The Rise Of The Bureaucrats

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Victorians seem to have accepted the need for their extended Covid lockdown, which has been the longest and harshest anywhere in the developed world. A Roy Morgan poll conducted by SMS across 8-9 September found continuing majority support for the curfew and movement restrictions. Premier Daniel Andrews enjoys a 70 per cent approval rating. Leaked internal polls from the opposition and leadership rumours last week have so far amounted to nothing. Overall, the government has enjoyed remarkable support.

Yet with a growing mental health crisis and an economic depression, you might have thought that the lockdown would be more controversial – especially given that this disaster is largely a product of the Victorian government’s incompetence, with 99 per cent of second-wave Covid cases being traceable to the quarantine hotels that it so badly mismanaged.

The support cannot simply be attributed to the high stakes involved. The virus is no more deadly to Victorians than to anyone else and the outbreak seen in Victoria is less severe than some that have been seen in comparable jurisdictions. Importantly, the costs of the lockdown can also be denominated in the loss of life and health, with evidence mounting that people are deferring healthcare and mental health issues are spiking. As noted by a group of more than 500 medical experts in an open letter to the government, other jurisdictions have assessed the trade-off differently and chosen different measures.

Moreover, governments around the country, including the federal government, enjoy high approval ratings in respect of the pandemic, regardless of the measures they have taken. So it is not just a Victorian phenomenon. There is something else going on.

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When Everything Is Flattened

This article is from the Autumn 2020 edition of the IPA Review.  

Awareness is growing that the coronavirus disease might cause two catastrophes. Speaking on the night of 24 March 2020, Prime Minister Scott Morrison put it this way:  

We’re dealing with two crises. We’re dealing with a health crisis that has caused an economic crisis. And I am very concerned about the economic crisis that could also take a great toll on people’s lives; not just their livelihoods, the stresses that that will put on families. The things that can happen when families are under stress. I’m as concerned about those outcomes as I am about the health outcomes of managing the outbreak of the coronavirus. And it is a delicate task for the National Cabinet to balance those two. Lives are at risk in both cases.  

On one hand, we face a public health crisis unlike any we have seen in recent years: a disease that can be deadly for the elderly and the vulnerable (and in rare cases, for others), that seems to spread rapidly, and that can be carried innocently by asymptomatic people. As the philosopher and risk expert Nassim Nicholas Taleb points out, where a risk is unquantifiable but known to be potentially catastrophic, precaution dictates you act as strongly as possible. This is because, by definition, you cannot tailor your response to something you do not understand.  

On the other hand, the most effective action we can take in response to that potential catastrophe is, assessed in the same terms, itself potentially catastrophic. The costs of the current ‘flattening the curve’ policy are also unquantifiable: we do not know how many people will lose their jobs or their businesses or their homes or their investments, and—most importantly—we do not know how an economic collapse will affect people’s lives. Economic collapse will create people who cannot afford a home or sound nutrition, whose living standards are much lower perhaps for most of their lives, and who are placed under extraordinary psychological pressure. They will be killed by our overreaction just as surely as the victims of coronavirus will be killed by our inaction.  

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Consummate Conservative (an obituary for Sir Roger Scruton)

This article is from the Autumn 2020 edition of the IPA Review

Sir Roger Scruton, philosopher and conservative, died on 12 January at the age of 75 after a six-month battle with cancer. Over his career, Scruton published more than 50 works of philosophy, polemic, fiction, and memoir. His speciality was aesthetics and the philosophy of mind, and he published works on art, architecture, and music. But he was best known for his political philosophy and his willingness to engage in popular debate.

Sir Roger—whom the IPA brought to Australia in 2014 to deliver the keynote address at the IPA’s Foundations of Western Civilisation Symposium (which can be found at the IPA’s YouTube channel)—articulated and defended conservatism as a political philosophy as substantial as any of its rivals. For this, he became a polarising figure: feted by conservatives as the best of us, loathed by the left for much the same reason. By the time of his death, however, he had the begrudging respect of even his fiercest opponents in the academy, had been knighted and widely acclaimed, and, as I have written in these pages previously (‘Eaton Alive’, IPA Review, August 2019) his reputation withstood one last idiotic attempt to take him down.

Scruton was perhaps conservatism’s most important theorist, and to illustrate his significance let’s highlight a key aspect of his project: the connection he draws between the individual and society, which is at the foundation of his world view. Since, however, a man’s life and work are not easily separated, it is worthwhile to recount a few facts that seem—to me at least, and without wanting to psychologise too much—somewhat salient in the interpretation of Scruton’s conservatism.

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Stop The World, We Want To Change It!

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Throughout the coronavirus pandemic we have been repeatedly told that the only moral position is to defeat the virus at all costs. Any suggestion that the economic effects of keeping everyone in their homes and shutting down the country warrant our consideration is considered crass or obscene. If you venture that a bankrupt country is unlikely to be a healthy country, you are liable to be charged with attempted murder. Instead, the common, or at least loud and angry, refrain is that we must secure public health first, and only then can we worry about the future.

The antagonism proposed here is between those who are (earnestly, righteously) concerned with the lives at stake right now and those who are (selfishly, inhumanely) concerned with how society and the economy that sustains it will look after the shutdown. If we look more closely, though, we can see who is really exploiting this crisis.

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Closer to Home

This article from the Summer 2019 edition of the IPA Review is by Director of Research Daniel Wild and IPA Research Fellows Zachary Gorman and Andrew Bushnell. It is an edited extract from ‘Australian Values and The Enduring Importance of the Nation-State’, a research report prepared for the Senate Inquiry.

If Donald Trump has achieved nothing else, he has at least made the terms of politics more honest. In calling for a wall to be built on the United States’ southern border, and in adopting an aggressive America First foreign and trade policy, Trump has exposed a widening rift between those who benefit from globalisation and those who do not. For one group, the nation-state is nothing more than a barrier to progress and justice; for the other, the nation-state is a home and a source of meaning. The two visions are irreconcilable.

The dispute, of course, is bigger than Trump. All the countries of the developed world, and a few more besides, have been affected in some way by the question of how much global integration is too much. The British vote to leave the European Union (‘Brexit’) is often paired with the election of Trump. While these two events were landmarks, it is not true that politics suddenly changed in 2016 when they both happened.

To put these events in context, the surrounding years saw: the establishment of non-liberal governments in European Union member states Hungary (since 2010), Poland (since 2015), and as part of a coalition, until recently, in Group of Seven member state Italy; the greater assertiveness of Japan under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (in office since 2012); and the 2018 election of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil. This environment also helped our centre-right government hold onto power this year, and the same factors will determine whether Scott Morrison succeeds or fails.

What unites these events is a growing realisation that global governance, supranational entities, and large trading blocs sit uncomfortably with the traditional understanding of national identity and its expression in the sovereign state.

Though it would have been unthinkable even a generation ago—amid the flag-waving for Ronald Reagan’s Cold War victory, German reunification, and, here at home, the celebration of Australia’s bicentenary— global politics is now centred on the question of whether the nation-state can or should survive. This has become the signature issue of our time. It goes by various names: populism, nationalism, polarisation. It is present in every political debate, from congested roads to economic competitiveness and red tape to education policy and, naturally, immigration. If we are to address these issues, we need to first remind ourselves of the value of the nation-state, how Australia came to be the nation-state that it is, and the shared national values that have made our country great.

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