OnPoint by Keith Ng

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OnPoint: Student Loans are Loans (Duh.)

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  • Fooman, in reply to Keir Leslie,

    Think Big, of course, was a major cause of the atrocious state of NZ's books in 84

    One interesting aspect of the Motunui synthetic fuels plant, part of Think Big, is that when they turned it on in 1985 or so, it immediately halved NZ's balance of payments deficit due to the change from having to import and oil and refined fuel (petrol) to a domestically produced petrol (from "cheap" natural gas).

    FM

    Lower Hutt • Since Dec 2009 • 87 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to BenWilson,

    Care to quantify? Is an A student twice as fast as a B? Ten times faster? Whatever number you pick, that's the number of resources their talents take to replicate. They are therefore not essential at all.

    That's the kind of flawed thinking behind the myth of the man-hour - that you can speed up the progress of a project by throwing more people at it. There's an optimum number (often no more than 2) after which it actually slows the project down because of the increased amount of communication, co-ordination, reporting, meetings, yadda yadda yadda.

    With respect, Ben, you're talking as if all brains are equal. They're not. Get over it.

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2038 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Keir Leslie,

    I mean, if you talk to most economists, they will tell you that if you have to set up some way of organising an economy, a market is the best way to start.

    I never at any point said that there should be no markets. By the "refuted economic theory" I mean neoclassical economics, which you appeared to be advocating in your constant claims that government intervention distorts the purest workings of markets, and that only the markets can pick the winners, and Bart should be listening to the market signals to decide how best to organize his own kind of research.

    Some will then tell you should do other stuff to fix the flaws in the market, while others will tell you you can never meddle with it.

    Yes, I agree with the first kind and you seem to fall in the second camp. But you also have made a few contra claims to that since, so now I'm not sure.

    But there are almost no economists who will tell you to start by centrally planning everything, for instance.

    Bold claim. It's convenient to forget that communism ever existed and held sway over billions of people, isn't it? To deny that what went on within their nations was "economics", or that vast legions of people were trained to organize it, study it, improve it. Also convenient to forget that such people existed outside those spheres of influence, that every economic theory under the sun has been thought of at one time or another. It's a bit sad, really, that the bulk of economists coming out of our universities are so blinkered to the endless possibilities of human economic organization that one theory could have such dominance, whilst also having so many flaws, and so many rivals that compensate for those flaws. Indeed, it's convenient to forget that the industrial powerhouse responsible for most of the world's production these days is still run by the Communist party, and using open markets is a very late change in the nation.

    But it wouldn't be the first time in history that the bulk of educated people were wrong about something, even something they specialized in. That's normal, really, we have to travel through falsehood to get to truth, that's science in a nutshell. Sometimes it's annoyingly slow, though, when a false set of ideas gets too strong a hold.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8432 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole, in reply to Keir Leslie,

    New Zealand, a traditionally free market economy.

    A market economy, maybe, but very definitely not free. Until the 1980s our market was incredibly tightly regulated. Currency controls, im/ex regulations, subsidies and tariffs up the yin-yang, state involvement in provision of many goods and services including housing, banking and insurance... Muldoon was the capstone on a very lengthy period of the state governing most aspects of life, for good or ill - and given the sorry state of our economic and social performance during and subsequent the term of the Third Labour Government I'm far from convinced that the ill entirely outweighed the good.

    The pit from whence crawl… • Since Mar 2007 • 3901 posts Report Reply

  • Keir Leslie,

    Free market compared to, say, Russia. Or China. Or even India, I suspect, although that would be an interesting comparison.

    Since Jul 2008 • 1327 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart, in reply to BenWilson,

    You’ll use the fact that it was not selected for as evidence that it was not clearly advantageous, so that’s not going to work. No matter what advantage I could think of that has occurred occasionally as a trait in some creature, you’ll just find a disadvantage to save the theory, pointing to the disappearance of the trait as clear evidence of that disadvantage. Or, failing that, you can fall back on bad luck or not enough time elapsed. The theory is really quite well immunized against disproof.

    With all due respect, Ben, I'm getting the feeling you don't actually understand how science - or, rather, scientists - work. "But you wouldn't believe it if it was!" is not actually an argument for the disprovability of a scientific theory.

    No, those people at NASA (&c, hi Lucy!) are engaged in science that is not expected to make a return on investment. If NASA was expected to make money, it would have to be one of the most useless investment vehicles ever.

    The value of NASA (and the NSF, and NIH, etc) is not in direct investment return; it's in economic stimulus. The NIH has about a 1:7 return ratio in terms of economic activity created by money spent on it. Government-funded research produces useful things/data directly; inspires industry research that does the same; and creates economic activity around the research and the products. If I do an experiment, I need reagents and equipment; other people are hired to make the reagents and equipment; other people will do other work using my publication output, and so on and so forth. That's where the (monetary) value in science investment lies.

    Amherst, MA • Since Nov 2006 • 2093 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah,

    I pop into a thread about student loans and find people arguing about evolution as a scientific theory. Cool.

    Just a couple of points.
    (1) If you're going to go down a Popperian / falsificationism route, then famously, evolution could be disproved by fossil rabbits in the Precambrian.
    (2) You don't need the possibility of an experiment to make a theory falsifiable. You need the possibility of evidence. An experiment is one way of providing evidence, but evidence can be provided from observation too. This is the route that evolution takes, mostly.

    If you buy into the idea that all scientific theories are tentative and temporary (i.e. going down a falsificationism route), then you can start thinking about which theories are more robust, or less tentative and temporary. There's a whole lot of confirming evidence for evolution, coming from quite different fields of study (e.g. mitochondrial DNA), and a whole lot of work in biology and medicine that only makes sense if you base it on evolutionary genetics. This is proof that evolution is true, because actually, you can never prove anything, but it is damn good support, making the theory much more robust. Plate tectonics is another nice example of a theory that is confirmed / made much more robust by all the supporting theories around it.

    Mind you, a geologist friend of ours pointed out that opposition to plate tectonics really only died out when a heap of older geologists died...

    Manawatu City • Since Nov 2006 • 1303 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to Deborah,

    Mind you, a geologist friend of ours pointed out that opposition to plate tectonics really only died out when a heap of older geologists died...

    While I'm old enough to remember continental drift theory, which was what they called plate tectonics in my schooldays, I wasn't around in 1912 when rabbits made the taxonomic shift from Rodentia to Lagomorpha. Perhaps that too had to be postponed until certain senior phylogeneticists had 'left the room'.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 3421 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Keir Leslie,

    Of course, it is very easy to point to examples of misguided government investment. Think Big, for instance. Or farm subsidies.

    And you dismissed it as “cherry-picking” when Ben cited the internet!

    And that is solely in New Zealand, a traditionally free market economy.

    Anything but. New Zealand in the 20th century looks like a museum of regulation and intervention. We didn’t so much distort markets as tie them in pretzel bows.

    And yet, it’s clear that the government acting outside market theory worked pretty well in some cases. The overwhelming modern emphasis on contestable spending has been to the cost of public science and public broadcasting. And the old Ministry of Works would have been bloody handy in Christchurch these past couple of years.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18800 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Keir Leslie,

    The thing is, when someone says: we have insufficient tradespeople, they are not really saying that. What they are saying is that tradespeople cost too much, and they would like the supply of tradespeople to be subsidised in order to bring that price down. Markets work. Not always, but in general.

    So if the education market delivers us loads of fairly ordinary accountants and lawyers and a vanishing number of computer scientists and engineers, then that must be the right answer because that's what the market said?

    The accountancy and law degrees are cheaper and easier to get and offer access to an employment market with many customers -- a no-brainer on a personal level. The science and engineering degrees are harder to get and offer access to a smaller employment market and lower incomes. So, clearly, all sensible people should become lawyers and accountants. But this isn't so good on the level of national economic development -- and, crucially, it's every bit as much of an artefact of the system you've chosen to distribute the public resources as, say, people choosing science degrees because there's a 100% subsidy for the cost of science degrees.

    China's success in technology manufacturing isn't only a result of competitively low wages -- but of the state's decision to train many more engineers than would typically be trained in a western system. They don't all have to be brilliant engineers, but they're there -- and they're a crucial factor in China's market competitiveness.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18800 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart, in reply to Joe Wylie,

    Perhaps that too had to be postponed until certain senior phylogeneticists had ‘left the room’.

    I don't know if the presence of phylogeneticists in 1912 would disprove evolution, but I imagine it might cause physicists some concerns.

    Amherst, MA • Since Nov 2006 • 2093 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Keir Leslie,

    Cherrypicking successful example of government spending is not an argument.

    Citing the internet is hardly cherry-picking. It's so important that it counterbalances any number of losing bets.

    Interestingly, TCP/IP caught on it part because Cerf, Postel, etc were able to force adoption via their control of public research funding. If you didn't get on board, you didn't get the money.

    In particular, war-driven advances in technology are one of the worst advertisements for government investment in technology ever.

    Well, for a start, they win wars, which is not insignificant. They make an excellent case for government investment in that sense. But in general, that doesn't say that we should maintain war because it produces useful technological advances -- just that some investment outside the short-term requirements of the market produces vast subsequent market benefits.

    I think there's no debate that what emerged from DARPA was a better, more open solution for everyone than the alternatives: which were proprietary networking protocols on one hand and establishment solutions like GOSIP on the other.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18800 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Russell Brown,

    China's success in technology manufacturing isn't only a result of competitively low wages -- but of the state's decision to train many more engineers than would typically be trained in a western system.

    And they sent huge numbers of them to be trained *in* those Western systems - notably, US universities.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16585 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to Lucy Stewart,

    I don't know if the presence of phylogeneticists in 1912 would disprove evolution, but I imagine it might cause physicists some concerns.

    Molecular phylogeneticists certainly, but I didn't say that. While the word phylogeneticist might not have been in common use, phylogeny would appear to have been around for a few decades.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 3421 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to BenWilson,

    I think we overrate the importance of talent

    hmmm two days late. I wouldn't normally bother arguing this with you Ben but to me it's one of the serious flaws in kiwi culture. You say we overate talent, I say we overate the mediocre and call it egalitarianism. You're right of course the analogy to Dan Carter is false because nobody is trying to stop the brilliant from performing ... well no-one except those jealous of ability and talent.

    You want examples, chase up Sydney Brenner. I have had the pleasure of sitting at the conference dinner table with him. You say eventually someone else would have had the same insights and maybe you're right. But if you stroll through the history of science you'll find periods of a century or more where everyone knew all the observations but nobody could fit them into a theory that allowed progress, Niels Bohr or Mendelev are nice examples. If those guys were just average then how come one of the many average people working over the 100 years prior to them didn't make the step forward?

    But it's more than just what the talented do themselves that matters. It's what they inspire in the average. I've seen labs I've worked in simply lift in performance after just a visit from one of the leaders in plant biology. Just a seminar and a day chatting with the students and post-docs and suddenly everyone is approaching their experiments and data with a different attitude.

    That's what talent does and I really really believe we should honour and respect intellectual talent.

    I'm not saying we shouldn't respect the good capable people who do most of the work. Just that we should recognise the really great ones.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3301 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to BenWilson,

    I’m offering this challenge to you and Bart

    And when we present you with examples you dismiss them as luck or sexism. Sorry Ben but that isn't productive.

    Here's an example you should read Barabr McClintock discovered transposable elements. Bits of DNA that could move within the genome and change genes within one organism and therefore change the progeny of that organism.

    All before the structure DNA had been discovered

    She was difficult and had trouble communicating her ideas. truth be told not many were smart enough to even understand her. But she was recognised as really smart. She made leaps of understanding that are actually hard to teach even now. Nobody in science now thinks of her as anything other than a brilliant mind.

    I'm not alone in believing that what she discovered would not have been understood until the genomes could be sequenced 50 years later.

    Oh and the observations she based those discoveries on - they were known for 200 years prior to her work.

    Oh and BTW Darwin's contribution wasn't a Theory of evolution it was the Theory of natural selection. The only reason it couldn't be tested was the timescale involved for most organisms - it has been tested now and every prediction it makes confirmed. Of course it isn't proven, no theory is, merely failed to be disproven.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3301 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Sacha,

    And they sent huge numbers of them to be trained *in* those Western systems – notably, US universities.

    The other thing that the Chinese system (for all its many faults) is beginning to get really right is devoting resources to ameliorating the threat of climate change. Indeed, climate change is notable (to put it mildly) as an example of a challenge for which there is no immediate market imperative. That’s why so many libertarians prefer to pretend it simply isn’t happening

    Emissions trading schemes are an attempt to retrofit a market imperative by putting a price on carbon, but direct government action is simpler and, on the evidence so far, more effective.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18800 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Russell Brown,

    prefer to pretend

    more like angrily deny :)

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16585 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Sacha,

    prefer to pretend

    more like angrily deny :)

    "Angrily pretend".

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18800 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to BenWilson,

    Which might not matter if you’re not paying the bills, but when it’s a matter of funding this or that person, the people with the money like to make the choice on more than “I worked with some brilliant people and it was great”.

    Ah so that's the problem. OK here's the choice Ben, either you let scientists who have had the experience of working with brilliant people make the choice on who should get funding or you let an accountant in wtgn make that choice on who should get funding.

    I'm not being specious it really is an accountant making the choice at the moment.

    You are arguing that you should ignore the advice of those with actual experience. That's an experiment that has already been done.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3301 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to BenWilson,

    and Bart should be listening to the market signals to decide how best to organize his own kind of research

    Are you sure about that. If scientists in the DSIR had listened to market signals there would have been no kiwifruit industry in NZ.

    Markets forces can only tell you about things the market is aware of. There was no market for an iPad until it existed. No market for a personal computer.

    Markets work well to guide incremental change.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3301 posts Report Reply

  • DeepRed, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Anything but. New Zealand in the 20th century looks like a museum of regulation and intervention. We didn’t so much distort markets as tie them in pretzel bows.

    And for the ultimate in irony, remember the much-touted Wall Street of the South Pacific? Treasury and MED have called bullshit because it would need big subsidies to prop it up, and even if in place it would still make a net loss for NZ.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 4216 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to DeepRed,

    And for the ultimate in irony, remember the much-touted Wall Street of the South Pacific? Treasury and MED have called bullshit because it would need big subsidies to prop it up, and even if in place it would still make a net loss for NZ.

    Also: countries with large financial sectors at the kind proposed got reamed in the credit crunch over the past three years. It's just a terrible idea.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18800 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    gah Barbara McClintock, not the name I mauled.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3301 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Russell Brown,

    'sputter'

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16585 posts Report Reply

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