Wednesday, August 31, 2011

the price of proof

It seems, sometimes, that human history has a parallel with English law, which is that any idea that becomes popular is presumed brilliant, and the onus of proving otherwise falls on anyone who disagrees.

A telling example would be Milton Friedman’s insistence that all free markets are not just benign but benevolent:
Government, he believed, cannot exist without compromising the freedom of markets and reducing their benevolence and government must therefore be evil.
Some socialist goody-goodies [e.g. any person more than one micron to the left of Genghis Kahn] only demand government intervention in markets because they want to guarantee equal outcomes, according to Friedman.
That is, not only should every person be ensured a start in every race in life’s Olympics, but they should also be guaranteed an equal-first place prize.
Not only will this not work, said Friedman, it’s counter-productive to try.

His best selling book Free to Choose was a monumental success, in part because it is rare for any book about economics to set out its arguments in such a straightforward and accessible style. The book stresses, more than the clip above does, his assertion that progressives want equal outcomes, not just equal opportunities. Friedman was as careful in his choice of arguments as the best of us. He was also always very adept at deflecting questions by reframing them before he answered.

Although I won’t be around for it, I do anticipate that 100 years from now history students will read of Friedman’s 20th Century influence and power, especially his work for the IMF, and conclude that our generations were gullible and backwards, or that his theories were given a little too much credence to be morally acceptable.

What is less certain, but I think, quite possible, is that time will show the current worldwide popularity of privatisation is another idea best described as “monumentally misguided“.

I believe:
  • The proper purpose of a political /economic system is to provide the best possible result for the greatest number of people.
  • Capitalism and the free market are the most efficient ways available of sharing around scarce resources. 
  • Although capitalism and free markets are efficient, they are far from perfect. [think drug trafficking].
  • Some government interference in the market place is necessary.
  • Some government interference just makes things worse.
  • Sometimes governments should just mind their own bloody business.
This is probably what most people believe. Where we might disagree is in how to achieve our goals, or where to draw a line between government and government-free policies. 
Two of the very important assumptions [amongst many] on which much economic theory rests:
  • Everyone who buys or sells makes rational decisions ; and
  • Everyone who buys or sells has perfect information.
My gut reaction to the first of these is ROFLMAO, but the ‘perfect information’ assumption can provide a clue to when it is appropriate for a government to interfere. 

When Adam Smith first wrote The Wealth of Nations - the bible by which Milton Freidman swore - he was writing at the beginning of the industrial revolution. In the 1770s, even Smith didn’t have perfect information about how the industrial revolution was panning out, but he quite reasonably believed if someone went to the market and bought a cheese which was no good, then it served him right. Let the buyer beware.
But when it comes to a modern car, or computer, or even a house, 250 years after Smith’s era it would be silly to expect everyone to have perfect information. Consumer protection helps to level the playing field a little, bridging the gap between the original theory of free markets, and today's reality.

To be fair to Friedman, he wasn’t totally indifferent to social inequalities; it’s likely he really believed his own theory that the more we leave the market alone, the better off everyone will be.

Traditionally, we place conservatives on the right of the political spectrum. Traditionally, conservatives don’t like to meddle in economics or human affairs, believing that when the time is right change will come and there is no need to force matters. The smaller the government’s power and influence the better.

In some countries more than in others, the right is also synonymous with religious conservatism. If I were to hazard some guesses about why, some of the following ideas might rate a mention:
  • Freedom of religion means governments should not be deciding what is right or wrong, for that is the Lord's job;
  • Fundamentalists resent paying taxes to a government full of godless people;
  • Fundamentalists resent subsidising godless lifestyles [e.g. supporting single mums and therefore encouraging careless promiscuity];
  • Communism means even more government than capitalism does - tsk tsk tsk;
  • The Russian model of Communism, as practised in the 20th Century, was not just godless but brutal - it also left people without basic, day to day goods and services;
  • The good thing about waiting for change rather than wanting to push for it is that there's no need to question anything, or allow shades of grey to complicate matters. Claims like those of the Tea Party leaders, that God himself abhors big government, shift the burden of proof to those with more liberal inclinations;* 
  • Socialism is a Jewish [i.e. Anti-Christian] doctrine **

* to oversimplify: Christians from a range of different 'churches' can agree that God [i.e. Christ] exists and might also agree government should be small. On the other hand, people who tend to the left tend to disagree about everything amongst themselves, e.g. is this problem caused by class exploitation, racism, or sexism? They might agree in general terms on goals but different priorities or isms prevent them from speaking with a united voice against the very values and attitudes they all want to change.

**please don't shoot this messenger!

next time: rednecks

no kidding

A few years ago, one humid and extremely wet night, The Other and I found ourselves on a cramped, damp bus travelling along one of those narrow, winding streets that are so typical in Sydney. Three young men, probably in their late 20s and undoubtedly on their way home from a heavy drinking session, pushed their way in at the back of the bus right next to where we were standing. When one of them lit up a cigarette there was a general air of irritation and tut-tutting from all the other passengers, but just when it seemed no one would actually say anything, The Other - all 4 foot 10 of her - stepped forward, snatched the cigarette out of the young buck's mouth, threw it on the floor and ground it to dust.
"You know better than that", she said, "your mother didn't bring you up to be a naughty boy".
Now I do nothing better than I do gutlessness and cowardice, so I was relieved when his mates roared laughing and started calling him "a naughty boy" themselves, and he then joined in and laughed as well.

The Action Woman is good with kids, but she won't take any nonsense from them, no matter how old they are. This is just the right attitude for a recovery room nurse, because if some patients are aggressive to just about anyone in hospitals, people coming out of an anaesthetic can be real animals.
I can't imagine anyone, whether 8 or 80, being told "I want you to cut that out right now!" by this diminutive dragon, and not taking her seriously.

If she is called in to work to help with an emergency caesarian, she will always come home and announce "we had a baby boy/ girl /we had twins". She sings happy birthday to them. But when she meets babies in a social setting, she usually says something like "Oh, you forget just how tiny they are at this age!", because you can't say that all babies are cute, or gorgeous, or look just like someone you know. Many babies, when they are first born, truly have faces that only their mothers could love.

I say all of this because babies with less than four legs a furry tail and floppy ears terrify me.
I can't imagine the  daunting task new mums face; often without the help of someone else who has been through it before and can reassure them they are doing okay.
My own conversation with new mums usually amounts to "how are you feeling, how are you coping", and "how about you bring him around when he can hold his own in a conversation". I don't care if babies sleep all night, I just want to know what they are thinking.

Two things gave me a real buzz this last weekend in Sydney, and both of them are baby-related.
The first was that as soon as my niece was handed the next lad to inherit the family name, he spat the dummy and screamed. My niece and I both laughed, and I got a nice photo of her scaring her poor little nephew.
The other buzz came from walking into b1's house and seeing the photo my niece had enlarged and framed  earlier this year. She cracks me up.

There are a million captions that could go with this photo, but it's a struggle to find a clear winner...

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

bobbin head

We decided to drive to Sydney for b1's 60th birthday bash. As The Other worked on Friday, this meant leaving late and driving through.
Happily, we are both so short it is easy when one is driving for the other to stretch out in the back seat and sleep [though seat belt buckles can require some padding for comfort]. As the night owl, I did most of the after dark driving and was delighted to cross the border into NSW and encounter some turns and dips in the Hume to relieve the boredom of what is, south of the border, the world's most boring road.

My lovely Sister In Law [SIL 1] was in her usual stressed state remembering and organising, and thoughtfully buying black sheets, red sheets, black serviettes, red serviettes and more in a similar vein to provide an Essendon Football Club theme for the fanatic. This must be love, because I am told the rest of the family [staunch supporters of the Sydney Swans], usually sit elsewhere at the footy if both teams are playing each other.

Sometimes it is hard to know when it is more useful to not try and be useful, but getting the sense that several people were avoiding the task, I volunteered to peel and slice 4 kilos of onions for the barbecue. What an enormous number of methods, potions and magic spells people seem to have for peeling onions without tears. Rather than have anyone realise I am simply devoid of any feelings or emotions, I started a rumour that the trick with onions is to never, under any circumstances, disturb the root. No tears, and with the judicious application of some bicarb soda, no onion pong left on the hands or chopping board afterwards.

Not only did I get to spend some quality time with family in a wonderful setting on a day when the weather was beaming, but made some new friends as well.

Bobbin Head picnic point is in the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, on the Hawkesbury River. The national park was established in 1895, and the kiosk and a few other buildings erected in 1936.

On the way home did the usual thing of thinking, five minutes after driving past, "that would make a good photo". For example, what would make anyone spend money creating a sign which reads
? The M, of course, was a McDonald's M, with no space to separate it from the name of the next town, Yass.

The one thing I did do was finally take a photo at Holbrook.

Where else would you put a submarine than miles from the ocean? There is a story that it was placed there by a submarine commander's widow - Mrs Holbrook - but the truth is it's really there so kids will have something to clamber over during a break in a trip along the world's most boring road.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

growing concerns

Scientists have discovered you can have your cake and eat it too: Eat it now and it stays with you forever!

They say that the more you exert yourself, the more calories you burn. This means the longer it takes me to get out of bed in the morning, the healthier I will be.

Cousin Kaymae

I’ve often been curious about Magda Szubanski’s willingness to offer herself up as the butt of fat jokes. At least her character Sharon Strzelecki is sports mad; inside the fatty she is, is a thin person straining to get out.

Magda did lose a lot of weight when she was a spokesperson for Jenny Craig. I wonder how she has dealt all these years with the internal conflict between the need to accept herself as she is, and what might have been a perfectly normal desire to fit with the accepted social norm of looking “healthy“ [i.e. thin].

Thin is not necessarily healthy. Dean Lukin was not exactly thin when he won an Olympic Gold medal for weightlifting, losing 58 kilos when he retired from the sport, then publishing a diet book.

The gap between how old we feel and how old we are physically increases as time passes. Sometimes I look in a mirror and am shocked by the age of the face I see.
Similarly, the gap between how thin I feel and the weight I am seems to be increasing as time passes. Sometimes I look in a mirror and am shocked by the weight of the person I see. Quite the opposite of the body distortion an anorexic person suffers.

At present I am short for my weight, eat badly and live an extremely sedentary lifestyle. Yes, I make bad personal choices, and the reasons are many. One reason - not an excuse, mind - is what has now been officially confirmed as a bipolar disorder.
At the bottom of some fairly severe depressions, I have been far too thin. When thin, I receive compliments and praise from anyone from fleeting acquaintances to those I know, work with, socialise with and so on - including myself. The compliments are nice and certainly well intentioned.
During some more stable and balanced periods of my life, I’ve stacked on heaps of weight. Quite reasonably the compliments dry up, though the only person decidedly uncomplimentary about my weight has been myself.

One of the features of Bipolar II is an intermittent tendency to mixed states, where we are sometimes manic and depressed at the same time. Eating stops altogether, and sleep is replaced by pacing. Complemented by a growing obsession with the need to live healthily [rather than a need to be thin] this has led to periods of extremely healthy eating and lots and lots of walking. This really helps keep the weight under control.

Now that I have found the right balance of [expensive] medications, my weight has stabilised somewhere on the border between overweight and obese. Although this is unhealthy, it’s actually a relief because it is a sign of mental health. I can live with this.

As the Victorian Government announced plans to spend millions on an education program to try and prevent school children from becoming obese early in life, newspapers make regular reports about kids as young as 6 talking in complex terms about their own weight issues - usually in a way that reflects concern about appearance and other people’s opinions rather than health.
Junk food, of course, is still a major money-spinner in school canteens.

We’ve recently learned that after Magda Szubanski retired as Jenny Craig role model, the company approached chef Julie Goodwin with a generous offer to become the new weight loss work in progress. Julie declined, saying she was happy with who she is.
Good for her.

It has been suggested that if the good lord intended for people to be able to touch the floor comfortably, he would have given us longer arms. For me, a manageable and healthy weight is one that will allow me to bend far enough on those rare occasions I spot a fiver on the footpath.

Monday, August 22, 2011

a fine trucking mess

Recently read that in NSW a man has had his name removed from the birth certificate of a child he fathered, and replaced by the name of the second of the child’s gay mothers.
Not just wrong but ludicrous.

That the non-biological mother is estranged, and that the sperm donor in question has taken an active interest in his child’s life, only makes this decision more repugnant.

True, it is a wise person who knows their father. This was true long before IVF and the use of anonymous sperm donations became common. Nonetheless, every person is entitled, so far as practical, to know “who he or she is”, and this extends beyond one generation. The information also has important medical significance.

I am all for gay marriage. I am 100% behind issuing transsexuals with birth certificates that allow them to get on with their lives. I am also behind the current practice of making even general name changes traceable - where privacy laws do not prohibit it.

But this decision amounts, in practice, to a record of the personal relationships of the birth mother, and this is a nonsense as much as it is an insult to the biological father.

Serial monogamy is fast becoming the cultural norm, and whoever endorsed the idea that a birth certificate should be issued based on the living arrangements of the parents is an idiot.

Such is the layout of roads in Canberra that it’s hard for outsiders to drive with any clear sense of direction. It is as if the motto “Blessed are they who go round in circles, for they shall be known as big wheels” was behind the most important planning decisions made for our national capital.

