Archive for December, 2009

It’s Xmas!

December 24th, 2009 114 comments

However you celebrate, or even if you don’t, I wish all my readers a Merry Xmas. I’ll be back in the New Year, and wish everyone a great 2010.

Categories: Life in General Tags:

Would Bacon’s Hamlet be Hamlet?

December 22nd, 2009 36 comments

In the course of an interesting piece by Richard Dorment in the NY Review of Books on the authenticity or otherwise of works by Andy Warhol, I came across a striking passage

The single most important thing you can say about a work of art is that it is real, that the artist to whom it is attributed made it. Until you are certain that a work of art is authentic, it is impossible to say much else that is meaningful about it.

Is this a reasonable claim about art in general? How important is authentic attribution in, say, literature or music?
Read more…

Categories: Books and culture Tags:

QR sale plan off the rails

December 21st, 2009 34 comments

My article from last Thursday’s Fin, over the fold

Read more…

Categories: Economic policy Tags:

Monday Message Board

December 21st, 2009 40 comments

It’s time, once again for the Monday Message Board. Post comments on any topic. As usual, civilised discussion and no coarse language. In this context, could I ask commenters to avoid the term “bulls**t” which has sent a lot of recent comments to moderation, creating unnecessary work for me. In future, comments containing this term will be deleted.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Glass half-full department

December 19th, 2009 196 comments

The Copenhagen meeting has produced an agreement, though it’s more of an “agreement to agree” than a concrete deal. Most of the specifics have been left for later. That’s problematic of course, but not as bad as an agreement on specifics that are too weak to achieving anything. The deal (draft text here has several important elements

* A warming target of 2 degrees
* Commitment by the developed countries to spend $30 billion over 2010-12 and aim for $100 billion a year by 2020 in assistance to developing countries with a particular focus on preventing deforestation
* A technology transfer mechanism

Of these, the most significant is probably the deal on deforestation, which has actual money (or at least commitments) attached. Assuming this happens, it’s an outcome more significant than that of any international conference in the last decade at least. And technology transfer is important in a number of ways, particularly as a countervailing force against the pressure for ever-stronger intellectual property protections.

I’m a bit surprised, in that I thought the payments to developing countries would be one of the hardest issues of all, whereas the biggest single sticking point seems to have been China’s objections to transparent monitoring – the kind of silly national sovereignty stuff that is par for the course at these meetings but usually gets smoothed over and traded away by the end.

Read more…

Categories: Environment Tags:

Weekend reflections

December 19th, 2009 32 comments

It’s time again for weekend reflections, which makes space for longer than usual comments on any topic. Civilised discussion and no coarse language please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:


December 17th, 2009 208 comments

This Lateline featuring Ian Plimer and George Monbiot has to be seen to be believed. More from Tim Lambert and from James Farrell at Troppo.

Update I must say the response of those on Plimer’s side of the debate has been thoroughly disappointing. Tribal loyalty might perhaps justify silence in the face of an embarrassing performance like this. On the other hand, no one appears to have the cheek to suggest that Plimer came out looking good, and few on the delusionist side are willing to admit that the most prominent scientist on their side came across as a total fraud.

So we get two lines (a) It was really mean of Jones and Monbiot to keep on demanding that he answer the questions (which had been supplied in writing long in advance) (b) It’s too hard to tell. This is truly pathetic.

And, as I’ve said before, this style of dishonesty, originating with the tobacco lobby’s attempts to obfuscate the health effects of smoking, now permeates right wing discussion of any issue you care to name, from the Iraq war to the Global Financail Crisis. It’s hard to see how any kind of political discussion can be sustained in the face of this kind of thing

Categories: Environment Tags:

Bookblogging: The failure of trickle down

December 17th, 2009 124 comments

Another section of my book-in-progress, looking at the failure of the trickle-down hypothesis. Comments and criticism welcome as always.

Read more…

Categories: Dead Ideas book Tags:

An odd numbering scheme

December 17th, 2009 21 comments

Keith Windschuttle has been in the news again lately, making claims of inaccuracy against the film ‘Rabbit Proof Fence’ which were then roundly refuted by the filmmakers, pointing to documentary evidence apparently undiscovered by the ace historian. When even the Oz describes Windy as having been ‘dispatched to the fence’ he clearly has a problem. Having claimed that the girls in the film were removed from their families because they were having sex with white men, he now says his case is unaffected by the discovery that they were actually removed because they were promised as brides for black men. WIndschuttle describes this as “standing by” his statements, a locution I also heard recently from the Queensland government after the economists statement demolishing their case for asset sales. Apparently it means “while I have no credible response to make, I’m not going to retract, let alone change my mind”.

What’s really interesting to me is that all this publicity is in aid of the forthcoming Volume 3 of Windschuttle’s Fabrication of Australian History which caused such a stir when Volume 1 was released in 2002. Three volumes in nearly a decade looks like slow, but steady work, the kind of history Windschuttle supports.

That is, of course, except for the minor detail that there is no Volume 2. Originally Volume 2, due in 2003, was supposed to be the big one, which would refute Henry Reynolds claims about violence on the Queensland frontier, while volume 3, promised for 2004, was going to be about WA. Although promises kept being made, Vol 2 never came out, and in 2008, the “stolen generations” book was announce as Volume 2. It seemed that the Queensland and WA projects had been abandoned.

The new numbering scheme, eccentric as it is, at least implies a promise of a Volume 2 in which Windschuttle will finally put up or be morally obliged to shut up (not that he will of course).

Categories: Books and culture Tags:

Back on air

December 17th, 2009 11 comments

The blog has been patchy for some time, and down altogether for several days. I’ve installed the WP Supercache plug in on the advice of my hosting service. I’d appreciate any feedback (+ve or -ve) on whether people are still having problems getting to the page and any suggestions from WordPress experts on other possible measurs.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Paul Samuelson has died

December 14th, 2009 26 comments
Categories: Economics - General Tags:

La La, La Rouche, again

December 13th, 2009 65 comments

Via Mark Bahnisch, this piece from the Oz on the links between Barnaby Joyce and the LaRouchite Citizens Electoral Council. The story fits into the rather misleading “Crazy Barnaby” theme that has been developing since Joyce was appointed Opposition Finance spokesman by Tony Abbott.

It’s misleading not because Joyce isn’t influenced by the LaRouchites but because this is presented as a personal idiosyncrasy. As I pointed out here the great majority of the political right, including most rightwing commentators at the Oz and most of the current Opposition frontbench derive their opinions on environmental issues such as global warming and DDT, directly or indirectly from La Rouche[1].

fn1. Mostly indirectly, because of LaRouche’s insistence on implicating the British Royal Family in the alleged genocidal plots of scientists, environmentalists, and the Left. If he would only drop this stuff, he could be the new Matt Drudge or Glenn Reynolds.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Bookblogging: Implications of trickle down

December 13th, 2009 104 comments

Another section of my book-in-progress, this time on the implications of trickle-down. I’m getting lots out of the comments, even if I don’t respond to everything, so please keep them coming.

One thing that would be really useful to me is references to publications (probably popular, rather than journal articles) by prominent academic economists that clearly espouse some of the implications of trickle-down discussed here. More than most of the ideas I’m criticising, trickle-down economics tends to be a background assumption rather than something which comes out into the open, and I want to avoid the suggestion that I’m attacking a straw zombie here.
Read more…

Categories: Dead Ideas book Tags:

Asset sales and the FTA

December 12th, 2009 16 comments

With opposition to the Queensland government’s proposed asset sales showing no signs of abating, the government has attempted to sugarcoat the pill by making various promises about maintenance of employment and working conditions, preference for Queenslanders as shareholders and so on. Most of these gimmicks have been tried before, and commentators of all kinds have quickly dismissed them. But one point that came up when something similar was tried in NSW is that some of these promises might breach the US-Australia Free Trade Agreement, which restricts our sovereignty in all sorts of surprising ways.

Dr Patricia Ranald, Convener of the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network sent me the following summary of the issues.

Read more…

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Weekend reflections

December 11th, 2009 56 comments

It’s time again for weekend reflections, which makes space for longer than usual comments on any topic. Civilised discussion and no coarse language please.

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Bookblogging: Trickle down Part 1

December 11th, 2009 14 comments

I’m pushing hard now to finalise a draft of my book-in-progress,

It’s currently titled Zombie Economics:Undead Ideas that Threaten the World Economy. The title is pretty much locked in, but the subtitle is still open for change if anyone has any suggestions. You can read the first few chapters (not quite an up-to-date draft) at wikidot.

The chapter I’m working on now is Trickle-Down Economics, which seems a fairly soft target after the challenge of presenting a critique of the “micro foundations” approach to macroeconomics. But, there are still plenty of difficulties starting with the point that, of course, no-one espouses Trickle-Down Economics under that name. On the other hand, while the view that pro-rich policies will benefit everyone in the long run is widely held, I don’t know of a good general term that describes it.

Anyway here’s the opening section. As always, comments and criticism much appreciated.

Read more…

Categories: Dead Ideas book Tags:

Statement on asset sales

December 8th, 2009 41 comments

I’ve done this as a press release. See if anyone bites


The government’s announced plans for privatisation show that Queenslanders are unlikely to get a good deal from the proposed asset sales, according to Professor John Quiggin of the University of Queensland. Professor Quiggin was one of a group of 21 leading Australian economists who stated in November that the government had failed to put forward a serious case for privatisation, and that an informed public debate was urgently needed.

Professor Quiggin stated:

* The use of a 99-year lease rather than an outright sale is a device commonly used by governments seeking to make privatisation palatable, but one that makes no commercial sense for assets of this kind. The public loses the asset just as surely as if it had been sold, but gets a lower price because the buyer does not become an outright owner

* The proposed public float of the QR coal and freight business, with the government retaining a minority shareholding large enough to retain effective control makes sense only on the assumption that no trade buyers were willing to pay an effective price. Purchase of shares in such a float would make sense only if they are offered at a substantial discount, meaning that the people of Queensland will almost certainly receive an inadequate price for this asset. The giveaway of shares to employees is typical of the cosmetics used by governments in packaging unsound and unpopular privatisations.

The entire privatisation scheme should be scrapped, and debate over the the desirability of asset sales, and the way to generate the best value for the public should be started from scratch

Categories: Economic policy Tags:

Spinning like a top

December 7th, 2009 32 comments

The spin surrounding the Queensland mid-year budget review was interesting and a bit puzzling. All the initial spin was gloom and doom, in keeping with the government’s claim that the dire state of the budget necessitated asset sales[1]. But it turned out that the deterioration in the budget was entirely due to a couple of fairly arbitrary accounting entries for extraordinary items – a projected loss on land purchased for the failed Traveston Dam project and some federal government money that was not going to come in. The underlying picture was an improvement f $800 million a year. This more than cancelled out the deterioration between the pre-election economic statement in February and the post-election budget in June.

I was set to take this nonsense on but by the next day, Treasurer Andrew Fraser was singing a very different song, saying

Treasurer Andrew Fraser described the losses as a “mask” hiding a raft of stronger indicators, including a forecast of 1 per cent growth this year after the previous negative 0.25 per cent.

It is really hard to make sense of this

fn1. This claim doesn’t make much sense. In general, if privatisation is good (or bad), a change in the budget position won’t affect that. About the only case to the contrary is where public ownership provides services that are not paid for by users. In this case, asset sales are like an expenditure cut. But that doesn’t seem to be applicable in most of the cases we are looking at here,

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Monday Message Board

December 7th, 2009 111 comments

It’s time, once again for the Monday Message Board. Post comments on any topic. As usual, civilised discussion and no coarse language.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Weekend reflections

December 5th, 2009 89 comments

It’s time again for weekend reflections, which makes space for longer than usual comments on any topic. Civilised discussion and no coarse language please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Zombie economics

December 4th, 2009 75 comments

That’s the title of my book-in-progress, which is about undead ideas that should have been buried for good after the global financial crisis. But, in most cases, the evidence against these ideas was substantial even before the crisis. Still they wouldn’t die.

This was brought to mind the other day when I got a call from Radio New Zealand asking me to discuss a new report on how NZ could close the (very large) gap in wages and productivity with Australia. That’s an important question, but I realised it was unlikely to get much of an answer when I was told the committee that produced the report was headed by Don Brash, former head of the Reserve Bank of NZ in the 1990s who resigned and immediately went into politics, becoming leader of the then National Party Opposition. Other members included David Caygill, one of Roger Douglas’ offsiders in the 1980s Labour government that implemented ‘Rogernomics’ and Australian free-market economist Judith Sloan.

From this team, about the best suggestion would be that crack NZ scientists should invent a time machine which would go back in time to ensure that the parents of Brash, Caygill and, even more importantly, Roger Douglas were prevented from ever meeting.

Update: For a more carefully stated presentation of my views on NZ, a few years old now, but not requiring any updating, you can read this paper.
Read more…

Categories: Economic policy Tags:

Libs left with Chinese model

December 3rd, 2009 276 comments

I usually wait a day or two before reposting my Fin column. But the Liberal Party is such a rapidly moving target that this column, drafted on Tuesday, looks prescient in retrospect, but may well be obsolete by tomorrow.

Apologies in advance if this gets posted multiple times. The server is flaky, so I’m using Posterous which works, but sometimes too well. Please comment on the first (lowest on page) version.

Attentive readers of the Letters page may have noticed a letter from The Hon Wilson Tuckey MP (Quiggin sticks to problem not solution Letters 24/11). Mr Tuckey gave his account of a discussion of climate change policy held at Parliament House, organised by the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies Great Barrier Reef Climate Change Alliance, in which he and I took part.  As is usual in such cases, I had a rather different recollection of events. But, since Tuckey appeared to be, in Malcolm Turnbull’s words a fringe figure of the far right, I saw little value in responding.

Now, however, the situation has changed. As one of Turnbull’s earliest and most vociferous critics, Tuckey can consider himself vindicated by the decision of the Liberal Party to replace Turnbull with Tony Abbott, someone whose views on climate change are much closer to his own.

More significantly, as Tuckey himself has pointed out, the proposals presented on his website now represent the closest thing the Liberal Party has to a climate change policy. It may therefore be useful to examine these proposals, and, in the process, to recapitulate some of the points I made during our meeting in November.

As was noted in Tuckey’s letter, I did not discuss the specifics of the government’s ETS policy, canvass alternatives such as a carbon tax, or speculate on the amendments being negotiated between the government and the then leadership of the opposition. The position presented by the Great Barrier Reef Climate Change Alliance was that a 25 per cent reduction in emissions was needed by 2020, and that a market-based emissions reduction policy should be the central approach. We did not seek to promote one market-based policy over another, and my answers to Tuckey’s questions reflected that.

I was however, quite happy to explain the merits of a primarily market-based approach as against a centralised command-and-control solution, in which governments seek to determine and impose by fiat, particular technological fixes for climate change. Within a market based framework, there be room for some policies, such as feed-in tariffs for solar energy, aimed at nudging decisionmakers to adopt new technologies. But the central element must be to ensure that there is a price attached to carbon emissions, whether through taxes or through tradeable permits.

A visit to Tuckey’s website reveals a different approach. Tuckey is an enthusiast for the tidal power potential of the Kimberley region, as indeed am I. Given the incentives associated with a high enough price for carbon, and reforms to the National Electricity Market to encourage more investment in long-distance transmission lines, there is huge potential in tidal energy.

But such an incentive-based approach is of no interest to Tuckey. Rather, he suggests ‘To respond to these problems the Government should take an up front role investing in and developing Australia’s only significant and predictable renewable energy resource which is to be found in the tides of the Kimberley.’

Tuckey also proposes extensive public investment in High Voltage Direct Current transmission lines, noting that ‘China will not have an ETS. It will invest in Hydro, Nuclear and other renewable energy. Its Government is already building an extensive HVDC network.’

There are strong arguments for a return to greater reliance on public investment in energy infrastructure.  But, in the context of a policy response to climate change, it is important to avoid ‘picking winners’. There are many candidate technologies for reducing our CO2 emissions, ranging from nuclear power and ‘clean coal’ to extensive investment in energy efficiency. 

The most cost-efficient way to choose options for emissions reductions is to ensure that investors in energy infrastructure, public or private, face a price for each tonne of carbon they emit, and earn a return for each tonne they prevent. If that is done, standard commercial criteria will select the most cost-efficient path.

Tony Abbott has effectively ruled out such an option. Having denounced the government’s emissions trading scheme as a massive new tax, he can scarcely embrace the main alternative, a carbon tax. On the other hand, he has committed himself to achieving the emissions reductions promised by Labor.

In these circumstances, the Chinese approach endorsed by Wilson Tuckey is probably the only feasible option. It is, perhaps, surprising that, having elected its most conservative leader ever, the Liberal Party may have to turn to the Communist Party of China for policy guidance. But politics makes strange bedfellows.

John Quiggin is an ARC Federation Fellow in Economics and Political Science at the University of Queensland.

Posted via email from John’s posterous

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Dealing with the Greens

December 2nd, 2009 105 comments

The ETS has been rejected, and the government has announced it will come back for a third try, adopting the failed deal with Malcolm Turnbull as its new policy. In short-run political terms, there are some obvious benefits here.
Clearly, a crucial consideration is that the government does not want to negotiate with the Greens and would much prefer a deal with the Liberals. But if they are looking at three or four terms in office (and they should be) they will have little choice but to make such deals.

And, even if they don’t care about having an ETS that is decent in environmental terms, the government could save billions of dollars that is currently being handed over to ungrateful political enemies.
I hope this bill is rejected once again, and that the government finally bites the bullet for a double dissolution.

Posted via email from John’s posterous

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Will Fielding stay crazy long enough?

December 1st, 2009 37 comments

At this point, the only chance for survival for the Liberal Party is that Steve Fielding will join them to refer the ETS to a committee (I assume Fielding’s vote is enough to pass a procedural motion, is that correct?). If this happens, the threat of an immediate DD is gone, and they have the chance to crawl back to sanity and try to pass a bill in the New Year, assuming Rudd lets them.[1] That would get the issue off the table and give them some chance of avoiding annihilation, particularly if the economy weakens over 2010. But Fielding prefers the idea of a Royal Commission. If he sticks with this, the Senate will either reject the bill or pass it as the result of a Liberal Party split.

As I’ve said previously, I hope they reject. Then we will either get the original ETS legislation or, better, a Labor-Greens deal.

fn1. Of course, it’s now open to Rudd to come back from Copenhagen (which looks certain to produce a political agreement, if not a legally binding deal) and announce that the deal he made with Turnbull is no longer on the table. Then the Abbott-Minchin Liberals would have the choice of voting for the original ETS, or fighting a double dissolution. Rudd has so many winning options now, it’s hard to describe them all.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Three at one stroke

December 1st, 2009 55 comments

Turnbull defeated, Hockey discredited, Abbott doomed.

Read more…

Categories: Oz Politics Tags: