86 thoughts on “Weekend reflections

  1. Kevin Rudd said in response to concerns over a predicted population of 35million, “I actually believe in a big Australia, I make no apology for that. I actually think it’s good news that our population is growing,”

    This statement shows a psycopathic disregard for future generations. It also indicates great arrogance in the way it dismisses Ken Henry’s well considered advice. It completely ignores the wishes of the Australian people as a current online poll shows 76% think 35m would not be a good thing. Delusional is a good way to describe the mind state behind that utterance.

    I am holding back on what I would really like to say about Mr Rudd and his ‘big Australia’ but I will say that my dissatisfaction with the Rudd government is now as intense as it was towards the Howard government.

  2. Keynesian economists point to the golden age of Keynesian economics as a reason for going back to the high spend/high tax welfare statism of the 1960s and 70s. Considering that in the UK amazing amount of economic growth, prosperity and technological achievement came about post-great reform bill effectively until the beginning of the Great War – taking the logic from ProfQ and others, shouldn’t we then focus on an ultra-liberal, free trade, children-working-in-mines approach?

    If you abhor that approach, then why do lefties continually promote the idea of statism which only leads to economic and social stagnation, expropriation of private property, the restriction of personal liberties, the destruction of ambition and eventual decline and collapse of economies?

    One other thing…

    Social democracy in Sweden produced the Swedish banking crisis of the early 1990s. High taxing, high government spending, social democratic Sweden suffered a banking crisis. High taxing, high government spending, social democratic Ireland suffered from economic stagnation… There is no body of evidence to suggest that big government is the answer.

    Unless you work in universities or the public service and have yet to experience the joys of having to take risks and work in a dynamic environment.

  3. @Salient Green
    Irks me too. We already extensively subsidise farming in risky areas while paving over good soil – Adelaide in the north for example, or the loss of the old Italian double blocks in Maylands and Norwood, Mount Barker development, etc.

    SeanG’s comments on high spend/high tax welfare statism in the 1960s and 70s are especially risible in this context: who else but the Howard Liberals would have thought up a baby bonus middle-class welfare system? Or removed personal liberties through control orders, secret interview and powers of coercion in the building trade and secret detention and interview(s) by ASIS/ASIO investigators – oh, the Howard Libertarians ho ho ho. Then there was the Intervention and the attempts to muffle academic media interviews, reports and so forth.

    Governments of all persuasions are capable of high spend and high tax, of obstruction of various freedoms. If they carry on at it for too long people change their vote.

  4. Salient Green & Donald Oats, Rudd & Turnbull are both in agreement as to populating Australia albeit a few differences, and it is only a matter of time before satellite cities form part of the interior. Much of the population debate is nonsensical and based on hysteria.

  5. Mosh, to be sure, the arguments for population growth are nonsensical and based on hysteria.

    The argument that we need population growth to support an aging population is nonsensical and has been thoroughly discredited. Todays workers become tomorrows aged and the dilutional factor of population growth is minimal unless you have very high rates. They are simply creating more problems for someone else. There are many ways to support an aging population and some are being done, such as superannuation and increasing the retiring age.

    Rudd suggested a ‘big australia’ will be good for national security. This sounds like the old right wing xenophobic nonsense of the ‘asian hoards’ and an ’empty Australia’ being trotted out by our delusional leader. This is the ‘hysteria’ part.

  6. The old saw “Populate or perish” needs to be changed. Now the reality is this;

    Rudd does not understand (or wilfully chooses to ignore) the current imperatives to limit population and to limit greenhouse emissions. Rudd and his entire government give me the impression of people who do not understand the fundamental and severity and inter-connected nature of the problems facing us. To argue for an ETS on one hand (which is very weak one anyway) and to argue for population growth on the other is totally contradictory.

    So, Rudd is either fundamentally stupid or fundamentally dishonest.

  7. The old saw “Populate or perish” needs to be changed. Now the reality is this;

    Rudd does not understand (or wilfully chooses to ignore) the current imperatives to limit population and to limit greenhouse emissions. Rudd and his entire government give me the impression of people who do not understand the fundamental severity and inter-connected nature of the problems facing us. To argue for an ETS on one hand (which is very weak one anyway) and to argue for population growth on the other is totally contradictory.

    So, Rudd is either fundamentally stupid or fundamentally dishonest.

  8. Kevin Rudd is clearly smart. I take his comments about believing in “a big Australia” at face value, and I disagree with his view on this. When it comes to population growth and arguments over the economic costs of an ageing population, I am struck by the relatively shallow analysis on offer. We have hardly scratched the surface of how to deal with a different population age distribution to the 50’s (to pick an arbitrary reference point).

    I have had some health issues, serious enough but not life-threatening, which required me to stop work for a few years now. So far, I have supported myself from investments and savings, and with the great assistance of family and friends. The current “system” for dealing with young-ish people like me is almost all or nothing, meaning fulltime (usually 45 hours or so a week in practice, sometimes substantially more) or no-time. Return-To-Work is tricky if the thinking is based on the idea of the patient making a full and complete recovery as the only option seriously considered. Some workplaces are better than others in this, however the nature of the “who pays” issue makes for a murky dilemma in too many cases. Disability insurance seems to work mainly on the premise of either permanent disability or no disability, without allowing for the possibility of temporary (say 6 months to 4 or 5 years) disability or fluctuating conditions. Lip service is paid to the notion of temporary disability and to permanent partial disability, but I’m fairly skeptical about widely this is accessible, when the time to pay out on insurance arrives.

    My point is that we don’t deal particular well with people whose health and stamina are impaired, more or less failing to accommodate reality about their work capacity. The same kind of thinking seriously afflicts the way in which we view older people. A 70 year old may be quite willing and able to perform small amounts of work per week, but not be as fast and reliable as they once were due to physical health issues, say diabetes, arthritis, depressive episodes, or any number of chronic conditions. Work arrangements need to come to the party and be more adaptive to workers with chronic conditions, and to especially break free of the mindset that older or injured or chronic illness means worthless in the office.

    If the employment on a more casual basis were a serious possibility for older people and/or chronic illness sufferers, then some issues surrounding so called support would be far less significant. Perhaps a slower growing population wouldn’t be such a problem then.

  9. @Donald Oats
    Don I entirely agree – reading an article today that states that most full time employees are working far in excess of a 38 hour week even up to 50 hours plus. Me? now? I dont want that. Horror. Utter and complete horror. I hate the idea of it. I agree with Keynes that the most anyone should give Adam is three hours a day!!

  10. @Donald Oats

    I think you make an excellent point, Donald. Our focus ought to be on preserving the wellbeing and fitness of all of the populace including of course those with the classic issues associated with ageing. Speaking as a 51-year-old, I have no problem at all with cereating a regime that would facilitate people past the current retirement age continuing to work in paid employment. If that means adopting a more generous approach to issues like leave, health service, working hours, tax treatment of income etc (and I think it does) then so be it.

    On the broader question of Australia’s carrying capacity, I’m confident Australia could sustainably support 50 million people with a lifestyle comparable to what we have now. I suspect we are going to have to fiund a way to do that as a matter of practice, whatever our preferences.

    That said, I’d sooner that challenge wasn’t imposed on us. I’d strongly prefer that world population was stabilised at about 9 billion by 2050, and from there we focused on strongly on family planning, care and support both for children and for the ageing so that over the next 150 years world population could decline to something like the 4-5 billion that is probably the maximum sustainable carrying capacity of the planet with our preferred lifestyle generalised. In that scenario, Australia’s population could then decline to about what it is now.

    In the interim though, on equity grounds, I do think we have an obligation to take a larger slice of the world’s poorest communities than we do now and to encourage other first and second world countries to also do so. It may well be that if we were able to create some sort of global fund for the resettlement of displaced persons this could dovetail with the kinds of developmental goals specified by the MDG. With the right quality and quantity of support, it might be that even LDCs could accommodate significant numbers of economic refugees.

  11. I will run a bit further with my statement, “Rudd is either fundamentally stupid or fundamentally dishonest.” Clearly he is fundamentally dishonest with himself and consequently dishonest with others. The “fundamentally” needs to be emphasised too as he is essentially a religious fundamentalist. Anyone who retains a religious faith unmodified in all empirically investigable areas (rendered so by the scientific revolution) deserves to be called a fundamentalist.

    Rudd is a “faith fundamentalist” with soft pretensions to an empirical outlook. A faith fundamentalist only accepts empirical observation where and so far as it does not conflict with key articles of faith. Where empirical observation conflicts with faith, then empirical observation is shut out or denied and the faith position triumphs. This engenders a habit a mind where anything strongly believed or wished for or fondly imagined is accorded the same treatment and becomes another defacto article of faith. In other words such people, no matter how clever, are in fact sloppy thinkers.

    Such thinkers trot out the phrase “I firmly believe” as an impratur to validate many of their statements. I always say “A belief is only an hypothesis which doesn’t know itself for what it is. I don’t care what you believe. Your beliefs are irrelevant in the search for objective truth. Show me the empirical evidence.”

  12. This planet can’t possibly support 9 billion without major irreversible damage to the natural world followed by a huge die-off which will include humans. At 6.8 billion we are already unsustainable, and have been drawing down on the future for many years. This is a good summary on the state of the oceans.
    I have heard that Australia produces enough food for double our population when all’s going well. When I say well, I mean when it rains and how’s that working for us? Even then we are depleting our topsoil and polluting ecosystems to produce food so that other countries can overpopulate. Sure, we could cut down all the tropical forests and feed another 10 billion, get rid of those pesky elephants and lions so that the african plains can be farmed and feed another 10 billion.

    The vast majority of people either know this or are alarmed at other simple evidence of overpopulation such as taking a lot longer to get to work. The awareness has grown significantly in the last few years and the subject is regularly addressed in the media. It won’t be long before our business and political leaders will have to get sensible about population growth.

    Don #8, good post. I couldn’t possibly stop working at 67 even if I had the means. As I am self employed, I hope to be able to taper off from about 70 and keep doing a bit until it hurts too much. At 53 I have to admit tapering off a little now. It has to be good for a person to keep doing some useful work until they can’t, even if they don’t really want to. Decadent retirements are just as offensive to me as decadent lifestyles. We all need to live simpler.

