19 October 2009

Compensation for pollution

Been a while since I quoted Ross Gittins on these pages, but here he is in today's herald talking about why polluter's shouldn't get compensation under the emissions trading scheme. I couldn't agree more. One thing that constantly irks me about free-market capitalists, is the double standard. How come you can claim the market rules all over some things like electriciy demand, but have your hand out for pay-outs over others, like an attempt to stop the catastrophic effects of your industry.

There's no insurance against loss for capitalists in a capitalist economy. Market-caused change raises or lowers the capital value of businesses every day. No one suggests losers should be compensated by the taxpayer.

Similarly, businesses gain or lose from changes in government policy all the time. No one suggests the losers should be compensated, nor that windfall gains be confiscated. To wish otherwise would be to put elected governments in an intolerable straitjacket, greatly constraining their ability to act in the public interest.

No one compensated the tobacco companies when governments took to discouraging smoking, nor James Hardie when governments acted against asbestos. No one has compensated the smash repair industry for all the things governments have done to reduce road accidents and deaths.

In any case, any investor in power stations who didn't see restrictions on carbon emissions coming was a fool.

If the private owners paid too much for their power stations the capitalist solution is clear: cop the loss and sell to new operators at a more realistic price without the station losing an hour's production.

5 October 2009


I went to have a massage last week. The style is called a 'dry massage' (no sniggering in the back please) - which means you are wearing cotton pjs and they don't use oils. They do however, twist and turn you every which way until bones in your lower back and hips that crackle like dry logs in the first fire in the grate for winter.

The lady masseuse was Thai. It was a Thai massage place. She was clearly skilled at her job, she hadn't just been shown a chart of human musculature and a few quick instructions, which is what it can seem like if you go in for these things at your regular Caucasian "beauty" parlours. At one point I was face down, she was kneeling, on well, I could be polite and say backs of my legs, but it was pretty much my bum bones, and doing something that seems to force out all the knots and strife out of my lower back.

And at this point, through the stabs of pain, I started to wonder about these ladies. Her English was pretty slight, but she clearly had a marketable skill. I started to wonder, am I actually an un-thinking supporter of one of these dodgy outfits that brings bonded labour over from under-developed countries, to service stupid rich westerners in the hope of making enough money to make a better life at home? Or bring over their parents, one day to Australia?

I mean, how do these girls live their daily lives with English limited to instructing people to lie face down, and to take their time getting up? Are they being kept upstairs by a kind of therapeutic madam, with their passports confiscated and their upkeep eternally deducted from their earnings? It does happen, didn't a high class Indian restaurant in Adelaide get busted with 10 illegal immigrant chefs living in the basement?

I did ask this fantastic angel of gnarled back muscles where she learnt to massage, and she said college in Thailand, but no more than that. Is massage a respected profession over there, or is it a little bit dubious and associated with servicing foreigners? How much do I not know about the Thai side of Sydney? Maybe she just shares a flat in Sydenham with her effeminate but streetwise brother who works in a Thai restaurant on Oxford street? I mean, there is just a squillion Thai food places, all stocked full of young people working, all dirt cheap, and doing a red-hot trade. And now with the massage. How can that be a good living wage? Don't cheap goods for the the rich come at the cost of the suffering of the masses, as Mr. Marx teaches us? Speculating like this while someone stretches your shoulder and your bent knee in two different directions is probably not good for inducing relaxation, but, I'm a speculatin' kind of a gal.

I am most definitely going back to my slightly eastern-exotic local therapy place, costs far less than a shrink, and they at least seem much more visible and legitimate than some of the garishly-lit shop front outfits that seem to be sprouting all over the beaches districts these days. I can only hope she is no different to the families of the kids I went to school with and that they give her a decent wage package for her hard work. How does one get a sense of the ethics of these things? Where's the fair-trade stamp for domestic businesses? I demand an easily recognisable logo dammit!