Enjoy Wry & Dry: a cynical and irreverent blend of politics, economics and life.
Seven stories you may have missed
- 40 years in the desert
- Photo of the Year
- No Russian mushrooms
- No houses
- Republicans in the sandbox
- Failed attempt
- China’s slowing birthrate
- La vendetta di partito che scandalizza l’alta società
40 years in the desert
Moses had 40 years of wandering around the Sinai desert. His budget had red ink as far as the Red Sea, as demands upon his goatskin purse became larger. An ageing population, shrinking revenue base from date and palm sales, the need for increased defence spending to counter Egypt, that nearby wannabe world power, and his ballooning NDIS costs all caused grief.
But, with the help of manna from heaven, after those 40 years he somehow led the Hebrews to the land of milk and honey.
No such luck for Australians. Treasurer Grim Jim Chalmers’ 40-Year Intergenerational Report hit the media yesterday. It’s not pretty reading for those under the age of about 60.
Australia’s economy will not be able to sustainably meet the demand for spending on public services. There are 40 years of increasing budget deficits to contemplate.
In 2063, Son-of-Albo will not have the benefit of manna from anywhere, and so will lead us to the land of no milk and no money.
The 15 wasted years of the Rudd; Gillard; Rudd; Abbott; Turnbull and Morrison governments will be visited upon our children and grandchildren.
In those 15 years Australia was propped up by (a) China giving us both a volume and price rise for the minerals, produce and services we sold to it; and (b) more people staying in work longer, more women in the work force and the arrival of younger and more skilled migrants. Reform could have been undertaken from a position of strength.
Instead, that manna gave excuses for governments to rest on their oars. They had neither the courage or not the wit to reform Australia’s creaking tax, industrial relations and education systems to drive productivity, incentive, enterprise and business investment.
So, for the next 40 years Australia’s GDP growth is expected to be a meagre 2.2% p.a., having been 3% p.a. for the past 40 years.
But Grim Jim said the government will consider only incremental reform, clearly setting itself low benchmarks for success. His ‘reform priorities’ are nothing more than platitudinous words a businessperson would expect at a business offsite ra-ra jamboree at an expensive retreat.
Consider these banal words of ‘reform:’
- “easing the cost-of-living” (so this is reform?)
- “getting the budget ‘in better nick’” (‘nick’ clearly is a sophisticated economic term)
- “capitalising on the net zero transition” (which quite obviously means, err…)
- “broadening and deepening our industrial base” (we’ve been hearing this since Whitlam)
- “leveraging capital” (what else do you do with capital?)
- “building a bigger and better-trained workforce” (so, you ‘build’ a work force?’ Really?)
- “designing more efficient markets” (it can design as much as it wishes, the aim is to actually deliver more efficient markets)
- “reforming economic institutions” (what is an economic institution: a bank?)
Sigh. Not even Sir Humphrey would call any of these ‘courageous.’
Photo of the Year
The hitherto unknown Fulton County Sheriff’s Office this morning released a mug-shot of a hitherto unknown person charged with some criminal offences.
No Russian mushrooms available
“Never leave loose ends” is on page one of the KGB’s handbook: “Good Spycraft for Dummies.” And as a child of the KGB, Tsar Vlad would well know it.
Usually, the ‘loose end’ accidently falls from the tenth floor or dies whilst in hospital recovering from an ingrown toenail. Other subtle methods include a radioactive isotope slipped into tea or nerve agent smeared on door handles and underpants. And only last week a Russian commander, axed by the Kremlin after overseeing humiliating army retreats in Ukraine, mysteriously died; the second such general to die in unspecified circumstances this month.
But on Wednesday, Tsar Vlad took revenge to a new and very public level. The bombing of the private and comfortable jet of Yevgeny Prigozhin1 with the great man on board was just one step from a Fox News-televised garrotting in Red Square. Coincidently, videos of the plummeting plane quickly appeared on social media. How serendipitous that cameramen were located beneath the flight path of the doomed plane, with lenses pointed to the sky at the right moment.
Quite clearly, the plane was violating air traffic and safety rules. Which is why, err, the bomb was detonated.
The message is clear: no-one in Russia, or elsewhere, should ever embarrass Tsar Vlad.
Prigozhin’s half-hearted and impulsive mutiny two months ago made Tsar Vlad look ridiculous. A man in Tsar Vlad’s position can’t afford to be made to look ridiculous2. And so, he took his time, and planned revenge against the man who was described as a rotten tooth in Russia’s military body.
The tooth had to be extracted. And now has been. Perhaps poisonous mushrooms would be just a little bit too quiet.3
1 Head of the murderous Wagner Group. Wagner Group is a state funded Russian mercenary group, which has been active in pushing Russia’s interests in some African states. It has also been instrumental in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Prigozhin himself was a malevolent blend of Himmler and Vlad The Impaler (ruler of 15th century Wallachia, now part of modern Romania).
2 Apologies to Jack Woltz.
3 All of the Australian state of Victoria has been transfixed by the recent ‘accidental’ mushroom-poisoning and death of three people in the south-east of the state. The cook declares her innocence. Expect a Netflix series.
Last week, Wry & Dry sang the praises of Albo for his housing plan. But noted that it was up to the states to build the houses to get the billions in bonuses that Albo offered on behalf of we-the-taxpayer.
It might be difficult for we-the-residents of Victoria to see any bonuses.
In the 2014 state election, Chairman Dan promised that his party would launch a scheme to develop surplus government properties for housing. In early 2017, he announced that six surplus government sites would be sold to developers at discount rates in return for 100 social homes being incorporated in wider housing projects. Construction was to start in 2018.
On Monday, the Melbourne Age newspaper reported on the success of the scheme.
Zero homes have been built in six years.
So, under Albo’s scheme, what chance of Victoria’s share of 1.2 million new homes being built in five years?
Republicans fighting in the sandbox
Readers can now officially be bored for the next 442 days. That is the time until the US presidential election.
Yesterday, the first of the presidential debates took place. And this wasn’t even between the final candidates for the top gig. This was just for the candidates for the Republican nomination. Of course, the Trumpster was a no show, saying he was so far ahead, he wouldn’t waste his time participating. This doubtless would remind Readers of the tortoise and the hare.
The Trumpster was, instead, presenting him to they-the-people on a pre-recorded television interview.
Turning to the rest of the Republican hopefuls, to save Readers the trouble, Wry & Dry saw some of the debate and read the reviews. Here are his candidate comments:
Vivek Ramaswamy, bio-tech multi-billionaire. Standout performer, but is a real right wing nutter. Wants to raise the voting age to 25; will defund Ukraine and abolish the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service.
Mike Pence, former Vice-President. Safe pair of hands. Steady, sensible.
Nikki Haley, former US ambassador to the UN and governor of South Carolina. Only one to rail against budget profligacy. Some excellent put-downs. Better than most expected.
Ron DeSantis, governor of Florida. Former favourite to challenge the Trumpster, but failed in the big league.
The rest: should save their pocket money.
The seven male candidates all wore dark suits, white shirts and red ties. The same as the Trumpster. Nikki, come on down.
Failed attempt at political spin
“The phenomenal results were a tribute to the extraordinary work of Victorian kids, teachers, principals, parents and carers.”
Natalie Hutchins, Victorian State Education Minister, commenting on this week’s release of NAPLAN, the Australia wide student testing regime.
One quarter of Victorian students failed the tests.
China’s slowing birth rate
Most market watchers, economists, investors and other punters tend to focus on the latest economic data from a country. And then place the data like a jigsaw piece in the puzzle that is the country’s economy. And then stand back, view the full puzzle, put on the Nostradamus hat, and then make bold predictions as to what it all looks like.
The trouble is that the jigsaw pieces move around, are updated at different times, have varying impacts, and are often wrong. At what should a Reader view to get an idea of the future?
One single statistic that provides an uninterrupted view of the future of a country is its fertility rate. That is, the average number of babies a woman would have over her life. Logically, for a population to reproduce itself, that number must be a bit above 2.0 (to allow for infant mortality).
If a country doesn’t permit immigration or people are not interested in migrating there, then such a country has a problem. The bigger the country, the bigger the problem.
Well, Emperor Eleven has a problem. China’s latest data shows a fertility rate of just 1.09. Only South Korea has a lower rate: 0.8.
This is at the bottom of global rankings. And is a catastrophic fall from 1.69 in 2019 and 1.30 in 2020.
China’s population started falling last year. And it seems as though no-one wants to migrate to China, other than refugees from North Korea.
La vendetta di partito che scandalizza l’alta società
Massimo Segre, a millionaire banker, was engaged to Cristina Seymandi. On 28 July they held a lavish engagement party in Turin. The guests were hushed as he rose to speak.
“I want to give Cristina the freedom to love,” he began.
“Specifically, to love another person; a notable lawyer, who she clearly cares about more than me. Dear Cristina, I know how much you are in love with him mentally and sexually,” he continued. “And I know that before him you had a relationship with an industrialist acquaintance.”
He then wished Cristina a happy life and walked off.
“La vendetta di partito che scandalizza l’alta società,” screamed the Italian tabloids.
This is the stuff of a Netflix movie. Because there’s more than just the humiliation of ‘dear Cristina.’ It seems that just prior to his, err, valedictory speech he took EUR700,000 from their joint bank account. And transferred the funds to his account. And also, there are those gentlemen who were named by the vengeful Massimo.
As one Turin tabloid put it: “All Turin is trembling: there are those who fear seeing their name in the scandal.”
So, unlike the US, where one socialite4 put it, “I don’t care what the newspapers say about me as long as they spell my name right.”
4 Actually, George Cohen. Not Tallulah Bankhead.
One of the world’s weirdest country groupings met this week in Johannesburg.
The BRICS Summit is a meeting of the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. The term BRICS was originally just BRIC, used by a British economist in 2001 to describe the first four of these emerging economies. BRIC held its first summit in 2009. South Africa lobbied to become a BRIC and joined in 2010. It swayed the votes to join because its admission would add an ‘s’ to the acronym, making it easier to pronounce.
Readers might now contemplate the acronymical outcome as Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been admitted to the group.
The problem is obvious, there are too many vowels. What acronym can be derived from those six vowels and four consonants? Scrabble-expert Readers, please email Wry & Dry5.
Whatever happened at the meeting, there was one notable absentee in Johannesburg. Tsar Vlad is staying in Russia, because South Africa, as a member of the International Criminal Court, would be obliged to arrest him; an embarrassing way to treat a guest.
In any case, it has since transpired that Tsar Vad had other fish to fry. Or buttons to push.
5 An early entry: SCRIBE SUE AI.
AI: be afraid, be very afraid
Wry & Dry initially thought that Artificial Intelligence referred to the brainpower-type in either Scott Morrison’s head or at Chairman Dan’s Major Events and Infrastructure Costing Department. That is, there is no sense of reality in either example. Much less a brain.
But, no. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a far higher science, taking digital technology to a paradigm envisaged by the likes of Arthur C. Clarke. In his book, “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which became a most successful movie. ‘Hal’, the computer, wants to take control of the spacecraft on its voyage to Jupiter. “I don’t want to insist on it, Dave, but I am incapable of making an error,” says Hal. It got to the point where Dave, one of the astronauts, pulls the power plugs on Hal – the only way to regain control.
Now, rarely a day goes by without some new and amazing application of AI to this purpose or that opportunity. It all seems so exciting. But, thinking of Hal, is there a bigger issue?
A Reader sent me a link to a most informative article, that bears reading.
Cross the box
In the upcoming referendum, Readers can write Yes or No in the box.
The Australian Electoral Commission has advised that a tick in the box will be treated as a Yes. And a cross in the box will be treated as a… Yes.
How does that work?
Last week, Wry & Dry observed that Tsar Vlad’s latest venture, the invasion of the Moon, was underway.
Well, on Sunday, Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, announced that its Luna-25 probe had “ceased to exist” after colliding with the lunar surface.
What a delightful turn of phrase: “ceased to exist.” Not “sadly crashed on the inhospitable and dangerous moon” or some such.
So much for Tsar Vlad’s Plan B6. His recent extra-territorial activities have so far come to nowt.
Meanwhile, India’s rival lunar mission, Chandrayaan-3, successfully landed on the moon on Wednesday. More egg-on-face for Tsar Vlad.
And North Korea’s second attempt to launch a spy satellite also failed. This time, the rocket didn’t go much further than its predecessor, which crashed into the sea soon after launch. South Korea’s military recovered some of the debris from crash #1 and said that the North Korean satellite wasn’t advanced enough to conduct military reconnaissance. Perhaps just working for Google Maps.
6 That is, if the invasion of Ukraine fails, invade the moon. At least there are no foreign soldiers there.
Snippets from all over
1. Hong Kong still weak
Hong Kong has struggled to regain its appeal as a global retail paradise since the city reopened this year, underscoring the damage caused by years of isolation to its $360 billion economy. (Bloomberg)
Wry & Dry comments: Visitor arrivals in June were 42% below the same month in 2018. The value of retail sales that month were the lowest for any June since 2011, excluding the covid years.
2. Gas prices fall
European natural gas prices fell sharply on Thursday as the prospect of a strike at a key liquefied natural gas plant in Australia faded, easing traders’ fears that a halt in production would squeeze global supplies. (Financial Times)
Wry & Dry comments: It’s sort of weird, very little of Australia’s natural gas goes to Europe. However, a disruption would mean that its Asian buyers would seek other sources, thereby competing with Europe.
3. Turkey’s new central bankers
The new monetary-policy committee of Turkey’s central bank last night raised interest rates by 7.5% points. Last month the country’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, replaced three of the committee’s five members, including supporters of his misguided economic policies, with respected economists. (The Economist)
Wry & Dry comments: Now the election is out of the way, the Sultan can make sensible decisions.
4. France heatwave breaks records
Temperatures in France hit an all-time high for late summer on Tuesday, August 22, the weather authority said, as the country continues to swelter under a punishing heatwave. (Le Monde)
Wry & Dry comments: Hot poodles?
5. If you cannot find a Russian to conscript…
The Russian authorities are forcibly rounding up central Asian migrant workers living in the country to fight in Ukraine, according to an activist. (The Times)
Wry & Dry comments: Ah, memories of the press gangs on the streets of Portsmouth in the 18th century.
6. For the petrol heads
On September 1, a one-of-its-kind Jaguar E-type which was bought for just £1 in 2000, is set to be sold at auction, with bids expected to be well over £1m. (UK Telegraph)
Wry & Dry comments: Apparently, the 1961 E-Type Series 3.8-Litre Fixed Head Coupe is one of only four “outside bonnet lock” right-hand-drive production Jaguar E-Type ever built, with the other three no longer in existence. Now that is news.
- Qantas, an Australian airline, announced a $2.5 billion profit (after tax and but before Alan Joyce’s payout).
And, to soothe your troubled mind…
“Let us be honest, as Republicans, I’m the only person on the stage who is not bought and paid for so I can say this, the climate change agenda is a hoax.”
Vivek Ramaswarmy, Republican Party candidate for president, in the first of the election campaign debates.
The right wing of the right wing loved him. He also wants to pull funding from Israel and Ukraine.
PS The comments in Wry & Dry do not necessarily reflect those of First Samuel, its Directors or Associates.