Don't react, it only encourages them

Bright Cold Day  links to this version of the archetypal modern art hoax story. You can read my take on this, first published in 1999, here

A short sample, with an apposite link I just found:

It is still possible to outrage US Senators and New York City Mayors with such ‘artworks’ as chocolate-smeared performance artists and Madonnas rendered in elephant dung, especially when their production and exhibition is paid for by taxpayers. But for the mass public, the game of epater le bourgeois (shocking the middle class) has been played out. Hardly anyone nowadays is really shocked by anything as petty as modern art. Rather, most people accept incomprehensible, trivial and ‘confrontational’ art as one of the facts of modern life, much like the operations of financial markets. Just as with markets in financial derivatives, they give their passive assent to the experts who assure them that modern art is a Good Thing, while retaining an underlying conviction that it is really a gigantic con game. Stories of paintings by ducks or monkeys being hailed as masterpieces are standard filler items in the tabloid press, greeted with the same mild schadenfreude as exposures of failed financial manipulations.

This is getting annoying

Yet again, I had the idea for a great post, bouncing off Tim Dunlop’s observation that “bloggers are the new public intellectuals” and linking back to the tradition of pamphleteering notably celebrated by George Orwell. But of course, I quickly discovered that Emily Eakin at the New York Times had beaten me to it by two weeks, and done it better than I would have.
One consolation comes with today’s Salon where Arianna Huffington asks “What would you do with all the money squandered by corporate America?”
Arianna’s piece is funnier, but I got in earlier with:
this piece beginning
” One trillion US dollars. A million million. It’s an unimaginable sum of money. It’s more than the US would spend in development aid in 100 years, and more than enough to fix many of the world’s problems once and for all.

Yet $US 1 trillion is a conservative estimate of the amount of real wealth that has been dissipated in bad investments during the ‘New Economy’ bubble of the last few years”
and ending
“Today’s ‘New Economy’ enterprises have been purpose-built for the mission of enriching their managers and the financial insiders who put them there. They have succeeded admirably in this mission. Everyone else, including workers, consumers and small shareholders, has lost out.”

Probably very few thoughts are original, but with search engines as efficient as Google, and the filtering services provided by weblogs, it’s getting harder and harder to sustain even the illusion of oringinality

Americans for multilateralism

This poll finds that Most Americans Favor Action Against Iraq, but only 20 per cent support unilateral action without support from Western allies. I am encouraged by this evidence of support for multilateralism, which is usually drowned out by the noise generated by the warblogger right and the old-style leftists who are always opposed to any kind of military action. An operation to remove Saddam, based on UN resolutions, and with a commitment to the long-haul work of restoring democracy (the strong point of the European allies) would be justifiable in my view, whereas a Bush-Saddam vendetta is not.
Of course, to secure the resolutions, the US would need to prove that Saddam is still producing weapons of mass destruction, give him appropriate ultimatums and so forth.
Update:James Rubin sets out a lot of the same arguments here

Public intellectuals

Among a bunch of interesting posts, Don Arthur links to a critical review of Richard Posner’s bestsellet Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline. I thought I’d grab the chance to plug my own review which adds an Australian angle. My two-para grab:

For an Australian reader, though, the really striking feature of Posner’s list is the obscurity of so many of the names on it. and especially of the American academic public intellectuals who are the primary focus of the book. I could only recognise about half the names in this category, and my efforts were boosted by the overrepresentation of economists in the list, reflecting the fact that my academic roots and Posner’s are much the same.

Although we are allegedly living in a globalised world, it is evident that the market for public intellectuals remains nationally segmented. Each country, it seems wants to hear its own policy problems discussed in its own accent. To illustrate this point, a Google search of Australian websites gives over 900 references to Donald Horne and over 2400 to the late Manning Clark, compared to just over 100 for William F. Buckley and 33 for William Kristol. Even rank-and-file Australian public intellectuals (such as the present reviewer) are better represented on Australian websites than these giants of the US scene.


Mickey Kaus demonstrates that he has indeed turned into a rhinoceros (that is, a neoconservative) in his discussion of the ballooning budget deficit in the US. Every serious analyst now accepts that the US is going to remain in deficit forever under current policies. So the question is “Who lost the surplus?”
The obvious answer is Bush, by pushing through unaffordable tax cuts costing trillions of dollars> But Kaus echoes the Republican party line, saying (with marginal qualifications) that the problem is “runaway spending”. It turns out that, in Kaus terms “runaway spending” means spending growing in line with GDP. This is of course, the same definition that the Republicans have imposed on the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), but that doesn’t make it any more sensible.
As Brad DeLong observes, if the volume of services required grows in line with population and the main cost (wages) grows in line with income per head, spending has to grow in line with GDP just to maintain existing services. You can deduct a bit for productivity growth, but it’s hard to get a lot of productivity growth in, say, police services or schoolteaching.
A simple look at history suggests that public expenditure has hardly ever declined significantly relative to GDP even under governments like Thatcher’s that have been willing to run down the quality of public services in important areas. So in Kaus’ terms “runaway” growth is almost inevitable.

Ken Parish

Welcome to Ken Parish, who’s ‘a sometimes opinionated Australian legal academic based in Darwin”. Ken’s current posts show him to be a greenhouse sceptic, a social democratic opponent of outsourcing and a critic of John Howard’s hypocrisy over the Pell business. In other words, he’s going to be hard to put in a box.

Memes, morphic resonance and multiples

For the second time, I’ve coined what I thought was a neat new blogterm, only to see it pop up simultaneously somewhere else. Last week it was “peaceblogger” which showed up on Slate. Today it’s the “Catallaxy Collective”, simultaneously used by Tim Dunlop. It’s not a meme since the whole point of memes is “replicating with modification”. There’s a marvellously nutty idea called “morphic resonance”, invented by a British scientist called Rupert Sheldrake a couple of decades ago, which is supposed to explain this kind of thing. But I think the best explanation is that this is a trivial instance of Merton’s law of multiple discovery. Given the right circumstances, the internal logic of thought will lead several people to make the same connections at once. Tim and I think similarly on lots of things, we both wanted to refer to Jason and his co-bloggers as a group, and neither of us could resist the lefty associations of “collective”.
As an aside, Merton is the father of Robert Merton who got the Nobel Prize for Economics for his work on option pricing (a multiple discover itself) then helped Long Term Credit Management to bring the world financial system to the edge of collapse in 1998.

Sport and life

The Heckler column in the SMH is an interesting experiment, with variable results. Today’s piece, on recent sporting scandals in Sydney, is a gem. The “bigger” scandal, about salary cap breaches by the Canterbury Bulldogs is a yawnfest, and Ubersportingpundit Scott Wickstein was right to give it short shrift.
The more interesting example, which is worth Scott’s attention, is that professionals are now being hired for the Greater Public (=private) Schools rugby competition. In addition, players are encouraged to repeat year 12 so that they’ll be bigger and stronger than their opponents. Only the public sector ring-in to the GPS, Sydney Boy’s High has failed to catch on, and after losing 104-0 against one semi-pro team, it decided to forfeit rather than risk injuries to its players. Our heckler writes:

“As for the battered lads from Sydney Boys’ High, they’ve just learnt the most valuable lessons they can learn if they’re going to take their place among our society’s elites: never give a sucker an even break; winning really is all that counts; all’s fair in business and sport; unless a tactic is explicitly forbidden it’s OK; if it is forbidden, there will always be a way around it; fail to match the opposition’s morality and you’ll be out of the game; money buys everything; the big (bull)dog eats first; and, most of all, don’t fall for your own mythology.”

Advocates of market-oriented reform will be pleased to know that at least some in the public sector are catching on. I’ve heard of cases of teams boosted by Year 12 repetition in sports-oriented state schools, though it seems to be on the initiative of individuals rather than schools at this stage.

A Farewell to Arms

I was tempted to post a withering counterblast to Mark Harrison’s latest piece, but good sense prevailed. The constructive debate I’ve previously engaged in with the Catallaxy collective is more valuable than scoring points in another blogworld flamewar.

I will just correct a minor error noted by Mark and add a useful link. The reference to William Nordhaus was not in the counterpetition but in a supporting opinion piece by Alex Robson.

The actual statement by Nordhaus, and 2000 other economists including a number of Nobel Prizewinners is entitled ECONOMISTS’ STATEMENT ON CLIMATE CHANGEThe relevant para, almost identical to that in the Australian petition reads

” Economic studies have found that there are many potential policies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions for which the total benefits outweigh the total costs. For the United States in particular, sound economic analysis shows that there are policy options that would slow climate change without harming American living standards and these measures may in fact improve U.S productivity in the longer run.”

This correspondence is now closed (at least from my side).