No country for old men: Why ignore our elder statesmen?

Jan 7, 2024
Text Thank You typed on retro typewriter.

I am currently reading a book by Jeffrey Sachs whose articles often grace these pages. I am struck by the wealth of his experience having advised governments over many years, and his ability to take a long view of world events, in particular the deterioration in the United States position in the world since the end of World War 2. But he, like many in his generation, is routinely ignored. I do not see his name listed as one of President Biden’s advisers.

Biden clearly needs such advice as he follows the path that Trump took of believing in American exceptionalism above all else. Jeffrey Sachs is obviously extremely well read and this knowledge is supplemented by his unmatched experience in world affairs. The quote: “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it” is particularly applicable since he has not only read history, he has lived it. He is sixty-eight years old, hardly a superannuant. I recall that at the time of the breakup of the Soviet Union, he was advocating aa “big bang” approach to economic and political reform as adopted by Russia rather than a “crossing the river by feeling the stones” approach adopted by China. I may have been misinformed but, if that was the case, he has certainly come around to be a fan of China’s gradualism, a case of learning informed by experience (both by him and China).

In other countries, particularly in Asia, Sachs would be venerated as an elder statesman. For example, in China Deng Xiaoping by all accounts, directed activities on centre stage from the back bench right up until his death. China’s enthusiastic welcome of Henry Kissinger who is one hundred years old is another example.

In Australia we have many people that could be put in the same category including Paul Keating, Bob Carr, Allan Mackerras, John Menadue himself, countless academics who have earned the honorific of Professor Emeritus which implies advanced years.

Paul Keating needs no introduction. Besides putting Australia on the road to prosperity (which may be relinquished in modern time), his speeches and his book published in 2000 demonstrate that he has kept abreast of political events well past his retirement from public life. His policies whether in economics, social areas and foreign affairs demonstrate that he is one of Australia’s leading progressive voices of this century and the last, being well ahead of his time in many areas. The Redfern Speech still inspires people a generation later.

Bob Carr, leaving a successful career in journalism before switching to state politics and a record ten-year premiership, before forsaking retirement for federal politics and a role as Minister for Foreign Affairs, is clearly a progressive thinker tempered by experience, evidenced by his articles in this journal.

And Barry Jones: To quote Wikipedia: polymath, writer, teacher, lawyer, social activist, quiz champion and former politician. He must be the most knowledgeable person on earth, his original raw knowledge shaped by his experience in public office and many positions since then. He is ninety years old.

On a personal note, I recall when America decided to embark on the first Gulf War with Iraq. It was thirty years after their inglorious exit from Vietnam. Not coincidentally, that is almost exactly one generation. It took that time for civilians to forget the horror of body bags arriving from Vietnam.

When they are confronted by the fact that these learned people disagree with AUKUS, Albanese, Marles and his supporters counter with: “He hasn’t been briefed,” or “He is not up to date.” As if being briefed by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (a wolf in sheep’s clothing by all accounts) and ex coalition government advisers, is a substitute for extensive reading and broad personal experience. As Paul Keating responded: “I can read can’t I”.

Regarding current events in different areas, I often feel I am on the minority in many different areas AUKUS, The Voice, Palestine and the middle east, the U.S. as warmonger, China, among them. But by reading of Pearls and Irritations I am comforted by the fact that there are many like-minded people out there. At least I am on the side of morality and, in my mind, the right side of history.

May we continue to irritate!

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