The Curley Effect

The destructive policies of a 20th century politician are evident in Victoria's response to Coronavirus.

The Curley Effect

In May 2002, a paper was published that has particular relevance to the conduct and operations of politics today. It was entitled 'The Curley Effect' and concerned a four -time mayor of Boston (USA) and how he manipulated the populace for his own political benefit over many decades beginning in 1913.

It provides a salient lesson about how much long-term damage a self-absorbed political operation can do to a community in an attempt to retain power. Some will readily draw parallels with what is happening in Australia today.

James Michael Curley gained his political support from the poorest of Boston's Irish community. The establishment despised him and always tried to block his election. In return he did whatever he could to push back against them.

Curley understood that his continuing political success was dependent on increasing the poor Irish vote while reducing the wealthy establishment vote. He set about shaping the city in that image.

His strategy is known as The Curley Effect and involves using wealth reducing policies to strengthen one's political base.

The Curley Effect involves the wasteful redistribution of resources to drive opposition voters out of the electoral equation.  In Curley's case, he imposed destructive tax and public policies to force the wealthy from the city.

He was unconcerned about the damage done to the city as a whole, instead he focused on the long-term election benefits to him and his acolytes.

The wealthy were targeted with punitive taxation which appealed to the marginalised. The wealthy responded by reducing investment in the city which ensured the impoverished Curley voter remained down-trodden.

It's a technique we have seen used repeatedly by political parties across the globe through tax and welfare policies. Immigration is another weapon used by self-serving governments who seek to import a dependent underclass at the same time as driving their opponents out.

The Labor party in Australia and the UK have used this technique to great effect but it has not been limited to them.  Stalin and Mao used a version of it through mass murder, thereby denying their opponents life and political resources.  

In more contemporary Australian times, we see changes to voting systems,  electoral spending caps, funding disclosure regimes and the like as all weapons targeted to the benefit of one political side or another.

However, we've never seen anything quite like what is going on in the State of Victoria.

The  decisions of the Andrew's government has hardened the resolve of their private enterprise base to relocate to more welcoming pastures as soon as they are able.

Experts estimate there are tens of millions of dollars of private business investments already cancelled with hundreds of millions more to come.  Wealthy and successful entrepreneurs are openly talking about relocating their families and their operations to Queensland or New South Wales. They'll take jobs and opportunity with them.

That won't worry the Andrew's government too much because they know most of those business owners don't  ( or won't) vote for him or his Party.

The people left in the state will be grateful for a job in the already bloated public service or for the handouts that Labor governments inevitably provide.

Andrew's won't care about the reduction in income as he knows the Fed's will be forced to pick up the welfare bill and he will demand a greater share of the GST to 'support the battlers'.

The end result will be another mendicant state with an entrenched welfare and government dependent  class. It will also solidify the already strong left-wing vote in the State making it a veritable Labor electoral fortress.

The Curley Effect shows that you don't have to do the right thing by your electorate to enjoy sustained political success. Rather it demonstrates that the more damage you do, the greater the potential electoral rewards.

Please Note: This post was based upon a paper by Edward Glaeser and Andrei Shleifer from the National Bureau of Economic Research.

It is available at

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