Monday Message Board

It’s time, once again for the Monday Message Board. Post comments on any topic. As usual, civilised discussion and no coarse language. In this context, could I ask commenters to avoid the term “bulls**t” which has sent a lot of recent comments to moderation, creating unnecessary work for me. In future, comments containing this term will be deleted.

40 thoughts on “Monday Message Board

  1. Internet censorship threat confirms urgent need for Binding Citizens Initiated Referenda – An Open Letter to the Greens

    James Sinnamon, an independent candidate for the seat of Brisbane in the forthcoming 2010 Federal elections puts, in an open letter to Senator Bob Brown and members of the Greens Party, that the Greens must pledge, at the earliest possible opportunity to introduce into our Federal Parliament, bills that would enable ordinary citizens to initiate Binding Citizens Initiated Referenda as is now the law in Switzerland. This would be our strongest possible guarantee against politicians ever again being able to abuse their office in order to enact laws, overwhelmingly opposed by the people, in the way Senator Stephen Conroy is now attempting to ram his Chinese-style Mandatory Internet Filtering Laws through the Senate.

  2. Sounds a good idea, Daggett – and I would certainly favour a Swiss-style setup in this country, not least against the likes of wannabe Stalins in the Communications Dept – but isn’t the whole notion of CIR within Australia being mainly propelled by the LaRouchees? I could be wrong, and if I am wrong, I’d love to be told so. Yet I’m very reluctant to touch with a 10-foot pole anything that the LaRouchees are demanding.

  3. I’m continuing to be concerned by the whole MacKillop sainthood issue.

    First, there is the tenuous chain of reasoning about unexplained spontaneous cancer remissions, the coincidence of praying to a non-deity, and the role of earthly ‘lobbying’ for the sainthood. But today, Trevor, a local, has come forward with a claim that the purported miracles were actually his.
    Now Trevor is a somewhat forgetful chap, which possibly explains why he has only just remembered his role in granting these miracles, but he is adamant that they are his. He said he has at times, accidentally conferred miracles, but he remembers these ones quite clearly, now, as he was completely exhausted after each one.
    If the Pope does confirm MacKillop as a saint then he is in grave danger of making a serious error. This would be all the more serious given his Papal infallibility. I urge believers, everywhere, to plead with Benedict not to be rash. “Don’t do it!” At least not until Trevor’s rival claims have been thoroughly investigated.

  4. Daggett – citizen initiated referendums are sometimes great and sometimes cause havoc (eg California). I think a less devisive reform would be to allow citizens to veto any current legislation. In other words a citizens initiated referendum could be used to repeal legislation but could not be used to initiate new legislation.

    I’ve had a facebook cause setup for this issue for some time.

  5. p.s. If we did get citizens initiated referendums to allow changes to the constitution I’d be pushing for a TABOR style restrictions on per capita growth in tax revenue. Colorado style.

  6. This is a BBC report. China’s position is understandable. Why would any nation accept lower percapita emissions than other states?

    China’s words “historical emissions responsibilities” and “development stages” point to their position.

    So it seems China is saying it wants the same per capita emissions and standard of living as other nations.

    But I don’t think the Australian level of per capita emissions is sustainable if replicated right across the globe.


    China’s Foreign Minister, Yang Jiechi, praised the summit in a statement which said: “Developing and developed countries are very different in their historical emissions responsibilities and current emissions levels, and in their basic national characteristics and development stages.

    “Therefore, they should shoulder different responsibilities and obligations in fighting climate change.”

    “The Copenhagen conference is not a destination but a new beginning,” he added.

    United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says the agreement must be made legally binding next year.


  7. Re: China. Agreed. Why should they do more than everyone else. They are not a country that needs to beg the rest of the world for a fair deal, which is what African and other countries need to do. If the developed world won’t give China a fair deal it can continue to churn out CO2 until there is a better offer. The US signed Kyoto and the didn’t ratify it and basically unsigned it and now wants to continue to churn out more CO2 per capita than anyone else. The US and developed world built up their capital stock and standard of living underpinned by not paying for CO2 emissions. China has a strong point that it is a bit rich to expect them to now have to pay heavily for CO2 as they develop without some willingness from the developed world to compensate them. The develop world can get away without compensating Africa but maybe not without compensating China. This is just the old story of international politics. Might is right.

