Sentimentality is no basis for foreign policy

It was tragic when the plane was shot from the sky over the Ukraine, but it was, as everyone understood, unintended. A war zone is a danger zone, even undeclared wars. But it did worry me that more was being made of it than was warranted. We have much bigger issues, and that particular problem came to an end the very moment it occurred. There was no reason to strain our relations with Russia to such an extent over any of it.

I feel the same about yesterday’s executions in Indonesia. The people I feel most sorry for are their parents who will forever feel that tremendous sense of loss for their children. But we cannot run our foreign policy on such cheap sentimentality. Indonesia executes drug runners. Other countries execute people for other kinds of things, such as conversion to Christianity.

I have found myself dwelling on the deaths in Nepal which are on a very different scale, and these are tragedies that have invaded people’s lives through no actions of their own. I don’t wish execution on anyone, but that is the law of their land. For us, other issues matter more.

Accommodating disruption

Craig Emerson has a column on Ideas needed for next economic growth phase. Here are, according to Emerson, “five ideas that could make a material difference to Australia’s future living standards”. He is certainly right about that, but you would think he would want to see our living standards rise rather than fall. The five:

1. A very fast train.
2. Lift the asylum seeker intake.
3. Double teachers’ salaries.
4. Increase land tax.
5. Accommodate disruptive technologies.

The support for “disruptive” technologies I find revealing. Why doesn’t he just say support the market and encourage entrepreneurial change? It’s not ideas that cause change but commercialisation of the ones that will work by the private sector. Everything else is almost inevitably waste. See the NBN and the series of Desal plants scattered around the country for recent examples.

W attacks O – enough is finally enough

George W. Bush is a man of principle, and one of his principles was to leave his successor to get on with governing. None of his predecessors had been as fastidious, but finally, after the unprecedented series of horrors perpetrated by Obama, George W. Bush Bashes Obama on Middle East. From the article:

Bush said that Obama’s plan to lift sanctions on Iran with a promise that they could snap back in place at any time was not plausible. He also said the deal would be bad for American national security in the long term: “You think the Middle East is chaotic now? Imagine what it looks like for our grandchildren. That’s how Americans should view the deal.”

Bush then went into a detailed criticism of Obama’s policies in fighting the Islamic State and dealing with the chaos in Iraq. On Obama’s decision to withdraw all U.S. troops in Iraq at the end of 2011, he quoted Senator Lindsey Graham calling it a “strategic blunder.” Bush signed an agreement with the Iraqi government to withdraw those troops, but the idea had been to negotiate a new status of forces agreement to keep U.S. forces there past 2011. The Obama administration tried and failed to negotiate such an agreement.

Bush said he views the rise of the Islamic State as al-Qaeda’s “second act” and that they may have changed the name but that murdering innocents is still the favored tactic. He defended his own administration’s handling of terrorism, noting that the terrorist Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who confessed to killing Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, was captured on his watch: “Just remember the guy who slit Danny Pearl’s throat is in Gitmo, and now they’re doing it on TV.”

Did you cringe at the jingoism, the unthinking patriotism and crass commercialism? – Actually, no I didn’t

Do people really believe this? This is a quote, now taken down, it seems, from Martin Hirst, who is a journalism lecturer at Deakin University which I picked up at Andrew Bolt discussing more Leftists protest in relation to ANZAC Day.

Did you cringe at the jingoism, the unthinking patriotism and crass commercialism that now defines ANZAC day? Or did you, like the free speech fundamentalists and Abbott apologists, take time from your orgy of bloody celebration of war, to call for a young journalist to be sacked for daring to question the ANZAC myth?… The myth is that both world wars were fought to protect “our” freedoms and that without them “we” would not enjoy the lifestyle we have today. That is utter tosh and ahistorical nonsense and it also conveniently lets the warmongers off the hook. War is never about principles and morals, it is about money… War benefits the capitalists who stay behind. There are profits to be made in the killing and in the rebuilding, which brings us to imperialism… It is a sad day for freedom of speech when telling the unpalatable truth to a nation that collectively sticks its fingers in its ears and sings the anthem to drown out critical voices causes someone to lose their job. [My bolding]

It’s not even that he is a stray, an outlier, but is as mainstream amongst the media/intellectual class as you could find. I am astonished that SBS actually sacked their sports reporter for discussing an issue in such an offensive way, over which he could not possibly have had the slightest expertise. We now indulge opinion journalism, but the carriers of these views merely have opinions. Research and detailed knowledge of any kind seems irrelevant. They read each other’s ignorant rants and then reword and repeat.

Economic Council of Tribal Elders

This is a self-explanatory letter I have written to Professor Richard Lipsey. It was a Saturday afternoon, my most whimsical moment of the week. I have re-read it now on Monday morning, my least whimsical moment, and it still works for me. While my proposal for encouraging change was not intended to be taken literally, something really does need to be done.

Dear Professor Lipsey

I hope you won’t mind my invading your email account but following your posting on the SHOE website, I wanted to continue that conversation because I think this is an issue of no small importance. I have posted the correspondence up on my blog so you can look at my more considered thoughts here.

About myself, I will mention only four things: (1) Canadian born and educated though living in Australia for the past forty years, I have learned and taught from your Positive Economics; (2) I have been trying in my own way to save the history of economic thought from oblivion an outcome it seems destined to achieve [see my Defending the History of Economic Thought (Elgar 2013)]; (3) I am in the smallest of all current heterodox groups – the John Stuart Mill Classical School of Economic Theory for which I have written the textbook: Free Market Economics: an Introduction for the General Reader (Elgar 2nd ed 2014); and (4) virtually all of my career was spent in politics as the Chief Economist for Australia’s national organisation of employers which has warped my approach to issues, both economic and academic (see below).

I think there is a crisis in economics at the moment that no one is facing up to. The Queen supposedly put her finger on it by asking why no one had forecast the GFC. I think the crisis comes from no one being able to guide us out of the recession. You will have seen that I think that is because of the Keynesian models we have embedded, on which I may be right or wrong. But what troubles me is that no one has made a serious effort to revisit economic theory and worry over where the problem is. If I were to be classified using any of the modern schools, I would probably find myself, like you, within the Evolutionary Economics camp (my close associate at RMIT is Jason Potts who I understand is well known in this area). But whatever fuss has been made seems very muted, so muted I have been unable to detect anything at all.

In fact, until I read your post, I had no idea that you had these views. There may be many others who hold views similar to your own, who are, like yourself, individuals with genuine stature who are concerned about the way things are going. The minute I saw your post, I knew whatever thoughts others may have had to take potshots at me – and there may well have been none – they would be instantly suppressed. I am also very conscious of how narrow economic theory is, but as presently designed, it is both seductive and empty. The MC=MR diagram drives me crazy, and I won’t teach it, and in fact, instruct anyone who has ever come across it, to do all they can to forget it. Yet everyone who has learned it, cannot be lured away from its seductive grasp. I make the notion of equilibrium something that should be shunned and a concept devoid of serious economic content but on it goes even though economies are absolutely open ended and with so many cross-currents, the very notion is pointless. I think the stimulus was as deranged as anything I have ever seen inflicted on a peacetime population in my life but seriously, aside from myself, no one seems to be taking up arms against the underlying theory that has led to these policy outcomes. But my point is that although everyone can understand what is in my text, their careers would be cut dead if any of them ventured into this kind of territory, enemy territory to the mainstream (although a couple of them have, brave souls).

The nature of what we teach and the way we restrict what is in and what is not in, so far as a mainstream department goes, is astonishing. For whatever reason, the latitude given is near zero. You could drop your first edition into any course today and it would hardly make a difference compared with the latest, most up-to-date text just off the press. I came back to teaching after 35 years away and I didn’t have to learn a single new thing.

I don’t know whether there is something that can be done. But an Economic Council of Tribal Elders made up of people like yourself seems to me to be the only answer. A student uprising, as at Manchester and discussed by Hugh Goodacre, can only go so far but must stop. No one will pay attention, and I’m afraid, no one should either. But persons such as yourself in league with others of a similar stature, people who are no longer worried about contract renewals and finding their next job, can make the difference that I think needs to be made.

You must know others like yourself who are dissatisfied with the mainstream plod. Perhaps it is too hard, but perhaps it is also not too late.

With kindest best wishes.

Lies, damned lies and temperature records

Top scientists start to examine fiddled global warming figures is the story, reported here as well, but how can they know the records were fiddled before they check?

Last month, we are told, the world enjoyed “its hottest March since records began in 1880”. This year, according to “US government scientists”, already bids to outrank 2014 as “the hottest ever”. The figures from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) were based, like all the other three official surface temperature records on which the world’s scientists and politicians rely, on data compiled from a network of weather stations by NOAA’s Global Historical Climate Network (GHCN).

But here there is a puzzle. These temperature records are not the only ones with official status. The other two, Remote Sensing Systems (RSS) and the University of Alabama (UAH), are based on a quite different method of measuring temperature data, by satellites. And these, as they have increasingly done in recent years, give a strikingly different picture. Neither shows last month as anything like the hottest March on record, any more than they showed 2014 as “the hottest year ever”.

It ought to be a mystery, but it’s not really. If you hide the decline the number must go up.

Churchill and the Gallipoli Campaign

This is Steve Hayward discussing the military and political issues that surrounded the lead-up to the attack at Gallipoli. Everyone may know this already, or may just be wrong, but it seems the wasted lives were in the execution and not the concept. This is how it ends, but read it through.

The essential strategic soundness of the Dardanelles offensive has come to be more deeply appreciated as the decades have passed. Basil Liddell-Hart described the Dardanelles as “a sound and far-sighted conception, marred by a chain of errors in execution almost unrivaled even in British history.” It presents one of the great “what ifs” of history. Had Turkey been knocked out early, and the war ended sooner, perhaps the Bolshevik revolution would never have taken place. Perhaps Hitler would never have risen to power. These kinds of questions can never be answered, and it is perhaps frivolous even to indulge them. But it is a tribute to Churchill’s insight that nearly 50 years after the episode, Clement Attlee, who was Churchill’s great opponent in the Labour Party (it was Attlee who defeated Churchill in the election of 1945), remarked to Churchill that the Dardanelles operation was “the only imaginative strategic idea of the war. I only wish that you had had full power to carry it to success.”

I might also mention The Sunday Age ANZAC Day quote from Bill Shorten. Did they even pick it because they agreed with the sentiment. Here are the words. Read ’em and weep.

When we landed here on this beach, it was someone else’s country.

Who is his constituency for this, because if there actually is one, they are moronic to the core.

What does science have to do with real world facts?

In the mail, so to speak, I was sent this from the Mail on Sunday last month: Why my own Royal Society is wrong on climate change: A devastating critique of world’s leading scientific organisation by one of its Fellows. Here is the gist of it in the first few paras:

Five years ago, I was one of 43 Fellows of the Royal Society – the first and arguably still the most prestigious scientific organisation in the world – who wrote to our then-president about its approach to climate change. We warned that the Society was in danger of violating its founding principle, summed up in its famous motto ‘Nullius in verba’ – or ‘Don’t take another’s word for it; check it out for yourself’.

The reason for our warning was a Society document which stated breezily: ‘If you don’t believe in climate change you are using one of the following [eight] misleading arguments.’

The implication was clear: the Society seemed to be saying there was no longer room for meaningful debate about the claim that the world is warming dangerously because of human activity, because the science behind this was ‘settled’. . . .

Yet the Society continues to produce a stream of reports which reveal little sign of this. The latest example is the pre-Christmas booklet A Short Guide To Climate Science. Last year also saw the joint publication with the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) of Climate Change: Evidence And Causes, and a report called Resilience. Through these documents, the Society has lent its name to claims – such as trends towards increasing extreme weather and climate casualties – that simply do not match real-world facts.

Oh those real world facts. Why should that get in the way of anything? These people are doing a bang up job of demonstrating that science is where the truth is. Because this is from The Daily Mail today: Our climate models are WRONG: Global warming has slowed – and recent changes are down to ‘natural variability’, says study. If the facts don’t allow you to use your models to reach the conclusions you want to reach, just get another model. Watch how it’s done:

To test these, [the research team] created a new statistical model based on reconstructed empirical records of surface temperatures over the last 1,000 years.

‘By comparing our model against theirs, we found that climate models largely get the ‘big picture’ right but seem to underestimate the magnitude of natural decade-to-decade climate wiggles,’ Brown said.

‘Our model shows these wiggles can be big enough that they could have accounted for a reasonable portion of the accelerated warming we experienced from 1975 to 2000, as well as the reduced rate in warming that occurred from 2002 to 2013.’

‘Statistically, it’s pretty unlikely that an 11-year hiatus in warming, like the one we saw at the start of this century, would occur if the underlying human-caused warming was progressing at a rate as fast as the most severe IPCC projections,’ Brown said.

In other words, it doesn’t actually matter what happens in the real world, climate change is happening. And it’s not an 11-year hiatus, it’s now up to 17, but that too, I’m sure, fits into the data. There is, in fact, the way this has gone on, no observation that we can apparently make that is inconsistent with a prior belief in global warming.

Of course, the interesting part is why they so desperately want the planet to be warming, and why they want this warming to be man-made. Methinks there may be other agendas running, not least amongst which is a desire for more grant money to look into this problem further. But the anti-free-market agenda no doubt remains the top priority, as my own model conclusively shows.

[Thanks to Des for sending the Royal Society story along.]