Tim Blair


New Criterion



Monday, April 26, 2004
IT'S ALWAYS A PLEASURE to hear from the Grumpy Economist (is there any other kind?), especially when he pins down in print those egregious ABC choices that would otherwise pass unrecorded into the ether.

Here is one example:


I was interested to hear on yesterday's (Friday 23 April) PM programme the voice of Dr Evan Jones, of Sydney University, discussing the imminent closure of the Mitsubishi automotive plant in Adelaide....

"I mean, ultimately we live in a capitalist economy in which the lifeblood of the community depends upon jobs, jobs are organised by profit-seeking firms, especially the larger ones, and governments feel beholden to cater to the to the health of these companies".

[A load of rubbish, yes. But here's where it gets interesting...]

"So it's like institutionalised blackmail.

"Ultimately, I would be supportive of governments coming to the party if it's a matter of sustaining jobs..."

That is, Dr Jones is having a bob each way: giving government money to those international capitalist bloodsuckers means giving in to blackmail, but every enterprise, no matter how shoddy, deserves to be propped up by the government if it keeps people from having to change jobs.

Yes, Grumpy, it is indeed strange how ideology drives a man to want the worst of both worlds - declining private profits and socialised losses.

But what's really driving young Grumpy dyspeptic is this:

The question for the ABC is: with so many good economists around, especially at the ANU and in the private sector, why turn to the ratbags at Sydney's School of Political Economy for a quote? And having got the copy, why didn't anybody raise any concerns about the quality of the material? This is basic editorial practice, surely!

I'm sure Auntie would plead in her defence the need for balance among her commentators. After all, the odd rational economist gets a run on the ABC news.

What Auntie is also practising, but will never admit to, is intellectual equivalence.

Here's another randomly-chosen example from last year's AM:

It's the first clear picture of how human-induced global warming can contribute to drought conditions and scientists commissioned by the Worldwide Fund for Nature have found that last year Australia recorded its highest-ever average maximum temperatures

Why let a bunch of propagandists select 'scientists' to tell us what our weather bureau is telling us? The answer, of course, is spin.

Or, if you're having a panel discussion of some difficult subject, like global warming or immigration, it's quite reasonable to construct a panel of three commentators, two of whom are committed to developing informed and balanced opinion on the subject, and may come to opposing conclusions, while the third is a ranting flat-earther from some NGO or interest group. If the ranter has any PR skills he/she can make the experts look like dull equivocators.

A fine example of this practice was broadcast a few weeks ago. If my memory weren't so poor, and the day too pleasant to waste googling, I'd tell you about it.