Thursday, February 2, 2012

The thoughts of Chairman Dave

Blogging is contagious. Or addictive. Or something.

Qantas !
Yes, I admit it, I am a Dinosaur. For some people, the word denotes failure, after all the Dinosaurs are extinct, and we are not. I feel it necessary however, to point out that whereas Homo Sapiens might be regarded as a dominant world species for between one hundred thousand and two hundred thousand years, Dinosaurs were the dominant world species for approximately one hundred and thirty million years ! We could do with that sort of failure ourselves.
In fact I am so antediluvian, that I actually think we would be better off as a nation if Qantas didn't call Kuala Lumpur home, and flew occasionally with Australian pilots in machines maintained by Australian engineers. Now I appreciate that the argument that the present Qantas board is an unusually egregious example of incompetence, dishonesty and untrammelled self interest, would be difficult for anybody to refute, and that the Qantas unions are more short-sighted than Mr Magoo is clear to everybody, but surely it is obvious that the real blame for the current debacle lies elsewhere. Imagine privatising an industry which had for years grown up behind a network of regulation and protection. Imagine further saying to this newly 'liberated' identity, go out and compete with people who do not have your pay scales, or safety standards, or maintenance culture, and who are often protected by their own governments as you used to be, Oh and by the way if you sink, it will be your fault ! The guilty men are not called Seamus or Shaun or Dermot or whatever (I can't actually remember the name, but I can't get the accent out of my mind) , they are called Bob, Paul and John. If I was given the option of on the one hand having an Australian Qantas while paying a few extra dollars for my airfares, or on the other hand enjoying supercheap tickets from the various Kamikaze-Air rustbuckets on offer, I would choose Qantas every time.
See what I mean about being a Dinosaur? My contrariness extends to wondering (in private of course) whether Steve Jobs is quite the irreproachable candidate for sainthood that is plastered over the world's media. Here is a man who cleverly marketed the iPlonk, which we could all live without, while at the same time making himself immensely wealthy by effectively moving tens of thousands of American jobs into cheap labour, and for the most part, undemocratic Asian nations. But perhaps the hype emanates from the Apple marketing department, and is motivated by the imminent release of the iPlonk2, who knows?
Of course, looking at the specifics of a company like Qantas, or the failures of One Steel, or Telstra, or Ford, shouldn't blind us to the big picture. Keynes was fond of pointing out that the passionate rants and posturings of politicians, could often be traced back to the once fashionable theories of some now defunct economist. The present paradigm, embraced with embarrassing fervour by both of our major political parties, is that reform is good. A combination of free trade, privatisation and deregulation is good for us all, particularly if the dish can be served up, seasoned with a dash of social conservatism. The real argument at a federal level is about who can be trusted to most efficiently apply the policies of Margaret Thatcher to the Australian economy.
Am I alone in not liking this trend ?. Deregulation is like beer, a little is socially lubricating, and releases one from sometimes unworthy inhibitions, but too much makes you vomit, and leaves you with a headache the next day. Any economist will tell you that in a free trade relationship, wages in trading countries will equilibrate over time. Well, there are one thousand million Chinese, and twenty million of us – hands up anybody who things that their wages will tend towards ours, rather than the other way round. But, an economist will remonstrate, the doctrine of comparative advantage means that we will be able to take advantage of our respective skills and abilities , and by specialising, we will jointly maximise our benefits. It is a pity to see such an attractive theory aground on the rocks of reality. Ok, our manufacturing industry is in the throes of collapse, but thats no bad thing, after all it will free up resources which can be deployed in other sectors. Like farming for example, although the carrots I just bought from our local megamart were grown in China, and the only orange juice available was reconstituted from prime Chilean oranges, while the plantations of the Riverina are knee deep in rotting fruit. Well perhaps farming was a bad example, but what about insurance ? Thats a growth area after all, but it turns out that the European companies who own our insurance sector are, rather unsportingly keeping the profits they make out of us while scrambling to outsource as much of their Australian businesses as possible. Maybe financial services would be a better sector in which to invest all that liberated capital, but it turns out that banks make insurance companies look like amateurs when it comes to minimising Australian employment. How about telecommunications ? Has anybody tried ringing Telstra recently ? I've got a great idea, why don't we fall back on the mining sector ! Alas it turns out that this capital intensive, non- renewable industry is mainly owned by the foreigners to whom we flogged the mineral rights, and it uses its overseas made machinery, to dig up our dirt, and transport it offshore for processing on foreign flagged ships, while at the same time so distorting our balance of payments, that for every job it creates in mining it destroys two in tourism.
How on earth did this happen to us ? Like everybody else, I am never reluctant to blame our politicians, and looking at the present squabbling bunch, holding them criminally responsible seems both beyond criticism and fun at the same time. However, even I have to admit that it must be something more than the toxic atmosphere of the Parliament which seems to turn seemingly sensible people in to raving right wing wierdos the minute they enter its doors.
Unfortunately, the fault lies not in the stars, but in ourselves. I feel a little guilty, juxtaposing the following anecdotes, but they do seem to me to strike at the heart of our problem.
I was working in a caravan park in Tasmania, when the Gillard government made the decision to supplement income tax contributions to help pay for the Queensland flood disaster. At morning tea, one of my fellow workers was apoplectic with rage at this modest impost. “It is a disgrace, it is socialism (Julia Gillard=socialist is she kidding ?) it is threatening our whole way of life” “Hang on” I said “ The extra money wouldn't buy us two cappuccinos a week. After the nations most expensive natural catastrophe, this seems quite modest to me” “Don't be ridiculous” she replied, “This is all part of a plot to rob us of our freedom” Now my interlocutor was not some American inspired Katter-clone wacko, but a sensible, down to earth, hard working Taswegian. I suggested that if Tasmania had suffered to the extent that Queensland had, she would be pleased to have their assistance. She looked at me and said “If that happened here we would look after ourselves”
In the wake of the financial meltdown and debt crisis in Europe, the right wing French government recently announced a small increase in income tax, to be borne by the richest French taxpayers. A French TV channel did a vox pop exercise in Paris asking passers by for their reaction to the tax increase. A lady who admitted to being amongst those slugged said “France is in trouble, and we must help her. Nobody likes paying extra tax, and I hope that the increase will be removed as soon as possible, but in the meantime, we must all make a contribution”
Is it facile to draw conclusions from these disparate reactions ? I don't think so, because although capitalism has been defined as 'An organised selfishness' it seems to me that in this country we are setting new records for self interest, and our unprincipled politicians are merely falling over one another to cater to our insatiable national greed.
Winston Churchill once observed of neutral countries who made concessions to the fascists, that each hopes that if they feed the crocodile, it will eat them last. We are like that. We don't care if the farmer down the road goes bust, think of the cheap mangoes ! If our neighbour loses his job in the clothing factory, we console ourselves by buying only the cheapest shirts from China. If the manufacturing sector disappears, and my job doesn't, then I can afford not one, but two iPlonks. Wonderful !
I don't really have to look back to dinosaurian antiquity for a model which I feel might be more appropriate for Australia today, the policies of the last Menzies Government would do me, but alas they would be far too left wing for todays Labour Party to stomach.

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