“The assumption of permanence is the illusion of every age”

The great Mark Steyn is in Australia and has a posting on his website with the cryptic title Wanted: More Warts. Read the post, and then read the interview with Christian Kerr his post is based on: Europe’s open doors are a civilisation death wish (so, by the way, are America’s). This is from the interview:

Free speech is at the heart of Steyn’s message. He is surprised that the controversial section 18c of our Racial Discrimination Act is still standing when his own country successfully repealed the equivalent parts of its Human Rights Act in 2013.

“Free peoples are losing the habit of free speech,” he says. “They’re taught, not really just at university but in fact from kindergarten, that there is a correct view of certain subjects and that incorrect views are distressing. The last two generations raised in the Western world, they don’t do that thing, the apocryphal Voltaire line, ‘I disagree with what you say but I’ll fight to the death for you to.’ They’ll fight to the death for you not to be allowed to say it.”

The consequences can be disturbing. “People can actually lose the spirit of liberty and once you’ve lost that there are not a lot of easy paths back,” he cautions.

How stupid we are in not protecting what we have from marauders. It is not too late, but it is getting later by the day.

Posted in Cultural Issues, Freedom of speech | 10 Comments

You go to war with the army you have

I read the comments on Donald Trump in 2013 with some dismay. We are now down to seven people who might become President of the United States:

Jeb Bush
Hillary Clinton
Ted Cruz
John Kasich
Marco Rubio
Bernie Sanders
Donald Trump

Maybe Joe Biden might get into this at some stage, or Michael Bloomberg, or Ben Carson may come back into it, but that’s all that’s left. That’s it. No one else. It is one of the above and no other.

Then there are the problems the United States now confronts – the US being our last hope for a defence of the West – problems from open immigration, a rapidly descending economy and a clueless millennial generation who you could easily imagine voting in a Hugo Chavez. And so I said, after watching the video of Trump in 2013, that Trump is the best of the lot. He not only has sentiments that match my own [92% as it happens] but he has the force of personality that might actually bring it off. He is our Churchill circa 1940.

I can see just as easily as anyone else that he is not your standard issue highly polished product of the elite establishment in the US. He is crass and loud and bumptious and vulgar. All true, but he is also smart, and shrewd, and tuned in and hard edged. But most of all, the things he wants are the things I want, the most important ones being the preservation of the United States as the land of the free and the defender of our values. He also has the one element none of the others on the Republican side have, a fighting will that will not be pushed around by the media and the left.

And I am not even going to say something like he’s not perfect, because, for all I know, given the way things are and what now needs to be done, he may well be exactly what is needed. He may exactly suit the times we are in.

There’s the list above. If it’s not Donald Trump then who among that list should it be instead? If you think it’s any of the others, then we will just have to agree to differ. But in my view, it will be a tragedy if he does not become president because all other choices will either hasten the ruin of the US or at best delay the now almost inevitable by a year or two. He may end up unable to stem the tide of history, but given the moment we find ourselves now in, Trump is the only candidate who has even a ghost of a chance to pull it off. Why others cannot see the same is absolutely beyond me. First, though, he has to win. Then we can worry about the rest.

Posted in American politics | 163 Comments

Open Forum: February 13, 2016

Posted in Open Forum | 282 Comments

Memo to Sussan Ley: It’s the cover up not the stuff up II

We have been following the dodgy “3.4% decline in tobacco clearances” claim here at the Cat for some time (here, here, here …). It even inspired a this magnificent clip:

Senator David Leyonhjelm has been pursuing this is the Parliament. Most recently he asked:

Senator LEYONHJELM: I might ask you to take on notice why the calendar year data was released rather than data for the applicable period for the policy implementation. Professor Sinclair Davidson published an article entitled ‘Department of Health telling porkies on plain packaging’ on the Catallaxy Files website on 19 August this year and in the IPA’s FreedomWatch on 20 August this year. In that article, Professor Davidson takes the monthly data on your freedom of information disclosure log to replicate your figures for the 2012 and 2013 calendar years and your calculation of a 3.4 per cent decline between these periods. He also calculates figures for the period starting 1 December 2012 and the year prior to 1 December 2012, and the change from one period to the other is negative 0.8 per cent. Have you done this calculation yourselves? Could you confirm that the 0.8 per cent decline between the periods is correct?

Mr French: I have not seen the reports you are referring to. We are happy to have a look at them.

Senator LEYONHJELM: It is not so much the report; it is doing the calculations yourself.

Mr Heferen: We will take it on notice.

Treasury have now responded:

There was a 0.8 per cent decline in tobacco clearances between the 12 months ended 30 November 2013 and the 12 months ended 30 November 2012 excluding Tobacco Refund Scheme refunds which cannot be allocated to the month when the related clearance was originally processed.

So now Treasury admit that the 3.4% figure is wrong and has reported, at least, the 0.8% decline to be the more correct number. How long will it take the Health Department to update their misleading statement? What about those pesky refunds?

Senator Leyonhjelm also tabled additional questions:

In the context of those tobacco-related questions taken on notice, further questions are as follows:
61. Professor Davidson used the data released on the Treasury FOI log to calculate that tobacco clearances, after accounting for refunds arising from plain-packaging-related product destruction, increased by 0.5 per cent from the year prior to plain packaging becoming fully operational on 1 December 2012, to the year immediately after.

o Can you confirm that this result can be calculated from the data released on the Treasury FOI log?
o Can you advise of any errors in Professor Davidson’s use of the data?

62. Please rank the defensibility of Professor Davidson’s three calculations — a 3.4 per cent decline, a 0.8 per cent decline, and a 0.5 per cent increase — as indicators of the change in legal tobacco consumption from the year prior to plain packaging becoming fully operational, to the year immediately after.

Reasonable questions, I would have thought, yet notice how Treasury doesn’t actually answer then. Of course, they have already conceded that the 3.4% figure is wrong – but watch how they try to avoid revealing that tobacco clearances actually rose in the first 12 months of plain packaging:

61. It is not correct to attribute all plain packaging related refunds to clearances processed by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (Formerly the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service) between December 2011 and November 2012.
The Department of Immigration and Border Protection (formerly the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service) has advised Treasury that refunds paid under the Tobacco Refund Scheme cannot be linked back to original clearances which in some cases may have occurred before December 2011. This is why the information is disclosed separately in the document released under FOI request 1703.
62. While tobacco clearances are an indicator of tobacco volumes in the Australian market, there will be lags between clearances, entry into the market, purchase by consumers and eventual consumption.

In English: “Somebody somewhere told us something vague and we’re just repeating it here”.

Again we are being invited to believe that the federal government wrote a cheque to refund excess tobacco excise that had been paid and the government doesn’t know why that refund cheque was issued? That it can’t determine where and when the tobacco excise was over-paid? Strange then that it does know how much to refund. Surprising that the federal government doesn’t employ double entry book keeping techniques.

Notice how the questions haven’t actually been answered. Lots of waffle. We’ve known for a long time that the 3.4% figure is wrong, Treasury should simply come clean and admit the error. Effectively they have already thrown the Health Department under the proverbial bus so why prolong the agony?

Posted in Take Nanny down, Treasury | 25 Comments

Markets get distorted

Bryan Caplan misses an obvious explanation when addressing this issue:

Libertarians love to preach the virtues of markets. Yet in the “marketplace of ideas,” their bundled product has been regularly and thoroughly rejected for over a century. Until libertarians acknowledge that market verdict and re-think either what they’re selling, how they’re selling it, or both, they will remain on the margins of American political life.

Caplan points to some explanations:

  1. There may be large negative externalities in the market for ideas. So the costs of irrationality in the market for ideas are imposed on others. Maybe. Yet he ignores positive externalities – so when a a few libertarians get it into their heads that, say, a mining tax is bad idea and blog and op-ed about how silly the idea is until almost everyone realises that it is silly and the tax gets dropped, the benefits to society are very large, yet society has not become “libertarian” and those libertarians remain on the margins of political life.
  2. Then he suggests that the market is ideas is about truth while consumers in that market are more likely to demand “comfort and entertainment”. Maybe. Yet it seems to me that truth could be a bundled product.

That is all well and good but it seems to me that the market for ideas – like all markets – can be, and is, distorted by government intervention. The most obvious mechanism to distort the market for ideas is public education. Thirteen years of free and compulsory statist brainwashing is very likely to distort the ideas that people are likely to find more or less attractive. Public broadcasting too. Government financed NGOs – whose primary function is to then lobby government – publicly funded “think” tanks, and increasingly the university system are all institutions that crowd out civil society more broadly and constrain the market for ideas. This is even before we get to legislation that makes certain ideas unlawful.

So my answer would be to say that libertarians may be on the fringes of society, yet can and do make massive contributions to public policy and do so despite the massive distortions generated by government intervention in the market for ideas.

Posted in Freedom of speech, Libertarians don't live by argument alone, Oppressive government | 39 Comments

Donald Trump in 2013

This is Donald Trump receiving an award from the American Spectator in 2013, long before he was running for President. Listen to not just what he says – which are themes he has been discussing since entering the race – but also how he says it – which is temperate, balanced and filled with common sense. And he knows a thing or two about budgets, deficits and getting value for money. There is no doubt in listening to this that he is not a Democrat and is a Republican, but of a kind not hitherto seen. From this point on, for me it is Donald Trump for President. America’s problems may be too large to fix, but if they can be fixed, he is the only person in public life who has the potential to do it.

Posted in American politics | 143 Comments

Roundup 11 Feb

Is Australia a real democracy? Nice work from Don Aitkin. Steyn on line. Don’t miss him in Australia soon! This week in The Spectator. Launch of the Gary Johns book No Contraception, No Dole.

Culture. Books for the end of the world. Great moments in real (Australian) football. The Spectator Culture House. Two books on the French Resistance during WW2. Ruth Park’s Sydney.

Still regarded by many as the best book about Sydney, this is a lively account of the history and culture of Sydney told by a much-loved local author. The book is intended for residents interested in the history of their city, and for the more cultured tourist. Containing a great number of fascinating anecdotes about places and buildings and the historical figures associated with them, Ruth Park’s Sydney serves as an admirable companion to the more practical guides (eg. Lonely Planet) and is much shorter than its house-brick competitors.

Weather. US Supreme Court narrowly blocks suicidal Obama/EPA moves to decarbonise the US. Heat island effect in the arctic.

A novel form of the “urban heat island” effect might contribute to why the far north is warming faster than the rest of the globe, a study of five Arctic cities finds. Sunlight can heat dense building materials. When night falls, buildings will release some of their solar energy into the air. This helps explain why urban centers tend to be a few degrees warmer than nearby rural areas.

“We decided that our Russian Arctic cities should also show this phenomenon,” says Mikhail Varentsov, a climatologist at Lomonosov Moscow State University. But indoor heating — not the sun — would be the major heat source, at least in winter, when the sun shines little if at all. To test that idea, he and colleagues set up weather stations to collect data in the five cities north of the Arctic Circle for about a week during the polar night (with 24 hours of darkness). Apatity, with a population of about 59,000, showed the strongest effect. Its city center was up to 10 degrees Celsius warmer than outlying areas. Murmansk, with more than 300,000 residents, showed a similar, but smaller, in-town increase of about 3 degrees Celsius. Varentsov shared his team’s findings January 28 at the international Arctic Frontiers conference.

History. Welcome to the Loony Bin . A career in mental health and forensic psychiatry in NSW.

Dr David Bell, a retired psychiatrist, has written an engrossing account of events during the half century that he spent in the psychiatric services of New South Wales. A highly informative and moving account of some scandals in the mental health services and some of the efforts to improve them.

The story began at Callan Park Hospital in the 1950s (now Rozelle Hospital) and Dr Bell’s first encounter with the charismatic and ultimately criminal Harry Bailey who achieved notoriety with the deaths of several patients in his Chelmsford Deep Sleep clinic.

Before he left the Department of Health to go into private practice he designed a comprehensive drug treatment system including provisions for diversion from the criminal justice system into treatment, an innovation that was introduced three decades later after the NSW Drug Summit in 2003.

Much of Dr Bell’s career was spent in court providing professional evidence on compensation cases, an experience which did not improve his opinion of the court system, the legal profession and the medical profession. He also became involved in the RSI epidemic and helped to end the scam.

Posted in Rafe, Rafe's Roundups, Shut it down. Fire them all. | 14 Comments

“Say’s Law needs to be revived, pronto, if we are ever to recover from the Great Recession”

j.-b. say

What might interest you more than the words is that I didn’t write them, although I do, of course, agree with them completely. They are from an article in The American Spectator, Demand for Economic Growth by Bob Luddy.

Jean-Baptiste Say theorized that the growth of economies is not demand-driven, but growth is created by new and lower cost products and services. McDonald’s created huge demand in 1955 with a 15-cent hamburger, and now dominates fast food worldwide. As a result, a new, trillion-dollar industry has been created — eating away from home. We eat at grocery stores, fast food restaurants, at work, and from food trucks.

In 1925, Bell Labs made enormous investments in telephone technologies, resulting in international phone service at a modest cost. Today, electronics have improved service and lower costs, so virtually anyone can communicate worldwide.

Casual observation helps us validate Say’s Law. The big-box retailers have provided low-cost goods, stimulating demand for all types of consumer goods. We now have on-line vendors offering every product imaginable at even lower cost, delivered to your door by none other than FedEx, which did not exist when I was in college.

America has the opportunity to take full advantage of Say’s Law, and to create new demand and growth from investment and innovation. The requisites are: lower taxes, reduced regulation, and leaders to innovate. We must also focus on education, as innovators must have enormous knowledge to create the future world of ideas.

Small business, which creates the majority of new jobs, is especially challenged by government regulation, because financial and management resources are very limited.

This month marks the 80th anniversary of the publication of the second most destructive book in the history of economics. It actually requires concentrated mis-education to believe that buying things, rather than producing things, is the basis for growth and employment. I remain very uncertain about when Say’s Law will again return to the centre of economic policy, but I am absolutely certain that until it does, macroeconomic policy will do mostly harm and seldom do an economy any good.

[My very great thanks to Autumn Baroque for sending this article along.]

Posted in Economics and economy | 39 Comments

The first Trump-Sanders debate

trump v sanders

Not the high probability choice a year ago but now a very real possibility. A capitalist from the .01% versus a socialist of the most Hugo Chavez variety, each representing their parties. This satire on The First Trump-Sanders Debate is from Politico and therefore from the left. Nevertheless, satire though it may be, it has a certain plausibility. A sample below of what is worth reading in full. And do note that while Trump’s version is a wild exaggeration of what he would say, Sanders actually reads precisely like something he might say. The left cannot make fun of its own.

Ifill: Now to our closing statements. Sen. Sanders, you are up first.

Sanders: This has been a very illuminating debate. We’ve seen firsthand the anger, the aggression, the last gasps of the 1 percent. They see a revolution coming. We are going to seize the tools of the state and bring prosperity to millions of Americans who have been oppressed for so long.

Trump: Bye-bye, Santa. Bye-bye, Jesus. Bye-bye, Easter.

Ifill: Sen. Sanders, please finish your statement, sir.

Sanders: The system is rigged, folks. That’s it. Thank you.

Ifill: Mr. Trump?

Trump: We are going to make America great again. I’ve said this many, many times throughout this campaign and people nod their heads. I don’t know—I guess no one’s ever said something like this to them before. We don’t think America can be great anymore. But we can be. I see this guy, Bernie Sanders, and I think about what the Russians tried to do to us in “Rocky IV.” And Sylvester Stallone—and I love Sly who has endorsed me, by the way—and he wouldn’t put up with it. Neither should we. And Mexico will pay for our border wall. We are going to start winning and make everyone else lose. And we are going to save Christmas and Santa Claus from the Hunt for Red October over here. Thank you.

That’s how it ends. Now read what comes before always mindful of the state of mind of the journalist who put it together.

Posted in American politics | 20 Comments

It’s funny, but these people also get to vote

From Tim Blair. These are real students but the dog is a fake.

Posted in American politics, Education | 32 Comments