GFC and GDP:

Keith Thomas writes: Crikey says yesterday suggested: “The most significant indicator is unemployment, which gives a sense of the human impact of the downturn.” I can’t regard unemployment data as serious let alone significant while the data are so self-serving to governments as to be meaningless to the rest of us. If a person works for an hour a fortnight they are not unemployed? Come on! Any criticism of the government’s definition of unemployment is dismissed with the convenient excuse that Australia is bound to follow internationally agreed definitions etc. OK, follow these, but the international agreement does not bar Australia from also defining unemployment in a way that is true to the human impact of unemployment and reporting on these figures.

Denise Marcos writes: Only a minuscule number of economists, or alleged experts, predicted the current fiscal global mess. Professor Robert Schiller and his acolytes were in a marginalised minority while the greed party raged and corporate jet sales boomed. Hence, it’s nothing short of a mystery why the media prints and broadcasts endless comments and predictions from the formerly blinkered economists, financial commentators, non-plussed politicians and scorched market players on when the collapse might correct. Those who failed to see it coming have no credibility after the event.

Charles Berger writes: Yesterday’s edition opens with a note on what a grand total of 21 of your readers had twittered about a flutter in the GDP. This led into the top story, which reported on falling GDP growth rates. The second story opens with a comment about GDP, and how a decline of 0.5% was bad news and the only real question was just how bad it is. Then the third story talks about, you guessed it, GDP — specifically, the political ramifications of the “cold hard fact that the economy shrank by 0.5% in one quarter.”

We know The Australian is obsessed with the GDP, but et tu, Crikey?

The most depressing thing I have read all year was a piece in The Age last weekend that estimated the bushfires would increase Victoria’s economy by $1 to $2 billion. Is an economy that grows as a result of tragedy, and contracts in response to virtue, really our aim?

GDP measures only the quantity, not the quality, of economic production. We know that it includes all sorts of things that boost “the economy” but harm individuals — things like disease, car accidents, crime, and environmental degradation. We know that it excludes voluntary work, ecosystem services, generosity, love and kindness. GDP measures “everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile,” as Robert Kennedy put it some 40 years ago. And we now know that movements in GDP can be deeply deceptive — it turns out that lots of notional economic growth reported this decade was based on the shifting sands of speculative housing investments.

Far better for us to measure directly the things that we know are critical to human wellbeing and happiness: the strength of human relationships, equity and justice, security, and the quality of one’s natural and community surroundings, in addition to the fulfilment of basic material needs like food, shelter and health care. Seen through the prism of these indicators, the recession didn’t begin in the last quarter of 2008. It has been underway for most the past two decades, with many of the indicators that really matter in steady retreat.

A response to the “global financial crisis” invites us to think about what sort of economy we want to rebuild. The French President Nicholas Sarkozy gets this: last year he commissioned Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz to head an all-star group of economists in devising a better measure of progress for France. (The commission is due to report in April this year.)

True, Crikey is generally better than most media outlets in its coverage of the economy. If I want zombie-like recitations of economic statistics or hysterics about trivial market fluctuations, I know which broadsheets to go to. Crikey’s economic commentaries are in contrast mostly thoughtful, but the focus on GDP now risks reinforcing the prevailing view that economic growth trumps all as a measure of social priority. Please stop reporting every dip and bob in the GDP simply because it is what one does.


Gabriel McGrath writes: The Qantas entertainment system (yesterday, tips) would use a server (a group of hard drives), just like a website. And — just like a website, if the server is underpowered, or there are too many users, then some users can’t connect.

Salvation Army:

Michael Byrne writes: Fiona Patten (yesterday, comments) and her ilk just do not get it! If the Christian faith-based charities refused to receive donations from sinners they would be both penniless and without purpose. But why should they deal with commercial exploiters of human frailty entwined in s-xual desire? Or perhaps more to the truth — exploiters of those devoid of the deeper love in life good old Eros should lead to in relationship.

Whilst feeling a bit peeved on the knock back, Ms Patten might take some joy from the exposition on eros by Pope Benedict XVI in his first Encyclical.. DEUS CARITAS EST .. an interesting read:

This is due first and foremost to the fact that man is a being made up of body and soul. Man is truly himself when his body and soul are intimately united; the challenge of eros can be said to be truly overcome when this unification is achieved. Should he aspire to be pure spirit and to reject the flesh as pertaining to his animal nature alone, then spirit and body would both lose their dignity. On the other hand, should he deny the spirit and consider matter, the body, as the only reality, he would likewise lose his greatness. The epicure Gassendi used to offer Descartes the humorous greeting: “O Soul!” And Descartes would reply: “O Flesh!”.[3] Yet it is neither the spirit alone nor the body alone that loves: it is man, the person, a unified creature composed of body and soul, who loves. Only when both dimensions are truly united, does man attain his full stature. Only thus is love — eros — able to mature and attain its authentic grandeur.

Executive pay:

Julian Gillespie writes: Car manufacturers globally are experiencing their worst sales in decades and likely for some time to come. We got a little insight from Fiat’s CEO Sergio Marchionne at the Geneva International Motor Show overnight concerning the restructuring and survival of his industry being delayed, or prevented, from initiating such straightforward measures like joining up with competitors to reduce costs.

He said, “This is the time to create alliances….despite the arrogance of the CEOs, the market is taking us in that direction”. Nice blunt assessment, but what didn’t he say while pushing his cart? Maybe that another obstacle arises where if you join with your competitor, you then end up with two CEOs for a distressed entity that can only afford to pay the perverse wages of one CEO. One CEO would certainly be out of a job in an environment where people are taking aim at golden parachutes with flaming arrows. Clearly mergers in this environment can possibly save shareholder interests, though they certainly threaten the continued interests of one endangered species — the overpaid CEO. Perhaps then there is a side order of greed to go with that arrogance as well Mr Marchionne, si?

Greed aside, and there certainly are other obstacles to mergers — just think of the civil insurrection we would suffer here were two of our local CEOs to conceive the idea of a Folden!


Peter Johns writes: Re. “Rundle: It’s 1984 in New Labour’s Britan” (yesterday, item 6). I love Guy Rundle’s work but he is wrong about Anti-Social Behaviour Orders. I spent three years working for Camden Council in north London as a lawyer and can assure him that only a court can issue an ASBO — not a council committee or any other body. A Council must satisfy a Judge that an individual has acted in an anti-social manner to the criminal standard of proof and must establish (to a lesser standard) that they are likely to cause harrassment, alarm or distress to members of the public in future. There is no breach of the separation of powers and natural justice is afforded contrary to his assertion.

I would be the first to agree that some terms of ASBOs are quite draconian (ie banning people from certain areas — thus making it a criminal offence just to set foot in that area in future) but that’s why there is judicial oversight I guess.

It’s worth pointing out that I never heard a bad word said about ASBOs from the vast majority of residents of housing estates in Camden Town and Kings Cross who were spared the regular experience (for instance) of finding the communal lift jammed open by a nocturnal visitor who had defecated in it and now lay unconscious in the corridor surrounded by syringes and other drug paraphanalia. Criticism was far more common from the other end of the Borough, say in leafy Hampstead, where people could afford to rail against ASBOs without having to live amongst their targets. My experience is that ASBOs really did work and worked best for those who had the least ability to stand up for themselves or make themselves heard in the media — ie. poor people in council estates trying to do the right thing from day to day. I’m not calling Guy a champagne socialist but it’s worth taking in all perspectives.


Verity Pravda writes: I see Crikey has seen fit to give Stilgherrian a reply (yesterday, comments) to my comment, even though he did little more than repeat the original statements. However, I’ve been stung by Twitterer Michael Meloni who wrote “Verity Pravda Vs @stilgherrian in Crikey comments today. I hear they are getting their own TV show on Fox.” That is the ultimate insult, but probably accurate.

So I am not going to respond again, no matter how many more outlandish Stilgherrian comments you run, until such time as anything really changes, that is the trials conclude or some legislation is introduced.

Note, very seldom is a double dissolution election conducted on the basis of the legislation that created the trigger.

Murray Darling:

Mike Dwyer writes: In response to Judy Holly (yesterday, comments). Eildon dam does not supply any water to Melbourne. It, together with other smaller dams on the Goulburn River and its tributories, provides water for irrigation in Victoria. This is consistent with dams on the principal NSW tributories (Murrumbidgee and Darling) providing irrigation in NSW. Some water is diverted directly from the Murray for irrigation in both states. I understand that this in accordance with federal-state agreements.

The pipeline diverting water south is being built in conjunction with a program to reduce water losses through seepage and evaporation.
Rational people in Shepparton — the greatest user of Goulburn water — are not fussed about the pipeline.


Scott Grundy writes: I agree with Matthew and Moira (yesterday, comments) that a lot of the interviews are boring at present. However for those who like a little eye candy the greater access could indeed be interesting.


Luke Hughes writes: Re. “Suddenly these plucky Sri Lankans are more than statistics” (yesterday, item 17). After apparently flicking through, Charlie Happell seems to congratulate himself on his knowledge of both foreign affairs and international cricket when he writes of the Lahore attack on the Sri Lankan Test Team. “In far-off Australia,” he hectors, “few people outside of the nuff-nuff cricket trainspotting brigade, have heard of many of these Sri Lankan players before. Sadly, those players will become known now not for their cricket prowess but something quite different.”

Odd then that such a sports polymath should misspell the names of attack victims Kumar Sangakkara and Thilan Samaraweera throughout his item.


Ignaz Amrein writes: Simon Wilkins (yesterday, comments) asks how we can get the general public to become numerate. I don’t believe that’s the issue, the general public is capable to use and understand numbers. The problem with using numbers to explain why we should or shouldn’t do something is the fact that the general public has woken up to the fact that numbers are being manipulated all the the time to push an agenda. Keep it simple, you want to inject this vaccine into my body, tell me what’s in it, like, what are the most common fillers used? Science doesn’t have all the answers and scientists have been wrong in the past, they usually just take a little bit longer to admit to it than Joe Public.

Send your comments, corrections, clarifications and c*ck-ups to [email protected]. Preference will be given to comments that are short and succinct: maximum length is 200 words (we reserve the right to edit comments for length). Please include your full name — we won’t publish comments anonymously unless there is a very good reason.