Monday, September 8, 2008

How people are controlled

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There is a lot of talk of conspiracy theories. In fact I saw on the Four Corners program last night a very good account of the 9/11 tragedy, and how a lot of conspiracy theorists were coming out with a range of alternative explanations they imply the US government actually dynamited the buildings. This program debunked the conspiracy theories. But I actually support these people who questions for 2 reasons:
1. I value the fact that people think ideas and politics are important enough to stand up for
2. I like people who question convention because everything should be questioned

The government has a legal sanction on the initiation of force. It is critical that they are accountable. The lack of disclosure ignites critics - that is a good thing. Too much is left unexplained and unaccounted for. The movie that had me reeling was 'America - from Freedom to Fascism' by Aaron Russo, the movie maker who made 'Trading Places' with Eddy Murphy. There are some sensational assertions in this movie, but for the most part its a very accurate account of the how the State is using its power to create unsavoury alliances. I don't see it as a conspiracy, but rather the practical consequence of people preserving their own status or authority, colluding with other interest groups to get what they want. For example, I would suggest that union leaders are corrupt. They are paid off at the top, and when there incidents of local work stoppages, large corporations will offer regional members financial inducements to win them over. Of course there is nothing stopping them from using standard diplomacy to do this, but I know this happens.
In the Philippines recently I met a union official attached to some coal mine in Queensland. He was talling me that some regional union official had been paid off. It has to be appreciated that such things are happening all the time. Sure they occur in the Philippines more than say Australia, but its global, and its not easily identified, and these people are often too clever to get caught. With arbitrary law it just requires a loophole.
The type of unsavoury relationships we are talking about are:
1. Politicians controlling the balance of power: Several years ago Senator Brian Haraldine of Tasmania was able to secure a huge financial investment by the government in Tasmania because he held the blocking vote which would allow the government to privatise Telstra. The reasons for or against didn't matter, the final cost was a misallocation of voter's financial resources. The creation of political parties and the requirement for MPs to follow the party line and to rely on party resources is a major obstacle to justice and good government.
2. Government and opposition: In most countries there are 2 major parties. I would assert that in most of these countries the 2 major parties have established rules of engagement. That is, they have established rules that preserve or entrench their parties long term security. The problem with this comfortable duopoly is that parties are rewarded for not making changes. Both parties don't want to raise issues that raise conflicts. They do this by controlling the media, the analytical process. For instance, you don't have independent commissions to run inquiries, you have selected government people and parliamentary committees whom come under the government's sphere of influence. They don't want any embarrassments.
3. Government and the media: The government has a lot of power over the media because politics is important, so any media denied access to politicians is at a disadvantage. A small business council in Australia was alienated by an Australian political party after it made critical statements about their policies. Criticism is no longer open, but behind closed doors. This is a problem. The other bargaining chip the government has over the media is of course laws on media ownership, concentration of media ownership (both in terms of equity & market share). It was interesting several years ago how the media was disparaging of the minor parties.
4. Government and unions: Traditionally we have seen the major political parties allign with either the unions or big business. The reason they did this is because they were the traditional source of organised voter support, which equates to financial resources. With the decline of union membership, we have witnessed a rise in fascist party politics in Western governments, as the two major parties vy for their share of the corporate donor funds. The reality is that politicians support the 2-party. They don't want to share government with a third. So just as you can expect rules of engagement between parties, so you have them between party contributors.
5. Government and industry associations: For the same reasons as I have stated above, industry groups support the status quo, that is the major parties. The reason they do that is to get concessions. This is why you see the largest companies supporting both parties. Its more than just supporting 'democracy', its about propping up bad regimes which give them concessions at the expense of salary earners. You will not see these businesses support a new party despite them having some prestige. If there was any opportunity to do this I would suggest it could come from select unions or small business, or perhaps even farmers, but as it stands in Australia, the USA, we don't see these groups as having a high, independent political profile, which is surprising because as we know about politics, votes are counted at the margins.
6. Governnment and government: Another important relationship is between governments. It is understandable that governments forge relationships with other governments, but again there is a tendency for governments to protect the public officials from other countries. We have seen Japan give sanctuary to former Peruvian leader Fujimori, Britain giving sanctuary to the corrupt Thai PM, the US giving sanctuary to Ferdinand Marcos, Britain giving sanctuary to former dictator Pinochet of Chile. Ask yourself why? Clearly they don't do this to remain on good terms with these countries, its because they want the same protection, and to avoid the same accountability. Its not a new concept - we see the same commeraderie in the military and police forces.
7. Government and military: In developing countries there is a need to perserve the military because they have considerable power. In the Philippines we have seen a number of military officers try to instigate a coup. Philippine military officers are generally very corrupt. Apart from the kickbacks they can earn, they also get a generous fuel allowance from the government. The kickbacks are allowed because it preserves alliances at the high level where you want them. You want corruption so you have something to hold against these people. It is the fabric which holds the government together. In the West, the military don't have as much power, however military budgets are very generous for a reason. You don't see any any scaling back of military power because of the Western alliance. Its because the military will always matter.
8. Government and the central bank: The role of the central bank is to create the illusion that there is independent regulation of the money supply. In fact the governor of the Reserve Bank is elected by the PM. Of course the process for promoting certain high level 'political' candicates for the office starts early since the government has an ongoing relationship with the central bank.
9. Government and regulators: The regulators in most countries are attached to the government so its not surprising that they are alligned with the government. Rarely is regulation in most countries really taken seriously. The reason is that the corporate sector would not support the government if they were strictly regulated, so instead we have pretend regulation. The regulators themselves cite the lack of financial resources for not being able to perform their job. The reason is - they were never supposed to be able to do it. We have just been through a financial boom. During that time I only saw one case of insider trading, and it was against a flamboyant trader Rene Rivkin, who I dare say pissed off a lot of people.
10. Government and the judiciary: The judiciary is supposed to be a pretty upstanding group of people, but they are like most intellectuals, politically-affiliated. More important than that is the fact that they have the safe sense of life to have a bureaucratic appointment. For these reasons I would expect them to be cognisant of the fact that they are paid, promoted and appointed by the PM or subordinates. I do however this that the influence of the government on the judiciary is less in Australia than say the USA. The bigger problem is that judges have their own minds, for which they are not terribly accountable, because the judiciary is another conservative men's club.

When you look at matters that way you realise that the group in the weakest position is salarymen, non-resident, non-executives, students, children and the disabled. The groups I think with the greatest potential for more influence is the unions, consumer advocacies and small business. Religious has less power because its bipartisan, but we have seen that by virtue of the number of religious freaks in the world, they too have significant political power.
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Andrew Sheldon www.sheldonthinks.com
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