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Weekend reflections

December 2nd, 2007

A slightly belated edition of weekend reflections. Comment on whatever you like, but I’m particularly keen to open up space for discussion of the choices going forward with a Labor government.

As always, no coarse language and civilised discussion. (If you’re in doubt about this, you probably don’t want to post. Check the discussion policy page for details).

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  1. Ikonoclast
    December 2nd, 2007 at 13:41 | #1

    Specifically, I am wondering what our chances are of seeing some genuinely enlightened economic policy from Kevin Rudd and the ALP. Will the large and distorting subsidies for carbon fired power be progessively removed? Will regressive policies like negative gearing, salary sacrificing and trust law be reformed? Will the statistical measures for inflation and unemployment (including under-employment) be reformed so that the measures are as objective as possible?

    Will the law of natural monopoly be observed and understood for national infrastructure like rail and communications? Will the economic rationalists in Treasury be blindly genuflected to by Rudd or will they be given new orders or even marching orders?

    Or will sectional interests, short-sightedness and the desire to hold power no matter what triumph again? I await in some trepidation.

  2. December 2nd, 2007 at 14:08 | #2

    this is a link to a ‘lehrer news hour’ interview about a 3rd world laptop, developed at mit.

    http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/social_issues/july-dec07/laptop_11-22.html

    Laptops Offer High-tech Hope in Developing Countries

    The goal of the One Laptop per Child organization is to provide specially designed, low-cost laptops to children in the developing world. Organization founder Nicholas Negroponte details the campaign and the “Give One Get One” effort in the …

    you don’t immediately associate oz with ’3rd world’, do you. but while the ruddster is talking about giving ‘access’ to high school students, this 3wlt is a way to give an education to oz primary students. high school is way too late to get into cyberspace. better yet, it’s not only cheap and efficient, but also a great way to make friends with the poor people in our region, by linking schools in oz with schools in the south pacific region through the ‘buy one, give one’ plan.

    read the interview, give it some thought- i hope you’ll email the new education minister and indicate your enthusiasm for the program.

  3. Peter Wood
    December 2nd, 2007 at 16:22 | #3

    Professor Garnaut, who has been commissioned by Kevin Rudd and the state governments to undertake a review and climate change gave a public lecture at ABU last week which is now online at

    http://www.garnautreview.org.au/CA25734E0016A131/pages/public-forums-public-lecture

    It seems likely from the content of the lecture that if Labor’s climate change policies end up being based on the reccommendations of the review then they will be much better than the coalition’s.

    Much of what he said mirrored what has been stated in the Stern review. He discussed the role of game theory in achieving international cooperatio. He also discussed intergenerational, international and domestic equity issues. Garnaut was strongly in favour of a carbon price, and seemed more favourable of an emissions trading scheme (ETS) than a carbon tax but stated that the differences between a well designed and credible ETS and a well designed and credible carbon tax are not as significant as is often supposed.

    Garnaut suggested that a perception of fairness was very important for an ETS to be credible. He noted that a carbon price would have a very regressive impact and seemed in favour of measures the mitigate the regressive impact on people with low incomes. Garnaut was asked about the issue of free permits in questions. He was critical of handing out free emissions permits and stated that the free permits allocated in EU ETS effectively transferred funds from households to firms. He also stated that handing out free permits makes it more difficult to make the carbon price rise because households are more likely to experience “fuel poverty”.

  4. observa
    December 2nd, 2007 at 16:29 | #4

    Speaking of education, I have a feeling the Ruddster’s gunna need more than a revolution if this article is any guide-
    gonnahttp://www.news.com.au/adelaidenow/story/0,22606,22854881-5006301,00.html
    It had MrsO, a public JP teacher spitting her cornflakes. I bloody near pissed myself at the attitude coming through loud and clear. Don’t you just love those middle class Centrelink values shining through, but for all the leftist rights and no individual responsibility, dad finishes with the absolute pearler-

    ‘I want him to be 26, 28 and own his own business. If he leaves school now, hell be on the dole, doing graffiti, pinching cars,” he said.’

    All that leftist, postmodernism and social security and still you can’t beat the aspirational, entrepreneurial capitalist spirit out of the bastard eh?

  5. Ian Gould
    December 2nd, 2007 at 16:31 | #5

    A week after the Federal election, six seats remain undecided.

    Contrast that with countries which use computerised voting systems. Brazil, for example,has results from its Presidential elections within an hour of the polls closing.

    Yes, there are problems with security but they can be solved. For example, some voting machines print out a paper ballot which voters can check and then place in a ballot box, providing a separate mechanism to check the automatic count.

  6. Ikonoclast
    December 2nd, 2007 at 18:05 | #6

    Prof Garnaut’s lecture is excellent. I particularly noted his statement;

    “The over-exploitation of the atmosphere as a global commons is the primary climate change
    market failure. But there are several other sources of market failure which need to be
    corrected if private decisions within a market context are to lead to minimum-cost realisation of
    abatement objectives.”

    All laissez faire capitalism proponents need a bound book of such statements battered around their ears a couple of times a week in the way my dear old ma battered algebra into me. It’s Market Failure! Get it!

    The good Prof also says, “Currently, the concentration of carbon dioxide equivalent in our atmosphere is 455 parts per million CO2-e.” Is this a typo? I thought it was 355 ppm now and some online sources give it as 375 to 385 ppm atmospheric average currently. Or is “carbon dixoide equivalent” a different measure? I don’t doubt it will be 555 ppm by 2040 or 2050 the way we are going.

    I think a carbon tax is the way to go. Permits to pollute make no sense. Pollution is a negative externality currently. It’s a bad not a good. It only makes sense to trade goods. We should cost “bads” by a tax impost with a graduated implementation. The EU’s mistakes illustrate the corruptible nature of a permit system. What dopes allowed or were induced (bribed?) by big business to give away free permits to big polluters? It’s preposterous and egregious as our former Foreign Minister was so fond of saying.

    Ah, where are they now? Lord Fishnet-Stockings, Baron Trillion Dollar, Captain Courageous and the Weasel of Oz? How I miss them… NOT!

  7. Peter Wood
    December 2nd, 2007 at 18:46 | #7

    CO2-e is carbon dixoide equivalent, it takes into account other gases like methane by estimating the greenhouse contribution (the global warming potential) of the gas compared to carbon dioxide over a one hundred year period. For example, methane is about 72 times stonger than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas but doesn’t hang around as long so its global warming potential over 100 years is 25 times that of carbon dioxide.

    This was also the first I heard about the 455 ppm figure, but media reports seem to confirm it:

    http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2007/10/09/4411/

  8. ken nielsen
    December 2nd, 2007 at 18:59 | #8

    JQ:To celebrate the success of the ALP and the installation of our new government, how about you promise never again to use the term “going forward”?
    Corporate speech does not become you.

  9. December 2nd, 2007 at 19:01 | #9

    Ian Gould, it is surprising that the vote count takes so long. Your focus on the lower house seems misguided ,though, for me. That game is already over.

    The Senate race usually goes on for ages after an election and considered small beer by the media. Maybe the AEC should leave that behind, for the moment.

    Still love their work as an independent organisation and believe they do a great job. Americans have had very big probs with chats and eager contractors, ready to provide computer election expertise, that scares me.

    Why change a system that will keep us all guessing for about a month and many people ,in work, counting?

  10. December 2nd, 2007 at 19:05 | #10

    Well not so much about Labor but the private vs. public education debate Andrew Leigh and Andrew Norton have just got underway.

    I do not know if Norton will argue for a voucher system as suggested by the LDP blog but I would argue if that is the case – it does not privatise public schools, it makes private schools public.

    So far Norton’s first premise is suggesting that public schools should be privatised. That’s it. No mention of vouchers – yet.

  11. Jill Rush
    December 2nd, 2007 at 19:38 | #11

    Ian Gould,
    There are problems enough with the integrity of the voting system with ballot papers. Even if you accept “Yes, there are problems with security but they can be solved “, this requires faith – something many voters’ lack – particularly as a malfunctioning of computerised systems in Florida delivered presidency to George W Bush.

    The pencil and paper may be slower – but I prefer that the verdict reflects the will of the people through a properly scrutinised process. Using a computer would be handy but there is a long way to go before people will accept it. There’s nothing quite like the polling booth, the ballot paper and the pencil to clarify the mind. It is a tribal experience that won’t be ceded easily to the geeks.

  12. The Doctor
    December 2nd, 2007 at 19:41 | #12

    Ian,
    with regard computerised voting systems you have to be very very careful.
    1. For security reasons, they should not be computerised abacuses, which is essentially what the US has been using;
    2. FPTP is much easier to handle – by any method;
    3. The AEC used computers for disabled voters this time, the ACTEC has used computers for the last two elections;
    4. Security must be paramount, but I’d prefer the code to be open source and recompiled before use.

  13. Hermit
    December 2nd, 2007 at 20:53 | #13

    In theory stringent cap and trade (ie not too many loopholes) should meet the target but carbon tax will require fine tuning. Handing back carbon tax revenue may create an additional rebound effect. Also the cap may naturally become nonbinding in the event of a recession or an energy frugality fad.

    While both are regressive I think the time may be ripe for ‘soft rationing’. For electricity that could mean time-of-day pricing (peak, off-peak, shoulder etc) coupled with step pricing. Example; 6 kilowatt-hours peak at 15c an hour, 30c for additional hours. With car fuel or airline flights we could have carbon debit cards, though climatologist James Hansen says we must focus our efforts on coal. Such schemes should be doable with the ALP in power on all levels.

  14. jquiggin
    December 2nd, 2007 at 22:44 | #14

    Ken – mea culpa. I’ve obviously absorbed this bit of corpspeak without noticing it

  15. 2 tanners
    December 3rd, 2007 at 05:50 | #15

    Al Loomis at 2 cites PBS with:

    The goal of the One Laptop per Child organization is to provide specially designed, low-cost laptops to children in the developing world. Organization founder Nicholas Negroponte details the campaign and the “Give One Get One� effort in the …

    This ‘initiative’ has got to be the most misguided piece of self promoting rubbish I’ve ever run across. Most of the people in the small Pacific Nations, Africa and rural Asia have no access to electricity or telecommunications – what good is a computer when you can’t recharge the batteries or access the internet, and why, if you built an electricity generator, would you choose computers over lighting the home, cooking etc?

    Many of these people have inadequate access to clean water and protein. Diabetes is a major killer and life expectancy is short. And this guy has been swanning around the world with low cost and second hand computers and diverting funds from real aid efforts. He can’t fail to know what he’s doing.

    Coming back to the well motivated point of Al Loomis’ post, buy a computer, give a pig would do more good. The donated computers would doubtless end up in a number of inappropriate places – the homes of education officials (or Ministers, if they are really whizz-bang), being used as trade goods or simply ‘appropriated’ off the wharves.

  16. observa
    December 3rd, 2007 at 08:01 | #16

    Don’t get MrsO started on the rising expectations of education to solve the world’s problems, particularly when it’s vented on classroom teachers if munchkin doesn’t fully meet lofty expectations. How long do you reckon a teacher with 25+ kids can spend on each skill deficiency in a working day and still keep them all moving right along? Didn’t it occur to outraged Centrelink dad to take some time out of his busy schedule to help entrepreneur offspring to read a bus timetable,etc? Would he still be happy with his 14 yr old in Grade 5? His school is always happy to help with appropriate resources to aid him, if he’s even remotely interested. That’s the problem, as MrsO recounted the tale of one recent similar mum outraged at how the system didn’t detect a specific learning difficulty in her daughter til YR12. She was starting to rumble about suing the SA Ed Dept for incompetence, when the principal delicately asked if she thought that was the wisest course, considering indignant mum was none other than a Special Ed teacher herself. Says it all really.

    Me, I’d be careful about who you give pigs to and as for substituting live sheep or goats instead, I can forsee the odd problem. Best to stick to the 3Rs IMO.

  17. observa
    December 3rd, 2007 at 08:25 | #17

    For those of you that think periodic testing of kids’ achievement levels is a waste of resources, welcome to the brave new world of over lawyering and preventive policy. If testing shows munckin is well below satisfactory achievement levels in any particular skillset, a letter is sent home with an appointment to discuss the need for a remedial partnership programme with the parents. When most fail to respond, a follow up phone call is made to further coax the parents to respond and failing that, the evidence of that process is filed just in case. Just like doctors nowadays.

  18. Dr Zen
    December 3rd, 2007 at 12:08 | #18

    I wouldn’t get too excited. A centre-right government is not a huge improvement over one further to the right, and generally centre-rightists find authoritarianism too useful to abandon. See New Labour in the UK for details. Yes, they have a slightly greater focus on social justice, but the pigs still keep their noses in the trough. Expect the same here, with a bit of climate blather.

  19. sona
    December 3rd, 2007 at 13:57 | #19

    For all the talk of carbon tax and carbon trade, the only realistic way to avert a global meltdown is to reduce emissions of pollutants of which CO2 is the best known but not the only one. Does anyone realise that the UN considers Aussies to be the biggest per capita polluters? Scientists are also reporting that the warm belt between the tropics is expanding with desertification being pushed ever wider at a faster rate than their climate models had suggested. This has obvious implications for the southern areas of Australia. I can’t remember where I found that but will do a bit of digging to see if I can retrieve the link.

  20. 2 tanners
    December 3rd, 2007 at 14:17 | #20

    Fair call on the pigs and goats, observa, but most of these places have an aspirational goal to get at least one child per family through primary school. Education is an expensive option. The Millenium Challenge Goal is for universal education through primary school only, and that’s not aspirational, it’s cloud cuckoo land ATM.

    Survival is key, followed by the ability of one ‘lucky’ family member to be exiled to the city in the hopes of providing remittance income home.

    I’m actually a bit of a 3Rs fan, at least until the basics are grasped.

  21. pablo
    December 3rd, 2007 at 15:11 | #21

    You might say it is Rudd’s first big test but when the Bank of Adelaide broke ranks and raised its home mortgage lending rate, Kev played the economic conservative…saying he regreted it but it was the bank’s reading of the market etcetera. Probably with everyone thinking GW in Bali and the big white cars going to a swearing…a little rate rise would go unnoticed.

  22. sona
    December 3rd, 2007 at 15:38 | #22

    Here is the link to the relevant article referred to @ 18:
    http://salon.com/wires/ap/scitech/2007/12/02/D8T9FBM80_expanding_tropics/index.html

  23. observa
    December 4th, 2007 at 00:18 | #23

    Time to rip into Rudd’s flunky in Garnaut. Overall he sets out the issues fairly well but then the slip begins to show. OK, so global economic growth and ‘climate change’(we don’t call it warming anymore)are ‘the defining challenge of our time’. Then the bit about ‘how we can develop market-based approaches to mitigation and adatation wherever these are likely to be effective’ (throw a bone to the price fans)…’and how we can introduce rigour into analysis of the case for other forms of intervention when their is clear evidence of market failure.’ (basically how we can spin the case for quantity controls where we really wannabe) Of course you need to be politically pragmatic and let the boss off the hook, when he’s about to trip off to the handwringing junket to Bali- ‘It is not likely that a sound agreement on a global emissions budget will emerge from a negotiation in a single, large multilateral, inter-governmental meeting’ Basically don’t be too hard on the boss enjoying his first junket as they’re quite a mouthful as you well know. Then after extolling the virtues of a global carbon tax he prepares us for Rudd’s booby prize- ‘It should be noted at the beginning [more junkets will be needed] that for some countries, and probably all developing countries for the time being, an efficient ETS is probably impractical, and a market-based mitigation effort would need to be built around a carbon tax.’ [Not us stupid because we're the efficient, practical types naturally]
    Then the piece de resistance- ‘The central challenge [sic ETS] is to establish credibility.’ There’s no doubt we need to establish plenty of that given Kyoto’s foray into an efficient and practical ETS to date. Well done Ross. Go to the top of the class but leave your books behind cos you’ll be back son.

  24. Charlie Bell
    December 4th, 2007 at 08:50 | #24

    Here is a bit on the One Laptop Per Child initiative.

    Peru signs up for 260,000 OLPC laptops
    By Liam Tung, ZDNet Australia
    Published on ZDNet News: Dec 3, 2007 6:08:00 AM

    One month after the One Laptop Per Child charity went into mass production with its $188 laptop, the Peruvian government has signed a contract to purchase 260,000 units. Nicholas Negroponte, an MIT professor and founder of the project, announced the deal on Saturday. He also revealed that Mexican billionaire and longtime friend, Carlos Slim, had ordered 50,000 units for distribution in Mexico.

    In November, the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) charity contracted Taiwan’s Quanta Computer to start producing the green-and-white computer in its new Changshu manufacturing center, which is located north-west of Shanghai. The first countries to place mass orders for the rugged green-and-white laptops were Uruguay and Mongolia. Ivan Krstic, the director of security architecture for the OLPC project, has said that Uruguayan water and mobile-phone utility companies have allowed the organization to plant wireless access points on existing towers to facilitate the laptop’s use.

  25. Ian Gould
    December 4th, 2007 at 21:49 | #25

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20071204/ap_on_go_ot/iran_nuclear

    “WASHINGTON – A new U.S. intelligence report concludes that Iran’s nuclear weapons development program has been halted since the fall of 2003 because of international pressure — a stark contrast to the conclusions U.S. spy agencies drew just two years ago.

    The finding is part of a National Intelligence Estimate on Iran that also cautions that Tehran continues to enrich uranium and still could develop a bomb between 2010 and 2015 if it decided to do so.”

    It always puzzles me why the nuclear bomb Iran doesn’t have worries Islamophobes more than the nuclear bomb Pakistan does have.

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