Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 20:17 | SYDNEY


Food prices and the spectre of Malthus

I have a piece in today’s Financial Times looking at the causes and consequences of high global food prices. For those interested in some background, the China aspects of the article draw on some of the research cited in this earlier post. The details on rising food prices are covered in both

Hillary: Wearing the face she keeps in a jar by the door

I think one of the factors favouring Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton is his perceived authenticity. He seems natural and at ease with himself; she seems constructed and contrived. As David Brooks argued in Bobos in Paradise, a preference for authenticity or naturalness reflects a cultural tilt

McCain to Interpreter: Thanks!

Last week we ran a brief report (see the last dot point down) on a rather embarassing error on's website. had run a photo slideshow rather slyly insinuating that Senator John McCain was holding up his reluctant wife's arm in triumph at political rallies. The real

Principal leadership or regional cooperation?

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has praised Australia’s 'principal leadership' in the region, especially in Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and East Timor.  The AUSMIN 2008 Joint Communiqué, however has a softer reference to the 'important role' of the Pacific Islands Forum

Towards a definition of blogging

The New York Review of Books has a very entertaining essay about blogging on its website. I read it in much the same spirit as I read foreign accounts of Australia (like this recent NY Times piece on Sydney's rock pools) — with a buzz that a world which is familiar and normal to me is

Stagflation and Jimmy Carter

Perhaps Sam shouldn’t feel too defensive about his post linking Jimmy Carter and stagflation.  Paul Krugman’s column in the NY Times last Friday did the same thing, although Krugman does provide something of a modest defence for Carter’s economic record

Ugandan peace deal: What about the ICC?

This Saturday there was more progress resolving Uganda’s long running civil war with the signing of a permanent ceasefire. This brings the government and Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) one step closer to a final peace settlement. But the big unresolved issue since the latest round of peace talks

Jimmy Carter reputation

Call it blog editor's privilege, but it was perhaps a little unfair of me to add a picture of Jimmy Carter to Mark Thirwell's post about stagflation, an economic phenomenon which, Mark tells me, bedeviled the US economy for pretty much the whole decade. Yet when I think of American

Stagflation: That '70s feeling

The 1970s will no doubt be remembered for a whole range of things, but for many economists I suspect that this will always be the era of stagflation – the poisonous mixture of simultaneously rising inflation and unemployment that marked the end of the so-called Golden Age and the collapse of

More to satellite debate than money

Here's a strange contribution to the satellite shoot-down debate by the reliably contrarian William Arkin of the Washington Post. He starts his post full of (as Montgomery Burns once put it) pith and vinegar, announcing that all the contributors to this discussion up to now — the Russians,

Diplomatic faux pas throughout history, part quatre

Reader Andrew Byrne: When former Australian PM Bob Hawke once spoke in Japan, interpreters apparently translated 'I am not here to play funny buggers' as 'I am not here to play laughing homosexuals'. That story, and some other funny Richard Woolcott

Economics is relevant, really

Dani Rodrik’s excellent blog pointed me to this NY Times story about the renewed relevance of economics. Apparently, only a decade or so ago economics was looking like a ‘tired and old discipline’, but now ‘economics has begun to get its groove back’, which I think is supposed to be a

Diplomatic faux pas throughout history, part trois

From reader Paul Monk: My own favourite is from Henry Kissinger's first visit to China, in 1971, when he met Zhou Enlai and said, somewhat unctuously, 'Dr Zhou, it is a great pleasure finally to be able to visit your mysterious country.' The urbane Zhou Enlai responded, it

US presidential primary linkage

From Patrick Appel, guest blogging for Andrew Sullivan: 'Expect the next two weeks of campaigning (and the debate this week) to get ugly. Clinton will keep coming after Obama, trying to find a line of attack that works. The person who is most likely to benefit from that strategy: John

Email of the day: Anti-satellite weapons

Edward Walker has this response to my thoughts on the US attempt to shoot down a failing spy satellite. My reply follows: I disagree with your assessment of North Korea's nuclear program, and their ability to use nuclear weapons in a ballistic missile attack on Japan. It seems

Diplomatic faux pas throughout history, part deux

We kicked off this series yesterday. This entry is from my colleague Malcolm Cook: Q. Often in cases of intestinal flu there's nausea. Was the President nauseous when he slumped to the floor, or was there any vomiting or anything like that? A. Yes, he was nauseous. He did

Still waiting for the oil shock

On Tuesday, the oil price finally breached the US$100 a barrel mark. In fact, it had already pushed through that supposedly magic number in intra-day trading earlier this year, but this was the first time that the price per barrel closed at a triple digit number. As this nice post from

Wednesday linkage

RAAF Air Chief Marshal Geoff Shepherd makes his feelings on Super Hornet pretty clear. Doesn't this pre-empt the inquiry a teensy bit? Comic books as psychological warfare: it's happening in Iraq. The town of Obama, Japan, has picked its favourite for the US presidency. See if you can

Diplomatic faux pas throughout history

I just discovered Time magazine's promising China blog, which includes this wonderful anecdote: The Mao-Kissinger conversation also includes an utterance of one of the Chairman's favorite phrases from that era, 'God has sent me an invitation.' The meaning was that he was

Satellite fireworks soon

I have an opinion piece in today's Australian on the geo-political fallout from America's decision to shoot down a malfunctioning spy satellite; the first attempt at an intercept will occur on Thursday. A couple of additional notes on the piece. First, a friend has pointed out an annoying

Tuesday blog linkage

I'm a bit late on this, but Patrick Walters had a weekend scoop on the Defence White Paper and review of homeland security.  Via Clicked, nine of the most unusual buildings to be constructed around the world.  There are apparently 400,000 'cracked' iPhones in China — that

World peace: All you need is love (and a lap-top)

Two very different blog posts about one idea. The first is from Global Dashboard, and features American writer Clay Shirky on the social effects of internet technology: What is happening in our generation is that we have a set of tools for aggregating things that people care about, in

Email of the day: Diasporas

One of the most interesting characters in Michael Fullilove's new paper on global diasporas is Marco Fedi, who has lived in Australia for twenty-five years but serves in the Italian parliament as a representative of Italy's diaspora. Marco Fedi writes: I am certain that Michael

World wide webs

Today we launch Lowy Institute Paper 22, World wide webs: Diasporas and the international system, in which I argue that diasporas are getting larger, thicker and stronger, with significant implications for global economics, politics and security. I have summarised different elements of my case in

Central banks and capital flows

Sudden capital outflows were at the heart of the 1997-8 Asian Crisis. Ten years later, capital flows are back on the policy agenda, but in a very different context. The countries of East Asia are now getting more inflows than they can effectively absorb and the upward pressure on exchange rates is

Don't let the Jevons Paradox keep you up at night

There are many thing to fret about in life, but the impact of the Jevons Paradox on oil consumption isn't one of them. If hybrid cars are so spectacularly efficient that we all drive that much more, governments could easily fix this problem by taxing oil more. Come to think of it, even

GM boss: 'Global warming a crock of sh*t'

This kind of talk from General Motors (GM) boss Bob Lutz will depress a lot of greens, and plays right into stereotypes about the American obsession with gas-guzzlers. But it's actually encouraging in its own way, because despite his personal beliefs, Lutz is still steering his company (or at

Thursday linkage

Iraq metaphor, anyone?: US Defense Secretary Robert Gates slips and fractures his shoulder. Doctors say it will heal without surgery. Potential bad news for Australia: Obama has protectionist tendencies (or is he just playing to the crowd?) Airbus thinks there's a market for 50 of its

Wednesday blog linkage

Global Dashboard worries that the Pakistan military has far too much political and economic influence. But the NY Times reports the army is removing itself from the public service. Osama bin Laden lollies for sale in China. Yes, it's insensitive, but like those Che Guevara t-

Climate change and security

Foreign Policy published this piece of contrarianism on its website in August last year, so I'm very late in linking to it, but it is nonetheless worth comparing what author Idean Salehyan says with the 2006 Lowy Institute Paper, Heating up the Planet: Climate Change and Security, by Alan

The US presidential election in five minutes a day

I don't pretend to understand this myself, but some people may want to keep up with the US presidential race without spending hours a day looking at blogs, op-eds, TV clips and speeches. If you are one of those people, Political Lunch might be for you. The two guys on screen are so wonkish,

Email The Interpreter to your friends

We've added a new feature to The Interpreter: you can now email individual posts by clicking on the 'Email a friend' button at the bottom left of each post. Photo by Flickr user tri-x guy, used under a Creative Commons licence

Monday linkage

Two good Fairfax op-eds today: the first from Paul Monk in The Age about Indonesia and why, in foreign policy, governments often have to settle for the lesser evil. And second, Paul Dibb argues in the SMH that nuclear deterrence is still relevant (BTW, Dibb has today also managed to place an op-

Sovereign wealth funds: What good for the goose...

We’ve commented before about the inconsistency of US economic guru Larry Summers, and we wonder afresh after his discussion of sovereign wealth funds (SWFs) at the Davos World Economic Forum. He suspects that these SWF investors have 'mixed motives' which will divert them from the pure

Friday funny: Economics

This guy calls himself the 'stand-up economist', in spite of which, he's actually pretty funny. Enjoy your weekend

Romney hyperventilations

Here's Mitt Romney’s announcing his withdrawal from the Republican presidential nomination race: I disagree with Senator McCain on a number of issues, as you know. But I agree with him on doing whatever it takes to be successful in Iraq, on finding and executing Osama bin Laden,

Thursday blog linkage

Has a fifth Persian Gulf undersea communications cable now been cut? No word on whether this is deliberate, but five suggests more than just a case of bad luck involving ships dragging their anchors (via Global Dashboard). There's good analysis here on what this says about our

The future of meat production

Yet another study finds that the battery farming of chickens causes great cruelty. Meat consumption is only going to grow as the world population rises and gets wealthier. Yet we are also becoming more aware of the environmental costs of intensive animal farming, and of the surprising social lives

Good signs for US HIV/AIDS policy

Underneath the hullabaloo of the American presidential election, there are encouraging signs that a more pragmatic approach is emerging on the always vexed issue of America’s international and domestic HIV/AIDS policies. [more] In his State of the Union address, President Bush confirmed

Rich world cant, developing world Schadenfreude?

Nobel laureate and bane of the IMF, Joseph Stiglitz, has written a provocative column on this year’s World Economic Forum. In it, he notes that one consequence of the subprime crisis has been to make the usual rich world declarations on the importance of transparency, effective financial

Tuesday blog linkage

Matthew Yglesias undergoes some painful contortions to argue that Europe’s reluctance to commit more troops to Afghanistan is really Bush’s fault. Surely Europe is principally to blame? Critics don’t like the new Rambo movie, but Burmese do. The

Counter-terrorism costs and benefits

Funny thing. In other areas we, as a society, have no trouble finding a reasonably sensible balance between prevention and post-crisis response. On the roads, for instance, we know we could save lives by spending more money straightening curves, and engineers even do estimates of cost-per-life saved

28 Weeks Later

Welcome back to International Policy Projector, our occasional series looking at international policy through movies and TV. As the NY Times said in its review of this film, zombie movies have always been rich territory for metaphor. And although 28 Weeks Later doesn’t lay it on too thick

The case for resilience

The FT reviews three new books on how societies respond to disasters and catastrophes. Short version: they're really hard to predict, and it is politically impossible and financially ruinous to try to prevent all of them. It follows that we might get more value for our money by trying to

Where the Goreacle?

In the last week, Senator Barack Obama has won impressive endorsements from Senator Edward Kennedy, the last of the three Kennedy brothers, and from Caroline Kennedy, President John F Kennedy’s only surviving child. Obama’s rival, Senator Hillary Clinton, has won ticks from a string of party

Friday funny: Bowie

If you've noticed that the theme of 'change' has been rather prominent in this US presidential primary season, you are not alone. Be patient with this video; the real fun kicks in after about 50 seconds.  [youtube:gEaS-K3j3M8&eurl

Mobile phones as weapons

Having posted a couple of items recently on the potential for mobile phones to help African development, it's worth also pointing out the downside (in this case, in Kenya), from a blog called What an African Woman Thinks (via Andrew Sullivan): What makes these subversive messages