Brown Study

Brown study

16 November 2013

9:00 AM

16 November 2013

9:00 AM

The launch of Twitter on the New York Stock Exchange the other day was a momentous event. I do not go in for it myself and I have a fundamental concern about the way in which text messaging, Facebook, Instagram, emails and their progeny are debasing all human communication into a series of grunts and groans. Permanence and substance are being abandoned for the passing whim and greed of the moment and the ill-named social media is contributing to the sad loss of the beauty and cohesive force of the language. Hence, the survey on social behaviour conducted in the UK where one of the questions was ‘Is it rude to end a relationship by a text message?’ Many people answered: ‘Yes. You should send an email.’ But this seems to be the way people want it. So, as things stand at the present, we may as well accept it and see what we can learn from the expansion of, I may as well say it, social media. We simply cannot overlook, for instance, the fact that Twitter was valued at over $30 billion when floated. This got me thinking about how such an enterprise could be created from virtually nothing more than an idea and become such a hot property, employing people and generating a lot of commercial and capital-raising activity in such a short time without ever having made a profit. Perhaps it’s because Twitter is an American concept and it probably could not have been created in any other country.

The reason why the Americans could bring off such a coup is that the country is built on the pure spirit of free enterprise; government has a role of course, but it is minor and Americans could never conceive, for example, of having a vast, state-owned media, as we do with the ABC, allowed to promote a consistently left-wing agenda and with such missionary zeal. Nor would they allow commercial projects to be hamstrung with the red tape and bureaucracy to which we have become accustomed. The US would never have had to denationalise telecommunications, but even if they had, it would never have renationalised it, as we are, through the NBN. The US will never adopt the suicidal policy of having a tax or any other means of slowing down industry and commerce because of some fanciful notion that we can control the weather and the climate.

We have trouble understanding why the Americans accept such a low minimum wage, wide disparities between wages and other aspects of society that we think border on poverty. The answer is that poorer Americans want to improve themselves and aspire to something better than they have; they tolerate poverty because it is something they can work to get out of and they tolerate wealth because it is something they aspire to get into. In other words, you could not start Twitter and turn an idea into $30 billion in Europe or the UK; the culture of success and reward for effort are just not there. But you can do it in the US and you can do it in parts of Asia, where people have the same incentive to improve themselves and will work to achieve it. When I was in New York in July I met a film producer who was promoting a series of inventive strategies to raise money for his latest movie and he seemed to be getting there —slowly (I chipped in $50).

When I returned to Australia I went to my favourite coffee shop and overheard a young film producer at the same stage of his project as the New Yorker, but bewailing that all he needed now was ‘funding’ from the government film body, meaning a hand-out that relieved him of all financial responsibility and mortgaged his creative endeavour to bureaucrats. That is the difference. It is also the reason why so many of us support Tony Abbott’s announcement that Australia is open for business. With the same promotion and acceptance of the free enterprise ethic that has made the Americans the most prosperous people of all time, we should be able to look forward to the same results.

You might be interested in the reply I received to my protest to the Australian War Memorial at its proposed desecration of the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier by removing the words ‘Known Unto God.’ The management, spookily describing itself as the ‘Executive’, adopted the classic bureaucratic ploy of claiming credit for not removing those hallowed words, an event which was due, apparently, not to the Prime Minister’s intervention or the public uproar, but to a ‘review’. I am glad they cleared that up. A ‘review’ of course, is the last refuge of a defeated bureaucrat, although we should be grateful for the result. But the other scar on the national monument, the Keating speech, has gone ahead and this is defended by the ‘Executive’ as some sort of consecration, as it is now a ‘bronze cast’. There was no sign of any concession that putting up a politician’s speech and one that we now know is part of another Keating crusade, is singularly inappropriate. That is the saddest part. But is it just a coincidence that Keating’s speech should be made so permanent a feature of our national monument right at the time the ABC launches its fawning series of interviews on the great man? I can feel the birth of more Labor party myth-making coming on.

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