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.

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The Role of Shame in Politics

And so at long last, we reach US Election Day 2016, when a reckoning has finally come for the American political system – the candidates perfectly set up as the establishment facing the insurgents, the know-nothing Donald Trump squaring off against the know-it-all Hillary Clinton.

How did we get like this?

How did we get from the point where once upon a time, a candidate that was even threatened with being revealed to be cheating on his wife, would step back, stand down, or resign altogether than face the music, to the point where we’re seeing a candidate standing despite those accusations and worse being thrown around, and still he appears to be as close as a 3% gap?

What changed to allow this to happen?

Shame. Or the lack thereof.

It is the nature of public shame more than anything in democracies to operate as the public conscience of the politicians. It is not the law that forces a resignation in the face of allegations of adultery, for instance; it is shame that pushes a politician to resign when word comes to light of legitimate but morally dubious donations; it is shame that forces departures that allegations of falsehoods bring to light, no matter how legal it may have been at the time.

It is shame, a somewhat quaint notion intrinsically linked with the quainter notions of honor and propriety. It is with shame that we have driven much of the better behavior without needing to codify it.

It was a key component that drove the first parliaments in England – honor and shame being what for years was enough to bring glory and to end careers. So much of parliament’s rules are mere conventions, and adherence to these is driven by the honor of doing the right thing. Where a parliamentarian would cross a line of honor, the sheer shame of doing so was in it self enough to force change.

Now? Who would bother with feeling shame, if the penalty isn’t there? Where’s the big stick as a result?

Let’s take the concrete example in Australia most recently of George Brandis, Attorney General. Ignoring the Solicitor-General’s advice should be grounds for dismissal due to ministerial dereliction of duty; misleading Parliament should have been sufficient for the shame of those deceitful actions to force Brandis to walk, as apparently it’s not an offence to do so.

Brandis didn’t walk, he didn’t fall on his sword, and Turnbull didn’t dismiss him.

Instead, these days, there’s no shame in it. It’s being able to go to the extremes of previously tolerated behavior, and then keep going, because what’s the penalty?

And thus we have Trump. A man with no shame so much that he keeps getting away with so very much and reaping the reward. We don’t hold Trump to a higher standard; we understand this man is poor and devoid of character in many ways, but it doesn’t matter because he’s on the side that uses shame when convenient and brushes it away. It’s not illegal, why should he apologize?

The outright denial of facts and truth is entirely possible if there’s no shame in doing so. If there’s nothing to say “You lied and you ought not have done that,” then where are we left to go?

Where is the shame in treating humans the way we’ve done in Nauru and Manus Island? Political expediency rules.

Truly, we will need to restore shame to its rightful place amongst the emotions that govern those who would governs us, because without it, Trump isn’t the last on this band-wagon, and that’s a truly terrifying thought.

Questioning the ANZACs

Scott McIntyre, a sports reporter for SBS news, was sacked this weekend for tweets about the ANZACs

McIntyre began his tweets on the centenary of the Gallipoli landings by criticising what he said was the “cultification [sic] of an imperialist invasion”.

He was called out by Malcolm Turnbull, and many reacting online. SBS News’ managing director had him out the door practically before it even became a news story.

But: is he that far wrong? And what value free speech?

His tweets made some upsetting suggestions; that perhaps Australian involvement in World War I was unjustified, that some soldiers Australia dispatched to several parts of the world may have been less than ethical in their conduct, and that our commemoration of Gallipoli has, to some extent, become a day of drinking and gambling bathed in crass nationalism.

For the Right, this would not stand. The calls for McIntyre’s removal were swift and loud, most forcefully from elements of the commentariat who typically condemn Twitter’s tendency to outrage and instead rally for free speech.

The lesson of the ANZACs, as I have read it from the time I was able to think it through for myself, was that getting involved in wars is bad, and especially so if they’re halfway around the world because of our allies and not because of any direct threat to our nation. That some 125,000 men died on both sides in Gallipoli 1 for a stalemate of a situation because of the blunders of commanders, that hundreds of thousands more were sent home injured, for little benefit to anyone 2.

The futility of war should be writ large in the lessons of Gallipoli, not a hagiography of the noble Diggers who went to war. The refrain of Lest We Forget is to remind us not to forget the cost and the horrors of war, not to glorify the troops as is increasingly evident in the commemorations, especially at the 100 year mark, with increasing commercialisation of the events.

The other ugly factor is the increasing “fought for our freedom” line that seems to be cribbed from the American refrains of their armies – Gallipoli was never about Australia’s freedom. Kokoda could be held to that, the war in the Pacific in World War II could be held to that, but the continental war of Europe that spilled into World War I because of the colonial possessions of the European nations? That was not glorious, necessary, or for our freedom 100 years ago.

That the soldiers who fought there have all passed away doesn’t mean we cease to commemorate, of course, but it also does not mean we look at it through rose coloured glasses, that we now glorify the dead because no-one would speak of the mistake of wars that are not necessary.


  1. Worth noting only some 8,000 Australians and 3,000 New Zealanders. 29,000 British soldiers died, but we commemorate our own far more than the British do
  2. Except the commander of the Turkish forces, who went on to lead the Turks to their Republic – Ataturk.

A Modern Day Hatchet Job

Rachel Olding and Nick Ralston in the Sydney Morning Herald today take a hatchet to males in their mid 20s in their profile of Vincent Stanford, the 24 year old accused of murdering Stephanie Scott:

The reclusive school cleaner had no known friends, no social media profiles and had uttered little more than a polite “hello” to neighbours in Maiden Avenue.

But Mr Stanford maintained a secret online life, hiding behind fantasy characters to indulge his obsession with computer games, violent videos and neo-Nazi propaganda.

Posting under the moniker of the mythical Aztec serpent Quetzalcoatl, Mr Stanford told gaming forums that he “loved stargate and videogames” and “do a bit of 3d modelling in my spare time”.

He has “no social media profiles” but he’s on gaming forums – which are in their own way a microcosm of social media, social interaction. But that’s code for ‘No Facebook or Twitter we could easily scrape, so we had to do some work’.

Anonymity is par for the course outside of Facebook and Twitter, and this isn’t something which is “a secret online life” that one hides behind – that’s the way the internet operates, anonymously.

Digital traces left by the 24-year-old in at least four computer forums reveal that he spent most of his time in front of a computer, usually playing military-themed computer games or developing his own programs.

“Digital traces” in forums reveal nothing of how much time he spent doing what, and if there’s a tween-to-twentysomething these days that doesn’t admit to spending much time in front of an internet connected device in their spare time, they’re bordering on luddites.

“Loved stargate resistance and i like fallout 3 gears of war franchise halo 1 through 3 and the dead space games,” he posted in one forum in 2012, referencing several active-shooter games.

These games were played by millions, and are amongst the top sellers played by people everywhere around the world, especially 21 year olds in 2012. Stargate Resistance is a team shooter based in the Stargate universe – the one that had a decent movie and years of a TV series called Stargate: SG1. At this point, he’s about the same as an overwhelming number of other males in Australia between the ages of 18 and 30.

Mr Stanford signed a petition to save Stargate World and Stargate Resistant, games about a violent galactic warfare.

I mean, Star Wars is a series about violent galactic warfare, but you never really see it being portrayed that way. Also, Stargate Worlds was a MMORPG that never made it, having been cancelled in 2010.

The Stargate series inspired him to write lengthy, rambling fan fiction as a teenager

Hold the fucking phone. The guy wrote fan fiction, everybody! Lengthy rambling fan fiction! As a teenager!

God forbid anyone ever find my creative endeavours lengthy and rambling.

In between the dozens of Stargate video clips that he “liked” on YouTube, he also liked pro-Nazi clips, clips supporting Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi and clips about the 2011 military science fiction shooter game, Gears of War 3.

On a video about Nazi leader Rudolf Hess, he posted “RIP Rudolf Hess. Ich bereue nichts”, which translates as “I regret nothing”.

He liked clips of Nazi marching songs, Third Reich military music and German military marches.

Wait wait wait.

“In between” the Stargate videos, just in passing, Olding and Ralston touch on the fact that it appears he’s got Nazi sympathies – based on reading his Google+/Youtube profile from 4 years ago.

“In between”.

Stargate and Gears of War 3 are fantasy worlds; the Nazi thing, that’s an actual hate group that actually existed. But we’re focused here on the Stargate videos, because this is just what he did ‘in between’ watching the Stargate stuff.

Mr Stanford, who was born in Tasmania and lived in the Netherlands for a decade, moved to Leeton about 14 months ago with his older brother, Luke, and mother, Anika.

Sidestep: here’s some background. Let me just back up to the start of the article:

Few people in the town of Leeton had ever heard of Vincent Stanford before he was charged with murdering high school teacher Stephanie Scott.

“It’s really bizarre. Absolutely nobody knows him, and in a town this tiny, that’s really strange,” said Ashleigh Stockton, a receptionist at Leeton Soldier’s Club.

“He’s my age and I’ve lived here all my life but I have no idea who this guy is. It’s a bit of a mystery.”

… because he’d just moved there; the guy has moved back from the Netherlands to a town in rural NSW, just over a year ago, and the people of Leeton haven’t heard of him.

Pardon the sarcasm if it’s being laid on a bit thick here; a 24 year old who moved into town with his mum and brother and works as a cleaner doesn’t exactly grant him a public profile in a small country town.

The reclusive school cleaner had no known friends, no social media profiles and had uttered little more than a polite “hello” to neighbours in Maiden Avenue.

No known friends… or at least known to the people of Leeton, because you sure as shit can’t check if he’s got friends if he doesn’t have a Facebook profile.

Because he’s a twenty three year old who has just moved to a country town, population 6000 or so, from The Netherlands, and is working as a cleaner. It’s not exactly a situation conducive to gaining new friendships, and the internet makes it easy to maintain distant friendships with people who share your interests.

I don’t for a minute defend the guy for what he stands accused of doing to Stephanie Scott. That is truly horrific, the context of her wedding coming up makes it sadder still, and the evidence certainly seems stacked against him. It seems likely Mr Stanford will spend time in jail as due punishment for his actions.

Nevertheless, this profile is truly grating for focusing on exactly the wrong things. Having an interest in worlds of fantasy and science fiction is not strange; having a passion enough for a fictional universe that you want to write your own imaginations into it is not in any way linked to being predisposed to murder, however the article tries to carefully frame it that way.

The Nazi sympathies apparently shown through a few youtube video likes and comments from years ago could be a tip-of-the-iceberg, or it could just be youthful indiscretion and based on the context of the other 19-20 year olds he was friends with while in the Netherlands in 2010, at a time when Geert Wilders was gaining popularity there. Even Nazi videos can be contextualised with a bad crowd.

Most likely, this was a crime of opportunity – not that he is a deranged individual because of his interests and what his online profile says about him, but because he chose to do what he did to Stephanie Scott.

I can do this commentary and research with minimal effort, but it appears Rachel Olding and Nick Ralston did not – instead opting for a lazy article that plays into established fears of the loner who played video games and wrote fan fiction. How truly woeful the SMH has gotten to have stoop to this kind of level.

Aussie victory in the Cricket World Cup – at a cost

Greg Baum in the SMH today

Cocooned in sycophancy, the Australians seem not to grasp nor care how poorly this behaviour sits with the other half of a cricket-following public they repeatedly and ever more deeply divide, even in their finest hours.

They also do not seem to care or grasp how it rankles with opponents, and how insufferably arrogant it makes them look. Do they really think they are the only country that plays with passion and pride? Do they think they patented the will to win? Do they think they have cornered the market in competitiveness?

The Aussie attitudes on the cricket field are exactly why I can’t support them in a neutral match, despite having grown up in Australia and taking equal pride in the country’s efforts in other sporting endeavours. Perhaps it is because in so many other sports, the Aussies are the underdogs or at best equally matched by others in the world – while in cricket, their consistent form and distance from the rest of the pack make them arrogant in a way they don’t reveal elsewhere, or maybe it is something specific to the culture of the current team.

When you’re missing respect for an opponent, you find it easy to gloat, not just revel in a victory, and it reveals an ugly side to the players that leads to neutrals being turned away from anything but begrudging admiration for skills.

Enough has been said about the Aussies attitudes in the aftermath of previous matches and this tournament that I hope Cricket Australia and the team management take notice – boorish players such as those lead to a disengagement in the community, and that will invariably lead to lower crowds and lower participation in the long run.

(not even touching the booze-filled aftermath, though I’d make a point of comparisons with AFL and NRL grand final winners and the attitudes and outcomes they had at the end of their matches, and leave it at that.)

Semblance of Reason

On the weekend, there was a horrific crash on the Pacific Highway, where a B-Double truck swerving to avoid a ute on the wrong side of the road crashed into a house, killing an 11 year old boy in his sleep. The driver of the ute was also killed, and the truck driver taken to hospital with serious injuries.

The Pacific Highway is a 600+ km highway between Sydney & Brisbane, and its upgrade has been long promised. I used to live halfway up it, and I drove it myself this holiday season. It’s come from being a nightmare stretch of road with one lane in each direction for much of its length to being dual carriageway for over half its length.

The cause of this crash was a car being where it shouldn’t be, on the wrong side of the road. The driver may have been fatigued and inattentive, or he may have been distracted, or any number of reasons for being on the wrong side. The truck driver wasn’t to blame – he did his best, but the consequences were unfortunate.

In the aftermath though, media and community attention has for some unfathomable reason focused on the fact that a speed camera 1km away from the location of the crash had been switched off, following a review of the effectiveness of cameras. The new O’Farrell government said they would switch off those cameras proven ineffective, and this was one of 38 switched off. The transport minister has now promised to switch this particular camera back on, bowing to community pressure.

Why?

There’s no suggestion speed was involved – police have not said what the cause of the ute being on the wrong side was, but there’s no mention of speed in any of the reports. The camera was 1km away, and being a speed camera it would have only provided a temporary deterrent, and meant little if the driver was distracted or fatigued. And yet in the interests of appearing to do something, a speed camera is being switched back on, despite proving ineffective.

Why is it that people clamour for these things without any semblance of a reason for doing so? What would they think a camera would have done on that fateful night?

Obama is the Democrats’ Nixon

Obama is the Democrats’ Nixon:

Thus Obama took office under roughly the same political and economic circumstances that Nixon did in 1968 except in a mirror opposite way. Instead of being forced to manage a slew of new liberal spending programs, as Nixon did, Obama had to cope with a revenue structure that had been decimated by Republicans.

Liberals hoped that Obama would overturn conservative policies and launch a new era of government activism. Although Republicans routinely accuse him of being a socialist, an honest examination of his presidency must conclude that he has in fact been moderately conservative to exactly the same degree that Nixon was moderately liberal.

This debt debate has dragged on far too long. and Obama’s negotiation is far too forgiving to achieve anything like an equitable result.

The Trust Issue

Apparently, the biggest single issue that “ordinary Australians” have with Julia Gillard is that she has “lied” about introducing a carbon tax, breaking an election promise. It goes without saying that Gillard is far from the first PM to have broken a election promise, let alone one about tax; the difference is this time, her opponent hangs on to that and doesn’t let go of a line until it proves to have wormed its way into the psyche of the average voter.

Why is it though that adaptability is derided as an unworthy notion in politics? If there’s one thing you learn from politics, it’s deal making – the art of compromising in order to achieve outcomes. As we saw after the election last year, obstinate refusal to participate in a process of negotiation tends to leave you with no seat at the table – and this carbon tax is the result of that very same process of negotiation that won the ALP a face-saving second term. The “lie” became one because of the result that the electorate handed to the parties, and achieving a pragmatic result ought to be accepted as better than partisan bickering along idealistic lines that achieves nothing.

The same goes for American politics: a refusal to engage on the issue and work out a compromise that achieves something simply leaves the government floundering, ineffectual and showing the frailty of the system. Being able to think beyond your own self-interest is the mark of a mature adult, not sticking to a position in the face of evidence and reason.

I despair at the inability to accept compromise or a change of position in our political leaders. Why do we expect them to be so unreasonable? The violence and vehemence that fills what passes for political debate is not a sign of an healthy democracy where open conversations occur.

Leadership

Gerard Henderson contends today that Malcolm Turnbull has no hope of being Prime Minister after his appearance on Lateline last Wednesday:

Turnbull’s lack of political judgment has blinded him to the fact that his body of support is located outside the joint-party Coalition room in Canberra. Most Liberals and all Nationals parliamentarians who watched Lateline on Wednesday would not have regarded themselves as viewing the performance of a potential prime minister.

There’s something to be said for Henderson: he consistently writes for the insider’s point of view. Henderson’s main contention is that Turnbull stands alone in his view on Climate change, and so he has misjudged the politics of the party that he belongs to, and doesn’t have a hope of regaining leadership.

On December 1, 2009 Turnbull lost the leadership to Abbott by one vote. There is little doubt Turnbull would have survived the year if he had not decided to criticise his senior colleagues. This was widely regarded as poor judgment and mismanagement.

It certainly would be regarded by political hard-heads and those who lust for power at any cost to be poor judgement, but I would suggest that it rather won him many a moderate, centerist voter, myself included. Turnbull stood on principle, and staked his job to it – the result may have been for him to lose it, but it certainly showed him to be a different breed of politician, one rarely seen these days.

The Westminster system is geared towards party lines and groupthink, but occasionally it throws up oddities like our current government, holding on by a slim majority at the mercy of a small band of independents. Each independent truly is so, and their actions have demonstrated as much – they may have agreed to the common cause of the government, but that doesn’t stop each of them having their own agenda. Collectively, that is driving change in Australia (or, well, at least the discussion of it) more strongly than any time in the past 10 years.

Turnbull appeals to many voters who Labor is losing to the Greens – voters who would have once numbered the box for the Australian Democrats, disenfranchised by that party’s collapse as polarisation drove people out of the centre as quickly as the major parties themselves dove for it. Henderson appears to frame it as Abbott’s appeal:

Abbott’s political strength is his ability to appeal to traditional Labor voters in the outer suburbs and regional centres…

Without question, Turnbull’s approach to climate change enjoys considerable support within inner-city electorates, like his own, among well-educated voters in relatively secure financial circumstances. But this stance does not enjoy anything approaching majority support within the Coalition, which is looking to gain votes in the suburbs and regions.

The votes in the suburbs are bought through simple baiting: a tax break here, a government subsidy there, and soon enough the Coalition of “conservatives” resembles nothing so much as a hand-out and patronage machine. Ironic indeed that Labor is cutting hand-outs, where once they stood as proxy for the socialist agenda, while the Coalition argued for fiscal restraint. The heavyweights of the Liberals’ leadership are lightweights on the policy front.

Abbott’s appeal is in opposition, in declaiming the doubts that the government is doing a good job: repeating a thousand pub conversations that once meant nothing, but now appear to define political debate. Abbott does not show why he must be the alternative prime minister; the relentless demonization is to simply bring down the current government in a huff of anger.

Henderson also had a shot at Turnbull’s argument that a conservative British government introduced a cap-and-trade scheme, much as Howard once proposed, by arguing that “we’re not like them… we’re like someone else,”:

Turnbull overlooked the fact that the British economy is quite different to Australia’s. Britain has a large financial services industry, which benefits from trading in energy. Also, Britain does not export coal or iron ore and relies significantly on nuclear energy for power. The Australian economy is closest to Canada’s – where Stephen Harper has just led the Conservative Party to a significant victory with a promise not to proceed with a cap-and-trade scheme until the US does.

This overlooks the fact that we are different again from Canada. Canada too relies on nuclear energy for power – indeed, they are out there as innovators in the field. Canada’s economy is tied to the US in a way stronger even than our own economy is tied to China. And finally, the most cynical view, Canada potentially stands to gain from a marginal increase in temperature, whereas Australia only has reason to fear.

Canada’s northern expanses are vast and unused; warmer temperatures would make more of this accessible, though I can only imagine that is never going to be brought up as a reason to delay in any public or on-the-record discussion. Australia stands to lose – greater droughts, more uncertainty over rain, and destruction of fragile lands at the fringes – the semi-arid areas, the Great Barrier Reef, and the expanses of arable land in the interior turning slowly to salt plains.

I don’t contend for a minute that Australia imposing a carbon price will cause climate change to disappear, but without leaders who at least consider all the aspects of a solution, such as Turnbull has consistently been, we’re not going to be able to influence the outcome at all.

Turnbull might not be able to lead the Liberals and the Coalition as it stands today, but I’d much rather have someone who can think through and hold to a principled stance than an opportunist ready to jump on the latest bandwagon – and that goes for both sides of politics.

Out with the old…

… in with the same old story.

You’ll have to pardon me if I’m somewhat cynical about government, newly elected in a historical landslide, coming in and saying there’s a $4.5 billion dollar “hole” in the budget not revealed by the previous administration, and that means all our policies have to be “reviewed”.

It sounds like the perfect excuse to abuse the broad mandate handed to the incoming government. The spin is already revving up – the “hole” is over forward projections:

In December the half-yearly review of the budget forecast a surplus of $432 million for 2012-13 and $129 million in 2013-14 (see report, page 4).

However, yesterday’s briefings revealed the updated prediction is for a deficit of $405 million in 2012-13, which is forecast to rise to $1.2 billion in 2013-14.

The Treasury briefings show that by 2014-15, the budget will have fallen $2.4 billion into deficit. However, this is beyond the scope of the forward estimates, which only run to 2013-14.

The government reached its $4.5 billion figure by adding up the forecast deficits between 2012-13 and 2014-15.

And further to this is the obsession with a AAA credit rating, for which they say we don’t want to threaten by borrowing. What’s the point of a credit rating if you don’t use that credit?

Labour was full of incompetent fools, but let it not be said that the Coalition is not above petty old politicking.