Monday , December 16 2019
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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

No takers for a nuclear grand bargain

2 days ago

A while ago, I made a submission to a Parliamentary inquiry into nuclear power and, in particular, the removal of the 1998 legislative ban on nuclear power. The inquiry was pretty obviously a stunt aimed at placating Barnaby Joyce and the nuclear lobby[1], but I decided to take it seriously and ask what would be needed to give nuclear power any chance, economically and in terms of social acceptance, in Australia.

I proposed what’s been called a grand bargain , lifting the ban in return for a commitment to decarbonize electricity by 2040, and a carbon price increasing steadily over time to achieve that goal.

The Committee has now reported, and, unsurprisingly no one is interested in the idea of a grand bargain. In fact, the idea wasn’t mentioned, not even to dismiss it. Nor, as

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Pasokification

6 days ago

That’s a term coined to describe the fate of the Greek social democratic (and nominally socialist) party PASOK, which implemented austerity measures in the wake of the global financial crisis, and was subsequently wiped out, with most of its voters going switching their support to the newly created left party Syriza.

In France, Germany and the Netherlands, much the same has happened with the Greens gaining many of the votes lost by social democrats. Broadly speaking, the more a social democratic party has gone for centrist respectability, the worse it has done. In Spain, the Socialist Party has formed a coalition government with the leftwing populist party Podemos. In Portugal, confusingly there is both a Socialist (anti-austerity) and Social Democratic (pro-austerity) parties.

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Anti-politics from the inside

9 days ago

There have always been lots of people who saw nothing in politics except a bunch of windbags scoring points off each other. And a year or two back, there was a thing called anti-politics which attempted to give some kind of intellectual basis for this sentiment.

Although I’ve known lots of anti-political/apolitical people and paid attention to the discussion of anti-politics, it’s always been something I’ve viewed from the outside, and as a problem to be remedied by doing a better job of explaining the importance of political issues. I’ve often (in fact usually) been highly critical of the political positions of the major parties, but always highly engaged.

But now, I’m suddenly experiencing anti-politics from the inside. The country is on fire, and there’s no end in sight.

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Four propositions about conservative voting

10 days ago

Here are four propositions about voting behavior which, as far as I can tell, have been true in nearly all democratic countries for at least the past 50 years. Other things equal, people are more likely to vote for conservative parties if:

They have higher incomesThey have lower educationThey live in rural areas or small townsThey are members of a dominant racial/religious groupBy contrast, lot of commentary on recent electoral losses for the left seems to start from the presumption that “traditional” left voters have all of these characteristics, except perhaps high incomes. However, since these “traditional” voters are “aspirational”, it is assumed that they will vote in line with the income they wish they had. Given the actual preferences of voters like this, the obvious

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Labor: Hiding in the past, destroying the future

11 days ago

As I write this, the haze of smoke from the now-continuous bushfires is hanging over Brisbane, as it is over Sydney and other cities. It’s scarcely surprising that the Morrison government is doing its best to ignore the problem, but you might think the official Opposition would be making some noise about it.

Not likely! On Nov 12, Penny Wong said

the immediate focus should be on firefighters battling the blazes, people at risk and those grieving lost loved ones.

“When we get through this, it is a responsible thing for us to focus on how we plan to keep Australians safe,” she told ABC radio.

“Warnings about a longer bushfire season and more intense fires have been on the table for a long time.”

Three weeks later, neither she nor anyone else in the Labor Party has had

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The CIS vs religious freedom

13 days ago

The Centre for Independent Studies has just issued a report about Australian public attitudes to religious freedom. I’m happy to say that the majority (64 per cent) attitude coincides almost exactly with the one I’ve expressed here, namely that

within very broad limits, what we do and say in our own time is no business of the boss.

That cuts both ways: both offering protection to people whose religious expression offends the boss, and preventing religious organizations from discriminating against employees whose beliefs or life choices aren’t consistent with the religion in question. There are limits of course, most obviously in relation to people whose job it is to represent the organization and its beliefs. But these should be the exception not the rule.

Given its

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Yes, the world is paying attention to Australia’s climate inaction

13 days ago

That’s the title of my latest piece in Inside Story Opening paras

Like their counterparts in many other countries, members of Australia’s political class are frequently accused of living inside a self-regarding bubble. That’s certainly true when it comes to climate policy. But bubbles can be punctured by shocks from the outside, and one arrived earlier this month in the shape of a demand from the European Union, led by France, that Australia must make stronger climate commitments if it wants a trade agreement with Europe.

Before looking at the EU position, it’s worth considering how far removed from reality our political class has become. As bushfires raged through October and November, a bipartisan consensus emerged: any discussion of the relationship between the fire

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Monday Message Board

14 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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Virtue signalling and hypocrisy

16 days ago

Most of the time, the accusation of “virtue signalling” includes an implicit connotation of “hypocrisy”. But then, why introduce a new and obscure term for something we have known about for millennia?

The answer is that hypocrisy is a specific accusation that can be backed up, or refuted, by evidence. For example, if a church leader who claims to be a Christian advocates locking up innocent children, the case is pretty clear-cut.

By contrast, “virtue signalling” is an insinuation rather than a factual claim. It doesn’t need to be backed up, and usually isn’t. If the person accused of virtue signalling on the basis of a symbolic action shows that they are in fact making costly efforts in support of their cause, these actions are just added to the charge sheet.

The charge

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Virtue signalling

17 days ago

One of the stranger terms of political abuse to enter the lexicon in recent years is “virtue signalling”. It’s used almost exclusively by the political right and covers many different kinds of statements, actions and policies, mostly associated with the culture wars.

A particularly striking feature of this is that, until recently, “virtue” was a term primarily associated with the right. Bill Bennett (Education Secretary under GW Bush) had a big hit with The Book of Virtues back in the 1990s. He’s now an apologist for Trumpism.

It’s too complicated to cover all aspects of this in one post, but it may be useful to compare two symbolic actions

displaying a rainbow flag; andwearing a MAGA hat.Clearly the term “virtue signalling” would be applied only to the first of these.

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Blue Labor: rightwing identity politics

19 days ago

I’ve started writing a regular column for Independent Australia (every two weeks), and my first column has just gone up. It’s a response to Nick Dyrenfurth and David Furse-Roberts, Australian advocates of Maurice’s Glasman’s Blue Labour ideas in the UK (apparently Glasman visited here for a few months. The central point is that, far from offering a policy alternative to the political right, Blue Labor is all about a specific kind of identity politics, focused on stereotypical male manual workers. These workers assumed to be socially conservative and economically aspirational, but to vote for Labor because they don;t like the silvertails on the other side, despite sharing all of their views.

It took me a while to write this, and several other people came out with very similar

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The new normal: put up with it

19 days ago

Anthony Albanese has finally responded to the bushfire disaster. On the positive side, and by contrast with Morrison, he has at least acknowledged the role of climate change in turning our historical pattern of episodic bushfires into a new normal in which fires burn for weeks on end in places that have never seen them before. As of today, with the worst of the crisis behind us for now, NSW Fire and Rescue Service reports

At 8.30am there are 129 fires burning, 66 are uncontained. One fire is at Watch and Act level. More than 1,800 personnel are working to contain these fires. Severe and High Fire Danger Ratings continue over much of the state today.

Albo’s response is to call for an emergency COAG which will discuss how to deal with climate related disasters, but not, it

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China going wrong

20 days ago

Despite the opacity of Chinese politics, it is clear that things are going badly wrong there. In just the last week, we’ve seen

The rejection of the officially backed candidates in Hong Kong’s local electionLeaks exposing the massive repression of the Uighur populationThe defection of an alleged Chinese spy, with allegations of interference in Australia’s domestic politicsClear evidence that the energy transformation towards renewables has been abandoned or downplayed in favor of the revival of suspended coal projectsWe can add to that longer term problems such as the failure to resolve the trade war with the US, and the slow-motion trainwreck of the Belt and Road Initiative.

At the core of much of this is the central government’s incapacity to control what goes in the

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Monday Message Board

21 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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Unmitigated failure

22 days ago

That’s been the responsive of Australia’s political class, politicians, pundits and journalists alike to the arrival of catastrophic climate change in the form of ubiquitous and semi-permanent bushfires. The failure has been so comprehensive, encompassing nearly everyone in Labor and the LNP, and most of the commentariat, that there is not much point in naming names.

I can’t motivate myself to write a proper analysis of this, so I’ve been reduced to writing a series of snarky tweets.

Australia failure, while a significant contribution to the destruction of the planet, is far less significant than China’s apparent reversal of its shift away from coal. I’ll try to write something about this soon if I can manage it.
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Predictions and projections

26 days ago

I have a piece in The Conversation arguing against the common practice of publishing projections, based on holding constant parameters that are unlikely to remain so in practice. I suggest modellers need to bite the bullet, make predictions and stand by them.

A slight clarification, arising from discussion. To the extent that we are concerned with policy, it’s fine to make conditional predictions about the consequences of alternative policy packages.
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Woke

28 days ago

The use of “woke” as a term of abuse by rightwingers has expanded rapidly in the recent past. A typical example is Deputy PM McCormack’s claim (rapidly refuted by fire chiefs) that the supposed relationship between climate change and the bushfire disaster arose from “the ravings of some pure, enlightened and woke capital-city greenies.”

This is striking for a couple of reasons. First, I’ve never seen anyone in Australia describe themselves as “woke”. That’s not surprising: the term comes from the US and refers to changed consciousness of the structures of racial oppression there, and specifically to the position of black Americans. Being “woke” refers to things like the gaining of a new understanding the way blacks are portrayed in the media.

While Australia has plenty of

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Sandpit

28 days ago

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

28 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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Publication lags

November 14, 2019

Among the many thoughts prompted by the bushfire disaster one relates to the shift from the “Defend or Leave” approach that was recommended in the 2000s, to the current policy of “evacuate before it’s too late”.

In the aftermath of the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires, I did some work on this topic with a colleague, Tyron Venn. Our conclusion was summarised in the title of our paper “Early evacuation is the best policy“. We included a discussion of how climate change would make the problem worse.

When we first adopted this title, it represented advocacy of a radical shift in policy. But the time taken to prepare the paper, followed by several rounds of refereeing, and getting it published meant that, when it came out in 2017, it was old hat. And the referees raised so many

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Decarbonizing steel production

November 14, 2019

The global fire crisis has brought home the need for a drastic and rapid reduction in emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. We already have the technology needed to replace nearly all carbon-based electricity generation with renewables, and to use electricity to drive nearly all forms of transport.

Among the more intractable problems are those relating to industrial uses, of which the biggest single example is steel. We can make substantial shifts towards a “circular economy” by recycling scrap in electric arc furnaces, but we still need a carbon-free process for producing new steel from iron ore.

The most promising approach (DRI) involves using hydrogen to directly reduce iron ore to iron, which can then be used as feedstock for an electric arc furnace. An

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My best review ever

November 13, 2019

I don’t know how many referee reports I’ve received over the course of my career – certainly many thousand. Some have been insightful and helpful, some have missed the point entirely, and some have been outright nasty. But I just got the nicest report I’ve ever had, and I can’t resist sharing the opening paras, with my thanks to the anonymous referee. The paper in question is my contribution to a special issue of Econometrics on the replication crisis, arguing that the crisis can be understood as a kind of market failure. Here’s a link to the draft

*Report 2*This paper is as I expect from this (actually quite famous) author, i.e. insightful. provocative, polished, knowledgeable, analytically very tight, and just overall a pleasure to read. If there were more

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What limited hazard reduction burning? Climate change.

November 12, 2019

Between making calls not to politicise the bushfire disaster, Barnaby Joyce and others have been busy denouncing the Greens, who allegedly prevented hazard reduction burning. This isn’t actually true: The rate of burning in NSW has more than doubled.

But there is one factor that has clearly limited hazard reduction burning. Because of the increased frequency of hot, windy days, even in winter, the window of time in which burning can be undertaken without the risk of accidentally starting fires has been narrowing. Here’s an example from August 2017, with authorities calling on landholders to limit burning off whenever possible, and noting that a number of hazard reduction burns have already escaped.
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Triggering global warming

November 11, 2019

It’s tempting to dismiss Deputy PM Michael McCormack’s attack on “inner city greenies” who draw the link between climate change and bushfires as an ignorant rant. In reality, McCormack is pointing to a central truth about rightwing denialism on this issue.

Deniers like McCormack don’t (in most cases) believe the stupid things they are saying about climate change. It’s a shibboleth (a signal of tribal membership) and for this purpose, the stupider the better.

Nor is primarily about the economic interests of the fossil fuel lobby. McCormack doesn’t (AFAIK) have any coal mines in his electorate, and the farmers who put him in Parliament are being hit harder by the drought than anyone else.

In reality, it’s all about the inner city greenies: that is, people like the readers of

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Armistice Day

November 11, 2019

With the smoke of a global catastrophe swirling all around, I nearly forgot to mark the end of the Great War, the (the first stage of the) long-ago catastrophe that defined most of the 20th century, and is still causing chaos and suffering even today. Lest we forget.
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Monday Message Board

November 11, 2019

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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Wouldn’t know if their a**e was on fire

November 9, 2019

From 2014, sadly more apposite today
John Quiggin
As I type this, it’s currently 35 degrees, at 9am on an October morning in Brisbane. And, while one day’s temperatures don’t prove anything, a string of studies have shown that the increasingly frequent heatwaves in Australia can be reliably attributed to global warming. We haven’t had an El Nino yet, but according to NOAA, the last 12 months have been the hottest such period on record.

It will be interesting to see what the denialists come up with in response to this combination of record breaking local and global warming. We can safely rule out anything along the lines of “as a sceptic, I like to wait for convincing evidence before accepting a new hypothesis. But, with the steady accumulation of evidence I’m now convinced”. I

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