Mutual Co-Colonisation

Australia was famously colonized by the British, who in the beginning sent colonists, including transported prisoners to Sydney in 1788. It had previously been settled by an indigenous (aboriginal) population.

A typical characteristic of colonies is that they send raw materials back to the home country in exchange for finished goods. When I arrived in 2017, notably Pre-Covid, Australia’s top exports, with China on the receiving end of the largest share of all three, were coal, iron ore, and education. Australia of course imports many manufactured goods from the rest of the world.

If one were to look solely at the coal and iron ore, China would be seen as the colonizer despite Australia’s higher standard of living. And if one were looking at some metrics of urbanisation and development, like the deployment of high-speed rail, China is also more ‘developed’.

The twist is education. Far more Chinese come to Australia for education than vice versa, and there is no more finished or prestige good than a student graduated from university. (Historically this was true at the high school level, hence the term “finishing schools”.) In historical terms, well-to-do Australians (Americans, Canadians, etc.) would send their children to the home country (England) for education at once-elite places like Oxford and Cambridge, and they would return to the colonies acting among the local elite (but never so elite as someone with a posh-UK accent and titles). Today developing countries send their children to places like Australia and Canada (and prior to recent events, the US and UK) for university, children who return and serve among the elites.

Is Australia the developed country or the developing resource-based economy? Who was colonizing whom?

Since Covid, and the souring of relations between China and Australia, and the rise of the fearsome AUKUS, these relationships are being unwound. We are seeing a precipitous drop in Chinese students at Australian universities, and they are importing fewer resources. So perhaps it is Mutual De-Co-Colonisation


China’s High Speed Rail Network
Australia’s High Speed Rail Network

The Pessimist’s Dilemma

In the present it is better to be optimistic than pessimistic. In short, you feel better about the future, hope brings more happiness than fear. And if everyone is optimistic, and acts as if the optimistic future will come about, it may help bring that reality, as in a self-fulfilling prophecy. The self-fulfilling prophecy rewards the optimist. They can claim credit for correctly predicting the future and live in that better future. The self-negating prophecy of the pessimist does not reward the pessimist, who had to be wrong to warn people off the wrong path. The pessimist may say:

“If you don’t get off that path, you will get run over by the trolley.”

They are warning

“Get off the path.”

People hear:

“You will get run over by the trolley”.

Perhaps they got off the path so did not get run over by the trolley. Thus the pessimist was wrong. Alternatively, they did not get off the path, someone died, and people hate “I told you so”. People don’t like pessimists because Misery loves company.

However, if the future brings risks, and the optimist fails to prepare for those risks, (“She’ll be all right, mate”) bad outcomes occur that could have been averted by a more realistic or pessimistic take.

So perhaps we can think of a spectrum of reality-distortion:

  • Pollyanna
  • Optimist
  • Realist
  • Pessimist
  • Fatalist

In the absence of other information, the realist is best, having an accurate assessment of the risks and rewards of actions on future outcomes. But in a world that favours optimists, the accurate forecast faces the same problem as Cassandra, uttering the truth but not being believed. One may need to be more strongly negative to bring others to a realistic position, splitting the difference between optimism and pessimism. By expanding the Overton Window, pessimism is a palliative to excessive optimism, repositioning realism in the centre, and reminding everyone that outcomes are probabilistic, not guaranteed.

In short, we need a distribution of behaviours and ideas (an Ensemble) to enhance both individual and group survival. Individuals can and should specialise, it is how we make progress by going deep in selected areas, rather than wide across them all, yet schools, bureaucracies, and other institutions aim at homogenisation in skills, thoughts, and actions, as if we are all (at least those of us in schools) are to be as close to interchangeable parts as we can be made. Everyone is supposed to be slightly optimistic, extroverted, enthusiastic, and so on (but not too much!). Those who see the risks or downsides of whatever the hive mind has asserted is the proper course of action are dismissed, ostracised, or ignored.


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Welcome to the latest issue of The Transportist, especially to our new readers.  As always you can follow along at the or on Twitter.


Overheard from an editor of a privately-owned for-profit journal which publishes a mix of open access [OA] and non-open access articles: Because the publisher is required to give subscribers (i.e. libraries) 80% subscription-only content (otherwise it has to rebate the subscription), open access (i.e paying) papers are pushed to bottom of publication queue.

I probably don’t need to explain why this is appalling, but if you do publish OA, preference publishing in a non-exploitive OA journal that charges near cost, not a mixed journal which is charging both authors and subscribers. To wit, see this video, which is both funny and true.


I did a 5QQ for my friend James Pethokoukis’s optimistic, pro-technology, pro-growth newsletter Faster, Please, to which you should subscribe or follow via RSS.


 Five Quick Questions for . . . transportation expert David Levinson

David Levinson teaches at the School of Civil Engineering at the University of Sydney, he’s an honorary affiliate of the Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies, and he serves as an adjunct faculty at the University of Minnesota. He’s also the co-author The End of Traffic and the Future of AccessIn addition, he authors the Transportist blog.

1/ America seems to be suffering a car crash epidemic. Why and what can we do about it?

There are many causes to this problem, which is another example of American exceptionalism, as crashes are declining in most developed countries (see figure, via David Zipper). Crashes result from high speed (wide lanes American lanes encourage fast driving, and high powered cars make it possible [to] drive faster than any posted speed limit — how high does your speedometer go?) mixed with slow reaction time (e.g. distracted and inebriated drivers, plus diminished ability to see what’s in front of them, higher speeds for instance focus drivers on distances far ahead rather than seeing what’s in their peripheral vision, or just in front of them). Fatalities are crashes where the speed (which has been increasing) and mass (which has also been increasing) are both too high. Two pedestrians colliding at walking speeds will not kill anyone. A car hitting a pedestrian at 40 mph will likely kill her. In fact, most cars are now trucks, significantly higher and heavier than cars of a few decades ago. I wrote about this a couple of years ago: 21 Solutions to Road Deaths


2/ When will we have a million self-driving cars on the road, ones that can at least be autonomous on highways?

It depends on what you mean by “autonomous”. In some ways we already have a million autonomous cars. Elon Musk will tell you his cars Autopilot systems are “Full Self-Driving” on highways now, and have been in beta mode for FSD on city streets for a number of years. General Motors will sell you “Super Cruise” in a number of Cadillac models, which allows hands off driving on 200,000 miles of highways. GM’s Ultra Cruise is supposed to launch hands off driving on 2 million miles of public roads (highways and streets) in 2023. In all of these cases, the driver is supposed to monitor the vehicle, so if by autonomous you mean the driver can safely go to sleep, we are not there yet, and are looking to late this decade. 

3/ Will hyperloops ever be a real-world mode of transportation?

We can’t build subways or high-speed rail lines at reasonable cost in the US, and we are supposed to try to build an unproven technology? Hyperloop is a moving target, but if we mean maglev with small carriages in evacuated tubes, I don’t think so. The maglev is slowly getting deployed in places, Shanghai has had a small line operating for years, which I rode. Japan has a major line under construction now (to open 2027). But making them go even faster by putting them in tubes with the air removed (to reduce air resistance and increase speed) is untested and brings new engineering challenges. Using small carriages, with sharp acceleration and deceleration, as originally proposed, and spacing them close together, brings new risks.

4/ Will air taxis ever be a common mode of transportation?

Yes, but not this year. Since the 1920s people have dreamt of an autogyro in every garage. It was a key mode of transport in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Broadacre City proposal in 1932. For decades, Los Angeles required high-rises to have flat-roofs to enable helicopter landings. With advances in automation and controls, AI, and electrification, it’s getting closer. As drones become more widespread, the key technologies advance, and society’s willingness to tolerate a significant rise in air travel also increases. But it’s not likely to mix well with cities, in contrast with suburbs and rural areas, because of the crowding and high density. So it should emerge first where traveling fast and directly is more important, which are lower density areas with greater distances to be covered.

5/ What’s an important transportation issue that gets too little attention?

There are many issues that get too little attention, traffic safety you already noted. I’d add that even after we electrify the fleet and eliminate tailpipe pollution, cars will still pollute and be hazardous. Today air pollution from vehicles kills a similar number as crashes (which is about 1.3 million people globally). That’s not all tailpipe pollution. Brake linings and rubber tires wear out. Where do those particulates go? Your lungs. The water supply. All sorts of places they shouldn’t. And the better we make transport systems for people using cars, the worse it is for everyone else. For instance, traffic signal timings benefit cars at the expense of pedestrians in many cities. I’d also add police stops in the US in the name of safety are mostly unnecessary, lead to excessive deaths, and could be replaced with photo radar and similar systems.


Research by Others