Passion of the Present has a detailed updae on the situation in Darfur. The most hopeful news in a generally depressing situation is that

The African Union is landing about 300 troops in a few days, to protect its monitors–some of whom are already in Darfur. The AU leadership is currently considering sending more.

This marks a welcome change from the past willingness of African governments to ignore each others’ crimes and failures in the interests of “African unity”.

It’s also promising that, while the Iraq war has made intervention more difficult (for example, by handing a readymade propaganda line to the Janjaweed thugs, who can present themselves as resisting “Crusaders”) it hasn’t stopped the US and “old Europe” co-operating to put pressure on the Sudanese government. That said, the situation in Darfur is bad, and not getting any better at present.

Here’s a report on the UNSC resolution

The Stalinist delusion

Tyler Cowen says

If I could have the answers to five questions in political science/sociology, the appeal of Stalinism to intellectuals would be one of them.

I don’t think this is as difficult a question as is often supposed.

Most of the intellectuals who professed support for Communism during the rule of Stalin (and Lenin) were primarily victims of (self-)deception. They supported the stated aims of the Communist Party (peace, democracy, brotherhood), opposed the things the Communists denounced (fascism, racism, exploitation) and did not inquire too closely into whether the actual practice of the Soviet Union and the parties it controlled was consistent with these stated beliefs. I developed this point, and the contrast with the relatively small group of intellectuals who supported the Nazis, in a review of[1] Mark Lilla’s book The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics
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I’ve been working on a piece about productivity, targeted as an Economics Briefing for the Fin Review. This used to be the Schools Brief, but they’re trying to broaden the appeal a bit. The target audience, I think falls into two groups

* Students with a year or two of economics under their belts

* The subset of the Fin audience with an interest in economic policy issues, as opposed to business news

Any suggestions or criticisms will be much appreciated.

By the way, I hope no-one minds being used as unpaid editorial advisers. The payoff is that you get to read stuff well before the print audience.
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Libertarians and war

Over at the Volokh conspiracy, Randy Barnett poses the question of what Libertarianism as a political philosophy tells us about foreign policy, and comes up with the conclusion “not much”, particularly in relation to war. He says his views are tentative and invites others to contribute to the debate. I’ll accept, partly because it’s intellectually interesting, partly because Jim Henley (who could, I think have done a much better job) has gone into hiatus, and partly because I think internationalism (at least my version of it) shares some points in common with libertarianism, while being opposed on others.
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Not a happy camper

Ross Garnaut has been highly critical of the FTA with the US and the way it has been debated. He has now broadened this criticism into a more generally pessimistic view of the Australian economy. Since Ross has historically been an optimist, this is quite a shift. He points to excessive domestic demand, the current account deficit and signs of incipient inflation, masked by favorable movements in terms of trade.

Garnaut argues that our impending decline is due to the abandonment of microeconomic reform. In my discussion of the Howard government in Robert Manne’s book of the same title, I also observed that microeconomic reform has slowed down substantially under Howard. However, I’m much less of a fan of microeconomic reform than Garnaut – the Kiwis had reform in spades, and it didn’t do them any good. In diagnosing the same imbalances, I’d point to causes such as the deliberate promotion of a boom, then a bubble in the housing market.

In addition, while I don’t believe in mechanistic business cycle models, I think there is some truth to the idea that, the longer an expansion goes on, the more fragile it becomes. A good run of luck breeds complacency, which encourages unsound investments and unwise consumption, and thereby brings about its own downfall. Garnaut rejects this view, saying “no economic expansion is doomed simply on account of its longevity”.

Another language query

Following on the question of whether Alan Woods’ description of me as “quite bright” was high or faint praise (Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber discusses the US-UK division on this), I have another question.

I’ve noticed that the New York Times uses the word “debtor” interchangeably to mean either “person who owes money”, as in this story which refers to debtors in bankruptcy or “person who is owed money”, as in this story on Iraq and this on Mike Tyson.

Is this standard US usage, or just bad subediting?

Greens’ economic policy

Here’s an extract from a piece I’ve been working on which will appear in Adelaide Voices

Having been disappointed in the economic policy offerings of the major parties, it is natural for an economist to look to the offerings of the remaining serious alternative, the Greens (it seems unlikely that the Democrats will manage a serious run), with a mixture of hope and trepidation; hope because the Greens have generally been willing to take a stand and trepidation because the economic policy platforms of minor parties frequently contain large elements of wishful thinking, small-group hobby horses and plain irrationality

It turns out that trepidation is unnecessary. The Greens economic policy is, quite simply, the most coherent and intellectually-defensible document of its kind ever put forward by an Ausralian political party. At the level of broad principles, it begins with the recognition that economic policy must be financially, as well as environmentally and socially, sustainable. Far from seeking cheap popularity by arguing for both tax cuts and increased public expenditure, the Greens have insisted that public sector debt should be matched by adequate capacity to service debt, and that dubious financial expedients like the use of privatisation to reduce measured debt should be avoided.

The policy is just as good in detail as it is in broad outline. The proposed tax policy initiatives, including a return to full capital gains tax, an assault on tax avoidance and a carbon tax, are just the kind of initiatives that Labor ought to be proposing. Unlike the modern Labor party, the Greens have no hesitation in espousing equality as a goal of economic policy.

Sad to say, in most electorates, a vote for the Greens will have purely symbolic significance, and it will be the allocation of second preferences between Liberal and Labor candidates that really counts. Moreover, it is doubtful that many Green voters will be motivated primarily by concerns about economic policy. Nevertheless, anyone who decides to vote for the Greens on the strength of their support for the environment and opposition to war should be encouraged to know that they are also choosing a party with a policy that is economically as well as socially responsible. If only the major parties could claim as much.

I’d be interested in readers’ comments.