catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

Archive for February 2005

Putting down Soros

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GEORGE SOROS, to be clear about this from the outset, is a great and a good man—perhaps the most successful financial-market investor in history, and one of the most generous philanthropists of this or any age. His tragedy is that these remarkable distinctions do not satisfy him. He craves recognition as a great thinker. Because of who he is, there will always be buyers for his books, publishers for his books, and cash-strapped academics to say flattering things about his books. None of this alters the fact that his books are no good. Read the rest of this entry »

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February 28, 2005 at 10:52 pm

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Popper Seminar Part 7 The danger of Parliamentary sovereignty and the potential for abuse of discretionary power

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Democrats have usually responded to the question “Who should rule?” with the answer “The majority”.
Hayek noted in section 3 of his essay ‘Why I am not a conservative’ that it was only when power came into the hands of the majority that further limitations of the power of government were thought to be unnecessary. “In this sense democracy and unlimited government are connected”. However he went on to say that it is not democracy but unlimited government that is objectionable, and he did not see why the people should not learn to limit the scope of majority rule as well as that of any other form of government. “It is not who governs but what government is entitled to do that seems to me the essential problem.”
It is apparent from Popper’s critique of sovereignty that majority rule is no better than any other tyranny unless it is limited. But it gets worse because the unthinking acceptance of the doctrine of majority rule has flowed on into the doctrine of Parliamentary Sovereignty. This is the idea that any law that a majority of bodies in the House at the time happens to pass by a simple majority is OK, regardless of the written or unwritten rules or conventions in place before the vote and regardless of the previous system of rights and conventions that are violated in the process. The process may be complicated if there is an upper house where a majority is required as well, but the point is that the capacity for revolutionary and destructive legislation is always on the cards as long as the doctrine of Parliamentary Sovereignty is widely accepted. Read the rest of this entry »

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February 28, 2005 at 8:26 pm

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Give the man a go

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Prolific intellectual wunderkind Mark Bahnisch has been dropping a few subtle hints here:

I’m single again, and as I’m hardly likely to meet anyone sitting in an office in Toowong by myself writing a thesis, I’m giving cyberdating a go.

and in a comment on the same post:

On blogger crushes, if anyone wants to email me, you know where to find me 🙂

So in the interests of bloke-solidarity I’m helping him put out the message. Come on, ladies, you know you can’t resist a man who knows how to spell ‘hermeneutics’ and discourse at length on Derrida, a man who can combine prolific blogging with writing a doctoral thesis. Put the man out of his misery and give him a go!

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February 28, 2005 at 7:50 pm

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Is there an anti-Labor 'political outlook'?

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I had a small exchange with Dave Ricardo over the weekend, when he expressed the view that:

Gallop’s victory is one of the all time great victories, given the general political outlook in the country.

But what is this political outlook Dave is talking about? After all, if we consult our electoral history Labor has not lost a territory election since Kate Carnell scraped home in a minority government in the ACT in 1998, and not lost a state election since the 1997 South Australian election. This pattern suggests a state-level ‘political outlook’ that very much favours Labor. It may be that Labor has a certain structural advantage at the state level. I have advanced before the theory that Labor is the ‘mummy party’ that looks after social services as state governments do, while the Liberals are the ‘daddy party’ that looks after finances and defence, as federal governments do. If this is the case, and given first term governments very rarely lose, the only surprising thing about the WA election is that the result was ever in doubt.

Even if the Liberals have an easier set of issues at the federal level, there is no evidence that the voters are in any way rusted on to them. If we look at the 2003 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes only 35.7% of voters identify with the Coalition parties, while 41.8% identify with Labor or other left parties. Through much of last year Newspoll had Labor ahead of the Coalition on a two-party preferred basis. The Coalition won in the end because it picked up more of the undecideds, and did so not because of any profound ‘political outlook’ but because it ran an effective campaign and benefited from Opposition mistakes (as Gallop did in WA).

The Australian electorate is a pragmatic one, results-focused, unideological (they have some set views, but they don’t amount to any coherent right or left ideology), and for the most part only mildy partisan. There is no ‘political outlook’ that makes any election result a fait accompli, even if there are factors that make one result more likely than another. Since these factors – add in an incompetent Oppostion – favoured Gallop his victory is great news for Labor supporters, but not a great victory against the odds. The last time that happened was Victoria in 1999, when Steve Bracks won an election with a much smaller margin, but in a much bigger surprise defeating what had been the most effective state government in memory.

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February 28, 2005 at 5:13 pm

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Innovative uni course

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Met a trainee medical biostatistician on Friday. He has a doctorate in engineering and has been recruited into an industry funded course to boost the suppy of biostatisticians who are needed to assist in the conduct of controlled trials of new drugs.
He is doing the course by distance education on a part-time basis and he will have dealings with no fewer than six universities who each provide some of the units. Sounds like a nightmare of coordination. He is enrolled at the Uni of Sydney which is his “home” university that will award the final degree. He will provide more information which I will pass on to Andrew and anyone else with an interest in this kind of innovation.

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February 28, 2005 at 10:53 am

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The peasants are revolting

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Sydney has seen its third evening of street violence in Macquarie Fields, after two locals were killed by a third who drove their stolen car into a tree.

I took my one and only trip to this part of Sydney with some CIS colleagues in 1997, with the local member, Mark Latham, as guide. This was the trip he later condemned as ‘poverty tourism’, though as I recall the matter it was his idea.

Looking at some notes I took at the time, I was more struck by the affluence than the poverty. Dreadful estates like Macquarie Fields are physically close to respectable middle class areas. The NSW authorities made a terrible mistake in clustering so many poor people together, rather than distributing them through middle class communities. As it turned out, the decline in blue collar jobs and rise in welfare dependency created concentrated communities of people with few prospects and little constructive to do. Social norms tend to collapse in these circumstances.

The kind of contempt for law and order that’s been on display the last few days is nothing unusual. In the past even the fire brigade has had things thrown at them as they try to put out fires. I can’t recall Latham’s exact words when I asked him what should be done about the poverty estates, but they were to the effect of ‘bulldoze them’. He may be gone, but he had a point.

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February 28, 2005 at 6:57 am

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Part 6 The personal and institutional tasks of democracy

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Moving on through Chapter 7 of The Open Society, after suggesting a non-paradoxical and practical approach to the issue of leadership, Popper returned to Plato to examine the way that he distracted attention from the institutional issues of keeping the leaders under control. For Plato the focus shifted from institutions to questions of personnel, and the most urgent problems shift to selecting the natural leaders and training them for leadership. In contrast Popper insisted on the primacy of institutional matters.
“All long-term politics are institutional. There is no escape from that, not even for Plato. The principle of leadership does not replace institutional problems by problems of personnel, it only creates new institutional problems. .. But it must be said that a pure institutionalism is impossible also. Not only does the construction of institutions involve important personal decisions, but the functioning of even the best institutions (such as democratic checks and balances) will always depend, to a considerable degree, on the persons involved. Institutions are like fortresses. They must be well designed and manned.” Read the rest of this entry »

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February 27, 2005 at 11:15 pm

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