politics

    Mornings of Reading are a Blessed Treasure

    A good reading session will take me on a journey. Often the start will come as a surprise, and will take me on a voyage to an unknown destination. Along the way, my mind will be engaged, interested, and challenged.

    Today, I’ve had one of those mornings.

    Here is some of what I found, and some of the most captivating excerpts from them. I invite you to come with me on my reading adventure.

    Music

    I started with an article on musical taste. Daniel Parris dives into how musical tastes change and develop, using statistics:

    Open-earedness refers to an individual’s desire and ability to listen and consider different sounds and musical styling. Research has shown that adolescents exhibit higher levels of open-earedness, with a greater willingness to explore and appreciate diverse musical genres. During these years of sonic exploration, music gets wrapped up in the emotion and identity formation of youth; as a result, the songs of our childhood prove wildly influential over our lifelong music tastes.

    My music tastes were definitely set in my earlier years. I still get ridiculously happy when I play Radiohead’s OK Computer and it still feels modern.

    While reading the article, I found it supported a stance I often talk about when I buy the same noodle dish from the same shop, the theory of opportunity cost. Then Parris educated me on the optimal-stopping problem and the 37% Rule, which were new to me:

    The explore-exploit trade-off and an adjacent decision-making puzzle known as the optimal-stopping problem have prompted extensive research and the coining of a shortcut known as the 37% rule. This heuristic suggests we spend the first 37% of available search time exploring our options before settling on a preferred solution or selection.  

    Seriousness

    Next, I found an article by Ian Leslie1 on what it takes to be a “serious person”. If I could choose to live my life over, I would be a serious person. Sadly, I think my personality traits and my lived experience prevent me from achieving this.

    On seriousness, this quote sums up my issue well:

    I wanted to have children partly because I thought it might make me feel more serious. It actually did, although only somewhat. Maybe the biggest difference is that I stopped worrying about being serious.

    Wokeness

    Having recently suffered the wrath of extreme wokeness in a work setting, I have been subconsciously trying to understand this issue better. For most of my adult life, I’ve identified as ‘centre-left’. Progressive, but with an understanding that there is a place in society for a functioning economy, but that the economy is there to serve people and create an improved society. I don’t believe we are there merely as agents to feed the economic machine, and so there is a social justice and care for humanity that must be incorporated. Then, all of sudden, I was in a meeting where I became type-cast as the ‘old white guy’ and became the target for woke vitriol. Since then, I’ve been somewhat fascinated by my own stance on all of this.

    This morning’s reading was interesting, in this regard, as another of Ian Leslie’s articles was entitled, Am I Anti-Woke?

    On Nick Cave, Leslie writes:

    Cave is, like most rock stars and artists, a left-leaning liberal, but he has a well-stocked mind which draws from various streams of influence, including and particularly Christianity (although he’s not a practicing Christian). As a result he takes positions that are unusual for his milieu. For instance, he has written that “cancel culture” is having “an asphyxiating effect on the creative soul of a society.” In another blog post he says he’s repelled by “woke culture” because of its “lack of humility and the paternalistic and doctrinal sureness of its claims”.

    On conservatism, this resonates. Am I becoming a conservatist? Or just willing to recognise the value that it can deliver?

    “The man of conservative temperament believes that a known good is not lightly to be surrendered for an unknown better.”

    Ah, hang on. Leslie covers my thinking in the next paragraph:

    By the standards of most conservatives, Cave is a progressive, but I take him to be saying that he combines a conservative sensibility with a liberal one. This is how the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie puts it: “Yes, there is a part of me, as I think there should be a part of everyone, that is conservative. There are things that we don’t want to change, you know.”

    And getting to wokeness itself, Leslie writes:

    Wokeness is a social contagion at least as much as it is a set of ideas - I’m sorry to say it, but ‘mind-virus’ is not the most inapposite epithet I’ve ever heard. It has an amazing ability to make clever people say stupid things and to lower the IQ of institutions. I think that’s partly a function of an emphasis on appearances, on being seen to be saying the right thing, in a world where everyone feels on show, and vulnerable to a moralising ransomware attack.

    That’s why so many people in positions of power have passively gone along with it, without quite buying into it. Up until recently (this is changing) wokeness has been a safe space for those who can’t or don’t want to risk thinking for themselves in public. The passivity of moderates allowed a minority of activists outsized influence, and woke’s worst aspects - divisiveness, scapegoating, obscurity, just the sheer absurdity it generates - to flourish without check.

    I think this is what I experienced in my work setting. I appeared different, I didn’t speak according to the norms of the room, and so I became vulnerable to attack.

    I love this 1924 quote, showing that things have, in a sense, always been about finding a way between two extremes. However it seems that, as with many things, time has created further polarisation. Less shades of grey:

    In 1924, G.K. Chesterton wrote about how the world was dividing into Conservatives and Progressives: “The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected.” The world is now dividing into a degraded version of this dichotomy: woke and anti-woke. You’re either for Kamala Harris or Ron DeSantis. You’re either for children being taught there are 183 different genders or you want to ban gay marriage.

    Nick Cave

    All these links and discussion of Nick Cave were a surprise. I know virtually nothing about Nick Cave other than he is liked by Tim Hein of The Unmade Podcast. Today, I learned he is an interesting and thoughtful character.

    My reading session led me to articles about Cave, and his own blog.

    A couple of quotes from Cave that stood out to me today, include:

    I tend to become uncomfortable around all ideologies that brand themselves as ‘the truth’ or ‘the way’. This not only includes most religions, but also atheism, radical bi-partisan politics or any system of thought, including ‘woke’ culture, that finds its energy in self-righteous belief and the suppression of contrary systems of thought. Regardless of the virtuous intentions of many woke issues, it is its lack of humility and the paternalistic and doctrinal sureness of its claims that repel me.

    Wokeness, for all its virtues, is an ideology immune to the slightest suggestion that in a generation’s time their implacable beliefs will appear as outmoded and fallacious as those of their own former generation. This may well be the engine of progress, but history has a habit of embarrassing our treasured beliefs.

    However, my duty as a songwriter is not to try to save the world, but rather to save the soul of the world. This requires me to live my life on the other side of truth, beyond conviction and within uncertainty, where things make less sense, absurdity is a virtue and art rages and burns; where dogma is anathema, discourse is essential, doubt is an energy, magical thinking is not a crime and where possibility and potentiality rule.

    Nick Cave, is, indeed, a serious person.


    1. Incidentally, this article led me down a rabbit-hole of Ian Leslie writing, and has me closer to subscribing to a Substack article than I have been before. For now, I’ve grabbed the RSS feed. ↩︎

    Late-Stage Capitalism & Housing Supply in Australia

    Late-stage capitalism is destroying a basic human right - being able to live in a house - as housing affordability for renting and buying across Australia has been smashed in recent years.

    A report produced by Anglicare Australia highlights with cold hard facts something that is already clear in the community: Australian housing is unaffordable. I note a few quotes from ABC News’ story covering the release of the paper that highlight the challenge facing our nation.

    There is not a single property across Australia – or even a room in a shared house – that’s affordable for someone on youth allowance, according to a new report from support organisation Anglicare Australia.

    Not one property! Not even a crappy place in a crappy suburb. Nothing. And good luck convincing a renter to let you rent their property and establish a share house. That isn’t going to happen. You’re stuffed.

    In Western Australia, the housing market has lost all dynamism. It has ground to a halt, with just a couple of thousand properties on the market in a city of around 1.8 million people. If people can’t be certain of being able to find a house to buy a house, they’re not going to try to sell the one they’re in. So we end up with a malfunctioning market. Just as the employment market needs dynamism to ensure productivity—people leaving old jobs and entering new ones—so the housing market needs a pipeline of properties on a continual basis.

    Housing unaffordability has killed the market, and is leaving a wake of homelessness as a result.

    The solution isn’t unknown. It has been known for a long while. But conservatism and vested interest holds back change, which is hardly a surprising situation.

    “an overhaul of the tax regime” is needed – including the capital gains tax discount being phased out over a period of 10 years and negative gearing deductions to be phased out for new investors in the private market.

    It has been evident for many years that the ‘investor class’ are leveraging what is not a loophole, but designed policy, in the form of negative gearing and the capital gains tax discount to profit from housing. Buying and owning multiple homes has become an investment game for those who can afford it, pushing up prices and pushing out people who need a home to simply live in. The increasing price pressure means rents go up in lockstep, further punishing those who can’t afford a ride on this particular gravy train.

    A previous Federal Election saw Bill Shorten as Opposition Leader run an aggressive campaign to end the current negative gearing tax policies. Confronted with a scare campaign from the conservative side of politics, he lost the election. That’s scared away current politicians from making changes that are necessary for the greater good, never mind the wake of economic and social destruction that might be left in its wake.

    Time for Some Fiscal Policy in Australia

    Talking with a friend today. The topic of interest rates came up, as they do in any recent conversation within the Australian context.

    My friend asked a poignant and sensible question, “why doesn’t the Government adjust the rate of the Goods & Services Tax (GST)?” It is a broad-based consumption tax. If consumption is getting out of hand and creating an inflationary spike, then why not add a disincentive to consumers by raising the price of consumption?

    With interest rates variations it’s the mortgage belt who carry all the pain. They represent about 25% of households. Yet rising interest rates enrich those with existing savings, enabling greater consumption. Wouldn’t it be better to share the load equitably across any and all of those who spend?

    The downside to this strategy is that the GST is regressive. It hits everybody with the same cost. For those with lesser incomes, the proportion of income the tax takes is greater. It’s not an equitable solution, because now low income earners are bearing a greater proportion of the pain.

    From a political point of view, it’s easier to blame the independent Reserve Bank for pain and suffering. Why place the crosshairs on your own government by changing fiscal policy? “Monetary policy delivered by the independent Reserve Bank, that’s who to blame!”, is the relieving Government cry!

    Whether it’s the GST, or a more equitable adjustment to the broader taxation platform, the Australian Government needs to do something. Since its election, the Albanese Labor Government seems content to sit on the sidelines, apart from some modest targeted tinkering. It withdrew funding for some capital works projects, that at least in WA have now been funded by the State Government, so that attempt at withdrawing money and inflationary pressure from the system didn’t work. Some modest efforts to encourage growth in housing supply have been delivered.

    Small target strategy, however, seems to remain the prevailing preference in Canberra.

    I would like to see the Government take some real, tangible action. Let’s look at negative gearing. Let’s look at tax breaks that make no sense. Let’s recalibrate towards equality and away from the neo-liberalist agenda.

    I elect a government to do things: not to watch the RBA use its only blunt instrument.

    Get to work, Labor.

    Keane on the RBA's Approach to Inflation

    I’m happy to see pressure mounting on the RBA. Not so much even for the decision to lift rates, but on it’s myopic approach to analysis. The economy has changed; it has become more integrated, and duopolies and oligopolies rule the Australian markets. A fundamental lack of competition is allowing the growth of profits, and the RBA currently seems unwilling to accept this as a line of thinking.

    Bernard Keane, writing for Crikey, knocks it out of the park on the Reserve Bank of Australia’s approach to inflation.

    It’s hard to choose a few highlights from Keane’s article; the entire piece is worthy of reading.

    The RBA wants to wish the entire profit-inflation debate away, seemingly enraged at the suggestion that gouging by firms with high levels of market power is a greater spur to inflation than the traditional villain: greedy workers demanding pay rises driving a wage-price spiral.

    the OECD weighed into the debate, devoting a section of its latest global economic forecasts to the issue. Its data specifically on Australia shows unit profits massively outweighing unit labour costs as a source of inflation.

    this bout of profit-driven inflation comes at the end of a near-decade of wage suppression, and a historic shift — especially since 2017 — from wages to profit share of income nationally. Merely preserving, let alone strengthening, profit margins in a period of high inflation perpetuates that shift from workers to business.

    Neoliberals have a blind spot when it comes to market concentration: the core idea that unfettered markets work more efficiently than highly regulated markets means a relative antipathy to effective competition laws designed to protect the very mechanism by which markets work efficiently.


    Swearing in of Hannah Beazley MLA as Parliamentary Secretary

    Andrew Canion, Hannah Beazley, Kim Beazley

    Earlier I posted how happy I was that my wife, Hannah Beazley MLA had been made Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Emergency Services; Innovation and the Digital Economy; Medical Research; Volunteering, within the WA State Government.

    On 14 December, 2022, Hannah was officially sworn in by the Governor. It was fantastic to share the experience with her, and also with her Dad, former Governor of WA, Hon. Kim Beazley AC. It coincided with his 74th birthday, so it was a great birthday gift from his daughter!