Too late to call a showdown. A few weeks back I thought the best tactic for Julia Gillard to put an end to the speculation about leadership was to surprise her colleagues by declaring her job vacant and see what happened. My reasoning was that Kevin Rudd would resist the opportunity to avoid a humiliating defeat but in so doing would make it very hard for himself to mount a challenge any time in the near future no matter how dismal the opinion polls became.

That opportunity has now passed.

The Rudd supporters have had time to bolster their support to the point where a defeat for their man would allow him to retire to the backbench like a reincarnation of Paul Keating and wait for the time when MPs become really desperate about their chances of holding their seats and he can strike again.

The one thing going for Miss Gillard now is that Kevin Rudd obviously does love being Foreign Minister while ever he is denied being Prime Minister. He does not appear to fancy the prospect of sitting on the backbench for six months. If so he will not be goaded into challenging and the phoney war will continue unless, and until, the support for Labor gets to the point where a majority of MPs see him as their only chance of retaining their seats.

Preparing to spend $5 billion a year extra on education. Treasury had better start recruiting some deficit owls. The owls are a breed of economists at the opposite end of the spectrum to those deficit hawks with their message of austerity. Their help will be needed if Australian governments state and federal really are going to spend an extra $5 billion a year of the country’s schools.

Owls, you see, just love budget deficits; they are hooting the message that governments borrowing money is good. And not, like those middle of the road Keynesian deficit doves who reckon it’s alright when an economy is in recession, owls advocate deficit spending almost all of the time.

I was unaware of this breed until introduced to them this week by a piece on Ezra Klein’s Wonkblog in the Washington Post which featured the views of James K. “Jamie” Galbraith (the son of the really famous one.)

You should find the whole story interesting but this will give you some of the flavour:

… as the soaring federal budget deficit has sharpened political and economic differences in Washington, Galbraith is mostly concerned about the dangers of keeping it too small. He’s a key figure in a core debate among economists about whether deficits are important and in what way. The issue has divided the nation’s best-known economists and inspired pockets of passion in academic circles. Any embrace by policymakers of one view or the other could affect everything from employment to the price of goods to the tax code.

In contrast to “deficit hawks” who want spending cuts and revenue increases now in order to temper the deficit, and “deficit doves” who want to hold off on austerity measures until the economy has recovered, Galbraith is a deficit owl. Owls certainly don’t think we need to balance the budget soon. Indeed, they don’t concede we need to balance it at all. Owls see government spending that leads to deficits as integral to economic growth, even in good times.

The term isn’t Galbraith’s. It was coined by Stephanie Kelton, a professor at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, who with Galbraith is part of a small group of economists who have concluded that everyone — members of Congress, think tank denizens, the entire mainstream of the economics profession — has misunderstood how the government interacts with the economy. If their theory — dubbed “Modern Monetary Theory” or MMT — is right, then everything we thought we knew about the budget, taxes and the Federal Reserve is wrong.

Helping the bankers and financial speculators. Once more into the breach go governments to supposedly help Greece but actually to benefit those foolish and greedy enough to lend to it. So, as the German magazine Der Spiegel puts it “Stop the second bailout package — EU Should Admit Greece is Bankrupt.”

Greece is bankrupt and will need a 100 percent debt cut to get back on its feet. The bailout package about to be agreed by the euro finance ministers will help Greece’s creditors more than the country itself. EU leaders should channel the aid into rebuilding the economy rather than rewarding financial speculators for their high-risk deals.

Getting ready for World War III. Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the President of the World Chess Federation (FIDE), took a moment off from announcing details of the World Chess Championships this week to warn that a third world war could unfold in Syria.

One of the last men to speak to Muammar Gaddafi before his death when the played a final game of chess while the bombs rained down, Mr Ilyumzhinov told the Moscow Times that “what I saw in Libya is now repeating itself in Syria.” If NATO began military action in Syria, “it would be the start of a third world war,” Ilyumzhinov said. “Next would be Iran and other countries with oil and gas — Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.”

As you consider the relevance of this warning, keep in mind that the FIDE President is perhaps best known is known for the alien abduction he said he experienced in 1997. Human-like creatures in yellow spacesuits visited him in his Moscow apartment and took him for a ride in their spaceship, he said last year.

And as for those World Chess Championships, in the absence of World War III they will take place in Moscow in May with the Soviet-educated Israeli citizen Boris Gelfand challenging world champion Viswanathan Anand for $2.55 million in prize money. *Relive Crikey’s 2010 World Championship Chess coverage here.

And a Putin victory. And while on matters Russia, the latest weekly survey by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center shows a continuing increase in support for Vladimir Putin in the contest to be elected once again as the country’s president. Support of 49% at the beginning of the year has now reached 58.6% which would see him elected without the need for a runoff election.

Women do the work but it’s the men that get the money. Another example this morning of the inequality of the sexes. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that more women participate in cultural activities, but men are more likely to get paid for their involvement.

The ABS figures show that in 2010–11, over a quarter (27% or 4.7 million people) of Australians 15 years or older participated in a cultural activity – such as dancing, sculpting, painting, drawing or cartooning.

Women had a higher participation rate in cultural activities (31%) than men (23%), but when it came to being paid, 18% of men received a wage, salary or other payment for their participation in cultural activities compared with 12% of women receiving payment for their involvement.

Peter Fray

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