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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.

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Sandpit

February 20th, 2017 6 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 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:

My letter to Paul Offit (updated)

February 16th, 2017 5 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

Update 21/2/17: I received a fairly terse reply to this email, reiterating a number of spurious claims about Carson. My email in response went unanswered, as did a followup. This is disappointing, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in 15 years of blogging it’s that changing anybody’s mind is very difficult. I’ve done my best to apply this lesson to myself and be more open to new evidence – long term readers can judge if that’s been successful.

Categories: Science Tags:

A double disaster for science and public health

February 16th, 2017 31 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.

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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: