Nuclear starts stop

October 23rd, 2017 40 comments

A steady stream of negative evidence hasn’t shaken the faith of believers in nuclear energy. Many of them are under the impression that the failure of nuclear energy is specific to the developed world, where some combination of environmentalism and NIMBYism prevents the adoption of an obviously sensible solution. It is widely imagined that China, India and other countries are forging ahead. This idea was plausible until fairly recently, but the latest evidence suggests that nuclear power is in terminal decline. Globally, only four nuclear plants commenced construction between 1 January 2016 and 30 JUne 2017. China hasn’t started any new plants this year and is sure to miss the 58GW target set for 2020.

The problem, simply, is that while China’s problems with delays and cost overruns have been less severe than those in the developed world, the same patterns are evident. New nuclear plants simply can’t compete with renewables.

I don’t expect that this will have the slightest impact on the Australian and US right, who have long since ceased to regard evidence as relevant to anything. But, for anyone who is still open to evidence, this debate ought to be over.

Categories: Economics - General, Environment Tags:

Sandpit

October 23rd, 2017 6 comments

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

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Monday Message Board

October 23rd, 2017 11 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:

Judaeo-Christian

October 22nd, 2017 36 comments

My son Daniel pointed out to me a feature of Trump’s speech to the laughably named Values Voters summit which seems to have slipped by most observers. As summarized by Colbert King in the Washington Post

Telling a revved-up Values Voter audience that he is “stopping cold the attacks on Judeo-Christian values,” Trump suggested to the crowd, which already thinks a “war on Christianity” is being waged, that invoking “Merry Christmas” is a way of fighting back.

But “Happy Holidays” is exactly an expression of Judaeo-Christian values, coined to embrace the Jewish Hanukkah as well as Christmas. In this context, King’s suggestion that “Happy Holidays” is secular misses the point. The majority of secular Americans celebrate Christmas (happily mixing Santa Claus, carols, and consumerism). They say “Happy Holidays” as a nod to religious diversity among believers, not because they feel excluded from Christmas.

Insistence on “Merry Christmas”, by contrast, is a repudiation of the claim implicit in “Judaeo-Christian”, namely, that Jews and Christians have essentially the same beliefs and worship the same god, and that the differences between the two are ultimately less important than the commonalities. On any interpretation of Christianity in which all who reject Christ (including, I imagine, most of us here at CT) are damned, “Judaeo-Christian” is a much more pernicious version of political correctness than “Happy Holidays”.

I haven’t got to a proper analysis of this, so I’ll turn it over to commenters.

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Pumped hydro

October 21st, 2017 34 comments

In my Conversation article on the Turnbull government’s plan to keep coal-fired electricity alive, I said that most of the opportunities for hydro-electric power had already been exploited. I was thinking of primary power generation, and in this respect, I maintain my view. However, I neglected the option of pumped storage, where water is pumped uphill when excess electricity is available, then run downhill through turbines to (re)generate the electricity when it is most needed.

My old university friend, Andrew Blakers, now with the Research School of Engineering at ANU emailed me to point out this study, looking at the large number of sites potentially available in Australia, more than enough to backup all the renewable energy we will be generating in the foreseeable future.

This isn’t just a theoretical proposition. The Kidston hydro storage project in the advanced stages of planning, will offer 2000MwH of storage combined with a co-located 270MW solar PV project. The same report mentions some big wind + storage projects.

Still, if Labor is silly enough to endorse Turnbull’s NEG idea, it’s hard to see any more progress being made.

Categories: Environment Tags:

Adani and NEG

October 19th, 2017 12 comments

I’ve published a couple of articles. One, in the Guardian , expands the argument of this post on Adani. The other, in The Conversation, is a response to the Turnbull government’s energy policy, which managed some remarkably good press, though that seems to be fading away as the realities become more evident.

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

The mystery of early elections

October 17th, 2017 28 comments

The TV news hear in Brisbane has been running rumours about an early state election for most of the year. Even though a string of predictions have already proved false, the rumours keep coming. I heard another one yesterday, but today’s news suggests not, though with the odd phrasing

ANNASTACIA Palaszczuk has fuelled speculation she may wait until next year to call the election

which seems to suggest there is something odd about holding the election on time.

I have a couple of thoughts about this. First, I assume that somebody in the government or the ALP machine must be a source for these rumours. But thanks to the conventions of journalism, we never find out who[1]. At the very least, couldn’t political journalists stop repeating claims made by people who have been wrong over and over.

More importantly, why would any government, anywhere, voluntarily shorten its term in this way? The idea, of course, is that the party hardheads know when to seize the ideal moment to capitalize on the government’s popularity. That doesn’t apply in the current case, where the polls have been neck-and-neck. More importantly, this kind of advantage regularly dissipates in the course of an election campaign. Spectacular recent examples include Campbell Newman and Theresa May. But from my casual observation, it’s the norm rather than the exception for governments that go early to underperform expectations. That was true for the federal elections in 1984 and 1998 for example. Hawke expected a huge win in 1984 but ended up with a swing against him. Howard actually lost the two-party vote in 1998, and only squeaked in by good luck.

The issue ceases to be relevant after this election since we will move to four year fixed terms. I support fixed terms, but think three years is long enough for governments to keep themselves safe from voters.

fn1. An even more egregious case of this is the confident assertion the Kevin Rudd undermined the Gillard government, even though he said nothing in public that could be regarded as disloyal (unlike another recently deposed PM). We are supposed to take this assertion as true, even though those who make it refuse to go on record, even in the broadest terms, about what Rudd is supposed to have said and to whom.

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Monday Message Board

October 16th, 2017 22 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: Economics - General Tags:

Breaking ground in Adani’s Utopia

October 14th, 2017 12 comments

Having argued for some time that Adani’s Carmichael mine-rail-port project is unlikely to go ahead, I was initially surprised to read the announcement that Adani says it will break ground on Carmichael rail link ‘within days’. My mental image was of heavy earthmoving equipment excavating the route along which the line is to be laid. This seemed surprising to me, since there had been no evidence that the project was anywhere near that stage.

But a closer reading suggests that the “ground breaking” is of the kind seen in a typical episode of Utopia, in which lots of dignitaries are presented with shovels and turn over a piece of dirt, to “mark the official start” of the project. That is, presumably, a different “official start” from the one that was marked by another ceremony back in June. Obviously, this ups the pressure on governments to lend public money to the project since a failure to do so would mean abandoning a project that is “officially” under way.

Categories: Environment Tags:

Why zero (multifactor) productivity growth is OK for Oz (very wonkish)

October 13th, 2017 23 comments

I’m writing a book chapter about productivity, much of which will be a rehash of my 20-year debate with the Productivity Commission over measures of multi-factor productivity (MFP). In the process, I reread this op-ed by Ross Gittins, and the Treasury article on which it is based, by Simon Campbell and Harry Withers. As a result, I had what seemed to me like a Eureka moment. As with all such moments, of course, my insight might turn out to be either wrong or obvious.
Read more…

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Save the weekend! (now with link)

October 12th, 2017 19 comments

I have a piece in The Conversation about the decision to cut weekend penalty rates. This decision needs to be put in the context of forty years of policy aimed at pushing down wages, eroding conditions (such as the weekend) and weakening the position of unions.

I talked to Fran Kelly on ABC RN Breakfast just now.

Categories: Economic policy Tags:

Socialism for the 21st century

October 10th, 2017 24 comments

I have a long article in the Guardian putting forward some thoughts about a socialist economic policy program for the 21st century. The headline “Socialism with Spine” is a shortening of my observation that:

As it is used today, the term socialism does not reflect a well-worked ideology. Rather it conveys an attitude that could be described as “unapologetic social democracy” or, in the US context, “liberalism with a spine”

The contraction might have led some readers to expect a position more radical than the one put forward in the article. I’m advocating both a restoration of those aspects of 20th century social democracy that are still relevant today and new ideas to turn the 21st information economy to the benefit of the many, not the few.

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Sandpit

October 9th, 2017 9 comments

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

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Monday Message Board

October 9th, 2017 8 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: Economics - General Tags:

Who will pay for Adani’s infrastructure? We will

October 7th, 2017 19 comments

A couple of days ago, it was announced that the Fly In Fly Out workforce for Adani’s putative Carmichael mine would be split between Townsville and Rockhampton. Since I’ve long argued that the mine is highly unlikely to go ahead, I didn’t read the news stories closely. So, I missed the fact, buried in the middle of this ABC news report, that the deal requires Townsville and Rockhampton councils to build Adani an airstrip at a cost of $20 million. It turns out that not everyone in Townsville is happy about having their money spent on a project far away from the city.

This outcome is consistent with what I and others have been arguing for some time. Adani has to keep the project alive to avoid recognising the loss of the money its spent so far, and admitting that coal volumes at its Abbot Point port will be far lower than planned. On the other hand, there’s no point throwing good money after bad. So the strategy is to move slowly on the development, building a railway with money from the Commonwealth government and, now, an airstrip paid for by the people of Townsville. When, with much regret, the mine is deferred indefinitely, the Australian public will be the proud owners of a railway to nowhere, with the option of a flight back.

Categories: Economic policy, Environment Tags:

Three observations on guaranteed and universal basic income

October 3rd, 2017 27 comments

I’ve been working for a while on the idea of Universal Basic Income (UBI), and the closely related alternative of a Guaranteed Basic Income (GBI), in which the payment is phased out as income increases. I’ve now developed a very simple model to illustrate some of the crucial points. Here are three observations. Only Observation 2 requires the model, and the assumption that the distribution of income is broadly similar to that prevailing in Australia today.

Observation 1: Any UBI scheme can be replicated by a GBI with the same effective marginal tax rates, and vice versa

Observation 2: A GBI equal to 40 per cent of average income, with a phaseout rate of 40 per cent, would require additional transfer payments equal to between 8 and 10 per cent of national income.

Observation 3: A UBI equal to 40 per cent of average income, with no phaseout, would require additional transfer payments equal around 30 per cent of national income, but would have the same effective marginal tax rates as a GBI.

Monday Message Board

October 3rd, 2017 14 comments

Another Monday Message Board (I’m travelling in the US, so it’s still Monday). 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:

A poll result I find hard to believe (two updates)

September 25th, 2017 34 comments

Nearly a week ago, I argued, in relation to the equal marriage survey that “most people will either respond straight away or not at all.” That was supported by an Essential poll, taken from Wednesday to Friday of the first week in which 9 per cent of those polled said they’d already responded. Since the first surveys were mailed out to rural areas on Monday, that looked like a rapid response. But the most recent Newspoll, conducted from last Friday to Monday reported only a 15 per cent response rate, even though nearly all those polled would have received the ballot. This didn’t reflect apathy or a boycott – the vast majority said they would definitely respond.

I don’t have any good reason to think Newspoll is drastically wrong on such a straightforward question, but I also can’t understand the result. Perhaps this is another example of the (apparently spurious) Pauline Kael fallacy, but everyone I know has already voted (mostly, though not exclusively, Yes). I’d appreciate any insights on this.

Update Essential has a poll out with 36 per cent saying they have already responded, 72 per cent of those saying Yes. No details yet on when the sample was taken, but it must overlap pretty closely with Newspoll. That’s a bigger difference between polls than I can recall seeing on any topic.

Further update Peter Brent in Inside Story quotes* leaked internal polling from the Yes side, reporting that 65 per cent of those polled had already returned their surveys. He describes this as “flabbergasting”, but it’s in line with my expectations. Still, the puzzle of how polls asking a simple factual question could yield such radically different answers remains unresolved. He makes the point that there’s always a reason for a leak, but this obviously isn’t what the Yes campaign would want to leak, since it implies that Yes has already won, or nearly so.

