peteg's blog - noise - books - 2018 09 11 LauraTingle QuarterlyEssay60 PoliticalAmnesia

Quarterly Essay #60, Laura Tingle: Political Amnesia: How We Forgot How To Govern.

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I read this on the dying iPhone and laptop via Overdrive, on loan from the Randwick City Library. From circa November 2015, which may have been when Turnbull had some amnesiacs thinking he could take things somewhere. Tingle bemoans the loss of institutional governmental memory, and cites several egregious examples of it. This process has been ongoing since at least the 1980s as part of the neoliberal / economic rationalist project, so one has to wonder why it took so long for the journalists to catch on. (I saw some of this lobotomising towards the end of my father's career at the NSW Department of Agriculture.) The active destruction of expertise and resulting churn is overly familiar to anyone who works in the modern computer industry; a case in point is Javascript and the perpetual motion machine of user interface frameworks, which inevitably converge on the old ideas.

Tingle seems to be sparring with David Marr on the tired and frankly empty topic of political leadership in Australia. As she observes here, the best functioning parts are those that self-evidently do things only governments can do (e.g. the Reserve Bank, the military, foreign affairs); perhaps those contain governance and structural expertise that can be transferred to other spheres, and Australia can have the technocracy she deserves. Her commentary on Shorten is dated: it doesn't seem that he'll need much of a policy agenda to ascend to the throne, given Tony Abbott's destruction of the Liberal party. The stuff on the Roman Empire is completely dispensible. Much concords with Donald Horne's classic critiques of the Australian situation; I tend to think that more technocrats will increase the luck that our second-rate politicians lean so much on.

Andrew Leigh observes the fine prose and corrects the framing (as economists are wont to do). Surprisingly Andrew Elder did not take this one apart at the time (or since AFAICT); this defence of the Canberra press gallery reads like classic special-pleading material custom designed to press his buttons. Tingle wrote the current Quarterly Essay, on authoritarianism.