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Archive for May, 2008

Burma appeal progress

May 12th, 2008 2 comments

The Burma/Myanmar cyclone appeal has been a huge success so far, with donations so far totalling $1390 here and $2050 at Club Troppo. In the spirit of friendly emulation, I’d urge readers here to dig just that little bit deeper as the end of the campaign approaches. Remember that all donations will be matched by the joint efforts of the the Troppodilians and myself and that donations are tax deductible. So, if you are in the 30 per cent tax bracket, each dollar of post-tax income you give translates into a gift of nearly three dollars to those dealing with the aftermath of this disaster.

Categories: Life in General Tags:

Monday Message Board

May 12th, 2008 32 comments

It’s time once again for the Monday Message Board. Please post your thoughts on any topic. Civilised discussion and no coarse language, please.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

A couple of links

May 12th, 2008 5 comments

Tristan Ewins has an interesting piece on the mixed economy in Online Opinion.
Prof Anu Mohammed from Bangladesh will be visiting Brisbane to talk about impacts of climate change on Bangladesh. There’s an ad over the fold.
Read more…

Categories: Life in General Tags:

After the dollar

May 10th, 2008 34 comments

It’s unclear whether we are bound for a Post-American World in the near future, but it seems pretty clear that we are bound for a world in which the US dollar is no longer the unique ‘reserve currency’. The combination of chronically large trade and budget deficits and willingness of the US monetary authorities to tolerate sustained inflation means that decisions by national central banks to hold US dollar reserves are now driven by a desire to preserve the existing order rather than by calculations of risk and return. In the long run this can’t be sustained.

If the US dollar can no longer satisfy the requirements of a reserve currency, what are the alternatives? I can see two possibilities.

Read more…

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Burma disaster aid appeal

May 9th, 2008 28 comments

Update: my email is j dot quiggin at uq dot edu dot au

I’m reposting this announcement from Club Troppo of a joint fundraiser to help cyclone relief in Burma/Myanmar. As regards logistics, I suggest readers here donate to a charity of their choice, and send me an email copy of the receipt for record-keeping purposes. Since the idea is to turn the spirit of competitive emulation to the general good, please feel free to announce your donation in the comments thread for this poist

<h3>Joint Myanmar appeal</h3>

With tens of thousands dead (possibly a hundred thousand) and hundreds of thousands of homes destroyed, the disaster in Myanmar is approaching the scale of the December 2004 tsunami. The difference is that it’s confined to one extremely poor country with particularly poor infrastructure. [Update: Ken Parish would rather call the country Burma, and recommends this discussion of the name issue.]

Aid agencies are working frantically to supply food, water, medication, tarpaulins and so on, to a million or so survivors of Cyclone Nargis who remain in desperate straits. Their initial efforts have been hampered by the paranoid Myanmar government and bureaucracy (see Ken’s post below) as much as by the blocked roads and unusable airports, but it seems progress is being made.

Some blogosphere veterans might remember that John Quiggin raised nearly $5000 in donations for aid organisations involved in the tsunami relief effort three years ago. John undertook to match every dollar pledged by a reader with a dollar of his own.

He is doing the same thing again, this time in collaboration with Club Troppo. We are hoping to persuade readers to give generously in the knowledge that every dollar of disposable income sacrificed translates to nearly four dollars of aid. John will donate fifty cents for every dollar pledged in the comments threads for this post, the comments thread for the twin post at his own site, or by email to John or me. Club Troppo contributors will put in another fifty cents.

The deadline for pledges is midnight Thursday 15 May, and we’ll announce the total collected this time next week. If you donate electronically, forward John or me the acknowledgment in due course, although it doesn’t have to be by the deadline. (The acknowledgments don’t usually specify the amount, but we’ll take your word on that.) Unless you ask to remain anonymous, we’ll list the contributors.

Donate to which ever reputable aid organisation you prefer. Some obvious candidates, who are operating in Myanmar now and also accept on-line donations, are Red Cross, CARE, World Vision, and Medecins Sans Frontieres. Oxfam is collecting funds, though they do not appear to be conducting their own operations in Myanmar. Readers are encouraged to add to this list of suggestions.

James’ email is j DOT farrell AT uws DOT edu DOT au.

Update 12/5/08 Readers have made generous donations. I’ll try to co-ordinate with Troppo for a progress report soon.

Categories: Life in General Tags:

Core promises

May 8th, 2008 38 comments

My article in today’s Fin is over the fold
Read more…

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Looking back at the Club of Rome

May 8th, 2008 61 comments

A point discussed on the blog recently is whether Limits to Growth actually predicted rapid exhaustion of critical natural resources, or whether this was a misrepresentation by much later critics. The text itself isn’t definitive, since it contains some projections showing rapid exhaustion and others (in which discoveries boost stocks by a factor of five) in which exhaustion takes place over a century or so, and also because the projections were revised in later editions. However, my memory is that both supporters and critics focused on the more extreme projections.

I have a couple of pieces of evidence to support this claim. First, I’ve put over the fold a piece by Matthew Simmons defending the Club of Rome and saying

Nowhere in the book was there any mention about running out of anything by 2000. Instead the book’s concern was entirely focused on what the world might look like 100 years later.

But Simmons’ case is undermined by the dust jacket at the beginning of his article which sells the book as ‘The headline-making report on the imminent global disaster facing humanity’. I think most readers buying a book that was sold like this would focus on the worst-case scenarios.

To support this interpretation, here’s a para from a 1979 book, Economics, environmental policy and the quality of life, by Baumol and Oates who begin their Chapter 7 with a reference to Limits to Growth

Certain recent studies have raised the spectre of complete exhaustion of some of the worlds critical resources. they tell us that in the absence of drastic countermeasures, within a matter of decades mankind is likely to run out of petroleum, natural gas and other vital fuels, to deplete virtually all the sources of various minerals such as mercury, copper and silver and to have cultivated essentially all remaining and still usable land. In brief, the world economy will be brought to the brink of catastrophe by hte exhaustion of natural resources.

Baumol and Oates also present in Chapter 9 a “Standard Run” from the World Model showing catastrophic collapse a little over halfway between 1900 and 2100, that is, right about now. Baumol and Oates, like most economists, are critical of Limits to Growth, but they aren’t rightwing anti-environmentalists by any stretch of the imagination. I think it’s fair to say that most readers at the time, whether they agreed with the Club of Rome or not, focused on predictions of imminent resource exhaustion, and not on what might happen in 2070

Read more…

Categories: Books and culture, Environment Tags:

The Republican War on Science, yet again

May 7th, 2008 8 comments

Kevin Drum points to this piece by Michael Gerson, denying the existence of a Republican War on Science. As Drum points out, Gerson doesn’t even mention the major battlegrounds like global warming denialism, creationism and intelligent design, and the Gingrich-era shutdown of the Office of Technology Assessment, focusing on a much narrower set of issues including stem cell research and abortion.

Moreover far from refuting the claim of a war between Republicanism and science, Gerson spends most of the article fighting on the Republican side. Most obviously the obligatory, and in this case, lengthy discussion of eugenics, tied in Jonah Goldberg fashion to contemporary liberalism.

There’s an even more fundamental problem here. Gerson is so focused on the political/cultural/ethical war he is fighting that he doesn’t even consider the question of whether there are any scientific facts that might be relevant to the question.

Read more…

Categories: Science Tags:

A question for readers

May 6th, 2008 43 comments

I’m working on a piece for the Fin, and, in my current draft, I say that John Howard never actually used the word “non-core”. Rather, he said he had delivered his “core” promises and we were left to infer that the rest were non-core. Can anyone protect me from error by pointing to an occasion when Howard used “non-core”, or, better still, support me in my contention?

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Videoconference bleg

May 5th, 2008 14 comments

You can see how desperate I am for help by the use of the second word in the title of this post, which I’ve resisted until now.

I have offered to present a talk to a large conference audience in Adelaide, and intended to do it by videoconference, following several successful (and cheap!) presentations to seminar-size groups. But the conference of organizers have been quoted a cost of thousands of dollars to present the videoconference session. There are some obvious cheap alternatives like a pre-record, but I’d like to avoid these if possible. Does anyone have any suggestions as to how I could deliver a videoconference presentation, at reasonable cost to a large audience in a venue that isn’t specifically set up for this?

Categories: Environment, Life in General Tags:

Monday Message Board

May 5th, 2008 24 comments

It’s time once again for the Monday Message Board. Please post your thoughts on any topic. Civilised discussion and no coarse language, please.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Holiday from Sanity

May 3rd, 2008 63 comments

I was pretty much stunned into silence by the proposal for a gasoline tax holiday put forward by John McCain and Hillary Clinton (not that it matters but I’m not clear which of them came up with it first – can anyone set me straight on this). I won’t bother repeating all the reasons why this is a terrible idea ( when Tom Friedman has your number, I’d say your number is up).

Just a couple of observations. First, I find it hard to see how anyone serious can support either McCain or Clinton after this.

Second, the fact that the proposal has lasted this long suggests to me that the chance of any serious US action on global warming after the election is not that great. Without the US, we won’t get anything from China and India either, so that means we’re setting course for disaster. Perhaps if Obama wins, he’ll be able to turn this around, but this episode has me very depressed.

Categories: Environment, World Events Tags:

Data and anecdotes

May 1st, 2008 18 comments

Among the outcomes produced by a market economy, real wages are arguably the most important single variable for most people. With inflation rising around the world, and sensitive prices like those of food and petroleum going up a lot, most people’s living standards depend mainly on whether wages grow faster than prices. I got a couple of pieces of info on this today, which illustrate the difference between data and anecdote.

In my morning email, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (pdf file) advised that the US employment cost index (hourly wages + benefits) rose by 3.5 per cent last year, less than the inflation rate of about 4 per cent*. This continues a trend of declining real wages since 2003.

This afternoon, I looked at the NY Times to see a story about stagnant real wages in Europe, which began with a lengthy voxpop about a couple who had bought a breadmaker because baguettes were too dear, and continued in much the same vein. Deep within the article was the information that eurozone prices have risen by 22.5 per cent since 1999. But despite various claims about the declining purchasing power of wages, there is not a single piece of statistical evidence on wages anywhere in the story. Instead, we got a lengthy and inevitably inconclusive discussion of what constitutes the “middle class.

A quick visit to Eurostat reveals that Eurozone wages have risen about 30 per cent since 2000. German wages have increased by about 20 per cent, so the article’s claims of stagnation appear to be about right for Germany, but not for the EU as a whole. Of course, to do things properly you’d want to consider the impact of food prices on low-income households. But given the focus on the middle class, it seems reasonable to suppose that the price index measures the standard of living for the average middle class household reasonably well.

It seems sad that the NY Times has to cover issues like this by anecdote, but I guess it gets them a lot more readers than the BLS email statistics series.

* The US Fed prefers to focus on the “core” inflation rate, excluding food and energy prices, a use of “core” even more impressive than John Howard’s. so it says the rate is about 2 per cent. And the reforms to the CPI introduced by the Boskin Commission in the 1990s reduced the measured inflation rate by a percentage point or so, meaning that the current rate is comparable to 5 per cent inflation on the measures used in the 1970s and 1980s.

Categories: Economics - General, Media Tags:

Substance and symbols

May 1st, 2008 17 comments

I don’t have much comment on the government’s measures to remove a wide variety of discrimination against same-sex couples, except to observe that this ought to put an end to the canard that the Rudd government is “all about symbolism”. This is an issue where Howard tried hard to push the symbolism of gay marriage as a wedge, and deservedly failed.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Wong on water

May 1st, 2008 20 comments

I’ve been too busy to do a proper assessment of the water policy announcement made on Tuesday by Penny Wong. The good news is that the government is finally getting moving on buying back water from irrigators, on a “willing seller” basis. That’s a significant change from the previous government, who clearly viewed buybacks as a last resort. However, as the ACF has pointed out, the previous plan did identify $3 billion for this purpose. It remains to be seen whether the government will take the shift further by applying more stringent cost benefit analysis to the engineering works favoured under the previous plan.

So, as with most things under the new government, a good start, but we’ll have to wait for more.

Categories: Environment Tags: