Sunday, May 29, 2011

Carbon Tax ads are coming ... Say No

Said Terri Kelleher, from The Australian Families Association

"It's nice to have a multi-millionaire who won't be impacted by it telling you how great it is"
By my reckoning even this is beside the point. In a couple of days I will post on why Australia's efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are altogether, superfluous ... Your reason to Say No.


The threshold that discriminates hardworking Australians from the rich, somewhere between $150,000 and actor Cate Blanchett

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Broadly speaking: Was Howard’s WorkChoices so bad?

It was 2007, the ALP was about to be swept into power and while many issues were the order of the day, and of which climate change was arguably at the top, industrial relations and the highly polemic workchoices probably defined the campaign most and allowed Rudd to line up with unions on key policy initiatives.

Because much of the criticism aimed at workchoices and Howard was over the top, permit me to recite a number of thoughts I have entertained about the legislation since that fateful election.

In point form:

  • Many journalists, unions, employees and pundits had little real knowledge of IR issues and wage fixing and yet, pronounced themselves as specialists who assured all that Howard did indeed preside over what Rudd proclaimed to be “Howard’s Brutopia”   
  • It was incorrectly assumed that all workers would have zero bargaining power – the worst case in all cases.
  • It was incorrectly assumed that all bosses were capitalist bastards who did not give a squat about employees, and would in all cases impose exorbitant individual contracts upon them. 
  • It was incorrectly assumed that business owners employing highly unionised labour would rather engage in a lengthy battle with unions rather than running the business and getting on with the delivery of goods and services for which they were in business. 
  • Did anyone bother to highlight the fact that Australian Workplace Agreements were around for many years prior, and that almost 2% of workers had signed up… shock horror. In fact, by scrapping workchoices we surrendered a law that had been operative for nearly 15 years, a law made possible by the Keating government when it preferenced enterprise bargaining over arbitrated wage settlements. Thus, the new legislation, Fair Work Australia can now make binding rulings to settle disputes hence, a hybrid version of compulsory arbitration - a return to yesteryear. 
  • Effectively negotiated, Workchoices individual contract provisions made AWA’s less bureaucratic and offered greater flexibility.
  • Unlike the exaggerated notions put forward by unions, ALP scaremongers and even church groups, it would have been unlikely that workchoices would have led to reduced wages in minimum dollar terms or even real terms because the gap between minimum wage and the dole cannot be narrowed. Thus, minimum wage was always going to keep abreast with CPI changes.
  • During the time in which workchoices was operative nearly half a million jobs were created and over 80% of them were full time compared to a much lover full time figure during the preceding government.
WorkChoices committed to the power of the individual, this in my view should be paramount though it run contrary to ALP values about the latter’s capacity to successfully negotiate their own contracts with penny pinching business owners and management. Consequently, individuals were individuals no more. To to shield them from ‘unscrupulous’ employers, unions (the collective) would negotiate on their behalf. If any individual did not conform, they faced intimidation, and bullying and even perhaps physical abuse. David Larkin would not be amused.

In the end, the individual was the loser, much to the detriment of company, the business and the economy.

Workchoices was a political folly not an economic one nonetheless, the former is only true because it could have been sold far better.

Related reading:

Howard and Costello’s Moral Consequences of Wealth & Prosperity

Work Choices is radical; and that's a good thing

Monday, May 16, 2011

The problem with unions and consequences for the ALP

I doubt that I could ever be a proponent for unions; it’s the way I’m wired, sure they had place in the past but today? I find the arguments in favour of them old; that unions help ensure that workers are treated fairly and equally, that unions also give workers a voice in workplace decisions that affect their lives through negotiating a contract with their employer, that unions give working people a real sense of their own power and so on.

I am perfectly adept to negotiating on my own behalf in preference to a collective agreement that brings me down to a lower more common denominator. Cast me aside though, unions cost a company both directly and indirectly, through slower work processes, lower productivity and poor employee relations. As the Heritage Foundation put it some time ago:

Unions and the economy

... unions function as labor cartels. A labor cartel restricts the number of workers in a company or industry to drive up the remaining workers' wages..... Companies pass on those higher wages to consumers through higher prices, and often they also earn lower profits. Economic research finds that unions benefit their members but hurt consumers generally, and especially workers who are denied job opportunities.

... The average union member earns more than the average non-union worker. However, that does not mean that expanding union membership will raise wages: Few workers who join a union today get a pay raise ... Economists consistently find that unions decrease the number of jobs available in the economy. The vast majority of manufacturing jobs lost over the past three decades have been among union members--non-union manufacturing employment has risen. Research also shows that widespread unionization delays recovery from economic downturns.

Some unions win higher wages for their members, though many do not. But with these higher wages, unions bring less investment, fewer jobs and higher prices. Economic theory consequently suggests that unions raise the wages of their members at the cost of lower profits and fewer jobs, that lower profits cause businesses to invest less ...

... unions contracts compress wages: They suppress the wages of more productive workers and raise the wages of the less competent. Unions redistribute wealth between workers. Everyone gets the same seniority-based raise regardless of how much or little he/she contributes, and this reduces wage inequality in unionized companies... But this increased equality comes at a cost to employers. Often, the best workers will not work under union contracts that put a cap on their wages, so union firms have difficulty attracting and retaining top employees ...
The good news is that union density in Australia peaked in the late 1940’s and today it’s a shadow of itself with less than 20% of the workforce belonging to unions in the public sector while over in the private sector the figure is less than 10%.

Blue collar to aspirational and consequences for the ALP

What factors have driven this decline? You may be surprised to learn that it has little to do with big business or the corporate sector or in fact, conservative politics.

Instead those that refer to themselves as blue collar or working class have declined in numbers over the past 50 years and with this, the values that come to define this group has also declined.

Think about how many manufacturing jobs have been lost since the early 70’s in addition to the impact of IR and economic reforms over the past 20 years - reforms set in motion by economic and IR changes initiated by the Hawke-Keating Labor government in 1983.

With the economy changing, blue collar workers have also changed having become increasingly more aspirational. This change is most evident in their behaviour. In my own unionised workplace I often here my colleagues refer to their rental properties and share market activities, these being just two behaviours normally associated with the professional middle. With the latter group now becoming the numeric majority, it is little wonder Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan are having difficulties selling their latest budget with surveys showing that nearly 50% rejecting the notion that a family on $150,000 is rich.

This cultural change alone has adversely impacted on the ALP’s fortunes as firstly, the party was founded on this disappearing blue collar voter and secondly, the union movement has historically been the ALP’s ideological and financial base.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Very cool air force ad

Displaying real life technology that we thought was the stuff of Hollywood ...

World military spending 2010

I found this interesting

The increase in 2010 is almost entirely down to the United States, which accounted for $19.6 billion of the $20.6 billion real-terms increase. Excluding the USA, the total in the ‘rest of the world’ barely changed in 2010, increasing by a statistically insignificant 0.1 per cent.

Greg Scoblete from The Compass RCW blog summarizes the rest of the world.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The importance of teaching and learning Western history and civilization

The West has a rich heritage of faith and reason that we want our students to understand.
Historian, author, and engineer Clayton Cramer on teaching western civilisation.
Why do most colleges require students to take a semester (sometimes two) of Western civilization? We want students to know about the history of our civilization because, amazingly enough, humans keep making the same stupid mistakes. The historian’s hope — well, at least this historian’s hope — is that students will recognize the stupidity of first century BC Rome, and fourth century BC Greece, and Weimar Republic Germany, and about nine zillion other moments in time — and not do it again! It’s probably a hopeless task, but I try.

But there is another reason as well. The West has a rich heritage of faith and reason that we want our students to understand. There are so many historical and cultural references contained in our books and literature that will be utterly mystifying if you do not know from whence they came. My students (well, most of them) now know why “Spartan” as an adjective refers to very primitive or basic services or provisions. They know what “crossing the Rubicon” means — and whose crossing of that river meant that “the die is cast.” They understand the importance of channelization in warfare, because of how the Greeks used it to defeat the Persians at Marathon, Thermopylae, and Salamis. They know why “Praetorian Guard” often means someone who is as much in charge as the person or institution that they are supposed to be protecting.

A recent week was devoted to a discussion of the conflict between centralization and localism in the medieval period. King Alfred the Great, the Danish invasion of England, and Afred’s efforts to drive the Danes out of the land inevitably led to a discussion of the Danegeld. The Danegeld was the tribute that the Danes required of the English to avoid further depredations — and England’s decision to no longer pay the Danegeld is part of the war that drives the Danes out.

During the cultural connection part of the class, I pulled out Rudyard Kipling’s 1911 poem called “The Dane-geld.” Shortly after 9/11, throughout the Western world, this marvelous poem was briefly in vogue again — until it became fashionable to hate and fear George Bush more than Osama bin Laden. I had thought of reading the poem myself, but decided to look for a dramatic reading instead.

After a little digging around, I found someone reading it, all right. It was not a particularly dramatic reading. But it was who read it, and where, and when that grabbed my attention quite powerfully.

Reagan’s willingness to stand firm against the Soviet Union, and bluff them with SDI into bankruptcy, is a powerful reminder of what Kipling meant when he ended that poem:
Imagine going through life knowing little or nothing of the civilisation you reside in, sadly I suspect that’s the case with so many today.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The highly secret mission to kill Bin Laden

The National Journals Mark Ambinder files this interesting report about America's secret warriors mission to get Obama.
From Ghazi Air Base in Pakistan, the modified MH-60 helicopters made their way to the garrison suburb of Abbottabad, about 70 miles from the center of Islamabad. Aboard were Navy SEALs, flown across the border from Afghanistan, along with tactical signals, intelligence collectors, and navigators using highly classified hyperspectral imagers.

After bursts of fire over 40 minutes, 22 people were killed or captured. One of the dead was Osama bin Laden, done in by a double tap -- boom, boom -- to the left side of his face. His body was aboard the choppers that made the trip back. One had experienced mechanical failure and was destroyed by U.S. forces, military and White House officials tell National Journal.

Were it not for this high-value target, it might have been a routine mission for the specially trained and highly mythologized SEAL Team Six, officially called the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, but known even to the locals at their home base Dam Neck in Virginia as just DevGru.

This HVT was special, and the raids required practice, so they replicated the one-acre compound. Trial runs were held in early April.
Continue reading The Secret Team That Killed bin Laden

Related links:

Navy Seals & SWCC Official site

United States Army Special Operations Command

Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU)

Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC)