Black helicopters and the Fairfax press

I’ve mostly given up talking about the nonsense published on a daily basis in the Murdoch press. There are more reliable alternatives, after all. At least so I thought until I looked at today’s Fairfax papers, which ran, as the lead, a piece from Peter Hartcher headlined Beijing uses infrastructure as friendly forerunner of political power. It’s as obviously loopy as anything Maurice Newman has written on Agenda 21, or Graeme Lloyd on Climategate
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Maybe we need a degree in Western Civilization after all

I’ve kept out of the latest silly culture war so far, but I couldn’t resist this from Josh Frydenberg. After decrying a “long march to the left” in Australian universities, he says

It is absolutely critical that the next generation of students understand about where the rule of law came from, where democracy came from, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, women’s suffrage

Looking through that list, it can be described as a potted summary of the “long march to the left”  in Britain (and by extension Australia) over the course of the “long 19th century” from the French and American revolutions to the outbreak of the Great War.  At the beginning of that period, Freydenberg’s conservative precursors supported the rule of law, and opposed democracy, freedom of speech and religion and women’s suffrage. It was only after long struggles that restrictions on freedom of speech and religion like the Six Acts and Penal Laws  were repealed. The fight for (initialy male-only) democracy and women’s suffrage took even longer.

If we extended Frydenberg’s list into the 20th century, we’d get something like this University of Sydney course which covers

struggles over labour rights and working conditions in the 1900s, women’s suffrage, Aboriginal land rights, race relations and the White Australia Policy, homelessness during the Great Depression, freedom of speech during the Cold War, the Vietnam Moratorium and sexual liberation in the 1970s, the environmental movement, refugees and asylum seekers, and LGBT rights today

This course was denounced by Bella d’Abrera of the Institute of Public Affairs in a piece supporting the need for a Western Civilization course. It’s notable that free speech and women’s suffrage occur both in Frydenberg’s celebratory list and d’Abrera’s denunciation. I’m guessing that, if pressed, d’Abrera would not defend the implication that these, and other items like the end of the White Australia policy, were things to be deplored. But it would be interesting to see her present a version of history in which all the freedoms we now enjoy appeared magically and without any strugge.

Looking at this mess, I think we might need a course in the history of Western Civilisation after all. It should be provided to people like Frydenberg and d’Abrera so they can decide exactly whether they want to stop the clock at 1970, 1950 or perhaps at 1900.

Economics in Two Lessons, Chapter 12

Thanks to everyone who commented on the first eleven chapters of my book-in-progress, <em>Economics in Two Lessons</em>.

Here’s a draft of <a href=”″>Chapter 12 on Predistribution</a>

Comments, criticism and praise are welcome.


Earlier draft chapters are available. These aren’t final versions, as I am now editing the entire manuscript, but you can read them to see where the book is coming from.

<a href=”″>Table of Contents</a>
<a href=”″>Introduction</a&gt;.
<a href=”″>Chapter 1: What is opportunity cost?</a>
<a href=”″>Chapter 2: Markets, opportunity cost and equilibrium</a>
<a href=”″>Chapter 3:Time, information and uncertainty
</a><a href=”″>Chapter 4:Lesson 1: Applications</a>.
<a href=”″>Chapter 5: Lesson 1 and economic policy</a>.
<a href=”″>Chapter 6: The opportunity cost of destruction</a>
<a href=”″>Chapter 7: Property rights, and income distribution</a>
<a href=”″>Chapter 8:Unemployment</a>
<a href=”″>Chapter 9: Market Failure</a>
<a href=”″>Chapter 10: Market failure -Externalities and pollution.</a>
<a href=”″>Chapter 11: Market failure: Information, uncertainty and financial markets</a>

Feel free to make further comments on these chapters if you wish.

He said, she said

There’s been another kerfuffle about gender-neutral language. Although it’s mostly anecdotal outrage, the main issue seems to be whether, as is claimed by traditionalists, the masculine third person pronoun should be used in cases where no gender is specified. For example, “If a student writes an essay, he should not be marked down for his choice of pronoun”.

People have had fun with some extreme cases, like “since Man is a mammal, he suckles his young”.  But I think the problem can be posed with much more standard sentences. Let’s take sentences of the general form

“If you ask a [worker of occupation X], [pronoun] will say the biggest problem with the job is …”

The traditionalist claim is that, in all cases, the appropriate pronoun is “he”.  Think about that for a moment, and then I’ll give some examples.

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Social security won’t be around long enough for me to collect it (repost from 2014)

The claim that our current healthcare and pension policies are unsustainable is a classic zombie idea on the political right, embodied in the regular Interngerational Reports produced by the Australian Treasury which invariably fail to mention the real threat to the future posed by climate change and environmental destruction more generally.

In the US, the release of the trustees reports for Social Security and Medicare has produced <a href=”″>the usual crop of alarmist articles</a>, though with more pushback than in the days when the political class was united around the idea of a “grand bargain”. So, I thought I’d repost <a href=””>this piece from 2014</a>.


Salon has a couple of interesting articles about millennials. Tim Donovan focuses on <a href=””>the plight of young people without college education</a> who are suffering the combined effects of long-term growth in inequality and the scarring that comes from entering the worst labor market in at least a generation[^1]. Elias Isquith has a piece <a href=””>debunking Rand Paul’s prospects of pulling the millennial vote</a> (I’ve seen a few of these lately, which may or may not mean anything), which includes the following observation<blockquote>Despite the fact that a whopping 51 percent of millennials believe they’ll receive no Social Security benefits by the time they’re eligible, and despite the fact that 53 percent of millennials think government should focus spending on helping the young rather than the old, a remarkable 61 percent of young voters oppose cutting Social Security benefits in any way, full stop.</blockquote> The idea that “Social security won’t be around long enough for me to collect it” is a hardy perennial, and thinking about it led me to the following observation:

It’s now possible for someone to have spent their entire working life believing that Social Security would not last long enough for them to receive it, and now to have retired and started collecting benefits. This belief has been prevalent at least since the early years of the Reagan Administration when it was pushed hard by David Stockman, and I’m going to date it to the first big “reform” of the system in 1977. Someone born in 1952, who entered the workforce in 1977 at the age of 25, would now be turning 62 and eligible to collect Social Security.
I’m betting that, in 20 years time, when the 1952 cohort reaches their average life expectancy, having enjoyed their full entitlement to benefits (assuming no ‘grand bargain’ intervenes) that the belief will be just as prevalent

[^1]: As I’ve argued <a href=””>many</a&gt; <a href=””>times</a&gt;, the shared experience of entering the labor market in a recession is one of the few instances where membership of a particular generation is more than a marketing label.