Reciprocating Hanson’s boycott

March 27th, 2017 62 comments

Apparently, Pauline Hanson and One Nation are refusing to vote for any government legislation until the government intervenes on the side of canegrowers in a dispute with millers and marketers*

Coincidentally, I was considering the question of how to deal with Hanson’s presence in the Senate and came up with the opposite way of implementing the current situation. The major parties should refuse Hanson’s support, and should show this by having four Senators abstain on any bill where One Nation supports their side. Obviously, this isn’t going to happen with the LNP. However rude they may be about Hanson and other ONP members when they say something particularly appalling, ONP is effectively part of the coalition and is being treated as such.

But for Labor, I think the case for shunning One Nation is strong. The arguments for a complete rejection of One Nation’s racism are obvious. The costs would be

(i) In votes where Xenophon went with the LNP and Hanson with Labor and the Greens, this would turn a win into a loss (I think – can someone check)

(ii) Open hostility to One Nation would probably shift some ONP voters to change their second preferences

I don’t think either of these points have a lot of weight. But the self-styled Labor “hardheads” whose brilliant moves have included putting Family First into Parliament and abolishing optional preferential voting in Queensland, just when would help Labor most, will doubtless disagree.

* These disputes have been going on for decades, reflecting the fact that, because sugarcane is costly to transport, growers are very limited in their choice of mills, and millers similarly depend on a relatively small number of growers to keep them in business.. I haven’t looked into the merits of this one

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Sandpit

March 27th, 2017 No comments

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

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Monday Message Board

March 27th, 2017 4 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:

Turning the corner

March 25th, 2017 56 comments

Obviously, climate policy in Australia is not going well. In the US, the Trump Administration is keen to reverse the progress made under Obama. Yet for the planet as a whole, the news hasn’t been better for a long time. And there is every reason to hope that Trump and Turnbull will fail on this, and on much else.

Two big pieces of good news this week

* For the third year in a row, global carbon dioxide emissions from the energy sector have remained nearly stable, despite continued economic growth.
* Large-scale cancellations in China and elsewhere have greatly reduced the number of proposed coal-fired power plants

A lot more needs to happen, but with the cost of renewables steadily falling and awareness of the health and climate costs spreading, there’s every reason to hope that the decarbonization of electricity supply will happen more rapidly than anyone expected. After that, the big challenge is to electrify transport. The technology is there, so this is mostly a matter of renewed political will.

Read more…

Categories: Environment, Oz Politics Tags:

Consumer advice: Don’t go paperless at ANZ

March 24th, 2017 18 comments

If you’re a bank customer, you’re doubtless getting plenty of messages urging you to go online and stop the waste involved in receiving paper statements each month. It’s an appealing pitch, but, at least for customers of ANZ, my advice is “DON’T !”. I recently had to replace a lost secondary card on my credit card. This used to be a painful process, involving reissuing all the cards, but it’s a lot simpler now, or so I thought. That is, until I checked my online bank statements and discovered they had disappeared.

A call to the helpline revealed the worst: the records were gone and there was no way of getting them back. The best that could be done is to print out paper statements and send those. Since I already had the paper statements, this wasn’t much use. An amusing irony of the process was that, as I checked through the bank website trying to trace the problem, I was bombarded at every step with messages urging me to go paperless.

I emailed the ANZ PR department, offering them a chance to respond, but got no reply.

Categories: Life in General Tags:

My resignation from the Climate Change Authority

March 23rd, 2017 45 comments

Earlier today, I wrote to Josh Frydenberg, the Minister for Energy and Environment, resigning as a Member of the Climate Change Authority. Mine is the third recent resignation: Clive Hamilton resigned in February, and Danny Price a couple of days ago. There’s a story in the Guardian here. My resignation statement is over the fold.

Read more…

Categories: Environment, Oz Politics Tags:

The IPA and 18C

March 22nd, 2017 60 comments

The obsessive desire of the current government to protect the right to offend and humiliate people on the basis of their race or religion has been driven, in large measure, by the Institute of Public Affairs. The IPA has a mixed* record on freedom of speech, and on the kind of offensive speech that is the subject of 18C.

Some IPA fellows, such as Chris Berg and Matthew Lesh take the Voltaire line, defending free speech even when they don’t like the content. And, as far as I can tell, neither Berg nor Lesh has ever said anything offensively bigoted.

Unfortunately, they appear to be in the minority at the IPA. More representative of the general atmosphere of the IPA are cases like this and this, where IPA fellows were caught saying in public the kind of thing they want to protect legally.

And while Berg is keen to protect the right to boycott, the IPA also published this piece, suggesting that critics of coal could be prosecuted under the Corporations Act. I had a long series of Twitter exchanges with Tim Wilson, then “Freedom Commissioner” and now a Liberal MP, in which I asked if he would disavow this suggestion. He evaded the question repeatedly then (IIRC) blocked me.

Overall, I’d say the IPA should clean up its own act before pretending to lead a crusade (or jihad) for free speech.

* I mean this literally, not as a euphemism for “bad”

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Adani, with an asterisk

March 22nd, 2017 20 comments

Back in December, Gautam Adani came to Queensland and gave a very positive view of the proposed Carmichael coal mine in the Galilee Basin. Things went pretty quiet for a while after that, but it appeared that a final announcement on the project would be made in April. Now, Anna Palaszczuk and a number of lesser dignitaries have been to India and brought back the news that the project will shortly be approved by the Adani board, at least if Mr Adani has his way, which seems guaranteed.

That came as a surprise to those of us who have long argued that the project is hopelessly uneconomic, even on the optimistic view that the current uptick in the coal price will be sustained.

But it turns out that there’s an asterisk. The approval will be subject to finance. Anyone who’s ever sold a house knows that means nothing is guaranteed. In Adani’s case, the initial stages of the project will need $2.5 billion in bank finance, as well as a concessional loan of up to $1 billion from the Commonwealth’s Northern Australia slush fund.

You might think that at least the second of these is a safe bet. But Aurizon (the former Queensland Rail) has come up with a competing proposal, which doesn’t have the problems associated with Adani’s opaque (to put it mildly) financial structure.

The real problem though is with the banks. Of the big Australian banks, Westpac is the only one that hasn’t ruled itself out. But they will presumably want only a small share of the risk, as part of an international consortium and there are no obvious candidates. Moreover, given the combination of reputational and project risk associated with a massive coal mine at a time when coal is clearly on the way out, any sane lender would demand a hefty rate of interest and lots of security. It’s hard to see Adani coming up with either.

So, I’m guessing Adani is still playing for time. We’ll probably see a very big announcement with a very small asterisk. Crunch time won’t come until June, when they need to come up with some real money.

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Aandpit

March 20th, 2017 24 comments

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

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Monday Message Board

March 20th, 2017 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:

Hope springs eternal …

March 20th, 2017 7 comments

… for the nuclear power faithful. Over the last couple of months, it’s become apparent that the Westinghouse AP1000, by far the most promising hope for a modern Generation III+ design, is dead in the water. Toshiba, which bought Westinghouse a while ago, is writing off billions of dollars, and seems unlikely to stay in the nuclear business after the remaining projects (all overdue and overtime) are completed. The other developed country candidates, including EPR and Candu are in an even worse state.

But wait! It seems there is a project that is on time, and possibly even on budget. It’s being built in the United Emirates by Korean company KEPCO, and consists of four plants using KEPCO’s APR-1400 design. That’s been the basis for some new optimism.

A quick look at Wikipedia’s APR-1400 article suggests this optimism may be misplaced. Among the problems

(i) This is a Gen III design, dating back to the 1990s. It hasn’t yet been certified as safe in the US, and it may not be
(ii) While the UAE project appears to have gone well, projects in South Korea have been subject to delays and cost overruns
(iii) The UAE deal was signed in 2009. There hasn’t been another export deal since then.
(iv) Although there were plans to build more plants in South Korea, they appear to have been shelved. There hasn’t been a new APR-1400 plant started there since 2013.

Categories: Environment Tags:

Minor parties?

March 19th, 2017 19 comments

Continuing on the coalition theme, there’s been a rash of articles (this is representative) worrying about the rise of “minor parties” to secure 25 per cent of the vote. All of these articles are premised on the definitional assumption that the Greens (a well-established party with about 10 per cent of the vote, in a longstanding but fractious alliance with Labor) are a minor party, while the Nationals (a well-established party with about 5 per cent of the vote, in a longstanding but fractious alliance with the Liberals) are not. In most of these articles, the Nationals are just lumped in with the Liberals (even though they have broken with them in several states at different times) but in some they are accorded major party status.

These articles reflect the longstanding prejudices of the press gallery in favor of majority governments their horror of “hung Parliaments” and their continued belief in a “mandate” theory of government. , Speculating a bit, I guess it’s easier to work on the basis of insider information from ministers, and to a lesser extent, shadow ministers than in a context where authority is much more widely distributed.

In any case, while the idea of an upsurge in “minor party” support is dubious, the gallery is right to think that something has changed. I’m planning a proper analysis, based on my “three party system” model, before too long.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

I can’t work with her: Turnbull

March 18th, 2017 41 comments

I read this headline and my immediate thought was that Putin, antivax and the disastrous WA election had finally galvanised our hapless PM into breaking with Pauline Hanson. Alas, it turns out the “her” in question was the newly elected ACTU Secretary Sally McManus, who had dared to espouse the doctrine that it is sometimes appropriate to break unjust laws. McManus joins the company of such monsters as Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. Fortunately for Malcolm, all of these lawbreakers have one thing in common that ensures that, were they still alive, Pauline Hanson would be doing her best to keep them out of the country. He can rest easy knowing that he stands with all the “ordinary” (sound of dog whistle here) Australians represented by the One Nation faction of his coalition.

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Deal or no Deal

March 18th, 2017 4 comments

I was planning a post, looking at the Brexit negotiations in terms of game theory (more precisely, bargaining theory), but Frances Coppola has saved me the trouble. One reason for my hesitation was concerns similar to those expressed by Ariel Rubinstein, in a 2013 piece that seems to be having a bit of a revival lately. Still, whether or not game theory helps, I think Coppola has it about right.

Categories: World Events Tags:

Trumpism and religion (crosspost from CT)

March 16th, 2017 28 comments

One of the striking features of Donald Trump’s election victory was the overwhelming support he received from white Christians, rising to near-unanimity among white evangelicals, where Trump outpolled all previous Republican candidates. In thinking about the global rise of Trumpism, I’ve been under the impression that the US is a special case, and that the rise of Trumpism in a largely post-religious Europe suggests that the link between Christianism and Trumpism is a spurious correlation.

But, on reading a bit about the Dutch election, I found the suggestion that there is a long tradition of confessional politics in the Netherlands (maybe Ingrid could explain more about this) and that support for the racist PVV is centred on Limburg, and inherited from the formerly dominant Catholic party there. And, re-examining my previous position, it’s obvious that being “largely post-Christian” does not preclude the existence of a large bloc of Christian, and therefore potentially Christianist voters.

So, I’m now thinking that Trumpism can be seen, in large measure, as a reaction by white Christians against the loss of their assumed position as the social norm, against which assertions of rights for anyone else can be seen as identity politics, political correctness and so on. As is usual, as soon as I formed this idea, I found evidence for it everywhere. Obvious cases are Putin and Russian Orthodoxy, the Law and Justice Party in Poland, and Fillon in France. Looking a bit harder, I found that British Christians voted strongly for Brexit. And, in my own backyard, all the Trumpist parties I described in this post (except, I think, Palmer’s) are strongly Christianist.

Of course, there’s nothing distinctively Christian in the actual politics of Trumpism, so the analysis applies equally well to Islamists like Erdogan (and al-Baghdadi for that matter) and Hindu nationalists like Modi. In fact, looking over the recent upsurge of Trumpists, the only counterexample I can find to the analysis is Duterte in the Phillipines, who has been denounced by the Catholic Church and has returned the compliment in spades.

What does this mean for the future of Trumpism?

Read more…

Categories: World Events Tags:

Faith-based energy policy: the case of nuclear power

March 16th, 2017 23 comments

If you want to explain the success of Trump and Trumpism, despite Trump’s blatant reliance on falsehood, it’s crucial to understand that the mainstream political right has been rendering itself more and more impervious to reality for at least two decades. A striking example is the belief that nuclear power is the answer to our needs, and that the only obstacle is Green Nimbyism. This claim has recently been restated by a number of LNP Parliamentarians, by no means all of whom are on the hardline right.

Rather than rehearse the arguments I’ve put many times, I’ll quote the conclusion of the SA Royal Commission into the Nuclear Fuel Cycle:

a. on the present estimate of costs and under current market arrangements, nuclear power would not be
commercially viable to supply baseload electricity to the South Australian subregion of the NEM from 2030 (being the earliest date for its possible introduction)

b. it would not be viable
i. on a range of predicted wholesale electricity prices incorporating a range of possible carbon prices
ii. for both large and potentially new small plant designs
iii. under current and potentially substantially expanded interconnection capacity to Victoria and NSW
iv. on a range of predictions of demand in 2030, including with significant uptake of electric vehicles

c. nuclear would be marginal in the event of a lower cost of capital that was typical for the financing of public projects and under strong climate action policies.

That closes off just about every loophole a pro-nuclear advocate might want to use. And the Royal Commission was anything but anti-nuclear. It pushed hard for the idea of a nuclear waste dump (not really credible, but not as obviously infeasible as nuclear electricity generation).

Read more…

Categories: Economic policy, Environment Tags:

Privatisation as electoral poison

March 15th, 2017 35 comments

Twitter is not a very useful medium for sustained debate. I’ve discovered this in the course of a rather strange interchange with Peter Brent (the psephblogger known as Mumble) and Piping Shrike, a pseudonymous blogger. These are both commentators I generally respect, but they are making a case that I find unbelievable. I made what I thought was the unexceptionable point that the proposed privatisation of Western Power was a central issue in the recent WA election, pointing to the polling evidence cited in the post below

In response it was claimed (if I’ve interpreted the tweets correctly that such polling evidence is useless and that privatisation has never been a central issue, not even in the Queensland elections which saw the Bligh and Newman governments successively turfed out with huge swings. Mumble asserted that these results reflected hostility to the national governments of the same party.

I’ll open this one up to readers, and invite comments from Mumble and Shrike.

What do people think about the substantive claim here. Am I wrong in thinking that, in the many election campaigns ostensibly dominated by privatisation, the fact that the pro-privatisation side has almost invariably lost is a mere coincidence. In particular, were the huge swings in Queensland mainly due to other factors?

What kind of evidence counts? I’ve cited extensive polling evidence on the unpopularity of privatisation, but Mumble and Shrike have both dismissed this?

I’ve said my piece, so I’ll sit back for a while and let others discuss this if they choose to.

Also, if someone knows how to storify the Twitter exchange and can be bothered doing so, I’d be very grateful

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

It’s Time?

March 13th, 2017 26 comments

One of the odder claims about the Liberals’ electoral debacle in WA is that the “It’s Time” factor played a major role. Readers of a certain age will recall that Gough Whitlam used this slogan to suggest that, after 23 years and (by my memory) nine election victories, the LNP Coalition had been in office too long.

The Barnett government in WA had served only two terms. There have been a fair few one-term and two-term governments in recent history, as you would expect on the general assumption that both parties in an election have some chance of winning.

On the other hand, there have been plenty of governments running four or more terms (Howard and Hawke-Keating at the national level, Labor everywhere but Victoria and NT (three terms in each case). The only time I’ve heard the It’s Time story invoked was that of Howard. In all the other cases, the incumbent government’s defeat has been attributed (correctly, I think) to specific causes, such as asset sales. Does the “It’s Time” explanation only work for conservative governments?

Update: Unusually, there is some polling evidence on this. Around 27 per cent of respondents cited “It’s Time” as a factor, slightly outnumbered by those who cited privatisation.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Electricity renationalisation: a response from the 1980s

March 13th, 2017 14 comments

Today’s Oz has a piece from Paul Kerin, responding to my proposal for a nationalized transmission grid. It’s a striking reflection of the way ideas that were novel in the 1980s and 1990s retain their grip on Australian policy debate, despite their obvious failure at a global level.

Read more…

Categories: #Ozfail, Economic policy Tags:

Sandpit

March 13th, 2017 103 comments

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

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Monday Message Board

March 13th, 2017 18 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:

Alternate history: Kerensky edition

March 8th, 2017 46 comments

In the era Trump, it’s hard to avoid thinking about alternate histories. Most of my attempts focus on the Great War, and I’ve just had one published in the New York Times, leading off a series they plan on the centenary of the Russian Revolution(s). My question: What if Kerensky had responded positively to the resolution of the German Reichstag, calling for peace without annexations or indemnities?

Categories: World Events Tags:

A bit more on grid renationalisation

March 7th, 2017 9 comments
Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Grid Renationalisation

March 3rd, 2017 56 comments

That’s the title of a discussion paper I’ve just released for the Australian Industrial Transformation Institute, headed by my friend and co-author John Spoehr. As the title suggests, the central argument is that we need to abandon the failed electricity reforms of the 1990s. What is needed is a unified, publicly owned, National Grid encompassing the ownership of physical transmission networks in each state and interconnectors between states, and responsibility for maintaining security of supply and planning the transition to a sustainable, zero emissions electricity supply industry.

The report is here

Categories: Economic policy Tags:

How to get a nice, highly paid job in a bank

March 2nd, 2017 8 comments

In the last week or so, two former state premiers, Anna Bligh and Mike Baird have been appointed to highly paid jobs in the banking sector. In both cases there was some peripheral controversy. In Bligh’s case, some Liberals, including Scott Morrison, apparently felt that such jobs should be reserved for their side of politics. In Baird’s case, it was the fact that he took the bogus claim to be “spending more time with his family” to new extremes, giving lots of details on family problems and then deciding that six weeks was quite enough time to spend dealing with them.

These controversies obscured the key qualification held by Bligh and Baird for their new jobs; both had greatly enriched the banking sector by pushing through unpopular privatisations. Others enjoying similar rewards include Paul Keating (advisor to Lazard Freres), Alan Stockdale (Macquarie Bank) and Nick Greiner (too many to lost). By contrast, opponents of privatisation rarely find cushy jobs like this flowing their way. Of course, there’s no direct quid pro quo here. The banks and organizations offering the jobs aren’t, in general, the ones that collected fees from the particular privatisations in question. It’s rather that, politicians who are nice to the banking sector are well regarded, and eventually well rewarded, by that sector.

With such an incentive structure in place, it’s hardly surprising that privatisation is never far from the top of the political agenda, despite its extreme unpopularity with Australian voters.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

In praise of credentialism

March 1st, 2017 34 comments

That’s the title of my latest piece in Inside Story. The crucial para

The term “credentialism” is used in many different ways, some of them contradictory, but the implication is consistent: too many young people are getting too much formal education, at too high a level. This implication was spelt out recently by Dean Ashenden, who contends that “education has not just grown to meet the expanding needs of the post-industrial economy, but has exploded like an airbag.” The claim that young people are getting too much education, and the supporting critique of credentialism, is pernicious and false.

Categories: Economic policy Tags:

Sports betting and corruption

February 26th, 2017 18 comments

One of the sadder stories last week was that of Wayne Shaw, an English footballer who was forced to resign for eating a pie mid-match, knowing that a bookmaker had laid odds against this. Apart from the absurdity of the case, there’s an obvious problem pointed out by someone I read on Facebook. Once he became aware of the bet, he would have been just as guilty or innocent if he’d chosen not to eat anything, and thereby help the bookies instead of the punters.

More generally, I find it impossible to imagine that sports betting isn’t causing widespread corruption. Take the popular bet on who will score the first try in a match. Suppose Player X, who knows his friends have bet heavily on him, has the choice between going for the try himself, or passing to a team-mate in an arguably better field position. The problem is obvious.

Less obvious is the case of Player Y, whose friends have bet on X. He can choose to pass left, towards X, or right, in which case Z has a chance to score. Such decisions must be made all the time, and it’s far from obvious which is the right one. So, going for the try yourself or making the play that helps your friends is nothing like throwing the game (the only profitable way to cheat in the days before these exotic bets). And, unlike match fixing, it seems to be just about impossible to prove wrongdoing.

I don’t have a solution, except to steer clear of contests where betting is a big deal. I do, however, have a hot tip for those who follow age group triathlon and can find a betting market. Unless I’m in a team, bet against me in the 60-64M category, at just about any odds you can get.

Update That’s the best individual response. The policy response, I think, is to legalise and encourage welching. That is, refuse to enforce gambling debts through the legal system and apply strict liability to attempts at collection through strong arm tactics, with a presumption of guilt against the creditor even if they can’t be tied directly to the enforcer.

Categories: Sport Tags:

Decent conservatives

February 26th, 2017 25 comments

Since Trump’s election victory, there’s been a lot of concern trolling (and maybe some genuine concern) that resistance to Trump will alienate decent conservatives who held their noses while voting for Trump, but might be attracted away from him by a suitably respectful presentation of a centre-right Democratic agenda. A notable recent entry is a piece in the New York Times by Sabrina Tavernise, which profiles three such voters, only one of whom has any criticism to make of Trump. The others complain that liberals have been mean to them, but make it pretty clear they would vote for Trump regardless. As is inevitable in such a piece, Jonathan Haidt gets a run – he’s the only expert quoted by name.
Read more…

Categories: World Events Tags:

Bastiat anticipates climate science denialism

February 23rd, 2017 26 comments

I’m working on the environmental policy chapter of my book-in-progress, Economics in Two Lessons, which is a reply to Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson, which in turn is a repackaging of Bastiat’s What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen. Hazlitt was aware of the difficulties posed for laissez-faire by pollution, and chose to avoid the issue. But, on Googling Bastiat + pollution, I came across a remarkable package in which Bastiat anticipates the climate change debate and takes the denialist side in advancee.

Read more…

Sandpit

February 20th, 2017 6 comments

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

Categories: Regular Features Tags: