Monday Message Board

July 25th, 2016 No comments

Another Monday Message Board. Post comments on any topic. Civil discussion and no coarse language please. Side discussions and idees fixes to the sandpits, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Do climate sceptics exist?

July 22nd, 2016 36 comments

June 2016 was the hottest month globally since records began in 1880, and marks the fourteenth record month in a row. For the great majority of people who’ve been following scientific findings on climate, there’s no great surprise there. There is very strong evidence both for the existence of a warming trend due mainly to emissions of carbon dioxide, and for the occurrence of a peak in the El Nino/Southern Oscillation index. Combine the two, and a record high temperature is very likely.

But suppose you were a strongly sceptical person, who required more evidence than others to accept a scientific hypothesis, such as that of of anthropogenic climate change. Presumably, you would treat the evidence of the last couple of years as supporting the hypothesis. Perhaps this supporting evidence would be sufficient that you would regard the hypothesis as confirmed beyond reasonable doubt, perhaps not, but either way, you would be more favorably inclined than before. And, if you were a public commentator, willing to state your views honestly, you would say so.

Does such a sceptic exist? I haven’t seen one, although I follow the debate fairly closely. In fact, in the 25 years or so in which I’ve been following the issue, I can only recall one instance of someone described as a “sceptic” changing their view in the light of the evidence. And of course, his fellow sceptics, who’d been promising that his research would reveal massive errors in the temperature record, immediately decided that he’d never really been one of them. In any case, while Muller was and remains a scientific sceptic, he’s no longer a climate sceptic.

Operationally, it’s clear that the term “climate sceptic” means someone whose criteria for convincing evidence are those set out by the Onion.

I’d be happy to be proved wrong (by counterexample), but as far as I can see, if the ordinary usage of the term “sceptic” is applied, the world population of genuine climate sceptics is zero.

Categories: Environment Tags:

Sandpit

July 21st, 2016 56 comments

A new sandpit for long side discussions, conspiracy theories, idees fixes and so on.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Nuclear math doesn’t add up

July 20th, 2016 47 comments

Writing in the conservative US magazine National Review, Robert Bryce of the Manhattan Institute criticises the Democratic Party platform for omitting any mention of nuclear power, and accuses the Democrats of failing to “do the math”. Unfortunately, although he throws some numbers about, he doesn’t do any math to support his key conclusion

But even if we doubled the rate of growth for wind and solar — and came up with a perfect method of electricity storage (which of course, doesn’t exist) — those renewables aren’t going to replace nuclear energy any time soon

So, I’ll do the math for him.
Read more…

Categories: Environment Tags:

Last of the Mohicans

July 18th, 2016 14 comments

I started this blog about 14 years ago in mid-2002, when the world of the Internet was young. On a whim, I thought I’d look at the Wayback Machine which archived the site (then hosted on Blogspot) in July 2002. Amazingly, some of the links still work, and some of the posts are still relevant today. On the other hand, I don’t think anyone on the blogroll is still going as an independent blogger. I’ve been a bit slow lately, but it looks as though I’m the last of my kind.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Monday Message Board

July 18th, 2016 43 comments

Another Monday Message Board. Post comments on any topic. Civil discussion and no coarse language please. Side discussions and idees fixes to the sandpits, please.

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Losing our AAA credit rating is not a harbinger of doom …

July 14th, 2016 64 comments
Categories: Economic policy Tags:

Monday Message Board

July 11th, 2016 68 comments

Another Monday Message Board. Post comments on any topic. Civil discussion and no coarse language please. Side discussions and idees fixes to the sandpits, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Anti-militarism

July 4th, 2016 41 comments

100 years after the Battle of the Somme, it’s hard to see that much has been learned from the catastrophe of the Great War and the decades of slaughter that followed it. Rather than get bogged down (yet again) in specifics that invariably decline into arguments about who know more of the historical detail, I’m going to try a different approach, looking at the militarist ideology that gave us the War, and trying to articulate an anti-militarist alternative. Wikipedia offers a definition of militarism which, with the deletion of a single weasel word, seems to be entirely satisfactory and also seems to describe the dominant view of the political class, and much of the population in nearly every country in the world.

