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Robin Hood, mining tax and seven challenges for 7 billion people

This week the world's population ticked over to 7 billion. By 2050 that number is expected to grow to 9 billion.

From water shortages to rising sea levels, experts from the University of New South Wales and the University of Melbourne paint a grim future for life on Earth.

They forecast dramatic changes unless significant steps are taken to curb population growth.

Here seven academics outline seven challenges they say a population of 7 billion must confront.


Today’s water crisis is not an issue of scarcity, but of access. More people in the world own cell phones than have access to a toilet. And as cities and slums grow at increasing rates, the situation worsens. Every day, lack of access to clean water and sanitation kills thousands, leaving others with reduced quality of life. 884,000,000 people already lack access to clean water. 3.5 million people die from water related disease.


Here’s the bottom line: Any expectations that ever-increasing supplies of energy will meet demand in the coming years are destined to be disappointed. Instead, recurring shortages, rising prices, and mounting discontent are likely to be the thematic drumbeat of the globe’s energy future. If we don’t abandon a belief that unrestricted growth is our inalienable birthright and embrace the genuine promise of renewable energy (with the necessary effort and investment that would make such a commitment meaningful), the future is likely to prove grim indeed. Then, the history of energy, as taught in some late twenty-first-century university, will be labeled: How to Wreck the Planet 101.


The End of Growth, Richard Heinberg’s latest landmark work, goes to the heart of the ongoing financial crisis, explaining how and why it occurred, and what we must do to avert the worst potential outcomes. Written in an engaging, highly readable style, it shows why growth is being blocked by three factors:

  • Resource depletion,
  • Environmental impacts, and
  • Crushing levels of debt.
  • These converging limits will force us to re-evaluate cherished economic theories and to reinvent money and commerce.

    Ageing population:

    Overall, it is all too apparent that the world economy in the generation ahead will not be able to rely on the size and scope of fresh new demographic inputs that helped power global growth in the pre-crisis generation. For today‘s affluent Western economies, the demographic challenges ahead — increasingly stagnant and aging populations, mounting health and pension claims on a shrinking pool of prospective workers — are already generating concern, especially in Europe and Japan. But the demographic constraints on many of today‘s emerging markets — rising economies such as China, Russia and India, the places that are widely expected to serve as increasingly important engines of global growth in the decades immediately ahead — are in any case both more serious and more intractable than generally appreciated.

    Birth Control:

    Despite the advances that have been made in contraception over the past fifty years, an estimated 150 million women worldwide cannot get the birth control they desire. In many parts of the world most young women become mothers before they are 20 years old. A woman who bears children at a younger age tends to have more children over all, is less able to care for them, and is more likely to suffer ill health. Maternal mortality remains the leading cause of death for women of childbearing age — an estimated 500,000 women die each year from pregnancy related causes, with 78,000 deaths resulting from unsafe abortion. Having access to safe, appropriate family planning methods and safe abortion when needed, can make the difference in women’s lives.

    Food Security:

    In the past four years, rising world food prices and the global economic downturn increased the ranks of the world’s food insecure from 848 million to 925 million by September 2010, reversing decades of slow yet steady progress in reducing hunger. While the human costs have been considerable, the political consequences have been significant as well.


    Climate change is arguably the most expensive and complex challenge that humanity has faced. Since the industrial revolution, we have been building an economy that steadily emits more and more greenhouse gases. Now, all of a sudden, we have to alter virtually every process that we have painstakingly evolved, and we have to do it quickly. Most scientists now agree that it is crucial that we avoid increasing average temperatures by more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels. What happens when we pass that limit?

    With challenges like these confronting mankind, can we continue with a business as usual approach? Are the current institutions capable of addressing these challenges? I think not. To fix these problems governments will need to raise a lot more revenue. Two possible solutions which would go a long way to meeting the costs involved are:

    Robin Hood Tax

    The Robin Hood Tax (more formally known as a financial transaction tax) is a tiny tax on financial speculation by investment banks, hedge funds and other finance institutions that would raise billions to tackle poverty and climate change, in Australia and overseas.

    It can start as low as 0.005 per cent – and average 0.05 per cent. But when levied on the billions of dollars moving round the global finance system daily through transactions such as foreign exchange, derivatives and share deals, it could raise hundreds of billions of dollars annually.

    Mining Tax

    Today, the Gillard Government introduced Mineral Resources Rent Tax legislation into Parliament.

    Australians know how important the mining industry is, but they also know we can only dig up Australia’s resources once.

    The MRRT is an historic economic reform which will spread the benefits of the mining to all Australians, not just hugely profitable mining companies.

    These benefits include:
    • A major tax break for Australia’s 2.7 million small businesses;
    • A boost to the superannuation savings of all Australians – which will mean a 30 year old today on average earnings retires with $108,000 more super, and
    • A much needed extra superannuation contribution for our lowest paid workers across the country.

    Since our announcement of the MRRT, investment has continued to boom, in spite of the doomsayers.

    Businesses are planning to invest a record $150 billion in 2011-12, with mining investment accounting for more than half of this.

    Mining employment has grown by 19.4 per cent – that’s 35,200 mining jobs - compared to 2.3 per cent for the whole economy over the same period.

    Many Australians aren’t feeling the benefits of mining boom – many businesses and households are doing it tough.

    That’s why we want to spread the benefits of the boom to all corners of our patchwork economy.


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    Get lean or get run over

    A high rate of taxation won't help Australia moving forward. In fact it will probably result in less tax revenue - through declines in production and consumption. The easiest way to avoid taxation is by not making any profit. An even easier way is avoiding doing any business there at all.

    Australia is in the Asian region. It's not in North America or Europe. It should stop pretending that it can deal as if it was.

    Europe will soon have its power and economics replaced by Asia - if it hasn't already. The sad truth is that many European nations could've been collecting 99% tax rates, and they would still be in exactly the same position. Debt up to their ears and lenders not willing to give any more. Many European nations have controlled their finances like the worst type of wastrel, the more they got the more they wasted. Now it's time to pay the piper.

    Greece for example had working conditions of a thirty hour week, a fifty year old retirement age, and the kicker, a life indexed pension at 80% of a person last wage. Most Greeks work for the Government, which just happens to be in the business of not earning any money. How could any person Greek or otherwise believe such a fairy tale could come true? Deep down every working person must've known they would never actually see this come to them. And of course now it's certain it never will.

    Obviously Australians know what problems they potentially face. And everyone must know what it means if those problems drag on and on. People must also know the world they are living in, and how competitive it really is.

    Charity doesn't exist when everybody is asking for it. In a year or two the Greeks will be able to tell everybody all about it.

    Fats are essential, too!

    Who are you trying to sell this snake oil, to, Paul? Capitalism is about getting as fat as you can. Like Wall street does.  I don't see many boards saying we need to get lean, lets cut CEO or board member rewards. Let's stop flying first class (after all, they get there at the same time). Take the case of Qantas. The management failed to upgrade its fleet to reduce future fuel costs, when every other airline was doing it. So, for their incompetence, they get higher pay packets, and they screw the workers wages down.

    Getting lean is the mediocre way to run a business. A good business finds and exploits opportunities. It recognises that fat is an essential part of the body. It's intelligent management recognising that its people are it's greatest asset and treating them with openness, dignity  and integrity. 

    Morals of the old economy vs the new economy

    Wall Street has created a system of economic institutions that gives a small elite control of the world’s biggest and most powerful corporations, the funding of political campaigns, and the mass media. It maintains that it is not only the right, but as well the moral duty of members of this elite to use this power to maximize their personal financial gain without regard to the consequences for others.

    It is an audacious ethical perversion that elevates the seven deadly sins of classical Christianity to the status of moral virtuous. The resulting economic, environmental, social and political devastation is totally predictable. The curious piece is that so many bright people and otherwise ethical people seem to have accepted this moral perversion.


    Contrasting Moral Codes for the Old and New Economies

    Seven Deadly Sins Embraced
    & Rewarded as Virtues by Wall Street
    Seven Life-Serving Virtues
    Affirmed & Nurtured by the New Economy

    Pride: Uncommon individual wealth is a mark of superior intelligence, contribution, and merit. Those who have it deserve it.

    Humility: Every person has a gift. The joy of meaningful service that comes from sharing our personal gift is its own reward.

    Greed: If any legal activity makes a profit, you have a moral duty to society to engage in it. In a winner-take-all world, if you don’t get the prize first, someone else will.

    Sharing: Earth’s wealth is our common heritage. Preserving and sharing it is our moral duty, a source of true joy, and the foundation of a secure and healthy world.

    Envy: It is right and proper to want more than your neighbor has to prove his inferiority and your superior worth.

    Love: Those who recognize that all beings are connected know that what we do to and for others we do to and for ourselves.

    Anger: Attack and destroy those who might become your competitor before they attack and destroy you.

