Left-wing Greens grapple with economics
At the start of this year, the Greens were huddled in a little cottage in the Tasmanian wilderness, admiring some magnificent trees.
But someone spoilt the serenity and raised an uncomfortable topic for a left-wing environmental party. “What are our economic policies?”
“I hadn’t given it much thought”, Greens leader, Bob Brown said.
“But we should have economic policies. We are Australia’s third largest political party and may hold the balance of power in the Senate after the next election. We need to say something on the economy.”
“True”, said Brown, still distracted by an exquisite Gum tree out the window. “Does anyone in the room know anything about economics?”
There was an uncomfortable silence in the room.
Brown looked at Adam Bandt, hoping that the future Member for Melbourne would be their economic savior.
“I’ve read a lot of Karl Marx, peace be upon him”, said Bandt. “I’m happy to write a policy that would abolish private ownership and collectivise Australian industry. I could have it up on our website tomorrow.”
“Adam”, said Brown, “I despise capitalism as much as the next reflexive lefty but we can’t be a communist party. It’s too extreme, even for the Greens”.
Brandt looked disappointed and muttered to himself something about revolution and crushing the bourgeoisie.
“What does Noam Chomsky say about the economy”, asked Brown. “He is wiser than Buddha.”
“Chomsky writes a lot about the depravity of America’s foreign policy but not much on economic matters”, explained Sarah Hanson-Young. “I can email him again and ask whether he will draft our economic policies but it might be an imposition; after all, he was kind enough to draft our foreign policies.”
“Don’t bother”, said Brown, “We can do it ourselves. How hard can it be? We have risen to be the third force in Australian politics purely on the basis of utopian environmental policies and decency to asylum seekers. I’m sure we can come up something intelligent on the economy.”
After a few minutes of quiet thought, the ideological exuberance began.
“Let’s raise taxes for rich people and companies”, someone excitedly suggested. Everyone agreed that this sounded very left-wing.
“Mining companies make too much money”, said another jealously. “We should tax them beyond Ken Henry’s wildest dreams”. All concurred but not before checking their share portfolios to make sure they weren’t overexposed to mining companies operating in Australia.
Bandt eyed off these capitalists masquerading as Greens with contempt.
“I think we should say something about free trade’, argued Hanson-Young. “I can’t prove that free trade caused Victoria’s bush fires last year but I have my suspicions.”
The room agreed that any free trade agreement that provided consumers access to cheaper goods should be opposed on principle.
“Let’s reduce foreign investment too”, said Brown. “I know that Australia needs foreign capital to build things and dig things up out of the ground but we should always err on the side of being protectionist.”
“But isn’t this all a little reckless”, a contrarian asked. “Just because we are a left-wing political party doesn’t mean we have to unthinkingly adopt bad left-wing economic policies. Wouldn’t these ideas be a disaster and just lower economic growth and reduce people’s living standards?”
“Possibly”, said Brown sheepishly. “But we’re a lovable environmental party. It’s not as though we will ever have any real power, like entering into a formal alliance with the Labor Party or having weekly meetings with the Prime Minister.
“So what’s the harm in having some really bad economic policies?”
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