Running the micro-parties out of town

I recall when working as a staffer for the Hawke/Keating government, how Labor staffers wore their disdain – bordering on contempt – for the Democrats with the same kind of pride that economic rationalists had for their own disdain for businesses leaders arguing for special handouts. It went beyond reasoned disagreement and was driven by tribal affiliation – something which sadly dominates so much that passes for intellectual activity today. (Surely this is a growing problem in our post ideological age?).

Why did they hate the Democrats so much? Well partly for the same kind of reasons that hatred of the Greens runs so strongly in the ALP today – they’re competitors. (As they say, in politics you’re opponents are on the other side, but your enemies are on your side!). But they also harboured a kind of Olympian disdain for the politics the Democrats pursued. They were a left of centre party that couldn’t admit its closer affiliation to the ALP than the CLP. (Rather like the ALP now can’t do the same with the Greens!). Of course they couldn’t do that – as their independence was part of their electoral schtick – just as any political operator tries to ‘position’ themselves to advantage as we say these days.

And their method of campaigning was often to nit-pick at the end of the policy process to deliver something for ‘the people’. It was the usual media management kind of malarky. Each party does it in different ways suited to their circumstances. But the ALP staffers luxuriated in the thought that they were making the big decisions. Controlling the big levers. They were the Cool Kids.

Now the cool kids are ganging up on the others again. That crazy system whereby we end up with micro-parties – the Broccoli is the Best Vegetable Party, the Imaginary Vehicle Enthusiasts Party and the Just Because you’re Extremely Fat doesn’t Mean you have to be Extremely Silly Party. Of course the way these people manage to acquire their seats in the Senate is extremely silly. But the question of whether that’s better than the alternative (where pretty much everyone but an established independent like Nick Xenophon would be from one of the three Extremely Sensible Parties) is certainly no lay down misère.

The strange but compelling Harold Mitchell has weighed in against running these independents out of town. I agree with him. The randomistas – and not just the ones who are congenial to me – have been a force for good. After all, apart from what are usually some very parsimonious platform issues (which didn’t seem to bother the EFNES party) the randomistas can make up their own mind. That’s not true of the Cool Kids in the established parties whose platforms used to be governed by broad ideologies, but are now largely governed by the principles of brand management.

It’s worth pondering the fact that one of the most central political achievements of the current Parliament has been to dismantle carbon pricing and resource rent taxation in circumstances in which the overwhelming majority of parliamentarians knew they were better policy than their abolition. Indeed even the majority of those parliamentarians voting for them knew that! That’s an extraordinary position to be in. But that’s where we are. (Meanwhile in the US one half of the Cool Kids are heading off into variously oligarchic and/or Peronist madnesses all papered over with the bread and circuses of media management.)

It’s a reflection on how unhealthy our political system has become that the task of deliberating and then making up one’s mind falls to such an odd collection of people and interests. Could we do better than this? Of course we could. I’d love to see some real randos in our Parliament – that is people chosen, as the Athenians were chosen for the Council of 500 – randomly. By lot. Imagine how much Question Time might improve if the cool kids had to keep in mind what the randos thought of their performance.

Indeed some academics recently modelled just such a circumstance. Looking at a model of a Parliament with two major Parties or coalitions they explored the outcome of introducing “a variable percentage of randomly selected independent legislators” finding that it could increase the efficiency of the legislature not just in term of getting laws passed but in terms of having those laws promote the public interest. They concluded citing some similar work regarding organisations that “These results are in line with both the ancient Greek democratic system and the recent discovery that the adoption of random strategies can improve the efficiency of hierarchical organizations”.

To have parliament populated by some people who don’t owe their allegiance to the heavy hand of party brand managers wouldn’t just play a useful role in representing our own desire for decisions on public policy to reflect careful deliberation, they’d increase the incentives on all the players to likewise give greater weight to decision making ‘on the merits’ rather than on their bearings on the alarums and excursions the Cool Kids parties were running in the media at any given time.



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53 Responses to Running the micro-parties out of town

  1. I am and will always be Not Trampis says:

    even disdain Nick!!

  2. Don Aitkin says:

    Carbon pricing was pretty silly, and is even sillier now. But setting that aside, why do you think that a majority of Liberal + National MPs and Senators think that they voted against their better instincts or knowledge?

    • Nicholas Gruen says:

      Because most would have thought carbon pricing was superior to direct action and most would have understood that resource rent is a good thing to tax (though it should be taxed more efficiently than the tax that they abolished).

      What’s your problem with carbon pricing?

      • Don Aitkin says:

        The carbon tax was designed as a way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions which were said to threaten the biosphere and us by heating the planet up. As MAGICC shows, and Flannery accepted, whatever we did would make no difference of any discernible kind to temperature. As Kerry said in Paris, even if the US abandoned all industrial activity, it would make no difference. So what were we trying to achieve?

        Increased carbon dioxide has been associated with greater food production and the increased greening of arid areas (work done by CSIRO and the ANU). What exactly is wrong with that? I’ve been arguing this out for a few years on my website.

        And why, again, do you think that most Libs and Nationals actually voted against their conscience and knowledge?

        • Nicholas Gruen says:

          Thanks Don,

          You answered one of my questions. Why you think carbon pricing is dumb and, given that carbon pricing seems to be one of the most efficient ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, I presume you are saying from that that we shouldn’t worry about greenhouse gas emissions. Can you clarify?

          You have asked me why I think the Coalition MPs voted against their conscience. I thought it was clear from what I have said. Let me have another go. They voted against a carbon pricing regime and in favour of a way they claimed would have the same effect on emissions but would be more inefficient. That’s independent of the wisdom of the overarching idea of the policy – which was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Is my assertion clear now?

  3. Interesting argument. Yes, it is true that some Senators by Accident (such as Muir, and – sort of – Lazarus and Lambie) are capable of persuasion to sensible positions, and it can be quite pleasing to see them exercise independence of thought.
    On the other hand, the current group of micro Senators include two who are the most ideologically motivated of all (the “taxes are evil, guns are beautiful, government spending must be cut in half” pair of Leyonhjelm and Day.)

    But as refreshing as it is to see some truly independent minds ending up in Parliament, I still can’t credit that it is a good system to see the random members being chosen by backroom deals that are opaque to the public.

    And as a genuine random member system is never going to be sold to the public, just forget about it…

    • C’mon Steve, the “opaque, backroom, random deals”, which can easily be viewed on the AEC website, are a lot more open than current government cabinet deliberations.
      What is so wrong with the voter trusting his/her party enough to allow them their preference flows? Are we to invalidate votes by those who are solely guided by their church pastors or other mentors? Party organisers and supporters are both fighting the same enemy.
      And if the winners are random they are only random within the confines of those parties representing the 23% of voters who disavow the major parties, not totally random as with the ancient Greek idea of sortation voting.

      • Mmm, yes. I’d love the know the percentage of voters who put a tick against the Sex Party who have also checked the AEC website for its preference arrangements.
        Perhaps I should have said “are effectively opaque”. And I would have thought that the “preference whispering” deals across a myriad of parties does make it effectively impossible to know the results, too, even if pre-armed with an AEC print out.
        Look, the sham parties of the microparties (such as Leyonhjelm specialises in) is as close to fraud as you can get, in my books. See here:
        Nope. The interest of bringing light to the election process outweighs the interest in getting some randomistas into the Senate.

  4. I am and will always be Not Trampis says:

    yeah , I am with Steve,

  5. conrad says:

    In the least case, hopefully the randomistas can stall this sort of legislation so it can be discussed properly, and hence show their value. If the electoral system can be seriously changed with such a lack of debate and at such speed, its a recipe for corruption and vote rigging.

  6. Tim Macknay says:

    I’m also with Steve.

    • Nicholas Gruen says:

      Steve, Tim, Homer

      I didn’t say I wanted to sell 10 randos for parliament to the public. I simply said it would be a better system.

      In the meantime we have to make a binary decision – is the system we have better or worse than the alternative we will be given. My post argues that the ‘randos’ effect of the current system is better than returning to a monopoly of the four mainstream brand managers parties – Labor, Lib, NP, Greens.

  7. Matt B says:

    If the brand managers did a better job of representing and managing the diverse needs of the country there would be fewer people voting for outsiders who then get a chance of a random spot. The last two parliaments have had the balance of power held by what might be considered regional independents – Oakshot and Windsor – Muir Madigan and Lambie – so there is clearly something going on with the major brands capacity to manage this important constituency. Going back further who can forget the role that Harradine played.

    However – despite disaffection with the majors – it is hard to argue with the need for voting reform – tablecl cloth size ballot papers are a farce and the reforms will result in fewer people getting a spot on the senate paper lottery. This might improve the odds of genuine independents and special interest parties in getting a spot as people will continue to place their votes in protest with mainstream party politics but will have fewer options where these anyone but alp, lib, Nat, greens votes can be directed. I rckon Ricky has done a fine job after a shaky start – it would be sad to see him go if the DD trigger were utilised sometime over the next 4 years.

  8. Don Aitkin says:

    Nick, your website isn’t about climate change, and I don’t want to fill it up with that issue. The short answer is that if the object of the ‘carbon tax’ is to make fossil fuels more expensive, shift consumers to alternatives and thereby reduce carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere, thereby reducing the warming that is said to flow from our burning fossil fuels — then it will have no effect that will be discernible even in a thousand years (Flannery). There would be no discernible effect even if the USA stopped all industrial production. If the object of the carbon tax is something else altogether, then that would be different. (What would that be?)

    If you want to read a reasoned agnostic position on ‘climate change’ (meaning the change to climate said to flow from human activities, not the climate change that ended wheat production across the Mediterranean from Rome two thousand years ago) then you could do worse than read my 2008 address to the PIA. In the eight years that have passed my agnosticism has deepened and my sceptical view of the importance of a carbon tax likewise. Climate science is really unsettled.

    While I see what you mean about the parliamentarians, one needs to remember that Abbott gained the leadership of the Opposition because just more than half of the Liberals (and virtually of the Nationals) were convinced that the arguments for the carbon tax were weak. I would agree that Direct Action is not especially effective in reducing carbon dioxide emissions, but if you’re not worried about that, then Direct Action at least does no harm!

    • Nicholas Gruen says:

      Thanks Don,

      I’ve been reading your 2008 address and I’m not fully through it yet. It certainly seems to me to make some good points about the overhyping of the ‘consensus’ on climate science.

      Like you I instinctively smell a rat and there’s lots of things to be annoyed about, about the way science is peddled. On the ‘left’ and the ‘right’ if I can use those terms as shorthand and specifically to this debate.

      So, as I think your address seems to highlight, it all gets down to what we know and what we don’t know.

      Still the problem is, with all our irritations about the way various people represent what is known and what is not, we have to decide what to do.

      What do you think the chances are of there being substantial warming – say more than 2 degrees? (I’m looking for some ‘superforcasting‘ here – your best guess of the percentage change given what you know).

      The other thing that bothers me is positive feedback in the system. There’s clearly negative feedback too, but there seem to be lots of positive feedback loops. What’s your best guess the chances of runnaway warming given business as usual – again in a percentage estimate?

      • Nicholas Gruen says:

        Hi Don,

        What’s become of you?

        I was looking forward to learning more from this exchange but you seem to have lost interest.

        • Don Aitkin says:

          Sorry, Nick. I haven’t seen your response until just now; I don’t know why. And I was put off by the remark (not be you) that I was a troll.

          Chance of substantial warming? Small. We don’t have much more than a century and half of data, and the early data is pretty rubbery, but there does seem to be a cyclic pattern, in which warm and cool periods follow one another. Setting aside el Ninos, which seem to be responsible for pretty well all the warming since the late 1990s, we seem to be in a cooler period now. It may go on for quite a while (the present el Nino will be followed soon enough by a la Nina, which will cool things down again). I can’t forecast the future, and those who try get it wrong — the IPCC forecasts for now are way too high).

          Feedbacks. The orthodoxy says that there is something called ‘climate sensitivity’ which is a positive feedback. The IPCC gives the range as 1.5 to 4.5, meaning that a doubling of CO2 will produce not just the 1.1 degree C increase in global temperature that physics would suggest, but some multiplier of that figure. There are a couple of dozen estimates of ECS (Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity), and the most recent dozen have it at the low end of the range. Without a high-end reality there is no real problem with increasing CO2, and therefore no coming doom, and therefore no need for carbon taxes. As it happens, ECS is a hypothetical construct.

          Again, I don’t want to take up your website with my interests, and interested readers here should come to mine! But I hope my response has helped. I can give you links to all this if you want them.

  9. paul walter says:

    Don Aitkin, you should have grown out of trolling by this stage of your life. Nick’s response had you nailed and you still came back for more.

    The thread starter really resonated with me, but cheered me up not a jot, apart from the comfort it brought from realising other people also see the emperor has no clothes or recognise a dead sheep, where the the movement you see comes not from the sheep but those infesting it.

    It a terrible thing to think that the only genuine, non homogenised fractile in parliament is there only by accident.

  10. Persse says:

    So the net result of changing the rules, by fiat mind, ensuring the elimination of politicians having much commonality with big proportions of the populace, and are otherwise not represented, is to increase our stock of major parties lumpenpols. Now there is a chinstroker for you.

  11. Douglas Hynd says:

    the changes to the system hand authority over preferences back to the voters and take it out of backroom deals in which the ALP it must be said has a history of being too smart for its own good (witness Steve Fielding). That makes it a relative improvement on the current gamed system

  12. Patrick says:

    My real concern here is not parliamentary efficiency, although I like Nicholas’ ideas in relation to this, but legitimacy.

    Of all Western leaders only John Howard seems to have understood that you cannot simply marginalise voters just because you don’t think their concerns have any basis/are racist/are stupid (unless they are greens, in which case you can quite succesfully do so). If you do they will just turn to other parties and the result will be just as we see now in America, the UK, France, Spain, Greece, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and basically everwhere.

    This, for me, is a step BACK to the “trust us we were born smarter” school of elitism that led all these countries down the path to Trump, Sanders, Le Pen, UKIP, AfD, Podemos, Syriza, et al.

    Completely aside from parliamentary efficiency, I’d rather we have more points of view expressed in and represented in parliament for the ongoing health of our democracy!

  13. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Patrick, please accept my heartfelt agreement with you. I have proposed deliberative democracy as worthwhile for sometime on account of its capacity to be an antidote to the excesses of vox pop democracy – the logical outcome of politics as entertainment. But right from the start an important part of its appeal to me was addressing the point you raise. Someone like Pauline Hanson comes along with pretty run of the mill Aussie, Aussie, Aussie views. A bit of a sourpuss it has to be said. Not my cup of tea. But written off as a pariah. Made fun of by TV journalists because she didn’t know what the word “Xenophobic” meant.

    I thought this was supposed to be a democracy. I thought it called for respectful listening to others, and considering their point of view and where possible seeking to address it. What a disaster. All part of what I call the business-classisation of life – a world of subtle codes about who’s a winner. And who’s a loser (and therefore doesn’t count).

    • John walker says:

      Given that the senate is based on proportional representation and that small population states like Tassie have as many senators as the big states, I think we will always have a number of fiesty independents in the senate. And because of the 1980 increase in the number of senators , it’s unlikely that any government will have a clear majority in the senate, least for any lenght of time.

      Surely the change that is welcome is that independents that do get elected are more likely to do so on the basis that the voter knows (at least a bit better), ‘ who ‘they are ,before they get elected.

  14. paul walter says:

    I really beleive the Greens shot themselves in the foot today, after the Senate voting issue was apparently resolved last week as something requiring of considered, calm post election attention.

    A Meg Lees moment, I think. I feel for the Greens for Labor and the indies helping pass suspect legislation, as happened last year, but Coalition changes here are about acheiving a majority, not fair representation, so that there is no more resistance to the sort of disastrous rubbish Abbott and Hockey tried to ram through after that horror budget.

    • Douglas Hynd says:

      This matter has been discussed for two years. The evidence that it will be itself hand over control to the coalition in the Senate has been debunked by numbers of analysts – including Ben Raue, Anthony Green and Kevin Bonham.

  15. rog says:

    At the time the carbon tax/ETS cobbled together by the Gillard govt attracted plenty of criticism from a wide range of sources. However, during its short life it managed to reduce consumption of electricity and gas by up to 7.2% and upon its repeal consumption rose by 8.8% (ABS).

    So for all its faults in practice it did work.

  16. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Thanks for persevering Don, I appreciate it.

    For reasons I described at the beginning of this post, I don’t want any of the links thanks. I regard this as an exercise in decision making under uncertainty, and I’m sympathetic to your argument that a lot of the so-called consensus is not rigorous. Looking at a few more articles won’t help much – since as you say, we’re pretty ignorant.

    I also apologise for the accusations people have made, but we do pretty well on keeping the trolls down here at Club Pony. I would also ask people not to be rude to you. It really is important that we are able to discuss this as rationally as we can. And as far as other commenters are concerned, in case I can be of any help, I don’t know Don well, but everything I’ve seen of him in public and private has led me to respect him as a truthful, scrupulous scholar. So don’t be rude to him!

    Don, I’m trusting your goodwill to help me think through the issues. However I have to say I’m pretty disappointed in your answers.

    On the first one you say the chances are “small”. My objection to that is that you didn’t do what I asked and offer a percentatge – even an indicative one. Without this how can you know what the right thing to do is? Then you go on to say “there does seem to be a cyclic pattern, in which warm and cool periods follow one another”. “Seem” doesn’t fill me with confidence. It does seem that my house is unlikely to burn down. It does seem like I’ll lose my bet with the insurance company. But I still pay the insurance premium at the same time as hoping I lose my bet.

    You say “we seem to be in a cooler period now” which is presumably a pro-warming argument – ie if there’s a secular warming, it will be masked by the cooler period we “seem” to be in. We “seem” to have had an awfully hot February – the news stories say so anyway. But that could easily be a blip.

    Anyway, you go on “It may go on for quite a while (the present el Nino will be followed soon enough by a la Nina, which will cool things down again). I can’t forecast the future, and those who try get it wrong — the IPCC forecasts for now are way too high).”
    I hope you can see why these sentences of yours don’t help me in making my decision. Indeed they seem like chit-chat. You are expressing some of your frustrations about the debate – which is entirely fair enough. Nothing you’ve said surprises me – I am entirely comfortable with the idea that you may well be right in everything you say. But it doesn’t help me make as rigorous decision as I can whether to pay the insurance policy (which I’d guess to be around 1% of GDP or a few months growth over the oncoming decades though it could end up being a lot less if it accelerates technical breakthrougs which scarcity – natural or artificial – has a way of doing.)

    Your paragraph on feedback seems awful to me – at least as a response to my question. You’re happy to flash your familiarity with the literature, but don’t help me use it to answer my question. Again – I say that from a position of ignorance. All I know is that there are plenty of plausible stories of positive feedback – albedo and polar ice, the methane in the Siberian permafrost – you’ll probably know lots of others. We also have Venus sitting up there in the solar system beaming its steady white light at us. As I understand it, it’s an example of global warming fed by positive feedback of various kinds. So it all sounds scary to me as indicated by my use of the word “runaway”. As far as I can see, feedback of this kind can’t be handled with a simple linear multiplier whether it’s at the high or low end of 1.5 to 4.5.

    Shouldn’t we be talking about tipping points and things like that? Where are they? Perhaps there are none to worry about. But if so how confident are we? Can you offer me a specific indicative probability? I’m trying to figure out whether to join others who argue that we should take out the insurance.

  17. Don Aitkin says:

    Oh dear. You don’t want links, Nick, but you want to make a decision under conditions of uncertainty, and you wish I’d offer you a percentage. Do you have any idea of how long it takes to get up to speed in this area? The late Bob Carter, a geologist of high standing, said it took him three years just to feel that he understood what it was all about. I have followed his example, and I’ve been reading in this area for a decade — hundreds of journal articles, three of the IPCCs WG1 books on the science of it all (each more than 1000 pp). On my website I am halfway through a summary of my perspective on ‘climate change’ — that’s six articles (eventually twelve) of about 1200 words each, referring to everything I’ve read and about 300 essays I’ve written. It is a vast domain, just vast. You can’t make any sort of sensible decision without reading widely and asking questions. My advice is simply to get out of it altogether, and let those who think they know do their worst (nothing much will happen, in my opinion).

    Just working backwards a bit,’tipping points’ were in vogue about eight to ten years ago, but they’re no longer much talked about, and neither is ‘runaway’ warming. Since I reject the the notion (used by the IPCC in AR5) that it is meaningful to talk about ‘confidence’ in what are simply value judgments or opinions, let alone give them percentages, I would not offer you one of mine — they are simply meaningless, indeed worse, because they suggest that real numbers are involved, and they’re not.

    I’m sorry you think I did things to flash my familiarity with the literature. That was not my intention. I thought, apparently wrongly, that you already knew quite a bit about this domain. I think there are a couple of dozen estimates of ECS, all in peer-reviewed papers. At one time or another I have read them all; they start from different bases; on the whole they don’t look at one another; and their results are hard to summarise, other than that the most recent ones are at the low end of the IPCC range. There is no silver bullet to understanding here. I’m still not entirely sure if the authors all mean the same thing by climate sensitivity, anyway.

    And I’m sorry you think I was engaged in chit-chat. Again, I assumed you were abreast of a lot of this. Cycles? Any decent graph will show you that by and large warming has been going on since 1850 (and probably earlier, though we have no really useful data), but in phases that last for twent-five to around forty years: warming, cooling, warming, cooling, warming. We are in a stasis period that followed a sharp warming one. It is easy to do a linear regression and get a single figure, as though warming was always going to happen, but the phases, to me at least, are more thought-provoking.

    Nick, as we like to say in business or management — what are you trying to achieve by getting into this domain? Unless you want to put in a lot of work, you’re going to have to do what Clive Hamilton says reasonable people do: trust someone in authority. I’m an old social scientist who has had a lot to do with the natural sciences, and was involved in judging applications for money from 1981 to 2010. Where lots of money is involved, I don’t instantly trust anyone in authority. I don’t like what I see in ‘climate science’, though there are lots of good people doing honest and honourable work. To me so much smacks of policy-based evidence, and I have the time, energy and persistence to keep at it.

    You don’t have to. Best wishes,


  18. Nicholas Gruen says:


    I don’t understand why, to have a view about some complex matter, I should go to the literature. I’d want to do that if I wanted to be an expert. I’m not. I’m an interested member of the public – who has to make their mind up because they vote and all that kind of stuff.

    On your view I need to take around three years off.

    Should I do that with all my views? Should I do it with my views on the health effects of tobacco, sugar, salt, fat, alcohol and their interaction? On whether a Fitbit will do more for me than an apple watch? Whether I should exercise and if so whether I should do it for 5 minutes a day or 20, or 90?

    I need to come to the best view I can without spending three years of my life reading the literature. How do I do that? I look for people I might be able to trust who know something about it. In the area of greenhouse, I’m suspicious of the consensus.

    But here’s the thing, lots of the people I’ve seen trotted out as skeptics sound a bit like cranks to me. So I’m looking for people who seem reasonable and if I can trust them, I’ll be influenced by them.

    So where am I going wrong?

    • Ken Parish says:

      An interesting and fairly recent article about Richard Lindzen.

      I used to try to keep up with/understand the research on climate change a decade or so ago, but I have neither the time nor the expertise. I’m fairly content to rely on the 97% of climate scientists who have concluded that human-induced global warming is real and significant. It seems extremely unlikely to me that such a huge majority (including not just academics but governments, met bureaux, CSIRO and similar bodies) would be engaged in a gigantic conspiracy, collective self-delusion, or a corrupt exaggeration of the available evidence to garner government grant funding. All the foregoing are typically trotted out by obsessive denialists like Don Aitkin.

      My understanding is that it is true that the level of “consensus” about climate change is sometimes exaggerated by advocates. There are still lots of areas of uncertainty, especially in the net balance between positive and negative climate feedback mechanisms. My rough non-scientific logic leads me to expect that at least most of the time the balance would be likely to favour negative feedbacks (i.e. dampening of the pace of change) because otherwise you would expect Earth would have experienced runaway planetary heating long ago due to any number of changes in inputs over time. However, whether there are limits beyond which that sort of assumption of stability no longer applies is the question.

      It isn’t true that climate science predictions of future change are based wholly or even mostly on computer modelling. There are numerous real world measures that show a clear and strong imprint of human-induced global warming, not least the actual temperature record itself, which as I understand it has risen almost 1 degree C since 1900 or thereabouts, much more than can be accounted for either by natural variability or any other plausible/known explanation.

      Nor is it true that global warming stopped in 1998 (as Aitkin’s 2008 paper asserts). It was just barely possible to make that assertion in 2008 because it was the end of a period including a sunspot minimum that counteracted the imprint of CO2 increase, and there were also a couple of La Nina events (associated with lower global temperature). It isn’t possible credibly to make this claim today.

      It also isn’t true that mainstream climate science (especially the IPCC) ignores or denies the existence or extent of uncertainty. That’s why their reports contain a variety of possible future “scenarios” rather than firm quantitative predictions. The possible scenarios in the most recent report range between a mean global temperature increase of 2.5 degrees C and 7.8 degrees C by 2100 without remedial action, depending on a range of factors (most prominently uncertainties about feedbacks etc).

      As mentioned above, my layman’s logic suggests to me that the net balance of feedbacks is likely to be negative or at least not strongly positive in most situations, so I am cautiously hopeful that the extreme doomsayers will end up being wrong and that actual increases without remedial effort will be around the lower scenarios (2.5-3.5 degrees C or thereabouts) rather than the higher ones. However the range of consequences even from warming of that magnitude would still be very great and mostly adverse at least in the short term, and the possibility of a higher scenario being the correct one certainly brings the Precautionary Principle into play.

      I think I’ll leave it at that. Arguing with obsessive believers in just about anything usually isn’t productive.

  19. Don Aitkin says:


    I think you’ve answered your own question, and my advice to you was to find someone you trust and follow their advice. I’m an agnostic about the perils of global warming: I’ve seen nothing yet that makes me worried, but I’ve read the stuff, and there’s a possibility (small, in my view) that the Climate Botherers could be right, or sort of right. On carbon taxes and ETS I am a complete .
    sceptic, for no discernible reduction in temperature will be produced thereby (that is, if the ghoul actually was/is to reduce temperature).

    Where are you going wrong? Why do you think you can have a sensible view about a complex matter without some work? Why should I think I could have a sensible view on taxation reform, for example, without doing quite a lot of work in that area?

    • Nicholas Gruen says:

      Thanks Don,

      We’re pretty much done I agree.

      You’ve asked “what are you trying to achieve by getting into this domain?”. I’m not really trying to “get into this domain”. I’m trying to have a responsible view about what may be a very important matter. Just as I’m trying to do the same on all the other things I mentioned in my last comment. What to do about salt, sugar, tobacco, fat, protein, carbohydrate in my diet. How much exercise I need to do.

      And I go about that in the normal way. People’s reputations and credentials count for something. But since I did “Ren and Ref” in fourth year at ANU I discovered that people who’ve spent a whole lifetime on a subject can be quite wrong and pretty much obviously wrong to a fresh pair of eyes. (In case you’re interested, the debate was the early history of the Renaissance as portrayed by Hans Baron and Jarold E Segel – I think that was their names. After a less than a week of digging it seemed entirely clear that Baron was just dead wrong but he kept digging in to defend a lifetime’s work. It amazed me that I could start to get a hold on a debate between career experts so quickly.)

      So that’s how I try to figure stuff out – or how I start. I figure out some guides into the subject and then I test who’s ‘on the level’. There are plenty of crazies around . Quite a few have PhDs and some are world authorities. (I ought to know, I’m an economist where a non-trivial number of Nobel Laureates are barking. A substantial number of them use models of the business cycle that depict the Great Depression as a spontaneous holiday taken by ten million workers. Some got the Nobels for helping build those models.)

      Anyway, I go hunting and testing. Like you said, looking for people to trust. But also for weaknesses in their argument. A chain is, after all, as strong as its weakest link.

      I trust that you have read a lot of the literature and tried to come to your own view of it. But I don’t need to read the literature to judge that you’re mainly motivated by your view that people shouldn’t be nearly as confident as they are of their ‘warmist’ position. You might well be right about that. I wouldn’t know.

      But that isn’t really the point. For us to debate that is what I refer to as “chit-chat” or pub-talk. I think I’ve got a better lock on the question you asked me than you have. You asked “what are you trying to achieve?” and my answer is, I’m trying to figure out whether we should take action on climate change and what that action should be. You on the other hand seem to be strong on debating the science – good luck to you for that, but it doesn’t help me answer my question. I already know there’s doubt and perhaps more than what’s taken to be the ‘consensus’ position. The question is what to do with the knowledge we have.

      You’ve comforted me in my belief that we should take action about climate change because you seem to be suggesting that we should not pay a small insurance premium to avoid a ‘small’ chance of global warming though you won’t say, even indicatively, what you mean by ‘small’ and by implication a non-trivial chance of catastrophic runaway warming. (As the link I previously linked to shows, it’s by indicatively quantifying chances that we’re actually making some small progress towards better decision-making – even when, particularly when we don’t know much).

      It seems to me that you’re letting your emotions run away with you. Is your house insured?

      • Don Aitkin says:

        I asked your father once, when he was a Visiting Fellow in my Department, whether or not he took private health insurance. He didn’t, and the reason was that he thought on balance that it was cheaper not to. We both had our houses insured. I first et Fred in 1961, when I had a room next to his in old Nursery building at ANU. We became friends at once because he had an interest in rural politics. One of my favourite people, ever.

        I’ll bid you farewell with two suggestions for reading. One is at

        where you will learn the maths about reducing temperature by instituting carbon taxes. The other will be on the next post.

        • Don Aitkin says:

          The second is by the most distinguished climate scientist (in my opinion) who is not part of the orthodoxy, Richard Lindzen at MIT. In his view what has happened with respect to ‘climate change’ is perverting the natural sciences.

          I agree, and that is probably my motivation in reading and writing as I do. I did spend a lot of my life in funding science, and I have strong and I think well-found views about what makes good science.


          I get a rude commenter or two on my website, too.

          Best wishes,


  20. Don Aitkin says:

    Bloody Autocorrect! ‘goal’ not ‘ghoul’ — though I rather like ‘ghoul’. Sorry, It’s getting late, and I’m tired.

    • I am and will always be Not Trampis says:

      Richard LIndzen has to be one on the most inaccurate forecasters around. Well picked don

  21. derrida derider says:

    Nick, you’re far too patient with Mr Aitkin. It really is way past time to politely, respectfully tell him to f off and don’t come back. He has killed what could have been an interesting and informative thread with his irrelevant obsession.

  22. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Anyway DD, I’m all ears regarding your thoughts on the original topic.

  23. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Thanks Don,

    You left one thing out of the description of Dad’s decision not to take our health insurance. He had catastrophe cover from the State. Do you really think he wouldn’t have taken out private health insurance in the States (which also provides a kind of catastrophe cover, but it’s pretty rough and ready)? That’s my point.

    But anyway, thanks for your kind words about Dad. A favourite of lots of people. Come to think of it, I don’t think I saw you at this function unveiling a portrait of him, but you might be interested to have a poke through the video.

    • Don Aitkin says:

      In any university of consequence in the USA Fred would have been covered by the University’s health plan, as I was at the University of Michigan. But you’re right in principle. I was covered, as one of the early members of the NHS in 1956, on my father’s advice.He had worked as an underground miner in Broken Hill, and the best cover, including that for your funeral, was high on his list of priorities.

      I was not at the unveiling, though it is in my calendar for that day. I don’t know why. I was involved in a big review of ARRB at the time, but the calendar gives me no sense of why I was not there. Lovely speech. Yes, he was a mystery (and aren’t we all?). But such an enjoyable man to have as a friend.

      I don’t know Ken Parish at all, but in my judgment his long comment contains nine mis-statements, errors, exaggerations or misunderstandings. I no longer engage with people like that, for life is too short — especially mine!

      If you want to get in touch with me on any matter, just email me at [email protected]


  24. John walker says:

    Nicholas I am currently reading “Natures Line, George Goyder”, it’s about possibly the very first (non indigenous) man to really understand the importance of , reliability , not ‘averages ‘ when it comes to most of Australias climate re farming etc .

    Something that we tend to forget is that most of the worlds food is grown in places that have, at the moment, much much more predictable climates than we do.
    If climate change was to do nothing apart from increasing even slightly the frequency of severe and widespread protracted droughts, followed by equally severe floods( and consequent loss of topsoil and infrastructure) in places like the rice bowls of Asia and the wheat steppes of Russia , the consequences could be very bad.

    On the ‘sceptic,side, from what I have been told, the frequency and intensity of ice age-warm period oscillations is a bit of a mystery. Over the past million or so years sometimes the cycles have been more (or less) frequent , more (or less) intense – exactly what is going on there is, I am told, not really understood.

  25. Tim Macknay says:

    Well, the era of “preference-whispering” appears to be now behind us, for better or worse (IMHO it’s for the better).

  26. rog says:

    I’m with DD on this but am a bit jealous, how come Aitken gets so much thoughtful consideration for his ramblings and I get sfa?

    Signed perpetually perplexed.

  27. Nicholas Gruen says:

    I’ve just discovered John Dryzek, a man of obvious taste, distinction and learning agreeing with me.

    Unfortunately the Australian parliament today has two chambers of justification and no chamber of reflection. And the government’s proposed changes to the way Australians elect their senators will only worsen this reality.

    The shining exceptions to this generalisation about lack of reflection come in the form of some of the senators who found their way into the Senate at the 2013 election through the existing system, which makes it possible for individuals to be elected without any of the major parties sponsoring them.

    I am thinking especially of the Motoring Enthusiast Party’s Ricky Muir, though perhaps Palmer United Party-turned-independent Glenn Lazarus can sometimes show a hint of some of the same virtue.

    Muir does exactly what a senator should. He approaches issues with few preconceived positions, listens to the arguments on different sides, then makes up his mind on how to vote. Except for issues involving cars, it is hard to predict how he will vote based on the party he was elected to represent.

    Muir makes up his mind based on how he thinks the proposed policy will affect ordinary Australians like himself. It is his very ordinariness that makes him such a good senator. On the former Abbott government’s proposed deregulation of universities, he said:

    What should I tell my children when they ask me why the government wants to deregulate the sector which could put universities out of reach for millions of ordinary Australians?

  28. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Note to self. A consultation organised by Democracy co in Services Australia for local government found this:

    Those without strong views helped those with strong and polarised views – to understand each other better. They acted in many ways like informal ‘facilitators’, helping to find the space where agreement could be found and changing the tone of the discussion, creating a more constructive discussion and finding solutions which could suit both.

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