The Emperor’s old policies

Australia. Now

Once upon a time, there was an Emperor so fond of money that he spent all his time fostering the creation of wealth. He loved money and the privilege it gave him. (Well, poor people don’t become Emperor.)

In the great city where he lived, he spent his days dining with bankers and going to church.

Then, one day, came two swindlers. They let it be known they were corporate economists, and they said they could make the Emperor and his friends even more wealth, no problem. But these fine policies were magical, the swindlers – um, corporate economists – said. The policies could not be understood by anyone who was stupid, or unfit for office, they said.

The Emperor paid the swindlers a large sum of public money to start work on these magic policies at once. They set up think-tanks and committees, and ran surveys and public consultations. Which means they did nothing. The swindlers moved into fancy city apartments and put their new money into Cayman Islands accounts.

‘I’d like to know how those corporate economists are getting on with the policies,’ the Emperor thought after a while, but he felt slightly uncomfortable: Those who were stupid or unfit for office would not be able to understand the policies. He thought he’d send someone else to see how things were going. Just in case.

So he sent his trusted old minister to see how the policies were shaping up. The old minister went to the new penthouse with harbour views where the two swindlers sat working hard on their iPads. The minister asked how the policies were coming along.

‘Great. Jobs, jobs, jobs,’ said the economists. ‘Constant growth. Trickle down. Sharing economy. Fair go for all.’

‘What does that mean?’ thought the old minister. ‘Oh dear. Can it be that I’m a fool, or unfit for office?’

‘Yes, those are great policies,’ he said to the economists.

When he returned to the Emperor, he said, ‘The policies are brilliant. Market forces, border forces and enforcers.’

The Emperor frowned, puzzled, then said, ‘Splendid!’

All the town was talking of these splendid policies that would help battling families by increasing wealth to the already rich. They also knew that the stupid among them would not understand these policies.

The Emperor decided to check out the policies for himself before he displayed them on Procession Day. Attended by his old minister, he visited the economists on their superyacht in the harbour and found them working hard on their mojitos.

‘Just look, Your Majesty. What fiscal sense!’ they said. ‘What investment opportunity! Your rich friends will love you forever. Isn’t it brilliant?’

‘It doesn’t make sense,’ the Emperor thought. ‘Constant growth with limited resources? Coal exports on a warming planet?’

And then: ‘Am I a fool? Am I unfit to be the Emperor?’

‘Oh! It’s very pretty,’ he said. His minister, who also understood nothing, joined the Emperor in exclaiming, ‘Oh! It’s very pretty.’

Procession Day came. The Emperor and his ministers paraded down the street, looking grand in their grey Italian suits and Brunello Cucinelli shoes, waving their policies about. Above them, the swindlers’ new jet roared towards Brazil.

‘Rising house prices are good! Falling Australian dollar is good!’ the Emperor declared. The people heard and were afraid to disagree. Nobody would confess that they were a fool.

‘Oh yes,’ they cried. ‘Tax pensioners! Build a bigger war memorial!’

Then a child, taking a day off school to attend Procession Day, shouted, ‘It’s all bullshit!’

The crowd fell silent.

The people started talking among themselves: ‘She’s right, you know. It is bullshit. It’s unsustainable nonsense!’

The Emperor shivered, for he suspected they were right. But, for him, the procession must go on. And on. And over the cliff…

So he shouted, more loudly than ever, ‘Jobs, jobs, jobs!’

But no-one believed it anymore.


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Some of The Echo’s editorial team: journalists Paul Bibby and Aslan Shand, editor Hans Lovejoy, photographer Jeff Dawson and Mandy Nolan

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