Some thoughts from on high

Sometimes we should just be grateful in this country for the steady hand on the tiller at the very highest levels. People might mock but it’s easy to mock.

Philip Lowe wants us to take a bow!

I don’t think we should forget that more Australians have jobs today than ever before in Australian history. That’s a remarkable achievement. [Even more remarkably, this remarkable achievement is remarkably achieved in most countries about 80 per cent of the time where it nevertheless tends to go less remarked on].

Australian Public Service Commissioner Peter Woolcott wants us to know that it’s not just business-as-usual with the Thodey Review. Well it is kind of business-as-usual, but in a very good way, indeed a way that looks like it has not been precedented (if you know what I mean) over the last 15 years.

Some of the more sceptical among you will point to the numerous reviews of the public service over the last 15 years and question whether this will be any different.

It is different this time — and different for a number of reasons. Firstly, you have strong direction from the government with the PM’s sharp focus on implementation and the Australian people [All previous Prime Ministers over the last 15 years had a fuzzy focus on implementation and were closer to the Chilean than the Australian people at least judging from their secret handshake]; second you have an APS leadership that is committed to reform and understands absolutely the importance of good governance and staying relevant [It was not committed to reform over the previous 15 years and of those public servants who were, they only understand the importance of good government relatively. As for staying relevant – well they were relevant – but that was then. One has to stay relevant and pretty obviously it’s hard for public servants of 15 years ago to be relevant to today – for instance how many of them knew about Adele?]; thirdly, the speed of technological and societal change is creating its own momentum [just 15 years ago we were still phasing out horses. Indeed, horses were put before carts in those days, but not any more.]; and finally, layered on top, are public expectations [15 years ago public expectations tended to be layered very much more towards the middle of whatever it is that they’re layered on top of now, but it is true that those expectations have been managed upwards, so it’s no surprise where they are now].

In this week’s weekend competition you’re encouraged to suggest other examples from around the world and from the annals of history. Prizes include a weekend as co-president of the Free World with Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago with a night out in his famed electro-plated panel van “Golden Stormy”.

Posted in Bullshit | 2 Comments

Strategic voting and avoiding a no-deal Brexit

Image result for strategic votingThings are shaping up for extraordinary developments in the UK, and I’m not talking about Brexit. Well, I am, but not directly. I’m talking about strategic or tactical voting. In Australia we are mightily protected from such dilemmas by preferential or instant runoff voting whereby, if your first preference doesn’t win the election, your vote passes to your next preference and so on until it is counted. In the UK as readers will know, they use a remarkably common and crazy system of first past the post.

And now if there’s a general election it’s entirely possible for the anti-no-dealers (the Lib Dems and the Labour Party) to so steal votes from each other that those relaxed and comfortable about a no-deal Brexit could win far fewer votes yet win government handsomely.

What’s needed to stop that is some strategic voting response. Essentially voters for the Lib Dems or the Labour Party need to vote for whichever of these two candidates is most likely to win – so they don’t waste their vote. Ideally the two parties would sign some agreement to work out which of them would stand and would only stand one candidate between them. But they can’t agree on that.

And they can’t agree on any informal version of the same thing – for instance with the party of one side or the other agreeing to ‘run dead’ in specific electorates. But it seems to me there is another way. A coalition of those opposing a no-deal-Brexit could fund some authoritative process whereby the electorates were polled up to – say – a week before the election with an endorsement coming for one or the other of the Lib Dem and Labour candidates so that anyone who didn’t want to waste their vote was well informed about which of the anti-no-deal Brexit candidates to cast their vote for.

If this was well funded, one could imagine it swinging a substantial number of votes – especially as it gained the public support of those Labour and Lib Dem politicians who independently endorsed it. (It might be harder for sitting Labour members to do so with party discipline at all, but that shouldn’t stop Labour elders from doing so.)

Like the UK, Canada has three major parties creating all kinds of need and scope for tactical voting.

George Soros where are you?

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Wanted: an executive email service with stamps.

Are you dismayed at getting 100 emails a day you need to wade through, disturbing your concentration? Does your administration bother you constantly with things you just ‘have to be aware of’? Are you tired of the ‘executive reports’, ‘award notices’, ‘compulsory breathing training’, ‘lost car keys’, ‘upcoming events’, and a million other reminders of how everyone else wastes their time? Do you worry that these constant distractions in the long run diminishes your ability, and that of your workers, to concentrate?

If you do, you might want to consider an email service with stamps. What I envisage is that people have to pay, say, 1 dollar for every kilobyte of message they send you, and 5 dollars for every link to some outside website. The only messages you would then get are those that people really want you to see, presumably one a week or so. The stamp is essentially the price of your time.

I envisage a system in which the user can set the height of the price that needs to be paid to reach that user. People who hardly value their time have a low price, people who value it greatly have a high price. There can be minimum prices and discounts for particular groups. This of course goes both ways, so one would see the price list for messaging others before the message to them arrives, and one would need to agree to paying that price before the recipient gets the message.

I think the proceeds of the stamps should in principle go into the personal accounts of the people messaged to (minus the handling fee of course). After all, the stamp buys the time of the receiver who is asked to look at the message. The stamp is then the payment for the attention given. Alternatively, one can send the surplus proceeds towards a good cause, like planting trees.

I would like to see the same service for messages and reminders on Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin, pings on the mobile, and all the other ways in which social media now distract us. My hope is that some internet organisation develops a whole package of services that embed a system of stamps for all the ways people’s concentration is upset.

I suspect such an internet service would make a very attractive package to many businesses who need their employees to concentrate on their projects and who thus have to protect their workers from all the immediate distractions. The only way to halt the flood of chatter that gets sent round is to charge people for it. This would be particularly useful to reduce the avalanche of stuff that administrations send round to all the workers in the organisation. If administrations and management have to pay for the messages they send round, they would become much more discerning about whether the employees really need to know something or not.

The reaction to such prices would probably be that people start using the phone a lot more and that workers go round to the co-workers in the organisation they want to talk to, rather than ‘flick them a message’. This is perfectly fine and exactly what you want: more conversations and more face-to-face interaction, less spam.

I can see very few downsides to this. The problem of internet scams and outside spam would be solved virtually overnight as those activities would cease to be worthwhile, freeing up a lot of time from the IT services to do more useful things than clean out the viruses that came in via spam.

I do envisage a flood of complaints by the many who love being distracted themselves, and the many more who love distracting others. Yet, since we know that productivity suffers in the longer run from the reductions in the ability of people to concentrate, I see a real business incentive to take the protection of the concentration of workers seriously. I’d certainly sign up for it. It just needs a smart businessperson with real programming skills at his or her disposal to set this up, starting with something like ‘Executive Email Services’.

Posted in Employment, Firms, Innovation, IT and Internet, Society, Uncategorized, Web and Government 2.0 | 6 Comments

The Italian Vilm Vestabule


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Trailer Icon 03 The Champion (Opening Night)
Christian Ferro is a young superstar striker for Roma. Growing up in a rough area is a far cry from the millionaire lifestyle he is now living, which has attracted party-animal friends from home as well as the return of his long-lost father. When Christian’s determination to prove to his friends that he remains rebellious lands him in trouble again, his coach Valerio Fioretti gives him an ultimatum: get back in line and pass the high-school exam, or get out. But Christian’s world of fame and Ferraris clashes with Valerio’s humble circumstances.
☆☆☆☆☆ IMDB

Dafne is a witty 35-year-old woman with Down syndrome. Despite being fiercely independent, she still lives with her ageing parents. When the sudden death of her mother shatters the family balance, Dafne’s father Luigi falls into a depressive state, and it is left up to Dafne to construct a new life path. When she proposes that she and Luigi undertake an adventure across the country, this sparks a series of events that give Dafne a new and exhilarating self-confidence and provide the ointment needed for her and Luigi’s wounds to heal.
☆☆☆☆ IMDB

In a neighbourhood on the outskirts of Taranto, high upon the rooftops framed by the Ilva steel factory, we meet Tonino a.k.a. “Barboncino”. Tonino has just committed a robbery and, in a moment of foolishness, fled from his accomplices, taking the entire loot for himself. He escapes upward, clambering from roof to roof, until he can go no further and must take refuge in an old water tank. Here he finds Renato, a strange and eccentric man who believes he is an American Indian from the Sioux tribe. Trapped with no other choice, Tonino is forced to team up with Renato. A strange and crazy friendship is formed, and Tonino learns to see things from a very different perspective.
☆☆☆☆ IMDB

Continue reading

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Observations on Poland and the Baltics

The family cycled from Berlin to Tallinn this year, giving me an opportunity to see how Poland and the Baltics have fared after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990s. Some observations:

–          Poland is doing well. Agriculture there is as organised and productive as in Germany, with the newest combine harvesters collecting flour for millions of bread rolls.

–          You see large new houses in the minor villages in Poland, and lots of new infrastructure in the towns. People drive in reasonable cars, horse-drawn carts have disappeared, and the youth looks tall and healthy.

–          Interestingly, the Polish are quite bad at English and usually don’t understand you in bars, hotels, and restaurants. Their German and their Russian is a lot better on average, even amongst the younger generation. This in turn seems to be part of the success of Poland: because their English is poor, they can only do somewhat menial jobs abroad, meaning that they get treated as second-class citizens in Germany, the Netherlands, the UK, etc. That in turn encourages them to go back and work on the future of Poland, with great success. So lacking good English language skills, which will have cost them in the early decades after the Soviet Union, is now helping them emerge as a more vibrant and self-conscious society. The opposite can be seen in the Baltics….    Continue reading

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Is it the social scientists job (or anyone else’s) to make models of reality? (Hint: no).

Quantitative research for social scienceThere is still, I think, not enough recognition by teachers of the fact that the desire to think – which is fundamentally a moral problem – must be induced before the power is developed. Most people, whether men or women, wish above all else to be comfortable, and thought is a pre-eminently uncomfortable process.

Vera Brittain, Testament of Youth

As journalism is the first draft of history, some of my emails are the first draft of blog posts. As here where I was responding to someone with whom I’d already agreed that in economics there’s lots of emphasis on using models to understand reality but not much care given to the question of fitting them to the world.

To paraphrase in a way that’s unfair to him – but which is only intended to provide a point of departure here – he then suggested that social science was about model building and fitting the world to those models and, to shift the world towards better outcomes for social science (we were talking about economics), one needed different kinds of participants in this. Continue reading

Posted in Economics and public policy, Methodology, Philosophy, Political theory | 5 Comments

How Good are Refugees? This year’s MUST ATTEND dinner with Santo Cilauro. 12th Sept, Melb.

If these kinds of things existed in my country, I wouldn’t need to be running for President to fix everything up.

Elizabeth Warren

The only thing that didn’t leave a nasty taste in my mouth last year was the food.

Barry the hypothetical troll from last year (He’s been debunked, defrocked, unfriended and univited this year)

You may not be in that exclusive group of less than 200 people in Australia who have been to one of my dinners for refugees. But whether you’re Donald Trump or Douggie Hourigan,1 you’ll have heard of them. I can tell you they’re a blast. Born out of a birthday party that went strangely right, I have made this an annual event since. Each function has been in support of refugees.

The basic idea of the dinner is to meet interesting people, have fun and raise a decent amount of money for refugees. Last year, with Christos Tsiolkas as our guest of honour, we raised over $10,000 for the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and, in so doing helped them establish a program to train refugees to become program evaluators. I’m thrilled to say that that this is now bearing fruit.

This year, as with the first year, we’re raising money for Urban Refugees. It targets the refugees who are outside the UNHCR process and the protections it affords – that is the millions of refugees living not in refugee camps, or in host countries but largely on the outskirts of cities of the low and middle income world like Kuala Lumpur and Kampala.

It will mostly be dinner and meeting and talking to friends and interesting people you’ve not met before, but Santo Cilauro from Australia’s best TV production company Working Dog will be our guest of honour and we’ll hear from him. We’re inviting you to pay your way at $60 which will include approximately $25 which will be receipted as tax deductible donation. 2

So Book Now for 7.00 pm on Thursday Sept 12th at Tazios on this link. And NOTE: Though it’s still on Flinders Lane, Tazios has moved since last year’s dinner.

I’m also hoping you can make an additional tax deductible donation. In fact I’m so hanging out for you to donate that, as in other years, I’ll match every dollar you donate over $100 up to a total liability of $5,000 for me. 3 (In the first year, Ross Gittins decided to play hard-ball and try to bankrupt me with a thousand dollar donation which took $900 out of my pocket right there! Bring it on I say! I’m planning to sponge off my kids in retirement in any event.)

If you’re making a donation of over $200 (that’s over $300 with my matching donation) and would like to, please feel free to email me on ngruen AT gmail and I’ll send you my bank account details so you can avoid all charges.

The first donor of over $500 will be flown First Class to London where they’ll be chauffeured by Theresa May driving the trusty Aussie hot rod ‘Rooter’ (How good is Rooter?) and taken to dinner with Boris Johnson who will arrive late with carefully towselled, bleached hair.

And there’s a special deal for those from out of town. They can make an even larger donation as they don’t have to pay for dinner.

And please pass this invitation around.

  1. My friend in Grade One – where are you Douggie?
  2. The bloodsuckers of our financial services industry will impose upon you a fee of 30 cents plus approx 1.75% on your payment.
  3. Note the bloodsuckers of finance will subtract 30 cents plus approx 1.75% of your payment and you’ll receive a receipt for the rest. This is altogether fitting and proper given their commitment to making the world a better place for all the little people.
Posted in Blegs, Films and TV, Humour, Media | 4 Comments