Closed borders

Reversing its position for the second time in about a week, the Morrison government has refused entry to Milo Yiannopoulos, known, among other things, as a promoter of “ironic” Nazi trolling of the kind practised by the Christchurch murderer, whose actions he implicitly endorsed, describing the victims as practising a “barbaric and evil “religion.

This isn’t a free speech issue: Yiannopoulos’ repulsive statements are still freely published here, and there has been no attempt to suppress them. If he were in Britain (his home country), the thorny question of “no-platforming” would arise.

Since he wants to come to Australia, however, the issue is simply one of freedom of movement. Yiannopoulos is a supporter of closing borders to large groups of people of whom he and his political allies disapprove. It seems entirely fair that this policy should be applied to him and others like him, before being considered more generally.

We should extend the ban on Yiannopoulos and apply it to any foreigner belonging to an organization or social media group that wants to close borders on the grounds that particular religious and ethnic groups are undesirable, present risks of terrorism and so forth. It’s grimly obvious that Yiannopoulos and his fellow racists are just such an undesirable and potentially dangerous group.


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The student strike and the social compact

Large numbers of school students have gone on strike today to protest about global inaction on climate change. This action has been met with a lot of huffing and puffing to the effect that students should stay in school and leave politics to adults.

Ideally, this would be the correct view. Part of the social compact of democracy is that the adult voting population should take account not only of their own interests but those of children who currently can’t vote and of future generations.

For those who have dependent children of their own, this isn’t a very demanding requirement. There’s no sharp distinction between your children’s interests and your own.

For older voters, the social compact is a bit more demanding. They cannot benefit directly from policies that make the world better for today’s and tomorrow’s children (a group that may or may not include their grandchildren). But they are morally obliged not to vote selfishly, taking advantage of the fact that they are enfranchised, while the young are not.

Sadly, the last few years have seen numerous instances where a majority of the old have violated this social compact. They have voted against the interests of the young out of a mixture of self-interest and cantankerous dislike of change, on climate change, Brexit and support for reactionary demagogues like Trump.

Having been let down by their elders, young people are fully justified in protesting against them, and ignoring their hypocritical expressions of concern about missing out on education.


Why is carbon pricing so hard?

I’ve just published a piece in Aeon (an excellent and free online magazine) drawing on the analysis in my (about to be published) book Economics in Two Lessons. I make the case that carbon pricing, whether through a tax of an emissions trading scheme, is the most cost-effective way to stabilize the global climate. Moreover, it’s straightforward to offset any adverse effects on low-income earners, displaced workers and others.

That raises the obvious question: if carbon pricing is so good, why is it so hard to implement, compared to less efficient alternatives like mandatory renewable targets. One factor, which I discuss, is that the creation of property rights over previously open-access resources creates obvious, and often powerful losers.

I was limited by space, so I couldn’t discuss the more puzzling problem of why regulations are more politically salable than prices even in the absence of income effects.

Is Queensland different?

It seems to be taken for granted in political commentary, particularly on the political right, that the Liberal and National Parties face a geographical problem in which pro-coal policies are an electoral loser in wealthy city seats in Sydney and Melbourne, but a winner in Queensland, and particularly in regional Queensland. The key issues are the proposed Adani coal mine and the idea of a publicly-funded coal-fired power station.

No one seems to have mentioned an obvious problem with this analysis. Queensland held a state election in 2017, in which the Adani proposal was a key issue. Labor won easily, holding the regional seats where Adani was supposed to create thousands of jobs, and picking up seats in the south-east corner.

Following the election, the state government announced that it would set up a publicly-owned renewable generator (rather unimaginatively called CleanCo). It remains well ahead in the opinion polls (53-47 as of last November)

Obviously, not everyone is happy. The mining division of the CFMMEU has joined the Queensland Resources Council to campaign for Adani. But there’s no sign that this move has had any real impact on public opinion.

The great majority of Australians accept mainstream science and want action on climate change. Denialism is a loser everywhere, including in Queensland. It’s only a winner with the right wing “base” amounting to perhaps 20 per cent of the population, but dominant within the Liberal and National parties.

Monopoly: too big to ignore

That’s the headline given to my latest piece in Inside Story

Here’s the opening para

Two hundred years after the birth of Karl Marx and fifty years after the last Western upsurge of revolutionary ferment in 1968, the term “monopoly capitalism” might seem like a relic of outmoded enthusiasms. But economists are increasingly coming to the view that monopolies, and associated market failures, have never been a bigger problem.

and the conclusion

The problems of monopoly and inequality may seem so large as to defy any response. But we faced similar problems when capitalism first emerged, and Western countries came up with the responses that created the broad-based prosperity of the mid twentieth century. The internet, in particular, has the potential to enhance freedom and equality rather than facilitate corporate exploitation. The missing ingredient, so far, has been the political will.