D’oh

Funny how, even though you’ve developed the mental skill and discipline to be the World Chess Champion, you can make a simple mistake. But what’s much more intriguing is how, once you’ve actually made the mistake, you immediately know you’ve made it – as Carlsen did when he made this move, and as Anand did the moment he replied to Carlsen’s game losing move, with a game losing failure to notice the mistake, until that is, until immediately after he made his move!

Neutralising NIMBYs

St_Kilda_Triangle_SurroundsThe NIMBY Brigade is a blight on urban civil society. These people have never seen a new development that they don’t oppose, unless it’s a community vegetable garden or possibly a Montessori preschool built from mud bricks (although only if they’re very quiet middle class kiddies whose mothers parents drop them off on foot).

Their opposition to any new development is always couched in impressive-sounding terms: residential amenity, excessive noise and traffic density, streetscapes and shadowing. But the real unspoken reason is always that they have an irrational fear that the development will damage their property values.

In fact, most studies of urban consolidation/densification have shown that it’s a positive for property values, as long as the new buildings are not complete slums and attention is paid by planning authorities to transport, social and environmental factors.

I had all this in mind a few days ago when I penned a brief but indignant letter to the local Northern Territory News. It was published today:

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The economic costs of pollution

Gray Matters: Fetal Pollution Exposure and Human Capital Formation
by Prashant Bharadwaj, Joshua Graff Zivin, Matthew Gibson, Christopher A. Neilson

Abstract:

This paper examines the impact of fetal exposure to air pollution on
4th grade test scores in Santiago, Chile. We rely on comparisons
across siblings which address concerns about locational sorting and
all other time-invariant family characteristics that can lead to
endogenous exposure to poor environmental quality. We also exploit
data on air quality alerts to help address concerns related to
short-run time-varying avoidance behavior, which has been shown to be
important in a number of other contexts. We find a strong negative
effect from fetal exposure to carbon monoxide (CO) on math and
language skills measured in 4th grade. These effects are
economically significant and our back of the envelope calculations
suggest that the 50% reduction in CO in Santiago between 1990 and
2005 increased lifetime earnings by approximately 100 million USD per
birth cohort.

 

Rough justice for refugees

For some time I have been posting specifically legal articles/posts over at the bloggy part of the Parish McCulloch, Barristers & Solicitors website. I cross-post some of them here at Club Troppo.

I have just posted quite a long article there which discusses yesterday’s High Court decision Minister for Immigration and Border Protection v SZSCA in the context of current moves by the Abbott government to reshape radically the Migration Act provisions concerning asylum seekers and refugees. I don’t think I’ll cross-post it here because it’s fairly technical. Nevertheless some Troppo readers may well find it interesting.

Fact check: The Iran Air Flight 655 non-apology

There are reports today (12 November 2014) from Fairfax and News Ltd that Prime Minister Abbott is urging Vladimir Putin to follow the example of the US government after the Iran Air Flight 655 shootdown — and that he has said the US both paid compensation and apologised. In particular a spokeswoman for the prime minister is quoted thus:

“The Prime Minister observed that when the United States had inadvertently shot down a civilian aircraft it had duly apologised and made appropriate restitution …”

I am hoping the spokeswoman erred on this point. Because I cannot find any reliable reports that the US ever formally apologised or made any payment which it was willing to describe as compensation.

Indeed, based on the reports I can find and my own faulty memory of the time, the US very pointedly avoided apologising or paying compensation.

All I can find in reports is that the US “expressed regret” over the shootdown and made an ex gratia payment. These are the words you use when you are not admitting anything. And this all happened as part of a settlement at the International Court of Justice in 1996, eight years after the shootdown took place – a shootdown unequivocally, albeit mistakenly, launched by the US military.

The PM is said to have “commended the precedent” of the US Flight 655 actions to Putin. It’s a lousy precedent. George H. W. Bush (i.e. Bush the elder), vice-president and campaigning for the presidency at the time, was moved by the shootdown to say in August 1988:

“I will never apologize for the United States – I don’t care what the facts are … I’m not an apologize-for-America kind of guy.”

We are holding Russia to a higher standard than that to which the US was held in 1988. That’s entirely appropriate.

It would be preferable, though, to end the pretence that the US behaved impeccably over Iran Air 655 or that it set an example Russia should follow. On the available facts, the US behaved shamefully.

Twisting the truth is one of the things that has gotten Putin regarded as a thug. Australia and its leaders should be able to adopt a higher standard.

Embracing a mature tax debate?

abbott hockeyTony Abbott might well be the last bloke on earth who could plausibly demand a “mature debate” on tax reform. But that doesn’t deny the crying need for such a debate in Australia.

Nor does the fact that it’s the antithesis of what Abbott did in Opposition mean that Bill Shorten should necessarily emulate Tony’s tactics himself.  What won the last war won’t necessarily win this one.  Abbott didn’t win the 2013 election only because he relentlessly opposed everything Labor tried to do. That tactic worked because Julia Gillard had mortally wounded herself by the manner in which she seized the prime ministership, because that inevitably resulted in ongoing destructive disunity orchestrated by an embittered Kevin Rudd, and because her government consistently exhibited appalling administrative and policy implementation skills despite some excellent policy ideas. Without those self-inflicted wounds, Abbott’s “one trick pony” knee-jerk obstructionism might have failed.

Despite the fact that opinion polls have looked quite respectable for Shorten for some time, Abbott in government isn’t burdened by any of the handicaps that ensured Gillard/Rudd’s doom. Moreover, he now has the additional benefit of wrapping himself in khaki, which John Howard exploited with such great success in 2001 and 2004.

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Reading list for the Opposition leader

OK. The Grattan Institute with all its funding is producing, as it always does, a reading list for the PM. To show the power of blogging I thought we’d do the same here.  I wrote “Opposition leader” above just to offer cheap differentiation from Grattan. But whether it’s for Bill Shorten or anyone else, please let us know below what books should be read with any spare time you get over Christmas. I’ve just finished Tim Colebatch’s Dick Hamer and am ploughing into something which comes some way to total heaviosity, Ray Monk’s bio of Ludwig Wittgenstein. But it’s a couple of decades old. Then again, while I was thinking of new books to recommend, feel free to recommend old ones too.

Anyway, what would you recommend people read this summer?