Monthly Archives: March 2010

World Opera season programs


For opera devotees, fans, ‘tragics’ … etc., but mainly for myself, I’ve developed a synthetic RSS feed of news about Season events, tickets and subscriptions for Opera houses around the world that you can find near the bottom of this page.

I’ve used Yahoo Pipes and Yahoo’s YQL—an SQL-type query language for Yahoo search databases—to search for new season announcements from the world’s opera houses and mangled the results into an RSS format. The links in the feed jump to the announcement pages for each Opera house.

Hope you enjoy it. Please let me know.

The limits of WTO litigation

Good sense from a former Chair of the WTO Appellate Body.

“It is in the best interest of both countries to continue negotiating on the currency issue rather than resorting to litigation at the WTO. On this issue especially, litigation should be the last resort.” Extract from James Bacchus in the WSJ

Alhougth I’m sure a lot of trade law geeks like me would like to see Article XV litigated, nevertheless … just to see what it means.

Rotten ideas about the renminbi

The prospect of a U.S.-China clash over currency controls next month when the U.S. Treasury Secretary is supposed to pronounce on China’s ‘currency manipulation’ has prompted hyperbolic fears (Martin Wolf, in the FT says he “wonders whether the open global economy is going to survive…”!) and at least two feeble plans.

One is from the IMF, which wants a new mandate—although it admits that’s not really necessary—to undertake explicit multilateral surveillance of Systemic Stability (i.e. imbalances in external accounts). But the Fund does a bad job of justifying its claim for a new role. The Conclusions (on page 12) of the current proposal from the Fund management offer no better reason that that it wants to feel important as the manager of a new ‘peer review’ process. Ho hum!

A much worse idea comes from Arvind Subramaniam in today’s Financial Times. He wants the WTO not only to engage in surveillance but also to enforce the ‘right’ value for currencies.

“The World Trade Organisation is a natural forum for developing new multilateral rules. First, undervalued exchange rates are de facto protectionist trade policies because they are a combination of export subsidies and import tariffs…:”

Even if we accept that there is an equivalence between currency management and trade measures, we have to ask so what? You’d imagine, wouldn’t you, that a trade economist would recall that, in WTO, neither of these trade instruments is necessarily “protectionist” and that neither is illegal (or even deprecated)! This is not much of an argument for WTO intervention.

Second, the WTO has a better record on enforcement of rules. Its dispute settlement system, although not perfect, has been reasonably effective in allowing members to initiate and settle disputes…What is needed is a new rule in the WTO proscribing undervalued exchange rates.

Uh-huh. But does Prof. Subramaniam recall what is needed to add a ‘rule’ to the WTO? If not ‘consensus’ (or ‘explicit consensus’ in the Doha negotiating mandate), then a very strong qualified majority (⅔ of Members according to Article X of the Marakesh Agreement). Furthermore, a new rule adopted by a majority vote applies only to Members that accept it; unless a further another strong majority (¾ of Members) decides to expel any Member that does not accept the new rule.

Now think for a second or two what sort of mess a proposal to penalize persistent trade surpluses would create in WTO. Remember, we’re talking about an Organization that—for the present at least—can’t decide which way is up (in the Doha round), let alone what constitutes an “undervalued exchange rate”

Imagine, too, that horrible wrangle ending up in a majority vote on the new rule, which will inevitably be aimed at China and possibly Germany. But will also potentially hit a lot of others; Thailand and Vietnam, for example. What we have here is a recipe for a hecatomb of the WTO.

The IMF would continue to be the sole forum for broad exchange rate surveillance. But in those rare instances of substantial and persistent undervaluation, we envisage a more effective delineation of responsibility, with the IMF continuing to play a technical role in assessing when a country’s exchange rate was undervalued, and the WTO assuming the enforcement role.” Extract from / Comment / Opinion – The weak renminbi is not just America’s problem

Fat chance! Even if the IMF could actually discover the ‘correct’ international price of a currency, the WTO would break if tasked with enforcing it.

A call for evidence-based policy


“Many social, educational and economic policies are the modern equivalent of Dr Spock’s advice that babies should sleep face down: well-meaning, authoritative – and wrong. No doubt it would be awkward to see the wisdom of experts punctured and the pet policies of politicians discredited on a regular basis. But if politicians really cared about those they represent, they would insist on more randomised trials and more systematic reviews of what works.” Extract from / Comment / Opinion – Political ideas need proper testing

See also Productivity Commission Chairman Gary Banks’ detailed suggestions.

Offensive teenagers

Offenders By Age And Sex

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics more than 1 in 12 teenage males commits an offense that comes to police notice.

Motor vehicle subsidies wasted on Ford

Carr and Rudd sign the IOU

Ford Australia made just over a quarter (60,000) of all the cars made in Australia last year and less than one-fifth of all the new cars+light trucks registered in Australia in 2009 (a total of 302,400: see the ABS Motor Vehicle Census)

Ford is not going to be a profit center for its global parent any time soon.

‘As soon as choices have to be made, Ford is the next Mitsubishi,’ said John Wormald, principal of international consultant Autopolis, referring to the Japanese company’s decision to shut down its Adelaide factory two years ago.

Mr Wormald, who is in Australia to advise the Victorian government, said the replacement for the Falcon, due in about five years, could be imported cheaply and the carmaker did not need its Melbourne plant. ‘Ford isn’t short of assembly capacity in other places,’ he said. ‘Where’s the plan to integrate Australia?'” Extract from Ford will be next carmaker to quit Australia | The Australian

Wormald confirmed what everyone except Kevin Rudd and Kim Carr has understood for decades about the Australian car industry. Referring to the massive $6 billion bribes extended by the Rudd government (including $13 million to prop up Ford’s Geelong factory), he said

Subsidies were doomed to fail because the industry lacked a vision for the future and Ford was most vulnerable because it was isolated from its parent’s global operations.

Jobs and Exports in the NICS


Exports = jobs in the NICS. Data from the IMF World Economic Outlook database