Tuesday, August 01, 2017

On science, climate and economics

Back in 2014 I attended a seminar at the Centre for Independent Studies entitled The Grit in the Oyster: In Praise of Contrary Opinion.

Amongst the contrary opinion that speakers thought were worthy of praise was the proposition that climate change is either not occurring, if it is occurring isn't man made or can't be stopped, or s entirely a scientific hoax.

I drew the panel's attention to the hen recent comment by Steve Keen that it was time for a 'Copernican revolution' in economics - and that heterodox theories in general were worthy of more attention.

This view was, of course, dismissed by those on stage because, they claimed, the truth of neoclassical economics was well established.

That similar crazy views still endure was today demonstrated on the pages of the Australian.

In one column Judith Sloan attacked the whole field of behavioural economics and the insights it offers on the circumstances in which humans don't behave like the 'econs' (to use Thlaer's term) of neo-classical theory.  Most behavioural economists accept the neoclassical model as the accurate theory of markets and seek to correct it for deviations occurring on the surface.

Sloan perhaps realises the far greater threat it poses - that the evidence on framing, sequencing of decisions and other biases means that consumers do not have  single ordering of preferences. Their preferences are perpetually changing on the basis of the events that have just occurred and their expectation of future events. This brings the whole model crashing down.

The second column was by Maurice Newman on his favourite topic - that climate science is a hoax. His reason for the latest foray was the revelation that the Bureau of Meteorology had deleted some recent temperature records for Goulburn. This deletion was for the perfectly rational reason that the measuring device (thermometer) was measuring a temperature (-10.4) outside its calibrated range (minimum -10). The issue for BoM is that being outside the measuring range it has no idea whether the correct reading is -10.4, -10.2, -10.6 or some other reading.

Asking a measuring device to operate outside its range is like asking a person with perfect pitch to identify a note that is four octaves above human hearing range.

Now unfortunately I have to agree with Newman that there is an awful lot of a Kuhnian paradigm at work in climate science - a reinforcing echo chamber that includes some doubtful work. But the stand out challenge for the public in understanding climate science is that it involves a great deal of complexity theory - the weather and climate are complex dynamic systems.  It is a hard field to make definitive statements about.

At core both Sloan and Newman are suffering from the same inability to comprehend complexity.

We all like to joke about the accuracy of weather forecasts - but in reality they are far better at predicting the temperature than economists are at predicting economic growth.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Tony Abbott is no Conservative

In Launching the book Making Australia Right Tony Abbott has outlined what he claims is a conservative manifesto.  This has five elements:

We’ll cut the RET, to help with your power bills; we’ll cut immigration to make housing more affordable; we’ll scrap the Human Rights Commission to stop official bullying; we’ll stop all new spending to end ripping off our grandkids; and we’ll reform the Senate to have government, not gridlock

Touching as it sounds this manifesto fits no definition of 'conservative' and even struggles at times to be identifiable as 'right.'

Let's start with the change to democratic institutions to increase the power of the executive with respect to the legislature. It is extremely radical, not conservative, and has been floated with no consideration of what happens if it is successful when the other side wins. Can we imagine the delight if that referendum was carried but Labor won in 2019? Changing the democratic system is not the action of a conservative.

Curbing immigration is only conservative if the curb is targeted at social groups thought to be inimical to 'Australian values.' But immigration itself is highly valued by the right, recognising as they do that labour force mobility changes the dynamics in the labour market in favour of employers.

Cutting the RET is also at this point an anti-business strategy, because there is more interest in that new investment than any other - and it will fail because the levelised cost of energy from wind and solar is cheaper than new coal (but not old coal; but plants are being retired for age not from competition).

Stopping all new spending is also not a conservative approach - a conservative approach is certainly to preserve the old and reject the new, but it is also heavily dependent on retargeting to conservative values from new.(Like investing in chaplaincy schemes ratrher than family planning; investing in policing not child welfare).

The Human Rights Commission is certainly a totemic bogey of all conservatives. But it is the least impactful of all the measures.

At his core Abbott has never been anything at all; he is as belief free as Kevin Rudd. He is primarily a sycophant; out to please those he sees as being worthy of supplication. And he is very good at deciding what he opposes, as with this list. But his opposition has nothing to do with conservatism.

In his previous manifesto, his book Battlelines, in the chapter 'What's Right' Abbott provides a survey essay on definitions of 'conservative.' He started the discussion by recounting the challenge from the right to Howard from One Nation Mark I. He went on to a description of the Liberal Party as an amalgam of liberalism and conservatism, Quoting Sam Roggeveen he rather approvingly notes' the difference between conservatives and liberals is that conservatives have not been infected with the spirit of improvement.' He suggests that the reason the Liberal Party should now be more 'conservative' is because the original liberal agenda (to repel collectivism and secure the rights of the individual) has been won.

But that isn't really the Abbott story. He earlier in the chapter stresses the importance of Liberals winning elections - because Governments have to focus on building a better Australia.

And here is the reality of the Abbott agenda. He isn't just a liberal committed to the rights of the individual over collectivism, he isn't just a conservative who wants to resist change.

Abbott is a full-blown reactionary who believes that the powerful should be able to exercise their power - unfettered by Government - against the powerless. He has been a life long opponent of feminism because he believes men should have the power the patriarchy has granted them. He believes in Catholicism and the monarchy because they are redolent with power. He supports the coal industry and business in workforce relations, because he supports the money power.

Nothing is worse in Tony's world than the idea that someone with power should be restrained from using it.

He isn't a conservative, he isn't 'centre-right' he is that hideous monster we thought we had constrained to history - the reactionary authoritarian.

Anyone who seriously believes the manifesto he sprouted this week has any value to Australian society is either deluded - like most of the Murdoch journalists - or malicious - like Rupert himself.