Tuesday 17 June 2008

Would you like an extra $173 in your pocket?

By the end of the 2007 financial year the war in Iraq has cost Australia $2.94 billion (that's nothing compared to the United States which would have spent as much as $938 billion in our currency).
For Afghanistan the Australian Government's budget was $290 million in the year 2006-7 and for 2007-8 an additional $703 million was allocated to be spent over the next four years. Therefore at the end of the 2008 financial year the amount poured into that enterprise would have been around $466 million.
By the middle of 2008 Australia's population has reached 21 million. If the government had not engaged in those two wars and today suddenly decided to hand over the money to every Australian man, woman and child they all would have received $173 in their pockets. (Given the cross-over of timelines you might say that's playing with figures, but the fact is the money, as it turns out, has been used after all)
If $173 doesn't sound like much take the overall view: the government would have had an extra $3.6 billion at its disposal to be spent on its people.
Let's say someone approached the prime minister with a proposal that required almost $4 billion to be implemented. There must be pretty good reasons to prevent being shown out the door there and then.
But marketers know this is not how it's done. You don't tell a customer, "Come and spend a thousand bucks!". You lure them into the shop on the premise of buying an item worth a fraction, and hope they spend enough time to get enticed into filling their trolley as they walk through the aisles.
It's a form of progression lock, the phenomenon of an event continuing through its paces because the preliminaries have been set. It happens with shopping, with urban planning, with large-scale contracts. Start at a convenient point and progress from there, because eventually the costs of retracing your steps outweigh the expenses piling up.
Nevertheless, some consideration must have been given to the ultimate viability of implementing an idea that involved moving into a place like Iraq or Afghanistan in order to remodel those nations. Had the initial evaluation involved the Otoom model the data gleaned would have painted a critical picture. In the case of Iraq see the notes on a US report and its British equivalent.
As for Afghanistan, its history alone would have given pause for thought. Here is a region that for centuries was beset by tribal warfare and conflict. Every now and then a strong-man regime was able to subdue the factions but it never lasted more than a few decades. Apart from Asian expansions the British tried during their Anglo-Afghan wars in the 18/19th century, more recently it was the Russians, and now the US and its allies are at it once again. None of them succeeded since firstly, although an army may achieve a military victory that does not translate into societal assimilation in the long run (even the ancient Romans learnt their lessons in this regard, and they too build a lot of infrastructure throughout their colonies). Secondly, the demographics of this world differentiate themselves through their respective customs and their rigidity, their religion and its pervasiveness, and their degree of intransigence when it comes to side-stepping the traditional links between family and tribe. If those factors were negligible an invasion would not have been necessary in the first place. And if they are not what is the point of invading unless the reasons are only temporary and sufficiently pressing?
Yet Iraq did happen, and then Afghanistan. The conventional approach would have entailed military-style reasoning, the spectre of terrorism, and, in the absence of a comprehensive means to analyse the cognitive/societal conditions on the ground, a considerable amount of optimism stemming from good old-fashioned projection: we are happy with our Western democracy, so why can't they be?
The information based on the Otoom model had been around since late 2003. Why it struggles to be taken seriously here and there is a topic in itself. Quite apart from any personal frustration the damage covers more than useless and damaging wars (as if that wasn't enough!) - there is also the question of diminishing oil resources.
If the issue of peak oil would really be taken seriously the huge amount of fuel necessary for the Iraq and Afghanistan adventure alone should ring the alarm bells.
One can argue about the precise figures marking the gradual disappearance of that resource. One could even question the original premise, the Hubbert peak theory, even though it proved itself correct already.
What cannot be argued with is the stark difference between the rates of creation and consumption of oil. In addition the onset of scarcity gives rise to speculation and perception which in some cases can evolve towards panic. Against these latter factors the amount of oil still in the ground somewhere recedes into the background.
Long before the actual volume of remaining oil reserves will appear in the media, long before the number of countries struggling with supplying their own population has risen to double-digit figures, the perception-induced panic will have surpassed a few demonstrations here or there. At that point we can either retreat into 19th century novels or wake up to the inevitable consequences of disregarding the realistic analysis of demographic mindsets under precarious conditions.

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