After reform:the economic policy agenda in the 21st century

That’s the title of the FH Gruen lecture I’ll be presenting at ANU on Tuesday 4 October.

I’ll be talking first about the end of the era of reform that began in the early 1980s, and then about the information economy and a policy agenda for the 21st century.

My starting point, that the era of reform* in Australia is over, is shared by Paul Kelly of the Oz, the most prominent advocate and chronicler of the case for reform. Of course Kelly sees the end of reform as cause for mourning rather than celebration.

Australia is a country chained to the past, stubborn in its nostalgic mindset and entrenched in an egalitarian rigidity that throttles any transition to a more successful economy and society

But it’s Kelly who is engaging in nostalgia here. The reforms of the 1980s were designed to address the problems of a 20th century industrial economy. Some were sensible, others weren’t, but either way they are of little relevance today, and will be even less relevant in the future.

* Kelly takes the term “reform” to be self-explanatory. To spell it out, reform refers to a policy agenda based on the ideas of free trade, privatisation and reductions in the scale and scope of government activity.

41 thoughts on “After reform:the economic policy agenda in the 21st century

  1. But will either of you (as much as I hate the expression) doing any thinking or discussion of “things outside the box”. Or will this be a case of only revisting of hard neoliberalism v. soft neo-keynesian neoliberalism?

    Noone would expect you to solve economic science overnight. But perhaps you could at least highlight for the audience the (at least as I see them) vast gaps in current economic theory – which the lack of solutions to makes any policy suggestions you might put forward pretty speculative (if not delusional? No disrespect but does it make much sense to make economic policy when there are so many theory gaps…..and disputes as probably illustrated by your and Kelly’s opposing views).

    Please dont take offense. The more of economics I read the more I respect the efforts. But there still appears too much missing and perhaps reflecting this a siloing that makes it largely impervious to outside criticism and internal recognition of its limitations.

    Some themes you might explore:

    – why economics is still a social science with mathematical clothing rather than a hard science……..a bit like psychology……..and what needs to happen for this to change.

    – moving economics from its current anthropocentric focus to a geocentric one whereby human economics is contaned within a larger social perspective which is in turn within the still larger natural environment one as against today where the inverse seems to be the case

    – valuing the future… to overcome the terrible logic of discounting which would sacrifice future generations for a dollar of coal exports today.

    – sorting out the mystery of money (a science of information?) that source of all angst which many economists dismiss as irrelevant as I understand it.

    – externalities generally and not just climate change and how economist need learn from the hard sciences rather than keep trying to set the solution in their mold e.g. trading v. tax and so allow the whole problem to be minimized.

  2. I will be interested to see a transcript of that speech when it is available. There are not many hints yet of details that will be covered. I guess J.Q. does not want to scoop himself. What I wonder is this. Is the J.Q. of 2016 the same as the J.Q. of the 1980s and 1990s? I thought then from reading many of his articles and even some of the less technical of his books that J.Q. was quite left wing. My impression now is of a centrist. I am not sure. Has J.Q. moved to the right or have I moved to the left? For a while, I thought it was the former. However, maybe it is the latter.

    After observing the progress of neoliberalism, which I don’t believe is done with its version of reform yet, I found a move to the left to be the only logical response. Neoliberalism (late stage capitalism) has shown its true colours based on a program “designed to permanently restructure welfare and the state”. This quote is as good as I can recall and may come Brian Easton or more likely from Hogan. I even forget the first name of Hogan. The idea of permanently restructuring welfare and the state came from the Adam Smith Institute and its (in)famous Omega Report.

    “He (Douglas Mason) did his most influential work for Adam Smith Institute, run by fellow St Andrews alumni Dr Madsen Pirie and Eamonn Butler who founded the institute in 1977. Mason became one of its regular authors. In 1982, he led the Adam Smith Institute’s “Omega Project” report on Local Government Policy. There he argued for the compulsory contracting-out of most local services such as refuse collection, proposed scrapping the existing local-government tax, in favour of a per-capita charge. Other policy recommendations included the privatisation of the Royal Mail “The Last Post” (1991); the privatisation of free British reading “Ex Libris” (1986); the privatisation of the Forestry Commission, the complete removal of arts subsidies “Expounding The Arts” (1987), abolition of restrictions on drinking “Time To Call Time” (1986), and that ending free reading in public libraries “Ex Libris” (1986).

