Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer.
- Thomas Paine, Common Sense
We get the governments we deserve. Even those apolitical institutions (the Fed) that cause damage are a product of our democracies. And yet we moan and take comfort when it is not “our” side that has the run of things. Democracy is a vague concept that has our attention only every few years. It is one of those pieces of societal furniture that you would only miss if it was gone. For those who are used to having to fight for the freedom we now take entirely for granted, our apathy to government would surely be disgusting. Indeed, the other great organisational force, religion, gets far more of our energy. Imagine devoting a few hours weekly to efforts directed at improving the quality of our political administrators. So many good intentions go wasted, so much energy ill-spent in the service of competing religions that provide neither useful direction for society nor the supernatural tail-winds long promised.
In Australia and in much of the world, the past few years have shown that a productivity revolution is the only thing that will restore long-term sustainable growth. For too long wealth has been created by the now orphan children of a credit explosion – property speculation, being blithely long equities. What we face is a future where capital gains will no longer be as easy as they were. Clearly the implications are not good for the wooden leg that supports the non-mining component of the Australian economy, retail.
Society needs less finance graduates and more science PhDs, less marketing executives and more educators. Yet, more is not necessarily more – China and India have a dearth of science graduates who find little work in economies that are hopelessly designed to suit them. Australia has the necessary capital to finance productivity growth, we just need the right direction from Canberra. The electorate needs to identify and fight against mismanagement.
Yesterday a huge truck ploughed into a house on the NSW north coast, killing a sleeping boy. That two of the largest cities in Australia are connected by a highway that is, along the majority of its length, one lane in each direction is ridiculous. Indeed that Australia relies so heavily on road freight is ridiculous. The misallocations of capital are everywhere. None is more obvious that the National Broadband Network. The government has tried to reinvent an internet connection as a public good, like other traditional forms of infrastructure. Yet those other forms, rail especially, are criminally undeveloped. As far as I know, non-one has died from a slow internet connection, but thousands die needlessly on roads.
There are numerous clichés that we can insert into how we behave within the political framework, but mostly it involves thinking about politics more frequently and turning dinner party grumblings into action. It has never been easier; the Arab Spring rose on the back of social media – perhaps the most democratic voice for society we have ever known. Perhaps we will now - impelled by economic malaise - start on the long road that sees an end to bitter partisanship, lobbying and bureaucratic waste.
- David Hume