Monthly Archives: June 2020

30/6/20: Long-Term Behavioral Implications of COVID19 Pandemic

My article on the behavioural economics and finance implications of COVID19 pandemic is now available on @TheCurrency website:

Hint: dealing with COVID19 impact will be an uphill battle for many and for the society and economy at large.

This is a long read piece, covering general behavioural fallout from the pandemic, and Ireland-specific data.

Australian Politics 2020-06-30 15:44:00


"The West Australian" blasted over racist Indigenous cartoon

The term "Aborigine" is NOT offensive.  It is the normal term for Australian blacks and is Latin for "from the beginning" -- so recognizes their priority.

And "Abo" is simply an abbreviation.  Australians are great abbreviators so "Abo" is a normal abbreviation with no offensive intentions

It is however true that some Leftists have recently pushed the Canadian term "First peoples" as an alternstive term.  Ironic that the term Aborigine says the same thing in Latin

And some Aborigines use their tribal name as an identification (Murri", Boori" etc.)  But such names are too specific to be generally useful.  "Boong" appears to have originally been a tribal name but is now a derogatory name for Aborigines generally

The West Australian newspaper is copping backlash after publishing a cartoon that refers to an Indigenous character using an offensive racial slur and compares them to a dog.

The Modesty Blaise comic, published yesterday, shows  characters discussing an Indigenous tracker who is trying to find them.

One character says they are being chased by “four men, all armed ... and an Aborigine” — a term some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people find offensive.

The characters go on to describe the Indigenous character as an “abo tracker”.

“It’s no use hiding, that abo will smell us out quicker than a bloodhound,” a character says in the comic.

The publication is being blasted on social media with many labelling it “disgusting”.

“Just wondering how many people were involved in the chain of decision making, to allow this cartoon to be printed in the @westaustralian newspaper in 2020?” asked radio and television presenter Shelley Ware.

“I’m literally devastated this has been printed and our children have access to this. Honestly wish I was surprised though!!”

Late on Monday evening, The West Australian published an apology to its website stating the cartoon was written in 1981 and was supplied by an outside agency.


Incredible pictures from space show Australia 'turning green' thanks to record rainfall after years of crippling drought

We were told that the drought was caused by global warming, so are we now having global cooling?

Amazing pictures taken from space show south-eastern Australia's incredible transformation thanks to record rainfall after years of severe drought.

NASA's Earth Observatory took the natural-colour images two years apart, in May of 2018 and again in June 2020. 

The 2018 photo shows land ravaged by record heatwaves - reaching 49.9C in some areas that year - and the lowest rainfall in almost a century. 

In the most recent image, large swathes of green can be seen spreading across Victoria and New South Wales. 

According to the Bureau of Meteorology average to above average rainfall from January to May this year led to soil moisture recovery in much of the area shown in the pictures.

Meanwhile, some rainfall records were broken in Victoria during the same time period.

Melbourne received around 400mm of rain from January to April, almost eight times more than the same time period in 2019, and the wettest since 1924.

New South Wales and the Murray–Darling Basin also received its first average rainfall since 2016 in April and May of this year.  

In addition, the BoM predicts the winter will be wetter than average for western New South Wales and parts of South Australia.

The forecasts also indicate a wetter than average period between August and October for much of eastern Australia. 

The pictures were taken by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer on NASA's Aqua satellite.


Making sense of the government's war on arts degrees

It's pretty cheeky for Leftists to expect a conservative government to keep funding attacks on it

Let’s face it: the federal government’s overhaul of university fees in the humanities, widely interpreted as a swipe against what it sees as pesky leftists, is pretty stinging.

As a Gen X’er, I was primed for the possibility – even the desirability – of winding up behind the desk at the local video library where my high-honours paper on “reading ideology and desire in Ferris Bueller's Day Off” would come in handy.

Still, federal minister Dan Tehan’s announcement comes at a time when humanities graduates have been forced into an existential reckoning about our relative uselessness in a national crisis. We analysed and interpreted and poeticised our strange new world to death, but the pandemic brought into sharp relief our non-essentialness against cleaners, truck drivers and supermarket workers, let alone teachers, farmers, nurses, doctors and the scientists beavering away for a COVID-19 vaccine.

If this doesn’t ring true for you, brilliant. But the idea that a mere arts degree is a dead end runs so deep that Tehan’s policy feels almost like a parental rebuke – if it wasn’t smothered in disingenuousness.

In the same way a crusader for sexual morality is obsessed with sex, the Coalition’s culture warriors display niche preoccupations with culture. Don’t “silo” your degree, Tehan says. If you choose philosophy, study IT as well. I’m attracted to the folksy commonsense in that statement, but the government isn’t just making subjects in IT or agriculture cheaper – it’s doubling the cost of philosophy et-al, which actively discourages mixing and matching. It appears punitive.

Want to tease out the political and philosophical subtext to the conservatives’ decades-long antipathy towards the higher-education sector? Well, it’ll cost you – about $45,000. Roughly double what an arts degree costs now, bringing the humanities into the same price band as commerce and law.

Which, as others have argued, paradoxically raises the courses’ perceived value. And that’s only one example of how the overhaul is unlikely to achieve the stated aims of steering young people away from the queer, black-armband, coal-hating humanities and towards “job ready” degrees.

As higher education expert Andrew Norton says: “You’re not going to do something that will bore you for three years and bore you for another 40 simply because the course is cheaper.” Unless, to begin with, you’re poorer than most.

When in 2014 the Abbott government sought to slash public funding of universities by 20 per cent and de-regulate fees, Labor roared about the prospect of “$100,000 degrees” and Senate crossbencher Jacqui Lambie saw a plot to keep the battlers in their place. The plan failed to pass. Since then, the conservatives have avoided the appearance of undermining equal opportunity to higher education.

And in the context of the Coalition’s broader ideological war, deterring low-income students from arts courses didn’t make much sense to me, at least initially.

Back in 1970, when only 7 per cent of 15-to-64 year-olds had bachelor degrees, political affiliation tended to be dictated by income. These days, the tertiary educated are a reliable constituency for Labor – and its social democratic counterparts in the US and UK – with sections of what we loosely call “the working class” increasingly up for grabs.

The conservatives argue they’re the real materialists: emphasising Jobson Growth while progressives talk about shutting down coal and micro-aggressions. I found myself idly theorising that low-income students might be more inclined to bring a pragmatic perspective to the humanities, the kind the government professes to want.

“I’m pretty sure most Australian taxpayers preferred their funding to be used for research other than spending $223,000 on projects like ‘Post orientalist arts of the Strait of Gibraltar',” tweeted then Education Minister Simon Birmingham in 2018, when he spectacularly vetoed $4.2 million in recommended university research grants.

(Though I still don’t understand why he binned “Beauty and Ugliness as Persuasive Tools in Changing China’s Gender Norms” – a subject I would have thought useful in China’s new masculinist ethos under strongman Xi Jinping.)

But then my arts training (and a few extra hours of sleep) awakened me to the flaw in my reasoning about low-income students; once they make it to uni, and certainly after graduation, they’ve shifted into the tertiary-educated demographic that skews left, bringing a critical eye to the status quo.

That’s because conservative narratives have become taboo in the humanities, the hard-core warriors say – with some justification, I suspect, though that’s a subject for a thesis. While the government-commissioned inquiry into free speech on Australian campuses found no evidence of a “systemic” crisis of free speech on Australian campuses, former High Court judge Robert French left enough wriggle room for columnists in The Australian to warn about a potential, pretty much already realised, free speech crisis on Australian campuses.

I should disclose: while The Australian’s weekly takedowns of the ABC overwhelmingly leave me baffled, I’m occasionally amused at the reporting on totalitarian groupthink in humanities departments. Like the yarn about the history student reportedly instructed to use the adjective “enslaved” befor­e a noun such as African, in place of the noun “slave”, because, her guide said, “people weren’t slaves; they were enslaved”.

I’m fairly certain graduates of history, or sociology or political science come away with more than tactical skills in avoiding linguistic landmines. Gaining a thread of understanding about slavery, however we talk about it, or Western civilisation or the Spanish Flu pandemic or the Great Depression might just be worth the time.


Universities grapple with new ways to test students to combat cheating

Universities are exploring new ways to tackle cheating and prepare students for workplace demands in a post-coronavirus world, with a particular focus on how exams and other assessments are conducted.

Academic integrity researcher Cath Ellis, who is associate dean of education in the faculty of arts and social sciences at the University of NSW, has found the bulk of students who cheat do so under the noses of supervisors during old-fashioned exams.

"The trust that people put in the integrity of invigilated exams may be misplaced," she said.

Associate Professor Ellis and a team of researchers recently found that close to 6 per cent of more than 14,000 university students surveyed admitted to cheating. Of those, more than half said they had provided help with exams and 41 per cent said they received help. About 8 per cent admitted to taking an exam for someone else and 4.2 per cent admitted someone else had done their exam.

"This research showed that exam cheating remains the most common type of contract cheating behaviour to which students admit," she said.

It was also the most likely to have involved payment including through a professional service.

Some universities have started using expensive new software that monitors individual students through cameras and keyboards to keep an eye on students sitting exams. Different versions included directly watching students, tracking their eye movements and keyboard activity.

The changes come as the federal government establishes a $3.9 million integrity unit in the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA). New legislation will empower the unit to block access to cheating websites using court injunctions.

Associate Professor Ellis said the COVID-19 crisis had prompted universities to reconsider traditional ways of examining hundreds of students. "The real challenge we are facing is what can we do to replace exams," she said.

"I do appreciate there is a need for them in some circumstances. Whether we over-rely on them as an assessment technique is a valid question for us to ask ourselves.

"I think that there are cleverer more authentic ways to assess student learning and that is where a lot of universities are putting their efforts," Associate Professor Ellis said.

This included assessment of a broader range of skills students would be expected to demonstrate in the workforce. In that vein, the University of Sydney is trialling the assessment of student qualities including inventiveness, cultural competence and influence, which it hopes to adopt across all faculties.

The university's acting registrar and academic director for education policy and quality, Peter McCallum, said there had been a mixed response from different faculties including some that had raised concerns about their ability to fairly assess the graduate attributes.

Law professor Barbara McDonald said the law faculty had objected to the proposed assessment of students’ cultural competence or influence, among other things.

“Many academics have deep concerns about assessing cultural competence, and think it is ridiculous to be trying to assess whether a student has influence, as opposed to assessing their expertise and communication skills to go out and be influential," she said. "We think this is distracting us from our core responsibilities and would be impracticable to do fairly and meaningfully across hundreds of students."


 Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

Median Household Income in May 2020

Political Calculations' initial estimate of median household income in May 2020 is $65,669, down 0.5% from April 2020's initial estimate of $66,027.

The change is primarily the result of the aggregate loss of wage and salary income recorded for the month as a continuing consequence of the business closures and stay-at-home orders imposed by state and local governments in response to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. in March 2020, which has resulted in large scale job losses. Though many of these orders began to be lifted around the U.S. during May 2020, many local jurisdictions are still impose restrictions that contribute to both lost incomes and lost jobs, which slow economic recovery in addition to weighing on the median household income estimate.

While this figure is based on the Bureau of Economic Analysis' current estimates of aggregate personal income, we think the BEA is still underestimating both the extent of job loss and the amount of lost wage and salary income being experienced by millions of Americans, particularly in lower income-earning occupations. We anticipate the BEA will revise its estimates for the month lower in future months as it replaces projections based on pre-coronavirus recession trends with actual income data as it becomes available.

The following chart shows the nominal (red) and inflation-adjusted (blue) trends for median household income in the United States from January 2000 through May 2020. The inflation-adjusted figures are presented in terms of constant May 2020 U.S. dollars.

Median Household Income in the 21st Century: Nominal and Real Modeled Estimates, January 2000 to May 2020

Median household income in the U.S. has declined by 1.4% from the revised $66,627 recorded in February 2020, the last month of expansion for the U.S. economy identified by the National Bureau of Economic Research, which marks the onset of the coronavirus recession.

Looking at the year-over-year rate of change for median household income, the following chart confirms the nominal trend has nosed over and has continued sharply decelerating at the fastest rate recorded to date in the 21st century.

Median Household Income in the 21st Century: Year Over Year Growth Rate, January 2001 to May 2020

Looking ahead, we're starting to see large scale layoffs in the aerospace sector, particularly for the commercial transport portion of the industry, with Boeing having already announced 6,770 job cuts and Airbus just announcing it will be cutting its production by 40%. The effects of the loss of these comparatively high paying jobs should start showing up in the data next several months, where we should recognize the impact will extend through their suppliers, which includes thousands more jobs across the U.S.

Analyst's Notes

The peak value for nominal median household income of $66,627 in February 2020 has been revised very slightly up from our previous estimate of $66,626. We anticipate the aggregate personal income data we use in generating our estimates will be subject to substantial revision given the extent of the coronavirus recession's disruption to the U.S. economy.

Since our estimates are tied to that data, until those revisions occur, we think our estimates will overstate the level of median household income in the U.S. until the economic situation stabilizes.

Other Analyst's Notes

Sentier Research suspended reporting its monthly Current Population Survey-based estimates of median household income, concluding their series with data for December 2019. In its absence, we are providing the estimates from our alternate methodology. Our data sources are presented in the following section.


Sentier Research. Household Income Trends: January 2000 through December 2019. [Excel Spreadsheet with Nominal Median Household Incomes for January 2000 through January 2013 courtesy of Doug Short]. [PDF Document]. Accessed 6 February 2020. [Note: We've converted all data to be in terms of current (nominal) U.S. dollars.]

U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics. Consumer Price Index, All Urban Consumers - (CPI-U), U.S. City Average, All Items, 1982-84=100. [Online Database (via Federal Reserve Economic Data)]. Last Updated: 10 June 2020. Accessed: 10 June 2020.

U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Table 2.6. Personal Income and Its Disposition, Monthly, Personal Income and Outlays, Not Seasonally Adjusted, Monthly, Middle of Month. Population. [Online Database (via Federal Reserve Economic Data)]. Last Updated: 26 June 2020. Accessed: 26 June 2020.

U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Table 2.6. Personal Income and Its Disposition, Monthly, Personal Income and Outlays, Not Seasonally Adjusted, Monthly, Middle of Month. Compensation of Employees, Received: Wage and Salary Disbursements. [Online Database (via Federal Reserve Economic Data)]. Last Updated: 26 June 2020. Accessed: 26 June 2020.

29/6/20: The Scale and Distributional Effects of Monetary Activism During Pandemic

A neat summary of global monetary policy supports deployed during the COVID19 pandemic via McKinsey & Co:

In effect, globally, monetary authorities are underwriting government and private corporate debt for larger companies. This, naturally, will lead to reduced investment and competition from smaller firms, including more innovative ones, raising the relative cost of debt to these companies. Both, directly and indirectly, the monetary policies favour equity investment in top-tier, larger companies, effectively increasing not only the cost of debt, but the cost of capital in the medium term for smaller and medium-sized companies.