Archive for category Economics
As you may have guessed by the infrequent posts recently, for a number of reasons I have not had the time to read/write like I usually would (and won’t for a while). Catching-up on the New Yorker from two weeks ago, I just read this article by Michael Specter on geoengineering.
I was going to provide excerpts and commentary, like I usually would, but that really wouldn’t do this article justice. Specter manages to succinctly cover almost every relevant piece of information about climate change: the history of the science, the current state of knowledge, the different options available, the possible economic costs, the political will etc.
The article shows that there is potential for catastrophe and there are a lot of horrible-sounding predictions, but these are all unreliable and we have historically been very inaccurate when trying to predict weather patterns. Similarly, the most coveted option (of cutting carbon emissions entirely) is completely unrealistic and probably more insane than the geoengineering options described in the article, all of which are a insane to some extent.
The one point that I want to concentrate on came close to the end, it concerns the lack of an international legal system to deal with activity that alters the climate. I have not finished processing the repercussions of this, but I will probably write a post once I have thought it all through.
In the meantime, I strongly recommend clicking through and reading the full article. It makes Mark Latham’s attempt look like a primary school science project (if it didn’t look like that already, that is).
The most environmentally sound approach to geoengineering is the least palatable politically. “If it becomes necessary to ring the planet with sulfates, why would you do that all at once?’’ Ken Caldeira asked. “If the total amount of climate change that occurs could be neutralized by one Mt. Pinatubo, then doesn’t it make sense to add one per cent this year, two per cent next year, and three per cent the year after that?’’ he said. “Ramp it up slowly, throughout the century, and that way we can monitor what is happening. If we see something at one per cent that seems dangerous, we can easily dial it back. But who is going to do that when we don’t have a visible crisis? Which politician in which country?’’
Unfortunately, the least risky approach politically is also the most dangerous: do nothing until the world is faced with a cataclysm and then slip into a frenzied crisis mode. The political implications of any such action would be impossible to overstate. What would happen, for example, if one country decided to embark on such a program without the agreement of other countries? Or if industrialized nations agreed to inject sulfur particles into the stratosphere and accidentally set off a climate emergency that caused drought in China, India, or Africa?
“Let’s say the Chinese government decides their monsoon strength, upon which hundreds of millions of people rely for sustenance, is weakening,” Caldeira said. “They have reason to believe that making clouds right near the ocean might help, and they started to do that, and the Indians found out and believed—justifiably or not—that it would make their monsoon worse. What happens then? Where do we go to discuss that? We have no mechanism to settle that dispute.”
I keep seeing things like this:
I was shocked on budget night when nearly $3 billion was stripped from foreign aid spending (”Foreign aid vow broken”, May 9). Not only has a bipartisan promise been broken, but the government has chosen to save fewer lives and to help fewer children receive basic education in the name of a wafer-thin budget surplus.
That itty-bitty surplus could have waited another year. But instead, the child who has no access to clean water will wait. The community that is afflicted by hunger, or the mother who can’t immunise her children will wait.
The government may have achieved its surplus, but there will be deficit nevertheless: the 250,000 people whose lives will be lost because of it.
Rachel Achterstraat Manly
Which is why I was happy to see this, albeit in a publication with far less views:
The aid program has only been “cut” to the extent that the government has not delivered on promises to ramp up aid spending so that it reaches 0.5% of GNI by 2015-16. The government has maintained its commitment to increase aid to 0.5% of GNI but pushed back the target date to 2016-2017. Sticking to the 2015-16 target would have meant aid spending in 2012-13 of around 0.38%of GNI.
I looked up the word “cut”, here is the definition that I think would apply most here:
Remove (something) from something larger by using a sharp implement
- - I cut his photograph out of the paper
- - some prisoners had their right hands cut off
People seem to be following EU thinking, which is not really congruent with — you know — reality. Increasing spending less than you would otherwise have done does not equal “cutting” spending, it’s still an increase.
At least, according to this graph:
Been worried about technology taking away jobs? Here’s Walter Russel Mead to put you straight:
We must fight the perversity, the blindness, and the gibbering pessimism that tells us that this is a bad thing. It is like getting so caught up in the financial problems of Social Security that we lose sight of the big picture: that Social Security is in trouble because we are living longer and healthier lives. It is like crying about the problem of what to do with all the people who no longerhave to cut sugar cane in the hot sun now that the mechanical harvesters are taking those jobs away. It is like worrying about how bored and deprived the ten-year-old chimney sweeps will become once we find ways of heating our homes that don’t require naked urchins to shimmy up and down narrow pipes in cancer-causing tar.
Paul Howes on the HSU debacle:
IT hasn’t been a great week to be a union official. Once again the ongoing stories of alleged corruption and unethical behaviour at the Health Services Union (HSU) have dominated the headlines.
The actions of a few in a union of 77,000 members have tarnished the reputation of the entire union movement which represents two million Australians.
… Unfortunately, with a small minority in our movement giving our enemies free kicks things have become that much harder for the rest of our members. But at the end of the day what we seek to achieve for working people is the right thing.
Providing strength and unity for workers is still necessary in our society. That’s why taking action against the enemy within was the right thing to do for the labour movement — and will be the right thing to do in the times to come.
What strikes me about the two million workers he speaks of: that is less than 10% of Australians. By most accounts, it’s around 18% of working Australians. So even assuming that the Unions all do their best to represent their membership (which they don’t – say what you want about HSU, but I can’t believe that there is no uncovered corruption going on elsewhere in the movement), that means that the Unions are an interest group representing less than one in every five workers and fighting for what those workers want.
Yet this group has 50% of the internal votes in Australia’s only real social democratic party and numerous other ties, which means that leaders like Kevin Rudd who are not especially pro-Union can never be allowed to last long. It also seems to mean that the Labor party can never get passed its anachronistic dogma about what’s “good for workers”, in spite of very clear evidence to the contrary. It also makes Wayne Swan’s bizarre conspiracies about “vested interests” look even worse.
The sad thing is that unionised labour is actually a great idea in theory and once worked very well. There is a lot to be said for people who work uniting democratically in order to achieve better conditions for themselves. Unfortunately, the Union movement in Australia has long ago ceased to be anything resembling this.
Also, will someone please point me to the Union leader in Australia who spoke out against worker conditions in China when the whole world recently focussed its eyes on Apple and conditions in its manufacturing plants at Foxconn? I would really love to see the person who pointed out that Foxconn really has better working conditions than most Chinese factories and we are letting an even bigger evil go completely unscrutinised. Thing is, that wasn’t a Union leader, it was an anti-Union leader. The Unions were too busy trying to distance themselves from HSU to notice.
Overland editor Jeff Sparrow is one who has often flirted with the lunatic fringe. But then, I guess that’s to be expected from the editor of the self-proclaimed “most radical of Australia’s long-standing literary and cultural magazines”. Interestingly, the Overland website indicates that the journal is supported by – you guessed it – public money. The key sponsors are: the City of Melbourne, the Federal Government, the Victorian Government, Melbourne University and – oddly – UNESCO.
Let me dwell on that last one for a second. The UN body tasked with promoting education and social/cultural rights throughout the world is spending money every year supporting some crackpot quarterly journal whose website, according to Alexa, gets less Australian hits than this one (which, by the way, gets substantially less funding. Meanwhile, if anyone wants to fund Major Karnage, I’m very open to the idea…). Don’t they have better things to spend their money on, like recognising Palestine as a state? Oh, never mind.
Point is, given the amount of public funding flowing into Sparrow’s journal and thus allowing him to keep his job, it is not surprising that he is so devastated at the idea of public funding for the arts in Australia being cut:
Note: I feel the need to “fisk” the article a little.
When right-wing parties win elections, arts administrators generally repeat to each other a piece of consolatory folk wisdom, along the lines that conservative governments fund culture more generously than their Labor counterparts. But if that were ever true, it rested upon a patrician sensibility in which certain manifestations of high culture (opera, ballet, etc) were understood as ritualistic reinforcements of class power: thus an orchestra, say, might be subsidised because its performances featured on the social calendar of those people who traditionally bankrolled the Liberal Party, even as experimental poetry might be allowed to wither.
What is “experimental poetry” anyway? What findings come from these experiments? Can experimental poetry pack opera houses full of people? Because if it can’t, I can definitely understand why an orchestra would get funding instead.
In any case, Tony Abbott’s a politician of a different stamp. … Like many of the new generation of Liberals, he’s spent his career chasing the Left out of what he sees as its institutional footholds. That seems to be at least part of the reason why Newman shut down Queensland’s awards – as the Oz helpfully reminds us, they “attracted controversy last year when former al-Qa’ida trainee David Hicks was shortlisted for the non-fiction award for his Guantanamo Bay: My Journey.”
Remind me again why Hicks’ book was shortlisted for the non-fiction award? By most accounts, it was a horribly written and only arguably a work of “non-fiction”. I’m extremely uncomfortable with this glorification of Hicks anyway. Even accepting that he was mistreated, he is still a man with an extremely racist and hateful worldview who supports the use of violence against innocent people (who aren’t him).
But he is hated by Bush and Howard, so I guess what does a little support for al-Qaeda matter? We can put aside the odd call for the slaughtering of the “Jews, non-believers and Americans”, right?
We need to build popular support. That seems obvious, but too often the responses to looming cuts in the sector begin and end with attempts to convince those making the decisions. What we need, instead, is public recognition of the value of culture, sufficient that ordinary people will rally to defend it.
That might seem like a tall order but there are reasons for optimism. Reading is, according to the ABS, a favoured leisure activity for about 60 per cent of Australians over the age of 15. The recent Books Alive survey claimed that in the week before the research, some 67 per cent of adults had read for pleasure. Writers’ festivals draw extraordinary numbers and are popping up all over the country, while creative writing courses are one of the biggest growth areas in Australian universities.
The people who care about books are out there. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they can articulate why literature is of importance or why reading is more than simply an enjoyable pastime.
That’s the challenge for those who work in the field. There’s an urgent need for a new defence of literature, arguments that are neither philistine populism nor patronising elitism, but instead make the case why writing should matter to ordinary people.
It’s something we’ve traditionally been very bad at. We need to get much better, very quickly.
Ok Mr Sparrow, want to build popular support? Here’s my first suggestion: stop apologising for David Hicks.
In fact, there’s something deeply troubling about this whole discussion. We are treating the axing of the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards as if it is simply an attack on the arts, but they very nearly gave $15000 to a man who has been forbidden to profit from his conviction for supporting terror. The Sydney Writer’s Festival hosted him last year as well. What are publicly-funded institutions doing promoting David Hicks?
Yes, people who care about books are out there, but pouring taxpayer dollars into Overland is not going to help the situation. I find it incredible that Sparrow was so snarky about Conservative support for the orchestra when his journal is propped-up to cater to an even smaller group of cultural elites than the ones going to see the Sydney Philharmonic play Chopin. In fact, once a vaguely right wing government takes over in Melbourne or federally, they would have every right to axe their funding to an establishment as openly partisan as Overland. We’re not talking the ABC here, which at least has the pretence of aiming to be balanced – Overland has an agenda that it makes very clear. Why should governments fund organisations that publish anti-government propaganda?
The literary magazines that do well are not funded publicly, they have to find advertisers and buyers like everyone else. Similar for literary awards – there are a lot of people and organisations that would love to brand themselves as supporting literature to appeal to educated Australians. They would not, however, want to be anywhere near David Hicks and many of them wouldn’t touch Jeff Sparrow either. Arts communities in Australia need to start finding ways to both solicit philanthropic donations and appeal to a broader audience. This will never happen if success continues to be determined by whoever impresses the Mayor of Melbourne more, rather than whoever sells more books.
Ross Gittins thinks it’s a horrible idea to give up our penalty rates and allow for more flexible working hours because those nasty “bosses” will stop workers from seeing their families and because having access to goods and services during “non-business” hours is bad for us because it stops us from doing things like kicking a football.
Thanks Ross, I love when people tell me that I shouldn’t be doing what I want to do because that would be “commercialising leisure”, which is bad, because “commercial” means bad and anything that doesn’t involve commerce must be good. Right?
It’s not hard to see why there’s been so little public questioning of this push towards a 24/7 economy. It’s highly convenient to be able to shop whenever we have the time. The more two-income families we have, the more we value the ability to shop throughout the weekend.
It also fits with the trend towards leisure being commercialised – becoming something we buy (a meal out, a show) rather than something we do (kick a football in the park with our kids).
But this belief that life would be better if shops, restaurants and places of entertainment were open all hours rests on the assumption you and I won’t be among those required to work unsociable hours to make it happen. An even less obvious assumption is that the push for a 24/7 economy will stop when it has captured shopping and entertainment; it won’t continue and reach those of us who work in factories and offices.
As usual, the ”flexibility” being sought is one-sided. Employers gain the ability to require people to work – or not work – at times that suit their firm’s efforts to maximise its profits.
If those times don’t fit with your family responsibilities – or just with your desire to enjoy your life (you selfish person, you) – or if the boss’s requirements keep changing in unpredictable ways, that’s just too bad.
Gittins is a columnist, which is not necessarily a 9-5 job. I am willing to bet he has the chance to sleep in some days and that he can get things done during the week.
Like most people, I have a job that goes 9-5, Monday-Friday and more often than not, this ends up being 8:30-6:30. With the current industrial relations regime in Australia, as soon as 5pm hits shops and restaurants need to start paying their staff more, which means it becomes less viable for them to be open and the city all but dies after 6. That means all of the shops and cafes that I would go to in the evenings are closed, as are other service I’d access like doctors etc — meaning that I don’t ever go to them.
Ironically, one by-product is that, since I never have time to shop (except on Thursday nights, when everything is so busy that it’s unpleasant anyway), I have even more reason to buy things online, from overseas and hence help kill Australia’s retail sector, putting the people working until 6pm out of their jobs. Of course, there are other factors at play (hint: protectionist trade barriers, high wages and high property prices), but this is definitely significant.
Similarly, the fact that cafes can’t afford to open on Sundays mean that the people who would otherwise be working on Sundays and enjoying my patronage are instead not working. Rather than having a job, the penalty rates are giving them no job. That’s great for workers!
It also puts Australia at odds with the rest of the world. I love being in places like New York or Tel Aviv where you can get access to anything at any time and the city feels alive at all hours. Sydney and Melbourne will never feel like this so long as penalty rates turn the cities into ghost towns after 6pm. I think this has a very negative effect on the social aspects of the cities in general.
Finally, as always, it’s really about choice. Mr Gittins can go to the park and kick a football on weekends if he wants to, as can I, but why should I not be allowed to also go shopping after dark? Especially if there are uni students willing to work a 1pm-9pm shift and serve me because they get to sleep in? Why should that be banned?
Oh, that’s right, because if it’s “commercial” it’s not really leisure.
There has been a lot of fascinating coverage in the Atlantic over the past couple of years regarding the impacts that the GFC have had on men in the workforce — most famously, Hannah Rosin’s 2010 cover story ‘The End of Men‘.
Today, Jordan Weissmann is arguing that the neologism coined in response — “mancession” — is misplaced, since men are always the gender to be more adversely affected by a recession.
Perhaps it’s finally time to retire the phrase “mancession.”
During the past few years, that grisly portmanteau has become a popular shorthand for the way men seemed to suffer a special degree of misfortune during the Great Recession. Male-dominated industries, particularly construction, had been at the heart of the housing bust and the ensuing downturn, and their job prospects diminished more as a result. Hence, a new turn of phrase was born.
And it is accurate. Men’s employment did indeed crash further than women’s. But here’s why we might want to consider putting “mancession” on ice: It turns out men have gotten the brunt of every economic downturn for the past thirty years. In other words, every recession has been a “mancession.”
On the other hand, Tanya Gold in The Guardian argues that the current recession (and the Tory Government) is affecting women far more.
I will type until my fingers bleed; these are the worst of times for women, and the best of times for inequality, which is not a buzzword to be mocked but a phenomenon that is paid for in human tears. At a TUC event last month we lamented: we are going backwards. Women are leaving the workforce in ever greater numbers, to meet the usual fate of women who don’t work in a shrinking state divesting itself even of free access to the Child Support Agency and legal aid – poverty, and indifference to poverty. When the current vogue for retro style rolled in – cupcakes and Mad Men and Julian Fellowes’s reactionary fantasies – I thought it was a trend. I didn’t realise it was a prophecy, hung with other assaults on women’s needs, such as protesters standing like righteous zombies outside British abortion clinics. (Be pregnant, is their message. Be grateful).
I do want to note that while Gold offers some compelling figures, she also said this:
the long-hours macho working culture that thrills business because it enables men’s psychological dominance
Right. That sounds like the reason businesses would want people to work more. I think you nailed it there Ms Gold…
There are some interesting questions being raised though: why is the recession affecting men more in the US and women more in the UK? Is that, in fact, the truth? Was the GFC sexist? Does Gold refuse to work long hours because it is “macho” or because she is lazy?
And the free market is bringing it. Nuts to you, Bob Brown.
Amory Lovins in Foreign Affairs:
U.S. gasoline demand peaked in 2007; the oil use of the countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development peaked in 2005. With China and India pursuing efficient and electric vehicles, Deutsche Bank forecast in 2009 that world oil use could begin to decline after 2016. In fact, the world is nearing “peak oil” — not in supply but in demand. Oil is simply becoming uncompetitive even at low prices before it becomes unavailable even at high prices.
I also want to throw in this story, for good measure:
In 1850, most U.S. homes used whale-oil lamps, and whaling was the country’s fifth-biggest industry. But as whale populations dwindled, the price of whale oil rose, so between 1850 and 1859, coal-derived synthetic fuels grabbed more than five-sixths of the lighting market. In 1859, Edwin Drake struck oil, and kerosene, thanks to generous tax breaks, soon took over. Whalers, astounded that they had run out of customers before they ran out of whales, begged for federal subsidies on national security grounds, but Thomas Edison’s 1879 invention of electric lighting snuffed out their industry. Whales had been accidentally saved by technological innovators and profit-maximizing capitalists.
Energy efficiency is strategically important, but it also saves money. There is no need for Government to start saving the world here, human innovation is doing it just fine, thank you.