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Archive for September, 2016

Homesteading

September 29th, 2016 85 comments

In my final post on Locke’s theory of appropriation/expropriation, a while back, I mentioned that his latter-day successors, Nozick and Rothbard didn’t offer any improvement. I said at the time I would spell this out a bit more. I’ll start with Rothbard who is more politically relevant, and also, in my opinion, more interesting. As an example, at least during his 1960s flirtation with the radical left, and at the time he developed the theory of ‘homesteading’, he favored reparations for slavery.

The core of Rothbard’s position is that appropriation of property justifies ownership even without the Lockean proviso that ‘enough and as good’ is left over for others. Rothbard doesn’t, as far as I can see, go far beyond presenting this as a self-evident truth, and in any case, I don’t propose to argue about in detail. Rather, I want to look at Rothbard’s choice of the term ‘homesteading’ to describe this process. This choice of term is self-refuting in two ways, one that applies to any historical process of appropriation/expropriation and the other specific to the US.

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Categories: Philosophy, Politics (general) Tags:

After reform:the economic policy agenda in the 21st century

September 28th, 2016 41 comments

That’s the title of the FH Gruen lecture I’ll be presenting at ANU on Tuesday 4 October.

I’ll be talking first about the end of the era of reform that began in the early 1980s, and then about the information economy and a policy agenda for the 21st century.
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Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Wise in hindsight

September 23rd, 2016 50 comments

My article on the failure of for-profit competition in human services included a hook to the recently published Productivity Commission report recommending more of the same. I haven’t had time to go through the report in detail, but I was struck by reports that the PC mentioned the FEE-HELP fiasco in the VET sector as an example of the way not to go about things.

It’s good to see some recognition of this but what matters here is foresight, not hindsight. So, I thought I’d check back to see what the PC was saying a couple of years ago, when the disaster was obvious, but was still being denied by those in charge of it. Here’s a quote from their submission to the Harper Competition review

The Commission’s study into the vocational education and training (VET) workforce (2011f) found that there had been a rising trend to harness market forces in the allocation of VET services, with principles such as user pays and user choice increasingly underpinning VET policy. The Commission suggested that, as the VET sector becomes increasingly competitive, a move towards greater managerial independence for public providers would give them the autonomy and flexibility they need to respond.
The Commission (2011f) also noted that opening up of the VET sector had not been a complete success, with some stakeholders raising concerns about quality assurance, monitoring and enforcement (especially in the international student sector).

Going back to the 2011 report, there is indeed a box referring to problems with international students, which drew a lot of attention at the time. But there’s nothing to suggest any awareness of the broader problems, which were already apparent*, let alone any capacity to predict them using the PC’s analytical framework.

* I wrote a report for the National Council on Vocational Education Research in 2012, making many of these points, and drawing on several years of evidence from Victoria. I was roundly derided for my pains by the private provider lobby.

Categories: Economic policy Tags:

Worse than the Bourbons

September 23rd, 2016 35 comments

I have a couple of pieces in The Guardian. The first, which came out a few days ago, points out the consistent failure of market competition and for-profit firms to deliver human services effectively and equitably. The second gives the mainstream economic analysis of the problem, in terms of market failure and the mixed economy, developed 40 to 50 years ago, and ignored by the policy class of today, which takes the assumptions of market liberalism (aka neoliberalism) for granted. My summary:

The problem is that the political class, along with much of the economics profession, have done worse than the Bourbons, of whom Talleyrand observed “they have learned nothing, and forgotten nothing”. … Our leaders, and the economists who advise them, have not only shown themselves incapable of learning from experience, they have forgotten much that we once knew.

Categories: Economic policy Tags:

Brexit and bigotry (crosspost from CT)

September 23rd, 2016 63 comments

Following my previous post, I’d like to add a bit more to the debate about Brexit and migration. On this issue, a common defence of the Leave campaign is that the central concern was about the need to cut the number of migrants to the UK so as to reduce competition for jobs. The plausibility of this defence has been undercut by recent negotiations, widely reported in the Australian press, but largely ignored by British media.
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Categories: World Events Tags:

New Zealand’s zombie miracle

September 21st, 2016 39 comments

Twice in the last couple of days, I’ve bumped into the seemingly unkillable zombie idea that the New Zealand economy is doing well and ought to be a model for Australia. Checking Wikipedia to make sure I hadn’t missed anything, I found that, as of 2015, NZ income per person was 30-35 per cent below that in Australia, as it has been ever since the miraculous reforms of the 1980s and 1990s. NZ is down with Italy and Spain on most rankings, while Australia is comparable to Germany (above on some rankings, below on others).

This wasn’t always the case. Before the reform era, New Zealand and Australia had almost identical income levels, among the richest in the world. NZ took a bigger hit from British entry into the EU in the early 1970s but after 50 years, that can scarcely serve as an excuse (and of course, no one is predicted that Brexit will be a gigantic benefit to NZ; rather the reverse)

Then there’s migration. I dealt with this here, but I’ll repost crucial points over the fold.

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Last chance on climate change policy

September 19th, 2016 68 comments

With August 2016 setting yet another record for global temperatures, the need for action on climate change is obvious. The good news is that most national governments are finally recognising the urgency of the problem. The bad news is that Australia is not among them. Having commissioned a Special Review from the Climate Change Authority (of which I’m a member) and received recommendations designed with the current policy as a starting point, the government’s response has been that it might take another look at the problem in 2017.

I’ve written the statement over the fold in response. Comments very welcome. I won’t engage in discussion; in this context, I’d rather let the statement speak for itself.

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Categories: Environment Tags:

Monday Message Board

September 19th, 2016 13 comments

Another Monday Message Board. Post comments on any topic. Civil discussion and no coarse language please. Side discussions and idees fixes to the sandpits, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Recognising racism (crosspost from Crooked Timber)

September 14th, 2016 93 comments

Back in 2004, I wrote that

There is only one real instance of political correctness in Australia today and that is that you are never, ever allowed to call anyone a racist.

This was one side of an unspoken agreement among mainstream politicians, the other being that no one would ever make a statement that was overtly and undeniably racist (this was the central content of “political correctness” in its normal usage). Both the use of overtly racist language and the use of the term “racist” in political debate put the speaker outside the Overton Window. The official debate was undertaken in terms of “dog whistle” coded appeals to racism on one side and euphemisms such as “prejudiced” or “racially charged” on the other. The peace was maintained by the fact that the political class as a whole shared a broad neoliberal[^1] consensus in which marginal differences over economic issues were central, and where social/racial issues were primarily seen as a way of motivating the base to vote the right way.

With the rapid rise of tribalism on the political right this tacit agreement is breaking down.
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Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Edison in reverse

September 13th, 2016 53 comments

The takeaway from my latest piece in The Guardian on the failure of for-profit provision of services like health and Education

Blair, and like-minded reformers throughout the English-speaking world, have delivered an Edison in reverse. Edison experimented with many things that didn’t work, but ended up with a light bulb. Market-oriented reforms, particularly in the provision of human services like health, education and public safety, have begun with a working system and replaced it with a string of failed experiments.

Categories: Economic policy Tags:

Sandpit

September 12th, 2016 125 comments

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

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Monday Message Board

September 12th, 2016 36 comments

Another Monday Message Board. Post comments on any topic. Civil discussion and no coarse language please. Side discussions and idees fixes to the sandpits, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

No iceberg, no tip

September 10th, 2016 31 comments

When Dyson Heydon delivered the report of the Royal Commmissioner into Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption, he claimed that his findings represented “the tip of the iceberg”. At the time, I commented that, given nearly $50 million of public money and lengthy hearings with the exceptional powers of a Royal Commission, the Australian public was entitled to expect the whole iceberg.

It turns out that I was too charitable. In the months since the Commission reported, a string of the charges he recommended have been thrown out or withdrawn In fact, six months later, there has only been one conviction, resulting in a suspended sentence. The only big fish to be caught since the establishment of Heydon’s star chamber has been the Commission’s own star witness, Kathy Jackson.

And the bills keep coming in. The last budget allocated $6 million more for the AFP-Victorian Police taskforce, which currently has outstanding cases against a grand total of six unionists. By contrast, taskforce Argo in Queensland, focused on child exploitation, has a budget of $3 million.

For another contrast, here are a few of the cases of alleged wage fraud, misappropriation of worker entitlements and so on that have emerged since Heydon’s Commission was launched: 7-11 ( million underpayment), Queensland Nickel, Pizza Hut, Myers and Spotless, and lots of small employers in the agricultural sector. That’s on top of the general run of sharp practive, environmental vandalism, market rigging, and dubious practices of all kinds.

It would be absurd to deny the existence of corrupt union officials and, though it is much rarer, systemic corruption, as in the case of the Health Services Union. But the continued failure of a massively expensive, politically motivated inquisition to turn up more than a handful of cases suggests that the problems are isolated, and that the real drive is to attack unions for doing the job of representing workers.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Human services for profit: the evidence is in

September 7th, 2016 91 comments

Over at Club Troppo, Nicholas Gruen has a thoughtful piece on the role of competition and choice in human services. He’s responding to the less-than-thoughtful boosterism of the Productivity Commission and the Harper Review on this topic. It’s well worth reading. Before doing so, though it’s important to take a look at the mounting evidence that for-profit provision of human services is almost invariably disastrous.

I’ll write a longer piece on this soon, I hope. But here are three recent examples from the United States, which has led the way in for-profit human services, and is now beginning to pull back

Shonky for-profit educator ITT closes down without notice, right at the beginning of a new semester.

Following a damning report, the US Department of Justice announces it will no longer use private prisons.

Charter schools (some openly for-profit, many others run as businesses) have been failing at a starting rate.

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Monday Message Board

September 5th, 2016 41 comments

Another Monday Message Board. Post comments on any topic. Civil discussion and no coarse language please. Side discussions and idees fixes to the sandpits, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Abbott and Hanson reconcile

September 2nd, 2016 42 comments

Just as there are no permanent allies in politics, there are few if any permanent enmities, just permanent interests. The recent reconciliation between Tony Abbott and Pauline Hanson is a neat illustration of this. A decade or so ago, Abbott was the driving force behind the prosecution that saw Hanson imprisoned (wrongly, as I wrote at the time) for breaches of electoral laws. Now he is courting her support, coyly mentioning how useful it might be to a future government with an unspecified new leader.

What’s of more interest is Abbott’s observation that half a million people voted for Hanson and that “she would be a strong voice for their concerns”. (Turnbull has said something similar, though not quite as strong). The implication, presumably, is that those concerns are legitimate, and that Hanson herself is therefore an appropriate person to make deals with. Of course, we don’t know what motivates any particular voter, but Hanson has stood for racism and bigotry throughout her political career. Anyone who voted for her can be assumed, at the minimum, not to be concerned about opposing racism.

Equally relevantly, how does this square with the government’s attitude to minor parties in general, not to mention the Greens? The Greens got twice as many votes as Hanson, and I’ve never heard anyone from the LNP suggest that those voters should be treated with respect. Similarly with the other minor parties. The whole idea of the double dissolution was to clear out the minor party senators elected in 2013. That didn’t work, and the share of the minor parties rose even further. Far from celebrating this exercise of our democratic right to choose, the LNP and its cheer squad viewed this outcome as a disaster.

The only way to understand this is in terms of an emerging coalition between the LNP and One Nation, within which the Abbott-Hanson faction will drive most decisions, while Turnbull remains as a helpless puppet, holding on only because a government with a one-vote majority can’t afford to change leaders.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags: