Population growth:

Roger Colman writes: Re. “Abbott’s population target will cost us hundreds of billions of dollars” (Friday, item 1). I think Bernard Keane does not understand that difference between per capita GDP figures (only a slight reduction of 0.02% pa on treasury modelling) and aggregates for his shrill “we’re short $170b” figure. Would I swap  minus 0.02% pa (for me) for less congestion, environmental degradation , and an increase in community cohesiveness — yes.

Just look at a little place like the Kingdom of Bhutan which measures gross National Happiness GDP, and is one of the foremost societies in preserving and measurement of  “good” social and environmental indicators  atop GDP measures. The lessons from that system of GDP measurement could easily be applied to Australian GDP, adding housing stress, congestion stress, environmental degradation, and falling community harmony just by sheer scale from  accommodating massively different cultures in one of the world’s highest migration intakes per capita.

Who wants what Mr Keane wants?, 2% in latest polling. If he wants to live with a lot a people, please send him to India where he can write his “I know better than you” pontifications. Don’t let the chap back though unless he agrees to a vasectomy to protect Australia’s environment.

By the way how does Mr Keane get his $7000 reduction in GDP per capita. Typical leftie, willing to exaggerate mightily. Well, a 0.02% gap per annum over 40 years is 0.8% of say $70,000 pa or $560 not $7000. It a pity we don’t have time travel, we could send him back to post revolutionary 1917 Russia where he can tell people that his view is right  for another 72 years.

Simon Biddle writes: In deriding the Liberal party for avoiding the impact on GDP of its policy to limit immigration, Bernard Keane, in his GDP at any cost approach, manages to completely avoid the impact of high population growth on the country’s sustainable carrying capacity and on its citizens’ quality of life.

At the same time he lumps all those who support lower population growth as being xenophobic, making no attempt to recognise that a significant number of people can and do support both multiculturalism and a sustainable population.

To bolster his argument he also uses the common trick of switching between annual rates and a compounded rate in talking of the impact on GDP. If Treasury estimates 2.7% GDP growth on a 1.2% population growth rate and the Coalition’s policy will result in a reduction of 8.5% of GDP in 40 years’ time then this implies an annual growth rate of 2.5% where we’d still be more than twice as “rich” as we are now (and that’s assuming Treasury modelling that far out is any more reliable than the garbage in, garbage out anti ETS modelling Crikey rightly derides). Hardly crippling.

Crikey and Bernard in particular needs to realise that this is a real issue that needs debating and they do themselves a disservice in trying to stifle debate by lumping everyone who wants a sustainable population in with the racists (who unfortunately are out there).

Glen Fergus writes: On the numbers in this story, GDP per capita is nearly the same under the low population case as it is under the high case*. Bernard Keane neatly hides that by swapping from annual growth rates to total GDP change at the critical point — presumably deliberately.  So he’s either pushing his private barrow here, or just ramping a non-story.  Either way, not quite what we’re entitled to expect from Crikey.

And why is it that Crikey regularly chooses to insult readers who prefer a lower Australian population?  Last time we were all racists (Worst. Editorial. Ever.).  This time it seems we’re merely xenophobic. Guys, I work with more people from more different places every day than your office probably sees in a year.  Give us a break.

(*The quoted 17% reduction in real GDP by 2050 implies 2.3% annual GDP growth instead of 2.7%.  So if the annual population growth rate falls from 1.2% to 0.8%, the GDP growth rate falls from 2.7% to 2.3%.  That is, both fall by 0.4%.)

Paul Hampton-Smith writes: It is strange, given Bernard Keane’s clear sympathy with environmental issues such as the Murray River and global warming, that he doesn’t like it muddying the debate about population size.  But the fact is that twice the population doubles greenhouse gas generation and water usage and any other negative environmental measure you may care to pick. Yes, it also may also double GDP … until climate change empties the Eastern states’ food bowl, and seaside suburbs disappear along with Great Barrier Reef tourism.

On environmental grounds, one cannot simultaneously argue that Australia should lead the world in carbon reduction, but not lead the world in population control.

The irony is that Tony Abbott, who thinks that climate change is crap, is proposing a population target that best addresses it.  Those who are deaf to the awful high pitched xenophobic whistle find the rest of the message sounds like a gentle breeze in a rainforest — what a wedge!

Rob Chataway writes: Bernard Keane gives no countenance to those of us who are not xenophobic but are concerned about population growth for a myriad of other reasons. In so doing he has just done his bit to muddy this discussion and insult the intelligence of many of your subscribers. You don’t have to be Dick Smith to realise that our continued reliance on population growth as a key economic driver has serious environmental and societal implications.

If we need to grow our population to 34 million by 2050 to maintain our current prosperity; what reason would there be to stop there? How many will we need in 2075, in 2100 to meet the needs of the business model Keane is so committed to.

How fraudulent this model is in its unwillingness to consider the finite nature of our material world and properly value negative externalities and the non-material factors that contribute to our well being.

Margaret Kerr writes: I’m not going to argue with Bernard Keane’s figures, but there are two ways we can increase our own skills without immigration.

First, we can invest more in training the local workforce. Second, we can keep existing workers in the workforce longer. As someone in the late fifties, brimming with energy and eager to get back into the workforce, it’s beginning to dawn on me that I’ve got Buckley’s. So much for the degree and years of experience.

Governments need to investigate policies that will motivate employers to hire older people, rather than shipping people in to pay the pensions of perfectly able bodied people.

Is the media appointing the government?:

David Hand writes: Re. “Rundle’s UK: Watford debates as Brown gaffes to disaster” (29 April, item 2). It was after 10pm when my brother rang from the UK to tell me all about “Gordon Brown’s car crash”, which turned out to be the now famous incident where he called a bigoted woman, well, a bigoted women. By the next afternoon, all election broadcasting was coming from Rochdale and the media were announcing on all channels that Brown’s hopes of re-election were gone.

As I reflect on this episode, I look in vain for any comment from the media about their role in this. After all, it’s possible that a couple of Gen Y media employees in the back of broadcast vans in Rochdale have selected the British Government for the next five years.

They chose to broadcast a private conversation that has sucked all the oxygen out of the Labour campaign.  It’s as though they were watching a race and as one of the competitors went by they stuck out a foot, tripped him up and announced that his fall has cost him the race because of course it’s his fault that he passed close enough to be tripped. It is a disturbing trend that the media, rather than reporting and commenting on politics has dealt itself in as a player, and not a particularly rational one either.

Elections decide who will govern us. They have a material effect on our lives and as such, are far too important  to be treated like an episode of Big Brother. In selling out to ratings, the news media has as a clique, lost all objectivity as the only thing that matters is the story.  It’s as though over the last 30 years, the culture has gone feral and the basic responsibility of being part of society has been blown away by the need for ratings and circulation.

As these decline with the rise of the internet and digital channels, the media has become like a feral animal, completely unconscious of its destructive influence on those around it as it consumes itself and them.  We have spiteful, irresponsible light entertainment shows masquerading as news and current affairs and of course, we have the worm.

This year, the media are bringing us a number of reality shows.  There’s weight loss, singing, dancing, cooking and a federal election.  Expect them to carefully select the players, and write the narrative, full of drama and sensation to keep us gripped.  This week, when some fool asks Malcolm Turnbull to “rule out a challenge to Tony” and all channels dutifully broadcast his evasion of this unanswerable question, we will be witnessing this unthinking, destructive clique continuing on its anarchic death spiral.

We must find a way to avoid being taken with it.

Suppliers of beneficial services:

James McDonald writes: Re. “The not-so-good news: housing costs continue to rise”  (29 April, item 21). Chris Joye wrote:

Contrary to what some commentators might have you believe … owning a home is a highly “productive” economic activity. No sane person would dispute this. When you purchase a property, you are supplying either yourself or another family with something economists call “housing services”.

Of course buying and holding existing homes then rationing them out to new families is productive. What sane person could doubt it?

What I want to know is: How come suppliers of some services get so much less recognition than others? Isn’t it about time some of these forgotten exemplars of productivity received a round of applause …

Larrikin Music:

Supplier of something economists call “cultural services” to the rock band Men At Work. In 1990, Larrikin Music obtained the rights to Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree, written in 1934 by schoolteacher Marion Sinclair for a Girl Guide competition, from the South Australian Public Trustee.

According to the Federal Court, Men At Work used a bar of the Kookaburra melody in their 1981 song Down Under. In other words, Larrikin supplied (in a sort of retrospective way) cultural services to Men At Work. The price is yet to be determined, but Larrikin is hoping for 60 per cent of Down Under royalties since 1981.

Sounds like a high price for a bit of musical punctuation, but anyway, what a grand piece of productivity by Larrikin!

Ticket scalpers:

Suppliers of entertainment services to the general public. Tickets for AC/DC’s recent Perth concert went on sale at 9:00am on 25 May last year. By 9.07am all tickets were sold out. By 11.00am, bidding on eBay reached $850 for tickets with $150 face value, supplied by scalpers such as “Jacinda4me”. Similar supply of entertainment services took place in other capital cities. No sane person would dispute that ticket scalpers are productive.

Somali pirates:

Suppliers of diversified goods and services to the shipping industry. These entrepreneurs supply vessels, the lives of their crews, and even appropriate cargos, to shipping companies. Taking on substantial risks and correcting some market inefficiencies, pirates are actually highly efficient suppliers.

Where else can you get such a full ready-to-go shipping kit for the typical ransom — err, price — of just a few million US dollars, with FOB (free on board) terms? The pirates also increase the value of insurance services, raising revenue for insurers.

A great example of productivity in a competitive marketplace.

Space prevents me from listing others. But please send in your own story about suppliers of beneficial services to society who get scant recognition for their productivity.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey