Who is Australia’s Donald Trump?

I recorded a podcast yesterday with John Briggs at Technotopia (the podcast should be up by Sunday Australian time). The discussion was around a number of future stories and we touched on the nature of work and what was happening in US politics which got me thinking a bit more deeply about Australia.

Trump Christie from imgflip

Image source: https://i.imgflip.com/zx3rm.jpg 

A lot has been written about Donald Trump over the last few months including this mornings revelations that The Economist Intelligence Unit had rated a Trump Presidency as a global risk ( The Economist dubs Trump a ‘global risk factor’ — but not for the reasons you might think ) Some of the analysis has centered on fringe elements of his supporters rather than the core reasons that most people are voting for him in the Republican primaries.

It is my view that the core reason that people are voting for Trump is a general dissatisfaction with the professional political class. A large part of that dissatisfaction is driven from a significant minority of people in the United States that either have gone backwards economically or or stagnated as the winds of change have swept across the world. This includes globalisation, outsourcing, and the developments in automation that are only just starting. The changes are also a product of systems and decisions that benefit the well off and leave others behind. These changes have resulted in headlines like:

 Now these are not sudden changes, they are slow burn changes and as we are now learning political and social events can build slowly until they reach a tipping point and it is very hard to pick that tipping point. The Trump political insurgency and the sudden Arab Spring events are cases in point. While we do not have the same level of economic issues or disparity in Australia it is clear from these sorts of events that we need to be looking well into the future when we think about the issues.
In Australia we have certainly had protest votes in the past. People have voted for Pauline Hanson in particular, One Nation as a party, and more recently Clive Palmer. These sorts of movements have fallen apart because of a combination of there not being enough critical mass and through the incompetency and infighting of the people involved. However I do believe that there is a scenario where a successful Australian Donald Trump could emerge.
In my view we are on the verge of an unprecedented wave of change and volatility and Australia could possibly face a perfect storm of three factors.
Firstly there a significant problem of the economy in China with very high debt levels which have rapidly built since the GFC:

China cannot escape the economic reckoning that a debt binge brings

and Australia is very dependent on our trading relationship with China as the falling revenues from commodity prices have shown.

Secondly we seem to be moving towards a significant re-ordering of the energy systems of the world with huge leaps in renewable energy cost structures and investment. That impacts on revenues from coal and gas. A wild card here could be increased action on climate change if accelerated climate change occurs.

Thirdly we are seeing huge advances in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics and this is likely to impact on jobs in a significant way over the next ten years. Mckinsey has released some preliminary findings from a report they are writing on this issue and one of the conclusions is that:

about 60 percent of occupations could have 30 percent or more of their constituent activities automated

This is a huge change that will sweep across our jobs landscape and there is a very real chance of what is termed a “hollowing out of the middle”where there will be very highly paid jobs for those that can do them, very low paid jobs for those with few skills and very few jobs in the middle.

If all these three come together with low commodity prices affecting our resource dependent economy and middle range jobs disappearing at the same time we could have the sort of social settings which breed political revolutions.

So the answer to my question is I don’t know who Australia’s Donald Trump is but there is a very real possibility that we are breeding the conditions for one to emerge.

We need to be carefully thinking through how our economic and social systems work and avoiding both high levels of disparity but also people going backwards economically. If technology does in fact start destroying jobs more quickly than it creates them then we need to be rethinking what work and the economy are all about in a “Post Normal”world. New Zealand is already starting:

New Zealanders want to give everyone a ‘citizen’s wage’ and scrap benefits

 

Paul Higgins

 

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