Peter Dutton’s attempts to promote an “uprising” in support of Christmas, and against “political correctness gone mad” are un-Australian in all sorts of ways, but most obviously in the stunning cultural cringe they reflect. He’s borrowed the catchphrase of a British tabloid in an attempt to import a US culture war campaign that has been going on so long it’s a Christmas tradition in itself (I observed that it was old stuff, back in 2004). This guy is the best the Trumpist faction of the LNP/ON can come up with?
I’ve just done an interview with Channel 10, about cost blowouts on the infrastructure projects supposedly funded by Mike Baird’s asset sales program. I made the point that such blowouts are more likely when projects are funded from special pots of money rather that avoid normal processes of budget assessment.
More tiresomely, I repeated a point that I have been making for 20 years, and that (as far as I know) every economist in Australia agrees with. Selling income generating assets does not provide any additional capacity to invest in non-income earning assets such as (untolled) roads, schools and hospitals Exactly this point was made by the Secretary of the NSW Treasury in relation to PPPs back in the 1990s (I’ll dig out a link).
Despite this nonsense idea being refuted over and over again, it continues to be believed by politicians of both parties and to get a free ride from our economically illiterate press, most notably (since it ought to do better) the Financial Review.
I’ve given up hoping that this will change. Fortunately, privatisation is so politically toxic that justice is usually served in the end.
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.
Among other interesting results, the recent election gave a Senate seat to One Nation member Malcolm Roberts. Roberts is notable for his expressed belief that global warming is a fraud produced by a global conspiracy of bankers seeking to establish a worldwide government through the United Nations.
Unsurprisingly, Roberts has copped a lot of flak for these statements. But his position seems to me to be more credible than that of the average “sceptic”.
For a generation (fifteen years) or more I’ve been writing and rewriting the same piece about the silliness of the “generation game”, the idea that one’s year of birth matters more than class, gender or race in determining life outcomes and attitudes. But this is a zombie idea that can never be killed.
Stephen Rattner in the New York Times is the latest example, with a piece showing that US Millennials (those born after 1980) are doing much worse than previous generations at the same age, despite higher levels of education. Rattner notes the role of the recession, now nearly a decade old, but then jumps to the conclusion that it is the Baby Boomers, as a group, who are to blame. His only evidence for this is the long-discredited claim of a looming crisis in Social Security.
Rattner doesn’t present any evidence about the recent experience of non-Millennials, but his piece leaves the impression that the experience of doing worse than older cohorts at the same age is uniquely Millennial. So I thought I’d do his work for him, and dug out this graph prepared by Doug Short As can be seen, the group suffering the biggest loss, relative to older cohorts at the same age, are those households with heads aged 45-54 in 2013, a mix of late Boomers (for aficianados, this group is called Generation Jones) and early X-ers. But the main point is that median household income is falling for all groups except the 65+ cohort (mostly called Silents in the generation game). Part of this is due to declining household size, but (IIRC) household size has stabilized recently as forming a new household has become less affordable.
Rattner doesn’t mention, even once, the obvious and well-known explanation for the fact that median income is falling while mean income rises. This can only occur if the distribution of income is becoming more skewed, with the top tail (the 1 per cent) benefiting at the expense of everyone else.
Chris Berrtram at Crooked Timber has already pointed out the failure of the core European institutions in their response to the global financial crisis. One excuse that can be made for these institutions is that they are still in the process of development, and were ill-prepared, intellectually and institutionally, for an event so far outside their experience. The ECB and EC developed in a period when controlling inflation and stabilizing government debt were the key imperatives, and they responded to the crisis accordingly.
No such excuse can be made for the third member of the Troika, the International Monetary Fund. The IMF has understood from the start that the austerity policies it has imposed are economically unsound and a repetition of past failures. And yet it has been unwilling and unable to do anything else.
Amid the abandonment of tariff protection and the continued assaults on trade unionism, one union/lobby group has been consistently victorious. The Pharmacy Guild has managed to restrict competition so successfully that it’s impossible to open a pharmacy if it might hurt the profitability of an existing business, even if that business is failing to serve a significant group of customers. I ran into an example when I was at James Cook University in Townsville. A request for an on-campus pharmacy was rejected because it was within the market area claimed by a suburban pharmacy, more than a kilometre away and inaccessible by public transport.
Far more important to the Guild is the imperative of keeping supermarkets out of the pharmacy business. The key argument is that supermarkets are just businesses, happy to sell anything to make a buck, whether it’s cigarettes or cancer medications.
So, I was interested to read the Guild’s reaction to a proposal that medical professionals should stop prescribing homeopathic products. Whatever you might think about alternative/complementary medicines in general, homoepathy is plain quackery, combining a magical theory of medicine with the preposterous physics of water memory. Unsurprisingly, research has proved beyond any doubt that it’s no better than a placebo. So, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has formally recommended GPs stop prescribing homeopathic remedies and says pharmacists must also stop stocking such products.
