Videopresentation invitation

With the release of the Garnaut report, it’s time for me to look again at ways to reduce my carbon footprint. I’ve been trying to reduce air travel, turning down invitations and offering to do videoconferences instead. That’s had some success, but mostly people aren’t set up to handle video, and, by the time invitations are made, there are often arrangements in place that make it difficult.

So, I’m going to take the initiative, and announce that I’m available to offer video presentations on a wide range of topics (climate change, water, infrastructure, digital economy & culture, employment and macro policy in general, among others). It’s easiest for me in business hours (9-5 pm, Mon-Fri, AEST) as that’s when I can use the UQ facilities, but I’m willing to look at alternatives at other times, if there’s someone who can handle the setup.

Obviously, I can only do a finite number of presentations, either in person or by video, so get in with your request.

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What have the Romans ever done for us?*

Most long-lived dictatorships have at least some positive achievements, and, the world being what it is, most dictators have some unattractive enemies. These facts have generated a couple of marathon threads at Crooked Timber, following Chris Bertrams post’ on Castro and mine on Suharto** , not to mention vast numbers on Saddam.

What are the implications of these facts, both for the policies we should support and for the moral judgements we should offer? I have a couple of fairly obvious points to make about policy, and some less clear thoughts about moral judgements.

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Lowering the NAIRU

Among the relatively few points the opposition has scored in this Parliament has involved the unwillingness (or, in the Opposition’s telling, inability) of Treasurer Wayne Swan to respond substantively to a question from Malcolm Turnbull about the level of the NAIRU (non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment), AKA “the concept formerly known as the natural rate”.

At this point I was going to refer readers to Wikipedia but, as with quite a few economics articles, it’s not entirely satisfactory. However, rather than complain, I’ve edited it to include a slightly better explanation.

Coming back to Australia, the fact that inflation is rising suggests that, if the NAIRU exists, we are now below it. It doesn’t seem as if there is much scope for fiscal and monetary policy to be tightened further. Given the risk of a breakdown in global credit markets, raising interest rates any further seems very dangerous. And the tax cut promises (which should be kept – the credibility of political processes is more important than the risk of inflation) mean that the scope to tighten fiscal policy is limited.

What remains is the possibility of reducing the NAIRU by improving the performance of labour markets. Education and training will help in the long term, but not so much in the short run. What is needed is to take advantage of the tight labour market to reduce long-term unemployment and to bring discouraged workers back into the labour market. At this phase of the cycle, the best policy instrument to achieve this goal is a targeted wage subsidy. Employers who take on workers moving off unemployment and disability benefits, or re-entering the labour force after a long absence should receive a subsidy for a period of say, three to six months. I’ll try to post a bit more on this, and why it’s superior to suggested alternatives like cutting minimum wages, before too long.