Monday, May 02, 2011

Cognitive bias & Australia's position in the world

In yesterday's post Blog performance & a blogging meander I referred to problems associated with perceptual or cognitive bias in the practice of law. Legal Eagle kindly commented:

Can't wait for your cognitive bias and lawyers post, Jim. One of my theories is that lawyers get too tied up in the arguments and the joy of the fight, and forget that they are there to do what is best for their clients... I saw it a few times when I used to work for a judge...

It will take me a little while to put that post together. I am sure that LE is right so far as court is concerned. But in many areas of law and especially commercial law, the core problem lies much earlier in the process, in the drafting of the original documents. Lawyers are trained in law and are there to provide legal advice and "solutions". I have put solutions in inverted commas for emphasis. This leads to the misapplication of law to what are in fact non-legal problems.

You see the same problem in public policy as well in the proliferation of legislation and regulation. However, I want to focus just on the processes involved in giving legal advice and then drafting legal documents.

Problems with Kiki dealt with a quite entertaining (entertaining for the audience) problem that arose for a Newcastle woman because her personalised number plates carried her nickname Kiki. The New South Wales Roads and Traffic Authority asked her to show cause why the plates should not be withdrawn because Kiki apparently means vagina in Tagalaog. Ramana has an old friend called Kiki and responded with  Language And Bureaucracy. Now in a comment on the post, cousin Jamie reports that they have a friend called Kiki whose mother named her after an 80s English television character called Kiki the Frog!

My post Tinkler rides to Newcastle's rescue - again began with the line "I have to say that it's helpful to have a local billionaire."

To those that have shall be given. That phrase encapsulates one of my concerns about the process of economic change.

I have written a fair bit on this blog about the University of New England because it's my university and deeply entwined with my family.

When UNE began, there were local businesses and families that had money and backed the place. It would not exist otherwise. Putting it in today dollar terms, you had a million here, four million there, a couple of hundred thousand top up to fill a gap. The problem for UNE is that the economic changes in the second half of the twentieth century effectively destroyed much of the local donor base. This puts UNE at a growing disadvantage as compared to, say, Sydney University.

Obviously I am concerned with UNE because it is my university, but it actually bears upon something that I have been writing about in regard to Australia's position in the world, the hollowing of the Australian economy.

Just as those in New England did not properly envisage the impact of changes over which they had no effective influence, so with Australia today. Market forces in a globalised economy may redistribute economic activity so as the maximise global gains, but one should make no assumptions about Australia's place in the process.

Australia today could well be like UNE in the past, about to have its economic underpinnings ripped out. This won't happen overnight. It took three decades to destroy the economic base from which UNE drew part of its strength. But it can happen.

I am now straying into territory that I have previously marked out for a new series of posts. Still, consider this.

In the 1980s, the NSW and Australian Governments began to talk about the role of Sydney as a global financial centre. The term global Sydney dates from this time. All sorts of reasons were advanced as to why this might happen: good telecoms, stable government, closeness to Asia.

Has it happened? To my mind, no. It is now hard to see Sydney as anything but a subsidiary centre.

This post is long enough. Part of the problem is actually cognitive bias created by Sydney's place as a big fish in a very small pond. That happened to UNE as well. But that's another story.  

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