* Brent doesn’t give a link, but I dound the story here.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Putting the blame where it belongs

September 20th, 2017 23 comments

Queensland Premier Anna Palaszczuk has followed Bill Shorten in blaming privatisation for the woes of the electricity network. She’s basically right, although there’s much more wrong with the National Electricity Market than that.

Equally importantly, in terms of getting a good outcome, she’s on a political winner in the fight with the Turnbull government and particularly the Abbott faction pulling Turnbull’s strings.

No one fully understands what’s going wrong with energy policy, but Australians love renewable energy and hate privatisation. Both of these judgements are validated by experience. Renewable energy has overdelivered on its promises while privatisation has (at best) undelivered and more commonly made matters worse. So, the idea that the LNP can win the debate on energy policy by bashing renewables and attacking public ownership as socialism seems pretty implausible.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

A rare outbreak of unanimity on PFI

September 19th, 2017 13 comments

I’m doing some work on privatisation and wanted to look at recent UK experience with the Private Finance Initiative. So, I Googled for PFI in the last year (as Google personalizes searches, your mileage may vary). The result is a surprising degree of unanimity. Across the political spectrum, there is agreement that

* PFI is a disaster, enriching private firms at the expense of the public
* The other side is (mostly) to blame

Read more…

Categories: Economic policy Tags:

The result is in the mail

September 19th, 2017 24 comments

We got our equal marriage survey forms in the mail yesterday, and posted them back today. From what I’ve seen, about half the forms were delivered last week and nearly all will be done by Friday. And I imagine, most people will either respond straight away or not at all. So, it was kind of strange to see the official campaigns being launched at the weekend, rather as if an ordinary election campaign started at lunchtime on election day*.

On the other hand, the results won’t be announced until November, and the ABS is working hard to prevent any release of partial information. That’s if the votes were kept under lock and key on election night and not counted until the last postals and absentees had come in.

In these circumstances, I’m hoping for the slow-motion version of an exit poll. Next week, any pollster so minded could survey people to ask if and how they voted. We wouldn’t have the problem, which affected pre-survey polling, of unpredictable turnout, so the results should be as accurate as an ordinary opinion poll (that is, a 95 per cent confidence interval of plus or minus 2-3 percentage points for a sample of 1-2000). Is anyone going to do this, I wonder?

* For byzantine funding reasons, the major parties now leave their election launch until the week before election day, when quite a few people have already voted. But this is taking it a step further.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Monday Message Board

September 18th, 2017 4 comments

Another Monday Message Board. Post comments on any topic. Civil discussion and no coarse language please. Side discussions and idees fixes to the sandpits, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

The opportunity cost of the Melbourne Grand Prix

September 15th, 2017 37 comments

Last Sunday, my wife Nancy and I had a great weekend in Mooloolaba, where I took part in the Ironman 70.3 event, along with a thousand or so other competitors from around Australia and the world as well as hundreds of spectators. As Nancy said, even though the Sunshine Coast isn’t far from Brisbane, we’d never get around to going if there weren’t an event like this, but the beautiful setting makes us keen to return.

While I was there, a friend mentioned that the Melbourne Ironman event had been cancelled because the date of the Grand Prix had changed, producing a clash. That got my mind away from transition times and back to economic policy.
Read more…

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

How to replace the National Electricity Market

September 12th, 2017 42 comments

There are quite a few proposals around to intervene in, or repair, the National Electricity Market. In my view, it’s much too late for that. We need to scrap the NEM and start on a new path towards a zero-carbon electricity and energy system. I’ve written down some preliminary thoughts. I’d appreciate comments and also suggestions as to how I might push this idea along a bit.

Read more…

Categories: Economic policy, Environment Tags:

Sandpit

September 11th, 2017 1 comment

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

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Monday Message Board

September 11th, 2017 7 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:

Shorten changes the game on electricity

September 8th, 2017 64 comments

Somewhat lost in the noise surrounding yesterday’s High Court decision on the equal marriage survey was Bill Shorten’s statement that privatisation of the electricity industry in the 1990s was a major contributor to the current disaster. He’s essentially correct, though ‘privatisation’ has to be taken as shorthand for ‘the process of disaggregation and market reform of which privatisation was a central part’. I’ve been over this ground many times, including here and here, and have argued that renationalisation is the only solution.

Unsurprisingly, there’s been pushback from the Oz, which ran a piece headlined ‘Bill Shorten’s power play debunked” with the lead ‘Bill Shorten’s claim that the electricity crisis has been driven by privatisation has been dismissed by business leaders and energy experts,’.

It’s remarkably lame job.

The only business leader quoted is Tony Shepherd, formerly of the BCA, and last seen heading the disastrous Commission of Audit. Next up is Labor deserter, Michael Costa, followed by Jeff Kennett. Both Shepherd and Costa are climate denialists, which instantly destroys their credibility. Costa and Kennett have already had their privatisation policies rejected by voters, so it seems unlikely that their criticism will scare Shorten. In fact, he’s already hit back*

The only serious expert quoted is Tony Wood, but he doesn’t really help the Oz. He’s quoted as saying “Grattan Institute energy director Tony Wood rejected privatisation as the cause of the energy market crisis. He said 15 years of political disagreement on climate change policy and regulated monopolies in the electricity distribution networks were contributors to the current electricity crisis. He also pointed to the fact that in Queensland, the Palaszczuk government in June was forced to order its state-owned power generator Stanwell to pursue lower profits during heatwaves because of spikes in power prices.”

The first point is accurate enough, but the point about Queensland proves the opposite of what the Oz wants us to believe. It’s only because Stanwell is publicly owned that the Palaszczuk government can order it not to exploit the mess that is the National Electricity Market.

Turning to the politics of the issue, Shorten’s recasting of the debate is going to cause Turnbull a lot of problems. He’s made energy a central issue,, and is convinced that it’s a winner for the government. And, having attacked Shorten as wanting to turn Australia into North Korea, they can scarcely leave the privatisation debate.

This is likely to be disastrous for the government. Not only is privatisation politically toxic, but the government has already undermined any possible credibility on the issue with speculation that it will finance a new coal fired power station, along with Snowy 2.0 and other interventions. Once the debate moves on to the real issue of the failure of market reform, the culture war rhetoric on which the government has relied so far will be totally irrelevant.

* We shoudn’t pay too much attention to comments threads but it’s notable that even the Oz commentariat, almost uniformly made up of rightwing climate denialists, is far from united in support of privatisation.

Categories: Economic policy, Oz Politics Tags:

The equal marriage survey

September 7th, 2017 57 comments

A few thoughts on the equal marriage survey, now that it’s going ahead.

Read more…

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

The generation game, yet again

September 5th, 2017 12 comments

At Inside Story, I’ve had yet another go at the silliness of generational analysis, reworking some material I’ve posted previously, but improving the analysis in some ways, I think. In particular, I think the intro helps to explain the persistent appeal of generational cliches in the face of repeated refutation.

Every generation thinks it invented sex, and every generation is wrong.” As that quotation from the American writer Robert Heinlein suggests, we all experience as unique and revelatory the transformations we undergo through the course of our lives, from childhood to puberty, adulthood, parenthood and old age. As a matter of logic and observation, though, these processes are experienced at all times and in all places, and differ more in detail than essentials.

This is the paradox at the heart of the otherwise inexplicable durability of claims that people’s characteristics can be explained by their membership of a “generation” (baby boomers, generation X, and so on).

Categories: Life in General Tags:

[email protected] follies

September 5th, 2017 13 comments

I have a piece in Crikey (reproduced over the fold) under the title ‘Our spy agencies know less about cybersecurity than the Daily Mail‘.

The central point is that our leading cybersecurity agency, the Australian Signals Directorate, has just rolled out a policy requiring users of government agency websites to change their passwords every 90 days and to use composition rules based on a mix of alphanumeric and special characters. As even the Daily Mail has pointed out, these practices are thoroughly discredited, to the point where the expert responsible for them has publicly recanted.

Read more…

Categories: Boneheaded stupidity Tags: