Many clichés cover the subject of living for the moment, follow your dreams, you only live once, youth is wasted on the young and so on. All wonderfully motivational and can be a good reminder of our mortality, thus making sure we don’t procrastinate too much and do things we feel must be done before it is too late. We are inherently short-term thinking creatures, if something happens around you unsuspecting, you react initially in self-interest.
If something is announced by a government to spend more billions on a wasteful, short-term initiative, most will immediately wonder if and how it benefits or costs us. How does this effect my goals, my way of life? I need to do and see everything, I am special and need to feel I’m being protected as such and that my government empowers me to toil with the world as I see fit. I would like to examine what this sort of thinking means in the context of our legacy, our recorded legacy.
We are going to be the most highly documented century in history- while it could be argued all successive societies bring new technology an sophisticated means of recording it, none had such means for widely distributed and individually participated content as that which I am using as I type this tirade. The internet is now a mind-bogglingly huge record of our individual and collective thoughts and ambitions, our activities and achievements, our news- real and manufactured stories. Hopefully, it will be preserved for those in 2100 and beyond to open up, review and discuss just as do with a history book.
We need to be mindful that our way of life, our priorities, our debates and our work is being documented and distributed so widely that any retrospective view of our society will be highly accessible. What will they see? What will they think of it? It could be argued that it doesn’t matter, we are here to live for the now, it is the natural course of history to look back with scorn or amusement at past societies. But when a new generation faces the sort of legacy that we, the industrialised world leave in our wake, there will rightly be much to answer for. Will we just blame the government? probably.
Governments will tell us that they govern for the people, they make decisions to enhance and protect the quality of lives (usually they say our economy, but we assume humans are involved somehow). As governments feel their mandate is to protect our living standards they work tirelessly to do so only for the current generation of voters. Why wouldn’t they? What point is there in inflicting any pain, sort term or otherwise, on a current crop of voters, no matter how critical it may be to anyone 10, 20, 50 years from now?
Unless the positive effect (or absence of negative effect) of drastic action can be felt now, it must not be acted on. Where the change in policy or expenditure may effect profitability or affulence of the voters now or in the next 3 years, it must not be done unless they are guaranteed to see the benefits and thank the government at the next election. Why should a government take that risk?
Why should a politician alienate the interest groups of business, unions, their department, their electorate, their undeclared personal share portfolio or their future directorships? There is no incentive for a government, elected on short terms and funded by interest groups hell bent on maintaining the status quo, to take any brave action beyond the tokenistic PR or political wedge stunts. The federal governments ETS bill will become a case study on dirty politics played with an issue of vital importance.
I see no way around the issue of conflicted interest of any elected government of Australia, our cultural nuances mean that we are unable to take a long-term view in taking any sort of sacrifice now for the benefit of the future, even if it means our retirement age is played out in a quagmire of resource depletion, famine and chaotic weather.
I won’t pretend this is my idea, you can thank Mr. George Monbiot for this; we need to have some means of overseeing all of the policy and spending decisions to ensure they do not unduly burden future generations. The oversight group would have to ensure that in 10, 20, 50 and 100 years the decisinos can be justified against what we can project would be a reasonable state of affairs.
Some might say the Senate is meant to provide such checks and balances, except they are from the same crop of political parties, with the same biases and conflicts of interest that cloud decision making and render it largely an exercise in frustration and back-room dealings benefiting only marginal groups of society.
From what I can observe of the political decisions for the past 15 years in Australia, it seems that the best strategy to get re-elected is to follow this recipe:
- Sell assets to the private sector, give public assets to shareholders to top-up government coffers now, future profits go to those that manipulate the markets- but you will deliver much on election promises from a once-only sale
- Spend the proceeds of decades of public investment to benefit voters now on short-term election promises, baby-bonuses, hand outs, bail-outs of dead industries, duplicate gym buildings for schools scheduled to close in the next year etc.
- Allocate funding for a decade to come to initiatives to be spent over the next 2-3 years, ensuring that benefits are felt by the people that don’t have to fit the bill for them now, you will never be held to account as the cost is born by others and you’ll be out of office by then
- Be seen to be busy by taking rash spending decisions to stimulate the economy, you are not seen to be indecisive, you are responsive and people won’t think of you as reckless until it is too late to hurt you at the voting booth, maybe you’ll have bribed them with more one-off payments by then
- Never ever take a courageous step by investing the 100 billion or so needed in re-shaping the economy to a sustainable one, just try and make it look like you tried, create a scheme no-one likes, creates a false permit economy, insulate everyone from actually paying anything more for their high-emission lifestyles, exempt every industry that you already subsidise to make competitive on an international stage, then blame the opposition and the greens when it is voted down
We need more than that, therefore I propose to the Governor General, the Queen, the Pope, Ban, Ki-Moon, Barrack Obama or whoever can get rid of Australia’s abominable political dynamic, gets around to putting a governance panel that can ensure we don’t steal everything from the future to profit in the now.
Let’s start the veto-power controlling entity with broad terms of reference measuring any policy against effect in people in the future, a “Future Committee“. There you go, our saviour might be another committee- what have we come to…?