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May we live in interesting times

Jay Somasundaram has been a Webdiary member for over two years. Now living in central Queensland, his interesting times have included race riots in Sri Lanka, construction management in Zambia and public policy development in New Zealand. He labels himself a lifelong learner and peripatetic browser. While he has commented periodically, this is his first contribution. Many thanks, Jay.


May we live in interesting times
by Jay Somasundaram

Both the social sciences and the physical sciences have advanced to a stage where we know how to solve the world’s problems. It’s claimed that both the Australian and US elections were for change. But, are we willing to change? The difficulty is not in finding solutions, but in getting agreement and then in implementing them. It is not that people are evil or stupid, but that we are not logical creatures. We have a lifetime of mental models stored in our brains, and any radical ideas that challenge them have little chance of making it to conscious thought. Even when they do, they will often be accompanied by the emotions of aversion, hatred or fear.

To achieve change we need to break down existing mental models. We do this by continually challenging existing models, at every opportunity and avenue. The financial crisis provides an opportunity, as people are more amenable to change in an environment of uncertainty. Let’s use it wisely.

The crisis itself is an example of how we create our own artificial reality. The fundamentals of our world are sound. Rather than fight the looming recession, we should learn to go with the flow - channel it rather than fight it. People are saving and paying off debt? It’s about time. We are worried about global warming? We’ve forgotten that reduce and reuse comes before recycle. Let’s produce and buy less. The carbon trading strategy is more about recycling than reducing.

What we don’t want in a depression is unemployment. A drop in profits, asset values and some drop in incomes will not cause starvation or homelessness in Australia. The world actually produces much more than is necessary to meet human needs, and cutting back somewhat, if done judiciously, will be a good thing, particularly for those of us with a prosperous waistline.

Society allows companies to operate to serve the public good. Companies use public services and we have special laws that give them certain privileges. We have the right to demand that companies meet their social obligations.

Some changes to ride the recession:

  1. Tax companies that shed staff at 100% for the following three years (i.e. they can’t make profits). Companies can shed staff to ward off bankruptcy, but shouldn’t do so simply to increase/maintain profits.
  2. All public, charitable and limited liability institutions must provide triple bottom line annual reporting. Let’s get the facts out in the open.
  3. People earning more than thrice the average weekly wage job-share, working no more than 30 hours a week. Senior staff would therefore develop the skills of having an understudy that they mentor and build up, but also free them to develop a greater social and personal life. We start now to get the culture/skills embedded, and if unemployment really bites, we move the numbers further down.
  4. The baby bonus is paid only after parents pass a test on parenting skills. Bonuses to those on welfare or pension will only be paid after they pass a test on personal budgeting. Subsequent bonuses will require a refresher and slightly more in-depth content. People can sit as often as they like, and the test is free.
  5. Expand volunteer services programmes several-fold, with increased public subsidies. Encourage employers to promote and participate in such schemes. Both abroad and in remote Australian communities.
  6. We replace Australian troops in Afghanistan and Iraq by paying the UN to bring in Muslim led peace-keepers (with Muslim majorities). If they cost less than our combat allowance, we may even have an initial net gain. Deploy the Australian troops to our own remote communities, to build infrastructure and sustainable industries. It’s essential training for future deployments of nation-building failed pacific states.
  7. The best way for the government to rapidly increase Australia’s knowledge/skill level is to focus on accreditation rather than training. The government’s job is to assess and certify people as having a particular skill level, as neatly and cheaply as possible. The accreditation (and regular reaccreditation) must be done at arms length of interest groups (the professional associations, employers and trainers). Good accreditation is based on assessed skill rather than x hours of training or y years on the job. Give the student and the ‘market’ the freedom to decide how the skills are obtained – by self-study, a teaching institution, or on the job.
  8. Legalise suicide, but with safeguards to ensure that it is a considered decision. It is not simply an economic issue. Criminalising suicide is arrogant, selfish and inhumane.
  9. Claw back intellectual property rights. The public has given too much away to industry (mainly US industry) with regard to both patent and copyright duration.
  10. Start developing and handing greater power over to a democratic UN – one with delegates elected directly by people, rather than by regimes. A UN with robust and independent legislative, executive and judiciary arms.

Each of these is a complex proposal. I have not elaborated on the subtleties. I certainly won’t have them all right. Nor is it likely that we will get them right in the first go. The real reasons for the current status quo are rarely acknowledged by those who make the decisions. By putting forward radical alternative solutions we will at least start debates that illuminate an understanding of the ideologies that drive the current status-quo, and who benefits from these ideologies.

I believe that in both Kevin and Obama, we have chosen well. They both appear honest and competent, and quite capable of realising the potential to be one of the heroes of the twenty first century. That is not say that they are or will be perfect. They are both new to their jobs. Nor are they incapable of slowly being corrupted. They are, ultimately, the servants of the public, and it is our duty to be good masters, as much as it is of good servants to manage their masters.


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That senior or junior politicians, of whatever persuasion, can refer to the electorate as "the mob", suggests that megalomaniacs are not confined to the party leadership.

Disgusting comment.  Who was the "senior Labor MP", Kathy Farrelly?


Dem megalomaniacs are everywhere, to be sure..

Don't know who he was, F Kendall. Laurie Oakes did not reveal his identity.

It would be "curtains" for the guy if Rudd knew who he was, I guess.

The easiest thing ever

Family, self-discipline, self-sacrifice. One or a combination of those, will make a person materially successful. There isn't any secret. If that's the thing you crave.

Life is about bringing people to the top; not forcing them to the bottom.

A successful person, a successful nation, can only be aimed toward finding such gifts.

Everything else is bound to fail. A little like re-inventing the square wheel.

And it's tried, and it's tried, and it's tried.........

Circular wheels are old hat

Why re-invent a square wheel when we can have a triangular one....

...one less bump per revolution.

Wait and see

Jay: "I believe that in both Kevin and Obama, we have chosen well. They both appear honest and competent, and quite capable of realising the potential to be one of the heroes of the twenty first century."

I think you may be a little premature in your statement , Jay.

Kevin Rudd is looking more and more like John Howard every day (without the nasty bits as Michael de Angelos put it).

Whether he is competent  or not, time will tell. (Fuel watch for example was a bloody waste of time and money.)

He could certainly do with a decent speech writer, another thing  that he and his predecessor have in common. Both utter control freaks, who insist on writing their own "boring as bat shit" speeches!

As for Obama,one can only hope. However, the appointment of "pitbull" Rahm Emmanuel to Chief of Staff (a staunch supporter of the Iraq war) is rather disconcerting, for me.

Kevin hires the Queen

I stumbled across this gem by accident:

Now, get back to work, the lot of you | News.com.au Jack Marx Live Blog

I don't know whether to laugh, cry or cheer.

Cry, you and my beloved country

Thank you for that, Jay Somasundaram :

Had you not posted it, I would never have known about it.

Many of you like to pizzle me (hello Margo) about predicticting that Howard would be back. I think I have adequately explained that. I reformed my view in the last week of the campaign and I still don't understand how anyone could have predicted the the stupid South Australians would elect a second Green. But there you go.

Bugger of a game politics .

While I am glad to see the back of Howard and his mob (well, apart from it making the Nadir series much more difficult to write) I share the concern about Rudd. Just looks like Scullin all over again to me. And I reckon Scullin was a bloody sight better a parliamentarian than Rudd.

Well, who cares what I think? Only about 1% of you vote for me. Time after time after time. Unless it is a by-election in which case 4.2% of you vote for me and I get the deposit back.

Sweet dreams kiddies.

Desperately seeking ...

You are likely right, Kathy. I may be desperately searching, as Senge puts it, for the mythical hero-leader.  I wasn’t much of a fan of fuel-watch, but would heartily support a Kevin-watch. Get-up are having a go at a Senate-watch  (Project Democracy ).

Walking on water

Hi Jay. I read this quote  today, attributed  to a senior Labor MP.

"The mob thinks Kevin walks on water. The problem is, Kevin thinks so, too." 

Sheesh, maybe I am just a cynic, but I cannot help but think that we  may  have replaced one megalomaniac for another! (shudders)

Are you surprised?

I can't find the job qualifications for Prime Minister online, Kathy Farrelly, but I'm pretty sure one of them is megalomania.

Listen guys

You just aren't googling the mission statement.

Meglomania is only a job description. Why do you think that, as students, both TOM and I thought we'd put our hands up? It was diffferent then. More like running a third-world country with a lot of resources and all that's chang ... oh shit, it hasn't really, has it? We should have joined the Masons or the Diplomatic or something. Oh well, TOM lives just above where I used to row as a kid. With global warming, I might even get into the loungeroom - get a geek at Lucy's Lalique.

Kathy Farrelly

Spare me DSM II

Not surprised, just disappointed

Mark: "I can't find the job qualifications for Prime Minister online, Kathy Farrelly, but I'm pretty sure one of them is megalomania ."

Why should it be so, Mark? (brow furrows...)

When you consider that megalomania is a "psychopathological condition characterized by delusional fantasies of wealth, power, or omnipotence".

Suicide is painless

Jay, I was hoping you were going to write about the disadvantages of cultural diversity and you give us this masterpiece. Thank you.

I agree with Malcom that your plan is "bold", Sir Humphrey may say "courageous".

I did read your wish list. By the time I had finished number one I realised that you were not a business man, nor an accountant.

By the time I completed number ten I ended up feeling I could do with a bit of number eight and that legalising same could be good.

But the I changed my mind for suicide is one of those wonderful crimes where the coppers have no choice but to let you off. I think this is great for public relations.

Rooting out censorship

I realised that you were not a business man, nor an accountant. 

I wouldn’t jump to conclusions, Justin, either at the individual or at the collective level. Putting employees before shareholders is not an uncommon theme (in Japan for instance). Triple bottom line reporting is an accounting concept. Accounting firms will be salivating at the thought of it being mandatory (e.g. Strong demand for triple bottom line reporting ). What we need to root out is the perception that it needs courage to voice non-mainstream opinions. What an easy form of censorship! 

PS. Thanks for the compliments, sorry for the long list, but decided in for a penny, in for a pound.

Good idea but watch out for reality

Jay, thanks for the link. This type of thing has been discussed for yonks. It is a good idea and would give us a better picture of the impact and cost of industry.

Unfortunately this approach to industry and accounting will have to be a global thing wise you will have winners and losers. It must be applied accross the board - a very big ask.

At this stage I won't even mention all the ways industry and accounting could manipulate the numbers to their benefit, especially when we attempt to apply quantitative values to qualitative estimates etc. That is all about reality and reality is yet to arrive as far is this stuff is concerned.

If we apply environmental taxes etc. on industry we must all remember that it will be the consumer who ultimately pays. In our  present economic climate (worse to come) the consumer is not wanting to pay for much at all.

broad. bold and timely

Well said, Malcolm B Duncan, except for your last sentence.

Precisely what Webdiary is for

These suggestions from Jay Somasundaram are broad, bold and timely.

All we need do is consider them carfully and act accordingly.

I suggest we abandon points 1-10 and start from there.

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