  8. @Freelander
    While travelling to Adelaide yesterday, the MM thing came up on the radio. My father wanted to know if given the miracle of curing cancer in someone the doctors said couldn’t be cured, did he happen to have been on the receiving end of a “reverse miracle”? Dad reckoned that given he was told by the doctors that he didn’t have cancer but then it turned out that he did, he must have been given a reverse miracle, by the MM standards of miracle (Dad is okay now, thanks to the wonders of modern medicine.)

  9. Chris – China has a point but there are differences. China has to build a lot of new power plants anyway. What they are being asked to pay for is the difference between CO2 emitting power stations and CO2 free power plants (eg nuclear). The developed nations on the other hand are being asked to scrap existing working power plants and infastructure.

  10. @Donald Oats
    Quite. I also wonder whether they attributed any misfortune someone suffered after praying to MacKillop to MacKillop. Surely to do so would only be fair. They can’t attribute the misfortune to Trev, as I am sure none of them prayed to him.

  11. Freelander

    As at 2007, the US was NOT churning out more CO2 per capita than anyone else. See CO2/Population data in Excel sheet here…

    However, amongst high-GDP states, the US is churning out more, although Canada and Australia are very close behind.

  12. @Chris Warren

    I stand corrected.

    They are churning out more per capita than China and other developing countries though. The proper measure of impact should be how much the consumption per capita is responsible for, because it is the final user who is really responsible for the CO2 being produced. I imagine that because we in the west have deindustrialised the CO2 produced to make the goods we consume is often in developing countries. China has a fair gripe because we got our capital and standard of living without paying for CO2. We should not expect China to start paying unless we make some compensation arrangement. As far as the other developing countries go, most of these have no credible threats so I don’t think, international politics being as it is, they will get just compensation. If we don’t try to come to half-way fair arrangements with China and India, they will just continue to increase their output of CO2 until things get really bad.

  13. A problem that I see with citizen initiated referenda is that they are the ultimate in ‘black letter law’. So a law “There shall be no internet filtering” would mean that we would be inundated by spam, at present filtered out by your ISP. What if I wanted to set up an ISP that filtered and used this as a selling point – there must be thousands who would like a filtered feed. So the referendum legislation would have to be complex and then “if you don’t understand it, don’t vote for it!” wins.
    The other problem is that the legislature can always get around a prohibition. “No increase in land tax!” and the legislature introduces a “window tax”; “No death duties” and you get an “inheritance tax”. To get around CIR, the legislature just has to hire a few of the lawyers who have made a very good living out of defeating ‘black letter law’ over the centuries (BTW, did you know that Lenin didn’t say “the last capitalist will sell us the rope to hang him with”? As one wit remarked, it’s far too pithy for Lenin.)
    Merry Christmas.

  14. Some quotes and comments from Spash’s paper:

    “A key weakness of an ETS compared to alternative policies—taxes or direct regulation—is that an excessive baseline or regulatory loophole in any one nation or sector eliminates the need for genuine reductions elsewhere. The more complex the scheme and the greater its scope, the greater the potential for a weak link. National carbon markets allow poorly regulated sectors to gain, just as international carbon markets are susceptible to rewarding countries with lax regulations and poor enforcement.”

    Probably my main concern as well, but the international argument equally applies to carbon taxes. I am assuming that carbon tarrifs would be the proposed “solution” here (for either option)?

    “the major difference from a tax is that the revenue stream need not go to government, depending upon how the scheme is established and run. For example, if the government gives all existing polluters permits for free then the public purse gains no revenue; instead polluters can sell the permits on the open market and so avail themselves of a windfall. This adds an incentive for polluting parties to form lobby groups in order to influence policy design to avail themselves of such gains.”

    Probably the key criticism of “ETS better than tax”. Presumably the answer is that you design the ETS to avoid freepermitting as far as practical. But if you manage to achieve this in your ETS proposal – would it then be the more or less politically palatable? I don’t know.

  15. If we continue with the financial system that we have on the fly there can be no doubt that this is the end of this country. The financial system in American has basically wrecked that Republic. And it will go the same way for us eventually.

    Professor Keen and Professor Quiggin seem to aware of some of these problems. Here is Professor Keen on Max Keisers financial show. I think it would be a good thing if some of you guys master the technical side of what Max and Professor Keen are saying here.

    Our banks have misallocated resources to an astonishing degree. They have put us in incredible debt for the privilege of bidding up consumer and land prices. They have gone out of their way to misdirect resources away from productive spending. They have held out their hand to foreign banks for liquidity needs, meaning that our dollar has been persistently overvalued, leading to relentless de-industrialisation.

    We cannot put up with the current situation. I’m not for nationalisation but lets look at things from a technical point of view. Supposing there was a run on the banks in 1999. Suppose they went broke. And suppose after all due process the governments cut a deal with the creditors to buy the banks up and nationalise them for just a bit more than the domestic creditors would have gotten.

    Then imagine that the federal government had split loans strictly into two categories. 1. Wealth creation. 2. Low interest loans for state, local, individual, then corporate debtors, in that order, who were willing to swear off debt for maybe 20 years.

    The second function is important. Since to get better resource allocation we need a slower growth in the money supply. But for a slower growth in the money supply not to be immensely painful and disruptive we need to bring debt levels down.

    So supposing if those were the only two allowable loaning criteria? Would we now be better off after ten years of this, rather than the ten years that we had?

    Of course. We would be immensely better off comparatively. There is just no doubt about this on a technical economics level. This is not my preferred option. But my point is we have to change. We have to get out of the clutches of these ponzi-artists and debt-addiction pushers. Or else they will be the death of us.

  16. The principal difficulty with using voluntarianism as a means to solve what is in effect a “stochastic control problem” – in mathematical parlance – of the Earth’s climate system, is the simple one that the fraction of the population who act in a broadly suitable manner to affect desired change is irrelevant to the scientific issue of the correctness or not of the theory of “Anthropogenic Global Warming.”

    It may well be that only 0.01% of the global population know the detailed science of AGW, and accept that it is extremely likely to be a scientifically true account of how our climate system is responding to humanity’s activities. That group may be able to convince perhaps 1–10% of the population that the scientific evidence of AGW is sufficient to take quick action. Perhaps 1/3 of that group, ie 3% or so of the global population, are in a position to make quick and direct changes that reduce their greenhouse emissions to a very low level.

    Then there is the issue of other parties wishing to convince the global population that there is nothing to be concerned about. This group have frequent and repeatable access to the TV and print media in Australia. In fact many of them are in one way or another embedded within the media – Andrew Bolt as such an example. Their job as they see it is to convince government to take a “business as usual” approach, often by tacit means such as causing the by now classic FUD.

    Who wins in the voluntarianism war – the scientific voluntarists or the anti-scientific voluntarists? In the end the scientific evidence won’t sway the bulk of people either, for the simple reasons that we have seen again and again (eg Tony G as a case in note).

    John Humphrey’s article is I think written safe in the knowledge that there are too few who will take the voluntary actions available, to have a noticable impact. I’m confident a couple of colleagues shared a chuckle with him when Humphrey’s submitted this.

    I don’t know if anyone else checks the credentials of the various opinion writers in the Australian (on the topic of AGW, usually from an outright denial perspective) but a stupendously high number of them are either directly from IPA, or from an IPA “endorsed” affiliate organisation, of which there are many in Australia.

  17. @Donald Oats

    Not the least of the problems with moving action is what economists call “the discount rate”. The less socially advantaged one is, the higher the discount rate, and vice versa.

    One sees this phenomenon when teaching all the time — I’m in the habit of using ther term “the window of significance” when coaching other teachers. The lower the academic stream band one is teaching, the closer in time something has to be to a child to be significant (either in a positive or negative sense).

    In the wider world though, socially disadvantaged peope’s cultural preferences are skewed towards immediate gratification far more than those who are somewhat more privileged. (At the very top of the privilege band one sees some reversion because the long term penalties appear less for the opposite reason to that of socailly disadvantaged people). That’s why poor people commonly make such poor decisions spending their money — eating large amounts of cheap but poor quality food, buying something they can’t afford on a “no repayment until 2012 and 27% interest afterwards” or gambling/drinking the rent money. The benefit seems salient but the cost seems invisible. They regret their decisions after it’s too late to alter them.

    Trying to get action on global warming mitigation is the same kind of problem. If we invite people to go without now so they (or maybe even worse, their grandchildren) can be better off in 2050, many will say they aren’t interested — and indeed, many of that tranche won’t be interested until its 2049 or 2050. Unless we can make it seem that the tangible benefits start today or at worst within their windows of significance then most of them won’t want to act.

    That’s tough to do. We want to be truthful and we are bound IMO to be so. That’s why IMO the best way to go about this is to impose the costs now and match them with benefits now. If we can use the costs we impose to protect and augment forests now, supply cheap near zero energy now and celebrate these successes now then support for the programs should increase. That’s one of the reasons I think building nuclear capacity ASAP makes sense. The problem of “long term storage of waste in the future” will be discounted heavily by people at the bottom of the scale. In this case their flawed and exaggerated discounting rate for future harm is advantageous, because the scope of the problem is exaggerated — so one widespread myth is subverted by a widespread reasoning error. The errors cancel each other out. (Lipsey would be pleased!)

    This is also why I like the idea of a cap and trade system with road bridges in Sydney. The positive behaviour we want — getting private vehicles off the roads when there’s not a pressing reason to be there — is rewarded within a timeframe that the relevant demographic sees as significant. A side benefit could be that if more people ride bikes or use public transport and spend less time commuting, they are less likely to buy take-away convenience food. And once the capacity to adopt a longer term perspective is reinforced, we ought to improve the proportion of the populace that will feel connected to benefits or prospective harms further into the future.

  18. Isn’t the best argument against dealing with AGW by voluntary means that it won’t work? Of course people do reduce their own emissions already by their own choices but most people’s choices are limited and very often much less effective than feel-good marketing would have them believe. When proposed by someone who insists (elsewhere) that AGW isn’t real – and presumably isn’t going to voluntarily reduce or even seriously encourage others to reduce emissions for the sake of future climate – I can only assume failure to deal with the issue is what he wants. Why the SMH would think Humphrey has anything constructive to contribute to this debate is a mystery; his thinking on AGW is easy to find out.

    I realise that other methods may not work either and after more than a decade of knowing that AGW is real with very serious consequences, global emissions continue to rise, our governments – state and federal – are actively increasing our capacity to mine and export fossil fuels and continue to make it clear that coal-fired electricity is our future energy source of choice.

    I think the cost of changing to low-emissions energy must be included in the price for producing energy with high emissions now. Any cost accounting that counts the “big new tax” but fails to count the consequences and costs of failure to deal with emissions is promoting a big lie. Still, the CPRS/ETS is a dud and more of a dud because the general public is largely uninformed on where the “big new tax” money will flow to; I’m a bit vague about it myself. It’s not enough to make dirty energy more expensive if the producers and users of dirty energy are the biggest recipients of compensation ; isn’t the point the fast-tracking of low-emissions energy and making dirty energy uneconomical in comparison?

  19. Voluntary action is in general under rated. Political action esentially entails 51% support but voluntary action can begin with initial support only slightly above 0%. If people are prepared to vote for change but will not willingly pay for it then I think it is fair to ask how fair dinkum they are. Perhaps they think government action will entail somebody else paying for it, in which case they are seriously misguided.

  20. Terje

    The threshold for political action can be much lower than 51%. Polls consistently showed the majority opposed much of the economic agenda of the last 3 decades – tariff reduction, greater wage “flexibility”, de-regulation. Yet these were pushed through. What seems to count is intensity of feeling. It’s difficult to get a policy up if as little as 10% of the population vehemently oppose it, but 10% passionately for a policy suffices to get through if the rest are not too fussed about it, or wary of opposing the powerful.

    One element that is missing from the global warming response – except in largely veiled hints – is the role of coercion. China is vulnerable to US and EU economic pressure (and vice versa). I expect this aspect to become more prominent as the effects become greater.

  21. “The developed nations on the other hand are being asked to scrap existing working power plants and infastructure.’

    No, they’re not.

    Essentially the entire power industry infrastructure will need to be replaced between now and 2050. If we replace it with carbon-free energy sources as and when it reaches the end of its economic life, then we will achieve the goal of a 60-80% reduction in emission from the stationary energy sector.s

  22. “If we continue with the financial system that we have on the fly there can be no doubt that this is the end of this country. The financial system in American has basically wrecked that Republic. And it will go the same way for us eventually.”

    Australia currently has amongst the lowest unemployment rates; public debt to GDP ratios, bank debt to bank assets and government deficit to GDP ratios in the developed world and is IIRCthe only developed economy not to have experienced a recession (defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth)

    I find the evidence for imminent catastrophe less than impressive.

  23. @Graeme Bird
    I agree with your concerns and with your belief that we have to get more loans for productive purposes and fewer loans that simply increase the price of existing assets.

    Our loans system is structured to give loans to buy existing assets. To build new assets we have to use savings. We can create more loans than we have savings and so loan money is plentiful and it is cheap.

    A small change to the system that will stop the proliferation of “bad loans” is to allow loans to be made to build new assets and to make those loans zero interest.

    This makes it financially cheaper to build a new asset than to buy an old asset. Do this and the system will adjust itself and asset bubbles will become a bad memory.

  24. @Ian Gould
    Ian – I dont think Birdie used the word imminent but the word eventually. After the GFC and every other US centred financial tank last century, we cant ignore the transmission here. It happens and we are not immune. Just because we got out of this last GFC marginally better than some other nations doesnt protect us. We have never been so powerful or so big or so indepdendant that what happens in the US financial system doesnt get transferred here.

    I also have a problem with your take on unemployment rates. Have you checked the rates for 16 to 24 year olds? They are ugly. There is also the small matter than an entire year of school leavers have been kept out of the unemployment figure (earning or learning – must be learning if not earning, to get access to unemployment benefits…and if “learning” no longer counted). Unemployment rates for the young, I know are at 27% on the Northern Beaches and yet at 46% out Campbelltown way.

    These are not pretty numbers and your rosy view may not be quite justified.

  25. If people took actions within their own households they could reduce GHG emissions by X%. However, if we loosen this to “If people were free to undertake any voluntary actions they wished, they could reduce GHG emissions by Y%”

    The fact that we haven’t reduced GHG emissions by Y%, or anything like it yet, demonstrates quite unequivocally that purely voluntary actions are not working, and that is in spite of 30 years of “getting the message out”.

    PS: X and Y don’t really matter too much as far as the point I’m making goes.

  26. People reading this blog in NSW who follow the local news will probably have heard that a 21-month old child died after two men who fled the scene of an East Hills liquor store robbery and were pursued by the police on the motorway collided with the back of the family Subaru. At the time of the collision a number of police cars were involved and a police helicopter.

    Now anyway you slice it, the two alleged offenders were not all that good at risk trading. Two guys who think holding up as liquor store and fleeing with about as much in cash and goods as they could make in a week of mowing lawns or distributing spam into people’s letter boxes ($1265 plus two bottles of whiskey) are not the kind of people to make good decisions when at the wheel of a car being pursued by the police. Post-collision, one of them got out and tried to hijack another vehicle, only to be knocked down. He’s in hospital.

    My question is — what possessed police to pursue such a dangerous pursuit, particularly after the police helicopter had them under surveillance? Pulling back, allowing them to get a grip on their emotions and to entertain the illusion that they could dump the car and escape on foot would have been more sensible, but it seems the police were little better at risk trading than the two crims. They gambled with the lives of the public and, not surprisingly, lost what they had no business gambling with, given especially that the robbery in question was committed without injury by two obvious dimwits.

    Had those being pursued been two murderous psychopaths with a reasonable prospect of evading capture and causing mayhem, then the case for close pursuit would have been strong, but it’s simply madness that the cost of preventing the remote chance of a similar trivial robbery has proven to be a human life (and randomness alone prevented the other two occupants and a fetus being added to the casualty list).

  27. @TerjeP (say tay-a)

    We support what he’s standing for, …

    This is where the concept of getting off your butt and doing something turns into a pun.

    Seriously though, it does underline the point that private property rights in anything bearing upon social production and the interests of the commons are never far from being in conflict.

    The time is long overdue when private land is brought back into the explicit control of the commons.

  28. @Fran Barlow
    Fran – interestingly the location of the stores robbed is usually close to a freeway. Thats what the thieves like. A hit with a good clear exit. There was a poor TAB at epping somewhere – did we have this conversation? Close to an intersection entry point for two major arteries providing a clear fast high speed getaway. The poor guy who owned the TAB couldnt cope with the repeated robberies and closed. Maybe bring back some suburban strip shopping centres not so close to freeway entry points. Planning… to reduce crime.
    Fast getaway is what these thieves were clearly banking on but they got chased at equally high speed. It isnt the police’s fault that there was a tragic death of an innocent child involved. They were doing what they are paid to do. The thieves got caught and will do the time for their actions and this acts as a deterrent to others. It was just a very sad accident.
    The best cure of all for a crime rate is to have low unemployment levels isnt it? (and that doesnt mean fudged figures of people being seen as employed if working for an hour or two a week).

  29. Hubby thinks the cops see police chases as a perk of office and that this (rther than protecting the public) is why they get licence to do them.

  30. [PrQ … please sub this post for the one at 36 as that has too many typos. Thanks]


    It isn’t the police’s fault that there was a tragic death of an innocent child involved. They were doing what they are paid to do.

    No they weren’t. They are paid to protect the public. That is always a risk management exercise in which one trades in various types of risk to produce the optimal risk/reward balance in reconciling competing claims — timely restraint of criminal conduct; minimisation of loss of civil liberty; public safety in the short, medium and longterm; trading in serious harm versus more general harm etc.

    The thieves got caught and will do the time for their actions and this acts as a deterrent to others.

    There’s little persuasive evidence that this “deterrent” works that way. Most people who commit these crimes are in a poor position to evaluate the possibility of being caught and one of them was on a warrant for parole violation. Sending them to jail also improves their ability to learn new techniques that may elevate their belief that they can evade capture in the future. And much as you and I would prefer to stay out of prison, there’s no denying that for some, prison life provides a culture with attractions that appeal to those with weak life skills and self-esteem. Having done voluntary work in the past with prisoners, for many it’s like having a family who, unlike their biological counterparts, aren’t about to abandon them. The prison and the army aren’t that different, and if you compare the demographics of the US army/marines at “grunt” level with those who wind up in prison, the demographics are remarkably similar.

    It was just a very sad accident.

    That’s a meaningless appeal to metaphysics. The vast majority of events (whether negative or positive) are to some extent authored by humans, at least in terms of their impacts on humans. Beyond a couple of news articles I haven’t looked at the backgrounds of the criminals involved behind this robbery, but I’d be very surprised if they both hadn’t been from dysfunctional and marginalised families known to DOCS and the police as minors, and if they had both performed poorly at school and had had anger management issues. One of them strongly resembles one of our problem kids out at Sarah Redfern at Minto.

    Could the police have anticipated what followed? Of course as collisions are a fairly common occurrence in situations such as this. Deaths and serious injury are entirely foreseeable. They had a helicopter up. What were they thinking?

  31. @Fran Barlow
    You mean hubby thinks they have been playing too much “need for speed” or watching too many police “hot pursuit” shows before they do the real thing Fran? Like if some kid hooked on speed driving video games grows up to be a policeman and makes some unconscious connection with his video game entertainment activities….horrible thought isnt it? Lets hope not.

  32. Actually Alce, he thinks that the police force attracts those who like illicit risk-taking. I recall a couple of my schoolbuddies who wound up in the police force in the 1980s and they were very much the kind of people who wanted legal cover to do things that would otherwise get them into trouble.

  33. @Fran Barlow
    Well…we know the cash and drugs in busts has always proved a little too tempting to some in the force, historically, dont we? The uniform can really give cover for some organised lightfingeredness with the proceeds of crime cant it? Then of course, there is the too close relationships with dealers, pimps and prostitutes for some. The force does seem to have its good cops and bad cops – like Owen and Roger Rogerson for example.

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