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Firstly, apologies for the lack of posts over the last six weeks.

I won’t bore you by explaining what the problem was. Let’s just hope that 2011 is more restful year!

I have been thinking lately about the seven virtues, and in particular, the first of the cardinal virtues, prudence.

Prudence is sometimes portrayed as having three faces. This is because prudence learns from the past, and thinks about consequences in the future, in order to act rightly in the present.

Prudence does not mean refusing to take risks. Prudence is not fear, but a careful regard for right outcomes.

Prudence is a quality leftist politicians lack.

They do not learn from the past. They do not think about consequences in the future. Consequently they act in the present in ways that, however well intentioned, will not bring about desireable results.

The Clinton administration’s pressure on the banks to increase home lending to under-represented groups in the housing market effectively forced banks to make loans to people who could not afford to repay them.

The intention was good – more members of minority ethnic groups owning their homes. This would, if successful, have been a good thing. People are more careful of what they own, and have a greater stake in maintaining their local community and environment.

But it didn’t work. People who had been given loans they couldn’t afford, well, couldn’t afford them. So they didn’t pay them. So they lost their homes.

The people targetted to be helped were made worse off, because they lost the money they had put into their homes, and were now less likely to get a loan in the future, even one they could afford.

All this was easily predictable.

Consequences for the banks, and therefore the economy in general, and therefore people in general, were also dire.

That was also predictable.

The intention was good, but there was no prudence – no learning from the past, no thinking through of consequences in the future.

In Australia, refugees and the NBN are two obvious examples of a lack of prudence in government action.

Intending to be kind, the Labor party implemented policies which lead to a dramatic increase in the number of illegal immigrants arriving by boat.

‘We will be nicer to you,’ they said. ‘We will welcome you.’ We are not nasty like John Howard.

People who would not have made the journey to Australia except for these changed policies, and for their belief that things were different in Australia now, have died.

That is a bad, and foreseeable outcome. 

Large numbers of people (from three boats a year to 2-3 boats a week) arriving in Australia without proper identification need to be accommodated at taxpayer expense, either in detention or in local communities. This stressful for the immigrants, stressful for workers and communities, and means money has to be diverted from other projects – roads and hospitals, for example.

That is a bad, and foreseeable outcome. 

When people who arrive illegally are accepted as refugees, the number of those people accepted as residents is deducted from the number of people who will be accepted from refugee camps. People who are the poorest and most in need, who have provided identification and waited for processes to run their course, lose their places to those who have the money to bypass the safeguards and make their own way to Australia.

That is a bad, and foreseeable outcome.

Planning for the proposed National Broadband Network demonstrates a similar lack of prudence – of willingness to learn from the past and to think carefully about consequences in the future.

The NBN will cost a vast amount of money. At the planned cost of $43 billion, over $6,000 per household, plus the cost of connection and in-home cabling, plus of course, ongoing plan costs.

Even now it is clear that the NBN offers little advantage over cable or ADSL2+ to people living in metropolitan areas. Those are current technologies.

Two things we learn from the past are that new technologies double the speed of internet access every five years, and that large projects are almost always slower and more expensive to implement than first thought.

On present planning/costing, the NBN will make back the taxpayer’s investment if 70% of people take it up.

In Tasmania, where need was considered significant, the take-up rate has been about 1%.

So the NBN is needed, and will succeed, only if there are no developments in internet technology over the next five years, if competition is stifled, if the price of constructing it does not increase, and if people are coerced into paying more for internet plans that are only marginally faster.

In effect, the government is spending over $6,000 of your money on a plan that will deliver no improvement over likely commercial plans which would have cost the taxpayer nothing.

There is an argument for government subsidy of better satellite based internet access for people in remote areas where commerical provision of fast internet is not viable.

That would be prudent. The NBN is not. Nor are our current policies on illegal immigration.

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