Not enough votes = broken promise? (Update: as it turns out, yes)

Update With brilliant timing, I wrote this post the day before Gillard announced that she was in fact breaking her promise, and would not bring the legislation to a vote. Presumably she had already signalled this to the media, which was why the accusations of a broken promise were being made, accurately if a little prematurely. Yet again, Gillard has lived down to my lowest expectations, while Abbott has (of course) been even worse End Update

Regular readers will know that I’m no fan of our current PM and a strong supporter of legislation to limit the damage caused by pokies and other forms of gambling that rely primarily on problem gamblers for their viability. And, having been overseas for much of last year, there may be some political nuances I’m missing.[1]

Still, I can’t see how Gillard can be accused of breaking a promise to Andrew Wilkie on pokies on the basis that she has failed to get the numbers for it. On that basis, for example, Rudd broke his promise on an ETS, not when he dropped the idea under pressure from Gillard and the NSW right, but when the Senate rejected the legislation. And every government in recent history has made election promises then had their proposals rejected in the Senate (the silly idea of a mandate, supposed to require the Senate to acquiesce in government legislation, never had any effect on this). Occasionally, such rejections lead to the PM being criticised for lacking negotiation skills. But I’ve never before seen such a case treated as a broken promise.

fn1. Most obviously, it might be that the government is secretly encouraging other independents to oppose the law. I haven’t seen any suggestion to this effect, but it’s about the only thing that would make sense of the “broken promise” claim.

The Internet is like a million-page a second photocopier (or is that a series of tubes)

Not long ago, I read Daniel Ellsberg’s[1] autobiography, Secrets, and also watched the film, The Most Dangerous Man in America. A striking feature of the book was that Ellsberg’s biggest problem in leaking the Pentagon Papers was the logistical difficulty of making 20 or so copies of a 7000 page cache of documents. It took him and a couple of helpers several months, IIRC. 

Now of course, such a task is easy, as demonstrated by Ellsberg’s successor (allegedly Bradley Manning) who supplied vast quantities of classified documents to Wikileaks. On the other hand, if Ellsberg had been 20 or so years earlier, he wouldn’t even have been able to make a single copy. [2]

The blackout yesterday as a protest against SOPA and PIPA reflects a simple fact about the Internet – it is, in essence a way of making and distributing vast numbers of copies of documents of all kinds.

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Last week I got an urgent request from the Fin for a quick-turnaround piece on the latest plan to save the car industry. I got it done within a few hours, and planned to post it here. Alas, I was as slow in doing this as I had been fast in writing the original piece (over the fold)

In the meantime, Sinclair Davidson at Catallaxy took exception to my observation that the mining industry’s nearly-free access to minerals under both private and public land was a bigger subsidy than anything the motor vehicle industry got. In support of the miners, he quoted Mitch Hooke of the Mining Council as saying

He said the proposed new tax would hit the mining industry with such a sledgehammer that it would destroy value, deter investment, reduce growth, and affect every mum and dad who has shares of equity or provides goods.

Of course, if you deleted “tax” and put in “tariff cut”, that’s exactly the same as what the representative of every industry demanding continued tariffs or subsidies has said.

What’s striking about this is the tribalism involved. As I demonstrate in the article, as far as economic efficiency is concerned, the effects of current levels of assistance to the car industry are third-order. Yet the political/cultural right denounces the car industry, while defending rent-seekers like Hooke.

This is part of a more general phenomenon on the right that I will post more on later. It’s taken for granted on the cultural right that some technologies and industries (nuclear power, oil, finance) are good and others (wind energy, electric cars, Hollywood) are evil – essentially a mirror image of what they think we on the left think. For people who are supposed to believe in the free market, this is a big problem.

Argument stuck in second gear

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My bet with Bryan Caplan – update


Back in 2009, I made a bet with Bryan Caplan that the average unemployment rate in the EU-15 over the following 10 years would be no more than 1.5 percentage points above that in the US. Before talking about the bet itself, I’d like to note that while we disagree about a lot of things, Bryan and I both take a strong stand against war, with a limited exception for self-defence. As Bryan says here, that takes a lot of sting out of the possibility of a losing bet for either of us – agreement on war and peace is more important than disagreement about labor markets in my view. 

Now, on to the bet.

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