Archive for October, 2005

Hundred-thousand dollar baby

October 31st, 2005 3 comments

Feeding into this calculation applet, it’s estimated to be worth $US108,391.68, using the same link-to-dollar ratio as the AOL purchase of Weblogs Inc deal for a rumoured $25 million. Crooked Timber is worth nearly a million

fn1. Presumably AOL based its purchase on the value of ads, which are hypothetical in this case.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:


October 31st, 2005 16 comments

My column in last weeks Fin (over the fold) was about the implications of blogs and wikis, particularly Wikipedia for the business model of Google, Yahoo and similar firms. Looking at Wikipedia a few days later, not only did I have an entry (not there last time I looked), but my piece had already been quoted. Clearly Wikipedia is as collectively self-aware as any of us self-Googling narcissists.
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Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Monday message board

October 31st, 2005 31 comments

It’s time, once again for the Monday Message Board. As usual, civilised discussion and no coarse language, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

More terror attacks

October 30th, 2005 11 comments

More than 50 people have been killed in the latest terror attacks in Delhi. As usual in a globalised world, the victims apparently include Indians and foreign visitors, Hindus and Muslims and people of all social classes. Its premature to speculate on which particular group is responsible for this crime, but almost certainly it’s a group horrified by the prospect that peace might break out between India and Pakistan as the two countries work together to respond to the tragic earthquake in Pakistan.

Categories: World Events Tags:


October 30th, 2005 21 comments

The Weekend Fin (registration only) quotes Gloria Jean’s executive chairman, Nabi Saleh, as complaining that his competitors sold lousy coffee. Saleh wants to establish some sort of trade body to squeeze out independent competition.

My view is summed up by the AFR’s exercise in voxpop. They asked a couple in a Sydney GJ’s. The wife said you could get as good or better at plenty of plenty of places in their hometown of Bowral (not the sticks but not exactly the centre of cafe culture either), while the husband generously allowed

This isn’t the worst coffee I’ve had though. That was in the army

It seems appropriate to me, in a variety of ways, that GJ’s is closely associated with Hillsong Church.

Categories: Life in General Tags:

Make them pay

October 29th, 2005 74 comments

I’m really getting annoyed by the continued onslaught of ads in support of the Liberal Party’s proposals for IR reform. I think it’s time Labor actually stood up to them over this. I suggest nominating a cutoff date and saying that if the ads aren’t stopped after that, a future Labor government will legislate to recover the money from the Liberal Party (or from members of the Cabinet personally). Of course, the chance that they would actually do something like this, let alone follow through on it, is near zero. More likely, this outrage will be treated as a precedent, and taxpayer-funded ads supporting the government will become routine.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Weekend reflections

October 28th, 2005 27 comments

Weekend Reflections is on again. Please comment on any topic of interest (civilised discussion and no coarse language, please). Feel free to put in contributions more lengthy than for the Monday Message Board or standard comments.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

More blog panic

October 28th, 2005 8 comments

The mainstream media panic about blogs reaches new heights with a piece by Daniel Lyons in Forbes (free registration required). Thanks to David Heidelberg for the alert.

The title Attack of the blogs is about the most level-headed sentence in the whole piece. The author’s main concern is “attack blogs” that have the temerity to criticise corporations. Bloggers are variously described as “online haters”, “evil” and “an online lynch mob spouting liberty but spewing lies, libel and invective”. He suggests using the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (which requires hosts to take down copyrighted material used without permission) as a way of silencing critics.

Interestingly, Lyons suggests that “50% to 60% of attacks are sponsored by competitors”, which rather suggests that the appropriate target of his ire should be the corporate sector rather than the blogosphere.

There’s a lengthy critique at Americablog.
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Categories: Metablogging Tags:

The purchasing power parity hypothesis in Europe

October 28th, 2005 11 comments

One of the big issues in the debate over the euro is whether Europe is an optimal currency area, that is, whether prices in Europe move sufficiently closely together to make a common monetary policy a reasonable idea. Looking at the issue when the move to the euro was agreed most observers would have said that Europe wasn’t an optimal currency area. A plausible counterargument is that monetary union will produce the kind of economic integration required. A quick scan of the web didn’t turn up much[1], so I thought I’d do a quick and rough check of my own, so I World Economic Outlook Database, which gives, among lots of other useful things, estimates of purchasing-power-parity adjusted exchange rates for all the countries in the data set. Since the calculations are based on the EU-centric international comparisons project, comparisons of relative price levels between EU countries should be pretty good.

So I looked at the log variance of the $US PPP exchange rate for the euro-12 countries from 1995 to 2005 and here’s what I got


The log variance is a measure of the extent to which real price levels differ and, as the chart shows it has declined smoothly since the beginnings of the move to the euro.

Another interesting feature of the data is the average PPP exchange rate is around $US1.16 to the euro, very close to the rate that actually prevails.

fn1. I found one study by Robert Hill of UNSW, but it only went up to 2000 and covered the whole EU not just the eurozone. Hill found some convergence in price levels, but not as strong as this, but a surprising divergence in relative prices. It would be interesting to check on this.

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Darfur again

October 27th, 2005 29 comments

Until fairly recently, it seemed as if the worst of the tragedy of Darfur was over. The Sudanese government appeared set to rein in the terrorist Janjaweed militia, the rebels seemed willing to negotiate and the international community seemed finally to be taking some action.

But in the last few months, things have gone from bad to worse and ethnic cleansing on a large scale has resumed. There are lots of reports at Passion of the Present

No-one comes out of this with much credit. It’s no surprise, of course, that the Chinese Communists have pursued their standard line of non-interference in the internal affairs of brutal dictatorships. But the position of the democracies is just as bad. The Bush Administration started out with a firm line, arguing that the actions of the Sudanese government and its proxies constituted genocide. But now it’s backed off and is actually siding with Sudan in the Security Council. In part, this is for the creditable reason that Bush wants the separate peace deal that ended the long-running civil war in southern Sudan to hold, and is therefore treating the government gingerly. But Bush is also siding with Sudan in trying to undermine the International Criminal Court.

If Bush has been bad, the Europeans have been even worse. This is a situation very like Bosnia and Kosovo, or Rwanda, the kind of thing the new EU was not going to let happen again. What’s needed here is an effective peacekeeping force. The African Union has supplied some troops but without robust rules of engagement and backup (including both military components like air and logistic support and technical expertise of various kinds) they have proved ineffectual. This is a chance for Europe to show that it can achieve more, at much lower cost, through effective peacekeeping, than can Bush’s militarism. So far, the chance is being blown.

It is a disgrace that the kind of slow-meaning ethnic cleansing we are seeing in Darfur can be allowed to continue, month after month, and year after year, without any real action being taken.

Categories: World Events Tags:

Military history in Tasmania

October 27th, 2005 7 comments

I’ve enjoyed being in Hobart for the first time in more than 20 years. I walked over to Battery Point yesterday morning and enjoyed the historical marker, which said in part

“During the Crimean War panic, a third battery was constructed. Following tradition, it was poorly sited and constructed, and inadequately equipped … More was spent on uniforms and prizes for the volunteer artillery company than on maintaining the guns”

Categories: Life in General Tags:

Down south

October 26th, 2005 8 comments

Hobart-based readers are invited to hear my Giblin lecture on the topic “The Information Revolution and the Post-Economic Society”. It’s mainly a look at the role of non-economic motives in Internet-based innovations, including open source software, blogs and wikis. At the University of Tasmania, 5:30 pm this evening.

Just to confuse matters, there are two Giblin lectures, both in honour of the same Giblin. The other used to be presented at ANZAAS meetings, and has now migrated to the Economic Society. But, looking at his Wikipedia bio he did more than enough for two; and the entry omits his role in the Premiers Plan and his work on the export multipler.

Categories: Life in General Tags:

Bernanke appointed US Fed Chairman

October 25th, 2005 43 comments

Ben Bernanke has been appointed to replace Alan Greenspan, who’s been Chairman of the US Federal Reserve for just about as long as I can remember (the Volcker squeeze was in the early 80s, so he hasn’t been there forever, but it often seems that way).

Bernanke was the obvious candidate, but there was always the possibility that Bush would decide to mend fences with the base by appointing some obscure[1] supply-sider a la Harriet Miers.

Bernanke’s appointment suggests a general bias towards an expansionary monetary policy for the US, and therefore continued low short-term interest rates for Australia. He was prominent in saying that the Fed would not tolerate deflation, and could print money if necessary. More recently, he’s taken a very relaxed view of the US current account deficit, seeing it as the inevitable counterpart to a ‘global savings glut’. I agree with him on the first point but not on the second; there’s a significant risk that the wheels will fall off the entire policy, leading to a rapid depreciation of the dollar and an uncontrolled increase in interest rates, both of which would flow through to Australia.

Market movements were consistent with this analysis (stock prices went up, the dollar fell and the 10-year bond rate rose), but weren’t very big, suggesting that no-one is expecting really big changes.

fn1. This is a redundancy, as there are no prominent supply-siders in the US economics profession. That is, not in the sense of supply-side popularised by Jude Wanniski and Arthur Laffers, although Mundell shares the supply-side liking for a gold standard. Almost all economists are supply-siders in the sense that they think attention should be paid to the supply side of the economy as well as the demand side.

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Now that’s what I call sedition

October 25th, 2005 46 comments

The aptly named Chas Savage in yesterday’s Age.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

PPPs and upfront cash – part 2

October 24th, 2005 18 comments

I’ve been thinking about the upfront cash payments that are apparently part of most recent PPP contracts signed by the RTA in New South Wales. In essence, the government is borrowing money at the average cost of capital imputed to the project (I’d guess this is at least ten per cent), paying fees to the consortium for the privilege and repaying the loan by increasing the allowable monopoly toll. As Chris Sheil said in comments on the previous post, this takes us back to the good old days of selling taxes.

These arbitrary payments undermine claims that PPP contracting has matured and that everything is now to do with value for money and optimal risk allocation. THe purported official rationale I saw was to “ensure that taxpayers are not out of pocket”, which is redolent of the kind of cash-based accounting mentality that got us into the private infrastructure mess in the first place. This is an illustration of the fact that we’ve never got past the kind of deal-driven rent-seeking mentality that has characterised these boondoggles all along.
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Categories: Economic policy Tags:

Monday message board

October 24th, 2005 33 comments

It’s time, once again for the Monday Message Board. As usual, civilised discussion and no coarse language, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

What I’ve been reading

October 23rd, 2005 11 comments

I’ve been too busy to keep up this supposedly regular feature, but I have been reading lots of interesting stuff in the last few months. Over the fold, I’ll list some of them and try to write a sentence or so about each. (I’ll probably keep updating this for a couple of days as I get time). I plan to review some of these, so your suggested priorities would be of interest.
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Categories: Books and culture Tags:

Walkley on blogs

October 22nd, 2005 57 comments

The Walkley magazine (home of the Walkley awards for journalism – the nominees are in this issue), has a feature about blogging, including a bit from me. The money quote from the main article is

Daily Telegraph columnist Anita Quigley spoke for many journalists when she wrote on August 10, 2005: “Why some pimply-faced geek, sicko or average Joe Blow thinks someone else wants to read every random thought that crosses their mind is beyond me. Alongside the belief that we all have a novel in us – we haven’t – blogging is the ultimate form of narcissism.�

There’s also an online blogging forum, but it hasn’t really got started yet.

Also from the Telegraph, a piece by Malcom Farr, which I’ll link without comment. Hat tip, Surfdom

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

PPPs and up-front cash

October 22nd, 2005 9 comments

I only recently caught up with the fact that the Cross-City Tunnel and other PPP projects in NSW involve upfront payments (in this case around $100 million) from the private parties to the Road and Traffic Authority. I haven’t had time to work through the implications of all this, but it certainly raises a lot of questions.

Categories: Economic policy Tags:

No rising generation

October 21st, 2005 29 comments

Reading Maggie Gallagher on how gay marriage will bring an end to marriage as an institution for procreation and Leon Kass on how the Pill has ruined courtship, you can see the usual story of a vanished golden age. For Kass, it’s the turn of the 2Oth century when “our grandfathers came a-calling and a-wooing at the homes of our grandmothers, under conditions set by the woman, operating from strength on her own turf”. For Gallagher, it seems to be the 1950s.

The assumption is that turning the clock back a century (or half a century) will be enough to restore the golden age. In fact, the turn of the 2Oth century was a period of moral panic cast in terms very similar to those of Kass and Gallagher. As effective family planning became possible for the first time, the birth rate plummeted, falling from 5.1 births per married woman to 2.6 in the space of only forty years for the cohorts born between 1860 and 1900. My mother wrote the book on this. It’s loaded with quoted denunciations of selfish females pursuing pleasure at the expense of their duty to the race.
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Categories: Life in General Tags:

Protected by law

October 21st, 2005 25 comments

Like everyone, I’ve been bombarded with government advertising pointing out how marvellous the new world of Industrial Relations is going to be, and in particular how all my existing rights are Protected by Law!. So I thought I’d call the Workchoice hotline number to see what would happen if I was asked to sign an AWA that required me to work on public holidays. I had a few follow-up questions ready but the operator who answered, while trying to be helpful, couldn’t do much more than offer to send me the brochure. Looking around, I see Crikey had much the same experience.

I don’t suppose anything is going to stop this legislation, but the government has certainly chewed up an awful lot of political capital on this one, without any clear idea why it wants it (apart from repealing unfair dismissals laws, which are loathed by the small business base). If the economy ever turns sour, they will be in big trouble.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Weekend reflections

October 21st, 2005 16 comments

Weekend Reflections is on again. Please comment on any topic of interest (civilised discussion and no coarse language, please). Feel free to put in contributions more lengthy than for the Monday Message Board or standard comments.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:


October 20th, 2005 41 comments

The issue of PPPs (public-private partnerships) has been bubbling along for almost a decade, but it has suddenly exploded, partly because of the fiasco with the Cross-City Tunnel in Sydney and partly because of a more general reaction against the string of bad deals that has been handed to the public in the process. I had a piece in the Fin a few weeks ago which elicited a very hostile response from Mark Birrell (former Kennett minister and now head of an industry lobby group). He quoted the British Auditor-general in favour of the British version (PFI), but as a subsequent letter-writer pointed out, some senior figures within the National Audit Office, notably Jeremy Colman, have been highly critical of the accounting for these projects, as have most academics who’ve looked at them.

Since then, there’s been a string of articles and media segments. The Australian, amazingly, has suddenly come out violently against PPPs. I just watched one on the 7:30 report with the redoubtable Tony Harris (whose recent piece has been reprinted at Troppo and also John Goldberg, a long-time critic of the traffic projections and tax arrangements in these deals. There’s some history from Chris Sheil over at LP. My column is over the fold.
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Categories: Economics - General Tags:

The last remnant of the Rum Corps

October 20th, 2005 10 comments

I spoke today at the conference of the Finance and Treasury association[1] about risks to the Australian economy. Regular readers will know my concerns, but Ill try to post the presentation once I can get my FTP software working properly.

As is pretty much standard for such events, I got paid in alcohol, in this case in a very nice presentation case. Academics (and other speakers at such conferences) must be about the last group who stick to this great Australian tradition, dating back to the first days of European settlement. Even garbos don’t get beer so much now that they operate retractable arms rather than picking up bins. The custom still survives here and there (I’ve slung the odd slab for favours of various kinds) but public speaking gigs are the only ones when you can count on it.

fn1. The name refers to corporate accounting functions, not to the government departments.

Categories: Life in General Tags:

The day job

October 19th, 2005 4 comments

Those who’ve wondered what I (and my colleagues) do in my day job might be interested in the first Annual Report of the Risk and Sustainable Management group (1.5 Mb PDF file)

Categories: Life in General Tags:

Water in SE Queensland

October 19th, 2005 2 comments

I spoke at a Brisbane Institute seminar on water policy in South-East Queensland. My argument, consistent with my views of the mixed economy in general, is that we should try to control quantities in the short run and prices in the long run. Restrictions on low-priority uses such as those in force at present, should be the main tool for short-term demand management, but that these are likely to lose effectivness in the long-term. By contrast, prices and trade in water allocations are unsatisfactory in the short run. My other main point, which I’ve made before, we are going to have to look harder at trade between rural areas and cities.

I’ve uploaded my Powerpoint presentation

fn1. It was chaired by fellow-blogger Jennifer Marohasy and, though we’ve clashed a few times in the blogosphere, everything was quite pleasant in person.

Categories: Environment Tags:

The Winter Palace, and after (crossposted at CT)

October 17th, 2005 71 comments

Now seems as good a time as any to mark the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution of 1905. This upsurge of revolt against Czarism was the occasion of some of the most tragic and inspiring scenes in the revolutionary drama: the “Bloody Sunday” march to the Winter Palace, Trotsky’s leadership of the St. Petersburg Soviet and the Potemkin mutiny. The revolution seemed likely to prove successful when the government agreed to a parliamentary constitution (October 17 in the Julian calendar), but once the threat was over, the autocracy reasserted itself, and the Duma was reduced to a talking shop. Less than 10 years later, the Czarists took Russia into the Great War, leading directly to nearly two million deaths and indirectly to many more.

The lesson drawn by many was that peaceful reform was hopeless: this inevitably pushed the most determined revolutionaries, Lenin and the Bolsheviks to the fore, and for much of the 20th century, they appeared to many to have history on their side. After 100 years, however, it is as clear as any historical fact can be that Bolshevism (or, perhaps more accurately, Leninism) has been a complete and catastrophic failure.
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Categories: Politics (general) Tags:

Monday message board

October 17th, 2005 69 comments

It’s time, once again for the Monday Message Board. As usual, civilised discussion and no coarse language, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Doors opening and closing

October 16th, 2005 Comments off

Last night I had the great idea of using Blogpulse trend to look at what had happened to the influence of NY Times columnists since the introduction of Times Select. But these days, it’s difficult to have a really original idea (or maybe just easier to verify unoriginality), and it turns out that Kos beat me to this one a couple of days ago. Anyway I’ve done the work, so here are the results for the last six months on
krugman or “frank rich” or “tom friedman” or “bob herbert” or “david brooks”

The month or so since Times Select came in isn’t unprecedentedly low (there was a similar low patch in June), but blog interest in the NYT certainly appears to have fallen off, as you would expect. And at least some of the recent posts are the tail of the discussion about TS itself, visible as a spike in mid-September.

Meanwhile, AOL has abandoned its decade-old attempt to create a walled garden of pay-only content (and therefore gets a much-coveted link from this blog).

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Sporting news

October 15th, 2005 Comments off

A big win for the Bullets in mark Bradtke’s tonight, coming back from 20 points down to beat Townsville by 11. It was a thriller, still wide open with a minute to play.

And SE Qld readers can see a demonstration of Seiyushin karate and much more at the Gold Coast Arts Centre on Sunday (about 12:30)

Categories: Life in General Tags: