Thought for Thursday

My column in today’s Fin (subscription required) continues my efforts to debunk the generation game. (So far these efforts appear to be pretty much as futile as a campaign against astrology, but I persist anyway). I’ve extended my range of targets from the general pop sociology on this topic to the Treasury and its analysis of intergenerational equity.

This reminds me that I really ought to say something about the Auerbach-Kotlikoff idea of generational accounting, which had something of a vogue in the early 90s and is still helping to justify generational chatter. Auerbach and Kotlikoff tried to systematically assess the impacts of government fiscal policy on members of different generations. In my opinion, what they produced was a complicated way of answering the question “Are the present settings of tax and expenditure policy sustainable in the long run”. If there’s interest, I might try a more detailed post on this some time.

In the meantime, here’s my article:
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While I read more online than anywhere else, I still like magazines, and subscribe to quite a few of them. Most are fairly well-known, like Prospect, Scientific American and the London Review of Books; you can find a lot of the content of these online also.

I wanted to mention a few less prominent Australian magazines which I subscribe to and find worthwhile. There’s Australian Options, published in Adelaide, Eureka Street from Melbourne and Dissent from Canberra. If you’re looking for a Christmas present for a leftish friend/relation, you could do worse than a subscription to one of these.

Outcomes and opportunity

Among the many comments lost (temporarily I hope) in the great database disaster was a discussion of the old distinction between equality of outcomes (like life expectancy) and equality of opportunity. This distinction has long been a staple of debates between market liberals and social democrats, and now defines a central point of distinction between supporters of a Third Way (such as Blair) and modernising social democrats (such as Gordon Brown), who may be indistinguishable on issues like privatisation that formerly acted as litmus tests.

A look at the evidence suggests that a position supporting equality of opportunity while accepting highly unequal outcomes is not sustainable. The most important observation is that, contrary to popular belief, there is less mobility between income classes in the United States than in European social democracies. A good, and fairly recent study in this is The Real Worlds of Welfare Capitalism by Goodin, Headey Muffels and Dirven, which I reviewed here, along with Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed.
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Another year, another move?

Following the great database disaster, I’m thinking about alternatives to the current setup, kindly provided for me by Robert Corr and mentalspace. The problem is that there are too many levels, and a disaster like this puts an unfair burden on Robert. So I’m thinking about moving to another hosting service.

But, if I’m going to move and make everyone to change their bookmarks, update blogrolls or just forget about me, I need to think about more radical changes. One would be to use TypePad, the easy version of MT. If anyone has tried this, I’d be very keen to hear about it.

Then, on the providential theory, the fact that my invitation to guestblog on Crooked Timber came at the same time as the database disaster must be telling me something. Maybe I should get with the Zeitgeist and join a group blog.

Anyway, here’s a nonbinding poll where you can express your views. Please leave comments also, especially if you choose “Other” (I thought about “stop altogether” as an option, but decided that would be tempting fate and spam).

<script language="javascript" src=" You must turn on JavaScript to view the PulsePoll. For tech support: co-laboratory


Saddam’s capture has all sorts of implications.

The biggest is that it will greatly accelerate the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. This is obvious enough if the resistance fades away and large numbers of troops aren’t needed. But suppose this doesn’t happen. It’s hard to see the US public putting up with a continued stream of casualties when the main objectives on which they were sold the war have either been achieved (get Saddam) or proved illusory (WMDs). The instant reaction Good. Can we go home now, is going to be fairly widely shared as time goes on.

On the Iraqi side, as Juan Cole points out, this will only strengthen the Shia demand for proper elections and a US withdrawal. Now that the fear of Saddam’s return is gone, the dependence of a future Iraqi government on the US is significantly reduced. Shias might well judge that they could do a better (because more ruthless) job of suppressing the insurgency on their own.
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Crooked Timber guest spot

Although I’ve been watching group blogs with a lot of interest, I haven’t been willing to make the shift so far (I expect it’s that sturdy individualism we social democrats are noted for). If I did join a group blog, though, it would certainly be Crooked Timber. It’s a great blog, always thought-provoking and with excellent discussion in the comments threads.

So, surveying the (hopefully temporary) dishevelled state of the blog following the great database disaster, I was pleasantly surprised to get an invitation from Henry Farrell to be Crooked Timber’s inaugural guest blogger. I’ll be posting there for the next week or so.

I’m still thinking about how to handle this. For the moment, I plan the following
(i) Items of purely local Australian interest will be posted only on this blog
(ii) Items of general interest will be posted on Crooked Timber first, then reposted here

If you haven’t checked CT out, this is a good time to do it. If you have any thoughts on individual vs group blogs, feel free to post them


From almost any viewpoint, including that of opponents of the war such as myself, the capture of Saddam Hussein, represents good news, made better by the ignominy of his surrender. When the Iraq war and its justifications , spurious and otherwise, are forgotten, the image of the great dictator being dug out of the hole in which he had hidden will remain, along with the inglorious ends of Mussolini, Hitler, Ceausescu, and others, as a warning to those who might plan to follow the same path.

Monday Message Board

It’s time for your comments on any topic (civilised discussion and no coarse language please). I’ve already posted briefly on today’s big news, the capture of Saddam Hussein, and will probably post again, so comments on that topic might best be placed in those threads.

Is Saddam the key (repost)

Here’s what I had to say about the possible capture of Saddam a month or so ago.

Back in early April, I observed that the Iraq campaign was a war of absences. Some of the mysteries posed by those absences have now been resolved. For example, everyone now knows that the Weapons of Mass Destruction did not exist. But the big remaining mystery is Saddam. It seems pretty clear that he got away from Baghdad safely, and likely that he’s still alive.

On thinking about it, I have the feeling that Saddam is, in a sense, the key to the entire situation. On the one hand, suppose Saddam is caught or (more likely) killed. Whether or not this led to a reduction in terror/resistance attacks, the pressure for a quick American withdrawal would, I think, quickly become irresistible. For most of the Americans who still support the war, this would, I think, count as “Mission Accomplished”, whatever happened in Iraq afterwards.

On the other hand, as long as Saddam is at large, and the security situation remains anything like it is at present, a US withdrawal will be seen as “cutting and running”, and will therefore be resisted with great vigour.

Now we’ll see if this analysis stands up.

Once bitten

I notice even those who would like it to be true are holding off from endorsing this Telegraph report of an Iraqi memo proving not only that Saddam Hussein arranged the training of S11 terrorist Mohammed Atta and planned the attacks, but that the Niger uranium story was true after all.

The Telegraph seems to have a unique capacity to discover Iraqi memos proving whatever would be convenient on any given day. In the world of Telegraph memos, ties between OBL and Saddam are old news.

Then there’s the memo that supposedly showed that pro-Saddam MP George Galloway received large payments from Saddam. This is currently the subject of court action, but similar documents published by another newspaper have already been discredited.

Update It looks as if this kind of speculation may be irrelevant, if, as reported, Saddam has been captured