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On Australia Day 2011 again we hear the calls: Change the Flag; become a Republic; reparations for the White Invasion...

There are strong arguments for progress in each of these areas but as the following article discusses we first need to ensure that the changes that must be made are indeed progress; that we don't sacrifice that which has been achieved already.

One question that needs to be asked is how Australia has done so consistently well as compared to the bulk of the rest of the world; when measured by standard of material wealth; health; general literacy and education; contributions to world culture; and even contributions to science. 

 Is it just good luck - à la Donald Horn  - or good government, good management or good ideas?  

 It is obviously a good culture; but in what aspects (it can't all be good)? 

 Of course we have some near cultural competitors and some may be marginally ahead.  Arguably Norway, or New Zealand, does better - maybe because it's a bit colder and more miserable.

 Possible reasons include:

  • rule of law
  • our historical lack of a rural peasantry (Australia has always been amongst the most urban countries)
  • Federal, democratic government (federations and democracies usually do better)
  • 'New' countries generally do better
  • secular states do better
  • early discovery of gold - then other minerals agricultural wealth (not too flash compared to say Argentina or the US)
  • good, free education
  • egalitarianism
  • scepticism
  • a healthy lifestyle (but is this so and if so why... )
  • hard work (some historical accounts discount this)
  • smarter work (better directed effort)
  • better allocation of productive resources
  • reliance on unfettered markets
  • high home ownership (leading to community/personal responsibility)
  • universal suffrage
  • willingness to embrace change (as an outcome of...  all of the above?)
  • rapid acceptance and integration of new ideas and technology (as a result of... )
  • modesty in respect of our own achievements (lack of arrogance - 'wow, did we do that?')

 But none of these is entirely satisfying on its own.

 

Wealth generally maps closely to low levels of religious observance, and poverty to high, even within a religious country like the US;  but these also map to other factors such as health standards; and levels of educational achievement.  Certainly wealthy people generally demand more say in government; and better education; and better health services; and good law and order; and artistic distractions; and more freedoms; but in each case is this the chicken or the egg?

NSW has always enjoyed a better standard of living than most of the world:  before we joined the Federation; when almost all people went to church; before we discovered gold, then other minerals; when agriculture had to compete with producers with more water and that were much nearer to markets.

The Bigge Inquiry in Macquarie's time contained an element of outrage that emancipated convicts had attained a higher standard of living than middle class Englishmen at home.  But it also noted that NSW was a benign dictatorship - an autocracy under Macquarie - albeit based on the principles of the enlightenment (under the strong influence of the Scottish Enlightenment: - David Hume, Adam Smith et al - through Macquarie, Bigge and even Macarthur) and of course later; Darwin, after whom we even named a city.

Karl Marx used the number of pianos per capita as a proxy for standard of living and had to make an exception of NSW and Victoria (Australia) as what appeared to be rural societies, nevertheless leading the world in living standards.

Maybe we need an analysis on this level - perhaps we owe it all to a good foundation - from Hume and Smith to Macquarie?  What is it about our culture that works so well; what could we improve; and what must we never damage?

Nevertheless it is inconceivable that in another hundred years Australia will still defer to the British Monarch to provide an imprimatur to our Heads of State or that we will still have a flag that proclaims our subservient position in the British Commonwealth of Nations. 

Above all it is to our ongoing shame that a baby born into an Aboriginal family will, on average, have a much shorter life expectancy;  very much higher probability of suffering violence and abuse; lower educational and income prospects; and far higher likelihood of ending up in jail; than other Australians. 

All these things need fixing and the sooner the better.  The problem lies in our lack on consensus in the way forward.  As this article suggests, this stems from our different interpretations of the tales we call 'History'.  Elsewhere I have discussed some bad ideas that contribute to our inability to easily solve some of these problems. 

 

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Travel

Denmark

 

 

  

 

 

In the seventies I spent some time travelling around Denmark visiting geographically diverse relatives but in a couple of days there was no time to repeat that, so this was to be a quick trip to two places that I remembered as standing out in 1970's: Copenhagen and Roskilde.

An increasing number of Danes are my progressively distant cousins by virtue of my great aunt marrying a Dane, thus contributing my mother's grandparent's DNA to the extended family in Denmark.  As a result, these Danes are my children's cousins too.

Denmark is a relatively small but wealthy country in which people share a common language and thus similar values, like an enthusiasm for subsidising wind power and shunning nuclear energy, except as an import from Germany, Sweden and France. 

They also like all things cultural and historical and to judge by the museums and cultural activities many take pride in the Danish Vikings who were amongst those who contributed to my aforementioned DNA, way back.  My Danish great uncle liked to listen to Geordies on the buses in Newcastle speaking Tyneside, as he discovered many words in common with Danish thanks to those Danes who had settled in the Tyne valley.

Nevertheless, compared to Australia or the US or even many other European countries, Denmark is remarkably monocultural. A social scientist I listened to last year made the point that the sense of community, that a single language and culture confers, creates a sense of extended family.  This allows the Scandinavian countries to maintain very generous social welfare, supported by some of the highest tax rates in the world, yet to be sufficiently productive and hence consumptive per capita, to maintain among the highest material standards of living in the world. 

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Fiction, Recollections & News

Through the Looking Glass

 

 

 

 

 

I'm seeing on TV senior politicians, including the Liberal PM and involved Labor Victorians (bi-partisan), gathering in Morwell in Victoria to announce that jobs in the Latrobe Valley have been saved by a Japanese consortium that will build a pilot plant to convert brown coal to hydrogen. Read Here...

I had to pinch myself to check that our screen had not somehow turned itself into Lewis Carroll's looking glass and sucked me through to the other side.

Fans of the Reverend Dodgson's (Lewis Carroll's) work will recall some 'weird shit' in Wonderland like: Alice growing and shrinking; a disembodied cat coming and going; and babies turning into pigs.  But these adventures are put into the shade by Alice's subsequent experiences: Through the Looking-Glass

Hydrogen from coal (carbon) - really?  Surely they mean hydrogen from water. 

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Opinions and Philosophy

Syria - again

 

A fortnight ago I was moved to suggest that it was possible that the alleged gas attack in Syria might not be the work of the Syrian Army.  I withdrew the posting when more convincing evidence of Army involvement became available.

Because of our visit to Syria took place just before the most recent troubles began, I have been, perhaps, more interested than most.  I wanted to know why Syria is automatically assumed to be guilty when there are some very nasty groups on the other side?

We are fed so much doctored information, spin, that it is hard to get the facts even when we are directly involved.

So to claim that I know what is actually going on in Syria is fanciful.  Assad vehemently denies responsibility; the Russians are doubtful; and the inspectors have not yet reported.  But the certainty, and aggressive language, of the Western leaders accusing Syria of this latest incident seem extraordinary - do they know something that they are not revealing publicly?

As I have explained elsewhere I have fond memories of Damascus and of Syria in general.  Damascus was the most pleasant and interesting of the cities we stayed in; lacking the extremes of poverty and wealth we saw in Cairo (and in Egypt in general) or the more western normality of Amman in Jordan. 

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