What next ?

I’ve had my say on the election, and don’t intend to engage in post-mortems. The only question of interest for me now is: what to do next?

I can’t see any useful contribution I can make to Australian politics for the moment, though I’m happy to take suggestions. Serious policy development is going to be off the agenda for some time, and I’ve got nothing new to say about political strategy or day-to-day politics.

‘But the big issues I’m interested in (climate change, and the choice between socialist and Trumpist futures) are global and long-term. I’m going to spend some time thinking and writing about them. I want to put forward some possible visions for the long term (2050 or 2100) future, while maintaining urgency about the threats we face right now.

Half right, and all left, on coffee

Back in the Paleozoic era of blogging, I wrote, in relation to a prediction that latte drinkers would soon be in the majority

I would view this prospect with horror, but I think it will not come to pass. Latte is the Cold Duck of the 21st century, and like Cold Duck will be shaken off with a shudder as people realise what real coffee is about.

Recent research from the Australia Institute suggests I was, at best, half right. Latte drinking hasn’t become the norm but it has survived, while real coffee (short black) remains such a minority taste that it has to be lumped in with the watered down long black.

The good news, (that is, the news that confirms my prejudices) is that latte drinkers are more likely to be LNP voters than anything else. The same is true, though only marginally, for chardonnay.

Regular update

After a gap of several months, I finally got around to writing up an update on my recent activities, only to discover that the Contacts application on MacOS had lost most of my contact list.  Following the advice of helpful readers, I decided to switch to MailChimp to manage my mailing list. If you would like to receive my regular email news, please sign up using the following link

http://eepurl.com/dAv6sX

For those who’d rather read it here at the blog, here’s a link.

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.

Read More »

Francis Bator has died

Francis Bator, the economist who popularized the term “market failure”, has died at the age of 92 after being hit by a car. His NY Times obituary is here.

Francis’ passing is a cause of sadness for me as my book, Economics In Two Lessons draws heavily on his work from the 1950s and 1960s. He had read excerpts on Crooked Timber and corresponded with me about it, much to my surprise and delight. I was looking forward to sending him the manuscript but now I won’t get the chance.

Bad drivers should have their cars driven by robots (now with link)

A while ago I had one of those “Someone on the Internet is Wrong” arguments with the authors of an article arguing that we would need massively more evidence before we could conclude that autonomous cars are safer than those driven by humans. Rather than dig back to find those arguments again, I thought I’d <a href="http://I thought I'd link to this Bloomberg piece and, in particular the following passage”>link to this Bloomberg piece and, in particular the following passage

GM’s autonomous test cars were in 22 accidents in California last year, according to data from the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles … In a November interview, GM President Dan Ammann attributed the accidents to testing in a dense urban environment and noted the company’s cars weren’t at fault in any of the incidents.

Suppose that in any crash between autonomous cars and humans, each is equally likely to be at fault. What is the probability of seeing 22 crashes caused by humans and none by autonomous cars. Obviously, it’s the same as that of a fair coin showing 22 heads in a row, which is 2^-22 or about 1 in 10 million.

Of course, the drivers involved in the crashes aren’t likely to be a random sample of the population. As is standard in such things, the 80/20 rule applies: 20 per cent of drivers are responsible for 80 per cent of crashes and traffic infringements. THe 80/20 rule is derived from a Pareto distribution, and we can apply it a second time to say that 20 per cent of the remaining 80 per cent of drivers are responsible for 80 per cent of the remaining 20 per cent of crashes. That is, 36 per cent of drivers are responsible for 96 per cent of crashes. On that basis, it’s perfectly possible that the remaining 64 per cent of good drivers are as good as autonomous cars or even better.

It might also be argued that autonomous vehicles may fail in defensive driving, that is, in reducing harm in a crash caused by the failure of another driver.

Still, it seems pretty clear that autonomous cars are a lot better than the drivers responsible for most crashes and infringements. It isn’t that hard to identify a lot of these drivers before they kill themselves someone else, since prior driving record variables, particularly a driver’s prior traffic citation history, are the most consistent and powerful predictors of subsequent accident risk. Now that cars don’t need steering wheels or pedals any more, there’s no obvious reason to put people with bad driving records back in charge of them. Bad drivers should have their cars driven by robots.