A truckload of trucks are on their way to Canberra to demand an early federal election. But these will be trucks circling, not buzzards. While I am utterly disenchanted with our government’s current incumbents, this disenchantment extends across the floor, on both sides of both houses.

Amanda Vanstone occasionally writes a column for The Age.
Today, her column is headlined Independents helped put us in this mess”. 
Labor was bad enough before, but the rise of independents after the last election has helped drag government even lower, she says.
The election of independents is a quirk of a system in which independents [presumably devoid of merit] sometimes get lucky. Where independents gain the balance of power, they prevent governments from succeeding with their most visionary policies, and hold a country to ransom. 
[Presumably she is not talking about the vision of the Labor Party.]

“Every opposition has the task of highlighting a government's weakness or incompetence.”

No Amanda, every opposition should be tasked with making honest assessments of government performance and proposals, suggesting viable improvements and voting accordingly.

“But an opportunistic opposition may well seize on any big, contentious bill and oppose it simply to cause the government grief.”

I agree with Vanstone this is a problem, but it defines Abbott’s negativity more than a problem with independents.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, and no doubt I will mention it again – repeatedly - but I am no fan of our current constitution. 
For all that I think Vanstone can be a bit of a one-eyed broken record on occasions, in this case her argument suits my purposes.

There are many reasons I believe our constitution is rubbish, but I’d like to put two on the agenda for today.

The first and perhaps greatest of my beefs is that Australians deserve the right to choose their leader. Democracy demands that we all have a say in who will represent us on the world stage, with consistency and for a fixed term. Certainty is not only a very human need, certainty [of policy and the likely term of that policy's validity] is also a business and diplomatic need.

Democracy is best served where a leader is able to articulate a clear vision without being threatened by any opinion poll other than that which wins them office. That Julia Gillard did go to the polls soon after replacing Rudd is only an accident of history.
The person appointed to the highest office in the land should not be chosen by lobby groups or by ambitious movers and shakers.

Costello opined, not long before he retired, that people vote for a party based on that party’s philosophy, not on the basis of personalities or promises.

Federal election campaigns are run by advisors who not only respond in the most facile way to opinion polling [and Heaven knows that ain’t hard to rig], but also to a perceived public need for promises. Rubbish statements such as “this is the real Julia” or “you can believe anything I say so long as it is in writing” are not trotted out by people who believe voters choose a party based on its philosophy. Indeed, it is hard to have a clear idea what a party’s philosophy is when so few on either side of the house seem to stand for anything.

Protest placards with “JULIAR” emblazoned across them are not carried by people who believe personalities are irrelevant.

How is it that the Labor Party, supposedly the peoples’ party and the least conservative, are adamant they will not enable gay marriage, when the majority of Australians endorse the idea? The answer is because political parties can be and are hijacked by single interest groups, the most recent Victorian ALP conference being a prime example. 
Party policy is not democratically derived; the only way this could be so is if every voter joined every party and turned up at every party conference.

My second greatest beef about the constitution is the lack of a third tier of power independent of the houses of parliament. The office of Governor General is an important one and has served us reasonably well, but it compounds the shortcomings of the office of Prime Minister as it currently stands.

The candidate most likely to be elected as President in a more appropriate system would be someone who is not a total embarrassment, someone able to articulate a vision, someone whose vision is clear, and someone not hamstrung directly by denial of a conscience vote. 
A directly elected independent President would have more right to use the expression “mandate” than any of those who currently fling the word around for the sake of expedience. The mandate would be clear.
Under a Presidential system the ability of independents to hold governments to ransom and redirect party policies or philosophies would be far more limited.
No system will be perfect, but I rather like the idea of dissenting voices being heard without them necessarily having the power to change the agenda of government to the point where policies and promises are irrelevant, visions are compromised, and democracy reduced to the farce it is today.

The trucks may circle parliament endlessly, or they may even manage to do what Abbott so desperately hopes they will and precipitate a new election.

A new election will not, for me, lead to a resolution of any key problems with today’s government.
We will still be sliding into depression because no government has the cojones or ovaries to act, not to steal the income generated by the mining boom, perhaps to share a portion of our commonly owned resources, but definitely to smooth the enormous impact it is having on our economy.
We will still be faced with a simple choice between incompetence and inaction.
We will still be subjected to a barrage of expensive inanities during the “debate”.
We will still have a “leader of the opposition” rather than a “leader of the alternative government”.
We will still be led by people who, by their behaviour in parliament, set the gold standard example that legitimises bullying.
We will still have no confidence that the person elected as leader by the people will remain leader.
We will still have no confidence that the policies approved by the people will be the policies implemented [or at least championed or tested].

Voters are not being held to ransom by independents but by a crap constitution. Sorry truckers, might as well just honk if you love Jesus.

Friday, August 19, 2011


Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.
Anais Nin

Soon my oldest big bro, B1, will be 60.
I love /like/ admire him because he:
  • goes out of his way to be generous
  • is not judgemental
  • was playful with his kids and enjoyed their company
  • enjoys his children still, even though they have left home
  • has a strong sense of duty
  • is thoughtful
  • introduced me to the blues and some of the other music I love
  • just gets on with it, even if he has no natural aptitude for some of it
  • is a staunch Essendon supporter
  • has a great sense of humour
Anyone who could catch a sister-in-law like his wife can't be all bad.
He developed his con-merchant skills as a paper boy, selling the Herald [a now defunct afternoon newspaper] outside pubs during the years of the six-o'clock swill. [Back in the days before alcohol could be sold after 6 pm, men on their way home from work would stop at their local and compete to see who could drink the most before the publican called "time".]
The paper cost 3d [three pence] and he made a lot in tips by taking too long to dig out change of a sixpence.

At 14 he went to work with an insurance company, starting as a filing clerk. He increased his income and prospects by happily moving around the state [then the country] relieving clerks who were on holidays.
When his kids were still toddlers, he accepted a position as Pacific Region Manager for his company, and he and family rented out their Sydney home, and moved to Port Moresby in New Guinea. It was still a bit of a wild town, so they lived in a compound, protected by a dingo named Azaria.
While touring Europe the family went to check out the Vatican, as Catholics [and others] do. A couple of tourists standing near them in St Peter's square said hello, addressing them all by name: Their next door neighbours from Sydney.

When it was time for N1 and N2 to start secondary school they all returned to Sydney, where B1 and my sister in law [SIL 1]still live, next door to the same people they encountered in St Peter's Square.

While living in New Guineau, B1 neglected to do anything about the mole on his shin which had gone a bit weird, but back in Australia it started to spread badly - it was malignant, of course. To make sure he removed the melanoma completely, the surgeon removed a massive slab of his shin, which now sports a huge crater, with just a thin layer of skin tissue covering his tibia. In public, if he gets to talking with young kids [still young enough to be honest about their curiosity], he tells them a long story about his heroic struggle with a shark during a world surfing championship comp at Bell's Beach. Then he admits he lied and asks them why they aren's wearing a hat or sunscreen.

A Sunday morning ritual at home, for many years, was for the whole family to watch the midday movie. In keeping with the then high standard of Australian television, the movie was invariably a spaghetti western or a gladiator movie. Both types were always dubbed in English, so the sound and pictures of people talking were always out of sync.
We never watched these movies because they were great movies but because it was hilarious fun to compete to see who could find the most witty ways to rubbish the movie, inventing back stories, motives, or guessing what the original dialogue might have been before the movie was dubbed.

Once, when he was about 25, he found himself at home for a weekend at the same time I was there. He kept nagging my mother to give him something for dessert after tea - stirring is something he can do relentlessly. To shut him up, I offered to make him some custard, asking him whether he preferred it thin and runny, or thick. "Vanilla slice thick, please." Not bothering about presentation, I soon handed him a saucepan full of custard so thick the wooden spoon in it was wedged upright, which might have been funnier if he hadn't proceeded to eat the lot.

The Other and I are hoping to make it to Sydney next weekend for the big occasion, but if we don't make it, B1 and SIL 1 will still have a great day, because their first grandchild will be visiting from Melbourne. Yes, I'm a great aunt again - that's great, not just average.

Happy Birthday, B1. You are now officially an old fart.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


My apologies to readers - I am temporarily unable to post comments on your comments - hope to be back in full commenting mode by next week---------------------------------------

Federal Cabinet is now going to interfere in decisions to approve medicines for the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme [PBS].
If you’re going to be ill, choose a common illness so you’ll have access to the medicines you need.

The priorities of this government are totally out of whack.
Education, trade, infrastructure, health, and the environment are all important responsibilities for governments. Why are we saving money at the expense of people’s health? Is it so we can subsidise advertising campaigns telling us what to think?

Labor are also hoping to do two things to people in higher tax brackets: Firstly, means test the tax rebate [subsidy] on private health insurance, and secondly raise the Medicare levy on people in higher income brackets.
The rebate decision suggests the government believes the demand for private health insurance won’t change, no matter what it costs. Subjecting Medicare to a progressive rate of tax undermines the premise on which Medicare was built, which is that we owe a duty of care to all Australians regardless of their means.

Taxing high income earners through two separate health insurance measures is not just a dishonest trick that fools no one, it’s yet another example of government contempt for the KISS principle.
If Franz Kafka could send us a text message from the other side it would probably read “ROFLMAO”.

The Member for Dobell has been accused of mis-using a union credit card. Sure, it’s a tragedy that the two people still left in the Labor Party are subsidising his fight to clear his name.
The greater tragedy is that regardless of who misused the card to pay for some very expensive nooky, Union members are the last people Union management care about but nobody seems terribly shocked.

30 years ago, my grandmother became a nursing home resident. The institution occupied a couple of converted homes in a Melbourne suburb. Residents were packed two or three or four to a room, and there was little in the way of living areas. Women with dementia spent hours strapped to chairs, and the atmosphere was so appalling it was no surprise that my grandmother’s mind shut down in no time at all.

Aged care has since come a long way. Standards now require that residents be given, amongst other things, regular, varied and stimulating activities. Having seen the inside of several hostels and nursing homes in the last ten years, I must say that although the food is sometimes crappy, the care is personal, genuinely caring, and astonishingly good considering the poor rates at which workers are paid, what they have to do, and the crap they take from some of the residents.

How do I feel on hearing that a resident at Barrabill House in Seymour was left strapped to a toilet for two hours? I suppose if it had been my mother, and if I had not spent so much time in these places, I might be more horrified.
Unless people are provided with one on one care, this sort of thing is inevitable. I’ll even put my hand up and confess that while my mother was living in Frankston, she did spend an hour on the floor one day because she had fallen over, and couldn’t call out loudly enough to get my attention. Luckily, she wasn’t hurt, but that afternoon I went and bought some walkie-talkies [and boy, was I ‘on call’ after that].

But this is life. Nobody can watch anybody every second of every minute of every hour, even if the care is one on one. Obviously in this case the woman was forgotten, and what is awful about this story is that if she hadn’t died of natural causes she might have been quite distressed for some time. I trust that by now there is some system in place to ensure all residents or rooms are checked at regular intervals, and this will be something other institutions will have to do as well as a result of this case.

I don’t want to dismiss the distress this has caused the resident’s family, but each and every one of the people who work in these places deserves a giant vote of thanks, and I would hate anyone to think less of them as a result of this incident.

A little girl has been mauled to death by a dog.
I love dogs. I couldn’t imagine life without dogs.
I don’t like living in a Nanny State, but some dog owners are jerks, and this sort of thing infuriates me.

I’ve lost count of the times people have been walking dogs, off lead, and when their dog has attacked another they’ve said “He doesn’t normally do that!”.

Little kids come charging up to our schnauzers sometimes wanting to pat the “puppies”, so this is a chance to explain [if the kids are old enough] that they must never touch a strange puppy unless a grown up says it’s okay, or that small dogs are not always puppies etc. But as a dog owner it’s my job to do the teaching – people who don’t have dogs should not need a dog training certificate to live in their own homes.
Some council survey revealed there were 3300 dog attacks in one year. I don’t know if that is state-wide or what, but some dog owners are deluded.
Dog owners should hope for the best but prepare for the worst.

Another family filled with anguish. What a cruel waste.

A hen is only an egg’s way of making another egg.
Samuel Butler

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

chronic health problems

"Man invented language to satisfy his deep need to complain."
Lily Tomlin.

This week's list of whinges, without the whining and boring bits:

It all began when... the end.

Play Scenario 1:

In the chook shed in HG's backyard after school, we played "The Flintstones" for hours. No board games or special toys, just an obsession with the weird and wacky world of Wilma and Betty.
The words "upside down Flint-Rubble pineapple cake" emerge from the vaults of my mind. No doubt there is, by now, similarly useful information hidden on the hard drive of my computer.

Play Scenario 2:

The backyard across the road in the street which was once something of a slum but is now way out of my price range.
Too many kids to count, playing "Vic Market". For money, a variety of green leaves from the many different trees or shrubs in the yard.
At noon on Saturdays at the market, bells would ring and prices plummetted as stall holders tried to offload the fruit and veg which would not keep til the following Tuesday. [Was it Tuesday?]

This provided us all with an excuse to call out our bargains, loud and clear, shouting to be heard above the other stall holders: "Queensland Blue, tuppence a pound!" Perhaps I've always been far too serious and boring, for I cannot recall any way of making pumpkin sound like an attractive bargain too good to be missed. But it was a great excuse to be noisy.

Some kids played Doctors and Nurses. Are today's soap operas set in hospitals just a grown up version of the same thing?

Dina drew my attention to the shocking case of young Jacob Belim who died due to the dithering of doctors.

There's nothing like a medical story to unleash a flood of medical stories. Are those of us who like to talk about our operations simply exchanging cautionary tales and useful information, or do we suffer a serious need for one-up-man-ship?

The comic Paula Poundstone says if Martin Luther King Junior stood before her today and said "I had a dream..." she would instantly feel compelled to cut him off and butt in "So did I, only in mine..."

Here are some medical stories wherein I was not the patient:


Case 1.
Many years ago [begins like most of my stories these days] a workmate in her 50s rang one Saturday evening to say she had fallen off a horse and hurt herself. Dutifully drove to her place then spent an hour looking for an after hours chiropractor in her area. Said chiropractor advised "she needs to go to hospital".
Back to her place, called an ambulance, followed ambulance to the Western General Hospital in Footscray. Waited for ever until a doctor finally looked at her and said there was nothing wrong with her go home.
We went home. Then her husband, back from the footy, called an ambulance. There was no revolving door on the hospital but it would probably be a good idea.
Long story short there was yet another ambulance trip, some choice words exchanged and said friend was granted permission to lay on a gurney in a corridor all night til the registrar would arrive the next morning and presumably send her home again.
Next morning, registrar arrived, heard story, transferred her to a bed, tilted her so her feet were higher than ther head. Friend screamed, doctor said "ruptured spleen".

In this case [if you'll pardon the pun], I'd say the emergency doctor on night shift was newly graduated, had little experience, possibly already plagued with self doubt, probably certain that calling anyone else would not make them happy... that sort of thing. It's a good argument for private health insurance. Or moving away from the western suburbs.


The Other is something of a medical whiz, with lots of knowledge, experience and contacts. She is not a doctor, but everyone brings their bumps, bruises and big issues to her.

Aunty E, 92 years old, still tending a garden, feeding horses and living independently, started to slow down. Country doctor said she needed a new hip but was too old. When age is part of the problem the unspoken rule is really "doesn't have private health insurance".
The Other had a family conference by phone, the money was found to pay for a new hip.
Aunty stayed with us for 3 months, we did the rounds, and her problem was resolved with a series of blood injections - all bulk billed.

My mother lived with us for about 8 years. What can I say, maybe I was never curious enough to play doctors and nurses as a child because the people in my family were never shy. The Other often came to me, a look of pain and shock on her face because my mother had "flashed her goods" again. Serves The Other right for being able to diagnose, refer, pull strings and organise cures.
I did ask my mother to ask first. Something like "Would you mind having a look at something for me?" before flinging her robe open would have given The Other a chance to prepare herself, but my mother's memory was already too far gone.

The Other's Mother

A few years ago, The Other requested her sister organise scans for their Mother who lives in Woop Woop. On a weekend, The Other looked at the scans and said "bowel cancer". There followed a week of long distance phone calls from Melbourne, trying to get a surgeon to review the radiologist's conclusion that nothing was wrong. The following week the surgeon rang the other to apologise. He had trusted his new offsider who reviewed the scans and agreed there was nothing wrong.
None of this is a criticism of beginners, only time can provide experience and an exposure to all of the exceptions to textbook rules. But it is precisely because we are all human that it doesn't hurt to have an advocate in your corner.

When poor old Mother J comes to Melbourne for a week it usually turns into 3 months of specialist visits. Last time, we ended up in the emergency department of the Frankston Hospital.

The day started at 10 am. Within two hours she had been seen by two different triage nurses who both seemed to think she should go home and stop wasting their time.
Hour 3, out walks someone who has worked with The Other. This is where it gets interesting:
Said Nurse found a corner and a chair inside the ED, and went off to fetch a trolley of tools. Every single thing she went to use from the trolley was missing or broken. I kid you not, it took 45 minutes for her to do a basic assessment of The Other's Mother.
The Other's friend agreed it was a heart problem, and placed J into a queue for a cardiac bed in ED. One hour later a bed was free. The equipment did not work. Another hour was waited til a second cardiac bed was free.
By 3 pm the Mother was seen by a doctor, who arranged tests etc and agreed the problem was heart related. The Other then rang the private hospital where she works and organised a bed, arranging for her own cardiologist to drop in first thing the next morning.
It took from 10 am Saturday until 1 am Sunday to get J into a private hospital bed.

Being a public patient isn't always the problem; in this case, we went to a public hospital because it was a weekend, because it was urgent, and because at least a public hospital has equipment a medical practice would not.

Because we feel we know people well, we sort of know when to trust that they really are unwell if they say they are. I suspect the people who run the hostel where The Other's Mother lives had put her problems down to an unlikeable personality. The real problem was the flat battery in her pacemaker.

Part of the problem in getting the best care is competition for government funds. As federations go, Australia is a basket case. Health is a state responsibility, but creeping federalism has led to a duplication of ministries, and party political bitchfights which deliver less health care per dollar.

Part of the problem is that Emergency Departments are seen as a cheap GP clinic open 24 hours per day. Maybe we should have separate GP clinics located within hospital grounds. Someone like Dr Gounder should be able to order an ultrasound the way GPs normally do, rather than simply recommend it because an ED is self-governing . [Though I can't believe the registrar didn't order one if she was agreeing there was a bowel obstruction. Insane.]

The Other says our 50s were traditionally known as "the decade of death", though now that health technology has improved it is more like the decade of surgery. Like cars, we all need a major service and overhaul after so many years.

Private health insurance won't always guarantee the best result but I'll keep paying it, even if I have to sell a kidney to do so. And no matter how much doctors might hate people who presume to know as much as them, I'll always be glad to have The Other in my corner.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

living together apart

Stumbled across a series called The Outback House I can watch on the internet.
It’s one of those back-in-time series where a family volunteers to go and have their world turned inside out for 3 months, experiencing life in another era. This one is set on an 1861 sheep station.

It was made in 2005 and I must have missed it because I tend to avoid TV. I’ve seen two others previously, which I’d heard about and watched on DVD.
The first was The 1940s House, about a family in Britain reliving the Blitz period of World War II, dealing with rations and so on. The other was The Frontier House, a U.S. version of a pioneer life [there might have been more than one family in this one, can’t remember].

The thing that was most striking [apart from the time travel experience] about these series was the enormous personal growth of the people who took part in them.
The teenage American girls suffered tremendous culture shock, having to give up everything from talking to their friends on the phone, to toilet paper. After three months of living a frontier life, on top of each other in a poky little cabin, the whole family had gone from a collection of sniping, resentful self-absorbed individuals to a very strong, well bonded unit.

