reading

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.

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!:

Sunday, 9 July 2017 - 4:48pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 09/07/2017 - 4:48pm in

This week, I have been mostly reading:

  • Listening — xkcd:
    Listening
  • Current Genres of Fate: "Hardwired" — Paul North, 3 Quarks Daily: Obviously "hardwired" is a way we talk. Like movies though, the way we talk tells us the secrets we keep. Newspaper headlines are also "talk"—they can be equally revealing. Even when the answer is no, we are not hard-wired to do this or that, just raising the question points right at our worry: are we hard-wired for this or that? (Look at "Are We Hard-Wired for War?" (NYT 9/28/13)). It's funny: "hard-wired" or as it's sometimes written—as if it were a technical term—"hardwired," is most often used in the press these days to talk about human psychology. It is, though, a metaphor. To date, no psychologist has discovered any "wires" in us.
  • Careful Car Care Made Care Free #3 - Hand signals — Phil Are Go!:
  • Domain plans data-driven mortgage and insurance push for post-float growth — Paul Smith at the AFR, part of the media wing of property bubble rider Fairfax: Speaking on a panel on the smart use of data at The Australian Financial Review Business Summit on Wednesday, Domain boss Antony Catalano flagged the potential for the company to dig deeper into the information it generates and tracks on house sellers or buyers in order to establish new mortgage and insurance businesses. […] "We have got so many data points that allow us to move out of being just a classified advertising business, into perhaps being a mortgage or insurance originator," Mr Catalano said. "Our business generates about $500 per property. If I can provide a bank with a loan ... there can be 10 times as much money in being a mortgage originator than there is in the advertising business."
  • The Basic Income and Job Guarantees are Complementary, not Opposing Policies — Brad Voracek: Most people who support BIG worry that a JG would create “make-work”, quoting Keynes famous “bury bank notes and dig them back up” line. To them, just giving people the bank notes makes more sense. On the other hand, JG proponents worry about not having the social utility of work. People want to contribute to society, and they see work that needs to be done. Both policies seem hard to pass in todays political climate.

Sunday, 2 July 2017 - 8:16pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 02/07/2017 - 8:16pm in

This week, I have been mostly reading:

  • Against Willpower — Carl Erik Fisher in Nautilus: Ignoring the idea of willpower will sound absurd to most patients and therapists, but, as a practicing addiction psychiatrist and an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry, I’ve become increasingly skeptical about the very concept of willpower, and concerned by the self-help obsession that surrounds it. Countless books and blogs offer ways to “boost self-control,” or even to “meditate your way to more willpower,” but what’s not widely recognized is that new research has shown some of the ideas underlying these messages to be inaccurate. More fundamentally, the common, monolithic definition of willpower distracts us from finer-grained dimensions of self-control and runs the danger of magnifying harmful myths—like the idea that willpower is finite and exhaustible. […] Notions of willpower are easily stigmatizing: It becomes OK to dismantle social safety nets if poverty is a problem of financial discipline, or if health is one of personal discipline.
  • Why human capital is not capital — David F. Ruccio: First, if [Noah] Smith wants to invoke human capital to say “education and skills are a form of wealth,” then why not include other ways people are able to earn more or less than their counterparts? Why not, for example, go beyond his reference to credentials (he has a Stanford degree) and intellectual abilities (apparently, he can do math well and write well) and refer to some of the other important ways people are sorted out within existing economic relations. I’m thinking of such things as gender, race and ethnicity, immigration status, and so on. They’re all ways workers are able to receive more or less income that have nothing to do with the effort they put into their jobs. Does Smith want to argue that masculinity, whiteness, and native birth are forms of human capital?
  • How to get a nice, highly paid job in a bank — John Quiggin: In the last week or so, two former state premiers, Anna Bligh and Mike Baird have been appointed to highly paid jobs in the banking sector. In both cases there was some peripheral controversy. In Bligh’s case, some Liberals, including Scott Morrison, apparently felt that such jobs should be reserved for their side of politics.

Sunday, 25 June 2017 - 7:29pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 25/06/2017 - 7:29pm in

This week, I have been mostly reading:

  • The Philistine Factory — Stuart Whatley in the baffler: One plank in the Republican education-policy platform is student-loan privatization, even though most economists doubt that “liberalizing” this market would do any good. If private banks are brought into the process of granting student loans, they will have an incentive to favor certain academic majors over others. Any course of study that does not promise easy employment and a high salary after graduation will be denied financing, or treated as a subprime, punitively high-interest loan. This will, no doubt, have the desired effect of homogenizing the future labor force to fit American corporations’ standardized needs. As it happens, the Democrats’ ultimate goal for education in recent years has amounted to the same thing. To the extent that Hillary Clinton offered specific education policy proposals in the 2016 election, she did so only in the context of boosting workforce competence and productivity. The sole purpose of education, apparently, is to enable “young people from everywhere . . . to be prepared to compete for those jobs.”
  • Centrelink’s Data-Matching Fiasco — Gerard McPhee in Arena: […] ministers want to reduce Centrelink expenditure and have a deep-seated suspicion about a class of people ‘rorting the system’. The factual basis of that suspicion is not critical here. What is critical is that Cabinet has a predisposition to support any additional method to detect imagined ‘rorters’ or ‘undeserving’ poor people, and will do so at a policy level, not considering the consequences of added complexity or transactional volume to the systems it will call on.
  • Ten points for Democracy Activists — George Lakoff: Know the difference between framing and propaganda: Frames are mental structures used in thought; every thought uses frames. Every word in every language is defined relative to a mental structure — a frame. Frames, in themselves, are unavoidable and neutral. Honest framing is the use of frames you believe and that are used to express truths. Propaganda expresses lies that propagandists know are lies for the sake of political or social advantage.
  • The world’s biggest gamblers — your chart porn for the week from the Economist: To the general public, Australia hardly leaps to mind as a gambling hotbed. Yet industry insiders know it is far and away their most lucrative market: according to H2 Gambling Capital (H2G), a consultancy, betting losses per resident adult there amounted to $990 last year. That is 40% higher than Singapore, the runner-up, and around double the average in other Western countries. The most popular form of gaming in Australia is on ubiquitous electronic poker machines, or “pokies”, which are more prevalent there than anywhere else. Although the devices are legal in many other markets, bet sizes are usually capped at modest levels. By contrast, in Australia, which began to deregulate the industry in the 1980s, punters can lose as much as $1,150 an hour.
  • “Tulip bubble” Murray shakes snoring APRA — David Llewellyn-Smith in MacroBusiness: Switzer: “How vulnerable do you think our banks are to the apartment oversupply?” David Murray: “Well, the economy’s vulnerable because there’s a bubble in the housing market. All the signs of a bubble are there. Many of the signs are the same as the bubble in Dutch Tulips… People’s behaviour, people’s defensiveness about any correct in that market. All those signs are there. Now, if the economy tracks along OK, it might turn out that this thing sorts itself out. But when those risks are there, something needs to be done about it in a regulatory sense and the RBA and APRA need to stay on it”…
  • What in the Heck Is “Money Printing,” Anyway? — Steve Roth at Evonomics has an interesting piece that packs a lot into a small word count. However I think it falls down by failing to distinguish between government-backed financial assets and real assets. Yes, when the dollar-denominated valuation of stock market or real estate assets goes up, we can say in one sense that private sector asset values have increased, but if everyone were to try to cash in at once those valuations would suddenly change drastically. On the other hand, for government-backed cash, central bank reserves, bonds, and private sector bank credits, a dollar is a dollar is a dollar — at least as far as extinguishing tax liabilities is concerned. For any other definition of "value", see a philosopher, not an economist.
  • Universal Basic Income Accelerates Innovation by Reducing Our Fear of Failure — Scott Santens at Medium from an enthusiastically pro-market perspective, makes an argument that generalises to we socialist fuddy-duddies: For decades now our economy has been going through some very significant changes thanks to advancements in technology, and we have simultaneously been actively eroding the institutions that pooled risk like trade unions and our public safety net. Incomes adjusted for inflation have not budged for decades, and the jobs providing those incomes have gone from secure careers to insecure jobs, part-time and contract work, and now recently even gig labor in the sharing economy. Decreasing economic security means a population decreasingly likely to take risks. Looking at it this way, of course startups have been on the decline. How can you take the leap of faith required for a startup when you’re more and more worried about just being able to pay the rent?
  • Listen up, Scott Morrison. It's time to bust the myth of the budget surplus — Warwick Smith brings MMT to the Guardian: Private sector debt in Australia is currently about 210% of GDP, compared to government debt of about 30%. What Scott Morrison needs to explain to the Australian people is why he’s so keen to increase the private debt they hold over their homes and businesses when it’s already so high.
  • We showed I, Daniel Blake to people living with the benefits system: here’s how they reacted — Stephanie Petrie in the Conversation: During our screening, we were told that assessments often ignored significant health conditions. One profoundly deaf woman was informed: "In your application form for ESA you stated that following an illness when you were a child, you are now profoundly deaf. After your assessment I tried to contact you to discuss your assessment. I telephoned you several times, but you did not answer, therefore I left you a voicemail. You still did not respond. I have therefore found you fit for work."
  • How will we get over the Trump addiction? — Robert Fisk in the Independent: Not long after the Lebanese civil war ended more than a quarter of a century ago, I found my landlord in a depressed mood. He had suffered in the fifteen years of war – part of his family had been “cleansed” from their home in east Beirut – but peace had returned to the ruins of the city, the Mediterranean sloshed opposite our apartment block and in front of the little candy store he ran on the Corniche. What on earth could be the matter? “It’s so boring, Mr Robert,” he confessed to me one bright morning.
  • #ProtectTheTruth — George Lakoff: When President Richard Nixon addressed the country during Watergate and used the phrase “I am not a crook,” he coupled his image with that of a crook. He established what he was denying by repeating his opponents’ message. This illustrates a key principle of framing: avoid the language of the attacker because it evokes their frame and helps make their case.
  • Why Australia’s rental system needs reform — Leith van Onselen, MacroBusiness: One of the great strengths of the German housing market is that it provides strong protections for tenants. […] because renting is the dominant housing choice in Germany (see below chart), the political system is highly sensitive to tenants’ rights and perceived threats to the status quo typically receive prominent media attention and political responses. Also, because renters enjoy secure tenure (and housing supply is fairly responsive), Germans have little incentive to rush into owner occupation. As such, Germany doesn’t suffer from the ‘panic buying’ and speculation often present in bubble housing markets, like Australia’s.

Sunday, 18 June 2017 - 4:38pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 18/06/2017 - 4:38pm in

This week, I have been mostly reading:

  • The New Democrats’ Addiction to Austerity Will Not Die — Bill Black in New Economic Perspectives with the "If you read only one article about the madness of austerity this year…" article: Michael Meeropol, an economist whose work I respect greatly, has rightly chastised me for failing to explain that fiscal austerity produces enormous winners, not just losers, and that this fact helps explain why the economic malpractice of austerity is so common. Austerity is a policy that aids the wealthy and harms the non-wealthy. One of the greatest triumphs of the wealthy is to get vast numbers of the non-wealthy to fail to understand this point. The New Democrats’ passionate support for austerity reflects the interests of its primary donors – Wall Street elites. Austerity produces higher unemployment rates. It can cause deflation. It leads to cuts in public employment and funding for social programs. High unemployment allows CEOs to force lower wages and creates a political climate in which CEOs are able to get legislation and rule changes embracing “labor flexibility.” That phrase is a euphemism for making it easier for firms to fire workers without. CEOs use high unemployment to induce an international race to the bottom on worker protections and wages under the pretext that doing so is essential for U.S. firms to maintain “global competitiveness.” Deflation is a superb situation for (net) creditors. They get repaid in a currency that is gaining value. Deflation reduces interest rates, so the market value of existing long-term fixed rate debt instruments (bonds) can increase substantially.
  • Getting Money out of Politics — Alexander Douglas at Medium: When politicians talk money and numbers, they conjure up an enchanting ballet of bloodless abstractions. Money is an abstraction — a ledger, an accounting record, a “set of positions on an abstract ratio scale”, as one article puts it. But however the abstractions might dance about on their unearthly stage, here in the concrete world if there are resources then those resources can be put to use for a public purpose. No abstract object can rush in to interrupt the work. To think otherwise is to literally worship money
  • The Land Belongs to God — Michael Hudson and his startling erudition: Now when they ran up debts in Sumer and Babylonia, and even in in Judea in Jesus’ time, they didn’t borrow money from money lenders. People owed debts because they were in arrears: They couldn’t pay the fees owed to the palace. We might call them taxes, but they actually were fees for public services. And for beer, for instance. The palace would supply beer and you would run up a tab over the year, to be paid at harvest time on the threshing floor. You also would pay for the boatmen, if you needed to get your harvest delivered by boat. You would pay for draught cattle if you needed them. You’d pay for water. Cornelia Wunsch did one study and found that 75% of the debts, even in neo-Babylonian times around the 5th or 4th century BC, were arrears. Sometimes the harvest failed. And when the harvest failed, obviously they couldn’t pay their fees and other debts. Hammurabi canceled debts four or five times during his reign. He did this because either the harvest failed or there was a war and people couldn’t pay.
  • The Public’s Viewpoint: Regulations are Protections — George Lakoff: Minority President Trump has said that he intends to get rid of 75% of government regulations. What is a “regulation”? The term “regulation” is framed from the viewpoint of corporations and other businesses. From their viewpoint, “regulations” are limitations on their freedom to do whatever they want no matter who it harms. But from the public’s viewpoint, a regulation is a protection against harm done by unscrupulous corporations seeking to maximize profit at the cost of harm to the public. Imagine our minority President saying out loud that he intends to get rid of 75% of public protections. Imagine the press reporting that. Imagine the NY Times, or even the USA Today headline: Trump to Eliminate 75% of Public Protections. Imagine the media listing, day after day, the protections to be eliminated and the harms to be faced by the public.
  • Somebody’s Watching. Now What? — James T Stone Ph.D. [sic] in Psychology Today: The Audience Effect: People tend to perform differently in front of an audience than when alone. Specifically, they tend to perform better in front of an audience when the task is simple or has been mastered, and worse when the task is complex or new.
  • Does Saving Cause Lending Cause Investment? (No.) — Steve Roth at Evonomics: Put aside that the basic bookkeeping of this idea — that personal saving creates “savings” that “fund” lending and investment — doesn’t make any sense. (It’s an error of composition; you have more savings if you save, but the economy doesn’t.) Let’s look at history: when households save more, is there more lending and (business) investment — either immediately or a few quarters/years down the road? Mostly: no.
  • Explainer: what is modern monetary theory? — Steven Hail in the Conversation: By the 1980s, most people saw Keynes as an advocate of budget deficits only during periods of high unemployment. Lerner, as early as 1943, in a paper entitled Functional Finance and the Federal Debt, had argued that Keynesian economics involved running whatever government deficit was necessary to maintain full employment, and that deficits should be seen as the norm. Keynes, in a letter to fellow economist James Meade written in April 1943, said of Lerner, “His argument is impeccable. But heaven help anyone who tries to put it across”.
  • Make housing affordable and cut road congestion all at once? Here’s a way — Martin Payne in the Conversation: Two of the most pressing problems for Australian cities are housing affordability and traffic congestion. But there is an approach to both problems that could lead to significant improvements at low cost and relatively quickly. It involves developing transit-oriented centres in conjunction with inclusionary zoning. This form of development gives priority to housing affordability and low car use. It does so by requiring a certain proportion of permanently affordable housing and dwellings without car parking, but with strong access to local facilities. Travel is mainly by walking and public transport.
  • Debt bubble returns millions to days of 2008 crash — Shane Hickey in the Guardian: Charities and financial advisers are calling on the government to use the Queen’s speech to address the “bubble” of unmanageable debt that households are rapidly accumulating. Unsecured consumer credit – including credit cards, car loans and payday loans – is this year expected to hit levels not seen since the 2008 financial crash. There has been concern in the Bank of England that consumer spending is being underpinned by debt, amid comparisons to the run-up to the financial crash.
  • Block adverts, delete Flash, kill Java: ASD — Stilgherrian at ZDNet: Most of the ASD's top recommendations continue to focus on basic network hygiene, and most of that can be achieved by the IT department simply doing its job properly. But cybersecurity vendors want to sell fancy and expensive techniques, some of which do very little to improve security. The ASD's recommendation that every organisation install ad blockers will also be controversial, given that it declares as hostile a key part of online business models. But... Given all the warnings about cyber threats and cyber war, we do want a secure internet, don't we? Well this is how you do it.

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