Saturday, December 24, 2005

Chapter 23 from: J.J. Ray (Ed.) "Conservatism as Heresy". Sydney: A.N.Z. Book Co., 1974

The Traps of The 'Needs' Concept


One of the most intriguing aspects of the 1972 election campaign was the extent to which the Australian Labor Party exploited the word 'needs'. A great portion of their more subtle campaign appeal was based on the use of that word to project a non-ideological, pragmatic, let's-get-the-experts-in approach to the business of government. In the huge areas of education and health there is an explicit commitment to establish independent commissions of recommenders, who would look at the total national picture and pronounce upon the 'needs'.

It is probably a brilliant political campaign technique to make -- a proposal for this kind of decision-making. The people are probably fed up with buckpassing between the various levels of government and receptive to the idea of a government which will take national responsibility. They are also deeply suspicious about politicians making the decisions. They are probably equally suspicious of organisations called departments because these are familiar bureaucratic institutions, remote from their real needs and slow to move. So, the idea of something new called a commission sounds good. But what does it all mean really?

A little understanding of economics informs one that there is hardly ever such a thing as an absolute, clearly definable 'need'. In certain dire circumstances individuals do have critical needs which must be satisfied regardless of cost -- people dying of thirst in a desert will pay absolutely anything for water, to quote the classic case of an absolute need. But most of the time need is a highly relative and conditional reality, and it is misleading to speak of it as if it is a simple concept.

There are in the real world usually only such things as 'need-ifs'. There is a need for $A million for education if we want to educate B million people, if we want to provide a C/D student staff ratio, if we allocate E square metres of science laboratories per student, if we provide F language modules, G class rooms, and so on indefinitely, defining the way in which education will be organised and provided for.

Even that leaves aside the matter of resources available, and the question of choice, as to how far resources will be deployed in the direction of education as against other community uses. 'Needs' start off as sounding like a simple, pragmatically determined thing but end up in reality being the product of a highly complex set of equations into which have to be fed a whole series of sensitive and debatable judgments about which people will disagree.

To give to any one institution, whatever you call it, the right to determine 'needs' is to give it very great power. The present government has had its flirtations with the 'needs' method of decision making. It has established a universities commission, and talking to state universities' administrators one gets the impression that virtually all decisions about the future of university education are now made in the offices above the Reserve Bank building near the Canberra law courts.

The commission must start each so-called needs estimation by an exercise in wheeling and dealing with the Treasury and various ministers to determine, first of all, what will be a realistic kind of budgetary increase in total governmental expenditure on universities. It will only recommend what it knows beforehand is a politically acceptable call on the Commonwealth budget.

Then, with some overall expenditure ceiling in mind, it assesses the submissions of the various universities bidding for money for the next three year term. It is rarely a matter of the commission simply dictating what each shall do. There is a certain amount of give and take between the Universities Commission and each of the university administrations (if only for the sake of the quieter life), but in the end the commission determines most of the details of development in each university. It lays down target figures for staff-student ratios, which new teaching courses and research departments shall be established, and whether car parking structures or student residences will be financed.

Outside finance can occasionally be mobilised but that becomes a very delicate matter, for the grand commission in Canberra is always liable to say: 'well, if you can yourselves raise money for those car-parking structures, why cannot you raise that money yourself for the landscaping you are asking for.' Or: 'if you can finance those student flats from bank loans, why cannot you use that money for college accommodation instead of expecting us to finance it?' Any show of independence whatever is liable to invoke the penalty of withdrawal of financial support elsewhere, so open is the concept of need.

The ALP has said it wants to apply the university commission model in the areas of health and pre-tertiary education, which will mean that its commissions in these fields will deal with the fates of more than 10,000 schools and the several thousand hospitals, nursing homes and other health institutions. A number of questions are left quite unanswered: (1) what role, if any, remains for the state education and health departments, (2) what independence will remain for supposedly independent schools and hospitals.

It is perhaps not very fashionable (though there are some signs it is becoming more so) to say that this is entirely the wrong direction in which to move. We should be moving to diffuse power and let much more of it rest in the hands of the customers and clients of education and health services.

The way to this ideally would be to let the providers of services offer all the varieties of health and education service they can with the appropriate price tags, and to let people make their choices. This way the providers of services --they could be government outfits, teachers' co-operatives, church organisations, businesses, or whatever --would be innovative and flexibly responsive to the sensitivity and infinite variety of different needs which people have. By placing a price tag directly on the education or health service being offered, people's ideal-world 'needs' would automatically be reconciled with realities of scarce resources.

But the prevailing community philosophy towards such things as health and education is profoundly paternalistic, and for the moment it is prepared to leave most of the decisions to politicians and bureaucrats. It will be interesting to see whether the community is prepared to leave all the decisions to needs-assessing commissions in Canberra.

This chapter originally appeared as an article in "The Bulletin", 2 December 1972, p. 56.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Chapter 24 from: J.J. Ray (Ed.) "Conservatism as Heresy". Sydney: A.N.Z. Book Co., 1974

The first part of this chapter appeared as an article in Nation Review, 18 May 1973, p. 946.

The National Health and the Case for Prepaid Medical Care

John Ray

No freedom for doctors?

THE LABOR GOVERNMENT'S attempt to deny doctors the right to choose their employer is a violation of one of our most basic democratic rights. Labor has made it clear that its ultimate objective is to turn all doctors into salaried public servants. Anybody who has had first hand experience of government bureaucracies (and who hasn't?) ought to be resisting with all their might and main this attempt to bureaucratise medicine.

We all know how contemptuously public servants treat us: Do we really want to convert our friendly family doctor into this sort of indifferent, impersonal public employee? Under the present system the doctor has some incentive to communicate with and endeavour to understand his patients. He might lose our custom (and his income) unless he does. By contrast, nothing but a bomb can shift a public servant.

One also wonders where Mr Cameron is now. We are so used to hearing him defend unionists and their strikes by talking of their right to withdraw their labour if things don't suit them. What about doctors? Don't they have similar rights? Mr Cameron's guiding rule seems to be that a Labor government should champion any claim that unionists make and do everything to see that unionists get their way. What about the AMA -- the doctors' union -- why aren't they included in his patronage? To be consistent he should be defending their right to determine their working conditions as vigorously as he has defended the rights of other occupational groups.

The problem

It is also clear that there is a shortage of doctors. Anybody who has had to spend hours in a waiting room knows that. It is equally obvious that totally free medicine would encourage yet more people to go to doctors for even minor complaints. Do we really want to wait even longer in waiting rooms while doctors see all the extra people? That is what Labor seems bent on condemning us to. Are they suddenly going to create a couple of thousand extra doctors out of thin air to cope with all the extra patients? It is about time they told us. As far as one can see at the moment we are going to have poorer medical service under Labor -- not better.

Perhaps the saddest aspect of the whole affair is that better alternatives to achieve Labor's stated objectives of improving the availability of medicine are already available. If only Labor had the imagination to learn from other people's experience there would be no need for any of the present commotion.

One solution

One alternative that would achieve more than Labor's present scheme, and do it with a minimum of unwelcome change, would be to pass a law requiring medical benefit funds to give special low rates to people in the low income brackets. If, as Labor says, the Funds are making too much money, this should certainly solve the problem while providing the social justice that Labor is so concerned about. Under these circumstances Labor could also then afford to protect people from themselves by passing a law making it compulsory for everyone to join a Fund of their choice. Since Labor is going to take compulsory health contributions out of our pay anyhow, why not make those contributions payable to private Funds if people so desire?

Economies of scale?

One reason that the average man sees for supporting a government monopoly in the health care field is that it must surely be more efficient to have one large government scheme than a whole lot of competing little ones. Surely there is much duplication of effort that could be avoided.

To say this is to ignore the most fundamental rule about bureaucracies: the bigger they get the more inefficient they get, the harder it is for them to change when circumstances demand it or opportunity presents itself.

But why then do factories get economies of scale whereas bureaucracies do not? Is it not trying to have one's cake and eat it too when invoking economies of scale to defend big business and then denying economies of scale in attacking government enterprises?

The inconsistency is only apparent and springs from a failure to distinguish what it is that enables economies of scale. Among the causes of economies of scale are: fuller utilisation of plant, specialisation of labour, splitting of productive tasks into maximally efficient units, maximum spreading of 'setting up' costs and maximum spreading of fixed overheads such as research and development costs or purchase of licenses. There are however also some 'DISeconomies of scale'. There are some influences which work to make size bring increasing unit costs. One of the most widely quoted of such influences is in fact bureaucratisation and the poorer intrafirm communications it brings. Yes, bureaucratisation is not unique to government. Even large private firms can suffer from it. So much so that there is in theory always an optimal size for any business enterprise -- the size at which diseconomies begin to exceed economies of scale. If businesses grow beyond this size, they grow less efficient, not more so.

One very good example of recognition of this fact is that of the world's largest corporation -- General Motors. General Motors had to face the fact, some time ago, that the bigger a bureaucracy gets the more it is a source of inefficiency. Its theoretical advantage -- co-ordination of the effort of a wide range of people -- was recognised to be, in practice, very much outweighed by its disadvantages -- slowness and distortion of information transmission, and consequent slowness and poor quality of decision-making. The result of recognising this was a radical one: General Motors split itself up into four almost completely independent divisions, each of which went its own way largely without consulting or co-operating with one another. In fact, they became fierce competitors with one another. Now General Motors was not doing all that for the good of the public. They were doing it for the quite selfish reason that they knew they had to keep costs down if they were to maximise their profits. They knew small bureaucracies were more efficient than larger ones.

So while one large health bureaucracy may seem more efficient in theory, we have every reason to believe that it would not be so in practice. Size promotes inefficiency and lack of competition creates inefficiency. We can do without inefficiency from both sources.

The best solution

The best health scheme of all is prepaid medicine. This was an idea initiated in the United States by the Kaiser Corporation for its employees. Under this system you have a network of private hospitals or medical centres and you subscribe a regular monthly amount to the hospital nearest you -- not to some independent medical benefits fund. You are then entitled to free or very low priced treatment at that hospital and all other hospitals with which that hospital has a reciprocal agreement. A small additional charge could also be made if you go to a hospital other than your own. The effect of this arrangement is that the hospital has an incentive to get you well as quickly and as efficiently as possible. You have already paid them your money. They don't gain any more by you staying in longer. If they are inefficient, they will have to charge higher subscriptions to cover their costs and this would encourage you to transfer your subscription elsewhere. In other words, inefficient or unpleasant hospitals would lose all their subscribers and collapse. They, would have though every incentive to make your stay as pleasant, as effective and as short as possible.

'As short as possible' does not of course imply that inattention or hasty care can be expected under this system. Obviously, a complaint not attended to properly early in its course would only worsen and involve the hospital in even more expense.

If the Labor government is going to spend money on health, it would be best spent giving loans and subsidies to encourage the setting up of such private comprehensive medical centres and hospitals.

What remains unsaid

In the confrontation between our Labor government and the doctors, there is a lot that neither side will tell the public. There is more to the debate than meets the eye and what is being concealed is explosive indeed.

What no-one is saying is that the government does have power to fix doctors' fees. And, equally culpable, no-one is saying that this would lead to patients being shunted through doctors' consulting rooms at thirty second intervals. The federal government has the power, but is rightly afraid to use it.

Under the Labor health scheme the patients' bills will be paid by the government, if -- and here is the catch -- the government approves of the doctor who sent the bill. As soon as the Labor scheme is introduced, the government has a weapon that could force doctors to toe the line on any issue the government chooses to name. At any time the government could -- either by legislation or by regulation -- declare that any doctor who refuses to fall into line over some issue would be 'non-participating' in the government health scheme. This means that if you go to such a doctor, you have to pay every cent of his bill out of your own pocket. That doctor would lose most of his business overnight and would have to give in to the government's demands.

We have every reason to believe that the Labor government will use the power of price control that this gives it. Doctors' fees will in fact be pegged. Any doctor who raises his fees will be declared 'non-participating'. It would be too good a chance for a socialist government to miss.

As soon as the government pegs doctors' fees, however, the same thing will happen that always happens when prices are pegged. There will be a diminution of supply. When President Nixon pegged the price of meat, it simply meant that many Americans could get no meat at all -- at any price. Doctors will alter the supply by collecting the same fee for a shorter consultation. The 'supply' of consultation time will be reduced. In a word, doctors will take more of their rewards in the form of leisure time -- something they are very short of at the moment.

This is the meaning behind the vague phrase the doctors have used over and over again in their dispute with the government: 'Decline in the standards of medical care'. This decline is what they say concerns them in the government's scheme, but because they are afraid to spell out what they mean by it, the public gets the impression that it is all waffle designed to excuse the doctors' stick-in-the-mud attitudes. It is not waffle. The danger is a real one. The government scheme will make medical care harder to get and of a lesser standard. Lives will be lost because if it. Any system that gives the doctor a vested interest in spending as little time as possible with his patients is stupid indeed. Out of sheer self-interest such a scheme must be rejected. The quality of medical care will only be at a maximum if the doctor is encouraged to spend more time with his patient not less.

How to pay doctors less

There is only one way to both increase the quality of medical care and make it cheaper for the public. That is to go back to the cause of high medical fees. Just to slap control on fees is like sitting on the valve-of a pressure-cooker in order to keep the steam from whistling out. The proper way to do it is to turn down the gas which is causing the steam to flow.

The cause of high medical fees is that there are too few doctors being trained. Following the laws of supply and demand, this means a limited supply of medical services and hence a higher price. The reason too few doctors are being trained is that the doctors themselves do everything possible to keep it that way. They like their high incomes so they have a vested interest in reducing the number of students getting through medical courses. Hundreds of high school students with good matriculation passes are refused entry to medical schools every year. This creates an artificial scarcity of doctors. People who want to train as doctors are not permitted to do so.

The doctors themselves have an almost watertight reply to charges such as this. They say they must maintain 'high standards' for such a vital profession. Critics charge that the standards are too high that many applicants who are now rejected could in fact become good doctors if given the chance. How you prove the case either way is anyone's guess. One indication might be that lower standards in the past and lower standards overseas seem to have worked well enough. Why have the standards steadily risen in recent years?

One thing is certain, however; even by the doctors' own standards there are still a large number of students who qualify for admission to study medicine, but who are excluded by medical school quotas. Even by doctors' own standards, there are more qualified students than there are places for in our universities. It is these students whom the government should be using to give the community better and cheaper medical care. In short, the government needs to accelerate the rate of building of medical schools. Some of our universities at the moment have no medical schools at all.

If the government spent on extra medical schools only part of the money it is already going to spend on subsidising doctors' fees, it could have many more medical graduates and, in real terms, the price of medical care would fall. In the long term, in spite of the reduced subsidy, patients might be paying no more than under the present system. The difference would be that there would be more doctors around and hence more medical service available to the community.

There is no reason why doctors' earnings should not be among the lowest in our community. As a rough general rule there are two ways somebody can be paid-either in money wages or in 'conditions'. People in occupations that are looked down on usually get high money wages: e.g. tradesmen and truck-drivers. People in "soft" jobs, such as government clerks, get quite poor money incomes. In isolated cases, however, such as doctors and airline pilots, strong union activity or other collusive activity has succeeded in getting both good conditions and good wages. In the case of doctors, the good conditions consist of very high public esteem. Many people would work as doctors just for the respect it earns them, even if the monetary benefit was much worse than it is at present.

And make no mistake, it is not their receiving a high income which gives doctors status. It is the fact that we allow them to interfere with our own bodies. This is something that we would normally greet with hostility so in order for us to allow doctors to do it, we have to attribute high status to them. This would happen whether or not the doctor was in receipt of a high income.

Because doctors are paid so highly in respect and prestige, therefore, we could afford to pay them less in money and still have considerable numbers of people willing to be doctors. The only reason they have high money wages too, at the moment, is because of their own restriction on the number of doctors made available. This must be broken down. Artificial scarcities in vital services cannot be tolerated in any community, and such things are an example of the worst abuses of monopoly. They can only be condemned as an evil.

Basically, then, the Labor government's actions so far are an attempt to treat the symptoms while ignoring the disease. The disease is the shortage of doctors. The symptom is the high price of medical care. The pity is that the attempted cure of the symptoms will worsen the disease. Between the stupid policies of the government and the selfish policies of the doctors, the poor old consumer of medical services (i.e. most of us) will receive even worse service than before.

In conclusion, we need not nationalised medicine, but a simple provision that everybody must have medical benefits payments deducted from his pay. What fund (or hospital, in the case of prepaid schemes) the payments go to should be the business of the taxpayer -- as it has always been. The government has a mandate to make health contributions compulsory and there is no need for, or advantage in, a new grandiose, cumbersome and inefficient government monopoly. If this was done it would not give the government a stick to threaten the doctors with and we might retain, or better, our present standards of medical care while extending those standards to the whole of the community. If the government wants to improve the present standards of care without it costing us more in doctors' fees, it could as a first step see that every Australian university has its own medical school. The ones already a-building are only enough to keep up with normal increases in demand. We need more doctors, not more bureaucracy.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Chapter 25 from: J.J. Ray (Ed.) "Conservatism as Heresy". Sydney: A.N.Z. Book Co., 1974

Dr. Jim's Moral Indignation Meter


'Dr Cairns and his Department of Overseas Trade will boycott a Portuguese trade mission to Australia in protest against Portuguese colonial policy in Africa'- News item

Dr Jim's magic moral indignation meter sounded the alarm yesterday after a test run over all Australia's existing trade relationships. As a result an official of the Overseas Trade Department announced that it was now policy that Australia should not promote trade with any nation except the Republic of San Marino.

'Unfortunately, although San Marino survived Dr Jim's moral indignation test they don't sell us anything but pretty coloured postage stamps,' he said.

'So far as we can discover there's not much scope for us to sell them anything but glue.' In a hastily called Press conference Dr Cairns amplified his new policy as being consistent with his attitudes to foreign affairs over many years past.

'You all know of my concern for the rights of minorities everywhere and my opposition to regimes whether of the left or the right which infringe on the rights of man.

'There can be no double standard,' said Dr Cairns. 'In trade we cannot make a moral distinction between communist and fascist regimes which impose their authority on unwilling subjects.

'Both are evil and must be opposed. Therefore today I cancelled the Australia-China trade treaty because of continued Chinese military action against the people of Tibet and the imprisonment without trial of patriotic Tibetans opposed to outside intervention in their own affairs.

'I have also recommended to cabinet that we should cease trading with the Soviet Union until the cruelly oppressed Czechoslovak people gain their liberty.

'So long as we trade with Russia we condone the rape of Czechoslovakia carried out in 1968 by the Warsaw pact armies at the behest of the Kremlin,' said Dr Cairns, turning quite red with indignation.

'We must not also forget the other nations of Eastern Europe which are little better than de facto colonies of the Soviet Union, whose puppet regimes do not enjoy the popular support of the people. Think of Hungary, Bulgaria, Poland and East Germany and you will realise why we should impose a boycott.

'My sense of outrage-always to the fore in Cambodia and Vietnam-is no less directed at the Soviet Union over its subjugation of the peoples of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

'Just because these events took place a long time ago and in far away places does not make them less intolerable to my finely honed sense of justice.

'Of course I am not only concerned with communism but also with right wing regimes in Rhodesia and South Africa.

'In calling for sanctions of greater severity to be imposed against these two governments I wish to affirm my support for majority rule. 'I do this despite the evidence in the rest of Black Africa that democracy is no more than a sham, with military regimes and one party states being the norm.

'The imprisonment of political opponents, and cessation of what we know to be civil liberties has caused me to call with equal fervour for a boycott against Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria, Ghana and the rest of these bogus parliamentary democracies.'

Dr Cairns went on to denounce Cuba, Mexico, Algeria, Argentina, Chile, Panama and the Falkland Islands.

Dr Cairns made a point of singling out Yugoslavia for particular criticism because of its suppression of civil liberties in Croatia.

'My support for the heroic struggle of the Croatian people to achieve freedom is well known. The imposition of a trade boycott on the Tito regime is the most tangible support we can give to the revolutionary cause of the Croatian people.'

Dr Cairns said Australia by cutting off trade with ninety-nine per cent of the rest of the world was clearly demonstrating its unbiased commitment to furtherance of freedom, justice and liberty for all people.

'The trade we will lose by this action will be more than compensated for by export of my moral indignation meter, patent pending,' he said.

(This chapter originally appeared as a column in "The Bulletin", 25 August 1973, p. 17.)

Post publication note

Dr. Jim Cairns was a far-Leftist senior minister in the short-lived Australian Labor Party government led by Gough Whitlam in the early 1970s.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Chapter 26 from: J.J. Ray (Ed.) "Conservatism as Heresy". Sydney: A.N.Z. Book Co., 1974

Plastic Radicals in Academe


University wasn't always a plastic scene. For hundreds of years after the Middle Ages, for all that it had become a playground for the children of the rich, it retained a residue of the old idealism of a community of scholars, devoted to the search for truth and subject to rigorous intellectual discipline. This residue has vanished --or perhaps it didn't survive transplantation to the colonies. Look round Kensington, Baby. Where are the men who study the mind of man? (there's Sid Lovibond, giving electric shocks to rats). Who can tell us about the great spiritual achievements of our people expressed in literature? (well, Harry O. is great on deciphering C17th handwriting). What of the philosophers, in their eternal search for Truth, Beauty and Goodness? (watch Frank V. doing symbolic logic). Who studies the many problems of our society? (Sol Encel can't even get his statistics right and George Shipp is using his to prove that TV announcers have opinions). And tell me, who studies the living things in our environment, now in such grave peril? (the Romans had a saying, De mortuis nil nisi bonum; in this case it had better be nil).

Academia was once a way of life in itself --a rejection of ordinary values, a complete personal commitment to knowledge and the things of the mind. They lived with their books and their students, and formed a trade union to protect the interests of their scholarly profession. These unions were the first European Universities. Or in a quite different tradition, a Chinese philosopher tells us: 'A sage teaches in five ways. The first is by a transforming influence like that of timely rain. The second is by helping the student to realise his virtue to the full. The third is by helping him to develop his talent. The fourth is by answering his questions. And the fifth is by setting an example others not in contact with him can emulate'.

Such were the traditional conceptions of an academic. Who at Kenso even comes close to them? We all know about the dreadful man who, though a full-time member of University staff, was unavailable to see students nine to five, Monday to Friday, because he also held a full-time job in the city; but think of the others. How many academics wait round after lectures to discuss things with their students? How many drink with them, or share any social, intellectual or recreational activities with them? How many even think of doing so? Can you imagine an academic who lives with his students? Most of them have cosy homes in the suburbs and live like superior bank-clerks; which is probably a nice way of life, but it is not an academic one. "By their fruits ye shall know them"; if you want to know about the fruits of an Australian University, read The University Experience by Graham Little. The effect of three years at University on the Arts and Science students he interviewed was zero.

Of course, Arts and Science aren't the only faculties, and the University isn't just a playpen for the rich any more. It is once again a training place for the poor but able student, as it was in those first, far-off mediaeval days. A kid from the slums, if he can make it through our unspeakable high-school system, has as good a chance as the feudal peasant's brat whose intelligence attracted the attention of a wandering friar or an unusually able parish priest. With a good brain and lots of luck, today's peasant can get a cadetship of some sort and make it to a white-collar job, professional status and the suburbs, say as an engineer (without a brain, he can always be a high-school teacher). But he will need luck, and a lot of hard work, and a very thick skin. For the ambitious slum kid slogging his way up the social ladder is not really acceptable to the Uni crowd. Engineering is not a fashionable course. Student style is still set by the rich kiddies in their playpen.

Of course, the rich brats flirt with Marx (as they have since the 'twenties). Especially his early work ["Grundrisse"], which Marx himself rejected, because it doesn't involve nasty difficult things like economics. They talk a lot about 'The Workers' and 'The People' and 'The Masses'. Mostly they've never worked in their lives, except for a summer vacation job at DJ's [Department Store], and they despise any beer-swilling, football-following unintellectual Alfs they actually meet. ('Alf is their word, popularised by those naughty but oh so witty boys from Oz). You can see their total inability to communicate with ordinary Australians when they try to talk with ordinary Australians who happen to be black at Abschol demonstrations. They despise the worker's ambition for a better home for his family from its sand-blasted glass front door to its wall-to-wall carpets, his pride and joy in his car, his harmless entertainment watching teev or sport. They have no conception of his heroism in the drudgery of his daily life, his courage in the face of difficulties they never face, his devotion to his family, his ill-expressed but often profound wisdom about men and affairs, his quick nose for the slightest hint of a phoney (their blindness to this last hardly surprises). They sneer at his son battling his way through engineering and playing Rugby [football] on Saturdays. Perhaps the workers are not very admirable in many ways, but it is odd that those who profess to champion them should emphasise their deficiencies so much. (This characteristic of student radicals to rubbish the working classes refutes the otherwise plausible explanation of a University as an institution to care for those unable to reconcile conflicting beliefs -'cognitive dissonance' as it is called. Students are as good at it as anyone.)

The nearest we've seen to the Student-Worker Alliance was a lady graduate student who shacked up with a wharfie [longshoreman]. Naturally, for it wouldn't do to flout the really fundamental social norms, he was an exceptional wharfie, with an honours degree in Arts. (The reaction of students to the relationship, before they found out that last significant fact, was very revealing.) Naturally too, he was not a success in his unusual vocation, and was chucked off the wharves.

Lots of the rich kiddies play prols, of course, and move out to the slums in a brave gesture of independence. They disturb the sleeping locals with expensive stereograms and send their washing home to Mummy. But when the shit hits the fan it's marriage and a steady job and a home in a good suburb. The number of self-styled radicals, student editors and so on who have already started buying a Nice Home is extraordinary; although some are sufficiently snobbish (or awake to a good investment) to put their money down in some newly-fashionable area like Balmain. Of course it's rude to point out such inconsistencies, or compare their sound investment with the bourgeois life-style they reject or the proletarian aspirations they despise. But it helps to clear up their views on private property; where your treasure is, there shall your heart be also.

In fact, of course, they are bourgeois to the core. Their drug market works on straight free enterprise principles, and they're all in it for the money. They outdo each other with clothes, records, the whole, fashionable status symbol scene in a way embarrassing to a pleb who merely likes his new car. Beads do not a rebel make, nor tie-dyed clothes a rad. Look at the litter they leave and see what they think of pollution. Watch how they treat their birds and see what they think of Women's Lib. Watch how they treat each other and see what sort of society they believe in.

The University itself has adapted to its dual role as a degree factory for the ambitious poor and a playpen for the idle rich. There are courses to train the slobs to be respectable, useful members of society, in a job with a white collar requiring some responsibility and not much imagination. These courses perhaps overemphasise the lack of imagination, but the customers don't want it anyway. They just want to learn how-how to make four times as much as their old man --and the University teaches them how, by the book. No questions welcome. They'll come out competent accountants, economists, engineers --and if their creativity is crushed who cares? They're 100 per cent up on where their fathers were.

And there are courses for the gigglers who are here to fill in a few years on their oldies' money. Things like academic discipline and intellectual integrity would just be a nuisance in these courses, so they wither away. After all, what the little darlings really want to talk about is themselves --their wonderful new Youth Culture and Pop stars and weekends in the country smoking grass. Relevance, they call it. Throw in some long words and a smattering of history and the arts, so that they can feel superior to the slobs outside working. And the University lets them, with only a few formalities like reading-lists (any recent paperback will do) and tutorials (in which they get bombed anyway) and exams (as easy as possible -- they pass if they have long hair and up-to-date clothes, which after all is what they're here for). And we'll get the student paper to publish junk on fashionable upper-middle class conversation pieces like pollution and antipsychiatry and women's lib, so they'll know what to talk about. They can write some of the articles themselves and see their names in print (but for God's sake don't criticise what they've written, their little egos couldn't stand it). With issues like these, they can even feel they're important agents of social change as well. Forget the fact that once something's been taken up bv Time Magazine it's no longer new, but already being pushed into the collective unconscious so the masses won't be too shocked when something's done about it. (Australia is the only country in the world where the people who call themselves intellectuals read Time). Then they'll be trained for their role in society-making conversation at business lunches and cocktail parties --and they'll be able to look back and tell their kids how they were wild and Red when they were young.

That's all this place is, Baby --a combined Finishing School and Tech. College. So much for Aberlard and Mencius and Socrates, so much for scholarship and teaching as a way of life, so much for the search for truth. Who needed real Universities anyway?

This chapter is taken from the text of a leaflet circulated some years ago at the University of New South Wales by the then Liberal and Country Party club.


In converting printed matter to html I am normally rigorous in ensuring that there are no differences between the original and the html version. In this case only, however, I have spelt out a few abbreviations and inserted explanations of a few references. I have done so in the hope of making the chapter intelligible to a wider audience than the rather limited audience for which it was originally intended. I myself taught at the University of New South Wales from 1971 to 1983 and see much truth in what the author describes. The University of New South Wales is one of Australia's major universities. I have lost track of the author of the article but I hear that he has gone on to worse things.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Chapter 27 from: J.J. Ray (Ed.) "Conservatism as Heresy". Sydney: A.N.Z. Book Co., 1974

The Vietnam Protest


THE VIETNAM MORATORIUM CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE has 'black banned' ALP Victorian MHR Gordon Bryant. He is debarred from addressing meetings sponsored by the VMC. In taking this action, the VMC has discredited itself far more effectively than the Gorton Government, for all its attempts, has succeeded in doing.

For some time ALP parliamentarians, including Mr Bryant, have suspected, indeed been convinced, that an influential section of the VMC leadership was more interested in a Communist-NLF victory in South-East Asia than in peace in that region. But in their eagerness to secure peace they closed their eyes to this disturbing fact, probably in the hope that their convictions were wrong and that they should give their associates the benefit of the doubt and the credit for good intentions. But the action taken against Bryant has confirmed the correctness of this viewpoint.

Bryant is an old-fashioned radical. He has not succumbed to the modern habit of applying dual standards, observing one standard if he is protesting against the action of a country operating a system of parliamentary democracy, and another standard if the action is performed by a country which belongs to the Communist world or by a group that is supported from within the Communist world.

Bryant, an ex-soldier who served with the Australian Forces in World War II, is an ardent pacifist. He thought that the leaders of the VMC also believed in peace.

Even on Wednesday (the day before the VMC issued its 'black ban') he could not resist supporting the cause of the VMC because, apparently, he still forlornly hoped that they stood for peace for all men, not just selected men. 'People like myself are associated with moratoria ... (because) we want wars to stop and people to stop killing each other,' Bryant told the House of Representatives. 'It is not a question of being left, right, or centre.'

Bryant was on the side of the (leftwing) angels when he was fulminating about the inquiry of Australian troops being involved in South Vietnam, where he views the conflict as being a civil war. He was applauded during this period as a great, enlightened, and liberal Australian.

Then Bryant went to South-East Asia with a parliamentary delegation. He admits that he went there with preconceived notions -- that in common with many of his fellow Australians he had accepted uncritically the leftwing propaganda line that the replacement of Prince Sihanouk in Cambodia was a military coup, that the United States and South Vietnam were unjustifiably invading Cambodia and that the North Vietnamese presence in the country was merely an understandable reaction to this U.S.-South Vietnamese aggression.

A big, cheerful, irrepressible man, Bryant claims that in Cambodia he merely used his eyes and asked questions continuously. He summed up his findings in the House of Representatives in this way:

'Cambodia was a completely innocent bystander and not involved (in the North-South Vietnamese conflict) at all. In 1954 the North Vietnamese signed an undertaking to respect the boundaries of Cambodia. In the past two or three years Prince Sihanouk became increasingly disturbed about the pressure of North Vietnamese troops on the Cambodian border. There was nothing much he could do about it ... I, for one, did not get the whole straight until I turned up in Phnom Penh. On March 18, the National Assembly of Cambodia removed its confidence, as it was put in a motion, from Prince Sihanouk. They replaced him with Chen Heng, the chairman of the National Assembly ... A few days later Cambodia started negotiations with the North Vietnamese and the National Liberation Front. Negotiations were broken off after a couple of days and the North Vietnamese commenced military operations. It was not until five weeks later that the Americans entered Cambodia.'

The leaders of the VMC, of which his ALP colleague, Dr J. F. Cairns, is the chairman, took action.

They debarred him from speaking at VMC-sponsored meetings. Apparently you can speak against aggression only in selected areas of the world. If you speak against aggression in non-selected areas you are out. Bryant was left like a shag on the rock as far as Dr Cairns and Opposition Leader Gough Whitlam were concerned. Dr Cairns said, 'I would not myself have supported or initiated any action against Gordon Bryant, but I think the VMC has the right to do so.'

Asked if the ALP would reconsider its support for the VMC in view of the VMC's attitude on Bryant, Mr Whitlam took refuge in 'No comment'.

Fellow peace supporter Barry Cohen, new ALP MHR for Robertson, showed like Bryant that he was not a 'double standards' man. Describing the VMC's action as 'undemocratic', Cohen announced that he was dissociating himself from VMC activities while the ban on Bryant remained.

The VMC not only discredited itself more ably than its opponents have ever succeeded in doing, it provided a case history of the 'dual standards' in operation.

This chapter originally appeared as an article in "The Bulletin", 12 September 1970, p. 21.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Chapter 28 from: J.J. Ray (Ed.) "Conservatism as Heresy". Sydney: A.N.Z. Book Co., 1974

Sport and the Anti-apartheid Movement


KEEPING SOUTH AFRICAN cricketers out of Australia and forbidding them to practise their art because of what they believe is as tryannous as keeping Cassius Clay out of the boxing ring and forbidding him to practise his art because of what he believed.

It's as tryannous as sending Daniel and Sinyaevsky to Siberia and forbidding them to practise their art, because their views were different from the views of their party, or blacklisting Dalton Trumbo and forbidding him to practise his art because he may or may not have been a Communist.

On what grounds do you think Bradman or Trumper should have been prevented from playing international cricket, or Rosewall or Laver from playing international tennis? Can there be any? Is there anything Robert Graves could say that could justify the confiscation of his pen, or anything that Malcolm Muggeridge could preach that could justify the cutting off of his broadcasts? Is there any political movement that Godard could support that would justify the confiscation of his camera?

Yet this is what the evangelists for freedom of expression propose to do with the South African cricketers-two or three of whom are as great as artists in their chosen field as any of the above-to prevent them from practising their art.

And what is the reason? Not that, like Cassius Clay, they actually believe in racial separatism--it seems that a great number of them are actually opposed to it -- but that their government believes in racial separatism and practises it.

This, of course, is as ludicrous as banning the works of Solzhenitsyn because his government believes in anti-semitisrn though he himself does not. It is the equivalent of banning the works of Arthur Miller because his government believed in McCarthyism though he himself did not. It is the equivalent of banning the performance of the music of Theodorakis because his government believed in censoring Socrates, though he himself did not.

It is as idiotic as banning M.A.S.H. from the country on the grounds that it came from America, and the American government believes in bombing Vietnam, though the film itself opposes it. It is as lunatic as banning the Russian Olympic team from the country because it does not contain any card-carrying capitalists, or banning the American Olympic team from the country because it does not contain any card-carrying Communists. It is as farcical as preventing Sir Robert Helpmann from dancing until McMahon repeals the White Australia policy.

When will the addled evangelists of the left-wing learn that their business is to promote the maximum of human happiness rather than the maximum of futile spite?

What good will it do if the best cricket team in the world is prevented from coming here? Thousands of cricket lovers will be deprived of a summer's pleasure, and will vote Liberal. Thousands of white South Africans will feel the more persecuted and will vote Vorster. Thousands of black South Africans will be warned off their local cricket fields, lest they should prove a political nuisance. Thousands of left-wing liberals will feel they have done their bit, conveniently forgetting that the only way they will change South Africa is by going to war with it.

And millions of Australian voters, their views about the riotous pinkoes confirmed, will high-tail it for the Liberal Party, and stay there. The Liberal Party will reign for a generation, and five million young Australians will grow up under what amounts to a one-party police state.

And what will be gained? The easing of a few of the aggressive drives of a few people who, having defeated every purpose they could possibly have stood for, are now feeling proud of themselves.

But of course, to the idealistic left, none of this matters. Human happiness and its furtherance doesn't matter a damn. All that matters is that you take a stand. All that matters is that you poke an ugly face at what you happen to believe is tyranny, even if that brings a worse tyranny in its wake.

They wouldn't dream of boycotting Australian cricket because of the way we treat our Aborigines, though our Aborigines are far worse off than most Bantu. Oh, no. Evil is always somewhere else, far enough away for them not to have to actually deal with it face to face.

Supposing the South African team actually came here. Supposing they were invited to speak at an anti-apartheid rally. Supposing they spoke. Supposing even one of them spoke. Oh, what a reverberation was there. And how their masters would tremble.

Supposing that happened, and tell me why it would not, would it do more to bring down apartheid, or would it do less? But no. Forget I suggested it. Throw out the baby with the bathwater. That's what you're here for. Take your stand on principle. That's the name of the game. Let civilisation wash away in the wake of your principles. That's the point of the exercise. Let the niggers go hang. Let the right of the artist to practise his art unhindered go hang. You've got to look at yourself in the mirror. That's what really counts.

You've got to live with your conscience. You've got to make the kind of stand that doesn't actually endanger you. That's what the little left liberal is made of. And in front of that resolve, the happiness of the whole damn world can go to blazes.

This chapter originally appeared as an article in "The Sunday Review" (later "The Nation Review"), 16 April 1971, p. 788.

Post-publication note

Bob Ellis is a well-known loose cannon in Australian political journalism but he has his lucid moments. The above was one of them.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Chapter 29 from: J.J. Ray (Ed.) "Conservatism as Heresy". Sydney: A.N.Z. Book Co., 1974

Free Speech Versus Leftist Censorship

John Ray

THAT LEFTISTS will resort to physical attack to suppress or discourage views contrary to their own is no delusion. It is a matter of public record. Two instances most relevant are the treatment of Arthur Jensen and Hans Eysenck. Like myself, both of these are social scientists who have publicly taken what is to Leftists the 'wrong' point of view on racial questions.

Jensen is famous as the man who set out all the evidence that American negroes are at a genetic disadvantage as far as intelligence is concerned. A more unpopular or unfashionable point of view it would be hard to imagine. As such it is a point of view particularly in need of protection. The doctrine of free speech is about protecting unpopular points of view. Popular viewpoints don't need protection for their freedom of expression. One would think, therefore, that Leftists (if you believed their propaganda) would be most scrupulous in their dealings with Jensen. The opposite is true. He has been persecuted by his academic colleagues (social science academics are massively Leftist in their political views), subjected to physical attack, and had bricks thrown through his window by student activists.

More recently, H. J. Eysenck, an ex-German Jew who suffered under Nazism and who would have some claim to being regarded as the world's most eminent living psychologist, joined the 'Jensen camp' by publishing a book on race which even suggested that the Irish might, genetically be of inferior intelligence. I personally found this a deliciously hilarious suggestion. But what was the response of the Left? I quote from the Sydney Morning Herald, 10 May 1973: 'Students punched and kicked a professor of psychology as he tried to deliver a lecture at the London School of Economics yesterday. Professor Hans Jurgen Eysenck had just begun his lecture with the words "I have no wish to say anything controversial" when about fifteen students leaped on to the platform and attacked him. He was sent reeling, his spectacles were smashed and his face slightly cut.' I would suggest that there could be nothing more cowardly, nothing more Nazi-like, than this mob violence unleashed by these fifteen young men against one old man.

Extremists of both the Right and the Left do resort to political violence when the rest of society lets them. Normally, no-one is so let. In our society, however, the extremists of the Left have hoodwinked people into thinking that their parroting of humanitarian intentions is sufficient guarantee of the righteousness and benevolence of their deeds. I would submit to the contrary: that people who think they act in the name of humanity are very much like the officers of the Spanish Inquisition who thought they had God on their side. Their mistake is the arrogance of thinking that they alone know what humanity needs or should have. There is no more dangerous cloak for evil deeds than the mantle, of good intentions.

Nor am I overgeneralising from the above examples. The violence and destructiveness of Left-wing unionists, peace demonstrators and anti-apartheid demonstrators is well-known. In earlier years I was on several occasions attacked by enraged Leftists for daring to hold up a 'conservative' placard at Vietnam demonstrations. 'Freedom to agree with me' is the only freedom most Leftists seem to know.

