Archive for May, 2007

Hayek on evolution and global warming

May 7th, 2007 42 comments

I’ve been working on a piece on why so many on the right have embracing delusional thinking about global warming, and I ran across a great quote from Hayek’s Why I am not a Conservative, cited by Jim Henley in relation to the debate currently going on in the US right about evolution and creationism/Intelligent Design. Hayek’s statement reads just as well if you replace “evolution” with “global warming”.

Looking at the NYTimes debate, it’s notable that debate at AEI (at least as reported by the Times) is about whether evolution is or is not politically favorable to conservatism, with ev psychists and Social Darwinists pitted against the Christian right. It’s only in the last para that the reality-based community has anything to cheer for (also quoted by Jim).

As for Mr. Derbyshire, he would not say whether he thought evolutionary theory was good or bad for conservatism; the only thing that mattered was whether it was true. And, he said, if that turns out to be “bad for conservatives, then so much the worse for conservatism.�

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Categories: Science Tags:

Monday message board

May 7th, 2007 6 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:

The two-party system

May 6th, 2007 7 comments

Reading Jonathan Chait on the netroots and (belatedly) Off Center by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson,* it strikes me that the real political news of the last six months is the fact that the US now has a standard two-party system, arguably for the first time in its history. From Reconstruction until the final success of Nixon’s Southern strategy in the late 20th century, the fact that the Democratic Party represented the white establishment in the South made such a thing impossible. Under the primary system the two “parties” were little more than state-sanctioned institutional structures to ensure that voters (outside the South) got a choice of exactly two candidates.

From the 1970s onwards, though, this structure was obsolete. Having absorbed (and to some extent having been absorbed by) the white Southern establishment, the Republicans were clearly a party of the right, and started to act like one, requiring ideological unity and party discipline from its members, establishing a supporting apparatus of thinktanks and friendly media outlets and so on. As both Off Center and Chait observe in different ways, attempts by groups like the Democratic Leadership Council and the centrist media establishment to continue playing by the old rules simply ensured that the Republicans could win even when, on the issues, they were clearly pushing a minority position.

The netroots phenomenon is one reaction to this. But even more striking is the fact that the Democrats in Congress now match the kind of party discipline shown by the Republicans. After the 2006 elections, most commentary assumed that the party could not possibly hold together with its slender majorities in both houses, but they have clearly learned the basic dictum of party politics “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
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Categories: World Events Tags:

Weekend reflections

May 4th, 2007 14 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:

Howard caves to unions on IR

May 4th, 2007 14 comments

Oddly enough, no one seems to have used this headline, but Howard’s announcement that the no-disadvantage test will be revived for workers earning less than $75 000 is a big concession, at least in symbolic terms, to the union campaign against WorkChoices.

We’ll have to wait for details to see whether the concession is as substantial as it appears. As regards the $75 000 limit, it’s fair enough to say that workers on incomes at this level are in a reasonable position to protect their own position in bargains with employers without government intervention. Administratively, though, a distinction like this sounds like it’s going to be something of a nightmare to manage.
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Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

A bit late for May Day

May 3rd, 2007 15 comments

I meant to do a May Day post on Industrial Relations, and particularly Labor’s proposal requiring employers to grant new parents 12 months unpaid leave, in the absence of “reasonable business grounds” for refusal. It’s hard to analyse a policy like this in terms of labour market microeconomics. A standard equilibrium analysis would suggest that some firms might voluntarily offer family-friendly conditions, but the number of such firms would be smaller than the number of employees who would prefer them (since there is less cost and trouble for employers in being family-unfriendly) and this is what we see.

Assuuming there’s a general social consensus in favour of assisting families with children, an obvious question is whether business should be expected to carry some of the burden. As this graph of the profit share of GDP shows, there shouldn’t be a problem of affordability.


Of course, there will always be marginal firms, but if you can’t make it with profits at current levels, probably you shouldn’t be in business at all.

From the viewpoint of the average member of society, depending mainly on labour income, the case for accepting a substantial profit share rests on the assumption that incentives to seek profit will ultimately benefit everyone. It’s hard to make this case when conditions like parental leave haven’t improved substantially in decades and other conditions, such as rights to weekends and public holidays, are going backwards. The long term interests of business would be better served by a less aggressive pursuit of short-term goals.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Economists lining up on climate change

May 2nd, 2007 37 comments

Today’s Fin includes a full-page ad from five prominent financial market economists, calling for the introduction of a carbon trading scheme to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (paywalled, but it gets a brief mention here in the Oz). Meanwhile, Crikey yesterday ran a piece by another financial market economist, Michael Knox. Knox multiplies the estimated social cost of CO2 emissions from the Stern review ($85/ton of carbon) by total carbon consumption to get an estimated 5.3 per cent of GDP, and concludes (contra Stern) “This means that the cost is not 1 per cent of GDP but 5.3 per cent of GDP.

But Knox has the problem back to front here. He has calculated the cost to the world of Australia’s carbon emissions. Equivalently, this is the revenue that would be raised by a carbon tax of $85/ton, assuming a zero price elasticity of demand.

But the 1 per cent estimate of Stern, with which he is comparing his numbers is the cost of reducing emissions by 50 per cent relative to business as usual. Assuming the policy adopted was a carbon tax, with zero exemptions, the appropriate measure is the welfare triangle of deadweight loss. Knox has instead calculated the rectangle of revenue, a standard mistake for beginners in welfare economics, but a bit surprising to see from a senior financial economist.
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Categories: Economic policy, Environment Tags:

The end of major combat operations

May 1st, 2007 31 comments

Mission accomplished or not, it’s time after four years to call a halt. Only after the governments of the Coalition countries admit that military power has failed, and that nothing good will be achieved by persevering can we make a serious assessment of what can be salvaged from this disaster.

The most important thing that can be done now is to help the millions of refugees who have fled the awful combination of invasion, insurgency and civil war we have unleashed upon them (noted blogger Riverbend just announced that she and her family would be joining the exodus, long after Allawi, Pachachi and others held out in the past as hopes of the nation). But clearly nothing will be done as long as policy is ruled by the delusion that victory is just a surge away.

There are plenty of other obstacles. Many of the refugees are in Syria, and any suggestion of co-operation with Syria is anathema. Even more importantly, any serious proposal to do something about refugees would involve a massive increase in the intake by members of the coalition countries, and (as I’ve found from previous discussions of the topic) the chickenhawks who pushed this war are utterly terrified by the risks this would involve, given that many of these refugees have little reason to love us. Even suggestions that we are obligated to rescue those who risked their own lives working for the coalition are much too scary for these fighting keyboardists.

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Categories: World Events Tags: