Institutional innovation and ‘demarketising’ economic bads

institutional innovationMiles Kimball, for the uninitiated a sensible centrist commentator on economic policy is also an admirer of John Stuart Mill and has supported the case for decriminalising drugs.  At the same time, since he thinks drugs – certainly recreational drugs or the new ones – are bad news or likely to have substantial social downsides - he wants to hem in the damage they can do with all sorts of legal restrictions.

[We should] do whatever we can to drive down the usage of dangerous drugs consistent with taking the drug trade out of the hands of criminals:

  • Taxes on dangerous drugs as high as possible without encouraging large-scale smuggling;
  • Age limits on drug purchases as strict as consistent with keeping the drug trade out of the hands of illegal gangs;
  • Free drug treatment, financed by those taxes;
  • Evidence-based public education campaigns against drug use, financed by those taxes;
  • Demonization in the media and in polite company of those who (now legally) sell dangerous drugs;
  • Mandatory, gruesome warnings like those we have for cigarettes;
  • Widespread mandatory drug testing and penalties for use of dangerous drugs—but not for drug possession;
  • Strict penalties for driving under the influence of drugs.

I don’t know enough to have a primary view about whether or not drugs should be legalised – or if I do it’s a pretty tentative one that they should be – but if we were to do so, while I’m OK with Kimball’s list I think it doesn’t go far enough. He presumably agrees with plain paper packaging though he’d extend it to nasty pictures and warnings which is all good. But I’d do more. As I wrote on his blog post (I’ve slightly edited what I wrote there):  Continue reading

Are RDA race hatred law amendments needed?

bolt-still-a-dickhead1Troppo author and frequent commenter John Walker asks:


The Bolt case was just one case-  is there much information about how 18C has been applied, on a wider scale.

Its pretty hard to judge whether there is a problem needing changes to the law , or not, on the basis of just one case. Do you have any info re other cases and judgements?

Fortunately, the answer is yes.  Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 was introduced by the former Keating Labor government in 1994.  In 2004 Deakin University legal academic Dan Meagher wrote a reasonably comprehensive review of its first decade of operation in an article titled “So Far So Good?: A Critical Evaluation of Racial Vilification Laws in Australia“.  I almost completely agree with his analysis and opinion, and so rather than reinvent the wheel I will simply reproduce edited extracts from his article with some relatively brief comments of my own at the end (although the whole of Meagher’s article is worth reading if you have time).

In essence, Meagher argues (and I agree) that racial vilification laws are needed, but that the current proscription of words which would be “offensive”, insulting” or humiliating” to reasonable members of a targeted race is much too vague, and consequently potentially has an unacceptably chilling effect on democratically essential free speech.  Similar conclusions have been expressed by a range of commentators well before the Bolt case.  This is not just a confected controversy beaten up by Abbotistas and Murdoch minions.

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Ukraine, Russia and the elusive grundnorm

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI don’t pretend to understand the detail of the current situation between Russia and Ukraine, but it seems entirely reasonable to fear that this may well be the most significant threat to world peace since the Berlin Wall Crisis and Cuban Missile Crisis of the early 1960s.

Even if the situation does not spiral into open warfare (which thankfully still currently seems unlikely), it already poses a significant threat to the entire international order of stable national sovereignty and territorial integrity that has developed under the auspices of the United Nations in the wake of World War II. Situations where a nation invades a neighbour for the purpose of territorial aggrandisement are now so rare as to be almost unheard of, at least in the First World. We tend to forget that “might is right” was pretty much the international behavioural norm for the whole of human history up until that time. Indeed the entire phenomenon of European colonialism was based on a combination of the “might is right” philosophy and the inherently racist assumption of the manifest inferiority of non-white races.

It may well be that Russia has a plausible relatively recent historical claim that Crimea was once part of its territory, and its desire to secure ongoing access to the port city of Sevastopol for its navy fleet is at least understandable in geopolitical terms. Nevertheless, Russia’s apparent invasion of Crimea over the last few days is undeniably totally contrary to modern international law. If allowed to stand completely unchallenged, the modern system of national sovereignty underpinned by the United Nations may be imperilled. For example, one could imagine China using this precedent to justify a later invasion of Taiwan, to which it has historical territorial claims at least as plausible as Russia’s claims to Crimea.

