Author Archives: Geoff Davies

About Geoff Davies

Dr. Geoff Davies is an author, commentator and scientist. He is retired and a Visiting Fellow at the Australian National University and the author of Sack the Economists.

Desperately Seeking the Fair Go – blog post

[This post introduces my new book. Full text now available as pdf or epub.]

desperatelysmAustralia accomplished an economic miracle in the nineteenth century, rising from subsistence to the richest country in the world. Along with New Zealand, Australia also led the world in political and social innovation, aspiring to provide a fair go for everyone. By 1913 Australia was a distinctive, dynamic and increasingly egalitarian society.

Despite some economic, political and psychological setbacks through the twentieth century, Australia by 1980 was a prosperous and open society still generally pursuing the fair go, notwithstanding some notable gaps.

Australians also had another great accomplishment to our credit: we had peaceably welcomed a great diversity of immigrants who spiced Oz with many new cultural flavours. We grumbled a bit and might not have openly admitted it, but we were a tolerant, talented, innovative, even interesting lot.

Today Australia is a very different place. We are in a lather of fear over moderate challenges that are substantially of our own making. We shrink from big challenges bearing down on us. We are insecure, and increasingly selfish, divided and directionless. We pursue scapegoats, vilifying innocent people and grossly abusing some. We act as though we are incapable, and have to bring in foreigners and their money to run things for us.

Yet we can still be generous and tolerant, and we can still sometimes be the fun-loving larrikins we like to think we are. We have abundant resources, talent, skill and energy, and we speak many of the world’s languages. Why do we make such heavy going of it?

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Brexit, Trump and a Rigged System

Economist Ian McAuley has written a series of articles called Brexit, Trump and the Lucky Countryon John Menadue’s site Pearls and Irritations. The analysis is good as far as it goes, but there are more fundamental factors at work.

The neoliberal program never achieved more than mediocrity and overall it has failed even on its own terms. Worse, it has corrupted government, fractured society and visited destruction upon the Earth. This failure flows from two false premises at the heart of neoliberalism: the libertarian claim that people should be rugged individualists, and the neoclassical claim that free markets usually will automatically optimise an economy.

Behind the votes for Brexit and Trump lies a simple perception: the system is rigged in favour of the rich. That perception is accurate. People may lash out at scapegoats and follow false prophets, but their disgust and alienation are quite justified. Trump promised to break up the cozy club at the top, and many people said Yes.

Two extracts published at Pearls and Irritations, here and here.

Full essay here.

Trump Refracted Through Nineteen Eighty-Four

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[Published at Independent Australia]

I’m not the only one having thoughts of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. My own reminder came through Donald Trump’s flirtation with Russia. Suddenly Russia switches from being the Evil Empire to being a useful ally. And when Trump feels his grip on power might be slipping he’ll pick a fight to distract us. Who will he pick a fight with? Obviously China.

We are in Orwell’s world. There are three superpowers: Oceania, Eurasia, Eastasia. We are at war with Eurasia and Eastasia is our ally. No, we are at war with Eastasia and Eurasia is our ally. We have always been at war with Eastasia.

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A System to Support Healthy Communities: Policy Ideas

Most of us do not want the world our society has become. It is too frenetic, too stressful, too superficial, too unequal, too acrimonious, too violent, and getting worse. Surveys show we want more time with family, friends and community1. More than 90% of us would prefer a greener, more stable society2, where the emphasis is on cooperation, community and family, more equal distribution of wealth, and greater economic self-sufficiency3.

Many studies now show that for a more fulfilling life, and to restore the planet to health, we need to restore connections with each other and with the natural world. Our emotional and physical wellbeing are best served by a small, supportive community and by regular connection with the living world around us. Caring for the natural world requires us, or some of us, to know each locality intimately4.

Local communities can only be stable and healthy if they have a viable local economy. Many studies show local businesses recycle a large fraction of wealth within the community, whereas businesses owned nationally or globally drain wealth to a distant few. For our physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing we need to tilt the balance back from global to local5. We will still want many national and global activities, we do not need to be isolationist nor 100% locally self-sufficient. However we do need to be in control of the larger-scale activities, and they need to be supportive of strong and healthy local communities.

So we need to think about a different system. Below are some of the things we will need to change if we are to create a system that supports strong local communities, healthy living and a healthy planet.

These ideas may serve as a framework for a Progressive party or movement.

Read the whole essay.

My Tipping Point

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[Published at Independent Australia, 12 Jan]

There was no big revelation, just a train of thought. Nearly a quarter of the Great Barrier Reef is dead, and there has been no discernible political response. Global temperature is rising off the chart, only glancingly noted in the torrent of chatter. The decades-long trend of ever-more perverse and destructive politics continues. Societies are fragmenting.

For perhaps two decades I have held to the thought that while ever there was a chance of avoiding a planetary tipping point I would continue explaining how we can avoid the worst. Through that time, the path to a healthy, stable world has become clearer and more obvious, demonstrated in a thousand practical, small-scale ways. All that time the window of opportunity was closing. It is, in my judgement, barely open any more.

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Choose Your Love

[Published on Independent Australia 21 Dec 16.]

Many Americans and Brits are struggling to come to terms with the votes for Trump and Brexit. We haven’t had the same shock in Oz, but we have a creeping version of the same disease.

potterfriendsChip Giller, the founder of Grist magazine, which insists on humour in the face of general insanity, tells how recently he was moved to tears by Harry Potter. Yes, the fictional boy wizard. It’s a powerful story, that’s why it’s so popular. Harry chose to stand for what’s right, against impossible odds. Then a lot of Harry’s friends chose to stand with him, validating the love among them, and perhaps creating a glimmer of hope.

Giller was reminded that if enough Americans of good heart and good will stand together they might resist the forces of fear being marshalled by Donald Trump.

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Reflection on First Contact: Flawed But Still Valuable

[No-one else wanted to publish this last week, but it’s still worth saying.]

First Contact - Series Two - Blackfella Films Pty LtdThe 3-part TV series First Contact and its follow-up panel discussion drew some strong responses from indigenous commentators, for example here and here. Clearly some very raw feelings were touched, understandably enough. But the show was not directed to Aboriginal audiences. It was for Whitefellas who know bugger all.

Unfortunately there are still plenty of those, thanks in large part to our miserably deficient media. While I can imagine it is harrowing for Aboriginal people to be walked yet again through the same old same old, here was a media program actually intended to inform the ignorant. By that measure, and despite significant flaws, I think it has a lot of value.

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