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Monday Message Board

October 20th, 2003

Time as usual for the Monday Message Board. As the discussion on speeding has attracted a couple of abusive comments with foul language, I’ll stress the usual reminder that this is a PG-rated blog. No coarse language, and civilised discussion, please.

As always, comment on any topic that takes your fancy, but in the light of my recent exercise in bloggerative democracy, I’m interested in your thoughts on the question “What is the Next Big Thing in blogging/the Internet in general?”

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  1. October 20th, 2003 at 13:10 | #1

    The DailyKos.com has just move from MT to another system that allows much more audience participation in the blogging experience. Whether this will be the next big thing, though, is unlikely. Apart from the coding skills necessary to get the site up, I think you need the sort of hits Kos gets (around 20-30,000 a day) to make this approach viable. Still, it might be an interesting experiment.

  2. John Quiggin
    October 20th, 2003 at 14:26 | #2

    I’d certainly like threaded comments (if there is an MT plug-in for this, please tell me).

    As for the other features, such as participants rating each other, I’d say its not that you need a lot of readers to make this viable but that, with a readership in the hundreds and twenty or thirty regular commenters, we don’t need such formalities. But there may be more that I’ve missed.

  3. Peter McL
    October 20th, 2003 at 15:09 | #3

    A topic for discussion. There seems to be widespread concern over trends in dependence vs independence. Who’s going to look after all us doddering crocks in thiry years time? A significant issue. Yet over the past 25-30 years, say, real per capita incomes have doubled. I didn’t feel that poor or oppressed 25 years ago, so, in principle it’s not giving up a great deal to look after the dependent in 25 years’ time. In other words even as we grow wealthier as a community, luxuries (second cars, overseas trips, dish washers, etc ) become necessities and anything less a keenly felt loss. Why? Objectively this shouldn’t be the case. Has prospect theory got something to say here?

    Equally one might say – to switch from fossil fuels to renewables will require a Manhattan Project (whose successful outcome is not to be doubted), costing, say, 5% of GDP for ten years. Now holding ourselves to ransom to the Middle East, etc is to be avoided at all costs. But not really. In peacetime, Manhattan projects don’t fly. Alternatively, it’s easier to spend vast sums on war than put the money into peaceful pursuits that achieve the same ends (eg, less terrorism, less dependence on Middle East)

    My thought is that we don’t look at the past or the future as “rationally” as we might and prospect theory might provide some insights.

  4. Greg
    October 20th, 2003 at 15:53 | #4

    On the realistic (ie, down) side: The REALLY Big, Global Systems Crash.

    On the optimistic side: An increase in democracy via cheap, secure and more frequent participation by the electorate in major socio-economic decision making greater use of referenda or plebiscites. This is a package with at least the following two implications:

    1. The pre-requisite of a major upgrade in our system of free universal education (necessary anyway now that we’re in the 21st Century).

    2. A lower level of reliance by democratic representatives on the advice of the neo-Platonic learned class of rulers consisting of the media, corporate lobbyists, narrow-interest-group lobbyists, Public Service executives and, intermittently, labour movement lobbyists.

  5. cs
    October 21st, 2003 at 10:25 | #5

    Topic for discussion: bilateral free trade agreements with Thailand and the US, and their dovetailing potential to shred Australia between a developing economy and the most developed economy?

  6. Greg
    October 21st, 2003 at 13:47 | #6

    cs aren’t we just uncritically emulating our favourite Uncle – Sam, that is – in the movement towards bilateral trade agreements? I’m not all that familiar with the latest thinking, but intuition inclines me towards the view that bilateralism isn’t long-term compatible with the multilateralist approach we as a nation have been committed to for so long with the GATT and its successor, the WTO.

  7. cs
    October 21st, 2003 at 14:31 | #7

    Yeah Greg, that’s the standard view, I think – bilateralism means discriminating against all other nations (i.e it is precisely incompatible with multilateralism). No doubt John will eventually produce the money post on this … but, without doing any research, I’m trying to prompt him by wondering about what seems an implicit capacity for us to be done over here, between labour richer (Thailand) and capital richer (US) traders.

  8. Greg
    October 21st, 2003 at 16:04 | #8

    As I recall, there was a concept of bilateralism built-in to the GATT that provided an ‘engine’ powering its multilateral negotiation rounds.
    This concept was entitled ‘most-favoured nation’ (MFN). The MFN idea recognized that at a given point in time (say, the current one), every country had a number of trading partners, some of which were more favoured than others in terms of import protection. The country (countries) against which you had the least number of import barriers or the lowest level of import protection was (were) the recipient(s) of ‘most-favoured nation’ [MFN] status from you.

    This set of differentials powered the GATT in that one of the obligations that came with joining up was to work towards being able to extend MFN status to all of your trading partners. One component of the GATT’s formal negotiation rounds was to promote this process in an agreed step-by-step manner co-ordinated across the GATT membership.

    I might have these recollections completely wrong and if so invite correction, but it’s why I’m a bit more diffident than some commentators have been in asserting that bilateralism is necessarily exclusive or undermining of our multilateralism and/or our standing in the WTO. For example, if the Thai agreement effectively extends MFN status to Thailand, perhaps there is some mechanism in the WTO that places an obligation on us to work towards negotiating the extension of that status to all our other trading partners. As I say, I’m not right up-to-date on the WTO and current state of international trade thinking.

    Bilateralism obviously carries some weight with the economists to whom the federal government is listening on trade at the moment, but of course that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s now the conventional wisdom (or, more accurately, the current conceptual fashion).

  9. Greg
    October 22nd, 2003 at 22:42 | #9

    Yes, MFN is still a driver of these two major components of the WTO: the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade – covers trade in goods) and the GATS (General Agreement on Trade in Services). So a move towards a series FTAs without the intention of negotiating an MFN protection regime with each of our trading partners is directly antithetical to the WTO. Perhaps the reasons why we are doing so are political rather than economic: a policy of separate FTAs supplies the incumbent government with a guaranteed future stream of triumphant trade announcements like the Thai announcement we’ve seen in the last couple of days. And we can always appease the WTO by telling them that we’ll eventually get around to working on MFN processes.

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