Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

A Canadian perspective on BHP's offer for Canada's Potash Corp

By David Seymour - posted Monday, 4 October 2010

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.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

This article was first published on Frontier Centre for Public Policy website on September 25, 2010.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

David Seymour directs the Centre’s Saskatchewan office. He holds degrees in Electrical Engineering and Philosophy from the University of Auckland, where he also tutored Economics.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Photo of David Seymour
Article Tools
Comment Comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy