Incompetence and Malice from the NSW Tories

Image by Eric Lobbecke. This has been said: Gladys Berejiklian is a danger to the people of New South Wales, the rest of Australia, and even New Zealand. Every single case of coronavirus, the highly infectious Delta and Delta Plus variants, originates from New South Wales substantially aided by the policies lead by that state government. New Zealand previously had less than ten cases a day since April last year, using a 7-day rolling average; then, a case crossed the ditch [1] from New South Wales, and now they have 66 a day, and the total number of active infections has grown from 36 at the beginning of August to 651. Victoria, too, had a 5-cases a day at the beginning of August (again using the rolling average of the previous week), now it's up to 81, again with origins from New South Wales [2]. Whilst they have been largely spared, due to successful and rapid implementation of strong movement restrictions (popularly, but somewhat incorrectly, described as "lockdowns"), the few cases in South Australia and Queensland also owe their origins to New South Wales.

Public health policy has public health results. The outbreak in Victoria resulted from a policy that allowed some cross-border movement, and the same applied in New Zealand. Pity, however, New South Wales which is an absolute train-wreck and getting much worse. With a weekly rolling average of 24 cases at the end of June, a lackadaisical approach to suppressing the outbreak has led the state to experience a rolling average of over a thousand cases a day, with the worst yet to come. Extraordinarily, even as the state recorded the worst-case figures [3] for an Australian state since the pandemic began, the Premier announced "We are going to show the way in Australia as to how you can live with COVID", a remark that will leave a bitter taste for the friends and family of the six patients who died in the same daily reporting period. "Living with COVID" is, of course, a euphemism to mean "dying with COVID" as words have their opposite meaning when political marketing pitches are made against reality. A few days later, as NSW recorded another 1164 cases, the Premier said she didn't understand why some states and territories were unhappy with the national plan to end lockdowns once 80% of the eligible population had been vaccinated, referring to reaching the "magic 70 percent and 80 percent [4].

The Rise and Return of the Taliban

The sudden fall of Afghanistan into the hands of the Taliban may have shocked establishment experts [1], but are certainly no surprise to those expert critics who for decades have criticised the corruption, the lack of strength in civil institutions, and the disparity between what Western governments told us and what reality was like on the ground [2]. That reality is approximately 175,000 dead, mainly Afghan national military and police, Taliban and other opposition fighters, and civilians. One could add an additional 67,000 for the Pakistani side of The Durand Line [3], a British imperialist invention that divides the indigenous Pashtuns and is treated with complete contempt by those on both sides of the border; all quite a remarkable achievement by the US after spending 2.261 trillion dollars on consolidating a military presence in a country of less the 40 million. Certainly, a windfall for those capitalists who invested in the war machine; returns on the top five defense contractors from 2001 to now have a return 50% greater than the general stock market [4].

The fall of Afghanistan has occurred under Biden, as the United States had agreed under Trump to withdraw its troops whilst the Taliban agreed not to allow al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups to operate under their areas [5]. Hand-waving their behaviour in the past, their gross violations of human rights and especially those against women, establishment experts tried to tell the world then, and continue to do so now, that the Taliban of 2020 are fundamentally different [6] from the Taliban of the 1990s. This is not entirely true; they are certainly more pragmatic in their international relations, and certainly more mercurial in public relations, but their ideology is the same, and their behaviour is the same. At the time of writing, the Taliban are going door-to-door searching for people who either worked for NATO or the Republic [7]. Whilst one would be happy to be wrong, we can certainly expect that horrific facts of the new Taliban rule will come out soon.

Coronavirus-19 and The Unfolding Disaster in Southern Asia

A few days ago, the SARS-CoV-19 virus reached two hundred million cases, with over four million dead. We know these numbers are almost certainly under-estimations based on data collection limits and comparisons of death rates from previous years. It is with the benefit of hindsight that we now realise that the entire year of 2020 was, in fact, "the first wave" of increasing infections which did not peak until early January 2021 at close to 840,000 new cases a day, and its nadir in mid-February at a mere 400,000. Since then we have witnessed the rise of the new and more contagious and deadly Delta variant which peaked at the end of April with 875,000 new cases as it overwhelmed India. That peak declined to a low of around 300,000 new daily cases in mid-June, only to rise again as the variant spread to densely populated regions in South-East Asia; at the time of writing the daily new case numbers are at 688,000 and are on an upwards trajectory.

On Engagement in Politics

Tony Benn blackboardMany people dislike involvement in politics because what they witness is the shameless acquisition of power, of nepotism and corruption, and partisanship. For far too many, this results in a great number of truly talented people stepping away from engagement in public life. Not only does our society miss out by having the involvement of such great minds, but also we collectively run the risk of being ruled by those who are pathological and narcissistic, who actually enjoy the aforementioned negative characteristics. Unfortunately, many well-meaning political activists take an erroneous attitude to this situation, ending up in two groups going in very different directions. Both those engaged and disengaged from the practical affairs of political life remark, "that's just how politics is", with the engaged group gritting their teeth and carrying on and becoming increasingly part of the system's approach, and the disengaged either forming anemic, if well-meaning, social networks or slipping into the selfish lifestyle of "individual anarchism".

These responses are not helpful. The existence of politics is inevitable because it determines our rights, freedoms, and obligations and the just distribution of shared and produced resources. There is no escaping from it. Every square centimetre of soil, air, and water on this planet is subject to some politics, even bizarre edge-cases considered (e.g., Bir Tawil) on earth or beyond it (the Outer Space Treaty of 1967). Simply put. wherever there are two people or more there will be politics, as they must have a means of governing their polis. But whilst politics is inescapable, the means of governance can be altered. Just as interpersonal relationships can be arranged differently to be more or less inclusive and equitable, so too the political system is not something set in stone and can be changed to reduce the influence of the worst, of the most pathological. The following are a few suggestions that can be applied for making society less of a kakistocracy, the rule of the worst, least qualified, and most unscrupulous citizens.

Trading Places: Australia-China Relations

It is certainly a special combination of insensitivity and expediency that led Peter Dutton, Australia's Minister of Defence, to suggest that a military conflict with China over Taiwan should not be discounted. The comments were coupled with Home Affairs Department Secretary Mike Pezzullo remarked that we could hear the beating drums of war in the region. This all comes on the back with a continuing trade war between Australia and China.

The comments are insensitive, not only because they contradict to the long-standing policy of Australia to China, which recognises that Taiwan is part of China. For what it's worth, this is also in the constitution of Taiwan; both the governments of Beijing and Taipei consider themselves the legitimate government of China, and that the other side is rebellious. But the insensitivity is not just in the field of international relations, but also the fact that the comments were made during the ANZAC Day holiday, held in commemoration of Australians (and New Zealanders) who served and died in war.

Libertarian Distributism?

The Overlapping Consensus

Socialists and libertarians both integrated key Burkean conservative insights into their philosophies around the turn of the 19th Century. The revolutionary idea of tearing the system down to build something completely new from scratch fell into disfavor. Libertarians started to shy away from anarchism and socialists started to shy away from revolutionary ideologies. The new libertarianism was “neo-liberal” — embracing the ideas of liberal democracy and seeking to move in a more “liberal” direction within the context of republican systems of government while rejecting market fundamentalism. Socialists embraced the idea of democratic socialism (or social democracy) and the notion that gradual reform through the democratic system was the best route to a better society. Both the libertarians and the socialists ended up becoming staunch proponents of the philosophy of republicanism.

Furthermore, the “neo-liberalism” of libertarians like F. A. Hayek and Milton Friedman entailed a recognition that markets are not perfect and that sometimes you do need the government to step in for the purpose of welfare provision. The social democrats too started to move away from the idea of nationalizing industry and centrally planning the economy and towards the idea of promoting a universalist welfare system within the context of a mixed economy. In fact, the liberal-socialist economist James Meade and the libertarian economist Milton Friedman both supported the same minimum income guarantee proposal — the Negative Income Tax scheme of Juliet Rhys-Williams. Eduard Bernstein, Anthony Crosland, and James Meade started popularizing the idea that a widespread distribution of private ownership might be an acceptable alternative to nationalization, at least in many cases. This idea of widespread distribution of private ownership (distributism or property-owning democracy) had actually originated on the right in the early 20th Century and was later adopted by center-left political liberals and social democrats like John Rawls and James Meade. The “neo-liberal” libertarians and the social democrats agreed in rejecting the doctrine of laissez-faire and recognizing that the government needs to take action in order to make markets work beneficially.

The Political Economy of Growth and Technology

Economic growth is typically understood as the percentage rate in the output of goods and services in an economy. The importance of economic growth is that it represents an improvement in our standard of living. However, this is not without some interesting challenges which are initially explored here, along with some basic algebra and measurement issues, which help us also determine what it doesn't represent. Following this, there is an exploration of the basic sources of growth especially in reference to the factors of production, and then an assessment of the "Solow residue", which recognises the importance of technology and education in growth. Finally, this review looks at the political economy of growth, and how particular distributions of ownership affect growth rates and aggregate economic welfare.

Growth in general

The basic claim of economic growth is that it represents improvements in goods and services. Whilst some growth is necessary as a replacement of the effects of depreciation, and measured with inflation, gross in excess of this replacement value represents a real improvement. As an economy grows there is increased demand for labour-inputs, and as a result economic growth is usually correlated with improvements in the rate of employment. This in turn also reduces the requirement for government welfare-expenditure, borrowing, and allows for higher tax revenues. Redistribution policies are also politically more palatable as aggregate incomes rise; it is perceived as churlish and immature to argue against transfers when one has a high absolute level of wealth and income.

Two Cheers for Modern Monetary Theory

Macroeconomics is both a study in exploration and of action of the economy as a whole. It is exploratory, insofar as different explanations are provided for macroeconomic effects, such as economic growth, unemployment, inflation, money supply, changes in investment and consumption, and the economic behaviour between different economies. With this information, macroeconomists can make recommendations to government concerning how to best use the economic tools to utilise to ensure growth with stability, and issue predictions on what effects alternative policies will generate. Whilst the following provides a critical summary of mainstream macroeconomic thought, it is also motivated towards those policies which promote sustainable growth, provide full employment, and control inflation. In doing so it reviews short and long-run macroeconomics, especially accounting for technology, the effects of an open economy, investment and consumption, and the use of monetary and fiscal policies.

Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is an unorthodox macroeconomic theory. The fact that it is a macroeconomic theory at all is beneficial, as there is still far too much attention paid to treating an economy as a large-scale version of microeconomic endeavours. Of course, there is an intuition in thinking of economics this way because it individual perception operates at this scale. It is, however, quite incorrect. Even taking mainstream macroeconomic theory into consideration, however, MMT raises a couple of interesting challenges.

Three Visions of a Realist Utopia

I define realist utopias as models for the Great Society that are far greater than any system ever implemented before yet still realistically within our grasp. These are models that create a just constitutional basic structure for a society/polity that meets the necessary criterion for justice, as defined by neo-republican theory and Rawlsian political liberalism, while remaining entirely realistic in terms of feasibility or real-world applicability.

I want to talk about three viable realist utopian models. However, I should start by noting the essential characteristics of a just basic structure. Any realist utopian model will share these same essential characteristics, though the actual ways that these things are manifested and the mechanisms that guarantee them may be radically different. The basic structure will: (1) entail liberal democracy or a republican form of government, in which people have a say in the matters that affect their lives, (2) guard against the extremes of inequality so that concentrations of wealth cannot be used to exploit the less wealthy or to buy politicians, and (3) ensure that everyone has access to the necessities of life such as food, shelter, healthcare, etc.

Coronavirus Vaccine Policy in Australia

The desperate decision of the Morrison government in Australia to panic and secure an additional 10 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine is not just a case of "too little, too late", but also one of policy failure through continuing indifference. To give a summary of the current state of play, Australia is the only continent (apart from Antarctica) that has not implemented SARS-COV-2 vaccinations, leaving it far behind most advanced economies in distribution. It has, however, secured agreements for the production and supply of four different vaccines. Border workers, quarantine workers, some healthcare workers, and those who live and work in residential and aged care will receive priority Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines. The majority of Australians will receive the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine instead.

The difference between the two is in their relative efficacy, their ability to reach a Herd Immunity Threshold (HIT), and price. To put simply, Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines is the most effective (c95%) but also the most expensive, with US prices at $20 per dose. Oxford/AstraZeneca is estimated at 70% effectiveness, with US prices at $4 per dose. A significant cost issue of the former is a requirement that it is stored at temperatures between -80 and -60 °C until five days before vaccination when it can be stored at 2 to 8 °C. The University of Oxford/AstraZeneca has normal cold storage requirements. Part of the cost is that AstraZeneca's has a commitment to COVAX, a global initiative that aims to distribute low-cost vaccines to low- and middle-income countries.

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