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

21 thoughts on “Monday Message Board

  1. Another thing.


    Deadline for submission of nominations: February 1
    https:// www.
    https:// www.
    https:// THE WEALTH OF NATURE The economic heresy of Herman Daly

  2. “All of humanity’s problems stem from our inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”.
    Blaise Pascal

    “Impatience: a deep cause of Western failure in handling the pandemic?
    By Branko Milanovic
    “In  October 2019, Johns Hopkins University and the Economist Intelligence Unit published the  Global Epidemic Preparedness Report (Global Health Security Report). Never was a report on an important global topic better timed. And never was it more wrong.

    “I would like to propose another deeper cause of the debacle. It is a soft cause. It is a speculation. It cannot be proven empirically. It has never been measured and perhaps it is impossible to measure with any degree of exactness. That explanation is impatience.

    “Kafka in his Diaries writes that there are two cardinal vices from which all others vices derive: impatience and laziness. But since laziness springs from impatience, he writes, there is really only one: impatience. Perhaps it is time to look at it.”

    Has this been replicated?
    “Just think: The challenges of the disengaged mind”
    In 11 studies, we found that participants typically did not enjoy spending 6 to 15 minutes in a room by themselves with nothing to do but think, that they enjoyed doing mundane external activities much more, and that many preferred to administer electric shocks to themselves instead of being left alone with their thoughts. Most people seem to prefer to be doing something rather than nothing, even if that something is negative.

    July 2014Science 345(6192):75-7
    DOI: 10.1126/science.1250830 ET AL 2014.pdf

  3. Merry Christmas from Mark Carney.
    4 sounds a bit cheer-y.

    “Reith Lectures 2020 – How We Get What We Value

    “Mark Carney’s Reith Lectures will chart how we have come to esteem financial value over human value and how we have gone from market economies to market societies. He argues that this has contributed to a trio of crises: of credit, Covid and climate. And the former Bank of England governor will outline how we can turn this around.

    ● Lecture 1: From Moral to Market Sentiments(9am, Wednesday 2 December 2020, BBC Radio 4)

    “In this first lecture, recorded with a virtual audience, Mark Carney reflects that whenever he could step back from what felt like daily crisis management, the same deeper issues loomed. What is value? How does the way we assess value both shape our values and constrain our choices? How do the valuations of markets affect the values of our society? Carney argues that society has come to embody Oscar Wilde’s old aphorism: “knowing the price of everything but the value of nothing”.

    – Lecture 2: From Credit Crisis to Resilience
    – Lecture 3: From Covid Crisis to Renaissance
    – Lecture 4: From Climate Crisis to Real Prosperity

  4. KT2,

    “All of humanity’s problems stem from our inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” – Blaise Pascal.

    Yes, but where does THAT inability stem from? I would argue it stems from our original hunter-gatherer nomadic nature. Modern humans appear to have evolved from tropical savanna roaming stock, to wit:

    Upright stance – Permits tool use and some tree and hill climbing ability. Permits an efficient long-distance gait over flat, open ground which is backed up by muscles developed for stamina rather than outright strength. We were originally stamina hunters, not speed hunters. Developing intelligence added hunting weapon use and sophisticated ambush hunting to the repertoire.

    Like killer whales whose behavior repertoire, health and dorsal fins all wilt in an artificial pool, we wilt too when stuck in a room too long. In evolutionary terms, we are outdoor creatures with a need to cover miles on foot every day and thrill to the excitement of the hunt or at least the interest of meticulous foraging. This is why we are restless when cooped up too long. So what’s to blame? Actually, civilization is to blame. We exchanged one set of ills and insecurities for another set of ills and insecurities in adopting civilization.

    That said, Pascal is still right. Plowing a field, digging a garden or roaming / exercising on foot by day and reading by night out to be enough most of the time. It’s in roaming further afield that we cause many of our own and other people’s problems. I would argue that we are too connected and need to disconnect somewhat. The global economy and politics are also too connected into one fragile global mono-system subject to system wide shocks. Again, more separation, self-sufficiency and disconnection are what is actually needed. IMHO. Pandemics would spread slower too! Bonus!

  5. Today’s challenge to commenters is to say something that (a) fits in with the blog’s general scope (b) has a seasonal flavour. Bingo! Or rather, jingle bells.

    As you all know Santa’s postal address is in Finnish Lapland (Tähtikuja 1, 96930 Rovaniemi, Finland). However, reindeer are migratory, and Santa sometimes has to follow his semi-domesticated means of transport across the border into Swedish Lapland.

    Which is where Hybrit, a pilot hydrogen DRI ironmaking plant, was switched on n August this year near Luleå. Sweden is not a major steel producer, but it does mine iron ore at some scale, 27 mt in 2018. The mining is done by a state-owned Swedish company called LKAB, whose chairman happens to be a former prime minister, Göran Persson. LKAB has just announced plans to go downstream into making sponge iron pellets using the Hybrit process.

    The press release is in TED-speak, not a bankable prospectus for investors, and the numbers are all studiously a bit vague. The firmest commitments are to build a commercial demonstration plant by 2023 and to invest “around 10 – 20 billion SEK a year during a period of about 15 – 20 years”. Still. the targets are very large: 18 mt a year of iron by 2040-45, needing 10 GW-eq of hydrogen, and a total investment up to €39 bn. They say it won’t need a subsidy. This must depend on assumptions about carbon prices in the ETS, and on interest rates, while there is an implicit government guarantee.

    This is very big news in the industry. LKAB is not an incumbent steelmaker like Arcelor-Mittal and Thyssen-Krupp that can afford to go slow in the DRI switch, but a new entrant. Its green sponge iron will be favoured by European policymakers, and it’s a lot of capacity. The incumbents must be looking at their huge old coke-chuffing and CO2-spewing blast furnaces and wondering how long they can keep them running. Bigger iron-ore miners like BHP (280 mt of iron ore in 2020) and Vale (300 mt ditto) must be asking if LKAB’s math works for them too. Making sponge iron near the mine looks attractive if you have cheap electrolysed hydrogen potentially to hand (Western Australia – check; Brazilian Amazon – dunno), as it saves 40% of the rail or shipping tonnage. But pure iron really likes to re-oxidise, aka catch fire, so transport is not as simple as for inert ore. This will all get interesting, a lot sooner than 2040.

    Hydrogen DRI works fine. Nobody, least of all Swedish businessmen, announces a plan to bet €39 bn or thereabouts on a technology on which they have any doubts..

    BTW, if you are new to this, there’s a reason why I write above about iron not steel. The final steelmaking stage is done from scrap or sponge iron using electric arc furnaces that don’t emit any CO2 directly, and are as green as their grid supply. Steel from blast-furnace pig iron is made in basic oxygen furnaces, which are exothermic once the feedstock is melted, electrically if need be. Carbon emissions in steel come essentially from making iron, 1.25 billion tonnes of it in 2018.

    Stop press: POSCO and Nippon Steel, very large and technically advanced legacy steelmakers in countries where losing face matters, have both announced net zero goals by 2050, with a nod to the hydrogen option. This is more virtue signalling at this point than operational strategy, but these are still pretty big signals – to Australia among others. Metallurgical coal is not a safe refuge from the collapse of thermal coal.

    A tautology for Australian coal-miners. Either Santa exists (P 0.99). Either way, you can’t expect any help. If Santa exists, he has sold out to Greta and the Kiwis. Start looking for better jobs.

    Merry Christmas (or whatever your festivity is) to all except coal-mining executives – nah, just “to all”, there’s even hope for Scrooge.

  6. Correction to penultimate paragraph. Typo generated by parsing software. Sentence should read: “Either Santa exists (P less than 0.01) or he doesn’t (P greater than 0.99).”

  7. Happy Materialness! Humans are entirely material [1] beings thus happiness is only material. Happiness is a matter of “happy chemicals” in your brain. This refers to the four classes of neurotransmitters: dopamine, serotonin, endorphins, and oxytocin. Of course, getting them balanced reasonably correctly and for the long haul requires complex behaviors, especially in a complex society, plus high initiating luck (in genotype, phenotype, nurture, education, social “offers” etc.) plus continuing significant amounts of serendipity in many other arenas i.e. lots more good luck which implies little or no seriously bad luck.

