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won’t someone think of the children?

Piers Ackerman on Wayne Swan’s budget: ‘Australians will be paying nearly $9 billion per year in interest alone to service this, more than is spent on housing and infrastructure combined. Even at this rate, every man, woman and child will be burdened with a debt of more than $9000 until the borrowings are paid off by (perhaps) our grandchildren.’

Like most everything else in Australian politics, the meme underpinning the conservative response to the budget comes cribbed from the United States. Remember Bobby Jindal replying Obama’s State of the Union Speech? That was the strangely awkward oration in which the Louisiana Governor (and part-time exorcist) posed, of all places, by the stairs of a Southern antebellum mansion to denounce stimulus spending. ‘Democratic leaders say their legislation will grow the economy,’ he explained. ‘What it will do is grow the government, increase our taxes down the line and saddle future generations with debt. Who among us would ask our children for a loan, so we could spend money we do not have on things we do not need?’

It’s a time-honoured strategy perfected by Margaret Thatcher. You combine folksy wisdom about the household budget with some huge figures to produce a gratifyingly scary result.
Will it have any purchase today? One wonders. Given the economic climate, it’s quite likely voters will turn to homespun metaphors of their own. So we’re maxing out the credit card? Well, that’s what credit cards are for!

In any case, what’s remarkable about the concern-trolling about these putative grandkids is how specific it always is.

Thus the same Ackerman now warning that we’ve sold our descendants into perpetual hock devotes himself week after week to attacking what he calls the ‘Rudd government’s obsession with the discredited anthropogenic global warming theory’.

On economics, conservatives – even the serious ones – happily argue about extrapolations from probabilities, while simultaneously denouncing the same approach to climate change. Never mind that the modelling on which the dismal science bases its dismal predictions proves consistently less accurate than that used in the natural sciences. Case in point: how many economists saw the GFC coming?

Yes, it’s possible that climate forecasts might yet prove wrong but, given the scientific consensus, you’d be a fool not to prepare for the worst. As Martin Flanagan recently wrote: ‘Before I speak on the climate change, I will remind myself that this is not a media game, that there is a high seriousness to this debate now, that I am – we all are – answerable to the future.’

It’s weird, isn’t it? You say that about the economy and you’re seen as hard-headed and responsible, even by those who disagree with you. You say it about the planet and you’re a bleeding heart luvvie.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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Jeff Sparrow is the former editor of Overland. He is the co-author (with Jill Sparrow) of Radical Melbourne: A Secret History and Radical Melbourne 2: The Enemy Within, the editor (with Antony Loewenstein) of Left Turn: Essays for the New Left and the author of Communism: a love story, Killing: Misadventures in violence, and Money Shot: A Journey into Censorship and Porn.  On Twitter, he's @Jeff_Sparrow.

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