Archive for June, 2003

What I'm reading, and more

June 15th, 2003 15 comments

The Pope’s Battalion’s: Santamaria, Catholicism and the Labor Split by Ross Fitzgerald. Not surprisingly, perhaps, I’m more sympathetic to Santamaria now than I was twenty-five years ago, which was about the end of his period as a politically influential figure. Still, reading this book reminds me how much there was to disagree with as well as to agree with in his thought and actions.

On the movie front, I’ve on a thematic kick and am looking at movies set in Brisbane or, more generally, in Queensland. So far in the last month or so, I’ve seen Swimming Upstream an autobiopic by Tony Fingleton, He Died with a Falafel in his Hand (claimed as) autobiopic by John Birmingham and Praise, a quirky but enjoyable film about an odd couple. When I lived in NQ I watched and enjoyed All Men are Liars, filmed in South Johnstone. Any further recommendations much appreciated.

I’m also thinking about trying to watch all the Oz movies with one-word titles, Praise, Proof, Innocence and Lantana come to mind from recent years, but there must be many more.

Categories: Books and culture Tags:

New on the website 3

June 15th, 2003 7 comments

Another Fin article is up on the site Voters favour better services from 22 May. Here’san excerpt.

If tax scales were indexed, the community would face a clear choice between private consumption and public services financed by taxation. As the opinion polls following the budget show, responses to such choices depend on the way in which they are framed, as well as the way in which they are reported
Newspoll found that 15 per cent of voters thought the budget would make them better off 38 per cent thought it would make no difference, and 32 per cent though it would make them worse off. This mildly negative result (fairly typical of responses over the 15 years Newspoll has asked this question) was spun by The Australian into a ringing endorsement ’53 per cent of voters thought the Budget would make them better off or no worse off (emphasis added)’.

The AC Nielsen Poll asked a clearer question and got a clearer answer. Asked whether they would prefer the tax cuts announced in the budget or improvements in health and education, 20 per cent opted for the tax cuts and 77 per cent for improvements in services.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Welcome !

June 14th, 2003 1 comment

My old mate Chris Sheil has joined the blogging team at Troppo Armadillo. His first post is a contribution to the debate on economic rationalism.

Someone else I’ve been meaning to mention for a while is Paul Watson, whose blog is devoted to “Comedy, media commentary and general bitterness”. Paul’s general bitterness is particularly savage when it comes to reform (scare quotes intentionally omitted) of the higher education sector. Despite having managed to secure my own escape from the general shipwreck (thanks Brendan!), I share Paul’s bitterness on this topic, and his posts are well worth reading.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Real jobs in remote Aboriginal communities (repost)

June 14th, 2003 1 comment

Ken Parish has an excellent post responding to the recent speech by Pat Dodson on the violence endemic in Aboriginal communities, and linking to a piece by Rob Corr. Although he raises a number of points, Ken’s focus (correctly I think) is on the corrosive consequences of the absence of productive work. I don’t have any new thoughts on this, but I thought it might be worth reposting some old ones (first posted 17 Jan 2003).

Following my posts the Windschuttle controversy, I promised to put forward some ideas on the current policy problems facing Aboriginal Australians, and particularly the problem of economic development. It’s always problematic for white ‘experts’ to tell black communities what to do and I want to make it clear that I’m not trying to do this. Although I have given economic advice to Aboriginal organisations on a range of issues, I don’t regard myself as an expert on the problems facing Aboriginal communities. My perspective on the issue comes more from a consideration of the general economic problems of rural Australia and particularly the general decline in population and employment.
Read more…

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

New on the website 2

June 14th, 2003 1 comment

I’ve also posted my article Why war is bad for health from the Fin of 8 May. Here’s the conclusion.

In the absence of large-scale discoveries of weapons, attention has focused on the undoubted benefits of overthrowing an evil and oppressive dictator. This is a form of foreign aid and can usefully be compared to other aid programs. The total budget of the USAID, the main US agency for development and humanitarian assistance is $8.7 billion for the coming year. That is, the money already spent on the Iraq war could have doubled USAID’s budget for the next five years.

It seems certain, however, that the war will herald a sustained increase in military expenditure of at least $US100 billion per year. A more reasonable comparison, therefore, is the ambitious proposal of the Commission on Macroeconomics and Health, led by Harvard Economist Jeffrey Sachs. The Commission aimed to achieve, for all a poor countries, a two-thirds reduction of 1990 child mortality levels, a three-fourths reduction of 1990 maternal mortality ratios and an end to the rising prevalence of major diseases, especially HIV/AIDS.

As the Commission pointed out, in addition to the humanitarian benefits of saving as many as 8 million lives per year, reductions in mortality are directly correlated with a reduced frequency of military coups and state collapse. These provide the breeding ground for terrorism and dictatorship and ultimately lead, in many cases, lead to US military intervention. The estimated cost for the Commission’s seemingly-utopian program over the next decade is estimated at between $US 50 billion and $US 100 billion per year.

War is sometimes necessary in self-defence. But when war is adopted as an instrument of policy, it is often counterproductive and almost never cost-effective.

Categories: World Events Tags:

Economic rationalism

June 13th, 2003 6 comments

My Wednesday post on the term ‘rational’ has brought forward some discussion of the term ‘economic rationalism’, which is now most commonly used in a pejorative . One commentator voiced the widely held assumption that the term was coined by Michael Pusey. In reality, the term was used, mostly positively for about 20 years before Pusey wrote Economic Rationalism. And although the term evolved gradually, the person who did most to popularise it was Gough Whitlam. The history of this phrase tells us a lot about the evolution of the economic policy debate in Australia. Read on for a piece I wrote in 1997, describing this history.
Read more…

Categories: Dictionary Tags:

New on the website

June 13th, 2003 1 comment

I’ve put up my article, ‘Fairy gold’ turns to debt from the Fin of 10 April. Here’s the conclusion.

as long as financial innovation is seen to be good in itself, politicians will continue to pursue these [Public Private Partnership] schemes, not as a method of optimally allocating a complex set of risk, but as a source of fairy gold, from which valuable public assets can seemingly be spun out of thin air. Of course, just like fairy gold, this illusion will disappear in the light of day, leaving a mountain of debt and poorly-structured projects.

Categories: Economic policy Tags:

Economic policy under Howard

June 12th, 2003 19 comments

Jack Strocchi attacks what he takes to be the standard leftwing view of Howard as a free-market radical, quoting among others, Alan Kohler, Stephen Kirchner and Max Walsh to support his view of Howard as a crypto-socialist. This gives me the chance to have a test run for my own, more nuanced, assessment of Howard, which will be a book chapter in due course. Comments much appreciated. Here goes

Economic policy under Howard presents a contradictory picture. Sometimes the Howard government appears as a continuation of those of Hawke and Keating, implementing the reforms those governments were unwilling or unable to introduce. At other times, as in its ‘nation-building’ infrastructure exercises, it seems like a throwback to the developmentalist ideas of the 1950s and 1960s. Still more of the time, it appears content to drift, happily taking the credit for a long period of relative economic prosperity and putting forward economic reforms on a purely opportunistic basis, as and when the political climate demands an appearance of action rather than stability.
Read more…

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Word for Wednesday: Rational (no definition offered)

June 11th, 2003 16 comments

The term ‘rational’ and its variants (rationality, rationalism) are used in a lot of contexts in economic debate, both positively and negatively, but nearly always sloppily or dishonestly. A specimen I’ve seen on more occasions than I can count is the line (usually presented with a sense of witty originality) ‘if you are opposed to economic rationalism, you must be in favor of economic irrationalism’.

In keeping with the idea of this regular feature, I thought about providing a definition that would clarify the issues surrounding this word and the reasons it causes so much confusion. In reflecting on the problem, however, I’ve come to the conclusion that the word ‘rational’ has no meaning that cannot better be conveyed by some alternative term and that the best advice is probably to avoid it altogether.
Read more…

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Heroes and heretics

June 10th, 2003 11 comments

Keneth Miles (permalinks bloggered) reports that Lyndall Ryan has finally made a detailed reply to Keith Windschuttle’s attacks on her, conceding sloppy footnoting, but showing that she did indeed have evidence to back up the crucial claims on which Windschuttle based his claims of fabrication.

Also, at Surfdom, Chris Sheil reports on the Windschuttle vs Reynolds travelling circus. I gave my own take on the debate here. You can read ‘Gummo Trotksy’s take on Windschuttle’s ideas about the philosophy of science here.
Read more…

Categories: Books and culture Tags:

Now is the winter of our discontent

June 9th, 2003 24 comments

Linking to Ross Gittins’review of Clive Hamilton’s Growth Fetish, Ken Parish writes

The Buddha discovered this fundamental truth about happiness thousands of years ago, and not only about material possessions. All worldly striving and attachments, Buddha taught, are ultimately unsatisfactory. Happiness is transitory by nature.

But endemic human unhappiness and striving are the engines of growth and development, including in an intellectual and cultural sense. They have led us to decreasing levels of hunger, disease and malnutrition, as well as great discoveries in science and the arts.

Ken is right about this, but I don’t think this undermines Clive’s criticism of a system in which advertising and other social forces keep us permanently dissatisfied with our levels of material consumption.

Granted that striving is better than vegetative contentment, and even that there’s inherently nothing wrong with striving for more and better material possessions (I’m not sure Clive would grant this, but I will), it’s surely a problem when an entire society is premised on the assumption that everyone should be pursuing this limited and limiting goal. There may be nothing more noble in, say, striving for 10 000 unique visitors per day than in striving for a Ferrari, but at least I can feel that I’ve chosen the first goal for myself rather than having it foisted on me by the advertising industry. And some goals, for example curing diseases or saving the environment, are better than Ferraris or blog rankings.

Categories: Books and culture Tags:


June 9th, 2003 5 comments

Lots of bloggers are joining the trend to add some appearance of corporeal substance to their posts in the form of a sidebar photo, often with surprising results. For a possible alternative to my current photo, you can look here.

Categories: Life in General Tags:

Monday Message Board

June 9th, 2003 21 comments

As everyone is busy celebrating Queen Victoria’s birthday today, today’s Message Board will probably be a bit quiet, but that gives anyone who’s been waiting to post their first comment an ideal time to do so.

My attempted discussion-starter is a request for suggestions for more and better public holidays. For example, if we can have a holiday on a fictitious date the Queen’s Birthday who not the Horses’ birthday?

As always, please keep the discussion civilised and avoid coarse language.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Weekend antiglobalism

June 7th, 2003 7 comments

Brad de Long confesses to being a weekend antiglobalist.

I come down on the pro-mobility side on five days of the week (the other two I wake up in a cold sweat), but that is primarily because of my judgment that late-nineteenth century large-scale international capital mobility was profoundly helpful in spite of all its drawbacks, and I cannot see a difference between then and now that would lead to a different conclusion.

I guess, by the same token, that I’m a weekend globalist. My Golden Age is not the 19th century but the Long Boom from 1945 to the early 1970s, a period of unparalleled prosperity brought to a close by the pressures of capital mobility. Like Brad, but for the opposite reason, I wake up two days a week worrying that it was all an illusion and the capital mobility was the red pill that enabled us to see the truth.

But mostly, I think that the long boom failed because of avoidable mistakes, and that our best hope is a modernised and refurbished version of the Keynesian/social democratic policies that gave us that boom. In this context, the relevant issue is not so much capital mobility as the role of capital markets in general. I see capital markets as essential but dangerous, requiring tight regulation at all times. As Keynes said “When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done.”

Brad’s views are confirmed by the experience of the 1980s, when capital markets acted as the enforcer of fiscal discipline on wayward governments, notably in Latin America, and broke down the power of entrenched interest groups. These experiences gave rise to the famous ‘Washington consensus’.

Mine are confirmed by the experience of the late 1990s, when financial market panics produced a string of apparently unnecessary financial crises in Mexico, Thailand, Indonesia, Argentina and so on. In every case, the countries affected had been financial market darlings up to the day the panic struck.

Even more, I’m struck by the failure of the world’s most sophisticated financial markets in their basic task, that of allocating funds for investment. Governments have wasted a lot of money on silly projects, but the dissipation of a trillion dollars in the space of a couple of years on valueless dotcoms and redundant optical fibre is a record that is not going to be matched any time soon. And as far as rent-seeking goes, the amount creamed off in this process by people whose contribution was entirely negative gives the Mobutus and Saddams of this world a fair run for their money.

Update “Jane Galt” replies. However, her most specific counter-point, the observation that during the 1990s, “Japan spent over 100% of its GDP on redundant construction projects and similarly ineffective stimulus” seems to me to be singularly ill-chosen as a response to my observation about speculative bubbles. However ineffectual Japan’s policies of stimulus may have been (they have, after all, kept the economy afloat and unemployment around 5 per cent) they were only adopted in the first place as a response to a speculative bubble and bust in land and stocks comparable to that of the dotcoms/telecoms in the US a decade or so later.

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Multiplying gains

June 7th, 2003 10 comments

Brad de Long joins the debate over the gains from trade, responding to earlier posts by Kieran Healy and me, with a typically thoughtful and thought-provoking contribution.

I’m hoping this will be the start of a sustained debate/discussion, and I’m going to start by responding to a simple point. Brad says “1.24 percent of current consumption is nothing to be sneezed at ” and he’s right. It’s about $A 8 billion per year, which is a lot of money. For example, assuming government got about half of the gain this would be enough to restore most of the cuts made to post-secondary education over the past decade.

Brad goes on to make an argument I’m less happy with.

In the context of the Australian economy today… Gourinchas and Jeanne’s numbers say that (at a five percent per year safe real interest rate, and with a three percent per year economic growth rate) the value of international capital mobility to the Australian economy is on the order of a one-time present of some 400 billion $A.

To spell it out, with Brad’s numbers the present value of any flow that grows in line with GDP is fifty times (1/(.05-.03) its initial annual value. Multiply the initial $8 billion by fifty and you get Brad’s $400 billion.

I have two problems with this. The first is that, with such a low effective discount rate (2 per cent) a lot of these gains accrue a long way in the future (about half the PV refers to the period after 2040) and I think the impact of any given policy change is hard to predict that far into the future. For example, it may turn out that an approach taken to capital market liberalisation today turns out in 20 years time to preclude some better arrangement that would yield greater benefits.

The second is more important. Suppose, you think there are costs of capital mobility that outweigh the 1 per cent benefit. To take a really simple illustration, suppose you believe that capital mobility destroys national pride and that national pride is worth more than $8 billion per year. It doesn’t alter the argument to say that the benefit of capital mobility in PV terms is $400 billion. If your willingness to sacrifice consumption for national pride is proportional to your income, as seems reasonable, the cost of giving up your national pride can be multiplied by the same factor of fifty to get a present value greater than $400 billion.

The present value conversion is only useful if we are comparing a long-lived flow of benefits to a once-off cost, for example, the need to shift workers into more capital-intensive industries to take advantage of a capital inflow.

An issue where this kind of comparison is important is that of the cost of squeezing inflation out of an economy. Monetary hawks sometimes argue that you shouldn’t worry too much about the unemployment and loss of output associated with a very tight policy because the present value of a permanent reduction in inflation will nearly always outweigh any temporary losses.

I disagree for a couple of reasons. From my first point, I doubt the claim about permanence. The contractionary policies of the 1980s have been followed by a decade or more of low inflation, but it’s easy to see the possibility of a resurgence in inflation in a few years time, particularly in the US.

On the second point, it’s not at all clear that the economy returns to its long-term growth path after a recession. There’s clearly some rebound in the typical recovery, but if you look at an economy like New Zealand, where hawkish monetary policy produced a series of recessions in the 80s and 90s, it seems as if a fair bit of the output loss is permanent, or at least long-lived. There are similar points to be made about unemployment and hysteresis.

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Atheism in Melbourne

June 7th, 2003 6 comments

According to this Age Poll 3 per cent of Victorians do not support an AFL team. Presumably most of these are recent arrivals from foreign countries, such as Sydney, but the remaining heretics must be a tough-minded breed.

Categories: Life in General Tags:

Crean bites the bullet

June 6th, 2003 9 comments

Simon Crean has gone up a bit in my estimation by announcing his own spill rather than waiting for the Beazley push to organize one.

I’m not a huge Crean fan, but he has at least tried to put forward an alternative some of the time. When the best his enemies can come up with is someone who was an undistinguished minister, has already lost twice, contributed nothing to the policy debate in six years as Leader except the phrase “small target strategy”, and has contributed nothing more in two years on the backbench, I can’t believe the Caucus will be stupid enough to change leaders.

A decisive win for Crean could really turn things around. Labor is already close in the opinion polls and there’s now a Liberal leadership story to absorb the attention of the many political journalists whose approach is that of the gossip columnist. A strong focus on issues (Medicare in particular) could have Howard regretting his decision to stay on.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Castles vs IPCC

June 6th, 2003 4 comments

Keneth Miles has been posting quite a bit on the Castles critique of the IPCC economic projections used in estimates of global warming. I started a long piece six months ago, but have been too busy to do all I wanted. So, in the best blogging spirit, I’ve decided to post what I have and let the debate go on.

For those who don’t want to read a complex and lengthy post, my conclusion is

No-one can predict with certainty, but the IPCC estimates don’t seem noticeably different from those used in other long-range forecasts. It seems unlikely that they are biased towards overestimation of likely growth in emissions.

Read more…

Categories: Environment Tags:


June 6th, 2003 2 comments

Reader Kevin Wenzel raises the point in email that, contrary to what might be inferred from one of my posts, the US death rate per vehicle mile travelled is only marginally worse than that in Australia. I actually addressed this in my Fin article, but since this is virtually inaccessible, I’ll state my points here.

I have three problems with deaths/VMT as the measure of road safety.,
(a) It doesn’t take account of vehicle occupancy. So a car with passengers counts the same as a car with driver only, although more people are travelling and therefore at risk of death or injury
(b) It’s not relevant in relation to risks to non-motorists: from an economic or libertarian viewpoint these are of particular concern since they’re involuntary externalities
(c) It takes car-dependence as given. This is a complex issue, but it’s striking that distance travelled/vehicle has remained almost constant in Australia, a country with similar geography, population growth and income growth, while in the US it has grown strongly.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

(Small) gains from trade

June 5th, 2003 13 comments

Kieran Healy links to a paper by Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas and Olivier Jeanne in which a calibrated growth accounting model is used to show that the gains from unrestricted capital mobility are likely to be of the order of 1 per cent of GDP. Gains from risk sharing aren’t mentioned but other papers are cited to say that these are of a similar magnitude.

Those who listen to the general pronouncements of economists might be surprised by the modest size of the estimated gains. But for those who have looked at similar exercises in the past there is no surprise here. One of the better-kept secrets of economics is the fact that most studies suggest that the replacement of a typical high-tariff regime (say Australia’s in the 1960s) will yield long run benefits of about 3 per cent of GDP.

Those who raise questions about this point are likely to be brushed off with a reference to supposed dynamic gains, not captured in this ‘static’ analysis. This brings us to an even better-kept secret. These ‘dynamic gains’ have about as much basis in neoclassical economic theory as the Tooth Fairy.

To complicate matters a bit further, there is a theoretically respectable category of dynamic gains, arising from the removal of distortions in intertemporal resource allocation, but these are even more modest than the static gains. In fact, the gains looked at by Gourinchas and Jeanne.

The last line of defence is the idea of X-efficiency, or the ‘cold shower’ effect of competition. As Chicago stalwart George Stigler was the first to point out, this idea is based on the fallacious assumption that additional work effort is costless. This fallacy is hard to kill, but anybody who’s experienced 1990s-style ‘workplace reform’ knows it for what it is. I’ve been hammering away on this point for at least a decade, for example here and here (PDF), but with very little impact.

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Glad to be wrong: Part 2

June 5th, 2003 5 comments

Jack Strocchi has engaged in some justified gloating at my expense in relation to the Israel-Palestine peace talks where progress has been much better than I expected, though success is still far from being assured.

Sharon’s concession that the Israeli occupation is untenable, and apparent acceptance of a contiguous Palestinian state means that there is now no logical alternative to a deal similar to the Clinton plan of a few years ago. Although Sharon would undoubtedly like to keep substantial parts of the West Bank, the logic of the process will push it towards a limited exchange of territory. But Sharon is still hedging, and may be hoping to wait out the notoriously short US attention span. Still, Bush, prodded by Blair, has gone a lot further than I thought he would, and has dragged Sharon with him.

Having made this concession, I’ll point out that, as I predicted, the Bush Administration is making just as much of a mess of the occupation of Iraq as it did in the case of Afghanistan, and for the same basic reason. They have been prepared to spend billions of dollars and lots of attention on war, but almost nothing on peace.

In an odd sense, the postwar mess in Iraq has been good for the Israel-Palestine peace process. It’s clear now that if the peace process fails, the chances of a successful outcome in Iraq would be greatly reduced by resurgent anti-US feeling throughout the region. That along with the failure to find WMDs and the gradual realisation that Iraqi casualties were much higher than first claimed, would discredit the case for war, although this would probably take the form of gradually disillusionment (as with Gulf War I) rather than a sharp swing in public opinion. So Bush has a lot riding on this, and Blair even more so.

Categories: World Events Tags:

Thought for Thursday

June 5th, 2003 13 comments

Having had plenty of interest in my posts on road safety and speeding. I thought I’d work it up into a column for the Fin (Subscription required). Thanks to everyone who participated in the debate, on all sides of the question. This ‘road test’ certainly helped to sharpen up my arguments, and maybe also helped people on the other side of the question to clarify their position. Here’s the closing bit

One of the great strengths of the campaign for road safety has been the bipartisan support it has attracted. Labor, Liberal and National Party Transport ministers have been willing to brave the mindless reactions of those drivers who consider that their special skills should exempt them from the rules applying to the common herd (80 per cent of drivers class themselves as ‘above average’). Even more remarkably, their political opponents have refrained from trying to score cheap political points at the expense of public safety.
Until now, that is. Victorian Opposition Leader Robert Doyle pandered to the leadfoot vote at the last election with a proposal to legalise speeding, in the form of a 10 per cent tolerance above speed limits. Despite a comprehensive thrashing, he’s returned to his ‘soft on crime’ line, with complaints that the Bracks government is enforcing speeding laws too vigorously.
Doyle raises the tired argument that speeding fines are motivated by ‘revenue raising’. Even if this were true, what would be wrong with that? Governments have to raise revenue, and dangerous drivers are at least as good a tax base as gamblers, homebuyers and wage employees, the targets of the main taxes left to state governments. In fact, however, the increase in fines seems to be contributing to a renewed decline in road deaths, which have fallen sharply in 2003.
If he had any chance of being elected to office, Doyle’s irresponsible demagoguery would be dangerous. As it is, it gives his long-suffering colleagues yet another reason to dump him.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Word for Wednesday: Rule-Consequentialism definition

June 4th, 2003 21 comments

This is a followup to my earlier posts on consequentialism/utilitarianism. A notable debate in the literature on this topic is on whether, from a consequentialist or utilitarian perspective, it is best to try always to choose the action with the best consequences (act-consequentialism) or whether to try to find those general rules which, on average, yield the best consequences, and follow those rules even when in particular cases, they yield bad consequences (rule-consequentialism).
Read more…

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Is Poverty Obsolete ?

June 4th, 2003 10 comments

I’ve been reading Clive Hamilton’s Growth Fetish on which quite a few bloggers have already commented. I agree with some of the points Clive makes and disagree, sometimes strongly, with others. I may do a full length review some time, but for the moment I’ll post a bit at a time.

I’ll start with a point of disagreement. Clive dismisses traditional social democratic concerns with absolute deprivation as being relevant, at most, to those in the bottom 10 per cent of the income distribution.

Taking food as the most basic necessity and the US as the developed country where social democracy has lost most ground, I looked for stats and found this briefing by the US Department of Agriculture. The key finding:

89.3 percent of U.S. households were food secure throughout calendar year 2001. “Food secure” means they had access, at all times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members. The rest (10.7 percent) were food insecure at least some time during the year, meaning that they did not always have access to enough food for active, healthy lives for all household members. In 3.3 percent of all households, one or more household members were hungry at least some time during the year. The remaining 7.4 percent obtained enough food to avoid hunger using a variety of coping strategies such as eating less-varied diets, participating in Federal food assistance programs, or getting emergency food from community food pantries.

The figure is close enough to Clive’s 10 per cent, but this is a one-year snapshot. Since people move into and out of poverty, it’s clear that the proportion of Americans who have problems feeding their families at some time in a given period of say, five years, is well above 10 per cent. And this is using a very tight definition of deprivation at a time when the US economy, though past the absolute peak in 2000, was still doing very well by the standards of the last two decades. I’d say that the traditional social democratic concern with poverty is not yet obsolete.

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Resurrection of Troppo Armadillo

June 4th, 2003 6 comments

By force of circumstance, Ken Parish has moved yet again. This time he’s sharing digs with Scott Wickstein at Ubersportingpundit. Ken already has his first post up, about being given (undesired) ringside tickets at a divorce. The archives are still lost behind the cyberfuddle permissions shield, but we can hope that they are not permanently bloggered.

I was feeling pretty disheartened about the prospect of a blogworld without Ken and his co-bloggers, so I’m very grateful to Scott for his rescue effort. Please update your links, bookmarks etc. With amazing efficiency (for me), I’ve already fixed my blogroll.

BTW, as Gianna mentioned in a recent comments thread, Scott has joined the self-revelatory trend and posted a picture. Not what I expected either.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Grand theft auto (repost)

June 3rd, 2003 6 comments

Preface to repost A commentator on my previous post accused me of being anti-fun. I’m reposting this to show I’m pro-fun, as long as other people’s fun doesn’t threaten to kill me.

Original post 11/11/02

Tim Blair, as usual, defends his right to play with dangerous toys, like guns and fast cars, devoting a comprehensive fisking to a piece by Hugh McKay about speeding. I didn’t find McKay’s article that interesting when I first read it, but judging by Tim’s response, it hit the target.

On libertarian grounds, I’ve been planning to suggest some sort of theme park, analogous to smoking rooms and safe injecting rooms, where lovers of guns and dangerous driving could act out their Grand Theft Auto fantasies without endangering the rest of us.

But I was wondering – where could such a park be located? Then it struck me that large parts of the US are like that already, except for all the ordinary decent people trying to live there. I don’t suppose it would be too hard to persuade most of the population of, say, South-East Washington DC, to move somewhere nicer, leaving the gangsters and drug dealers behind. The park would be there, ready-made, for Tim and friends to enjoy.

The economic viability of the park would be greatly supplemented by reality TV. I, for one, would happily sign up for pay-TV just to watch this.

Update I missed it, but Tim has indeed blogged again on this very topic, with the headline Government good. Drivers bad Certainly if the drivers I encounter on a daily basis are a fair sample, the second part of Tim’s headline rings true

Categories: Life in General Tags:

Leadfoot Doyle rides again

June 3rd, 2003 26 comments

Fresh from his flogging at the last state election, when he advocated legalising speeding (he called it a ‘tolerance zone’), Victorian Opposition Leader Robert ‘Leadfoot’ Doyle is back at it again, complaining that there are too many speed cameras collecting too much in fine revenue. The fact that Victoria’s road toll is falling substantially (according to the same report “The state’s road toll was 160 yesterday, compared with 185 at the same time last year”) is of no concern to Doyle.

Until now, Victorian politics has been characterised by a bipartisan commitment to road safety which has been reflected in a stunning decline in road deaths. Since 1970, when seat belt laws were introduced (over the objections of people like Doyle),

road deaths in Victoria have been lowered from a peak of 1,061 to 378 last year, despite an increase of 140% in registered vehicles and 41% in population. The Victorian fatality rate in 1970 of 8.1 deaths per 10,000 registered vehicles was one of the worst among motorised countries, while the 1997 rate of 1.2 was one of the lowest.

By contrast, in the US, where people like Doyle have been successful in resisting strong road safety laws and effective enforcement, road deaths are rising.

Doyle is a disgrace. He has no place in Australian politics.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Repost: Putting the "Urban Heat Islands" issue to bed

June 2nd, 2003 22 comments

Preface on reposting policy I and others have been discussing concerns about the ephemerality of blogging. Given that blogs are a searchable database, there’s no real reason why people should look only at the current pages. But in my experience, comment threads tend to die off after a few days. However, Aaron Oakley has just put in a comment on a post from December 2002, and this gives me a chance to announce my new policy. If anyone comments on a post that has been archived (more than 10 days) I will do my best to repost it and thereby reopen the debate.

Preface to the repost Now here’s the reposted piece. I think the article quoted in the paper refutes Aaron in advance, but just to be clear I’ll restate my point. I agree with Aaron that urban heat islands are real even in small towns (in fact, I’m glad to see Aaron endorsing the reality of human-induced climate change). I also agree that estimates of climate change need to be checked using only rural stations. But, as the cited article says this has already been done, and it makes no significant difference to estimates of global warming. Note that Aaron himself recommended this article.

Reposted article begins
Bizarre Science points to this study confirming the IPCC contention that Urban Heat Islands, while a real phenomenon, are not important in assessing estimates of the rate of global warming C.J.G. (Jon) Morris of the School of Earth Sciences, The University of Melbourne, reports

Whilst climatologists now think that the warming in the temperature record from some small urban areas is partly the result of the UHI, this is not evidence that Australia’s climate has remained unchanged rather than warmed over the past 100 years. Average minimum temperatures from many stations over most of Australia have shown an increase of between 0.1 deg C and 0.3 deg C per decade since 1951. Whilst some temperature records from small towns do not represent the large scale climate, it is unlikely to have any major impact upon our estimates of temperature warming over Australia. This is because there are numerious other weather stations located in remote areas such as lighthouses and regions far removed from urban areas that still indicate a warming temperature trend.

Thanks for this useful link!

Update While I’m at it, I also appreciate this post, in which BS reader Reader George Bogg points out that, given the number of points in Alan McCallum’s scatterplot, the trend he finds is almost certainly statistically significant (thereby resolving the main remaining point of dispute). However, Bogg misses the point that this is a panel data set, consisting of observations from many different stations over time. An analysis taking this into account would yield a much stronger correlation. Of course, as Bogg points out the fact that the world is getting hotter doesn’t prove anything about the causes. But at least agreement on the facts is a start.

Categories: Environment Tags:

Monday Message Board

June 2nd, 2003 10 comments

I’m running a bit late today. It’s past time to put up the Monday Message Board, where you can comment on any topic that takes your fancy. I note that Tim Dunlop is thinking of adopting this idea. Does anybody have any suggestions for other regular features they’d like to see?

As always, comment on any topic, civilised discussion, no coarse language

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Some good news among the bad

June 2nd, 2003 Comments off

The news seems to be particularly bleak at present with continuing bushfires, impending war, the rail crash of a few days ago with nine people dead and now the loss of the Space Shuttle with all on board. As this list indicates, the news tends to made up mostly of the bad things that are happening at any given time, while good things tend not to be news.

Rereading the comments thread from this post on Australia and Indonesia three months ago, I was struck by the universally gloomy tone regarding the prospects for Indonesian democracy and the survival of Indonesia as a state.

Only three months later prospects seem a lot better. As Scott Wickstein has noted, the Indonesian police have confounded expectations with their success in catching not only those directly involved in the Bali bombing, but those further up the hierarchy (no-one convicted yet, but the evidence seems pretty damning).

In the process, the whole trend towards militant Islamism seems to have been halted. Not only has much of Abu Bashir’s JI network been arrested but the equally nasty Laskar Jihad group, responsible for thousands of deaths in communal rioting announced its disbandment shortly after Bali. Disappointingly, its leader was just acquitted on a charge of inciting religious violence but the disbandment seems to have been permanent.

Even more surprisingly, the cease-fire in Aceh seems to be holding for the most part, though there have been the inevitable incidents.

The economy is still in a mess, but the crisis period is past. An essential part of the transition to stable democracy is the recognition that the economy is going to be in a mess a good deal of the time and that neither generals nor revolutionaries are likely to fix it. It’s my optimistic impression that this fact is beginning to sink in with the Indonesian public and, equally importantly, with the military. Demonstrations against recent cuts in subsidies are, or at least should be, part of the democratic process.

In the end, it seems impossible to balance good and bad news. We must grieve for those who have lost loved ones in the latest tragedies without giving way to despair or giving up the hope of making things better.

Categories: General Tags: