Archive for September, 2012

Demolition man

September 28th, 2012 35 comments

Fresh from announcing that Queensland is on the brink of bankruptcy, and sacking 14 000 (“non-frontline”) public servants Premier Campbell Newman has announced plans to demolish the Executive Building (where he and his Ministers have their headquarters) and Public Works Building, to replace them with spanking new ones. Apparently, the front line is in George Street.

The proposal is wrapped up in such a way as to make it impossible to determine true cost. It will be run as a PPP, a bunch of heritage assets will be sold, doubtless in a way that reduces their protection and increases their market value, and a casino license will be thrown into the mix. But, it’s blatantly obvious that if you tear down a building and put up a new one with exactly the same purpose, you are taking on additional debt, whatever the accounts can be made to say.

This kind of shonky deal is precisely what Commissions of Audit are supposed to investigate. And fortunately, we have one, due to report early next year. I’m confident that Peter Costello, Doug McTaggart and Sandra Harding, backed up by a strong secretariat will be able to unravel this deal and show how much harder it will make the task of reducing state debt.

And of course, if there’s anything really dodgy going on, we have the Crime and Misconduct Commission. At least, we do for now.

I did an interview on all this with the Queensland 730 program, which may go to air this evening.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

The Golden Age

September 27th, 2012 33 comments

Since long before I started blogging, I’ve been planning a big article on the prospects for Utopia, starting off from Keynes’ essay Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren. While I procrastinated, lots of others had the same idea, most recently Robert and Edward Skidelsky. But, with encouragement from Ed Lake at Aeon Magazine, I went ahead anyway and the article has just appeared.

This is also a good time to announce that our long-promised book event on Erik Olin Wright’s Envisioning Real Utopias is going ahead, with a target publication date of March 2013.

Categories: Life in General Tags:

47 per cent true (crosspost from CT)

September 27th, 2012 10 comments

As Chris Bertram says in comments here, Romney’s main hope of getting away with his claim that 47 per cent of the US population are non-taxpaying moochers is the expectation that very few people will actually regard themselves as part of that 47 per cent. The same calculation is made by those who have pushed this talking point for years such as well-known plagiarist Ben Domenech and general lowlife Erick Erickson. It’s unsurprising that they should think this. After all, they’ve been making this claim, in one form or another for years, going back to the WSJ’s attack on “lucky duckies” in 2002. The claim has been refuted time and again with the points that most of the 47 per cent are workers subject to payroll tax, or retired people, but this refutation hasn’t reached the Fox News audience, many of whom don’t realise they are the moochers being attacked here.

But I don’t think this will help Romney, and the reasons why reflect some important developments in relation to post-truth political discourse in the US.

Read more…

Categories: World Events Tags:

The white working class (crosspost from CT)

September 27th, 2012 2 comments

For quite a while now (pre-dating Obama, but more frequently since he was elected), I’ve been reading about the Democrats’ troubles with “the white working class”. In some ways, this is unsurprising. In every country with which I’m familiar, a substantial proportion of the working class votes for the more conservative/rightwing party. And, even compared to the most wishy-washy of social democratic and labor parties elsewhere, the Dems aren’t exactly fervent champions of the worker. Still, the Repubs are even worse, so it seemed surprising to read that they regard the white working class as their base. Other things I read (sorry can’t find links now) made things even more puzzling. On the one hand, in the US as elsewhere, higher incomes are correlated with voting for the conservative/rightwing party, which seems to cut against the thesis. On the other hand, I’ve read that the average income of the US working class is the same as that of the population as a whole, which goes against the whole idea of “working class” as I understand it.

All became clear(or, at least, clearer) when I discovered that US political discussion uses two very different (though correlated) concepts of “working class”. The first is the more or less standard one – people who depend on wage labor (normally in manual or low-status service occupations) for their income. The second, specific to the US, and standard in most political polling, is “people without a 4-year college degree”, a class which includes such horny-handed sons and daughters of toil as Bill Gates and Paris Hilton. More prosaically, it includes lots of small business owners, and (since college graduation rates were rising until relative recently), over-represents the old.

Data on US voting patterns is surprisingly scarce, but Andrew Gelman has a big data set confirming the point that Republican voting rises with income. Andrew kindly sent me the data, which classifies voters by education (5 levels), income (5 categories) and race/ethnicity(4), for a total of 100 categories, and gives, for each group the proportion voting Republican. I’ve used this to look at an income-based definition of working class, encompassing everyone with an income less than $40 000. I’m not sure of the exact definition of this variable, but it seems pretty clear that people with income at this level are unlikely to be living on income from capital or a high-status job. To focus on the claim about the white working class, I’ve divided the 100 categories into four roughly equal-sized groups: working class whites (income less than 40K), middle/high income whites with and without college degrees, and all non-whites. Then I’ve looked at how many votes the Republicans got from each group in 2008.

As the pie chart below illustrates, the biggest group in the Republican voting base, and the group with which they do best is that of middle/high income whites without college degrees (the percentage after the group name gives the Republican share of the vote for that group). There’s nothing surprising in this, since all three variables are correlated with Republican voting. It’s the practice of calling this group “working class” that causes the confusion.

Disaggregating, the extreme case is that of high-school educated whites with incomes over $150K, 81.7 per cent of whom supported the Republicans in 2008. They’re a small group of course, but not negligible at about 1 per cent of the sample (155 out of 19170).

The two remaining groups of white voters are split pretty evenly between Reps and Dems, while, as is well known, non-white voters strongly favor the Dems.

The Republican voting base
(percentages after each group give proportion of that group voting R).

Read more…

Categories: World Events Tags:

Crossposts from CT

September 26th, 2012 Comments off

I’ll be putting up a bunch of posts (largely US-related) that went up on Crooked Timber while this blog was down. I won’t make explicit announcement of this unless people really want it.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Bike helmet laws

September 24th, 2012 103 comments

This article by fellow-MAMIL Michael O’Reilly makes an argument I’d been meaning to post. Whatever the merits of bike helmet laws in general, the costs clearly outweigh them in relation to bike-share schemes like CityCycle in Brisbane.

We clearly need a category of exemptions that lets people hire a slow bike for touring around our cities. Having done that, I’d extend it to anyone willing to take the trouble to apply for exemption, while maintaining the helmet rule as the default. I certainly wouldn’t seek an exemption – I like my head the way it is – but I can imagine there are people who would make the choice, and it’s not so obvious that their judgement should be over-ridden.

Categories: Life in General, Sport Tags:

Monday Message Board

September 24th, 2012 53 comments

Back on air with another Monday Message Board. Post comments on any topic. As usual, civilised discussion and no coarse language. Lengthy side discussions to the sandpits, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

We’re back

September 23rd, 2012 Comments off

If you see this message, you’re on the new servers at the original providers.

Moses ain’t got nothing on me.

Categories: Site News Tags:

Climate and catastrophe (updated)

September 20th, 2012 58 comments

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) has just announced that Arctic ice cover has reached its minimum extent for 2012, far below the previous record[1]. Peter Doherty discusses some of the implications here. As far as the broader debate about climate change is concerned, there are some big implications.

* First, this is irrefutable evidence that the climate is changing, and that the idea that climate change stopped or slowed down after 1998 or 1995, as delusionists have regularly claimed, is nonsense. On the contrary, the loss of Arctic ice is accelerating, far ahead of model predictions{2] In this context, I have yet to see any “sceptics” actually accept the evidence proving them wrong. But, with a handful of exceptions, we have silence rather than the usual rash of talking points to explain the evidence away. A notable example is Andrew Bolt, who ran lots of posts claiming there was no problem (most recently here), but hasn’t mentioned the topic since the minimum extent record was broken nearly a month ago.

Update While the blog was off-air, Bolt came up with a snark about the Antarctic, which presumably is supposed to offset the long string of posts he made claiming that there was no problem in the Arctic. As usual, Bolt’s talking point has already been debunked, here at Skeptical Science, but you can do it yourself. Compare Bolt’s graph of the Antarctic, showing a small increase in the winter maximum, to the NSIDC graph of the Arctic showing the summer minimum collapsing. End update

* Second, the “catastrophic” part of the delusionists favorite acronym “Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming” is looking a lot more likely. Not only will an ice-free Arctic produce a bunch of feedbacks that accelerate warming, but it will substantially affect climate conditions in Northern Europe, though exactly how remains to be seen.

On the other side of the coin, there’s one predicted catastrophe that didn’t happen. As elsewhere in the world, the introduction of the carbon tax did not “send a wrecking ball through the economy”. In fact, adverse effects are barely detectable. Of course, a lot more action is needed, but the near-universal view of economists that the cost of stabilising the global climate will be of the order of 1 per cent of income is certainly supported by the evidence from the initial steps in this direction.

Read more…

Categories: Environment Tags:

How Europe Saved Obama

September 19th, 2012 18 comments

That’s the title of a piece that I wrote for the National Interest, responding to the ECB decision to undertake unlimited bond purchases. There’s been lots of news since then (on which I’ll write if I get time), but it only confirms the key point – Romney’s dwindling chances relied heavily on a European economic crisis happening before November, and that is now highly unlikely. The key paras

When Barack Obama celebrates his second inauguration next January, the man who did most to ensure his election victory is not likely to be there. But perhaps the president should make a note to reserve a seat for the head of the European Central Bank.

With no convention bounce and little prospect of a convincing win in presidential debates, challenger Mitt Romney’s hopes have been centered on an October surprise. Under the current circumstances, that means an economic shock sufficient to discredit Obama’s promise of a slow but steady recovery from the economic crisis. Until last week, that shock seemed likely to come from Europe. The possibility of a Greek exit from the euro, seemingly off the agenda a few months ago, had reemerged as a major factor in the investment plans of U.S. companies.

Last week, however, new ECB president Mario Draghi finally bit the bullet. Announcing that “the euro is irreversible,” Draghi committed the ECB to unlimited purchases of government bonds. Weidmann, the sole dissenter on the ECB board, has so far not carried out his threat to resign.

The ECB decision marks an effective end to the euro-zone sovereign-debt crisis, though not to the European depression or to the failed policies of austerity. At best, the euro zone is now in the same position as the United States and Britain: there is the prospect of a sluggish recovery but no immediate danger of collapse. A true recovery will require both a shift in central banking policy from targeting inflation to targeting nominal GDP, which looks a bit likelier now, and a shift from austerity to fiscal stimulus, which does not.

Categories: World Events Tags:

Debating Judith Sloan on labor markets

September 19th, 2012 70 comments

Yesterday I took part in a debate with Judith Sloan, organised by the Economic Society of Australia, on the topic of labor market regulation. Before commencing, Judith paid me the backhanded compliment of saying that debating me was “like wrestling an eel”. I’ll take the complimentary part of the implication as “very difficult to beat”, while rejecting the suggestion that I’m prone to slipping from one position from another. I admit that I haven’t maintained the exact consistency of those market liberals (like Sloan) whose views appear to have remained unchanged since abotu 1980, but there has been a lot of data since then, some of it supporting the case for market liberalism but a lot going the other way.

My slides for the debate are online in PDF format and also Keynote for Mac.

Categories: Economic policy Tags:

The Dark Lord of Queensland politics is …

September 16th, 2012 27 comments

Me! At least according to Shadow Treasurer, Curtis Pitt, who observes, of Queensland Treasurer, Tim Nicholls:

there is one name the Treasurer won’t dare speak—the Treasurer’s own Lord Voldemort Professor John Quiggin. He does not want to draw attention to the analysis by the Federation Fellow, because it is a truly independent analysis—one which puts a sword to the Costello audit.

Seriously, I do seem to have this effect on Treasurers. Nicholls’ predecessor, Andrew Fraser was equally unwilling to speak my name or face me in debate. And Peter Costello, admittedly an ex-Treasurer, but one who held the position for twelve years, declined to respond to my critique.

Read more…

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:


September 16th, 2012 11 comments

A new sandpit for long side discussions, idees fixes and so on.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Monday Message Board

September 16th, 2012 21 comments

Another Monday Message Board, a bit early, or a long way overdue. Post comments on any topic. As usual, civilised discussion and no coarse language. Lengthy side discussions to the sandpits, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Some unsolicited advice for Campbell Newman

September 13th, 2012 58 comments

If I had just won an overwhelming election victory by defeating a government that had
(i) dumped its election commitments in an effort to reduce public debt and restore a AAA rating
(ii) made a mess of the public hospital system

I could think of lots of things I might do after taking office. But there are two things I definitely wouldn’t do …

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Big Brother kills literary awards: the Newman government in a nutshell

September 12th, 2012 21 comments

The sum of money isn’t huge[1], but if you want to sum up the Newman government in a single policy decision, it’s this: to save $200k, they could either scrap the Premier’s Literary Awards or withdraw a promised grant to fund the next series of Big Brother. Of course, they went for Big Brother, and boasted about it.

Update Although the funding is gone, the Premier-free Queensland Literary Awards have gone ahead, with a win for Frank Moorhouse, who has just brought out the final volume in the trilogy that began with Grand Days. I’m very keen to read this – the first two books were superb.

fn1. Compared, for example, to the $100 million they splashed on vanity projects for the racing industry which could have saved the jobs of of 1000 or so nurses.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Queensland budget – profligacy for everyone except the PS

September 11th, 2012 18 comments

Queensland Treasurer Tim Nicholls has just brought down his first budget, following the announcement by Premier Campbell Newman of massive public service job cuts justified by apocalyptic rhetoric. Yet apart from those job cuts, the budget (in combination with measures announced previously) doesn’t show much in the way of fiscal discipline. Among the most glaring examples

* An $80 handout to all households, with no targeting, nominally to offset water bills
* A previously announced freeze on electricity prices for households, paid for out of general revenue
* The replacement of the $7000 first home buyers grant with a $15 000 grant for buyers of new homes
* Handouts to tourism, racing and other sectors

Measures like this are par for the course for state budgets, but not what you’d expect from a government faced with a fiscal crisis, comparable to Greece or Spain.

The government has fiddled at the edges on revenue, but is doing nothing (or even adding to the distortionary concessions) on payroll tax and land tax.

In essence, the government is relying almost entirely on cuts to the public service, focused on the health sector. This is a high-risk strategy to put it mildly. It may well be that the health bureaucracy is bloated and inefficient, but that doesn’t mean that creating a new layer of regional management is going to improve things, especially when their first task is to implement arbitary cuts in the number of nurses and other employees. Campbell Newman says his promise that “frontline jobs are safe” now means “frontline services won’t be affected by job cuts” but this is just wishful thinking. There hasn’t been any analysis of how to improve efficiency, just an edict that numbers need to be cut.

In these circumstances, it’s virtually inevitable that waiting lists will blow out. And inevitably, when you have long waiting lists, people will die waiting. At that point, the question will be whether the government can hold its nerve and admit that it was lying about the frontline services, or whether we’ll see expensive panic measures to fix the problem.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Zombie for Prosperity

September 11th, 2012 8 comments

Reader “Nicholas Bourbaki”[1] has sent me a link to an animation illustrating some of the ideas in Zombie Economics (with actual zombie, naturally). It’s done using the Xtranormal movie maker all the cool kids are using these days. Watch and enjoy.

fn1. Apologies to Nicholas if Mr and Mrs Bourbaki were big fans of 20th century modern mathematics or 19th century French demagoguery and really did name their baby in this way.

Categories: Dead Ideas book Tags:

The Second Migration

September 10th, 2012 7 comments

That you can see this post means you’re on the new server. Welcome.

There will be glitches — duplicates and the like.

Sorry about the disruption, but I hoped you all enjoyed the kittens and the dalek.

Categories: Site News Tags:


September 8th, 2012 28 comments

Last night the Ozblogistan network slowed down and then began to “yo-yo” — stop working and then reappear cyclically.

I have been becoming increasingly dissatisfied with WPEngine’s reliability and service. Tis was the straw that broke the camel’s back. So I began a crash move of the network to a new hosting service,

That is why the site was unavailable last night and this morning, and why you first saw kittens and then a little moving truck.’s service has already shown itself to be much better than WPEngine’s; however they have reported back that migration is going slowly because the WPEngine servers periodically drop the connection they’re using to download files.

Their advice was to switch back to WPEngine’s servers for today. Any posts or comments from today could then be migrated using the WXR import/export facility built into WordPress.

So here we are, temporarily back at WPEngine. Tonight I and the staff will try the move again.

A few hours ago WPEngine finally traced the problem back the recent comments widget on Skepticlawyer and Catallaxy Files. I’ve disabled those for now. (Amazing how much their service has improved, now that I’m leaving).

Categories: Site News Tags:

The ultimate non-response response?

September 7th, 2012 49 comments

I quote in full the Audit Commission’s response to my critique, as reported by the Oz

The statement only responds to the findings of the QCU study, and not those of Professor Quiggin.

“There are no other points of substance in his (Quiggin’s) report which warrant a response,” the statement said.

Auditing the audit commission

September 7th, 2012 24 comments

I’ve just finished a critique of the audit commission. Here’s the Courier-Mail report. There’s another report also due out today from Bob and Betty Walker, who were commissioned by the QCU. I did mine independently, but, like them, with the aim of being out in time for next week’s Budget. From the CM report, it looks as if we are in fairly close agreement, which isn’t that surprising – much of the analysis is the same as that we both used in critiques of the previous Labor government’s asset sales policy.

Categories: Economic policy Tags:

A bit early for monument building …

September 5th, 2012 29 comments

… unless you expect to be in for one term at most. Having announced that Queensland is on the verge of defaulting on its public debt, as in Greece and Spain, and sacked thousands of public servants, Campbell Newman is now proposing to build a brand-new office tower in the Brisbane CBD, to be financed by the sale of up to 20 other buildings including heritage assets. Apart from the economics, this is a direct breach of the LNP promise, crucial to its election victory, not to undertake asset sales before the next election. The project is being sold as “self-financing”, but this claim appears to rely almost entirely on rosy scenarios and magical ponies.

Proposals like this make sense of one of the more puzzling features of the Costello Commission of Audit, namely its insistence that the capital expenditure projections of the previous government were unsustainably low. The projections appeared reasonable on the assumption that, in straitened times, there wouldn’t be any major new initiatives, as opposed to maintaining and modestly extending existing infrastructure. But, obviously Costello understood that Campbell Newman (like Anna Bligh) was not the kind of Premier who could forgo lots of TV appearances in a hard hat. In this context, it’s worth re-examining his record as Lord Mayor which involved buying short-term popularity at the expense of long term debt – exactly the opposite of what he now says Queensland needs

Read more…

Categories: Economics - General, Oz Politics Tags:

Fundraising appeal – $130 to go

September 3rd, 2012 3 comments

I seem to be back on air for the moment, so I’m taking the chance to appeal for doantions to the HeartKids appeal. My team partner Flavio and I have committed to raise $2000, but we are still $130 short. Please help to push us over the line, and we will push to get ourselves over the line in Noosa. Just click on the link and give money!

Categories: Life in General Tags:

Monday Message Board

September 3rd, 2012 95 comments

Another Monday Message Board. Post comments on any topic. As usual, civilised discussion and no coarse language. Lengthy side discussions to the sandpits, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags: