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The clock is ticking ... towards 2050

If there is one thing that is despised in the military, it is a self-inflicted wound. Right next to it comes preferential treatment.

A few days ago the National Commission of Audit released the document "Towards Responsible Government" [1], from now on referred to as the Report. It represents an analysis of current government practices, their size, distribution, purpose, as well as their effectiveness. All this against a background of ever tightening budgets due to increasing demand for government services.

The need for such a document is significant in itself. Western and/or industrialised nations have managed to evolve to a level of complexity which created the perception of practically endless resources for more and more services, grooming their respective populations towards a mindset that assumed a considerable degree of permanency for those arrangements.

Yet nations are essentially systems, their governments represent subsystems, as do their citizens and the groups they create. As such they are ultimately subject to the same principles determining complex, dynamic systems anywhere in nature, the only difference being their scale and their relevant timelines along which they perform.

Seven years ago the article "2050: Age of the Silverback" was written with the above in mind. It described the state of affairs around the year 2050 as it could be assumed to have moved to, given the currently ascertainable patterns of systems performance in developed and underdeveloped societies. The patterns were based on the references provided in the follow-up, "2050: References".

Since then the section Parallels has accumulated fifteen entries regarding events that confirmed the steady move towards the predicted situation. This Report is yet another.

What follows is an interpretation of the Report from the perspective of human activity systems under the Otoom model, entities which, although driven by human perception and imagination, are in the end subject to the constraints imposed by finite resources, the degrees of industriousness, and the ability of its members to comprehend their status. This article does not enter into any debate about the exact size and scope of the referenced figures.

The Report refers to the fifteen largest areas of government expenditure; not surprisingly, they also happen to be the fastest growing ones. They are detailed on p. 252. Taxation has not been reviewed, although it is mentioned on several occasions.

Overall, the National Commission of Audit suggests a redistribution of administration and expenditure away from the federal sphere towards the states. Referring to the subsidiarity principle, under which services are relegated to areas which actually use them (already employed by the European Union), the idea is to streamline the associated resources for better efficacy (eg, pp. xiii, xviii, 69).

One of the defining aspects of complex, dynamic systems is their tendency to develop clusters, that is linkages among subsystems of similar nature. So much so that a sufficiently strong cluster can emerge as another system in its own right, thereby being largely independent of its former host in terms of performance and status. Therefore, if the purpose of an entire system is to maintain its character, it needs to assert its values and priorities upon its members.

In the case of the states vs the nation as a whole, certain general standards regarding services, infrastructure, education, and so on, will either support the sustainability of the whole if maintained, or can lead to separation if such standards become sufficiently distinct from each other to make a synchronisation unfeasible. Particularly under the influence of increasing budgetary pressures the means to patch over differences become scarcer too, which in turn influences the status overall.

Currently the variance between the states and territories is considerable when it comes to such areas as unemployment, education, housing affordability, and so on, as can be seen form the State statistical bulletin 2010-11 [2]. A certain standard of perception and conceptualisation of an issue within a particular cluster leads to a local treatment which is in line with that standard, and in the absence of a wider reference the development cycle becomes self-referencing. In the case of a relatively lower standard the trend will be further downwards, thereby destabilising the entire system. Should the standard be higher the system as a whole will not benefit.

The largest programme has been identified as the Age Pension. Currently it costs close to $40 billion, and by the year 2023-24 it is projected to be over $72 billion (p. vii). "Of the projected $32 billion increase in the cost of funding the Age Pension, around 40 per cent is driven by current arrangements to index the payment, with most of the remainder due to increasing numbers of recipients. This is an important fact", the Report notes (p. 44). Although the amounts cited are significant, they also illustrate the sheer inevitability of those numbers - everybody ages, something one cannot do much about. Rather than seeing it as an impost, an alternative view would be one of a major participating, consuming asset. In other words, here we have a demographic which is relatively stable, can be relied upon to redistribute their money across society, and will remain largely focused on their respective locale - all positives in terms of a dynamic system which consumes. Hence the Age Pension is one expenditure that would be one of the least wasteful ones.

Seeing the Age Pension as yet another component competing with so many others leads to the question of what kind of competition there exists in the first place.

Below is a table showing the various increases over the next ten years (p. 43):

Audit Report - Table 4.2

Presenting the table in ascending order the annual growth of the Age Pension at 6.2% is approximately in the middle:

average annual growth (%)
Family Tax Benefit
Job Seeker Income Support
Disability Support Pension
Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme
Higher Education
Age Pension
Medicare Benefits Schedule
Aged Care and Population Ageing
Income Support for Carers
Official Development Assistance
Child Care and Paid Parental Leave
National Disability Insurance Scheme

The higher values below would represent items linked to the ageing population, such as Medicare Benefits Schedule, Aged Care and Population Ageing, Income Support for Carers, Hospitals and the National Disability Insurance Scheme (although the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme at 5.4% is the exception).

Since an expected increase in life expectancy is included in the considerations (pp. xxi, 80, 84), the mounting costs associated with the items further down the list would point to a deteriorating state of health which is somewhat disconnected with age itself.

The data used in the Report are based on statistics derived from various numerical performance indicators. What such indicators do not show are the underpinning causes. These are a function of behavioural dynamics from the individual upwards to the scale of society at large.

Table 7.1 is meant to illustrate the expected rise in life expectancy between now and the year 2053 (p. 84), at which point it is assumed to have moved from 65.0 to 90.7 years. It may not necessarily be so.

As the data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare for 2013 show, over 12 million people are classified as overweight or obese, 5% more adults are overweight or obese today compared to 1995, and 25% of children are similarly affected [3]. A recent survey conducted by Co-operative Childcare in the UK [4] found that parents are in such fear for the safety of their children that "the amount of time today's youngsters spend on outdoor activities has slumped in the space of a generation". "Some 36 per cent of today's children get their entertainment from a screen, compared with just 8 per cent in the Eighties." The effects on children held in such a state of "captivity" would be considerable.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports an increase of 8.46% in emergency presentations of children aged five to 14 in 2012-13 compared to 2010-11 [5]. The reason - "cotton-wool children are so clueless about how to play outdoors that broken limbs are becoming increasingly common". "Many children no longer know how to play".

On a related note, a proposal to pay children to eat fruits and vegetables in schools would cost governments over $136 million [6].

The use of one's limbs would be one of the most fundamental properties of any organism, yet over the span of a few years society has managed to deteriorate to such an extent that its offspring is no longer assured of this basic asset.

Viewing society as a system permits the identification of certain functionalities attached to its elements, in other words the characteristics according to which those elements function. Eating to excess, lack of supervision, hysteria over safety, they all are due to aspects of overindulgence, an adoration of the Child, and emotionalism spread across society under the auspices of feminism as the mindset of the 'mother' subordinates other notions under its dominance. The need to turn life in general into a home or hospice where everything is safe and under the control of the mother instinct has produced the level of decadence made apparent in so many statistics. The desire by a substantial demographic to satisfy its passion has led to labels such as 'kidults' and the 'nanny-state'.

Similarly, the levels of immunisation of children has declined, where the number of conscientious objections has increased from 4271 in 1999 to over 30,000 in the year 2012 [7]. A booklet published by the Academy of Science [8] warns that "many more children will die from diseases such as measles, mumps and diphtheria than will be harmed by the side effects of immunisation". The anti-vaccination lobby has been blamed as the culprit.

Since the primary carers of children are mothers, and the fears propagated would therefore mostly be absorbed by this demographic, a mindset that instills the notion of female superiority and independence while at the same time celebrating its emotionalism prepares the ground for ill-conceived decisions.

The article "The not so hidden costs of feminism" outlines a number of such influences, observed against the background of ever more limited resources which so far are being used to feed the indulgence. It is no coincidence the demands along those lines have manifested in statistics found noteworthy by the Report.

The Commission's recommendation regarding Paid Parental Leave because it "has the potential to support maternal and child health and increase women's workforce participation" (pp. xlii, 119) is another nod towards the aims of feminism, but again without a full understanding of the inevitable consequences. The same goes for the issue of relevant tax rebates extending to child care in general (pp. xliv, 120).

