Archive for January, 2018

The failure of vocational education and training policy in Australia

January 18th, 2018 6 comments

I mentioned a while ago that I was making a submission to a Senate inquiry into Vocational Education and Training in South Australia. My submission has now been published on the Committee website with the title “The failure of vocational education and training policy in Australia”

I was a bit surprised to be told it was Submission Number 1, but it turns out they’ve only published two so far. The other one, from Dr Gavin Moodie makes most of the same points as mine.

As I mentioned the inquiry appears to have been called as a stunt to embarrass the SA Labor government, but it has provided an opportunity to bring the Senate’s attention to the continuing bipartisan failure of vocational education policy. To restate my key points, they were

* The impact of decades of cuts in public support for vocational training
* The disastrous effects of subsidising for-profit providers
* The goal of universal participation in post-school education and training
* Integration of technical/vocational and university education

Categories: Economic policy Tags:

Monday Message Board

January 15th, 2018 17 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:

Bad drivers should have their cars driven by robots

January 14th, 2018 25 comments

A while ago I had one of those “Someone on the Internet is Wrong” arguments with the authors of an article arguing that we would need massively more evidence before we could conclude that autonomous cars are safer than those driven by humans. Rather than dig back to find those arguments again, I thought I’d link to this Bloomberg piece and, in particular the following passage

GM’s autonomous test cars were in 22 accidents in California last year, according to data from the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles … In a November interview, GM President Dan Ammann attributed the accidents to testing in a dense urban environment and noted the company’s cars weren’t at fault in any of the incidents.

Suppose that in any crash between autonomous cars and humans, each is equally likely to be at fault. What is the probability of seeing 22 crashes caused by humans and none by autonomous cars. Obviously, it’s the same as that of a fair coin showing 22 heads in a row, which is 2^-22 or about 1 in 10 million.

Of course, the drivers involved in the crashes aren’t likely to be a random sample of the population. As is standard in such things, the 80/20 rule applies: 20 per cent of drivers are responsible for 80 per cent of crashes and traffic infringements. THe 80/20 rule is derived from a Pareto distribution, and we can apply it a second time to say that 20 per cent of the remaining 80 per cent of drivers are responsible for 80 per cent of the remaining 20 per cent of crashes. That is, 36 per cent of drivers are responsible for 96 per cent of crashes. On that basis, it’s perfectly possible that the remaining 64 per cent of good drivers are as good as autonomous cars or even better.

It might also be argued that autonomous vehicles may fail in defensive driving, that is, in reducing harm in a crash caused by the failure of another driver.

Still, it seems pretty clear that autonomous cars are a lot better than the drivers responsible for most crashes and infringements. It isn’t that hard to identify a lot of these drivers before they kill themselves someone else, since prior driving record variables, particularly a driver’s prior traffic citation history, are the most consistent and powerful predictors of subsequent accident risk. Now that cars don’t need steering wheels or pedals any more, there’s no obvious reason to put people with bad driving records back in charge of them. Bad drivers should have their cars driven by robots.

Categories: Life in General Tags:

The Rise and Fall of Keynesianism after the GFC

January 9th, 2018 17 comments

International Studies Quarterly has just published a symposium responding to a paper by Henry Farrell and me, which has been released from behind the paywall for the occasion. Our paper has the fairly self-explanatory title “Consensus, Dissensus, and Economic Ideas: Economic Crisis and the Rise and Fall of Keynesianism ” In our paper we looked at the resurgence of fiscal Keynesianism in the immediate aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis and of the successful counterthrust leading to the adoption of austerity policies in the US and Europe.

The symposium has comments from a multidisciplinary group of political scientists, sociologists and economists: Abraham Newman, Andrew Baker, Elizabeth Popp Berman, Paul Krugman, Stephen K. Nelson along with a response from us. It’s great to get these different disciplinary perspectives all in one place, since they all have key pieces of the puzzle, and we are very happy they have chosen to engage with us.

Decarbonizing the economy is easy and cheap

January 8th, 2018 42 comments

Since I wrote my post on good climate news for 2017, a couple of news items have caught my eye

* Britain now generates twice as much electricity from wind as from coal, and around 30 per cent from renewables in total
* More than half the vehicles sold in Norway are now electric or plug in hybrid

My thoughts on these examples over the fold:

TL;DR version: These examples show that, at least for developed countries, massive reductions in CO2 emissions are feasible right now, with no discernible effect on living standards.

Read more…

Categories: Economics - General, Environment Tags:


January 8th, 2018 2 comments

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

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Monday Message Board

January 8th, 2018 21 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:

Why “extremely unlikely” climate events matter

January 5th, 2018 19 comments

I’ve just been advised that my latest article “The importance of ‘extremely unlikely’ events: Tail risk and the costs of climate change” has come out online in The Australian Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics. For those who can use it, the DOI is 10.1111/1467-8489.12238. For everyone else, here’s a link to a pre-publication version. The main points are

* The IPCC convention is to use the phrase “extremely unlikely” to refer to outcomes (in particular, values of climate sensitivity) in the range of 0–5 per cent.
* Most of the risks against which we act to protect and insure ourselves (for example, car crashes, premature death in any given year) are “extremely unlikely” by this definition
* Around half, or even more, of the expected welfare loss from climate change arises from the worst-case 5 per cent of high values for climate sensitivity.

Nothing really startling here, but it’s the other side of the coin to the contrarian suggestion that since there’s a 5 per cent probability that global warming will turn out not to be a problem, we should do nothing.

Categories: Environment Tags:

The predictable, and predicted, failure of electricity market reform

January 4th, 2018 18 comments

David Blowers from the Grattan Institute has a piece in The Conversation (also on the ABC) headlined A high price for policy failure: the ten-year story of spiralling electricity bills. It’s not bad, and is notable for the observation that

History may judge the introduction of competition to the retail electricity market as an expensive mistake.

I don’t think we need to wait for history; in fact, we didn’t need to wait until 2017.

Most of the problems that have subsequently emerged were evident when I first addressed this issue in a paper in 2001., published in the Economic and Labor Relations Review

Here’s my conclusion

The National Electricity Market is still developing. Some problems that have emerged in the early stages such as the disparity between the substantial price reductions for large customers and the largely unchanged prices paid by households will fade away as the market matures. Other issues such as the structure of the industry and the degree of horizontal and vertical integration will be resolved by a mixture of market processes and regulatory interventions.

Some problems, however, are likely to become more rather than less acute. The Australian National Electricity Market commenced operation in a period of oversupply so that problems of market power and excessive prices have not emerged until recently. It remains unclear whether an electricity auction market can produce adequate incentives for investment while generating appropriate prices for consumers. Similar problems are emerging in relation to the regulated monopoly component of the industry, the transmission and distribution sector. Regulators must set prices that do not reward inefficiency or allow monopoly profits, but nevertheless provide appropriate incentives for new investment. This is a delicate balance.

In the longer term, the problem of the environmental impact of an industry relying predominantly on carbon-based fuels remains to be addressed. A market solution would involve the creation of emissions credits that could be traded along with electricity in national markets. Although limited steps have been taken in this direction, much remains to be done.

Categories: Economic policy Tags:

Some good news on the global climate

January 3rd, 2018 8 comments

I’ve published a couple of articles recently on climate issues. One, in Inside Story, is an expansion of a post here, making the case that 2017 was a good year for climate policy globally. One more item to add to the list: India’s additions of coal-fired generation capacity are running at the slowest pace since 2006.

The other, in New Matilda, was about the (lousy) economics of the Adani coal mine-rail-port project. It’s part of a series on the struggle against the mine by indigenous Wangan and Jagalingou (W&J) people. Publication has been a bit slow, so my article doesn’t keep up with all the latest events, which seem likely to ensure that this disastrous project won’t proceed. The most important has been the split between Adani and its main contractor EDI Downer, one of a handful of companies with the expertise to run a mine on this scale. Adani’s current claim that it will operate the mine itself seems untenable, according to everything I’ve read.

Categories: Environment Tags:

UBI, work and unions

January 2nd, 2018 15 comments

I’m working with Troy Henderson from the University of Sydney on a book chapter looking at union responses to the idea of a universal basic income (UBI),which have covered a range from supportive to strongly hostile, with the latter view predominant in Australia. Here’s a draft of my section of the chapter. Comments much appreciated.

Read more…

Categories: Economic policy Tags: