anthonyhemm

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Empathy Economics

It’s a question that is constantly on my mind. How can the people making the decisions which affect so many people every hope to empathise with them all? As humans we are evolved to be able to handle social groups of 100-150 people. This is a phenomenon known as Dunbar’s number which looks at the size of primate brains to predict their social group size. This means that in larger groups, our ability to empathise and see the other members as human is SIGNIFICANTLY diminished. So, when we’re considering the people running the show – who are they surrounded with? More people like themselves. They constantly fraternize and bond with other rich people, business owners, influential tycoons and corporate leaders. If their allocation of people is filled up by this kind of class, how can they ever hope to adequately govern and manage the lives of people who DON’T fit in this social class? This is why it’s so reassuring to read about Senator John Madigan criticising the budget for lacking ‘logic, heart, vision, transparency and hope.’ It’s an admirable list, and precisely the qualities people are going to be needing when the economy could be facing even tougher times. I’d just like to see people of more humble, humanitarian bents running things and making these all important decisions. Is it too much to ask?

population

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More Time for Teachers

The latest strike I read about is one which is likely to affect the most valuable asset our country possesses.

This sort of news really riles me up because I can never understand the mentality of the people who allow it to happen. A recent story in The Sydney Morning Herald detailed how students of catholic schools in the city are going to have their learning impacted by teachers strikes. They’re striking because of the introduction of a new pay scheme which will impact teachers who are already performing extra duties without receiving remuneration. Whether or not the teachers deserve the extra money or a better pay scheme is a matter for another article, what bothers me here is the impact on the children.

stress

Forgive me if I sound too preachy but this is the situation as I see it. Unhappy teachers can’t help but bring their moods into the classroom. Children aren’t stupid and they will sense the frustration of the teachers. With friends in the teaching profession I feel like I’m one of the few people who can empathize with their situation. Support is hard to find with pressures laid on from students, parents and head teachers alike.

Progressive reforms in the way a curriculum is designed and taught are what’s needed, not an further stretching of an already over-stretched school staff. Common sense is what’s needed above all!

Seconds

Mmmmmm, delicious!

Gary Helou, the boss of Australia’s biggest dairy company, spoke out enthusiastically and confidently about the food processing industry. Claiming that now is a great time to invest, Helou spoke about the impeding high demand Asia will soon have for food imports and the excellent reputation Australia holds for producing high quality foods. But who exactly will benefit from the industry in his eyes? Recognizing that Australia has the 6th highest labor cost in the world, Helou advises ”We are high cost, but you build around that. You automate. You take that factor into your design calculus. You don’t design heavy manualised operating plants.” So this advice, although initially sounding as though the industry will bring good things, reveals the truth that the food industry is, in fact, being hijacked. Wealthy investors with enough capital to have robots produce the food will ensure that maximum profits go to minimal pockets. Because automation generally leads to cheaper products, our farmers will likely be unable to compete and have to close down. In the long run, we could see cheap low quality food replacing high quality food on our shelves. And remembering that corporations rarely take the healthy and well being of their customers into consideration, this could spell dark times ahead. Unless you’re investing all your money in food production that is.

Food For Thought

I’m going to focus my next few blog entries on a topic which affects and involves every single person in our country, food. The way food production has developed over the last few decades has seen big business swoop in to capitalise on this most fundamental of basic needs. Everybody needs food and therefore, if you can control the supply, you stand to make a huge amount of profit. Alongside the demand for food increasing (Australia’s population having almost doubled in the last 50 years), the technology used to produce our food has also seen rapid development. These days the food manufacturing industry is shifting evermore to automated methods with local farmers getting elbowed out of the way in preference of cheaper mechanized systems. In the last few years alone we’ve seen both McCains and Simplot suffering with job losses being either inevitable or a looming disaster. So what does this mean for the average person? Well, as food production is automated, jobs in this sector are going to be reduced. As food production employs a substantial portion of mostly unskilled workers, those workers are going to have to find work elsewhere. In my next post I’ll talk about the knock on health effects of this shift towards food automation. The Food Industry

Global considerations

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As I wrote about the seeming power 1 person can exert over the fortunes of a business in my last post, I will look to do the same this time, just in a completely different circumstance. Agricultural and chemical companies find their markets growing as the industry always seems to be developing. And right now with the increase we see in the industrial level of food production, it isn’t surprising when billions of dollars are being spoken about to build such factories. Incitec Pivot are already an established name in Australia, with new gas contracts for their Phosphate Hill plant in Queensland costing $50 million. In this world of energy, mining and chemicals, companies can operate in all sectors, and this is in fact one of the reasons why they have pulled the plug on their Australian ammonia plant. The booming shale gas revolution in America has led to cheap energy and a rebirth of the chemical manufacturing industry, part of the reason why it would cost $1.4 billion to build such a plant in Australia compared to $1billion in the US. It is worth remembering the scale of such worldwide micro-economies, as the shifts in balance have a knock on effect everywhere, often undermining anything governments and communities can do.

Tugboat time bomb

Business - BUS -  Port Hedland port

The production and processing of energy requires many parts of a puzzle to work together, and if these don’t work in harmony their own macro-economy will disfunction and in turn the wider micro-economy will do so also. From pre-exploration, right through to the extraction, delivery and usage of the differing types of energy, many different parties have vested interests, a fault at one small stage can have disastrous knock-on effects. It is no wonder then, that to effect a change workers still rely upon strikes to get their voices heard as the message goes further than the company. The company will have others that rely upon it, not just peers and consumers, but societies and economies. It is here that tugboat workers at Port Hedland have decided to strike. And with the place that the iron ore exporter holds not just in Australia but the world, the company are sure to listen to the workers as the effect it has on the economy will increase. In a time where we are lead by the mysterious entities of corporations, it is refreshing to see the power of people still showing its influence in such economic times.