Thursday, December 01, 2011

On gifts, credit ratings and ground water

One of the difficulties I face in writing is just keeping in touch across the span of topics I cover. This includes my own past writing. To a degree, I write as the mood takes me, writing to extend my knowledge, hopefully to inform and interest at least some readers.

In a way, I see my blogs as journals of record: record in the sense of recording my own shifting views and confusions; record in the sense of a resource that will show shifts over time in the things that I write about; record in that I am trying to document things that I think I think are important. In all this, the personal confusions are sometimes the most important.

Kate Bolick on the decline of marriage - and men in part reflected my own confusions over the changing kaleidoscope of human relations, something that I struggle with in an ever-changing world. The post has been one of the highest scoring of my last one hundred posts measured by visitor views, so I hope that people got some value from their visits.

This morning I had to go I had to go early to let plasterers into my sister-in-law's flat. It was cold, and as I waited in the street outside I began jotting notes on a new post on gifts and gift giving. Shivering in the early morning, I recorded my confusions over the changing role of gifts.

I was brought up to think of gifts as something that reflected my value and understanding of the other person. I might get it wrong, but it was something from me to them. Conversely, when I received a gift it was not only the value to me, but a sign from the giver how much she or he valued me.

Today, we seem to live in a world where gifts (and especially Christmas gifts) must accurately reflect the recipient's needs. To that end, you ask before giving. I really struggle with this, but that's a story for another post.

Ratings agencies & market instability recorded my concerns with the way that ratings agencies had become institutionalised into the system to the detriment of us all. Here I referred critically to the Australian obsession with ratings. I thought that this had become a modern example of beggar my neighbour.

In a piece in the Sydney Morning Herald (Confident move puts Australia in front), political editor Peter Hartcher wrote:

The Gillard government has two dangers to confront but had to choose to give priority to one. It could protect growth, or it could protect confidence.

Yesterday Australia chose. The government decided the priority was to protect confidence. By deciding to keep its promise to deliver a budget surplus next year, the government obliged itself to cut some spending.

I thought that this was a very useful piece because it presented the Australian Government's choices in a new way. I think that Mr Hartcher is right, and it is an important point. In a world of  economic troubles, and perhaps for the first time in Australian history, Australia is presenting itself as different. I am not sure that we can make this stick, but I thought that it was an interesting insight.

An Australian Senate report has suggested that a moratorium be placed on most of the biggest new coal seam gas drilling plans in eastern Australia, and regulations governing pollution and land access significantly tightened.

My last posts on this issue were Carbon tax, the Sydney/Gunnedah/Bowen Basin & coal seam gas and then Slippers, feather dusters & the mining tax.

Looking back over my posts, I spotted the importance of the environmental wars including coal seam gas long before all this became a national issue, long before the main stream media. I was able to do so because this is an important New England issue. I had hoped to write a full follow up piece, but this is another case where time beat me.

I wrote the Sydney/Gunnedah/Bowen Basin post in part because it was clear that most reporters did not understand the underlying geology. Reading and listening to the commentary now, it is clear that those writing have limited understanding of the significance of Liverpool Plains (Namoi Valley) groundwater. I suspect that they would be hard placed to actually identify the location on a map!

I will try to come back to all this in some purely factual posts.


On 1 December, the four big Australian banks were hit with a credit downgrade by S&P as part of a global re-weighting. The Australian Financial Review story  by Jonathan Shapiro and George Liondis said in part:

Though a single-notch downgrade was expected, there were some initial concerns among the banks that the ratings agency might take a harsher view on Australia’s banks and cut the major banks’ ratings two notches to A+. A double-notch downgrade might have resulted in “forced selling” among funds that had limits placed on how many A- rated bonds they could hold. But November’s final release of S&P’s new criteria took a more favourable view of Australia’s banking system, with only Canada and Switzerland getting a higher Bank Industry Country Risk Assessment score.

This comment illustrates my point about the institutionalisation of credit ratings.


Rummuser said...

Synchronicity? I used Kate Bolick's article to buttress my argument with Nick in his blog

Jim Belshaw said...

I'm not sure you are right about the young, Ramana, if my own girls are any guide. Kate Bolick and the others seem to be talking about women especially of a certain age.