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Economic, legal, political and social commentary



Updated: 2018-02-13T08:34:38Z

 



Crikey! It’s that time of year again.

2018-02-13T08:34:38Z

If you’d like to be in this year’s submission to Crikey for a group submission, please email me on ngruen AT the domain formerly known as gmail (and still known as gmail). And please spread the news far and wide using all the … Continue reading

(image) If you’d like to be in this year’s submission to Crikey for a group submission, please email me on ngruen AT the domain formerly known as gmail (and still known as gmail).

And please spread the news far and wide using all the means – inane and otherwise – at your disposal.

 

 




Now is the time for complacency: RBA v Bank of England edition – Part Two

2018-02-12T07:20:03Z

Cross-posted on The Mandarin: To quote Bank of England Governor, Melvin King in 2010 “of all the many ways of organising banking, the worst is the one we have today.” As I documented in part one, the Bank of England continues as … Continue reading →Cross-posted on The Mandarin: To quote Bank of England Governor, Melvin King in 2010 “of all the many ways of organising banking, the worst is the one we have today.” As I documented in part one, the Bank of England continues as a thoughtful critic to this day. And as we’ve seen there, but will see further below, that’s not so true of our central bank the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA). But first, let’s have a quick tour of the horror show to which King was referring. The fatal flaw in banking is that, although the money in our economy is a classic public good, like the air we breathe or the radio spectrum, it’s privately created. Commercial banks like NAB or Westpac create money whenever they advance a loan. This private licence to print money produces four huge problems. First the banking system – and with it the economy – seizes up if private banks take excessive risks and go bust. In bailouts governments typically socialise the losses long after shareholders and executives have privatised the profits in hefty dividends and bonuses. And when you hear people say Australia didn’t bail out the banks – don’t believe them. None went under because the banks lobbied for emergency guarantees for hundreds of millions of dollars and, with all hell breaking loose around the world, the government capitulated over a weekend. Second, public officials manipulate the banks’ creation of money by influencing the appetite for bank lending (through the overnight cash rate). But borrowing and lending reflect ‘animal spirits’ which strongly reinforce the economic cycle. And manipulating animal spirits is notoriously tricky. We often watch repeated interest hikes or cuts fail to turn things around. This happened as rate rises failed to moderate the exuberance of the boom in the late 1980s – until they overdid it. It’s been happening ever since the financial crisis as we’ve been shown that, until confidence returns, interest rate cuts can ‘push on a string’ and are ineffective in increasing credit and investment. Third, with surging surpluses from saving countries like China, Germany and the Middle East for decades now, other countries have been relieving themselves of the discomfort of sluggish growth by increasing debt at the risk of even greater trouble ahead. Are you feeling lucky? Fourth: if private banks creating money sounds a bit dodgy, it is. Economic reform reins in these kinds of privilege in other areas. Thus where it was once allocated to the lucky few, much radio spectrum is now auctioned, generating billions in government revenue. But here’s the thing. If governments created the money supply it would bring in tens of billions, perhaps a hundred billion in revenue. What created money really funds Indeed, in 1933 at the nadir of the Great Depression, economists from the University of Chicago proposed that governments monopolise money creation. A young Milton Friedman championed the ‘Chicago Plan’ after WWII and for the rest of his professional life. The textbook concern with this approach is that preventing private money creation will starve business of credit for working capital and for investment.  Yet today, banks focus mostly on secured lending against mortgages, which for whatever benefits it generates, also underwrites an arms race in property prices and that does nothing for house buyers in aggregate and indeed imposes substantial costs once one takes into account the increasing financialisation of housing – the increasing payments to banks. In fact only around 10% of bank lending finances business operations. As the Great British economic journalist Martin Wolf explains, if we’re worried about this “we could find other ways of funding this”. Wolf goes on to outline the upsid[...]



And now for some complete madness

2018-02-11T10:54:48Z

If you’re a chess player who’s touched with the human weakness of impatience or just liked to be engaged and see things develop – as we almost all do on our smartphones, checking our emails over 100 times a day – it’s … Continue reading → class='youtube-player' type='text/html' width='640' height='390' src='http://www.youtube.com/embed/LHrvQ7qaadE?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&autohide=2&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&wmode=transparent' allowfullscreen='true' style='border:0;'> If you’re a chess player who’s touched with the human weakness of impatience or just liked to be engaged and see things develop – as we almost all do on our smartphones, checking our emails over 100 times a day – it’s hard not to be drawn to speed chess or ‘blitz’ as I think it came to be called in NY. When I was younger I enjoyed blitz timed at 5 minutes a move – that was back in the days of mechanical chess clocks. Now digital chess clocks and internet chess have no difficulty allowing you additional seconds per move – which makes some sense – and the standard formats are 3 minutes plus 2 seconds per move (3:2) and a slower one which I prefer which is 5:5. Then there’s ‘rapid’ which comes in at 15 minutes for the game – often with 25 seconds per move thrown in. At the other end there’s bullet which is typicall 1 minute for the game or 1:1. In that you more or less move on instinct. One of the best in the world is the Japanese American Hikaru Nakamura and one of his weapons is heavy use of ‘pre-moves’ which is to say that if you think you know your opponents next move you can move on your computer and it will play that move instantly the opponent moves their piece. One tends to do it only if one’s opponent’s move is forced or it’s a move that is only legal if your opponent moves in the way you expected – for instance a pawn taking a piece by moving one space forward diagonally as a pre-move will only be executed by the computer if it’s legal which might only be the case if your opponent makes a move you’re expecting. Chess.com has started running tournaments which begin with 5:2 games, then graduate to 3:2 games and then end in a blizzard of bullet games of either the 1 or the 1:1 variety. They’re fun to watch if you like that kind of thing. If you want to watch Nakamura play Magnus Carlsen for over three hours doing this, for the world playoff recently, why not? Even if you don’t last the distance – even in lots of sittings like me – the commentary could help you ‘get it’. It certainly did me. class='youtube-player' type='text/html' width='640' height='390' src='http://www.youtube.com/embed/UuehyRf88ac?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&autohide=2&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&wmode=transparent' allowfullscreen='true' style='border:0;'> Oh and here’s another 4 hours the next year. class='youtube-player' type='text/html' width='640' height='390' src='http://www.youtube.com/embed/PvFo6eWNssk?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&autohide=2&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&wmode=transparent' allowfullscreen='true' style='border:0;'> Carlsen wins pretty much anything he goes into and it’s completely mesmerising to watch how he makes life difficult for his opponents. Which brings us to the madhouse in the first video which is over two hours of micro-bullet or whatever you want to call it. Each player gets 30 moves a game, that’s it, and so they’re just moving pretty much as fast as they can pre-moves and so on. Hansen is no slouch and has presumably been preparing hard. He gets some strings of games against Carlsen early on, though generally catching up to Carlsen, and then Carsen gets better at it and ends up more than doubling Hansen’s score – though I’ve on[...]



How to tax the platform economy?

2018-02-02T14:43:07Z

In the engine room of nation states, ie the tax departments, the coming battle with platform providers is taking shape. Uber, airbnb, facebook, linkedin, ebay, jobseek, and a myriad of specialised platform providers facilitate micro-trades that are largely untaxed by … Continue reading →In the engine room of nation states, ie the tax departments, the coming battle with platform providers is taking shape. Uber, airbnb, facebook, linkedin, ebay, jobseek, and a myriad of specialised platform providers facilitate micro-trades that are largely untaxed by the authorities. In stead, the platform providers themselves take a cut, partially via advertising and partially via a direct fee for their services. They have taken over an activity that has mainly been provided by governments in the past: places to trade. The town square, the stock exchange, public infrastructure, and the unemployment office are relics of a past where governments were market providers that facilitated trades. Now, it is largely private companies with tax-avoidance structures that have taken on this role on the internet. That role is set to expand hugely. This is a crucial battle that, so far, the tax authorities are losing because they have not yet grasped the magnitude of the shift. They lack the key new power that they must attain: the power to deny the operation of a platform provider in their country. At the moment, tax authorities around the world, lead by the Scandinavians whose tax needs are high, are going the usual ‘reporting route’. They are trying to get Uber, Airbnb, and all the other ones to report the trades and the value of the trades that they have facilitated. Understandably, these companies are refusing to play ball because they of course are taxing the same trades themselves in a different way. They are competing with national tax authorities and hence their business model depends on tax evasion, so of course they refuse to help their competitors. Their lawyers make millions from refusing to play ball. The horror example for these companies is the 2015 data on Uber that had to be released to the Dutch tax authorities and that was subsequently shared with Denmark which promptly went after the drivers for added tax payments. This reflected the circumstance that the administration of Uber was in the Netherlands at that time, which allowed the Dutch to force Uber to hand over some of their data, a mistake Uber wont make again. The others too will have learned a salutary lesson from that episode. Frustrated, the tax authorities are turning to pretty hopeless measures, such as new international treaties on the reporting of micro-trades by private entities. In a race to the bottom between countries trying to attract large companies, that is just a hopeless avenue where the authorities will always be many steps behind the tax-advisers of the big trading platforms. What are the next moves we might then see when the tax authorities get up to speed? I think two developments are likely: full internet observation by national agencies and government-lead internet firms. Full internet observation follows the model of China, which now has the capacity to track most of the internet activity of most of the population. That allows it to observe the trades facilitated on internet platforms, which in turn can be used for tax purposes. Those observations can be used to directly go after individual traders or can be used to go after the platform providers, simply by making their activities illegal if the platforms do not assist in tax observations. Adopting the China route would spell the end of internet privacy, but it probably works. And tax is such a key part of the nation state that it in the end trumps privacy concerns. The second possibility is for the government to re-enter the market for platforms and set up its own internet firms for micro-trades and social media. It can simply copy the best examples on the internet for how to set these things up. [...]



Changing the game – By John Burnheim

2018-01-31T14:12:19Z

Most contemporary discussions of how to improve politics focus on problems of representation and power. When I come along and want to thrust getting better decisions into the forefront and claiming that a certain sort of untried forum could get … Continue reading →Most contemporary discussions of how to improve politics focus on problems of representation and power. When I come along and want to thrust getting better decisions into the forefront and claiming that a certain sort of untried forum could get improved results even without changing present forms of power or representation, the natural reaction is to conclude that I just don’t understand the political and social realities. My key point in reply is that people can only realistically choose to do what they know how to do. Otherwise they fail or, worse still, deceive themselves into thinking they have succeeded, or would have succeeded if evil or stupid people hadn’t wrecked it. Authorities can only order people to do what they know how to do. Otherwise those people pretend to do what is required, or, perhaps unwittingly, wreck it. One of the basic problems in democratic practice is that we are programmed to see dealing with social and political problems in terms of a few simple means: forbid it if it’s bad, encourage it if it’s good. In both cases what happens are attempts to change the behaviour of certain types of individuals or organisations. In some matters those approaches work, but in many they don’t, especially when the problem is caused by systemic factors, not the behaviour of individuals, or groups, or by the cumulative effects of activities that are negligible on the small scale, but fatal on a large scale. This last is now the case with almost all our serious problems. Our complex, rapidly changing activities generate such problems wholesale and in unpredictable varieties. The last century suffered horribly from attempts to deal with its problems in terms of sweeping policies ranging from totalitarian to libertarian oversimplifications of wrongly identified and diagnosed problems. Those ideologies all concentrated on finding a form of social organisation that could cure all their ills. These ideologies evoked a religious enthusiasm, but they had to fail because understanding and dealing with their problems was a much more complex and diverse reality than they allowed or imagined. I think people are ready to look at our important problems in terms of specific causes, not capitalism, but a specific kind of transactions, not war, but solving specific conflicts that lead to war, and so on. It’s unexciting and even hopeless, because we all know that we are never going to solve many of those problems, even in theory, let alone in practice. So many people refuse to waste time on them and devote their energies to activities where there is a possibility of doing some good. The prospect of a forum such as I advocates achieving anything is negligible unless a substantial selection of people are prepared to wark hard at it. But such people are likely to have firm opinions about the matter. They will want to win, not compromise. My answer is that I hope that the people who are willing to put serious work into such a specific forum will be concerned for the enterprise to succeed. So, while in theoretical views, assumptions and aspirations they well not reach anything kike agreement, they should recognise that getting agreement to try an acceptable proposal is what matters. They will have to agree about the sort of considerations that are relevant to such a decision, but they are almost certain to want to place different weight on many of those considerations, particularly about the risks hidden in the future. The only way of finding out what will succeed in the future is to carry out a specific plan that will at least give us a better understanding if we can pinpoint why it failed. They must earn the public trust that they are experi[...]



Anglo-Saxon histories (US, UK, AUS)

2018-01-30T15:49:48Z

Anglo-Saxon countries are often heaped together as having a single culture. When it comes to migration, attitudes to sex, teenage-pregnancy, inequality, language, and bellicosity, that seems about right. At least, the UK, the US, and Australia are pretty close on … Continue reading →Anglo-Saxon countries are often heaped together as having a single culture. When it comes to migration, attitudes to sex, teenage-pregnancy, inequality, language, and bellicosity, that seems about right. At least, the UK, the US, and Australia are pretty close on those scores. But how about their relation to history? My experience of these three countries is wildly different in terms of how the population relates to their national history. See if you agree with my observations, which are admittedly loose. The Americans seem to invent a new history every few years, and each group has a wholly different take on history that has a different story of who the arch-enemy is. 9/11 and #MeToo are beautiful examples of what I mean: in both cases it has been a matter of mere months for US history to be re-written by those championing a cause. After 9/11 you saw new research institutes on terrorism arise like mushrooms, complete with stories going back to before the bible about the defining struggle against all sort of terrorism. Similarly, nowadays, the eternal patriarchy is rapidly being uncovered to stretch from time-immemorial to now. With every new wave of thinking, it seems the Americans want to feel they are at the pointy edge of some long historical struggle, with a looming final show-down with the enemy that has been there ‘all along’. When some new fad reaches their group consciousness, the cycle starts anew, complete with a new history and an apparent quick fading of the previous history stories. Fascinating stuff from an anthropological perspective! The Brits are totally different. History here is not re-written every 10 years by every new group coming along but is only slowly changing and quite stable. The ‘struggle against terrorism’ was treated as a mere variant of opposing ‘those who oppose us this time’, not very different from how the influence of the EU was opposed in some quarters. #MeToo is certainly having an effect, but much more on the notion of what is ‘proper’ than on the reading of history. Maybe I missed them, but books reinterpreting the whole of history in a very particular light that belongs to some proselytising group are rare here. The Brits seem to think that some form of struggle is normal and that people disagree. New norms are quickly absorbed into a fluid notion of what is ‘proper’ rather than necessitating any wholesale re-imagining of national history. History is presented as a slow-changing wave, not a struggle that has its defining moment in the here and now. American-style re-interpretations of history that would necessitate the abandoning of old heroes like Cecil Rhodes are resisted. The Australians are totally different again in their treatment of history. It currently seems like open warfare between quite virulent and aggressive streams of thought. I am no expert on the matter, but the deafening roar of the guilt-shouters on the left is overshadowed only by the canon-ball salutes of the new militarism that defines the historical reading by the current two major parties. It’s a regular culture war that is not directly related to current political topics at all, but seems to come from opposing economic interests and forms of mysticism, not all that obviously related to new political issues. Yet, unlike the US versions of re-writing history, the new Australian histories are not about setting up a narrative of who the enemy has been all along, but are about accentuating the character of who Australians have been all along. The main character narratives on offer are the universal sinner and the obedien[...]



An argument for celebrating Australian Independence Day on 9 October

2018-01-28T00:27:44Z

We’re a weird mob, we Australians, even weirder than we were in 1957 when John O’Grady wrote his book of (roughly) that name. We celebrate Australia Day on each anniversary of the establishment by Britain of an offshore detention prison … Continue reading →“Arrival” by Brett Whiteley, painted for the Bicentennial celebrations of the arrival of the First Fleet on 26 January 1788 We’re a weird mob, we Australians, even weirder than we were in 1957 when John O’Grady wrote his book of (roughly) that name. We celebrate Australia Day on each anniversary of the establishment by Britain of an offshore detention prison in a sh**hole on the far side of the world on 26 January 1788.  Neither the convicts nor their guards wanted to be here at all. They certainly didn’t arrive with the hope of building a new nation (although later free settlers did). But that date also marked the beginning of a shameful period when our forefathers butchered tens of thousands of Aboriginal people to deter them from objecting to having their lands stolen, while inadvertently killing hundreds of thousands more by introducing exotic diseases to which they had no resistance. Nevertheless, according to no less an authority than former prime minister Tony Abbott, you can make a good case for the proposition that Governor Arthur Phillip was Australia’s George Washington.  He was certainly more enlightened and thoughtful than most of the Governors who followed him, but the Washington comparison is a tad hyperbolic, not to mention the fact that Washington fought for America’s freedom from Britain whereas Phillip was Britain’s prison warden. Our other important national holiday commemorates a huge and bloody military defeat where our young soldiers pointlessly stormed the cliffs of Gallipoli at the behest of pompous English politicians and buffoonishly inept military commanders, were slaughtered in their thousands and then withdrew again. Arguably our single most popular national hero is Ned Kelly, who many thought was quite a nice chap for a cop-killing bank robber; while our most popular national song is about a sheep-stealing swagman who committed suicide by drowning himself in a billabong rather than be captured by the cops. Then there’s our most legendary local event, involving a rebellion at Eureka Stockade at Ballarat by a biggish group of tax-evading gold miners, who have more recently become heroic figures for modern-day white supremacists and neo-nazis. Nevertheless, there’s something strangely attractive about the laconic affection of us Aussies for people and events that the citizens of many other nations would regard as the very antithesis of heroic. Better, for example, than the habitual jingoistic hubris and boastful triumphalism currently epitomised by President Trump. The mythical self-image of the Aussie is embodied by a seemingly happy-go-lucky bloke who only reveals his inner steel when needed, like Hoges’ “That’s not a knife, THIS is a knife”. In the best of all worlds we wouldn’t need to foster nationalist sentiment at all, whether of the laconic or loudly boastful variety. In one sense Samuel Johnson was right. Patriotism really is the last refuge of the scoundrel (think Peter Dutton, Pauline Hanson or Tony Abbott drawing spurious “battlelines” for momentary political advantage). Mind you, our reactionary leaders’ inflammatory dog-whistling reliably finds a significant minority audience. Old Sam Johnson didn’t mention the legions of drunken bogan bone-heads driving around in flag-bedecked utes festooned with stickers reading ‘Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!’, ‘Australia, Love It or Leave It’ and ‘Fuck Off We’re Full’. But in the real world, as theorists like Jonathan Haidt argue, we are all pre-programmed by thousands of years of evolution and social conditioning to be tribal or commu[...]



Getting the right decision democratically – by John Burnheim

2018-01-26T09:08:28Z

In many areas of policy, particularly where relatively homogeneous communities deliberate about matters within their everyday experience, the informal processes of discussion in the community can, and often do, lead to changes in public opinion that in turn lead to … Continue reading → In many areas of policy, particularly where relatively homogeneous communities deliberate about matters within their everyday experience, the informal processes of discussion in the community can, and often do, lead to changes in public opinion that in turn lead to effective political action. Witness the huge range of beneficial changes in the treatment of the disadvantaged in the past few generations. It was possible to make these changes democratically because a few advocates convinced most people to see these disabilities not as unavoidable misfortunes but as things that they could do something to overcome. That involved a wide spectrum of measures, ranging from the repeal of discriminatory laws to the provision of ramps for wheelchairs, most of which were readily understood and accepted by nearly everybody. In such matters the ordinary processes of news and discussion generate a public opinion that promotes good decisions about what to do. These decisions are democratic because the majority of people have good reason to support them. At the other extreme we want to refuse the title of democracy to majority decisions that systematically disadvantage or even persecute certain minorities. People like me want to avoid condemning whole populations as vicious. So we tend to blame the leadership for playing on dramatised fears and false information in a situation where open discussion is suppressed. We are vindicated by the fact that nations that were guilty of horrendous evils do become decent democracies. The problem is in lack of communication and criticism. But what of familiar situations that cannot be understood simply in terms of everyday experience, like when emissions are alleged to be accumulating disastrous consequences unless they are brought under appropriate control? It is clear that making appropriate decisions in such matters depends on open critical discussion that ensures that all relevant considerations in each particular problem are identified and correctly understood. A typical danger in such contexts is that people who are not equipped to understand the relevant science are easily persuaded to see the problem in terms of simple familiar models that lead to dangerously wrong conclusions that are adopted by normal democratic practices. We can’t all acquire expert knowledge in such matters, and we cannot rely on the experts to choose between alternatives in many aspects of such matters. So, for example, experts may tell us the most cost-efficient way of disposing of nuclear waste, but those most affected need to have the strongest voice on the question of risks. In the most serious decisions we have to assess a number of different and often conflicting considerations, some expert, and many variously affected minorities are involved. Getting a sound practical decision in any such problems is in the first instance a matter of getting those considerations clear and deliberating about the relations between them so as to exclude ineffectual or unacceptable proposals. After that, reaching agreement about a concrete proposal is a further step that will usually be less clear. It consists largely of negotiating compromises between proponents who put different weights on considerations all agree are relevant to some extent. I would hope that the results of the first stage would be accepted as public opinion and the best opinion available to us, at least where it is agreed that action is imperative. Most of us in nearly all matters get our opinions from others in various ways. What justifies us in accepting an opinion as our own is [...]



The poverty of voting

2018-01-21T13:03:06Z

A post by John Burnheim. About ten months ago, John Burnheim wrote to me in terms I’ve reproduced on this blog previously. John was one of the early movers in academia exploring the limitations of electoral democracy with his book Is Democracy Possible … Continue reading →A post by John Burnheim. About ten months ago, John Burnheim wrote to me in terms I’ve reproduced on this blog previously. John was one of the early movers in academia exploring the limitations of electoral democracy with his book Is Democracy Possible published in 1985 and then decades later with his book last year The Demarchy Manifesto. After a long academic career, he’s still gnawing on the bone of how we might make democracy work better in the modern world. And after many quite lengthy exchanges with me by email, he’s writing posts for us here at Troppo. Here’s his first post. There will be more to come: The poverty of voting Votes carry very little information, but often give form and content to power. It is sometimes seen as virtue of voting that it hides the motives and understandings that motivate a person to vote in a certain way. From this point of view, a vote is a piece of power. A system of voting determines how many of those pieces of power constitute a valid power that overriding all the other votes and binds the other voters to accept that decision. A constitution determines what matters are being decided by voting and who is entitled to vote. The voter is thus completely free to vote as she likes, answerable to nobody, in a fully secret ballot. Even In the case of a public ballot, the voter is not required to offer any justification for how she votes. The vote is valid no matter what her motives. If others are entitled to criticise or retaliate; it is because of other undertakings or relationships. The secret ballot is pure liberty, an exercise of power answerable only to one’s own conscience. Advocates of the secret ballot often assume that the voters have a soundly based conscience on the matters on which they may vote and that he danger to be avoided is that others will try to intimidate them into voting against their better judgement. Advocates of public voting often see voters as inclined to vote privately for reasons they cannot defend. Whatever the weight of such considerations, most systems of voting invalidate votes that are blatantly bribed. Obviously, where to draw the line between what is an agreement to cooperate with other voters or a justifiable tactical move in a wider context and what is simply advantaging oneself at the expense of the common good is often difficult and to some extent arbitrary. But the principle is clear: any authority that the result of a vote can claim rests on its being a distillation of the genuine opinions of the voters about what the collective that accepts that authority should do. Voters are no entitled to use their power for other purposes. On the other hand, it is asking too much of voters to expect that each of them would have considered every factor that is relevant to a sound collective decision in most circumstances. The tacit expectation in most voting is that most voters will be inclined to vote for or against any proposal by weighing up the benefits they or others about whom they are particularly concerned would on balance be affected by its implementation. One clear deficiency in such an assumption is that a majority may vote on a particular proposal for a variety of relatively small balances of advantage or disadvantage to them, outvoting a minority for which much more important consequences are at stake. The effect of voting is that it invites voters to treat public goods as if they were private goods, each voter paying attention only to their own costs and benefits. A great deal of libertarian thinking welcomes th[...]



Stars falling from the skies*

2018-01-17T01:34:16Z

*cross-posted from Screen Hub. The #MeToo sexual harassment tsunami generated by the unmasking of American screen industry heavyweights Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey has hit Australian shores with a vengeance.  As an old Monty Python sketch observed: ‘Nobody expects the … Continue reading → *cross-posted from Screen Hub. The #MeToo sexual harassment tsunami generated by the unmasking of American screen industry heavyweights Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey has hit Australian shores with a vengeance.  As an old Monty Python sketch observed: ‘Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!’. Don Burke, Geoffrey Rush and now Craig McLachlan certainly didn’t. The behaviour of one or more of them may deserve summary public excoriation but then again it may not. At this stage we simply don’t know. As American pundit Andrew Sullivan notes: ‘The early exposure of Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, and Harvey Weinstein — achieved by meticulous, scrupulous journalists and smart, determined women — quickly extended to more ambiguous and trivial cases. Distinctions among many different types of offenses — from bad behavior at private parties to brutal assault and rape of employees and co-workers — were being instantly lost in the fervor. Punishment was almost always the same — social ostracism and career destruction …’ Without minimising their seriousness, the published McLachlan allegations don’t belong at the Weinstein end of the scale. However there are other aspects of the situation that haven’t really been publicly discussed at all. What happens to the entertainment industry content producers whose stars are condemned by a random process of trial by mainstream and social media?  The McLachlan claims relate to a 2014 tour of the stage musical The Rocky Horror Show produced by The Gordon Frost Organisation (GFO) and alleged behaviour on the set of December Media’s long-running flagship drama series The Doctor Blake Mysteries. But will the consequences for the respective production companies fit the ‘crimes’? Some producers are corporate juggernauts while others are quite small and vulnerable. Live theatre companies can usually fairly easily replace a star who becomes ill or commits career hara kiri. They have a different audience each night and the principal actors have understudies.  By contrast, producers of a long-run TV drama series are in a more invidious position. Their core audience is habituated, tunes in every week and sometimes regards the stars almost as members of the family. Such a show can survive the introduction of a new actor playing the lead role if its producers have time to plan and script the transition. The seemingly eternal British whodunnit series Midsomer Murders is an example. But what if the forced personnel change is sudden and surrounded by controversy? What if the series has been previously cancelled by the ABC, rescued by the Seven Network but not yet in production? What if contractual obligations with the network require the end-product to be delivered with a specified star (in this case McLachlan) in the lead role? At least four of the Rocky Horror complainants have identified themselves in the media. Their allegations if proven may well amount to sexual harassment under federal and state anti-discrimination legislation and in some cases bullying under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth). Some may even be indecent assaults.  At least one claims to have been threatened by McLachlan. Two say that they informally complained to GFO at the time in 2014 although that seems to be denied. All of them complained more recently through their lawyers.  The letter contained reasonable particulars of the allegations and sought only an internal investigation and dispute resolution process. The complainants only went public when tha[...]



An Ancient Greek idea could foil Brexit’s democratic tragedy

2018-01-16T14:35:36Z

From today’s column in the Guardian UK. There’s a chasm between the will of the British people as expressed in their 52 percent vote for Brexit and their considered will. Turns out ordinary Britons deliberating amongst their peers think things … Continue reading →From today’s column in the Guardian UK. There’s a chasm between the will of the British people as expressed in their 52 percent vote for Brexit and their considered will. Turns out ordinary Britons deliberating amongst their peers think things through, ‘unspinning’ much of the media hysteria surrounding them. Deliberation recently produced a landslide swing against Brexit and it offers new opportunity for Britain’s ailing democracy to tackle other ‘stuck’ problems. Yet I’m guessing you haven’t heard the news on Brexit. That’s because the researchers who uncovered this uncomfortable fact buried it in less confronting PR ‘messaging’ lest Britain’s demagogues branded them ‘Enemies of the People’. In late 2017, a group of universities selected 50 people by lot to be representative of ordinary Britons in a ‘Citizens’ Assembly’. Between the referendum and the end of two weekends deliberating on Brexit, a group exemplifying the referendum’s 52:48 Brexit vote had swung to 40:60 against! The researchers’ ‘messaging’ claimed it “would be wrong to draw strong inferences”. They pointed out that only four participants had changed their mind over the two weekends. But that’s still an 8% swing in a population of 50. And it ignores three others who’d already swung away from Brexit between the referendum and the Assembly’s commencement. An Assembly researcher told me that no Remainers changed their mind. So the chance of seven anti-Brexit changes of mind simply reflecting random chance are those of a coin landing heads seven times in a row – less than one percent. Moreover, a similar deliberative poll in 2010 delivered strikingly similar results. Asked, amongst a host of other questions, whether there should be a referendum on Brexit, support fell from 60 to 45 percent through the deliberation with the organisers estimating the probability that this was just chance at one in a thousand. These changes are part of a larger picture. As the Citizens’ Assembly deliberated, the participants became more tolerant and generous towards each others’ perspectives, and more liberal in outlook. Participants became slightly more inclined to think immigration enriched rather than undermined cultural life and its economy, and substantially more prepared to give priority to trade over immigration in Brexit negotiations. The endless cycle of trivialisation and polarisation – the hatred spewing daily from mainstream and social media – is a wicked problem that’s setting whole classes against each other. With a child-man now inhabiting the White House, how long till we realise we’re facing a diversity challenge of existential magnitude? The traditional diversity agenda regarding gender, ethnicity and race is important but Western democracies are being torn apart by the alienation from our politics of losers in the race for income, education and social connections. Intriguingly, the ancient Greeks had a word for what’s missing: Isegoria which they thought must accompany freedom of speech and means equality of speech – people need to hear their own voice reflected in political discourse. It’s a cliché that there are no ‘magic bullets’. But all the evidence suggests that involving ordinary citizens in democratic deliberation – as is becoming more common in Ireland, Canada and Oregon – can help us do democracy so much better. Party politicians shy away from bold action on many great problems of our time – from obesity [...]



Lateral thinking on constitutional reform

2018-01-17T02:29:00Z

Australia has a backlog of issues that will need to be resolved by constitutional referendum sooner or later: Indigenous recognition (especially the Voice to Parliament); resolving the problems caused by archaic and unworkable parliamentary disqualification rules in section 44 of … Continue reading → Australia has a backlog of issues that will need to be resolved by constitutional referendum sooner or later: Indigenous recognition (especially the Voice to Parliament); resolving the problems caused by archaic and unworkable parliamentary disqualification rules in section 44 of the Australian Constitution (especially dual citizenship); moving to an Australian Republic (especially when the current Queen dies or abdicates and is replaced by the egregious Prince Charles). One of the few things about which there currently seems to be bipartisan consensus (or at least shared conventional wisdom) is that constitutional referenda will almost never succeed and therefore are not worth even trying. It is certainly true that only seven eight out of forty-four referenda have succeeded since Federation (although it’s actually nine out of forty-eight if we count plebiscites and the same-sex marriage plebisurvey).  Moreover, if we focus on the last 40 years from 1977 the combined success rate for referenda, plebiscites and plebisurvey is five out of fourteen or approximately 34%. And conservative governments have been significantly more successful in getting referenda past than have Labor governments – 36% success over the 116 years since Federation.  That appears to be partly because conservative governments tend to be less ambitious in their constitutional reform objectives and partly because Labor Oppositions tend to support even lily-livered reform efforts by the conservatives, whereas the Tories seem to be more inclined to oppose even perfectly sensible referendum proposals, often solely for immediate electoral advantage (some of the 1988 referendum proposals are classic examples). Maybe it’s time to revisit this conventional wisdom. A success rate of 34-36% is entirely respectable. It merely suggests that governments should avoid overreach when seeking constitutional reform, and should seek compromise solutions that opposition and minor parties are willing to support or at least not oppose. At this particular moment in Australian political history the latter is a tall order, because current political conventional wisdom also includes a belief that mindless opposition for its own sake, or more accurately to create cynically manufactured “battle-lines” that might enhance brand differentiation, is smart political tactics. But the heartening result of the SSM plebisurvey gives reason for cautious hope that the mindless oppositionism tactic may be wearing a bit thin. Indigenous Voice to Parliament The position of Australia’s Indigenous peoples will remain a fundamental blot on Australia’s body politic and our international reputation until it is constructively and meaningfully addressed. The last section of Noel Pearson’s recent cri de coeur in the wake of Turnbull’s rejection of the Uluru Statement from the Heart evocatively sums up the current depressing reality: [Journalist Paul] Kelly said something startling. He understood the voice proposal was not a third chamber, and Turnbull was wrong to describe it as such. The startling thing he said was that the voice, even though only having an advisory function, would operate virtually as a veto on parliament. A body without the legal power to direct parliament would hold some sort of non-legal veto over the parliament. Really? This late in our history and here is a great old white man conjuring a great old white fear about Indigenous voices. A stalwart defen[...]



Fred Argy: RIP

2018-01-11T01:04:15Z

I was rung yesterday by Ida Argy, wife of Fred Argy and she told me that Fred had recently had a stroke from which he did not recover. Fred was rather like my Dad Fred. A Jewish immigrant – Dad was from Austria … Continue reading →I was rung yesterday by Ida Argy, wife of Fred Argy and she told me that Fred had recently had a stroke from which he did not recover. Fred was rather like my Dad Fred. A Jewish immigrant – Dad was from Austria (via England) and Fred was Egyptian, though I think both were non practicing. Fred Argy was a lovely guy. Affable, generous both publicly and privately, selfless and self-effacing. When Fred officially retired he proceeded to write two books on Australian public policy. And he posted 117 posts with various thoughts here on Troppo. On being told the news I asked Ida to convey my condolences to Stephen his son whom I also knew, though not well, at the PC (then Industry Commission). I was told to my shock that Stephen had died over two years ago in a horrible accident at home. He fell from a ladder, never regaining consciousness. He left his happy marriage and three children. I think it was my (non-Jewish) mother who told me of a Jewish saying that when a child dies before its parents, even God weeps. My heart goes out to Fred and Stephen’s family. Below the fold I’ve reproduced a bio I requested from Ida which his daughter Janet recently sent me. Sadly missed. RIP Fred Argy.  Freddy (“Fred”) Argy was born on the 13th June, 1931 in Alexandria, Egypt, the third son of Elie and Lina (née Levy) Argy. After his early French cultural upbringing, Fred attended a British school, Victoria College, where he played cricket and came to love British institutions. Fred worked for his father in his cotton futures business before joining his older brothers in Sydney in 1951. Fred, like his brother Victor, worked at the Mutual Life and Citizens’ Assurance (MLC) during the day and studied as an evening student at Sydney University. He graduated with a Bachelor of Economics (first class honours) in 1956 and a Master of Economics in 1960. While his brother Victor became one of Australia’s most eminent academic economists, Fred pursued a distinguished career in the Commonwealth Public Service as a policy advisor to the federal government. Senior positions he held included that of Secretary to the influential Campbell Inquiry into the Financial System (1979-81), Deputy Secretary (Labour Economics) of the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations (1985-86) and Director of the Office of the Economic Planning Advisory Commission (1986-91). Fred also served as Australian Ambassador to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris between 1983 and 1985. After retiring from the Public Service in 1991, Fred continued in a number of public roles. He served as a member of the Commonwealth Grants Commission (1991-96), the President of the Economic Society of Australia (1991-93), Project Director of the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) (1992-95), a Director of Legal and General Australia (1992-96) and as a member of the government task force on private sector involvement in public infrastructure (1995-96). He was also a Principal Adviser to the Research Institute for Asia and the Pacific (1997-98) and a consultant to the Evatt Commission on Government Revenue chaired by Bernie Fraser (1997-98). Fred was Chairman of the Transport Industry Superannuation Fund (2000-01) and a Visiting Fellow in the Graduate Program in Public Policy, Crawford School, Australian National University. Fred was also the author of a number of influential books and papers, strongly arguing the case for a more equitable[...]



Now is the time for complacency: RBA v Bank of England edition

2018-01-11T06:24:03Z

Reposted from the Mandarin I In our contemporary lexicon ‘independence’ – for instance of a government body – is usually a Good Thing. 1 But if we’re thinking of independence as a good thing for an agency to have – for instance the Productivity … Continue reading →Reposted from the Mandarin I In our contemporary lexicon ‘independence’ – for instance of a government body – is usually a Good Thing. 1 But if we’re thinking of independence as a good thing for an agency to have – for instance the Productivity Commission (PC) – it’s not sufficient. It also needs to be used by the agency, and the agency must be worthy of it by virtue of the quality of its work. The odd thing is that so many such agencies have such a strong flavour of bureaucracy about them. There’s the same cultural emphasis on what I call being a sound chap. I’ve come to think that this is a kind of natural product of groups. They are … well … groupish. They acquire the same kinds of social dynamics you notice at high school when nearly everyone wants to be one of the cool kids. But in government there’s an institutional basis to this also. Even if they have their own act,  even if their independence is prized in our public culture, most government statutory agencies are tethered to the career public service. Their officers enjoy the privileges of the Commonwealth public service career structure. So we should not be so surprised that those in such independent agencies think like bureaucrats. And there are few things more important to bureaucrats than appearing to be in control. To be thought of as sound chaps. That means that what independence has been successfully cultivated is both highly specific and highly acculturated. Gradually from the 1960s on initially under the bureaucratic leadership of Alf Rattigan, a new orthodoxy grew in favour of freer trade, then free trade and then freer markets. The PC’s ‘independence’ was built around this.2 It was independence to pursue free trade. Likewise, the RBA’s independence is about setting monetary policy. As a senior officer of such a body, you might occasionally annoy the politicians in power and sometimes even other powerful people in the bureaucracy, but if you hiked rates when it was inconvenient, you were still a sound chap – indeed, this was evidence that you were the soundest of all chaps, answering to the institutional logic of your institution – and its role read within the intellectual orthodoxy. This is a fortunate, alchemical trick in which institutional courage is founded on the quiet careerist culture of bureaucracy. In this sense, to put it in its best light, independence can breed courage in the institution while economising on its presence within individuals in the same way that markets are said to meet social needs while economising on altruism. But this independence is mainly about being ‘tough’ when the imperatives of day-to-day political and bureaucratic management might favour sweeping inconvenient things under the carpet. Any intellectual leadership that one might hope for from this independence seems largely confined to the terrain that’s already been marked out in advance for the institution. II Just as Thomas Kuhn distinguishes between normal science and the ‘revolution’ of moving between paradigms, 3 according to my account of independence, it is generally for ‘normal’ purposes – setting interest rates (RBA), tariffs (Tariff Board and IAC), making weather forecasts (BOM) or economic predictions on the fiscal cost of alterna[...]



Do Black Politicians Matter?

2018-01-09T01:01:28Z

Do black politicians matter Abstract: This paper exploits the history of Reconstruction after the American Civil War to estimate the causal effect of politician race on public finance. I overcome the endogeneity between electoral preferences and black representation using the … Continue reading

Do black politicians matter

Abstract:

This paper exploits the history of Reconstruction after the
American Civil War to estimate the causal effect of politician
race on public finance. I overcome the endogeneity between
electoral preferences and black representation using the number
of free blacks in the antebellum era (1860) as an instrument for
black political leaders during Reconstruction. IV estimates show
that an additional black official increased per capita county tax
revenue by $0.20, more than an hour’s wage at the time. The
effect was not persistent, however, disappearing entirely at
Reconstruction’s end. Consistent with the stated policy
objectives of black officials, I find positive effects of black
politicians on land tenancy and show that exposure to black
politicians decreased the black-white literacy gap by more than
7%. These results suggest that politician race has large effects
on public finance and individual outcomes over and above
electoral preferences for redistribution.

by Trevon D. Logan – #24190 (DAE)




Evidence-based policy: why is progress so slow and what can be done about it

2017-12-24T09:17:10Z

Here’s a presentation I gave at the anniversary of Australian Policy Online which has been cunningly rebranded under its old acronym as Analysis and Policy Observatory.  I gave a similar one at Kings College London a few weeks previously. Note that some of … Continue reading

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Here’s a presentation I gave at the anniversary of Australian Policy Online which has been cunningly rebranded under its old acronym as Analysis and Policy Observatory.  I gave a similar one at Kings College London a few weeks previously. Note that some of the slides may seem a little odd. That’s because I typically ‘build’ some of the slides to illustrate a train of reasoning. But I expect you’ll get the hang of it! If you like, you can download the slides from this link and build them while you watch. Some of the ideas presented are set out a two part essay here and here, further explicated here with some further thoughts here.  




More fully human

2017-12-17T05:38:59Z

Well there’s been a frisson of excitement in the chess and AI world lately with the extraordinary performance of AlphaZero – essentially the computer that mastered the game Go – a game which proved, despite the relative simplicity of its rules, a … Continue reading → class='youtube-player' type='text/html' width='640' height='390' src='http://www.youtube.com/embed/tXlM99xPQC8?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&autohide=2&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&wmode=transparent' allowfullscreen='true' style='border:0;'> Well there’s been a frisson of excitement in the chess and AI world lately with the extraordinary performance of AlphaZero – essentially the computer that mastered the game Go – a game which proved, despite the relative simplicity of its rules, a much harder nut to crack than chess. In any event last week a tweaked version of the computer that succeeded in Go was taught the rules of chess but then, without any further instruction, trained itself for four hours by playing games with itself. Then over 100 games, AlphaZero beat one of the best chess engines in the world – Stockfish – winning 25 games as white, 3 as black, and drawing the remaining 72. Whereas the existing engines employ a mix of techniques with humans training them in various position evaluation techniques and brute computing power being used to search vast move trees, AlphaZero puts its effort into training itself to use better algorithms. Once trained, like a human, the algorithms it’s devised economise on the computing power needed to play. Though one of the emerging stylised facts of AI is that good collaboration between humans and computers beats computers on their own, at least here the humans set the program up and it then does all the rest. Still it’s still a collaboration and the nice thing is that, this new form of collaboration produces more ‘human like’ chess and more entertaining chess also. Thus, although it seems odd to say it’s more human given that AlphaZero takes chess even further from the capabilities of humans on their own, it has been the case for some time that, despite their sophistication, chess engines typically play a dull, excessively ‘technical’ kind of game in which long range strategic or ‘position’ considerations are downplayed to raw technique as they gnaw away at some small weakness of their opponents and sometimes grind them down (computers can be trained not to mix metaphors I expect but I’m not a computer. Anyway gnawing is a kind of grinding). AlphaZero plays like a human in the sense that it’s got much more ‘positional’ savvy. It will give up material for an advantage that looks pretty speculative. One thing that separates a good from a bad player is that a good player can take an initiative and build on it. But if you aren’t technically good (like for instance me!), some inaccuracy in your followthrough will enable your opponent to stabilise the situation and you’re then just down material and you lose. Even amongst very good players, the sacrifice of more than a pawn for long-term position advantage is a rare and fine thing to watch. Looking at AlphaZero’s games the computer can gain a small edge and, by virtue of its extreme accuracy it doesn’t give it away. In most of the games where I’ve seen it win, it usually gives up a pawn or two and then twenty moves later – even though Stockfish has thought it’s position was cramped but pretty good – the oppon[...]



Affected speech impediments: is this a uniquely English phenomenon?

2017-12-14T04:15:14Z

Last night, having read a fantastic essay (pdf) by the great historian of revolutionary and pre-revolutionary America Bernard Bailyn, I made my way to the lecture series in honour of Isaiah Berlin where there were plenty more interesting lectures. In any event I’ve known of … Continue reading

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Last night, having read a fantastic essay (pdf) by the great historian of revolutionary and pre-revolutionary America Bernard Bailyn, I made my way to the lecture series in honour of Isaiah Berlin where there were plenty more interesting lectures. In any event I’ve known of J.G.A Pocock since I studied early modern European and British History so I bookmarked his lecture to listen to as I went to sleep. He’s a very thoughtful fellow, but until then I had thought that the extraordinary speech impediment that Antoine has in the wonderful TV series of Brideshead Revisited from 1981 was rather amplified for dramatic effect.

But no. That speech impediment really does exist in the wild – at least for as long as JGA Pocock remains in the wild. Which leads me to my question. This is a quite obviously affected speech impediment, and a particularly ridiculous one. I found this one so intrusive and so irritating in the Pocock lecture I couldn’t bear the dissonance it produced listening to it and stopped listening. Fortunately the lecture is also recorded in print if I need to find out what’s in it.

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A more common affected speech impediment is the one in which “r”s are pronounced as “w”s as is the case with Fwank Muir on the old BBC program My Word and Dave Edmunds who is co-pwesenter on Philosophy Bites. Anyway the thing is that these speech impediments don’t turn up in other versions of English. They don’t turn up in Australian, Irish, Scottish, American or New Zealand English – at least to my knowledge.

Is this right or am I missing something? Are there any learned speech impediments in Australian or other Englishs? And are there other affected speech impediments in English English? And what FFS is going on?




Could more “plebisurveys” restore public confidence in Australian democracy?

2017-12-10T14:08:37Z

The extraordinary outpouring of national happiness following the passage of the same sex marriage legislation on Thursday unavoidably gives rise to the question of whether some similar community consultation/plebiscite/survey mechanism (perhaps a well-designed and secure online survey mechanism rather than … Continue reading →The extraordinary outpouring of national happiness following the passage of the same sex marriage legislation on Thursday unavoidably gives rise to the question of whether some similar community consultation/plebiscite/survey mechanism (perhaps a well-designed and secure online survey mechanism rather than an unwieldy and expensive postal survey) might be an effective way to restore falling public confidence in Australia’s liberal democratic political system. For Labor, the Greens and most of the YES/LGBTQIA community, the immediate answer seems to be a resounding NO. Part of the reason for that is that some vulnerable members of the LGBTQIA suffered hurt, abuse and even depression as a result of some of the more grossly hurtful and false claims of the NO campaign. They argue rightly that Parliament itself had the power to enact SSM legislation. It could and should, they say, have exercised that legislative power without any formal process of public consultation as occurs with most other legislative reform. This is a matter of fundamental human rights, they argue, and it is wrong and offensive for other community members to be entitled to vote on whether the rights that everyone else already enjoys should be granted to LGBTQIA people. However, there are several problems with those arguments. First, although I personally agree that marriage equality should be a fundamental human right, the reality is that it has never been so regarded in international law and still isn’t. Twenty four nations (possibly 25 counting Australia) have now legislated for same sex marriage, but all have done so in the last decade or two. Moreover, almost 40% of Australian voters oppose legalising same sex marriage, many of them probably very strongly. It’s one thing to ram economic legislation through Parliament without a formal process of public consultation, quite another with fundamental social legislation with an obvious moral dimension, about which the community is clearly divided. Secondly, the premise that vicious and hurtful public debate would somehow have been avoided by Parliament legislating without first formally consulting the community is dubious at the very least. Almost certainly debate would have been every bit as acrimonious and even vicious in those circumstances and charming individuals like Lyle Shelton would have been every bit as publicly ubiquitous. Discussion might have continued for a slightly shorter period, but there still would have been at least a couple of months between introduction of the bill and its enactment. In the absence of moving urgency (which was not justified), public and parliamentary debate would not have been significantly truncated. Vulnerable members of the LGBTQIA community would have suffered just as much hurt, trauma and depression. The third reason why YES campaigners, Labor and the Greens appear to have opposed any form of community survey or plebiscite prior to Parliament legislating wa the assertion that it would be contrary to the Australian/Westminster system of representative democracy. However that claim misunderstands the concept of representative government itself. The most commonly quoted enunciation of representative democracy/government is that of British [...]



Is the end of Brexit nigh?

2017-12-08T10:35:20Z

The EU and the UK government have just agreed to muddle on in their negotiations. Nothing is truly decided until everything is decided, but they have adopted a position document (see here) that details what they want the next steps … Continue reading →The EU and the UK government have just agreed to muddle on in their negotiations. Nothing is truly decided until everything is decided, but they have adopted a position document (see here) that details what they want the next steps to look like and what they will do in case of disagreement. There is a lot of fudge in the document so as to hide the true nature of the agreement. For instance, to keep the headline figure of the financial settlement down, the parties have agreed that there is “continued participation of the UK in the program of the current Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) until their closure” which means commitments are dragged across any Brexit date. The key bit that to me signals the possible end to the whole Brexit project are two crucial passages about Northern Ireland: 49. The United Kingdom remains committed to protecting North-South cooperation and to its guarantee of avoiding a hard border. Any future arrangements must be compatible with these overarching requirements. The United Kingdom’s intention is to achieve these objectives through the overall EU-UK relationship. Should this not be possible, the United Kingdom will propose specific solutions to address the unique circumstances of the island of Ireland. In the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the all-island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement. 50. In the absence of agreed solutions, as set out in the previous paragraph, the United Kingdom will ensure that no new regulatory barriers develop between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, unless, consistent with the 1998 Agreement, the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly agree that distinct arrangements are appropriate for Northern Ireland. In all circumstances, the United Kingdom will continue to ensure the same unfettered access for Northern Ireland’s businesses to the whole of the United Kingdom internal market.   Now, please do correct me if you think I am misreading this, but this sounds as if the default position in the further negotiations is ‘No Brexit’: if there is no final agreement, then there will be no Brexit for Northern Ireland, and no Brexit between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom either. This default position requires that in the future too, Northern Ireland will remain aligned to the rules in the rest of Ireland, ie the rules of the EU. North-South cooperation is in many spheres, so we’re talking here about immigration, finance, trade, standards, the lot. There is some fudge in how to interpret these paragraphs. You might think that the ‘unfetterred access for … business’ qualification allows migration barriers but this is both not a workable distinction (if any truck can drive straight through as before, everything in that truck also drives through), nor would it preclude Northern Ireland to become the EU gateway to Britain, ie the place where those wanting to work in the rest of the UK come first. Also, ‘no new regulatory barriers’ is a very broad phrase that seem to rule out identity checks and tariffs. I basic[...]



Advance Australia Fair: ignore the other national histories on offer.

2017-11-15T11:35:08Z

National history is the story that binds ‘us who make up the nation’ into a single entity with a collective memory. It has a purpose and as such we can choose what historical events and realities to put into that … Continue reading →National history is the story that binds ‘us who make up the nation’ into a single entity with a collective memory. It has a purpose and as such we can choose what historical events and realities to put into that story, whilst forgetting the rest. Of the four main current contenders for our national history, I think we should pick ‘Advance Australia Fair’ as the only truly useful one. In nearly all Western countries, national history binds those who live somewhere with a story of what those who previously lived there were up to, even when the ancestors came from lots of other places. This is particularly true of Australians, some 30% of whom were not born in Australia and some 70% of whom will have one or more grandparents who were not born in Australia. But it also holds for the history of Great Britain, the USA, France, and even Germany: their national histories are not the histories of the ancestors of those who are now British, American, French, or German. It is crucial for national historians to realise that it is irrelevant whether national history is accurate or balanced. A national history unites those who live in a place into harmony and productivity. We are free to accentuate whatever aspect of the past we need for the purposes of binding the current population in a fruitful story; free to ignore and forget the rest. It is said that winners write history. So let us be winners and choose wisely. When it comes to the history of Australia, one can currently choose four stories with some historical truth to them. Those who wish to see Australia as the vessel for first-Australians can rightfully point to the 40,000 years in which around a million Aboriginals (with varying ancestries and waves of conquest themselves) lived here. In terms of life-years, the human history of the first-Australians represents 99.9% of the history of Australia. Within this ‘dream time’ history, the 0.1% of human-years that has occurred in the last few centuries merely represents an invasion of others, a blip. Those who wish to bind current Australians to a Christian guilt-trip can rightfully point to the near annihilation (by disease and design) of the prior population, followed by 2 centuries of Anglo-Saxon dominance that had little regard for other cultures and has successfully replicated itself onto all newcomers from other places. Though it is of course textbook racism to blame white newcomers for white guilt of an earlier wave of white people, one might argue that wherever one’s ancestors truly came from, it is a fair bet that they will have replaced, murdered, and interbred-via-rape several previous populations at some point. That assessment includes first-Australians, by the way. So the determined guilt-historian might as well blame all Australians for a genocide as a symbol for what some ancestors will have been up to somewhere. Those who wish to depict Australia as a place of frontiers and a welcoming land to all productive newcomers can pick the era of the new waves of migrants in the 19th, 20th, and 21st century. For the ancestor-years-lived-in-Australia of 95% of the population, it would indeed be a fair description to say that Australia was an unknown land the ancestors had to discover and get used to, a new country born in explora[...]



Latino Film Festival 2017

2017-11-14T21:54:56Z

Festival Website | Films | Schedule Top Picks You’re Killing Me Susana (Opening Night) You’re Killing Me Susana tells the story of Eligio, a man who wakes up one day to find out that his wife Susana has left him … Continue reading →Festival Website | Films | Schedule Top Picks You’re Killing Me Susana (Opening Night) You’re Killing Me Susana tells the story of Eligio, a man who wakes up one day to find out that his wife Susana has left him without warning. What follows is Eligio’s earnest quest to win his wife back by following her into the United States where he must navigate cross-cultural differences and come to terms with his own chauvinistic masculinity. While Eligio is certainly presented as a caricature of macho insufferability, his wife Susana is not much better – both are equally self-obsessed to the point of interpersonal destruction. ☆☆☆☆☆ IMDB ☆☆☆☆☆ Spectrum Culture ☆☆☆☆☆ True View Reviews Tales of Mexico Eight directors band together to make this omnibus feature Tales of Mexico – a portfolio of Mexican history and its inevitable repetition. Spanning from before the Mexican Revolution to the present day, it depicts key historical events through its portrayal of various families who lived in one particular house over many decades. A diversity of people/residents of the house appear in each of the eight episodic bites encapsulating violence, classism, persecution and nostalgia as a set of shifting paradigms. The hopes, dreams and ideals of these various tenants give birth to a filmic metaphor for Mexico’s transformation. It all comes fully contained and fully expressed within a singular, domestic space. ☆☆☆☆☆ IMDB Woodpeckers Partially inspired true events, Woodpeckers is an impossible, intriguing and energetic love story centred on two inmates who communicate with sign language between their respective male and female prisons. Julián is a petty thief who finds himself in the overcrowded Najayo men’s prison after being caught stealing a motorcycle. As he adjusts to his new surroundings, he learns to manipulate the prison system to his own advantage. Against the odds, Julián enters into an unlikely romance with Yanelly, who is herself confined to the Najayo women’s prison next door. In order to communicate, they must learn an elaborate form of sign language, known as woodpecking, right under the noses of the prison guards. ☆☆☆☆☆ IMDB Candelaria Two elderly spouses, Candelaria and Victor Hugo, live out their days during a period of strict trade embargo in the ‘90s, and have reached the point where they share the bed only for sleeping. She works tirelessly in a hotel laundry, cleaning blankets that are sent through ducts, and the couple’s only passion is a quintuplet of chickens they keep in the house and fawn over as though they were their own children. Things continue smoothly enough, until the discovery of an illegally smuggled camera turns their lives upside-down. When Victor begins to film his wife, it turns into a sexual game that unwittingly reignites his passion for her. Excited by this revelation, they slowly shift their marriage into the fictional space of the camera lens, blurring the line between what is real and what is make-believe to tell a story rarely told. ☆☆☆☆☆ IMDB Such Is Life In The Tropics Violence is ever-present in the Ecuadorian city of Guayaquil, a product of the anger of those with no voice[...]



Why Blockchain has no economic future.

2017-11-13T09:48:33Z

[expanded from the post on JohnMenadue] When Bitcoin went public in 2009 it introduced to the world of finance and economics the technology of blockchain. Even the many who thought Bitcoin would never make it as a major currency were … Continue reading →[expanded from the post on JohnMenadue] When Bitcoin went public in 2009 it introduced to the world of finance and economics the technology of blockchain. Even the many who thought Bitcoin would never make it as a major currency were intrigued by the BlockChain technology and a large set of new companies have tried to figure out how to offer new services based on blockchain technology. It is still fair to say that very few economists and social scientists understand blockchain, and governments are even further behind. I will argue that blockchain has no economic future in the regular economy. I will give you the bottom-line, then describe blockchain, discuss its key supposed advantages, and then take it apart as a viable technology by giving you a much more efficient alternative to the same market demand opportunities. The bottom line for those not interested in the intricacies of blockchains and public trust The essence of my argument is that a large country can organise a much more trustworthy information system than a distributed network using blockchain can, and at lower costs, meaning that any large economic role for blockchain is easily displaced by a cheaper and even larger national institution. So in the 19th century, large private companies circulated their own money, in competition with towns and princedoms. In that competition, national governments won, as they will again now. The reason that the tech community is investing in blockchain companies is partially because some are in love with the technicalities of blockchain, some hope to attract the same criminal and gullible element that Bitcoin has, some lack awareness of the evolution and reality of political systems, and some see a second-best opportunity not yet taken by others. But even in this brief period of missing-in-action governments, large companies will easily outperform blockchain communities on any mayor market. Except the criminal markets, which is hence the only real future of blockchain communities. Why does politics matter? The key point is that nation states are the answer to the question of the production of mass trust. Nation states are unique good at creating trust, much better than any other entity, including all manner of networks, has ever been. Political scientists, who are very rare in Silicon valley, have known since Weber that the nation state is uniquely capable of producing mass trust, far better than any political competitor, and certainly far better than the anarchistic constructs of the blockchain adherents. This is why nation states run internationally trusted currencies, education qualifications, health insurance, life insurance, land registries, identification systems, etc.: most of the things the tech community believes blockchain will do on the internet are already done much better and much cheaper by nation states outside of the internet. Nation states will show their superiority on the internet too, and probably quite soon, and that will be the end of the blockchain bubble. The temporary advantage blockchain communities have is that at the moment profit margins on a lot of ‘trust-involving’ nation state activities are too high because of political corruption, which [...]



Brexit and the considered will of the British People: the Interview

2017-11-09T11:36:15Z

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Let’s have another World War!

2017-11-06T14:44:54Z

Sometimes, it feels like 1910 all over again. Then, a confident Germany was the up-and-coming industrial power house, fearing an even more up-and-coming Russia, with the UK and France desperately holding on to their colonial empires. Now, a confident China … Continue reading

Sometimes, it feels like 1910 all over again.

Then, a confident Germany was the up-and-coming industrial power house, fearing an even more up-and-coming Russia, with the UK and France desperately holding on to their colonial empires.

Now, a confident China is the up-and-coming industrial powerhouse, fearing an even more up-and-coming India, with the US and its European allies desperately holding on to its global empire.

Then, an international in-bred elite was holding on to far more wealth than it deserved in term of productivity, leading them to support extremism, nationalism, and populism as a means of holding off the tide of socialism and mass discontent.

Now, an international in-bred elite is holding on to far more wealth than it produces, supporting Clinton and Trump, Boris and Macron.

Then, science was threatening to re-structure the world of work radically, with automobiles and telephones making the world a far smaller place than it was before, and with new technology leading to widespread loss of jobs in agriculture and basic trades.

Now, science is re-structuring the world of work radically, with long-distance trade in services and IA driving out the procedural cognitive jobs that keep the peasants and tradesmen of this age busy: administrators, middle-management and I-follow-orders professionals.

Then, belief in magic was still rife, with new migrants in the US and Australia burying shoes in the foundations of the new houses to appease the spirits, and with romantic nationalism blossoming on the Balkans to kick-start a jolly-good-scrap.

Now, belief in magic is even more rife, with witch hunts, fake news, and fairytales in the US (#MeToo, ‘great again’, and DSM V), where the masses reject the notions of innocent till proven guilty and the idea of rationality, and with romantic nationalism blossoming in Scotland, Catalonia, Padania, and god-knows-where.

Then, dooms-sayers were having a field day, ranging from Halley’s Comet that was prophesised to swallow up earth in its 1910 visit, to regular Armageddon following the sinfulness of the times.

Now, there are even more doom-scenarios with widespread support, ranging from the threats to our climate to Islamic fundamentalism to the take-over by robots.

Then, the corrupt were in power, with monarchies, landed aristocrats, oligarchs, and self-congratulating scientists dominating the West, glorifying wars and preaching purity.

Now, well, need I really say it?

So, shall we have another jolly good scrap then to blow away the cobwebs?