Tolstoy said that happy families are all alike, and it may be true of businesses as well. But while Tolstoy no doubt had an an image of settled domesticity in mind, the 21st century corporate version of happiness is much less appealing.
I thought US-based readers would find this extract from a recent post in the Australian blog MacroBusiness terribly familiar. While America’s extortionate class par none is the too big to fail financial firms, in Australia they have enough of a tradition of regulation that the banks are merely coddled as opposed to completely spoiled (they also never had the opportunity to engage in the wreck-the-economy-for-fun-and-profit exercise we had here that put them firmly in control).
Down under, the cohort that is now at the top of the economic pecking order is the miners. Notice the similarities to behavior we’ve seen over and over again here. From MacroBusiness:
If there’s one thing that bugs me about the Australian economy and business it is rent-seeking. It is that practice of big businesses wielding political power for shareholder and personal gain. It is a doubly toxic pursuit because it not only means that Australians often have to pay extortionate prices for goods but it retards productivity for the economy overall, meaning we all get richer more slowly (except for the protected few).
But, as I have before, I’m going to make one exception to this frustration, for manufacturing.
As we know, manufacturing has been targeted for extermination by the macroeconomic high priests of the RBA and Treasury, to free up resources for the mining boom. To my mind, this is an unacceptable and unnecessary risk for the national economy involving an enormous punt on an untried and untested political and economic model in China. Just why we should allow our export mix to tip completely towards commodities is beyond me.
And so, today, I am going to offer some free advice to the Australian Industry Group, the manufacturers peak body and lobby about how to begin a rent-seeking campaign of their own.
First, however, we must diagnose the problem. And a couple of stories in The Australian do a good job of that this morning. Let’s contrast the rent-seeking maestros, Australian miners, with their manufacturing brethren. First, the miners:
With gold trading at new records, above $US1600 an ounce, and with new projects rushing to come into production, you’d expect to hear few complaints in the booming West Australian goldmining town of Kalgoorlie. But on the opening day of the Diggers & Dealers talkfest yesterday, it became quickly clear that hostility towards the Gillard government’s mining and carbon taxes would dominate discussion among more than 2200 delegates who flew in from around Australia and the world.
Diggers chairman Barry Eldridge set the tone within the first five minutes when he launched a blistering attack on the “extreme” and “superficial” policies of Labor and the Greens, during his opening address. Even Tony Abbott wasn’t spared, with Mr Eldridge predicting a future Coalition government would be unlikely to axe the mining tax, as promised, because it would be reluctant to forsake such a big revenue hit.
In his presentation, Integra Mining chief executive Chris Cairns paraphrased former Beatle Ringo Starr when he said: “Everything the Gillard government touches turns to crap.”
But the biggest talking point among delegates yesterday was the large neon sign outside Kalgoorlie’s historic Palace Hotel that reads: “Carbon tax. Mining tax. Useless Independents. Gillard & Co have to go — ASAP.” The scrolling sign just below the top balcony of the famed watering hole is the most watched in Kalgoorlie as it has long displayed in bright-red print the gold price that has determined the town’s fortunes for the past 120 years.
This is perfect execution. Here we have an industry sector enjoying the greatest boom conditions for 150 years, yet there is NO acknowledgement of the fact. Note the toxic blend of anti-government rhetoric, gutter slurs, universal righteousness, a strong sense of building conflict and division and, above all, a national media brand pumping it out with gusto.
I wonder if this type of posturing originates from a single source, like Roger Ailes, or whether it is an independent but parallel development of a pathology, say a variant of acquired situational narcissism, that is finding fertile ground all over the world now that neoliberal values are widely accepted by Western governments.
The truly influential used to whisper; the Rothschilds, who could topple governments, took great care not to play up their power. The contemporary fad of corporate tantrum-throwing reminds me of the way feline combattants hiss and spit and puff themselves up to look bigger and more intimidating than they are. But since I have an 11 pound Abyssinian who once chased two adult men out of an office, I have to acknowledge that aggressive bluffs are too often effective.