June 14, 2015

Big Ideas

ABC Radio National

Lionel Shriver (1957):
My politics … are libertarian …
I don't like being told what to do.
Actually, deep down inside, I'm a 10 year old child with a problem with temper tantrums.
(Lionel Shriver on free speech, identity and the future of the US, 19 September 2016)

Bryan Stevenson [Professor of Law, New York University]:
Each of us is better than the worst thing we've ever done.
(The fight for racial justice in America, 19 March 2015)

Augustine (354 – 430):
The good Christian should be wary of mathematics and all those who make empty prophesies.
The danger already exists that mathematicians have made a covenant with the Devil to darken the spirit and confine Man to the bonds of Hell.

Jane Gleeson-White:
[The] logic that drives the modern corporation [privileges] financial capital over every other value on earth, including the value of nature and of human beings and our communities.
While Wall Street booms and nations stagger, we continue to tear apart the earth and effectively enslave ourselves to financial capital — money — to fuel our fixation with economic growth.
The polar ice caps melt, extreme weather becomes the norm, species become extinct, the financially rich nations of the earth are plagued by depression and obesity and the impoverished nations are haunted by homelessness and hunger.
And yet we remain blind to their interconnectedness and their cause. …
The daily operations of business are destroying the planet and human societies and they do so because they are governed by one sole legal obligation: to maximise profit.
(Six Capitals, 2014, p 280)

Jane Gleeson-White

Death by Numbers

In 1977 the Ford Motor Company used a cost-benefit analysis to weigh the relative merits of adding, or not adding, a safety device to its new Pinto car.
This involved assessing the cost of safety parts versus the cost of lives lost.
Where the cost of lives lost is the dollar value of men, women and children killed in the potentially unsafe vehicle. …

An internal company memorandum estimated that if the Pinto was sold without the $11 safety feature:
  • 2,100 cars would burn every year,
  • 180 people would be hurt but would survive, and
  • another 180 would burn to death.
The safer car would save 49.5 million dollars worth of human pain, suffering and death, but it would cost 137.5 million dollars.
Clearly the costs of the safety device far exceed its benefits in numerical terms.
And so, naturally, Ford decided not to spend the money on the safety feature …

(Michael Sandel, Justice: Putting A Price Tag On Life, February 2011)

In the 6 years that the Pinto was on the market 500 hundred people [were] burned to death …

In July [2013], Portugal's finance minister resigned over the austerity measures required for its 78 billion euro bailout.
Greece still can't pay its debts.
Italy's budget deficit is expected to rise to some 4% of GDP.
On the other hand, Europe's largest bank, HSBC has just announced its half-yearly profits have risen 10% to $US 14.1 billion …

When the English philosopher Roger Bacon [1214 – 1292] tried to promote Arabic maths in the 13th century, he was charged with magic and condemned to life imprisonment.

(Numbers rule the world, 3 September 2013)

Costa Rica Leads the World

Not only have Costa Rica's forests and natural areas been protected since the launch of [their Payments for Ecological Services] program in 1997, but large tracts of ruined land have also been restored.
In the late 1980s, only 21% of Costa Rica was covered by forests: by 2010 that had risen to 52%.
This was accompanied by improvements in the country's living standards and energy savings.
In 1985, only half of Costa Rica's energy came from renewable sources.
By 2010, this figure had risen to 92%.
(p 72)

The Cost Of Doing Business

{In 2010, eighteen Foxconn workers attempted suicide.}

[When, in March,] seventeen-year-old Tian Yu threw herself from the fourth floor of her factory dormitory at Foxconn's Longhua facility … spine and hip fractures [left her] paralysed from the waist down.
[After public pressure forced its hand, Foxconn (Apple's primary supplier) gave] her 180,000 yuan (approximately US$29,000) in compensation so she could return to her rural village, which she had left one month earlier to earn money for her impoverished family. …

Yu threw herself out of the window after working two seven-day weeks straight, more than twelve hours a day, and finding she hadn't been paid for her month's work because of an administrative bungle.
The wages she was owed for two seven-day weeks and two six-day weeks with overtime amounted to a quarter of the cost of a new iPhone 5.

(Six Capitals, Allen & Unwin, 2014)

Would you like to know more?







Paul Barclay





  • Building resilience in an era of limits to growth, 5 August 2013.
    Nicole Foss (Stoneleigh): System Analyst.
  • Do Trade Deals & Budget Cuts Make Us Less Healthy?, 14 April 2014.
    David Stuckler: Professor of Sociology, Oxford University.

    David Stuckler:
    The real danger is austerity.
    [In Europe] there have been deep cuts to public health [leading to HIV, tuberculosis and] malaria outbreaks, suicides and a range of health problems. …

    [In Greece the] combination of hardship and the failure of government leaders to protect people in hard times [has resulted in 10,000] economic suicides over and above historical trends.
    {There was a 40% cut to the hospital budget [and] a 50% cut to HIV prevention budget [leading to] a 200% spike in HIV infections. …}

    [By contrast,] smart policies that help people who have lost jobs return to work, like we have seen in Sweden and Finland can [prevent] mental health problems [including] suicide and self harm. …

    Paul Barclay:
    [I understand there has been an increase] in infant mortality in Greece of 43% between 2008 and 2011. …

    David Stuckler:
    [The] price of austerity can be calculated in human lives.
    Had European partners and Greeks done austerity math and said:
    Would we like to shave 2% of the budget and have a 40% increase in infant mortality?
    I think they would have made different choices. …

    [After Iceland's banking system collapsed,] job losses spiked by 10%, yet unlike [in Greece and in] Spain we did not see a rise in depression and suicides …
    [The Icelandic government] invested in programs that … gave people hope in the future … and went so far as to provide jobs where they were scarce. …

    [The HIV, malaria and tuberculosis epidemics in Greece] are costing far more than they would have [cost] to prevent. …
    We found that smart investments in the health system can return up to three dollars for each dollar invested …
    Part of this is not an economic discussion but … an ideological one.
    There are concerns that governments are introducing these austerity measures to shrink the role of the state; for wealthy elites to reduce tax payments into a welfare system which they never use they never use anyway. …

    [In Greece there was] a ten fold rise in HIV in injection drug users [after] cuts to needle exchange programs took effect in 2010. …
    With TB we have seen a reversal of downward trends; not … occurring in migrants but in persons of Greek origin.
    We are seeing similar trends in Spain and Portugal.
    That's just the tip of the iceberg because surveillance systems have been cut …
    [These changes are increasing the risk of the breeding of] drug resistant strains of TB that threaten us all. …

    [Investment] in health, education and the environment [have] some of the biggest returns on investment.
    [The money spent translates] into jobs while providing valuable services that put the nation on a good long term path.
    [Comparatively, the benefits of] defence spending and bank bailouts tended to be smaller and, in some cases, hurt the economy as money [flows] out to other nations — to foreign contractors or offshore tax havens.

    {We have a choice …
    We can prevent people from suffering from economic hardship if we make it a priority. …}

  • Transition to sustainable growth, 17 March 2014.
  • Tim Flannery, 12 March 2013.
  • The common ground of love, 6 March 2014.
    Jan Willis: Professor Emeritas of Religion, Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut.
  • Israel as a military power, 6 March 2014.
    Jeff Halper: PhD, Coordinator, Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions.

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