Theoretically wrong

Dr Geoff Davies, keen to crack on with solving the world’s problems, makes a critique of neoclassical economic theory, seeking to explain why the results of its application are so bad (see previous post on this subject). His second post is not as straightforwardly incorrect as the first in his series, because several of the criticisms he makes are ones with which I agree, or are true in a trivial sense, or are true but don’t have the significance he attaches to them. In addition, discussions about theory aren’t as amenable to simple refutation like his first post about empirical evidence.
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Non-story of the week

There is an article in today’s Sun Herald on data from the government’s My School website showing that rich kids are much more likely to go to selective schools (ie academically rigorous schools with competitive entry). The article quotes a succession of “educators” suggesting that this is an unexpected result. But why should it be? The last sentence is from Brian Chudleigh of the Public Schools Principals Forum:

In theory, enrolment at a selective school is based on academic merit. Unfortunately, that nexus between socio-economic status and enrolment in selective schools is plain for all to see. …

Children from less fortunate backgrounds, while they may be just as intelligent as children from more affluent homes, struggle to compete right from the word go.

Intelligence isn’t everything when it comes to academic merit. Contributory factors include parents with higher education, the emphasis they place on education, the presence of books in the house, and role models for the benefits of education in the student’s social group. These are all more likely in a more affluent household than one from the lowest socio-economic quintile. The natural and normal result is that having richer parents means a greater opportunity for their children to reach their potential. Having better opportunities is the whole reason people strive to be wealthy in the first place, and we can hardly condemn that most basic impulse of striving to provide for one’s family and their future.

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Hopelessly wrong

‘Hopelessly wrong’ is a great phrase. So wrong that there is simply no hope whatsoever of ever being right; a wrong so profound that one might as well despair. The phrase features in the title and body of a recent blog post by Dr Geoff Davies, an Australian scientist, author and commentator. It was brought to my attention because of what Davies believes is hopelessly wrong – free market “fundamentalists”. Or perhaps the free market “doctrine”, or “mantra”, as Davies puts it – there isn’t a great deal of precision in his broadsides. This conflation of many discrete (if interdependent) entities and concepts is perhaps the most pervasive error in this post and its follow-up, and will no doubt feature in the finale. My reply will focus on part 1, subtitled ‘The Evidence’, possibly following with another post if I won’t be repeating myself too much.

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I recently attended a meet the candidates event sponsored by the Inner West Courier at Marrickville Town Hall. The Liberal candidate, Rosana Tyler, was invited but declined to attend. That was probably wise – it was packed with Labor and Greens supporters, reflecting the voting patterns of the electorate. Fiona Byrne, candidate for the Greens and current Marrickville Council mayor, and Deputy Premier Carmel Tebbutt, incumbent member (and wife of Anthony Albanese, MP for Grayndler) had a chance to put their case for election. It was pro forma stuff for both politicians, although with Tebbutt showing her substantially greater experience by speaking at length without notes. That experience was also evident during the 90 minutes of questions from the floor that followed, with Tebbutt expertly parrying difficult questions. The questions to Byrne were rarely challenging, partly because she hasn’t been part of a shambolic government, and partly because of the heavy Greens contingent (she got the most interruptive cheers as well, by far).

The only question that went to Byrne’s record was about Marrickville Council’s decision (media release 10 January) in December last year to join the Global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel.
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First thoughts on proposed carbon tax

Julia Gillard has broken an election promise, and for once I approve. Her government has decided to accept the Greens’ proposal of an interim carbon dioxide emissions (CO2e) tax, to come into effect next year, before a likely transition to an emissions trading scheme (ETS). Precious few details have been released, so I’m yet to get over-excited, but it’s better than I expected. When Rudd was running the show, a crippled ETS was all that was on offer. Many criticised the Greens for rejecting it, and if the Coalition had won the election, they might have been kicking themselves. But it has turned out that sticking to principle has paid off, and now Labor has been forced to accept a CO2e tax.

I am worried about the vague promises of ‘compensation’ from Gillard, because if they are badly targeted, they will defeat the purpose of the tax. Going by her public statements, she seems to understand what it is meant to do, but the cost-of-living argument pushes many of a politician’s buttons, and it’s possible that the tax’s intended effects will be dulled (or even negated) by poorly designed compensatory measures. The Rudd government’s original ETS proposal was shot down by the Greens for that very reason. I think there’s going to be an awful lot of argy-bargy between Labor, the Greens and the Independents over the details of this one, and those disagreements could scuttle the idea.

It’s a pity the Liberals nailed their colours to the mast so early (“no new big tax!1!!”), because this would be a great opportunity to get overall tax burden reductions. All they have to do is demand a reduction in income tax (ideally by increasing the tax-free threshold) and/or the reduction or elimination of any number of nuisance taxes, in return for supporting a CO2e tax. But under Abbott, that door is closed, partly because of his contrariness, and partly because of their hodge-podge of statist interventions euphemistically called ‘direct action’. More fool them.

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Emerging from the Twilight Zone

In case the younger readers think otherwise – no, I do NOT mean the fairy vampires.

Normal transmission will resume shortly. Do not adjust your screen.

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It’s almost too easy

Sometimes I wish the Sydney Morning Herald letters page allowed comments, as they do on some articles and opinion pieces. Sure, you can submit a reply, but there’s no guarantee of being published, and the discussion can go no further anyway[1]. So when I saw the letter from Julian Brown of Manly Vale, reproduced in full below, I thought a good fisking was in order. Mr Brown, feel free to respond to my criticisms in comments.
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Good news

It’s that time of the semester, so I have been somewhat remiss in noting some good news stories recently. Here’s a quick rundown of some well-known, and not so well-known, examples of the world getting better.
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Told you I wasn’t any good at this

I have waited for 17 days to do a stocktake of my predictions before the election, and technically I should wait until all the counting is done, but I don’t think any new developments will change how well I did.

1. “Labor will win” – Well, I got the big one right. Tick.
2. “they’ll probably do slightly better with Gillard” – We can never know for sure, but I’m going to count this as a failed prediction. Cross.
3. “The deposing of Rudd will not be a big factor by the end of the campaign” – No-one cared except a few Queenslanders. Tick.
4. Labor as competent economic managers – The big failure of the campaign is that they didn’t go hard on this (presumably because it would keep awareness of the deposing of Rudd in the limelight). I think I was right to predict it would be the accepted wisdom, but its failure to become a central campaign issue negates my prediction. Neither tick nor cross.
5. Border protection – Didn’t become a big issue, despite the Coalition’s fervent efforts. Neither tick nor cross.
6. Gay marriage – Wasn’t even a blip on the campaign radar. Neither tick nor cross.
7. Resources tax – Ditto (thanks to advertising truce and backdown by Labor), but that’s what I predicted. Tick.
8. More Senate seats for the Greens – Tick.
9. No HoR seats for the Greens – Cross. That one took me by surprise.
10. No big change in Greens vote – Most of Labor’s lost votes went to the Greens. Cross.
11. “Liberals will gain some seats” – They did better than I thought, but the prediction stands. Tick.
12. Abbott as liability – Contrary to expectations, Abbott was consistent and disciplined during the campaign, with only a few gaffes and no big ones. Cross.
13. Stopping the boats will be a vote-winner – Hard to tell. Despite the barrage of tedious advertising that had this as a prime policy, I don’t feel it was a big winner for the Coalition. Neither tick nor cross.
14. Liberals deprived of usual position as better on the economy – The flipside of number 4, and therefore neither tick nor cross.

Tally: 5 correct, 4 incorrect, 5 turning out to be too hard to call or largely irrelevant. Not bad, but I’ll do better next time.

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So I’m specieist. Sue me.

You probably haven’t heard about the Bosnian girl who was filmed throwing puppies into a river recently. Or maybe you have – the video went viral, and was picked up by the mainstream media, to the usual accompaniment of tabloidesque outrage and condemnation. Forgive me if I sound cynical, but when a famous director offers a US$50,000 reward for information leading to the girl’s arrest, and Hollywood actors pipe up to say they have “never been so disgusted before”, I can’t help myself. What kind of mixed-up priorities do these people have, that cruelty to animals is more important, more disgusting, than the endless saga of human suffering?

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