Odds and sods – part 2

Poor, old Britain

 While Tony Abbott and Alexander Downer yearn for us to be closer to Britain our societies are in fact getting further and further apart – at least according to performance data compiled by The Economist (17 December).

The Economist compiled data on a range of indicators comparing British performance between 2007 and 2022 with that of an average of the performances of the US, Canada and Australia and of France and Germany.

In terms of GDP per person (adjusted for purchasing power parity) Britain has improved by 7% but that just beats France and Canada and lags well behind Australia, Germany of the US which have double the increases than the UK.

Productivity on a GDP per hour worked basis has increased in Britain by 4% while Australia has increased by 16%, Canada 12%, France 6%, Germany 13% and the US 15%.

With median household income (adjusted for PPP) British is dead last and gross earnings as a share of the national average vary immensely between different areas in the country with Wales, parts of Scotland, Cornwall (despite the influx of rich retirees) and some cities which were previously at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution lagging a huge distance behind London and southern and south-eastern England (the areas where the Tory Party members who elected Liz Truss live).

Surprise, surprise

 A team of researchers has established that gender-diverse teams produce more novel and higher-impact scientific research.

Published in the PNAS Social Sciences  journal (29 August 2022) they found that “Science teams made up of men and women produce papers that are more novel and highly cited than those of all-men or all-women teams. These performance advance increase the greater the teams gender balance and appear nearly universal.”

Prompted by changing science demographics the authors studied mixed-gender research teams examining 6.6 million papers published across the medical sciences since 2000.

They found that the fraction of publications by mixed-gender teams has grown rapidly and the publication of mixed-gender teams are substantially more novel and impactful than then publications of same-gender teams of equivalent size.

They also found that the greater the gender balance on a team the better the performance.

Elon Musk

Elon Musk and Donald Trump have had a lot in common – boastful, hyperactive, convinced of their own genius.

Yet probably much to Trump’s chagrin, Musk is actually very rich – until recently the richest man in the world. Trump in contrast has never been as rich as he claimed and has a long history of business failures from casinos to developments.

Now Musk is coming back to the pack and has been overtaken by a fashion tycoon. Worse Tesla and Twitter shares are tanking at a time when he is being forced to sell off Tesla shares to reduce the debt he incurred for the Twitter takeover.

…and you have to wonder about his business sense when he tries to low-ball his own offer for Twitter and then, as any lawyer with experience in the finance field could have told him, he would be forced to proceed anyway.

If he now goes from the richest man to the second richest and thence to bankruptcy it will be tale for the ages.

Meanwhile, some recent research in shifts between October and November 2022 in net favourability of companies and political parties, indicate some of his problems.

Net favourability of Twitter among all US adults has fallen by 5.2% and Tesla by 6.2%. The pet project of another billionaire, SpaceX, has fallen by just 1.7%.

Looking at how political favourability preferences have shifted Democrats supporters had a fall of 18.3% in net favourability towards Twitter and 20.3% for Tesla. As Democrats are more likely to want an EV and Republicans a giant fuel-guzzling SUV that’s bad news for Musk if translated into purchasing preferences. In contrast Republicans net favourability of Twitter has increased by 5.5% as Musk has uncancelled Trump and changed moderation policies.

War Powers

The blog recently posted several articles related to his and John Phillips’ submissions to the Joint Standing Committee looking at how Australia goes to war.

This happened while, coincidentally, reading Barry Hill’s magnificent 2008 book the Peacemongers.

The book is part history, part biography, part Buddhist pilgrimages and study, part travelogue – all written with the style, insight and intelligence of a significant poet, thinker and writer.

Much of the book is devoted to Hill’s search for more knowledge and understanding of Buddhism and the Nobel Literature Prize winner, Rabindranath Tagore’s, life and work. At one stage Tagore may have been the world’s best-known poet, renowned for his work on disarmament and peace and an inspiration to many around the world. Today he is less well known than his Indian contemporary, Gandhi, even though initially he was probably far better known than the Mahatma.

Hill finds in the Tagore archive at Santiniketan – variously Tagore’s home, a school, a university an agricultural college as well as a museum as well as the repository for his archive – a draft of a paragraph Tagore wrote on the League of Nations.

It was one small analysis of the sustained international effort built on the post-WWI feeling that war should never happen again. Tagore was presciently scathing about the chances of the League doing any good.

At first the League’s efforts sounded hopeful. Preparatory work had been done in 1925 with regard to naval, land and sea power. The 1928 Pact of Paris sought to criminalise war.

The Soviets made disarmament proposals and from 1932 to 1934 representative of 59 nations conferred in Geneva for an international disarmament conference.  Ironically, given US policy in the 21st century, the US said civilization was threatened by the ‘gigantic machinery of warfare.’ The Germans wanted to totally prohibit bombing or at least confine it to combat zones – yet another irony giving events a decade later.

Franklin D. Roosevelt called for “the complete elimination of all offensive weapons” and said “no nation should send any armed force across its own border.” So much, of course, for US history in the Philippines, Cuba, Mexico and assorted other places over the centuries.

The mismatch between rhetoric and reality was too great and the next war was to be truly global and uniquely destructive with the detonation of atomic bombs over Hiroshima – and then criminally unnecessarily over Nagasaki.

In almost all of these countries there was no democratic discussions of the decisions which lead to all this death and destruction.

As Pete Seeger wrote and sang: When will they ever learn?