Monday, November 22, 2021

The Left is now dominated by highly educated people

Higher education tends to lead to arrogance and the most arrogant ones find a natural home on the Left, who never cease trying to impose their ideas on the whole of society. The great tyrannies of the 20th century -- from Communism to Fascism to Nazism -- were all "socialist"

Highly educated people tend to be well-off so their chief concerns are a long way from the concerns of poorer people. So the Left is steadily losing the working class vote that it once relied on

Since 2016, the year Britain voted to leave the European Union and the United States elected Donald Trump, to the dismay of the educated classes in both countries, speculation has grown about whether centre-left or social democratic parties can remain in the electoral race, or whether a polarising world has no place for them.

The centre-left’s demise is far from certain – the German Social Democrats did well in recent national elections. Yet in a host of countries, including Australia, social democrats are struggling to balance the interests of their two big support bases: educated progressives and working people, who in Australia are majority Anglo-Celtic but also contain people from many migrant and refugee backgrounds and Indigenous Australians.

The gaps between these groups over climate change, identity politics issues and – in many countries – immigration, can seem too great to enable a centre-left party to craft a coherent policy platform and election-winning story.

Fifty years ago, there was no such divide. The proportion of the population that was university-educated was just too small. As late as 1975, only 15 per cent of Australian 19-year-olds went to university. Most young people left school to enter factories, trades and shops, as well as nursing and white-collar jobs in banks, company offices and even the public service. Half of all workers were union members.

Today globalisation and technological change have swept away the manufacturing and clerical jobs that were so plentiful in 1975. Unions represent a mere 14 per cent of workers, and just over 5 percent of workers are under 24 years old. As the number of middle-income jobs has shrunk, inequality and the premium paid for a good education have soared.

Aside from some tradies, construction workers and the odd DJ or sports star, people who leave the education system after year 12 will not have a well-paid job. The gap between the lifetime income produced by someone with a university degree and those with a year 12 qualification or less is $700,000, according to a 2016 report by the Grattan Institute. These changes help to explain why 42 per cent of 19-year-olds now go to university.

As the size of the tertiary-educated class has expanded, its political views have changed places with those of the less educated. French economist Thomas Piketty calls it “the great reversal”. Piketty analysed electoral results in the US, Britain and France since World War II to show that in 1960, a person of low education and income in these countries was almost certain to vote left. Today, except for members of some minority groups, that person is increasingly voting right. At the other end of the scale, a person of high education levels in 1960 was most likely to vote right. Today, he or she is almost certain to vote left.

In the US, Trump won much of the white working-class vote in 2016 and held a good share of it in 2020, despite slashing taxes on the rich and trying to nobble initiatives such as Obamacare that helped lower-income people. On the night of Trump’s defeat in 2020, Republican politician Josh Hawley, a graduate of Princeton and Yale, tweeted: “We are a working-class party now.” Hawley’s tweet was self-serving and only half true: there remain plenty of rich and powerful Republicans.

Yet the change may be underway in Australia, too. The ALP still holds most federal lower-income electorates; there has been no Trump tide or breach of the “Red Wall”, the Conservative rout of British Labour in working-class seats in the north of England in 2019.

Nevertheless, in the 2019 federal election, the average swing to Labor in the 20 seats with the highest share of university graduates was nearly 4 per cent. The average swing against Labor in the 20 electorates with the lowest share of university graduates was just over 4 per cent. It is a perfect reflection of Piketty’s argument.

In their report on that election defeat, senior Labor figures Craig Emerson and Jay Weatherill pointed to the growing gap between the party’s two constituencies. The party had “become a natural home for diverse interests and concerns, including gender equality, the LGBTQI+ community, racial equality and environmentalism”.

These issues were important, and Labor should not abandon principled positions on them, Emerson and Weatherill wrote. However, working people often resented “the attention progressive political parties give at their expense to minority groups and what is nowadays called identity politics”. At a time of great economic dislocation, working-class voters “would lose faith in Labor if they did not believe the party was responding to their needs”.

The risk for Labor is that if its membership continues to shrink and become more concentrated in the inner cities, the priorities of its progressive activists will predominate. The party has a model for where that might lead in the crushing defeat of British Labour, including the loss of many working-class seats, under Jeremy Corbyn in 2019.

A progressive politics that emerges almost exclusively from universities will take particular forms. The student cohort is much more culturally and economically diverse than it once was. Yet political or viewpoint diversity on campus seems to have shrunk.

The shift is troubling political scientists on the centre-right, according to Cancel Culture: Myth or Reality?, a paper published in July by Pippa Norris, an Australian political scientist at Harvard University. Her analysis of a survey of nearly 2500 political scientists around the world, including Australia, suggests that “cancel culture is not simply a rhetorical myth”. More conservative political scientists are experiencing “worsening pressures to be politically correct, limits on academic freedom and lack of respect for open debate”.

Another trend emerging from universities and shaping left-wing thought, including its extreme manifestation in episodes of cancel culture, has been identified by Nick Haslam, a professor of psychology at the University of Melbourne.

About eight years ago, Haslam noticed that concepts of harm were taking on broader meanings across many fields of academic research. He also found that the threshold for identifying an instance of harm seemed to have dropped. This pattern held true in work on abuse, trauma, bullying, mental illness, addiction, violence, prejudice, racism and hatred, among other concepts.

For example, the meaning of abuse had expanded over time to include not only physical or sexual assault but psychological or emotional injury, and neglect. Bullying now refers to adults as well as children, while addiction can refer to sex and gambling as well as drugs.

In a 2016 paper Haslam gave the trend a name: “concept creep”. He thinks an increased focus on harm is helping to shape the goals of the progressive left.

“It has become standard operating procedure in sections of the left to appeal to harm, to the need to protect the vulnerable, when trying to justify some initiative,” Haslam says in an interview. “It also explains why verdicts on behaviour are so moralistic, since harm is central to moral judgment.”

He sees these trends playing out in the claims of identity politics, with their frequent use of terms such as hatred, phobia, racism and violence. “People are reacting in a way that seems disproportionate to the acts themselves (at least if you don’t accept the recent stretching of these concepts), and in a way that is turbo-charged by social media and political polarisation.”

Haslam stresses that “concept creep” has positive aspects. Broader concepts of mental illness and bullying, for example, have helped sufferers. People concerned about harm often show high levels of empathy, and in many ways we are a kinder society than we once were. Nevertheless, he worries that “concept creep runs the risk of pathologising everyday experience and encouraging a sense of virtuous but impotent victimhood.”

Haslam’s work shows how ideas born in universities migrate over time to the wider society, as students in the humanities, psychology and law go on to work in the media, arts, publishing, the public service and education – fields where the priorities of the progressive left will be most powerfully expressed.

A left dominated by the educated class is likely to be idealistic and principled in fighting racism, sexism and prejudice of any kind. It will support redistribution of wealth – it remains a left-wing movement – but is likely to
register material issues and poverty as more distant concerns. It will focus intently on climate change and on creating the no-carbon economy, but be less sensitive to the claims of workers whose jobs are lost in the transition to it, as Bob Brown’s 2019 Adani convoy revealed.


Albo’s plan to win back blue-collar trust

Industrial relations will be put front and centre of Labor’s election campaign, as Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese seeks to repair trust with blue-collar workers who turned their backs on the ALP in 2019.

When Parliament returns for the final sitting week of the year today, Mr Albanese will move new laws which would mean casuals at labour hire firms could not be paid less than workers employed directly by a company.

Labour hire has become a huge issue, particularly in coalmining regions, but also in meatworks, construction and aged care.

While the law is unlikely to get the necessary support of the Federal Government, it is expected to signal that Mr Albanese will be putting the “same job, same pay” issue, as well as industrial relations, at the top of the party’s agenda.

A review of Labor’s devastating 2019 election loss, conducted by Craig Emerson and Jay Weatherill, found blue-collar workers turned away from the party and the party needed to find a way to reconnect with Queenslanders.

Mr Albanese said the proposed laws would stop labour hire firms “making a quick buck off the backs of working Australians”.

“From airport check-in counters to coalmines, you can have two Australians working side-by-side, doing the same hours and the same job at the same level – yet one gets paid less than the other,” he said.

“The difference can amount to hundreds of dollars a week. That’s just not fair and it goes against who we are.”

Under the proposed amendment to the Fair Work Act, which is also Labor’s industrial relations policy suit, labour hire firms would be obliged to pay any workers they employ at least the same amount as a permanent worker employed directly by the company contracting them.

There would be some expectations, including allowing for short-term surge workforce, where there could be different wages and conditions but for no more than one month.

Companies using labour hire firms would also be required to provide all workers the same access to amenities, facilities, training and conditions.

The industrial relations step up comes as federal politics has entered a faux-election campaign, with both Mr Albanese and Prime Minister Scott Morrison hitting the hustings in recent weeks.


Natural gas mining project under fire from Greenies

Woodside is set to make a final investment decision on a major LNG project in Western Australia's north within weeks, but opponents are vowing to push on with their attempts to stop it.

But Woodside says the project has been through rigorous environmental assessment processes

The project — which has been labelled Australia's biggest new fossil fuel investment in nearly a decade — involves developing the Scarborough gas field, west of Karratha, and expanding its current Pluto facility on the Burrup Peninsula in the Pilbara, where the gas would go for processing.

If the project goes ahead, it is expected to emit millions of tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually at a time when countries are being urged to decarbonise.

large pipe with gas plant infrastructure in the background
Woodside says it's set a target for its expanded Pluto LNG facility to reach net zero emissions by 2050. (Supplied)
Woodside received an important financial boost this week, selling a 49 per cent stake in its $7.6 billion proposed second train at Pluto to New York-based Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP).

As the clock ticks on Woodside's financial commitment to the project's future, former WA Labor Premier turned Conservation Council President, Carmen Lawrence, has spoken out against the plan, fearing the environmental impacts it could cause.

"I don't see how anyone living in Western Australia can ignore this because it adds to our emissions," Dr Lawrence said.

"Climate change is happening now, it's real, it's destructive and anything that adds to it, surely has to be questioned."

Woodside's chief executive Meg O'Neill received a fresh legal letter from the Conservation Council of WA last week, warning the project could have a negative impact on the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef, on the other side of the country.

The ABC requested to interview Ms O'Neill, but she was unavailable all week.

A spokesperson for Woodside said the primary environmental approvals from both the Commonwealth and state governments were in place to support the final investment decision, but requests to start drilling were still being assessed by Australia's offshore energy regulator.

"The development of Scarborough has been assessed by the Western Australian Environmental Protection Authority, the Australian Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment and the Australian National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority," the spokesperson said.

"These environmental assessment processes concluded the proposal may be implemented, subject to conditions and activity-specific Environment Plans."


‘They cancelled me as a human’: What nearly killed actor

Not OK that he was "straight"

Early last year, the actor Hugh Sheridan was confirmed in the lead role for the musical, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, scheduled for the 2021 Sydney Festival. Six months before the show was due to open, Sheridan left his home in Los Angeles, leased a house in Sydney, and began walking around it in high heels and a denim miniskirt, excited, reciting his lines.

Sheridan, now 36, had won four Logies playing Ben Rafter, the goofy suburban boy in Channel 7’s comedy-drama, Packed to the Rafters. But in Hedwig, a highly demanding role that requires the actor to play a handful of characters, he had the chance to act, sing and dance, skills he’d trained in since a boy. Hedwig is born Hansel, a boy from communist East Germany who falls in love with an American soldier and has a sex-change operation so they can marry and flee to the US. But the surgery is botched and later the soldier leaves, pitching Hedwig into a life of sorrow, crazy bravery, fabulous wigs and rock ‘n’ roll.

One day in November, just weeks into rehearsals for Hedwig, Sheridan opened his Instagram account to read some “horrific messages”. Four trans advocates had organised an open letter demanding he be dropped from the role. The letter, signed by more than 1700 people, said only a trans actor could play the role. Hedwig was a transgender character, and a male who was not transgender should not be “the gatekeeper of a trans story”. The choice of Sheridan was “offensive and damaging to the trans community” and “continues to cause genuine stress and frustration amongst trans and gender non-conforming performers”.

The letter prompted the American creators of Hedwig, John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask, to issue a statement saying they did not believe that Hedwig was trans, and that anyone could play the role. But the Australian producers, Showtune Productions, cancelled the show. “We wish to assure the Trans and LGBTQIA+ community that the issues raised are respected and taken very seriously,” said Showtune in a statement

The band, stage crew, set designers, props, lighting workers and wig and make-up staff (including a trans woman) all lost work. Sheridan lost much more.

“I went into a very, very dark place,” Sheridan says. He tried twice to commit suicide. “I put the people I love through hell.” Nearly a year later, he still feels devastated.




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