It was my turn to cook dinner the other day, chicken biryani made with thigh meat, coriander, and a healthy teaspoon of Kashmiri chilli.
Whilst waiting for the chicken to defrost, I decided to progress my step count and march up and down the hallway. Indoor exercise looks odd but is necessary in a La Nina year when it seems to rain 24/7 here in Sydney.
Rather than just march, I fired up Spotify and chose a few tunes to make it easier to move. This track came up first.
I always put this version in my ‘best ever’ top 20 — the performance is sublime, and the song, written by Paul Simon when he was just 21 years old, is a work of genius.
And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
Then the sign said, “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
In tenement halls”
And whispered in the sound of silence
This lyric tells us we have made trouble that we dare not speak. It is as powerful today as it was in 1963 and ably supported by Disturbed, I am spontaneously singing at the top of my voice as I march up and down the living room.
The delivery builds until the prophets scream their words… only I can’t.
My vocal cords are starved. My core pushes hard at the air in my lungs only for the words on the walls to stick in my throat.
I am silent.
I keep walking up and down in shock until the next relatively obscure track with delightful African rhythms makes everything okay again.
The chicken is ready to simmer with the basmati, and it all comes together into a delicious dish. My wife came home, and we chatted over our dinner as though nothing had happened.
The impact of my strangled voice took a while to register.
Not until the following day did I realise that my closed throat had been that way for years, maybe even my whole life. I can’t sing from my core. My best is to mumble a few ideas through closed lips.
Just thinking this reality shocked me again.
Then I realised where it all came from.
I was brought up in a religious household scared of alternative world views. My parents couldn’t listen to anything other than the bible and the church.
As a lad, just as an adult, I was curious. I had a lot of questions that needed answers. Why must I go to the church three times every Sunday? Do I have to wear this uniform? Why do I have to pray? What is God anyway?
But if I spoke it was, in Paul Simon’s words, to ‘people hearing without listening’ and so after a while, I shut up and said nothing.
I didn’t know that this clamming up would last my whole life.
It took music for me to realise.
The irony is that my career has seen me become an educator, advisor, author, and blogger. This combination of activities is all about voice. I have had plenty of things to say, or so it seems.
My constricted throat screamed at me because even with the tools and the opportunity, I was silent.
This is a big deal for me.
Now that I know my voice is strangled, I can rescue it.
Well, who would have thought that after 13 years and a handful of readers that this blog would reach 500 posts?
Not me, certainly.
I am amazed and a little proud of myself for keeping it going all this time.
When I started, the blogosphere was the online space. There were prospects for a wide readership and perhaps even a side hustle from the proliferation of traffic. Then Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube and a host of other online distractions hogged the breeze, and what was left was quickly mopped up by aggregators like Medium. Bloggers do it now for personal satisfaction, with only a handful of the early adopters maintaining their readership.
I can’t complain because I write rather than read blog posts, and it seems unfair to lament a lack of traffic. So the blog ticks along with 50 to 100 visitors a month.
Anyway, low traffic volume just needs a few viral outbreaks to explode. We live in hope.
A huge thank you to those kind folk who stumbled onto this blog over the years and read a post or two. And especially the few regulars who clicked the RSS.
It is nice to know that there are real people in the ether.
What did I blog about?
Not surprisingly, for an ecologist, the environment was the most popular category (142 posts), chased by awareness (135) and the Big Picture (127).
I did not expect to write about leadership (88 posts) as much as I did. But the political debacle that Australians have lived through in the last decade meant that laments on the absence of leadership were inevitable.
If any of these whinges offended, then good. It is beyond time that we woke each other up with a cattle prod and did something about the ugly, shameful behaviour that passes for political leadership in this country.
This week, I watched Strong Female Lead, a documentary film billed as “an exploration of gender politics during Julia Gillard’s term as Australia’s first female prime minister”.
It was harrowing to see grown adults dispense abuse to a colleague without the slightest remorse. I might have looked for the nearest bus if it wasn’t for this documentary’s hopeful ending. Let’s just say those 88 posts came about because the nation’s moral compass is buried six feet under.
No doubt there is more to say about our vacuous leaders.
I have always believed that awareness is essential to human wellbeing. No surprise that several posts were tagged thus. Our personal and social lives are better if we pay attention to each other.
Knowledge and perception of the bigger picture are more tricky.
Dissonance, denial and disbelief are much more accessible than confronting the truth of a finite planet with close to 8 billion eager people. Ostrich behaviour makes it hard to raise awareness without sounding pessimistic or preachy. But we all must confront fears, or our grandchildren will have a terrible and short time on earth.
I am working on some practical tools to help with awareness. It is a little early to announce what they are, but the intro has begun over at our new website sustainably FED.
What happens next for Alloporus?
A blog with 230,000+ words of depressing content should have run its course.
After a break from posting through 2010, I tried to reset Alloporus onto a more positive path, and it lasted for a month or two before returning to the usual laments. It seems I am stuck with the frustration of the information age being full of worthless detail.
Why can’t we see that food security is critical to the future of humanity, not climate change or koalas?
Humanity needs 23 trillion kilocalories per day, for goodness sake, just to keep the people alive, let alone the pets — by 2030, it will be 32 trillion.
There is a therapeutic effect of writing about the world in this way. It makes for depressing reading, but it helps to get it off my chest.
I am semi-retired now, too — phew, that was an admission I have been avoiding — so there should be more time to craft more engaging pieces.
So I will continue to post once a week in the hope of seeding some healthy thinking.
I suspect that most people believe that the primary job of a bank is to look after their cash.
Deposit your money and, at any point in time, you can rock up at a branch or a hole in the wall and receive your cash up to the amount that you put in, minus a few fees.
The reality is that banks only provide a haven for our cash because it allows them to leverage the money held into investments. They borrow against their available capital and invest funds into a wide range of assets that they expect will yield more than what they’re giving you for the privilege of looking after your money.
It’s a fantastic financial model.
It’s the reason that having conquered the world of futures trading, capital gains, and hedge funds, Bobby Axelrod, the megalomaniac character in the Stan thriller Billions, played by Damian Lewis, decides he wants to become a bank.
Essentially it’s a license to print money.
Banks are always looking for assets that will yield investment returns in the shortest space of time. Their mantra, indeed their requirement under the law, is to profit, and they are ‘in the pound seats’ to do it, literally.
They have the scale and capacity to invest in projects that your average Joe couldn’t dream of, from skyscrapers to industrial plants, freeways, and airports. The kinds of investments that require tens to hundreds of millions of dollars to see them to fruition.
Banks have the advantage of using other people’s money and the advantage of scale. They make huge sums from investments that yield high returns for long periods, partly on the fact that no one else can invest in them.
And so it is and has been.
The banks make money, but the projects they fund often deliver utility.
It is not always good.
The pursuit of profit is relentless and ruthless.
Goldrush mentality attracts the most ardent and most skilled as well as the opportunist. Money gives banks the very best people with a sharp mind and a ruthless attitude. They quickly find the best ways to reduce costs and maximise returns.
No surprise that banking can support projects that have severe externalities and direct impacts on the environment. Recall an externality happens when the cost of an activity is not absorbed but shipped out. The commons are excellent dumping ground because no one person or entity gets hit with the liability.
Capitalism degrading the environment is profound. Development has to happen, but it becomes pointless if humanity has no safe place to live.
So who is to blame?
The reality is that we, the people, want roads, skyscrapers, and industrial plants that deliver raw materials for all of the stuff we want to buy.
We are the ones that live in large houses with more bedrooms than you could ever need, more luxury than you could ever really afford. And yet, everyone wants a better life, and it is forever the human condition to want betterment.
In other words, the consumer is ultimately responsible.
Instead of blaming the banks, what if we blame the consumer?
Maybe get consumers, us, to give up our desire for stuff, our emotional and mental drive to better ourselves and provide for our families. Quosh those innate biological feelings to make more that is in all of us.
Well, good luck with that one.
Perhaps there is a compromise position where both individuals and the finance community begin to work together to look long and prosper.
Currently, we do this through regulation.
Governments curtail the riskiest financial behaviours through legislation limiting the amounts of money banks can borrow, their financial ratios, and their ability to exploit customers, in itself a significant ongoing task.
Governments are in a difficult position. They see growth as a political necessity and are reluctant to curtail development activity or the banks that finance it. Yet, all the while, development activity is damaging the planet.
If we can’t blame ourselves or the banks for doing what we want them to do, humanity has a problem.
We do have a choice.
We can accept that consumption and more-making has an impact and try to do something about it. Even a little is better than doing nothing. Light bulbs, anyone?
But fiddling just puts off the inevitable. Instead, something dramatic is needed. The doughnut, perhaps?
Alternatives to historic capitalism exist, and many of the options are maturing nicely.
For example, ‘cooperative enterprises’ where workers make the major enterprise decisions rather than boards of directors selected by shareholders. This alternative is called economic democracy.
Only this is not a million miles away from what we already have. The people choose, but this will not guarantee decisions in favour of anything other than the people.
Robin Hahnel’s book Of the People, By the People: The Case for a Participatory Economy describes the participatory economy where all citizens, through the creation of worker councils and consumer councils, deal with large-scale production and consumption issues without the need for appointed representatives. The participatory economy is the origin of the Green New Deal, a package of policies that address climate change and financial crises.
A participatory economy is different. Imagine the circus of state and national politics banished to the bench.
Doughnut economics is an economic model proposed by Kate Raworth that combines planetary boundaries with the complementary concept of social boundaries. Look after everyone and the planet.
Doughnut economics is different too.
And these are just three of the many alternatives with potential.
What do the alternatives require of us?
Most of the alternative economic systems require a shift in responsibility.
It would be on us, not the banks or the government or the unscrupulous developers. We will all have to step up and understand the consequences of our choices.
The banks would continue to do their thing on our behalf; only we would be responsible for the consequences of what they do.
And so we get to the rub.
Capitalism has delivered growth and, on average, betterment for humanity. Only it comes at an uncomfortable cost. And the only way to pay back that cost is to take responsibility for it.
Are banks bad? No, they are a caricature of our abdication from personal responsibility.
Please like or share or comment. It helps me heaps, thanks.
There, like an addict in rehab, I admit that cognitive dissonance has got the better of me and I am looking the other way from a host of societal and environmental ills.
As a career scientist who works with the evidence of climate, food security, and the social reality of nature’s exploitation, I am still in denial. I am no more ready to give up my morning latte or my afternoon stroll across the links than the next over indulged Westerner.
I console myself with this admission.
At least I know that my ecological gumboots are stomping on the world even if there is little that I can do about it. And, of course, there is further balm in knowing that l am not alone but a member of the vast majority.
A pandemic, a climate crisis, the Taliban, and 40 million Americans on foods stamps notwithstanding, here are three randomly selected things from recent news feeds that I let happen…
In the decade from 2010-2020 diplomacy decreed that the nations of the world attempt 20 targets for the protection of global biodiversity including protecting coral reefs and tackling pollution. We failed. And in response to that abject failure negotiators are now working on a better plan with new goals for the next decade and beyond. Einstein just turned in his grave.
Republican governors of Florida and Texas have stopped schools, colleges and local authorities from the requirement for vaccines, proof of vaccination, a Covid test or masks. Any Florida school administrator who demands the wearing of masks could lose their pay. Just one of the many things that should never be politicised.
The national security advisor in the White House this week asked global oil producers to increase production so that US motorists can buy gasoline more cheaply. This week is 8 months into the Biden administration, he of the green deal and a pledge to ban new drilling and fracking on federal lands, yet his administration has granted more than 2,000 new permits.
“Ah,” I hear you say, “but it wasn’t just you. It’s not your fault,” coming to your own as well as my defence.
Well, it was.
I am part of the system that allowed and continues to allow such ineptitude, lies and selfishness to persist.
The only solace is that I can admit it now. The first but the most important step to making things better.
Please share with others who might want to own it.
The theme of death and taxes we gave an evidence argument in a previous post. This one is about the hip pocket.
As a private citizen in Western democracies, you are certain of two famous things: death and taxes.
Except for those independently wealthy, to survive in the system you have to earn income and that income is taxed. Modestly for low-income earners and at a greater proportion as your remuneration grows.
This ‘work for money that is taxed’ keeps going until the inevitable happens and your body can’t fight entropy anymore.
The weird part of this is that, after some thought, most people would be more than happy to pay a million dollars a year in personal income tax.
Obviously, it would mean that earnings are high enough to spend at least 10 grand a week and still have change. Compared to the low-income individual who plays $20,000 a year in tax, your bum is in the butter.
Similarly, a business paying tax is a good thing.
Corporations have many more ways of avoiding the tax dollar than the individual, but the reality is that net profit after tax, NPAT, where profit is the operative word, is the objective of the business, the reason it exists.
The company will have directors who, should they fail to maximize profit for their shareholders, risk prosecution. That NPAT number, the profit measure should be as high as possible.
A business not declaring a profit is very creative in its accounting or has previously made losses or isn’t a very good business.
Either way, the shareholders are not too happy if profit is not declared because that is their reward, their dividend for risking their own hard-earned to invest in the company.
Once the accounting smoke and mirrors are over, paying little to no tax is not a good thing.
Taxes benefit everyone
All this preamble comes before any moral argument about whether or not taxes are for the public good.
Remember that tax pays for collective benefits: roads, schools, police, defence plus a whole raft of services and structures that are hard to pay for as individuals, but that benefits everyone.
Tax is an integral part of the modern democratic system. It supports the social structure and a whole chunk of individual well being. Drive out of your front gate and you benefit from the tax dollar as soon as you hit the tarmac.
Without a tax system, we can say goodbye to the current quality of life that we enjoy. Arguably there is a moral obligation through the social contract for all legal entities and individuals to pay their way.
What is a fair share?
A fair share of tax is designated by the policies and the politics of the day.
And sure there’s no reason to pay more than your fair share according to the rules. As long as the tax system is equitable then everyone at some point in the process will have benefited from the taxes that they’ve paid. There should be a certain pride in paying tax toward the public good.
So to claim that you’ve paid no tax. Or to even hint that such a thing is good does not stack up in any sensible argument.
Paying no taxes as an individual means that you’re either at the very low end of the income scale in need of support or you’ve diddled the books somehow and claimed payments or shifted money around to avoid paying your fair share.
If a company pays no tax then at some point in the process the business has failed to disclose a profit or manipulated the books to sail very close to the wind and, again, avoids a fair share.
There is no doubt that corporations do this. They use all sorts of systems and hire expensive lawyers and accountants to move money around to avoid paying tax and one of the things that society has struggled to do is to reign in that avoidance behaviour.
But when no tax is paid for a very long time then the company is poor at what they do or they’re extremely good at dodging their fair share. Which even if it’s not illegal has certain moral nefariousness.
The graph below can speak for itself.
Alloporus would suggest tax is a good thing.
Paying your fair share according to your means should be everyone’s responsibility.
I recently completed a mesquite emotional intelligence test.
This sort of thing happens periodically in the business world. Executives decide that the company needs better management of staff and seeks to upskill it’s managers, usually with limited success. This trend has leaked across into the bureaucracy. Notorious for its dreadful management capabilities and leadership vacuums, the civil service is hoping to fix some of these problems by getting managers to understand their emotional insides.
So I completed the test.
Later, I had a fascinating hour-long debrief with the lady from the consulting firm conducting the process.
Turns out I’m skilled in the area of emotional intelligence, which is encouraging I suppose. Gives the old ego a massage and a feel-good factor for not being a complete dope when it comes to feelings.
We proceeded to have an interesting conversation about what emotional intelligence brings to the workplace. She soon figured that I needed a bit of emotional uplift and was very complimentary about many of the scores on my test.
However, one area with a poor score was recognizing emotions in people’s faces.
The test results decided I wasn’t skilled at finding the tell that flashes across people’s faces before they put on their mask. The signal that people can’t hide before they say, “oh yes, I’m all very fine, thank you” and smile at you.
The little dip in the eyebrow or the clenching across the mouth indicating that they’re actually either in pain or some form of distress. All those little tells that are the stuff of spy dramas and whodunit mysteries.
The suggestion was that I might want to improve my skills in this area. Wouldn’t it be great if I could pick a colleague’s emotional state from their facial responses?
I jumped into my ego and said, “Well actually, I use body language, tone of voice and other information sources not just looking at people’s faces.”
Yes, such additional information was conceded as giving up more than the fleeting glance. But I should still get better at face reading.
The rationale given for improving my skills in facial tells was not to understand people’s emotions better, but so that I could manage those emotions. Now, the word manipulation was never actually said but the notion of managing somebody’s emotions I found disturbing.
In my world, your emotions are yours, my emotions are mine, and whilst they sometimes clash when triggered, what you feel and how you feel is entirely yours and your responsibility to manage, or not as the case may be.
I pulled the lady up on her assumption that managers should manage the emotions of their staff with the alternate that I wasn’t interested in managing people’s emotions because that was their responsibility. And whilst I understood that emotions in the workplace might need tweaking to get the best possible outcome for the team, it should be a personal thing, not one for the manager. I was really keen to let her know that I didn’t like the manipulation idea.
My hunch is I haven’t chosen to actively improve my face reading skills over the years because I don’t want to engage at that level of detail in people’s emotional selves.
The return argument was this.
“Well, okay, that’s fair enough, but it’s also always useful to have much more information about how people are feeling in order to be better informed yourself about their state. It helps you with empathy, helps you with understanding and a chance to be kind and thoughtful towards those people. Doesn’t always have to be about manipulating them for a particular end.”
But then she spoilt it by going on to quote the following rationale. Apparently, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) says emotional intelligence is an important skill that senior managers need to have in order to be successful.
It’s almost as though because it was the OECD that said it, it must be true.
So obviously, I jumped on that one.
With a howitzer, I said, “Why would I listen to the OECD? Why would I be listening to the neoliberal capitalist model that has got us into this mess in the first place? The reason why people are putting on their happy face when in fact inside they’re all chewed up.”
That didn’t go down so well.
What I found interesting was that this person who was clearly an expert in emotional intelligence had taken on, hook, line, and sinker, that commerce is great. That we should be understanding emotions for the bottom line when for everyone there are many, often more important reasons.
Emotional intelligence matters to people. It improves our relationships, our intimacy with others, our ability to form strong and meaningful bonds. It gives us the ability to have well-being both inside and outside the trappings of modern life.
I don’t think the lady got what I was saying and there wasn’t enough time to fully explain.
Maybe she went away and realised that she was subconsciously peddling a message that she might not even have believed in herself. And this is what we do all the time. We take on board messages subconsciously and we run with them. Often without realizing that we’re doing it even when the topic of the exercise is our inner selves and our emotions.
I’d like to think that we could move on from these primitive fundamentals. We can take the chance offered by a pandemic to reset some of these core agendas of managers taking control of our emotions and that the OECD must be right as examples of modernity. At the very least to question them and try to decide if they’re actually what we want.
I think it’s happening. Some people are having conversations to decide what the options might be. And it’s a hugely challenging area. It’s never going to be easy to move the juggernaut that is modern economics in a different direction or even dismantle some of it and put it back together in a different shape and size.
Anything requiring a transition on that scale is likely to cause an enormous amount of grief and upset. But we have to recognize that the current model is flawed. It’s not supporting all of the people all the time the discrepancy between the rich and the poor is growing.
In crises like COVID it’s the vulnerable elements of society that are impacted. The poor, the old, the unfit. Groups that occur across the whole of society.
So I’ve decided that I will have a look at that weaker skill of mine. Maybe learn more about how to look at people’s faces more precisely and try to understand what they’re thinking. There’s plenty of opportunities, particularly in the days of Zoom calls where you can actually stare at people for quite some time without them even realizing it’s happening.
And we’ll see if that improves my understanding of how the world works and whether it raises empathy or whether it just makes me more annoyed about how people are not able to control their emotions.
This post is a little petty, a bit of a whinge, and yet necessary.
There should be some advantages to high office. Typically the benefit is not stellar remuneration. For example, the Prime Minister of Australia earns A$550,000. Whilst this amount is considerably more than the average punter, the top ten CEOs in Australia all earnt over A$10 million in 2019.
If you want to make millions don’t try for the top political jobs. You won’t starve but you won’t be buying a yacht anytime soon. You will need to borrow one from your business mates.
The head of the Reserve Bank of Australia, technically a bureaucrat given that the government pays his salary, Dr Philip Lowe earned just over A$1 million in 2019 and was responsible for managing a $182 billion balance sheet. The highest-paid pure bureaucrat was the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade secretary with a total remuneration of $936,442.
Alright, so the more significant monies go to the private sector and the help.
Now I am not sure this is even remotely sensible for two reasons.
The first is that how are the best people for the job going to apply if they can get an order of magnitude better money elsewhere. Politicians are underpaid. Never thought you would hear that one. Only the current crop is overpaid for their capabilities but if we are to attract the best to do the toughest jobs, we need some pay parity to make the remuneration for messing about in parliament worthwhile.
The second reason is that CEO salaries are way too high. The way to achieve parity is to get a grip on the private sector’s excesses. Sure a reward for responsibility is necessary and they also want to compete for the best minds but really, $10 million. That is just taking the piss.
But wait, I have missed something.
There are perks to high office.
Here is one taken up with extraordinary enthusiasm by the recent POTUS.
Meantime the CEOs are circling their wagons.
The biggest Australian telco, Telstra CEO decided to blame the kids. Back in 2019 he was quoted as saying “Young kids are earning $5m playing Fortnite but when a business executive devotes a huge portion of their life … that it’s somehow morally wrong they get rewarded for it.”
Wait a minute.
A youngster with millions of online followers who love everything their hero does can earn a hefty sum. This is a simple supply-demand function that the CEO should understand. Just that same way that top-level professional soccer players with massive followings for themselves and their clubs can command crazy salaries, the CEO can get one too.
The point is the balance has gone. High public office should be rewarded by more than a medal for service and the CEOs should be paid on performance, not by their mates on the board.
Australian billionaire, Solomon Lew, pocketed $24.25m in dividends after his retail empire, Premier Investments, received almost $70m in wage subsidies during the coronavirus crisis.
What bullshit is this.
If 50% richer during a global crisis that put workers into lockdown in their homes doesn’t raise your hackles, then paying out big dividends to shareholders with one hand whilst holding out the other for a subsidy surely will.
It makes the abuses of power by Trump look benign.