In these four consecutive weekly columns from 1980, Bert Kelly welcomes, with free publicity, Rod Hartley, the new spokesman for the textile, garment and footwear industries:
1. Handouts can buy salvation more easily than idolatry (January 11, 1980)
2. Learning to thunder like Elijah in the wilderness (January 18, 1980)
3. Beware of crocodiles (and others) at textile meetings (January 25, 1980)
4. Wanted: textile spokesman, no understanding of economics necessary (February 1, 1980)
A Modest Member [Bert Kelly], “Handouts can buy salvation more easily than idolatry,” The Australian Financial Review, January 11, 1980, p. 5. Reprinted in Economics Made Easy (Adelaide: Brolga Books, 1982), pp. 215-17, as “Mr Hartley (a)”.
It is interesting to see that the textile, garment and footwear industries seem to have appointed a new spokesman, now that another Industries Assistance Commission hearing is in the air.
While the industries were out to scare ignorant and nervous politicians like Mr Bowen, they needed someone like their previous spokesman, Mr Aitchison, who could throw his weight around and kick in the ruck.
And certainly Mr Aitchison has demonstrated his ability to do this. But his best work is done at elections so probably they are saving him to come on at the end of 1980.
And I suppose he attracts a certain amount of derision to his cause when his enthusiasm runs ahead of his logic.
The new spokesman, Mr Rod Hartley, is a different kettle of fish altogether. He was carefully reared in England, he is well educated and he represents a large English textile firm in Australia.
I have had the good fortune to appear on the same platform as Mr Hartley so I have an advantage over you ordinary people.
As you would expect, I was rather like a piecart following the Lord Mayor’s coach, I being only a modest farmer. But I was there, even if I didn’t loom very large.
I often try to imagine what went on when the three industries met together to help Mr Hartley with his homework so that he could give a good performance before the IAC.
I know that the meeting would have started with their making obeisance at the free enterprise altar. I am certain of this because I have heard Mr Hartley say how dedicated he is to this ideal.
Indeed, I would almost class him as a liberal in the nicest sense of the word and I am certain that, when he returns to England, he will become one again.
But out here, he doesn’t let his principles interfere with this determination to get as big a handout as possible from the government.
And when you realise that his industries have been able to squeeze, through government intervention, about $700 million a year out of us consumers, you can imagine that the meeting did not spend too much time worshipping at the free enterprise shrine.
They quickly got down to the more menial task of deciding how to get the government cow into the bail so they could get a clear go at her. I can imagine the chairman saying:
The first thing you must remember, Rodney, my lad, is never let them confuse you with logic. And if that wretched Eccles come crawling out of the woodwork talking economic sense, just brush him aside by saying that it is only economic theory anyway. We are in enough trouble already but if those wretched economists get their claws into us we have had it. So my advice to you is not to let a word of economic understanding pass your lips.
Then Mr Aitchison would give the meeting the benefit of his large experience. His sage advice was:
If they start talking economics to you, you must hide behind the picture of unemployment that will follow if we do not get everything we want.
Of course, we all know that our main interest is to increase our profits but you must never admit this. As far as IAC hearings are concerned, we are only interested in employment, not profits.
Then a rather rash young man in the back of the hall with an economics degree pointed out that in spite of the ruinously expensive assistance that these industries have received, employment in them has fallen by 30 per cent in the last five years.
I can imagine the chairman saying:
That may well be so, but if they start that kind of thing, hit them with the adverse effect in employment in country towns which will follow if we don’t get what we want.
And then looking sternly at the rash young man, he added:
Now you be quiet! We know as well as you that, if we got a tariff subsidy of $1000 million, and that is the kind of money we are after, then about $800 million of it will go to industries in the metropolitan areas and so will encourage those industries to stay where they are, in cities.
But regional unemployment is always a certain winner if assisted by a little judicious help with the handkerchief.
The young man retired hurt so did not mention what the head of Treasury, John Stone, had said, that if mining and other industries were to increase exports, then imports would also have to increase.
And if import barriers were not lowered to encourage this, the exchange rate would move up to do the same thing. So in the long term painful and inevitable readjustments would be forced on the industry. And the longer they were delayed, the more painful they would be.
Probably not many in the meeting would have been able to follow this argument, they not being strong on economics. But Mr Hartley would have understood it, he being an educated man.
