Sunday, May 31, 2009

Matthew Guy MLC Victorian Shadow Minister for Planning



Congratulations to Shadow Minister for Planning and Liberal member for the Northern Metropolitan region, Matthew Guy on the launch of his You Tube video justly condemning the Brumby Governments proposal for a Growth Areas Contribution Scheme - a $95,000 per hectare tax to be payable when homeowners sell their properties.

As I have said here and here politicians must embrace 21st century media as a way of communicating with their respective constituents. Matthew Guy has also embraced the Twitter phenomenon; a medium proving both popular and beneficial amongst politicos the world over.

I strongly urge other Liberals to engage and publicise similarly if only to highlight the Victorian Governments failures and squandered opportunities. Capital infrastructure neglect that includes the ports, roads, buildings, and rail together with vital services neglect that includes education, overcrowding on the state’s public transport, long hospital waiting lists, poor water planning, and rising crime statistics just to name a few.

Visit Matthew Guy on Twitter here

Further information on video content: Victoria's $84.7m land tax whack

Howard and Costello’s Moral Consequences of Wealth & Prosperity

" ... The premise being that over time many come to take prosperity for granted, when this happens we worry less about our own circumstances and become more open to the notion of helping others, more receptive to policies that advance humanitarianism - thus more Liberalist, but in the Trotskyist method of the left; an argument linking economic prosperity and moral behavior ..."

In my previous post, “Peter Costello launches new website” I cited a Costello quote from his interview with John Faine on 774 ABC radio:

In 2007, when the general view was that the economy was strong, the election was fought on a lot of social issues including (the) emissions trading scheme, reconciliation. I think in 2010, when the economy is the big issue, the election is more likely to be fought squarely on the economic issues than those social issues and we will look back on 2007 and say we had the ability to discuss and decide on those issues then because there was a general acceptance that people who wanted jobs could find them. We don't have that luxury at the moment...
Once again from the previous post I wrote:

This got me thinking; perhaps prosperity of the kind that came to define the Howard/Costello years ultimately encouraged voters to embrace progressive policy. Harvard Political Science Professor and author, Benjamin Friedman referred to such an outcome in his excellent text, Moral Consequences of Economic Growth. This may too, partially explain how, in the words of Peter Costello, “a Government that had created such an Age of Prosperity, such a proud and prosperous country, now finds itself in the wilderness.

There is no single answer to explain Rudd’s comprehensive ascendency on ’07 however, three (3) points come to mind:

  1. It been written that Governments that successfully nurture the economic well being of a nation can write their own electoral tickets. Seemed sensible enough, and yet, John Howard’s Liberals, who crushed inflation, unemployment, kept interest rates largely in check, and presided over a period of greater engagement with Asia than any of his predecessors suffered a significant and well documented election loss.

    It can be argued that the role of governments is to facilitate the greatest level of happiness for its constituents and that voters care little about wealth, prosperity, economic growth or other economic factors. Could it be possible that voters had become so comfortably numb in the lead up to the 2007 election? Are Australians happier now?

    When Howard said, "Working families have never had it so good," he alienated many and gave Rudd a label that soon became a catchphrase for a triumphant campaign. Well over a year has passed has he, (Howard) not been vindicated, or do some believe that working families are better off now? Let's cast our minds back to October 2207, at the time anyone who suggested that Howard may have been correct was bluntly told that they were, “out of touch", perhaps then, Harvard Political Science Professor, Benjamin Friedman and author of the, Moral Consequences of Economic Growth, had a case in point when he wrote that prosperity encourages voters to embrace progressive policy. The premise being that over time many come to take prosperity for granted, when this happens we worry less about our own circumstances and become more open to the notion of helping others, more receptive to policies that advance humanitarianism - thus more Liberalist, but in the Trotskyist method of the left; an argument linking economic prosperity and moral behavior. The more prosperous societies are and the more growth they experience the more generous and compassionate or Liberal they become thus making social policies more palatable.
  2. The second point provides are far broader yet equally persuasive argument. A fellow conservative blogger recently made an interesting comment in relation to the rise of Obama in the U.S. in 2008. I shall redraft the comment replacing “President Obama” with “Kevin Rudd.”

    Kevin Rudd put a tremendous gloss and intellectual veneer to fairly standard order west coast liberalism (with a few tweeks here and there) and was able to take advantage of a unique confluence of events and ride that to victory … Australian Liberals need a similar type of leader and spokesperson, just on the other side.
    The “fairly standard order west coast liberalism” can include the many “social issues” to which Peter Costello referred to or implied.
  3. Lastly, someone offered a far simpler explanation, disinformation; of a kind driven by an increasingly Liberal media and nurtured in our educational institutions. Roughly, a third of voters will always be liberal, and another third always labor with the balance deciding the winner. This “malleable” balance is focused on the policies and issues of the day and the personalities involved. They are, in the words of a friend, “not as bright as we’d like” and remain susceptible to all forms of disinformation. In this example, Kevin Rudd’s spin may well serve as the disinformation.

Over to you

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Peter Costello launches his new website

It’s a case of better late than never, I refer to Peter Costello’s new website launched around 10 days ago.
As I have stated before, it is imperative that Liberals in Australia embrace 21st century media to communicate with their electorates, community, and general populace. This being consistent with recently expressed similar views on my Liberal Party membership renewal form:

Suggestions for Local Party Activity - Blending elements of Old and the New:

“…New World: In an environment where progressive (pro-ALP and Greens) media rules the print and electronic airwaves, it becomes imperative that the party flesh out new media strategies. This could include the development of an online liberal infrastructure in the form of local web sites for designated regions representing all electorates with assigned regional personnel to moderate portals in line with, ‘to be established’ protocols and modus operandi.

Each portal would also include moderated discussion boards or blogs. All portals are to incorporate design and management elements that reach out to all layers and demographics of community, not merely existing members. Each site would also link to a central online money-raising portal to encourage forms of ‘micro-financing’ from small individual donors and business. Each site would form part of a total social media marketing strategy that can also incorporate Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Facebook; the development of a unified virtual army and fundraising juggernaught.

Online social media take-up is no longer a teenage only novelty! Candidates must reengineer the way they communicate with their respective electorates ..."

With this in mind, Shaun Carney from the Melbourne Age commends Peter Costello’s internet endeavour’s:

Peter Costello's new website is the very model of a 21st century politician's internet resource. It has photos, videos, media transcripts, biographical and contact information, and even links to Costello's speeches going all the way back to 1997. On Thursday morning, Costello appeared on Alan Jones' 2GB radio program, attacking Kevin Rudd, Wayne Swan and their budget. The transcript was up on the website well before lunchtime.

The transcript from Costello's Monday appearance on Jon Faine's 774 program is also there, as is a post-budget interview on Sydney radio from last week. Not a bad few days' work for a backbencher who told the nation he was leaving Parliament after the last election: launch a comprehensive personalised website and appear in the country's two biggest media markets as an expert critic on the Government's budget strategy.

Read the rest here

Peter Costello’s website URL is: http://www.petercostello.com.au/

As a side note, we find an interesting passage in Carney’s article referring to Costello’s on air discussion with the ABC’s John Faine during this past week:

"... In 2007, when the general view was that the economy was strong, the election was fought on a lot of social issues including (the) emissions trading scheme, reconciliation. I think in 2010, when the economy is the big issue, the election is more likely to be fought squarely on the economic issues than those social issues and we will look back on 2007 and say we had the ability to discuss and decide on those issues then because there was a general acceptance that people who wanted jobs could find them. We don't have that luxury at the moment..."

The full transcript can be seen here

This got me thinking; perhaps prosperity of the kind that came to define the Howard/Costello years ultimately encouraged voters to embrace progressive policy. Harvard Political Science Professor and author, Benjamin Friedman referred to such an outcome in his excellent text, Moral Consequences of Economic Growth. This may too, partially explain how, in the words of Peter Costello, “a Government that had created such an Age of Prosperity, such a proud and prosperous country, now finds itself in the wilderness”.

The subject of my next post.

Prescribed Treatment for World Recession may yet fail

" ... In 1976, Britain's then prime minister, James Callaghan, delivered a grim assessment of the country's economic situation: "We have been living on borrowed time. We used to think you could spend your way out of a recession and increase employment by cutting taxes and boosting government spending. I tell you in all candour that that option no longer exists." That warning is still relevant today ..."

In a sobering piece, Satyajit Das suggests that world recovery on the back of fiscal stimulus in the form of huge Government deficit spending may be ineffective.

National and international "committees to save the world" have rushed to announce and occasionally even implement a bewildering and constantly changing array of measures — dubbed WIT ("Whatever it Takes") by Britain's Prime Minister, Gordon Brown — to counteract the financial and economic effects of the global financial crisis.

Governments and central banks have sought to remove toxic securities from bank balance sheets and supply share capital to cover losses from bad debts. In some countries, such as Australia, the government has guaranteed banks' borrowings to allow them to continue to raise funds.

Bank of England governor Mervyn King summed up the nature of Britain's support for the banking system with a Freudian slip: "The package of measures announced yesterday by the Chancellor are not designed to protect the banks as such. They are designed to protect the economy from the banks."

Governments have gone into huge deficit providing fiscal stimulus and, in the US, support for the housing market. Central banks have cut interest rates to levels not seen for decades.

The success of these actions is not assured. John Kenneth Galbraith once observed: "In economics, hope and faith coexist with great scientific pretension."

Credit conditions have not eased significantly. Money supplied to banks is not flowing into the real economy. Governments and central bankers, frustrated at the failure of policy actions to help the resumption of normal financial activity, have started to lend directly to business or drifted towards "directed lending" policies in an effort to get the economy going.

The policies miss the point that debtors still have more debt than they can service. Until the debt is written down and restructured, credit growth may not resume.

In the TARP (Troubled Assets Relief Program) Oversight Panel Report of April 8, Professor Elizabeth Warren observed: "Six months into the existence of TARP, evidence of success or failure is mixed. One key assumption that underlies Treasury's … approach is its belief that the system-wide deleveraging resulting from the decline in asset values, leading to an accompanying drop in net wealth across the country, is in large part the product of temporary liquidity constraints resulting from non-functioning markets for troubled assets.

Read the rest here

Satyajit Das is a risk consultant and author of Traders, Guns & Money: Knowns and Unknowns in the Dazzling World of Derivatives. His blog can be viewed here

Thursday, May 21, 2009

David Larkin

Chapter One

As written in the autumn of 2009, Chapter 1 of a fictional piece representing a re-creation of a reality according to, and undifferentiated from its protagonist, David Larkin. More exactly, I refer to the central characters abstract or immaterial ideals and consequent arbitration's; David Larkin, being individual, unegalitarian, anti-homologous and objectivist - the sole adjudicator of his life.

Further explanations or commentary about the writing are not necessary as it is my preference to invite the reader to come in, deduce, comprehend and finally acknowledge, address and respond.
David Larkin smiled.

It was the most unpretentious of smiles. Before him, streamed thousands giving the impression that he were witnessing a colossal conscious wave, a physical mass created in that instant for his scrutiny alone. Only moments earlier, the oval offered a spacious and serene vista then, in a blink of an eye, the tranquility was consumed by a moving mass of life in an infinite continuum of colour and sound conveying a dynamic and simultaneous impression of order as if rehearsed. So much predictable orderliness and regulation transformed his smile to an overt grin.

In the immediate foreground stood the football ground, its prominence imposing and grand, it occupied ones entire field of horizontal and vertical vision, a planned and constructed manifestation symbolising that which for him, was both right and wrong with society, with community, with workplaces, with the individual. He turned away; just briefly, he could not be sure any longer. Such moments of uncertainty were infrequent; he seemed astounded by the thought of not knowing, even if only for an instant. He turned away from the spectacle and took several steps forward before turning back and, in an act that indicated a sense of knowing, he once again faced the ostentatious image that so transformed him seconds earlier and pronounced to the world at large that he was, is, and will. It was not a deed of explicit self-righteousness for he did not consider himself right nor wrong, he was only one David Larkin, individual and singular. There was too, no need to judge the other, only a yearning to communicate that which he understood, there was no compulsion compete, to criticize.

He did not question; things were as they were, nothing complex sinister or odd. In that instant, he regarded that which flowed before him as if a living organism. The individuals resembled single cells within an illusory whole, self-contained, and self-maintained yet paradoxically, highly reliant on both the totality and the parts that formed it – too reliant he thought. There was no self-interest on his part but somehow he felt bemused whilst contemplating that he was, in some way, very self-contained and totally, self maintained. This was comforting and normal, so completely normal albeit different in ways.

He imagined the arena expelling its contents, outwards and toward him, as if it were a structured act of nature executed for the sake of consolidating an understanding and strengthening a conception of self that began as far back as he could recall. He straightened himself and walked briskly with relaxed dexterity toward a City centre located several blocks away, a motion revealing an entity that needed or sought nothing. He focused on the pavement as it streamed toward, under and passed him and asked, was it he that were moving, or the Earth moving under his feet? The perfectly contoured walking paths made him marvel at how blessed modern kind was, in the grand scheme of things, it was not that long ago, that one would have strolled on a smelly dirt track filled with the pungency of horse urine.

The City looked splendid and perfect to the eye, he thought of all the men and woman who made these urban jungles of concrete, steel, and glass. He considered the architects whose pencils gave shape, the engineers whose equations ensured that it all held together, the surveyors and town planners whose schematics created the spatial consistencies that allowed these cities to function as they did. The accountants whose calculations provided a financial win to everyone involved and finally, the laborers, whose hard and sweaty toil gave outline to that which at first was merely a dream; a magnificent synergistic exercise that quantified the expectations of so many.

Larkin turned the corner toward his apartment. At the end of the block and just past a series of outdoor cafés that competed madly for each passerby, stood Hansen House. It blended correctly with its surrounds and yet was somewhat different to the many structures recently built in the CBD, none of which challenged the established orthodoxies of design. Suite following suite in likeness he thought, to present day men and woman in business. Not ordinary small business, Larkin was thinking well beyond those running the likes of common retail or manufacturing establishments to those whose decisions could affect fundamentally fluid change of a kind that transformed modern laissez-faire societies in the golden years of growth.

Like a movie reel, his fervent mind rerun diplomatic but heated exchanges that took place at school campus against a popular and deep-rooted view that advocated the virtues of consensus majoritarianism and its mechanisms. His contrasting notions conveyed somewhat indirectly yet naturally and without apology, expressed that it is individualism and independence of thought that produced the best outcome, not that this was explicitly stated. It soon became apparent to all that this one, this Larkin, was a different apple, of a different order, misguided thought most, but brilliant nevertheless. The individual, his self-reliance, her liberty, his independence, her autonomy of thought and imagination ultimately built great business establishments. Delicately, but doggedly, he would make a case that large concerns, including most companies and enterprises, societies, institutions, the state - and some of the “mind numb second handers” that worked within them - more often than not, stifled the free flowing spirit of individual creativity. Larkin’s conviction, wholly embraced every contrasting stance to collectivism, communalism, holism and communitarianism. Thus, soon he was perceived as not merely uncooperative, but one who rejected all processes based on participatory inclusiveness and order within decision-making processes. This alone diverged greatly from quite nearly all management and leadership teachings of the day. After his final assignment, the highly esteemed Joseph Bradley of the Lettin Business School wrote of Larkin - amongst other things - ‘he seems to reject any views other than his own … etymologically speaking … to think and feel with the group … to reach consensus in any form of decision making … appears as if strangely alien to him … ’.

Peter Kent stood just outside the foyer; his right hand was busy adjusting his tie and collar even though it did not need adjusting.
“Is that you Dave?”
He was approaching the building when Peter sought his attention.
“Congratulations!”
“Thanks, but perhaps it’s you, who ought to receive the congratulations.”
“No mate, I mean it. And how is it; the whole class got through” Peter continued, “You got what you wanted didn’t you?”
“Yea, maybe.”
He paused briefly concentrating on David’s reply. He knew that Larkin thought nothing of what he just said and, as always, he felt most uncomfortable in his presence and this annoyed him more so today than ever before. After all, he got the better grades, near perfect in fact. Larkin would most probably have failed had it not been for the stupidity of Bradley’s last minute input.
“Where you going?’
“Upstairs” said Larkin, “to sort something out.”
“Ah Dave”, called out Peter, “you probably hate my guts right?”
“No, why would I?”
Peter knew that whatever he added to the conversation was inconsequential. Deep down he also knew that he hated Dave with a passion and had hoped that he would have failed his final year and for that matter, anything else he tried in life.
“What are you going to do now?” shouted Peter
This was a rare time when he actually cared about the answer.
“Probably nothing.”
Peter stood watching as the enigmatic Larkin disappeared behind the huge revolving doors marking the entry to Hanson House.

As one stepped into the mammoth foyer it were like coming out of a wormhole in another point in space and time such was the material contrast within a few short metres. The lobby area had huge rectangular white tiles with distinct joint lines giving the impression one gets when at the starting block of a hundred metre dash. The distance between entrance and lifts appeared vast, practically insurmountable. The dozen or so people going about their business appeared like small insects as they moved in mechanical like fashion back and forth. High above, heavily upholstered pads, the size of queen mattresses were suspended strategically, altering the acoustic properties from the expected to the unanticipated. An environment that should have sounded like a sizeable unrenovated bathroom instead offered a warm yet impersonal sensation of mind that one could not quite express. Larkin moved through the atrium toward one of the many lifts as if he were the owner of the building. To a lay observer this is how it would have appeared, in reality though, it were simply a natural disposition, nothing to do with attire, more like a bodily expressiveness of little care and certainly holding small regard for anything peripheral to his physical frame.

As a residential tower Hanson House was, in all probability without equal for a variety of reasons including geographical placement, the sophisticated and highly innovative design and perhaps some ongoing clever marketing that targeted an impressive list of names. Its location offered inspiring views in all directions from every one of its forty-three levels. The structure articulated itself through its strong vertical elements and, even though there were taller buildings, it seemed to stretch to the sky. Every level was in itself distinct with some common finishes and materials providing an awareness of subtle continuity, an achievement given it exhaustive, and meticulous design fundamentals. The general frame was inlaid with polished steel grillage yet balanced beautifully with sensibly placed glazing systems. Sitting atop were two enormous penthouses each with three levels that one could not visually decipher from street level, this is just how its wealthy residents wanted it, none more than Mrs. Kent did.

Jessica Louise Kent had, by all accounts, enjoyed a privileged life. Her father made his family a fortune during the boom times of the early rag trade, an era when great wealth could be acquired locally, very different from the Asian connections required today. Having never married she sold up shortly after the death of her parents and, for a sum significantly less than she sold, the city’s best penthouse occupying levels forty-one to forty-three at Hanson House became hers. Her younger and only sibling died giving birth and the newborn was raised in the Kent household as if their own with Jessica assuming the role of mother. Dear Peter, as she would refer to and think of him, was her own. In his usual manner, David waltzed in and headed for the bedroom. In four years of residing with Peter and Jessica, he rarely stopped for any casual conversation save the normal and obligatory greetings.
“David is that you have you seen Pete?”
“No ah yes actually, five minutes ago downstairs.”
“Did he say where he was going?”
“Can’t say he did.”
“He hasn’t had a proper lunch, how can he expect to function without one, I often wonder why I worry but he needs to develop proper habits if he’s going to begin working full time soon.”
David entered his room without as much as acknowledging what Jessica had just uttered. At Peter’s request, she reluctantly housed David through his Lettin years for one reason alone. Peter seemed to rely on his schooling capacities to help him through. David would complete his own assignments with apparent ease before assisting Peter to complete his. She found it perplexing how it was Peter who would get the good grades whilst David quite nearly, botched each year and culminating in his apparent failing to get his MBA had it not been for the intervention of a senior teacher. David disturbed her, not because of what he would say or do, it was more than this, almost illusory. It was the things not said, his extraordinary personality, it left her always guessing about his inner workings. She wondered whether to release him now that Peter had completed his studies, contrary to her son’s comments; she was not convinced that the need was over.
“David”, - she called out tentatively – “someone from the school called for you, sounded important.”
“What, whom”?
“Can’t quite recall, elderly fellow, very formal sounding, but I guess they all sound that way at Lettin.”
“You’ll be surprised.”
“The numbers on your desk, apparently you need an appointment.”
“Ok”, responded Larkin, not appearing fazed or otherwise about the nature of the call.
Jessica thought that she must convey this to Peter. Maybe they failed him after all, perhaps Peter might know. She thought too, how outlandish David’s response was, if it were her son, if it were Peter, she would reprimand him. She also knew that this carelessness, this reckless attitude pleased her; maybe he did fail after all. David stood transfixed at the breathtaking views of the city below, he had much to think about, to plan and execute. It was nine days before he lifted a receiver dialed the number and heard the eloquent voice of a personal assistant pronounce the words, “Joseph Bradley’s office”.

The Lettin school of Business and Executive Education was without equal as a leading provider of management education. With alumni of some twelve thousand members, its global standing and reputation was formidable. Formed thirty-five years earlier it has, for the past eight years, been ranked as the No 1 business school for executive education offering one of the finest and comprehensive programs on offer for those who firstly, had the entry grades and secondly, could afford it. It prided itself on the quality of every facet of its programs including teaching standards, research and innovation, curriculum, service and facilitation as based on a heritage of excellence. Lettin offered talented men and woman postgraduate business management degrees including MBA’s for leaders at every stage of professional life. Its services also extended to organisations offering corporate learning and contemporary leadership and executive development programs in an intensive retreat mode format. It had developed deep and unequalled connections with business focusing on global operations. The lecturers were generally recruited from some of the other renowned business schools, universities and global corporations and were chosen according to past education and perceived ability to shape management and leadership education, in addition to public policies.

As a rule, and apart from sourcing only the most talented from secondary schools, it mostly attracted individuals who were on the boards of major corporations, currently consulting in emerging business fields, at the top of multinational companies, interested in starting up their own entrepreneurial ventures or, as alleged in a major tabloid recently, anyone prepared to pay the exorbitant fees.

Joseph Bradley had built an enviable career as CEO of one of the countries, and indeed the world’s largest I.T companies before embarking on a career change at Lettin as the schools leading lecturer specialising in strategy, leadership, change management, and entrepreneurship. It was not until Larkin was in his fourth and final year that he came under Bradley’s immediate radar. A year earlier, after listening to a barrage of criticisms concerning Larkin’s apparently eccentric styles, he strongly suggested that such a student might harm the school’s reputation if permitted to get through. Thus, the consensus was that unless Larkin re-directed his energies to the established tenets of contemporary business thinking, he would risk certain failure before year’s end. Strictly speaking, David’s work had not shown any improvement in the months that ensued, not in the sense commanded by the lecturers; on the contrary, he continued to espouse his ideas and ideologies whenever the work permitted. Slowly however, Bradley recognized David’s more elusive qualities, and this probably saved him. Larkin’s theoretical grasp of subject matter was exemplary but his big picture afterthoughts disturbed the other lecturers, none more so than Victor Notting, the head of Lettin’s standards and ethics committee. He argued vehemently that Larkin be reproached or face certain failure. Said Notting at the last meeting prior to graduation,
“He’s too eccentric, self righteous and serious for any establishment to hire let alone cart an MBA awarded by us.”
“Go easy Vic, let us focus on the theoretical, his work warrants a pass, we cannot simply fail him because he’s different.”
“Not different Joseph, more like chalk and cheese.”
After much deliberating back and forth and with Bradley supporting him at every turn, Larking gained the pass, but only just. It was put to a vote and of the eight professors who cast, five abstained and two-voted yes thus it was settled but none was prepared to offer a reference for any employer. Bradley had other ideas though.

Along a narrow path of restored bluestone, there lies a vantage point from where one can see the entire Lettin campus spread beneath and far into the horizon. In the immediate foreground are the newer faculty buildings offering a design solution far surpassing the criterion of local building requirements but also respecting and seamlessly blending within the neighbouring urban landscape, which was both characteristic and carefully articulated in the scale of its surrounding older precincts. Enrich house was home to Lettins business research centres where final year students conducted extensive research in areas like Brand Management, Consumer research, International business, Finance and accounting, Learning and development, Economics, Technology and innovation. To the immediate left in the older quarters stood Forbes house named after the schools founder and first chairperson, Daniel Forbes. Here scholars engaged in the schools learning and development programs covering areas as Change, Coaching, Influence and negotiation, Leadership, Organisational development, Operations and project management and Strategy development and implementation. To the right in the low lying ceramic brick dwellings was the schools Centre for Business & Public Policy. Its purpose was to bridge the worlds of business and public policy, a noble aim thought Larkin, in reality though it was home to endless mind numbing dialogue on public policies and there affect on business. David could not help but chuckle the first time he laid eyes on the centres mission statement. On a cool day some four years earlier whilst his classmates stood in awe on their first day listening to a guide expressing a string of persuasive prose, “There is in each of our buildings, in each school and centre and ultimately in each of you, a sense of historical continuity, of mission…”. The mission statement read, “Our role is to facilitate deeper debate in a neutral space … free from the customary constraints faced by each side, to focus on the collective purpose of achieving improved public policy outcomes and results …”

Bradley’s office looked strangely like the small chapel at his former schools Anglican Church, more like a public oratory than an office. Still thought David, it blended well with its surrounds and architecturally speaking, it was stunning. When he entered the office, Bradley waved him in whilst continuing a fervent phone conversation on the merits seeking an affiliation with a major university in the U.S. He was a tall man looking more like a successful new car sales manager than a tertiary educator. Broadly speaking, he presented a formidable presence with his Italian designer suit and tie. The style was very contemporary, the fit relaxed, the fabric appeared soft and supple with the suit jacket having three distinct buttons, no vent and double reverse pleat trousers. The tie highlighted the Armani logo on a background of polished red and white print silk, looking floral and slightly art deco, it conveyed power, one would think, to David Larkin however, he may as well have been dressed in a cheap Asian sweatshop tracksuit.

In a approach befitting the greeting bestowed on a fellow lecturer, Joseph stood and warmly signaled David to approach the desk whilst extending a genial hand.
“David, its good to see you here, finally. I was beginning to think that”, he paused whilst lowering his head and focusing on him through the top of his chic reading glasses, “you might have passed up an opportunity”.
David sat down and assumed an implausible relaxed posture.
“How was the traffic, there is always something on of late, if it’s not a Grand Prix, it’s a Tennis Grand Slam. What’s on at the moment? World Swimming Championships is it not. Speaking of Grand Slams it was only last year that I realised how significant they are in terms of tennis events on the circuit. Apparently, they’re the most important events of the year for rankings, prize money and tradition and there are only four of them, the U.S., Wimbledon, The French and Australian Open. Do you follow any of it?”
“Not in a serious way, aren’t you a bit of a late comer. Did you just learn all that?”
“I guess I did”
Bradley was happy with the way things were unfolding although he felt a little unsettled; he questioned why.
“You’re probably wondering why I’ve summoned you here.”
“The thought did cross my mind”.
“And ….”
“That’s as far as it went, why am I here”?
Joseph leaned forward, placed his elbows on the desk and pressed his palms together.
“I see you’re a straight talker David.”
“To be more correct, I would venture to suggest that you knew I was a straight talker in advance of this meeting.”
Bradley focused downward toward the cordless keyboard directly in front him, David should have looked and sounded smug but neither was evident.
“Tell me something, why did you enroll to do an MBA here at Lettin”?
There was no break, the reply coming without the slightest of delay. David’s poise was notable but in some way, it was also grotesque to Joseph.
“Because I wanted something, why else does anyone do anything, in my case I sought knowledge, greater understanding of the mechanics, the control points if you will, of those unseen forces that bind a status quo”.
“A status quo at the organizational and individual level that, for the most part, includes an unacceptable degree of mediocrity, is that right?”
“Thank you Mr Bradley, you are getting to know me”.
“Sounding a tad philosophical there David, can I assume your also referring to Management theory, I’ve read your work.”
“Management, Leadership issues, Teaching methodologies, character traits”…Bradley cuts in,
“So let me see now, are you citing the individual human psyche, the human condition if you like?”
“There is no flaw; we’re all perfectly capable of being different. It is behavioural, having more to do with external”, he paused, “stimuli, for use of a better term.”
“So you didn’t just enroll due to Mrs. Kent’s generosity.”
“Sorry, oh yes, that to, of course.”
Joseph straightened himself trying not to appear surprised at the last remark.
“Where was I to find the fees to study here?”
“Think we’re a bit rich?”
“It’s about market positioning is it not?”
Joseph chuckled slightly. “I note that Peter Kent bounces well of you, he should make a fine leader.”
“He will make a fine manager”
“But”, added Joseph, “not a good leader?”
David did not reply.

Joseph adjusted himself in his seat once again and refocused on David as if re-evaluating a stratagem, sizing up an adversary. “What words would you use to describe these mediocre types to which you often refer?”
David was beginning to enter a realm that he was secure with, in his own element.
“There like pretenders, baseless types, somewhat unethical, dishonest to those they serve and to themselves. At the least, they are grossly hypocritical and in just about all cases, second handers. You know what is worse, there propensity to act as speed hump for those that do wish to excel”.
David’s fluency of speech, his demeanor, suggested that he had thought about what he was saying many times. From his point of view there was no disputing his remarks, he spoke as if stating universal truths of the physical world.
He continued, “How often have we heard it, about being part of a brain based economy where the best assets are your people, but how many leaders appreciate what this means? In the interests of doing something, anything, they create diversions, give the impression that they’re actually doing something, they fool around with the latest management fad, they re-structure, engage in deal making more oft than not, to consolidate there own arrangement.”
“But sometimes David, Joseph adds slowly with great composure, “one needs to do what one needs to do, to achieve a predetermined outcome, managing expectations is an interpersonal science unto itself.”
“Everything you have just said is true, but in addition and without selfishness of a regular nature, they should be creating environments where the brightest and best are sought, retained and unleashed, and, I might add the brightest need not automatically man the most educated.”
“Selfishness of a regular nature, I am interested in what you meant by this, but moving on, have you come across or heard of, “The Centre for Objective Thought.”

copyright © 2006 otto marasco all rights reserved

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Conflicts within Modern Conservatism

... For the conservative movement to rise again, it must use reason to bolster its arguments and find intellectual champions who can battle the new rise of leftist "Liberalism" on its own terms ...

Greg R. Lawson comments on the value of intellectual conservatism at the Becker Posner blog.

Conservatism, especially an intellectually stimulating and worthwhile conservatism, needs to reassert itself.

A certain degree of populism is always an essential ingredient to political, electoral success, however, to rely on pure emotionalism lends itself to poorly conceived policies as Mr. Posner clearly states.

Therefore, it is important that those who believe that cultural conservatism is not retrograde, but a pivotal mechanism for avoiding the growth of nihilistic despair, must better articulate their reasoning.

It is not enough to say that "God says it's wrong" as there are too many interpretations of what God means. However, conservatism, as in conserving tradition and allowing progress to move slowly and pragmatically, as opposed to radically, is an emminently defensible position.

The loss of the culture wars has led to too many single household families and many economic hardships that correspond to that reality.

The loss of the culture wars has a bred a post-modernist sensibility in too many youth that now seems to believe that any judgments made are by definition "oppressive" and or/ignorant.

The loss of the culture wars has unmoored legitimate capitalist instincts from ethics and allowed greed to run rampant and the disadvantaged to seek salvation in unrealistic messianism.

The loss of the culture wars has been an unmitigated disaster for this nation and it was lost during the conservative ascendancy. That is a strong rebuke.

Today, the remaining culture warriors, disillusioned by the decline in values, too often come across as angry and unwilling to engage is reasoned debate. This makes it too easy for them to be caricaturized, delegitimized, and stigmatized.

For the conservative movement to rise again, it must use reason to bolster its arguments and find intellectual champions who can battle the new rise of leftist "Liberalism" on its own terms.

To be pro-life, pro-family, pro-second amendment, strong on national security are not backwards looking positions. They are forward looking; we just have to present them as such.”

In order to regain electoral advantage, conservative interests be it groups, organizations individuals or parties, need to present conservative principles that reflect a pledge to mainstream values that can include amongst other policies, lower taxes, minimal Government intervention including spending, and a return to personal accountabilities.

A political party does not abandon its conservative ethos for the sake of popularism or otherwise said, votes. Conservative ideals will unite if given a chance in a manner and way that provides for individual sovereignty.

For the Liberal Party, this remains a critical challenge, “to successfully differentiate the party from Labor through the upholding of traditional Liberal values associated with Social Conservatism and Economic liberalism” and in imparting such without alienating the electorate.

Further reading: Is the Conservative Movement Losing Steam?

Your comments are most welcome....

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Sky News interview with John Howard

Former PM John Howard talks straight about the recent Budget, middle class welfare, Chinese foreign investment, G.W. Bush, Iraq and more ...

Friday, May 15, 2009

On Rudd's Spin ...

" ... Compare Kevin07 with Kevin09 and you see a change ... "

Not that we did not notice ...

JUST before Christmas 2007, when Kevin Rudd was a very new Prime Minister, a friend asked him what he feared most about the job. "Ending up like Tony Blair," was the reply. Rudd explained that Blair, like himself, had strong Christian Socialist principles -- yet the former British Labour PM had ended up being run by spin doctors and that had been the ruination of his career.

Rudd was concerned that the political process -- the dominance of spin -- would eventually deprive him of his integrity, too. It was a legitimate concern. Inevitably, politics corrupts those who practise it. Compare Kevin07 with Kevin09 and you see a change.

Compromise and cynicism have been increasingly evident. The way the Budget process was managed showed the spin doctors' influence.

Read the rest here

Labor Economics: An Armchair View

Labors economic credentials have always been questionable and nothing it has done in recent times will change this.

I thought it wise to let some dust settle before commenting on Tuesday night’s federal budget. However, as I began writing, I soon veered away from the well-documented criticism of the Swan budget realizing that our economic woes have been made far worse by the flawed judgment of our present Government which goes to the heart of classic ALP economic philosophy.

It is oft peddled that the Labor crowd have a greater propensity to spend their way out of trouble or otherwise spend to gain an electoral advantage over the political opposition; some 18 months into Kevin Rudd’s first term we note the accuracy of this broad premise. To this end I, and I suspect many others too, were highly dubious upon hearing news about the purported “tough budget” ahead of Tuesday night’s speech by Wayne Swan. Put mildly, the ALP is incapable of delivering a tough budget especially given that this budget came around during what is by all accounts, the toughest global financial landscape since the Great Depression.

I remain inclined to shy away from the coalitions favored terminology when referring to Labor spending. While we certainly do understand, the intent behind the phrase “reckless,” to say the Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan have been reckless is to suggest that they are unconcerned about the likely consequences of their spending, are negligent and perhaps even mindless. Fact is, they are neither, on the contrary they a simply following classical labor script. More accurately, I would venture to add, Labors spending ways have been vastly excessive to the tune of around $30 billion though ill-conceived stimulus packages and senseless decisions e.g. New school halls and pink bats.

We are now faced with an unacceptably high deficit figure that, contrary to Wayne Swans assertions, will not be reined in within seven short years. Expenditure increases have been an essential part of many a Government since the 1970’s but to gain a better grasp of the issue we can begin by noting the level of expenditure as a share of GDP over the period.

Gough Whitlam’s Government saw spending growth up 5 percent to 24 percent of GDP. The Fraser and then Hawke periods saw Commonwealth outlays reach 27 and then 26 percent respectively. Then came the Howard Government that through market and in particular, labour market reforms shaved spending down to 26 percent by late 2007. True to form, Rudd’s Labor Government has reversed the trend and we now have a new record of Commonwealth spending at 28 percent of GDP.

To exacerbate matters further, we now have a Treasury, led by Ken Henry that actually encouraged irresponsible fiscal measures in the form of cash handouts as opposed to infrastructure spending in the early months of the year. Here then is the danger for the Australian economy, a Prime Minister who believes at the core that increased expenditure is the best way to protect the economy from any buffeting due to the global downturn and a Treasury Department that actually encourages this; the result is a classic Keynesian response. Prime Minister Rudd’s assertions of being a proud economic liberalist when in opposition are now laughable. With the Public Service now clearly onside with the Rudd Swan formula in favour of spending, restoring the budget back into some balance is little more than a pipe dream.

What is also apparent is that the Governments early smugness soon turned to outright panic, a needless alarm that led to the first and subsequent stimulus measures of late. Despite the fact that Australia went into the global downturn in relatively good shape, and that the IMF and World Bank projected a comparatively mild downturn for us, our fiscal response has been arguably the highest in the world. Actually, our response has been double the OECD average and matched only by the United States, go figure.

Labors economic credentials have always been questionable and nothing it has done in recent times will change this.

Reckless no, excessive most definitely.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Pre Budget Bytes

It is late Monday afternoon and in no particular subject order, here are a select few pre-budget thoughts, just ahead of the Treasurers speech.

  • Wayne Swan has been critical of the previous government for its spending when in surplus yet even greater spending when in deficit is ok.
  • Am thinking of how the current deficit might have been if the previous Government left for Kevin Rudd what it inherited from labor post Keating.
  • We long for reform not hero like one-up symbolism that so characterized Rudd’s first year.
  • Cannot help but think that the Governments inept economic management will in fact delay the upturn when recovery would otherwise present.
  • If the unemployment forecasts touted by the Government prove true, we must logically question the decision to abolish policies that helped lower to record levels.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Rudd's ETS retreat not all good news for Libs

Ray Evans spells outs his concern about Rudd's ETS retreat and implications for Turnbull.

The big news of course is PM Rudd's retreat on what he called the greatest moral challenge of our time. Alan Moran's piece in today's Australian is a marvellous summary.

The news is not all good however. I have always maintained that Rudd's strategy was to inveigle the Liberal Party into supporting a bipartisan policy, and Minister Penny Wong is now inviting Malcolm Turnbull to negotiate such a package. But what is much worse, and frightening, is the spectacle of business organisations, notably the BCA, but also the AIG and ACCI putting pressure on the Liberal Party to agree to a deal of this kind - so as to provide "certainty".

I am reminded by this behaviour of Edmund Burke's response to the Duke of Bedford who attacked him for accepting a pension from the Crown after many years of extraordinary public service. The Duke of Beford was one of the richest men of England and was also a supporter of the French Revolutionaries. At the end of a magnificent defence of his public life Burke summarised the stupidity of the Dule's position in this memorable comparison of an ox carcass on display in a butcher's shop in Charing Cross Rd.

They (the French revolutionaries) will not care a rush whether his coat is long or short; whether the colour be purple or blue and buff.

They will not trouble their heads with what part of his head, his hair is cut from; and they will look with equal respect on a tonsure and a crop. Their only question will be that of their legislative butchers, how he cuts up? how he tallows in the caul, or on the kidneys?

Is it not a singular phenomenon that whilst the 'sans-culotte' carcass butchers and the philosophers of the shambles are pricking their dotted lines upon his hide, and like the print of the poor ox that we see at the shop windows at Charing Cross, alive as he is and thinking no harm in the world, he is divided into rumps, and sirloins, and briskets, and into all sorts of pieces for roasting, boiling, and stewing, that all the while they are measuring him, his Grace (the Duke of Bedford) is measuring me; is invidiously comparing the bounty of the Crown with the deserts of the defender of his order, and in the same moment fawning on those who have the knife half out of the sheath—poor innocent!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Professor Ian Plimer pulls no punches in The Australian

“… To argue that human additions to atmospheric CO2, a trace gas in the atmosphere, changes climate requires an abandonment of all we know about history, archaeology, geology, solar physics, chemistry and astronomy. We ignore history at our peril … “

On the question of anthropogenic global warming otherwise known as climate politics, Ian Plimer shoots straight in today’s Australian

For further reading, click the Climate Change or Environment label.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Defence White Paper jumps gun on U.S. Declinism

... In 1970, Andrew Hacker a political scientist published a book entitled, “The end of the American Era” where he confidently predicted American decline citing poor fiscal policies, excessive individualism, and imperial overstretch. Sound familiar?

… That is akin to where we are now, post-Iraq: calmer, more pragmatic and with a military -- especially a Navy -- that, while in relative decline, is still far superior to any other on Earth. Near the end of the Cold War, the U.S. Navy had almost 600 ships; it is down to 280. But in aggregate tonnage that is still more than the next 17 navies combined …

Apart from the perceived China threat, the Rudd Governments added validation for the planned boost to ADF funding and acquisitions, is the premise that American military might will weaken. Moreover, that the U.S. will find itself, "preoccupied and stretched in some parts of the world such that its ability to shift attention and project power into other regions, when it needs to, is constrained”.

Can we deduce form this that America would be too constrained to shield Australia from regional threats? Or more broadly, that the U.S. would be unable or disinclined to “continue to play over the very long term the strategic role that it has undertaken since the end of World War II?"

I beg to differ. Economic cycles come and go, some worse than others, deficits hover, foreign and domestic crises and the ongoing process of globalization will provide challenges, yet neither of these will counteract the America’s core advantages - its sheer present and potential dynamism, one borne of longstanding political and economic liberalism (that’s right Mr. Rudd), its size, wealth, competitiveness and human capacity. In the words of Robert J. Lieber:

Over the years, America’s staying power has been regularly and chronically underestimated—by condescending French and British statesmen in the nineteenth century, by German, Japanese, and Soviet militarists in the twentieth, and by homegrown prophets of doom today. The critiques come and go. The object of their contempt never does.
America remains the principle provider of public good and keeper of the peace and it will continue to do so. For the 21st century to have any chance of being peaceful, it must continue having a rule based international order, which cannot exist, in the absence of U.S. global strategic power. Of course, America’s detractors will continue dishing out the verbiage of impending doom and past hegemony. Case in point, in spite of volumes literature predicting its fall, the fundamental foundations of U.S. power and hegemony remain rock solid and compared to its nearest rivals and including the basket case we term the EU, there remains vast gaps in education quality, military spending, technology, and economic activity, even if the latter – economy - be solely based on potentials in times of economic turmoil.

Added Robert Kaplan, with respect to the continuing debate about America’s hypothetical international decline:

Declinism is in the air. The latest conventional wisdom is that the combination of the Iraq war, the military and economic rise of Asia, and the steep recession in the West has chastened America, ending its period of dominance in world affairs. It is time for us to be humble.

There is a lot of truth to this, but it goes too far. For decline itself -- as a concept -- is overrated. Britain's Royal Navy went into relative decline beginning in the 1890s, even as Great Britain remained powerful enough to help save the West in two world wars over the next half-century.

The proper analogy may be the Indian Mutiny in 1857 and 1858, after the orientalists and other pragmatists in the British power structure, who wanted to leave traditional India as it was, lost sway to Evangelical and Utilitarian reformers who wanted to more forcefully Christianize India -- to make it in a values sense more like England. The reformers were good people: They helped abolish the slave trade and tried to do the same with the hideous practice of widow-burning. But their attempts to bring the fruits of Western civilization, virtuous as they were, to a far-off corner of the world played a role in a violent revolt against imperial authority.

Yet the debacle did not signal the end of the British Empire, which expanded for nearly another century. Rather, it signaled a transition away from an ad hoc imperium fired occasionally by an ill-disciplined lust to impose its values abroad -- and to a calmer, more pragmatic and soldiering empire built on trade, education and technology.

That is akin to where we are now, post-Iraq: calmer, more pragmatic and with a military -- especially a Navy -- that, while in relative decline, is still far superior to any other on Earth. Near the end of the Cold War, the U.S. Navy had almost 600 ships; it is down to 280. But in aggregate tonnage that is still more than the next 17 navies combined. Our military secures the global commons to the benefit of all nations. Without the U.S. Navy, the seas would be unsafe for merchant shipping, which, in an era of globalization, accounts for 90 percent of world trade. We may not be able to control events on land in the Middle East, but our Navy and Air Force control all entry and exit points to the region. The multinational anti-piracy patrols that have taken shape in the Strait of Malacca and the Gulf of Aden have done so under the aegis of the U.S. Navy. Sure the economic crisis will affect shipbuilding, meaning the decline in the number of our ships will continue, and there will come a point where quantity affects quality. But this will be an exceedingly gradual transition, which we will assuage by leveraging naval allies such as India and Japan …

In sum, we may no longer be at Charles Krauthammer's Unipolar Moment, but neither have we become Sweden.

As I have written many times over in different guises, American hegemony may be in a period of recalibration but it is far from over. This is especially so in a military gist. What is more, even if challenged, like times past, America will rise and for this, we should be pleased. No, U.S. Declinism theories are nothing new. In 1970, Andrew Hacker a political scientist published a book entitled, “The end of the American Era” where he confidently predicted American decline citing poor fiscal policies, excessive individualism, and imperial overstretch. Sound familiar?

I remain in favour of Australia muscling up its offensive capabilities, but to suggest that we must do so to counter a weakening America is premature of not completely incorrect. The U.S. will be there for Australia if in need, the Obama victory, a ballooning deficit, and the financial crises are leading many a foreign policy and economic pundits to assume that America is finished. For those like myself, proponents for, and advocates of a strong and decisive America such events though concerning, beckon for a little perspective.

America may be down but its capacity to regenerate and re-invent is driven by a broad range of structural advantages that most other nations can only dream of.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

John Howard at NationalReview Online Ch 5

The Aussie Way with John Howard: Chapter 5 of 5

John Howard on the future of economic liberalism and political freedom ...

Click here to view interview with Peter Robinson

Friday, May 01, 2009

John Howard at NationalReview Online Ch 4

" ... I worry about any government which goes too heavily into debt… They are spending too much… You are putting a burden on future generations...I’m unconvinced that a lot of this fiscal stimulus is going to add to economic activity ... "

The Aussie Way with John Howard: Chapter 4 of 5

Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard discusses the origins and implications of the global financial crisis and Australian stimulus packages.

Click here to view interview with Peter Robinson