Archive for December, 2004

A challenge, an opportunity and a test

December 31st, 2004 28 comments

When we’re faced with a catastrophe like the one still unfolding in Asia, any response seems inadequate, and it is perhaps inevitable that there have been complaints about weak responses. In the short run, the issue isn’t financial commitments: the main problem is the logistical one of getting help to where it is needed as fast as possible. In the longer term, however, dollars will matter. The record of the developed world on this kind of thing is good. Big promises are made during the initial outpouring of grief and sympathy, but when the time comes to deliver on those promises, the ordinary processes of politics push foreign aid to the bottom of the priority list. People in Bam, the Iranian city destroyed by an earthquake last year, are still living in tents because the aid promised to help them rebuild their homes hasn’t arrived. Meanwhile, with or without disasters, poverty, preventable disease and malnutrition kill people by the million every year.

If all the rich countries gave only 1 per cent of their income to development and emergency aid, there would be enough to pay for huge improvements in living standards, like those set out in the Millennium Development Goals and to have a standing response to disasters and emergencies. For Australia, the cost would be an extra $5 billion per year, about the cost of a “sandwich and milkshake” tax cut, or a couple of days worth of the promises made during the last election campaign.

It’s sadly unlikely that the rich countries will, in fact, do anything on a collective basis. But with Indonesia being the country hit hardest by the disaster, Australia in particular is faced with a challenge, an opportunity and a test. We can, if we want, send a few emergency missions, then return to business as usual. Or, we can make it a major policy priority to help our neighbours, and particularly Indonesia, rebuild over the next few years.

For various reasons, our relationship with Indonesia has been fraught with tension ever since that country achieved independence. We have the chance to put that history behind us and work together now. In this context, it’s worth looking at the example of Turkey and Greece, two countries with a long and bitter history of conflict and war. The positive response by the Greek government and ordinary Greek people to the terrible earthquake that hit Turkey in 1999 began a process that has seen much of that bitterness dissipated, even though problems like Cyprus remain unresolved. Helping our neighbours won’t eliminate all sources of disagreement with them. But it offers the chance for a relationship much better than we have had in the past.

Of course, we should help because it’s the right thing to do, and not just because it will do us good in the long run. But when the disaster has faded from the television screens, it’s worth remembering that it’s in our own interesting to keep on helping.

Categories: Politics (general) Tags:

Weekend reflections

December 31st, 2004 9 comments

This regular feature is back on line. The idea is that, over the weekend, you should post your thoughts in a more leisurely fashion than in ordinary comments or the Monday Message Board.

Please post your thoughts on any topic, at whatever length seems appropriate to you. Civilised discussion and no coarse language, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Creative giving

December 30th, 2004 8 comments

Especially in the aftermath of Christmas, not everyone has ready money to give in response to a disaster like that which has struck our region. But there are lots of different ways to help My Crooked Timber colleagues, John Holbo and Belle Waring are donating the proceeds from their Amazon Associates Account for the quarter[1], and Henry Farrell is doing likewise.

If anyone has seen any other creative ideas on positive ways to respond to this crisis, or has any suggestions of their own, I’d be glad to link to them. Meanwhile, the default option of sending money is a good one.

fn1. I have started an Associates account, but I don’t think it has made any money yet. When it does, I’ll look around for a good cause, perhaps something related to reading or literature. Suggestions welcome.

Categories: Life in General Tags:

I’m working on it!

December 28th, 2004 1 comment

Thanks to everyone who’s suggested possible changes to the WordPress layout. I’m working on them, in between other things. So there won’t be much in the way of substantive posts for a few days.

In any case, the awful news of the tsunami leaves me without a lot to say for the moment. It just keeps getting worse. Please do whatever you can to help.

Update 30/12 I’m going very slowly on this stuff, but I’ve managed to implement a live preview function, which has been the most requested feature so far.

Layout improvements are proving problematic. If there are any WP fans out there who can suggest layouts I can simply copy, I’ll be glad to take a look at them

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Australian appeals

December 27th, 2004 5 comments

Here’s the address of the CARE Australia appeal for aid in the earthquake and tsunami disaster. Via Tim Blair, some more links here

And, thanks to Andrew Bartlett, here’s the address for Community Aid Abroad

Remember that all donations are tax deductible. So, if you’re in the top tax bracket, work out what you can afford to give, then double it – you’ll get half back at the end of the financial year. If you’re in the 30 per cent bracket, you can give half as much again as without the deduction.

Categories: Life in General Tags:

Welcome to WordPress!

December 27th, 2004 35 comments

Hi everyone! Welcome to my new WordPress blog. I’ve switched from Movable Type because of the problems it was causing to my hosts, Textdrive, notably in dealing with comment spam. In addition, WordPress is much less intensive on servers.

I’m now on my third blogging system, my fourth blog and my fifth host, but I’m hoping to stabilize things at this point. I’ve got my domain name for the next ten years, I’m very happy with Textdrive’s service and I have high hopes that WordPress will prove to be the software I’ve been looking for.

As usual in a shift of this kind, some comments have been lost. I had to run in parallel for a little while to get things working. In addition, I’m still dealing with the blogroll. On previous occasions, I’ve promised an attempt to retrieve comments, but not delivered. This time I’m not going to make that promise, but I will try and find a way that those who’d like their contributions accessible can retrieve their comments and repost them.

I welcome comments, particularly from other WordPress users, pointers to designs I could pinch and plug-ins I should adopt, and so on.

UpdateThe MT version of the blog is still accessible here. As Tom DC/VA, the first commenter on the new version observes, mindless reposting of comments could cause trouble. For example, if your comment points out the fundamental logical flaws in a previous comment, reposting it alone may not be helpful. But I’m going to leave that up to the good judgement of my readers. If you think your comment should live a little longer, and makes sense on its own, feel free to repost it (or not).

Categories: Life in General Tags:


December 27th, 2004 Comments off

Another terrible disaster, an undersea earthquake triggering tsunamis that have killed thousands of people in many parts of SE Asia. Although it’s no doubt an illusion, it seems to me as if such tragedies are more common at this time of year than any other. No doubt there will be a relief appeal of some kind: I’ll post details when I can find them.

Categories: Life in General Tags:

Christmas as usual

December 24th, 2004 Comments off

Since Christmas never changes (and a good thing too!) I’m reposting my Christmas Eve post from last year. I did plan more work on it, but haven’t done any. Posting will be erratic at best from now until mid-January. There may be nothing at all. On the other hand, I may get sick of my summer torpor and write ten posts in one day. No promises either way. In anticipation of at least a short break, let me wish a merry Christmas to all who celebrate it, and a happy New Year to everyone (at least everyone who uses the Gregorian calendar).

Read on for my unchanged Christmas message

Read more…

Categories: Life in General Tags:

Social capital and end-oriented networks

December 24th, 2004 3 comments

I’m just about to knock off for Christmas, but I have to get ready for a conference at Queensland Uni of Technology early in the New Year where Larry Lessig will be the main speaker. I’m giving a very short presentation, and struggling to improve my understanding of all this, in particular the relationship between the technology of the Internet and notions of social capital. I haven’t come up with anything earthshattering, but I have had some thoughts on which I’d welcome comments.

Read more…

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

The bleeding edge

December 23rd, 2004 Comments off

There’s a new version of the MT Blacklist program out, fixing a critical error in which deleting one weblog could cause you to lose another. Users of MT & Blacklist will be pleased to know that, in the process of fighting off comment spammers and abusive morons, your intrepid host discovered this critical error the hard way. Jason Hoffman at Textdrive not only saved my bacon with a near-perfect backup file, but reported the bug which Jay Allen has now fixed. I think the grip of the law is gradually tightening on comment spammers, but no doubt they’ll be with us for some time, and morons will be with us always.

Categories: Philosophy Tags:

A real life ticking bomb problem

December 23rd, 2004 13 comments

A while ago, I looked at the ticking bomb problem and concluded that, whatever the morality of using torture to extract life-saving information in emergencies, anyone who did this was morally obliged to turn themselves in and accept the resulting legal punishment. Reader Karl Heinz Ranitzsch has pointed me to a real-life case, reported by Mrs Tilton at Fistful of Euros. The case involved a threat of torture, rather than actual torture, and the deputy police commissioner involved was convicted and fined. Without detailed knowledge of the circumstances, I tend to agree with Mrs T that this was about the right outcome.

Categories: Philosophy Tags:

My article in The Economists’ Voice

December 22nd, 2004 2 comments

My article The Unsustainability of U.S. Trade Deficits has just been published in The Economists’ Voice along with a piece on government deficits by Ronald McKinnon. Although relatively new and oriented to a general audience, EV looks like being a high-powered journal, having already published Stiglitz, Posner and Akerlof among others, so I’m pretty pleased to have made it into volume 1. Thanks to everyone here and on Crooked Timber who helped me to sharpen my arguments on this topic.

Categories: Economic policy Tags:

Blog Problems

December 22nd, 2004 7 comments

OK, this is kind of silly, but bear with me. A couple of people have mentioned that they haven’t been able to reach the blog since the comment spam crisis (thanks again to Textdrive for resolving this!). I’d like to hear from anyone in this position, but obviously this isn’t a great way to reach them. I thought about skywriting, popular here in Brisbane, but it doesn’t seem practical. So if you can read this from one location, but not from others, please email me with info on your setup, browser and so on.

This seems like a good reason to move to WordPress

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Howard’s record

December 21st, 2004 52 comments

So, John Howard has beaten Bob Hawke and is now Australia’s second-longest-serving PM, after Menzies. Sometimes it seems longer. On the other hand, when I look at the whole eight or nine years, the thing that strikes me most immediately is how little difference this government has made. In terms of domestic policy, it’s biggest single initiative has been the GST, a third-order reform if ever there was one. The abolition of the CES in favor of the Jobs Network schemozzle is probably the next. And Telstra has been half-privatised. No doubt there will be more now that the Senate isn’t an obstacle, but the government has done nothing to build up a popular demand for radical reform in most areas.

On foreign policy, it’s hard to think of a specific issue (except maybe Kyoto and the FTA, which aren’t strictly foreign policy) where Labor under Hawke, Keating or Beazley would have acted much differently. There’s been a substantial rhetorical difference, more pro-American and less focused on Asia, but in practical terms this doesn’t seem to have made much difference: Asian countries don’t seem to have treated us much worse and the US certainly hasn’t treated us any better.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing for a government not to do very much, but it means, I think, that Howard’s historical position will depend very much on the performance of the economy in this (presumably) final term in office. If the economy remains strong, the Howard government will have strong claims to have based its success on more than luck. Lots of economists, including me, have argued that prosperity based, in large measure, on favorable terms of trade and unrestrained housing speculation can’t be sustained indefinitely. By contrast, the government and its supporters have argued that the whole thing works because of low interest rates and that they are responsible for this. Another three years of growth would be strong evidence in support of this claim.

added 22/12 The one thing for which I will never forgive Howard, or anyone else involved, is Tampa/children overboard/the Pacific solution. Labor under Beazley was very weak on this, and a Labor government might well have done something similar (they started mandatory detention, after all), but Howard did it. It was wrong in itself, marked by dishonesty and cruelty from beginning to end, and brought out the worst in Australia (notably among bloggers). I don’t believe that there were significant practical benefits, but even if there were, they wouldn’t have justified these actions. In the absence of any big achievements or catastrophes in his remaining time in office, I think this episode will play a major role in historical assessments of Howard.

added 23/12 Some more thoughts on specific points over the page
Read more…

Categories: Politics (general) Tags:

Conservationists and conservatives

December 20th, 2004 17 comments

Don Arthur had an interesting response to my pieces on the precautionary principle and wars of choice[1]. Don correctly observes that this kind of argument can be used in opposition to reform, and is therefore inherently conservative. He mentions, as an instance, the possibility of making this kind of argument against gay marriage.

Don goes on to argue

The welfare state is another area conservatives might want to apply the precautionary principle. Just as environmentalists argue that we should withdraw genetically modified crops from sale until they are proved safe, conservatives could argue that welfare benefits to never-married single mothers should be withdrawn until they are proved non-hazardous to social functioning. After all, the widespread use of income support for alleviating poverty in families where a woman has had a child out of wedlock is relatively recent.

While there’s always room for dispute over what is meant by “relatively recent” here, I don’t think this argument works. The main institutions of the welfare state developed in the first half of last century, before most of us were born, and its extension to single mothers dates back to the 1960s. In this debate, the self-described advocates of welfare reform are those who want to do away with social institutions most of us have grown up with and try something radically new. The fact that reform may be sold as a return to an idealised and largely imaginary past, rather than a leap into the future, doesn’t change this. In fact, reformers of all stripes have used this characterisation of reform, sometimes validly and sometimes not, most obviously in the case of the Reformation[2].

More generally, the set of ideas associated with terms like progressive and conservative are based on the assumption, clearly falsified over the last thirty years or so, that the movement of history is uniformly to the political left. The corollaries (also false, in my view) are that leftists and socialists should favor the removal of obstacles to rapid political change – bicameralism, federalism, separation of powers and so on – and that the the precautionary principle should be viewed with suspicion.

My reading of the 20th century as a whole is that, both in the democracies and elsewhere, it is the right who have made the most effective use of concentrated power. Given the power of the opposed interest, progress in the direction of social democracy can only be made on the basis of broadly-based popular support, sufficient to overcome constitutional obstacles. By contrast, a determined rightwing government like Thatcher’s can ram through its policies on the basis of 40 per cent support, given a plurality-based system of majority government.

Coming back to gay marriage, I think it’s true that a precautionary principle argument would lead one to favor a gradual, one-step-at-a-time shift in the rules, rather than a radical reform based on purely abstract arguments about equality[3]. In the current context where a wide range of legal disabilities for gays have been removed without obviously disastrous consequences, this would suggest that civil unions ought to be the next step.

fn1. I missed this at the time, and picked it up while visiting The View from Benambra where Don’s arguments are amplified, and the Burkean nature of the principle elaborated.

fn2. Raymond Williams in “Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society” (Raymond Williams) is excellent on this, as on most things.

fn3. And, if I were to advocate a reform along these lines, it would be the removal of legal recognition for religious marriages and their replacement by civil unions for all, as is, I think the case in France, though only for heterosexual unions.

Categories: Politics (general) Tags:

Monday Message Board

December 20th, 2004 16 comments

It’s time, once again, for the Monday message board, where you are invited to post your thoughts on any topic. Civilised discussion and no coarse language, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

What I’m reading, and more

December 19th, 2004 8 comments

I’ve been reading a lot of different things lately, and might write a few reviews over the Christmas break. I just finished
“Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson

a sort of historical fantasy set amid the great scientific discoveries and political turmoil of the late 17th century.

It’s great fun, with a great evocation of the period and plenty of sly digs at the modern reader (I liked the Duke of Monmouth as the Dan Quayle of the 1685 campaign). At the same time, I can’t help feeling I’ve completely missed the point here. As I said, the style is that of fantasy, but the novel seems to be entirely historically accurate apart from the fact that the members of the Cabal have been replaced by new characters with the same acronym, some of whom play a minor role in the story, and that one of the key characters comes from the island of Qwghlm[1], apparently a British possession[2].

I don’t know exactly what gives here: maybe a reader can point me in the right direction. A lot of readers had much the same reaction to “Jonathan Strange which I loved.

There’s a whole Metaweb (a type of wiki apparently) about all this, which may be worth exploring.

In a completely different department, I’ve been watching the Slim Dusty memorial concert which my wife taped. Although he’s normally pigeonholed as country, a lot of his songs (particularly the early ones) appeal to folkies like me. In the free assocation department, I notice that another crossover performer, Ted Egan, is now Administrator of the Northern Territory Well done!

Moving on to sporting news, karate training has finished for the year, with the traditional 1000-punch workout. Very cathartic! If you’re in Brisbane, and want to study karate in traditional style, with a genuine master of the art, Seiyushin is for you. Also, we went last night to see the Bullets go down by one point against the Sydney Kings. It’s a great night out, taking the ferry down the river to Southbank for dinner, going on to the game and home again by ferry, but it would have been perfect if only one more shot had rolled in instead of rimming out.

fn1. Given my Manx heritage, the idea that Qwghlm is the Isle of Man seems appealing. Certainly the name has a certain resonance, though its disemvowellment makes it hard to interpret.

fn2. I don’t claim to be an expert on 17th century history, so there may be some other things I’ve missed.

Categories: Books and culture Tags:

A good few weeks for Europe

December 18th, 2004 8 comments

The last few weeks have been good ones for Europe, and for the EU, with the success of the democratic campaign for fresh elections in Ukraine, the court decision in Britain prohibiting indefinite detention without trial and now the decision of the EU to begin accession talks with Turkey (missed the obvious pun there). Negotiations with Iran were also a qualified success, certainly by comparison with the futile sabre-rattling coming out of Washington.

I predicted in February that the start of the EU admission process for Turkey would be the biggest geopolitical event of the year. Things dind’t go precisely to plan, but in the end it didn’t matter. Tobias Schwarz at a Fistful of Euros has more
Read more…

Categories: World Events Tags:

Weekend reflections

December 18th, 2004 6 comments

A bit late, again, but weekend reflections is back.

It’s your chance to make comments on any topic of your choosing, to be written and read at the leisurely pace of the weekend. I welcome pieces a little longer than the usual comments, but not full-length essays. If you want to draw attention to something longer, try an extract or summary with a link. As usual, civilised discussion and no coarse language.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Pugnacious professors

December 17th, 2004 12 comments

Via Henry Farrell, and Michael Froomkin comes the news thatIf you want a chair, you should throw away your razor:

A correlation between having a beard and being a professor has been uncovered by scientists, suggesting a reason for discrimination against women in academia….A study of 1,800 male academics has revealed professors are twice as likely as lecturers to have bristles….One theory is that being unshorn makes men more likely to be appointed to professorships, as facial hair is linked with high testosterone and aggression.

I don’t suppose I can point to my peaceloving nature as evidence against this claim.

Categories: Life in General Tags:

The interest rate riddle

December 17th, 2004 28 comments

The US current account deficit came in yesterday at $164.7 billion for the third quarter of 2004, lower than expected but still a new record. The previous day saw the trade balance for October, also a record deficit. As usual General Glut has detailed coverage.

In the face of all this, long-term interest rates, as measured by the yield on 10-year Treasury bonds, are falling. The rate is currently about 4.2 per cent. By looking at inflation-protected bonds (TIPS) it’s possible to work out that this is made up of an expected CPI inflation rate of 2.5 per cent and a real interest rate of 1.7 per cent. As the Fed has increased short-term rates, the margin between long and short rates is falling, and seems likely to go close to zero.

This makes no sense at all to me. Given the near-certainty of further depreciation of the $US in the long run, who would buy 10-year bonds at rates like this, who would hold them if they had them, and why doesn’t someone like Soros short them? The answer to the first question appears to be “non-US central banks”, the answer to the second must have something to do with institutional inertia. As regards the third, and relying on introspection, the answer may be that the market can remain irrational longer than Soros can remain solvent (certainly that explains my non-participation). Soros took a hammering, if I recall correctly, betting against the NASDAQ in 1998, and the fact that he was proved right in the end is cold comfort.

Since I don’t believe that capital markets are efficient or collectively rational in the short or medium term, this kind of thing doesn’t pose a fundamental problem for my worldview. Still, I can never quite stop being surprised when asset prices are so obviously wrong.

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Comments restored

December 16th, 2004 9 comments

Thanks to the marvellous efforts of Jason Hoffman and Textdrive, comments are open again. I’ll have a bit more to say tomorrow, but in the meantime, if you’ve been meaning to say anything, here’s your chance! Remember, civilised discussion and no coarse language, please.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Worst ever?

December 16th, 2004 6 comments

Tim Lambert reports on the worst argument against global warming, ever. The competition is stiff, what with McKitrick & Michaels, Baliunas and Soon and many other contenders, but this piece definitely raises the bar.

Categories: Environment Tags:

Milton Friedman on social democracy

December 15th, 2004 5 comments

Milton Friedman has a piece in today’s Fin and also[1] in the Oz making the point that, even though many fewer people nowadays professes belief in socialism than did so in 1945, the general movement of policy since the end of World War II has been in a socialist direction, that is towards an expansion in the share of GDP allocated to the public sector. He draws a distinction between ‘welfare’ and the traditional socialist belief in public ownership of the means of production, seeing the former growing at the expense of the latter.

From a social-democratic perspective, I’d put things differently. There are large sectors of the economy where competitive markets either can’t be sustained or don’t perform adequately in the absence of government intervention. These include human services like health and education, social insurance against unemployment and old age, production of public goods and information, and a range of infrastructure services. In all these sectors, governments are bound to get involved. Sometimes, the best model is private production with public regulation and funding, and sometimes it is public ownership and production. The result is a mixed economy.

Over time, the parts of the economy where competitive market provision is problematic have grown in relative importance. By contrast, agriculture, the archetypal competitive industry, has declined in relative importance as have mining and manufacturing, areas where governments have usually performed poorly.

The result is that the ideological swing towards neoliberalism has done little more than slow a structural shift towards a larger role for government.

fn1. Thanks to Jack Strocchi for locating this

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Copenhagen: conned again

December 15th, 2004 1 comment

In previous posts on Bjorn Lomborg’s Copenhagen Consensus exercise, both before and after the event, I expressed the suspicion that the whole thing was a setup, designed to push Lomborg’s favorite line that money spent on implementing the Kyoto protocol would be better allocated to foreign aid projects of various kinds. (I’ve pointed out some contradictions in Lomborg’s general argument, here).

However, I thought some good could come of the exercise, if the conclusions were taken seriously. In my last post, I observed

As attentive readers will recall, the conference concluded that fighting AIDS should be the top global priority in helping developing countries and also that climate change mitigation was a waste of money. I agree with the first of these conclusions, and more generally with the need for more spending on health poor countries, and I hope that Lomborg will put some effort into supporting it. I’ll try to keep readers posted on this.

Now Lomborg has revealed his priorities. Chris Bertram points to an article by Lomborg in the Telegraph. The supposed top priority item, initiatives to combat AIDS, gets two passing mentions. The entire article, except for a couple of paras, is devoted to the pressing need to do nothing about global warming.

It’s obvious from reading this piece that the entire lavishly funded Copenhagen exercise was a put-up job, designed to secure impressive-sounding endorsements for Lomborg’s anti-Kyoto agenda, and that the supposed concern for making good use of aid funding was a hypocritical scam. A lot of work went into relative rankings for different health policies, but I don’t expect to hear anything from Lomborg on this score. Similarly, I doubt we will ever see him campaigning for more funding for AIDS programs, as opposed to using them as a cheap anti-Kyoto debating point.

If I was one of the eminent economists who participated in the ranking exercise, or who submitted papers supporting various initiatives, I would be feeling really angry with Bjorn Lomborg right now.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Back on air

December 15th, 2004 Comments off

I’m back on air, but still without comments unfortunately. Thanks very much to my host, Textdrive, and especially to Jason Hoffman, who salvaged the backup version of the blog after I managed to delete the current one in my attempts to get things working again. As a result a couple of posts and comments got lost. I may be able to restore them

Meanwhile, I’m pleased to say JMaximus has deleted the post taken from my blog without permission. Thanks to all who commented on the error of his ways.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Just as we were getting near the double century

December 14th, 2004 Comments off

Comments have been turned off indefinitely by my hosting service due to a torrent of obscene comment spam over the past week or so. In addition, I’ve received a number of abusive and obscene emails from a disgruntled individual commenter (not a regular, I’m pleased to say). I assume these are separate incidents, but they obviously create severe problems for me in operating the blog. I’m looking into my options both for technical solutions and (to the limited extent that sources of this kind of stuff can be identified) civil and criminal action, but it may be some time before comments are restored. Crooked Timber has had similar attacks, but not on such a scale, so I’ll try to crosspost there for items that seem worthy of comment.

Update I hope to have comments restored shortly. Unfortunately, to protect my host, I have had to require registration for comments. I apologise for the inconvenience, but hope this will provide some protection against the commercial spammers and abusive commenters who have necessitated this. I particularly apologise to a number of legitimate commenters (most recently ‘Nabakov’) whose comments have accidentally been deleted in my attempts to protect myself, my host and the readers of this blog.

This seems like a suitable occasion to clarify my policy on coarse language and abuse, which clearly needs tightening in the light of recent events

1. Incidental coarse language will be edited, and the edit noted

2. Deliberately abusive and/or obscene posts will be deleted and the author given a single warning

3. Further abuse will result in deregistration and immediate notification of [email protected]

4. Attempts to evade this policy (e.g. by spoofing, spamming etc) will be pursued and, where possible, those responsible will be reported to police or subject to civil action. The same will apply to anyone sending abusive/obscene emails to me personally.

Further update Just to make matters worse, I’ve discovered this low-life stealing my posts, apparently in a lame attempt to get revenue from Google Ads. I’ve seen this before – does it have a name? As you can check on the Creative Commons License, anyone is free to use material on this blog with no restriction other than a requirement for attribution, but this guy can’t be bothered. At the suggestion of Andrew Leigh, I plan to replace links to abusers sites with screen shots as soon as I get my act together, but for the moment, if you follow the link, don’t click on his ads, please.

I’m getting really bad-tempered about this whole constellation of abuse, which is not good news for those involved, at least those I’m able to identify.

Yet further update And here’s another bizarre piece of cybersquatting/identity theft (thanks to Nick Gruen for an alert on this, which I previously disregarded). I have no idea what this scumsucker’s game is, but I’ll get in touch with Blogger to see if I can get the site taken down, and take any feasible steps against those responsible. While I’m at it, let me advise anyone involved in any of the activities listed above not to rely on the notion that the blogosphere is some sort of free-fire zone, in which they can operate without fear of the law, protected by “anything goes” social norms. Spamming, cybersquatting, cyberstalking and email abuse are both crimes and civil torts, and I intend to treat them as such.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Pay without Performance

December 11th, 2004 7 comments

I’ve been reading

“Pay without Performance : The Unfulfilled Promise of Executive Compensation” by Bebchuk and Fried)

For anyone who still believes that executive pay is based on rewarding performance, and encouraging risk-taking, this book should disabuse them. There are loads of studies pointing out, not surprisingly to anyone who reads the papers, that top executives and boards look after each other in a way that rewards failure.

The most telling detail for me is the observation p98, that every single CEO in the S&P Execucomp Database has a defined benefit pension plan. This, while bosses everywhere have been shifting their employees onto defined contribution plans, where they, and not the company, bear all the risk, and while the Republicans in the US are trying to do the same with Social Security.

One thing I would have liked more of is quantitative information about the aggregate magnitude of payments to executive pay, considered in relation to corporate profits. There’s only a little of this in the book, though the authors say here

Aggregate top-five compensation was equal to 10 percent of aggregate corporate earnings in 1998-2002, up from 6 percent of aggregate corporate earnings during 1993-1997.

Given that this excludes various kinds of hidden transfers[1], that non-executive board members extract substantial rents (mostly through favorable corporate decisions rather than in cash) and considering senior managers, rather than merely top-5 executives, as a class, it’s apparent that the total rents income flowing to this group could easily be between 25 and 50 per cent of aggregate corporate profits. If this is correct, it ought to have profound implications for the way in which we model corporations, and the way in which we think about the class structure of modern capitalism.

fn1. It’s not clear whether retirement benefits are counted, for example, and these are as large, in present value terms, as direct compensation. Then there is the observation that executive insiders do remarkably well in trading the shares of their own companies.

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Weekend reflections

December 11th, 2004 9 comments

A bit late but weekend reflections is back.

It’s your chance to make comments on any topic of your choosing, to be written and read at the leisurely pace of the weekend. I welcome pieces a little longer than the usual comments, but not full-length essays. If you want to draw attention to something longer, try an extract or summary with a link. As usual, civilised discussion and no coarse language. After some nasty recent experiences, I will be more vigorous than ever in policing this rule.

As is usual when I cover certain topics, a couple of posts have produced flame wars, and I have closed comments (meanwhile, the R-word thread has veered off into the 11-th dimension, and I’ve let it run). Anyway, if you have substantial comments you wanted to make on topics where comments are closed, here’s your chance.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Jonathan Strange

December 10th, 2004 6 comments

Prompted by Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber, who’s had more to say on the topic recently, I’ve been reading, and reviewing, Susanna Clarke’s “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. My review is over the fold. Comments appreciated.
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Categories: Books and culture Tags: