Federal Labor frontbencher Mark Latham’s prognosis for the ALP (“It’s time for Labor to slay sacred cows and remake Australia”, on this page on Wednesday) is reminiscent of the daring new policy initiative called “Social Dynamics” outlined by British Prime Minister Philip Lazenby in Andrew Martin’s satirical novel Bilton. The precise details of “Social Dynamics” are vague, the main policy to come of it being a tax incentive scheme to encourage individuals and groups to engage in “socially useful” activities.

A socially useful activity, it is explained, is one that promotes “individual responsibility; a spirit of community; an increase in generative capacity or a reduction in public spending”. When an act fulfils these three criteria, it is deemed to be “Socially Dynamic”.

In spite of the obvious circularity of this explanation, the supporters of Social Dynamics insist it is “bold and radical”, transcending the traditional political categories of the left and the right. Its critics, however, claim Social Dynamics is vague and self-defeating: “Was it left wing or right wing?” ponders the book’s central character, Adrian Day. “Lazenby himself proudly announced, with the alienating gleam of the pioneering zealot, that it was ‘both, either or neither’.”

There is more than a hint of Social Dynamics in Mark Latham’s reform proposal for the ALP. On the surface it seems bold and radical, but scratch the surface and it’s a vague mishmash of ideas drawn mostly from pop-management textbooks. Beneath the smooth rhetoric, however, there is a significant shift in political values and ideals at work within Latham’s analysis.

Read the full article in The Age.

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