Saturday, August 31, 2002

The US Yahoo marketwatchers at reckon that punters do not see a double dip in the offing. "The factors contributing to that positive assessment included the report of a 1.0% gain in personal spending in July, a Univ. of Michigan consumer sentiment survey that was largely in line with expectations ..."

Well, they might also have mentioned that incomes (the things upon which most of us rely to pay for the stuff we buy) have stayed flat - but they didn't. Perhaps they didn't notice that bit (and perhaps this is why the glad tidings didn't stop either the blue-chip Dow and the tech-heavy NASDAQ dipping further into the red for the day).

So the great US consoomer (so often framed as heroic world saviour) is that bit more in debt.

I make no doubt (as literature's greatest proto-modernist, Stephen Maturin, would have it) that a good part of this spiralling debt can be sheeted home to desperate marketers in profit-squeezing times. Hence Ross Gittins' article the other day about rampant materialism. Marketers exist to produce desires - in JK Galbraith's words, to 'manage demand' - and they've been well up to the task.

But that ain't the whole story. Capitalism is a dynamic complex of social relations, and central to that dynamic are two tendencies: unprecedented accumulation of wealth and ever more rapid revolutions in production (this is the bit most of OzBlogistan likes to stress - ad nauseam, imho), and periodic profitability crises that tend to occasion ever fewer and ever larger loci of wealth and power (witness the liquidations, mergers and fire-sale scavenging going on in that erstwhile boom sector, telecommunications).

We keep being told by armani-clad merchant-banker-economists (and I wonder how the telecom-boom-induced junk bond situation is exercising them at the moment?) that we've never had it so good. Well, when I was a lad, I had one parent to look after me full-time, and one parent earning a wage sufficient to service a mortgage, keep a Kombi on the road, and keep me and my three siblings in Bata Scouts and Kinks singles. And that was the norm in this country, not only in the boom-sixties, but also in the more sombre seventies.

It ain't any more. Not least because a house will set you back eight times the average annual wage now, as opposed to four back then.

According to Mark Weisbrot, the average US wage in 1973 was $12.45 (in year-2000 greenbacks). By 2000, it was $12.90. Between those two dates, the US economy grew 72%. A little of this 72% got taken up by population growth, no doubt, but where's the rest gone?

Seems to me there's evidence aplenty there for a tendency towards 'ever larger loci of wealth and power'. Weath ain't trickling down. It is, like salt throughout this white-brown land, leaching upwards!

So, even on the narrow criteria insisted upon by market economists, most of us are not better off. And most of us should not be taken in by our ever more desperate marketers. Because there's no discernable trend, in either income or employment trends, to support the assumption most of us will be able to service the debt with which we fund the lifestyles to which we've been invited to become accustomed.

'Trouble is, if we consumers do pull our heads in, as one day even the most rapacious of us must, industry will be left with a ton of unutilised capacity, and it will be their debt which tanks the economy.

Dismal enough for ya?
Monday, August 26, 2002
BAKHTIARRHOEA - last instalment for a few days as muchly snowed under ...

Some points of clarification seem in order as I seem to have upset Mr Parker:

(a) I do not think Australia a particularly racist place (ie. 'racism' is relative and we strike this nomad as better than some); unduly fearful, perhaps even angry, in these ever less certain times - in which the individual takes on more and more risk whilst the state and transnational capital seek to divest themselves of same - but a populace that has shown the better angels of its nature often enough since WW2 to convince me we're capable of doing better than we're doing at the moment.

(b) I accuse no particular Blogistani of racism - But I do make the point that Australia was not 'over-run in the '50s or the 70s, although that's what the more fearful elements were claiming at the time. Everyone ultimately fits together nicely.

(c) I do think we should raise our immigration quota substantially. It might help address demographic imbalances and, if properly co-ordinated by a nation-building government, do for regional Australia what my disparate mob helped do forty years ago.

(d) I can't see a decisive difference between certain Afghans from Eastern Afghanistan (his polity destroyed by external intrigue, his ethnic identity abhorred by locally dominant groups, his country constantly beset by internecine and foreign-authored wars and rumours of wars) and a Pakistani Hazari in Balochistan, for whom that whole list seems equally to apply.

(e) If four billion people are doing it so tough in 2002, perhaps that's the nature and the scale of the problem that confronts us. All of us. Inevitably.

(f) I did not say Ali was Oscar - my point was that desperate people confronted with bureaucracies making conveniently arbitrary distinctions need occasionally to fib. Fibbing is part of what many a refugee has to do. He often has to lie to escape, only to have to lie again to get in. What legal papers may we expect from the escapee from paperless lawless chaos, for instance? He is powerless, poor, alone, culturally estranged and insignificant - his future is entirely in the hands of others. He belongs to the most vulnerable class of humanity there is.

