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Amartya Sen on food shortages

Amartya Sen argues that droughts such as that being experienced in Australia, high economic growth in some developing countries as well as the diversion of grains into biofuelds servicing the needs of the wealthy has created a surge in the demand for foods that has driven up food prices and endangered the world’s poor.

Its […]

Park & ride dilemmas

An apparently obvious way of dealing with traffic congestion in a city such as Melbourne is to drive your car to the nearest train station and catch the train to your destination. It is a great theory but the hitch is that parking places near train stations are becoming exhausted and the cost of constructing […]

Regulating pharmaceutical monopolies

Joshua Gans has a good post on the Australian Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). The scheme uses the bargaining power of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) that derives from its ability to ‘list’ drugs eligible for government subsidies to curb the price demands of monopolistic pharmaceutical producers. Unless drugs are ‘listed’ (and supplied at a […]

Congestion taxes to encourage selectivity in car use

In an interview I gave on Friday for the Today Tonight show on traffic congestion I was asked a very standard question. ‘Won’t congestion pricing have particularly adverse effects on low income travellers and mainly benefit the rich?’

I have been asked this question countless times over the years in relation to a various taxes […]

Agenda online

I have been a long-standing supporter of the ANU-published applied economics and social commentary journal Agenda. It provides a clearly-written account of many contemporary Australian economic problems without a lot of irrelevant technical clutter. In the early days it was edited by the very capable Michael James and subsequently by colleagues Robert Albon and Franco […]

Celibate soldiers?

I am stunned by the media interest in whether soldiers had sexual intercourse with a visiting female entertainer. It seems that she did not but even if she did who cares?

Why would such sexual intercourse be a ‘scandal’ even if it did occur? Are soldiers intended (or ordered) to remain celibate while on duty? […]

China’s environment

As I have posted before the environmental situation in China is currently very bad. China burns 1/3 of the world’s coal and a recent report estimated that 750,000 people per year die through the effects of pollution in China. China is already the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions – a leadership role that […]

Do higher cigarette prices make smokers better off?

Economists have long searched for goods they can tax which impose no deadweight losses (DWLs) on society. Henry George supposed that assets like land which are in fixed supply can be taxed without social costs since customer demands will not change and supply will not change – the only effect of a tax on rents […]

Paul Mees exits the University of Melbourne

The decision of the University of Melbourne to demote Dr. Paul Mees after he publicly criticised a State Government Department report concerning the privatisation of transport in Victoria needs careful community scrutiny. The comments that Paul Mees made seem to be intemperate but perhaps should have been criticised on these grounds. There is no indication […]

Liberal Party woes

The Liberal Party seems to be hell-bent on self-destruction at present. Incompetent and corrupt Labor Governments in Western Australia and NSW have remained in power while a Liberal Party leader in WA sniffs the seat of a female employee and the leader in NSW tries to sit on the fence in relation to electricity privatisations […]

Gleick on Isaac Newton

I enjoyed James Gleick’s biography of Isaac Newton (1642-1726). It only provides a very brief introduction to Newton’s life and work but it is a tantalising glimpse of one of the most important scientific figures in history. One of the reasons Newton is less discussed than others in recent times is that much of his […]

Drug treatment industry supporters of illicit drug decriminalisation

I’ve posted before on the preposterious claims of Dr Alex Wodak that decriminalising cannabis use would decrease use. To the extent it provides an additional source of supply not subject to the user costs of relying on illegal markets I find it impossible to believe such claims*. The difficulty with these effoneous claims is that […]

Smoking bans deter the initiation of smoking

I have posted many times on the value of smoking bans. These stop passive smoking externalities but also increase the user costs of smoking which encourages quitting. They also improve financial returns in businesses subject to the bans. They also provide libertarians with a no-brainer way of padding out their blogsites with attacks on ‘nanny-staters’ […]

Mid-week humour

Unending piles of work – writing exams, marking assignments, complying with bureaucracy – have muted my sense of the joy-of-life over the past few days. Life feels like one hassled, pointless, industrial-strength march towards boot hill.

The following from John S. and Lena provided comic relief.

Adam & Eve in Saudi Arabia (with apologies […]

Federal Budget 2008

I’ve been busy and found it difficult to assign time to assessing the budget. Clearly the Labor Party has inherited a fabulously prosperous economy – that the terms of trade is due to increase by so much over the next year is astounding and should dominate our impressions of where the Australian economy is going.


Albert Hofman RIP

Albert Hofman, the discoverer of LSD and long term psychedelic adventurer died on April 29 aged 102. A collection of obituaries and videos on Albert’s life are here. Hofman disliked the way Timothy Leary and the other psychedelic enthusiasts gave LSD a bad press since he believed LSD could expose people to the spiritual side […]

Cannabis a dangerous illicit drug

This most recent report by the British Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs provides a careful evaluation of cannabis. It recommends retaining the classification of cannabis as a Class C drug (along with valium, GHB and steroids) rather than upgrading it into Class B of more dangerous drugs such as amphetamines and barbiturates. Nevertheless […]

St George Bank should not become part of Westpac

The ACCC should object to the proposed takeover by Westpac of the St George Bank on the grounds that it will reduce competition. My guess however is that Treasurer Swan will have already given indications that the merger be permitted.

There would be some cost-savings generated by the merger because branches could be closed and […]

Expensive textbooks

I am surprised at the cost of non-specialised undergraduate textbooks these days. First because, as a parent of a university student, I get presented with what seem to be huge bills each semester and second because I as a first-year instructor I set hundreds of students each year texts that seem to always cost more […]

Health tourism

I posted recently on the booming market in Thai exports of health services. Americans and Europeans are travelling in droves to Thailand to take advantage of lower costs of health services there. I sent a copy of the post to a well-known Australian trade theorist and his immediate response was – why doesn’t Australia get […]