Thursday, November 12, 2009

Supporting one type of people smuggler whilst frowning on another

A few years back I read about an interesting idea to tackle people smugglers. Rather than deterrence, the idea was to actively compete with them for money from the type of potential migrant/refugee that would be tempted to pay a person smuggler. A new type of entry visa would be created (undocumented economic migrant?), and it would be an industry rather than an expense for the receiving country.

It appears that Australias foreign student intake see Article, is more about this burgeoning immigration industry than it is about the higher education industry, at least for Chinese and Indian potential immigrants. I am not sure what percentage students are of our current net migration intake, but it is a very high proportion.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tools not Rules!

This was a motto pasted on our Computer Science tutors' computer back at uni. It is also the sentiment in some of the chapters of Superfreakonomics. It reminds me of the arguments of privatisation from the Economist. Of course I agree that our democratic instincts to demand that there ought to be a law (or to demand that the government own stuff) is generally too dismissive of solutions or widgets that fix the problem (or too dismissive of privatisation programs). This does not mean that I think there should be as few laws as possible/ nor do I think that everything should be privatised.

The issue is that for widgets or solutions to be thought of, tested, funded and implemented requires a societal structure which includes the strong rule of law. No "failed" state (ie state with no laws) has ever had anyone have a good idea that has managed to go through to implementation.

Freakonomics held back from proscribing any kind of philosophy. Superfreakonomics has gone a bit further, by proscribing the idea that "laws don't work", but "good technology" does. I would adjust this by saying " Laws have a place, but only with well researched social engineering :- good technology sells itself"

Monday, November 09, 2009

Happy 9/11 day

Funny how bad turning points make us forget good ones. German Media almost exclusively used Schicksalstag 9/11 as their day of fate in 1989. I was amazed that googling "Schicksalstag" under google images got zero images of the wall falling down, but plenty of the twin towers falling down.

I read through many articles commemorating the twentieth anniversary, but very little mention of the 9/11 duality of the date nor a comparison of the two events as global turning points.

This day of joy and relief should be remembered and commemorated. After all, the date is so easy to remember!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Superfreakonomics vs Realclimate vs THE Economist

My recent ideas on Climate Change have been challenged from two different directions. A Superfreakonomics chapter championing geo-engineering and Realclimates attack of it.

Geo-engineering as a "Fix" or even a quick-fix didn't particularly appeal to me in the past because it comes up against the same Geopolitical issues of responsibility and duty that reductions of carbon has.

However, I have had a great respect for freakonomics in teasing out facts and relationships that are counterintuitive, because they demonstrate something new, interesting and almost always useful knowledge.

What I really liked about the chapter was that Levitt & Dubner definitely showed the nuanced nature of their convictions, because they steered away from cliched views and had plenty of solid scientific foundation to their arguments.

Although western societies do not have a tradition of scientific weather-making, the RMP (of China) have that tradition. For instance in the Beijing games they used rockets to prevent storms from interrupting events. It is not much of a stretch to imagine that they will be the first to try some of these geo-engineering feats - perhaps under the guise of something else.

Levitt and Dubner, I believe use the axiom that modifying behaviour will not work. For this they are hammered.

I actually believe the near impenetrable issues with global agreements to reduce GHG's are equivalent to the near impenetrable issues of agreements to use (or agreements not to scupper unilateral efforts) to use geo-engineering.

In a big way changing behaviour is a type of Geo-engineering. Realclimate authors use the axiom that it is better to try to reverse back to a recent known state than to move quickly to a totally new regime that optimises, say average temperature.

I think the point is probably moot, as for both behavioural geo-engineering and the standard sort, way more "metering" of all relevant GHG's is a prerequisite for internalising the externality of warming, whether the overall rise in temperature or whatever is found to be insignificant or not. All engineering is reliant on absolutely rock-solid repeatable scientific foundation. "metering" as well as actual weather/climate numerically predictive science is a prerequisite for humans' incentive programs to help humanity. The science is decades away from that. Both Realclimate and superfreakonomics is in some way guessing and perhaps betting on what the future helpful programs will be.

As for which "side" I am taking in this case : I am siding somewhat with Superfreakonomics because at least it has something new to say and not as Cliched as the Realclimates riposte.

As far as the Economist is concerned, it seems to have sided with RealClimate.