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.

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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.

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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:

The Minerals Council of Australia pushing zombie ideas

September 4th, 2017 28 comments

Fighting zombies is a tiresome business. Even when you think you’ve finally killed them, they bounce back as often as not. But it has to be done, and there are some benefits. When you see a supposedly serious person or organization pushing zombie ideas, it’s an indication that nothing they put out should be presumed to be serious.

There can be few zombies more thoroughly undead than nuclear power in general, except for the idea that nuclear power is a sensible option for Australia. The strongly pro-nuclear SA Royal Commission demolished this zombie so thoroughly that it should have taken a decade at least to regenerate.

But here’s the Minerals Council of Australia, which has taken a break from promoting coal to push the idea that Australia needs a nuclear power industry and that the biggest obstacle is a legal prohibition imposed in 1998. The supporting “analysis” is riddled with absurdities, some of which have already been pointed out. I’ll give my own (incomplete) list over the fold

Read more…

Categories: Boneheaded stupidity, Environment Tags:

Monday Message Board

September 4th, 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:

Restating the case against trickle down (updated)

September 2nd, 2017 16 comments

I’ve just given a couple of talks focusing on inequality, one for the Global Change Institute at UQ, following a presentation by Wayne Swan and the second at a conference organized by the TJ Ryan Foundation (including great talks by Peter Saunders, Sally McManus, and others), where I was responding to a paper by Jim Stanford from the Centre for Future Work. Because I was speaking second in both cases, I didn’t prepare a paper or slides, but tailored my talk to complement the one before. That can be a high risk strategy, but in this case, I think it worked very well.

It led me to a new, and I hope improved, statement of the case against ‘trickle down’ theory. As always, the most important part of a refutation is a clear statement of the theory you propose to refute, so that it can be shown where it falls down. After the talks I wrote this up, and it’s over the fold. Comments and constructive criticism much appreciated.

Read more…

Sandpit

September 2nd, 2017 Comments off

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

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Weekend reflections

September 2nd, 2017 2 comments

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

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

My latest (ir)regular email

August 28th, 2017 6 comments

I guess I should call this an irregular email, since I haven’t sent one for a few weeks. As usual, I’d appreciate any compliments, brickbats, suggestions on things I should say more or less about and so on. [email protected]

Adani, energy and climate action

Farmers for Climate Action commissioned me to do a report on the proposed loan to the Adani Rail Project, focusing on alternative investments in the agricultural sector. It was release at the weekend, and got some coverage, including in The Guardian. The report is here, along with a summary. It’s recently got a nice run in Queensland Country Life
http://www.queenslandcountrylife.com.au/story/4874157/report-shows-value-of-investing-in-agriculture/
Other media interviews included Robyn McConchie RN Country Hour, and WIN Rockhampton. I also spoke to ABC Brisbane Drive about electricity prices

Asset recycling

There’s been quite a lot of interest from the US in the idea of ‘asset recycling’ which is being pushed hard by the finance operators who would profit from such a deal and also by our unlamented former Treasurer and now Ambassador to the US, Joe Hockey. My thoughts are here
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jun/07/asset-recycling-may-look-new-and-exciting-but-its-the-last-gasp-of-a-failed-model

I did interviews with the Washington Post a while back
https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/trump-advisers-call-for-selling-off-old-assets-to-build-new-infrastructure/2017/05/23/657aa2c6-2f53-11e7-9534-00e4656c22aa_story.html?utm_term=.ed9502270a0b
with Bloomberg,
Asset recycling https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-08-10/australia-pitches-trump-on-a-plan-to-fix-america-s-roads-and-bridges
reported here and just now with Politico (yet to appear)

UBI

I gave to a video presentation to on Income: What to aim for and how to get there a workshop on UBI run by the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia.
Penalty rates
I appeared by teleconference, before a Senate Committee today (24 August), defending penalty rates

Twitter feed https://twitter.com/JohnQuiggin
Blog http://johnquiggin.com/

Categories: Life in General Tags:

Monday Message Board

August 28th, 2017 19 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:

Universal Basic Income: What to aim for and how to get there

August 22nd, 2017 20 comments

That’s the title of a presentation I gave to a workshop on UBI run by the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia. I wasn’t able to attend in person so I called in for my session. The result is that I can’t give a summary of the event, but Tim Hollo has one here. My presentation is here. Also, there’s a Facebook group and a couple of useful links.

Categories: Economic policy Tags:

Monday Message Board

August 21st, 2017 12 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.

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Some unsolicited advice on equal marriage

August 20th, 2017 34 comments

I’ve seen quite a number of church leaders making statements in support of a No response to the Turnbull government’s ABS survey on equal marriage. In nearly every case, there isn’t much of an argument on the merits of why the state should enforce their views about marriage. Rather, they express concerns that, if equal marriage is allowed, they will be forced to conduct marriages, or to employ members of same-sex married couples.

This seems like a nonsense to me. If that is the real concern, the obvious answer is to support a bill in the current Parliament that allows equal marriage but entrenches the right of the churches to discriminate in this way. That’s a compromise that would almost certainly be accepted, and once in place, would be hard to change. What government, having reached a compromise that more-or-less satisfies everyone would want to reopen the can of worms?

On the other hand, suppose that the survey yields a No response thanks to the advocacy of the churches, or even worse, there’s a Yes majority in the survey but the LNP right blocks legislation? Then, when Labor gets in, there’s no obvious reason to make concessions to a group who’ve shown themselves to be implacable opponents in any case.

Speaking more generally, it’s obvious that (nominal) Christians are going to be a minority of the Australian population quite soon, and, quite possibly, a small minority in a few decades. So, it would make good sense for the churches to dissociate themselves from people like Kevin Donnelly and Lyle Shelton who argue that the majority (currently Christian) should be able to impose their views on the minority. A whole-hearted commitment to strict governmental neutrality in matters of religion would make much more strategic sense.

Update I just saw that George Brandis made the same point. Not sure what I think about that.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Left hand, meet right hand

August 17th, 2017 13 comments

A crucial part of the case for the Adani coal project is the “pit to plug” strategy in which companies in the Adani Group would mine coal in the Galilee Basin, transport it by rail to Abbot Point, ship it from there to India, burn it in Adani Power’s coal-fired power stations and sell the generated electricity to Indian consumers. This claim is important to Adani for three reasons

* First, it is supposed to mean the big decline in the world price of coal since the project began is not a problem. The idea is that Adani Power will take the coal regardless of price
* Second, it undercuts arguments that exports from the Galilee Basin will compete with other Australian coal mines, leading to a loss of jobs
* Finally, it is central to the argument that the Adani project is necessary to end energy poverty in India.

All of these arguments have been rehearsed at length in the Australian media. But it seems that the memo hasn’t reached Adani Power in India. A month or so ago, they span off their Mundra Power station, loaded with a lot of debt, into a subsidiary, and offered a 51 per cent interest to the Gujarat government for a nominal price. Now, they have announced a strategy to get access to allocations of domestic coal and “do away the need for importing coal”.

Meanwhile, it’s interesting to take a look at the Adani jobs portal, announced with some flourish a month or so ago. When it was set up, there were only a couple of dozen Adani jobs on offer. Now there are none at all, though there are a handful on SEEK. AFAICT, the only people employed at the Townsville Regional Headquaters are 80 or so people who have been moved there, presumably from Brisbane.

Given the lavish promises of hundreds or even thousands that have been made to the people of NQ, isn’t it time Adani put its money where its mouth is?

Categories: Economic policy Tags: