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  1. #181
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    Quote Originally Posted by RandomTangent View Post
    No worries! Yeah a lot of people would like such a system to be introduced here. They argue the current system is undemocratic. Often, we have a party in government with a relatively small share of the national vote, simply because of how the constituencies are arranged. Theoretically, a party could lose in every constituency by just 1 vote and not end up with a single member of parliament. The proponents of our system argue that "first past the post" as it's known, produces decisive government. At the moment, we have a coalition government. However, I believe it's our first one. Personally, I would favour the proportional system. I don't have a problem with multiple parties in coalition. I think it teaches politicians pragmatism and compromise, and ultimately produces a far less divisive political environment.
    There's also the way Germany does it, a system called 'mixed-member proportional representation'. Basically, the overall number of seats for each party in the Bundestag (the federal parliament) is determined by proportion of votes, while each Wahlkreis (constituency) still votes for a direct represantative via a first past the pole vote. Seats for the parties as determined by the proportional vote are filled by the winners from each constituency first, and then by people from the party lists. It's a bit complicated of course, for example you have two votes each election, one for the direct candidates (Erststimme - first vote) and one for the parties (Zweitstimme - second vote). Often, people vote for their preferred party with their second vote, but pick one of the candidates from the two biggest parties with their first vote, as in most constituencies, only they have a realistic chance to win. There's also the problem of 'overhang seats', i.e. a party has won more constituencies than they should have seats in parliament according to the proportional votes, which results in an enlarged parliaments as proportional representation has to be maintained. This has happened more recently, as the two big parties no longer get the >40% in elections they used to 20 years ago, while the smaller parties got stronger and more numerous.
    Still, it has the advantage of a theoretically locally accountable representative combined with proportional representation, and so far has resulted in mostly stable governments, which most of the time were coalition governments (now, if some those governments, including the current one, were any good is a different question...).

  2. #182
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus mickygor's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by fiddlesticks View Post
    Fair enough, but since mickygor started talking about economic theories on an internet discussion forum, I assumed that he's at least somewhat familiar with the field.
    I take an interest in it but I've no formal education on economics and in reality I'm only particularly geared up on the conflicts of Keynes and Hayek, and even then I'm no expert. Read a little Mises, too, but not really enough to say anything more than that he subscribed to Austrian school economics.

    I'm not overly interested in an in depth debate on the merits of Austrian and Keynesian economic policy, both because I suspect your knowledge far outweighs mine, and because the moment I get in depth someone always comes along with the whole "lolbertarian shut up" routine, but I'll throw out some idle thoughts.

    I wouldn't argue that we've not tried austerity hard enough, I'd argue that we've not tried austerity at all. Cutting the rate that you increase debt is not going to fix any problems in the same sense that cutting the rate that you accelerate at isn't going to stop you crashing into the object in front of you. If cutting deficit is actually what austerity is, then I'd argue that austerity isn't the answer. Like I said, the Keynesian approach would probably work better than what the Coalition is practicing (having said that, the EU budget save this last week has increased in real terms year on year, so it's clearly not a simple case of increase spending => increase prosperity).

    I also wouldn't say that Austrian school economics rejects empiricism as "hooey" - it simply states that the economic model is too complex for empiricism to hold any more weight than praxeology at this point. Perhaps it was entirely reasonable to reject it out of hand at the time the big proponents of the ideology since computers didn't exist, modelling billions of irrational beings would have been inconceivable. It still is, we don't understand the way people work in great depth at all. What's more, the moment you try to apply empiricism to humans, their behaviour changes. Empiricism requires a controlled environment, and that means people know that they are being experimented upon. Any results from biological, psychological or sociological experiments cannot hold the same weight as chemical or physics experiment because the test subject(s) is conscious of what is happening, and this will condition their responses. Similarly, the placebo effect supersedes the rationality of drugs treatment by the patient simply willing it to work. The effect has been documented for close to 250 years, we use it successfully (if not in an entirely legally sound manner) on a daily basis, yet it's not truly understood and is essentially one big appeal to authority.

    In any case, it's difficult for me to understand how one could completely dismiss praxeology out of hand. Predicate logic is well established in mathematics and critical thinking, and praxeology is simply applying that to an irrational set. It's not been rigorously experimented with since well before the enlightenment, but the principle of the state's outgoings being lower than its income is one that I feel is hard to refute. Most proponents of Keynesians who I talk with say that the state doesn't work that way, but in reality what they're saying is that the state doesn't [have to] work that way. The Keynesian model relies on predictable growth, but economic crises have demonstrated that growth, like the players, is irrational. Austrian economics relies on predictable outgoings, but since we can't take economic theory in isolation, the social crises that come with the economic crises have demonstrated that outgoings are irrational too.
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  3. #183
    Lesser Hivemind Node fiddlesticks's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mickygor View Post
    I take an interest in it but I've no formal education on economics and in reality I'm only particularly geared up on the conflicts of Keynes and Hayek, and even then I'm no expert. Read a little Mises, too, but not really enough to say anything more than that he subscribed to Austrian school economics.
    It's always good to see people take an interest in economics. If you'd like a good introduction, I recommend Blanchard's "Macroeconomics" for, well, macroeconomics and Hirshleifer's "Price Theory and Applications" for microeconomics. They are both a bit pricey, but do an excellent job of summarizing the most important theories of their respective fields. If you're looking for individual writers, Schumpeter and Friedman are interesting, if a bit dated. For a more recent perspective, you could seek out Krugman. Even Marx is worth a read, if you can get past his dry writing style.

    Quote Originally Posted by mickygor View Post
    I wouldn't argue that we've not tried austerity hard enough, I'd argue that we've not tried austerity at all. Cutting the rate that you increase debt is not going to fix any problems in the same sense that cutting the rate that you accelerate at isn't going to stop you crashing into the object in front of you.
    This is the argument I have trouble with and the one that sparked this whole discussion. In your car analogy cutting the acceleration may not be as good as stopping entirely, but it's still preferrable to keeping your speed. If we assume that full-on austerity (I assume by this you mean reducing the debt, rather than the deficit) is beneficial, then light austerity would have to be at least somewhat beneficial as well. But almost all studies I've found on the subject paint the opposite picture. Austerity has done tremendous harm. By contrast, economists agree that a stimulus helps the economy recover.

    My question is this. If evidence shows that reducing government spending by a small amount is harmful, why would reducing it by a large amount be favorable?

    Quote Originally Posted by mickygor View Post
    If cutting deficit is actually what austerity is, then I'd argue that austerity isn't the answer.
    Oh, well, I guess we're in agreement then.

    Quote Originally Posted by mickygor View Post
    I also wouldn't say that Austrian school economics rejects empiricism as "hooey" - it simply states that the economic model is too complex for empiricism to hold any more weight than praxeology at this point.
    How can economics be simultaneously too complex for empiricism and yet simple enough to understand through logical deduction? If we agree that human beings are irrational and complex, wouldn't an inductive approach yield better results than a purely deductive one?

    Quote Originally Posted by mickygor View Post
    Empiricism requires a controlled environment, and that means people know that they are being experimented upon. Any results from biological, psychological or sociological experiments cannot hold the same weight as chemical or physics experiment because the test subject(s) is conscious of what is happening, and this will condition their responses.
    I assume you're referring to response bias? This is indeed a problem for the social sciences, although one they have gone to great lengths to minimize. Nowadays, creating a scientific survey is a very elaborate process that's carefully scrutinized to ensure that responses are as accurate as possible. There is a whole field solely dedicated to it.

    It's a moot point either way, since macroeconomics generally does not concern itself with surveys. The effects of austerity are measured with quantitative factors, such as GDP growth, price levels, average incomes, etc. Objective data rather than subjective opinions.

    Quote Originally Posted by mickygor View Post
    In any case, it's difficult for me to understand how one could completely dismiss praxeology out of hand. Predicate logic is well established in mathematics and critical thinking, and praxeology is simply applying that to an irrational set.
    Don't get me wrong, I'm not opposed to logical deduction per se. It is after all how most research begins, a scientist creates a hypothesis and tries to find out whether it holds up. My problem is that the Austrian school never bothers with the second step. They take no effort to find out whether the elaborate mental constructs they have created actually match reality. Indeed, they actively shun empirical evidence which points out the flaws in their models. They argue that the evidence is wrong, rather than the model.

    The next paragprahs deal with the philosophy of science and the importance of empiricism. I strongly recommend reading up on the subject mater, if scientific research interests you. Popper's "The Logic of Scientific Discovery" is a good starting point. Or Talebs "The Black Swan" if you prefer something a bit more user-friendly.

    One of the pivotal concepts of modern science is falsifiability. Any theory needs to be constructed in such a way, that it can be proven false by observation. If the theory is actually shown to be false, then it needs to be replaced with a new, improved one. If, for instance, I say "all swans are white", then my theory could easily be falsified by showing me a black swan, whereupon I would have to come up with a new theory, e.g. "all swans are black or white".

    Science is an evolving process. Most of Freud's theories aren't relevant to modern psychology for instance, but his work was still an important stepping stool for the field. Any scientist has to accept that his theories can, and often will, be proven wrong. That's not a bad thing, that's how we achieve progress. This is why I think the Austrian school's praxeology is problematic. If your models cannot be disproven, they can never incorporate new insights, they can never progress. As such, adherents to the Austrian school cannot be considered scientists. If they want to theorize about the world in their ivory towers, then let them. But comparing them to actual researchers who genuinely try to understand the field they're working in is just insulting.

  4. #184
    Quote Originally Posted by fiddlesticks View Post
    Oh I agree, anti-evolutionists can't really be considered scientists, since they don't adhere to the scientific method. My point is that the exact same can be said of the Austrian school of Economics, which is the main proponent of austerity.

    On a purely academical level, I'd say yes. Keynesian economics and its derivatives have been the standard in macroeconomics for over 70 years. Obviously, as with any scientific field, some theories have been discarded and new theories have been added, but overall Keyne's basic ideas are still widely used and accepted.
    Fair enough! For the purposes of this conversation, I'm happy to take your word for it. I've actually got a book by Keynes on my Amazon wishlist and I'm obviously familiar with the notion of Keynesian economics anecdotally - you hear enough people talking about it, sooner or later you look it up.

    Quote Originally Posted by fiddlesticks View Post
    Rejecting empiricism isn't just saying one stupid thing though, it means they are rejecting the scientific method entirely. The Austrian school adheres to praxeology, which is a fancy way of saying "I think this makes sense, therefore it is so, all evidence to the contrary". As such, like anti-evolutionists, they cannot be considered scientists and their opinion shouldn't be counted when discussing economic ideas.
    Well, as a scientist I'd be inclined to agree with that. Sounds almost like rationalism, though the "it" would have to be derived in at least a logically self consistent way. That's a peripheral point though - I agree that "what makes sense" is irrelevant in the face of empirical evidence.

    Quote Originally Posted by fiddlesticks View Post
    You're confounding private credit with public credit. The biggest appeal of government bonds is that they're nearly risk-free, because no first-world government will default. This is why I think focusing on the debt as the most worrying issue in this recession is silly. Until people genuinely believe that the UK can't pay back its loans anymore (which would essentially mean a complete collapse of the country), debt will not be a problem. The real issues we are facing are the lack of consumer spending and the suffering of the poor, both of which are at least partly caused by austerity. Austerity isn't just useless, it's actively harming any country using it. The only people it benefits are the rich at the top who get to enjoy yet another tax break.
    I'm not, honestly. The analogy was probably just too simplistic. I wasn't really trying to make a deeper point, just observing that - again, from an economic layman's point of view - it seems ironic (and amusing) that the solution to private individuals borrowing too much too riskily, is for the government to borrow more. No more, no less. This observation is obviously the product of a superficial analysis.

    Quote Originally Posted by fiddlesticks View Post
    I have to admit, I completely forgot the UK was actually downgraded, thanks for bringing it up. Though it should be noted that rating agencies have their own agenda as well and are capable of mistakes. Downgrading the US is a good example. Standard&Poors originally claimed it was because the US debt was growing too quickly. When the treasury pointed out that S&P's calculations were off by two trillions, they claimed it was because of the lack of political brinkmanship.

    Either way, it illustrates what I was talking about. Interest rates in the UK didn't rise because people still believe the UK will repay its loans and I don't see any reason why this would change in the near future.
    No worries. The fact that it's easily forgotten is probably telling; it seems to have had little noticeable effect so far. Which is the point, I suppose. The risk that we're encouraged to accept by the powers that be though, is that we're in danger of approaching a scenario in which confidence in the bond markets has started to evaporate, and given the size of our borrowing requirement, we're at the mercy of relatively small fluctuations in those interest rates. The difficulty for the voting public, is in evaluating that risk.

    Quote Originally Posted by fiddlesticks View Post
    Fair enough, but since mickygor started talking about economic theories on an internet discussion forum, I assumed that he's at least somewhat familiar with the field.
    As well he might be. My familiarity however, extends as far as current-affairs-show fodder and wikipedia ;) I'm interested in the subject, but learning a whole new academic subject is a big job - wish I had time to study everything! A friend of mine is doing a PhD in Sociology at the moment and the more I discuss it with him, the more I become interested in the subject generally. Only so many hours in the day sadly!

    Quote Originally Posted by fiddlesticks View Post
    As much as I enjoy this discussion, don't feel obligated to respond if you don't want to. Enjoy your weekend.
    Well, out of courtesy I'd feel obligated if someone had taken the time to reply to me, but I enjoy the discussion too so it's no great burden! And I did thanks :) Hope you can say the same.

  5. #185
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    Quote Originally Posted by Unaco View Post
    , it's a f*cking terrible choice, and serves only to stick the fingers up at her family.
    Given her son was involved in an attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea I reckon they deserve it.

  6. #186
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Unaco's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by archonsod View Post
    Given her son was involved in an attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea I reckon they deserve it.
    All of them? The daughter as well? And the grandchildren? And the rest of the family? Family friends? All deserve it just 'cos of the name, yeah? Bit harsh, ne?
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  7. #187
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Zephro's Avatar
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    Her Son is also a peer now*, that's social justice for you. Her daughter isn't a terribly pleasant person either by all accounts. Not that I take joy from their grief, but the sympathy comes with conditions. The state funeral (in all but name) is totally inappropriate.

    *EDIT: My mistake, Thatcher was awarded the last hereditary title in history but the right to sit in the Lords was only a life peerage. Still he's a "Sir" which is a nonsense.
    Last edited by Zephro; 16-04-2013 at 11:24 AM.

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