    Of course, I won’t need to retell in this blog the political histories of the Thatcher and Reagan eras. The neoliberal program was meticulously planned and executed, aided by various forces and events which it would take too long to enumerate and analyse in a short-ish blog post. My position is that if anyone thinks the neoliberal program is finished attacking working and poor people yet then they are not reading the signs properly. There are miles to go before we languish in total poverty, before neoliberalism screws everything out of the people that it wants to screw out.

    The endless push for austerity, surplus fetishism, secret international trade deals favouring corporations over ordinary people and their sovereign nations, Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) proocedures, the stratagem of international labour arbitrage, the endless screwing down of wages, the increasing profit share in the economy over wage share and so on, all point to the indisputable fact that the neoliberals are more in control than ever and still relentlessly push their anti-worker, anti-poor agenda. There are no “green shoots” of leftward directed reform in sight in our system, at least not on the ground. In the halls of academe, in some minor corridors of government or opposition and in tiny corners of the more perceptive media, there might finally be some recognition and acknowledgement that neoliberalism might just have gone a little too far. That’s about it as far as I can see.

    However, the real movement on the ground, in the “department” of private production and private finance is still in the other direction. Late stage neoliberal capitalism continues to intensify. I would challenge anyone to show me empirical evidence that things are changing substantially “on the ground” where it counts.

    As Professor Richard D. Wolff has said we have tried (leftist) reforms and they were mostly rolled back, some very severely. The capitalists basically re-took over the agenda and created new facts on the ground. This system (systematically and systemically) always resists leftwards reform, eventually rolling it back and destroying it. The system itself has to be changed radically and profoundly. There is no other way. As the saying goes, “If you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep on getting what you’ve always got.”

    The real question is how to achieve radical change. However, the first step is to stop deluding ourselves that things are changing / can change for the better again under this system. As Piketty has discovered: If r GT g then inequality increases. That looks like a near iron-clad law of relation to me. He also demonstrated that we have entered an historical epoch where, at least under the current system of capital, r GT g is likely to pertain for a long time and perhaps indefinitely. There really is no further proof necessary that the system must be radically changed. Anything less than changing the ownership system in the “department” of private production and the resultant pre-distrubution of income simply will not suffice. This is now historically proven IMO to a high degree of confidence. The process r GT g is the proof and the new likely long-term state of the global economy, namely secular stagnation, hammers the point home . People need to get their heads out of the sands of denial.

  3. @1 I plan to talk about policy rather than theory, but I have talked about some of these issues in other contexts, notably in extracts from my Two Lessons book-in-progress

    @2 I don’t think my policy position has changed significantly. I have the impression that you’ve got grumpier about it, which is not quite the same as moving to the left in policy terms.

  4. Looks like there may be a fair bit of rear-mirror vision here. This is all 20th Century stuff.

    The 21st Century economy has to be without fossil fuel exports, fossil fuel vehicles, and fossil fuel electricity generation, but with decent employment and incomes for all.

    I doubt whether this is possible (because of competitive individualistic capitalism).

    Are there any references covering this? By who? Where?

  5. @John Quiggin

    I plan to talk about policy rather than theory

    Ye Gods!

    Crap theory leads to crap policy.

    There is no point talking about policy if your underlying theory is FUBAR particularly in the context of spreading negative interest rates. The WTO has recently issued yet another down grade.

  6. Sounds interesting – I’ll be there.

    I don’t agree with Ikonoclast or Ivor here – certainly not with their tone (try a little humility guys – your host knows an awful lot more about this topic than either of you. Oh, and TL;DR applies).

    But I do think there is a real risk in these sort of talks of being too backward looking – were it me I think I’d have more “where to from here” rather than refighting old wars.

  7. @John Quiggin

    The backward looking part will be relatively short.


    Obviously some coverage/interpretation of the past is needed.

    Passing-over theoretical issues will trip you up.

    Kelly’s “free trade, privatisation and reductions in the scale and scope of government activity” will always win out because the capitalist basis is never revealed by the likes of Kelly.

    Under socialism there is no problem with any of free trade, (cooperative) ‘private’ ownership of means of production, and the scope of government will “wither away”.

    On the other hand, the theory of mixed economy – capitalism plus welfare state and public provision – is doomed to failure.

  8. I see that John Dawkins is still advocating full fee deregulation for the higher education sector, even as he is fighting off ASIC’s charges concerning the collapse of the Vocation VET company. Seems that “reform” in post-secondary education is still being pushed against all evidence that privatised education is the very antithesis of a public good.

  9. I want to comment, but the intro covers what I need to know. Mere mention of Paul Kelly and Murdoch ideology is sufficient to induce nausea and anger; it is a disabling thing and will see if I can add more later, should recovery occur.

  10. @John Quiggin

    I will endeavour to reduce the grump factor. On the “left” issue, the policies I would support for Australia are;

    (1) A true full employment goal defined as approx. 2% frictional unemployment.
    (2) A deficit budget sufficient, with other measures, to achieve point 1.
    (3) An inflation goal of no more than 5% and no less than 2%.
    (4) A Job Guarantee policy with a Public Employment Buffer stock.
    (5) Replace all welfare payments with a Social Income with the sole qualification as 18 yrs old.
    (6) Merge welfare and tax system as one calculation. Tax as negative welfare payments and welfare payments as negative tax, all on one sliding scale.
    (7) Nationalise all electricity generation and infrastructure.
    (8) Nationalise all water supply and infrastructure, civic and agricultural.
    (9) Nationalise all transport infrastructure (where not already so).
    (10) Nationalise Australia Post, CSL, Telstra, Commonwealth Bank and Qantas.
    (11) Nationalise all communication infrastructure including NBN.
    (12) Apply the future fund to these and other projects and spend it down to zero.
    (13) Regulate finance and superannuation industries.
    (14) Implement a national super scheme in designed moderately unfair competition with commercial schemes.
    (15) Implement a national insurance scheme for citizens in designed moderately unfair competition with commercial schemes.
    (16) Introduce a heavy carbon tax.
    (17) Mandate and regulate changeovers from fossil fuels with set timelines.
    (18) Pre-Tax foreign corporations found to be off-shoring profits to avoid tax. This pre-tax on sales in Australia to be levied at GST + 90%.
    (19) Reverse Industrial Law in Australia and go back to Conciliation and Arbitration.
    (20) Enshrine the right to organise and strike in the legislation, with certain caveats.
    (21) Begin a process to strip billionaires (first) of assets and return them to the Crown.
    (22) Pass laws to mandate the transition of large, Australian corporations and very large public companies to a condition of substantial worker ownership (over 50%) and full worker management.

    That’s for starters. Even that program would be a long one. One cannot give too much economic shock medicine in too short a time-span. But these must be long term goals or our “leftness” is token not real.

  11. @derrida derider

    “your host knows an awful lot more about this topic than either of you.”

    However, the economists and thinkers I (implicitly) take my advice from possess combined a far greater group intelligence and group knowledge in economic matters than any of us here. I would list Marx, Piketty, Stiglitz and Mitchell, an eclectic group to be sure but then an eclectic but broadly heterodox approach is what is now required. Orthodox (essentially capitalist) economics is stale, sclerotic and without answers. The state of its macro is parlous as J.Q. has himself stated.

  12. Being a slow writer, I just wait to see whatever is going to be posted on this blog-site. My hypothesis is that JQ is going to be realistic in the sense that the first step is to change the directions of policies that affect income and wealth concentration, financial instability, the environment and giving up – lets call it the IPA dogma for short.

  13. @Ikonoclast

    These all look very much like regulating capitalism. Worker cooperatives (which I support) can easily slip into capitalism themselves including laying-off workers during down-turns and charging prices the maximum the market can bear. They will also tend to pursue trade mark protection and patents etc. to maintain high prices.

    I doubt if any deficit is needed to achieve full employment if the tax base is properly maintained and policed.

    Nationalisation needs to be qualified as many enterprises can and should operate at regional levels. The key point is to have them operating as non-profit cooperatives or as public entities at what ever level is appropriate.

    Regulating finance also needs to be qualified as capitalists will agree to almost anything in other areas provided they control finance, money and debt.

  14. @Ivor

    For sure, they are first steps. Even these steps would take some time and would have to progress at a measured pace otherwise considerable sectors of our population, very probably even a majority, would simply go completely hysterical. Many of these things are a set of concepts too far for most people today. The neoliberals have been extraordinarily successful at controlling the public discourse and now they essentially control many, perhaps most people’s, internal monologue on matters economic. A lot of the points I named are inconceivable to people today. They are ideas which cannot even be thought. The concepts have been expunged from many people’s minds. And a new generation has never learned them.

