Showing posts from 2013

Global warming, cold days, bushfires

There are currently bushfires raging in New South Wales. They are grave and sobering. Also raging is an enormous fuss about the putative connection between these fires and global warming. So far, as far as my extremely limited attention to this can tell, the debate has ranged over whether this connection exists, whether it's appropriate to talk about it, whether it has any policy implications, whether Wikipedia is a reliable source...

This is not serious. It is very silly, from everyone involved, but particularly from the people who I would generally have more political affinity with. The whole thing has been scattergun and stupid; too much so for me to even write a post as long as I was planning to. So this is now very short.

Just one complaint I promise

This isn't going to be long and it's not going to be frequent, because I have so much other stuff to do and also because I don't want to be that person who spends months after an election defeat smouldering with rage. It's probably unhealthy, apart from anything else.

But come on.

Review the demand-driven model? Okay. It's vaguely plausible that universities are taking on too many students and quality is declining as a result - although it's strange that the main worry is about "poisoning" the international reputation of the sector rather than, you know, making sure that students are getting the best possible education. But whatever.

Abolish compulsory SSAF - well, I don't go to an Australian university and I have no dog in this fight, but somebody has to pay for this stuff and it's not obvious why it shouldn't be the students. Any particular student's university fees already pay for lots of things that student will never use, so the serv…

So just like the last five years then

I got a letter today, and it contained a promise. When I checked, it wasn't the first time this promise had been made, and when I checked a little more, the promise meant nothing at all. But I'll let the pictures do the talking.

Two million jobs, in ten years? No! That'd be nearly seventeen thousand jobs every month!

You can get the data here, if you feel like making a graph for yourself.

Bonus "Australia is awesome" update: here is a graph for the same period, measured at the same intervals, for the US.

Australia is awesome.

Political hipsters

There was conservative glee yesterday, because Kevin Rudd went to the Northern Territory and announced that he supports special treatment in tax and economic policy to boost development there. This is a policy that belongs to Australian conservatives: the IPA is a long-time supporter, Tony Abbott had a thought-bubble about it, and Gina Rinehart is a big fan, to the extent that she included it in her famous poem. ("The world's poor need our resources: do not leave them to our fate / Our nation needs special economic zones and wiser government, before it is too late" is its final couplet!)

So this is being seized on as a recognition by the ALP that, despite the scare campaigns and the high-octane rhetoric, Tony Abbott and the Coalition are actually right about policy issues. There was a similar sort of reaction when Kevin announced his new refugee policy - in fact, every time in the last four years the government has made its policy harsher - and when he announced the faux…

Scott Morrison In 'Basically A Racist' Shock

Well, this happened. My mum went into a spin last night when she first heard about it. Initially I thought she was being a bit unreasonable. But having read about it this morning, I can confidently say that the Coalition's new policy is nonsensical and xenophobic.

Here's what's happening: Julia Gillard last year announced the Houston Review, in classic get-the-military-involved-in-refugee-policy style. The end result of that review was that there should be a "no advantage" policy, under which coming to Australia would not get you settled any more quickly than waiting in a UNHCR camp. So there are quite a lot of people in Australia who basically aren't getting their claims processed, in order that they don't get any advantage. These people arrived over the last year, before Rudd's policy switch. They are now here. Scott Morrison and Tony Abbott are now saying that they will never get permanently settled in the country.

Tony Abbott and the conscience vote killed marriage equality

This is infuriating.

Last night, Kevin Rudd promised that if re-elected he would bring on a vote on marriage equality within the first hundred days of his government. That is good, and it's fantastic to see that the ALP believes marriage equality is a vote-winner worth making a campaign issue out of.

Rudd remains committed to a conscience vote. The result of the last vote was a 42-98 defeat, with ALP members voting their conscience and the Coalition voting in a bloc against. So the contours are fairly clear: if the Coalition doesn't give its MPs a conscience vote, there will be no marriage equality; if it does, the odds are somewhere round even.

Why didn't Tony Abbott give his members a conscience vote? Well, we know he is a devout Catholic who opposes marriage equality himself. But the reason he gives is this: the issue wasn't on the radar before the 2010 election, and to the extent that it was, the Coalition's position was to oppose marriage equality, so it's…

Julia Gillard and the media

There's a book out fairly recently called 'The Stalking of Julia Gillard', about Kevin Rudd's long-term campaign to regain the Prime Ministership and the role played by the media. I have only read the first two chapters, and to be honest it seems fairly boring. The book is a kind of diary-style recount of The Saga of Julia and Kevin and the media's treatment of it, though unfortunately it ends in March 2013 and so doesn't quite get to the tale's conclusion.

Anyway, maybe it's interesting, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend reading it. In particular because I think the most important point is made by the Appendix, which I'm going to write out here. The Appendix is a chronology of predictions and assessments by journalists - not all journalists, just a select few - about the Labor leadership. It leaves out, also, all the critical commentary that was written about things not strictly related to the leadership: the carbon tax, mining tax, Malaysia…

"I will be very clear of one thing, this party and this government will not be lurching to the right on the question of asylum seekers."

For a couple of years, I've - quietly, privately - wished that refugee politics would just go away. Not that the refugees would, but that a toxic issue and the poisonous conversation around it would cease to be live and important on Australia's political stage. That, given the apparent impossibility of a genuinely humane policy, the ALP would stop trying to win votes by outfoxing Tony Abbott - Malaysia, Manus, Angus Houston - pass something close to what he demanded, and take the issue off the table. This would not be a victory for asylum seekers, but there didn't seem to be any victory in sight for them, and there were and are plenty of other reasons not to want Tony Abbott to cruise into the Lodge.

This was not an optimistic hope. It seemed, desperately sadly, to be the best we could anticipate. Even that hope has been violently, utterly dashed.

Briefly, I thought Kevin Rudd might get us there. Suggesting that Tony Abbott's policy might lead to conflict with Indonesi…


The Reactionary Mind, by Corey Robin

I just finished reading Corey Robin's The Reactionary Mind. I read it in too haphazard and long-winded a manner to write any sort of proper review, so I'm going to limit myself to a few disjointed observations.

The first is that I'm breaking the cardinal rule of reviewing, because as I discovered relatively quickly this just isn't the kind of book I like. Even where it's on its point - disappointingly rarely - the main thrust of the argument Robin wants to make is historical: to look at Edmund Burke, or Thomas Hobbes, or Antonin Scalia, and fit them within a long-running current of conservative thought. That kind of exercise is, to me, far less interesting than a conceptual exposition of what conservatism is and whether it's right.

Those, of course, aren't entirely separable, but that ends up being more harm than help to Robin. He's not in the slightest sympathetic to the conservative cause, and the result is passages like this:
"From revolutions, con…

Margaret Thatcher, the UMSU, etc.

Margaret Thatcher was apparently worried about the prospect of a divisive debate in Parliament over her funeral arrangements. That hasn't happened, but her fear was far from misplaced.

In Melbourne, the University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) Student Council passed a motion listing and condemning some of Thatcher's actions and declaring that it "celebrates" her death. A brief and reasonable roundup is here. The key details are that with 12 of 16 Councillors present, the motion was tabled and debated. It was suggested that the motion be amended to condemn the actions but remove the "celebrate" line; the tabler declared that no amendment would be acceptable, and so the motion was passed 5 to 3 with 4 abstentions.

I have some thoughts in rough ascending order of generality.

Lazy economics cont. - with graphs!

Okay. In my last post I outlined my criticism of Christine Li's argument for cash transfers to the homeless. That's where the substantive action is. This is going to be a really dry post. Apart from my main criticisms, I observed while reading the article that the written argument presents things in a way which isn't consistent with how economic analysis - at the same basic level which I think is inapplicable to problems like these - works. So I'm going to go through and try correcting the errors within the method - whilst maintaining that the method just isn't appropriate to the question at hand.

Let's go!

Lazy economics

Or, how to assume your conclusion and pretend you have unique insight into policy.
Christine Li promises to explain the merits of different approaches to helping the homeless "using basic consumer theory". Warning bells should be going off. In general, using basic economic theory is a good way of oversimplifying issues and getting wrongheaded conclusions. But homelessness? It takes a special level of gall to think that basic consumer theory would shine any helpful new light on something as complex and difficult and pervasive as hundreds of thousands people forced to live on the streets. And unsurprisingly, there's no such insight.
You can read the post for yourself, because it's short and any gloss I wrote would be uncharitable. The conclusion, though, is that it might be more beneficial for homeless people to give them cash transfers than in-kind benefits. This is not necessarily a wrong conclusion. But the argument has massive problems.