Saturday’s good reading and listening for the weekend

Jun 27, 2020

What people in other forums are saying about public policy

The Australian and world economy

The IMF’s updated World Economic Outlook: “A crisis like no other, an uncertain recovery”

The IMF’s updated World Economic Outlook has revised downwards its outlook for world economic growth, now projected to be – 4.9 per cent in 2020, compared with – 3.0 per cent in its April estimates. China is the only large economy with a positive (+ 1.0 per cent) growth outlook, and “developing countries” will generally do better than old industrialised countries, where the declines are mostly between 8 and 13 per cent.

As widely reported, it sees Australia as one of the countries doing relatively better (– 4.5 per cent). Less widely reported is its advice:

… building on the record drop in greenhouse gas emissions during the pandemic, policymakers should both implement their climate change mitigation commitments and work together to scale up equitably designed carbon taxation or equivalent schemes.

Can our financial institutions and companies pass a climate change stress test?

We may not have heard much about the Network for Greening the Financial System, but it’s a body we should take seriously, for its membership includes 66 central banks, including our own Reserve Bank, the IMF and various transnational development banks. It has produced a set of climate scenarios for financial institutions, policymakers and corporations to assess  climate risk: NGFS Climate Scenarios for central banks and supervisors.  The scenarios range from a “hot house world” (i.e. business as usual), leading to a catastrophic 30 warming, through to an “orderly” transition resulting in a still-high 1.50 – 2.00 warming.

On the ABC’s RN Breakfast Program Travers McLeod of the Centre for Policy Development explains the work of the NGFS and describes the scenarios. They can (and should) be used to stress test our own financial institutions and companies. He reminds us that company directors are legally obliged to consider, in their risk analysis, the consequences of climate change on their operations. These scenarios should be “front of mind” for the Covid Commission, for ministers, and for companies as they plan a way out of the recession and seek to make our community wealthier and to deliver more secure jobs to replace those that aren’t coming back.  (10 minutes)

Jobs, jobs, jobs – and jobs under threat

Coal mines serving our power generation sector employ about 11 000 workers.  That’s how many jobs that could be lost by 2022 in the renewable energy sector under present government policies, as revealed in a report Renewable energy Jobs in Australia: stage 1, prepared for the Clean Energy Council by the Institute for Sustainable Futures at Sydney’s University of Technology.  By contrast a program of strong de-carbonisation of the Australian economy could see a boost of 19 000 jobs. Half of these jobs would be for people with trade and professional qualifications, and they would be distributed across all states, mostly outside capital cities.

There’s jobs in them hills


What happens when agriculture, water and the environment are in the same portfolio

The Australian National Audit Office has published its report Referrals, Assessments and Approvals of Controlled Actions under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. It assesses the performance of the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment in administering the Act, and finds it falls short.  To quote from its summary:

  • The department’s regulatory approach is not proportionate to environmental risk.
  • The administration of referrals and assessments is not effective or efficient.
  • Conditions of approval are not assessed with rigour, are non-compliant with procedural guidance and contain clerical or administrative errors.
  • The department is not well positioned to measure its contribution to the objectives of the EPBC Act.

That’s a way of saying the Department is slow in making environmental assessments, does not always do a thorough environmental assessment of projects, and may not be taking its environmental responsibilities seriously.

On the ABC’s Breakfast Program Norman Swan interviews Labor spokesperson for Environment and WaterTerri Butler about the audit. She points out that many of the department’s failures stem from the Coalition’s 40 per cent cuts to the department’s funding. Morrison complains about delays in environmental decision-making, claiming that holdups are due to unnecessary “green tape”, but the audit report makes it clear that delays result from the way the Government has underfunded and mismanaged the portfolio.  (9 minutes)

Foreign investment

The Productivity Commission has published a research paper Foreign Investment in Australia. As a research paper (rather than a report of a directed inquiry), its suggestions (rather than “recommendations”) relate to the need to clarify the “national interest” criteria for foreign investment approvals and for the Foreign Investment Review Board to be more transparent in relation to blocked proposals.

It gives details not only of foreign investment in Australia but also of Australian investment abroad, both having grown strongly over the last thirty years. The “usual suspects” – USA, Japan and the UK – still dominate foreign investment inflows, although it suggests that for technical reasons to do with the domicile of the investors, official figures on Chinese investment may be significantly understated. Mining accounts for 38 per cent of the stock of foreign investment in Australia and is also reasonably prominent in Australian investment abroad.

The paper’s overall tone is favourable to foreign investment: it would be a break from the Commission’s established culture if it were otherwise.  It notes that there is strong public opposition to foreign ownership of farmland, but points out that very little land in Australia is foreign-controlled. Foreign ownership of farmland is a point of contention between bodies such as the National Farmers’ Federation (strongly in favour) and the National Party (generally against), as pointed out by ABC Rural reporters: Barnaby Joyce defends foreign investment changes as minister after Productivity Commission findings.

The pandemic’s progress

Globally 9.5 million people have now been infected – a million new cases in a week.

There is no single world pattern – while it spreads through the Americas, Africa and South Asia, most countries in East Asia and the Pacific have quarantined themselves and European countries are having some success in suppressing the virus.

Country curves

The curves below are another week’s update, showing different patterns in selected countries and regions.  (The Y axis has had to be extended to accommodate Brazil’s extraordinary rate of infection.)

In the EU after two months of reduction (suggesting a reproduction figure R less than 1.0), progress seems to have stalled, and infections may be on the rise again. Their relatively flat line over the last month suggests that R is about 1.0, but that’s a dangerously unstable equilibrium: R has to be brought down to a level well below 1.0 if the virus is to be contained. Some small countries such as Estonia, Finland and Ireland have brought their rates down to very low levels, but others are struggling. If EU countries are to make further progress they will probably have to make stronger moves to control specific outbreaks, as Germany and some other countries are doing.

Britain’s rate is coming down but public health experts are warning of a “second wave” as a result of too rapid relaxation of controls and too few resources committed to testing and tracing.  A heatwave is adding to the country’s difficulties – is the country having to deal with the interaction of a pandemic with global warming?

Some say that the US is on the brink of a second wave, but it’s more probable that what we’re seeing is a continuation of the first wave, as it moves to Florida, Texas and inland states. Alan Kohler has a graph on his Eureka Report page, giving some insight about how the virus is spreading in the US.

Brazil’s rate of infection continues to climb almost exponentially. Other Central American and South American countries have equally steep infection, but from a later starting time. Brazil’s experience today is a warning to Mexico, Columbia, Argentina, Peru and other large countries in the region.

Victoria’s outbreak

In this pandemic Victoria got off to a good start. Around the peak of the pandemic in late March Victoria was recording about 60 new cases a day, while New South Wales had about 150 cases a day – the Ruby Princessplayed a large part in NSW’s early difficulties.  But subsequently, while other states have had hardly any community transmission (almost every recorded case being people coming from overseas to quarantine in Australia), Victoria has had a small outbreak in May and now this one. Of the 177 cases detected over the last seven days, 54 have been in hotel quarantine, while 123 have been either under investigation or in the community. Of those 123 cases, 2 are in New South Wales and all the other 121 are in Victoria.

There are many possible causes. While there is no evidence of spreading through the Black Lives Matter gatherings, the protests did probably give a false impression of safety, and a feeling that if protesters can break the rules so can others. Language problems seem to be a factor – maybe those who were directed to quarantine themselves didn’t understand the instructions. And there were weaknesses in the administration of hotel quarantining, as New Zealand has also experienced. Maybe the Victorian Government placed too much faith in the private sector to perform the important task of enforcing quarantine restrictions.

It seems that most states are close to eliminating the virus’s spread – even New South Wales is doing well.  But right from the outset Morrison has been opposed to a policy of elimination, specifically contradicting the Commonwealth Health Minister in April (see the weekend roundup of 18 April). According to a report by ABC political reporter Jordan Hayne – Coronavirus outbreak in Victoria “part of living with COVID-19” PM says, – Morrison seems to be comfortable with a policy of suppression, even though Victoria’s outbreak is imposing disappointment and hardship on many individuals and businesses.

Perhaps he realises that we all need a sobering experience such as Victoria’s outbreak to keep us from complacency. Or perhaps it is in Morrison’s interest to keep public and media attention on the epidemic, rather than on the Coalition’s seven-year record of economic mismanagement.

How to make a transition to a new normal

Although there is scope for further opening up, until there is a vaccine or cure there will have to be “continued restrictions on international travel, public gatherings, public transport, schools, workplaces, and community activities to prevent the transmission of Covid-19” writes the Grattan Institute’s Stephen Duckett and his colleagues in a paper Coming out of Covid-19 lockdown: the next steps for Australian health care. Even when there are no active cases in the community – a situation achieved in at least five of our eight states and territories – there still have to be border restrictions and some domestic controls. Testing has to continue and contact-tracing capacity has to be maintained, because some people with Covid-19 can remain infectious for more than three weeks after diagnosis.

While the Prime Minister is impatient for states to open their borders, Duckett urges caution, as reported in an ABC online article by Justin Kearney: Report backs Queensland and Western Australia keeping borders closed amid coronavirus pandemic.

Duckett’s paper also has specific recommendations for reform in the health care sector, based on experiences during the lockdown. He includes measures to improve the efficiency and responsiveness of primary care through “telehealth” for example. His major recommendations relate to connecting the private and public hospital systems, whereby state governments would contract elective procedures to private hospitals.  (Such a change has long been advocated by economists, but it is always fiercely opposed by private health insurers, whose business models rely on maintaining an inefficient and inequitable system that separates private and public hospitals into different funding streams.)

Information sources

These are the same sources as we have been presenting.

The WHO daily situation report;

Our Department of Health Coronavirus (COVID-19) current situation and case numbers;

Our Department of Health Coronavirus (COVID-19) health alert;

A group of volunteers’ daily-updated site Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Australia;

The ABC’s daily-updated site Charting the COVID-19 spread in Australia;

The Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center;

Norman Swan’s Coronacast;

The Economist paywall-free Coronavirus hub;

The coronavirus update from the Harvard Gazette;

The ABC’s The one Covid-19 number to watch, tracking the reproduction factor (R)

The ABS program of special statistical releases.

The Scientific American The Coronavirus Outbreak covering scientific aspects of the virus.

The ABC’s Digital Story Innovation Team set of graphs Charting recovery after the coronavirus crisis.

Polls and elections

Lowy: we’re untrusting and don’t feel safe

The Lowy Institute has a pithy summary of the findings of its 2020 Poll. “This is a global crisis, but we have all turned inwards, not outwards.” Our trust in global powers, particularly China, has continued to fall: increasingly we are coming to see China as a security threat rather than as an economic partner. Out of 10 world political leaders nominated only Jacinda Ardern gets a credit grade. Morrison and Albanese both score a bare pass grade, while about all that Trump can claim is that his fail grade is not as bad as Kim Jong-un’s.

Unsurprisingly, in response to the question “about world events, how safe do you feel?” only 50 per cent of us feel safe – down from 78 per cent in 2018. It’s not only the coronavirus: our feeling of safety has been falling from its high point of 92 per cent in 2010.

Perhaps the most revealing finding is about what we consider to be threats to our national interests. Environmental concerns – drought, bushfires, floods and climate change – all feature strongly, as do false information, fake news, foreign interference in our politics, and the rise of authoritarian systems of government.

Serbia swings a little further to the nationalist right

Serbia has been in the news for the debacle of Novak Djokovic’s charity tournament in Belgrade – just when the country was making progress in tackling Covid-19.

The country has also just held an election. It was originally scheduled for April but because the country then had a high Covid-19 case load the election was delayed until last Sunday. Aleksandar Vucic’s right-wing Serbian Progressive Party has won around 60 per cent of the vote, or about 190 of the parliament’s 250 seats. According to reports in The New York Times: Serbia’s strongman wins big in election boycotted by the opposition and in Euronews: President Vucic declares landslide win in controversial parliamentary vote, Vucic’s majority may be sufficiently large to change the constitution, allowing possible removal of constitutional reference to Kosovo being part of Serbia. Vucic’s right-wing aspirations may be checked by the country’s need to be on best behaviour if it wishes to join the EU.

Essential – too early for the Victorian outbreak

The Essential Poll this week continues to ask people about their concern about the coronavirus and their assessment of their governments, with some evidence that concern is rising, but by the time their polling was finished last Sunday few people, other than nerdish policy wonks monitoring data, would have realised that a breakout was occurring in Victoria.  Watch for next week’s poll.

Who could be offended by these two gentlemen?

It has a set of questions about the time it will take for various developments to occur – development of a vaccine, unrestricted international travel, recovery of employment, return of the housing market to its pre-pandemic levels. “One to two years” is the dominant response for these questions, with quite a few choosing “more than two years” and a few going for “never”. Younger people and men seem to be more optimistic (less realistic?) that these things will occur sooner.  Surprisingly, 54 per cent believe the population will build herd immunity within the next two years – just how that can be achieved when, after 6 months, only 0.03 percent of the population has been infected, is unclear. Perhaps we really do need much more STEM education in our schools.

It also has a series of questions about removal of monuments and memorials. On the statement “The protesters should focus on making changes for people living now, rather than things that happened in the past” there is 80 per cent agreement, without some partisan difference (Labor 77 percent, Coalition 89 per cent, Greens 61 per cent agree.)

Making ends meet

“Jobseeker” is now so outrageously generous that some recipients aren’t skipping meals

“Since the Coronavirus Supplement, I feel I have some dignity again. I am extremely anxious about the future when the supplement stops.”  That’s a quote from a respondent to a survey, conducted by ACOSS, of the experience of those on the unemployment benefit “Jobseeker” as it has been boosted during the crisis. (For many that boosthas been from $280 a week to around $550 a week.) Most people reported that they were eating better, catching-up on bills and rent, and were better able to meet emergency expenses.  Many said that they were able to save up for more energy-efficient appliances. (Inefficient household heaters, hot water services, refrigerators and air conditioners impose heavy burdens on low-income households, and contribute to greenhouse gas pollution.)

Who has cash in these tough times?

When conditions are tough having access to cash and other liquid assets is important. Liquidity counts, but when households are ranked by their liquid wealth, the bottom half of households are found to hold only 2 per cent of all liquid wealth.

That’s one of the findings in an article Household wealth prior to COVID-19: evidence from the 2018 HILDA Survey by RBA staff members Nicole Adams, Cara Holland, Gabrielle Penrose and Lorenzo Schofer, published in the June edition of the RBA Bulletin.

It goes into depth about various groups’ assets and liabilities, including the nature of households’ assets. There are convenient myths that those who rent are simply saving for a deposit, or that renting is a choice made by those who value mobility, but the reality is that renters have very little by way of any assets.  The paper also finds that those with highest debt to finance “investment” properties are the highest income earners. When house prices fall it’s a fair bet, however, that they will beg the Coalition to give them even more breaks.

Low interest rates are here to stay – tough about inequality

When long-term interest rates fall, wealth inequalities tend to rise. (Thomas Piketty explains the dynamics).  At a Crawford School webinar Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe, who in keeping with the tradition of central bank governors is not given to extravagant statements, said “I think we’re going to have low interest rates for a long period of time”, and ”I think it’s likely we’re going to see interest rates at their current level for years”.

If you have billions, surely you can make do has a neat graphic of the Eight biggest lost fortunes – billionaires who have been knocked from their perches in economic downturns, starting with Mali’s ruler Mansa Musa I who, in the fourteenth century, blew the equivalent of $400 billion in today’s money.  Second place goes to John Rockefeller who blew his oil fortune in the Great Depression. Who will be the over-geared suckers this time around?

More on housing

We mustn’t spook the housing market – why not?

Publicly-released minutes of the Reserve Bank June Meeting hold the gentlest hint that house prices may not be holding up.  (Go to the paragraph starting “Some indicators suggested …”).  ABC journalist Daniel Ziffer has uncovered documents from the RBA suggesting that internally they expect house prices to fall significantly in the short and medium term – around 7 per cent in nominal terms – with scenarios of falls as deep as 15 per cent. Ziffer suggests that RBA economists considered urging the Government to implement a temporary trading halt on houses: that’s the same sort of restraint that regulators impose in financial markets when a company’s share price moves wildly as a result of irrational forces.

We may believe that what happens in financial markets shouldn’t form a model to guide public policy in housing markets. But over recent years housing in Australia has become a market for financial speculation, without much consideration of old-fashioned concerns of affordability, equity and community.

Always look on the dark side

JK Galbraith said that pessimism carries an air of authority. Some creative research by Kim Nguyen and Gianni La Cava of the Reserve Bank shows we have been subject to a surfeit of bad news: News sentiment and the economy, published in the latest RBA Bulletin. They describe how they have developed a News Sentiment Index, and how it correlates with short-term economic indicators and with business sentiment. Unsurprisingly by March (the last month of their data) the NSI had plunged to a low level.

Some may see such a project as frivolous, but in view of the importance of sentiment in guiding consumer and investor confidence, it could be an important leading economic indicator.

The researchers note how housing news sentiment correlates with house price growth. If news readers’ concerns were with housing affordability we would expect that correlation to be negative (falling house prices = good news), but in fact it is positive, indicating the extent to which so many Australians, encouraged by the Coalition’s policies, have come to see housing as a speculative asset.

The rest of the world

Pakistan and India – the locust swarm moves east

Deutsche Welle has a short (2 minute) YouTube clip of the locust swarm that’s now moving from Iran to Pakistan and India, threatening a food crisis in these countries – a threat described by Khalid Mehmood of Pakistan’s Farmers’ Union as several times more dangerous than Covid-19.

News from one of Europe’s offshore islands

Boris Johnson (affectionately nicknamed Bolsonaris by some, after the Brazilian dictator) really knows how to lift the British spirit in these hard times. He has directed that the RAF’s Voyager aircraft, set aside for VIP use, will have their military camouflage painted over with a striking red-white-blue patriotic theme, at a cost of £900 000 (= 85 000 000 Rupees).

This is one of the idiocies of the UK Government described in a short article by Kenneth Surin – The UK and Boris Johnson on the skids – published in Counterpunch. He points out that under Johnson’s management the UK has achieved Europe’ second place, behind Belgium, for the number of Covid-19 deaths per million population.  (He could have gone further and noted that while Belgium, like most other EU countries, has brought its daily new infection rate down to 8 to 9 per million, Britain’s is still around 18.) All this while the country’s economy has shrunk by 20 per cent.

In what reads like a script for a Monty Python scene, Surin points out how anti-EU nationalism has driven the government to pay £90 million (= 8.5 billion ₨) for a now-abandoned home-developed Covid-19 tracing app, rather than to buy one already developed and in use in Germany.

Ironically, after having worked so hard to separate themselves from those ghastly mainland Europeans, and never having signed on to the Schengen agreement Britain is now trying to establish travel agreements with EU countries.

(And our government wants to do a trade deal with this mob!)

Tales from Turkey

On Saturday Extra last week Geraldine Doogue had two stories involving Turkey:

First, Hagia Sophia, Turkey and Islamism. Hagia Sophia started life in the year 537 as the seat of the Christian Patriarch of Constantinople. In 1453 it became an Ottoman mosque. Then in 1931, under the secularist policies of Kamal Attatürk, it became a museum.

Mustafa Atyol of Washington’s Cato Institute explains that President Erdoğan wants to turn it once again into a mosque. Because of Turkey’s poor economic performance, and a failure by the government to contain the coronavirus, Erdoğan’s political support is falling and he sees reclaiming Hagia Sophia for Islam as a way to shore up his political base.

