Telemarketing from the old University

May 2, 2012

I arrived home tonight to find a letter from my old University saying that one of their students is going to call me over the next few weeks to ‘learn more about your engagement with the University and update you on recent achievements, future plans and ways you can be involved’. They’re asking for contributions to their bursary fund to help students in financial hardship. I can however, opt out from receiving the phone call.

This is bold telemarketing for the University – the first time they’ve been so forward. I wonder if they’ll use marketing students?

I don’t like the presumption that I should have to do something to not receive a telemarketing call. While I like the idea of supporting the bursary fund, that might be for the future.

The new City of Sydney centrally planned street food

April 28, 2012

The City of Sydney has just embarked in a mini-experiment in centrally planned street food. It is allowing ‘food trucks’ to start operating in particular locations at particular times in the CBD. Food trucks seem to be fashionable versions of street hawkers – I understand the trucks are in New York (to me food trucks look like something from a film set).

One of the great things about street hawkers is that they can provide inexpensive food at all times and in all sorts of locations. In Sydney though, the Council has decided it needs to prevent the food trucks competing with existing cafes by regulating where and when they can be open. In effect Council is just allowing new regulated shops to open next to the kerb – and in a way that doesn’t compete with other outlets.

This would be unlikely to be in consumers’ interests. Council should just let hawkers sell food wherever and whenever they wish in the CBD (subject to health/rubbish concerns) – the small scale of most operations would likely result in minimal amenity impacts. Hawkers would gravitate to where people want to buy food rather than where Council thinks they will – hawkers would be much more able to respond to consumer demands than a Council regulating times and locations of operation.

This to me looks like an overengineered regulatory esponse to a desire for street food.

Read the rest of this entry »

Adam Creighton in Charter magazine – ‘The democracy deficit’

April 25, 2012

Adam Creighton (@Adam_Creighton Economics correspondent for the Australian) wrote an article The Democracy Deficit published in Charter magazine, which has subsequently been shortened and republished in the Australian last Friday. While I agree with his general theme about the incentives in democracies being for governments to respond to voters’ demands and spend more over time – free money, after all, is attractive – his medicine is off mark.

There is no inexorable decline for democracies to financial ruin. They can be self-correcting if governments overspend – as shown with the 1992 election of the Kennett government in Victoria (I understand that the Victorian Government was in a much worse financial state than is generally believed) provided the political system allows change to be implemented. It could be argued that the US Federal political system does not allow reforms to be implemented effectively or efficiently.

While some European governments appear to be in financial trouble, the Australian government – one of the longest-existing democracies – is easily able to sell its bonds at low prices. Good financial management of a government is probably more connected to political culture, effective financial controls, transparency of economic and financial data, and clear lines of accountability.

In addition, the idea that there should be a constitutional limit of spending – as suggested by Creighton – is ill thought out.

  1. it does nothing to prevent unsustainable budget deficits unless there are similar provisions for revenue raising;
  2. determining Creighton’s proposed maximum level of government expenditure would not a technical process;
  3. like all such constitutional provisions, it would entrench a policy view that existed at one point in time;
  4. it would reduce the flexibility for governments to respond to societal needs; and
  5. it would create incentives for governments to disguise expenditure and redefine economic activity.

While the article has shortcomings, it is interesting and worth a read. Of course democracy should be retained. People must be able to throw a government – and its economic policy – out. And the franchise must be as wide as possible among competent people (i.e. adults and potentially 16/17 yr old citizens / residents) to ensure that political parties seek to consider the interests of the entire population in designing policy.

A question to ponder is – if democracy has the deficits claimed by Creighton, but should be retained as the least worst system, what remedies are there? Possibly the most practical remedy would be to raise the general level of political and economic knowledge through the mass media – something which kind-of occurred in the ’80s and ’90s but which appears to be declined since.

Introducing a constitutional or statutory maximum level of government expenditure is a short-term fix that may not be a solution at all.


April 25, 2012

I just had to save the #HemingwayJokes on Twitter. pdf file here: TwitterHemingwayJokes

Results for #HemingwayJokes

Tweets Top / All

1h                         Sacha Blumen@SachaBlumen

GOLD. Love #HemingwayJokes. “@mshell_harris: @The100Bus Why did the chicken cross the road? To die. In the rain. #HemingwayJokes

1h Mutton of the Sea@muttonofthesea

“I said ‘it’,” said the man from Nantucket. “Not ‘you.'” She cried herself to sleep. #HemingwayJokes

5h Mark Miller@BioOilGuy

@bsmiller25 Thanks said the old man seeing a bit of himself in the boy. #hemingwayjokes

In reply to Ben Miller Hide conversation

12h Ben Miller@bsmiller25

@BioOilGuy would love all the #hemingwayjokes

18h William Topek@WilliamTopek

He could hear the armless, legless man thrashing about in the pile of dry leaves. He called out: “Russell, is that you?” #HemingwayJokes

18h William Topek@WilliamTopek

He didn’t care how many men the filthy Mexican whore needed to screw in her light bulb, damn her. #HemingwayJokes

18h William Topek@WilliamTopek

The chicken crossed the road, fatigued yet resolute, leaving tiny claw marks in the dust and as his head bobbed apiece #HemingwayJokes

18h Mutton of the Sea@muttonofthesea

“I’ve read that.The sun also rises,” he smirked. “In my PANTS!” She sighed. The die was cast. She was moving back to Europe. #HemingwayJokes

19h Mutton of the Sea@muttonofthesea

“..cough drop stopped the coffin!” he finished triumphantly. “I love beer,” she thought. “And I have one. To hell with men.” #HemingwayJokes

19h Stefan Bennett@DudeKablamo

@SteveHuff He said, your mother hangs a Pork Chop around her neck to get the dog to play with her. Oh wait…not Hemingway #HemingwayJokes

In reply to Steve Huff Hide conversation

19h Mutton of the Sea@muttonofthesea

No matter how much she drank, she couldn’t block it. His song. The jukebox stuck on replay. Truly, the song that never ends. #HemingwayJokes

19h Mutton of the Sea@muttonofthesea

An Irishman, a Frenchman, and a German walked into a bar. They thought the Great War was over. They were wrong. #HemingwayJokes

19h Mutton of the Sea@muttonofthesea

“One day,” she began, “Ole told Lena” — “We don’t know any damned Scandinavians,” he told her. “Get to the point.” #HemingwayJokes

19h Mutton of the Sea@muttonofthesea

He looked at his toes. Mumbled,”Last night I found a peanut.” “Why do you never tell me anything of consequence?” she cried. #HemingwayJokes

19h joshua; Theater @IamRAVENCLAW

Mojito? #HemingwayJokes

19h joshua; Theater @IamRAVENCLAW

#HemingwayJokes I wanna read these

19h Mutton of the Sea@muttonofthesea

“Knock, knock.” Again, the door. “Whose’ there?” No answer. He put down his mojito. Began the lonely trek across the carpet. #HemingwayJokes

19h Mutton of the Sea@muttonofthesea

“How is a blueberry like a chicken?” demanded the wiseacre. He shrugged. The fowl’s indigo hue would be unnoticed en croute. #HemingwayJokes

19h The 100 Bus@The100Bus

Lost. Alone. The darkness was a prison. The lightbulb in my hand was useless. I had no one to help me change it. #HemingwayJokes

19h Jane Gwaltney@poesparrow

#HemingwayJokes There is no halfway. The glass is empty…shattered in thousands of fragments on the highway…alone…in the rain.

19h Bored Nihilist@borednihilist

The approaching planes droned. “Forgive me,” he said to the whore, and sipped his brandy. The earth moved as the bomb fell. #HemingwayJokes

19h The 100 Bus@The100Bus

The dog had lost its nose saving my life. I could never bring myself to wash him. He was my only friend. #HemingwayJokes

19h The 100 Bus@The100Bus

The label said ‘boomerang’. I bought it, knowing otherwise. When thrown it did not come back. Like so many things. #HemingwayJokes

19h Mutton of the Sea@muttonofthesea

She skimmed the thread of #HemingwayJokes. A slight smile twitched her reluctant upper lip. She turned back to her gin and tonic.

20h Steve Kemple@stevekemple


from Cincinnati, OHfrom Cincinnati, OH

20h Steve Huff@SteveHuff

He said, “Your mother’s head is small. She uses teabags as pillows.” She drank. He looked at everything through perversions. #HemingwayJokes

20h Ceil K@ceilck

“But, I am your wife!” She screamed at him. But he felt nothing. He motioned at the guards. “Take her. Please.” #HemingwayJokes

20h No no, you go.@GlancesNods

He worried his drink, then stood to face her. From his front pocket, a banana. “You’re never happy to see me!” She cried. #HemingwayJokes

20h Lisa Taylor@ltaylor100

@SteveHuff There were times, after his mother was gone. Looking back, as one does. “She really did sit AROUND the house.” #HemingwayJokes

In reply to Steve Huff Hide conversation

20h Steve Huff@SteveHuff

She said, “When your mother turns sideways she vanishes.” He looked at the night sky, searching for Cancer, the crab. #HemingwayJokes

20h Ceil K@ceilck

“No man is an island,” she whispered. The smoke drifted off his cigarette. A map of Eugene, Oregonlie torn at his feet. #HemingwayJokes

20h The 100 Bus@The100Bus

Douglaswas lying still. The shovel had bitten deep into his skull. No one was laughing now. #HemingwayJokes

20h Michelle Harris@mshell_harris

@The100Bus Why did the chicken cross the road? To die. In the rain. #HemingwayJokes

In reply to The 100 Bus Hide conversation

20h Steve Huff@SteveHuff

He asked her, “Does your mother braid her mustache?” She put her hand over her mouth. She turned away. #HemingwayJokes

20h The 100 Bus@The100Bus

The bar was empty. Then The Horse arrived. The bartender reserved his usual greeting. My face was longer that night. #HemingwayJokes

20h Steve Huff@SteveHuff

He said, “Your mother is fat. She has her own center of gravity.” She said, “I don’t like it when you drink.” He drank. #HemingwayJokes

20h Zachary Klaas@ZakKlaas

“I would rather have this bottle in front of me.” That was all he could remember. He drank to forget. #HemingwayJokes

20h Michael King@InfiniteChicken

His stump had grown ripe in the thick air. “Pull my finger,” he groaned. And then he was gone. #HemingwayJokes

20h ProfessorSnack@ProfessorSnack

Two white elephants walk into a bar. Wait…two hills walk into a bar. Or maybe it was a doctor’s office. I need a drink. #HemingwayJokes

20h Michael King@InfiniteChicken

The blonde motioned out to sea. “There is nothing for me, there.” #HemingwayJokes

20h No no, you go.@GlancesNods

She circled the bull fighting ring. “The bastard said it was in the corner,” she cried, as the sun hit her hair. #HemingwayJokes

20h leahverre@leahverre

The priest and the rabbi sit alone on the shifting raft. One starts to speak. “Wait”, says the other, “look at the moon.” #HemingwayJokes

20h Josh Striker@jgstriker

@InfiniteChicken The sun rose. ‘This is the desert,’ Jack said. Chester Cheetah wiped his sunglasses with his tail. #Hemingwayjokes

20h The 100 Bus@The100Bus

The newspaper had a wide circulation. It’s pages we’re monochrome. There was no mention of the dead. Nothing about the war. #HemingwayJokes

20h Michael King@InfiniteChicken

RT @ltaylor100: @InfiniteChicken Knock-knock. The sound, insistent. Answering, he expected little. “Banana,” the response. #HemingwayJokes

20h Lisa Taylor@ltaylor100

@InfiniteChicken Knock-knock. The sound, insistent. Answering, he expected little. “Banana,” the response. #HemingwayJokes

In reply to Michael King Hide conversation

20h Zachary Klaas@ZakKlaas

Ask not for whom the knock knocks. #HemingwayJokes

20h Steve Huff@SteveHuff

Two peanuts entered a bar. One fought. The other did not. They stumbled home before dawn, the beaten one murmuring ‘Mama.’ #HemingwayJokes

20h Ceil K@ceilck

@juliegoldberg You really need to check out #HemingwayJokes

20h No no, you go.@GlancesNods

He pulled the bandage from his eyes and looked. It was black. It was white. It was red all over. There was news of the war. #HemingwayJokes

20h Steve Huff@SteveHuff

“The baby seal sat at the bar. He ordered a Canadian Club. The bartender smiled. The seal smiled back. His eyes were cold.” #HemingwayJokes

20h Michael King@InfiniteChicken

How many men, how many knuckles, white on the lightbulb. It took armies. Change came, it came with chariots and bluster. #HemingwayJokes

20h ryan kresse@ryankresse

A man with no arms, no legs. A wall. A firing squad. Rain. He looks down at the mud. “My name is Walter,” he whispers. #Hemingwayjokes

20h Zachary Klaas@ZakKlaas

If the man could walk that way, he would not have needed the talcum powder. His legs were chafed raw. #HemingwayJokes

20h Michael King@InfiniteChicken

The string, his eyes tightened by the sun, answered. “I’m a frayed knot.” The sound of gunfire echoed in the hills. #HemingwayJokes

20h Steve Huff@SteveHuff

“A dyslexic man walked into a bra. The whore in the bra held his head for hours. Her chest was as flat as the plains.” #HemingwayJokes

20h Anna Russo@AnacardioRosso

@SteveHuff There was a lady, with a man. She never took off her hat. He ate the complimentary peanuts. #HemingwayJokes

In reply to Steve Huff Hide conversation

20h Lisa Taylor@ltaylor100

@InfiniteChicken The chicken paused. The road beckoned, called. Once crossed, no longer unknown. #HemingwayJokes @SteveHuff

In reply to Michael King Hide conversation

20h Steve Huff@SteveHuff

“Jesus walked into a bar. He ordered a glass of water. He could hear the crowd in the distant bullfighting ring. He drank.” #Hemingwayjokes

20h Zachary Klaas@ZakKlaas

An old man walked into the sea… #HemingwayJokes

20h Michael King@InfiniteChicken

@SteveHuff A rabbi and a priest. They fought together, once. The bar held their secrets, their pasts. #HemingwayJokes

Mankiw on Pigovian taxes

January 14, 2012

I just found a nice piece by Greg Mankiw on Pigovian taxes: Smart Taxes: An Open Invitation to Join the Pigou Club. I think I’m a member.

The abstract is:

Many economists favor higher taxes on energy-related products such as gasoline, while the general public is more skeptical. This essay discusses various aspects of this policy debate. It focuses, in particular, on the use of these taxes to correct for various externalities—an idea advocated long ago by British economist Arthur Pigou.

Downloaded the paper here.

Unions and the ALP

November 28, 2011

The relationship between the ALP and trade unions is problematic.

The current circumstance in which a collection of trade unions affiliated to the ALP – representing a small fraction of working Australians – exercise a great deal of influence in selecting political candidates and party officers for the major centre-left Australian political party, is unhealthy.

I would to see either a much wider range of organisations being able to affiliate to the ALP, or a severance of the link.

Supporters of the current link have argued for its retention for the following reasons:

  • community link – it provides a link with millions of Australians;
  • for historical reasons – it wouldn’t be a labour party otherwise; and
  • constitutional reasons (and less commonly argued) – it is the political arm of the trade union movement.

The most substantial reason is the first, while the second and third are weak (the second is about definitions while the third suggests that the party is a pressure group rather than a party of government).

Retaining a community link has merit – noting that the current link is specific to workers’ employment relationship. The community link could be enhanced by allowing a wider range of organisations to affiliate to the ALP. It is a historical accident that only one type of organisation – those relating to workers’ employment relationships – can affiliate to one of the major political parties. If it is going to have affiliated organisations, why not have a much wider range?

We’d need to define the types of organisations that could be affiliated. This should be done broadly and could include: associations focussed on economic, social, environmental and political matters that support the Labor political movement.

Reforming the ALP

November 27, 2011

My very irregular blog updates reflect my busyness in the five months since starting my new role at the Allen Consulting Group. It’s been extremely rewarding and challenging – the name of the game is tap dancing and adapting at a moment’s notice.

Reform of the ALP – and separately the NSW ALP – has been an interesting issue the last year. Fundamentally interest in reform has been sparked by

the ALP’s recent poor political performance;

  • its declining (and ageing) membership;
  • in some cases – poor selection of candidates;
  • factional control of important decisions (e.g. preselections for winnable seats and membership of party forums); and
  • a feeling among many members unconnected to factions that they aren’t listened to and wouldn’t have a chance of being selected as a candidate for parliamentary or important party roles.

These factors reflect behaviour and structural aspects of the ALP. While structures can be changed, behaviour cannot be forced to change – and so there has been focus on reforming structures.

The NSW ALP appears to be genuinely interested in reforming itself and the ALP – something surprising to all observers of Australian politics. Sam Dastyari – its General Secretary – has suggested that local party members have a vote in the election of new parliamentary leaders. I support this. Read the rest of this entry »

Cull approved for sulphur-crested cockatoos in Potts Point!

October 30, 2011

City News reported on 6 October 2011 that the NSW Government has given cull licenses to a number of Potts Point building owners. Shame!

I agree with vet Ross Perry:

Bird vet Ross Perry said a cull is inhumane and only a short term option.
“I personally think it is an act of ignorance. If they manage the cockatoos differently then they’ll find a long term solution, it is setting a poor example to the community and to future generations.”

At the very least future buildings should be designed to be cockatoo-proof.

Stop the cull of the Potts Point cockatoos!

September 12, 2011

Terrible news – I just learned that some of my neighbours up the road would like to cull the fabulous sulphur-crested cockatoos (thanks My Darling Darlinghurst blog) that squark and terrorise the inner east of Sydney – Woolloomooloo, Darlinghurst, Kings Cross and Elizabeth Bay. How dreadful!

I love the cockatoos – they’re like a bunch of juvenile delinquents that look you cheekily in the eye as they peer into your home. I love the sound of the clomping claws on our aluminium window sill. The cockatoos were here when I moved to Sydney in 2000 and seem generally loved by people in the neighbourhood. Except those in the heritage buildings at the top of Greenknowe Ave, Elizabeth Bay – Tara and Kingsclere. See the Central Courier story and the SMH story.

The SMH reports that:

RESIDENTS have tried everything to get rid of them: flashing lights, rubber snakes, spikes on sills, mirrors on windows, chilli oil on woodwork, even lying in wait with hoses or water pistols. But the sulphur-crested cockatoos of Potts Point, which have caused more than $40,000 in damage to one building alone, are absolutely incorrigible, say infuriated residents, whose plan for a cull is stuck in bureaucratic limbo.

Many of the homes affected are in heritage-listed, art-deco buildings, with wooden windowframes eaten through by the birds. At Kingsclere, a 1912 building on Macleay Street, cockatoos have destroyed slate roof tiles, causing them to drop seven storeys to the street.

The birds have also caused damage to Potts Point and Elizabeth Bay apartment buildings Werrington, Ikon, Villard, Byron Hall, Tara and the Devere Hotel, where a neon sign fell after cockatoo sabotage.

Frustrated Kingsclere residents have applied to the National Parks and Wildlife Service for a licence to kill cockatoos. Asked how many birds would need to be culled to fix the problem, Kingsclere resident David Crompton said: ”I don’t know. But it seems the same five or six keep coming.”

He conceded that more birds may return after a cull, but said it would at least halt the damage for a while. National Parks officers confirmed the damage and the public risk it posed, leaving residents optimistic of a solution.

But the City of Sydney objected to a cull and suggested a trial of a shocktrack system, a non-lethal deterrent used successfully at Cook + Phillip Pool and Woolloomooloo wharves.

Is it impossible to adapt the units to the marauding cockatoos? Do we go about killing animals because they’re inconvenient to us? This seems incredibly selfish. Culling the cockatoos should only be a last resort.

Here was a petition (now closed) against the cull to be sent to the NSW Environment Minister & Director NSW National Parks & Wildlife. Email the Environment Minister to save the cockatoos!

Selling NSW govt electricity networks could raise $35 billion

September 9, 2011

The NSW government could raise $29 billion – $35 billion, if not substantially more, from sellng its electricity distribution and transmission networks. These numbers come from summing the RABs (regulatory asset bases) of the four businesses and applying a conservative multiplicative factor.

This is a very large amount of money. Careful consideration should be given to whether devoting this capital to electricity networks is its best use, particularly in light of the need for transport infrastructure in NSW.