Let’s hear it for a hung parliament!

Two great outcomes in successive days[1], and neither would have happened without a hung parliament. I never accepted the horror with which many commentators viewed the election results (after all, minority governments have been common at the state level and have generally worked fine), but now I’m a positive enthusiast. It would be a pity if the independents who supported the government are punished by their electors – I’d say we need more independents of all kinds as a check on the executive power of the PM and the majority party
Read More »

A long time coming …

… but the legislation for a carbon tax/fixed price emissions scheme has finally passed the House of Representatives, and is assured of passage through the Senate. Assuming the government can survive that long, it will come into force at the beginning of 2012-13.

Before any analysis, some (qualified) congratulations are in order. The Greens (with my support at the time, for what that was worth) took a big gamble in rejecting the badly-compromised Rudd-Turnbull deal, and have contributed to the passage of a much better bill now. Still, it turned out to be a long-shot. If the Gillard government had either won an absolute majority or lost to Tony Abbott, there would be no carbom tax. Kevin Rudd laid a lot of the groundwork, but failed to call a double dissolution, which he would surely have won, when the first version of the emissions trading scheme was blocked. Malcolm Turnbull has been a voice of sanity throughout, but still voted the party line. Last but not least, Julia Gillard, having almost succeeded in killing the whole idea in 2010 demonstrated her skills in getting an exceptionally contentious piece of legislation through, despite disastrous polls and the most fragile conceivable majority.

Now, a bit of a look towards the future

Read More »

Gillard on equal marriage rights

In the event that Julia Gillard lasts as PM until December, she’ll presumably be faced with a resolution making equal marriage rights part of Labor policy. Gillard’s handling of this issue is emblematic of her disastrous leadership in general – simultaneously unprincipled, unconvincing and politically unsuccessful.

Unlike our PM, I’m just old enough to remember when the phrase “living in sin” could be used with a straight face to describe living arrangements like hers. So, I find it hard to believe that her stated opposition to equal marriage rights is sincere (unlike with Kevin Rudd). Rather it’s the result of the kind of political calculation standard on the right wing of the Labor Party (see also Kristina Kenneally), in which the ‘real’ Labor voter is typecast as an aspirational bogan[1] whose views on social issues are unchanged since the 1950s. The key text here is Michael Thompson’s Labor without Class. There’s no evidence for this – views on social issues in Australia are largely uncorrelated with social class.

Allowing that some Labor voters are socially conservative, Gillard’s strategy is still politically stupid. Given the desperate state of the polls, she can’t hope to win by caution on an issue like this. It’s probably too late now, but a strong stand in favor of equal marriage rights might have done something to stop the drift of Labor voters off to the Greens, independents or the kind of apathy that makes it easy to shift to the Liberals, given an attractive promise or two.

fn1. To be boringly clear, I don’t use or endorse the term “bogan” to describe anybody. But the stereotypical image of a bogan coincides perfectly with the Labor Right view of Labor voters.

Wegman plagiarism case: GMU jury out to permanent lunch

It’s been eighteen months since George Mason University began an investigation into allegations of plagiarism by Edward Wegman and his co-author Yasmin Said. Wegman and Said became famous for writing, at the invitation of anti-science Republican Joe Barton, an attempted takedown of the work of Mann and others on the “hockey stick” increase in global temperatures observed over the 20th century. Along with the statistical “analysis’, the report included a ludicrous foray into network analysis. Unfamilar with the field, Wegman and his co-authors cribbed extensively from Wikipedia, something that has turned out to be common pattern in his work.  They were silly enough to submit it for publication in a journal with a friendly editor, leading to a highly embarrassing retraction.

Now there’s yet another piece of Wikipedia cribbing, reported by Dan Vergano in USA Today, with more from Andrew Gelman and Deep Climate who, along with the redoubtable John Mashey, have done most of the hard work in this case

The big question is how long GMU can keep on getting away with doing nothing. They ignored a critical editoral in Nature in May, and it looks as though they will keep on doing nothing unti some external agency forces them to move (or perhaps Wegman will decide to retire and render the case moot for them).

Read More »

Time for a Tobin tax

There’s been a lot of discussion about the need for concrete demands from the #AmericanAutumn #OccupyWallStreet protests.

I just want to toss up the wholly unoriginal idea of a tax on financial transactions, originally proposed by James Tobin (he focused on international transactions, but the distinction is no longer meaningul). I’ve seen a sign advocating this on one of the videos of the protest, but I think it deserves more attention, for a bunch of reasons

* It’s directed squarely at Wall Street

* It’s global in its orientation

* It doesn’t require complicated structural change, as would a return of Glass-Steagall

* There’s an existing global movement supporting it

* It’s on the elite policy table right now, with support from the EU

* It would potentially raise substantial revenue, while greatly reducing the volume of short-term financial transactions

Here’s a  a piece I wrote about not long ago in Politics and Society and an older article on the Tobin tax, and over the fold some notes I prepared for our Parliamentary Library a few years back

Read More »

Tahrir in Wall Street

It’s time to talk about the Occupy Wall Street movement. As with the movement itself, I have more enthusiasm than analysis to offer at this point. I’m in Washington DC at present and i went to a (very small) meeting [1] a couple of weeks ago which was part of the planning for a similar protest starting on 6 October (more info here). Things have certainly grown since then, and it could be quite a big event.

In the generally undirected spirit of the movement, here is an open thread for your comments, predictions and so on.

fn1. As a visitor to the US, I’m not actually involved in the organization, but I was interested to hear about it and sympathetic to what I heard. Those at the meeting seemed more ordinary, and of all ages, compared to the media images of ragtag youth at the Wall Street protest.

Cut your energy bills in half

A newspaper story I once read (almost certainly apocryphal) claimed that advertisement to this effect asked for a small payment in return for a guaranteed method of cutting energy bills in half. If you paid up, you received, by return mail, a pair of scissors.

A more serious version of this question occurred to me in relation to yet another dispute about the allegedly special character of energy as a commodity. It occurred to me to ask the following question: suppose that my family and I had to reduce my personal energy consumption, immediately and permanently by 50 per cent. How feasible would it be, and how much worse off would we be? So, assuming we attempted it evenly across the board, this would mean

* Reducing car travel by 50 per cent, until we could get a more fuel-efficient car, or share rides
* Reducing lighting by 50 per cent, until we could get more energy-efficient lightbulbs
* Reducing air travel by 50 per cent, until airlines introduced more fuel-efficient planes
* Reducing use of airconditioning and central heating by 50 per cent, either by turning it off half the time or by adjusting thermostats
* Reducing use of existing consumer durables and purchase of new ones by 50 per cent, until substitutes with less lifecycle energy use became available

To make it a bit tougher, we might try to achieve bigger reductions in these areas, to offset various forms of indirect energy use, such as the energy used in food production.

My assessment is that this would be very difficult. But do some comparisons, and it looks easy.

Read More »