Me on Krugman: the podcast

Leon Gettler interviewed me recently on my exchange with Krugman. As you can imagine, it’s a difficult thing to explain in an interview, but I took that as a challenge – if you like to my interview ‘technique’. Just as I love doing it with columns, working over what I’m saying to try to come up with the clearest and best combination of explanation and engagement, so I love being ‘in the zone’ in an interview or on a panel. Of concentrating as hard as possible and getting into a ‘flow’ state where I’m trying to do all this in real time. If I’ve thought about an issue sufficiently, and have come to know what I think, and if I then concentrate hard and give it the right amount of energy, it often works well.

Anyway, here’s the result in this case.

Posted in Economics and public policy, History, Media | 5 Comments

Dunera Lives

Dunera Lives : A Visual History - Ken Inglis

I’m not quite sure how Monash University Press has done this, but this is a high production but relatively low volume book, so I was expecting its price to be around the $60 mark. It is $39.95 in shops, but can be purchased for $30.95 from Booktopia. This compares more than favourably to the extraordinary $150 odd price that Palgrave charged for the previous book I launched – Max Corden’s memoirs. 

I have reached a new stage in my life. It is the book-launching stage, first identified in Egyptian writings where it was called the “scroll rolling” stage of life, though we only know this second hand from Phoenician sources. At least judging from my experience, it comes upon one quite suddenly. I hadn’t launched any books until this May and now I’ve launched two. Naturally, at my stage of life, I would be a fool not to make myself available for your next book launch.

In any event I was asked to launch a marvellous book Dunera Lives – which I recommend to you not least because it’s text is deliciously short and well written with a whole slew of lavish illustration showing you just how much class was incarcerated on that boat and in the camps when it arrived in Australia.

Checking sources as I wrote my speech I came upon a review of the first popular book on the Dunera sticky taped into the cover of Cyril Pearl’s The Dunera Scandal by my father. He ended it with the story of one of the Dunera refugees being shown a galah in a tree beyond the barbed wire by a soldier. “Have you ever seen one of those before?”. The soldier asked. “Yes” came the reply, but on that occasion it was in the cage.” The book is full of this kind of liveliness and cheek.

In any event, the book was being worked on as historian Ken Inglis’s final project. He died before it could be completed but it was then taken to completion by his friend, American academic historian Jay Winter, historian at Monash University Seamus Spark and Carol Bunyan who was born in Hay and has taken a huge interest in the Dunera story and in documenting it. Though many of the speeches were apologetic that it couldn’t be as good as Ken would have made it, it’s different to what Ken would have delivered, but not worse. In particular Seamus’s researches turned up a treasure trove of artefacts that are beautifully reproduced.

There was a lot of class when they arrived. But they added to that class. Here’s the Red Cross report on the Hay Camps 7 and 8 which took the Dunera Boys.

I spoke after Rai Gaita, Jay Winter and Seamus. There were actually two launches. One on  Sunday 8th July at the Melbourne Jewish Museum (this was after a launch at the National Library in Canberra) and one at Readings Hawthorn the next day.

In any event, my speech is below. As you’ll note, I end it, as I ended my speech launching Max Corden’s memoirs with a quote about Captain Broughton which I think of as a kind of incantation to empathy. I’d love to get a fund going to endow an annual Broughton Prize for a conspicuous act of empathy. Anyone fancy helping?

Remarks on launching Dunera Lives

As I discovered when I spoke yesterday, though none of the speakers planned it this way, the speeches you’ve just heard take me to the point I want to make. Note that none of the authors of the book were relatives of the Dunera Boys. And the one with the most distant physical connection – living on another continent – is the only one who’s Jewish.

Jay spoke of the story as the triumph of Jewish customs and ways of life encountering and being re-lived in a new land, I wanted to celebrate the way in which the host culture – Australian non-Jewish culture and the Australian people rose to the occasion.

Many of you will have seen the Hollywood movie “Pretty Woman” which ends in a famous scene which re-enacts the archetypal folk tale of Rapunzel. After performing the requisite heroics, Richard Gere as the hero asks Julia Roberts, now secure in his arms as the heroine “So what happened when he climbed up the tower and rescued her?”. She answers “She rescues him right back”. Continue reading

Posted in Cultural Critique, History | 2 Comments

A good argument for Brexit

Image result for investor state dispute settlementA friend referred me to a relatively new site “Briefings on Brexit” yesterday which I checked out with interest. It was started by academics who were fed up with Brexit being stereotyped as mad and bad. They started the site to proselytise a reasoned and well informed case for Brexit. On a quick look I was looking for signs of unreasonableness and crankery and found one article which fit the bill I think (the basic theory he quotes is speculative, but interesting, but he puts it to very crude use in his article complete with a ‘Laffer Curve’ style graph), but most seemed fairly reasonable at least on their face (though I’m not in a position to judge a lot of their claims).

I thought this article raised a very important point. Here is the guts of the argument through extensive quote below. Note, due to Troppo readers’ notorious lack of concentration, I have added additional paragraph breaks. (You’re welcome!).

The EU is an institution which – despite all its window-dressing – is still essentially an intergovernmental organisation.  Decisions are made through the familiar processes of international bargaining, though unlike other international bargains the ones made in the EU directly apply to the internal arrangements of the member states.  And international negotiations have always been pre-eminently the arena in which governments act secretly and spring faits accomplis on their citizens. … But secrecy in general is endemic to international relations.

Because of this, even if a country’s constitution gives the final say over an international agreement to the legislature (as ours arguably does not), in practice the negotiations are entirely in the hands of the executive, the repository of secrets in most modern states.  International negotiations also tend to give a disproportionate role to the civil servants, the “sherpas” in contemporary parlance, who prepare the ground for their (supposed) masters, since very few modern politicians have the time or the experience to pay as much attention to international politics as they do to the internal politics of their own countries.  Their instincts are also likely to be much less acute when they leave the familiar territory in which they have made their careers. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | 39 Comments

Paul Krugman: Nobel Prize or Academy Award? When economic theory is a tower of babel

Below is my response to Krugman’s comments in defence of new trade theory. It’s not generated any discussion on the Mandarin or Evonomics, but perhaps it will here. Apologies for the delay in getting it onto Troppo – I’ve been travelling.

I recently criticised contemporary economics in a speech launching Max Corden’s memoirs. Economic theory threatens to become a Tower of Babel, preoccupied with the world within its models and irrelevant to policy. This has crowded out an older style of which Corden was an exemplar, in which economics aspired to be the supremely useful social science, policy-relevant as clarified commonsense.

I cited Paul Krugman’s claim that macroeconomics had actually regressed as a result, but I also pointed out that Krugman had himself been the architect of the same kind of regression. He won a Nobel Memorial Prize for his trouble.

In Krugman’s characteristically vigorous and clear-headed response to my speech, he suggests that this is the ‘money quote’ from my speech.

Krugman [is] about the most brilliant and useful economist we have. But his most brilliant work wasn’t useful, and his most useful work isn’t brilliant”

We’ll get to what I think was the money quote, but first … Krugman and I are in violent agreement about the subject of his response – the differences between the Macro and the Trade Towers of Babel.

In macro, the grand prize was ‘micro-foundations’ in which micro and macroeconomics would be unified into a crystalline structure, not unlike Euclid’s Elements, as macro was rebuilt from an aggregation of perfectly rational optimising agents. As I mentioned, “this mindset gave additional licence to the motivated reasoning of the libertarian right”.

For many, that was the idea all along. Like the misdirection of a master magician, new classical models assumed away all the ‘imperfections’ that stare us in the face and make the macroeconomy such an ornery beast, both to live in and to understand; its frictions in transmitting information and incentives, its ‘animal spirits’ and tendency to self-fulfilling prophecies of gloom and euphoria, its ‘sticky’ prices and wages.

And voila! Unemployment disappears! The great depression was really millions of workers taking a spontaneous holiday. And forget government action to fight the business cycle. It’s misguided, and futile if not actively destabilising. And no, I’m not kidding.[1]

By my lights, new classical macro is the most egregious example, but the pattern recurs in field after field.[2] Including Krugman’s new trade theory. The new models produced a Tower of Babel in which strong, robust predictions or policy conclusions were hard to come by. But, as Krugman replies, here the motive wasn’t to banish aspects of reality that were inconvenient for the modelling (or one’s ideology), but rather to invite them in.

What could possibly be wrong with that? Continue reading

Posted in Economics and public policy, History | 28 Comments

Is Trump getting Funnier? On Brexit and May.

The Donald is visiting the UK and has had me in stitches a whole day. He’s clearly been having a chat with Nigel Farage about how to handle the Conservatives and has shown them up in spectacular fashion.

Theresa May, bless her, was of course in an impossible position. She undoubtedly loathes the Donald and yet had to try and woo him into that mythical trade deal that the Brexiteers have been promising the UK would get with the US if only they left the EU. So she put on a dress and ‘did her duty’ by raising the issue of a favourable trade deal with the guy who just launched a trade war against her.

The Donald must have been wearing a big grin at this clumsy attempt to suck up to him. He was only in the UK to add to his collection of photos with royalty. He probably likes the idea of ruling by divine right. And now the host is begging him for a special favor! If not a ‘yes’ to a deal, then could he at least give her a ‘Maybe’ when talking to the press?

The response was hilarious. He announced that Boris Johnson would make a great prime minister instead of Theresa, and he told the UK press that there was no point talking to Britain whilst it still had any other friends in Europe. No, only if Britain gave up all its allies and was completely at the mercy of the US, would he entertain the idea of a trade deal.

What a slap-down! It is like telling someone who invites you to dinner that someone else should own the house and they’ll only deal with you if you’re in the gutter on your own. If you believe that you’ll be taken more seriously if you have no friends left, you’ll believe anything, so it’s not even an attempt at being serious. It is purely dismissive, which is very funny in the midst of pomp and ceremony.

In some sense, of course, May and her government had it coming. The whole sycophantic ‘special relationship with the US’ story that the UK politicians have been running for decades shows such a lack of self-respect that it deserves this kind of slap down. When you behave like a slave, don’t be surprised if you’re kicked like a dog.

Poor Theresa though. The Germans and French in that regard are showing her how to deal with the Donald: you ridicule him and meanwhile ignore whatever he wants from you because you know that in the end, the US needs its allies at least as much as they need the US (and with Trump, the US is not going to find other allies, is it?). There is thus, for instance, no way that the Europeans will increase their defense budgets anytime soon, and they simply laugh at his claims. Have a look at how the German press reacts to the Donald:

Posted in bubble, Bullshit, Geeky Musings, Humour, Politics - international, Politics - national, Uncategorized | 10 Comments

Social context reveals gender differences in cooperative behavior

A number of previous researches indicate that men prefer competition over cooperation, and it is sometimes suggested that women show the opposite behavioral preference. In the current study the effects of social context on gender differences in cooperation are investigated. For the purpose, we compared men and women behavior under two social conditions: in groups of strangers and in groups with long-term socialization—groups of friends. The differences were found in changes in the level of cooperation, taking into account the effects of mixing social and gender variables. Social interaction and communication made cooperation of group members strength and sustainable. However, men’s and women’s cooperative behavior in groups differed. Women were initially more inclined to cooperate in interaction with strangers. Men showed greater sensitivity to sociality effects. They tended to make cooperative decisions more often if there were friends in the group. Furthermore, men cooperated with previously unknown people after socialization with them significantly more than women

Available here.

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PATRICIA EDGAR. Going Round the Twist with Telstra and the NBN Co

Cross posted from John Menadue’s Pearls and Irritations

NBN Co claims their ‘focus remains strongly on improving customer experience on the network including a smooth connection to the network.’ In fact the experience is a fiasco.  

Bill Shorten says the dysfunctional NBN needs to lift its game, and under a Labor Government, the company will have to pay compensation to businesses and families who have been seriously inconvenienced by their incompetence. Appropriate standards and financial penalties would be determined in consultation with the ACCC, NBN, and other stakeholders.

We are told NBN installers missed more than 80,000 appointments in 2017and a report by the ombudsman in April this year found that complaints about the NBN increased 200% in the second half of 2017 to 22,827, most of which concerned service quality and delayed connections.

The installation partnership between NBN with Telstra as service provider requires the talents of Shaun Micallef and Charlie Pickering to make sense. It is impossible to work out who is responsible for the mess. The frustrations caused – when appointments are cancelled, missed and the ongoing harassment from Telstra callers who can’t understand Australian English, who cannot deviate from the script in front of them, and it seems, can’t keep accurate records from one call to the next – are enough to send someone round the twist. And of course you can never speak to the same person twice, if you can reach anyone at all.

My nightmare began November, 2017. Continue reading

Posted in Economics and public policy, Innovation, IT and Internet | 38 Comments