My Australian Financial Review opinion piece today is on ageing (remembering, as usual, that authors don't choose their headlines).Add your reaction Share
Coping with the grey masses, Australian Financial Review, 15 February 2011
How long do you expect to live? If you immediately thought about the official life expectancy figures (79 for men, 84 for women), you’re probably underestimating. Not only have you made it past the two risky periods of infancy and (I’m guessing) young adulthood. You also stand to benefit from medical advances in the future.
If there’s one thing you can expect about life expectancy, it’s that it will continue to rise. In the first half of the twentieth century, lifespans rose mainly due to improvements in the lives of the young. But since World War II, rising life expectancy has been driven mostly by improvements in the lives of older Australians.
If you plot the increase in Australian life expectancy over the past century, it is almost perfectly linear, right up to the present day. Even since 1990, life expectancy at birth has risen by 3 years for men, and 2 years for women. It’s possible that risk factors such as obesity will knock us off track, but if not, then current trends predict that life expectancy by 2050 will be 85 for men and 88 for women.
In Long for This World: The Strange Science of Immortality, Jonathan Weiner asks whether these trends will abate or accelerate. The pessimistic view is that gerontology is unlikely to ever solve some of the fundamental problems that cause ageing: cross-links that weaken our skin and damage our arteries, mutations that occur in our mitochondria, and ‘junk’ that builds up between nerve cells in the brain. An alternative view – proposed by advocates such as the eccentric Aubrey de Grey – is that these are solvable problems, and that death is just another preventable disease. (In the meantime, there’s reasonable evidence suggesting that extreme calorie restriction will give you a few extra years.)
But you don’t have to believe in immortality to recognise that population ageing is likely to have a significant impact on Australian society. In the labour market, we are likely to see a growing gap between ‘knowledge’ workers whose productivity steadily increases over time – and manual workers whose output depends on stamina and agility. Public debate tends to focus on the gap between the earnings of these two groups at a point in time, but it may be just as important to consider the disparity in career lengths. One of the reasons that the Gillard Government has been so keen to invest in trades training is to ensure that today’s tradespeople are able to enjoy careers that are both long and productive.
In the political arena, rising lifespans could have an impact on several debates. Because victims are typically older than criminals, an ageing society may have less sympathy for offenders. Because those who pay for education are generally older than those who receive it, demands for pay-as-you-go education schemes might grow over time. And because migrants tend to be relatively young, an ongoing skilled migration program will play a valuable role in replenishing the Australian labour market.
In the health sphere, expenditures are strongly skewed towards older Australians. So with health spending projected to take an increasing share of our incomes over coming years, it is critical to get proper incentives in place. (Alas, reportage of this weekend’s COAG health deal focused too much on power-plays and not enough on fundamental reforms such as the shift to activity-based funding of hospitals.)
Lastly, work on the economics of information is increasingly recognising the importance of presenting statistics and choices in the most straightforward manner possible. Underlying the federal government’s new MySchool, MyChild and MyHospitals websites is a desire to present Australians with the information they need, but without overwhelming detail. Transparency works best when information is also presented as simply as possible.
This is particularly challenging in the case of superannuation, given that we know financial literacy tends to peak when people are in their early-50s. One of the aims of the MySuper reforms is to ensure that you don’t need a PhD in finance (or the money to hire one) in order to maximise your superannuation returns.
In 1971, there were only about 200 centenarians in Australia. Now, there are nearly 4000. Though I still get a thrill from signing congratulatory letters to people celebrating their 100th birthday, it is becoming an increasingly common milestone. Longevity is a hallmark of success for our public health system, and represents a boost to wellbeing perhaps as important as economic growth. But we shouldn’t ignore the challenges – and opportunities – for policymaking in the future.
Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser.
Justin Wolfers draws my attention to an intriguing new idea afoot in the US and UK.Add your reaction Share
Lately, both American and British policy makers have been thinking about how to bring some of the competitive discipline of the market to government programs, and they have hit on an intriguing idea.
David Cameron’s Conservative government in Britain is already testing it, at a prison 75 miles north of London. The Bloomberg administration in New York is also considering the idea, as is the State of Massachusetts. Perhaps most notably, President Obama next week will propose setting aside $100 million for seven such pilot programs, according to an administration official.
The idea goes by one of two names: pay for success bonds or social impact bonds. Either way, nonprofit groups like foundations pay the initial money for a new program and also oversee it, with government approval. The government will reimburse them several years later, possibly with a bonus — but only if agreed-upon benchmarks show that the program is working.
If it falls short, taxpayers owe nothing.
The first British test is happening at Her Majesty’s Prison Peterborough, where 60 percent of the prisoners are convicted of another crime within one year of release. Depressingly enough, that recidivism rate is typical for a British prison.
To reduce the rate, a nonprofit group named Social Finance is playing a role akin to venture capitalist. It has raised about $8 million from investors, including the Rockefeller Foundation. Social Finance also oversees three social service groups helping former prisoners find work, stay healthy and the like. If any of those groups starts to miss its performance goals, it can be replaced.
For the investors to get their money back starting in 2014 — with interest — the recidivism rate must fall at least 7.5 percent, relative to a control group. If the rate falls 10 percent, the investors will receive the sort of return that the stock market historically delivers. “It’s been only a few months,” says Tracy Palandjian, who recently opened a new Social Finance office in Boston, “but the numbers are coming in O.K.” ...
The Obama administration’s seven pilot programs would create bonds for, among other areas, job training, education, juvenile justice and care of children’s disabilities. Nonprofit groups like Social Finance could apply. So could for-profit companies
- On the mayoral campaign trail with Rahm Emmanuel
- Clean coal, dirty future (thanks to John & Kathy Bonnett for the tip)
- The Progressive Strategy Handbook
- David Gruen on what China and India's rise means for Australian skills
- Explaining the worldwide boom in higher education of women (paywalled, sorry)
I copped some gentle flack yesterday for asking the RBA Governor about the Beveridge Curve. Here's an illustration of the data that concerned me (thanks to Scott Kompo-Harms at the Parliamentary Library for compiling it).Add your reaction Share
A brief speech in Parliament on youth engagement.Add your reaction Share
Australian Youth Forum, 10 February 2011
I was pleased today to attend the launch of the Youth Forum’s Youth Engagement Steering Committee, which is going to advise the Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth, Mr Peter Garrett, about a range of important issues in education. I was delighted to have the opportunity at that event to meet Ms Tahlia Azaria, a successful member of the AYF steering committee in 2010, who will lead the steering committee in 2011 as chair.
I would like to pay particular tribute to two members of that youth steering committee from my electorate, Anthony Antioch and Mitchell Wall, two very impressive young men who I am sure will bring to bear a youth perspective on some of the critical issues that young Australians feel it is important to speak about.
I think young Australians often feel too shut out of our political process, that they do not have enough opportunities to have their voices heard in the corridors of power. The Youth Engagement Steering Committee is a way of addressing that, of bringing a breath of fresh air into our political process and ensuring that young Australians have a voice at the highest level of power.
A new national program provides leadership skills for people with a disability. I hope that local Canberra groups will apply.Add your reaction Share
Media Release - Helping leaders for tomorrow
Andrew Leigh, Federal Member for Fraser, is encouraging organisations in Canberra to help boost leadership skills of people with a disability.
Leaders for Tomorrow is a new national program designed to help people with disability become leaders in business, the community and government through mentoring and leadership development.
“This is one part of the Gillard Government’s $11 million package to support people with a disability and carers in our community,” said Andrew Leigh.
“The Leaders for Tomorrow package allows local organisations to help people with a disability partner up with mentors.
“It’s about overcoming barriers to education and work and skilling up the leaders of tomorrow.
“I hope many organisations in Canberra take up this opportunity.
“The successful applicants will develop individual leadership development plans for all participants in the Leaders for Tomorrow program. This may include goal setting, team building, governance, communication, implementing change and problem-solving.
“I congratulate Senator Jan McLucas, the Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers, and the Gillard Government in helping people with a disability,” concluded Andrew Leigh.
The program is expected to provide about 200 people with disability with up to 12 months intensive leadership support, including a mentorship program where people work with mentors in their field of interest.
The accessibility package is being delivered under the National Disability Strategy and also includes the $5 million Accessible Communities Program, which is currently open to local governments to make their communities more accessible for people with disability through minor infrastructure upgrades.
Eligibility criteria and application forms for the Leaders for Tomorrow are available at www.fahcsia.gov.au, by calling 1800 668 689 or sending an email to [email protected]
Applications close on 11 March 2011.