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Monday Message Board

July 26th, 2004

It’s Monday again, and time for the Monday Message Board. Post your comments on any topic (civilised discussion and no coarse language, please).

Since most of my regular commenters participate in MMB, this is a good time to announce that GG Sedgwick is running the 2004 Blog Comments Award.

There’s no category in the awards for this, but I’ve always believed that this blog has the best comments section in the Oz blogosphere, and one of the best anywhere. Thanks to all those who’ve made it so.

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  1. Homer Paxton
    July 26th, 2004 at 10:17 | #1

    JQ, I think you should write a short piece on the statistics of opinion polling for all bloggers.
    given you are an esteemd Professor of Economics you would be able to educate us all in this vital matter as the election comes ever closer.

    P.S.
    I still have no idea how you and others have the time to blog regularly

  2. James Farrell
    July 26th, 2004 at 12:04 | #2

    Last week I raised the issue of when to have been born. In the the Preface to The President of Good and Evil, Peter Singer confesses that he was born on the same day as Bush. This prompted me to find out that I was born on the same day as Sweden’s Justice Minister, Thomas Bodstrom, which naturally increased my self esteem by a factor of three.

    I wonder if anyone has else has discoevered they share a date of birth (including the year) with anybody phenomenally important, and whether this is a cause of shame or, as in John’s case, unqualified pride.

  3. July 26th, 2004 at 12:55 | #3

    “There’s no category in the awards for this, but I’ve always believed that this blog has the best comments section in the Oz blogosphere …”

    Terms and conditions:-
    (iv) Anything else that comes to mind between now and then constitutes a fully binding term and condition.

    (v) All the above terms and conditions are subject to a strict interpretation of the Kingaroy brown paper bag clause.

    Note 1:- These terms and conditions can be changed at any time for any reason within or without the control of the author of these terms and conditions. (Caprice is the new pink.)

    So John, there is no reason to despair … or hope. (The ex gratia committee is in currently recess on the Cote d’Azur.)

    People known to have joined (or sent apologies on account of a fatal encounter with the concept of immortality) games of ‘Spin the bottle’ at my joint birthday parties:- Ted Dexter, Trini Lopez, Pierre Curie, James Mason, Mike Oldfield, Brian Eno, Graham Goble and the unfortunately monnikered, Adolf B Marx.

  4. Stephen Ziguras
    July 26th, 2004 at 15:26 | #4

    John

    I came across your 1995 article in Economics Letters in which you argue that using separate policy instruments to tackle efficiency versus equity objectives is ‘suboptimal’. In other words, you seem to be suggesting that specific government policies should take into account both efficiency and equity (or distributional) issues.

    Yew Kwang Ng in his book Efficiency, Equality and Public Policy (2000) argues what seems to me to be precisely the opposite – that equity goals are best achieved through the tax/transfer system rather than being incorporated into other policies.

    Not being an economist (or at least a fairly amateur one) I find it hard to make sense of these apparently contradictory arguments, espcially when the two of you seem to have similar views in other respects.

    Can you or anyone else can shed light on this question of how government equity objectives best met?

  5. John Quiggin
    July 26th, 2004 at 16:53 | #5

    James’ post did indeed fill me with unqualified, if unmerited, pride.

    Sadly for my self-esteem, LaToya was born on May 29, 1956, while I was born March 29. So, despite what you might think from looking at our pictures (hers is here) she’s actually younger than I am by two months.

  6. James Farrell
    July 26th, 2004 at 17:39 | #6

    This was my source, John. If it’s wrong, I’m sincerely sorry for giving you false cause for celebration. There are four others to choose from anyway. (Come to think of it, how could a website calling itself Brainy History not list you in your own right?)

  7. July 26th, 2004 at 21:33 | #7

    Another of those dreaded “thin, ambiguous and incomplete” sources?

  8. John Quiggin
    July 26th, 2004 at 22:34 | #8

    It’s clearly established that when you have conflicting sources, you go with the one that has the answer you want. So, I’m glad to say that I have irrefutable evidence of being born on the same day as LaToya

  9. kyan gadac
    July 27th, 2004 at 00:33 | #9

    Hmmm…Monday merriment – it must be close to the coldest night of the year…and last night the Great Southern Region of W.A. was paler than pale with up to three degrees of frost and a sullen stratosphere of ice clouds – look out you easterners.. the winter drought cometh.

  10. July 27th, 2004 at 01:27 | #10

    Kyan I truly hope it doesn’t. The pain in the landscape is something else. Nine years it has been going on.

  11. July 27th, 2004 at 02:21 | #11

    Having acquired an incidental interest in all matters relating to ducks, from Frankie Drake to Donald Duck, including duckspeak , I came across the duck speak translator.  And here is an example of a quack meter in action, examing the words and wisdom of George Bush.

    However, I think there is a serious issue. And that is, that the politcal process using sophisticated methods such as  opposition research, which is a sub species of spin used by all major political parties and governments, has the ability to capture the media.  Opposition research may explain in significant part how GWB became president.

    Spin or to use the Orwelling lexicography, doublespeak, makes the truth impossible, or as we are given to believe irrelevant, as it makes democratic accountability phantasmagorical. There is a higher standard of accountability for the dole bludger than the Prime Minister. Doublespeak is doubleplusgood in this brave old new political world.

  12. July 28th, 2004 at 14:35 | #12

    I’ve mentioned before how many people misunderstand conditions in developing countries. I don’t mean so much that they don’t know what living conditions are like but that they genuinely don’t know what they are looking at, even when it’s right in front of them. The particular thing I’m thinking of is the misunderstanding that “poor people in … live on only $… a day”.

    It’s nonsense. These are developING countries, which means that poor people there often also have subsistence resources – resources that are being phased out, and that they are losing since they often don’t have formal title, but resources that mean that they do not have to live on their cash income. That cash income is often very necessary, but it’s only necessary as a top up – they don’t need a living wage. As we mostly live in developED countries, our prejudice is to take income as a proxy. It’s why perfectly accurate assessments like that of Dollar and Kraay can be highly misleading if taken at face value. I’m not suggesting that these things don’t matter, or that people on low cash incomes aren’t poor, just that it’s measuring the wrong thing. Accounting isn’t knowing how to add but knowing what to add – counting everything that should be counted without leaving anything out or counting anything more than once.

    I’ve just come across Brad DeLong making this very same mistake, with even less excuse than usual since he was actually being shown the two dimensions of this measure of poverty. It’s in a post on his blogsite called “The Two Nations” about current conditions in China, dated the 18th of July, 2004, based on someone else’s blog (how incestuous is this getting, now I’m posting here?).

    First, let’s look at what he was told: “China’s extreme poverty levels, defined as those without adequate food and clothing, and earning less than 625 yuan a year, are significantly lower than the international standard of US$1 a day.” Already this is blurring the two aspects – subsistence resources together with cash resources – with a cash measurement on its own.

    Next, Brad DeLong uncritically accepts what he was told by a newspaper article that drew his attention to Chinese conditions. The Standard writes: “The people lacking adequate food and clothing, mostly farmers, are those earning less than 625 yuan a year”; already the subsistence aspect has been dropped, conflating the two and just taking them as different ways of saying the same thing (which they most definitely are not). Sure, so far this is from someone else’s insights – but Brad DeLong promptly endorses it: “…we are not talking about poverty (the US$1 a day mark) but extreme poverty: 625 yuan a year is US$80 a year.” Also, he writes: “30 million citizens still exist on less than a US quarter a day…”.

    No, we are not talking about extreme poverty – we stopped talking about that as soon as Brad DeLong dropped the part about “without adequate food and clothing”. No, they are not existing on less than a US quarter a day but with it, as a top up. Even in China you can only live on that little for a very brief time – although, like a snowball in hell it’s not so much impossible as temporary. Brad DeLong and people like him are misreading the “and” in “and earning less than 625 yuan a year” as “i.e.”. It’s not, and here Brad DeLong is actually having it waved under his nose.

    I’ll give a concrete example. The other day I met an old friend who had just returned from Tientsin. He described the condition of the exploited people arriving from the provinces. In one factory the workers, who had come largely in order to remit earnings home, had not been paid for months. They were still working in sweatshop conditions, and they were surviving on food and accommodation provided by their employer; they can and will go on like that indefinitely. Are they poor? Definitely. Are they in extreme poverty, under the Chinese definition? No, they are not. In particular, they can survive like that indefinitely. Should it be a surprise to us? No, not if we know about the times before our time – because we went through all this ourselves, or at any rate our grandfathers and their fathers before them did. A lot of pontificators could use a brief recap of western economic history, things like the Truck Acts and the earlier situation in which payment in truck made sense. But it looks as if at least the Chinese themselves know what they are talking about and are not kidding themselves – they are using a meaningful definition.

    There are some errors in the comments to that post too. In particular, a couple of people between them accurately identify the institutional pressures to neglect the workers’ interests, then point out that this is against the interests of stability – referring to the historical cycle of peasant revolts. They then wrongly infer that knowing this will immunise the present round of rulers against the same mistakes; but the earlier rounds knew the very same things, and there is nothing to cause immunisation. The thing is, the abuse comes from exploiters throwing the burden of destabilisation more widely – an external cost. They all know they are eating their own foundations, but nobody has a compelling interest in fixing it. Nothing has stopped the cycle, so far as we can tell yet. But I digress from my original purpose, which was to highlight a common misunderstanding about poverty in developing countries.

  13. Brian Bahnisch
    July 29th, 2004 at 00:22 | #13

    kyan we’ve had 2.5mm of rain in seven weeks in Brisbane.

    I googled around a bit on the birthday thing. The only meaningful thing I found was this one. It’s Elle of course and she is 8 years younger to the day than our host. I had to hunt around to find a pic where she was wearing enough for the standards of this site, or what she was wearing wasn’t completely see-through.

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