Globalisation and Inequality

This thinkpiece is opinion with some small basis in researched reality, but please don’t take this as definitive. All my own views.

The argument being made in the US post-Trump and in the UK post-Brexit is that the forces of globalisation and free trade have led to increasing inequality, and that’s what the working class of these countries is getting upset about – their increasing distance from the “elite” that are perceived to benefit from the globalisation at the cost of the working class.

Except what’s happening here – to put it in Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat terms – is that the playing field is flattening, at least at the lower end of the income distribution. This means more than just bringing the developing countries up to the standard of the developed countries – it’s also causing the developed countries to drop down a little, or more rather a reversion to the mean.

The way the working class in developed nations are feeling the pain is an inevitable consequence of this globalisation – the advantages they had were only ever relative, because for all that there’s said about equality, it was never the case that developed economies were “equal” – it was entirely in their average lying well above the global average.

But now… it’s not so much. The working class in developed economies is being levelled with the working class in other economies. The working class of developing economies are coming closer to equal footing as borders come down in the pursuit of the dollar. Immigration makes this even more so, where those willing to work for a low wage by developed economy standards are comparatively better off by their personal standards because it’s a high wage by their own standards; this only starts to break down when the wages in their home countries lift enough that the differential isn’t worth it.

Inequality has always been there; inequality, globally, has gotten lower. However, where it was also unequally spread – where some countries had less internal inequality – it’s now being more equally distributed around the world as a global population is included and free trade and movement of labour makes the production of goods anywhere the same.

Continue reading Globalisation and Inequality

A Love Letter to Australia

First Dog on the Moon writes a love letter to Australia:

Hello Australia, I have always loved you.

There isn’t space here to list everything as Australia takes up a lot of space.

I love standing still in the bush when it is pushing 40 degrees…

I love watching Test cricket. With the sound on the TV off and the ABC radio on…

Geez we can be funny buggers though. I love that. And the way we talk, I reckon if the science could work out a way to weaponise an accent, Australian voices could blast a hole in the moon. Yeah nah

I love the fact that everyone’s taken to be equal, how we talk about our leaders as Bob and Paul and Johnny and Kevin and Julia and Tony and Mal, none of this formality nonsense.

I love how “She’ll be right,” is a legitimate attitude to just about everything.

Love this peice.

End of Week, End of Month, End of Quarter, End of Season

It’s the end of another week, and then I look at the calendar and realise it’s the end of the month. But then it’s not only that, it’s the end of March, marking the end of the first quarter of the year – yes, I think like a banker now – and in a way it’s what marks for me the end of the summer, where you know now that the seasonal change is truly underway and the hope for warmer days fade.

As if right on cue, it’s also the end of daylight savings, so the days become darker and shorter, and the mood shift sets in. It’s well and truly 2017, and the steady progression of the planet around the sun continues apace and the one thing you can never negotiate on feels like it passes faster and faster, time ticking away.

So many endings coming together brings a certain focus, a certain reflection on the time that has passed thus far, and an ever-regretful mood that recalls how things were left incomplete, a reminder of how much there is to do.

At the same time, there’s a degree of celebration in that reflection, understanding of how many things that were actually achieved in this time, and recalling that for all the things I can look at negatively, and all the things that preoccupy my mind disproportionately – events around the world that I have no influence on and conversely have no impact from – there are those things much closer to home that I can be happy with and draw satisfaction from.

Recently inspired by a passing conversation I happened to hear, I will be devoting some effort to reflecting weekly on the achievements and progression, noting the positives and ensuring a very practical focus – personal, local, stuff that actually matters in my personal world – is recorded in some way. I realise how much of my memory is driven by things I’ve written down and things I’ve taken photos of, and how many things and events that I just don’t recall because I didn’t do that. Everyone has their focuses and quirks – some recall conversations with ease, while others recall images; all have their own ways to work through these things, so I hope that through writing and reflecting I’m better able to keep my memory going on these small events and build up a better picture through time to know that life isn’t wasted.

So here goes.

Continue reading End of Week, End of Month, End of Quarter, End of Season

That Special Someone

There’s an instinct that seems to drive people to want to be with a specific other person; “pair bonding” as the scientific term might go. It’s a natural instinct that you can explain away as pure biology, but of course humans have coopted this notion into something else entirely and put our own complicated spin on things.

Finding “that special someone” is therefore a fairly uniquely human thing to do – the idea that there’s one person that’s specifically right for you, someone that meets the criteria of an ideal partner – sufficiently similar, yet sufficiently different to keep things interesting; sufficiently near, speaking the same or a similar language, of the same age… on a rational level, that’s a fools game.

And yet…

And yet we still play it, because we’re fools blinded by emotion and this idea of an ideal romantic love which would be sufficient to surmount these challenges. We pay token attention to the probabilities and realities in an effort to satisfy a different drive, a desire for mental and emotional fulfilment, beyond the purely physical.

But… it requires patience, and persistence. It requires keeping at it, trying again and again, until you do find the one that sticks for whatever reason, because that person will be worthwhile. That person will match you mentally, challenge you to do better, to be bettter; that person will love you back and adore you, that person will have something in them that you recognise at a deeper level, and you will trust them, and want to make them happy, and they will make you happy, and you will share a lifetime of stories, and you’ll dream of the rest of your lives together when you’ve only just met, because something in this person will sing to you on a level that you don’t even realise but is within you, like a tuning fork suddenly in resonance with another, and you’ll want that person there all the time.

Some may compromise sooner, accept shortcomings and think rationally that someone happens to tick enough boxes to make it a good deal. No doubt I’ve also contemplated that for myself, more than a couple of times, more recently than I’d care to admit. The bonding instinct doesn’t necessarily require a specific person, even when the emotional side does.

And sometimes, persisting, you get lucky… :)

Happy Valentines Day, friends, lovers, countrymen.

Ideas from HBR

I’ve started listening to podcasts recently, and one that seems to work really well for me is the Harvard Business Review Ideacast. Ok, it’s a little bit B-School, a little bit world-of-work, but it’s surprisingly interesting despite the apparently staid context in which it exists. Here’s some interesting episodes I’ve listened to recently, along with ideas in them:

  1. The “Jobs to be Done” theory of innovation

    It’s an idea that’s come up on my radar recently, but I had assumed it was a new spin on the Getting Things Done productivity method. Turns out, it’s a different way of looking at how people interact with things and companies. In brief, when you’re buying a product (or a service) from a company, it’s not because you want the product, it’s because there’s a proverbial “job” to be done – whether that “job” is satisfying your hunger, or getting to a place; framing it that way rather than buying a burger or jumping in a cab lets you identify better what the actual activity being performed is, and this helps identify areas and ideas for innovation.

    The podcast isn’t necessarily enough to re-orient you towards this way of thinking all on its own, but it serves as an interesting introduction.

  2. How Work Changed Love

    A strange topic for HBR, but interesting insight into where “dating” and modern relationships have emerged from… a quick run down:
    – Until the 19th century, courtship was supervised – the interactions between unmarried men and women was mostly in family or community situations, possibly arranged by someone. This gives me a different perspective on the oft-complained about arranged marriage thing in Indian culture – it’s not that far removed!
    – As women entered the workforce, the context changed with more people away from home and meeting in “unsupervised” ways – so dating as it’s known today didn’t really kick off until the 1910s and 1920s. That’s really recent as far as relationships amongst humans comes from – just three generations removed from where we are today, and yet it’s such an integral part of the youth experience today.
    – Economic mobility has reduced since the 1960s – and one of the reasons for this is that with women becoming more equal, particularly with higher education, there’s less reason for men to look across class lines for relationships.
    – The median age for women at first childbirth is 25, while the median age for women at first marrage is 27. That’s a big swing in how marriage is perceived.
    – Marriage is being looked at as a “capstone” instead of a “cornerstone” – it’s what you get to at the end of your growth as an adult, rather than a foundation.

    I’m genuinely interested in how these things have played out.

  3. The connection between Speed and Charisma

    A few hundred milliseconds are the difference between someone being perceived as charismatic and those perceived as far less so. This is interesting to me because there’s definitely a difference in the speed of my response driven by my comfort and ease with some people, so I wonder if the perceptions of these people are entirely different to those closer to me simply based on the speed of my responses.

  4. Bonus, from the Ezra Klein Show – “We have locked in centuries of climate change”

    Because it’s depressing as shit, but everyone needs to hear it. The world is not in a happy place when it comes to climate change. Be aware, be active, be deliberate in your actions.

The End of the Obama Presidency

Today marks the end of the Obama presidency, and in some ways, it seems to mark the end of an era – or perhaps more pessimistically, the respite from the decline of an era that effectively ended with the events of September 11th, 2001.

Perhaps we’d been to unwilling to admit it over the last 8 years, but since 2001, the United States of America turned from being a leader for the multicultural, involve-everyone-everywhere sentiment to the navel-gazing self-interested country that its enemies had always accused it of being; where George W. Bush led the country into misadventures and tipping the delicate balance that had held for the 90s in the Middle East into the dumpster-fire, basket-case of a region it seems right now.

Obama’s efforts to revive American interest in the progressive, outward looking world seem an exception – the first years reacting to the financial crisis of 2008 that was never quite a full-blown multi-year recession, followed by the battles with the Republican opposition that organised into a parliamentary style opposition rather than the loose confederation that had always been the operating standard in the US Congress.

Obama’s efforts to rehabilitate America’s image post-W were for the most part successful – despite the ongoing issues in Syria, and the free hand used with drone warfare around the world, the open engagement with the world community and the level-headed leadership was respected. Adults were in charge. For a few years, it seemed like we could put the Bush years down as the anomaly.

Now… now we’re getting Trump and his henchmen. Bush wasn’t the anomaly, he was the prototype – a deep distrust of intellectualism and expertise infecting a populace convinced that things won’t change. The shame is the distrust of expertise, and the necessary recognition of this utility. Watching confirmation hearings for key executive branch positions, it’s clear the people being put in charge of these things have little to no idea of what they’re getting involved in. We’re going from people with deep knowledge and care to people who openly oppose the very notions of the departments they’re supposed to be running.

It’s like their assumptions are that everyone should have an equal chance at trying things, without realising specialist roles and knowledge are useful; the idea of putting a CEO in charge of an organisation and purpose that he or she does not know is not infinitely applicable; experience and excellence in the field of business does not equip one to consider a fundamentally different purpose in the public service space.

Add in Trump’s own openly declared insular views – withdrawal from NATO being on the table, a deep distrust of the UN and international processes, the childish ideas of a wall on a border, the hostility to global trade – and you see America steadily pulling its head in, repeating the experience of a hundred years ago as the post-WWI America retreated. Where they once led by example, now they disown any position of leadership beyond economic and military, both of which are likely to be overtaken soon by China and its particularly control-heavy model of society.

For most of my life, America’s been a presence that shows the way for a free and democratic society. The respect for law, freedom of speech and press, and the willingness of the people to experiment, try, fail, get back up – all ways in which the country and its culture has attracted people the world over for centuries. Sure, there have been foibles and ongoing failures, but now, it appears a dark curtain is falling across the country, and hope that America leads the way disappears.

Russia talks up hegemony in a oligarchical state led by a virtual dictator; Europe bifurcates as the populist movements tear apart international cooperation; China of all countries – the most successful notionally communist country – is a major proponent of free trade; Australia meanders directionless as leaders abandon leading; what hope do we have of solving big international problems like climate change – barring the fact that China itself recognises the costs, and India too commits to skipping the carbon heavy phase of development. With mistrust of expertise in the west though, I fear we just end up mired in the muck.

Today marks as strongly as November 8th did the decline and fall of American exceptionalism; for all that Trump claims to lead America to new greatness, is there anyone outside America that takes this credibly? The life he’s promising is long gone, the world moving on. Whatever comes next does not resemble the 1950s, but that’s what Trump and his followers hope and dream for – an era of greatness for a slice of the population not adapting to the world’s changing tides.

May you live in interesting times, as the Chinese curse goes.

Sony’s Design History

This collection of photos from Sony’s design history is beautiful and demonstrative of some amazing stuff that came out of Sony over the years. Always loved their gear. So much seemingly definitional and advanced stuff they made, and it all seemed to end with Howard Stringer’s time at the helm.

(partly also thinking of the story of how Steve Jobs appreciated Sony’s designs, and how that talks about the relationship ending with Stringer’s time as CEO, and how with Apple’s increasingly consumer-neglectful design changes, I don’t have Sony’s designs to fall back on…)

Thinking about house prices

Since Time is Money – money representing a token of value for the time you spend doing something – in theory you should be able to substitute either one for the other, right? Like, if you had all the time in the world, you could in theory make the thing you’re buying instead of paying someone else to have made it.

We can apply that to thinking about housing prices. After all, the price of a house should be proportional to how much it costs to build, right?

According to the ABS, median price for a dwelling in Australia is $623,000. Note this includes all houses and units, all over Australia. According to Domain, in June, the median price for houses in Sydney was $1,021,968.

Minimum wage in Australia is $17.70.

Therefore, what the market says at the moment is that a dwelling – a place to live –  in Australia – on average is worth 35,198 hours of work in Australia – barring transaction costs. That’s 4,400 working days (doing a bit of rounding here), or 16 years 10 months of work with only weekends off.

For Sydney, that means the median house is 57,739 hours of work, or 7,218 days, meaning 27 years and 8 months of work.

I can say for sure the houses in Australia don’t take 16, or even 27 years to build. They’re up in like 6 months, max. So the rest of it is time you’re getting from something else – perhaps something ephemeral as the view (time taken to get to a place with a similar view…), or as practical as commute time, or… I’m not sure, but there’s other sacrifices and investments of time that this would represent.

Ok, so it’s a little silly to divide median house price by minimum wage, but if you’ve got a house, or even some kind of dwelling, this is a useful way to recognise the literal effort the walls around you represent.