Kitchen Widgets Expose the Turnbull Government’s Economic Ignorance

Taking a leaf from the GOP playbook, the LNP is planning to raise the GST and use much of the additional revenue to cut corporate tax, the theory being that this will increase jobs.

So let’s play out two small scenarios and you decide.

Scenario 1

Nat is Managing Director of Australian Kitchen Widgets Ltd. He’s making a presentation to the company board:

Nat: “Mr Chairman, Board members, as you know the government has reduced the corporate tax rate. I propose that we use this windfall to hire ten new employees.”

Chairman: “And what will these people be doing?”

Nat: “Well, nothing. We’re skilled managers. We already employ exactly the number of people we need to run our business.”

Chairman: “Meanwhile, I note that our sales are falling, so I would think we actually we need less people. Nat, PLEASE EXPLAIN OUR FALLING SALES.”

Nat, (now sweating a little): “Well, as you know the government also raised the GST, so working families have less money left over for luxuries like buying a widget.”

Chairman, speaking to other directors: “I propose that, instead of accepting Nat’s proposal, we use the tax savings to prop up our falling profits, thus keeping our shareholders happy and maintaining the value of our own shares.”

Enthusiastic nods of acceptance around the boardroom table

Chairman, (sternly): “Nat, I’ll be speaking with you later. You are dismissed.”

Scenario 2

Nat: “Mister Chairman, as you know, the government recently reduced income taxes on working and middle class families…”

Chairman, (angrily) : “Yes, but they also increased the corporate tax rate, which is going to cut into our company profits. Our share price might fall.”

Nat, smiling broadly: “Let me put your mind at rest, Mr Chairman. Because millions of families have more disposable income, they are more easily able to afford little luxuries like having a widget in their kitchens. Some even have two. So, I’m pleased to report that our sales have increased steadily, enough in fact  to more than cover the extra tax we have to pay. Not only that but we’ve had to hire ten additional employees to handle the increased demand for our products. I can confirm that we will meet our profit target for the year. Moreover, our staff and the local community are delighted that we’ve been able to create more jobs. We’ve even had a very positive story in the local media about our expansion.”

Chairman: “Congratulations, Nat. Our shareholders will be delighted – our share price will probably rise. Well done.”

Chairman, to fellow directors: “Well, Ladies and Gentlemen, whatever were we worrying about? Our profit target will be met, sales are growing, we’ve created more jobs…” Chairman smiles,  “and those new employees now have disposable income and may buy even more widgets. Everybody wins! What an excellent board and management team this company has.”

Now, you, dear reader, tell me if the Turnbull government’s absurd plan to punish working and middle class families while giving a profit gift to corporations is sensible.



Guarding against the Monster

In 1965, James Baldwin wrote a short story called “Going to Meet the Man.” It’s about Jesse, a small town sheriff who recalls when, as a boy, he watched as townspeople tortured and then murdered an African American they believed to be a runaway. They were led by Jesse’s father, the then sheriff.

As well as the obvious theme of racism, it’s a powerful insight into how, we humans, when gathered in numbers, can lose our humanity. I mean that literally – in a very real sense, we cease to be the civilized species we claim to be.

Which brings me to this post’s topic, one that it has taken me a couple of weeks to be able to think about objectively. I had to work through a kind of rage.

A young Pakistani student, Hassan Asif, in Melbourne, is dying of cancer – has just a few weeks to live. He’s too sick to go home. He’s among strangers in a strange culture, alone in the midst of many, suffering terribly.

Bureaucrats, acting in your name and in my name, refused a visa for his mother and brother to visit him.

Their reason?

Because, as far as the Australian High Commissioner and his staff in Pakistan were concerned, they might – not a shred of evidence to suggest it – but might not return to Pakistan after their visit. Never mind that the boy’s father and the rest of his family are remaining in Pakistan.

After an outcry from a great many Australians, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, is dragged, kicking and screaming, to overturn the bureaucrats’ decision.

First, what colossal arrogance and hubris! To believe that the lure of Australia is so great that this grieving mother and brother would choose to stay here rather than return to their own home and family.

I’ve lived in several countries and visited many more. Trust me, Australia is good, but not that good.

Second, these people, acting for you and for me, believed it was preferable to allow young Hassan to die alone, rather than run even the tiniest risk of an overstay.

Third, the High Commissioner and his team believed either that Australians wouldn’t find out, (manifest deceit coupled with astonishing naivete), of they believed that we would all be sanguine about their monstrous decision.

I don’t know about you, but that’s probably the worst insult I’ve ever received, and I’ve had a few.

Is it so that the High Commissioner and his staff are uncaring sociopaths?

I doubt it, if only on the grounds of statistical improbability.

Far more likely it is, that they are, individually, just like you and me.

But put together, as a tiny part of a vast bureaucracy, they ceased to be humans.

They became like Baldwin’s lynch mob. They lost there compassion. They lost sight of their humanity.

I can’t help but ask myself, if, at some deep level, again like Baldwin’s lynch mob, did they believe that Hassan and his family were just that tiny bit less human than we Aussies.

And they did it in your name and in my name.

Because they have a set of organisational values; values that come from their leaders, whom we elected. We chose a government that believes Peter Dutton is a fit and proper person to hold the position he does.

And even before that, his electorate chose him to best reflect their community’s values.

As James Baldwin teaches us, we’re all capable of such actions when we become a mob. And a bureaucracy is nothing more than a mob with rules.

So, we, you and I,  must never forget that the only thing guarding against the monsters is our vigilance.

We must be vigilant, because, as Going to Meet the Man also shows, when such acts are done in our name, even if we do not commit them personally, we all suffer.

We all become victims of the Monster.



How the Productivity Commission can really Contribute to Australia’s Budget.

Every once in a while, amid huge fanfare, complete with peons of praise from the right wing in Australian politics, the Australian Productivity Commission comes up with another absurd suggestion as to how Australia can become more productive.

Well, here’s some free advice to the Turnbull Government: if you want to save $35 Million  a year, get rid of the Productivity Commission.

There are two things wrong with it

First, as an entity, it has been both a costly, and an abject, failure.

It is doomed to be so forever, or as long as weak governments allow it to exist, whichever comes first. Which probably amounts to the same thing.

The very concept of a Productivity Commission is fatally flawed, because by its existence, it asserts that productivity is more important to us as a society than other measures. (For example, I note we don’t have a Contentment Commission, or a Well Being Commission.)

On the face of it, we might think that’s a reasonable proposition, but consider.

Supporting the Arts can almost never be justified on productivity grounds. Clearly artists should be allowed to sink or swim in the vast, shark ridden ocean that is the free market.

Well maybe, but let’s talk about Van Gogh for a moment. He produced 900 paintings in his lifetime, but was only able to sell one. With a little funding, this genius might have found it possible to live a little longer and to bless we of his future with more priceless insights.

The Productivity Commission would consider Van Gogh a complete waste of money – like our car industry.

I know from personal experience that rising unemployment is considered by the  – mostly young – turks of the PC to be not their problem. In fact, many of them consider that rising unemployment is a sign that the Commission is doing its job well.

The rest of society might be just a tad less sanguine about the issue.

Preservation of what might appear to be an unimportant ecological species would have little value to the Commission. Far better to let it be destroyed if there are profits to be had. And as far as I know, the Commission has no biologists on its staff.

See, in the minds of the Right, and most people who seek to work in the Productivity Commission are well and truly of the Right, productivity and profit are, if not synonymous, at least tightly bound together.

The second problem with the Productivity Commission is that it largely relies on computer modelling to reach its conclusions. of course, the Commission has public hearings and accepts public input, but that is entirely about giving its absurdity a veneer of respectability.

Computer models are the Commission’s big thing, but they rely entirely on input assumptions, as in ,

“What shall we assume will be the saving if we get rid of car industry?”

“Well, we save the federal government subsidy, for ever and ever and ever…”

“But what about the cost of unemployment benefits and reskilling for ex car industry workers?”

“Oh, that’s simple. We just assume they all get another job immediately. Did you learn nothing from watching Yes Minister?’

And so it goes.

The Australian Productivity Commission is arguably the least productive institution in Australia.

And, I suspect, they are far too seriously minded to get irony as well.




An Open Letter to Reclaim Australia

I’m fairly sure that no Reclaim Australia adherents would read my blog, but just in case I’m wrong, here are a few points the RAers, might like to think about.

If you support RA, I’m going to be talking to you directly. Come over here and sit with me where it’s quiet and we won’t be interrupted by nut cases with their faces wrapped in flags. Oh… sorry.

First, in order to call yourselves, “Reclaim” Australia, someone else has had to claim it before you.

Now, if you’re referring to the events of 1770, then you’ve probably left your run a tad late, and you also would have to be exclusively representing the claims of indigenous Australians.

Definitely did NOT get that vibe from your demo performances.

In fact, given your penchant for draping yourselves in the Aussie flag, I’m guessing you’re fairly happy with the way Captain Cook handled diplomatic niceties at the time.

So, to sum up, your organisation’s name makes no sense at all.

Now the second bone I have to pick with you is this almighty terror you have about Muslims taking over Australia.

Fun fact: Muslims make up about 2.5% of the population.

The odds are kind of stacked against them, wouldn’t you say?

But let’s put aside the numbers for a moment and think about how damned contradictory you folks are being.

On the one hand you send out this message that the Aussie culture is fantastic and you don’t want other people coming here and changing it.

Then on the other hand you claim to be scared shitless that a tiny fraction of the population, many of whom don’t speak English all that well, and many of whom are just trying to get back on their feet, are going to change everything while we’re not looking.


See, here’s one of the few things you and I agree on. I also think the Aussie culture is pretty wonderful.

But here’s where we differ. I think that in fact, Aussie culture is so wonderful that it can pretty much take care of itself. It’s thrived for a fair while already. It’s absorbed people from hundreds of different cultures over a couple of centuries. It’s grown and evolved. It’s taken on board some neat ideas from some cultures and rejected some bad ideas from others.

Oh, and one last point. When you set yourselves up as the saviors of the rest of us, what you’re really saying is that the 97.5% of Australian’s who aren’t Muslim are not capable of thinking this through and deciding for ourselves; that somehow, we need you to think for us.

At the risk of repeating myself… Really?

It would appear that not only does your organisation’s name make no sense, its very existence makes no sense.

So my suggestion to you Reclaim Australia peeps is to take a deep breath, crack a tinny or two, and let nature take its course.

Because, you know what?

She really will be right, mate.






Like Fleas, the 1% Have Always Been With Us

Watching The Killing Season reminded me of a strange aspect of the human condition; how we can be incredibly passionate about something that’s totally not in our own best interests.

I paused on the scene where Tony Abbott appears along with the highly sexist signs at an anti Mining Super Tax demonstration, and studied the faces in the crowd.

Almost all were working or middle class faces, mostly – to me – it looked to be pretty much a working class crowd.

And they were outraged that the – mostly foreign-  owners of our larger mines, were being asked to pay a bit more tax on vast profits before they took said profits out of the country.

Yet these looked to be the very folk who would benefit from increased federal tax revenue – more for hospitals, schools, infrastructure and so on.

But here they were, almost foaming at the mouths in their determination to protect the wealth of people who would never give them the time of day; who despise them and look down on them.

Surely they couldn’t have been silly enough to believe the nonsense about the miners going elsewhere and jobs disappearing. Miners go where the minerals are, not where the tax is lowest.

But there’s an interesting historical precedent for this weird behavior.

During the American Civil War, tens of thousands of southerners fought and died to defend the right to own slaves.

And yet, only 1.6% of the Southern States population actually owned any slaves. 

But somehow that 1.6% convinced the other 98.4% that fighting and dying for their benefit was a really cool idea.

Now, keep in mind that having slaves around meant that there were fewer jobs available for free, white folk who didn’t own slaves. Moreover, slavery drove down wages. Hard to compete with someone working for nothing.

And yet, those thousands and thousands of poor young men, who would never have owned slaves in their entire lives  – if they’d lived – died in ditches so the 1.6% could have slaves doing jobs for nothing that these young men would otherwise have been able to earn a wage at.

Even today, after last week’s church massacre in Charleston, it will require a piece of legislation to allow the confederate flag to be lowered.

It seems the 1%, or thereabouts, have always been with us, and have always been highly effective at convincing us to act against our own best interests.

How dumb are we?