Weekend reflections

Weekend Reflections is on again. Please comment on any topic of interest (civilised discussion and no coarse language, please). Feel free to put in contributions more lengthy than for the Monday Message Board or standard comments.


The issue of PPPs (public-private partnerships) has been bubbling along for almost a decade, but it has suddenly exploded, partly because of the fiasco with the Cross-City Tunnel in Sydney and partly because of a more general reaction against the string of bad deals that has been handed to the public in the process. I had a piece in the Fin a few weeks ago which elicited a very hostile response from Mark Birrell (former Kennett minister and now head of an industry lobby group). He quoted the British Auditor-general in favour of the British version (PFI), but as a subsequent letter-writer pointed out, some senior figures within the National Audit Office, notably Jeremy Colman, have been highly critical of the accounting for these projects, as have most academics who’ve looked at them.

Since then, there’s been a string of articles and media segments. The Australian, amazingly, has suddenly come out violently against PPPs. I just watched one on the 7:30 report with the redoubtable Tony Harris (whose recent piece has been reprinted at Troppo and also John Goldberg, a long-time critic of the traffic projections and tax arrangements in these deals. There’s some history from Chris Sheil over at LP. My column is over the fold.
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The last remnant of the Rum Corps

I spoke today at the conference of the Finance and Treasury association[1] about risks to the Australian economy. Regular readers will know my concerns, but Ill try to post the presentation once I can get my FTP software working properly.

As is pretty much standard for such events, I got paid in alcohol, in this case in a very nice presentation case. Academics (and other speakers at such conferences) must be about the last group who stick to this great Australian tradition, dating back to the first days of European settlement. Even garbos don’t get beer so much now that they operate retractable arms rather than picking up bins. The custom still survives here and there (I’ve slung the odd slab for favours of various kinds) but public speaking gigs are the only ones when you can count on it.

fn1. The name refers to corporate accounting functions, not to the government departments.

Water in SE Queensland

I spoke at a Brisbane Institute seminar on water policy in South-East Queensland. My argument, consistent with my views of the mixed economy in general, is that we should try to control quantities in the short run and prices in the long run. Restrictions on low-priority uses such as those in force at present, should be the main tool for short-term demand management, but that these are likely to lose effectivness in the long-term. By contrast, prices and trade in water allocations are unsatisfactory in the short run. My other main point, which I’ve made before, we are going to have to look harder at trade between rural areas and cities.

I’ve uploaded my Powerpoint presentation

fn1. It was chaired by fellow-blogger Jennifer Marohasy and, though we’ve clashed a few times in the blogosphere, everything was quite pleasant in person.

The Winter Palace, and after (crossposted at CT)

Now seems as good a time as any to mark the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution of 1905. This upsurge of revolt against Czarism was the occasion of some of the most tragic and inspiring scenes in the revolutionary drama: the “Bloody Sunday” march to the Winter Palace, Trotsky’s leadership of the St. Petersburg Soviet and the Potemkin mutiny. The revolution seemed likely to prove successful when the government agreed to a parliamentary constitution (October 17 in the Julian calendar), but once the threat was over, the autocracy reasserted itself, and the Duma was reduced to a talking shop. Less than 10 years later, the Czarists took Russia into the Great War, leading directly to nearly two million deaths and indirectly to many more.

The lesson drawn by many was that peaceful reform was hopeless: this inevitably pushed the most determined revolutionaries, Lenin and the Bolsheviks to the fore, and for much of the 20th century, they appeared to many to have history on their side. After 100 years, however, it is as clear as any historical fact can be that Bolshevism (or, perhaps more accurately, Leninism) has been a complete and catastrophic failure.
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