When the series was over, back they went to a giant, rambling mansion, and the girls suffered culture shock all over again. Suddenly each member of the family was isolated from the rest, living in different corners of the house with their paths barely crossing during the course of a day. They felt abandoned.
And it is this that I think of every time I see a McMansion. Apart from the ridiculous amounts of energy or money required to run these houses, it’s their anti-social nature that seems tragic. This is not to say they are necessarily antisocial, but I fear many of them might be.

When I was growing up in inner Melbourne in the early 1960s, it was quite common for Italians or Greeks to live, two families to a small house, until they got on their feet. Did they get on each other’s nerves? Well, it took me a while to get used to people all talking at once, but the kids at school told it was very normal because there were always so many conversations going on. And even if one kid was fighting with another, there was always still someone who’d talk to them.

It was a standard joke when I was growing up that Italians and Greeks built huge houses once they were established, because there was always a bricklayer or a concreter in the family.
A friend of mine used to say her father was crazy – no huge, ostentatious lions guarding their gate: Using plastic footballs as a mould, he had to be different and have Aussie Rules Footballs on the pillars along his fence line. In the end, he got sick of having them stolen so he made a set of concrete soccer balls which, surprise surprise, nobody ever knocked off.
But these big “wog” houses were designed for “living apart together”. The next generation could get married and have privacy without leaving home. They were not designed to be anti-social, and I doubt those who lived in them would know how to sit alone for long.
At a wedding last year, a fourth generation Greek Australian warned her new in-laws that even when they weren't talking to the bride, they would still reserve the right to interfere.

The McMansion suburbs of Melbourne sit in stark contrast to the almost claustrophobic scale of housing in many parts of London. I’m sure that even in London, 50 years ago, there must have been a feeling that a street was a community, where every parent knew and was free to keep an eye on or discipline everyone else’s children.
Even now, in a place with a reputation like Frankston’s I live in a court where everyone knows everybody else. We respect each others’ space, but ladders are borrowed, animals fed, help given with lifting and so on as a matter of course. If an ambulance pulls up in the street, there is always an unobtrusive “do you need anything?” or two. And I wonder, do our next-doors really grow the world’s best nectarines, or is there just something special about being handed a couple of buckets of fresh fruit over the fence?

So, what has changed? If it is not the amount of space we have that causes a disintegration of community, what is going wrong?
Playing loud music late at night can be a great source of annoyance for your neighbours.
Another good way to annoy them is to set fire to their dustbins.

Marty Feldman

Saturday, August 13, 2011

staying connected

When I was young [very young] I wondered why Superman, the Lone Ranger and Rin Tin Tin were all American. Gosh, even when Men from Mars came to earth they always went to America.
Any suggestions, customers?

as a man who has my utmost respect says repeatedly:
"if it doesn't work in practice,
you've got the wrong theory"

From January 1 next year, teenage mothers relying on welfare will be required to meet certain obligations if they want their payments to continue.
When the child is 6 months, they’ll have to attend support and engagement interviews at Centrelink, and develop a participation plan. Once the child is 12 months old, the mums will be required to finish secondary school, undergo other training or find work. The plan is that as soon as the child is 6 years old, the parent will be obliged to look for work.

Like similar plans to trial an extension of the NT Intervention quarantine of unemployment benefits, this tough love policy will be tested in 10 areas specifically chosen as problem areas. In Victoria, the areas targeted will be Hume [Broadmeadows] and Shepparton.

What reports like this one don’t discuss in much detail is that there is a growing trend in the USA, the UK and in Australia to find ways to end welfare dependency. This is not policy as class war, but simply a recognition of the reality that welfare is itself creating an underclass. There are people on welfare payments who would like to be independent but lack the training, social skills, confidence or whatever else it takes to find and keep jobs. The solution is a combination of “help and hassle”.

In the early 1990s the Keating government started the ball rolling in Australia with ‘reciprocal obligation’ reforms, and the Howard government followed this up with its ‘Work for the Dole’ strategy.

While there are about 11,000 teen mums receiving parenting payments, it would be unfair to think single parents who make babies for a living are the only ones receiving help. Even most middle class two-parent families are entitled to assistance under the Family Tax A and B provisions, childcare rebates and the new Paid Parental Leave scheme.

The moves will not necessarily save government spending, but will hopefully help break the welfare dependency cycle. Presumably teen mums are being targeted in the hope of prevention, with perhaps older mums to be ‘cured’ later.
Anything that might prevent children from growing up feeling disconnected from their community has to be a good thing.

While I have no in principle objection to this policy targeting teens specifically, one might wonder how study or similar obligations can be enforced if the mums in question are not old enough to have a licence [or rich enough to have a car], or are not somehow within commuting distance of a decent job, or a TAFE College or other Registered Training Organisation [RTO].

The farce that passes for Public Transport in this country is one of the single greatest barriers between people and jobs. This is a farce not just because of its unreliability or scarcity, but because unless trains or buses are packed they are simply not safe.

I’ve touched recently on some issues affecting the mobility of labour, but saved my pet peeve til now, and that is that beyond the question of portable skills, is the issue of portable qualifications.

While the federal government is doing its utmost to introduce the idea of a national curriculum, qualifications are not yet fully portable. The Australian Qualifications Training Framework [AQTF] administers the standards applicable to TAFE colleges [run by state governments] and Registered Training Organisations [RTOs] [run by private providers].
  • Despite the best efforts of the AQTF to clean up their act, the fact remains that there is still a huge disparity in the quality of training provided by some RTOs and the rest of the TAFE sector.
  • It has taken a couple of decades, but we now have moved closer to the dream of qualifications which can be transferred across state lines.
    Naturally, any training which requires familiarity with local laws or regulations cannot really be transferred effectively. While we continue to support state governments this will be an ongoing problem.

Let’s look at Certificate IV in Occupational Health and Safety (BSB41407) programs from various providers:
  • RMIT: fast track programs allow you to complete a Certificate IV or Diploma in 6 months.
  • National Safety Council provides this course over 12 months $1950.
  • People Safe between 6 and 12 months, $1800 with no pre-requisites OR a 6 day accelerated learning program for corporate groups.

Some units cross state borders and some don’t. For example, there is different work cover legislation in each state. Even though the principles are the same, the acts are different and use different acronyms etc etc.

On the plus side, loans are now available for TAFE fees.

Job matching [on behalf of Centrelink] has been privatised for quite some time, and this is complemented by the Australian Jobsearch Website.

On this website, using Industry – Mining and Location – WA I came up with 39 jobs as of 13/08/2011. [If this results link doesn’t work it would not take you long to search again.]

Most of these “mining industry” jobs are for taxi drivers [indigenous/ or disability positions], bar staff or baristas.

One can only trust that ads for the gazillion jobs available in the mining industry are not being entrusted to the government’s website.

So we turn to Seek which is probably the biggest job site, and look for Mining Resources and Energy, any type of job, in Rural WA. Thousands of jobs. How many for unskilled or inexperienced operators? Well, I could spend a week wading through the ads, but I wouldn’t expect to find many [if any].
Should someone who is receiving Newstart and living in Melbourne be expected to fly [if they can afford it] to WA and ask on the off-chance the “experienced” requirement” can be waived?

I do this exercise only to stress a point:
  • unemployed people and job vacancies do not necessarily line up in terms of either skills or state of residence;
  • all training and encouragement we give the unemployed is good, but if we pressure people and build up their hopes and pay for all this and they remain unemployed they will still be disconnected [if not more so];
  • where welfare plus training costs amounts to stimulus packages with no accompanying growth of job creation, in the long run we'll get stagflation.

Like many laudable government policies, I do not have a lot of faith that the ‘help and hassle’ approach will be implemented effectively.
Continued hectoring of the unemployed with references to the mining boom is alienating, and foolish.


Friday, August 12, 2011

airy-fairy commentary


The news of continued rioting in England is as riveting as it is horrifying.
The membership of postcode gangs, carrying weapons and dealing drugs have been seen as normal behaviour by a large number of disaffected English youth for decades.
But could this happen, on this scale, in our own backyard?

One of the looters [in the clip above] tries to justify her actions with the line “just gettin’ our taxes back”. As incredibly stupid as this line is, it provides some assurance that most of the violence is purely opportunistic.

What our little tax collector also reveals is that many of these people feel no connection whatsoever with their community. This seems to be a proximal cause of much of the unrest. This disconnection can be attributed to poor discipline, or to racism, or to class warfare, or to income gaps, but should it? Labels are easy to apply, but they ignore the fact that there are both mixed race, and mixed gender memberships of these gangs. Most of their [usual] turf wars are directed at members of their own class.

Sadly, a lot of the commentary - in the tradition of news as entertainment – is polarising. The situation is being beat up as a class war, as racism, or both.
We are in danger of becoming victims of our own fears – fears that may become self-fulfilling - of multicultural conflict, or racial conflict, or even [for want of a better word] “class” conflict.

In my previous post I provided two examples of what Australian ‘haves’ believe is a problem: People are going soft because welfare is too easy or, worse still, people on welfare contribute nothing, are useless hangers-on, and should suffer.
What I suggested in turn is that some kind of welfare support is not only a moral good, but a sensible thing in the long run.

How do we decide which of those people on welfare contribute nothing?
For example, if we want to live in a society where all life is valued, then the people who provide long term care for the handicapped or disabled are doing us a service.

Example: A falling road toll is widely taken as evidence that people are behaving more sensibly on the roads. What is never included in reports of this toll is the number of people who become permanently disabled or acquire brain injuries as a result of accidents. Is someone who works 100 hours a week, pays taxes and then drink-drives a potential welfare cheat?
Yes, the question is contrived, but hopefully it shows that polarising, finger-pointing arguments about what’s wrong with the world are counter-productive. Nothing is ever so cut and dried or black and white.

Most days I am reminded, again and again, of the story of Groucho Marx. He was so careful with his money he even survived the market crash in 1929. He lived in an expensive house, but the ‘best’ golf club in his area did not accept Jews as members.
At some point, the club realised having him as a member would be a feather in their cap, and offered to make an exception in his case if he wanted to join.
His response to that [delivered with typical Groucho style] was “I wouldn’t want to join any club that would have me as a member!”
[Well, there are 5 million versions of this on the ‘net, but mine will do.]

Charges of racism or welfare bludging are alienating. If we want people to stop feeling disconnected then we need to stop telling them they don’t belong, or that they are defective. If we overdo it then when they have a chance to join us they won’t want to.
To be a little more airy-fairy in our approach to disaffected people would not necessarily be a complete mistake.

Long term, family-wide and transgenerational unemployment contributes to a feeling of disconnection with society at large.
We might think these people should just get off their bums and join the real world, but it is their perception [however ignorant] that is behind the rioting. It is their assessment of their own reality that we must work with if we want to prevent this from happening here.
No one will get out of bed early, dress for the day and go out in search of work if he cannot see himself succeeding. If we asked Sandra, interviewed above, to describe what it would be like to go out to work she wouldn’t even be able to imagine it. If she can’t imagine it, how could it be possible?

One journalist following up on recent rioting interviewed a woman whose son is a qualified electrician. She made sure her children studied and got qualifications, but they still can't find jobs.

How do we find the right balance between helping those who need or deserve help, and finding jobs for those who should be working?
What do we do if by some miracle we knew what the true levels of hidden unemployment and genuine work are, and the number of jobs didn’t match the number of unemployed?

Most governments are expected to achieve three main things financially;
  • not increase a country’s debt while in office;
  • keep the economy chugging along nicely so everyone can have jobs; and
  • keep a lid on inflation.

Economics is to Science as Christianity is to the Bible. Two experts can see the same thing and interpret it any number of ways. The way they interpret things will in some way reflect their values or priorities.

To oversimplify, during a depression people will lose jobs, or struggle to find jobs, and everyone will tighten their belts.
The economist John Maynard Keynes showed that when times are tough and individual families are quite sensibly trying to save more, the worst thing a government can do is try to save as well. What works at an individual level doesn’t work the same way at an aggregate level. He called this “The Savings Paradox”.

While Keynes was absolutely right, there is a downside to governments spending a lot of money to buy their country’s way out of a depression. Some short term intervention – like Kevin Rudd’s stimulus package – can be helpful, but in the long run governments can’t just keep handing over money. The money spent must be matched by improvements in the economy, generating growth and jobs.

Faced with the Global Financial Crisis, we might think of our welfare payments as ongoing stimulus packages that are not currently generating much growth or creating many jobs.

Faced with the riots in London, we might think our welfare payments are failing to make people feel valued, useful, productive, or connected to the rest of the community. Our price system is built on incentive, and cannot work properly unless people have hope.
We want some of our welfare payments to be temporary, to provide hope, real jobs, and to create something.
What are we doing now to help jobless people, and what could we do better?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

life's a beach

Dogs who earn their keep have more fun


It’s official: The sky is falling.

Europe: Plans to cut national budgets and, in some countries, severe measures designed to prevent defaults on government borrowing, have affected quite a few European Union (EU) countries. There have been protests in Spain, Greece, Italy, France, Portugal, Ireland, the UK, the Netherlands, and Romania. People even took to the streets in Germany, where cuts are not too severe, and growth and unemployment figures are relatively good.  

There are many reasons for the numbers of football thugs, postcode gangs and other marginal pests who threaten Britain’s stability, and not least of these is the transgenerational unemployment in towns where traditional industries, such as ship building or coal mining have all but disappeared.

