Raising Hell: Issue 15: "Heat and Pressure"
“Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.” - Primo Levi, 1986
So today is the day that good, god-fearing citizens of Australia sit around while the national budget is released. The country will plunge $210 billion into debt, the debt-cap will be lifted to $1.1 trillion, a debt-to-GDP ratio of 55 percent will be record (the highest since the 1950s though one of the lowest among developed nations) and net-zero immigration — for the first time since 1946.
At least that has been how The Australian is framing the exercise in its commentary in over the last 48 hours. The public narrative forming is that of a government on a war foot — the one where Morrison is engaged in a battle against an invisible enemy but is now desperate to win the war for the economy.
It’s a pity many of the same journalists now writing these stories didn’t allow Labor the same leeway during the financial crisis of 2008, but who really wants to re-litigate that history at this point? The point is, with world interest rates sitting at or near zero governments can essentially borrow for free. Whatever the size of a debt — unless a government ceases to exist entirely — the money will eventually be repaid. For reference, it took Germany until 2010 to pay off the debts it owed on World War I. For Britain, that year was 2014 — though when it came to World War II, that day for the UK came a little sooner: 2006.
Whatever happens today, know it is part of a bigger bait and switch. Though the government is busy framing the narrative to make the national debt scary but necessary, the illusion there is a collective bill for which we are all on the hook remains an illusion. The more immediate problem from the last fortnight remains the Coalition’s plan to reboot the Australian economy with debt — personal debt.
It started with a run of little announcements: first there was the government-dominated senate committee that said its own laws to regulate payday lenders should not pass (See page 59). Then came the announcement that Chapter 11 style bankruptcy laws would be passed, allowing business owners to stay in control of a company as it collapsed into insolvency.
The big news, however, was the loosening of responsible lending laws that would grow the rate at which banks can hand out money to people in the form of homeloans. These were the very same laws that weren’t enforced and so ultimately led to the Financial Services Royal Commission. And if you want to know how financial markets greeted the news that the government was giving them a free hand, look no further than the wild swings of the share market:
All of which is a good reminder that little being done at the moment is getting done in the public interest. A tax cut here, a subsidy there — all of it is aimed at buying a fewer extra votes for the next election. Meanwhile, the joke is on us:
RT @RT_com#Putin makes annual State of the Nation address to the Federal Assembly https://t.co/CSVPeeDjFK
Where I recap what I’ve been doing this last fortnight so you know I’m not just using your money to stimulate the local economy …
“What are the key technologies in the Coalition's low emissions roadmap, and can they deliver?” (The Guardian, 27 September 2020).
I put together this very simple background on some of the tech the Coalition government is looking to target with their new industrial policy. After it went live, I also had a couple of engineers @ me to say it was not specific enough. You can read their comments in this Twitter thread:
“Beer and Other Sins: Last drinks at The Golden Wattle” (The Adelaide Review, 29 September 2020).
The Adelaide Review has published my last ever column. Beer and Other Sins began as a study of people, drinking culture and the neighbourhoods around Adelaide. Commissioned by David Knight it now ends, perhaps appropriately, with a toast to those that made it possible.
“Book Review: Out of Copley Street” (The Adelaide Review, 29 September 2020).
The final month of The Adelaide Review is also carrying my first ever book review, Geoff Goodfellow’s Out of Copley Street published through Wakefield Press.
ICYMI: In Conversation with Greg Jericho.
I had a lot of fun last Monday night talking to the Guardian’s Greg Jericho about my book, Just Money. If you missed it, you can watch at your leisure:
Save The Date(s)!
And because I have a book to sell, come along and support me at:
7 October 2020 — Zoom — Imprints — Adelaide — 6.30PM (ACST)
8 October 2020 — Zoom — Panel Discussion —Creative Directions Festival — 1PM (AEDT).
This Thursday. I’ll be joining a panel at the Creative Directions festival, run by the School of Media, Film and Journalism at Monash University. Hosted by Ben Eltham, the subject will be Independent Journalism in a Time of Radical Change. Register here.
10 October 2020 — In Person — Dymocks Rundle Mall — Adelaide — 6PM (ACST)
You Hate To See It
A dyspeptic, snark-ridden and highly ironic round-up of the news from our shared hellscape…
2020? More like 1970!
At this point in history it’s almost a truism about conservative politics that drought or flood, you can always blame the unions. If the chance to lie about a good, old fashioned strike in defence of business interests is few and far between these days, the Prime Minister got the chance to project strength by threatening to send in the military as state-sponsored strike breakers.
There Really Is An App For That.
Yet another company appears to have found an innovative new way to monetise the pandemic recession. US company Civvl have purportedly designed a new app to simplify the process of evicting people from their homes through an Uber-esque app that allows landlords to source evictions crews and service agents — because it ain’t profit if you aren’t turning desperate poor people on other desperate poor people.
The Cruelty Is The Point
Anyone who has interacted with the Australian social security system knows the depths of the failure. Now the Parliamentary Budget Office has run the numbers and confirmed once more that that all the policy decisions made since Howard that were designed to “make it better” have been — shock — a failure that has made it worse. Much worse.
Those Rascally Spies
Sound the hip-hop alarm: a domestic spy agency in Australia has done something apparently idiotic and refused to comment, despite claiming to want greater transparency. This time, it was those noble knights of the Australian Signals Directorate who sacked the historian contracted to write the official history of the agency. Why? Nobody knows!
Meanwhile, in the UK…
The Tory party has put together a virtual conference in the hope of salvaging its donations during a time of mass death and the result appears to be the most depressing video game ever.
Looking To Blind Yourself To Reality?
The online storefront for the appropriately named fashion retailer “Farfetch” offers a range of the latest fashions, including one $750 hat that renders its wearer unable to see. One keen-eyed Raising Hell subscriber summarised the designers’ original pitch thus: “Bonk into walls like a trapped moth, but make it FASHION.”
Where I recognise and celebrate the true stupidity of the rich, powerful and influential…
A few years back at the height of the housing boom, Liberal MP John Alexander spoke out against the dizzying-highs of the housing market and so earned himself some respect as That Other Good Liberal next to Malcolm Turnbull. Over the last fortnight Alexander may have systematically shredded that precious political capital. How? By floating a harebrained scheme that would create a system of conscription to force the unemployed into the fields so as to bring in the nation’s harvest. In doing so, Alexander hoped, it may apply a little “heat and pressure” to the unemployed, ensuring a compliant and ready-made workforce:
"We need some more teeth," Alexander told a parliamentary inquiry. "While we can't probably go to conscription, can we apply a little more heat and pressure and do it urgently, because the crops won't wait."
As an idea, some version of this has been brewing for a while — though none have been quite willing to go the full hog in public. Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack went only so far as to suggest young people might consider working as fruit pickers for the Instagram stories, saying:
"Tell them to bring their mobile with them, because it would be a great Instagram moment for them to get up the tree, pick some fruit, who knows they might take some friends with them, they might make new friends, they might meet the love of their life," McCormack said. "It's all out there in regional Australia!"
Personally, we here at Raising Hell welcome the sudden realisation among the country’s ruling right-wing Coalition that, having achieved what is possibly close to zero net migration with the pandemic, the system of food production that we rely on is at risk because it can no longer be maintained by a workforce of invisible, insecure and often exploited young migrants who have been funneled into the fields thanks to the visa system. Now all that we ask is the powers that be — who have spent the last two decades running an all-out anti-immigrant politics to win short-term votes — might put two-and-two together.
Good Reads, Good Times
To share the love, here are some of the best or more interesting reads from the last fortnight…
In a reminder that the hope for a better world that dominated commentary about the pandemic in the first months has given way to the reality that we may all be worse off, Slate has this essay by Alex Yablon on how New York is looking to cure its economic troubles with a hearty dose of recession — at the expense of average New Yorkers.
Less a read and more a listen, Ruby Jones from the 7am podcast speaks to Richard Cooke about the journalists siding with the virus.
I can’t believe I am going to recommend anyone read a press release but Senator Jacqui Lambie released one that contained a simply written and impassioned defence of the university sector during which she eviscerated the government for telling poor kids to “dream a little cheaper.”
A while ago, in chatter among alt-right circles, there came mention of the “Pareto-principle”, a supposedly scientific ratio that justified the dominance of a few over the many. You don’t need an elegantly written take down to see why that is wrong, but The Baffler has you covered with this total demolition of the concept.
And since the old is new again, at least in regards to fascism, here is an old interview with Primo Levi, Italian chemist, memoirist and survivor of Auschwitz — and the source of the quote in the subtitle.
Before You Go (Go)…
Are you a public sector bureaucrat whose tyrannical boss is behaving badly? Have you recently come into possession of documents showing some rich guy is trying to move their ill-gotten-gains to Curacao? Did you take a low-paying job with an evil corporation registered in Delaware that turns out to be burying toxic waste beneath children’s playgrounds? If your conscience is keeping you up at night, or you’d just plain like to see some wrong-doers cast into the sea, we here at Raising Hell can suggest a course of action: leak! [NOTE: In the past I’ve used Wickr but I’m now in the process of switching to another platform, so check back in a few weeks.]
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