Weekend reflections (early edition)

I’m going to be off air for a few days. So I’m throwing it open, a little early to Weekend Reflections. Please comment on any topic of interest (civilised discussion and no coarse language, please).

77 thoughts on “Weekend reflections (early edition)

  1. Now that Bronwyn Bishop has declared Islamic headscarves should be banned as an affront to Australian values, is it legitimate to opine that Bronwyn’s own hairstyle might be declared both a crime against nature and a danger to the ozone layer?

  2. “poor people require beating with sticks in order not to sit around doing nothing all day, while rich people require to be provided with carrots in order not to do the same.”
    No Peter, some people require more incentive (carrots) than others to do the things most of us understand intuitively, can keep us from becoming poor and sometimes make us rich. The people we speak of are usually poor of course. Naturally, there is the ultimate stick of prison for those recalcitrant few, who believe in taking shortcuts.

  3. “Fulsome” is such a stupid word to use when you can just say “full”. Then again Brogden wasn’t real bright in the first place or he wouldn’t have got himself into such trouble.

  4. Wilful,
    My reading comprehension’s fine, thanks very much, but my communication skills were a bit lacking. I was aware that the quote was anti-violence. That was the whole point: to rebut the idea that Islamic and Australian values stand at odds to each other. I was expecting a violent tirade because of the line “fight you not for your faith” being interpreted as “anything non-Islamic must be fought” (which it clearly is not).

  5. The NSW opposition leader disses the wife of the former premier. He resigns. ‘Dishonourable’ behaviour.
    The Prime Minister conspires to illegally invade Iraq based upon lies. No resignation. ‘Honourable’ behaviour.

    I’m confused.

  6. Well, at least Broggers has set an example to his Liberal brethren. Many are the times over recent years that a member of the federal Liberal Party should have resigned for his or her comments but didn’t. For example, a member of the Libs slandered Justice Kirby without consequence. Another likened Bob Brown to a certain infamous Nazi leader. Neither comment was acceptable, but Howard failed to act. Broggers did the right thing…

    The issue is a real pity for the Libs in NSW. Labor hasn’t been looking very good there for a while and then this idiot takes all the attention away from the ALPs bad policies and incompetent administration. If he’d just kept his head in Broggers would have led the Liberals to a decent showing at the next election. Instead he’s consigned to the dustbin of history.

  7. David,
    The legality of the invasion of Iraq is a matter of interpretation of the Vienna Conventions. The conspiracy bit is also questionable, based on whether it was illegal. Claiming it was based on lies is questionable – did Howard know they were lies? We can look back and say they were wrong, but the matter of lies is another thing.
    Doing what Brogden has now admitted to doing is simply wrong – and is not a matter of interpretation. The only pity was it took him so long to resign.

  8. The Economist published a recent article on the famine in Niger which, unfortunately isn’t available on-line.

    I’ll summarise some of the key points since they have relevance not only to recent discussions on this topic here but more broadly to the role of markets.

    The majority of the population of Niger are pastoral nomads. They raise livestock and sell it to buy commodities including staple foods such as grains.

    The proximate cuase of the famine in Niger was a rise in grain prices – a rise which was not primarily caused by the short-fall in the Niger grain harvest.

    Niger normally imports grain from Nigeria. So far we have here a near-perfect illustration of how markets are supposed to work. The inhabitants of semi-arid Niger exploit their comparitive advantage in livestock production based on the cheap inputs of large areas of pasture land. The Nigerians take advantage of their comparitive advantage in grain production arising from their wetter climate. The end-result is higher total output of both grain and meat than would occur in Niger and Nigeria each tried to be self-sufficient in both grain and meat.

    Then comes oil price rises and economic reform in Nigeria. Nigerians are richer (temporarily at least) and as a result want to consume more meat. The civilian government of Nigeria removes restrictions on commercial meat and poultry production which were imposed by past military governments.

    Meat and poultry production in Nigeria rises – and prices for grain rise along with them. (It’s possible too that rising Nigerian meat production contributed to a decline in meat prices there but that isn’t explicitly stated in the article.)

    So the relative exchange rate between grain and cattle faced by the Nigeran pastoralists shifts against them – it now takes more cattle to purchase the same amount of grain.

    Classic economic theory would state that Nigerans should now exit the cattle market, reducing the supply of cattle and restoring equilibrium.

    Unfortunately, for subsistence pastoralists there are no alternative sources of income – you sell your cattle to get grain to eat or you starve.

    So pastoralists start selling more cattle – which pushes the price down further and so on in a vicious downward spiral.

    This famine is a market phenomenon, nothing more, nothing less. Recognising this doesn’t require any moral judgment as to whether markets are good or bad. Markets are tools – they are no more good or bad than a hammer or a screw-driver.

    Once we recognise that simple fact we can move beyond, on the one hand, believing markets are innately evil and exploitative and on the other beleiving that markets are innately benign and that the untrammeled operation of market forces will somehow automatically maximise human well-being.

    Like any tool, market economics is useful for some purposes and bloody useless for others.

    (Final note to Terje – if you think even a tiny fraction of these transactions attracted GST or income tax, you really need to get out more.)

  9. I don’t think anyone ever called ‘markets’ as such evil and/or exploitative, this characterization is usually reserved for market capitalism with high concentration of the means of production and race-to-the-bottom prone labor market.

  10. Andrew,

    Thanks for your response.
    I’m sure a good lawyer can excuse any behaviour by our Prime Minister and he’ll be able to quote all sorts of vague weasel language in treaties and UN resolutions. The UN did not authorise this war and in fact declared it illegal. I’m sure UN lawyers read the same treaties, etc.
    The PM met with Bush and promised Australia’s involvement very early on. Does anyone think this didn’t happen? That’s conspiracy. I don’t think this point is worth debating.
    As to the lies. Consider that our Prime Minister must be a man of some intelligence (No, really). He has the backing of a vast bureaucracy and various intelligence agencies all working fulltime to get him the right answers. What comes out of this to justify a war. Human shredding machines! (I really loved this one) Niger uranium! Aluminium tubes! Non-compliance! All of these issues were debunked. How could our well informed Prime Minister believe any of this bull. When I heard this stuff I laughed. It just was not credible. No evidence at all.

    Hey, Saddam is a murdering despot but the reason we were given all along was WMD, WMD, WMD. He was no longer a threat to his neighbours. Humanitarian reasons were given in a whisper. Many people who are NOT Saddam Hussien have died, a country has been ruined, part of our common history trashed. We have replaced tyranny with anarchy. Iraq is now an ungovernable failed state. Way to give humanitarian support, guys!

    I’m afraid I regard starting a war as a very, very serious business and I cannot forgive our PM for this crime. He should be in prison.

    Remember when one our values was that we didn’t start wars, we finished them?

  11. “Well, at least Broggers has set an example to his Liberal brethren.”

    Further to GoTF’s comments.

    Notice that in the brewing witch-hunt over “Islamic” headscarves (would any ban extend to a girl made bald by chemotherapy? If not, how do you distinguish between an “Islamic” headscarf and all other headscarves?) Weasel-Word Howard has declared the criteria for culpability promulgated by Witch-Huntresses-in-Chiefs Bishop and Panopoulos to be “impractical”.

    In other words, Howard is hinting that if he could find some workable way of isolating “Islamic” headscarves as “iconic emblems of defiance” without the blowback on turbans, yomulkes, snoods, wimples, veils, etc., etc., then he may countenance such a project.

    In other words, Howard has no moral objection to firing the faggots.

    Or more generally, Howard has few genuine moral objections to anything.

  12. Ian,

    You neglected to mention that drought and locust plague destroyed much of the fodder used by pastoralists to feed their herds. Aside from killing off the animals tha represent their sole source of food and income, the dearth of fodder forced many pastoralists to either: a) sell the animals they couldn’t feed; and b) move their herds further south, away from the Sahel, and towards available fodder.
    The first move exacerbated the adverse shift in the terms of trade (i.e. the price of animals plummeted with increased supply, just as grain prices were rising) you noted; the second took many pastoralists further away from vulnerable women and children, left without wealth or income to purchase (more expensive) grain.

    There’s all sorts of problems with Niger (e.g. chronic poverty, which makes its economy vulnerable to any significant shock), but it’s unlikely that the food crisis would have occurred if there had not been significant drought and locust plague. It’s consequently incorrect to say that the food crisis was a market phenomenon.

