A bit of this, a bit of that: Stage 3 tax cuts, the Australian welfare state and Republican identity

I’ve been on holidays on the Sunshine Coast this week with my wife Nancy. I’d normally be racing in the SC 70.3 Ironman, but breaking my wrist a month ago put paid to any training (I’m recovering well, but slowly). We still had the accommodation booked, so we’re enjoying a relaxing time by the sea.

Before we took off, I submitted a bunch of articles that have now come out. I already posted my piece on the Ethereum merge so, rather than bombard you with emails, I thought I would wrap up the rest in one post. Here they are

Scrapping Stage 3 tax cuts is essential, but won’t be an easy ride, Independent Australia, 6 September.

“Republican” as an identity a Crooked Timber posts asking why supposed moderates like Susan Collins and Ross Douthat continue to support a Republican Party dominated by Trumpism.

Income redistribution or social insurance? A federal MP considers the future of the welfare state A review of Daniel Mulino’s new book Safety Net, and also my 100th article in The Conversation 8 September.

Sandpit

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.

The end of the Bitcoin Monster?

For a few years now, I and others been banging on about the environmental cost of Bitcoin, and similar cryptocurrencies. This cost from the electricity wasted on the pointless calculations used to ‘mine’ Bitcoins, under the ‘proof of work’ protocol used to ensure the validity of entries in the Bitcoin blockchain. The cost is huge, about the same as the energy use of a medium size country.

For almost as long, we’ve been promised an alternative ‘proof of stake’, in which the integrity of the blockchain would be protected by participants putting up some of their cryptocurrency as a ‘stake’ (more details here). But like nuclear fusion, proof of stale always seemed just over the horizon.

Now, it seems, it may be going to happen. Bitcoin’s biggest rival, Ethereum, has been testing a proof-of-stake blockchain for some time, in parallel with its existing proof-of-work chain. On 15 September, it is planned, the two will be merged in an event creatively called The Merge, and future operation will be proof-of-stake.

If this succeeds, the electricity consumption of Ethereum will be reduced by around 99 per cent. That will make it, in the words of Douglas Adams, mostly harmless. That doesn’t change the fact that, like cryptocurrencies in general, Ethereum is also pretty much useless. Its most notable function is as the basis for pricing non-fungible tokens (NFTs), digital certificates asserting ownership of an image (which anyone else can duplicate, but not own). That’s frivolous but no worse than collecting baseball cards or postage stamps (remember them?).

The big payoff from successful proof-of-stake is that it provides a way to kill the Bitcoin monster once and for all. Rather than banning Bitcoin, all that’s necessary is to ban proof-of-work. If Bitcoin made the transition to proof-of-stake, well and good. If not, no problem. Either way, its disastrous drain on world energy would be over.

Monday Message Board

Another Message Board

Post comments on any topic. Civil discussion and no coarse language please. Side discussions and idees fixes to the sandpits, please.

I’ve moved my irregular email news from Mailchimp to Substack. You can read it here. You can also follow me on Twitter @JohnQuiggin

I’m also trying out Substack as a blogging platform. For the moment, I’ll post both at this blog and on Substack.

All history is presentism

Earlier this year, I wrote a piece in defence of presentism, discovering just before I posted, that the same title had been used (also this year) by David Armitage, Professor of History at Harvard.

It was good to know that I wasn’t alone, but as Armitage made clear, “presentism” has been “a term of abuse conventionally deployed to describe an interpretation of history that is biased towards and coloured by present-day concerns, preoccupations and values”. A fairly standard version of the critique was given by Lynn Hunt, then President of the American Historical Association, in 2002 [1]

It seems however, that things are changing fast. A couple of weeks ago, James Sweet, Hunt’s successor as AHA President, wrote a more or less routine denunciation of presentism , which unsurprisingly picked on the 1619 Project as Exhibit A (for balance, the article also criticised the misuse of historical evidence by Justices Thomas and Alito). This produced a hostile response which forced Sweet to attach an apology to his piece.

The negative response to Sweet’s article reflects in part the intensity of the debate around racism in the US and about the 1619 Project in particular. But it also attracted more fundamental critiques, like this one from Kevin Gannon who concludes “all history is presentism”. As Gannon observes,

the very act of selecting a topic, arranging evidence , and presenting one interpretation of all that as more legitimate than the others—this scholarly ritual is absolutely shaped by the concerns of our present. That it even exists is because of “the concerns of the present.”

As I mentioned, exactly this point was made long ago by critics of “value-free economics”. Hopefully, value-free history will soon join value-free economics in the dustbin of intellectual history. At a minimum, we should see the end of the lazy use of “presentism” as a pejorative.

fn1. This orthodoxy is commonly traced back to Herbert Butterfield’s critique of the Whig Interpretation of History, but I’ve seen some suggestions that this is a misreading.