Friendship and Facebook

I’ve read a bit about the philosophy of friendship over the years, but none of it is much use when encountering Facebook for the first time. Thinking myself too middle-aged for what I thought to be a youth site I hadn’t even looked at it until last week, when Jacques Chester asked me to link to a Liberty and Society group and I decided (in my middle-aged caution) to check before I linked. But I had to join first, and every day since I have received emails from Facebook telling me that person X, Y or Z has added me as a ‘friend’ and wanting to confirm that we are in fact ‘friends’.

In most cases, it’s been pretty easy to ‘confirm’ these people as friends. But can I be a ‘friend’ of someone whose name and face I don’t recognise? (from the friends we have in common I presume we must have met, but I don’t remember it). Or someone whose name and face I do recognise but I haven’t seen them, been in touch with them, or even thought of them for years? On the other hand, not confirming someone as a ‘friend’ could be seen as rude. Just because I am not a friend doesn’t mean I want to make an enemy.
Continue reading “Friendship and Facebook”

What is ‘bullshitting’ in the Harry Frankfurt sense?

David Rubie thinks I breached by own comments policy in saying:

Most critics of ‘neoliberalism’ are bullshitters in the Harry Frankfurt sense; ie not so much liars as people who just don’t care whether what they say is correct or not.

This was a reference to Princeton philosopher Harry Frankfurt’s essay ‘On Bullshit’, which became a surprise bestseller a couple of years ago when Princeton University Press put it between hardcovers.

The term ‘bullshit’ is, in most contexts, mildly vulgar, but I think Frankfurt was right to use it because it picks up a shade of meaning lacking in some of the similar words we could use to describe the statements of people saying or writing untrue things. The Wikipedia entry gives its origins as:

“Bull”, meaning nonsense, dates from the 17th century (Concise Oxford Dictionary), whereas the term “bullshit” is popularly considered to have been first used in 1915, in American slang, and to have come into popular usage only during World War II. The word “bull” itself may have derived from the Old French boul meaning “fraud, deceit” (Oxford English Dictionary). The term “bullshit” is a near synonym.

The ‘bull’ is more important than the ‘shit’, because ‘nonsense’ is the idea being picked up in using the word ‘bull’ and carried across to ‘bullshit’. When we say someone is ‘bullshitting’ we might mean that they are telling lies, but it is more likely that we are saying that they are talking nonsense, which doesn’t require them to be consciously telling untruths.
Continue reading “What is ‘bullshitting’ in the Harry Frankfurt sense?”


First right-familism, then left-familism, and now demo-familism, with Victorian multi-millionaire father-of-three Labor MP Evan Thornley proposing that parents get votes they can exercise on behalf of their under-18 children.

Given Thornley’s narrow victory in the 2006 Victorian state election I can well understand why he might want an extra three votes. But what are the in-principle arguments for his proposal?:

Families are currently underrepresented in our democracy. They pay but don’t have a say. A family of five or six has no more say in our democracy than a couple of two — yet their needs and potential contribution are greater.

“Electorates with large numbers of families can have up to 30 per cent more people in them than ones that don’t. As a consequence, issues of long-term concern to families like early childhood development, education and the environment don’t get the priority they deserve in our democracy.”

The idea of plural voting has a long history. In the 19th century John Stuart Mill favoured it, on the grounds that intelligent people would cast better-informed votes: Continue reading “Demo-familism”

A rushed report

The Premier even thanked the media, saying he respected the role journalists play. Said state rounds ere among [the] most professional in country. (emphasis added)

But even the most professional reporters can include a typo and miss a word when breaking a big story, the surprise resignation of Victorian Premier Steve Bracks. From The Age online, 10.54am.

Guy Pearse’s high and dry argument

At the start of the month, I suggested that Guy Pearse, author of High and Dry, a critique of the Howard governmet’s climate change policies, use his wesbite’s ‘Clarifications and corrections’ page to correct the claim that Greg Lindsay had any responsibility for the government’s policies.

My argument was based on the facts that Lindsay has had nothing to say on the topic (which Pearse admits), and that the CIS had published only a handful of articles on climate change, and none for several years. It seemed to me to be a wildly implausible notion of ‘influence’, that all you have to do is print a few pieces and – hey presto! – the government adopts your policy. Strangely, given this theory of influence, my dozens of articles on higher education reform over more than seven years, not to mention my prior role as the actual Ministerial adviser on higher education, have failed to secure the desired outcome. Ditto many CIS policy suggestions on tax, welfare, and other subjects.

Now Pearse has responded to my post, and though he does, near the end, back-pedal a bit, it is mostly a flimsy exercise in guilt by association.
Continue reading “Guy Pearse’s high and dry argument”

Are graduates earning less compared to other workers?

The people who write Graduate Careers Australia’s starting salaries report must love their time series of graduate salaries as a percentage of average weekly earnings, because they keep highlighting it in their report and in their media release, even though they are coming close to admitting is is meaningless statistical junk.

I can see why they want to keep it – it goes back nearly 30 years, to 1977 (the data in the report released yesterday is for people employed in early 2006). On surprisingly few topics do we have consistent data going back that far. And for people considering the costs and benefits of university study, it is useful to know their likely earnings compared to the alternatives. But as the Graduate Salaries 2006 report says:

…it is important to note that average weekly earnings may be positively affected over time as more and more graduates enter the workforce. As their careers progress their salaries grow, overall average weekly earnings are pushed up.

The only thing wrong with that is the ‘may’. They have a table showing full-time workers with a diploma and above going from 19.7% in 1998 to 27.8% in 2006. Using only bachelor and above and all workers, ABS Education and Work shows an increase from 14.5% in 1994 to 23.9% in 2006. I’m not sure what proportion of workers had degrees in 1977, but we’ve gone from graduates having a small impact on male average weekly earnings to a large impact – nearly a quarter of all earners. As bachelor degree graduates typically earn half as much again as people with Year 12 qualifications only, the statistical effect is not trivial.

This isn’t the only problem. Continue reading “Are graduates earning less compared to other workers?”

Liberty and Society seminar

Younger readers of this blog (Sukrit and Leon I know of, and maybe some lurkers?) might be interested in the CIS Liberty and Society programme, a weekend live-in seminar on classical liberal ideas. The next one is in Sydney over the weekend of 14-16 September, with 6 August the deadline for applications. It’s free, and the CIS will also pay most of your travel expenses if you live outside of Sydney.

For people who have been in the past (it’s been going since 1996) we are planning drinks in Melbourne on 23 August. I’ve emailed everyone we have records of living in Melbourne, but there were a few bouncebacks and there are probably some people who have moved here since they attended L&S. If you are interested in coming email me anorton AT

And for other people who have been in the past, there are a couple of Facebook groups:

This one set up by Jacques Chester, now in Perth.

And this one set up by Robert Wiblin, who is at the ANU.

Did Glenn Wheatley evade tax because he read a CIS discussion paper?

The people at Catallaxy are understandably unimpressed with the reasoning in today’s Clive Hamilton op-ed. Hamilton’s argument (such as it is), using the jailing of tax-evading music promoter Glenn Wheatley as a news hook, is summarised in this passage:

Despite their crimes, some of the tax cheats may feel a sense of grievance — because for some years our public culture and our political leaders have provided justification for tax shirking.

While the Federal Government has said that it will crack down on tax cheats, for years it has actively undermined public confidence in the legitimacy of taxation. Each time the Treasurer or the Prime Minister says he wants to cut the “burden” of taxes to put money back in the pockets of those who have worked hard to earn it, he buttresses the widespread view that governments are out to rip off the poor old taxpayer.

Conservative ideologues go even further, reinforcing the idea that taxation is theft. The Centre for Independent Studies, an influential right-wing think tank favoured by the Government, ceaselessly promotes the view that government is inherently hostile to individual interests and set on exploiting the taxpayer for no good reason.

…If you take this view of the government as a hostile force why would you pay your taxes? If taxation is theft, tax evasion is not only defensible in itself but a blow against an oppressive force.

According to Clive:

These arguments form part of a sustained shift away from thinking of ourselves as citizens with responsibilities to the public interest and towards thinking of ourselves as individuals with responsibilities to no one but ourselves and our families.

Hamilton’s argument is, on a moment’s reflection, very weak Continue reading “Did Glenn Wheatley evade tax because he read a CIS discussion paper?”

The welcome demise of literary protectionism

According to Mark Davis’s essay in Making Books: Contemporary Australian Publishing, the ‘decline of the literary paradigm’ – fewer works of literary fiction being published, and reduced public intellectual influence of literary authors –

can be understood in terms of broader social and governmental shifts related to globalisation, such as the decline of the postwar consensus (‘welfare state’) politics and their supplanting by a new consensus based around free-market notions of deregulation, privatisation and trade liberalisation, and the rise of the global information economy.

He does get a little more specific (an earlier version of his chapter can be downloaded here) pointing to allowing parallel importing – ie, letting booksellers import books that publishers fail to release promptly in the Australian market – and abolition of subsidies for printing Australian books, which he suggests disproportionately affected literary fiction, since most illustrated titles were already printed overseas.

But it seems very unlikely that policy changes have greatly affected the state of Australian literary fiction. Continue reading “The welcome demise of literary protectionism”

Don’t tax and spend?

“employed by CIS, which does not accept government money”
Is it not the case that there is a special section of the Income Tax Assessment Act which makes donations specifically to the CIS tax deductible (along with donations to a particular left leaning think tank)?

That’s commenter Spiros on the issue of who pays my CIS salary.
The argument here is that because donations to the CIS (please make one:)) are tax deductible that is a loss to the government and therefore the CIS (and through it, me) is in receipt of government money. In broad terms, this is a widely accepted type of analysis with the Budget papers providing estimates of ‘tax expenditures’ and my fellow critic of big government Des Moore including them in his estimates (pdf) of the size of government.

I don’t dispute that tax expenditures are a significant aspect of government policy – like ordinary taxing and spending, and like much other regulation, tax exemptions, deductions and concessions are (desirably or not) distortionary in that they steer behaviour towards particular activities and (implicitly) away from other activities. Tax expenditures are criticised for receiving less scrutiny than direct expenditure. And as the government still has to raise a certain amount of money to meet its outlay commitments, it means that other tax rates have to be higher to bring in the required amount of revenue.

I am not, however, entirely convinced by the standard analysis. Continue reading “Don’t tax and spend?”