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Creative Capital – A Foreword

I wrote the foreword to Peter Dawson’s terrific new book on innovation in Canberra. If you’d like to buy a copy, contact

Foreword to Peter Dawson, Creative Capital: Bureaucrats, Boffins, Businessmen, Haldstead Press, 2014
Andrew Leigh

Ask a non-Canberran what words they associate with ‘Canberra’, and it’s London to a brick that they’ll come back with ‘politics’ or ‘government’. Yet as those of us who live here know, this is a city that’s considerably more than the seat of government. If I had to devise a single notion that sums up smart bureaucrats, connected academics and innovative start-ups, it would be that Canberra is an ‘ideas city’.

Peter Dawson’s account of creativity in Canberra is informed, modest and connected – a little like the city itself. You’ll read about the Australian National University’s role in dating rocks from Apollo 11, Vikram Sharma’s work on quantum cryptography and Alex Zelinsky’s machines that prevent drivers from falling asleep. You’ll learn about Chris Parish’s cancer research, Peter Gage’s HIV research, Charmaine Simeonovic’s work on diabetes and Tim Hirst’s breakthroughs on influenza. And you’ll find out about environmental breakthroughs: Andrew Blakers on solar photovoltaic cells; Stephen Kaneff, Peter Carden and others on concentrating solar.

Continue reading ‘Creative Capital – A Foreword’ »

Review of Ross Garnaut’s Dog Days

My short review of Ross Garnaut’s new book appears in this month’s AFR Boss magazine.

Review of Ross Garnaut, Dog Days: Australia After the Boom, Australian Financial Review, Boss Magazine, 6 December 2013

When judging a batsman in cricket, we often forget to account for the ground. We all know the Adelaide Oval has even bounce and short square boundaries compared to the MCG. But we still mistakenly think a batsman is doing better when he’s wielding the willow in Adelaide.

The same goes for economic policymakers. In the ‘salad days’ of the early-2000s, argues Ross Garnaut, ordinary policy looked celestial. In the ‘dog days’ of the post-GFC era, celestial economic policy could look ordinary. Poor decision-making in Mining Boom Mark I went unnoticed. In Mining Boom Mark II, everyone was a critic.

Continue reading ‘Review of Ross Garnaut’s Dog Days’ »

Liberalism and Egalitarianism, Conservatism and Communitarianism

Mark Latham’s Quarterly Essay discussed the opportunities and challenges facing modern Labor. Here’s my response, published in Australian Policy Online.

Response to Mark Latham’s Quarterly Essay

It’s occasionally been forgotten since he left the Labor leadership nearly a decade ago, but when he chooses to engage in policy, Mark Latham has a lot to say. He is optimistic about the intellectual and organisational future of the Labor Party, and appropriately proud of the role we have played in opening up the Australian economy in the 1980s and 1990s and dealing with climate change today.

One big question Labor thinkers are always willing to wrestle with is how the party’s guiding philosophy should evolve. Political parties invariably adapt as society changes, but Labor’s options have particularly opened up as the Coalition has shrunk into what Anthony Albanese has tagged ‘the noalition’. When Tony Abbott calls for a ‘people’s revolt’ against a market-based mechanism for dealing with climate change, it’s hard to know whether to criticise him for abandoning conservatism or trashing liberalism.

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The Economics of Greed, Love, Groups and Networks

I launched Paul Frijters and Gigi Foster’s new book last night, titled Economic Theory of Greed, Love, Groups and Networks.

Speech launching Economic Theory of Greed, Love, Groups and Networks by Paul Frijters (with Gigi Foster)

Andrew Leigh
Federal Member for Fraser

Australian National University
2 May 2013

If you want a quick way to assess a piece of academic writing, try starting at the end. A skim through the reference list can tell you a great deal:

  • Is it long, or so short you get the impression the author thinks they’re the only one to have considered the problem?
  • Does the author’s own name dominate the reference list, or is there a sense that other people have sensible things to say too?
  • Are the references all by people from the author’s country, or are they international?
  • Are the references all in the same discipline, or are other disciplines cited too?
  • How old are the references? (Frighteningly, the typical reference in an economics article is just five years old)

So, what does starting at the back tell you about Paul and Gigi’s book? They’re extensive, global and interdisciplinary – like the authors themselves. You’ll see references to Fox’s Behaviour of Wolves, Dogs and Related Canids; to a Sherlock Holmes novel; to Bourquin’s ‘The Zulu Military Organisation and the Challenge of 1879’; to Dr Seuss; and to Besse’s 1910 classic Hermits.

Continue reading ‘The Economics of Greed, Love, Groups and Networks’ »

Launching Ian Warden’s Book on Canberra

I launched Ian Warden’s new book on Canberra tonight. Here’s my speech, complete with a newly-uncovered 1977 ACT Anthem by Philip Grundy.

Launching Ian Warden, A Serious House on Serious Earth
Electric Shadows Bookshop, Canberra
4 April 2013

I acknowledge the Ngunnawal people, on whose lands we meet.

It is a pleasure to be here today to launch the book of a great Canberra icon, Ian Warden (also known as the Beige Bombshell).

If you travel today to Dalgety, a town of 75 people and one pub, it strikes you that there might exists a parallel universe to our own in which Australia’s capital is on the banks of the Snowy River, and Canberra is a sleepy town of 1700 people (as it was in 1911).

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On ABC 702 with Richard Glover, Dick Smith and Malcolm Turnbull

On ABC702 yesterday, I enjoyed a conversation with host Richard Glover and guests Dick Smith and Malcolm Turnbull, ranging from carbon pricing to urban congestion, parliamentary roles to economic growth, helicopter travel to books that make you cry. Here’s a podcast.

In Praise of Bookworms

My monthly column in the Chronicle newspaper is about reading.

National Year of Reading, The Chronicle, April 2012

When Dick Adams left high school, he wasn’t able to read or write. It didn’t worry him much. As he told his local paper, ‘I was too busy playing cricket, helping my family on the farm, hunting and fishing’. But eventually, he realised that it would be hard to get far in life without reading and writing, so he found an adult literacy teacher and spent four years learning to read and write.

Today, Dick is a federal MP for the seat of Lyons in Tasmania. At Parliament House, he occupies the office two doors down from mine. He’s someone I can always trust for advice, and I know I’m not the only parliamentarian who feels that way.

Continue reading ‘In Praise of Bookworms’ »

Holiday Reading

For anyone looking for holiday reading, here are a dozen books I’ve enjoyed this year. Apologies for the lack of fiction.

1. Cordelia Fine, Delusions of Gender – A book that helped debunk plenty of my ideas about the role of genes in shaping gender. As

2. Ed Glaeser, Triumph of the City – The man who helped revive urban economics embarks on a romp through the history and value of cities.

3. Tim Harford, Adapt – A succession of splendid tales, tied together by the FT’s ‘Undercover Economist’. Like Freakonomics, but with more economics.

4. Christopher Hitchens, Arguably - Essays on everything from Afghanistan to poetry, from the late great public intellectual (but if you haven’t read Hitch-22, start there first).

5. Abhijit Banerjee & Esther Duflo, Poor Economics – Solving global poverty, one randomised trial at a time.

6. Tyler Cowen, The Great Stagnation – The (in)famous Marginal Revolution blogger combines a neat economic history of the US, plus some concise ideas about where to next.

7. David Remnick, The Bridge – The seminal biography of Barack Obama.

8. Donald Green and Alan Gerber, Get Out the Vote - Most political campaigning books are of the ‘I reckon’ variety. This one is based on solid evidence from (yes) randomised trials.

9. Nick Dyrenfurth &Frank Bongiorno, A little history of the Australian Labor Party – More emphasis on ideas and big themes, less dwelling on the machinations of bearded men. One of the best histories of our party.

10. Jonathan Weiner, Long for This World: The Strange Science of Immortality – Will humans ever live forever?

11. Peter Hartcher, The Sweet Spot – A modern-day take on the Lucky Country, from a brilliant and refreshingly uncynical journalist.

12. Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From – Innovative ideas aplenty, told with the wit of a great storyteller.

While we’re on the topic, here’s a 2010 piece that Mac Duncan and I wrote about what federal politicians were reading, and here’s the full spreadsheet of what politicians were reading at the time.

Feel free to use comments to post your recommended holiday reading.

What I’m Reading

A few links that have caught my fancy lately.







What I’m Reading

A few articles that have caught my fancy over recent weeks.

What I’m Reading

What I’m Reading

It’s been over a month since I last posted about the things I’ve been reading. But while I can’t promise that these articles appeared yesterday, I can attest to the freshness of their ideas:

On the topic of academia, I’ve been amused to discover how long the tail of academic publishing is. Although I resigned as an ANU economics professor a year ago, I’ve still got forthcoming papers in Economics Letters, Economic Papers and the Oxford Bulletin of Economics & Statistics, as well as revise-and-resubmits being considered by the Economic Record, The BE Journal of Macro, Review of Income and Wealth and the Economics of Education Review.


Tim Harford’s latest book is a cracker (Adam Smith meets Malcolm Gladwell). It’s titled Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure. Some choice quotes:

An enterprising civil servant… decided to bypass the regular commissioning process and order the new plane as ‘a most interesting experiment’. The plane was the Supermarine Spitfire. … it is only a small exaggeration to say that the Spitfire was the plane that saved the free world.

Continue reading ‘Adapt’ »

Launch of Herb Feith biography

On 6 July, I’m launching Jemma Purdey’s biography of the late Herb Feith. Herb was an extraordinary man who founded the organisation now known as Australian Volunteers International. He also happened to be a family friend.

All welcome – details here and below.

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Talking up a Storm

It’s gone largely unremarked in the press, but Julia Gillard has been giving some terrific speeches over recent months. For pure oratory, some of the best include:

What I’m Reading

What I’m Reading

What I’m Reading

What I’m Reading

What I’m Reading

What I’m Reading

What I’m Reading

Age of the Infovore

From Tyler Cowen’s The Age of the Infovore, a book about autism, information and economics:

What’s next? We could benefit in further ways by adopting a better and deeper understanding of human neurodiversity. We could have a more practical understanding of the limits of formal education. We could be more skeptical about story-based reasoning and superficially appealing narratives; we also could become more resistant to obnoxious advertising and less bent on senseless revenge. We could understand better how a different mind can be an entertaining mind and perhaps a heroic mind. We could treat minorities, including autistic people, better. We could appreciate new and different forms of music and art, or at least we could be more tolerant of diverging aesthetic tastes. We could become better citizens, more cosmopolitan, more objective about our culture and nation, and better able to appreciate the benefits of the rule of law.

Tyler is also the author of Discover Your Inner Economist: Use Incentives to Fall in Love, Survive Your Next Meeting, and Motivate Your Dentist, which I greatly enjoyed.

What I’m Reading

What I’m reading

What I’m Reading

What I’m Reading

A plethora of things that have caught my eye lately:

What I’m Reading

What I’m Reading

What I’m Reading