Sunday, 11 June 2017 - 7:09pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 11/06/2017 - 7:09pm in

This week, I have been mostly hitting refresh on UK media sites and celebrating the imminent demise of neoliberalism. Otherwise fishing these from the depths of the reading backlog:

  • Clown Therapy — Too Much Coffee Man by Shannon Wheeler:
  • Why bad housing design pumps up power prices for everyone — Wendy Miller in the Conversation: Pumping heat from one place to another takes a lot of energy, which makes air conditioners particularly power-hungry appliances. The more leaky the house, the more heat needs to be pumped out. On hot days, when lots of aircon units are operating at the same time, this creates a challenge for the electricity infrastructure. It costs money to build an electricity network that can handle these peaks in demand. This cost is recovered through the electricity unit cost (cents per kilowatt hour). We all pay this cost, in every electricity bill we get; in fact the cost of meeting summer peak demand accounts for about 25% of retail electricity costs. This is more than twice the combined effect of solar feed-in tariffs, the Renewable Energy Target and the erstwhile carbon tax.
  • Drugs du jour — Cody Delistraty in Aeon: Drug use offers a starkly efficient window into the cultures in which we live. Over the past century, popularity has shifted between certain drugs – from cocaine and heroin in the 1920s and ’30s, to LSD and barbiturates in the 1950s and ’60s, to ecstasy and (more) cocaine in the 1980s, to today’s cognitive- and productivity-enhancing drugs, such as Adderall, Modafinil and their more serious kin. If Huxley’s progression is to be followed, the drugs we take at a given time can largely be ascribed to an era’s culture. We use – and invent – the drugs that suit our culture’s needs.
  • Emails — xkcd by Randall Monroe:

Thursday, 8 June 2017 - 9:04pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Thu, 08/06/2017 - 9:07pm in

ALMOST 2000 children on the NSW north coast have not been fully immunised, with the district's vaccination rate trailing every other part of the nation.

It's easy to dismiss this as natural selection at work, weeding out the inbred progeny of the small-town airheaded bourgeoisie. Unfortunately immunisation works at the population level, rather than the individual level. Your little Typhoid Myron is both your personal choice and our collective problem.

I therefore propose a compromise. If you cretins agree to immunise your child like a sane person, I will personally arrange - for free - an exhaustive spiritual cleansing process involving auras, crystals, chakras, and mantras; the whole kit and caboodle. All chemicals and toxins will thus be purged, and it will be as though your child has never been exposed to anything unnatural and artificial, and can go back to playing Minecraft without a care in the world.

If, after this process, you are still convinced that your child has become feckless, withdrawn, dysfunctional, and completely detached from the real world, I will give you - at no extra cost - a mirror.

Sunday, 4 June 2017 - 7:53pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 04/06/2017 - 7:53pm in

This week, I have been mostly reading:

  • Content Addressing is Magic — Brewster Kahle: Content Addressing starts by processing a digital file into a “hash” which is roughly 64Bytes, or 64 character long string of numbers (using sha256). This hash is has amazing properties– given a hash you can confirm that a digital file matches it, further given a hash it is very very difficult to create the digital file. And, here is the kicker, given a hash it is almost impossible to create a second digital file that matches it, but was not exactly the same as the original. […] Why this can be important [is] that materials can be served from many places, served from libraries and archives, and keep permanently available long after the original server is gone.
  • We’re Wealthier Now, We Can’t Afford That Anymore — Peter Cooper, the heteconomist: Have you noticed how things we used to be able to do are beyond our capabilities now? We finally reached a point where we were able to provide free university education. Then we grew wealthier, and some countries couldn’t afford it anymore. Some of us still have universal public health care systems, but they’re increasingly a chronic burden. Maybe they made sense once, but it’s only a matter of time before they go. Sure, Cuba can do it, but they’re poorer than us.
  • Change my power supplier? I haven’t got the energy — David Mitchell in the Guardian: Come on, there are over 40 suppliers to look at! They each have several different tariffs! You need to be checking them all out several times a year, working out what they would each mean for your specific home and energy consumption, making a decision and then embarking on the administrative process of changing supplier. If you don’t, the privatisation of the utilities will look like it doesn’t work! Get on with it – you’re making Margaret Thatcher look stupid!
  • Towards an Anarchist Money and Monetary System: An Interview with Nathan Cedric Tankus — Alexander Kolokotronis, New Politics: Let me put my cards on the table: I think societies need a common measure for accounting purposes to do economic calculations and a general system of distribution. For various reasons I think that labor measures, energy measures, etc. are inadequate for the job (although I think statistical work on how much energy is needed to produce varieties of outputs is important). Thus, a monetary unit of account is the worst unit of account, except for all the others. I do not think this is a concession to the capitalist mode of production and this is where I disagree with a great many Marxist and radical thinkers. Traditionally, the existence of markets has been conflated with capitalism.
  • Economists versus the Economy — Robert Skidelsky scores no points with the conventional wisdom that there are at present "virtually no usable macroeconomic tools", but I can't fault the punchline: What unites the great economists, and many other good ones, is a broad education and outlook. This gives them access to many different ways of understanding the economy. The giants of earlier generations knew a lot of things besides economics. Keynes graduated in mathematics, but was steeped in the classics (and studied economics for less than a year before starting to teach it). Schumpeter got his PhD in law; Hayek’s was in law and political science, and he also studied philosophy, psychology, and brain anatomy. Today’s professional economists, by contrast, have studied almost nothing but economics. They don’t even read the classics of their own discipline. Economic history comes, if at all, from data sets. Philosophy, which could teach them about the limits of the economic method, is a closed book. Mathematics, demanding and seductive, has monopolized their mental horizons. The economists are the idiots savants of our time.
  • Evil Ethics — Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal by Zach Weinersmith:
  • On the Ridiculous Notion that the Federal Reserve is a Private Bank and Concerning Those Persons Who Peddle the Nonsense – My Final Words on the Subject — Ellis Winningham: By perpetuating mindless, ridiculous notions concerning the Federal Reserve that a six year old child can make up in his or her mind, you are obstructing progress; you are preventing federal deficit spending for full employment and the public purpose; you are helping to move GDP to capital; you are leaving people homeless in sub-zero weather; you are perpetuating poverty and hunger; you are keeping us idle while the climate declines; you are killing people by refusing to ask questions, listen and learn, and instead, preferring to live a life of pretense. A lack of an overall education, or a lack of education in monetary theory and macroeconomics is no excuse for making up explanations that you are able to understand.

Sunday, 28 May 2017 - 4:23pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 28/05/2017 - 4:23pm in

This week, I have given up on education and resumed reading. Yay!:

  • The reporting of market ups and downs is not really a joke — Simon Wren-Lewis: Companies pay market researchers tons of money to find out why people do or do not buy their products, so the idea that an individual can know why the market moves within hours of it moving is just nonsense. Yet day after day we see City economists telling us just this. They hardly ever express any doubt or uncertainty. They know if they did the media would regard that as boring, and choose someone else next time.
  • Victoria’s poor quality houses could become solar ovens ‘cooking’ people inside — Kirsten Robb in Domain on the kind of crappy housing I've been living in for the last twenty years: The problem is the industry is geared towards a developer’s bottom line, experts such as RMIT planning professor Michael Buxton and the Alternative Technology Association’s Damien Moyse say. Many new builds did not consider sun orientation, eaves or shading, and featured large amounts of glass and energy-guzzling appliances. Basic insulation, a concrete slab and double glazing had been enough to get most designs over the line, RMIT adjunct professor Alan Pears said. “You get a situation where a house with unshaded glass, facing a silly directions can qualify for six stars … but when the sun shines in, the insulation traps the heat,” Professor Pears said. “Over a series of hot days, it builds up. What you create is a solar oven, with people cooking inside.”
  • FIRE sector vampire continues to suck economy dry — Leith van Onselen at MacroBusiness provides your chart porn for the week: Since financial markets were first deregulated in the mid-1980s, the FIRE sector has grown at roughly twice the pace of the rest of the economy, sucking the life out of the productive sector:
  • Advocating for CC BY — David Wiley: No one knows what the NC license condition means, including Creative Commons. The license language is so vague that the only way to determine definitively whether a use is commercial or not is to go to court and have a judge decide. For would-be users of NC content, this means never knowing what you can and can’t do. Example – I want to use some NC-licensed content in my course, but students can only attend my course if they pay tuition. Is that a commercial use? Some people think it is. Who knows?
  • Austerity is the enemy of our grandchildren as public infrastructure degrades — Bill Mitchell: The cuts in growth of public investment will resonate for generations to come and be realised in lower material standards of living and lower productivity growth. We really are a stupid people for tolerating this idiocy. And before I stop – I don’t want to ever hear the argument again – that governments should borrow now because “debt is also still very cheap” or that “the credit ratings agencies may not downgrade the government’s rating if the extra debt is being used for productive infrastructure, as opposed to recurrent spending on social welfare or public sector wages.” Please. On both counts. What the credit rating agencies do is irrelevant to the Australian government. In fact, I would just outlaw their operations within our national borders and clear up office space for more useful activities. What is not irrelevant is the growth in public infrastructure. It is our legacy to our grandchildren.

Sunday, 21 May 2017 - 9:05pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 21/05/2017 - 9:05pm in

This fortnight, I have been mostly not reading, exceptions follow:

  • ALL RIGHT, ALL RIGHT, ALL RIGHT — Ed, of Gin and Tacos fame: This is a generation of kids so numb to seeing videos of police beating, tasering, shooting, and otherwise applying the power of the state to unarmed and almost inevitably black or Hispanic men that they legitimately could not understand why a video of cops beating up a black guy (who *didn't even die* for pete's sake!) was shocking enough to cause a widespread breakdown of public order. Now we get a new video every week – sometimes every few days – to the point that the name of the person on the receiving end is forgotten almost immediately. There are too many "Video of black guy being shot or beaten" videos for even interested parties to keep them all straight.
  • Do we want house prices up or down? — Richard Denniss in the AFR: Most politicians are adamant that they want petrol, fresh food and health insurance to be less expensive. We talk about the price of petrol and the price of milk. We don't talk about "petrol affordability" or "bread affordability" let alone create an index of the price of bread divided by median household income. Talking endlessly about "housing affordability" allows politicians to duck the simple question of whether house prices are "too high", "too low" or "just right".

Sunday, 7 May 2017 - 5:51pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 07/05/2017 - 5:51pm in

This fortnight, I have been mostly reading:

  • An economy without growth is far from our biggest worry — Ross Gittins for Fairfax: Most economists I know never doubt that a growing economy is what keeps us happy and, should the economy stop growing, it would make us all inconsolable. They can't prove that, of course, but they're as convinced of it as anyone else selling something.
  • Minimum Alcohol Pricing: The Middle Class Sneer at the Unworthy Under-Privileged (Again) — Craig Murray: I cannot find words to express for you my depth of contempt for a measure which – by design – only affects the price of drinks drunk overwhelmingly by the lower socio-economic classes and – horror of horrors – the young! I drank a great deal more at university than I do now, and I consider the pleasures of that time a great boon to my life.
  • The Deep History Behind Trump’s Rise — George Monbiot: Trump, who has no coherent politics, is not a classic neoliberal. But he is the perfect representation of Hayek’s “independent”; the beneficiary of inherited wealth, unconstrained by common morality, whose gross predilections strike a new path that others may follow. The neoliberal think tankers are now swarming round this hollow man, this empty vessel waiting to be filled by those who know what they want.
  • How the village feast paved the way to empires and economics — Brian Hayden, Aeon: Feasts are often very expensive events, sometimes requiring up to 10 years of work and saving. Those who are paying for them expect to obtain some benefit from all their efforts and expenditures. And this is the important part about traditional feasts: those who are invited, and who often receive gifts, are considered obligated to reciprocate the invitation and gifts within a reasonable amount of time. By accepting invitations to feasts, individuals enter into relationships of alliance with the host. Each of them supports the other in political or social conflicts as well as in economic matters. Such support is critical because social and political conflicts are rife in tribal villages, with many accusations of infidelity, theft, sorcery, inheritance irregularities, unpaid bills, ritual transgressions and crop damage from other people’s domestic animals. In order to defend oneself from such accusations and threats of punishment, individuals need strong allies within the community. Feasts are a way to get them.
  • Keynes and Brexit — Robert Skidelsky: [Keynes] would certainly have wanted to keep Britain out of the eurozone. Because, above all, he would have wanted to retain the commitment to full employment. If this was not possible at the European level, and he would have doubted if there was enough theoretical and institutional support for this, then national policy must be free to secure it.
  • It’s the Private Debt, Stupid! — T. Sabri Öncü, Prime Economics Blog: At $152 trillion or 225% of the world gross domestic product, the global debt of the non-financial sector has reached an all-time high in 2015 and two-thirds of this debt, amounting to about $100 trillion, consists of liabilities of the private sector, as the IMF indicated. As I mentioned in my July 2016 EPW article (Öncü 2016), since the Deng–Volcker–Thatcher– Reagan Revolution of 1978–80, the economies polarised between creditors and debtors, the debt burden shifted from the public sector to the private sector through austerity programmes and much of this accumulated private sector debt in almost everywhere around the globe is currently unpayable. […] A global Jubilee is in order.
  • Mandatory De-education Classes — Scarfolk Council:
  • Reinventing work for the future — Frances Coppola: When income is uncertain, but outgoings are certain, constant worry about where the money will come from to pay the bills eats away at the mind, destroying creativity and turning the intellect to porridge. It undermines relationships and erodes happiness. Ultimately, it wrecks physical and mental health. And yet we seem intent upon increasing income insecurity in the name of "efficiency". […] By implementing a universal basic income, we can end the necessity of human drudgery and the wasteful mismatching of people to jobs. We can restore security to the millions who live with uncertainty.

Sunday, 23 April 2017 - 6:56pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 23/04/2017 - 6:56pm in

For I-don't-know-how-many weeks, I have been mostly reading:

  • Everyone loves Bernie Sanders. Except, it seems, the Democratic party — Trevor Timm in the Guardian: If you look at the numbers, Bernie Sanders is the most popular politician in America – and it’s not even close. Yet bizarrely, the Democratic party – out of power across the country and increasingly irrelevant – still refuses to embrace him and his message. It’s increasingly clear they do so at their own peril.
  • Who's to blame for rising house prices? We are, actually — Peter Martin: In September 1999 the government halved the headline rate of capital gains tax, making negative gearing suddenly an essential tax strategy. […] The invasion of negative gearers has been followed by an invasion of foreign buyers, who push aside would-be owner-occupiers in exactly the same way. Rather than living in the homes they've bought, they treat them as investments and either leave them empty or rent them out to tenants who would have once had a chance of owning them. The 2011 census found an extraordinary 12 per cent more dwellings than households, some of them not bought to live in, others bought as holiday homes and second homes.
  • Cookies — Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal:
  • The case for basic income — Chris Dillow: How can we protect workers who lack bargaining power whilst at the same time not stifling new businesses and flexible forms of work? This is where the citizens’ income enters. In giving people an outside income, it empowers them to reject bad jobs. But it also gives them the flexibility to work a few hours as they please. We thus get the best of the gig economy – proper entrepreneurship and flexibility – without the worst: egregious exploitation.
  • The Conversation About Basic Income is a Mess. Here’s How to Make Sense of It. — Charlie Young in Evonomics: UBI is in fact not a single proposal. It’s a field of proposals that’s perhaps better thought of as a philosophical intervention, a new conception of macro-economic and political structure. 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.
  • The Great Divide - The new fat cats in Australia’s universities — Richard Hil and Kristen Lyons at the Ngara Institute: While the lower orders scratch around in precarious employment for what in many instances amounts to a subsistence wage, the privileges enjoyed by many senior managers border on the obscene. It is not unusual to hear of vice chancellors flying first class around the world and staying in high-end hotels, while at home benefiting from subsidised housing and generous superannuation and performance bonuses. Casual employees, on the other hand, are usually denied access to holiday and sick pay, career pathways and, more often than not, an office.
  • The Best Way to Predict the Future is to Issue a Press Release — Audrey Watters: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it,” computer scientist Alan Kay once famously said. I’d wager that the easiest way is just to make stuff up and issue a press release. I mean, really. You don’t even need the pretense of a methodology. Nobody is going to remember what you predicted. Nobody is going to remember if your prediction was right or wrong. Nobody – certainly not the technology press, which is often painfully unaware of any history, near-term or long ago – is going to call you to task.
  • Trump to America: "Giraffes Are Jerks!" — Tom the Dancing Bug by Ruben Bolling at Boing Boing:

Wednesday, 19 April 2017 - 8:32pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Wed, 19/04/2017 - 8:37pm in

I'm prepared to suspend judgment over this bit of landscape gardening until it's done, but calling it "momentous" and a "corner of paradise" does seem to be overstating the scope of the project. Granted, the Key Stakeholders who say "Ni!" did threaten to say "Ni!" to us again unless we brought them a shrubbery, but I'm sure that once it's done we'll resume going about our business as though it never happened.

Unless they decide they want another shrubbery…

Friday, 7 April 2017 - 6:18pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Fri, 07/04/2017 - 6:19pm in

What the…? I'm sorry, I didn't realise that we adjusted the clock by an hour and a century when daylight saving ended.

Roll up ladies! It's not a beauty contest, and certainly not an intelligence test! If you think for a moment that we would besmirch and demean the venerable title of "showgirl" in such a way, you are sorely mistaken. Rather if you can, in an emancipated and empowered way, sport a lovely frock, and giggle and simper with poise, a bright future awaits you.

Imagine spending years hanging onto the arm of some bloke in a sharp suit, childbearing, and finally a lucrative divorce settlement; all this can be yours! But hurry, because frankly you're not getting any younger and - this being Coffs Harbour - do you really want to be serving coffee or scanning barcodes for the rest of your life?

Sunday, 19 March 2017 - 6:48pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 19/03/2017 - 6:48pm in

This week, and last week, I have been mostly reading:

  • The Old Debt And Entitlement Charade — Dean Baker in the Huffington Post: Why is it, that Social Security and Medicare are linked to debt? These are not the only programs that entail future commitments of resources. […] Many of the government’s largest commitments of future resources do not even appear in the budget. When the government grants a patent or copyright monopoly, it is allowing the holder to effectively tax the public for decades into the future. This is a fact that is little understood because the folks who constantly scold us about the deficit never point it out.
  • Wikipedia is already the world’s ‘Dr Google’ – it’s time for doctors and researchers to make it better — Thomas Shafee in the Conversation makes my day with an article that isn't "Hey, Wikipedia isn't perfect; let's reinvent the wheel!": Health professionals have a duty to improve the accuracy of medical entries in Wikipedia, according to a letter published today in Lancet Global Health, because it’s the first port of call for people all over the world seeking medical information. In our correspondence, a group of international colleagues and I call on medical journals to do more to help experts make Wikipedia more accurate, and for the medical community to make improving its content a top priority.
  • In a highly indebted world, austerity is a permanent state of affairs — Mark Blyth in Aeon: If the country whose debt you hold can have elections, and the public dares to vote against more budget cuts, the European Central Bank will shut down their banking system to make them revisit their choices. That’s what they did to Greece in the summer of 2015. In this world, our present world, creditors will get paid and debtors will get squeezed. Budgets will be cut to make sure that bondholders get their money. And, in a highly indebted world, austerity – introduced as an ‘emergency’ measure to save the economy, to right the fiscal ship – becomes a permanent state of affairs.
  • Meet the Companies Literally Dropping ‘Irish’ Pubs in Cities Across the World — Siobhán Brett in Eater appeals to the Plastic Paddy in me: In the late 1970s, Dublin architecture student Mel McNally and some classmates were tasked with analyzing a piece of local architecture. They decided to make their subject the city’s pubs. A dim view was taken of their proposal, but in the end, the project was such a success that it became a months-long public exhibition. Much of the work went missing in the final days, as McNally tells it, so emotive and sought-after were the drawings and renderings. McNally went on to research the whole of Ireland to establish a definitive playbook of pub varieties, which led to the foundation of a design and manufacturing specialist, the Irish Pub Company [IPC], in 1990. The ambition was to design and build complete interiors of pubs, first domestically, but then for foreign markets, assembling huge shipments of flooring, decorative glass, mirrors, ceiling tiles, light fixtures, furniture, signage, and bric-a-brac, as well as the obvious centerpiece: the bar itself.

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