Archive for November, 2005

Bush lied

November 12th, 2005 120 comments

With Americans increasingly convinced that the Bush Administration lied to sell the war in Iraq, Bush and his defenders are pushing an idea that’s been refuted quite a few times before, but obviously needs another go. This is the claim that “everyone believed that Saddam had WMD’s”. Hence, it’s argued, even if the Administration misread the evidence, this was an honest mistake, shared by others. The argument is bolstered by citations from the Clinton Administration, Democrats who supported the war and claims about the concurrence of the French and other intelligence services.

For this argument to hold up, it’s obviously necessary that people believed in Saddam’s weapons independently of what they were told by Bush and Blair. After all, the whole point of the criticism is that the Administration’s lies led people to support the war.
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Categories: World Events Tags:

Weekend reflections

November 12th, 2005 12 comments

Weekend Reflections is on again, a little late this weekend. 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:


November 11th, 2005 20 comments

The two minutes of silence at 11 o’clock was a good time for reflecting both on the bravery and sacrifice of those who have died on war and on the futility and evil of war.

Those who died and all those who endured the horror of war should never be forgotten, both for the fate they suffered and the bravery with which they faced it.

November 11 marks the armistice that brought a temporary end to the first Great War in Europe, a war fought over trivial rivalries between empires that were either destroyed or mortally wounded in the process. The Great War bequeathed us Nazism and Communism, and set the scene for most of the terrible wars that plagued the 20th century. The War was a terrible crime, which carried within it the seeds of even greater crimes. All those who helped to cause and promote it, including the rulers and governments of the time (with a tiny handful of brave exceptions), deserve eternal condemnation.

See also this fine piece at Making Light

The other big November 11 remembrance is the sacking of the Whitlam government 30 years ago. Larvatus Prodeo has a string of great posts about the dismissal, plus links.

Categories: World Events Tags:

How long can this go on ?

November 11th, 2005 18 comments

The record US trade deficit of $66 billion naturally raises the question “How long can this go on?”, and not in a rhetorical sense. To be more precise, the question is “How long before the US trade deficit starts declining” and my best estimate is “No more than two years”.

The reasoning is simple. Given two more years of growth in the deficit, the annual current account deficit will be around 1 trillion dollars (about 8 per cent of GDP) and accumulated net debt will be pushing 40 per cent of GDP[1]. At this point, the effects of compound interest start to bite, as interest on the accumulated debt adds to the income deficit. If trade deficits continue to grow, or even remain stable, the current account deficit explodes. This can’t continue.

If a trend can’t continue, it won’t. Therefore the US trade deficit must begin to decline, and soon. Flow-on effects to Australia are likely.

To be continued …
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Categories: Economics - General Tags:

The surge we didn’t have

November 10th, 2005 23 comments

My piece in today’s Fin is about the productivity blip – I posted an extract a couple of days ago, and now you can read the whole thing, over the fold.
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Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Blogwiki meet wikiblog

November 10th, 2005 2 comments

Tim Worstall, who also has a blogbook coming out, sends news of a wiki for blogs. To quote from the site

For the love of God, no!

They said it shouldn’t be done, and they were probably right, but here it is anyway

The project is still in its infancy, but will be a good resource if it works.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Some good news on the terrorism front

November 10th, 2005 10 comments

The Blair government has been defeated on the floor of Parliament over a proposal to let police hold terrorist suspects for up to 90 days without charge, with 48 Labour members joining the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in an amendment reducing the period to 28 days. It would certainly be good if Australian “conservatives” were conservative about things like habeas corpus.

And having lived by the bomb, JI bombmaker Amrozi Azahari has apparently died by it, blowing himself up to avoid capture by the Indonesian police. The Indonesians have done a great job in capturing, trying and convicting the main members of the JI terrorist network. Their one failure, not nailing “spiritual leader” Bashir on a major charge, was due, as much as anything else to the refusal of the US authorities to allow Bashir’s main lieutenant, Hambali, whose evidence could have been vital, to testify.

Categories: World Events Tags:

Game over ?

November 9th, 2005 40 comments

Among the many long-running policy debates in which I’ve been involved, the most drawn-out (except maybe for the one about private infrastructure and PPPs) has concerned micro-economic reform and productivity growth. For the last decade or so, the Productivity Commission and others have been claiming that reform has generated a surge in productivity growth, notably multifactor productivity growth (the term ‘multifactor’ refers to the fact that capital as well as labour inputs are taken into account) estimated by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

One reason the debate is so drawn out is that the ABS presents estimates for ‘productivity cycles’, which are supposed to smooth out year-to-year fluctuations. Until very recently (in fact, until two days ago), the most recent cycle for which estimates were available ended in 1998-99, and this showed strong MFP growth. Arguments that this was a cyclical recovery or the result of increased work intensity were waved away.
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Categories: Economics - General Tags:

How to deal with terrorism

November 8th, 2005 81 comments

Sixteen people have been arrested in Sydney and Melbourne and charged with terrorism offences. While the individuals involved are legally entitled to a presumption of innocence, the police were right to act when faced with evidence suggesting a threat.

What’s important here is that the threat has been dealt with under criminal law, rather than through the use of arbitrary powers of secret detention, as proposed in the new anti-terror laws. Moreover, it appears that the offences created by the 2002 legislation are sufficient to encompass a wide range of terrorist activities. By contrast, it’s hard to imagine how the revival of the notion of sedition in the 1914 Crimes act could have proved useful in this, or any similar case.
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Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Monday message board

November 7th, 2005 47 comments

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

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

At the Academy

November 7th, 2005 10 comments

I’m at the annual meeting of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia. I’ll be talking in a symposium on Ideas and Influence on the topic “Economic liberalism: Fall, Revival and Resistance”. This evening there’s a public lecture from Paul Kelly on Rethinking Australian Government, at the Shine Dome (Academy of Science).

I had dinner last night with Max Corden, one of the great names in Australian economics, and we had a fascinating discussion about trade and current account deficits and the ways they might come back into balance smoothly (or not).

Then there was a colloquium on the topic of a Bill of Rights, at which Hilary Charlesworth and Larissa Behrendt spoke, which produced a couple of new (to me) developments. First, most people seem to have abandoned the idea of inserting a Bill of Rights into the Constitution, favouring a legislated Bill instead. Rather than being entrenched, this would require courts to interpret laws consistently with human rights as far as possible. If governments wanted to pass laws inconsistent with the Bill of Rights they could do so, but they would have to be explicit about it.

The second point is that the ACT has already passed such a Bill and that other states are considering it. This is part of a more general trend where the old assumption that the only way to achieve desirable progress is to centralise power in the federal government is being overturned.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Mine enemy’s enemy

November 6th, 2005 28 comments

I haven’t found enough information on the riots in France, to make any useful comment on what’s happening, except an obvious one, that the Chirac government has made an awful mess of things.

In this context, there’s an expectation about that leftists should defend Chirac and his government, and therefore be embarrassed by his failures. The first time this expectation arose was when (thanks to poor performance and co-ordination on the left) Chirac ended up in a run-off against Le Pen for the presidency in 2002. Hence it was necessary for the left to campaign for a strong vote against Le Pen and, necessarily, for Chirac. Then in 2003, Chirac’s government led the opposition to the Iraq war at the UN, by virtue of its permanent membership of the UNSC, rather than because of its great moral standing. Still, the war had to be opposed, and Chirac therefore had to be supported.

But the argument that ‘mine enemy’s enemy is my friend’ can only go so far. Much of the reason why French Gaullists annoy US Republicans is that they have so much in common. There’s little doubt that, if Chirac had the kind of global power that Bush does, he’d abuse it in exactly the same way. Australians and New Zealanders, who’ve seen Chirac and his predecessors throwing their weight around in the South Pacific (long used as the site for French nuclear tests), are well aware of this. The same kind of heavy-handedness is evident in domestic policy and seems to have contributed to the riots.

Categories: World Events Tags:

Have PPPs matured ?

November 5th, 2005 8 comments

I’ve been involved in the debate over private infrastructure and public-private partnerships for more than a decade, and have accumulated lots of evidence that the public sector generally loses from these deals. One response I get a lot is that the process has matured and that the failures of the 1990s are no longer relevant.

Sydney’s Cross-City tunnel fiasco makes it clear that this is not the case. This deal has all the features that I and others have been criticising for years – secret clauses, restrictions on future planning, closure of alternative routes, crippling penalties for changes and so on. But there’s more. The inclusion of an upfront payment to the RTA, effectively creating a slush fund outside the normal budget process, is an abuse that wasn’t even contemplated a decade ago.

It’s reported Treasury is furious over this and I’m not surprised. They’ve been trying to establish a coherent PPP process, but toll road projects seem to fall outside its scope. But the fundamental problems are, as far as I can see, inherent in the whole concept.

Other recent developments make it clear that we need a moratorium on PPP deals. How can the public interest possibly be protected when any politician or public servant involved in these processes can expect a multi-million dollar sinecure on retirement, provided they don’t upset the applecart? You only have to look at the payrolls of the major players in the industry to see what I mean. Tony Harris, the former Auditor-General who exposed the dodgy accounting behind many of the early schemes is one of the few people involved in the process who doesn’t have a cushy job or consultancy of some kind.

Categories: Economic policy Tags:

Sistani rules, again

November 4th, 2005 29 comments

I haven’t seen much discussion of this AP report that Ayatollah Sistani is likely to call for a withdrawal of US troops after the elections on December 15 (found via Juan Cole).

It’s unclear whether this is an accurate report of Sistani’s intentions, a trial balloon, or an attempt by some in his circle to create a fait accompli. But assuming the report is accurate, it seems clear, as Cole says, that any attempt to resist such a demand from Sistani would be futile, especially now that the Sadrists, still violently opposed to the occupation, are likely to play a large role in the new government. Nevertheless, the US, backed by current PM Jaafari is currently seeking a 12-month extension of the occupation mandate from the UN, instead of the 6-month extensions sought previously.
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Categories: World Events Tags:

Weekend reflections

November 4th, 2005 41 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:

Guest post from Rhonda Stone

November 4th, 2005 26 comments

By email, Rhonda Stone has sent in the following piece relating to earlier discussions here. Comments are welcome, but, remember that Rhonda is a guest, and please be particularly sure to stick to civilised discussion. Comments that abuse the poster or other commenters will be deleted.

If the brain reads sentences through a process of decoding or otherwise identifying individual words, how is it possible to read this:

B4UASsM2MCH ABT RDNG, cnsdr tht th BRNISWNDRFLY KreaTV& efcnt.
(copyright, 2005, Dee Tadlock, Ph.D., Read Right Systems, Inc.)

I would love to know if it has occurred to many of your readers that neither the phonics and decoding view of reading and development nor whole language philosophy accurately reflect what it is that the brain does when it reads sentences? What if individual word identification and sentence reading are completely seperate cognitive acts? What would that mean to our understanding of what must be done to prevent and correct reading problems?
Read more…

Categories: Books and culture, Life in General Tags:

For daylight saving

November 3rd, 2005 77 comments

Mark Bahnisch comes out against daylight saving, arguing that, in Brisbane’s summer weather it’s better to finish work after sunset.

I’m generally in favour as I tend to wake up with the sun. Because Brisbane is so far east (we’re not far from Byron Bay), sunrise in summer is very early – it’s light before 5am. In some ways, that’s good (it’s a great time to get work done), but not if you want to stay up past about 9pm. It gets dark pretty early, around 6:30.

I suspect that daylight saving here does little more than restore the time in Brisbane to what it would be under “God’s time”, without time zones or other fiddles.

The problem is, of course, that the state is big in both directions. The tropics have very little seasonal variation in the length of the day, which makes daylight saving in summer nonsensical while the west has the opposite problem to Brisbane. But given that we have to have one time zone for the whole state (an internal border would be ludicrous), we should pick it to suit the majority, who live in the Southeast corner.

Of course, anyone who really doesn’t like daylight saving could leave their watch unchanged, stick to their old schedules as far as possible, and just bear in mind that everyone else is using a different time. The reverse is true in the present situation if you really like daylight saving.

Categories: Life in General Tags:

IR reform and inequality

November 2nd, 2005 144 comments

It looks as if the IR legislation will be passed through the Parliament while we are all changing the channel to get away from the barrage of ads supporting it, so I suppose I’d better comment now, before taking the time to wade through the 600 pages of simplification the government is giving us. I’m mainly concerned with the likely impact on inequality

Taking the central elements of the legislation separately, it’s possible to make a case in regard to any one of them that the effect on inequality will be modest, or even favourable. It can be pointed out, for example, that many minimum wage earners are in high-income households, so a lower minimum wage won’t be so bad. And making it easier to sack people ought to promote more hiring as well as more firing, which should be good for those who are now unemployed.

These arguments are plausible, but not clear-cut. On the other hand, when we look at the macro evidence, we get very clear evidence pointing the other way. Wherever reforms like this have been introduced, notably the UK and NZ, inequality has increased drastically on almost all dimensions (capital vs labour, variance in wages, wage premiums of all kind, unequal allocation of work). In the US, where these institutions have been entrenched for a long time, inequality is higher than in any other developed country and getting rapidly worse.

It may not be clear which piece of the reform package is doing the work, but the aggregate outcome can be predicted with safety.

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Make them pay, part 2

November 1st, 2005 67 comments

In response to my last post about taxpayer-funded IR propaganda, Things I’ve Seen comes up with a neat suggestion.

At the end of every advert, where we currently have “Authorised by”, add “This advert was paid for by the Australian taxpayer”. Then let democracy take its course.

The neat thing is that if ads were genuinely helpful and informative, tazpayer-viewers wouldn’t mind.

A requirement of this kind could be inserted by legislation, and it would be a brave government that subsequently removed it. Of course, it would only happen if it could be done in the first few days after a change of government, when the habits of power had not yet grown familiar.

Categories: Politics (general) Tags:

League tables

November 1st, 2005 2 comments

Everybody loves league tables, especially when they do well. A couple of people (Graeme Halford and Jack Strocchi) pointed me to the Times Higher Education Supplement university league tables. Unfortunately the tables themselves are behind a paywall, but those ranked highly have not been quiet about it. The University of Queensland is ranked in the top 50 in the world and, for the social sciences, comes in at number 25. (It’s a bit annoying, by the way that the UQ press release runs first on the #29 ranking in biomedical science, and lists social sciences as an also-ran)

This is a pretty impressive ranking, though I’d be interested to see the criteria that put 17 Australian universities in the world’s top 200, compared to 54 in the US and 24 in Britain. It seems to overstate our relative importance, and to suggest that we are punching way above our weight. Still, the THES doesn’t seem likely to suffer from pro-Australian bias.

Categories: Life in General Tags: