Harry Clarke On economics, politics & other things

August 30, 2014


Filed under: personal promotion — hc @ 12:11 pm

Yesterday I made an application to depart my university of employment and to accept a redundancy.  It was an emotional moment for me as I had never contemplated exiting employment in this way. I always thought I would work until I dropped.   My decision partly reflects what I want to do with my life in the future (more leisure, greater freedom from obligation) but it mainly reflects my pessimistic assessment of where the Australian universities are going.  I enjoy teaching and doing my research but side issues, related to the way universities are being currently administered, provide an overwhelming rationale for my decision.  Irrational managerialism and scant regard for academic merit are the order of the day. What is unfolding is a national educational tragedy.

My application for departure may not be accepted but I suspect it will.

Having worked pretty hard all my life the thought of not being obliged to work is daunting.  The loss of a regular income is, of course, also an issue.  Provided the redundancy goes through I’ll give being retired a trial for a few months and probably then begin to look around for, at least, part-time work. This will not happen until after  the sought redundancy decision is confirmed.

May 8, 2014

Cairns bleg

Filed under: personal promotion — hc @ 4:09 pm

I am thinking about buying a home unit in Cairns north Queensland.  I like the tropic climate – particularly as an escape from the Melbourne winter but also because I like the mix of natural habitats that lie in and around Cairns – from Port Douglas and the Daintree to the Atherton Tablelands.  I probably would want to live in Cairns rather than an outlying area though I might consider Mareeba, Mossman or Port Douglas.  I probably would want to live in reasonable proximity to urban facilities, restaurants and so on and particularly the airport.  I want a unit as I want to be able to lock up and leave. Cheap air tickets to Cairns from Melbourne – around $256 return – along with relatively inexpensive real estate are an attraction.  I’d probably continue to spend the summer and spring in Melbourne.

I’ve spent a few days checking out the options via the web and will probably visit the area in June to have a careful look around.

I’d be interested to hear views of any people with experience of Cairns as a place to live in. What’s it like to live there for extended periods?  Any problems? What are good parts of Cairns to live in? Why does the real estate there seem so inexpensive?

If you don’t want to post a comment online you can email me or use the FB message service.

Many thanks.

February 25, 2014


Filed under: personal promotion,reading — hc @ 6:01 pm

I enjoyed and (I hope) personally profited from Roy Baumeister & John Tierney’s Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength.  The link gives a better book review than I could hope to write but this a special book.  It analyses our ability to say “no” to temptation (to use heroin, to eat excessively, to fritter our lives away on pointless internet searching, to procrastinate etc etc.) and to work and play effectively.   It is a popularisation of a stream of work in psychology that rescues that quaint old-fashioned idea of “strength of will”.  It is, the authors’ claim, the single most important personal strength to develop.  Moreover, you can strengthen your endowment of this resource which, however, remains in finite supply so use it wisely.  I liked the discussions of Eric Clapton’s alcoholism and Henry Morton Stanley’s treks through the Congo*.  This is an academic “self-help” book that can improve every aspect of your own life.  An enjoyable well-written work as well.

B & T link the supply of willpower to glucose supplies that power the brain.  A reasonable question is whether diabetics experience particular self-control issues. Eating (and sleeping) well augment your willpower. Ignoring small willpower depletions and concentrating the focus on major one’s reduces willpower depletability and makes you more effective. Self-control capabilities are the single most important determinant of capabilities in kids and hence strongly condition the way we should raise them.

* An amazing man whom I had always treated as a caricature of what he was.  I want to read his biography.

January 30, 2014

Awful beaches, good swimming pools

Filed under: personal promotion — hc @ 12:04 pm

I have sympathies for Mark Lawson’s preference (in AFR but unfortunately paywalled) for hotel swimming pools over hot, sandy Australian beaches where the sand burns your feet, there is no shade (apart from wind-vulnerable beach umbrellas) and where cold (genuine) gin and tonics are hard to come by – unless you are prepared to accept inferior canned varieties from an Esky.  I can actually make do with my backyard swimming pool. If I swim diagonally across it I can just reach 3 complete swimming strokes but who wants to swim?  My preferred position is lying on an inflated doughnut-shaped floating device (like a coloured tire inner-tube) with butt, feet and hands in the water. Pure bliss to be floating around the pool and using well-timed kicks from my feet to propel me to preferred pool locations. Early versions of the floating device had a stubby holder but I live in a tough world, these days, without such refinements.  Definitely superior to a beach. Particularly if I can, on occasion, cajole my increasingly reluctant progeny to top up my drink.

October 16, 2013

Facebook or blogging

Filed under: personal promotion — hc @ 7:53 pm

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.

