There’s a strong case to be made for constitutional monarchies. But there’s no case for one in Australia


AAP/AP/Frank Augstein

Dennis Altman, La Trobe UniversityThe basic defence of constitutional monarchies came from the British writer Walter Bagehot 150 ago. He argued for a separation between the ceremonial and the actual holders of power. It is summed up in the expression “the Queen reigns but does not rule”.

Where the roles of head of state and head of government are combined, as in the United States, there are fewer restraints on the pretensions of political leaders.

Many of the countries we think of as most progressive are constitutional monarchies – the Scandinavian and Benelux countries, for example – and have hereditary monarchs. In Spain, the role of King Juan Carlos was crucial in the post-Franco transition to democracy, although he is now living in exile, accused of major corruption. In Japan, the decision of the Allies to retain the emperor was important in creating a liberal democratic system after the second world war, and the emperor continues to play an important ceremonial role.




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The old dominions of the British Empire – Canada, New Zealand, Australia –basically accepted the British sovereign as head of state, with a governor-general acting as effective head of state. This is a very peculiar constitutional arrangement. Australian passports are issued by the governor-general as “the representative of Her Majesty”, but on arrival at Heathrow airport we queue in the same line as other foreign nationals. Some small Pacific and Caribbean countries, including Papua New Guinea, have preserved the same system, and in several cases have rejected proposals for change.

Of course, the same balance between ceremonial and real power can be achieved through an elected head of state, as in Ireland, or one appointed through the legislature, as in Germany. Defenders of constitutional monarchy claim the hereditary principle removes the political element and provides a sense of historical continuity that promotes greater faith in the political system.

Constitutional monarchies are supported by a combination of nostalgia, national pride and deep distrust of politicians. In both European and Asian monarchies, the royal family stands as a symbol of national pride and a prop of existing social hierarchies.

For the British, the monarchy symbolises a sense of greatness that has long passed, but allows for largely harmless nostalgia. Thinking of Australia as part of the imperial family might have made sense when the predominantly Anglo colonies federated in 1901. It is patently absurd today.

Since John Kerr’s dismissal of Whitlam in 1975, it is difficult to imagine a governor-general, whether with or without the support of Buckingham Palace, doing anything similar. The larger problem is the prime minister is nominally accountable to a governor-general whom he or she has appointed.

The British prime minister has no such power, although the constitutional conventions would require the monarch to stand down should parliament so decree. The simplest solution to the Australian conundrum, as Donald Horne posited some decades ago, is to retain our current system but elect the governor-general.

Since the dismissal of Gough Whitlam in 1975, it is difficult to imagine another governor-general behaving in the same way as Sir John Kerr.
National Museum of Australia

At this point in our history, the resistance to constitutional change acts to perpetuate the status quo. Most politicians fear direct election would create a powerful challenge to parliamentary authority. Many populists are unwilling to trust politicians to choose a head of state.

This is not a feeling confined to Australia. A few years ago, one left-wing Dutch commentator lamented:

There has been a political crisis in the Netherlands for years, as most Dutch people have lost confidence in the main political parties. In the 21st century, more Dutch people trust the monarchy than the main political parties.

If anything, I suspect this distrust is greater today than it was when the Australian electorate rejected the republic in the 1999 referendum. That referendum came two years after the death of Princess Diana, which was a greater blow to the British monarchy than the recent Oprah interview with Harry and Meghan. Diana, after all, had been a future queen and the mother of a future king.




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There are more pressing problems with our Constitution, above all the need to recognise the dispossession of the original inhabitants of what we now call Australia. But no-one writing an Australian constitution today would argue for a head of state living on the other side of the world who is effectively represented by a governor general, hand-picked by the head of government.

Had our monarchists been more far-sighted in 1901 they might have invited one of Queen Victoria’s surplus children to establish an Australian dynasty. At least we would then have our own constitutional monarchy to argue over.


