“The prospects for octopus takeover are still fairly remote at present”

News from down under — both in the Australia and water senses — “Octopuses Appear To Take Up Arms As Submarine Warfare Escalates” (NPR News):

Those ornery octopuses have also taken to hurling objects at each other, like shells and bits of seaweed, blasting them through the water with high pressure. And while Godfrey-Smith says there may be other explanations for this behavior, the number of direct hits has him suspecting that the octopuses are using projectile weapons.

“It would be quite significant if it’s happening,” says Godfrey-Smith, who’s been collaborating on this research with David Scheel of Alaska Pacific University. “In general, projectile use is pretty rare among animals.”

 
Title quote was from the article in response to the inevitable inquiry by reporters.

Pen and wash drawing by malacologist Pierre Dénys de Montfort, 1801, from the descriptions of French sailors reportedly attacked by a colossal octopus off the coast of Angola.

Pen and wash drawing by malacologist Pierre Dénys de Montfort, 1801, from the descriptions of French sailors reportedly attacked by a colossal octopus off the coast of Angola.

The origin story of minimum wage laws, part 1

Part 1: New Zealand, Australia, Massachusetts, the New Deal, and China: How governments took an active role initially, and how they balance economic variability now. || This original research was produced for The Globalist Research Center and Arsenal For Democracy.

More than 150 countries have set minimum wages by law, whether nationwide or by sector. Other countries have no legal minimum, or governments play a different role in wage setting processes.

Where in the world did government-set minimum wages originate?

In 1894, over 120 years ago, New Zealand became home to the first national law creating a government role for setting a minimum wage floor – although this may not have been the initial intention.

The Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act established an arbitration court made up of both workers and employers. It was intended to resolve various industrial-labor relations disputes in a binding manner. The goal was to avoid all labor strikes.

The court was empowered to set wages for entire classifications of workers as part of these resolutions. It did not take long for this to evolve into a patchwork of rulings that effectively covered all workers.

Today, New Zealand’s hourly minimum wage is about equivalent in purchasing power parity (PPP-adjusted) terms to US$9.40.

Which country first adopted a living wage?

In the 1890s, neighboring Australia was still a loose collection of self-governing British colonies, rather than one country. One colony, Victoria, was inspired by New Zealand to adopt a similar board with wage-setting powers. This occurred shortly before the Australian colonies federated together in 1901 to become one country.

In 1907, Australia pioneered what is now known as a “living” wage when the country’s new national arbitration court issued a ruling in favor of a nationwide minimum wage.

That court specified that it had to be high enough to fund a worker’s “cost of living as a civilised being.” While the ruling soon ran into legal trouble from the federation’s Supreme Court, it remained a crucial precedent in future labor cases.

To this day, Australia has a generous minimum wage. The current rate is about equal to US$11.20 in PPP-adjusted terms. This represents about 55% of median pay. However, New Zealand’s minimum wage is actually proportionally higher, at 60% of median pay.

N.B. Purchasing-power currency conversions are from 2012 local currency to 2012 international dollars rounded from UN data.

Which U.S. state had the first minimum wage?

In the United States, a minimum wage mechanism was first introduced in 1912 at the state level — but specifically for female workers (and some child laborers) — in Massachusetts.

The state passed a law to create a “Minimum Wage Commission” empowered to research women’s labor conditions and pay rates, and then to set living wages by decree. For any occupation, the Commission could set up a “wage board” comprising representatives of female workers (or child workers), employers, and the public to recommend fair pay levels.

The Commission’s decreed wage had to “supply the necessary cost of living and to maintain the worker in health.”

1912, the year Massachusetts passed the law creating the commission, was part of a period of major reforms in the United States, which had become the world’s largest economy.

These changes gave government a more active legal role in economic policy. In 1913, the country adopted the Sixteenth Amendment to the U.S. constitution, which made possible a federal progressive income tax. Also in 1913, the Federal Reserve System was created.

More than a dozen U.S. states followed Massachusetts within less than a decade. However, they had to contend with frequent battles before the U.S. Supreme Court on the constitutionality of government-set minimums. Read more

Australia now bribing human traffickers in anti-migrant move

In his continued bid to combine the buffoonish incompetence of George W. Bush with the crass cruelty of Chris Christie to become the worst elected leader in the world, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has reached a new height: paying human traffickers to avoid receiving migrant refugees into Australia. That stunning allegation comes from both the UN High Commission on Refugees and the government of Indonesia, according to the BBC, and Abbott did not deny the charge:

Migrants on a boat headed for Australia have told the UN that the crew was paid by the Australian navy to turn back.

James Lynch, a spokesman for the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), told the BBC that passengers saw smugglers being paid after the boat was intercepted.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Friday admitted using “creative” strategies to stop migrant boats but refused to go into detail.

The country’s immigration and foreign ministers denied payments were made.

“The boat that was rescued by the Indonesian navy on 31 May – we have interviewed the 65 passengers and they have said that the crew received a payment,” said Mr Lynch.

He said the passengers – 54 from Sri Lanka, 10 from Bangladesh, and one from Myanmar – were transferred to a customs boat for four days “before being put on two boats and sent back to Indonesia”.
[…]
The Indonesian navy said it intercepted the boats on their return and arrested the crew, who said they had each been paid A$5,000 ($3,900; £2,500) to turn back.

Local police chief Hidayat told AFP news agency: “I saw the money with my own eyes.”

Speaking to Radio 3AW on Friday morning, Mr Abbott refused to deny that a payment had been made, saying simply that “creative strategies” had been developed to stop the migrant boats.

 
To recap, this appalling story means Australia used government funds to pay human traffickers nearly US$4000 each — not to mention bringing the migrants onto customs boats for several days before handing the people back over to the human smugglers.

Added: More, from The New York Times:

Richard Marles, the opposition Labor Party’s spokesman for immigration, said Saturday that Mr. Abbott’s refusal to clearly deny having paid human traffickers “leaves one with the only possible assumption that that may well have been exactly what happened.”
[…]
“Paying cash bribes to boat crews amounts to people trafficking,” Sarah Hanson-Young, a Greens senator, said Saturday in a statement. “The government does not have a mandate to break the law or a blank check to allow handing over wads of cash in the middle of the ocean.” She said Parliament had a responsibility to find out what had happened.

 

Linking U.S. wages to productivity (it might take a while)

Former U.S. deputy assistant Treasury Secretary and economist George R. Tyler, writing for The Globalist, argues that it may take a generation to rally the American people to reorganize corporate governance laws toward a profit model that takes worker pay into account like many other advanced economies do (which has created an international wage gap):

However, ensuring that real U.S. wages rise steadily year after year will require more, including legally linking wages and productivity growth. If a company does very well for itself, some percentage of those profits must be translated into higher wages for employees, rather than merely being plowed into stock buybacks, dividends and executive compensation packages.
[…]
Making that case, however, will be a generational challenge for wage advocates, including Democratic lawmakers. Why generational? The Reaganesque division of gains from growth since the 1980s featuring a war on wages has become institutionalized. American history has shown that once a damaging economic arrangement has been established, it is extraordinarily difficult to uproot.

 
I highly recommend everyone read the full article from Tyler (and not just because I worked closely on the edits for it). This is an important topic for the future of the U.S. economy, workers, and wages.

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Weirdly, tax cuts don’t solve poverty, finds UN in New Zealand

Building off the theme in my most recent post, about anti-poverty programs in Bolivia and Brazil, let’s look at two industrialized economies. A UNICEF report compared the anti-child-poverty programs of the (center-right) New Zealand government with the anti-child-poverty programs of neighboring Australia (led by a center-left government until 13 months ago). Here’s what they found, according to TV NZ:

A United Nation’s report says New Zealand’s child poverty and inequality rates aren’t improving, despite what it describes as the Government’s ‘ambitious’ programme of tax cuts.
[…]
It says several Australian policies, which have increased Government spending on families with one-off payments, have had a greater effect.
[…]
The National Advocacy Manager for UNICEF NZ, Deborah Morris-Travers, says the numbers suggest the Government needs to review how it is tackling child poverty.

“The report points to Australia where cash payments were made available to low-income families, protecting the poorest children and stimulating consumption to promote recovery. This is contrasted with New Zealand’s policy of tax cuts, which have done nothing to improve the situation for child poverty.”

 

What a surprise!

Granted, while Australia is similar in many ways, it is also many times larger by population and economic capacity; so how does New Zealand’s effort stack up against other peer economies?

There has been a 0.4% drop in child poverty rates here [in New Zealand]. But in similar-sized countries like Norway and Finland, child poverty rates have reduced by 4.3% and 3.2%, respectively.

 
In other words, further evidence (like in Brazil and Bolivia) that simpler, more direct transfer programs — instead of the indirect, “trickle-down” tax cut theories George H.W. Bush once dubbed “voodoo economics” — seems to work better to combat extreme poverty, even in developed economies.

After all, the very poor tend to earn so little money that they are not paying taxes that can be cut. Without a “negative income tax” system, tax refund money will never reach them directly. Hence, direct and hassle-free benefits have more impact. The money in such programs goes directly to the problem spots and helps establish a clear safety net and economic floor for children. That allows them to grow up healthier and with better prospects, while permitting up their parents to make ends meet and start to climb the economic ladder out of dire poverty and debt traps.

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Tony Abbott affirms Russia’s G20 status is safe

Earlier this year, following Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea, the rest of the G8 (Group of 8 Nations) disassembled itself and returned to being the G7, just to avoid working with Russia or going to the scheduled summit in Sochi.

The larger group, the G20, slated to meet in Australia this year, hadn’t taken any similar action to ostracize Russia. Australia’s Foreign Minister did quickly propose banning Russia after the G8’s decision, but the governments of Brazil, India, China, and South Africa joined Russia in complaining about the proposal and asserting it was not allowed. Since then, of course, things in Ukraine have gotten much worse and have affected Australian citizens, and so there are now many local objections in the Australian state of Queensland, where the summit is to be held next month.

Australia’s prime minister, who is not exactly known for being the most responsive to public opinion or complaints anyway, made clear yesterday that he would be allowing Vladimir Putin to attend.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has defended a decision not to ban Russian President Vladimir Putin from attending the G20 summit in Brisbane, saying “it’s not Australia’s right to say yes or no to individual members of the G20”.

 
Maybe it’s true that he can’t unilaterally kick Russia out of the group, but his characteristic bluntness was perhaps poorly deployed. Either way it doesn’t sound like he put in much effort or tried to find any workarounds (sanctions, travel bans, entry visas, etc.)…

Abbott also reminded everyone of all the reasons he probably ought to block Vladimir Putin from attending, but won’t.

“Obviously we had the MH17 atrocity earlier this year where 38 Australians were murdered by Russian-backed rebels using Russian-supplied equipment so there’s much to deplore in Russia’s foreign policy,” Mr Abbott said.

“But the G20 is an international gathering that operates by consensus.

“It’s not Australia’s right to say yes or no to individual members of the G20. Russia is a member of the G20 and as such, we’re obliged to accept the Russian leader in this country.”

And then, of course, he had to take it one step further, by trying to make excuses for the very actions he said should be “deplored.”

“I don’t believe for a moment that President Putin wanted that plane brought down.”

 
To paraphrase Arrow, “Tony Abbott, you have failed this summit.”

The Group of 20 (G20) Nations (Credit: Wikimedia)

The Group of 20 (G20) Nations (Credit: Wikimedia)

Australia was spying on Indonesia

New NSA/Five Eyes-related revelations in the Guardian: “Australia tried to monitor Indonesian president’s phone”

I’m not really surprised to find out the Australian government was spying on senior leadership in Indonesia. I think I’d be more surprised to learn they were definitely NOT.

That being said, the new jackass Prime Minister had a pretty weak response, besides incorrectly (see below) brushing it off as the work of the other party from whom he just took power. The government’s primary excuse? Australia’s activities were not so much “spying” as “research” [and] “We use the information that we gather for good, including to build a stronger relationship with Indonesia.”

Oh ok then. So you just needed to hack phones to find out their pets’ names or … what?

I really enjoy this “research” for better relations excuse. I mean, it’s seriously like saying Australia was just trying to Facebook-creep on Indonesia to see if Indonesia was “in a relationship” with anybody. 

And about the claim that this is all the other party’s fault? The docs show the spying on Indonesia actually started the very day the previous PM from his party left office, meaning their own party would have been in office when it was planned, even if Labor technically had taken office by the time it began.