World Cup troubles

The world cup – the greatest and most popular sporting event that exists is starting, but no one seems that excited about it this time. Which is strange. There are a few factors as to why though, and it all starts with the organising body.

FIFA

You don’t have to follow the news closely to know that FIFA is pretty corrupt. There have been numerous scandals over the years, and an incredible amount of vote buying and bribery. But at the very least, the places where the tournament was hosted generally made sense, so we all collectively swept it under the rug. 1994 was in the US, a growing market for football / soccer and a place with numerous stadiums fit for World Cup matches, a safe place with a decent time zone for Europe and South America, the heart lands of football. France 1998 made sense because France is in Europe, the home of football, where all the best leagues are, and again has a lot of stadiums and a love for football. France even won the event, proving that it was a worthy place to host it with a burgeoning team of insane talent (peaking with Zinadine Zidane a player for the ages). 2002 in Japan and Korea was a little weird, but football is pretty big in those countries and trying to make football a more ‘world game’ by heading to two of the most populous countries in Asia that are first world and have the right kind of facilities made sense. Football in Asia makes sense. 2006 was back to Europe and Germany, their first major global event since the fall of the Berlin Wall, a reward for a unified country and again the heartland of Europe with bevvy of worthy stadiums and a local team loaded with talent.

2010 was when it started to get a little more sketchy (literally). South Africa. But the arguments for South Africa made some sense – football is huge in Africa and it seemed timely to reward the continent with a major event like this. South Africa is one of the more developed countries in Africa (which helped it’s cause), and Nelson Mandela was around and about, which made their bid fairly influential and acceptable for the global stage. The time zone was very friendly to European audiences and it helped the game feel like it was truly global. The event was a bit of a sham (who can forget those brutal trumpet things), with a lot of money spent on stadiums that were questionably built, with money that probably could have been spent on better things. Generally, it feels a bit weird having these types of events in countries where a lot of people live below the poverty line. Sure, you can say that most stadiums anywhere are a bit of a waste of public money (even in the US), but it is particularly true in places where there are high levels of poverty and the juxtaposition of very rich players and fans from rich countries flying in to first class stadiums for a few games and then leaving again, all whilst the people continue to live in poverty, is a bit jarring. Which takes us on to FIFA’s 2014 decision to go with Brazil.

Brazil made a lot sense on the surface – they have won the cup (albeit the trophy is not literally a cup) 5 times, South America is the other home of football apart from Europe, and Brazil is not known as a poor country (it’s part of the what was a cool acronym of “BRIC” countries that were once all rapidly rising). But it turns out the government is super corrupt (no wonder they got along with FIFA), and there was (again) a lot of money spent on barely used stadiums that will never be used again. Little did we know, that whilst Brazil “made sense” based on the above criteria, what really made sense about it was that the Brazilian government lined the pockets of FIFA to get the deal done. So this built on the South Africa problem – another country that is not quite first world spending a lot of money on stadiums to house rich fans for a few games, whilst people live in poverty. Not ideal. If you are counting at home, we now have Brazil and South Africa, both have stadiums that now lie dormant, because they are built in locations that have no requirements for 40,000 person plus stadiums, whilst the countries are mired in poverty and corruption. Brazil had the double whammy of useless stadiums for the World Cup and then more useless stadiums for the Olympics two years later. What a time to be a Brazilian. They even lost 7-1 to Germany to top of the high of the World Cup hosting.

So the FIFA decision trends were not good (I’ll save the thousands of words on corruption, that story has been written), and then they announced before the 2014 World Cup that the 2018 bid would go to Russia (over England, Spain and others), and the 2022 bid would go to Qatar (over the USA, Australia and others). Two countries with low football history, autocracies or other problematic “governments”, issues with human rights violations and a history of trying to pay their way into positive global recognition. More on this later (eg. like Qatar is in the desert and its 45 degrees all the time), but needless to say, the enjoyment of an event that makes FIFA money is starting to feel directly like helping them be corrupt and helping people like Vladimir Putin profit more from it. We can’t even pretend anymore. This is not a great vibe.

RUSSIA

Which brings us nicely to the focus on this World Cup’s host nation. Russia is a dictatorship, led by a guy who may or may not have helped rig the US election that gave us Trump, who is helping the world and the environment come apart at the seams. In Russia, he has turned a promising democracy into an autocracy where it seems he can stay in power forever. Maybe he could be a benevolent dictator? Apparently not. He has likely embezzled loads of money for himself, helped a bunch of his mates get rich, and continues to do things like take over parts of other countries and claim them as Russia, kill people in other countries with poison, and support rebels who shoot down commercial airlines. By all accounts not a great bloke.

Russia as a location is also not a great scene either. Sure the architecture looks cool, but unfortunately Russia has a hooligan problem. In Russia, people go to games just to fight, and they are brutal fighters. This has happened and will continue to happen. At the Euro 2016 this was demonstrated after the England Russia game. Everyone collectively shat themselves knowing that Russia 2018 was on the agenda next. And here we are.

Russia is also a bit racist. Danny Rose, an English player (who is black) has said he will not take his family for concerns about that. It is also wildly homophobic, and although no players are openly gay, the stats say that a bunch of them would be, so they are going to a place where their natural orientation would get them beaten up and worse. If you are a gay person and happen to like football, there is little chance you would make the effort to head over there. Further hanging over all of this is that Russian law is pretty sketchy, and if you get in trouble there, you are probably pretty screwed as there is no semblance of fairness, (and the if you are from a rich country that can afford to go there, you government is likely not friendly with the host nation).

Some of that is hearsay (although not that much of it), but one Russian story that is not hearsay at all – Russia has just been caught in one of the biggest state sponsored doping scandals in memory. It all came out at the Sochi Olympics (another event sketchily “acquired” by Putin’s Russia), where it was found that there was a state sponsored effort to switch urine and blood samples and get around a lot of the drug laws. All in the name of restoring Russian prowess on the sporting field. So, if you are counting at home, it seems like we might have problems with homophobic racist fighters who cheat. Luckily Russia has mismanaged the football team so badly that they would have to have the the Walter White of sports doping on their side just to win a game, let alone win the World Cup, so we are safe there.

Finally, it just sucks to support an event which will be a propaganda event for Putin’s Russia. Propaganda is rubbish, and lies, and its easy to switch our brain off. And that is what Putin wants. For us all to watch the World Cup and think “this is normal and good”. And the football probably will be. So it will be easy to fall into normalising Russia and autocracies and all the above problems. But that is bad. Russia is a bad system that is destabilizing the world. We should not reward this by giving these countries world sports events.

It hurts my head to think about how to enjoy the World Cup whilst rejecting Russia, which is exactly why the World Cup just doesn’t seem that fun.

QATAR

Looming over all of this is World Cup 2022 in Qatar. This remains confusing. Even when South Africa was a bit weird, it was easy to think, “well, the next one is in Brazil, which is pretty sweet” (at the time we didn’t know that was like looking forward to 2016 election being over). If you thought Japan and Korea was a bit odd, at least you could think “well Germany 2006 is next”. But Russia is a bit of a problem as previously stated. And when you think well, Qatar is next, then everything gets worse. Qatar is in the desert, and it is over 40 every day in “summer”. Of course this means that the World Cup must be held in Qatar’s “winter”, disrupting every domestic football season in existence (except Qatar’s, because they don’t have one). So the World Cup will be in November / December, which is weird. So much for that summer event.

Of course Qatar gets worse in many ways. It seems like the people building the stadiums might be slaves, or at the very least wildly underpaid semi slaves with no legal working status who commit suicide flat out. I wish that was a joke. FIFA has outdone themselves again. Qatar is also involved in a proxy war at the moment with Saudi Arabia and others that might turn hot at anytime. Sure, Saudi Arabia are the ones being the real jerks, but it is not ideal that there are missiles potentially flying across the border (Middle Eastern disputes don’t have the history of being sorted out nicely and efficiently). It just makes no sense the World Cup being in Qatar – Russia looks like a natural place for a World Cup in comparison.

So if you are tracking at home, we are going from an incredibly corrupt World Cup (Brazil 2014), to a country that is completely corrupt with a dictator (Russia 2018), to a country that is run by a Royal Family built on oil money that pays workers nothing and is having a border skirmish with the largest military in the Middle East (Qatar 2022). What is even weirder is that it is hard to know if the US getting 2026 World Cup (along with Mexico and Canada, countries they are openly feuding with) will be a relief from this trend or a continuation. What is there to look forward to in national team football?

VAR

Next off the rank is VAR. What is VAR? Video Assistant Refereeing. It seems logical, there are always bad decisions in football games, and why not make it more likely to get the decision right by having the ability to check decisions on replay and then make the right one? Well it turns out, it doesn’t make sense at all. A few leagues have started using it this past season, Germany and Italy and also in the FA Cup in England, and it has not been good at all. Here and here and here are some examples and there are plenty of others if you go looking. Not only have the time delays been brutal, disrupting the flow of the game – but the referees have not understood when to call for VAR and the VAR has often got the decision wrong and made everyone more angry. Not great. This is the first world cup it has been used, and a lot of the referees have no experience with it at all. This will definitely cause a bunch of controversy during the tournament, let’s just hope it doesn’t happen in the biggest games (although it is bound to).

THE TEAMS

Finally, and what should be most importantly (but isn’t as demonstrated above)), we get to the teams. You can read better football previews everywhere, this is a broad summary of the problems. In World Cups there are usually tiers of teams – the teams that can win, the teams that might make it out of the group stage and cause some trouble, and the teams that are trash and are just there for the party, (and because FIFA rewards being global more than being good). This is true this year as of any year.

The difference this year, is that the teams on the top tier just seem so much better than the mid-tier teams that it legitimately seems like only 3-4 teams can win it. That is unusually low. I can hear you saying that Portugal won the Euro’s and Chile won the most recent Copa de America. But still, this is different. The last time there was a first time winner was 1998, and that was a France team loaded with talent led by Zinadine Zidane with guys like Thierry Henry and Patrick Viera milling around. In Russia, it really seems like it is down to Spain, Germany, Brazil and maybe France (even though the coach is questionable). Even among that group, Spain just bizarrely fired their coach. But after that, there are a myriad of problems with the other potential contenders.

Argentina, who still have the best player in the world (Messi) lose to crappy teams a lot and never quite seem right (they barely qualified) and are completely reliant on Messi going nuts (not impossible but unlikely). Belgium is the hot “outsider” pick, but they are not deep enough, their coach is a bit of a spud and would have to get pretty lucky (plus their goalie slept with their star players Mrs. once). Also they had a team selection controversy that was nicknamed “mattressgate” because the coach hadn’t selected the team yet, but 23 mattresses were delivered each with players names on them. Weird (for interest – it turns out the mattress names didn’t match the team selected in the end). Portugal won the Euro’s but Ronaldo is older still, and they are just not as deep as the others (their keeper is Rui Patricia, hardly a household name). England are too young and not that good, and always seem to struggle at major tournaments (although it hard to deny there is a better vibe around this team with Harry Kane leading the way). Uruguay are good up front (Suarez, Cavani) but don’t have much else (I have not heard of their goal keeper). Italy didn’t even make it, nor did Holland. Egypt were not that great, but were exciting at least with Mo Salah (he is so popular is Egypt that he got 1 million presidential votes), but now he is injured and questionable. Columbia are the one team that aren’t quite in that top tier that seem ok, but they are relying on James (“Hamez”) Rodriguez a lot, and have Arsenal’s backup goal keeper as their starter (it’s not like Arsenal were a powerhouse of defence this year). It going to be one of the four, and likely one of the three.

So we have a lot of games that are likely a supporting act to a four team race for the World Cup in a dictatorship with corruption, racism and fighting issues looming, drug issues swirling, not to mention the next World Cup in the desert. Bring it on.

 

Italy

Italy, a country that no one outside of Europe knows much about more than Pizza Pasta Fashion and Football, is in the news as the new Greece of Europe (not a good thing). The global markets have been jittery over the last few days as Italy wrestles with another political crisis. What is going on?

A few events together have caused a greater issue, these are:

  • Italy has an economy that is not going that well
  • There has been a huge influx of migrants from Africa / Middle East (Syria!)
  • Italy is part of the Euro, so are subject to European finance rules and laws
  • There is a lot of inequality in Italy (and a North / South – Haves / Have nots divide, not that dissimilar to the metro / rural divide in the US and the London / non London divide in the UK)
  • The electoral system is mightily confusing, borderline ridiculous and barely feasible

The recent elections led to two anti-immigrant parties (M5S and Lega Nord) getting the most seats in Parliament (not a convincing result). Once they agreed to form a coalition they agreed to nominate a Prime Minister and a cabinet of Ministers. What is interesting here is that the Prime Minister that is nominated or the cabinet ministers do not have to be elected officials – the parties can choose from literally anyone. In the US, the cabinet can be anyone, but at least you know who is choosing the cabinet (the President, whose election you voted on). In Italy you are voting for someone to then (often) make an agreement with someone else, and then choose everyone who rubs the government. It is odd. From this, the parties agreed to chose Giuseppe Conte, a professor from Florence University, who was controversial because no one knew about it, and when people researched his academic resume they found a lot of it to be false.

Weird, but at least they have a result, right? Well, adding to complexity, there is a President of Italy too, who holds executive power, although the position is mostly ceremonial (they sign the bills and do events, not that different to the Queen). The President is elected by the parliament to 7 year terms (that part is kind of political), but long term enough that they are hopefully not that political. Anyway, it was hard to convince the President that the nominated Prime Minister was ok, but he was eventually convinced. Then the parties nominated a cabinet of Ministers that the President was able to stomach.. apart from one – the Finance minister Paolo Savona, a 81 year old ‘Euro-skeptic’ who wants to pull Italy out of the Euro. Of course, we all know there is no better way to revitalize a country that to put in charge of it a whole bunch of old white guys. Unfortunately (but unsurprisingly) this appointment was deemed no good by the President who refused to swear the cabinet in, which triggered the latest so-called crisis. This will likely lead to some fresh elections that will lead to similarly opaque results as people continue to lose faith in the system. Lovely.

There are a couple of further things going on in the background here.

Italians and a lot of Europeans are not that stoked at the Euro currency. You may remember other Euro crisis’s, especially Greece, that have occurred recently. This is partly because when a Euro economy tanks, countries have no control over fiscal policy (interest rates and others stuff), but instead have to submit to the bigger countries of the Euro (Germany and France) who make financial demands that usually include cutting spending and making life pretty crap in exchange for selling them more debt. Invariably a bad economy is made worse and these conditions make it pretty easy for people to vote for stupid stuff, like anti immigrant parties with rubbish “flat tax” policies that favor the rich and who want to pull out of the Euro. This has happened before and will continue to happen. The only thing keeping the Euro together is goodwill and the hardest soft power over seen from Germany and co. And the memory of World War 2. These Austerity policies haven’t happened yet, but they are hanging over the top of the Italian elections because..

The head of the European Central Bank (ECB) at the moment is an Italian, Mario Draghi. He has been willing to sell debt to the Italian’s to keep their economy going in a way that would be unlikely if someone else was the head of the ECB. But his term will end at some point, and the money tap will likely be turned off, or at the very least it will be slowed, and additional conditions will be put on the money.

Now the broader questions about the Euro should be asked. It would be bad to pull out of it in the short term, but in the long term, it could be the best for everyone (economically at least) if the Euro dissolved. But there is a lot of instability at the moment, and having more instability seems like it would be bad. But one has to admit this is an open question.

So in summary, we have the head of the ECB, who is Italian, who is helping keep the Italian economy afloat – but his term is ending soon. We have a convoluted “democracy” which is leading to unclear election results. These results put together parties with relatively extreme agenda’s to come up with something coherent to be signed off by the President. The President is being loose in his desire for coherence, but he is drawing the line at “this will definitely be chaos”. What will happen next?

God only knows (at least the Pope lives in Rome).

Readings and other things

It’s been a while, but there has been plenty of content in the meantime, so here goes:

  1. A cracking breakdown of the trends of authenticity that include the hipster movement, and all the shit people hate on but secretly do themselves
  2. This bizarre story about the 76ers NBA team executive who seems to have created fake twitter accounts to big himself up and criticize players
  3. A great piece that delves further into the reasons for the state of the world, and how the top 9.9% of people (most of who don’t like Trump, Brexit or fascist ideas) are a part of the problem (including me)
  4. How dirty Russian money ends up in Britain
  5. Commencement speeches are neither here nor there, but Ira Glass from This American Life did a pretty good one
  6. A fun read on the sports apparel companies (Nike, Reebok etc) fight to sign LeBron James back when he was 18
  7. An unsurprising but still depressing story about how economic austerity is destroying a lot of people’s lives in Britain
  8. The Irish referendum and how it was done quite well, and how the winning side fought back against the Trump / Brexit type strategies
  9. An interesting angle on the similarities of the growth of Ethiopia in Africa to China’s recent growth by the relentless Tyler Cowen
  10. Addictive drugs continue to evolve ahead of the pace of the authorities highlighting that the War on Drugs will never be won with force
  11. A brief summary of the GDPR (Privacy) law that you have been getting a lot of emails about, and has just been mandated by the European Commission
  12. The relationship between populism (..fascism) and an aging population (hint: they are positively correlated)
  13. Another reminder of the day to day discrimination people face in the US (and everywhere)
  14. The psychology of Japanese train stations (another efficiency we don’t have here)
  15. Some background to the chaos of the Italian government from the always on point London Review of Books
  16. A new sports franchise that connects with the community in Atlanta, which is interesting because a lot of these franchises have completely bombed
  17. Why does no one ever leave Facebook, even their top top executives? (The meaning they find from pursuing the company’s supposed mission explains a lot of how they can’t see the problems they are causing)
  18. Unsurprisingly, Scandinavian countries are dealing with the advent of new technology better than the rest of us. Who knew higher taxes and better services were good?
  19. The traditional watch magazine Hodinkee talking to Jony Ive about the Apple watch (he is a famous Apple designer)
  20. A brief summary of the “incel” culture (involuntary celibacy – angry guys not getting sex). This stuff is important to be written about and to understand, but it’s still hard not to be depressed by the prevalence of this kind of stuff.
  21. Steve Jobs had a way of understanding the issues at his organizations that seems pretty useful (useful for managers who invariably don’t understand their organizations as it’s hard for employees to be open about their issues for a multitude of reasons)
  22. The semi famous Mr Money Mustache, a very smart man with money – and what he is teaching his son about money
  23. The dream (for some, and for most at least rhetorically) of a two state solution in Israel / Palestine is over
  24. Why are farmers committing suicide in Australia? No surprises that dodgy finance practices are in the vicinity of the issue

Weekly readings and other things

The usual list of things to be reading this week and watching this week:

  1. The This is America clip by Childish Gambino (aka Donald Glover)
  2. One of the many takes on the above clip – this one in the New Yorker
  3. On the other artist in the news, Ta Nehisi Coates on Kanye – mixed in with his own experience of getting famous and how that impacted him
  4. Japan’s rent-a-family industry is not as weird as it sounds (recommended)
  5. How measuring economic success on GDP is bad and leads to relying on the immigration growth ponzi scheme (Australian context but relevant for all)
  6. Facebook and journalism continues to be a depressing mix
  7. another not great sign for democracy in the US – the attempts to influence Obama officials on the Iran deal
  8. Interesting piece from Ross Douthat about the distribution of sex, not necessarily agreeable, but though provoking
  9. YouTube trying to fix their problems, also pretty depressing it seems
  10. How the UK government uses administration to push immigrants out of the country
  11. Campbell Brown the head of news at Facebook – again, doesn’t fill one with confidence in the company’s ability to deal with news / media
  12. Ben Thompson on Apple and Amazon racing to be the first trillion dollar company
  13. Is the US becoming more like Japan? Relevant for a lot of western countries
  14. Tim Urban and Wait But Why tackle career decisions and trajectories in a way that encompasses old advice whilst adding some new helpful things
  15. A different take on the “you are the product” idea, apparently we are not the product necessarily if something is free (Facebook, Google etc)
  16. Some of the new features of Google’s technology in making phone calls and using a generated voice to make appointments and bookings and react in real time
  17. Inside the life of Lance Armstrong and his pretty staggering drug cheating methods and his general jerk like behaviour
  18. Brutal morning television in Australia aimed at white semi-racist peopleand the introduction of the great term “basic boomers”
  19. Zuckerberg continues not to learn – the WhatsApp founder is leaving the company because of Privacy concerns that Facebook are forcing on WhatsApp (getting rid of encryption so they can see peoples messages)
  20. I have been to Nicaragua a few times, and it is sad to see the political situation remains highly troubling and corrupt

 

Football (AFL) Nepotism

In the AFL there is a rule called the Father Son rule which has been around for a long time. This has allowed for players such as Tom Hawkins and Matthew Scarlet to come to clubs like Geelong for free in drafts where they otherwise would have gone much higher. The rule has been tweaked now so that clubs have to bid for players, so if a player is particularly great there is some compensation and lost draft picks – using the Tom Hawkins example, a club would have to say they were going to take Tom Hawkins first, and then Geelong would now have to act like they had the first draft pick and give up a whole bunch of picks to use their father son rights to get him. Confused? It is confusing (and what is the point of governing bodies other than to make things harder to follow?). But they could still get him in a context where any other player of the same talent they could not, purely because his dad played for Geelong back in the day. Football nepotism. This is a confusing state of affairs for a league that prides itself on fairness and even competition.

In my view there are issues with drafts in the first place, because we are forcing players onto teams they don’t (necessarily) want to go to and incentivising losing. I understand there is an argument here, and it’s hard to deny the AFL is relatively even competition with all clubs legitimately having the ability to one day win a premiership if they make the right decisions. So given that there is a draft and with the assumption that is here to stay, I will look at the father son rule more closely.

In a tightly controlled league, if there is one thing that is not tightly controlled it has the ability to distort the competition. As it currently stands, the system works to prioritise kids who want to play for the team their father played for. It gives the son a choice, they can activate the father-son rule, or they can not. If there are multiple clubs their father played for (provided he hit the eligibility mark of XX games with that club), they can choose which one they want to be picked by. I am relatively pro this part of it, as it actually gives the players some choice (who wouldn’t choose Hawthorn over Brisbane or the Gold Coast). But leaving that aside, is it an option that makes sense? The AFL has decided that we should not allow players to have choice based on the club they support, the town they grew up, the club with the best chance to win, the club with the best chance to get playing time, the club with the best support structure, the club that doesn’t have a lot of their players going off the rails. These are all elements that a young player is explicitly not allowed to make a choice on.

When you are a great player and you are 18 looking to enter the AFL, if you are lucky you might get a choice (I support choice). But the choice you are given is not based on any of the above factors, that seem to me to be reasonable factors in deciding where you want to spend potentially 10-15 years of your life. Instead, the one choice they might get, is to choose a club that the only connection they have is their dad played for them back in the day. They might not even like their dad – they certainly had no input into where the dad played and whether (20-30 years later) the club their dad played for back then is any good now. So we are banning choice, UNLESS your happen to have a dad that played for a team back in the day, in which case you can choose to go there if you want. Hmmm.

One of the problems here is the distortion of incentives. What on earth are the incentives of the Father Son rule? To pray that any player who plays enough games for your team finds a lovely partner and they happen to have a fertile partnership that results in some able bodied sons? I actually remember a good friend of mine being excited that a great player of their favourite team had produced 4 sons. Pretty absurd that the fertility of players is actually worth following.

The biggest problem this confronts is this nostalgia for “back in the day” times. I have specifically used that term, because it best describes the nostalgia for a time that was actually arse, it’s just that people look backwards with rose coloured glasses because it is nice to be able to do that. That time back then was when the stadiums were terrible, the football was never on TV, and players regularly fought with each other. Sure the biff was kind of funny, but given what we know about head injuries and brain damage, it wasn’t that great. What people always fail to recognise when they look back on these past era’s is that the quality of football was terrible. Guys that were unfit, slow, and relatively unskilled (they often had other jobs). The league has professionalised and it is for the better for everything. (The only thing it is for the worse – well there are many things but this is the main thing – is the clubs no longer feel like a community with all the corporate crap). The father son rule allows people to fantasize that this past was meaningful and related to the current game. It isn’t, it is a long way off and that is fine.

If we are going to keep this “no choice” mode the players, at least go the whole way. Don’t make the only choice based on their genes.

If big business hates unions, why do they have the BCA?

The coalition government and their big business backers supposedly have free market ideals. If everyone is allowed to be valued in a competitive environment, then the world will be a better place according to those ideals. Less regulation and more “freedom”. This ideology really takes its strength from the Cold War – the west “won” with their free markets, so therefore anything that is not free can be argued as a losing strategy. One place where right wing governments likes to really focus this strategy is unions.

Unions are designed to give collective voice to those who if speaking by themselves do not have enough power to make any changes. They are most known in the context of workplaces, particularly trades and mining. A big business or government can set the rules and an individual has little ability to dispute or complain. The big business can go on quite easily without the input of an individual, as there are plenty of other workers – but an individual is screwed if they don’t have their wage coming in. In this situation, the individual has no leverage, and conditions are likely to gradually deteriorate for workers. Thus unions exist. Without getting into a whole thing about the value of unions in contributing to the society we have, they allow individuals to pool their resources to get an outcome that is better for everyone. Big business likes to call this socialism, right wing governments likes to call this against free market principles. Both would prefer if individuals had less power.

One of the organisations pushing this agenda is the Business Council of Australia. They claims the unions are militant and screwing the workers – that the workers would be better off without them. BCA claims that workers would be better off dealing directly with big business. Notwithstanding that this is most likely a complete lie, what is more interesting is the structure of BCA. What is it? BCA (and other groups like it) is a representative body of which big business pays a hefty fee every year with the knowledge that they will represent their interest to the community and especially to the government in influencing legislation. Business realised that having a mechanism to provide a united front that could speak for all their interests would be much more effective than each company working individually.

Take lobbying. Big business want’s less taxes and less regulations (traditionally). They are against minimum wages. Set aside the bogus arguments they use for a moment, and look at how they argue. The government doesn’t have enough time to listen to each of them individually, and each business would likely have a difference idea of what those regulation should look like, and how much less tax they should be paying. The message would get lost. But if they combine their message and work together on a strategy they can all agree with, then the message has a strong chance of being heard. Having a single person who can represent all business is very powerful. It makes things more efficient and helps all big business achieve their goals.

The BCA is a union for big business. It is almost exactly the same. They pay fees, they have engagement form the BCA to decide what outcomes they want to achieve, and they rely on the BCA to represent their interests to the government and community. This is almost exactly what a union does. In fact, most lobbying has the same setup as a union. Big businesses are aware of how pointless it is to fight as individuals even though they are billion dollar organisations. Yet they complain about individuals with much less resources having their own representative bodys. The hypocriticism is incredible.

If big business really has an issue with unions then they should split up the BCA. They should be going after all those organisations, like the Australian Medical Association (AMA). Every industry has a body that works together to represent the groups interest. They all run on fees contributed by everyone. In sports there is a players union. It makes no sense for individuals to bargain with their employers alone, they will always get screwed.

Just like big business would get screwed if they didn’t have the BCA. Time for a Royal Commission into corporate unions and lobby groups?

Weekly Readings and other things

It has been more that a week since I updated my weekly readings, so here goes

  1. A positive piece about what is happening in the US, with lessons and ideas for how to improve any community (hint: get involved)
  2. Kanye West made some headlines this week around US politics and his red hat, Sean Fennessey wrote a good piece discussing Kayne
  3. The weekly Ben Thompson piece, this one about the trade off between openness and privacy
  4. Surveillance capitalism is a term now
  5. I finally read the New Yorker piece about a young girl kept of life support for years after a post operation complexity
  6. A reporter re-visits their experience covering the the democratization of eastern Europe, and how their hope and naivety let to them reporting fake news
  7. The problems with the hugely unregulated Facebook in countries with less resources and similar types of actors willing to (and able to) exploit the algorithm
  8. The world of Liberty University, the huge christian university making lots of money in Virginia, US
  9. How Trump uses Christian TV to get his message across
  10. A great essay about the myth of past America
  11. The New York magazines series on founders and early pioneers of the internet apologising for what it has become
  12. The culture of the Philadelphia 76ers and how they cultivated it
  13. Palantir, the scary data analysis company used by many government agencies (in Australian too)
  14. A positive story about the growth of the NBA compared to the NFL (in a “conservative” publication)
  15. A story on people renting families in Japan
  16. Michelle Wolf at the White House correspondents dinner (who knew it happened?) – maybe laughter isn’t the best medicine.
  17. The US Gov is not pretending to care about Palestine anymore. Unsurprising but still depressing.