Aytol also points out that among younger people in Turkey Islam is changing, in a process he compares to the way the European Enlightenment transformed Christianity. While retaining Islam as a faith and identity, young Muslims are rejecting hard literal interpretation of scripture, and are turning to more fluid ideas of religion, particularly deism.  (12 minutes)

Second, Libya update. Jalel Harchouri from the Clingendael Netherlands Institute of International Relations explains the politics of ongoing conflicts in Libya. Different countries in the region are involved in these conflicts. There is a contest for influence between The United Arab Emirates and an alliance of Qatar and Turkey. The Qatar-Turkey alliance could be angling for Libya becoming a Turkish protectorate.  (12 minutes)

America’s woes

The “Black Lives Matter” campaign in America has been centred on “race” as the defining issue. Two commentators, from liberal perspectives, bring into question the relevance of that focus.

On the ABC’s Religion and Ethics Report civil rights campaigner Rev. Alvin Jackson explains that in 1968, before an assassin cut his work short, Martin Luther King was planning a poor people’s campaign – a campaign transcending “racial” lines on the issue of the poverty shared by 140 million poor and low-wealth Americans of all identities. Jackson explains how he and his colleagues are resurrecting King’s campaign. Poor “whites”, living in southern states, do not realise that Republican strategists have deliberately used “race” as a means to divide the poor.  (7 minutes)

A Pearls and Irritations reader has commended a Sam Harris podcast Can we pull back from the brink. It’s an in-depth analysis of fault lines in the politics of America’s “left”, revealed in the anger associated with the Black Lives Matter protests. He starts with an epistemological analysis of the way certain ways of thinking have become de-rigueur among the “left”, leading to a stifling form of self-censorship:

… there is a kind of ecstasy of ideological conformity in the air. And it’s destroying institutions. It’s destroying the very institutions we rely on to get our information—universities, the press. … No one wants to say or even think anything that makes anyone uncomfortable—certainly not anyone who has more wokeness points than they do.

One belief beyond question is that “black” Americans are disproportionately subject to police killings, but he presents strong evidence to show there is no such bias. He is no apologist for the police, but he stresses that “an attitude of anti-racist moral outrage is not the best lens through which to interpret evidence of police misconduct.”

America’s left needs to outgrow its obsession with race, and to work towards a post-racial future:

… if you’re on the Left and don’t agree with this vision of a post-racial future, please observe that the people who agree with you, the people who believe that there is no overcoming race, and that racial identity is indissoluble, and that skin color really matters and will always matter—these people are white supremacists and neo-Nazis and other total assholes. And these are also people I can’t figure out how to talk to, much less persuade.

(The podcast is 110 minutes long.  At about 45 minutes he goes into details of policing issues, and comes back into his philosophical analysis around 84 minutes. He also has a transcript on his site.)

Other Australian politics and demographics

Barbarians at the gate

Not content to cut funding to the ABC and the National Gallery, and to exclude universities from the “Jobkeeper” program, Education Minister Tehan has announced the government’s latest assault on Australia’s cultural life by penalising students who choose to study humanities.

Canberra Times columnist Nicholas Stuart has a gentle reminder about what education really means for Tehan and his illiberal anti-intellectual colleagues:

There’s a remarkable degree of intellectual arrogance underlying this package. Tehan thinks he can improve on a process that’s developed, incrementally, over a thousand years. He apparently doesn’t understand that the real aim of education is not simply to churn out answers to exams or how better to work for other people; the truly vital skill is working out the question that needs to be asked in the first place.

Anyone who has trouble understanding the complementarity of “practical” and “liberal” education and the false distinction between the sciences and the arts would do well to dip into CP Snow’s classic essay The two cultures and the scientific revolution.

On the ABC cuts, Alexandra Wake of RMIT and Michael Ward of the University of Sydney point out in The Conversation that these cuts come on top of seven years of contractions and service cuts in the ABC, and they expose the accumulated extent of the ABC’s budget cuts that have occurred on the Coalition’s watch. They show that of 15 news sources, the ABC is the most highly trusted, ranking way ahead of the government’s favoured Murdoch media: Latest $84 million cuts rip the heart out of the ABC, and our democracy.

Also writing in The Conversation Jo Caust of the University of Melbourne takes us through the belated government $250 million assistance package for the arts. Her assessment:

This package, while clearly welcome, preferences larger events, significant arts organisations (read organisations included in the major performing arts framework) and film and television production.

She concludes that “it is unlikely small to medium arts organisations will receive much benefit”.

We’re heading to the bush

The Regional Australia Institute has produced a report The big movers: understanding population mobility in regional Australia.  (For “regional” read “outside capital cities” – our policy makers still have trouble understanding that our sprawling capitals have distinct regions within them, but that’s another story.)

Worldwide, including in Australia, there has been a long-established country-to-city drift, but not recently for our two biggest cities. In the five years to 2016, 86 000 more people moved from Melbourne and Sydney into non-capital-city regions than moved the other way.

Because the study is based on a comparison of 2016 and 2011 census data it pre-dates improvements in internet communications outside capital cities, which has removed some of the tyranny of distance. (In spite of the Abbott Government’s deliberate weakening of the NBN, internet services outside capital cities have improved, often thanks to local initiatives.)

Some are heading back to the pokies

Where’s a safe place to go at 2 am if you have to get out of the house for a few hours?  Not many options present themselves, apart from poker machine dens that, in some states, are open from 9 am until 5 am the following morning.

Notwithstanding this need for safe places, a benefit of the Covid-19 restrictions has been that gamblers have been saved $2.5 billion in poker-machine losses, but as venues open up again, under pressure from the politically well-connected gambling and hotel industries, those gains will probably be short-lived, as reported by the ABC’s Nicole Asher: As pokies venues reopen after coronavirus shutdowns, advocates are fearful gamblers face record losses. “Nothing good happens in a pokies venue at 3:00 am” says one former poker machine addict.

Startling news: not all workers seek the same working conditions

Adaptation to the Covid-19 crisis has necessitated a number of changed working arrangements, particularly for those with office jobs.  Boston Consulting Group has conducted a study Personalisation for your people, reporting on how Australian workers have adjusted to moves such as working from home.

They find that most people who can work remotely want to go on doing so, but not every day. A finding that will not come as a surprise to those who have had office jobs is that “Counter to historic concerns, people who have now been working remotely believe, on average, they have increased their productivity, engagement and achievement.” But the main conclusion to be drawn from the study is that different people thrive in different work environments: there is no one pattern fitting all. The study should be a reminder for a government that talks about workplace flexibility that it should be a two-way deal: it’s not just about the boss’s preferences.

Public ideas

The new despotism

When the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union collapsed thirty years ago there was a widespread belief that liberal democracy would become the natural basis for government throughout the world. That has certainly not been the case: anti-liberal regimes are thriving in many places. Many draw their legitimacy from elections but they have trashed other institutions of democracy, and the processes around those elections are often rigged. Because these regimes are partially democratic, traditional classifications such as dictatorship, autocracy, fascism, and authoritarianism, fail to describe them.

On Late Night Live Phillip Adams interviews John Keane, Professor of Politics at the University of Sydney, who resurrects the term “despotism” to describe these political systems. The “citizen” reverts to the role of a “subject”, a compliant person who plays his or her role as a good and quiet consumer in the market economy. Keane is author of The New Despotism recently published by Harvard University Press. (19 minutes)

Coming to a screen near you – if you wish

On Thursday July 2, from 1 – 2 pm, The Grattan Institute is hosting a webinar Zero-emissions Australia: opportunities and barriers, with Ross Garnaut, Anna Skarbek, Guy Dundas and Tony Wood (moderator). Register on the event website (linked above).

How to handle tailgaters

We don’t usually run a motoring section, but one of our readers has recommended this short video on a successful way to get back at annoying tailgaters.

Saturday’s Good Reading and Listening is compiled by Ian McAuley

Watch out tomorrow, Sunday, for Peter Sainsbury’s Sunday environment round up.

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