Dennis Altman’s new book is God Save The Queen: The strange Persistence of Monarchies.The Conversation

Dennis Altman, Professorial Fellow in Human Security, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Top economists say cutting immigration is no way to boost wages


Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Peter Martin, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National UniversityAustralia’s top economists have overwhelmingly rejected cuts to either permanent or temporary migration as a means of restoring lost wage growth.

The 56 leading economists polled by the Economic Society and The Conversation include a former head of the Fair Pay Commission and a former expert member of the Fair Work Commission’s minimum wage panel.

Among the experts, selected by their peers, are specialists in economic modelling and the economics of labour markets from both the private and public sectors.

All but five rejected cuts in temporary migration as a means of boosting wage growth. All but three rejected cuts in permanent migration.

The results put the economists at odds with Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe, who last month drew a link between temporary migration and weak wage growth saying employers had been using overseas hires to fill gaps that would have been filled by locals, diluting “upward pressure on wages in these hotspots”. He said this might have spilled over to rest of the labour market.

Cutting temporary and cutting permanent migration were the first two of ten options for boosting wage growth presented to the panel of economists. The panel rated them third last and second last. Only “holding back growth in female and older worker participation” was marked down more.

Each economist was asked to pick three of the ten options. The most popular, picked by 78.2%, was measures to boost productivity growth. The next most popular, picked by 50.9%, was measures to boost business investment.



Michael Keane of The University of NSW said the idea that population growth and increased labour supply were constraining wage growth was “so naive as to not really be worthy of comment”.

Consultant Rana Roy said only a “cultivated amnesia” could ignore the near-uninterrupted growth in real wages in US, industrialised Europe and Australia amid record inbound immigration in the decades after the second world war.

Gabriela D’Souza of the Committee for Economic Development of Australia said the idea owed much to a “one dimensional view of the world” that took account of only the direct impact of immigrants on particular wages and not the impact of their demand for goods and services on a broader range of wages.

Dozens of studies had identified the overall impact as “near zero”.

Productivity ‘almost everything’

Robert Breunig of the Australian National University said immigrants appeared to add to productivity rather than detract from it, meaning slowing down immigration could slow down rather than add to productivity and growth.

Three quarters of the panel nominated productivity growth as the most important precondition for higher wages growth, endorsing the conclusion of Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman that “productivity isn’t everything, but in the long run it is almost everything.”

Krugman famously added that a country’s ability to improve its standard of living
over time depended “almost entirely on its ability to raise its output
per worker”.


Wages growth is way below the Reserve Bank’s +3% target

Total hourly rates of pay excluding bonuses, seasonally adjusted. Change from corresponding quarter of previous year.
ABS Wage Price Index

Ian Harper, a former head of the Howard government’s Fair Pay Commission and a current member of the Reserve Bank board, said that without productivity growth, any boost in wages growth that was delivered was likely to be nominal — matched by inflation — rather than real, delivering higher living standards.

One of the best tools for lifting production per worker was business investment.

One of the five economists who thought immigration hurt wages growth, Macquarie University’s Geoffrey Kingston, said it seemed to do it by thinning investment per worker. In the 1980s, under Prime Minister Bob Hawke, increased immigration helped push down real wages for five years in a row.

Several of those surveyed said wage growth needed investment in more than machines. Griffith University’s Fabrizio Carmignani said what also mattered was investment in “human capital” via education and research and development.




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Adrian Blundell-Wignall, a former division chief at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, said reforming the education system and getting rid of elitism had to be part of the plan.

“That the best predictor of how well you do at school is how rich your parents are and where they went to school is a national tragedy,” he said. “The entitlement and club economy that comes with this permeates politics, business, and who gets the best jobs after completing school.”

Former Rudd and Gillard government minister Craig Emerson said while measures to boost productivity growth were essential, even if implemented soon, they would take years to flow through into higher wages.

It’s how you divide the pie

Saul Eslake said whether or not higher productivity growth actually delivered higher real wages would depend on the division of the fruits of that growth between wages and profits.

John Quiggin said nearly every reform of Australia’s industrial relations system since 1975 had acted to reduce the bargaining power of unions. All ought to be reviewed with a “presumption in favour of repeal”.

Mala Raghavan of the University of Tasmania said wage growth had become uneven. Wages for a small number of managers had soared while wages for others — especially casual workers — had barely moved.




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The Australian National University’s Emily Lancsar saw a triple benefit from reforming the industrial relations system to boost union bargaining power: it would increase wages directly, it would put money that would have been paid out as profits in the hands of people likely to spend it, and the increases would flow through to workers not on awards and not represented by unions.

Labour market specialist Jeff Borland added that there was a case for strengthening the ability of unions to obtain gender pay equity in female-dominated occupations.

None of those surveyed were optimistic about the prospect of quickly lifting wages growth. The Reserve Bank said in July it wasn’t planning to lift interest rates until aggregate growth exceeded 3%.


Detailed responses:

The Conversation

Peter Martin, Visiting Fellow, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Now that Australia’s inflation rate is 3.8%, is it time to worry?


ABS/Shutterstock

John Hawkins, University of CanberraSuddenly, Australia’s annual inflation rate is 3.8%, having jumped from 1.1% for the twelve months to March.

The June quarter jump follows a jump in the United States to 5.4% and a jump in New Zealand to 3.3%, sparking a debate between leading pundits such as former US treasury secretary Larry Summers and Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman about whether high inflation is on the way back, after years of playing dead.


Annual inflation, Australia


Australian Bureau of Statistics

The best advice is not to worry. Most of the jump is only temporary, the result of several one-offs.

As the Reserve Bank told us back in May, a main cause is that in the depths of COVID lockdowns last year, the government heavily subsidised child care, pushing the effective price to near zero.

With removal of those subsidies the price has bounced back. This is a one-off — it can’t be repeated.

Reasons to not worry

Petrol prices also collapsed as cities locked down last year, and have since returned to pre-COVID levels. This is another one-off that won’t be repeated.

There were also big jumps in the prices of some fruit and some vegetables due to a shortage of pickers and heavy rainfall. They are also best seen as one-offs.

The “trimmed mean” measure of so-called underlying inflation used by the Reserve Bank to see through transient influences was only 1.6%. It’s a better guide to what is going on.

Reserve Bank Governor Lowe.

This also true in other countries. The Bank for International Settlements concluded this month that a common thread in recent increases in inflation was that they were “likely to be temporary”.

The Reserve Bank is expecting inflation back below 2% by the end of the year. The bank forecasts consumer prices to rise by 1.5% through 2022.

Most economists broadly agree. The average forecast from The Conversation’s panel was an inflation rate of 2.1% in 2022.

What about the traders in financial markets, whose pay depends on trying to guess inflation right?

The traders’ average forecast can be derived from what they will pay for inflation-indexed compared to non-indexed bonds.

Over the next ten years, they expect inflation to average 2%.

But isn’t too much money being printed?

Yes, there have indeed been such claims, often by people trying to talk up the value of cryptocurrencies through internet memes.

It is true that as the Reserve Bank sought to steady the economy last year, there was a period of rapid monetary growth. In times of uncertainty, people tend to want to hoard some money.

But the same thing happened during the global financial crisis in 2008. It didn’t end up leading to high inflation then. It is unlikely to do so now.

Concerns have also been expressed that central banks have been buying too many government bonds — so-called “quantitative easing”. These fears were expressed internationally during the global financial crisis. They proved unfounded.

What else might push up inflation?

There are some longer-run structural changes. After the global financial crisis, the effective supply of workers in the global economy grew due to demographic factors and the re-engagement of China.

Some of the demographic factors may be reversing, but the effect will be gradual.

It is also true that many economies, including Australia’s, rebounded from last year’s COVID lockdowns faster than expected. This has led some commentators to talk about overheating.




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But now the emergence of the more contagious Delta strain has seen a new round of lockdowns. The Australian economy is likely to contract in the September quarter, making our recovery look W-shaped rather than V-shaped as it did.


The Conversation, June 2 2021

A big rise in inflation is unlikely unless wages grow strongly. There is no sign of this. Australia’s wage price index is climbing by just 1.5%.

But what if the experts are wrong?

Contrary to some claims, the Reserve Bank has not promised to keep interest rates on hold at 0.1% until 2024.

As the bank’s governor has made clear, if inflation accelerates into its target band it will raise interest rates earlier.

Since the Reserve Bank introduced its 2-3% target, inflation has averaged 2.4%. There is no reason to think it won’t continue to act to keep it moderate.

But if I still fear inflation, what should I do?

You should look for a good “inflation hedge”, an asset that will increase in price with inflation.

It is possible to buy indexed government bonds.

Rents and dividends also tend to rise with inflation, meaning houses and shares have proved reasonable inflation hedges in the past.

Assets with no returns, such as gold and cryptocurrencies, are less reliable. The price of Bitcoin has more than halved in two of the past seven years, so beware.The Conversation

John Hawkins, Senior Lecturer, Canberra School of Politics, Economics and Society and NATSEM, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Should we vaccinate children against COVID-19? We asked 5 experts


Shutterstock

Phoebe Roth, The ConversationAustralia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) recently announced provisional approval for the Pfizer vaccine to be used in 12-15-year-olds.

We learned on Monday that the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) has advised that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 12-15, those who live in remote communities, and those with underlying medical conditions should be prioritised to receive the jab.

With COVID vaccination for kids being such a hot topic, we asked five experts whether we should vaccinate children in Australia against COVID-19.

Four out of five experts said yes

Here are their detailed responses:


If you have a “yes or no” health question you’d like posed to Five Experts, email your suggestion to: phoebe.roth@theconversation.edu.au.


Disclosures:

Asha Bowen is co-chair of the Australian and New Zealand Paediatric Infectious Diseases (ANZPID) group of the Australasian Society of Infectious Diseases. She receives research funding from NHMRC.

Catherine Bennett has received NHMRC and MRFF funding, and is an independent expert on the AstraZeneca advisory board.

Julian Savulescu receives funding from the Wellcome Trust. This work was supported by the UKRI/AHRC funded UK Ethics Accelerator project, grant number AH/V013947/1.

Margie Danchin is a member of ATAGI’s working group on vaccine safety, evaluation, monitoring and confidence.

Nicholas Wood holds an NHMRC Career Development Fellowship and Churchill Fellowship.The Conversation

Phoebe Roth, Deputy Editor, Health+Medicine, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

If I’ve already had COVID, do I need a vaccine? And how does the immune system respond? An expert explains


Andre Coelho/EPA/AAP

Sunit K. Singh, Banaras Hindu UniversityOver a year into the pandemic, questions around immune responses after COVID continue to confound.

One question many people are asking is whether the immunity you get from contracting COVID and recovering is enough to protect you in the future.

The answer is no, it’s not.

Here’s why.

Remind me, how does our immune response work?

Immune responses are innate or acquired. Innate, or short-term immunity, occurs when immune cells that are the body’s first line of defence are activated against a pathogen like a virus or bacteria.

If the pathogen is able to cross the first line of defence, T-cells and B-cells are triggered into action. B-cells fight through secreted proteins called antibodies, specific to each pathogen. T-cells can be categorised into helper T-cells and killer T-cells. Helper T-cells “help” B-cells in making antibodies. Killer T-cells directly kill infected cells.

Once the battle is over, B-cells and T-cells develop “memory” and can recognise the invading pathogen next time. This is known as acquired or adaptive immunity, which triggers long-term protection.

What happens when you get reinfected? Memory B-cells don’t just produce identical antibodies, they also produce antibody variants. These diverse set of antibodies form an elaborate security ring to fight SARS-CoV-2 variants.

Natural immunity is not enough

Getting COVID and recovering (known as “natural infection”) doesn’t appear to generate protection as robust as that generated after vaccination.

And the immune response generated post-infection and vaccination, known as hybrid immunity, is more potent than either natural infection or vaccination alone.

People who have had COVID and recovered and then been vaccinated against COVID have more diverse and high-quality memory B-cell responses than people who’ve just been vaccinated.

Studies indicate mRNA vaccines generate a more potent immune response with previous infection, at least against some variants including Alpha and Beta.

And studies have shown that antibody levels were higher among those who’d recovered from COVID and were subsequently vaccinated than those who’d only had the infection.

Memory B-cells against the coronavirus have been reported to be five to ten times higher in people vaccinated post-infection than natural infection or vaccination alone.

Is one dose enough after COVID?

Some reports have suggested people who’ve had COVID need only one dose of the vaccine. Clinical trials of approved vaccines didn’t generate relevant data because people who’d already had COVID were excluded from phase 3 trials.

One study from June showed people with previous exposure to SARS-CoV-2 tended to mount powerful immune responses to a single mRNA shot. They didn’t gain much benefit from a second jab.

A single dose of an mRNA vaccine after infection achieves similar levels of antibodies against the spike protein’s receptor binding domain (which allows the virus to attach to our cells) compared to double doses of vaccination in people never exposed to SARS-CoV-2.

We need more studies to fully understand how long memory B-cell and T-cell responses will last in both groups.

Also, a single dose strategy has only been studied for mRNA-based vaccines. More data is required to understand whether one jab post-infection would be effective for all the vaccines.

At this stage, it’s still good to have both doses of a COVID vaccine after recovering from COVID.

Does Delta change things?

The development of new vaccines must keep pace with the evolution of the coronavirus.

At least one variant seems to have evolved enough to overtake others, Delta, which is about 60% more transmissible than the Alpha variant. Delta is moderately resistant to vaccines, meaning it can reduce how well the vaccines work, particularly in people who’ve only had one dose.

There’s no data available yet about how effective a single jab is for people who were previously infected with Delta and recovered.




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The most important thing you can do to protect yourself from Delta is to get fully vaccinated.

According to a Public Health England report, one dose of Pfizer offered only about 33% protection against symptomatic disease with Delta, but two doses was 88% effective. Two doses was also 96% effective against hospitalisation from Delta. The AstraZeneca vaccine was 92% effective against hospitalisation from Delta after two doses.

A few vaccine manufacturers, including Pfizer, are now planning to use a potential third dose as a booster to combat the Delta variant.The Conversation

Sunit K. Singh, Professor of Molecular Immunology and Virology, Institute of Medical Sciences, Banaras Hindu University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Vaccine selfies may seem trivial, but they show people doing their civic duty — and probably encourage others too


 

Shutterstock

Louise Grimmer, University of Tasmania; Gary Mortimer, Queensland University of Technology, and Martin Grimmer, University of Tasmania

Have you been vaccinated yet? And if you have, are you one of a growing number of people who posted a selfie on social media afterwards? At a time when many people distrust government advertising, vaccine selfies — or “vaxxies” — may well be the secret weapon to encourage more people to get the jab.

Suddenly our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds are filling up with selfies of family, friends and even strangers getting their COVID shot.

But vaxxies are more than mere selfies, as they have a unique social function. They are likely helping normalise the vaccine procedure, reducing hesitancy around perceived risks and increasing vaccine trust within social circles.

 

 

 

As governments and health officials continue to flip-flop on vaccine age requirements, and anti-vaxxers spread falsehoods through social media and protests, the vaxxie might just be a powerful line of defence against vaccine hesitancy.


Read more: Public protest or selfish ratbaggery? Why free speech doesn’t give you the right to endanger other people’s health


As of July 21, more than 10.6 million COVID vaccine doses had been administered in Australia. As time passes, more and more people are showing their support by posting about their vaccination experience online.

Normally, we see this type of behaviour demonstrating “civic duty” during elections or with social movements such as Pride or Black Lives Matter. We’re now seeing similar posts involving vaccination, using a variety of hashtags including #vaxxie, #GetVaccinated, #GetVaccinatedNow, #Vaccination and #jab.

 

In friends we trust

The vaxxie could be a useful tool in encouraging people to get vaccinated. Over the past decade in particular, there has been an erosion of trust in traditional advertising and a huge surge in social media use.

This means word-of-mouth recommendations and reviews from people we know (and even people we don’t) are often considered more “authentic” than standard advertising and government messaging.


Read more: Australia’s new vaccination campaign is another wasted opportunity


Research indicates we look to our friends, family and social groups for guidance during uncertain times. They provide us with subjective norms: the desire to behave as those who are significant to us think we should.

This results in social pressure to engage in certain behaviours. If our family and friends are posting vaxxies, it’s an implicit nudge for us to get vaccinated too. And as reported vaccine shortages continue and demand grows, seeing vaxxies can also increase our fear of missing out (FOMO).

 

In-groups and out-groups

In the same way one shows support for social movements on social media, sharing a vaxxie communicates your position on vaccinations — you are either pro-vax or anti-vax. Essentially, you are either with us or against us: a hallmark of classic in-group/out-group behaviour.

The psychology of the in-group/out-group is best illustrated using social identity theory. This theory states internal cohesion and loyalty to the in-group exists when the group members maintain a state of almost hostility or assertive opposition toward out-groups — which are often perceived as inferior.

This theory explains spectator behaviour at sporting events. As we see more of our friends sharing their vaxxies, we may desire to be a member of the “in-group”. But to be in this group, we need to get a jab (and show evidence with our own vaxxie).

The in-group pressure may be further increased when we see our political leaders or favourite celebrities get involved. US President Joe Biden, Dolly Parton and Sir Ian McKellen are just some of the icons whose vaccinations made headlines.

Dolly Parton posted her own vaxxie.

Risks of virtue signalling

One of the main risks in posting a vaxxie is it could alienate others through virtue signalling, which is when a person behaves in a way that highlights their own “good” moral values. People on Facebook will often loudly proclaim their support for a certain cause because they want to seem caring or “woke”.

But most of us aren’t impressed by those who overtly express their own moral correctness. There’s a fine line between encouraging others to engage in a certain behaviour and coming across as self-righteous.

There may also be an element of mob mentality at play with vaxxies. Due to excessive pressure from peers, some may find themselves getting vaccinated for emotional (versus rational) reasons. While the pressure to get vaccinated is arguably positive, some individuals may have legitimate concerns which they will suppress in order to conform.

That said, this is not the same as crowd behaviour which is often shrouded in anonymity and involves blindly following others. Vaxxies are personal, identifiable messages and are not anti-social.

Another risk with vaxxies is they may encourage “brand” competition. Vaxxie posters regularly include the hashtag of their vaccine: #pfizer or #astrazeneca.

Given the mixed messaging around AstraZeneca, could a proliferation of Pfizer vaxxies discourage people from seeking out AstraZeneca, at a time when we’re encouraged to take whichever option we can?

 

Despite the risks, however, it’s clear we will need a variety of tools to encourage people to get vaccinated during this crucial phase of the pandemic. Vaxxies likely have an important role to play on this front.

And as long as they don’t seek to overtly shame or alienate others, they could help engender a strong sense of solidarity as more and more people get the jab.


Read more: ‘Virtue signalling’, a slur meant to imply moral grandstanding that might not be all bad The Conversation


Louise Grimmer, Senior Lecturer in Marketing, University of Tasmania; Gary Mortimer, Professor of Marketing and Consumer Behaviour, Queensland University of Technology, and Martin Grimmer, Professor of Marketing, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Coronavirus Update: Australia