Militarism is the belief or desire of a government or people that a country should maintain a strong military capability and be prepared to use it aggressively[^1] to defend or promote national interests

Wikipedia isn’t as satisfactory (to me) on anti-militarism, so I’ll essentially reverse the definition above, and offer the following provisional definition

Anti-militarism is the belief or desire that a military expenditure should held to the minimum required to protect a country against armed attack and that, with the exception of self-defense, military power should not be used to promote national interests

I’d want to qualify this a bit, but it seems like a good starting point.

Read more…

Categories: World Events Tags:

Monday Message Board

July 4th, 2016 12 comments

Another Monday Message Board. Post comments on any topic. Civil discussion and no coarse language please. Side discussions and idees fixes to the sandpits, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Stability

July 4th, 2016 75 comments

Malcolm Turnbull went to the election warning against the instability of a “hung” Parliament and a minority Labor government. It’s now clear that the most unstable outcomes within the range of possibility are those where the LNP forms a government with 76 seats (working majority of 1) 75 or 74 (presumably relying on Bob Katter and/or Nick Xenophon for confidence votes). The knives are already out for Turnbull, and there are at least three potential successors in the wings, all convinced they could do a better job than Turnbull or either of their rivals. So, any understanding Turnbull might reach with independents is liable to be overturned at any moment.

On the Labor side, the rules changes introduced by Kevin Rudd make it just about impossible to remove a sitting PM, and there is, in any case, almost no appetite for a change. So, if Labor manages 72 seats or more and forms a minority government, there’s a good chance that the government and parliament could run its full term.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Polls, pundits and punters yet again

July 2nd, 2016 36 comments

It’s too late to influence anyone’s vote, and I doubt that many of my readers are in much doubt as to which way they will go, so I’ll return to one of my favorite topics, the relative predictive power of polls and betting markets. Most of the time, comparing the two is a tricky exercise, since the odds in betting markets and those implied by polls tend to converge as the election nears. Not this time, however. The polls have remained at or near 50-50 throughout the campaign, with the additional complication that 5-10 seats may be won by independents or minor parties. Yet, as of a couple of days ago, the LNP was paying $1.08 for a dollar bet, implying a winning probability of around 90 per cent.

In classical statistical terms, that means that, if the LNP loses (does not form a government) the null hypothesis that the betting odds are correct can be rejected with 90 per cent confidence, which is commonly considered good enough for social science work. Unfortunately, things don’t work the other way around. If we disregard markets, the chance of an LNP win is probably a bit above 50 per cent, so a win for the LNP wouldn’t prove anything one way or the other. For that, we’d need a case where the polls strongly predicted a winner, while the markets were even money or going the other way (the key concept here is the “power” of the test).

In an important sense, anything less than a clear LNP majority would constitute a rejection of the betting market hypothesis. If the majority is small, then the outcome will inevitably have been decided by a few thousand random votes reflecting unpredictable chance.

Anyway, we’ll see soon enough.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Australia opens trade talks with Britain during election campaign?

June 30th, 2016 17 comments

A report in the UK Sun (Murdoch, but directly quoting a government minister, presumably accurately) quotes UK saying that “senior politicians in [Australia and South Korea] had called [seeking trade deals with the UK] in the past 48 hours“. If that’s true, it seems like a spectacular breach of the caretaker conventions.

From Wikipedia, the relevant part of the conventions

The Government ordinarily seeks to defer major international negotiations, or adopts observer status until the end of the caretaker period.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Sandpit

June 28th, 2016 67 comments

A new sandpit for long side discussions, conspiracy theories, idees fixes and so on.

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

A policy-based election, a policy-free campaign

June 28th, 2016 15 comments

The 2016 election is remarkable in two ways. First, more than at any time in the past 20 years, the two parties have presented strongly opposed policy platforms reflecting underlying ideological differences on economic policy, symbolic (bankers vs unionists) and substantive (upper income tax cuts) class issues, climate policy, equal marriage and more. On the other hand, having set out these differences, the parties have run campaigns that are (because of the eight-week duration) twice as vapid and uninspiring as usual. None of the big issues have been debated seriously.

Most notably the pretext for the double dissolution, the ABCC bill, has barely been raised. It’s obvious enough why Labor would want to avoid arguing about allegations of union corruption, whether those allegations with or without merit. On the LNP side, the $100 million handed to Dyson Heydon and his Royal Commission has so far (AFAICT) failed to produce a single conviction for any act of union corruption, while a number of prosecutions have fallen over in more or less embarrassing circumstances.

Unsurprisingly, the polls have barely moved from the deadheat position they were in at the beginning of the campaign. Perhaps more surprisingly, with a week to go, both betting markets and media pundits are uniformly convinced that the government will be returned with most predicting a narrow majority. Given the random element in any election, making a strong prediction of a narrow win is nonsensical. There are always half a dozen seats where random, unpredicted factors emerge on election night. So, if you think a narrow win is the most likely outcome, you must impute a significant probability to a narrow loss. If the government does not get a majority, this fact will suddenly be discovered with an air of profundity. If it does, the pundits and punters will congratulate themselves on their instinctive connection with the mood of (51 per cent of) the Australian people

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

The Schengen option?

June 28th, 2016 21 comments

Like most people outside Britain (and, it seems, like most British people, politicans and pundits as well as voters) I hadn’t paid a lot of attention to the detailed implications of a Leave vote until it actually happened. Now that it has happened, the details matter. In particular, it seems that Boris Johnson and other leaders of the Leave campaign (though presumably not UKIP) are hoping to promote either the “Switzerland” or “Norway” options. I thought I’d check on the implications of these options for migration policy and AFAICT, both Norway and Switzerland are Schengen visa countries. So, on the face of it, those Leavers who supported continued market access on the Norway/Switerland model have voted for removal of existing controls on migration rather than the imposition of new ones.

I assume that Johnson and others have in mind a negotiation in which Britain (or England) gets the market access bits of the Norway/Switzerland options, while maintaining the existing opt-outs negotiated as an EU member. But why should the EU offer this? In particular, if Scotland becomes independent and joins the EU, the Scots will presumably want to maintain free access to England, while the rest of the EU would be unlikely to allow Scotland to remain under English border controls. In any case, the whole logic of the EU position is that Britain should not be able to pick and choose.

On the basis of an admittedly perfunctory search, I haven’t been able to find more than passing discussion of this question. Can anyone point me to more comprehensive analysis?

Categories: World Events Tags:

Monday Message Board

June 27th, 2016 26 comments

Another Monday Message Board. Post comments on any topic. Civil discussion and no coarse language please. Side discussions and idees fixes to the sandpits, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Reaping the whirlwind

June 27th, 2016 64 comments

I’ve been trying to make sense of the Brexit (or rather E-exit) vote in terms of the analysis I put forward a while back. The result, over the fold, is a piece in Inside Story, an Australian magazine.

The key point is, that, in the absence of a coherent left alternative, neoliberalism (hard and soft) is being overwhelmed by a tribalist backlash. Writing this, I realise it might be construed as criticism of Corbyn for failing to develop and propose such an alternative in the referendum campaign. That would be a bad misreading. The context of the referendum meant that it was always going to be a choice of evils: between the racism and bigotry that animated so much of the Leave campaign, and the neoliberalism of both the Cameron government and the EU. The option of a social democratic, or even soft neoliberal, EU was not on the ballot.

Read more…

Categories: Politics (general), World Events Tags:

Brexit

June 24th, 2016 107 comments

A big win for tribalism. Have your say, bearing in mind the comments policy.

Categories: World Events Tags:

Updates

June 23rd, 2016 15 comments

A few updates on recent posts.

1. In my post on a better way of collecting fines, I linked to a paywalled article in the Australian Journal of Public Administration which I wrote with Bruce Chapman and others. Wiley (publishers of AJPA) got in touch and kindly arranged to make the article available free of charge. I had some trouble with the enhanced PDF version, but the basic one worked fine for me.

2. Hours after complaining about the conventional wisdom a Coalition win as a foregone conclusion I found a piece by Mark Kenny finally making the point that the evidence against this claim has been in plain view for weeks.

3. I was a bit disappointed by the discussion of my post on Labor and the Greens. Most of it consisted of arguments about the relative merits of the two parties, predominantly but not exclusively favoring the Greens (as I mostly do). The question for Greens supporters (and Labor supporters for that matter) is not whether their party is better but whether they regard the differences as being so great as to justify doing deals, implicit or otherwise, with the LNP. To my mind, at least, this would require identifying at least some major policy issues on which the LNP is preferable to the other left party.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Labor and the Greens

June 19th, 2016 80 comments

The election campaign has brought into focus the long-standing problem of how Labor and the Greens should deal with each other, which became critical after the 2010 election. Both parties have made a mess of things this time around. Rather than go over that ground, I’m going to give my view on how they should work in the future.

First, both parties need to realise that they are part of the same centre-left movement. For Labor that means giving up the idea that the Greens are a temporary irritant that will go the way of the DLP, if they are abused and/or ignored long enough. For the Greens, it means abandoning Third Way rhetoric suggesting that they represent an unaligned alternative to a two-party duopoly.

In electoral terms, the starting point for both parties should be an exchange of preferences in all seats, with the LNP last. That starting point doesn’t preclude changes in the case of particularly objectionable (or particularly good) candidates, but it does rule out the kinds of negotiations we’ve seen so many times with the LNP or with conservative minor parties. It also rules out the fake piety of Green “open tickets”.

Such a policy would be good for the centre-left as a whole, but it would also benefit each of the parties to adopt it unilaterally. The alleged hardheads who negotiate these deals have repeatedly bungled them, while creating division and attracting bad publicity.

Equally important is the question of how the parties should work in Parliament. The most important is the case that emerged in 2010, with Labor needing Greens support to form a government. My reading of that episode is that both parties were harmed by the conclusion of a formal deal, and that a coalition with Green ministers would make things even worse. Instead, the Greens should support Labor on confidence votes, and negotiate on all other legislation on the merits.

An approach like this would enable the Greens to influence policy in positive ways, while not tying them to Labor policies they regard as unacceptable. For Labor, the obvious benefit is that they could form a government while maintaining a formal position of “no deals”. For the centre-left as a whole, the policy outcome would be better than that from a Labor government with a tame majority.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Am I the only person …

June 18th, 2016 39 comments

… who’s totally dissatisfied with the coverage of the likely election outcome. Every article I’ve read seems to be along the lines of the following deduction

1. Labor can’t possibly win the 21 net seats it needs for an absolute majority
2. (implicit) Any outcome other than an absolute majority for one major party or the other is inconceivable.
3. Therefore, any outcome other than an LNP majority is impossible and inconceivable.

Obviously, the problem is with implicit step 2. As Inigo Montoya remarks to Vizzini, in the princess bride (a constant user of the term “inconceivable”) “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means”.

As far as I can tell, it is entirely possible that the next Parliament will include 10-12 non-major party independents (two to four Greens, up to three Xenophon, three current independents and perhaps two more). Of these, three or four would hold seats taken from the LNP, meaning that the government can only afford to lose about 10 seats to Labor before we get to a deliberative Parliament. Of the non-majors, there’s only one (Bob Katter) who could be regarded as a reasonably safe vote for the government.

Maybe the pundits have taken all this into account. But, if so, I’ve seen no evidence in what they’ve published. It’s still two-party preferred and what I’ll call the “fallacy of the excluded middle” in everything I read.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

A better way of collecting fines

June 18th, 2016 35 comments

Although I’ve been involved in economic policy debates for most of the last 40 years, it’s not often that I can point directly to a substantive outcome, in the sense that a policy proposal I’ve generated is implemented, or at least adopted by a major political party. There’s nothing surprising in that. There are lots of people involved in the policy process, and most successful policy proposals reflect the efforts of many people, combined in such a way that it’s hard to tell whether any one person mattered.

But I was happy to see this proposal from the Labor Party to allow state governments to collect criminal fines through the tax and welfare systems (as with HECS debts and child support), rather than jailing defaulters as at present. This was idea I put forward in a paper with Bruce Chapman, Arie Friedman and David Tait, back in 2004 (paywalled, unfortunately).

As is argued in Labor’s press release, there would be obvious improvements and cost savings, as well as the avoidance of unnecessary suffering for people who can’t afford to pay. But for me, the change in collection mechanism is of interest mainly because it makes possible more radical reforms.

Read more…

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Halfway horse-race commentary

June 11th, 2016 49 comments

Four weeks in, and with the two parties neck and neck, this ought to be an exciting point in the election campaign. But thanks to Turnbull’s trickiness* of calling a double dissolution requiring eight weeks of campaigning, it’s anything but. Still, it seems like a good time for some horse race commentary, partly repeating what I’ve said before.

* First, taking the horse race analogy seriously, the behavior of betting markets is as if two horses had run neck and neck in a dozen minor races, but one was still the overwhelming favorite for the big done. To spell this out, the polls have been virtually level pegging for many weeks, but the betting markets have barely moved. On past history, the two will converge by election day. If, as I expect, that means the betting odds will move towards the poll, this campaign will count as a major piece of evidence against the idea that markets are good aggregators of knowledge. And, of course, the converse is true

* Second, the likelihood of a deliberative Parliament, with neither major party having a tame majority is increasing all the time. That’s a good thing in the abstract; how good depends on whose votes turn out to be critical

* Third, the one consistent trend has been the precipitous fall in Malcolm Turnbull’s standing across a wide range of measures. Whatever happens on election day (short of a surprise LNP landslide), I don’t expect Turnbull to be PM a year from now.

* To be sure, Julia Gillard’s attempt to hold on to her leadership by calling an election eight months in advance makes Turnbull look moderate. But that was an absurdity doomed to fail, as it did.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Monday Message Board

June 6th, 2016 53 comments

Another Monday Message Board. Post comments on any topic. Civil discussion and no coarse language please. Side discussions and idees fixes to the sandpits, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Look what they’ve done to my song, Ma

June 6th, 2016 19 comments

My discussion of intellectual property inevitably raised questions about my argument that property rights are not natural rights, but are socially constructed and, in the modern world, exist only as part of the legal structures created and enforced by states. The “moral rights” of artists over their creative works has been raised as a suggested counterexample. In fact, this example reinforces my original argument. Two cases arise, both of interest:

In the United States, the moral rights of artists were effectively unrecognised by law until accession to the Berne Convention 1989, and remain extremely limited. The result is that, once an artist has sold the rights to her work, she has no control over its subsequent use, unless she can make a case separate from moral rights, for example that use in an advertisement misrepresents the artist as endorsing the product. So, for example, it’s perfectly legal to use London Calling to advertise Jaguars, or to clip Fortunate Son to fit a jingoistic ad for jeans. Moral rights are widely recognised, and may generate social opprobrium for those who violate them (as with other misuses of property rights) but they have no legal standing.

In France and other European countries, artists have inalienable moral rights over their work, to prevent misuse of the work by the initial or later purchasers. This is not a property right, but a constraint on property rights. To the extent that moral rights are recognised after the fact, they constitute a taking from the purchaser of the property right. To the extent that they are recognised when artists sell rights to their work, they (like any restriction on alienation of property) represent a constraint on the property rights of the artist. Melanie Safka recognised this, in an ironic fashion, in her classic Look what they’ve done to my song, Mawhen she wrote

It’ll be all right ma, maybe it’ll be okay
Well, if the people are buying tears
I’ll be rich someday, ma

Coming back to the general issue, property rights and (perceived/socially accepted) natural rights have features that mean they tend to coincide in some ways and conflict in others. Most obviously, they are both associated with the general feeling of rightful possession, so that a system of property rights is more stable when it coincides with natural rights. On the other hand, natural rights are mostly perceived as inalienable and indivisible, while property in its ideal form is infinitely transferable and divisible. Moral rights for artists are a classical example of the clash between inalienability and unfettered property rights but the same clash arises at every point in the production process.

Categories: Intellectual 'property' Tags:

Campbell Newman: the gift that keeps on taking

May 26th, 2016 7 comments

A little while ago, it was revealed that the Queensland taxpayers were picking up the bill for Campbell Newman’s indefensible defence in a defamation action brought against him and Jarrod Bleijie (aka Boy Wonder) for accusing two Gold Coast lawyers of being bikie criminals, apparently on the sole basis that they were fulfilling the professional obligation of providing some bikies with a defence. The bill amounted to $0.5 million, and was greatly increased because Newman and Bleijie refused to mitigate the damages by apologising.

Now, thanks to the Oz, we learn how we are paying for the new State Executive Building, which Newman and then-Treasurer Tim Nicholls assured us we would get for nothing as part of a complex land deal. In reality, it turns out Newman left us on the hook for a 15-year lease at above market prices. Of course, the Oz being the Oz, this is presented as the fault of the current Labor government, which denounced the deal at the time and has continued to do so.

Categories: #Ozfail, Oz Politics Tags:

Intellectual property: Extract from Economics in Two Lessons (expanded and amended)

May 25th, 2016 74 comments

Another draft extract from my book-in-progress, Economics in Two Lessons. It’s the last part of the section on “predistribution”, dealing with Intellectual Property. Next up, “redistribution” through taxation and public expenditure.

As always, encouragement is welcome, constructive criticism even more so.

Read more…

Categories: Economics in Two Lessons Tags:

Trump and Tribalism (crosspost from Crooked Timber)

May 24th, 2016 62 comments

Watching the rapid consolidation of the Republican Party around the candidacy of Donald Trump, I’ve tried to make sense of this in terms of the “three party system” analysis I presented a few months ago. I saw the Republicans as the “hard neoliberal” party relying on the votes of (white Christian) tribalists and making symbolic gestures in their direction, but largely ignoring them, particularly if their interests came into conflict with those of big business.

What’s become clear since then, I think, is that the Republican Party apparatus (politicians and party officials) is more tribalist than this analysis suggested. Faced with the prospect of electing their hated tribal enemy, Hillary Clinton, as President, the vast majority look like backing Trump (some, but not all of them, holding their nose as they do so).

From a hard neoliberal viewpoint, this makes no sense. Clinton’s Democratic Leadership Council background is that of the stereotypical soft neoliberal. Her candidacy is the best chance of maintaining the long-running alternation in office between the hard and soft variants of neoliberalism. Admittedly, she will be pulled to the left by the general shift exemplified by the Sanders insurgency, but she is unlikely to do anything that would fundamentally undermine capitalism. By contrast, a Trump takeover of the Republican Party would be a disaster for neoliberalism (which does *not* mean it would be good for the left). That would be the inevitable result of a Trump victory. Even a creditable defeat, which would be blamed on the old establishment, could leave the tribalists in control of the organization.

The only groups where the #NeverTrump analysis seems to hold sway are the business donor class and the remnants of the rightwing intelligentsia (hard to believe they were carrying all before them only 20 years ago). The donors obviously have no interest in throwing money at someone like Trump. As for the intelligentsia, even if they were willing to embrace Trump, it’s obvious he has no use for any but the most total hacks, and not even many of those.

Categories: World Events Tags:

Monday Message Board

May 23rd, 2016 26 comments

Another Monday Message Board. Post comments on any topic. Civil discussion and no coarse language please. Side discussions and idees fixes to the sandpits, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags: