Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Janet Albrechtsen, Business Experience, Small Business, heroic New Zealand, and handing out dunce's caps and elephant stamps

Pot, meet kettle. Mandarin poo bah Kevin Rudd, say hello to poo bah lawyer Janet Albrechtsen.

Yep, the land at the top of the faraway tree has moved along, and we're back in the land of Janet "Dame Slap" Albrechtsen, headmistress columnist intent on providing her students with a vigorous lesson on the importance of small business.

Now you might ask what exactly Dame Slap's small business experience amounts to. After all, she studied to become a lawyer in Adelaide, then moved to Sydney to work as a solicitor in the large commercial firm Freehills, then studied at Sydney University to obtain a doctorate in law, and taught as an academic.

After that, she became a commentator and pundit for an assortment of papers, and was given the perk of a board job on the ABC by the Howard Government.

Well I guess that eminently qualifies her to write a column entitled Strangers to Business - perhaps leading off with a Shakespearian joke about how to fix up the world - first kill all the lawyers.

What a deluded, optimistic possum you must be to have expectations like that. Her column is of course how little PM Rudd, our very own bright little red vroom vroom Ruddster, knows about business, and how he's been a lifelong public servant and politician (in contrast say to John Howard, that devoted small businessman before he became a life long politician, and Peter Costello, that devoted entrepreneur who just happened to spend his life in lawyering and politics before becoming the world's greatest treasurer, and now can't be prized out of parliament for a job in the private sector by the strongest forceps known to the medical profession. Nor even Joe Hockey, current treasury opposition kind of person, who comes on like a used car salesman, but when asked actual questions on economics, disavows any expertise in economics.)

Of course last week Rudd was hideous because he's a multi-millionaire, but that only came about because of his wife's expertise in milking government contracts. He's just a momma's boy hiding behind a woman's skirts.

This is not to denigrate the public service or community sectors. They do important work. But a lifelong immersion in the public sector creates a government-focused cast of mind and blind spots about the private sector.

As does blithering on endlessly from the standpoint of a loon columnist of a Murdoch kind?

Dame Slap's new pet pupil is John Key, the PM of New Zealand (in contrast to that fiendishly dull, slow and difficult Joe Biden boy, who should know better as VP of the USA but only manages to splutter when confronted with small business issues).

Key has actual small business experience, it seems, working as a manager at a clothing manufacturer and as a currency trader. But actually I think it's because he's vaguely right wing (remember in New Zealand a right winger is just a socialist who believes in capitalism, or vice versa) and knows how to dog whistle to all the right wing pundits and economists still determining the best way forward for damaged economies.

And that's the sting. He needs to. New Zealand is one of the most heavily indebted developed economies at the moment - a year ago, its national debt, as measured by a negative net international investment position, was 86% of GDP, second to Iceland in the OECD (though no one's saying it will know end up in Iceland's fatal position, thank the lord).

By golly, wasn't it lucky we had lawyers - actual trained solicitors - running our own economy for such a long time, so we could avoid such perils.

Yep, no wonder Key is the odd man out, and no wonder he's desperately dog whistling, in the hope that some dog, any dog, will come along with cash and help poor old New Zealand out.

What a shame, Dame Slap notes, that her favorite pupil won't be heading off to the G20 to teach all the big boys how to really confront the global financial crisis. Is it too much to hope that G stands for growth, not group-think?

Well actually it seems group-think is all the right wing commentariet knows, and despite having seen and heard what happened in the United States with a lax and incompetent Federal government (just been reading an excellent article in The New Yorker on the boondoggle that went on in Florida real estate under Jeb and George Bush during the golden years of right wing commentariet pundit thinking, and the fraudulent behavior is a marvel of small business skill and enterprise, mixed in with criminality and the drug trade. It's by George Packer, called The Ponzi State, but you'll need to register if you want to read the whole thing online, with only an abstract available at front of house. The New Yorker still provides good value when it sends out its reporters to do in depth at large stories).

I know pundits have to write - endless ink is the life blood of punditry. But when you spin a very personal bit of person bashing into a set of economic principles, the foundation is so shaky and the insights so irrelevant to the real world, that you never have to wonder why you need a cold shower after reading a Dame Slap column, with its handing out of dunce caps and elephant stamps. It's a bit like reading left wingers on how Howard and Costello were just lawyers, or George Bush was just a prat with a Freudian daddy hang up. It's no doubt satisfying to the writer, but it's profoundly unsatisfying if you have any expectations of public policy.

But that of course is the great double bind for right wing pundits. When they're not writing about how meaningless and useless government is, they're writing about all the things government should do to fix things up. And of course these things by definition are never the things that governments are doing. And if the 'four legs bad' party are in power, then the 'two legs great'  socialist 'nationalize the banks' stimulus packages seen when George Bush was in power are instantly forgotten.

Still, ever the entrepreneur, Dame Slap sees an opportunity for her other large body of recalcitrant students:

This could be the Liberal Party's moment in the sun, reminding us it stands for encouraging real growth in small business, in the same heartland that once delivered it government (until it betrayed that heartland, they felt the pinch and voted it out).

Here's the thing: at the moment, the Liberal party can't manage itself. The terminated, sulky COO lurks somewhere in the photocopy room, scheming against the current CEO - or maybe just photocopying his memoirs? Who knows?  Other wannabe CEOs lurk in the wings, testing the strength of their blade, and wondering when the moment might be right to strike.

The sales team is in a schemozzle - Tony Abbott couldn't sell papal policy to a devout Catholic, but keeps on getting invited on to shows, and keeps on speaking cliches, while the rest of the head office team are a disorganized rabble, with Julie Bishop looking like a rabbit in the hands of a small business entrepreneur on the way to the abattoir. 

They need to get their act into gear if they're going to convince anyone they can lead us out of the wilderness and into the splendor of small business free enterprise. Like show us how they can run their own small business - and currently with its membership, the Liberal Party is a very small business.

Mid-term report: I suspect you could spend a lifetime in Dame Slap's school, and emerge with very little understanding about anything, except that a good slapping in a column or two is a very good thing. Now go put on that dunce's cap and stand in the corner, you silly clown, fancy thinking that government can do education when private sector Dame Slap is your only hope.

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