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John Quiggin

John Quiggin

He is an Australian economist, a Professor and an Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow at the University of Queensland, and a former member of the Board of the Climate Change Authority of the Australian Government.

Articles by John Quiggin

Why energy storage is a solvable problem

10 days ago

Most discussion of energy storage that I’ve seen has focused on batteries, with occasional mentions of pumped hydro. But in the last week, I’ve seen announcements of big investments in quite different technologies. Goldman Sachs just put $250 million ($US, I think) into a firm that claims to worked out the bugs that have prevented the use of compressed air storage until now

And several companies are working on gravity storage (raising and lowering massive blocks) to store and release energy

Underlying these points is a crucial fact in physics/engineering: Any reversible physical process is an energy storage technology.

That’s why concerns about the variability of wind and solar power will come to nothing in the end

Energy storage technologies differ in lots of

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Sandpit

12 days ago

A new sandpit for long side discussions, conspiracy theories, idees fixes and so on.

To be clear, the sandpit is for regular commenters to pursue points that distract from regular discussion, including conspiracy-theoretic takes on the issues at hand. It’s not meant as a forum for visiting conspiracy theorists, or trolls posing as such.
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Monday Message Board

12 days ago

Back again with another Monday Message Board.

Post comments on any topic. Civil discussion and no coarse language please. Side discussions and idees fixes to the sandpits, please. If you would like to receive my (hopefully) regular email news, please sign up using the following link.

http://eepurl.com/dAv6sX You can also follow me on Twitter @JohnQuiggin, at my Facebook public page   and at my Economics in Two Lessons page
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In defence of presentism

12 days ago

I was planning a post with this title, but after some preliminary discussion, a commenter on Twitter pointed me to this piece by David Armitage, which not only has the title I planned to use[1], but a much more complete and nuanced presentation of the argument, as you might expect from the chair of the Harvard history department.

I won’t recapitulate his points, except to make an observation about disciplinary differences. The dominant view in history described by Armitage as “professional creed: the commitment to separate the concerns of the present from the scientific treatment of the past” is identical, with a slight change in terminology, to the central claim of “value-free economics”, that it is possible to separate the positive science of economics, from the normative

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Myths that stir trouble in the South China Sea

16 days ago

Just before Christmas, I published a piece in The Interpreter (Lowy Institute) arguing that most of the claims made by the contending parties in the South China Sea are myths designed to promote the interests of nationalists and militarists in a variety of countries, including Australia. Final paras

The mutual sabre-rattling associated with South China Sea mythology is beneficial to a variety of actors in the United States, China and elsewhere. The military-industrial complex, against which President Eisenhower warned 60 years ago, is powerful in every country, and always seeks to promote preparation for large-scale war as well as the routine use of military power for political and commercial ends. Nationalist politicians promote territorial claims of all kinds, and exaggerate

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Open thread for 2022

16 days ago

Write about your hopes, fears, predictions for the coming year.

Usual comment rules apply. I’m going to be cracking down hard on snark this year, so if you’re in any doubt about your response to another commenter, don’t post it.
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Grim Covid prediction for January in NSW: ‘LUNACY’

23 days ago

That’s the headline for a story based on an email interview I did with Yahoo News. Over the fold, the full Q and A.

What are your predictions for NSW given the current numbers?Assuming that Hazzard’s 25 000 cases a day estimate is correct, that 2 per cent  are hospitalised and and average stay of 10 days, that’s 5000 people in hospital on any given day. NSW has 20700 hospital beds, so almost 25 per cent taken up with Covid

What will this mean for hospitals?This will clearly be too much for hospitals if close contacts are required to isolate. That would entail losing a substantial proportion of capacity, maybe as much as 25 per cent.  Government has foreshadowed dropping isolation requirements, which would increase capacity, but also ensure lots more infection of

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Monday Message Board

25 days ago

Back again with another Monday Message Board.

