Some of the news during this week has caused me to reflect further on my previous post discussing the poor use of language in public debate. I can't help feeling that often the way we name or describe things is at best oxymoronic and at worst purposely misleading. Two newsworthy examples of this are “free trade agreements” and “productivity improvements”.
Free trade agreements are topical at present given the efforts by the Trade Minister and the Industry Minister to conclude an agreement with China and the agreements signed, but yet to be given effect, with Korea and Japan. Just from hearing the name “free trade agreement” I would think that such a thing would sound like this:
“We'll treat your stuff as if it was our stuff if you treat our stuff as if it was your stuff”
But the agreement with China has been a topic of active discussion between our two countries since 2005. And if memory serves, the agreement with the USA that came into force in 2005 required approximately 1,000 pages to document it. Surely these agreements should be called HCHRTAs, i.e. Highly Complex and Heavily Regulated Trade Agreements.
Productivity improvements are topical always, but particularly so here in Canberra just now as there is much enterprise bargaining occurring within the Australian Public Service. As I understand “productivity” it is measured by the amount of output (number of widgets say) produced by one unit of input (person hours, kilos of steel, etc.). This doesn't have anything to do with hourly labour rates, penalty rates, rostered days off or any of the other industrial conditions that prescribe how we work. Yet, in public service and private industry it is these industrial conditions that always seem to be traded for increased remuneration – no change in productivity and yet most journalists, economic commentators and politicians ignore this.
Are we being purposely misled regarding these and similar issues? If so, why?