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Political behaviour of voters befuddles the experts

By Ben Rees - posted Tuesday, 30 March 2021

The outcome of the WA election has befuddled experienced political commentators and media shock jocks alike. They seem unable to reconcile the landslide acceptance of one side of politics by the voters in one State whilst the very same political party is very unpopular in another State. The favoured explanation by the "experts" is the popularity of the State leader.

Inconsistent and seemingly perverse rejection of major political parties on both sides of the political spectrum can be explained in terms of economic systems theory. Prior to the adoption of economic modelling, a compulsory first year subject in the University of Queensland B. Econ. was Political Economy and Comparative Economics. This subject dealt with political and economic orders within an economic system. Sadly, the art of economic modelling has replaced the study of economic systems. A major weakness in accuracy of economic modelling outcomes is their reliance upon underlying assumptions and value judgements to reflect consistently real- world behaviour.

It is the impact of policies on voter's wellbeing that influence real world behaviour. Policies on offer in 2021 are determined from within a corporatist economic system which has a very different structure of influence to the post World War II mixed economic system based upon the economics of John Maynard Keynes. The post War mixed economy demand management polices of Keynes impact very differently to the modern corporatist economic system underwritten by supply side economics. Moreover, the change from the Keynesian class based society to one of political interests in a corporatist economic system generate very different voter behaviour


Political Economy and Comparative Economics

Political economy deals with the interaction between economic mechanisms of society and political and social spheres of social activity. Comparative economics, on the other hand, concerns itself with the different types of economic systems i.e. capitalism, socialism, communism; and, corporatism. It is within these dimensions of economic theory that voter behaviour can be best explained as a reaction to applied policy in a particular economic system.

Thus, an economic system can be viewed as comprising two components or orders of society. Firstly, there is the economic order which embraces decisions relating to the production and distribution of goods and services. Secondly, there is the political order which considers relationships that are concerned with authoritative decision making within an economic system. Both orders of an economic society are interrelated. Consequently, decisions in one order directly affect the other order of the economy.

Economic Systems

The ownership and control of the means of production and control determines the type of economic system. There are two authoritarian economic systems politically situated on the left and on the right of the political spectrum. The authoritarian system of the left is communism whilst on the right is fascist dictatorship. There is no classic example of a particular economic system. Identification is made according to dominant features of an economy. To understand the changing classification of economic systems, imagine a clock at 12.30 o'clock. A pendulum swinging from point zero, traces out the changing economic system.

Imaging the pendulum swinging leftwards from 12.30 o'clock, it traces out the mixed economy, socialism and finally authoritarian communism. Meanwhile, the pendulum swinging rightwards from 12.30 o'clock passes through laissez – faire capitalism, corporatism and finally authoritarian fascism

The identifying characteristic of the type of economic system is the ownership and control of the means of production. As the pendulum swings leftwards from 12.30 o'clock, it denotes increasing public ownership and control of the means of production. Conversely, as the pendulum swings rightwards from 12.30 o'clock, the means of production remain privately owned ; but, government control of the means of production increases through regulation and legislation.

  1. The horizontal axis describes the economic order or ownership of the means of production distribution and exchange
  2. The vertical axis describes the political order or decision-making process i .e. level of authoritarianism

Leftwards from 12.30 o'clock, examples of economic systems would be the Australian post World War II mixed economy. Moving to Swedish socialism, and finally to the Soviet command economy. Similarly, swinging rightwards through laissez- faire capitalism, the pendulum would encounter Thatcher's England, Hawke and Howards corporatist Australia, and finally the command fascist economies of Franco's Spain, Mussolini's Italy, and Hitlers Germany.

Post 1983 structural reform of the Australian economy provides an excellent example of how an economic system structures society. As selected industry groups and trade unions were granted access to the government policy making process, consensus politics became necessary to manage conflict amongst powerful interest groups privileged to directly access government ministers and department heads. Consensus politics in the political order would approve increasing regulation of privately owned means of production in the economic order as the pendulum swings rightwards. The old class system of the post War economy collapsed and was replaced by organized political interest groups across, individuals, consumers, environmentalists, conservationists etc. Community voting patterns would be expected to change as society reorganized. Over time, these organised interest groups develop immense political and economic power

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About the Author

Ben Rees is both a farmer and a research economist. He has been a contributor to QUT research projects such as Rebuilding Rural Australia. Over the years he has been keynote and guest speaker at national and local rural meetings and conferences. Ben also participated in a 2004 Monash Farm Forum.

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