“Completely mystified”

The responses below the tweet are priceless, but before you click the link, let’s look at the supporting article.

Apparently, the most likely explanation to the phenomenon of lowering costs for some expenses yet rising costs for others is something I’d not previously heard of; Baumol Cost Disease.

From Bloomberg’s helpful description:

The theory of Baumol cost disease, developed in the 1960s by economist William Baumol, states that some things rise in price even as productivity goes up. When society gets better at making cars, electronics, food and clothing, wages go up. But as wages go up, industries that don’t find ways to use less labor to produce the same service — for example, a string quartet — rise in price as well.

Which, prima facie, sounds reasonable and rational.

However, I would caveat that feeling of reasonableness with the statement that Malthusianism also sounds reasonable and rational when it’s first described, possibly for similar reasons.

What Malthus has been wrong about for the last 291 years is the Industrial Revolution. Or, more specifically, human inventiveness. Oscar Wilde touched on the solution we found to Malthus’ problem with this pithy quote;

Civilization requires slaves. Human slavery is wrong, insecure and demoralizing. On mechanical slavery, on the slavery of the machine, the future of the world depends.

As the wags and wits on Twitter were fast to point out, the costs that have experienced the most price inflation are, in a suspicious coincidence, the things that have most benefited from government “help” in terms of regulation and subsidies.

Correlation isn’t causation but there’s clearly something worth further enquiry here.

Bill’s Opinion

The most interesting part of the Baumol description is this:

….industries that don’t find ways to use less labor to produce the same service….

The obvious question that prompts is, “why don’t they find ways to use less labour?”.

Perhaps the range of possible answers are as simple as these two:

  1. Because the work involved is impossible to automate or make any more efficient, and/or
  2. There isn’t a great enough incentive to automate or make more efficient.

Anyone who has ever spent any time working in a government or quasi-government department and the private sector will recognise the critical difference immediately; there is no personal reward for for a manager to find a way to deliver the government service with fewer or with lower-skilled employees.

It is extremely rare for a government minister’s stated desire for improved efficiency to be translated into meaningful incentives down the organisation to a level where they will have any material effect.

As Ronald Reagan so eloquently put it:

Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.

Or, as an anonymous quote (no, it wasn’t Milton Friedman) goes:

If you put government in charge of the Sahara desert there will be a shortage of sand in five years.

But remember, “economists are completely mystified“.

This ends badly for everyone

A young person privately expresses views that are incompatible with those of their employer.

Someone notifies a national newspaper of these views.

The national newspaper publishes the correspondence.

The young person is fired and will likely struggle to find future employment in a similar field as a consequence.

A columnist writes a follow-up sarcastic opinion piece on the newly-unemployed person.

The public interest to justify publication; his brother cousin is famous.

No, seriously.

Let’s put it another way:

A private citizen had their private religious views made front page news and the newspaper contacted his employer for comment, presumably with the expectation the employer would act upon the information.

That’s the world in which we find ourselves in 2019. If you have impure thoughts you will be cancelled and, presumably pour encourager les autres, your family will be similarly targeted.

Bill’s Opinion

As we’ve previously stated, it is now clear that the Israel Folau case is the left’s chosen battleground for the culture war this year.

That his brother cousin, Josiah, has been targeted in this way further supports this hypothesis. It’s a tactic from the Soviets – not only do we want you to be punished publicly, but your family will be in our sights too.

That there seems to be little shock or surprise from the commentariat is also deeply worrying.

Peter Fitzsimons, for example, clearly didn’t think for one moment of what the consequences of this approach might be for his children, Billi, Louis and Jake. With two famous parents, this new standard makes them fair targets for analysis and scrutiny for thought crimes.

We will not enjoy where the road takes us if our private thoughts at the age of 23 are now legitimate front page material to serve one side or the other in a culture war.

UPDATE: Thanks to those who pointed out my reading comprehension skills are dusty and that Josiah is, in fact, Israel’s cousin, not brother. Of course, that’s even worse, isn’t it? What next, targeting the religious beliefs of their neighbours?

The Sydney Harbour Stadium

Milton Friedman famously explained the four ways to spend money:

1. Your money on yourself – explaining the model and age of car you drive, balancing comfort, speed and prestige with cost to your preferred ratio.

2. Your money on someone else – explains why the presents you give are generous but not extravagant.

3. Someone else’s money on you – explaining why you always order the fillet steak and a good Shiraz when eating on the company expense tab.

4. Someone else’s money on someone else – explaining why the New South Wales government just awarded a contract to demolish a stadium and rebuild it before the new one had been designed.

No, really. That last one just happened.

In the Olympic event of “Pissing away other people’s money”, it’s a close contender for Gold along side Victoria’s $1.1bn road that never got built.

I suppose the Moore Park location isn’t as godawful as the Olympic Stadium at Homebush, which takes about an hour to reach even if you live close to it (which nobody who follows sports does), but it’s a crap location nonetheless.

If only there were better alternative suggestions….

Bill’s Opinion

Now that it’s been knocked down by corruption mistake, so to speak, why not take the opportunity to turf over the space and let the local junkies have a larger area to pitch their bivvies and overdose in.

Meanwhile, Sydney could build the world’s best sporting venue evah….

Ladies and Gentlemen…. The Sydney Harbour Stadium:

 In summary, our design includes;

1 A world class 120,000 seater stadium built to the north of Clark Island.

2 A “rollable” pitch to be moved out to the east of the stadium when not in use to ensure full sunlight on the grass (learning the lesson of Wales’ Millennium Stadium)

3 A new dedicated underground railway station linking up with Wynyard and terminating at Clark Island.

4 A new ferry wharf to the north west of the stadium connecting with Circular Quay and the other ferry routes.

Imagine the excitement of jumping on a quick ferry ride to a major international sporting event held in the middle of the world’s most beautiful natural harbour. Spectators would quickly arrive and depart using multiple ferries to different harbour locations and the train would connect with the existing rail network.

The footage of the game would be the best advert for Australian tourism (another industry in dire need of stimulus) ever shown on TV. Away matches in Sydney would be the highlight of every international team’s fixtures and their fans would always consider those fixtures as the first choice for travel.

Unlike the current disastrous commercial project the New South Wales government has presided over, this proposed stadium has been fully-designed and costed and, if the government minister would contact me, I will be happy to hand over the three used Malboro packets with the details.

(Keen observers will notice the basic idea for this stadium appeared elsewhere but I have since taken ownership of the copyright).

If it wasn’t for double standards…

…we wouldn’t have any standards at all.

There is an Australian heuristic that rarely lets you down; when you are in doubt about what the correct position is to take on an issue, look to see whether Peter Fitzsimons has pontificated on it….and take the opposite side.

Last week, Australia’s polymath with a red bandana wrote this stirring attack on a disgraced Chinese swimmer:

Fast forward a week, and Fitzsimons is calling for sober heads, sympathy and the benefit of the doubt for an Australian swimmer who has tested positive for a banned substance:

Outside observers can see the double standards of his position before even investigating the underlying stories about Sun Yang and Shayna Jack.

Further research makes Fitzsimons seem even more tribal. Sun Yang smashed samples that had been taken by people who were unable to present the correct evidence of authority to do so, Shayna Jack tested positive for a banned substance. It’s unclear whether Jack’s testers had the correct paperwork.

The first is not a positive drug test result, the second is.

Bill’s Opinion

The risk/reward for athletes doping is not the same for every sport.

If we were to order rank those sports by how much impact doping would have on performance, the sports with the least reward for doping would be those with a higher relative reliance on technique, tactical excellence and teamwork.

Conversely, there would be a better risk/reward payoff to dope in the more purely physical sports where results are decided by marginal physiological differences such as in weightlifting, running, cycling and swimming.

An extra 1% efficiency in blood flow might not help a rugby player lift the World Cup trophy with his team but it could mean the difference between gold and silver for a swimmer at the Olympics.

I’ve recently realised my favourite sports are also coincidentally ones where doping is less likely to have a positive payback, sports where tactics play a large part in addition to physical performance and technique. This wasn’t a conscious choice but it is interesting that this self-sorting occurred.

On the subject of self-sorting, Fitzsimons does something similar when expressing public opinions:

Of Brexperts and telepaths

As oft quoted here, “predictions are notoriously difficult, particularly about the future“.

The Dilbert cartoonist, Scott Adams, seems to have a knack at predicting stuff. After a particularly good run of predictions, he wrote this remarkable piece of advice to people who were going mad about the Orange Man winning the election.

His suggestion is, if you didn’t predict many of the 15 events he lists, perhaps a moment of introspection is warranted.

Building on that theme, I’d like to offer something similar on the subject of Britain’s exit from the EU. I’ve noticed in multiple conversations recently, people who have little knowledge of the subject have explained to me my reasons for voting Leave.

Not content with mere telepathy, they also offer multiple predictions of what will happen next.

If this describes you, may I suggest reviewing the following list of statements:

  1. Brexit is about immigration and racism. Anyone who claims controlling immigration was simply one of multiple reasons is a lying racist. Any brown people who voted Leave are a modern day “Uncle Tom” or suffering from Stockholm Syndrome.
  2. Immediately following a Leave vote, the UK economy will be plunged into recession, as predicted by The Treasury.
  3. In the weeks following a Leave vote, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be forced to implement a punitive emergency budget.
  4. The result of the referendum will be accepted and implemented by MPs.
  5. Following Brexit, the UK will be at the back of the queue (note, not “line”, as Americans usually describe it) for any trade deal with the USA. Presumably that’s because the UK’s “U” is later in the alphabet than Somalia’s “S”?.
  6. The EU is simply a trading block and has no plans to further expand the scope of its powers to include such things as creating a military arm, conformation of taxes, and centralised control (and distribution) of immigration to the EU.
  7. A Prime Minister who voted Remain would be a good choice to negotiate an exit from the EU and to heal the political divisions created by the referendum.
  8. The UK and Ireland will implement disruptive checks at the Northern Irish border crossings (all 300 of them).
  9. Boris Johnson’s political career is dead following his abortive leadership attempt.
  10. Boris Johnson is a buffoon with an IQ barely above room temperature and will never become Prime Minister.

Bill’s Opinion

Be honest with yourself. How many of those did you read in your preferred source of current affairs news and accepted at face value at some point in the previous three years?

If you believed more than, say, 3 of the 10, please try to listen a little longer to people you meet who voted Leave.

Also, consider taking the time to review the following statements and determine whether you agree with me that these are looking increasingly likely. Not guaranteed, mind you, but that the probability is trending towards them becoming reality.

  1. When negotiating, one always needs to have a credible BATNA. Boris Johnson has made solid noises to this effect now and the EU may reconsider their position as a consequence. The UK will leave on October 31st, regardless.
  2. There will be no hard border on the island of Ireland. A mix of random and targeted checks will occur but trade will continue relatively free of friction.
  3. Following a “no deal” Brexit, there will be slightly worse problems than those caused by the Millennium Bug. Other than a few pictures in the Liverpool Echo of sad, orange Scousers complaining about minor disruptions to “dream holidays”, and individual daft actions justified “because of Brexit”, everyone will carry on just fine.
  4. A couple of years after an uneventful “no deal” Brexit, several other EU members will have elected pro-Leave leaders. France would be first cab off the rank, if I had to guess.
  5. Five years after Brexit, the UK’s GDP will be significantly healthier than Germany’s and any other EU member.

The value of money is merely a concept enough of us have agreed to believe (or at least pretend to believe). The paper with printed pictures and numbers in your wallet only has worth because a critical mass of us agree it has. If we lose confidence in the currency, it loses value.

Democracy is a very similar concept.

Flash! Flash, I love you…..

….but we only have 14 hours to save the earth.

We have good news and bad news.

Bad news; it’s no longer 12 years to save the planet, but 18 months.

Good news; by January 2021, we can finally stop reading how long we will have to save the planet as it will be too late.

Unless you’re utterly bored today, don’t bother clicking the link to the article on the BBC website as it’s clearly been written by their AI Climate Bot (tm).

Artificial Intelligence journalism articles are often indistinguishable from human-generated pieces but there are tell-tale signs to be found if one looks hard enough.

An intelligent human, for example, even one who was massively ideologically biased, would never write a statement such as,

Do you remember the good old days when we had “12 years to save the planet”?

…without at least a little introspection on how many times a deadline had been previously given that had subsequently been passed without obvious consequence.

As a persuasive technique, it’s a terrible strategy to ask the question, do you remember when we only had 12 years left, as it prompts several unhelpful answers in the mind of the reader.

Such as;

Bill’s Opinion

Depending on your age, health, genetics and lifestyle, you probably have somewhere between zero and seventy years left.

I strongly suspect the earth, humanity and most of the other species will still be getting along just fine long after you’re gone.

Claims of this being our “last chance” are, at best, delusional, but more likely motivated by a desire for a combination of wealth, power, fame and attention.

That our media agree to publish this spoonfed nonsense without critical analysis tells you everything you need to know about how much else of their content can be trusted.

If you are ever attacked by a pratfall of clowns…

…go straight for the juggler.

Apologies for the Dad joke to kick us off but it seemed too good an opportunity to waste based on the apparent revelation we are living on ClownWorld.

Brendan O’Neill of Spiked has written an excellent analysis of the sorry story of a mentally ill Canadian man who has harassed female bikini-waxers for refusing to wax his “female testicles“.

In O’Neill’s words;

…the HRC (Human Rights Commission) hearings revolve around the question, ‘Should a business be allowed to deny service on the basis of gender identity?’ Or perhaps, ‘Should a woman be forced by law to touch a penis she doesn’t want to touch?’ – that’s a franker, more honest way of putting it, though it’s obvious why people don’t put it like that, given it would expose the fundamental misogyny at play in this demented case.

Misogyny is an interesting take on this, particularly from a self-identified Trotskyist such as O’Neill. He’s right, of course. If one takes the clownworld comedy sunglasses off for a moment, this is a grown man trying to use the law to oppress women who are, in many cases, recent immigrants on the lower end of the economic spectrum. A few years ago this would not have got this far through the process.

If you read and listen to similar serious and frivolous news sources as me, you’ll have no doubt seen this story already. Even if you haven’t, you may have heard the distant laughter as we wonder how Canadia went from helping storm the beaches at Normandy through sheets of hot bullets to rescue Europe from tyranny to “I’m a woman and you must wax my balls” in just two generations?

I’ve been unable to find a find a definitive date for the British Columbia Human Rights Commission’s final ruling, I heard a suggestion that it might be this week.

Bill’s Opinion

It’s a challenge to provide a new perspective on this as, Prima Facie, it’s so obviously a mentally ill, vexatious litigant causing trouble. I do have something new to say on this however;

It’s hugely disappointing to read Jessica’s social media accounts.

Wait, what?

No, seriously. My disappointment is due to the distinct lack of support he is receiving from the usual idiots. Nothing from the Laurie Penny/Clementine Ford types at all. The best he can muster is a message from a suspiciously new account.

The left have wisely chosen to not fight The Great Canadian Culture War of 2019 on this battleground. Oh well, let’s hope our enemies make a mistake soon.

It’s not the winning that counts

…but the taking part.

Lucky old Tom Decent; he was finally allowed to write about rugby yesterday, rather than being sent to the Folaus’ church to live blog from the Sunday service;

The good news for those who like the rugby status quo is that the Wallabies performed badly, lost a match and the coach and local commentators blamed a single decision by the referee.

Australia had just been awarded a scrum feed but right as the whistle blew Tupou belted South African back-rower Rynhardt Elstadt with a forceful hit. The TMO said he believed it was “clearly a shoulder charge to the chest”, while Williams said on the field: “The guy is sitting there and he’s come running in with the shoulder. It’s clearly dangerous, it hit him in the chest after the whistle. Away you go.”

Many thought a penalty would suffice but Australia were reduced to 14 men and it proved to be a pivotal moment in the game as South Africa ran away with the result to continue an eight-year winning streak on home soil against the Aussies.

Many thought” is doing a lot of work in those paragraphs above.

Many also thought it was fairly unintelligent to steam in to a ruck, shoulder first, in a stadium with more cameras than the Celebrity Big Brother House, particularly when the referee was playing advantage to your team.

A word to young aspiring sports journalists the world over; quoting Phil Kearns’ opinion on anything as if objective and knowledgeable is not conducive to being taken seriously. For example, the words “double movement” are nowhere to be found in the Rugby law book. Oh, and they are laws not rules, Phil.

Yeah, yeah, details are annoying.

Bill’s Opinion

It might be argued that Rugby Union is a dying sport in Australia. Certainly, the attendance figures for the top league are insipid and declining year on year.

Pinpointing when the rot set in is a tough task; the national team have had a reputation for over-performing for years compared to their perceived abilities and talent pool, which may have had an effect of disguising institutional problems.

Rather like Hemingway’s quote on how an individual became bankrupt, (“two ways…gradually and then suddenly“), one suspects the Australian rugby code is now reaping the poor harvest of inaction or actions of perhaps decades ago. My suspicion is the 2nd term of former CEO John O’Neil (2007-2013) might be a good starting point for an investigation and also the subsequent term of Bill Pulver.

Both were great examples of the the strange phenomenon of Australian upper class elite in a country that prides itself on being egalitarian and classless. O’Neil and Pulver attended St Joseph’s and “Shore” (Sydney Church of England Grammar School), respectively, as did most of their predecessors and peers. It’s a shallow and parochial talent pool which often benefits from the “closed shop” approach common to an “old boy’s network”.

Without forensically examining the board papers and internal memoranda throughout that period, it’s impossible to be certain what the causes of the malaise were. The consequences are plain to see though; declining attendance, participation and on-pitch results (there are people who are taking their driving lessons this year who weren’t born when Australia last won the Bledisloe Cup, for example).

Bill Pulver handed the reigns over to Raelene Castle who, although making encouraging noises about grassroots participation, has picked an ideological battleground which risks a heavy financial loss if unsuccessful, one which the sport can ill-afford at this febrile time.

There’s a glimmer of hope in the article linked above though; the semi-professional Shute Shield competition can draw crowds close to those of some of the Super Series teams.

Perhaps that’s the future of rugby in Australia; a recognition of financial reality and a reversion to the model where the athletes have regular jobs on civvie street and play for the love and prestige of the game?

Strangely, that might simultaneously save the sport and satisfy the Shore/Joeys alumni’s unspoken preference for the game to return to its “boutique” and exclusive roots; a visit to a top level rugby match in Sydney has the feel of an excuse for an old school social event rather than an outing for true sports fans.

And the 2019 Pulitzer Prize goes to….

Kate McClymont, Investigative Journalist, Sydney Morning Herald.

Kate has an enviable track record of fearless and relentless inquiry, speaking truth to power in the fine tradition of her profession.

No, that’s not sarcasm; she’s one of the few proper journalists remaining in the nation. Her work has resulted in some high profile cases being prosecuted through the courts as a consequence of the facts she unearthed. The Eddie Obied scandal being one excellent example. If she retired tomorrow, she’d be remembered as one of the finest and noblest journalists of her generation.

Today, Kate has turned her attention to Israel Folau’s church and its teachings.

You can follow the link above if you’re really interested in her findings. Spoiler alert; a fringe denomination of Christianity has views that are outside of mainstream dogma.

We could engage in whataboutery at this point and wonder when the investigations are scheduled to inform us of the religious beliefs other famous people, particularly those of faiths other than Christianity. That would be a fallacious argument, obviously; Folau’s version of Christianity is under the spotlight precisely because of his statements, he’s made public what most people keep private.

What is interesting about the media and commentariat’s major obsession with the Folau case is “the dog that isn’t barking“.

What’s meant by this aphorism is, can we identify what subjects aren’t being offered to us?

In the example of McClymont’s exposé, what haven’t we been told that we might have reasonably been expecting from a deep dive into a fringe religious organisation?

Here’s some church-related issues that spring to mind based on decades of scandals here and overseas;

  • Financial irregularities
  • Sexual abuse of minors or the vulnerable
  • Ostracism of the relatives of the congregation
  • Brainwashing of the congregation to remove themselves from society
  • Demagoguery or authoritarian behaviour by the leaders
  • Calls to violence against detractors or a designated scapegoat

Check Kate’s article for yourself but I couldn’t find evidence of any of the above list.

Flip that on its head; if you wanted to run a takedown piece on a religious institution, what would be the easiest topic to target to be able to ask awkward questions and spray innuendo?

Financial irregularities would be my choice. It’s the simplest job in the world to run a rule through financial accounts and drop hints of unreasonable expenses or unexplained transfers of funds.

That someone of Kate’s calibre and obvious skill hasn’t written anything along these lines suggests one of two reasons;

  1. The church is “clean”, and/or
  2. Kate’s heart just isn’t in it.

If my analysis is correct, there’s hope for at least one individual in the profession we used to call journalism.

Bill’s Opinion

To repeat my previous full disclosure on the subject of religion;

It’s probably worth clarifying my personal faith regarding this issue first; I’m an atheist who enjoys the benefits of where the Judeo-Christian tradition arrived in 2019. Perhaps a “cultural Christian”, if you will. I have no animus whatsoever toward homosexuals, to use the cliché, some of my best friends, etc.

What is most irritating about this sorry, pathetic little kitchen sink drama is that the media coverage has become more divisive than the subject it is reporting on.

What I mean by this is, previously, I could go to the rugby and cheer my team, I could go out for a beer after work with my gay friend and I could have Sunday lunch with my devout Christian relative.

Those three worlds were never in conflict. In fact, that last paragraph describes at least half a dozen weeks of my life last year, where I did all three of those activities in the same weekend.

I didn’t have to choose between them. It never crossed my mind that I would have to.

Why do we have to choose? Why is the media coverage of this so keen for us to make that choice?

Why is a national newspaper making a habit of going into a fringe denomination’s house of worship and reporting on their beliefs? And, whataboutery, why aren’t we offered the corollary view from the Lakemba mosque?

Perhaps the last word is best taken from Kate’s article, from a quote by Australian Christian Lobby managing director Martyn Iles;

Mr Iles also said: “The unity we share for the cause of free expression is the key issue driving the need for Israel’s legal fight and public campaign. All of us may one day find that our beliefs stray outside of the narrow band of political correctness and that will be a day when we treasure our freedoms.”

Quite.

With my feet in the fridge…

…and my head in the oven, I am experiencing an average level of comfort.

The Sydney Morning Herald Climate Change Bot ™ has produced this month’s weather article.

That’s a shocking headline, isn’t it? My only surprise is why it didn’t warrant a solid Peter Hannam-esque “Extreme Weather” tagline?

Seriously, 7 degrees is a long way above the average, even if it is caveated with both a “likely to” and an “up to”.

Except….

The missing piece of data is what the range encompasses.

Ah, 25.9 to 2.2 degrees.

That’s quite a temperature range for July, eh? The mean maximum is 16.4 degrees, (up to) 7 degrees above that is still 2.5 below the maximum recorded July temperature.

Bill’s Opinion

This isn’t #FakeNews, it’s simply #NotNews.

Hold the front page; winter is cooler than summer this year but well within the expected range based on observations.

By the way, in a surprise development, Jenny Noye’s degree was on the solid scientific subjects of media and gender studies. One assumes any “deviations” taught on the curriculum wouldn’t be of the statistical standard type.