April 30, 2012 | Nick

A change is gonna come

On the weekend, Graham Quirk led the LNP team to a massive victory in the Brisbane City Council with a significant swing to the LNP. At the same time, Jackie Trad came very close to losing the South Brisbane by-election with a further swing to the LNP on top of the massive swing at the recent state election.

The results from those two elections destroy any theory that the electorate might snap back after giving Labor a kicking. There appears to have been a significant shift in voter loyalty.

There are only two states in Australia – South Australia and Victoria – where Labor has any realistic expectation that it might win the next state election. It is still behind in both of those states according to Newspoll, just not so disastrously far behind as it is everywhere else.

The Gillard Government is terminal. Those who think otherwise are kidding themselves. The results in Queensland and Brisbane make previously unthinkable results possible. There is a real possibility that the ALP is headed for something similar at the federal level. There is a real possibility that it will not hold a single seat in Western Australia or Queensland at the next federal election.

So what’s next? If the Labor Party is wiped out at the federal election as seems likely, it will have major structural problems. It won’t be able to raise money because no one will seriously entertain the possibility that they will be in government any time soon. They will not have the infrastructure that comes from having a critical mass of elected officials.

That lack of infrastructure will put the Labor Party in an historically weak position. It has been in a similarly weak position, but not in competition with another serious left-wing force. Now the Greens are devouring the Labor Party from the left and represent serious competition for the left wing vote.

So, before long, the opposition to the Coalition, now increasingly identified by the Queensland moniker “LNP”, will consist of the of two parties, the ALP and the Greens, neither with the wherewithal or the popular acceptance to make a go of things alone.

Where does all that lead? My guess is that within this decade, we will see the left have its equivalent of Menzies’ 1944 conference that saw formation of the Liberal Party. It’s at least a couple of elections away, I think. The Greens will not be able to accept for a while yet that there dreams of governing in their own right will not come true. The Labor Party has a lot of baggage of which it must let go before it could subscribe to it.

What will be necessary (and what I think likely) is a couple of big drubbings in a row at the federal level, and continued bad results in Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia. After that, the left will not be able to bear things any longer. They won’t be able to bear what I suspect will be an extended Abbott supremacy. That is when the re-alignment is likely to happen.

Posted by Nick at 4:23 pm | Comments (8) |

April 26, 2012 | Graham

Qanda’s junk science survey

Qanda’s special on climate change – I can change your mind – deployed some junk science of its own.

I completed the survey and was told my position was “Dismissive”. That might be correct, but the “profile” of my position at the end of the survey indicates that at the very least it was doctored, and at the worst, the research it was based on is useless.

The “profile” was said to be “based on results from a survey conducted in the US by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication”.

As you can see from my annotations below some of what is in the “profile” couldn’t have been measured by the questionnaire, because the questions to measure them weren’t in it.

The “profile” also severely misrepresents my position, possibly because it hasn’t bothered to consider it, and therefore draws conclusions based on what it has considered.

I’ve been following this issue for over 40 years and my position for quite some time has been that you will not stop man burning fossil fuel to maintain his standard of living so that the most sensible position is adaptation, not abatement. If you’re serious about limiting carbon emissions, then nuclear is the only way to go at the moment.

CO2 emissions definitely contribute to warming the world, but beyond a certain point its effect is limited, and far less than the IPCC has projected. Its projections depend on natural amplication which the history of the world demonstrates doesn’t exist.

See if you can recognise this nuanced view in the “profile” below.

The Dismissive are sure that global warming is not happening.  No, I answered that it was happening. You say the issue is not at all important to you personally and are not worried about it at all. You, however, say that you have thought about global warming and believe you are well-informed about the causes, consequences, and potential solutions – i.e., that there are none, because it doesn’t exist.  No, see previous answer, I didn’t say that. I am very well-informed and I have formed the opinion that adaptation will mean that it will make no net difference to us compared to business as usual, which has to embody significant change. You are very certain about your views, and are very unlikely to change your mind about the issue. Many of the Dismissive flatly reject the proposition that global warming is happening, while a majority believe that if global warming is happening, natural changes in the environment are the primary cause.  No, when I answered this question I said I wasn’t sure. The argument hinges on whether there are positive or negative feedbacks in the system, and what the dominant forces are. The systems are not sufficiently well understood for anyone to be able to say what is the major contributor. Likewise, a majority believe there is a lot of disagreement among scientists over whether global warming is occurring, while over a fifth of the Dismissive believe there is a scientific consensus that global warming is not happening.  Not sure how they know this as it wasn’t one of the questions. It assumes that there is a scientific consensus.  You say that global warming will not harm you personally or future generations at all. I live in a rich country. You didn’t ask me about the poorer part of the world. Finally, you believe global warming will never harm people.  Nope, never said this.

Posted by Graham at 10:36 pm | Comments (15) |
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April 24, 2012 | Graham

A natural experiment, or catastrophe for the World?

If the French elect Francois Hollande the world may get a neat natural experiment where we can compare high Keynesianism to the Washington model using the comparative economic performances of France and Greece.

Or it may be that with one of the two strong men of Europe defecting to the high expenditure, high debt side of the argument that the whole of Europe will be pushed into crisis.

Suddenly, for the first time in my life, this is a French election that matters.

While we might like to pretend that our future lies in Asia, it doesn’t – it lies in the world, and the economics of that world are heavily influenced by what happens in Europe.

Hollande stands for defending the French welfare state, currently running at 56% of GDP. That figure looks set to rise as his policies include:

  • Hiring 60,000 new teachers and investing heavily in training particularly of young people
  • Increasing tax to 75% for those earning over a million euros
  • Freezing fuel prices  for three months
  • Increasing allowances for those with school-age children
  • Lowering the pension age from 62 to 60, after it was only just increased

Perhaps he thinks that increasing tax will help to stabilise outlays, but experience over the last century shows that for people earning that sort of money taxation is voluntary. They either rearrange their affairs to deal with it, or move elsewhere. Not all of them, of course, but economic battles are won and lost at the margins.

Still, this tax increase is significant as it is the first that I can remember since Proposition 13 was passed in the US in 1978 – 34 years ago. It was the starter’s gun of the global tax revolt.

According to the IMF the largest economy in the world is the Eurozone at $15,821,264 International Dollars is around 20% of world GDP, and is followed by the US on $15,094,025, and China on $11,299,967.

France’s GDP is $2,217,900, so about 15% of Eurozone GDP, and compares to Australia with $914,482. Germany is the largest Eurozone country with GDP of $3,099,080.

While China is growing rapidly and a large proportion of this is based on modernisation of its agrarian economy, it still relies heavily on exporting to Europe and the USA. And Europe relies heavily on France and Germany.

The trek back from the excesses of the 90s and 2000s is going to take a while. It’s going to take a lot longer if the French take the scenic route.

Particularly as an Hollande win will signal to other European politicians, like the Greek ones, but also those in Spain, Portugal and Italy, that prosperity through austerity may sound good to financiers but it won’t be rewarded by voters.

It may be that the voters win in these countries, or that the financiers do. Either way we’re looking at some interesting natural experiments that will keep economic conferences buzzing for decades.



Posted by Graham at 6:07 am | Comments (1) |
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April 12, 2012 | Graham

Q&A’s Neanderthal dilemma

Greg Sheridan thinks that George Pell won Monday night’s debate about religion and atheism. I disagree. A man in Pell’s position ought to know much more about fundamental issues than Pell seemed to.

That doesn’t mean that I think Dawkins won. His performance too was second rate, justifying in this instance Sheridan’s description of him as a “C” list celebrity.

Nothing illustrates this point better than the argument they had about whether homo sapiens is descended from Neanderthal. The problem is that Pell thought we are, and Dawkins thought we aren’t.

Both positions are wrong.

The correct position is that we are mostly not descended from Neanderthals, but as there was some small degree of interbreeding, there is some small degree of descent.

Pell should have known this as a matter of general knowledge, and so much more should Dawkins, as the expert in such matters.

Dawkins probably did (how could he not), but probably chose to ignore it in the interests of not complicating his argument or his sneer at Pell.

Which is the problem with Q&A – it’s sideshow and spectacle, not serious intellectual endeavour. A problem which is worsened by host Tony Jones flip and sanctimonious interventions. Time to move him on and put a better performer into the spot. Geraldine Doogue would most likely have made a much more satisfactory moderator and interlocutor.

The debate was supposed to be about whether religion makes the world a better place or not, but instead of dealing with that it hared off down so many rabbit holes, like the neanderthal one, that the topic was never really discussed.

That made the television audience vote at the end on the proposition essentially meaningless because the debate had simply failed to address it. A pity because the idea of an audience vote has some merit, although not in the crude way that Q&A is currently using it.

Posted by Graham at 11:15 pm | Comments (11) |
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