THE VALUE OF FREEING IDEAS, NOT JUST LOCKING THEM UP
The Economist, 8 November 2019
Back in the 1960s, Bob Kearns was an engineer working and lecturing in Detroit. Due to an unfortunate wedding night accident involving a champagne cork, he was legally blind in his left eye. When driving in a Michigan rainstorm, Kearns lamented the inability of his wipers to help him see better. In those days, windshield wipers had two settings—fast and slow—and they were always moving. Kearns’s notion was that it should be possible to have a slower setting, in which the wipers paused briefly between each wipe.
Motivated by his own experience, as well as a long-standing desire to work for a big car company like Ford, Kearns spent years working out a way to make wipers pause. His solution relied on electronics—an unusual and innovative thing in those days. He fitted the mechanism to his own Ford Galaxie with most of the contraption inside a black box and drove it down to Ford to show its engineers. They pored over the car and were impressed. Kearns was then given the details of tests he would need to perform to become a Ford supplier. Those took months of work that Kearns completed in his basement. Ford, however, passed on him being a supplier, though the firm did employ Kearns for a brief period. In the meantime, Kearns filed for a patent on his invention.Read more
THE SCIENCE OF SESAME STREET
New York Daily News, 8 November 2019
Oscar the Grouch gives children permission to feel sad. Big Bird questions everything. Mr. Snuffleupagus is the imaginary friend. Count von Count loves mathematics. Grover embodies self-confidence. Ernie delights in practical jokes. Bert has an utterly different personality to Ernie, but is his best friend nonetheless. Zoe proves that girls can be both dainty and strong. Kermit the Frog is always a gentleman.
Nov. 10 marks the 50th anniversary of the moment when “Sesame Street” first aired on television. But it’s not just a day for nostalgia; it’s also a time when we should recall what a remarkable venture the show is, and the extent to which it is grounded in careful science and hard data.
My new book with Joshua Gans is titled Innovation + Equality: How to Create a Future That Is More Star Trek Than Terminator. Published by MIT Press, with a foreword by Larry Summers, we make the case that pursuing innovation does not mean giving up on equality – precisely the opposite. In this book, we outline ways that society can become both more entrepreneurial and more egalitarian.
I'd love it if you could join the conversation at one of our three scheduled book launches. Click the links for details and to RSVP:
All launches will kick off at 6pm. Innovation + Equality is available on Amazon now. If you have a moment, please post a review - it really helps others find the book.
FRYDENBERG IS PLAYING A JAUNTY TUNE ON PICASSO'S VIOLIN
The Canberra Times, 30 October 2019
‘I found a Picasso and a Stradivarius in my attic’, goes the joke. ‘Alas, Stradivarius couldn’t paint, and Picasso made terrible violins’.
The Morrison Government has a similar problem. When it comes to economic growth, what matters to households are their living standards: how incomes are growing on a per-person basis. When it comes to carbon emissions, the big question is how Australia is impacting the planet. So it’s total emissions that count.
But that’s not what the Coalition has been spruiking. When discussing the economy, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg points to ‘28 years of uninterrupted economic growth’ as proof of the economy’s resilience. What he won’t admit is that on a per-person basis, Australia’s gross domestic product (the sum of the economy’s output) shrank over the past year. The nation has been through a ‘per-capita recession’.Read more
RUNNING OUT OF EXCUSES FOR HIGH INEQUALITY
The Hill, 28 October 2019
American views on inequality have profoundly shifted. In 1995, 30 percent believed that poverty is due to circumstances beyond individual control. Today, fully 55 percent of Americans take that view. Two decades ago, most Americans didn’t see a role for government in addressing inequality. Now, most do.
The traditional economic argument against addressing inequality is that it blunts the incentives for the wealthy to invest. But while cutting top tax rates might give the most affluent a larger share, the consequence can be that governments need to cut productivity-enhancing measures like infrastructure and education spending. As a result, growth slows. The wealthy end up with a bigger share of a smaller pie. They have more in relative terms, but less in absolute terms.Read more
PRIZED MINDS ARE HERE TO HELP — BY SHOWING THE WORLD WHAT DOESN’T
The Australian, 17 October 2019
‘If I can predict what you are going to think of pretty much any problem,’ argues MIT economics professor Esther Duflo, ‘it is likely that you will be wrong on stuff.’
This week, Duflo shared the economics Nobel Prize with MIT’s Abhijit Banerjee and Harvard’s Michael Kremer. They weren’t rewarded for devising a grand theory. In fact, their work has probably debunked more theories than it’s vindicated. Instead, the trio were honoured for bringing a new approach to development economics: randomised trials.
Just as advanced countries test new drugs by randomly assigning patients to treatment and control groups, the development randomistas evaluate anti-poverty programs by the toss of a coin. Heads, you get the program. Tails, you don’t. The beauty of this simple methodology is that it provides a rigorous test of whether a program works.Read more
A PAEAN TO PARLIAMENT
The Canberra Times, 15 October 2019
Every year, thousands of Australians come to visit Parliament House. They’re right to do so. The central building in our democracy isn’t just an architectural marvel, it’s an art-lover’s paradise. Parliament is where history is made. There’s something beautifully Australian about the fact that visitors can take the lift to the roof, and literally walk over the top of their politicians.
When those visitors picked up a copy of Tuesday’s Canberra Times, I suspect they would have raised an eyebrow or two at the opinion piece suggesting that the nation’s parliament was as a bubble within a bubble.
The smooth operation of Parliament House is a credit to its staff – the cleaners and clerks, baristas and building attendants, loading dock staff and servers – all of whom come together day after day to support democracy.Read more
TIME TO AXE THE COSY DEALS AND FIX THE LABOUR MARKET
The Sydney Morning Herald, 5 October 2019
When the Reserve Bank Governor is saying he’d like to see stronger wage growth, you know the problem has become dire. Over the past six years, real wages have grown at just 0.7 percent a year. In the six years before that – a period spanning the Global Financial Crisis – real wages grew at 1.8 percent annually. Among the likely culprits for the wages slowdown are poor productivity, declining union membership rates, wage theft scandals, penalty rate cuts, and public sector wage caps.
But another factor may also be to blame: constraints on job mobility. Standard economics tells us that wages increase when employees are in demand. If you have a dozen job offers, you’re likely to earn more than if you’re stuck with a single option. That’s part of the reason that people earn more in big cities, and less in one-company towns. Employees who switch firms tend to get a bigger pay bump than those who stay put.Read more
CANBERRA'S CANNABIS CRITICS NEED TO FIND BIGGER PROBLEMS TO WORRY ABOUT
This week, the ACT became the first jurisdiction in Australia to legalise small amounts of marijuana for personal use. The change is a modest one - Chief Minister Andrew Barr describes it as ‘evolution rather than revolution’. But you wouldn’t know it to listen to Scott Morrison and his Coalition colleagues, who have described the changes as ‘dangerous’, ‘madness’ and ‘unconscionable’. So let’s bust four myths about cannabis in Canberra.
Myth 1: Cannabis is currently criminalised in Canberra. Since 1992, people possessing small amounts of cannabis are not charged with a crime. Instead, they are issued with a ‘Simple Cannabis Offence Notice’, which typically involves a $100 fine. The same system applies in some other parts of Australia, including South Australia and the Northern Territory. The aim is to ensure that police can focus on violent crime, rather than having ACT law enforcement tied up prosecuting people caught in possession of a single joint.Read more
WHY AN UNEMPLOYMENT RATE OF FIVE PER CENT ISN'T GOOD ENOUGH ANYMORE
The Canberra Times, 10 September 2019
If you’ve ever been jobless, you know the truth: unemployment sucks. It’s not just the lack of money, but the hit to self-esteem. Being asked ‘what do you do?’ can be almost as dispiriting as the uncertainty of applying for job after job. Unemployment increases rates of depression, diabetes and even death.
Yet it has become commonplace to regard ‘full employment’ in Australia as an unemployment rate of 5 per cent, or even higher. That’s effectively saying that at any point in time, 700,000 of our fellow citizens will have to put up with joblessness.Read more