The relative rationality of Malcolm Roberts

Among other interesting results, the recent election gave a Senate seat to One Nation member Malcolm Roberts. Roberts is notable for his expressed belief that global warming is a fraud produced by a global conspiracy of bankers seeking to establish a worldwide government through the United Nations.

Unsurprisingly, Roberts has copped a lot of flak for these statements. But his position seems to me to be more credible than that of the average “sceptic”.
Read More »

The failure of privatisation and the case for a fully public TAFE system

I have a new article in The Conversation, riffing off ACCC chairman Rod Sims’ recent denunciation of privatisation policy in Australia. The Conversation’s ran with the headline “People have lost faith in privatisation and it’s easy to see why“. To be slightly more precise, when privatisation started in the 1980s, most people had an open mind on the issue – there was plenty of dissatisfaction with public enterprises like Telecom Australia. As they experienced privatisation, they became more hostile and, eventually, implacably so, even as the political class remained convinced of the merits of the idea. The successive defeats of the Bligh (Labor) and Newman (LNP) governments in Queensland illustrate the point. The rare cases when privatising governments have been elected or re-elected usually arise only when the Opposition is utterly unelectable (Baird in NSW for example).

Part of Sims speech and my article referred to the continuing disaster of for-profit vocational education. Right on cue, the day the piece came out, the Victorian government terminated the contracts of another 18 shonky providers (though they are still registered with the national regulator ASQA), with the students being directed to the public TAFE system.

Billions of dollars are being wasted and thousands of lives ruined by this continuing policy disaster. Yet, it seems, no one in authority is willing to admit that the whole idea of publicly funded for-profit education is a disaster, guaranteed to generate scams and rorts on an industrial scale. The whole system needs to be shut down and replaced by a fully public TAFE system. The minority of for-profit providers who are doing a decent job could be hired as subcontractors to teach TAFE courses.

Can this census be saved?

It appears that, having crashed last night with only about 10 per cent of households having submitted data, the Census website is now off the air indefinitely. It’s hard for me to see how this exercise can be salvaged. Almost certainly, lots of people who tried and failed to fill in their forms last night will be unwilling to do so again, especially in the absence of any coherent explanation for the failure. It’s looking increasingly as if the only option will be to give up and try again in five years time. Coincidentally or not, a ten-yearly census was exactly what the leadership of ABS was suggesting a couple of years ago.

This fiasco seems to have “reform” written all over it, from the new entrepreneurial leadership of ABS to the contracting out of vital functions to the benign/malign neglect displayed by the Abbott-Turnbull government. Peter Martin is very good on this, as is Chris Graham at New Matilda.

Book report

I’ve been getting lots of free books lately, and the implied contract is that I should write about at least some of them. So, here are my quick reactions to some books CT readers might find interesting. They are

The Great Leveler: Capitalism and Competition in the Court of Law by Brett Christophers

The Rise and Fall of American Growth:
The U.S. Standard of Living since the Civil War
by Robert J. Gordon

The Sharing Economy:The End of Employment and the Rise of Crowd-Based Capitalism by Arun Sundararajan

Econobabble: How to Decode Political Spin and Economic Nonsense by Richard Denniss

Generation Less: How Australia is Cheating the Young by Jennifer Rayner

I’ll be on a panel discussing the last two of these at the Brisbane Writers Festival, Sep 11-16.

Read More »

Second thoughts

In a recent post, here and on Crooked Timber, I remarked on the fact that hardly any self-described climate sceptics had revised their views in response to the recent years of record-breaking global temperatures. Defending his fellow “sceptics”, Crooked Timber commenter Cassander wrote

When’s the last time you changed your mind as a result of the evidence? It’s not something people do very often.

I’m tempted by the one-word response “Derp“. But the dangers of holding to a position regardless of the evidence are particularly severe for academics approaching emeritus age[1]. So, I gave the question a bit of thought.

Here are three issues on which I’ve changed my mind over different periods

* Central planning
* War and the use of violence in politics
* The best response to climate change
Read More »

Dealing with racism

The Senate results are in, and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation has won four seats. That’s not a disaster in itself. The point of democracy is that everyone gets a say, including bigots and racists. One Nation members, including Hanson herself, have been elected to Parliament before now, without doing any great harm.

That’s because the major parties have, until nowl taken a principled stand against racism, putting One Nation last in their preference allocations and refusing to do deals. Tony Abbott took the fight against One Nation even further (too far in my view) pushing the prosecution of Hanson for alleged breaches of the electoral act (she was convicted and jailed, but ultimately freed on appeal).

Following the Senate election, however, it will be impossible for the government to pass legislation opposed by Labor and the Greens unless they have the support of the One Nation party. Already, the Oz is pointing out how convenient it will be for Turnbull to be able to bargain with Hanson for her four votes, as opposed to the splintered remnants of the Palmer United Party in the last Senate.

The correct response, advocated by the LNP in relation to the “tainted” votes of Craig Thomson and (in Queensland) Billy Gordon, would be to nullify One Nation votes by directing four government Senators to cast opposing votes. Of course, that’s not going to happen. Failing that, the only response that avoids complicity in racism is a refusal to have any dealings with One Nation. That is, the government while accept One Nation’s votes in favor of government legislation, they should not discuss it or modify it, let alone offer support for One Nation proposals.

Of course, the same applies to Labor on the handful of issues (such as a Royal Commission into Banking) where they might be in agreement with One Nation. If securing a majority on any particular issue involves making deals of any kind with Hanson, it would be better to lose.

It seems likely, however, that Turnbull is going to treat One Nation, for the first time in Australia, as a normal political party, and to negotiate with Hanson as an equal. That would be a new low for him, and for Australia. And, sooner or later, it will come back to bit him and the LNP. For an object lesson in the dangers of courting racist votes while maintaining a claim to be non-racist, he need only look at the US Republican party,

Read More »

Should the census be compulsory?

There’s been a lot of discussion about the ABS decision to retain names and addresses in the Census until 2020 rather than deleting them more rapidly as in the past. Although the details differ, there’s been a dispute of this kind before every Census I can recall. Rather than debate the details, I’d like to think about the question: should the Census be compulsory, and if not what kind of requirement should there be?

Read More »