    Compassion: Life is better for everyone when we treat one another with understanding, respect, and caring.

    Lust: Self-indulgence is our nature and the path to fulfillment. Do not hesitate to cultivate and fulfill your natural desires for sexual and material gratification.

    Self-control: Obsessive behavior limits the development of our capacity for the responsible self-mastery of a fully developed human consciousness.

    Gluttony: If a little is good, then more is better.

    Moderation: Keep your needs modest and take only what you need.

    Sloth: If you can afford a life of idle luxury, it is your due, the ultimate personal achievement, and a sign of superior worth and status. Let others earn their keep by serving you.

    Passion: Engage in life with joyful exuberance. Living fully and passionately in service to others is our greatest source of joy and fulfillment.

    Source:This table is adapted from David Korten, Agenda for a New Economy.  The original was inspired by “The Seven Deadly Sins,” White Stone Journal, htt

    The Amoral Skeptic

    Economics, like the sciences, John, is amoral - neither moral nor immoral. 

    When we start putting morality and emotions into it, we need to be careful, that we don't start seeing  ghosts which are not there.

    I fully concur with your wish to reform our economic systems to serve humanity better. But I do not see how this list adds to the discussion or takes us further.

    They're too much like the words Geoff uses, to block a deeper search for underlying patterns, because such pattern are too ambivalent, and lead too close to home. 

    We can secure a viable human future.

    During the latter part of the twentieth century we were taught that we were limited to a choice between two economic models: Wall Street capitalism and Soviet communism. We chose Wall Street capitalism based on its claim to being the natural champion of democracy and market choice. Now we see the reality that Wall Street capitalism seeks to limit our political choices to politicians who serve Wall Street interests and our market choices to those that maximize Wall Street profits.
     Our choices are not limited to rule by global financiers or socialist bureaucrats. The current system of economic rules and institutions centralizes decision-making power in narrowly focused global financial institutions that operate beyond the reach of democratic accountability to serve purely financial interests.

    This vision of economic possibility is based on the premise that human nature is not limited to competitive, individualistic, and materialistic drives, but includes equally natural tendencies to be cooperative, caring, and respectful. This premise is supported by our daily experience as well as by scientific findings that our brains are wired for life in community and that societies that feature greater equity and community enjoy greater health and happiness than more unequal and individualistic societies.


    We find hope in the realization that the economic transformation we must now navigate to secure a viable human future is consistent with our nature and holds the possibility of a better life for all.

    Global economy plunging into a "lost decade".

    The head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has said that Europe's debt crisis risks plunging the global economy into a "lost decade", saying it was rich nations' responsiblity to shoulder the burden of restoring growth and confidence.

    Christine Lagarde told a financial forum in Beijing on Wednesday that European plans to bolster a rescue package for Greece were a "step in the right direction", but that the outlook for the world economy remained dangerous and uncertain.

    "There are clearly clouds on the horizon. Clouds on the horizon particularly in the advanced economies and particularly so in the European Union and the United States," Lagarde said.

    Speaking on the first of a two-day visit to China, Lagarde said Asia was not immune to the problems currently sweeping the eurozone.

    A lost decade for sure, but Japan's lost decade is now two decades of stagnation.

    It was Christmas Day, 1989, when the Bank of Japan raised the benchmark interest rate to 4.25%. The move was supposed to prevent an asset bubble and curb inflation. The result: the market crashed, the economy stagnated, and a debt crisis ensued. And in the more than 20 years since then, little has changed.

    Japan has struggled through over two decades of weak growth and deflation. And the Nikkei index is still down something like 80% from its peak in 1989.

    When will we realise that we have come to the end of continuous growth, we have to accept that we need a sustainable economy. Not an economy that will grow forever.

    When we move to alternative, sustainable energy the price of energy should fall. That should apply stimulus to the stagnating global economy.

    We should write off all debt and invest in sustainable energy, Throwing good money after bad is never going to solve our problems.



    Getting rid of Dirty Deal Bob

    The Libs would be insane not to preference the ALP ahead of the Greens across the country next election and explain why and in great detail. The Greens are a nasty bunch of blackmailing extremists. They don't need to do a deal, dirty or otherwise, to do that. They should just do it.

    The ALP is then on the spot. If they preference the Greens ahead of the Libs, that would be a gift for the Libs. They could then portray a vote for the ALP as a vote for another minority Govt or some other seedy coalition with extremists.

    Moreover there is a strong and growing anti-Green wing in the ALP. A dirty pref swap deal with the Greens would seriously damage party cohesion.

