We discussed earlier about how our political system is geared towards stability rather than reform. In this lesson on trends and ends we will look at the 30 year time frame for social change.
The stable nature of our political system means that it takes massive, tectonic pressure before significant society wide reforms occur. It takes time for that pressure to build and the normal lead time is around 30 years. That is, more or less, once per generation.
Gough Whitlam’s reforms represented the aspirations of generation X and many of their parents.
The environmental movement had its genesis in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. The World’s first green party, the ‘United Tasmania Group’ was formed in 1972 and the Wilderness Society was formed in 1973. Other environmental organisations were formed around that time or in the subsequent decade.
The women’s rights movement has a similar vintage and trajectory.
The gay rights movement started in the United States in the 1970’s but gained momentum in Australia in the early 1990’s. It is on target to achieve its major objectives over the next decade.
Some have claimed that economic cycles take place over around 30 years. Plant and equipment tends to wear out over that time and the costs of maintenance and upgrades become prohibitive. That is certainly the case for the military. Planes, tanks, trucks, submarines and ships have a working life of around three decades after which the maintenance cost curve makes replacement a better option most of the time. This necessitates a strategic re-think around every 20-25 years so that replacement can take place.
30 years is also time period when public service careers count for something and generational change takes place.
This 30 year time frame has two important ramifications. Firstly, reactionary politics is doomed. If you are only reacting to someone else’s agenda you have lost. You need to think strategically about where you are now, where you want to be, and what you need to do for the next three decades to achieve that. That is what the environmental movement did. It is what the gay lobby did. It is what the feminist movement did. It is what the corporate right are doing. It is what the church and the conservative movement has not done.
The other thing to realise is that what is on the fringes now may be main stream in 30 years time. 30 years ago people smoked in their offices, vegetarians were weird and people went to jail for sodomy. Now people in the UK are being threatened with anti-terrorism legislation for teaching the traditional view on marriage to school children. Given that homosexuals form between 2 and 4 per cent of the population and not all homosexuals support criminalising dissent, this is an extraordinary outcome. If you had suggested in 1985 that teachers would face sacking and criminal charges for teaching a heterosexual view of marriage you would have been considered unhinged. What we should learn from this is that we need to pay close attention to those on the fringes if they are strategic and organised.
Having said that; reforms that only effect one sector or groups can progress more quickly. Home education for example was legalised following a 10-15 year campaign.
Major Societal Trends in the Western World
So what are some of the trends we should consider? We are going to look at 4 trends that will have profound implications for public policy now and over coming decades. Two are opposed. Three are interrelated.
Trend 1 – Corporate take-over of Society
Currently a sizeable portion of the population want to live in a country that is owned by its citizens, feeds itself, makes at least some of its own stuff, provides services to itself, and keeps key public assets like ports and water in public ownership.
The Labor, Liberal and National parties do not represent these values. They believe in an ideology which goes by a number of names – neo liberalism, laissez-faire economics, economic rationalism etc. What that boils down to is the belief that the community should not interfere with the investment decisions of business, whether local or overseas. Consequently, the policies the major parties actually follow are to:
These policies have been pursued to varying degrees since the 1980’s. They have resulted in:
These policies are largely implemented through trade deals. The trade deal negotiations are conducted in secret. The deals are not voted on by Parliament but are simply signed by the government of the day pursuant to the foreign affairs power in the Constitution. They are not put to the people in a plebiscite and they are not talked about during elections. They have no mandate.The argument for them is that free trade deals can give Australian businesses access to foreign markets. However the success rate for Australia is very patchy and access varies. They are typically very one sided. For example, try buying farm land in China, or a mine in India, or try logging forests in Japan. The other argument is that it brings development to poorer countries and so contributes to human development overall. This is humanitarian argument and is too complex to consider in detail here. What can be said is that outsourcing has shifted wealth and opportunity to developing countries but has undermined the living standards of those in developing countries, while massively shifting wealth upwards to a very small percentage of the population. This free trade and investment agenda reflects a global agenda on the part of major corporations to remove any state barriers to investment. This enables them to play countries off against one another and so reduce their costs by forcing down wages, safety, and environmental responsibility.
Further reading for Trend 1 Corporate Takeover of Society
This agenda has been pursued for the last quarter century by various trade negotiations such as the:
Perhaps the most extreme example of this trend the Trade in Services Agreement. If ratified this agreement will forever change your life, the life of your children, and the country you live in. According to Wikipedia the agreement aims to privatise the worldwide trade in services such as banking, healthcare and transport. The negotiations are taking place under extreme secrecy however an analysis from Wikileaks is available. See here (https://wikileaks.org/tisa-financial/analysis.html). Among other things the agreement aims to prevent countries from regulating harmful financial practices.
The Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations are also being conducted under extreme secrecy. All we know about the TPP comes from Wikileaks. The Australian Parliament does not have access to any of the draft text of the agreement. What we do know is that it is modeled on a similar agreement called the North American Free Trade Agreement. Like that agreement it overrides the legal system of each country that is part of the agreement. It creates international courts whose judges are appointed by multinational corporations to judge disputes between the corporation and the country. It allows corporations to sue National, State and local governments for loss of profits if they interfere. These lost profits do not arise from breach of contract. It is enough if a company thinks that it might have invested in something one day, and now it can’t, so it can sue for the profits it thinks it might have made. This has occurred under the North American Free Trade Agreement.
So for example, depending on the exact text of the agreement, a foreign multinational could sue for compensation if a country, state or local government:
For example, in Germany Swedish energy company Vattenfall is suing the German government for billions of dollars over its decision to phase out nuclear power plants in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in Japan. Because governments are afraid of being sued under these agreements transnational corporations can blackmail them into adopting policies that favour foreign companies over the national interest.
Under pressure from the Left faction, the ALP has backed away from allowing corporations to sue the Australian Commonwealth, Australian States and Territories, and local councils in the courts run by the corporations. However the ALP leadership may change their mind if they are in office.
When it comes to trade, the only difference between Liberal and Labor is that Labor see a role for government in redistributing wealth to create opportunity by providing for education, health and social safety nets. They also owe some favours to some unions. Where the Liberal party stands on this is less clear but Liberal Party associated think tanks like the HR Nichols society see public health care and education as unwarranted interference in personal freedom and the efficient functioning of markets. The National Party usually adopts the Liberal position though they sometimes take issue with specific concerns like quarantine.
In effect, as regards trade and sovereignty, Australia is a one party state. This disconnect between the kind of country that many people want to live in, and the kind of country that agreements like the TPP create, has left a sizeable portion of the population disenfranchised. Since the society and the economy are connected there is a similar disconnect on social issues.
Previously in our history it was assumed that people would marry and have children, and that children needed and had a right to, a mother and a father. It followed that the man should be able to earn a wage that could provide for a family. Since he was earning a wage and providing for a family it followed that he should be able to participate in public life by voting. This franchise of working and voting of was later extended to women and Indigenous people.
That consensus has now evaporated. In Australia there now exists a major social divide between two camps. In the traditional camp people still believe that children need a mother and a father and so it follows that the economy should support the family by providing living wages and other supports. Family units are seen as the foundational building blocks of society.
In the progressive camp people do not believe that children need a mother and a father and so believe that society should uphold other family models. It follows that society no longer has an obligation to provide living wages to support a single bread winner and their family. In this view society is no longer composed of family units but of looser collectives of self-actualising individuals. This is largely a post-modern humanist narrative.
None of the major parties represent these narratives and all are struggling to contain these differences within them. The education system, the church, and the broader civil society also face challenges in accommodating both views.
This lack of real fundamental value differences is hollowing out the parties and weakening the ALP factional system, and at times stretching the LNP Coalition. Those differences that do exist between the factions mostly reflect the traditional/progressive divide on issues like gay marriage and positive discrimination. This presents a unique problem for Labor because the Greens are capturing the progressive vote and much of their traditional blue collar base has left the party.
Voters with traditional values and a patriotic outlook are now drifting to nationalist parties and candidates like One Nation, the Democratic Labor Party, Clive Palmer and friends, Bob Katter and Jaqui Lambie. The Australian Federation Party is a new attempt at a party specifically to represent traditional values. Voters with a patriotic outlook but whose social outlook aligns with the far left now line up with the Greens. So called ‘wet’ Liberals are currently marginalised within the party. Labor has the left overs and is increasingly a white collar party of the urban middle class.
I suggest that upwards of a third of voters now realise that they are no longer represented and are shifting loyalty away from political parties in favour of affinity and interest groups, and towards their own communities based on shared values. I call them ‘value tribes’ of which campaign organisation GetUp! is a good example. So is that Australian Federation Party. It is from these values tribes and social groupings that change will come.
Trend 2 – Concerns about Sustainability
The idea of looking after the environment is not new, but as an ‘ism’ in the West environmentalism has its origins among academics, hikers and hippies in the late 1960’s. Putting the ‘ism’ aside, people who think strategically now realise that those companies and countries that invest in sustainability now will do much better in the future. For that reason China is massively investing in renewable energy and has closed around 1000 small coal fired power stations and plans to close several larger ones. India is investing massively in renewable energy. The Rothschild’s have divested from coal and oil. Around 40 countries, including China, now have emissions trading schemes.
The developing world in particular has woken up to the fact that there is only so much clean water, so much arable land, and so many fish in the sea, yet their populations are growing. Environmentalism was once seen as a luxury that Western countries could afford. However it now has serious geostrategic implications. Sustained droughts in Syria, Afghanistan, and North Africa have helped de-stabilise societies and modern Western militaries are factoring climate change into their long term planning.
China is making strategic global purchases of farm land, water and rare metals. Russia is building food self-reliance through selective breeding. Russia has banned genetically modified crops, specifically GM corn which is patented and promoted by US multinational Monsanto. Russia understands that growing Monsanto GM crops makes the farmers dependent on seeds and chemicals from that company as well as poisoning the food supply. In the event of war, a country dependent on GM corn would be dependent on a US multinational for its food supply.
After the coupe in Ukraine Monsanto set up an office in Kiev and is now seeking to convert Ukraine to GM crops. This would have the effect of making Ukraine dependent on an American multinational for their food supply. Ukraine is historically the bread basket of the Russian empire. Capturing Russia’s grain resources was the reason given by the Nazis for invading Russia in the Second World War Russia sees the situation in Ukraine as a direct threat to its security and is again preparing to repel a future invasion.
The other trend in sustainability is that it makes countries look good. If your country has the last black rhino’s and the black rhino goes extinct it doesn’t make you look good. Caring about the environment is now seen as something that mature and civilised countries do.
This trend is on a collision course with the first trend towards unrestricted exploitation. The first trend represents a belief that there are no limits to growth. That human population can grow indefinitely, that exponentially increasing consumption of resources can continue forever, and that the earth can absorb unlimited amounts of pollution OR that there are technical fixes that make these things possible. This belief is not founded in physical reality but does favour the short term interests of the rich. For this reason there is a quiet war going on against environmentalists on many fronts.
Trend 3 – Assault on Identity
The drive for equality, seen most recently in the same sex marriage debate, is expressed with reference to values of inclusion and fairness. However it is a concept of equality that goes beyond mutual respect to denying differences between cultures, genders, and orientations. Instead of saying that all people are equal but celebrating their differences, it denies difference.
The public policy implications of this are vast and poorly grasped. Some thoughts for you to consider are:
These questions are significant for many reasons, not least because they deal with foundational questions of identity. To date human identity has been understood in the following terms:
We are a sister/brother/daughter/son. We come from a family with a name. We speak the language of our people. Our people are united by a common history that binds us to a certain place. That place is our country and our people are our nation. Our territory belongs to us and us alone. Our customs remind us of who we are. Our children are born here. We are mothers, fathers, grandparents. Collectively we are a nation.
These are the foundational building blocks of identity. The new ideology seeks to remove or diminish all these identity markers.
The Chinese and Cambodian communists declared the year zero, destroyed their civilisations, made children publicly renounce their parents and pledge their loyalty solely to the State. In Cambodia children were no longer treated as children, and men and women were merely comrades. The State became the mother father substitute with terrible results.
Trend 4 – Commercialisation of Humanity
Parallel with the emerging trend towards androgyny is the idea that we gain our sense of identity value or worth from what we contribute to the economy, rather than valuing the economy by what it contributes to us. The economy does not need citizens but rather it needs individual units of production and consumption. It is better for the economy if parenting, sex, and pretty much everything else that is part of family life is commercialised. Divorce is good for the economy. It creates demands for more goods, more houses, more legal services, more psychological services, and more childcare services than exist in intact families.
Using people for money is of course not a new idea. The nineteenth century saw both white and black slavery, work houses where people were punished for being poor and transportation of the working class. The British navy used press gangs to kidnap people and force them into naval service so that Britain could build a global empire. Many died of scurvy. What has changed is that in the nineteenth century these values were imposed violently, whereas today they are internalised through marketing.
This discussion, I hope, brings us back to the question of whether we actually live in a democracy. We have been kept in the dark about trade agreements. We are not consulted about going to war, and when people came out into the streets to try to stop the unlawful invasion of Iraq, the voice of the people was ignored. No one in this country ever voted for or against multiculturalism, immigration, free trade, or tariffs.
End of Lesson 8