On Petrol Prices

The recent kerfuffle between the parties over who has the best strategy for cutting petrol prices – the Liberals pushing for “at least” 5 cents a litre cut in the excise, and the government considering lifting the double-tax of the GST on the excise – effectively cutting 3.8c – is astonishing in its short-sightedness.

The Liberals above all are aiming for populism, to say to the people that hey, we’re doing something real about petrol prices. The government appears to be aiming for a pragmatic populism – to say we’re doing something, but we’re not as reckless as the opposition, and we’re doing a “sensible” tax cut. Both appear to fail to acknowledge that the price fluctations could wipe out their cuts in less than a day.

Such crass appeals to populism have also eroded any faith I had in either party’s ability to lead, as it were – it would appear that we are now locked in a permanent state of electioneering, all moves vetted by polling. This permanent state binds the hands of the government to populist moves, and the paranoia of losing even a single percentage point of advantage is clearly so high that policies must be ajudicated on their appeal to the masses.

The current price rise is driven by both demand and speculation, with speculation particularly turning into a nasty feedback loop, but in a market driven economy this something that we must accept. Changing the system to take speculation out of it – effectively killing the futures market – reduces the ability to mitigate risks for many industries, such as the airlines, which would be about as popular as mud pies.

For one, the environment cannot afford petrol prices staying low, and higher petrol prices also encourage innovation for replacements for the primary use as a fuel. Given the number of other petrochemical products we depend on, oil isn’t going to go away as a resource, but taking out use as a fuel would flatline prices, and shift our focus. Innovation is a good thing.

It’s just up to someone with a little power now to show some leadership and accept higher prices cannot be avoided through paltry measures such as a 5 cent reduction in tax.

Ed: here’s some words from someone who actually knows something about all this junk.

On Why the World is Going to the Pot

Climate change. Global food shortage. Global oil shortage. GlobalĀ  Overfishing. Deforestation. Desertification. Ice caps melting.

Credit Crunch. Corporate short-sightedness. Inflation. Labour shortage. US Recession. China overheating. Growing inequality.

The war in Iraq. The war in Afghanistan. The never-ending Israel-Palestine-Lebanon conflict. The “War on Terror”. Rising nationalism. Rights abuses. Increasing surveilance. Decreasing freedoms.

Continuing racial inequality. Continuing sexual inequality. Increasing sexual exploitation. AIDS. STDs. SARS. Bird Flu. Cancer.

Hyperbole.

Do tell, why is the above wrong? Anything else to add to the above list?

On Democracy

It’s not exactly a light topic, but here’s a thought on democracy.

I’m sure most people understand the rudiments of democracy – rule of the majority is essentially what it boils down to, or so that’s the theory. Which is the point I was pondering the other day, really – if you take the English model, the numbers look a bit off to me.

To win government, a party must have 51% of the members in the parliament. To win a seat, a candidate must win 51% of the local vote. Nothing here however says that the overall popular vote must be won, though.

The way I see it, the minimum needed to form government is 51% of 51%. The other seats could be lost by margins as wide as the Pacific, or not even with candidates for that party. Assuming electorates are created equal, effective targeted campaigning could mean that 51% of 51% of the population – 26.01% – could deliver a party to government.

That is a little scary.

Now, that kind of result is about as likely as ski weekend packages in Hell, except perhaps in Zimbabwe, but it shows the idea of democracy being majority rule is a bit of a fallacy. If the other parties win a combined, say 75% of 49%, that’s 36% – just in the wrong place.

If you want to ensure that you’ll always represent a majority of the population, winning a seat and winning government would require 75% of the vote in 75% of the electorates. You can probably expect Air Bacon to be operating the day after that occurs.

Practice suggests governments tend to have about half the country on side, but this also is on the assumption that voting is compulsory as it is in Australia. If you make voting optional and reflect realistic voter turnout rates, you cut down the minimum proportion of people even more.

So, when they ask you whether you want a directly-elected president on the basis of a pure popular vote, or you want something else, explain what democracy is really about and go for direct election, any day.