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You spin me right round Swanny. (like a record baby)

April 28th, 2009 · Greg Atkinson · 15 Comments

Although hardly qualified for anything to do with number crunching, Wayne Swan has in all fairness become much more confident over the last 18 months in his role as Treasurer.   But sadly he is still hooked on manipulating data and his forecasting skills appear as good as Marie Antoinette’s, who once told her husband that the noise outside the palace was just some party goers who would soon be heading home.

Of course the Treasurer relies to a large extent on a team of public service bean counters and economic boffins to point him in the right direction, many of whom are suppose to be bright economists who in their own opinion, know just about everything.  I often imagine that being an economist must be wonderful, because you can go through your entire career being wrong most of the time and still be judged a success.

Other professions make mistakes, are often held to account and then strive to do better. With economists if they make a mistake they blame the computer model, the data, global events or simply cover their tracks by revising their forecasts. Is it any wonder therefore that we have an economic crisis every decade or so?

The only professions I can think of that are similar in nature to economists are politicians and lawyers.  It is probably no coincidence therefore that many politicians have a background in law or economics.

Poor old Swanny is probably fed a lot of forecast information that is about as reliable as a Soviet era tractor, but he then makes things worse by adding his own touch of spin or selectively quoting from OECD and IMF reports etc.  For example Swan will quite happily talk about the national broadband network being a productivity driver, but he fails to mention that is is only one of many drivers and that in fact the Governments roll back of Work Choices will actually put a drag on productivity growth.

He also happily talks about how the IMF supports government stimulus spending but leaves out the bit where they say the spending must be well targeted, and that cash handouts are not a very effective means of stirring economic activity.  Of course as long as people get their money most do not care where it is coming from or even worry about the national debt that is building up.

Tax the rich, that will pay for all the government spending many people believe, but they are in for a rude shock because the debt pain will be widely felt. Unless you’re a politician of course, they have just got a nice little allowance increase and although they could refuse to accept it, they won’t. No wonder we hold them in such low esteem.

But Wayne “Swanny” Swan, the slayer of the inflation genie and master of the ten minute paper shuffle, has taken us all on quite a ride.  First he thrilled us with his stories of how the the nasty Howard Government left him with a budget surplus and economic growth.  Oh how he regailed us with stories of his battles with the inflation genie and how assisted by the knights of the RBA, they slay the beast. (although we have reports the genie survived and is ready to come back with a vengeance)

Then we were comforted by his talk of Australia being able to withstand the mighty economic storm heading our way because of his skill and those of the nerdish Prince Kev07 – the terror of air hostesses and sub-standard gourmet meals.  They were ably assisted by Julia Gillard, a sorceress that is able to drive away foes merely by the sound of her voice.

But alas the storm did hit but we were told to fear not, because fortress Australia was built of stronger stone that those other shabby castles in the U.S and Europe and in any case, Swanny and Prince Kev07 had a cunning plan.

Their plan was to take all our savings then borrow lot’s of money and quickly drop this into the fortress moat and hope it would save the day. Just for good measure they would also spend a small fortune on party lights and toss free bread to the people.  Now as the moat is filling up with money the people wait and hope that fortress Australia can withstand the storm. (while munching on crusty loaves of free bread)

Will the storm subside and thus we will be saved, or will the moat be flooded and the walls of fortress Australia start to crumble? We will soon find out the answer.

So Swanny you have been out there spinning the Australian public around with your stories and forecasts and hence I dedicate this song to you because Swanny: you spin me right round baby like a record baby, right round round round.

And remember, if you think this global financial crisis is bad, then just imagine how much worse it could have been if British “New Wave” music was still around!

15 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Ned S // Apr 28, 2009 at 1:09 pm

    I hope you aren’t taking on board any of MY cynicism here Greg? I’m relying on you for a bit of balance here please – Smile! Or is it just that pollies allowance thing has you a bit more ticked off than usual – Albeit temporarily, given your generally placid nature?

    Always remember that butterflies will do what butterflies do. And pigs will do what pigs do. I harp on I know – But the trick still is how do we stop the pigs becoming pollies? (Or should that be the other way around?)

  • 2 Greg Atkinson // Apr 28, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    Ned S – I am a pretty cynical sort of person by default but I was taken by surprise when the electoral allowance issue popped up and none of the major parties feel it is something that should be dropped. I have no idea why taxpayers should be providing money to politicians so they can use it to basically help them get re-elected. This is why it is so hard for small party/independent candidates to get up and takes seats. It is all part of the system to keep power in the hands of a few. I will go and take some balance pills now 🙂

  • 3 Ned S // Apr 28, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    Greg Atkinson – If we are going to stick with democracy, maybe we should do something like specify that any prospective candidate has to get some minimum percentage of their electorate’s total number of voters on a petition before they qualify to stand with no funds provided by anybody (including themselves) through good old hard work talking to the people themselves type stuff and getting them to sign. (And Yes, it really does have to be the candidate themselves who collects the names – No sending out the party faithful en masse to do it on their behalf!)
    And then each candidate who has managed to scrape up the required percentage is allocated the same amount of money from the public purse (a simple percent of some fixed total for each electorate based on the number who were going to be standing in the electorate) to spend on broader campaigning as they see fit before the election.
    There would need to be a lot of audits and cross checks and balances put in place to ensure “no cheating” but it might pay dividends. And the sitting member might say I’m too busy representing the people to talk to them – That’s fine, we’d make an exception in their case and let them use a proxy to collect names on their behalf if that’s what they really wanted.

  • 4 Greg Atkinson // Apr 28, 2009 at 10:06 pm

    Ned S – I like your idea but still see a way for the major parties to come in and wreck havoc. The problem is that the major parties could still throw enough party money around to simply swamp any minor party candidates and thus steal the show anyway. Maybe we need to have some sort of law that gives all candidates equal media time in their electorate? (and bans additional media advertising)

    So if a candidate wanted extra exposure they would have no choice but to hit the pavement so to speak. What do you think?

  • 5 Ned S // Apr 28, 2009 at 11:48 pm

    Greg Atkinson – I don’t understand the first paragraph of your last post and need a bit more clarity on it please?

    The possibility of active bribery flicked through my mind in relation to it briefly – There is the standing joke I know about candidates buying votes in a democracy where an old bloke was asked who he voted for and why – And the answer was: Well the first bloke who visited gave me $10 to vote for him, and the next bloke gave me $5 to vote for him, and last bloke gave me $2 to vote for him – So I voted for the $2 chap because he was the least dishonest of them all.

    I’m thinking in terms of getting a process in place that will eliminate all parties – Both major and minor with all candidates being true independants. (If we have to get stuck with democracy – Which I’m against – But have no better possible solution to suggest for now, so certainly want to consider all possible ways to improve on same until we might come up with a better solution.)

  • 6 Greg Atkinson // Apr 29, 2009 at 9:13 am

    Ned S – please just call me Greg…when you call me Greg Atkinson I think I have done something wrong 🙂

    Anyway what I meant in my first paragraph is the system would still be open to so called independent groups running issue ads..when in fact they are just covers for one of the major parties. You might recall when John Kerry was going for president in the U.S a group called “swift boat veterans for truth” (or something like) that ran anti Kerry ads. These anti-Kerry ads were suppose to be just a group of citizens exercising their right to be heard but it was a really a back door Republican movement.

    So I am guessing the same would happen here if we tried to limit the “official” campaign spending.

  • 7 Ned S // Apr 29, 2009 at 10:00 am

    Thanks Greg – I take your point. My initial gut reaction to that would be legislation in place that carries a penalty of 20 years jail (mandatory maybe???) for anyone found guilty of having interfered with the electoral process – In the way you have suggested plus others as yet to be identified maybe?

    Not an easy thing to prove of course. But given the severity of the penalty and the risk that a potential whistle blower just be lurking undercover in any such group large enough to be effective, I have a suspicion we could discourage such interferance.

    I’d see such interferance as an extremely serious crime against society and have the penalty fully reflect that. It’s a matter of just how much as a society do we value our electoral process and its potential to give us the best possible leaders. I can be a very hard and judgemental man on occasion I’m afraid – Smile!

  • 8 Greg Atkinson // Apr 29, 2009 at 12:58 pm

    Ned S – I suspect it would be very hard to determine what exactly is interference in the electoral process. For example, say a road was going to be built through a park in my electorate and my local M.P supported the road. Being angry about his position I decided to start a grass roots campaign to save the park and urge people to vote against him because the other candidate vowed to stop the road. Is that interference or simply the public taking action?

  • 9 Ned S // Apr 29, 2009 at 7:27 pm

    I’ve got no answer to that Greg.

    But if nothing else I’m usually good for a few comments – Even if they do seem to be getting contradictory! I want to give power to the people rather than government. But I’m not at all sure either the people or the government can/should be trusted with that power – That’s a pretty big problem Yes? Maybe the problem is purely mine – In that I’m simply not trusting enough. Perhaps, but if so I’ll stay that way thanks.

    To your specific question:

    If big money is smelled in the process it will probably be more than just some concerned citizens expressing their opinion. At least in our culture where it typically takes something fairly big to bring concerned citizens out in numbers – Because when push comes to shove from what I can make of it most genuinely concerned citizens might be happy to sign a petition or write an email to their MP or even march if it is a real biggy, but not too many of them are prepared to put up serious money to push their point of view. Nah, smell money and you smell potentially very suspect interference I’d suspect?

    Can we rely on 12 good “men” and true to make a good call on that under the guidance of a learned judge based on what a whistle blower is saying/has recorded documentated support for? The judiciary and the police are both capable of being corrupted as we know. Tough call. But a side issue. One problem at a time.

    Put simply for mine, the road through the park is either good and necessary and useful (more so than the park) or its the other way around – At least when looked at “impartially” (is such a thing possible?) from the big picture longer term point of view.

    Another one of the reasons I keep thinking democracy and party politics has such very significant flaws. Because entire elections, at least at a State level, can turn on specific issues like the popularity or otherwise of punching a major arterial transport corridor though a few marginal seats. Where it may well be that it is only the popularity of the concept within only those seats that even really counts. (As in the seats at either end of the corrider that are to be connected [or not] are not marginal. And the rest of the seats in the State just simply don’t care.)

    As Ive said previously about democracy: “Government of the self interested and short sighted, for the self interested and short sighted, by the self interested and short sighted.” (Even though I certainly recognise that a good healthy dose of self interest is a pretty fundamental driver behind getting any economy to continue functioning healthily long term as well.)

    Maybe we shouldn’t be thinking in terms of regionally based representatives at all? The world is starting to think globally, as in geographically bigger pictures. So maybe within the confines of Australia we could to??? You mentioned “issue based voting” or some such Yes? More please ….

    None of this is easy when one thinks about what I strongly suspect really drives it all because it is hardcoded into our genes at the most fundamental of levels:

    * Individual family based interests

    With cooperating together as “tribes” having been a time honoured proven way to help family units survive and even become more comfortable (albeit at the expense of others) and/or genuinly get ahead (without ncessarily impacting on others) through a bit of technological advancement.

    Where tribes have probably just tended to clump together over time to be able to better compete with other tribes that were also getting bigger and calling themselves nations.

    And yet what we have lots of nowadays is maybe “tribes” that are spread over large regions. Like the “baby boomer” tribe within Oz for example. Who by and large are going to start thinking that high interest rates on their nice safe cash deposits in banks and really good free medical/dental care and high aged pensions are really good, pretty soon.

    While a part of that “baby boomer” tribe will overlap with the “wealthy people” tribe (of all age groups) who think that low income taxes are great. But others won’t.

    Just a bit more gibberish and no answers! I should start posting under the name of Kevin R or Mal T perhaps???

    Then again I might just go for the uncomplicated approach of saying, any government that is constrained by the need to keep most of the self interested, short sighted people happy most of the time isn’t necessarily going to be making great decisions most of the time, period!

    And there IS a proven alternative. And start writing my posts under the name of LC Sulla hey? Not quite yet though – Smile!

  • 10 Greg Atkinson // Apr 29, 2009 at 10:32 pm

    Ned S – we are on the same wavelength. I am all for power to the people but I also know that sometimes, we the people, are our own worst enemy. Let’s face it, when people are asked if they are sick of the major parties most say yes, but come polling day the major parties take in the lions share of the vote. So perhaps the first big problem we have is..apathy. Now that is a hard nut to crack..I mean how do we get people interested enough to make informed decisions instead of just taking the easy option on polling day?

