Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Challenging Legacy

It would not be possible to stare down the Soviet Union for as long as Alexander Solzhenitsyn had without deep personal courage. When he died in August this year, he had out-lived the regime that imprisoned him by nearly two decades.

For nearly thirty years, Solzhenitsyn was Russian communism’s most prominent dissident – in the meantime becoming a target of both Soviet propaganda and the KGB. But at the same time, Solzhenitsyn was no classical liberal. His reputation has been tainted by accusations – some accurate, and some overblown – of anti-Semitism and Russian nationalism.

Solzhenitsyn’s career as a dissident began in 1945, when, as a captain of artillery serving in World War II, he was arrested for the terrible crime of belittling Stalin. He spent the subsequent eight years in labour and prison camps, followed by a forced exile in southern Kazakhstan, the standard fate for released gulag prisoners.

It was during this period in Kazakhstan that Solzhenitsyn wrote the book for which is his most famous – One Day in the Life of Ivan DenisovichOne Day, published in 1962, is a short novel describing a prisoner’s struggle for survival in the Soviet gulag during a single day.

The book had an enormous impact in Russia and the West. After reading One Day, Nikita Khrushchev was moved to say ‘There’s a Stalinist in each of you; there’s even a Stalinist in me. We must root out this evil’. In the modestly liberal and politically complicated environment of the Khrushchev thaw, One Day was even assigned as a school textbook.

But the Khrushchev Thaw was short-lived – One Day ended up being the only book published in the Soviet Union that defied the official party line about the labour camps. Solzhenitsyn quickly fell out of favour with the regime when he tried to publish two further works – Cancer Ward, which chronicled his battle with cancer during his exile, and the monumental Gulag Archipelago, which chronicles his experience in the labour camps and the experience of others. In 1974, Solzhenitsyn was exiled again, this time entirely from the Soviet Union, four years after he had been awarded a Nobel Prize for Literature.

Despite his staunch anti-communism, it would not be possible to describe Solzhenitsyn’s political view as ‘liberal’-rather, his conception of the ideal nation was based on a romantic conservatism. After having been granted asylum in the United States, he famously criticised Western culture for being too legalistic, too materialistic, and obsessed with a ‘destructive and irresponsible freedom’.

But much more critically, he was dogged in the last few decades of his life by accusations of anti-Semitism – accusations which his Two Hundred Years Together, published in Russia in 2003, that purported to chronicle the complicity of Jews in Soviet repression, did nothing to dispel. And in his final years, Solzhenitsyn was conspicuously silent on the state of human rights under Putin, neglecting to criticise the same sort of transgressions of the new regime that he had opposed so vehemently a few decades before.

But none of this diminishes the courage and importance of Solzhenitsyn’s Soviet-era writing. The following passage from the Gulag Archipelago, where he demands his former captors face up to their crimes, could just as easily work as his epitaph:

But let us be generous. We will not shoot them. We will not pour salt water into them, nor bury them in bedbugs, nor bridle them up into a ‘swan dive,’ nor keep them on sleepless ‘stand-up’ for a week, nor kick them with jackboots, nor beat them with rubber truncheons, nor squeeze their skulls with iron rings, nor push them into a cell so that they lie atop one another like pieces of baggage-we will not do any of the things they did! But for the sake of our country and our children we have the duty to seek them all out and bring them all to trial! Not to put them on trial so much as their crimes. And to compel each one of them to announce loudly: ‘Yes, I was an executioner and a murderer.’

Emissions Trading: Towards the biggest economic change in Australian history

With Alan Moran
‘Placing a limit and a price on emissions will change the things we produce, the way we produce them, and the things we buy’, states the Federal Government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Green Paper, which compares the economic impact of the proposed emissions trading scheme with the breaking down of tariffs and liberalisation of the financial sector in the 1980s.
The introduction of a wide-ranging emissions trading scheme (ETS) is, as the Minister for Climate Change and Water, Penny Wong, acknowledges, a ‘tough … whole-of-economy’ measure. It is an unsettling statement of politics in the 21st century that this dramatic change to the economic structure of the nation is being formulated without any clear appreciation of what it will cost, where the costs will fall and whether the costs will bring any benefits.

The ETS vs. the GST

Many commentators have pointed to the introduction of the GST in 1999 as an economic reform on the equivalent scale of the ETS. In fact the ETS is a far more comprehensive policy measure than the GST. The GST saw the introduction of a flat and stable broad based consumption tax, to raise revenue. By contrast, the ETS seeks to penalise energy intensive forms of production, such as coal, and to a lesser degree, gas based electricity production. And it plans to do so in ever-increasing increments.
After its introduction in 2010, the government plans to steadily raise the price of emissions permits by restricting their supply, until, in 2050, the country is emitting 60 per cent less greenhouse gases than it was in the year 2000. The government’s objective is for an ETS to bring snowballing price rises spreading across the economy for at least the next four decades. But the outcome will be far more injurious than this. It will mean-at least if Australia’s tax approach is not followed by all nations-the disappearance of staple industries like smelting, cement production, cattle and sheep rearing as well as the coal based electricity industry which supplies 90 per cent of our needs, and for which there is no alternative.
It will also mean a vast increase in the taxation of petrol. The price of petrol would need to rise to over $5 and perhaps $10 per litre to choke off the demand to the level proposed by the government.
As a consequence, the ETS will vastly devalue homes, factories, and commercial premises. It will require revolutionary and painful changes to the way we socialise, work and play.
The ETS differs from the GST in many other respects. Not least among these is the duration of its prior consideration. The GST was a policy initiative debated in political and business circles for nearly two decades and road tested in many nations around the world. Since it was promoted by then-Treasurer Paul Keating at the 1986 tax summit, the country fought three elections on the issue of a consumption tax. 1993 saw John Hewson’s FightBack! package partly flounder on the GST issue, 1998 saw John Howard successfully take the GST to the ballot box, and in 2001 Kim Beazley asked voters to support a partial rollback of the now implemented tax.
By contrast, the federal government’s approach to the ETS has been to emphasise urgency, and to produce a steady stream of draft and interim reports, green papers and government responses that add to the air of inevitability.
Moreover, we are not even going to see any modelling of the economic impact of the ETS until Treasury reports back in November this year.

An open-checkbook…

Less than 18 months away from the implementation of a ‘whole-of-economy’ reform, Australian businesses and consumers have almost no idea what is going to happen to prices. It is no surprise that investment is drying up in vital sectors like energy and energy intensive activities, while firms nervously wait to find out what impact the ETS will have on their business models-or what concessions they are able to squeeze out of the implementation process.
The level of ignorance about the facts and the rationale for an ETS is widespread. In July, an ACNielson poll reported that while 67 per cent supported the introduction of the system, only 39 per cent professed to understand what it was. Confusion is also apparent in political circles. For example the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, has claimed that the inflationary effect of the ETS will be a once off. Unless the initial permit allocation somehow manages to dramatically reduce carbon emissions to 60 per cent in the first twelve months after implementation, the ETS demands a steady price increase over a number of years to achieve that goal. The government is hoping that technological change will be able to offset some of the price rises, but this is surely the first time that the health of the Australian economy has been bet on the entirely unpredictable pace of invention and innovation. And throwing money at research and development-as the government plans to do with some of the proceeds of the ETS-is no guarantee of commercially viable technology.
The ETS is the largest change to the Australian economy since settlement 220 years ago. For such a significant reform, it is being designed, prepared and implemented at unprecedented speed. It lacks the comprehensive nature that would be crucial to ensure its impacts are felt equitably-the inclusion of major sectors like agriculture is being deferred and other sectors are receiving preferential treatment.
The opportunities created by inconsistent burdens and political favours will be targeted by lobbyists seeking competitive advantages around the new system.

…and the minister with the pen

And in charge of all of this is the Minister for Climate Change and Water, Penny Wong. Her stewardship of the political negotiations necessary to implement the ETS make her one of the most powerful government ministers in Australian history. Under the banner of the ETS, there is no sector of the economy which is outside of Wong’s purview; no price in the country which will not be affected by the political decisions made in her ministerial office.
One particular example of the scale of these ministerial decisions is the issue of ‘trade-exposed’ industries, which will be granted some free permits until there are ‘broadly comparable’ ETSs developed in competing countries. There are numerous unanswered questions about these measures, which will involve making arbitrary distinctions and relative value judgements. For instance, not all industries can be neatly siloed off into ‘trade-exposed’ – a small army of lobbyists are descending on Canberra with their briefcases full of trade statistics for the industries they represent. How ‘broadly comparable’ must international ETSs be to make industries ineligible for free permits? Those lobbyists will have a view on that question as well. The same challenge will be presented by the energy industry, many of which will be granted some degree of assistance as the scheme is implemented.
And as some industries are in part excused from paying for the cost of carbon, achieving the ETSs short and long term goals will be ever the more challenging, and borne by those industries which are unable to receive government assistance. Further discretion will be available to the Climate Change Minister as targets are set and adjusted and other sectors are dragged into the scheme. The complexity of the ETS and the political manoeuvring which will be necessary to implement it will make the administration associated with the GST look like a family picnic.
What of the goal of the ETS? The IPA Review has long been one of the few outlets in Australia which publishes views that dissent from the global warming consensus-from critiques of the science around carbon dioxide pollution and its impact on global temperatures, to discussions of green political ideology.
The government has to be asked how the ETS will be adjusted if the now ten-year-long period where the global climate has been stable continues. Is the ETS a policy to be pursued no matter what, or is it contingent on long term temperature rises and the sturdiness of the model of relationship between carbon dioxide emissions and temperature?
Nevertheless, even if we accept the government’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, there is much to be critical of in the ETS. How does the government intend to leverage a domestic ETS into a global carbon pact, when the self-interest of China, India, Russia and the United States seem firmly opposed to such a pact? Australia’s contributions to global emissions are as little as 1.1 per cent of the total. Do Australian politicians have such a surfeit of hubris that they imagine others will follow simply because of the example they set or be persuaded by the rhetoric they offer?
Australia is staring down the barrel of long-term, entirely unpredictable price increases, coupled with the opportunity for rent-seeking and political opportunism to redraw the contours of the Australian economy.
And, as the government points out, a domestic ETS is only the prelude to an international agreement – one which may take these complications out of the hands of our domestic climate change minister and into international bureaucracies.
The ETS may be ‘brave’, it may be ‘tough’ and it may even be ‘courageous’ economic reform. But that does not mean it is desirable.
Australia already has in place a plethora of taxes, subsidies and regulatory measures targeted at reducing emissions. These include requirements on electricity suppliers to use renewable energy, subsidies for low carbon dioxide emitting technologies and regulations on the design of houses and whitegoods. If there is a political imperative to maintain and augment these, the government’s approach should be one that is carefully targeted and able to be withdrawn or intensified causing minimal disruption, while avoiding jeopardizing international competitiveness. Recognizing the consensus that petrol is now out for the time being, a tax on gas and electricity that is directed to the household consumer would be a place to start-offering some incentives to start on what may or may not be a long haul to diminish the nation’s wealth and transform its economy.
But in the manic rush to implement the ETS, such a measured – and reversable – policy appears to be off the government’s table. It will be the Australian economy that suffers.

IPA Review Editorial, September 2008

This edition of the IPA Review focuses on the federal government’s new emissions trading scheme (ETS). It does not, however engage with the science behind climate change. In fact, in this edition at least, we avoid it deliberately.

We have all seen how the scientific contention that an increase in carbon dioxide emissions is causing rising global temperatures gets simplified and distorted by the meat-grinder that is the popular press. An article featured in The Age on August 9 shows just how far off the ranch the environmental hysteria has gone-‘rising temperatures are likely to bring increasing levels of violence to Melbourne by 2010′. As the blogger and Daily Telegraph columnist Tim Blair pointed out-‘that explains the constant riots in Queensland’.

At least these vacuous news items are slightly better than that cringe-inducing combination of moral superiority and product placement that passes for environment journalism in the lifestyle sections of our ‘serious’ broadsheets.

But anybody who points out that polar bears are not dying en masse, or that human history is full of doom-sayers who proclaim our imminent demise, are quickly characterised as ‘denialists’. Indeed, this has been the strategy pursued by the federal government to market its ETS. Rather than discussing the specifics of the scheme, the government has been careful to keep media focused on the unfortunate dithering in the upper ranks of the federal opposition.

Government-friendly commentators have been similarly eager to avoid discussing the mostly complete proposal set out in the emissions trading scheme green paper.

But as advocates for small government have argued for decades, there are two parts to every government policy. It is not enough to set a goal. You have to design and implement a policy to reach that goal. And it is most often in the design and implementation phases that policies reveal their critical weaknesses-unintended consequences creep in, and everything just seems to take on a life of its own.

But a discussion of the specifics of the ETS has been notably absent from public debate. And for good reason. For the last decade, public debate on climate change has been predictably orientated-skeptics on the right, alarmists on the left. The debate has consisted of a pastiche of hockey-stick graphs, apocalyptic predictions and ice-coverage maps.

As a consequence, left-wing commentators give the government a free pass on the scheme’s merits because they don’t fully understand the enormous economic and political complexities of an ETS. Nor do they recognise the opportunities for rent seeking and regulatory gamesmanship that the ETS presents. They don’t understand just how large the scheme looms over the economy, choosing simply to dismiss criticism as the ranting of ‘denialists’.

The science of climate change continues to be crucial to public policy debate, and the IPA Review will continue to interrogate it, as we have done for more than two decades.

But free-marketeers cannot refuse to engage and critique the ETS just because they are not happy with the science. The general public supports some sort of action on climate change, and until that support diminishes the government is unlikely to retreat from implementing a climate change mitigation policy. But as we note in this IPA Review, the public may be eager for action on climate change, but remarkably few people understand what that action might entail-let alone understand what ‘emissions trading’ means.

But if it is introduced, the ETS will define Australian economic life for decades. We have provided a condensed guide to the ETS in this edition (see pages 38-39)-we’ve stripped out the jargon, targeted the key problems with the scheme, and tried to answer some of the big questions the ETS raises.

This edition of the IPA Review was prepared under the shadow of the ETS.

Considering the ETS’s monumental importance to Australian prosperity, it could not have been any other way.

Politics, not sport, is the purpose of the Olympic Games

Available here in PDF.

On the March 26 1938, six months after he died, Pierre de Coubertin’s corpse was exhumed from its grave in Lausanne, Switzerland.

His heart was cut out and transported to Olympia in Greece. The heart of the founder of the modern Olympics was then reburied in a ceremony attended by his long-time friend, Nazi bureaucrat, and organiser of the 1936 Berlin Games, Carl Diem.

The tomb of Coubertin’s heart has remained a spiritual centre of the Olympic movement. The tomb was the first destination of the Beijing torch relay — after the torch was lit with the sun’s rays and a parabolic mirror by an official Olympic ‘Holy Priestess’, of course. And late last year the tomb was the site of a ritualistic olive tree planting, to symbolise the Olympic movement’s appreciation of the environment, and to demonstrate the support of Coca-Cola for the Games.

These bizarre rituals, performed around the decomposing body organ of a dead Frenchman, are emblematic of the sometimes odd, sometimes deeply disreputable, and always lumbering and heavy-handed symbolism that has soaked the Olympic Games for a century. The torrent of symbols, emblems and rhetoric that accompanies the Olympics is supposed to convince us that the Games have a moral and ethical stature beyond reproach.

But all this pageantry obscures the Olympics’ essential purpose — first and foremost, the Games are designed to shine glory upon the nations that hold them. National politicians and government use the Olympics to achieve their individual or national goals.

Certainly, the politics lying behind each Olympics may often be diffuse, but it is overt. Sport may be the style of the Olympics, but nationalism and geopolitics are the content.

The ideology of ‘Olympism’

For such a long-running institution, the Olympic Games to a remarkable degree still reflect of the idiosyncratic vision of the founder of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the
French baron Pierre de Coubertin.

Coubertin was born into a Catholic and Royalist family in 1863, but in the turbulent ideological climate of the French right-wing in the Third Republic, his political views quickly diverged from the traditional. From a modern perspective, his politics were quirky, even contradictory; he described himself as a democrat, yet at the same time nominated the ‘triumph of democracy’ as one of the four political innovations which humanity could have gone without. But he was in many ways typical of his era—a conservative aristocrat whose political and moral views had much in common with the left-wing progressives of the time.

While conservatives like Coubertin rejected the utopian dreams of their socialist counterparts, they shared with progressives and socialists an antipathy towards individualism, a belief in the power of experts, a deep faith in the state, and an obsession with proto-totalitarian concepts like ‘moral hygiene,’ ‘national fitness’ and eugenics.

In sport, the conservative progressivist Coubertin found an outlet where he could express all of his political and moral views. While many were searching for national meaning after the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, Coubertin argued that ‘sports can provide the virile formula on which the health of the state can be founded.’

But most importantly for the development of the Olympic ideology, Coubertin complemented this nationalist ethos with a staunch internationalism. Coubertin founded the Olympic movement with a doctrine of ‘universalism’, which as it appears in the most recent Olympic Charter is described as ‘any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.’ But as John Hoberman writes in The Olympic Crisis: Sport, Politics and the Moral Order:

What this has meant in practise is that the IOC has turned a blind eye to any sort of political crime committed by a member of the Olympic movement. In September 1978, the President of the IOC Lord Killanin, made this claim: ‘I am not for one moment saying we have any right to tell what governments should do in the interests of their own country…’ Such a disclaimer is made to preserve the ‘universality’ of the movement. What is thereby forgotten is that another side of universality is the failure to discriminate.

It is this failure to discriminate that led the Olympic movement to proclaim its support for ‘universal fundamental ethical principles’ while at the same time throwing its support behind the three largest dictatorships of the twentieth century — Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia and now Communist China. Certainly, this is slightly unfair to China — in 2008 its human rights record is poor, but is markedly better than it was during the Great Leap Forward — but the country is still a dictatorship with at least 4000 domestic political prisoners.

This would, however, have been fine by Coubertin, who dismissed ethical questions with a trite affirmation of moral equivalence. In an interview during the 1936 Berlin Games, he argued that:

It is good that each nation of the world be granted the honour of putting on the Games and of celebrating them in their own manner, in accordance with its own creative powers and by its own means. In France they are disturbed by the fact that the Games of 1936 were illuminated by a Hitlerian force and discipline. How could it have been otherwise?

This doctrine of ‘universality’ above all other considerations was also the lynchpin upon which the Soviet bloc was able to hang their claims that the communist world was being unreasonably ignored by the IOC.

After all, for Coubertin, a nation’s political system is merely a reflection of its culture. For the Olympic movement, totalitarianism is not an aberration, but an accepted part of the international cultural patchwork. As a consequence, there is very little in the Olympics’ doctrine of universalism that suggests any allegiance to ‘fundamental ethical principles’.

Pagentry and politics

For the cities and corporate sponsors of the games, Olympism and its doctrine of universality are not much more than a philosophy of convenience; a pre-packaged ideology ready to be adopted when the Olympics come to town. Few outside the IOC share Coubertin’s views on the moral neutrality of political systems, or, indeed, the IOC’s view that politics has nothing to do with the Olympic ceremony.

Instead, for the host nations, the games represent an easy opportunity to conduct domestic and international politics without the distraction of being accused of doing so. Even the athletes, standing on the winners podium, draped in their national flag and singing their national anthem, must realise that politics, not sport, is the dominant Olympic event.

For much of the life of the modern Games, politics was defined by the Cold War, which divided participating nations into clearly delineated factions. The nationalistic passions inflamed by this international and ideological rivalry became the primary characteristic of the Games in the second half of the twentieth century.

Australians may remember Melbourne 1956 through sepia-tinged nostalgia, but the political circumstances of those Games were controversial and impassioned. They were held in the inter-
national atmosphere created by the Suez crisis and the Soviet invasion of Hungary. The then President of the IOC, the American Avery Brundage, in an attempt to separate the Melbourne Games from the fragile international situation, argued desperately that ‘the Olympic Games are contests between individuals and not between nations.’

The President of the Netherlands Olympic Committee, which boycotted the Games responded bitterly: ‘How can sports prevail over what has happened in Hungary? How would we like it if our people had been atrociously murdered, and someone said that sports should prevail?’

His questions are surely more morally clear than any of the vague platitudes contained in the lavish Olympic Charter.

The IOC’s pleas for calm had little effect on the political aggression displayed during the contests. A water polo match between Hungary and the Soviet Union was a violent blood bath, but Hungary managed a 4-0 victory.

The attitude described by an American contestant at Helsinki (the site of the 1952 Olympics) was characteristic of many of the Olympics during the early Cold War period:

[Russians] were in a sense the real enemy. You just loved to beat ‘em. You just had to beat ‘em. It wasn’t like beating some friendly teams like Australia. This feeling was strong down through the entire team, even [among] members in sports where the Russians didn’t excel.

Not only has the international political context of the Games undermined its claim to the moral high ground, but the Olympics have themselves been affiliated with state violence. As Hoberman writes, ‘the world of sport has given rise to more bizarre, violent, aberrant, and even criminal behaviour than its faithful public is disposed to recall.’ The most notorious
example of this was the Tlatelolco Massacre, which occurred just ten days before the 1968 Mexico City Games, where the Mexican government fired upon a demonstration of 5000 students demanding greater human rights. Some estimates of the death toll at Tlatelolco range up to 300 people.

And quite apart from the failure of the IOC to influence China’s poor human rights practices in the lead up to Beijing, critics of the communist regime can point to mass home evictions to make way for construction. One left-leaning human rights group, the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, claims that there have been over 1.25 million Chinese forced to resettle, although the group has not made their report public, apparently to protect their sources. The Chinese government only acknowledges 6,000 homes seized, all with adequate compensation. Nevertheless we know that like many other previous host cities, Beijing has launched a program to ‘clean up’ the city of beggars, hawkers and prostitutes before the tourists arrive.

Much of the pageantry of the modern Games was developed by the totalitarian hosts. Nazi propagandists invented the torch relay in order to ferry Western journalists around idyllic German villages, in support of the Nazi’s rural ideology.

And the opening ceremony to the Moscow Games was reportedly the most expensive ever held, a gigantic billboardfor the social superiority of Soviet communism, setting the stage for the lavish ‘cultural’ ceremonies of the coming decades.

The Olympics offer totalitarian or otherwise oppressive governments an opportunity to repurpose the publicity accorded to sport for the benefit of the state and its ideology. The official website of the Chinese Olympic Committee is unambiguous about Beijing’s ideological content, advertising its National Fitness Program, which has been hard at work since 1995 ‘promoting mass sporting activities on an extensive scale, improving the people’s physique, and spurring the socialist modernisation of our country’.

The same website laments the attempted politicisation of the Beijing Games by ‘some Western forces’ and ‘separatists’.

For democratic states, the political purposes may be different, but they are still clear. In Sydney 2000, the government emphasised Australia’s tourist potential. Politicians wanted their country to be seen as more than just a ‘good source for raw materials—a perpetual cry of Australia’s economic interventionists.

Economic distractions

Part of the reason we be can sure that it is politics that is at the centre of governments’ relationship with the Games is because they cost a great deal but provide little economic benefit. Politicians eager to host the Olympics talk up their financial and social benefits — rhetoric which the IOC is more than happy to encourage.

The Olympic movement has had a turbulent economic history. For most of its history, the Games have been overwhelmingly supported by government finances, with corporate sponsorship and the sale of television rights playing a supportive role. This model of Games funding reached its zenith with the Munich 1972 and Montreal 1976 Olympics. But the City of Montreal ended its closing ceremony with a deficit of 2.7 billion dollars (in 2000 terms) which it only managed to finally pay off in 2006.

After Moscow 1980, the next Games held in a democratic nation were the Los Angeles Games of 1984, and following a significant protest movement, the citizens of LA refused to provide any public funds for staging the Olympics.

In 1984 there were no formal organisational links with the city, and the United States Olympic Committee managed to skirt IOC regulations which would have otherwise compelled them to provide public funds. As a consequence, the 1984 Games were the first to be fully paid by the private sector, with only minimal infrastructure upgrades and sport facilities provided by the city.

Successive games have managed to slowly reinvolve public financing, and the Sydney Games set a new standard in government involvement, when the NSW government and Commonwealth provided US$1 billion (in year 2000 dollars). For Beijing 2008, the Chinese government’s habit of trying to take credit for private investment makes it hard to properly account for the taxpayer’s contribution, but the Belgian analyst Gilbert Van Kerckhove conservatively estimated a figure of roughly $5-6 billion.

But what for? Supporters of the Games can cite a myriad of potential benefits of staging the Games. Few of them stack up. Tourism is the most common perceived benefit from the Olympics. Tracking the long term impact of the Games on a city’s tourist market is tough. In The Economics of Staging the Olympics, Holger Preuss argues that it is impossible to prove that the Sydney Games increased Sydney’s tourist market, as the impact of September 11 on the world’s tourist market muddies the evidence.

But September 11 occurred more than twelve months later and had worldwide, not Australia specific, impacts. Furthermore, as Preuss concedes, local tourism markedly decreased during the Games period. As an example, Sydney Zoo saw a 300 per cent decrease in tourism. Certainly, many studies — often commissioned by governments seeking to defend their policies — proclaim long term tourist increases to be in the hundreds of thousands.

But the causal link between a city hosting the Games is far from established. Calgary, site of the 1988 Winter Games, saw a 12 per cent decrease in tourism immediately following the Games, and a 10 per cent decrease the following year.

An increasingly common benefit claimed from the Olympics is infrastructure improvement. As the argument goes, staging the Games allows a city to conduct widespread infrastructure upgrades, avoiding the normal political bargaining required to achieve even modest investments. From this perspective, the hosting of the Olympics is merely an excuse to conduct the normal business of municipal government, allowing the city to upgrade its airports, road and rail networks and telecommunications services.

Undoubtedly, hosting the Olympics sparks a frenzy of big infrastructure projects. But a study by a group of RMIT University economists demonstrated that while overall the market did not respond to the announcement that Sydney was to host the Games, the only sector that did respond positively was the construction industry. Building firms — and politicians interested in basking in the bright light of political glory—are the only unambiguous beneficiaries of the Olympics, outside the athletes themselves.

But infrastructure disasters are common in the history of the Games — many projects, like the Montreal-Mirabel International Airport, while initially praised, are quickly revealed to be little more than boondoggles.

At their best, the Olympics are a government supported circus provided by politicians from democratic countries who want the world’s media to flock to their most attractive city. But at their worst, the Olympics have have provided totalitarian regimes with pre-packaged marketing programs, allowing them to paper-over serious human rights issues while they pretend to be enlightened members of the international community. The moral authority that the International Olympics Committee continues to claim has been repeatedly shattered by the experience of 100 years of the Olympic Games.

Have bad movies edged out good?

A review of Sleaze Artists: Cinema at the Margins of Taste, Style, and Politics.

It may not come as a surprise that Hostel: Part II, the 2007 movie which depicts nearly an hour and a half of brutal, explicit and uninterrupted torture, is part of a rich cultural lineage.Hostel II is part of a new movement of neo-exploitation cinema, and its direct artistic ancestors date back nearly half a century.

So have ‘bad’ movies like these edged out ‘good’ movies?

Few cultural fields illustrate the blurring between ‘highbrow’ art and ‘lowbrow’ craft more than the movies. As Jeffrey Sconce points out in the new edited collection of essays on trash cinema Sleaze Artists: Cinema at the Margins of Taste, Style and Politics, movies were never an elite art; condemned to be practiced and enjoyed only by the cultured few. Instead, movies have always existed only to entertain, and as such, have always been a ‘vulgar medium’ designed to appeal to the unwashed masses.

But there is vulgar, and then there is vulgarSleaze Artists explores the depths of trash, exploitation and grindhouse cinema of the last forty years. Not only do the films discussed inSleaze Artists have no artistic pretentions; they barely even have entertainment pretensions. For the cinema underground, the first priority is to titillate.

The essays in Sleaze Artists are diverse, as is typical for an academic collection, with contributions covering gay military films, boredom as a motif in the Italian underground, the quasi documentary elements of the postwar nudie film, and an account of the production and distribution of a gothic horror movie that couldn’t find an obvious market. The authors are an assortment of professors and cultural studies academics from the United States; if they were Australians, our first reaction would be to decry a university system that redistributes taxpayers’ money to tenured lecturers just so that they can watch all eleven Friday the 13thfilms, but as they are Americans we can just marvel in amusement. So it is easy to write that many of the essays in Sleaze Artists are fascinating. After all, it’s not our taxes.

As an example, an interesting chapter by Kay Dickinson looks at the strange partnership between Italian horror of the 1970s and early 1980s and the often very beautiful soundtracks which accompanied them. In this, the archetypal example is the infamous 1980 film Cannibal Holocaust. The gruesome violence of this film-the director, Ruggero Deodato, was forced to prove in an Italian court that he had not actually killed anybody during filming, and the film shows the actual slaughter of half a dozen live animals-is matched with an unpredictably lush synthesizer jazz score by the composer Riz Ortolani. Dickinson nominates the dissociative and unnatural quality of the synthesiser itself as a conscious artistic decision by the filmmaker to unnerve the viewer-as if seeing a live turtle dissected on screen was not unnerving enough.

Tania Modeleski’s chapter on the 1960s director Doris Wishman is one of the few in Sleaze Artists that shows the necessarily ambiguous relationship modern audiences have with exploitation cinema. Modeleski, a Californian academic with an interest in feminist film criticism, is deeply ambivalent about her subject. Doris Wishman produced some brutal films. Her female protagonists get raped, abused and forced to murder. Every bruise is carefully fetishisticly recorded for the silent male audience.

For Modeleski, that a female director produced the most misogynistic films of the genre is a distinct challenge. Most of the essays in Sleaze Politics seek to normalise their films and their audiences-to make the unusual seem pedestrian. Furthermore, a focus of the cultural studies movement over the last few decades has been not just to make marginalia the focus of legitimate academic study; it has been a conscious effort to detect ‘transgressive’ artistry and politics in the cultural underground. Movies are carefully parsed and examined to discover ironic visions worthy of the twenty-first century arts faculty in even the most forgettable cookie cutter exploitation genres. If you pick up a copy of any schlock horror film in a bargain DVD bin, the advertising on its case will proclaim its ‘subversive’ nature. In most cases, this subversiveness is absent and rarely more than wishful thinking. After all, modern audiences, trained on Quentin Tarantino-esque postmodernism, like to think everything is ironic.

But Wishman’s ‘roughie’ films are too grotesque to support such a reading; there is no self-conscious and knowing winks in her depictions of female abuse. Her protagonists may have lesbian encounters, but Modeleski is unable to interpret these as in any way ‘feminist’-instead, they are shown as just more abusive relationships down the rabbit hole of female degradation. Some of Wishman’s films simply cannot be reformed under the banner irony and subversiveness-they are too repulsive to be squeezed into the feminist narrative, despite Wishman’s gender. (This has not, however, stopped some critics from trying.) Modeleski concludes mundanely that Wishman needed the money, and simply adhered to the conventions of the genre she worked in.

The American movie critic Pauline Kael once provocatively wrote that she found Wild in the Streets, an unassuming and cheaply made film about hippy teens taking over the American government, far more interesting than Stanley Kubrick’s achingly important and serious 2001: A Space Odyssey, made in the same year. The final essay, ‘Movies: A Century of Failure’ takes this observation as its jumping off point, and tries to work out just what the appeal of underground or otherwise unsuccessful films is. How have embarrassingly bad movies-like Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck’s wildly unpopular 2002 romantic comedy Gigli, or 2004’sCatwoman, which reduced the Oscar winner Halle Berry to a lifeless, latex wearing sex object-managed to ascend the cultural ladder and gained cult status? How has the 1950s director Ed Wood, whose films are barely able to sustain a timeline, let alone a plot, become a modern film legend? Whenever Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space is again nominated as the worst film ever made, it assures that he will be watched and discussed for far longer than some of the middle of the road directors today. And it is likely that Showgirls, the 1995 film that was little more than an excuse to display the former teen actress Elizabeth Berkley naked, will, having now achieved cult status, be seen for decades.

Jeffrey Sconce argues that film going is, at least for those who ask for great things from the movies, almost always one of disappointment-rarely do movies live up to their expectations. Films are always too formulaic, characters are always too poorly drawn, and direction is always too flat to maintain our interest. And so, the pleasure of unexpectedly finding an inexplicably bizarre film on late night SBS or buried at the rental store becomes a far greater thrill than can be provided by the majority of material produced in the Hollywood machine. The frustration with ‘bad’ cinema became a search for ‘so bad it’s good’ cinema.

But, as Sconce writes, disappointment is never too far away, even if we are actively searching out movies that are cringe-inducing sub-par. After all, how could a film with the title ofSatan’s Cheerleaders (the poster for which adorns the cover of Sleaze Artists) ever live up to the expectations encouraged by its title? Ditto for Zombie HolocaustSanta Claus Conquers the MartiansTwo Thousand Maniacs! or Nude for Satan. Could Death Bed: The Bed That Eats ever be as good as it sounds?

It would be easy to conclude that the cinema described in Sleaze Artists is no longer on the cultural margins, but has now firmly entered the mainstream. Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriquez self-consciously replicated the underground aesthetic in Grindhouse-their double billed feature which included a road revenge flick Death Proof and the Texas zombie homagePlanet Terror. The video store clerk, proudly schooled in the most obscure exploitation and horror films, is a nearly extinct cliché; displaced by online forums dedicated to bad cinema and the steady archiving of cinema’s miscellany onto DVD.

And our relationship with underground films has even changed in the meantime. In the early 1990s, the American television show Mystery Science Theater 3000 specialised in uncovering some of these B-grade science fiction films and subjecting them to relentless ridicule. Nearly two decades later, our response to yesterday’s cultural leftovers is less likely to be ridicule than ironic respect. Not just the high-profile self conscious mimicking of Tarantino, but scores of films are released each year that resurrect themes and techniques of the underground. The famously dated zoom shot was once an amusing anachronism, but it now appears in many contemporary productions with barely a hint of irony. Contemporary horror franchises likeSaw and Hostel which feature extended torture scenes are nearly indistinguishable from the video nasties popular two decades ago, although more professionally produced.

The English Conservative MP Charles Walker described 2007’s Hostel II not inaccurately when he said that ‘from beginning to end, it depicts obscene, misogynistic acts of brutality against women-an hour and a half of brutality’; a description which could just as easily apply to a Doris Wishman film. Grindhouse cinemas may have closed down and videos been replaced by DVDs and internet file-sharing, but movies whose first priority is to shock are shown in chain theatres across the globe, not in small off-Broadway adults only theatres.

But standards have changed. Modern audiences may accept-it would be inaccurate to write ‘are comfortable with’-special effects depictions of sadistic violence at the cinema but they would not accept the very real slaughter of a very real turtle, as occurs in Cannibal Holocaust. Similarly the masochistic brutality seen in the video nasties are absent in modern homages to exploitation. Even the semi-pornographic undressing scenes which were awkwardly squeezed into the typical underground 1970s horror film have no contemporary equivalent. The moral content of mainstream exploitation in the twenty-first century and postwar underground exploitation may seem superficially similar, but there are major differences; there are new ethical and moral lines which modern filmmakers do not cross.

For these reasons, it is important to avoid the typical conservative reaction to seemingly immoral-or disconcertingly amoral-culture. It is certainly not clear that the mainstreaming of trash is a sign of a cultural decay. Highbrow cultural production exists comfortably beside trash, and more often than not they share the same audiences. Furthermore, there exists no convincing argument that immorality and criminality at the movies transposes to immorality and criminality in the real world. For the most part, violent crime is in decline across the western world.

Filmgoers are not that easily influenced. Individuals who watch the movies invariably apply their own moral standards to the movies, rather than the movies imposing morality upon viewers.

Jeffrey Sconce’s final essay may be melancholic, but it is not uniformly negative about the film industry. And the dominant emotion after having read Sleaze Artists isn’t one of regret for the decline of moral standards. The underground can certainly be ugly, but it is vibrant. For every Oscar winner, there are one hundred middle brow romantic comedies, and ten Nude for Satans. If we ignore our cultural trash, we ignore a large part of our culture.

IPA Review Editorial, July 2008

Last year, the IPA Review had its sixtieth birthday, making it the oldest continuously published political magazine in the country since the demise of The Bulletin. And this year we were awarded the Sir Anthony Fisher International Memorial Award for best magazine by the US-based Atlas Economic Research Foundation.

The mission of the Atlas Foundation is, in the words of its former President, John Blundell, ‘to litter the world with free market think tanks’. To do so, it supports new and existing think tanks by providing logistic and intellectual advice. Much of its work is focused on encouraging free market activists in parts of the world where our message is so alien that operating a think tank has as many legal and safety challenges as intellectual ones.

The Fisher prizes are awarded by a distinguished panel of judges which includes Atlas President Alejandro Chafuen and George Mason University Professor Tyler Cowen, as well as economists and political scientists from the Heritage Foundation, the Mont Pelerin Society, the leading German think tank Institut der deutschen Wirtschaft, and the Institute for Humane Studies, among others.

The IPA Review, long established as a central part of Australia’s political culture, has now been recognised by this influential free market group as doing something genuinely important for the cause of liberty. Australia is neither on freedom’s frontiers or a monument to its greatest successes, but internationally the health of Australian liberty is important.

It is hard to think of another country that has been so completely colonised by green dogma as Australia-we should hope, for the sake of the world’s poor, that our environmentalists aren’t too focused on exporting their anti-growth ideologies elsewhere. How our governments respond to the controversies over climate change, or the Nanny State, or over-regulation, is keenly observed by foreign politicians and activists.

Just as we dig through the impacts of the policies of foreign governments, so do policymakers and critics outside our borders. As Australian governments implement more and more regulations which inhibit individual choice and liberty, we can be sure that aspiring Nanny-Statists in other countries will be watching closely.

Why is the IPA Review important? Australia is a small country. As we lack the size of our English-speaking friends – the United States and Great Britain – we can never be entirely confident that the voice of liberalism will always be heard. As Richard Allsop points out in his review of two recent political biographies in this edition, the Australian public went almost forty years at the beginning of the twentieth century without hearing the cause of political and economic liberty defended in the federal parliament. When it was heard, it was a rare curiosity; widely dismissed as an ideological anachronism. Liberalism’s supporters in the public arena were just as scarce.

In 2008, there is among the educated public a much greater awareness of the existence – if not an understanding of the importance – of liberalism’s political and public policy views. Liberalism’s opponent today is not socialism, as it was when the IPA Review was founded in 1947; liberal philosophy now stands against an arguably more challenging adversary – soft ‘market-orientated’ managerialism, which professes an appreciation of competition and commerce, but is in fact dedicated to limiting it.

Today’s left do not carry utopian Marxist tracts that contain fully elaborated plans for revolutionary government. But now the left clutches cherry-picked studies from the fields of psychology and behavioural economics. We are told that markets are irredeemably irrational, that we need to increase taxes in order to fully account for ‘social costs’ and externalities, and that only a Nanny State can look after us. The left has replaced the socialist objective with a rigid utilitarianism that has no interest in any philosophical or moral discussion about the appropriate limits of government action. They are nonchalant about the impact their policy prescriptions will have on individual freedom. And they are positively hostile to the concept of personal responsibility – people are too irrational to take responsibility for their own actions, and if they did, there would be too many ‘social costs’ for the government to possibly tolerate.

The need for a voice of liberalism in 2008 is just as strong as it was in 1947. The Sir Anthony Fisher International Memorial Award recognises the vital role the IPA Review has in defending liberty in Australia.

IPA Review Editorial, May 2008

It’s always interesting to see how newly elected leaders respond to stimuli. And Kevin Rudd gave a clear indication of his tolerance for criticism at the beginning of April.

The Prime Minister’s trip abroad had a peculiar schedule. He was to visit China, which had just reemphasised its military control of Tibet. But he was to shun Japan, whose only crime seemed to be that its citizens like dining on whales. Rudd’s implied priorities-that whales are more important than human rights-is sadly indicative of the warped moral calculus of the modern environment movement. And it is worrying that the Australian federal government is taking its diplomatic cues from environmental populism.

This strange diplomatic decision was identified by Tony Parkinson, writing in this edition of the IPA Review. As he writes, ‘any hint Australia is into the business of picking winners, giving undue priority to one over another, would be contrary to the national interest.’

The Institute of Public Affairs’ Executive Director, John Roskam, referring to Parkinson’s upcoming piece, wrote in The Age on March 26 that this contradicted Labor’s election campaign line that the ALP would pursue a gentler, nicer, more loving foreign policy: ‘Australia would do more to uphold international standards of human rights, and we wouldn’t acquiesce so easily to alleged human rights violations committed in the pursuit of the war on terror.’ China’s activities in Tibet, surely, fall under some of those categories. Andrew Bolt in Melbourne’s Herald Sun on the same day, and Greg Sheridan in The Australian on March 27 made similar points.

And so, just a few days later, the Prime Minister announced that he had changed his plans, and was now going to go to Tokyo in June. Parkinson, Roskam, Bolt and Sheridan are excellent writers. Their critiques of Rudd’s initial decision to shun Japan were eloquent and well made. John Roskam’s was particularly good. (He is, after all, my boss).

But: seriously? Australian diplomatic strategy was unable to endure the withering onslaught of four disapproving columnists? Is that really all it takes to change federal policy?

Winston Churchill once said there is no such thing as public opinion – there is only published opinion. But it’s not even as if Rudd was castigated across the board by the commentariat. Other columnists defended Rudd, arguing that China will be a far more important trading partner than Japan over the next few decades. Perhaps this is fair enough-perhaps our relationship with Japan should be sacrificed for the sake of the Labor Party’s green vote.

Kevin Rudd is proud of his diplomatic background. But decisions made as a foreign affairs bureaucrat are very different from the highly public and highly scrutinised diplomatic decisions made as a Prime Minister. Avoiding Japan and flattering China may be great diplomacy-the nuances of high geopolitics are, we are told, a Rudd speciality. But foreign affairs is as much about domestic politics as international diplomacy. As John Kunkel, John Howard’s former speechwriter, reflects in his retrospective of the Howard Project in this issue of the IPA Review, Rudd’s predecessor understood the necessity for foreign policy to be just as democratically minded as domestic affairs. With his Japan stumble, Kevin Rudd may have begun to realise that.

This edition of the IPA Review continues our ‘What Next for Liberalism?’ feature, asking whether it is ever going to be possible for government to be shrunk, considering that no Australian government has ever managed to do so. Sinclair Davidson, Des Moore and Alan Moran look at the strategies for reducing the size of the state and its powers. Christopher Pyne argues that only major reform to the Liberal Party’s approach to selecting candidates and leaders will re-engage the party’s supporters, and John Pyke crunches the numbers to find a startling level of support for the republic amongst those who voted against it nearly ten years ago.

Richard Allsop reveals how the left have managed to convert the sporting field into yet another battlefield for the culture wars. Greg Melleuish looks at why smart people believe stupid things, and Scott Ryan looks behind the health debate to the health providers who are holding back reform. And of course, the usual book reviews, regular columns and cultural snippets that have helped the IPA Review become Australia’s longest running political magazine.

IPA Review Editorial, March 2008

Optimism is a feature rarely seen in contemporary public debate. Rather, the media is full of dreary gloom — whether in the areas of biotechnology, nuclear power, over-population, consumerism, the cultural effects of globalisation, or — the big one — climate change, skilled political commentators can have rewarding careers without ever saying anything positive about the state of the world.

Right-of-centre, we are not immune to this cynical pessimism either. Focusing on public policy and politics can often be as depressing to the right as an endangered species list is to the left. Government spending continues to grow, regulation continues to increase, and hardly a day goes by without a piece of legislation or policy announcement that limits liberal freedoms. With the Rudd government now eyeballing the dubious achievements of Tony Blair, it might be hard to avoid having the occasional cry into our collective beers.

And so it can hardly be emphasised enough that, on almost every possible measure, the world is getting better.In this edition of the IPA Review, Louise Staley walks us through the substantial empirical evidence for that proposition. Infant mortality rates are declining rapidly. Nutrition is improving rapidly. Access to clean water and literacy rates; life expectancy and living standards — across the board, these measures are strongly trending upwards. And developing nations are increasingly sharing the bounty.

As a consequence, when so much of the left’s critical energy is being directed towards the climate change issue, it is absolutely essential that liberals and conservatives aggressively remind people that their standard of living has never been higher. It is a tired old cliché, but ‘if history is any guide’ there is every reason to suspect that this state of affairs will continue. The world will keep improving despite the pessimism of our newspaper columnists.

But improvements to our well-being aren’t limited to dry statistics. Globalisation has given us access to more high-quality culture than we could possibly consume in a lifetime. Socially, it is more possible to live the lifestyle that we choose than at any other time in history.

And it is unfortunate that the word ‘consumerism’ has been co-opted by the left as a term of abuse — there are more niche products available to us than ever before. If you love Romanian hip-hop, or bocconcini, or reproduction Georgian furniture, obtaining them is easy and inexpensive. Somehow, the left manage to caricature this explosion of tastes and choices as a failure of the capitalist system — but it is, on the level of the individual, one of capitalism’s greatest strengths.

There are, of course, many areas of the world desperate to share in this bounty, and many areas of Australian society — indigenous communities for one — which are currently missing out. But their challenge is to follow the trail set by the West.And, as Louise Staley confirms, there is good reason for hope. Optimism is, after all, one of liberalism’s key themes.

Elsewhere in this issue, we focus on the need to increase Australia’s immigration levels. John Humphreys argues that the case for free immigration agreements is just as strong as the case for free trade agreements — perhaps even better. Ken Phillips writes about the importance of immigration to resolving the skills shortage, and why the government just doesn’t get it. And Richard Allsop notes that, contrary to popular opinion, the political party that gives the biggest support to expanding immigration may not be the party we immediately think of.

Stefan Theil reveals the perilous state of European education in economics. If Europe is to kick itself out of its sluggish growth, it might want to start with revising its school textbooks. And all eyes in the Liberal Party will be on the Republican Party and the British Tories. Tim Wilson peers behind the Republican primaries to discover the awkward ideological maneuvering in the GOP. And James Campbell picks up the UK Conservative Party at the high point of its decade in opposition, and shows us just how it got there.

But if there is anything to tie these diverse articles together, it is their optimistic tone. When given political and economic freedom, individuals shape their world for the better.

Goddamn you all to hell: The revealing politics of dystopian movies


Available in PDF here.

‘There is, of course, every reason to view the next century with fear,’ wrote a New York Times film reviewer in 1976 after having watched the Charlton Heston vehicle Soylent Green.

Smug pessimism of this type is hardly unusual in political commentary. Indeed, in only the last few years, Hollywood has released V for Vendetta and Children of Men, each of which claim that the Iraq War is the beginning of a cycle of oppression that will lead to dictatorship. Over the last century, the dystopian film has reflected society’s fears of monopoly capitalism, totalitarian socialism, environmental catastrophe, technology out of control, and now, in V for Vendetta and Children of Men, theocracy. The obsessions of the left are reflected in the dystopian movie.

But dystopias are never that simple. Certainly, the dystopian movie presents filmmakers with their opportunity for futuristic pessimism. The dystopia-a fictional society that got lost on the way to utopia-differs from traditional science fiction by its emphasis on political and social systems rather than science or technology, and therefore allows filmmakers to speculate wildly on the political future. But the genre has a tendency to trip up filmmakers, and the way it does so reveals much more about Hollywood leftism than it does the cultural fears of the broader population.

The Orwellian dystopia

George Orwell may not have invented the dystopia – John Stuart Mill coined the word in 1868, and Orwell’s vision was drawn from both Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World – but with the cultural status of Nineteen Eighty-Four, he owns it. Orwell defined the now archetypical dystopian society in response to the Stalinist communism-an omnipotent, omnipresent state with a single-minded control of its citizens. And the descendants of Nineteen Eighty-Four are many. The films THX 1138, Fahrenheit 451, Alphaville, Sleeper, Brazil, The Island, Equilibrium, Logan’s RunRenaissanceThe Running Man and others are derived from Orwell’s vision of a totalitarian police state.

The traditional dystopia is concerned with the spectre of the over-bearing state-the typical plot trajectory involves the protagonist rejecting the dictatorial controls of the government and finding out the horrible truth. In the 2005 film The Island, Scarlett Johansson and Ewan McGregor escape their post-apocalyptic dictatorship-which is run like a totalitarian fat camp-only to realise that their world was entirely artificial.

The evolution of the dystopian genre can reveal much about the popular obsessions of filmmakers and the audience, but each time those fears fall back upon a fear of the omnipotent state. For instance, even a sub-genre of dystopian films in the 1970s which featured environmental collapse eventually reveal themselves to be more concerned with state oppression than the environment. If this is a reflection of our cultural fears, then the contemporary environmentalists who would like the government to involve itself more and more in our individual choices have a much tougher task ahead of them than current opinion polls suggest.

Dreaming of the apocalypse: environmental dystopias

Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 neo-Malthusian tract The Population Bomb has been entered into history as a colossally inaccurate prediction of apocalyptic overpopulation. Ehrlich’s calculations of hundreds of millions of people starving to death in the 1970s and 1980s as population outstripped resources failed to account for agricultural innovation and slowing birth-rates in developed nations.

