7 graphs that show we’re better off

As usual, the news is all doom and gloom. More terrorist attacks in France and police shootings in the United States. A failed military coup in Turkey empowers a tyrant. Meanwhile, household income in Australia is allegedly stagnant.

Despite all this bad news, in the history of humankind we are living extraordinarily successful lives.

It is important to sometimes sit back, and see the sunshine. Here are seven graphs from HumanProgress.org that show how far humanity has come.

Continue Reading →

facebooktwitter

No end in sight to big government

The new Turnbull Ministry, announced this afternoon, includes 42 executive officeholders with a total of 53 portfolios.

With the possible exception of the onward march of Federal Government spending which has gone from $140 billion in 1997-98 to $445 billion in 2016-17, or gross debt which will pass $500 billion sometime in the next twelve months, there is little else that better demonstrates how the size of government and the red tape it creates and administers is out of control.

These numbers, while broadly in line with the first Turnbull Ministry of 2015, compare particularly unfavourably with the first Barton ministry and the first post-war Menzies ministry.

The Prime Minister’s own department now has nine different Ministers, “Assistant Ministers” and “Ministers Assisting” across ten portfolios, including Indigenous Affairs, Women, Cyber Security and Counter-Terrorism.

The Whitlam-era federal involvement in the design of cities, which was resurrected last year, now appears to have two Ministers, with Angus Taylor the Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation (reporting to the PM) and Paul Fletcher the Minister for Urban Infrastructure (reporting to the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport).

Social Security has four ministers, there is a still a Minister for Sport and for the Arts and there is a Minister for Rural Communications separate to the Minister for Communications.

Even in Defence, where there was once a single Minister, there are now three defence officeholders with five portfolios – Defence, Defence Industry, Veterans’ Affairs, Defence Personnel and the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC.

While Josh Frydenberg’s appointment as Minister for the Environment and Energy is a welcome portfolio consolidation, it looks like that is it.

The more people that are appointed to office, the more legislation and regulations they try to pass, so they look like they are doing something. Small government is not coming to Australia any time soon.

facebooktwitter

Waleed Aly does not deserve a free speech prize

waleed-aly1

Liberty Victoria have just announced that broadcaster Waleed Aly will receive their annual free speech award, the Voltaire Award.

Notably, he was not awarded the prize for actually supporting free speech, but rather his “contributions to many areas crucial to public life,” including on the topics of terrorism and treatment of refugees.

Aly is not being awarded for his views on free speech because he doesn’t actually support Voltaire’s axiom: I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.

In a 2013 lecture, after giving the cursory statements in favour of free expression, he argued for retaining section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

He used the metaphor of the free market to argue against free speech, misusing the idea of ‘market power’ to silence voices he considers powerful:

If free speech is meant to be analogous to the free market, if bad ideas are to be vanquished by good ones in the contest of ideas, then what happens where that contest scarcely exists? Really, it’s like an abuse of market power: a kind of market distortion. There is at the very least a case to be made for regulating speech in these circumstances to ensure that the discourse of the socially empowered is held accountable in some way.

He, of course, seems to miss the point that government intervention in the free speech ‘market’ is an exercise of social power by the powerful, silencing ideas one group happens to find distasteful.

Aly went on to say that society should regulate the tone of inflammatory ideas:

We can also require that, particularly in the case of dangerously inflammatory ideas, that they are conducted with a certain tone that reduces the likelihood of some manner of social explosion.

Liberty Victoria’s decision to award a free speech prize to someone who does not support free speech makes a mockery of the supposedly prestigious prize.

facebooktwitter

Maurice Newman on the arrogance of the political elites

Australian_masthead_resized

Maurice Newman has an important piece in The Australian this morning argues that voters are fed up with a arrogant political elite ($):

Judged by their on-air performances today’s political elites, like the PM, are captive to a narrow, self-indulgent, outdated, Labor-Liberal paradigm. In their splendid isolation, they are convinced only the extreme, or the uneducated, vote for Pauline Hanson, Jacqui Lambie, Derryn Hinch, Nick Xenophon or other minor parties.

They can’t accept that “smart” voters think differently to them or are tired of what they recognise as a cartelised ruling establishment. So disconnected are they that they believe the masses fall for vague messages of compassion, fairness, jobs and growth. They think slogans that ooze condescension and promote cargo-cult dependency rather than advocate sound financial management and self-reliance fool the majority. In reality, when the people lose trust in their leaders and the system, they pursue narrow self-interest.

Why not? They see unions they never voted for exerting extraordinary influence on public policy. They watch big business win favours from big government at the cost of small business. They know Marxists are indoctrinating their children without their consent and feel powerless to stop it. Without consultation, their freedom to speak is constantly eroded. They feel marginalised.

Meanwhile, the major parties preach brand differentiation. The Liberals boast a broad church but welcome ever fewer conservatives and libertarians. The Labor Party presents as progressive, yet its links to the union movement are medieval and its ever-conscious need to distance itself from the Greens regularly throws up inherent contradictions. Today the brands are as different as Coles is to Woolworths or Ford is to Holden.

For political pundits, support for minor parties can be hard to read, let alone understand. Are the voters genuinely interested in a single issue, are they parking their vote until after the election or, as pollster Mark Textor says, are they sending a message as a pre-election “tickle up” to the parties?

Polling cannot answer these questions. Certainly, tribal loyalty is fading and poll gaming is on the rise. Voters see approaching elections as an opportunity to use polls to leverage the main parties and, in close elections, minor parties can be strategically rewarding.

Inevitably, volatile electorates are diminishing the predictive value of polls. We have seen Brexit, the unchanged New Zealand flag, David Cameron’s unexpected second term and the comfortable win for the Coalition that wasn’t. These results provide evidence that the political class is prone to groupthink and prefers to watch polls than listen to the electorate.

If the voters are gaming the establishment, the political class is using polls to game the people. Recently, a Reuters poll and an American ABC News/Washington Postpoll were exposed as favouring Democratic respondents to flatter Hillary Clinton’s standing.

Whether or not poll manipulation occurs in Australia (was the one before the election, demeaning Tony Abbott and flattering Turnbull, a case?), the people are aware politics is a murky business. They know how unions, crony capitalists and other rent-seekers repay patronage and privilege to the major parties in kind and often with recycled taxpayer funds.

No wonder they have become cynical and mercenary. They are fed up with a system they see as corrupt and self-serving and that treats them as uneducated serfs. They want respect and a government that is culturally confident and economically consistent.

Read the whole article here ($).

facebooktwitter

Trigger warnings have arrived at Australian universities

The anti-intellectual and seriously dangerous phenomena of trigger warnings has arrived at Australian universities.

The Age reported late last week that Australian lecturers have begun warning students about potentially graphic or sensitive content:

Australian academics are issuing so-called “trigger warnings” for confronting material in classrooms at the start of each semester, and before classes, to give students the chance to opt out.

These types of warnings encourage academics to not teach ideas, for fear of facing complaints, and students to ignore confronting ideas. And, as has been noted in the United States, there are serious mental health concerns about trigger warnings: they have the potential to establish fears students would otherwise not have, and encourage individuals to avoid addressing their fears.

Continue Reading →

facebooktwitter

The Greens soft drinks tax: illiberal, ineffective, regressive

Yesterday the Greens announced an illiberal, ineffective and regressive nanny state tax on sugary drinks.

I argued in The Spectator Australia’s Flat White blog against the new impost:

Taxing soft drinks, using the coercive power of the state to manipulate individual behaviour, is patently paternalistic.  The policy treats parents as fools who are unable to raise their own children, and adults as mugs incapable of making their own consumption decisions.

It would also prove ineffective at addressing obesity issues:

Although increasing the cost of soft drinks may reduce their consumption, it does little to change overall dietary decisions. If we make one product more expensive, individuals looking for a sugar hit can, and will, swap to other unhealthy drinks and food.

However perhaps the bigger injustice is who it will impact the most, the poor:

A study of French dietary habitspublished in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics found that fat taxes are “extremely regressive”. That is, they have a far bigger impact on lower income households who have the least capacity to pay for the additional impost.

Read the full post here.

facebooktwitter

Metadata mission creep? Who would have thought?

Victoria_Police

The latest proposal from Victoria Police to monitor mobile phone use highlights the danger of mission creep under mandatory metadata retention laws:

The so-called textalysers… are able to analyse metadata to determine whether someone was using their mobile phone at a specific time – while driving, for example.

… The model proposed by New York authorities involves the analysis of a mobile device’s metadata after a road incident to determine whether the device had been used in the lead up to the event.
… Privacy laws are slowing progress of the proposed new legislation, although Israeli company Cellebrite, which produces the technology, claims that the textalyser system doesn’t have the ability to read the content of text messages and social media updates, but rather to determine whether the device was used at a certain time to send text messages.

However, Australia’s new metadata retention laws, which allow for the time and basic surface details of every message sent to be stored and made available to law enforcement agencies, could speed the technology’s introduction here.

While the government justified the introduction of metadata laws largely to fight terrorism, the inherent danger with gathering mountains of personal data (beyond privacy and data security issues) is that once it exists other entities will inevitably demand access (see that list here).

In fact, the IPA’s Simon Breheny predicted this as early as 2012, and the IPA’s Chris Berg warned about the likelihood of the compulsorily acquired metadata being used for purposes other than national security at the time of its introduction in 2014:

A lot of opponents of data retention have pointed out that this creates a very real risk of unauthorised access. It’s hard to keep data secure.

Yet just as concerning is authorised access. Once these databases have been created they will be one subpoena away from access in any and every private lawsuit.

facebooktwitter

WHO are they kidding?

The headline from a recent statement by the World Health Organisation:

WHO Representative urges stronger tobacco control in Syria

That’s just embarrassing. As Christopher Snowdon notes at his blog:

If you ever doubted that the WHO has lost its way, here is the proof. It has been taken over by western idiots who obsess over micromanaging personal lifestyles and waging war on Big Tobacco, Big Food, Big Soda, and Big Alcohol’ while the developing world literally burns.

facebooktwitter