In a brilliant new paper released this morning, Labor MP Kelvin Thomson has proposed his "Witches' Hats" theory of government -- a theory that places central importance on rates of population growth.
Democratic politicians, says Kelvin, are often bluffed by lobbyists who convince them that what is good for business is good for their or their governments' political longevity -- and that since population growth is good for business (or at least for big business, since it provides more customers) it must good for the Parties they belong to.
The reverse is the case, he says. It's not just in unstable states that rapid population growth is bad for political stability. Even in securely democratic countries, population growth destabilises leaders and governments.
One striking example is the amazingly rapid fall of Kevin Rudd, the (once) extremely popular Australian prime minister who pushed Australia's annual population growth in 2009 to 2.1%, nearly six times the average for industrialised countries, told the electorate "I support a big Australia" and had a meteoric fall in the opinion polls -- and from office. But Kelvin Thomson argues in his The Witches’ Hats Theory of Government: How increasing population is making the task of government harder that this connection is far more widespread than politicians and political analysts have yet recognised.
Why? Because staying in power, and keeping the electorate happy is a little like an advanced driving course, one in which a government is required to thread a kind of slalom course between a series of witches' hats -- meaning the orange inverted cones that mark out the course. These hats, which the government, like the driver, needs to avoid knocking over, include such things as keeping electricity and water costs down, reducing hospital queues, keeping housing affordable, preserving the environment, providing full employment, restricting inflation, etc.
And the faster a country’s population is rising, the harder it is to do this, says Kelvin Thomson. It’s like trying to negotiate the course at double speed.
"Countries with stable populations, like the Scandinavian nations, tend to have stable governments. I’m suggesting that the life-expectancy of a democratic party or a particular Prime Minister may be crucially affected by how fast the population is growing. Governments that preside over rapid population growth tend to have short honeymoon periods, and soon find themselves on the nose with the electorate.
"I recently headed a parliamentary delegation to the Solomon Islands and Samoa. At the time of independence, the Solomon Islands had a population of 170,000 – now its population is three times that, over 500,000. It has seen frequent changes of Prime Minister, and the other countries in the region have troops stationed there to keep the peace. Its Parliament has not met this year, and our Delegation was told that this was because the Prime Minister was afraid of a Parliamentary vote of no-confidence.
"Samoa by contrast has had a relatively stable population of around 170,000 to 180,000 for decades. It has had the same Prime Minister for nearly 20 years, and the same governing Party for nearly 30 years."
"So when politicians are puzzled by their ratings and ask “Why don’t they like me?”, the answer might well be that they are driving the car too fast and knocking over those witches’ hats. They should slow the car down and focus on solving people’s real-life problems."
Contact Kelvin at Kelvin.Thomson.MP@aph.gov.au or phone +613 9350 5777
Mark O'Connor's email address is mark@Australianpoet.com His website is at www.australianpoet.com