  13. Salient Green. You are correct. Even at 6.8 billion and the current spread of living standards the human population is unsustainable. We are surviving (and still growing) only by drawing down disastrously on natural capital, much of it non-renewable. There will come a year (probably in the next ten years and certainly in the next twenty) when everyone, even the outright deniers, will be forced to face this inescapable fact.

    At that time (in a best case scenario) a Global Emergency will be declared and all human resources will be pitted towards the Struggle to Save the Biosphere.

  14. @Salient Green
    Hey Salient. Im tapering and I dont give a damn and Im slightly younger than you and enjoying it but yes I want to keep working forever on my terms and hours. (although to be honest Im not really tapering so much as being free to make money in my own interests….rather than someone elses where they dictate terms). If you can make more by not fitting the conservative turn up to the office 5 days a week, then why would you turn up – on a resume Id look like the archetypal totally non commercial prospect…my resume is like a dog’s breakfast… but hey who cares?

    I think Ive made more than most women my age with a family and dependents. Im no dependent (which my other half hates!!! Why do men have to maintain a charade that they are providers or somehow know more about it?/ Is this some sort of biological throwback??. I think so.).

  15. Fran, Australians are not sustainably supporting today’s population with today’s lifestyle. Koala (in SEQ) and bird numbers are falling, fisheries are under pressure, the Murray Darling is wrecked, the international investment position is deteriorating, the competitiveness of Australia’s non-extractive built and human capital is in very rapid decline relative to Asia. Extractive industries are the basis of our wealth and these are non-sustainable, oil production peaked in 2000.

    Actually I see just now from the tv news that my comments have not been realistic, Koala numbers are better described as crashing – having halved in 3 years in SEQ. (Perhaps I have overstated the damage to the Murray Darling, perhaps.)

    Mr Rudd says: “I actually think it’s good news that our population is growing.” – Tell it to the koalas Kevin.

  16. And Rudd is insane to think Aust can support 50mill. It can’t sustainably support the CURRENT population (with current consumption trends). As stokingrate and others have pointed out. Immigration will support asset prices and the tax base however. Perhaps he cares about that more than food security?

  17. Well said Sean G # 2

    In regard to population growth, how do the de-populate the world supporters intend to reduce the population to a more sustainable level when food production has been increased in some cases geometrically, medicine great success at mitigating the effect of global diseases, and the increasingly prominent role played by public health and welfare. All these factors are more likely to increase the population of the planet. De-population will start once our capacity to control the above factors is not enough to sustain the birth rate at higher level then the death rate. I would suggest that the impact of an educational program would be minimal as most of the world population has no access to such education. This dosen’t even start to address the moral / egalatarian obligations and responsibilties the richer countries may feel they have toward those of poorer countries.

  18. Salient Green, if we are to meet the growing demands of the resources boom, governments need to plan now and develop the infrastructure to support the needs of rural and regional communities. And contrary to what many pundits are saying this is the opportune time to develop and populate our interior.

  19. Well said Sean G # 2

    Well said by goldfish standards. it’s if the whole trillion dollar STATE bailout of the “dynamic” financial industry never happened.

  20. On the notion of belief – both the non-religious and religious meanings of the word – I recently read the book “Born to believe; God, Science, and the Origin of Ordinary and Extraordinary Beliefs”, by Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman. Interesting read, once past the first chapter or so. No idea if either author are religous or not. The book is an examination of how we form beliefs, or indeed construct some sort of reality as we develop neurologically, how challenging it can be to shift ground, why beliefs “feel more real”, what happens when people meditate, pray etc, the role of culture upon beliefs, illusions, hallicunations, and a fair bit more.

    Another book that has promise is “Defending Science – within reason: Between scientism and cynism” by Susan Haack. I’m only part way through her early chapters. To get a sense of where she is coming from, she is attempting to do a better job of understanding the enterprise of science, correcting the defective inheritance of Russell, Popper, Kuhn at one end and Feyerabend and more recent characters I’m still ignorant of, at the other end. I don’t think she likes the type of sociologists lampooned by Alan Sokal very much either, so I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops. It seems like a legitimate attempt to apprehend why the natural sciences have been so successful.

  21. In a USA market based (very Republican right anti spending) site I cam across a piece from our very own Barnaby. It was reported in the Age (no where else I think) that our Barnaby asked Ken Henry at the Senate hearing on Wednesday “what is Australia’s game plan if the USA defaults on its debt”. The fact that he asked the question is interesting but Ken Henry’s answer was fascinating.
    It was basically. “I do not think it really likely to happen but this is too disturbing a subject to discuss in public – it might cause panic”
    Any comment

  22. Gerard, slow and steady wins the race. The big stimulus will go limp and wither away. As for goldfish, the chinese (and I)would disagree with you on its significance” This symbol means abundance of gold. One of the most popular New Year’s images is a child holding a large goldfish and a lotus flower (see Chinese Flower Symbols) which brings both wealth and harmony. A Goldfish embroidered on a bag or shirt is a sure-fire way to bring the energy of abundance into your life.” Not everyone thinks like a Keynesian and nor should they.

  23. Kevin Rudd also said:

    it’s (population growth is) good in terms of what we can sustain as a nation.

    If this meant anything to do with sustainable energy and other resource use then it’s absolutely bizarre. How can higher population be more sustainable than lower population?


    In regard to population growth, how do the de-populate the world supporters intend to reduce the population to a more sustainable level

    For a start, governments could stop ridiculous incentives like the baby bonus. People from China must find it incredible that such a thing exists here.

  24. @gerard

    Well Keynesian economics is about demand-side management and bailouts are not demand-side management.

    Social democratic politics is about government intervention in an economy and even though this happens in Sweden there was still a banking crisis.

    Japan has a very corporatist economic structure with considerable government involvement in an economy and they went into the toilet for nearly two decades.

    Germany has considerable government involvement in the economy. Now in order to stifle their swelling debt they are passing a law to force the federal government to run a fiscally-neutral position.

    The British government is running a deficit of 12.8% of GDP and yet another quarter of negative economic growth. Longest recession since records began in 1955.

    Demand-side management and social democracy – works perfectly well as long as someone is willing to pick up the tab.

  25. Have just read Prosperity without growth by Tim Jackson. He shows again that the current economic arrangements we have lead inevitably to instability because of finite resources. However, as he also points out reducing growth will also lead to instability.

    His suggested solution is investment in ways to use less of our finite resources to do more – which of course is what the current economic arrangements are meant to do – but which in practise use more finite resources to do more.

    A direction that might work is to worry less about labour productivity and more about capital productivity.

  26. @ABOM
    LOl ABOM – I might have had a touch of your problem last night and said too much…..!I had a glass of gin because its slimming (no wine at all for me on my diet) and Im not used to that. I have to watch it or Ill get thrown in the clink like Sea bass tian for egregrious blogging. No, you are no biological throwback ABOM. You are a definite biological advance…(and funny too).

  27. @ABOM
    I agree Rudd is insane to suggest the environment here can sustain 50 mill wiith current systems. Australia could be compared to California in terms of its development (Gold, colonized and expanded along similar paths in terms of resources etc). One notable difference that enabled California to vastly surpass us. They had more water. We still dont have the water. We will never have the water unless Govt intervene’s to engineer a solution.

    I think Rudd is covering his posterior because he knows the refugees from world inequality arising from the great de regulation globalisation experiment and the global military arms industry’s devastation zones, will come anyway whether we like it or not.

    And for those champions of total firm freedom out there…I know globalisation has lifted millions out of poverty (but it has also redistributed millions back into it since the GFC)but has it helped stem rising inequality? No. Its made it worse. Particular tax breaks given to some 23 US citizens could feed thousands of the worlds starving and dispossessed, or educate or see to the health needs of thousands of US children. That is pure inefficiency. 23 individuals playing the tax system for huge amounts of benefits. We need a global tax fund for all global firms to start putting into instead of them paying no tax and moving production from low tax countries to no tax countries away from their own jusrisdictions, exploiting labour and the environment as they go, so issues like poverty can be addressed with useful social capital. Otherwise the tide of refugees will not slow here (or anywhere) until economic sustainability is breached and our economic environment has no more appeal than the one they fled ie the levelled playing fields are dry and rocky and the game harsh on both. I would at least suggest more advanced water systems needed (or planning for) as I cannot see the flow of immigrants ending. Something big along the lines of the snowy scheme eg piped desalinised water over the great diving range. Think of the Aswan Dam which added 1.8 mill hectares of arable land in Egypt.

  28. Alice, as an orchardist in the Murray Darling Basin, I have now got used to not being the main provider, not that the provider bit was ever the issue but having to watch ones best efforts returning bugger all. Now I am the house husband, enjoying cooking for the family and spending her money:)

    Ubiquity, the most effective way to reduce population is to increase standard of living. Australians do not need to increase standard of living, we need to end the baby bonus, reduce immigration and increase overseas aid.

  29. I’ve been thinking that there must be a better way of lifting the third world out of poverty than globalization. My thoughts are along the lines of ‘adopt a country’.
    A rich nation could adopt a poor one and in a sustainable manner, build schools and medical facilities and industry etc.

    The rich countries would need to assign a far greater percentage of gdp than they currently do. The entire population could be involved in the task by regular documentaries and even some (shudder) reality tv recording of goals achieved and improved conditions in the poor countries. The process could be overseen by the UN and friendly competition encouraged, as well as exchange of ideas and information.

  30. the goldfish reference simply means that memories are short. Sean G it looks like someone else is picking up the tab in any case. If ” 700 billion government dollars sucked into a deregulated financial market black hole, where does that fit in with “Social democratic politics is about government intervention in an economy”?

  31. Salient Green, contrary to what many say Australia’s has the capacity to suppport a much larger population. The revenue from the forthcoming resources boom should not be squandered but be put to good use in building new infrastructure to support local industries, businesses and the expected populations growth in areas outside the major cities. At the moment what we need is a government that has the will rather than the gift of the gab to make this possible.

  32. @Salient Green

    Given the number of poor countries and the number of rich countries the rich countries are going to have to “adopt” probably 3 or 4 each on your scheme …

    Proxy and shared adoption might also be possible, in which a less rich country that was geographically near a poor country co-adopts a country channelling resources from the richer bu perhaps more distant patron.

  33. If you want Australia to “adopt a country” you don’t need to look very far. Ex-Queensland colony Papua New Guinea has some of the world’s most appalling human development indicators – extreme poverty, malnutrition, illiteracy, child mortality, maternal deaths, HIV, tuberculosis – the works. But somehow I think the only “adopting” that the Aus government wants to do is adopting their copper mines for our corporations and training their military and police forces. nothing as communist as trying to implement the Millennium Development Goals.

  34. @Chris O’Neill
    Well said. Sustainable population growth is an illogical phrase. To argue for growing population so as to enhance sustainability is a step up in weird thinking and recklessnes.

  35. Anybody who thinks population growth isn’t sustainable is illogical.

    The world can sustain hundreds of billions of people.

    If the worlds present population was living in an urban area the density of Singapore, it would only cover a land area the size of South Australia. Plenty of land left over for you greenies to hug trees.

  36. Fran, yes some rich countries certainly could adopt 3 or 4 poor ones. Another way is to adopt on greatest need with a couple of rich countries, say Aus and NZ working to achieve the job in a shorter time then move on to another task. There will be a few poor countries not available to the scheme, eg Zimbabwe, and other who will hang back to see if it works.

    Gerard, exploitation is one of the problems with Globalization that I would hope could be changed by Adoption, through openness and supervision, into something which is more mutually beneficial. PNG would be ideal for us.

  37. Tony G, I wish there was a large island we could jam all you cornucopians onto together so that us Greenies could be left in peace to hug trees:) How would you like that Tony, Mosh, Ubiquity?

  38. Gerard, sarcasm can be funny but your delivery needs work. Apparently the worldview of anyone who believes in small government and free markets is entirely dependent on denying the existence of corporate bailouts and the like. Huh?

    Of course, if government grows too much more resources will inevitably be wasted or directed to groups that are politically influential but less deserving or needy. There’s nothing surprising about that, and nothing that any free market supporter couldn’t have predicted would happen.

    In any event, social democrats are really the ones on shaky ground in opposing corporate bailouts. After all, social democrats demand that society must provide a safety net and that we can’t be judgemental and blame people for their own failings in life.

  39. @gerard

    Social democractic policies and governments do not mean that everything is perfect. You have selective memory by deliberating ignoring many examples of social democratic failure. At least have the honesty to admit that social democratic countries have experienced economic (and indeed social) failures?

  40. Apparently the worldview of anyone who believes in small government and free markets is entirely dependent on denying the existence of corporate bailouts and the like. Huh?

    Well… maybe not entirely.

    But their clear-cut worldview certainly made a lot more sense a few years ago than now.

    I admire Greenspan’s intellectual honesty in this respect.

  41. At least have the honesty to admit that social democratic countries have experienced economic (and indeed social) failures?

    Sure… but compared to what?

    No society is perfect, but the social democracies seem to be the least worst, if your gauge is overall human wellbeing.

  42. Really? Have you ever lived in a social democratic country? You have the taxes, the waste, the corruption… tell me you have lived in a social democratic nation because this is a surprising comment.

  43. Gerard, I’m not sure if Greenspan’s position is really an outbreak of honesty at all.

    It is always easier to plead guilty to sins of omission than sins of commission. For a central bank governor to claim that problems occurred because he didn’t intervene and regulate enough is easier than admitting that his very own policies of keeping rates too low and expanding the money supply too much actually created the problems.

    i.e. it is always easier to say ‘I should have done more to stop the problems’ than to say ‘I actually caused the problems’.

  44. “Apparently the worldview of anyone who believes in small government and free markets is entirely dependent on denying the existence of corporate bailouts and the like. Huh?”

    Huh indeed. This statement seems to imply that if you believe in small government you also have to believe in corporate bailouts, which is contradictory. It reminds me of what one US congressman (who opposed the recent bailouts) said when hearing that they had been approved: “I feel like I just woke up in France”.

  45. The problem is that people in power tend to have a habit of “doing something, anything”. This problem is because they have considerable arbitrary decision-making power. If they were explicit in that they will never, ever bail out an investment bank and then they let Bear Stearns go to the wall or arrange a take over that completely decimates equity and debt-holders in the country, then that sends a signal that you rise and fall on your own. Instead bail-out after bail-out created massive moral hazard, the ramifications of which are still being felt.

  46. @SeanG
    One of the remarkable things about people who go on ad nauseum about the failings of markets is that they can place such faith in the political process, when it has an even greater tendency to produce sub-optimal results. A few people even classify it as a mental disorder.

    Then again, social democracy isn’t really about helping the poor or producing optimal outcomes… I think the reasoning of your typical social democrat is summed up nicely by a Ukrainian folk tale:

    A king promised a peasant that he would grant him any wish on condition that his neighbour would get twice as much. The peasant laughed and asked the king to poke him in one eye.

    (A variant of this tale is that of a man who was told he could wish for anything, and so he wished that his neighbour’s cow was dead.)

  47. Salient Green, you should be more optimistic for Australia is lucky to have the oncoming resources boom.

  48. Have you ever lived in a social democratic country? You have the taxes, the waste, the corruption…

    Which countries, exactly, are “social democratic” then? The first place I would look is at the very top of the UN’s human development index. Of course these societies may not be perfect but I don’t think there’s anywhere in the developed world where waste and corruption are anywhere near as vast as in the US, and what America lacks in taxes they make up for in astronomical debt. So you’re choice is really between government spending on health, education and welfare or government spending on military aggression and banking bailouts.

    I don’t know where I can find a “small government” alternative. I think maybe we’d need to go back to the nineteenth century for that. Obviously this doesn’t count.

    Of course the Rightwing is in a bit of ideological disarray at the moment, but I’ve noticed that it seems to be converging on the consensus view that any society that has a central bank and fiat money is essentially “social democratic”, and therefore the big “social democrat” Greenspan can be blamed for the financial crisis.

  49. There are, in fact, many valid criticisms of the HDI – or indeed any attempt to reduce human welfare to a single number.

    Thanks for the link Sebastian, because Caplan’s a brilliant man and I might have otherwise missed this breathless post of his:

    A piece in Foreign Policy says that Ayn Rand’s now big in India:

    Not only do Indians perform more Google searches for Rand than citizens of any country in the world except the United States, but Penguin Books India has sold an impressive number of copies — as many as 50,000 of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead each since 2005, a number comparable to sales there by global best-seller John Grisham.

    100,000 books a year in a country of 1,000,000,000 people sounds unimpressive. But it all depends on leverage. Wouldn’t it be amazing if 100,000 Indian bloggers were reading Rand every year

    Wow, that would be amazing.

  50. @gerard

    Right-wing ideology or left-wing ideology are problems only that you and others cannot acknowledge that you actually have an ideology that does not stack up to reality.

    Take government stimuli across the world due to the economic crisis that erupted in 2007. Has it worked in the US? No. UK? No. Germany or France? No. Spain? No. In fact it has not worked. What has worked is where the banks have continued to lend out not stimuli. The broad-based solution to every problem is fiscal action. It fails but it leaves one massive debt.

    Sweden is an interesting case. Always held up as a social democratic nation. Did you know that in order to reduce their government spending they allowed private enterprise to run their schools for a profit?

  51. are you talking about Sweden’s independent schools? I don’t know if this wikipedia article is accurate:

    Independent schools were relatively uncommon in Sweden until 1992, when the government introduced a school voucher system where schools without the municipal as principal, could receive government funding for each student…
    Independent schools are not allowed to receive fees from parents, so there are no true upper-class schools.

    Anyone can start an independent for-profit school in Sweden. Independent schools are funded with public money from the local kommun (or municipality). Independent schools and public schools receive money from the kommun for every pupil they have enrolled.

    so still completely publically funded and egalitarian, but with more choice for alternative pedagogical methods, in theory at least that sounds like an excellent idea. much better than what we have here.

  52. I agree that it is an excellent idea and private companies run them for profit. Ends, not means. This is a very good idea but will find problems with the Labor and Green parties and the teachers unions.

  53. @Sea-bass

    One of the remarkable things about people who go on ad nauseum about the failings of markets is that they can place such faith in the political process, when it has an even greater tendency to produce sub-optimal results. A few people even classify it as a mental disorder.

    Amusing …

    Rightwingers Mentally ill

    A study funded by the US government has concluded that conservatism can be explained psychologically as a set of neuroses rooted in “fear and aggression, dogmatism and the intolerance of ambiguity”.
    As if that was not enough to get Republican blood boiling, the report’s four authors linked Hitler, Mussolini, Ronald Reagan and the rightwing talkshow host, Rush Limbaugh, arguing they all suffered from the same affliction. All of them “preached a return to an idealised past and condoned inequality”.


  54. @Fran Barlow
    I don’t know why people keep lumping fascism in with free-market conservatives – I suspect they don’t fully understand it.

    Basically, it is a collectivist doctrine which posits the state is more important than the individual, and is thoroughly anti-liberal (i.e. classical liberalism, not modern day American “progressive” liberalism). That people now use the word “fascist” to describe individuals who favour free markets and economic freedom is incredibly ironic, given that fascist doctrine stipulates that the economy should be subjugated to the will of the state. It has more in common with the other “third-way” systems such as social democracy than it does with the political ideology of people like Ronald Reagan and Rush Limbaugh. In fact, I would go so far as to say that fascism is on “your” side of the spectrum, given that it is essentially a form of socialism (albeit one that pays lip service to private property).

    I am not defending or condoning the antics of Rush Limbaugh, since I believe he is the cheerleader for a particularly nasty form of US conservatism. But the juxtaposition of fascist dictators with free market conservatives such as Reagan and Limbaugh is absolutely absurd, and indicates a utter lack of understanding of the political economy of fascism.

  55. This is a very good idea but will find problems with the Labor and Green parties and the teachers unions.

    actually I think a Swedish style system would outrage the tories here much more – since the blue-blood schools would be forced to take the same amount of money per student as every other school, meaning that upper class spawn lose all their educational birth-privileges.

  56. @Fran Barlow
    Fair enough. Although the original point was that it is irrational to believe in the failures of the market and then deny the greater failures of the political process.