    I think regional issues are best left to state governments and councils. At a federal level as I mentioned in another blog I think we should just have a senate. In the senate I would prefer to see no major party politics, rather senators would form shifting alliances based on the issues at hand. In other words they would be free to vote as they wished and would know that how they voted could determine if they get re-elected.

    In regards to my fictional road through the park I would say this…if people wanted to raise funds to oppose the road and support an anti-park candidate then good for them. But at the end of the day if the road was critical the local member would probably be powerless to stop it, but at least the people could be heard if they were motivated enough. Of course it would be almost impossible to stop the road builders supporting the other candidate and honestly I cannot see how we can fix the money in politics problem.

    Having said all that, your comment has got me thinking again and I am going to see how I can combine some of your ideas into my senate only concept. I believe there must be a way to maintain freedom of expression but also allow independent candidates and minor parties to have a fair chance of getting across the line.

    Sulla…we could do with a man like that now in Australian politics!

  • 11 Ned S // Apr 30, 2009 at 10:24 am

    Greg – Sulla, Yes for all his faults, and they were Legion (if you’ll pardon the pun), did actually have a few pretty strong positives:

    a) he cared deeply about Rome, and

    b) he understood how Rome functioned and had identified what had become dysfunctional and had thought through very thoroughly what was needed to fix things (not many unintended consequences from Sulla’s legislation I’d suspect?), and

    c) he had the power and the strength of will and (sadly but necessarily) the lack of compassion to make it all happen.

    Plus he lived in pretty extraordinary times when Rome just really may have needed someone like him to get things back on track?

    In that regard I think many people in the West would be genuinely surprised by just how NOT unpopular Joe Stalin is in Russia today. Sure, statues of him have been pulled down and Stalingrad was renamed Volgograd many years ago for political reasons. But a fairly recent opinion poll put Stalin at number three in the public’s All Time Favourite Russian list if I recall correctly (and I think I do) – Behind two a bit more historically romantic type characters perhaps?

    But regardless, as recently as maybe 3 years ago I had a well educated, intelligent, pragmatic, upper middle working class Russian well into his 50’s (something of a successful man in that he’d not just survived the collapse but managed to come out of it owning a very respectable [albeit small] modern apartment and a good car plus his holiday home in the village outright), remark to me something to the effect “We need a good man to lead us, a strong man, a man like Stalin.” (And this is well after the really bad days of the collapse – When things really were becoming comparatively better – But still nowhere near as good as under the Soviet regime – For the average Russian anyway. And before the GFC of course. They are holding through that OK for now at least it seems.)

    But that man’s comment about Stalin, along with many other things I observed in Russia at the time (plus a few more since), gave me cause to begin thinking a bit more deeply about many things than I had in the past. With the GFC having caused me to think even a bit more deeply since.

    Interesting country Russia; Pyschologically strong people – At least ones who didn’t get so crushed they crawled into the vodka bottle presumably to never re-emerge. With just maybe still a bit of a chip on its shoulder at the national leadership level I suspect? After all, poor old Yeltsin really was only following US and IMF financial advice when he instituted the shock therapy type economic reforms that caused the first catastrophic economic collapse (if Wikipedia can be believed?) – And I don’t recall the US or IMF dashing in there offering too much help back then (a bit from the IMF perhaps) but either way, it sure wasn’t enough.

    Not that the people have a chip on their shoulder. Real nice people in fact. Most especially the older Soviet type ones anyway for mine. And suprisingly similar to Aussies in many ways – Our humour is almost identical! (Good sign that!!!) I’ve even been told “Ah, you are Russian!” – Well, not quite. But it has struck me that if Russians and Australians spoke the same language, we just could find that we have more in common with Russians collectively than we do with Americans – In some respects at least.

    Certainly I think the average Aussie with any brains should be watching what America is up to right now re the GFC with just a bit of suspicion. And I can sure tell you that the average Russian with a few brains is as well. And possibly not placing too much faith in Uncle Sam to save the world. Saving Uncle Sam is Uncle Sam’s primary concern right now I’d think?

    Which means I worry a bit about Mr Rudd rushing to align himself too quickly and too closely with Mr Obama. I understand the need for strong ties if for no other reason than if push should ever really come to shove, Oz really needs a militarily strong “best buddy” – And America IS pretty much our only option just now. But still, a bit of caution as we go please Kev, because Mr Obama’s interests just may not always align quite as closely with our’s as we may like to think.

    But Russia – Definitely a country that bears watching. At one level they scare the Hell out of me to tell you the honest truth! And on another, let’s just say I have a very deep respect for them. Plus a genuine liking of the people and many of their values.

    Plus I still sense some business opportunity there maybe. I’ve looked at a few possibilities in the past. None of them were goers – More on that another day perhaps? Can you re-send me a link to that Blog of your’s about Japan being being competitive please? (I’ve not been able to find it again since.)

    But for now, in relation to this blog topic, I guess that just leads me to say that extraordinary times can bring forth extraordinary leaders. But seeing I really don’t want to be led by a Sulla or a Stalin, or have too many countries floating around that are, I’m kind of hoping our current leaders in the West don’t mess up too badly re this GFC thing.

    Apathy – Sadly, the only way people typically stop being apathetic is when they and theirs are being harmed. (I’m no different or better in that regard either by the way!) But by then the people will not be making wise far sighted decisions on a collective basis. They will be driven by pure self interest financial survival now type thinking.

    I actually had one grandfather who was a card carrying member of the Aussie Communist Party back in the bad old days – And there really weren’t too many of them around. And his whole life afterwards showed that he was no communist at heart. He is really the only truly entrepenurial type my family has ever had that I know of. And the most selfish one that I know of to boot. Definitely no great philosophical concern for the common good there – Smile! Communism just seemed the best available option I’d guess from the old boy’s perspective at that time, given his pure self interest needs based approach in what were very difficult times.

    I’ve got a fair few of his genes in me too I suspect? (I have to watch that a bit.)

    My other grandfather was way more the commited Socialist forever type. A true Great Depression survivor. A lot of whose values got formed against a background of things like the Great Shearers Strike of 1891 and other boss versus worker stuff that went on for many years afterwards. Heck, my own Daddy started work as a “man” at the age of 12 in a brickworks. That’s a bit hard for me to relate to! Let alone today’s kids I suspect?

    I had a few older family members make comments to me as a kid that I thought were maybe a bit odd at the time. But reading Frank Hardy’s book “Power Without Glory” made them all fall into place for me. You just needed to have a general background understanding of the perspective they were operating from.

    What does that extra bit of prattle mean re the Blog topic? Maybe just that times may have changed. But human nature has not. So it would be really nice to see our leaders getting things right.

  • 12 Greg Atkinson // May 1, 2009 at 9:20 am

    Here is a comment from Wayne Swan that doing the rounds in the media today:

    Swanny says:

    “This country is doing far better than any other developed countries in the world, and the reason is the government put in place fiscal or economic stimulus in October last year.”

    Now that is a nice bit of spin. Swanny does not say Australia doing better than most OCED nations he goes for the big one….apparently we are doing better than the entire developed world and it is thanks to Rudd and Co. No thanks to the nation as a whole, no thanks to workers of the nation…it is all thanks to them! Amazing!

    I am not sure how Australia is doing better….perhaps the Treasurer could show us the table of all developed nations and by what measures/KPI’s he used to come up with that lovely bit of spin! But I doubt Swanny could even name all the developed nations.

    But does the media challenge such a grand statement….well no of course. So much for the fourth estate!

  • 13 Senator13 // May 7, 2009 at 5:10 pm

    Just a few sleeps till Swanny’s big night.

  • 14 Jack // May 22, 2009 at 8:49 pm

    Yes..and what a big nite he had…not.

  • 15 Greg Atkinson // Nov 16, 2010 at 8:58 am

    Looks like The Australian also reckons Swan is the master of Spin whereas Conroy is…well…just a twit. See the editorial posed today online at The Australian: Labor will be held to account

    I also agree with this comment in the above editorial:

    “A de-skilled media means politicians are increasingly confident of avoiding close questioning of their statements. When the Orgill report into the Building the Education Revolution was released earlier this year, most media swallowed the government spin rather than reading the report.”

    I have been ranting on about the very same point for a couple of years now.

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