The end of shmibertarianism (updated)

As Andrew Sullivan notes, Glenn Reynolds no longer even claims to be a libertarian[1], and his repudiation of this former position is shared by a number of leading shmibertarians, who are now happy enough to identify as orthodox Republicans. I haven’t yet seen anything similar from some others, such as the Volokhs, but the idea that a relaxed attitude to sex and drugs, and support for economic policies that favour your own social class, can trump the authoritarian implications of militarism, from Gitmo to collusion in government lies, is now pretty much dead. Insofar as an idea can be tested by experiment, prowar libertarianism has been tried and failed (a bit more on this from Jim Henley)

The implications go further I think. Given that the Republicans are now definitively the war party (not that the Democrats have yet become the peace party, but that’s another story), it’s hard to see how libertarian Republicans can survive, any more than Dixiecrats survived Nixon’s Southern strategy. The recent decision by RedState to ban Ron Paul supporters is a pretty clear indication of how real Republicans think about this. This has big implications for a thinktank like Cato, which has opposed the war (but very sotto voce – a visitor to their website would be hard pressed to tell that there even was a war) while remaining within the Republican tent.

Of course, it goes the other way. It’s hard to witness the catastrophic government failure that has characterized every aspect of this war without becoming more sympathetic to certain kinds of libertarian (and also classically conservative) arguments, particularly those focusing on the fallibility of planning.

fn1. Apparently my ignorance of the further reaches of US party politics may have led me to overstate Reynolds’ candor. What’s being announced is, apparently, a break with the Libertarian Party, leaving him free to label himself a (small-l) libertarian. Thanks to Kevin Drum for pointing this out. Jim Henley, linked above, also commented on this distinction, concluding “I doubt it matters. In a corrupt political discourse, no label is much use.” and that’s about where I stand.

On the bleeding edge

I’ve been trying out various new technologies lately, with mixed results

My first attempt to present a paper using videoconferencing from my desktop Mac came to grief as a result of software incompatibilities, so I’ll be using standard videoconference methods again, to present a paper on Urban Water Pricing to a seminar at LaTrobe Uni, Albury-Wodonga, on Thursday. I’ll get started earlier next time and see if I can’t get these problems overcome.

During my recent visit to Canberra, I hired a Prius, which was an interesting experience. A few random thoughts about implications.
* I was particularly struck by the way it sits silently at traffic lights, and more generally how much quieter it is, most of theh time. than a standard car. That alone would be a big plus in a move towards electric cars.
* As this piece in Salon points out, a hybrid is not necessarily more fuel-efficient than smaller conventional cars. Then again, you can save even more just by driving less. The more options there are the better. I expect the price differential noted in the article will decline over time as production volumes increase.
* Looking at how easy it would be to switch to hybrids, I’m more convinced than ever that a peak in oil production (which may already have been passed) will not been the end of industrial civilisation as we know it, or even a major change in our way of life.
* s regards the more serious problem of global warming, a hybrid still uses electricity, so the gains aren’t as great. Still, many small reductions add up to big reductions Reader canberra boy points out that the Prius is not a plug-in hybrid as I thought . Rather the battery is recharged entirely by regenerative braking or, when that falls short, by the engine. As usual, Wikipedia has the details

Finally, I upgraded my Mac OS to OS 10.5 (Leopard), and am a bit grumpy. It seems as if it went smoothly for everyone but me, and in fact I nearly always have trouble with system upgrades. But, in between I really love my Mac, and my experience running Windows XP under virtualisation has only confirmed me in this.

Prins and Rayner on Kyoto

Not surprisingly, this Nature article by Gwyn Prins and Steve Rayner entitled Time to ditch Kyoto, has attracted plenty of attention. I’m responding quickly and therefore somewhat brusquely. I’ll try to write something more considered a bit later.

Before giving a detailed response, let me observe that a reader with limited time need only look at the following few sentences

In September, the United States convened the top 16 polluters. Such initiatives are summarily dismissed by Kyoto’s true believers, who see them as diversions rather than necessary first steps. However, these approaches begin to recognize the reality that fewer than 20 countries are responsible for about 80% of the world’s emissions.

This argument is premised on the assumption that the Bush Administration, representing the world’s largest source of emissions (though China is catching up fast), sincerely wants to do something about climate change and called the September meeting with this purpose in mind. If anyone believes this, I have just become aware of a business opportunity from Nigeria in which they may be interested.
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Academic scribblers

Having been active in Australian policy debate for around fifteen years, its sobering to realise that I can only identify one issue where I’m confident I’ve had a significant impact on the ultimate outcome. That topic was the subject of my first column in the Financial Review, called Fightback without the Food Tax (for those who weren’t around at the time, Fightback! was John Hewson’s manifesto for the 1993 election, centred on a GST). Not only did Hewson eventually incorporate an exemption for food in his GST proposal (too late to turn around the perception that he was a dogmatic ideologue) but the Democrats accepted the view and imposed it on Howard. This was something of a Pyhrric victory as far as I was concerned, though. While I thought, and still think, a GST with an exemption for food made good public policy, the New Tax System package as a whole was not a good deal and should have been rejected.

At a much more marginal level, I think one of my columns might have had an impact on the campaign this weekend. In this piece in mid-September, I argued that the Howard government had plenty to gain, and nothing to lose, from ratifying Kyoto. Now it turns out that, at about the same time, Malcolm Turnbull was making the same case in Cabinet, unsuccessfully of course. The leak of this revelation has given Howard another day or two of bad headlines. Of course, the argument is obvious, and Turnbull is quite sharp enough to work it out for himself. Still, it does make the effort of turning out a column every fortnight seem a little bit more worthwhile.

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.

Leaning on the bank

Today’s Fin reports that Howard, Costello and Vaile are all leaning on the Reserve Bank not to raise interest rates at its Tuesday meeting. Howard and Costello are arguing that the Bank is obliged to focus on headline rather than underlying CPI movements, while Vaile is claiming that there is a convention of not increasing rates during a campaign. Costello’s warning of an economic tsunami heading for our shores can be seen as more of the same.

This seems both desperate and self-defeating. After the inflation figures, the government’s best hope was that the Bank would share the view that the uncertain global situation made a rate increase undesirable. Ideally, some hints to this effect from the Bank would promote the view that we should stick with the economic managers we know. But now, any such decision will be seen as buckling to government pressure. That makes it more likely that the Bank will raise rates, and ensures that, if they don’t, it will be a political negative for the government.

Kelly on climate

While I’m on the Oz, this exceptionally confused piece from Paul Kelly gets just one thing right. Howard’s refusal to ratify Kyoto, despite accepting all the key terms, is evidence of paralysis. I can’t be bothered attempting a point-by-point rebuttal, so I’ll just state the facts about which Kelly seems to be confused
* The Kyoto Protocol constitutes the agreements to act under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change for the period up to 2012
* The basis of the agreement was that developed countries would cut emissions first, and that less developed countries would do so in later rounds (the post-2012 round is about to be negotiated)
* Suggestions to “amend the Kyoto Protocol” make no sense, since it’s only got four years to run anyway, and its successor is about to be negotiated
* The reason Howard is paralysed is not because he is dogmatically inflexible on symbolic issues (look at his backflip on reconciliation) but because ratifying Kyoto would put him into direct conflict with George Bush, and he is incapable of taking such a step