Should government allow 25,000 cattle to starve or does it allow them to graze (until the next wet season) in protected nature reserves where they will certainly damage the natural environment? If this is an accurate way of posing the issues – I am unsure that the choices are as stark as this* – there is a real ethical dilemma. Economists tend to see these choices as involving choices at the margin whereas conservationists tend to emphasise the principle that nature reserves should be for nature. In addition, the decision to allow grazing creates a precedent for implementing the same actions in the future. In the link the RSPCA is listed as a pressure group favouring grazing – hardly surprising given their ambivalent attitudes towards nature and their attitudes toward the feral cats-type issues.
I reserve my judgment on the broad question posed – my biases are towards the views of the conservationists – but would be interested to learn the views of others. Crucial question: how damaging is the grazing? Should nature be assigned priority over human-raised animal populations?
* Is an alternative to cull the drought-endangered cattle? This would be the standard (and probably optimal) approach to drought were there no reserve-grazing options and the initial allocation of land between conservation and agricultural uses is not biased against agricultural interests. The sometimes-cited argument that cattle-grazing will remove combustible material in nature reserves is dubious. (137)
An excellent source of information on “Tobacco in Australia” is the website, with that title, that I have added to my blogroll under the heading “Science”. DP points out to me that one chapter deals with the “plain packaging” legislation – including a reference to a paper written by DP and myself. Worth a look and a great reference for those working in this area. (67)
Business groups oppose increased company taxes. Disabled citizens support the national disability scheme. Big miners oppose increased mining taxes. Unemployed demand an increase in work start benefits. Universities oppose cuts in university funding.Labor savages Coalition policies. Coalition targets Labor policies. Families oppose reduced childcare benefits. Schools support Gonski reforms. Graziers support grazing in native forests. Farmers demand drought relief and interest subsidies. Housing industry demand higher immigration quota. Trade unions oppose higher immigration. Tourism groups support lower Australian dollar. Registered clubs oppose moves to restrict access to pokies. Crown Casino executives decry our nanny state. Trade unions oppose increased salaries to corporate high fliers. Corporate high fliers criticize the “tall poppy” syndrome. Retailers oppose parallel imports.Retailers demand GST on imported products. Car industry says it will exit unless more public assistance provided. Business claims high wage costs are making it unviable. Trade unions see higher wages as driving productivity gains. Doctors support increased Medibank rebate. Super-funds support an increased superannuation levy. Property developers oppose environmental red tape. Doctors oppose measures to limit their charges.
I am not getting enough and you are getting too much.
The Commonwealth Budget to be presented tonight has been subject to more hysterical overreaction than any I can remember. The forecast deficit of $12b – $18b is around 1% of Australia’s GDP, Australian economic growth is forecast by the IMF to be around 3% in 2013 a slight slowdown from the previous year but forecast to accelerate to 3.3% in 2014. That is plenty of growth in the current world. The US fiscal deficit is around 5.5% of GDP with a median forecast growth rate again of around 3%.
Australian unemployment has edged up a bit to be currently 5.5% while in the US rate it has hit a 4-year low of 7.5%. Clearly unemployment in Australia remains a key concern particularly as we seem to be at the start of a period of sustained weak commodity prices. Larger volumes of mineral exports – even at lower prices – and a weakening Australian dollar should limit the potential for a severe contraction. Australia’s continued growth will continue to be fostered by Asian developments.
It is interesting that the most contentious part of the Budget is the Government’s insistence on maintaining the disability services scheme and the Gonski educational reforms. Yet these reforms seem to have bipartisan support from the Coalition parties. This might change when Tony Abbott is Prime Minister but the main reaction of ther opposition is to seek to stir up fear.
Should we be complacent about a small deficit? Partly this deficit reflects the unsustainable tax cut and handout policies of the Howard-Costello years. Times have changed and so too must budgeting. I am unconcerned about the deficit per se but am worriede a bit about the potential for the disability services scheme to explode over future years. The opposition should be pressing the Government on this and on the details of the Gonski reforms. Its not enough to throw a bit of emotional claptrap around about disabled people and spending more on schoolkids. Yes these are worthy causes but how exactly will the increased spending help? (331)
A group of barbarian hunters went on a rampage over the last few days and wiped out close to 1000 birds in a Victorian wetland. They didn’t hunt for a feed but to gain pleasure from killing. 600 ducks killed were left where they were shot. The killers also shot raptors, black swans and other avifauna. It was obviously a joyful bloodbath by this bunch of brainless psychopaths.
Responsibility for enforcing controls on hunting in Victoria has shifted from the Department of Sustainability and Environment to the pro-killing Game Victoria and Department of Primary Industry.* These groups were warned that a massacre was likely but took no action on the grounds of human resource shortages.
This is the same pro-killing government that seeks to open up our limited national parks to tourism development and to allow hunting of so-called ferals within parks. How will the latter policy be restricted to non-native species if those doing the hunting have the brain-dead character of the above-mentioned loonies.
I liked this claim by a hunter representative cited in the first link: “Field and Game Australia’s Rod Drew said protesters should be investigated over the incident. He said it could be more than just a coincidence that the slaughter happened on the year that duck protesters had been sitting for firearm and game licence tests. He said the protesters could have shot the ducks ”to bring the shooters into disrepute”. (My bold).
A more reasonable perspective is that the scumbag (so-called) hunters who went to this site got caught up in a bit of old-fashioned blood lust. A bit of senseless killing turns boys into men!
Much was made about the fact that 147 endangered Freckled ducks** were among the species killed. This type of reasoning is a form of anthropocentrism that sees losses to humans if certain species are put at risk. I am equally concerned with the other 850 destroyed birds irrespective of their rarity. I am also concerned that we continue as a society to see “hunting” (=killing defenseless animals) as a sport or a hobby rather than a mental disease.
*Pro-killing, yep I’ll stick with that. A quote from their website: “Victoria has some of the best game hunting opportunities in Australia. There are generous open seasons and bag limits for game deer, duck and quail and more than 8 million hectares of public land available for hunting. This site will help you make the most of these opportunities and ensure you hunt in a safe and lawful way.”
** Freckled ducks are a moderately rare duck species that often lives in the drier southern regions of Australia’s interior. When these regions dry out they migrate to coastal areas – that seems to be happening at present with many sightings occurring along the eastern seaboard. They have even been seen around suburban Sydney and Melbourne. The future of this species is mainly tied up with conservation of their limited habitat. (246)
Australian equity prices surged earlier this year, took a breather, then have recently surged again.
Greg Mankiw links to a (very comprehensive) survey suggesting US equity prices are cheap.
If that is so these RBA graphs suggest Australian equities remain cheap:
- since 1995 Aussie share prices have increased slower than the S&P but generally followed world trends.
- most share price growth has obviously been in the mining sector, other sectors have not done much since 2008 (exclude the banks from this claim)
- trailing and forward p/Es have converged toward world levels
- Aussie dividend yields are consistently higher than those in the rest-of-the-world.
I have long puzzled at the poor performance of the Aussie market since 2008 given the unusually good relative performance of the Australian economy. Mu guess is that the high Aussie dollar coupled with regressive expectations about commodity prices explain a bit of what has been happening. Foreign investors are worried about big capital losses if the dollar collapses as it might. But it is partly a case of focusing selectively on the bad news. My guess is that with the recent interest rate cuts and the likelihood that these will be repeated the Aussi dollar will settle quite a bit lower and our large mineral exporters, while experiencing reduced demands for their products will do OK. Retailers still face difficult times but there will be pressure on the extraordinary rentals they pay and eventually on their labour costs. (Labour costs need to fall in real terms throughout the economy and this adjustment will be a difficult one – with declining terms-of-trade our living standards are reduced). The current lower interest rates could lead to another boom-and-bust bubble through property market stupidities and if so some of the banks will look expensive at current prices. On the latter see also here. (225)
One of the ludicrous complaints about the so called “plain packaging” rules on cigarettes it that they make it harder to select a sought-after brand in a shop. That can only be true if the shop-assistant is illiterate. The brand and brand variety is indicated clearly on the front as well as top and base of the cigarette packet. There is also a scanning code on one side that determines ID.
The description “plain packaging” is misleading because most of the packet is taken up with health warnings. These are accurate statements of fact such as “Smoking Harms Unborn Babies” along with a picture of an underweight and obviously ill new born. The factually-accurate statement that smoking reduces brain size in newly-born infants is also provided.
Meanwhile a marketing expert (who doubles as a Senior IPA member) reports with glee at Catallaxy that Cuba has attacked the “plain packaging” legislation. The markets in legal carcinogen provision might yet be restored to their former glory. Pictures of a robust cowboy riding through Malboro Country* would presumably provide better and more informative labelling and help immunize the community against the pernicious influence of the nanny state.
* Of course one must be careful here. Three of the Marlboro Cowboy’s died from lung cancer - one of them testified against Philip Morris and Malboro cigarettes became widely known as the “Cowboy Killers”. Probably better to pick a cowboy who wasn’t killed by lung cancer. (412)
Conservatives have long linked Keynes’ economic theories to his claimed homosexuality. But Keynes was was one these reasonable people who didn’t like to see people suffer unnecessarily.
Keynes endorsed love. Quote:
“John Maynard Keynes was the sexiest economist who ever lived. This might seem like half-hearted praise since in our mind’s eye the typical economist appears as a dowdy and almost always balding man, full of prudential advice about thrift and the miracle of compound interest. Keynes, with his caterpillar moustache and mesmerizing bedroom eyes, cut a more dashing figure.
He had many lovers of both genders, and was married to one of the great beauties of the age, the ballerina Lydia Lopokova. His genius at playing the stock market allowed him to enjoy the life of bon vivant, socializing with the writers and artists of the Bloomsbury group such as Virginia Woolf and E.M. Forster rather than dull number crunchers he knew at Cambridge and in the British Treasury. While other economists focused on maximizing economic growth, Keynes wanted to go further and maximize the pleasures of life”.
HT: Sir Henry
Update: Robert Skidelsky on Ferguson and on Keynes’ view of the future.
The images coming out of Egypt of Australian cattle being tortured by some* dehumanised cretins demand that the live export of animals for food to that country end. Why is it Animals Australia that always uncovers these hideous outcomes? Why not the official inspection agencies? How can anyone have confidence in Minister Ludwig’s claim that 99.9% of animals are humanely slaughtered?
End the live export trade now.
* Other workers (and a veterinarian) were so appalled by the behaviour that they enabled the footage to be taken and smuggled it out of the abattoir. (347)
I’ll only be mildly interested in Racing NSW’s inquiry into the Waterhouse clan – Singleton spat. Racing isn’t the sport of kings. Its a business that seeks to fleece the pockets of working people who should know better. Apart from the profit margin that accrues to the bookies there are information rents that accrue to those in the know. Gai Waterhouse trains many leading horses and knows, as well as anyone, their condition. She would have much better information about the status of a horse than the hundreds of thousands of mug punters that bet each week on the horses. Gai’s son is a bookie who receives huge bets on the horses and, according to his own statements, places bets worth hundreds of thousands of dollars on single races. it is quite clear to me that there is no credible basis at all for believing that Gai Waterhouse would ever discuss with her son the condition of the horses she trains. This would be unethical.
But ad men, brothel owners, ex jockeys and rugby league stars assert that information was, in fact, transferred. These pillars of modern Australian society will have their chance to present their viewpoints before this inquiry. It would be a sad day if this thriving industry which does so much to increase our GDP suffered as a consequence of patently outrageous claims. The gambling suicides, the destroyed families and the hopeless illusions of creating wealth that are held by thousands of punters are a small price to pay for respecting consumer sovereignty. Neither will the media chiefs be enthusiastic about cutting gambling advertising during sporting events – this advertising provides crucial information to Australian consumers and helps them expand their consumption sets to include the purchase of excitment and adrenalin rushes.
I am confident that the scrupulous standards of the Australian racing industry will be rigorously enforced by this inquiry. My mates “Ian”, “Lance” and “Peter” will head off to their local pub-cum-TAB agency next week confident that when they place their bets they will be experiencing no informational disadvantages whatsoever. For them its a chance for the “little bloke” to make a few bob and it provides the basis for ongoing conversations that go beyond footie scores. Amid the strench of stale beer smells and congested urinals they will participate, once again, in what they see as the joyful sport of kings.
Update: I liked this piece in The Age – “punting on the horses is for losers – unless you have inside knowledge”. The nice point made about the Singleton-Waterhouse spat is that this concerns whether the trainer told her bookie son about Singleton horse being a bad bet or not. Singleton knew it was a bad bet and so did all the insiders here. The mug punters of course did not. Who gives a crap about them anyway? (354)
Australia has recently experienced what is possibly the worst drought in its history – the so-called Millennium Drought from 1997-2009. This ended with record rainfall around the country but now, apparently, drought is occurring again across large parts of the country - primarily in the south of the country. The Gillard government has stepped in with a low interest, 20 year loans to help drought-affected farmers but, to some, that isn’t enough. Farmer organizations want straight cash handouts without obligation.
The amounts of money involved are not enormous though one wonders at their rationale – beyond buying a few fairly irrelevant* votes for Labor. What farmers in Australia seem to define as “drought” often reflects the normal cycle of weather conditions. Droughts are not “exceptional circumstances” that farmers could not possibly see – they are recurrent events every few years. Farmers themselves are not ignorant of such cycles since they have just lived through a terrible drought and droughts (and “flooding rains”) are part of Australian rural life. Of course the prospect of drought must be factored into farmer production decisions and to the prospect of possibly exiting an industry where farmers are not viable. This is the same market-based discipline that applies to any sector of the economy.
Cutting back stock sizes is occurring and is an important part of the response to drought. Environmentally this reduces the impact of drought on vegetative cover and hence environmental destruction. Issuing low interest loans, apart from being economically unjustified, thwarts this process of de-stocking, prevents the exit of farmers opeating in vulnerable areas and leaves non-viable farmers buying feed to sustain environmentally unsustainable stock sizes.
This is terrible policy that discourages the helpful operation of market forces and which is environmentally damaging.
* Labor will be slaughtered at the forthcoming Federal election. It’s time to act on principle on such issues. The few cvotes purchased from disgruntled farmers won’t help much. (259)
What animals should be assigned moral status? Some (like Peter Singer) draw the lines at crustaceans and shrimp? What about octopuses (octopi?) These creatures have remarkable intelligences including the ability to change their colour to suit their environment. They also have remarkable straightforward reasoning power in anthropocentric terms.
I liked this piece in the NY Review of Books. I thought it was going to be offbeat and humorous. It isn’t – it is a good read but it also has serious ethical intent. Simply put: We should not take a narrow anthropocentric view of the world when it comes to attaching moral consideration to non-human life. Humans don’t have it all.
On my local golf course a year or so ago I noticed a three metre high tree with bright yellow flowers that, after some weeks, were followed by attractively marked fruit. I broke a small piece off and asked a few knowledgeable locals what it was but no one knew. Finally I took the piece to the Kuranga Native Plant Nursery at Mount Evelyn on the outskirts of Melbourne for an ID. They told me it was a type of Geebung namely Persoonia linearis (image here) that is native to NSW and Victoria. It is not that uncommon – and relatively easy to cultivate – but very difficult to propagate from seed or cuttings. Kuranga didn’t have one available at the time so I put one on order and, after more than a year, Kuranga sent me a note saying they had it. A long chase but I got it over the weekend.
Kuranga is well worth a visit if only to see the vast array of native Australian plants on display there. Staff there are friendly and helpful. I always buy far more than is sensible. They had some Persoonia pinifolia for sale that, according to my native plant bible (Wrigley & Fagg) are the most handsome of all the Geebungs – take a look at these. Yes, I’ll try those too.
For some reason (????) the euphonically named Geebungs are called snotty gobbles in South Australia and the NT. (282)
The tax on long-term parking spots in Melbourne is to be substantially increased but, more importantly, the levy is to be extended to short-term parking. Since the levy is intended to be an anti-congestion device it was really more important to tackle short-term parking than long-term parking since many short-term journeys to a parking spot contribute more to congestion than one long-term journey.
Now, get even smarter on parking. Utilise available applications that can be downloaded onto your mobile phone that shows where the vacant parking spots are in Melbourne (or any large congested city) to eliminate all congestion related to searching for a parking spot. Allow people to park wherever they want (provided it is a legal parking spot) for as long as they want provided they pay the market-clearing parking charge. Make charges payable (and extendable) from your mobile phone to reduce silly inconvenience costs on commuters. This means that in any street location, following the Donald Shoup rule, 15% of spots will remain vacant on average to allow movements in or out of spots. Adjust the number of spots to keep traffic relatively uncontested. Eliminate pricing diffferentials between on and off-street parking.
For various reasons parking charges are an imperfect substitute for congestion charges (they only cover traffic terminating at a destination, not through traffic) but they are much more politically acceptable than parking charges. Once congestion charges are introduced the taxes on parking should be abolished but, again, parking charges should clear the market for parking and all time limits on parking should be abolished. (337)
There were 50,000 people at the ANZAC Day March in Melbourne today. I checked that when I first made a post on ANZAC Day in 2006 there were 30,000 in attendance. ANZAC Day is an occasion that has proven resilient even as we move further away from the event in time. For me its a day when I think of my dad – he died 38 years ago and was a long-serving World War II veteran. He always celebrated ANZAC Day when we lived in Sydney as an occasion where he met up with old service friends. He thought the main message of this day was the terrible nature of war. He had no romantic illusions about war and lived the effects of his war time experience for the rest of his life.
The popularity of ANZAC Day, particularly among the young, is worth comment. It could be that the family ties are crucial in this but I suspect that in a materialistic, secular society it is also related to a deeply felt search for meaning and significance. Even if the focus is not entirely accurate the ethic of “dying for one’s country” as the ultimate self-sacrifice is a virtuous ideal. We are short of even remotely comparable ideals these days. (322)
I feel dislocated from much contemporary macroeconomics because I think much of it is measurement without theory. There are not credible theoretical stories to unambiguously back up many modern macroeconomic claims. Reinhart and Rogoff two of the big name deficit-hawks in macroeconomics got a huge amount of macroeconomic data covering many countries – emerging and developed – and argued that when public debt/GDP ratios were less than 90% there was not much relation between such ratios and economic growth rates but that when the ratio exceeded 90% economic growth fell by 1%. That turns out to be a lot if the growth differential is sustained for a couple of decades. The implication is that economies with lots of public debt grow more slowly.
Unfortunately they made a coding error in their analysis and this mistake led to the wrong conclusion – in fact, with the corrected data, growth persists with high debt levels contrary to their claims. They admitted the error but claimed that their conclusion was sound anyway and a controversy has developed about this. The controversy doesn’t interest me much and I certainly don’t condemn them for making an error – I have done that a few times myself and it is embarrassing but probably unavoidable. Peer review and close reading of papers, checking of calculations and so on should minimise the chance that an unsupported conclusion will work and, in this case, that is what has happened.
The basic economics here should be thought through in microeconomic terms. If governments use debt to make wise investments in infrastructure where relatively large social returns arise compared to the returns in the private sector then incurring public debt is a good idea. If the funds are unwisely spent in these terms it isn’t a good idea. Setting up an arbitrary level of debt/GDP as a maximum desired level of debt doesn’t make much a priori sense. Macroeconomists will object that I have omitted important concerns such as “crowding out”, “inter-temporal shifts” in tax burdens and impacts of public investment on private investor confidence. I don’t see how this affects the basic judgment being made here particularly if the public investments are long-lived infrastructure investments that boost the social productivity of the economy longer term.
Implementing this simple view isn’t easy. Treasuries need to have some good economists involved in assessing projects but one advantage they have is that they can search for projects that the private sector will overlook – projects where social returns are high but private returns are much lower. But prescribing absolute debt limits is foolish if there are plenty of good public projects out there to fund. For example, in the US roads and bridges, airports and so on around the country are often in a poor state of repair, Upgrading them makes a lot of sense since the social returns are high (people will be more productive and wealthy and should be willing to pay extra taxes if necessary*) and borrowing costs at present are at record lows. Forget the macroeconomics and concentrate on the basic economics of project selection.
* I owe this observation to a fascinating conversation with MC. This might not be politically straightforward but it is in fact logically straightforward. Technologies which do improve the quality of life substantially should be willingly paid via increased taxes for even if their private returns are low. (466)
I agree with The Australian’s editorial (for once). We don’t want immigrants or those entering Australia via the refugee and humanitarian program to be people who despise our democracy, our legal system and our tolerant society. It is reasonable to be totally intolerant towards their intolerance. Of course we don’t want those fanatics who will harm us with bombs but nor do we want bigots who do not appreciate the value of living in a pluralist democracy with religious tolerance. It is a serious issue, we have too much to lose and, as ASIO suggest, have already lost by allowing foolish liberalism to drive our migration and refugee intakes.
Look at the foolish pleading in that last link. It is dressed up as a news story but uses language that suggests, without any evidence, that ASIO is lying. It seeks to make a mockery of what is sensible caution.
Update: the left-wing commentariat have identified the source of the difficulty in Boston. It is the “NRA” (Bob Ellis), or “young men” (Andrew O’Keefe) or independent local terrorists (Waleed Aly). Has any likely aggressive group been left out? I don’t think so – nothing I could think of.
Moreover, Aly congratulates us for “maturity” in our attitudes toward terrorist killings. The problem outside Boston? Well that is racial and religious stereotyping and Aly says we are growing-up and not doing that much anymore. Thanks Aly. We all appreciate well-crafted apologetics that deflects attention from inconvenient concerns.
If I hold my hand out do I see 5 fingers? (567)
The bombings set off to coincide with the end of the Boston marathon killed 3 (an 8 year old boy one of the dead) and left many with horrific injuries and trauma. I feel depressed with the world. Continue reading Terrorists targeting marathoners (499)
I am watching the finale to the US Masters with Australia’s Adam Scott having sunk a sensational 3 metre putt on the 18th hole to go 9 under and the Argentinian Angel Cabrera matching this with a sensational approach shot to within 30 cm which he holed to also go 9 under. They have moved to the 18th tee for a playoff. Jason Day finished third after leading the match during the second nine. At 25 years of age he is golf’s wonder boy. A sensational performance – he obviously has a tremendous future. And Mark Leishman from country Victoria came next alongside Tiger Woods. He led the tournament early on and likewise has a sensational future. Continue reading US Masters 2013 Aussi triumph? Yes, Aussi triumph! (376)
Spending more on schools is fine but achieving this by cutting university funding seems unwise. Academic activities in most universities are currently under huge budgetary pressure because of the vast investment of the universities in bureaucracy – teaching and education officers who know nothing, Deputy VCs, Deputy Deans, Assistant Deputies etc etc etc. The universities would be more productive if such people were withdrawn. Million dollar salaries paid to VCs who administer organisations funded from the public purse (not private corporations) are unwarranted. Nor do Deans need to be paid half-million dollar salaries. Continue reading Inept education policies (647)