OPINION: The party of safe economic hands? Not so much. It’s time to blow this hard-to-kill myth out of the water, writes Costa Avgoustinos.
1) Bad Social Values Mean Bad Economic Decisions
Like everyone, the Liberals’ economic decisions are tied to their social values. And they make bad economic decisions because of that.
They see $240 million on school chaplains as a good investment, but not $8 million on SafeSchools, the anti-homophobic bullying program. They’ll spend billions on refugee detention (including $55 million on sending a mere five refugees to Cambodia) and double defence spending by 2025 (including billions for dud, yet to be sufficiently tested, fighter jets), but cut funding to public schools, public health, women’s shelters, homeless shelters, mental health programs, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs, Legal Aid – all things, incidentally, that make money.
Do you know how much money we lose in productivity and other costs from allowing domestic violence to fester? $13 billion each year. From allowing so many young working-aged people’s (and others’) mental health to spiral out of control? $60 billion each year.
For every dollar governments put in community legal services, they get back $18. Why? Because if poor people can access free lawyers, they can resolve disputes with landlords (and avoid homelessness), family members and police (and avoid prison), employers (and avoid going on the dole), sue the guy that hit them with a car (and avoid becoming dependent on government forever) and more.
But despite the excellent, purely economic reasons for funding such services, it is the Liberals’ social values that forbid them from even considering such win-wins. Or, for that matter, taxing rich friends.
People treat economics as separate from social beliefs. They’re not. If your social values don’t align with the Liberals (or whoever), your economic values are unlikely to align either. So consider how you feel about Liberals’ views on women, gays, refugees or poor people’s access to health and education next time you shrug “but they are good for the economy”.
2) Howard And Costello Are Way Overrated
Harking back to the Howard years is a favourite point pushed by those who believe the myth of Liberal economic supremacy now.
Firstly, that was 800 years ago. Secondly, when they were in power, conditions were perfect. It was pre-Global Financial Crisis and there was a mining boom. Frankly, you would have to be a moron not to run a good economy back then. Indeed, many argue Howard/Costello were, in fact, dismal economic managers – the economy was just that robust when they were in power (for reasons outside their doing), it concealed their poor economic decisions.
As JFK said, “the time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining”. They squandered good economic conditions (instead of investing in needed infrastructure and Australia’s long-term future, Howard/Costello preferred using the cash sloshing around for handouts to middle-class and upper-class voters to win elections) and we’re paying for it today.
3) Trickle Down Ideology, Cute In The 80s, Has Been Busted
Tethered to their social values is their guiding economic philosophy: allow Big Business to do whatever they like and their fortunes will “trickle down” to the rest of us. 1,500 years ago in the 1980s and 90s, that philosophy was untested so OK let’s give it a go. But they have now been tested. They don’t work. All that privatisation and deregulation led to money being sucked up by the rich and never trickling down.
It turns out the rich would rather put that money into offshore tax havens, use that deregulation to ship jobs overseas and slash wages and benefits for those that remain here, and use their growing money and power to lobby government to implement more “trickle down” policies to grow even more money and power. Wash and repeat. Trickle down/free market/neoliberal economics, whatever you want to call it, don’t work. The Liberals either can’t see it, or it’s too personally advantageous for them not to see it.
4) The Best Treasurer They Can Offer Is Apparently Scott Morrison
And before that it was… Joe Hockey. It’s hard to argue you are strong on economic management if they are the best economic managers you can muster.
5) Climate Change Is Real
In a sense, climate change represents the perfect cluster of all of these hallmarks of Liberal Party economic mismanagement coming together. Climate change has the potential to be catastrophic for a stable economy. The World Bank, hardly an organisation of tree huggers, are among many mainstream economic bodies ringing the bell loudly for climate action. Coal mining is a poor economic investment as the industry is now in structural decline and will not bounce back. Many banks, for example, won’t touch Adani’s Queensland coal mines, and Adani itself put their own coal project on hold due to the poor economics underpinning it.
But what do the Liberal Party do? Pretend it is still the glory days of the Howard/Costello years and the mining boom never petered out. Gut renewables programs that make money and jobs. Back Big Business blindly – allowing Adani, Gina and others in the fossil fuel industry to do whatever they wish in the hope that their prosperity will “trickle down” – despite it not making business sense.
It is hard to make smart economic decisions when lies such as this, that the Liberal Party has some claim to being strong economic managers, permeate. Australia is one of the richest nations in the world. As economist Richard Denniss suggests, we can’t afford everything, but we can afford anything we wish to prioritise. So again, it comes back to social values. Public health or private health? School chaplains or SafeSchools? A gold-standard NBN or a copper one? More taxes on the rich or poor? Gonski or not?
It’s important we make these tough decisions on an honest basis.
Costa A is a regular cartoonist for New Matilda. You can follow all his work here.