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Archive for the ‘Economy’ Category

During this interminable Australian Federal election campaign the Coalition has shortened their notorious three-word slogan format previously practised by the erstwhile Tony Abbott. Maybe due to the short attention span of voting punters, Coalition candidates have been parroting a two word catchphrase (exclude the joining word):  Jobs and Growth.

Its mechanical repetition by all their candidates has given rise to the idea that a messianic figure is coming to save our greedy asses, in the person of Jobson Grothe. Apart from the moronic and insulting nature of this tactic, my problem is that both those key words are so yesterday.

In reality the government has little control over jobs, apart from the public service, which it is busy down-sizing. Okay, it wants to reduce company taxes to encourage investment, trickle down effect, blah, blah, but critical economists have debunked that impoverished idea. In this post-industrial society, where are jobs meant to come from? Oh yeah, the services sector of call centres, hospitality, digital thingamajig, health, etc.  Hmm!

As for Growth, another impoverished concept well past its use by date, it has taken us on a merry ride of exponential destruction of our natural environment. Sorry, I meant operating environment for business, aka corporate profits. Folks, we’ve got to get our brains into some existential thinking: where will endless growth and despoliation of our planet and atmosphere get us?

In this marathon election campaign politicians of both major parties have ignored, to use econo-speak, the huge ‘externality’ of economic growth known as climate change, which is almost a euphemism for endangering our own life support systems. Ditto any mention of our renewable energy future. So, without further ado and need for explanation, I’m launching a new campaign counter slogan identity: Colleen N. Green.  Go girl!

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Modern First World living is fraught with really annoying problems. Out Kookynie way we spend plenty of time on the front verandah, trying to digest an array of old-technology newspapers with our daily bread. Sometimes though the desert wind suddenly gets up and starts blowing pages all over the joint. And we have to scurry around retrieving them and fitting ’em back together. Imagine how annoying that can be.

So we briefed researchers at KLOTU (Kookynie Lo-Tech University), who have been collaborating with the prestigious Deutscher Werkbund to bring the finest German design traditions to bear on the problem. The year-long project has resulted in the simplicity of this subtle application of a classic object, with exact proportions and weight for easy handling.

To capitalise on consumer perceptions of German quality design the new device is called Zeitungsbeschwererkissen (ZBK) or newspaper-weighing-down-pillow. Local fashion designer Akira completed the collaboration trifecta with a stunning pale red fabric representing the faded earth around Kookynie.

Every First World resident with a verandah or backyard is gunna love this baby. And with such a cool brand name it’ll go off, big time: move over Hugo Boss. You can facebook-like it, as it’s going viral and global! Firstly though we’re tackling the Kookynie market with a 2-for-one offer for those households with his and hers newspaper piles. Or hers and hers

And of course when the last printed newspaper rolls off the presses and digital reigns supreme, the ZedBeeKay will painlessly revert to its classic slim pillow function full-time. The opposite of inbuilt obsolescence.

Wind pillow

 

Wind pillow 3

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The sorry saga of Australia’s offshore asylum seeker gulag is not just about bringing suffering and hopelessness to those in detention. In fact for the government contractors who run the island camps it’s a lucrative business.

The eponymous G4S, a provider of ‘security solutions’, claims to be one of the world’s largest employers with 625,000 staff in 125 countries. It earned $244 million for managing Manus Island camp for 5 months. Australian-owned Transfield earned $302 million for looking after the Nauru camp over the last year, but will now take over both islands, under a non-tendered 20 month contract for the bargain basement price of $1.22 billion.

My trusty solar-powered calculator was put in bright sunlight for this calculation. With 1,332 Manus and 867 Nauru detainees it works out to $554,798 income per inmate for Transfield: KACHING! By the way, they are people like us, not hardened criminals – the detainees I mean! A good little earner for Transfield though, paid straight out of our squeezed taxpayer purse. It would certainly buy a helluva lot of incarceration in our regular prison system.

Interestingly objections to the morality of Transfield’s detainee operations are coming from artists in the Sydney & Melbourne biennales protesting against their sponsorship of them. A dilemma indeed for arts organisations and those purporting to critique society.

On a tangent from gulag service providers, but equally repugnant, is Foreign Minister Julie Bishop trying to stitch up the Cambodian government to take our asylum seekers. With Australian aid of $329 million over the last four years, we are one of its largest donors, so her bargaining chips are huge. Human rights abuse is rife in Cambodia, social welfare is non-existent, 20% of the population lives in poverty and 40% of children under five are malnourished. Our Julie is plumbing new depths of cynicism and hypocrisy on our behalf. But who cares, right? Out of sight and out of mind, at any price.

Barbed wire

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The Indonesian government is implementing a ban on the export of some raw mineral ores, particularly nickel and bauxite, to encourage the construction and operation of local smelting and production facilities. To ‘add value’, as the economists call it, which is their ideal development path for mature economies.

As always China holds the key. It imports a quarter of its bauxite from Indonesia for aluminium production, and holds nine-months supply of stockpiles in anticipation of the ban. What will happen then? It will be very instructive to see how this bold move by Indonesia to capture more of the benefits of its ore reserves plays out.

Meanwhile, in the short term, Australian miners are rubbing their hands together at the prospect of replacing the Indonesian supplies with our ore, hopefully at higher prices.

Longer term Australia is in a quandary, with giant aluminium manufacturer Alcoa (US-owned) expected to close one of its two Victorian smelters. BHP has declared the production industry here ‘structurally challenged’, but somehow their smelters in Southern Africa are profitable. And so value-adding goes north, to Indonesia, Africa or China.

Australia slips back to what we do best. Digging the stuff up and shipping it away, without any fancy new taxes or government ‘red tape’. Minerals Resource Rent Tax anyone? Or a Norway-style sovereign wealth fund to better capture the benefits of our depleting common-wealth? Yes, the stuff in the ground actually belongs to all of us! Tell ’em their dreamin.

Indonesia’s government has also introduced laws to restrict foreign mine ownership to 49%. Imagine the outcry and fear campaigns by the mining companies here if our government tried either of these sovereign initiatives.

Go the Lucky Country! How about re-naming it Her Majesty’s Quarry? The place isn’t called Down Under for nothing.

Ore train

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During this post-Christmas period, before Easter, is a good time to reflect on Christ’s teachings. It will come as no surprise to regular KC readers that this will challenge some cosy religious beliefs. ‘Sabbath economics’ tries to explain what Jesus said about capitalism, particularly wealth and its re-distribution, and how his teachings have been misinterpreted over the years. A summary of these revelations by Ross Gittins last Easter is recommended reading.

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The President of Uruguay is a daggy 77 year old, full of beans and common sense. To say that Jose Mujica lives modestly is an understatement, as he eschews the usual trappings and luxury of the country’s highest post. And he speaks of the world’s central problem with conviction and simple wisdom. An inspiring figure from outside our anglo-saxon universe indeed! His name is of Spanish Basque origin, meaning place of ferns. Ferns symbolise solitude, sincerity and humility. Mujica’s koru (to mix in a maori metaphor) has definitely unfurled, expressing the inter-connectedness of people and resources.

Muijca3

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Our major trading partner has special vices. Naturally I’m thrilled that we export masses of coal and iron ore to China, so they can make steel and stuff to send back to our clever country. That’s what economists call comparative advantage, which drives world trade, and that’s what you get when China does manufacturing much cheaper than us (generating heaps of greenhouse gases too). And, selling Cubbie Station, our biggest agricultural property, with a huge appetite for water for cotton growing at the headwaters of the Murray-Darling basin, to Chinese state-owned corporations makes perfect sense too. Particularly as Federal and State governments finally agree to rehabilitate our main river system. We are compliant partners indeed of Chinese trade and investment.

The drastic environmental impacts of China’s industrialisation were canvassed by Ross Gittins recently in a review of the government’s white paper on the Asian Century. The burgeoning affluence of its vast, emerging middle class also poses serious threats to wild animal populations. Decoration and so-called traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) are dramatically depleting them world-wide for use in objects or concoctions. TCM uses 1,000 plants and 36 animal species, including  endangered tiger, rhinoceros, giant salamander (world’s largest amphibian). Asiatic bear and Saiga antelope are used in herbal tea, and rhino horns to treat fevers & delirium. Black bear bile is harvested to make cures for liver ailments & headaches.

Ivory now has a street value of $1000 per pound in Beijing, and China is the epicentre of demand, without which it would dry up. The tusks of a single elephant are equivalent to ten times annual income in many African countries. Seizures of illegal ivory in 2011 totalled 39 tons, or 4000 dead elephants. Garamba National Park in north-east Congo (DRC) once had an elephant herd of 20,000, reduced to 2,800 in 2011 and maybe 2,400 this year. The rare northern white rhino horn is now worth $30,000 per pound, more than gold, so imagine its inevitable fate. Rhinos number less than 3,000 in Africa and 2,000 in India & Indonesia

The world’s oceans are also plundered, from common sea cucumbers (beche de mer), shark fins and endangered sea horse to giant manta rays. The ray’s gill rakers are thin filaments that filter food from water, and are believed by TCM users to boost immune systems, cure chickenpox and even cancer. They fetch $250 per kg. The global population of manta rays has declined 30% and is vulnerable to extinction.

Against this background it’s grossly ironic that we now have scientific evidence about the ingredients of TCM concoctions, which shows that they are also laced with toxins and heavy metals, along with endangered species. A heady Chinese cocktail indeed! The rapacious pillaging of our remaining wildlife for dubious ends makes it doubly tragic. Chinese concupiscence combines several deadly sins, and will end badly for humans and wild animals alike.

Thinking global and acting local, Kookynie is fighting back. To safeguard the world’s sting rays, after the inevitable extinction of manta rays, Kookynie Aquarium has instituted a ground-breaking conservation program. Yeah, we had to dig out the creek a bit, and add some salt to the water to make it more oceanic, but the little rays have grown big and healthy. Naturally KC is a major sponsor, and the editor helps with feeding. No exports to China here!

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