    Both parties should preference the Greens last of course. No deals. Just do it. That should break their insidious grip immediately and get rid of them entirely from every legislature and chamber in the country, including the Senate, within six years. Just like they did with One Nation.

    One Nation Mark II

    Geoff, thanks for you comments.

    I think the Libs and the ALP should join together as they are one and the same.

    The Greens are the true opposition, with real alternative ideas.

    We need real choices and a real opposition.

    The new party could be called One Nation Mark II.

    I am sure they would get plenty of popular support.

    An Optimistic Sceptic

    Thank you, John, for a timely and well thought out piece. I thought I'd take a few days to absorb it, before making a contribution.

    Human beings are wired into two contrasting survival instincts. The original instinct is self-survival, but as we evolved from reptiles, into mammals and finally humans, our genetically wired instincts evolved to promote group and community bonds, and acts of selflessness.

    Human evolution is three dimensional. We evolve genetically. But we also evolve culturally, as human culture is shaped through generations. Finally, each of us evolves as we grow older.

    Capitalists like Alan like to claim that modern human progress is due to the advent of capitalism - the selfish instinct in trade. But this is not true. Human progress is due to the social instinct, the instinct to work together, for the common good, to share. It is, above all what has given us science.

    Yes, humanity is at a cross-roads, and the cross-roads is primarily of choosing between selfishness and the common good. If we chose either path cleanly, humanity can easily survive. If we choose selfishness, the 1% will survive. If we choose selflessness, then humanity will still survive, and be happier for it

    But, more than likely, we won't decide either way, bungling along, and creating a dog's breakfast. I suspect that his is partly because while we, as a population overwhelmingly favour selflessness, the way we create leaders tend to favour the selfish. There is some interesting research that suggests that the same behaviours found in psychopaths are more common among leaders.

    At the cross roads

    Thanks Jay, I agree we are at a point in our evolution where we must choose between selfishness and the common good.

    I believe the Occupy movement is struggling to bring in a new world order where the common good is the motivation.

    What do you think of this?

    Nature itself is the beautiful expression of order and balance arising out of chaos. Time and time again, nature has demonstrated its ability to naturally grow this order and peace out of the random noise that makes its very basis. The myth of true order comes from human attempts to impose it where it does not naturally occur. While there may be order, its cause is incorrectly perceived.

    By definition, imposed order is unstable. It must be forcibly maintained in order to continue to exist. People are as a whole intelligent enough to devise such structures but not intelligent enough to override our most fundamental sense of natural order. As a whole, our species' attempt to engineer its own order has been slowly successful. We created kingdoms, handing ourselves to a monarch. This is an extreme deviation from natural order, because there are in that case only a handful of people globally who matter. It leaves the commoner entirely outside the global order. Out of our natural human desire to move towards natural order, we devised a new structure of governments commonly known as republics. These were closer to something which we could naturally live at ease with. The commoner, despite not having a direct say in the larger global order was in some way involved, or at least believed this to be so. More recently, through the rapid development of communications technologies which allow any one commoner's voice to find itself suddenly amplified and repeated around the world in moments we have grown into an entirely new method of global order. As trivial as much of the social networking conversation is, through social networking borders have fallen, lines have blurred, and a kind of collective consciousness representing its participants equally has arisen from it. However, we find ourselves in a unique situation. The people have moved on from the easily corruptible pseudo-free societies of the past, yet the forces enforcing those societies have attempted to simply ignore this transition. Through force, violence, and illegitimate law which passed without the consent of the commoner, they have attempted to extinguish the phoenix, the collective society which has arisen from the ashes of the republics.

    The 1%

    Jay, it looks as though John has trapped a few more of you good people with his so called acts of selflessness.

    Do you remember when John wanted the Feds to pour $millions into Cairns to help the poor Japanese who needed a rest from the ravages of the earthquake.

    When all he really wanted was to prop up the economy in Cairns.

    The sceptics [sic] approach to red herrings

    You are quite right, Alan, I instinctively didn't agree John's idea about helping the Japanese earthquake victims. On the other hand, it made me think, do some research, and come to the sceptical recognition that even after the Japanese disaster, our own percentage of homeless was higher than theirs.

    So, please, put in some robust arguments on the issues at hand. I personally don't agree with some of the opinions expressed by the scientists (e.g. the limits to growth). As a sceptic, I actually prefer to talk to people with different viewpoints from mine. And I am not interested in changing their mind. Rather, I'd rather help each other think more deeply, and come to our own respective opinions.

