The fix was in

On June 9 I observed that the fix is in and Kevin Rudd will return. And so he has, more awful than ever. It must be terrible to be a Labor supporter, having to pick amongst Mark Latham, Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd.

The last day of the Parliamentary sitting was the only time to make the switch so now the deed has been done.

But since even I could see it coming, obviously everyone else could as well. My guess is that this entire scenario was worked out weeks ago, the steps that would be taken, the painful decision by Penny Wong, the regretful switch by Bill Shorten and the final vote engineered just as it was. It is likely that even Julia was herself in on this, playing her part right to the end.

The state of western liberty according to Mark Steyn

This is a post by Mark Steyn on the state of our freedoms and their rapid disappearance.

Three snapshots of western liberty:

1) A few weeks ago, I wrote about a Canadian police department’s diversity enforcer attempt to shut down a Pamela Geller speech by getting her bounced from a Toronto synagogue. In Britain, the shut-up-he-explained crowd cut to the chase: They went to the (supposedly Conservative) Home Secretary, the ghastly Theresa May, and got Miss Geller and Robert Spencer banned from the entire country on the grounds that their presence in the United Kingdom would not be “conducive to the public good“.

By contrast, the presence of, say, Anjem Choudary, philosophical mentor of the Woolwich head hackers and a man who calls for the murder of the Prime Minister, is so “conducive to the public good” that British taxpayers subsidize him generously and provide a half-million-dollar home for him to live on. Mrs May’s Home Office has just admitted to the UK Muhhamed al-Arefe who advocates wife-beating. Perhaps Mr May will try out Imam al-Arefe’s expert advice on the beneficial effects of “light beating” on Theresa this weekend – or is spousal abuse only “conducive to the public good” of Muslim women?

The reflexive illiberalism of Britain’s so-called liberals – the urge to ban the debate rather than win it – is now so deeply ingrained they will soon be hungry for new victories. Nearly four centuries after Milton’s Areopagitica, freedom of speech is dead in England. In denying her charges access to dissenting ideas, Mrs May is inviting them to find alternative means of expression. No good will come from this.

2) On the other hand, the Canadian Senate voted today to join the House of Commons and repeal Section 13 – the “hate speech” provisions of the country’s “human rights” law:

OTTAWA – An Alberta MP has succeeded in his bid to repeal a section of the Canadian Human Rights Act long seen by free-speech advocates as a tool to squelch dissenting opinions.

Conservative MP Brian Storseth saw the Senate give third and final reading late Wednesday to his Bill C-304 which repeals Section 13 of the Human Rights Act, an act that had been used to, among other things, attack the writings of Sun News Network’s Ezra Levant and Maclean’s columnist Mark Steyn…

Last summer, Storseth’s bill cleared the House of Commons in a free vote and, now that it’s through the Senate, it will get Royal Assent and Section 13 should soon disappear.

I believe it received Royal Assent a couple of hours ago. So victories against the state’s encroachments on free speech are protracted and difficult, but still just about possible. I am honored to have played a small role in a modest victory for liberty in Canada, and I hope my friends in London ashamed by what their government has done will take heart.

3) What connects the above to today’s decisions in Washington is the slapdash contempt of Anthony Kennedy’s opinion. Whatever the merits of gay marriage, it ought to revolt anyone with a decent respect for self-government that this incompetent jurist could find no other way to frame the issue than to besmirch the motives of those who oppose him. As Justice Scalia wrote:

To defend traditional marriage is not to condemn, demean, or humiliate those who would prefer other arrangements, any more than to defend the Constitution of the United States is to condemn, demean, or humiliate other constitutions. To hurl such accusations so casually demeans this institution. In the majority’s judgment, any resistance to its holding is beyond the pale of reasoned disagreement… It is one thing for a society to elect change; it is another for a court of law to impose change by adjudging those who oppose it hostes humani generis, enemies of the human race.

What I always objected to in Canada about Section 13 was its casual contempt for the citizenry, the same contempt on display today in Washington and London. Like Theresa May, Justice Kennedy would rather impute motive than engage argument. The need to delegitimize those who disagree does indeed “demean this institution”, and is profoundly disturbing.

The man with no pluses is now PM for the second time

I have no time for either Gillard or Rudd. Both are nasty pieces of work with no serious ideas about how to make Australia a better place. Both think that their own shallow ideas are a match for individuals running their own lives in their own way with governments doing little more than setting the required political structures in place. Welfare and assistance, sure, which every government of every persuasion has done, but never to replace either the individual will or to remove the need for those individuals to act on their own behalf.

Yesterday I came home just in time to catch the 10:30 news and I immediately switched off at the first sighting of Rudd not more than five sentences into whatever he was saying. Gillard was incompetent and clueless. All of her instincts were the deepest red. She had no solutions that did not involve giving power and money to her friends and depriving those she classed as her enemies of the means for their own support. She clearly cannot bear people who run our businesses. And yet I found her resilience admirable. The cover of the Women’s Weekly merely shows that had things been different she could have been Australia’s Margaret Thatcher instead of being a federal version of Joan Kirner.

But Rudd has no pluses. There is no part of him that I would describe as admirable. The phrase low cunning doesn’t work because he has no cunning. He has a personality that shows positive in the media but I think this time we will see through him and very quickly. He has risen in the polls to 49 against Abbott’s 51 but I imagine that will be a high water mark. The Libs will pull him back but he will pull himself back even more.

Democracy does remain the worst form of government except for all the others that are tried from time to time. But Rudd along with Obama reminds you of just how bad democracy can be.

On childcare

Quite a commotion over childcare and childcare workers but as it happens my wife is in the industry so I thought I might add my own perspective.

Before children she worked in the administration area of IBM so when I say that we have million dollar children this is literally true. She tried to go back to work but couldn’t do it. Worth every penny and not a moment of regret from any of us, neither from the parental side nor from our children.

So as kind of a career change when they went off to school, my wife took up the post as before-and-after school care coordinator at the school where our children went. She ran the place, and was in fact the person who set the program up from scratch. And what you must understand is that running one of these centres is not so much an example of early school learning, which it is, but is more like running a small business with a tonne of responsibility and a million things to get right with lots of possibilities for things to go wrong.

In a school that goes from Kindergarten to Grade VI made up of both boys and girls there are a mess of individual activities that have to keep the children engaged for upwards of three hours a day and it has to vary day after day. There are people to hire and sometimes fire. There are, besides the children, parents to deal with, a board overseeing the program and the school itself. There is money to collect and accounts to keep. A childcare program doesn’t run itself. It needs the entrepreneurial hand of someone who has an eye for what is needed and can ensure that everything is run with both the order necessary to keep things in harmony in the midst of the disorder necessary where upwards of a hundred kids are engaged. Try it yourself if you think it’s so easy. Most people couldn’t do this for a day without packing it in.

After we moved to Canberra which coincided with our youngest leaving his primary school, my wife preferred to work casual in childcare so got to see quite a number of different centres and also got to meet quite a number of politicians whose children she looked after. You wouldn’t know this but she sure as hell did know this, that there are good and bad centres and the person in charge makes the most colossal difference to the outcomes. And think of this. There are children being dropped off at 8:00 in the morning who are not picked up until five minutes to six at night. You make a program that will keep a three year old content with life five days a week in the company of adult strangers and other children who are not necessarily the nicest of people to each other.

And then the other day, my wife came home and kind of mentioned as in another day at the office that one of the children had a seizure and she had to tend to him before the ambulance arrived. All routine. It is very difficult work, very creative and requires imagination and good humour. It is difficult in a way that we university trained paper-writers never understand and know little about. And the amount of talent required is greater than most people might ever understand.

And as was once wisely stated, anything that can be done can be done better or worse. Learning to run a childcare centre properly and well is one of those tasks in life one should not look down one’s nose at. In comparison, doing economics is a piece of cake. And I reckon there are about as many people good at childcare as there are economists who are any good at doing economics.

When do you think they’ll work out that government spending doesn’t create jobs?

From The Wall Street Journal but quoted from Instapundit:

The recession ended four years ago. But for many job seekers, it hasn’t felt like much of a recovery. Nearly 12 million Americans were unemployed in May, down from a peak of more than 15 million, but still more than four million higher than when the recession began in December 2007. Millions more have given up looking for work and no longer count as unemployed. The share of the population that is working or looking for work stands near a three-decade low.

This troublesome fact

Make sense of this from an article titled The obesity era by David Berreby:

Consider, for example, this troublesome fact, reported in 2010 by the biostatistician David B Allison and his co-authors at the University of Alabama in Birmingham: over the past 20 years or more, as the American people were getting fatter, so were America’s marmosets. As were laboratory macaques, chimpanzees, vervet monkeys and mice, as well as domestic dogs, domestic cats, and domestic and feral rats from both rural and urban areas. In fact, the researchers examined records on those eight species and found that average weight for every one had increased. The marmosets gained an average of nine per cent per decade. Lab mice gained about 11 per cent per decade. Chimps, for some reason, are doing especially badly: their average body weight had risen 35 per cent per decade. Allison, who had been hearing about an unexplained rise in the average weight of lab animals, was nonetheless surprised by the consistency across so many species. ‘Virtually in every population of animals we looked at, that met our criteria, there was the same upward trend,’ he told me.

It isn’t hard to imagine that people who are eating more themselves are giving more to their spoiled pets, or leaving sweeter, fattier garbage for street cats and rodents. But such results don’t explain why the weight gain is also occurring in species that human beings don’t pamper, such as animals in labs, whose diets are strictly controlled. In fact, lab animals’ lives are so precisely watched and measured that the researchers can rule out accidental human influence: records show those creatures gained weight over decades without any significant change in their diet or activities. Obviously, if animals are getting heavier along with us, it can’t just be that they’re eating more Snickers bars and driving to work most days.

[Sourced at Instapundit]

Spinoza and the enlightenment

Having finally come to an understanding of sorts about Spinoza’s ideas which have an enormous appeal to me, I try to deepen my knowledge about him wherever I can. This is a review of a 3000 page work on Spinoza and the enlightenment which I will never read, but I did at least read the review, “Seeing reason: Jonathan Israel’s radical vision” written by Kenan Malik. The central point of the review:

Like many before him, Israel lauds the Enlightenment as that transformative period when Europe shifted from being a culture “based on a largely shared core of faith, tradition and authority” to one in which “everything, no matter how fundamental or deeply rooted, was questioned in the light of philosophical reason” and in which “theology’s age-old hegemony” was overthrown. And, yet, despite language and imagery that hark back to Kant, Israel is also deeply critical of much of the Enlightenment, and hostile to the ideas of many of the figures that populate the works of Cassirer and Gay. At the heart of his argument is the insistence that there were two Enlightenments. The mainstream Enlightenment of Kant, Locke, Voltaire and Hume is the one of which we know, which provides the public face of the Enlightenment, and of which most historians have written. But it was the Radical Enlightenment, shaped by lesser-known figures such as d’Holbach, Diderot, Condorcet and, in particular, the Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza, that provided the Enlightenment’s heart and soul.

The two Enlightenments, Israel suggests, divided on the question of whether reason reigned supreme in human affairs, as the radicals insisted, or whether reason had to be limited by faith and tradition – the view of the mainstream. The mainstream’s intellectual timidity constrained its critique of old social forms and beliefs. By contrast, the Radical Enlightenment “rejected all compromise with the past and sought to sweep away existing structures entirely.”

In Israel’s view, what he calls the ‘package of basic values’ that defines modernity – toleration, personal freedom, democracy, racial equality, sexual emancipation and the universal right to knowledge – derives principally from the claims of the Radical Enlightenment.

This is the Enlightenment project that I understand Spinoza to have helped set in motion. This is part of the interview that Kenan has with Israel that seems to summarise the point:

“If you are going to construct a moral order in the modern world what other basis do you have?” asks Israel. “If it is not the voluntaristic preferences of some divinity to be interpreted for us, then the only way we are going to come to an agreement is if we agree to consider our interests as equal. Why would we agree to cooperate unless we start by saying, ‘OK, we want different things but we will treat each other as moral equals.’”

But the separation of the notion of equality from its underpinning Judeo-Christian theology has been the problem. Not a few Stalins, Hitlers and Pol Pots have ridden the wave of this enlightenment philosophy as part of a con man’s approach to political power. Nicely put as well at the end of the article:

Why did Hobbes and Hume and Voltaire row back on ideas of equality and democracy, freedom and liberty, while Spinoza and Diderot and Condorcet embraced more radical beliefs? It was not so much that the unwillingness of the moderates to break with tradition and theology made it impossible for them to accept a radical stance. It was more that their fear of revolutionary change led them to embrace tradition and theology. Because of Israel’s attachment to the old-fashioned history of ideas, this relationship between the intellectual and the social gets submerged in his narrative. But implicit in his argument is the acknowledgement that the division between the radicals and the moderates was not simply an intellectual distinction but an expression also of social conflict – and that it is this that also lies at the heart of contemporary debates about the meaning of the Enlightenment.

And about contemporary debates about the best social order as well.

The Waffle Street Tales – Say’s Law as Literature

Say’s Law has entered the world of literature. No longer is it mere economics but is now embedded in an extraordinary story that is both enlightening, instructive and funny all at the same time. The book is titled Waffle Street: the Confession and Rehabilitation of a Financier, it’s by a chap named James Adams and it is now into its second edition.

The story is this and is basically a first person adventure based on his own personal experience during the post-2009 crash. Jimmy Adams goes from hedge funds to a Waffle House [think a downmarket Pancake Parlour], from a seller of securities to a server of hash browns and grits. Along the way he learns some actual lessons about how economies work, Say’s Law being at the top of the list. It’s a book that you will read for its entertainment alone, but the message is very clear – and it is not a message found between the lines but in almost every chapter. Only adding value creates jobs, growth and the ability to demand.

The video is the trailer for the book and has been put together by John Papola of the Keynes-Hayek Rap. And if that’s not enough to get you to go off and order your copy, there is Doug French, the President of the Mises Institute, who has written a truly insightful review of his own which you can find here. The core quote from Doug:

But Adams does scrap with John Maynard Keynes in the pages of Waffle Street, lamenting, ‘How far we’ve fallen’ in the area of economics education. Pointing out that Say’s Treatise was once the top economics textbook in America, he explains that now, ‘Instead of learning sound doctrine, today’s undergraduates are inundated with principles that will not bear the scrutiny of common sense and experience.’

There are not many places you can go to find out about Say’s Law in the world today and there’s much else besides. You can read my book or you can read Jimmy’s. Preferably you will read both but Jimmy’s is much funnier than mine.

[Originally posted on Catallaxy on 19 August 2011]

Unwarranted fallacies and delusions

The Trades Hall at the corner of Victoria and Lygon Street has a book fair this weekend which I went along to with everyone else at ten to eleven just as it opened. On again on Sunday if you’re in Melbourne.

But the real reason I mention it was because I picked up an 1873 first edition of Herbert Spencer’s The Study of Sociology for $4 which is a bargain but nothing exceptional. They are on Abebooks for around $US50. But really, what was fascinating to me was found on the very first page which I here quote. He is discussing how even the intelligent and educated end up holding absolutely ridiculous opinions:

Now, as then, may be daily heard among other classes, opinions just as decided and just as unwarranted. By men called educated, the old plea for extravagant expenditure, that ‘it is good for trade,’ is still continually urged with full belief in its sufficiency. Scarcely any decrease is observable in the fallacy that whatever gives employment is beneficial: no regard being had to the value for ulterior purposes of that which the labour produces; no question being asked what would have resulted had the capital which paid for the labour taken some other channel and paid for some other labour. Neither criticism nor explanation modifies these beliefs. When there is again an opening for them they are expressed with undiminished confidence. Along with delusions of this kind go whole families of others. [p1-2]

What words he uses! “Unwarranted”. “Fallacy”. “Delusions”. Yes, yes. All that and more. And do I not know for myself that “neither criticism nor explanation modifies these beliefs”. You just cannot stop people believing that extravagant expenditure is good for trade and jobs no matter how often reality shows them it is a belief that is simply untrue. He goes on:

People who think that the relations between expenditure and production are so simple, naturally assume simplicity in other relations among social phenomena. Is there distress somewhere? They suppose nothing more is required than to subscribe money for relieving it. On the one hand, they never trace the reactive effects which charitable donations work on bank accounts, on the surplus-capital bankers have to lend, on the productive activity which the capital now abstracted would have set up, on the number of labourers who would have received wages and who now go without wages—they do not perceive that certain necessaries of life have been withheld from one man who would have exchanged useful work for them, and given to another who perhaps persistently evades working.

And the same paragraph continues:

Nor, on the other hand, do they look beyond the immediate mitigation of misery. They deliberately shut their eyes to the fact that as fast as they increase the provision for those who live without labour, so fast do they increase the number of those who live without labour; and that with an ever-increasing distribution of alms, there comes an ever-increasing outcry for more alms. Similarly throughout all their political thinking. Proximate causes and proximate results are alone contemplated.

But this is the bit I like the best. Just think of blaming recession on a deficiency of aggregate demand and you will see why this appeals to me as much as it does:

There is scarcely any consciousness that the original causes are often numerous and widely different from the apparent cause; and that beyond each immediate result there will be multitudinous remote results, most of them quite incalculable.

By coincidence, there was a resurrected article yesterday on the Mises Daily website that had been written by Henry Hazlitt in 1969 which was posted under the title, From Spencer’s 1884 to Orwell’s 1984. I will merely repeat two of the quotes from Spencer that Hazlitt had chosen but the entire article is quite worth the read. Firstly Spencer in 1884 complains about the increasingly intrusive regulations that are becoming worse by the year:

Regulations have been made in yearly growing numbers, restraining the citizen in directions where his actions were previously unchecked, and compelling actions which previously he might perform or not as he liked; and at the same time heavier public burdens … have further restricted his freedom, by lessening that portion of his earnings which he can spend as he pleases, and augmenting the portion taken from him to be spent as public agents please.

And then he note that governments are reducing self-reliance by inserting themselves into what had previously been left to individuals to deal with on their own:

The more numerous public instrumentalities become, the more is there generated in citizens the notion that everything is to be done for them, and nothing by them. Every generation is made less familiar with the attainment of desired ends by individual actions or private agencies; until, eventually, governmental agencies come to be thought of as the only available agencies.

Trading one disaster for another

rudd v capitalism

I sometimes think that our economic problems are the least of the troubles we face but they are pretty bad and getting worse. Labor, having wrecked the place, is getting out just in time. No doubt they will have much to criticise from the Opposition benches as the efforts to repair what they have ruined gets into full swing.

The uselessness of the media is never better highlighted than their light touch on leftist governments which are allowed to go well beyond reasonable bounds because criticisms of anyone with a socialist halo is verboten. So what we have is an economy crashing in many directions and from a multitude of directions. Prudence is a great virtue in economic management, a characteristic those with a socialist time perspective never seem to have.

This “QE dries up” from a front page story in the AFR which is part of a headline that also reads “Shares, $A plunge”. This is followed inside with “China credit data fuels doom-mongers’ fears”. We are becoming collectively poorer by the day and our ability to trade our way out of the debt and deficits being left behind is becoming a more gigantic task with each fresh decision by the party with the Parliamentary majority.

Meanwhile, those guys in the media, and that includes the likes of Laura Tingle and etc, you don’t do either the Labor Party or the rest of us any good by not having raked them over the coals for being the Beyond Stupid Party it has become. Unless you personally agree with the range of policies that are ruining us, then it is not just your duty as journalists but your duty as friends to these socialist cretins that you let them understand the nature of the dangers they run. And if you couldn’t see it coming yourselves, then what good are your opinions anyway?

Meanwhile Kevin Rudd is the apparent answer if the only aim is to rid ourselves of Julia Gillard. But as a reminder of how we would be trading one disaster for another, let me dredge up an article I wrote for Quadrant in April 2009 just after Kevin wrote his attack in The Monthly on what he chose to call neo-liberalism. It is titled, “Reflections of a Neo-Liberal“. The PM referred to is of course Kevin Rudd but I suspect it would just as easily apply to his successor. But if you wish to be reminded of the true nature of our once and future PM, these ought to be all the warning you need.

So to the Prime Minister’s article. Here we find a polemic on the evils of the capitalist system as it exists today. It is an imaginary system, bearing little reality to the world in which we actually live.

The article is 7700 words long. No précis can give any more than a taste of how extreme the language is and how misconceived the thoughts. He has invented a villain, the neo-liberal, whose demise is now the mission the Prime Minister intends to hasten. The Prime Minister apparently believes that those on the other side of the political fence, the neo-liberals of his imagination, “fundamentally despise” the state and its role. He apparently believes that in the view of such neo-liberals, “government activity should be … ultimately replaced, by market forces”. He takes it as read that these neo-liberals have “sought, wherever possible, to dismantle all aspects of the social-democratic state”.

To capture as least some of the rhetorical overdrive, I reproduce the two insert quotes displayed in large print across the page. The first:

The great neo-liberal experiment of the past 30 years has failed … the emperor has no clothes. Neo-liberalism, and the free-market fundamentalism it has produced, has been revealed as little more than personal greed dressed up as an economic philosophy.[ellipses in the original]

And then there’s this:

The stakes are high: there are the social costs of long-term unemployment; poverty once again expanding its grim reach across the developing world; and the impact on long-term power structures within the existing international political and strategic order. Success is not optional. Too much now rides on our ability to prevail.

We are here not discussing whether some policy or another might make the economic system work more effectively. This is not about whether there ought to be a stimulus package and if so, how it ought to be structured. This is beyond the technical side of economics and into the realm of good and evil. It is a psycho-drama in which Frodo and his mates take on Gollum in a bid to save the world.

We only elect these people so that they can raid the cookie jar. Well, the cookie jar is now well and truly empty and then some. Back to the people who will hopefully fill it up again although if the only aim is to raid it once again some time in the future it is hard to really see the point.