Letters to
the editor

GDP is the wrong measure

The lead story on immigration (Mike Seccombe, “Inside the ‘just add people’ dogma”, May 5–11) was an articulate outline of what many well-informed community groups and leaders have been saying for some years – that governments of both persuasions have long been misusing immigration policy as an easy way of boosting gross domestic product (GDP). Yet as Mike Seccombe says, GDP is a truly awful way of monitoring human wellbeing anyway. Worse still, GDP conceals gross inequalities in wealth and income, and counts the costs of environmental damage as a positive. It is hard to imagine a less appropriate measure of progress. What the article did not do was explain how this abuse of immigration is just another example of the undue influence of large interests most able to make quick profits from rapid population growth, such as the big banks and the housing development sector. These interests have shown little concern for the health of the biosphere, the public good or the idea of a sustainable future. Meanwhile, the profits from high immigration are privatised, and the extensive costs and impacts incurred are largely socialised. Vested corporate interests have succeeded in selling the sham idea of trickle-down economics to political parties everywhere, and locked that in with lobbying and campaign funding.– Peter G. Martin, Adelaide, SA

Charting progress more accurately

Mike Seccombe correctly criticised the obsession with the GDP. Adding up all financial transactions does not measure wellbeing. The GDP ignores unpaid effort in the home or by volunteers, while counting crime, accidents, illness and resource depletion as if they were benefits. The Wakefield Futures Group recently updated the genuine progress indicator (GPI), a much more rational measure of wellbeing. It showed that South Australia, usually criticised for appearing not to grow as fast as other states, has done better than the rest of Australia. The GPI is now being used in several parts of the world to guide policy choices. We will be better served when politicians move beyond GDP.
– Ian Lowe, Marcoola, Qld

Look to the future

Mike Seccombe’s article raises some thorny questions for the centre left of politics. Only a few days ago the ACTU signed up with business and other lobby groups to support the current high levels of immigration. Labor and the Greens remain silent about high population growth rates, despite opinion polls showing substantial public concern. A political vacuum is thus created into which racially tinged arguments from the hard right readily flow. The key question is the number of people, not their race, ethnicity or religion. Race should not be used either for setting immigration targets or to shut down genuine debate on population. Australia now needs to squarely address how we are going to join with the First Australians to become true custodians of this continent. Population numbers, levels of consumption and our attitudes to nature are all vital aspects of the dialogue.
– Peter Cook, Palmwoods, Qld

Free speech has a cost

Yassmin Abdel-Magied makes it clear that much of the discussion about “free speech” is about the definition (“Trouble at the John Stuart Mill”, May 5–11). Abdel-Magied leans towards that view that free speech means a person has an equal opportunity to express and transmit an idea. Then people with opposite views should not protest about the expression. In fact she seems to argue that often they should accept the view first expressed. Free speech is never without cost. There may be a cost to society or individuals either to the speaker or to those who are offended by the speech. John Stuart Mill did not mean that speech should be costless but that the benefits of having minimum state control outweighed the costs. The constraints on speech from the state should be limited to direct assault on public good. The social costs of expressing an idea are part of our social fabric. If I promote cruel practices to animals, there will be a social cost that may constrain me. If people personally attack people who express a view they do not agree with, such as happened to Abdel-Magied, I abhor it and take less notice of their opinion. Our society of competing ideas should only have the social constraints on it and little control from the state. That is free, but not costless, speech.
– Reg Lawler, Dagun, Qld

An unbalanced argument

Yassmin Abdel-Magied’s understanding of truth is simplistic, unrealistic and plainly wrong. She claims “the colliding of opinions will only lead to the emergence of truth if the force behind both is equal”. Must those offended by an opinion (for example, Holocaust denial) hold their tongues until their opponents equal them in force? How could this fantasy possibly work? Only reasoned analysis backed with examples establishes truth.
– Peter Robinson, Ainslie, ACT

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 12, 2018. Subscribe here.

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