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Dear Biddy,

This week many citizens in my country started to make more visible their dissatisfaction in a government less than a year old. (A budget has been delivered and is winging its way to the Senate for passing and new laws are meant to be ready for implementation by July 1.) In the market place, people are marching and in the market, prices are slumping and confidence is falling away. A government elected with a vision to stimulate the economy (it didn’t need to be stimulated) has instead scared consumers.

The Australian government is cloaked in an ideology of economic liberalisation. Where the primary economic unit is no longer a family (as it was in the past iteration) but the individual – further eroding the stock price of We and rising the price of I. Years ago we were reminded us that we live in a society not an economy. It feels like we are on a sinking ship and the cry has gone out “women and children first”; and indeed it will be women and children first to drown, not to survive.

I live in one of the wealthiest most stable countries on earth, and know this time will pass, and it is no more than a first world problem (after all I just missed the Thailand coup by a few weeks) at one level, but deeper in the weave of the fabric of society it is more than just our problem. The biggest cuts in the national budget were in foreign aid – almost 20% of all cuts coming from that line on the ledger – a national disgrace.

When I stood with thousands of other Australians last week who then marched around the country in protest to the budget it helped me feel part of a community again. The ideology of individualism is best countered by visible collective responses. In the stock market of compassion our shares are falling, and the marches helped me see that it is possible to get them rising again. I was marching with the richest people in Australia – rich in empathy, rich in compassion.

Empires Past and Present

Empires Past and Present

Waiting for the march to begin, I stood with thousands of others on the steps of the State Library of Victoria in Melbourne, I mused at the doric columns shielding the repository of knowledge behind the concrete façade. A library is a vital organ for democracy; a place for the collection of ideas and perfect as the gathering place for this protest. A library is the emporium of the thought market.

I wonder Biddy how the contest of ideas played out for you? Your commitment to give without charging for your services would have challenged the local economy and the way other healers had their services compensated. The gifts of whisky, produce and protection from the law were their own reward! Transactions beyond economics will hold us together. The book purchased and delivered as a by-product of a dinner date; the pink champagne consumed as result of a learning encounter; the conversation that yielded empathy and a deeper layer of friendship … all everyday non-economically driven transactions that counteract the idea that it is every man for himself. We are in this together.

These are emporium times – times where us merchants of change and custodians of the idea of the collective are journeying together. And there we all were in front of the State Library of Victoria. No longer is the library a static place, it is on the move in mobile devices, digital search engines and twitter led revolutions. This pilgrim walks a path that others have trod and walks with others on that journey.

Emporium: from Latin, from Greek emporion, from emporos merchant, from poros a journey