You get what you pay for: MP’s edition

Does It Matter How and How Much Politicians are Paid? by Duha T. Altindag, Elif S. Filiz, Erdal Tekin – #23613 (LS POL)


An important question in representative democracies is how to ensure
that politicians behave in the best interest of citizens rather than
their own private interests. Aside from elections, one of the few
institutional devices available to regulate the actions of
politicians is their pay structure. In this paper, we provide fresh
insights into the impact of politician salaries on their performance
using a unique law change implemented in 2012 in Turkey.
Specifically, the members of the parliament (MPs) in Turkey who are
retired from their pre-political career jobs earn a pension bonus on
top of their MP salaries. The law change in 2012 significantly
increased the pension bonus by pegging it to 18 percent of the salary
of the President of Turkey, while keeping the salaries of non-retired
MPs unchanged. By exploiting the variation in total salaries caused
by the new law in a difference-in-differences framework, we find that
the salary increase had a negative impact on the performance of the
retired MPs. In particular, the overall performance of these MPs was
lowered by 12.3 percent of a standard deviation as a result of the
increase in salary caused by the new law. This finding is robust to
numerous specification tests. Furthermore, results obtained from an
auxiliary analysis suggest that one of the mechanisms through which
MPs reduce their performance is absenteeism.

Posted in Economics and public policy, Political theory, Politics - international | Leave a comment

Blitz and bullet chess: Carlsen v Nakamura

If you’ve got a bit of an appreciation of chess, this is a lot of fun. I’ve been watching it on and off today giving myself a little sugar hit by watching a game to take a break from doing other work. This is normally more a pro than anti crastination move, but it worked well for me today as I got some other good stuff done.

In the meantime, if you’ve got a reasonable appreciation of chess, these guys are amazing. Hikara Nakamura is unusually good at fast chess, but then Magnus Carlsen is unusually good at all forms of chess. Anyway, watch for as long as you like. There are two different kinds of blitz – one in which each player gets 5 minutes per game plus 2 seconds per move and one in which they get 3 minutes plus 2 seconds per move. They also play Fischer random which is something Bobby Fisher cooked up to try to level the playing field with the Russians who always had armies of ‘seconds’ for their players and who therefore had an advantage of knowing every line of opening theory. Fischer random randomises the position of the pieces behind the rows of pawns on each side. Then there’s bullet which is basically a mad scramble of reflex playing with each player having one minute for all their moves.

It’s a lot of fun – if you like that kind of thing (as the bishop said to the actress).

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Tennis before larger racquet heads

Noticing my checking of vids of Wimbledon, Youtube has been serving up far too many excerpts of tennis for my own good but I’ve got a bit of a fascination with how the game has changed. Anyway, this is as good footage as I’ve seen of how different the game was in the days of grass courts and wooden rackets. It was the tail end of an era in which Australia and the US dominated world tennis, Australia with a particular style of serve/volley tennis. One’s first volley was the foundation of one’s game – I think Pat Cash was the last of them really – so it’s not surprising he won at the last major grass court tournament left Wimbledon. (Pat Rafter was the same I guess, but sadly he fell in the final at Wimbledon after gripping battles – twice). Anyway, the other thing that jumps out is how much more rhythm there was to points. Which is lucky for Rosewall (and of course for us), because I doubt we’d have heard of him in the age of larger metal racquets.

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Garbage in, garbage out and civil service effectiveness

The often good Institute for Government has added to the world’s league ladders. As Woody Allen says in Annie Hall “All you people do in California is give away awards. Adolf Hitler: Greatest Fascist Dictator”. Anyway, who doesn’t need an effective civil service? I know Australia does. So does pretty much everyone come to think of it. So why not have a civil service effectiveness index? Well why not indeed. Certainly if you published it you’d get into the memeosphere and that would be good for your KPIs. But how would you measure civil service effectiveness?

And how would you do that. Well pretty obviously civil service effectiveness will comprise many things. You can see all the dimensions of this index in our own spider graph. Now some people might be sceptical that you can measure these these things. But they’d be wrong. For instance it turns out that, as the report tells us, policy making has “four themes: the quality of policy advice; the role of civil servants in setting strategic policy direction; policy proposal coordination across government; and monitoring policy implementation. Some proxy metrics have been used for measuring the quality of policy advice. A fifth theme, assessing the timeliness and accuracy of policy delivery, will be added when data becomes available. All data for this indicator is drawn from the Bertelsmann Sustainable Governance Indicators (SGI).

Here’s the SGI’s comment on this question for two countries.

How effectively do informal coordination mechanisms complement formal mechanisms of inter-ministerial coordination?

And here’s SGI’s commentary on how Finland’s going.

Intersectoral coordination has generally been perceived as an important issue in Finnish politics, but rather few institutional mechanisms have in fact been introduced. One of these, the Iltakoulu (which translates as evening session), was previously an important unofficial negotiation session for the cabinet, but this system is no longer systematically used. To a considerable extent, though, coordination proceeds effectively through informal mechanisms. Recent large-scale policy programs have enhanced intersectoral policymaking; additionally, Finland’s membership in the European Union has of course necessitated increased interministerial coordination. Recent research in Finland has only focused tangentially on informal mechanisms, but various case studies suggest that the system of coordination by advisory councils has performed well.

And here’s how Australia’s going:

Significant strategic planning takes place in the course of governmental decision-making. The Ministry of Finance is a key actor in the long-term planning process, and also presents views during the annual budget cycle on how best to cope with long-term economic challenges and the financing of the welfare state.

The typical procedure for major decisions or reforms entails the following steps: First, the government appoints an ad hoc committee tasked with delivering a detailed report on a particular issue. Some of these committees are composed exclusively of experts, while others have a broader membership that includes politicians and representatives of interested parties such as unions, business confederations and other non-governmental organizations.

For instance, a report to the Ministry of Finance would typically be drafted by high-profile academic economists along with representatives of unions, employers and the central bank. When this procedure leads to legislative action, a proposal is drafted and distributed to interested parties, who are invited to make comments and suggestions (a period of three months for comments is recommended, and six weeks is the minimum period allowed).

Only after comments have been received will the government prepare a proposal for parliament, sometimes in the form of a parliamentary bill, but occasionally only as an initial white paper. Governments deviate from this procedure only in cases of emergency, and any attempt to circumvent it would lead to public criticism.

There is an established procedure for the approval of the annual budget. Activity starts a year in advance, when the government holds three conferences on the budget proposal. The finance minister presents an initial proposal to parliament in the first week of October. A parliamentary committee plays an active role in the budget process, making concrete proposals for the distribution of resources. This proposal becomes the basis of parliamentary discussion. After the parliament approves a proposal for the allocation of resources, it becomes binding for subsequent, more detailed discussions that take place in various parliamentary committees. By December 15, this work is concluded, and the final budget is approved by the full parliament.

The shortcomings in governance that were revealed in the course of the July 22 terrorist attacks and their aftermath have resulted in a general downgrade in the scores associated with executive capacity. However, these shortcomings have been mostly rectified in the past several years.

Below the fold you can find out which is better.  Continue reading

Posted in Bullshit, Cultural Critique, Economics and public policy | Leave a comment

The worst bit of old age is not being extended. It’s being delayed.

Elderly woman in kitchen

You’ve heard it a million times: in developed nations, populations are ageing.

But what does that mean? At the extremes, it could mean either of two quite different things. It could mean a host of frail elderly people stuck in nursing homes for 20 years, or it could mean a bunch of 80-year-olds who act like the 60-year-olds of years gone by – getting on, but essentially still vital and functioning.

The nursing-home alternative is, I suspect, the option that most people think about when they hear of “our ageing population”.

The good news is that the 80-is-the-new-60 alternative seems to be the way things are actually heading. As life expectancy rose in the US up to 2008, researchers saw a reduction in “end-of-life morbidity”. This is that lousy period at the end of many people’s lives where they find themselves unable to take care of themselves, do their normal daily tasks like cleaning up the kitchen, and generally stay independent.

This cheery phenomenon, called “compression of morbidity”, has only been established in the past few years, because data on healthy life expectancy has been hard to get. And it hasn’t really yet impacted the public discussion on population ageing.

But eventually it will.

At a public policy level, it gives support to the Rudd Government’s 2009 decision to raise the pension age to 67 by 2023, and probably also to the Coalition’s unimplemented plan to raise it to 70 by 2035 (Australian pension age summary here). It will also start impacting estimates of things like the amount of nursing home care and other support that our elderly will need over the next 50 years.

Meanwhile, at a personal level … well, if you currently plan to be old someday, this should make you very happy indeed.

In the US, two-thirds of the compression of morbidity has been driven by two big changes. Firstly, more people have been surviving heart disease in good shape. This matters, because cardiovascular conditions are one factor in whether you are able to stay healthy and independent in old age. (Two other factors are arthritis and dementia.) Second – and this was new to me – treatment of vision problems is getting better.

I lay this out in more detail in my latest column for The CEO Magazine. But if you want details of how this is playing out in the US, try Understanding the Improvement in Disability Free Life Expectancy In the U.S. Elderly Population. Its main point:

[H]ealthy life increased measurably in the US between 1992 and 2008. Years of healthy life expectancy at age 65 increased by 1.8 years over that time period, while disabled life expectancy fell by 0.5 years.

This and other CEO Magazine columns are here; follow me on Twitter @shorewalker1.

Posted in Economics and public policy, Health, Social Policy | 8 Comments

The Overton window – Overton juggernaut Science edition: Part 4

Can’t resist this incredible picture I’m afraid. Brought to you by ClubTroppo ® “At least enough part of the problem to be complaining about the solution”.

I’ve written about the Overton window previously. 1 Of its crazy, gravitational pull. Of the way in which things are outside the Overton window, not because they would offend anyone, not because there’s big money out to stop them but just, well as we said in primary school “Because.” To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, there is only one thing that stops things being talked about, which is not talking about them. More or less finishes them off if no-one’s talking about them.

Our elites are groupish to a tee and it’s driving me crazy. Indeed, if I were to try to theorise it beyond that, if I were to try to identify what’s driving such fecklessness, I’d identify some analogue of Jay Rosen’s cult of savviness to explain why the conversation about what things might be done to improve our world is dominated by a different topic which is ‘what’s the word on the street?’, ‘What are the cool kids wearing these days?’. Anyway, my naïve hope would be that institutions quietly work away at addressing problems, seizing opportunities. They might do so individually or collectively because different issues require different mixes of individual and collective effort.

There’s also the pull of what I’ve called ‘debate as culture war’. In a culture war, the ‘sides’ are well defined. This makes it convenient for both participants and spectators of the ‘debate’. They just have to pick their side. And just as JS Bach explained that it was easy to play the organ (you just move your fingers up and down on the keyboard and the thing more or less plays itself) so the arguments more or less write themselves. Teachers are Good and defend Education and people who criticise teachers are Bad and defend Punitive, Neoliberal Philistinism or [insert Bad Thing]. Continue reading

  1. The previous three posts to which this can be added can be found here.
Posted in Cultural Critique, Economics and public policy | 8 Comments

Scandinavian film festival

Why do the Swedes put barcodes on their ships? So they can Scandinavian. (Sorry about that). More seriously, this looks like a good haul of films.

Top Picks

Trailer Icon 03 The Other Side of Hope (Opening Night)
Wikström is a man wanting to change his life, and decides to invest in an unprofitable restaurant. Meanwhile, a Syrian refugee named Khaled arrives in Helsinki, desperate to seek asylum. After his application is rejected, Khaled decides to remain illegally and seeks refuge behind Wikström’s business, sleeping in the storage space. When eventually discovered, an unlikely friendship is formed, one that will change both of their lives irrevocably.
☆☆☆☆ Cine Vue
☆☆☆☆☆☆ Eye For Film
☆☆☆☆☆ IMDB
☆☆☆☆ The Reel Bits

Celebrity artist Simon Brahe is “The Man” of the Copenhagen arts scene, he’s got a trendy studio apartment, a team of unquestioning interns and has nailed his look of silk pyjamas, which he wears everywhere. Until his world is shaken by the appearance of his estranged and very handsome son, Casper. Casper is a celebrated and internationally renowned street artist operating under the name “The Ghost”. Simon becomes convinced his son is out to usurp him, especially when Casper begins garnering the attention and acclaim that Simon holds so dear, including from Simon’s girlfriend Darling.
☆☆☆☆ IMDB

After suffering from the trauma of WWII, Touko Laaksonen finds no peace at home in Finland, a country where homosexuality is illegal. With the help of his sister, Touko finds work in an advertising agency, but becomes worn down by his inability to express his desires. Touko spends his nights drawing his fantasies instead; men with strong jawlines, clad in uniform and – frequently – leather. The sketches eventually draw worldwide attention, though not without an escalating risk of persecution.
☆☆☆☆ Cine Vue
☆☆☆☆ IMDB
☆☆☆☆ Slant Magazine

Based on extraordinary true events. With the time for mediation between Norway’s passive government and the Nazi’s envoy fast running out, and an attempted coup by collaborator Vidkun Quisling underway, King Haakon is faced with a momentous choice: should he recognise Quisling as Prime Minister to prevent bloodshed, or abdicate in the hope of inspiring civilian and military resistance, even with the loss of life that may entail?
☆☆☆☆ IMDB

Zaid is an upper-class successful Danish surgeon of Muslim heritage. He has a Danish wife and lives in one of Copenhagen’s most fashionable areas – far from the dangerous and congested neighbourhood where he grew up. But when his criminal brother is found murdered, Zaid is pulled back into the brutal world he escaped so many years ago. Finding no help in local detective Claus, who dismisses the case as ‘another Muslim gang-related attack’, Zaid realises he must be the one to avenge his brother and clean up Copenhagen’s underbelly. As he delves back into the depths of the darkland, the film takes us on a synth-filled, neon coloured journey through Copenhagen’s nightlife.
☆☆☆☆ IMDB

A tender coming-of-age story, Little Wing centres on the resourceful Varpu as she struggles between fitting in with her friends and her family. Varpu is a young girl navigating the transition into adolescence while living with her emotionally immature mother. Vapru is burdened with being the stronger member of the family, and is in many ways wiser than her mother. Her increasing desire for answers about the world pushes her to look for answers beyond her small apartment. Her first instinct is to look for her estranged father, whom she has no memory of. Despite this, she hopes it might illuminate something about herself if she can only track him down. She teaches herself to drive, and then sets off on a road trip to find her dad.
☆☆☆☆ Cinema Scandinavia
☆☆☆☆☆ IMDB

Described as the ‘Mozart of Chess’, Magnus shows an interest for intellectual challenges at a young age. He is a deeply introverted child, and his father, Henrik, understanding his son’s mathematical mind, introduces him to chess as an outlet. Magnus quickly moves up the ranks, and at the age of thirteen becomes the third-youngest grandmaster of chess, ever. He quickly starts preparing for the title of World Chess Champion. As we watch him prepare, where his competition use computer programs and analysts to master the game, Magnus has the unique talent of visualising the game in his head, and where others have a lavish entourage, Magnus brings his parents and sister. Magnus is the eye-opening journey of this young man’s natural talent.
☆☆☆☆ Eye For Film
☆☆☆☆ IMDB

Continue reading

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