Catallaxy Files

polymathic pontification, bleeding heart economic rationalism and liberal secularist contrarianism

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    Saturday, November 09, 2002
    Bob Dylan on extremist warblogging?

    Well, John the Baptist after torturing a thief
    Looks up at his hero the Commander-in-Chief
    Saying, "Tell me great hero, but please make it brief
    Is there a hole for me to get sick in?"

    The Commander-in-Chief answers him while chasing a fly
    Saying, "Death to all those who would whimper and cry"
    And dropping a bar bell he points to the sky
    Saving, "The sun's not yellow it's chicken

    ~Bob Dylan, Tombstone blues (1965)
    Move over, Bob Dylan
    Left-wing econobard John Quiggin takes the English language to new heights.
    Alex Robson appears to endorse this silly article by Dinesh D' Souza which accuses the political Left of 'anti-Americanism, economic piracy, and moral degeneracy.'. What does Dinesh mean by 'moral degeneracy'?:

    ... the Democrats could become the party of moral degeneracy. In recent years the Democrats have not embraced moral degeneracy outright. They have contented themselves with hiding behind the slogan of "liberty." If accused of encouraging pornography, the Democrats have said, "No, we are for liberty of expression." Charged with supporting abortion-on-demand, the Democrats insist, "No, we are the party that gives women freedom over their own bodies." Caught distributing sex kits and homosexual instruction manuals to young people, the Democrats protest, "We are merely attempting to give people autonomy and freedom of choice."

    But what is the need for this coyness? The Democrats should stop hiding behind "freedom of choice" and become blatant advocates for divorce, illegitimacy, adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, and pornography. Indeed the Democrats could become the Party of the Seven Deadly Sins

    OK, OK, Dinesh, calm down, we get it. Whether you do is another matter.

    However I do endorse Alex's other suggestion that the company of James Buchanan, Gordon Tullock and Harold Demsetz is infinitely preferable to that of the author of 'How to argue with an economist'. Lucky bastard, stop boasting.
    Classical liberalism, sovereignty and refugee policy
    The latest issue of the Centre for Independent Studies' Policy journal carries a scathing attack on Australia's refugee policy by Dr William Maley. He begins by criticising the legalistic 'sovereignty' defence of current policy:

    Classical liberals should always be wary of sovereignty-claims, since they are prima facie assertions about the illegitimacy of constraints on state power. But there are deeper reasons for being wary of arguments based on sovereignty. First, sovereignty is an organising principle of international politics, but of itself provides no moral justification for particular exercises of power. Second, states as part of their 'sovereign' capacity can act to constrain their own freedom of action. This was what the Menzies Government did in 1954 when it acceded to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

    When states enter into relations of this kind, they can approach them in either of two ways. One approach is legalistic, in which states seek to minimise the effects of constraints which they have previously accepted, by construing them as narrowly as possible. The danger is that this may induce other states to do the same. It may therefore be preferable to approach such obligations from a good faith perspective, recognising that this provides leverage to demand 'good faith' responses by other states in respect of their obligations.

    He also criticises the constraints on judicial review of refugee decisions on rule of law grounds:

    Attempts to limit judicial review of executive decision-making in the refugee area have resulted in a little-noticed but significant erosion of the rule of law, to which successive Commonwealth governments have contributed. The rule of law and the separation of powers form the core of the liberal doctrine of constitutionalism, and we all stand to lose if they are undermined. When judicial review is limited, it becomes more and more a matter of whim for bureaucrats and members of specialist tribunals whether to follow the law or not. Detention without trial, which courts are denied the capacity to review through habeas corpus, is one disturbing development—for whether conditions of detention are 'adequate' or not, deprivation of freedom is intrinsically punitive. Another alarming development comes when legalism trumps any notion of substantive justice: an example can be seen in the case of Kucuk v. Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, where counsel for the Minister successfully argued in the Federal Court that a request for judicial review by a detainee in Villawood Detention Centre should be rejected on grounds of lateness, even though it was as a result of the failings of her custodians (or 'her gaolers', as Justice Hely put it) that her appeal papers did not reach the Court within the 28 days permitted for lodgment.

    and goes on to examine the broader philosophical foundations of the 'majority vs elites' dichotomy, perhaps the most pernicious polemic of all in this whole debate, all with a side-swipe at the selectiveness of some conservative leaders (emphasis added):

    The renowned liberal thinker F.A. Hayek famously warned against the view that 'right' is what a majority makes it. After all, White Australia long enjoyed majority support.

