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“Severe Collapse” of Home Prices Might Trigger a “Financial-Institution Crisis” in Australia: OECD Frets about the Bank

“Severe Collapse” of Home Prices Might Trigger a “Financial-Institution Crisis” in Australia: OECD Frets about the Bank

“The authorities should prepare contingency plans.” The big four banks are too exposed to mortgages. Even if the banks don’t topple, the economy will get hit hard.

In its latest report on Australia, the OECD focuses to a disturbing extend on housing, household debt, what the current housing downturn might do to the otherwise healthy economy, and what the risks are that this housing downturn will lead to a financial crisis for the big four Australian banks, an eventuality that it says “authorities” should make “contingency plans” for.

The big four banks are huge in relation to the Australian stock market and the overall economy: Their combined market capitalization, at A$341 billion, even after today’s sell-off following the OECD report – accounts for 26% of Australia’s total stock market capitalization.

How they dominate the stock market showed up on Monday after the release of the report:

  • Common Wealth Bank of Australia (CBA): -2.98%
  • Westpac (WBC): -3.38%
  • Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ): -4.09%
  • National Australia Bank (NAB): -2.54%

The overall ASX stock index on Monday dropped 2.27%.

These big four are heavily owned by Australian pension funds, retail investors, and the like and form a big part of the retirement nest egg of the nation. So a banking crisis that involves the Big Four matters on all fronts – and the OECD report even pointed out that a collapse in the share prices of the Big Four would itself impact the overall economy negatively.

The report (PDF) starts by explaining just how strong the economy is in Australia:

With 27 years of positive economic growth, Australia has demonstrated a remarkable capacity to sustain steady increases in material living standards and absorb economic shocks.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

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Academic Freedom Re-examined

This is a ‘reprint’ of a letter-to-the-editor I wrote as a graduate student in the Department of Anthropology at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario and was published in the McMaster Courier, June 20, 1989. I print it here just to share some thoughts and wonder if we were to substitute the notion of a ‘free press’ or ‘journalism’ for ‘academic freedom’ or ‘research’, we might have some ideas about how we might view the contemporary issue of ‘fake news’ vs. ‘real news’…


Academic Freedom Re-examined

I would like to comment on Dr. King’s recent discussion on academic freedom (Courier, May 24). It appears that King’s notion of academic freedom are closely linked to specific beliefs about the scientific method and how research proceeds in the scientific community. Implicit in King’s entire argument is the idea that scientific research is an ‘objective’ enterprise. It would appear that this objectivity can only be maintained by ensuring that external pressures do not interfere with research. These beliefs are displayed in the passage by Gilmour which King uses to argue that, because academics are disinterested and display integrity, they should be granted time, money, and a freedom which allows them to perform research unfettered by social and political pressures.

This whole notion of integrity and disinterest within the scientific community, however, needs to be critically examined. An ‘objectivist’ belief, such as that presented by King, holds that scientific knowledge is improving and growing constantly through a type of piecemeal process which builds upon previous research. Ultimately, the ‘truth’ is approached by an accumulation of data and ignorance is left behind, a remnant of insufficient data. This view of science supports an empirical theory of knowledge which presumes a complete detachment between the scientist and object of research. Researchers are subsequently thought to observe ‘facts’ quite independently of their consciousness. This, in turn, implies that some type of an objective reality exists and that humans can accurately determine what it is through rigorous, non-subjective procedures of science.

More recently, however, some researchers are beginning to realize that science is a socially-embedded activity in which research is pervasively influenced by the sociocultural milieu within which it operates. Various psychological and sociocultural factors serve to guide scientific research in predetermined directions. This belief debases the stereotypical view of science as a purely objective enterprise. In fact, some researchers have taken a more radical stand and argued that truth itself is just what a particular scientific community passes at a particular time; that facts are created and we make them fit into our predetermined categories; and that truth is merely the truth of those in power. Alternatively, it can be argued that the facts are real enough but in the interpretation that necessarily follows empirical observations, hard ‘facts’ are tainted by external pressures. These pressures are believed to influence research and its conclusions, even to the point of ‘cheating’. Because of such pervasive pressures within the scientific community, self-policing by academics is not an adequate solution.