But The Population Bomb wasn’t just a simple prediction of global food shortages. To pound his message home, Ehrlich devised an array of future scenarios which could only occur as a consequence of his bleak mathematics. Ehrlich was quick to hedge his bets-‘none of [the scenarios] will come true as stated, but they describe the kinds of disasters that will occur as mankind slips into the famine decades’-but that didn’t stop the Stanford University Professor from wild grade-school speculations that tenuously connected to his arguments. For instance, by 1979, Ehrlich foresaw that:

Only the outbreak of a particularly virulent strain of bubonic plague killing 65 per cent of the starving Egyptian population had averted a direct Soviet-American clash in the Mediterranean.

By 1980:

… general thermonuclear war ensues. Particularly devastating are the high altitude ‘flash’ devices designed to set fire to all flammable materials over huge areas.

After describing his most appealing scenario, which predicts the starvation and death of merely half a billion people, Ehrlich challenges the reader to imagine a more optimistic future, which he is pretty sure can’t be done.

Wild speculations about the future have been a staple of the environmentalist doom-saying ever since; and this sort of casual jumble of non-fiction and undisciplined fantasy doesn’t speak well for environmental pop science.

Ehrlich’s book set the tone in the early 1970s for a whole new type of dystopia. Gone are the obsessions with a monolithic state apparatus and the subjugation of individuality depicted in Zamyatin’s We and Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four – new visions of dystopia arose out of environmental tragedy. And the blame for humanity’s fall no longer lies with power-seeking bureaucrats and dictators, but with humanity itself. In the view of the environmental doomsayers, our own failure to keep pollution and population under control inadvertently leads us towards a dystopian future. And so when Charlton Heston curses mankind at the end of The Planet of the Apes, he speaks for Paul Ehrlich.

The Population Bomb was both serious enough to capture the imagination of the embryonic leftwing environmental movement and fanciful enough to directly inspire a boom in dystopian culture-within a year, Captain Kirk had been abducted by a race of space aliens to solve their overpopulation crisis. The book’s morally repulsive suggestions about coercing Indian males to undertake vasectomies and adding sterilisation to the food supply seem ready made for pot-boiler fiction. The 1971 film The Last Child depicted a society that had implemented a one-child policy and where the elderly were refused medical treatment, and the next year’s Z.P.G. showed a United Nations-esque ban on procreation for a thirty year period. And in 1973 Charlton Heston (an actor who appears to have been purpose-built for dystopia and angry revelations) uncovered the terrible truth behind Soylent Green, a synthetic food substitute made necessary after the United States had suffered complete economic and environmental collapse.

The 1976 classic Logan’s Run sets an Aldous Huxley-style pleasure dictatorship in a Paul Ehrlich world. The free-love and relaxation of the inhabitants of a domed city (a barely disguised shopping mall in Dallas) is only interrupted by the requirement that they have to be killed when they reach the age of thirty. When two escape, they discover themselves in the ruins of a Washington DC that has, it is implied, been decimated by environmental catastrophe caused by overpopulation. Logan’s Run packages all of the major dystopian fears together-a fear of technology (the dictator is in this case what appears to be a self-aware computer), a fear of population controls in the midst of a resource crisis, a fear of the loss of individuality (the Logan character featured in the film’s title actually has a more typically dystopian name-‘Logan 5′) and a fear of environmental apocalypse.

But it isn’t accurate to describe dystopian visions of Logan’s Run, Soylent Green, Z.P.G. andThe Last Child as direct ideological spawn of Paul Ehrlich. The films sympathise with those characters that rebel against the population restrictions-the woman who defies the state by having a baby, the security man who escapes the domed city, and the cop who continues to investigate a murder in defiance of his superiors-and the resolutions inevitably show the masses awakening to the horrible truth. By the time the credits appear, Ehrlich’s suggestions that the government forcibly sterilise the population have been judged as repugnant-as have the suggestions of our modern anti-natalist that we limit population growth under the banner of climate change. The moral simplicity of a Hollywood film turns out to be more ethical than the views of the Sierra Club and other environmentalists who were impressed by the perverse recommendations of The Population Bomb.

Furthermore, the environmental dystopias may initially appear to represent an entirely new cultural fear-that of ecological collapse-but they eventually reveal that they share the obsessions of ‘traditional’ dystopias-a monolithic organisation exerting super-normal controls over an unwilling or ignorant populace. Overpopulation and food shortages may be terrifying, but that terror is trumped by the fear of an omnipotent state.

Orwellian dystopias after the end of the socialist dream

While the dystopian genre has thrived over the last century, depictions of utopias have all but disappeared. The only utopias that are presented are ones that have failed. Part of this is because utopias are inherently dull. For instance, Gulliver’s Travels only loses its pace when Jonathan Swift finally tries to describe his ideal society. The race of intelligent horses called the Houyhnhnms may be perfect, but from a literary perspective they are bland and uninteresting compared to the Lilliputians. George Orwell claimed that this narrative failure of Swift’s presented a major problem for socialist thinkers-the society where everybody is happy is a boring society. And it’s hard to string a narrative around a society in which there is nothing going wrong.

But from a historical perspective, utopias rather than dystopias have been the dominant literary form. Plato and Thomas More used the utopian society to illustrate their political and economic views, which of course were little more than crude socialism. The late nineteenth century was a busy time for utopianist fantasy-classics of this period included Edward Bellamy’s novel Looking Backward and William Morris’ News From Nowhere-but few authors have been able to conceive of utopias that are anything but socialist. (The science fiction writer Robert Heinlein is a notable exception.)

So almost immediately after the world had begun to experience an actual, living communist dictatorship, socialism jumped from a utopian fantasy to a dystopian nightmare. Dystopias replaced utopias just when we realised how bad lived socialism could be-the utopian genre was a casualty of the demise of the socialist dream. Indicatively, We was published in 1921-less than half a decade after the Bolshevik coup d’etat-and was the first novel to be banned by the new Soviet censorship bureau.

As a consequence, from the ‘Khrushchev Thaw’ onwards, political radicals have been unable to come up with a fully-realised alternative to the status quo. Dystopias are much easier to conceive than utopias-after all, who doesn’t oppose dictatorship and forced sterilisation? Devising a plausible non-market economy is much more challenging.

But when Zamyatin and Orwell addressed their audiences in the first half of the twentieth century, it was within the realm of possibility that the Western world could go communist. That same demise of the socialist dream that led to the rise of dominance of the dystopia at the same time made Orwellian vision less poignant-there is simply no chance that the English constitutional monarchy will yield to IngSoc anytime soon.

And so to ensure that their visions remain relevant, filmmakers over the last few decades almost always try to shoe-horn a more modern message into their dystopias. In a particularly grating example of this, THX 1138 awkwardly shoved an anti-consumerist note into its otherwise traditional Orwellian state. A state propaganda machine first extols Robert Duvall’s character to work hard in a typically Stalinist manner: ‘Work hard, increase production, prevent accidents and be happy’. But it then goes on to deliver a message that the Soviet Politburo would have never wanted delivered: ‘Let us be thankful we have commerce. Buy more. Buy more now. Buy. And be happy.’ This clumsy message against consumer capitalism undermines the otherwise compelling vision of THX 1138.

Similarly awkward attempts at relevancy are found in many other dystopian visions. The otherwise clear story of over-population in Logan’s Run is destabilised when the only character who is wise to the cause of humanity’s troubles tries to blame our desire for bigger and bigger houses. More recent films have also tried to ‘contemporise’ their stories uncomfortably-in 2005’s V for Vendetta and 2006’s Children of Men, the War in Iraq is variously described as the catalyst for the end of female fertility, a religious dictatorship in England, the suppression of classical art, total social breakdown, and concentration camps for immigrants. Their political message consists of little more than a list of bad things that could happen-a far cry from the consistent and thematically integrated dystopias of Orwell and Zamyatin. And dystopias are most emotionally powerful when they are seen as possible-nobody but the most smug leftist thinks that George Bush’s occasional affirmation of his religious faith heralds an imminent theocracy.

The 2002 Christian Bale feature Equilibrium completes the migration of the Orwellian vision from the poignant to the absurd. In this totalitarian state, human emotions are suppressed to reduce conflict and ‘Clerics’ police the city to seek out ‘Sense Offenders’. Equilibrium is a successful film from a dramatic perspective, but the improbability of its vision is merely a reflection of the dominant cultural status of Nineteen Eighty-Four – Equilibrium has now achieved cult status on the basis of its fictional martial art ‘gun-kata’ and the ferocity of its fighting sequences rather than any political message it carries.

