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Archive for December 2011

Sky AM Agenda – 19 December

In a relatively short Sky AM Agenda discussion with Mitch Fifield, we discussed the latest asylum-seeker tragedy and the consular assistance being provided to Julian Assange (I also drew on Michael Fullilove’s comparison between News of the World and Wikileaks).

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.

Vale Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens – one of the world’s great public intellectuals – is dead at 62. He knew oesophageal cancer would soon take him, and has thus been in what he called his year of ‘living dyingly’.

Early obituaries at the New York Times, Slate and Vanity Fair.

Sky AM Agenda with George Brandis – 13 Dec 2011

On Sky AM Agenda, I tangled with Liberal Senator George Brandis on a variety of topics, including the recent ministerial reshuffle, climate change, the government’s big economic reform agenda (and the Coalition’s huge funding shortfall), and Tony Abbott’s decision to deny a conscience vote to Liberal MPs who support same-sex marriage.

Grattan Institute Talk on Merit Pay

On 14 Nov, I spoke at the Grattan Institute about my review paper on teacher merit pay. They’ve now posted a video, podcast and transcript of the event on their website, so you can enjoy the event using virtually any combination of your eyes and ears.

Top Incomes – Updated

In 2007, I published a paper with Tony Atkinson that looked at how the income share of top groups (eg. the richest 1%) had changed over time. The analysis is based on crunching tax data, national accounts figures, and population statistics.

We’ve now updated the analysis with the latest taxation data, which covers the year 2008-09. Unsurprisingly, it shows a slight downtick for that year, which is mostly due to a fall in the non-salary incomes of the rich.

For anyone researching or writing about inequality, the full spreadsheet is available at this link. There is also a writeup by Markus Mannheim in the Canberra Times, and you can podcast my chat today on ABC Radio National’s Life Matters with the splendid Richard Aedy.

Looking for Young Progressive Writers

The Australian Fabian Society is running its ‘Young Writers Competition’, asking 18-30 year olds to discuss the big policy issues facing progressive politics. More details here. Entries close 30 April 2012.

Opening of UC Mobile Health Clinic

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of opening a Mobile Health Clinic at the University of Canberra. It’s a purpose-built trailer that will travel around the South Coast of New South Wales, staffed by allied health students from the University of Canberra undertaking clinical placements. Continue reading ‘Opening of UC Mobile Health Clinic’ »

Measuring Wellbeing

I have a column today in the SMH on the new Lateral Economics/Herald Wellbeing Index.

Putting a figure on inequality adds to strength of statistical spotlight, Sydney Morning Herald, 9 December 2011

New numbers are to the press as shiny bottle caps are to magpies. Statistics have the power to shape a debate or provide oxygen to an issue. From a major bank’s survey of consumer confidence to a political party’s targeted release of ”internal polling”, numbers are often used to bring publicity to a company or a cause. When even condom manufacturers use surveys to get publicity, you know what the new maxim must be: statistics sell.

With the Herald/Lateral Economics Wellbeing Index, Fairfax has shone a statistical spotlight onto the issue of wellbeing. This is good. As all economics students learn on their first day of class, economics is about maximising utility, not money.

Continue reading ‘Measuring Wellbeing’ »

Appearance on Sky News ‘Showdown’ program

Peter van Onselen hosted me on his ‘Showdown’ program on Sky News earlier this week. We talked about the Government’s plan to return to surplus, as well as other issues as diverse as the ALP National Conference and gay marriage.

Now Hear This – Friendship

In a somewhat unusual departure from my day job, I joined seven terrifying talented Canberrans last night to tell a story onstage as part of the ABC 666 ‘Now Hear This’ event. The theme for the night was ‘friendship’. I’ll post a link to the video when it becomes available, but for now, you’ll have to make do with the photos (individual, group), and my storytelling bio (over the fold).

Continue reading ‘Now Hear This – Friendship’ »

Turning the Silly Season into the Social Season

My column for the local Chronicle newspaper is below.

The Social Season Begins
The Chronicle, December 2011

Whether it’s the proliferation of bare knees, the tinsel on the supermarket shelves, or the warm winds that assail our allergies, there’s no mistaking that the silly season is upon us. Some have just celebrated Diwali, others are about to celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas or Chinese New Year. For others, this time of year is less about religion, and more about simply appreciating time with family and friends.

Continue reading ‘Turning the Silly Season into the Social Season’ »

Visit to Pegasus Farm with Jenny Macklin

I visited Pegasus Farm today, a riding school for the disabled located in Holt in my electorate, with Jenny Macklin MP, Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. We spoke with children, parents, teachers, disability service providers and volunteers about the opportunities available under the Gillard Government’s plan for a National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Pegasus Riding for the Disabled of the ACT is a not-for-profit community organisation that provides equestrian activities for people with a disability. Pegasus’s sporting, recreational and therapeutic programs provide physical, social and educational benefits for people with a disability.

Continue reading ‘Visit to Pegasus Farm with Jenny Macklin’ »

Minister Bourke is Hiring

My friend Chris Bourke has four new ministries, and is hiring three new staff to assist him. Details below.

(And while I’m on the topic of jobs, I’ve been contacted recently by two constituents – a French-trained industrial designer, and an Irish-trained accountant – who are looking for work in the ACT. Email me – – if you’d like their CVs.)

Continue reading ‘Minister Bourke is Hiring’ »

ACT National Volunteering Awards

I had the pleasure this morning of being part of the ACT Volunteering Awards (where I spoke about Canberra’s high volunteering rate, and the late Herb Feith).

Continue reading ‘ACT National Volunteering Awards’ »

ALP National Conference – Day 3

ALP National Conference – Day 2

ALP National Conference – Day 1

Challenge Article on the Australia of 2032

I’ve written an article for the journal Challenge about the Australia of 2032. Full text over the fold.

Party Like It’s 2032
Challenge, Summer 2011-12

Physicist Niels Bohr once said that prediction is very difficult, especially about the future. In writing about the Australia of 2032, I can feel around me the ghosts of economist Irving Fisher (in 1929: ‘Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.’), IBM chair Thomas Watson (in 1943: ‘I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.’), and Variety magazine (in 1955: ‘[Rock and roll] will be gone by June.’). Talk show pundits and crystal ball gazers will always be popular, but we should take any predictions with a handful of salt. Technological change moves in unexpected ways. Similarly, as Harold Macmillan famously noted, the biggest challenge for any political leader is ‘Events, my dear boy, events’.

Continue reading ‘Challenge Article on the Australia of 2032’ »

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’ »