A pleasant surprise, for once

Labor’s commitment to a 2030 target of reducing emissions by 43 per cent is a pleasant surprise. I expected 35 per cent and was confident it wouldn’t be more than 40.

In essence, the 43 per cent target a restatement of the goal taken to the 2019 election. The difference is within the margin of measurement error and appears to reflect the need not to reannounce a policy that had previously been abandoned.

The commitment is a surprise because it follows a series of announcements which ruled out most of the obvious policy options to reduce emissions, including a carbon price, a moratorium on new coal, oil and gas projects. Recent reports also said that Labor would reject the idea of a vehicle fuel efficiency target.

The announcement of the target reduction gave no indication of how Labor plans to reach it. Action already taken by state governments, business and the general public seems likely to achieve a 30-35 per cent reduction, primarily from the decarbonization of electricity generation. Where will the rest of the reductions come from.

There’s room to speed up the electricity transition, for example through a new Renewable Energy Target. Labor has also foreshadowed an expansion of the “safeguards” mechanism for industrial emissions introduced by the current government, covering more firms and lowering the current cap. There may also be some room to move on land use, although that is the kind of politically contentious policy Labor has been at pains to avoid in recent times.

Finally, there’s transport. Unless we move rapidly to an electrification of the vehicle fleet, transport emissions will continue to grow. It’s hard to see how this can be achieved without a vehicle fuel efficiency target. In 2019, Labor promised to consult with industry about such a target, but recent reports have suggested that the coming policy statement will rule this out. This would be big mistake.

The animals looked from pigs to men, and men to pigs …

I was going to follow up my post on Labor’s tax and expenditure policies (effectively identical to LNP) with one on climate, pointing out the remaining difference – Labor’s 2019 proposal for a vehicle fuel efficiency target. Given that Morrison had tangled himself up with his backflip on electric vehicles after snarking about “abolishing the weekend” this seemed like one policy that would survive.

But Albanese never misses a chance to disappoint, and it’s been reported he’ll dump the policy. That leaves no room for any substantive difference between the parties. Labor will probably announce the 35 per cent emissions reduction target, already on track thanks to action by the states. Morrison wanted to do the same, but Barnaby Joyce vetoed an explicit target. However, the difference is purely symbolic.


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

To be clear, the sandpit is for regular commenters to pursue points that distract from regular discussion, including conspiracy-theoretic takes on the issues at hand. It’s not meant as a forum for visiting conspiracy theorists, or trolls posing as such.

How small a target: taxation and expenditure

I was puzzled by Anthony Albanese’s Budget reply speech in May this year, which put forward only one alternative policy, a “$10 billion social housing fund”, which proved on inspection to be an off-budget piece of spurious financial engineering that, if all went well might generate $500 million a year for housing. The government already has four or five similar funds and of course the much larger Future fund.

What puzzled me was that Albanese’s response seemed to fall between two stools: either criticise the budget and save your own policies for later, or respond by making a big announcement of your alternative expenditure policy.

Six months later, the answer is clear. The social housing fund is Labor’s big alternative budget policy. There’s also an expansion of support for child care, announced in response to the 2020 budget, and largely matched by the government in 2021 (Labor’s policy is still significantly better for families with income over $100k, and only one child in care, and somewhat worse for the relative small group of families with three or more children in care).

Apart from that, as far as I can tell, zilch.. Labor has promised to implement the tax cuts for high income earners which were passed with bipartisan support after the 2019 election. And its rhetoric on “budget repair” (aka austerity) is identical to that of the government. So, there’s no room for much new spending.

Still, there are presumably some goodies being saved up for the campaign. I’m hoping that the list will include an increase in Jobseeker to somewhere near the poverty line, but I’m not confident.

Of course, there are other issues beyond Budget policy. I may try to write a bit about those later.

The case for being born

The New Yorker is running a profile of the anti-natalist philosopher David Benatar. Reading it, I was unconvinced by the implied response to the obvious objection, “if life is so bad, why not kill yourself”, namely that suicide is painful in itself and causes pain to others.

I searched a bit, and discovered that, not only had Harry Brighouse covered the book at Crooked Timber soon after it came out, but I had made the same objection in comments[1], which I’ll reproduce for convenience

given that Benatar is arguing from a utilitarian rational choice position, his argument leads straight to the (more or less standard utilitarian) conclusion that there should be no moral weight attached to suicide. That is, people should commit suicide if they reasonably judge that their future pains outweigh their future pleasures. Sympathetic others should not deplore the fact of suicide (though they should be saddened by the facts leading to the decision). Once that position is established there’s no problem bringing new people into the world. If they don’t like it they can always kill themselves. That, it seems to me, is orthodox utilitarianism, with a bit of a helping hand from revealed preference. Of course, this kind of thing is all very well in a philosophy class. In reality, suicide is more commonly the result of momentary despair and is a tragedy for both the person concerned and their friends and family.

Since 2008, most Australian states have introduced assisted dying laws, which seem to strengthen the case against Benatar’s claim (at least as applied to Australians). People who face suffering that outweighs any future pleasure can end their lives painlessly and without causing harm to their loved ones (most people who have faced the painful death of loved ones supported the legislation).

It’s true that this option is only available to the terminally ill (12 months to live), but there was no apparent demand for broader access, and the number of people taking the option has remained small.

So, if painless suicide is possible, and those who care about us should (and mostly will) support our choices if life seems unbearable on careful reflection, Benatar just seems to be saying that we are all making the wrong choice in staying alive. How (except in the extreme nature of his suggestion) does this differ from someone saying we are all wrong in our choices of food, music, life partners etc and would be truly happy if we only ate food listened to music, and shared our lives with people we hated?

fn1. This happens to me a lot, either because of failing memory or excessive opinionating.

A Labor tax policy I can get behind …

… Just joking, this is the Greens

A reduction in the inequities in the current tax and transfer system, including but not limited to:

  1. reform of the taxation of trusts, in order to reduce complexity and minimise tax avoidance;
  2. removing subsidies for the extraction and consumption of fossil fuels;
  3. redirecting funding from subsidising private health insurance towards direct public provision;
  4. reforms to the taxation of superannuation to benefit lower income earners;
  5. strengthening the progressivity of the income tax and transfer system across all income levels including by reducing effective marginal tax rates for low-income workers, and increasing the marginal tax rates on high-income earners; 
  6. the implementation of a tax on dynastic wealth, targeted at those bequeathing or gifting large amounts;
  7. the removal of tax exemptions for religious organisations that are not enjoyed by other charities and not-for-profit organisations;
  8. securing the tax and transfer system against manipulation and evasion, to ensure that everyone pays their fair share;
  9. a preference for taxation of income derived from capital instead of income derived from labour;
  10. the implementation of a progressive wealth tax on large concentrations of wealth, including anti-avoidance measures; and
  11. the implementation of a tax on company super-profits.

I’m not endorsing this point by point. Just saying that this looks like the kind of tax policy a serious social democratic party would come up with, and very unlike anything we can expect from the current Labor party