Blog Archives

Peering into the Murky Crystal Ball – Part 3

In the final part of this special three-part series, Part 3 – The Imponderables, Executive Coach and freelance blogger for The Slade Report, David Simpson, offers some observations on the factors at play in determining the new normal. Catch up or recap here on Part 1 – The Inevitables and Part 2 – The Inconclusives.

The Imponderables

  1. Civic Unity or Selfish Disunity

Since the 50s we have seen a radical shift in attitudes about community. The reasons are many: changes in the nuclear family, urbanisation, greater media transparency, higher levels of education, multiculturalism and globalisation. “Shared values” have fragmented and once trusted institutions – government, the law, medicine, banking and church – have all come under fire. The meaning of good citizenship has changed. With the work day expanding and dual income families becoming the norm, time available for community involvement has evaporated. An obvious example is the membership decline of service clubs such as Rotary, Kiwanis and Lions.

It could be argued that human behaviour has been modified by technology (attention span, inward focus, susceptibility to web influence). It is hard to say if less human person to person contact leads to less empathy, but the time spent with individual handheld screens has certainly promulgated a first person/me first mentality.

One would hope that the COVID-19 crisis reminds us that we are all in this “humanity thing” together. It should have a bearing on how we manage the challenges of unemployment and what is deemed fair as the digital divide widens the gap between the haves and the have nots. The answer lies somewhere between full blown Socialism and Social Darwinism. Hopefully, enlightenment prevails over self-interest.

In the short term, I believe that we need to re-emphasise the subject of civics in our education system to teach what citizenship involves and why it is important.

  1. Environmental Action or On-going Inertia

The vast majority of the world’s inhabitants support more initiative on climate change. Whether most fully appreciate the cost or the effort required of real action is another matter. Powerful interests such as oil, auto and fast consumables wield significant influence in resistance. Putin’s oligarchs, the Saudi Royal Family and the likes of the Koch brothers are not going down without a fight. However, the collective action that has been required to get a significant percent of the global population to self-isolate for self-preservation may spur on a surge of activism in the sustainability movement.

Interestingly, the pandemic’s impact of virtualisation with downward pressure on petroleum use and overall consumption could be an unexpected first step in lowering of the global carbon footprint.

  1. Decline of America/Ascendancy of China

Trump has certainly done a good job burning off the goodwill the US has built up with its allies since 1945. America’s moral authority as crusader for democracy and guardian of the free world has been eroded in three and a half short years with poor statesmanship and bullying America First protectionism. It is hard to believe that the damage is irreparable if there is a return to more sane foreign policy and respected leadership. On the other hand, an extended Trump presidency could lead to a permanent loss of credibility as well as worldwide instability.

Despite being initially cast as the COVID-19 pariah, China is filling the foreign aid void left by America and is providing economic and technical assistance to the third world. Hey, they are even donating medical essentials to the US! Even if major trading partners push to repatriate some production, China will remain the global manufacturing and export powerhouse. If stoking of domestic consumption starts in earnest, it is only a matter of time before their GNP rivals the US. At the same time, the Chinese continue to build up military capability to offset the US as the international police force.

US sponsored democratic capitalism has always espoused the philosophy that a rising tide lifts all boats. It would be naïve to think that the People’s Republic has quite the same “win-win” attitude. China has shown they will follow their own path that is decidedly Chinese in its focus. If you dislike American hegemony, you will like the Chinese version even less.

  1. Globality or Nationalism

Have we reached the peak of globalisation or just a momentary pause? Given that we will undoubtedly be working through a recession at best, recovery not expansion will be the priority. The problems of supply chain and vulnerability to offshoring will stall any further plans to outsource overseas and the call to bring back jobs to address unemployment will be strong. The larger questions about consumerism – “Is it sustainable?” and “Can there be prosperity without growth?” – are likely to get more attention than they might have otherwise.

On the political side of globalism, does the lack of a coordinated approach to tackling the pandemic signal the need for greater cross border collaboration? Alternatively, do countries now conclude that they have no choice but to shut their borders and tend to their own backyard?

I hope it is a combination of both. Building redundancy into a worldwide health response capability must surely happen. The WHO or some repurposed alternative will have to be funded and provided the requisite authority to mitigate a disaster re-occurrence. It will require worldwide agreement (or at least consensus with the UN Security Council) to achieve it. Having something vitally serious to talk about in terms of collaboration is a real opportunity.

On the national level, I hope that this will finally get us discussing more seriously how oppositional politics have gone too far. Representing one’s supporters is a commitment, but not the exclusive one. In the most basic terms, elected officials are responsible to all citizens, not just the ones who voted for them. Building back the muscle memory of bipartisan cooperation
– at least in areas of general public interest (disaster relief, infrastructure)
– can only translate to better preparedness when crisis hits again. Here’s to the positive side of nationalism: We stand as nation together, but also as a willing member of the world family when necessary.

The fact that WFH has given me occasion to reflect on these matters encourages me to believe that better minds than mine are also thinking them through. It is said that you should never waste a good crisis.

 
I certainly hope that is true.

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in The world @work

A lot to think about beyond 2020

February already and we’re fully back into the swing of work, with the Australia Day long weekend gone and kids back to school.

Companies and employees everywhere are returning to significant challenges to the Australian economy and their industries within it, especially retail, agriculture, and tourism amongst others. My industry focus, superannuation and wealth management, has been experiencing the pain of change for some time now, and there is a high level of executive movement as the ‘war for talent’ heats up further.

This is great if you’re an executive or specialist in demand, but there’s some awful, somewhat hidden or understated, numbers for many Australians.

According to a recent article by Jack Derwin in Business Insider, there are now three unemployed Australians for every job vacancy. Based on this fact we know that the 250,000 or so job ads listed every month just don’t match up with the 725,000 Australians without jobs who want them, and the 1.15 million under-employed Australians who are working less hours than they’d like.

Reading this, I wondered whether the majority of us currently in professional employment are even aware of these numbers… three unemployed people for every single listed vacancy!

Yes, many vacancies aren’t listed, but typically they will be filled by ‘people who know people’ as they are already employed and referred through trusted conduits.

The other big associated issue is underemployment, and when combined with the unemployed, means nearly 2 million Australians cannot find as much work as they want or need.

Let’s keep this in mind before we start labelling people as ‘lifters or leaners’ or with other simplistic clichés.

Further, in an ABC Business Report published recently, Oxfam concludes, “Australia’s concentration of wealth in the hands of the super-rich is occurring, while the share of wealth of the bottom half of our community has decreased over the last decade and workers’ wages continue to stagnate.”

“The top 1 per cent of Australians have more than doubled the wealth of the entire bottom 50 per cent – or 12.5 million people.”

Read that again. It warrants an expletive or two when you think that 240,000 of our ‘mates’ hold 100x the individual wealth held by half of all Australians.

How have we, as a society, let it come to this (and seemingly, it’s getting worse)? 

Economic liberalisation has raised millions of people around the world out of abject poverty, and certainly Australia benefitted from deregulation and the encouragement of the private sector, from what was a troubled economy in the 1970s and 80s. But have we gone too far, and is the idea of a ‘fair go’ in Australia and looking after your ‘mates’ just a slogan?

This country has shown with the recent bushfires and current drought that we still believe in pitching in to help others. It seems however, with death by a thousand cuts over 30 years, that we have become numb to the unemployed, immune to the increasing homeless on the street, and resigned to the gargantuan wealth and therefore political influence of ‘the few’.

Ok, easy for me to criticise, but what do we do? 

I don’t have the answers but I don’t believe Australia (and the world) can continue down this path of the few haves and many have-nots, with a large middle ground too busy to care because they’re just getting by. The workforce is changing and unless we come up with new ideas and products, the wealth disparity will continue to grow. Add in climate change, whether exacerbated by humans or not, the year, decade and century ahead will deliver some tremendous challenges for many Australians.

There’s a lot to think about in 2020 and beyond.

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Accounting & Finance, Superannuation, The world @work

Attitude’s the biggest threat to the world economy?

Experts at the World Economic Forum release yearly updates assessing the biggest dangers facing the world economy. Environmental concerns have jumped up the list and now global warming tops economists’ concerns.

Last month I attended an Australian Credit Conference hosted by a large global credit rating agency. The event was well represented by investors and large business organisations. With a number of questions put to the audience, everyone had an opportunity to vote on the topics offered. The popular choice was along the lines of: “What do you think is the biggest threat to the Australian economy today, the cost of carbon reduction or the environmental issues associated with greenhouse gas pollution?”

At the risk of being controversial, it was shocking to me that the business community, as represented at the event, thought changing our (dirty) energy habits would be more disastrous economically than climate change. I was quite surprised that the majority of attendees felt our biggest economic threat is the effect of carbon reduction measures. Surprised, because I assumed those in attendance to be well-informed people with access to plentiful resources about current environmental concerns.

While our business leaders need a crash course in environmental awareness – I’d like them to sit through Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth or a screening of Leonardo DiCaprio’s documentary, Before the Flood – I was left wondering whether the majority of Australians in the world @work can see the effects of climate change as it is happening right now? Polls show increasing support from people at grass roots level on a range of environmental issues, including a carbon tax and green energy, but change begins with positive leadership, agitation and support from the community at large.

The potential cost of doing nothing to halt the damage to our planet is incalculable. However, it seems obvious that funding for renewables and other innovative carbon reduction energy solutions is being stalled by vested interests. It took a tweet from Tesla’s Elon Musk (who has famously offered to solve South Australia’s power problems with battery technology in 100 days) to fire-up the State Government and engage the Federal Government in the conversation. It was encouraging to see expressions of interest from local competitors in the battery market, but it’s going to take more than an ex Vice President, a Hollywood actor and an entrepreneur to kick-start a (much needed) renewables boom.

The World Economic Forum says failing to mitigate climate change will likely have a bigger impact globally than the spread of weapons of mass destruction, mass involuntary migration, predicted water crises and a severe energy price shock – Australian consumers have experienced significant energy cost increases year on year, abolishing the Clean Energy Act notwithstanding. Instead of funding massive foreign owned coal mines, as the Queensland Government-Adani partnership proposes, or championing newer but less responsible energy sources, such as coal-seam gas (fracking was recently banned in Victoria), let’s invest in the industries where local businesses and communities also have a future. I’d love to see our manufacturers of solar panels, wind farms, battery cells and other alternative innovations receive most of those investment dollars.

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Professional Support