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What new thinking do you think is required for the way forward?

Economics of the empty heart

Economics is much in the news. As a student I was enthralled at the way limited supply could be so neatly graphed against unlimited demand, and in the tracing of the move away from centrally regulated economic models to the neo-liberal, free market versions from the 1980s – who wouldn’t be? British Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher is this story incarnate, but it also an Australian story, first written by Hawke and Keating and built upon by Howard and Costello.  And who could deny the unleashing of what the market does best – creative entrepreneurship.

But then came the Global Financial Crisis.

Given the background debt issues, I found Kevin Rudd’s ‘spend, spend, spend’ response ironic. And anyway, which Australia was he talking to? Despite being told we have never had it so good, from the mid-1980s property prices relative to incomes have risen beyond the reach of even many middle-class, not to mention the next generation. No, the GFC together with the megaphone of a groaning world environment required a deeper look.

In retrospect my economic studies were not rooted in reality. As human beings we can unravel even the finest theory. In more centrally planned economies this is over-dependency on the State and stifling bureaucratic control; in laissez faire versions, the rise and rise of Greed. Our most recent discovery is the Market for all its plusses and potential is not worthy of our unthinking allegiance, and only gets it right precisely to the extent it cannot be manipulated by vested interests.

Where to turn? I went back to basics, to the Economics 101 assumption of people having all those unlimited wants.

Of course we can and do have wants, but David Korten in ‘When Corporations Rule The World’ makes the obvious point that people at peace with themselves have no compulsion to fill up their lives with things. This ensures a world of abundance, the truism that there is enough for everyone’s need, but not greed. Unlimited wants I came to see best describes the behaviour of a two-year old, not an adult. ‘I want more, more, more’ is appropriate for that age until the child learns, by tantrums or otherwise, it cannot just demand more, more, more – hopefully by the age of three.

Egged on by ‘Feeling down? Buy our latest…’ advertising, it seems we have chosen not to grow up. The result of our unlimited wants economics is a world of scarcity, of exploitation, of haves and have-nots. This is the economics, call it addictions, of the empty heart, and as the Aussie film ‘The Castle’ reminds us with the little man’s battle against over-development, no-one is safe from the fallout. The GFC as we are finding out is not the final full-stop in that story.

So what would an adult economics look like? Won’t the manipulators who sabotaged the market and our best intentioned plans before, just keep on doing it?

The world is always unravelling at the edges. Nothing can change that. However if the core belief of a society is sound, such manipulation is minimised. It is only when the proposition that economics is all about me having ‘more, more, more’ shifts from the margins to become the main driver of society that manipulation becomes legal and our moral imagination dies.

For his first job my eldest son has joined a multi-national company which gives sustainable social and environmental goals priority, both in the way they work and in terms of their products. It gives what he does integrity, and I observe he is working to make a creative contribution rather just doing the necessary. It makes for a win-win and sound economic sense.

Such ‘adult’ thinking is increasingly breaking through. And has a long pedigree. Through the 1990s I became aware of traditions of sustainable community-based economics of indigenous cultures. They and their values were once cast aside as irrelevant, but no longer. One has only to look at the ABC Landline program to see the revolution of farming practice based on sustainable principles. The creativity unleashed is inspiring, growing new economic ventures.

Growth per se is not wrong. As The Castle reminds us real growth is ultimately growth within a person’s character, for want of which we substitute the proxy of ever-more material growth. The Landline stories demonstrate a different growth driven by different values. What we now look for is sustainable growth, a society whose core concern is the welfare of those generations not yet born. Both far-sighted planning and a market freed of manipulation will be needed and, however challenging the transition, there is no evidence to suggest creativity and initiative and jobs will be wanting as we dare to embark on this ‘new’ direction.

Not that we really have any choice.

Graeme Cordiner is a freelance writer involved in the Myall Creek Massacre Memorial, a growing regional reconciliation initiative working for shared community, environmental and economic outcomes.

Indigenous political structures informing the Westminster system.

The region of East Arnhem Land is home to the Yolŋu society, a group of indigenous Australians with a common system of law, language (a system of related dialects) and culture. They are politically organised through clans, tribes and clan-nations, as well as a network of provinces and a federating parliament built on the moiety structure of Dhuwa and Yirritja. The yolŋu system of government is not material rich but is relationally powerful, and has helped their society survive for millennia.

At all levels of Yolŋu politic the individual and society are balanced through complex rights and responsibilities, and by a high degree of individual participation in decision making. This is enabled by structures and conventions that compel decisions by consensus.

At the more complex levels of Yolŋu government, which involve leaders from different regions and clans, rules of consensus remain. Here delegates sit in forums or parliament as effective ‘independents’ weighing issues according to the Law (including statutes, story and moral code) and the needs of their constituents (people of their clan/tribe etc.).

Parties and the oppositional nature of the Westminster system of government are foreign to Yolŋu society.

On this is basis I believe the Australian system of government can only be improved by members of parliament that are both independent and pursuing consensus in the chamber and their electorate.

Kendall Trudgeon is running as an independent candidate in Arnhem Land.

Ten principles of activism for transformative change

1. Know yourself. Our identityframes our engagement with the world. With the art of knowing oneself comes the art of listening.

2. Convince yourself that your cause/passion is really necessary. Answer key questions first. Is the cause legitimate? Do we really need to pursue it? If you can’t convince yourself, forget about convincing others.

3. Research an issue before diving into a cause. Dig deep. Get to the facts. What’s happening in your community? With that information, you can justify the cause.

4. If you don’t like hard work, don’t get involved. There is no short cut to achieving one’s vision. It’s mostly perspiration aided by inspiration.

5. Maintain a sense of perspective. Overstating the cause can be damaging. Absence of perspective can lead to narrow-mindedness. A sense of priorities is vital.

6. Reflect your broader ideals in all you do – keep your vision alive. Create within you a space for an evolving reality by engaging in reflection on what you’re doing.

7. Be positive… we are not against, but for a cause. Transformational change is about sustained positive energies that come together, with the outcome bigger than the sum of the parts.

8. Keep your firepower for the real enemy – we do not battle against flesh and blood… Everyone is looking for their own angles, making sense of things. Identify key relationships and key people, beginning with those closest to you.

9. Involve those affected by the problem. When advocating on behalf of others, they know best about the problem. They live with it and can give the cause a sense of urgency and legitimacy.

10. Have faith, hope and love… never let anyone tell you that you don’t matter. We each have our own place to find in life – that gives us a sense of who we are and faith in where we are going.

Mosese Waqa

IofC Human Security Coordinator.


3 thoughts on “View your contributions

  1. Many Occupy Wall Street’ protesters asrerted in New York City reside in more luxurious homes than some of their rhetoric might suggest, a Daily Caller investigation has found. . . . Radical Chic lives!Speaking of Radical Chic, I’m old enough to remember that phenomenon first-hand. For the benefit of you young’uns out there, it was an alliance of the guilt-ridden liberal upper-class with the lumpenproletariat against middle-class America and its bourgeois values. Made famous by Tom Wolfe in an essay (later book) of the same name in which Wolfe reported on Leonard Bernstein’s Park Avenue party for the Black Panthers it was a pretty common mind-set among liberals of the late Sixties and early Seventies. And you didn’t have to even be a Park Avenue Pinko to support it. I remember a left-wing professor who told us pretty much that the middle-class was hopeless and the worker’s paradise would be brought about by pressure from above by wealthy progressives and from above by rioting ghetto thugs and their New Left white-college-student imitators. Wolfe pretty much killed Radical Chic by exposing its loonier incarnations to the light of scrutiny. So it’s odd to me a codger with a long memory that now all I keep reading from the MSM is Lo, the Poor Middle Class. How the middle-class is being squeezed, etc., and how surprise! Big Brother must step in to rescue it. The middle-class has gone from despised enemy to another victim class that the State must support. When, I wonder, did the Party Line change?

  2. I’ve been listening on the radio to diiucssson about how the govtcan’t afford to service the outstations with what Australians usuallyexpect from the government. When they set up the Flying Doctor Serviceand the school of the air no one argued that we can’t afford to givepeople who go off and live in remote places in tiny family groupseducation and health services. We should all be pointing out what wrong with this perspective andwhat the slant that it has really is ie subtle official racism.sent by email by Maureen Magee

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