Obituary for Catallaxy

On a chance visit to Catallaxyfiles.com the other day, I found an announcement that the site was closing. It’s now apparently inaccessible, but there’s an archive at the National Library.

As the era of blogging draws to end, this departure is worth noting

Catallaxyfiles was started by Jason Soon in the earliest days of Australian blogging. Jason was soon joined by Andrew Norton, who still has a blog of his own It was one of the first sites I linked to i I started this blog in 2002. Jason and Andrew were and thoughtful people, inclined to the classical liberal version of libertarianism, but not dogmatic about it. We had lots of interesting discussions – here are the results of a search “https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-d&q=johnquiggin.com+jason+soon

Catallaxy declined rapidly after Jason and Andrew left, but until about 2012 I still engaged with them. But after one such exchange got out of control, we agreed to leave each other alone.  Occasional subsequent visits have confirmed me in the view that this was the right thing to do.

Catallaxy was an early example of the decline of libertarianism into what we can now call Trumpism.  By the end, the comments threads and quite a few of the posts were a toxic mix of racism, misogyny and conspiracy theories comparable to Sky After Dark or even Alex Jones

Catallaxy outlived its usefulness by quite a few years. But it was once a valuable contributor to Australia’s intellectual life, as was the early flowering of blogs in general. One day, perhaps, that will return.

Hits and misses

Looking back at past posts, it’s enjoyable to find those where I went out on a limb and have been proved right by events, or at least supported by subsequent evidence. A couple of examples

It’s less fun when things don’t go as expected. Take Bitcoin as an example. Its uselessness is now even clearer than it was when I started writing about it 2013. Use in legitimate market transactions is almost non-existent, while the darknet illegal markets in which it is the preferred currency are being busted so frequently as to suggest that anyone using them is taking a big risk of losing their money, or worse. Meanwhile, the dream that Bitcoin would justify itself through the magic of blockchain has evaporated. As far as I can tell, cryptocurrencies on the Bitcoin model are the only genuine examples of blockchain technology in actual use (the label has been attached to some other projects for marketing purposes.

I’ve always said that, given the irrationality of markets, no one can predict when Bitcoin will reach its true value of zero, and I was careful to maintain this position when I posted on Bitcoin’s decline below $4000 late last year. Still, I have to admit that I expected this mania finally to come to an end. That hasn’t happened; in fact the price has doubled.

I won’t worry too much about the occasional (or not so occasional) error. My track record is still far better than that of the many pundits who predicted success for the Iraq war and continued claiming imminent victory years after the disaster had become evident. And most of them are still in business, apparently just as credible as ever to their audiences.

No enemies to the right?

Anthony Albanese has a piece in the #Ozfail (not linked) restating standard [1] claims that political life is increasingly characterized by echo chambers and that we ought to make more of an effort to engage with those whose views differ from ours.

He mentions, as example of the dire consequences of not doing this, some international examples

this polarisation in global politics has seen the demise of many of the historically successful progressive political parties such as France’s Socialist Party, PASOK in Greece, the Partito Democratico in Italy, the Social Democrats in Germany and many other affiliates of the Socialist International.

In many countries, parties of the radical Right have emerged with disillusioned working-class people as their social base.

What’s striking about this list is that most of the examples lost votes at least as much to parties on their left, which rejected their complicity in austerity: Syriza in Greece, Melenchon’s la France Insoumise, and the Greens in Germany and the Netherlands. Yet there’s no hint in Albanese’s article that the centre-left needs to be open to the views of such groups and their supporters: apparently, we need to be talking to the supporters of Golden Dawn, Le Pen, AfD and so on.

Albanese’s position in Australian politics is exactly the same. He’s happy to talk to Andrew Bolt and the Oz in the interests of an open debate, but as far as I know he has never had a good word to say about the Greens, let along sought to open a dialogue with them. Apparently some alternative views are more equal than others.

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Trolls (crosspost from Crooked Timber)

I’ve decided that life is too short for me to deal with any more trolls. From now on, I’m following the same zero[1] tolerance policy regarding blog comments as I do on other social media. Snarky trolling comments will lead to an immediate and permanent ban from my comment threads.

More generally, I’ve come to the conclusion that the best way to look at the ‘Intellectual Dark Web’ and what remains of the Republican intellectual class is the light of my experience as a blogger.

Put simply. the IDW and others are trolls. Their object is not to put forward ideas, or even to mount a critique, but to annoy and disrupt their targets (us). As Nikki Haley observed, a few months before announcing her resignation as UN Ambassador, it’s all about “owning the libs

Once you look at them as trolls, it’s easy to see how most of the right fit into familiar categories. They include
* Victim trolls: Their main aim is to push just far enough to get banned, or piled-on, while maintaining enough of an appearance of reasonableness to claim unfair treatment: Christina Hoff Sommers pioneered the genre
* Concern trolls: Jonathan Haidt is the leading example. Keep trying to explain how the extreme lunacy of the far right is really the fault of the left for pointing out the lunacy of the mainstream right.
* Quasi-ironic trolls: Putting out racist or otherwise objectionable ideas, then, when they are called out, pretending it’s just a joke. The alt-right was more or less entirely devoted to this kind of trolling until Trump made it acceptable for them to drop the irony and come out as open racists.
* Snarky trolls: Delight in finding (or inventing) and circulating examples of alleged liberal absurdity, without any regard for intellectual consistency on their own part. Glenn Reynolds is the archetype in the US, though the genre was pioneered in UK print media by the Daily Mail’s long running obsession with ‘political correctness gone mad’
* False flag trolls: Push a standard rightwing line, but demand special consideration because they are allegedly liberals. Alan Dershowitz has taken this kind of trolling beyond parody
From what I can see, the latest hero of the Dark Web, Jordan Peterson, manages to encompass nearly all of these categories. But I haven’t looked hard because, as I said, life is too short.

I’ve used US examples here, but most of them have Australian counterparts. Feel free to point them out.

fn1. Not quite zero. Commenters with a track record of serious discussion will be given a warning. But, anyone who wastes my time will be given short shrift

What I’ve been writing in the last seven years or so (Part 1)

Now that I’ve finished a draft manuscript of my book, Economics in Two Lessons, I’m getting around to jobs I’ve been putting off for a long time (I started the book in 2011), such as updating my CV. At the moment, I’m working on publications in Internet outlets such as Aeon, The Conversation and the ABC’s (sadly departed now), The Drum.  I’ve listed  a bunch over the fold. The titles are mostly self-explanatory, so please take a look at any that seem likely to be interesting. If you’re so inclined, please comment.

There are plenty more to come, as and when I get free time and the inclination.

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User experience

As I mentioned a while ago, after years of having the blog managed for me by Jacques Chester (thanks again!) I’m now out on my own. I’m working through WordPress.com. A reader has mentioned that the process of commenting has become burdensome, something I’ve noticed with the default WordPress setup. I’ve tried to fix this by removing the requirement for an email address.

I’d appreciate it if readers could comment on what happens when they try to post a comment. If you can’t comment at all, please email me at j.quiggin@uq.edu.au

Migration

Hi everyone. As you can see, there have been a few changes. For many years, Jacques Chester has kindly hosted this site and other Australian blogs. He’s had to move on, and the site has been migrated to WordPress.com. In the process, the theme has been lost and some recent comments may also have gone.

At the same time, I’ve had a lot of commitments that have slowed me down. I’ll be restoring as much as I can over the next week or so, and trying to resume normal posting.

Mostly, I’d like to thank Jacques for the massive effort he’s put in to supporting this and other blogs.