Locke + Nozick = Locke

In the discussion of my threepart critique of Locke, I mentioned my view that Rothbard and Nozick added nothing of value, and promised to expand on this when I got some time. I discussed Rothbard here, and have finally got around to Nozick.

Someone (I think Jerry Cohen) remarked that Nozick was be taken very seriously by Marxists and not nearly as much by social democrats and (US) liberals. Obviously, my reaction (that of a social democrat) illustrates this. The reason for this divergence is obvious enough. If you would like to derive property rights from a notion of self-ownership (and the Marxist concept of exploitation is close to this), Nozick provides a reductio ad absurdam. So, a critique like Cohen’s is essential.

OTOH, if you start from the ground that property rights are social structures, and that their justice or otherwise is inseparable from that of the society in which they operate, Nozick is of no real interest. All the important errors in his work were already made by Locke. However, I’ll point out some new ones.

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Time’s up for ageing alarmists

That’s the (slightly ambiguous) headline for my latest piece in Inside Story. The central argument will be familiar to readers here. While the term “ageing population” is presented as a reason for gloom, this is a fallacy of composition. What’s actually happening is that, as individuals of any age, we are less likely to die than we use to be. Since dying is usually preceded by sickness and disability, it’s also true that, as individuals of any age, we are less likely to be sick and disabled. This is 100 per cent good news.

After publishing this I was pointed to an interesting article, maybe in the LA Times, which I didn’t note down, something like “a new view of aging”. If anyone else has seen it, maybe they could post a link. Also, there was a piece in Nature claiming 115 as an upper limit to the human lifespan. I think the conclusion is right, but the supporting analysis looked pretty dodgy to me, essentially based on two data points: namely that the longest lived and second longest lived people known to us both died in the 1990s and no one has matched them since. Still, at least Joe Hockey will be happy.

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
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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.