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Monday Message Board

June 20th, 2011

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 sandpits, please.

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  1. rog
    June 20th, 2011 at 11:33 | #1

    Thomas Friedman has a piece on the impacts of growth on resources, and effects thereof. Interesting that a comment by Malcolm Turnbull has received a lot of support.


  2. Chris Warren
    June 20th, 2011 at 11:40 | #2

    For all those nay-sayers when it comes to revolution….

    Here is the unfolding situation in one of our capitalist PIGS, – Greece.

    Economic Collapse

    This is not a Greek, Irish, Icelandic, or Portuguese problem, nor some vague problem of “excessive” debt as suggested by Keen.

    Any economic system requiring increasing debt will always meet with a “sudden death” hopefully (in the case of Greece) fore-stalled by “crisis levies” on wages. This is a fools nightmare. Sprinkling Holy Water would be just as efficacious.

    But the same debt mechanism underlies all OECD capitalism, and determines Chinese and Indian prospects (to the extent they rely on exports into the OECD).

    Thanks to Whitlam, Fraser, Howard and particularly Keating, Australia is just another domino in a chain that may cascade through the world economies. The demand for our resources is based on consumption outside Australia. This consumption is based on increased debt.

    Tough luck it would seem.

  3. Ken Fabos
    June 20th, 2011 at 15:13 | #3

    Just wondering if people believe that we will come to see climate change related lawsuits and if they will be significant in forcing a shift away from fossil fuels.

  4. Gordicans
    June 21st, 2011 at 02:34 | #4

    Interesting one Ken. Perhaps potential for lawsuites in the reporting area in much the same way the ATO will sue. Another interesting area of future development will be how countries with a price on carbon will react to trading partners without a price on carbon, and what strategies develop. It might be a rapidly developing area. We’ve already seen Europe slug Qantas on incoming flights. Also, how countries with schemes look to integrate with each other (as was hinted at yesterday with NZ).

  5. Jarrah
    June 21st, 2011 at 04:48 | #5

    “But the same debt mechanism underlies all OECD capitalism”

    Does it really?

  6. Ken Fabos
    June 21st, 2011 at 08:39 | #6

    Gordicans – I know that some attempts at lawsuits have already occurred and not gotten anywhere, however that’s likely to change as the science linking specific activities of big fossil fuel users and harm gets clearer – and the harm itself gets more severe and clearly linked to climate change. Yet even if that link remains hard to prove legally, the political machinations, to keep the political system working in their favour could be their archilles heel as I suspect there is evidence within the communications and financing of such campaigning of both knowledge that emissions do and will do harm and links to fossil fuel interests. This sector is trying very hard to position itself as ‘essential’ and may be able to game the system to have politics exempt their activities on that basis.

    In any case I have severe doubts that regulatory methods will work to bring about the necessary changes to the energy sector – that’s a game they’ve pretty much fixed in their favour. A carbon price high enough to actually force a shift to more expensive low emissions solutions, especially during periods of economic downturn (such as might occur after more and worse storms, droughts, fires, floods than seen to date) looks unlikely in the foreseeable future.

    We are currently so dependent on that fossil fuel sector, which is resisting any shift away from such dependence, that it can itself (maybe as part of a campaign pretending to be about jobs and investment) create economic woes by it’s own volition. Do we have a legal system that is independent enough, with sufficient integrity that such big ‘essential’ players can be held to account?

  7. NickR
    June 21st, 2011 at 09:18 | #7

    There is a YouTube video doing the rounds for a while mocking the notion of Somalia being a libertarian ‘paradise’. I have heard hard-line libertarians actively endorse this idea (with a few, but not many caveats) and as such it seems reasonable to look at how effective this ‘policy’ has been.

    While it is incorrect to infer anything about the success of an extremely liberated capitalist-anarchist system from the levels of economic production, the effect of Somalia’s system should be visible in a comparison of its growth rate to the growth rates of its neighbors and other nearby countries. I am aware that this is only a rough ad-hoc way of looking at things, and that there may be a hundred extraneous variables that could have some influence over the results, but what we see is quite stark.

    Somalia average GDP growth 2.6% (GDP per capita approx $600)
    Ethiopia average GDP growth 7.9%, (GDP per capita approx $1,000)
    Djibouti average GDP growth, 4.2%, (GDP per capita approx $1,100)
    Kenya average GDP growth 3.5%, (GDP per capita approx $1,600)
    Eritrea average GDP growth 2.4%, (GDP per capita approx $700)
    Tanzania average GDP growth 6.7%, (GDP per capita approx $1,400)
    Sudan GDP average growth 6.8% (GDP per capita approx $1,300)

    Even in context, Somalia’s economic performance looks pretty bad.

  8. Chris Warren
    June 21st, 2011 at 09:33 | #8


    Obviously, under modern capitalism.

    If there is no debt, the amount of ‘money’ paid out for factors of production would be the same as the money received in sales revenue. There would be no extra profit in the sales. This need to extract capitalist profit naturally ratchets-up and this only for the purposes of circulation (not real production).

    But not so under earlier capitalism – but only because early capitalists expropriated the working class and small proprietors more openly, sending them en masse to the workhouse, debtors prison and paupers grave.

    All market economies would have debt but not in the same form as under capitalism.

  9. may
    June 21st, 2011 at 14:10 | #9

    two thoughts.

    1)when are we going to see the definitive history of the role played by women as front line soldiers during the nazi invasion of the USSR?
    i’ve come across glimmers at various times of tank battalions,fighter squadrons and infantry,and they were involved in all areas of national defence.
    (apparently they scared the other side shitless)

    2)the latest capitalist “low production cost”enterprise out of america seems to be the private prison where the incarcerated are “trained”producing goods that are sold on the open competition market.
    sounds like a sweet deal.
    captive (and how)workforce.
    tax funds pay for the upkeep of the incarcerated.
    extremely low cost production ensures rock bottom prices that can undercut businesses that have to pay real world wages.
    endless supply of workers.

    doan’cha luvvit.

  10. iain
    June 21st, 2011 at 17:28 | #10

    @Ken Fabos

    In Australia:
    Gray v The Minister for Planning, Director-General of the Department of Planning and Centennial Hunter Pty Ltd [2006] NSWLEC 720

    “climate change impacts of the use of a product were for the first time taken into account” [Rose, A. Gray v Minister for Planning: The rising tide of climate change litigation in Australia]

    In the US:
    Connecticut et al v American Electric Power Company Inc et al, has now finally wound its way through the common law bowels without a lot of progress, but expect to see more attempts.

  11. Neil
    June 21st, 2011 at 19:24 | #11

    Does anybody know anything about the planning decision in the BCC which allowed three old trees to be cut down despite a protection order.

    The public position of the council is that the order only ever required the owner to get permission from council before removing the trees but……….some animals are more likely to have those requests approved than other animals.

  12. Donald Oats
    June 21st, 2011 at 21:36 | #12

    …And just in case the Bolters of this nation “think” that the death threats (against climate scientists) are years old, we have Executive Director of FASTS, Anna-Maria Arabia, being threatened:

    Anna Maria Arabia is the CEO of the nation’s peak scientific body, FASTS – the Federation of Australian Science and Technological Societies.

    Ms Arabia, who is launching the ‘Respect the Science’ campaign at Parliament House today, told ABC News Breakfast she had received a fresh death threat only this morning.

    “We know there have been some very serious death threats in the past, this is completely unacceptable,” she said.

    “[I had] an email threatening my life. No scientist should ever have to have their life threatened simply for doing the work they need to do.”

    What can you do.

  13. Xevram
    June 22nd, 2011 at 08:24 | #13

    On Energy production and the economy, in 2003 ……………

    “Of itself, the energy supply sector is a small contributor to employment and economic activity, while it absorbs large amounts of financial capital and has major environmental impacts. In 1998-99, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that the electricity, gas and water supply sector contributed 2.2% of Australia’s GDP, of which electricity supply generated almost three-quarters (ISR, 2001). In that year, the sector employed 47,000 people, of whom 33,000 were employed in electricity supply, down from 66,000 in 1990. The sector invested almost $5 billion of capital in 1998-99. On this basis, if Australia’s energy service requirements could be provided in other ways, it is likely that more employment, less environmental impact and lower capital requirements would result. For example, improving energy efficiency reduces overall energy bills and increases employment (through transfer of investment from capital intensive energy supply infrastructure to employment intensive provision of goods and services associated with energy efficiency improvement).”
    Ref. http://www.acre.ee.unsw.edu.au/downloads/AEPG%20Energy%20Efficiency%20report%20-%202003.pdf

    Clean energy Australia tells us that in 2010 that our energy comes from 8.67% renewables and 91.33 fossil fuels.
    Ref. http://www.cleanenergycouncil.org.au/…energy-australia/…Energy-Australia…2010/Clean%20Energy%20Australia%20Report%202010-C.pdf

    # Donald Oats, what can we do?, we can condemn the ignorant fools who make the threats, but most of all try and get the truthful information out there.

  14. Ken Fabos
    June 22nd, 2011 at 09:10 | #14

    Iain, will the lawsuits actually impact our emissions intensive industries and help force change?
    I think we’ve grown up believing in the right to cheat and many successful business have taken that right past it’s limits; climate change is something that can’t be dealt with by cheating – the atmosphere will not be fooled by pretending to have sequestered CO2 or schemes that don’t actually produce the results claimed. The fossil fuel sector is currently doing it’s best to avoid all responsibility for the climate consequences of their business activities ie cheat. The political process has not shown itself capable of dealing with this issue – will the legal system show itself to be better able to do so?

  15. Sam
    June 23rd, 2011 at 15:44 | #15

    Nice comparison there. I had heard something about this before. Apparently it’s much quicker to get a phone connected in Mogadishu than anywhere else in the region. Looking at this, it’s clear that such metrics are isolated exceptions proving the general rule.

  16. sam
    June 23rd, 2011 at 17:11 | #16

    What does everyone think about the NBN-Telstra deal?

  17. Jeepers Creepers
    June 24th, 2011 at 10:37 | #17

    Henry Ergas apparently believes it was all right for Telstra to have a monopoly over the wholesale market whilst being the major player in the retail market as he was Telstra’s chief apologist in days gone by. However now he thinks a company with a monopoly in the wholesale market but with NO links to the retail market ( thus giving more competition to retailers than they could previously) is a bad thing.

    Good to see he is consistent as ever

  18. June 24th, 2011 at 11:51 | #18


  19. June 24th, 2011 at 11:55 | #19

    Hovercaraft? Read on it, study it. Mostly Water based. Landbased?
    SIMPLE: ElectroMagnetic Grid pathway, raodway say from Henderson NV to Las Vegas Nv. Opposite Hoverboard/Hovercraft(Dick Tracy type) with opposing Magnet. Opposing Magnets “LIFT” the CRAFT which “Hovers”, and is propelled by airburst/thrust. YOU NOW HAVE A MOVEABLE INEXPENSIVE LANDBASE HOVERCRAFT. Ok the roadway(electromagnetic might cost somethng, hey concrete goes up everyday. Talk about going GREEN. [email protected]

  20. Sam
    June 24th, 2011 at 14:07 | #20

    I wonder if it wouldn’t just be cheaper to renationalise telstra, sell off the retail arm, and rename what’s left the NBN.

  21. sam
    June 24th, 2011 at 16:05 | #21

    @Jeepers Creepers
    Yes the mindset of some people is interesting. It doesn’t matter how many egregious, monopolistic, exploitative, freedom-impinging things an organisation does. Everything is permitted, everything is “the market at work,” unless that is, the organisation is called “the government.”

  22. Tristan Ewins
    June 27th, 2011 at 19:34 | #22

    Double Standards when it comes to talk of ‘Class War’. Debate welcome!!! See: http://leftfocus.blogspot.com/2011/06/double-standards-when-its-comes-to-talk.html

  23. Fran Barlow
    June 28th, 2011 at 12:34 | #23

    Remember those puzzles you were given as a child in which you had to spot trivial differences between two line drawings? The skills acqquired there shoul;d make this easy:

    Headline: The Australian 28 June 2011
    Amid another polll (sic) blow, Julia Gillard admits her push for a carbon tax may get even tougher

    Body text:The Australian 28 June 2011

    Headline: The Australian 28 June 2011
    Ms Gillard said today the polling was a result of her plan to put a price on carbon, and that while it was a tough reform “it may get even tougher, before it gets easier”. “I believe that once carbon pricing is in place people will see how the system works and the benefits of it,” the Prime Minister told ABC’s News 24.
    \”We’re a long way from that (consensus on climate change), that’s why I think we are in a tough period now, and there may be some further tough periods ahead. “But ultimately I believe all Australians will recognise the need to price carbon and how the reform works.”

    Ok it was naughty of me to bold the differences, but can you spot them? Why are they different? Surely that’a journalism fail, no?

    Another approach to this verbal was conducted by the Brisbane Times

    Prime Minister Julia Gillard has suggested her plummeting approval rating with voters may not have bottomed out as she battles to convince the electorate about the benefits of a carbon tax.


    Despite the poll slump Ms Gillard says she is determined to push on with her government’s agenda, including a carbon tax.

    Yet it continues:

    Ms Gillard insists that once carbon pricing is in place, people will see how the system works and its benefits.

    ooops … lets fix that and get back on message:

    Mr Swan said the government was “losing some paint” during the carbon tax debate partly because it was up against an ocean of negativity and vested interests “all having a go”.

    There’s no sense letting people get away with using their own terms.

    Canberra Times 28 June 2011: Gillard to push ahead on carbon tax

    Body text: Ms Gillard told ABC television this morning that Australians would quickly see the benefits of a price on carbon once a system was put in place.

    AM on #theirABC this morning –

    Alexandra Kirk:The Government’s holding its nerve. Treasurer Wayne Swan blames a spirited carbon tax debate and so called vested interests. {note that she quotes the latter accurately but verbals him on the former. This is why there is a persistent belief that the government itself uses the term, which is the monibus defence used by the ABC against complaints FB}

    Alexandra Kirk: Ms Gillard’s voter satisfaction rating has hit a new low of 28 per cent. It’s fallen 22 points since announcing her carbon tax.


    Alexandra Kirk: Is it the reform that is the carbon tax that is the problem or the Government’s and Julia Gillard’s ability or inability to sell it?


    Wayne Swan: The most important thing to do is the right thing by the country in the long term and Julia Gillard and the Government are absolutely focused on that when it comes to putting a price on carbon

    Alexandra Kirk: If you could tease it out though, how much do you think is due to the carbon tax and how much is due to the Government’s ability to sell it?

    Wayne Swan: {…} But what I do know is, putting in place a price on carbon pollution is something that is required in this country

    Truly a dialog of the deaf. The Murdochracy has so captured media space that even when the actual words are right before people, they can’t hear them. It does lend an amusing and ironic twist to Kirk’s question about the government’s salesmanship! She has used the term carbon tax four times in two minutes. This was a superior rate of verballing to Fran Kelly on Breakfast with Swan yesterday when she used carbon tax on ten occasions in about seven minutes, but Kelly managed to also verbal Brown and Ferguson who weren’t present, and used a clever device — using the term and then diverting conversation to another matter before Swan could even respond. So effective was this LNP/Murdoch/polluter propaganda Blitzkrieg that Swan went perilously close to uttering the word himself, before biting his tongue and saying “carbon charge”.

    Amusing sidebar: Chris Pyne accidentally said carbon price yesterday but quickly corrected himself to get back on message.

    The ABC pretends it’s all non-partisan, but the data says otherwise.

  24. sam
    June 28th, 2011 at 20:55 | #24

    Once again Fran, I disagree with you when you say this shouldn’t be called a tax. I don’t care what the high court says about this sort of thing; the meanings of words are not determined by fiat from on high, but how they are used in the real world. It clearly is a carbon tax, it’s called a “Pigouvian tax” by all economic textbooks, and all economists and there’s nothing wrong with the word “tax.” This is a perfectly sensible economic reform, and one that unashamedly works by the introduction of a new tax.

    Furthermore, if the Government were to try to pretend otherwise, they would (rightly) be slammed for using doublespeak. Remember the furor over Kevin Rudd’s inability to use the word “billion” when referring to the budget deficit? He had a perfect opportunity to talk to the electorate as if they were grown-ups, be candid about the size of the thing, and explain the Keynesian rationale for running such deficits in downturns. Instead, he just appeared slippery and evasive.

    Using semantic tricks to obscure the issue has been tried enough by this government. It’s time they listened to a different group of PR people.

  25. Fran Barlow
    June 28th, 2011 at 23:50 | #25

    It has nothing to do with being slippery or evasive Sam. – quite the reverse. The government would be stopping the opposition misrepresenting their policy as a GBNT so as to tar them as liars or swindlers. It was always the case that they were going to price carbon anyway. It’s easy enough to show this isn’t a tax though.

    Ask yourself:
    Is it a tax in 2015 when permits will be auctioned? Of course it is. The fact that permits will be available in 2012 for a fixed price doesn’t make it a tax.

    The government has been irredeemably stupid to tolerate being verballed. It really does need new advisers.

  26. Freelander
    June 29th, 2011 at 05:48 | #26

    @Fran Barlow

    If they were clever they would have proposed renting industry emission permits on a monthly basis at a fixed rental price, with the rental price increasing up until they did the auctioning. That would have been equivalent to their introductory ‘tax’ without being a ‘tax’. That way they could claim it as an ETS with an introductory fixed but annually increasing rental price.

    I have to agree they are irredeemably stupid, but not so stupid that they would ever take Rudd back. The problem with Rudd wasn’t so much that he died in the polls. The real problem is that, because of his behaviour, no one wanted to work with him as PM. By no one, that is the cabinet, his caucus, and the bureaucrats. Unfortunately they have replaced him with someone who seems almost (or maybe that is harsh) as integrity challenged as Abbott.

    It will be interesting to see if Abbott’s latest ‘stroke’, setting Reith to challenge Stockdale, then being clever by voting for Stockdale and turning out to have given Stockdale the winning vote, will turn out to be his undoing. As well as the duplicity having unleashed internal dissension, and upset Reith, Reith supporters, and Stockdale and his supporters, Work Choices has now risen from the dead. Those he has upset within his party know who to blame. They will be very selfless if they all forgive him for the good of the party. And surely, ordinary voters will recognise that this, failed performance piece in duplicity, is not what Australia needs in the next PM.

    On the government side, if Labor lets Abbott off after this one, then they are irredeemably stupid indeed. That said, even if they do let him off, Abbott is proving to be as troppo as Latham, and in all likelihood will self-destruct with an even worse stunt before any but an early election.

  27. Mel
    June 29th, 2011 at 09:06 | #27

    Online Oxford dictionary definition of a tax:

    “a compulsory contribution to state revenue, levied by the government on workers’ income and business profits, or added to the cost of some goods, services , and transactions. ”

    The price on carbon is a form of taxation. Quit the spin doctoring, thanks Fran.


  28. Hermit
    June 29th, 2011 at 10:07 | #28

    I fear difficult times ahead when/if the carbon tax morphs into an auction price. As in the EU the complication of free permits and dodgy offsets will cloud the issues. Note the UK is considering a supplementary carbon tax to the weak EU ETS. If certain forms of technology (eg wind and solar) continue to get subsidies and quotas that presents an additional complication. When auctioning comes the big emitters may surreptitiously bid in collusion to drive down the CO2 spot price. The resulting price may initially be too low to justify further low carbon investment.

    Two specific examples illustrate this; continuing the build of wind farms absent RECs and replacing Victorian brown coal with combined cycle gas. Industry insiders say the carbon price needs to be $40 and $80 respectively. What if the carbon price initially dropped from say $20 carbon tax to $10 spot price? It’s not clear what would happen. One possibility is that we would just continue to burn more coal since it was relatively cheaper. Another is that voluntary efficiency gains via carbon tax would continue into a general economic contraction.

    Spot pricing seems to have worked with SOx and NOx emissions in the US but there may be some key aspect that makes it less applicable to CO2, total tonnage being an obvious point of difference. No doubt whatever happens some sector will rightly feel aggrieved.

  29. Fran Barlow
    June 29th, 2011 at 10:08 | #29


    The price on carbon is a form of taxation. Quit the spin doctoring, thanks Fran.

    tu quoque say I in response. An Oxford Dictionary definition on a piece of metalanguage in economics and public policy? At best that’s lazy and more likely cherrypicking. Even then, it doesn’t describe what is being done by the interim fixed price permit phase of the ETS because the permits are not “a compulsory contribution to state revenue added to the cost of some goods, services, and transactions.” Polluting is not a good or service or transaction provided to a third party. Actually, it’s an imposition on the commons, for which the state is charging a fee, on behalf of the commons at large, in order to discourage dumping and/or to effect remedies. If the state operated rubbish tips the charges would be no more taxes than when private concerns operated them. The state operates sewage treatment works and the charges here are not taxes.

    Taxes don’t get you a service of a good or a security. They aren’t transferrable or tradeable. Once the permit is sold to the buyer, the buyer may on-sell it, if desired. You can’t do that with taxes. This scheme is also part of a transition package from what we have now — (free dumping of CO2e) to the fully functioning floating price ETS, so unpicking it — to call this something different from what will be the legislated end point — an auctioned ETS, is fundamentally dishonest and politically self-serving. Calling this phase something different from the final configuration makes as much logical sense as describing a bus driver as a ticket seller, a hairdresser as a cashier or a plumber as a mobile phone operator. Yes, bus drivers sell tickets, hairdressers operate cash registers, and plumbers respond to inquiries on mobile phones, but these are merely incidental and enabling to the work they finally provide.

    One might add that the CPRS proposed by Rudd had a similar fixed price mechanism, though it was a much shorter one, and at that stage, the CPRS was explicitly counter-defined against carbon taxes. Calling it a GBNT was not done until after it had been defeated, in February 2010.

    You along with the Murdochracy, should stop spinning this Mel.

  30. Fran Barlow
    June 29th, 2011 at 10:17 | #30


    Interestingly, if the Garnaut proposal for a $26 starting price plus a 4% real escalator were assumed from 2012, then the real price in 2030 would be greater than $54 and the average price over that time just under $39. Assuming a life of asset of 40 years, one can see immediately that the average real price would be much closer to $50 — and that is the real price that would be figured in to assets of this type.

    With a floating price of course, those considering would have to consider upside price risk and so the tendency would be to guess somewhat on the high side, since it would be on this basis that loans were raised for assets. It’s also unclear where thermal coal prices will go in the next 20-30 years, but there’s little reason to suppose thay they will not continue to rise sharply in real terms, unless renewables/less Co2-intensive sources significantly staunch demand. In that scenario of course then cost of that class of good (and thus the energy production cost) would fall relative to coal, again raising questions about the longterm viability of coal investment.

  31. Fran Barlow
    June 29th, 2011 at 10:20 | #31

    More on #theirABC‘s propaganda Blitkrieg on behalf of the Murdochracy, LNP & polluters. This time they verbal Cameron Clyne of NAB and Tom Albanese of CRA

  32. Sam
    June 29th, 2011 at 10:31 | #32

    In my view there are many other more important fabrications being peddled by the right at the moment. I’m not even sure they are all deliberate either; some of them are just plain old economic illiteracy. A common meme that seems to be doing the rounds at the moment is that a carbon price induces no behaviour change if compensation is provided to individuals, It’s complete rubbish of course, but it’s repeated ad nauseum by the talking heads and Very Serious People. David Miles did it on the drum just yesterday.

    P.S. the perfect comeback to this nonsense? http://twitpic.com/54l6l2

  33. Sam
    June 29th, 2011 at 10:49 | #33

    @Fran Barlow
    Also, I just don’t think you’re using the word “tax” as everyone else is. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pigovian_tax

  34. Sam
    June 29th, 2011 at 10:52 | #34

    @Fran Barlow
    Also, I still don’t think you’re using the word “tax” as everyone else is. See “Pigovian tax.” This phrase is used by economists.

  35. Fran Barlow
    June 29th, 2011 at 12:41 | #35


    I’m very much aware of the notion of Pigovian Taxation (a.k.a sumptuary taxes) but I do note this from your link:

    Cap and trade

    Another alternative to applying pigovian taxation is for government to place a limit on the total amount of the negative externality and create a market for rights to generate this specific negative externality. In the United States since the late 1970s, and in other developed nations since the 1980s, the concept of a market for “pollution rights” has arisen. Whereas the correct Pigovian Tax can be very difficult or costly to know (anything that is not the exact cost of the externality is inefficient), cap and trade does not need as much information to be effective
    [my emphasis added: FB]

    Does that clear the distinction up for you?

    The reason we have different words to cover different concepts in language is to facilitate a meeting of the minds. Debauching the language, though common in rhetorical exchanges, is corrosive of rigourous discourse, and ought to be resisted by all those who regard rigorous discourse as more important than winning cheap points in struggles over culture.

    Government revenues come from dividends, from the proceeds of sales and from capital gains realised post sales, from rents, fees and charges, and of course taxation. It is regrettable when those who should know better allow the important distinctions here to be muddied.

  36. Fran Barlow
    June 29th, 2011 at 12:46 | #36


    I agree that that particular talking point is also very annoying. Nevertheless, it is less damaging to adequate public policy, because most people (the vast majority) like the idea of compensation to households. It also doesn’t fit into a slogan very well. The “Great Big New Compensation” debate is not something that would fall effectively from the lips of the journalistic hyenas deployed by the Murdochracy.

  37. sam
    June 29th, 2011 at 13:33 | #37

    @Fran Barlow
    Does that clear the distinction up for you?
    No, I’m afraid it doesn’t. I’m not being deliberately obtuse here, but I don’t understand the point you think the wiki article is making. I’m aware that there is a very active debate about whether “cap and trade” or “Pigovian tax” is the better way of dealing with carbon dioxide. I’m also happy to accept that we shouldn’t call “cap and trade” a tax, but that both of these are means of “pricing” externalities.

    However, it seems clear to me that the fixed price period being proposed for Australia is a tax, albeit one that is intended to become a trading system after some time. Nothing in the wiki article contradicts that. You could claim that a fixed price on carbon is the government “selling” the right to pollute. You could also say that a cigarette/alcohol/gambling tax is the government “selling” the right to smoke/drink/gamble.

    I agree that the definitions of words are important. However, I also think that words are defined by how they’re used, not by what some judge or academy pronounces. As an example, I used to get quite annoyed by people misusing the term “acronym” to refer to any initialism (rather than only those initialisms which run together to form a new word such as QANTAS). No matter how many times I tried to correct this however, no one seemed to listen. In the minds of ordinary people, there was no need to make this distinction, and so it was lost. Now even the oxford english dictionary treats acronyms and initialisms as synonymous. I lost that battle. You have lost the battle over the word “tax.”

  38. sam
    June 29th, 2011 at 13:37 | #38

    @Fran Barlow
    RE the great big new compensation. What the right wing pundits are trying to do here is make the government’s carbon scheme look ineffective. They say it’s just pushing money around, it will disrupt the economy, probably redistibute wealth to the poor (gasp), and have no effect on the environment.

  39. Fran Barlow
    June 29th, 2011 at 15:02 | #39


    They say it’s just pushing money around, it will disrupt the economy, probably redistribute wealth to the poor (gasp), and have no effect on the environment.

    Which bit of that do you think anyone who thinks themself “poor” will take most note of? Once someone is sympathetic, because it is good for them, they are open to other arguments about why it is also good for “the community in general”. You can then explain why a compensation scheme is not only equitable, but allows people to make more sensible choices about their footprint, or talk about is as a “disloyalty scheme”. Instead of loyal customers getting discounts, those avoiding a practice get to keep cash rewards, but hand them back if they can’t keep away.

  40. Mel
    June 29th, 2011 at 15:46 | #40

    I support a price on carbon Fran but I have no problem with it being called a tax on carbon because, broadly defined, it *is* a tax.

  41. Sam
    June 29th, 2011 at 21:12 | #41

    @Fran Barlow
    I replied but my comment is being moderated. Watch this space!

  42. Fran Barlow
    June 29th, 2011 at 22:38 | #42


    I also replied to Mel (16.54) and am also moderated.

  43. Donald Oats
    June 30th, 2011 at 00:09 | #43

    Bob Brown was interesting at his address to the National Press Club today, and the questions excellent too—his answers were excellent, that is.

    He gave a good characterisation of Mitch Hooke (various positions to do with minerals companies, generally just a shill), with reference to Hooke’s own words rather than needing to be impolite about him. Brown pointed out that Hooke’s tactic when his arguments aren’t up to par is to play the man and not the ball, especially in Bob Brown’s personal experience.

    All told, it is looking like the change of senate will be exciting times again for politics. Or so I hope…

  44. Freelander
    June 30th, 2011 at 01:43 | #44


    A dictionary is hardly the place to look. Dictionaries properly follow and do not lead on definitions. Hence they are not the ultimate authority. The price on emissions can be called a variety of things. There are various ways the same thing can be dished up and none of it is ‘spin’. Whatever it is called the effects should be the same. Also a court is hardly the place to decide whether something is a tax or not beyond in some legal sense. The reasoning in many courts is somewhat dubious. Great example of that have been many of the majority decisions of the US supreme court, particularly recent ones.

    Three cheers for Bob Brown! How pathetic that he and the greens, with their resources are having to do what the useless Labor government ought to have already done with all the government resources at its disposal.

  45. BilB
    June 30th, 2011 at 11:43 | #45

    Very good point freelander (last para).

  46. Tim Macknay
    June 30th, 2011 at 12:08 | #46

    Sam, a long and tedious debate was had with Fran on this topic a while back on a thread over at LP.

    Basically, Fran has a theory that the aspects of the environment which are beneficial to humans (often referred to in environmental policy literature as “environmental services”) are actually services provided by human governments in the same sense that street sweeping or municipal garbage collection, and that therefore the carbon tax (price, whatever) is actually a “service charge” for the privilege of having the biosphere absorb the emissions. I imagine you would agree that this idea is somewhat idiosyncratic.

    Of course, Fran is perfectly entitled to her idiosyncratic definitions. However, as long as she insists on using them, arguing the point with her is pretty futile.

  47. Tim Macknay
    June 30th, 2011 at 12:09 | #47

    *aargh* – the same sense as street sweeping or municipal garbage collection.

  48. Fran Barlow
    June 30th, 2011 at 12:26 | #48

    @Tim Macknay

    are actually services provided by human governments in the same sense that street sweeping or municipal garbage collection, and that therefore the carbon tax (price, whatever) is actually a “service charge” for the privilege of having the biosphere absorb the emissions. I imagine you would agree that this idea is somewhat idiosyncratic.

    It would be fairer to chracterise me as holding that the service is provided by the commons, and that governments have come to represent, at least notionally, the interest of tjhe commons and are thus the agencies that must act to protect the integrity of that service by regulating interaction with it by private parties. While I have used the garbage tip analogy, this is merely to make the point that the right to dump is a valuable service and charging for it, is not a simple levy on the populace.

    You can rather sniffily dismiss that as ‘idiosynratic’ of coruse, but I would be surprised if a careful study of attitudes by the populace as a whole didn’t reveal that most thought about the matter in much the same way.

    In any event, my case against calling the interim fixed price permit period of the proposed ETS “a carbon tax” rests on much more than this view of the relationship betyween the commons and sovereign states. Self evidently, it is part and parcel of the ETS itself — an enabling instrument — and cannot be unpacked from the program of which it is a part. It creates tradeable securities which become a price factor in production and this makes it quite unlike taxation.

    So here, the usage of the term “carbon tax” is not only wrong semantically, but this wrong reflects a cultural claim in the struggle over public policy, making it more than of linguistic interest.

    PS: It might be useful to consider what something that could actually be called “a carbon tax” would actually look like.

  49. Sam
    June 30th, 2011 at 14:29 | #49

    @Tim Macknay

    @Fran Barlow

    Ah well, I think I’ve made my case as well as I can now, so I won’t press the issue further. I think we can all agree on the non-semantic points anyway.

  50. Tim Macknay
    June 30th, 2011 at 14:38 | #50

    It would be fairer to chracterise [sic] me as holding that the service is provided by the commons, and that governments have come to represent, at least notionally, the interest of tjhe [sic] commons

    No, I characterised your argument exactly the way you put it yourself. Your claim that governments represent the “commons” ( a term you haven’t defined in the context) is new to me – as far as I’m concerned you haven’t raised it before.

    So, to claim that I should have characterised your argument in a way you have not previously expressed to me is unfair on your part. I must admit I didn’t expect this level of disingenuousness from you – I may not agree with you on this issue but I have always assumed that you express your views in good faith. Perhaps you have adjusted your argument since we debated it, but that doesn’t affect the accuracy, or fairness, of my characterisation of it. On this particular issue you seem determined to tie yourself in knots to preserve your position that the word ‘tax’ is inappropriate. Suit yourself. Personally, I don’t think the issue of the terminology is important enough to go to such absurd lengths to defend a particular position on it.

    You can rather sniffily dismiss that as ‘idiosynratic’ [sic] of coruse [sic],

    Actually, I was being polite. I can think of less diplomatic, but more accurate, ways to characterise it, but I see no point in being rude. And as I said, you are perfectly entitled to your view on this, as you are to your equally idiosyncratic view on the meaning of the Golden Rule. I have no intention of wasting your time or mine by arguing with you about it any further. And in case these comments of mine suggest otherwise, I bear you no ill will.

  51. Donald Oats
    June 30th, 2011 at 15:39 | #51

    What the? In the 21st Century we still have this whackiness of exorcism rites? Gordon Bennett! What is even more bizarre, are the beliefs of the psychologists mentioned in the article. How can letting someone replace one delusional belief with another delusional belief be a good thing – does it really help to replace mud with quicksand?

  52. John Quiggin
    July 1st, 2011 at 09:24 | #52

    Fran, I’m going to leave your last comment, and some replies, in moderation.

    I request that you adopt a less combative tone and focus more on constructive discussion. This request applies to all commenters, but I’m making it to you in particular because it seems that you are getting involved in lots of discussions that end like the one just above.

  53. Fran Barlow
    July 1st, 2011 at 09:39 | #53

    I note with a mixture of modest and grim satisfaction the resort by Ms Gillard to the formulation: what Tony Abbott likes to call a carbon tax.

    I’d like to think that my campaign writing to senior ministers and blogging about the matter of the so-called carbon tax and its role in polluter-driven propaganda campaign has finally borne fruit. I’ve no evidence of my role in this at all, but I’m going to take this as a modest win.

    It would have been far better of course if, four months ago, Ms Gillard had figuratively slapped down the first person to misname the ETS a carbon tax, and in an erudite and teacherly way, explained why, rather than inviting people to think of her as a liar, but I suppose it’s better late than never. (In this case, the advantage is only marginal).

    Unsurprisingly this morning, when LNP apologists on #theirABC, Fran Kelly and Michelle Grattan, came on this morning they were not slow in endorsing the LNP counter-attack on Gillard as being “tricky”. Grattan made the rather absurd claim that her standing as untrustworthy with the public made this a bad move — whereas as I saw it — this perception — if true — means there is no real downside to this. Most of those convinced that Gillard is a liar will continue to do so. Those not wedded to the idea may put an asterisk next to it. Grattan asserted that if she’d been seen as honest, it would have been easier, but this would have had downside risk as some might have changed their minds.

    The real problem now is consistency. Spending four months smiling and implicitly endorsing the idea that you are shifty, uttering the phrase “effectively a carbon tax” makes it hard to backtrack. I did note though that if nothing else, it stopped Grattan and Kelly from uttering the term “carbon tax” other than in scare quotes, and that is a small victory. It was all “carbon price” this morning. Gillard’s turn on this was a metaphoric IED under the wheels of The Murdochracy‘s shock and awe propaganda campaign.

    I can’t wait to contact #theirABC and say I told you so.

    Mind you, Marius Benson and Phillip Coorey obviously hadn’t got the message on Newsradio — uttering the term twice without qualification. Baby steps.

  54. Fran Barlow
    July 1st, 2011 at 09:52 | #54


    I am often polemical (which is another term for combative I suppose, but looking back over what I wrote I see nothing obvious that would violate the commenting rules as best I understand them. I think I was entitled to at least put the question about the rationale for insistence on terminology in the open form I did to the poster in question. I was entitled to question the muddying of the boundaries involved in the qualification “broadly defined”.

    Much as I wish to observe the culture and tone you are entitled to insist upon here, it’s obvious that as long as I stay within the rules I can’t reasonably be held to responsible for how others respond.

    If you’d prefer that I ceased posting here of course, you needn’t ban me. You merely need to ask.

  55. John Quiggin
    July 1st, 2011 at 17:06 | #55

    @Fran The most obvious problem is with my request to take lengthy side discussions to the sandpits, which clearly hasn’t happened here. While you aren’t the only one at fault in this respect, you have ignored my request. If you want to engage in a lengthy side discussion and there isn’t a sandpit open, ask me for one, or else take it to email.

  56. Fran Barlow
    July 1st, 2011 at 17:13 | #56

    Fair enough PrQ … I’ll keep that in mind … My apologies for infringing.

  57. Fran Barlow
    July 1st, 2011 at 17:17 | #57

    Brilliant Wikileaks Promotion:

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