Knee-jerk reaction?

Okay – so following the Sydney terrorist attack there are questions to be asked. Like why was he out on bail? But today Tony Abbott went further:

TONY Abbott says it “infuriates” him that legal aid resources are being used to challenge laws, amid concern over funding for Man Haron Monis’ High Court challenge over offensive letters he wrote to the families of Australian soldiers killed overseas.

The Prime Minister, when asked about the case, said it was “not right” that taxpayer funds be used to challenge laws in the High Court.

“We have any number of cases going through the courts which appear to be one way or another publicly funded cases and it’s almost like taxpayers are funding attacks on taxpayers and this is not right,” Mr Abbott told Sydney radio 2GB.

“Obviously people are entitled to go to the law but why they are entitled to go to the law with taxpayer-funding when they are essentially attacking public policy — when they are essentially attacking the policy of the elected government — I think is something which again exasperates and sometimes infuriates the public and frankly sometimes infuriates me.”

Abstracting from the actual individual – let’s consider what Abbott is really saying, that legal aid should be abolished. What else are people doing when they go to court? They are challenging a law of the land. Laws usually result from the policies of the elected government. So are we to believe that only rich people should challenge the law of the land? To be sure there is an argument to be made for that position, but I suspect most Australians would be somewhat uncomfortable with that position.

So let’s ask why Man Haron Monis was out on bail. Let’s ask why he wasn’t on a watch-list. Let’s ask how he managed to a get a sawn-off shotgun (how are those gun control laws going)? But let’s not get carried away. If we think legal aid should exist, then it is going to be used for purposes we don’t always agree with, by people we don’t always approve of.

Posted in Libertarians don't live by argument alone, Politics | 146 Comments

Max Walsh discovers the classical theory of the cycle

Maximillian Walsh has just re-discovered the classical theory of the cycle. This is from today’s AFR: The crises are different, but the cause is the same. Here is the sub-head:

In a global era, the next crisis is always just around the corner. The continuous expansion of debt is the cause at the bottom of all of them.

I suspect that we have been living in a “global era” for the last 250 years at least, so technically I suppose, he’s right. But I think he is trying to say there is something new in the world. He could, if he cared to look, find the same kinds of instability across the whole of the nineteenth century. If he would like to go back farther, I could send him to The Wealth of Nations, or he could investigate the Mississippi or South Sea bubbles, both eighteenth century.

The point is, of course, that with the advent of Keynesian economics, the classical theory of the cycle has disappeared. To my knowledge a full discussion is available from only a single source at the present time, although the Austrians are pretty close.

So yes, there is always another crisis around the corner, all the more so since those who manage our economies are the single most certain cause of it. The real question, then Max is this: what should we do, right now, to prevent this crisis from coming full term, or at least what can we do to make it less of a problem? For this, too, you need to go back to the classical theory of the cycle. They had no guaranteed answers either, but at least they knew what you should not do. And if you would like to see in action the kinds of things they would not have done, check out the Federal Reserve in the US, along with most of the other central banks in charge, and see what they are doing.

Posted in Classical Economics, Economics and economy | 5 Comments

No rush: let’s review it in 2020

I’m pretty sure that the Murray Report on the financial system will soon be gathering dust on the bookshelves of the relevant ministers.  (Can anyone tell me why the government is even bothering to have a tax review; nothing will happen, that’s for sure.)  And, Joe, has quite rightly ruled out any change to the GST.)

I’m not sure about Murray’s recommendations relating to bank capital, but most of the superannuation recommendations are well-based, bar the idea that we can wait for the review of MySuper in 2020 before any of the changes are implemented.  Was Murray having a lend?

(Mind you, the tax recommendations are off the mark – looks like the influence of the left-wing member of the panel won the day.)

There is absolutely no reason to delay acting on the core recommendations now: take default superannuation out of the industrial relations system; conduct periodic tenders for funds to hold the contributions of those workers who do not make a deliberate choice (a range of funds will be needed; don’t forget that monopolies are bad and things have not gone well in Chile on which this idea is based); and assume that workers stay in the same fund when they change jobs unless there is advice to the contrary.  The proposed changes to the governance of the industry super funds (majority independent directors0 are also sound.

There is absolutely no reason to delay any of this.

Here’s the news item from The Fin:

Superannuation funds could be forced to tender for the right to manage hundreds of billions of dollars in retirement savings in an effort to reduce fees for members and remove super from the industrial relations system.

Trustees would also be subject to the same penalties for misconduct as directors of managed investment schemes. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Moral cowardice

Julie Szego sets people right:

The reticence around language made sense during the siege as the authorities had asked that certain information be withheld and particular terminology avoided, even though this resulted in verbal contortions and euphemism. …

But though the blood of innocents has since dried, we’re still touchy about definitions. Some people have called this a “terrorist attack”. Others say that because Man Haron Monis was a “lone wolf” it isn’t terrorism. Others still propose it be further downgraded to a “lone nut” attack. “Sydney gunman a criminal, not a terrorist” read one headline on Tuesday. “Lone madman or a networked holy warrior?” asked another. One person argued that as Monis was facing charges of being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife, it’s appropriate to see him as akin to those bitter men who would lay siege to the Family Court.

It was prudent tactics to deny his self-definition during the siege, but to do so now is to flinch from reality. The overriding narrative of the Sydney siege was not one of intimate partner violence.

The bottom line?

Monis should be seen as a violent criminal and a terrorist. We must name his extremist ideology, accept that it is influential and pernicious and redouble our efforts to confront it as a calm, harmonious community.

There are many arguments that can and should be made about the terrorist attack in Sydney. Yes, it could have been much worse; we should not label law-abiding citizens as being a threat simply because they are Muslim, and so on. Those arguments, however, are not progressed by denying the nature and intent of the events in Sydney.

Posted in National Security | 152 Comments

Sydney Crisis Thread 4

The prime minister, who described Monis as a “madman” today, wants to know how he was able to have “a lend of us for so many years”.

He questioned how the gunman – killed in a hail of gunfire on Tuesday morning – managed to get permanent residency in Australia. It was also vital the review looked into how Monis, who was known to security agencies, was on bail, was on welfare and had a gun licence despite such a long history of violence.


Posted in National Security | 799 Comments

Wednesday Forum: December 17, 2014

Posted in Open Forum | 1,393 Comments

Advice to Joe: exit the OECD

Am I the only one who thinks that Peter Martin, economics editor of The Age, is making Ross Gittins look quite sensible?  And let’s face it, that’s saying something.

This was the man who claimed that someone on a million bucks a year was securing a $90,000 per year tax free contribution to superannuation.  Wrong on a number of scores.  Oops.  Well, more than oops.

But now Martin tells us that we should be listening to the OECD because the OECD is really channelling Treasury.  He may actually be correct on this, but it tells you what an enormous job John Fraser has to reform Treasury (if the officials can spare the time after attending all those inclusiveness workshops and figuring out what the wellbeing framework means).

I was listening to some jumped-up Class 11 from the OECD telling Australia what to do on ABC’s AM program this morning. (Well done, Chris Uhlman, you made look the PM look like a namby-pamby weakling on the issue of Islamic terrorism.)

Anyway, this Class 11 with a Pommy accent was telling us the normal mushy crap:

  • Not a good time to cut spending in view of the fall in commodity prices;
  • Australia doesn’t have a debt problem, but it might want to consider some fiscal consolidation at some stage down the track (time to be advised – probably never);
  • Australia really needs a broader and bigger GST (yeh, right – which political party is going to take that one to an election?);
  • And Martin’s (and Treasury’s) fav: do something about those superannuation tax concessions (which Treasury doesn’t understand, with its estimates conceptually wrong and risible).
  • Memo to Martin and the OECD: there is not a cool $12 billion per year in superannuation tax concessions sitting on the pavement.
  • Oh, and the OECD does not know what it is talking about, Peter.  It is all based on big government, statist, European mush and look where that has landed Europe and France, in particular.

Here is Martin’s piece from The Age:

Does the OECD know what it’s talking about? You bet. It might be a committee of Paris-based outsiders, but it works out what to say by talking to Australian bureaucrats. Officials from the Treasury, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Reserve Bank allow it to say in public what they are only allowed to whisper in private.

The Australian Treasury posts an officer to Paris full time in order to influence the content of OECD reports. It gets a look at (but not the final say over) their wording.

The OECD is concerned that the proposed free market in university fees will not be free at all. If they compete on price it might work, but many of them might not find it in their interest to seem cheap and less attractive.

The OECD says the Abbott government’s plan to pull young Australians off the (already modest) dole will have to be watched to make sure it doesn’t significantly hurt low-income households.  Its plan to increase pensions by only the consumer price index runs the risk of being unsustainable. Eventually the pension will have to be lifted, something not accounted for in the budget’s 10-year projections. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | 39 Comments

Sydney Crisis Thread III

Posted in National Security | 1,183 Comments

A snarky question

Yesterday anti-free speech activist Daniel Meyerowitz-Katz (reply here) posted a gotcha question on the Australian Libertarian Society Facebook page:

Why has the market for ideas not crushed militant Islamism in countries like Australia?

Rather that respond with an equally snarky answer, I thought I’d sub-contract out the work:

On Facebook, Clinton Mead – LDP mayor of Campbelltown:

The nutter muslim:muslim ratio in Australia is probably one of the lowest in the world, so the market for ideas is actually working pretty well considering.

Janet Albrechtsen – from October this year:

Our ideas are better than yours. We believe in a society based on respect, dignity, equality, the rule of law, freedom of association (so even men like you can meet and plan a caliphate), freedom of religion (so even men like you can use religion as a reason for revolution), free speech (so men like you can try to spread your hate-filled ideology).

However, the moment you incite violence, you commit a crime against the very fabric of our society. Short of that, we will meet and defeat your words and ideas with ours.

On reflection, there’s little point trying to win over, or even explain, our values to these extremists. Their minds are closed, lost to dark dreams of an Islamic caliphate where men rule and sharia law triumphs over human rights.

So this letter is for the rest of us. A reminder of the inherent virtues of our society, where free speech and other human rights allow even abhorrent ideas to be aired. A reminder, too, that we need to defend these values with vigilance. We could shut down extremists. But that’s too easy. That’s what an Islamic caliphate would do. In any case, shutting down words won’t work. It will only drive people underground, allow them to make martyrs of themselves, attracting more attention from the misguided and the aggrieved.

That Daniel is why you are on the wrong side of history – freedom will triumph over oppression because we have the better ideas and offer everyone a better future.

If anyone is looking for some light reading over the summer, let me recommend this.

Posted in National Security, Take Nanny down | 42 Comments

Climate Change: the facts 2014


IPA has just published Climate Change: the Facts 2014, which I edited and wrote a chapter, Costing climate change, one of 22.  The following is my introduction:

 Prompted by successive reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the issue of human induced climate change has become a dominant theme of world politics. This is especially so in Australia where it was famously called the greatest moral challenge of our time by Kevin Rudd. The issue was pivotal to Mr Rudd’s replacement in 2010 as prime minister by Julia Gillard, his subsequent restoration to that position and his loss to Tony Abbott in the election of 2013.

The book is divided into three parts. Part one examines the science of climate change. Continue reading

Posted in Global warming and climate change policy | 31 Comments