Copenhagen review

Today’s Fin ReView section (subscription only) runs my review of Bjorn Lomborg’s new book. Regular readers won’t be surprised to find a lot of criticisms of the Copenhagen Consensus project that produced the book. But I found a fair bit to praise as well. The review, pretty lengthy, is over the fold. Comments appreciated.
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Weekend reflections

This regular feature is back. The idea is that, over the weekend, you should post your thoughts in a more leisurely fashion than in ordinary comments or the Monday Message Board.

Please post your thoughts on any topic, at whatever length seems appropriate to you. Civilised discussion and no coarse language, please.

Meanwhile, just across the border (crossposted at CT)

Iranians are stocking up on candy and flowers with which to bestrew invading US troops, according to Thomas Friedman who says “many young people apparently hunger for Mr. Bush to remove their despotic leaders, the way he did in Iraq.”. His evidence for this proposition is the following

n Oxford student who had just returned from research in Iran told me that young Iranians were “loving anything their government hates,” such as Mr. Bush, “and hating anything their government loves.” Tehran is festooned in “Down With America” graffiti, the student said, but when he tried to take pictures of it, the Iranian students he was with urged him not to. They said it was just put there by their government and was not how most Iranians felt.

Iran, he said, is the ultimate “red state.”

Oddly enough, when I last visited America, I met plenty of people who “love anything their government hates,” and assured me that the kind of thing I saw on Fox was not really the way most Americans felt. They didn’t feel able to confess to me that they were longing for the arrival of a Franco-German liberation army, but no doubt if I’d had the benefit of an Oxford education, I would have been able to detect their eagerness for an invasion, civil war and so on.

Weekend reflections

This regular feature is back. The idea is that, over the weekend, you should post your thoughts in a more leisurely fashion than in ordinary comments or the Monday Message Board.

Please post your thoughts on any topic, at whatever length seems appropriate to you. Civilised discussion and no coarse language, please.

New layout

Reader Nick Caldwell kindly took the trouble to supply me with an alternative layout for the blog, which I’m now testing. Unfortunately, I haven’t got the header working yet, but hopefully I can fix that soon. In the meantime, I’ll ask for comments from readers on any of
(i) The changes to the layout of the main post section
(ii) Readability problems created or resolved
(iii) Links column on left rather than right
(iv) Anything else

Update Thanks to all who’ve commented, favourably and otherwise. Some further points

1. I plead guilty to asking for more red in Nick’s original design, resulting in the terrible puce/mushroom you see now. My color intuition is woeful, I’m afraid. If anyone can suggest a better colour scheme that I can easily implement, please do so. In the meantime, I plan to go back to Nick’s original.

2. I’ve now managed to get the links to the header working, and Nick has supplied more CSS which implements Textile footnotes properly. Great!

3. I’m still not happy with the sidebar, but I definitely like the changes in the main body.

Iraq: just about time to go

The latest terrorist bombings in Iraq came closer than usual to home for Australia, with two soldiers suffering (reportedly) minor injuries in an attack on the Australian embassy[1], while 20 more innocent Iraqis were killed, adding to the tens of thousands already killed by both/all sides in this terrible war.

It’s pretty clear by now that Iraq has descended into something approaching full-scale civil war and that, as is usually the case in civil wars, the presence of foreign troops is only making things worse. But rather than arguing about this, it might be better to put it to the test. This NYT Op-ed piece by three researchers from the Center for Strategic and International Studies suggests a referendum on US withdrawal to be held soon after the forthcoming elections. They make a pretty good case that it would be hard for the insurgents to justify disrupting such a referendum, or for nationalists like Sadr to justify a boycott.

I expect such a referendum would lead to a majority vote for withdrawal. But a majority the other way would certainly be an improvement on the current situation. The only really bad outcome would be the case where the Kurds voted solidly for keeping US troops, reversing a majority vote the other way among Arab Iraqis.

fn1. Despite this event, Australia has suffered far less direct loss in Iraq than many nations who were far less deeply involved in the decision to go to war.

Creative Commons

I’ve spent most of the last couple of days at the QUT Creative Commons Conference, with Larry Lessig as the main speaker and featuring the launch of the Australian version of the Creative Commons license. I’ve got enough out of this for weeks of blogging. For the moment though I’ll just mention that there were some very interesting sessions on intellectual property rights in massively multiplayer games like Everquest. This got me thinking that, purely for research purposes, I should give one of these games a try. Fortunately, sanity returned in time. If I need another addiction to combine with blogging, I’ll go for something safe and sensible, like crack cocaine.

The significance of the A380

The unveiling of the Airbus A380 raises a couple of thoughts (not entirely new ones, and pointing in somewhat different directions). First, this is another example of the US loss of dominance in manufacturing. Boeing has ceded the jumbo jet market it created with the 747 to Airbus, betting everything on the proposition that airlines will want medium size planes like its forthcoming 7E7. Even if this turns out to be true (and limp early orders don’t support the idea) Airbus has an entrant in this market as well (the A350). Meanwhile, by abandoning the 717 (the old DC 9 inherited in the merger with MacDonnell Douglas), Boeing has abandoned the small jet market, the winner here being the Brazilian fimr Embraer. All of this parallels Detroit’s loss of dominance in the car market. And all this despite the big decline in the dollar-euro exchange rate. This suggests that winding down the US trade deficit is going to be a painful process.

The second point is the slowdown in progress in transport. In the 25 years from the end World War II to 1970, passenger air travel went from essentially nothing to the 747 jumbo jet launched by Boeing in 1967. Move ahead another 35 years, and we still rely on the jumbo jet. With the A380, we are looking at what will probably be the state of the art for the next few decades, and it’s … a jumbo jet, only 50 per cent bigger. Of course, there have been improvements in every part of the plane, from composite materials to more efficient engines, but it’s still, in essence, a bigger 747. The same is true, in spades, for cars. For all practical purposes, it looks as though we reached our collective speed limit 40 years ago[1].

So, maybe it doesn’t matter that the US is losing the markets for cars and planes. With firms like Intel and Microsoft it dominates the moneymaking end of the most innovative part of the economy, and with Apple, it provides most of the creativity. On the other hand, you need a lot of iMacs to buy an A380.

fn1. In fact, we’ve slowed down in the interim, with the introduction, commercial failure and ultimate withdrawal of the Concorde.

Latham and after

I don’t think the Australian media has much to be proud of in the way it’s treated Mark Latham, over his entire period as Labor leader and particularly over the past few weeks. When he was new and exciting, he got fairly uncritical reporting and was built up further. Then, inevitably, he was torn down and, after the election loss, subjected to quite unfair criticism. This is the nature of the way media treats celebrities, including rapidly-rising politicians, and there’s probably nothing much that can be down about it, but it’s still depressing. And, of course, the Labor Party itself didn’t behave too well. Latham made some significant tactical mistakes, particularly regarding the way the Tasmanian forests issues were handled, and he had same bad luck, but he still performed better as leader, in my view than anyone Labor has had since 1996, and arguably since 1993.

Meanwhile, the view that Kim Beazley must lead again is being presented as irresistible by all the papers. One striking thing is that a lot of them refer to opinion polls showing that Beazley is the popular choice, but none of the polls I’ve seen (survey-based or write in) give him more than 35 per cent support. Both the Age and SMH have Internet polls running, and in both cases the combined vote for Rudd and Gillard exceeds that for Beazley. Given that most voters have already made up their minds about Beazley, this is not very promising.

Still, it looks as if we’re going to get him back again, and I’ll just have to hope he outperforms my expectations.

fn1. Keating did a great job demolishing Hewson, but let this narrow victory go to his head, and his second term was a disaster for Labor.

Boymal and Davidson on copyright

Although I don’t shy away from it, I’m not a fan of conflict for its own sake. So when I’ve been critical of work written by someone, it’s nice to find something by the same person with which I can agree wholeheartedly. In the course of some work on the FTA, I found a nice piece on copyright by Jonathan Boymal and Sinclair Davidson[1] in Agenda (vol 10, no 2, 2003). Agenda itself protects its copyright, so I’ll give a summary and extract rather than a link

Boymal and Davidson do a good critique of arguments for longer copyright, focusing on the fact that any benefits more than 50 years beyond the death of today’s authors will be discounted to (virtually) zero using private risk-adjusted discount rates. By contrast, the costs of copyright extension start immediately, and are subject to lower social discount rates.

Another issue relates to ways in which copyrighted characters may be appropriated by other writers, and some very interesting points are raised. (mildly non-PG content over page).

fn1. Davidson and I have crossed swords on tax quite a few times.
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