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Archive for May, 2012

Norman Lindsay probably didn’t waste too much time studying economics in his young turn-of-20th century days, as the ‘dismal science’ hadn’t yet occupied our collective imagination. Although he may have read something of Adam Smith, its erstwhile 18th century godfather, who gave economists lots to chew on for the next three hundred years; and his contemporary Keynes, formulating soon-to-be influential economic growth theories; or even good old Malthus, still the reference for exponential population growth.

Undoubtedly Norman had more fun painting, illustrating and writing. Unwittingly though he may have been inspired by this economics stuff in his creative musings and given life to The Magic Pudding. Although considered a children’s story, which he both wrote and illustrated, it’s full of adult metaphors and themes, and one of Australia’s best-loved books. The genius of Albert, the Magic Pudding, is that no matter how much you eat him, he always grows back. Strangely, he’s also a grumpy pudding, who likes getting eaten, but we’ll ignore that for the purposes of this expose.

Now this metaphor business can get messy, so you have to concentrate hard. Firstly, the pudding is obviously the definition of the ultimate renewable resource, so over-consumption is not a problem. Although what happens if you just gulp Albert down in one bite is not really clear. Leaving that existential speculation aside too, this is where Lindsay may have something to answer for. Many Australians and others seem to think that the Earth’s bounty, aka plants, animals, minerals, water and even its atmosphere, are also magic puddings. Alas, science has shown us that this natural bounty exists in a fragile state of equilibrium.

Meantime economists have convinced us that continual growth is the necessary measure of our economic survival. But 1 to 2% GDP growth and 1% population growth compounded over only 100 years produces a world population of 18 billion and energy consumption 10 times greater than today.

So this fatal combination of magic pudding and endless growth thinking seems to be on a collision course with reality. The economist Kenneth Boulding noted though “that anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite word is either a mad man or an economist”. Unfortunately economists share their delusions with most politicians, businessmen and much of the populace. Actually so-called neo-classical theory predicts that developed economies will reach a ‘steady state’ of growth. What sort of numbers that involves is not spelled out, but maybe some of the Western world is getting there (e.g. Japan). In any case, it seems low growth could be the ‘new normal’ for many developed countries.

Getting rid of magic pudding syndrome however is going to be a very difficult task, particularly with leaders like Bunyip Bluegum, Bill Barnacle and Sam Sawnoff in charge. Read Lindsay. Finally, no attack on the charlatan anti-social ‘science’ of economics is complete without repeating that old adage about putting all the economists in the world end to end and still not reaching a conclusion.

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Despite its relative isolation, Kookynie is often in the vanguard of cultural (first Australian outback eruv) and artistic endeavours. In 2003 as part of the Perth Festival, British sculptor Antony Gormley was astute enough to select our front yard for an original sculptural installation of impressive dimensions. Actually it’s about 50 kms on a dirt road west of sister metropolis Menzies (pop. 120) at salty Lake Ballard, more or less just down the road from here.

Gormley used locals as models for his quirky figurative sculptures, which involved naked auditions in a giant scanner to record body shapes. Reception was only lukewarm until $20 inducements were offered. Planned for 3 months exhibition the fifty lanky steel sculptures still stand, and form the major tourist attraction 150 kms north of Kalgoorlie in our bit of outback. Not to be missed on your next trip out west, or east if you’re coming from Perth. Try to avoid the rainy season.

Now this bloke Gormley was obviously onto a good thing, and inspired by his near Kookynie experiences, decided to take his Lake Ballard ideas to the world. But he wanted large numbers of new sculpted figurines, and so the answer was simple: they had to be smaller, easy to mass produce and so made under license in China…..thousands of them, to reflect the rising tide of humanity or some such. Actually they previously had outings in a Walsh Bay warehouse in Sydney and elsewhere in the world.

The clay figurines are not at all reminiscent of the famous terracotta warriors at Xian in China, but they sort of line up in a similar fashion. Dare I say, they do seem rather gormless, but that would be too cheap, which they probably are to make, using hands and clay only. Anyway, check it out, as the figures have proliferated like proverbial rabbits, numbering over 200,000, and certainly fill a space in England. No mention of Kookynie’s inspiration for the whole thing, but we’re just happy to share the Lake Ballard joy. Go forth global Gormley, with our blessing, and multiply!

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Last year the Remuneration Tribunal gave our Federal parliamentarians a serious Christmas present in the form of huge pay increases. The PM copped $90K more, taking her annual salary to $470,000 – try benchmarking that with the US President’s $400,000 and UK PM’s paltry $221,000. Huh? The Deputy PM managed to scoop an even bigger increase of $93K, so obviously he’d been grossly underpaid, as he now earns $370,000. The House Speaker’s cop was another $70K to get to $315,000, as was the Finance Minister’s top-up to $310,000. Lowly member salaries went up $40K to $180,000. Now that’s starting to look like rather biggish bickies, not crackers at all, for our inspiring pollies. Cute abbreviations, like pokies, make them seem less noxious.

No doubt this august tribunal indulged in all the dark arts of salary confection, with that trite old chestnut in mind as it scoured inflated corporate and public service salary comparisons: paying peanuts only attracts monkeys. And all the performance and productivity indicators of our Federal pollies would have been going bananas, so to speak: clear policy, consistent principles, progressive legislative programs, intellectual rigour, societal role modelling & leadership, respect of parliamentary procedures, etc. Of course these high standards will further improve after their northerly salary increments.

With these proper remuneration packages we can now look forward to attracting more (non-monkey) talent into Federal politics, to take this great little big country to new heights of leadership. The results already speak for themselves, as we’ve seen in recent months!

Unravelling this bunch of mixed metaphors of chestnuts, peanuts, bananas and crackers with parrots and monkeys, presents a challenge, so we’ll just muddle through. That ungrateful watermelon (you know, green on the outside and red on the inside) Bob Brown had the temerity to suggest that pollie salaries should really be compared with ordinary Australians, like teachers and nurses, not corporate executives. Thank god Bob’s retired from politics, as he’s so out of touch with our sacred, mortgage-stressed working families and their appreciation of our ruling mob of macaques. Or galahs, or whatever!

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Just after Anzac Day is a good time to reflect on our collective failure to meet the challenge of altering Australia’s energy mix. We all know coal is plentiful in the wide brown (oh yeah!) land, and that our polluting power stations produce cheap electricity, but that’s just the problem: it pollutes, to use an old-fashioned word. And one day the coal will run out (what’s left after exports to China), which is why it’s called a finite resource. Now, which part of that do people not understand? Oh, and yes, there’s a high probability that it’s also changing the climate.

A study by the University of Technology and Melbourne Business School on Australian attitudes towards society, politics and the economy has confirmed that we are ‘effectively indifferent to global and societal issues’. Concerns about industrial pollution, climate change, renewable energy, and depletion of energy resources fell dramatically compared to 2007. Attitudes in the UK and USA to environmental sustainability were equally parochial and selfish, and in stark contrast to Germany, where global issues ranked high.

The corollary is well explained in an excellent program on ABC Radio 702 – ‘Germany and Renewable Energy’ – in which a few experts take us succinctly through the politics and facts of twenty years of German experience of building a renewable energy network. National laws on feed-in tariffs were passed in 1990, and in 2000 with twenty year contracts. The cost of photovoltaics is tumbling, and demand so strong that Germany cannot manufacture enough at present. The base load power and economic viability of renewables are demonstrably clear there. Germany has an average of 1738 hours of sunshine a year, or 4.8 hours a day. We have that much before breakfast! Finding plenty of wind in our empty continent is also a no-brainer. Geo-thermal, bio-mass and other clever renewable methods make up the energy mix.  Wake up Australia!

Germany has grown its renewable energy from 2% of total supplies in 1990 to 20% in 2012; meantime Australia has managed to finally get to 5%. Anzac spirit my arse. At that rate Germany will reach 100% renewable energy by 2030, and decommission all nuclear power stations. ‘Beyond Zero Emissions’ shows that Australia could also reach 100% renewables before then using existing technologies. What’s missing is our political leadership. And our collective will, which may involve sacrifices on our part. Lest we forget indeed, wombats! Eats, roots & leaves a mess.

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