Archive for November, 2002

I love my Powerbook

November 24th, 2002 Comments off

Reading the comments that have accumulated in my absence, I see that some of my American readers were a bit miffed about my gentle raillery on the subject of coffee. To even the score, I’ll just mention that while the espresso machine was the second-last item to be packed and the second to be unpacked, my beloved PowerBook G4 Titanium was last on and first off. Nothing I have ever owned has made a bigger difference to my quality of life (except perhaps my first 128K Mac). I dips me lid to American style and ingenuity for this marvelous device.

Categories: General Tags:

I'm back!

November 24th, 2002 Comments off

In a virtual sense, anyway. In geographical terms, I’ve arrived on a beautiful day in Brisbane. The flame trees and poincianas are in bloom, and there was even a kookaburra on the back fence to welcome us. More from me after I’ve unpacked the Krups!

Categories: General Tags:

Farewell to Canberra

November 22nd, 2002 Comments off

Well, this is my definite last post from Canberra. The Krups is in the car, and the Powerbook is the last thing left in the house that’s plugged in. Thanks to all the Queensland bloggers who’ve already offered welcomes.

Since I’ve got a little bit of time on my hands, I’ll just observe that the Indonesian police have done a great job. In view of their success in catching the main suspects, I’m prepared to put the ‘laughing bomber’ episode down to cultural differences – it seems to have played OK in Indonesia and that’s what matters. The blame has been pinned firmly on radical Islamism and this will hopefully help to stop this malign import from taking root in Indonesia.

Now if we could only get Howard to do something positive, like a full-scale denunciation of Fred Nile’s absurd comments on chadors. Given that Howard has the guts to take a stand on things he believes in, like gun laws, his pussyfooting with Nile and earlier with Hanson leads me to the conclusion that he shares their sentiments to a large degree.

Categories: General Tags:

O Canada

November 21st, 2002 Comments off

An interesting sidelight to the Carr-Kingston controversy was this comment by Tim Blair

A publication “called” National Post? What, Margo’s never heard of it?

I have to confess that, until I started Googling serial plagiarist Mark Steyn, who is featured regularly in its pages, I had never heard of this august journal either. Imagine my embarrassment when I found out it was a well-known Canadian newspaper.

Obviously Margo and I, as pointy-headed intellectuals, fail to share in the average Australian’s close interest in all things Canadian, whereas Tim has his finger right on the popular pulse. This explains a lot, like the dinner party conversation starters along the lines of “How about them Maple Leafs” that used to go straight over my head. Now if any Canadian readers can explain the Progressive Conservatives for me, I’ll be right in the swing of things.

Categories: General Tags:

The Americans still don't get espresso.

November 21st, 2002 Comments off

The house is all packed up except for the items we absolutely need for tonight and tomorrow – beds, a toaster and the Krups espresso machine. With a long trip ahead, a good cup of coffee will be even more vital than usual.

So I was fascinated to read this piece on a new image for “Mr. Coffee”, one of those 1970-vintage automatic coffee machines. In a nod to my favorite computer, they suggest calling it iCoffee, although there is no planned connection to the Internet.

This raises a couple of points. First, the problem is not the name but the mechanism. Given America’s status as the world’s leading consumer society, it’s startling that so few people there understand something as vital to civilisation as good coffee.

Second, as with anything about coffee in the US, the article can’t avoid mentioning Starbucks. The question I have is about the appropriate metaphor. Is Starbucks to coffee as Oprah Winfrey is to literature, a potential bridge from instant to the real thing. Or is Starbucks to coffee as Microsoft is to software, a ‘good enough’ monopolist that kills the competition and closes off the chance of anything better?

Categories: General Tags:

The last post

November 21st, 2002 Comments off

From ANU anyway. After I post this, I’ll pack up my trusty Powerbook, the last item left in my office. Tomorrow, the family and I will set out for Brisbane, taking it slowly. There may or may not be a little blogging en route. I should have a permanent Internet connection again next week. In the meantime, I hope my legion of commentators will take up the slack I’m leaving. Would anyone care to start with a comment on, say, drug legalisation, or whether bin Laden is really still alive?

