Questions on the Future of Work

Mckinsey has released a long awaited (by me anyway) report on the future of work entitled A Future that Works: Automation, Employment, and Productivity. It is a very interesting look at the technologies which are affecting the future of human work. Every business and organisation should read it in full.

Mckinsey takes a distinctly different approach than the much discussed Frey and Osbourne Oxford report on the susceptibility of jobs to computerisation.

This difference can be best seen in the following graphic from the report:

mckinsey-work-report-2017-exhibit-e1-18-separate-activities-mapped

Instead of looking at what jobs might be replaced the team at Mckinsey have examined all the activities that each job in the USA job market entails and then looked at the various capabilities for each of those activities. They have then mapped those activities against the possible timelines of those activities being able to be performed by technology.

This is important because except for very limited cases technology replaces activities rather than whole jobs.

From this approach Mckinsey have created various forecasts for both the types of activities and the sectors of the economy as shown in the next graphic which shows their view about the ability to automate those activities.

mckinsey-work-report-2017-exhibit-e4-different-sectors-mapped

Taken in aggregate their predictions are shown in the next graphic which I have annotated

mckinsey-work-report-2017-exhibit-e6-adoption-scenarios-annotated

RED: Their median forecast that 50% of all current activities will be replaced by 2055

BLACK: The rapid adoption forecast that 50% of all activities will be replaced by 2035 (only 18 years away)

GREEN – The extrapolation of the rapid adoption forecast from 2035 that shows that over 90% of current activities will be replaced by 2055.

Mckinsey also states that:

 “According to our analysis, fewer than 5 percent of occupations can be entirely automated using current technology. However, about 60 percent of occupations could have 30 percent or more of their constituent activities automated”

Apart from praising Mckinsey (which I do not normally do) for creating such detailed and interesting work, and also in highlighting the inherent uncertainty in any forecast, this raises several interesting questions in terms of impacts and change.

 

From an organisational perspective those questions include::

  1. Setting aside the changes the technology makes to our business models and speed of doing business if 20-50% of activities are going to be replaced over the next 18 years how are we going to lead our people through the continual change that is going to be required? If the average is 50% then many people will have far more of their activities replaced.
  2. If technology takes over more and more of non-routine activities in our organisation what are the skills we are going to need?
  3. If technology pushes people out of the lower skilled activities in the whole economy how many people in the whole community are capable of carrying out the higher skilled activities we will need our people to concentrate on? Will we be in an even fiercer fight to recruit the people we need?

An article in the New York Times on January 30th 2017 describes When the German engineering company Siemens Energy opened a gas turbine production plant in Charlotte, North Carolina:

some 10,000 people showed up at a job fair for 800 positions. But fewer than 15 percent of the applicants were able to pass a reading, writing and math screening test geared toward a ninth-grade education

Eric Spiegel, who recently retired as president and chief executive of Siemens U.S.A. said “People on the plant floor need to be much more skilled than they were in the past. There are no jobs for high school graduates at Siemens today.”

From a societal point of view this raises questions of:

  1. Are we heading into a period of increasing structural unemployment?
  2. How will we design an education/learning system which gives your young people the skills they need to work in the changed economy and our post school/university people the capacity to re-skill?
  3. If education is changing to be more focused on re-skilling people for jobs how do we still supply the wider general benefits of education?

Part of the answer to the second question is contained in the New York Times article where it describes the companies getting heavily involved in educating and training people with guaranteed jobs at the end of the cycle, and just as importantly no student loan debt. This was mirrored in my conversation in a trip to Austin Texas last year. Austin is growing at an enormous rate and part of the reason is that some of the major tech companies have realised that if they do not get involved with students before they graduate they may never get to hire them. So they are moving major parts of their operations closer to the Universities with strong reputations in the skills they need. University of Texas Austin happens to be one of those. Students are becoming heavily involved and supported by the companies.

When I work with clients on these issues they should be focused on the effects on their business or their organisation but the conversation always turns to the wider implications for society.

The techno-optimist argument is that technology has been destroying human jobs for hundreds of years and we have always created new ones. That is partly because we have created new capabilities that need people, but also because we have reduced the costs of inputs to make otherwise uneconomic business models viable. Mckinsey argues in their report that their median forecast results in job losses that have already been experienced in society as we reduced the human employment levels in agriculture, and then again in manufacturing. This is true if the pace remains the same.

On top of that they argue that the productivity improvements are required because we are losing the huge contribution that population growth rates have contributed to economic growth over the last 100 years. That is a good argument.

It is a brave futurist who says this time is different and it is completely plausible that the combination of new jobs being created, and the demographic change we are experiencing, particularly in developed economies will mean that we will still have close to full employment. It is also plausible that:

  • The pace of change will be at the rate that fulfills the rapid adoption scenario that Mckinsey has envisaged, increasing the rate of job losses above previous experience.
  • That as technology pushes people out of a whole range of human capability jobs we will find that a significant minority of people do not have the ability to carry out the jobs that are created.
  • That a significant group of people that have the abilities will be left behind because they cannot gain the skills required to harness those abilities.
  • That the combination of the two groups will either have to work for very low wages in order to not be replaced by technology or be permanently unemployed.

That is a recipe for societal unrest way beyond what we have seen in the rise of Donald Trump and Marie Le Pen. If the political response to the issues of the people that have expressed their frustration at the current system is to promise a greater share of the benefits of the economy and a genuine attempt to do that is derailed because of technology changes we could be in for a very bumpy ride indeed.

 

 

 

 

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Musings on the future of US politics

As a futurist and two time failed political candidate for party pre-selection in Australia I am still fascinated by politics and have always had a strong interest in American politics.

Having read several interesting pieces on the current situation in the USA I have been thinking about the possible future scenarios we might see in the USA. As a basis for understanding these possibilities better I recommend you read Rules for a constitutional crisis by Lawrence Lessig and In this case, resistance is futile by Simon Wardley.

Lawrence Lessig calmly and clinically argues that the rule of law will assert itself and that the Congress and the Senate should do their job. That job is country before party. The premise is very well argued and if the rule of law does not assert itself then there are major constitutional problems to face. I argue below that more is needed.

Simon Wardley argues cogently and persuasively that Trump should be allowed to do what he promised to do to the American people but other things should be resisted. The argument rests on a view that Trump wants strong resistance for political reasons. If the situation in the USA worsens then he can point to people not allowing him to carry out his plans and call for more support from the people to allow him more power. If things in America improve despite everything then he will take credit (as every politician in power always has regardless of cause). Another facet of this view is Yonatan Zunger and his description of resistance fatigue. This essentially is that a master political strategy is being run by Trump and Bannon et al that is looking to exhaust the capacity of the people to resist by throwing out red Herrings until the general population is sick of the protests. While I think the arguments are well thought through the political reality of people mostly sitting back and waiting for 4 years seems very unlikely.

So lets look at some scenarios  with a HT to Jim Dator and his four scenario story structure). The scenarios are limited to the political situation but obviously can form the basis for effects on the rest of society and the world. The scenarios are not very detailed in order to fit them into  a reasonable post length but I would welcome input and comments to flesh them out:

Stability/Discipline

This is really the Lessig story and the view that the strength of the institutions of the US political system which were designed to bring stability.

The USA system is designed to limit the power of any one of the Executive, Legislative, or Judicial branches of the government.

Generally these act as shock absorbers although Presidential nominations to the Supreme Court with a compliant legislative branch can change the overall flavour significantly.

The story here would really be one of a long grind of tempering of Presidential actions by the Congress and Senate, and multiple court actions at a Federal and State Level.

This would slow any significant change, remove the excesses and provide time for the rest of the world to adapt. Assuming that there are not significant populist successes in other places such as France which cause rolling change.

This would lead to the next Presidential election being more of a conventional battle between Trump and a new candidate from the Democrats.

While this may create political stability of a sort it is hard to imagine it being good for the USA overall

Transformation

This is essentially a story of significant political change and is premised on a few basic statements (not of fact of course):

  • That the changes that are happening with the Trump Presidency mark the start of a great re-awakening of the political involvement of the centre/left of the American people. Examples such as the current protests and the significant raising of money by the ACLU (Donations to A.C.L.U. and Other Organizations Surge After Trump’s Order) in recent days support this possibility.
  • That political pressure of the sort that has shown success for the Tea Party in America puts pressure on members of Congress and the Senate. We have seen Eric Cantor unseated by an insurgent tea party candidate selection process. Can the same happen from the sort of resistance and political commentary we are seeing now? This requires far more discipline and organisation than what is happening right now and would have to be focused on the mid-term elections (where all 435 Congress Members, 1/3 of the Senators and 36 State governors are up for election).
  • A new leader emerges from the centre left of politics for the public outrage and political operations to coalesce around ( My pick would be Elizabeth Warren but I do not know enough about the next layer of leaders to be adamant about that).
  • A new leader emerges from the Republican side of politics to split the support that currently underpins Trump.

Nothing concentrates the political mind more than the possibility of losing an election. The mid terms are some way off, but if significant numbers of politicians are frightened of either not being selected to run again or not being elected then political opposition to the extremes of the Trump Presidency will grow.

In the USA this is complicated by the political gerrymandering of the seats ( which has meant the Tea Party concentrated on political candidate selection rather than elections) and the issues of levels of voter turnout in a voluntary voting system. This means that it is more difficult to get changes in representation in seats and that hot button issues that increase voter turnout can have a significant effect.

If we extend the scenario to the next Presidential election then it is possible to see a scenario where there is a four way competition for the Presidency:

  • A new Democrat leader
  • Trump but not with the Republican nomination
  • A new Republican leader
  • A popular independent – possibly being far more influential than ever before

An even greater departure from politics as normal would be the creation of  a new political party of the centre.

Side Note: Politicians of all stripes have always used “the enemy” to galvanise support. The picture I have briefly described above needs more – it needs a cogent story of action and policy, not just opposition. It also needs to bring large swathes of the Trump supporters on board , either to new Republican leadership or to the Centre/Left. As Lessig has pointed out the vast majority of the Trump voters are not evil and there are significant and legitimate claims and concerns that they have which need to be addressed. Not the least of these is the income and outcome disparities that exist.

Transformation Counter Scenario

If the Centre Left of American politics creates significant resistance to the Trump Presidency but fails to create a disciplined political operation on the ground we could see almost the opposite of the scenario above:

  • In reaction Trump supporters and the Tea Party put more pressure on sitting members of Congress and the Senate to not oppose the actions of the President by threatening to pile into the selection processes of the Republican Party. Possibly supported by people like the Koch brothers who have been running all sorts of polical activity over the last decade.
  • The economic situation of the USA appears to worsen through a range of factors, one of which may be change in trade and political allegiances structured around more isolationist policies and the desire of China to play a larger role in World affairs.
  • This galvanises Trump supporters even further as they are convinced the limits that are being placed on the President are the cause of these problems.
  • From both the selection processes and the mid term election the Congress and the Senate become more pro Trump.

Collapse

It is a truism in futures work that people commonly find it easier to find ways that disaster can occur than any other type of scenario. This situation is no different. Disaster politically could occur with:

  • Impeachment of President Trump due to multiple causes. Examples include findings of collusion with the Russians in the election campaign, hardening of evidence in the Steele dossier from multiple investigations or breaching the emoluments rules through all sorts of way through the Trump businesses due to his lack of willingness to divest.
  • Mounting debt levels if tax cuts are delivered, significantly cutting revenue (Budget office sees small deficit dip in 2017, then $9.4 trillion in 10 years). Market panics on debt problems could trigger a political crisis that Trump is unable to address.
  • Trade wars erupt with China and Mexico , causing rising reduced US growth and rising prices and cost of living squeezes on the very people that voted Trump in in the first place
  • An actual major war (China military official: War with US under Donald Trump ‘becoming practical reality’).

All of these possibilities and others can cause significant political upheaval. I think that in most people’s minds this can result in politics going back to “normal”. I would not be too sure. Impeachment would lead to a Pence Presidency, someone who most people do not know at all. There is also a real risk that people are too focused on sorting out the political structures and ignore the causes that created the issues in the first place. A political response that does not address the legitimate concerns of huge numbers of the American electorate will lead to rolling political crises.

Growth

  • Despite the current turmoil Trump manages to get most of his own way.
  • Tax cuts to the wealthy and infrastructure spending stimulate the economy causing an increase in GDP.
  • Re-negotiations of trade arrangements benefit the USA

The Trump way of doing politics is seen as the new way and a new breed of politician rises up to take advantage of the changes.

Twenty years of Billionaire Presidents or Billionaire backed Presidents ensue.

Australia

As I am an Australian (although I was born in England) it could be argued that these scenarios (and the many more that could be constructed)  are a bit irrelevant to me and the community in which I live. I would argue that both thinking about them and their implications is vital to us because of several key issues:

  • America is still a major economic powerhouse and what they do affects the whole world.
  • We are caught between a long and strong alliance with the USA and a trading and economic dependence on Asia, and China in particular. Changes in the political balance between China and the USA affect us more than most countries in the world.
  • We have our own populist political person in Pauline Hanson and her One Nation party as well as some fringe right wing elements. While to date they have been pretty chaotic and disorganised (and I would argue inherently so), the changes in the USA and Europe could both embolden them and give them access to people, tools and money to pursue their aims. What is about to happen in the USA could be played out here in the future so thinking deeply about them is well worthwhile.

One More Thing

Finally I think it is worth looking at the worldview of one of the main protagonists Steve Bannon. As a futurist I am constantly talking to people about how the mental models they use to construct their view of the world determine how they see strategy. In the link below Steve Bannon shows that he has a very particular worldview as stated in his own words rather than being interpreted by someone else . His views may significantly shape US policy in the next few years and therefore understanding them is important when thinking about the future. I personally find that a very scary thought but watch the video and read the transcript and come to your own view:

This Is How Steve Bannon Sees The Entire World

The soon-to-be White House chief strategist laid out a global vision in a rare 2014 talk where he said racism in the far right gets “washed out” and called Vladimir Putin a kleptocrat. He also outlined the view that we are at the early stages of a global war with Islam

Paul Higgins

Why is the EU Acting Like a Meat Wholesaler?

lamb carcase from WA agriculture carcass

For a long time I was on the board of an unlisted public company that wholesaled meat. The Chairman had a very simple attitude to debt collection. If someone owed us $20,000 then he would spend $50,000 trying to get it back. That may not seem to make economic sense but it made sense when you think of debtors as a network. He simply wanted to send a message that we were not to be screwed with, and that we would chase you to the end of the earth. In the meat industry if you got even a whiff of a reputation that you would not collect your debts then people very quickly stop paying you. This very simple strategy worked very well. On annual turnover of $80-$100 million a year we very rarely had bad debts in total over $25,000 and there were years where we had none at all.

This strategy seems to be echoed in the approach the EU is now taking to Greece. I have done quite a bit of reading and thinking about the issue over the last week or so as understanding geopolitical and economic risk is important to my work as a futurist. I am going to use some of the details in a workshop on uncertainty that I am running later in the month. One standout feature seems to be that the EU is concerned that if they go soft on Greece then Spain. Portugal, Italy and others may feel emboldened not to pay back some of their debt and the problem will spread.

However the story is much more complex than that and the details are an object lesson in the fact that social, political and economic issues are intertwined in these sorts of issues, often at a very personal level of the decision makers. They also demonstrate that once stories are embedded in the collective consciousness they are hard to shift. The first rule of politics is that it is always easier to convince people of something they already believe. I am writing this as the Greek referendum is taking place and I think it is worth putting some of the facts on the table.

When I have spoken to people in Australia about the Greek situations they have defaulted completely to the story that the Greeks over borrowed and have been profligate and undisciplined in a fiscal sense. That story is certainly true but it is the facts of a long time  ago and the lenders were certainly complicit in lending the money. When you tell people that most of the bailout money has gone to pay out private lenders and that over the last five years the following has happened they are totally surprised:

“Since 2009 the Greek state’s deficit has been reduced, in cyclically adjusted terms, by a whopping 20 per cent, turning a large deficit into a large structural primary surplus. Wages contracted by 37 per cent, pensions by up to 48 per cent, state employment by 30 per cent, consumer spending by 33 per cent and even the current account deficit by 16 per cent.Alas, the adjustment was so drastic that economic activity was choked, total income fell by 27 per cent, unemployment skyrocketed to 27 per cent, undeclared labour scaled 34 per cent, public debt rose to 180 per cent of the nation’s rapidly dwindling GDP”

From: http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/yanis-varoufakis-a-pressing-question-for-ireland-before-monday-s-meeting-on-greece-1.2256339 

This is even more dramatically shown in the following graph:

 Greekovery from interfluidity

via Interfluidity (see below)

This is all part of the argument around whether austerity works or whether austerity contributes more to the problem. Apart from the fact that if you are measuring risk as a ratio of debt to GDP then crashing the GDP makes the problem worse, it is obviously very hard to pay back debt if your economy is suffering in this way. This is compounded when the predictions by the lenders are continually optimistic and completely wrong:

troika-forecasts-large from interfluidity

Via interfluidity – see below

It is easy to see from these graphs and the reality of unemployment and economic depression why the general person in the street in Greece might be disillusioned at the moment.

If I was a Greek voter right now I would be inclined to vote against the proposal to agree to the new lending and austerity measures because I think there is still a path of negotiation via that route. My concern about the opposite vote is that we will see significant political disintegration in Greece that will feed into radical political movements and that the long term future of the EU will be threatened both from without and within.

Beyond the financial implications of being “soft” on Greek debt I think that there is a large piece of decision making that is occurring here because of personal political considerations and entrenched positions of bias. That is always a poor environment for clear decision making and  timely reminder when we try to analyse these issues we must always ask the question of a story that is being told :  “who benefits from the story being told now or in this way?

If you wish to be further informed on these issues I suggest you read:

Where did the Greek bailout money go?

interfluidity » Greece

Schaeuble Popularity Soars as Germans Doubt Greece’s Euro Future

The Road To Grexit

I would encourage people to point out where they think the information I have provided here is incorrect or presented in a biased way. We are all better off when we see issues from multiple points of view.

Paul Higgins

Which of the Dinosaurs will Survive?

The Guardian newspaper has launched an online Australia version of its newspaper:

Guardian Australia launches with promise of ‘fresh and independent view’

In my view this is part of the future of newspapers and marks the continuation of what I see as a major extinction event where there will be a further massive loss of newspapers around the world. This is due to continuing evidence that digital pay models and digital advertising are not replacing the old business models in terms of revenue per reader. Therefore I think that the media landscape in general and newspapers in particular will divide into a few distinct business models:

1/ The Global Giants.

There will be some very large newspapers that will survive and prosper and they will do so by reaching a much larger global audience and therefore garnering enough revenue to maintain good levels of quality, stories and investigative journalism. The Guardian is an example of one of these that may survive and the story they have done on the bushfires in Tasmania, Australia is a case in point:

Firestorm

A compelling story, told in a superb and mesmerising way that has local content and interest but also has a wider global audience and interest.  That global audience includes those that have bushfires issues in their own communities but also those people interested in great human interest stories. It also not a “normal” newspaper story.

The key initial ingredient that the newspapers have that might survive with this business model is a great and trusted brand. So newspapers like the New York Times, The Times, and The Guardian are good candidates.

However that great and trusted brand is only a ticket to play in the game and does not guarantee survival. A lot of well known newspapers are going to try this strategy and only a few will survive. Two other key components are going to be required. The first is continual investment in the assets required to tell great stories – journalists. The second is patient capital because this is going to be a long and bloody fight and the organisations involved will need deep pockets:

NOTE: The Guardian bushfire story was notified to me by Michael Cote who is a climate adaptation consultant and runs a blog on Tumblr (Climate Adaptation) where I follow him. This is a mark of how these stories will be accessed and promoted in the future. A story about my country was relayed to me by someone I have never met who lives in Massachusetts.

2/ National Champions

These are the newspapers/media outlets that will survive by focusing on key national issues that are not of interest to a wider global audience. Their stories will include stories at a national politics levels and investigative journalism focused on national politics and local corporate issues as well as sport which appear to drive a huge amount of “eyeball” to use the jargon.

I think that the model of ow this will work will be far more varied. Possibilities include the creation of crowd funded journalism models where people agree to fund specific investigative journalism. They also include the loyal readership of such a newspaper/media outlet being an asset that can drive revenues into the larger global entities that survive and generate income by doing so.

3/Local/Specialised

This is going to be much more fragmented and localised and also far more prone to non profit business models. The development of web based technologies has made both the creation of content, and the connection to an audience much more effective and has vastly reduced the costs. That will allow a continual flowering of new models and possibilities.

A journalist friend of mine is always talking to me about how important a strong and independent media is to the strength of our countries and our communities. I totally agree with him but a “you will miss us when we are gone” has never been a great value proposition.

There is going to be lots of churn and extinction in this space and I think we all have a responsibility to think about how this will all work. I for one am keen to support crowd funded investigative journalism models as part of my contribution.

Paul Higgins

The Future of Australian Politics

Antony Green, the ABC political analyst who does consistently great work has published a very thoughtful analysis of the state of the Australian Labor Party on his blog. In that analysis he has dug into the data and produced the following graph:

Image

The graph shows the percentage of lower house seats held by Labor over the last 43 years with the state of the Federal Government placed in the background with the pink sections denoting Federal Labor Governments. Anthony proposes that this shows that being in government Federally is deleterious on the health of the state parties as they consistently lose seats following the election of a Federal Labor Government.

I would like to provide an alternative view and some further comments and predictions as Anthony’s analysis may be confusing cause and effect. While the analysis is certainly plausible, the alternative is that rebuilding of the party’s power base come from the states rather than federally. If we look at the graph when Labor loses government nationally its total percentage of state seats is at its lowest ebb. Then the percentage of seats rises and Labor does not get elected federally until a significant percentage of state seats are won back. However due to a limited life cycle of governments by the time that has happened the State Labor Governments have started to be on the nose and so the percentage of seats held starts to fall. This is an alternative explanation of the decline rather than the election of the Federal Labor Government being the cause of the fall.

It is easy to find reasons why either of these explanations is valid. My theory would suggest that most of the effort from the Labor Party after a Federal defeat should go into building state party structures and campaigns rather than the Federal Party. I am conducting a “politics 101” training session for a not for profit organisations next week and these graphs will be a very useful addition to that session and I intend to raise these competing theories as a discussion point.

Beyond that analysis I would like to comment on the possible future of Australian politics and make some predictions. I certainly agree with Antony’s comments that there is now a larger percentage of people who are prepared to change their vote as evidenced by seats changing hands that have rarely or never changed hands (although some of that is demographic change), and the size of some of the swings.

What is interesting if we look at the recent political polls on our leaders is that we seem to have lost faith as a nation. A series of political polls shown on the ABC Insiders program last weekend showed a consistent long term fall in the ratings of both Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott. Further back this was echoed in the polls on Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister. It seems that the Australian people like their leaders when they are first elected and then when they get to know them they become significantly disappointed over time. The question is whether this is the fault of the politicians we have, or a set of unrealistic expectations that the electorate has of its political leaders. I think that it is a combination of both which leads me to my first prediction:

“There will be a significant and precipitous fall in the popularity of Campbell Newman in Queensland”

I do not make this prediction as a party political one (see disclaimer below) but as a comment on the state of mind of the people that voted Campbell Newman in and would apply to either party in the same circumstances. It takes a bit of a wrench for people to change their voting patterns in the sort of way that happened in Queensland and with that wrench will come an even higher level of expectation of change. There is a limit to which State Premiers can deliver that sort of change and so I am predicting a serious disappointment in Queensland in the next 2-3 years. I do not believe that will be enough to tip the government out and should no way be seen by the Labor Party as a revival for them.

My other comment is on the longer term future of politics in Australia. Antony Green has made a strong case in his blog that what we are seeing is unlikely to be the demise of the Australian Labor Party. His argument is basically that these things have happened before and the cycle always turns and he presents compelling evidence that this is the case. Of course such cycles and trends are always compelling evidence until the cycle or trend breaks and we are surprised. I am of the view that we are on the verge of significant political change.

As a futurist I am fond of saying that the best predictor of the future is long term consistent human behaviour. So if asked to predict the future of the internet 20 years ago I would have predicted that it would be filled with gossip, gambling, crime, sharing, and pornography because that is what people have done for thousands of years. In a political context the consistent pattern is that when enough people get upset then revolutions occur. On top of that human reaction we now have a range of communication and activism tools we did not possess a decade ago. Many people I am close to have commented over the years that my involvement in politics and industry organisations is just a waste of time and why do I do it. When I question them more closely it reveals that they are still involved in politics themselves but they have narrowed it down to where they can make a difference – in their local school committees or in organising a local event or protest. My conclusion is that they have narrowed down their focus down to a level where they can see they can make a difference and shut out where they think they have no influence. Therefore I believe that there is quite a lot of fuel out there because:

  • More and more people are dissatisfied with our political leaders and political parties (and less people involved as members)
  • There are a large number of people who will take action but feel they cannot make a difference.
  • There are more and more tools available for people to make a contribution and feel they are making a difference.This can change the discontented group into an activism group.

Once these combinations reach a certain point there will be an explosion. I am not sure exactly what that might look like but here are a few possibilities:

  1. More influence and members of such organisations as Get Up which increase the engagement of people in the process and also reduce the friction between people getting upset and being able to do something.
  2. More independent politicians, in part fuelled by dissatisfaction with the major parties, but also powered by new ways to communicate. In the past mass media has kept the major parties in power except in certain areas where an individual has a strong enough media profile to get significant coverage. Media power is starting to wane as new methods of producing and distributing content engage people more.
  3. A coalition of regional independents because once regional people wake up to the fact that they can hold the balance of power almost permanently by banding together on their major areas of concern they will support candidates outside of the major parties that will do that.
  4. A splitting of politicians into one group that has an even shorter life than now because of electoral volatility, and another group who have long careers and influence because they connect with the electorate far more. I do not mean that they have to be sycophantic but a combination of strong leadership and empathy will be key.

I said above that the sorts of changes that we are seeing in voter assessment of leaders are a combination of unrealistic voter expectations and problems with our politicians. I am probably in a minority of people who believe that most of our politicians are honourable people with great intentions who work hard for their communities. I have been exposed to politicians from all sides by my involvement in party politics but also in my role as Chairman of a national industry organisation. Sure there are corrupt and venal individuals involved, but I have been impressed by the majority of people who put themselves forward for political office. The fundamental flaw that seems to be occurring is that when they get to be leaders they try and hide parts of themselves from the general public or dissemble on significant issues. The Australian people have great “bullshit detection meters” and they see right through this sort of stuff. It is time for our political leaders to present themselves as who they are, and to talk honestly to the Australian public and let the cards fall where they may. The alternative is a slow rusting death followed by revolution.

Paul Higgins

P.S. Thanks to my friend and protagonist Chris Brennan who sent me the link to the Antony Green piece after a lively discussion on the Qld election last night

Disclaimer/Information: I am a member of the Australian Labor Party although no longer that active. I was President of Country Labor in Victoria for about 5 years before and after the Brack’s Labor Government took office. I ran for Federal pre-selection twice in the nineties and am profoundly grateful to the members who did not pick me to stand because I have seen more and more of how politicians have to live their lives and it is a difficult and thankless task. I presented to the Australia and New Zealand Clerk’s at The Table Conference in January on the future of parliament.