Features Australia

Listen to Adam Smith, not the ABC

Freedom is something you either believe in or you do not

30 May 2020

9:00 AM

30 May 2020

9:00 AM

There’s a common misunderstanding by many of those on the left side of politics about many on the right side when it comes to big business.  The mistaken idea is that conservatives are largely in lock-step with the big end of town; what big business wants conservatives want. Wrong! Go back to Adam Smith, he of the invisible hand and the power of the specialisation of labour.  Adam Smith said, and I paraphrase, that if you put a group of businessmen (virtually all were men back then, so no PC quibbles please) in a room together by themselves, you will soon have a conspiracy against the public. Big business dislikes competition as much as the political Left dislikes it. The big business end of town does best with high entry costs and loads of regulation, the gamut of things that gives you crony capitalism.  But that’s precisely what most of us on the right don’t want. We want lots of competition. We want creative destruction and businesses that don’t adapt going bust. Basically, we don’t have much time for the big end of town. For us the key is competition and flexibility.

And boy does recent experience in Australia bear out that view of the uselessness of much of big business. We’ve gone from the cheapest electricity in the democratic world when I got here in 2005 to the most expensive and most of big business rabbits on stupidly about the worth of renewables. They parrot every idiocy going, the main competition for them these days being about which big business can better virtue-signal to the woke brigades on social media. Meanwhile, many HR departments appear to have become far too internally powerful – imposing hiring based on the worst sort of identity politics; shunning unvarnished merit as the only criterion (and even some big law firms have taken to masking from which university law graduates are applying, on the moronic premise that all unis are equal, even while senior partners brag on business cards about their masters of law degrees from Harvard, not Arkansas et al.); and buying into the whole identity politics agenda. Or look at how pathetically big business in Australia supported the Howard government’s Work Choices legislation while the unions ran smear campaigns on TV against it. Totally useless they were, and still are for that matter. This might surprise you until you realise that big business, more than small and medium competitors, can cope better with a super-regulated labour market (Australia is ranked at about the world’s 93rd least-flexible labour market, so pretty much more sclerotic than any competitor’s).

And don’t get me started on these Business Council-type groups supposedly representing the big end of town. You can predict their druthers before you hear them. Raise GST. (No, it never goes down and government just gets bigger.) Pile in on renewables. (Why? In a world where China is building a new coal-fired power station every week and the US has pulled out of the Paris Agreement nothing we do does anything at all, other than impoverish us. Oh, and make life tougher on smaller competitors.) Virtue-signal and cave in as corporate sponsors. Okay, maybe, just maybe, they’ll suggest some trifling little tangential tweak to weekend labour costs, as though that means anything in the big picture.

Adam Smith had it right over two centuries ago.

Want to know someone’s present-day attitude to issues related to freedom of the individual? Then look at their attitudes in the past. This lockdown has imposed an unprecedented level of infringements on personal liberty. As I argued last week, and have for some time now, I think it’s been a public policy disaster. The politicians panicked based on bad models and a fear-mongering press. But leave the merits of that debate aside. Ask yourself what sort of politicians might have stood up for individual freedom, the way the governor of Florida did (who has massively outperformed the governor of New York, though you’ll never hear that on the ABC). Or that the governor of Georgia did (ditto). A month and a half ago both ended the lockdowns in their states and stood up to a press that went crazy and claimed they were sacrificing the old, deaths would move out of control and that only lockdowns worked. Wrong, wrong and wrong (as a matter of fact, not modelling). My point, though, is that that takes deep personal conviction and core beliefs that individuals should make these choices and that freedom matters.

Compare Mr Morrison, our prime minister. Remember back when some on the right side of politics were trying to repeal our s.18C hate speech laws? ScoMo back then said this was a third-order issue. Fighting for free speech ‘won’t create one job’, he said, nor reduce unemployment. (Not like lockdowns, one is tempted to reply.) But my point is that if you are not a person with a deep conviction about freedom your chances of being over-swayed by models, doctors, a fear porn press and the rest are going to be higher. Principles matter. If you want to see someone’s commitment to liberty, look to see what it was in the past. For our Coalition government, or at least for a preponderance of its MPs, that commitment is pathetically weak. We’re seeing that right now with the disgraceful lockdown over-reaction.

Back to the press and especially our ABC. I don’t trust whole swathes of what it reports. How many readers would have learned from the ABC, or the mainstream US media for that matter, that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has probably mishandled the corona virus worse than any politician in the world? Cuomo, panicked about hospital bed shortages, ordered all sorts of old people who had tested positive for the virus to be sent back to nursing homes. Thousands of them. This saw deaths in the nursing homes explode. It’s why near on half of New York’s corona deaths (these being not that far off half of US corona deaths) were in nursing homes.

Florida’s governor, by the way, resisted doing this. And the shortage of hospital beds never eventuated. It never came close. The Navy hospital ship that President Trump sent up sat empty, as did many, many hospital beds.

But the ABC, wrongly, labels Trump’s corona performance as bad. On any comparative criterion with most any European country that’s blatantly false. Take out New York, and Cuomo’s decisions, and the US performance was very good. When it comes to Trump, or Tony Abbott, or anything that goes against the in-house ABC worldview, you simply cannot trust this billion-dollar-a-year broadcasting behemoth that all of us are forced to finance.

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