Fireworks

Jessica Irvine thinks that fireworks are a ‘classic public good’ which she concludes

… as public firework displays show, public money well spent can yield real returns.

She cites estimates from the Sydney City Council that the $6.8 million spent by Sydney City Council yielded extra spending of $156 million.

Leaving aside the veracity of the Sydney City Council’s estimates – why would one take at face value the claims of the organisation that funded the fireworks? – Jessica falls for the classic Keynesian trap. No extra money was spent – except ratepayers’ money on fireworks. The grog and other goods and services consumed that night on Sydney Harbour would have been spent on something else at some time – perhaps a new television, perhaps support for an elderly aunt – it hasn’t been created out of thin air.

If it is a ‘good’ investment by Sydney City Council it is not necessarily a good investment of ratepayers’ money who might have preferred lower rates. The fact there was no price on admission to the fireworks show gives no information about the way in which attendees valued the show, or even if they did at all. Surely it was the experience of being with friends that was the principal value, not some silly fireworks show?

I’m no puritan, but why is it that those celebrating are called ‘revellers’ on New Year’s Eve but drunken louts at other times of the year?

Also, why is it that the AGW believer, Clover Moore, spends a small fortune on fireworks which add substantially to carbon emissions? If the planet is in dire need of saving – as she has wont to say – shouldn’t the City Council have declared that the fireworks show has been cancelled to save the planet? (She will, no doubt, declare that the emissions have been ‘offset’ but that is just baloney. As has been shown on numerous occasions, the entire edifice of carbon offset permits has been corrupted and does not in reality offset the original emissions).

Jessica declares

The truly remarkable thing about large firework displays, however, is that left to the free market, they’d never exist.

What rubbish. Before the NSW Government banned private fireworks, it was common for neighbourhoods to compete to provide the best fireworks shows. These were all privately provided. I remember participating in these events when very young.

It is very 1984 to declare that something is a public good because the private sector doesn’t provide the good or service when the said good or service has been banned by the Government.

A good proxy for these fireworks shows are the privately provided Christmas decorations, including the massive one at Forrest in the ACT which cost the owner close to $100,000. Why doesn’t Jessica declare Christmas lights as a public good? Well if the Government banned homeowners from decorating their homes, perhaps there would be demand for a public Christmas lights show.

Happy New Year dear Catallaxy friends. May 2014 be a year of advancing freedom of the individual.  May the New Year’s headache be replaced by a libertarian fire.

Please don’t criticise Jessica Irvine too much – after all she was indoctrinated by the University of Sydney. Even a Milton Friedman might have trouble understanding economics if he had studied there. If we can help her understand opportunity cost she will be one step closer to becoming a libertarian.

About J

J has an economics background and is a part-time consultant
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89 Responses to Fireworks

  1. A Lurker

    I have fond memories of cracker night at home with the family when I was just a little Lurker. Running around with sparklers, setting off bungers, tom-thumbs, throwdowns etc. I was in my element and none of us ever came to any harm, and what was left over, was carefully scraped together to use in science experiments (ie blowing holes in the ground) for days afterwards.

    I personally mark the first intrusion of the suffocating Nanny State in the banning of home fireworks on Cracker Night.

  2. kae

    John Cornell (Strop) used to pay for the fireworks at Byron Bay.

    Until the wildlife people told and showed him how the fireworks terrified birds.

  3. kae

    Lurker
    I, too, recall wonderful nights with dad lighting rockets and fountains and Catherine wheels and so on.
    Kids are still blowing their digits off and eyes out, and Presbyterians still seem to be able to use kitchen, laundry and garden products to blow other things up.
    But fireworks are dangerous and therefore are banned.

  4. steve

    kae, I would type “party pooper” here but alas, I have no fingers

  5. Tom

    Another Cat poster who thinks we should just sit back and smile while we’re fed gibberish by a socialist fucktard motormouth airhead. Jessica Irvine’s sole function in Australian public life is an example of how the mainstream media would rather feed their paying customers nonsensical gibberish than actually take seriously their task of finding out what’s going on in the world. SJ, the public interest would be better served if you set out to discover exactly how Sydney Uni was allowed to give away economics degrees in Wheeties packets.

  6. GC

    Nailed it Samuel …. I’m presently in NYC and they have some silly ball drop from a large screen at a fraction of the cost. New Years is only 7 hours away,so I’ll get back to you about NYC style

  7. Bob

    “She cites estimates from the Sydney City Council that the $6.8 million spent by Sydney City Council yielded extra spending of $156 million.”

    Here’s your chance for greatness in economics Clover – hold the show every week. In no time at all Sydney will be the wealthiest city in the world.

  8. srr

    Presbyterians still seem to be able to use kitchen, laundry and garden products to blow other things up.

    ???

  9. Mike of Marion

    The late Hugh Reskymer (Kym) Bonython, when promoter of Rowley Park Speedway in Brompton, South Australia used to have “cracker night” for the last night of the racing season in the 1950s and 1960s. Fireworks by Howards went for 15 minutes non stop. Place was packed.

    Last firework was a percussion bomb that was shot high into the air – no light but a massive bang that shook stadium and surrounding suburbs.

    It was a very well established exhibition.

  10. Ant

    Oh how I miss ‘Cracker Night’.

  11. brinkin

    You forgot that Jessica was recruited from Fairfax which just shows there are some real dills in newscorps HR dept.

  12. Eddystone

    She cites estimates from the Sydney City Council that the $6.8 million spent by Sydney City Council yielded extra spending of $156 million.

    Does the $156million include the overtime paid to all the extra A&E, ambulance and police personnel that are traditionally required?

  13. Walter Plinge

    srr – that is a reference, per Tim Blair, to a religion whose name we dare not speak that does have a tendency to concoct high explosives in the kitchen. Presbyterians we can mock mercilessly in perfect safety. Not so the other lot.

  14. lotocoti

    Those glorious days of binding tom thumbs together, plaiting the fuses and blowing green ant nests and Airfix models to smithereens. Throwdown fights and carefully crafted 3/8″ copper pipe cannons.
    No ‘public display’ could ever provide the same lasting memories.

  15. nilk, Iron Bogan

    Count me in also as someone who misses cracker night. Fond memories of bloody big bonfires, too.

    The wowsers have taken over, and we’ve now got a couple of generations of kids who don’t know what fun is. They’re too busy worrying that other kids might get hurt, or global warming, or something.

  16. calli

    Greasing up the bearings in the Hills Hoist, taping rockets to the corners and synchronised lighting of wicks…thinking all the while…this year we’ll make it spin for sure! :D

  17. The Pugilist

    OK, a few points here. I got taught a similar message to Jessica Irvine in my public economics course at ANU, however, Jessica gets a few things wrong. Fireworks can be seen as a public good, this is true. Within a limited geographical area, they are non-rivalrous and non-excludeable. At this point, the lecturer (Richard Cornes) pointed out that these two criteria should never be seen as binary variables, but rather, continuous spectra. He pointed out that a perfectly public good was unlikely to exist. The next point he taught us was that public goods are likely to be underprovided by the market process, which means that there is likely to be less of the public good provided than is desired due to free riding. This does not mean that none will be provided.
    At this point, we could say that markets may underprovide public goods but we can’t tell how much is socially optimal or whether the opportunity cost exceeds the social benefits. We then spent about three weeks learning about (flawed) valuation mechanisms such as Vickery auctions and Clark-Groves payments/taxes which are a whole other topic.
    All up, if I were marking an exam essay question, I’d give her around 45-50%. She was in the rough conceptual neighbourhood but got a number of key points wrong and failed to appreciate any subtle details. At best the barest of pass marks, and only if I was in a good mood.

  18. Eyrie

    Just watched the silly bint on TV with joe Hildebrand. Fuck but she is dumb.

  19. mareeS

    That fireworks display last night bothered me for the first time after the spouse said something about the way they used to blow things up. He said it was the first time he’d been bothered about explosive devices at places like the bridge, opera house etc,, since his time away, because anything could have happened. He said later that it would have been easy to set something up.

    When someone who has been there says something like that, you really have to wonder how naïve we are.

  20. The Pugilist

    I should add that I am unsure whether she is just a bad student or whether she was just taught poorly. Either way, I wouldn’t pay for her ‘insights’…

  21. Samuel, she’s using the latest Trade Union Party approved definition of ‘Public Good’ defined as something you enjoy that you think someone else has paid for. I don’t have their official dictionary handy…

  22. srr

    Thanks Walter.

