The problem with economists

The central problem with economists is that not one of them fully understands how the world economy came to be in the mess it’s in.  They can give partial explanations that describe a series of events and actions that have brought us to where we are, but these explanations are always incomplete.  The complexities of national economies and how they interact is so bewilderingly multifaceted, the intricacies of the interactions among the myriad of variables so byzantine, that the human brain is incapable of comprehending them.  Only a powerful computer would be capable of processing the millions of bits of information involved, and even if that were available, inputting the relevant data would be an overwhelming task.  Anyone familiar with systems theory and chaos theory will understand this.  So economists have to do the best they can with the limited information they have at their disposal and the inadequate processing capability available.  So we ought not to be too critical of their inability to give us unassailable insight and clear direction. More...

Matthew Franklin’s having a bad ‘scare’ day

First he confidently predicted that Julie Bishop was safe in his piece in this morning’s Australian Bishop retains Turnbull backing only to have her quit her Shadow Treasurer role within hours.  His opening sentence “Liberal frontbencher Julie Bishop looks safe as the Opposition's Treasury spokeswoman in the short term, despite widespread concern among her colleagues over her performance”  was not as smart as Chris Uhlmann’s assessment on ABC 774 Melbourne radio that if your leader insists that you’re doing a great job and has every confidence in you, you’re soon for the chop.

Then he writes a front page piece Rudd accused of plagiarising quotes titled Questions on wording in Rudd essay in the online version, where he shows a ‘stunning resemblance’ between one of Rudd’s passages in his essay in The Monthly and an article published by Roger C Altmann a month earlier.  Rudd does not quote the earlier article, he quotes the same quotes from French President Sarkozy and Chinese Premier Wang Qishan as does Altmann, both quotes in both articles being correctly attributed.  Franklin doesn’t seem to realize that any number of authors use the same quotes; it’s whether they are attributed properly that counts.  It’s ludicrous for a senior journalist to imply that not only must the original quotes be attributed, but also others who have used the same quotes.  That such an inconsequential article could be written by the paper’s ‘Chief political correspondent’ and pass the paper’s editor suggests that substance is unimportant so long as a spurious political jibe is made.  If you’ve the stomach to read the whole sorry piece, it’s here.


Devine, van Onselen and Shanahan sit in judgement

The Australian on Friday 13 February and this Weekend Australian carried pieces by Frank Devine, Peter van Onselen and Dennis Shanahan, all directing acerbic attacks at Kevin Rudd.  Devine’s piece attacks Rudd’s article in The Monthly, the others Rudd’s ‘connection of the economic stimulus package to the Victorian bush fires’.

In case you are unfamiliar with his background, Devine has been editor of the New York Post, the Chicago Sun Times, and The Australian. He now writes regularly for The Australian.  I can’t find the link to his article on 13 February but it was titled Words pour out of PM, but each of them ring hollow. That’s all you need to read to imagine what followed, but here’s a sample:  Devine starts by describing how he had waded “...through several hundred thousand words of disconnected chatter (it can’t possibly be the terse 7700 words pedantically claimed for it) Kevin Rudd has passed off on The Monthly as a scholarly essay about the economic crisis.”  That sentence removed any doubt about the tenor of his piece, but intrigued I pressed on.  In case you thought he might be a Rudd admirer indulging in some harmless satire, he then went on to condemn Rudd’s grandiosity for calling the 2020 Summit, for his “...plan to lead the world to nuclear disarmament and Asia into an economic community...” and his “...rapidly fading scheme to combat global warming.”  He then quotes ‘people’ having listened to Rudd who ask ‘But what did he say’, the old Ruddspeak chestnut. 

Having primed his readers he finally got round to lampooning Rudd for his introductory sentence: “From time to time in human history there occurs events of a truly seismic significance, events that mark a turning point between one epoch and another, when one orthodoxy is overthrown and another takes its place.”  And a later sentence “There is a sense that we are now living through such a time...”   He calls ‘is a sense’ a ‘slippery’ phrase.  Note the word ‘slippery’ which is creeping into anti-Rudd writing.  Expect more of that word which seeks to portray Rudd as a slippery character.  And Devine then queries who has this ‘sense’.  Where has he been?  Practically the whole world has a ‘sense’ that we are living through epoch-making times.  He then asks “Is ‘neo-liberal’ a Rudd coinage”.  No Frank, try Google-ing ‘neoliberal’ – there’s lots of references there.  It’s really too painful to dissect in detail any more of Devine’s piece, but one of his conclusions is that the “The leitmotiv of Rudd’s essay is that it is irresponsible for anyone to interrupt him when he’s thinking big.”  Well Devine’s leitmotiv is that Rudd’s a poor communicator, a babbler with ‘varying degrees of coherence’, does not understand the subject of his essay, who can’t define what he’s talking about, and who is so grandiose in his ideas that no one must interrupt him.  So there it is.  It would be easy to similarly dissect Devine’s piece, which exhibits the very incoherence that he lays at Rudd’s feet.  But why bother.  The central message from Devine is that he can and will find little in Rudd to commend.  Expect more of the same. More...

At last Julie Bishop exits the Shadow Treasurer role

After media speculation that intensified over the weekend, Julie Bishop has just announced she is stepping down from the Shadow Treasurer role, and will take up the Shadow Foreign Affairs job.  No mention yet of what Helen Coonan will do or who will take Bishop’s job.  Joe Hockey and Andrew Robb are the hottest contenders.

Bishop was never suited for the job she insisted on having, as is argued in a piece What should we expect from the Shadow Treasurer? on The Political Sword on October 5.  She’s lasted just over four months. The piece concludes: “The old adage applies: ‘Be careful what you wish for.” and is accompanied by some prescient comments.

UPDATE - .Helen Coonan will take Shadow Finance and Joe Hockey will be Shadow Treasurer.  This gives Joe a big leg up towards Coalition leadership should Malcolm Turnbull falter.  Julie Bishop cannot covet that position- she's fortunate to retain the Deputy Leader job.  Joe Hockey's eligibility for leadership was canvassed on The Political Sword in a piece with a strong naval theme Opposition ships docks for repairs on December 9.  It concludes: "Meanwhile Sub-Lieutenant Hockey shines through as the most plausible, personable, articulate and effective crew member, one who would make a good captain.  With youth on his side, with a mind open to contemporary thinking about strategy and tactics, he might be the answer to the HM Opposition’s yearning for a return to naval power."