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email: jasonsoon AT mail.com

 
 
 

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    Saturday, September 06, 2003
     
    I WUZ WRONG
    Iraq has turned from a Rennovators Dream into a Money Pit. This "war-blogger" has been sticker-shocked into falling on his blog-sword.

    A while back, in an orgy of onanistic self-congratulation, this C-Filer patted himself on the back for correctly guessing the US's strategic rationale in invading Iraq. In so far as the US admin. were acting on strategic principles, the Ditch Saudi/Hitch Iraqi theory is a true interpretation of US admin strategic intentions. And there have been advantageous consequences flowing from the war:

    • Hussein & Sons have been run out of office, well almost

    • the cities of Basra and Baghdad are now experiencing municpal democracy, sort of

    • Iraqi oil fields are now about to be developed for Iraqi civic benefit, but not quite yet

    Figuring out a well-intentioned plan is one thing. Making it work in practice is another. Judged by this standard, the US invasion and occupation of Iraq can now be considered a failure.
    If you think that I am exaggerating, then listen to Jack Straw, Britain's foreign secretary and key architect/spin doctor of GW II, giving his boss the straight skinny:
    We are at risk of strategic failure in Iraq.

    (Is there some straight-talking gene in men named Jack?)
    This is a good sign, but I fear the Owl of Minerva has already had it's wings clipped.
    The war was was built on a series of falsehoods, not just about WMDs threats, but about the ventures:

    • underestimated military costs - of hitching Iraq

    • overestimated politcal benefits - of ditching the Saudis

    GW II has failed in progressing US strategic objectives and has been actively regressive in:
    The war has failed to create a new "dynamic of peace" in the ME region:

    • the Palestinians have not been impressed with the US regime change attempts in Iraq, or with their their long-time leader, so the chief navigator of the Arab/Israeli road map to peace has quit

    • the Iraqi nation has not responded with joy at being liberated by the US, in fact they have been downright ungrateful. Duh!

    There are also a few...process errors made in the US admins mendacious preamble to the war, through:

    • Launching a pre-emptive war sets a bad precedent

    • Lying to the Public destroys trust in a democracy

    • Violating UN resolutions disables international law

    • Trashing NATO alliance disables multilateral security agencies

    The US is going to have to do a lot of expensive grovelling in order to patch things up.
    All these things may turn around, or somehow, magically fix themselves, although I doubt it.
    But what cannot be denied about this war is it's exorbitant cost. As this article reports, the total costs of GW II and the occupation are likely to be in the vicinity of $500 bill.
    This "news" gave me a bad case of "sticker-shock and awe" at the magnitude of the war's expense and my folly for supporting it. The author, Donald Hepburn, an adviser to the Middle East Policy Council, breaks the bad news to the war-party as brutally as possible:

    The Bush administration's recent willingness to consider a greater United Nations role on the ground is the first sign that it is aware of how vastly mistaken its assertions about the occupation were.


    Hepburn takes a certain amount of sadistic relish in itemising the various costly entries. First there was the cost of the war itself:

    the cost of preparation, aid to noncombatant allies and the invasion itself amounted to $45 billion.


    Then there is the cost of the occupation:

    there is the much-bandied "billion dollars a week" phrase, which seems an accurate estimate of military expenses
    ...Assuming a five-year occupation, that's some $300 billion.


    And finally there is the cost of reconstruction:

    Using post-war American and United Nations estimates for these and many other tasks, the total bill is likely to be at least $200 billion over a decade.


    A few hundred billion here, a few hundred billion there, pretty soon we are talking real money.
    I can't say I was not warned. This issue was raised before the war by cost-conscious economists, such as Prs Nordhaus and Quiggin. Their mid-range estimate was that the whole military enterprise would cost about $100 bill pa and with a likely duration of five years. This positive predictions has been confirmed in detail.
    Their normative conclusion was that any conceivable benefits of the war would be outweighed by it's costs. It is worth quoting Pr Nordhaus on the recklessness of buying into a dilapidated piece of real estate with eyes wide-shut:

    neither the Bush administration nor the Congress - neither the proponents nor the critics of war - has presented a serious estimate of the costs of a warin Iraq. Neither citizens nor policy makers are able to make informed judgments about the realistic costs and benefits of a potential conflict when none is given.


    My respective blog-gurus, Pr Quiggin on the Left and Steve Sailer on the Right, both opposed the war, and for the correct reasons. In future I will be more cautious before attempting to teach them how to suck eggs.
    I would like to formally concede intellectual defeat to Pr Quiggin, whose dogged application of reason in the pursuit of truth and utility has been thoroughly vindicated.
    I am also grateful to Steve Sailer for hosting the innaugural Iraq-attack Tin Pencil-Sharpener Awards to be presented to

    the pundits who most egregiously hyped us into occupying Iraq.


    I would like to nominate myself for the "Shoulda Known Better" category. Are there any other war-bloggers out there who might consider self-, or other-nominations?
    To a utilitarian, public money is social morality. Thus the opportunity cost of the war is not measured just in the ratcheting up of tax- and interest-rates, or in the increased hostility of Arabs to Westerners, but in the transferral of funds from life-saving to life-destroying uses. The sum of $500 bill, spread over ten years, is equivalent to the aggregate ten-year value of the US expenditure on health & medical R&D.
    I would therefore like to issue a series of formal apologies to all those adversely affected by my ignorant & arrogant blogs, comments & unsolcited emails, including:

    • my social-democratic alter ego, for ignoring his repeated warnings to not trust crypto-Trotskyites

    • sundry bloggers, for my excruciatingly long-winded and torturous comments seeking to rationalise the indefensible

    • my few remaining political friends, who have tolerated my behaviour with saintly patience

    • the internet, for wasting valuable cyber-space and time as I propagated my dumb ideas to make over the world

    • the Iraqi people, for any inconvenience caused by my urging on of the recent hail of precision-guided high-explosive ordinance targetted at their land

    There remains the mystery - why did I do it? If I am any guide, I would way that the war-party acted for a mixtrure of motives & reasons, including:

    • personal pyschology: hazy vindictiveness directed at a convenient scape-goat for 911 and assorted unmoved Leftists

    • professional pathology: lazy failure to exercise due diligence in the accounting for likely costs
    • political ideology: crazy utopian hope that wholesale violence would somehow make people nice and allow the US to triumphantly make the world over

    What ever the cause, it remains the case that this C-Filer has considerable emapthy with that punch-drunk boxer:

    I have squandered my resistance,

    For a pocketful of mumbles, such are promises.

    All lies and jest.

    Still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.


    Thursday, September 04, 2003
     
    Reviewing the review

    Tom (grandson of Manning) Clark reviews my book The Unchained University in the latest issue of Australian Universities Review (warning, you'll get a pdf of the whole magazine). For a book that could have been sub-titled "Why Everything Tom Clark Believes about Higher Education Is Wrong" I'm reasonably happy with it - at least he thinks it is well-written and acknowledges that my critique of some leftist positions "can only serve to improve leftist arguments in the future".

    Most of the arguments he makes against me are rebutted (I think, anyway) in the book. One point is not, which is that fee-paying students are often less happy with their courses than HECS students, though according to my theory they should be more happy, because they have market power.

    The empirical evidence for this relative dissatisfaction is mixed. These are the most recent figures available: GTS is satisfaction with teaching (note all are below 50) and OSS is overall satisfaction:

    2001 %
    GTS OSS
    HECs 42.8 68.7
    Oz fee pay 42.2 67.7
    O/S fee pay 41 66.3

    The fee-payers are slightly less satisfied, though in past years the Graduate Careers Council of Australia, which does this survey, has suggested that this is more due to the courses fee-paying students do than anything else (people in vocational courses tend to be less satisfied).

    Either way, it doesn't affect my argument. Fee-paying and HECS students are treated the same way in the same classrooms. An Auditor-General's survey last year found many academics did not know which students were which (this may be an indictment of how little personal attention they give their students, but preserves equal treatment).

    The fee-payers only have a positive effect at an aggregate level, by encouraging universities to improve their practices for fear of losing, or not gaining, fee-paying students. I argue in the book that improving satisfaction levels since the mid-1990s, despite Commonwealth spending constraint, reflects the overall positive effect of fee-paying students.

    If the fee-payers are still less satisfied, then this may be because they usually pay 2 to 3 times as much as HECS students, but get the same quality service.


    Wednesday, September 03, 2003
     
    Three cheers for Paris
    I returned from Paris yesterday afternoon via the excellent Eurostar and am due to catch a flight back to Sydney tonight.

    My trip to Paris as part of my 'all around Europe' by train journey was my second in my brief stay here in London and was enjoyable as my first though I only had a day to explore this time. Purely as a matter of chance I ended up booking a hotel which was just next to the Sorbonne in the vicinity of the Boulvard St Germain so that was where I commenced explorations from.

    I visited the Louvre the first time around and this time managed a visit to the Picasso Museum followed by the Pantheon wherein lies tombs and memorials dedicated to, among other people, Voltaire, Rousseau, Bergson, Condorcet, and the Curies. Near the hotel where I stayed there was a statue of Augustus Comte (the founder of logical positivism). At night I strolled outside the Notre Dame.

    I found the memorials to the aforementioned figures and the fact that I was able to see these memorials, particularly the one to Voltaire and Comte particularly moving. A society where logicians, philosophers and scientists are honoured, and not just your standard warmongers and political parasites is a society that is particularly admirable. Also admirable is the Paris Metro system. As a veteran train enthusiast I would rate it the most convenient, logically laid out and comforable I have ever experienced, certainly more so than the Sydney system or the London tube.

    Finally I must speak out in defence of the French people and in particular the Parisians who apparently have a reputation for unfriendliness and arrogance. Of all the European cities outside the UK I have visited so far (which includes those in Germany, Austria and Italy), my albeit subjective impression as someone who is sufficiently 'foreign looking' is that I found the Parisian people the most friendly and courteous so far. Much as I enjoyed, for instance, Vienna, one gets the impression that foreigners in general are not really welcome. Making a broader sociological point based on my albeit casual observations of interactions among the races in all the cities outside London that I have visited, it struck me that the French were the least racially exclusivist (with the most interaction and social relationships between immigrants and natives) , the Austrians and Germans the most (I observed basically zilch interaction) and the Italians intermediate. All this rings true to what I have read about the noble but politically incorrect French version of multiculturalism which basically says that as long as you're prepared to publicly adopt the great Enlightenment ideals of the French secular republic, you're considered French.

    Tuesday, September 02, 2003
     
    Foreign policy quiz
    About time someone came up with a foreign policy quiz. According to the quiz I am a Realist.

    Realist

    Realists…

    Are guided more by practical considerations than ideological vision
    Believe US power is crucial to successful diplomacy - and vice versa
    Don't want US policy options unduly limited by world opinion or ethical considerations
    Believe strong alliances are important to US interests
    Weigh the political costs of foreign action
    Believe foreign intervention must be dictated by compelling national interest
    Historical realist: President Dwight D. Eisenhower

    Modern realist: Secretary of State Colin Powell

    Jack may disagreee but I bet he will come out as an extreme neocon.

    Monday, September 01, 2003
     
    Accidental untruths

    While I agree with Jack Strocchi that there can be a noble lie, I think the 'lies' people believe the Howard government has told are less noble than accidental.

    Take the children overboard affair. As described in David Marr and Marian Wilkinson's Dark Victory, the children overboard story started with a confused, fourth-hand briefing to Ruddock over a mobile phone just before a press conference. If a more normal process had been followed it is unlikely that the original claim would have been made. If there wasn't an election campaign on it is unlikely that the government would have gone to such lengths to keep the story alive. The episode shows what many social psychology experiments have shown - that events can lead people to do wrong things they would never have thought of doing otherwise (conversely, people are also often more heroic than they would have thought possible when extreme circumstances demand it).

    Or take what now seem to be non-existent weapons of mass destruction. This article by Francis Fukuyama shows how reasonable people believed otherwise. Terror of Saddam's wrath made his underlings pretend they had more capacity than they did, Saddam's history of developing and using such weapons made it seem plausible that he would want to continue doing so, and intelligence agencies that had failed to spot the 11 September attacks did not want to be caught missing a major threat again. I've no doubt that Bush, Blair and Howard all genuinely believed the weapons existed (whether or not the precise story about uranium from Africa was true).

    The ethanol affair also, I suspect, started in error, though this is less clear cut than the others. It's quite possible that the PM forgot about the meeting he in fact had, or forgot when it occurred. Until I worked for a Minister I had no idea how busy these guys are. For me, some days were just a blur - and I only had one narrow aspect of policy to look after. Sure, the mistake should have been corrected once discovered, and whatever the detail about meetings the policy was dubious at best. But I don't think it makes Howard or his government 'dishonest'.

    This is not to excuse the technically true but substantively misleading statements made by both government and opposition on a regular basis (often tit-for-tat exchanges, one misleading point made to counter another, though it would not have been made were it not for the original attack). But in judging governments, we need to take into account not just the complex morality sometimes involved, but also complex circumstances.

     
    John Howard: The Noble Liar
    "Mean and tricky" he maybe, but his Bad political form has promoted Good moral substance

    What are the moral and electoral wages of Political Sin and Spin in Australian democracy? Pretty miserable if morally-sensitive bloggers, such as Pr. Quiggin are to be relied on. It appears that voters concur, as Howard's lying chickens are coming home to poltical roost. Glen Milne reports on a Morgan poll showing that Howard has suffered loss of voter support since the Hanson-Abbott affair broke. This could be interpreted as sympathy for Hanson or antipathy to the dirty politics practised by the Liberals. Probably both.
    This Catallaxian thinks that polls are tempremental things, especially Morgan polls, which have been wrong before.
    He will stick to his guns and stay with his prediction that Howard will win the next election. But the poll shows that the Coalition has not generated much inertial trust with the electorate.
    Voters and bloggers are being a little hard to please. As this Catallaxian has consistently pointed out, pragmatic social results, not dogmatic moral posturing, is what counts in politics.
    Utilitarian Machiavellianism of this kind requires that the political leader lie to achieve good results. On these grounds, does the Coaltion deserve this bad rap from from pundits and populus?
    Not really. If two recent articles are to be believed, there is a yawning gap in the perception of Howard's wickedness and the reality of his worthiness.
    Ross Gittins proves that Howard's reputation as a racist opponent of immigration is a farrago of Left wing nonsense:
    A major part of Howard's political success arises from the great swag of working-class voters he's managed to lure away from Labor. Many of these people have been persuaded that, like them, he has his doubts about immigration - particularly (though he could never say so out loud) Asian immigration.

    The actual reality, ignored by the Cultural Left, is quite different. Non-English Immigration is higher under Howard than it typically was under Keating.
    Bureau of Statistics figures show that, far from falling, net migration has been on an upward trend since the Howard Government's first year in office, 1996-97. In 2000-01 it reached a peak of 136,000 - its highest level in 12 years. In 2000-01, the Government granted visas to 80,600 settlers under its migration program...From fairly low and steady levels until 1991, net long-term arrivals shot up to 56,000 in 1999-2000, then 75,000 and then 93,000 in 2001-02. And in these years, for the first time, net long-term arrivals exceeded net settlers...for the first time in yonks, immigration contributed more to the growth in the population than natural increase did.

    Even Howard's reputation as an enemy of refugees is overblown by hysterical Cultural Leftists. Total refugee visas are still at levels comparable with Keating-era issues, and Howard has increased funding for refugee outplacement. Gittins mentions that Ruddock has issued
    13,800 visas under its humanitarian program.

    Like Gittins, Paul Sheehan takes the wind out of gaseous Cultural Left rage over Howard's alleged racism by reporting facts that show that "the rage is empty, particularly the screaming about race". Howard disdains te Cult of Political Symbolism and is a supporter of practical Reconciliation:
    Since 1996, spending on indigenous affairs has increased by 30 per cent in real terms as people of goodwill, and the federal and state governments, grapple to find the best policies to advance the lives of Australia's indigenous people.

    The real eye opener is Sheehan's claim that Howard has opened the door to legal Muslim immigration. Howard is a supporter of practical Multiculturalism:
    As for the alleged demonisation of Muslims, Australia under Howard is a place where the number of Muslims living in this country has surged by 50 per cent, from 200,000 according to the 1996 census to an estimated 300,000 today. Not exactly shutting the gates.

    The common fault of the Cultural Left is to ignore substantial realism in favour of indulging in symbolic idealism. Perhaps it is too harsh to call such folk wankers but I think folk idiom may occasionally be warranted.
    Max Weber argued that intelligent realism was the primary moral obligation in poilitics. Judged by that standard, Howard is a Good and Worthy leader.

     
    Mannehandling

    My few regular readers will know that I think Robert Manne has comprehensively lost the plot, and picked up two of the worst habits of the intellectual left - incessant moralising and an addiction to hyperbole. Readers of this blog will also know that I think the Melbourne Writers' Festival, once worth attending, is now a sorry affair. Paul Sheehan takes up both these threads in today's Sydney Morning Herald.

    Sunday, August 31, 2003
     
    Policy in newsagents

    After nearly twenty years of being a subscriber-only journal (though on the web too in the last few years) the CIS's quarterly Policy is finally in selected newsagents. While I suspect it will join other think magazines like Quadrant on the right and Eureka Street and Arena on the left in many copies being returned to sender, there's a chance it will introduce it to a wider audience.

    In the issue on sale now I thought the best articles were Owen Harries on what it means to be a conservative-which could well become a standard citation on the subject, and Peter Saunders on whether people on welfare really want to work. The latter subject always seems to raise leftist ire, that any criticism of the poor is 'blaming the victim'. But getting the able-bodied poor back into economic life is going to involve, as Saunders puts it, 'help and hassle'. It's easy to get apathetic and lethargic when things are going wrong, and help and hassle policies simply reflect a practical response to an unexceptional psychological tendency.

    Also a reprint of Keith Windschuttle's critique of Noam Chomsky (which I blogged on several months ago) and my original review of Michael Pusey's staggeringly inept The Experience of Middle Australia.
     
    Free speech?
    In his debate with Andrew it seems that John Quiggin has taken a position on free speech that really has nothing to do with free speech at all. John writes:

    I think Andrew's response proves my main point, namely that in neoliberal thinking, unlike classical liberalism as represented by, say, JS Mill, property rights and freedom of contract trump freedom of speech. Neoliberals are opposed to government restrictions on freedom of speech, but not to employers, landlords, landowners etc imposing restrictions on employees, tenants, people in privately owned public spaces etc etc.


    John has been going on with this line ad nauseam as proof that neoliberals don't value free speech. But here he agrees that in one important area, arguably the most important area of free speech - namely governmental restrictions on free speech - there is no difference between his presumably preferred position and the classical liberal position. What about other restrictions on free speech? Is it illiberal for property rights to trump free speech as a general rule? As I alluded to before, I don't think such a position have anything to do with being against free speech at all because it does not specifically target free speech - it is rather, the commonsensical position that property owners, whether they be shopkeepers, employers, whatever do have a general right to impose dress codes, requirements not to bring guns into their establishments, as well as speech codes. Or is John saying that property owners are not allowed to set rules preventing people from defecating and urinating on their property, going into their property nude, swearing, etc? It makes just as much sense to say that neoliberals are against the freedom to urinate and defecate wherever one wants to.

    If he thinks that in general they do, then why should speech be privileged? Should One Nation have complete freedom to hand out pamphlets in shopping centres whereas nudists are barred? Finally if John is willing to practice what he preaches then he should give up any attempt to edit his comments facility. I recall once he justified editing something by a reader of the New Australian precisely on property rights grounds. Is John aware that most universities do have speech and conduct codes mandating their own orthodoxies? Is he also going to start calling for their repeal?


    Update It is important to emphasise what is so unorthodox about John Quiggin's position on free speech and the fact that he attributes it to Mill . Essentially John is saying that Mill would have advocated as a matter of free speech that for instance, a church be forced to allow atheists to hand out pamphlets on church ground, or that synagogue audiences be forced to listen to Holocaust revisionists. This is more like 'forced listening' than free speech and is also as far from, for instance, US First Amendment jurisprudence as you can get. Nothing in Mill suggests that he would have agreed with John. I think what needs to be distinguished here is political questions versus personal preferences. If Mill were a university manager would he have personally favoured allowing academics to engage in whatever public advocacy they want as long as it doesn't interfere with the performance of their duties? Probably yes and so would I. He would have regarded a university manager with this attitude as more liberal and so wuld I. But would Mill have argued that the government intervene to overrule the employment requirements of a university manager or employers in generals where such requirements interfered with employees' right to say whatever they wanted. I doubt it.

     

     
       
       

     

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