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Talking Economics & Politics with Craig Emerson

On Friday 8 November, I joined my friend Craig Emerson on his seventh ‘Emmo Forum’ to discuss what it means to be an economist and a progressive.

You can watch it on YouTube below, or download the podcast here.

Creativity and Innovation

I launched Stuart Cunningham’s new book Hidden Innovation tonight.

Launching Stuart Cunningham, Hidden Innovation: Policy, Industry and the Creative Sector
Paperchain Books, Manuka
9 April 2013

According to one study cited in Stuart Cunningham’s book, there are two opposing groups of people: ‘political junkies’ (PJs) and Big Brother fans (BBs). PJs think that it ‘beggars belief’ that anyone could think Big Brother was useful. BBs say that politicians are unapproachable and out of touch.

So as an MP who used to quite enjoy watching Big Brother, I found myself torn. Am I a BB or a PJ? A PJ in BBs? Or a BB in PJs?

The reference to Big Brother is just one of a myriad of cultural touchstones in this fascinating book. Stuart Cunningham’s book romps through Survivor and Go Back to Where you Came From, Korean bloggers and Fat Cow Motel, Australian iTunes game Fruit Ninja and Nigeria’s ‘Nollywood’.

Continue reading ‘Creativity and Innovation’ »

Liberalism & Egalitarianism

I have an opinion piece in the Australian today, continuing to prosecute the case that Labor is the true party of small-L liberalism in Australia (on the same theme, see also my first speech, this Global Mail article and this speech to Per Capita).

Liberals are conservatives while Labor is the true party of Alfred Deakin, The Australian, 10 January 2013

In the United States, if you want to insult a right-winger, call them a ‘liberal’. In Australia, if you want to insult a left-winger, call them a ‘Liberal’. In both countries, liberalism has become detached from its original meaning.

It’s time to bring Australian liberalism back to its traditional roots. Small-L liberalism involves a willingness to protect minority rights (even when they’re unpopular) and a recognition that open markets are the best way to boost prosperity.

Continue reading ‘Liberalism & Egalitarianism’ »

Chatting Economics and Politics with Matt Smith

I was recently interviewed by La Trobe University’s Matt Smith, about trust in politicians, inequality, good evaluation, climate change and other topics.

You can read a transcript, download an MP3, or podcast it through iTunes.

Talking Economics with Jan Libich

Last Wednesday, I spoke with La Trobe University economist Jan Libich about some of my academic findings – from teacher pay & aptitude to child gender & divorce – and possible policy implications. If you want to read more, the research is available at my academic website: www.andrewleigh.org.

And if you’d like to watch Jan’s other interviews (including with Eric Leeper and Don Brash), they’re available on his YouTube channel.

Transcript

Dr Jan Libich: Welcome to La Trobe University in Melbourne. My name is Jan Libich and I’m privileged to have Dr Andrew Leigh here. Welcome Andrew. Thanks for joining us.

Dr Andrew Leigh: It’s a pleasure.

Continue reading ‘Talking Economics with Jan Libich’ »

The Spirit Which is Not Too Sure It’s Right

I addressed graduating ANU students today, speaking about doubt and uncertainty, scepticism and risk-taking, experimenting and being prepared to make a mistake.

‘The Spirit Which is Not Too Sure It’s Right’
ANU Graduation Address
12 July 2012

In 1931, the British air ministry decided to experiment by commissioning a new fighter aircraft.[1] The bureaucrats wanted aviation engineers to abandon past orthodoxies and create something entirely new.

The initial prototypes were disappointing. But then a company called Supermarine approached the ministry with a radical new design. A public servant by the name of Henry Cave-Brown-Cave decided to bypass the regular process and order it. The new plane was the Supermarine Spitfire.

Continue reading ‘The Spirit Which is Not Too Sure It’s Right’ »

A Twitter Randomised Trial

I have a confession to make: I’m a twitter-sceptic. In a piece for the Australian Literary Review in 2010, Macgregor Duncan and I surveyed what politicians were reading, and concluded that federal politicians ought to read more and tweet less. It was the words of an armchair critic, but when I unexpectedly found myself transitioning from professor to politician later that year, I decided it would be hypocritical of me to tweet. So I refrained.

But over the past 17 months, enough people who I respect have made a good case for twitter that it seems churlish to base my decision on theory alone. In other contexts, I frequently complain about people who make decisions without looking at the evidence, so I figured I really ought to test the theory, and find out once and for all: does twitter make me happier and more productive?

So, following in the footsteps of my good friend Justin Wolfers, I’m embarking on a month-long twitter randomised trial. Each morning in February, I’ll toss a coin. Heads, I’ll tweet for the day. Tails, I shan’t. At the end of each day, I’ll record how happy I’ve been, and how productive. And at the end of February, I’ll tally it all up.

If you’re interested in joining me for the ride, you can follow me by clicking the button below.


Listening to the Evidence

Don Weatherburn, director of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, has a terrific op-ed in today’s SMH, castigating governments who are evidence-based in name only (shall we call them ENO administrations?).

A snippet:

You would never be able to market a pharmaceutical drug in Australia without rigorous evaluation by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. But state and territory governments routinely spend large sums of taxpayers’ money trying to reduce crime and re-offending without subjecting the measures to any evaluation. Where evaluations are undertaken, the results are often ignored.

The promise to appoint additional police and impose tougher penalties on crime are staples at nearly every election; yet no Australian state or territory government has ever promised to evaluate and publicly report on the effects of additional police and tougher penalties.

And it isn’t just those old staples that escape critical scrutiny. The list of policies shown by my office to have no effect on re-offending in NSW includes high fines for drink drivers, supervision of offenders on good behaviour bonds, detention for juvenile offenders, the forum sentencing program (a restorative justice program for young adult offenders) and the circle sentencing program (under which Aboriginal offenders are brought before community elders for sanctioning).

