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31 May 2006

bzr isn’t so bad

Some happy instructions for a good bzr setup.

bzr actually rocks. It's just that so far it's been a little flaky. Which I'm sure is attributable to me.

30 May 2006

Libby

I love Libby so much.

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Lousy Onions

Someone made this happy point the other day, but I've forgotten who. Apparently union membership is now so low that it no longer represents the broader community of workers. You have union leaders making decisions that have much greater ramifications than just their membership. They obviously have far too much power in the modern context. But what's even worse is that the deals unions negotiate also affect non-union workers. So they're making agreements on pay rises and work safety that end up affecting everyone. So everyone ends up being represented by the unions. The whole community. Ridiculous.

Surplus

I hadn't even thought about this until now. Which is odd, because I've pondered the IR reforms quite a bit. But one of the effects will be, in theory and probably in practice, to transfer all the worker surplus to the employer. They've effectively allowed companies to price discriminate perfectly, so everyone who doesn't have the power to negotiate will end up working for their reservation price. Unless, of course, John and Peter are right and people will bargain some of it back. Although there's nothing stopping people from bargaining their wage up now, so they still haven't gained anything.

The effect isn't just going to be lower wages for everyone. It will probably be that everyone works for the minimum they are willing to work for. Unless they would earn less than the fabulous new Lower™ Minimum Wage, in which case they'll get that. All the difference will fund community development for the very wealthy.

28 May 2006

Telstra privatisation

Partial privatisation represents the worst of both worlds, having all the costs of public ownership and few of the benefits.

John Quiggin (who I like) reckons that partial privatisation is the worst of both worlds. He claims that the Telstra management doesn't have a clear goal, because its biggest shareholder makes demands of it beyond making lots of money. The idea is that people have to have one objective, and only one, if they hope to be effective at something.

I'd like to disagree with him. While, conceptually the idea of having only one objective is appealing, I don't think it's realistic or even that important. Managers regularly juggle the mixed demands of ethics and profit-making. Or balancing fund-raising and fund-spending, in the case of NGOs. And the demands of customers, employees and shareholders. In the grander scheme of things the interests of customers, employees and shareholders might be aligned, but on a day to day level they aren't. You can always choose to raise wages and price less aggressively at the expense of shareholders. Even balancing the short-term interests against and long-term interests is a difficult but inevitable task. In theory, any short-term compromise of shareholders interest could be framed as benefiting them in the long-term. So not only is impossible for agents to have one dominant agenda, but I think they also have ample practice as juggling many agendas. The job is made especially easy in this instance, because the government doesn't get involved in Telstra as a shareholder. The government restricts itself to regulating, and doesn't seem to throw its weight around in board meetings. In this case the government has a much harder juggling act than Sol Trujillo does. Any independent giant monopoly, such as Telstra, would have tussles with regulators, regardless of how much of it the government owns.

I'd suggest that partial privatisation is actually the best of several worlds. The company is run as a private company - the government is effectively a silent partner. The government attempts to regulate it as best it can. That's an unending, thankless task, that will never be simple. But the government's ownership interest acts as a sort of hedge against bad regulatory decisions. It makes the consequence of under-regulation less severe, since half the monopoly profits go to the government anyway. It's also far less dramatic if the government decides to renationalise it. Any minority investors have to be aware that they are always entirely at the whim of a majority shareholder, even if the majority shareholder usually sits quietly in corner. But that risk should be factored in by markets anyway, particularly in the case of critical industries such as telecommunications. Partial government ownership just makes the process smoother.

Yes, it does tie up government capital that could be used productively elsewhere. But who really cares. The governments of industrialised countries don't suffer from a lack of capital. It strikes me that there are far more important, and delicate problems, than ensuring that every tax dollar is spent optimally.

26 May 2006

Europe is Poorly

Output growth in the core of Europe, the Euro-area, has been well below that of the U.S. and Asia for some time now, including on a per-capita basis. ... The flip-side of this weak growth, of course, has been high unemployment�in the 8-percent range in recent years, with only moderate improvement in sight. The picture looks even dimmer when one considers the related but more economically relevant concept of labor utilization, where the core of Europe is showing a steady decline in the number of hours worked per person, both in absolute terms and relative to the other two engines of world growth�the U.S. and Asia. IMF Speech

Do they not understand that Europeans apparently want to work less? If they've made a conscious choice to spend more time eating nice cheese, than how is that conceivably an "even dimmer" picture. The IMF can talk about how terrible it must be to live amongst all that delicious cheese and wine in Europe if they like, but if they go in and screw things up I'm going to be very annoyed. I might have to move there if John wins again.

Distincion Alto

I did real good in my statistics mid-session. I used a whole A4 page to get one question completely wrong. But he gave me half marks "for the effort". Professors are the best.

Update: I ended up doing pretty well in my tutorial assignments. I got 75. So I need to get about 90 in my final exam to get an HD.

My good friend Ian

Ian is visiting me today. He's just stopping by in Sydney for the day. I haven't seen him yet, but he's around. I was going to pick him up from the airport last night, but rang into some hassles at customs I am guessing. I sent him a message asking him what was up and I got this.

I cutting trees. Distillation was not success. Well little fuel. Reasons i can explain... Busy busy busy deforestating

Maximum Likelihood

I just did my first one by hand. I felt very proud. It was a gamma distribution too, which always confuse me.

X-Men

Tombom, Anmol and I all trotted off to X-Men 3 last night. It was pretty good. Especially for a big-budget, third-in-a-trilogy, mainstream film that isn't Lord of the Rings. Sydney Morning Herald is dumb, and doesn't know anything about films. This one wasn't quite as good as the second, but still interesting and it had good fights. I wish they got Magneto to smash more stuff though. I liked the end, and that's not something I feel about the ends of most films. I watched The Shining the other night with Lib and Robyn, and I decided the ending to that was much better than I remembered. But in general, endings are a let down. I think our imaginations tend to expect too much. And I think film-makers encourage that tendency to make the rest of the film more fun. Except our imaginations don't really know exactly what to expect, or what would satisfy them. And film-makers often don't either. But this ending was pretty good. I don't want to build it up too much. I just started yakking on about expectations and stuff.

There were lots of good little things they did, which took more than a giant studio to think up I reckon. Someone with a real fondness for it had input. And Stan Lee has a half-second part in it. He was the watering hose man in the very first scene. Stan is a champ. And there's a nifty scene at the very end after the credits.

24 May 2006

Sketchup

Sketchup is the most blissfully intuitive piece of software you'll ever use.

Less love

I hardly ever write about love and people and community anymore. Have I become cynical? Or have I finally turned into the economist cliche? The thought of becoming an economist has been scaring me of late. Reading the L'Arche website got me thinking. What I really want is a L'Arche-style community of economists, all talking and baking scones together. Those sorts of economists must be out there somewhere. If you are out there, then consider this an invitation to join/start a community with me. And maybe some other sorts of people. Or even mostly other sorts of people.

Sydney!!

Australia is in Google Maps. Weeee. Driving directions don't seem to work yet, but it's only a matter of time. You can look at the the major an minor roads in Australia. So snifty.

So calendary

I am fully in love with Google Calendar. It all works so happily and nicely. They think about things those Google folk.

23 May 2006

Little Fat Kids

The way most researchers measure obesity is by looking at someone's BMI. A doctor wouldn't because it's not very accurate, but researchers don't have time to do a whole lot of tests, so they use something that's simple and quick to measure. The problem with this is that if people suddenly start doing a lot of exercise their muscle bulk is is likely to increase. If there's an increase in average muscle bulk then the average BMI goes up. And if that goes up, then suddenly you have researchers telling you that there's an obesity epidemic. So you need to be careful about which researchers you listen to.

19 May 2006

Taxing more goodly

What would happen if, instead of taxing this year's income, you taxed an average of the last five years income? Stupid politicians and economists say that high marginal tax rates reduce the incentive to work. If they're right, would weakening the immediate link between work and tax encourage people to work more? If you know that you'll get to keep 1-(0.47/5)=90% of extra income in a year, and not have to pay the difference until later. It would also defer payment to a point when incomes were higher, so the effective rate in any given year would be less than the true rate. The government would get the same amount of money (apart from time value losses), and people might work more. Not that I really want people to work more. It would probably also make marginal-rate fiddling types of tax-avoidance harder.

The big problem would be if/when incomes went down. Yes. I can't think of any solution to that problem. Maybe you let people defer the bill. So I pay the maximum of the true rate (47%) and the effective rate (some averaged out number that is usually less, but might be more than 47%). I have to make up the difference when my income increases again. You really just need something that doesn't create perverse incentives to earn very small amounts, and doesn't put too much hardship on people who lose their jobs.

Compulsory Voting

Voting should be compulsory. Voting is the cost of living in a society that is a democracy. The cost is a couple of hours of our time every few years. The benefit would be worth more, I believe, than the most of us would earn in many years. I think the people who do vote could remind everyone of its value by boycotting an election one year, and letting us all see the mess power vacuums make of the world.

Scarcity Mentality

I hate it. I hate it. How many times recently have I heard someone refer to "cash-strapped governments" or "these lean times" to explain why health care and education are failing. These times aren't strapped for anything but compassion. We have more wealth than our grandparents would ever have dreamed, and yet we spend half our time talking about how tough we have it. We suck bad.

Child Health in Developed Countries

The least controversial measure of health is mortality. Janet Currie

Nice one.

Shmoptimal

The only way a society can use it's resources optimally is through perfect price discrimination or if the government is in charge. It's impossible for a profit driven system to invest and produce at the right levels unless businesses are able to charge every individual the most they are willing to pay. If there's imperfect price discrimination, then investment will be too low. If there's no price discrimination, but the business earns profits by raising prices then investment will be too low, and production will be too low. The government can capture all the benefits of any investment (since theoretically the government and the rest of us are the same agent). Effectively, it can price discriminate perfectly. So the reality is that the government is the only institution that will ever be able to afford to invest at the right level. And I haven't used anything but classical economic theory to conclude that.

That isn't to say at all that the government should be in charge of everything. If it knew what the right level was, it could do it. But it will never know. My point is that capitalism has a large amount of friction, in the form of profits. They slow everything down. And mean there is less of every good thing than there probably should be. I don't believe government control is a good option. But capitalism needs to prove itself in every market. Profits mean it's starting from behind, and there's no reason that the extra information it brings will enable to overcome that handicap. From experience we would generally say that capitalism can overcome it, but we can't take that for granted. Even though I think we mostly do.

Then there's the issue of social equity, which is a whole other bowl of tofu.

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