Notwithstanding the nature of complex systems where nothing is ever either black or white, to continue this line of thought would lead to the idea of fully embracing women's participation in the workforce and relegating the duty of child care to government from, say, age one to 16. Whether that would be agreeable to the instincts of the mother is another question, but the current hotchpotch of initiatives dance around the central issue of synchronising the membership of the workforce with looking after the young in a streamlined fashion. Naturally this would drastically alter the concept of 'family', although what constitutes a 'family' has already changed considerably over the past decades.

To be whimsical and hence inefficient is fine as long as one can afford it, but circumstances can easily dictate otherwise.

The debate on school funding follows a comparable trajectory: women in the workforce relegating more of their carer duties to outside entities while at the same time demanding a professionalism which costs. The Report notes, "Schools funding is expected to grow by 9.2 per cent per year to 2023-24. This growth largely reflects indexation arrangements and per student funding goals under the Better Schools Plan" (p. viii). The document also recognises that "increasing funding does not necessarily equate to better student outcomes" (p. 125), yet throwing more money at something seems to be the current policy in the face of - perceived or otherwise - lacking standards. If one's child can only ever do with only the best, and if this is considered to be the solution to lack of discipline, a dissolute household, or just plain stupidity, more and more resources will indeed have to be found but without the returns.

The lack of numerical indicators mentioned earlier and the incomprehensive picture as a result also means that one of the most fundamental factors influencing the viability of a society has not been touched upon at all: the quality of the society's members. In the article "Demographic orientations" the world's nations have been arranged in several tables according to average life expectancy, infant mortality, literacy rates, and GDP per capita; the predominant religion has also been included. Almost without exception the higher the religious intensity, the lower the standards in those areas (exceptions are countries which manage to live off lucrative incomes such as oil as compensation). Religious obsession needs emotionalism, cultural rigidity, and the willingness to use brute force.

Especially in times of budgetary pressures it is reasonable to ask why a country would import people from societies who have demonstrated to be incapable of performing according to the country's current level, never mind a higher one.

On a related topic, foreign aid, the Report suggests "reducing the significant fragmentation, with bilateral aid delivery tightly focused on countries of strategic interest to Australia and with assistance to other countries addressed through the better performing multilateral funds" (p. li), in line with remarks in "Aiding the catastrophe". And further, "A programme narrowly focused on the most strategically important countries would be more sustainable" (p. 159). It seems the 'White Man's burden' [9] from Kipling's poetry is still reverberating around many offices, and "The blame of those ye better, The hate of those ye guard" should ring familiar through quite a number of news stories.

Given the reticence to move away from sanitising numbers to the dirt of everyday life, the expenditure on indigenous people has been couched in relatively aseptic terms. The Report does mention the "150 or so Commonwealth programmes" (p. xxv), with more detail provided in Section 8.3 Indigenous programmes (p. 172). The Department of Finance's Strategic Review of Indigenous expenditure in 2010 is quoted: "The history of Commonwealth policy for Indigenous Australians over the past 40 years is largely a story of good intentions, flawed policies, unrealistic assumptions, poor implementation, unintended consequences and dashed hopes" (p. 173). And further, "Estimated expenditure per capita for Indigenous Australians in 2010-11 was $44,128, more than double the amount for other Australians. This is driven by the greater intensity of service use by Indigenous people and the cost of providing services in remote locations. For example, government spending per person on housing services is around four times higher for Indigenous Australians" (p. 173). Such words hardly convey the wretched ambience confronting the visitor in places like Bourke, Cairns, Alice Springs, Halls Creek, Roebourne, etc etc.

Interestingly, "The Commission notes that three of the 'closing the gap' outcomes are moving in a positive direction (mortality rates for children, year 12 achievement and access to early childhood education), while the life expectancy, reading, writing and numeracy and employment outcomes are not on track to be met" (p. 173). That is to say, programmes that are largely administered by non-indigenous bodies are faring better than those which rely mostly on an individual's initiative. For example, "In Roebourne in Western Australia, with a population of 1,150, there are around 67 local service providers and over 400 programmes funded by both Commonwealth and State governments. The small town of Toomelah, in New South Wales, with only 300 people has 70 service providers" (p. 173). Overall, "Within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet there now are more than 150 Indigenous programmes and activities, with total funding of approximately $2.4 billion for 2013-14" (p. 174).

When within the rest of society an absence of even a few months can already mean falling behind, the obsession with a demographic that has not changed for tens of thousands of years can only ever be problematic.

Considering the role of subliminal thought processes, it is worth noting that young countries like Australia do not have the facility, as a nation, to draw sustenance from their own culture. Hence culturally speaking, such citizens are like young puppies who have run away from home and are looking for a new master, not caring much who and what that new master represents.

It is unlikely the Report's recommendations will be implemented in full. As it states, "Inevitably vested interests will seek exemption from the shared sacrifice and common purpose." (p. ii). Yet "Crises can take longer to arrive than people think, however they usually hit with great speed and severe consequences" (p. 54) - a reflection of chaotic dynamic systems, which is what human activity systems are. A brief introduction to what this effectively means can be found in "The mechanics of chaos: a primer for the human mind". At the same time, "In Australia and around the world, there is a growing tension between what citizens want their governments to do and what governments can or should do" (p. 9), a result of pressure groups having been successful so far.

Due to its history Australia has always been a largely segmented nation (Federation notwithstanding) and the desire of state politicians to carve out the best deal for themselves regardless of the wider picture has been a bottleneck many times over. As suggested in "2050: Age of the Silverback" a re-alignment of resources and expenditure will most likely not occur based on logic and reason but will be forced upon societies under pressure. In what state such a modification will leave the respective society will depend on the latter's overall capabilities. Some nations will fare better than others.

The articles "The 10 axioms of Life" and "The 10 axioms of Society" list the principles governing those systems. They apply regardless of one's conviction, culture or religion. Given enough pressure, people respond aggressively to self-inflicted wounds and preferential treatment if they are seen to undermine communal stability.

As usual, it is in times of stress that an individual's as well as a society's true nature come to the fore.


1. A.F. Shepherd AO, P. Boxall AO, T. Cole AO, R. Fisher AM, A. Vanstone, "Towards Responsible Government", The Report of the National Commission of Audit, Phase One, February 2014, http://www.sbs.com.au/news/fragment/read-commission-audit-report-full, accessed on internet 1 May 2014.

2. P. McDonald, "State statistical bulletin 2010-11", Statistics and Mapping Section, Commonwealth of Australia, 6 September 2012, http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/BN/2012-2013/StateStatisticalBulletin, accessed on internet 5 May 2014.

3. "Overweight and obesity", Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2013, http://www.aihw.gov.au/overweight-and-obesity/, accessed on internet 5 May 2014.

4. L. Clark, "Cosseted children whose parents don't let them play outside: Amount of time young spend on activities slumps in a generation", Mail Online, 21 March 2014, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2585812/Cosseted-children-parents-dont-let-play-outside-Amount-time-young-spend-activities-slumps-generation.html, accessed on internet 5 May 2014.

5. J. Sinnerton, "Break A Leg, Kid", Courier Mail, 26 February 2014.

6. S. Dunlevy, "Cash is carrot to makes vegies stick", Courier Mail, 7 March 2014.

7. L. Novak , "Deadly outbreaks feared as immunisation rates plunge", news.com.au, 26 November 2012, http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/parenting/deadly-outbreaks-feared-as-immunisation-rates-plunge/story-fnet08xa-1226523789892, accessed on internet 5 May 2014.

8. "The Science of Immunisation - Questions and Answers", Australian Academy of Science, Canberra, November 2012, http://www.science.org.au/sites/default/files/user-content/resources/file/aas_final_lr.pdf, accessed on internet 5 May 2014.

9. "The White Man's Burden", http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_White_Man%27s_Burden, accessed on internet 7 May 2014.

7 May 2014

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