The ideas that ‘hard’ facts exist and that science progresses by a patient collection and sifting of these objective facts are perpetual myths propagated by scientists. Researchers must keep in mind that their ideas and fundamental assumptions have been directed by external forces, both in and out of the scientific community. Pure objectivity, as supported by logical empiricists, does not exist. Humans live in a complex world of intersubjectivity. Since research is a subjective and interpretive enterprise, interpretations will inevitably be pluralistic in nature and there is no monopoly on truth. A diversity of interpretations is, therefore, both inevitable and necessary. However, this should not be construed as academic anarchy. Scholars should attempt to understand their own subjective biases and how their sociocultural milieu influences their work. It is only by doing this that they may become more sensitive to the restrictions that are imposed upon their interpretations. Perhaps this endeavour would result in a useful balance between the outdated view of science as objective and the radical notion of a total lack of truth.

This alternative view of the scientific enterprise has profound implications for academic freedom. King’s argument would appear to be based upon the idea that science is totally objective. But if this is not a valid assumption, as I have tried to argue, then notions of academic freedom must be reassessed. Outdated arguments which insist that science will lose its objectivity and usefulness if external pressures are introduced are no longer compelling. Scientific research has always contained such pressures. It is now time for researchers to confront such influences head on. Hiding behind the concept of academic freedom is not going to aid scientific research or make it any less subjective.

Steve Bull
Department of Anthropology

‘Patriotism’ and Manipulation of it by the State

‘Patriotism’ and Manipulation of it by the State

The notion that we must ‘support our troops’, that we must be ‘patriotic’ towards our nation state and its military because they are fighting for our freedoms and democracy is at a minimum misguided and more egregiously a manipulated conditioning by the state.

The idea that military ‘interventions’ are necessary to maintain our freedom or expand democracy ignores the evidence that the invasion and occupation of foreign sovereign states is motivated by imperial expansion to control fundamental resources (e.g. fossil fuels) and sustain or improve financial/economic hegemony (i.e. maintain the US petrodollar as the world’s premier reserve currency).

War is racket as US Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler argued[1]. It serves the financial interests of the State oligarchs. The State, however, must persuade the masses that this is not the case. It must have the support of the people for the political class to remain in their privileged positions and avoid blowback from the citizens over which they rule.

As Murray Rothbard argues in The Anatomy of the State[2]

“[t]he State is almost universally considered an institution of social service…[and that] we are the government…[But] the government is not ‘us.’ The government does not in any accurate sense ‘represent’ the majority of the people…Briefly, the State is that organization in society which attempts to maintain a monopoly of the use of force and violence in a given territorial area…Having used force and violence to obtain its revenue, the State generally goes on to regulate and dictate other actions of its individual subjects…[Moreover, the] State provides a legal, orderly, systematic channel for the predation of private property; it renders certain, secure, and relatively ‘peaceful’ the lifeline of the parasitic caste in society…The State has never been created by a ‘social contract’; it has always been born in conquest and exploitation…While force is their modus operandi, their basic and long-run problem is ideological. For in order to continue in office, any government (not simply a ‘democratic’ government) must have the support of the majority of its subjects…[Thus] the chief task of the rulers is always to secure the active or resigned acceptance of the majority of the citizens…For this essential acceptance, the majority must be persuaded by ideology that their government is good, wise and, at least, inevitable, and certainly better than other conceivable alternatives…Since most men tend to love their homeland, the identification of that land and its people with the State was a means of making natural patriotism work to the State’s advantage.”

The State uses this patriotic ‘feeling’ to convince its citizens that any ‘attack’ is upon them and not upon the ruling caste. Any war between rulers thus becomes a war between people, with the masses defending the rulers in the misguided belief that they are defending themselves and certain ideologies.

In Hegemony or Survival[3], Noam Chomsky argues that Empire (the American one in particular) attempts to maintain its hegemony through military, political and economic means, demonstrating a total disregard for democracy and human rights in the process. He goes on to provide evidence that ‘preventative’ wars by the current global superpower are often used to keep potential/imagined threats from ever reaching a stage where they become real threats to its hegemony.

There is also increasing evidence that, in fact, the State’s citizens have far more to fear from its own government with regard to a loss of freedoms and erosion of democracy than some concocted threat from outside its own borders. The mass surveillance programmes revealed by NSA insiders, undermining of elections, and constant devaluation of currency/purchasing power comes to mind.

To once again quote Murray Rothbard:

“The greatest danger to the State is independent intellectual criticism; there is no better way to stifle that criticism than to attack any isolated voice, any raiser of new doubts as a profane violator…[and] to depreciate the individual and exalt the collectivity of society…[In fact,] the State must nip the view in the bud by ridiculing any view that defies opinions of the mass…Thus, ideological support being vital to the State, it must unceasingly try to impress the public with its ‘legitimacy,’ to distinguish its activities from those of mere brigands.”

The State, therefore, relies upon and manipulates its citizens’ very emotional notion of ‘patriotism.’ It uses it to maintain and expand its control of resources (both physical and financial) both domestically and abroad. And those who question or challenge it are branded treasonous and attacked/ostracised in any number of ways. Questioning is not allowed.

 

 

 

 

[1] War is Racket. 1935. Smedley D. Butler.

[2] Anatomy of the State. 1965. Murray N. Rothbard.

[3] Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance. 2003. Noam Chomsky.

Preserving And Creating ‘Wealth’

Preserving And Creating ‘Wealth’

Avoiding loss of one’s ‘wealth’ from whatever crises may befall you and/or your family seems paramount to helping avoid or at least mitigate the negative consequences that accompany emergencies and disasters, or even the general decline of civilisation. With currency devaluation, government overreach, civil unrest, bank bail-in legislation, labour strife, market corrections, negative interest rates, geopolitical uncertainty, economic decline (perhaps even collapse), it seems almost impossible to protect one’s wealth completely without even worrying about everyday calamities that can place financial stress upon an individual and/or family. The following suggestions seem the most likely way to prepare for an uncertain world, and avoid some of the more dire consequences of increasing volatility and possible confiscation by the-powers-that-be (a concern that must be considered as governments become increasingly insolvent).

It also seems prudent to reduce dependency on complex systems that are prone to disruptions over which you have no control, such as distant supply chains or infrastructure frailties–that is why I believe at the base of your thinking should be a desire for yourself/family/community to become more resilient and self-sufficient. (Note: I have included links to articles found on The Survivalist Blog only to keep the discussion ‘in-house’; and, the information that follows is not meant to be investment ‘advice’ but one person’s thoughts on how to prioritise ‘investments’.)

A common question that arises when contemplating emergency/disaster planning is where to start?

First, focus on yourself and basic survival gear.

Skills and knowledge you acquire are the most difficult to be taken from you. First Aid courses. Fitness/healthcare-oriented activities. Hunting courses. Archery/gun use. Gardening/food production knowledge. Survival training. ‘Handyman’ skills. Building a ‘survival’ library. Activities, training, and literature that can help you and your family cope with unexpected crises are perhaps the wisest ‘investment’ and can’t be confiscated by the-powers-that-be. These should likely be a priority.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

It Just Doesn’t Matter

It Just Doesn’t Matter

When an avalanche is about to descend upon you, does it really matter which snowflake was the penultimate cause?

While it’s interesting (in a mental masturbation kind of way) to debate the genesis of a pending market collapse, environmental chaos, or energy cliff, in the end, it really doesn’t matter–unless, of course, we are able to curtail the impending crises by correctly identifying the variable(s) involved and mitigating the consequences, but the likelihood of that outcome is looking increasingly unlikely as systems are prone to overshoot and collapse.

One of the ‘insights’ I’ve had over the past several months as I read the competing narratives that are floating about the globe and attempting to ‘explain’ why the dilemmas we are facing are happening is that we really don’t understand complex systems and the way they behave, so we are bound to cling to simple explanations that support our personal biases and reduce the cognitive dissonance that results when our belief system is challenged.

A large part of the problem, I believe, in discerning which variable(s) play(s) the most impactful role in creating a crisis is the tendency for various interest groups to spin the ‘facts’ to support their particular narrative.

For example, whether the cause of the oil/commodity price collapse is the role of central banks in manipulating the economic system, the limits to growth, overproduction (by Saudi Arabia? US shale? Canadian oil sands?), and/or economic contraction (global? Europe? China? emerging markets?), the result is a loss of thousands of jobs, domestic unrest, and increasing geopolitical tension as nations try to counter the deflationary collapse that appears to be resulting. Many Western politicians and journalists are pointing the finger at the production levels of the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia, and their ‘refusal’ to cut production, but data from the past decade shows that supply has increased significantly because of US shale and Canadian oil sands extraction rather than that of Saudi/ME. It strikes me that this ‘spin’ is simply a means of avoiding looking in the mirror and deflecting attention–blaming ‘others’ for our woes is a common means of reducing cognitive dissonance, focusing citizen outrage away from their ‘leaders’, and justifying particular actions/decisions.

In the end, however, the ’cause’ is not that important to the families crushed by a sudden loss of income. And that brings me to the conclusion of this little diatribe: being prepared for whatever comes our way is the only thing that might really matter. Whether at an individual, family, or local community level–I don’t believe it’s possible or prudent to worry much beyond these–being resilient and resourceful in the coming months/years is what is going to make a difference as to how ‘successful’ one can deal with the coming dilemmas.

Best of luck to everyone. I think we’re going to need it.

Steve


In the 1979 comedy, Meatballs, actor Bill Murray provides a ‘motivational’ speech to his fellow summer camp counsellors and campers who are getting soundly beaten in a ‘friendly’ competition by a neighbouring camp: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6UZvIZAHjlY. In the end, the speech is seen not as motivational but as a message that, in the bigger picture, the competition really doesn’t matter–(SPOILER ALERT) all the good-looking girls are going to go out with the other camp’s counsellors anyways because they have all the money!

CBC and the Control of Narratives, A Rant

During the CBC’s Ontario Today show (July 10) the theme was one of cheerleading the Pan-Am games taking place in the Greater Toronto Area and sharing plans for those games. I called to share a contrarian perspective, basically that it was another example of a massive misallocation of diminishing resources and energy (not meant as a slight to anyone involved who are caught up in trends and behaviours long regarded as positive).

Getting through on my first attempt surprised me, perhaps as much as the person on the other end when I shared my thoughts. She assured me that I would be on shortly and to wait patiently. After fifteen minutes she returned to the line to inform me that I was the next caller. I was not. After another fifteen minutes, and listening to continual gushing about the event, I was informed that there was a ‘timing mishap’ and that there would likely not be the time for me to share but they would take my phone number ‘just in case’ (I was not surprised as this has happened to me before when I called with a non-supportive viewpoint).

I view this as yet another example of media manipulation of perspectives, of controlling the narrative. Being one of the ‘official’ media outlets of the games, the CBC has a vested interest in portraying primarily positive support for this event. Yes, there has been some coverage of the ‘inconvenience’ to drivers but little else in terms of ‘negative’ publicity.

I am not surprised, just disappointed (again) with our national broadcaster at not offering a wider perspective and/or challenging the mainstream narrative.

My view, if anyone cares, is that the event is a great distraction from the various crises exploding on the globe. Most ‘humourously’, Ontario has just completed a conference on climate change (with the leaders from the Pan-Am countries…what a coincidence) with a major ‘insight’ that it is transportation that is contributing significantly to anthropogenic climate change and changes must be made to alter this. Consider, then, the amount of transportation fuels burnt just for this one event; from the travel to/from for all the participants and spectators, to the movement to/from the widely-spaced venues during the games.

We can’t speak about caring for the environment and reducing our role in climate change and continue to pursue policies and actions that are the anti-thesis. Well, I suppose we can, but that just makes us hypocrites.

Stouffville Corner

A new section of my site, Stouffville Corner, aims to provide a variety of write-ups on topics I consider to be of primary importance/ interest. The aim was to have my local paper, Stouffville Tribune, publish them on a weekly/bi-weekly basis to bring the issues to the consciousness of my local community (thus the name). While the paper no longer accepts op-ed pieces due to its limited publication schedule (use to be published twice a week but now only once), I will still be offering the articles on a weekly/bi-weekly basis on my site beginning today with the introductory piece that has been accepted as a letter-to-the-editor.

Cheers…
Steve

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