The Guild’s reaction:
it is not a regulatory authority, and as such there will be no recommendation backing RACGP’s call for homeopathic products to be taken off the market.
In other words, selling medicine in the same shop as alcohol is unthinkable, but it’s entirely OK for a health professional to promote and sell water as a treatment for serious illness.
This episode demonstrates, to anyone who cares to look, that the Pharmacy Guild is (and in fact claims to be) nothing more than a rent-seeking lobby group, whose sole concern is the profitability of its members. As the Tobacco Institute of Australia would be quick to point out (if it were still around), there’s nothing illegal about that. But when profits and public health come into conflict, the Guild and the Institute are on the same side.
I have a piece in today’s Guardian, written before the release of the Intergenerational Report and making the case that the intergenerational equity problem, as it was conceived in the 1980s and 1990s has already been resolved. Key quote
The resolution of the intergenerational fiscal problem was a major public policy achievement of the reform era of the 1980s and 1990s. But a political class still fixated on the most ideological version of the reform agenda, in which cutting public spending is desirable in and out of season has refused to drop the club of intergenerational equity. The idea that (very modest) budget deficits and public debt levels constitute “robbing our children” remains a staple in calls for “reform”.
Having seen the IGR, there’s a single statistical choice that shows the entire exercise to be worthless. The key issue in all this is whether changes in our demographic structure will create an unreasonable fiscal burden. The Report chooses to summarise this by reference to what it calls the “dependency ratio”, defined as the ratio of people aged over 65 to those aged 15-64.
In what kind of world would this make sense? Essentially, one in which
* Children aged 14 and under cost nothing to raise and required no public expenditure on schools, daycare etc
* Children leave school at 15. After this, they not only support themselves, but contribute to the support of those over 65
* People retire become eligible for age pensions at 65
I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, and Paul Krugman has given me a nice jumping off point with this column on how to respond to economists (including highly credentialled ones) who push zombie ideas such as the threat of imminent hyperinflation. As Krugman notes, providing evidence-based criticism, whether politely or rudely, has no impact on people who have strong reasons for wanting to believe something. This is even more true on topics like climate change than it is on economics.
Some recent statements by Chris Christie and Rand Paul[^1] have raised the prospect that vaccination, or, more precisely, policies that impose costs on parents who don’t vaccinate their kids, may become a partisan issue, with Republicans on the anti-vax (or, if you prefer, pro-freedom) side and Democrats pushing a pro-vaccine, pro-science line. Christie and Paul took a lot of flak from other Republicans and even Fox News, and tried to walk their statements back, so it seems as if it won’t happen just yet.
But there are some obvious reasons to think that such a divide might emerge in the future, and that Christie and Paul just jumped the gun. The outline of the debate can be seen in the ferocious response to Reason magazine’s endorsement of mandatory vaccination. And, while Reason was on the right side this time, they’ve continually cherrypicked the evidence on climate change and other issues to try to bring reality in line with libertarian wishes.
The logic of the issue is pretty much identical to that of climate change, gun control, and other policies disliked by the Republican/schmibertarian base. People want to be free to do as they please, even when there’s an obvious risk to others and don’t want to hear experts pointing out those risks.[^2] So, they find bogus experts who will tell them what they want to hear, or announce that they are “skeptics” who will make up their own minds. An obvious illustration of the parallels is this anti-vax piece in the Huffington Post by Lawrence Solomon, rightwing author of The Deniers, a supportive account of climate denial[^3].
As long as libertarians and Republicans continue to embrace conspiracy theories on issues like climate science, taking a pro-science viewpoint on vaccination just makes them “cafeteria crazy”. The consistent anti-science position of people like Solomon is, at least intellectually, more attractive.
Note Another issue that fits the same frame is speeding. Anti-science ibertarians in Australia and the UK are strongly pro-speeding, but I get the impression that this isn’t such a partisan issue in the US, the reverse of the usual pattern where tribalist patterns are strongest in the US.
[^1]: Christie was just pandering clumsily, but Paul’s statement reflects the dominance of anti-vax views among his base and that of his father (take a look at dailypaul.com).
[^2]: Of course, the situation is totally different in cases like Ebola and (non-rightwing) terrorism, where it’s the “others” who pose the risk.
[^3]: The Huffington Post used to be full of leftish anti-vaxers. But the criticisms of Seth Mnookin and others produced a big shift – Solomon’s was the only recent example I could find. Similarly, having given equivocal statements back in 2008, Obama and Clinton are now firmly on the pro-vaccine side.
Following up on my earlier piece about anti-vaxer Sherri Tenpenny, I’m pleased to report that all the commercial venues that were booked for her potentially lucrative “seminars” have cancelled. It appears the bookings were made by her Australian contact, pro-disease advocate Stephanie Messenger, under the name of a bogus anti-SIDS charity. Apparently, charges of to $200 a head were proposed.
What free speech issues arise here? As I argued previously, I don’t support a ban on Tenpenny visiting Australia, and having come here, she should be free to organize and address public meetings, open to anyone to attend (and heckle!). But there’s no reason to permit her to make money out of her evil lies. As regards potential venues, if they take her money, they are complicit in her activities.
It’s worth observing that this balance only works if there is a substantial public sphere in which freedom of expression is guaranteed, leaving private businesses to make their own choices on matters like venue hire. The privatised world favored by propertarians is one in which freedom of speech and thought is subordinated to the rights of property owners. In the US, for example, the absolutist opposition to government restrictions on free speech goes hand in hand with the right of employers and landlords to sack or evict anyone whose opinions (or even abstinence from favored political organizations) they don’t like.
Our fact challenged Treasurer, Joe Hockey raised some eyebrows when he suggested that we need to reform Medicare because children born today might live to 150. He got some support from University of New South Wales faculty of medicine dean Peter Smith, who cited the increase in life expectancy over the last century, from 55/59 (for men and women respectively) in 1910 to 80/84 today.
There’s an apparent paradox here: If life expectancy is 80/84 years today, how can a newborn child expect to live 150 years. The answer is that “life expectancy” is nothing of the sort. It’s the average age at death if current age-specific mortality rates remain unchanged. On average, people born in 1910 actually lived well beyond their “life expectancy” because death rates fell through their lifetime. So, if medical progress continues, people born today may live, on average, well past 80/84.
But how much more? Unfortunately, on past indications, not much more. Most of the 20th century extension of life expectancy came from a reduction in death rates for the young. A 65-year old in 1910 could expect to live to 76/78 (since death rates don’t change much over a decade, that’s an actual expectation not just a statistical construct). Today, that’s increased to 84/87, from 11/13 years of extra life to 19/22. For Hockey to be right, over the next 100 years or so, the conditional expectancy has to rise five-fold, to 85 years. The basis for all this, it seems, is a 2011 press release of the kind we see every week or two announcing a breakthrough that might, perhaps, lead to a cure for this or that disease.
But even in the unlikely event that this extension of life occurs, what possible relevance could it have to the amount we should pay for medical care today? Even under current rules (which would certainly change with extended life expectancy) Hockey’s hypothetical Methuselah wouldn’t be eligible for the age pension until 2085 and (given the anti-aging breakthrough he hypothesises) wouldn’t seriously burden the health care system until well into the 22nd century. Coming from a government that dismisses concerns about climate change as a problem for the indefinite future, this solicitude for Treasurers yet unborn seems misplaced.
Update Via Twitter, I discover that the source of Hockey’s claim is someone called Aubry de Grey, who is obviously in the tradition of wealthy British eccentrics, with his own foundation, journal and so on; a much more appealing instance of this kind of thing than Lord Monckton, but still not to be taken seriously.
Further update Defending Hockey’s silliness, Mark Kenny makes the point that what Hockey actually said (restating de Grey) was that it is “remarkable that somewhere in the world today, it is highly probable, a child has been born who will live to be 150”. This shift from mean to maximum helps the demographic plausibility of Hockey’s case, but only marginally (we still need an advance of nearly 30 years on 122, the longest lifespan ever recorded), but it makes the argument even weaker. Suppose that some child in, say, China is going to live to 150. What possible impact can that have on our health system. More generally, what can it matter to the budget if a handful of people live very long lives. It’s the average (measured by numbers like life expectancy at 65) that matters. As an indication of the minuscule scale of the fiscal problem posed by those with very long lives, there are currently only about 4250 Australians aged over 100, amounting to about 0.02 per cent of our population.
Yet further update It’s worth pointing out that, with pension age eligibility rising from 65/60 when the age pension was introduced around 1910 to 70/70 by 2035, men will have lost half of the extra retirement years gained from higher life expectancy and women the whole gain. The big problem we face is underemployment of prime-age workers, not the fact that we aren’t dying early enough.
I was at the gym just now and they had a rerun of a Catalyst story from October on the alleged climate change pause, presented by Anja Taylor. It was appalling. It started off correctly attributing the 1998 peak in warming to El Nino (with a shot of Richard Morecroft).
Next there was an unnamed speaker, suggesting that this presaged a permanent El Nino . This obvious straw man (it’s called the Southern Oscillation because it’s cyclical) was presented as if it represented the view of mainstream science, but the transcript attributes it to “reporter”. Clearly, Taylor was unable to get any vision of an actual scientist making this claim.
Next, four denialists (Monckton, Paltridge, Newman and Curry) and an editorial intervention from Taylor asserting the “pause” as a reality, with some super-shoddy graphs. Then a flashback to Climategate.
After this setup, things got gradually better. Some real scientists were brought on, and we eventually reached the conclusion “All things considered, there’s been no global warming pause”. But anyone watching the program would conclude that the sceptics had a pretty strong case.
The problem is that this kind of “teach the controversy” approach is utterly inappropriate for a TV science program. In this case, the problem is (as the program admits) that the majority of the time is given to a view held by a tiny minority of scientists, so few that Taylor had to give air time to two non-scientists and one who has gone emeritus. But even on a topic where scientists are actually divided, a 15-minute TV segment isn’t going to help clarify the issues.
Unfortunately, this kind of thing is typical of Catalyst nowadays. I used to think it was just Maryanne Demasi, but obviously the producers want to present “he said, she said” controversy. It’s time for the ABC to pull the plug.
In the light of the appalling vandalism undertaken by Greenpeace at Nazca in Peru, I thought I would repost this piece from 2011, published as Greenpeace, an enemy of science. I note that, as in the previous instance, those involved did not turn themselves in. In this case, they have apparently fled the country.
Greenpeace, an enemy of science
Tim Lambert comments on Greenpeace sabotage of a CSIRO experiment on GM crops. Sadly, Greenpeace has become an openly anti-science organisation.
I agree with everything Tim says, but I’d add something more on the politics of this action. This kind of criminal vandalism, in the “right” cause, appeals to the juvenile instincts that nearly all of us retain to some extent, but it has repeatedly proved disastrous for the left, and the environmental movement. It’s worth comparing this kind of action to civil disobedience protests, where people put themselves on the line and openly invite arrest. If these guys had any desire to promote genuine debate they would turn themselves in and defend their actions in open court.
Given the embrace of anti-science and anti-rational views by the political right, it is important that the left and the environmental movement should dissociate themselves entirely from this kind of action. It will be a long time before Greenpeace can regain my support, if they ever do.
Since we’re on the topic of appalling and bizarre things said by rightwingers, here’s a US entry, from this morning’s inbox, with the headline above. It’s from the Foundation for Government Accountability, a Florida thinktank closely linked to ALEC (it also has some overlap with Cato and the State Policy Network).
The “argument” is that the expansion gives health care to poor people “many of whom (35 percent) with a record of run-ins with the criminal justice system”. This is illustrated with a “light-hearted” YouTube cartoon of convicts (riding in Cadillacs, naturally) pushing old ladies out of the line to get into the luxurious health care club that is Medicaid.
Given the catchy use of percentages (the 35 per cent figure is applicable to any assistance given to the poor), we can expect to see this one resurface in the Repub memepond on a regular basis. Paging Mitt Romney.
The Oz has been running a string of articles accusing the Bureau of Meteorology of a conspiracy to falsify temperature data to promote the theory of global warming. The latest (no link) is by Maurice Newman, chair of the Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Council.
The ultimate source of this nonsense is Jennifer Marohasy, formerly a Senior Fellow at the IPA, well known to long term readers here. She has pushed all kinds of anti-science nonsense on her blog, even running to attacks on the Big Bang theory. Her material got so crazy that even the IPA had to let her go.
Newman’s tinfoil hat antics have attracted a lot of attention and criticism, given his prominent role in advising the Abbott government. It’s obvious enough that this kind of delusional thinking can’t be confined to one topic.
The problem is that this kind of lunacy is the rule, not the exception on the political right, and particularly in the Newman demographic (conservative older males). The more “hardheaded” they imagine themselves to be, the more prone they are to idiotic self-delusion. Examples such as Nick Minchin, Alan Oxley, Don Aitkin, Peter Walsh, and Dick Warburton come to mind .
In fact, I can’t immediately think of anyone fitting this profile (60+ politically active conservative male) who isn’t a member of the tinfoil hat brigade. It’s little wonder that the Abbott government is so disconnected from economic reality, when its thinking is informed by people like this.
Despite my attempts at zombie-slaying, the myth that Rachel Carson advocated and caused a worldwide ban on DDT, leading to the deaths of millions, keeps being reanimated. I came across an example that is interesting mainly because of its provenenance. It’s by Henry I Miller of the Hoover Institute and Gregory Conko of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. CEI is hack central, so nothing it produces ought to surprise anyone. But Hoover boasts a Who’s Who of (what remains of) the right wing intellectual apparatus: Hnery Kissinger, Condi Rice, John Taylor and Harvey Mansfield, among many others. And Miller was apparently ” founding director of the FDA’s Office of Biotechnology”. So, the fact he can run this kind of thing is good evidence of total intellectual collapse on the right.
The two main authorities cited by Miller and Conko in their critique of Carson are “San Jose State University entomologist J. Gordon Edwards” author of “The Lies of Rachel Carson” and “Professor Robert H. White-Stevens, an agriculturist and biology professor at Rutgers University”. Unfortunately, Miller and Conko don’t reveal that Edwards’ piece was published (like much of his work on environmental issues) in the LaRouchite journal “21st Century News”. And, while describing White-Stevens academic affiliation (dating to the 1950s as far as I can tell), they don’t inform readers of the more relevant fact that, when he offered a patronising critique of “Miss Carson’s ideas”, he was a spokesman for American Cyanamid. That’s right: as refutation of Rachel Carson in 2012, this Hoover Institute Fellow is offering the PR put by a pesticide company in the 1960s, along with a screed by a far-right loony.
I suspect the reason these facts weren’t revealed is that Miller and Conko weren’t aware of them. Their piece looks to have been cobbled together from various bits of flotsam in the rightwing blogosphere.
I’d be interested to see if any of the rightwing luminaries associated with the Hoover Institute is willing either to criticise or endorse this piece. My guess is that tribal solidarity will preclude the former and residual intelligence the latter.
A while ago, the Chicago-based Heartland Institute, a conservative/libertarian/denialist thinktank, got into a lot of trouble by putting up billboards with pictures of people like the Unabomber who, Heartland claimed, were climate change believers. A lot of corporate sponsorships got pulled, and Heartland’s insurance research group broke away en masse to form a new, non-denialist group, the R Street Institute.
The Institute of Public Affairs is Australia’s Heartland. Not only does it share the same positions (anti-science on tobacco, climate change and the environment, pro-corporate hackery and so on) there are close organizational ties. The IPA promotes Heartland events like its annual climate change denial conference (a bit more on this over the fold), and IPA Fellows such as Bob Carter have joint affiliations with Heartland.
And, lately, the IPA has run into its own version of the billboard scandal. Not long ago, IPA fellow Aaron Lane (former president of the Victorian young Libs) whose IPA output consisted mostly of low-grade attacks on unions and workers, was a Liberal party candidate in the Victorian state election. Lane was dumped, and lost his IPA gig, when he was found to have posted a string of homophobic and sexist tweets. A much bigger blow was the sacking of longtime Director of the IPA Deregulation Unit Alan Moran, over a string of tweets, of which the most damaging was one saying “Is there ever anything but evil coming from Islam”.
Quite a few interesting points arise here.
The website of the Group of Eight long-established universities has a section devoted to “Leaders Statements” supporting the Abbott government’s university reform program. It’s a pretty depressing read. Not only are our leaders going in a direction that almost no-one in the sector wants to follow, but the quality of their arguments is depressingly mediocre. It’s a sad reflection on the university sector if this group is the best we can come up with to lead us.
First, there’s executive director Michael Gallagher (a longtime education bureaucrat rather than a former academic). His boilerplate advocacy of microeconomic reform reads as if he hasn’t had a new idea in 20 years. Most notably, he’s still beating the drum for the discredited for-profit model of the University of Phoenix. After giving the most glancing acknowledgement of the scandals that have exposed Phoenix as a machine for ripping off federal grants, he says
The important policy point is not about individual providers but about the directions of change that pioneering providers indicate for the future through their successes and failures. The thing about the US enterprise culture, unlike Australia’s, is a willingness to accept learning from failure as a step to success.
I thought we’d got over this “succeeding by failing” stuff back at the time of the dotcom bubble.
Then we have Warren Bebbington of the University of Adelaide who asserts
in a competitive environment, some fees will go up and some down. Students will have a range of choice they have never had before
Seriously? If Bebbington really believes this, I have a perpetual motion machine to sell him. His Go8 colleague, Ian Young was much more honest when he said that the Go8 institutions will not only raise fees across the board but will use the resulting financial freedom to cut intakes and offer smaller classes. That is, students will face both higher prices and less choice.
But the prize for embarrassment must surely go to the University of Western Australia whose Vice-Chancellor, Paul Johnson, asserts
“Government does not decide what businesses can charge for a loaf of bread, a litre of milk or any other product or service. Why should universities be any different?”
Apparently Professor Johnson has never heard of the Economic Regulatory Authority of Western Australia which, like its counterparts at state and federal level regulates the prices of a wide range of products and services, for a wide range of very good reasons. This is a level of argument which would be lame even for a random rightwing blogger.
Unfortunately, there is nothing new in this. Back in the 1990s, Alan Gilbert of Melbourne was pushing the Phoenix model and asserting that traditional academics were “handloom weavers” doomed to extinction. Among his many achievements was the $50-100 million or so wasted on U21Global, Melbourne University Private and similar initiatives. Before his unfortunate brush with plagiarism, David Robinson touted Monash as “the world’s first global university”, launching a series of overseas campuses that rapidly turned into money pits. At CQU, Lauchlan Chipman pioneered the use of universities as devices to rort Australia’s immigration system, with expensive central city campuses devoted entirely to overseas students majoring in Permanent Residency, while the domestic students in Rockhampton got nothing. The same advisors who pushed these disasters, along with likeminded successors, are driving education policy today.
fn1. I’ve given up using scare quotes around “reform”. Reform is just change of form, and there’s no reason to expect it will be beneficial.
I wrote not long ago about the zombie idea that the US ban on agricultural use of DDT, enacted in 1972, somehow caused millions of people elsewhere in the world (where DDT remains available for anti-malaria programs) to die of malaria. A thorough refutation is now available to anyone who cares to look at Wikipedia, but the notion remains lurking in the Republican hindbrain.
So, with the recent outbreak of Ebola fever (transmitted between humans by direct contact and bodily fluids), the free-association process that passes for thought in Republican circles went straight from “sick people in Africa” to “DDT”. Ron Paul was onto the case early, with stupid remarks that were distilled into even purer stupidity in a press release put out by his organization. Next up, Diana Furchgott-Roth, of the Manhattan Institute.
And here’s the American Council on Smoking and Health.
I’m a bit late joining the pile-on to Joe Hockey for his silly claim that poor people won’t be hit by fuel excise because they don’t drive (or not as much). Obviously, that’s true of just about every tax you can think of: poor people, earn less, spend less and therefore pay less tax. The big question, as the Australia Institute and others have pointed out, is how much people pay as a proportion of income. Food and fuel represent a larger than average share of spending for low-income households, so taxes on these items are more regressive than broad-based consumption taxes like the GST which in turn are regressive compared to income tax.
But there’s a more fundamental problem with the ABS Household Expenditure survey data cited by Hockey to defend his claim. In the tables he used, the ABS sorts households by income, with no adjustment for the number of people in the household (the ABS also provides “equivalised” figures, which adjust for household size). To quote the ABS
This difference in expenditure is partly a consequence of household size: households in the lowest quintile contain on average 1.5 persons, compared to 3.4 persons in households in the highest quintile. Lone person households make up 63% of households in the lowest quintile.
This makes a big difference to the figures quoted by Hockey, that top-quintile households spend $53 a week on fuel, and bottom quintile households only $16.
Comparing expenditure per person, the top quintile spends $16 per person and the bottom quintile $11 – a very small difference. Of course, the income figures need adjusting also, but here the difference remains huge. Income per person in the top quintile is about 5 times that in the bottom. And Hockey’s argument would look even worse if the ABS sorted households by income.
This is the kind of mistake that’s easy enough for an individual politician to make, but Hockey has the entire resources of the Treasury at his disposal. If he’d asked them before making his bizarre claim, I’m sure Treasury officials would have warned him off. As it is, they have had to provide him with the statistics most favorable to his claim and watch him get shot down.
Still, it was good enough to fool Andrew Bolt.
The Abbott government has reached the stage where it can’t take a trick, even with things that ought to be surefire winners for a conservative government. We saw this not long ago with the attack on dole bludgers. And it’s emerged again with the attempt to cover the retreat on Section 18C with new anti-terror measures (or, in the government’s telling the dumping of 18C to secure support for the anti-terror measures).
After the Brandis fiasco, the government wheeled out the chiefs of ASIO and the AFP to explain that there was nothing to worry about: police were already storing and searching our metadata on a massive scale (300 000 requests last year) and just wanted to ensure this continued.
Unfortunately, the environment has changed since the revelations made by Edward Snowden and others on the extensive (and, in aspiration, total) surveillance of communications by the US NSA. It seems likely that the end result of this will be a rolling back of the extreme surveillance powers grabbed by the authorities over the last decade.
And, while I’m at it, can we stop talking as if we are facing a massive existential crisis because of the threat of terrorism. For most of the 20th century we were threatened with invasion or nuclear annihilation, and we managed to maintain our liberties. We should do the same this time.
Most people misrepresented by the tabloid press have little recourse. Defamation actions are slow, risky and don’t in any case produce a proper retraction. The Press Council and similar bodies are self-defence clubs for the media. And letters to the editor are a waste of time, if they are printed at all.
But if you’re a major celebrity like George Clooney, your response is newsworthy. After the Mail Online published a false claim about his impending marriage, followed by a weaselly apology, Clooney called them out, making it clear that this website (and its associated print version ) have the same degree of credibility as the National Inquirer and similar rags.
Of course, anyone who was paying attention already knew that. The Daily Mail runs all kinds of nonsense, from baseless gossip about the famous, to anti-science on all kinds of topics, from antivaxerism to “Frankenfoods” nonsense about GM crops , to climate denialism.
My guess is that most readers are aware of this, much like followers of professional wrestling. They enjoy malicious/salacious gossip that panders to their prejudices. If some it is true, so much the better. If not, it’s still entertaining.
Only a fool would actually believe anything printed in this rag. But climate denialism makes fools out of its adherents, who have to believe a nonsense conspiracy theory to make any kind of sense of their position. So, it’s not so surprising that people who would correctly dismiss 90 per cent of what’s published in the Mail credulously reproduce what it prints on climate change.
The leading sucker in this respect is Andrew Bolt (unless he’s in on the joke, too in which case his readers are doubly suckered). But he’s followed by the usual suspects, notably including the Oz, Tim Blair and Miranda Devine.
fn1. Apparently the Mail tries to maintain a multiple branding model in which the print version is supposed to lie only occasionally while the online version lies all the time. I can’t see this working for long.
fn2. As previously discussed, there are plenty of serious issues around GM food. But the kind of nonsense implied by terms like “Frankenfoods” has been thoroughly debunked by now.
Over the fold, a piece a posted in Crooked Timber on the miserable position of the “Reformicons” – conservative writers who are trying to put some intellectual lipstick on the pig that is the Republican Party.
This isn’t a problem in Australia – there are, as far as I can tell, no intellectually serious conservatives left at all. The dominant thinktank is the IPA, a mirror of the US Heartland Foundation, which is utterly discredited, even on the right for its embrace of delusionism on everything from economic policy to climate change. Quadrant, once a serious publication, is now a sad joke.
And then there’s the Oz. Enough said.
I have a piece up at The Guardian looking at Hockey’s adaptation of the “47 per cent” line made famous by Mitt Romney. The focus is not so much on demolishing the claim (Greg Jericho did a more comprehensive job on this) but on the state of delusion that would allow Hockey to think that this kind of claim would be favorably received. After all, even Romney didn’t use the 47 per cent line in public: he was caught on video talking to rightwing donors.
Tony Abbott hasn’t exactly covered himself in glory on his overseas trip. But he has found one ally: Canadian PM (at least until next years election) Stephen Harper, also a climate denialist. They made a joint statement denouncing carbon taxes as “job killing”. I didn’t notice any massive destruction of jobs when the carbon price/tax was introduced in 2012, but rather than do my own analysis, I thought I’d take a look at the government’s own Budget outlook, to see how many jobs they claim to have been destroyed by the carbon tax, and what great benefits we can expect from its removal. Here’s the relevant section of the summary (note that the outlook is premised on the Budget measures being passed)
The Australian economy is in the midst of a major transformation, moving from growth led by investment in resources projects to broader?based drivers of activity in the non?resources sectors. This is occurring at a time when the economy has generally been growing below its trend rate and the unemployment rate has been rising. During this transition, the economy is expected to continue to grow slightly below trend and the unemployment rate is expected to rise further to 6¼ per cent by mid?2015.
In this environment, the Government is focused on implementing measures to support growth and jobs while putting in place lasting structural reforms to restore the nation’s finances to a sustainable footing. The timing and composition of the new policy decisions mean that the faster pace of consolidation in this Budget does not have a material impact on economic growth over the forecast period, relative to the 2013?14 Mid?Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO).
Since MYEFO, the near?term outlook for the household sector has improved. Leading indicators of dwelling investment are consistent with rising activity, while household consumption and retail trade outcomes have improved recently, consistent with gains in household wealth. This is partly offset by weaker business investment intentions, particularly for non?resources sectors.
The outlook for the resources sector is largely unchanged from MYEFO. Resources investment is still expected to detract significantly from growth through until at least 2015?16, as reflected in the outlook for investment in engineering construction which is forecast to decline by 13 per cent in 2014?15 and 20½ per cent in 2015?16. Rising resources exports are only expected to partially offset the impact on growth. Overall, real GDP is forecast to continue growing below trend at 2½ per cent in 2014?15, before accelerating to near?trend growth of 3 per cent in 2015?16.
The labour market has been subdued since late 2011, characterised by weak employment growth, a falling participation rate and a rising unemployment rate, although outcomes since the beginning of 2014 have been more positive. The unemployment rate is forecast to continue to edge higher, settling around 6¼ per cent, consistent with the outlook for real GDP growth. Consumer price inflation is expected to remain well contained, with moderate wage pressures and the removal of the carbon tax.
The reference to the CPI effects of the carbon price (around 0.4 per cent) is, as far as I can tell, the only mention in the whole of the Economic Outlook statement.
It’s been obvious for quite a few years that the Australian rightwing commentariat takes most of its ideas from the US Republican party. A more recent development is that they seem to be importing ideas that have already failed in their home country. I mentioned Voter ID recently. My Twitter feed has also been full of factoids along the lines “48 per cent of Australians pay no net tax”, being pushed by Miranda Devine and others. Obviously these are derived from the “47 per cent” line made famous by Mitt Romney in 2012 . We all know how that went for Romney, and of course we also know what’s wrong with the factoid. I’ll talk a bit more about the specifics over the fold, but it’s worth asking what’s going on here.
The most obvious point is that the Australian right hasn’t had any new ideas in 30 years or more. Everything in the recent Commission of Audit report (a more coherent version of the ideology reflected in a distorted fashion in Hockey’s Budget) could have been (and often was) taken from the 1996 version, and everything in the 1996 report could have been found in documents like Wolfgang Kasper’s Australia at the Crossroads published in 1980, and similar documents. Everything useful in this set of ideas was implemented decades ago: what remain are the items that are either permanently untouchable in political terms (eg road pricing) or unworkable for one reason or another (eg handing income tax back to the states).
So, it’s scarcely surprising that they need to import from abroad. But the US Republicans aren’t in any better state. Their big causes a decade ago were the culture war (primarily equal marriage which was seen as wedging the Democrats), climate denialism and the Global War on Terror, which was transmuted into the invasion of Iraq. Most of our current rightwing commentariat (Bolt, Blair, Devine etc) cut their teeth on this stuff, and have never really outgrown it.
The Repubs are now in a state of complete intellectual collapse, unable to produce a coherent position on anything, from immigration to health care to budget policy. They survive only on the basis of tribal hatred of Obama. Since that doesn’t sell well in Oz, the local right is forced to live on discredited failures like Voter ID and “
47 48 per cent of the population are takers”.
It’s the combination of tired economic rationalism and imported tribalism that makes the Abbott-Hockey such a mess, and the efforts of its remaining defenders so laughable.
Among the most unkillable of zombie ideas is the belief that governments can solve their fiscal problems by selling assets. What’s particularly surprising about this belief is that it is most strongly held by the kind of politician who likes to talk as if government and household budgets are exactly the same. But would anyone suggest to a household struggling to make ends meet that it would be a good idea to cash in the super, or sell the house and rent it back from the new owners, in order to pay off the credit card? The advice of course, would be to get your expenditure and income in line before addressing the debt problem.
I’ve written yet another paper making this point, which, along with my recent post on capital recycling, got a run from Paul Syvret in the Courier-Mail. Nothing new for those who’ve been paying attention, but, clearly, lots of people haven’t been.
The Institute of Public Affairs has long been a major source of anti-science climate denial, following naturally from its earlier role as the leading denier of the health risks of passive smoking. While intellectually disreputable, this aspect of the IPA’s output seemed not to pose a problem for its broader role as an advocate of market-oriented economic policies. Indeed, given the frequency with which free-market economics and anti-science nonsense on all sorts of issues go together, the two seemed like a comfortable fit.
Over time, however, major corporations have become more wary of being linked to climate denialism, with the result that the IPA has become increasingly dependent on wealthy private donors like Gina Rinehart and Rupert Murdoch, whose definition of “free market” appears to be “lots of free stuff for Gina and Rupert”. In particular, Rinehart and her front group Australians for Northern Development are pushing the federal government to offer a tax holiday for Northern Australia, where most of her business interests are located. The IPA has delivered in full for Gina, including
* Joint work with ANDEV pushing the case for massive tax expenditures
* Prominently announcing that Ms Rinehart, arguably Australia’s greatest corporate welfare queen, had received a “2012 Visionary CEO Award”.
To get a feel for the kind of nonsense the IPA is now espousing, listen to this interview with the head of ANDEV on RN Bush Telegraph. It’s a display of rent-seeking that would have been considered brazen back in the days of ‘protection all round’. Particularly absurd, and offensive, is the suggestion that an income tax holiday designed to attract lots of (non-indigenous) workers to Northern Australia will somehow benefit the indigenous community.
Of course, as long as Tony Abbott is in office, the fact that the IPA has lost all intellectual credibility won’t be a problem. But in the long run, the embrace of climate denial is exacting a high price for the IPA, as for US counterparts like Heartland.
fn1. I can’t find anything about this award on Google, except for an apparently unrelated gong given by a US outfit call qad.com. It appears to be an instance of the Montgomery Burns Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence, except that IIRC, Burns gave the award to Homer, not himself.
fn2. Compare Rinehart to Andrew Forrest, who at least makes efforts to employ indigenous people, and criticises Rinehart for not doing the same.
I’ve been working on a post about how to respond to commentators like Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt, and about the suggestion that they should simply be dismissed as clownish entertainers, to be ignored rather than criticised. But now that the Abbott government has turned into a clownshow (or maybe one of those medieval theatre restaurant shows) it’s hard to know what to do.