Sandpit

February 20th, 2017 2 comments

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

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Monday Message Board

February 20th, 2017 1 comment

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:

My letter to Paul Offit

February 16th, 2017 3 comments

Dear Dr Offit,

I have admired your work in support of vaccines, and your willingness to face down the anti-science attacks on vaccination. I was, therefore, greatly dismayed to read your column in the Daily Beast recently, reviving a set of discredited attacks on public health and environmental science, centred on the spurious claim of a global ban on DDT. I have linked a blog post and article covering the key points, which you can easily check for yourself

A double disaster for science and public health

Rehabilitating Carson

As I note in the post, giving credence to discredited anti-science attacks like those of Stephen Milloy is a gift to the anti-vaccination movement which they are already exploiting. I urge you to investigate this issue more carefully and publish a follow-up column setting out the real situation.

I would be happy to correspond further and send you more information if needed.

Sincerely
John Quiggin

Categories: Science Tags:

A double disaster for science and public health

February 16th, 2017 25 comments

Zombies never die, and that’s even more true of zombie ideas. One of the most thoroughly killed zombies, the myth that Rachel Carson is responsible for millions of deaths from DDT, has recently re-emerged from the rightwing nethersphere where it has continued to circulate despite repeated refutation. That wouldn’t be worth yet another long post except for the source: Dr Paul Offit, a prominent pediatrician and leading pro-vaccination campaigner, writing in the Daily Beast. Offit’s revival of the DDT ban myth is a double disaster for science and public health.

Read more…

Categories: Science Tags:

Speaking in Auckland- After Reform: What comes next

February 14th, 2017 12 comments

I’ll be speaking to the Aucklalnd Fabian Society on Thursday 16 Feb (I already spoke on Wellington but didn’t around to posting Details here.

Since the 1980s, economic policy has been dominated by a policy agenda referred to by its proponents as “microeconomic reform” or simply “reform”, based on the ideas of free trade, privatisation and reductions in the scale and scope of government activity. This agenda has exhausted its political support and run out of ideas. It offers no answers to the policy challenges of the 21st century, including growing inequality, financial fragility and the demands of the information economy. This presentation will address the question: What comes next?

Categories: Economic policy Tags:

Easytax redux redux

February 13th, 2017 29 comments

I got a brief run in the Murdoch press regarding Pauline Hanson’s revived proposal for a 2 per cent tax on all transactions (floated 20 years ago as “Easytax“). I was reported as follows: “University of Queensland school of economics professor John Quiggin said a 2 per cent tax would destroy small business and see a collapse in government ­revenue.” and the story was headlined “One Nation policy would ‘collapse the economy’” The headline is an exaggeration, but the quoted passage gets my opinion right.

Easytax is an example of a “cascade” tax, common in Europe a century or so ago. The point is that the tax rate is applied to the whole value of each transaction along the chain from primary producer to consumer. For a big firm, like Woolworths, the answer is simple: integrate backwards along the chain by taking over your suppliers. Then you pay the tax only once at 2 per cent. Small businesses, who can’t do this, end up paying the tax themselves, on goods that have already been taxed many times. So, they go out of business, and the total value of transactions falls far below the level used in the original calculation that a 2 per cent tax would be sufficient. Hence, government revenue collapses.

It was precisely because this process was happening that the French (the innovators in this field) dumped the cascade tax in favor of a value-added tax (VAT), the same model used in the GST. They were followed by the rest of the EU and then most of the world, except the US, which still relies on retail sales tax (levied only once, but still messy and narrowly-based).

The story also says “A spokesman for Senator Hanson said she had only advocated investigating the policy.” But the fact that such a nonsense idea is still part of One Nation thinking gives the lie to the suggestion of Hanson’s coalition partners in the LNP that this iteration of One Nation is different from the last. It’s just as racist and ignorant as ever. It’s not Hanson that has changed, but the LNP which is now indistinguishable from One Nation.

Why we should put ‘basic’ before ‘universal’ in the pursuit of income equality

February 8th, 2017 30 comments

That’s the title of my latest piece in The Guardian. There are two key points

First, in terms of effective tax rates and tax paid, any means-tested Guaranteed Minimum Income can be replicated by a non-tested Universal Basic Income, and vice versa

Second, for a number of reasons, it would be better to begin by expanding access to an adequate Basic income (in Australia, the Age Pension is an obvious benchmark) rather than starting with a small universal payment and then increasing it to a level sufficient to live on.

Trumpism in Australia (crosspost from Crooked Timber)

February 6th, 2017 37 comments

I’ve had this post in draft for a while, not entirely satisfied with it, but on the rare occasion of Australia making the front pages of US papers I thought I should post it on Crooked Timber ready or not. It’s for an international, largely US audience, but readers here might be interested. I posted it just before the apparent confirmation that Bernardi will Bolt.

After the cataclysm of Trump’s election, quite a few US-based friends asked me about moving to Australia. I had, as they say, good news and bad news. First, the bad news. Over the last few years, Australia has had no less than four Trumpist political parties, two of which currently form the government. We may yet get a fifth. The goods news is that, in most respects, they have been surprisingly ineffectual. That’s, partly because of constraints in our political system and partly because of the inherent limits of Trumpist politics.

Read more…

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Workless, or working less?

February 1st, 2017 55 comments

That’s the title of my review of Tim Dunlop’s excellent new book, Why the Future Is Workless, published at Inside Story. It’s over the fold.

Read more…

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

“White, heterosexual Christian” isn’t an identity?

January 30th, 2017 24 comments

At the Oz, Paul Kelly has a piece headlined’ http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/columnists/paul-kelly/donald-trumps-election-a-rejection-of-identity-politics/news-story/147b11c08b64702d3f9be1821416cb72. This is bizarre, given that Trump’s appeal was obviously directed at white, heterosexual Christians upset that the US is no longer being run entirely by and for people like them.

In a sense, it now is. Trump’s Cabinet, like the Republican party as a whole, is overwhelmingly reflective of the identity politics of a former majority unwilling to adjust to the reality that it is now a minority. The vagaries and the biases of the electoral system have given this minority a lot of power, but it is fragile and tenuous. It’s precisely this fragility that is giving Trump’s brand of identity politics its ferocity.

Of course, Kelly’s unstated premise is that “white, heterosexual Christian” isn’t an identity, it’s just the norm against which deviant identities are defined. This is on a level with the kind of low-grade bigot who uses the term “ethnics” to describe people of all ethnicities other than Anglo-Celtic.

Categories: #Ozfail, Oz Politics Tags:

Sandpit

January 27th, 2017 23 comments

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

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Weekend reflections

January 27th, 2017 35 comments

It’s time for another weekend reflections, which makes space for longer than usual comments on any topic. Side discussions to sandpits, please. Absolutely no personal criticism of other commenters.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

The TPP fiasco

January 26th, 2017 19 comments

Until now, I thought of Malcolm Turnbull as clever but weak, unwilling to challenge the right wing of his party even as they drive his government into the ground. But his handling of the Trans-Pacific Partnership over the last week has left me with the impression that he doesn’t have a clue.

To recap, it’s been obvious for a long time that the TPP was in serious trouble. Both candidates for the US Presidency opposed it, and Trump was particularly vociferous in his denunciation. It’s also important that, within the US policy establishment, the most potent argument for the TPP was that it would cement US leadership in the region, and lock China out.

So, I would have imagined that the Turnbull government would have thought through the consequences of a US withdrawal from the TPP, even if they were surprised by the actual timing. In particular, I’d have thought that Turnbull would have discussed possible responses with Japanese PM Abe when he visited the other week.

So, I was pretty startled when Turnbull floated the idea of bringing China into the TPP to replace the US. At least from the viewpoint of the US and Chinese foreign policy establishments, that would amount to switching our support to China, or least shifting towards neutrality, in struggles about the future of the region. Given the risks posed by an alliance with the US under Trump, there’s an arguable case for that, but it would be a very big move. Turnbull’s floating of the notion seemed like a thought bubble, or maybe a thoughtless bubble.

Even more striking was Japan’s immediate rejection of the idea, accompanied by a repetition of the forlorn hope that the US might come back to the deal. Honestly, how could Turnbull have had a lengthy meeting with Abe and failed to elicit an indication that his proposal would be rejected out of hand?

Finally, as an aside, how about his churlish decision to give an AC to Julia Gillard but not (unless it was offered and privately rejected) to Kevin Rudd? At least Abbott was consistently tribal in his breach of the longstanding convention of making this offer to an outgoing PM (after they’ve left Parliament). With Turnbull it looks like personal vendetta.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Monday Message Board

January 23rd, 2017 16 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:

Tu quoque, revisited

January 21st, 2017 45 comments

Slightly lost amid the furore over the alleged Trump dossier was the news that Trump had held a meeting with leading antivaxer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. As is usual, particularly with the Trump Administration, accounts of the meeting differed, with RFK claiming Trump had asked him to lead an inquiry into vaccine safety and Trump apparatchiks denying any firm decision had been made.

This interested me because, on the strength of sharing his father’s name, RFK Jr was, for many years the poster child for those on the right who wanted to claim that Democrats were just as anti-science as Republicans. (I’ve appended a post from 2014, discussing this.) Now he’s eager to work for Trump.

I pointed out the likely emergence of vaccination as a partisan issue in another post. Lots of commenters were unhappy about it, and it’s true that it’s unfortunate in the same way as is the partisan divide on global warming, evolution and just about any scientific issue that has political or cultural implications. But, whether we like it or not, it’s happening and likely to accelerate. The sudden reversal in Republican views on Putin, Wikileaks and so on illustrates the force of loyalty to Trump. We can only hope that, for once, his team’s denials turn out to be correct.

Read more…

Categories: Science Tags:

Culture wars and smelters

January 21st, 2017 15 comments

The Victorian and Commonwealth governments have just announced a bailout of the Alcoa aluminium smelter at Portland, achieved primarily by pressuring AGL to supply cheap electricity. It’s unsurprising that a state government wants to save jobs: that is par for the course. The Commonwealth intervention reflects total policy incoherence. It’s entirely comprehensible, however, in terms of the culture war approach that drives the Abbott-Turnbull government. I have a piece on this at Crikey, reprinted over the fold.

Read more…

Categories: Economic policy, Oz Politics Tags:

Australia is naturally suited to a federal system

January 20th, 2017 17 comments

The age-old idea of abolishing the states has popped up again, this time from Bob Hawke. I’ve recycled some old arguments against this idea in the standard form where the states are to be replaced by regional governemnts. I’ve also added some new points, focused on the undesirability of a unitary state. The piece is at The Conversation, entitled If we scrapped the states, increasing Canberra’s clout would be a backward step

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Weekend reflections

January 20th, 2017 1 comment

After a long break, it’s time for another weekend reflections, which makes space for longer than usual comments on any topic. Side discussions to sandpits, please. Absolutely no personal criticism of other commenters.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

The LNP-ONP coalition heading for a train wreck?

January 16th, 2017 25 comments

With a Queensland election due in the next 12 months and the usual journalistic speculation about an early election, the LNP will soon be faced with the decision of whether to formalise its coalition with the ONP. At a minimum, that would mean an exchange of preferences. But, given that the LNP doesn’t look like winning a majority in its own right it will be difficult to avoid the question of a possible coalition government. I’ll offer the LNP the unsolicited advice that it would be better, both morally and in terms of long-term self-interest to lose honorably than to win with Hanson.

Read more…

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Monday Message Board

January 16th, 2017 32 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:

Sandpit

January 16th, 2017 9 comments

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

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Jobs, robots and self-driving vehicles

January 15th, 2017 30 comments

Lately I’ve been reading Tim Dunlop’s excellent book Why the future is workless , and thinking about the issues it raises, particularly in the light of the prospect of autonomous vehicles and other transport technologies. Tim raises the obvious question: what will happen to people who currently drive for a living, and the broader issue of whether any kind of work will survive the process of automation.

Read more…

The Australian’s clean coal magic trick

January 10th, 2017 26 comments

A day after my post pointing out the failure of CCS, the Oz has a piece by Nathan Vass of the Australian Power Project (which appears to be a solo effort), claiming that it’s finally on the way. My response is in Crikey, with the title above.

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

The IT revolution comes to transport

January 8th, 2017 84 comments

One of the striking features of technological progress over the past fifty years or so has been that of incredibly rapid progress in information and communications technology, combined with near-stasis in most other sectors. Here’s what I wrote on the topic in 2003, and could have reposted, essentially unchanged, a decade later

On most of the obvious measures, technological progress in transport stopped sometime in the late 1960s and, at the frontiers, we are now seeing retrogression.

In 1970, we had regular visits to the moon, and supersonic passenger flight via Concorde was on the way. Now we have neither. Even the space shuttle, designed as a low-cost “space truck” to replace the expensive moon program, is now headed for oblivion, with no obvious replacement.

At a more prosaic level, the 747 jumbo jet, introduced in the late 1960s, is still the workhorse of passenger air transport. Boeing’s attempts at producing a new generation of passenger planes have failed, and the likely replacement for the jumbo jet is the Airbus A380 – essentially just a double-decker jumbo. In all probability, this will be the standard for the next thirty or even fifty years. Of course we don’t have flying cars, or even personal helicopters, as most projections from 50 years ago supposed.

Quite suddenly, this looks out of date. Electric cars, drones and, most significantly, self-driving vehicles have been transformed from curiosities (or, in the case of drones, military hardware with no apparent positive value to humanity) to the likely transport technologies of the near future.

There have been quite a few thinkpieces about these topics, particularly self-driving vehicles, but nothing I’ve seen has been really satisfactory to me. The central focus has been on the challenge of introducing imperfect self-driving vehicles to our current road network. But if we’ve learned anything from the last fifty years (from electronic watches to desktop publishing to digital cameras) it’s that, whatever the initial limitations, a technology that’s been digitised will inevitably improve to the point where it outperforms the analog competition on just about every dimension.

So, it’s safe to predict that, quite soon, self-driving vehicles will be safer and more reliable than all but the best human drivers, and cheaper than vehicles designed for human control. That raises some obvious questions

* what will vehicles be like once the design constraints imposed by the need for a human driver are no longer relevant;

and, more importantly,

* if unskilled or careless human drivers are more dangerous to fellow road users and pedestrians than self-driving vehicles, should they be allowed to drive at all?

To spell out the second point a bit further, if self-driving vehicles are readily available and affordable (and particularly if self-driving technology can be retrofitted to existing vehicles), there’s no argument from the necessity of personal mobility to give speeders and drunk drivers multiple chances to kill other road users. The fact that these people might enjoy driving themselves is scarcely relevant. In fact, to the extent that enjoyable driving is dangerous driving (and, in my limited experience, it mostly is), it’s an argument against allowing it.

Just writing this, I can imagine the ferocity of the responses. I suspect that policies on self-driving cars will turn out to be a long-running front in the endless culture wars in which we seem to be permanently enmeshed.

There’s a lot more to think about here, but that’s enough to be going on with.

Categories: Life in General Tags:

Health policy: Excerpt from Economics in Two Lessons

January 8th, 2017 14 comments

Another excerpt from my book-in-progress, Economics in Two Lessons (partial draft here). As usual, praise is welcome, useful criticism even more so.

Read more…

Categories: Economics in Two Lessons Tags:

Clean coal

January 7th, 2017 18 comments

The most plausible argument put forward by opponents of immediate action to mitigate global warming is that some form of ‘clean coal’ technology will emerge that will obviate any need for costly changes in our current way of doing things.

The term ‘clean coal’ is sometimes used to refer to ‘ultra-supercritical’ or ‘high efficiency, low emissions’ (HELE) coal-fired power stations. Despite these impressive sounding description, HELE plants provide only a 30 to 40 per cent reduction in emissions relative to standard coal-fired power plants. They aren’t as clean as gas-fired fossil fuel plants, let alone renewables (or nuclear power, though this isn’t a viable solution for other reasons).

‘Clean coal’ is also used to refer to the idea of ‘carbon capture and storage’, (CCS) in which the carbon dioxide produced in coal-fired power stations would be captured before being emitted into the atmosphere, then pumped into underground storage, or captured through ‘biosequestration’ into products such as biochar.

CCS was an appealing idea for a coal producing country like Australia. Enthusiasm for the idea led to the establishment of the Global CCS Institute in Melbourne. However, the Institute’s own website shows that CCS is not a viable option. After decades of work, there is exactly one operational power plant using CCS, the Boundary Dam project in Canada. Two more, both deeply troubled, are under construction in the United States.

Even if all the coal-fired CCS power plant projects anywhere in the world that are listed by the Institute as possibly happening by 2030 are included, the total amount of CO2 captured would be less than 20 million tonnes a year. That’s about what Australia generates in two weeks.

To sum up, what’s usually called ‘clean coal’ isn’t clean. The real thing, cost-effective coal-fired power stations with CCS, is never going to happen.

Categories: Environment Tags:

Windyware

January 6th, 2017 15 comments

In the computer business, the term “vaporware” refers to products that are announced, described in glossy brochures, and even offered for sale, but never actually delivered.

A similar term is certainly needed for books. My own book-in-progress, Economics in Two Lessons is years behind schedule, but a first draft is, at least, in sight.

The prize, in this respect, must surely go to Keith Windschuttle. His Fabrication of Australian History: Volume I, released in 2002, made a big splash This was not so much because of the contents (some quibbles over footnotes, along with a lawyerly attempt to blame Tasmanian indigenous people for their own disastrous fate). Rather, it was the promise of future volumes II and III, on a yearly schedule. Volume II, in particular, was supposed to be in advanced state of preparation and would refute Henry Reynolds’ work on the violence of the Queensland frontier. Volume III was to do the same for WA.

Year followed year, and nothing appeared. Windschuttle got a number of gigs on the strength of his promises, notably including a seat on the ABC Board and the editorship of Quadrant. He also turned out a book on White Australia and then, confusingly, a Volume III of Fabrication, which was not the promised WA volume, but a rehash of the rightwing side of the Stolen Generations debate. He then promised a Volume II, for 2015, which of course has not appeared.

In all the time since 2002, as far as I can tell, he hasn’t released so much as a magazine article backing up his claims about WA and Queensland. I doubt that this can be simple laziness. More likely, he started the research and realised that the evidence wasn’t going his way. Rather than act like the objective historians he claims to admire, and report the facts, he strung along his fellow-believers in the inherent goodness of British civilization with promises that, Real Soon Now, he would come up the facts to refute those nasty leftists.

I was going to let sleeping dogs lie, but Windschuttle has appeared with another new book, this time attacking constitutional recognition of indigenous Australians. So, in honour of the non-appearance of the book that was going to set the historians straight, I propose the term “Windyware” for all such non-books.

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Market Failure and Income Distribution: Notes for Economics in Two Lessons

January 5th, 2017 10 comments

For quite a while now, I’ve been working through my book-in-progress, Economics in Two Lessons (partial draft here), focusing on applications of Lesson 2

Lesson 2: Market prices don’t reflect all the opportunity costs we face as a society.

Thinking about the standard market failures (monopoly, externality and so on), I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to say more about the interaction between market failure and income distribution. I’ve already looked at the opportunity costs involved in income redistribution and predistribution, but different kinds of questions are coming up in relation to issues like monopoly, privatisation and for-profit provision of public services.

The discussion here and at Crooked Timber has been very helpful in stimulating my thoughts, but I need to do a lot more clarification. Some preliminary thoughts are over the fold: comments and criticism much appreciated.

Read more…

Categories: Economics in Two Lessons Tags:

Open thread

January 5th, 2017 12 comments

An open thread until I get around to posting again.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Sandpit

January 5th, 2017 1 comment

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

Categories: Regular Features Tags: