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polymathic pontification, bleeding heart economic rationalism and liberal secularist contrarianism

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    Saturday, September 13, 2003
     
    Ergas on big guns
    A bit more NECG-pushing. My boss Henry Ergas has written a paper on Some economic aspects of the weapons system acquisition process (warning: PDF file) which was recently presented at a Commonwealth Treasury seminar. An extract from the introduction:


    Efficiency in the acquisition of complex weapons systems involves:
    (i) choosing the portfolio of systems likely to best serve in accomplishing anticipated military missions (that is, that for given resource constraints, secures the greatest military value), and
    (ii) organising the process of acquiring each of those systems in a manner likely to maximise the systems’ net value (that is, the discounted stream of benefits from the systems, net of the opportunity costs incurred in their acquisition) [Hitch and McKean (1960), Chapter 7].

    It is this latter aspect that is the main focus of this paper.

    The structure of the paper is as follows. A first section sets out the main features of the products at issue in the weapons acquisition process, of the participants in the process and of the interaction between those participants. A second section examines the outcomes of the process in terms of their apparent efficiency. A third section looks at options for reform, that is, at remedies that have been offered with a view to increasing the efficiency of the acquisition process. A fourth section concludes.
     
    Two sided markets
    My esteemed colleague, NECG Network Associate Dr Julian Wright has a paper up on the AEI Brookings Joint Centre for Regulatory Studies titled One sided logic in two sided markets which is very topical to recent regulatory developments in Australia and coming up in Singapore. Here's the abstract:


    In this paper the author considers eight basic fallacies that can arise from using conventional wisdom from one-sided markets in two-sided market settings. These fallacies are illustrated using statements made in the context of regulatory investigations into credit card schemes in Australia and the United Kingdom. The author also discusses how these fallacies may be reconciled by proper use of a two-sided market analysis, making reference to the relevant economics literature where applicable. The analysis is supported by observations on other two-sided markets.
     
    One to watch
    The UK's Adam Smith Institute has set up its own blog. ASI President Madsen Pirie also has an interesting article up here titled 'Is Tony Blair a neoconservative?'.


    Today it is in foreign and defence policy that the Neo-Conservative position is defined. They drifted away from the left when the left increasingly associated itself with Arab militants, and became virulently anti-Israeli and even anti-Semitic. The Neo-Conservatives supported Israel's right to exist, and, as the Soviet Union backed those who sought Israel's destruction, became very committed and effective anti-Communists.

    This began a general movement towards an active and interventionist foreign policy by the US. It is one which sits ill with the isolationism which has been more typical of traditional American Conservatives. At its simplest it expresses the view that the US can and should use its power to protect American interests and values, and even to make the world a better place ...

    The second element of this worldview is the belief that there is no place in the 21st Century for predatory and murderous regimes. We once had to tolerate brutal dictators who murdered their own people and threatened their neighbours. We need not tolerate them now because we inhabit a unipolar world in which we have the power to stop them. ..

    The question is, does Tony Blair subscribe to these tenets?

    Thursday, September 11, 2003
     
    A Dreary Reid

    Some Sydney poseurs have set themselves up as political heirs to the corpulent free trader George Reid, establishing another organisation claiming to represent 'true' liberalism, The Reid Group. Its founders are a former ALP hack, Syd Hickman, and a former Democrat, Cameron Andrews (Reid's nickname Yes-No Reid does make him a Democrat role model of sorts).

    Their little manifesto is headed 'Outline for a National Renovation', but it is closer to changing a light bulb than a renovation - similar to current policy, and pretty much the views you'd expect people to hold after doing a BA and skim reading The Sydney Morning Herald each day.

    The Reid Group support an 'open and sustainable economy'. Er, just what we've been doing since the early 1980s. They want to 'encourage the growth of the community sector'. Er, just what every government has done - intentionally or not - for decades. They want to 'maximise the efficiency of government'. How original! I'm kicking myself for never thinking of that one:) They think the 'monarchy has no meaningful function in modern Australian life'. What a daring thought! How about rethinking the division of Commonwealth and State responsibilities? These innovative ideas never stop... These guys are so oblivious to their banality that they accuse the major parties of adopting 'convergent policies advocating small changes'.

    Let's hope Margo Kingston's plug will
    be the Reid Group's kiss of death.

     
    What I've been reading lately

    Memoirs of an anti-semite by Gregor von Rezzori
    A strangely touching novel in the form of five memoir-stories which explore different stages in the life of a Rumanian aristocrat of Austrian roots and Italian descent. The title refers to the fact that in each of the stories the theme of anti-semitism and its legacy is explored through the narrator's experiences and run-ins with various Jewish friends, lovers and adversaries in light of his anti-semitic upbringing. Paints a vivid and fascinating picture of pre-WW2 and post WW2 Central European society.

    Deep in a dream: The long night of Chet Baker by James Gavin
    The fact that the aesthetics of music is ultimately extremely subjective is brought back to me by the differing responses, including those recorded in this book by various of his contemporaries, that many people apparently have towards the music of the tragic figure of Chet Baker. Both his trumpet playing and his singing evoke quite polarised responses. Count me as a fan of both. True, his trumpet playing didn't have the range and technical pyrotechnics of many other famed jazz musicians but he didn't want to play that way. He could play 'hotter' and 'blacker' jazz if he wanted to as evidenced in some of his later work, discussed in the book, and as evidenced in one of my favourite of his albums, Chet Baker in New York. Besides, since when does it make sense to equate nonconformity to a particular style (i.e. 'hot jazz') with inferior art? Also remember that the great Bird was sufficiently impressed to take young white Chet under his wing.

    What came across as 'anaemic' in tone to his detractors is merely understated and gentle to his fans. As for his singing, it's certainly more of an acquired taste. However it can grow on you after a while, as it did with me. As the book notes, many thought he really couldn't sing either, but then many thought the same thing about Billie Holiday (and incidentally I don't think the comparison is an inapt as it seems. Billie sang the way she heard her favourite instrumentalists blow, Chet sang the way he played his trumpet. Incidentally Baker's Holiday, his tribute to Lady Day, is another one of my fave albums). An apt quote about Chet Baker's singing attributed to the 'free jazz' pioneer Ornette Coleman: 'Have you ever heard someone who couldn't sing but did something to you emotionally?'

    Note though that if you're going to read this bio, be prepared to learn that Chet Baker, besides being a tragic figure and perfect poster boy for the 'Just say no to drugs' campaign, was an absolute arsehole and self-destructive junkie who completely squandered his gifts. Most of his romanticism, sadly, was confined to his music.
     
    Pauline Hanson superstar
    It seems that Ms Hanson has gained celebrity status outside Australia with RJ Stove scoring an article in the US protectionist, anti-immigration website Vdare called 'Pauline Hanson - Political prisoner. Incidentally what a fall in fortunes for the son of minor philosopher David Stove who shares the website with former Reagan Administration has-beens turned Tory national socialists (like Paul Craig Roberts) and shock-jocks like Michelle Malkin.

    Wednesday, September 10, 2003
     
    Full fee folly

    Lauchlan Chipman in today's Australian provides more reasons why Labor's policy against full-fee paying domestic undergraduates makes no sense.
     
    Political psychology

    Last Friday I was planning to respond to this ridiculous article in The Age on the mental illness of conservatives, but then decided to improve my weekend away in Sydney by not thinking about idiot leftists at all. Fortunately, Neil Brown has stepped in with good sense and humour.

    Mental illness aside, it's pretty clear that personality type has some effect on political views. In the Myers-Briggs test I am an INTJ. I'd guess that type is pretty rare (though of course not unknown) on the soft left or among God, Queen and country conservatives, who tend to have a more emotional and intuitive approach to politics. I'd guess that most classical liberals are on the 'T' (thinking) end of the 'T-F' (feeling) spectrum, and the 'N' end of the 'S-N' spectrum, looking more toward future possibilities than relying on present information.

    Does anyone have links to research on this?

    Update from Jason
    To the extent that there is any science or system to the field of political psychology (and I would tend to take these things with a grain of salt especially because of the self reporting nature of such surveys) I tend to agree with Andrew. I would add that people on the NT spectrum would tend to derive their politics from books and that therefore lefties who have actually read Marx or whatever the relevant *systematic* leftist thinker is nowadays (as opposed to those who vote left because of 'the vibes' or lefties who read lightweight polemicists ike Pilger and Klein) as well as principled classical liberals would tend towards the NT spectrum.
    This (which again I should emphasise should be taken with a grain of salt given sampling issues) is the closest I could find towards a survey of some kind that uses the Myers Brigg typology. Andrew's personality type according to this survey appears to be disproportionately Republican and Libertarian.

    Monday, September 08, 2003
     
    Self-rebutting arguments

    Some years ago, when the debate over political correctness still raged, I wrote a piece pointing out that the claims of various people that political correctness was a form of 'soft totalitarianism' and reduced free speech were rather odd, because the supposedly oppressed were making their case in just about every possible forum and getting themselves elected to the highest offices in the land. They were making what I regarded as a self-rebutting argument - the very fact that they could publish their views showed that they had free speech.

    I was reminded of this by novelist Richard Flanagan's op-ed in today's edition of The Age. Essentially, Flanagan thinks free expression is in trouble because the ABC cut his views on the Howard government out of his reading of James Joyce's Ulysses - but how can his free expression, let alone free expression generally, be in any trouble if he gets to give us his views in a newspaper that sells nearly 200,000 copies a day?

    This is case of Flanagan not being able to tell the difference between editing and censorship. He was asked to read a book extract, not provide a political opinion. The ABC was perfectly entitled only to broadcast what they commissioned in the first place.

    The fact that similar arguments to Flanagan's have been heard ad infinitum since 2001 also weakens his claim that free expression is being denied, and strengthed the ABC's decision, as his opinions failed a basic newsworthiness test. His opinions are not new, are not expert, and don't come from a person who can influence policy. As it turned out, Flanagan did find a publishing outlet, but The Age would also have made a sound editorial decision if they had spiked his article.

    Update In further evidence against his argument, Flanagan's article has now been reprinted by the SMH.

     
    Professor Bunyip usually writes good copy. But his recent slimey swipe at pinko-blogger Gianna's pregnancy (based on completely unustified presumptions) is uncalled for. Another descent into American Spectator-type swamp and we will have to demote the Professor away from the Whig category.

     

     
       
       

     

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