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Reflections on 2022: another era of instability


ADELAIDE - Across many parts of the world people are enjoying - or enduring - the Christmas season.

This Christian celebration has long been stripped of its religious meaning in most of the capitalist Western world.

At best, it is a time for people to get together and enjoy the company of their family and friends.

But mostly it is a time too often devoted to over indulgence and conspicuous consumption.

Huge efforts are made to encourage people to spend as if there will be no tomorrow.

Inevitably, tomorrow is when the bills become due.

The media breathlessly reports new record retail sales over Christmas and the New Year as if this meant something significant or was an inherently good thing.

The fact that it is very frequently a bad thing for many people as they get deeper in debt is usually ignored, at least for a while.

Soon enough, the same media will again be breathlessly reporting the dire personal consequences of overspending: the same spending it previously so enthusiastically reported if not actively endorsed.

Readers will gather that I am no fan of what Christmas has now become.

I perceive it as a gigantic festival of licensed excess and indulgence very similar to the Roman Festival of Saturnalia upon which the Christian ritual is based.

It is nevertheless a time of reflection for many people and most of us have a much to reflect upon as we struggle to understand how the world has quite suddenly gone to hell in a host of ways.

Illustration by Scott Stantis (US News)

Of course, the obvious immediate cause of the sudden deterioration in circumstances for so many people is the Covid 19 pandemic.

This continues to rage across the globe largely unabated, even though large scale public vaccination campaigns ameliorated its worst effects in most cases.

At last report the World Health Organisation calculated that 6.7 million people had died from Covid, although many credible authorities think this is a gross underestimate because the process of counting has been flawed or, very commonly, governments haven’t bothered to count.

Amongst epidemiologists there is a broad consensus that at least 15 million have died so far and that this number is going to continue the increase in 2023 and probably beyond.

Right now, China is experiencing what appears to be the worst outbreak of Covid ever witnessed.

This is the end result of several years of determined but futile efforts to suppress the disease, sometimes applying draconian restrictions on personal freedom.

In the face of increasingly angry public protests these restrictions have been removed and the disease is reportedly running rampant.

I have seen reports that China is experiencing 37 million cases each day.

The official position is that there have been only a handful of deaths but the pictures of bodies piling up in funeral homes tell another story.

Meanwhile, in Europe the worst industrial scale war since the end of World War II continues to rage in Ukraine.

Russia’s coyly named ‘Special Military Operation’ has morphed into a grinding war of attrition.

Ukraine’s valiant people have so far withstood daily attacks on civilian targets as they have defeated Russia in the Battles of Kyiv, Kharkiv and Kherson and are currently holding their own in the Battle of Bakhmut.

This latest battle is shaping up to be a modern version of the Battle of Stalingrad, except that this time it is the Russians who seem to be fighting a futile and staggeringly costly action for no obviously useful strategic purpose.

No one knows how this war will proceed in 2023 except that it seems clear that it will continue.

For Russia at least there is no plausible exit strategy that does not leave it gravely and irremediably weakened and diminished.

The geo-political consequences of Vladimir Putin’s war will be profound and enduring long after his death (hopefully soon).

The positive side effects of the war, if they may be named as such, include the revival and expansion of the NATO alliance, the irrevocable reorientation of Ukraine to Western Europe and the clear evidence for other adventurist authoritarian powers that the democratic world is willing and able to devote huge resources in defence of the values of personal freedom, the rule of law and the right to national self determination.

Despite this, it seems the Chinese leadership has failed to fully grasp the strategic implications of Putin’s war or, at the very least, unwisely chosen to assume that they could not suffer the same fate in relation to any military action against Taiwan.

Only last week China staged a provocative series of naval manoeuvres 250 kilometres off the coast of Japan.

No action could be more calculated to arouse anxiety and anger in Japan which, according to national mythology, has twice been preserved from Chinese invasion by the intervention of the cyclonic Divine Wind, Kamikaze.

The result of China’s provocations is that Japan decided to hugely increase its defence spending, including arming itself with a host of high technology weapons systems including stealth aircraft, submarines and large numbers of long range missiles.

It is hard to understand why the Chinese did not foresee this reaction. Their protests about Japan’s arms build-up ring rather hollow.

Meanwhile in Europe, the UK and the USA, the economic and social pressures now being generated by the strategic situation, together with cost of living problems associated with the profoundly inequitable and unfair neo-liberal capitalist system, continue to create varying degrees of political instability.

There seems to be no country in Europe that is unaffected in some way and the political class is struggling to cope with surging anger and resentment that is expressing itself as increasing support for both the extreme left and right of the political spectrum.

For example, Italy has recently seen the election of a neo-fascist or, perhaps more accurately, ultra-nationalist government, while Hungary is being ruled by an authoritarian, right wing government that is distinctly illiberal.

The problems in the US have been described comprehensively in this and other media and do not require repeating here.

Suffice to say that these appear no closer to resolution, with the policy chasm between Democrats and Republicans still seeming unbridgeable.

As with Europe, the extremists of left and right seem to be able to dominate the political discourse, especially through social media.

Meanwhile, the situation in the Middle East remains febrile and apparently hopeless. It continues to be a proverbial viper’s nest of intrigues, plots, sectarian hatreds, personal feuds and violence.

By comparison to the rest of the world, Oceania seems to be a haven of calm, although the political situation remains volatile in Solomon Islands, Fiji and some parts of Papua New Guinea.

As for Australia, the Albanese government appears to have ushered in a return to some sort of normality, where government ministers seem to properly understand their roles and behave and sound at least sensible most of the time.

This is a huge relief after nearly 10 years of conservative misrule which reached its apex in the dysfunctional and corrupt Morrison government.

So what are our collective prospects for 2023?

It is hard to imagine that things are destined to improve a great deal.

The pandemic seems likely to rage on, with China experiencing previously unimaginable levels of illness and death as a consequence.

This is likely to have unpredictable economic and social effects for China and the wider world.

The war in Ukraine may become much worse before serious talk about a peace settlement is possible.

Russia’s military has been grievously weakened but is still capable of inflicting great violence.

Ukraine’s military is better trained, better led, better armed, better equipped and tactically more adept.

That said, it is not yet powerful enough to comprehensively defeat Russia and stalemate seems probable for the foreseeable future.

The various political, economic and social problems besetting Europe, UK and US are destined to continue unless a consensus emerges about the structure and leadership of a post-globalisation world – and the role of the various actors in that world.

And I will not discuss how things will work out in the Middle East. What would be the point?

In South East Asia and Oceania, nations seem to be mostly getting along, keeping a weather eye upon the manoeuvres and machinations of the great powers as they jockey for influence and control of events.

Papua New Guinea must try to deal with an increasingly lawless population, notably in the Highlands, and the perennial problem of what to do about Bougainville and other regions that may seek greater autonomy.

This already difficult task is compounded by the continuation of what I have previously described as the ‘rotating elected kleptocracy’ which is its parliament.

Not all of its members are entirely self-interested or corrupt but far too many are to have much confidence in effective governance.

So the best advice seems to be treading warily in the world, hoping for the best and planning for the worst.

What other choice is there?

May your God go with you as we venture into the unknowns of 2023.



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Harry Topham

Plenty of those types up this way, manipulating the market by forming investment consortiums to bank land reserves at exorbitant sales prices paid with the hope that future sales will vindicate the gamble taken.

It is just like a game of monopoly although played out in real time with real money.

Well glad that I hung up my tape years ago and I'm no longer involved in any complicity around the dirty business going ons in the mortgage lending and real estate industry.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I tend to think of the 2007-08 Global Financial Crisis as a kind of hiccup Bernard. Or maybe a graze or a stumble.

I reckon the real collapse is yet to come.

That's when there won't be a Barack Obama to bail the bastards out with taxpayer money.

That doesn't presuppose an honest government will be in place in the US but that the collapse will be so precipitate as to render governments everywhere impotent because of the magnitude of the collapse and the anarchy that will follow it.

Bye the bye, in my comment I wrote that, "Ponzi schemes are similar to pyramid schemes but usually offer victims the chance to make money by recruiting more people into the scam."

I should have said, "Ponzi schemes are similar to pyramid schemes. Pyramid schemes, however, also offer early investors the chance to make money by actually luring more investors into the scam."

Harry Topham

Ponzi schemes can sometime pay off with unexpected results ensuing.

Quite a few years ago there was a character here on the Sunshine Coast who started an investment scheme titled Money Exchange.

Based upon spiels and sort of promises made of making investments on short term money exchanges “read leveraging” the operator curried favour by joining local clubs and in one case making substantial donations to one of the local yacht clubs.

Unfortunately for him his run for fortune was short lived as the coppers closed in on him and eventually he was brought to account and was sent off to gaol for 10 years.

At the time I was doing a rural property valuation up Maleny way for a young copper and during our discussion I asked him about a recent farm sale close by.

His reply with smirk, "Oh he's the operator of that investment scheme Money Exchange.
Some of the boys did very well out of that. In and out quickly” is the best bet if you want a win”."

Ironically for all concerned, the operators has invested all of his 'profits' into real estate on the Sunshine Coast which unexpectedly experienced rising property values due to a temporary boom in real estate so the investors who had written off their investment upon the collapse of the scheme received an unexpected windfall when all the properties supposedly held in trust were sold at markedly increased values resulting in most of those investors receiving most of their monies back.

His mistake - not lodging the titles for the properties purchased in the investment company name rather than that of he and his wife which by so doing indicated intent to defraud.

By so doing fraud was proven however if he had had all the properties purchased registered in the company’s name in trust such prudent action may have reduced his term of imprisonment.

However the bounty on offer was too much for his greed as his largess extended to purchasing his and her Porches as well as a new nice large cattle property all of which further confounded his crime.

So I guess, as in the Asian way, Karma eventually played out its hand and normality was restored.

Bernard Corden

Dear Phil, The collapse isn't believable, it happened back in 2007-08 with the Global Financial Crisis. The attempted resolution included corporate welfare with enormous bailouts, which was like feeding strawberries to a donkey:


More recently, Credit Suisse is skating on thin ice. It inexplicably provided funding for Greensill Capital to establish its own in-house insurance firm, weeks after the supply-chain finance company’s main insurer, Tokio Marine refused to renew its policy.


Lindsay F Bond

While much discontent was shipped to the continent now known as Australia, mostly it's as if grievances have crowded into the 'G' and there played out in a sport called cricket.

Then also during two worldwide wars, the sporting types fronted up to ensure that sport and cricket might continue (well that is one reflection of the process of support and alliance in two immense wars).

While cricket was taught early in places like Dogura, it seems not enough, so that by the time of the PNG Independence, the sporting of rivalry with respect for the 'opposition', was still too elementary.

Thus, PNG has elected to derive its own, organically, as is in the conversation on another page in this blog.


So this is a pitch for more wickets, less wickeds.

Bernard Corden

Dear Lindsay - Maybe Bay 13 in the southern stand at 'The G', especially after brunch at Jimmy Watson's on Lygon Street:



Lindsay F Bond

If the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground or 'theG') was a patch on PNG Attitude, there would soon be a grandstand" named in honour of one of our contributors, Bernard Corden. But it would likely be always cordened off.

Go on, get into 2023.

Stephen Charteris

After contemplating the latest offering from the James Webb Space Telescope, I am left wondering what could possibly be the point of homo sapiens.

Well we probably know the answer to that which renders the machinations of Putin, Xi, rampant capitalism or anything else utterly pointless, futile.

I think the message from the telescope is go lightly while you can, peace and goodwill to all, stay curious and wherever possible enjoy.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Bernard suggests that we are all living within a giant Ponzi scheme that is on the imminent point of collapse.

I’m not sure about the Ponzi part but the point of collapse is entirely believable.

Charles Ponzi was a businessman who lured people into a fraudulent scheme that paid earlier investors profits from money provided by later investors making them think that the profits were coming from a legitimate business.

A Ponzi scheme works on the idea of maintaining the appearance of a sustainable business that doesn’t exist.

As long as new funds are coming into the scheme and most of the investors still believe in the non-existent assets they are supposed to own the scheme can persist.

Ponzi schemes are similar to pyramid schemes but usually offer victims the chance to make money by recruiting more people into the scam.

Eventually, however, both schemes will collapse when the investors realise what’s going on. By then, of course, the initiators will have fled with the money.

Gullible investors in Papua New Guinea, where Ponzi and pyramid schemes are rife, will be familiar with the way it all works.

Neo-liberalism, as Chris suggests, is a different kind of scam altogether. It works on the myth that continued economic growth is possible and that there are no such things as finite resources and that their unbridled exploitation is not harmful to either people or the planet.

That’s why it is so much more dangerous than things like Ponzi and pyramid schemes.

While those kinds of schemes damage gullible and greedy individuals the scam that is neo-liberalism has the potential to damage us all, probably irrevocably.

Just like the pushers of Ponzi and pyramid schemes know what they are doing will hurt people so do the pushers of neo-liberalism.

None of them care.

The Ponzi/pyramid scheme pushers just want to make off with their ill-gotten gains.

The neo-liberalism pushers seem to think they can still continue making their obscene profits before everything comes crashing down. They think they’ll be long dead before the ultimate planetary catastrophe occurs.

A few of them, perhaps greedier and with bigger egos, actually believe that their money will enable them to buy their own survival while the rest of us perish.

These ones are busily building fortress-like enclaves in their own countries or in places like New Zealand ready for the big collapse.

As a group, the neo-liberalists are the most execrable kind of human being imaginable.

If you think about it, you probably know who they are. If you don’t, Forbes magazine maintains a list of them.

Both Chris and Paul provide useful summaries of the geo-political threats that surround us but I’d like to suggest that, as serious as they are, they pale into insignificance compared to the existential threat that neo-liberalism represents.

Given our geographical location most of these threats are too far away to have any real impact on us. And anyone who thinks China is going to invade us is decidedly uninformed and lacking in understanding.

Provided we keep our noses out of it all, be careful with our liaisons and control nutters like Peter Dutton and Richard Marles and their mates in the Australian Strategic Policy Institute we should be right.

The catastrophe that neo-liberalism is causing is a different kettle of fish. When that explodes there will be nowhere to hide.

A remote island off Antarctica, an oasis in the heart of the Sahara Desert, some lost island in the South Pacific, a bunker in Arizona, a deep cavern on the Nullarbor Plain or an eerie in the Papua New Guinea highlands, none of these will be safe.

Bernard Corden

Several decades of rampant unfettered neoliberalism have degenerated into a pernicious paradigm of gangster capitalism.

Its alabaster exterior of perfection disguises an enormous festering Ponzi scheme, which is reinforced by the ganglions of fear, retribution, despair and anomie on a relentless carousel of culpability.

Paul Oates

A good synopsis, Chris, and one that identifies many of the apparently insoluble problems that the world now faces.

Dictators inevitably suffer from believing what they hear from their own echo chambers and sycophants that they gather around themselves.

Any opposition is dispensed with and provided, gratuitously, with poisoned underpants, poisoned door handles and poisoned pellet emitting umbrellas.

Closer to home, we have been treated to examples of Conspiracy theories and outof control gun ownership in the US not to mention Australia. We sure can't preach to those who are suffering these some problems.

The picture in the window of the world is starting to clarify. The majority of so called world leaders are in fact mere pawns in the 'Great Game' and don't really have any idea of how to stop the merry-go-round in order to get off and smell the roses.

The media, as you so rightly point out, are complicit in this ongoing fracas and have become addicted to selling advertising space by concentrating articles on the tragic and sensational at the expense of informing and educating the public.

Education curriculums have been warped and morphed into propaganda machines to suit frustrated minorities and not build holistically educated populations for the future.

I read recently that the world nearby, is basically at the same 'hair trigger' point as was Europe prior to World War I. If this is the case, all it will take is a slip up somewhere, serious enough to start another world conflagration.

The only question is 'why?'

The answer is obvious. We are selecting and electing political leaders who can't cope and contemplate taking effective action when they may well be judged and dismissed at the next election by the frustrated, powerless masses who haven't got enough, water, food and shelter.

President Zelensky of Ukraine currently stands out as an effective leader. Yet he isn't continually allowed to have enough weaponry to end the war.

Why? Because those who are supplying the weapons don't want to create another power base they can't then control.

Philip Fitzpatrick

And the existential disaster of climate change and the pathetic mouthings of governments and businesses loath to give up on fossil fuels and the wealth they generate rolls on unabated.

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