Archive for April 2011
I hosted* an event today in Parliament House for the release of a new ANU poll, which looks at the relationship between internet use and civil society. It’s an issue that I wrote about in my book Disconnected, and I’ve long had a concern that internet use might be crowding out community engagement.
It’s always risky to draw causation from simple correlations, but the results of the poll do seem to point towards a dampening effect. As you can see from the table below, frequent internet users are 13 percentage points less likely than rare internet users to be active in voluntary organisations. Frequent internet users are also 6 percentage points less likely to be active in politics, 8 percentage points less likely to serve on a jury if called, and 13 percentage points less likely to always obey laws and regulations.
That said, I don’t think it automatically follows that better broadband will reduce civic engagement. As we’ve seen over the past decade, shifts in technology (eg. from dialup to broadband) fundamentally change the way we use the Internet. My hope is that applications such as high-definition video-conferencing will actually be complementary with stronger community life. And there are existing applications – from Meetup.com to online mental health support groups to Facebook places – which take advantage of the best of the net to build social capital.
* Meaning that I booked the room and popped along to discuss the results.
At my community forum in Belconnen today, I kicked off with a speech about the importance of community life, what’s happened to civic activity in Australia over recent decades, and what we might do to improve Australia’s social capital.
I spoke in the last parliamentary sittings about the extraordinary contribution that neuroscientist and former ANU Vice-Chancellor Ian Chubb has made to higher education, so I was most chuffed to go along this morning to an event at which Senator Kim Carr announced that Professor Chubb would be the government’s Chief Scientist. I’m sure he’ll be a thundering voice for reason and science… in a policy environment where those values aren’t universally accepted.
An update of my coming mobile offices and community forums.
Mobile offices are a good chance to say g’day, or raise any local and national issues.
- Sun 22 May: Belconnen Trash and Treasure, Jamison shops
- Sat 4 June: Dickson Woollies 10.30 to 11.15am and then Gungahlin Marketplace 11.30am to 12.30pm.
In most of my community meetings, I’ll kick off by delivering a speech on an issue of public interest. You’re welcome to come to just the speech, just the community forum, or both.
The forums will be scheduled at different times of the day, and in different parts of the electorate. I hope as many residents as possible can come along.
- Wed 20 April – Belconnen Labor Club
1.30 to 2.00 pm: Speech on ‘Better Together: Ten Ways to Revitalise Community’
2.00 to 3.30 pm: Community Forum
- Mon 2 May – Jamison Southern Cross Club
6.30-8pm: Community forum on the Australian Government’s proposals for reducing carbon pollution and moving to a cleaner economy (no speech)
- Wed 18 May – Ginninderra Labor Club
6.30 to 7.00 pm: Speech on ‘The Pro-Growth Progressive: How Economic Reform Can Make Us Happier’
7.00 to 8.30 pm: Community Forum
- Sat 2 July – Downer Community Hall
10.00 to 10.30 am: Speech on ‘The Challenge of Climate Change’
10.30 am to 12.00 pm: Community Forum
The speech at my Gungahlin community forum in March was ‘Revenge of the Nerds: Improving Australia’s Education System’. You can read the speech here.
Treasurer Wayne Swan recently put out a thoughtful Fabian paper about Keynesianism and Australia. Swan then flew to the US, where he gave a speech launching a paper by his former Chief of Staff Chris Barrett. Chris discusses the economics and politics of fiscal stimulus in Australia in 2008-09. My favourite two graphs from Chris’s paper:
If I have one quibble with the paper, it’s that it passes too quickly over the standard problems of time series analysis (what’s the counterfactual growth path? which approach do you use to deal with seasonality?), and underplays the ability to learn about the through microdata – either via studies that exploit random or quasi-random timing of spending, or those that ask households whether they spent or saved the money. Here’s an op-ed and an Australian paper with more details. And this is my favourite US paper combining both micro approaches. Fortunately, the micro approach backs up Chris’s finding from macrodata: fiscal stimulus was a very good deal for the Australian taxpayer.
Each year, Treasury hold an annual comedy debate. I’m delighted when I was told that this year, the topic would pick up on my ‘Canberra is the Best City in Australia’ speech. The debate will be held at lunchtime on 21 April. May the
best team affirmative team win.
Mornings with Stan Thomson, ABC South East SA, 13 April 2011. Topic – thinking outside the 12-25 age group when addressing the challenges in mental health.
STAN THOMSON: The quest for a workable mental health solution may be a mirage unless we stop breaking it down into politically-digestible bites and start looking at the problem as just one problem. Some of the thoughts of our next guest. And, again, we would like your comments on that. 87241000 is the number.
Last Sunday, I laid a wreath on behalf of the Prime Minister at the Rats of Tobruk memorial on Anzac Parade, at a service marking the 70th anniversary of the siege.
Seated next to me is Peter Collins, who was a morse code signaller in Tobruk. He was one of the youngest soldiers there, and is now 90 year old.
I blogged in early-April about Tony Abbott’s ‘work for the headline’ policy, pointing out that the only study done on the efficacy of Work for the Dole – commissioned by the Howard Government – found that it reduced the prospects of jobseekers moving off welfare.
Now Jeff Borland, the author of that study, has written a piece for The Conversation about his findings, and the implications they have for Mr Abbott’s proposals. Key quotes:
Tony Abbott’s recently unveiled welfare reform package advocating a range of tough policies to push people into work has been described by Prime Minister Julia Gillard as ‘reheated’.
You might expect that part of reheating would involve throwing out those parts of the menu that hadn’t worked.
In this case that doesn’t seem to have happened. The proposed Coalition approach for improving outcomes for the unemployed reinstates the Work for the Dole program to centre stage.
Yet the only independent research study undertaken of this program found that – far from improving outcomes for the unemployed – Work for the Dole caused participants to spend longer amounts of time on welfare payments. …
My former ANU colleague Chikako Yamauchi draws my attention to a worthy fund for young people affected by the recent Japanese earthquakes.
My name is Chikako Yamauchi. I am an adjunct professor at ANU and an assistant professor in Economics at Graduate Institute of Policy Studies (GRIPS). I am now located in Tokyo, and experienced the earthquake on the 11th of March. I was not severely affected, but as you may already know, many people in the northern region lost loved ones, livelihoods and assets. Among those affected are youth who would attend universities and vocational schools if the disaster had not happened.
In order to financially assist those young individuals to pursue higher education, my colleague at GRIPS has founded Scholarship Fund for the Youth in Areas Affected by the Tohoku-Kanto Earthquake in Japan. If you are interested in helping her, please take a look at the following:
Thank you very much for your consideration.
I posted a link last month to the Late Night Live program that Phillip Adams did with Rod Cavalier, John Faulkner, Dierdre Grusovin and myself.
ABC TV’s Big Ideas now also have a video up on their website, and will be showing a one-hour version of the program on ABC News 24 this Saturday 16 April at 1pm.
My AFR column today is on mental health, arguing that while there are some good youth programs, we shouldn’t ignore the potential for mental health interventions before age 12 and after age 25.
My friend and coauthor Joshua Gans has an article in the Drum about the benefits of pricing carbon over the Opposition’s grab-bag of mandates and subsidies. He concludes:
The point is that this game could go on and on with very little impact and possibly negative impact on total emissions. And there is example after example of this. Think of the taxes required to employ all the inspectors and personnel to ensure that regulations are doing what you wanted without unintended consequences. Sure, it can be done but you will need a government that would make Lenin blush to make it happen.
Contrast that with a carbon price – by tax or trade. That requires none of this because it hits directly on the problem: emissions create external costs so we need everyone to build that cost into their decision-making. The problem is, as right-wing economist Frederick Hayek pointed out, that no-one has the information required to plan out what individuals might do themselves. By placing the decisions of environmental management in the hands of the people, you can let things work themselves out in a way the heavy-handed Government involvement cannot.
It is ironic that on climate change policy, politics are in the bizarro-world where the supposedly anti-market Greens side with Hayek while the supposedly pro-market Coalition sides with Lenin. The economic evidence strongly suggests that the Greens policies match their goals while the reverse is true for the Coalition. I can’t parse the dual hypotheses that either the Coalition just deny economic evidence or that they actually want more emissions and handouts to business. Perhaps one of their number can enlighten us.
I’ve recently purchased an ‘Andrew Leigh – Supporting Our Community’ marquee for use in community functions. If your local group would like to borrow it for a sporting carnival, school fete, carnival or community barbecue, we’re happy to loan it out without charge. You’ll need a station wagon or van to carry it. Setup is quite straightforward, and only needs two people. You can take it with the back wall, or without.
Some photos of the marquee are below. It’s a strong one, and a good way of giving yourself some insurance against too much sun or rain on the day. Just call the office on 6247 4396 if you’d like to borrow it.
I had the pleasure of introducing Robert Putnam at an ANU public lecture yesterday. Remarks below.
As my engineering friends might say of politics, the negative feedback loop works better than the positive feedback loop. So I was chuffed to receive an email from Melbournian Belinda Pearson, who’d followed up on one of the suggestions in the final chapter of Disconnected.
Having heard you talk about street parties (‘By Design’ I think?) and talked to older residents in our small Melbourne street about ’once-upon-a-time street parties’, we decided to go with it – simple, no alternatives for rain, no suggestions or prescriptions about morning tea. To our delight about 60 people wandered up and mingled. What a feeling to know that most of the people in our street want to know others in the street.
A few links that have caught my fancy over recent weeks.
- Should academics join the government? (and Cicero’s acerbic comment on those who refuse)
- UK Fabians on boosting party activism
- Saul Eslake on negative gearing (and homeowner grants)
- A new suburban trends app
- Ambassador Bleich on Wikileaks (a speech that took a suspiciously long time to get posted on his website!)
- Probabilities of alien life
- Using wellbeing data to estimate the subjective cost of unemployment
- What teaching techniques work best in the classroom?
- A special journal issue on teacher performance pay
- New ideas on foreign aid financing
- Do free school lunches change eating habits?
- NZ work on the economics of migration – a summary
So Tony Abbott wants to expand Work for the Dole. I wonder whether he might want to pick up a report commissioned by the Howard government, which concluded that the program reduced the chances of jobseekers finding employment?
Jeff Borland & Yi-Ping TsengThis study examines the effect of a community-based work experience program - Work for the Dole (WfD) – on transitions out of unemployment in Australia. To evaluate the WfD program a quasi-experimental exact matching approach is applied. Justification for the matching approach is a ‘natural experiment’ – limits on WfD project funding – that it is argued constituted a source of random assignment to the program. Participation in the WfD program is found to be associated with a large and significant adverse effect on the likelihood of exiting unemployment payments. The main potential explanation is existence of a ‘lock-in’ effect whereby program participants reduce job search activity.
Then again, maybe Mr Abbott is more interested in policies that sound good than those which actually deliver results. That certainly seemed to be the approach of former Minister Mal Brough, who clearly felt that the test of a good policy was whether you could find a talkback listener who liked it.
Questions without Notice, 27 May 2004
Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (3:09 PM) —Is the minister aware that Work for the Dole participants are painting murals, making candles and putting on puppet shows? Is the minister also aware of the Borland and Tseng report commissioned by the government, which concluded the Work for the Dole program’s `effect on exit from unemployment payments becomes progressively more negative’? When will the government get serious about preparing the unemployed for real jobs by adopting policies like Labor’s Youth Guarantee: Learn or Earn policy? Why did the minister yesterday announce more `play for the dole’ projects, including kite making?
Mr BROUGH (Longman) (Minister for Employment Services and Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence) —This is not an unexpected attack from the member for Grayndler. He is a member who just cannot say anything positive, does not understand or appreciate the positive nature of Work for the Dole—what it does for individual self-esteem and employability and what it does for the community. I invite the member for Grayndler to actually sit down with some of these purposeful individuals, who are trying to do something for themselves and their community and build a better self-esteem and a better opportunity for themselves. That is what Work for the Dole does.
I am very well aware of the report in today’s Melbourne press, which went on to be on 3AW today. And it was interesting, because a number of personnel that are participating in those particular programs rang the program. I have got some of them here. One was a 58-year-old. As a 58-year-old she, or this person, volunteered. Now she or `Dale’—I don’t know whether Dale is male or female; I did not actually hear, I am just reading from the Media Monitors report—says: `I am 58 and I don’t have many qualifications.’ She, oh it is she, says she is unemployable and is defending Work for the Dole. This is the person that we are here to help—a 58-year-old, mature worker who wants a hand. We make no apologies for helping these people and for what they are doing.