Roy Ramage writes: Re. “The return of protectionism: the gang’s all here” (yesterday, item 1). Bernard Keane argues against protectionism but offers little alternative in yesterday’s piece.

The old accounting adage that when someone gets rich — someone gets poor continues to be salutary.

In Australia, 85% of shares are owned by 10% of our populace. Retail and hospitality make up a third of our national workforce. This is often menial work with no real future. IKEA pays little if any tax here as their HO is overseas. TPG paid no tax on their $1.3 billion Myer profit. In our Free Trade Agreement with the US there are 20 pages of exemptions for the US including sugar and agricultural products. “Free trade” has seen our manufacturing shrink to 10% of 1976 levels. Our major icons have been bought and moved off shore where it is much easier to pay a Chinese clothing worker $120 per month with none of the benefits we have.

The World Trade Organisation is supposed to oversee the free and open trade between nations. It was formed among other things to ensure that members had rules and a fair go. Well it has not and we do not. We cannot even get food labelling right. But don’t worry the invisible hand of the markets will fix it. The markets have our best interest at heart. Globalisation is good for us.

How do we remain rich while China and India get richer? How do we keep what we have without it eroding any further? Ahh yes let’s be more productive. Let’s get blood out of a stone. What about importing cheap labour? Where are the unions and governments on this one?

Bernard Keane is right we cannot hide behind protectionism and foreign investment, especially in Greenfield projects is welcome. But sadly, investors prefer to buy name brands especially when they are cashed up.

Governments state and federal must remember it is not just private enterprise out there competing. Chinese governments including Singapore are also in the race and no one goes to the races to pick losers.

So if it can’t be protectionism what can it be? Can we have state and or regional representatives at the table when deciding with the WTO to import apples or must we continue to have a faceless few decide on our behalf and tell us what is good for us. Can we ask that if others are not doing as we do then why should not they not be penalised or their products penalised so that we at least maintain our position?

Suzanne Jedryk writes: This article misses the central point about protectionism — artificially keeping a currency low is protectionism is it not?

Well the Chinese are artificially keeping their currency low which makes it unfair for countries which float their currencies. In effect Australia, and the US and Europe as well, are not trading on a level playing field when trading with China.

Why have you not mentioned the issue of the artificially low Yen?

Very poor analysis.


Tim Deyzel writes: Re. “Google+ is a goddam Trojan horse” (yesterday, item 20). Regarding the article in yesterday’s edition, I beg to differ. Google Plus (and its real names policy) rocks!

Your correspondent Stilgherrian is on his hobby horse, railing yet again against a free service that s/he is not obliged to use. The ranting started with him having difficulties with Google Plus needing a first and last name (previous piece) and admitting that he had changed his name legally to the single word “Stilgherrian”. For someone who seems to write about the information technology sector for a living to express surprise/irritation at the difficulties subsequently encountered, is mildly amusing.

We live in a society which apparently allows the eccentric choice of a single name only, but other societies define naming conventions and yet remain valid democracies. France is the perfect example. Until 1966 parents were limited to a set of first names that were quite literally Christian names. This prescribed set of names was widened but still limited until 1993 when carte blanche was given to French parents to name their offspring as they desired with the proviso that the birth registrar can refer names to a court which can then veto the name if it could expose the child to abuse. Changing a last name in France needs approval at the Council of State level, so I’d guess that a single name in France would be all but impossible. If countries can set naming conventions (and many others do too), why can’t Google? If your name doesn’t quite fit their system, then fudge it a bit. Or don’t use their system.

Google’s one big hit in the social media department is YouTube. As a video service it’s fantastic but the pseudo-anonymous nature of the monikers (and perhaps its culture) mean that often bland comments on even the most innocuous video are picked on by the trolls and flame wars are the norm on the majority of comment streams. No surprise that Google is taking the diametrically opposite position for Google Plus — and what a pleasant, moderate, quiet, informative arena it is!

If Stilgherrian really wants to post comments anonymously (IP address tracking issues aside) he can always open another Google account — making up two names rather than one of course. Type “dog” into the G+ people search box and see how many dogs already have G+ accounts. It’s really not that hard to bypass the checks if you really need to!

Credit crisis:

Niall Clugston writes: Re. “Crikey Clarifier: why the debt crisis matters” (yesterday, item 25). I think the Crikey Clarifier has muddied the waters.

Regarding government debt, John Addis argues that “investors accept it because the money is invested in health, education, infrastructure and wars, which tend to be economically beneficial”. But all investors care about is getting a return.  As to being economically beneficial, infrastructure certainly is, education probably is, health probably isn’t, and wars are only if they’re short.

Addis measures debt as a percentage of annual GDP. But debt doesn’t have to be paid in one year. A more sensible measure would be the amount of GDP spent on annual debt servicing.

Finally, Addis’s international analyses don’t stack up. While Argentina might be paying more interest after its default, the important point is that it’s still being lent money, and its economy’s growing. And while China might be socially unstable, the remnant command economy could easily clamp down on inflation, subsidise local government, and redirect the economy towards domestic consumption. Australia’s problem will be if China decides it’s over its quota for steel.


Maire Mannik writes: Re. “First Dog on the Moon” (Monday). First Dog’s troubles with AMP and insurance deductions are very familiar. My Super fund is the South Australian state one and life insurance deductions are compulsory without the option. Every year over  $400 that could have gone into my superannuation is taken out for a life insurance policy I never wanted and it’s money I’ll never see. When I regularly contact them and complain I get told I am selfish not wanting my children to have money when I go. When I point out that I have no children and no dependents of any sort they revert to “well it’s compulsory”.

This is a nasty little vestige of John Howard’s beloved 1950s where all men worked and no women did, so every working man had to provide for his dependant wife and kiddies in case anything happened. In the present world it is s-xist and insulting. If I want life insurance I am perfectly capable of organising it myself.

In fact it’s a dizzying circular argument — it’s for my benefit as a female who must be financially dependent, but I’m not financially dependent so I have to pay to benefit me as a dependent.


Tamas Calderwood writes: Re. “Denniss: carbon price and the truth about ‘truthiness’” (yesterday, item 15). Richard Denniss accuses climate sceptics of “truthiness” when they argue that the climate isn’t changing, or is only changing in a minor way and that any changes probably aren’t man made.  He argues that such thoughts rely on believing that climate scientists are incompetent or fabricate their data.  He concludes by saying that “the atmospheric data … suggest we need to take urgent action”.

But do the atmospheric data really suggest that? Phil “hide the decline” Jones reported to the BBC in 2010 that the 1860-1880, 1910-1940 and 1975-1998 warming spurts (which combined led to just 0.7C of net warming in the past 150 years) were “similar and not statistically significantly different from each other“.

In fact, the data Jones provided to the BBC show the middle warming spurt from 1910-1940 was the longest (31 years) and led to the most warming (0.47C), despite far lower human CO2 emissions in this period. And then, of course, there is the fact that there has been no global warming since 1998.

Perhaps I’ve been infected by “truthiness”, but to me the atmospheric data from Phil Jones do not suggest urgent action is needed, that humans cause warming or that the climate is changing much. It would be good if Richard could therefore explain how it does.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey