Catallaxy Files

polymathic pontification, bleeding heart economic rationalism and liberal secularist contrarianism

email: jasonsoon AT



  • Jason Soon
  • Heath Gibson
  • Jack Strocchi
  • Andrew Norton
  • Sarah Strasser
  • Teresa Fels


Intellectual heroes



  • Centrist
  • Leftish
  • Statist quo/flaming pink
  • Sui generis
    Saturday, February 15, 2003
    Giving Taki his due
    If you can ignore the fact that Taki of the Spectator is an obnoxious, reactionary, anti-Semitic and sexist prick you do have to admit he is a snappy writer. Some excerpts from his recent piece in praise of the French:

    It takes me less than an hour once in Paris to become pro-French, just as it takes me less than an hour once in London to become anti-British. Ergo, why I have moved to neutral Switzerland. Having grown up disliking the French and liking the English, I’d like to keep it that way, but how? In France, prime ministers have been known to cheat on their wives, a good thing, whereas in Cool Britannia the premier cheats by plagiarising a 12-year-old thesis written by an American student. Quel con!

    In France the TGV trains are on time and speed along at close to 150 mph; in grubby old England the Eurostar traps people in airless agony ten minutes out of Waterloo. C’est le bordel! In Paris even the rain is good. It makes the place feel romantic; in London just more depressing. Merde! France has great writers like Michel Deon; England has midgets like Martin Amis. Pauvre type! France has St Tropez; England Blackpool. Zut, flute!

    The French name their streets after brainy and artistic types, and victorious battles. Imagine if the Saudis did likewise. You’d need Dr Livingstone and then some to get around.

    John Adams called Paris the ‘capital of dissipation and nonsense’. Adams was a New Englander who fretted that French culture would pollute the new country called the United States. The French 18th-century diplomat, Charles Gravier de Vergennes, opined that republics have no manners. Two hundred and fifty years later America and France are once again shadow boxing. Republics do not have manners, I agree, but the French have hardly polluted America with their culture.

    And monarchies, too, no longer have manners. Look at Cool Blairtannia.
    I have just stumbled on Profesor Bunyip's site, courtesy of Tim Blair and Professor Quiggin, who either lay, or consider, tantalising hints about his true identity. But it is his thoughts that have me reeling.
    If I can surmise a few pointers from his intellectual rambling it seems that he is awfully familiar with the Melbourne art-political scene of the seventies and eighties. As a refugee from that milieu I can testify to the veracity of his observations. Tim Blair seems to have carved out a market niche in Margology and Sydney Morning Herald analysis. Whilst the Professor has made some important contributions to this emerging field of media studies, it is his knowledge of the University of Melbourne-Age axis of evil that sent my mind spinning wildly back to the past. Just following his links to the epistolatory ravings of half-educated Arts student and their scarsely more intelligible tenured Left wing academics press publications has caused me to be overcome with wave after wave of nauseating deja-uv recherche du temps perdu. I am taken back to endless tutorial bull sessions in the Arts Faculty, interminable afternoons spent shooting the breeze with bolshie mates on the verdant grounds of the Quad and dark night journies of the soul into the bowels of the Baileu.

    Whilst the mystery of the Bunyip's identity can only deepen, the wisdom of his words must surely spread beyond his little watering hole in cyber space.
    Red Ken channels Milton Friedman
    London Mayor and commie Ken Livingstone has introduced a Friedmanite congestion charge to deal with London's car problem:

    London's mayor, Ken Livingstone, is set to introduce the world's most ambitious traffic congestion charge.

    On the face of it, the charge is not the sort of tax you would expect from a celebrated socialist. Set at a flat rate, it will hit rich and poor alike. Livingstone admits he stole the idea from Milton Friedman, the doyen of right-wing economists.

    But if there is one thing the mayor dislikes more than capitalism, it is the car. Four years ago he said: "I hate cars. If I ever get any powers again, I'd ban the lot."

    The article points out one problem with the scheme - it may simply divert congestion to other areas. But the obvious solution for this is to introduce proper road congestion pricing nationally. It's an idea that not only has been floating around free market think-tanks for a while, it won William Vickrey, who worked out the details, the Nobel prize.

    I have to confess that, although a free market enthusiast, I share Red Ken's strong dislike of the unaesthetic, noisy and polluting blight of cars in the urban landscape and refuse to drive much less learn how to drive. I can understand why people with children in isolated outer suburbs might need cars but I believe if proper congestion pricing were introduced, price signals might favour greater use of mass transit in cities.

