Why headlines are always wrong*

Update: After some pushing, I got the headline fixed.

Original post follows

I’ve complained in the past about the fact that writers in newspapers and magazines generally don’t get to choose their headlines. I’ve read that this is a hangover from the days of hot metal typesetting, when the headline had to be chosen to fit the layout of the paper, determined at the last minute by the sub-editors. Whatever the case, the tradition has endured.

I’ve rarely been happy with the headlines chosen for me, but most of the time they are not bad enough for me to complain. Today was an exception. Following my interview on the dairy industry, which was the subject of this post, the ABC ran a story which focused on a simple piece of arithmetic, quoted as follows

Professor of economics at the University of Queensland John Quiggin said if milk prices kept up with inflation, consumers would have to fork out an extra 46 cents a litre.
“If you maintained the real price of milk with 20 per cent inflation [across nine years] that would be around $1.56 today,” he said.
“Of course there is no economic law that says that all prices should rise at the same rate.

That was accurate as far as it went, though of course none of the points I actually wanted to make got through. The problem was with the subeditors, who highlight the sentence ending “$1.56 today”, and ran the piece under the headline Economics professor says milk should be $1.56 a litre in 2019, something dairy industry hopes for. I’ve complained, but nothing is going to happen on a Sunday, and probably nothing will be done anyway.

This reminds me of a more tangled case, which involved me in a silly Twitter fight recently.


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Islam is part of Western civilisation

As the arguments about Western civilisation roll on, I’m struck by the assumption, seemingly shared by both sides of this debate, that the Islam and the Islamic world aren’t part of “Western civilization”.

Islam is an Abrahamic religion, standing in essentially the same relationship to Christianity as Christianity does to Judaism. That is, Islam claims to be the completion of the prophetic mission of Christianity, just as Christianity claims to represent the fulfilment of the promise of the Messiah to the Jews. In each case, the older religion rejects this claim [1].

These disputes have occasioned persecution and bloodshed right down to the present day, between and within the religions. On the other hand, all of these religions have promoted learning and encouraged acts of charity. However you weigh up the achievements, follies and crimes of Western civilisation, it is absurd to deny that all three of its major religions have shared in these things.

Ever since Muhammad claimed power as an armed prophet in the 8th century, Islamic states and rulers have been part of the European struggle for control of the Mediterranean and the countries around it. In this context, Muslims appear sometimes as the targets of crusades or the instigators of jihad (the two words have essentially the same meaning), and sometimes in alliance with (further distant) Protestants, such as Elizabeth I, against Catholics.

A striking effect of the exclusion of Islam is that courses on “Western Civilisation” reproduce the discredited notion of a “Dark Age” between the fall of the Roman Empire and the Renaissance. This period coincides almost exactly with the Islamic Golden Age, which carried the torch of Western civilisation for hundreds of years, giving us algebra, universities and much more.

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What’s happening to the Australian Dairy Industry

I just recorded a radio interview for ABC Toowoomba on the dairy farmers’ campaign against supermarkets selling milk for $1. Here are my notes for the discussion

Consumer prices have increased 20 per cent since 2010, when the milk price was $1.30/litre, so to maintain the real price, the current price would have to be around $1.56.

Dairy producers in Australia have been under continuous pressure to increase herd size and reduce costs, with those unable to do so having to leave the industry or accept declining incomes. I first researched this topic in the early 1980s, when farm numbers had already fallen by about 50 per cent.

Since 1979, the number of dairy farms in Australia has fallen from 22 000 t0  5700. In Queensland the number has gone from 3000 to less than 400.

However, because of increased herd size the number of cows hasn’t changed much . Milk output per cow increased rapidly up to about 2000, so total production grew over that period before stabilising

The “cost-price squeeze” affects most agricultural producers but the problems of dairy farmers are exacerbated by the market power of supermarkets and their use of milk as a “loss leader”.  The decision to raise the price charged to consumers represents at least a symbolic step away from that practice.

Reciprocating Hanson’s boycott (reposted from 2017)

I posted this in 2017. Not many people agreed with me, but I think my positiion has been justified by events. Hanson and One Nation have no legitimate place in public life.

Apparently, Pauline Hanson and One Nation are refusing to vote for any government legislation until the government intervenes on the side of canegrowers in a dispute with millers and marketers*

Coincidentally, I was considering the question of how to deal with Hanson’s presence in the Senate and came up with the opposite way of implementing the current situation. The major parties should refuse Hanson’s support, and should show this by having four Senators abstain on any bill where One Nation supports their side. Obviously, this isn’t going to happen with the LNP. However rude they may be about Hanson and other ONP members when they say something particularly appalling, ONP is effectively part of the coalition and is being treated as such.

But for Labor, I think the case for shunning One Nation is strong. The arguments for a complete rejection of One Nation’s racism are obvious. The costs would be

(i) In votes where Xenophon went with the LNP and Hanson with Labor and the Greens, this would turn a win into a loss (I think – can someone check)

(ii) Open hostility to One Nation would probably shift some ONP voters to change their second preferences

I don’t think either of these points have a lot of weight. But the self-styled Labor “hardheads” whose brilliant moves have included putting Family First into Parliament and abolishing optional preferential voting in Queensland, just when would help Labor most, will doubtless disagree.

* These disputes have been going on for decades, reflecting the fact that, because sugarcane is costly to transport, growers are very limited in their choice of mills, and millers similarly depend on a relatively small number of growers to keep them in business.. I haven’t looked into the merits of this one

The case for higher wages

I’m a signatory of a public letter on the benefits of stronger wage growth this morning, organized by the Centre for Future Work. In support of the letter, I said

For decades, government policy has been designed to weaken unions and push wages down. It’s time to put that process into reverse.

A list of all the signers is at this web site: https://www.futurework.org.au/wages_open_letter. That site also contains a media release that was distributed to reporters this morning, and additional quotations in support

Media coverage of the letter includes:

An article by Stephen Long at ABC: and

An article by Amy Remeikis in the Guardian:

The editors of the AFR mentioned the letter in the course of an editorial reaffirming the virtues of trickledown economics:

And AFR columnist Richard Denniss also mentioned the letter in his column.

You can also look at the Twitter feed for @CntrFutureWork (eg.https://twitter.com/CntrFutureWork/status/1107776026367520769),

Ultra low wage growth isn’t accidental. It is the intended outcome of government policies (updated)

That’s the headline for my latest piece in The Conversation, my contribution to a three-part series mini-symposium on Wages, Unemployment and Underemployment presented by The Conversation and the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia.

Key quote

For more than forty years, both the architecture of labour market regulation and the discretionary choices of governments have been designed with the precise objective of holding wages down. These policies have been highly successful.

Update: Paul Krugman has a recent piece in the New York Times, also making the point that technological progress isn’t responsible for the falling wage share.