  57. Salient G, you can call me a cornucopian if you want, I never said the world is infinite, I only said it could probably sustain hundreds of billions more people.

    If the worlds present population was living in an urban area the density of Singapore, it would only cover a land area the size of South Australias. or about 0.67% of The total land area of the world (148,940,000 km2.)

    Considering a Forecast Sees Halt to Population Growth by End of Century the prospect of us killing ourselves by this means seems slim.

    In fact Rudd’s philosophy could be right and soon we will need as many people as we can get, especially considering the total fertility rates of China (1.6) and India (2.7) have fallen well below their respective replacement fertility rates. Population decline is rapidly approaching and Australia could soon have to compete for immigrants to maintain its economic growth.

  58. @gerard

    Well – the Tories in the UK want to introduce it and Labour are against it. The Teachers Union are a very powerful force with Labour in the UK and Labor in Aus.

  59. @SeanG
    somehow I don’t think that the UK Tories will be telling Eton that they can’t charge private fees anymore, nor giving everybody vouchers to the same value as what Eton charges.

    but if they are, good for them.

  60. I don’t think you get the idea.

    There are privately-run schools like Eton which charge fees. No government money goes to them.

    Then there are independent schools that can be run by companies and do not charge fees. Government grants on a per student basis flow to them.

    They are not banning fee-paying schools.

  61. @Sea-bass

    Fair enough. Although the original point was that it is irrational to believe in the failures of the market and then deny the greater failures of the political process.

    I rather doubt anyone (with the possible exception of in-powere autocrats) denies the persistent sub-optimal performance of political processes aimed at achieving good policy.

    It’s the persistent but spurious claim that markets are inherently rational allocators of goods and services that is widely held within the ruling classes of the world and thus in need of persistent response.

  62. Tony G, have you no concept of biology and the interdependency of ecosystems and the dependency of Humans on those ecosystems? Have you no concept of the geological vs the ecological footprint of Humans, and how silly your argument is for talking up the space we could be crammed into without consideration for the farming and natural systems required to keep those people not only alive but to have a quality life?

    Are you one of those people who dislikes the natural world, who has no regret for the permanent loss of thousands of other species of amazing creatures to the Human Plague?

    Can you walk through a forest in a national park and appreciate the beauty or do you walk through regreting the loss of saw logs and fertile soil to economic growth?

    Do you understand the concept of ‘everything in moderation’ and that there may just be enough people on this planet, that Humans have slaughtered and destroyed enough of the natural world, that we are wealthy enough and we have enough ‘stuff’?

  63. @SeanG
    No, I don’t think you get the idea Sean. In Sweden schools are banned from charging fees – all of the money comes from the state – so there are no upper-class schools like Eton. You are singling out the one bit that you like – the fact that independent schools are permitted to make a profit – and ignoring the bigger picture – the total state funding and social egalitarianism. The UK tories might like vouchers but if they are proposing anything like the Swedish system then Megan Fox lives under my desk.

  64. of course my knowledge of the Swedish school system comes from Wikipedia and google, so maybe I’m wrong. but the government pays for the voucher and forbids any additional fees being charged by private schools. Etons are totally disallowed. Private operators are allowed to try and make a profit but municipalities still operate non-profit schools, which still have more than 90 percent of market share after 17 years.

  65. Salient Green said @ 21 above

    “Are you one of those people who dislikes the natural world, who has no regret for the permanent loss of thousands of other species of amazing creatures to the Human Plague? ”

    No, but I dislike promoting the value of the natural world and trees to the point that it exceeds the value of human life, as has recently happened in Victoria.

  66. @gerard
    Milton Friedman specifically addresses this particular argument, that of parents “topping up” their vouchers with their own money, in “Free to Choose” (I am going to make the bold assumption that this is not on your favourite reading list). It is absurd that parents who truly value their child’s education should not be allowed to spend more on his/her education, yet at the same time putting this money towards a new TV or car should be totally acceptable.

    At the end of the day, I don’t think just throwing money at schools produces any ostensible improvement. The reason private schools out-perform public schools probably stems from the fact that parents who choose this option are more interested in their child’s education, while those parents who don’t are more than happy to dump their child at the nearest state school and abrogate their responsibilities to the Glorious State.

    Perhaps that is an added benefit of the voucher system, in that it improves choice and forces parents to think carefully about where they are going to send their children i.e. pay more attention to their child’s education.

  67. Hi Tony.

    Did you know that many more people in Victoria actually lost their lives in the late January heatwave, rather than the February bushfires?

    And of course, your view is that such heatwaves are just normal, not caused by human activity, so of course the deaths here were natural and normal as well; just part of the normal healthy cycle.

    So it looks like there’ll be a lot more of these nice healthy heat-deaths to look forward to in the next few years.
    I do so hope the climate skeptics get the full proper credit for this in the years to come.

  68. No Seb – A major reason private schools outperform state schools and some state schools outperform others is that the most academically capable parents generally have the most academically capable students. These parents are generally in a better financial position to put their kids in a private school, so we end up with the most academically gifted students concentrated in private education while public schools at the lower end of the scale suffer from a lack of gifted candidates. These better performing schools in turn attract more gifted students because of the perceived advantages of being educated at these schools, in many ways it is a self fulfilling prophecy. This siphoning of the best students is not just restricted to private schools but here in WA at least better public schools cannibalise students from the poorest schools.

    Now I don’t have anything against parents being able to make this choice but your comment that parents who leave their kids at the local public school as somehow meaning they don’t care about their kids does nothing but once again betray your complete lack of life experience.

  69. Not all parents who care about their childrens’ education can afford to send their kids to private schools. But you’re right – I think most education happens at home, schools are not even designed to educate, they’re designed so socialize people into worker-bots, obedient to authority and accepting of proletarian 9-to-5 drudgery. If anything they’re designed to make people hate learning. In my own personal experience, Australia’s public and private schools are both more-or-less equally sh!t. There needs to be a shift toward alternative and progressive forms of education which are currently available hardly anywhere. I’m not against “vouchers” in theory or even “the profit motive” in theory if it can help achieve this, but how a such a system would work would depend hugely on the details. it’s not a magic bullet and in the hands of the usual suspects it’s actually more of a trojan horse for destroying the very idea of education as a public good. The top-up thing is a matter of the downward pressure that top-ups would inevitably put on the value of the state voucher. After all, the parents who can top-up might not even need a voucher, therefore why should they be coerced into paying taxes to cover the lazy bum parents that do need a voucher (let alone a generous one)? Education is not just a commodity, it is so important to life outcomes the idea that children should receive vastly different qualities of education based on their parents’ class (or even their parents’ character) is anathema to a society with egalitarian and humanist principles. I am of course well aware that “Objectivists” might find these very same principles despicable, so you needn’t point that out.

  70. gerard,
    Swedish private schools that participate in the voucher scheme are barred from charging more fees. There is no bar for a non-participating private school from charging whatever fees they believe that the parents are able and willing to pay.
    I would imagine that Eton, Harrow and others would, if this system were to be adopted in the UK, decide not to participate.

  71. Tony G, thanks for replying and I’m really glad that you appreciate the natural world. Unfortunately, some don’t. The evidence is there however that most people love to get out into nature. Many sacrifice a wealthy lifestyle for a less affluent one out in the bush because they love nature. Others spend long hours travelling to their work so that they can live more at one with nature.

    Unfortunately, some pay the ultimate price for those decisions during bush fires. The safe way is to cut down all the trees around ones property. That will keep one safe but you will no longer have your lifestyle in the bush.

    Similarly, population growth will ensure that those who pay the price to have a good lifestyle in the bush will soon have neighboors who need to cut down trees, then you will need some bitumen, some gutters, drainage etc etc and then you have another paved over suburb with no resemblance to the natural world.

    There is no need to be making choices between the natural world and Human life because people unborn are not life. The thing is to not bring so many new people into the world.

    I understand that you are afraid of losing wealth via lack of ‘economic growth’. Perhaps you have wealth to lose and good luck to you if you have. I don’t think a properly constructed steady state economy would cause any real hardship as opposed to some superficial hardship such as loss of income for the very wealthy.

    The main point is that enough is enough. Let’s be satisfied, content and fulfilled by what we have achieved and set about using our skills for making the world better in terms of quality of life rather than quantity of consumption.

  72. as I said I’m no expert but I haven’t seen any info on private schools that charge fees and don’t participate in the voucher system. Swedish law states that education must be equal regardless of socio-economic background. perhaps if I could google in swedish my knowledge would be more complete but the clearest I can find is unfortunately the UK telegraph: “Unlike in the UK, the country has never had independent, fee-paying schools as we know them thanks to a long-running opposition to any notion of invading the state monopoly on public services. Every child, by and large, has always gone to their neighbourhood school. But a change of Government in the early 1990s heralded a national debate on the issue of “school choice” – a favoured term of both New Labour and David Cameron’s Conservatives – which eventually opened the market to new providers”.

    Maybe one of JQ’s Swedish readers can tell us what the Swedish equivalent of Eton is.

  73. PS it does seem as if the UK tories have ruled out allowing voucher recipient schools in the UK to cream off a profit, despite all the libertarian salivating that’s going on

  74. @sdfc
    Yes I realise that not all parents who send their children to the nearest public school are disinterested in their child’s education (although I’ve certainly encountered many). I know many people who have done well through the public school system. Likewise, I know others who went to private schools who haven’t achieved.

    But even the more devoted parents who send their kids to public schools will often “shop around” or find ways of getting around the school enrollment zoning requirements. In a similar vein, those who sent their poorly performing children to private schools basically just expected the school to do the parenting they couldn’t be bothered doing.

    It just tends to be the case that the private-school non-achievers are comparatively rare. And since this is the case, we should perhaps focus on giving every student the means of a good private education, instead of continually trying to make the unworkable work. Unfortunately, the obsession with egalitarianism has led people to pursue a uniform level of mediocrity.

    There needs to be a way of identifying the poorly performing schools and disciplining them, and the best way to do so is via the free market. Note there will always be below-average schools and below-average students, because not everybody can be above average by the very definition of what an average is.

  75. Oops – my mistake. That one does also accept voucher students, but, interestingly, the voucher students must also contribute to the building fund and admission fees, but not the annual fees.

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