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Archive for September, 2002

What I'm reading this week

September 22nd, 2002 Comments off

Send No More Roses by Eric Ambler. In my opinion, the only thriller writer worth reading. A postmodernist avant le nom, his untrustworthy narrators manage to convey absolute conviction that the events are real, even while the reader knows that they are probably lying about all the details. He doesn’t load up with technical detail in the manner of Tom Clancy et al, but does a much better job of convincing you that he has it all at his fingertips.

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An economist's view of the Bush doctrine

September 22nd, 2002 Comments off

We’re starting to see some analysis of the Bush doctrine of pre-emption and what it all means. As an economist, I’m at least as interested in what it will cost and who will pay.

On the first question, I’d estimate that the annual cost of any serious attempt to implement the Bush doctrine would be at least $100 billion per year and probably closer to $200 billion per year. To get a ‘back-of-the-envelope’ approach to these numbers, I assumed that the a conservative implementation of the doctrine would entail deploying a front-line force of 100 000, and backup and logistic forces of 500 000 with an average annual cost of $150 000 per person. I’m assuming that this will be additional to existing forces. There’s some scope for redeploying forces from NATO but this can be overstated. Much of the US force structure in Europe has already been reoriented from defence against the Red Army to a forward deployment against enemies in the Middle East and elsewhere. To come at the estimate another way, the cost of the Gulf War is estimated at $80 billion, and it only lasted a few months. The Bush doctrine implies a semi-permanent occupation of Iraq and probably the recipients of future pre-emptive defence.

Who will pay. As we’ve repeatedly been reminded, the US is the wealthiest country in the world. However, wealth belongs, by definition, to the wealthy, and nowhere is this more true than the US. The owners of wealth in the US have demonstrated, in a number of ways, that they have no intention of paying anything. Among the signs
(i) Conspicuous consumption on a scale unparalleled in history
(ii) Flagrant tax evasion/avoidance accompanied by moralistic attacks on ‘welfare queens’ and workers cheating the earned income tax credit (both get far more investigation than the rich or big companies
(iii) the massive tax cuts introduced at their behest by George W. Bush
As a result of the tax cut and other policy initiatives, the US government was in chronic deficit before the announcement of the Bush doctrine.
The natural inference is that other US taxpayers will either have to pay more or accept less in non-defence services. But there’s very little capacity to do this. No-one is going to propose an increase in taxes for the middle classes without first repealing the tax cut for the rich, and the latter is not going to happen. On the services side, there are already big unmet demands, such as the prescription drug program promised by both sides.

Another alternative that has been proposed is that the Iraqis and others could hand over oil as reparations. There are, of course, a number of names for pre-emptive demands for reparations of which extortion is one of the less unpleasant. It seems doubtful that even the Bush Administration could seriously entertain this idea.

The truth is that, as in the Gulf War, the Europeans and Japanese will pay, only this time they will be lenders rather than donors. The obvious question is when the pile of US dollar denominated debt will get so high that lenders start to worry about adding to it. At that point, but probably not before, the Bush doctrine will run out of puff.

Categories: General Tags:

The Street on the coming derivatives crisis

September 21st, 2002 Comments off

This story, comparing J.P. Morgan to (spectacularly failed hedge fund) Long-Term Credit Management shows that the great derivatives crisis has just moved one step closer.

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The Attention Span Problem

September 21st, 2002 Comments off

Tim Dunlop argues that those on the Left who dismiss Bush as a fool are in fact fooling themselves. He says:

“I, for one, can’t come at this sort of assessment. Nor can I accept the milder account that he is a bumbling amateur who just happens to get lucky. Such an argument is expressed here, on Electrolite‘s comments box by Iain Coleman :

I think the fundamental problem is the amateurishness, rather than the dishonesty. Tony Blair’s government has become notorious for spin, media manipulation, and stretching the truth until it snaps. Nonetheless, I trust Blair in matters of war much more than I trust Bush. This is because, whatever his other faults, Blair is a highly able politician who will put a lot of hard graft and determination into achieving his goals. Bush, by contrast, is a lazy amateur with the attention span of a small houseplant. With Blair, there’s always the chance that the foreign policy will be wrong: with Bush, there’s the certainty that it will be half-assed.”

This isn’t quite right, but there’s more to it than Tim is willing to concede. Bush has shown that capacity to push very hard and successfully for particular goals – the tax cut, the overthrow of the Taliban and the invasion of Iraq, but then the attention span problem kicks in. Given the disappearance of the surplus, the tax cut is sustainable only with rigorous restraint in expenditure, but Bush has shown no inclination to fight hard for this. In fact, it’s been pretty much ‘spend and let spend’ with the Democrats getting money for their priorities in return for supporting Bush’s military initiatives. Similarly, the risk that Afghanistan will collapse back into the kind of warlordism that set the stage for the Taliban is growing every day, and the US seems to be willing to accept this rather than anything that might even slightly compromise the operational freedom of its armed forces. Finally, in relation to Iraq I’d suggest reading James Fallows article (previous post) and asking whether anyone thinks the current Administration has the attention span required to follow through on a successful invasion.

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The nation-building problem

September 21st, 2002 Comments off

Finally, a serious analysis of the options facing the US after a military victory in Iraq from James Fallows. It would be really encouraging to see some indication that the Bush Administration has thought at all beyond the day the Stars and Stripes are raised over Baghdad.

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We're not as hard-hearted as Canberra seems to think

September 21st, 2002 Comments off

The headline from a thoughtful piece by Hilary McPhee

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Double-dip

September 20th, 2002 Comments off

Paul Krugman shortens the odds on a double-dip recession in the US. While I agree with Krugman on a lot of things, I tend to give more credence to the Schumpeterian idea that in an economy bloated with excess, recession is unavoidable. The obvious imbalance in the US economy is the huge current account deficit, now near 5 per cent of GDP. It’s hard to see how this can be maintained for long, and also hard to see how it can be reduced without a recession. Of course, this is relevant to other chronic deficit countries like Australia.

Categories: General Tags:

Analyze this

September 20th, 2002 Comments off

The NYT gives the full Text of Bush’s Iraq Proposal . The key clause
“The president is authorized to use all means that he determines to be appropriate, including force, in order to enforce the United Nations Security Council resolutions referenced above, defend the national security interests of the United States against the threat posed by Iraq, and restore international peace and security in the region.”
It would be interesting to see some of our experts in textual analysis analyze what limits, if any, this places on Bush’s power to make war anywhere in the Middle East for any reason.

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Really bad timing

September 20th, 2002 Comments off

According to theWashington Post the US government has decided that inspections to detect germ warfare programs aren’t a good idea.

Categories: General Tags:

Glenn Reynolds replies:

September 20th, 2002 Comments off

Glenn says:

Well, you’re talking about equipment for *making* bombs, and Wright’s talking about the bombs themselves.

My reply:

I’m not saying that the 1991 experience *proves* that inspections will work and that anything found will be destroyed. But it’s silly to discuss hypotheticals without reference to relevant historical experience, and in a way that implicitly assumes that the relevant historical events didn’t happen.

In any case, no-one I’ve seen is claiming that Saddam has anything more than equipment at this stage. The whole case for immediate invasion is that we need to stop him before he gets a bomb.

Categories: General Tags:

Those who forget history …

September 20th, 2002 Comments off

I’ve always wondered why the warbloggers among us are so convinced that inspections can’t possibly work, given their successes in the past. In some cases, it’s clear that they just want a pretext for invasion, but in others they simply appear to have forgotten.

For example, Glenn Reynolds links to Oz warblogger Paul Wright who asks what happens if the weapons inspectors, by some miracle, actually find something? Reynolds continues “His rather chilling answer suggests that either (1) the powers-that-be have no real expectation that this will come to pass; or (2) they haven’t thought about this hard enough. I’m guessing it’s (1).”James Lileks goes over much the same hypothetical ground

These would be fascinating hypotheses to kick around, if it weren’t for the fact that it’s already happened

. As Michael O’Hanlon of Slate notes, inspections are the only reason Saddam doesn’t already have the bomb:

“As is well known, Iraq was disturbingly close – perhaps only months away – from building a nuclear weapon at the time of Desert Storm. After Israel bombed its Osirak nuclear reactor a decade earlier, Iraq had embarked on a program to develop less visible technologies for enriching uranium from domestic and possibly foreign sources?its “basement bomb” project. In numerous ways, this effort resembled the difficult and tedious approach taken in the 1940s during the Manhattan Project in the United States, particularly the effort to build uranium-235 devices such as the one dropped on Hiroshima. U.N. inspectors found and destroyed most of the equipment believed to have been involved in Iraq’s effort before the Gulf War of 1991.”

To restate the obvious, inspections will only work with free and unfettered access, and it’s up to the Security Council to ensure this.

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Haloscan down again

September 19th, 2002 Comments off

Yet another commenting failure. I’m pretty much resigned to moving on from Haloscan. Please send any suggestions by email. For those who don’t feel like typing an address, visit my website (behind a firewall and apparently safe from spiders) and click on the link there.

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Welcome back to the virtual world

September 19th, 2002 Comments off

I haven’t checked Scott Wickstein’s blog for a week or so, since he announced a hiatus, due to pressures of “work, family and having a life”. But he’s obviously found it easier to “delegate some responsibilities” than to kick the blogging habit. When I checked back, I found a very well-thought out response to my post on Pinochet and Brezhnev.

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Clueless, indeed

September 19th, 2002 Comments off

Yesterday Steven den Beste was quibbling about the meaning of “unconditional”. Today, he’s proposing an all-out war against the entire Arab culture, noting “I am forthrightly proposing what some might call cultural genocide”.

Leaving aside the scary implications of all this (as his critic Hesiod
notes, try reading the post with “Jew” substituted for “Arab” at every occurrence, and some corresponding changes of cultural stereotype), this kind of wild mood swing is a caricature of the Bush administration’s stance on Iraq.

The result is that we know Bush wants war, but is it to:
(i) stop terrorism,
(ii) remove an evil dictator,
(iii) get rid of WMDs,
(iv) enforce UN resolutions,
(v) forcibly convert the Arabs
(vi) democratise the Middle East
(vii) secure a free flow of oil
(viii) stimulate the US economy
or
(ix)settle an old family feud?

All but (ix) have been seriously put forward by advocates of war within or close to the Bush Administration, and plenty of people outside the Administration suspect (ix) is the truth. If all these objectives could be pursued at once, there would be no problem, but there’s clearly a lot of conflict between them.

Categories: General Tags:

Costs and benefits of Kyoto

September 19th, 2002 Comments off

Warwick McKibbin has kindly supplied me with the present value calculations to permit an assessment of his model results. The idea of a present value is to reduce a series of future gains and losses to a single present day value, the amount that would have to be invested (or borrowed) at a given rate of interest to yield an equivalent flow. The rate of interest in Warwick ‘s model is 5 per cent. There are four main scenarios in the model.
The first is the Business As Usual case in which no countries ratify Kyoto or do anything about global warming. This provides a baseline, but is of no real interest since most countries have already ratified.
n the other scenarios, it is assumed that everyone except the US ratifies. The second is one in which Australia ratifies, but where no account is taken of measures the government has already taken to reduce emissions at low economic cost. The third is one in which Australia ratifies, and account is taken of existing measures. The fourth is one in which Australia does not ratify.

The crucial issue is the difference between ratifying and not ratifying

Warwick supplied me with estimates expressed in terms of US dollars of present value, but it’s more useful to convert these to percentage losses. Warwick estimates that (not taking existing measures into account), ratification will reduce the present value of income for the period 2000-2050 by 0.34 per cent, from $US14401 billion to $US14352 billion. If existing measures are taken into account, the loss from ratification falls to 0.16 per cent. I think the estimate with measures is more appropriate since the policies are already in place, but Warwick has argued that the ‘without measures’ estimate is more robust.

All of the net loss is incurred after 2020. For the period 2000-2020, the present value of income is almost identical in all three scenarios (ratification without measures comes out slightly ahead, but the difference is negligible).

To get a feel for the magnitudes, it’s useful to observe that 0.16 per cent of GDP is equal to two weeks’ economic growth. In other words, suppose that we all took two weeks off to watch the Olympics. During those two weeks the economy kept producing the same level of output but there was no growth in productivity. Suppose that after the two weeks were finished the economy returned to the previous rate of growth, but that the growth missed in those two weeks was not regained. This would be roughly the impact that Warwick is modelling. Actually, since there’s no net impact before 2020, a closer parallel would be that nothing happened until 2020 and that we missed four weeks growth then.

In current monetary terms, 0.34 per cent of GDP is around $2 billion per year, 0.16 per cent is around $1 billion per year. By contrast the Great Barrier Reef, which will almost certainly be severely damaged if global warming is not controlled, is estimated to contribute around $2 billion a year in economic benefits alone. Of course, Kyoto alone will not solve global warming, but equally the Reef represents only a fraction of the ecosystems that will be damaged or destroyed if warming is allowed to proceed, without even considering coastline shifts, increased cyclone intensity, and the huge impact on poorer countries.

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Death of The Third Way – the final throes

September 19th, 2002 Comments off

Seeking to shore up support for his position on Iraq (whatever that turns out to be), Tony Blair has called for redistribution of wealth. As the Guardian notes, ‘ it was one of the first times the prime minister has used the word “redistribute” unprompted – it was previously a taboo expression in New Labour.’
As far as I can see, there is now nothing left of the Third Way other than an attachment to Public-Private Partnerships (for my take on PPPs, look here or here). Blair has now accepted the need for higher taxes to fund both improved services and redistribution of wealth. In other words, he’s now an old-style social democrat, just a very wishy-washy one.

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Kyoto Misrepresentations

September 19th, 2002 Comments off

A while ago, Ken Parish made the point that normally calm and sensible bloggers tended to get emotional and unreasonable when the topic of global warming came up. He was talking about Kyoto supporters like me and Don Arthur, but the same point can be made about Ken himself. Once this issue comes up, he is prone to misrepresentations and dodgy arguments he would never use in any other context. Consider, for example, this claim “Anyone would think from reading John Quiggin’s blog that his ANU colleague Warwick McKibbin supports Australia’s ratification of the Kyoto Protocol.”
The post in question begins by describing Warwick as ‘a leading critic of Kyoto’, describes the results of his modelling of the impacts of ratification and concludes “Although I disagree with Warwick’s policy position on Kyoto, I compliment him for keeping his independence as a modeller. The government clearly didn’t like his results one bit.”
I’d love to see Ken’s explanation of how this can be read as saying that “Warwick McKibbin supports Australia’s ratification of the Kyoto Protocol”
To be as charitable as I can on this, it appears that Ken has failed to grasp the distinction between saying that Warwick’s model results support ratification, and saying that Warwick himself supports it. The model results are in the public domain and anyone competent to analyse them is free to do so and draw the appropriate inferences. The government’s decision to bury the report with a 6pm Friday release is a pretty good guide to the inferences that they drew.
The model results are ambiguous. Australia initially benefits from ratification (with existing measures) relative to nonratification, but loses from 2015 onwards. The standard way of resolving this is to reduce the flow of gains and losses to a discounted present value. There are, however, choices that must be made in terms of the scenarios that are used and the time period for the projections. I am discussing these questions with Warwick McKibbin presently, and will report soon.
Update Ken has posted a gracious concession that he hadn’t read my post carefully enough before his criticism. I’m looking forward to a resumption of constructive debate, and will have something to say before long.

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Greg Sheridan on Iraq

September 19th, 2002 Comments off

Greg Sheridan] has quite a thoughtful piece on Iraq. The kicker, accurate but embarrassing, is:

“Oh, and by the way, Canberra will in the end support whatever the US does, just as it would have done if Kim Beazley were PM and not Howard.”

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The strong, the weak and the silly

September 18th, 2002 Comments off

Having read the various warblogger and other critiques of the Iraqi offer on weapons inspection, it seems to be that the critique contains three main points, one strong, one weak and one silly

Strong: Does an offer “to allow the return of the United Nations weapons inspectors to Iraq without conditions” mean “without conditions of the kind that led to the withdrawal of the inspectors in the past” (that is, free and unfettered access) or does it merely mean “without preconditions”. This clearly needs to be resolved.

Weak: The statement “Iraq is ready to discuss the practical arrangements necessary for the immediate resumption of inspections,” can be read can be read to allow for an indefinite period of “discussion”. But the UN has already said the inspectors could be on the ground in three weeks. If the discussions drag on much longer than this, the offer will be discredited.

Silly: The letter mentions the lifting of sanctions and some warbloggers have presented this as a new demand. But the whole point of the sanctions was to compel compliance with the UN resolutions. If Iraq complies to the satisfaction of the Security Council, they sanctions must be lifted. If the Iraqi government asserts that it is ready to comply, then it is perfectly reasonable to refer to ‘ a comprehensive solution that includes the lifting of sanctions imposed in Iraq’

As far as I can see I am in agreement with John Howard at this point. The Security Council should pass a resolution demanding full and unfettered access for weapons inspectors, and full disclosure of past and present programs. If the Iraqi government doesn’t accept this, then it will be time to let loose the dogs of war. If they do accept it, then the appropriate stance is one of vigilant monitoring rather than sabre-rattling.

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Fatwa from Janet

September 18th, 2002 Comments off

Janet Albrechtsen lists me as one of the top 5 left commentators in need of correction (all write for Fairfax, I note)

“Where are the attacks on commentators on the other side of the political divide ? Robert Manne, Hugh Mackay, Phillip Adams, Adele Horin, John Quiggin?”

She’s talking about Media Watch, but where are the attacks from right-wing bloggers that are so liberally handed out to Manne, Mackay and Adams? Maybe I’m safe because I publish in one of the handful of newspapers whose website requires subscription. I usually put my articles up on my site at the end of each month, but maybe that’s not immediate enough for blogging. Anyway, if anyone wants to answer Janet’s call, I’d be more than happy for a site to be established where my articles could be criticised, and would look forward to the resulting debate (Please, no TNA members or associates).

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For-loss corporate schooling

September 18th, 2002 Comments off

This report in the Washington Post gives yet further evidence of the failure the Edison corporation, the leading ‘for-profit’ school operator in the US. Actually, the report says that Edison has never made a profit. This is scarcely surprising. The report points out that the number of students makes Edison equivalent to one of the big US school districts, but how many of them have a $125 million dollar headquarters in Manhattan (now abandoned) or a boss with a $46 million East Hampton estate (now up for sale). It’s hard to make a profit with overheads like that.

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Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory

September 17th, 2002 Comments off

Judging by this report in the Washington Post, I’ve overestimated the good sense of the Bush Administration. The front-page lead is

‘White House denounces the overture as a ruse and “a tactic that will fail.”‘

It’s unclear in this context what “the White House” means, and the comments reported in the body of the story are all over the shop. But it’s hard to see how the Arab League and the Saudis, who leaned heavily on Saddam to agree to inspections, taking big risks with their domestic constituencies to do so, can see this as anything but a calculated insult. There’s still time to put a new spin on the story, but the obvious interpretation is that all the US talk about inspections was meaningless, and that the real agenda is war at any price.
The correct line, I would have thought, was something along the lines of “This is a welcome development, but Saddam has reneged on commitments before and we need to keep the pressure up”, which is roughly what was attributed to Jack Straw, the UK Foreign Secretary.

UpdateColin Powell’s response to the Iraqi cave-in is closer to the mark, but, judging by the reactions in the same report, Bush has lost most of the ground he gained in the last week. The obvious inference is that drawn by an unnamed ‘Arab official’ who

‘said that Washington seemed to have made up its mind to strike, even though Baghdad had now agreed to the world’s demands.’

“If the U.S. isn’t happy with this, it means that they have already decided to attack Iraq, whatever Iraq does,” he said.

When Bush made his UN speech I suggested that the Administration was following one of two strategies – a brilliantly effective strategy to secure the elimination of Saddam’s arsenal, or a very silly strategy to secure an invasion of Iraq. Actually, I think some in the Administration are aiming at one, some the other and some don’t know. But it’s clear that the net effect of all this confusion has been to greatly weaken the case for an invasion. Having dropped the claim that Saddam is tied to Al-Qaeda, and backed away from claims of a unilateral right to impose regime change, Bush is in the process of losing the argument that an invasion is necessary to get rid of weapons of mass destruction.

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BIG (AND GOOD) NEWS

September 17th, 2002 Comments off

According to AP, received via Salon.com News. Story is also at ABC News Online:

Iraq unconditionally accepted the return of U.N. weapons inspectors late Monday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said.

“I can confirm to you that I have received a letter from the Iraqi authorities conveying its decision to allow the return of inspectors without conditions to continue their work.”

On past form, I’d guess that there will be some subsequent attempts by the Iraqi government to weasel out of their commitments, but the fact that they have capitulated without even waiting for a resolution from the UN suggests that they have realised the futility of their position, and will not push these attempts far enough to cause real trouble. It’s early days, but the prospects for a peaceful outcome and the destruction of Saddam’s arsenal are suddenly looking good.

This is a big win for Bush, the UN, multilateralism and the world in general. The only real losers are Saddam on one side and the unilateralist “war party” in the US, notably represented by “warbloggers” such as Steven den Beste. These will have the choice between (A) jumping behind Bush and claiming that this was the outcome they wanted all along, or (B) continuing to hope for Iraqi noncompliance down the track. Judging by his early response, it looks like den Beste is going for Plan B, but I’d guess the majority will plump for A while hedging their bets as far as possible.

Update I did a quick surf around the main American warblogger sites and could find almost no reaction to this news. (Feel free to point out on my comments page the places I’ve missed). Apart from den Beste, most either ignored it or decided to sleep on it before responding. For example, AndrewSullivan writes
” WHAT MEANS ‘UNCONDITIONAL’? If I were Saddam, I’d start playing games now. What the administration needs are clear criteria for acceptable inspections – so that they are meaningful and real and permanent. Those criteria must be adhered to. Saddam cannot be allowed to wriggle out of this again. That’s all I can say based on a single sketchy AP story. Check in tomorrow for more.
- 7:33:15 PM”

As far as I can see, the possibility of Saddam caving in had not occurred to most of these guys. Hence their failure to respond to a move that I’ve been predicting (more precisely, pointing out as a possibility) ever since Bush’s UN speech.

The fallback assumption that Saddam will harass the weapons inspectors to the point that a US invasion can in the end be justified still has some plausibility, but it ultimately rests on the belief that he loves his weapons of mass destruction more than his life. My judgement is that Saddam is evil but not crazy. The weapons may have been potentially useful in the past, but they’re a liability now, and he’ll sacrifice them with no more compunction than the many family members he’s had put to death.

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Name check, please

September 17th, 2002 Comments off

I missed this completely on the ABC site, but found it in the Melbourne Truth of blogs

” QUIGAN, QUIGGAN, QIGGAN AND QUIGGIN

Listen to the voice of blogger John Quiggin and see the ABC spell his name three different ways in the same article.”

This kind of thing is the curse of my life, made worse by the fact that computers can’t cope with spelling errors

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The Homeless Guy

September 17th, 2002 Comments off

The Homeless Guy brings a whole new perspective to the world of blogging.

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Safire and Quiggin agree

September 16th, 2002 Comments off

William Safire at the NYT presents an analysis almost identical to mine :
Quiggin
“To put the point more bluntly, if Bush’s objective is to ensure an invasion of Iraq, his UN speech has ensured that the goal can be achieved only if Saddam chooses to assist him by refusing co-operation. ”
Safire:
“For this approach to succeed in overthrowing the dangerous dictatorship, the White House is relying on Baghdad to show not merely consistency in recalcitrance, but an insufferable, infuriating intractability in intransigence. Bush is betting that Saddam will (a) reject the U.N resolutions as humiliating or (b) accept the final-final warning and then negotiate endlessly with the inspectors so as to make their mission impossible.

The basis for this gamble is Bush’s certainty, based on the logical extrapolation of past and present intelligence reports, that Saddam has evidence of mass-murder weaponry to hide. The Iraqi dictator cannot accede to coercive inspection, enforced by U.N. troops, without blowing up what has cost him more than $100 billion in a decade’s oil revenues to build.

That would not be like Saddam. And on that presumed defiance rests Bush’s diplomatic strategy.”

This raises an interesting point. One could say that Saddam has always pushed issues to the brink and beyond, and that therefore he will do it again this time. Alternatively, one could say that Saddam has always done what it takes to survive. I don’t know which is right. But, as a risk-averse person, I’d prefer the outcome where Saddam decides to destroy his weapons himself rather than that where the rest of the world destroys Saddam, or at least lets the Americans do it. That said, I hope Saddam’s end comes soon, preferably by a revolt from within Iraq.

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Ethanol and Kyoto

September 16th, 2002 Comments off

Ken Parish has an interesting post on “a new American process that is believed could halve the cost of producing ethanol”. If it pans out, this could provide one route to meeting our Kyoto commitments, which the government says it will do even without ratification. (Ken seems to suggest that ethanol is an alternative to Kyoto, but I don’t follow this.)
Unfortunately, I have been following alternative fuels for a long time, and, as with large-scale solar electricity or nuclear fusion, cost-effective ethanol is one of those things that always seems to be just around the corner. At least for the next twenty years, my guess is that we’ll be focusing on more prosaic approaches such as
(a) improving energy efficiency across a wide range of activities
(b) halting and reversing tree-clearing
(c) substituting gas for coal
(d) cutting down on some energy-intensive activities
I haven’t mentioned nuclear fission yet. The capital costs of nuclear fission plants are so great that only a hefty carbon tax would make them profitable, and the price responses to such a tax (reduced usage) would be sufficient to meet not only Kyoto targets, but probably the next few rounds as well. (Of course, you can cut costs by leaving out all that expensive shielding as the Russians did, but we know what happened there).
Ken also mentions a study by ABARE which I disregarded in reporting Warwick McKibbin’s work on Kyoto. When I get time, I will put up a detailed post explaining why I don’t think ABARE’s work on this issue deserves much weight.

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Gerry Jackson

September 16th, 2002 Comments off

Over the years, I’ve often had dealings with Gerry Jackson and his group at the The New Australian, a group notable, even by blogosphere standards, for a vitriolic style and casual disregard for the facts. At one time, I was even willing to respond to their attacks on me, and wrote responses, which, to Jackson’s credit, he published on his site. I also sparred with Aaron Oakley in the pages of Margo Kingston’s Webdiary. More recently, I concluded that it was a waste of time talking to them, and decided to ignore future attacks
My position has hardened since the publication of my recent post explaining why, among the many dictators that infest the world, I personally loathe Augusto Pinochet and the late Leonid Brezhnev more than others. This elicited a stream of attacks from the New Australian group, and led me to this sickening link, where Jackson defends the terrorist assassination (the US State Department’s assessment, not mine) of exiled Chilean Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier in Washington DC in 1976.
In some sense, all murders are equally evil, but there’s something particularly repugnant about a government pursuing its enemies into foreign countries and murdering them. The first to do this on a big scale was Stalin, and Jackson’s justification for the murder is straight out of the Stalin school of falsification – Letelier, he says, was a KGB agent. Even if true, this would not of course justify murder, but as far as I can determine, Jackson’s only source for this accusation is one William F. Jasper a writer for a journal called The New American (even loonier than The New Australian), who, among other things, accuses Bill Clinton and most of his administration of being terrorist sympathisers.
In an unsolicited (but apparently widely distributed) email, Jackson claims his position is justified because I “adamantly refused to condemn Castro”. Given that this fight started with my post condemning Castro’s patron and paymaster Brezhnev, this is bizarre (did Jackson expect me to list all the dictators of the last century and condemn them individually?), but, for the record, I condemn all dictators, Communist and otherwise, including Castro.
As I said in the original post, I have a visceral loathing for Pinochet and those who seek to justify his murderous regime. Jackson will no doubt have his say on his own site, but I will have no further dealings with him or those associated with him.

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Principles must trump power politics

September 16th, 2002 Comments off

Richard Butler who can scarcely be accused of being anti-American or soft on Saddam, gives an excellent defence of multilateralism and the UN

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What I'm reading this week

September 15th, 2002 Comments off

Continuing on Trollope’s Palliser novels, I’m now reading Can You Forgive Her?. I’ve also just got a beautiful Folio Society edition of the Essays of Francis Bacon. Finally, I’m rereading Hayek and Mill with the intention of going more thoroughly into debate that’s electrified this corner of the blogosphere.

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