The latest wave of mindless violence in England can only make things worse for those who are rioting. The Global Financial Crisis has not yet begun to play itself out, so this is a silly time for disaffected loons to ensure business owners and investors take their money out of circulation.

Closer to home, Andrew Michelmore - CEO of Chinese government-dominated, Melbourne-based miner MMG – is warning Australia will devolve into a welfare state unless workers start generating a little more enthusiasm for work.

''People can't be bothered moving 25 kilometres to get a job because they will live off social welfare instead, and it's a real worry for me watching Australia have a luxurious time at the benefit of our relationship with China,'' he said.

Mr Michelmore said more seniors and women should be returned to a workforce that was dominated by people with ''airy fairy'', ''idealistic'' and ''altruistic'' attitudes. ''We need to get the grey hairs back into industry and working, we need to get more women involved in work,'' he said.

We hear more and more frequently that there are a gazillion mining jobs going begging in the Pilbara, but none of the people making this claim – while complaining at the same time that Australians are too lazy to take these jobs – have offered me a table listing the number, types and locations of vacancies against the number of true unemployed with the skills available to fill those vacancies.

And how about this comment on Michelmore’s comments:

Couldn't be bothered to move 25k to get a job. What a tool. If the job was 25k away, people would simply drive to get there- why would they need to move?

And another comment:

Take a look at the Victorian De-Sal plant - Don't tell me you couldn't of [sic] flown in a 1000 Chinese engineers each happy to make $40,000 - $50,000 Aust a year, resulting in the thing, needed or not(I won't go into that) being built for a third of the price. We are entering a time where; if you contribute nothing, you will be found out and will suffer. It is my generations time to rid the world of useless hangers-on.

Ouch. Where are these 1,000 engineers who have paid to get a degree yet would rather live on welfare than accept $50,000 a year?

If we can expect rational people to do what is in their own best interests, then it is quite sane for people to look at welfare as one income option. Personally, I can’t for the life of me imagine rational people considering living on long-term welfare and then deciding it is an option.

Hopefully, census data will go some way to revealing the truth about unemployment in Australia, but the results will be some way off. Even then it will take more than a little political will to present the data honestly.

Are we really in danger of going the way of Britain? Is this a case of lots of individual members of the workforce having an attitude of ‘she’ll be right’, or a sense of entitlement? Or are we, at a macro level, designing ourselves into an undesirable corner?

We were once proud that Australia was a relatively classless society but I’m sure if I looked I would find reports that the gap between rich and poor is increasing at an increasing rate.
What scares me more than the laid back Michelmores is the vitriol of some who resent anyone who is not doing as well as them.

Yes, we would all be worse off if some had not incurred student loans, studied hard, worked 120 hour weeks and got somewhere. I do not begrudge them one cent, but I find their judgmental rationalisations unhelpful.

Firstly, they make the mistake of arguing from the particular to the general [If I did it anyone can]. The answer to this is a quote from Joan Robinson:
“The misery of being exploited by capitalists is nothing compared to the misery of not being exploited at all.”
Some people would like a chance to work hard and succeed.

Secondly, I suspect that most of the time what is the ‘right’ thing to do actually brings the most desirable results for everyone.
Welfare in one form or another, and some income redistribution is a moral good. It is also a fair price to pay for living without fear of junkies trying to rob your house at night. It’s the price you pay so that those with less physical or mental opportunities are not asleep and blocking your path when you walk down the street. It’s the price you pay so there is not mindless gang warfare or rioting destroying the assets you have worked so hard for.
Regardless of background or innate abilities, most people face more or less the same basic costs of living. 

Thirdly, no one on earth lives in a perfectly free market economy because that would, in practical terms, require anarchy.

Governments interfere in markets. 

While it is fair to say that some people are not pulling their weight, rather than resort to simplistic class distinctions, the resenters might lobby for governments to get their act together, resulting in a win-win outcome for both the resenters and the resented.

Marginal developments marginalise

Why the proliferation of McMansions on housing estates with no infrastructure worth spitting at? Estates are rolled out endlessly with no play space, no social infrastructure, and no reliable public transport.
Many of these estates provide entry level homes - for anyone who works and can afford to own and maintain a reliable car. [Of course, the car is not for travelling all the way to work in, it’s only for driving to a train station as part one of the journey.]

As more and more first home buyers default on their mortgages and leave their McMansions, rental tenants are moving in and, in turn, driving even more first home buyers to sell up and move out. The marginalised are shifting to the margins.

Welcome to tomorrow's London.

Costs of relocation

Distance is an issue, but 25 kms is not, as Michelmore would have it, in any way a “distance”. Moving interstate is a distance. Someone who lives, for example, in Sydney and is both willing and able to work in the Pilbara has two options; commute or relocate their family. Relocation is a big ask.

Someone relocating interstate can avoid capital gains tax only for two years if they rent out their existing home.
If they sell up [subject to prices in the housing market] they must still fork over stamp duty when they buy a new house. [In Victoria this is $22,000 for a house worth 500,000.]
Add to this the costs associated with transferring motor registration and driver’s licence, connection fees to utilities and around $6,000 for a removalist.
It is only this year that national registration of health workers has come into effect, but there are some professions where registration is still state based, and some employers demand police checks.
School aged children might need new uniforms or other supplies.

Workers cannot be mobile unless their skills are portable.

At the end of the Vietnam War, we took in at least 85,000 asylum seekers. [Thanks Dina.]

Many were professionals like lawyers or doctors, but their skills were not portable and, for many, retraining was simply not practical.

Some of their solutions included taking factory jobs, buying bakeries [and competing on price], or setting up sweatshops in their kitchen doing piecework for the clothing industry – traditionally one of the worst industries around the globe.
Two Vietnamese men who had a woodworking outlet built me a bespoke flat pack style kitchen I could take to a country house and assemble myself. It wasn’t flash but it was very good, reasonably priced and they added lots of little touches I wasn’t expecting.
Yet others have opened green groceries, or fish stalls.

Today, absorbing these people into the workforce would take a lot longer because the clothing trade has moved offshore, a lot of factories have closed, flat pack furniture is now shipped in from China… that sort of thing.
[BTW, SPC in Mooroopna is the latest casualty of business rationalisation.]

Let’s look at some job options today for the people we once thought of as “unskilled”.

Work in a café or restaurant
food handling certificate type A, plus Barista course or experience
Work in a food processing factory
food handling certificate type B
Kitchen hand in a hospital or aged care facility
food handling certificate type C
White card [OH&S] plus forklift licence
Road Construction Stop Sign Holder
White card [OH&S] plus control construction traffic course

There are TAFE Courses for everything. Want to wash beds and move them around in a hospital? Want to work in a shop?
[I could go on, but I think you get the picture…]

Next… The proper role of government in facilitating the free flow of the business resource ‘labour’.