Winning by a landslide

Winning by a landslide

If a political party wins an election with 60% of the popular vote it is a landslide. In almost all democratic systems 60% of votes would deliver enough seats to form a government. 

If any individual candidate received 60% of the vote in her electorate she would win the seat in parliament. That seat would be considered ‘safe’ given that there is at least a 20 point margin over the nearest competitor. And likely much more if there were many candidates. A huge margin in anyone’s political language. 

Such results are rare. 

Politics is won at the margins, not with those kinds of numbers. Democratic elections are often won with less than half the vote going in favour of a single party.

I recall back in 1979 when Margaret Thatcher first came to power and we lived through her initial years of changing things up. The legacy of those changes we’ll leave for another conversation, but I remember when her government was returned for her second term the Tory party received less than 40% of the votes from the people who voted. But in the ‘first past the post’ Westminster system the Tories gained a majority in the Parliament. 

Elections for who governs us are marginal a lot of the time. 

Donald Trump was elected having lost the popular vote in the 2016 US election, but having more than a hundred more electoral college votes than his rival. Whichever way you look at it, half the people or more did not want the person or the party that was elected.

If politics is just tinkering around the edges and the fundamentals are roughly the same then the result makes little difference. If a party comes in and is unable because of the legal system to dismantle the rules and regulations and is simply providing a little bit of a tweak here and there. Not too much damage is done. 

But if we go back to divisive politics. Where electing one party over another is quite a radical change in the way that the world is run. And the way that the country or jurisdiction is run then those margins make a big difference. 

It means that nearly half or over half in some instances of the people will not be happy with those in power. 

Photo by Timo Volz on Unsplash


Engagement with politics matters

All this should encourage political awareness.

If you want your party and the principles that they support to win elections, then it’s time to get out and about and make them happen, engage in the political process and perhaps that will be part of the future story. 

But what it also means is that whoever loses, there is still a large number of people who support the losing side and don’t agree with the way that the politics is run. 

So the convergence of ideas is an important stability factor for societies. If we are to be stable over the long run when we need to have a convergence of ideas and an ability to ensure that everybody benefits from those ideas. 

Back to Thatcher again, and you can argue that she changed things up at a time when a change was required. She took advantage of the opportunity to bring to an end the period when socialist reform had run its course. 

A new idea was needed to energise the economy. 

We’re in the same situation again. The legacy of that neoliberal idea that began in the 1980s is now old and tired. And whilst it’s created wealth it’s also created disparity. The super-wealthy have appreciated the bulk of the gain and the trickle-down effect runs out of steam before the poorest benefit.

We are close to the wealth disparity present at the time of the early socialist revolutions when the people were much poorer than the elite. 

Floodwaters of the Okavango River soaking into the sand

Floodwaters of the Okavango River soaking into the sand — Photo by Alloporus


Engagement with the future 

The pandemic presents an opportunity.  

We already have governments doing u-turns on fiscal deficits, locking down whole communities, and fast-tracking vaccines that used to take years to deploy. 

That suggests that radical options should be very much on the table.  Some of the sacred cows we’ve been sold are not as holy as imagined. 

If money can be spent to shore up livelihoods in a crisis, why not all the time? A universal basic income perhaps?

The opportunity is to reflect on the future. What it could, might or is likely to be like. Where humans have the advantage over all other creatures is that we can not only gaze into the future but we can do things to shape that future.

We could inject another paradigm into global politics and global economic structures. And given the juggernauts coming down the road, such a shift is critical. 

The pandemic has already shown us that we can change paradigms and still survive. 

And recall that winning big is not always necessary. 

Change can happen at the margins.


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Hero image of Thatcher’s Rock Green, Ilsham Marine Drive, Torquay, UK by Jack French on Unsplash 

Will financial history repeat like bad shellfish?

Will financial history repeat like bad shellfish?

Hero image by Zlaťáky.cz on Unsplash

It has been 30 years since the 1987 stock market crash that pulled the carpet from under any number of brash high-fliers of the day. Many analysts have compared the precursors of that momentous day to the current conditions in overvalued stock and real estate markets around the world.

