Incentives matter, #7538

How on earth will I manage to find something to be cynical about this?

Greece has awarded citizenship to three migrant fishermen – two Egyptians and an Albanian – who rescued Greeks from a devastating fire near Athens last July.

At a ceremony the Greek President, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, thanked the fishermen for showing “solidarity and humanity” by rescuing dozens of people.

“You are now European citizens too, and so you can teach all our partners who don’t realise the values of Europe, to do what they ought to do,” he said.

Bills Opinion

The three men did a great thing and deserved a reward.

The problem is, the Greeks have just indicated to the market that the price of a European passport is to heroically save a life from a fire.

Most illegal immigrants won’t do anything malicious based on this price signal.

There will be some who will, however. My prediction is that there will be at least one fire set simply to enable an illegal immigrant so “save” a life. Let’s hope nobody dies as a consequence.

French virtue signalling

Seen today whilst passing through Gare de Lyon;

Look closely; the chaps who are recharging their mobile phones are having to pedal for the electricity.

Bear in mind the following;

– France has the lowest priced electricity in Europe at €0.15 per kilowatt because they heavily rely on the very sensible method (if you don’t like carbon) of generating energy: nuclear, and

– It takes about 1 kilowatt to fully charge an iPhone, and

– A static exercise bike costs about €200, probably triple that once it’s been integrated into a seat, table and charge station, and there are three of them, and

– The maintenance costs are likely to be the equivalent of a couple of hours of labour a month plus parts, so perhaps €100.

Therefore (and if someone can check my calculations, I’d be grateful), over 12,000 phones would need to be charged a year for this station to make economic sense. So, an average of 33 a day, including Christmas.

Except… an efficient bike generator produces about 100 watts an hour, so there’s absolutely no way these three machines would get even close to a 10% ROI, even if they were fully-utilised around the clock.

Bill’s Opinion

Dear railway travellers of France; the Gare de Lyon station management think you’re a bunch of fat lazy bastards and are therefore happy to spend money in a completely inefficient way to make you change your ways.

Oh, and to the bloke wearing sunglasses indoors at 4pm on a January afternoon; you’re a twat.

Against the envy of less happier lands

Shakespeare’s John of Gaunt gives the following speech in Richard the Second on the subject of Britain’s natural defences;

This royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle,

This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,

This other Eden, demi-paradise,

This fortress built by Nature for herself

Against infection and the hand of war,

This happy breed of men, this little world,

This precious stone set in the silver sea,

Which serves it in the office of a wall,

Or as a moat defensive to a house,

Against the envy of less happier lands,

This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

Consider then, the current UK Home Secretary’s strange assertion on the problem of illegal immigrants paddling across the 21 miles of sea from France;

Bill’s Opinion

Au contraire, Mr. Javid; there are several historically-proven easy answers;

1. Have the British Navy patrol the limit of the UK’s territorial water between England and France (12 nautical miles?).

2. Tow any vessels illegally entering the territorial waters back to the nearest French port.

3. If the French authorities complain, robustly suggest that they consider doing their damn job in future.

It would seem there are easy answers to the problem of maintaining national borders, after all.

Update; thanks Sam Vara for the correction to Javid’s job title.

New South Wales’ half pregnant drug policies

Obviously this is political rubbish but one suspects they’ve not really thought this through.

Some people have taken drugs at music festivals and have died so the government should test illegal drugs to check that they are safe.

Of course, there’s the usual instinctive dividing line between right and left going on here; “hard on crime” versus “the government must do something“.

There more to be had though. One of the easiest fallacies to fall for is the slippery slope fallacy, but the reason it is so tempting is that, quite often, there really is a slippery slope.

Let’s look at what might be involved in the New South Wales’ state government providing testing facilities for illegal substances at music festivals;

1. A pre-agreed list of drugs that will be tested. Will they be testing ecstasy, speed, ice, smack, Charlie, etc.? Does anyone still supply and take lysergic acid diethylamide?

2. A method of testing for each that can confirm the levels of all relevant substances. Chemical-based drugs (as opposed to organic drugs like weed) can be “cut” with all kinds of weird and wonderful rubbish from warfarin to toothpaste. It also needs to be a method that doesn’t destroy half of the pill or powder otherwise people won’t use the service.

3. Definitions of what “safe” levels of all of the possible danger factors might be.

4. Legal protection from the consequences of mistakes in the testing process. For example, if 19 year old Jaxson takes a pill to the government testing tent and is told it contains safe levels of amphetamine sulphate but, an hour later, he keels over and dies, is the NSW taxpayer suddenly on the hook for a massive compensation claim from his parents?

5. Legal protection from the consequences of capacity issues; what if Jaxson dies at a location not served by the government tent with folks in white coats?

Bill’s Opinion

The calls for illegal drug testing services at music festivals seems poorly-thought through and, instead, look like a thinly-disguised move towards legalising and regulating recreational drugs.

That’s a debate that really needs to be had in the open. There are many strong arguments for and against legalising and regulating recreational drugs but these are not being presented here. Instead, there’s a risk of a semi-legal, semi-regulated fudge of a compromise occurring, with a lot of unintended consequences later.

For what it’s worth, my view is that recreational drugs should be legalised, regulated (for quality and ensuring strict non-supply to minors) and taxed. There’s a large economy out there that law-abiding citizens could be benefiting from financially.

Brexit BATNA

The suggestion that Brexit negotiations are going poorly for the UK is a difficult one to refute.

By any objective measure, the “deal” Theresa May has been touting as the best possible outcome clearly doesn’t implement what the voters demanded she implement; The United Kingdom would still be subject to the majority of rules and regulations of the EU institutions but without the current ability to influence (albeit fractionally) the creation and amendment of said rules.

Negotiation is a very specific skill requiring a thoughtful strategy, access to as many relevant data points as possible and the maturity and strength of character to compromise or hold to key principles.

Many professionals earn a good living from undertaking the role of negotiator on behalf of clients; depending on the transaction one is undertaking, a lawyer, for example, is acting as your negotiator.

However, the one aspect a professional negotiator or, in the case of Brexit, a huge army of negotiators, can’t control is the competence and moral character of the “client”.

Imagine, for example, if the Prime Minister and cabinet were firmly of the opinion that the British public had chosen the correct option in the referendum and that the EU was a corrupt den of anti-democratic authoritarians who couldn’t be trusted to negotiate in good faith. The Brexit negotiations’ timeline might have looked something like this;

– 24th June 2016 – Article 50 delivered to the EU along with a telephone number printed on a business card with the words, “Your call is important to us. Please do let us know if you have an offer which you feel may be of interest to the people of the United Kingdom. Please note, this number will only be staffed between 2pm and 3pm on the first Tuesday of each month“.

– 24th June 2016 – The “Direct Debit” arrangements from all UK government bank accounts to the EU are cancelled.

– 24th June 2016 – The responsibility for the detailed planning for a move to WTO rules on 24th June 2018 is delegated to the relevant agencies and peak industry bodies. Note; delegated not micro-managed, as this is what they get paid for.

– That’s it. If the EU offered any deal that improves on WTO arrangements whilst still resulting in the UK leaving, a separate team would be tasked with reviewing and comparing it. However, work on the WTO option would continue at full speed.

That this, or a version thereof, wasn’t the approach tells us (and, more importantly, told the EU negotiation team) one crucial fact. The UK government has never had a credible BATNA. There was no palatable Plan B ready in case the EU negotiated in bad faith, nor was one even contemplated.

The EU haven’t played this particularly well, they didn’t need to, the UK negotiators were hamstrung from the start by a clear requirement from the “client” that a deal must be done at all cost…… which is the equivalent of trying to negotiate the price of an ice-cream while you have a crying child with you.

