Its the ecology, stupid! – part 2

27 05 2007


Let’s have a look at some extracts from a recent interview on the ABC’s Lateline program. It features the Australian federal minister for employment and workplace relations. The emphasis (in bold) is mine and is added for effect.

…..We know the polls aren’t good, but we are focused on making decisions that are right for the economy….

…..The public wants to see us make the right decisions that are in the best interests of the nation, help to build economic prosperity. We make those decisions. You talk about Kevin Rudd’s industrial relations policy. It has been universally slammed because it will have a negative impact on the economy…..

..Now, the people who have had a good look at Kevin Rudd’s policy are identifying the vast number of issues that are going to cut to the chase when it comes to economic growth….

….We believe that we helped to create job security by keeping the economy strong. They want an opportunity to have a job. We believe that making hard decisions when it comes to the economy, such as tax reform, such as getting the Budget into surplus, such as paying off the Labor government’s – previous Labor government’s – debt, they’re the decisions that help to build a strong economy. They want us to retain our focus on the things that are going to keep the economy strong…..

……But from our perspective, the principles of what we’ve laid down are good and true for the Australian economy’s prosperity….

…..Now we’re not going to be irresponsible and go to the next election like the Labor Party is and say we are going to step into your work place and tear up your existing contracts. We’re not going to do that because we know that is bad for the economy……

…..Well Tony, from our perspective, we are trying to put in place laws that help to keep the economy strong, that help to create jobs, that may not have existed before. Do you know that today the economy is 50 per cent larger than what it was when we came to Government in 1996?…..

 Now, is it just me or does this sound like a government obsessed by “the economy”?  There is an unstated assumption here that if “the economy” is “growing” then society and citizens are much better off.   Mainstream media generally don’t question:

  1. how we measure economic growth.
  2. whether economic growth is truly desirable – benefits v.s. costs etc.
  3. whether the role of government is really the same as that of the CEO of a big company – or whether in fact there are broader priorities and responsibilities to the people they represent.

Have governments always spoken like this?  Probably not.  A quick web trawl on the entymology of the term “the economy” seems to suggest that the phrase really only achieved widespread usage in the first few decades of the 20th century.  Try reading the above passage again, this time replacing “the economy” with “Australian society” and all of a sudden it starts to sound much more reasonable and decent. 

Perhaps the public too are starting to see through the rhetoric now.  Modern wisdom has it that governments don’t lose office if the “economy is strong”.   Our prime minister has lately seemed perplexed at his terrible polling despite a rosy “economy”, and junior ministers are now urging him to stop talking about how great “the economy” is and start dealing with the people’s real concerns.

On a final frivolous note, have a look at this “management-speak” bullshit generator I found on the web today.  Give it a go and you’ll bluff and spin like a true management guru.

Image source: “Economy” from flickr user hollyoh7, published under a creative commons licence.



3 responses

29 05 2007
John Feeney

I like your question about the role of government. It does seem to have become more like that of a CEO of a big company than of something aimed at protecting the welfare of the citizenry. Of course it seems really to be the economic interests of a few, rather than the people as a whole, which are managed.

I’d like to see more publicity for indicators like the Genuine Progress Indicator:

The usual GDP type indicators just seem like a scam,

30 05 2007


The GPI idea (which originated in your country I believe) has fanned out and there are many people looking at these kinds of alternative indicators of progress.

Interstingly, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS – a federal government agency) has for a few short years been publishing what it calls “Measure’s of Australia’s Progress” which is an attempt to provide a more comprehensive way of looking at how we are doing. This is pretty much ignored in the mainstream media however (unlike GDP).

I would say GDP itself is not necessarily a scam but it is how it is (ab)used that is scandalous.

10 06 2007
Dave Bath

There are other reputable indices that merge economics and human happiness. I’ve got a bucket of links in a post here, and a summary of pure-economic, human development and environmental index data comparing AU/Cuba/EU/NZ/US in an earlier post here.

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