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Monday message board

September 25th, 2006

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

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  1. econwit
    September 25th, 2006 at 17:58 | #1

    Now I have heard it all.

    “THE country’s top tax official has dismissed claims that Australia has the world’s most labyrinthine tax system.”

    http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/tax-chief-passes-buck-on-claims-of-complexity/2006/09/24/1159036415593.html

  2. Scott
    September 25th, 2006 at 18:40 | #2

    I’ve recently finished Greg Palast’s exceptional book. It raises more points worth discussing than I could bring up here, but there is something in particular that I’d like to hear from some economists views on.

    President Chavez in a recent interview with Palast floated the idea of forming an alternative to the IMF, an International Humanitarian Bank.

    “We are just creating an alternative way to conduct financial exchange. It is based on cooperation. For example, we send oil to Uruguay for their refinery and they are paying us with cows.”

    Chavez has already outplayed the IMF in both Ecuador and Argentina and Palast’s recent piece discusses how he in a position to do this on a much larger scale.

    So, I was wondering, what do you think of his chances?

  3. September 25th, 2006 at 19:28 | #3

    Scott,
    It will last as long as the oil price remains high and he is able to keep beggaring his people by pumping out the oil for his own benefit. No longer than that.

  4. Terje
    September 25th, 2006 at 23:03 | #4

    I’d be interested to hear what people think about Larry Singers plans to fork Wikipedia later this month with the launch of citizendium.org.

    http://en.wikinews.org/wiki/Larry_Sanger_announces_Wikipedia_fork

    Given the intention that citizendium will provide greater appeal to academics and recognised subject matter experts, and in so doing bring them in from the cold, I would be particularily interested in the views of those that work in academia.

    Do you currently contribute to Wikipedia?

    Do you think qualified experts such as academics should be given increased recognition in such an undertaking?

    Would you contribute to Citizendium?

    Do you think the philosophy behind Citizendium is better than Wikipedia, worse than Wikipedia or just different?

    http://www.citizendium.org

  5. gordon
    September 26th, 2006 at 08:51 | #5

    Citizendium justs sounds like a new version of Wikipedia arising from a personal dispute between Sanger and Wales. And from the way the linked article reads, it’s likely to be a censored version.

  6. Terje
    September 26th, 2006 at 14:58 | #6

    Gordon,

    I don’t think that anybody would deny that.

    However it is still also an innovation. One that may prosper or may fail. I take it that you don’t see much promise in it.

    An earlier fork of Wikipedia is here:-

    http://www.wikinfo.org/

    Wikinfo replaced Wikipedias NPOV with SPOV which means that articles are written from a Sympathetic Point of View in which the aim is to “present the subject in as affirmative a light as the facts will permit”. The idea is that there should be a pluralism of articles rather than a reach for one single objective truth about everything.

    Regards,
    Terje.

  7. 2 tanners
    September 26th, 2006 at 15:50 | #7

    Econwit,

    Not sure I agree with you. I invite you to even look at the forms for the US (much less the tax code itself) before agreeing our system is most complex in the world. And I thought D’Anscenzio was pretty brave basically stating that the design of the system was not predicated on efficiency or effectiveness but superficial voter attractiveness.

    His claim that he only spends a couple of minutes doing his return (and does so by simply signing off his pay statement) implies that he values his time higher than money and he has no investments. I certainly have my doubts there, unless he has a spouse whose return takes considerably longer :)

    But what do you expect from a country like ours? With some notable exceptions most of us can at least access the concessions that are there, even if many of them are designed for the rich and the corporate.

    I saw a figure, I’m not sure how reliable, that a family with two children had to earn over $56,000 p.a. to pay tax once FBT was factored into the mix. I will lay very good odds that most families would prefer to pay tax “and get some back” than pay no tax at all. Never understood it, of course, but I see people crowing over their tax returns which imply a tax free loan to the Government or bemoaning tax bills which imply the reverse.

    In summary, I think the Commissioner is right. The tax system is designed by politicians who know more and more about what people think they want. And the devil may take good tax design principles.

  8. scott
    September 26th, 2006 at 19:15 | #8

    Andrew,

    “It will last as long as the oil price remains high and he is able to keep beggaring his people by pumping out the oil for his own benefit. No longer than that.”

    Not sure what evidence you have that he’s “pumping out the oil for his own benefit.” Perhaps he is benefitting from the oil windfall, but so it seems is the poor majority of Venezuela. Why do you believe Chavez is beggaring them?

    Regardless, I don’t hear anyone predicting oil prices below $30/bbl in the foreseeable future. So, with five times the exploitable reserves of the Saudis (at that price), and no respect for US treasury bills, isn’t Chavez in a powerful position to offer an attractive alternative to the IMF, as they already have for Ecuador and Argentina?

  9. taust
    September 26th, 2006 at 21:41 | #9

    Scott;
    In Fernand Braudel’s ‘Civilisation and Capitalism 15th to 18th century’ whenever bartering or mutual arrangements competed with capitalism, capitalism was the form to survive.

    Nothing since then leads me to think the situation has changed.

    What do you think is Chavez’ secret? It cannot be access to a resource because this has never proven sufficient before.

  10. scott
    September 26th, 2006 at 23:23 | #10

    Taust,

    It seems to me that what Chavez is challenging is the Washington concensus, which has more to do with management than capitalism as an idea.

    As for his ‘secret’, I don’t think he’s concealing very much. Venezeula, like much of Latin America, is majority poor ‘negro e indio’. It’s no secret that the enormous natural resource wealth has been highly concentrated in the hands of a tiny – usually white – elite and Chavez is changing this. The majority supports it and therefore support him.

    I don’ t think Chavez is arguing against capitalism, at least any more than the Scandinavians do.

  11. derrida derider
    September 27th, 2006 at 09:20 | #11

    Whatever the shortcomings of Bolivarian policy (probably considerable), from the POV of the mass of people it can’t be worse than the likely alternative – continued rule by a selfish and repressive oligarchy who are big on Swiss bank accounts and Miami real estate and small on investing resources windfalls in the country’s future. scott is spot on.

    But the proposed barter arangements look dumb. He’d do better proposing a currency and customs union if he wants independence from the Yanks.

    But Bolivarians and Bushies alike need to learn that how much governments should do is a quite separate question from how they should finance what they do. The first is legitimately an ideological question, the second mainly a technical one. There’s nothing especially left- or right- wing about managing the public finances properly.

  12. econwit
    September 27th, 2006 at 23:16 | #12

    2 tanners,

    Yes, I looked at the US forms and they are not much better than ours.

    Maybe I am in the minority, but running a small business, it easily takes 20% of my time dealing with compliance of the Tax Act. It can not be necessary to have 7000 plus pages of legislation. No matter what D’Anscenzio says, the tax act is a large handicap on productivity in our economy.

    “implies that he values his time higher than money�
    It could also imply (like most public servants) that D’Anscenzio doesn’t know the value of money and that he is being paid too much for the tasks he performs.

    Unfortunately you are right, the tax system isn’t designed to be simple or popular, it is designed to get politicians s re-elected by what ever perverted means.

  13. Ros
    September 28th, 2006 at 11:38 | #13

    How do these myths like Chavez cares about the poor get so easily accepted. There are a number of Venezuelan bloggers who disagree vehemently. As with this one who describes his blog “Beyond the multi-billion dollar Chavista propaganda apparatus: A center-left view of the political events taking place in Venezuela aimed at exposing Hugo Chávez as the fascist, authoritarianand highly ineffective dictator he really is�
    http://suffolkjournal.blogspot.com/
    This is his paraphrased version of Chavez’s manifesto for re-election,

    a) Threats
    If the oppositionist forces withdrew from the elections, cowardly saying that I am a tyrant and this is an illegitimate regime, I can’t be held responsible for what I will do.
    You will regret it for as long as you live, I swear, you will regret it and so will your imperial overlords.
    I am devoting my time to plan a counter-attack that will annihilate the oppositionist movement, I won’t have mercy.
    You may take it as a warning, that permissive Hugo Chávez you have dealt with before is long gone.

    b) A one-party revolution
    All we need to complete our regeneration is unity, I insist comrades: we must seize this opportunity to further the idea of unity among our political parties, their electoral apparatuses and their militants.
    I have always harbored the idea that we should walk toward a one-party structure within the frame of the Bolivarian revolution, the only party of all Venezuelans that will prevent the dispersion of forces.

    c) Our true contender: The United States of America
    We are not facing them (the oppositionist forces), don’t you forget it; this battle is against the North American empire, that’s out true contender. I won’t allow that Venezuela becomes a North American colony once again, Venezuela freed herself. As it was written in our national anthem, we have broken the chains that made us a prisoner of the North American empire. Venezuela is and will always be free.�

    As one of his campaigners openly told Green Left Weekly on a recent visit here, an external enemy is needed to get the people into revolutionary mode and action. And if that doesn’t work, one of his few mates in South America, Cuba, is reporting that Mossad and the Jews are behind attempts to displace him. This blogger provides a translation of a piece on Jews in one of his mouthpiece rags.

    http://daniel-venezuela.blogspot.com/
    “Let’s pay attention of the Israeli-Zionist associations, unions and
    federations which are conspiring to Venezuela to take over our
    finances, our industries, commerce, construction; which are
    infiltrating government positions and politics. Possibly, we’ll have
    to expel them from the country, as other nations have done, which is the reason that Jews remain in a continuous state of stateless exodus,�

    He has noticed something odd about Calderón’s win so doesn’t recognise him as President of Mexico, Chile has asked him to recall his ambassador, Brazil wants an explanation for the massacre at Fort Mara. None of his neighbours are pleased about his and Bolivia’s weapons expansion and establishment of military bases on their borders.

    A physicist suggests they are looking to get nuclear weapons, but consoles himself with the fact that as they make a point of not using engineers to build bridges etc, not a large worry.

    Venuzuelans claim he is enriching himself, while Venuzeula will post 15.4% inflation next year making it the highest in South America and beating the average for Africa by 5%. Poverty only started going down when they fired the miscreant who kept coming up with bad figures.

    Huge weapon purchases, including the latest of an additional 55 Russian helicopters eat up a lot of dollars, plus he has the cost of enriching his family. meanwhile he is explaining they may have to restructure debt repayments.

    Amnesty and HRW even bother to express concerns. And there is something like 49,000 registered voters over 100, with thousands born in the 1800s. One in 1831. Arrests and trials for treason, threats and attacks on dissidents, moves to get him elected for life. What a guy. Who could possibly suspect him of beggaring the poor of Venuzeula.

    http://venezuelatoday.net/gustavocoronel.html
    http://vcrisis.com/index.php?content=home
    http://blogs.salon.com/0001330/
    http://arenaspace.blogspot.com//

  14. scott
    September 28th, 2006 at 23:58 | #14

    Ros,

    Thanks for the response. The links you provided were very informative, particularly The Devil’s Excrement. Well written, frequently updated and rich in links. Seems like an excellent place to start for criticism of Chavez.

    Of all the points raised, the stand out out issues seem to be the recent rapid rise in inflation and the steady increase in crime, particularly in Caracas. The strange thing is that the latter hasn’t hurt his popularity. I would think the former certainly will, if it continues. From what I’ve read the government doesn’t appear to be addressing it at all.

    Other issues raised in those sites such as use of use of fear and misappropriation of funds are hardly exclusive to Venezuela. In principle, his desire for “political unity” sounds worrying, but I guess when the majority of the population supports revolution it is understandable. Hard to say much more from these shores, where the concept of revolution features as prominently in our consciousness as it does in our modern history.

    My original post wasn’t so much to find out about his domestic policies pick readers brains on his stated foreign policy goals: to create an alternative to the IMF and World Bank, underwritten by Venezuela’s oil reserves. If oil prices stay high, as the financial pages are predicting, this is a real possibility. Look what he has done already for Ecuador and Argentina. What Palast suggests in his book is that if control of OPEC shifts from the House of Saud to Venezuela, the Washington Consensus – and the funding of US debt with petro dollars – is starting to look very last century.

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