    Liberal democracy does not require that 'leaders' follow every current of public opinion, but rather that the public have the opportunity to change the government through peaceful means. In the years between elections, elites play a crucial role in policy processes, and elite consensus can prevent potentially divisive issues from becoming politicised. Public concern about immigration is better managed through mature elite consensus than by throwing refugees into the Colosseum for Hansonites to savage. Elite leadership is a key to good public policy. Freer trade, deregulation, and more flexible market relations did not emerge in response to overwhelming mass demand, but rather through the impact of detailed analyses by scholars and analysts whose works were inevitably directed at shaping elite opinion. Leaders who do not follow the crowd on issues such as industry protection should be capable of standing up to the crowd on issues such as refugee protection as well.
    A warblogger breaks ranks
    Gene Expression's Godless has a post up called I am no longer a warblogger:

    I used to half embrace this term as denoting "someone who blogged about war and was not a pacifist", but now the term has been hijacked by extremists to mean "those who support an all-out war on Islam and/or the Middle East".

    I've always believed that it's the duty of those who consider themselves centrists to criticize extremists on the merits of their position - or else risk being associated with them. I'm not talking about the "rhetorical distancing" tactic (ably described by Sailer) in which one excoriates an ideological kinsman as "extreme" while subscribing to a position with nary an epsilon of difference from the "extremist's" own views. Rather, I refer to a detailed point-by-point listing of what's wrong with extreme warblogging and why it's not the hard-nosed, pragmatic, and realistic philosophy that its advocates believe it to be.

    Friday, November 08, 2002
    Is The Australian calling for a political ban?

    This news is certainly unwelcome but so is the implicit editorialising behind the news:

    EXTREMIST Islamic party Hizb ut-Tahrir is actively recruiting members in Australia, despite being banned across much of the rest of the world.

    The party, which attracted 400 people to a meeting in Sydney this week, is dividing the local Islamic community with its hardline views advocating the overthrow of Western governments and the creation of an international Islamic state.

    Also known as the Party of Islamic Liberation, the organisation condemns Jews, Christians, Hindus, homosexuals, communists and capitalists as non-believers.

    Supporters were warned at a meeting on Sunday night in Sydney's western suburbs of the dangers of integration and multiculturalism, forces that drew Muslims away from the purity of their faith.

    Doesn't sound like they'll ever win at the ballot box given the number of people they are against. But in any case a liberal democracy that cannot tolerate a few nutcases doesn't fully live up to its name as a liberal democracy. If these guys ever engage in any treasonous or violent activities, the full force of the law should be brought down on them. Until then, they should be as free to rave on as the nutcases on Indymedia.

    Thursday, November 07, 2002
    Not another silly online test!
    I am happy to announce that I am:

    Paddy online
    My friend Rafe Champion has obtained permission to put Quadrant editorials online until the journal makes it own web-based debut. Go read the latest here - it covers the Bali attacks and the drought.

    Wednesday, November 06, 2002
    Not regular programming - prudes, please avert your eyes
    Since John Quiggin has outed himself as a sometime composer of folk song lyrics, I've felt tempted to reproduce some more non-prose compositions on subject matter other than politics, economics or philosophy which I've written in the past. The one below appeared many years ago (sometime in the late 90s) in a Sydney university student union publication under a pseudonym (and no, it wasn't in the section for serious poetry). So this is what those union fees helped pay for.

    The Cunning Linguist

    While limply lay the libido’s anchor,
    The lover’s lyric flew from mouth,
    Dabbled in dew frayed
    From his Lady’s forest fiefdom fair,
    Leered lovingly a-while, then,
    Tongue-tied in tender tresses
    And petulant pink petal caresses,
    Lashed Letheward through the lush lair
    To his Lady’s rolled tongue.
    Clit-crazed, it piped Pan’s priapic prelude
    To which they danced lip to lip.
    Hero-judges and hero-columnists
    I used to think that Janet Albrechtsen would be a fresh new voice in Australian political commentary but she just seems to be a mirror-image of the usual boring left-wing suspects. In her article today on hero-judges she reveals a very strong majoritarian-fetish.

    In addition, apparently to her, judges should not be thought provoking in any shape or form and she takes the usual hammer to every reflexive right winger's favourite judge to hate, Kirby. One need not agree with everything said by Kirby to appreciate his contribution to public debate (it should be noted that he was also vocal in the monarchist movement and has written for Quadrant - one wonders if Janet also holds that against him). Kirby is the closest Australia has to a vocal public intellectual and polymath like Richard Posner. Perhaps my new found dislike of Janet is the suspicion that if she were in the US she would be polemicising against Posner (who is on my intellectual heroes list). Anyway, Australian public culture is intellectually sterile enough without the likes of Albrechtsen saying judges should stick to their black letter law and shut up. There are limits of course based on propriety but she gives no evidence of how Kirby has overstepped those limits.
    Pomo strikes back

    Why hasn't anyone in the great Oz pomo debate pointed out that someone recently seemed to pull a reverse-Sokal on the theoretical physicists? Of course there is still an ensuing debate over the scientific quality of the papers in question.
    Why the war on terror is also a war on poverty
    In lieu of a post, here is another link to the latest piece written by my prolific employer titled 'Rule of law vs rule of terror' which might provoke some debate. It mentions the Bali bombing, isolationism, radical Islamism and why liberal democratic capitalism is the only hope for the future. Here is a sampling:

    The appalling events in Bali have naturally been the focus of concern in recent days. As we take stock of those events and their significance, it seems appropriate to review claims and inferences that some have drawn from those events that seem poorly founded and are more likely to mislead than to help.

    A first is that in the wake of the events in Bali, Australia should direct its foreign and defence policies more squarely on our region, paying less regard to the wider world. Yet surely the point is that the terrorism that has cost so many young lives in Bali is global rather than regional in character ...

    A second claim is far more sweeping ...This claim says that there is little that can be done about terrorism and the regimes that back it unless the global issues of poverty and inequality are addressed.

    ... implicit in this claim is a view of history that makes the West responsible for, and capable of resolving, global problems of poverty and inequality. However, if there is one thing that economists now know, it is that poverty and inequality are not externally determined - rather, they are most directly linked to aspects of the economic, social and political framework that are within each country's control.

    Fundamentally, global poverty can only be addressed when poor nations adopt economic policies that allow and support growth. A key element in these policies is a governance framework that provides a stable and predictable environment for investment, not only in physical assets but also in human capital and in organisational structures ...

    Totalitarianism, in all its forms, is .. not the result of poverty but rather one of its most powerful and enduring causes. Totalitarian philosophies, including fundamentalist Islamism, which justify the denial of liberties and encourage the state to intrude in all aspects of people's lives, are simply incompatible with really addressing poverty and inequality. If we really want to ensure that the many millions of people in the world who are now poor, but need not be, have a chance of living better lives, combating totalitarianism is one of the best ways of doing so.

    Tuesday, November 05, 2002
    Who said this?

    They should be treated with compassion – and sent home. For if they are granted asylum, these gatecrashers will have made a mockery of the idea that we are a nation of laws. They will have made fools of the millions who obey ... immigration laws and wait patiently in line to come here. And they will have set an example for countless millions who are even now considering emigrating to ...

    Conservative idiotarian Pat Buchanan, writing for World Nut Daily, trying to pin the blame for the Washington sniper killings on (drum roll) ... illegal immigration
    If You Don't Have Something Intelligent to Say...

    Then you are probably best to say nothing. Reading the interview in the SMH with Heather Graham today I was somewhat dumbfounded when Ms Graham decided to inform the world that:

    "In some ways, our culture really values masculine qualities more than feminine ones. For example, intellect is way more valued in our culture than vulnerability. And I think vulnerability is very important and a great thing. So I think that we need more balance."

    Excuse me? How many stereotypes did Ms Graham just reinforce. And irrespective of whether intellect and ‘vulnerability’ are masculine or feminine traits – why shouldn’t intellect be valued more than vulnerability? Since when we being vulnerable a desirable characteristic. Perhaps Heather should stick to script and give us fewer of her own thoughts if this is the kind of statement she is going to come out with.

    Monday, November 04, 2002

    One last interesting link before I call it a day. Although this piece by the ARI is a little dated (it was written in 1997 during Clinton’s time in office) it still is an interesting read and worth keeping in the back of your mind the next time you hear someone talking about the government getting involved in encouraging community service.

    The distinction between "voluntary service" and "forced service" is a false one. Already the veneer of "choice" is slipping: Clinton has called for volunteerism to become mandatory in the high-school curriculum and a requirement for high-school graduation. Dictatorship is a consequence of the morality of altruism. If it is moral for us to live for others, if each of us is morally the property of others, then there is no moral restriction against forcing us to live for others; it's only a matter of time before we are forced. If one has a duty to fight for his country, then his country is morally just when it drafts him into the army. If we are morally obligated to give our money to the poor, then the state is justified in collecting that money. If we have a duty to live our lives for the needy, then the state is perfectly justified in collecting our lives and using them as it sees fit. Under the morality of altruism, there are no individual rights, for such rights are rejected as too personal, too private, in essence: "selfish."
    Current Reading

    Working my way through two books at the moment. Firstly, "The Strategy and Tactics of Pricing” by Thomas Nagle and Reed Holden. The authors have tried to make this book relevant and interesting through the use of case studies and numerous examplesm however unless you have a personal or professional interest in the intricacies of pricing, this book is going to be slow going. Perhaps the best indicator of the concentration needed to get the most out of this book is the fact that I am only reading it on the way to work. After nine or ten hours in the office there is no way I am up to reading this book on a hot stuffy train ride home.

    That said, the book is quite good . It takes simple economic concepts such as MR=MC and P>AVC, and helps show how these concepts can be turned into genuinely useful guidelines for pricing. Although I’m only a quarter of the way through this book, it is something I will persevere with in the hope of gaining more interesting tips and tricks for smarter pricing.

    For something completely different, the other book I am reading is the “Digital Photographers Handbook” by Tom Ang. The book is very well structured, starting out with chapters on the similarities and differences between analogue and digital photography and choosing the best equipment.

    Ang then moves on to discuss photographic techniques and getting the best results form your camera. Many of the skills and ideas discussed in this section apply equally to digital and analogue photography. This is not just because things like creative ideas and composition rely on the same principles, but is also a function of the increasing availability of affordable digital SLRs, that now give the digital photographer many of the same manual controls and options as their analogue counterparts. The final section of the book looks at what you can do once you have the images out of the camera – from digital editing and image manipulation right through to printing.

    This book caters for a wide range of experience and interests. I would recommended it for both the digicam newbie or those interested in learning more advanced skills.
    Waste of Oxygen Award

    Just in case anyone needed any more convincing that many left-wing student groups are a waste of oxygen, you might want to check out the banner and poster I photographed when I was at Newcastle Uni last week. I’m not sure what appalled me more...

    1) that someone had the audacity to pull a stunt like this so soon after the terrorist bombings in Bali.


    2) that they thought their fellow students were so thick that they needed an extra sign to “get” the satire of the first one.

    Unfortunately when I first saw this sign I was on my way to an appointment and didn’t have the time to take the students sitting with these signs to task. Alas, by the time I got back they had gone, leaving their banner and posters to make their statement for them.
    Population and immigration
    In lieu of being too busy to give considered reflection to this hot topic today, here is an excellent piece written by my employer Henry Ergas about population policy and immgiration in October last year. It takes a cautiously sceptical approach to the 50 million question but is otherwise pro-immigration.

    Just some preliminary thoughts - I'm interested to hear what those Oz bloggers who think our current refugee policy is too inhumane think about the 50 million option. I have mixed feelings about our refugee policy but I think I've been quite consistent on this issue. I favour a higher skilled immigration and refugee intake. For the reasons outlined in the Ergas article I think environmental concerns about a large population are over-rated. And I don't think people who use people smugglers necessarily make the worst immigrants - it takes a lot of ingenuity and initiative to get here and this should if anything be held in their favour. I'm sure the more conservative bloggers will pounce on me for saying this, but there, I've said it.




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