Monthly Archives: January 2013

Occam’s razor

Anthony Caughey (The Australian, Letters, 16/1) inadvertently gives climate science a boost by articulating the alternative theory: that the scientific consensus is the result of “decades of educational indoctrination”. It would be entertaining to hear how this posited infiltration of the world’s academies was organised and funded, by whom and for what evil purpose, but I suspect that Occam’s razor would favour the simpler hypothesis: the scientists have it right.

Three options worth pursuing

The Australian’s editorial in favour of optional preferential voting (“An option worth pursuing”, 11/1) makes the lucid point that an electoral system should be chosen “not because of which side of politics it might favour…but because it would enshrine the sound principle of choice”. Yet almost in the same breath it argues against voluntary voting on the basis of imagined political outcomes, speculating that it “would result in parliaments unrepresentative of a large proportion of citizens”.

Similar criticisms are sometimes made against proportional representation (PR, generally regarded as the fairest type of system) on the grounds that it may fail to deliver an outright majority. Such arguments from hypothetical consequences are irrelevant to the purpose of an electoral system, which is to accurately reflect the people’s will, whether or not that happens to be convenient. On that criteria, each of the three modes, optional, voluntary, and proportional, is an improvement on the current system.


False balance

The Australian’s editorial (“Deciding whether it’s climate”, 12/1) presents an even balance between the views of those who believe that human induced climate change poses a threat, and those who do not – and that is the problem. The former group includes the vast majority of climate scientists, while the latter, apart from a handful of sincere scientists, is composed for the most part of conservative activists who mistake it for a political issue and shills employed by polluting industries. This is no finely-tuned debate between equally learned adversaries. The balance presented is a false one.

Not so simple

By pitting the rarefied ideals of classical liberalism against a straw man of authoritarian “progressivism”, Tim Wilson (“Both sides of politics should cease nanny-state meddling”, The Australian, 8/1) reduces complex issues of individual freedom versus social good to a simple black and white cartoon. So devoted to these ideals is Wilson that he indignantly defends even the freedom to sell addictive carcinogens. This is unsurprising since his employer, the IPA, is funded by the tobacco industry. But I wonder if his outrage extends to speeding and seatbelt laws, or restrictions on guns and explosives, or the prohibition on the sale of heroin. After all, as adults we all know the risks and responsibilities our actions entail.

In the real world, the very existence of society has always meant some restriction of individual freedom. In some cases it is because the individual may not be capable of a true choice, as in the case of addiction. In others, it is because the social consequences of a bad individual decision are too severe, thus gun laws. It is not as simple as black and white.

Ripped off

The Australian’s editorial (“Despite challenges, the spirit of progress endures”, 2/1) acknowledges that on most average long term economic measures, life is improving globally, including here in Australia, despite the groundless carping we endure from our insatiable “aspirational class”.

However, the suggestion that increased incomes have resulted from declining union membership is the opposite of what global data shows. In fact, the decline in collective bargaining has softened the link between productivity and pay, meaning that workers benefit less from improvements in the economy.

The editorial cites a real wage rise of about 50% since 1984, but given that real per-capita GDP rose by about 85% in the same period, it could just as well be argued that had more Australians remained in collective bargaining, we may have received more of our fair share of the increased wealth.