The Problem with Expecting Government to Lead Progress

The problem with our approach is that there is an assumption that our political leaders are our progress leaders.

Legislation and regulation cannot promote progress – all laws are aimed at controlling, limiting and restricting.  Where a law appears to provide a benefit and progress (e.g. education for all) it comes at a price that is imposed and enforced through legislation (i.e. taxes, which, if you don’t pay, result in you ultimately being forcibly brought in front of a court).

Even those laws that are “fair” come at a price to those that previously had advantage or privilege.   

Our political leaders are thus faced with an impossible task – to promote progress by imposing rules.

The underlying principles of a democracy are the separation of state (the rules that establish the country and how it is governed), the legislature (the parliament consisting of the politicians that make the rules), and the judiciary (the courts and legal processes that enforce the rules).

Significant progress comes from those that not necessarily break the rules, but those that figure out how to ignore the current rules and achieve progress regardless (or in spite??) of those rules.  The political leaders that are able to do that have various imperatives (ignoring the same ones as the rest of us – family, housing, etc):

  • Primary – to abide by constitutional and parliamentary rules that permit them to keep their jobs
  • Secondary – to continue to be endorsed by their political party
  • Tertiary – to get re-elected at the next election
  • Quaternary – to make the country a better place for their electorate through appropriate legislation

It’s no wonder they can’t make decent policy – they have to avoid pissing off the greatest number of people, rather than doing what is right!

For example, implementing laws that are aimed at saving the Orangutan by limiting deforestation, requiring certified sustainable palm oil plantations and production are only really effective if everyone covered by those rules abides by them.  There are always desperate people that can’t feed their families that are going to feel that Orangutan meat is a viable food source.  The only way to save the Orangutans is to:

  1. Make sure all the people in the areas where Orangutans live have all their basic needs met:
  2. Adequate housing
  3. Proper education
  4. Effective health care
  5. Meaningful (to them) employment
  6. An environment that holds a significant promise of a better life by doing something other than killing Orangutans
  7. A safe environment free of oppression and exploitation
  8. Implement laws that prevent corporations from exploiting natural resources
  9. Almost no more deforestation (where deforestation is necessary, e.g. building a train line, then massive reparations need to be made – e.g. knock down a tree, plant 10 more (not that that alone deals with the habitat loss)
  10. No more widespread and wholesale destruction of land in the pursuit of the minerals beneath
  11. The cost of remediating any damage needs to be factored into large scale projects and put into trust at the beginning of the project

Unfortunately, without the opportunity to profit from some sort of exploitation, many companies will go out of business and 1st world economies will crash.  Profitable business is based on finding a resource that is cheaply available, adding value and then selling for a profit.  It’s always easier to just chop down a tree for timber than it is to plant the tree, wait 20 years and then harvest it.  It’s also much more difficult (probably impossible) to mass produce clothing in a country with employment laws such as ours and sell them at a price that is competitive with the clothing imported from a country where wages and working conditions are much lower.  This goes for just about everything.

With so few Orangutans left in the wild and in limited locations, the challenge is large, but manageable (tongue in cheek) – probably only a few 10s of millions of people in Indonesia need to be accommodated.

Even in countries such as Australia where, few of us need to individually exploit the environment to take care of most of our basic needs, we:

  • Have higher expectations of what “basic needs” are (how many iPads, phones and computers do we really need in one house???)
  • As a well-regarded society with high living standards, more people want to come to our major cities, which pushes prices up making housing more unaffordable for the majority
  • With health care advances, the cost of healthcare rises, requiring more regulation and taxes
  • The general approach to investing and economics requires us to raise capital and provide a return on that capital.  The government is especially fond of saying that we need to attract foreign capital to allow us to build infrastructure and other costly projects.  They overlook one simple fact – the reason foreign capital wants to come here is that the owners of that capital expect to take much more money back out over the longer term
  • Ultimately, all “progress” has a cost and someone or something is taken advantage of.  The best we can hope for is that the cost/disadvantage is one that someone else is happy to pay (if scientists invented a drug that prevented cancer, dementia and heart disease, but that drug cost $1million per year, per person, then only the rich would have access to that)

With climate change, the challenge is much more difficult as the ultimate solution is to lift the living standards of all people throughout the world.

The elephant in the room is that, if you provide all people around the world a good, basic standard of living, then they will all want to improve that standard of living, adopting the issues of more advanced countries such as Australia.

Where climate change is concerned, in a democracy, the politicians simply cannot afford to take a long term view and implement appropriate laws.  If they:

  • Put in place a carbon tax that increases the cost of living for all,
  • Simply ban the use of plastics without the company that generates those plastics having to guarantee that 100% of the plastics will be recycled at the end of the products lifespan then pretty much all imports will stop and the economy will grind to a halt and we’ll all starve,
  • Ban the use of fossil fuels, more people will die from heatstroke (god forbid we have to give up our airconditioning), starve (how the hell would we distribute food throughout the country without fossil fuels?), and not be able to get to work,

Then there will be a backlash at the next election (or earlier if they lose the support of their party as happened last week) and the laws will get changed and adjusted.

Slow and steady is the approach of the parliament.  Don’t rock the boat too much. 

Australians seem to treat their parliamentarians and the parliamentary system as just another sporting arena – my party beat your party! 

I’m not suggesting we abandon the political system we have, but there needs to be a separate entity focussed on national and international progress.

All Australians (or all humans?) should belong to it and reap the benefits of it.