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A Modest Farmer [Bert Kelly], “The weak must die so the strong can grow,” The Australian Financial Review, September 15, 1978 p. 3. Reprinted in Economics Made Easy (Adelaide: Brolga Books, 1982), pp. 144-45, as “Government Intervention.”

Professor Kasper said recently, “Australians have long tolerated more detailed bureaucratic intervention in markets than most Western societies, and scepticism is rising about what benefits such interventions can achieve and what overall costs they engender.”1 And when you look at the examples of government intervention it is easy to feel sceptical. Looming over all the examples is the mess that the government has made of the car industry, but if there are no others as sad as this, there are plenty of other more mundane failures. Why is government intervention usually so disappointing?

It certainly isn’t because the government machine is manned by fools or rogues. The civil servants who advise the ministers are straight, and are not fools. They know their way round the traps as well as the servants of big business. And the politicians who make decisions about government intervention are not fools though they might sometimes give that impression, particularly when they are giving tongue. So when everyone means so well, why do they do so badly?

There are many reasons but I will only have room for two. First, it is very hard for government to let “the weak’uns dee”. Yet this is the essential step if the economy is going to be healthy.2 Again take the car industry as an example. We have all known for years that the fundamental cause of the mess is that lavish protection in the past has encouraged the fragmentation of the industry into too many parts, so that economic production is impossible. The industry too is well aware of this and now says so in public. The solution then if for some of the redundant plants to close down. But every time the industry is about to take the nasty but necessary medicine of closing some of the redundant plants, the government dashes the draught from the industry’s lips just because it cannot bear to see the weak ones die. Yet in the economic as in the biological world, the weak ones have to die so that the strong ones can have room to grow.

Eccles says there is another reason why government intervention is so disappointing and that is the poor quality of the advice that the government receives. I was afraid that Eccles was going to tell me once again that the advice civil servants gave governments was likely to be wrong but I found, to my surprise, that it is the advice given by economists that is worrying him. I know that it hurt Eccles deeply to have to admit that some economists had fallen from grace and were “prostituting their principles for the sake of their employment” as he said. And it is not only in Australia that this is happening because Eccles showed me a quotation by the famous American economist, Professor Friedman. It reads:

There is nothing that produces jobs for economists like government controls and intervention. All economists are therefore schizophrenic: their discipline, derived from Adam Smith, leads them to favour the market; self-interest leads them to favour intervention. And in large part the profession has been led to reconcile these two opposing forces by being in favour of the market in general but opposed to it in particular. We (economists) are very clever at finding “special cases”, there are external effects, there are monopolies, there are imperfections in the market; therefore we can have our cake and eat it. We can be in favour of the free market and we can at the same time promote those separate interventions that promote our private interest by providing jobs for economists.3

Having read this, Eccles slunk off, removing his rather tarnished economist’s halo which he almost always wears, even in bed.


  1. Wolfgang Kasper, “Australia’s Economic and Industrial Structures,” in Growth, Trade and Structural Change in an Open Australian Economy, ed. Wolfgang Kasper and Thomas G. Parry (Kensington: Centre for Applied Economic Research, 1978), p. 105.
  2. See also from Bert Kelly, for example: “Fred wants to cull the human herd,” The Australian Financial Review, February 21, 1975, p. 3; and “Keeping the bucket of worms alive,” The Australian Financial Review, February 18, 1977, p. 3.