The inefficient dystopia

By contrast, Terry Gilliam’s joyfully absurdist 1985 film Brazil is a much closer reflection of the lived experience of totalitarian socialism. In Equilibrium and THX 1138, the totalitarian state is an efficient state-public servants are passionate, dedicated, and above all, effective, and the trains run on time. In Brazil, Orwell’s state has fallen into disrepair. The omnipotent eye of the dictator is revealed to be a vast and sluggish bureaucracy. State employees watch old movies when the boss isn’t watching them- the workers are more like Charlie Chaplin than Alexey Stakhanov. Individual bureaucrats act as bullies rather than servants of the state. And in Brazil, tyranny is delivered in triplicate. Terry Gilliam may have set out to make an absurdist comedy out of the traditional dystopia, but in doing so, he made a society which accords more closely with the USSR depicted in memoirs about life in the Soviet Union, especially in the post-Stalin era. Endemic corruption and bureaucratic mismanagement is the experience of socialism, not the clean, streamlined and seamless unitary state of Orwell. Pyongyang’s incomplete and structurally unsound Ryugyong Hotel is more representative of real-world socialist architecture than Oceania’s glistening white Ministry of Love. But in traditional anti-communist dystopias, the government is never so unglamorous as to run out of money. Orwell thought totalitarian communist governments would be terrible, but he also thought they would work.

Perhaps then the most poignant dystopian film made in the last half century is Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film A Clockwork Orange. Upon first glance, A Clockwork Orange is not immediately recognisable as a dystopia. The biggest indicator – a totalitarian state – is absent in Kubrick’s vision. Indeed, the plot pivots around a politician desperate to solve the crime problem before the next election. And A Clockwork Orange strides across so many themes that its political views are not immediately obvious.

But A Clockwork Orange is a startling film about a decaying socialist Britain-not the socialism of the eastern bloc, but mid-century democratic socialism. The depraved protagonist Alex lives in ‘Municipal Flat Block 18A, Linear North’, part of a vast housing project which is so poorly maintained that it appears to be decomposing. The democratically elected government is revealed to be on a slow decline towards totalitarianism. A writer who eventually kidnaps Alex is described as a ‘subversive’, and perhaps more indicatively, the Minister of the Interior lets slip that he needs to clear the prisons of normal criminals to make room for political prisoners. And it is a society that is about to breakdown. After all, it is quickly indicated that Alex and his droogs are not the only gang terrorising England-law and order appears to be the government’s biggest problem.

When A Clockwork Orange resonates, it does so because social breakdown and socialist decay are very real features of west European states today. The northern banlieues around Paris are just the sort of low-income ghettos which are inhabited by Alex. In these areas, the state is present but ineffective-delivering welfare but not order-and the inhabitants are both oppressed and independent. Indeed, when David Cameron describes England’s ‘broken society’, he raises the spectre of ultra-violent and truant adolescents.

The vision of A Clockwork Orange is, like all dystopias, an exaggeration, but it is far more real than the states of Logan’s Run or THX 1138. And A Clockwork Orange manages to be far more cynical than a democratic socialist like Orwell could ever be. (Both Kubrick’s politics, and the politics of Anthony Burgess who wrote the original novel, could hardly be described as standard arts industry leftyness. Indeed, Burgess went onto write his own dystopian homage to Nineteen Eighty-Four, which he titled 1985, that featured a Britain dominated by trade unions and where Islam had become the dominant political force.)

Images of dystopia are necessarily reflections of their time. When Orwell wrote his book, he addressed it to fellow-travelling socialists-his story was directed at his comrades who supported the Soviet ‘experiment’. Subsequent dystopian visions-at least those ones that have been more than just paint-by-numbers duplications of Nineteen Eighty-Four-have variously railed against environmental destruction, corporate monopolies, genetic engineering, censorship, technological dependence, religious extremism and neo-conservative warmongering. But they always oppose the state-even in those films that blame corporations for the ills of the world, it is the state that provides the power to oppress.

But when a dystopian vision fails, it fails because it misunderstands the nature of the contemporary state. Brazil and A Clockwork Orange are more ominous dystopias because they are-perhaps surprisingly considering that one is an absurdist comedy and the other a violent criticism of behavioural psychology-realistic.

What ‘fascist mob’? Overland and the IPA

Opposing government interference in the economy and society is hardly support for ‘fascism’. An attack on the Institute of Public Affairs in the latest edition of Overland by Shane Cahill shows just how far the socialist literary magazine has strayed off the ranch.

Just the title of the piece – ‘This Fascist Mob’ – indicates Overland’s relaxed approach to scholarship. ‘Fascist’ is a word with a very specific meaning. But its use in this case is drawn from an anonymous critic complaining about that the IPA’s opposition to the Curtin government’s heavy-handed approach to regulation during the war meant that the IPA was probably a Japanese sympathiser.

In 1944, a furious letter written by an anonymous air force officer complaining about the IPA was sent to the Deputy Prime Minister. In this letter, he accused the IPA of sabotaging the war effort by producing a wartime radio programme. This programme, The Harris Family, was a scripted radio play where a family discussed and debated the dangers of over-regulation, price controls, and centralisation.

The show, as the airman pointed out, was rarely very friendly to the Labor government. This letter made its way to the Commonwealth Security Service (CSS) – the precursor to ASIO – and provoked a minor investigation into its allegations. The CSS commenced the serious task of finding out whether the IPA was, as the letter writer claimed, ‘more vile and sinister than any Jap’. In early 1944, the CSS collected reports from its state divisions on the activities of the IPA across the country, but nothing surfaced to indicate that the IPA’s activities were anything outside of the normal political debate.

The scripts for The Harris Family had been duly submitted to the Commonwealth wartime censors and approved; the IPA’s constitutions and executive officers were public record, and apart from an inclination to ‘discredit the Labor government’ – hardly a crime in a liberal democracy, even during the war – the investigation turned up nothing incriminating. Indeed, the CSS file is replete with scrawled notes doubting the necessity of the investigation – ‘this appears to be to be just a political matter’. And the CSS Deputy-Director dismissed the investigation with the comment that ‘the committee and others sponsoring the Institute are well known representative people in Melbourne whose integrity and loyalty should be beyond reproach’.

The rest of the Cahill piece tries to tie this small sidenote in the history of the IPA to broader investigations about sympathy for Japanese fascism in Australia’s business community. Two senior businessmen and members of the IPA council were recorded as members of the pre-war Japan-Australia Society. In the 1920s into the 1930s, Japan was an important trade partner of Australia. By the time of the IPA’s foundation, the Japan-Australia Society was history.

But nevertheless, in Cahill’s hands, this represents the ‘compromised and murky milieu from which the IPA emerged’. The implication of the Overland piece is that, while the IPA may nowadays claim to be a vigorous defender of representative government and liberal freedoms, its founders would have found a fascist dictatorship just as nice. As Cahill writes, ‘In the 1930s and the 1940s the link between freedom and the “free flow of capital” didn’t seem so apparent’.

Perhaps not for the intellectual ancestors of Overland, who, in the mid 1940s, were still debating whether democracy was necessary in a socialist paradise. But the reality is far more mundane than Cahill’s conspiracy theory of fascist Japanese sympathisers undermining the Curtin government from within the business community.

What was the IPA doing during the later stages of the war? The IPA was the first free market think tank in the world. As it had no clear international parallel or precedent to give guidance, each state division of the IPA took a different view of how engaged the think tank should be with the day to day political fray. The Queensland and New South Wales divisions were prolific propagandists – The Harris Family was complemented with imitation cheques which were slid into Queenslanders’ pay packets asking them not to sign away their freedoms to Canberra in the 1944 constitutional referendum. The Victorian division by contrast was more interested in longer-term, and more sober, policy analysis.

In 2008, the IPA is accustomed to abuse from the left, and is too often accused of ‘fascism’-as if the IPA’s mantra of free markets and free societies is the equivalent of totalitarianism and militant nationalism. The tone of Overland is too quasi-scholarly to openly accuse the IPA of fascist sympathies, but, through a careful manipulation of the historical record and abuse of political terminology, Cahill tries to let the anonymous air force officer speak for the modern left. About the only accurate thing in the Overland piece is calling the IPA of 2008 ‘prolific’.