Could Computers Make Communism Work?


We usually think of Communism as a political doctrine, but in practice it’s also a big logistical problem. If you get rid of free markets, how will people get the goods and services that they want and need? That’s a real conundrum, as Venezuela has discovered in the last few years, to their immense cost. Even a petro-state, awash in hard currency, couldn’t make it work.

There were various attempts to figure the problem out using computers, many decades ago, but they failed to take off. In Chile, for instance, Project Cybersyn looked promising until it was ended by Pinochet’s coup in 1973. And after Mikhail Botvinnik retired from chess, he became convinced that getting a computer to solve the economy would be simpler than a chess problem, and wasted years trying to prove himself right.

Computers are much more powerful now, and there are many new techniques for handling large-scale data. Could they make capitalism obsolete?

I’m a big fan of Betteridge’s Law—the observation that if a headline is in the form of a question then the answer is no—and I’ll tell you straight up: this piece will not break that rule. But it’s a question that’s been on my mind for years, ever since Amazon started making product recommendations. The path to an almost-definitive answer turned out to have some twists and turns.

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Yes, There Is A Housing Affordability Crisis


Stephen Koukoulas, economic adviser to PM Julia Gillard, is one of Australia’s most effective shit-stirrers. He regularly gets earnest young people riled up by dismissing millennials’ complaints about economic hard times, urging them to stop whining and work harder, and reminding them that the music of Bob Dylan is superior to anything that non-Baby Boomers have been able to produce. Most strikingly, last year he suggested that young people could put together a deposit on a house by not buying takeaway coffee and saving the money instead, advice which caused anyone with recent experience of the actual housing market to guffaw with merry laughter.

Recently he claimed that the housing affordability crisis is exaggerated, and that buying a house now is no more difficult than it was thirty years ago. He is wrong wrong wrong, so I did what any rational adult would do: I stayed up all night to write a detailed rebuttal.

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Shutting down the Phantom Trend


A couple of years ago I set up a polling aggregator site called The Phantom Trend. (It used a latent trend model, it was anonymous at first because I was still at the RBA, and all the good domain names were taken.) With the 2016 election over, I feel like it’s done its dash so I’m shutting it down. It would have been nice to leave on a high, but the model’s performance at the election means I’m leaving on a ho-hum. Forecasting is hard.

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The Australian political landscape


The ABC’s Vote Compass is a neat way to find out where you stand on the main issues in the 2016 election. The quiz has 30 questions, each of which has been assigned a score in two dimensions, namely economic and social. Thanks to some amazing work by David Barry, the point value of each question is now public. I thought it would be fun to build on his work by plotting them on a grid similar to the one used in the quiz results, so that we can visualise what Australian politics looks like in 2016. (Make sure to do the quiz before reading on, or your enjoyment will be spoiled.)

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Let's make childcare free


The idea of increasing the amount of public money going to childcare keeps popping up. For instance, Eleanor Robertson and Anne Summers recently singled it out as a desirable step forward for Australia. I think it sounds great, but I’ve been wondering how feasible it would be. I decided to take a closer look at the numbers.

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