Monday, March 29, 2010

Your not really making the point you think you're making

Thanks to Media Watch I found out about a little bit Alan Jones did reading out another of those chain emails that gets certain types of people going. This particular one was on the topic of refugees. As Alan read out
Alan Jones: The smugglers know the rules. The new ones. They know you don't have to go to Nauru now. You don't have detention in the desert now. You don't have a temporary protection visa now... There's an email doing the rounds at the moment which is most probably a bit apocryphal and a bit inventive but it's instructive and it says that:
"If you cross the North Korean border illegally you get 12 years hard labour.
If you cross the Iranian border illegally you are detained indefinitely.
If you cross the Afghan border illegally, you'll get shot...
If you cross the Chinese border illegally you may never be heard from again...
but" as the email says, "if you cross the Australian border illegally you'll get a job, a driver's licence, a social security card, welfare..."

The point I think Alan wants us to take away from this little monologue is that we need to be tougher on refugees coming to Australia illegally.

That's not the message I take away from this. The message I take away from this is "and that's one of the reasons why Australia is a better country than those other countries."

Now I know that the problem of a higher than desired number of refugees arriving through improper channels is complex and will require a multi-facted solution, there are two things I'm reasonably sure are not part of that solution.

One, a race to the bottom between nations for who can treat such people the worst (and trust me, Australia will lose on this one anyway),

and Two, not helping the countries the refugees are coming from become better and safer countries to live in will just keep them coming.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Margin Pricing

McDonalds has the following interesting price scheme.
Mighty Muffin $3.95
Mighty Muffin + Hash Brown $5.45
Mighty Muffin + Hash Brown + small coke $4.10
Effective price of a small coke -$1.35

A similar pattern was seen at a Night Owl as well
600ml coke $3.90
1.25l coke $4.50
2l coke $3.00

I think the main point to take away from this is that the amount we pay for some stuff depends not on the costs of production but more what they think people are willing to pay for something.

Also, please don't take this as an endorsement of any of the products mentioned. I'm just looking at the pricing anomalies.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Legislation, we hardly know ye.

One of the subjects I'm currently studying is Law, Regulations and Ethics. Since it's part of a finance course, the law part of it is pretty much the Corporations Act 2001 (Aust), and a few other related bits and pieces like the Corporations Regulations 2001 (Aust) and the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter Terrorism Funding Act (2006), but it's given me more of an understanding of how legislation reads.

The first thing is that law is confusing. This is the main reason lawyers make big bucks. They need to know this stuff inside and out and they need to know a lot of it. I barely dented Chapter 7 of the Corporations Act, let alone the whole thing.

There are a number of reasons why the law is confusing. The main reason for this is the fact that so much of it is indirect. Take the Corporations Act. Section 1311 starts out by saying that anyone who does something that is prohibited by the act or doesn't do something required by the act is guilty of an offense. But then it goes on to say that they're guilty of an offense for some things only if a penalty is listed in schedule 3. Fortunately schedule 3 is pretty straightforward.

Then there's the language used. From what I've seen every act has a list of definitions in there somewhere. This is because words don't always mean what they normally do. Sometimes this is because the normal meaning is a bit vague in what it covers, or sometimes they want a word to cover other things like it, but not quite the same.

There's also a lot of language that makes you wonder just how pedantic the people writing this are. Take for example this lovely bit of prose
(1) A margin lending facility is:

(a) a standard margin lending facility; or

(b) a non‑standard margin lending facility; or

(c) a facility of a kind that has been declared by ASIC to be a margin lending facility under subsection (8);

unless the facility is of a kind that has been declared by ASIC not to be a margin lending facility under subsection (9).

So a margin lending facility is either a standard or a non-standard margin lending facility, or something ASIC has said is a margin lending facility, unless ASIC has said it isn't. All very clear. Fortunately it does go on to give a bit more detail as to what a standard and non-standard margin lending facility are, but still.

This also makes me think about the idea that ignorance of the law is no excuse. There are great swathes of the law I'm completely ignorant about, and likely the bits I think I know about I have huge misconceptions about. We all know the basic stuff like don't steal, don't kill, don't run red lights, etc, but what does the average person actually know of the law? Now, I'll admit there's not much chance the average person is going to commit an offense under the Corporations Act without knowing it, but what other laws are lurking out there that we don't know of.

There are certainly expectations that people who want to do certain things are aware of the relevant laws. People need to prove they know the rules of the road to be able to get a license. To get a financial services license you need to show that you know the relevant laws. But there's no requirement to know other sorts of laws to get by in everyday life. I think this is definitely a gap that needs to be filled. High school would probably be a good place to teach this, but I'm not sure how interested kids would be in it then, or how you would fit it in with all the other things schools have to teach. The more cynical part of me thinks maybe make it and stuff about our system of government part a course you have to pass to enroll to vote, although I don't think that would go down well, especially if you required everyone already enrolled to vote to go through it as well (maybe give them 10 years to pass the test or their off the roll)

Friday, March 12, 2010

Assignment Aftermath

This week two assignments for my finance course were due in. I think I made a tactical error in doing two subjects with mid session assignments and final exams rather than one with a mid session assignment and one with a final assignment, but we live and learn.

I don't think what I submitted was the best I could have done as I did leave it quite late in the process to get serious about working on them. A three day weekend is not really enough time for two 4500 word assignments, even if you have been thinking about the questions for a few months.

I put most of my time into what I though would be the easier assignment and where I thought I'd be able to do better, the subject on economic principles, but I didn't do so great. The last few questions where we had to back up opinions on a few different things I did a huge rush job on and didn't include any references or such, which will cost me a bit. I'm mainly hoping I pass so as not to put too much pressure on me for the final exam.

I'm more happy with the second assignment for Law, Regulation and Ethics. I now realize why lawyers make so much money. Laws are very hard to understand. Convoluted references, finicky definitions, references to regulations made and listed elsewhere, mean working out what is and isn't in the law quite a challenge. I have another post brewing about legislation, so more will come out there on that topic.

The last minute approach to the assignments also made life a bit less fun last week. I had to miss the Richard Dawkins talk on Thursday, and on Monday and Tuesday night I only got about 4 or 5 hours sleep. On Wednesday I was absolutely useless at work, barely able to keep one thing in my head at a time, which is really bad because you need to at least keep a name and a location to avoid having to keep asking the person to repeat things. Thursday after about 9 hours sleep I was more my normal self, although I still fell asleep watching TV around 5 o'clock after work.