Missing link Friday – 28 October 2011

Moving backwards? Opposition leader Tony Abbott’s project is "oriented to the past rather than the future, and it seeks to reinstate the past by projectively erasing the present", writes Mark Bahnisch.

Bringing back tram conductors: The Greens want to bring back Melbourne’s tram conductors. But Alan Davies at the Melbourne Urbanist is unconvinced: "I don’t know why nominally progressive people are so infatuated with this issue. In my opinion, spending $60 million p.a. on improving outer suburban bus services would achieve a lot more environmentally and socially than providing conductors for relatively privileged inner city and inner suburban tram travellers."

Can you get things done without making people hate you? How assertive should managers be? According to recent post at Psyblog, "people who are low in assertiveness get less things done but people very high in assertiveness are socially insufferable". The sweet spot is somewhere in between.

Battle of the think tanks: "Australia’s most prolific and influential think tanks will duke it out over whose ideology and vision for the future should prevail" at an event hosted by Thought Broker on Saturday November 12. Via Andrew Norton.

Creative destruction: Most ideas in business are bad ideas, says Karl Smith. So "what you need is a process that destroys as many bad ideas as possible, leaving the rare good idea to prosper." That process is the market.

Is this what you want for your daughter? A US senate candidate offers some advice to wives. Be "a lady in the living room and a whore in the bedroom". What does that mean? Marina Adshade spells it out.

Is inequality stifling innovation? "Perhaps we’re not having much innovation because our median incomes aren’t growing fast enough", suggests Matthew Yglesias.

Equality of opportunity? US Senator Paul Ryan believes in equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome — the idea that "justice is done when we level the playing field at the starting line, and rewards are proportionate to merit and effort." But a belief in equality of opportunity and strident opposition to redistribution just doesn’t make sense, argues Matthew Yglesias.

Rawls and the protesters: Philosopher John Rawls would make a "perfect intellectual touchstone" for the Occupy Wall Street protests, writes Steven Mazie in the New York Times. But according to Will Wilkinson, Mazie is peddling a watered down version of Rawls’ philosophy.

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9 Responses to Missing link Friday – 28 October 2011

  1. conrad says:

    I wonder if Alan Davies has ever tried to take outsuburban bus services — I think not unless he doesn’t mind one hour waits and not going anywhere on the weekend. Not surprisingly, many of them seem pretty devoid of customers for most of the day as far as I can tell. It seems to me that a lot of public transport works in a very non-linear way — once it’s too unreliable or slow, patronage is always going to be poor since everyone buys cars and uses them instead (this appears to be most of outer suburbia).

    I also wonder why he doesn’t factor in the gazillions it seems to cost to get electronic ticketing working. I assume that even the interest alone on the recent debacles would have paid for conductors using nice cheap paper tickets, so if the Myki systems breaks down again, conductors really would be a cheaper option than spending billions on another failed system.

  2. Certainly after the Myki fiasco the cost advantages of electronic ticketing versus conductors look weak. But as Davies points out, Melbourne trams are often too crowded for conductors to be able to do their jobs. They would just be wasting valuable space.

  3. Sinclair Davidson says:

    a lady in the living room and a whore in the bedroom

    This is a variation of an old Jerry Hall quote, although it may even have preceded her.

  4. Alan Davies says:

    Conrad, an additional $60 million p.a. could go a long way towards improving the frequency and hours of operation of public transport in outer suburbs. This could greatly improve the welfare of those without access to a car.

    Myki is a sunk cost. Bringing back conductors won’t recover that expenditure.

  5. conrad says:

    That’s probably true Alan, but it’s a huge opportunity cost for the rather small number of people it would benefit, and it also means we’d have even more buses wandering around and belching out smog with few passengers (for example, if doubling bus frequency got you 30% more passengers, you’d obviously have less people on each bus).

    You might ask how bad it really is. Let’s take an example — I work in the rather accessible suburb of Hawthorn, but if I lived in any outer suburb not on a train-line I still don’t see how I could get public transport to work and not spend my whole life on it. How long would it take, for example, to get from Rowville to Hawthorn (or even the city?) if I didn’t drive part of the way (e.g., to the closest train station), hence negating the need for buses. Even if my average wait time for the bus was only 10 minutes and the bus took only 20 minutes to get to the station (given that most bus routes seem to wander around all over the place), that’s a lot of time when I still have the rest of my journey if I could drive it in 10.

    Rather than just use thought experiments here, I assume this is one of the reasons why when we see those elasticity numbers for petrol, Australia ranks at or close to the bottom of most countries — I wonder what they are for outer suburbanites in Melbourne? Even worse I assume. The only way I see out for them is to start riding scooters like many parts of the world (trails for bikes would and be good and cheap too, although I doubt a great percentage of the population would ever start riding the 20ks from the burbs to work).

    “Myki is a sunk cost. Bringing back conductors won’t recover that expenditure.”

    I agree — I was thinking of the time when it needs to be replaced.

  6. Pedro says:

    “I agree — I was thinking of the time when it needs to be replaced.”

    Solution on the shelf

  7. Alan Davies says:

    Conrad, a good point and well put. However I’m not talking about providing better public transport in the vain hope that outer suburban workers will leave their cars at home and commute by bus instead. As you suggest, scooter would be a more sensible solution.

    I’m talking about how $60 million p.a. could be used to provide a basic or minimum level of service for the 43% of new lots in outer Melbourne that have really poor public transport service at present (see the link at the end of my article). I’m also specifically comparing that benefit with the alternative of providing tram conductors.

  8. Sally says:

    From the very day homo sapiens began to organise itself into groups, wise elders understood the need for ethical behavior. You did not need to read John Rawls to understand that we should strive for social justice. I’m not sure how anyone can come to the conclusion based on the banalities of the NYT commentary and its genuflection to notions of social justice that John Rawls of all people can be considered one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century Unless you’re into forever reinventing the wheel or something or stating the blindingly obvious.

    At any rate, that there is “something seriously wrong” globally can hardly be redressed by moral appeals.

    It will take a lot more than that and probably actual force, something that is out of the range of possibilities for liberalism, unless of course it is deployed against those impudent underdeveloped countries that believe that a genuine chance of economic and social success enjoyed by the rich world and its elites is only possible by seizing the means of production and instituting an economy based on human need rather than private profit. Or instigating class and intra- or inter-national war and sabotage against the rich.

    Quelle horreur on both counts.

  9. Mike Pepperday says:

    Be fair, Sally. Rawls came along after a long drought on writing on justice and he did have a clever idea in the “veil of ignorance” (snappy vocabulary too).

    Will Wilkinson says:

    “…if robust economic rights are included in the list of basic liberties, they’re removed, like the rest of our basic rights, from the scope of democratic discretion.”

    I cannot see that, logically, anything can “be removed” from the scope of demographic discretion. Who is going to do this removing of “basic liberties”? Rawls? Logically, nothing can be beyond the scope of democracy. The so-called basic liberties are awarded by the society and either they are agreed democratically or else they are decreed undemocratically by some autocrat or oligarchy.

    “The point of basic rights … is to limit the scope of politics.”

    Exactly. And the article in effect shows that the shape of the philosopher’s society depends on what he decrees to be “basic rights”. Plato had comparable conceits.

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