Guns, smoke, global warming and Microsoft

If you’ve spent any time around the blogosphere, or looking at thinktank websites, you’ll be aware that the following opinions tend to go together:

* widespread ownership of guns saves lives

* tobacco smoke is harmless (if not to smokers then to anyone who breathes it second-hand)

* global warming is a myth

There’s not too much mystery about this. The kinds of characteristics that would encourage the adoption of any one of these beliefs (make your own list) obviously encourage the others. What’s surprising to me is how frequently, at least among thinktanks these opinions are correlated with support for Microsoft, and, more particularly, denunciation of open-source software.
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Licensed to kill

According to this report, the man who killed two students and wounded five others in shootings at Monash Uni a couple of years ago is “not guilty due to mental impairment”. It’s a pity those responsible for giving him a license to own four guns didn’t inquire into his mental state first.

More Fed Fellow Fun

I’ve been enjoying a visit from my friend and co-author Simon Grant for the last couple of days. We’ve been working on fairly abstruse aspects of the economics of uncertainty, though with an eye to practical applications to issues like an analysis of the precautionary principle.

However, we downed tools this afternoon when it was announced that Simon has been awarded a Federation Fellowship. This is only the second such Fellowship in Economics, mine being the first.

Obviously, I’m very happy about this, and particularly about the fact that it will bring Simon back to Australia (he’s currently at Rice university in the US).


The success of Eurosceptic parties like the UK Independence Party, which advocates British withdrawal from the EU, has contributed to generally negative coverage of the recent EU Parliamentary elections. Although I disagree with UKIP, I think its success is a good thing.
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Cut and run ?

There’s been a lot of discussion in the comments threads over my (implicit) endorsement of Latham’s view that Australia should pull ground troops out of Iraq by Christmas. This is a reversal of my earlier “we broke it, we own it” view, and therefore requires some explanation. My change of heart has arisen for two main reasons.

First, facts on the ground. For a variety of reasons, the occupation is deeply unpopular among Iraqis and this unpopularity extends to any government installed by the Americans. The Interim Governing Council was pretty thoroughly discredited within a short time of being appointed. The new interim government has some things going for it, such as the international recognition implied by the UN resolution, but the reality that US advisors are calling the shots will emerge pretty quickly. Three months would be an optimistic estimate of the likely honeymoon. From what I’ve read that would also be the minimum time needed to hold an election (perhaps with an imperfect electoral roll) and generate a government that would have some more durable legitimacy. I expect such a government would not support continued occupation, at least on present terms, but if it did, there would be time for Latham to reconsider the policy. There’s no reason why we should accede to US wishes to defer elections into 2005 in the futile hope that better results would be obtained in this way.

Second, the illegality of the original war has been compounded by the Administrations willingness to tear up international conventions on torture. It’s clear by now that responsibility for torture goes all the way to the top and that the most horrifying examples, such as setting vicious dogs onto naked prisoners, threatening (and perhaps actually torturing) children in order to extract co-operation from their parents, and so on, were part of a set of policies approved at high levels. Despite initial denials, for example, it’s now been admitted that Sanchez approved the use of dogs. Of course, since thousands of Iraqis have been through the US detention system, and have been released to tell their story to family and friends, the policy has helped to inflame hatred of the occupation. But even if it was effective, it’s something we should have no part of. Nothing short of wholesale resignations and criminal prosecutions of senior military and civilian officials could justify our continued involvement with this occupation.

As this discussion implies, I’d prefer a direct confrontation with the Administration, backed up with the threat of an immediate withdrawal (and. conversely, a willingness to see things through under better conditions). But no Australian government is ever going to do anything like that.

Queen’s Birthday Message

Like racehorses, Australia’s monarchs[1] all have the same official birthday, normally the second Monday in June (according to today’s Oz, this was based on the actual birthday of George IV III). It’s fair to say that, of all Australian public holidays, this is the one for which the official occasion is most completely ignored. (Labour Day isn’t marked by much, but taking the day off is an observance in itself).
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Where’s the money coming from ?

The classic problem facing an opposition is that of funding its promises. In most election campaigns, the government has first move by virtue of its capacity to bring down a pre-election budget. The government can snaffle appealing Opposition policies, while leaving little in the way of a Budget surplus to fund any new promises from the other side.

Here are some suggestions as to how Labor could answer the question “Where’s the money coming from”, and fund up to $10 billion in tax cuts and new expenditure
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An interesting comparison

In view of the full court press being applied by the US Administration with respect to Mark Latham’s promise to pull Australian troops out of Iraq by Christmas, it’s interesting to note that the Dutch government is not subject to similar pressure to “stay the course”, even though it has just announced a pullout date of March 15, 2005, less than 90 days after Latham’s. This is an extension of a previous commitment that expires on June 30, but the government, part of the Coalition of the Willing, sounds more like Latham than Howard.

Dutch troops will leave Iraq in March 2005 as the Dutch government will not renew their mandate after an eight-month extension, Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said Friday.

“We are linking our stay to the formation of a new government in Iraq,” Mr. Balkenende told a news conference. “Eight months and that’s that …In extraordinary circumstances the mandate could be extended for another 10 days or so after March 15, but in principle the troops will leave on that date”

Meanwhile, the Dutch government has lost ground to the left in EU elections while Blair’s Labor government has lost ground to everybody finishing a dismal third in local elections.