Saturday salon 26/3

1. Magic memories

My birthday is near the end of March, so in some years such as this one it falls within the Easter break. One such time was in 1978, 38 years ago, when my wife and I were planning to get married a few weeks later.

We wouldn’t have time for a honeymoon, so we took a break for Easter, booking into the Mapleton Caravan Park, which is on the northern road from Nambour to Montville in the Sunshine Coast hinterland. Some memories stand out.

One was the giant storm we had one night. Our onsite van rocked for hours in the wind and blinding rain. Night passed and the bright and sparkling morning revealed chaos for campers in tents, from the wind and water rushing down the slope.

My actual birthday was fine and the night was clear. I remember the spectacular full moon from Gerrard’s Lookout on the road along the ridge down to Maleny, where we had a take-away meal to celebrate my birthday.

Our last night was in Alexandra Headlands, where we thought we’d try a new restaurant that had just opened. The meal was fair enough, but we were the only ones there, and when we asked for desserts, they said, sorry the chef’s gone home!

There was more, of course, a magic holiday, now exactly half a life-time ago!

2. New Zealand Labour looks at “citizen’s income”

Don’t laugh, the Swiss are actually going to put the issue to a referendum! The Finn’s are going to experiment.

The Labour Party in NZ is looking at the idea of “citizen’s income” also known as Universal Basic Income (UBI).

    The idea is that everyone gets a basic amount of money to live off of, like a wage, and benefit systems are gotten rid of.

It sounds a great idea, but where would the money come from?

Quartz spoke to five experts.

People are turning to the concept, I think, because of growing inequality, manifest poverty and homelessness in rich countries where holes have opened up in the safety net, and the casualisation of work, where being in and out of short-term jobs is the new normal.

3. No new flag for New Zealand

As The Guardian said, Ten months, 10,000 designs, no new flag for New Zealand. What was that about?

    How many New Zealanders does it take to change a flag?

    It’s the 27-million-dollar question to which, after 10 months, 10,300 designs and two public referendums, we still don’t know the answer – because after all that, the vote was to stick with the same old flag.

These were the four finalists:

NZ flag_2500_600

The one chosen to go up against the existing one, was the one on the bottom right. Far be it for me, but I suspect it should have been either all black and white, or red, white and blue. Aesthetically this one just doesn’t look right against a blue sky:

NZ flag_87154227_gettyimages-492306228

57% of the people who voted gave it the thumbs down. So Kiwis will be stuck with a flag that looks very much like the Australian one.

This is the third tim PM John Key has seen his referendums go down. The first was on a law that criminalised smacking children, the second was his government’s asset sales program.

Seems teflon Key will just carry on as though the whole thing never happened.

4. Brussels ISIS attacks

Now this is serious.

There have been attacks in Ankara and elsewhere, but the ISIS bombings in Brussels has brought us up with a jolt. Europe with 28 countries with borders open to each other in the Schengen area seems very vulnerable.

Paul McGeough at the SMH looks at the overall picture. ISIS in Syria and Iraq is losing, he says, and is seeking to export terror out of weakness.

Yet if terrorist cells elsewhere reach a critical mass, losing at the centre may not make much difference. Many are saying that Brussels is becoming jihadi central, and are asking why. For one thing, Belgium has been perhaps worse than most at integrating second generation Muslims. However, this article by Matthew Yglesias paints a disturbing picture.

Belgium is a country of opposites yoked together by force, mainly Flemish and Walloons who apparently can’t stand each other. The state has weak national institutions and has pushed many government functions towards local government. Brussels itself is really 19 municipalities each of which used to have its own police force. Now it has five police forces, but each answers to a number of mayors.

National security bodies are said to be fragmented, lacking coordination and communication. Under these circumstances coordinating efforts against radicalisation and terrorist threats is a challenge. I’ve heard Belgium described as a failed state.

Clearly things are going to get worse, there, here and everywhere, before they get better. I heard a French politician say that in France they had identified 9,000 radicalised Muslims. Of these some 400 to 500 were thought to be a potential threat. That’s a lot of people for the authorities to keep an eye on.

Introduction to Saturday salon

Because of the way the blog currently presents posts on the home page I think it’s better to remove the introductory material to a different place. For new readers, here’s the rationale for this space.


An open thread where, at your leisure, you can discuss anything you like, well, within reason and the Comments Policy. Include here news and views, plus any notable personal experiences from the week and the weekend.

For climate topics please use the most recent Climate clippings.

The gentleman in the image is Voltaire, who for a time graced the court of Frederick II of Prussia, known as Frederick the Great. King Fred loved to talk about the universe and everything at the end of a day’s work. He also used the salons of Berlin to get feedback in the development of public policy.

Fred would only talk in French; he regarded German as barbaric. Here we’ll use English.

The thread will be a stoush-free zone. The Comments Policy says:

    The aim [of this site] is to provide a venue for people to contribute and to engage in a civil and respectful manner.

38 thoughts on “Saturday salon 26/3”

  1. @2

    Uncle Miltons negative income tax would provide a UBI and have incentive.
    I’d go that way.

  2. Jumpy: Negative income tax has the potential to stimulate the economy by getting money to low income people who can be expected to spend it. However, admin costs could be high if the payments are going to vary all the time as people’s income goes up and down.
    From an admin point of view it would be simpler to pay a fixed sum to everyone even though this means that positive taxes would have to be higher to pay for it.

  3. John,
    I may be wrong but i believe the welfare admin cost are more the the ATO admin costs right now.
    If I’m correct, we would be saving.

  4. Jumpy, admin costs are always (well usually) a smallish fraction of grant costs. Centrelink is very unfriendly to clients now, and part of this is undoubtedly paring admin to the bone. But certainly a UBI or a negative income tax would save on admin.

  5. It would also see the end of the minimum hourly rate that is such an impediment to entry level job seekers .

  6. Happy birthday, Brian.

    NZ Flag: I just can’t believe it. Have the stewards been called in to swab the whole nation?

    Speaking of flags: apparently, some Moslems in Switzerland have called for the removal of the cross from the Swiss flag as it :does not reflect modern Switzerland”. Hhmmm, perhaps not the best week to put that proposition around ….

    Citizens’ Income. Great idea; would save billions in administrative costs – but it will never, never happen in Australia because (1) Australians are, and always have been, in love with bureaucratic tangles, (2) If ‘Complexity Is Always Theft’ then the tens-of-thousands who have made lifelong careers out of rorting the public through unnecessary complexity would have to seek honest work. (3) It would break the monopoly the banks have on distorting the economy – and banks hate competition on anything, other than on their advertising campaigns.

  7. Thanks, Graham. My brother and his wife invited us around. Nothing too strenuous!

    A quick Google reveals that Muslims now account for about 5% of the Swiss population, mostly arrivals from the Balkans in the last few decades, with some also from Turkey.

    The move about the flag seems to date from 2011, but received a new burst about mid-January, I think just before the Paris bombings.

    Timing not good!

  8. A quick Google reveals that Muslims now account for about 5% of the Swiss population

    Thats a balance of power in quite a few places.
    Many of which have crosses on their Flag too.

  9. Actually Negative Income Tax would be disasterous, particularly if it eliminates minimum wages. The reason is that it allows the introduction of the “pay bludger”. Pay bludgers are those businesses who want to pay ever lower wages to compensate for either their greed, their abysmal business performance, or a mixture of both. What would happen is the system would find itself propping up huge numbers of incompetent business operators who would not hesitate to task on extra people at half the pay to compensate with the state picking up the tab for their wages bill.

    Rural labour is a special case, but it is a case created by poorly thought through regulations allowing major city buyers to manipulate the returns on farm produce on the one hand and the total failure of successive Australian governments to deliver any kind of regional development on the other.

  10. Jumpy: The problem in Australia at the moment is growing levels of inequality and not enough money getting to people who would actually spend it.
    Negative income tax should not be about giving low income earners more money, not allowing you and your friends to pay less than you do now.

  11. John D,

    ” not enough money getting to people who would actually spend it”
    …is an astute observation, and describes in a few words the core of our societal problem.

  12. BlB, I think Bill S and Wendy Macklin are on the case, from something I set aside to read later. I’ll get there eventually.

  13. What would happen is the system would find itself propping up huge numbers of incompetent business operators who would not hesitate to task on extra people at half the pay to compensate with the state picking up the tab for their wages bill.

    Couldn’t agree more.
    For an example of this corporate welfare in action see the Walmart business model.

  14. Bilb

    Pay bludgers are those businesses who want to pay ever lower wages to compensate for either their greed, their abysmal business performance, or a mixture of both.

    Their greed would be taxed and the incompetent would still be more productive than the public sector ( which is run on taxes )

    Negative income tax should not be about giving low income earners more money, not allowing you and your friends to pay less than you do now.

    My friends and I are just treading water at the moment, scrounging and even doing work for negative profit, just to keep a core of employees ( mates of mine actually ) till things pick up.

    Without employers there are no employees. But keep belting us into bankruptcy and see what happens.

  15. Bilb
    I’m a sub- contractor in the construction industry, predominantly new commercial projects with some new housing and the least amount of renos as possible.
    I prefer to work with architects and project managers through to labourers and apprentices, not Ma and Pa Kettle that haven’t a clue.
    I do not haggle, ever.

    You own a business don’t you ?

  16. Zoot: This is absolutely anecdotal but I feel that “failure-to-perform/ abysmal-incompetence/ haven’t-a- schmick-how-to-run-an-enterprise” has, in 2016, surpassed “sheer-naked-greed-and-plundering” as the major cause of economic ills in Australia.

    Sorry, can’t offer any hard evidence such as statistics ( accurate or dodgy). Just an impression, that’s all.

    Had been trying to hold séances with a long-departed Scottish intellectual, a Mr Adam Smith, so as to seek his wisdom and advice but had to abandon the efforts because each and every time the wraith of said gentleman was summoned and we sought his advice, his face would light up and he would ask the same question, “You did what?” and then burst into spiritual laughter and very un-Scottish cackling so that all communication with him became impossible. Do you have any suggestions as to how we could have a productive and meaningful séance with this gentleman?

  17. Graham
    If you updated him on how we’re cutting off the Invisible Hand, the sound that you mistook for laughter is uncontrollable sobbing.

  18. Jumpy: No, no, that was definitely sudden uncontrollable laughter as soon as Australian government or business policies were mentioned – but I did wonder why another wraith called him Lefty; thought it was a reference to his social justice viewpoints, however, now that I think about it, his right sleeve cuff did look a bit empty. 🙂

  19. Congratulations Brian on your birthday and wedding anniversary – clearly you are also approaching the 40th (in 2018?) so I hope you are planning your celebrations already 🙂

    I agree the aesthetics of the NZ flag didn’t quite work out. They have good material to work with but you need serious design cred to make this stuff work. It is the same with oz – we have several traditions, the U.K. Flag, the southern cross, the green and gold/wattle motif, and the Indigenous flag with again a different colour scheme – very hard to see how you can make it all work. Still we should try and NZ should keep trying.

  20. Graham
    Your totally imagined spoof lends me hope that you may, one day, have the capacity to explore a something that is neither left nor right.
    Thats a good thing.

  21. Val, thanks!

    You’ve got the maths right, but the next big celebration is a significant birthday my wife has later this year.

    Agree, you need real design skills to make flags work.

  22. On the flag issue, I watched Roman Mars on TED give a brilliant talk on flag design, delivered in his own way.
    The man is a long time flag nut.

  23. Graham, as I understand it asbestos pipes are stable and hence OK while in situ. I’d think the problem would come when you replaced them.

    So maybe the $8 billion is a figure we don’t have to worry about.

  24. Just had a look at the transcript again, Graham. It’s a bit tricky. Asbestos pipes old and degraded. Internecine spat in the bureaucracy in Canberra.

    You are right. Hard to know whether there is a real problem.

  25. If Turnbulls only quibble about the handing back of income tax is what percentages, I suggest 100%.
    After that they can manage GST directly also.

    I can’t wait for the ALP Senator ( State Reps first and foremost ) reasons to block this.

    Have we had a greens response to the idea yet ?

  26. Jumpy I’m predicting they’ll say it is a stunt, which is roughly what the Victorian premier called it.

    SA and Tasmania would be thrown to the wolves.

  27. I’ve been working on tax tonight. We are seeing our tax accountant tomorrow. So blogging has had to take second place.

  28. Sorry new Saturday salon not yet done. Almost there, Hoping for tomorrow AM, but definitely tomorrow night.

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