Categories: General Tags:

My say on Margo

November 21st, 2002 Comments off

After Philip Adams, Margo Kingston is the journalist Australian bloggers love to hate, though she is not without able defenders. The debate has now spilled over into the comments thread of one of my posts and been linked to by Margo’s blog nemesis, Tim Blair. So I guess it’s time for me to wade into the fray.

An added incentive is that, according to Tim, Bob Carr’s attack on Margo has been based on the arguments of Mark Steyn. As regular readers will know, I’ve appointed myself as Steyn’s nemesis, with a so-far unanswered challenge to his fans to produce a single article that doesn’t contain either a gross factual error, a plagiarised/distorted quote or an obivous distortion of the truth. As it happens I’ve already met this challenge for the piece referred to by Carr, which asserted that Sinn Fein (and not the Real IRA) was responsible for the Omagh bombing, but the attack on Margo Kingston gives an opportunity for bonus points.

The Steyn piece has been moved to the Oz archives, but I found a link to another version here. You can then look at Margo’s article and see if she was making any assertion about root causes. It begins

There is no meaning yet. We don’t yet know for sure what happened. We don’t know who did this. We don’t know why

and ends

Will we now swing behind war with Iraq or pull out and focus on our home? The Pacific. South East Asia. East Timor, especially, where we’re protecting a baby, Christian democracy. The places where we have duties and responsibilities and, in the end, where our self interest lies. I don’t know.

Arguably, Margo would have been better off waiting to clarify her thoughts before writing anything on the subject*, but this isn’t always an option for a working journalist. In any case, I much prefer her honest confusion (which, in the immediate aftermath, I shared) to the heresy-hunting that marred so much of the reaction to Bali, including Tim Blair’s, which spoiled, for me, some great and impassioned writing.

The fact is, as most sensible people have now conceded, that the ability of terrorist organisations to recruit members and maintain significant popular support is rooted in things like poverty and dictatorship. This doesn’t mean that individuals become terrorists because they are poor or that anything we can do will appease the hardcore members of Al Qaeda. But you only have to look at the loss of support for the IRA in the Republic of Ireland after it joined the EU to see that prosperity and national optimism cause a rapid loss of interest in historical and religious grievances.

* Not that this would necessarily protect her. I refrained from putting forward any analysis for some days, but even my expression of sympathy for the victims and their families copped a heresy ticket from an American warblogger (Asparagirl) because I mentioned that we should remember other grieving families as well.

Categories: General Tags:

The Kennett legacy

November 21st, 2002 Comments off

Ken Davidson demolishes most of the key claims about the economic management of the Kennett government. As I’ve argued elsewhere the privatisation of Victoria’s electricity industry was roughly neutral in terms of its effect on the finances of the Victorian government – this is better than average for a privatisation, but does nothing to offset the losses associated with disasters like CityLink, the long-term damage associated with cuts in education spending or the waste associated with “Think Big” extravaganzas like the Grand Prix.

The one point I think it is necessary to concede is that the political-economic strategy of the Cain-Kirner government was hopeless. They were facing steady cuts in grants from the government and pressure to follow the neoliberal policy line favored by Keating. They neither openly attacked the Federal government (a sustainable political line that would have put the blame where it belonged) nor implemented the cuts. Eventually, they had to fail, and Keating got a premier who would implement the policies he wanted.

Categories: General Tags:

Electing the GG?

November 20th, 2002 Comments off

Ken Parish has a couple of interesting posts on First steps to constitutional reform. In his latest he revives the proposal of David Solomon to Elect the Governor-General!.

A lot of Ken’s discussion has to do with the relationship between the President and the Prime Minister and the ‘elephant in the corner’ everyone is ignoring, the possibility of another crisis caused by a Senate refusal of supply. I have a different perspective, perhaps a surprising one for a Whitlam fan.

A lot of concern about direct election has been the prospect that Presidential power will weaken the democratically elected government and particularly the Prime Minister. As a born-again conservative believer in checks and balances, I welcome this. The idea that the possession of a majority in the House of Representatives, typically based on 40 per cent of the vote or so, entitles the PM to act as an elective dictator is not one that appeals to me. And looking at the support for minor parties in the Senate and the increasing numbers of independents and hung parliaments it seems that the same is true of the Australian electorate as a whole.

Our democratic system is strengthened by the fact that we have a democratically elected Senate as well as a democratically elected House of Reps. Neither is perfect – the Senate because each state has equal representation and the House because a constituency system overweights big parties. On the whole the Senate is better, but the House typically provides a majority that can sustain an executive government.

There’s an obvious problem if these two disagree bitterly, and at present such problems must be resolved by an unelected Governor-General, subject to near-instant dismissal by the PM. An elected President would have the legitimacy in resolving such a problem that John Kerr so conspicuously lacked.

More generally, if the elected President used his or her mandate to cause trouble for the PM of the day, for example by critical comment in the manner of Sir William Deane, or by exercising discretion with regard to the calling of elections, so much the better as far as I am concerned.

Update As usual, there’s lots of excellent stuff in the comments thread. A question of particular interest to me is whether it is worth trying to codify the powers of the Head of State before, or as part of, a shift to an elected presidency. Another question that interests me is whether there really are a lot of ‘conservative republicans’ out there. The ARM approach was based on the premise that there were, and that they represented the crucial swinging constituency. It seems to me however, that a model with a reasonably strong elected president would attract more in monarchist support than it would lose among conservative republicans.
PS Be sure to check the comments thread over in Ken’s blog, which also has lots of good stuff

Categories: General Tags:


November 19th, 2002 Comments off

Bizarre Science lives up to its name with a post premised on the assumption that economists aren’t qualified to comment on the economics of global warming.
An added bonus for the first reader to spot the gratuitous, if marginal, violation of Godwin’s Law.

(Link via Gummo Trotsky)

Categories: General Tags:

Ploggers as public intellectuals

November 19th, 2002 Comments off

After getting so much good publicity lately, a lot of Ozploggers, beginning with Gary Sauer-Thompson have been discussing whether blogging is the new forum for public intellectuals. Inevitably, mention has been made of Richard Posner’s book, Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline . It’s not a great book, but it has its moments, and of course it has that essential for a bestseller, a list. I reviewed it for the Fin Review a while back. Here’s a short extract:

For an Australian reader, though, the really striking feature of Posner’s list is the obscurity of so many of the names on it. and especially of the American academic public intellectuals who are the primary focus of the book. I could only recognise about half the names in this category, and my efforts were boosted by the overrepresentation of economists in the list, reflecting the fact that my academic roots and Posner’s are much the same.

Although we are allegedly living in a globalised world, it is evident that the market for public intellectuals remains nationally segmented. Each country, it seems wants to hear its own policy problems discussed in its own accent. To illustrate this point, a Google search of Australian websites gives over 900 references to Donald Horne and over 2400 to the late Manning Clark, compared to just over 100 for William F. Buckley and 33 for William Kristol. Even rank-and-file Australian public intellectuals (such as the present reviewer) are better represented on Australian websites than these giants of the US scene.

Although the Australian (political) blogworld began as an offshoot of the US warblogger scene, and people like Tim Blair remain primarily attuned to that scene, a similar pattern is now emerging as ‘Ozplogistan’ becomes a real (virtual) community, rather than a mere collective noun.

Categories: General Tags:

More plugs for blogs

November 18th, 2002 Comments off

Samela Harris in The Advertiser gives nice plugs to Tim Blair, Gary Sauer-Thompson and me, managing a local angle by mentioning that I am Adelaide-born.

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Beards and beholders

November 18th, 2002 Comments off

At the end of a long and learned post Scott Wickstein awards the palm to “John Quiggin – Ozplogistan’s best beard”.

As Scott correctly observes “The Romans were quite insistant on this issue, and they regarded facial hair, and trousers, as the mark of a barbarian. ” In fact, the word “barbarian” means “bearded”.

Update Even blind Homer nods. I was confusing Latin barba “beard” with Greek barbaroi (babble or speak like a foreigner. Thanks to Robert and Scott for correcting this error. Actually the word appears to have come into English via Latin and it may well have gained popularity in Latin because of the association with beards. A comparable case is “hype” originally from “hypodermic”, but gaining strength from the fact that it can also be regarded as a short form of “hyperbole”.