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Sovereign Borders, not so Sovereign Nation II: a Nice Little Constitutional Conundrum

In my last post on Troppo I raised this question:

…who’s actually running [Australia’s] foreign policy these days? Is it Julie Bishop, as Minister for Foreign Affairs, is it Scott Morrison as Minister for Immigration or is it some other bugger?

The answer, it turns out, is ‘some other bugger’: specifically Trade Minister, Andrew Robb. While Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop has been given the busy work of dealing with issues that really don’t matter to the Abbott government – such as patching up diplomatic relations with Indonesia and taking on the Herculean task of placating the Chinese while defending Australia’s right to give them the finger, Robb has been dealing with the one issue that does matter – securing trade agreements to open and extend markets for Australia’s primary product exports.

On Tuesday 5 December, the ABC – and other news outlets – reported that Australia has concluded another bi-lateral free trade agreement, this time with South Korea. It was a great photo opportunity for Robb and his Korean counterpart Yoon Sang-jick and great news for Australian producers of beef, sugar, wheat, dairy products and wine.

And with Robb currently busy working towards reaching another free trade deal – the multi-lateral Trans-Pacific Partnership between the US, Australia and a few other nations, there’s more photo opps and good news to come. For primary producers that is. How things will pan out for the rest of us is open to question.

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Love, Marriage and Terror in Melbourne’s Outer Leafies

Some memories fade too slowly. I was reminded of one such memory by the TV advertisement being aired in the lead up to White Ribbon Day tomorrow (Monday 25 November).

It was late morning on Friday, 20 September and I was at the local Magistrate’s Court on a court visit for the first assignment in my B Laws course. The court co-ordinator told me that there was only one criminal contest – that is, a trial – on that day, in Court 2. A case of recklessly causing injury.

It sounded amusing – most likely the result of a couple of bogans going the biff in the car-park of one of the areas many 1960s vintage beer barns. I went to court room expecting an hour or so of light entertainment at the expense of a boof-head who’d fallen foul of the law. More fool me.

When I entered the courtroom and sat myself down in the seat nearest the door – in the back row of three rows of public seating – there seemed to be a distinct shortage of bogans. Unless you counted the besuited guy in the middle of the second row with the wing of a tattooed bird poking out of his shirt collar.

It was late morning so I’d missed the start of proceedings. The witness box was occupied by a doctor giving testimony on the injuries suffered by the victim of the assault that led to the trial. I identified her as the woman sitting in the front row, directly in front of me. An attractive woman in her late twenties, well-dressed, sitting between an older man and woman who, I surmised, were her parents.

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Department of Pigeon Catting – Time to Change Australia Day

I learnt something interesting today, while I was writing up notes on legal history: Australia didn’t formally achieve complete judicial and legislative independence from Old Blighty until 5.00am, Greenwich Mean Time on March 31st 3rd 1986. That’s the precise time that the Australia Acts, passed by the British Parliament and our Federal Parliament came into effect.

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Punishing the innocent: Syria and the politics of symbolism

Simply bombing Damascus or Aleppo to assuage the conscience of the West that they ‘did something’ seems like the worst form of symbolic politics.

It’s not the only sensible thing Matthew Fitzpatrick had to say in an article at The Drum today.

He also argued the appropriate forum for judging (and, should the verdict be guilty, punishing) a war crime such as gassing one’s own people is the International Criminal Court.

It seems to me he’s blindingly right. Any other approach is not only wrong (and dangerous) in terms of process and precedent, but punishes the wrong people. However carefully planned and executed, military strikes would inevitably add to the woes of Syria’s long-suffering population. The argument “but how can we not respond to this terrible crime” therefore falls over at the first hurdle. First do no harm is sometimes a decent rule of thumb in international affairs as well.

In any case, punitive strikes would be action in a vacuum. Continue reading