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28 March 2011

Ready for Revolution

Only two months in Alice and I've started drinking instant coffee. Proletarian coffee. At first I thought it was just freak accident but it seems to have stuck. There was a time when I'd often wonder if I'd ever be ready for the revolution. If I'd ever give up espresso. Now, the day has come. Now, no one can say I'm a middle-class apologist. No one can say I'm not ready and willing to make real sacrifices in my day to day life. The times are changing.

6 December 2010

Wikileaks and Paypal

I've just deleted my Paypal account because they've prevented anyone from donating to Wikileaks. It only took a few minutes and I had the chance to tell them why I did it.

24 May 2010

Tony + Keith = Middle-eastern Happy Times

I was reading Economy of the Palestinian Territories thinking to myself that it all seemed a little surreal. Like a document that hadn't been written by someone who'd ever actually spoken to a Palestinian.

And then I read this...

In 2009, efforts continued to build Palestinian local institutions and governments from the ground up. Much of this work was done by Tony Blair and U.S. General Keith Dayton.

InstitutionBuildingCapacity(TonyBlair + GeneralKeithDayton) > InstitutionBuildingCapacity(4,000,000 Palestinians)

It makes you wonder why we even bother dealing with the people who live in Palestine, when building a government and civil society from the ground up can basically be done by two hard-working white people.

20 May 2010

Muckaty Voices

5 May 2010

Anarchism

Anarchism is not a romantic fable, but the hard headed realisation based on 5,000 years of experience, that we can no longer entrust the management of our lives to priests, kings, presidents and other such con-men Ed Abbey

26 February 2010

Efficiency

I don't even believe in the modern business-like notion of "efficiency". It dovetails with totalitarianism, facism. People say, "If it's decentralized it will be inefficient." I think that's fine. Let it be inefficient.

Arundhati Roy

31 August 2009

Squat Investors

I had a dream last night about applying for a place in a squat. I've been thinking a lot about possible future homes lately. In my dream the place I was looking at was somewhere I'd wandered around before, but some people had since moved in. It was a great old printing factory over three levels which the squatkids had done up real nice.

We talked about my background and stuff. They said I'd have to take the room that the dog currently lived in, but that it would be alright. I didn't interview very well, but I felt like I had a chance. However, after some time my dad abruptly walked into the dream (and the house). I thought that was a nice surprise and I asked him why he was checking the place out. I thought he was just having a nosy-beak as he often does with old buildings. Except that he said "I'm thinking about buying the place and doing it up." I said "What? These guys already live here." And dad replied "No. They just want to make children here. I want to fix it up and live here." I doubt my dad would really say that, but the general sentiment could be a bit accurate.

I was rather disheartened. Not to mention massively embarrassed in front of all my cool friends. My politics and my parents' propensity for buying new properties had finally collided. And in the most publicly humiliating fashion (which is obviously the worst way possible). For an anarchist, this is about the equivalent of one of those nude public speaking dreams. Even though it was in a dream, it was only a matter of time. The laws of probability, which apply more forcefully to real life, might suggest this is unlikely to happen outside my dream, but I certainly don't feel safe.

20 August 2009

Jesus, Anti-Labor Rights Campaigner

Yesterday, our morning bible reading was The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. It's a nice little piece about gratitude and the virtues of property ownership and worker exploitation. It's not often I get upset with stuff Jesus says, and I'd never thought about this passage but when I read it yesterday I got cross.

The idea is that workers who negotiate a wage should be grateful, even if the value of their work is far more than the wage. In the case of this parable workers are clearly being employed for a fraction of the value of their work to the landowner. But if they are desparate for work and only have the social power to negotiate a small wage, according to Jesus, they have no reason to complain. If there are others who don't need the money and can hold out for a better wage, then good for them. The landowner is apparently entitled to spend his money however he chooses.

I have largely felt that the New Testament does not serve power, and that is why I find it so confusing and compelling. This parable clearly serves power, using the familiar rhetoric of demanding gratitude for whatever scraps the powerful decides to throw your way. It is even surprisingly transparent. Jesus is clearly saying that a rich man has the right to distribute money however he chooses. On one level it is reasonable to argue that people can negotiate a contract for any wage, but price-discrimination as Jesus is suggesting would probably be illegal in Australia at the moment. Although it probably approximates an AWA.

The outcome of this mentality is fairly clear and until unions came along was basically how wage negotiations worked. The powerless worked for a subsistence wage and the powerful worked for the value of their contribution (however difficult that is to figure out). Those who needed the money to feed their children were certain not the get it and those who didn't need the money were showered with it. It's a perverse situation, but was totally pervasive for hundreds/thousands of years. This parable is almost a perfect case study for how the powerful will always do whatever they think they can get away with and why we need (and probably will always need) unions.

7 April 2009

Frost/Nixon

I went and saw Frost/Nixon a while ago. But I sure liked it a bunch. The Nixon character was so good, and they did an incredible job of putting it together to make it interesting. However, it made me think more about the nature of power than about the sins of Richard Nixon. I thought the Frost character was really awful, although it may well have been a truthful depiction. No matter how bad Nixon was throughout the movie, all I could think about was how tragic it was that such an amazing man was humbled by such a hack. I wanted Nixon to win, because even though he was probably a bad person, he had some class. I don't think we can ask our leaders to be perfect. All we can ask is that they be the best of us.

7 March 2009

Dead Drug Dealers

In one of the many wars the US has declared on various stuff, they are apparently winning. In Mexico, thousands of people "involved in the drug trade" have been killed in recent months - many of them at the hands of the Mexican army and others at the hand of other people involved in the drug trade. With all this socially constructive death being dealt some congratulations must be in order. The United States has decided it can no longer stand by and watch those "involved with the drug trade" idly wander the streets of Mexico without being killed. So it has helped fund a fairly hearty war against them.

Many had previously thought the matter of drugs, corruption and governance in Latin America was a complex matter, but thanks to a recent editorial at the WSJ this complexity has all but vanished. All the situation really required was for the United States to step in and support a leader willing to apply the necessary military force. The US has found that leader in Felipe Calderón. Surely this is the beginning of the end of all those "basket case" countries in Latin America who have allowed the drug trade to flourish. The end of all those corrupt Latin American leaders forcing their nasty hard drugs down the gagging throats of a vulnerable American populace.

But seriously, this story sounds very much like busy as usual for the US happily throwing about vats of drug war money to help out their latest tough guy chum. A fresh approach it is not.

3 March 2009

Closing the Gap

I don't like the Close the Gap campaign we have here in Australia. I know it is mostly about trying to help Aboriginal people live longer, but it the campaign feels to me massively presumptuous. If white people refuse to be happy until incomes and educations and life expectancy and teen pregnancy are the same for black and white people, what is that going to mean for black communities? There are going to be thousands of white people running around town camps telling people they need to change their lives. Telling kids to go to school. Telling them to brush their teeth. Telling them not to drink more than two standard drinks a day. Telling people to live better is not necessarily the end of the world in some contexts. But for the white community to be trying to make huge social changes to black communities, I think is a problem.

The "gap" is not mostly about resources. It is mostly about lifestyles. That's probably a big claim, but I think it is true. The life expectancy for professional football players in the US is maybe 22 years lower than average. If it was just about the amount of benefits or health care people got then it might be different. I suppose you can make the argument that Aboriginal people are living bad lifestyles because they are miserable because white people have been mean to them. Perhaps there's some truth in it, but I don't feel comfortable arguing it. Once again it is white people evaluating certain lifestyles as bad and feeling like we need to fix them.

From an outside perspective, I don't think the "problem" is life expectancy or education levels. I think it has more to do with creating meaning when your local community's value are so different to those of the broader community. Which is just another white theory about black people. But possibly the difference is that I have no idea how white people can help black people create meaning.

I end up coming back to the idea that we can't keep talking about a black problem that white people need to do their part in fixing. I'd rather we all just live together happily ever after and eat bread.

That was a slightly lunatic rant and I may have got a bit sidetracked, so I will try to sum up. I don't see the problem as the "gap" because that is a product of many things - partly a product of different cultures with different priorities. If there are simple things we could do that would lessen the gap without demanding dramatic social change, that would be good. And if we aren't doing those things because we're too blind or muddled that is a tragedy. But I don't think the gaps people are talking about can be eliminated without making people change their lives.

15 December 2008

Rudd’s Saddest Day

I think today is Rudd's saddest day. Until today, I had been as happy with Rudd as I ever might have expected. My hopes for him were never high, but they were never disappointed either. But a 5% reduction is just silly. What a giant waste of everybody's time. All those millions of hours those poor scientists, negotiators and bureaucrats spent researching, negotiating and cratifying, they could have spent with their children and grandchildren instead.

Now I want to move to another planet with less mad people on it. I don't think Hobart will cut it anymore.

22 August 2008

Coase and the Cost of Adaptation

I've written about Coase Theorem before. But I had another thought about it. The idea of the theorem is that it doesn't matter who gets the right to decide what happens to things (or who gets the property rights), the outcome should be the same. Theoretically, the two (or more parties) will negotiate and the optimal use of the resource will be figured out. The benefits of using the resource as well as it can be used mean that everyone can have a bit more stuff. There are plenty of issues with it - unequal incomes, difficulty monetising the "vibe" of things that people enjoy, and the fact that people don't really negotiate with each other that much. But even so it does have some sense to it and it is used a lot by governments to justify their decisions.

The government will use it to say that it doesn't matter if they give land rights to indigenous people or mining companies. If indigenous people get it the mining company will just pay them to leave. If the mining company gets it they will make people leave without paying them. The second option might not seem "fair", but of course, in economics there is No Such Thing as fair. And even though it isn't fair the economists are happy because the land really should be used for mining because that is clearly its most productive use. Or at least that is the reasoning.

I think that is all quite silly, however even if you think it's reasonable I don't think you can be indifferent between who gets the property rights in the first place. The government largely assigns property rights arbitrarily. There is really no way around this, which I suppose is one of the dumb things about property in the first place. When the government assigns rights to one party, it is effectively imposing costs on the other party. They're either going to have to forgo a whole lot of benefit or buy that benefit from the other party. Often those costs are enormous, as in the case of communities moving to make way for big developers.

I'd suggest that those costs (which should of the same magnitude for whichever party doesn't get the property rights) are more difficult to absorb for the less organised party. Even if you think they can both negotiate equally, the more organised party will be better able to insure themselves against large, uncertain costs. Mining companies do it by distributing shares amongst a large number of people. Indigenous communities have to just get up and move.

It's hard to imagine an aboriginal community insuring itself against the possibility of losing a court case which forces them to move to another town. It's very easy to imagine a mining company insuring itself against the possibility of losing a court case which prevents them from mining somewhere they hoped to mine.

The ease with which a mining company can adapt to change makes the cost of that uncertainty or the arbitrariness of the government's/court's decision far more manageable. It is also a purely monetary cost which is easier to distribute over time or amongst others.

So I would suggest that in a disagreement between two parties, the property rights should always be given to the party least able to protect itself from the costs of not having those rights. According to Coase, this shouldn't affect ease of development at all. The mining companies can still buy the right to mine from the little guy if it's really the most productive use of the land. But by biasing your decisions towards the weaker party society can benefit from better risk distribution which comes entirely for free.

2 April 2008

Health Funding Crises

Economists from across the political spectrum understand that one of the major factors driving health care costs is our third-party payment system that insulates consumers from the cost of their health care decisions.

More Than A Theory: Medical Savings Accounts at Work (CATO)

I'm not sure what CATO considers the full range of the "political spectrum" to be, but this statement is pretty much just wrong. There are plenty of economists who don't believe this, and if I count as an economist then I am one of them.

You could conceivably argue that the reason we have "high" health expenditures is because our system "insulates consumers from the cost of their health care decisions". But I can't understand how a system that has scarcely changed in 30 years accounts for the rapid increase in health care expenditures over that same period. The US system has probably became less socialist in that time, and yet health expenditures are increasing a lot. It seems to me that it's less a problem of overconsumption and more a "problem" with the income elasticity of demand for health care. As people get richer they look after themselves better and spend more on health.

But it's still a crisis the economists will say. Health expenditures can't grow faster than income forever. It's true, but isn't necessarily a problem for a long time yet. If our income increases by 5% each year, it's really no problem if our health expenditures increase by 10% each year. Obviously that can't happen for ever, but we don't have to worry about it just now.

Using that example, we have another 60 years before we have to be concerned. If health expenditures continue to grow by 10% and total income continues to grow by 5%, the amount of money we have left over after health care won't actually drop until 2070.

And if health expenditures grow by 15% a year (instead of 10%) then we still have 30 years before our residual income will drop. At that point we'd be spending 77% of our income on health care and we'd still have more money to spend on other stuff than we have now.

Alternatively, if income only grows at 2% (instead of 5%) and health care costs grow by 10%, we also have 30 years.

So I really feel like it's not a big deal. When they make scary claims like "health care costs are rising by 15% every year" you forget that we only spend 5% of our income on health right now.

My original point was mostly just that CATO are silly. And they are. But they're not the only ones. Every research paper or news article about health insurance or health system finance seems to include some spiel about the impending health funding crisis. Sometimes I wonder if economists and bureaucrats just love having crises to make themselves feel important.

15 February 2008

Generosity

If ever there was a situation and a group of Australians who deserved just a tiny bit of generosity of spirit; just a brief pause in the waging of partisan ideological crusades, it is the Stolen Generations. But even that is beyond the modern-day federal ‘Liberal’ Party.

Andrew Bartlett

2 January 2008

RAMSI

I want to make it clear, we will be in for the long haul when it comes to RAMSI. The ordinary people in the Solomon Islands want Australia there. They appreciate the help and they’ll be there irrespective of who is in power in that country.

John Howard in response to requests from the Solomon Island prime minister to withdraw Australian troops

29 November 2007

Keating’s Recession

I get a bit cross at all the folk to don't like Labor because they're mushy and don't understand economics. When Keating did exactly what every macroeconomics textbooks tells you to fight inflation and allowed the recession from 1993 to happen everyone yelled and him and told him he couldn't be prime minister anymore. And yet he's probably a fair bit responsible for the happy inflation of the last 14 years. At least the textbooks would say he was.

If you want to yell at Keating you should yell about things like being an arrogant pug and always doing what the economics professors wanted him to. You could yell at him about sacrificing the working class for the interests of the economy. And I sure would have a bit of a yell about those things. I just don't understand how you can yell at him for being mushy. He made tough, "economically responsible" decisions and told us he was making them. Which is what we say we want. Except we don't. We want mushiest economics our votes can buy and the right to yell at anyone we randomly decide is mushy about being too mushy.

I love Paul Keating. But not for his economic policies. Keating wasn't near mushy enough for me.

26 October 2007

Federal Member for Villawood

I love the Greens. Who else would spend as much energy as them chasing the TPV refugee vote? Probably Australia's smallest constituency and also, technically, ineligible to vote.

25 October 2007

Timor-Leste Sea Border

Timor-Leste Sea Border

The dotted line is the 1972 border negotiated with Indonesia. The black line is the equidistant line between the two nations, which Timor-Leste argues is based on international law.

This is from a letter "leaked" to Wikileaks, from Ramiro V. Paz to Mari Alkatiri.

I'm inclined to think that Timor-Leste has a fair point. But then I am a rabid pinko, so I would say that.

I suppose it's not especially surprising to find Australia bullying small, newly independent nations into maintaining agreements made under colonialism. Even less surprising that Australia supported the Indonesian occupation for as long as they could.

22 October 2007

The Vision Thing

Bob Brown leaves those other fellas for dead.

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