26/05/2011 - 00:00

Wastrel nation may be found wanting

26/05/2011 - 00:00


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It’s not a bad idea to put a little away for a rainy day.

IT probably comes as no surprise to learn that State Scene’s favourite Biblical figure is Joseph, the one whose father, Jacob, gave him a colourful coat.

There are two reasons Joseph appeals to me – one obvious, the other less so.

When I first attended school in Wyalkatchem, more years ago than I care to recall, a Mrs Mills would come to give weekly Bible lessons.

Despite not understanding English at the start of that year, I guessed her first question to me: “What is your name?”

So I told her: “Janusz”.

I could see she was somewhat baffled. She’d never ever heard such a name because Wyalkatchem tended to only have lads with names like Don, John, Max, Peter, Geoff, and so on.

Being kind and considerate, she pretended to understand and grappled with my unfamiliar name for some time.

But when we reached the story of Joseph and that many coloured coat she suddenly stopped, and I recall her eyes lit up.

With a smile, she said: “Ah, that’s what Janusz is – you’re Joseph”.

And I’ve been stuck with Joseph, or Joe, ever since, rather than Janus, which is really my name in English, derived from Europe’s great Hellenic past.

That’s the obvious reason for my attachment to the Biblical Joseph, the man whose brothers so envied him and his coat that they threw him into a pit and soaked the coat in animal blood to help convince their father he was dead.

But Joseph was found in that pit and taken to Egypt as a slave, where his ability to interpret dreams led to him becoming the Pharaoh’s seer and adviser.

Which leads to the second, and far more important, reason for my admiring him.

If one reads on, as Mrs Mills did, one learns Joseph was truly far-sighted.

It was he the Pharaoh asked to interpret a dream about seven fat and seven scrawny cattle and seven healthy and seven shrivelled heads of grain.

Joseph told the Pharaoh that this was a warning from God, a warning to make ready for seven years of hardship while in the midst of seven years of plenty.

Joseph, in his new role as a high official, ordered that granaries be filled so the populace would not starve when crops failed and famine descended.

Mrs Mills stressed to us five-year olds that we should take heed of this message. We should learn from Joseph’s wisdom and throughout our lives always look to the future, seek to be prescient, never wastrels, and be ready for less-bountiful times.

I’ve never forgotten her advice.

Fifteen years later when I, perhaps not coincidentally, opted to study for an economics degree, I recalled it and came to regard, correctly I still believe, that the learned Joseph, with God’s help, was the first truly great economist of the Judeo-Christian world.

Now to more recent events, like this month’s national budget, Wayne Swan’s fourth and as usual in deficit with promises of a surplus, eventually.

Perhaps after he’s imposed the mining and the CO2 gas taxes upon us we’ll get that elusive surplus.

But don’t count on it because Labor has reverted to form by yet again spending more than it has in the pocket and promising the books will be balanced another far-off day, which never comes.

Labor prefers not having surplus or balanced budgets.

While Canberra press gallery members wrote thousands of words explaining the budget, the one who potted black was onetime Labor power broker, ex-senator Graham (Richo) Richardson.

Mr Swan was out there describing his budget as being about ‘jobs, jobs, and jobs’. Richo wouldn’t have it.

“No,” he said, “It’s about China, China and China.”

Yes, the Swan budget is firmly based on the premise that the China factor will continue, with no end in sight. Let’s hope he’s right. But that’s certainly not what Biblical Joseph would be doing.

In fact, it is difficult to imagine Joseph having anything to do with those with a proclivity for deficits and the constant imposition of

new taxes.

In light of Mr Swan’s faith in the China market continuing, I quote from a long-time journalist contact, Ian McDougall, on what he’s written about his last visit to China.

“In any city in China you will see dozens and dozens of high-rise residential buildings,” he wrote early this month.

“These apartment blocks are impressive. The Chinese are, on the whole, good builders. The buildings are well finished and they don’t fall down. These aren’t small apartment blocks; frequently, they are quite massive.

“But at night it is a different story. In one major Chinese city, I was out one night with a friend who was a long-time resident.

“He said: ‘Look at those apartment blocks and tell me what you see’.

“I stared at them for a while and then it clicked. ‘There are no lights on’, I replied. “In every massive apartment block there are only two or three, maximum six, apartments with lights.

“‘Do you know why’? my friend asked.

“‘Because Chinese apartments aren’t sold fitted out. No sinks, no light fittings, no wardrobes. Sometimes they don’t even have internal walls. The housing boom has got to the point where even middle-class people can’t afford housing any more, and there are millions of houses all over China sitting empty’.

“These empty houses are mostly financed by the banks.”

McDougall pointed out that these empty dwellings were mostly bank-financed under notoriously lax, “in many cases corrupt”, rules.

Efforts to cool the boom have so far failed.

“The point is, if the economy goes bad, the speculators won’t be able to cover holding costs. Most speculators own more than one property; some own dozens,” he wrote.

“If the banks falter, the authorities will try to bail them out. Even so, they can’t support the whole non-export sector of China’s economy.

“China could go down like a house of cards.”

State Scene doesn’t know who is advising Mr Swan now that big-taxing Ken Henry has left Treasury.

But whoever it is, my advice would be to scrap his ‘thankfully we’ve got China’ and big taxing ideas.

Read instead about Joseph and how he directed Egypt’s economy in its years of plenty.

Read especially these lines.

“The seven years of abundance in Egypt came to an end, and the seven years of famine began, just as Joseph had said.

“There was famine in all the other lands, but in the whole land of Egypt there was food.

“When all Egypt began to feel the famine, the people cried to Pharaoh for food.

“Then Pharaoh told all the Egyptians, ‘Go to Joseph and do what he tells you.’

“When the famine had spread over the whole country, Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold grain to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe throughout Egypt.

“And all the world came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe everywhere.”

I doubt that’s the course Mr Swan’s budget has set Australia upon.



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