Over at Club Troppo, Nicholas Gruen links to an interesting (long) article on the relationship between the second and third US presidents (Adams and Jefferson). Adams comes out looking decidedly better, I think

My comment:

This is part of the general process of re-evaluation that has followed, with a long delay, the Civil Rights Movement. An extreme example is Calhoun, presented as part of the ‘Great Triumvirate’ in the traditional history, and now being cancelled everywhere. But most of the US Presidents from Jefferson to Jackson (until recently, the Dems held annual J-J dinners) are being downgraded because they were enmeshed in slavery, the big exception being JQ Adams. Washington has mostly escaped this process, the fact that he freed his slaves in his will being essential.
Not just the early presidents: Grant’s stock is rising as the accusations of corruption against his Administration are seen as the biased judgement of racist historians, while Wilson is falling.


The NY Times is running a debate on whether (home) 3-D printers are the Next Big Thing. My guess is not, partly for reasons advanced in the debate (making plastic shapes is limited, handling other materials is messy and dangerous) and partly from the observation that home 2-D printers have proved pretty much transitory. I suppose most people have one or two sitting around, but I only use mine when someone makes a mistake: typically sending me a non-editable PDF that needs to be printed out, filled in, signed and scanned. This happens rarely enough that I usually need to download a new driver, which is a real pain (honestly, after 30 years, we still need drivers!?). My guess is that if 3D printing becomes a Big Thing, it will be on the basis of same-day delivery from a special-purpose facility to which we send our customised product requests.

But what really interested me was a sceptical piece premised on bagging out the paperless office as a precursor of 3D printing hype. The line was that it was first predicted in the 1970s, but that US businesses are using more paper now than they did then. This struck me as probably true but misleading for two reasons
(i) the population has grown, as has the proportion of workers who deal with text in one form or another
(ii) the two point comparison conceals a rise and fall.

Point (i) is obvious. A quick check reveals that (ii) is also correct. Paper consumption peaked in the late 1990s and has fallen sharply since 2005. Consumption per person is the lowest on record (going back to 1965). I’m pleased with this because back in 2007, I noted that the much-mocked “paperless office” was become a reality, and predicted that the trend would accelerate (reprinted over the fold)>

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Assorted bits

* A reader suggests using that the term “Robin Hood tax” for the proposed tax on financial transactions is unfortunate, and that Global Financial Crisis Tax would be better. I agree. The ‘Robin Hood’ term applies to any redistributive tax, and is more directly descriptive of a progressive income tax. The ‘GFC tax’ term reminds everyone of the burden placed on the global community as a whole by excessive financial speculation.

* My colleague and co-author Grace Lordan, has an interesting post on health and discrimination

* Nine of ten authors on a list of “climate sceptical” papers have close links to ExxonMobil. Whocoodathunkit? [1]

** And surprise, surprise a large proportion of the “peer reviewed” articles are in sham journal Energy and Environment, while quite a few others are listed as “submitted”. Check the list here

fn1. Any commenters tempted to cry “ad hominem” at this point should look up “argument from authority” before making fools of themselves.

Live on video!

After the usual hassles, UQ School of Economics finally has its own videoconference facility, an IP-based Tandberg system, which should (fingers crossed) be interoperable with other standards-based systems. I just did my first conference, and it worked very well. Unfortunately, we are still waiting for an upgrade that will let me run a presentation at the same time as appearing on video. But I’m confident of ultimate success, so I’m now announcing that I’m available to give seminars and talks on a wide range of topics to anyone (subject to time and timezone constraints!) who would like to organise a videoconference. Email me j.quiggin at if you are interested.

Presentations in Adelaide

Despite strenuous efforts, it’s hard to avoid air travel in my line of work, and I’ve been doing more than usual lately. One strategy I use to reduce travel is to bundle multiple commitments into a single trip and I’ve done this reasonably effectively with my latest visit to Adelaide. I presented a paper at the Australian Conference of Economists, a public lecture for the Don Dunstan Foundation and an assessment of the economic outlook for the ACE Business Symposium as well as taking part in several meetings. (A couple of presentations are linked).

My presentations were mostly concerned with the financial crisis and its implications, but I also had meetings on water allocation in the Murray Darling Basin and on Internet access to public information and cultural assets such as image libraries. ???? ??????? 50 ???

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All purpose questions (crosspost from Crooked Timber)

While Michèle Lamont is visiting CT, and talking about cross-disciplinary comparisons and interactions, I thought I would raise a question about questions.

As background, my first “real” job was in a government research agency. Seminars were part of the process, and the norm was that senior staff would open the questions. In this context, it was almost invariably safe to ask “What are the policy implications”. That’s still true for some of the seminars I attend, but in others (economic theory, for example), such a question would be at best a faux pas, and the all-purpose question might be something like “Does this work in a monetary economy?”.

So, what are the all-purpose questions in different fields (or are there fields without such questions), and what, if anything does this reveal about those fields?

When a Man Loves a Woman trailer

Fire and flood

The news from the fires in Victoria just keeps getting worse, with whole towns wiped out and more than 60 people confirmed dead. We can only hope the change in the weather will give firefighters a better chance. The loss of life in the Queensland floods has not been so severe, but there is still widespread devastation.


2009 is upon us, and making any predictions about it seems even more difficult than usual. The one event that is as certain as such things can be is that the disastrous Bush presidency will come to an end in a few weeks time. But how will Obama respond to the many and intertwined crises that he faces? Based on his own rhetoric and actions so far, and on the normal logic of politics, one would expect him to seek out the middle ground, which has shifted a long way to the right under Bush.

But these are not normal times. The logic of economic events has already pushed governments to take measures that would have seemed unthinkable only a few months ago. While bailouts and bank nationalisations have staved off total economic collapse, it’s clear that much more will need to be done, and that governments will have to do most of it.

At present, all of this is being treated as a temporary interruption to business as usual. The Rudd government, for example, having provided one massive stimulus to the economy and preparing for more, guaranteed bank deposits, bailed out childcare centres and so on, is still touting its credentials as “economically conservative”, a phrase that appears to entai a new search for possible cuts in public expenditure, and continued adherence to limits on the ratio of tax revenue to GDP. But (I’ll try to spell all this out more in later posts) the notion of economic conservatism, interpreted as strict adherence to the policy doctrines that have been generally accepted for the past twenty-five years or so, no longer makes any sense.

The picture is similarly cloudy in relation to foreign policy issues. While Obama has garnered immense goodwill simply for not being Bush, that will dissipate fast in the absence of concrete steps, many of which are likely to be resisted by the Foreign Policy Community. Starting with the closure of Guantanamo Bay and an unequivocal repudiation of torture, extraordinary rendition and so on, the US government needs to admit that it is not above both international law and the laws of the United States itself.[1] The increasing evidence that military victory in Afghanistan is unattainable implies the need to think about possible routes to a partial and negotiated peace – as one of the few participants in the conflict from anywhere near the region, Australia should be particularly concerned.

Last but not least, there’s climate change. The Rudd government has given a pretty clear demonstration of how not to adjust climate change policy in the light of a macroeconomic crisis. It remains to be seen whether Obama will do better, whether he can carry the US with him and whether the world as a whole can come to an agreement that has any chance of success.

fn1. All this will be complicated by the latest disastrous events in the Israel-Palestine conflict, as they develop over coming weeks. As this topic tends to hijack comments threads, while adding nothing to our understanding, I’m going to delete anything about it, except in the specific context of US policy.