Of course Leftist coercion is not only limited to something as unsubtle as physical violence. Cutting off communications seems to be the latest device among Australian Leftists. I refer to the action in 1973 of the postal union (led by the avowedly Communist Jim Slater ) in cutting off postal services (mail) to right-wing members of our Senate because they failed to pass a law the Leftists favoured. This was an unparalleled interference with democracy beside which their cutting off of communications with France pales into insignificance. Fortunately, it was a ban that was lifted a few days after it was imposed. One can imagine the frantic 'phone calls Prime Minister Whitlam must have made to Jim Slater.

Whitlam himself, however, is not averse to using the same weapon if he thinks he can get public support for it. I refer to the move by his government to cut off the mail and phones to the Rhodesia Information Centre. I would submit that, in general, any move to interfere with freedom of communications strikes at the heart of a free society. It is probably even more potent than bashing your opponents up. In a mass society such as our own, mouth to mouth communication is not sufficient to organise resistance to a tyrant. Other, more efficient means of communicating with whole masses of, people must be open. It is for this reason that when there is a revolution in a banana republic the first place they head for is the local radio station.

Attack on the communicators, interference with the means of communication or some form of censorship are the hallmarks and chief props of totalitarian dictatorships. Can we be blind or indifferent to the fact that in Australia it is the Left from whom we have this to fear?

As yet another expose of the fundamentally violent, dishonest and totalitarian nature of the Left -- particularly the student Left -- I append two newspaper clippings which show how even the advocacy of 'peace' can be made the occasion for violence. Goebbels is the man most often associated with the 'big lie' technique (saying one thing and doing the opposite), but his counterparts today are to be found on the Left.


The following report appeared in the "Australian", 10 August 1973, . 4 under the heading 'Saigon envoy spat on by students'.

Radical left-wing students at La Trobe University, Melbourne, yesterday spat on the South Vietnamese counsellor to Australia, Mr Luu Tuong Quang.
About 200 hostile students met Mr Tuong in the east lecture theatre, passed a motion asking him not to speak, and ordered him off-campus.
When the organisers of the lecture hustled Mr Tuong to a faculty office in an adjacent building the 200 students then followed and tried to break in.
Mr Tuong, surrounded by members of the Democratic Club, was rushed to a car, but angry students surrounded it and tried to stop it leaving the campus.
The protesters were led by Mr Barry York and other members of the Workers Student Alliance.
Mr Tuong lost his diplomatic aplomb only once during the half-hour incident when he saw South Vietnam's flag being burned.
He then attempted to grab a North Vietnamese flag and throw it into the flames, but six burly students surrounded him and wrenched it from his hands.


When a senior tutor in political science, Mr Gerald Henderson, offered Mr Tuong refuge in his office, the students packed the corridor and began beating on the door and screaming abuse.
The university's acting vice-chancellor, Professor A. L. Wardrop, ordered them to disperse.
Mr Tuong said: 'At no time did I fear an outbreak of violence. After all this is an Australian university and we are in a civilised country.
'Unfortunately I've got a bit used to these things happening. 'Most of these students are reactionary conservatives in spite of the fact they call themselves the radical left.
'They deny other people the right to speak and the right to be heard.'


The following report appeared on page one of the "Sydney Daily Mirror", 23 April 1971.

MELBOURNE, Friday. -A police guard was attacked and beaten up by vandals who defaced the Shrine of Remembrance with white paint early today.
The word 'peace' in 3 ft letters was painted on six of the seven main pillars of the Shrine at the entrance in St Kilda Road. Four ban-the-bomb signs were also painted in white on the pillar supports beside the steps to the Shrine.
Police said the unarmed police guard was attacked by four youths at 12.15 a.m.
The guard, Constable T. L. Wratten, 37, of the Government House Guard, was knocked to the ground on the steps of the Shrine and suffered cuts to the head and face and abrasions.
He was wearing police uniform.

Fled in car

Constable Wratten told police he disturbed two young men who were painting letters on the Shrine.
He was grabbed from behind by two other men, who had been hiding behind a nearby wall.
After attacking Constable Wratten, the four youths fled in an early model red sedan car.
Police failed to trace the car or the youths.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Chapter 30 from: J.J. Ray (Ed.) "Conservatism as Heresy". Sydney: A.N.Z. Book Co., 1974


John Ray

'MURPHYISM' might be a good name for Australia's equivalent to America's 'McCarthyism'. In the fifties, US senator Joe McCarthy made himself notorious by his witch hunt against 'reds' in American public life. To be a 'communist' was almost a crime and anyone of leftist sympathies ran the risk of being persecuted.

Senator Murphy's hunt for 'fascists' among our migrant community seems remarkably similar. The only difference is that this time it is the leftist who is doing the witch hunting. Large numbers of people whose only crime is that they oppose communist totalitarianism have been harassed by the police without as yet producing one shred of evidence about organised Croatian terrorism that would stand up in a court of law.

Murphy was also exposed in the Senate for conveniently forgetting to mention a report from the chief of Commonwealth police that there was 'no viable evidence' of such activity in Australia.

It is also now obvious that even the visit here by Yugoslav prime minister Bijedic was a put up job -- arranged solely to give Murphy some pretext for his crackdown. Over $100,000 of public money was spent to bring Bijedic here for one hour of talks with Whitlam -- talks for which the need is unknown to this day.

Bijedic did nothing, said nothing and saw practically no one. Yet the whole visit was one of Labor's finest dramatic performances -- unprecedented security arrangements and an equally unprecedented 'raid' by one arm of government on another.

If there was so little for Bijedic to do and to talk about, why couldn't Whitlam just have phoned him? It would have cost the taxpayer a lot less.

I am not of course saying that Croatian organisations do not exist in Australia. What those organisations consist of is the question. There are indeed Croatians in Australia who have fled communism and who hate what they have fled. In memory of the one period when their nation was independent they do sometimes take upon themselves the name 'Ustashi'.

The question is what harm do they do to Australia? Trotting out old pictures of what the world war two Ustashi did is about as relevant as accusing Australian communists of the crimes committed by Stalin.

Bomb-planters and other criminals do exist here and must be dealt with if and when they are found. So far there has been no proof that any of them were Croatians -- let alone executives or even members of Croatian expatriate organisations. All Murphy's raids turned up were a few allegations against Croats for weapon possession. A raid on Serbs, or even Australians for that matter, might have produced a similar small proportion of weapon owners.

What we have to fear is that shortly senator Murphy will be deporting Croatians to Yugoslav firing squads on evidence as flimsy as any Joe McCarthy ever used -- on evidence for instance that they applied the name 'Ustashi' to themselves or expressed a wish for the violent overthrow of tyranny as they see it. For a Yugoslav to be an anti-communist may soon become a crime.

Just a little more of the stage management we saw in those days in 1973 and the average Australian may come to accept that Croats are a threat and that to say of a man that he is one of the Ustashi is sufficient grounds for his deportation. One can only hope that any Yugoslav migrants so threatened will have the right to appeal to a judge to see if they have committed any other crime than being right wing.

It would be a sad day indeed if someone who had fled communist totalitarianism for a land of liberty found that the land of liberty was so paranoid that it sent him straight back whence he had come.

'But what about the training camps they are supposed to have in Australia?' someone will ask. Again, I am quite certain that such camps exist. They need not however be devoted to illegal ends. It may not be generally known that Ukrainians and other refugee groups also have such camps -- ones where the youth of the particular ethnic community attend in uniform, do physical fitness courses and receive some semi-military training (As, indeed, do the Boy Scouts).

For the representatives of an oppressed community who see communism as menacing everything they hold dear, such responses are understandable. It is equally understandable that such camps pose no threat to us or our system. They simply represent a preparedness that our governments otherwise have always seen fit to encourage (the myth of the citizen soldier) -- through such organisations as rifle clubs, the cadet corps and the CMF.

If the present government wishes to claim that such organisations are subversive, they have a heavy burden of proof upon them. Boy Scouts beware!

No doubt left wing Labor feels it was persecuted when the Liberals were in power. Now they want their turn at the persecution game. After so many years out of power they could be feeling an almost physical need to get their own back.

At the risk of being terribly corny, however, two wrongs don't make a right.


My reference above to one arm of government raiding another is covered at some length here. Excerpt: "Gough Whitlam said nine months into his prime ministership that the Commonwealth Police raid on ASIO headquarters in Melbourne was his government's "greatest mistake"."

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Chapter 31 from: J.J. Ray (Ed.) "Conservatism as Heresy". Sydney: A.N.Z. Book Co., 1974


John Ray

ONE OF THE 'sacred cows' of our society is education. The one reason advanced for our not having more of it than we do is that we cannot afford more. The way teachers' unions talk, one could be forgiven for believing that they will never cease agitation until there are at least two teachers for every pupil. With roughly sixty per cent of state budgets spent on education already, we seen bound to have to disappoint such agitators.

Yet one can quite well argue that we are already over-educated. There must be a break-even point somewhere where further investment in education does not pay off. Bangladesh has not reached that point. We may have passed it.

It all depends, of course, on what you think education is for. The 'plain' man would think that it is to place you into society better and to make you a more productive member of that society -- to provide you with skills that society needs and is willing to pay for.

Cato, the great Roman conservative, had a similar view in his time. He despised the aristocratic Romans' habit of sending their sons to receive what we would now call a 'liberal' education at the hands of a Greek pedagogue. Instead, Cato insisted on educating his son himself in the 'manly' arts of farming and fighting. To us, nowadays, this does at first seem hopelessly reactionary and ludicrous, but that was not true at the time. In Roman society farming and fighting were the crucial skills. They were what the society needed. Learning to read and write would not help secure Rome, but swordsmanship might. History proved Cato to be resoundingly right. It was precisely the decay of farming and the decay of martial skills among the Romans which led to the eventual downfall of their empire.

In our day, the skills essential to the survival of society are infinitely more varied and more complex than in Cato*s day, but the same principles can be applied. All education is not of equal value and our investment in certain categories of it may well need critical examination. It will be submitted here that, at both secondary and tertiary levels, too much value is attached today to education in the 'humanities' and that such education does not bring the benefits claimed for it.

The key phrase used in justifying a humanities type education seems to be 'personal development'. To many of our starry eyed intellectuals, this appears to be the only justifiable goal for education of any sort. Education with a capital 'E', we might call it. All else is mere 'training'.

Just what do we mean by this rhetorical heavy cannon of 'personal development'? It is obviously an extraordinary broad term. One's musculature is indisputably personal, so would a body-building course be included in what is meant? Not quite, I think. One's mind is indisputably at the centre of one's personality so does 'cramming' one's mind with all sorts of useful facts come under the heading? Horrors no!

Insofar as it is possible to give the concept any meaning at all, it seems to include at least three things: the first is the acquisition of social skills and socially adaptive attitudes; the second is the acquisition of interests and skills with which one can occupy one's leisure time ('training for leisure'); and the third is something vaguely referred to as 'broadening the mind'.

To take the last category first. It would seem to collapse into two concepts: the concept educationists call 'transfer of training' and something that might be called 'education for citizenship'. The first concept is widely recognised to be based on a false premise -- the premise that, like muscles, minds improve with exercise. The classic example of an argument based on false transfer of training assumptions is the old argument that learning Latin is good for you because it teaches you mental discipline. This argument has been shown to be false and is now universally rejected. No one now learns Latin just because he thinks it might be good for him. He learns now it only if he has a specific use for it (such as a desire to read the classics in the originals). What is now recognised to be the case is that only insofar as two tasks have common elements or require similar specific skills will transfer occur. To give an example: learning Latin will help one to learn Sanskrit -- because Latin and Sanskrit are related languages with many common grammatical forms and words that sound similar. Learning Latin will not, however, help one to learn Magyar -- which is a totally unrelated language. In fact, it might interfere. When one tries to call up the Magyar word for something, the Latin word for it might inadvertently come to mind and thus delay (or even suppress) recall of the required word.

When, therefore, people argue that 'broadening the mind' is a good thing, they are often making assumptions such as that a study of medieval French Chansons will help one make better decisions in business or in public administration. Given what we know about transfer of training, this is most certainly false. A course in Social Psychology might help us in those fields, but a course in medieval French Chansons will not. The most effective training is training directed specifically to the goal in mind. It would be good if there were some training that would fit us generally for any challenge we might encounter. Such a thing is, however, but a dream.

The second sense that might be ascribed to the term 'broadening the mind' is that certain sorts of education fit one better to exercise ones privileges and responsibilities as a citizen in a democratic society. As it is generally applied, this too is an argument based on transfer of training assumptions. The only difference is that the endpoint of the transfer (citizenship) is specified. Again, therefore, the same rejoinder applies. A course in economics would help. but a course in literary criticism would not. If we want to educate people for citizenship, we will be most likely to succeed if we design a course specifically for that task. We cannot just sit back and hope that people will pick up an odd connection here and there between two minimally related fields.

The second major sense of 'personal development' is that of 'training for leisure'. Again the connection between this and what actually happens in education as we have it is essentially a hit-or-miss affair. A good example is the study of English literature -- which is very widespread and which can surely be justified on no other grounds.

Initially, one must note that what one learns in such a course is literary criticism, not how to write novels, plays etc. Only a tiny minority of our successful writers are English graduates and an even tinier minority of our English graduates are successful writers. A course in English is not, then, vocational training of any sort. It is supposed simply to help you appreciate existing literature better. I would submit, however, that the number of people who become better trained for leisure in this way is infinitesimally small. Who would undertake a university course in English who did not enjoy reading novels? Who reads more novels because he has done English? Who needs an English course to help him enjoy plays? Who has ever been converted to reading poetry because of an English course? I think there is little doubt that to all these questions only one answer can be given: very few indeed. At the secondary school level, I think that there can he little doubt that the study of English literature often has a deterrent effect. How many generations of school-children have come to hate Shakespeare and Dickens because they were forced to study them at school?

The reading of English literature is certainly an invaluable leisure activity, but I have yet to see an iota of evidence that courses in literary criticism get anybody to read who did not already enjoy doing so. Perhaps some rather clear evidence against courses in literary criticism having any effect is the type of books people borrow from libraries. Any librarian will tell you that contemporary romances, mysteries, and science fiction are as popular as books of poetry and books of plays are unpopular. What people read is largely what English Literature courses do not teach. Courses in English Literature seem to have little or nothing to do with reading as a leisure-time activity.

I would agree, then, that training for leisure is an important thing. I agree that one day it may be almost the most important thing of all. What I do doubt, however, is whether a humanities education is at all effective in accomplishing that goal. I am sure that a six week course in pottery would have more effect in this connection than would any university Arts degree. Again it is surely far more rational to design a course (or a selection procedure) that will be specifically aimed at accomplishing what one has in mind, rather than just hoping that what one aims at will somehow emerge of its own accord.

The remaining effect that seems to be hoped for by advocates of 'personal development' is the acquisition of socially adaptive attitudes and social skills. Again, they are hoping for an effect that is quite incidental to the whole direction of any university or secondary school course. Again the obvious comment is that there are surely much more immediate routes to the goal concerned. Instruction in the art of cricket or a course in scientology would certainly be much more beneficial (as far as one's social attitudes and skills are concerned) than would an Arts degree. In fact in general Arts degrees seem to be ideally designed for producing disgruntled people rather than well adjusted people. The young lady who does an honours degree in Italian and then finds that the best job she can get is serving Kentucky fried chicken in a Colonel Sanders shop is not going to be too happy with the society that encouraged her to commit such a folly. There just are hardly any jobs that satisfy the high expectations that Arts degrees build up. Arts degrees help one to develop a taste for the abstract without giving one any economic means to satisfy that taste. But if an Arts degree does not help one adjust to society does it help one adjust to other people? I cannot see how. In fact an Arts degree would seem to me to foster an 'Ivory Tower' mentality rather than a warm awareness of other people.

One must conclude that those who expect 'personal development' from 'humanities' education are demonstrating a faith akin to the religious rather than showing serious or realistic concern for the issues involved. There is no such thing as 'general' personal development. There is only the acquisition of particular interests, knowledge and skills. If these are not directly useful to the person in themselves, no comfort can be taken from any superstitious belief that they could some day be of indirect use. If you study French literature, not because you like it, but because you think it will make you a better person, you are deceiving yourself. A more realistic plan of action would be to define in what way you want to be a better person and go and take a course specifically directed to training you in whatever that might be.

The main virtue of a humanities education must lie in its being a form of recreation or hobby in itself. It is a recreation that I enjoyed. It is surely not a form of recreation that we can moralistically judge as being in some sense 'better' or more praiseworthy than any other. Just because I 'groove' on Chaucer, I do not consider myself as being better in any way than 'Joe Bloggs' who 'grooves' on racehorses.

As such, it seems particularly hard to justify the demands that are made on the taxpayer to subsidise this form of recreation. Education is hugely expensive and tends to be a form of recreation most favoured by the more affluent sections of society. Why 'Joe the worker' has to pay more for his beer and cigarettes so I can study Chaucer free of cost I do not know. It can surely only be described as a monstrous injustice -- robbing the poor to pay the rich. If justice and equity were our concern, it would be fairer to subsidise horseracing. More people enjoy it.

Much of our education today represents little more than a confidence racket -- a racket, however, from which no-one profits. The ordinary voter is sold a bill of goods that is often not delivered. He thinks that the contributions to education that he makes via his taxes are going to train people in socially useful ways, As far as the training of doctors, engineers, and research scientists are concerned, this is so. In the 'humanities' this is not so and the indications are that, if anything, such education serves more to produce misfits -- creative people with nothing to create. At best, it is simply useless to society.

We are then substantially over-educated -- in that many people have spent years acquiring an education at both secondary and tertiary levels that is of no benefit to themselves or to anyone else. Helped by a lot of woolly thinking, we have spent untold millions on something which is dubious even as entertainment value. How much better that money might have been spent in giving pensioners a higher standard of living or in giving some tax relief to the family man. There should be no impediment put in the way of people who want a humanities education, but it is something that people should pay for themselves. There are more uses for the taxpayer's dollar than subsidising the hobbies of the rich.

Even outside the humanities it is possible that we might be overeducated. This is particularly so in those increasingly frequent cases where supply leads demand. This comes about because many people, quite realistically, see education as the key to advancement in life. They therefore want to get a better education for themselves or for their children. For this reason they support political moves to make education free and more widely available. There is a fallacy of composition involved here, however. If everybody acquires a better education my better education will not mean much. When competing to get the best jobs I will be no better off in comparison with others than I was before. What has happened is that the standard required to have a chance of getting a particular job has risen. In future, no-one will get such a job unless society has made a bigger and bigger investment in his education. Where once the completion of primary school was sufficient qualification for me to become a clerk in the Public Service, the Public Service is now even employing university graduates as clerks. Where does the spiral stop? How long will it be before even the garbage man has to have a university degree?

At present we cannot know whether we have come to a point where the increasing levels of education in practical fields have ceased to pay off. Such is the drain of education on public finances that soon we will have to do serious studies of just where a particular level of education is required and where it can be dispensed with. When such studies are done, the government could set realistic quotas for the number of people to receive particular sorts of training in our schools and universities. This would ensure that the level of training required for a job was not unnecessarily pushed up by an oversupply of more highly qualified people. If society is to be asked to pay for education, it has a right to ask whether it is all really necessary.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Chapter 32 from: J.J. Ray (Ed.) "Conservatism as Heresy". Sydney: A.N.Z. Book Co., 1974

Upper Houses


Is he going to have a go at Parliament? I asked a woman recently whose husband is actively involved in Liberal Party politics outside Parliament. 'Only if he wants a divorce', she said.

She summed up a common view of the life of politicians. The view is that a politician is a general dogsbody who has to sacrifice almost all his private and home life for politics: a man who is subject at any time of day or night to phone calls from indignant or distressed constituents ("I will ring my Member' is still an important citizen's weapon); who when Parliament is not sitting until 10.30 or 11 p.m. is out attending local, municipal, Parents and Citizens', Scouts' and Guides', Chambers of Commerce, etc. meetings, functions, balls. He also expects his wife to do the same things, even if when she married him it was the last thing she had in mind. On top of all that, every three years he (and she) has to work like a dog to hold the seat in the elections. It is perhaps a minor detail that in many cases the politician drops in income when he goes into Parliament.

This fairly popular view is exaggerated. Certainly most politicians and their wives love the life. Resignations are few and defeated politicians keep trying to get back. But there is enough truth in it to make clear why so many men who would have so much to contribute to Parliament would not consider for a moment standing for election. It is not only that they would lose income but they temperamentally could not stand the daily life.

In practice, however, parliamentary life tries to cater for such men. Upper Houses in particular are maintained on the principle that a place must be found in public life for the sort of man who has much to contribute, but whose personality does not fit him for the democratic hurly-burly. This appplies (in theory) especially in the NSW Upper House and is one of the main themes of Ken Turner's new book Houses of Review. It is the first serious examination of Australian Upper Houses and a particularly timely one in view of the debates in NSW, South Australia and Britain.

The NSW Legislative Council is not even elected by the democratic public but by an electoral college made up of the existing members of both the Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council. It was reconstructed in 1932 on principles derived from the 1917 Bryce Report on the reform of the House of Lords. Viscount Bryce had argued that an Upper House, such as the House of Lords or the Legislative Council, had an important role to play in Parliament by discussing, revising, delaying and, sometimes, initiating Bills. Such Chambers should be made up, he said, of three types of men or women: (a) experts; (b) men of judicial and disinterested temperament; and (c) 'Persons who, while likely to serve efficiently in a second Chamber, may not have the physical vigor needed to bear the increasing strain which candidacy for a seat (in the Lower House) and service in it involve.' Viscount Bryce also recommended that the best way to elect such a Chamber is through election by existing parliamentarians -- although only NSW in the whole wide world seems to have accepted his advice. The point is that many of Bryce's three types are turned off ordinary democratic politics. This means that their influence should be limited, but it doesn't follow that they should be kept out altogether.

The theory is splendid. Legislative Councillors not only do not have to face universal suffrage elections (and in any case have twelve year terms) but they have no constituency work at all. Their minds are left free for the discussion of high policy. In return they were for years unpaid and are now paid about a third of the salary of a Member of the Legislative Assembly and they are expected to leave policy initiatives to the Government based almost solely on the Lower House. While they may delay and sometimes reject Bills they are not supposed to perversely obstruct the decisions of the elected Government.

The question is: how well does it work? As Ken Turner points out, the method of election has always meant that charges of buying votes have been common. As soon as the reconstructed Upper House was established. Parliament became known as Tout's Paradise and in 1933 'Bet you 50 pounds I'm not elected' became a headline. By 1936 the usually quoted figure was 200 pounds. Nowadays it is alleged to be higher. It's fair to say, however, that this is also a criticism of the Members of the Lower House who are said to co-operate with such practices and that despite the risks in this method of election it would still be worth it if it means that many men of the kind mentioned earlier can be brought into public life who would otherwise shun it.

The question then is: does the end result justify the method? Ken Turner tries to answer it with some precision by examining the Council's performance in debates, committee work, revision of Bills. Turner concludes that 'the most effective criticism of the Council is not poor attendance, but the low level of contribution by most of its members.' Too many of these Councillors barely make any contribution to debate and it would be naive to assume that they may have fed their ideas to more fluent members. Similarly, Turner says the Council has not been active in committee work. In fact it had more committees in the days before it was reconstructed in 1932.

Turner thinks that its best defence is based on its record of revising and tidying up legislation sent to it from the popular Chamber. Between 1934 and 1987 the Council inserted over 2300 amendments to Bills and had over 2100 of them accepted by the Legislative Assembly. While many of these would have been small amendments which, if there had not been an Upper House (as in Queensland or New Zealand) the Government would have inserted anyway, this is not true of the most important ones. Further, in the 1960s, morale has improved. 'Attendance is good, more Bills are being amended, more pages of Hansard filled, and greater use of committees is being made' -- such as the recent one on sex crimes.

The general conclusion of Turner's study is that while NSW has a system of electing an Upper House that makes possible the incorporation in public life of a disinterested and inexpensive body of either experts or at least publicly spirited men and women, in practice it has not lived up to its ideal -- although at times it has come close to it.

The practical conclusion is that any other sort of Upper House (leaving aside minor reforms that almost anyone would accept) would be unnecessary. If it is to be elected by universal suffrage, why have two Chambers at all? If it is to be appointed by the Government it will be an instrument, so again why have it at all?

It seems to me that you can make out a good case for abolishing all Upper Houses, but if we are going to have one, the NSW model is a better one than either a universal suffrage Chamber such as Mr Steele Hall proposes in South Australia, or an appointed one such as Mr Harold Wilson proposes for the House of Lords.

At least it gives an opening to those useful mavericks who should be in politics, but won't take on the life of an ordinary politician.

This chapter originally appeared as an article in "The Bulletin", 17 January, 1970

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Chapter 33 from: J.J. Ray (Ed.) "Conservatism as Heresy". Sydney: A.N.Z. Book Co., 1974


John Ray

THERE ARE TWO basic propositions to this chapter: (1). That any creative artist in the twentieth century who needs a subsidy is not worth his salt; (2). That if any recreational activity is to be subsidised by the government, it should be sport -- not 'The Arts'.

Defence of subsidies too often relies on tales of great artists from the past starving in garrets. What is overlooked is that the society we live in today is vastly different from that. In Australia today no-one (artists or not), has to starve in a garret. Of greater importance, however, is the emergence of a mass market for art this century. Where once only princes (sacred or secular) could afford to patronise the arts, now we have an entire middle class eagerly seeking originals. Even people with the merest glimmerings of talent can make a fortune, and, one suspects, even talent is not always necessary.

While what was said above was written with the visual arts particularly in mind, it is also largely true of music. Even Stravinsky, whose music only the tiniest minority of people can enjoy, when he died in 1971 left an estate of three million dollars. If it is good, even art that enjoys only minority interest is worth a fortune. The difference is that Stravinsky was a genius, whereas many of our avant garde composers clamouring for government handouts are little more than frauds and quacks. If their music was of any quality or appeal it would attract enough private support to make government handouts superfluous.

'But creative work is a risky and insecure business that may not be recognised for many years. What is the artist supposed to do in the meanwhile, starve?

The answer is that creative artists are not the only people who take risks or who take some time to build up a business -- and there is really no reason why the entertainment industry (of which creative artists are a part) should be favoured above others. Everybody has setting-up costs.

'But to regard the arts as merely part of the entertainment industry is monstrous and unreal. How can anyone in his right mind say such a thing?', is the cry of outrage I hear at this point. Before we go any further, therefore, we must move on to a consideration of what it is that 'The Arts' do which makes them deserving of our spending any money on them at all, be it privately spent or taxes spent on our behalf by the government.

The key to the reverent and deferential attitude which some people adopt towards the arts seems to lie in an assumption that the artist is in some sense a better person than us ordinary mortals and that art has an uplifting effect on those exposed to it, which makes them in turn also better persons. Nothing could be more absurd and lacking in proof.

There is absolutely no guarantee that artists or those who patronise them are in fact good or wise persons in any sense. Hitler and the top men in the Nazi hierarchy were great lovers of the arts and Hitler himself was by occupation an artist. If that is what artists and art-lovers are like then I want no part of them. Nor is this the exception that proves the rule. The Medici of Renaissance Florence were perhaps the most famous patrons of the arts of all time and yet it was the name of a policy adviser of theirs from which our word 'machiavellian' comes. They were as ruthless a gang as any princely family Europe ever had. Even England's gross, bloodthirsty, unscrupulous and self-centred Henry VIII was a great patron of the arts -- both in painting and in music. We may have to thank his overwhelming self-love for England's liberation from the papacy, but that is no reason to admire the man who for selfish reasons beheaded the Anne Boleyn whom he had once claimed to love and whose only sin and major mistake was to marry him. No, some of the vilest men in history were great lovers of 'The Arts'. Anybody who claims that the arts are upbuilding has, to say the least, the burden of proof upon him.

The arts cannot, then, be justified on the grounds that they produce desirable changes or improvements in people. They can only be justified by the fact that people enjoy them. They are entertainment or recreation -- not education. They are, however, not just any old form of recreation: they are primarily the recreation of the middle and upper classes. The pictures the working man puts on his wall, the books he reads, or the music he listens to, are highly unlikely to be included under the graceful rubric of 'The Arts' -- and they are even less likely to attract a government subsidy.

But what possible reason could there be for a government to subsidise the recreational activities and preferences of its more affluent citizens? Surely there exist great needs in basic social services-needs involving food, clothing, housing and health-which must take precedence over any recreational needs, let alone the recreational needs of the people who already are best qualified to pay for their own.

This is not to say that recreation is unimportant. It is important; but it is surely the last field into which governments should be intruding. If they absolutely must intrude, then surely it is the recreations of the working man who are most in need of subsidy. Since such recreations are pre-eminently in the field of sport, it is sport that should come first. If we are at all troubled about social justice, it is football and other sporting clubs that should get the subsidies-not art galleries, cacophonous composers, writers of books, whose only purpose is the parading of every conceivable neurosis and psychosis, or "experimental" film-makers whose major achievement is to bore the pants off those who see their productions. This is not to say that I would like to see the arts die out. I am passionately devoted to some of the arts -- music particularly. I have even had a small amount of poetry published. What I do say, however, is that good art is art that pleases people-even if it is only a tiny minority of people. In our society such art will have no need of government subsidies. I love the arts too much to want to see mediocrity even tolerated in them -- let alone have it encouraged by government subsidies.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Chapter 34 from: J.J. Ray (Ed.) "Conservatism as Heresy". Sydney: A.N.Z. Book Co., 1974


By John Ray

ONE OF THE ritual phrases used by Left-wing intellectuals whenever a demon is necessary to explain the occurrence of some disliked state of affairs is 'The power elite'. 'The power elite' is a demon to which all the ills of society can he traced. It is a slightly sophisticated intellectuals' version of the workers' "Them".

Among academics the discussion of the role of elites in society is a very old and very ramified one. There is no doubt that we do have elites. The only question is the degree of influence that they do or should have. What I want to do here, is to present simply how power is distributed and exercised, and in so doing, to show that the radical's image of a small, cohesive, conspiratorial and self-seeking group as being the ones who exercise between them all or most of the power in our society is quite distorted and false.

Both the extreme Right and the extreme Left tend to have conspiracy theories about how society is run. For the extreme Right it is 'The Jews' who run society to their own advantage and to the disadvantage of the rest of us. To the Leftist it is 'The Bosses' if you are a worker, or 'the power elite' if you yourself are in danger of appearing to be in 'the Bosses" class. In fact, all of the mentioned theories about the distribution and location of power are very much alike and are mistaken in approximately equal degrees. Given the education, affluence and positions of influence that are characteristic of Jews, they are quite as plausible as the holders of power as anyone else. Once you think society is run by a small collusive minority, you have all the ingredients necessary for a pogrom. 'The Jews', 'The Bosses', and 'The power elite' are very nearly interchangeable terms. However you define who belongs in each of these three classes of people, you will still end up by naming many of the same people. It is this that explains what must be very painful to many of those who are proud to bear the label 'socialist' -- the fact that Hitler too thought himself to be a 'socialist'. The name 'Nazi' is of course the German abbreviation of 'Nationalsozialistische deutsche Arbeiter Partei' ( NSDAP ) or 'National socialist German workers' party'. When Gough Whitlam describes himself as both a nationalist and a socialist, one is duty bound to point out what went wrong with the last lot of National Socialists we suffered from. What went wrong was that they worked with a conspiracy theory of power. Who they thought held that power was really quite secondary, and was in any case not greatly different from what our socialists think. When things were going wrong they looked for a group of evil men to blame rather than trying to understand the real complexities of societal functioning. Just as it fell to that arch-Conservative Churchill to lead the opposition to our last most serious outbreak of paranoid socialism, so to conservatives today must fall the role of challenging our modern forms of paranoid socialism.

Why are conspiracy theories of power so common? One obvious attraction is that they help people to avoid coming to terms with the fact that their values are deviant from the values of the rest of their fellow citizens. If you do not like the motor car, it helps to propose that people buy them only because the power elite have created an artificial demand for them by way of advertising. In fact this proposal casts the deviant in the role of hero. He alone has been smart enough to see through and resist the forces the power elite use to manipulate society to their own advantage. By postulating the existence of a collusive power elite, one can defer recognition of the fact that the existing social order represents by and large a compromise between the various things that most people want. It is easier to attack and find fault with a small elite than to find fault with and attack practically the whole of one's fellow men. That your more satisfactory enemy is imaginary matters very little, except perhaps to the majority of the people who would be oppressed if you ever got your way. It is no accident that the world's two most vicious recent dictatorships, Hitler's and Stalin's, were perpetrated in the name of socialism and were accompanied by the mass slaughter of elites. The conspiracy theory allows the paranoid to tell himself that he is acting in the name of the people (socialism) and is freeing them from the oppressors who have hoodwinked them. No better formula for enabling one to ignore in all good conscience the actual wishes of the people could be imagined. If people disagree with one, they must have been 'manipulated'. Whether it is the power elite or the Jews who do the hoodwinking and corrupting is of little moment.

What then is the reality of power distribution? The reality is that in a Western society no person has much power. Power is fractionated. Some have more than others, but no person has a significant portion of it by himself. For great power to be exercised, many people, perhaps not even knowing one another, must act together (or permit others to act) .

This fact that no person has much power by himself is amply illustrated by our Australian Prime Minister himself. Gough Whitlam bears much of the credit for the 1972 and 1974 ALP electoral victories and at the time of writing is head of the government -- nominally the most powerful man in the land. Yet he is constantly being overruled. And who overrules him? Nobody individually, but rather the majority of his colleagues acting collectively. Yet any of his ministers by themselves would have even less power than he does. Who then has power? Is it Bob Hawke, our much-exposed union boss? Scarcely. He could not even get union support for his quite benevolent housing scheme. Of all his proposed innovations, only a faltering department store and a travel scheme being run in partnership with big business remain. Even his outspoken Zionism -- backed as it was by many ALP politicians -- did not succeed in getting Australia to take a pro-Israel stance during or after the Yom Kippur war. If the head of the political system, the Unions and the Zionists do not have the power, who is left to constitute "the power elite"? "Big Business"! I can hear the Leftists cry triumphantly.

This however is the most absurd answer of all. Far from being collusive, businessmen love nothing better than to cut one another's throat. Their jealousy. their competitiveness and just the fact that they are so numerous make them even less likely than the groups mentioned above as candidates for forming a Power Elite. Even 'multinationals' -- that modern day refinement of the 'Big Business' shibboleth -- will not do. If multinationals are so powerful, how did the multinational oil companies fail to prevent the Arabs from turning off the oil and then raising its price? By any definition. Standard Oil of New Jersey (Esso, Exxon) is probably ten or more times the size of Kuwait and the other tiny Arab Sheikhdoms, yet America still could not get any oil from them. Where did all this Power that the multinationals are supposed to have disappear to? Getting back to Australia, how was it that the combined efforts and opposition of practically the whole of our manufacturing industry still did not prevent the ALP government from introducing its twenty-five per cent tariff cuts? What about our largest company, BHP? Are they or their top management part of the power elite? Well, how come they are so unsuccessful in getting approval for price rises? If big businessmen have all the power, someone ought to tell Lang Hancock, our iron ore millionaire with a large share in the Pilbara deposits. He is so dissatisfied with the deal that our Federal government forces on him that he advocates his home state (Western Australia) should secede from the Commonwealth! If his position as one of the biggest of our big businessmen gives him all the power that our Leftists think it must, then he certainly does not seem to have noticed it. He makes no bones about saying what he would do if he did have any power.

No: no one group constitutes 'The Power Elite'. There is only a multitude of competing interests, each with their own very small quantity of influence. All of us have some power, some have more than others. The only power many of its have is power over our own actions. The only power our politicians have is that power they can persuade us to collectively approve. The only power our big businessmen have is the power to hire or not, to buy from one supplier or another. They once also had the power to fire or not, but this now is a right exercised only by courtesy of the unions.

What about 'The Military--Industrial Complex' and the 'Old Boy network'? Do these constitute the Power Elite? Certainly in naming these, one is naming real frameworks for collusion. No one surely has ever imagined that collusion never takes place or has tried to deny that some people have more power than others. One should note, however, that this collusion is informal and unsystematic. It is, into the bargain, in no way immune from the competing interests and attitudes that so bedevil co-operation by other people in other spheres. By contrast, the business of government and of political parties generally is a formal and systematic attempt by people with common interests to act in concert with one another. If the Old Boy network is a framework for informal collusion, them political parties could be called a framework for formal collusion. Yet we all know how circumscribed are the ways in which political parties succeed in attaining their ends. How much less successful must the much less strongly organised and more sporadic efforts of the Old Boy network be?

For all that, however, the only way we can really judge the power of a group is by looking at what success it actually has in getting what it aims for. Let us therefore take one instance of an Old Boy network -- the American 'military industrial Establishment'. This group has, for our purposes, the advantage that its supposed aims are fairly clearly specified -- getting the U.S. government to spend up big on defence procurement. What success have they had in attaining these aims? We have the American Army running down in numbers with conscription recently abolished, and with already only a fraction of the fighting troops of the Soviet Union; the once mighty U.S. navy now appears on most criteria to be inferior to the Soviet Navy and the U.S. airforce has nothing that can come near to matching the MiG 23, Russia's front-line fighter aircraft. Russia has long overtaken the U.S. in number and size of intercontinental missiles and now appears to have mastered or nearly mastered the American trick of giving each of them multiple warheads. Moscow is protected by anti-missile missiles, Washington is not. And all this has taken place with what must be seen as a fairly sympathetic President in the White House. Truly the military industrial complex must be one of the world's most colossal failures as a power elite.

The military industrial complex was simply another one of the fake bogeymen of which the Left is so fond. Faced with the monumentally unpalatable Vietnam war and the even more unpalatable fact that the initiation of the American involvement there was the work of such a Leftishly righteous person as John F. Kennedy, some explanation had to be found for America's supposed error in being there. That the involvement might have been due to the deep idealism of the American people in being unwilling to see another country taken over by an immovable and pervasive totalitarianism just would not do. That would have made the Leftist intellectuals seem the odd ones out. It would bring their judgment into conflict with too much of what they loved as America. So the conspiracy theory made its inevitable and convenient reappearance. 'The people and their government disagree with me so they must have been manipulated'. was the predictable, but so dangerous and so arrogant line of reasoning. The 'military industrial complex' thus rose to unprecedented popularity as the scapegoat. If it could not be admitted that the people were so foolish as to want or approve of the great military expenditures, then, someone had to be engineering them. That the power of this 'complex' was a myth was shown by the fact that as soon as public support for foreign military adventures waned, so apparently did the success of the 'complex' in securing continued military expenditures. There was no need to inject such a 'complex' into the explanation of American military expenditures at all.

In summary, exercises of great amounts of power are secured only when a wide spectrum of sources of power coincide or co-operate. This roughly means when there is extensive public support for a particular principle or line of action. Any source of great power that can run against public sentiment for any length of time is a myth. Even Hitler's great almost absolute power was the direct result of the fact that he was able to persuade huge numbers of Germans in all walks of life that his obsessions were right and correct. In the last elections held under the Weimar republic, the Nazis received far more votes than any other political party.

In Western society, then, and to a lesser extent in other societies, the ultimate source of power is plausibility. If you can get many people to agree with you, you then have power. Even if you get a majority of people to agree with you, however, you still will not have absolute power. It is by way of plausibility that political pressure groups generally work. The Associated Chamber of Manufacturers is generally thought to be one of Australia's more powerful political lobbies yet its operations consist of little else than issuing public statements, sending interested people propaganda and ensuring that politicians and senior public servants are given the occasional lavish dinner in appropriate company. Persuasion is the name of the game. It is a game that large organisations probably have a head start at, but the successes of the various ecology and consumerism lobbies show clearly that if people are really concerned, persuasion is an art that almost anyone can effectively apply. Elites are powerful only insofar as they are persuasive. The way in which all sorts of established elites have been taking a tumble in the battle with the ecology movement shows that elite power is certainly not something to be feared.

{There is a later article on elites HERE}