What happens if democracy dies

What happens if democracy dies

Suppose the system used in 123 countries that billions of people have come to understand and take for granted fails, initially by electing muppets into office, and then collapsing altogether under the weight of distrust and disillusion.

Many scholars and the very clever writers on the excellent 5th season of Orange is the New Black, have pondered this situation. What happens could be a toss up between a joyous reinvention of commerce and exchange, with unwritten rules of human decency holding everything together, or more brutal exchange systems where the stronger grab from the weaker in a nasty cascade.

Academics play it out more sedately as game theory involving hawks and doves and conclude, mostly, that some sort of balance will emerge, an equilibrium of sorts, but a fragile one that easily gets out of whack. Drama writers just make the goings on in the fictional Litchfield prison ever more bizarre and ever more believable.

Whatever the conjecture, all agree that should democracy fail it will be replaced by something. And there are those who are scared of what comes next and others more confident. But here is a thought. What if democracy has already failed? And failed miserably.

What if it’s not democracy — the process that gives the majority what they want from an array of limited options — that holds everything together but something else.

Perhaps it is the process of exchange where human behaviour is moderated by mutual benefits, initially between individuals and then scaled up. And so long as exchange for mutual benefit is possible, all is well.

This idea also explains brutal exchange. Taking what I need by force is always an easy option in an exchange system but without mutual benefit it cannot persist forever. Human history is all about how brutal exchange eventually breaks down exponentially; think slave trade, apartheid, black integration. The excesses fall away readily whilst the residual lingers for a long time.

What we see as elections to public office makes very little difference to fundamental exchange. The passing of laws and regulation may restrict some transactions and even try to prevent others but not much can stop a deal when there are people willing to take it.

It turns out that a huge amount of what politicians actually do is ensure that exchange is easy, especially with other jurisdictions, and they try their utmost to do nothing to disturb the fragile economy.

So, in fact, if democracy dies, maybe not much happens at all but brutal exchange.

Leadership for the environment

Leadership for the environment

Be curious and humble

Be courageous and confident

Kat Cole, the 30 something president of a $1 billion brand believes that great leadership requires just these four key qualities.

Makes good sense.

Curiosity is essential for anyone leading the way along new paths into unknown territory. It implies a willingness to learn and anything genuinely new always supplies a steep learning curve.

Humility is self-restraint, self-understanding, awareness, and a good sense of perspective meaning that it is not about me. This is a true leadership quality.

Courage seems obvious. Someone must be the first to step out into the unknown to take on the curve.

Confidence is contagious. It energises those who have it and everyone they meet. It is a powerful attractive force that gathers and holds people together to deliver more than the sum of the parts.

There are few leaders who do not have these qualities. Absence or even a shortage in any one of them and a would-be leader couldn’t move forward and bring others along.

What do these qualities mean when it comes to environmental leadership?

Anyone with a smidgen of interest in the natural world usually has some curiosity. Variety, the unusual, and the strange are present in everything from trees to termites, and not even Sir David has seen it all.

Stand close enough to a wild elephant to hear her stomach rumble and humility will cascade over you to wash away your awe. Put a spoonful of soil under a microscope and the life teeming across your vision should make all your first world problems melt away. Once seen for what it truly is, nature can humble the mightiest ego.

They don’t call them environmental warriors for nothing. There is a fight on that demands courage enough to stand against convention and take on the reality that modern living exploits nature. It is hard for even the simplest sustainable action to be easier or cheaper than business as usual.

So far, so good as we can expect that most environmentalists are curious, humble and courageous.

Confidence is a feeling of self-assurance usually arising from an appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities — the expression of self-belief.

Now here I would argue that environmental leaders have a problem. Many are strong, articulate and outgoing individuals for sure. And they are often passionate, sometimes fearless, advocates.

But these traits are not confidence.

Confidence can be very hard for environmentalists because at some level they all participate in the actions that exploit resources. They drive cars, fly in aeroplanes, consume the products of commercial agriculture and feed their dogs. They live a life that they know contributes to most environmental problems.

Only true narcissists can overcome such incongruity to be truly confident. Normal folk cannot overcome the flaw and appear fake or overly aggressive.

Madness

Madness

Here is what Professor Brian Cox, a particle physicist at the University of Manchester and popular interpreter of science, has to say about those who ridicule or ignore scientific consensus.

Imagine that we’re flying on a plane, and imagine that the passengers decide that they think they can fly the plane better than the captain. So they say ‘come on, we’ve had a vote and we all think that it’s our right as a citizen to land this plane rather than you. It doesn’t matter that you’ve studied it for 20 years

Do you want to be on that plane? I certainly don’t.

Any regular reader will know that I am rarely effusive on the qualities of scientists. I have doubts over the quality of research and the peer-review process that is supposed to maintain it. I question the training of future researchers and lament a seemingly pervasive misunderstanding of inference. The bunkers that scientists hide in restrict their worldview and too often the tug of opinion overrides objectivity.

But these are nuanced gripes of the middle aged.

I have never doubted the core of what science is and does. Any foibles are just that. Even modestly applied, the scientific method builds knowledge and understanding of everything from rockets to growing rocket. Without it we would still be hunting and gathering.

The captain of the plane may not be the greatest pilot on earth but I ‘d rather he have the controls than the elected nominee from random passengers.

Anyone who agrees should have a polite conversation with those who are comfortable that the $5 billion a year US Environmental Protection Agency has a budget cut of 30% whilst the US defence budget goes up by $50 billion, a 10% increase.

Madness.

Welcome to Muppetville

Welcome to Muppetville

In the Urban Dictionary the top definition for muppet is “a person who is ignorant and generally has no idea about anything”

Muppetville is the place where these people live… in complete bliss.

Imagine for a moment how delightful it must be to reside in Muppetville. You are totally unaware of your ignorance and dearth of ideas. All the people around you are just like you. They are clueless too.

Good coffee is available everywhere and there is never a day you need to pack your own lunch, or dinner for that matter. Rarely are there times when you must be quiet. A comrade or colleague is always nearby and eager for an exchange of glibness. Days are so full that there is not a moment to think. And all the time other Muppets are crazy busy rushing around to normalize your own mania.

There is no risk of some smartarse blasting your argument to the moon with a gentle quip. Ideas people rarely visit. The protection of so many fellow Muppets means there is no reason to doubt anything. And no fear either because as a clueless person you have no awareness of anything beyond the end of your nose.

Most remarkably, and for reasons not fully understood, the real world wants to know what’s going on in Muppetville. Every day, TV cameras and genetically blessed youngsters report on every move, random word string, and hi-vis vests of residents.

And there are many things to see. The revolving doors are always interesting. The gravity defying backflips are cockroach common, but thanks to the accompanying conviction failures, they rarely disappoint. And there are tears, always tears, despite the bliss.

Sometimes a Muppet will put on an extraordinary media performance that stands out from the usual incoherence. Here is a link to a fine example. These episodes are a glimpse inside the minds of people who live without ideas and knowledge.

When Muppets venture out of the ville, never alone and always protected by a coterie of blessed youngsters, they maintain a brave face. This shows tremendous courage. Not everyone can so easily leave the comfort of home to face bewilderment. Perhaps they do this to prepare for eviction that is surprisingly common.

There are many would be residents of Muppetville. Plenty of people want to live there. But it takes ruthlessness, some patience, and demonstrable incompetence to get in. Not everyone is up for that.

In fact, Muppetville has, over the years, drifted away into a kind of never-never land. Its residents and newcomers float with it unable to alter the current. Fewer and fewer people want to go there now. If this were evolution perhaps a new race would emerge from this drift, rife with inbreeding depression.

This could be the source of our fascination. Curiosity over where the current will take this lot next. Perhaps, but more likely, we are equally dumb.

After all, we let them run the country.

Really poor leadership

Really poor leadership

Direct action on climate change is costing the Australian taxpayer over $2 billion to achieve around 177 million tCO2e or one years worth of abatement to meet the emission reduction target Australia presented in Paris.

A few people are being paid a lot of money (more than double the global market rate) to generate abatement while emitters continue to externalise their contribution to a warming world.

Policy that is in the interest of a few and the detriment of most is not good policy whatever your political leanings. Direct action is even worse because the government of the day is not committed to climate action at all. And instead of owning this position, they pay a sop to the voters, pretending to do something that is actually a way to line the pockets of a few.

The painful satire from Ross Gittings that sums up just how stupid modern politics has become tells us just how pathetic our political leadership is. And for once there is no mention of The Donald.

When something is really bad it does not tend to persist. This is true of really good things too because there is a regression to the mean in most things. The average eventually reasserts itself.

This will happen to our current leaders and perhaps to the current political system. Parliamentarians and those feeding off them should be worried.

Claiming coal is the answer in a record-breaking countrywide heatwave is as stupid as it looks. Everyone can see it.

Soon they will also see that many other policies, such as the ERF, are useless and unfair.

Disruption is at hand.

 

 

 

High-speed commuting

High-speed commuting

Here is an interesting idea that uses a solution to one problem to solve another.

House prices in the major cities of Australia are pretty much out of reach for working families not already in the market. Just to keep the roof over the kid’s bedroom is costing well over 50% of the family income for renters or buyers.

The latest solution to housing affordability is a high-speed rail link between Sydney and Melbourne financed predominantly from private capital.

Come again.

Well, the idea is that very fast transport links, such as covering the 878 km between Melbourne and Sydney in an hour of travel, would allow people to work in the city and live in the countryside where, of course, housing is much cheaper.

And should they cough up the infrastructure funds, the private sector can cash in on the growth in land values all along the route to easily cover the return on investment.

Now I should point out that the current commute from Penrith, an outer west suburb of Sydney, to the Sydney CBD, a distance of 55 km, takes at least 50 minutes on the fast train. The notion of getting to Melbourne by rail in just a few more minutes is fanciful.

You don’t want to know how long it takes to get to Canberra by rail, a destination not even half way to Melbourne. Let’s just say you’ll need to take a book.

But there are fast trains in the world and they move people around very efficiently indeed, famously so in Japan and continental Europe. And the new technologies for rapid transport systems make the working options look like a horse and cart.

Infrastructure at this scale does cost a lot of money. But there is also a lot of capital about looking for a return. So you can see why the idea emerges.

Except that it is crazily dumb.

The reason housing is so expensive is the concentration of wealth. The high paying jobs are in town and so people want to be in town. They pay rent (or a mortgage) for being close to work and this retains wealth in the city that stays in the hands of a relative few. Don’t forget the bank owns your house until the mortgage is paid off.

What would be better is if the jobs were more evenly distributed, then the people would happily move to the jobs. Demand in cities would slow and so would prices.

So instead of commuter trains, what about a high-speed rural train network designed to move produce rather than people. Give the aquaponics entrepreneur in Albury the ability to sell produce to the Sydney market where there are plenty of people still occupying the existing housing stock.

This would also get around the problem of an agricultural production system currently capital saturated. Farm business debt-equity ratios and production growth potential are maxed out under current practices. New production is needed to attract capital.

So rather than move the people to the capital why not move the capital to the people.

And this might even release some housing affordability pressure because capital has somewhere other than real estate to make a return.

Merry-go-round

Merry-go-round

Suppose you are a smart person with considerable experience of the world. You have worked hard and sacrificed much for a stellar career that now has you among the CEO ranks. One of your rewards is a seven figure a year salary that puts you just shy of the top 250 CEO earners on 2014 numbers.

In a most peculiar turn of events in 2016, you go from being the CEO of a global environmental consulting firm to running a major power corporation and then, just six months later, you take over as head of the largest a private health fund in the country.

Not in a million years. Such career shifts are impossible in the real world. Consulting firm to energy company maybe. Even energy company to health fund is possible. But not from environment to industry to health in six months. Impossible.

Such career shifts are impossible in the real world. Consulting firm to energy company maybe. Even energy company to health fund is possible. But not from environment to industry to health in six months. Impossible.

Impossible.

Unless of course, you are a minister in the Australian federal government. Then you can make the change from Environment minister to Industry minister to Health minister in a jiffy. In your latest incarnation at health, you are responsible for a $65 billion portfolio. Quite some responsibility.

Somewhat surprisingly, your annual remuneration for handling the health of the nation is just $330,000 plus some expenses — but you have to be very careful indeed not to abuse any entitlements.

I’m not sure what is more bizarre. The merry-go-round of ministers running around the cabinet room and putting their bums down on the nearest chair when to music stops. Or the fact that they are paid such a pittance to take on huge financial and, dare I say moral responsibility.

Professor John Rice, writing in The Conversation, is optimistic that some positive policy settings can survive a similar revolving door of ministers in the science portfolio.  He may be right if all the newest minister has to do is keep on the innovation course and maintain the finding. Only it never is quite so simple.

The analogy with commercial firms is not a trivial one. CEOs steer their ships through turbulent waters towards profit. Shareholders demand that they do this wisely and the law protects their interests from incompetence as well as malfeasance. Rarely will the CEO survive without relevant experience and at least some knowledge.

Why should ministers be any different? It is just as important that they have at least some topic skills and experience in their portfolio even though their remuneration seems not to depend on it.


Monkeys like peanuts — more on CEO salaries