    [1] This is if you accept priority monism and physicalism.

  8. Ikon “That said, Pascal is still right. Plowing a field, digging a garden or roaming / exercising on foot by day and reading by night out to be enough most of the time.”
    (Play Satisfaction)
    It used to he enough except fir reading at night! We need to do way better than gdp as a measure of ourselves & society.

    Imo, we will have an advanced civilisation when these metrics revert to less time spent on the basics than hunter gatherers, whist retaining advances. Providing the social & personal space to deal with such transition needs ubi, 4 day week, participative democracy etc.

    How to manage the transition??? (No ‘…ism’s’ in answers pls).

    “Hunter-gatherers have more leisure time.

    “Some people say that the advent of farming gave people more leisure time to build up civilization, but hunter-gatherers actually have far more leisure time than farmers do, and more still than modern people in the industrialized world.

    “Others have criticized Lee’s study for its narrow definition of “work.” If you include the other necessary tasks that Lee’s numbers do not include, such as food preparation, cooking, cleaning, and making, cleaning, and preparing utensils, tools, and so on, then the estimates rise to 44.5 hours per week for men and 40.1 hours per week for women, estimates that seem far less shocking when compared to modern industrial work schedules. That said, the 40-hour work week common in the industrialized world does not include such tasks any more than Lee’s original estimate did. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2014 that on an average day, 83% of women and 65% of men spent some time doing household activities, and on days when they did so, women spent an average of 2.6 hours, while men spent an average of 2.1 hours. Using these numbers, we can calculate an average of 15.1 additional hours for such tasks each week for women, and 9.5 additional hours for men. If we add that on top of the traditional 40-hour work week, we get 55.1 hours for women and 49.5 hours for men, and if we compare these to the adjusted figures for the !Kung, we see that !Kung women work 72.7% what women in the United States work, while !Kung men work 89.9% what men in the United States work. To put it in broader terms, !Kung Bushmen seem to get a half day off every week.

    …”… we can see that the most wealthy and powerful industrialized societies that the world has ever seen still work at least slightly harder and longer than hunter-gatherers who survive in the most harsh, desolate environments on earth. Or, as Richard Lee put it, “It is likely that an even more substantial subsistence base would have been characteristic of these hunters and gatherers in the past, when they had the pick of African habitats to choose from.”

    In a sophistic argument that includes such contentions as why a Hadza man spending the day gambling does not count as leisure, but a modern office worker’s 40-hour work week does, David Kaplan does nonetheless bring up an important point about the definitions of “work” and “leisure,” and specifically how the line between them can sometimes blur (2000). The tasks that make up “work&;dquo; for hunters and gatherers include hunting, fishing, walking, picking fruits and berries — the very tasks that we undertake on vacation, for recreation.

    It would be a mistake to characterize the life of hunter-gatherers as perfect or idyllic, though. Even Marshall Sahlins himself admitted in his famous paper when he characterized them as “the original affluent society”:

    “I do not deny that certain hunters have moments of difficulty. Some do find it ‘almost inconceivable’ for a man to die of hunger, or even to fail to satisfy his hunger for more than a day or two. But others, especially certain very peripheral hunters spread out in small groups across an environment of extremes, are exposed periodically to the kind of inclemency that interdicts travel or access to game.” (1972)

    Hunter-gatherers do have to work for a living, and they occasionally encounter periods of want when their efforts yield little, but on the whole it would seem that even the hardest possible life for a hunter-gatherer compares favorably to the most leisured life one can expect in the world’s most wealthy industrialized societies.”

  9. Hunter/Gatherers have no commuting time either. Albeit, that is also probably the average of the full time employed, not of the overall population. Worth pointing out that Americans work more, no matter how measured than Europeans. Japanese still tend to work more. At least the extremes we often see tend to include lots of tasks that would be considered free time, or are at least done much more relaxed than is expected in a typical central European work environment. That’s just common sense, otherwise many Americans and Japanese, or more precise many more than already do would simply die from overwork. I’m a bit sceptical about some experiments with 4 workdays or 6 hours in places like Sweden because they sound like they require a very extreme work speed in compensation.

    Didn´t James Wimberley link some time use study here two years or so back?

