Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Time to stop the Great Panic

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Kookaburra, ARR.News
Kookaburra is a debonair master of the treeverse whose flights of fancy cover topics ranging from the highs of art and film to the lows of politics and the law. Kookaburra's ever watchful beady eyes seek out even the smallest worms of insight for your intellectual degustation!

Bad decisions are made when people are in a panic and a lot of bad decisions have been made since the advent of Covid-19.

Indeed, the responses to Covid-19 seem to have been driven by a desire to ‘look tough and organised’, as exemplified by the myriad of often ‘extreme’ lockdowns and the closure of our international borders. Generally unknown-about public health regulations lurking in obscure Acts of the Parliaments around Australia have armed politicians and health bureaucrats with previously unheard of amounts of power over our daily lives.

However, it has become apparent that the responses have been driven by panic on the part of weak leaders unused to dealing with unexpected events – their main concern being the issuing of regular media releases to make themselves look good. Avoidance of personal responsibility has been a major motivator. As they ramped up the fear in the population, assisted by a health bureaucracy basking in its newly acquired power, the politicians rolled out more and more oppressive responses, often kicking responsibility down the corridor by saying ‘we are just following advice’. Wrong. Politicians should certainly listen to advice. In the end, however, they need to make decisions and accept responsibility for those decisions. In the end, politicians, not health bureaucrats, are accountable to the people. In the end, the people can hold only politicians responsible, not health bureaucrats. That is how ‘responsible government’ is meant to work, remember that idea, ‘responsible government’ where the Executive accounts to Parliament which in turn accounts to the people? Power moves from the bottom to the top in our system of government, not from the top down to the bottom.

Worse, we have come to see the distressing spectacle of each state, each layer of government, each politician competing with the other to look ‘tougher’ – ‘it may hurt, but it’s all for your own good and we are here to protect you’ has become the mantra. State governments made the response to Covid their justification for rampant parochialism – after all, there were some elections coming up and there is nothing like mass hysteria about a virus to divert attention from the more mundane failings of a government. For some, Covid-19 has been the gift which just keeps on giving.

Generally speaking, despite the media hype, the responses to Covid-19 have been simplistic, blunt-edged instruments with little thought given to more creative and imaginative approaches. For example – why do we not yet have several quarantine facilities around the country? Why do we continue with the clearly failed hotel quarantine arrangements? Why did we not have very selective lockdowns of suburbs rather than whole cities, even states? The answer – weak leaders, unable to make up their minds about what to do and afraid, very afraid, that they might get it wrong – and a health bureaucracy drinking from the cup of untrammelled authority.

All of this has been mixed-in with a fair dose of political opportunism as well. What better way to make people malleable to one’s desires than to make them afraid? It is a modus operandi often utilised by autocrats over the centuries, along with ‘give them someone to loathe’.

All the worst aspects of the underlying xenophobia and self-centredness of many Australians have come to the fore. The Great Missing Toilet Rolls Mystery with scenes of members of the public having fights in supermarkets’ aisles as they grab ‘the last roll’ being the most prosaic of those. Although, it did make one think – ‘if the government cannot organise a toilet roll in a supermarket’ then, why should anything else they plan go well? Fuel supplies come to mind.

Which brings us to the vaccine non-roll-out, being just the latest in a long line of bureaucratic/political failures which commenced with the ‘Ruby Princess’ debacle for which, of course, nobody has been held responsible, and nobody has resigned. Nothing. In fact, as with most of the all too common political/bureaucratic disasters befalling Australia in recent times, we are told it has all been a great success. Self-deception is never a good place from which to start dealing with problems.

The willingness of the Australian population to throw centuries of being at the leading edge of developing the fragile experiment of liberal democracy out the window at the drop of a hat has been astounding – and deeply depressing.

Knuckle down. Hand over your personal details. Tell the authorities about that next door neighbour who seemed to have too many people in their home on the weekend. Where are you from? Do you live here? Where were you eating last night? Really? 1930s Germany? No, modern Australia. This is not the country in which I grew-up in the 1960s and 70s. It has become a bureaucratised nanny state where government interferes daily in our lives, prying into all we do and encouraging its citizens to become snitches.

Anyone who raises concerns about the extent of the removal of a our civil liberties receives the neanderlithic response of ‘well, if you have nothing to hide….’. Sadly, it is becoming all too clear that these ‘temporary’ removals of civil liberties – to enter and leave a restaurant or pub at will without ‘checking-in’, the right to travel freely – even when trying to return to one’s homeland – and many others, will be permanent. The gradual change in tone from ‘containment’, to ‘eradication’, to ‘vaccination’, to…..’stay locked-in forever’, is the slow steady path to authoritarianism. It is nothing less.

The economy is another element of the ‘Australia is the envy of the world’ propaganda. The Australian economy is not healthy, despite claims made in ministerial press releases, the banking industry and the Reserve Bank. The only thing keeping the economy going, after the collapse of the mass immigration and foreign student ponzi schemes, is the momentum created by the mass socialisation of society by way of handouts to every man and his dog – even to the likes of Gerry Harvey’s family. Harvey Norman – ‘funded by the Australian taxpayer’. Seriously? Well, it is so easy to spend other people’s money isn’t it – and in the case of Gerry and Solly Lew, and other business leaders, so easy to accept it, isn’t it? The real price to be paid for this act of reckless irresponsibility by the current crop of federal politicians will be government playing an even greater role in the life of every business and every citizen. After all, if you accept what the piper pays….

Any Liberal or National Party voter who agrees with what the Coalition Government did by embarking upon the greatest spending event by any federal government in our history should hang their head in shame. The complete right of centre project of balanced budgets and responsible spending was thrown out the window in an instant – an instant. It is highly unlikely that the massive debts of the federal government and the state governments will ever be repaid.

The relationship between the state and the individual has changed forever in Australia – and it is not a change for the better. It is not a change which any Coalition government should have ever considered, let alone enacted. One wonders what Coalition politicians and advisors were thinking when they commenced this mass spending spree to financial destruction. Even from a purely political point of view, they wiped out at one stroke their age-old points of difference with the ALP and the Greens – better management and better financial control. Now, it would appear, the competition is about who can spend more – and control more.

To add to the difficulties which confront us, Australia’s economy has been gradually dumbed down by successive governments of all persuasions for decades. According to the Harvard Business School we now rate at number 93, next to Senegal, in terms of economic complexity. An economy based virtually entirely on sales of commodities (and cappuccinos) alone. Dumb.

Meantime, way up there atop his marble tower in Martin Place, Sydney, the Governor of the Reserve Bank is conducting what I fear will become known as a very inventive, but ultimately catastrophic, financial experiment. One in which a party with no money (the government) issues bonds to create money to fund its excess of expenditure over revenue. The bonds issued by the first party (the government) are then ‘bought’ by a second party (the major banks) using a line of credit provided by a third party (the Reserve Bank – which is also really the first party). The second party then ‘sells’ the bonds to the third party which ‘pays’ for the bonds by providing a further ‘credit’ on the second party’s account with the third party. The second party then lends that amount (multiplied several times) to Australian borrowers. The technical term for this is Quantitative Easing. Confused? Good. You ought to be. It is a fantasy. The Reserve Bank Governor seriously stated at a National Press Club luncheon ‘this is how we make money’. I cannot help but feel that he should have said ‘this is how we create an economic disaster’. The accelerated growth in property prices across Australia could be the harbinger of what is to come.

Australia needs two things in order to survive. Thrive comes later – that will happen only if a ‘willing to be socialised into a state of morphine like reliance on a government drip’ nation can learn to break the habit.

First – free trade. Without free trade Australia cannot fund its massive borrowings. Australia is not like the US or Europe or China. We cannot just conduct Quantitative Easing experiments – because experiments are what they are – as the US, Europe, China and other large economies can do. Our economy is small by comparison. We do not have sufficient demand in our economy to take up the additional production which we need to create in order to absorb the additional money created and to pay for our debt.

This raises the interesting issue of productivity – remember that? We used to talk about productivity a lot. We even had a federal Department of Productivity. We gave-up on productivity a long time ago. If anyone tried to measure Australia’s productivity by attaching it to one of those hospital machines which measures pulse – it would be an almost a flatline.

Australia’s Productivity Growth, Five Year Average. Source : Productivity Commission
Australia’s Productivity Growth : 2018-2019, Economy Wide 2018-2019. Source : Productivity Commission

We need people in other countries to buy our goods. For that to happen we need the other essential ingredient for Australia’s survival – freedom of movement of people. International business does not happen in a remote ‘communication by email’ test tube. At some point, people need to meet, to exchange ideas and to share experiences. To demonstrate a spirit of good will. To develop trust. Those basic realities of keeping an international business running – which is what Australia is – a medium sized international business – are not understood at all by politicians and bureaucrats who, for the most part, have never really had the ultimate responsibility of running anything.

And that is it, isn’t it? We are in the hands of people with no real experience of how things work. They have no idea at all. Blundering on in a self-satisfied media release driven fashion, driving the great automobile of Australia off a cliff which is not even on their ‘roadmap’.

Australians need to get a grip. Put their governments and bureaucrats back in their boxes. Express their opinions. Demand their civil liberties. Open their borders. Most of important of all – stop the Great Panic.

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