Bringing together the best longer Interpreter articles you were too busy to read this week.
On Monday, Prime Minister Tony Abbott gave the National Security Statement, which addressed the threat of radical Islamic terrorism and how the Government has chosen to respond. Sam Roggeveen gave a first take on the implications:
'In Australia and elsewhere, the threat of terrorism has become a terrible fact of life that government must do all in its power to counter', said Abbott. Just like when an airline tells you that 'safety is our number one priority', this is one of those reassuring statements which doesn't actually withstand much scrutiny. If airlines made safety their top priority, their planes would never leave the ground. And if governments did all in their power to stop terrorism, we'd be living in a police state with a dying economy. As Abbott acknowledges later ('We will never sacrifice our freedoms in order to defend them'), the fight against terrorism is, like all public policy, a trade-off. We can't have perfect security, just as we can't have perfect freedom. We would have a much saner public discourse on terrorism if our leaders acknowledged this simple fact from time to time.
Next, Rodger Shanahan wrote on the Government's plan to strip the citizenship of dual citizens found to be traveling to the Middle East to join jihadist groups:
The civil libertarian argument, however, fails to address what I would argue is a more serious issue: the potential eradication of targeting constraints for Australian intelligence agencies and military forces in dealing with Australian citizens engaged in terrorist activities overseas. The possession of Australian citizenship rightly imposes limitations on how much information Australia's spy agencies can collect, and perhaps more importantly who they can share it with. There have already been legislative amendments to strengthen the intelligence-collection powers of these agencies, but dealing with non-citizens gives them much greater flexibility in sharing information.
So, rather than dual citizens simply becoming someone else's problem or able to undertake violent actions elsewhere, such a move may actually free up Australian authorities to address the problem by sharing information on foreign fighters or terrorists who were formerly Australian citizens.
Preparations in Indonesia for the execution of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran continue. On the back of comments made by Prime Minister Tony Abbott regarding Australia's aid to Indonesia during the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, a campaign has started in Indonesia to collect coins to repay Australia. Catriona Croft-Cusworth on the politics around aid:
But while Indonesia is wealthy, it is also deeply unequal. If Indonesians were to repay the $1 billion to Australia in coins, all 250 million of the population would have to donate about $4 each, or about 40 one-thousand Rupiah coins. For roughly 50% of the population, that would be the equivalent of missing out on a morning coffee. For the other 50%, it would mean giving up two days of living costs. This is not to say Indonesia could not afford to repay the money — it easily could (especially with the vice president involved). My point is that while the country overall is no charity case, for the recipients of aid Australia's assistance is no small change.
This week Julian Snelder wrote on the economic dangers associated with debt build-up in China:
For now, total debt continues to outpace nominal GDP growth by 6-7% annually, meaning that debt/GDP keeps piling up. There is an insouciant view, expressed once to me by a Japanese central banker when discussing quadrillions of yen of public borrowing, that debt is 'just a bunch of zeroes.' It doesn't matter, since it's 'owed to ourselves.' But Japan's experience actually informs otherwise. And Goldman's historical database suggests that a growth hiccup of at least 2-4 percentage points would normally ensue. The days of 7-point-something growth may be over soon.
Fiscal policy gives a more direct and powerful stimulus at the trough of the cycle without depreciating the exchange rate, while monetary policy is feeble in these circumstances. The extreme monetary settings (near-zero policy interest rates and huge excess central bank liquidity), while giving an abnormal boost to international competitiveness, distorted the longer-term price signals for both investors and savers.
QE was a desperate effort to compensate for recovery-sapping fiscal austerity, which was itself a product of political failings and serious macro policy misjudgments. QE might have been an admirable second-best policy, but it was still 'beggar-thy-neighbour'.
I agree that QE (where the Federal Reserve purchased long term government bonds along with securities backed by mortgages) was second-best policy, but for different reasons. I think negative interest rates would have been better. But I strongly disagree that QE was 'beggar-thy-neighbour'.
In fact I think QE was quite effective.
My thinking on the topic has been strongly influenced by a paper released by some of my old colleagues at the Federal Reserve. In the paper they evaluate the effects of quantitative easing and the forward guidance provided by the Fed (forward guidance is when the Fed signals it will keep interest rates at zero). The authors of the paper estimate that these policies subtract 1.25 percentage points from the unemployment rate and add 0.5 of a percentage point to inflation. That's quite impressive!
Murray McLean addressed Australia-Japan relations in light of the controversy over the future Australian submarine project:
Australia will also keenly pursue its national interests, and if that means a decision to purchase Japanese submarines then this should not, as some commentators argue, risk affecting our relations with China. Australia's national interests dictate that we place a high priority not only on our relations with Japan but also with the US, China, India, Indonesia, and other key Asian countries. Management of these relationships is not a zero-sum game. Each can be developed on its own merits and in ways that maximise Australia's national interests without making one contingent upon the other.
The G20 might be losing its way, says Tristram Sainsbury:
The first discussions by finance ministers under the Turkish presidency, held in early February in Istanbul, were underwhelming. Despite statements from Canadian Finance Minister Joe Olivier that global growth needs akickstart and from Christine Lagarde that this year has the potential to be a special one for collective action, the Istanbul meetings were most notable for a lack of consensus. Even after a marathon communique drafting session that lasted more than 24 hours, countries could not agree on how to spur growth and were reluctant to commit to the Turkish hosts' plans for binding investment targets.
Another big announcement on Monday was Foreign Minister Julie Bishop's plan to travel to Iran in April. This is a smart move, argues Dina Esfandiary:
First, no senior Australian official has set foot in Iran in over a decade. In fact, no senior Western official other than Catherine Ashton, the lead negotiator for the EU, has been to Iran in that time. Secondly, Iran is not a foreign policy priority for Canberra. The little communication that has existed between Canberra and Tehran focused on addressing concerns about 'boat people'. The only other way Iran figured on Canberra's radar is because of Tehran's importance to the US, Australia's most important ally.
There is a scattering of reports that ISIS is attempting to make in-roads in Afghanistan. Susanne Schmeidl thinks the country has bigger problems:
Afghanistan is in enough trouble already, and for what it's worth it has had an 'Islamic state' for much longer than Syria or Iraq. After all, the Taliban officially goes by name Islamic Emirate, and has thus long laid claim to the 'Islamic state' brand. The fact that ISIS called itself the 'Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham' might actually be a nod of acknowledgment from one quasi-state to another that such an ambition is already established in Afghanistan.
Though much has been made of the similarities between ISIS and the Taliban, such as their focus on conquering territory, maintaining an army and governing structure (all trademarks of states), they are not the same.
Mike Callaghan weighed into the Greek debt debate:
Greece needs a more flexible program than the one imposed by the EU/ECB/IMF that has resulted in a 30% decline in the size of the economy and mounting poverty. It also needs a program that recognises that Greece’s debt levels are not sustainable.
But for this to happen there needs to be a major change in approach by the EU. This may be the biggest stumbling block in resolving the Greek crisis.
Paul Barker on what lower energy prices will mean for the one-track PNG economy:
Low oil and gas prices provide a sobering but potentially valuable reminder of the need to avoid the pitfalls of the 1990s. The PNG Government needs to avoid squandering funds on low priority activities and one-off events, establish and operationalise the long-delayed sovereign wealth fund, revitalise the anti-corruption and accountability effort, and focus policies on establishing favourable conditions for economically and environmentally sustainable activities, particularly in agriculture. It also needs to focus spending on the needs of all Papua New Guineans and not just selected parts of the community, especially by encouraging young men and women to participate actively in the economy.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Tony Abbott.