The Failing Light Illuminates the Mercenary's Creed

This page written circa 11 November, 2001.

Agilent is facing another round of layoffs, forced vacations for all staff, reduced salaries, and no pay rises. Profit sharing, picnics, beer busts, and the depth of the water over stock options are not even discussed. The daily news brings more reports of companies closing plants, laying off staff, and generally acting depressed.

The thing that has surprised me the most in the last 6 months is how much pain a 10% reduction in salary caused. Lots of people with whom I compare notes have expressed similar findings. Kay and I, having just bought the new MPV when the poo impacted the impeller, have refinanced the house to kill the second mortgage and the car loan and get lower monthly payments. We could do this because of the huge increase in the value of the house... phew.

Next most surprising has been Merinda's "need" for a PC. Now only the upwardly-aspirational would describe this as a "need", suffering from the intense desire for one's children to be successful, and having the ferociously high expectations of the professional class. I was appalled a few years ago when Meron told me that they had a PC for Thea by the time she was about three... two months ago Meri could not take a mouse seriously, and she still has trouble clicking without slipping and sliding off the mark.

In fact Merinda has no "need", and only has a PC because we have a new one to support video editing and large photograph stores, and she has the rebuilt original. However, it sounds impressive if you call it the fulfillment of a need.

When I was an EE undergraduate in the left-swinging 70s one aspired to working for a company such as HP that made the finest medical and electronics instruments, led the way in taking care of employees and the environment, and forged successful, open, honest management principles. Now, the EE with his head screwed on right dreams of joining a startup leading to a dazzling IPO or buyout exit, perhaps returning to get a PhD as a treat afterwards.

France leans to the left, England to the right, as I read it. Monsieur Kouchner, head of the French health system (ranked number one by the World Health Organisation) said France spends 9.4% of the national income on its health service. This may be compared to the EU average of around 8%. The UK spends around 6.8% of its national income on the health service. The BBC reports that Mr Kouchner describes the UK health system as "medieval". (If anyone knows what is the health spending in Australia, please tell me, I could not locate this statistic.)

I am the first to suggest that socialism is a noble idea but I consider it an unworkable one, and I lean to the right. Russia and China economically crashed, and I felt disappointed in Australia for its failure to be as successful as America, as the hard-left Whitlam era promised. My favourite quote from Maggie Thatcher goes to the effect that the good Samaritan had not only good intentions, but money as well. If he had walked the streets of France, he might not have needed any. In the end, I can't help wondering if socialism (perhaps egalitarianism, French-flavour socialism) does not work for the same reason that Merinda "needs" a PC.


PS: Thanks to JFK for forwarding the following information for Australia, September 2001, for comparison:
Health Expenditure Bulletin No. 17: Australia's health services expenditure to 1999--2000 shows that A$2,817 per person (circa US$1500) was spent on health services for the year---an increase of A$111 per person on the previous year.
Health expenditure as a proportion of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has remained relatively stable. After increasing from 8.5% to 8.6% in 1997-98 and 1998-99, preliminary estimates show that the health spending to GDP ratio has dropped to 8.5% during 1999-00.

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