Passing Bull 30 – Bullshit you pay for


There is a growing consensus that the independent senators have a lot to offer – especially when you look at those representing established parties.  This now is a common reaction around the world, and is reaching some kind of hideous apotheosis in both the US and the UK.

There are of course exceptions.  David Leyonhjelm is one of them.  He does have a problem with the notion of rational thought.  Anyone who uses the label ‘libertarian’ should be an object of caution.  The senator has unfortunate views on guns and other subjects where he feels disposed to strike a pose as someone who is against government intervention – such as with compulsory packaging for cigarettes.  Every law in some way restricts your freedom.  To object to a law because it does that is to say nothing.

There is some controversy in Sydney about restricting hours for selling alcohol in public venues.  These are described as ‘lockout’ laws.  Since those laws restrict freedom, the Senator objects to them.  This of itself is nonsense.  In yesterday’s AFR, the Senator said:

Recently, in response to public criticism of Sydney’s ‘lockout’ laws, we had Professor Peter Miller telling all and sundry that ‘behind every number is a tragic story – you only need to ask the emergency department doctors, police, paramedics and surgeons who have to clean up the awful toll.’

Yes, violence causes injury and doctors are paid to treat the injuries.  But their involvement is a matter of choice; they are not compelled ‘to clean up the awful toll’.  Indeed, they don’t have to do trauma or emergency medicine, or even medicine itself, at all.  Moreover, no one is forced to join the police or ambulance service.

In fact, doctors demanding lockouts because they don’t like treating the victims of violence is equivalent to teachers demanding parents keep dumb kids at home.  They should do their jobs, or find a job that they’d rather do.

It is terrifying that a person who can be as stupid as this is on our payroll and in the legislature.  The simplest form of logical failure is to state a proposition which you think warrants a conclusion when it does not.  The Latin phrase is non sequitur.  People do not have to work in rape crisis centres, but that says nothing about rape or how to control it.  The preposterous notion that a doctor can refuse to treat someone because he is in some obscure ideological sense ‘free’ to do so merely shows how dangerous the notion of ‘freedom’ is with an idiot like David Leyonhjelm.

The AFR is my favourite paper, but I wonder why it gives space to galahs in politics like this.

As it happens, the same edition of the same paper carried an item headed ‘Elderly will be in charge, but why should they vote?’  It was written by two academics in economics at La Trobe University.  It is non-stop bullshit.

What is needed to redress the balance is some practical, low–cost and politically tractable method of making the age-distribution of the voting public younger, which will better match optimal intertemporal (consumption and taxation) preferences to better fulfil this intergenerational contract.

The world is going to come to an end because there are too many old people with too much political power and the solution of these academic economists is to make voting for them optional.

Many elderly Australians, who struggle operationally to get to the polling booth on election day, would no longer have to worry about receiving a cruel fine in the mail – not to mention those who simply do not like having to vote.  Many others would, for the sake of their children and grandchildren, agree about the need to offset the age profile distortion of government influence.

Making voting optional for elderly Australians can be seen as a democratic way of correcting the political implications of demographic skews.  By better balancing the intergenerational contract, the proposed arrangement would lead to public policies and a fairer, more sustainable, and conducive to future economic growth.

This is a particularly sad example of what happens when you put people in boxes and say that they are all the same.  It is a case of labelling.  George W Bush spoke recently of Donald Trump.  He said his father had told him that labels are what you put on soup cans.  I should declare my bias.  I am 70 and I have paid a lot of tax.  I object to being put in a box on the first ground without reference  to the second.

Poet of the month: Philip Larkin

This Be The Verse

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.

They may not mean to, but they do

They fill you with the faults they had

And add some extra just for you.


But they were fucked up in their turn

By fools in old–style hats and coats,

Who half the time were soppy-stern

And half at one another’s throats.


Man hands on misery to man.

It deepens like a coastal shelf.

Get out as early as you can,

And don’t have any kids yourself.

Passing bull 5 : Schizophrenia over Greece

The late Arthur Miller was hauled up before McCarthy’s HUAC.  The failure of due process before the HUAC takes your breath away, but it got worse before the courts.  When people were charged with contempt for refusing to answer, the trials did not take long.  The prosecution called expert evidence.  They called an ‘expert on Communism’ to testify that the accused had been under ‘communist discipline’.  When Miller’s counsel announced he was going to call his expert to say that Miller had not been under discipline of the Communist Party, Miller noticed ‘that from then on a negative electricity began flowing toward me from the bench and the government table.’  Miller thought that his expert was good, ‘but obviously the tracks were laid and the train was going to its appointed station no matter what.’

We all know what that is like.  Too many start out on an inquiry that they already have the answer to.  Good judges avoid this; sensible ones hide it.  We are all guilty of prejudice and intolerant of doubt or qualification, or even shading, once we have made up our minds.  The trap is to think that things must be black or white – because grey is just too much trouble.  You rarely see this failing as starkly as in the difference of views of two respected columnists of the Financial Times, which many think is the best newspaper in the world, about the Greek Euro deal reached on Monday morning.  (It appeared in today’s AFR.)  Just watch the way that these two trains leave one station for the next but different stations.  First, Wolfgang Munchau.

A few things that many of us took for granted, and that some of us believed in, ended in a single weekend.  By forcing Alexis Tsipras into a humiliating defeat, Greece’s creditors have done a lot more than bring about regime change in Greece or endanger its relations with the Eurozone.  They have destroyed the Eurozone as we know it and demolished the idea of a monetary union as a step towards a democratic political union……The best thing that can be said of the weekend is the brutal honesty of those perpetrating this regime change.

But it was not just the brutality that stood out, nor even the total capitulation of Greece. The material shift is that Germany has formally proposed an exit mechanism.  On Saturday, Wolfgang Schauble, finance minister, insisted on a time-limited exit – a ‘timeout’ as he called it.

I have heard quite a few crazy proposals in my time, and this one is right up there.  A member state pushed for the expulsion of another.  This was the real coup at the weekend: not only regime change in Greece, but also regime change in the Eurozone.

Is that clear enough?  Here is Gideon Rachman (who could I think pull rank).

Europe woke up on Monday to a lot of headlines about the humiliation of Greece, the triumph of an all-powerful Germany and the subversion of democracy in Europe.

What nonsense.  If anybody has capitulated, it is Germany.  The German government has just agreed in principle to another multi-billion dollar bail-out of Greece – the third so far.  In return it has received promises of economic reform from a Greek government that makes it clear that it profoundly disagrees with everything that it has just agreed to.  The Syriza government will clearly do all it can to thwart the deal it has just signed.  If that is a German victory, I would hate to see a defeat.

As for this stuff about the trashing of democracy in Greece – that too is nonsense.  The Greek referendum…was in essence a vote that the rest of the Eurozone should continue to lend Greece billions – but on conditions determined in Athens.  That was never realistic.  The real constraint on Greece’s freedom of actions is not the undemocratic nature of the EU.  It is the fact that Greece is bust…..Of course the dilemna of ordinary Greek people is horrible.  I was in Athens last week and felt very sorry for many of the individuals I met, who fear for their jobs savings and future.  But the notion that all this is the fault of cruel Europeans, who have mindlessly imposed austerity on the otherwise healthy country, is a neo-leftist fancy.  Greece has been badly governed for decades and was living well beyond its means.

I shall say something more of this later – a triumph of both freedom of speech and bullshit – but I leave you for now with the beginning of the piece by Alan Mitchell, the AFR’s economics editor, that touches on a proposal that one FT commentator thought was brutal and crazy.

Hold on to this thought: What the world saw as Germany’s hardline ultimatum might yet offer an amicable separation of Greece and the Eurozone.  It was the option of a five-year suspension of Greece’s membership…..