Quotes from Hansard: Did Mining save Australia during the GFC? #aupol

Senator CAMERON—I note your opening address where you have tried to bring us back
to the key aspects of the government’s response to the global financial crisis. You indicated
that macroeconomic policy was principally responsible for the recovery. There has been a lot
said recently about the role of the mining sector in the resilience of the economy. There is an
argument being put that the mining industry played a pivotal role in the recovery. What was
the role of the mining industry both in terms of the resilience of the economy and

Dr Henry—I have heard it said on a number of occasions, in fact I have lost count of the number of times I have heard people say, including senior commentators, that the mining industry saved Australia from recession or, even in less extreme versions of the statement, that the mining industry contributed strongly to Australia avoiding a recession. These statements are not supported by the facts I would have to say. As senators know if one defines a recession as two consecutive quarters of negative growth then it is true that the Australian economy avoided a recession but the Australian mining industry actually experienced quite a deep recession on that calculation.

In the first six months of 2009, in the immediate aftermath of the shock waves occasioned by the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Australian mining industry shed 15.2 per cent of its employees. Had every industry in Australia behaved in the same way, our unemployment rate would have increased from 4.6 per cent to 19 per cent in six months. Mining investment collapsed; mining output collapsed. So the Australian mining industry had quite a deep recession while the Australian economy did not have a recession. Suggestions that the Australian mining industry saved the Australian economy from recession are curious, to say the least.


The mining sector, in particular, is a very significant beneficiary of some very large tax concessions, and these relate mainly to accelerated depreciation provisions. The mining industry being very capital intensive—it does not employ a lot of people; it employs a lot of capital—these provisions of the tax code have a very marked impact on the mining industry’s effective rate of tax: that is to say, they have the effect of reducing taxable income to a fraction of economic income which is a long way below 100 per cent.


[Comment:  I remain intrigued by the Left’s eagerness to adopt the language of neo-cons.  Left wing commentators take it as gospel truth that the mining sector was our liferaft during the GFC.  I hope the PR spin doctors were paid well.]

Dressed up like a million dollar trouper… What Amanda Palmer’s fail taught us about capital v labour in art

I’ll try to keep the background and sniping about how overrated Amanda Palmer is to a minimum.

Amanda Palmer teamed up with the extremely talented Brian Viglione to form The Dresden Dolls.  They had two good songs and everybody lost their shit about how wonderfully original and meaningful their songs were.  To show how wrong everybody was: they have two studio albums, one live album, and a ‘best of’ album.

A best of.  After two albums.  Seriously.

The career of Palmer resembles, in many ways, that of George Lucas.  With Viglione around to be brilliant, Palmers worst excesses were controlled.  Going solo, all the conceptual abominations were unleashed on to an adoring public with neither the culture nor the religion to resist it.

The result was a trainwreck of controversies.  The ‘Evelyn Evelyn’ thing was flatly disgusting with disability activists rightly outraged.  And then there was this (trigger warning):

In short, exploitation is the theme of the decade with Amanda Palmer and utterly nothing gets through to her that her behaviour is reprehensible.

Which brings us nicely to the latest controversy.  Palmer ran a Kickstarter campaign to raise cash for a new record.  Her goal was to raise $100,000.  24,883 fans gave her $1,192,793.  All well and good.

Having made over 10 times more than originally budgeted, Palmer decided to crowdsource backing musicians for her gigs, paying musicians in beer and high fives.  Understandably, the music industry cracked it.

People far more eloquent than myself have discussed the balls out craziness of this.  A particularly good one is this by In These Times’ Sady Doyle.

I think most of the people I know are fully aware of the silos full of vitriol I have for Amanda Palmer so there’s not a lot of use in rehashing that ground.   It’s more interesting, I suspect, to discuss what the whole thing means about capital versus labour, and minimum wage.

By way of an aside, there have been a few posts recently which make me sound like the most radical of Marxists (Foucaultian notions of power in language, Gramsci’s cultural hegemonies, and now class struggles…).  I shall correct that trend very, very soon but today is not that day.

Palmer tried to justify her position:

If you could see the enthusiasm of these people, the argument would become invalid.[…] They’re all incredibly happy to be here. [Source]

It’s an interesting advance in the field of logic: argumentum ad felicitatem.  Your argument is invalid because the people I’m exploiting are happy.

Is cultural production labour?  Although I wouldn’t consider anything I do cultural, I’ve produced articles, artworks, and given lectures for free and didn’t think much of it.  As far as I was concerned, I was building up my portfolio of creative output or doing favours for people.  In a sense, the recompense is being able to point to those things and receive credit for them when I put them on resumes and such.  I have even been paid in beer.

Loosely, my position has been: if the person receiving the work is not making (much) out of using my content, then I’ve got absolutely no problem with it, particularly if I’m acknowledged as the author.  I think that’s my position because it sits nicely with the fact that I’ve written for publications without being given credit but got paid to do so.  They were basically buying my moral rights.

In the Amanda Palmer case, she’s making a profit off the cultural objects of others but isn’t compensating them for it.  The amount she earns from their performance is more than the cost of a beer and a high five.

We’ve moved into a space of ‘cultural object as commodity’ and that’s where I think things get messy.

Imagine a person, Jonas, lives in the war-torn Peoples Democratic Republic of Craptopia and flees across the border to Markopolis (according to local politician Ttocs Sonmorri, Markopolis should bring back Temporary Protection Visas… cough).  Jonas loves it in Markopolis and really doesn’t want to go back to Craptopia.  Jonas doesn’t have many marketable skills (he studied a BSc at the University of Craptopia) and so needs to find low-skilled work.  Fortunately, construction company Remlap Industries doesn’t want to pay minimum wage…

When Remlap’s exploitation of Jonas and other people in Jonas’ position is splashed across the front pages of Markopolis’ media sites, Remlap says: ‘If you could see the enthusiasm of these people, the argument would become invalid. They’re all incredibly happy to be here.’

Even if people are happy to be exploited, should we permit the exploitation?  One might wonder who defines ‘exploitation’ here and one would be missing the point.

While the musicians were happy to gift their labour to Amanda Palmer, it was still exploitative and Amanda Palmer should feel bad for being an exploitative person.

What’s funny about this situation is that Amanda Palmer literally becomes the Gina Rineheart of the music industry: ‘if people want to work for $2 a day in my coal mine of a music industry, they should be allowed to…’

There’s a second group of people for whom we should have some consideration: the musicians who rely on trading their labour for payment in order to make a living.

I don’t donate to ‘Build Houses in the Third World’ charities although some of my friends are completely agog with them.  People in the developing world need houses and people in the developed world need to find an increasingly varied number of ways to feel like they’re making the world a better place.  Thus — runs the thinking of the scheme organisers — why not get the people in the developed world to donate their time to building houses for people in the developing world?

People do this with absolutely the best intentions (hi, friends!) and I don’t begrudge them for doing it, but what they’ve effectively done is flooded a market with exceptionally cheap labour (free labour) thus undercutting all the local builders.

This is why, following natural disasters in Victoria and Queensland, the government pumped funds into the local markets to increase the purchasing power of people who’d lost their homes.  They were able to spend that money on labourers and tradesfolk in the local area.  In effect, it was a form of economic stimulus.

What the government didn’t do was hire a bunch of labourers from, say, the Pacific Islands to come and rebuild everybody’s houses for free.

By crowdsourcing free musicians, Amanda Palmer trashed the creative economies of the areas in which she’s playing.  There are a finite number of venues, and very few of them get packed full enough to pay a decent gig fee.  Not only was she planning on using free labour, she was also using up an opportunity for a local musician to get a paying gig at the venue she used.

Amanda Palmer is a terrible person.  While she’s just as overrated as Neil Gaiman, at least Neil doesn’t have the overbearing sense of entitlement.  Where she once championed the alternative and subversive, she has now completely assimilated into the exploitative nature of the music industry — the same exploitation she cried about in the song ‘Please Drop Me’.

Well done, Palmer.  You’re now a corporate dick.

Running around, robbing banks, all whacked on the Scooby Snacks… Wait! Hippies robbing banks?! Isn’t that socialism?!

Far be it from me to besmirch the mighty boffins at the Institute of Public Affairs

Wait.  You haven’t heard of them?  But they provide such excellent opinions, such as

— but there comes a time when you have to scratch your head and ask: ‘In which libertarian wet dream are you living, Chris Berg?’

In an article for The Drum, Berg takes a vague and pointless swipe at ‘growth sceptics‘.  The assertions ranged from the absurd to the crazy.

Growing richer means getting healthier. People in wealthy countries live longer – this graph, which compares GDP per capita with life expectancy demonstrates that clearly enough. — Berg.

The graph is worth a look.  It charts life expectancy at birth against the GDP per person adjusted for purchasing power.  Take a look again and notice the x-axis.

This isn’t a straight line correlation at all.  Check out how close together 1,000 and 2,000 are compared to 5,000 and 10,000.  If you tease out the numbers with a consistent x-axis, you note that everything goes all over the shop and that beautiful line vanishes.

What the graph actually shows is that there are no high life expectancy countries which are poor.  What it doesn’t show is that growing richer means getting healthier.  If it did show that, there’d be a straight line correlation and countries like South Africa and Equatorial Guinea would be placed higher on the y-axis. Continue reading “Running around, robbing banks, all whacked on the Scooby Snacks… Wait! Hippies robbing banks?! Isn’t that socialism?!”

Oh Lordy, you’ve been stealing from the thieves and you got caught… Welcome to the future of banks

I’m watching The Colbert Report on ABC2 and listening to Eugene Jarecki get very passionate about how we should shun the larger banks in favour of community banks.  In fairness to him, his argument is specifically about the USian banking system and the problems with their financial sector are complex and diverse.

In Australia, we have a different question facing us: is our current banking system doing what we want it to do?  Over on The Drum, Patrick McConnell has argued that the Four Pillar system we have here won’t meet our future expectations and so we should dismantle the current system with a national bank.  The idea is that we don’t need the physical infrastructure necessary to banking establishments of the past.  Instead, the national bank could be mostly web-based, supplemented with light support from the Australia Post offices already scattered across the country.

It’s not a bad idea.

The government took up the opportunity of the Silly Season to announce that they were going to create one stop shops for client service offices (like Medicare and Centrelink).  Provided they adjust the infrastructure to cope with the increased traffick for those offices, this is a brilliant idea.  It also provides an excellent framework into which you could add a nationalised banking system.  Instead of taxing the already stretched post system, McConnell’s idea would find a much better home in these one stop shops.