From frustration in then UK to vacuousness in the US: Travelling a disgruntled world

It so happens this month finds me overseas for two family events, the first of which is in England.

The big issue (or should I say the big frustration) for Britain is undoubtedly Brexit. My test sample quickly showed the strong divisions of opinion on the subject. Amongst the cross section of regular folk I talked to there were both ‘remainers’ and ‘brexiters’; pretty evenly divided in my assessment. Exactly as the polls consistently show.

But there’s a common and general sense of frustration that the issue will not go away. I heard few lamenting the end of the Theresa May era. Boris Johnson has as they say ‘character’. He has built a big expectation; he says he will leave anyway, deal or no deal, come October 31.

Some headlines I read were buzzing with alarm at the potential costs of a no-deal Brexit. Others were the far more sanguine. They foresaw the possibility of a hiccup or two, but were equally confident a new positive post-exit equilibrium will soon emerge.

As befits the colourful character that is Boris Johnson, his administration has already hit some rocks. The Guardian noted the turbulence that has struck Johnson's administration so far (he has only been there just over a month), and observed that it has been more reminiscent of an ageing government fighting for survival than one embarking on its first days in office.

Clearly a big unknown factor is Northern Ireland and its relationship (read border) with Ireland. Northern Ireland MPs hold a balance of power in the Commons. They want their border issue resolved before the EU departure. And Scotland’s leaders too, while they don’t have the Commons power of the Irish Unionists, are expressing grave reservations.

Brexit wasn’t the only issue in Britain of course.

Prince Harry’s and Meghan Markel’s decision to limit their family to two to support sustainability was high profile in the media. As too was the Crossrail debacle. Crossrail is the project name for the new addition to the London Underground, the Elizabeth Line. Clearly it’s an ambitious project, but it is now way way over budget and way way overdue. All sorts of promises have come to nothing, and many are angry.

The now ex-leadership of the project (they have been moved on) are blaming everyone else and everything else for a swag of gigantic cock-ups. They proved (as Fonterra I hope has learned) that paying a CEO a ridiculous salary doesn’t guarantee a good outcome. If those supposedly brilliant highly paid ex-leaders were truly being held to account they would have some of the pile taken back, but it doesn’t work that way as we have seen all too many times in New Zealand.

The opposite actually; they have been paid ridiculous sums to be got rid of. That seems to be how “accountability” works in the 21st century.

I also spent time in America. I know the Christchurch mosque attacks occurred in New Zealand so we cannot say we are immune from horrible massacres, but the United States sets the pace when it comes to mass shootings. It is pitiful to hear the leadership of the nation going on with the standard soothing refrain they use again and again; “our prayers and thoughts are with you”. This is supposed to cheer the victims. It is vacuous and empty.

I found the Democratic candidate debates interesting. There is certainly an element of circus in the whole primaries performance, but at the same time a wide array of real policy ideas were being aired.

Even though most have never heard of him and he probably will get nowhere in the end, one candidate, Alistair Yang, is being referred to as the Silicon Valley Candidate.

He is advocating the Universal Basic Income idea (or UBI as they call it) as a means of ensuring all members of society receive a reasonable income in a world where technology is changing the nature of work as we know it. And that change looks like to be even greater in the future given the big and rapidly evolving technological developments that are happening.

It’s an interesting way of making a social commitment to the people.

In my lifetime we have gone from manual party line phone exchanges with expensive toll calls to video calls across the world that cost virtually nothing. Autonomous vehicles are coming down the road towards us now; they won’t need drivers. Who knows where all this will end up? But it will inevitably be very different to how we live now. Yang at least was thinking about that and offering a plausible solution.

That was well worth hearing.