Wayne Swan

You couldn’t say leaks of the Turnbull-era haven’t been fun, could ya? They’ve produced a factional map of a party once able to describe itself piously, but not honestly, as a “broad church” — i.e. a party with inevitable, unholy factions. It’s a nice change. Labor has long been the lot to leak like a loo in one of those low-cost rentals Treasurer Scott Morrison is so keen to safeguard for a small investor class. They managed to shut it for a while.

They’re at it again.

Labor leakers made just a ripple when they spoke to press of former treasurer Wayne Swan this week. My “sources” (Google) inform me that insider remarks about the man’s fitness for nothing but a seniors’ cruise were reported only by AAP, SBS and The Guardian.

I thought News Corp would be on this, if only out of habit. That company chose to assess Swan not, as the publication Euromoney had, for his policy settings during the GFC, but by deficit alone. While it’s true that Swan made, then revised, the claim that there would be a return to surplus under his stewardship, it’s also true there are other measures for economic health. Reporters at The Australian know this well, which is why they use them — if largely throughout Coalition terms.

Maybe News is too embarrassed to revive its deficit fear-mongering while a deficit remains. I get that. What I never got is why Shorten’s ALP remains not just too embarrassed to mention Swan’s GFC achievements, but apparently hostile to any positive mention of him at all.

An argument can be made that Swan’s stimulus saved Australian capitalism. Sure, there’s another argument that China’s stimulus saved Australian capitalism. But few in the current Western foreign policy climate dare publicly thank China for anything. Thanking Swan poses minimal risk and great reward to Labor.

Why don’t they do this? I’d ask an “insider” on your behalf, but I have unfortunately estranged most of them with a speech regarding how my rusted-on Labor nanna is now turning in her grave. Thus, you have only my hypotheses.

[Swan: working people worldwide are being crushed by a plutocratic aristocracy]

One is that emerging Labor politicians don’t care much for macro-economics. If you don’t believe me, read the book Two Futures by MPs Claire O’Neill and Tim Watts. Or, just this extract. They make the claim that wages currently “matter most to income inequality”. Which is only true if you don’t count return on investment as income. They do say that Thomas Piketty, whose conflation of “wealth” with “capital” has been expertly challenged, predicts that “capital” will soon play a more important role (I got the idea he claimed it already had).

Whatever the case, we can’t be sure if these authors understand the nature of capital, or of its relation, past or present, to labour markets. The piece looks like a quick haul from a jumble-sale of economic theory. It looks like the widely criticised Piketty was their introduction to economics — not a good place for anyone, least of all a policymaker, to start.

Then again, I could be a thicko.

This does not discount a second possibility: Swan’s support for Gillard gets “insiders” so cross, they turn into thickos and anonymously bitch about figures that could provide a public and effective brag.

There’s a third idea I have: Swan is the Labor politician who most resembles a Sanders or Corbyn-type, and, therefore, must be stopped before Millennials notice.

You and I both know that’s nonsense. It’s Option Two. But, I do suggest that Swan’s continued engagement with economics is a headache for the party. Even if Watts and O’Neill continue to insist that civil debate advances politics, economic debate doesn’t strike me as a priority of theirs, or of the ALP.

Swan got that Euromoney award because he took a demand-side approach at a time every Western government was propping up supply. He was Keynesian. I suspect he is no orthodox Keynesian, but given to thinking about what sort of economic regime should come next.

I see this on social media, where disciples of “Modern Monetary Theory” (MMT) — a phrase coined by an Australian academic, a school informing the Sanders campaign — are wont to identify those principles in Swan’s commentary. I’m no MMT truffle pig, but may have detected some of it at a live debate in which Swan participated. Last December, I asked him outright if he was reading this stuff. He replied, “I read everything” — just like a politician.

Unlike most politicians, however, he continues to engage with economic thought. MMT is not my jam, as the kids say — it may not even be Swan’s. The point is, such engagement with economic thinking, old and emerging, is the ideal priority of every politician who cares to Save Capitalism. Here’s a guy who does. No wonder those “insiders” complain about that inconvenience.

 

Peter Fray

Save 50% on a year of Crikey and The Atlantic.

The US election is in a little over a month. It seems that there’s a ridiculous twist in the story, almost every day.

Luckily for new Crikey subscribers, we’ve teamed up with one of America’s best publications, The Atlantic for the election race. Subscribe now to make sense of it all, and you’ll get a year of Crikey (usually $199) and a year’s digital subscription to The Atlantic (usually $70AUD), BOTH for just $129.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW