Greek brinkmanship:

David Edmunds writes: Re. “Troika’s Greek brinksmanship breeds old continent extremes” (Friday, item 9). When Greece joined the eurozone, it did so on the condition that it would run a budget deficit no higher than 3%. If subsequent claims are to be believed, the Greek government then ran budget deficits as high as 13% while claiming to be in compliance with their commitment to a maximum 3% deficit.

The question is then, why did no one at home notice? Did the Greek media follow-up on the budget situation, or as happens here, report the colour and movement and announce as the winner the populist politician with the most facile and simple prescription, where facts are an irrelevance.

It is hard to believe that if the Greek media had done their job competently and pointed out what was happening in their economy and the likely consequence, that the situation could have descended to the level of disaster it achieved. Surely that is the role of the media in any democracy.

The consequences for the Greeks are tragic, but it is hard to sheet home the blame to the German politicians, who are not surprisingly answerable to their own electorate who see no reason to support the Greeks.  The situation is entirely the result of actions or lack thereof in their own polity.

I wonder if there is a lesson here for Australia.

Electoral enrolment:

Sam McLean, national deputy director of GetUp!, writes: Re. “The new electoral law that will deliver tens of millions to parties” (February 16, item 2). Bernard Keane was correct to report GetUp’s support for the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Protecting Elector Participation) bill, but he ascribed to our members the wrong motivation.

A staggering 1.6 million Australians are not currently enrolled to vote. Keane suggested GetUp! supported the bill because we were “under the mistaken belief that compelling people to vote maximises the vote for non-conservative parties.” This is wrong for a number of reasons. For a start, nobody knows how these Australians will vote, because at the moment they can’t. Furthermore, few at GetUp! currently believes the best way to support progressive causes is to park your vote with one party or another.

Recent history has shown that no party has a monopoly on progressive issues.  But more importantly, GetUp! supports the bill because it increases participation in our democracy, and that can only be a good thing. No one is required by law to cast a vote. They are simply required to turn up to a polling station on election day.

This is a very small sacrifice for any democracy to ask of its citizens if the end result is more people thinking.

Art directors:

Craig Lauritsen writes: Re. “My Cup of Tea: superstar economics of gallery directors” (Friday, item 4). In response to the news of Michael Brand’s salary boost, it’s just a part of a growing trend in wage disparity. We are seeing it in every sector of the economy and much of the time these huge salaries have little or nothing to do with performance.

A small percentage of people in an industry are paid exorbitant wages, while the majority are squeezed as they pay the price of a few. Others have said that it’s OK, the market regulates these sort of things … not based on current evidence. The flow-on effect from ridiculous wages without performance scrutiny is obvious. I believe in a wage cap for such jobs and also performance-based reviews.

The private sector will never implement such a thing so it’s up to governments to do it …. in which case it will never happen. The current state of politics in this country is so pathetic that I’m seriously considering a donkey vote for the first time in my 30-year voting history, just so that neither party gets a cent from a correctly filled out card.

Art is an incredibly beneficial thing. It promotes creativity, passion, dedication and long-term commitment, all for the monetary return of something below the poverty line. Artists put the majority of their money straight back into the community via material costs, promotional material, etc. The only thing that sets our species apart is our incredible lump of grey matter. The more we use it and promote its use in the community, the better off we all are.

Unfortunately, using your intellect for creative pursuits is something that an extremely uncreative government can’t fathom. They do however know how to hand out money in the wrong amount, to the wrong people … and here we are again.

Richard Armstrong writes: I believe that the maximum that a gallery director should accept as head of a public institution should be $300,000 per annum, plus a generous but strictly supervised expenditure allowance. Every dollar he receives in excess of this is a dollar less that can be spent on the works of art or the facilities themselves. This a highly prestigious appointment and that should be sufficient unto itself.

To allow public institutions like arts galleries to become akin to the realm of  businesses such as banks, etc, is obscene. The success of a gallery should be measured in the facilities and artwork it can offer not in the salary its director can command.

To have the head of a public institution receive a salary that raises his lifestyle so far above that of the general public he is there to serve, cannot in anyway be justified.

Pamela Rothfield writes: I think that art directors/gallery directors are unfairly overpaid.

They are like leeches milking the income from hard-working artists who, as Ben Eltham accurately says, earn a pittance. Many up-and-coming artists are forced to keep body and soul together and finance their artistic endeavours by working in menial jobs (which also earn a pittance).

The artist creates the material for the art director to utilise. Thus the director is in a position of power with the ability to pick and choose at personal whim.  The artist can then only hope to have his/her work shown to the public. To my mind it is unfair and illogical. After all, if the artists did not produce their creations, those gallery owners/art directors would be out of a job.

Video games:

Blogger Gabe McGrath writes: Re. “Pyrrhic Victory: behind the rhetoric of the R18+ debate” (February 16, item 18). Great article by Daniel Golding on the R18+ debate. I can’t address many of his points here, but I would like to pick up on just one.

Dan wrote, “… it is unclear as to whether the cultural importance of the form has been impressed upon the halls of power. I suspect it has not.”

I don’t think the R18+ debate was ever going to “teach” politicians much about video games. Let alone their cultural importance.

There’s only one effective way to do that.

The Australian video game industry and community need to follow what they’ve done in the UK and the US, and “bring games to the mountain”.

Fred Nile:

Keith Binns writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 7). I am so sick of Fred Nile’s attempt to hijack Christianity for his own narrow purposes. His anti-gay stance is simply a denial of the medical evidence and his cherry picking of verses (proof texting) from the Bible proves nothing. You can proof text anything. Eating prawns is an abomination (Leviticus 11:10). Does Fred like seafood? Wearing polycotton shirts is forbidden (Leviticus 19:19). Literalism is such an immature way of interpreting the Bible.

The mature way is to set things in their historical context and then work out the principles involved. When you do that it becomes very clear that denying gays’ and lesbians’ basic human rights is simply not on for anyone who takes the Bible seriously.

A far greater challenge to our Christian heritage, culture and values is Labor’s continued refusal to fund public education properly and O’Farrell’s trashing of it. Fred should wake up to what really mattered to the Bible writers.

Kohler on the economy:

Andrew Lewis writes: Re. “Kohler: debt’s pall over the Lucky Country” (February 15, item 19). Excuse me for being a few days late on this, but for an intelligent man and a great journalist, Alan Kohler sure says some strange things.

I note that Keith Thomas (February 16, comments) rightly skewered him for daring to write that families on $248,000 per annum were battlers. Kohler’s reasoning was that these people had borrowed too much money and therefore they are battlers. Nice one, Alan, but we used to call them “d#&*heads”, not battlers.

But two other comments intrigued me. Kohler claims that “Successive governments have been using the tax proceeds of the mining boom to reduce personal income tax rates, to the dismay of economists and rational commentators.” What planet was he on exactly?

I agree with the dismay bit, but from economists and rational commentators? Apart from Ross Gittins, I can’t remember one economist or commentator, rational or irrational, who argued against the tax cuts, particularly tax cuts to the highest earners. I remember reading reams of commentary from virtually every economist and journalist, again excepting Gittins, saying how highly taxed we are, how tough it is to make a buck, how the government just rips everything out of your pocket (and then gives it to boat people). Rudd’s election promise matching Howard’s/Costello’s last-gasp policy for tax reductions for people earning over $180,000 was particularly egregious, and applauded by the commentariat mostly.

But where were the economists arguing against the tax cuts?  I’ll tell you one thing, Alan, they weren’t being publicised in any news journal that I read.

And finally, Kohler finishes this outstanding piece by saying “The government’s success in dealing with the GFC and holding unemployment at 5.2% is nothing compared to its failure to bring down mortgage rates.” What?

Unless Kohler lives on another planet, the government really doesn’t have a role in bringing down mortgage rates. Although some economists, and Joe Hockey, will blather on suggesting that bringing home budget surpluses rather than deficits somehow affects mortgage rates, Treasury didn’t agree with the proposition.  The effects of fiscal policy on mortgage rates is negligible to non-existent.

Now there are only two ways that a government can meaningfully bring down mortgage rates. One would be to drive the economy into recession, which would work manfully. The other is to set up a bank of its own, I don’t know, maybe call it the Commonwealth Bank, and offer loans where the margins aren’t so profitable and thus introduce some genuine competition into the banking sector.

But even then, that will just bring mortgage rates down and then the “d#&*heads” will borrow more and drive up the cost of housing and get bigger loans.

And then cry poor because their middle-class welfare is being taken away from them.

Circularity!

Peter Fray

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