    Also, I am not a fan of economic shock therapy, even if it is to move matters far to the left of where they are today. It will take time to completely change the system and take people’s minds with it. Violent revolution, I think, will always do more damage than good. Only in the greatest extremis of exploitation and intolerable conditions could it be contemplated.

    The above twenty points are only a start. Yes, there does have to be a socialist program to completely restructure economics and the state. Capitalism does have to be comprehensively if not fully overturned but I would prefer to see a hundred firm solid steps, like my 20 above, happening over decades and taking us all the way to a majority socialist economy, say maybe 80%. I’d leave a private arena but I would keep it small and well regulated. People come in all types. Some need a private, maverick arena. I just wouldn’t give them 80% of the arena or whatever and 99% of the effective political control as they have now.

  15. @Ikonoclast

    I do not get the relevance of your allusions to violence and shock therapy.

    The issue is ensuring that enterprises are socialised (so workers get justice) not merely nationalised where they operate as capitalists (so workers still bear the burdens).

    Nationalisation is not socialism. When socialism was based on nationalised enterprises it failed miserably and created a managerial/government strata that discredited socialism.

  16. What do you think of the just announced Treasury paper on reforming r&d tax policy’s? We need something to lift fixed capital investment, and I don’t mean replacement investment. Seems that past r&d tax initiatives merely increased the bottom line profits of large corporations. How can a tax policy initiative address this and where should it be targeting?

  17. @ 11.

    you left out anything to do with food production.

    or the living earned by small agricultural producers supplying customers unwilling to ingest the results of large scale agribusiness.

    have a look at the hoops to be jumped through to produce and sell certified unpoisoned produce.
    then there is the “fruitcake”,”fairyland”, et bloody cetera smear.

    the commercial idea that synthetic poisons improve soil health and productivity means there is no way to know what and how much of any commercial product carries.
    or the effect on the above ground pollinators and soil and water.
    and no certification required.

    broadscale farmers seem to be waking up to the fact that soil biota is important and must be nurtured.
    a bit of husbandry in fact.

    the coalition seem to be in denial that small food producers for the local market exist outside the foody,upmarket,high income set.

    a bit off attention to what’s happening at ground level is missing.

  18. @Ivor

    The allusion to violence is to reactionary violence on the one hand and revolutionary violence on the other. I advocate peaceful revolution in the first instance, to maintain the moral high ground which is actually a strong position as Tolstoy and Gandhi pointed out. Maintaining this moral high ground can win over a lot of people to your cause. If the reactionary right wing begins to implement repression and violence as they often do when they feel their over-weening power and privileges are threatened then come the hard choices. Finally resorting to revolutionary violence must only occur in great extremis after severe repression and violence. Then it comes under the rubric of just war.

    The allusion to “economic shock therapy” comes from the current standard definition which contains an implied bias that economic reform only goes to the right, towards neoliberalism.

    “In economics, shock therapy refers to the sudden release of price and currency controls, withdrawal of state subsidies, and immediate trade liberalization within a country, usually also including large-scale privatization of previously public-owned assets.” – Wikipedia.

    If we extend the concept of economic shock therapy to cases of (too) rapid movement to the left in political economy, we get the idea I was referring to. I strongly posit that a too rapid move to socialism could be nearly as disruptive as a too rapid move to laissez-faire capitalism. This is despite that fact that I also hold that socialism will be a better system; more equitable and more ecologically sustainable than capitalism. Even in moving to a better state or condition, a too rapid move can be deleterious. There are many system examples. To take a physiological example; if I as an unfit, overweight person of 62 were to skip a physical and immediately try to train like a competing mature triathlete of my age, I would do myself harm and break parts of my system. For a start, I know pretty much for certain, from past experience, I would get calf muscle compartment syndrome (chronic exertional compartment syndrome). Yet, if I started gradually, made sure I lost another 5kg at least before serious running I am fairly certain I would be okay.

    In like manner, the current economic system is attuned to running in a certain way. Many people depend on this mode of running for their security and livelihood, albeit the system also lets other people down badly. The correct process would be to do “a physical” on the economy. Assess where it is strong, assess where it is weak, assess where rapid change is most needed, assess where slow and steady change can be tolerated or can only be tolerated and so on. In such a way, develop an integrated, prioritised change agenda. Then proceed steadily but not over-hastily and measure the feedbacks along the way. Assess where change can proceed faster. Assess where change must proceed more slowly. But always keep in mind the ultimate goals. That was what my 20 points were about, as maybe the first 20 steps of a hundred steps and measures. Admittedly I mixed up some goals and some toolkit items or steps in that list.

    Certainly, not everything should be nationalised; indeed, probably only natural monopolies should be nationalised. Next, large corporations and very large companies would need to be moved slowly, progressively, over time, to being worker owned and managed enterprises. A private family business and private small company sector could remain in my view, at least for a long time. I am thinking 3 decades at least. In any case, many family small businesses are essentially collectives now if they are wholly family owned and run. They could remain as being fully compatible with market socialism.

    I do not believe the state will or necessarily should wither away, at least not for a foreseeable future of up to 50 years or more. In my view there will be a continued need for a sovereign state, a fully democratic state, and a need for public assets and public enterprises. A Parliament, Treasury, Tax Office, Reserve Bank, Courts, Police and Army would all remain necessary for an indefinite time. A money system needs to be maintained, national strategic infrastructure is always required, criminality will always exist (we can call them “lumpen” if we wish) and external aggressors are also likely to exist for a long time.

    Well, that is my view of it, FWIW.

  19. You have to be careful with the term “Left”. This can be a guise to actually split people as in this supposed “left” attack on Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party.

    These folks are really capitalists speaking with forked tongues.

  20. The recent statewide blackout in South Australia is being blamed on our wind energy generation, the political class getting stuck right in. While Josh Frydenberg has been careful to state that it is due to the storms, the deputy PM and other dills have been far looser with the truth.

    We do have issues with the electricity network in SA, and in Australia more generally. We know that climate change is pushing us towards a much higher level of renewable energy generation; what we need are the means of transporting that electricity from A to B, that isn’t based upon the assumptions of a century ago. If there is an area where some kind of reform is needed, it is in how we generate and get our power into the future; very little progress has been made so far, and the privatisation of the transmission networks won’t help us unless there is economic pressure brought to bear so that the network providers adapt to the changing circumstances, perhaps even getting ahead of the curve, as they say.

    Given the extensive damage to the transmission grid and other essential equipment, and given that one of the interconnectors is offline while being redesigned, this storm system was the reason the grid went down hard. It was a once in a 50 year event, and our population and power needs are substantially greater than the last time such a storm system hit the state. The latest research on the nature of the changes to South Australia and the south east region of Australia indicates that storms with much greater maximum wind gusts are likely to increase in frequency, over the long run. Our rainfall in winter might decline, but storms that dump a lot of rain in a rapid burst are likely to increase in frequency. There has been a southward shifting of the high and low pressure systems as they move from west to east across the southern part of Australia, and this is attributable to Anthropogenic Global Warming (aka climate change). Our infrastructure providers have to factor in these risk factors and how they change as we experience AGW.

    Infrastructure and the economics of its provision and maintenance need a long hard look, in my opinion. Something more sensible than what is emitted from BJ’s mouth is required.

  21. Classic post El Nino year, haven’t seen anything like it for twenty years. I love it but lasting too long it is now doing some damage, this weather. From memory, they cheap skated on the interconnector from NSW so there may be some federal blame involved.

    It does seem a minor league replay of the 2009 bushfires or Fukushima, people just weren’t prepared for the exceptional.

  22. @Donald Oats

    As well as improved electricity transmission, we need improved energy storage. Both factors will assist to stablise the grid. In addition we need macro, meso and micro solutions to make generation, transmission and storage more distributed and robust. Starting from the bottom up, imagine neighbourhoods integrated block by block. Each block of houses would have have battery storage (powerwalls) and solar panels house by house and be both interconnected and connected to the main grid. If the main grid goes down, the block grid comes into effect. Smart systems in a community block grid would assess total storage and meter it to houses fairly. Individual houses by default could use up to their share per 24 hours. If some used less and others wanted to use more, the low users could sell power on a little community market webpage or even just configure their system to sell part of their own share. If away on holidays, an email alert lets them they can sell home storage by internet or phone app. since they don’t need it. The possibilities are enormous.

