Monday Message Board

Back again with another Monday Message Board.

Post comments on any topic. Civil discussion and no coarse language please. Side discussions and idees fixes to the sandpits, please. If you would like to receive my (hopefully) regular email news, please sign up using the following link You can also follow me on Twitter @JohnQuiggin, at my Facebook public page   and at my Economics in Two Lessons page

24 thoughts on “Monday Message Board

  1. “How is the United States at once the most conservative and commercial AND the most revolutionary society on Earth?”

    Christopher Hitchens, Hitch 22: A Memo

  2. The first induces the second. How is the giraffe both the tallest land animal today and the one with the highest normal blood pressure? The first induces, nay necessitates, the second. Same principle I think.

  3. The Sydney suburb of Dundas is named after Henry Dundas, a Scot and Tory Home Secretary who delayed the abolition of slavery in the colonies by a decade.

    Just sayin’.


  4. The innovation and growth dynamic of capitalism generates structural economic and workplace changes that have revolutionary consequences throughout society. It also generates new technologies that change how we communicate, how we learn, how we use our leisure time, how we travel, how we interact with each other, etc, etc, and these changes synergise into socio-cultural changes that are unintended but all the more profound for that reason. And it generates imbalances in the relationship between human society and the ecological and biophysical systems by which it is sustained, with revolutionary consequences.

  5. > with revolutionary consequences

    The revolution against capitalism is always coming, but somehow it never arrives.

  6. Smith9:

    I just finished reading a book titled ‘How Will Capitalism End’ which didn’t advance much beyond “buried under the weight of its own contradictions” thesis; in itself, this is correct, but my search for the title ‘When Will Capitalism End’ has so far proved fruitless. I guess when we’ve had enough of it or it collapses from viruses and a garbage crisis but an actual date would be heartening.

  7. The innovation dynamic of capitalism is much overrated. Most invention as a necessary prelude to innovation has came from other sources including government R&D.

    “While capitalism does promote a certain kind of rapid technological change, the… (standard) … account has serious flaws. The pursuit of profit does not play such a big role at the important invention stage of innovation. Studies show that a large majority of economically important inventions come from university scientists, government researchers, and independent inventors, for whom pecuniary considerations are not typically dominant. [6] ” – Socialism and Innovation by David M. Kotz, Economics Department, University of Massachusetts, 2000.

    ” Note 6. – The classic study covered 70 economically important inventions since 1900 (Jewkes et al., 1969). It found only 24 originated in industrial research laboratories, while over half came from either independent inventors or academic scientists. Other studies have found a similar pattern (Scherer, 1980, 416-17).”

    Capitalism mostly steals, appropriates, wrangles, lobbies, bribes, defrauds or is gifted inventions from the public sector or from independent inventors, students or academics. Then the capitalists patent he invention and draw the revenue stream.

  8. Only two new COVID-19 cases in Australia yesterday. With luck, we have just about eliminated it from the general population and there are no more surprise clusters hiding around the place. Time will tell. Fingers crossed.

  9. How on earth does anyone conclude that the USA is the most revolutionary society on earth? It’s had one revolution in 500 years, which is the same (or less than) almost every other nation in Europe, East Asia or the Americas. Where does this nonsense come from? Is it because they sent a man to the moon using rockets invented by the Nazis? I just don’t get this kind of silliness.

  10. How on earth does anyone conclude that the USA is the most revolutionary society on earth?

    You can ask Christopher Hitchens how he came to that conclusion, but he’s not going to answer.

    I suppose reading the book might possibly shed some light on his thought processes, if you’re sufficiently interested.

  11. To annoy iko with techno-optimism, a sunny piece from Tim Buckley of IEEFA on the glowing prospects for renewables – and the dim ones for fossil fuels – after Covid:

    Click to access Renewables-Continue-to-Break-Records-Despite-COVID-19-Impacts_June-2020.pdf

    Bonus (and merited) IEA snark:
    “IEEFA also expects the International Energy Agency (IEA) to continue to be surprised every year over the coming decade at the speed of ongoing technology-driven deflation and hence the rate of uptake of renewable energy, electric vehicles and battery storage, as it has been for the past decade, every year without fail.”

    My takeaways are (a) the very recent step change in investment on renewable hydrogen, now getting serious money from a variety of players (b) the impact of low, low interest rates during the covid recovery. It’s the great weakness of the Lazards series of renewable electric generating costs that they stick with a reference WACC of 9.6%, which no established developer is paying today (well, maybe in Somalia and Afghanistan). Of course hydro and nuclear are also capital-intensive and should benefit too, but they are weighed down by long lead times and, for nuclear only, huge technological and regulatory risks. Oil and gas face parallel policy risks, and the frackers are insolvent and can’t borrow cheap if at all.

    Plus more cheerful news from some people at Berkeley on the greening of the grid. They say that the USA can reach 90% renewable electricity by 2035 with only limited transmission upgrades, no new gas capacity, and wholesale prices 13% lower than today.

    As long-standing readers of this blog may recall, I’ve been pitching for the 90% or 95% framing for some time. The important thing is to get started on decarbonization, or more precisely to speed up the current tempo. This can be done with current technology and at current prices. Ten years down the road we will need to solve the last 10% of the emissions problem: but this is not an immediate issue, and some of the key technical options like V2G and P2G are still evolving rapidly. It would be prudent to start a largish pumped hydro programme fairly soon in many countries, as these plants take a minimum of five years from breaking ground. If you wait too long, the option value disappears if not cashed. The plants will certainly be useful (no white elephant risk), even if retrospectively some perfect-hindsight Plan B might have been somewhat cheaper.

    As a chaser, check out the forecasts on US generating capacity of the FERC staff (a regulator in the hands of business Republicans):

    Looking ahead three years, they see 27 GW of “highly probable” new wind and 24 GW of new solar, with coal retirements of 16.4 GW. That must be a large underestimate. At reasonable CFs (0.35 wind, 0.25 solar, 0.6 coal), and flat demand, the new renewables will displace another 9 GW of coal. Most of this 25 GW hit will happen within the next year. And the 51 GW of “highly probable” wind and solar farms (= under construction or maybe with signed PPAs) are backed by another 148 GW of “planned” w/s capacity in the pipeline. Some of this will fall by the wayside but much of it will advance. FERC don’t rely on vapourware press releases, these are real plans by real capitalists.

  12. @ Smith9 June 8, 2020 at 10:44 pm
    The town of Dundas Ontario was named after Dundas Street, which itself was named by John Graves Simcoe Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada [until 1798], for his friend Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville, a Scottish lawyer and politician who never visited North America.

    Simcoe was strongly anti/slavery and though while he put restrictions on slavery, he was not able to abolish it.

  13. ” Is it because they sent a man to the moon using rockets invented by the Nazis?”

    The Nazis didn’t invent rockets – that was the Chinese thousands of years prior. The Nazis didn’t even invent liquid rockets – that was done in the US and elsewhere 40 odd years prior to the V2. What’s more, the development of the mighty F1 engines that powered the 1st stage of the Saturn V and the LH2:LO2 fuelled J2s that powered the upper stages of such were quite (technically) different to the engine that powered the V2 and their development is still one of the greatest technical achievements of the 20th century – especially the F1. The USSR (in the height of the space race) tried to develop large liquid engines for their own moon attempt that didn’t require hazardous fuel+ozidizer but gave up quickly.
    IMHO the Apollo program was probably the greatest technical achievements of modern times; albeit an horrendous sum of money poured into something with not much feasiblity beyond political grandstanding.

  14. A person who attended the Vic BLM rally has tested positive . They had symptoms the day after so it is considered unlikely they caught it there . The person was wearing a mask at the rally.

  15. IMHO the Apollo program was probably the greatest technical achievements of modern times; albeit an horrendous sum of money poured into something with not much feasiblity beyond political grandstanding.

    … So what if manned space exploration is frivolous? … At least it’s not lethal. … how come we always hear this argument made against the space program instead of the military? … As my instructive chart shows, we’ve blown like three times more accomplishing it’s not clear exactly what in Afghanistan than we spent putting men on the Moon. I am not even counting Iraq, for the cost of which we could probably build a floating pleasure-dome on Io. …

  16. Coronavirus Vaccine Tracker

    By Jonathan Corum and Carl Zimmer
    June 10, 2020

    Researchers around the world are developing more than 135 vaccines against the coronavirus.

    Here is the status of all the vaccines that have reached trials in humans, along with a selection of promising vaccines still being tested in cells or animals.

