Act now to protect your digital rights, Big Brother and his Little Sisters may be watching



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Do you know who has the rights to access your digital data? And who might be interested in acquiring that information?
West Point-US Military Academy/Flickr , CC BY-NC-ND

Jack Linchuan Qiu, Chinese University of Hong Kong

This article is part of the Democracy Futures series, a joint global initiative between The Conversation and the Sydney Democracy Network. The project aims to stimulate fresh thinking about the many challenges facing democracies in the 21st century.


Imagine China takes down its national internet blocking system – aka the Great Firewall – tomorrow. Will this affect how you use the internet?

Without the Great Firewall, Facebook and Google will grow exponentially in China. Before long, the tech giants own a sizeable share of the Chinese market and have become good buddies with Beijing.

This scenario unfolds at a time when Donald Trump’s inward-looking policy upsets Silicon Valley’s efforts to expand its global empire, and when the US Congress further deregulates the internet industry, allowing internet service providers (ISPs), for example, to collect and trade user’s private data. So the tech giants decide to go to bed with China.

What does this have to do with you using your smartphone in, say, Sydney?

Well, if you have a Facebook presence, it means your social network information may now be used in a few additional ways, without your knowledge. Perhaps a few China-bashing news items, shared by your friends, will disappear from your news feed. And if you rely on Google, YouTube, Amazon or Uber, the data you accumulate during your daily routines may now empower not just the Little Sisters (that is, advertising companies), but also Big Brother himself.

“We want to help the rest of the world connect with China.”

According to urban geographer and unionist Kurt Iveson, surveillance cameras at the University of Sydney generate half of the internet traffic on campus. All the research, the paperwork, the social media back-and-forth, the videos people watch and the online games and music they play, all this online traffic, when added together, barely matches the terabytes of information generated by the surveillance feed.

That’s a pretty big achievement for those tiny cameras looking down at you in the corridors and from the street lamps.

The ‘big’ in Big Brother and Big Data

China has big ambitions. Its interests and investments in infrastructure on a global scale are well known. It will only be a matter of time before Beijing realises that digital assets are as vital, perhaps even more valuable, than highways and airports.

The Chinese Communist Party already has a good record of endorsing corporate platforms in the New Economy. Last November, China embraced the “disruptive” innovation of Uber and similar services. It became the first country to legalise the smartphone ride-hailing business on a national scale.

In contrast, Japanese and European cities have long banned Uber from their streets. Australians and Americans continue to debate the ethics and legalities of the start-up service.

In response to the warm embrace, Uber praised China as:

… a country that has consistently shown itself to be forward-thinking when it comes to business innovation.

Now you probably see why Silicon Valley might want to divorce Trump and have an affair behind Tiananmen.

Your digital rights

Maybe it’s not such a good idea, after all, to hastily agree to whatever terms and conditions tech companies hand down to you in tedious fine print. You don’t know your rights. You don’t know who has your data. But do you care?

As an individual, your power is limited. Using a virtual private network (VPN) can be a good start, but which VPN service can you really trust? This is a pertinent question because what if the VPN you use turns out to be a honeypot collecting data about you?

Your best shot, then, is to join a movement – such as a citizen group – to raise awareness or a watchdog organisation that guards against the mishandling of private data by telecommunication companies.

Other good places to seek refuge and spread the good word include non-government organisations that promote solidarity with IT-sector workers and hacker groups who develop new crypto technology. You don’t have to know programming or coding to join them, as even the best hackers will need other kinds of help.

Cities like Sydney have many such organisations. Plenty of folks are working on digital rights issues. Join them to protect your data from being infringed by Big Brother, his Little Sisters, and even telcos and ISPs.

Even if China doesn’t plan to take down its Great Firewall any time soon, that doesn’t make protecting your own data – personal information that reveals so much about your life – any less important.

The ConversationAs long as you have signed over your rights to corporations, they can still sell out big to Beijing, Moscow or whoever else is peeping from afar, at this very moment, into your campus or workplace CCTV system.

Jack Linchuan Qiu, Professor, School of Journalism and Communication, Chinese University of Hong Kong

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

What is ‘cognitive reserve’? How we can protect our brains from memory loss and dementia



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Engaging in cognitively stimulating activities can help build your resilience to cognitive decline.
Gene Wilburn/Flickr, CC BY

Michael Ridding, University of Adelaide

As we get older we have a greater risk of developing impairments in areas of cognitive function – such as memory, reasoning and verbal ability. We also have a greater risk of dementia, which is what we call cognitive decline that interferes with daily life. The trajectory of this cognitive decline can vary considerably from one person to the next.

Despite these varying trajectories, one thing is for sure: even cognitively normal people experience pathological changes in their brain, including degeneration and atrophy, as they age. By the time a person reaches the age of 70 to 80, these changes closely resemble those seen in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Even so, many people are able to function normally in the presence of significant brain damage and pathology. So why do some experience symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia, while others remain sharp of mind?

It comes down to something called cognitive reserve. This is a concept used to explain a person’s capacity to maintain normal cognitive function in the presence of brain pathology. To put it simply, some people have better cognitive reserve than others.

Evidence shows the extent of someone’s cognitive decline doesn’t occur in line with the amount of biological damage in their brain as it ages. Rather, certain life experiences determine someone’s cognitive reserve and, therefore, their ability to avoid dementia or memory loss.

How do we know?

Being educated, having higher levels of social interaction or working in cognitively demanding occupations (managerial or professional roles, for instance) increases resilience to cognitive decline and dementia. Many studies have shown this. These studies followed people over a number of years and looked for signs of them developing cognitive decline or dementia in that period.

As we get older we have a greater risk of developing impairments in cognitive function, such as memory.
from shutterstock.com

Cognitive reserve is traditionally measured and quantified based on self reports of life experience such as education level, occupational complexity and social engagement. While these measures provide an indication of reserve, they’re only of limited use if we want to identify those at risk of cognitive decline. Genetic influences obviously play a part in our brain development and will influence resilience.

Brain plasticity

The fundamental brain mechanisms that underpin cognitive reserve are still unclear.
The brain consists of complex, richly interconnected networks that are responsible for our cognitive ability. These networks have the capacity to change and adapt to task demands or brain damage. And this capacity is essential not only for normal brain function, but also for maintaining cognitive performance in later life.

This adaptation is governed by brain plasticity. This is the brain’s ability to continuously modulate its structure and function throughout life in response to different experiences. So, plasticity and flexibility in brain networks likely contribute in a major way to cognitive reserve and these processes are influenced by both genetic profiles and life experiences.

A major focus of our research is examining how brain connectivity and plasticity relate to reserve and cognitive function. We hope this will help identify a measure of reserve that reliably identifies individuals at risk of cognitive decline.

Strengthening your brain

While there is little we can do about our genetic profile, adapting our lifestyles to include certain types of behaviours offers a significant opportunity to improve our cognitive reserve.

Activities that engage your brain, such as learning a new language and completing crosswords, as well as having high levels of social interaction, increase reserve and can reduce your risk of developing dementia.

Regular physical activity increases cognitive reserve.
Jenny Hill/Unsplash, CC BY

Regular physical activity also improves cognitive function and reduces the risk of dementia. Unfortunately, little evidence is available to suggest what type of physical activity, as well as intensity and amount, is required to best increase reserve and protect against cognitive impairment.

There is also mounting evidence that being sedentary for long periods of the day is bad for health. This might even undo any benefits gained from periods of physical activity. So, it is important to understand how the composition of physical activity across the day impacts brain health and reserve, and this is an aim of our work.

The ConversationOur ongoing studies should contribute to the development of evidence-based guidelines that provide clear advice on physical activity patterns for optimising brain health and resilience.

Michael Ridding, Professor, University of Adelaide

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

A Labor government would boost schools’ money but how much would it unpick Gonski 2.0?


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Labor has been steadfast in its opposition to the government’s school funding plan.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull is on the brink of a major policy victory after the government mustered ten of the 12 non-Green crossbenchers behind its Gonski 2.0 policy.

The outcome of a week of intense negotiation by Education Minister Simon Birmingham means, barring mishap, the government is set to end this parliamentary sitting on a strong note, at least in policy terms. The Coalition remains in a bad place in the polls.

The new model for schools funding will be much closer to the original needs-based one recommended by the Gonski review, the implementation of which was compromised by a plethora of special deals.

In electoral terms, Turnbull hopes the schools policy will at least partly offset Labor’s usual strong advantage in education. But the fight over schools will still be on, because Labor will be promising a big extra boost to funding.

To get its legislation through, the government has shortened the time frame for delivering funding targets from ten to six years; boosted by $A4.9 billion to $23.5 billion the amount of additional money that will be spent over a decade (including $1.4 billion over the next four years); agreed to establish an independent body to oversee the funding; and endorsed a tight arrangement to prevent states lowering their share of school funding.

In a gesture to a deeply agitated Catholic sector, the government will provide transitional money for it next year, while a review is undertaken of the basis for calculating how much parents should be expected to contribute. Some money will also be available for schools that are part of systems in the independent sector.

This is being couched as transition money so that all systems will come under the new model from the 2018 start. The transition money will amount to $46 million, $38 million for the Catholics.

But the Catholics, who benefited from the previous special arrangements, remain angry. The future political implications of this are yet to be seen.

On Wednesday night National Catholic Education Commission executive director Christian Zahra said that commission representatives had just met with Birmingham who “set out the minor changes” he proposed in response to the Catholics’ “very serious concerns”. But the commission’s position hadn’t changed: the bill “still poses an unacceptable risk to the 1,737 Catholic schools across the country” and should be defeated.

The outcome has left the Greens caught badly short, exposed as under the thumb of the powerful teachers union, the Australian Education Union (AEU).

The government negotiated simultaneously with the Greens and the other crossbenchers. But the Greens were split, unable to finalise a deal even though they did most of the heavy lifting in extracting some major changes and additions to the government’s original $18.6 billion plan.

The result is they’re in the worst of positions. They are unable to claim victory in delivering the more needs-based system. But they have raised the ire of some of their supporters for attempting to reach agreement with the government.

As soon as it knew it had the numbers with the other crossbenchers, the government – unsurprisingly – brought on the second reading vote on the legislation in the Senate.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale said he was disappointed the government had stitched up the deal with the other crossbenchers. The Greens had still been negotiating when the second reading vote was called. “We thought those talks were progressing really well when out of the blue, the bells rang,” he told reporters.

He said the Greens were proud that what they did through their negotiations “was to raise the bar”. But they could not support the “special deal” for the Catholic sector, and had wanted more money for disabled children.

The government is relying on getting the votes of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, the Nick Xenophon Team, Jacqui Lambie, Derryn Hinch, and Lucy Gichuhi.

Labor has trenchantly opposed the government’s package, saying the $18.6 billion is $22 billion short of what schools would have received under the ALP’s policy.

The opposition’s schools spokeswoman, Tanya Plibersek, says a Labor government would keep the parts of the package that “are practical, like an independent schooling resource body”. It would also retain the cuts to elite private schools.

But Labor has not spelled out how a Shorten government would alter the new model it would inherit and fund more generously.

It says Gonski 2.0 is flawed because it entrenches a skew in federal funding towards non-government schools (traditionally funded by the federal government, which is only the minor funder, compared to the states, of government schools). But that doesn’t deal with the issue of how a Labor government would handle the Catholics.

Labor has taken advantage of the Catholic rebellion. The Catholic sector, having lost the old special deals, would be anxious to extract some new ones from an ALP government that had extra dollars to put around.

So, will Labor give the Catholics any undertakings that in power it would rectify the wrongs it alleges the government will do to the Catholic system? If it won’t, what will be the response of the Catholics?

The ConversationIf, after the dust settles from the Turnbull government making the tough changes, Labor broadly accepts the new model as a basis for its own planned funding, it will have a sound policy position but questions to answer about disingenuous claims we have heard from it in this debate.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australians shy away from Trump but strongly embrace the alliance: Lowy poll



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Donald Trump’s poor popularity has affected the level of trust Australians have in the US, but not their level of faith in the alliance.
Michael Reynolds/EPA

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Fewer Australians are trusting the US to act responsibly in the world, and they have scant regard for Donald Trump – but this is not translating into people losing faith in the American alliance, according to the Lowy Institute’s 2017 poll.

Only 20% have a “a great deal” of trust to act responsibly in the world. This is a big fall from the 40% level in 2011, when the question was last asked.

Overall, 61% trust the US to act responsibly, 22 points lower than 2011. The contrast is stark when attitudes to other countries are compared – 90% trust Britain and 86% trust Germany and Japan. China is trusted by 54%.

The poll found that 60% of Australians say Trump causes them to have an unfavourable opinion of the US, with younger adults and women being especially likely to be unimpressed. Still, this figure is lower than the proportion who said this about George W Bush in 2007.

Despite people’s feelings about Trump, support for the alliance has actually increased six points since 2016 – 77% say it is “very or fairly important” for Australia’s security. Just 29% believed “Australia should distance itself from the United States under President Donald Trump”.

The institute’s executive director, Michael Fullilove, said that while Australians had come to terms with the Trump presidency, the relationship was not unaffected by him. “The president is not popular in Australia. And Australia’s trust in the United States to act responsibly has declined”.

The survey of 1200 people was conducted in March. The release of the results comes a week after Malcolm Turnbull’s parody of Trump at the federal press gallery’s Midwinter Ball. So far there has been no response from Trump.

The poll found considerable suspicion of China, mixed with strong pragmatism.

Some 46% believe it is likely China “will become a military threat to Australia in the next 20 years”. But 79% see China as more of an economic partner than a military threat.

Only one-third (34%) would favour using Australian military forces “if China initiated a military conflict with one of its neighbours over disputed islands or territories”. But 68% favour Australia conducting “maritime operations designed to ensure freedom of navigation in the region”.

The ConversationNearly eight in ten people (79%) are dissatisfied with the direction of the world, but despite the international rise in protectionist and nationalist sentiments, 78% believe globalisation is “mostly good” for Australia.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Pauline Hanson is wrong – we need to include children with disability in regular classrooms


Linda J. Graham, Queensland University of Technology and Kate de Bruin, Monash University

Yesterday, One Nation leader and senator Pauline Hanson suggested it would be better for teachers if students with autism and disability were put in special classrooms.

Hanson used children with autism as an example. She argued that their inclusion in regular classrooms was detrimental to non-disabled students, because “it is taking up the teacher’s time”.

She suggested moving students with disability “into a special class [to be] looked after and given that special attention … to give them those opportunities”.

Do Hanson’s claims stack up?

Hanson claimed that students with disability have a negative impact on their peers. Yet international research shows otherwise. Some research suggests students with disability have no impact on the learning of other students – whether they are present or not.

Other research shows that students appear to benefit from having disabled peers. They develop greater appreciation for human diversity and capacity for positive relationships.

Hanson also claimed that students with disabilities were better served in separate classrooms or schools. Evidence shows the converse is true. Decades of research has concluded that students with disabilities who learn in inclusive classrooms make far greater progress.

For example, students with disabilities in mainstream schools achieve higher grades than their counterparts in segregated schools and classes. They also develop more proficiency in language and mathematics and perform better on standardised tests.

Hanson claimed that students with disabilities take a disproportionate amount of teachers’ time, at the expense of non-disabled students. Yet studies exploring the views of teachers strongly indicate that they perceive inclusion as beneficial and valuable.

Teachers are more likely to feel anxious about their ability to meet their students’ needs and overwhelmingly express a desire for more information and training in order to become better teachers for all their students.

Interestingly, teachers often cite students with autism as a major group with whom they want to improve their skills. Our research shows there are many highly effective strategies that can be used in regular classrooms to achieve this.

In addition, teachers who receive appropriate professional learning about disability and inclusion report feeling more knowledgeable and less stressed.

This points to the importance of providing high-quality education and training for teachers. It also suggests the need for ongoing professional development in the teaching workforce.

Support for students with disability in class

Students with disability are not always well supported in Australian schools, but this does not mean that they are better off in special classes or that “special attention” will lead to opportunity.

In fact, too much individualised support and attention can increase disablement by fostering dependence, reducing the range of learning opportunities, and hampering achievement.

For this reason, it is critical that students with disability are included in the “real world” of school. This is important for them to become socially competent, independent and financially secure adults.

Preparing for life after school

Having desegregated classrooms is also an important step in paving a positive future after school. Inclusive education makes a powerful contribution to creating a more equitable and productive society. This prepares adults with disability for life after school and connects them in the wider community.

Students with disabilities who are educated in inclusive classrooms are far more likely to complete post-secondary education, making them much more capable of engaging in the workforce and obtaining meaningful employment.

Additionally, students with disabilities who attend their local schools are also more socially connected and engaged in their community as adults.

Hanson’s comments were based on anecdotes from conversations with a limited number of teachers. However, there is both established and new evidence that clearly indicates Hanson’s claims are unsubstantiated.

The ConversationMost importantly, when considering the placement of children with disability in the schooling debate, we should focus on both promoting quality education for all kids (regardless of their backgrounds), and providing the tools for a society in which all adults can work, study and interact socially.

Linda J. Graham, Associate Professor in Education, Queensland University of Technology and Kate de Bruin, Researcher in Inclusive Education, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Labor takes a political risk and opposes government’s tougher citizenship legislation



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Peter Dutton says changes to citizenship legislation are a modernisation that would bring Australia in line with other countries.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government has finally found an issue it can cast in terms of “national security” on which it can get a fight with Labor.

Bill Shorten usually sticks leech-like to bipartisanship on anything with even a whiff of “security”. But now the opposition has said “enough” on the proposals to toughen the criteria for people seeking citizenship.

In political terms, the question is whether the government can turn this into an effective wedge against Shorten, claiming he is “soft” on citizenship. Labor’s challenge is to keep the debate as one about what are reasonable conditions to place on aspiring Australians.

The government believes it is in tune with the mainstream; its eye to the politics was obvious when Malcolm Turnbull went out of his way to make a statement on the matter at Tuesday’s news conference on his latest energy security initiatives.

“The Labor Party does not value Australian citizenship enough to say, as we do, that it must be more than simply the outcome of an administrative tick-and-flick form-filling process,” Turnbull said. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton invokes national security and claimed Shorten has been “mugged by the left of his party”.

The proposed legislation requires potential citizens to have a higher English proficiency than at present. Additionally, the applicant will need to have lived in Australia as a permanent resident for at least four years (just one at present).

There will be a defined process to assess a person’s commitment to Australian values, helped by the longer residency requirement; people will have to show what they’ve done to integrate into the community.

The immigration minister will acquire the power to override decisions of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal on citizenship, subject to a court appeal.

Labor is opposing the bill as a whole; it wants it referred to a Senate inquiry, and says that then, if it considers there are parts worth supporting, it would ask the government to bring them back in separate legislation.

Aware Labor is treading on potentially dangerous ground, citizenship spokesman Tony Burke is trying to fireproof it. “Don’t lie and pretend something is national security when it is not,” he said.

The opposition is challenging in particular the longer qualifying period and the harder English test.

The government has a case with the former; comparable countries make residents wait between five and eight years before applying for citizenship. It is on more dubious ground on English testing, where the standard is to be raised to “competent”.

This is a level where the person has “an effective command of the language despite some inaccuracies, inappropriate usage and misunderstandings. They can use and understand fairly complex language, particularly in familiar situations.”

Burke pointed out that the questions now asked of those seeking citizenship are in a test “which is written in English. If you can’t speak English, you can’t pass the test.”

He warned the new requirement would “guarantee there will be a group of permanent residents who live here their entire lives and are never invited to take allegiance to Australia and are never able to be told by the Australian government: ‘you belong’. That is a fundamental change in our country.”

While it is desirable, not least for their own benefit, to have aspiring citizens acquire good English, people can also be excellent citizens even though their English language will always be poor. Many of us know people like that.

One motive for upping the English requirement might be fears about inward-looking communities. But insisting on the proposed level of English proficiency makes for a very un-level playing field, discriminating against those from certain countries.

Immigrants should be encouraged to become citizens – surely that is likely to be a positive for national security because it promotes a more unified nation. A “two-class” situation in the migrant/refugee population, where some can’t make the cut because of the language issue, is not what we want.

Dutton dismisses Labor’s concerns about the longer qualifying period and the harder language test.

Possibly wearing a focus group on his sleeve, he says: “The Australian public wants to see an increase in the English language requirement, they want to see people meet Australian laws and Australian values”.

There have been mild concerns in Coalition ranks about people who are about to qualify for citizenship under current rules but will face waiting longer. Dutton has told colleagues to bring him any particular cases.

If the government is playing politics with its citizenship move, Labor will have its eye on what might be opportunities on the ground.

These changes won’t be popular with some in ethnic communities, where Labor seeks votes.

On the other hand, some of those who’ve entered the citizenship tent can be less than sympathetic to aspirants.

The ConversationThe government may get the legislation through regardless of Labor’s stand, via the crossbench. If so, the opposition would have to decide whether it would undertake to alter the law if it won the election, or just move right on.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/icjdu-6b9a25?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Are China and the US destined for war?


Jack Bowers, Australian National University

By 431 BCE, under the leadership of Pericles, Athens had become a formidable maritime power whose empire extended across the eastern Mediterranean region. Its challenge to the supremacy of Sparta, the warrior nation of the Peloponnesian peninsula, was obvious. According to historian and general Thucydides:

Growth of the power of Athens, and the alarm which this inspired in Sparta, made [the Peloponnesian] war inevitable.

Graham Allison’s new book, Destined for War, suggests a modern parallel in a rising power (Athens/China) causing fear in an established power (Sparta/the US) in which the necessary trust in one another is lost, and war becomes inevitable.

But the analogy has its limits. All too often the who, when and how of the next war have been confidently predicted. Very rarely has anyone got it right.

Athens and Sparta exercised power very differently from their analogous contemporaries. Over the four decades before the war, Athens had become the regional muscle, rather more like the US than China, extracting payment for providing security. The Athenians were primarily traders, providing a maritime security envelope while also securing resources for themselves.

Like the Chinese, the Spartans were focused more on maintaining territorial security. Most of the Peloponnesian peninsula was under Spartan control. Their strength came with the land and their exercise of a military regime depended on an often rebellious population of slaves known as Helots.

Athens had transformed its prosperity into a tightly controlled corporate empire. Similarly, today, the US has exerted considerable influence over strategic hotspots. Countries like Australia have effectively outsourced their security risks.

Sparta maintained a looser confederacy of alliances of which less was demanded, and less given. China too has used soft power, offering aid and investment across the Pacific and Africa, buying influence rather than extracting power.

We might see a certain aggressiveness about the US that reminds us of the image of Sparta as a warring nation. But, in fact, Sparta was somewhat insular and inward-looking. China’s expansion might remind us of the growth of the Athenian empire, but Athens had little land and few prospects – it depended on an empire to secure resources, very different from the Chinese situation.

Allison is acutely aware that his analogy to the fifth-century war is a provocation. With his colleagues at the Belfer Center at Harvard, Allison’s Thucydides’s Trap Project has studied 16 significant conflicts from the last five centuries. Twelve of those led to war. The others only avoided war through significant adjustments in the attitudes and postures of both sides.

There is no doubt that China is rising. The GDP of China surpassed the GDP of the US (on purchasing power parity terms) in 2014. By 2019, it will be 20% larger. While the US can only manage a growth rate of 2.1%, China continues to grow by at least 6.5%.

As former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd once observed, China is experiencing “the English Industrial Revolution and the global information revolution combusting simultaneously and compressed into not 300 years, but 30”.

The fearful West is apt to ignore the considerable internal tensions that China faces. The Chinese Communist Party has a social contract with its citizens: the price of authoritarian rule is to provide economic opportunities for all.

While the vast majority has prospered under its regime, inequality has risen exponentially between China’s urbanised east coast and the rural hinterland. Balancing the forces for social liberalisation on the coast and economic prosperity inland requires withering complexities.

Ironically, as part of the “One Belt One Road” initiative, the Chinese bought the port of Piraeus, the Athenian port that was the axis around which the Athenian empire once turned.

But this highlights China’s distinctly bifurcated view, between a maritime expansion of influence and a new Silk Road, designed to compete with Russia for economic and political dominance in Central Asia. China is a speeding juggernaut, precariously balanced between its international and domestic aspirations.

President Xi Jinping wants to make China great again. Allison’s prescient analysis shows that, despite Xi’s nuanced understanding of China-US relations compared with US President Donald Trump’s infantile floundering on the world stage, the aspirations each has for his country are remarkably similar.

But, unlike the bipolar world of the Ancient Greeks, the international system since the Cold War has been characterised by multipolarity: China, the US, the European Union, Japan, Russia and India each has an opportunity to exercise power more independently, or perhaps interdependently.

Allison’s book makes a fascinating and worthwhile contribution to our understanding of the nature of power as a function of the nation-state.

Through his analysis of the four case studies in which war was avoided, Allison gives us “twelve clues for peace”, including practical examples of how Thucydides’s Trap was avoided. These include insights into the nature of leadership, how power is enacted, the opportunities and entrapments of alliances, and much more.

Thucydides spoke of the motivations of war being fear, honour and interest, and it’s the same today. These motivations come largely from within – they are not imposed by other countries from outside.

The ConversationUltimately, countries go to war when their respective grand strategies – the exercise of power in the world for national interest – become misaligned with the expectations of their respective domestic audiences. That is, the trap for both the US and China is to manage domestic expectations, and to harmonise those expectations with the exercise of international influence.

Jack Bowers, Senior Lecturer, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Income inequality exists in Australia, but the true picture may not be as bad as you thought



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Wealth inequality remains a problem in Australia, but it is lower now than in the years leading up to the GFC.
Flickr/Sacha Fernandez, CC BY-NC-SA

Roger Wilkins, University of Melbourne

We hear a lot about inequality in Australia but the true picture is much more complicated than the headlines usually suggest.

The data indicate that wealth inequality has grown but is lower now than before the global financial crisis (GFC). And while the personal incomes of the very rich have gone up, overall household income inequality has barely shifted since the start of this century.

Economic inequality refers to the extent to which material well-being differs across people – how rich are the rich, how poor are the poor. But there are different ways to be rich, and different ways to be poor.

Income inequality is about the gap between people with high incomes and low incomes. Wealth inequality, on the other hand, looks at the gap between people with high net worth (for example, a lot of houses, stocks or other assets) and people with low net worth (few or no assets). People could have very similar incomes but be at opposite ends of the scale when it comes to their wealth, for example.

In practice, attention typically focuses on income inequality, although it is also important to consider wealth inequality.

Since 2000-01, there have been three key data sources for examining income inequality in Australia: the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) Household Income and Wealth surveys, the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey that the Melbourne Institute has been running since 2001, and the Australian Taxation Office’s tax records data.

The first two can also be used to examine wealth inequality.

For various reasons, the three data sets do not tell exactly the same story about income inequality trends since the beginning of this century. Nonetheless, there are some key conclusions we can draw.

1. The top 1% got richer, faster – but overall household income inequality has barely changed

The first conclusion is that the personal incomes of the very rich have grown somewhat more strongly than the personal incomes of the rest of the population.

For example, data compiled by the World Wealth and Income Database (WID World) show that the share of income going to the top 1% rose from 7.5% in 2000-01 to 9% in 2013-14.


WID World

Despite this increase in inequality of personal incomes at the top, measures of overall inequality of household incomes (as opposed to personal incomes) show relatively little net change this century.

One way to track this is to look at the Gini co-efficient, a commonly used measure of inequality that ranges from zero to one. Zero means total equality, with everyone on the same income. A Gini coefficient of one means complete inequality, the equivalent of one person having all the income.

HILDA survey data show that Australia’s Gini coefficient was 0.303 in 2000-01 and 0.296 in 2014-15. In other words, it has barely shifted.

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The ABS income survey shows a small increase from 0.311 in 2000-01 to 0.333 in 2013-14, but this increase can be attributed to changes made by the ABS between 2003-04 and 2007-08 to the definition and measurement of income:

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Being a longitudinal study, the HILDA Survey also allows us to consider inequality in incomes measured over longer intervals than one year. Incomes can fluctuate from year to year, and so we may get an exaggerated picture of income inequality if we examine only annual income. Some people who appear poor in one year may in fact have high incomes in other years and so, overall, are not really poor.

The HILDA Survey indeed shows that inequality of income measured over five years is lower than inequality of annual income. However, of some concern is that measures of inequality of five-year income have been trending upwards since the early 2000s — although the increase is very slight.

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2. Wage inequality has increased

While that’s been happening, however, the labour market has become more unequal.

Wage inequality is typically thought of in terms of inequality in earnings per hour worked, while labour market inequality more broadly could be thought of as inequality in total (annual) earnings across all persons in the labour force.

Wage inequality has steadily risen and, moreover, the share of employment that is part-time has risen. Research published last year showed that the higher your pay relative to others, the more likely you are to get a better pay rise.

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On the surface, it is remarkable that the large rise in labour market inequality has not — at least, not yet — translated to large increases in income inequality.

The reasons for this are complex, but an important contributor has been the relative concentration of employment growth in low-income households.

Another potential reason why increased wage inequality has not translated to increases in income inequality is our system of progressive income taxes and transfers. However, this seems largely to not be the case in the 2000s in Australia, since the tax and transfer system actually became less redistributive (was doing less to reduce income inequality) over this period.

So while the tax and transfer system has probably moderated the effects of increased wage inequality on income inequality, it has not completely neutralised it.

3. Wealth inequality grew – but is lower now than in the years leading up to the GFC

In terms of wealth, both the ABS income surveys and the HILDA Survey indicate that wealth inequality grew strongly in the years leading up to the global financial crisis (GFC).

The HILDA Survey, which has collected detailed wealth data every four years since 2002, shows that the wealth required to be in the top 1% of the wealth distribution increased by 140% in real terms between 2002 and 2006. This was a period in which both house prices and the share market were rising strongly.

However, wealth inequality appears to have moderated slightly since the GFC, with the wealth required to be in the top 1% actually 9% lower in 2014 than in 2006. This appears to primarily derive from weaker share market performance. The ASX200, for example, was approximately 20% below its October 2007 peak in late 2014 (and even now is still over 10% below the peak).

Perception and reality

In light of the minimal changes in overall income inequality this century, and the evidence that wealth inequality is lower now than in the years leading up to the GFC, it is perhaps surprising that public perceptions appear to be that inequality is growing strongly.

Income inequality has grown in the US more sharply than it has in Australia.
World Wealth and Income Database WID World

Perhaps also important is that household income growth in Australia has slowed since 2008-09, and indeed has essentially stalled since 2011-12. In part, this reflects slowing wage growth, but also important has been relatively weak growth in employment, and in particular full-time employment.

For example, the forthcoming HILDA Survey Statistical Report will show that, at December 2015 prices, the median “equivalised” household income – that is, household income adjusted for household size – was A$46,031 in 2011-12 and was still only A$46,007 in 2014-15.

The ConversationThis stagnation in average living standards is arguably likely to lead to greater focus on the fairness of the income distribution.

Roger Wilkins, Professorial Research Fellow and Deputy Director (Research), HILDA Survey, Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.