Sunday, July 28, 2013

On the transference of wealth

I am not long back from a fabulous few days in Perth, Western Australia. What a beautiful city! I was there for the annual conference of the Society for New Testament Studies, being held for only the second time in the Southern Hemisphere in 68 years of meetings. Each day we travelled from accommodation in the central city to Murdoch University. On the one hand this was a beautiful journey as we crossed the Swan River, on the other hand we experienced a well integrated, efficient transportation system which, frankly, NZ cities could aspire to! The warmth of Perth in the middle of winter was impressive too ...

I will probably have more to say about insights gleaned from the conference and people met there over the next few days. But my thought for today is about the transference of wealth. Perth is a city which exudes wealth, measured by new roads, fast trains, gleaming buildings and a general air of prosperity. Each day we passed the nearly completed Fiona Stanley Hospital-a large complex built with that air of prosperity which says "no corners cut here; nothing but the best." Before my eyes the economic story of modern Australia was being illustrated: as China's mine, it has been on a good earner, and the income has paid for an infrastructure which countries like NZ (at best we are China's farm) can only envy.

Transference of wealth here is partly about transference from country to city (apparently 90% of Western Australia's population lives in Perth), from dirt to dollars and from the labours of a few miners to the households of a vast population of other workers supporting the mining industry. But mostly the transference is between nations. China needs iron ore and coal, Australian mines supply it, and cities such as Perth prosper. Yet what China produces is sold to many nations. The machine I write this on and the one you are reading it on likely were made in China. Wash your socks or your dishes tonight and it could be in a machine made in China. In the case of computers, an American corporation like Apple also benefits. A superb irony of this kind of reflection is that wealth is distributed in the modern capitalist economy with China as a pivot point in a manner unforeseen and unintelligible to Mao Tse Tung!

Today, here in NZ, is Social Services Sunday. This morning I heard a good sermon on recognising the needs in the world around us, particularly by getting close enough to people to recognise their needs. But might it also be true that we will assist the meeting of needs by also recognising the complex manner in which wealth is transferred around the world in order to work out effective ways of insuring local access to that wealth?

One irony of life in my country is that we measure our wealth in terms of our scenic beauty. We feel we are better off living in a beautiful country and we don't mind earning a few bucks from tourists willing to pay money to also share in the scenery. We get grumpy when politicians suggest that we might exchange a bit of the scenery for more dollars via mining. But a visit to Australia is a reminder that the benefits of mining are impressive.

Have there been any sermons in NZ today urging the sacrifice of tracts of scenery in order to increase the monetary wealth of our nation so that we might better help those in need here?


Eric said...

WA has certainly benefitted from recent Chinese demand for minerals. Esp in the mining areas, in particular the median incomes in the Pilbara area (at the 2011 census) were over twice that of the whole nation.

We have had our share of debates over whether mining should be allowed in certain places.

Pageantmaster said...

Although rather North of Perth, I was saddened to see the beautiful wild Kimberleys were under threat of massive industrial mining and development.

It can be a double-edged sword.

mike greenslade said...

The rape of stolen land to create a more just distribution of transitory wealth via trickle down is an interesting model for Social Services Sunday.

Do you expect any takers, Peter?

Chris Nimmo said...

A trade-off between "wealth" and "scenery" seems like a rather insufficient formulation of the problem. Is it really wise to build an economy on something that you can extract from the ground... *once*? And does resource extraction necessarily bring the promised economic benefits at all? It's worth keeping the resource curse theory in mind.

Is the West Coast the wealthiest part of the country? It seems dependent on a trickle of increasingly marginal mines (yes, marginal partly because of the conservation imperative). Somewhere down the line, it will have to find something else. So will Taranaki, which at least seems to have done a little better from oil...

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Mike
The wealth in Perth looked decidedly permanent rather than transitory!

I am not arguing that 'transference of wealth' in the case of Australia is 'just' (after all, certain famous mining bosses have become fabulously wealthy) but that the transference of wealth creates possibilities for people to share the benefits of that wealth (e.g. and just one example, a fabulous public transport at cheap prices, at least compared to NZ).

There is also the point that the boat people seem desperate to get to Australia and not to stay in Indonesia. Why is that?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Chris
They are good questions. But there is a lot of coal on the Coast and it will take several hundred years to mine it. Meanwhile scenery has limitations as an earner (and the irony attached to it that it requires people to hop on a jet plane and hire a campervan to travel through it - both sources of pollution yet championed by the Green Party as a good alternative to mining).

We could choose (and to an extent are choosing) to be poor relative to Australia. Further, the historical relationship between our two countries means that many Kiwis feel they have a choice to stay here or to go there to live. Perhaps we Down Under have the best of all worlds: we can live in the mine (Australia) or on the farmpark (NZ)!

Kurt said...

Perth, Peter, that’s quite a trip! In addition to theology talk, did you get any opportunity to see the sights? Being a history buff myself, I would have made a beeline to Shenton’s Mill (1835), Tranby House (1839), etc. at the first opportunity. Were you able to visit Fremantle? That port city has some very attractive period architecture, as well as WA’s oldest building.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

Peter Carrell said...

Alas, Kurt, my travel schedule did not allow for such sightseeing. However I did enjoy visits to the Roman Catholic and Anglican cathedrals, as well as to Government House.

It was pointed out to me that the Sisters of Mercy House which we passed each day was the first building built by Irish convict labourers.

I am less of a history buff than you. I enjoyed the sights of many wonderful modern buildings, including the splendid Perth Underground railway station.