Gujarat breaking with coal

The announcement that the Indian state of Gujarat will allow no new thermal coal plants seems like a really big deal.

First up, it’s striking that a state with electricity demand growing at 8-10 per cent a year has concluded that it can meet this demand entirely with renewables. That’s totally contrary to the line pushed by the government and coal lobby here in Australia, suggesting that rapid growth in electricity demand can only be met by coal.

Second, Gujarat is the home ground of both Indian PM Modi and his most notable crony, Gautam Adani. And, it appears, the decision has been motivated in large measure by the disaster that is Adani Power’s Mundra plant. As AECOM, Worley Parsons and many others in Australia can confirm, anyone who deals with Adani has a high risk of getting burned.

This is just one announcement, and perhaps it will be reversed. But, on the face of things, it seems like a huge step towards the end of coal-fired electricity, and a huge blow to the ambitions of the Adani Group in Australia.

Another High Court disaster, coming up ?

Unsurprisingly, the rejection of Cardinal Pell’s appeal against his conviction for sexual abuse has led to the expectation that the case will go to the High Court. As far as I can tell, there are quite a few bad reasons for the High Court to take the case, but no good ones.

The bad reasons (all related to each other) are

  • Cardinal Pell is an important person
  • He is strongly backed by other important people
  • There is a lot of public interest in the case

What is missing is any legal issue raised by Pell’s conviction. The Appeal Court unanimously rejected suggestions that the trial judge made errors in his directions. The central remaining issue is whether the victim’s evidence was sufficiently credible to make it open to a jury to bring in a guilty verdict or whether the evidence of a defence witness, Portelli should be preferred.

Not having seen the evidence, I have no independent opinion. But the jury brought in a unanimous verdict, and two out of three Appeal court judges found that it was reasonable to do so. Is there any reason for the High Court judges, appointed primarily for their supposed expertise in constitutional law, to think they can do a better job of judging the case? If this appeal is heard, why not every criminal case where the Appeals Court produces a majority decision?

If the Court capitulates to political pressure by deciding to take the case, how will its verdict be viewed? An acquittal would certainly look like more of the same. Upholding the conviction would open them up to more attacks from the right. Then there’s the possibility of a split decision, unusual from this Court in high profile cases. That would really cause trouble.

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Economics in Two Lessons, reviewed

A couple of reviews of Economics in Two Lessons have come out, from opposite ends of the political spectrum. The more interesting is Max Sawicky’s in Jacobin.

Sawicky does a great job in summarising the key ideas in the book. His is probably the best review so far for non-economists to get an understanding of the main themes.

Given the Jacobin audience, the key question is “Why should a socialist read a book about markets?” As Sawicky observes, the answer is easy for socialists in the Bernie Sanders mould – I share their views, a fact that is obvious to readers of this blog.

More generally

Quiggin’s deconstruction of Hazlitt’s “Lesson One” provides a lesson in “know your enemy” for anyone left of center. If your only instruction in economics was a principles course, this book provides an essential completion of the basic story.

More generally, Sawicky says

If your hostility to markets runs more deeply, then the mainstream theory elaborated by Quiggin provides a useful challenge.
What becomes deemphasized, when it is not glossed over entirely, is, on the one hand, the proliferation of “externalities” that bind together the interests of ostensibly disparate individuals, and on the other, our capacity (historically demonstrated) to respond effectively on a cooperative, collective level.
Economics as practiced by progressives pursues these insights, but, as I think Quiggin would agree, it has further to go. His “second lesson” is a crucial step in this journey.


I’m very grateful for this review, which gives me food for thought as I think about my next big project.

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