With the possible exception of his wife and kids. The ones currently languishing in a desert gaol ...

And that's my lot on this. Take it or leave it. Back in a few days.


BAKHTIARRHOEA continued ...

Quoth Gareth Parker

"ROB SCHAPP seems to believe that anyone with a hard luck story has a legitimate moral claim to refugee status."

Well, if I can't spell Ali's name properly, I can hardly hold it against Gareth that he gets mine wrong. Anyway, as I remember it, I argued that putting innocent kiddies in cages for very long periods is an obscenity; that we're being invited to demonise Ali and clan for reasons that don't stack up; and that the west has a lot to do with helping produce the circumstances from which tens of millions feel obliged desperately to flee. Not sure Gareth's above summary of those arguments quite does them justice, really ...

Gareth continues:

"I've no doubt that Schapp is a caring and compassionate man, but perhaps he might care to inhabit the real world. As soon as he is willing to make the substantial sacrifice to his living standards that would be necessary to undertake his course of action, perhaps we might care to take his views seriously."

Real worlds really change, Gareth - and have typically often done so long before we little lumps of impure carbon have realised it. But has the world changed so much that we may not take a peek at history for some guidance? In the fifties and early sixties, hundreds of thousands of wogs like me were allowed in. What happened? Why, a significant rise in GDP and what turned out to be the last great burst of regional infrastructural investment! And in the seventies and eighties, we (for I am, outrageously perhaps, allowed to call myself Australian now) let in more settlers per capita than any other polity in the world. What happened then, Gareth? A substantial sacrifice in living standards? It did not, Gareth. Whilst I think the 'aging Australia' panic is a trifle overdone, it might even be argued that the immigration of young families like Ali's has a demographic pay-off, too.

Or are you making an environmentalist case, Gareth? Constructive arguments need more detail than the right wing of Blogistan seems prepared to provide at the moment.

"Until then, wouldn't it be best to focus on providing relief to genuine refugees, rather than opportunist liars like Ali Baktiyari?"

If Schindler hadn't fibbed a tad to a bureaucracy wed to tendentious definitions of the worthy and the unworthy, Spielberg wouldn't have got much of a film out of it, doncha reckon? The processes that are producing refugees are intensifying, not easing. The rich world has a lot to do with that. I've already talked about US-Pakistani political intercourse over the years, and could go on at length about how tendentious and contradictory (to a liberal as much as to a socialist) is a definition of globalisation that allows seamless flows of digicash but not the logically concomitant mobility of those who have only their labour to sell - what price the 'efficient labour market' of neoliberal folklore in all this? And what price the precious 'freedom of the individual' upon which neoliberal 'philosophers' construct and legitimate their house of cards? It doesn't work as social philosophy and it must ultimately fail as practice.

Even if salutary incarcerations were an option in keeping with our self-legitimating ideals, which they're not, they aren't even a practical answer to the dynamics in train. We have to look at the disease, not the symptoms.
Sunday, August 25, 2002

In sports-mad Oz, the football finals and the beginning of the cricket season are but a few sleeps away.

Which means we're going to have platoons of pundits regale us on the urgent need for video umpires (referees, whatever) where none yet exists and a larger role for video-umpiring where it does.

Which, I submit, is a pity.

Where once the member's bar would erupt on matters of a foot either way, now it does - no less often - on matters of an inch either way. A few points of contention are resolved and at least as many are introduced.

Too quickly do we fall for the old canard that 'technology'll fix it'. It bloody won't.

And here's a controversial thought. Sports differ from each other. If a peek at the monitor has negligible impact on a game of grid-iron, that's because grid-iron is an on-off sorta sport. In a game of football (or 'sarker', as I'm given to believe our American friends refer to the noble code) that impact has the potential to disrupt flow just where flow is all.

One last, rather fuzzier, thought. The relationship between official and player is not to be under-estimated. If the official is but one of two potential loci of authority, that can produce more belligerence, more time-wasting, and, in the official, a fall in confidence and too ready a desire to pass responsibility on to another.

So much of what we are - and what our games and rituals are - is manifest relations.

Technology is a lot of things, but we'd do well to remember there are a lot of things it's not. A solution to social problems is one of 'em. That's why all that leisure time the technoboosters promised us in the 80s never came to be, why the web-fuelled democracy promised us in the 90s is as far away as ever, and why we, sure as I'm sitting here feeding this giraffe, will be arguing about tries and run-outs within weeks.

Like we always have and always will.

Where once
political economic and cultural observations in the register of dismal dilettantism

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