Bob Hawke

Bob Hawke, former Australian Prime Minister, died today. Bob was a larrikin and a stalwart of the Australian Labor Party. His partnership in government during the 1980s with Treasurer Paul Keating was a genuine advantage for this country and set in place many reforms that added to our fortunes, for the nation as a whole.

Bob was a Labor PM unlike those before and after him. A Rhodes scholar, a firebrand, a union leader, a heavy drinker and guilty of certain other alleged character flaws not for me to air, he came to the leadership of the ALP at the exact time the election was called in February 1983. The election date itself was March 5, 1983 and the ALP with Bob at the helm, won. Malcolm Fraser’s prime ministerial career was over, the Liberal/Country Party coalition government was over and, amazingly, Labor was back in power federally only 8 years after the previous disastrous Labor government under Gough Whitlam had been thumped at the ballot box and kicked out in disgrace.

Bob was cut from a different cloth than was Gough. Bob was economically literate. He served his country very well.

The Spanish Elections

Spain is following exactly the same pattern that all other western countries are going through.  The political divide is no longer between left and right, the continuum that was formed in the French Revolution and has lasted over 200 years. The divide is now between insiders and outsiders. Insiders include all mainstream political parties, all government civil servants, the institutions of state, education and church, and big business. Centre right parties are being decimated everywhere, and rightly so. The outsiders are labelled far-right or populists or deplorables etc by the insiders. The outsiders confuse and scare the insiders. They are actually made up of people that have, under the old left/right divide, a range of political views. This is behind Trump, Brexit,  gilet jaunes, Hungary, Italy, Alternative for Deutschland and now, the so-called far right extremist party in Spain. The story in Spain is not so much the socialist win, as that was expected, it is the weakness of it in the face of the rise of the ‘far-right extremists.’

Modern offices

It is interesting visiting corporate offices these days and comparing them to how they were like 20 years ago.

Many physical buildings were designed and built at least 20 years ago but are now occupied by today’s trends. This means, the building no longer suits the way corporations want to use building spaces, but the rational decision is to make do, rather than demolish and rebuild, as long as there is an economic life in the asset.

Grand entrance halls and foyers are now often empty. A single, lonely person may sit at the front desk. Visitor car parks have plenty of empty spaces. Sign-in books can remain on the same page for days. Meeting rooms clustered near the entrance foyer are empty. Continue reading

From the end is nigh, file.

The Economist newspaper this week reported that the findings of an academic study of insects in a forest in Puerto Rico have “triggered alarm, almost panic.” The piece introduces the term “insectageddon” and ponders the chance of an “insect apocalypse.” The issue is that if the insect world is decimated, plant pollination would be too, the food chain would collapse and all animal life would disappear.

It’s always useful to have another looming global catastrophe theory, especially if 97% of scientists agree with it, in case the current looming global catastrophe theory turns out to be wrong.

I wouldn’t be starting from here.

There is an old joke about tourists in Ireland stopping a local in Dublin to ask for directions to Killarney. ‘Well,’ the local replied, ‘if I were going to Killarney, I wouldn’t be starting from here.’

At least those tourists stopped to ask. There has been little obvious evidence that the critics of the Australian superannuation system, and there are many, have stopped to ask themselves what is super’s purpose before criticising it and calling for change in policy. Super policy is easy to criticise when there is no articulated reason for its existence. This vacuum then results in an Alice in Wonderland response – the critic can criticise anything or everything because they make up their own idea of what super is for.

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Directors’ obligations are to shareholders.

The Royal Commission into Misconduct in the banking, superannuation and financial services industry in Australia exposed some notable, and in the circumstances of his position surprising, views of the Chairman of the National Australia Bank. The NAB is one of the country’s biggest publicly listed companies. Its directors, and especially its Chairman, ought to be amongst the very best directors available. Shareholders would have reasonable grounds to believe that they had the best possible governance talent acting in their, the shareholders’, interests.

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No more gloating

The Royal Commission into Misconduct in financial services in Australia turned its attention to superannuation funds in recent months. It’s fair to say that time in the witness box was uncomfortable for many.

This Commission should mark the end of the gloating. For years, you will have heard self-serving nonsense about how Australia has the best retirement income system in the world, about how it is the envy of other countries, about how it was won as a right for ordinary Australians after a long and bitter industrial campaign. This gloating ought to  stop as the Commission has exposed publicly the many failings of the system. The gloating has been, in the main, perpetuated by insiders – some policy analysts, some academics, fund managers, industry associations, some service providers and politicians, especially former PM Keating and former union boss Kelty.

As far as managing money goes, the Australian system has been good. Investment portfolios are diverse, accessible and low cost. That is it’s one true good quality. As far as delivering retirement incomes, reducing pressure on the age pension, increasing national savings and weeding out unethical practices goes, the system has been miserably bad.

The most obviously desirable, necessary and easily implemented change is to remove the compulsion of the Superannuation Guarantee. Make the decision as to contribute or not contribute one that the employee can make based on their own circumstances and preferences. That would immediately concentrate the minds of the fund owners and operators – they would have to earn and keep the trust of investors, rather than rely on the force of law to guarantee that revenue stream.

We know what is best for you

It’s a funny thing, the other half of the world. Take this mob, at the IEMA, for instance. The stated objective of the group of like-minded chaps and chapesses is to transform the world to sustainability. (I take it from that objective they assume the world is currently not sustainable? Despite all it has been through in the last 4.5b years? – editor’s note)

Of the people I know, I understand that many, on getting out of bed in the morning, limit their immediate concerns to a tasty breakfast with the newspaper. Two eggs, freshly laid by contented hens, boiled perfectly and perhaps toast with marmalade accompanied by a pot of tea. They then want to enjoy the day through the course of their business, hopefully enjoy a spot of sunshine under a blue sky and pick up the delicate fragrance of a passing rose on the way home before relaxing in the evening with family and friends.

Meanwhile, it seems clear that others leap out of bed to don black shirts and heavy boots, with an eye fixed on the street below as they do so. That is when they start planning who they will transform today.

There are cultural differences between different groups of people that have worked their way into the legal structures of each society. I heard one description like this:

In England, everything is permitted unless it is expressly prohibited. In Germany, everything is prohibited unless it is expressly permitted. In France, everything is permitted, including those things that are prohibited. In Russia, everything is prohibited, even if it is permitted.

English common law was, thankfully, exported to Australia, New Zealand, US and Canada and we in these countries enjoy greater freedoms as a result. This stated objective of using the law to transform the world seems rather oppressive to me.

Trust

Recently, I was discussing Africa with a colleague on the topic of poverty. His view was that the poverty in Africa was so bad that it was incumbent upon the rich countries to provide aid. When I pointed out that the rich western countries had poured aid money into Africa for decades, particularly since the end of colonialism, and many Africans were no better off, and possibly worse off, he said he wished he knew what the answer was.

The answer certainly will not be found in any aid budget. Most African countries do not have the pre-conditions to allow wealth generation which is why they remain desperately poor. Rich western countries became rich only because those pre-conditions existed. They are: free markets, the rule of law, private property rights, small Government and trust. In the absence of these fundamental conditions, there is no point in pouring aid money into African countries – it simply ends up in the hands of tyrants, dictators, and the operatives of bodies such as the UN and aid organisations, happy to siphon their cut in perpetuity. Many such organisations are contemptible as a consequence of their participation in this scam.

Meanwhile, back in the west, it is worth remembering that civilisations do not die by murder, they die by suicide. Made wealthy through the efforts of generations of our forebears under the necessary conditions above, the populace becomes complacent and forgets, or never learns, what is necessary for a high standard of living. Many have no understanding of what made their country wealthy. They begin to assume wealth is the natural state of affairs. It’s not.

Small government? Forget that: all western governments have been growing as a percentage of GDP since 1960. Free markets? The constraints, red tape, green tape, pricing controls, occupational licensing, interference in business have continued to grow rapidly. Rule of law? Too big to fail government regulation of some but not others, cronyism, activist judges, elitist institutions that scorn democracy, union bastardry all contribute to schisms in society. Elsewhere, this  has been referred to as generating the difference between the somewheres and the anywheres. Private property rights? Look at the taxation system – capital gains tax, open consideration of death duties, retrospective taxes on retirement savings, penalty taxes if an individual does not buy private health insurance. Trust? Who trusts their bank manager? (Who knows their bank manager?)  Do you trust insurance companies, superannuation funds and the legal system? Do you trust the police force to uphold the law? Do you trust schools to educate your children?

Trust is under threat. Rich countries are rich partly because of the trust in institutions and the other people we meet and interact with. Trust is absent in tyrannies and hell-holes. It is replaced by mistrust and fear. The decline into identity politics, groups within society fighting each other rather than accepting all individuals is a notable point along the way. Trust is local: it requires the nation state. Trust cannot exist under the globalist one-world Government objective held by many left-over Trotskyites, most of the Greens, the UN and some naive university students particularly in the departments of humanities. We know this because it has been attempted before on a smaller scale and, fortunately, never got as far as the whole world.  The usurpation of power by unelected bureaucrats in institutions, the media, schools and universities have been chipping away at the necessary foundations of a wealthy society since the 1960s.

Where to from here?

The real cause of poor behaviour in banks

Here is the text of a letter of mine to the editor that the Australian Financial Review published last week.

 

Karen Maley writes that Commissioner Kenneth Hayne has posed the question, “Is incentive remuneration necessary?” in relation to banking. Maley describes this question as radical. I would describe it as a very good question.

Will Commissioner Hayne, having another few months to complete his report, pose two more questions that strike at the core of the cultural problems in Australian banking? They are: 1) Is the Reserve Bank necessary? 2) Is the four pillars banking policy necessary? These questions would render his first one redundant. It is time to have the discussion. A sound banking, monetary and payments system needs neither the RBA nor the four pillars policy. In removing them the potential benefits for the real economy, rather than the financial economy, are material. However, given the timidity of parliamentarians, I do not underestimate the difficulty Hayne would face in putting those questions in his final report.