  3. Milton Friedman, From Galbraith to Economic Freedom (London: Institute of Economic Affairs), occasional paper 49.
(in order of appearance on
  1. Bert Kelly on his journalism
  2. Move for a body of Modest Members
  3. Modest Members Association
  4. Bert Kelly's Maiden Parliamentary Speech
  5. Government Intervention
  6. 1976 Monday Conference transcript featuring Bert Kelly
  7. Bert Kelly, Hayek and Mencken on the virtues of farmers
  8. Sound economics calls for quiet from government
  9. Petrol for Farmers
  10. Some Sacred Cows
  11. Experiences in Parliament
  12. Spending your Money
  13. Is Taxmania a politician fetish?
  14. Too many car men in the feather bed
  15. The Kangaroo Population Bomb
  16. How Bert Kelly repays a free feed
  17. Modest column #898
  18. Chicken-hearted feathered friends strange bedfellows on a feather bed?
  19. Who needs literary licence?
  20. A touch of Fred's anarchy
  21. Helping the farmers help themselves
  22. Standing on the shoulders of the downtrodden
  23. Supply and Demand
  24. Bert Kelly responds to claims he is arrogant and uncredentialed
  25. Politics: it's a very confusing business
  26. The best featherbeds run on rails
  27. Bert Kelly on Disaster Relief
  28. Bert Kelly Wants to Secede
  29. Blinded by their tears
  30. Anti-freedom pro-tobacco industry lobby harmed Australia
  31. Under Labor, is working hard foolish?
  32. An Idiot's Guide to Interventionism
  33. Is free priceless healthcare worthless?
  34. Can government kiss it better?
  35. Bert Kelly Destroys the Side Benefits Argument for Government
  36. Bert Kelly gets his head around big-headed bird-brained politics
  37. First Modest Member (Bert Kelly) AFR Column
  38. Second Modest Member (Bert Kelly) AFR Column
  39. Third Modest Member (Bert Kelly) AFR Column
  40. Fourth Modest Member (Bert Kelly) AFR Column
  41. Fifth Modest Member (Bert Kelly) AFR Column
  42. Sixth Modest Member (Bert Kelly) AFR Column
  43. Bert Kelly on the 2011 Budget and Australia's Pathetic Journalists and Politicians
  44. Bert Kelly, Bastard or Simple Sod?
  45. Liberal Backbencher Hits Govt. Over Import Restrictions
  46. Bert Kelly feels a dam coming on at each election
  47. Bert Kelly Enters Parliament
  48. Why take in one another's washing?
  49. Bert Kelly breaks the law, disrespects government and enjoys it
  50. Gillard's galley-powered waterskiing
  51. State Premiers are always asking for more taxing powers
  52. Can price control really work?
  53. Should we put up with socialism?
  54. We're quick to get sick of socialism
  55. Time the protection racket ended
  56. Can't pull the wool over Farmer Fred
  57. People not Politics
  58. Bert Kelly admits he should have had less faith in politicians
  59. The inspirational incentivising Dear Leader Gough Whitlam
  60. Labor: a girl who couldn't say no
  61. Why leading businessmen carry black briefcases
  62. Ludwig von Mises on page 3 of AFR
  63. Bert Kelly's empowering feminism
  64. Another shot at motor car madness
  65. Mavis wants the Modest Member to dedicate his book to her
  66. What if the whole country is swindled?
  67. Moss Cass: "Flood plains are for floods"
  68. A worm's eye view
  69. Eccles returns to haunt us
  70. How to grip a politician's ear
  71. It's hard to digest this economic cake
  72. Time to Butcher "Aussie Beef"
  73. Cold water on government-instigated irrigation schemes
  74. Hooray for Ord River Dam!
  75. Tariffs paid by exporters
  76. The problem of principles v popularity
  77. If you support State Quotas, where will your logic take you?
  78. Against guidance by government
  79. A socialist in Liberal clothing
  80. Never ask the government to help
  81. Don't listen to economists!
  82. Bert Kelly's revolutionary strategy
  83. Welfare state incentivises bludging and being thrown out of work
  84. It all sounds like bloody politics to Fred
  85. Mavis wants me to get in for my chop
  86. Whitlam's July 1973 25% tariff cut
  87. Bert Kelly on Import Quotas
  88. Good directions when government backseat driving, like reversing down wrong side of road
  89. Barriers to imports are barriers to exports
  90. "I was right" — but he's off to hospital ...
  91. Kicking the multinationals is too easy
  92. Bert Kelly reviews The War Diaries of Weary Dunlop
  93. Bert Kelly reviews We Were There
  94. Tariffs get the fork-tongue treatment
  95. Bert Kelly reduces government to its absurdities
  96. Politician sacrifices his ... honesty
  97. It's all a matter of principle
  98. Bert Kelly Destroys the Infant Industry Argument
  99. Bert Kelly Untangles Tariff Torment
  100. Bert Kelly resorts to prayer
  101. Eccles keeps our nose hard down on the tariff grindstone
  102. "Don't you believe in protecting us against imports from cheap labour countries?"
  103. Even if lucky, we needn't be stupid
  104. Great "freedom of choice" mystery
  105. Small government's growth problem
  106. I like my kind acts to get a mention in the press
  107. A Modest Member rakes the embers
  108. Tariffs Introduced
  109. More About Tariffs
  110. Sacred cow kicker into print
  111. Bert Kelly's 1984 two-article quote-collection on Aboriginal policies
  112. Modest Member must not give up
  113. Traditional Wheat Farming is Our Birthright and Heritage and Must be Protected!
  114. Tariff-cut nonsense lives on
  115. Bert Kelly brilliantly defends "theoretical academics"
  116. The high cost of protection
  117. Generosity creates problems
  118. The Society of Modest Members
  119. Is this an illogical, soft, complicated, unfocussed and unsuccessful attempt to communicate the case for markets?
  120. Modesty ablaze
  121. Case for ministers staying home
  122. The unusual self-evident simplicity of the Modest Members Society
  123. Animal lib the new scourge of the bush
  124. The Association for the Prevention of Cruelty to Krill
  125. modest members society
  126. Repeal economic laws, force people to buy new cars and enforce tariffs against overseas tennis players
  127. Thoughts on how to kill dinosaurs
  128. Let's try the chill winds
  129. Taking the Right's road
  130. Bert Kelly: "I did not try often or hard enough"
  131. Bert Kelly "lacked ... guts and wisdom"
  132. A look at life without tariffs
  133. The Gospel according to Bert
  134. Tiny note on Bert Kelly's column in The Bulletin in 1985
  135. Why costs can't be guaranteed
  136. Hitting out with a halo
  137. Paying farmers not to grow crops will save on subsidies, revenge tariffs, etc
  138. "The Modest Farmer joins us" | "How The Modest Farmer came to be"
  139. Bert Kelly Destroys the Freeloading Justifies Government Argument
  140. Industrial Relations Club shovellers
  141. From Shann to Stone
  142. Government Intervention
    Government Interference
  143. A sojourn in the real world
  144. The tariff wind swings
  145. Bigger Cake = Bigger Slices
  146. Bert Kelly on the Political Process
  147. A charabanc called protection
  148. Taken for a ride - to nowhere
  149. Down hill, in circles, all the way
  150. Economic facts and figures are statistics who should speak out
  151. Any cons arguing small business bad but big government good?
  152. Relationships with the Liberal Party
  153. Tariffs = High Prices + World War
  154. Bert Kelly's Family History
  155. Bert Kelly's Pre-Parliament Life
  156. What the MP could say to the Bishop
  157. Why Bert Kelly was not even more publicly outspoken
  159. How to stand aside when it's time to be counted
  160. How the Modest Member went back to being a Modest Farmer
  161. My pearls of wisdom were dull beyond belief
  162. Bert Kelly on Political Football
  163. Undigested morsels in Fraser spew
  164. Bert Kelly on LSD
  165. Bert Kelly reflects on the Australian car industry in 1992
  166. Bert Kelly wants reprinted Shann's Economic History of Australia
  167. If tariffs are opposed here then why not there?
  168. The emperor has no textiles, clothing and footwear sense
  169. Ross Gittins Wins Bert Kelly Award
  170. Interesting 1964 Bert Kelly speech: he says he is not a free trader and that he supports protection!
  171. This is the wall the Right built
  172. The Impertinent Society: Cheeky MPs take Mr Anthony at his word
  173. Tariff Protection in Australia (1970)
  174. Has Santa socked it to car makers?
  175. Is the Budget a cargo cult?
  176. Will we end up subsidising one another?
  177. Keeping the bucket of worms alive
  178. Can we get off the stomach-churning head-spinning tariff merry-go-round?
  179. Do we want our money to fly?
  180. Can a bear be sure of a feed?
  181. How to impress your MP -
    ambush him
  182. The time for being nice to our MPs has gone ...
  183. Don't feel sorry for him -
    hang on to his ear
  184. Trade wars can easily end up on a battlefield
  185. Tariffs Create Unemployment
  186. Bert Kelly recommends Ayn Rand
  187. Bert Kelly on Alf Rattigan's Industry Assistance: The Inside Story
  188. Bert Kelly's Satirical Prophecy: Minister for Meteorology (tick) and High Protectionist Policies to Result in War Yet Again (?)
  189. Bert Kelly in 1972 on Foreign Ownership of Australian Farmland and Warren Truss, Barnaby Joyce and Bill Heffernan in 2012
  190. Bert Kelly baits Welfare State Tiger
  191. Why does Govt wear two faces?
  192. Parliament a place for pragmatists
  193. Of Sugar Wells and Think-Tanks
  194. Bert Kelly: "I must take some of the blame"
  195. Bert Kelly on dumping duties
  196. The Govt's helping hand often hurts
  197. Unbuckling the hobbles on the motor industry
  198. A Modest Farmer looks at the Problems of Structural Change
  199. Government Fails Spectacularly
  200. Know your proper place if you want the quiet life
  201. Bert Kelly on political speech writers
  202. Having your cake and eating it
  203. Perish the thawed!
  204. Hooray for Northern Development!
  205. Politicians can resist everything except pressure
  206. The silly image of our MPs
  207. Bert Kelly Question Time highlights
  208. Modest Farmer sees his ideas take hold
  209. Should facts stand in the way of a good story?
  210. Fondling one another's glass haloes
  211. What is the sense in making the effort to look after yourself?
  212. Fred's Feeling: Counterpatriotic country contrarian
  213. Handouts for big boys only
  214. Mavis trying to buy a hand loom
  215. Bad news for bearers of bad news
  216. Is it time to get aboard the tariff band-waggon?
  217. Why farmers resent tariff protection for motor makers
  218. A sordid use of scare tactics
  219. Goods vs services
  220. Tariffs are hilariously counterproductive
  221. The dilemmas of Aboriginal Affairs
  222. Bert Kelly on decentralisation
  223. Inflation breeds moral decay
  224. Who envies equality?
  225. Growth – malignant or benign?
  226. Government wiser than Magna Carta
  227. Bert Kelly on looking to politicians for moral leadership
  228. Max Newton: Maverick in Exile
  229. Whitlam & co on the Dismissal
  230. 25% Tariff Cut
  231. Bert Kelly on pensions
  232. The plotting powers of Mavis nag martyr to snag compo
  233. The backseat drivers of the Pilbara
  234. Mr Clunies-Ross of the Cocos Islands should rule Australia
  235. They get the wind up when it changes
  236. Why the Big Green Lie survives
  237. Ross McLean in 1982: "Malcolm! Why don't we try good government? It might be popular."
  238. Bert Kelly on the importance of exchange rate movements
  239. Bert Kelly shows how to attack
  240. Bert Kelly vs Bert Kelly vs Bert Kelly
  241. Industrial relations dinosaur, Bruce, chews his cud
  242. Hooray for "firmly entrenched"!
  243. Respect your dinosaurs
  244. What if something is "deeply ingrained" yet harmful?
  245. A case for ministerial inertia
  246. Why politicians don't like the truth
  247. Punemployment: people are neither numbers nor puzzle pieces; the platitude attitude
  248. Our great open spaces ... an empty blessing
  249. Heart in right place but head missing
  250. Ominous dark clouds are gathering
  251. Proverb vs proverb
  252. Better to be popular than right
  253. Crying in the wilderness
  254. Ivory tower needs thumping
  255. Bert Kelly asks, "How can you believe in free enterprise and government intervention at the same time?"
  256. Politicians get undeserved praise, why not undeserved blame too?
  257. Feet in a bucket of champagne
  258. Rural Problems
  259. Health cover needs a $30 excess clause
  260. Unholy state of taxation
  261. Boring economics worth a smile
  262. The Libido for the Miserable
  263. Agricultural Development and Tariffs
  264. Fred's too poor to have principles
  265. Eccles Law of the constant wage share
  266. "He whom the gods would destroy ..."
  267. Low tariff torch burnt Eccles' fingers
  268. A cow of a car — with dual horns
  269. Tariffs: when to wean infant BHP?
  270. Keep any government as far as possible from farming
  271. The Playford charade is out of date
  272. Bert Kelly: the odd man out who's now in
  273. Dries must resist giving up struggle as going gets tough
  274. How a well meaning Government can be so stupid
  275. The icing on the economic cake
  276. Sir Roderick Carnegie's foreword to Bert Kelly's Economics Made Easy
  277. The Vale of Popularity and the Protection Procession
  278. Politics 101: Pay Lip Service to Capitalism and Shoot the Messenger
  279. Bert Kelly makes politicians eat their own words on tariffs, then says, "We cannot be blamed for treating the statements of our statesmen with cynical contempt"
  280. Bert Kelly on Free Enterprise
  281. Cartoons of protected industry, the welfare teat and the nanny state
  282. Bert Kelly on the theory of constant shares and the Fabian Society
  283. Bert Kelly vs Doug Anthony
  284. You're lucky if you escape being helped by government
  285. Bert Kelly on Small Farmers
  286. Bert Kelly on Apathy
  287. Bert Kelly in 1967 on "problems of government and things like that"
  288. The last "Dave's Diary"
  289. Bert Kelly vs The Australian on tariffs in 1977
  290. Bounties or Tariffs, Someone Pays
  291. Geriatric companies without a minder
  292. A free marketeer wary of free trade
  293. Nixon's puzzling profession of faith
  294. "Ford ... seems to spend more time bending its knees than its back"
  295. Clyde Cameron's weak ways with wise words
  296. Why flaunt what others flout?
  297. Bert Kelly yearns for Tim Flannery's powers of prediction
  298. Looking after yourself is silly
  299. Bert Kelly masterpiece on drought, fire, flood and other natural disaster relief schemes
  300. Government can take credit for our car industry mess
  301. Car makers want the 4wd driven deeper into tariff bog
  302. Why our MP is no longer prone to a good sob story
  303. Auto industry is in a straitjacket
  304. Bert Kelly on market predictions
  305. Why should dryland farmers subsidise irrigation farmers?
  306. How much should government decrease incentive for independence from government?
  307. Clarkson crowned Deputy Government Whip
  308. Bert Kelly to blame for soaring government healthcare costs
  309. 1959 return of Dave's Diary
  310. Bert Kelly in 1966 on developing northern Australia
  311. Successful government intervention can [sic] occur
  312. Vernon Report upholds Clarkson
  313. Quiet Man Makes An Impact
  314. Should it be compulsory to buy footwear and clothing?
  315. To save Australian clothing industry women must all wear same uniform
  316. Don't confuse plucking heart strings with plucking harp strings
  317. Speech only for public
  318. Catchy Tariff Circus Extravaganza
  319. Bert Kelly in 1985 on cars yet again
  320. Hurrah for the Gang of Five
  321. Thoughts on a verse about Balfour
  322. Bert Kelly pep talk to politicians
  323. Government intervention = Agony postponed but death brought nearer
  324. Recipe for disaster: Freeze!
  325. Recipe for government intervention: Gather winners and scatter losers
  326. Recipe for industry destruction: Blanket market signals
  327. Mavis writes!
  328. Bert Kelly's empiricism is not kneejerk reaction kind
  329. The $2,000 song of the shirt worker
  330. Subsiding only small farmers means subsiding the big banks
  331. Difficult to be fast on your feet when you've got your ear to the ground
  332. It would surprise people to see how sensible MPs behave if they think they are not being watched
  333. Bert Kelly on "this land of limitless resources" and "great open spaces"
  334. Growing bananas at the South Pole
  335. Car components tariff protection under fire
  336. Why carry a $300m car subsidy?
  337. Tariff feather beds for the foreign giants
  338. Bert Kelly says end compulsory voting to stop donkey vote
  339. Perhaps being smart and insured isn't all luck
  340. You gets your tariff, you pays a price
  341. More funds to train Olympians?
  342. Fire in their guts and wind in ours
  343. Should free universal healthcare include pets?
  344. Sound advice from a modest farmer
  345. A tottering monument to intervention
  346. Cunning meets wisdom
  347. Competition, Aussie-style: Who's the bigger parasite?
  348. Australians are proud patriotic parasites, says Bert Kelly
  349. Taxpayer-funded sport is cheating
  350. Being loved by all is not always a good thing
  351. Welfare State Destroys Society
  352. 1980 Bert Kelly feather bed series
  353. The White Mice Marketing Board
  354. Government intervention and advice can be harmful, even when right, even for those it tries to help
  355. One small step on the compulsory voting landmine
  356. The free & compulsory education sacred cows have no clothes
  357. Holding a loaded wallet to an economist's head
  358. Political No Man's Land
  359. Only blind greed demands both equality and prosperity
  360. A cow that sucks itself — that's us!
  361. Nip the bud of incentive; mock community spirit into submission
  362. Bert Kelly questions why miners pay royalties to the Crown
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