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Spin no cure for depression

By Bruce Haigh - posted Friday, 21 November 2008


For the past six months communiqués on the collapsing world economy have been increasingly grim. The retreat of markets has been as steady as it has been relentless.

For investors and superannuants weekends come as a relief, no bad news, as good as a spell out of the trenches, but the fear remains; the bombardment will recommence on Monday.

Trembling money marketeers and business professionals have convinced the government the economic slide can be reversed through a boost in morale. They contend that it is all about confidence. It is not; it is structural and caused through poor lending practices in part driven by people seeking to live beyond their means.

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Spin has become a primary tool of government over the past few decades. With full employment and a rising stock market the spin worked. It worked so well that a majority of Australian households built up a less than healthy debt on the basis of this government and business spin.

We were assured that Australia was rich and blessed and was likely to get richer and even more blessed, despite a growing shortage of water and encroaching climate change. The good news spin was an effective smoke screen.  The plight of refugees, the war in Iraq, the underlying strength of the economy, and failure to spend on public assets was spun, and the benefits of privatisation were spun.

But as the NSW government has discovered, past spin has all but spun them out of power.

We have a government who inherited the Howard spin machine and all the operatives that greased it, and Rudd has been happy to use both the Howard machine and his grease monkeys. He has praised, promoted, and defended them but the spin machine could never be a substitute for substantive policy making and implementation.

Reality can’t be spun; it just makes victims of the spinners as Menzies discovered in 1941. It would not have been good for British morale during WWII to do any less than tell it how it was and was likely to be.

The Rudd government has sought to gild the lily over what Australia faces, and will have to face over the next two or three years. The extent of private debt will ensure a rough ride. Australian managers are no better than their overseas counterparts.

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The level of corporate remuneration indicates that senior managers have been infected with greed and the loss of judgement that attends it. Many younger managers know nothing but the good times, so they haven’t been trained to manage hard times.

It is irresponsible and immature to attempt to hide prospective problems along with possible and probable outcomes. How can Australia avoid what the embrace of globalisation will deliver? By what stretch of the imagination can Australia escape what has befallen other countries?

What we do have is time and we should be making use of it, but we are squandering it through self-defeating denial.

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About the Author

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat who served in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1972-73 and 1986-88, and in South Africa from 1976-1979

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