Campus reflection

May 22nd, 2014 54 comments

That’s the mild pun the Chronicle of Higher Education picked for my article (paywalled, but I’ve put my draft version over the fold) making the point that a higher education system is, in important respects, a mirror of the society that created it, and that it helps to recreate. I make the point that, like the US health system and labor market, the US higher education does a great job for the 1 per cent who go to the Ivy League Schools (and whose parents are mostly in or close to the top 1 per cent of the income distribution), does an adequate but expensive job for the next 20 per cent or so, and leaves everyone else in the lurch.

This is important in the context of the Abbott governments proposed removal of caps on fees for higher education, explicitly aimed by Education Minister Pyne at creating a system in which we might have institutions like Harvard and Yale. I plan to write more on this, but the central point will be that, far from creating more places at existing universities, fee deregulation will give them incentives to shrink, pushing students out to the alternatives now being funded under HECS: for-profit institutions and the TAFE system (which has its own funding crisis), corresponding to the bottom tiers of the US education system, where all the recent growth has taken place.

Read more…

Categories: Economic policy Tags:

If it looks like a debt, walks like a debt and quacks like a debt …

May 21st, 2014 11 comments

I’ve finally got around to checking out the big-ticket item (estimated value $28 billion) in the Queensland government’s privatisation program, involving the electricity distribution sector. It’s called a Non-Share Equity Interest, and the Treasury web page explains its appeal to the government.

Under this option the State retains 100 per cent ownership of the ordinary shares in the network businesses and assets. Private sector participation occurs through a hybrid security instrument, a Non–Share Equity Interest (NSEI).

The private sector contribution will equate to the net funding for the capital expenditure requirement and therefore represents new capital injections.

The NSEI security is debt in its legal form, but classified as equity for tax and accounting purposes and these characteristics give the security it’s (sic) “hybrid” form. (emphasis added)

The returns on the NSEI are sculpted to reflect the holders proportionate interest in dividends and tax equivalents paid by the network businesses separately.

In other words, the government is replacing debt raised by the Queensland Treasury Corporation from the private sector with an instrument that’s almost identical, but is classified as equity, and can therefore be presented as a reduction in debt

Read more…

Categories: Economic policy Tags:

Monday Message Board

May 19th, 2014 141 comments

It’s (long past) time for 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:

Piketty Crossing the Delaware

May 19th, 2014 50 comments

Like lots of other readers of Thomas Piketty’s Capital, my big concern is not with the accuracy of the diagnosis and prognosis but with the feasibility of the prescription. Piketty’s proposal for a global wealth tax requires an end to the capacity of capital to escape taxation by exploiting the limitations of national taxations system, through tax havens, transfer pricing, artificial corporate structures and so on.

Given the limited record of success in past efforts to control global tax evasion and avoidance, Piketty is reasonably pessimistic about efforts in this direction. But the latest news from the OECD is remarkably positive. All members of the OECD (notably including evader-friendly jurisdictions like Austria, Luxembourg and Switzerland) have agreed to a system of automatic information exchange for tax purposes. Moreover, the “too big to jail” status of major banks engaged in facilitating tax evasion and money laundering, may finally be coming to an end.

On the face of it, the oft-repeated, but so far unjustified claim that “the days of tax havens are over“, may finally be coming true, at least for all but the wealthiest individuals. But the crackdown on individual tax evaders only points up the ease with which corporations (and individuals with the means to establish complex corporate structures) can avoid tax through a mixture of legal avoidance and unprovable evasion (for example, by illegal but unprovable internal transfers).

At the core of the problem is the ability to establish corporations in ways that make their true ownership impossible to trace. And, the jurisdiction most responsible for this is not a Caribbean island or European mini-state, but the “First State” of the US – Delaware, which has long been the preferred location for US incorporation by reason of its business friendly laws.

Read more…

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Core promises (repost from 2008)

May 18th, 2014 55 comments

Now that Tony Abbott’s ‘fundamentally honest’ has joined John Howard’s ‘core promises’ in the lexicon of spin, I thought I’d repost this piece from 2008, urging Kevin Rudd to keep his (unwise and damaging) promise to adopt most of Howard’s proposed tax cuts.

Read more…

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Sandpit

May 17th, 2014 74 comments

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

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Weekend reflections

May 17th, 2014 28 comments

It’s time for another weekend reflections, which makes space for longer than usual comments on any topic. Side discussions to sandpits, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Australian right a dumping ground for failed US ideas

May 16th, 2014 63 comments

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 [1]. 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.

Read more…

Categories: Boneheaded stupidity, Oz Politics Tags:

Mean and tricky

May 14th, 2014 40 comments
Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Bahnisch is back!

May 14th, 2014 24 comments

I missed the memo, but Mark Bahnisch, formerly of Larvatus Prodeo is back, at the (much more sensibly named) New Social Democrat. Not posting often, but I still have a lot of reading to catch up on. This, on the Budget and the crisis of Australia’s political class, is superb.

Categories: Metablogging, Oz Politics Tags:

The Budget, the bottom billion and the 1 per cent

May 14th, 2014 25 comments

My first Budget commentary is up at the Guardian. Teaser

No progress on tax avoidance, no sign that Australia will responsibly lead the G20, no reform of expensive concessions to the wealthy: this Budget is a massive moral failure

Categories: Economic policy Tags:

Don’t Follow Leaders, Watch The Parking Meters

May 13th, 2014 78 comments

The dispute over the Greens apparent intention to oppose a more progressive tax system has heated up again, on Facebook and elsewhere, especially given indications that the proposed return to indexation of petrol excise will be passed, as it should be. In combination, if pursued, these policies can be presented, with some justice, as pandering to the self-interest of the stereotypical Greens voter: high income, inner city, with no need to use much petrol.

I haven’t seen anyone defend the pro-rich tax policy on the merits, but I’ve had vigorous pushback from people whose views I would generally respect, taking the following lines

* Labor is doing the same thing, why pick on the Greens
* The policy may be right, but it’s being advocated for the wrong reason (deficit fetishism)
* The policy may be right, but it’s being put forward by the wrong people (evil Abbott government)
* This is only a small step, we need something much bigger and more comprehensive

I’ll respond to these points over the fold, but for the moment I want to observe that these excuses, or minor variants, can be and have been made for every policy sellout in the history of politics. No one gives them the slightest credence when they are put forward by people who aren’t close allies.

The fact that so many intelligent people are willing to buy this sort of case when it’s put forward by the Greens is evidence of the proposition that none of us is immune to the kinds of biased thinking that have completely corrupted the intellectual base of the political right. Fortunately, I think, the left as a whole is more self-critical, so that this kind of reasoning gets a tougher run. But for me, this emphasises the importance of not being aligned with any political party to the extent that loyalty clouds my judgement on the issues. That doesn’t immunise me from various kinds of biases, but at least it helps with problems like this.

Read more…

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Voter suppression comes to Oz

May 13th, 2014 11 comments

I’ve been commenting for a while on the descent of the Australian right into tribalist politics, largely imported from the US Republicans. Even people you might expect to be unaffected like this, such as Joe Hockey, come out with tribal shibboleths such as his statement that wind turbines are offensive[1]. A striking instance of this is the campaign for voter ID, now being pushed by the Murdoch press. Those involved in this shameful exercise include Clive Palmer, Jarrod Bleijie and the Liberal party apparatus, none of which is surprising. More depressing is the fact that Malcolm Turnbull is part of the push. It really seems that there is no hope for a sane and decent conservatism[2] in Australia.

This Republican strategy for suppressing voters works well in the US where registration and voting are both voluntary and (for poor and black people) as difficult as the Repubs can make them (though of course, they have nothing on their own former incarnation as Southern Democrats, in the years before the Voting Rights Act. It’s hard to see this working to suppress votes in Australia, unless voting is made voluntary. Even if you are sent home for not having ID, the requirement to vote is still there. More generally, the whole ethos of Australian electoral systems has been to promote voting[3]

In any case, the timing of this latest foray into tribalism looks pretty bad. US courts are striking down voter ID laws following the obvious evidence that they suppress legitimate voters rather than stopping fraudulent ones. In many cases, the proponents of the law have been unable to produce a single instance of in-person voter impersonation (the only kind of fraud stopped by ID laws).

fn1. As, I think Fran B commented on my Twitter feed, George Brandis will doubtless note that “but they have a right to be offensive”! Brandis, another supposed “wet” has been busy outing himself as a conspiracy-theoretic climate denier
fn2. AFAICT, self-described libertarians are no better on this
fn3. Howard tried some dirty tricks to stop newly eligible 18 years olds from voting, but this is tinkering at the edges.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City

May 7th, 2014 20 comments

I got a review copy of this book by Alice Goffman a while back, and have been meaning to review it, but the multiple demands for Piketty reviews, responses, rejoinders to rightwing critics etc make it highly unlikely that I’ll get to it. So, I’ll just say that it gives some amazing insights into the way the War on Drugs is fought on the streets of US inner cities.

Categories: Books and culture Tags:

Wealth: earned or inherited

May 7th, 2014 91 comments

The efforts of the right to discredit Piketty’s Capital have so far ranged from unconvincing to risible (there’s a particularly amusing one from Max Hastings in the Daily Mail, to which I won’t bother linking). One point raised in this four-para summary by the Economist is that ” today’s super-rich mostly come by their wealth through work, rather than via inheritance.” Piketty does a good job of rebutting this, but for those who haven’t acquired the book or got around to reading it, I thought I’d repost my own response, from 2012.

Read more…

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Zombie Apocalypse: Commission of Audit edition

May 5th, 2014 20 comments

I’ll be talking on this topic at a hastily-organized workshop at ANU tomorrow. Details here

Categories: Dead Ideas book, Economic policy Tags:

Licenses for cyclists?

May 3rd, 2014 95 comments

NSW Transport Minister Duncan Gay (seemingly one of the few NSW Ministers still in his job) has raised the idea of licenses for cyclists, in response to growing numbers of fatal and near-fatal accidents and (entirely justified) pressure for action against motorists who endanger fellow road users.

He can expect a negative response for a number of reasons. A license scheme is problematic, most obviously because children are (and should remain) free to ride bikes, but can scarcely be expected to pay license fees or sit for an exam. But the policy goal could be achieved without a license. All that is needed is to create a general right to cycle on roads, with no requirement to obtain a license, but with the courts having the power to suspend that right for cyclists who commit traffic offences. There’s no longer any practical requirement for a physical license. If an offender doesn’t have formal ID, a photograph or a phone would be enough to confirm identity in 99 per cent of cases (sad, perhaps, but true).

Then there’s the question of registration. Again, that’s a system that makes much more sense for cars than for bikes. But, if we had a proper system of road pricing, there wouldn’t be much difficulty in including bikes, though I suspect economic analysis would show their contribution to road costs to be very low.

Categories: Economic policy Tags:

Sandpit

May 3rd, 2014 93 comments

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

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Weekend reflections

May 3rd, 2014 16 comments

It’s time for another weekend reflections, which makes space for longer than usual comments on any topic. Side discussions to sandpits, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Reviewing the Commission of Audit’s opening night

May 2nd, 2014 42 comments

I played my little part in the political theatre that was the Commission of Audit, with about 15 seconds on ABC Lateline. I’m pleased to see that other reviewers agreed with me in dismissing this tired remake of the 1988 and 1996 hits as stale and derivative. Attempts to gin up a bit of excitement by introducing the minimum wage as a new villain wnet nowhere, and reviving the golden oldie (last performed by Malcolm Fraser in the 1970s) of returning income tax powers to the states fell flat. And of course, a supposed audit of the public finances with tax expenditures cut out of the show is like Hamlet without the Prince. About the only thing to be thankful for is that they toned down the Hockey-Abbott melodrama of a debt crisis and budget emergency, preferring instead some dark murmurs about ominous long term trends.

I give it one star.

Categories: Economic policy Tags:

A rose by any other name …

April 30th, 2014 106 comments

Most of the discussion of the Abbott government’s recently announced revenue raising measure has focused on semantics: is there a meaningful difference between a levy and a tax, has the government broken its promises and so on. All of this is boringly predictable. The last government to treat its election promises as binding obligations was Whitlam’s. Perhaps Rudd would have kept his promises if it weren’t for the GFC (I don’t think he broke many before that), but with that exception we’ve got used to the various theatrical devices associated with ditching promises: Black Holes, debt crises, Commissions of Audit and so on. The reaction of Bill Shorten and the Labor Opposition is equally predictable. The job of the Opposition is to oppose, and in particular to excoriate the government for breaking any promise, no matter how ill advised.

On the other hand, I’m disappointed that the Greens have taken the same line. Their job, in my view, is to use their leverage to promote sustainable social democratic policies, and to oppose regressive market liberal and environmentally destructive policies, regardless of source. So, for example, they were sensible to wave through Hockey’s abolition of the debt ceiling, even though it involved breaking a silly promise. They can’t stop the government breaking lots of promises on the expenditure side, so they should try and achieve balance by supporting sensible proposals to raise additional revenue.

The case in favor of an increase in taxes for higher income earners[1] is obvious. The big cuts promised by Howard in the leadup to the 2007 election, and largely matched by Rudd were unaffordable at the time and became even more so when the GFC led to slower growth in real and nominal incomes and therefore to less of the bracket creep that normally pays for such cuts. Along with Costello’s massive handouts to “self-funded” (but publicly subsidised) retirees the previous year, these cuts are the main reason it has been so hard to achieve a return to surplus after the GFC stimulus was wound back under the Labor government.

So, it makes sense to increase the rate, and to keep it high until bracket creep finally works its magic and restores the revenue raising capacity of the income tax to something like its pre-2007 level. I haven’t done the numbers but it seems as if four more years ought to do it. So, a temporary increase that can be called a levy makes sense. And, if everything else is held constant, an increase in revenue translates one-for-one into a reduction in debt.

Summing up, if Abbott wants to increase income tax on high earners, I’ll support him. And, if he wants to call this policy a “debt reduction levy”, I don’t have a problem with that.

fn1. Doubtless, we’ll get objections that taxpayers on $80 000 a year aren’t really high income earners, although the median wage for full time workers is around $60 000. But the extra tax payable by someone on $80 000 is precisely zero: the levy is only payable on income in excess of that level. Even at $180k, the levy is only $2000/year or about $40/week – a small fraction of the discretionary spending of most people earning this kind of income.

Categories: Economic policy Tags:

Leadership

April 29th, 2014 26 comments

I’ve never been a fan of the idea of leadership[1][2]. This hagiographic portrait of Campbell Newman by Griffith University political scientist Paul Williams illustrates the problem. He describes Newman’s approach to policy execution as following the army’s ” “Task, Group, Individual” paradigm” and is fulsome (in all senses of the word) in his praise, concluding

Whether you support or oppose Newman’s policy choices, the evidence is the Premier is not engaging in random reactionary politics but, rather, adhering to a considered leadership plan. In the end, that’s all anyone can ask.

Well, no.

* We would reasonably ask that Newman should adhere to his election commitments which promised public servants their jobs would be safe.
* We could reasonably ask that basic rights like freedom of association should be preserved
* We could reasonably ask that our government should not spend millions of dollars of our money pushing claims about asset sales that no economist (not even strong advocates of privatisation) accepts.

If “leadership” meant persuading the public of the merits of particular policies, there would be a lot to be said for it. But, invariably, “leadership” means ramming through policies that voters don’t want, and hoping they will forget by the next election. In these circumstances, I’d prefer random reaction to a considered plan to do the opposite of what you promised.

fn1. One of its sadder outings was Labor’s doomed 1996 election campaign, which for some reason added a full stop to the word for its slogan. The sight of a “Leadership.” banner sagging to the floor on election night said it all.
fn2. I’ve long had the idea of writing a book on “followership”, on the general model of The Good Soldier Schweik. The key idea would be that a good follower makes sure that the leader is between them and whoever is shooting at them.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Stratification in tertiary education

April 28th, 2014 39 comments

When people call for a university system more like that of the US, they commonly have in mind the idea that Australia should have institutions like Harvard and Princeton, and a belief that more competition in tertiary education would bring this about. There are a couple of obvious problems with this.

First, high-status universities like this provide undergraduate education only a tiny proportion of young Americans. Around 1 per cent of the college age cohort attends high-status private institutions like the Ivy League unis, Chicago and Stanford, and this proportion has been declining steadily over time. Most of the Ivies enrol no more undergrads than they did in the 1950s. Adjusting for population, an Australian Ivy League would consist of a single institution enrolling perhaps a thousand students a year.

Second, the US experience shows that the idea of competition between universities is a nonsense. Harvard, Princeton and the rest were the leading universities in North America before the US even existed, and they are still the leaders today. The newest of the really high status universities is probably Stanford, founded in 1885. Competition between universities is pretty much the same as the competition between the Harlem Globetrotters and the Washington General.s

The reality of US education is a highly stratified system. Below the high-status private universities are the “flagship” state universities, which educate around 10 per cent of the college age cohort (again, a proportion that is declining, or at best stable).

After that, there are lower-tier state universities, two-year community colleges and, worst of all, for-profit degree mills like the University of Phoenix which exist largely to lure low-income students into debt and extract Federal grant money, with only a minority ever completing their courses.

Australia has always had a stratified system, but to a much lesser extent. (More on the history when I get a chance). The big question facing policy is whether to increase stratification, by widening the gap between the “Group of 8″ and the rest, or to treat tertiary education like other public services, available to all who can benefit from it, at the best quality we can provide for everyone.

University education systems mirror and recreate the society to which they belong. A highly stratified system, like that in the US and UK, reflects and reinforces a class-bound society in which the best thing you can do in life is to choose the right parents. We should be aiming at less stratification, not more.

Update Just by chance, one of the lead articles in the NY Times advises that, thanks to increased international intakes, the number of places for domestic undergraduates at the Ivies has fallen sharply

Joining a sinking ship

April 26th, 2014 39 comments

According to news reports, Education Minister Christopher Pyne is going to reprise his successful Gonski exercise of last year with an attempt to remodel the Australian university system along US lines, as recommended by former Howard education minister David Kemp and his adviser Andrew Norton. In particular, he hopes to expand the role of the private sector.

Apparently none of these people have read the stream of reports coming out of the US making the points that

* Whereas the US was once the world leader in the proportion of young people getting university education it now trails much of the OECD (including, if I got the numbers right, Australia)
* US university education, even in the state system, is ruinously unaffordable
* The top tiers of the US system are increasingly closed to students from all but the top 5 per cent (or less) of the income distribution
* The US has the most inequality and some of the lowest social mobility in the developed world
* For-profit education in the US is a scam, based on exactly the mechanism promoted by Kemp and Norton, namely access to public funding/

The US tertiary education system is now like the US health system: world-beating for the 1 per cent, high-quality but incredibly expensive for the top 20, unaffordable or non-existent for the middle class and the poor. And this is the model the LNP wants to emulate

Categories: Economic policy, Oz Politics Tags:

Advance review of the Audit Commission

April 26th, 2014 5 comments

Only a few weeks until Budget Day and Joe Hockey is sitting on, or rather, selectively leaking the report of the so-called Commission of Audit. As promised, I’ve written a review in advance, which I presented to a Senate Committee a couple of weeks ago. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, needs changing when the actual report is released.

Categories: Economic policy Tags:

Anzac Day, 99 years on

April 25th, 2014 Comments off

Another Anzac Day. A solemn occasion to remember the heroism and sacrifice of those who died and to recall with horror the waste of young lives in a war of rival empires. Australians had no quarrel with Turks, nor they with us. And, in the Middle East, as elsewhere, the war achieved nothing and resolved nothing, but rather generated and inflamed conflicts that continue to this day.

Read more…

Categories: Life in General Tags:

Another one (or more) bites the dust …

April 20th, 2014 184 comments

Coming back yet again to nuclear power, I’ve been arguing for a while that nuclear power can only work (if at all) on the basis of a single standardised design, and that the only plausible candidate for this is the Westinghouse AP1000. One response from nuclear enthusiasts has been to point to possible future advances beyond the Gen III+ approach embodied by the AP1000 (and less promising competitors like EPR). The two most popular have been Small Modular Reactors and Generation IV (fast) reactors. Recent news suggests that both of these options are now dead.

The news on the Small Modular Reactor is that Babcock and Wilcox, the first firm to be selected by the US Department of Energy to develop a prototype, has effectively mothballed the project, sacking the CEO of its SMR subsidiary and drastically scaling back staff. Westinghouse already abandoned its efforts. There is still one firm left pursuing the idea, and trying (so far unsuccessfully) to attract investors, but there’s no reason to expect success any time soon.

As regards Generation IV, the technology road map issued by the Gen IV International Forum in 2002 has just been updated. All the timelines have been pushed out, mostly by 10 years or more. That is, Gen IV is no closer now than it was when the GenIV initiative started. In particular, there’s no chance of work starting on even a prototype before about 2020, which puts commercial availability well past 2035. Allowing for construction time, there’s no prospect of electricity generation on a significant scale before 2050, by which time we will need to have completely decarbonized the economy.

Categories: Environment Tags:

The end of manufacturing in Australia

April 20th, 2014 37 comments

Ross Gittins has a piece, drawing on research by Jeff Borland of the University of Melbourne, in which he presents a “glass half-full” view of the Australian manufacturing sector. He makes some good points, but the overall picture is misleading.

It’s true that, on standard statistical definitions of the manufacturing sector, there’s still a fair bit of employment and output, though both have declined in recent years and will almost certainly continue to do so, given the recent closure announcements. But what’s left of manufacturing looks very different from the mental image the word ‘manufacturing’ produces, at least for me: a large factory, with hundreds of manual workers producing complex industrial products (consumer goods, motor vehicles, industrial equipment and the like).

A closer look at Borland’s data reveals the following:

* Within manufacturing, the main growth area is food processing typified by the production of meat, bread, milk and wine. More traditionally manufacturing-oriented parts of the sector like canning fruit are in decline as we saw recently with the near-closure of SPC.

* As regards employment, the share of managerial and professional staff is expanding, while that of laborers and machinery operators, the kind of jobs we would typically think of as ‘factory work’, is falling. [1]

On the latter point, Borland shows that laborers and machinery operators now represent 30 per cent of a manufacturing workforce of 955 000, implying around 285 000 jobs in total, around 2.5 per cent of all employment. By contrast, in 2011, there were 290 000 schoolteachers in Australia.

To sum up, manufacturing in the traditional senses of the term, is no longer a significant part of the Australian economy. This has a number of implications.

Read more…

Categories: Economic policy Tags:

Tu quoque

April 19th, 2014 133 comments

I’ve written many posts and articles making the point that the political right, in most English speaking countries[1] has been taken over by a tribalist post-truth politics in which all propositions, including the conclusions of scientific research, are assessed in terms of their consistency or otherwise with tribal prejudices and shibboleths.

Very occasionally, intellectuals affiliated with the political right (conservatives and libertarians) will seek to deny this, arguing that isolated instances are being blown out of proportion, and that the right as a whole is committed to reasoned, fact-based argument and acceptance of “inconvenient truths’ arising from the conclusions of scientific research[2], [3].

But, far more often their response takes the form of a tu quoque or, in the language of the schoolyard, “you’re another”. That is, they seek to argue that the left is just as tribalist and anti-science as the right. Favored examples of alleged left tribalism included any rhetoric directed at rightwing billionaires ( Murdoch, Rinehart the Kochs). The standard examples of alleged left anti-science are GMOs, nuclear power and anti-vaxerism, but it is also sometimes claimed that US Democrats are just as likely as Republicans to be creationists.

I’ll argue over the fold that these examples don’t work. What’s more important, though, is what the tu quoque argument says about those who deploy it, and their view of politics. The implied claim is that politics is inherently a matter of tribalism and emotion, and that there is no point in complaining about this. The only thing to do is to pick a side and stick to it. What passes for political argument is simply a matter of scoring debating points for your side and demolishing those of the others. So, anyone who uses tu quoque as a defence, rather than seeking to dissuade their own side from tribalist and anti-science rhetoric, deserves no more respect than the tribalists and science deniers themselves, who at least have the defence of ignorance.

Read more…

Categories: Politics (general), Science Tags:

Sandpit

April 18th, 2014 24 comments

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

Categories: Regular Features Tags: