Friday, April 29, 2011

Royal weddings, republics & real problems

In Monarchy, republics & the royal wedding I discussed shifting support for the idea of an Australian republic. Last night's ABC Q&A program focused on the question of an Australian republic. It's not on line yet that I can see, but I will post the link when I find it for those who are interested.

The program began with a one hour historical perspective on the monarchy. This was quite interesting until towards the end it really became quite slanted. There was still some interesting material, but I became annoyed. I ended up watching a bit of the Q&A program, but then switched it off. I did watch the twitter feeds for a while, they were far more entertaining, although computer memory problems made this difficult.

Older Australians certainly do have a degree of nostalgia, of fondness, for the Queen in particular. I thought that Neil's post I haven’t been watching any of the Royal Wedding lead-up coverage captured this rather well. However, and this was a point I made in my post, with republican support most heavily concentrated in the 35 to 49 age group, it is changing attitudes among younger voters that will determine final outcomes.

In the meantime, while the Australian media focuses on the Royal Wedding and, to a lesser degree, the republic question, the Australian dollar has continued its rise against the US dollar. Instead of wondering  when the Aussie would reach parity, the focus now is on when it might reach a $1.15 US. The US dollar has fallen against other currencies as well, but the rise in the value of the Aussie has a disproportionate effect because so much of our trade is US dollar denominated.

In a post a few days ago, Musings on turning five, I looked back at some of my past writing.

In all this, I have also been concerned about balance in the Australian economy.

Mr Akaya's view was that Australia's weaknesses in manufacturing and services meant that Australia could not compete in a changing Asia. Like it or not, there is some truth in that view. There I said in part:

Once wool and other primary products dominated Australian exports. Today, mineral products and especially coal and iron ore are equally dominant. On my rough calculations, Australia's export base is less diversified than it was twenty years ago.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, service exports were seen as the new game. I stand to be corrected, but outside education services that are now in trouble, I do not know of a single services sector that has established a really significant net export position.

I have tried to write on some of this, but I doubt that I have had any impact even at the margin.

Now none of this may matter. It may be that the current mining boom will carry us through to a golden future, I just doubt it because I have been through previous resources booms.

Extending this argument a little, to my mind Australia faces considerable potential problems along two dimensions. The first is strategic, including responding to the rise of China and now India. The second is economic.

Globally, the world is going though a period of economic rebalancing and change. Within this, Chinese economic restructuring is very important. Can China rebalance its economy? There has been a strong line of argument for some time that says no, or at least not in the short term and not without pain. As I have argued, I don't fully share that view, but I do think that there are troubled waters ahead.

I think that we can add two further things to the mix.

The first is peak oil, the point at which global oil production starts to decline. Ten years ago Peter Hill, one of my professional colleagues, argued that peak oil was far closer than anybody realised. There is now evidence that it may have arrived, meaning a growing gap between demand and supply, with the gap closed through price increases. The second is the possibility of climate change.

We could also add to the mix that global production of certain forms of fertiliser may have peaked.  

From a purely Australian and New Zealand domestic viewpoint, I think that we have to ask the question what if, maybe what when, we do when things go wrong. I am not a doomsday person, being by nature an optimist. However, I do think that there is a degree of naivety in current reporting and thinking.

Perhaps more later.         


Anonymous said...

Jim, I think your title said it all, really.

That post of Neil Whitfield's is very good - thanks - but on the republic thing, I think it will probably continue to founder on just how a replacement head of state is determined/selected/elected.

i.e. maybe they need to divorce the two questions? Get the concept past the post, then waste eons arguing about how to get a replacement in place. Meanwhile, Rome burns.


Jim Belshaw said...

I am terrified, actually, that they will try that double barrelled thing, get past the first, then end up with no one in agreement, an existing system that has been voted down, and nothing anybody agrees in its place.

As you say, in the meantime Rome burns. You will see the link, by the way, between this post and our earlier conversation in comments.

Anonymous said...


On skepticlawyer in a post by DEM about the Royal nuptials, Lorenzo quoted a para from this source:

as follows, with which I totally agree:

Having a monarch as the symbolic head of state keeps elected officials in their place, provides an apolitical outlet for popular hero worship and the cults of celebrity, and satisfies the human hunger for ceremonial authority. If it’s an affront to democratic sensibilities, it’s also a safeguard for democratic institutions. Better a real king, crowned and powerless, than the many pseudo-kings who have strutted (and still strut) so destructively across the modern stage.

I'm being totally unoriginal, but I believe this sentiment is probably indicative of most of our fellow Australians at this stage.


Jim Belshaw said...

I think that you are probably right in what people think.