘Latham would be an okay leader bit’). Though voting Green doesn’t give you much libertarian cred 😉

    nicholas gray – Latham as PM now? Not possible; if by some catstrophe he’d won in 2004 it would almost certainly have been a one term leadership, and we’d have a different Liberal or moderate ALP PM now, trying to pick up the pieces.

  24. It would have been Costello, the GG would be a tame President who obeyed Parliament’s orders, and the new PM would be trying to mend relations with the rest of the world. Still, it would have been one of those moments that historians love to write about! The Reign of Latham would have kicked out the ALP for years and years! (Almost might have been worth the cost on that alone…)

  25. The Greens were anti-war, pro-gay marriage, and opposed to Christian moral wowsers. They weren’t much into government handouts to big business either. Those things appealed at the time. They still appeal, but knowing more about capitalism as I do now, I know that being capitalist doesn’t mean one is pro-war, pro-Christian, anti-environment.

    I used to believe that different government was the best way to stop greedy bastards (in government and in business) from starting wars for profit. I now know that government is never that accountable. People with power will always be corrupt. Whether they be wealthy businessmen or people in politics.

    I think one of Ron Paul’s greatest achievements was getting people like me that are anti-war and used to view themselves as left to realise that the Republicans and right-wingers in general aren’t always warmongers. There’s another path- that of libertarianism.

  26. “He famously tried crushing Howard’s fist with his aggressive hand shake.”

    Jono, in his interview on Enough Rope he claimed that that incident was payback for Howard crushing Latham’s wife hand in an earlier handshake at the cricket (or footy maybe, can’t remember exactly.) Probably not the best way of getting him back considering he was being filmed though…

  27. Mark Latham has one redeeming feature. He detests Philip Adams and for that I would gladly buy him a beer.

  28. Shem – you have to get this ‘anti-war’, ‘pro-war’ thing sorted in your head. no-one is ‘pro-war’.

    you can’t define yourself as ‘anti-war’. its like calling yourself ‘anti-genocidal holocaust’. it’s a given.

  29. Umm, Mark Latham broke a taxi driver’s arm and got into fights, smashed a photographers camera. He famously tried crushing Howard’s fist with his aggressive hand shake.

    Nothing wrong with that, I often feel the same way myself.

    I don’t know why you think the ALP is inherently less libertarian than the Liberals. Both have good and bad people. Both have good and bad parts of their history. Both have increased the size of government, but both have dissenters.

    Neither is in any way libertarian, Australians have always had the choice of two brands of nanny state. Any ‘dissenters’ do not make themselves conspicuous by actually dissenting, especially on the floor of the house. Joyce and Co were standing up for their nanny principles against other nanny principles.

    That said I feel that he should be judged on what he is saying now, people change and some see the light. Latham is a guy who got involved in politics at an early age and has since had time to stand back and look over the scene objectively.

    Anyway a guy has to be on the right track if he believes that the Liberal Party frontbench was a “conga line of suckholes”

    David, send him a membership form.

  30. Jim you’ve got to be kidding, Latham in the LDP would be a PR nightmare !

    But … seeing as ut the LDP doesn’t have any PR at the moment, this could be bigger than Richmond getting Ben Cousins.

    Bad PR is better than none at all.

  31. I wasn’t entirely serious on that one, Jono, although he could get us a fair bit of attention. Its a shame he tends to be a little intemperate at times.

    As an advocate of limited government though, I have to admit that Latham has put up a damn good argument against government intervention. It would be interesting to see how much of it was inspired by a genuine change of heart from the old days, and how much by his obvious dislike of Rudd. In some ways it is a great libertarian argument, in others it is very Rudd orientated, although to frame the it in the way he has indicates some commitment to the philosophical aspect of the argument.

    I am not sure about wanting him in, but it probably wouldn’t be a disadvantage to have him independently in our corner.

  32. Pommy, I don’t think Dubya was “anti-war” I think war was in his best interests and he was very pro-war. There are people in the world that are pro-war. People in the military come to mind (I have a friend that is very happy when he’s actively deployed). Manufacturers of weaponry always like a good war. To say “no-one is pro war” is a bit naive I think.

    Most people aren’t pro war, though. The main difference is between interventionists and non-interventionists. But that doesn’t stop there being pro-war people out there. Some people truly are malevolent.

  33. Generally servicemen are not pro-war, but on the other hand are quite willing to take up a just cause. (Their perception of it that is.)

    Most people don’t want war except for a few extremists, especially if they are not going to actually be required to fight that war. There are a limited number of manufacturers of weaponry, most of whom are selling weapons nicely, war or no war.

    Read Terje at 30.

  34. Well my friend likes active deployment because it pays better. I assume a lot of people in the military share that sentiment. He also likes it because he works in signals and most of his work doesn’t involve combat.

  35. Shem – ‘interventionist’ is a much better distinction.

    i would agree that most of the army are pro-interventionist. however, i sleep better at night knowing that.

  36. Pommy – out of curiosity if the Australian military all went on extended leave what nightmares would keep you awake at night?

  37. The vaste majority of people I know have been in some sort of fight. I don’t think that means we should ignore their contributions to politics.

    There seems to be some instinctive and irrational anti-Latham feelings here. Sure, he was a bit wacky sometimes. So are most humans.

    But his policy analysis and his views on politics are light-years ahead of the majority of other politicians — past or present, either side of the chamber.

    I think it is obvious that Latham (and Costa, and Emerson) belong in the LDP. If we’re going to exclude people who are a bit wacky sometimes, then we’ll have to exclude the vaste majority of our current members. 🙂

  38. If Latham ditches Medi-care Fools’ gold in favour of the pro-gold party (the LDP), then he will have matured into a statesman! I realise that libertarians could exist in the ALP, but it’s hard to think of Labor as a natural home of small-government types. Now that our party exists, they have a home!

  39. John,

    With not too much imagination, Keating becomes bit of a hero to us as well. As does Howard.

    I like Costa because he was the Hayek-portrait-hanger from day one.

    He’s probably also enough of an prick to keep Keating in his place. What does that say about Hawke’s personality!?

  40. Hawke was always a little too concerned with consensus. Which lead to his downfall after not being able to make a decision on a uranium mine policy, if I recall correctly.

    The difference between Howard and Hawke is chalk and cheese. Hawke wanted to be liked but Howard didn’t care as long as you did what you were told.

  41. I agree wholeheartedly John, I often wonder why the rest of humanity is so eccentric.

    Latham grew up in the political environment of of the left who tend to be haters. Some of the right are pretty good at it too but if you really want to hone your skills at it you can’t go past the left.

    Between graduating and moving into politics he was a political adviser working for Gough Whitlam, the New South Wales branch of the Party and Bob Carr. If being mentored by pompous old Gough and his ilk doesn’t give you a skewed idea of normality, nothing will and for this reason I am inclined to cut him some slack. I think we should be judging the guy on what his current attitude is.

    The guy seems to demonstrate in this one some sort of understanding, and possibly commitment to the concept that government is trying to do too much. I like a guy who is disparaging towards the nanny state. It is possible he has read some Hayek or some of the others, or perhaps just too many of Humphreys op-eds and has decided to use that sort of argument to get at Rudd.

    His future writing will tell us whether he is moving our way or whether this is another mood swing. In the meantime the position of Peter Whelan appears safe.

  42. Jim makes a good point – i wonder how much of his supposed free market rhetoric is simply a way of sniping at Rudd.

    however this article is not the first i have read from Latham indicating an increasingly liberal view.

  43. I’d like to confirm one thing here.

    Is the LDP at least attempting to recruit celebrities, public figures and former political leaders ?

  44. Jono, we don’t discuss LDP internal business here. This is a public blog.

    Join the party and get involved. Then you’ll not only know what it’s doing, you’ll have the chance to do some of it yourself.

  45. This is from the IEA

    http://blog.iea.org.uk/

    The Road to Serfdom, now more than ever

    February 6th, 2009 by John Meadowcroft
    In recent months there appears to have been a resurgence of scholarly interest in F. A. Hayek’s classic of political economy, The Road to Serfdom. Academics have been focusing in particular on the validity of the book’s central argument regarding the instability of liberal democracy and the stability of totalitarianism.

    Hayek argues that totalitarianism does not result from a dramatic or sudden change in the popularly accepted role of government. Rather, societies drift into totalitarianism as a result of a long series of seemingly minor, incremental expansions of government activity.

    Step by step, well-meaning government interventions that may seek the amelioration of genuine social problems lead the citizens of a free society to accept an ever-greater role for the state until every sphere of human activity becomes government controlled. The more the logic of interventionism takes hold, the harder it is for that tide to be turned back towards freedom.

    Despite the undoubted influence of The Road to Serfdom, it may seem that the book’s central argument has been refuted by the experience of the twentieth century. Certainly, many governments, the UK being one example, adopted substantial interventionist policies without sliding all the way into totalitarianism.

    Indeed, it was totalitarian states, such as fascist Germany and Italy, that returned to market economies and democratic government. Contra to Hayek’s thesis, it would seem that a mixed economy can be sustained for many decades without a descent into totalitarianism, whereas totalitarianism appears to be inherently unstable.

    However, recent data published by the Centre for Economics and Business Research should give pause for thought to anyone uncritically accepting this analysis. In large parts of Britain the economy is now dominated by government: the proportion of regional GDP derived from state spending in Northern Ireland is now 77.6%; in Wales it is 71.6%; in the North East of England it is 66.4%; and in Scotland the figure is 60.3%.

    By comparison, spending as a proportion of GDP in Nazi Germany was 34% and in Mussolini’s Italy it was 31% (1937 figures, see here). This is not to suggest that these societies were in any way preferable to contemporary Britain, but it does show that in terms of the growth of the state parts of the UK are in unprecedented territory by international and historical comparison.

    What is remarkable is that this enormous expansion of the economic role of the state has been achieved without the creation of the kind of totalitarian apparatus that Hayek believed would be necessary for the government to control even a relatively small proportion of economic activity. It can be argued that he did not foresee that power would be exercised in much more subtle way in the modern state. People do not have to be forced to pay income tax at gunpoint, for example; rather income tax is automatically removed from people’s salaries, leaving many barely aware of its extraction.

    The Road to Serfdom remains a classic of political economy. But whereas it is has become commonplace to argue that Hayek overstated the inevitability of the slide from the mixed economy to totalitarianism, when we take into account the changing nature of power in the modern state, it may be the case that Hayek under-estimated the precariousness of free societies. When whole sectors of economic life can be nationalised without the need to mobilise the means of organised violence then freedom is in a truly perilous state.

  46. “Jono, we don’t discuss LDP internal business here. This is a public blog.

    Join the party and get involved. Then you’ll not only know what it’s doing, you’ll have the chance to do some of it yourself.

    Comment by DavidLeyonhjelm | February 6, 2009”

    Wow, it’s almost like I’m at a Liberal Party meeting. There is nothing like the phrase ‘internal business’ to engender a party culture that stifles open debate.

  47. Jake; Thoughts on Freedom is the public forum of the Australian Libertarian Society, and while LDP members are prominent here it is open to anyone. The LDP is strongly associated, but separate to the ALS.

    Party business is discussed on other forums but is easily available to the public. It is fair to keep our own discussions to our members.

  48. Jake, do you really think it is prudent for the LDP to openly discuss trying to recruit key members of other political parties?

    It wasn’t something that was on the agenda during my time on the executive, but were it on the agenda, surely that is a discussion best hosted behind closed doors?

    The LDP is very open about policy discussion, often involving non-members. But the nitty-gritty politics side of preference deals and campaign strategy? It makes sense for that to be discussed more privately.

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