Getting to the right answer in public policy debates is never easy, but what makes it completely impossible is asking the wrong question from the start.
When Premier Wall says he “doesn’t understand how we could benefit” from a BHP Billiton takeover of Potash Corp, he is implying that the future should happen according to the confines of his own imagination.
He should consider how ever wider collaboration has produced previously unimaginable wealth throughout human history, and instead ask why any government would want to block such things as this potential investment from afar
Since that takeover is from Australia, please bear with me and consider a historic parable from that part of the world. In his wonderful new book ‘The Rational Optimist,’ author Matt Ridley describes how the first people migrated to present day Australia from Africa some 40,000 years ago
Some of them made it to Tasmania, at that time connected to the rest of Australia by land (yes, sea level change occurred even before industrial development).
After that a very sad thing happened. Tasmania was separated from the mainland by rising sea levels, and the people remaining on the Island not only failed to develop their culture, they regressed.
The archaeological records show that after the Bass Strait separated them from the rest of Australia, ancient Tasmanians made fewer and less sophisticated tools as time went on.
They generally lived shorter and more brutish lives as a result. They were unable to support a population of more than a few thousand, or regain contact with the Australian mainland.
Ridley argues that their problem was their limited numbers. Because ideas are free once somebody’s thought of them, a person in a small community has access to fewer people’s ideas and therefore fewer ideas overall than someone in a large one.
In a vicious circle, fewer technologies kept fewer people alive.
Tiny Tasmania simply had too few people for a sophisticated society to evolve. Conversely, societies connected to more people have always consumed a wider range of goods by drawing on a wider range of minds.
In the modern world natural physical barriers to trade are less relevant, but political ones remain with us. When the leader of our province asks for step by step justifications of global commerce, he chills it. He raises the level of our own “Bass Strait” by restricting our commercial contact with the “mainland” of the global economy.
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