Archive for September, 2013

How to argue with creationists

September 30th, 2013 61 comments


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Categories: Science Tags:


September 28th, 2013 44 comments

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

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Weekend reflections

September 28th, 2013 56 comments

It’s time for another weekend reflections, which makes space for longer than usual comments on any topic. Side discussions to sandpits, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

A debate resolved

September 28th, 2013 13 comments

As regular readers will know, I’ve had a long debate[1] with the Productivity Commission on the sources of the supposed ‘productivity surge’ of the 1990s, which, I’ve suggested was primarily the result of increased work intensity and unmeasured increases in working hours at a time of high job insecurity. I was looking back at some of these discussions when Google turned up a Hansard transcript of hearings of the Senate Standing Committee on Economics in 2012. It turns out that the Commission now agrees with me, and has done so for some time. To quote the Commission’s expert witness, Dr Jenny Gordon[2]

There was a very big debate with the former branch head, Dean Parham, who did a lot of work on productivity. He looked at the effect of the reforms and ICT, which is one of the points that Professor Quiggin made, in trying to explain the productivity boom of the 1990s in terms of what actually happened. Professor Quiggin’s main point is that work intensity is important, which is quite hard to measure but, in fact, is a major source of productivity growth. If people work smarter and work harder while they are at work, that will improve productivity. So it is cutting the fat of organisations, I suppose you could call it. The other point is that people are working longer hours. But the way the productivity measurement is done takes account of the hours of work. That is actually data collected through ABS surveys of individuals reporting the hours that they work. So we could measures hours properly. It is hard to measure work intensity. It does appear and it is a source of productivity growth … So we were in full agreement with that. So the debate was settled back in the mid-2000s.

It’s good that we are in agreement this far. I would add though that productivity growth achieved by working harder does not, in general, improve economic welfare. As for “working smarter”, if this is a reference to technological progress, it’s fine. In my experience, however, it’s usually management-speak for “do the same job with less resources, and work out for yourself how to do it”.

More importantly, the key implication of my analysis is that, to achieve sustainable improvements in living standards, we ought to be focusing on getting the macro issues right rather than lining up for another round of microeconomic reform. Increases in work intensity don’t last, as experience since the 1990s has shown. Genuine long-term improvements in the productivity of the economy can be gained only through educating the workforce to take account of improvements in technology (only a small proportion of which are generated domestically) and through macroeconomic and labour market policies that avoid wasting human potential through unemployment and other forms of social exclusion.

fn1. In the same hearing I cite here, PC Chairman Gary Banks described it as a ‘rich’ and ‘ongoing’ dialogue. I’ve certainly learned a lot from it, and I hope the same for the Commission and any onlookers patient enough to follow it.
fn2. Not particularly germane, but interesting to this post is that Dr Gordon is married to Brian Schmidt, winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize for Physics

Categories: Economic policy Tags:

Monday Message Board

September 23rd, 2013 40 comments

It’s time for 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:

Buying back toll roads

September 23rd, 2013 91 comments

Reports that the NSW Liberal government is planning to buy back the Cross-City tunnel, following the bankruptcy of the second set of private owners mark an important step in the failure of the private infrastructure program launched in the 1980s with the Sydney Harbour Tunnel[1].

The interesting failure here is not the bankruptcy of the operators but the recognition that the whole idea of imposing tolls on a road designed to divert traffic from the city is nonsense. The most sensible plan, after buying the tunnel is to remove the toll and free road space in the CBD for a variety of initiatives including light rail and cycleways.

Unfortunately, the lessons have not been learned. The new WestConnex project in Sydney is to be a largely private tollway. The proposed East-West link in Melbourne is also a toll road but “is being procured as an Availability Public Private Partnership (PPP), with the State initially retaining tolling and traffic risk.” Whether or not these projects are economically and socially justified, there is no doubt that the use of toll funding will greatly reduce the benefits, leaving more traffic on congested, but untolled, roads.

fn1. A sham deal, which was eventually reconstructed as a publicly owned tunnel with a private operating contract.

Categories: Economic policy Tags:

Restarting the History Wars: a decade of silence

September 22nd, 2013 25 comments

Since it appears that the Abbott government intends to restart the History Wars, I thought I would point out that the leading warrior on Abbott’s side of the debate has now been AWOL for more than ten years. Nothing much has changed recently, so I’ll just repost (most of) my remarks from my last post on this topic, in April.

Long-term followers of this dispute will recall that, back in 2002, Windschuttle made quite a splash with The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, Volume One, Van Diemen’s Land, 1803-1847, which attempted a revisionist account of the tragic history of the Tasmanian Aborigines. He didn’t achieve much except to point out some sloppy footnoting in a fairly obscure recent history[1]. The main interest in the book was as an appetiser for the succeeding volumes, on Queensland and Western Australia, promised to appear on an annual schedule. Here, Windschuttle promised to refute the work of Henry Reynolds and others, who painted the frontier as a scene of prolonged violent warfare between the indigenous inhabitants and the white settlers who sought, successfully in the end, to displace and subdue them.

Year followed year, and promise followed promise, but Volumes 2 and 3 didn’t appear. Finally, in 2009, Volume 3 was published. Not only was there no Volume 2, but the new Volume 3 bore no resemblance to the book originally promised for 2004. Instead, it was a critique of the Stolen Generations report and the film Rabbit Proof Fence. Windschuttle said that this volume had been published “out of order”, and that the missing volumes 2 and 4 would appear “later”.

Even by Windschuttle’s standards, this is bizarre. The Stolen Generations debate refers almost entirely to the 20th century, so this volume, on his reasoning ought to come after the others, and be numbered as Volume 4.

It’s silly enough to see self-satisfied climate “sceptics” who can’t even calculate a standard error, but have convinced themselves they are smarter than professional scientists. But surely even the editor of a literary magazine ought to be able to count to three.

Of course, Windschuttle’s problems with the integers are trivial. His real offence was to attack scholars like Henry Reynolds on the basis of promised evidence he has been unable to deliver. It’s more than a decade since Windschuttle started this stuff and, to the best of my knowledge, he hasn’t published anything since then showing a single error in Reynolds’ work on the Queensland frontier, or that of the other historians he accused of fabrication. His “Sydney Line” website hasn’t been updated for years. If he has produced anything more substantial than opinion pieces, since the forgettable Volume 3, I haven’t been able to find it.

It’s pretty clear who is spinning the fabrications here. In the language of the tech sector, Windschuttle is a seller of vaporware.

fn1. The Tasmanian history Windschuttle wants to deny wasn’t invented by leftwing historians in the 1970s. It was the standard account in the very conservative version of history I was taught in primary school, based on the tragic and undeniable fact that a people who had lived in a harsh environment for thousands of years were wiped out almost completely in a couple of generations by a combination of disease, conflict and starvation.

“We got it wrong”, says Oz, but they’re still wrong

September 21st, 2013 42 comments

Along with many others, I pointed out the absurdity of Graham Lloyd’s piece in the Oz, headlined “We got it wrong, says IPCC”. The Oz has printed a “correction”

blaming their absurd error on “the production process”. In the sense that the processes of the Oz, from the hiring of general editor Chris Mitchell and environment “reporter” Graham Lloyd, combined with uncritical reproduction of claims by discredited sources like David Rose “produced” the error. I guess this is true. But, this is part of a consistent pattern. Errors like this have been produced routinely in the past, and will continue to be produced in the future. Regular, but inadequate, retractions are part of this process.

Categories: #NewsCorpFail, #Ozfail, Environment Tags:

Saving the salary packaging industry

September 19th, 2013 42 comments

The Abbott government is faced with its first big economic policy decision, a bit sooner than I expected. Going into the election Abbott promised to reverse the Rudd government’s tightening of FBT rules for motor vehicles, at a cost of $1.2 billion over the forward estimates period of 4 years. This was to be funded in part by scrapping $500 million of assistance to the domestic car industry.

Since the great majority of cars in Australia are imported, and since much of the benefit of FBT rorts is dissipated through the inefficiency of the required structuring of salary packages, the reversal of the FBT decision yields only a minimal benefit to the domestic industry. It’s unsurprising therefore, that Holden has announced that, unless the government restores Labor’s assistance policy by Christmas, the company will close down. The general assumption is that the resulting contraction of the supply chain would force Toyota out of domestic production as well, so that the entire industry would shut down.

All of this would be comprehensible if the government was pursuing a consistent free-market line. But no one has tried to pretend that the FBT treatment of cars is anything other than a rort. LNP advertising during the election was all about the damage removing the rort would do to jobs in the salary packaging industry and to employers who depended on the rort to reduce their wage bills. Those employers notably include charities and NGOs which could be aided more efficiently with grants – of course, the LNP is going to cut those grants.

Assuming the government is unwilling to see the car industry close down within its first year of office, the sensible thing would be a double backflip, restoring Labor’s policy. That seems highly unlikely. I’ll also be surprised if the government holds its nerve and lets Holden close. So, I suspect we are going to see a half-baked partial solution which will increase the structural budget deficit relative to any consistent policy, and still only defer the end by a few years.

But, even if we don’t make cars any more, we will, at least, have a salary packaging industry that is the envy of the world.

Categories: Economic policy Tags:

The Daily Mail: even more comprehensively anti-science than I thought

September 18th, 2013 38 comments

Much of the climate delusionist material that is recirculated by the Oz, Bolt etc, comes from the UK Daily Mail (not a Murdoch paper, but maybe even worse). So it may be worth pointing out that the Daily Mail is a comprehensive source of science misinformation. In particular, it has been the leading promoter of discredited anti=vaccination claims about links to autism.

Not only that, but the Daily Mail has taken a leading role in anti-scientific scare campaigns about “Frankenfoods”, aka GM food. Google produced this page which seems to wrap up all the conspiracy theories about MMR, AGW, GM etc into a single utterly loony package. It neatly eliminates the need to read Bolt or the Oz?

My only question is: When is Graham Lloyd going to start reproducing this kind of material?

Categories: Boneheaded stupidity Tags:

The global party of stupid (slightly updated)

September 18th, 2013 42 comments

The new conservative ministry has just been sworn in, and while it includes Ministers for Border Protection (that is, stopping refugees) and Sport, and even a minister for the centenary of the Anzac landings on Gallipoli in 1915, there are no longer ministers for science or higher education[1]. This is part of a fairly consistent pattern. The US Republican Party recently vetoed the creation of an unpaid position of National Science Laureate. In Canada, the Harper government eliminated the position of National Science Advisor, among many other anti-science moves. All of this reflects the inconvenient fact that scientific research often reaches conclusions that conflict with the policy preferences or religious beliefs of rightwingers.

It’s striking in this context to recall that, only 20 years ago, the phrase “Science Wars” was used in relation to generally leftish postmodernists in the humanities, who were seen as rejecting science and/or promoting pseudoscience (while some of this stuff was rather silly, there’s no evidence that it ever did any actual harm to science). These days postmodernist and related “science studies” critiques of science are part of the rightwing arsenal used by Steven Fuller to defend creationism and by Daniel Sarewitz on climate science. The routine assumption that the analyses put forward of innumerate bloggers are just as valid as (in fact more valid than) as those of scientists who have devoted their life to the relevant field is one aspect of this, as is the constant demand to “teach the controversy” on evolution, climate science, wind turbine health scares, vaccination and so on.

In the short run, the costs of attacking science are small. Scientists aren’t that numerous, so their conversion into one of the most solidly anti-Republican voting blocs in the US has’t had much electoral impact. But, eventually the fact that conservatives are the “stupid party” gets noticed, even by rightwingers themselves.

One person who has just noticed is Frank Furedi, a leading figure in the former Revolutionary Communist Party which, over the course of the 1990s, morphed into the rightwing libertarian Spiked group. In retrospect, Furedi jumped ship at the high water mark of right wing intellectual confidence, symbolised by Tom Friedman’s bloviations in The Lexus and the Olive Tree. Then came the Asian crisis, successive financial crises in the US and the intellectual debacle of climate delusionism, to which Furedi and the Spiked Group contributed actively. So, having joined what seemed to be the smart set, Furedi has finally realised that he is inescapably enmeshed in stupid. The result is this cri de coeur, lamenting the way in which rightwingers are called out for saying stupid things (he name-checks Tony Abbott, Stephanie Banister and, of course, Sarah Palin). Furedi doesn’t deny that rightwingers embrace stupidity, in fact he concedes it, observing

Not surprisingly, many conservatives become defensive when confronted with the put-downs of their intellectual superiors. Consequently, in many societies, particularly the US, they have become self-consciously anti-intellectual and hostile to the ethos of university life. Anti-intellectualism works as the kind of counterpart to the pathologisation of conservatism. And of course, the bitter anti-intellectual reaction of the right, which sometimes seems to affirm ignorance, only reinforces the smug prejudices of the intellectuals who see themselves as being morally superior. (emphasis added)

A couple of things are interesting about Furedi’s piece. First, he erases from history the period of rightwing intellectual dominance that began with the rise of market liberalism in the mid-1970s, and reached its apogee in the mid-1990s, before declining catastrophically in the Bush era. Second, he fails to recognise the way in which the silly-clever pointscoring of rightwing intellectuals like himself has contributed to the anti-intellectualism he deplores on his own side.

Even now, the intellectual collapse of the right has not had much effect on political outcomes. The dead ideas of the right shamble on in zombie form, and still dominate the thinking of the political class, particularly at the level of unconscious reflex. And, even to the extent that rightwing claims about, say, the beneficence of the financial sector, are discredited, the political power of the dominant class ensures that not much can be done. Winning the battle of ideas is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for progress. The rightwing embrace of stupidity is already doing them harm and will do a lot more in futer.

fn1. There are also very few women, but that needs another post.

Categories: Boneheaded stupidity, Science Tags:


September 18th, 2013 61 comments

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

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Book plug: Pushing our luck, and more

September 17th, 2013 10 comments

I’ll be at Brisbane’s Avid Reader bookshop this evening, helping at the launch of Pushing our luck: ideas for Australian progress, a new book of essays from the Centre for Policy Development. We’ve got a few years to reflect on policy ideas now, so this is a good time to get started.

While I’m at it, I’m going to mention a bunch of books I’ve read, and intended to write about, but haven’t had time

Earthmasters: Playing God with the Climate by Clive Hamilton, is about geo-engineering, often presented as the backstop alternative to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. As the title indicates, this book is an argument that reliance on geo-engineering is a recipe for disaster. I agree, though I think it’s clear that sometime this century we are going to have to find a way to achieve, in effect, negative emissions, that is a situation where human and natural processes take more CO2 and methane out of the atmosphere than they put into it. That’s not exactly geoengineering, but it is a conscious intervention to change the atmosphere, or at least return it to an earlier state

Battlers and Billionaires: The Story of Inequality in Australia by Andrew Leigh, economist and MP. A great book on the looming end of the “fair go” in Australia. I’d put more emphasis on the role of policy and less on technology than Andrew does, but that puts me in a minority among economists.

The Infinite Resource by Ramez Naam. This is the book that Bjorn Lomborg ought to have written, instead of the silly and deceptive “Sceptical Environmentalist”. Naam doesn’t pretend that the risk of environmental catastrophe is spurious or that markets will fix the problem by themselves, but nonetheless has an optimistic take on the scope for innovation to allow the human race to not only survive but thrive.

Occupy the Future a volume of short essays arising from the Occupy movement. Lots of useful resources here

Masters of the Universe:Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics by Daniel Stedman Jones. Not a new topic, but a lot of new information and analysis – well worth reading.

The New American Economy:The Failure of Reaganomics and a New Way Forward From 2009, interesting in itself and because Bartlett is one of the most notable examples of the intellectual trend of conversion from right to left, evident since the late 1990s, and reversing the pattern of earlier decades.

Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway Another older book, but indispensable now that the merchants of doubt and delusion have gained political power here

Bankers, Bureaucrats, and Central Bank Politics: The Myth of Neutrality by Christopher Adolph. Makes the obvious but vital point that central bankers aren’t neutral bureaucrats. For many, central banking is a step towards, or an interlude in, a career in the financial sector, and the policies they advocate while in the public sector reflect this.

That hasn’t left a lot of time for fiction, but I think I have now read everything by the late and much-missed Iain Banks (including all the SF stuff written as Iain M. Banks).

Categories: Books and culture Tags:

Can’t quote, can’t link

September 16th, 2013 26 comments

I’ve often observed that the best way to understand Murdoch publications, notably the Oz, is to think of them as dysfunctional rightwing blogs. They’re prone to spectacular meltdowns when subject to the same kind of criticism they happily dish out.

Unattractive as the Oz group are when on the defensive, they are even uglier when celebrating a win. The Murdoch-LNP election victory last week was the signal, among other things for an outburst of climate delusionism on a grand scale. Amid a large pile, it’s hard to go past this piece by Graham Lloyd, with the blaring headline “We got it wrong on warming, says IPCC”.

Those who remember the conventions of 20th century media might read on expectantly, waiting to find a quotation (perhaps a little mangled) from the IPCC or someone associated with it. But there is no quote at all. The opening para says

THE Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest assessment reportedly admits its computer drastically overestimated rising temperatures, and over the past 60 years the world has in fact been warming at half the rate claimed in the previous IPCC report in 2007. (emphasis added)

. That would be pretty startling if true. After all, historical temperatures are usually estimated with thermometers, not computers. And while some warming delusionists have tried to claim biases associated with urban heat islands (the most recent effort, led by Anthony Watts, was a total fizzle) an IPCC admission that the planet had only warmed half as much as we thought would be a big story indeed.

Of course, no one from the IPCC is quoted, and we are left with the mysterious “reportedly”. The next para suggests that the report comes from that reliable source, the UK Daily Mail. But having failed 20th century journalistic ethics, the Oz can’t manage that most elementary of blogging functions, a hyperlink. So, it’s necessary to do some digging and discover the source is a column by the egregious David Rose. To cut a long story short, Rose is confusing the historically observed rate of warming since 1950 (an annual rate of 0.12 degrees per decade, almost exactly as reported in 2007) with estimates of the likely future rate of warming (generally about 0.2 degrees per decade). Lloyd continues with more errors than I can be bothered with. More gory details, and further links here.

Categories: #NewsCorpFail, #Ozfail Tags:

What is it like to be a bug?

September 14th, 2013 50 comments

According to Calvin, at least, the same as to be a bat. But for the rest of us, it seems obvious that there is likely to be a qualitative difference between the subjective experience (if any) of a bug, and that of a bat. And, if true bugs don’t work for you in this example, there’s always the colloquial “bugs” such as bacteria and viruses, which presumably don’t have any experience at all.

Read more…

Categories: Science Tags:

A new two-step

September 13th, 2013 125 comments

I’ve always been envious of John Holbo’s discovery of the two-step of terrific triviality, a manoeuvre we’d all seen, but never properly identified. I’d like to solicit names for a manoeuvre I run into all the time in debates over climate policy which goes along the following lines

A: The planet is doomed unless we abandon industrial civilization/adopt my WWII-scale emergency program

B (me): On the contrary,we could cut emissions by 50 per cent quickly and with minimal effects on living standards.[^1]

A: What about cars, methane from ag production, air travel etc?

B: (me) We could cut vehicle emissions in half just by switching to the most fuel-efficient cars now on the market, methane by eating chicken instead of beef, air travel by videoconferencing and taking one long holiday in place of two short ones. The same for most other sources of emissions.[^2]

A: That’s absurd. No one would ever stand for that.

So, does anyone have a name for this manoeuvre, or, alternatively, a defense of this kind of argumentation

[^1]: Actually, we need a 90 per cent reduction by 2050. That would be a bit harder, but once you accept the idea that we could greatly reduce emissions without harming living standards, we’re down to arguing about parameter values in economic models. All economic models yield the conclusion that we could decarbonize the economy over 40 years while still improving living standards greatly.
[^2]: I’ll leave aside the question of whether it’s better to bring this about using prices (eg a carbon tax) or direct controls. My preferred answer is a bit of both, but either will work for the purposes of this example.

Categories: Environment Tags:

Victori spolia

September 12th, 2013 74 comments

We haven’t yet seen much indication yet of the policy line the Abbott government will take. On the one hand, their election commitments suggest that, with a handful of exceptions such as climate policy, Abbott will carry on the policies of the Labor government, including DisabilityCare, the Gonski reforms, and the NBN (in a cut-down version). On the other hand, historical precedent, recently reaffirmed at the state level by Campbell Newman, and the urgings of people like Bob Officer, who ran the Howard-Costello government’s Audit Commission, suggests the government will discover a spurious budget crisis, dump its promises and introduce big cuts to health and education. Even if they do this, it’s clear that they have no real ideas beyond scraping the barrel of the 1980s microeconomic reform agenda. The worthwhile parts of this agenda were pushed through long ago, and the failures in areas like financial deregulation, Workchoices, Public Private Partnerships and so on are now obvious. The only positive initiative associated with Abbott’s win, the Paid Parental Leave scheme, is directly opposed to the microeconomic reform agenda, and hated by Abbott’s big business agenda. So, beyond it’s three word slogans, I doubt that the government has much more idea about its plans for office, than I do.

We didn’t have to wait long, however, to see how the government would work in process terms. Julie Bishop’s sacking of Steve Bracks as consul-general in New York (rumored replacement, Nick Minchin) is the most notable example of a vindictive tribalism that is evident throughout the right. We’re already hearing talk of cuts aimed at right wing betes noires like the arts, and there is bound to be more of this. The contrast with the last change of government, when Rudd left LNP appointees in place, and even gave jobs to retired opponents, as well as playing down the culture wars, is striking. For the LNP, long accustomed to see itself as our natural rulers, it’s all about getting into office, and sharing out the spoils.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Back on air

September 12th, 2013 Comments off

My technical problems have vanished as mysteriously as they arrived. Thanks again to Jacques Chester who stands between me and the mixture of frustration and wonder that is WordPress. Jacques supports quite a few of the political blogs in Oz, with an admirable willingness to assist bloggers of all viewpoints.

Normal posting to resume soon. But, if you use Facebook, be sure to check out my Facebook Public Page, and share posts there if you do that kind of thing. I’m also on Twitter, with the highly creative handle @JohnQuiggin

Categories: Metablogging Tags:


September 9th, 2013 25 comments

Due to technical difficulties, there will be no more new posts until further notice. Please visit my Facebook public page for links to discussions of policy issues.

Categories: Metablogging, Site News Tags:

An undeserving alternative PM

September 3rd, 2013 233 comments

Unless there’s a sudden turnaround in the polls, Tony Abbott will become Prime Minister of Australia. This will be the third time in my life that a Federal Labor government has been defeated, the other two occasions being 1975 and 1996. On both those occasions, despite substantial and enduring accomplishments, the government had made a mess of macroeconomic management, and the electorate, unsurprisingly, wanted to punish them. And, despite my strong disagreements with them (and with the way Fraser came to office), the incoming Prime Ministers had serious views on how best Australia’s future could be managed. Fraser has only improved since leaving office, making valuable contributions on the national and global stage. My evaluation of Howard, following his defeat, starts with the observation that he was ‘the most substantial figure produced by the Liberal party since the party itself was created by Menzies’.

Nothing of the sort can be said this time. The case put forward by the LNP is based entirely on lies and myths. These include the claims that
* Labor has mismanaged the economy and piled up unnecessary debt and deficits
* Australian families are ‘doing it tough’ because of a soaring cost of living
* The carbon tax/price is a ‘wrecking ball’, destroying economic activity
* The arrival of refugees represents a ‘national emergency’

None of these claims stands up to even momentary scrutiny.

Then there’s Abbott himself. After 20 years in politics, I can’t point to any substantial accomplishments on his part, or even any coherent political philosophy. For example, I’m not as critical of his parental leave scheme as some, but it’s totally inconsistent with his general political line, a fact that his supporters in business have been keen to point out. On climate change, he’s held every position possible and is now promising, in effect, to do nothing. His refusal to reveal policy costings until the second-last day of the campaign debases an already appalling process. He treated budget surplus as a holy grail until it became inconvenient, and has now become carefully vague on the topic.

Obviously, the fact that such a party and such a leader can be on the verge of victory implies that the Labor side has done something dreadfully wrong. It’s the oldest cliche in politics for the losing side to claim that the problem is not the policies but inability to get the message across. In this case, however, I think it’s true. Gillard lost the voters early on with stunts like the consultative assembly, and never managed to get them to listen to her for any length of time. Rudd was doing well in communicating his vision from his return to the leadership until he called the election. He then wasted three weeks on small-bore stuff apparently aimed at Katter party preferences. He seems finally to have rediscovered his voice, with the launch speech and his Q&A appearance, but I fear it’s too late.

Still, in the unlikely event that any undecided voters are reading this, I urge you to take a serious look at the alternative government, and place the LNP last on your ballot in both houses of Parliament.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Launch delayed

September 1st, 2013 21 comments

After a disappointing campaign, Kevin Rudd’s “launch” speech was excellent, both as a defence of Labor’s record and in setting out an agenda for the next term, notably with a long-overdue focus on the TAFE sector. Unfortunately, this announcement wasn’t the only thing that was overdue. What possible sense is there in “launching” the campaign with a week to go, when most voters have already made up their minds or turned off? This isn’t one of the quirks for which Rudd has been criticised – Gillard did the same thing in 2010, and the Liberals were only a few days earlier. I have no idea how the supposed experts who run campaigns cna think this is a good way to do things – it’s obviously not a good way of presenting voters with a reasoned argument[1]

If Rudd had given this speech three weeks ago, and campaigned around it, Labor would be in with a good chance. As it is, their best hope is that the corresponding piece of trickiness on the other side will backfire. This is Abbott’s decision to release his allegedly independent costings on Thursday, with the advertising blackout in place, and only a couple of days to go. It’s hard to see any creditable explanation of this, and it ought to be reason enough not to elect him as PM. But that seems unlikely.

fn1. In fact, I have no idea why these “experts” are given any credence. As the debate between pundits and psephbloggers has shown, here and in the US, the alleged experts don’t even have the basic (first-year uni) statistics needed to interpret an opinion poll, which means that they can not have, and never have had, the slightest idea whether their strategies were working. It’s just that one side always wins, and victory has a thousand parents, at least until failure the next time around shows them up. The classic example is Karl Rove, acclaimed or dreaded as an electoral genius, who humiliated himself by refusing to believe the 2012 election results, even when they were beyond doubt. Then there’s Dick Morris, the famed inventor of “triangulation” who also predicted that Romney would win in a landslide.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Market monetarism: a first look

September 1st, 2013 91 comments

One of the more confusing of the macroeconomic debate is the emergence of a profusion of schools of thought with very similar names, but very different viewpoints. The one I’ve had most to deal with is Modern Monetary Theory. I had a go at this topic here and . My brief summary is that MMT pretty much coincides with traditional Keynesian views in the context of a liquidity trap, but that I reject the claim commonly made in popular presentations of MMT, that increased government spending doesn’t imply increased taxation.

Then there’s New Monetarism, associated with Stephen Williamson. He and I had a set-to a while back, which entertained many but didn’t produce a lot of enlightenment, and left me disinclined to put a lot of effort into understanding the differences between New and Old Monetarism. (For the record, I’m pretty much an Old Keynesian, but I have learnt a fair bit from New Keynesians like Akerlof and Shiller).

The third entrant is “Market Monetarism” associated mainly with Scott Sumner (though Wikipedia tells me the term was coined by Lars Christensen). I was aware in general terms that Sumner advocated a more expansionary monetary policy in response to the current crisis (I agree), that he prefers Nominal GDP level targeting to inflation targeting as the basis for monetary policy (I agree again though I’d prefer targeting levels rather than growth rates) and that he thinks this would be sufficient to fix the problem without any role for fiscal policy (I disagree). However, I wasn’t really aware that these ideas formed the basis of a school of thought, and I still haven’t investigated the underlying theory in any detail.

Sumner has commented on my recent posts on fiscal and monetary policy with a couple of his own, so I guess it’s time for me to look more closely at what he is saying. A first response is over the fold.

Read more…

Categories: Economics - General Tags: