Wednesday, June 28, 2006

RSS and Stuff

Despite the fact I work in the telco industry (and am by original training a mathematician and physicist) I am a technical clutz. I have set up I think correctly and RSS and an Atom feed - but Anonymous has told me my RSS feed doesn't work.

Unfortunately, I don't know the nature of the problem - and I think from other posts (and e-mails) that there are people who are making the RSS work.

So if you are trying to use it and it doesn't work - tell me more about which feed and what reader. And can anyone who is successfully using one of the feeds post a comment to let me know.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Beyond Access Regulation

It is not my intention to post here in relation to matters that are really about the core of my day job. However, I was asked my view about the decision by the ACCC in its Position Paper on its strategic review of the regulation of fixed services to continue the declaration of ULL and PSTN interconnect access for a period of only three years.

I will admit to not having yet read the detail of the paper. But I did offer the following simple reaction.

Because the 2003 legislative changes mean the ACCC has to put a "sunset" date on a declaration of within five years, the ACCC had to form a view. Using the full five years would give the perception that the ACCC doesn't take the sunset clauses seriously.

In this case though, the ACCC continues to have the (in my view misguided) belief that the speed of technological change will result in "new networks" (at least in some areas) to create an environment of infrastructure based competition.

If you have that view, offering the full five year horizon on the regulation creates an incentive for possible alternative network builders to delay investment and utilise the access regime longer. However, on the flip side, creating uncertainty about the availability of the regulated services beyond three years should also "chill" investment, because investments that rely on the access will need to be fully recovered within three years.

Ultimately, this indicates the weakness in an access regime - there is no convenient way to exit. When the Productivity Commission reviewed the telecommunications regime they explored the concept of using the anti-competitive conduct provisions "on the shoulder" of regulation. However, the decision to no longer declare the service is tantamount to saying market power doesn't exist and therefore the provisions can't apply.

An option is the creation of a "shadow period" in which the regulator maintains the access obligation on the access provider but vacates the field as a price setter/arbitrator and only relies on price monitoring/anti-competitive conduct regulation. In this way a "viable" wholesale market can evolve.

Now the problem is that someone might actually read this and think it is a good idea!

The Most Accountable Executive Since Federation

Yes folks that was John W. Howard's description of his administration in answer to a question from Kim Beazley.

This prompted me to write to Crikey the following letter...

In answer to the first question in Question Time yesterday, the Prime Minister claimed his was "the most accountable executive since Federation". It is worth wondering whether this was merely a rhetorical flourish, or whether the Prime Minister really does believe this. After all he did start in Government with a very robust set of principles about Ministerial accountability, but seemed to change his interpretations as the body count grew. Personally, I can't recall any other Executive using the "no one told me" reason as an acceptable response to questions of Ministerial proprietary. Would it be appropriate to get Crikey's readers to come up with a league table of the top three "most accountable executives since Federation"?

Crikey subsequently ran with the following snippet by Christian Kerr in their "political bite-sized meaty chunks" section;

A whole new level of accountability: “This is the most accountable executive since federation,” the Prime Minister claimed yesterday in response to attacks on changes to the Senate Committee system. Really? It's probably also the first executive since federation to elevate “No one told me” to an acceptable response to questions of Ministerial proprietary. So which executive was the Prime Minister using as a yardstick? We know it's not Australia, but could he have been referring to the 1921-23 administration of Warren Harding? Not Australian, as we said – but it fits the timeframe.

Which is kind of cute, but doesn't really fit Howard's description because he has compared himself to everyone from Barton to Keating, including the PMs who only held the office for days (Frank Forde and Jack McEwan).

Crikey also picked up on Senator Julian McGauran's continual reference to "hyperboll" (meaning hyperbole) in commenting on Beazley's description of the Senate Committee changes as "evil". He is, of corse, right that the Bomber went a bit over the top there - but Julian's line did seem to be "yes these are bad changes, but not so bad as to be evil".

Anyway, we all know that "hyperbowl" is the word that will be used to describe the final when American Football becomes a world game!

(Whoops - did anyone notice - Crikey and I both said "proprietary" when we meant "propriety". "Glasshouses", "stones" and "throwing" are words I should string together.)

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Folk Song Army

Gerard Henderson in today's SMH has made me think of Tom Lehrer's comic piece The Folk Song Army in which there is a refrain;

Remember the war against Franco?
That's the kind where each of us belongs,
Though he may have won all the battles,
We had all the good songs.

Henderson's thesis is that the outrage over recent ABC Board appointments was misplaced because rather than changing the ABC all it does is has the effect of taking a critic out of the debate.

I happen to agree with him on the outrage being misplaced, but not for the same reasons. More people need to recognise that the Boards or Commissions appointed by Governments first and foremost have to address their establishing legislation, and much of their actions and activity are reflective of it. As a consequence, merely changing the Board doesn't change the "governance" of the ABC.

In addition there is a simple piece of behavioural theory to understand. People repeatedly do things that get "reinforced". An ABC Board member battling the management gets no reinforcement from anyone as it is a private battle, a Board member supporting management gets reinforced and thanked in every contact with the organisation.

However, there is another part of the Henderson thesis, "The fact is that there are few articulate conservatives in Australia and certainly fewer, per capita, than in the United States or Britain. The phenomenon goes back to the Robert Menzies era, when the Coalition won elections while the left dominated the cultural debate."

On this I cannot agree. In fact there seem to be far more printed pages by the "conservatives" - at least the economic "neo-cons" - than by any left/progressive or other like cause. Policy and Quadrant, the column inches devoted to the IPA and CIS staff, the voluminous issues from the BCA and Mr Henderson himself.

More importantly this ongoing perception that "the left" has control of the "cultural institutions" or "the opinionators" or "the elites" is strange - because if these people were as influential as they are claimed to be this should be a country which is a rabid hotbed of collectivism and social experiment. Instead we remain a highly conservative society that has four times elected the most conservative leader in the history of Australia. If that is the consequence of a "left intelligensia" then surely the conservatives want more of it.

What is the benefit to the left if it has the good songs (the articulate left?) if it is losing the battles?

Monday, June 19, 2006

Hayek Surprise

That sounds like a recipe for a new desert I know, but really it is about economist/polemicist Friedrich Hayek. Hayek is labelled by many as the founder and genesis of the revival of extreme liberalism that I refer to as "economic libertarianism".

The description of Hayek at the History of Economic Thought website states:

Hayek turned in 1944 to the political arena with his Road to Serfdom, a polemical defense of laissez-faire - the work for which he is best known outside academia. His subsequent political activities include the foundation of the libertarian "Mont Pelerin Society" in the 1940s.

It is instructing to mount against this the following quotes from pages 18 and 19 of The Road to Serfdom.

"Probably nothing has done so much harm to the liberal cause as the wooden insistence of some liberals on certain rough rules of thumb, above all the principle of laissez-faire."

"No sensible person should have doubted that the crude rules in which the principles of economic policy of the nineteenth century were expressed were only a beginning, that we had yet much to learn, ...There were many obvious tasks, such as our handling of the monetary system, and the prevention and control of monopoly, and an even greater number of less obvious but hardly less important tasks to be undertaken in other fields, where there could be no doubt that the government possessed enormous powers for good and evil;"

So at least in his introduction Hayek doesn't advance the view most commonly ascribed to him. Let us see how the book ends (another day).

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Recession We Had to Have … or Was It

The AFR on 1 June reported John Howard as saying of the 1991 recession “One of the myths is that in some way the recession was an essential part of economic reform process rather than policy failure.”

Howard went on to say that “I am an economic realist in the obvious sense that economic reform can only be achieved if the public is taken with one.”

It is hard to justify the severity of the 1991 recession, as it is widely recognised that it was severe because it was triggered too late. But it appears from Howard’s statements that he believes that not triggering the recession at all, or not letting it be as severe after the fact that inflationary pressures were out of control would be preferable.

Clearly the two party system that has degenerated to a “winner takes all” view of Government leads to the view that doing what’s popular is more important than doing what’s right. In Howard’s words “It’s better to be 85 percent pure in government than 130 percent pure in opposition. You do need to strike a balance between what is achievable and what represents the ideal.”

It’s not the attitude you really want to hear, is it?

Many, many years ago the first modern democrats tried this – and as a consequence Robespierre wound up following the mob, and hence the Terror in the French Revolution began (see below).

And finally – you do worry about the idea that John Howard was ever Treasurer when he thinks you could be 130 percent pure.

Note: There is no speech or transcript on the PM's website at time of writing to confirm the AFR reporting.

How to really write

Richard Chirgwin writing in the Australian telco industry newsheet "Communications Day" under the heading How to Burn your IPO really let loose on Vonage. It is a great pity that I can't link to the article, but after the style of Alan Ramsey in the Sydney Morning Herald I'm simply going to quote extensively.

Chirgwin opened, "Nobody at Vonage asked one simple question: what happens if customers buy into our IPO, and the share price collapses? When I looked last Friday, the company was trading at under $US12, having kicked off at $US17. The customers took a bath, and the psychology which helped Vonage attract a loyal following is now inflicting damage."

He then described the risk that having an IPO for your customers might have if your share price goes down, not up. But then he gets into the real swing by pointing out that Vonage doesn't have "normal" customers.

"Let’s look again at the customer demographic. Granted that not all of Vonage’s customers are full-on Netheads, there would still be a greater concentration of them in the customer base than in the general public. Moreover, we’re talking about a cluster of bolshie, “beat the big bad Bellheads” Netheads. Believers in the vision have some other characteristics, however: they’re noisy bloggers, Slashdotters,
newsgroup junkies with a chip on each shoulder and a self-basting foam-at-the- mouth that would make Australia’s right-wing columnists blush."

"So: supposedly intelligent people made a conscious decision to sell shares to a customer demographic which was most likely to turn nasty if their share purchase wasn’t rewarded with a daytrader’s wet dream in the first hour. The psychology of the “customer offer” looks worse the more you think about it."

When the share price did sell, the angry customer/shareholders started cancelling in droves, only as Chirgwin writes, to then discover that the world of VoIP wasn't all they thought it was, "A scan of various blogs tells me that it’s only after the Vonage sans-culottes started cancelling their accounts that they found out that their numbers aren’t portable. Yes, customers should read their terms and conditions, just like everybody doesn’t. But these were true believers: VoIP is not
about service, it’s about solidarity and the religion of the revolution. To the utopian, there is no downside, and T&Cs are for wimps and lawyers. Now bitten by the T&Cs, the angry ex-customers are now full- scale revolutionaries."

Now that's the kind of graphical writing we see all too rarely in the business press.