Mike Bolan Second, in a three-part series
PREVIOUSLY I explored some of the ways in which our centralised economy has grown to dominate the thinking and action of the major parties with the result that their policies are now sufficiently similar that many are calling them the LibLabs.

Political thinking and logic are driven by perceived needs (e.g. fight the bosses, save the environment etc), so perceptions of new needs that are unlikely to be met by the LibLabs may form the core of a new political movement, particularly if the ideas and policies appear practical and achievable.

As a results, it’s interesting to explore the opportunity for a new political logic to be developed around the emerging needs of the 21st century.

A new political imperative

A central economy requires big industries, massive resource use and huge investments. It also creates big risks, which are now being experienced as climate change and potentially unrepayable levels of debt.

These, and other risks, appear to be a direct consequence of a fossil fuel based centralised economy.

One of the great success stories of the centralised system has been the ability to increase production, which has allowed national populations to grow to beyond the normal carrying capacity of their resources base. Concentrations of people dependent upon fossil fuels and modern, complex logistics systems are now exposed to risk as water dries up and climate disruptions bring tempests, floods and fires.

We are now confronted with the contradictions that result from pursuing one major way of doing things and relying almost entirely on energy from fossil fuels .
The LibLabs, weaned on block votes from industry and unions, appear impossibly rigid in their approach to these problems, in part because of their close relationships with big business and their dependence upon political donors who themselves are reliant upon the centralised economy. (1)

Given the scale and seriousness of the problems presented by climate change, if the government cannot get that right because of political pressures, then other portfolios are also at risk.

The overall result is that the LibLabs have become like the rabbit in the headlights, frozen in the face of oncoming disaster.

The disaster of specialisation

In complex systems we learn that dealing with a complex, changing environment is best done by having many different responses, many different species and varieties, many different methods available to us. (1)

Modern transport and communication systems have tended to swamp other cultures, overcome new business ideas and dominate thinking and action in many parts of the globe. This, coupled with an almost fanatical focus on economics and finance to the exclusion of all other factors, have pushed the dominant paradigm to extremes. Complementing the headlong rush to specialisation has been the development of post modern ideas that focus on conveying the desired impression to the audience, rather than attempting to communicate basic facts and engage in real dialogue.

At least in part due to these factors, we have witnessed the rise of spin as a means to communicate to the population. The Qld government was reported as having over 640 media management staff, while tiny Tasmania has about 70. The focus has been on explaining failure as a benefit rather than communicating how to succeed, indeed there’s very little evidence that our governments retain the core skills to actually get anything useful done.

Our economy and our political system may now have become so specialised that it cannot react usefully to new needs and threats. Instead governments continue to apply the same thinking that got us into our difficulties in an attempt to extricate us.

In the end, we now have a kind of totalitarian thinking where one line of argument, one suite of conclusions, one means of expression are acceptable while all else is ignored or derided. Just look at the over the top response to Rudd’s s***storm statement, or the absurd fuss over the idea that Pauline Hanson might have once been naked.

Using a forecast

Another skill we often forget is how to use a forecast.

In the media, you’ll see all kinds of shock/horror reactions to forecasts. Many seem to argue that negative forecasts shouldn’t be made because they’d bring the system down (e.g. talking down the economy). Rudd himself even called a positive World Bank forecast ‘an outcome’. It’s wasn’t an outcome – it was an educated guess about the future based on a particular set of conditions. If the conditions change – the forecast can change.

When trying to plan, we need forecasts based on known conditions so that our plans are designed to take those conditions and possibilities into account. A forecast can notify us of a need to act to prevent that forecast coming true – as should be the case with many of the climate change forecasts.

So if there’s a forecast that indicates that your share portfolio may lose serious value, you can use the forecast to help take steps to protect yourself from such losses, or you can ignore it.

One interesting twist is that if enough people act on a negative forecast, the forecast can become false – for example if everyone acts to stop climate change then the grimmer forecasts may never happen.

Some new needs for new times

The main problems that appear to be beyond the comprehension or policy reach of the LibLabs are reported as climate disruptions, financial crises and problems created by rapid population movements such as a pandemic (ie. A global epidemic).

To start the process, I’ve used the basic 2 step paradigm of:
• define issues/problems to be faced
• identify policies/actions that might help mitigate the issues problems.

Our existing parties were formed to deal with the needs of either capital, labour or the environment. We have a different political party to represent each of these views, but no party to integrate all of them to provide policies that are consistent with all 3 groups of needs.

The Age reports (2) ‘The recent essay by the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, in The Monthly gives a solid clue to the general problem: old school political economy. It focused on ideological division between his party and the Opposition, and spoke to the past, not the future. Neither of the old approaches is going to get us out of the mess we have created for ourselves’.

A) Balance political logic structured around real world needs. We need a political logic that can balance between social, economic and environmental needs so that the maximum number of needs is met, and it needs to deal with the present and the future.

Each of our parties argues for their own constituency, and their policies are often designed to cater to those constituents. Individual voters are being left from consideration by the LibLabs who are focussing on big business, which results in many individual requirements not being met by government services. Examples include small business, aged care, health care, dental care and low cost housing.

Australia is comprised of Australians, all of whom are deserving of fair representation by their highly paid ‘representatives’, yet it has become clear that governments are more persuaded by their own party caucus and lobby groups while Ministers effectively speak for the public services rather than their constituents.

As Peter Henning says in TT (3) ‘…the challenges we now face cannot be meaningfully dealt with by a rigid caucus system which has a group-think approach to rapidly shifting realities, and diminishing or no sense of responsibility or connection with the people’.

B) New political systems need to represent all constituencies. in the electorate, and create systems that are both fair and broadly applicable, and that represent the broadest church of Australians. Help to do this could come from the internet where opinions can be rapidly and inexpensively obtained. Internet votes via computers and mobile phones could provide a rapid and useful view of public attitudes at any one time. Moving towards a real time, on line democracy could reduce costs and inform governments more precisely.

Big industry and centralised systems produce big CO2 and need big finance. These methods require transportation systems to ship huge volumes of minerals, foods, fuels etc. all over the globe. This exposes us to high fuel costs and unpredictable interventions into the supply system such as piracy and drought.

C) Stimulate a distributed economy. so that smaller groups can cater to local requirements in ways that best suit their particular patterns of resources, skills and capacities. This can easily be understood from the benefits of local food production and distibution. The US new First Lady is already planning a veggie garden so that her kids can have tasty, fresh foods (4). These local actions will reduce greenhouse emissions, create a superior sense of community and help to make Australian’s lives more ‘recession proof’.

Part of this effort should create easy opportunities for people to create local businesses (ie. Without all the compliance and pointless regulatory costs like BAS) so that they have a means to earn an income locally. The federal government is likely to have serious problems with such a policy because it would be seen to threaten tax income. In addition we need to be able to make more of our own manufactures – something impossible under government policies that see so many of our jobs and so much of our income disappearing offshore.

Poverty creates homelessness, increases crime and disease and consequently tends to stimulate huge social disaffection. We’ve already seen major riots and demonstrations in Greece, France, Ireland and elsewhere. Australians need practical ways to feed and house themselves.

D)Meeting real needs should be top priority. Governments need to be driven by meeting people’s needs rather than simply enforcing complex regulations. The LibLabs are committed to the existing regulatory regime and may not be able to consider other methods of satisfying social needs because they want to protect government incomes and lines of authority. Needed policy changes may include relaxing building laws for particular areas – better a shabby house than to sleep in the open. Embrace innovative housing types, grow food in public areas (e.g. nut and fruit trees), increase rail travel possibilities to allow people to move around inexpensively, create cycleways and so on.

Real security must include being able to look after our own needs. We should be able to supply our own food, water, energy and critical manufactures. Yet some of those vital supplies are under severe threat in many areas. Politicians talk about importing our food supplies despite a global food shortage and a sinking Australian dollar. Governments are still stuck on ideas of ‘free trade’ as an excuse to avoid helping Australia to become more self sufficient.

E) Reduce Australia’s dependencies on other countries. We need policies that support local production so that we can reduce our indebtedness to other countries and reduce costs of transportation. Australia can become a more highly regarded country by developing its own internal skills and capacities, in some ways similar to Singapore.

Australia’s system of government is far too costly and cumbersome. Our governments cost over 50% of GDP in 3 overlapping and inefficient levels, and waste more billions through error and ineffective policies some of which are compounded by overlapping responsibilities. If a global recession/depression occurs, then government receipts will go down and Australians will no longer be able to afford the kinds of expensive benefits and fat expenditures that have started to become the norm with government.

G) Restructure government to lower costs, increase efficiency and eliminate waste.

These are just a few preliminary ideas about the need for a new political logic in Australia.

We’re getting signs like the warnings for an earthquake. We’ve got lots of big rigid systems all attempting to create stability while change is occuring anyway. The resulting pressures are building up until some major buckling and moving event occurs, structures collapse and many systems are destroyed and damaged.

We’d be wise to note the signs and prepare for what may be to come, particularly creating new ways of living and organising ourselves.

A new political paradigm is looking like an essential part of our survival. Your ideas about what a new political paradigm needs to contain are very welcome.

Next time, some ideas about what each of us can do to help.

Watch this space

Mike Bolan

Mike is a complex systems consultant, change facilitator and executive and management coach.

1. Putting systems to work free download http://www.hitchins.net/Books&samplers/e-Putting%20SystemsToWork.pdf
2. http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/labors-dirty-coal-dependency-20090322-95ke.html?page=-1
3. http://oldtt.pixelkey.biz/index.php?/weblog/comments/wilkie-where-i-stand/
4. http://blogs.usatoday.com/betterlife/2009/03/michelle-obama.html