Archive for February, 2006

Fabricated or recycled ?

February 13th, 2006 32 comments

For reasons that aren’t clear to me, Tim Blair seems eager to remind everyone about an article on DDT by Miranda Devine in which virtually every significant statement was both easily checkable and obviously wrong. You can check, point by point and with extensive references at Wikipedia.[1]
Read more…

Categories: Environment, Metablogging Tags:

Monday message board

February 13th, 2006 42 comments

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

Categories: Regular Features Tags:


February 12th, 2006 Comments off

Quite a few people have been having trouble with my RSS feed. I upgraded to WordPress 2.0.1 in the hope that this might improve things, but instead this managed to replace the main feed with the comment feed. Pushing my coding skills to the limit I managed to find and implement the necessary fix which also requires a rebuild of the permalink structure.

I’m hoping that the earlier problems may have been resolved in this process. Advice on this much appreciated.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:


February 12th, 2006 34 comments

Last weekend my wife pointed out a channel-billed cuckoo chick being fed by its “adoptive” parents, two crows. Crows are fair-sized birds but the cuckoo was already bigger than either. I’d never seen this before except in books.

Categories: Life in General Tags:

Call for help

February 12th, 2006 2 comments

John Humphreys is asking for some help for a Khmer friend and colleague whose family is having a rough time.

On a related note, while I was at AARES, I got talking about co-authors and it struck me that mine come from at least a dozen different countries. Going roughly from east to west they include NZ, Australia (obviously), Vietnam, Thailand, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Greece, Italy, France, Netherlands, Spain, England and the US. It’s certainly one of the great things about an academic life that this kind of contact is natural and taken for granted.

Categories: Life in General Tags:

What can't be sustained, won't be

February 11th, 2006 142 comments

The US recorded a trade deficit of $725.8 billion or 5.8 per cent of GDP in 2006. That’s roughly equal to Australia’s entire GDP. With short-run interest rates having risen, the income component of the current account deficit is bound to start growing rapidly soon. If the trade deficit doesn’t turn around this will generate an unsustainable explosion in debt and deficits.

Read more…

Categories: General Tags:

Weekend reflections

February 10th, 2006 29 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:

Couldn't happen to a nicer …

February 10th, 2006 55 comments

A Bush appointee at NASA, in the news for trying to censor statements about the Big Bang, and silence climate expert James Hansen, has lost his job for falsifying his resume, after being caught out by a science blogger

Great work by the blogosphere, and another data point on the close links between climate change denialism and creationism, and of course, between the Bush Administration and fraud.

Categories: Environment Tags:


February 10th, 2006 3 comments

I haven’t posted much lately as I’ve been busy preparing for, and, for the last few days, attending the Annual Conference of the Australian Agricultural & Resource Economics Society, which ends today. This year it’s been held in Sydney, by the beach at Manly. The weather has been great and the beach tempting, but I’ve barely had time to do more than look out the window at it, as the quantity and quality of papers has been great. In particular, there has been a lot of work on salinity (irrigation-related and dryland) which I’ll be going over for some time to come.

The conference has crystallised some of my concerns about policy in this area, which I’ve referred to in the past, and will probably write more about soon. Broadly speaking, I think it’s time for governments to bite the bullet and either scale back entitlements of water for irrigation (in catchments where over-allocation is clear) or else buy them back from irrigators to be used for environmental and urban flows. At present, there is a lot of resistance to doing this, and a big focus on technical solutions.

Categories: Environment Tags:


February 9th, 2006 52 comments

A couple of people have asked for a post on the great cartoon controversy. It’s a basic principle of a free society people should be able to publish material of this kind without fear of prosecution or physical attack, and anyone who threatens or incites such physical attacks should be prosecuted.

Having said that, my reaction to the displays of bigotry and (largely confected) outrage associated with the whole business are pretty much summed up by Chris Bertram.

Categories: Politics (general) Tags:


February 8th, 2006 12 comments

Economist and regular commenter here, Harry Clarke, has started his own blog. Quite a few meaty posts already, so visit and comment.

Update Adding to the Ozeconoblogosphere is my co-author[1] Joshua Gans. Go and join his captive audience.

fn1. The Oz economics profession is so small and interconnected that “six degrees of separation” is an overstatement. One way of another, nearly everyone is linked pretty closely to everyone else.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Earthquake appeal final report

February 6th, 2006 7 comments

Thanks to $20 from Alpaca and an anonymous $100, we passed the $1500 target for the South Asia earthquake appeal. I’ve just sent off my matching donation, so that’s $3000 we’ve raised between us. Here are some examples of the benefits this kind of aid can bring (not earthquake-specific, but they give the general idea).

I’d also like to note reader Jess Moulday who’s going to be volunteering in Muzaffarabad for two months, and points to this link. Well done, Jess!

Thanks once again to everyone who pitched in and gave what they could. For those who couldn’t afford to give this time, I hope the appeal has helped to raise awareness of the problems.

Categories: Life in General Tags:

The ultimate generation game book

February 6th, 2006 15 comments

Andrew Norton points to a newly-released book by one Ryan Heath (aged 25), entitled Please Just F* Off: It’s Our Turn Now. This perfectly sums up the entire genre, and I’m pretty confident we can read Ryan’s entire life history in the title.

At age 8 at recess time, he would have been making this forceful request to his schoolmates at the swings in the playground. As the end of recess approached he would have been still on the swings, smugly ignoring others who had waited their turn more politely. Now, he’s trying to claim the spots occupied by Boomers in the media and elsewhere, ignoring (as Paul Watson notes in comments) the long queue of X-ers waiting for their turn. In 2030, if his ploy has succeeded, he’ll be denouncing slackers, dole bludgers or whatever catchphrase is currently being applied to degenerate youth and opining that ‘the younger generation wants it all handed to them on a plate’.

Categories: Books and culture Tags:

Dryland salinity

February 6th, 2006 54 comments

Jennifer Marohasy has a couple of posts on dryland salinity, including a link to an excellent survey of the recent debate by John Passioura (subscription required). Marohasy’s interpretation is (as always) that the problem has been grossly exaggerated. This kind of unvarying optimism (or the alternative position that environmental disaster is invariably impending) is a fine example of the ‘stopped clock‘ approach to punditry. If you make this kind of claim on every issue, you’re going to be right about half the time.

In the case of dryland salinity, it’s easy enough to find examples of both excess pessimism and excess optimism. Among the optimistic errors noted by Passioura are the assumption of the Western Australian government 20 to 25 years ago that the salinity problem was well in hand, and that there was no problem with large scale clearing. This was covered in a book by Beresford et al which I mentioned a couple of years ago. Another form of excess optimism is the belief that there are easy solutions. These include engineering solutions like the use of the Murray as a drain for saline water (seriously proposed in the not-so-distant past as Passioura notes) and, more recently, large-scale tree planting. As I observed in the post I’ve already mentioned, it’s turned out that in many cases, the area that has to be planted is so great and the time to fix the problem so long that, in a lot of cases, it appears not be economically feasible.

Another piece of bad news is that, whereas early studies focused almost exclusively on agriculture, dryland salinity can cause substantial economic losses through damage to roads, buildings and so on. On the other hand, remote sensing has suggested that the area affected by dryland salinity is less than first thought, and that trends are more variable. And the alarming estimate of 17 million hectares derived from the National Salinity Audit refers to the area that might (in the absence of policy change) have high water tables and therefore be at risk of dryland salinity, not the area that is likely to be actually affected.

If you want an easily accessible view of the problem (a little out of date now, but still very good), I recommend David Pannell’s 2001 AARES Presidential Address Dryland Salinity: Inevitable, Inequitable, Intractable? .

Update 8/2/06In response to a challenge to nominate an environmental issue where urgent action is needed, Jennifer Marohasy says

“In a recent blog post (a version of the same published as an article for The Land newspaper) I suggest something needs to be done about overgrazing in the Macquarie Marshes, This links back to the even more dramatic
Cattle Killing the Macquarie Marshes?.”

Despite the question mark, Marohasy is pretty confident the answer is “Yes’. Her evidence? “An aerial photo showing the line of demarcation between an overgrazed private property and ungrazed nature reserve. As she says, “the impact of grazing here is obvious and dramatic.”

But there are many, many similarly dramatic photos of environmental damage in the Murray-Darling. In these cases Marohasy rightly says that dramatic photos may be misleading and need to be backed up by scientific research (when the scientific research is produced she rejects it, but that’s by the way). [I will try to get some more info on this, and report what research has in fact been done].

How is that Marohasy is so quick, in this case, to label farmers as environmental vandals, and to call for urgent action, when she normally disputes conclusions based on decades of research?

A reading of the posts makes the answer pretty clear. The Macquarie Marsh graziers are in conflict with the irrigators she represents. Follow the money.

Categories: Environment Tags:

Whose $300 million ?

February 6th, 2006 22 comments

As the AWB hearings go on, one important question doesn’t seem to have been asked[1]. If $300 million was paid as bribes to Saddam, whose money was it, and should they be repaid?

Although the AWB paid the money on behalf of Australian wheatgrowers, they got it back (and probably some more on top) in the form of inflated prices. So the money was in fact stolen from the UN, which in turn held it on behalf of the Iraqi people, who were supposed to be trading oil for food, bypassing the Saddam regime.

AWB, or failing that the Australian government, should repay this money to the Iraqi government, which is in dire financial straits now that US reconstruction funding has stopped.

fn1. There’s a similar question to do with misappropriation of Iraqi money under the Coalition Provision Administration, but I need to look into this one a bit more.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Monday message board

February 6th, 2006 33 comments

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

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Earthquake appeal update

February 5th, 2006 1 comment

The Pakistan earthquake appeal has been a huge success. Generous readers (see over) have donated a total of $1365 so far, easily surpassing the $1000 I promised to match. So, rather than close off early, I’ll raise my maximum contribution to $1500, and match any further contributions up to that limit, up to midnight tonight (blog time).

A few people made cash for comment offers, which I’ll address when I get a bit more free time.

List of donors so far

Harry Clark 100
James Farrell 100
Robert Merkel 25
Wilful 50
Jack & Claire 20
Craig Malam 100
Steve Edwards 100
Tim Dymond 150
Dave 30
Steve Munn 50
Helen 20
Kim Weatherall 50
James White 100
Nabakov 50
Hirvi 30 (20 euros)
dj 50
Peter D 60
rnr 100
Ian 50
Emma 30
anonymous 100
Total 1365

A few people made cash for comment offers, which I’ll address when I get a bit more free time.

Categories: Life in General Tags:

The greatest generation ?

February 4th, 2006 47 comments

One of the journalistic tropes I most dislike is the generation game. It’s essentially a young person’s game, so lately we’ve mostly seen people under 45 (the so-called generations X and Y) putting the boot into those aged between 45 and 60 (Boomers). The results have been reliably silly, and also repetitious – the complaints and responses are little changed from 30 to 40 years ago, when boomers were mouthing slogans like “Never trust anyone over 30” .

But the game is even sillier when played by those old enough to know better, like Richard Neville. In Salon, Gary Kamiya gently skewers the latest of the genre, a book claiming that the Boomers are a “Greater Generation” than the one that fought World War II by virtue of their struggles for civil rights, equality and so on. Crucial quote

Leaving aside the obvious definitional and chronological difficulties — many of the boomers’ achievements were set in motion by men and women from the Greatest Generation — is it really fair to say that a group consisting of millions of people “did” anything?

As I’ve said before, I look forward to a time when the idea that you can classify a person by the date on their birth certificate is accepted only in the astrology columns.

Categories: Books and culture Tags:

Weekend reflections

February 3rd, 2006 73 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:

Earthquake appeal update 2

February 2nd, 2006 1 comment

As at 4 pm today, donations for the Pakistan earthquake appeal totalled $695, which I will match for a total of $1390. I’m hoping we can raise this to $1000 + a matching $1000 from me, so I’m going to keep running the appeal until Sunday. Thanks to everyone who’s donated, and specially to those for even a small subtraction from the weekly budget is a big effort. Please add your promises to the earthquake appeal comment thread, not this one.

Categories: Life in General Tags:

Some thoughts on the AWB monopoly

February 2nd, 2006 37 comments

Although I’ve worked on agricultural economics for nearly thirty years, I’ve never given much thought to “single desk selling”, the policy under which Australia nominates a single source (formerly a government agency and now a quasi-private business) to supply exports of commodities such as wheat and sugar. The scandal engulfing AWB (the former Australian Wheat Board, now privatised) has naturally raised the issue of whether this export monopoly should continue. On reflection, I think it should not.

There are a couple of reasons why we might favour an export monopoly. The first is the classic idea of exploiting Australian monopoly power to generate higher returns. There are a few problems with this. First, our monopoly power in the world wheat market is very limited, even allowing for the fact that wheat is not a homogeneous commodity. Second, in the absence of restrictions on the aggregate supply of wheat, this implies diverting additional wheat to the domestic market, depressing prices there. While that’s a benefit to consumers, it means that the net gain to wheatgrowers from the operation of the AWB will be pretty modest. Finally, it doesn’t appear to me that AWB acts in the way required. Far from that of a tightfisted monopolist, the AWB culture comes across as that of hotshot sales types, eager to do whatever is necessary to bring home a deal.

The second case for an export monopoly is that of countervailing power. Here the idea is that the buying side of the market is dominated by big players who will, if left unchecked, divide and conquer Australian wheatgrowers. In a situation where Australian growers were bargaining individually with monopsony buyers, the establishment of a publicly-supported export supplier might be a good idea. But, given that such a supplier exists, it’s hard to see why it needs to retain monopoly rights. If, as claimed, it gets better prices for wheatgrowers than they can get for themselves, or through other exporters, why would they switch?

As far as wheat is concerned, the question is, I think, academic. AWB’s reputation has been so badly shredded that any deal they make from now on will be open to attack by foreign competitors, unless it is at such a discount as to make it clear that it could not possibly incorporate a bribe. This is already happening in Iraq, (though the Americans had grabbed the market for themselves in any case). So if want to keep the single-desk policy, we’ll have to establish a completely new enterprise to work it.

Categories: Economic policy Tags:

All's Right With the World ?

February 1st, 2006 22 comments

I happened (via Charles Dodgson at Through the Looking Glass) to discover that George Bush rarely goes to church (behind paywall, but the intro gives you the basics).

NTTAWWT – I’m sure he goes more often than I do. But it struck me as a blogworthy factoid.

Categories: Life in General Tags:

Earthquake appeal update

February 1st, 2006 2 comments

As at 8:00 am today, donations totalled $595, and in addition, reader “Spog” advises that s/he had donated $200 the day before the appeal started. Please keep posting donations as comments to the original post, so I can keep track of them.

Over four appeals, we’ve now managed to raise more than $6000, the majority contributed by generous regular readers. The money has gone to relief appeals for the Asian tsunami, Darfur, the Niger famine and the Pakistan earthquake, and also to the Global Fund which supports the continuing work of Medecins Sans Frontiers.

While I sometimes get jaded with blogging, this kind of effort never fails to hearten me. Thanks, everyone!

Categories: Life in General Tags:

ID Cards

February 1st, 2006 51 comments

A correspondent reminds me I haven’t posted on the latest proposal for an ID card. The only difference to previous occasions is that the proposal is being pushed by Philip Ruddock (reversing his previuos stand). Unlike the usual case with proposals of this kind, we don’t have to ask the question “what would happen if this power fell into the wrong hands” – the power would go straight to the wrong hands.

As far as physical cards are concerned, there are two possibilities. One is that the card would be required only on the kinds of occasions, photo ID is required at present (boarding a plane, for example) in which case there are no great costs in terms of civil liberties, but also no great benefits. The other is that police would be able to demand production of the card at will, which would reduce us to the level of the quasi-dictatorial regimes where people went in fear of losing their “papers”.

It’s also worth noting that non-residents are presumably the group of greatest concern wrt terrorism and they could scarcely be issued with cards, so they would continue to use passports as ID – it does not appear to be hard to get a fake passport from many countries.

The real issue in most debates of this kind is not so much the cards themselves as the associated system of data matching. Most of the time, the assumption of proponents is that the card should be tied to a comprehensive database, accessible by all sorts of government officials. An inevitable consequence is that corrupt officials will, on occasion, make the data available to private parties. Some data-matching is inevitable and desirable, but this should be against a general presumption that information supplied to a government agency or department is confidential to that department, unless a specific case for sharing classes of information can be made.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags: