Taking a break

The blog is taking a break and hopes its readers have a nice one too. In the meantime – some odds and sods to go on with until the New Year.

The joys of Yiddish

One of the blog’s favourite reference books is Leo Rosten’s The Joys of Yiddish. The book is part dictionary, part encyclopaedia, part compendium of great Jewish jokes and part cultural anthropology.

The book sprung to mind when a report came from Canberra about Linfox transport magnate, Lindsay Fox. Lindsay, who does an enormous amount for the community, was holding a media conference last week in Canberra about leading business in raising money for the 2014 World War I Centenary. In passing Lindsay mentioned, in relation to government funds for car manufacturers, that “industry shouldn’t be schnorrers”. Sadly there were apparently few if any laughs and certainly none from Pope Tony. But the joke was actually doubly funny. First, because ‘schnorrer’ is Yiddish for beggar or sponger and is a disparaging term; and, second, because in the same week the Napthine Government announced a grant to help keep Linfox’s Avalon Airport going after Qantas cut back activities there.

Incidentally, when the blog worked (voluntarily) on the Australia Remembers campaign to commemorate World War II it was generally agreed, although not promulgated, that we wouldn’t seek sponsorship from Japanese companies. With World War I it ought to be different as Japan was an ally and many of the troops sent to the War travelled in, or were escorted by, Japanese ships.  We wait with interest to see the outcome this time.

Summer reading

Everyone – well Australian Book Review, the NYRB, TLS et al anyway – is publishing their summer reading lists. The Grattan Institute, which produces consistently good reports on a wide range of subjects, has produced its summer reading guide directed towards political, opinion and business leaders. The list is: Why Australia Prospered – Ian W. McLean; The Blunders of Our Governments – Anthony King and Ivor Crewe; The Smartest Kids in the World – Amanda Ripley; The Narrow Road to the Deep North – Richard Flanagan; Average is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great – Tyler Cowen; and, A Life Worth Ending – Michael Wolff (New York Magazine Article). The book details can be found at: http://grattan.edu.au/static/files/assets/aacfb546/501_summer_reading_list_2013.pdf

One of the more interesting choices is the King and Crewe book. Both have written a wide variety of books and articles on aspects of government. The latest is both very funny and very tragic in terms of the huge wastes of money involved and wrong-headed policies which were ineffective. What is striking is that many of the blunders were not political blunders as such but more a result of ideologically-blinkered official public service advice. For instance, when North Sea oil was being developed politicians raised the question as to whether some of the proceeds should have gone into a sovereign wealth fund or some sort of piggy-bank to fund other projects later. Treasury knocked the idea on the head because it represented ‘hypothecation’ which was by definition bad policy. Today the Norwegian fund is one of the biggest investors in the world delivering benefits to Norwegians every year while across the North Sea the UK has Third World infrastructure, declining oil reserves and not much to show for it all at all. The parallel with Australia is instructive and, with the forthcoming repeal of the belatedly introduced mining tax even less long-term benefit will be obtained.

The blog’s nomination for best summer reading for pollies and policy makers is Ross Garnaut’s Dog Days and it was delighted to discover the other day that the blog’s local State MP, Martin Foley, was planning to read it over the holidays. May he pass on his copy to many of his colleagues in State and Federal Parliaments.

Corporate dishonesty

We all know about the equal right of the rich and the poor to sleep under bridges and we are becoming familiar with the very unequal probability of rich (particularly bankers) and poor to go to jail for offences.

Tony Jaques’ Issue Outcomes newsletter always has things of interest and in his latest he highlights this paradox. Tony introduces the subject of 2013 and corporate dishonesty with the tale of “the manager at the Southend branch of the British Tax Office who was jailed in November for robbing the staff Christmas Savings Fund.  She managed to skim over £160,000 from her colleagues’ savings before she was caught and sentenced to two and a half years in prison.” He contrasts this sentence with business in 2013 which “has been a champion year for corporate dishonesty and the shredding of reputations. It also appears that the greater the sum of money involved, the less the chance of going to jail.” The newsletter can be found at: http://us1.campaign-archive1.com/?u=12234fd351f8df7c1f43248ea&id=6e0d96f05c

As Tony says: “Is it any wonder that the Edelman Trust Survey found 27% of respondents around the world don’t trust CEOs to tell the truth, with banking and financial services the two least trusted business sectors and the Weber Shandwick Safeguarding Reputation survey found the leading triggers of reputation failure are financial irregularities (72%), unethical behaviour (68%) and executive misconduct (64%)?”

In an earlier newsletter Tony looks at the Tylenol crisis case study and wonders whether it was quite such an exemplar of how crises should be handled as it has been regarded. His reflections can be found at: http://us1.campaign-archive1.com/?u=12234fd351f8df7c1f43248ea&id=5a81996406

Thoughts for the summer

Finally in the depressing atmosphere of Australia’s political and media culture two thoughts about the importance of civility and intellectual humility. The first is from the great US jurist, Learned Hand. It was cited in a NYRB review of Reason and Imagination, Hand’s selected correspondence, edited by Hand’s granddaughter Constance Jordan. Speaking in May 1944 at a citizenship ceremony he said: “The spirit of true liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias; the spirit of liberty remembers that not even a sparrow falls to earth unheeded…”

And, despite the blog’s atheism we like very much the comment of Pope Francis in La Civilta Cattolica earlier this year. He said: “If one has answers to all the questions that is the proof that God is not with him.” Appears he has met Tony Abbott and the stable of News Corp journalists.