STRAWS IN THE WIND: by Max TeichmannNews Weekly
La Ronde / A quarry and a hard place / National politics / Maritime terrorism
, January 8, 2005
As the New Year came in, those of us trying to make some sense of what had just gone before, in the hope of divining the future, have been set some daunting conundrums.
Politically speaking, the community of nations seems to be no more, while the global economy upon which there is now almost total reliance and hope, is virtually impossible to read - at least beyond a certain quite short time-frame.
For example, all the official projections of what we
will be selling to countries x, y and z
20 years from now, seem quite fanciful. We have no idea
how countries x, y and z
will be going in 20 years' time - whether they will be able, or even willing
, to buy from us; whether they will be our friends or our foes, or satellites of some large, unfriendly power.
So we don't know how we, economically speaking, will be situated 20 years hence. Our prosperity is determined by the performances of our trading partners, and overseas investors and lenders.
Rather the same applies to the political and military shape of our region and the world. 2004 was the stage for momentous changes which are going to produce a vastly different, and possibly chaotic system in the coming years. Thus, Paul Johnson has predicted that power will be concentrated in three main areas, viz
, China and her satellites; India; and the United States and friends: these power centres being based on superior economic growth rates, technological advances, and moderate or stable population growth.
Just as in domestic societies there are the affluent winners, those halfway up the affluent/influence chain, and some of the still-hoping-to-rise further, and
the permanently marginalised - these last being the have-beens and the forever disadvantaged. There are similar divisions in the global system.
Europe seems in a condition of almost irresistible decline, no longer the engine of growth, but more likely the sources of present and future obstructions to world order, and wracked with internal problems ... social, political and economic.
Japan - a former great engine of economic activity and of world trade (and our major customer for decades) - has stagnated for very nearly 15 years, while China, and then India, have taken off.
It is manifestly in our interest that Japan take off again and provide not only a general regional stimulus, but a balance against the rising power of Communist China and her satellite, North Korea.
It will be interesting to see in this coming year whether Japan starts to play a more pro-active role, militarily speaking. Americans have long wanted it and Australians, if they thought about it, would also want it; for China is dead serious about at least
controlling the North Pacific and seems unlikely to stop there.
The China lobby, here and elsewhere, are livid, having their usual philosophy "my customer/my sponsor right or wrong" and, among the Left, including the Japanese Left, supporting anything which might make life impossible for the United States or the democratic West. So we are now suddenly hearing about Japanese aggressions before or during the Second World War and the many atrocities committed during that time.
Fair enough, but the sufferings of the Japanese population during the war, including the nuclearisation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the destruction by fire of Japanese cities from one end of Japan to the other - once the most powerful theme of peace movements - have been pushed back into the shadows, along with China's continuing
China, like Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia before her, has worked to force outsiders to choose between friendship with her, or
general disengagement, or lining up with her
A great many Westerners, particularly businessmen, end up siding with the bullies and ignoring their friends.
The same either/or tactic is being employed now. You must choose between China and Taiwan, and perhaps between China and Japan, 'tis said. We
should avoid a situation where we have
to choose, but if we ever do, it should be Japan, which is unlikely ever to represent the kind of threat that Beijing could become in this region. Incidentally, the West's intelligentsia will say: support Communist China!
In the course of a long essay on Isaiah Berlin in the Times Literary Supplement
, Clive James excoriated the Western intelligentsia as being worse now than they have ever been, and cited their current behaviour over Iraq and world terrorism, but the problems go back much, much further.
In a recent book, The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics
(2001), Mark Lilla had this to say:
"History dealt a bad hand to thinkers and writers who lived behind the Iron Curtain: some played it well, resisting the tyrant's bribes and threats as best they could, others joined the chorus. Those of us who have never faced such choices are poorly placed to judge what they did.
"But how are we to explain the fact that a chorus for tyranny also existed in countries where intellectuals faced no danger and were free to write as they pleased? What possibly could have induced them
to justify the actions of modern tyrants or, as was more common, to deny any essential difference between tyranny and the free societies of the West?
"Fascist and Communist regimes were welcomed with open arms by many West European intellectuals throughout the twentieth century, as were countless "national liberation" movements that instantly became traditional tyrannies, bringing misery to unfortunate peoples across the globe.
"Throughout the century Western liberal democracy was portrayed in diabolical terms as the real home of tyranny - the tyranny of capital, of imperialism, of bourgeois conformity, of 'metaphysics', of 'power', even of 'language'. The facts were rarely in dispute; they were apparent to anyone who read the newspapers and had a sense of moral proportion.
"No, something deeper was at work in the minds of these European intellectuals, something reckless. How do such minds operate, we wonder. And what are they seeking in politics?"Between a quarry and a hard place
The long boom rolls on in Australia, and of a length and a consistency which we had not experienced for decades, and we are all hanging onto our hats hoping it will continue. How contemporary Australians, especially younger ones, would take or could
take a serious economic downturn, is as big a worry as the mindless materialism and feeding frenzies which are wracking our society, along with just about every other society involved in this new stage of capitalism. We are between a rock and a hard place.
We all know how dependent we are on borrowing, at every level; of our continuing and rising consumption patterns; of our dependence on housing and building and construction, on the car industry; and on essentially fragile new industries such as tourism and foreign students, which could so easily fall in a heap.In fact
, I suspect the last is going to be in all sorts of trouble any day now, as other countries in the region, including Canada, are laying on far superior services for foreign students: cheaper, more student-friendly and of a half-respectable professional standard. Whereas our sector is one great scam.
The fact remains that we stand or fall on the sale of our food, our minerals and oil, etc, i.e., our commodities, with all the other export industries facing a degree and variety of competition which will always have them playing second fiddle to our quarries and our farms. These
we must look after.National politics
Nationally, our conservatives are playing cat and mouse with a divided and incompetent Labor Party whose personnel reflect the fruits of endless past branch-stacking and factional favouritism. It is difficult to find one
really outstanding Labor politician at the federal level, one in whom the public feels, or is likely to feel, confidence.
Consequently, there is an almost total dependence on media news management, beat-ups and diversionary stunts in parliament, so as to replace a bona fide
This situation has, for example, contaminated our foreign relations, with Labor opposing almost anything that the Government proposes. Considering the delicacy and difficulty of some of our current diplomatic and military transactions, and the importance of so many of them to Australia's future, eg., East Timor and the Middle East, Labor cannot seriously expect the electorate to regard them as trustworthy, or as putting the public interest before their own.
Labor seems to think politics is about one dirty hand washing another.
As to our states, they now operate as milch-cows for federal money, plus tranches of consumption taxes of their own devising, which are pressing far harder on people than are our federal imposts.
So long as there is a continuing flow of easy money to throw around or withhold, state Labor parties will continue to get themselves elected - like the Peronistas in Argentina.
But were economic growth to slump and federal hand-outs to decline, state Labor parties would discover that they have painted themselves into a corner. Spending the money as it comes, neglecting the basic infrastructures, and with no coherent philosophy of government, they could easily find themselves in the dilemma of their Canberra counterparts, being unable to draw on any deep loyalties, any substantive moral position, so ... being judged almost entirely on how many pork-barrels they can fill.
But meantime, in Victoria's strange interregnum
, it is bread and circuses, cargo-cults and 500 days to the Commonwealth Games, after which ... who knows? Beads and mirrors?More on maritime terrorism
I know our Government must have read our recent piece on maritime terrorism (News Weekly
, October 9, 2004), but when will they do something about flags of convenience vessels?
Alas, they seem to have botched the introduction of their scheme, giving some of our pusillanimous neighbours and their resident demagogues a chance to abuse us - backed, of course, by the Australian media.
This simply points up Lord Palmerston's edict: "We have no permanent allies; only permanent interests", and one is the American alliance, without which we would soon become "part of Asia", as Europe is becoming, step by step, part of Asia and of Africa.
So ... a sceptical and vigilant New Year to all!