Archive for March, 2011

The fruitpickers lament

March 31st, 2011 52 comments

Way back in the 1970s, I spent a couple of short spells as an unemployed layabout, one of which was ended when I took a job as a fruitpicker, making (IIRC) $2 a day, which even then wasn’t food money (I wasn’t very good at it). Fortunately, the job included some basic accommodation and all the blackberries you could eat. And, even then the whinging from employers who claimed to be unable to get enough pickers was an old story.

Now, I see Tony Abbott is pushing the same line, wanting to stop dole payments in any district where there are (claimed to be) vacant fruitpicking jobs. After four decades of this stuff, we ought by now to have some actual evidence. So, I have a few questions

First, has there ever been occasion when significant volumes of fruit have gone unpicked because of a shortage of pickers? [1]

Second, has there been any occasion on which demand for fruitpickers has been enough that a person with no prior experience could make substantially more than the minimum wage (currently about $15/hour). ? [2]

And if, as I strongly suspect, the answer to both questions is No, what does that tell us about the expectations of the whinging employers. (I suggest, a ready supply of below-minimum wage workers, available on demand when needed, and ready to be sacked the moment they are not)

fn1 Not a strike, or some particular farmer so objectionable that all ir workers quit

fn2 I know that experienced pickers can do a bit better than this, but that’s not the relevant issue here.

Costa’s catastrophe

March 29th, 2011 138 comments

A catastrophe like the one that befell the NSW Labor Party at the weekend can scarcely be attributed to a single individual, and indeed there were many contributors. But one person stands out above all others as deserving of credit or criticism – former Treasurer Michael Costa. Having risen through the trade union movement, he made his bones in Parliament as a union-busting Transport Minister. Appointed by the utterly hopeless Morris Iemma as Treasurer, he persuaded Iemma to privatise the electricity industry, in direct contradiction of the platform on which Labor had campaigned, and the previous repudiation of privatisation by NSW voters.

As the massive unpopularity of similar moves in Queensland had shown, Labor was doomed unless it repudiated Costa, Iemma and privatisation. The party managed the first two, but, not unfortunately the third.

In keeping with his entire career, Costa quit the day he became eligible for a Parliamentary pension, and immediately emerged in his true colours as an open enemy of the labour movement and the Labor Party.

Read more…

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Monday Message Board

March 28th, 2011 91 comments

It’s time again for the Monday Message Board. Post comments on any topic. As usual, civilised discussion and no coarse language. Lengthy side discussions to the sandpit, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Weight loss and climate change

March 25th, 2011 44 comments

Like a large proportion of the world’s population[1] I’m trying to lose some weight, in my case the extra kilos added over Xmas and the associated conference season. As those who know me would expect, this entails frequent (some might say obsessive) weight measurement, and it’s a frustrating business.

After some quick early gains (or rather, losses) I’m now losing weight at a rate of a kilo a month, or so. On the one hand, that’s good. I’ll regain my target weight well before the next round of temptations. And, on a sustained basis, it’s enough to go from obese to the lean side of normal in a couple of years.

On the other hand, measurement-wise a loss of a kilo is swamped by intra-day and inter-day variations due to all manner of causes. It’s easy for my inner weight loss sceptic to say I’m going nowhere, or for my inner optimist to say that I’m so close to the target that I can relax my efforts.

Thinking about that got me to thinking about broader parallels between weight loss and climate change.

Read more…

Categories: Environment Tags:

There goes the neighborhood ?

March 24th, 2011 19 comments

I just got a plug for a new book by Michael Wesley of the Lowy Institute (published by UNSW, 20 per cent off offer here) for which the blurb states

The challenges that lie ahead are international, not domestic. Michael Wesley, Head of the Lowy Institute, Australia’s most respected policy think tank, argues that the benign and comfortable world that has allowed Australia to be safe and prosperous is vanishing quickly.

Wesley and Lowy have always seemed sensible to me, and I haven’t read the book or even seen a summary of the argument, so I’m shooting from the hip in response (this is a blog, after all). That said, the quoted claim seems to me to be impossible to sustain.

