Sunday, January 22, 2012

Footloose industries etc

For a number of reasons, I am finding it difficult to concentrate. My heart simply isn't in it. So this morning I am going to meander, wandering almost aimlessly through the on-line world. There is no rhyme nor reason to my path. It just is.

Ian Verrender's Global woes also down to rocks that shouldn't be there is another interesting piece by a columnist who so often writes well.

I first focused on the concept of footloose industries back in the mid eighties. Then in 1987 Aymever, my newly established consulting firm, published the Australia Communication's Environment as the first in what was meant to be an annual publication.  Events intervened, but I am still very proud of that work.

The idea of telecommunications as a traded service was then very new. The idea that new communications technology would create footloose economic activities that would shift around the globe newer still. The idea that Australia might not benefit from this was quite alien in a comfortable world in which competition and open markets was seen, somehow, as delivering maximum national benefits.

Don't get me wrong. I supported and support competition and open markets. Where I part company from my former Treasury colleagues lies in the fact that I have no special expectation that Australia as a nation will benefit. Quite the opposite.

Just as New England was adversely affected by structural change over the second half of the twentieth century, so I expect Australia to be affected. In the New England case, New England lost but the nation as a whole achieved higher living standards. In the Australian case, I expect Australia (like New England) to lose, but the global population as a whole to benefit.

Quite a bit of my writing over decades has tried to attack the comfortable assertion that Australia must benefit, to assert the need for pro-active responses. We cannot control global change, we can only control our responses.

I was listening to a radio program a while back. Poor King Canute! He didn't believe that he could stop the tides. He was trying to make a point to his courtiers about the limitations of power. Instead, he has come down in history as a fool. He would probably grin, actually,  His reputation makes just the point he was trying to make.

In early December in Malcolm Naden & New England's fugitive country I discussed the police search for Malcolm Naden. Mr Naden is still on the run, adding to what has become a mythic story. The police have moved their search headquarters from Nowendoc to Gloucester, but so far have had no luck in catching the man.

The poker machine saga rolls on. Julia Gillard has walked away from her deal with Mr Wilkie, he has withdrawn his support from the Government. None of this actually matters.

Mr Wilkie, a puritan who believes in absolutes, was never going to get what he wanted. He has, in fact, had a considerable victory, for he has achieved a trial of his desired solution. I don't think he sees it that way.

One of the vexed issues in this country has been formal recognition in the constitution of the rights of Australia's first inhabitants. A discussion paper has now been released. You will find the report here

I find that I am out of time. 


Evan said...

I'm not sure about the global benefits of competition either. I think that judgement presumes that economic benefits are human benefits.

I'm not sure that competition will result in a sustainable and more beautiful environment with people working less for money and more on what they value.

I would like to hear more about how you think Australia should respond. My only guess is Australia carving out some niches in the global market.

Jim Belshaw said...

I do support global competition in principle, Evan. I'm just not sure that Australia will receive the expected benefits.

As to what might done, outside mining we do need niches. We just haven't been very good at creating them! Perhaps another post.

Evan said...

Yes, I'd like to hear your thoughts.

The debate seems stuck in 'we shouldn't try to pick winners' which I'm sure has its truth vs well we need to spend our money somewhere which means taking some guesses about where we should put it. And emerging industries need support.

Jim Belshaw said...

One of the difficulties, Evan, is that discussion is effectively mired in a paralysis created by the combination of Australia's past with certain neo-classical economic views.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jim

A couple of thoughts I'd throw in on your post, and the above comments.

I'd really like to read the Aymever paper, but I see that I've got to get a 'library card' which takes some days. A classic example of how far behind the curve just one government department is. (I will get one anyway for future use, but geez...)

Your comment that you 'support global competition': it just is, and we just have to make do and live with it. It's an attitude thing; there is no alternative, so let's move on.

Evan's reference to 'we need to spend our money somewhere' (which I'm not suggesting is his attitude) just really is an acknowledgement that our government is collecting too much in the first place. I believe government should stop at providing basic services too costly for the individual to provide, but for the rest just get out of the way.

Now, I'd love to read that paper of yours because it's a business era I lived through, so if you've got a spare copy I'd appreciate an email. (And happy to pay via your blog if required)


Jim Belshaw said...

kvd, I don't actually have a copy of the report. I would be interested in your reaction!

Globalisation just is, but how we respond is not. As you might suspect, I don't support your point re government. But that's the subject of another post.

Anonymous said...

"Thank you for registering with the National Library of Australia. Your registration is now being processed and a library card will be mailed to you shortly. If you do not receive your card within approximately two weeks please phone +61 (0)2 6262 1266"

.. aahh, life in more simple times!

Please bear with me Jim.


Jim Belshaw said...

I certainly will, kvd!

Anonymous said...

Cross-posted, Jim, at

- which is to presume you don't actually have a card you might consider lending me ;)


Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks, kvd.