Upmarket Agitprop: Clive James on John Howard on Bob Menzies

An essay prompted by a friend recommending James’ essay I think largely for its defence of Menzies as worthy of more respect he’s been given by the left – which is a fair point. Cross posted from The Mandarin, which, to my surprise was interested in picking it up.

In my view … the intellectual life of Australia since the Whitlam years has been increasingly weakened by the reluctance of almost the entire educated population to deal with past events whose implications might undermine their heartfelt views.

Clive James

[O]ne does not go about identifying the weaknesses of what another person says in order to prove that one is always right, but one seeks instead as far as possible to strengthen the other’s viewpoint so that what the other person has to say becomes illuminating. Such an attitude seems essential to me for any understanding at all to come about. This is nothing more than an observation. It has nothing to do with an ‘appeal’ and nothing at all to do with ethics. Even immoral beings try to understand one another.

Hans Georg Gadamer


One of my earliest posts on this august blog was a description of my political credo as a conservative liberal social democrat. In any event, when I wrote those words, I was thinking of a political position as a combination of asserted propositions. But I’ve increasingly come to understand the power of the negative. The way I see the world, the three fine political traditions I outlined also exist in crude, dumbed down forms in which left-wing thinking is driven by moralistic sentimentalism and right-wing thinking represents nothing more than the indifference of the privileged against the disadvantaged. Now in principle, you might have a highly sophisticated appreciation of your own position as embodying the finer points of life, but when you’re doing battle with those of different sympathies, it’s always tempting to take the short-cut and do battle with them by just quoting their shadow dumbed-down selves. These are the weapons of choice where ignorant armies clash by night.


If that is a central problem of our time – and I think it is – then political debate needs to pay heed to it in some way. If it doesn’t you’re not really turning up. Of course, if you’re a political operative you can just dip into your side’s demonisation of your opponents and go for your life. After all, university tests have proved these techniques to work, and politics is, in any event, an endless negotiation between ends and means. More pressingly your opponents are going after you using the same methods, so it’s fair enough. This turns me off almost all party political discussion because it’s so drenched in inauthenticity. If I know each contributor to the debate would reverse their position if circumstances were a little different (if they were in Government rather than Opposition for instance or vice versa), I could program a robot or a journalist on auto-pilot to generate the debate.

What we have is a ritual of sense-making without any sense actually being made or even intended to be made. Here we have a simulacrum of an argument in which the disputants disagree but they don’t disagree about anything other than the spin they will arbitrarily impose on the facts – according to the side of the debate their side is committed to at the time. However much respect I have for the individuals involved in party political combat, and without any disapproval towards them for playing by what has become the rules, it’s simply a waste of time. I try to apply what I call my ‘Mandy Rice Davies veto’ to choosing how to direct my attention and I long for the day that newsrooms applied it: If your reaction is “they would say that, wouldn’t they?” it’s clearly not news so why waste your time reading or reporting it. Pope decides not to become a Protestant. Dog eats dogfood – SHOCK. Continue reading

Posted in Cultural Critique, Economics and public policy, History, Political theory, Politics - national | 29 Comments

From the Department of “Why didn’t I think of that”: A natty idea to encourage scientific replication

An Economic Approach to Alleviate the Crises of Confidence in Science: With an Application to the Public Goods Game by Luigi Butera, John A. List – #23335 (PE)

Novel empirical insights by their very nature tend to be unanticipated, and in some cases at odds with the current state of knowledge on the topic. The mechanics of statistical inference suggest that such initial findings, even when robust and statistically significant within the study, should not appreciably move priors about the phenomenon under investigation. Yet, a few well-conceived independent replications dramatically improve the reliability of novel findings.

Nevertheless, the incentives to replicate are seldom in place in the sciences, especially within the social sciences. We propose a simple incentive-compatible mechanism to promote replications, and use experimental economics to highlight our approach. We begin by reporting results from an experiment in which we investigate how cooperation in allocation games is affected by the presence of Knightian uncertainty, a pervasive and yet unexplored characteristic of most public goods. Unexpectedly, we find that adding uncertainty enhances cooperation. This surprising result serves as a test case for our mechanism: instead of sending this paper to a peer-reviewed journal, we make it available online as a working paper, but we commit never to submit it to a journal for publication. We instead offered co-authorship for a second, yet to be written, paper to other scholars willing to replicate our study. That second paper will reference this working paper, will include all replications, and will be submitted to a peer-reviewed journal for publication. Our mechanism allows mutually-beneficial gains from trade between the original investigators and other scholars, alleviates the publication bias problem that often surrounds novel experimental results, and accelerates the advancement of economic science by leveraging the mechanics of statistical inference.

Posted in Economics and public policy, Science, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

CEOs bridging divides: the OECD and the little people

The OECD is getting pretty serious about bridging divides – you know righting the world’s injustices – that kind of thing. It’s making a difference. It’s probably thinking to itself “there’s got to be change” – or thoughts to that effect. Why they even have a conference themed with the very same issue “Bridging Divides” and I don’t see how you can get much more serious than that. Well actually if you thought that – which I did as I wrote the words, but realised too late – you’d be wrong. Because in addition to theming the conference – sorry forum – in this way, the OECD is amping up the words. Yes, you can say they’re just words. But these are words from the OECD so I think you realise they’re not just whistling Dixie.

Well actually if you thought that – which I did as I wrote the words, but realised too late – you’d be wrong. Because in addition to theming the conference – sorry forum, it’s a forum – in this way, the OECD is amping up the words. Yes, you can say they’re just words. But these are words from the OECD so I think you realise they’re not just whistling Dixie.

Anyway, as they say, “You talk, we’ll listen”. Those are the very first words on the email going out advertising the forum so I think you can be pretty sure they’re not just saying that. Not only that but the conference will ask “What divides us? What brings us together? … How can we bridge divides to build more inclusive societies?” How terrific is that? Mary Robinson will bridge some divides right there and then. She’ll “talk about how we can ensure those most vulnerable to climate change aren’t left behind” and, to quote an old pop song, you know that can’t be bad. Continue reading

Posted in Bullshit, Competitions, Cultural Critique | 3 Comments

Troppo Quiz: what do these things have in common?

Answer given on or about Sunday.

Now available in comments



Posted in Cultural Critique | 4 Comments

Making the central bank a people’s bank

Some of you will have seen my article in the Saturday Paper. I can only tease you with 150 words from it here. Then you’ll need to read it on the Saturday Paper’s site.

As the financial crisis continued wreaking its havoc in late 2010, Mervyn King, who, as Governor of the Bank of England, sat at the apex of the banking system, made this observation: “Of all the many ways of organising banking, the worst is the one we have today.”

He was speaking of “fractional reserve banking”, the pea-and-thimble trick by which banks accept your deposits and assure you of access to them at all times while they’re actually lent out to others for lengthy periods.

This alchemy works so long as depositors don’t all withdraw their money at once. If they do, governments bail out banks. The alternative – the entire banking system seizing up and with it the commercial life by which we earn our daily bread – is too horrible to contemplate.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale recently floated the idea of a “people’s bank”. In the absence of further detail, pundits assume he means something like New Zealand’s government-owned Kiwibank. Adding another competitor to the four major and many minor banks in our market might win some applause on Q&A, but it doesn’t even try to address the structural problems of banking to which King referred.

In fact, we already have a “people’s bank”. Rethinking it for the internet age, using nothing more radical than the principle of competitive neutrality, could address King’s concerns while putting thousands of dollars each year into the pockets of most Australian households and into the economy.

Let me explain.

OK – that was a bit more than 150 words, but not much more, and got you up to the cliffhanger. How will it end? Will Dr Gruen be rounded up by the authorities for being unAustralian? What will Pauline Hanson think? How would it look with five big pipes from the Snowy behind the announcer? And what part of the text above is subtly different to the version on in the Saturday Paper? All these questions are answered in ways you WONT BELIEVE on this page of the website of The Saturday Paper.

Postscript: Central banking for all: The Interview

Posted in Economics and public policy | 13 Comments

Spanish Film Festival

As you know, despite spending millions on marketing to get the word out, our arts industry, for easily understood commercial reasons, doesn’t effectively get the word out about whether their products are any good or not. So for the cost of an hour or so’s outsourced, offshored labour, Troppo steps into the breach courtesy of the rivers of gold from our Imaginary Economics sponsorship – which has been renewed for another ‘probationary’ period. Perhaps we should go one step further and see if anyone wants to suggest some times they intend to go to movies and we can join each other there.

Top Picks

Trailer Icon 03 Kiki, Love to Love (Opening Night)
Through five stories, the movie addresses sex and love. Paco and Ana are a married couple looking for reactivate the passion of their sexual relations. Jose Luis tries to recover the affections of his wife Paloma, who is on a wheelchair after an accident which has limited her mobility. Candelaria and Antonio are a married couple trying out all possible means to be parents. Álex tries to satisfy Natalia’s fantasies, while she starts to doubt if he finally will ask her in marriage. And finally, Sandra is a single woman searching for a man to fall in love. All of them love, fear, live and explore their diverse sexual paraphilias and the different sides of sexuality, trying to find the road to happiness.
☆☆☆☆☆ IMDB
☆☆☆☆ Queer Guru

In the summer of 1993, following the death of her parents, six-year-old Frida is forced from bustling Barcelona to the Catalan provinces to live with her aunt and uncle, her new legal guardians. Country life is a challenge: aside from the emotional upheaval, the nature that surrounds her is mysterious, if not dangerous. She also has a new little sister, of whom she must take care, and deal with new feelings such as jealousy. But it is the source of her parents’ passing that casts a shadow over how she is treated by the local community… Indeed, Frida’s life will never be the same.
☆☆☆☆☆ Film Blerg
☆☆☆☆ IMDB

Paesa, the shadowy, swindling real-life anti-hero, spent the 80s secretly purchasing weapons for the Spanish Government in their fight against the terrorist group ETA. When the scandal broke, Paesa was made a scapegoat and forced to leave Spain in fear for his life. In 1994, finally able to return albeit a ruined man, his chance for vengeance arrives on his doorstep in the form of a corrupt Police Chief seeking his aid to embezzle a fortune.
☆☆☆☆☆ Eye For Film
☆☆☆☆ IMDB

A tight-knit group of bank robbers made up of former army mates from Eastern Europe plan to break into the Swiss Credit Bank. A closed off group, who, in following the death of one of their own are forced to recruit a new member. The new recruit, professional thief Victor, is tasked with the most dangerous and vital job of all: breaking through the vault’s walls. As the pressure escalates, the group begins to fracture from within. On the other side of the law, a single-minded detective is hot on their trail and now has a small window to catch them before their most dangerous heist yet.
☆☆☆☆ IMDB

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Moral Rights: what are they good for?

I’m no fan of moral rights, but there you are. Artists are, so perhaps I should change my tune.

The Valuation of Moral Rights: A Field Experiment

By: Stefan Bechtold (ETH Zürich) ; Christoph Engel (Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods)

U.S. intellectual property law is firmly rooted in utilitarian principles. Copyright law is viewed as a means to give proper monetary incentives to authors for their creative effort. Many European copyright systems pursue additional goals: Authors have the right to be named as author, to control alterations and to retract their work in case their artistic beliefs have changed. Protecting these “moral rights” might be justified by the preferences of typical authors. We present the first field experiment on moral rights revealing the true valuation of these rights by over 200 authors from 24 countries. A majority of authors are not willing to trade moral rights in the first place. They demand substantial prices in case they decide to trade. The differences between authors from the U.S. and Europe are small. These results call into question whether moral rights protection should differ across the Atlantic and whether a purely profit-based theory of copyright law is sufficient to capture the complex relationship between human behavior and creativity.

Posted in Intellectual Property | 1 Comment