The main point seems to be that money is no longer real.

It has been a long time since gold, the hard precious metal, was held in reserve to match with the currency issued. Today 90% of the world’s cash is electronic and unconstrained by the need for a gold standard so central banks print the stuff by the trillions. They did this to save the system after the 2008 financial crisis and have just kept going ever since, with no obvious slowdown.

The global debt load is now three times greater than it was at the turn of the century and grows by staggering sums each year.

Source: Bloomberg 

Governments, companies and households raised $24 trillion in 2020 to offset the pandemic’s economic toll, bringing the global debt total to an all-time high of $281 trillion by the end of 2020, or more than 355% of global GDP, according to the Institute of International Finance.

Here are the gross national debt numbers for the US over a longer time period showing recovery from the impact of WW2 and then some political decisions by both Republican and Democrat presidents since the 1980’s.

Now here is the thing. 

Most of this cash has been used for speculation to give us booming stock markets, crazy house prices and, arguably, Donald Trump. 

Convention says that markets will correct, bubbles will burst, and the politics will burn. 

Or will they? 

If money is only loosely tied to material things (resources, products or services) and governments can print it at will then any correction is bailed out by more ‘printing’. Whatever it takes to ensure the economic system survives.

Why not go all out? 

Print more and more. Give citizens a basic income and do away with welfare for the unemployed. And while at it spend some more money to encourage decentralisation of people away from the big cities by subsidies to services in rural areas. 

After all, many of us just learnt to work from home. So home could be anywhere, maybe even somewhere with a kind rural outlook.

Here is my question…

If governments can mortgage the future to save economies from financial and pandemic crises why can’t they do it to stimulate an economic transition?

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When facts do not matter

When facts do not matter

A while ago the Deputy Premier of New South Wales, Australia, John Barilaro played brinkmanship with the government. He threatened to move his National Party members to the crossbench. These are the MPs who give the government a majority in the lower house, a coalition that gives Mr Barilaro the Deputy Premiership and his party a number of ministries in return for bringing 13 votes to the table to give the government a slim lower house majority of two seats.

This ‘majority making’ brings with it extraordinary bargaining power.

The National Party decided or perhaps Mr Barallaro decided, to leverage that power and threaten to remove his MPs from voting in favour of government policy. So, they’re in government and proposing to abstain from voting.

Needless to say the Liberal party leader and Premier who has 35 sitting members leveraged her power and told them to sit down and shut up.

The outcome was that Mr Barilaro backed down at the eleventh hour blowing any political credibility he had. He then chose to take a month of stress leave. His actions suggest that was a sensible choice.

What extraordinary issue brought this power play on?

Turns out that koalas were the issue. And principally the unproven ‘fact’ that koalas would go extinct in the next 50 years.

The legislation amended on the back of this non-fact, a State Environment Planning Policy known as the koala SEPP, was amended to extend the habitat that is protected for this species by listing more tree species that cannot be cleared.

Landholders must demonstrate through expert analysis that trees are not habitat for koalas and there are no koalas present in the last 18 years.

Here we have a peculiar situation.

The original facts of the matter do not exist. At the present moment in time, we do not know how many koalas there are in Australia. We do not know how many there are in New South Wales and we do not know the trend in those koala numbers.

We do know that populations fluctuate dramatically in a species that is widely distributed, is prone to certain environmental and human drivers of change, has a slow reproduction rate and is likely to be vulnerable in certain places.

We also know that koalas are often present in disturbed landscapes because the younger eucalypt trees are preferred food and we also know that when we look hard enough with the right techniques (sniffer dogs work really well), we find koalas in places that we previously thought they didn’t exist.

Not knowing how many koalas there are. Not knowing how many are being lost at any one time. Not knowing if populations are stable or simply naturally dynamic are unknowns that form the basis for the legislation.

In other words, there is no evidence that says koalas will go extinct in 50 years.

This makes the legislation itself is at best precautionary and at worst unnecessary. It is flawed in either direction. That a government would be put in jeopardy and members would flex their political muscle over such an issue tells us a lot about the current political process.

It tells us that the facts of the matter don’t really matter at all.

What matters is the political process and the benefits, or not, to individual politicians and their careers from having a stoush.

It’s time to put an end to this nonsense.

Let us all begin with the facts. Whatever the evidence is to hand and let that be at the core of any debate.

Sure, you can have your toy throws and throw them out of the cot, have ego-driven rants as part of the political process. We all need some drama and colour in our lives. What we don’t want is for these rants and raves to be based on half-truths, untruths and downright lies. That is not the democratic process.

We need to have politicians who can form governments that are presenting us facts and policy options to deal with those facts. Then we can decide the policies to support that the majority believe will be in the best interest of everyone and the well-being of our grandchildren.

Politicians must have a steady enough hand and a steady enough head that they’re prepared to look at evidence, evaluate and bring it to the table in good faith, then debate the policy options.

To be debating policy on lies and mistruth degrades the democratic process. It undermines public faith in the institution of democracy and it makes all those political players look like complete idiots.


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The joy of content creation

The joy of content creation

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

For a long time, I’ve been fascinated by creativity. Not bad for a scientist. 

I like writing especially. I’m interested in all forms, non-fiction, fiction, short form, blog posts. I haven’t quite made it to Twitter, but I’ve always been tempted. I even have an alter-ego, Paul Sorol, the chronicler of the Confused Confucius. Paul is a bit slack at the moment because he’s not actually doing very much. But I hope he’ll get his arse in gear to put out some sayings and conversations in the near future. 

I like the technology side of writing, especially the websites and apps that make productivity easier and more efficient. I am raving about Notion at the moment with the power of the relational database to manage all the fragments of information. Close behind is Notability that has taken me paperless.

I like the design side but I’m absolutely crap at it. I love thinking that I can produce a logo or color palette. Where in fact I haven’t really got a clue. Luckily there is Canva.

I even use Procreate on the iPad to dabble in a little bit of freeform here and there. Again with no idea how to do it. 

And after a one-time career as an academic where I spent a lot of time designing and delivering science courses, I still think I’m half-decent at producing educational material. And now I’m in the process of developing online courses in kajabi for our sustainably FED initiative. 

Doing it all yourself

Part of the joy of content creation in the digital age is doing it all yourself. All the technology makes it possible to take writing all the way to the reader on your own. 

Only the jack of all trades syndrome applies. There is still a lot to cover even with the help of smart apps. And to stand out key elements must be mastered, in particular the look and feel of your messages, a style niched into your audience, and, critically, knowing your audience. 

Fail on these things and no amount of hard work will deliver traction. 

All the successful YouTubers and online entrepreneurs have a niche matched to their primary audience even as some topics are more salable than others. 

Anyway, this week I had a change of heart and instead of wanting to do all of those things myself, I realised something I should have realized a very long time ago. No one person can be across everything. 

So I offloaded platform and website development for the courses to my colleagues and we shared visions of who the audience is going to be. It left me with the content development and carriage of the design and delivery of the message.  Still a lot to do but it eases the pressure and reduces the number of steep learning curves. 

My usual motivational tools, like the daily word tally, also took a step aside. 

Content creation takes more than inspiration

Content development is very different to content creation. 

The raw material of creativity is relatively easy to vomit out onto the page or into the microphone. What’s more difficult is to then go back to that material and edit it down to focus on message and craft. 

Offloading some responsibility has created more space for the big challenge of editing and a good job too for this fine-tuning is easily the hardest part. How the old school writers with their quills, fountain pens and typewriters managed the editing I have no idea. They must have been awesome at first drafts or had the mental bandwidth of an owl. 

In the end content creation is graft. No shortcuts, no technology fixes, and no outsourcing. It’s about being with the words and trusting that the right ones come along.


If anyone is interested in the full process for this blog and the upcoming sustainably FED eLearning initiative, let me know.