If professors made $500k/year, would they be Republicans? (crosspost from Crooked Timber))

Only a tiny minority of American academics are Republicans, a fact that is a continuing source of angst for much of the political right, as well as quite a few centrists. It’s generally assumed that this fact requires some explanation specific to the way in which universities work. The implicit assumption is that the group of those qualified and willing to take up academic jobs is roughly representative of the US population, and therefore contains roughly equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans. To state that submission is to see immediately what’s wrong with it. As a group, academics are obviously not typical of the US population. They have much more education and significantly higher incomes, though not as high as those of highly educated Americans in general. We know that these two characteristics work in opposite directions politically. Other things equal, more income is positively associated with Republican voting while more education is associated with lower support. So, a proper test of the idea that there is something special about academic voting patterns would begin with a multiple regression incorporating income and education as explanatory variables, then see if a dummy variable for academic employment was (statistically and quantitatively) different from zero.

But this is a blog post, so I’m not going to bother with all that hard work. Rather, I’ll point to this New York times article about the voting patterns of doctors. It includes a bivariate regression of voting patterns on income, with specialisations marked as observations It includes a bivariate regression of voting patterns on income for a sample of 30 000 doctors. This graph shows the resulting regression and plots the mean values for different specializations
Read More »

A small victory

As a social democrat in an era of market liberal dominance, I’m only rarely on the winning side of policy disputes (privatisation, where lots of privatising governments have been defeated, has been the big exception). But the Turnbull government’s decision to put an end to the worst of the rorts in for-profit vocational training is certainly a big win. Three main changes were announced
* First, for-profit providers will have to demonstrate in advance that they are capable of doing the job for which they are paid. Given the appalling record of the industry as a whole on measures like graduation rates, it seems likely that most firms will fail this test
* Second, courses are being restricted to those that have some possibility of leading to employment
* Third, fees are being capped in a three-tier scheme ($5k, $10k, and $15k) depending on the type of course and the cost of provision. That should wipe out more of the shonky providers.

I’ve been going on about this since 2012. Others like Leesa Wheelahan at Melbourne Uni have been on the case even longer. We copped plenty of flak for our pains (‘flat earther‘ was one of the kinder terms), but have now been vindicated. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the advocates of market-oriented reform will listen next time around.

Still, a win is a win. The big question now is whether the damage to the public TAFE system can be undone in time to prevent a future skills crisis.

The good news on climate

Climate policy under the Abbott-Turnbull government has been so uniformly grim that it’s sometimes hard to remember how well things are going elsewhere in the world. A few of the most notable developments

* India has ratified the Paris Agreement, a big step for a country which not so long ago was disclaiming any responsibility to act. The EU will follow suit next week, and the agreement will enter into force 30 days after that.

* (H/T James Wimberley) Renewable electricity investment in 2015 was “more than sufficient” to cover the growth in global demand, according a new report by the International Energy Agency (IEA). Unfortunately, fossil fuel capacity is still growing, adding to overcapacity, particularly for coal. But once this idiocy ends, the combination of growing energy efficiency and new renewables will be sufficient to see electricity-related emissions peak and then decline.

* Despite a 60 per cent reduction in the crude oil price, oil demand has barely moved. Admittedly, supply has also been slow to respond, but capital expenditure has been slashed, suggesting that we will see reduced oil production in future.

There’s still the chance of disaster. Should Donald Trump manage to get elected as President of the US, the whole process will be set back (though withdrawing will be difficult to do in a 4-year term of office) as will just about everything else. Currently, that chance is estimated at 30 per cent and falling, which is much better than it was a week or so ago, but still way too high.

But if that can be averted, there’s every chance that the world can reach peak CO2 emissions by 2020 and reduce emissions drastically after that. If that requires sanctions to bring a handful of recalcitrant governments into line, those governments will have well and truly earned it.

The LNP/ONP coalition government: who’s in charge?

I’ve found the reaction of Malcolm Turnbull to the South Australia blackout too depressing to discuss, but I suppose it’s time to talk about it. Turnbull was depressing for three reasons

First, there was the absurdity of failing to distinguish between transmission failures (pylons destroyed by storms) and intermittency. Reading the comments of Turnbull and others, it seemed as if the reasoning process was something like “wind bad for electricity system, so must cut back on wind power”). I gave up on expecting any substantive difference between Turnbull and Abbott quite a while ago, but this silliness coming from the alleged “smartest guy in the room” was depressing.

Then there’s the substantive political content. Turnbull and Frydenberg have already any ruled out kind of carbon price, even the emissions intensity mechanism proposed by the Climate Change Authority (of which I’m a member) as an evolution of Direct Action. When doing this, Frydenberg justified his position by saying that an energy transition, presumably to renewables meant that the government’s targets were achievable. Now, even this fig leaf has been stripped away.

Finally, and worst of all, it’s one more step in the capitulation of rightwing neoliberalism to the rising tide of tribalism. In the LNP-ONP coalition I described a month or so ago, it’s now clear that One Nation with its associated faction within the government (Bernardi, Christensen, Abbott and others) has the upper hand. ONP Senator Malcolm Roberts tweeted to Turnbull that it was “Good to see you coming around to One Nation’s position“, and he was spot on. Doubtless he’ll have many more occasions for similar tweets in the future

The polls suggest that the public reaction to all this is unfavorable, but unfortunately it’s a few months too late. We’re stuck with this for another three years.