Notes for our grandchildren

Sir Paul CallaghanNew eyes to see

A few years ago I met a great New Zealander, Professor Paul Callaghan. He opened my eyes to new ways of looking at our world. It was a mixed blessing; he condemned me to a future of enlightenment on the one hand, and frustration, anger, and despair on the other. Dr Callaghan, a physicist from Wellington’s Victoria University, had recently been made a Fellow of the Royal Society. When he hopped on the plane to return to New Zealand after picking up the award, he also picked up a book called “The Undercover Economist”. In doing so, he changed the direction of his life. Mine too. I’ve talked about Paul and his must-see presentation “Beyond the Theme park and the Farm Gate” here. Although it’s about New Zealand’s economic decline; why it’s happening, and how to reverse it, his conclusions are relevant to non-Kiwis, anyone who wants to understand the requirements for prosperity in an economy.

Dr Callaghan was knighted not long after I met him; then he was made New Zealander of the year in 2011; and the Labour Party had him as keynote speaker at their annual talkfest. He was a great New Zealander who understood where our country is going wrong; why 500,000 of us live in Australia; and what’s required to fix the problem. New Zealand isn’t awash with people I have great respect for. Sir Paul was definitely one.

I was enlisted to help him set up a website to promote his message, but he lost his battle with cancer and died, far too soon, in 2012.

Our politicians of all stripes thought enough of Sir Paul’s work to honour him, but they’ve never acted upon it. He motivated me to learn as much as I could about what’s going wrong in our country and on our planet. Here’s some of it:

When the world was young…

One of my earliest memories is of the VJ day parade in Dunedin, a celebration of the surrender of Japan and the end of World War II. I stood outside Whitcombe and Tombes on George Street listening to the bagpipes and watching someone in the parade pushing a hand cart which carried an effigy of Hitler’s body sans arms, legs and head. I was 4 years old but 70 years later I can still see it clearly. At that age children don’t usually understand much about political events, but the time between the start of World War I, the terrible influenza epidemic, and the end of World War II (with the catastrophe of the Great Depression squeezed in between) was so cataclysmic and all-pervasive that even small children probably had an inkling of what was going on, and well knew who Hitler was.

VJ day in DunedinMy generation’s childhood was dominated by that war long after it was over. Most adult men were veterans of at least one war; my best friends Onno and Ingrid were refugees from a devastated Europe and their parents told of wonderful things like eating rats and cats to survive; in those pre-TV days the movies, the news, and even the comics were about “The War”: the Dam Busters, Rockfist Rogan, Nazis, Tommies, Yanks, and Japs. Winston Churchill and Hitler, Berlin, London, and Hiroshima all loomed large in our young lives. Meat and butter were rationed so that we could send vast quantities of produce “Home” to England.

At the end of it all we had a new United Nations, a booming world economy, unbounded optimism and the general idea that we’d learned our lesson. The age of war was over.

Yeah, right.

We no sooner got over World War II than my friends’ older brothers were off to fight in Korea; then the Soviets joined the big boys’ club when they developed their own hydrogen bomb. We had a few decades of brinkmanship; the constant threat of nuclear Armageddon pervaded the media and our lives. The Mother Earth News was full of information about how to survive when it all hit the fan.

We now had bombs thousands of times more powerful than those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and a suitably insane acronym for the thermonuclear standoff between the capitalist good guys, and the socialist evildoers who had been our allies just a few years earlier.  MAD; Mutually Assured Destruction.

Good job guys.

Just before my 17th birthday I joined the navy, which meant that I spent a large chunk of the next 20 years separated from my family and as a small cog in the machine whose task was to staunch the “Domino Effect” which would allegedly have led to the evil communists toppling the South East Asian nations one by one and ultimately, us. The communist insurgency in Viet Nam resulted from a cockup of monumental proportions brought on by the Western Allies’ duplicity during WWII, but I and my friends swallowed the party line and would cheerfully have volunteered for service in Vietnam if our ships had been called upon to join the fray.

We had four frigates at the time, and according to the rumour mill, our politicians weren’t up to risking a quarter of the navy, so the token army battalion went alone.

Alan Henderson in Taranaki's engine room
The Universal Soldier. Chief Petty Officer Henderson on the main engine throttles HMNZS Taranaki.

Much later, I discovered that during the Second World War we promised Ho Chi Minh that we’d protect his country if he took our side against Japan. We vowed not to let the old colonial masters re-enslave his people. He helped us, then we threw his country back to the French wolves. No wonder he was pissed off.

The news media never mentioned that in their breathless support of righteous murder.

Decades later I was Chief Engineer in the m.v. Maersk Cloud, one of the first ships to nose through the thick black smoke of the burning oil wells to take desperately needed replacement vehicles into Kuwait after the first Gulf War. The same Kuwait whose citizens, along with those of the United States’ other bosom buddies, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, are now funding the ISIS terrorists; a nasty bunch who have been created by our own continuing failure to keep our noses out of other people’s business.

In the name of spreading freedom and democracy we’re murdering children and we can’t even get that wonderful freedom and democracy to work for ourselves.

I’ve visited the Peace park in Hiroshima twice. I recommend it if you have a chance. Ring the Peace Bell. It’s cathartic.

I’ve stood at ground zero. If that doesn’t adjust your perspective you need a soul transplant:

ground zero monument hiroshima
Ground Zero

Later still, I watched in incredulous and horrified fascination as George W. Bush and Tony Blair hatched their unbelievably stupid plan to attack Saddam Hussein’s Iraq after Bush’s father’s administration botched the first, slightly more justified effort. We should have let Saddam Hussein have Kuwait. Better still, if we’d kept our noses out in the previous century the need would not have arisen. If you have a look at a map of the region you’ll see why he thought it was part of Iraq, and if you study Kuwait’s recent history you’re not likely to have much sympathy for their cause.

I hoped we’d learn.

We don’t and we haven’t. The Mother Earth News is still pushing the survival message. No longer because of the receding nuclear threat, but because of a distinctly possible further economic meltdown, the inevitable resources crunch, the arrival of peak oil, and the ever more inevitable catastrophe of climate change. Every day we delay on addressing climate change means an even more damaging outcome for my grandchildren.

Government? What government?

The processes which have brought on successive periods of boom and bust for centuries are regularly forgotten by long-suffering voters and by our self-serving political leaders. The politicians continually refuse to plan beyond the next election cycle, and through ignorance or apathy we voters, who have the collective capacity to force change, allow them to set us up for the next disaster before the last one is cold in the ground.

When things turn pear-shaped people love to find someone to blame. In a few years’ time they’ll be pointing the finger at my generation and asking us why we let our planet burn, why we didn’t fix the global financial system, and why, here in New Zealand, we allowed the richest, most fortunate nation on the planet to sink into economic incompetence and into relative poverty.

If I’m still around I’ll probably be reduced to saying, “I did my best to stop it but nobody listened and nobody cared. And that includes you.” I hope I’ll be able to say, “I made my children and my grandchildren aware, I helped to open their eyes to the things I wish I’d learned fifty years earlier, I left them with the option of preparing for what’s to come.”

It would be even better to be able to say that I helped someone to make the difference that I set out too late to accomplish myself.

I spent most of my life believing that socialism was bad and capitalism good. I was sucked into the belief that right-wing/conservative/Republican politicians were on the side of the angels and that the left-wing/Liberals/Socialists were dangerous dreamers. “Trickle down theory” and “The market knows best” made logical sense. It’s embarrassing to confess that it took me 40 years of adulthood to realise that I’d been conned. The Left were often wrong, but no more so than an unfettered Right.

It should not be about Right and Left. It should be about Right and Wrong.

“Under democracy one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule – and both commonly succeed, and are right.

H L Mencken

Neither political extreme has the answers. The adversarial system of party politics is no longer working in most democracies. Certainly not in the English-speaking “old Commonwealth” countries, and most definitely no longer in the country which I remember as the hope of the world, the United States of America.

Before the 2011 New Zealand elections I was looking for a political party which had the answers. I resolved to join the best of them and to agitate for change from within. Then I realised that without fundamental societal change there’s never going to be a party with the answers. The problem isn’t the political parties, it’s the people controlling those parties; the political system, and it’s the ignorance and apathy of the voting (and even more, the non-voting) public.

We have what the Americans term “government of the people, by the people”. Participatory Democracy. Unfortunately, the people are too apathetic and ill-informed to govern their own lives, let alone everyone else’s. I fear a large proportion are also too damn stupid.

The much-idolised Winston Churchill was actually a nasty little man who did a lot of damage during his long career, but his silky tongued oratory inspired the world in its “darkest hour” and helped to win the war for democracy.

I doubt that his heart was in it:

“The best argument against democracy is a 5 minute converation with the average voter.”

Sir Winston Churchill

Politics is broken. Democracy is a monumental failure. The great unwashed masses have been given the vote, but despite each one of us being in possession of a brain—the most astounding assemblage of matter in the known universe—collectively, we’re infallibly dim-witted.

No political party, old or new, is going to fix the mess that New Zealand, or any other nation, is in during my lifetime. And not in yours either unless you initiate radical change.

The media aren’t any help. In part because most of their people don’t understand the problem, but mainly because the various media companies are owned by the 0.01% who have a vested interest in keeping things as they are. Rather than educating the voting public with serious current affairs and educational programs they churn out ever more ghastly brain-numbing garbage.

What is needed is voter education but that’s nigh on impossible. Here’s an extract from an article “How bad is it?” in The New Inquiry:

Here is a sample of factlets from surveys and studies conducted in the past twenty years.

  • Seventy percent of Americans believe in the existence of angels.
  • Fifty percent believe that the earth has been visited by UFOs;
  • in another poll, 70 percent believed that the U.S. government is covering up the presence of space aliens on earth.
  • Forty percent did not know whom the U.S. fought in World War II.
  • Forty percent could not locate Japan on a world map.
  • Fifteen percent could not locate the United States on a world map.
  • Sixty percent of Americans have not read a book since leaving school.
  • Only 6 percent now read even one book a year.
  • According to a very familiar statistic that nonetheless cannot be repeated too often, the average American’s day includes six minutes playing sports, five minutes reading books, one minute making music, 30 seconds attending a play or concert, 25 seconds making or viewing art, and four hours watching television.

Among high-school seniors surveyed in the late 1990s,

  • 50 percent had not heard of the Cold War.
  • Sixty percent could not say how the United States came into existence.
  • Fifty percent did not know in which century the Civil War occurred.
  • Sixty percent could name each of the Three Stooges but not the three branches of the U.S. government.
  • Sixty percent could not comprehend an editorial in a national or local newspaper.

See the full article right here.

I remember a survey a few years ago where a significant number of young Americans didn’t even know who their own president was. These are the people who decide who runs the United States of America. These are the ignoramuses who elect the government of the most powerful nation the world has ever seen. Their political choices have at least as much effect on our lives here in New Zealand as our own political choices do.

The US now spends more on defence than the rest of the world put together; more than half of their budget. Imagine what could be accomplished if those trillions of dollars were invested in addressing America’s and the world’s real problems rather than in creating more.

OK, I hear you cry, that’s the USA, New Zealand’s different.

Not so much, I’m afraid. From my own website in 2010: a poll of sixty 18–24 year-olds by the Dominion Post:

  • They all identified the Tsarina (previous Prime Minister Helen Clarke), not surprising in that she’d opened every kindergarten and school fair in the country for 9 years – as long as it was televised.
  • Almost half couldn’t identify Prime Minister John Key.
  • A whole 2 of the 60 picked out Green Party co-leader Dr Russell Norman.
  • Just 7 of these 60 Wellingtonians could identify long-time Wellington Central MP Marian Hobbs.
  • A third year political studies student thought Maori Party co-leader Dr Peter Sharples, a prominent, influential, and good man, was a Labour MP.

These people decide elections. It’s a worry. Little wonder a vanquished schoolteacher on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” was ignorant of David Lange’s “uranium on the breath” quote. We’d be lucky if any Antipodean under 40 knew who he was.

Where to?

In order to make intelligent choices about whom to vote for we all need to understand the difference between supply and demand side economics, opportunity costs, exponential growth, limits to growth.

The Basics

In order to appreciate the looming problems which will affect you, your children, and your children’s children, there are a few things you need to understand:

“Do you not know, my son, with how little wisdom the world is governed?”
Axel Gustafsson Oxenstierna af Södermöre

  • Our leaders are totally out of touch,
  • Politicians world-wide are totally ineffective for several reasons:
    • They don’t understand economics
    • I’ll qualify that. Some of them might have an inkling, but they subsume any understanding in deference to political expediency and to party dogma. It’s all about winning the next election. It’s been a shock to me as I’ve studied the problems we face to discover that most economists don’t understand economics either.
  • They don’t understand growth. Most people don’t.

Limits to growth; a no-brainer unless you’re a politician or an economist

Before you can understand exactly where we’re going wrong on all fronts you need to spend an hour of your time watching a video. It’s about 20 years old, of poor visual quality, and it was made by a university professor even older and more doddery than myself.

Four million people have watched this old guy talking about arithmetic on Youtube. What’s the deal?

It’s justifiably titled “The Most Important Video You’ll Ever See”.
Those of you who paid attention in mathematics class will know about the exponential function. If you slept through that day, never fear. The late Dr Al Bartlett explains exponential growth in a non-technical and interesting way which any moderately intelligent person can comprehend.

Even if you understand the exponential function already, please watch the video. The professor puts it in context and will open your eyes to the mind boggling consequences of both the limits imposed on economic growth, and the abysmal ignorance of the people who making growth decisions on your behalf.

Find the video right here.

The unnecessary tyranny of debt

A while back, one of my beautiful granddaughters and her husband Scott came to visit. Scott and I had a conversation about money. I asked him “Where does the stuff come from?”. It took me nearly 70 years to figure it out, and most people never do, so it was no great surprise that even a well-informed and intelligent young man like Scott would be a little sceptical of my conclusions.

Everyone knows that money is created by the Government. Right?

It’s the Bank of England, the Federal Reserve, the Reserve Bank, the ECB, or some other such august organisation. Right?

Wrong.

  • It’s mostly created out of thin air by private banks, whenever you enter a loan agreement, 90% or more of the money is created by the bank out of thin air.
    • Don’t believe me? Click here to check my post out, it includes links to written admissions of guilt from central banks as well as an animated documentary explaining the system.
      It’s a long-term conspiracy in plain sight.
  • The central banks generally only create currency. Not lending money.
  • It’s a system designed to fail.
  • It’s immoral.
  • It isn’t working.
  • It can be fixed.
  • It won’t be fixed.
    • Not unless you start a revolution.

The Planet

Of this I’m certain. Despite the ravings of qualified, and unqualified, “experts” like Leighton Smith, Judith Curry, Bjorn Lomborg, and Fox News; anthropogenic climate change is indisputable.

If we don’t change our ways, we’re in trouble. The planet will be fine, at least for a few billion years when our sun destabilises, but we will not. Planet Earth will no longer sustain 7 billion humans and counting, never mind the Bengal tigers, polar bears, and humpback whales we share it with.

Without drastic changes, very soon, we are in deep shit. And it will happen in the lifetime of my grandchildren.

David Roberts from Grist sums it all up very well in 10 minutes, right here. Please watch his excellent talk. It’s scary. But scary is what’s needed. David did sterling work for Grist and all of us for years but the stress of constant worrying news,  and continual lack of meaningful action from industry and governments led to his having to take a year off. That’s becoming a big problem for many of those trying to save us from ourselves.

I strongly advise you to keep abreast of what is happening in your country and on your planet.

That’s it for now, and I haven’t even mentioned inequality! Check it out. 🙂

I shall continue to post information that I consider to be important on this website. I won’t be contributing to the Echo Chamber of Facebook any longer.