And surely he would not advocate damaging Australia in general in a vain attempt to help the clothing and footwear group in particular. Or would he?
A Modest Farmer [Bert Kelly], “Learning to thunder like Elijah in the wilderness,” The Australian Financial Review, January 18, 1980, p. 9. Reprinted in Economics Made Easy (Adelaide: Brolga Books, 1982), pp. 217-19, as “Mr Hartley (b).”
Last week we left the new spokesman for the textile, garment and footwear industries receiving instructions on how to give a polished performance when milking the consumer cow.
And certainly Mr Hartley needs all the help he can get because he labours under the handicap of being an educated man.
The previous spokesmen for the industry did not have this problem so they could talk nonsense without knowing it and this enabled them to thunder like Elijah in the wilderness.
But poor Mr Hartley knows that most of the stuff they used to dish up was economic nonsense and this makes it harder for him to give a convincing performance.
Those of you who can milk know the importance of confidence when it comes to milking.
So Mr Hartley has to try not to listen to the voice of reason.
It would certainly put him off if he were to remember the messages of the Vernon, Jackson, Crawford and Harries reports, the John Uhrig talk, the John Stone lecture and the White Paper.
He has to be particularly careful not to hear the message of David Trebeck, of the National Farmers’ Federation, who challenged he textile group because they always claim that thousands of people will be thrown out of work if they do not get the $1000 million handout they are after.
So Mr Trebeck prepared the accompanying table.
The first column is the increased employment that would result by 1990 if we could maintain our present share of exports to Asia, 3.5 per cent.
The second column shows the increased employment that would follow if we could increase our exports to Asia from 3.5 per cent to 5 per cent which we would be much more likely to do if we bought more from them.
CHANGE IN EMPLOYMENT
__________ MAINTAIN 3.5% _ INCREASE TO 5%
Rural _______ 78,000 ____ 111,400
Mining ______ 10,600 ____ 15,100
Manufacturing 140,700 ___ 201,000
Services _____ 149,100 ___ 213,000
Total _______ 378,400 ___ 540,500
The table clearly destroys Mr Hartley’s employment argument so he has to pretend he hasn’t heard it.
So, with typical British bulldog courage he sticks to his task and, after infinite effort, he gets all the milk out of his side of the cow.
But when he leans over to get at the other side, you can imagine his shocked surprise when he found some other sod hard at it milking the consumer cow also.
You can imagine him saying in his well bred manner:
What’s going on here?
It is surely recognised as the manufacturer’s right to milk the consumer cow. Who and what are you?
Then there was a real set-to as the other chap said that he represented the importers, or rather those importers who had been lucky or shrewd enough to get a quota to import these goods, and they felt that they had as good a right as the manufacturers to milk the consumers.
Mr Hartley replied that he hardly thought this was cricket.
This statement did not exactly pour oil on troubled waters so both contestants, accompanied by their supporters, went round to the back of the cow to argue the matter out.
They were doing this at the top of their voices when along came a group of importers who were not smart enough to be allotted quotas so knew that they were being milked by the other importers and the manufacturers.
So everyone got stuck into everyone else at the top of their voices.
Then Mr Hamer, the Premier of Victoria, came by and heard the noise of battle.
When he found out what was wrong, he too went round to the back of the cow to make his contribution. This he did by pointing out that the consumer cow had no right to be mean with her milk and she should let it down for Victoria’s sake, no matter what happened to the rest of the country.
This statesmanlike utterance was received with gratification from the manufacturers because it confirmed their previous opinion that it was their right to milk the consumer cow.
Some of the others were irritated but the one who was deeply hurt was the consumer cow who knew that she had been milked for years and could see the process continuing.
But no one worries about her any more, poor old girl.
When I saw her last she was chewing her cud and contemplating the range of the group arguing behind her, hoping that somehow she could get her own back.
A Modest Farmer [Bert Kelly], “Beware of crocodiles (and others) at textile meetings,” The Australian Financial Review, January 25, 1980, p. 11. Reprinted in Economics Made Easy (Adelaide: Brolga Books, 1982), pp. 219-21, as “Mr Hartley (c).”
Last week we left the textile industry, and their hangers on, having a noise meeting at the back of the consumer cow.
The most strident voices were those of the importers who, by cunning or good luck, had been allotted import quotas.
This was like giving them a licence to print a limited amount of money.
They were bitterly assailed by the importers who did not have quotas.
These were loud in their lamentations about their treatment and were also eloquent about their deep dedication to the ideal of free enterprise.
But I fear that this fine sentiment would soon be forgotten if some spare quotas were to be handed out so that they could get their trotters into the same trough as the quota holders.
Then Mr Chris Hurford, the Labor Party spokesman on tariffs, came hurrying along, hoping that someone would ask him to say a few words.
But no one could remember who he was, so he wandered away, wondering why he has got washed up on the political beach.
Then Mr Lionel Bowen, the Deputy Leader of the Labor Party, came by. He saw that a meeting was in progress so, without hesitation or invitation, he mounted the rostrum and began to talk.
It would have been better, however, if we had been able to understand him.
Lest you think I am judging him harshly, I quote from a letter he wrote to the Financial Review, when discussing the textile tariff:
The IAC acknowledges that in the key ORANI model of the IMPACT project, 900 variables are exogenous or predetermined, that elasticities of pricing and of substitution are predetermined, that input coefficients and thus technology are based on data at least five years old, that there is no appreciation of regional industrial structure or regional interaction, and that all industries are aggregated into 109 categories so that, for instance, there is no difference between the motor vehicle and automotive parts components industries.
What a mouthful! And all in one turgid sentence too!
It makes me blush lest I too once talked like that.
But when I suggested to one of the bystanders that this kind of performance was not doing Mr Bowen’s reputation any good, and that it was generally wiser to keep your mouth shut and have people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt, I was told that Mr Bowen feels that he has to behave like that.
Evidently he has to have a power base so that he can hang on to his deputy leadership position even if Mr Hawke displaces Mr Hayden as leader.
The uneasiness in the Labor Party about the imminent entry of Mr Hawke on the political scene is starting to look almost comic.
Do you remember, in Peter Pan, how the pirates were relentlessly stalked by the crocodile who had swallowed an alarm clock, so they spent a lot of their time looking anxiously over their shoulders or with their ears to the ground, listening for the tick-tock of the approaching crocodile?
Now I do not suggest that there is any similarly between Mr Hawke and a crocodile, though their teeth do seem to mesh together in the same way.
But the Labor Party does seem to be treating Mr Hawke as a crocodile.
Mr Bowen addressed the meeting for an hour or more, and then Mr Hartley, the new spokesman for the textile group, thanked him in his cultured manner, he being an educated man, so having a hazy idea what Mr Bowen had been talking about.
Then Mr Bowen trotted off, looking anxiously over his shoulder and frequently putting his ear to the ground listening for that dreaded tick-tock.
Then the Prime Minister came striding up, having heard that there was a textile meeting in progress.
He was immediately asked to say a few words.
He admitted that he had half expected to speak so had hurriedly got something together.
He then pulled from his pocket a roll of parchment such as Prime Ministers use, and off he sailed.
He had got as far as reading “defensive protectionist policies exacerbate the situation they are meant to deal with, in that they result in an inefficient use of labour and capital resources,” when one of his henchmen, Mr Harry Edwards I think, nervously plucked at his sleeve and whispered:
I think you have the wrong speech. That’s the Lusaka one, which is for overseas consumption only. I think you have another one about how wrong it is to use labour-saving machinery, the one we call your Luddite speech.
So we listened to that and most people clapped furiously because that was the kind of stuff they hoped to hear.
The only member of the group who was unimpressed was the poor consumer cow who was heard to mutter wistfully that there would be more likelihood of getting something out of her back end if only they give her something at her front end!
A Modest Farmer [Bert Kelly], “Wanted: textile spokesman, no understanding of economics necessary,” The Australian Financial Review, February 1, 1980, p. 11. Reprinted in Economics Made Easy (Adelaide: Brolga Books, 1982), pp. 221-23, as “Mr Hartley (d).”
The noise created by the textile group at their angry meeting at the back of the consumer cow has not abated since we left them last week.
The manufacturers were moaning because they felt that their $700 million subsidy was not enough and they ought to get at least $1,000 million a year.
The importers without import quotas were quarrelling furiously with the importers with quotas.
And in the centre of the noise and dust of battle was the new spokesman for the industry, Mr Rodney Hartley, who was desperately trying to quieten things down so that his well-modulated voice could be heard. An educated man such as Mr Hartley would be rather out of place in such company.
Just when the meeting seemed to be getting out of hand, a rumour ran through the throng that Mr Stone, the head of Treasury was heading that way.
So everyone disappeared around the other side of the cow or hid in a roadside ditch.
They knew that Mr Stone would make mincemeat of them with his impeccable economic logic expressed in simply but powerful language.
After Mr Stone had gone by, the textilers looked hopefully down the road to see if anyone was coming who they could safely ask to speak.
So they were naturally delighted to see the Minister for Finance, Mr Eric Robinson, looming up. They knew that he was once a businessman of considerable status and that he is now a very powerful person.
So of course he was asked to say a few well-chosen words.
This he was glad to do because he happened to have with him a paper prepared by his department which he had not read yet but would be glad to share with them.
Now I have always imagined that the Department of Finance only did simple tasks like checking the till at the end of the day, week or year. I never knew that they thought about things, so I was startled to hear Mr Robinson read a paper that Eccles would have been proud to have written.
Let me quote a few sentences:
The most urgent task is to reduce the excessively high levels of protection, including by-law plans, quotas, etc, which some industries enjoy.
We include protection extended by way of temporary measures … But we attach special importance to early action to move all the higher levels of protection towards an overall industry “average,” with a significant cut at the earliest possible stage.
When Mr Robinson said this, there was quite a stir in the audience and he looked rather anxiously over his shoulder. I thought that he, like Mr Bowen, was listening for the tick-tock of the Hawke crocodile.
But Eccles explained that he probably feared the approach of Mr Fraser’s footsteps.
When Mr Robinson had gone away, pandemonium broke out. And this became worse when the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Peacock, came along.
He was immediately asked to speak and fortunately had his Menzies oration handy so he gave them a burst from that. There were two particular paragraphs that seemed to trouble them:
Those who demand freedom in the name of enterprise and risk-taking should exhibit these qualities and not simultaneously depend on paternalistic and guaranteed rewards.
Capitalism can be betrayed from within as well as destroyed from without; those who demand its benefits while denying its responsibilities do it no service.
When he heard this, Mr Hartley could not stand it any longer. He is an educated man and has been carefully reared in Britain.
He has always eloquently defended the free enterprise system so he heard Mr Peacock’s condemnation of those who ran with the socialist hares while hunting with the capitalist hounds with acute remorse, he being an honourable man.
So with a sob in his voice he announced his resignation from his position as spokesman for the industry and told the meeting that he was soon leaving for England where he hoped to begin being a good liberal again.
The textile group are now looking around for a new spokesman.
I understand that a high level of economic understanding will be regarded more as a handicap than a help.
I hear that Mr Bowen is a likely starter and the position should suit him for many reasons.
One would be that he would not always have to be listening for the dreaded tick-tock of approaching crocodiles.
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- It would surprise people to see how sensible MPs behave if they think they are not being watched
- Bert Kelly on "this land of limitless resources" and "great open spaces"
- Growing bananas at the South Pole
- Car components tariff protection under fire
- Why carry a $300m car subsidy?
- Tariff feather beds for the foreign giants
- Bert Kelly says end compulsory voting to stop donkey vote
- Perhaps being smart and insured isn't all luck
- You gets your tariff, you pays a price
- More funds to train Olympians?
- Fire in their guts and wind in ours
- Should free universal healthcare include pets?
- Sound advice from a modest farmer
- A tottering monument to intervention
- Cunning meets wisdom
- Competition, Aussie-style: Who's the bigger parasite?
- Australians are proud patriotic parasites, says Bert Kelly
- Taxpayer-funded sport is cheating
- Being loved by all is not always a good thing
- Welfare State Destroys Society
- 1980 Bert Kelly feather bed series
- The White Mice Marketing Board
- Government intervention and advice can be harmful, even when right, even for those it tries to help
- One small step on the compulsory voting landmine
- The free & compulsory education sacred cows have no clothes
- Holding a loaded wallet to an economist's head
- Political No Man's Land
- Only blind greed demands both equality and prosperity
- A cow that sucks itself — that's us!