Reader Paul Williams, who works in TAFE policy in NSW, points me to this interesting report on the economic value of TAFE, undertaken by Allen Consulting, who do the whole thing with a general equilibrium model and estimate the NPV of the TAFE sector at $196 billion.

The report has had some coverage in the media, but there’s a pretty good case to be made that this kind of thing could be better disseminated through blogs, where there’s time to debate the issues. Then again, you could argue that after 30 comments we’ll all be debating the influence of climate on the civil war in Iraq.

You can read it here

Also, in today’s (Wednesday) Fin, Alan Mitchell has an excellent piece lamenting Australia’s lousy record in building human capital, something that isn’t helped when the PM encourages kids to drop out of school at the end of Year 10 in the hope (unlikely, these days, without the kinds of skills obtained by persevering to Year 12) of getting and completing an apprenticeship.

Out of options and out of credit

Daniel Byman and Kenneth Pollack start a lengthy Washington Post piece by observing

The debate is over: By any definition, Iraq is in a state of civil war.

and their assessment only gets gloomier from there on in, pointing to the disaster as a source of further regional conflict, a recruiting poster and training ground for terrorists, massive flows of refugees and so on. They have essentially nothing positive to suggest except for the observation (for which General Shinseki got fired before the war) that

Considering Iraq’s much larger population, it probably would require 450,000 troops to quash an all-out civil war there. Such an effort would require a commitment of enormous military and economic resources, far in excess of what the United States has already put forth.

Since the commitment of 450 000 troops is even less likely now than it was in 2003, the conclusion is, in effect, that the situation is hopeless.

We’re well past the point where admissions of error will do any good. Still, I’m stunned that Pollack could write

How Iraq got to this point is now an issue for historians (and perhaps for voters in 2008); what matters today is how to move forward

This was so brazen that I thought I must have got him confused with someone else. But no, it’s the same Kenneth Pollack who wrote The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq

Give a goat

Lots of people like goats. So a goat is a great gift idea, but as with other live gifts, there’s the problem of looking after it. Oxfam unwrapped solves the problem. They’ll give a goat, in the name of your gift recipient, to a poor community. At $39, tax deductible it’s a great choice. And there are other choices, including chickens, farmer training and food.
The big ticket gift is a rice bank for $12488. Maybe we could manage this for our next appeal. In the meantime, why not give a goat.

Second thoughts about Kosovo

The discussion of this post brought up a question I’ve been worrying about for quite a while. Given the catastrophe in Iraq (and the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan) should those of us who supported intervention in Kosovo revise our position?

While I still think the likelihood of another round of genocidal ethnic cleansing justified action in Kosovo (and makes a bigger effort in Darfur morally obligatory at present), I think some aspects of the Kosovo action were mistakes that sowed the seeds of future disaster.

My view at the time was that the failure to get UNSC approval wasn’t that important, since there was a clear consensus in favour of intervention and the only problem was that the Russians didn’t want to be forced to state a public position.

Now I think that was wrong and the effort should have been made to secure a UNSC resolution, making whatever concessions were needed to get Russia not to veto it. The problem wasn’t so much the breach of legality in this case, as the precedent it set, which was expanded beyond all recognition by Bush and Blair in Iraq.

I also think (and thought at the time) that the bombing of Belgrade crossed the line from striking military targets to terrorisation, most obviously with the bombing of the TV station. This precedent was used recently in Lebanon. I plan more on this general issue soon.

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.

Ekka 06

Today was People’s Day at the Ekka, and it seemed like all of Brisbane was there, except that we’d already seen half of them, dressed to the nines and headed for the races, on the train on the way there (and saw them again, much the worse for wear in many cases, on the way home).

On the TV news the head organiser was interviewed and said (imperfect recollection), ‘lots of people say the Ekka never changes, but actually there are lots of great innovations … but really it’s the same as ever’.

Put me in the ‘never changes and never should’ camp. I went as usual with my son, and, except that we missed the Silver Spike tracklaying competition, and tried out the Cliffhanger (you lie prone and it whirls around – well worth a go), it was exactly the same as last year – we watched the woodchopping and the stage hypnotist, lost our money on the laughing clowns and shooting gallery, rode the dodgems, Ferris wheel and Gravitron, checked out the cattle in the main arena, bought a showbag and reminisced about how they used to be really good value, then crammed onto the train for the trip home. Even this blog post is the same as last year’s.


Mercifully, the ceasefire in Lebanon appears to be holding, but the outlook for the future of Lebanon, Israel and the region as a whole is massively worse than before the fighting began.

The outcome has been entirely typical of war. Both sides are claiming victory; advocates of war on both sides are pointing to the crimes committed by the other side, in support of their case; nothing will bring the dead back to life.

The actions of Hezbollah have been criminal from the outset, starting with a trivial pretext for its initial attack and then using indiscriminate rocket attacks as its main method of waging war. Hezbollah is morally responsible for all the death and destruction that predictably ensued from its actions.

But, as is now becoming clear, the Israeli government and, even more its backers within the US Administration were eager for a pretext to destroy Hezbollah, and were willing to inflict massive death and destruction on ordinary Lebanese people in the (futile) hope achieving this goal. This policy was both wrong and, as events have shown, counterproductive.

Again, the broader lesson is that war (including insurgency, ‘armed struggle’ and so on) as an instrument of policy is almost always disastrous for those who adopt it. Self-defence is necessary and justified, but should be limited as far as possible to restoring the status quo ante, a point explicitly rejected in the Barkey article cited above.