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:

Reporting In

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 …

You Hate To See It

A dyspeptic, snark-ridden and highly ironic round-up of the news from our shared hellscape…

Failing Upward

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.]

  • If you’re lurking and like what you see, throw me a subscription to get my screeds straight to your inbox every second Tuesday — it’s free. If you like what I do and want to see me do more of it, throw me a paid subscription — it’s $5 a month or $50 a year. Are you skint? Or flush? Well, you can also pay what you feel I’m worth by setting your own yearly rate.

  • And if you’ve come this far, consider supporting me further by picking up one of my books, or leaving a review or just tell a friend about Raising Hell!

    Subscribe now