A Tale of Two Conservatisms

Babette Francis - ONLINE Opinion, 20 November 2013

There is a marked contrast between the Abbott government which is acting speedily to eliminate layers of bureaucracy, and the Labor Opposition which has shorten-changed its supporters (I couldn't resist that one) by focusing on the stale policy of the carbon tax. However, both Government and Opposition appear to have missed a central plank of sound policy, i.e. unless there is a synthesis of economic policies with moral values, even the most astute economic strategies will fail.

The Coalition government is more guilty in this regard. Although I don't agree with Labor priorities, at least the Opposition articulates the moral issues which underpin its policies: concern for the environment and for disadvantaged groups. However, Tony Abbott appears to be still so spooked by Julia Gillard's completely false accusations of misogyny that along with his mantra of "stop the carbon tax" and "stop the boats", he does not articulate what he should also be saying: "stop abortions" and "stop family breakdown".

Economic and moral issues cannot be separated in considering the well-being of any nation. We hear a lot from the media about economic issues, but very little about abortion and divorce or out-of-wedlock pregnancies. On the Coalition side, conservatives are separated into economic conservatives, i.e. devotees of the free market, low tariffs, low taxation, small government, and social conservatives, i.e. pro-life and pro-family organisations. Economic conservatives get media and academic attention, grudging though it may be, while social conservatives are disregarded as backward thinking "anti-abortionists" - old-fashioned, naive religious nutters - and it is assumed that the two agendas, the free market, low taxation policies have nothing to do with the pro-life, stable marriages agenda.

Typical of the disregard for personal morality are the comments of Sir James Munby, president of the Family Division of the British court system who in a speech to the first annual conference of the British Law Society's family law section in London said that only "secular" judges can serve a "multicultural" society, and that judges must not "be swayed by Christian values". He disparaged "Victorian judges" who promoted 'virtue and morality." and discouraged "vice and immorality" while maintaining a "very narrow view of sexual morality." Mumby of course would be sure to complain if his house was burgled by someone who did not take a narrow view of personal morality. He is relying on the fact that the majority of citizens are not burglars or that the government provides him with a security guard.

While the two conservatisms do not inhabit two different cities, they might as well. Economic conservatives generally ignore social conservatives, thinking of them as un-intellectual. Economic think tanks such as the Institute of Public Affairs in Melbourne and the Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney seldom deal with issues such as abortion, divorce, or single-parenthood but they should because it is Life and Marriage issues which underpin the economic prosperity of a nation.

This is obvious when we consider the challenges to the federal budget. Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who is neither an economic or social conservative, felt compelled to put single mothers on the NewStart Allowance rather than the Supporting Parents' Payment when their youngest child turned eight. The policy was expected to save $728 million over four years, and Gillard described it as an incentive for those on welfare benefits to enter the workforce. One could use the word "coercion" rather than incentive as NewStart is less than the Supporting Parents' payment, but it was the pressure on the federal budget which produced Gillard's "incentive".

If there is pressure on the budget when single mothers, whether because of divorce or out-of-wedlock births are only a minority, think of the pressure if we were all single mothers. Some media commentators mocked Tony Abbott for saying he hoped his daughters would not have sex before marriage. Well suppose they and all Australian women had sex before marriage and became single mothers - think of the impact on the federal budget.

And there would be a concomitant effect on young males. With sex-without-responsibility freely available, why bother to get married? Without the taming and civilizing effects of marriage, men would have less incentive to work, less incentive if they did work to advance their careers, and more temptations to indulge in anti-social behaviour - alcohol, speeding cars, drugs or crime. How many feral young males can a country afford?

Furthermore there would be an educational disadvantage to children: those living with their biological parents who are married to each other do best in educational outcomes, and children living with single mothers are more likely to live in poverty. So Tony Abbott is right to be telling his daughters to delay sex till they are married, he did not deserve to be mocked for wisdom. The economic problems of the US where single parenthood has reached an all-time high provides a salutary example. A US Census Bureau report showed a total of 108,592,000 people were on some sort of means-tested government benefits program in the fourth quarter of 2011, yet only 101,716,000 people were employed full-time for the entire year.

Demography - how long we live and how many children we have is the other big factor impacting on the economics of Australia. Our medical benefits entitlements and pension payments are financed through the taxes of the working population and there are increasingly a fewer proportion of them and more of the elderly who need to be supported. It is a brutal economic fact that individuals need more expenditure on medical treatment and hospitals in the last year of their lives than all the rest of their earlier life.

Our birth rate is below replacement level and each year somewhere between 90,000 and l00,000 of our unborn babies are aborted, i.e. every year we pay through our taxes for killing one-quarter of our future taxpayers, and we are losing all the energy and creativity of this cohort of our young.

Japan provides a frightening glimpse of a future with too few children. Its economy has been in the doldrums for years because Japan has more people over the age of 65 than under 15. Sales of adult nappies outnumber sales of nappies for babies. Japan is the world's third-largest economy, a crucial link in global trade and a significant factor in everyone else's economic well-being. If Japan, which owns almost as much US debt as China, goes bust, we will all feel the repercussions, Japan is one of Australia's major trading partners. Japan was one of the first countries in the world to legalize abortion in the 1950s.

China is our major trading partner, and the statistics from that country are also sobering. The one-child policy, compulsory abortion and the selective abortion of female babies has resulted in the closing of 13,000 primary schools in one year. It is estimated that 30 million men will not be able to find wives because of gendercide, the culling of pre-born females. China has benefited from the demographic dividend of a large workforce, but that dividend is running out and we will see the same pattern as in Japan and Europe, more old people and fewer workers.

It is impossible to separate marriage, children and abortion from the overall economic situation. A renewal of family life with marriage and children is central not only to our culture but our economic situation. I am critical of Prime Minister Tony Abbott's Paid Parental Leave where "women of calibre" like a CEO or banker can get $75,000 but a teacher or nurse gets far less, and a full-time homemaker, the kind of mother who has more than the average 1.7 children has had major cuts to the baby bonus which was an excellent non-discriminatory payment instituted by former Treasurer, Peter Costello and which had an immediate effect of increasing the birth rate.

Another factor which separates social conservatives and fiscal conservatives is the issue of personal moral responsibility. Social conservatives believe there is wrong-doing, the old-fashioned idea of "sin". Fiscal conservatives tend to be libertarian and imagine that with the right economic policies, low taxation and a free market, all will be well. I watched a recent TV news item about petrol thieves - the drivers who fill up their tanks and drive off without paying. The hapless service station owner gets little support from the police who claim the can do nothing about this kind of theft. If such lack of morals becomes a majority behaviour, either the service station owner will go broke and we will be paying his dole, or prices of petrol will rise for all of us. This is one example of how personal morality - or the lack of it - impacts on our economics.