Weekly salon 23/9

I’ll list here the contents of this edition. I haven’t worked out how to link down, perhaps next time.

1. Is Serena the greatest athlete of all time?

2. School funding carve up

3. Will the GFC happen again?

4. Leadership deficit

Remember this is an open thread – you can raise any topic you like.

1. Is Serena the greatest athlete of all time?

That is a claim currently being made.

Williams had a four-year period from 2012 to 2015 where she won eight out of 16 slams, and twice held all four at the same time. This is impressive.

Roger Federer won 11/16 in 2004 to 2007, which were best of five rather than best of three matches. Then Novak Đoković won 6/8 in a two-year domination from 2014 to 2016, arguably against stiffer opposition than Federer faced in his prime.

The greatest dominator I know is Heather McKay in squash:

No one else remained unbeaten for 19 years – as she did between 1962 and her retirement in 1981. No one else beat her challengers so easily.

    McKay didn’t just win the British Open 16 times in succession, she rampaged through it. She only ever lost two games. She won the 1968 final against Bev Johnson 9-0, 9-0, 9-0 in a quarter of an hour and in all finals she conceded just 112 points. That is an average of seven points per match and less than two per game!


    The manner of her victories made her seem even more like ‘Superwoman’. Only five feet six inches tall and little more than nine stone, she was nevertheless very physical – able to hit harder than most opponents and to move faster than any of them. She turned and changed direction with devastating speed.

    McKay was also very strong-minded, making her focused, ruthless, and consistent. It made her conspicuously self-possessed too, creating a formidable on-court presence. Her matches had a fascinating inevitability.

Or you could look at Don Bradman, whose batting average was 61% better than the next best.

Or you could look at Michael Phelps in swimming, who won 28 Olympic medals, 23 of them gold, to Mark Spitz’s 11 with 9 gold.

Serena Williams is a great champion, let’s leave it at that, but for sheer domination I’d go for Heather McKay. The outcome was never in doubt.

2. School funding carve up

Jane Caro reckons The Catholic school funding deal is hunger relief for the well fed. She says:

The numbers are very big and intentionally confusing, when numbers bubble forth without saying whether the funds are per annum, or over four years. Some figures quoted have been over 10 years, so confusion reigns. However, when former NSW Education Minister, and Director of the Gonski Institute for Education Adrian Piccoli, says we have a political fix rather than an educational fix, I’m inclined to believe him. Piccoli said:

    “This is pathetic. There is nothing fair about it. There is nothing Christian about it. It’s throwing money at the powerful and well connected,” he wrote.

It seems the $1.2 billion slush fund is a problem according to The Grattan Institute. I think it’s $1.2 billion pa, and about four and a half billion over four years.

The Commonwealth does not pay directly, it pays through the states. Seems NSW might be leading the charge to not flick-pass it through.

Labor has promised more, much more to government schools, but we wait to see the final detail.

Seems the Greens seek to disallow a big chunk of extra funding to Catholic schools and Labor may join them.

3. Will the GFC happen again?

Lehman Brothers went belly up on 15 September 2008. I remember it well. I was in the departure lounge of Amsterdam airport, heading for Munich, and didn’t have internet access for the next three weeks.

Jacob Greber in the AFR points out that in many ways the 2008 shock was worse than the Great Depression. The sharemarket tanked 57.8% as against 42.7%, house prices fell 18.3% as against 6.2%, and household wealth fell 14.8% as against 6%:

Basically, they say, in 1929+ governments cut back on spending, which made everything immeasurably worse. In 2008 they borrowed and bailed, which helped initially, but then kept the debt or let it grow.

The consensus seems to be that if something like that happens again the central bankers will do their bit, but they won’t be able to save us. We’ll need the politicians, and in that respect were are in considerably worse shape than 2008.

The ABC gave the topic a fair run. In RN’s The Round Table a bunch of experts had a look at What are the risks to the Australian economy a decade on from the GFC? John Hewson pretty much settled on Turkey as the next trouble spot.

On Thursday Phillip Adams talked to Russell Napier, Financial historian and investment consultant, about emerging problems in emerging markets. Napier reckons Turkey is a GFC-size problem, and it’s starting to happen, because Erdogan is relying on God to pay his bills.

Cheerful man he is, he reckons we could end up with countries unable to shift money to each other. It almost happened last time. Karen Maley tells how in 2008 Guy Debelle, deputy governor of the Reserve Bank, had to get up in the middle of the night and sometimes wake the boss as the bank was trading on both sides of the currency market to make it look like a market.

Napier seems to think with smart people like Trump on board, that kind of thing won’t happen.

At Project Syndicate where the really smart people reside, Nouriel Roubini and Brunello Rosa give us 10 reasons for a 2020 recession and financial crisis worse than 2008 without mentioning Turkey. They believe we don’t have the financial tools to deal with it. Nor does Trump’s economic illiteracy help, which sees him doing the opposite of what he should.

4. Leadership deficit

Laura Tingle says:

    Political leadership should be about building a consensus for change, giving people a map to follow, and bringing together different parties to achieve an outcome.

She says:

    The perplexing ugliness of the last few weeks — and indeed much of the past decade — concerns struggles for power rather than leadership. They have involved struggles for jobs that give the authority and power of a leader.

Tingle’s Quarterly Essay Follow the Leader: Democracy and the rise of the strongman looks at a range of leaders from Howard and Obama to Merkel, Macron and Trump. Leaders who appear strong but are autocratic destroy democracy. If it’s not pay-walled there is an edited extract in the AFR, including:

    But holding the position of leader is a very different thing from providing leadership. If we set aside our obsession with the figure of the leader, what does leadership itself consist of? There is still considerable confusion about this. Often it is associated with machismo or doggedness. Almost always it is seen through the lens of formal positions of leadership or authority.

    In 1994, Ronald Heifetz, from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, wrote a book called Leadership Without Easy Answers, in which he argues that leadership, power and formal authority too often get confused and need to be carefully distinguished. He defines leadership as helping a community embrace change. That is, a leader is the facilitator of a group that has to confront an issue, though just how that facilitation works is a complex matter.

    Heifetz is not suggesting that leadership is merely a matter of leading a group discussion. Instead, he offers fascinating case studies, from Lyndon Johnson to George H.W. Bush, from Hitler to Gandhi. The change a group has to confront may not be a happy one – and if you wonder why Hitler is included, it is because Heifetz argues that leaders can often lead a group to a catastrophic response when confronting an issue. Wherever the group is headed, though, leadership is about offering a map through an issue, giving people a clear option to deal with a problem. It might involve corralling various factions to a compromise. Significantly, Heifetz argues that political leadership is not necessarily about having a vision and pursuing it, but about a range of other skills with which to “read” and push a community.

She goes on to talk about how Lyndon Johnson tackled problems of civil rights that had been avoided for 200 years:

    Yet mobilising the society to tackle hard problems and learn new ways required far more than fashioning deals in the legislature; it required public leadership. Johnson had to identify the adaptive challenges facing the nation, regulate the level of distress, counteract work-avoiding distractions, place responsibility where it belonged and protect voices of leadership in the community.

Gwynne Dyer talking to Richard Fidler about the future of the world suggests we worry too much about the mad monkey at the top of the pile. Unlike most monkeys and all the other great apes, humans have democracy baked into their DNA. The last 10,000 years have been an anomaly while we moved from traditional societies to the modern state. Democracy has only been a thing for the last 200 years or so, but democracy for everyone is much shorter than that. We pretty much landed it with the welfare state post WW2, but then the rich and powerful surged back.

He thinks the ‘universal basic income’ will eventually see a resurgence of democracy and sharing because there is no stigma in the UBI like there is with the dole. Our big brains acting in concert will eventually bring down the mad monkey at the top.

The real danger, if you want to worry, he says, is climate change. There he sees us as having only five years, maybe 10 at the outside, to get on top of it.

10 thoughts on “Weekly salon 23/9”

  1. Brian (Re: 3. Will the GFC happen again?):

    As you have probably noticed before now, I keep banging on about ‘peak oil’ and ‘peak gas’.

    Nothing happens without energy.
    Unaffordable energy means life becomes unaffordable.

    Matt’s post at crudeoilpeak.info last week headlined What happened to crude oil production after the first peak in 2005? highlights a balancing act between post-peak and pre-peak oil producers. That balance may become upset due to geology, financing, social unrest, or geopolitical factors.

    Shale Reality Check 2018, by J. David Hughes, published February 2018, warns (bold text my emphasis):

    The “shale revolution” has provided a reprieve from what just 13 years ago was thought to be a terminal decline in oil and gas production in the U.S. It has sparked calls for “American energy dominance”[2]—despite the fact that the U.S. is projected to be a net oil importer through 2050, even given EIA forecasts. This reprieve is temporary, and the U.S. would be well advised to plan for much-reduced shale oil and gas production in the long term based on this analysis of play fundamentals.

    BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2018 (67th Edition) indicates:

    The US, in year-2017, was the world’s largest oil producer at 14.1% global share (see page 14), and the world’s largest oil consumer at 20.2% global share (p15), but at the end of 2017 had a proved oil reserves-to-production (R/P) of only 10.5 years (p12).

    Similarly, the US was also the world’s largest gas producer at 20.0% global share (p28), and the world’s largest gas consumer at 20.1% global share (p29), but at the end of 2017 had a gas proved R/P of only 11.9 years (p26).

    I think that there’s a very real risk declining petroleum oil and fossil natural gas supplies, I think likely within a few years, will trigger another GFC, unless we start transitioning away from oil and gas dependency ASAP.

  2. Organizational charts can be a poor guide to where the power lies and where the leadership comes from. People who make things happen understand this, are cognizant of the flow of power and who they really convince if something has to happen. An effective adviser may be a lot more important than the nominal leader when it comes to driving change.
    Different leaders may be the right people to drive specific changes. For example, Howard was the right leader to do something about gun control just as Nixon was the right leader to start to wind down the cold war. However, in each case, it was the right time for them to do these things. People were ready for these changes.

  3. Anyone remember Alistair Cooke’s “Letter from America”? A BBC Radio gem, re-broadcast on ABC Australia.

    He had a cheeky item many years ago about a world champion golfer, consistently at the top of tournaments. He led the listener on for a minute or two, then revealed it was the Aussie female golf champ whom he meant. Bingo! !

    Like that story which seems paradoxical until you realise “the doctor” is a woman.

    Speaking of the ABC, apparently Ms Guthrie has departed. That didn’t last long. Whizz kid. Strong South East Asia connections. Top business brain. Commercial experience. What could possibly have gone wrong??

    (But personally I’ve been disappointed by the recent slew of cloying pro-ABC ads on RN.)

  4. Ambi, I certainly remember Alistair Cooke’s “Letter from America”.

    He retired from the broadcast on 2 March 2004, at the age of 95, and died on 30 March 2004.

    Re Ms Guthrie, few it seems will mourn her passing, but I suspect she was stopping the chairman of the board, who was a pal of Turnbull’s, from interfering in the ABC.

  5. Alistair Cooke

    A champion broadcaster: knowledgeable, humane, mature.

    About as far from tabloid hysteria as you could get, without being a quiet Professor of Classics.

    No doubt we will hear more about (and from?) Ms Guthrie.

  6. Ambigulous (Re: SEPTEMBER 24, 2018 AT 5:55 PM):

    Speaking of the ABC, apparently Ms Guthrie has departed. That didn’t last long. Whizz kid. Strong South East Asia connections. Top business brain. Commercial experience. What could possibly have gone wrong??

    Last night’s ABC Media Watch explores that question. From part of the transcript on Ms Guthrie:

    But it’s been seen by some as curt, abrasive and inconsistent.

    Guthrie was also reluctant to defend and articulate what the ABC stands for.

    And her vision of the future left some of her fellow executives concerned, amid fears they might walk.

    Finally, her willingness or skills in lobbying for public funding have also been questioned: …

    And there’s this remarkable piece of information:

    And two weeks ago she made some astonishing revelations, telling the Financial Review she was not comfortable with the public profile that came with the job, she knew no one in Canberra when she returned to Australia and she’d only been looking for a job as a non-executive director – but no one would give her that gig

    Is it any wonder that she was shown the door?

  7. A position as a non-executive director sounds miles away from the job she accepted. Were the right questions asked of her at interview?

    (Not suggesting an interview panel can anticipate everything…. After a Monash VC had to resign over allegations of academic plagiarism, someone who had been on the panel said, “None of us thought to ask him if he was a plagiarist.”)

  8. Farewell, Michelle Guthrie.
    Goodbye, Justin Milne.

    credits: ABC staff, Minister Fifield, PM Morrison, Dr di Natale, former Chairs, former PM Turnbull, Senator Wong, Signorina Alberici, Mr Probyn, Mr B Cassidie, Mr J Faine, ….

  9. Further to the ABC matter, Waleed Aly has a piece in Fairfax online about pressure from pollies on the ABC. Towards the end, he recalls some 70 complaints made in 2003 about ABC coverage of the war in Iraq, which he says were obsessional and came from “a fringe character like Richard Alston”.

    Was that rhetorical point scoring Waleed?
    Mr Alston was the Communications Minister at that time.

    Waleed Aly himself is more a fringe character than a Federal Minister, I would have thought.

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