Trump lost but have the democrats won?

Trump lost but have the democrats won?

Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona on Unsplash

Trump lost.

He will contest and whine, but for now, the American people are more concerned about their democracy than his tantrums. 

This is an encouraging sign. 

The country pulled itself back from the brink and gained some time to reflect. It’s what happens next that matters.

People may remember a frustrated President Obama, particularly in his second term of office. A recalcitrant and regressive Republican majority in the senate scuppered most of his key initiatives. 

President Biden is familiar with that scenario, viewing from the Veeps chair throughout that painful process. Republican’s majority in the senate has gone, but they have not gone away, nor has their mischief. 

A debate must happen within the democratic party. 

They united to get rid of Trump, fair enough. But a firm, adult conversation must happen between the old school and the new youngsters who have a very different take. 

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, serving as the U.S. Representative for New York’s 14th congressional district since 2019, for example, is asking the party to look very closely at how it got itself in the mess that resulted in Trump in the first place.

It is time for an alternative. 

The old school must realise that moving to the centre is no longer the answer. At least not the established centre that pampers to donors and the corporate world. 

If that happens again, it matters very little really which colour is in power because each offers the private sector the same easy ride. 

A centrist policy that bails everybody out using debt which simply funnels itself into a tiny number of people with stock options is not the future; it can’t be. 

Now is the time for dramatic rethinking and risk-taking. 

The Biden presidency won’t be able to do that. There have been enough old white men in the oval office for us to know how that goes. Admittedly this one has a woman of colour as vice president. But still, too much of the old school lingers. 

Back in the election, the progressive left had an old candidate too, considered way too risky at the time. The gamble to dump Saunders and go with the convention only just paid off. And it was a high-risk game to play in the first place. 

What must happen now is that the youngsters must come through. Their energy, positivity, and passion must fuel a progressive cause focusing on the well-being of people and the planet. They will usher in a different economic model because the last one is not working. 

The problem that faces them is scary. The planet cannot support three cars per household, and by 2030 just sourcing food for 11 billion people will be hard enough. 

Recall the late, great Hans Rosling’s explanation of the demographic transition

He said that the 2 billion poorest aspire to a pair of shoes, another 3 billion to a bicycle, 2 billion more to a car and a billion or so in the rich countries who, pre-COVID, aspired to fly to a remote destination on holidays. 

Progression means an economic approach that meets those aspirations, noting that a bicycle is not enough and, perhaps, three cars is not possible. 

If you want to ‘reimagine the shape of progress’ as Kate Raworth puts it check out her TEDx talk on Doughnut economics.

Thankfully Trump lost and the Democrats under Biden will calm the waters somewhat. 

Relative peace will buy time for the new generation of ideas to thrive. Only then will they have won.


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Are banks bad?

Are banks bad?

Photo by Michael Longmire on Unsplash

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.

Banking externalities

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. 

People’s choice

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.

Source: DoughnutEconomics, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

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.


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Caught on the wrong side of history

Caught on the wrong side of history

Photo by Shaah Shahidh on Unsplash

According to Ian Verrender, ABC business editor, a senior Australian government minister who was on the wrong side of a few drinks made this off the cuff comment…

 “The difference between Labor’s policy and ours is that Julia Gillard introduced a scheme where big polluters paid Australian taxpayers. Tony changed it so that Australian taxpayers pay big polluters,” 

Unnamed Austrailian Government Minister

This bizarre statement referred to the carbon price, the so-called ‘great big tax’ introduced by the Labour government in 2012. This blog has mentioned the debacle that is Australian climate policy and the frustration and sadness that it has been thus for over a decade.

Imagine the arrogance in this inebriated quip. 

Australians elect such individuals, and as an excellent article by Leigh Sales, another ABC stalwart, tells us, this level of vulgarity is typical. It is not a personality thing but ingrained into the political system. It is leadership that lacks.

I always liked the idea that the cream rises to the top. 

It ranks alongside ‘the truth persists’ as quotes that are hopeful and true. The problem is it’s taking a while, way too long. 

“Cream always rises to the top…so do good leaders”.

John Paul Warren

The delay in the arrival of some genuine leaders will have consequences.

One of the more ironic is the one Ian Verrender describes, the consequences for Australia of the rest of the world putting a price on carbon in the form of carbon border taxes. Countries that have lowered emissions and want to keep it that way are reluctant to import emission-intensive commodities. At least that is the rhetoric.

The reality for Australia is that there will be carbon levies. The world was trending towards enforcing climate policy through trade action. For example, the EU Carbon Border Adjustment Legislation is still rough but will include aluminium, iron, steel, cement, natural gas, oil and coal. 

Here are the 10 Biggest Exporting Industries in Australia

  1. Iron Ore Mining $123.1B
  2. Oil and Gas Extraction $39.8B
  3. Coal Mining $37.6
  4. Liquefied Natural Gas Production $34.8B
  5. Gold and Other Non-Ferrous Metal Processing $29.4B
  6. Meat Processing $15.9B
  7. Grain Growing $8.2B
  8. Alumina Production $7.4B
  9. Pharmaceutical Product Manufacturing $6.9B
  10. Copper, Silver, Lead and Zinc Smelting and Refining $6.8B

That is at least $309 billion in exports that could get slugged for their emission intensity. If the levy is just 5%, that is $15 billion in lost revenue… per year.

But it’s ok; the taxpayer is waiting patiently to pay the big polluters.


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Are you looking the other way?

Are you looking the other way?

Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash

I am.

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.


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Power and the populist

Power and the populist

Photo by Alejandro Cartagena 🇲🇽🏳‍🌈 on Unsplash

Talking about the ‘man child’.

Sometimes conversations just meander along into some interesting territory. Here is one between myself and my buddy Chris in July 2020 prior to the US election and 6 months into the pandemic.


Good morning, Chris.

How are you doing?

We have to stop meeting like this people begin to talk. 

They do already. So until we grow up and become a republic we have to put up with foreigners interfering in our democracy… Seems to be the news this morning.

I get all of this reporting about the Royals and everything, but they are just the law under themselves. Mind you they always have been news, for centuries literally.

They are just celebrities now, aren’t they?

They are now but they never used to be. Not so long ago it was the power struggle, the wrestling around of power. That’s really what gets people off once money is no longer an issue then it’s all about the power.

I mean you can see that with our own Malcolm Turnbull, you know, there was nothing he would gain from being Prime Minister except some feathers in his cap and maybe a place in history. He’s already worth 150 million bucks or something so he doesn’t really need the money. It’s about the glory and the power?

Yeah, and you wonder what people get out of that it obviously drives so many people. I mean, I think power drives people in business more than profit. In my experience, the people in charge of businesses are there more because they like to be in charge than they are to make profit for shareholders.

Hmm… I get the ‘in charge’ thing. 

It’s seductive. No question.

I guess power is what’s really there but what’s the power for in your particular case? I can see the difference between, I don’t know, Gandhi and Donald Trump, they both want to influence people. But very different circumstances that got them to be leaders with very different styles. Gandhi was obviously not in it for the glory or maybe was I don’t know. We certainly didn’t gain anything material out of it. 

No, but that’s what I think I’m getting at. I think it’s these people like to be respected and you get that in a position of power. Almost by definition you’re respected because empowering at the end of a gun is respect of some sort or another even if I respect you because you could take my life. I don’t respect you for your moral high ground. I respect you because I’m s*** scared of that AK-47 you’re holding.

Yeah.

So power is the thing, isn’t it? 

And we talked about that before, the difference between the sort of positional power and personal power and maybe that’s you know, Trump has no personal power but he’s craved it and so he’s got himself positional power.

I think that’s a good summation of him. It’s why the media like calling him a man child because he is.

Hmm.

This is a bit of a diss to children because children can be quite pure and Trump is clearly not pure but he is an emotional child. No question that he hasn’t grown up at all. What he does is all for that sense of power in himself. Not from what the presidency provides. I remember when I stood in front of the White House on a visit to Washington and thinking ‘this is an interesting place, you know, it’s kind of locked away’. You can’t get at it, you know. Inside of that place, it would be easy to maintain a small army of sycophants just you just prop you up. And if you have no sense of what you’re doing for the other 350 million people in the country it doesn’t matter. 

Yes and every utterance that army of people coming out to say what he really meant was ‘blah’ to clean up his mess.

Yep. I was thinking about the 20,000 lies. That’s one every 90 minutes of his tenure. It’s kind of phenomenal, isn’t it?

Is it in the Guinness Book of Records?

An untruth every 90 minutes of his tenure ought to be.

But Kaylee will never lie to the press 

Except she does it every day.

She mops up his s*** that is just spread everywhere. But yeah, I mean he’s crashing and it’s really interesting to hear Biden talk about making steel for wind generators and jobs in renewable technologies, battery cars, which out of America just seems like just crazy talk, you know.

But in a way, it’s an obvious platform, isn’t it? Because their problem is that they lost last time because Hillary was considered to be just more of the same, right?

Yeah, she was.

Right? So he’s got to be different this time around. Otherwise, they’ll lose again only he’s not because he’s an old white man?

Agreed, he’s just from the same, Central Casting that produced Hillary.

Exactly. And ironically she was probably a better candidate from that mould.

Yeah, she probably was. Certainly, she was more in touch with her sensibilities because Trump is losing his but yeah, it’s interesting that Hillary was more of the same, but the public chose a scenario worse than that.

Yes, it is extraordinary, isn’t it? Populism might have a short life though. COVID-19 is really sorting them out. I mean all of the populist leaders will be found wanting if they try to be in charge of this virus which will just tell them to stuff off.

Yeah, you can just see it because populism requires you to be popular and so you have to say popular stuff like ‘the stock market is rising’ and ‘interest rates are great’, ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’. And, of course, you have to say that freedom is important and all the other things that are popular. The last thing is to tell people to stay home and you have to shut your business. 

Ouch, very unpopular.

It obviously isn’t gonna work for the populist style.

Except you only need to be a bit popular. Remember Margaret Thatcher won less than 40% of the vote or whatever it was. A tiny majority that gets you over the line. Just learn the system you’re in.

Hmm and maybe Biden has to talk green new deal and the like because he needs the support of his side of politics who are going there.

Well, he has to lock in his core base too. Democrats have to get out of the house, brave the virus, and go vote. That’s always their problem. Turnout in numbers and they win.

Yeah. Republicans have said it. If everyone votes we don’t win.

That’s right, which is probably why they don’t have compulsory voting.

Yeah, and why they play all sorts of jiggery-pokery with booths and where they are and how many there are and when they’re open and whatever…

Yep. Yep, illegal, illegal.

Well, you need and all that stuff when it’s all about manipulating the vote.

To bring back the man child!


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Military spending

Military spending

Photo by Diego González on Unsplash

Imagine a bizarre military coalition between China, India, Russia, United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Germany, France, Japan, South Korea, Italy and Australia. 

Between them, these countries spent $762 billion on their military during the lockdown year of 2020. This is 38% of the global military spending that was nearly $2 trillion in 2020, a 2.6% increase in real terms on 2019 according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). 

Such an unlikely alliance would be a formidable adversary. There is not much firepower left in the world to go up against such a combined military force.

However, there is one potential adversary capable of taking on such an alliance, at least in terms of military spending. 

At $778 billion, the United States accounted for 39% of total global military expenditure in 2020.

Break down this colossal expenditure by country and the US outspends its nearest rival, China, by three times and spends an order of magnitude more (10.6x) than the next nearest rival, India.

It is hard to see China as the aggressor when these numbers are in the frame. Especially when the disparity between the US and the rest has been going on for decades.

Naturally, the west is grateful for access to such muscle. 

There is little doubt military might has been a deterrent, especially when combined into collective defence. For example, NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, is an intergovernmental military alliance between 30 European and North American countries to implement the North Atlantic Treaty that was signed on 4 April 1949. But the collective defence NATO countries enjoy is thanks to the US paying for most of the expense.

Such generosity is remarkable. If only it was altruism. 

Better use of military spending

Clearly it is hard to put aside advocacy by the military men who are passionate about the need for big boy’s toys deterrent, the wealth creation from such a large military machine, and the influence such apparent generosity buys the US in foreign affairs.

There is no altruism, just some history in being the big cheese combined with social and political advantage from staying ‘strong’.

All this is not confined to the United States. 

Australia has a fraction of the population of the US and a puny US1.4 trillion GDP that cannot even touch California (US3 trillion in 2020). Yet the government can spend US$37 billion on French submarines at a cost of US$1,500 for every person in the country.

Everyone is in on it.

Maybe there are better ways of mobilising the fraction of GDP that becomes government spending.

How about a Universal Basic Income?

Recent research shows that an annual payment to all Australians of A$18,500 a year (US$13,500) would cost the taxpayer roughly A$126 billion a year or A$20 billion that the current cost of unemployment benefit and three times the current defence budget.

It would need an unpalatable jump in the overall tax rate from 28% to 34% to pay for it. 

But the A$20 billion more than the current payments to the unemployed is just half the military budget. 

Maybe it is more about priorities than absolutes.

But as this ramble began with the extreme US military budget, this is the point. Does the world need to spend so much on deterrents and does one country need to overwhelm the rest?


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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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