As the Manchurian Candidate tramps around Washington to learn about credit crunch and spruik the nation’s economic decoupling miracle, he’ll be eagerly consulting “experts” in the field. “Experts” like Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, whose bumbling mismanagement of US markets is now beginning to seriously chafe, even with the Bushies.

Last Thursday, in what looked suspiciously like the Chairman’s Lounge at Sydney Airport, the PM promised to “look at the facts” over policy prescriptions concerning the global credit crunch.

“Decisions taken will directly shape the global financial environment and impact on Australia’s economic future,” Rudd told the East Asia forum earlier in the week.

Sound familiar?

Ever since bumping off Bomber, Kevin’s been gleefully spruiking an idea of government as an agglomeration of disinterested technicians – an ideologically neutral counterpoint to the coalition’s  dalliance with a unique brand of neoliberalism with conservative characteristics.

But as Guy Rundle’s recent Age spray ably demonstrated, in a complex world, expert advice is about undemocratic as it gets. A bunch of elite thinkers (in spirit, if not entirely in makeup) descending on Canberra for the 2020 Summit to spruik their version of reality leaves little hope for disagreement and dialogue — i.e. the stuff of actual politics.

Any qualms over the lab-coated get short shrift at Yarralumla where science is venerated as a multi-purpose policy cure-all. Garnaut and 2020 are, of course, only the most egregious examples – the ALP, and its centre-left brethren, have been fornicating over the university educated for years.

The current obsession with experts is not only inappropriate — it also masks a much broader deception. While reports, reviews and pressure groups are endlessly convened and painstakingly rolled out to divert the public’s attention, the global market marches on, reshaping society in its own image.

In Agnes Heller and Gyorgy Markus’ classic study Dictatorship Over Needs, the Soviet Union’s wilfully inefficient policy making process is revealed as the raison d’etre for spiralling levels of social control:

[Bureaucracy’s] function is primarily to practise dictatorship over needs, and this is being done thoroughly. The system of directives (orders) is a corrective one (or at least is meant as such): it clears the way for the break-through of ideological, doctrinal priorities.

So food shortages are purposely inefficiently handled, while public housing applicants in an accommodation crisis are systematically disheartened. But this time round maybe, just maybe, voters are beginning to see through the consultation blizzard for what it really represents.

In March 2004, Mark Latham, in his pre-poltergeist phase, tiptoed famously around the Styx Valley, promising to apply “science and rigour” when the Greens prodded him to produce actual action over clear felling. But the jig was up – the CFMEU called him on jobs and the doctor’s wives sniffed a rat.

Peter Garrett expressed eerily similar sentiments over the pulp mill before ramming the approval through regardless, forever consigning Blue Sky Mine, in the hearts of the hopeful, from agit-prop anthem to hollow FM radio plaything.

To avoid a similar fate, the PM would do well to refocus his government’s gaze away from the advice deity and embrace society as it currently stands – complex, nuanced, and not quite as stupid as it seems.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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