    Economics - Charles Darwin or Adam Smith?

    Who was the greater economist--Adam Smith or Charles Darwin? The question seems absurd. Darwin, after all, was a naturalist, not an economist. But Robert Frank, New York Times economics columnist and best-selling author of The Economic Naturalist, predicts that within the next century Darwin will unseat Smith as the intellectual founder of economics. The reason, Frank argues, is that Darwin's understanding of competition describes economic reality far more accurately than Smith's. And the consequences of this fact are profound. Indeed, the failure to recognize that we live in Darwin's world rather than Smith's is putting us all at risk by preventing us from seeing that competition alone will not solve our problems.

    Smith's theory of the invisible hand, which says that competition channels self-interest for the common good, is probably the most widely cited argument today in favor of unbridled competition--and against regulation, taxation, and even government itself. But what if Smith's idea was almost an exception to the general rule of competition? That's what Frank argues, resting his case on Darwin's insight that individual and group interests often diverge sharply. Far from creating a perfect world, economic competition often leads to "arms races," encouraging behaviors that not only cause enormous harm to the group but also provide no lasting advantages for individuals, since any gains tend to be relative and mutually offsetting.

    The good news is that we have the ability to tame the Darwin economy. The best solution is not to prohibit harmful behaviors but to tax them. By doing so, we could make the economic pie larger, eliminate government debt, and provide better public services, all without requiring painful sacrifices from anyone. That's a bold claim, Frank concedes, but it follows directly from logic and evidence that most people already accept.

    The Robin Hood Tax, carbon tax, and mining tax could all be used to increase global productivity, fight global poverty, and provide the necessary funding to move to a sustainable economy.

    Robin Hood tax could make a difference.

    Providing electricity to the 1.5 billion people — 45 percent of them in Africa — who currently live without it would be a step in the right direction, Mr. Orme says. Electricity means children can study at night, electric stoves can be used instead of pollution-emitting coal, and people can have access to a wider community through television or radio. “We can do this without increasing global CO2 by even 1 percent,” he says.

    The agency proposes an international tax on foreign exchange trading to raise $40 billion toward that goal.

    With a stroke of a pen leaders of the G20 could make a huge difference if they were to focus on ways to overcome poverty  in the third world.

    These 1.5 billion people are truly part of the 99 percent.

    Robin Hood tax should be adopted worldwide

    Cameron said he agreed that corporate greed should be curbed, adding: "The archbishop speaks for the whole country when he says it is unacceptable, in a time of difficulty, [that] people at the top of our society are not showing signs of responsibility.

    "It's this government that's consulting about proper measures to make sure we get transparency in terms of boardroom pay, proper accountability, more power for shareholders – all of those things we are doing."

    But he refused to back an EU-wide financial transaction tax – the so called Robin Hood tax – unless it was adopted on a worldwide basis.

    The Green MP Caroline Lucas asked Cameron whether he was prepared to be a "leading advocate" for the tax at the G20 summit later this week and to ensure the revenue was earmarked to tackle sustainable development. The prime minister replied: "There is widespread support for the principles behind such a tax, but it has to be adopted on a global basis."

    With the G20 leaders meeting this weekend, surely a tax that takes from the rich and gives to the poor is a no-brainer.

    Of course it should be adopted on a global basis.

    the myth of tantalus

    Agree with above and think it fits in well with Fiona Reynolds' last posting concerning the Democratic Audit.

    As stresses and strains start to show with the global politic, the continued irrational depletion and deployment of scarce resources away from genuinely productive projects and processes in favour of the misguided interests of a global plutocracy will be advocated by its shills, along with more of the sort of obnoxious tactics seen with Qantas management here. Also, consider our politicians current avoidance of their responsibility as per frac drilling and duty of care re refugees who events have brought under our control. On a big scale, the bail out of the big banks in the USA, Britain etc, recession for large parts of the globe and increasing polarisation of the electorate there, here and in Europe.

    The increasingly trails of humanity trying to escape from war, famine or dire poverty are useful as easy targets for demagogues usually from the right within the wealthy nations, as fears of globalisation and the way it is implemented are stoked by tabloid press and media, almost the fifth column of our time. Unstable government makes for easier marauding from globalised capital at  precisely the time when a little harnessing of capital without necessarily much disturbance of the social position of the actual elite, could still see hundreds of millions of poor people dragged out of their current dollar a day existences on the margins of humanity.

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