July 31, 2013


Filed under: personal promotion — hc @ 7:53 pm

I have been incredibly busy – writing up a new course (on “Economics and Ethics”), trying to learn how to use my new digital SLR camera (Canon 7D) and, as usual, in pursuing the hopeless task of trying to reduce my golf handicap. Many commitments with postgrads are suffering (mea culpa) and I need to revise 2 papers for journals but there are not enough hours in a day.  (more…)

June 16, 2013

Yueyang & Dongting Lake

Filed under: China,personal promotion — hc @ 6:14 pm

I traveled to Yueyang at fairly short notice so I didn’t have time to do the usual internet search I do when I visit a new location. All I knew was that it was a tourist destination that was also an industrial cerntre,  that it contained one of the three major pagodas (or in this case a “tower’)  in southern China and a large wetland on Dongting Lake. In fact it has quite a bit of historical interest – the area has been inhabited for 3,000 years. (more…)

June 7, 2013

Some population economics in China

Filed under: personal promotion,population — hc @ 10:46 am

I am residing in a hotel at the entrance to the Central Southern Univerity of Forestry and Technology in Changsha, Hunan Province, China. I have been holding seminars and classes at the University and, about twice a day, sampling the excellent Hunannese cuisine – spicy hot but not as hot as Sichuan. It has been a pleasant stay. The students ask intersting questions – last night following a class on the economics of “optimal population” one young lady asked me (rather pointedly) how many children I thought she should have. China of course has a strict “one child” per family policy.

My response was the predictable one of a population economist. Population restrictions make sense when the environment is suffering because of market failures. If issues such as pollution, congestion and, indeed, public goods provision cannot be resolved efficiently then population controls make good sense. It is, of course, true that there are high transaction costs in controlling a family’s fertility but in a society that is developing as rapidly as China “first-best” pricing of the environment is also something difficult and which will take time. The general message is that the better society can address external costs the more it can rely on individual decision-making by households. When you express it in these terms the point seems almost obvious but I think many commentators on the population issue fail to see this commonsense view.

Good environmental policies and policies for efficiently delivering public goods can be a substitute for population controls and visa versa. Not a perfect substitute because there are extra gains from population increase when the environment is properly priced.

It is instructive to me to converse with students from different backgrounds. The Chinese students here ask very direct questions that put me on the spot so I learn. It is a fun part of being an academic.

March 31, 2013

Peaceful quiet Easter: No politics, no economics

Filed under: personal promotion — hc @ 9:09 pm

I haven’t done a lot of work over Easter. I played a couple of games of golf, as I have been trying to read Immanuel Kant’s, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (the excellent CUP edition with introduction by Christine Korsgaad) and have, as well, been listening to music – Beethoven and Mozart String Quartets  (by Quartetto Italiano and the Eder Quartet respectively) as well as a time-worn set of old Beethoven Symphonies by Herbert von Karajan from 1963.   One’s tastes in classical music form early and changes in preference are difficult to effect. I’ve struggled with the John Elliot Gardiner “original instruments” version of the Symphonies for a year or so and have never really enjoyed their ultra fast tempos.  Karajan-style performances I can relate to and enjoy immensely.  Finally, on music I bought a whole batch of Maria Callas CDs a few years back but always got stuck listening to a couple of them that I really liked. This Easter I’ve made an effort to listen to all of them – her voice is (of course) perfection. (more…)

March 16, 2013

Byron Bay & happiness

Filed under: happiness,personal promotion,travel — hc @ 2:43 pm

I am attending an Economics of Happiness Conference in Byron Bay NSW. It’s the first time I’ve been here in Byron Bay in more than 30 years.  It is an attractive coastal town whose white settler history began when James Cook anchored here in 1770 – he named the town after the grandfather of the poet, Lord Byron. It has a local farming industry – the Norco Dairy Co-op was established here in 1895* – but I suspect the main industry these days is domestic and international tourism – lots of German, Spanish and Asian languages are spoken by the (mainly) young surfers and other visitors who make up the bulk of the tourists.  There are a few bigger hotels and restaurants for the upmarket tourist segment but my perception is that this a destination mainly for youth and their “hippy” parents who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s.  The place does have a “nice vibe”, to use some language I have nearly forgotten – very laid-back and friendly.  I made a determined effort to “lighten-up”. (more…)

December 23, 2012

Summer grabs me by the throat once again

Filed under: personal promotion,recreation — hc @ 10:43 am

The usual end to each year for me. I have been holidaying in southern NSW and now in Sydney waiting for some really hot weather.   Posting will be intermittent at most until New Year. Enjoy the festive season – I hope Santa brings all my readers lots of good toys.

Update 1: Back in Melbourne but still holidaying and returning to my “recreational” interests in ethics and philosophy.  Struggling through Derek Parfit’s 2-volume On What Matters – my lack of background makes this a particularly demanding assignment when golf and swimming are attractive non-cerebral opportunities.  I greatly enjoyed this review of Parfit’s life and work by Lariba MacFarquhar in The New Yorker.  Parfit is supposed to be one of the most significant modern innovators in moral philosophy and, among other things, this article gives a flavour of many of his core ideas. I originally read Parfit’s Reasons and Persons mainly because of my interest in optimal population issues and resource depletion.   His line is fascinating – only worry about actual people who are born so depleting resources fast now does not matter much because the future population associated with high rates of depletion now would not  have been born under a lower depletion scenario. Philosophers are funny people!

My guess is that game theorists from economics will eventually pounce on Parfit’s On What Matters and formalise the attempted philosophical synthesis of various ethical approaches. I’ll keep a watch-out for early efforts.

I have been re-reading Nietzsche on master/slave moralities, On The Genealogy of Morals, critiques of Kant etc. More on this later but I find many of the arguments compelling and confusing because they conflict with so many other ways of thinking about ethics. Need to grok this more fully.

Update 2:  Without working too hard at it I have been improving my knowledge of ethics by going some online courses available for free from Oxford University, MIT and other places.  I find access to classroom level discussions on these topics a useful adjunct to reading texts.  It amazed me when I started to look around how much high-quality material – videos, podcasts, textbooks is now available online.  Some can be conveniently downloaded into ITunesU.  This is probably not a startling observation to many but I guess I have just not looked very seriously before. Open Culture is a good starting point but there are a wide range of starting points.

I’ll get back to some serious blogging in the early New Year.

October 31, 2012

A few days at Lamington

Filed under: personal promotion — hc @ 11:16 am
I finally got to spend a few days at O’Reilly’s  in the Lamington National Park. A super-efficient, large-scale ecotourism resort that provides much better food and quality of service than most luxury, downtown hotels.  Moreover,  despite the commercial tourism the quality of the natural rainforest environment around the facility is very good with only minor impacts of the tourism.  I was slightly uneasy that luxury villa are being sold on the O’Reilly property. I think all enroachment of these magnificent parks should be limited absolutely.   None. (more…)

September 13, 2012


Filed under: personal promotion — hc @ 9:01 pm

I am taking some time off and smelling the roses. I’ll be back soon with a lower golf handicap and a more constructive appreciation of my betters.

Update: Ennui squared.  I have just been listed as a participant for a half-day workshop on X in Y and because of my immense value to the participants I will be offered a 20% discount towards a $3600 charge for attending.   I think I’ll keep golfing for a few more days.





August 11, 2012

Southern and central Italy: In convent & castle

Filed under: personal promotion,travel — hc @ 11:49 pm

I am holidaying in southern-central Italy.  My main lasting impression from this visit will be of the good-natured and gracious people of Italy – for example, strangers greet you in the street, are helpful and decent.   Of course Italy has many natural/cultural and artistic assets – and a deep sense of history – that similarly delight me and which I write about below.   Also too I love Italian food and the wide range of approachable rosso/bianco Italian wines.  For a gluttonous wino like myself these are not unimportant incidentals.   But the delightful people of Italy themselves are a good intrinsic reason to visit Italy.

Now for a less emotive posting! (more…)

July 29, 2012

Athens visit

Filed under: personal promotion,travel — hc @ 1:14 am

I have made my first ever visit to Greece by attending an economics conference in Athens over the past 5 days.  It’s been a whirlwind visit but my impressions thus far have been, in the main, pleasant. Like every first-time tourist visitor to Greece I made an immediate B-line to the Acropolis the first morning. I’ve been intrigued with this site for 50 years. It’s a corny but true story that about the first thing I did at high school was to get involved at modeling the Parthenon with plaster-of-Paris.  Since a kid I have also read stories about the Greek myths and heroes. Visiting the Parthenon site was almost a surreal emotional experience. The origins of western democracy and civilization are at an actual site. The Parthenon is a magnificent construction and, raised on a rugged rock outcrop close to the center of Athens, it dominates views in this part of the city.  Photographs just cannot do it justice particularly when seen in the setting of the wider city.  The nearby Acropolis Museum is a very modern piece of architecture – glass flooring reveals excavation sites below while an upper story models the perimeter of the Parthenon – that collects much of the archeological material excavated (and in some cases reconstructed) from the Acropolis and environs.   Very worthwhile. (more…)

December 9, 2011

Summer grabs me by the throat once again

Filed under: personal promotion — hc @ 10:55 pm

I am heading north for a couple of weeks and can recycle an old post to describe this move - except that last year I was the proverbial brass monkey in freezing cold Beijing.  Blogging will be intermittent for two weeks unless it rains a lot. Readers please enjoy your summer vacation.  If you are not vacating to enjoy you are making a serious mistake.

Update:  On this holiday I have been reading Christopher Hitchen’s Arguably. Saddened yesterday to learn of his death.  A top athiest thinker with a passion for life.  I would have enjoyed sharing a decent bottle of wine with him.

Update: The weather has not been great on NSW’s South Coast but swimming almost every day at Mollymook and Narrawallee.  Also playing plenty of golf – a highlight was a game at Mollymook’s excellent Hilltop  course – ranked among Australia’s top 100 – the event saddened slightly by the fact that my son out drove me on a couple of holes for the first time – this is youthful ascention versus aging and no real point in getting too worried about the inevitable! Also a fun evening watching a local drama group at Milton perform the Australian drama Cosi. 

Update: A short excursion to Sydney started with an excellent day’s birdwatching at Longneck Lagoon on Cattai Road – Cicarda bird, Eastern whipbird,  White-bellied cuckoo shrike among many others.  A superb night’s entertainment at Sydney’s Wharf Theatre with Cate Blanchett providing an inspired (and physically demanding) performance in Gross und Klein.

December 8, 2011

Harry the red

Filed under: personal promotion — hc @ 5:32 pm

Richard Green points out that I am classified as a left-winger in this survey of Australian political blogs.  The terms “left-wing” and “right-wing” are notoriously difficult to define so I am not unduly concerned about this.  I hope that I am not regarded as “left-wing” simply because I support strong action on climate change – I would prefer that I be categorised as “non-deluded” at least on that account. Malcolm Turnbull a Liberal Party politician I respect also supports decisive action on climate change.  Nor can I be regarded as “left-wing” because I regard those advocating fiscal contraction as a way of addressing the world’s current macroeconomic problems as both deluded and as economic illiterates.

I think my political views lie somewhere near the centre i.e at C. I support free markets most of the time but also support the role of the state in addressing inequality, in providing essential public goods and in actively addressing macroeconomic problems.  These views do not make me “left-wing” but one of 20 million Australians.  But the survey puts me to the left of Club Troppo which it classifies as C! Was Ted Hill a conservative?

September 9, 2011

Getting email organised

Filed under: computing,personal promotion — hc @ 12:08 pm

I am a sucker for ‘getting organised ‘ schemes – lists, sub-lists prioritising tasks etc. etc.  In the main I employ these schemes for about a week until I tire of them. Email is a particular curse – I am on leave at present but yesterday received over 50 emails from my employer, many requiring action and some of a nature that makes non-discriminating use of the delete button costly.  Here are some practical suggestions for organising emails as a type of ‘to do’ list (along with suggested auxiliary software) and a case for more extensive use of ‘blocking’ software.

I must admit that my mail tool for managing emails is the delete button and that occasionally that gets me into trouble. The case for the greater use of blocking software is strong – send unwanted stuff to ‘junk mail’s – as is the case for ‘unsubscribing’ to stuff you never subscribed to in the first place and for contacting people directly and asking that email not be sent to you.

November 3, 2010

A fish

Filed under: personal promotion,pets — hc @ 7:17 pm

I bought a fish in the Zhonguancun shopping plaza  – a Siamese fighting fish – with a satchel of food included for 20 RMB – that’s about $3-50. In the shop it was sitting in a bowl of water about half a coffee cup size and I sympathised with its dilemma.  The world is not your oyster I thought with a momentary, bitter philosophical reflection on my own life.  I sawed off the top of a large, clear, plastic mineral water bottle and the fish can now do a bit of swimming. It watches me as I sit here most of the day writing lecture notes and its happiness has clearly improved – if the fish’s happiness is included in the world’s social welfare function then the world is a better place. 

I thought for a while that it was expressing its gratitude to me by swimming excitedly whenever I approached – it had after all gained a 10 fold increase in living space. But I soon realised that it just anticipated food whenever I approached.  Generally however I like this fish – it has the right sort of attitude and never seems to get depressed or to tire of the crappy pellets I feed it.

September 10, 2010

Beijing thoughts 1

Filed under: China,personal promotion — hc @ 2:16 pm

I am settling quite happily into life in Beijing.  It’s hot – around 31oC one day – and muggy with occasional showers. The heat gets to you the same way it does in Bangkok – the Joules interact with the smog and the excessive concrete making the heat feel as if it has just gushed out of a factory.  Even the street trees look dusted with pollution. (more…)

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