Bill’s Opinion

In years to come, Theresa May’s incompetent handling of the negotiations will be seen as a case study in what not to do.

That statement assumes, of course, that she really did intend to implement an exit from the EU, its rules, regulations and institutions.

Many observers might question that assumption.

That’s a nice country you’ve got, be a shame if anything happened to it

Moving the Australian embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem will increase the risk of Islamic terrorist attacks against Australians or people suspected of being Australian.

We’re not threatening you though, just warning you of what some people, for whom we’re not responsible, might do.

Let’s face it, who amongst us would not wish our neighbours to warn us if we were unknowingly putting ourselves in danger?

Australians must feel a huge sense of gratitude to the leaders of Malaysia and Indonesia for such kindness and selflessness to warn them of an increased threat of terrorism.

After all, there’s nothing more comforting than being lectured by leaders of majority Muslim countries on what might trigger terrorism attacks….. like an arsonist giving free advice to firefighters.

For example, one can sense the concern for the safety of all Australians in the Malaysian Prime Minister’s advice;

…..in dealing with terrorism, one has to know the causes. Adding to the cause for terror­ism is not going to be helpful … I pointed that out.

Ah, cause and effect, eh? Very sage advice.

What might be the causes of terrorism do we think?

Here’s a multiple choice list to consider;

1. Someone with mental health issues being convinced by a religious leader of a guaranteed afterlife in paradise if they kill infidels.

2. Country A moving their embassy in Country B to the capital city, against the wishes of Country C.

Bill’s Opinion

The Association Fallacy falsely links a group of individuals to another group of individuals because they share a similar quality.

However, there seems to be an exception to this rule; when looking at the group of people who are anti-Zionist and the group of people who are anti-Semitic, there is pretty much no recorded cases where the two groups don’t match completely.

As Tim Blair points out, Dr. Mahathir’s track record on both anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism is hiding in plain sight. Of the list of people to be assumed to be arguing in good faith against the embassy move, Mahathir would be one or two levels from the very bottom of the list. There’s probably only some blokes from Austria and Germany in the 1930s who would be beneath him on that list.

The man, in his own words, frequently repeated, is an unreconstructed Jew-hater. We’ll take no lectures about the causes of terrorism from him, thanks very much.

Anyway, the embassy move won’t happen now as the Australian government lost the by-election it was fighting in the Jewish area and the idea will now be buried quietly as yet another cynical attempt to cling to power.

As Thomas Sowell said,

No one will really understand politics until they understand that politicians are not trying to solve our problems.  They are trying to solve their own problems — of which getting elected and re-elected are No. 1 and No. 2.  Whatever is No. 3 is far behind.

Capitalism and democratic choices are a distant memory in Australia

Remember how, back in the mists of time there used to be a clear choice for voters; a party of the free markets and less government spending versus a party representing the working class and unions?

Perhaps we’re looking back with rose tinted glasses and t’was always thus. Nonetheless, Australians were given a very clear glimpse of what lies ahead should the economy take more than a minor dip over the coming months and years; the federal government becomes lender of last resort to crap businesses.

No. Really.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Small Business Minister Michaelia Cash will announce the small business funding policy on Wednesday, promoting the soon-to-be-established Australian Business Securitisation Fund as a way to overcome banks typically only lending to the self-employed when they pledge their personal home as collateral.

To summarise the announcement; “if the banks looked at your business and decided it was a poor bet and you didn’t have enough skin in the game, we’ve just decided the Australian taxpayer and their superannuation funds will lend you the money anyway“.

It’s very easy to be generous with other people’s money, isn’t it?

This is bound to end well.

The irony is that this policy wasn’t announced by either of the openly Socialist parties but by one of the two parties that historically claimed to be champions of free markets and minimal government intervention.

At a state level, similar disconnects have been shown between expressed and revealed preferences. Here’s a “free markets” politician bailing out rent-seeking taxi medallion speculators.

The $2bn fund to lend money to businesses judged by commercial lenders to be poor risks is an interesting development though, coming as it does so soon in to the worst housing crash in a generation, but particularly after this little legislative gem was snuck through onto the statute books with hardly any media coverage or explanation; insolvent banks can be rescued by confiscating deposits.

Bill’s Opinion

Will a “bail-in” of superannuation funds or bank deposits ever happen in Australia?

Unlikely, but not impossible. The risk isn’t zero.

There’s a great and often quoted dialogue in Hemmingway’s The Sun Also Rises;

‘How did you go bankrupt?’ Bill asked.

‘Two ways,’ Mike said. ‘Gradually and then suddenly.’

Perhaps this is the “gradually” part for Australian depositors. If so, it might be an idea to know how quickly you could act to not be caught out by the “suddenly“.

“Mental Slavery”

India’s current ruling party, the BJP, is almost the definition of a “broad church”, with moderates such as Prime Minister Modi but also complete loons and extremists such as the Hindu nationalists.

This is the sort of nonsense they tend to get up to when they’ve got half a chance; Shimla to be renamed Shyamala to end “mental slavery”.

This is the latest in a series of renaming activities that have been occurring since Shiv Sena (a really loony Hindu nationalist party, not amateurs at it like the BJP) renamed Bombay to Mumbai in 1995.

Some of these name changes have more historic justification than others.

The etymology for “Madras”, for example, referred to it as “black town” in the local language with “white town” reserved for the Europeans.

When Bombay was founded by the Portuguese, it was a collection of fishing huts. The reference back to some ancient temple to “Mumba Devi” is tenuous at best.

As for Calcutta being renamed Kolkata, I challenge anyone not paying extremely close attention to distinguish between the two pronunciations. That’s an expensive change of spelling.

Bill’s Opinion

71 years after Indian independence, what is meant by “mental slavery” is anyone’s guess. Are they suggesting that a name that most residents of Simla/Shyamala wouldn’t associate with the British still has some dangerous colonial issues? Given that the vast majority of Simla residents were born after the British had already left, this seems quite unlikely.

It’s comforting to note that the Indian government has solved all of the pressing higher priority issues facing the country already to be able to allocate any intellectual or more tangible resources to addressing this problem.

Finally, it’s going to be fun observing the inevitable debate about what to rename the country to.

No, seriously, “India” didn’t exist as a country prior to the East India Company’s foray from mercantilism into military expansion; “the Indies” and “India” were European nouns for swathes of territory far greater than the lands of the Deccan.

Most locals would have associated themselves to their local language, religion, ethnicity, region and ruling maharajah, rather than a supra-national identity.

A Bengali and a Keralan would not have recognised themselves as countrymen prior to the 1800s, as witnessed by the lack of support the southerners offered the easterners during the Mutiny of 1857.

The Indians can use whatever place names they want, of course, but using a colonial history as an excuse for driving a Hindu nationalist identity is an act of convenience not logic.

Pax Kiwi

The Gladiator bloke did much to perpetuate the cross-Tasman rivalry this week by suggesting that Australia and New Zealand should unite as a single country under the leadership of Jacinda Ahern, the Kiwi version of Justin Trudeau, except without testosterone (but I repeat myself);

At first blush, this looks like another case of an uniformed lefty Luvvie (again, I repeat myself) projecting their utopian world view on a reality that is incompatible.

But wait, there might be something in this combined Australasian Über Country…..

A casual reading of the Australian Constitution reveals the following clauses;

Australian Constitution, section 6: Definitions;

The Commonwealth shall mean the Commonwealth of Australia as established under this Act.

The States shall mean such of the colonies of New South Wales, New Zealand, Queensland, Tasmania, Victoria, Western Australia, and South Australia, including the northern territory of South Australia, as for the time being are parts of the Commonwealth, and such colonies or territories as may be admitted into or established by the Commonwealth as States; and each of such parts of the Commonwealth shall be called a State.

Curious. So, according to the Australian Constitution, New Zealand is already defined as a State of Australia.

Really? How do the Kiwis feel about this?

More importantly, what does it mean and what relevant precedents are there?

Well…. Western Australia was not an original member of the Commonwealth, joining 3 weeks after Federation following a state-wide referendum. Interestingly, the time lag between the west and east of Australia has since grown, with Perth now preparing fireworks to celebrate seeing in the Millennium next December 31st.

Interestingly, from my research, it would seem the process for WA to join the rest of Australia was a referendum; by voting “Yes”, the State was granted automatic membership in the newly-federated country. If any students of history can confirm this, I’d be grateful, but it would seem the national parliament didn’t have a subsequent vote to confirm/reject the application.

This has a significant implications for the citizens of New Zealand….

Bill’s Opinion

If New Zealand were to hold a referendum and the majority of Kiwis vote to join Australia, there isn’t a damn thing the Aussies can do to prevent them from joining the federation.

Why would they do this?

Let’s answer that question with another question; hey Kiwis, how would you like a heated pool in your backyards, a speedboat and a new German SUV….. and get the Aussies to pay for them?

Clauses 105 and 105a allow for the Commonwealth to take over States’ debts. So, rack up the credit cards, hold a vote and then ask the neighbours to pay the bill.

Lastly, Clause 25 is, erm, interesting….

“Something must be done”

And something, therefore, shall be done.

Some complete and utter idiot stuck pins into strawberries somewhere between the farm and the supermarkets in Australia a week or so ago.

Because the idiocy is contagious, there then followed a spate of copycat cases and other soft fruit was tampered with, presumably by other parties.

The culprits and their motivation have yet to be identified but significant police resources have been mobilised to apprehend them and throw the full force of the criminal law against them.

“Fair enough”, one might think, “a bad actor commits a crime that deliberately risks bodily harm of others. There’s definitely a law against that with a penalty to fit the crime. Let the police get on with their job and let justice be done”.

Except it’s never that simple in Australian politics.

No, in Australia when something bad happens at a state or federal level, a brave and decisive politician must rush to the nearest phone booth (increasingly harder to find these days), make a rapid change of clothes and emerge, Superman-esque, and announce plans to change or write new law.

And that’s precisely what This Month’s Prime Minister ™ has done;

Ten years in the clink isn’t enough disincentive to not tamper with people’s food, so we’ll make it 15 years.

This prompts just a couple of questions from curious minds such as ours;

1. How many cases of deliberate food contamination do we think an extra 5 years in jail will prevent? ie will those extra potential years of incarceration be a factor in the mind of a person who has decided to bring needles to work and deliberately stick them in to soft fruit?

2. Will the legislation go against Common Law precedent and be retrospective, or will the current culprits not be subject to the new penalties?

3. How long will it take for this legislative change to be made and will it be in time to be applied in the prosecution of the current culprits?

Bill’s Opinion

There are two ways of looking at this lunacy.

The first and most obvious way to view this is that it is pathetic virtue signalling that will have absolutely no effect, positive or negative, on the current spate of crimes. It’s an incredible piece of Dunning Krugerism by the government to think that, after 803 years of Common Law, suitable legislation doesn’t already exist to cover a situation of deliberate bodily harm.

But let’s ponder more on the situation; consider how much time and resources will be expended to plan this change of law, announce it to the press, have the legal team draft the new legislation, plan the parliamentary time to debate it, sign the legislation and communicate the change to the judiciary.

Now consider what that big parliamentary machine could be doing instead. It could be employed to create far more intrusive laws in areas that would actually impact the general population, ie, the people who wouldn’t stuff needles into fruit. Laws like a tax on energy production, or to force bakeries to bake cakes for same sex marriages, etc.

No, as daft as This Month’s Prime Minister’s idea is, it’s far better that he and his team are spending their time amending previously adequate laws rather than imposing their incompetency into other areas of public life.

Please, carry on!