Economists statement on Queensland asset sales

I’m one of a group of more than 20 academic and business economists who have put together a statement criticising the Queensland government’s case for asset sales and arguing that we need a proper public debate. The group includes some of Australia’s leading economists, including Joshua Gans, Stephen King, Warwick McKibbin and Adrian Pagan, as well as ten professors of economics from UQ, and more from other Queensland universities. But maybe the most surprising, and heartening, signature is that of Henry Ergas who has been one of my sparring partners on many occasions, most recently a debate on whether government should be the ultimate risk manager, held by the UQ Alumni Association (Henry won, by popular vote). Although Henry has been a strong supporter of privatisation in many instances where I have opposed it, we agree that these issues should be decided on the basis of costs and benefits, and not by spurious claims that privatisation provides governments with money they can invest in schools and hospitals.

Update I just did an interview on Madonna King’s ABC Radio program, and have promised to debate the issue with Andrew Fraser. I will also probably do a TV interview.

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Consequentialism and confidence

I’m finally collecting my thoughts in response to Chris Bertram’s CT post on Consequentialism and Communism, particularly this remark imputing to consequentialists in general

the very same disregard for, or scepticism about, the rights of individuals, the same willingness to sacrifice individual lives for valuable goals

that characterized the Bolsheviks and their successors.

As regards willingness to sacrifice individual lives for valuable goals, I think this is an unfair criticism of consequentialists. Look at any of the standard anti-consequentialist philosophical examples – trolley car, organ bank, survival lottery, violinist and so on. It’s always the hard-nosed consequentialist who is supposed to want to save as many lives as possible, and the noble anti-consequentialist who proposes to sacrifice individual lives for “valuable goals” such as clean hands, natural rights and bodily integrity.
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The Oz strikes back

I’ve been pretty relentlessly critical of the coverage of climate change issues by The Australian, and unsurprisingly, they’ve struck back in their editorial column, which attacks my opinion piece in yesterday’s Fin (over the fold). It doesn’t appear to be online, but the line is that since Australia only contributes some small proportion of global emissions, it doesn’t matter what we do, and therefore we shouldn’t feel bad about the impending destruction of the Great Barrier Reef.

Somewhat unusually for Oz editorials of this kind, I got mentioned by name, rather than being given a description obvious to those in the know but darkly obscure to readers in general. So, I’ll give them a serious reply. Of course, as stated in my article, what matters is that all developed countries should cut emissions. As in all international negotiations, our capacity to affect the outcome is limited but not zero. The only real capacity we have for influence is to make a clear demonstration that we will do our part (given our past laggardliness, the notion that we can “take the lead” is just silly) and it seems obvious that, in deciding whether or not to do this, we should focus on impacts of particular relevance to us, hoping that others will do likewise.

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Bookblogging: What next for macroeconomics ?

It’s been slow going, but I’ve finally finished the draft chapter of my book-in-progress that looks forward to a new research program for macroeconomics, an absurdly ambitious task, but one that needs to be tackled. Of course, what I’ve written isn’t fundamentally new – it’s a distillation of points that Old Keynesians, post-Keynesians and some behavioral economists have been putting forward for a while. But I hope I’ve got some positive contribution to make. More than ever, comments are much appreciated.

Update In response to comments, mostly at Crooked Timber, I’ve fairly substantially revised the section on “avoiding stagflation”. While I don’t back away from the points I made previously, I took for granted some things that I’d mentioned in other places in the book. The result made for a fairly unbalanced treatment with an excessive focus on the role of labor militancy. I’ve now tried to put this into proper context. I don’t expect that will satisfy everybody, but this is closer to what I meant to say all along.End update
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GBR Alliance

For the past few days, I’ve been mostly focused on a statement on climate change and the Great Barrier Reef, made by a group of scientists (+ me as an economist) organised by the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Scientists, and called, not suprisingly, the FASTS Great Barrier Reef Climate Change Alliance. I’ve put the media release, issued on Tuesday, over the fold. There’s more on the web page including a link to a very valuable document entitled “When is Science Valid?”.

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Fruit loops

It is I think, comparatively rare for a senior political figure to describe equally senior members of their own party as “fruit loops” and “f…wits”, going on to observe that “They don’t know how crazy they look, because crazy people never do”.

But that was exactly the reaction to last Monday’s Four Corner’s program in which Liberal Party Senate Leader Nick Minchin and others went on camera to spout delusionist conspiracy theories of the type Kevin Rudd had pre-emptively denounced only two days previously (i guess he had an idea what was going to be on Four Corners). Minchin described the scientific consensus view that human activity is driving climate change as the result of a communist plot, saying

For the extreme Left it provides the opportunity to do what they’ve always wanted to do, to sort of deindustrialise the Western world. You know the collapse of communism was a disaster for the Left, and … they embraced environmentalism as their new religion.

This is, of course, standard stuff on the political right – I had a string of people pointing me to the latest silly talking point in which a British unfair dismissal case was supposed to prove that global warming is a religion – but it was a big mistake to say it on Four Corners.

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