Zombie Economics

I'm hosting an event tomorrow to discuss the ideas in John Quiggin's new book, Zombie Economics. Details below.
Event:          DISCUSSION ABOUT ECONOMICS WITH PROFESSOR JOHN QUIGGIN
Date:             FRIDAY 15 OCTOBER
Time:            1.00 PM
Venue:         Parliament House, Committee Room 1R3
Topic:           Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still Walk among Us 

In his new book, Zombie Economics, John Quiggin argues that the recent financial crisis should have killed certain ideas, but they live on in the minds of many. Among the ideas that he critiques are the idea that deregulation had conquered the financial cycle, that markets were always the best judge of value, and that policies designed to benefit the rich made everyone better off.

Professor Quiggin will speak briefly about the ideas in his book, and will then take questions.

The discussion will be introduced and hosted by Andrew Leigh MP.  
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Ride to Work Day

This morning, I joined five Pedal Power activists, who were waiting for me at 6.45am at the Hackett shops, to cycle into work for their annual 'Ride to Work' day. A very pleasant way to start the day. And fortunately, the gentle drizzle didn't turn into torrential rain until the very end.
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Social Capital is Good Economics, too

My opinion piece in today's Australian Financial Review discussed how social capital can not only be good for our society, but also for our economy.


Connections Add Value, Australian Financial Review, 12 October 2010

Once a year, Roy Morgan runs a pollsters’ beauty pageant, asking respondents to rate the ethics and honesty of various professions. This year, just 16 percent gave business executives a rating of ‘high’ or ‘very high’. This places CEOs on par with federal MPs, and only a smidgin above the lowest-ranked professions such as car salesman, real estate agents and journalists.

Declining trust in business leaders since the 1970s is part of a general collapse in social capital in Australia over recent decades. In a new book, Disconnected, I crunch data from membership records and surveys and find troubling patterns across the nation. Organisational membership is down. We are less likely to attend church. Political parties and unions are bleeding members. Sporting participation and cultural attendance is down. We have fewer friends and are less connected with our neighbours. Just as Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone mapped the collapse of social capital in the US, my own research finds similar patterns in Australia.

From a community perspective, the decline in social capital is troubling because it means that the network of friends and neighbours that sustains us through hard times is less resilient than in the past. But what is sometimes missed is that social capital matters for business too. If you trust your supplier, it is easier to strike a deal than if you need to spell out in the contract all the ways they might exploit you. In a joint venture, it is often impossible to spell out all the potential pitfalls, so a sense of shared purpose is essential to any good agreement.

Not only does trust helps grease the wheels of commerce – commercial relationships can help build trust. One of the first to recognise this was the brilliant Adam Smith, who wrote: ‘Whenever commerce is introduced into any country, probity and punctuality always accompany it. These virtues in a rude and barbarous society are almost unknown.’

Smith pointed out that when two people are repeatedly interacting with one another in a market, they are more likely to behave well towards one another. ‘When a person makes perhaps 20 contracts in a day, he cannot gain so much by endeavouring to impose on his neighbours, as the very appearance of a cheat would make him lose.’

In the modern economy, it is easy to see plenty of instances in which trust and commerce run together. A plumber who turns up on time and charges the quoted price is a guy you will likely hire again. The barista with a smile helps ensure that her customers will come back for their next day’s coffee. A boss who encourages workers to knock off early on quiet days is more likely to find employees willing to stay a little longer when times are busy.

Where one finds exceptions to Smith’s theory are in occupations where the transaction is a one-shot deal (think of buying a car or house, or hiring a removalist). So it is not surprising that unscrupulous behaviour is more common in those industries. But this is not the norm, as the typical business transacts again and again with the same set of customers, suppliers and workers.

For jobseekers, social connections are an invaluable connection to the world of work. As Stanford University sociologist Mark Granovetter famously wrote, what matters in getting a new position is having a large network of ‘weak ties’. When it comes to finding out about new openings, an acquaintance can be as helpful as your best friend. And because you have more acquaintances than close friends, the odds are that your perfect job will come through an acquaintance.

Yet while the evidence strongly suggests that social capital boosts economic development, trust and civic engagement are often regarded as peripheral to economic policy. The debate over social capital today recalls the economic argument of the 1960s, in which economists on opposite sides of the Atlantic disagreed about whether ‘human capital’ was a viable concept. In a generation’s time, I expect that social capital will be as uncontroversial to economic thinkers as human capital is today.

Which brings me back to those much-maligned CEOs. If trust really matters for economic performance, can it really be true that the best executives are unethical and dishonest? To test this, economists Ernst Fehr and John List ran a set of experiments with two groups: undergraduate students and CEOs. They found that CEOs were in fact much more trustworthy than students, perhaps because business leaders are more used to striking deals and sticking to them. Still, it may be some time before executives can confidently say, ‘Trust me – I’m a CEO’.

Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser. Disconnected is published by UNSW Press.
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Murray-Darling Basin - Canberra Info Session

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority released its 'Guide to the Proposed Basin Plan' last Friday (read it here). If you'd like to be part of the ACT region community information session, here are the details:

ACT Region community information session


11 NovemberVenue: Finkel Lecture Theatre, John Curtin School of Medical Research, ANU, Building 131, Garran Road, Canberra

Time : 9am-12pm

Details: We will be holding a three-hour community information session in the ACT region on 11 November.

Many venues are limited in size and we would appreciate RSVPs to 1800 230 067(free).

For public parking visit http://transport.anu.edu.au/index.php
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Liu Xiaobo

Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo has just received the Nobel peace prize. Here's an extract from the statement he gave the court at his 2009 trial, just before being sentenced to 11 years in jail.
Ask me what has been my most fortunate experience of the past two decades, and I'd say it was gaining the selfless love of my wife, Liu Xia. She cannot be present in the courtroom today, but I still want to tell you, my sweetheart, that I'm confident that your love for me will be as always. Over the years, in my non-free life, our love has contained bitterness imposed by the external environment, but is boundless in afterthought. I am sentenced to a visible prison; you are waiting in an invisible one.

Your love is sunlight that transcends prison walls and bars, stroking every inch of my skin, warming my every cell, letting me maintain my inner calm, magnanimous and bright, so that every minute in prison is full of meaning. But my love for you is full of guilt and regret, sometimes heavy enough to hobble my steps. I am a hard stone in the wilderness, putting up with the pummelling of raging storms, and too cold for anyone to dare touch. But my love is hard, sharp, and can penetrate any obstacles. Even if I am crushed into powder, I will embrace you with the ashes.

Given your love, my sweetheart, I would face my forthcoming trial calmly, with no regrets about my choice and looking forward to tomorrow. I look forward to my country being a land of free expression, where all citizens' speeches are treated the same; where different values, ideas, beliefs, political views . . . both compete with each other and coexist peacefully; where, majority and minority opinions will be given equal guarantees, in particular, political views different from those in power will be fully respected and protected; where all political views will be spread in the sunlight for the people to choose; [where] all citizens will be able to express their political views without fear, and will never be politically persecuted for voicing dissent.
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Disconnected @ The National Interest

On yesterday's ABC Radio National's 'The National Interest' program, I spoke with Damien Carrick about Disconnected, my new book on the decline in social capital in Australia (and how we can revive it).
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Authorised by Andrew Leigh MP, 8/1 Torrens St Braddon ACT 2612 - Comments Policy

1. Please aim to keep comments civil, concise and relevant. Comments that don't pass this test will be deleted. Repeat offenders will be banned entirely.

2. I would prefer that all commenters use their full real name, including surname. If you must use a pseudonym or just your first name, please note that rule #1 will be applied more strictly for anyone posting from behind the veil of anonymity.

3. Because of the number of calls on my time, I typically read all comments, but rarely get involved in the discussion directly. If you are a constituent in the Fraser electorate with a specific query, please feel free to contact my office at andrew.leigh.mp<@>aph.gov.au, or by telephone on 6247 4396.
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What I've been reading

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Wreckers vs builders

A video blog reflecting on the first week of federal parliament sittings since the election.
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More Dangerous Ideas

I spoke this morning with Genevieve Jacobs on ABC 666 about my Canberra-spruiking speech at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, and some of the reactions to it.
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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | Andrew.Leigh.MP@aph.gov.au