    I would just like to see a ‘sarc’ or ‘scare quote’ when swapping the name of another religion for the crimes of Islam, particularly seeing how many still choose to defend murderous Islamists in their openly declared war against non-Islamists, by accusing Christianity of worse acts of murderous violence.

  23. Megan

    Here’s another one with fond memories of cracker night. Dad standing the rockets in beer bottles and lighting the fuses, before the exciting whoosh on take-off and Catherine Wheels nailed to the fence shooting sparks out into the dark. The entire neighbourhood was involved in the bonfire building…a very much working class, inner city neighbourhood that is a greens infested, trendoid damaged rat’s nest today.

  24. Empire Strikes Back

    Tom
    #1129946, posted on January 1, 2014 at 8:58 am

    Loving the belligerence Tom. Maintain the rage brother.

  25. Notafan

    Here’s your chance for greatness in economics Clover – hold the show every week. In no time at all Sydney will be the wealthiest city in the world.

    Awesome!
    I cannot fathom the huge cost either. I went to a small town baseball game in Iowa a few years back and they ended with a massive fireworks display that went on and one and on to the point it didn’t matter how good they were I just wanted to go home. Okay, probably not as sophisticated as Sydney but I can’t imagine that it cost anything more than a few hundred dollars, Iowans not being known to waste their money.
    In Paris on New Year’s Eve everyone is out and about, no public fireworks just the Eiffel Tower doing a sparkling display for a few minutes and it is freezing !
    Fireworks you set off yourself are much more fun. As for watching fire works on TV, really?

  26. ar

    Fond memories of bloody big bonfires, too.

    Now we pay $500 for a skip to carry that bonfire material away…

  27. Andrew

    Much of the extra “spending” isn’t on anything good. e.g. they have free fireworks but I have to pay $10 for a train ticket to get there. It’s not like I’ve been incentivised to “spend” $10 on something enduring and useful; I’ve actually just lost $10. If I spend $50 on alcohol on the way, that sounds suspiciously like something the govt spends money to convince me NOT to do the rest of the year.

    That said, let’s just consider the $6.8m. I think the number of people that go (over 1m) suggests that $6.8m is probably a reasonable amount to pay to put on really good fireworks. Anecdotally, people I know REALLY like it and (if it was fenced off) would value it akin to a movie ticket.

    Secondly, what would SCC have spent the money on (hint: It would NOT have been “lower rates”). My guess is it would have been some kind of windfarm or other “renewable” energy scam, unused bike paths to nowhere, lesbian awareness programmes or some other colossal waste. SCC is not an unusually large Council by population, but compare its budget.

    Finally, I think the fact that thousands of kids get to keep their hands and eyes (not to mention the number of cats that now aren’t blown up by crackers at home) each year by not having to do it at home has some positive externalities.

  28. johanna

    Yup, Cracker Night when I was growing up was a community event – everyone spent days before building the biggest bonfire we could on a bit of open space, and on the night we all went along, let off our crackers, lit the bonfire and had a barbie. And in the days before and after we did science experiments like building dams in the gutter and blowing them up. Happy memories.

    Nowadays the nannies prefer that we be part of an anonymous crowd at a strictly controlled, taxpayer funded event.

  29. ar

    Put the fireworks display out to tender and we’ll see how much money it generates… it must be worth something…

  30. A Lurker

    @ lotocoti

    Yes, green ants suffered a terrible fate from us kids in the days following cracker night. Mind you, our yard was littered with the nests, so a few getting blown to smithereens wasn’t going to dent their numbers much.

    More’s the pity but I can’t honestly see cracker night returning – too many helicoptering mums fearful that little Joshua or Tiffany is going to get their face blown off or something, too many younger parents without their own memories of cracker nights to draw experiences from and know how to handle the little explosives safely – and of course, way too much litigation and OH&S laws telling you that you can’t do this or that.

    As for the public displays? I certainly won’t go out of my way to attend one – not much of a fan of big and boisterous crowds, and the public transport/traffic/parking headaches are also to be avoided – which makes the death of the small backyard fireworks displays a true loss to suburban society.

  31. Rabz

    Interesting display of monumental ignorance from Irvinopolous there – and as for placing any credence in absolutely anything that spews forth from the dog collared one’s cavernous cakehole, don’t get me started.

    Personally I’ve seen enough public fireworks displays to last me a lifetime. When I lived on the lower North Shore they could actually be quite intrusive, especially when there didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason for having them, e.g. 9:00pm on an unexceptional Sunday night.

    A girlfriend of mine who lived in an apartment block at Milsons Point opposite the Harbour Bridge absolutely detested them, except of course, for the ones on NYE.

  32. Noddy

    >Awesome!
    Fireworks you set off yourself are much more fun. As for watching fire works on TV, really?<

    Couldn't agree more and if you are paying for the fireworks so what! One of the social problems today is the governments wish to protect its taxpayer base and kids no longer have the experience of lighting the home fire and/or burning their fingers. Makes for sooks.
    Who remembers the wonderful fireworks on Australia Day around Albert Park Lake before the Grand Prix. Not only are fireworks a problem but for some Australia Day also sux.
    The results of a leftoid nanny state.

  33. boy on a bike

    Every dog in our neighbourhood went mad at 9pm and then at midnight, so did Jessica bother to measure the cost of that externality? What is the cost of a great deal of doggy noise pollution, and aggravated neighbours? Of course no one ever bothers to consider the cost to those that are knackered and want to go to bed at 9pm after the kids have conked out. It’s a rather arrogant assumption that everyone wants to stay up until midnight swigging French bubbly and kissing strangers.

    The ban didn’t stop some people in our street from setting off some private fireworks. They weren’t very good shots – instead of going straight up and exploding, they lobbed over our place and exploded in the yard of a house a few doors down.

  34. johno

    If News Ltd wants someone really stupid to write crap, I’m prepared to do it for half the money they are paying Irvine.

    Well I think I am. I don’t know if I could really be that stupid.

  35. Tel

    The truly remarkable thing about large firework displays, however, is that left to the free market, they’d never exist.

    Parramatta Speedway has been doing them once a week for decades. I always thought it was a private operation.

  36. 1735099

    Fireworks will always be a problem for the ticket punchers market fundamemtalists because they can’t build a fence and rip people off to be allowed to see them.

  37. Brett_McS

    “…markets may underprovide public goods…”

    How is “under provide” defined and, more importantly, measured?

    I think you’ll find it is code for “I and my mates want it, but we don’t want to pay for it”.

  38. I’m no puritan, but why is it that those celebrating are called ‘revellers’ on New Year’s Eve but drunken louts at other times of the year?

    Because it’s officially sanctioned. Jessica knows when it’s her cue.

  39. Dan

    Between my new baby and fireworks at the beach next door at 9 and midnight, and the crowds, I haven’t slept since yesterday. I would have paid $1000 for NYE not to have happened.

  40. pete m

    Congrats Dan, but for $1,000, you could have flown somewhere sans fireworks and solved your own problem.

    I like councils when they spend money on nice parks and walkways, collect my bin, keep the water and traffic flowing etc.

    The rest not so much.

  41. Token

    The City of Sydney would have made real money from TV rights if they provided them to a private organisation instead of giving the ABC a 4 hour info mercial.

  42. Until the wildlife people told and showed him how the fireworks terrified birds.

    And again they prove the point. It’s only okay if it’s officially sanctioned. Because Clover says it’s okay, the birds don’t get terrified. I mean, wow.

  43. The Pugilist

    How is “under provide” defined and, more importantly, measured?

    That’s the key point Brett McS, while it can be shown conceptually that a public good will be provided at a lower level than is desired by consumers (that is, they would be willing to pay a higher price for more than has been provided privately), there is no costless way of extracting the information necessary from consumers about how much they would be willing to pay. Thus the ‘socially optimal’ amount of a public good or service is an unknown quantity. Therefore, even if you can say that a good or service fits the two criteria (non-rivalry and non-excludeability), it is another matter altogether to ‘outdo’ the market process and provide the ‘socially optimal’ amount. The other commenters here are correct. The term ‘public good’ is commonly misunderstood and/or misused/abused, particularly by politicians with a fetish for state intervention.

  44. barry

    Perth’s Australia Day fireworks were privately funded for many years – paid for by the radio station you had to listen to in order to hear the soundtrack. Also, the Gloucester Park trots had fire works for many years as the centrepiece of their grossly-overpriced NYE event. #justsaying

  45. boy on a bike

    Definition of ‘Public Good’

    A product that one individual can consume without reducing its availability to another individual and from which no one is excluded. Economists refer to public goods as “non-rivalrous” and “non-excludable”. National defense, sewer systems, public parks and basic television and radio broadcasts could all be considered public goods.

    I submit that the fireworks fail because a lot of people are excluded from attending the show. There are only so many spots around the harbour (public and private) where you can view the show – by definition, there is an upper limit to the number of people who can physically be accommodated. The crowding and horrible problems with transport getting home means that millions of Sydney residents are excluded. When one individual consumes a viewing spot, they exclude another from that spot. If there were only a few thousand people watching the show, it wouldn’t be a problem. However, the popularity of the show means it is well past the point of non-excludable.

    That means the show is a club good rather than a public good.

  46. boy on a bike

    It should also be noted that the best viewing points for the show are the very expensive apartments and mansions around the harbour; or sitting on a big money burning stink boat on the harbour itself. In other words, it’s a display for the mega-rich; a ratepayer funded shindig for the 1% and their mates.

  47. Mater

    Ahhh Cracker Night…remember chasing the parachutes across the paddocks?

  48. Tel

    Thus the ‘socially optimal’ amount of a public good or service is an unknown quantity.

    We could vote on it, and if you define “socially optimal” to be whatever people decide by vote (as good a definition as any) then you have a known answer. It isn’t costless of course, and then you might have the question of whether the voters are informed or not, some may suffer buyer’s regret later on down the track.

    The term ‘public good’ is commonly misunderstood and/or misused/abused, particularly by politicians with a fetish for state intervention.

    I’ve had people try to tell me that the NBN is a public good, on the basis that it is non-exclusive and non-rivalrous.

  49. Tel

    … a ratepayer funded shindig for the 1% and their mates.

    If it’s paid for by the rates of the mega-rich via the City of Sydney then I’m OK with that.

    There’s a regular fireworks show in Darling Harbour that’s pretty much open to anyone (not sure where the money comes from, probably mostly out of the expensive restaurant and hotel leases).

    I’d be cranky if I found out that the NSW Government was chipping in money that came from taxpayers in Dubbo, Newcastle, etc.

  50. Brett_McS

    The Pugilist, yes, thanks, I was aiming more at the, as you say, “misunderstanders” seeking to extract public policy recommendations.

    A lot of economics seems to involve creating definitions that are not quantifiable. In the hard sciences it is the ultimate insult to be accused of creating such a definition: “Not even wrong” was the way Wolfgang Pauli expressed it. In other words, better to be simply wrong than that befuddled.

    I suppose such definitions naturally arise out of a mindset which assumes an indefinitely large pool of resources are available in some single location. Without that assumption the concept of Public Goods would have little utility, even apart from its indeterminateness.

  51. Tel

    … basic television and radio broadcasts could all be considered public goods.

    Who wrote that? How in the world to they figure that spectrum space is non-rivalrous? Have they never heard of encrypted radio?

    So much for not meeting up with a bozo this year…

  52. stackja

    Before the NSW Government banned private fireworks, it was common for neighbourhoods to compete to provide the best fireworks shows. These were all privately provided. I remember participating in these events when very young.

    Empire Day Cracker night of Tom Thumbs, Double Bungers , Catherine Wheels and Sparklers.

  53. Viva

    I’m no puritan, but why is it that those celebrating are called ‘revellers’ on New Year’s Eve but drunken louts at other times of the year?

    Mmany cultures have a tradition of setting one day apart when people are licensed to behave in out of the ordinary ways eg mardi gras. For us that’s New Year’s Eve. However some people take that to extremes in a boozy culture such as ours.

  54. boy on a bike

    If it’s paid for by the rates of the mega-rich via the City of Sydney then I’m OK with that.

    I used to take up an invitation from friends to view them from their palatial abode in Kirribilli, which is outside the rateable area of the City of Sydney. Ironic that many of the beneficiaries of Clover’s largesse are the well-heeled Liberal voting burghers of the north shore.

  55. faust

    Jessica Irvine reminds me of one of those investment managers who had a “buy” rating on Enron even as the share price was tanking because they spoke to Andy Fastow and had the “inside gossip”.

    One of the real problems with Australian economics and business journalists like Jessica and Peter Martin is that they find it easier to regurgitate than to actually think.

  56. Walter Plinge

    Dan – I entirely sympathise. (Cue world’s smallest violin) I went to bed early but was awoken at 11:55pm when one of my two miniature dachshunds crawled out from under the sheet and draped herself across my face, trembling. The other mini just slept through.

  57. HRT

    The letterboxes – don’t forget the letterboxes. How they used to quiver when a penny bunger went off inside one.

    Likewise, don’t forget the cardboard shoebox used to hold the collection of fireworks – and lovingly retrieved from under the bed each time some more were bought to add to the pile.

    Neither must one forget the occasional closure of Sydney Airport from fireworks smoke .

  58. .

    1735099
    #1130031, posted on January 1, 2014 at 10:15 am

    Fireworks will always be a problem for the ticket punchers market fundamemtalists because they can’t build a fence and rip people off to be allowed to see them.

    Explain why I don’t hate google then old mate…no?

    Perhaps you should take your silly condescencion and bigotry back, Bob.

  59. dd

    The government has banned private fireworks so it now has to act as the sole provider.

    Before the NSW Government banned private fireworks, it was common for neighbourhoods to compete to provide the best fireworks shows. These were all privately provided. I remember participating in these events when very young.

    I also remember these events. And in America, private fireworks displays are still commonplace. Visit on the fourth of july sometime. The citizenry don’t go and gather in a municipal area while public servants shower them with fireworks largesse as a favour from the powerful to the hoi polloi. They buy their own crackers and set them off.

    And by the way, if fireworks are a ‘public good’ then everything is a ‘public good.’

  60. .

    Excellent work guys, many of you are not economists but you have schooled Poor Jess on this issue.

  61. .

    I contend the LDP conference ought to be held yearly in the ACT on cracker night.

    Don’t tell me the ACT has banned crackers as well?

  62. The Pugilist

    We could vote on it, and if you define “socially optimal” to be whatever people decide by vote (as good a definition as any) then you have a known answer.

    This is true Tel, but there are incentives for strategic behaviour. In other words people are likely to lie in any such vote due to the free rider problem.
    BOAB, you are correct in that a fireworks show is better classified as a club good, hence I qualified my statements above by say ‘in a limited geographical area’ and talked about the continuous nature of the excludability and rivalry criteria but I didn’t want to get too technical or get too far from the topic – that is, Jessica Irvine is a poor excuse for an economist (whether through poor application at uni or a poor quality education).

  63. The Pugilist

    I’ve had people try to tell me that the NBN is a public good, on the basis that it is non-exclusive and non-rivalrous.

    Did you advise them to see a drug counsellor?

  64. Peter56

    No-one lost a digit or an eye in my time as a lad growing up with cracker night. We might have done some reckless things like throw crackers at each other, not the threepenny bungers though, but I well recall one night, under the flames of a huge dead tree that was that year’s bonfire, a spark or a mistossed cracker set of all the crackers in a huge wooden box full of them.
    And who could forget throwing crackers into the river, making sure the timing was right, and the explosion making a fountain of water. Of course a few mistimed ones ruined the cracker.
    What great, fun times they were.
    But, on the subject of the fireworks display, just a huge waste of taxpayers’ money. For special years, like 2000, by all means, and the end of each century, but that money could be better spent on the homeless and destitute and others needing assistance.

  65. The Pugilist

    Don’t tell me the ACT has banned crackers as well?

    Sorry dot, they have indeed, along with homemade cakes at fairs and they’ve also regulated sausage sizzles…

  66. dd

    Sorry dot, they have indeed, along with homemade cakes at fairs and they’ve also regulated sausage sizzles…

    Unfortunately this isn’t satire, it’s actually true…

  67. Tel

    This is true Tel, but there are incentives for strategic behaviour. In other words people are likely to lie in any such vote due to the free rider problem.

    Hmmm, in a simple YES / NO referendum type vote, you either want a new bridge to Foobar or you don’t. If the project goes ahead then the tax is levied and I don’t think there’s any “strategic” approach other than deciding whether (on balance) the outcome for you is more valuable than the extra tax you will pay.

    In a more complex voting system you might ask, “How much, per week, should we pay unemployed people?” and then you get a whole spectrum of answers but from that spectrum you must extract a single final value and that comes down to statistics. I would argue for either the median value or perhaps take the middle quintile and take a mean of that. Anyhow, a suitable statistical process should make it hard to game.

    Yet another option is this type of thing –

    http://krugmandebate.com/

    People pledge money because they want to see this particular project go ahead. However, if it never happens then they don’t have to pay their pledge. So if you think Krugman would never stoop down to debate Murphy you can safely pledge hundreds of thousands and have the fun of making a big deal out of it, but it costs you nothing.

    Other more serious work has been funded this way, software development for example. Firefox were paying money for security disclosure, not sure if that’s still on offer. There’s a few websites where you can pledge a bounty on stuff. It’s not exactly voting but it’s a way to coordinate a large group of interested parties without needing government guns.

  68. Tel

    Did you advise them to see a drug counsellor?

    I’m not like that, I generally sit and explain things to people. There’s a very slim chance some will listen, and on a blog it stays there so you can link to it and that makes it faster to explain the next time.

  69. .

    Soon the ACT will ban porn, hookers and drugs.

    How will the conference industry survive?

  70. Bons

    My favorite ‘Flossie the Hippy Mayor’ moment was a few years ago when a bunch of Northern NSW aboriginals set up camp in a Sydney park. Truly peed-off the local joggers, dog walkers and anyone else wanting to use the park.
    Flossie appeared on ABC breakfast agonising over how she was not going to add to the disadvantage and suffering of these people by moving them on.
    A caller with a great ‘workers accent’ called in – “I’ll shift em for ya love, I’ll go down and offer the bastards a job – that’l move em”.
    Followed by the longest silence in ABC broadcast history.
    Flossie actually did offer them jobs eventually but they decided to go home.

  71. Andrew

    Jessica declares

    The truly remarkable thing about large firework displays, however, is that left to the free market, they’d never exist.

    What rubbish. Before the NSW Government banned private fireworks, it was common for neighbourhoods to compete to provide the best fireworks shows. These were all privately provided. I remember participating in these events when very young.

    They use this exact same example as a reason for the use of a public good and by extension as an example of a market failure in first year Microeconomics.

  72. The Pugilist

    Indeed Tel, you’ve identified some possible solutions but there are flaws with these options.
    Lets take the NBN as an example (even though it isn’t a public good). On a yes/no vote, the project would easily go ahead, but you would struggle to get subscriptions to the service at prices required to get anywhere near cost recovery.
    Thus willingness to pay is important. Any survey that asks this question will suffer from the free rider problem.
    There are other options such as Vickrey auctions/Clark-Grove taxation, etc. There is a substantial literature on auction type mechanisms, where people have incentives to reveal their true valuations but there are no guarantees that the right amount of revenue will be raised. If not enough is raised, then it is easy, the project doesn’t proceed. But what if too much is raised? Does it just go into general government revenue (I would say a big FUCK NO!). Otherwise, by offering to return revenue, it can destroy the properties of the mechanism that induces people to reveal their true willingness to pay. It really is a difficult problem that socialist politicians don’t appreciate.

  73. .

    Andrew

    The person writing your textbook or teaching you…were underperforming to say the least.

  74. The Pugilist

    The person writing your textbook or teaching you…were underperforming to say the least.

    To be fair dot, there are a lot of things that are taught in first year that are subsequently revealed in later years to be wrong. Having said that, a good first year teacher will point out to their students that the real world is more complex than is being taught in a simple model.

  75. Andrew

    I like councils when they spend money on nice parks and walkways, collect my bin, keep the water and traffic flowing etc.

    Shit, how many decades since THAT was the primary function of LGs? My library is the same size and content as when I was 10 (the books have been renewed) but the Council office is approx 10x the area (in fact so large that they had to relocate it out of the CBD about 6km as they physically couldn’t acquire that much space).

    I assume 90% of them are now in areas like migrant liaison (apparently we never had wogs in Western SYD before), green power awareness, sustainability, vast bureaucratic tendering, best practice, sister cities programmes, study trips, CBD tree planting, CBD tree maintenance, CBD fallen tree recovery, installing bollards to protect the newly planted CBD trees, replacing bent CBD bollards after cars backed into them, and measurement of the impact of climate change.

  76. CatAttack

    I like fireworks and they give a lot of people some joy however briefly. Better use of taxpayers money than a hundred other things I could name.

  77. JohnA

    Darn, I seem to be late for the fun again.
    Walter Plinge #1129969, posted on January 1, 2014 at 9:16 am

    srr – that is a reference, per Tim Blair, to a religion whose name we dare not speak that does have a tendency to concoct high explosives in the kitchen. Presbyterians we can mock mercilessly in perfect safety. Not so the other lot.

    Walter, as an upstanding Presbyterian, I will have to have you beseiged by the feminists of Castle Adamant. How dare you and Srr besmirch the good name of Presbyterianism? :-)

  78. mareeS

    You can barely dine in a ACT eating place without an OH&S certificate, much less bring your own plastic bag to Coles at Manuka to take home your groceries. Cook it yourself? OH&S!

  79. Rabz

    Bons
    #1130285, posted on January 1, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    Gold!

  80. Infidel tiger

    The truly remarkable thing about large firework displays, however, is that left to the free market, they’d never exist.

    Stupid bint. The whole of Bali was lit up like Liberace’s mirror last night. All the fireworks were purchased from street vendors or put on by private parties. God damn place sounded like an Iraqi wedding.

  81. mundi

    I got a kick out of listening to the police scanners last night. The number of complaints over fire works was rediciulous. As the night wore on the police ‘responses’ to their ‘jobs’ became more and more hillarious from ‘god forbid someone have fun on new years’ all the way though to ‘I asked for the location of the next job, not the next party’. All night the police just went to the job and radioed in ‘no fire works here’ and left. There didn’t seem to be a single arrest/fine for the hundred+ fireworks call-outs (I guess its people like Jessica ringing in?)

  82. Tintarella di Luna

    My mother came from a small village in the Veneto of Italy. Tiny little place. Every year around Ferragosto they have the sagra – a week-long festival – fantastic community spirit. We were there during that week. The last night of the sagra they have fireworks …. they let them off in the cemetery – how sensible is that -no complaints from the neighbours – eminently sensible I thought (though I can’t explain Berlusconi and the recent decision of the Supreme Court on the 60-year old having sexual relations with 11-year old)

  83. Tintarella di Luna

    I will have to have you beseiged by the feminists of Castle Adamant.

    Castle Adamant, now that takes me back to 1968 I played Princess Ida in the high school musical, women of Adamant, with our guiding light Minerva, the Goddess wise – that is until Hilarion came along and then the fun began.

  84. Oh come on

    The truly remarkable thing about large firework displays, however, is that left to the free market, they’d never exist.

    Oh for chuck steak. Get a fucking passport, you dopey scrunt.

  85. I am the Walrus, koo koo k'choo

    Please Henry Ergas, write a column destroying Irvine’s nonsense.

    Seriously, her work is so undergraduate. It’s embarrassing.

  86. Hugh

    I lost all interest in real world fireworks displays when I saw those of Gandalf in TFOTR. I guess I’ll continue to be underwhelmed until they come up to speed.

  87. Andrew

    Personally speaking, if you’ve seen one lavish fireworks display, you’ve seen them all, though I think only being squashed with many other revellers somewhere near the Opera House for NY 2000 bought me to this lifestyle changing realisation. The fireworks I most enjoyed of late was at my son’s school fete, kindly sponsored by a local real estate agent, which Irvine may find of interest to her core thesis.

    Anyhow, like many public events, there are many (private and social) benefits and costs, both of which are notoriously difficult to pin down in their entirety. The only thing I expect from public funders/providers is that they at least temper their overblown back-of-the-envelope claims for benefits with some recognition of the many direct and indirect costs of this ‘bread and circuses’ activity. In addition, like all ‘investments’ it’s not so much whether the return was positive, but whether it was the best investment. I have to concede that given the alternative ultra wasteful projects the Sydney City Council has accessed in the past, it’s quite likely that this was one of the better ones.

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