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The new century has finally begun, savagely and belatedly, like the ending of a pregnancy whose term went longer than its natural course. What has been born is over-cooked and unattractive. Can it now be made beautiful?
Wherever you look, the signs of this new age appear. The most conspicuous is that governments can no longer be at a place where their constituents are not. They have failed in the task of leadership and have had to retreat into the safety of being representative.
This process was always going to be savage on the world’s hierarchy, witness the disordered flow of people around the world and shift of power between continents. It is brutal on legacies; witness the impending destruction of Barack Obama’s. It has been brutal on individuals; witness the ashen faced attendance of former presidents and contenders at Donald Trump’s inauguration.
It is not a time of elegant thought, which ended millennia ago with the ancient Greeks. It is not a time of renewal that ended when the Sistine Chapel was made into a masterpiece. It is not enlightened, that ended when the urbane words 'Livingston I presume' were uttered in the African Jungle. It is not detente, that period fell along with the Berlin Wall. Finally, it is not the era of reform, which ended with the Uruguay round of GATT some decades ago. It is base. It is that period between periods. It is like the dark ages.
Our wonderful country is as usual a blithe participant in this process. It lacks in thoughtful leadership and is assailed by an unrelenting constituency hell bent on being heard more on the basis of volume of voice rather than the force of argument.
The new century will be characterised by a simple rule, Biblical in simplicity, chilling in potency. To those who have will more be given, to those who have not even that which they have will be taken away. This has been accelerated but not caused by the dysfunction that has occurred in the financial markets and which has priced riskless assets out of reach of those in need of living off their capital. It has felt itself most harshly along home ownership lines where a generation has been priced out of independently purchasing detached property anywhere near the centre of our capital cities. At the same time a culture that can support a lifelong rental reality has not yet established itself. The division of wealth among haves and have nots was always present but now it has spread across cohorts and become much more apparent. We are becoming a class based society.
The underlying driver of this is an aging population, at least in the Western hemisphere. In the foreseeable future we can see a time when the world’s population will stabilise and possibly start to decline for the first time in many hundreds of years. The impact of this has not yet appeared on the radar of any but the most thoughtful commentators.
In the era of protectionism with respect to trade and people movement our country finds itself isolated with a wealth of minerals, talent and capital but a shortage of one important ingredient, people.
Our internal market is a small one that simply does not lend itself to the economies of scale that allows goods and services markets to thrive. We could do with another 15 million people. By the time we realise this it is likely to be too late. The irony is that we may eventually throw open our borders as an invitation to all comers of the type of person we would like to attract, those with low transaction costs (I have written about this in another post), at a time when those people become picky and want a share in the economic prosperity that comes with living in a populous country.
Older commentators talk of smashed avocadoes and family assistance when it comes to getting ahead. I look to the spirit of the ANZAC’s. That is what made our country great and that is the heritage that we can draw on. When we had to we could punch above our weight. Australia will have to find a new normal, but there is no reason it cannot be beautiful. It is going to take some time for it to emerge. This Dark Age will have to pass, but adaption is our strong point. At its heart will be the pride that comes from individual self-sufficiency and independence. Leading the way are our newest immigrants. Quite often the cream of the crop of the countries they are leaving. Along with them is the new normal that our youth is forging. They just need a bit of protection from that most dangerous of foes. Us.
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