    Friday, February 14, 2003
    Some light relief
    Whatever you may think of the war, isn't Aussie English a bloody beaut?
    (Link via Tim Blair)

    As a fouding member of the "pseudo-intellectual hand-waving [? pr. means flag-waving - Ed] hawk" brigade I applaud Tim Markinson's yeomen's effort at straightening my logic out and putting me in my place.
    Sadly, although he makes some formally valid points, he doesn't deal with the substance of my argument.
    Didn't eat your intellectual wheaties, Tim!
    Regrettably I must wield the knife on Tim's PoV, perhaps by the end of it I will have made the argument digestible.
    "SF" is not a "deterministic" crystal ball to predict the future of the ME in particular and positive detail.
    It is a rhetorical device I am using to torture the self-proclaimed humanitarian Left, who wail about (and exaggerate) the human costs of invading Iraq, whilst ignoring (or minimising) the human costs of not invading. Call it the Opportunity Cost theory of Political Violence.
    Tim is right to point out that I did not specifically include the assasination or exile of SH in the three-pronged Fork of the Future.
    That is because assasination or exile of SH falls under SF1: a millitary Regime Change-enabled "New Regional Order".
    No point in me stating the bleeding obvious. I'll let Tim do that.
    Now I would be the last to deny that "Regime Change" could go pear-shaped if the "Arab Street" rises, SH makes a real fight of it or Iraq turns into a ME Balkans.
    But those options are further down the Regime Change "directory path", into the land of "Nation Building".
    The Fork makes no claim to penetrate that inscrutable future.
    In any case Tim, you are behind my curve. If you are a glutton for punishment you can read my comment on the inadequacy of US "nation building" efforts.
    FWIW, I think that the US's historical record and current disposition on the matter of nation building Third World countries is not something to inspire confidence.
    The issue that Tim, and all his mates in the peace party, fail to address is that an Arab fascist like SH is not exactly good at nation building either. Nor can he be let off the Sanctions/Partitions/Inspections/Attrition regime without undermining global security. And to leave the Iraqi people suffering under the present S/P/I/A Regime shows a lack of Left wing humanitarian empathy.
    The peace party would rather sticks it's collective head in the sand in favour of a hopeless containment plan, whilst indulging in self-congratulatory moral-vanity-mirror-gazing and chronic anti-Americanism.
    So we are still left with the basic "SF" options: the failed Rogue State Past, an unacceptable S/P/I/A Regime Present or a Regime Changed (variety of further down the track) Futures.
    I am not privy to State Department planning documents, but I think that the US admins. Nation Building plan for Iraq has progressed a little in the past three weeks. They have a three- stage plan, for Iraq's post war administration, an expressed willingness to pay the cost of rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure and providing for Iraq's humanitarian needs and a broader commitment to promoting democracy in the region.
    This is a lot more than what SH is prepared to do.
    So I shall make myself comfortable on the first prong of my Fork: a belligerently-enabled Regime Change is justified on idealistic Iraqi casualty-minimising and realistic global security-maximising grounds.
    Tim can squirm and wiggle about on the other two.
    Strocchi's bent fork?
    Reader, friend and ex-colleague Tim Makinson writes from New Zealand to say he is not impressed by Strocchi's fork (see post below):

    Hi Jason.

    Could you please tell your guest blogger to take Logic 101 before he starts pontificating "philosophy". His blog had two glaring flaws:

    1) the methodology he's advocating only works if the outcomes are deterministic (and only a raving optimist would claim to know with
    certainty the long-range consequences of a second gulf-war); and

    2) his list is clearly not exhaustive, failing one of his own criteria (one alternate off the top of my head would be assassinating Saddam).

    I for one am getting heartily sick of pseudo-intellectual hand-waving on the part of the hawks. Fools rushing in where angels fear to tread, as far as I can see. I note that the American government's recent response to the question (posed by their Senate) of "what's going to happen afterwards and how much is it going to cost?" was basically "we don't know, and we only started seriously trying to work it out 3 weeks ago".

    Thursday, February 13, 2003

    Fans of philosophy will be familiar with the use of the logical "Fork", a technique that logicians, such as Hume, use to set up and win an argument by specification and ordination of an exclusive and exhaustive set of an argument's logical implications.
    The winning option is the implication that has the least undesirable consequences, the lesser evil.
    The key assumption of the Fork construction is the anavoidable fact that a back-down on war means a continuance of the UN-authorised US-enforced Sanctions/Partitions/Inspections/Attrition (S/P/I/A) regime.
    But this is one regime change that even anti-war humanitarians should be in favour of, as it has devastated Iraqi economy and is slowly but surely strangling Iraq' vitality.

    I hereby not-so-humbly present Strocchi's Fork to once and for all end the pointless back and forth about the wothiness of US regime change in Iraq.

    The prongs on Strocchi's Fork are:

    1. "New Regional Order": Regime Change to end S/P/I/A and swap Iraq for Saudis as a regional US garrison, rebuild Iraq's infrastructre and hopefully reconstruct some Iraqi civil society.

    2. "Muddle Through": Statu-quo to maintain S/P/I/A, and tolerate continuing Iraqi social misery whilst hoping the SH does not find holes in the UN regime.

    3. "Forward to the Past": Status-quo ex-ante allows SH freedom to export oil, import weapons. SH's past record indicates that he uses freedom to forment more misery to his people and the region. Post-911, this is an unacceptable actuarial risk to us as well.

    Unless the anti-war party can come up with better alternatives than "Muddle Through" or "Forward to the Past" I conclude that they have a frivolous attitude towards the welfare of the Iraqi people, never mind their constant evasion of the brooding real politik question: what to do about the toxic synergy of failing rogue states and fundamentalist mass-casualty terrorism in the age NBC proliferation.
    In defence of the frogs
    The New Republic has a good piece trying to calm down the anti-French hysteria filling up the right side of the commentariat/blogosphere.

    The French often seek to limit American power, sometimes in seemingly pointless and irrational ways. But it's not so much because they can't stand America's muscular capitalism, military might, and can-do attitude. It's because they love France. How else to explain the fact that the French were anti-British, anti-German, and anti-Spanish (to list only the most recent targets in France's quest for relevance-cum-dominance) long before they became anti-American.

    Like Americans, the French believe that their eighteenth-century revolution more or less gave birth to modern liberty, and that their homegrown philosophical values are worthy universal ideals. They enthusiastically export French language and culture abroad and vigilantly defend it at home. They believe that France--and the idea of France--matter.

    Incidentally, am I the only non-leftist blogger alive who
    1) does not think that Jonah Goldberg is the greatest prose stylist in the world simply because he drops references from The Simpsons;
    2) is beginning to find the at-times philistine Frog-bashing (whereby a dislike for their foreign policy somehow gets extended into derision of their movie industry - sorry, Yanks, I prefer your society but the average French film is still better than the average Hollywood dross) rather annoying? Remember, Americans, your Thomas Jefferson was a Francophile.

    Wednesday, February 12, 2003
    Call for papers
    To all academic readers of this site - Larry Moss has asked his fellow members of the Hayek mailing list to spread the word on the following call for papers so here it is:

    In the 20th century a great deal of progress was made applying the economizing principle to a variety of novel situations. Early examples include the efforts of L. C. Gray (1913) and H. Hotelling (1931) to explain how to rationally manage an exhaustible resource when property rights are clearly defined and the resource owners seek to maximize the (present) market value of their property. The Gray-Hotelling school forecasted gently rising prices for exhaustible resources as their prices would include a rent component in addition to their rising extraction costs.

    Indeed, economic discussion during the last part of the 20th century included a sharp debate about whether the finiteness of natural resource availability imposed a serious limitation on economic growth and development (Meadows, 1974). One stream of thought contradicted the Club of Rome and other econometric forecasts about the world collapsing as resources run out. Instead, it was argued that as a matter of fact resource prices do not rise, they fall in real terms. Tendencies toward resource scarcity are outweighed by technical discovery and resource substitutions which have occurred in particularly dramatic ways.

    The economist, Julian L. Simon made the case that “the availability of mineral resources, as measured by their prices, may be expected to increase---that is, costs may be expected to decrease—despite all notions about ‘finiteness.’ ” (Simon, p. 407). Simon’s optimism was premised on a certain institutional structure as he remarked that “human imagination can flourish only if the economic system gives individuals the freedom to exercise their talents and to take advantage of opportunities” (Simon, p. 408).

    Simon’s optimism must be tempered by the significant number of market manipulations we read about every day in the press. In these cases, private investors petition, lobby and manipulate governmental processes in such a way that they restrict competition and produce intended distribution effects that benefit some at the expense of others. Rent seeking with regard to the Colorado River has become a common theme in the management of water resources in the Western states of the United States. In the transition from state owned monolithic firms to market-shaped organizations in Russia and the former Soviet republics, oligarchs underpriced resources stripping value from the state to their private joint-stock companies with apparent success. The wealth of the Russian oligarchs is much discussed in the international press. At other places, auctions for broadcasting rights and various licenses to drill for oil come under repeated criticism for their lack of transparency and insider corruption. Many of these scandals directly involve the pricing and management of natural resources suggesting that natural resource economics is still a viable topic for the 21st century.

    The AJES is looking for research papers on the political economy of natural resource economics with a special emphasis on what we know about these processes in light of public policy and geopolitical change. A selection will be invited for inclusion in a January 2005 gala issue of The American Journal of Economics and Sociology (AJES). The AJES is a 62 year old refereed journal that sets no ideological standards for its collaborators or contributors and is committed to constructive synthesis in the social sciences. A hard cover version of the volume is also planned. Authors interested in participating should submit a 600-word Abstract to the journal editor: Professor Laurence S. Moss, Economics Department, Babson College, Babson Park, MA 02457, USA. or LMOS@AOL.COM. The deadline for submissions of the abstracts is November 30, 2003. The proposed final version of the paper will be due on February 1, 2004.


    Gray, L. C. 1913. “The Economic Possibilities of Conservation.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 27 : 497 –519.

    Hotelling, H. 1931. “The Economics of Exhaustible Resources.” Journal of Political Economy 39 : 137- 175.

    Meadows, D. H. et. al. 1974. The Limits to Growth: A Report for The Club of Rome’s Project on the Predicament of Mankind, Universe Books, New York.

    Simon, Julian L. 1996. The Ultimate Resource 2 Princeton University Press, New Jersey.

    Tuesday, February 11, 2003
    Is Imre Salusinszky the Bunyip?
    John Quiggin seems to think so (see the Comments under this post by Ken Parish). Speculation has been brewing for months in Ozplogistan over Professor Bunyip's true identity and John Quiggin seems to think he has solved the mystery pointing to this one-liner by Tim Blair. Gee, and I thought the Prof was a smart guy despite his odd beliefs.

    But seriously, then again, who knows? Perhaps Imre really is the Bunyip and Tim Blair thought the best way to throw people off Imre's scent was by pretending to accidentally blurt out his true identity - a case of reverse psychology. Then again it could be reverse-reverse psychology ... It's obvious that Tim's ruse in the absence of other evidence is insufficient to make a call on this. True, the Bunyip has some of Imre's acerbic writing style and well-tuned sentences, but I'm sure a lot of quiet-seeming academics do.

    Though I don't have first hand confirmation of my guess, I do strongly believe (with literally close to 100% certainty) I know who the Bunyip is now, based on something that the Bunyip himself wrote in a relatively recent post. However, his secret is safe with me, the rest of Ozplogistan will have to continue their speculations.
    Kinky ...
    24601 writes on the Oz Libertarian blog:

    How many times have you heard a peace-monger say (anti-war stupid argument number 2) "it's all about the oil" and wanted to hit them in the face? At the same time, how often to warnicks rely on the empty slur that (pro-war stupid argument number 2) somebody who opposes war must therefore be anti-american and pro-Saddam? Sometimes I think that people who use these arguments deserve to be locked in a room together (Margo Kingston and Tim Blair?).
    Quiggin vs Norton (cont'd)

    John Quiggin has criticised my
    earlier post raising concerns about further expansion of the higher education system. To summarise, I argue that the warning signs are large numbers of graduates doing jobs which do not require degrees, the lack of more than isolated labour market shortages in areas requiring degrees, and high university drop-out rates for the weaker Year 12 students that would make up the bulk of any expansion in the system (suggesting it may simply be beyond many of them).

    One Quiggin response may have something to it (indeed, I hope it does). He points out that that labour markets are responsive to supply and demand, and hence jobs for graduates may grow. It’s true that jobs for graduates did expand in the 1990s more than might have been expected in the late 1980s, and perhaps it will happen again. But we can’t give a more marginal Year 12 student any assurances that this will be the case. It’s a big call to invest thousands of dollars, in direct costs and forgone earnings, on a maybe.

    His other two responses are much weaker. He cites Jeff Borland’s research showing that average rates of return have held up in the 1990s. But a more careful reading of Borland’s paper highlights the phenomenon I am concerned about. He shows negative returns at the 25th percentile of the earnings distribution. Borland’s research is based on snapshot in time data, so this may not reflect lifetime earnings. But it is cause for caution.

    Another Quiggin argument falls over for the same reason. He says the wage data doesn’t support my contention that employers are hiring graduates for non-graduate jobs. Yet the low returns for people in the 25th percentile of earnings suggest that they are, and not paying them any or much extra.

    A further problem is that Borland uses 1997 data, and presumes that the lifetime earnings patterns of recent graduates will match those of earlier generations. Again, it could be true, but I wouldn’t give any guarantees, because the proportion of the population with degrees has nearly doubled, from 9% to 17%, in just a decade. There’s both much more competition, and probably on average lower intrinsic intellectual ability.

    Monday, February 10, 2003
    Warblogger Awards
    I guess some lefty bloggers will have some things to say about this but I wonder what James Russell will think about the fact that he tied at 4th place in one of the categories (Best links). It'd be even funnier if he actually won that category given all the venom he's been piling lately on the warbloggers.




    < Home  |  Archives