Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sunday snippets - defence self reliance, Ramana's stories, new Polish Australian blog & the death of Helen Hughes

This Sunday's blog round up begins with a piece by Major Gen (Retd) Jim Molan , Defence policy: Self-reliant or self-deluded?. Essentially, Jim argues that the apparent Australian focus on self-reliance is misleading and indeed dangerous because of the way that words can be used to conceal realities. This is a variant of the point I was making earlier in regard to the dangers of the words public interest.

Reading the piece and the quote from David Uren, the Australian's economic editor, reminded me of the dangers of economics. Whether or not Australia could achieve defence self reliance is a technical question that depends on the definition of self reliance and then the force structures required to deliver self reliance as defined. Once these questions have been defined, then costs come into play, along with the most effective delivery options. Once costs have been defined, then we have to ask is Australia prepared to pay?

These are not economics questions as such, although the tools of economics may be useful. Yet economics sticks its bib in as an early stage. The technical analysis may say that Australia must maintain certain domestic industrial capabilities if self reliance is to be achieved and that, consequently, certain industrial activities must be subsidised. But says the economist, that's industry protection and industry protection is a bad thing. Discussion then becomes confused.

Over on his musings, Ramana's Stories poses this question:

This post is to ask my regular readers if I should start a series of real life stories on interesting people and situations that I have encountered over an eventful life. Feel free to be as frank as you want to be. I don’t have to take your advise!

Go for it, Ramana. You write well. The advantage of using fiction as a vehicle is that you are not bound by facts and therefore have a better opportunity to focus. I do something of the same thing when I generalise from my own experiences. In so doing, I can focus on broader questions unbound from the precise details that began the muse. 

A new blog on my blog list, its actually a new blog too, is My Observations. Its written by a Polish women who now lives in Australia but has returned to Gdansk on personal business. It records her reactions to the new Poland. It's well written with a very personal idiosyncratic style.

Over on Club Troppo,Ken ran a guest post by Rob Bray, economist and research fellow in the School of Business and Economics at the Australian National University, National Minimum Wage – role and rationales. I found it a quite helpful and significant post.

The original Australian wage structure, the basic wage, was based on the social structures of the time. What was the minimum wage required for a family with one male bread winner to live in moderate comfort? Those days are long gone. What, then, is the role of the minimum wage?  It's actually the wage required to allow a single individual to live in minimum comfort. That's a huge shift.

On Catallaxy Files, Julie Novak reports (Helen Hughes, Australia’s greatest female economist: 1928-2013)on the death of Helen Hughes. I didn't know until I saw this post. I join with Julie in expressing my regrets. I never met Helen, but I have known of her for a long time. Often I disagreed with her, but I always took what she said seriously.

I didn't know that Helen had been born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, in 1928 and had migrated to Melbourne with family in 1939. I know that there is a story there. It reminds me too, that part of the richness of Australian life lies in the people who have come here from different parts of the world and brought their different perspectives. I hope that there is a full obituary on Helen. I would like to learn more.

I fear that I am out of time. I have things to do, including watching youngest play hockey later this morning. Still, we will chat again.


Anonymous said...


Regarding Major General Molan's comments, I must admit I was intrigued by his reference to 'self reliance' as some sort of 25 year old concept? Made me think when, if ever, any of us thought we could pretend same.

I think our defence capability should be planned as some sort of effective 'delaying mechanism' whilst waiting for our preferred allies (that only might be the US) to come to our aid to protect their strategic interests - and the more of those we host, the less uncertain we become of that self-interest.

Anyway, I was interested in his comments, and went far enough in the link to read his thought on a 'Charter of Defence Honesty' - a proposal that the Military Head of Defence give a regular public assessment. He lost me at that point because the last thing I would wish for us is anything even remotely approaching 'official' openness or honesty about our capabilities and potential threats.

Our military seems to have four functions: police actions, humanitarian efforts, support of allies' interests, defence of Australia. I put them in that order because I honestly think that has been, and will be, the descending order of importance for the capabilities we need to provide for.

But I think Maj. General Molan is probably talking solely about the 'fourth aim' when he speaks of subs and esoteric aircraft such as the JSF.

I do agree very much with his thought that we need (never mind the economics) to maintain a 'maintenance capability' within our workforce. This has been going downhill since WWII, and I hope we don't come to regret that at some point. I'm thinking of Qantas relocating our aircraft maintenance as a very significant example. There are others, but aircraft maintenance I regard as a 'without which, we are lost' capability.


Jim Belshaw said...

Hi kvd.

The self reliance one worries me. Looking at the history of WWII, it took time to rebuild capability. By the end, the Japanese would have struggled in an Australian continental land battle. But it took a lot of time.

Military capacity comes in when foreign policy fails. Self reliance has to be defined in grades, taking time into account. I think that the concept does have value, but we need to know what it means.It has to be defined against worst case force threats, and we don't want to talk about these!

Rummuser said...

Thank you Jim. I have set the ball rolling with the first story.

My observations is a nice blog but there is no way one can leave a comment. I pointed this out and the owner has said that she will fix it, but so far has not.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Ramana, I wonder what the problem is. I was able to lead a comment, although I had to get through the usual prove that you are not a robot!