Post comments on any topic. Civil discussion and no coarse language please. Side discussions and idees fixes to the sandpits, please. If you would like to receive my (hopefully) regular email news, please sign up using the following link.

http://eepurl.com/dAv6sX You can also follow me on Twitter @JohnQuiggin, at my Facebook public page   and at my Economics in Two Lessons page
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Monday Message Board (on Tuesday)

December 21, 2021

Back again with another Monday Message Board.

Post comments on any topic. Civil discussion and no coarse language please. Side discussions and idees fixes to the sandpits, please. If you would like to receive my (hopefully) regular email news, please sign up using the following link.

http://eepurl.com/dAv6sX You can also follow me on Twitter @JohnQuiggin, at my Facebook public page   and at my Economics in Two Lessons page
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Getting it wrong on the future of US democracy ?

December 21, 2021

As I indicated in my previous post about self-driving vehicles, I’m trying to think more about where I’ve gone wrong in my analysis of current issues and trends, hoping to improve. I got some useful comments on that issue, though nothing directly applicable to my bigger predictive failures

The most important such failure has concerned the future of democracy, where my views were characterized by clearly unjustifiable optimism (see here and here). I’ve now shifted to extreme pessimism, but I would love to be convinced I’ve overcorrected, as I have done in the past.

Starting with the optimism, it was a mixture of wishful thinking and excessive faith in rationality. Democracy seemed to be advancing nearly everywhere, and this could be explained by the fact that democratic

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Sandpit

December 19, 2021

A new sandpit for long side discussions, conspiracy theories, idees fixes and so on.

To be clear, the sandpit is for regular commenters to pursue points that distract from regular discussion, including conspiracy-theoretic takes on the issues at hand. It’s not meant as a forum for visiting conspiracy theorists, or trolls posing as such.
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The case for public ownership of equity and of enterprises

December 18, 2021

I’ve written a couple of posts about Labor’s social housing fund, showing that it’s smaller than it appears, and that hypothecation (linking housing expenditure to the fluctuating proceeds of an investment fund) is bad policy. But is the underlying idea sound? This is a complicated question, and the answer takes us back to the mixed economy of the mid-20th century

To recap, the key idea is to borrow $10 billion at the low rate of interest payable on government debt, invest it in higher-yielding assets and use the profits) to finance social housing. 

The fundamental idea is the same as that of a sovereign wealth fund, of which Australia’s Future Fund is an example.  Many other national governments have done the same, and even state governments, like that of NSW are getting

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Hypothecation and housing

December 15, 2021

In my first post on Labor’s $10 billion housing fund, I pointed out that the $10 billion number is misleading.  The key idea is to borrow $10 billion at the low rate of interest payable on government debt, invest it in higher-yielding assets and use the profits (maybe $400 million a year, based on historical average returns) to finance social housing. The same model has been used by the LNP government to set up funds for a variety of purposes. There’s a total of $50 billion across five funds, the biggest of which is the Medical Research Future Fund of $22 billion, twice the size of Labor’s housing fund.  

All of these off-budget funds are managed by the Future Fund, which was established to offset the government’s unfunded superannation liabilities, and is currently just below

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Monday Message Board

December 12, 2021

Back again with another Monday Message Board.

Post comments on any topic. Civil discussion and no coarse language please. Side discussions and idees fixes to the sandpits, please. If you would like to receive my (hopefully) regular email news, please sign up using the following link.

http://eepurl.com/dAv6sX You can also follow me on Twitter @JohnQuiggin, at my Facebook public page   and at my Economics in Two Lessons page
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Labor’s $10 billion social housing fund: the frill necked lizard of Australian public expenditure

December 12, 2021

Following my cri de coeur about the limited scope for progressive analysis now that Labor has adopted almost the whole of the LNP economic program, I got a number of useful suggestions, one of which was a detailed analysis of Labor’s most prominent spending initiative, the $10 billion social housing fund. This idea raises a lot of issues, so I’m going to tackle it a bit at a time

First up, is $10 billion a lot, or a little. There was a time when programs like this were typically described in terms of the annual expenditure they entailed. If that were still the case, the program would be a really big deal. With cheap publicly-owned land and scale economies, $10 billion a year would probably enough for 40 000 homes at $250k apiece. Compared to around 200 000 a year being built

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Getting it wrong on self-driving vehicles (crosspost from Crooked Timber)

December 10, 2021

A few years ago, I got enthusiastic about the prospects for self-driving vehicles, and wrote a couple of posts on the topic. It’s now clear that this was massively premature, as many of the commenters on my post argued. So, I thought it would be good to consider where and why I went wrong on this relatively unimportant issue, in the hopes of improving my thinking more generally.

The first thing I got wrong was overcorrecting on an argument I’d made for a long time, about the difference between radical progress in information and communications technology and stagnation in transport technology. The initial successful trials of self-driving vehicles in desert locations led me to think that ICT had finally come to transport, when in fact only the easiest part of the problem was

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Booster shots

December 8, 2021

While I reconsider what I should write about, I’m also thinking about when to get a Covid booster shot. I had planned to do so in February, six months after my second AZ shot. But now, I’m thinking I should wait until the vaccines have been updated for Omicron, maybe in March.

The question I need to assess is how rapidly, if at all, case numbers will grow in Queensland once borders are reopened. So far, it seems clear that Queensland has R < 1, though not so clear why. A string of local outbreaks have been detected, then fizzled out. With vax rates rising, and a combination of vax passports and employment mandates coming into force, that should continue even with regular arrivals of new cases, suggesting that waiting is not a bad idea.

Omicron could change all that, but

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Looking for a new direction

December 7, 2021

My latest newsletter is here

Opening para

Labor has finally released its climate policy, which is just ambitious enough to differentiate it from Morrison’s do-nothingism. Apart from that, and process issues like the introduction of a federal version of ICAC, it seems unlikely that there will be any significant policy differences between the parties at the forthcoming election. Labor’s support for high-income tax cuts and budget “repair” means any spending initiatives will be small, and possible (as in the case of the social housing fund) shunted off-budget. And of course there is no guarantee Labor will win.

So, I’ve decided to shift my attention away from economic policy for the moment. 
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Monday Message Board

December 5, 2021

Back again with another Monday Message Board.

Post comments on any topic. Civil discussion and no coarse language please. Side discussions and idees fixes to the sandpits, please. If you would like to receive my (hopefully) regular email news, please sign up using the following link.

http://eepurl.com/dAv6sX You can also follow me on Twitter @JohnQuiggin, at my Facebook public page   and at my Economics in Two Lessons page
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A pleasant surprise, for once

December 3, 2021

Labor’s commitment to a 2030 target of reducing emissions by 43 per cent is a pleasant surprise. I expected 35 per cent and was confident it wouldn’t be more than 40.

In essence, the 43 per cent target a restatement of the goal taken to the 2019 election. The difference is within the margin of measurement error and appears to reflect the need not to reannounce a policy that had previously been abandoned.

The commitment is a surprise because it follows a series of announcements which ruled out most of the obvious policy options to reduce emissions, including a carbon price, a moratorium on new coal, oil and gas projects. Recent reports also said that Labor would reject the idea of a vehicle fuel efficiency target.

The announcement of the target reduction gave no indication

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The animals looked from pigs to men, and men to pigs …

December 1, 2021

I was going to follow up my post on Labor’s tax and expenditure policies (effectively identical to LNP) with one on climate, pointing out the remaining difference – Labor’s 2019 proposal for a vehicle fuel efficiency target. Given that Morrison had tangled himself up with his backflip on electric vehicles after snarking about “abolishing the weekend” this seemed like one policy that would survive.

But Albanese never misses a chance to disappoint, and it’s been reported he’ll dump the policy. That leaves no room for any substantive difference between the parties. Labor will probably announce the 35 per cent emissions reduction target, already on track thanks to action by the states. Morrison wanted to do the same, but Barnaby Joyce vetoed an explicit target. However, the

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Sandpit

November 28, 2021

A new sandpit for long side discussions, conspiracy theories, idees fixes and so on.

To be clear, the sandpit is for regular commenters to pursue points that distract from regular discussion, including conspiracy-theoretic takes on the issues at hand. It’s not meant as a forum for visiting conspiracy theorists, or trolls posing as such.
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Monday Message Board

November 28, 2021

Back again with another Monday Message Board.

Post comments on any topic. Civil discussion and no coarse language please. Side discussions and idees fixes to the sandpits, please. If you would like to receive my (hopefully) regular email news, please sign up using the following link.

http://eepurl.com/dAv6sX You can also follow me on Twitter @JohnQuiggin, at my Facebook public page   and at my Economics in Two Lessons page
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How small a target: taxation and expenditure

November 28, 2021

I was puzzled by Anthony Albanese’s Budget reply speech in May this year, which put forward only one alternative policy, a “$10 billion social housing fund”, which proved on inspection to be an off-budget piece of spurious financial engineering that, if all went well might generate $500 million a year for housing. The government already has four or five similar funds and of course the much larger Future fund.

What puzzled me was that Albanese’s response seemed to fall between two stools: either criticise the budget and save your own policies for later, or respond by making a big announcement of your alternative expenditure policy.

Six months later, the answer is clear. The social housing fund is Labor’s big alternative budget policy. There’s also an expansion of support for

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The case for being born

November 28, 2021

The New Yorker is running a profile of the anti-natalist philosopher David Benatar. Reading it, I was unconvinced by the implied response to the obvious objection, “if life is so bad, why not kill yourself”, namely that suicide is painful in itself and causes pain to others.

I searched a bit, and discovered that, not only had Harry Brighouse covered the book at Crooked Timber soon after it came out, but I had made the same objection in comments[1], which I’ll reproduce for convenience

given that Benatar is arguing from a utilitarian rational choice position, his argument leads straight to the (more or less standard utilitarian) conclusion that there should be no moral weight attached to suicide. That is, people should commit suicide if they reasonably judge that their future

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A Labor tax policy I can get behind …

November 21, 2021

… Just joking, this is the Greens

A reduction in the inequities in the current tax and transfer system, including but not limited to:

reform of the taxation of trusts, in order to reduce complexity and minimise tax avoidance;removing subsidies for the extraction and consumption of fossil fuels;redirecting funding from subsidising private health insurance towards direct public provision;reforms to the taxation of superannuation to benefit lower income earners;strengthening the progressivity of the income tax and transfer system across all income levels including by reducing effective marginal tax rates for low-income workers, and increasing the marginal tax rates on high-income earners; the implementation of a tax on dynastic wealth, targeted at those bequeathing or gifting

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Monday Message Board

November 21, 2021

Back again with another Monday Message Board.

Post comments on any topic. Civil discussion and no coarse language please. Side discussions and idees fixes to the sandpits, please. If you would like to receive my (hopefully) regular email news, please sign up using the following link.

http://eepurl.com/dAv6sX You can also follow me on Twitter @JohnQuiggin, at my Facebook public page   and at my Economics in Two Lessons page
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Done!

November 17, 2021

I’ve sent the MS of “The Economic Consequences of the Pandemic” off to Yale UP. Will consider bids for movie rights now.
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Sandpit

November 14, 2021

A new sandpit for long side discussions, conspiracy theories, idees fixes and so on.

To be clear, the sandpit is for regular commenters to pursue points that distract from regular discussion, including conspiracy-theoretic takes on the issues at hand. It’s not meant as a forum for visiting conspiracy theorists, or trolls posing as such.
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