Tuesday, 24 February 2009

A lesson in "strong" leadership

The exceptionally intelligent but often criticised demographer Phillip Longman has just co-written a book called The Next Progressive Era.

Although I have no opportunity in the forthcoming future to read the book, I know I should keep a look out for this book as I greatly respect Longman as a person. He seems to be looking rather differently from the way he did in most previous articles like The Return of Patriarchy and his wonderful book The Empty Cradle. At the moment Longman seems to be looking very closely at the problems of exurbanisation, car culture, and the debt and credit crises.

The problem that I can see without having read the book is that aiming too much for thrift and regulation is likely to turn the US into replicas of Europe and East Asia, whose cultures are totally self-centred and defeminised and lack the slightest sense of community. The way I see it, thrift can be as much a route to emotional as purely financial independence, since people in outer suburban Australia need to save extremely little to gain the same living standard as people in Europe gain with very high savings rates and negligible charitable giving.

What still makes me believe Longman is as intelligent a man as ever is the way in which he distinguishes between strong government and big (usually inefficient) government. Longman is right that a strong government's chief role should be to prevent the problems of business corruption that he saw as causing the rise of the Progressive Era in the 1890s. Businesses donating to governments to gain political power is by its nature a very big problem because, if maintained for long enough, it turns even countries with the freest of elections into plutocracies whereby power comes from wealth.

This point really makes me think that leaders in Australia who are called "strong" for doing things like privatising inefficient services and fighting militant unions may not really be that "strong" at all. As the Australia Institute and others have shown, the Liberal governments of leaders like Kennett and Howard did not in the tiniest way stand up to a force far more powerful than unions: the greenhouse mafia. I am sure that Longman would agree that a "strong government" in Canberra would really, firmly stand up to the greenhouse mafia and try to deal with Australia's unacceptable greenhouse emissions rather than be cowardly and soft towards them.

No comments: