Written by Professor David Flint AM   
Wednesday, 07 January 2004
With all his reported changing and retreating from previously announced positions, the public is entitled to ask what Mark Latham believes in. To his credit, Mr Latham has written widely, in books and for the Daily Telegraph, the Adelaide Review and the Centre For Independent Studies. Apart from his almost frenetic propensity to abandon previous positions, particularly since his recent elevation, it is interesting to read an assessment of what he has written. Mr Chris Saliba has just published an interesting analysis of Mr Latham 's quite considerable corpus- at least the books and longer essays. This appears on the web site, being posted there on 25 January 2004. The critique is not something Mr Latham will enjoy reading. His principal work is probably Civilizing Global Capital, published in 1998. Mr Saliba names it the War and Peace of the Latham oeuvre. The book can't be explained, he says, without a discussion of its style. "It is ironic that Latham blamed universities for the `mystification of language' in his later book, What Did You Learn Today?, because Civilising Global Capital is thoroughly unreadable." Mr Salibi says that reading a book normally feels like a conversation, where the author offers a narrative or information or opinion, and you feel your intellectual input in listening is welcomed and respected. He felt ignored. Latham, he says, is overly fond of a technocratic style of language, favoured by business elites. "There are lots of long tortured sentences, piled high with jazzy sounding words. The effect is it all looks very `intellectual ', but when you break it down nothing much is really being said. "Mr Saliba amuses the reader with examples. Instead of calling a country a country, Latham prefers `nation state political jurisdiction' The book is "so overloaded with buzzwords you feel: nauseous: vertical and. horizontal social capital; endogenous growth ; radical centre politics; zero sum choices; downwards envy; mutuality. A lot of the book cannot be fathomed without deciphering it 's own internal language and logic." Mr Saliba picked this sentence at random : As noted earlier, one of the contradictions of the competitive advantage paradigm is the way in which it loads extra responsibilities onto the budgets of government while also seeking, in the accounting systems of nations, to blame public sector disserving for the problems of a current account deficit. 'And as to the substance of the book, Mr Saliba is equally dismissive.


Let us come, then, to Mr Latham's latest book, From The Suburbs. In response to the use of the term `elites' by the conservatives. Mr Saliba says Latham employs a novel approach. This involves demonising both left and right chatterboxes, which he calls `insiders'." These insider networks that secretly run the country, are best exemplified, Latham says, by voting trends for the referendum on the republic. "The closer you lived to the city, the more likely you were to vote yes for the republic. `The outsiders were unwilling to support an insiders republic, `one in which the politicians would have elected the President'. Mr Saliba says that nowhere in Latham ' s writings could he discover what his position on this issue actually was. In 1999, Mr Latham in fact was one of those who campaigned for the insiders ' republic, which went down in a landslide nationally and in his own normally safe electorate. Mr Saliba's conclusion on the thoughts of Mark Latham? He says they are so contradictory and muddled that he finds it difficult to distil any kind of tangible philosophy. "When reading all this stuff about free markets and so called social capital I wondered which was closest to the author's heart, communities or markets? " Mr Saliba cannot resist a comparison between his call for moral standards in society, especially among the lower orders "... with his famous comments about himself being a hater, and teaching the same vice to his children? "Nor does the critic know how to take his calls for greater democracy. Latham does not advocate greater access for citizens to our political institutions. Rather, Mr Saliba says he spends most of his time deprecating our political system and telling readers it's not worth getting involved in." This of course won 't be stopping Latham running for the top political job in the country this year. "And of course, since his election as Leader, Mr Latham has, as we have noted, reversed his position on a wide range of issues-except some vague and unknown undefined republic! Perhaps Mr Latham could amuse us by describing his favourite republican model in the obtuse language he displays in Civilising Global Capital!'