Despite the negative results, all these policies remain in place. Meanwhile, programs that have been known for years to be effective, such as the NSW Drug Court Program, are only now being expanded.

Relatedly:

Voice Article on Randomised Policy Trials

With the ALP National Conference in full force this weekend, I’m pretty sure that I’m the only person with an article both in the journals of the left (Challenge) and the right (Voice).

The Voice piece is just a few hundred words, and it’s below.

Policy Ideas for Labor – Randomised Policy Trials
Voice, Summer 2011

In politics, there are few hotter potatoes than drug laws. So when the NSW Labor Government in 1999 was faced with a suggestion that it deal with drug offenders through a ‘Drug Court’, there were plenty of vocal opponents. To deal with the challenge, the government did something that was both smart policy and clever politics: it set up a randomised trial.

Continue reading ‘Voice Article on Randomised Policy Trials’ »

Reducing Crime and Incarceration

I moved a private members’ motion in the House today on reducing crime and incarceration rates. The motion and my speech are below.

Continue reading ‘Reducing Crime and Incarceration’ »

What I’m Reading

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

Australia’s First Early Childhood Randomised Trial

I spoke in parliament today about Australia’s first randomised trial of an early childhood program.

Continue reading ‘Australia’s First Early Childhood Randomised Trial’ »

Adapt

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’ »

Facts of the Day

on average in each working hour around 1,550 people move from being jobless to being employed, and about 1,530 people leave employment and become jobless

At the same time in any given period very large numbers of people move into different jobs, and from full to part-time work (and vice-versa), without actually changing employment status. This means that the extent of changes in the labour market must be much greater than even that suggested by these simple gross flows data.

(From Bruce Chapman and Kiatanantha Lounkaew, How many jobs is 23,510, really? Recasting the mining job loss debate.)

I AM a huge fan of randomised trials. Last year at Google the search team ran about 6,000 experiments and implemented around 500 improvements based on those experiments. The ad side of the business had about the same number of experiments and changes. Any time you use Google you are in many treatment and control groups.

(From Hal Varian, discussing randomised policy trials)

Fragile States and Agile Aid

I spoke at the Lowy Institute today, suggesting a few ideas for improving Australia’s aid program.

Fragile States and Agile Aid: Some Ideas for the Future of Australia’s Development Assistance Program

Andrew Leigh
Federal Member for Fraser

Lowy Institute
18 May 2011

I acknowledge the traditional Indigenous owners of the lands on which we meet today.

Aid Works

Dai Manju lived in a small village in central China. Because her parents were ill and couldn’t afford the cost of sending her to school, she dropped out. When journalist Nicholas Kristof visited in 1990, she was hanging around the school hoping to pick up bits of knowledge.[1]

After publishing a front page article about Dai in the New York Times, Kristof was chuffed to receive a donation of $10,000 from a reader. He promptly sent it on the school, which spent it on improving facilities, and provided Dai with a scholarship to stay in education so long as she passed exams. After a good amount of the money had been sent, Kristof phoned the donor to thank him for the generous gift. It was only then he realised that the man had in fact only sent $100, and the slip of a bank teller’s fingers had multiplied it one-hundredfold. Informed of their error, the bank agreed to provide the difference as a donation.

Continue reading ‘Fragile States and Agile Aid’ »

Randomised Trials Motion

I moved a motion today on randomised trials:

DR LEIGH: To move—That this house:

(1) reaffirms this Government’s commitment to evidence-based policy making;

(2) notes that:

(a) the Productivity Commission has highlighted the importance of rigorous evaluation in assessing the impact of social, educational, employment and economic programs; and

(b) randomised policy trials are increasingly being used as an evaluation tool in developed and developing nations; and

(3) supports measures to increase the quality of evaluations, and calls on the Government to consider whether randomised policy trials may be implemented to evaluate future Government policies.

Here’s what I had to say:

Evidence-Based Policy – Private Members’ Motion
28 February 2011

No government has been more committed to evidence-based policy than ours. In areas from water reform to climate change, from foreign aid to schools reform, activity-based health funding to fiscal stimulus, Labor has drawn on the best knowledge of experts in the field. What drives those of us on this side of the House is not a love of particular programs, but a hope that our time in public life will help leave Australia more prosperous and more tolerant, with a cleaner environment and jobs for the future.

To achieve these goals, we need to keep finding better ways to evaluate our policies. As a former economics professor, I can assure the house that this is particularly hard in the case of social policies. Unlike scientific experiments, evaluations of social policies are particularly tricky. We don’t always get the right answer from simple before/after evaluations, nor from comparisons of those who opted in with those who opted out.

Continue reading ‘Randomised Trials Motion’ »

Randomistas

When I gave my maiden speech to parliament last year, I promised to speak more about randomised policy trials, which I’ve managed to do on a couple of occasions.

But just to make sure that people don’t think I’ve dropped the randomista ball, I’ve moved a private members’ motion, which the House of Representatives will be debating on Monday.

DR LEIGH: To move—That this house:

(1) reaffirms this Government’s commitment to evidence-based policy making;

(2) notes that:

(a) the Productivity Commission has highlighted the importance of rigorous evaluation in assessing the impact of social, educational, employment and economic programs; and

(b) randomised policy trials are increasingly being used as an evaluation tool in developed and developing nations; and

(3) supports measures to increase the quality of evaluations, and calls on the Government to consider whether randomised policy trials may be implemented to evaluate future Government policies.

Mile-High Economists

Early Childhood Intervention

I spoke in Parliament yesterday about early childhood intervention (my first chance to fulfill the promise I made in my maiden speech to mention randomised policy trials on a regular basis!).

Continue reading ‘Early Childhood Intervention’ »