Wednesday 08 Apr 2020 | 23:32 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 08 Apr 2020 | 23:32 | SYDNEY

The global financial crisis: Rudd war?


Sam Roggeveen


5 February 2009 12:58

Unlike Fergus, I don't think the scale and complexity of today's global challenges requires us to feel much sympathy for political leaders of Kevin Rudd's generation. Most are probably revelling in it, and although we cannot see into Rudd's soul, I would be shocked if he did not privately regard the global financial crisis as his opportunity to make some history.

In fact, management of Australia's response to the GFC may become Rudd's substitute for being a war leader. Right from the beginning he drew on military metaphors and the language of international security to describe the GFC, and in a long essay in The Monthly describing the origins of the crisis, he even suggests that failure to deal with it could lead to the rise of extremist political forces of the kind that launched World War II.

I'm not qualified to review Kevin Rudd's case against neo-liberalism in The Monthly, though I notice Paul Monk's op-ed in today's Australian argues that blaming neo-liberalism for the GFC is at best incomplete, and we should be taking a look at China's behaviour as well. But I did want to highlight one short passage in Rudd's essay that touches on the war leadership question. Emphasis added:

It fell to Franklin Delano Roosevelt to rebuild American capitalism after the Depression. It fell also to the American Democrats, strongly influenced by John Maynard Keynes, to rebuild postwar domestic demand, to engineer the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe and to set in place the Bretton Woods system to govern international economic engagement. And so it now falls to President Obama's administration - and to those who will provide international support for his leadership - to support a global financial system that properly balances private incentive with public responsibility in response to the grave challenges presented by the current crisis.

That seems a little craven to me, suggesting Australia's role is merely to 'support' whatever comes out of the Obama Administration, and reminds me of Owen Harries' quote about the previous Government's Iraq war leadership:  'A reputation for being dumb but loyal and eager is not one to be sought.'

FOOTNOTE: I read somewhere that Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull had questioned the true authorship of Rudd's essay. I'm sure Rudd had help, but there is one unmistakable Rudd touch that make me think he had a big part in writing it: the regular resort to cliche, a tendency on which I have written before.

Particularly egregious was this phrase: 'The rest, of course, is history'. It's the 'of course' that makes this so grating, because it's intended as a wink to the reader. He's saying, 'We both know "the rest is history" is a cliche, but I'm using it anyway, OK?' So not only is he being lazy, he's asking you, the reader, to forgive him for it. Don't.