There is unlikely to be a newspaper in Australia that will recommend a vote for Labor in Saturday’s election, which will suit prime minister Kevin Rudd as he lines up his excuses for defeat.Ever since News Corporation’s Sydney tabloid the Daily Telegraph urged its readers to ‘Kick this mob out’ on its front page on day one of the campaign, Labor has been attempting to frame this election as a fight between Rupert Murdoch and democracy. The case collapses on a number of fronts, not the least of which is that the soft-left Fairfax newspapers are also arguing for a change of government, albeit through gritted teeth.
Before embracing any conspiracy, it is wise to ask the question: is there a less convoluted explanation for the phenomena I am seeking to interpret? If there is, it is wise to take it, unless one wants to spend one’s life crawling over the Grassy Knoll trawling for spent bullet cases. So is the Murdoch empire orchestrating a devilish campaign to bring down a brave and visionary leader, Kevin Rudd? Or are editors and commentators merely coming to the conclusion that this Labor government couldn’t organise a bun fight in a bakery? When foreign minister Bob Carr complained about Murdoch’s maleficence on ABC’s Lateline last week, presenter Emma Alberici asked: ‘But isn’t it entirely possible that they [the press] believe your government hasn’t been a good one?’ To which Carr replied: ‘It could well be the case.’
The latest opinion polls put Labor’s support at 33 per cent, suggesting the popular verdict is clear. The Economist has a different view, editorialising last week in Labor’s favour. It concludes: ‘Rudd gets our vote, largely because of Labor’s decent record.’ It is a point of view, to which the magazine is welcome, but for anybody who has followed the carnage and mayhem of Australian politics over the past six years, The Economist’s view is counterintuitive, to put it mildly. The day before the editorial was published, the online booking agency, sportsbet, suspended betting on the election and began paying out on a victory for the Coalition’s Tony Abbott.
The Economist appears to be betting that either the bookies or the Australian people have got this one wrong. From the vantage point of its offices in London The Economist presumes to possess either knowledge more perfect or judgement more reasonable that the citizens of Australia.
The Economist has fallen for the technocratic delusion that Friedrich Hayek examines in The Use of Knowledge in Society, an essay Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales says helped inspire him to create his collaborative encyclopedia. Hayek, writing in 1945, notes that it had become fashionable to downplay the wisdom of the streets and assume that the experts, armed with lumps of aggregated information, knew best. Yet, as he pointed out, ‘these facts are never so given to a single mind’, which is why commentators, like central planners, so often get it wrong. It is hardly surprising that an international magazine, so remote from the world it describes, should fall for the technocrat’s delusion, nor that by doing so, it should find itself backing Rudd, the supreme technocrat.