  13. abb1,
    I find it interesting that an inanimate process can be designated as ‘evil’. Can we also describe evolution as ‘evil’ as it condemns whole species to extinction and is therefore much more ‘evil’.
    Capitalism is no more ‘evil’ than social democracy, communism or (lets avoid Godwin’s Law) anything else. It is the people that make those up that can be ‘evil’.

  14. Ian,

    Your summarising of The Economist’s article appears inaccurate. You say that Niger’s famine followed “oil price rises and economic reform in Nigeria.” However, oil prices are not mentioned in the article and the only ‘reform’ that is referred to is Nigeria’s imposition of import controls on rice and wheat and the assistance that it has given to wheat and poultry farmers.

    Both of these measures have increased Nigerian demand for cereals, pushing up their price and causing Niger’s TOT to fall. This, combined with export controls on grains (imposed by Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Mali in contravention of trade treaties), are the prime reasons the Economist gives for the famine. The full article is available here:


    None of these factors support your conclusion that “this famine is a market phenomenon.” Indeed, the famine appears to have been caused by policies that have prevented the market from working.

  15. ab and BS Fairman (about a dozen comments back)

    The misuse of the word fulsome is one of my pet hates. It should be avoided because, while it is common to hear people now use it instead of the perfectly good word “full”, its usual meaning is along the lines of: buttery: unpleasantly and excessively suave or ingratiating in manner or speech.

    Perhaps that is how Brogden meant his apology!

  16. Andrew – Slavery is evil. So is that which we won’t speak of because of the law beginning with G.

    Both systems are clearly evil, apart from the people in them.

  17. http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=evil
    adj. e·vil·er, e·vil·est

    1. Morally bad or wrong; wicked: an evil tyrant.
    2. Causing ruin, injury, or pain; harmful: the evil effects of a poor diet.
    3. Characterized by or indicating future misfortune; ominous: evil omens.
    4. Bad or blameworthy by report; infamous: an evil reputation.
    5. Characterized by anger or spite; malicious: an evil temper.

    “The evil effects of a poor diet”, “the evils of capitalism”. Indeed, religious overtones make it sound ironic, but as a rhetorical figure of speech – why not?

  18. Ah, damn it. I used a bad word in my comment and it got censored. I think the offending word is ‘d-i-è-t’…

  19. Matt,

    While oil prices are not mentioned in the article it is a fact that Nigeria is a major oil exporter and has been experiencing something of a boom.

    I refer you, for example, here:


    “Oil-rich Nigeria, long hobbled by political instability, corruption, inadequate infrastructure, and poor macroeconomic management, is undertaking some reforms under the new civilian administration. Nigeria’s former military rulers failed to diversify the economy away from overdependence on the capital-intensive oil sector, which provides 20% of GDP, 95% of foreign exchange earnings, and about 65% of budgetary revenues. The largely subsistence agricultural sector has failed to keep up with rapid population growth – Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country – and the country, once a large net exporter of food, now must import food. Following the signing of an IMF stand-by agreement in August 2000, Nigeria received a debt-restructuring deal from the Paris Club and a $1 billion credit from the IMF, both contingent on economic reforms. Nigeria pulled out of its IMF program in April 2002, after failing to meet spending and exchange rate targets, making it ineligible for additional debt forgiveness from the Paris Club. In the last year the government has begun showing the political will to implement the market-oriented reforms urged by the IMF, such as to modernize the banking system, to curb inflation by blocking excessive wage demands, and to resolve regional disputes over the distribution of earnings from the oil industry. During 2003 the government began deregulating fuel prices, announced the privatization of the country’s four oil refineries, and instituted the National Economic Empowerment Development Strategy, a domestically designed and run program modeled on the IMF’s Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility for fiscal and monetary management. GDP rose strongly in 2004.”

    – I will bear in mind in future that every statment here must be supported by references and that fail to provide such links will be the basis for veiled accusations of dishonesty.

  20. Information on Nigeria’s agricultural policy mauy be found here:


    Land is being provided at reasonable terms for use for large scale farming. Government has encouraged foreign agric investors with remarkable results. For instance farmers from Southern African countries have found home in Nigeria where they have started operations to produce.

    The agricultural initiative of the Obasanjo Administration has seen to the restriction of the importation of some types of food and cash crops to encourage local farmers to compete.

  21. Andrew Reynolds Says:

    I find it interesting that an inanimate process can be designated as ‘evil’. Can we also describe evolution as ‘evil’ as it condemns whole species to extinction and is therefore much more ‘evil’.

    Evolution is an imanimate process? I don’t think that word means what you think it means.

    Capitalism is no more ‘evil’ than social democracy, communism or (lets avoid Godwin’s Law) anything else. It is the people that make those up that can be ‘evil’.

    This is just useless hand-waving, along the lines of “guns don’t kill people“.

  22. Ian,

    I did not claim that oil prices weren’t a factor or indeed other Nigeria agricultural policies weren’t either. I know very little about Niger’s predicament. But they weren’t the main reasons given by The Economist. And I wasn’t accusing you of dishonesty but a misrepresentation.

    I note that you haven’t backed up your claim that Niger’s famine is a market phenomenon by refuting The Economist’s assertions that the famine was caused by protectionist policies restricting or distorting trade.

  23. This is a message copied from Mr A. Loewenstein’s own blog re his claim of being a victim of Michael Danby. It is self explanatory and sums it all up. Enjoy.

    Censured, not Censored
    Antony Loewenstein, take a glance at the title. Grab a dictionary and look up both words. Notice the difference? Federal MP Michael Danby was never trying to censor you, although he was censuring you. You probably know this, however it’s plain to see you love the idea that there are people trying to censor the fruit of the barren dunes between your ears. For the record, here is the quote Loewenstein believes is censorious:

    (Published in the Australian Jewish News) “Melbourne University Publishing should drop this whole disgusting project. If they proceed, I urge the Australian Jewish community, and particularly The Australian Jewish News, to treat it with dignified silence. That is our best response. If, God forbid, it is published, don’t give them a dollar. Don’t buy the book.”

    That’s a rather flexible definition of ‘censorship’ you’re utilising there, Antony. I have no doubt that you’ll keep on spruiking your victimhood to all and sundry. I also have no doubt that, in response to criticism from people like myself you’ll be smugly thinking, “great – all this flaming is just more publicity for my book.” Wrong, pinhead. Not all publicity is good publicity. Sure, you’ve got the right up in arms with your misleading claims of being the victim of censorship. There are reflexive members of the left who will no doubt respond to that and buy your book just because it’s prominently ridiculed by their ideological opponents. Ask yourself, though – are these the kind of readers you want? A bunch of unthinking ideologues? More intelligent and independent-minded leftists and neutrals will avoid buying the book due to your deceptive behaviour, which people like myself are loudly pointing out. If you’re willing to grossly mislead anyone who will listen just to publicise your book, what lies and distortions are to be found within the book itself? This logic won’t be lost on those with half a brain or more.

    So, Ant. Are you trying to fire a shot in the war of ideas or preach to the choir and make a buck? Sounds like the latter to me. Nothing wrong with that. However, it makes you a Mike Moore, not a Karl Marx.


  24. SJ,
    I missed this earlier. I shouldn’t let it go without a response
    Just for an opening, I was saying that evolution itself in inanimate. While it does act on animals (ourselves included) the process itself is not alive.
    On ‘evil’ – if you want to get into that discussion I am more than happy to. I firmly believe that what you call capitalism and I call freedom is simply the sum of the choices that people make when left alone to decide on what they want to do with their own lives. If that can possibly be ‘evil’ then I stand condemned for supporting it.
    If you contend that there is another system that is less ‘evil’ then I would say that the coercion required to force people into making choices other than the ones they would naturally make would probably be the greater ‘evil’. (If I am wrong and you have such a system then there is likely to be another Australian Nobel laureate in the near future – you.)
    Any such coercion should be strictly limited to direct (or serious indirect) adverse effects of the choices made – not trying to affect people’s lives on a day to day basis.
    Human history is littered with the detrious of systems that limited people’s freedoms. The only difference with the twentieth century (and the start of this one) is that the developments achieved by the more free people were turned by those who were governing the less free to ‘evil’ purposes.

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