    At the other end of the scale we need more macro energy storage, be that pumped hydro molten salt heat storage or other solutions.

  23. @Ikonoclast
    I agree on the energy storage for later use. We are moving into that territory more and more, but in terms of large scale renewable energy systems providing power to an urban area, for example, the grid hasn’t kept up with the new demands made of it, even though we all knew it was coming. A lot of the so-called gold-plating that occurred in the recent past was directed to a grid with fossil fuel base load power, even though we knew at the time that we would be exiting from fossil fuel base load power in the not too distant future. If we want to avoid the nastier consequences of an otherwise unchecked experiment in climate change.

    Large scale energy storage is a definite, and we should be doing research into making it viable. If storage was aimed at being capable of supporting a country town for a few days, that would be a start, for coupled with town-sized renewable energy generation, a town could essentially live disconnected from the state/national grid, or as near as. Clearly if that were achievable, the economics of maintaining a state/national grid go south very quickly—hence economic reform of the sector is a worthwhile subject of research. I’ll just say that, given how normal jobs can become extinct at the drop of the proverbial hat, the fact that state/national grids are potentially threatened through the inevitable growth of macro-energy-storage systems at town level is not reason enough to be getting in the way of that development path. It’s quite risible how theo-neo-cons through to just conservative will harp on about not trying to pick winners, yet they go out of their way to step in front of progress and to hold out their hands as if they are able to prevent it. Madness.

    Instead of the political class bashing the states that have aimed high on renewable energy generation, they could fund some research into how to adapt to the new form of energy generation. Oops, funding got cut. Even Chris Uhlmann wanted to chuck in a few fists to the exposed belly of renewable energy, even though at this stage the power outage seems most likely to have been caused by catastrophic loss of transmission lines in quick succession. I recall the almost regular power outages that happened when I lived in Maylands, they happened often enough, no apology given; this was when a wind turbine was called a windmill, and lived on a farm, pumping up bore water. This was when virtually all of SA was on so-called base load power. It is churlish of Mr X and others to be shooting down the renewable energy sector without acknowledging that frequent blackouts were a blight on Adelaide and other areas of SA, back before renewable energy had the barest of footholds in SA. Sheesh.

  24. @Donald Oats

    “It’s quite risible how theo-neo-cons through to just conservative will harp on about not trying to pick winners, yet they go out of their way to step in front of progress and to hold out their hands as if they are able to prevent it. Madness.”

    I agree. I’ve been wondering if Turnbull, after his statements on the S.A. power loss was being stupid or opportunist. Then I realised it wasn’t either/or. Turnbull is being stupid AND opportunist. The two go together. Most opportunists don’t think before they act or open their mouths. They just move to grab the nearest opportunity that presents itself; a cheap, crass, inaccurate political (ideological) point in this case.

    Yes, the theo neo cons are Luddites pure and simple. Rightly, they have been criticised for being interested only in production science and not in impact science. I think it goes further than that. They are often only interested in established production science already coalesced or embodied in what are now traditional businesses and production modes. Even new production science (e.g. renewable energy) struggles to make its case to the theo neo cons, who heavily subsidise the old modes.

  25. @Ikonoclast
    Your #26

    Good to see you pick up on the ‘energy storage’ technology, Ikono. And also pleasing to see you catch up with the “Not only … but also …” theme in your #28. Yes, Turnbull has been both stupid and opportunist all the way along – didn’t anybody notice how very stupidly opportunistic he was in the Godwin Grech fiasco ? Sheesh, what has he got to do before people can actually see what he is doing ?

    But what I’m on about today is, if we’re thinking about ‘energy storage’, then why does it appear that nobody is aware of ground-breaking research and development that ANU has been doing for quite a few years. Not the least being their trial ‘ammonia dissociation sealed system’ generating plant. Nice, can be fairly small (especially if the Australian developed Fresnel solar mirrors are used) and hence can supply ‘localised’ power – and ammonia, of course, is a lot less explosive than hydrogen and oxygen – and a lot more easily dissociated.

    Look up this site: and then click on the link under Research Projects titled “Ammonia-based energy storage”.

  26. @John Quiggin
    Your #30

    Not looking for you or anyone to back a particular version of storage, just that I’m annoyed that what looks like a very scalable technology – from fairly small to quite large, I’d reckon – that is also Australian, is just apparently ignored. The thing I really liked about it – compared with, say, molten salt – is that at least in principal the nitrogen and hydrogen can be stored in large quantities indefinitely (and transported to regions of very little sunshine) and can be created almost continuously to provide very steady base power.

    ANU have been doing the ammonia dissociation closed system thing for quite a while now – which may mean it’s a dead loss, or just that ANU doesn’t know how to begin commercialising it. But then, being completely ignored is generally what happens to Australian developed technology, I guess. Like WiFi, the Fresnel mirror and SiroSet – oops no that one worked – Interscan ?

    Pity about CCS though – we might just really need something like that in the not too distant future.

    When you say you’re “at ANU” that’s as a visitor ? I couldn’t – or Google wouldn’t – find any reference to you moving from UQ.

  27. @Nicholas Gruen
    Your #32

    You have many questions indeed in your linked Troppo article, Nicholas. But then, it is a perennial proclivity of humankind to ask many questions which have no satisfactory answers. But here’s a simple one: if all of the questions in your Troppo post were answered, and the answers unilaterally acted upon, would that amount to a centrally planned command and control ‘economy’ ?

    But I liked the Peter Varghese quote you give in comments:
    “And so we have had the two systems, political and bureaucratic, talking past each other and each nursing a quiet disappointment with the other.”
    Now that describes the world I know and live in.

  28. @David Jago
    Your #34

    Sorry, David, but I have no further information than is provided by the ANU site. The ANU has been working on the ammonia dissociation system for quite a while – I first came across a reference to it more than 10 years ago – so maybe it has a problem or two in areas like round trip efficiency. But I’m not engineer enough (in fact not at all) so I’ve never pursued it.

    Hopefulyl Prof Quiggin will.

  29. Economies of Size dictate most of what happens in Agricultural production in most OECD countries. The reason the domestic Australian market is being swamped with tinned tomatoes from Italy is because of CAP subsidies. These subsidies keep small farmers in an industry that is dominated, globally, by large agricultural combines. Such large operations will use any methods to increase their profits and maximise economies of size. Europe uses centrally planned economic principles to protect the agricultural industry in member countries. This leaves market based agricultural industries at a significant disadvantage and largely accounts for the new wave of agricultural export protectionism sweeping the Twenty-First Century global food chain.

  30. Probably won’t say that much in the talk, but I’ll give a quick reply here

    Would you say government systems or NFP systems have been good at the delivery of human services? I haven’t noticed.

    I would say they have been good. In education, which is almost entirely government/NFP we’ve managed to achieve near-universal literacy and to educate a large and growing proportion of young people beyond high school in university and (until the recent disasters, TAFE)

    That’s not to say it couldn’t be better – the task is inherently difficult, success is hard to measure, and so on. But Churchill’s remark about democracy applies here. If there is a better alternative, it certainly doesn’t involve competition between for-profit firms.

  31. Having taught in both the State high school system and various private/catholic systemic school systems over a 34 year period of time, I can assure you that we do not have “near-universal
    literacy” even in a rich State like NSW. They may have it in the ACT, I have only been to two schools there, but country NSW is a basket case for literacy, universal or solar. I taught in Moree, for example, and we the teachers had to have a literacy protest to get Sydney beaucrats to even acknowledge that there was a problem. One mother of a 15 year old boy came up to me and said, crying, that her son had entered the state system illiterate and left is (in Year 10) functionally illiterate. The NSW department of Education has had a decades old reputation for spending the least amount of money, per child, than any other state. Private schools and some systemic schools try to address literacy problems but usually have enormous ESL difficulties to overcome. Even they fail to adequately address the numeracy disaster we face in all schools.
    I have not even touched on the appalling numeracy problems we have in ALL school systems. As a sometimes mathematics teacher, I taught mathematics at North Sydney Girls High School, I can assure you that the failure to get mathematics onto the options list of HSC students has deep roots. Let’s not pat ourselves on the back, no matter what way we choose to fund basic skills teaching in this country. Go brag to that woman in Moree, or the Year 7 girl I had to tutor because her primary school teacher had failed to teach her long division. As for teaching directed numbers, I know who I would like to teach- politicians. Literacy and numeracy education is NOT a political football.

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