Coincidence ?

I’ll be appearing (virtually) tomorrow, Monday 1 February to give evidence to the  the House of Representatives Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy’s inquiry on Zali Steggall’s Climate Bills 2020, the core of which is a proposal to set a target of zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. As readers would expected, I’ll be supporting the bill.

At almost exactly the same time, Scott Morrison is going to address the National Press Club, and there are rumours he’s planning an announcement on climate policy. Given the natural human desire to see patterns in the universe, and a little bit of past history[1] it immediately occurred to me that Morrison might announce that the government had decided to commit to 2050 net zero.

Such a decision would make great political sense for Morrison, if he focused on the objective situation rather than in-group loyalties. Now that Albanese has backed away from any firm commitment other than 2050 net zero, Morrison is in a great position to “dish the Whigs” by outflanking him, perhaps by adding in an upgraded 2030 commitment.

Equally importantly, the geopolitical need to act has become urgent. Biden has announced a major climate summit for Earth Day, 22 April, at which leaders will be pressed to enhance their commitments. The main target is China, where the push is to bring their 2060 target forward to 2050 and back it up with some firm action. But of the real laggards, with no zero commitment at all, Australia is the only one that isn’t already a pariah like Saudi Arabia and Brazil. Unless he wants a major international embarrassment, Morrison has to come up with something big, and soon.

This has largely unnoticed by our political class, who are still suggesting that nothing needs to be done until the Glasgow COP in November, and that an election can be held before then.

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Australia (Act) Day

As usual, 26 January has been marked by protests, denunciations of those protests, and further iterations. Even apart from the fact that it marks an invasion, the foundation of a colony that later became one of Australia’s states isn’t much of a basis for a national day.

A logical choice would be the day our Federation came into force. Unfortunately for this idea, our Founders chose 1 Jan 1901. The first day of the 20th century[1] must have seemed like an auspicious choice for a new country, but it ruled out the anniversary as a national day.

The ideal thing would be to fix the problems of our current system with a republican constitution including a treaty with the original owners of our land. That would provide a date really worthy of celebration.

In the meantime, I suggest 3 March, the anniversary of the day in 1986 when the Australia Act came into force, finally establishing beyond any doubt that Australia is an independent country, entirely separate from the UK[2]. We had by 1986 a constitution and public policy that was at least formally non-racist, thanks to the 1967 referendum and the end of the White Australia policy. Many of the symbolic problems with the current date would be avoided, though the real injustices would remain to be addressed.

It’s true that the Australia Act doesn’t have a lot of resonance. But any date with a lot of resonance is bound to resonate badly for a large proportion of the population. At least this would be a choice nearly all of us could celebrate without worrying too much about its precise significance.

fn1. At least if you start the count from 1CE. I think it would be more sensible to cross-label 1BCE as 0 CE, making 1900 the start of C20. I had always assumed that Dionysius Exiguus, who invented the AD calendar was unaware of the concept of zero, but Wikipedia accords him a prominent role in its history.

fn2. Whether, when and to what extent, we had become an independent country before 1986 remains a mystery, but there’s no doubt after that.

Footnote from, The Economic Consequences of the Pandemic,

The requirement that the rate of growth exceeds the rate of interest on government debt may be written algebraically as g > r. Readers of Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century will recall that he places a lot of stress on the opposite formula r > g. What is going on here? The answer, in simple terms, is that Piketty is talking about the rate of return to investment, and more particularly the rate of return earned by high-wealth investors. This rate is as much as 6 percentage points higher than the rate of interest on government bonds. The magnitude of the difference, referred to as the ‘equity premium’ is a long-standing puzzle for economists, with profound implications, which will be discussed below.

Spooled thread on Biden and bipartisanship

Amateur political analysis ahead. What are the chances for bipartisanship under Biden. Roughly speaking, that means whose votes would he need to get to 60 in the Senate, requiring 10 Republicans

Repubs who have voted with Trump less than 75 per cent of the time
Of these, Paul and Lee have dissented mostly from the right

Next 5
Scott voted to overturn the election

Next 5
Toomey, Graham, Johnson, Hawley (!), Lankford

Need I say more


Note: I excluded far-right Senator Lummins, who took her seat two weeks ago, and has cast hardly any votes


A new sandpit for long side discussions, conspiracy theories, idees fixes and so on.

To be clear, the sandpit is for regular commenters to pursue points that distract from regular discussion, including conspiracy-theoretic takes on the issues at hand. It’s not meant as a forum for visiting conspiracy theorists, or trolls posing as such.

Luck and fate in politics

There’s a lot of luck[1] in politics. If a handful of events had gone differently in 2016, we’d probably be discussing President Clinton’s second term right now. If the Brexit referendum had been held a few weeks earlier, Remain would probably have won, and David Cameron might still be PM. A few lucky breaks and Labor would have won the 2019 Australian election. And if things had gone slightly differently in Georgia (with the Repubs falling just short in the first round, then losing both runoffs), the prospects for a Biden Administration would be greatly worse than they are.

The first three of these events were unexpected wins for the Trumpist right. And while nobody much pays attention to Australia, the first two were interpreted by Trumpists as much more than lucky breaks. They fed a whole set of beliefs which built up to an expectation that, no matter how bad things looked, their side was destined (for a lot of Trumpists, divinely ordained) for victory.

It’s not surprising then, that Trump’s supporters expected victory in November, and were willing to believe, without any evidence that their victory had been stolen. But as it became more and more evident that the election results were not going to be overturned, cognitive dissonance started to set in. The options were to accept that, fairly or not, they had lost, or to embrace the apocalyptic vision of QAnon and the far right, manifested in the Capitol last week. From the polling evidence, it looks as if the Republican base split down the middle on this.

Now that the insurrection has failed, and Biden’s inauguration is about to take place, the choice gets even sharper. As those who rejected the election result and tried to overturn it are increasingly ostracised and increasingly forced to recant[2], there’s no middle ground between accepting defeat, at least this time around, and going all the way down the insurrectionist rabbit hole and into rightwing terrorism.

From the politics as usual viewpoint of someone like Mitch McConnell, the advisability of the first course of action is obvious. But to the extent that the energy of the Trumpists was built on faith in inevitable victory, that may be difficult to sustain[3].

As for rightwing terrorism, it’s bound to keep on happening. The history of events like the Beer Hall Putsch shows that clownish initial failure does not guarantee defeat (no inevitability, again). We have to hope that, having been directly and personally threatened by the terrorists, the Democrats won’t shrink from the responses necessary to suppress them and the Republicans won’t be willing to defend them.

fn1. My friend, fellow-economist and now politician Andrew Leigh has a great little book called The Luck of Politics It’s mostly about luck as it affects individual political careers, where the same point applies: a bit of good luck is often the difference between being revered and being reviled.

fn2. In this context, the coverage by the Washington Times is just as significant as the apology extracted from American Thinker. The story includes, as background, the observation that

Mr. Trump and some fellow Republicans pushed false claims and conspiracy theories to justify the election’s outcome prior to mobs of the president’s supporters raiding the U.S. Capitol last week, including baseless allegations involving Dominion and its machines.

Republicans will have to get used to reading this kind of thing, even in reliably rightwing media.

fn3. The 20th century debates within Marxism about the inevitability of socialism illustrate this, as do even older debates about predestination within Christianity. Logically, you might expect a belief in inevitability to discourage costly action (why work hard for a cause that is going to win anyway?), but in practice, the feeling of being on the winning side has always won out.