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

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.

The generation game, yet again

At Inside Story, I’ve had yet another go at the silliness of generational analysis, reworking some material I’ve posted previously, but improving the analysis in some ways, I think. In particular, I think the intro helps to explain the persistent appeal of generational cliches in the face of repeated refutation.

Every generation thinks it invented sex, and every generation is wrong.” As that quotation from the American writer Robert Heinlein suggests, we all experience as unique and revelatory the transformations we undergo through the course of our lives, from childhood to puberty, adulthood, parenthood and old age. As a matter of logic and observation, though, these processes are experienced at all times and in all places, and differ more in detail than essentials.

This is the paradox at the heart of the otherwise inexplicable durability of claims that people’s characteristics can be explained by their membership of a “generation” (baby boomers, generation X, and so on).

My latest (ir)regular email

I guess I should call this an irregular email, since I haven’t sent one for a few weeks. As usual, I’d appreciate any compliments, brickbats, suggestions on things I should say more or less about and so on.

Adani, energy and climate action

Farmers for Climate Action commissioned me to do a report on the proposed loan to the Adani Rail Project, focusing on alternative investments in the agricultural sector. It was release at the weekend, and got some coverage, including in The Guardian. The report is here, along with a summary. It’s recently got a nice run in Queensland Country Life
Other media interviews included Robyn McConchie RN Country Hour, and WIN Rockhampton. I also spoke to ABC Brisbane Drive about electricity prices

Asset recycling

There’s been quite a lot of interest from the US in the idea of ‘asset recycling’ which is being pushed hard by the finance operators who would profit from such a deal and also by our unlamented former Treasurer and now Ambassador to the US, Joe Hockey. My thoughts are here

I did interviews with the Washington Post a while back
with Bloomberg,
Asset recycling
reported here and just now with Politico (yet to appear)


I gave to a video presentation to on Income: What to aim for and how to get there a workshop on UBI run by the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia.
Penalty rates
I appeared by teleconference, before a Senate Committee today (24 August), defending penalty rates

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