Free trade smackdown from Australian economist

31 03 2010

From ABC unleashed:

The last hundred years of global history have been characterised by a number of eternal truths that were supposed to last forever (or at least for a very long time).

These included the 3rd Reich, Communism, the world dominance of the USSR and the USA, Mao’s Cultural Revolution and Free-Market Economics. None of these influences are still with us. Undoubtedly remnants of neoclassical economics will hang around for a while.

Continued here.

Sleek freaks and links to critiques

19 11 2009

flickr user: Rusty Sheriff

I’ve been watching the Superfreakonomics saga unfold with interest.

I confess that I have not read either this book or the earlier Freakonomics, that kicked off the franchise. I have however, observed the exuberant confidence with which the field of micro-economics has taken on new subjects and new challenges in modern times, to some extent spurred on by this bestselling first book. For me this is of great concern. I have always been worried about the way economics has divorced itself from its fellow social sciences and how it dominates decision making and consulting in the halls of power. Perhaps this is best represented by the tip-of-the-tongue familiarity of names like Stern (and Garnaut to Australians). How odd that politicians have sought sagely advice from economists about the unfolding crisis of climate change (as opposed to other thinkers – political scientists, geophysicists, biologists, ecologists and so on).

Also concerning is the claim to this new form of micro-economics to being “value-free” or agnostic on morality. This is not true. Any decision to emphasise or frame matters is coloured by values. All the more dangerous that the authors cannot see this. There is no doubt that the power of statistics in highlighting causal relationships is something that can be put to good use. But the idea that this is new ior revolutionary is insulting to the statisticians, epidemiologists, sociologists and so on, who have used powerful statistical methods to draw such conclusions in the past.

With a major financial collapse just starting to ease, now is the time for the discipline of economics to take up its most important challenge – shaping economic systems that serve the people and nourish the living world. Systems which do not require further growth in energy consumption or resources. Some have started down this path. But until the mainstream of the profession grasps the new realities of material and energy constraints, it will indeed remain the dismal science.

Here is a great collection of links to blogs and media discussing Superfreakonomics. (Most are critical, some defending the book).

Ecology lessons from traditional cultures

15 10 2009

While the term “racist” is a little too loosely thrown about, Ariel Salleh, a sociologist from the University of Sydney, makes the case for a far more radical sustainability discussion to the one that dominates the mass media right now.  Click the link to stream the audio from Radio National.

Is our sustainability science racist?

New economics

8 04 2009


Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “New economics“, posted with vodpod

Chants, signs and graffiti from the G20 protests in London.

2 04 2009

If you got any more, please contribute and link to the original article or image if it exists.

“Beat inflation — eat the rich” – G

“Build a bonfire, build a bonfire. Put the bankers on the top, put Gordon Brown in the middle and burn the f…..g lot” – C

“Jobs Not Bombs: YES WE CAN” – S

“Abolish money” – C

“Eat the Bankers” – S

“Capitalism isn’t Working – another world is possible” – S

“Make love not leverage” – S

“This ruckus sponsored by JobCentre Plus” – S

“When I say banker, you say wanker” – C

“It’s our money they’ve stolen” – S

“Can we overthrow the government – yes we can !” -S

“Capitalism stole my virginity”

“RIP Canary Wharf, 1990-2009” – S

“F..k capitalism” -S

“Consumers suck” – S

“Housing is a right not a privilege” – S

“Capitalism kills” – S

“Swindler’s List” – S

“Nature doesn’t do bail-outs” – S

“Renewable democracy” – S

“Mind the Income Gap” – S

“Green capitalism is not possible” – G

“Planet before profit”- S

“Spank the banker” – G

“Capitalism is condemned” – G

“It’s going to get worse” – S

“Down with this sort of thing” – S

“Fractional reserve bull£$it” – S

“Democracy is an illusion” – S

“No-one has any right to buy or sell the Earth for private gain” -S

“0% interest – in others” – S

“Beneath the concrete, the forest grows” – S

“Resistance is fertile” – S

More on Australia’s cop-out on CO2

21 12 2008

I thought an article from Peter Hartcher in the Sydney Morning Herald put it well this past week.  Labelling Rudd “Captain Reasonable”, he had this to say:

“He described climate change as an elephant of an issue, but then proposed not doing anything especially big about it.

He called it “a threat to our people, our nation and our planet”, but then announced only the gentlest of responses.

He said the country stood at “the crossroads of history”, but then suggested that we choose the course of least resistance.

For heaven’s sake, he seemed to be saying, can’t we all just be reasonable.

Rudd’s carbon emissions plan is crafted as a piece of political positioning, and he said as much himself…”

There are times when trying to carve the middle ground is not the right course of action.  Times when leadership means bringing non-believers along with you.  Times when there is truly a right and wrong position and no rational in-between path.  And times when anything less than urgent and drastic action equates to utter failure.

To draw an analogy, if I’m jumping across a ravine between two cliff faces, it doesn’t matter if I miss by 5 metres or only 1 metre – I’m screwed either way.  I wish Kevin Rudd could understand that his bureaucratic and political impulses willcarry destructive consequences the like of which we’ve never seen.

Further on this topic, progressive action group GetUp is raising funds to air this ad during the Cricket on Boxing Day:

…..and poet and environmentalist Mark O’Connor discusses here
the suicidally high population growth rate that Australia is pursuing
(higher than most South-East Asian countries including Indonesia!) and
how this will make significant CO2 reduction almost certainly

A growth is a bad thing isn’t it?

3 12 2008

Here’s the ABC’s journalists talking to each other about some economic data from Australia today.  I’ve taken the liberty of adding my own reflections.  My comments are in purple.

GDP shows economy barely growing

The World Today – Wednesday, 3 December , 2008 12:10:00
Reporter: Stephen Long

ELEANOR HALL: But first to the grim news about the economy, the latest national account figures show that Australian economy is barely growing at all. [For whom is it grim?  Most species would probably think that humans are consuming plenty enough already without increasing their share.]

The country’s gross domestic product rose by just 0.1 of one per cent in the September quarter; and the non-farm economy is already going backwards. [Going backwards.  A loaded term surely.  If people are buying almost as much stuff as last year, I would think that we’re pretty keen shoppers still]

Joining us to analyse the latest numbers is our economics correspondent Stephen Long.

So Stephen, how worried should we be about these GDP figures? [She might have asked, should we worry at all about these abstract numbers?..but easier to go for the leading question]

STEPHEN LONG: Well they’re very weak Eleanor, they suggest that the economy recorded virtually no growth, was just in positive territory, almost grinding to a halt in the three months to September.  [That’s a rather odd thing to say.  If people are consuming a little bit more than last year then consumer activity hasn’t really ground to a halt.  Even if people bought half what they did last year….that isn’t grinding to a halt.  What a strange turn of phrase.]

But if you take out the, if you look at the non-farm economy which is where more than 90 per cent of the activity takes place and where most of us live and work, well that was going backwards significantly. So they are a worry. [The thing is the non-farm economy is not a place.  We don’t live in an economy….it’s just an abstract way of trying to sum up commercial exchanges in a place.  There’s an implicit suggestion that to not consume more than last year is to “go backwards” in some profound and overarching sense of the phrase.]

They suggest the economy was in bad straits before the worst of the global credit crunch hit and before we saw the world’s powers coming together to say we had to take drastic action to rescue the world economy, things were already looking pretty bad.

ELEANOR HALL: So what was slowing the economy so much then?

STEPHEN LONG: Household consumption was one of the main things; you’ve got a situation where basically consumers were on strike. [Geez Mum, you only bought as much crap as you did last year.  Are you on strike or something?] So you had just 0.1 per cent seasonally adjusted growth in household consumption.

But that’s a bit misleading because that was driven up by rising rent, up 0.6 per cent, rising insurance and financial services costs in the quarter [So because there’s a reason, then we leave that stuff out – if its explainable then it doesn’t count]. Purchases of vehicles were down eight per cent, people weren’t spending money in hotels, cafés and restaurants, that sector went backwards. [Really?  Not a single cafe, hotel or restaurant sold anything.  I’ll be damned!]

And you also had a big rise in inventories which peculiarly is counted as a positive contribution to economic growth but actually suggests that companies couldn’t sell stuff. [Not as bloody peculiar as spending on burglar alarms, deadlocks, road accidents,  fighter jets and kidney transplants which we count toward economic growth] So that suggests that consumers were on strike [yep haven’t seen a shop for about four months myself], there’s a couple of things going on.

Bear in mind this pre-dates the huge round of interest rate cuts that we’ve seen over the past four Reserve Bank meetings in the past three months. And also the fall in petrol prices.

So people were getting whacked at this stage by high petrol prices [sorry – what’s this climate change thingy?] and relatively high interest rates but also it suggests that consumers were getting very, very worried about the state of the economy and companies couldn’t sell things.

ELEANOR HALL: Now these figures are for the September quarter, can we expect things to be better or worse in the current quarter?

STEPHEN LONG: Well forecasting is a difficult game, I always stick by the maxim of the late American economist J K Galbraith that the purpose of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable [some truth and sense at last]; but it is quite possible that growth could go backwards and we could record negative growth in the December quarter. [Backwards growth…negative growth…does he mean shrinkage, contraction, decline, diminution… is that what he means..funny language].  That’s the forecast of a lot of economists [as if we trust them anymore].

In a sense it depends really how much the huge fiscal stimulus that the Federal Government pumped in, $10.4-billion actually feeds into spending and how much the rate cuts feed into consumption. And we did have relatively strong retail sales compared to what the market was expecting with the numbers out yesterday.

But it’s quite possible that the economy could quite formally go backwards in the December quarter. All of this is moot though in a sense [in a very bloody accurate sense], whether we actually technically hit a recession with two quarters of negative growth or not, the fact is, things are looking grim [unless you have an interest in the wellbeing of your grandchildren or the survival of hundreds of thousands of species of life on Earth. And ooh, there’s that euphemistic “technical recession” phrase again – had to squeeze it in there somewhere]

If you go back a year ago, we were recording a one per cent growth rate in the September quarter, now we’re down to 0.1 of a per cent in the September quarter. So things have slowed rapidly and we’ve seen a situation where employment growth is one-third of what it was if you go back to that stage. [Hang on, you’re saying that we’re still making new jobs!]

Unemployment is going to go up [hmmm.  what are the astrologers saying on that one?], as I said the non-farm economy is going backwards [so the farm economy must be doing very bloody nicely thanks]; it will feel and smell like a recession for most people [how does a recession smell?  I think I’ve forgotten.  Perhaps it the smell of fresh air, or lavender or something quite lovely]

ELEANOR HALL: And a year ago too we were very reliant on the resources boom, have we got to give up on that at this stage? [No Eleanor, we ought to just keep digging shit out of the ground like there’s no tomorrow.  Why care?]

STEPHEN LONG: Yes and one of the other things here is that, you’ve had a fairly strong contribution to economic growth over the year by capital investment from business and that’s going out the window. There was also a reasonably strong contribution in the quarter from public spending, we’ll be expecting that to go up but it shows you how weak the private economy is.

ELEANOR HALL: So how is the Treasury forecast of two per cent growth over the year to next June looking now? [Well, Eleanor it is probably as good a number as any]

STEPHEN LONG: Well I think it’s looking pretty shaky, I think it’s looking very optimistic. Of course they’ll be banking on these massive interest rate cuts by the Reserve Bank feeding into higher consumption and the Government throwing money into the economy to generate spending to get them over the line with that two per cent growth forecast. But it’s looking very ambitious right now.

ELEANOR HALL: Stephen Long our economics correspondent thank you.

Apologies for the cynic in me but I tire of opinion presented as analysis.  The agenda has been set and we know what we’re allowed to think before the interview hits its stride.  And this, from the national broadcaster.  But at least they didn’t interview Bill Evans– chief economist of Westpac, or the ubiquitous Saul Estlake of ANZ or any other number of vested interests.