Will Australia have the intelligence, energy or guts to impose democratic and pluralist forms on the new technology, or will its ambiguities all be resolved in favour of the rich, the powerful and the status quo? Our timorous social history, the feeble grasp of complex matters exhibited by too many of our leaders, the low level of intellectual vitality, a lack of national self-confidence, our natural tendency towards bureaucracy, conformity, obedience and fatalism, the mediocrity of the business and academic establishment do not give us much ground for optimism.
Academic economists have about the status and reliability of astrologers or the readers of Tarot cards. If the medical profession was as lacking in resources as the economists we would not have advanced very far beyond the provision of splints for broken arms.
We face an extraordinarily ambiguous future. Technology can be used to promote greater economic equity, more freedom of choice, and participatory democracy. Conversely, it can be used to intensify the worst aspects of a competitive society, to widen the gap between rich and poor, to make democratic goals irrelevant, and institute a technocracy.
If you have the same ideas as everybody else but have them one week earlier than everyone else then you will be hailed as a visionary, but if you have them five years earlier you will be named a lunatic.
Australia has the economic history and corporate profile of an ageing country, not a new one.
Leadership is a quality regrettably lacking in much of our political, academic, business, social and even religious life. Much of Australia’s leadership has been – and continues to be mediocre.
Despite the exponential increases in public education and access to information in the past century, the quality of debate appears to have become increasingly unsophisticated, appealing to the lowest common denominator of understanding.
Internationally Australia is ceasing to be intellectually competitive; internally we are losing the essential preconditions for personal competence, social cohesion, employment prospects and the free flow of comprehensible information which makes democracy workable.
A solution will need to be found to the 'two cultures' approach that separates scientists and economists: the environment and the economy are interdependent. Ultimately, Australia can and should choose to set a moral example and work towards a new economic base. Moreover, as the new version of Pascal's wager suggests, action is the low-risk road with the prospect of the highest reward. It is in the national interest to take it.
Failure to act appears to favour the present but it certainly prejudices the future.