Sunday, 27 August 2017 - 5:42pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 27/08/2017 - 5:42pm in

This week, I have been mostly reading:

Strange bedfellows

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sat, 26/08/2017 - 4:43pm in

Via MacroBusiness, here's the TL;DR of the Business Council of Australia's submission to a 2012 Senate inquiry into social security allowances:

  • "The rate of the Newstart Allowance for jobseekers no longer meets a reasonable community standard of adequacy and may now be so low as to represent a barrier to employment.
  • "Reforming Newstart should be part of a more comprehensive review to ensure that the interaction between Australia’s welfare and taxation systems provides incentives for people to participate where they can in the workforce, while ensuring that income support is adequate and targeted to those in greatest need.
  • "As well as improving the adequacy of Newstart payments, employment assistance programs must also be reformed to support the successful transition to work of the most disadvantaged jobseekers."

Not only did the BCA's confederacy of Scrooges suffer unaccustomed pangs of sympathy, the Liberal Party senator chairing the inquiry also agreed that Newstart is excessively miserly. However, he failed to recommend raising the allowance, saying:

"There is no doubt the evidence we received was compelling. Nobody want's [sic] to see a circumstance in which a family isn't able to feed its children, no one wants to see that in Australia. But we can't fund these things by running up debt."

Sigh. (Here we go…) There is no need to "fund these things", whether it be by "running up debt" or any other means. The Federal Government creates money when it spends. We, as a country, run out of the capacity to feed our children when we run out of food. We cannot run out of dollars, since we can create the dollars without limit.

The government does however, at the moment, have a purely voluntary policy of matching, dollar-for-dollar, all spending with government bond sales. There's no good reason for this; as Bill Mitchell says, it's just corporate welfare. Even so, selling bonds is not issuing new debt. Bonds are purchased with RBA credits (or "reserves", if you prefer). The purchasing institution simply swaps a non-interest-bearing asset (reserves) at the RBA for an interest-bearing one (bonds), still at the RBA. It's just like transferring some money from a savings account to a higher-interest term deposit account at a commercial bank; do we say that this is a lending operation? Of course not.

There is no fiscal reason why the government should punish the unemployed to the extent that they become an unemployable underclass. Even if we are generous and assume the good senator and his colleagues on the inquiry are just ignorant about how the economy works, we are still bound to conclude that there must be some (not so ignorant) people in government, who do want to see people suffering for no just reason.

Sunday, 20 August 2017 - 6:42pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 20/08/2017 - 6:42pm in

This week, I have been mostly reading:

  • Actually, Germany Can Do Something About Its Trade Surplus — Dean Baker: If Germany were prepared to run more expansionary fiscal policy and allow its inflation rate to rise somewhat then it could have more balanced trade, meaning that it would be getting something in exchange for its exports. However, Germany's political leaders would apparently prefer to give things away to its trading partners in order to feel virtuous about balanced budgets and low inflation. The price for this "virtue" in much of the rest of the euro zone is slow growth, stagnating wages, and mass unemployment.
  • The Democratic Party’s Anti-Bernie Elites Have a Huge Stake in Blaming Russia — Norman Solomon: After Hillary Clinton’s devastating loss nearly six months ago, her most powerful Democratic allies feared losing control of the party. Efforts to lip-synch economic populism while remaining closely tied to Wall Street had led to a catastrophic defeat. […] In short, the Democratic Party’s anti-Bernie establishment needed to reframe the discourse in a hurry. And -- in tandem with mass media -- it did. The reframing could be summed up in two words: Blame Russia.
  • Making Sense of the Deportation Debate — Aviva Chomsky in TomDispach: A Washington Post scare headline typically read: “ICE Immigration Arrests of Noncriminals Double Under Trump.” While accurate, it was nonetheless misleading. Non-criminal immigration arrests did indeed jump from 2,500 in the first three months of 2016 to 5,500 during the same period in 2017, while criminal arrests also rose, bringing the total to 21,000. Only 16,000 were arrested during the same months in 2016. The article, however, ignores the fact that 2016 was the all-time low year for arrests under President Obama. In the first three months of 2014, for example, 29,000 were arrested, far more than Trump’s three-month “record.”
  • Cyber.Hospital — VectorBelly:

Sunday, 13 August 2017 - 7:08pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 13/08/2017 - 7:08pm in

This week, I have been mostly reading:

  • Toronto Housing Bubble Pops. “Genuine Fear” of Price Collapse — Wolf Richter: “Clearly, the year-over-year decline we experienced in July had more to do with psychology, with would-be home buyers on the sidelines waiting to see how market conditions evolve,” said [Toronto Real Estate Board] President Tim Syrianos. Alas “psychology” is precisely what causes house price bubbles – not fundamentals, such as 2.3% annual wage increases. And when that “psychology” turns, it pricks those bubbles.
  • Housing bubble is now official, commence arse-covering (panic)! — Matt Ellis: We look to be approaching the final panic stages of the last blow off in this epic bubble, as the kitchen sink is thrown at the market in a desperate attempt to avoid the inevitable. But it will only do further damage, and ultimately prove futile. This is the cost that we all have to pay for those beloved property prices – that illusory “wealth effect” that simply amounts to a pile of household debt as large as the difference between the total nominal value and the total fair value of the housing market.
  • Explainer: shadow banking and where it came from — Huon Curtis in the Conversation: Australia can’t do much to remedy global uncertainty. However, policies it pursues do link into shadow banking practices in multiple ways. Policies that erode the standard employment relation and cut pay rates increase consumer demand for short-term credit products. This increases private debt for consumers, but feeds its attractiveness into an asset class for institutional investors.
  • I See What Google Did There… — Adam Croom: Today Google announced what is, again, a fun and intriguing tool called AutoDraw. You draw some squiggly lines and it uses AI to guess what you meant to draw. […] Does Google really want to improve drawing everywhere? Did Google find a specific weakness within the human race and thus felt compelled to solve a world problem? Or is Google creating a product that meets a market need of designers who need quick icons? Nah, none of those. Does it want to improve machine learning? Hell yes it does.
  • British Labour has to break out of the neo-liberal ‘cost’ framing trap — Bill Mitchell: Statements such as the ‘nation cannot afford the cost of some program’ are never made when the military goes crazy and launches millions of dollars of missiles to be blasted off in the dark of the night. But when it comes to public health systems or the nutritional requirements of our children, the neo-liberals have their calculators out toting up the dollars. However, the actual cost of a government program is the change it causes in the usage of real resources. When we ask whether the nation can afford a policy initiative, we should ignore the $x and consider what real resources are available and the potential benefits. The available real resources constitute the fiscal space. The fiscal space should then always be related to the purposes to which we aspire, and the destination we wish to reach. British Labour needs to learn those basics fast and to break out of the neo-liberal ‘cost’ framing it is trapped within.
  • With or without edtech — Jonathan Rees: Can you live without edtech? [You just knew I had to get around to edtech here eventually, right?] Shockingly enough, there were actually good schools in the United States long before Bill Clinton and Al Gore decided to put a computer in every classroom. Plenty of teachers and professors offer great classes of all kinds without anything more sophisticated than their voices and a chalkboard. Weirdly enough, just this morning, right after I read that article, I was pitching our dean on starting a digital humanities program in our college. “What about the professors who don’t want to use technology?,” he asked me. I said I would never in a million years force any teacher to use technology if they don’t want to, but it’s a actually a good thing if students have a wide range of classes in which they can enroll, some of which use educational technology and some of which don’t.

Sunday, 6 August 2017 - 7:53pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 06/08/2017 - 7:53pm in

This week, I have been writing a short essay rather than reading, which in practice means mostly playing Aisleriot:

Sunday, 30 July 2017 - 5:46pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 30/07/2017 - 5:46pm in

This week, I have been mostly reading:

  • Meritocracy: the great delusion that ingrains inequality — Jo Littler: When the word meritocracy made its first recorded appearance, in 1956 in the obscure British journal Socialist Commentary, it was a term of abuse, describing a ludicrously unequal state that surely no one would want to live in. Why, mused the industrial sociologist Alan Fox, would you want to give more prizes to the already prodigiously gifted? Instead, he argued, we should think about “cross-grading”: how to give those doing difficult or unattractive jobs more leisure time, and share out wealth more equitably so we all have a better quality of life and a happier society.
  • ‘When I Was Your Age, We Used A Thing Called Cash’: And Other Ways to Fight Back Against The Banks — Warwick Smith in New Matilda: We need to stop seeing housing as a way to accumulate wealth and start to see it as… well, housing. This is largely a government policy responsibility and not something we can do as individuals. However, as individuals we can claw back a little bit of control and cut out the banks as middle men by using cash when we spend. This is particularly useful for the small local businesses where we shop. It could be the difference between them surviving and going under – or being able to pay staff versus working 12 hour days themselves. Those staff could be your kids or your friends.
  • Mortality Crisis Redux: The Economics of Despair — Pia Malaney, Institute for New Economic Thinking: Case and Deaton estimate that the upturn in mortality rates in the US is starkly divergent from other developed countries, and accounts for 96,000 deaths that could have been avoided between 1996 and 2013. Their latest work delves deeper into the underlying causes of this decline. “Deaths of Despair” — by suicide, drug overdose or alcohol abuse — cannot be completely explained simply by stagnant or declining incomes. Income profiles for middle aged blacks and Hispanics look similar, without a corresponding rise in mortality. Rather, the authors posit, it can be traced to a “cumulative disadvantage over life”, where declining labor market opportunities have led to declining outcomes not just in the labor market but also in health, marriage, and child rearing. In other words, the stress accompanying the shock of downward mobility is likely driving this health crisis. And:
  • America’s prison population is getting whiter — Keith Humphreys: The 21st century has witnessed remarkable decay in the well-being of many non-Hispanic white Americans. In a new report, economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton document that non-Hispanic whites who have a high school education or less have experienced reduced life expectancy and increased rates of suicide and addiction. Recent correctional system data highlight another dimension of this population’s travails: they are increasingly spending time in jail.
  • After 12 Rejections, Apple Accepts App That Tracks U.S. Drone Strikes — Josh Begley, the Intercept: Smartphones have connected us more intimately to all sorts of data. As Amitava Kumar put it recently, “The internet delivers ugly fragments of report and rumor throughout the day, and with them a sense of nearly constant intimacy with violence.” Yet information about drone strikes — in Apple’s universe — had somehow been deemed beyond the pale.
  • One weird trick for dealing with government-bashers — Jen Sorensen at Daily Kos:
  • Oh, Jeremy Corbyn — Neil Wilson on Medium: Student loans are not really loans. It’s just a list of people who are liable to a form of additional taxation after graduation. Even then it is only paid by those who managed to get a decentish job after graduation. Two thirds of the loans will likely be written off anyway. Scrapping tuition fees and the loan system is simply a tax cut for those who have bettered themselves and managed to get a reasonable job. Getting rid of the albatross around their necks and the necks of thousands, if not millions, of ex-students who were not quite so lucky in the jobs market will increase their capacity to spend in the economy. The resulting expansion and multiplier effect throughout the economy will absorb that spend via additional production and job expansion.
  • The Top Ed-Tech Trends (Aren't 'Tech') — Audrey Watters: In 2012, I chose “the platforming of education” as one of the “top ed-tech trends.” […] Platforms aim to centralize services and features and functionality so that you go nowhere else online. They aspire to be monopolies. Platforms enable and are enabled by APIs, by data collection and transference, by data analysis and data storage, by a marketplace of data (with users creating the data and users as the product). They’re silos, where all your actions can be tracked and monetized. In education, that’s the learning management system (the VLE) perhaps.
  • Announcing Unpaywall: unlocking #openaccess versions of paywalled research articles as you browse — Heather Piwowar and Jason Priem of Impactstory, the team behind Unpaywall, on the LSE Impact Blog: Today we’re launching a new tool to help people read research literature, instead of getting stuck behind paywalls. It’s an extension for Chrome and Firefox that links you to free full-text as you browse research articles. Hit a paywall? No problem: click the green tab and read it free! The extension is called Unpaywall, and it’s powered by an open index of more than ten million legally-uploaded, open access resources.

Sunday, 23 July 2017 - 6:54pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 23/07/2017 - 6:54pm in

This week, I have been mostly reading:

  • Is the threat of a copyright lawsuit stifling music? — Chi Chi Izundu, BBC News: According to forensic musicologist Peter Oxendale "everyone's concerned that inspiration can [now be interpreted as] a catalyst for infringement. "All of these companies are worried that if a track is referenced on another at all, there may be a claim being brought," he explains. Mr Oxendale says some artists are now having the requirement to name their influences written into contracts by their record labels - although he would not specify names.
  • If your wallet is empty, you're part of the new majority — Peter Martin: An astounding 30 per cent of us keep no cash whatsoever in the house, up from 25 per cent three years ago. If nothing else, it suggests incredible faith in banks. The Reserve Bank carries out the survey every three years. In November it gave 1500 people diaries and asked them to record every transaction for a week, more than 17000 transactions in total. In a telling irony it rewarded them with gift cards rather than cash.
  • The Conversation About Basic Income is a Mess. Here’s How to Make Sense of It. — Charlie Young in Evonomics: It’s unusual to argue wholeheartedly against representative government, taxation or universal suffrage, while it is common to disagree on which party should govern, whether taxes should be raised or cut, and particular elements of voting procedure. In the same way, we shouldn’t argue all-out for or against UBI but instead inspect the make-up of each approach to it – that’s where we can find not only meaningful debate, but also possibilities for working out what we might actually want.
  • Infographic: the truth behind Centrelink’s waiting times — Wes Mountain, the Conversation: We’ve created this graphic – based on new data from 2015-16 calls confirmed by the Department of Human Services – to explain what’s really going on when Centrelink says its wait time is under 16 minutes. The last two major issues I had with Centrelink required four calls each (with a week between each call to give the wheels of bureaucracy a more-than-reasonable amount of time to turn) before I would call the issue "handled". Each call involved around two hours on hold. Sitting at the WWII-surplus phones in the local Centrelink office because I don't have a landline and can't afford to be on hold for that length of time on my mobile.
  • Real estate agents: let first home buyers raid their super — Leith van Onselen at MacroBusiness: Sure, allowing an individual [First Home Buyer] to access their super to purchase a home probably would increase their chances of home ownership, since they would have a leg-up on other buyers. But if you allow all FHBs to access their super, this advantage diminishes, and the end result will be home prices being bid-up for no ‘affordability’ gain, with the added downside of having less funds available in retirement. But on the other hand, if you can instruct your fund manager to cash out all your mortgage-backed assets it's a one-for-one risk swap. When the real estate bubble bursts you have the satisfaction of knowing all your losses were your losses. It's more personal.
  • The real reason Trump didn't want to shake hands with Merkel… — Gaius Publius at Digby's Hullabaloo:
  • Wall Street First — Michael Hudson: The straw that pushed voters over the edge was when [Hillary Clinton] asked voters, “Aren’t you better off today than you were eight years ago?” Who were they going to believe: their eyes, or Hillary’s? National income statistics showed that only the top 5 percent of the population were better off. All the growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) during Obama’s tenure went to them – the Donor Class that had gained control of the Democratic Party leadership.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017 - 3:23pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Tue, 18/07/2017 - 3:23pm in

I was just in the chemist shop, waiting for a prescription to be filled. I became aware of a customer behind me, asking an assistant if she had anything to help with insomnia. She said she was very, very stressed, and having trouble sleeping. I am not a psychologist (and in fairness nor was the shop assistant), but the lady was clearly not in a happy place, psychologically. So did the shop assistant at least suggest that the customer pop in to see her GP to find out if there was anything they might recommend?

Did she f***. She sold her some f***ing valerian pills!

It's like calling a crisis hotline and being told "It's probably nothing. Have you tried a nice cup of hot chocolate?"

It's bad enough that pharmacists are allowed to sell snake oil from the same shelves as real medicines. In a sane world any pharmacist caught doing this would be instantly deregistered. At the very least, staff should be instructed to err on the side of caution in the case of any ailment with a potential psychological component. The above conversation should have gone something more like this:

"Do you have anything for insomnia?"

"Yes, we do. This is a mild sedative. For anything stronger you'll need to see your doctor, which would be a good idea anyway if it's a persistent problem. And this here is a medieval folk remedy. Might do you some good. Might do you harm. No solid evidence either way. In fact I've no idea why we stock it. Given there's nothing to recommend it beyond uninformed heresay, you'd be a fool to try it."

Sunday, 16 July 2017 - 8:00pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 16/07/2017 - 8:00pm in

Can I propose that we resolve not to use the word "grow" as a dynamic verb? I don't see how our community will grow if we keep repelling potential new members with the vulgar demand that they grow our community.

It's really just a special case of the general injunction to urgently action the ensmallment of our businesspeak going forward, with a view to maximising the impactfulness capacity of our solution initiatives. I really can't put it any more plainly than that.

Sunday, 16 July 2017 - 7:35pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 16/07/2017 - 7:35pm in

This week, I have been mostly reading:

  • Amid Unprecedented Controversy, W3C Greenlights DRM for the Web — Cory Doctorow, Electronic Frontier Foundation: It was the most controversial vote in W3C history. As weeks and then months stretched out without a decision, another W3C member, the Center for Democracy and Technology, proposed a very, very narrow version of the covenant, one that would only protect security researchers who revealed accidental or deliberate leaks of data marked as private and sensitive by EME. Netflix's representative dismissed the idea out of hand, and then the W3C's CEO effectively killed the proposal. Today, the W3C announced that it would publish its DRM standard with no protections and no compromises at all, stating that W3C Director Tim Berners-Lee had concluded that the objections raised "had already been addressed" or that they were "overruled."
  • The Troubling Appeal of Education at For-Profit Schools — Dana Goldstein reviews the brilliant Tressie McMillan Cottom's new book in the NY Times: In the revelatory “Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy,” the sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom introduces us to London, a 48-year-old widow and single mother of three children. London lives in rural North Carolina, and has watched as decent working-class jobs in the textile industry disappeared from her region. […] At various times she trained to be a child care provider, a medical biller, a computer technician and, most recently, a medical assistant. Cottom asked London what she would do if she could not find the middle-class health care administration job she desired — a type of position that often requires training in a medical specialty like cardiology. London’s program at a branch of for-profit Everest College does not provide such specialized training. She smiled and told Cottom, “Jesus is my backup plan.”
  • Lower Ed: A Review — Matt Reed at Inside Higher Ed has a longer and better review of the same: In trying to answer the question of why so many students poured into for-profit colleges from about the mid-1990’s to 2010-ish, she argues for a different answer than the ones usually given. The usual answers are twofold. Either the for-profit colleges are simply slick thieves who preyed upon the unwitting, or the labor market suddenly required skills that nobody else could offer at scale. She suggests a third, which she calls credentialism. In her telling, students are not witless dupes, and technological change was not unique to the mid-90’s. Instead, for-profit colleges formed a sort of “negative social insurance” program by which students hoped to protect themselves against being left behind in a labor market that had outsourced training costs to workers themselves.
  • The Good News is Obamacare is Probably OK. The Bad News… — Ted Rall:
  • Pigouvian Taxes and Bounties — Timothy Taylor observes — to paraphrase a prominent public intellectual — who knew fiscal policy could be so complicated?: A related problem in thinking about Pigovian taxes arises when choosing the tax rate. For example, in the case of alcohol there is some evidence that moderate consumption may have health benefits, through a reduction in blood pressure. However, inappropriate and excessive consumption of alcohol can also lead to drunken driving, violence, fetal alcohol syndrome, and other consequences. Thus, it seems as if the appropriate Pigouvian tax on alcohol should be to subsidize the light social drinker, but to impose a high tax on drinkers who impose high social costs. When the effects of an action on third parties are heterogenous in this way. choosing an appropriate Pigouvian tax becomes tricky, and society may well feel a need for use of alternative or complementary policy tools.
  • RBA all but calls the dumb bubble — David Llewellyn-Smith quotes the Age quoting RBA Assistant Governor Michele Bullock: “We don’t want households to find themselves in a situation where they have to emergency sell or whatever because they can’t afford it any more.” In the past year Sydney prices had climbed 18 per cent and Melbourne prices have risen 13 per cent.
  • Careful Car Care Made Care Free - Tires and fluids! — Phil Are Go!:

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