Future of the Left

Richard Barlow writes: Re. “What’s (also) wrong with the Left: Josh Bornstein on Helen Razer” (Friday). In their search for the great coherent Left message both Bornstein and Razer seem oblivious to the world around them. They want perfect theory and praxis from people working in a system that fights tooth and nail against progressive change. There are failed attempts as we try for a “Good Society”, the Fair Work Act is a “could do better”, but DisabilityCare is the very definition of a good and progressive society. Obamacare is another real-world example of positive change — some 50 million Americans will get healthcare, a considerable achievement. Getting out of our Anglo comfort zone, South Korea is a bone fide developed country, now with added Gangnam style. The problem on the Left that I see is there are so many people who do not actually believe in progressive politics — how else do we explain Labor supporting privatisation, imprisoning child refugees and impoverishing single mothers? Whatever it takes, I guess.

Joe Boswell writes: The articles by Helen Razer and Josh Bornstein discuss the failure and collapse of left-wing intellectual and political leadership in the last 30 years or more. Bornstein refers to the emergence of “a market society” that has “consigned morality, community and civic responsibility to the margins” and “that we still want to live in a civilised society where the economic bottom line should not transcend basic human decency.” He rightly points to the lack of anything like a credible alternative from the Left.

Asserting that markets work in opposition to morality ignores the core of neo-liberalism. It is much more than an economic idea. To oppose this revolutionary shift effectively it is probably necessary to grasp that in its own terms it is entirely moral and highly political. Neo-liberals are as convinced of their moral purity as the Taliban. The typical selfishness and insatiable greed of the aggressively wealthy, far from being a fault, is necessary so that they are free to make moral choices.

The rest of society should serve these superior people and know its place. The neo-liberal views on morality and capitalism are radically incompatible with Keynesian economics or even conventional ideas of democracy. It is through markets that serve the wealthiest that morality is preserved. It is socialism, defined so broadly it captures everything that does not serve the market and the interests of the extremely wealthy, that is immoral and must be rooted out. These neo-liberal ideas now dominate every part of Anglophone society. Even those political parties once considered left-wing now follow a neo-liberal path, even if they occasionally infuriate the true believers by trying to take off some of the rough edges.

This quite long article explains the origin and development of neo-liberal ideas and some of their implications in much more depth.

Good as gold

David Menere writes: Re. “Abbott’s golden promises” (Friday).  Venise Alstergren needs to brush up on some jewellery definitions. Rolled gold isn’t “gold beaten, or melted, so fine it is useless”. Otherwise known as “gold filled”, producing rolled gold involves bonding a layer of gold, via heat and pressure, to a base metal such as brass, or occasionally to sterling silver. The US Federal Trade Commission lays down strict requirements for the amount of gold that items claiming to be rolled gold must contain. It’s not solid gold, but it’s the next best thing, and is actually preferable when you need more structural strength than (relatively soft) solid gold can provide, e.g. watch casings.

Because rolled gold is much thicker than regular electroplated gold, it will last much longer. The gold on a cheap, gold-plated watch might wear off in a year or two, but the gold coating on a rolled gold watch might last the life of the watch. Presumably, this durability was the implication that  Paul Keating and others drew on when they used the term.

Peter Fray

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