  17. Poland keeps having Corona outbreaks among wokers in subteranean coal mines. It seems impossible to work there without one case infecting everyone. Their politicians say they just got no choice but to keep operating the mines anyway, their electricity grid would break down otherwise. Didn´t check, still doubt it. My guess is they are just to jingoist to use the short term alternatives like gas powerplants, electricity imports and maybe some coal imports.

  18. UK has taken down the ‘Don’t Mention the War’ episode of Fawlty Towers.


  19. Worldometer, Johns Hopkins or “Gu’s model “is the most accurate to predict deaths from Covid-19″, surpassing the accuracy of the well-funded Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation COVID model”.

    (Note – re Covid Commissioner Jane Halton, and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation COVID below. Please release due diligence)

    As at March 18 Australia Rt estimate 1.01.

    By April 9 Au Rt at 0.71 and stayed there until about March 25th.

    From March 25th to now it has climbed from 0.71 to 0.87 and ? Rising?

    “The [Gu’s] model is unique in applying machine learning to derive the basic reproduction number (R0) from data published by Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE), and it seeks to minimize the error between its projections and CSSE data on the number of United States COVID-19 deaths.[8][9] Yann LeCun, Facebook’s Chief AI Scientist and professor at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, stated in May 2020 that Gu’s model “is the most accurate to predict deaths from Covid-19”, surpassing the accuracy of the well-funded Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation COVID model.[10] Its superior accuracy was also noted by Silicon Valley newspaper The Mercury News[2] and by The Economist, which called it “more accurate than forecasts from many established outfits”.[11]

    Note 1. Jane Halton, who is on the board of both Covid Commision Australia and the model referenced above –  Institute for Health Metrics & Evaluation.

    “After stepping down as Secretary, Halton was appointed to the board of the ANZ Bank[16] and Vault Systems.[17] Halton is chair of the global Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations[18][19] and in March 2020 was appointed to the executive board of the Australian National COVID-19 Coordination Commission.” Wikipedia

    “But critics say there is a lack of proper governance surrounding the NCCC, a publicly funded body led by prominent private-sector leaders who may hold a variety of unknown interests.”

    Jane Halton AO PSM FAICD FIPPA

  20. Update on GPT-3 succeeds at certain “meta-learning” tasks”.

    “OpenAI Inc. The company conducts research in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) with the stated aim to promote and develop friendly AI in such a way as to benefit humanity as a whole; it is considered a competitor to DeepMind.”

    If you are reading this you need to watch GPT 5. At 3 now.**  “Given the speed at which OpenAI works, that should happen about two years from now”. **

    As @chris_brockett says; “Roughly what it might cost a company to keep 4 researchers on the books for a year. Build once, run it quite possibly for the next 5-10 years while the humans do useful stuff with it. For industry, this can be quite cost effective.” 

    From “The Obligatory GPT-3 post”:-
    ” It’s always possible that the next AI will be the one where the scaling curves break and it stops being easy to make AIs smarter just by giving them more computers. But unless something surprising like that saves us, we should assume GPT-like things will become much more powerful very quickly.

    “What would much more powerful GPT-like things look like? They can already write some forms of text at near-human level (in the paper above, the researchers asked humans to identify whether a given news article had been written by a human reporter or GPT-3; the humans got it right 52% of the time)

    “And how many parameters does the adult human brain have? The responsible answer is that brain function doesn’t map perfectly to neural net function, and even if it did we would have no idea how to even begin to make this calculation. The irresponsible answer is a hundred trillion. That’s a big number. But at the current rate of GPT progress, a GPT will have that same number of parameters somewhere between GPT-4 and GPT-5. Given the speed at which OpenAI works, that should happen about two years from now.

    “I am definitely not predicting that a GPT with enough parameters will be able to do everything a human does. But I’m really interested to see what it cando. And we’ll find out soon.”

    This person posted study and believes yield curves flattening…
    twitter com/ hardmaru/status/1266185943041495041

    And gwern is the one saying
    “GPT-3 is terrifying because it’s a tiny model compared to what’s possible, trained in the dumbest way possible on a single impoverished modality on tiny data, yet the first version already manifests crazy runtime meta-learning—and the scaling curves 𝘴𝘵𝘪𝘭𝘭 are not bending!  ”
    twitter com/ gwern/status/1267215588214136833

    “Language Models are Few-Shot Learners
    Finally, we find that GPT-3 can generate samples of news articles which human evaluators have difficulty distinguishing from articles written by humans. We discuss broader societal impacts of this finding and of GPT-3 in general.

    OpenAI Inc. –
    The organization was founded in San Francisco in late 2015 by Elon Musk, Sam Altman, and others, who pledged US$1 billion; Musk resigned from the board in February 2018 but remained as a donor. OpenAI LP received a US$1 billion investment from Microsoft in 2019.

    “OpenAI also stated that GPT-3 succeeds at certain “meta-learning” tasks, being able to generalize the purpose of a single input-output pair, the example in the paper being translation and cross-linguistic transfer learning between English and Romanian, and between English and German.

    Note: remove spaces in twitter links

  21. Regarding Polands subteranean coal mines: They are not even profitable before considering externalities.The old story about “energy indepnendence” and how that justifies subsidies for local coal mining when just about any alternative would be cheaper, more environmental friendly and without any real supply risks. Not a particular unique form of madness in general, just a bit surprised they are still doing it at least ten years after most other coal fans came to their senses and at least did away with subsidiced local mining.

  22. “If improper mask wearing was so bad, they should have suffered massive outbreaks.”

    “The graph also shows why defenders of Sweden’s strategy pick the UK or Belgium as comparisons:”

    A 32 min read – big, detailed, and citations aplenty.

    Coronavirus: Should We Aim for Herd Immunity Like Sweden?

    And What Can Countries like the US or Netherlands Learn from It?

    Here’s what you’re going to learn:

    – Sweden is suffering tremendously in cases and deaths. Yet few people have been infected yet. They are a long way from Herd Immunity.

    – Between 0.5% to 1.5% of infected die from the coronavirus.

    – Left uncontrolled, it can kill between 0.4% and 1% of the entire population.

    – Many more suffer conditions we don’t yet understand.

    – Unfortunately, that death and sickness toll is far from having bought us Herd Immunity anywhere in the world.

    – Only protecting those most at risk sounds great. It’s a fantasy today.

    – Even if Sweden’s economy has remained mostly open, it has still suffered as much as others.

    – From now on, it might start doing worse.

    – Sweden now has regrets. But not enough. It can control the virus without a lockdown if it acknowledges its mistakes and takes the right measures.

    – Other countries, like the US or the Netherlands, are toying with a Herd Immunity strategy. It will only cause more economic loss and death.

    1. Sweden’s Case
    What’s the Situation in Sweden? 

    “In that sense, Sweden is by far the worst of its group. It’s done worse than France, Ireland, Netherlands, Portugal, Denmark, Norway, Austria, Germany, Czechia, Australia, Estonia, Slovenia, Malta, Finland… This group includes Denmark, Finland, and Norway, other Nordic countries, which is very convenient for our analysis.

    The graph also shows why defenders of Sweden’s strategy pick the UK or Belgium as comparisons: They are the only countries with more deaths per person and a similar number of initial cases per capita. However, this is not a fair comparison.”

    It continues to deny that masks work. That stance has been proven
    research across nearly 100 scientific papers, endorsed by over 100 experts — including two Nobel prize winners.

    The Swedish government fears that people could have a false sense of security when using them and stop distancing socially. But East Asian countries have near universal mask wearing, and they’ve been dancing successfully for months. If improper mask wearing was so bad, they should have suffered massive outbreaks.

    More examples:
    – The virus mostly spreads in clusters, but the Swedish government says the country doesn’t suffer from clusters anymore.
    – The limit of 50 people in crowds is too high.
    – The government is not testing because it’s not tracing contacts. It needs to do both to keep people home when they’re sick or might have been exposed.
    – The government needs to acknowledge that nearly half of infections are pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic, and take measures accordingly. For example, if somebody in a family is sick, everybody in the family should quarantine, including those without symptoms. – All should wear masks.
    – The government should stop requiring all children to go to school, especially if they live with people with pre-existing conditions or with somebody infected.
    View at

  23. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.
    Albert Einstein

    “When asked if a ‘Hammer and Dance strategy’ [ ala lockdowns] would have fared better, this was his [Sweden’s lead epidemiologist ] response:

    ‘We have a hard time understanding how a lockdown would stop the introduction of the disease into the elderly homes.”
    Anders Tegnell.

    “This shows a ** deadly ** lack of imagination. ”

    View at

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