Is there a grief emoji for the death of the English language?

There are no words.

That is at least according to the Oxford Dictionaries, which this year decided that rather than one of the more than one million words in the English language, an emoji deserved to be named the 2015 Word of the Year. To be precise, the ‘Face with Tears of Joy’.


Other options included the ‘sharing economy‘ and ‘Brexit‘, both of which would have been more appropriate and sensible, particularly given they are actually words.

Despite priding themselves as “the definitive source on language and the first point of reference”, Oxford Dictionaries, owned by Oxford University Press and responsible for publishing the Oxford English Dictionary, has effectively abandoned its post as the protector and defender of the English language.

Ironically, the motto of Oxford Dictionaries is “language matters”. Yes, it does.

Language provides us with the means to communicate, share our ideas and thoughts, and a way to connect with others or express our emotions. The English language has transformed the world over hundreds of years, spreading ideas, creating realms of imagination and new words through classical literature, and helping to fashion a modern world built on interconnection and interdependence.

Today, the English language is considered the universal language, or lingua franca, for business and communications. In a world where division is often highlighted, the English language stands today as a hallmark of Western Civilisation and a bridge between peoples.

The Oxford Dictionaries, however, seem more pre-occupied with being progressive or avant-garde than celebrating the complex, exciting and dynamic nature of the English language.

Giants of the literary world and Oxford University alumni TS Eliot, CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien and Oscar Wilde would be rolling in their graves.


The failure of wind power on windless days


The always sensible Matt Ridley has written about the UK’s recent windless afternoon, which forced the National Grid to use “emergency measures” to keep the lights on, in a piece for The Times (reproduced on his own blog) saying:

  • The National Grid offered reserve generators up to 40 times the going rate to patch the electricity shortfall;
  • Britain’s low wind conditions tend to be replicated across Europe which means imported wind power can’t be relied upon (South Australia take note if you intend to rely on Victorian wind);
  • While happily pursuing renewable energy policies the UK has failed to invest in its existing or new coal, gas and nuclear power stations meaning that many now can’t be relied upon to plug gaps; and
  • Given that Britain (also like South Australia) has failed to invest in coal-fired power stations, diesel generators are now crawling out from under the carpet offering to be on standby for future power shortages.

A writer for The Guardian attempted to “debunk” Viscount Ridley’s piece by blaming… wait for it… coal!

It is fascinating that the core argument used in The Guardian is almost identical to that used in Australia following the recent South Australian blackout – that it isn’t the fault of the non-performing wind farms, but of the badly maintained back-up.

Blaming the guy forced to sit on the bench rather than the highly paid forward asleep by the goal is hardly quality advocacy.


Self-managing, anti-bureaucratic, minimal government: Cycling fits well with the liberal philosophy


IPA member Nigel Withers had this interesting response to Karalee Katsambanis’ (another IPA member) piece about cyclists in WA Today a couple of weeks ago, featured here in Hey… What did I miss?:

Cyclists on the whole don’t ask for much – apart from a bit of bike infrastructure in places where they’re likely to be killed or injured if they ride on the road. As a transport option, cycling is the spiritual home of liberty, low taxation, minimal regulation and small government. It is a sanctuary from the intrusions of the Nanny State.

We don’t need a multitude of bureaucrats to create and update bus, train and ferry timetables – we ride where and when we like. We don’t cause grief when timetable updates are published or when underused, uneconomic services are abolished.

We don’t need an army of well-paid, unionised workers to cart us around on trains, buses and ferries – we move ourselves at our own expense.

It doesn’t cost the taxpayer $9.45 every time we hop on a train (that’s from the NSW State Infrastructure Strategy). Instead, we spend thousands of dollars of our own money on supplying ourselves with a private transport option.

We don’t threaten to strike every time we don’t get what we want.

We don’t have government departments creating standards and regulations governing bicycle design (such as vehicle regulations which govern how high above the road headlights must be positioned).

Hordes of Police are not required to ensure we are abiding by an ever increasing set of laws. Traffic control centres aren’t required to manage our movement. CCTV cameras are not installed all over the place to watch over us as ride from A to B.

Apart from mandatory helmet laws, the Nanny State has largely ignored cycling – and even then, the laws are applied in an infrequent and unenthusiastic manner by the Police. Riding a bicycle is so simple, we don’t need a government agency to ensure we do 120 hours of mandatory training and pass numerous tests before we can go for a ride. I can sell my bike without paying stamp duty on the transaction, and informing a government body that I am no longer the owner.

I can ride to work all year without the taxman putting his hand in my wallet to extract fuel excises that are then wasted on useless pet projects. My bike is not subject to government mandated annual safety inspections.

We spontaneously come together in groups when we want to ride – we can manage ourselves without the government requiring a grant to create a “community group” that is of no use to anyone.

Liberty. Individualism. Self-managing. Anti-bureaucratic. Minimal government. Low taxation. Antipathy to the Nanny State. Cycling is actually a much better fit with a Liberal philosophy than a Green one.


The GST inflates the state

A9X9B5 Tax Rate button on calculator

The current tax debate has been dominated by calls to increase the GST burden, either by raising its rate (say, to 15 per cent) or extending its base (say, to fresh food, education, or health).

Slugging Australian consumers with additional indirect taxes has enjoyed serious momentum in the mainstream media, but thankfully there are now voices raising doubts about the merits of this tax reform exercise.

Writing in the Australian Financial Review today, former Treasury Secretary John Stone argues the contemporary GST reform argument merely represents a tax increase by stealth:

[Raising] the GST solely to reduce taxes commensurately on personal and/or corporate income would produce net benefits to productivity and growth. But the proceeds should definitely not facilitate more spending by either federal or state governments. At the political level, however, no “reform” proponent has suggested such a clean swap. Everyone stressed the need to ensure “no disadvantage to the most vulnerable Australians.”

With that “wedge” accepted, … any GST rise must result in a rise in total government spending ‑ and, hence, ultimately, a rise in total taxation. That was what happened when the Howard/Costello government introduced the GST.

The Turnbull government has, so far, appeared happy to entertain the prospect of taking Australia down the GST/VAT‑hike path, and current polls suggest the GST talk hasn’t dented the Prime Minister’s popularity.

But the crucial point here is that we’re presently not in an election campaign. If anti‑GST sentiment builds up, as it did during the 1998 election to almost fatally wound the Howard government politically, the proposed tax hike could easily be shelved.

To put this another way, it is not a foregone political conclusion at this stage that Australia will be burdened by a bigger GST.


From political correctness to “now mobilising the machinery of big government to silence those with different views”


NSW Finance Minister Dominic Perrottet gave an excellent speech in the Legislative Assembly yesterday on freedom of speech and the Archbishop Porteous case in Tasmania. You can find the must-read speech here, but here’s a snippet:

This issue is not about religious freedom. It’s about freedom itself.

All parties in a debate – whether politicians, think tanks, religious institutions, lobby groups or anyone else – should be able to express their views freely without censure. The state licensing freedom to a particular group is no freedom at all.

Whatever your views on the definition of marriage, we should all be uncomfortable the government now has the power to intimidate, investigate and prosecute you if it finds your views somehow inappropriate.

Yesterday, The Australian reports that the case is set to go to conciliation, following a response from the Archbishop expressing regret that he had caused offence. Perrottet states who should really be apologising:

Madam Speaker, either we are free or we are not.

All of us – by virtue of our intrinsic value as human beings – have the fundamental right to speak our views, without the government in its infinite wisdom trying to regulate our private beliefs.

I have read several statements from Bishop Julian Porteous regretting any offence.

He should stop apologising. This is his point of view and no one else has to agree with him. He should not regret saying it just because some people have chosen to take offence. If they disagree, they should engage in debate. That is how free societies work.

Mr Speaker, this case should be dismissed immediately and the Tasmanian Anti Discrimination Commissioner should issue an apology to the community – followed by her immediate resignation for this grave error of judgement.


Education cannot be a safe space


In The Drum this week I looked at the movement in American higher education towards trigger warnings and safe spaces – apparently benign initiatives that are starting to morph into a distinctly illiberal and counterproductive ideology:

The entire higher education experience is being reconceptualised as a zone of post-trauma, in which students demand faculty protect them from the expression and thoughts of others.

Using the language of psychological harm, ideas are condemned, rather than rebutted. Students can receive “pain” from the decision of another person to write an email. It is wrong to “privilege” free speech, a mere “abstract right”, over personal emotional experience.

It’s hard to think of anything more contrary to the purpose of education – which is, in the broadest sense, the systematic exposure to ideas outside personal experience – than that.

Continue reading here.


India seeks $100b per year renewable energy fund ahead of Paris climate talks


With COP21 fast approaching, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has asked G20 countries to hurry up and allocate money to the UN’s Green Climate Fund so that the Fund can start spending $100 billion per year on the deployment of renewable energy in developing countries.

Yes, you read that right – the $100 billion Green Climate Fund is actually expected to allocate $100 billion per year, which logically means that the Fund will need over $1 trillion in the kitty.

In fact, the Indian government’s submitted proposal to COP21 notes that:

While this would evolve over time, a preliminary estimate suggests that at least USD 2.5 trillion (at 2014-15 prices) will be required for meeting India’s climate change actions between now and 2030.


Of course while accepting money for renewables with one hand, India will still be increasing COemissions by 90 per cent over the next 15 years, with China’s CO2 emissions to rise by 150 per cent over the same period.

But you are unlikely to hear about this from the environmental movement or mainstream media. Western nations like Australia, who actually pledge to cut carbon dioxide emissions, are criticised for not doing enough, while developing countries who intend to increase emissions are praised for “cutting emissions intensity.” The two measurements are completely different.

Take a look at how the The Guardian and the ABC covered China and India’s COP21 submissions (emissions intensity) versus how Australia’s target (actual emissions) was described on the ABC and in The Conversation.

Given that the Australian government announced last December that it would donate $200 million to the Fund (not enough for the Greens), will co-chair the Fund in 2016, and is still to figure out how to actually achieve and pay for its 26-28 per cent reductions, it appears that Australian taxpayers will be paying for this hypocrisy many times over.


Tobacco control measures still not having the desired impact


The above graph is taken from the KPMG’s latest report into the Australian illicit tobacco market, which was released today. It shows the volume of illicit tobacco consumption, and the proportion of the total tobacco market which is attributable to that illicit consumption.

As you can see, in recent years, where the federal government has become even more active in the tobacco market, mandating certain rules of packaging and frequently increasing taxes, the illicit tobacco rate is steadying after a sharp increase between 2012 and 2014.

Since the same point 12 months ago, total tobacco consumption in Australia has decreased 0.1 per cent, while the share of that market attributed to illicit tobacco is steady at 14.3 per cent.


When you consider that long term tobacco trends show declining consumption, and the federal government’s annual 12.5 per cent excise increases, a total decrease in 0.1 per cent must be very underwhelming for those public health experts who for too long have applauded the “success” story of artificial government controls in the tobacco market.

Illicit tobacco maintains a significant proportion of the Australian market, and total consumption has remained practically unchanged. Some success.


Wrong perspective on native vegetation

Here’s this issue with native vegetation, with environmentalists and the like concerned by how many trees are cut down to build roads:

However, there is encouraging evidence VicRoads is willing to find ways to reduce the environmental damage of its projects, if road users are also willing to accept a cut to the speed limit.

In recent weeks it changed its proposal for a road widening project in Rushworth in northern Victoria that would have killed 100 trees, after the authority met with community anger.

A third of those trees will be retained in the new design, which reduces the road’s speed limit from 100km/h to 80km/h. The lower limit means a narrower road reserve can be created.

That’s right: the speed limit was slashed to spare approximately 33 trees.

Of course, there is a serious native vegetation issue: that landowners are not compensated for the loss of rights over what they do with their own land arising from native vegetation laws.


Inheritance tax: A harmful solution to the revenue deficiency non-problem


The latest bad policy idea to come out of the woodwork, encouraged by the Turnbull government’s continuing refusal to rule‑in or rule‑out anything, is the suggestion that Australia reintroduce inheritance taxes.

The Marxian economist based at University of Sydney, Frank Stilwell, last week recommended a tax targeting bequests in excess of $2 million, believing ‘the wealthy … can make the payments without social distress.’

A similar suggestion was made by columnist Tim Dick: ‘inheritance tax, estate tax, death duty ‑ call it what you will ‑ a tax on large inherited windfall gains should be a part of any fair tax system.’

As recounted in this paper, Australian governments have not imposed any form of inheritance tax since the early 1980s.

This has meant, thankfully, generations of Australians have enjoyed a large measure of freedom in electing who they can pass their accumulations to, without the grabbing hand of the state taking their slice (although, it should be noted, government does this, and excessively at that, during one’s lifetime by taxing income, consumption, and so on).

These taxes are highly damaging in that they reduce the rate of investment pivotal to economic growth, and are particularly prone to tax evasion. They are also often seen as a solution for suppressing wealth inequality ‑ debatable given it would diminish incentives for people to aspire to become rich themselves ‑ but it doesn’t address several direct causes of government‑induced inequality such as land use regulatory restrictions, ultra‑low interest rates by central banks, and corporate welfare.

All in all, inheritance taxation is a terrible idea for Australia and the government should swiftly rule it out.