  10. “Hunter/Gatherers have no commuting time either.” – Hix.

    Well, arguably they do, although again it depends on definitions. Walking to the hunting grounds is probably commuting, as is walking to yam sites with digging sticks. But then moving while hunting or between closely adjacent native yam patches might be definable as part of the actual work.

  11. @James W. The picture regarding metallurgical coal has changed radically in the past year from “there are feasible alternatives” to “it will be gone by 2050”. Thermal coal will end much earlier. But we still need to push hard to accelerate the process.

  12. Marchetti’s law. What an interesting idea. What if people brainstormed up myriad ways to defy Marchetti’s law on the downside for one thing, and also increased how much commuting was being done on foot (or perhaps with an electric bicycle?). One idea which comes to mind is assistance with relocation closer to work. Perhaps a government loan every time someone wants to get closer to work. Along with the principal of that loan being tax deductible. Perhaps matching this program up with public housing policy.

  13. Think tank Ember tweeted late yesterday:

    “This year, for the first time, the world’s #coal plants ran at less than half their capacity.”

    The included graph shows coal fleet utilisation for H1 2020:
    World: _ _ _ _ _ 47%
    China: _ _ _ _ _ 45%
    USA: _ _ _ _ _ _32%
    EU: _ _ _ _ _ _ _24%
    India: _ _ _ _ _ _51%
    Rest of World: _ 54%

  14. Posted at RenewEconomy yesterday (Dec 22) was a piece by Tim Buckley headlined “Coking coal’s decline likely to follow path of thermal coal’s demise”, that includes:

    “We exit 2020 with a growing list of the world’s largest steel manufacturers having now committed to net zero emission by 2050 targets.”

    The piece finishes with:

    “It is time for Australia to start preparing a transition plan for the growing inevitability of a global energy system transition. The momentum is accelerating and the opportunities, and risks, for Australia are enormous.”

    Meanwhile, Centennial Coal quietly withdrew its planning application for “Airly MOD 3 – Production Rate, Workforce and Train Movement Increases” this month.

    Perhaps we may see more fossil fuel companies rethinking their longer-term projects soon?

  15. “Marchetti’s constant is the average time spent by a person for commuting each day, which is approximately one hour. It is named after Italian physicist Cesare Marchetti, though Marchetti himself attributed the “one hour” finding to transportation analyst and engineer Yacov Zahavi.[1] Marchetti posits that although forms of urban planning and transport may change, and although some live in villages and others in cities, people gradually adjust their lives to their conditions (including location of their homes relative to their workplace) such that the average travel time stays approximately constant.[1][2][3] Ever since Neolithic times, people have kept the average time spent per day for travel the same, even though the distance may increase due to the advancements in the means of transportation. In his 1934 book Technics and Civilization, Lewis Mumford attributes this observation to Bertrand Russell:[4]

    “Mr. Bertrand Russell has noted that each improvement in locomotion has increased the area over which people are compelled to move: so that a person who would have had to spend half an hour to walk to work a century ago must still spend half an hour to reach his destination, because the contrivance that would have enabled him to save time had he remained in his original situation now—by driving him to a more distant residential area—effectually cancels out the gain.”” – Wikipedia.

    We perhaps can see Marchetti’s constant or law (which I had never heard about before) as a kind of cousin of the Jevons Paradox.

  16. “We perhaps can see Marchetti’s constant or law (which I had never heard about before) as a kind of cousin of the Jevons Paradox.”

    Yes exactly. Great point. It might be that putting our minds to defeating and reversing these two laws, and perhaps a few other tendencies, could bring us to the heart of also reversing the history of failure and civilisational collapse going back many thousands of years. These kinds of laws, if not taken into consideration, might tend to defeat any number of initiatives that we might have to deal with the sort of crises that are facing us at the moment, and other problems that tend to be perennial.

  17. Coal!

    James W said “This is more virtue signalling at this point than operational strategy, but these are still pretty big signals”

    Signal: Own goal coal. Which team? Joel’s team? Oh, Team Capital staring at Co(a)st Sunk.

    “NSW approves coal mine at Jerrys Plains despite protests from nearby horse stud farms

    Signal: Shot myself in the foot maybe.

    Dec 14, 2020 08:51 PM

    “China Attempts to Cap Soaring Coal Prices as Imports Tumble

    “The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) stipulated that coal purchase prices for power companies should not exceed 640 yuan ($97.7) per ton after summoning people from the country’s 10 top electricity utilities to a meeting on Saturday. The state planner also asked the companies to report to them if prices rise above the cap, saying it will “investigate the origins of high-priced coal,” said the report (link in Chinese) citing unidentified sources.

    “Despite the new cap, China’s thermal coal spot prices jumped to 659 yuan per ton on Monday, well above a previously government set “red zone” of 600 yuan and extending a 14-day riseon tight supply and peaking demand amid the winter heating season. Government restrictions on Australian coal and slow clearance of coal imports from Mongolia have also weighed heavily on supplies and driven up prices, said a report published by Zhongtai Securities on Monday.”

  18. Gladys Berejiklian, the NSW Govt. and the NSW authorities are rapidly losing control of the Northern Beaches outbreak. Clusters, or at least potential cluster initiator events, are popping up all over Sydney. Once again, we see the lack of understanding by the NSW Premier and the Prime Minister (as Gladys’s chief cheerleader) of the seriousness of the pandemic and the importance of rapid hard lock-downs and ring-fencing. Emotive decisions are being made to allow Xmas celebrations to go ahead without adequate controls.

    All the now-standard claims are being made about the mental health issues of lock-downs. These issues are real but they pale into insignificance compared to the results of a full COVID-19 outbreak with its physical deaths and illnesses plus the consequent mental health crises for relatives and survivors. I have heard of slow learners but this behavior form Berejiklian and Morrison is getting ridiculous. Can they not see the near-collapse crisis which now confronts the UK? This is what happens when you let the COVID-19 pathogen, SARS-Cov-2, get completely out of control. The end results are very dire and can even threaten supply chain collapse and civil collapse. The UK is approaching such a juncture.

    I get the impression that deep down Berejiklian and Morrison want Australia to give up on COVID-19 control and simply open the economy. Somehow, they still believe that opening up causes less human and economic damage than elimination of the virus. How they still believe this in the face of the latest empirical evidence from the USA and UK is something I cannot fathom. At the base it seems to be the belief that business and money are all-important and humans (other than rich humans) are expendable. (Sarcasm alert!) Plenty more where they came from, eh sport! Just ramp up the migration again. We can do that as soon as we make sure we are as infected as everyone else, except for those damned Kiwis and Chinese trying to make everyone else look bad. (End sarcasm alert!)

    Fortunately our other state premiers, all the epidemiologists, most of our economists and a majority of the people, still want to control COVID-19 to eradication. However, it has become touch and go whether we will have another large second wave in NSW. The real problem is hotel quarantine and other quarantine forms for returning Australians and for air crews. The current system simply is not adequate. It is neither efficient nor effective. In other words at a high cost we are getting a poor quarantine service. I am sure the hotel landlord-rentiers love getting rich on this system at the risk of their workers and the general population.

    The correct answer is purpose-built quarantine stations outside major population centers. These cannot be built in a day or a month of course. (Although it should be pointed out that the Chinese could build such in a month if they wanted to and needed to. They are not egregiously slow and inefficient like the Western economies.) Some facilities already exist, in Australia, which could be pressed into service. The rest will need to be built form scratch. Even if not needed for this pandemic, they will be needed for the next and the next and the next. The world will be faced with rolling zoonotic disease pandemics from now on until civilization doomsday, which actually might not so far away. But it will still be long enough for quarantine stations to be built as a delaying strategy. All of us would rather die considerably later rather than shockingly soon, would we not?

    I have said that the world will be faced with rolling zoonotic disease pandemics indefinitely from now on. This is the opinion of the world’s top epidemiologists. There are clear reasons why this is the case:

    (a) Human overpopulation and high density living;
    (b) Over-connection of human populations by trade and travel;
    (c) Industrial food production systems cramming animals together in veritable pathogen incubator pens;
    (d) expansion of humans into wild habitats looking for wild animal protein, bat guano for fertilizer and new land for crops.

    The last factor above means we come into ever more contact with wild disease reservoirs and thus with pathogens which can make the species jump to homo sapiens. There is already a considerable recent history of this happening and it is accelerating. Of recent emergence but not necessarily in time order, we can name HIV-Aids, Ebola, Marburg, Hantavirus, Nipah virus, Hendra virus (originating a couple of suburbs away from where I grew up), SARS, MERS, SARS-Cov-2 (Covid-19 disease), new avian and swine flus and zika virus. This is far from a comprehensive list. The pattern is, as I say, one of acceleration of emergence from the wild and infection of humans.

    We don’t only need to gear up to fight climate change, resources exhaustion, pollution and other issues, we need to gear up to fight the rapid acceleration of zoonotic diseases making their way into the human population. Climate change is also driving existing diseases like malaria and dengue into new regions. This is all an integral part of the burgeoning survival crisis humanity faces. We have reached the point in history where a much greater proportion of economic production needs to be channeled into fighting these challenges and away from non-essential consumption. I would hazard a guess that non-essential consumption needs to fall to one-tenth of its pre-COVID-19 values if we are to survive civilizationally. The tremendous self-indulgence of capitalist consumerism needs to be radically curtailed.

  19. Trump & Free Money! “anyone who wanted to could make free money betting on Biden”.

    What a great historical footnote, probably unique to Trump and his supporters.

    Can’t find ref but I believe Ladbrokes paid out on US Presidential election bets earlier than any of these bet shops below.

    “How Offshore Oddsmakers Made a Killing off Gullible Trump Supporters

    “The emotions and strategies behind record-setting bets on a MAGA victory that never came.

    …” Only a quarter of Republicans, even by December, believed Biden’s win was legitimate. On Tuesday, a day after the Electoral College voted for Biden, people were still backing Trump on PredictIt, a predictions market, meaning anyone who wanted to could make free money betting on Biden.

    “If you watched OANN [around or after the election], you’re watching something that you and I would never recognize,” Sherwin says. “It’s just a whole completely different world out there. And there is enough money amongst old, rich, white people that live in that bubble that take advantage of this betting opportunity for two reasons. One, what they feel and what they believe, but two, it’s also a way to kind of stick it to the ‘lamestream media.’ You know what I mean? I think they can be like, Oh, you guys don’t know what you’re talking about, and I think I can profit off of this because you don’t understand the Real America.”

    Thanks to out host and Merry Christmas all.

  20. The current trajectories of COVID-19 infections in South Korea and Japan give cause for concern. These two nations were among a handful of nations who handled their first and second waves of COVID-19 in an exemplary manner. They kept total numbers very low and all but stamped out the first two waves. Now, their third wave outbreaks are giving signs of spiraling out of control. There must be lessons in this for Australia. I must admit I don’t know what these lessons are. I don’t know what exactly has gone wrong in South Korea and Japan to generate these third wave outbreaks which are worse than their first two waves. These third waves are showing some signs of breaking out of all containment and ring-fencing. Australia needs to examine nations like South Korea and Japan in order to figure out what has gone wrong there, if the same things could go wrong here and how we can prevent it.

    For the public, this illustrates the need for continued vigilance and an intensification of efforts to fight off COVID-19 caution fatigue in relation to taking personal preventative and distancing measures. This virus is relentless and there are some variants now circulating, even if not in Australia yet, which are even more infectious and some may be more dangerous. That latter point is not certain yet. We all need to continue taking measures and isolating as much as possible consistent with general health, financial and social concerns. When it comes to crossing flooded bridges and causeways we now say “If it’s flooded forget it.” Perhaps we should add, “If you don’t really need to go out, forget it.”

    If we reduce going out we will save money and reduce fuel use and pollution. It’s a win for the environment too. Now that Xmas is over we need to reconsider making a virtue of a further likely necessity until when and if vaccines help eradicate the virus. Until we work out why 3rd waves are often the worst (to date as 4th waves generally haven’t even happened yet) we need to be highly cautious. Is it COVID-19 caution fatigue or some other factors? We need to find out. In the interim, we must remember that it is going out that spreads the virus. That’s clear. Going out also adds to global warming in most cases. Going out on shank’s pony or a bicycle is fine of course provided you keep your distance from non-household members. It’s important to maintain our vigilance.

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