True tax package would tackle profit shifting on all fronts - Australian Financial Review

A true tax package would tackle profit shifting on all fronts, Australian Financial Review, Wednesday 27 May 

Imagine, for a moment, that Bill Shorten had fronted up to announce Labor's multinational tax package back in March, and told the assembled media it would add a grand total of $30 million to the budget bottom line. Imagine he'd said that he hoped this figure would turn into billions, but he didn't have enough confidence in the estimates to count on more than $30 million.

If Labor had presented a package of this kind, we would have been laughed off Capital Hill, and rightly so.

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Being Mortal

Conversations About Aged Care Should Always Evolve, The Chronicle, 7 April 2015

Harry Truman lived on Spirit Lake, at the foot of Mount Saint Helens in the northwest of the United States. A former World War I pilot and bootlegger, he was 83 years old when the volcano began to rumble. Authorities tried to get him to move out, but he was worried his lodge would be vandalised. ‘If this place is gonna go’, he said, ‘I want to go with it.’ On 18 May 1980, the volcano blast covered his home beneath a massive lava flow. 

In his book Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, Atul Gawande tells the story of how modern medicine struggles to get aged care right. Nursing homes often place too much emphasis on safety and not enough on quality of life. Most people want to end their lives at home, but many end up dying in hospital. Two-thirds of doctors overestimate how long patients with terminal diseases will survive.

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Sharing the benefits of the sharing economy - Policy Forum

The Asia & Pacific Policy Society has recently launched a new online magazine for exploring big policy challenges and ideas in Australia and around our region. In what I hope will be the first of many pieces for the site, I've explored international approaches to regulating the sharing economy, and the lessons we might learn here in Australia.

Sharing the benefits of the sharing economy, Policy Forum, 29 January

With nothing but a smartphone, I can order up an Uber car to whisk me to my next meeting or find a bargain bed for the night through AirBNB. If I lived in one of the major US cities, I could also tap on an app to hire a pair of skis for the weekend through Spinlister, find someone to assemble my flatpack furniture on TaskRabbit, leave my dog with a pet-lover for the weekend via DogVacay, or even get roaming WiFi from Fon.

Often gathered under the banner of the ‘sharing economy’, ‘collaborative consumption’ or the ‘peer to peer market’, these services are all about linking people who have surplus goods to those who can make use of them. They provide a means for us to make more efficient use of the world’s existing stock of bedrooms, cars, tools and other goods, and help cut down on the need to continually produce more.   

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Opening Harry Hartog Bookstore

Recently, I had the pleasure of being invited to open Harry Hartog bookstore in Woden. Here's my launch speech:

Opening of Harry Hartog Bookstore
Woden, Canberra, 24 October 2014

It is a delight to be at a book store opening in the era of book store closings.

I acknowledge that we are meeting on the traditional lands of the Ngunnawal people and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.

I’d like to thank Robert and David Berkelouw for inviting me, and James and Michelle for their hospitality – and for generously placing a few copies of my books at the front, so you can’t possibly get out of the store without tripping over them.

As Groucho Marx observed: outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend – and inside a dog it’s too dark to read anyway.

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Guilt trip - The Spectator

In the latest edition of The Spectator, I've reviewed Gordon Peake's Beloved Land: Stories, Struggles and Secrets from Timor-Leste. The book which paints a very different picture of the country than the one most Australians are familiar with; read on to find out how:

Guilt trip, The Spectator, 9 August 2014

If you had to pick one emotion to characterise Australia’s attitude towards East Timor, it would be guilt.

We are right to feel guilty about 1942, when Australian troops retreated from Timor, leaving many of the East Timorese who fought alongside us to be killed by the Japanese. We should feel guilty about 1975, when we failed to speak up about the invasion of East Timor. We ought to feel guilty about 1978, when we extended de jure recognition of Indonesian sovereignty over East Timor. And we should feel guilty too about 1999, because we could have done better in the process that led to the referendum and the many thousands who lost their lives.

And yet, most of the time, Australians don’t think about East Timor at all. Between cricket and celebrity cooking, Barack Obama’s latest speech and Lady Gaga’s latest outfit, there isn’t much space in the Australian news cycle for a nation of 1.2 million people sitting 700 kilometres off the coast of Darwin.

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The upsides of the buyback - book extract

Inside Story is currently featuring an extract from my new book 'The Economics of Just About Everything', which looks at the unexpected benefits of Australia's gun buyback scheme. Read on...


On the chilly Melbourne evening of Sunday 9 August 1987, nineteen-year-old former army cadet Julian Knight drank several beers at the Royal Hotel in Clifton Hill then packed a bag with an M14 semi-automatic, a Ruger 10/22 semi-automatic, and a Mossberg pump action 12-gauge shotgun. As he later told the police, “I wanted to see what it was like to kill someone.”

Most bullets are less than a centimetre wide, but when they enter a person’s body they make a far larger hole. One reason for this is that, once inside your body, a bullet begins to “yaw,” or tumble. Because bullets are a few centimetres long, the tumbling effect is far more destructive than if the bullet had continued to travel in a straight line.

In addition, a cushion of air known as a “pressure wave” precedes the bullet, temporarily creating a cavity inside the body that can be much wider than the trajectory of the tumbling bullet. The combined impact of a tumbling projectile and a pressure wave means that the entry wound can be as small as a fingernail, while the exit wound can be as large as a tennis ball.

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An economist's guide to online dating - book extract

The Australian Financial Review was good enough to publish an extract from my new book 'The Economics of Just About Everything', which you can read here.

If you like what you see, why not support your local independent bookstore by buying a copy?


What’s a desperate and dateless economist to do? The economics of dating comes down to three simple rules:

1. There is no ­per­fect match, but some matches are definitely better than others.

2. You won’t know how well suited you are to someone until you get to know them.

3. Time is scarce, so a decision based on limited information is probably better than no decision at all.

The challenge of dating is that you don’t have enough information and you don’t have enough time to get it. To give you an idea of just how severe the problem is, let’s imagine that you’re aged 18 to 25, and you’re trying to find the person you’re best suited to in that age range.

To begin, there are about 1.5 million men and 1.5 million women to choose from in Australia. If you picked a sex, and spent only three minutes with each of those people, then it would take 25 years of speed dating to find the person you liked the most. Things are harder still if you want more than three minutes to assess each person, if you’re bisexual, if you want someone older or if you think true love resides overseas.

Fortunately, economic theories are rarely deterred by problems involving large numbers. Better yet, economists are familiar with precisely this kind of problem. It’s called an “optimal-stopping problem”.

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The urgent case for a diverse nation - The Australian

My latest opinion piece in The Australian looks at how increased diversity in our community can enrich Australians socially, culturally and economically. Here's the details:

Urgent case for a diverse nation, The Australian, 24 July 2014

PROGRESSIVES are often most comfortable making a political or moral case for diversity: that it is a necessary corollary of liberalism in a multi-ethnic societ­y or, more optimistically, a social good in itself.

This is no longer enough. Our ideas must expand beyond platit­udes about multiculturalism giving us good places to eat. We need to recognise the real economic and social benefits that flow from diversity and acknowledge the challenges so we can find ways to maintain cohesive societies in the face of these.

To see the positive impact of diversity, go to Silicon Valley. Half of all start-up teams include a first-generation migrant, from Russian-born Sergey Brin at Google to Hungarian-born Andy Grove at Intel.

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Don't Hit The Big Spenders

Today, the Australian Financial Review published my opinion piece on economic growth. 

Since the industrial revolution, modern economies have been in a perpetual state of transition. Indeed, economist Paul Collier once likened economic growth to ‘running across ice floes’.

But sometimes the transitions are particularly fragile. Right now, risks to global growth include potential disruption to European gas supplies, fragility in the Chinese shadow banking sector, and the possibility that structural reform in Japan will falter. Domestically, there is significant uncertainty about how much mining capital expenditure will drop.

So what should a responsible government do in uncertain times? Earlier this month, the OECD’s Economic Outlook recommended that ‘heavy front loading of fiscal consolidation should be avoided’.

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Advice to those leaving high school

My Chronicle column this month offers a bit of advice to those finishing high school this year.

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.