At the global level it’s hard to think of a time when we have been less threatened, at least within living memory. The threat or reality of global war was ever-present from 1914 to 1945, only to be succeeded by the threat of global annihilation in the Cold War. There was a brief period of premature optimism then (though wars continued in Yugoslavia and elsewhere through most of the 1990s) ended by S11 and, in our own region, the Bali terror attack. While the Global War on Terror is still dragging on, it’s become obvious over the last decade that Al Qaeda is not the existential threat that it seemed to be. Nothing new has emerged to replace it. Looking at previous work by Wesley, I suspect he’ll want to talk about the rise of China and India. But China today is far less of a threat to Australia than it was when real communists like Mao Zedong ran the show, and the rise of India seems entirely beneficial to us (among other things, ending the old fear that the starving millions of South Asia would come to fill the empty spaces on our map).

Within our immediate region, the big news is surely the spectacular success of Indonesia in making the transition from dictatorship to democracy. While Suharto kept the lid on things, his regime was scarcely a comfortable neighbour, since no-one knew when it would fall or what would happen when it did. When Suharto finally went, a decade or so ago, there were plenty of risks, with East Timor an festering source of dispute and resenment between Australia and Indonesia, Aceh in open revolt, JI a powerful force, and the military stirring up religious tensions. Now all of these things have greatly abated. And as far as I can see the same is true of problems in Malaysia, the Phillipines, Vietnam (it was only in 2002 that the Russian navy finally pulled out of Cam Ranh Bay) and most of our other neighbours.

The book is described, predictably enough as “A loud and clear wake-up call to Australians”. But unless commenters can point to something I’ve missed, I’m going back to sleep.

Categories: World Events Tags:

The Campbells are coming

March 23rd, 2011 9 comments

Amid the excitement and consternation caused by Campbell Newman’s appointment as extra-Parliamentary leader of the LNP, no-one seems to have noticed a striking fact about the devotion and confidence of his followers. After Bruce Flegg declined some very pressing suggestions that he should spend more time with his family, not a single member of the Parliamentary Party stepped forward to offer the new leader a seat. While commentators have wisely opined that Campbell’s plan might be either crazy or brilliant, the alternative of a quick entry to Parliament, had it been available to him, would have been odds-on to win, given that the LNP was ahead in the polls even under whatshisname, the former leader.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

One Nation resurgent?

March 23rd, 2011 64 comments

Until a month or so ago, I was under the impression that the One Nation party had shuffled off into history. So, I was surprised, attending a lunch at which Joe Hockey spoke, to hear repeated questions from reporters about the role of One Nation in attacks on Hockey’s standard against the appeals to racism allegedly advocated by (Lib Immigration shadow) Scott Morrison. Then, on a recent visit to Sydney I heard David Oldfield spruiking the One Nation line on 2UE. And now Pauline herself appears at an anti-carbon tax rally, along with a bizarre cast of characters including Angry Anderson and the League of Rights. Does anyone have any insight into what’s going on here? Is this just some bandwagon-jumping or is there a real resurgence of One Nation and similar groups?

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

What should the RBA be doing?

March 23rd, 2011 45 comments

My son called the other day to say I’d been mentioned in the Fin as a possible candidate for the the Board of the Reserve Bank. If I were a serious contender, this would be the cue for me to adopt a pose of grave silence on all policy issues, interspersed by gnomic observations to be pored over for their inner meaning. I’m not a serious contender (even if it’s nice to be thought of as someone who might be) so this seems to be a good time for unsolicited advice to whoever gets appointed.

In the short term, I’m pretty happy with the settings of macroeconomic policy. The Rudd government and the RBA got the monetary and fiscal stimulus right in 2009, and the move back to fiscal surplus and neutral settings for monetary policy has been paced appropriately (the government’s insistence on relying on spending cuts rather than scrapping the last stage of the tax cuts promised in 2007 was a big mistake in terms of budget policy, but that’s a different issue).

My concern is rather with longer-term issues arising from the GFC. First, it no longer makes sense to separate monetary and fiscal policy as sharply as was done in the pre-2007 period, given that, in any real emergency, the two will have to work together. That doesn’t imply doing away with central bank independence (we’ve had an independent central bank since the RBA was established) but it does imply a degree of co-ordination between RBA and Treasury more like the relationship that prevailed before the 1990s.

Second, the inflation targeting approach, based on Taylor rules, failed globally in the leadup to the crisis and during the crisis. An important lesson (which Stephen Bell and I, among others, pointed out before the crisis) is that low and stable inflation rates do not imply a stable economy. In fact, they may contribute to the growth of asset price bubbles (what Minsky terms the shift from hedge to speculative finance). There’s still a lot of room for discussion about what should replace inflation targeting, but full employment needs to be given more weight than in the past.

Third, the separation between monetary policy and prudential policy needs to be re-examined. Everything went well in Australia, but the problems overseas suggest we need to take another look at this.

Categories: Economic policy Tags:

Campbell’s cockamamie campaign

March 22nd, 2011 28 comments

Brisbane Lord Mayor ‘Concrete’ Campbell Newman has announced that he wants to be State Premier, but is not prepared to give up his current job to run for the office. Rather, he plans to run for a seat at the next election, then challenge for the leadership of the LNP, which, he hopes will have a majority. Like Malcolm McKerras and others, I’m bemused by this strategy. What is the Parliamentary LNP supposed to do between now and the next election, and what kind of campaign can be run on this basis? Will there be two policy speeches?

Supposing that Newman has majority support in the Parliamentary LNP, their best option would seem to be deposing the current leader Langbroek (no great loss there, admittedly) and replacing him with someone willing to act as a stand-in. That would be a pretty miserable position to occupy (imagine the fun the government will have with it) but perhaps someone can be found to do it. The situation in the City Council will be similarly farcical, giving Labor a chance of regaining its majority.

However, I suspect that reality will sink in soon, and that this cockamamie idea will be abandoned. Either Newman will back away from state politics or he’ll have to follow the standard route in such circumstances finding someone willing to stand aside and create a by-election.

Between the successful management of floods and this farce, a Bligh government that seemed doomed (deservedly so in my view) now looks to have a good chance of retaining office.

Update It looks as if they are going with the “stand-in” plan, with Jeff Seeney as the bunny. Both Langbroek and Springborg have quit. Seeney certainly won’t outshine Newman, but he can still do the LNP plenty of damage. I still predict Newman will be forced to run for a seat in Parliament before long. Perhaps one of the departing leadership team will be kind enough to make way for him, but I wouldn’t count on it.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

The chain of scientific authority

March 21st, 2011 90 comments

Noted scientist Andrew Bolt assures us that exposure to radioactivity is beneficial. His source is creation scientist Ann Coulter, who in turn relies on all-round scientific expert Tom Bethell, whose Incorrect Guide to Science[1] rejects scientific correctness on radiation, evolution, climate change, DDT, AIDS and many other topics. As far as I know, none of these experts has ever studied any scientific subject at a level higher than high school, which guarantees that they haven’t been infected by the subversive influence of correctness in science (or, for that matter, any other topic).

(Hat tip, Tim Lambert, who points to one of those correct scientists, PZ Myers)

fn1. The full title says “Politically Incorrect”, but this is a bit redundant. No doubt politics are the reason for Bethells incorrectness on science, but that’s true of all his incorrect opinions.

Categories: Boneheaded stupidity, Science Tags:

New sand

March 21st, 2011 94 comments

Here’s a new sandpit for lengthy side discussion, rants on idees fixes and so on.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Monday Message Board

March 21st, 2011 11 comments

It’s time again for the Monday Message Board to resume. Post comments on any topic. As usual, civilised discussion and no coarse language. Lengthy side discussions to the sandpit, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:


March 21st, 2011 2 comments

Dramatic events in Libya have overshadowed the murder, by government snipers, of unarmed demonstrators in Yemen on Friday. This crime is as bad as any of those for which Gaddafi has been condemned, but has so far not produced a comparable response from the US and other Western governments. To be fair, there was a similarly cautious response to the initial reports of government repression in Libya and Egypt, so it’s a bit early to be convicting Obama and others of hypocrisy on this.

However, with government ministers resigning or being sacked, and a state of emergency announced, the familiar script seems to be playing out a bit faster. The Saleh regime clearly can’t survive without at least tacit support from the US, so it’s time for Obama to announce the withdrawal of that support, and tell Saleh to leave in the same terms as with Gaddafi.

On the face of it, there should be no problem for the US Administration here. Saleh has been a useful ally, but far less important than Mubarak, whom they dumped without too much concern. The big problem is that after Yemen comes Bahrain. With the Saudis having sent troops to suppress the revolt there, a democratic revolution in Bahrain will threaten their regime as well.

Posted via email from John’s posterous

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Howled down in a pomo world

March 19th, 2011 31 comments

Deirdre Macken has a great piece on today’s Fin, riffing off Cardinal “I spend a lot of time studying this stuff” Pell to the general issue of the challenge to expertise in both productive (Wikipedia) and unproductive (climate science rejectionism) forms. Paywalled unfortunately, but here’s the link for anyone who can use it.

Macken, correctly I think, points to postmodernism as a contributor to the process. I’ve discussed this before (do a search) and I know it’s more complicated than that, but the vulgarised version of postmodernism as denying any special status to scientific knowledge as compared to other “knowledges” has certainly been embraced on the political right in a way that few of its original proponents could have anticipated.

Categories: Boneheaded stupidity, Science Tags:

Weekend reflections

March 19th, 2011 51 comments

It’s time again for weekend reflections, which makes space for longer than usual comments on any topic. In keeping with my attempts to open up the comments to new contributors , I’d like to redirect discussion, and restatements of previous arguments, as opposed to substantive new contributions, to the sandpit(s). As always, civilised discussion and no coarse language please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

All necessary measures

March 18th, 2011 44 comments

The surprisingly successful counterattack by the Gaddafi forces in Libya has produced an even more surprising response. Whereas a day or so ago it seemed unlikely that the US, let alone the UNSC, would support a no-fly zone, the UNSC has now passed (10-0 with China among the abstentions) a resolution authorizing “all necessary measures” to protect Libyan civilians from Gaddafi’s forces. At least according to the NYTimes, that includes airstrikes directed at ground forces.

The only question now is who will supply the necessary force, and this is primarily a diplomatic issue – the military requirements are well within the capacity of France, the US, the UK, the Arab League and probably quite a few others. But whoever supplies the planes, it seems clear that Gaddafi’s regime is doomed. It is striking that, having been regarded as a member in good standing of the international community only a couple of months ago, he is now unable to secure a single vote in the UNSC.

The vote has big implications for the UN and also for the remaining Middle Eastern dictatorships/monarchies, most notably Bahrein and “Saudi” Arabia

Read more…

Categories: World Events Tags:

No nuclear renaissance

March 17th, 2011 98 comments

That’s the title of my piece in today’s Fin, an expanded version of my post here earlier this week

Read more…

Categories: Economics - General, Environment Tags:

Cardinal folly

March 15th, 2011 72 comments

In his demolition of Ian Plimer’s anti-science screed, presented at an estimates hearing in the Senate,the head of the BOM Dr Greg Ayers offered Cardinal Pell a gracious way out of his ill-advised endorsement of Plimer saying the cardinal ”may well become an ambassador for the quality of climate change science if he is exposed to the quality of the science that is done”.

Instead, Pell has doubled down, accusing Ayers of getting his facts wrong and saying

”I regret when a discussion of these things is not based on scientific fact … I spend a lot of time studying this stuff.”

Comment on the arrogant stupidity of such a claim is superfluous (but feel free to pile on anyway!)

Instead of a tiresome recitation of Ayers’ qualifications on the topic and Pell’s lack of same, I’ll look on the bright side. Each person who comes out with this kind of nonsense (Don Aitkin, David Bellamy, Clive James, Nick Minchin, the entire rightwing commentariat) is one less to whom we need to pay attention on any subject. Whatever their former claims to eminence (!), the combination of ignorance, bad judgement, hubris and plain dishonesty required to endorse nonsense like Plimer’s is enough to discredit them across the board.

Categories: Environment, Science Tags:

The end of the nuclear renaissance

March 14th, 2011 210 comments

For the last few weeks, I’ve been planning a Slate-style contrarian post, arguing that the US and maybe other countries should increase the subsidies for nuclear power associated with the attempt to launch a ‘nuclear renaissance’. My argument would have been two-fold. First, the straightforward point that it’s desirable to explore all options for non-carbon based electricity, and that the existing subsidies (combined with the absence of a carbon price) were not sufficient to make this happen (a decade after Bush launched the program, there are only a handful of starters, and most of the early proposals have been abandoned).

The second was political – for a substantial group (mostly on the political right), the desirability of nuclear power is an article of faith, and their (outdated) view that environmentalists resolutely oppose it forms part of the reason for adopting anti-science views and do-nothing policy positions on climate change. More funding for attempts to develop the nuclear option might convert some of them, and embarrass some others into dropping this particular talking point.

But after the disaster in Japan, and the failure of cooling systems at nuclear plants there, it’s most unlikely that anything along these lines will happen.

Read more…

Categories: World Events Tags:

Weekend reflections

March 12th, 2011 14 comments

It’s time again for weekend reflections, which makes space for longer than usual comments on any topic. In keeping with my attempts to open up the comments to new contributors , I’d like to redirect discussion, and restatements of previous arguments, as opposed to substantive new contributions, to the sandpit(s). As always, civilised discussion and no coarse language please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Earthquake/tsunami in Japan

March 12th, 2011 77 comments

Yet another terrible disaster, this time in Japan. Already our floods which destroyed so much, and killed a number of people seem like a relatively modest event in retrospect. And all of these things are insignificant in comparison to the daily toll exacted by poverty and hunger in the world.

Categories: World Events Tags:

Obama and Bush

March 9th, 2011 31 comments

The announcement that military show trials are to recommence at Guantanamo Bay, combined with the brutal and vindictive treatment of Bradley Manning, make it clear that, as regards willing to suppress basic human and civil rights in the name of security, there is no fundamental difference between the Obama and Bush Administrations. The first obvious question is, why? The second is, how to respond?

Read more…

Categories: World Events Tags:

Monday Message Board

March 7th, 2011 58 comments

It’s time again for the Monday Message Board to resume. Post comments on any topic. As usual, civilised discussion and no coarse language. Lengthy side discussions to the sandpit, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Sock puppet alert

March 6th, 2011 72 comments

I recently banned commenter “Charlie” for the suggestion that Queenslanders deserved to suffer from the floods because we didn’t build enough dams. Immediately, a new commenter “Henry Maltby” sprang to Charlie’s defence claiming, among other things to be a recent arrival in Queensland, considering study at UQ. The behavior patterns were suspicious enough for me to do an IP check that revealed, unsurprisingly, that Charlie and Maltby were the same person, with an address in Adelaide (I have my suspicions, as to who it is, but nothing definite). For any site-owners who don’t like abusive sockpuppeteers, the IP address to look for is

Any sockpuppeteer is, by definition, a liar and fraud. But Charlie/Maltby also told numerous specific lies, and explicitly pretended to be two different people (rather than merely reappearing under a new name). And, as well as being a liar and fraud, s/he/it’s obviously a fool – too dumb even to spoof a fake IP address.

Update While Charlie/Maltby has been trolling here, Tim Curtin has been emailing me in an apparently civil fashion, and he sent me another email shortly after this was posted, admitting to it. It was, in any case, a very simple matter to check that he is using the same IP address as the sock puppets.

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Categories: Metablogging Tags:

An above average performance

March 5th, 2011 22 comments

Andrew Bolt links to the latest satellite data from Roy Spencer at UAH, shown below

and states that “Global temperatures in February remained below the long term average, thanks to the La Nina – but despite decades of allegedly catastrophic man-made warming.”

As can easily be seen from the graph, the zero line is not the long-term average, at least in the ways in which this term is usually used (the average for the instrumental record going back 150 years, or else the estimated pre-industrial average). It’s the average for the UAH satellite data set, which only started in 1979, when warming was well under way. Since there has been a steady long-term warming trend over the thirty years of data, the average of the data set corresponds to the average temperatures prevailing in the mid-1990s, as you can easily see by eyeballing the data, or, if you prefer, confirm by statistical analysis. (The National Academy of Sciences did this a few years ago IIRC).

So, what Bolt doubtless meant to write is that the effect of this La Nina, one of the strongest in the historical record, was sufficient to offset about 15 years of the warming trend – I guess one-and-a-half decades counts as “decades” in some sense.

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Categories: Boneheaded stupidity, Environment Tags:

Changing places

March 5th, 2011 67 comments

As long-term readers here will know, I argued for quite a few years that, of the possible ways of putting a price on carbon, an emissions trading scheme was preferable to a tax (I set out my position here). But following the collapse of the Rudd government’s ETS deal with Malcolm Turnbull, and Rudd’s ultimately disastrous failure to call a double dissolution on the issue, I changed my mind.

This was partly because of changed circumstances, and partly because of a reconsideration of the politics surrounding compensation. In both cases, the driving force was the massively complicated set of free permits, exemptions and cash handouts with which the final ETS was saddled, nearly all of these going to large-scale emitters. I had seen the possibility of a limited issue of free permits as an advantage of an ETS, but now I think it was actually a weakness. And in political terms, the inordinate complexity of the CPRS made a strong case for something simple and comprehensible, where everyone understood that consumers would ultimately pay the price of carbon. Unlike with emissions permits, everyone understands that a tax on producers will be passed on (partially in the short run, and totally in the long run) to consumers, and therefore that any offsets or compensation should be directed primarily at consumers.

So, I now think a carbon tax is the best short-run option. There’s even a case, which a plan to discuss later, for leaving the tax in place when we come to introduce an emissions trading scheme, which is still the desirable outcome in the long run.

While I’ve come to support a carbon tax, John Humphreys, who formerly thought it the best (or perhaps least bad) option, is now vigorously opposing it. His change in position coincides with a change in political alignment, from the libertarian LDP to the Liberal Party, for which he was briefly an endorsed candidate last year. A few observations over the fold

Read more…

Categories: Economic policy, Environment Tags:

On the Internet, pretending to be a dog doesn’t help

March 4th, 2011 23 comments

As I mentioned below, I had an email discussion with Gerard Henderson regarding the proportion of alarmist cranks in the Coalition parties (he says 75 per cent, while I think a near-majority of Liberals and perhaps even some Nats are pro-science). The whole thing has now been posted at his Media Watch Dog site, but with an odd twist.

The conceit of the site is that the material is posted, not by Henderson, but by his dog. As if to demonstrate this, the item (taken directly from our emails) has my name repeatedly mis-spelt as “Quiggan”.

Categories: Media Tags:

Weekend reflections

March 4th, 2011 6 comments

It’s time again for weekend reflections, which makes space for longer than usual comments on any topic. In keeping with my attempts to open up the comments to new contributors , I’d like to redirect discussion, and restatements of previous arguments, as opposed to substantive new contributions, to the sandpit(s). As always, civilised discussion and no coarse language please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

New sand

March 4th, 2011 4 comments

Here’s a new sandpit for lengthy side discussion, rants on idees fixes and so on.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Bolt vs the Bureau

March 4th, 2011 13 comments

Following my piece in yesterday’s Fin, Andrew Bolt wrote in to deny that he had ever accused the Bureau of fraud or dishonesty. More precisely, he concedes that he did once, presumably a reference to this piece, a direct accusation of dishonest against the Bureau and the CSIRO. But wait, there’s more.

The first Google blog hit under Bolt + Bureau is this letter from Joanne Nova and others, calling for an audit of the Bureau, and beginning with the claim that “The BOM claim their adjustments are “neutral” yet Ken Stewart showed that the trend in the raw figures for our whole continent has been adjusted up by 40%.” The letter is full of accusations of dishonesty and political bias. Presumably Bolt is going to claim that he is just reporting here, and again when he repeated this claim by Nova here

Maybe the same for this suggestion that “warmists” at the Bureau have rigged the rainfall figures for the MDB, run under the title Why did the Bureau remove the rain? (note that, unlike a journalist, Bolt gets to pick the headlines for his blog items).

And perhaps this, where he relays a claim by Warwick Hughes, that the “warming-evangelist” Bureau is “smudging” rainfall data to tilt the case in favor of global warming.

Categories: Environment Tags: