Water into a leaky bucket = An empty bucket

A very interesting article in the English Version of DER SPIEGEL, the respected German Newspaper.

It is with Kenyan Economist James Shikwati, who PLEADS with the West to stop aid to Africa.

In essence, what he is saying is something I have long believed in: That climate and history are not the causes of poverty and starvation in Africa, it is simply the lack of good government. The longer we pump money into the corrupt and incompetent African Governments, the longer they stay in power and keep the good people of Africa in a socialistic and subservient means of existence.

When we can free Africa from the grips of poor/socialistic/non-democratic Government, then the better of they will be. Look at Zimbabwe for example. It was a country which was democratic, free, capitalistic and prosperous. the Mugabe took over, used Government discretion to change things, impose his own wage, price and market fixes, and the next thing you know STARVATION occured.


“Relieve Me” or “How I Sacked the Taxman”

I have long believed in small government and small taxation.

In Australia, this has seemed like a pipe dream due to the lack of control of the Senate and state governments by a truly liberal force.

However, now it seems there is a liberal force in Australian Parliament. Two relatively new members of Parliament, Sophie Panopoulos and Mitch Fifield, have brought about an informal policy group which is pushing for real tax reform in Australia.

Very, very happy
Better than tax relief

The GST package was a good start, but not good enough. Australia is still heavily taxed and still has an extraordinary number of taxes and taxes by another name: levies, charges, surcharge, fees etc., all of which contribute to distortions, inequities and reams of paperwork for people and businesses in Australia.

Taxation reform is necessary on the most basic levels because, when choosing whether or not to work, you trade spare time with the ability to earn. Most of us don’t have a choice – we work to support our lives and families. But others, namely retirees and part time workers, are essentially punished if they choose to work. The incentive is not there.

Further, Australia is facing a skills shortage as the population gets older. Part of this problem is that older people don’t want to work too late, but also because, as the Aussie tradition goes, many bright young things piss off overseas as soon as they can plug themselves into the global job market. Whether it’s London, Singpore or elsewhere, many of the most talented and high profile Aussies have no interest in staying in a country which takes close to half of everything they earn in tax.

What makes a lot more sense is a simple progression of the GST system. Firstly, take away every single tax that exists apart from the GST and income tax – stamp duty, bank levies, blah blah blah – there are literally hundreds.

Then take away deductions. People shouldn’t be able to deduct anything from tax. It causes inefficiencies. If people such as plumbers feel hard done by, then they should charge more – the effective market rate for their services.

Then, take away the weird scale rates of income taxation. Make it simple: No tax payable up to $20,000. 10% up to $40,000. 15% payable up to $60,000. 20% up to $80,000. 25% up to $100,000 30% payable on everything over that.

Then boost the GST by maybe 5% – so that it’s a 15% GST. (Mind you these figures may not add up in terms of a decent revenue base but you never know…)

So – Aussies pay a maximum 30% of their wages to tax (matching the corporate tax rate and doing away with the stupid and wasteful 17% shelf company industry) and 15% on consumption with no deductions for food or any other distortions.

A simple piece of tax legislation which would eliminate the need for thousands of jobs at the ATO, thousands of pages of boring and complicated tax legislation, complicated and hassled tax returns. All these tax minimisation schemes and arrangements would be useless and money would be directed to effective, growth fulfilling investments instead of the most tax effective ones.

The bigger picture: attracting back the skills and talents of the over 1 million Aussies who live overseas. Growing Australia’s skill base. Making this country the most progressive, modern tax regime in the world.

Talk to Me! I LOVE VOIP. I worry about Telstra.

Voice over IP is the coolest thing since the invention of the telephone.

It will grow far quicker than the net.

It will be far more popular than the WAPs, iModes and other technologies.

It is the future, currently being offered by numerous companies, such as Skype, Vonage and Net2Phone.

The point is – why pay for a phone line physically connecting you to an exchange which then physically connecting you to another exchange which then physically connects to to the place you’re trying to call? In an analogue world, when wire had to touch another wire for a call to go through, then of course it was the only option.

Out of the company and in the closet

But now, packets of information flow around the world at light speed, routed through any means, the quickest and most efficient with flow control and error correction. We’re talking a modular digital information flow.

Do you think Ziggy Switkowski fully understood this? The bloke was bright, yes, A PhD in nuclear physics, but as an opportunist, as a strategist the guy sucked. He was almost Bill Gates-esque in his inability to see the future develop (remember that in his 1995 autobiography, the Road Ahead, Gates failed to predict, or even mention the rise of the internet – he later updated the book to omit this massive misjudgement). Telstra will no longer survive as a company if it continues to covet it’s copper. It still thinks like a pipe company when it should be thinking like data communications company. It might sound logical, but to the Telstra management, they’re still stuck in the ages of public monopolies.

I have some questions which I’d like to throw out into the ether:

What has Telstra done about the threat of wireless ISPs and investment in mobile broadband networks (such as Unwired) bypassing the “last mile”?

What has Telstra done about reviving the once mighty Telstra Research Labs (TRL) and providing Aussie ingenuity with an outlet and opportunity for innovation and export income (not stupid investment in PCCW and Reach)?

What has Telstra done about the abysmal takeup of broadband in Aussie homes?

What has Telstra done about laying a public relations framework and on an organisational level, TRULY preparing itself for T3?

Why is it that Telstra has sat on its pile of cash and achieved bugger all during the greatest information boom in the history of the world? (Oh I forgot, they couldn’t buy Channel Nine or Fairfax so they bought the Trading Post).

Let’s hope the next CEO of Telstra will answer these questions and put together a philosophy for the company which will make it the BHP Billiton of communications and information. Further, we plead to the Federal Government to sell the company, quick sticks.

KaZaA vs the world – digital downloads vs legal eagles

Sharman Networks, the owners of the KaZaA P2P file-sharing software, has been sued by a collection of record companies in a civil case in Australian courts. The company is under pressure as the record companies are claiming that KaZaA was responsible for rampant piracy and file sharing of coyrighted product.

At the same time, on the other side of the world, record companies are buying into and initiating strategic alliances with file sharing software companies.

“Share and share alike, I say”

How the hell do these record companies make any sense? They don’t! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – file sharing is the best thing to happen to the music industry in years. It has encouraged passion about music again. What is this Christmas’ hottest gift? The iPod! what do people do with their iPod? Listen to music!

The problem with the music industry isn’t that people aren’t paying for music, it’s that they keep merging and releasing less artists of lower quality – therefore people couldn’t give a toss.

As a side topic, part of the defence argument from Sharman Networks is that file swapping per se is legal in the US, where 98 of users reside. It’s an interesting point – it is legal to swap files, but illegal to actually break copyright laws. Let’s hope the Supreme Court of New South Wales follows the precedent set in the Betamax cases where VCR manufacturers actually advertised that people should buy their VCRs based on the fact that they could duplicate tapes. The court found that while the act of copying was illegal, the VCRs had a legitimate use therefore could not be made illegal.

Either way, it shows how out of touch the record companies are – they sue KaZaA and another one will pop up in its place: Acquisition, Limewire, et al. To paraphrase Princess Leia: the more they squeeze the more file sharers will slip through their fingers.

Sadly, I imagine this is how companies will behave as digital distribution eats their business model. Sue, block or lobby to stop their competitors from taking away their cosy business model and replace it with something consumers much prefer.

Freedom, Chocolate and Foxes – Down with the nanny state!

The British Labour Government has introduced a raft of bills into Parliament which ban particular activities and make others compulsory – minor activies including eating habits, smoking and recreation.

These restrictions on personal freedoms, while well meaning and with noble goals, are wrong and unjust if they impose an outcome on individuals who might not choose to or have the means to comply. In a piece by The Economist, they argue that “The question of just how much should be done reaches right down into the principles underpinning liberal democracy. According to those principles, the government is entitled to interfere with people’s behaviour only in so far as it affects other people. Otherwise, well-informed individuals should be allowed to make their own choices. If they want to harm themselves, that’s up to them.”

I believe strongly in the principles of classical liberalism; that no Government should force people into or away from any activity unless that activity harms others. The key to freedom isn’t that a Government legislates it but that people are unrestricted in the participation, creation and expression of freedoms. People know what they want better than anyone else, including Government, therefore they should have the unadulterated ability to pursue their wants (again, unless it harms others). When a Government bans, restricts or promotes an activity, no matter what the cause, it takes away the ability for a “sovereign individual” to make their own choices and fulfil their own wishes.

Welcome to the New Economy Part Two: CDs are dead

The CD is dead.

When will the record companies wake up and smell the coffee? In one of my earlier posts I spoke of how the new economy was passing the music industry by and that the obsession with distribution networks was denying the industry an ability to move with the times.

Now it seems the media on which most of us listen to music has become irrelevant. I’m talking of the announcement from U2 and Apple that the latest U2 “Best of” offering is not so much two CDs filled with their best songs, but a U2 branded iPod which has over 400 of U2’s recordings on it, including previously unreleased material.

All I Want is You

What does this mean?

Why go to a record company if you are a young unknown artist? Go to a bank, borrow money, record your album at the best studio in Australia (or if you’re brave, at home on your iMac) and release it online, using sponsorship and touring money to market and promote yourself. Distribution and the record company as “middle man” is over.

Not to say U2 are totally amazing; I’m a fan, but not their biggest fan. I saw them live at Sydney Football Stadium a few years ago for the POPMART Tour (a few months after Michael Hutchence died) and they played a great gig on a balmy night with the remainder of INXS, Kel and Rhett Hutchence and a whole load of other people who were close to INXS in attendance. It was a hot and balmy night, and just as U2 played “One”, the skies opened up, lightening arced across the sky and Michael Hutchence’s face glowed large on the two screens.

A beautiful, hopeful night; the exact opposite of the recorded music industry.

Welcome to the New Economy Part One: Halo

The sequel to one of the greatest games ever released, Halo, has been released to the public. On the evening of September 8th, hordes of gamers clamoured around retail outlets looking to be one of the first to buy Halo 2 upon its midnight release.

For the faithful, they have been rewarded. It is a game of magnificent competition, with a plethora of new weapons and some very elegant levels and gameplay. New vehicles, new stages, new plots and of course the Covenant’s arrival on Earth.

“Never tell me I don’t look good in green!” Posted by Hello

But the most interesting point about Halo 2 is that it could very well take the record for the largest ever release in worldwide entertainment. Halo 2 may very well take more money than Titanic. Bungie Software, the publisher of the game, expect Halo 2 to take up to $US100m in it’s first full day of release.

Bungie started off as a small Chicago based Mac software developer, making the Marathon series. Marathon is regarded as the original (and some say still the best) first person shootemup game. Predating Doom, Duke Nukem and all of the others, Marathon innovated in that the plot of the game was equal to the game play itself. A brilliant, groundbreaking, innovative game (especially considering its 1994 release), Marathon was eseentially “touched up” and modified to become the juggernaut that is the Halo Series. Funnily enough, even ten years after the release of Marathon, people are still playing it, talking about it and dissecting the plot. Further, there are concerted efforts to keep Marathon “alive” by modifying it for newer operating systems and game consoles.

The original Marathon game – not bad for 1994! Posted by Hello

There are numerous references to Marathon in the Halo games, not the least being the weapons, uniforms and certain “in jokes” in the levels.

For more information on Marathon, please visit marathon.bungie.org or The Marathon Story.

For more info on Halo 2 – buy it!

UPDATE: The picture above is not from Marathon – it is most likely from Marathon Resurrection. Here is a screnshot from the original game:

Marathon – Pfhor Your Eyes Only Posted by Hello

15 Years of Freedom: The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Today marks the 15 year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The greatest symbol of oppression and truma of the socialist years stood from 1961 to 1989, dividing a city and cleaving the social, business and functions of Berlin in two.

On one side stood West Berlin – a liberal-democracy, free, capitalist and thriving.

On the other stood the East and a system which stood for mediocrity, for individual suppression to a “greater good” and an overbearing, totally dominant Government which invaded every part of people’s lives. A system which was miserable and depressing.

It’s no wonder that the Socialists built a wall to keep people from escaping.

Having travelled to Berlin, seen the reminants of the wall and the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, I saw that the fall of Communism and the destruction of socialism as a valid means of governance was more than an ideological or theoretical battle; it is about freedom of humanity and spirit. There is no viablility in the suppression of human will. People must be free – in thought, in trade, in expression, in association, in their daily goings on.

What was worse – Soviet Era Labour Camps or Soviet Era design?

In the words of John Adams:

“There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty.”

Or alternatively from John Stuart Mill:

“The only part of the conduct of anyone for which he is amenable to society is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.”

That is where Socialism fails. Where people believe they are achieving a greater good and imposing their will upon others, no matter how worthy their cause, individual liberty is compromised. That is why the wall fell. That is why FatHam lost. That is why, despite the “Ostalgia” which has had a brief revival in East Germany and other former Socialist countries, it will fail.

The “good old days of Socialism” are an oxymoron and a load of rubbish. Listen to the youth, the sovereign individuals who embrace freedom and look forward to participating in something John Lennon called, “the brotherhood of man”.