Friday, January 4, 2008

Buckle Up! We're In For A Wild Ride...

Haven’t we seen all this before? For the past six years real estate prices have boomed. Even if they slowed down somewhat in parts of Sydney in the last couple of years, the rest of the nation has continued to experience growth in prices. For the last few years the stock market has shown double digit returns, although the past six months have been shaky.

At the same time, over the past few years, inflation has, until last year, been contained below three percent, despite strong economic growth. More recently, grocery and petrol prices have been rising strongly, and now threaten to push inflation out of the comfort zone. Interest rates have been creeping up slowly, and now the threat of inflation looks like pushing them further. On top of that, the banks have chosen to raise rates independently as a result of the United States credit crunch.

And that’s a warning bell. No matter how strong our own economy is, it always suffers as a consequence of adverse international conditions and that cannot be avoided.

All this should be sounding familiar. Back in the late eighties there was a strong real estate boom, followed by rising inflation, followed by rising interest rates, and ending in the recession we had to have. Housing prices remained flat or even fell for an extended period of time until the 21st century boom arrived.

While it is by no means certain that we “have to have” another recession, you can be certain that the economic climate is changing. Ironically, Kevin Rudd could end up being blamed for things which are not his fault.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Making Monsters into Martyrs

The Australian Catholic Social Justice Commission has called for the Bali Bombers to be spared from execution on the grounds that all life is sacred, regardless of how badly that life might be lived. It would be nice if such moral questions were clear cut matters of black and white, but the truth is it’s not so simple. At the same time, the opposing view that they deserve to die and should be executed without any qualms is equally simplistic.

Bishop Christopher Saunders who heads the Commission says that “No matter whose life it is, humans don’t have a right to take it, apart from self defence”, and “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” Well it could be argued that individuals such as the Bali bombers are so evil that their continued existence is itself a threat to the safety of the community, and that their execution is a form of community self defence. Obviously, they’ll never kill again if they are dead.

It could also be argued that the call for a recognition of the value of human life by sparing the villains is misguided, and serves only to devalue the lives of victims. It could be argued that the lives of the Bali bombers have no value, at least to the wider community. It could even be argued that these individuals are so evil that they have given up the right to be considered human at all.

Ultimately, all of the emotional arguments boil down to one of two things: either all life is sacred and the death penalty is evil, or all life is sacred and those who destroy it should themselves be destroyed like vermin. Neither of these arguments is logical, but both arguments represent valid points of view.

I have never supported the death penalty, and I’m not going to change now. But while Australia as a nation rejects the death penalty, that does not mean Australian authorities have any obligation to lobby on behalf of the Bali bombers, or any other terrorists. That’s the job of people like Bishop Saunders who represent an entirely different perspective.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Happy New Year

Welcome to 2008, and Happy New Year! There’s nothing quite like a fresh start, and that’s what every New Year has to offer, one way or another. Of course, such things are what we make them, but it is good to put our past mistakes and failures behind us and look ahead to brighter days. I suppose that’s why New Years Resolutions are so popular.

The most common resolutions are to quit smoking, exercise more, eat less, make more of an effort to get along with each other, and to be more successful in our endeavours. Sometimes our resolutions are unrealistic, and sometimes we just don’t bother. But whether resolutions are for you or not, here is something worth considering.

In 2007 New South Wales recorded its lowest road toll since 1945. Today there are thirteen times more cars on the road, and yet the road toll has been trending down since its horrific peak in 1978. Whilst it’s not good news that 445 people have died on our roads in the past year, it is encouraging that safety is improving.

There are several reasons for this, including better roads and better designed cars with more sophisticated safety devices, and it is reasonable to believe that better driver education is also contributing. It is important to recognize where we are succeeding and keep doing what works. So, as we consider our New Years Resolutions, let’s make one of them the resolution to work even harder to stay safe on the road in 2008.