Towards a post-capitalist or a post-WTF world?

Hitler riding a rainbow on a sled.Vint Cerf is a serious guy or so I thought I was entitled to believe - he’s one of the early architects of the internet. Anyway, with David Nordfors he’s disrupting unemployment. How? He’s got this amazing idea for an internet platform to match people who want to work with people who want work done for them. Capiche?

Today there is a product or service being developed for every possible need and desire. Can the economy develop valuable jobs for every person, letting them do something that fits them like a tailored suit, creating the highest possible value and satisfaction for everyone involved? Then there will be an infinite number of job possibilities for a limited amount of people. People will be the scarce resource, not jobs. Imagine instead of getting a job because you can do something that other people (or machines) can do, you get a job because you are special in a way that creates real value for other people.

Sounds so simple it makes you kick yourself for not seeing it. Demand? Supply? Skills? Their relation? The disutility of labour for those at the bottom of the heap? The utility of labour for those at the top? Centuries of worry about inadequate demand for lower skilled workers just melts away before the power of Digital Disruption. If only we had platforms for matching job seekers with employers right now, why we’d be pretty much over the problem. Oh wait . . .

Anyway, perhaps you can see more in this extraordinary essay than I can. If so please sing out in comments below. We are expanding the fleet of prizes from the Merc Sports and Rooter the PV to Bronwyn the helicopter, so we’ve certainly thrown the switch for this one.

But that’s not all. Continue reading

Some wisdom on Europe from 1972!

Euro Crisis In 2012John Pinder, “Economic Growth, Social Justice and Political Reform,” in Richard Mayne (ed.), Europe Tomorrow: Sixteen Europeans Look Ahead (1972):

“… the European Community appears to be moving towards a repetition of the old centralizing errors of the nation-states, by making economic policy instruments uniform over the whole area without considering whether this will allow the peripheral regions to be prosperous or not. For the thrust of the Community’s development has been towards free trade, uniform agricultural prices, uniform tax systems and rates, and now a common currency, rather than towards common action to abolish poverty, unemployment, and regional depression. … [A]mong the first casualties, if the new European economic system is constructed [along these lines], will be the regions outside the golden quadrangle [between Milan, Paris, the Midlands, and the Ruhr]. For they will find themselves bound to that golden Moloch by Community rules of fiscal and monetary uniformity; and this, because the Community’s economy is bigger and its institutions still more remote than those of the existing nation-states, will make their predicament even worse than it is now.”

HT: Tommi Uschanov

Hayek – left right and centre

My friend Martin Stewart-Weeks points me to this piece by Simon Griffiths which argues that “an engagement with Hayek does not mean a capitulation to the market”. Quite. Indeed it’s always struck me that it’s a pity that Hayek pursued his ideas in such a tendentious way. He had a great critique of the necessary foibles of central planning and he won that debate, even if it took until the fall of the Berlin Wall to really drive the victory home.

I wonder how much this is actually typical of many political philosophers. They start with some ideological intuition they want to support and then produce a set of considerations that tend in that direction. Still I think Hayek’s ideas and sensibilities have plenty of implications that don’t point particularly clearly to the right, implications that Hayek, and sadly, so many of his followers show virtually no interest in. Continue reading

RIP Ann Gruen

The video above is a recording of the speeches at a funeral for my mother who died at around 10.15 am on Sunday 7th June.

Sadly she was far gone – not with it for several years. As her mind gradually failed her, even when she didn’t really know what was going on, her eyes would light up when she saw me across the room when I’d come to visit her at John Flynn house. Until the last year or so when she showed no sign of knowing who I was. So it was a strange business going to see her. What did I think I was doing there? I haven’t answered that question, but then the more important the questions are, the harder they are to answer.

In any event it all worked out as well as it could. We were told of her impending demise a few days before she died and I was able to go to Canberra and say my goodbyes the day before she died. David and his daughter Emma happened to be there visiting her at the time. She stopped breathing several times for a fair while – as she had when I’d visited her the previous day – before starting up breathing a few minutes later. Then she stopped again for ten minutes and there was no pulse. Very peaceful which is a relief. A very good death at least in the last little bit of it. But quite strange for the grievers. In my mind she’s really been gone for several years now.

My sister in law Jenny created the lovely tribute to her below, with just the right music (much better than my maudlin choice!) And beneath the fold is the written text of David’s and then my speech (I deviated a little from the text from time to time). Thanks also to my oldest friend John Chandler for being MC.

Continue reading

Into the parallel universe – with a gun to your head

I followed a link on the site of a complexity theorist I know to this story by  on this interesting site (which is mostly about complexity theory). Anyway, this story is not about complexity theory. It’s about innocently dropping some kids off in a black neighbourhood and ending up with a gun to your head.

I’m writing this because the horrific news out of Ferguson, Missouri—the killing of an unarmed man and the subsequent assault on the populace and media—has been bringing back memories an experience I had with the police ten years ago in Chicago.

I should be clear about why I’m choosing to share this. It’s not because I think my own problems are particularly deserving of attention in comparison to the violence done to Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and other recent victims of police violence.  In fact, what I experienced was relatively tame in comparison.  But that’s kind of the point. This incident instantly brought my white privilege into sharp focus, in a way that has stuck with me ever since.  Issues like racial profiling can be somewhat abstract for white people.  I hope my story can open a new entry point into these issues for those who rarely experience them directly. Continue reading

Forging a more encompassing politics: solving the Greek crisis – a thought experiment

greece-v-germanyEveryone is charging into print on the smoking ruin that the Europeans will be leaving Greece after the latest barely believable debacle in which the newly elected government Syriza, after receiving the overwhelming support of its electorate to reject the punitive terms of the payday lending it was being offered went back to Brussels and asked where to sign.

Jeff Sachs makes a good case that the root cause of the problem is insufficiently inclusive institutions. He offers the excellent analogy with the American Articles of Confederation: Continue reading

Magna Carta and ‘vox pop’ democracy

Intriguingly there are two substantial permanent monuments to Magna Carta at Runnymede. Both are American. This one was erected by the US Bar Association in 1957.

I was recently asked to participate in a panel discussion on Magna Carta and our democracy by the Australian Archives. The discussion will be replayed on Big Ideas on Radio National this coming Monday 20th July (now here), but you can watch the proceedings here if you’re especially keen. In the meantime, mostly over the fold below here’s a blog post I did in preparation for the event. It’s on the NAA website here. I have also drafted an additional one with some specific suggestions above and beyond a People’s Chamber, which I’ll post in the not to distant future.

It was an enjoyable process (though I was half inside a cupboard so lavishly spaced are the hotels of leafy London.) The panel was dominated by lawyers, the most eloquent of which I thought was Gillian Triggs, but over the course of the discussion, it dawned on me how much they were gravitating towards solutions that would be imposed by lawyers – all very well paid for their time I hasten to add, though that’s not the main point which is that they are an elite – indeed an elite elite. I think we need to do better than that. You can hear two different approaches to doing a bit better than that. More participatory approaches – championed by Pia Waugh particularly, and more deliberative ones championed by me.

(Apropos of nothing much, Magna Carta had standards in it – weights and measures for wine and other things – just as Hammurabi’s code did. You just can’t keep those emergent public goods from emerging and then attaching themselves to governments to improve their situation.)

If we compare our own system of government to King John’s government – either before or after Magna Carta – there is no comparison. We have a robust democracy rather than a tyranny at the very beginning of a centuries long process by which the West came to impose the rule of law on its rulers. In contrast to the barons of thirteenth century England, if we’re unhappy with our government, we vote them out.

Yet all is not well in our democracy. Continue reading

Confidence fairies and confidence tricks

When I hear very serious people talk about confidence I often smell a rat. It’s such an amorphous thing and impossible to observe directly. Clearly there are times when it matters a lot, but I suspect it matters most at points of extremity, not most of the time. We’ve had the RBA talking a lot about the need for confidence to return to stimulate investment. But an awful lot of businesses invest more when they see demand outstripping supply and not before.

Anyway, here’s an abstract that’s worth noting in that regard, though it looks at confidence in another area. Often you hear pundits claiming that confidence is affected by punters’ opinions of how the government is going. Unless the effect is pretty strong – ie you might be spooked by really bad government – I find this dubious. And the evidence – or at least this evidence – suggests likewise.

Government Economic Policy, Sentiments, and Consumption
by Atif Mian, Amir Sufi, Nasim Khoshkhou – #21316 (EFG ME PE POL)

We examine how consumption responds to changes in sentiment regarding
government economic policy using cross-sectional variation across
counties in the ideological predisposition of constituents. When the
incumbent party loses a presidential election, individuals in
counties more ideologically predisposed toward the losing party
experience a dramatic and discontinuous relative decrease in optimism
on government economic policy. Using the interaction of constituent
ideology in a county with election timing as an instrument, we
estimate the impact of government policy sentiment shocks on consumer
spending, and we find a very small effect that cannot be
statistically distinguished from zero. The small magnitude of the
effect is estimated precisely. For example, we can reject the
hypothesis that pessimism regarding government economic policy
effectiveness during the Great Recession had as large an effect on
consumption as the negative shock to household net worth coming from
the collapse in house prices.