Omnivore

This survey says I’m an Internet Omnivore, but reading the descriptions I’m more of a Lackluster Veteran. I don’t like mobiles/cellphones much, because they’re fiddly and unintuitive, and I only rarely send text messages – I keep forgetting where the space bar is. However, once the iPhone comes out, I expect to be properly omnivorous. (H/T Edumacation* – Also an Omnivore)

* While I’m at it, can anyone point me to the origin of constructions like Edumacation, Journamalism and so on. Wikipedia isn’t much help, and Uncyclopedia’s entry, while edumacational, gives no etymamology.

The party of initiative …

Since opinion polls are undertaken as a basis for news stories, it’s probably inevitable that the results are given more significance than they deserve. Before we get too carried away with Labor’s good result in the latest Galaxy poll and Newspoll it’s worth recalling a couple of basic points

* Opinion polls are samples with a margin of error, and fluctuations of 2 per cent or so can be expected as the result of chance variation (if you believe in classical hypothesis testing, you can say that such a change is statistically insignificant). So the fact that Labor gained 2 per cent in the latest Newspoll means almost nothing, except as a pointed lesson to people like Greg Sheridan who tried (while covering himself in qualifications) to make a trend out of the 2 per cent drop in the previous poll

* Swinging voters are not close followers of the political scene with finely balanced preferences tipping from one side to the other as a result of careful analysis of the latest news. There’s no reason to expect a budget to have a big impact on votes, especially when it contains few surprises. The government is probably right to say that the impact of the Budget, which is essentially to remind people that economic conditions are good, will be felt gradually over the next couple of months.

That’s the good news for the government. The bad news is that the government’s cleverness in stealing the most attractive components of Labor’s policy is likely to prove either ineffective or counterproductive. As far as public expenditure and taxation is concerned, the big news is that Labor is once again the party of initiative. Most people are unimpressed by tax cuts, and would prefer an improvement in services, delivered without the ideological riders that the government insists on attaching to almost everything (university grants conditional on AWAs, micromanagement of state functions to ensure Commonwealth credit and so on). The same is true, in the absence of a dramatic shift in government policy, on climate change. It’s only on Industrial Relations that the government is acting and Labor reacting, and even here Rudd’s link of IR and family issues has to some extent turned the debate around.

The party of initiative doesn’t always win, particularly if people are worried about dangerous radicals lurking in the shadows. But with Rudd offering a safe pair of hands, this fear is unlikely to be as effective as it was in the past. Howard has shown himself capable of pulling rabbits out of the hat in the past, and it looks as if he will have to do so again.

Conserva-bible

I can’t resist following Conservapedia, the Tlön version of Wikipedia, in which the liberal, anti-American bias of the Earth version is replaced with virtue and apple pie. But where did this bias come from, and how is it so deeply rooted in our culture? The answer, it turns out is the Bible, not of course the true version held in the vaults of Uqbar, but the liberal Earth Bible known by such as names as the King James and Revised Versions.

In the Uqbar version, as explained at Conservapedia, all sorts of politically correct liberalism is eliminated or glossed out of existence. Uqbar scholars have discovered that the soft-on-crime John 8:7 ‘”If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone” was inserted by time-travelling liberals some time around the 4th century. Naturally, Conservapedia says, Wikipedia sticks to the Earth version, though a check of the actual site suggests that the annoying liberal habit of looking at all the evidence is at work here as well.

Conservapedia has able assistance from other conservative sources. All that class warfare stuff about the rich not getting into heaven (Matthew 19:21-24) turns out to mean that if you want money, you should cut God (or his earthly representatives) a good share in advance. Other kinds of warfare are fine with the Prince of Peace, though. As for turning the other cheek ((Luke 6:27-31), it’s No More Christian Nice Guy.

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.

Miserable failure …

… is a term that will forever be associated with George W. Bush. So, it’s interesting in more than one way that two of our local supporters of the Bush policy line on most issues , Sinclair Davidson and Alex Robson, use the phrase to describe a petition signed by a large proportion of the Australian economics profession in 2002, calling on the government to ratify Kyoto. (I was one of the organisers, and am currently particpating in a similar exercise). Writing in the Oz (where else), Robson and Davidson write “A similar petition was circulated in 2002 but ended in miserable failure when the Government simply ignored it.”

It’s an impressive piece of chutzpah on the part of Robson and Davidson to ignore the fact that, in the intervening five years, the government’s rejectionist position has collapsed, having already been abandoned by the business community and the vast majority of the Australian people. I don’t suppose a petition signed by academic economists had much responsibility for this, but it may have helped to undercut the spurious claim that signing Kyoto would be ruinous to the economy.

But for real chutzpah you can’t go past the fact that when the 2002 petition was released, with nearly 300 signatures, a counter-petition was immediately announced, and a text circulated. But the petition was never released apparently because the number of signatories was embarrassingly small and the number with any real stature in the profession close to zero. The leading organiser of this effort – none other than Alex Robson.
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CEDA lunch on emissions trading

Yesterday, I spoke at a CEDA (Committee for the Economic Development of Australia) lunch on the topic “What would life be like with an emissions trading system for Australia”. Shorter Quiggin: Much as it is now. Slightly longer version: For the average household, it will be a bit like the GST, with some initial disruption and relative price changes, becoming effectively invisible as carbon costs are factored into prices throughout the economy. Other speakers were Paul Simshauser from Babcock and Brown (owners of electricity generators and other infrastructure) and Stuart Dix from e3 International, a firm with a lot of experience in emissions trading markets.

The audience was similarly made up of likely buyers of emissions credits (Stanwell and other electricity generators), sellers (geothermal and other carbon-free sources) and intermediaries (accounting companies, consulting engineers and so on). They are looking at decisions on the billion-dollar scale over the next few years

A couple of points of interest:

* In addition to the usual free lunch and bottle of wine, speakers were rewarded with 17 trees worth of carbon credits, roughly a year’s worth of CO2 from driving for the average motorist.

* The delusionist idea that the whole thing is a hoax dreamed up by scientists looking for research grants/the UN seeking world domination/the Illuminati didn’t get a mention, even in refutation. Unlike the rightwing commentariat and some senior political figures, serious businesses have concluded that the main game now is how emissions trading should work, not whether we should have it.

Saving up the big stuff?

The Budget announced last night has widely been described (both favorably and otherwise) as “clever”. There are tax cuts across the board, with the biggest proportional benefits going to low-income earners. And there are lots of spending initiatives, particularly targeted at areas where the government is vulnerable because of past cuts. There’s a lot of money for universities (which, unsurprisingly, I welcome) partially reversing the cuts of the Vanstone-Kemp era. And the Commonwealth has resumed funding for dental services ten years afer this was abolished. Similarly, there’s a bit more money for alternative energy, an area that’s been cut in the past.

But (again as lots of people have pointed out) there’s no big idea here. Overall the tax cuts continue a pattern of returning real and nominal bracket creep, leaving the share of national income going to the Commonwealth effectively constant. And the new expenditure that’s been announced consists of lots of little things, some better than others, but none likely to make a fundamental difference to the way people perceive the government.

This Budget would make political sense if the government were cruising towards victory, and just needed to shore up its support. But it seems unlikely to do much to claw back the big lead Labor currently enjoys. Maybe the government is confident of winning on the IR front, and doesn’t think it needs any more than this. But that seems unlikely to me.

My guess is that the government is saving up something big for the election campaign. An obvious area would be climate change, where the Budget had only token measures. Alternatively, we might see a relaunch of the water plan. Finally, although the Budget had plenty of money for transport infrastructure, I was surprised that the Melbourne-Brisbane railway proposal, which was the subject of some pretty confident leaks, didn’t get a run. Maybe the government is planning to go the whole hog and announced support for the plan for an inland rail line from Melbourne to Darwin. This proposal has been kicking around for years, and Melbourne-Brisbane can be seen as the first leg.

Red State

Now that I’ve got the upper hand (for the moment) in the endless struggle with spam, I’ve had time to experiment a bit with layout and so on. I’ve moved back from a blue to a red theme, but I’ve also added a widget in the sidebar that lets you pick your own theme if you prefer something more restful. As always, comments and suggestions will be gratefully accepted.