A world we can't explain

Up until recently, the last worldwide pandemic was the Spanish Flu at the end of the First World War. According to the National Museum of Australia, 50 million people died across the world. Australia introduced a quarantine in October 1918 however around 40% of our population were struck down by the disease and 15,000 Australians died.

Once we as a nation were recovering from the Spanish Flu, the prices for our exports fell in the lead up to the ‘great depression’ of the early 1930’s, caused by a share market crash on the New York Stock Exchange in 1929. Again, according to the National Museum of Australia the Australian economy crashed and by 1932, 32% of the population was unemployed. The unemployment rate was still 11% at the beginning of World War 2 in 1939.

Prime Minister John Curtin set up a Department of Post War Construction in December 1942. Don’t forget that in 1942 and 1943, Japanese bombs were still falling on Australia and the Allies didn’t land in France until mid 1944. Arguably, Curtin’s actions set Australia up for the growth experienced in the second half of the 20th century.

Essentially, the Australian economy only recovered from the hit of the Spanish Flu and the Great Depression due to the economic activity of and subsequent to World War 2. The 1930’s also tell us the social and economic consequences around having a large number of unemployed. By contrast this century, when required, governments have stepped in to prime the economic pump, attempting to reduce the consequences of a long-term economic slowdown.

Conservatives can no longer argue that the Rudd/Swan reaction to the Global Financial Crisis earlier this century was too much, completely irresponsible or inappropriate as Prime Minister Morrison’s recent stimuli announcements to attempt to manage the economic fallout from the Coronavirus pandemic of 2020 has by far exceeded the Rudd/Swan stimulus packages (with possibly more to come). The value of an economic stimulus can be higher this century because Australia no longer relies on the ‘gold standard’, The potential for a large ‘government debt’ really isn’t the worst possible outcome and there will be structural flaws with Morrison’s package of stimuli, just as there were with Rudd’s.

Morrison claims that the package of economic measures he has announced to date are designed to be quickly withdrawn when the economy ‘snaps back’, rather than the ongoing debt added to the economy by Rudd and Swan. But how realistic is Morrison’s claim?

So far in 2020, Australian Governments at all levels have introduced quarantine measures that have severely restricted the ability of the population to move around and socially interact. While there is probably more science to it this time around, effectively it is the same principle as the quarantine imposed during the Spanish Flu pandemic. This has significantly and detrimentally affected economic activity around the country.

Morrison’s economic stimulus package includes the doubling of the unemployment benefit, gifting of money to those who receive a government benefit, quasi-nationalisation of private hospitals, paying the wages of those that don’t have meaningful work (through their existing employer) plus a number of grants, ‘free’ loans and other measures to a number of businesses. It reflects the lessons of the recovery after the Great Depression (without the need for the world to go to war again).

Morrison (like other governments around the world) has given the economy a sugar hit. And like all sugar hits, it’s much easier to keep getting them than wean yourself off them. Soft drink and confectionary manufacturers have been relying on this fact for centuries. There has been considerable pressure on this and previous governments to increase the level of the unemployment benefit to a value that people can actually support themselves with dignity while looking for work and it could be argued that the ‘temporary’ doubling of the benefit is a tacit acknowledgement that the benefit is far too low.

In addition, government agencies such as Centrelink are frantically employing people to cope with demands for actual service and action driven by people who have never had to enter the byzantine world where clients are presumed to be rorting the system until they prove otherwise. There is also a frantic effort by government agencies and companies to bring call centres up to an appropriate staffing level to match the level of demand. Health services are also being frantically rejigged to ensure that they can provide the services demanded of them through the current pandemic.

Australia has an opportunity here. Say, for example, we did fund government benefits so that those reliant on them could live with decency. Health services for those that needed support could get it without waiting years to go on the ‘official’ waiting list and those that needed a hand who use programs such as the NDIS received support in appropriate timeframes with appropriate funding. Most of the staff at government agencies such as NDIS and Centrelink would love to help people to the extent that they need, rather than impose processes and procedures that deliberately demoralise and victimise those that need support.

It would also be appropriate to ensure that independent state funded media, such as the ABC and SBS were funded sufficiently to support their ‘essential’ purpose of providing information 24/7 for 365 days a year (because the next adverse event somewhere in Australia is just around the corner). No government is going to find all of the content of an independent media outlet to be sympathetic to their particular ideology.

Lenore Taylor, the Editor of The Guardian recently wrote an article that suggested that ‘Australia can be a much better, fairer place after the coronavirus if we are prepared to fight for it’. The ABC’s Laura Tingle has made similar comments Even the Sydney Morning Herald’s editorial on 3 April 2020 discussed why a wind back from the ‘sugar hit’ should be gradual, suggesting that raising taxes is probably a better option than reducing welfare.

We are all heading to a new world and at this point we can’t explain how it works. If we all work together to create understanding and equality rather than revert to the ‘greed is good’ mantra that served us badly from the 1980’s to the 2010’s — it will be a far more equitable and pleasant place for all of us.

What do you think?

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Phil

14/04/2020

It's an old area for study, political and economic policy and thought. Greedy and self fixated neoliberals and conservative will try anything to elevate sheer childish selfishness to a high status of individuality, a gross extension of the tantrum. After half a century of thought tossing, I'd say that modern societies should agree to tax up to half, 50 of personal and business taxes, perhaps retaining consumption taxes as a mechanism of brakes V accelerator. Build a good and fair society, thus eliminate need, poverty, disease, homelessness, anxiety, threat. But media maggots, political careerist perverts, corporate cadaverous cheats and crooks, they will exert their great powers and wealth, enlist the shifty and ambitious, ignore ethics, press on for acquisitions and controls and we'll be back in mental wastelands, wildernesses of worry and underachievement. Sad.

peter smith

14/04/2020

Unfortunately the Liberals poisoned the fairies at the bottom of the garden.

TalkTurkey

16/04/2020

2353, and Dear All, 

I have been a prophet of doom since my childhood. I know the exact moment that sentenced me to this melancholy state of mind which has discoloured my outlook ever since: I was 7 or 8, sitting on the back of a Scrub Roller mounted on the front of a massive tractor as the landowner flattened vast swathes of bush on Yorke Peninsula, SA. For just a minute I was enchanted by the power of the beast, but as I saw birds and little mammals fleeing from its path my rapture turned to dismay. I said to the farmers What about all the little creatures? Shamefaced, knowing that I had realized what the answer really was, they said Oh they'll have to find some else to live. They knew, and they knew I knew, that the animals were being wiped out. And I knew too even then that the same thing was happening every, all over the world.

And I knew too, even then, and have been acutely aware ever since, that the world population was doubling every 20 years or so, and I knew that it could not go on forever. That is why I have never wanted to have kids. And now,  as a septuagenarian, watching old friends' joy with their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, I do feel sadness for myself, yet something relief and justification in that I do not have to worry about the future of my own offspring, and I comfort myself in the knowledge that I did not make the population situation worse. And, too, I have had the advantage of clear eyes wrt the world situation, in that I do not suffer from the syndrome that says, "I hear what you say about the coming world strife, but it can't be true, I have kids!"

When I was about 24, I went to a party at which were a lot of scientists and medical practitioners. I argued that, with every kitchen sink in the world containing a unique and dynamic mix of the chemicals humans use, from chlorine bleach to cough syrup and beyond, new diseases were bound to occur as a result of accelerated rates of mutation of germs. The medics' rejection of that was unanimous, and quite arrogantly derogatory: No Way said they, we got it all covered with antibiotics and medical techniques .. 

Well I have to say - not that it gives me much pleasure! - that my prognostications re overpopulation, new diseases, loss of biodiversity, and world strife generally, have been pretty much vindicated ever since, and never more acutely than now. If I had sired progeny I would be beside myself with apprehension for their future, as I guess those who have now do. As it is I live in dread for the continuation of Life on Earth itself, never mind just human life, for without all the lovely creatures that have always been around our species, who will want to live?

So I have no confidence at all that world economies, Australia's included, will ever bounce back to anything the confidence that most of us have known all our lives. If a mutation in one tiny organism can do what we are witnessing, what will happen if more, even more deadly viruses occur? - For the possibilities for that are infinite. And there are so many other ways in which humanity has got itself out on a dead limb! Forests and fishes gone, air and land and water polluted, religious and racial conflict, and greed and privilege, and military madness, all preventing real social reform .. Plague, famine, riots, mass weather events ..

I have for many, many years predicted 2034 as the year the whole world will finally fuck right up. But if that one tiny mutation  can cause such disruption, I am not even confident that that won't happen even sooner. And now, there's nothing we can do about it. So sorry.   

 

Ad Astra

17/04/2020

Talk Turkey

As always, you have written such profoundly poignant, such profoundly arresting words. We can but reflect on what you have said, and prepare ourselves for the impending disaster. The COVID-19 episode illustrates just how disastrous the future might become, and how impotent are our so-called leaders to arrest the seemingly irresistible march of this pandemic. No amount of self-serving bluster can disguise that.

Oh dear!

What does two plus 1 equal?