Categories: General Tags:

Monday Message Board

November 18th, 2002 Comments off

It’s back! Give your views on any topic in the comments thread for this post. I’ll try to spin out a new thread for anything that looks interesting. However, as someone once remarked about universities, trying to keep order in a comments thread is like herding cats. As before the rules are
1. Civilised discussion and no coarse language
2. There is no Rule 2

Categories: General Tags:

Religion and politics (but no sex)

November 18th, 2002 Comments off

Jason Soon refers to student criticism of a public statement by Sydney academics professing their Christianity and asks:

Would it surprise anyone if the people doing this condemning would be the first ones to defend the right of the same academics to sign anti-war and anti-WTO or pro-Kyoto petitions.

As one who has signed pro-Kyoto petitions I agree strongly with this. I also agree with Jason’s observation that

By the same token, neither should religious beliefs be exempt from criticism, even strong and robust criticism. If it is perfectly alright to excorciate ‘capitalism’ or ‘neo-liberalism’ or ‘communism’ it should be perfectly alright to mete out the same treatment to Christianity or Islam

I’d qualify this slightly. To the extent that religious views are proclaimed publicly and used to advance political and social arguments, both the arguments and the religious position behind them should be open to criticism. On the other hand, social norms of civility discourage criticism of purely private religious beliefs. The danger is that these norms are exploited by participants in public debate to insulate their positions from justified criticism.

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What I'm reading, and more

November 17th, 2002 Comments off

I’ve been slowing down with the move – I just finished Palace Walk and I’m still partway through The Eustace Diamonds. In the absence of anything else to report, I thought I’d give a plug to Frank Moorhouse and his two-volume novel sequence on the ill-fated League of Nations, Grand Days and Dark Palace. His protagonist is an idealistic young Australian, Edith Berry, who confronts both the deceptive world of 1930s diplomatic manoeuvre and her own ambiguous sexuality.
Most advances in democracy are failures the first time around, and the movement towards a peaceful world based on democracy within countries and co-operation between them has had plenty of failures. But the last decade has seen more and more successes, even if most have involved messy compromises rather than glorious victories.
In sporting news, my son and I attained the rank of yellow belt in karate today. To give an idea of the status attached, if a black belt qualifies academics to tackle crazed gunmen, a yellow belt is about enough to prevent yourself being shoved out of the queue at the refectory. But with practice, we’ll continue to improve.

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November 17th, 2002 Comments off

Scott Wickstein broadly agrees with me on Telstra, but notes

I must admit, I normally read the writings of these worthies with a cynical and suspicious eye. John Quiggin is certainly no friend of the government, and I must admit I tend to take a lot of his statements with a pinch of salt, especially on political economy- my own observation is that he will talk down or ignore anything that makes the government look good on the economy, and highlight the reverse, with unemployment being a case in point. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as long as you are open about it. I’m a fan of the government, and I don’t mind who knows it, and anyone that reads this blog should take it into account.)

I don’t make any pretence of political neutrality, and I’m glad that Scott doesn’t either. In debate over social and economic issues, it’s almost impossible to be a neutral expert (or a neutral non-expert) and I think a clear statement of one’s position is far preferable to a pretence of neutrality.

However, while it’s true that I’m no friend of the government, this is more or less a chronic state with me – I was no friend of the last government either. On an issue like Telstra I’m anti-government because I’m anti-privatisation, not vice versa. Similarly, I don’t attack the government’s performance on unemployment because I want to undermine its economic credentials. Rather, I’m critical of its economic credentials because it’s done so little about unemployment.

To summarise, I’m happy to identify myself as an advocate for a particular political/economic viewpoint (social democracy for short), and readers should bear that in mind. But I make every effort to avoid being partisan in a party-political sense.

Categories: General Tags: News | Down with polls, up with democracy!

November 17th, 2002 Comments off

A great piece from Arianna Huffington pointing out that a combination of unpredictable electoral turnout and the refusal of Americans to answer the phone to pollsters has made opinion polls almost worthless, thereby potentially restoring old-style democratic listening. This raises a couple of questions. One is why telemarketers are such a plague in the US, but remain a modest annoyance here. I have no answer to this, but perhaps there are some differences in rules or calling costs that explain it.
The second is how Arianna Stassinopoulos, darling of the right in the 1970s and later the wife of millionaire Republican senate candidate Michael Huffington reached her current position as one of the most articulate and thoughtful critics of the status quo. Her answer is here.

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This and that

November 16th, 2002 Comments off

With my move to Brisbane drawing ever closer, blogging is likely to be terse and sporadic for a while. I’ll briefly note

  • Tim Dunlop’s new site Very nice looking and yet another instance of the general exodus from Blogger. I’ll look into the shift as soon as I get time (Ha!) But meanwhile I have to update my links
  • Don Arthur and Ken Parish have nice posts on equality of opportunity. I’ll make just one observation here. A highly unequal society like today’s US typically gives the appearance of great social mobility without the reality. The appearance is encouraged by the frequent (but still unusual) observation of individuals going from ‘rags to riches’. One case of this kind is more impressive than 100 instances of transition from working to middle class in a society where few people are either very poor or very rich. But highly unequal outcomes give well-off parents the means and the incentives to buy substantially better life opportunities for their children, thereby ensuring inequality of opportunity.
  • Finally, Steven Den Beste is obviously plugged-in to the thinking of the war faction in the US Administration, or maybe, the influence of the blogworld is such that they get their ideas from him. His suggestion that attacks on planes patrolling the no-fly zone could be construed as a material breach and therefore a basis for an invasion has apparently been echoed by some US officials at the UN.
    I dismissed this cursorily, but was apparently premature. To spell out my reasoning let me make the point that the only approach to the interpretation of UNSC resolutions that makes any sense is ‘original intent’. The understanding of the resolution was clearly that it meant that Saddam must accept unfettered inspections or face invasion. In the absence of some court that could interpret the language, using some spurious interpretation of the text as a basis for war is the same as, or worse than, repudiating the resolution and will be seen that way by all parties.
    The whole point of going to the UN was to show that the US was prepared to accept a peaceful settlement leading to Iraqi disarmament and thereby to build support for a war if there was no alternative. Dumping this process and going to war anyway will mean the US has less support than if it had never gone near the UN
Categories: General Tags:

Where I'm coming from

November 15th, 2002 Comments off

This will, I promise, be the last thing I post in relation to Lomborg and Kyoto for some time. I want to explain a bit about the development of my ideas and why I’m so strongly pro-Kyoto and anti-Lomborg. I didn’t, as the Man Without Qualities suggests, reach this position in some kind of green-liberal cocoon. Anyone who knows the ANU economics department, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE) or Townsville, to name a few of my formative influences, will find this idea laughable.

Rather, I am an environmentalist for the boringly straightforward reason that I love natural environments and want to see them preserved. My favorite environments, reflecting the places I’ve lived most, are the Australian Alps and the Great Barrier Reef. If we get the kind of global warming that seems likely under ‘business as usual’, both will be destroyed or at least radically transformed.

In this context, I think it’s important to take some modest actions now so as to prepare for the need for more substantial reductions in CO2 emissions once the scientific doubts are resolved. If, as is possible but in my view unlikely, it turns out that the problem has been greatly over-estimated, and we have incurred some small economic losses (less than 3 months economic growth) needlessly, it will in my view have been a worthwhile insurance premium. In this context, Kyoto is far from ideal, but it’s the only game in town. The US Administration has given up pretending it has an alternative – it’s talking about adapting to climate change. This is fine (if potentially costly) for agriculture in the developed world and maybe even in the developing world, but it’s not an option for the Alps or the Reef. So, I’m 100 per cent for Kyoto.

On most other issues, I am, to coin a phrase, a ‘sceptical environmentalist’. That is, I accept the need to take substantial action to control pollution, make agriculture sustainable and so on. But I’ve never believed in the kind of doomsday scenarios postulated in the 1970s by the Club of Rome.

I’m also sceptical in the sense that I try to evaluate each issue on its merits, and to reach my own conclusions, rather than accepting or rejecting environmentalist claims holus-bolus. For example, I’m happy to eat GM food, provided it is properly labelled so I can make my own choices. Similarly, while I doubt that nuclear power is ever going to prove an economically viable energy source, even in the presence of high carbon taxes, I have no problem with mining and exporting uranium, subject to the usual environmental safeguards needed for mining operations in general.

With this background, I began with a very positive attitude towards Lomborg. He seemed to be taking a sensibly optimistic attitude towards environmental problems, pointing to our successes in fixing up pollution problems, the ozone layer and so on, rather than focusing on doomsday scenarios. Then I gradually realised that Lomborg only endorsed past actions to address environmental problems – whenever any issue came up that might involve doing something now, Lomborg always had a reason why we should do nothing. In particular,he came up with an obviously self-contradictory case for doing nothing about global warming, and gave a clearly biased summary of the economic literature on this topic, which I know very well.

After that, I looked at his story about being an environmentalist reluctantly convinced of the truth according to Julian Simon. As I observed a while ago, I first heard this kind of tale in Sunday School, and I’ve heard it many times since. It’s almost invariably bogus, and Lomborg is no exception. You don’t need to look far to find errors in Simon’s work as bad as any of those of the Club of Rome, but Lomborg apparently missed them. Going on, I realised that Lomborg’s professed concern for the third world was nothing more than a debating trick – otherwise he wouldn’t have been so quick to dismiss emissions trading with poor countries as politically infeasible.

There’s nothing I hate more than being conned. Lomborg tried to con me, and, for a while, he succeeded. That’s why I’m far more hostile to him than to a forthright opponent of environmentalism like Simon.

Categories: General Tags:

Gimme Shelter

November 15th, 2002 Comments off

I’m spinning another content-free post out of the Monday Message Board, which is a long way down the page. Please comment asylum seekers, bail, the possible value of an ID card in the comment thread for this post. As before, civilised discussion and no coarse language please. Otherwise, it’s open slather.
Update Another great, if anarchic success. There’s a lengthy and thoughtful discussion of the options for social democracy and the Labor Party, the usual quota of beard-related sniping. The closest we got to asylum seekers was some early discussion of demonstrations, and their frequently counter-productive impact. Read it all, and throw your own thoughts into the mix!

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The Apple Falls Close to the Tree

November 14th, 2002 Comments off

Alan Krueger cites more evidence for the proposition (surprising to some) that the US has less social mobility than most other countries. He concludes “Five or six generations are probably required, on average, to erase the advantages or disadvantages of one’s economic origins.”
This is a complex issue and I plan, as with many other things, to come back to it later

Categories: General Tags:

Lomborg & self-contradiction

November 14th, 2002 Comments off

Neither Ken Parish nor the Man Without Qualities is convinced by my claim that Bjorn Lomborg is contradicting himself on the crucial issue of possible responses to global warming. To <a href=""repeat myself

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change cites a range of model estimates of the costs of implementing Kyoto using market mechanisms. They show that, with a global system of emission rights trading, the cost of implementing Kyoto would range from 0.1 per cent to 0.2 per cent of GDP.

This is a trivial sum – for Australia it would amount to around $1 billion per year, a fraction of the benefits yielded by environments like the Great Barrier Reef that are threatened by global warming. So how do we get the claim that Kyoto would be too expensive? As I observe:

Lomborg dismisses global emissions trading as politically infeasible because it would involve the redistribution of billions of dollars to developing countries (page 305). But then he turns around and attacks alternative ways of implementing Kyoto by suggesting that the billions required could be better spent – by redistributing them to developing countries.

I can’t think of a way to paraphrase this that would make the inherent contradiction more obvious, so I’ll venture on to the dangerous ground of analogy.

Suppose that, during the 2000 US election, someone calling themselves a ‘skeptical Democrat’ wrote a book arguing that
(a) liberals shouldn’t vote for Nader because he has no chance of winning
(b) liberals shouldn’t vote for Gore because Nader has better policies
(c) Therefore liberals should stay home.
Would you be convinced be this? Would you be surprised to find the author accepting speaking invitations from the Republican National Council?

To come back to the main issue, a system of tradable emissions permits would enable the West to meet Kyoto emissions targets at low cost and generate large payments to poorer countries, which could be used to finance clean drinking water etc. Lomborg says Western countries are too mean to do this, and would prefer more expensive solutions involving reductions in domestic emissions, and he may well be right. But if so, we should compare the cost of Kyoto to alternative things that Western countries might spend the money on at home, not to foreign aid projects that have already been ruled out by hypothesis.

I get really steamed about this, because, as Ken Parish points out, I am a leftist who thinks that we should give more aid to poor countries. I don’t believe Lomborg could have argued the way he did if he was serious about helping poor countries. For him, this is an example of ‘opportunity cost’, to be wheeled in where necessary, then forgotten.

I could easily be proved wrong on this. There are plenty of areas of expenditure in rich countries less deserving than either Kyoto or aid to poor countries. Lomborg’s point is equally applicable here. Can anyone point to an instance where he suggests cutting some area of non-environmental expenditure and giving the money saved to poor countries?

Categories: General Tags:

Turkey and the true Europe

November 14th, 2002 Comments off

I’ve previously argued that the success or failure of the European Union in integrating Turkey will be the crucial test of relations between Islam and the West. Not surprisingly, I was unimpressed by French ex-president Valery Giscard d’Estaing’s claim that Turkey is not a European country. This response from Peter Preston of the Guardian captures my views pretty well, in a piece reproduced by the Age.
Update Nathan Lott has a lot more on this and on the Turkish election outcome. Well worth reading.

Categories: General Tags:

Hate speech laws

November 14th, 2002 Comments off

Reading on in USS Clueless, I note a long post criticising European hate speech laws, in which I get a brief mention. Like most of the Australian bloggers who’ve commented on the Tobin case, I’m with Den Beste on this one. The discussion of individual vs group defamation in a recent comments thread on this blog reached the general conclusion that while a group defamation law might be defensible in principle, it could not be implemented in practice without impinging on the freedom of political speech.

These complexities do not arise here. The European laws are clearly aimed at political speech, banning genocide denial in such generic terms as to raise a host of nasty problems. Leaving aside the undeniable case of the Holocaust, European history is full of disputed cases which might be affected by this (the treatment of the Sudeten Germans after WWII for example). While I’m generally found on the European side of transatlantic disputes, the First Amendment to the US constitution is one of the greatest gifts any country has given to itself and the world. We, and the Europeans, would be well advised to adopt something similar.

Categories: General Tags:

Inspectors in Iraq

November 14th, 2002 Comments off

The NYT reports Baghdad Accepts United Nations Resolution; Weapons Inspectors Leave for Iraq on Monday

As I observed, the Iraqi Parliamentary vote was meaningless. But it impressed Steven Den Beste at USS Clueless leading him to write “I suspect that the UN/Iraq dance is going to end very soon. It’s looking increasingly as if they’re not even going to get past the 7-day deadline.”

Since Den Beste appears to me to be the most intelligent and reasonable of the warbloggers, I’ve been arguing with him for some time. So far, I’d suggest my predictions have been consistently more accurate than his, basically because he doesn’t want to accept that the Administration has been forced to abandon the policy of ‘war no matter what’.

Thus we see him clutching at straws like this:

One of the clauses in the unanimously-passed UNSC resolution says that Iraq

…shall not take or threaten hostile acts directed against any representative or personnel of the United Nations or of any member state taking action to uphold any council resolution,

which brings up the interesting point: Is Iraq’s constant attempts to shoot down American and British jets a “material breach” which would justify war?

The short answer is, “No”.

Categories: General Tags:

By Quiggers' beard!

November 13th, 2002 Comments off

The Monday Message board has already been a big success. Rather than waiting an entire week to evaluate the experiment, I’m going to intervene and spin one subthread off here. Comments on beards in general, my beard in particular, and general good-humoured discussion of my various peculiarities can be put in the comments thread for this post. Does anyone have any advance on four stars?

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MWQ Part III – Solow

November 13th, 2002 Comments off

MWQ suggests

Professor Quiggin may want to give at least some indication to his readers of what other economists oppose the fixed-proportions models and give at least one cite to one prominent economist who believes some modification of the model structure solves the problems. For example, has Professor Quiggin consulted with, or researched the views of, Robert Solow on this point?

Solow was one of the six Nobel Prize winners who (along with 2000 others) signed the Nobel economists’ statement on global warming on which the Australian economists’ statement was modelled. Lomborg’s preferred source of economic wisdom, William Nordhaus, also signed, so the statement is broad enough to encompass views opposed to Kyoto, but favoring alternative policy responses. But this doesn’t help Lomborg much, since he wants to do nothing at all.

There’s a brief statement of Solow’s view here Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis-The Region- Robert Solow Interview (September 2002), in which he refers to both the Club of Rome and to the global warming problem. I’ll quote a couple of paras.

iI you go back to what I wrote about the Club of Rome and “The Limits to Growth,” that reveals where I really live. The one thing that really annoys me is amateurs making absurd statements about economics, and I thought that the Club of Rome was nonsense. Not because natural resources or environmental necessities might not at some time pose a limit, not on growth, but on the level of economic activity—I didn’t think that was a nonsensical idea—but because the Club of Rome was doing amateur dynamics without a license, without a proper qualification. And they were doing it badly, so I got steamed up about that.

The major practical problem in connection with global warming is how do we deal with the poorer parts of the world? How do we intelligently and equitably deal with the part of the world that is now preindustrial or primitive industrial and is “uppity” enough to think it has every right to live as well as Americans or Europeans? How are we going to tell them we developed economically by burning fossil fuels at a tremendous rate, by partially depleting reserves and by polluting the atmosphere, but then tell them not to?

The Club of Rome ‘Limits to Growth’ model was, of course, the most famous example of a fixed-coefficient model producing glaringly wrong conclusions. It was roundly condemned by economists of all stripes. It represents the mirror-image of Lomborg’s position on global warming. The Club assumed that pollution and energy use were in fixed proportions to economic output and concluded that a drastic reduction in economic growth was vital.
Lomborg implicitly assumes that energy use is proportional to income and hence that a reduction in CO2 emissions sufficient to have any real impact on global warming must bring the economy to a grinding halt. Since Kyoto is only a first step in this process, he suggests not even starting.

As Solow observes, economists tend to get pretty steamed about this kind of thing, especially when it’s done ‘without a license’. Of course, economists are not alone, and Lomborg got this reaction from the real experts in most of the fields in which he claimed to have disproved the conventional wisdom.

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War on terror

November 13th, 2002 Comments off

Thomas Friedman gives his take on the UN resolution, with which I mostly agree. The news that the Iraqi Parliament has rejected the UN resolution is, I think, pretty much meaningless. I must say I would not like to be a member of this body – it’s presumably necessary to go through some pretence of debate, and the slightest wrong word could have you delivered to your family in small pieces.
I think it’s virtually certain that Saddam will accept the resolution, but probably with some attempt at a face-saving concession. The US will certainly reject this, and it’s possible that the whole process could go straight to war after 7 days. I think this is unlikely and that the real issue is the declaration required after 30 days.

Meanwhile, I have no idea what to make of this. First, Al-Jazeera produces what is supposed to be a handwritten message from bin Laden, and now an audiotape, assessed by US authorities as ‘probably genuine’. If someone can smuggle a tape recorder into and out of whatever hole bin Laden is hiding in, why not a videocamera ? That would prove he’s alive, which seems to be the object of the exercise. I prefer the hypothesis that someone is producing spurious evidence of bin Laden’s survival and that the US is playing along, either because they’re the ones producing it, or for some other obscure motive. Of course, even if the evidence is spurious, bin Laden could still be alive.

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Caught in the middle – Part 2

November 13th, 2002 Comments off

‘Robert Musil’, the Man Without Qualities responds to my intervention in his debate with Arnold Kling. He raises a lot of points, so rather than have a single monster post, I’ll begin by conceding some errors, then deal with other issues as I get time.

First, I apologize for my crack that ‘MWQ clearly wouldn’t know an economic model if he fell over one’, for which I had no basis except that MWQ appeared to assume the correct conclusion without addressing the modelling issues. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Second, I accept that it was Arnold Kling who made the allusion to my Australian nationality (for which he has, in any case, graciously apologised via email) and that MWQ in fact gently tweaked him on this point.

Third, I know that I get a bit overheated (awful pun intentional) about Lomborg and global warming generally. I care a lot about global warming – I’ll say some more about this soon. Moreover, I don’t regard Lomborg as an honest opponent, for the reasons I’ve stated in previous posts, and I am annoyed to see his claim to be a ‘Sceptical Environmentalist” given credit. No doubt I sometimes get too annoyed.
That said, I find it amusing that MWQ invokes The New Australian as an arbiter of Internet decorum. Australian readers will know that this site drips vitriol from every comma. For those who want to check, if you follow the link provided by MWQ, be sure to read a few other articles.

Finally, this debate reminds me that I must get around to reading the real Robert Musil. Look for a response in a “What I’m reading” post some time.

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