When ordinary citizens grumble that politicians don't listen to them or the media is off on their own trip, well, of course they are right. But THE People are hardly blameless for such a problem. Most of us don't understand politics. We typically understand/care even less about economics. Domestic politics therefore ends up being an opportunistic slather of sloganeering, populist debates over trivialities and simplistic explanations of complex questions. As a result the voting public customarily bases its judgement on the argy bargy of politicking and not the deeper mechanisms behind policy decisions. For their part the news media too often fail the public by focusing on sexy issues of character flaws and leadership spills, gotcha moments and political spin.
In reality, the two most important judgements an electorate must make before an election are fundamentals affecting the stability and future propects of the nation, and yet they invariably receive scant attention. They are always the same two - the economic philosophy driving the economy and the state of the progressive/conservative divide. Without a healthy balance of liberal and conservative voices present in the national conversation then progress is hampered by ideological excesses and democracy suffers. But the most important matter is the economic theory ruling the country. In Australia we are presently ruled by what could be called a socialised form of Hayekian Neoliberalism. Naturally people will ask, what the hell is that?? To decipher the gobbledegook a brief review of the history of 20th century economics is needed.
In the 1930s a political school of thought evolved in Austria courtesy of a group of theorists, the most influential being economist Friederich Von Hayek. A variant of classic liberalism, the theory primarily advocated freeing up trade, privatisation and a reduction of state restrictions on capital flow. In time it became known as Neoliberalism. This definition from Investopedia.com:
An approach to economics and social studies in which control of economic factors is shifted from the public sector to the private sector. Drawing upon principles of neoclassical economics, neoliberalism suggests that governments reduce deficit spending, limit subsidies, reform tax law to broaden the tax base, remove fixed exchange rates, open up markets to trade by limiting protectionism, privatize state-run businesses, allow private property and back deregulation.
Maturing as an idea in the 60s it soon became a State religion following the election victories of the Conservative Party in Britain (1979) and the Republican Party in the U.S (1980). With its adoption by the Reagan administration the rest of the West soon followed. Today it is also known as Thatcherism and Reaganomics. George Bush Snr called it trickle down economics meaning the greater the wealth creation at the top the more this would flow to those below. In Australia under the centre-left Hawke/Keating government (1983-1996) it became known as Economic Rationalism.
An intended adjunct of Neoliberalism theory was the "liberalising" of society by placing emphasis on the importance of individualism as opposed to collectivism - this was enthusiastically adopted by the theory's champions, Reagan and Thatcher, with severe consequences for working class families and government welfare programs. As is now well known, in the nirvana of Individualism the rich got richer and the poor got poorer, creating an inevitable underclass while the consumer society took hold.
In Australia, however, Prime Minister Bob Hawke and Treasurer (and later Prime Minister) Paul Keating transformed the theory by retaining a strong government welfare safety net. Hawke and Keating managed this by striking a deal with unions that in return for accepting the new economic regime and the reduction of strikes/pay increases, working class and lower-middle class families would be guaranteed social wage increases in the form of government administered superannuation savings and healthcare. In other words Keating as treasurer took the best of Neoliberalism and wedded it to traditional Labor Party collectivist social values ( Former British PM Tony Blair would cite Keating as an inspiration when adopting his Third Way regime in the UK).
Consequently the massive divide between rich and poor found in most other Western countries was (relatively speaking) contained down under, eventually setting Australia on the path to a now record 22 years of continuous economic growth. As his reward for transforming the nation, Keating (perhaps Australia's greatest reformist politician) was booted out of office by a massive majority in 1996. To the present day, and despite subsequent governments tinkering away at Hawke/Keating Economic Rationalism, it still holds sway in Australia. Thus it is this issue above all that voters must focus on come the election of September 14 2013. In what form will economic rationalism take in the hands of Tony Abbott's conservative Coalition should they win the election is the biggest question facing the nation.
Tony Abbott is clearly a Thatcherite Neoliberal, but he does have a social conscience of sorts - defined by his conservative Catholic views about society and especially the role of women in society. But what will define his government should the Coalition win the upcoming election is not only his direct input but that of the hardline Neoliberals in the party who have all but sidelined the party moderates permanently. Abbott in many ways is only a well managed mouthpiece for the "faceless men" of the Right and the party's big business backers.
To help them along they are championed by the ultimate Thatcherite of all time in Rupert Murdoch who uses his massive press advantage (67% of market share) to promote the Neoliberal ideology while attempting to destroy the credibility of the Gillard government. It might be more illuminating for voters if they imagined Alan Jones or Andrew Bolt as prime minister if they want to get a better picture of what may be in store for Australia. Nevertheless it is Abbott who is charged with calling the shots. Can he be trusted to govern for all the people? On this the last word should go to Paul Keating who in his usual style had this to say about Tony Abbott:
Look... if Tony Abbott ends up the prime minister of Australia you've gotta say, God help us. God help us. I mean, truly an intellectual nobody. And no policy ambition .. you know the song, Is That All There Is? I mean is that where we'd be? Really? I mean, look, he turned up in the last couple of years when I was prime minister; I used to regard him as a resident nutter on their side.
If the people weren't prepared to listen to Keating back in 1996 after all that he'd done for the nation perhaps they should listen to him now, for their own sake.