Living in this fascinating country had lead me to focus on their current election. The communist insurgency ended in 2008 but there really hasn’t been effective government in Nepal since that time. There are signs that the election held a few weeks ago may have ended this nightmare. A coalition between the pro-India Congress Party and the centrist Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) seems plausible with the troublesome Maoists reduced to a tiny – though still influential – rump. The Maoists are lamely calling the elections a fraud and claiming that instead of an electeds parliament a consensus group reflecting the interests of all parties should vote on a new constitution. The arithmetic of the final vote count is important – a 2/3 majority of the new parliament must approve the new constitution. A hopeful sign is that the Maoists have agreed to participate in the new parliament “subject to conditions”.
This country needs strong central government. The road, public transport and energy sectors need massive coordinated investment. Not even the weakest argument for a libertarian free-for-all here. The externalities and lack of planning are obvious everywhere. (88)
Australian fertility rates of around 1.88 babies per woman are quite high by developed country standards but still well below replacement fertility which many claim is around 2.1. Thus Australia could achieve ZPG simply by controlling the migration intake. The intake would still be non-negligible because Australia exports many residents each year who seek to return to their country of origin. The building industry claim that we need high rates of immigration to boost private investment in housing but this has always seemed to me to be a “tail wagging the dog” policy – housing investment should not be needed to keep the economy afloat. Housing should provide a place to live. The resources devoted to housing could instead be directed to education, leisure, improving the stock of existing housing and helping to deal with a population of existing people who will live longer. Continue reading Targeting ZPG (186)
I switched to Mac computers a few years back after ingesting some “gateway drugs” – the IPhone and the IPad started me down this terrible road. An additional factor was virus infections – I picked up a corker at University of Melbourne and another at Peking University using Windows machines. The latter could have ruined my 6 month stay in China – fortunately I had triplicated copies of the lectures I had to give there. I now have Macs everywhere – IMacs at home and work and a Macbook Pro that I am writing this on etc.
Currently being forced to work on cranky, inconvenient Windows machines I am so happy I made the switch. My Macbook Pro has taken over from the massive Dell desk-top Window machine that sits in front of me. My lovely Macbook Pro delivers the goods even in an environment where almost no-one else uses them – instantaneous internet connections and no hassles. (77)
I am unhappy with the recent forecasts of population doubling for Australia by 2100. Not with the forecasts themselves but with the fact that the forecasters have “sniffed the wind” correctly and sense that the Australian mania for continued population expansion will keep running until, presumably, we experience the diseconomies that such growth makes inevitable. I am uninterested in being the richest nation on earth if that means I have to live in an overcrowded, congested rubbish dump. Continue reading Unnecessary population pressures (165)
Or, at least, giving your body a good workout in 7 minutes. Fitness presumably means sustaining this program. I do a simple set of flexibility exercises that takes 10 minutes each day – this is much more challenging regime (if done quickly it looks hard) but I’ll give it a try. Requires no more equipment than a wall and a durable chair. Convenient for the office, staying in hotels etc
HT Andreas Ortmann
Staying in Nepal I am witnessing first-hand the consequences of a Hobbesian breakdown in a national political consensus. To quickly recall history: A bloody Maoist led insurgency ended in Nepal in 2006 and in 2008 elections were held which the insurgents participated in. The resulting government was disfunctional and was unable to put together a new national constitution for the new republic – the monarchy was abolished in 2008. Appointees from the various parties eventually formed an administrative council which ruled the country ineffectively. New elections were held last Tuesday involving the moderate communists, the Unified Marxist-Leninist Party (known as the “cashists” on account of the extreme personal wealth of their leaders), the extremist United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and the conservative Nepali Congress Party. Another ultra- extremist party, the Communist Party of Nepal – Maoist (known even in Nepal as the “dashists”) boycotted the election and called a 10-day strike in the leadup to it. This “dashists” are violent and dangerous – a few motorists were burned alive for defying the strike and driving their cars during this period. (The right to prevent the election was described as exercising “democatic rights” by this party’s leader, Mr. M Baidsya, who said that those burned were “committing suicide rather than being victims of terrorism”).
The election has been held and so far the Nepali Congress and the moderate communists seem to be picking up the overwhelming majority of votes. Predictably the UCPN is crying “foul” – the elections have allegedly been rigged by local and foreign manipulators! There were many local and international observers (including ex-US President Carter) who dispute this. The election seems to be fair with a high voter turnout and an overwhelming rejection of extremism.
The UCPN is now talking of re-joining the violent “dashists” who boycotted the elections and of “going to war”. This aggressive effort won’t succeed but would cause major problems for Nepal. Nepal remains one of the poorest countries in the world. It does need a fairly strong central government but, more than that, it needs a commitment to accept the outcome of the democratic process. John Locke needs to replace Hobbes. (252)
At least our PM says he does. From Crikey.com:
“…the Prime Minister stated “my government deplores the use of torture but we accept that sometimes in difficult circumstances difficult things happen”.
Australia does not merely “deplore” torture. We are a signatory to the Convention Against Torture, which states that no circumstances justify torture; the official position of the Australian government is that the prohibition on torture is an absolute right. “No circumstance justifies a qualification or limitation of absolute rights. Absolute rights cannot be suspended or restricted, even during a declared state of emergency.” Continue reading Daft (& evil) Coalition policy 9: Abbott’s support of torture (377)
Posting will probably be intermittent for a while as I am visiting the Asian Institute of Technology and Management in Katmandu Nepal. Its a fascinating visit that I am thoroughly enjoying. Continue reading Nepal visit (294)
Goodbye Kevin you waste of space. You are a limited human being who never had any grasp of his own personal limitations. You were a disastrous PM and spent most of the rest of your stay in politics facilitating the election of a feeble conservative Coalition government in Australia. Your existence disadvantaged Australia. (339)
The libertarians are citing a Daily Telegraph article that claims to show that high taxes and plain packaging are increasing tobacco consumption and the size of the illegal tobacco market. The basis of this newspaper report is, in turn, a KPMG report written for the tobacco companies. KPMG are trying to demonstrate that tobacco producers are “socially responsible” who seek to defend the government’s tax coffers and to stop citizens from smoking.
I’d prefer to describe them as mass murderers who have killed 40 million people over the past decade. Its a more accurate labelling.
The libertarians support big tobacco by promoting the central marketing line of big tobacco – smoking is an issue of “freedom of choice”. The IPA that, in the past at least, has received funding from tobacco companies is concerned about plain packaging as a violation of property rights. Again this is a central claim of big tobacco.
Of course the incentives are to substitute illegal tobacco for legal tobacco as the price of the latter increases. The issue is by how much. The answer given depends on the estimated size of the illegal market and there isn’t much data on this. One certainly does not want these important issues analysed by those who are employed by these merchants of death.
KPMG wrote an earlier report on plain packaging (that was criticized in a paper I wrote with David Prentice). The latest report (as well as the former report) seems unavailable (I couldn’t find them on the local KPMG website) but my hypothesis is that the estimated figure for illegal tobacco sales (based on a survey of discarded packets) is not an underestimate.
Very high estimates of usage – illegal KPMG claim 13.3% of the total market – seem implausible given the bulky low relative value character of chop-chop (illegal tobacco) and hence its comparatively high detectability.
The plain packaging moves don’t seem directly linked to the issue of illegal sales since plain packaging can be “plain” but still difficult to imitate.
Of course this type of research should be implemented by groups independent of the industry who benefits from lower taxes and the brand differentiation that stems from differentiated packaging.
*The libertarians are linked to the IPA, the Catallaxy blog and the rat-bag US Heartland Institute as can be seen from their Australian website. (439)
I haven’t read the report in detail – it isn’t that long but I’ve been caught up in other things – but Allen Consulting (acting for the Federal Chamber of Automobile Industries, FCAI) claim that, for $500m in government assistance, the automotive assembly industry “makes” the Australian economy $21.5b “larger”. Indeed not just “larger” but better-off in “welfare” terms. This word is used in the report conclusion – normally in economics this means consumer plus producer surplus but that is difficult to understand since producer surplus is evidently low and whatever there is would be largely transferred abroad and consumer surplus impacts would be negative given the higher resulting prices from such assistance. To these must be added the $500m cost of the assistance itself.
The Centre of Policy Studies (COPS) at Monash University did the modelling for this report that generated this conclusion.
I don’t believe that on any reasonable interpretation this conclusion can be correct. The FCAI commissioned the report, Allen Consulting implemented it apparently using the technical services of COPS. In my view all these groups bear moral responsibility for the substance of this report. Its a “many hands” ethical problem but in my view all of these groups are involved in these conclusions. The most surprising involvement is that of COPS who has some very good economists on its team. My guess that COPS will say they are mere technicians who didn’t write the actual report but I wouldn’t accept this view if they did state it. Perhaps they do agree with the conclusions of the report and are not embarrassed to admit that. I checked the COPS website and couldn’t see any reports related to this one there so it is difficult to judge.
I’d be embarrassed myself if such conclusions went into the public arena with my name even indirectly attached to them. These conclusions will impact on policy debates and, in my view, the impact will be a bad one either for the issue of motor assembly protection or for the reputations of those involved in producing this report.
Update: I received the following in an email from Dr Glyn Wittwer who was the modeller in charge at COPS:
“At one level, I agree entirely with your sentiment of embarrassment – what I heard on AM on ABC (4/11/2013) was an embarrassing misrepresentation of the modelling. Yet what was written in the Fin Review that day was quite sensible. It was unfortunate that in the radio interview I heard that morning, the NPV calculation was made to sound like some sort of annual loss, which it is not.In a dynamic model, we don’t have adjustment without tears. This scenario was a sudden closure of Australia’s car industry. How plausible is that? Do you think Woolworths would go down in sympathy with Coles if the latter closed? Yet this is what we assumed, that somehow, not one but both remaining manufacturers would flee the country if the subsidies stopped. Maybe that is the case when a business is not profitable. I would have thought that the remaining company might find it relatively profitable to stay if a competitor left.
The hole left in the economy in the modelling has two sources. First, it takes a several years for the weakened labour market to adjust through falling real wages relative to base, so there are some GDP losses until baseline employment is restored. The bigger loss is a terms of trade loss. In the adjustment process, Australia switches to exports. In our pen-and-paper models, we often assume that a small country has perfectly elastic export demands. Talk to any exporter anywhere in the real world, and they find this assumption perfectly silly. So, as export volumes increase, export prices decrease in our CGE models, resulting in a terms of trade decline. In the worst years in the car modelling, this was around $3-$4 billion or less than 0.5% of aggregate public and private consumption.
Another thing we learn in dynamic modelling is that the scenario is conditional on the baseline. I believe the scenario under the following conditions: the Australian dollar soars, rendering this import competing sector less competitive. Then the car industry closes, and after that, mining investment slows right down. So there is no car industry left just as the dollar weakens which would make the industry more competitive again. Workers are leaving mining in droves, and there’s a diminished manufacturing sector to absorb them. Here I could launch into a paragraph on temporary subsidies, but you and I know that most temporary subsidies are more or less permanent”.
(Preliminary thoughts. Comments welcome).
I don’t know the exact answer to this but who could? We should give something on the basis of deontology (Kant’s ”helping a stranger” problem – the imperative is to give at least a “little” where “little” is defined as that amount that creates “low” costs to us). This sets a lower bound. Would most of us suffer if our incomes fell by 3 cents in the dollar. If not then the transfer should be at least 3% of GDP. But I cannot agree with extreme utilitarianism that insists in equalising incomes across countries even if preferences are identical. I am persuaded by the contractualist arguments of T.M. Scanlon that giving away all your income, so that you yourself become poor, is not obligatory ethically. Thus the upper bound is certainly something less than the equalising redistribution. More precisely it is the amount that you could give that recipients could not reasonably object to as being too small. Thus you propose to the poor people you are giving income to that you will give some assistance but something less than the amount that would make you become as poor as they are. Scanlon claims (and I agree) that the poor could not reasonably reject this argument. Suppose I earn $100,000 and a poor person that I am making a transfer too earns $1000. If I give them $49,500 then incomes will be equalised and I think that excessively egalitarian. Suppose I instead give* $5000, $10,000, $20,000, $30,000 etc. What is the minimum amount that I could give them that they could not reasonably complain about? The answer to this is the required transfer and my roost reasonable guess is something of the order of $5000-$10,000 implying that the aid budget should be less than 10% of GDP.
I certainly don’t agree with the care ethics position that charity begins at home although I do acknowledge that we have special ethical responsibilities to those close to us on the basis of obligations/duties/affinities. We also need, of course, to address issues of domestic poverty for the same sorts of reasons. But we also have more abstract moral duties to anonymous non-Australian humanity who, even though they are anonymous, suffer and feel pleasure as much as we do.
Generally though I am left in limbo as to the size of the transfer – it has to be positive but not be so large that it comprises almost everything you have got.
All that said I’ll make the claim that Australia is giving less than it should and that the stingy Coalition are worse in this respect than stingy Labor. We need to give more than we do and could do so at negligible cost to ourselves. I tire of hearing how “tough’ economic conditions in Australia are. The claim is a purposeful exaggeration designed to rationalise national stinginess and shows how deluded and self-obsessed we have become as a nation. The statistical picture painted in this Age article supports my view. Private contributions should fill in some of the public offerings but, in a nation of stingy people, they cannot adequately replace them. Please read this article.
* The “give” here needs to be interpreted liberally as some kind of transfer that provides some sort of greater equality – for example equality of opportunity at birth.
Killing the leader of the Pakistani Taliban the day before talks between the Taliban and the Government of Pakistan were due to commence might not have been a sensible move. As leader of the Taliban HM was responsible for thousands of innocent lives being lost – most of them Muslims. In that sense his death might provide some individual justice although not much since the misguided fanatics in the Taliban believe that martyrdom consequent to death is a reward assigned even to those who kill their fellow country people – a reward that is more beneficial than life itself. Moreover, many in Pakistan saw his death as the death of a Muslim brother by an evil infidel America. This is a tough argument for me to accept given the way he has slaughtered his own people but that is how many Pakistanis apparently see it.
Mehsud will presumably be quickly replaced. Not killing him might have created some hope for progress in talks with the Taliban. Presumably not much hope would be generated here since the Taliban’s demands seem inflexible and designed to institute an more extremist Islamic state in Pakistan. One can never be certain of this given pessimistic assessment the propensity for the Taliban to posture in the media. But on balance the talks offered some hope while killing him offers even less since the armed struggle all definitely continue in this case with thousands more lives being lost.
The timing of the killing suggests that the US was trying to prevent the talks. Do they believe they can win this conflict? Would the talks have worsened what is a terrible situation? (312)
This article raises questions related to those in a recent post of mine. Picture quality in low level DSLRs and in Smartphones. mirror-less cameras is getting so good that the demand for higher end products and quality lenses is disappearing. Users want good software not good hardware. I’ll follow this argument and come back to it. The megapixel war will undoubtedly continue but it is irrelevant when most people want convenient high quality photographs that they can post on Facebook. (234)
Crikey gets it right on the reasons for the venomous attacks by News Corp on the ABC – they are placing their news and TV program content behind paywalls and face competition from a better-quality ABC news and entertainment service. Of course News Corp’s commercial interests are particularly exposed because its stable of newspapers have become trash right-wing blog-sites. News Corp supported the Coalition during the recent election campaign through its trash Bolt-Ergas-Sloan commentary and editorial team. Now it is payback time. If the Coalition give in to the News Corp demands and privatise or defund the ABC then freedom of expression and a decent news service will be almost wiped out in Australia. Only the troubled Fairfax press will remain.
This is a big issue that threatens basic Australian freedoms and access to key information and quality entertainment.
Continue reading New Corp’s attack on the ABC (833)
Prior to the recent Federal election Tony Abbott bragged of his extended personal experience and readiness to assume power. He is revealing himself to be a total clot by slagging the former Australian Government while visiting the US. His combative rhetoric could, at worst, damage US-Australian links but will never be a positive. At best the US will be cautious in dealing with a loud-mouth. Tony you are not telling opportunistic lies in Australia now (re climate, the dire debt situation, daft mining tax and carbon pricing attitudes). You are dealing with a foreign government which will have working and personal relationships with members of the former Australian government. Not helping Australia at all. (220)
Now Greg Hunt has joined the PM Abbott with comments on bush fires. It is true that the current fires in NSW cannot be unambiguously linked to climate change but there is research suggesting climate change increases both the variability of climate and possibilities of extreme weather. For example, the intensity and length of El Nino events will be strengthened by heating. How long should we wait until the evidence proves conclusive before acting? The events under discussion are comparatively rare so should we wait until 2200? Its the same argument as that for droughts – really catastrophic droughts are rare events and it will take centuries to pin down exact relationships because the events are so rare.
By the way, checking on the Wikipedia site Greg Hunt consulted I find no records of severe bush fires before November in any calendar year back to 1851 and only 2 occurred in November. The implication is that extreme hot periods have shifted earlier in the year so that peak periods of high temperatures will be lengthened. The current October experience of extreme bush-fires in NSW is decidedly atypical but consistent with the expectation that 2013 will be again a record hot year. That’s a reasonable punt given trends so far this year. Prior to 2013 the 10 warmest years since 1901 are 2012, 2010, 2009, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 1998. It is scary though doubtless the Catallaxy/IPA clots will bleat that there is no evidence temperatures have increased since 1998.
The environmental vandals in the Coalition and their sleazy scumbag cheer squad who support the Bolt/Moncton brand of climate denialism are playing dangerous games with the lives of our children and grandchildren. Words cannot express the extent of my disapproval towards these phonies. The Coalition will, in time, come to be viewed as one of the most irresponsible Governments in Australian history. They have backed themselves into a corner with their foolish views on climate change and now, rather than admit the manifest error in their claims, have embarked on a campaign of deliberate ongoing lies.
This is a policy issue because it rationalises daft policies in Australia and encourages inaction by other countries. It also provides a support base for one of the weakest Coalition Ministers Greg Hunt.
Update: This link to the SMH makes many of the points I made above. It also suggests that Greg Hunt is indeed one of the Government’s weakest ministers. Mark Latham today in the AFR has an accurate portrayal of Andrew Bolt. Authoritarian, stupid and invariably wrong. Predictably Moranic response from the IPA that makes the obvious point mentioned above – no a definite link cannot be claimed nor is it. Wait and see…. (898)
I’ve just purchased the Canon 5D DSLR and the Canon 24-70 mm L lens. The quality of the photographs I am taking is as good as I have ever done but for this money that’s what you would almost insist on. Well-known camera critic and 5D aficionado* Ken Rockwell claims that, in terms of resolution, the 5D plus 24-70 mm lens is identical to a much cheaper camera kit from Canon costing less than $700. He provides test results to confirm this. I am certainly interested in these claims and maybe even a little concerned. The additional advantage of the cheaper camera setup is that it is also much easier to get around with.
Modern cameras seem to be adding unnecessary megapixels – the rumour is that a 75 MP version of the Canon 1D is about to be released. Some of the smaller “mirrorless” cameras (although hardly cheap at around $3000) are now even being used by professional photographers. They are also exceptionally light and easy to handle.
I’d be interested in observations from readers who follow these issues more closely than I do. Are cheap good cameras undermining the market for expensive good ones?
* Rockwell claims the 5D is the world’s best camera. Note he retains his 5D despite his observations. Why? (410)
This YouTube shows why. It isn’t fashionable or smart to use coffee beans that have been passed through the arse end of a civet. It promotes cruelty to the animals.
So too is eating civet – in China they are considered a delicacy that strengthens sex organs. Ancient Chinese medicine or ancient baloney?
Mother nature may be getting its own back here – civets may be the origin of SARS. (545)
Recently I’ve taken greater interest in using Facebook than I have in the past. Its a nice way of keeping up with the conversation of life. If you do read this blog, and are reasonably active on Facebook, please join me by searching for me from your Facebook home page.
I’ll definitely continue with this blog – which now enters its 7th year*. But sometimes a quick response or an immediate bit of fun is what I feel like doing and for that Facebook is ideal. Sometimes, too, I don’t want to necessarily direct the conversation but rather listen. (507)