Picks & Pans

Constructing Public Opinion: How Political Elites Do What They Like and Why We Seem to Go Along with It by Justin Lewis (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001). (TS-3). Lewis is Professor of Communication at the Cardiff School of Journalism, Media, and Cultural Studies at Cardiff University. This book explains how opinion polls are constructed, and how political elites use them to create ideological support on controversial issues. Throughout, Lewis considers the ideological role of information and how an informed citizenry can arise. This book provides some answers for the role of opinion polls in the US Presidential election in 2016, and in particular, the specific tactics used by the Clinton and Trump campaigns.


Psychological Operations and Political Warfare in Long-Term Strategic Planning edited by Janos Radvanyi (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1990). (TS-4). An academic collection of late Cold War comparative thinking about psychological operations and political warfare in the United States, the Soviet Union, Poland, West Germany, France, and in insurgent, militant and terrorist groups. This book illustrates one attempted way to implement Hari Seldon’s psychohistorical thinking (the Foundation trilogy) in the realm of special warfare between different political blocs and systems. Secondhand copies are expensive so look for library copies.


Psychoanalysis in the Age of Totalitarianism edited by Matt Ffytche and Daniel Pick (New York: Routledge, 2016). (TS-4). Fascism’s rise in Nazi Germany, Mussolini’s Italy and Hirohito’s Japan posed a challenge to Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic circle. This essay collection by cultural historians and psychoanalysts documents how Freud and colleagues analysed fascism and totalitarianism. It explores the spillover effects for Western democracies, post-colonial events in Communist Yugoslavia and Apartheid South Africa, and US intelligence agency interest in exploring mind control. The final essays reconsider psychoanalysis and the ‘talking cure’ in a post-psychoanalysis and post-totalitarian world.


Capital Without Borders: Wealth Managers and the One Percent by Brooke Harrington (Boston, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016). (TS-4). Harrington is Associate Professor of Sociology at Denmark’s Copenhagen Business School. Economist Thomas Piketty and anthropologist David Graeber have popularised the study of the top 1% of income earners in the on-going debate about income inequality. But how do the 1% perceive themselves as high net worth individuals? Harrington studied wealth management for two years with the London-based Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners. She then undertook an ethnographic study between 2008 and 2015 to interview 65 wealth managers in 18 countries. The results document how wealth management actually works as a professional elite.


Dog Days: Australia After The Boom by Ross Garnaut (Collingwood, Australia: Black Inc, 2003). (TS-3) Australia survived the 2007-09 global financial crisis due in part to a mining and resources sector boom. It was truly the ‘lucky country’ (David Horne). Then the mining and resources boom burst: Australia faced a socio-economic crisis, rising income inequality, and uncertainty. This book for a broad audience by a noted Australian economist was one of the first responses to this ‘dog days’ scenario of limited economic growth and unstable governments. For an update see the Quarterly Essay by George Megalogenis called ‘Balancing Act: Australia Between Recession and Renewal’ (2016).


“Enhancing” the Australian-U.S. Defense Relationship: A Guide to U.S. Policy by Dr Thomas-Durrell Young (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, 1997). (TS-3). In 2016, several current and former Australian politicians questioned the survival of the United States-Australia security alliance under incoming President-Elect Donald Trump. This Strategic Studies Institute paper lays out the historical context and the importance of this bilateral security relationship from a United States perspective. It is also helpful in understanding the Five Eyes signals intelligence alliance in the Anglo-American sphere.


Takeover: Foreign Investment and the Australian Psyche by David Uren (Sydney: Penguin Australia, 2016). (TS-3). Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board can be a flashpoint for protectionist fears about the role and influence of foreign nation-states in domestic economies. Uren, who is The Australian’s economics editor, provides historical, political and cultural analysis of how debates about foreign investment have shaped Australian mind-sets, attitudes, and values. Takeover explains how rent-seeking in Australia’s ill-fated car industry occurred and why Chinese investors are targeted in fears about a housing investment bubble.

Australia’s Strategic Culture

Deakin University’s Ben Eltham and I have a new paper out in Contemporary Security Policy journal that draws on my PhD research. Taylor & Francis has the electronic copy available online now to journal and institutional subscribers; the print version is due out 23rd July.


Here’s the article’s abstract:


This article draws on fourth generation strategic culture debates to show the gap between the rhetoric of Australian defence and the more modest reality. Our analysis shows that these limits derive from tensions between national strategic culture and organizational strategic subcultures. There are serious debates in the nation regarding the preferred course of the Australian military and security policy. This article frames these debates by examining the ‘keepers’ of Australia’s national strategic culture, the existence of several competing strategic subcultures, and the importance of norm entrepreneurs in changing defence and national security thinking. Strategic subcultures foster compartmentalization, constraints, and bureaucratic silos that narrow national conceptions of security threats and opportunities, and impinge on the formation of coherent foreign and defence policy in relation to the Asia-Pacific region. This analysis shows that a distinct national strategic culture and organizational strategic subcultures endure beyond individual governments, placing potential limits on Australia’s interface with other Asia-Pacific strategic cultures in the future.


My thanks to Wooster College’s Jeffrey Lantis for organising the CSP special issue on strategic culture; the three anonymous and extremely helpful reviewers; and CSP‘s editorial and production staff.

Nowhere Place

Richard Cooke in Australia’s Monthly magazine:


In the United States, what you might call the “bore in the bar” theory of democracy – that it’s all bullshit – is starting to look more persuasive. In academia, it’s called the “Economic Elite Domination” model: the unhappy idea that democracies are oligarchies in drag. This theory was once unpopular but is now resurging, partly on the back of disquieting research by two American political scientists, Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page. After an analysis of 1779 legislative outcomes over a 20-year period, the researchers determined that “economic elites and organised groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence”.

Little or no independent influence. Stew on that for a moment. [emphasis added]


Several years ago I read Jeffrey A. Winters‘ book Oligarchy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011). For Winters, economic elites rely on “wealth defense” via finance and tax advisers who establish low-tax, offshore structures to circumvent national tax codes. The United States and Australia are examples of Winters’ civil oligarchies in which a surface layer of democratic rhetoric hides the “wealth defense” reality. In some ways Winters updates arguments that I read two decades ago in the left-wing writings of Bertram Gross and Noam Chomsky.


Cooke acknowledges that news polls of politicians now rarely work. The asylum seeker / refugees issue is used by the major parties as wedge politics, and by the Greens as an identity-defining cause. Privatisation is opposed in news polls but remains popular when political advisers learn from asset management firms. Social issues such as gay marriage and voluntary euthanasia have undergone a progressive shift. Cooke notes that Australia is now caught in a temporal weirdness like Picnic At Hanging Rock:


It’s a strange contradiction. In economic terms, most of us value a vision of an Australia from the past, protected from the uncertainties of deregulation, more closed to immigration, and with the government more heavily involved in the economy. On the social side, our vision seems decades into the future. Taken together, they describe a place that’s nowhere to be seen. [emphasis added]



This “nowhere place” is a flux of different beliefs, values systems, and visions of preferred national futures.


Cooke finds a source of political renewal in independent candidates and the micro-parties. This appears reassuring but viewed through Winters’ analysis it is largely noise. One of the underlying reasons — and why Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Boston, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014) is a global bestseller — is that there is a growing wealth inequality between the political class and the Australian electorate that they represent. Cooke ends his piece noting the mutual derision that elite politicians and the general public hold each-other in. There’s no way out: it’s a closed system with little prospect of real change. In Winters’ world the oligarchs simply buy out or play off the independent candidates and micro-parties whilst retaining control of the real power and resources.


The potential way out of this is not necessarily what Cooke advocates but rather a Nineteen Eighty-Four Matrix / Zizek-ian awakening from these fantasies into the Real. Cooke’s Australians have a protectionist vision because economic growth for many has been based on speculative asset bubbles, and consumer debt that hedges low wage growth and rising inflation on food and living costs. In other words, as Winters would predict, the economic gains of the oligarchical class have not translated to the general populace in terms of owing wealth-generating assets with high return compositions (a useful primer on asset class returns). Cooke’s Australians rely on taxable salaries; the oligarchical class relies on capital gains income and legal tax minimisation structures.


Cooke would do his Monthly readers a greater service if he explained the oligarchs’ strategies and how the legal tax minimisation strategies worked. For that, there’s always the annual CCH Australian Master Tax Guide and Tax Institute membership. The rest of us can start to cultivate greater financial sovereignty through tracking what we spend our money on, and what wealth-creating assets we create or can invest in.

6th July 2012: Australia’s Potential Internet Futures

Strategic foresight practitioner Stephen McGrail and I have a new article out in the Journal of Futures Studies on Australia’s potential internet futures:


Australia’s Federal Government announced the National Broadband Network (NBN) in 2009. NBN’s current roll-out is scheduled for completion in 2021, with market forecasts estimating optical fibre overtaking DSL broadband connections in about 2015. This paper provides a timely contribution to more critical and expansive analysis of potential Australian internet futures. First, ‘schools of thought’ and current technological frames (Web 2.0, ‘the cloud’) for the internet and its possible futures are outlined, which provide perspectives on the emergence of the NBN. We then outline five generic images of the future which, as predetermined images, enable quick ‘incasting’ of alternative futures for a technology topic or related object of research: promised future, social/speculative bubble(s), unfolding disruption/chaos, unintended consequences, and co-existence/‘cooption’. High-level application of the ‘schools’ and generic images to the NBN and Australia’s potential internet futures, suggests policymakers and strategists currently consider too few perspectives.


The paper also responds to but is different from the Smart Internet 2010 (2005) report I worked on at the former Smart Internet Technology CRC. It took McGrail and I several months to get the paper published so it also has some pre-Facebook IPO comments. It is part of a JFS special issue on Australia’s contributions to the Millennium Project (McGrail has another article in the special issue on Australia’s science foresight and governance). McGrail and I have used our article’s incasting methodology in teaching technology foresight and also as a framework for potential use in investment decisions about exchange-traded funds and sector rotation. I thank Anita Kelleher, Jose Ramos, and JFS editor Tracy for their help in first commissioning and then ‘shepherding’ the article to publication.