PNG reacts to corona virus
Land ownership & disharmony

Decline & Fall, Mk II


ADELAIDE - My article, We the People, described how ruling elites, with rare exceptions, fail utterly to recognise or understand the paradigm shifts that lead to their demise.

Even if the elites do see the emerging danger, they invariably think that the usual mechanisms of suppression - subversion, persuasion, coercion and violence - will work in their favour.

This is how the seemingly all-powerful Tsarist regime in Russia lumbered almost blindly into the 1917 revolution – a disaster instigated by a very tiny group of Bolsheviks bent upon communist revolution.

Or, much later, in 1991, how the seemingly mighty empire that was the USSR could collapse almost overnight.

Sadly, it seems the USA is now stumbling towards its demise as the reigning global supreme leader.

And, in a bizarre twist of fate, it is a president bent upon putting America First in all things who will be the principal architect of its fall.

The ridiculous but deeply ignorant and dangerous Donald Trump represents a clear and present danger to not just to the USA but to the rest of the so-called free world.

He along with almost all members of his class cannot see that neo-liberal capitalism is now in mortal jeopardy of annihilating itself in an orgy of so-called creative destruction.

The signs of this are obvious. There is the emergence of gross disparities in wealth and power, accompanied by the absurd inflation of asset prices across the globe.

This has been funded by the ‘free’ money provided by the world's central banks which are now hopelessly in thrall to the markets they purport to regulate.

And of course it would be remiss not to mention catastrophic human induced climate change, the first effects of which are becoming manifest to all but those whose ideological blindness precludes insight or understanding.

All these things reflect the growing malaise lying at the dark heart of neo-liberal capitalism.

The risk of unforeseen and unmanageable disaster - whether socio-political, environmental, economic or all of these simultaneously - is growing exponentially, but the enthusiasts for global capitalism either ignore this or downplay its significance.

Unhappily, as the USA and the global system it has promoted so vigorously begin to fail, we will all be cast adrift in a world filled with new uncertainties.

Papua New Guinea, as a tiny and vulnerable nation in a world full of predators, whether state actors or corporations, will in time feel the loss of America's once important moral authority.

The emboldened autocrats in China, Russia and many other places will extend their power and reach to the detriment of those, like PNG, whose misfortune it is to be in their way.

PNG will become mere collateral damage in the seemingly endless struggle for power, control and wealth that has bedevilled our species since time immemorial.

This is a bleak vision, but history tells us that such visions can easily become reality.

The much harder task is to foresee such eventualities and then take steps to either prevent them occurring or mitigate the risks involved.

Right now, I see no sign whatsoever that those in power either foresee such risks or have any inclination to take prudent steps to mitigate them.


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Bernard Corden

Dear Phil,

Re Gary Becker's two utility maximising agents:

"Sex was so good last night even the next door neighbours had a cigarette"

Bernard Corden

One of the first actions from the fecund mad monk (Tony Abbott) on his ministerial appointment in the Howard government was to change the name of the Department of Social Services to the Department of Human Services.

This reflected and aligned with the lexicon of neoliberal or free market fundamentalism and complemented its structuralism, atomism and Ayn Rand objectivism. It is relentlessly promoted by that awful creature Jordan Petersen and our former foreign minister, the illegitimate daughter of Satan and advocate of trickle-down economics.

Julie Bishop once congratulated Peter O'Neill on a successful general election although her thought processes were obviously obscured by overexposure to ambergris in the Airways Hotel day spa.

Don't even get me started on Michaelia Cash. The Subiaco besom implemented the federal government Job Active program and work for the dole scheme. We are still awaiting an official report from Frank Spencer (Christian Porter) following the death of Josh Park-Fing at Toowoomba showgrounds almost two years ago:

By the way the coronial inquest into Dreamworld will deliver its findings on Monday 24/02/2020 at Court 17 in Brisbane. I trust the fire protection system in the building has been maintained.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Interesting article by Tom Kenneally on the Australian edition of The Guardian. Tom is a well-known Australian author who wrote, among many other novels and non-fiction, Schindler's Ark, later filmed as Schindler's List, starring Liam Neeson.

'We must abandon the language of the market to reclaim our humanity'

In the last 30 years we have been transmuted from pilgrims and patients and students to become, as our primary identification, consumers and clients

‘It is OK with me if all the world is a stage and we are mere actors, because that assertion has a humane coloration to it. But I resist the idea that all the world’s a market.’

It is easy for punters to send up economists. First of all, they often adopt the gargling pomposity of an archbishop talking dogma. Their argot of terms like “quantitative easing” – which sounds like something we do after Christmas lunch – always suggests something grand whose wheels will run over us.

And since the new economics made the market the supreme entity in our world, all the world has become a market, and the status of humans and citizens has thereby declined. We can laugh when the late Gary Becker, neo-conservative of the Chicago School, defined marriage as a contract between “two utility maximising agents” in which “love as default” is identified as a “non-marketable household commodity”. We imagine lovers whispering “you maximise my utility like no on else can, honey” or “no, the stories I’ve been trading my non-marketable household commodity with him/her are absolute lies!”

But our laughter is cheap, and words used in the new economics have a huge heft to them. When it comes to health, education and welfare, we are no longer members of a human compact. We are no longer students, patients, battlers down on our luck. We are not members of a common wealth any more. We are clients of a system.

If you don’t believe, look at the website of the Department of Health and Human Services. The word “clients” is the blanket term. It is OK with me if all the world is a stage and we are mere actors, because that assertion has a humane coloration to it. But I resist the idea that all the world’s a market, including health, in which our reality is to achieve the role of consumer, customer, client. For there is an obvious difference in human imagination and experience between a human undergoing cancer surgery and one buying an SUV. But not in the perception of market economics.

Admittedly “client” was used by psychiatrists in good faith as recognising a less elitist way of recognising people who asked for their help, and acknowledging the patient was never passive in his own recovery. But when it came into use in the 1970s, it was marshalled to serve the ends of market economics. A client, after all, was until then used chiefly by lawyers and real estate agents, and in both cases it had economic meaning – “one who pays”.

The new nomenclature we’ve been subjected to alters our relationship to human services. Indeed, the trickle-down effect of the new economics was supposed by now to have replaced human services provided by government.

Funny that it hasn’t. Funny that it has increased divisions and that its jargon is abominated by ordinary people, who then look for love in all the wrong places amongst modern demagogues. If one looks at the long history of human experience, it is only in the last 30 years that we have been transmuted from pilgrims and patients and students to become, as our primary identification, consumers and clients.

Unemployment is a misdemeanour to be drug-tested and subject to delay in benefits, since the unemployed are a blot on the market, redeeming themselves only when they pay for things. This poisonous re-definition has allowed conservative prime ministers to see our universities, for example, as vocational schools in which the humanities, which used to be the whole point of university education, are an indulgence and must be pared down.

Hence, we can’t afford a professor of Australian literature at Sydney University now. And of course, the long-term awards to research bodies are not serving the market quickly enough, so cut that as yet un-applied stuff down too! In the words of Joe Hockey, chief architect of the notorious 2014 budget, research tends to “lean” with no guarantee that it will ever “lift”.

Thus, on his own obscure grounds, Simon Birmingham when education minister presumed to rule out a number of humanities research grants, and Dan Tehan, his successor, has declared that all research grant applications should explain how the research is in “the national interest”. Really, and decided by whom? To hell with you Mr Erasmus, Kant and Kierkegaard, because you would all fail such a test.

While I’m on the rant, as old guys like me love to be, may I confess to a similar distaste for the word “inevitable”. User-pays is inevitable in health services, we are told, and it is inevitable that pensions will become unsustainable because of age imbalance.

Challenging, sure. But the new economics are not new, and what was once called political economy was applied in famines throughout the empire, notably Bengal and Ireland, after prophets like Malthus had told politicians famine was inevitable, and they took that belief into their policy. Millions died, not for lack of food resources but because politicians considered their deaths inevitable. And because as a gifted economist of famine Amartya Sen said, they lacked, in government’s eyes, “entitlement” to the food they grew.

Politicians will steal your future with that word “inevitable”. So let us reclaim our self-definition as a start.

Chris Overland

Thanks for your comment Paul. I am gratified to discover that my opinions correspond with those of an intellectual as distinguished as Professor Jared Diamond, although I have not read any of his work.

It is a source of bewilderment to me that our political class do not appear to understand or accept the risks that confront them and us with their "nothing to see here" approach to the manifest failings of neo-liberal capitalism.

I note that Donald Trump dismissed Greta Thunberg as just one of history's long series of doom sayers, whose prognostications have proved to be entirely wrong.

Apart from being a typical Trumpian gratuitous swipe at anyone having the temerity to disagree with him, it is a classic example of the willful ignorance combined with unbridled arrogance that seems to feature prominently amongst many political leaders today. Humility and the ability to admit reasonable doubt are in pretty short supply.

It is true that there have certainly been many doom sayers over the years who have proved to be wrong. Usually, they fall into the categories of the mad, the bad or the sad. Religious nutters are prominent in this group, as are political ideologues.

However, there also have been many who proved to be right. This group is usually composed of people whose insights are informed by long study or experience. Churchill's early recognition of the danger associated with the rise of Hitler and the Nazis is a case in point. He too was dismissed as a self interested "war monger" right up until the blindingly obvious became unavoidably evident.

Professor Diamond fits into this latter category and thus his warnings should be taken seriously.

As for my own views, they are the product of more than 60 years of reading and learning about history. I make no claims for omniscience and certainly do not put myself in the same league as Professor Diamond but it is gratifying to know that a scholar of his eminence is saying pretty much the same things.

This makes me think that I may not actually fit in the nutter category into which Trump wants to consign Greta Thunberg and many others too.

Paul Oates

Hi Chris, almost finished reading Prof. Jared Diamond's latest tome titled 'Upheaval'. In this book, Diamond describes what a number of different nations did when threatened with or in fact actually invaded and how they reacted afterwards.

He then goes on to describe where the human race is currently going based on where its been and where it is at the moment. No doubt you'll be chuffed to find out the Prof. has made similar observations as your own.

The issues are the same as we have been repeating on this very blog for many years. Climate change and over population. The natural balances that help keep human populations in check are not currently working fast enough to make a significant difference to the end result. There isn't enough resources in the world for everyone to live as they have become accustomed to in Western type societies.

He suggests that this will lead to those who want to experience the benefits of so called 'Western' society including the use of resources at a level far and away above the 6/7ths of the world who don't currently experience this life style, for those people to try and migrate to those countries that have a better life style. Nothing new there.

The problem starts when those with a better life style start wondering if they will have to change and lose their standard of living to accommodate six more people to share there own lifestyle and resource use. Clearly that will be impossible and require the resources of over three and a half Earths at the current 7-8 billion population of the Earth..

The question is, does everyone want to live a Western Style life? Would they be happy with our lifestyle with its inevitable downside of maintaining a large house, two cars, communications and high cost energy and food and water plus all that goes with it? Those attainments come at a cost as we know only too well. Social capital is traded for wealth and accumulated 'stuff'.

So called rich nations are finding that their birth rates aren't matching their death rates as their young people find childbearing gets in the way of lifestyle pursuits. This can be briefly overcome by allowing immigrants to come and look after their children and the elderly but the price of that action means those who immigrate then eventually take over.

Chris, you correctly point out that no political leader is prepared to confront this situation since any move to ameliorate the problem would be a political suicide. Yet that is what the western nations are staring, albeit myopically, in the face.

Another gem from Diamond reviews the way modern so called 'smart' phones are ruining the way in which we communicate. Face to face requires a whole lot more in personal skills than does a small tv screen. Our smart phones are actually dumbing us down and causing us to polarize in our views on everything. We end up only talking or 'communicating' with those who think alike. i.e. 'likes and dislikes'.

The issues raised in this book are telling and merely point out that we as a species are about to go through and enormous change unless something like a miscalculated nuclear war or uncontrolled disease creates another mass extinction.

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