Saturday, 24 December 2016

Autobiographical Musings

Would you ever consider writing an autobiography?

It wouldn’t be an easy task, the stringing together of 100,000 or so words in an order that may adequately describe one’s life.  So why would you do it?

Perhaps it is better to start with why you wouldn’t write an autobiography.  

Most people will never do it because they simply don’t have the skill.  It necessarily takes a writer to write an autobiography worth reading, but most of us aren’t writers.  On the other hand, those with the skill may not live lives they consider worth writing about.  Hence the propensity for biography rather than autobiography.  A good autobiography is likely to be written by a multi-talented person: someone with writing skills, but with a life outside of the study.  This is a combination not found in abundance (giving rise to the ghostwriting profession).

And while you may be a good writer with a good story, that isn’t enough.  It also has to be a story that you are willing to tell.

You can write a biography about anybody.  You can do your research, dig up lost information, connect the dots, present an interesting angle or thesis, and all without taking much personal risk.  As an outside party, you will likely draw on as much evidence as possible, and try to form an objective view as an observer would.

An autobiography or memoir on the other hand is an inherently personal affair.  You are the ultimate source of knowledge on the subject.  Any story you chose to tell cannot help but be ‘tainted’ by your participation in the event.  It is said that an autobiography offers the author the chance to recreate history, an impulse that most of us are too weak to fight.  How nice would it be to have the ‘final say’ on matters, to be the sole voice of authority on our life’s events?

Indeed, the obvious answer as to why you would write an autobiography is that you are an egomaniac, and perhaps a control-freak to boot.  Enter political figures.

How much you can trust your own memory is a question most people (especially egotists) don’t ask themselves, as to doubt your perception is to doubt your grip on reality - a very unnerving state.  We tend to want to believe what we recall, but our brains also tend to delete/modify that which hurts us most.  Thus, our memories often paint a rosier picture of our past than the reality at the time, but we are fooled into believing them.  To try and self-analyse in an objective manner is a tremendous feat, and we shouldn’t be surprised that autobiographies would tend to portray their authors in a more favourable light than third-party accounts.

But perhaps that is simply the price that must be paid in order to crack open the autobiographer’s head and feast on the goo inside.  In what is a voluntary account, one without guarantees of profit but with a degree of personal risk nonetheless, we are perhaps obliged to extend a little leeway to an autobiographer with regards to the truth.  Do you not want to be entertained after all?  Embellishment may be considered de rigueur in the work of an autobiographer.  So long as we are reading with full disclosure as to the inherently biased nature of the author (i.e. so long as we know we are reading an autobiography), are we really in any position to demand 100% factual accuracy?

As the movie disclaimer goes, the best we can hope for is something ‘based on a true story’.  You’ll have to use your own judgment after that.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Trump Insanity

In March and May this year, The Spear warned of a fraying social contract across the western world, and a left-leaning mainstream media that was out of touch with the mood of the people.  He’d like to say that prescience comes with rewards, but unfortunately there is a reason why they say  ‘ignorance is bliss’.

Indeed, ignorance is so blissful that many Americans are trying as hard as they can to ignore the result of the election entirely.  Protesting anti-trumpers are currently experiencing cognitive dissonance in the extreme, whereby they are displaying the very traits they are protesting against.

The protesters chant “Not my president” and call for secession, yet mere days ago they were lambasting Trump as anti-democratic monster for hinting that he may not concede the election.  

The Spear knows many who lament Clinton’s loss because “it’s time for a female president”.  They verbally bash women who voted for Trump as ‘backward’.  The fact that they discriminate between candidates and voting preferences based purely on gender doesn’t prevent them however from labeling Trump as ‘sexist’.

So insane have anti-trumpers become to somehow force reality to align with their worldview that they have recently taken to burning their shoes on social media.  Apparently destroying perfectly fine shoes made by one of the few companies yet to abandon the local community is the only logical thing to do at this stage, when your world no longer makes sense.  Moral outrage indeed knows no bounds.

The Clinton machine and the mainstream media have been very successful in portraying Trump and his supporters as sub-human monsters (a basket of deplorables).  The comparisons to Wiemar Germany come thick and fast.  His opponents revel in fantasy, painting a dystopian future of Trump as a new Hitler.  They have taken to wearing safety pins to virtue-signal as victims of imagined harassment, or to merely recognise those with whom they can engage in a ‘safe space’ echo-chamber conversation.

This kind of behaviour is reprehensible and divisive.  The only thing that will come out of it is violence, destruction and possibly Trump’s assassination, which the left seem to be genuinely hoping for by laying this kind of  groundwork.  They are not even prepared to give him, the democratically elected candidate of the people (despite being greatly outspent and yuuuge media opposition), a chance to prove them wrong.  They are scared stiff of the monster they have painted, and now believe it must be destroyed.

For those of us on the other side of the fence, there is no need for such insanity.  Trump doesn’t scare us, because instead of a new Hitler we see a flamboyant business man with nice kids who doesn’t drink.  We see a successful negotiator who is passionate about his country and its citizens, and thinks it can cut better deals with the rest of the world under new management.  Most importantly, we don’t see a career politician, and we don’t see a monster.  We won’t be hanging effigies, bashing people for the way they voted, burning our shoes, wearing safety pins or calling for literal murder any time soon.

Now ask yourself, based on the actions of their adherents, which worldview, Trump as new Hitler or Trump as successful businessman, is closer to objective reality?

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Singapore on song

On a recent trip The Spear was once again struck by just how successful the clean, green, family-friendly machine of Singapore appears to be operating.  Even coming from a first world country like Australia, Singapore seems to have achieved by benevolent political monopoly what Australia often struggles with: an innovative, modern economy.

So long as Australia continues to enjoy the comparative advantages of plentiful, easily exploited natural resources, such as iron ore, coal, gas and land, the impetus to innovate and diversify will be lacking.  On the other hand, commodity poor islets such as Singapore, Japan and Israel continue to outperform in higher-order areas such as IT, robotics and refining.

Australia could do far more to attract capital and talent, thereby increasing its overall competitive dynamic.  But for now we seem content on eating the low hanging fruit of rampant immigration, real-estate stamp duty, mineral royalties and viciously high income tax, all in a oligopolistic, punitive, heavily unionised framework.  

Our minimum wages are among the highest in the world, leading to higher levels of unemployment among the low skilled whose labour is not competitive at this artificially high level.  The Spear knows this because there are thousands of workers (often foreigners) in Australia who are happily/not-so-happily working for a fraction of the minimum wage illegally.  They do so nonetheless because it is better than not working at all, and the businesses rely on this cheap labour to remain viable.  So long as they are not being coerced, the employee and business are in a mutually beneficial relationship.

In Singapore there is no minimum wage, with individual contracts negotiated with the employer (Work Choices anyone?).  As a result, businesses are comparatively over-staffed (the stores were brimming with staff), and unemployment and income taxes are both lower (2-3% unemployment and a top tax rate of 20% > 320,000 p.a, with an average tax rate of 8% on the first 120k).  

Australia by comparison chooses a much more complicated system that over-taxes top earners and businesses and redistributes these proceeds to those which it has priced out of the labour market at the lower end.  This punitive system disincentivises hard work at the top end and promotes a welfare existence devoid of the benefits of work at the lower, and leads to incredibly high marginal tax burden on the middle class.  It does however enable the existence of a public sector which takes a cut of the taxation-redistribution administrative churn.

High minimum wages are just one problem area, yet they are symptomatic of the burden imposed on the bulk of the Australian economy by excessive regulation, which make it hard for businesses to thrive.  But what do you expect at a time when the prospect of starting your own business is heckled?  Sure it is easier said than done, but we should have respect for people who are willing to put their necks on the line and create jobs in the process.

Government largesse should be seen as the last resort, a safety net, not the first solution for our ills.  The Spear appreciates its necessity for essential services and the provision of ‘public goods’ with a free-rider problem, but the insistence on the implementation of ‘good ideas’, often with mountains of waste along the way, make The Spear harbour deep reservations about feeding the beast any more than strictly necessary.

Sometimes less really is more.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Monetary Abuse (Part II)

Bank of Japan Governor Kuroda feeling the pain of a stronger Yen

Exactly five months ago The Spear lamented the slow murder of money in this blog.  Since then, the RBA has delivered on The Spear’s portents of MOAR easy money, lowering the cash rate twice by 25bp, to an all time low of 1.50%, citing low inflation.
On the other side of the world, the most important central banker in the world, Janet Yellen, continues to sit on the sidelines, refusing to raise interest rates against the forecasts of most economists despite amenable employment figures and signs of mounting inflation.  Perhaps she is still trigger-shy after the yuuuge market sell-off following the last time she rose rates in December 2015.
Now, the craziest of the crazy overlords of money, the Bank of Japan, seem to have changed their tune somewhat.  The BoJ has shifted its focus away from the deepening of negative rates and fulsome quantitative easing, given the severe impact this is having on the profitability of its pension funds and banks, the mainstays of the Japanese financial system.  Instead it is proposing to implement selective control of points on the yield curve, which one would assume would require ‘open market operations’, i.e the buying and selling of bonds of different maturities, similar to how central banks set overnight cash rates.
It seems the BoJ is indeed approaching what The Spear previously alluded to as the ‘end-game’ of monetary abuse, whereby there are fewer free-lunches to be had.  Short-term rate reductions are exhausted.  ‘Quantitative easing’ via asset purchases is not having the desired effects.  Deeply negative rates threaten to destroy the viability of the financial system.  The next time a crisis hits, most central banks will open their tool-boxes and find them almost bare.
For now, the governments of the world seem content to wait until that crisis, relying on central banks to conjure up some new devices by which to stimulate ailing economies.  It however seems increasingly likely that fiscal stimulus will be the name of the game in the next downturn, as the central bankers are unlikely to pull a rabbit out of the hat.  But don’t be surprised if that stimulus needs to be directly financed by the central bank.  
In Europe, the sick man of Europe, Deutsche Bank, looms over the financial system, threatening a supernova that would put Lehman in the shade.  Sure, the banks are better capitalised this time around, but the balance sheets of corporates, households and governments are soaked in debt.  The banks may not require bail-outs, but investors may find themselves overly leveraged, precipitating a liquidity crisis.
Back to Australia, and the RBA’s new governor, Phil Lowe (a fitting name given interest rate levels), has kicked off his reign by telling the house of representative’s committee:
“If we need to increase spending in a downturn, the debt levels will already be high and we will not be able to borrow that much — this is what happened in Europe. So for the sake of our children, for our own sake and for the sake of having decent insurance, I think we need to be very disciplined about recurrent expenditure.”
Amen to that.  But it is likely a case of talking to the hand, cause the political face ain’t listening.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Partial Mark Society

In a hundred years time when historians look back upon the decline of the west as we know it, The Spear hopes they reserve a special chapter for the bastard who introduced the concept of partial-marks into our current educational system.
Partial marks, those marks given for each step of the problem solving process - regardless of the end result - have got to be one of the most well-intended yet ill-conceived concepts let loose upon society.  That children and young adults grow up thinking that close enough is good enough, that the intention to get the correct answer is more important than the critical output itself, sets up an entire generation to flounder when exposed to a consequential world, where results do matter.
Universities have never produced more graduates, yet you speak to employers and they tell you it is harder than ever to find good talent.  What people may find hard to grasp is talent has always been rare, in that it is more of an attitude and not something you can necessarily learn.  But in a society where everybody passes and standards are lowered, it has become harder to differentiate between those who thrived and those who were merely pushed through.
And those who do emerge on the other side with diploma in hand, for better or worse, are now more likely to subscribe to relativistic worldview.  Two students can answer the same question, get wildly different results, one correct and the other grossly off the mark, and yet the difference in their final grade can be minimal, and both will qualify.  If you grow up in a setting like this, how can your view in absolute truth and objectivity not be undermined?
In a society which rears its young to accept multiple perspectives on truth in an effort to spare their feelings, is it any wonder that we find ourselves battling increasingly relativistic perspectives on western society itself, whether it be in medicine (anti-vaxers) or culture (Burka-Bikini equivalence).  When everything becomes equally valid there is a loss of confidence in what truly underpins our society, and we risk throwing the baby out with the bathwater in an attempt to appease all points of view.
We mustn't let ourselves be fooled into thinking that what we are doing is necessarily right just because we get to enjoy a feel-good moment.  Sometimes the right answers are only able to be produced with a lot of pain, effort and sacrifice.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Colleagues wince as man takes ‘no question is a stupid question’ literally

Employees of a local finance company have reportedly begun to wince as it becomes painfully clear that one of their colleagues has accepted his manager’s insistence that “no question is a stupid question” at face value.
Sources indicate that the oblivious employee, local area man Steve Baker, has seemingly interpreted the popular phrase in a literal manner, in the sincere,  naive belief that his manager has his employees’ best interests at heart.
“The poor bastard,” stated one of his fellow colleagues after being a firsthand witness to the highly embarrassing and potentially career destroying faux pas.
“At first I thought he was just taking the piss, asking about a concept from economics 101.  But then his question came to an end without any signs of sarcasm or the hint of a smile, and I realised, holy shit this guy is for real,” his bewildered colleague stated.  “And the next one about the difference between the balance sheet and the income statement?  Wow.  Just, wow.”
At press time, Mr Baker was seen emerging from the meeting furiously reviewing his notes while his colleagues looked at each other sideways.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Sense & Censusbility

The ABS's new and improved 'hack proof' data collection method

After this year’s census, The Spear is left feeling a lot like a 16 year old girl the morning after prom-night.  The ABS told The Spear they loved him.  They told The Spear they needed him.  They told The Spear he could trust them and that they would never betray him.   And it all ended in tears.

The Spear feels like a putz.  His household dutifully completed its census duties early and honestly, before the gargantuan ineptitude of the ABS and its systems were made manifestly clear on Tuesday night.  He can almost hear the statisticians at the ABS sniggering as they review The Spear’s lone complete entry in their systems, “Oh my God, some doofus actually fell for it.”

There has always been an asymmetry in responsibility between government and citizen.  As The Spear walks along the platform of his local train station, the speakers dutifully prompt him to “exercise extreme care, surfaces may be slippery when wet.”  So while we, mere average citizens, cannot be trusted to walk for more than a few meters without falling over and cracking our big stupid heads, the government acts as if it is infallible.  “We make the rules, and we get to decide just who is breaking them.  Oh, and by the way, it’s up to you to understand and comply with them all, no matter how convoluted and inane.  Good luck with that.  Suckers.”

So while we were all threatened with $180/day fines if we didn’t complete the census on time, the government agencies themselves seemed to suffer a lack of imagination when brainstorming the possible negative outcomes from a failed census, if it was given much thought at all.  Only after the fact is the PM now grandiosely proclaiming that ‘heads will roll’.

Mr Turnbull may want to first check with The Fair Work Commission to make sure that those meeting the guillotine aren’t likely to object on the basis of race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, age, mental or physical disability, marital status, family or carers responsibilities, pregnancy, religion, political opinion, national extraction, or social origin, or because they were temporarily absent from work because they were sick or injured, or because they joined or did not join a trade union or participated in industrial activities, or because they exercised or proposed to exercise a workplace right.

He wouldn’t want to be responsible for creating the wrong impression, now would he?