Chickens, eggs and the global economy

It was 6 degrees when I got in the car last night. It was just on 10pm, I was in North Fitzroy, and I’d just come from a viewing of The Economics of Happiness in the small back cinema of a cool bar (Long Play) in St Georges road.

It was one of those small events you hear about through your network that sounds interesting enough to attend. It was organised by an acquaintance of mine to promote the worthy message of the movie. The day before the message had been given a kick along by an interview with the organisers published in the Age.

I arrived a little after 6 with beanie on head, said my hello’s, got re-acquainted with others who had been away, paid my money and had time for a couple of excellent Sardinian beers before the movie started.

The movie was okay. There’s not much I can argue with in terms of desired outcomes, and I’m broadly sympathetic to the general tenor of the movie. Having said that I think it was a tad simplistic – hard to avoid in a movie of that length – and perhaps pilgerised the message at times by confusing cause and effect and making so much of it either/or. From an intellectual standpoint that was disappointing – I’m happy to be convinced, but I want well reasoned arguments backed up with hard facts.

Maybe I’m nit-picking. What the movie did highlight well is some of the utterly ridiculous practices that globalisation – the culprit of the film – has made possible: like English apples being sent to South Africa for waxing before being returned to the UK. Or the seemingly common practice where a country imports something on the one hand while it is exporting the same good elsewhere. One struggles to see the sense in that. And of course the social impact of globalisation, the damage to the environment, the homogenisation of society, the wastage.

Still, by my take globalisation isn’t the real issue. And in fact it’s not something that is about to be wound back regardless of the best intentions. It’s a complex picture, but I think the real issue is regulation, or more particularly, de-regulation (a sexy word in many circles).

Mike Moore put out a movie a few years back about how the American middle class had been basically betrayed by the American government and greedy corporations. Putting aside the emotive slant of the argument, the issue then, as it is so often, is the ridiculous dismantling of worthy and intelligent regulations. The fact of the matter is that if the regulations had remained then the credit crunch, if it had happened at all, would have been minor. Which was the case in Oz, where strong and sensible regulations remain despite the financial markets being significantly freed up.

That’s the crux of it really: the sensible mix of free market economics with intelligent regulations to maintain the checks and balances necessary for a civilised society. And that applies, I think, to globalisation also. In an unfettered market all sorts of exploitation and nonsense will occur. Some regulation is required to control that, but I am also of the belief that markets find their own level. People react, as it was shown in last nights movie, and take things into their own hands – and the market must respond to that.

Like I said, I’m broadly sympathetic to much that was argued. And in many ways the rants I’ve been guilty of lately aren’t unrelated to the arguments last night, so it’s surprising I’m so ambivalent. I’m not really, it’s just I think that I’ve stepped back and reminded myself that things happen for a reason. Globalisation isn’t the problem, it is the corruption of it is that is the problem, and that in itself is a symptom of something else. Just as the behaviour I complain of is the symptom of some deeper issue. Ultimately movies like this come and go, catching onto the latest slogan, be it globalisation, sustainability, materialism, consumerism, global warming, and so on. These are all very valid concerns and should be addressed – but the chicken and the egg is too often confused.

Anyway, enough of that.

Afterwards settled down for a few glasses of wine, some dinner with some new acquaintances, and a general chat about everything. We were all pretty much the same there – independent, left leaning, somewhat passionate, educated, intelligent mix of small business owners, entrepreneurs and concerned citizens. What John Howard would have dismissively described as the elites. So be it. In terms of the movie it’s pretty much preaching to the converted, but I guess they must start somewhere.

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