Asylum seeker policy: from brutal to bizarre

Former ABC Media Watch host Jonathan Holmes has predictably been pilloried on social media over the last few days for an article about asylum seeker policy that repeats some themes I have discussed here at Troppo over the years.  Holmes picks up especially on suggestions that perhaps a viable solution to replace the current detention gulags on Nauru and Manus Island would be a genuinely regional processing compact supported by an agreement for Australia to grant preferential migration to asylum seekers from Indonesia and Malaysia :

Both blithely ignore that the people in Indonesia and Malaysia who want to come to Australia are not Indonesians or Malaysians. Overwhelmingly, they are Hazaras from Afghanistan, and Iranians; if the way to Australia were open, they would now be Syrians too. They’ve already travelled a long way – helped by people smugglers – to get to Indonesia, and there are hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, more where they came from.

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Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

The corporate tax cut scam

Prime Minister Turnbull and Treasurer Morrison are currently refusing to admit the cost to revenue of the Coalition’s ten-year corporate tax cut plan which will reduce company tax for all corporations to 25% by 2025-26. Chris Richardson of Access Economics estimates that the cost will be something like $55 billion over the 10 years and $16.5 billion every year thereafter. That is a massive cost in anyone’s language, especially when Australia faces a stubborn structural deficit that shows no sign of disappearing any time fast.

This sort of measure might conceivably be justified if it was going to create a large stimulus for “jobs and growth”. However apparently Treasury estimates that the benefit will be minuscule:

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Posted in Politics - national | 2 Comments

Representing a public interest organisation? The case of Gillian Triggs

I knew I could have responded and destroyed them – I could have said, “You’ve asked me a question that demonstrated you have not read our statute. How dare you question what I do?”

When I was on the Productivity Commission (which until just before I left was the Industry Commission) I recall thinking quite carefully about who exactly was talking when I was conducting a hearing. I was clearly representing the Commission. Then again I also just little old me. I certainly made it clear when I was expressing personal views, or if I was saying something that could be represented as a Commission view when it might actually be tentative questioning, or arguing to pursue a point. I’d make it clear that I was for instance pursuing a line “for argument’s sake” (then again I’d do that in private discussion). But there were also personal views that it was clear to me that it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to express in that role.

When the Abbott Government put on a performance about Gillian Triggs, George Brandis had a clever line about how she wasn’t a judicial officer. (I remember thinking at the time that it was too clever by half in the sense that I remained unconvinced that in circumstances that suited him he might argue the opposite or strenuously resist someone defending themselves as he was defending the government. But anyway …) Still Brandis was right to the extent that the appropriate standard to apply to an officer of the Human Rights Commission is not that of a judge. The Human Rights Commissioner and its President are there to publicly argue a brief. As I sometimes was when representing the Commission.

But it did seem to me that when I was representing the Commission it was incumbent upon me to act with a degree of restraint. I was representing an institution and that should be done in a way that is not undignified. And perhaps just as a matter of fairness, I had the benefit of the institution behind me as individuals don’t. So it seemed to me that if I were to debate a person, I shouldn’t debate them in an ad hominem way or at least not in a disrespectful way. I think ideally that should apply to all people, but certainly to people who occupy offices that should be respected. You may not like or respect lots of politicians. There are plenty I don’t like and some I don’t respect. But if I was representing the Commission I would behave to them all with proper curtesy – including if they were being unreasonable to me. I would do that out of courtesy and to model the seriousness – or to express it more negatively – the pomp of the institution and the office I held in it.

Anyway, you’d think from at least one of the things Gillian Triggs said in a recent interview with the The Saturday Paper that she agrees with this. Thus Ramona Koval asks her “What were you thinking as the nine hours [before the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee] unfolded?”

I was thinking, “I must stay calm, I must keep my answers measured, moderate and evidence-based, I mustn’t be rattled by them and I mustn’t react with the same lack of courtesy that they show to me.”

But it turns out that this was for no deeper reason than for media or ‘issues’ management reasons.  Continue reading

Posted in Cultural Critique, Economics and public policy, Law, Philosophy, Political theory | 11 Comments

Papers that don’t crank out the same old schtick are high risk for academics: SHOCK!

Academic publishing keeps you on the straight and narrow of everyone else’s ideas?

Who’da thunk?

Bias against Novelty in Science: A Cautionary Tale for Users of Bibliometric Indicators by Jian Wang, Reinhilde Veugelers, Paula Stephan  –  #22180 (LS PR)


Research which explores unchartered waters has a high potential for major impact but also carries a higher uncertainty of having impact. Such explorative research is often described as taking a novel approach.  This study examines the complex relationship between pursuing a novel approach and impact.  Viewing scientific research as a combinatorial process, we measure novelty in science by examining whether a published paper makes first time ever combinations of referenced journals, taking into account the difficulty of making such combinations.

We apply this newly developed measure of novelty to all Web of Science research articles published in 2001 across all scientific disciplines.  We find that highly novel papers, defined to be those that make more (distant) new combinations, deliver high gains to science:  they are more likely to be a top 1% highly cited paper in the long run, to inspire follow on highly cited research, and to be cited in a broader set of disciplines.  At the same time, novel research is also more risky, reflected by a higher variance in its citation performance.  In addition, we find that novel research is significantly more highly cited in “foreign” fields but not in its “home” field.

We also find strong evidence of delayed recognition of novel papers and that novel papers are less likely to be top cited when using a short time window.  Finally, novel papers typically are published in journals with a lower than expected Impact Factor. These findings suggest that science policy, in particular funding decisions which rely on traditional bibliometric indicators based on short-term direct citation counts and Journal Impact Factors, may be biased against “high risk/high gain” novel research.  The findings also caution against a mono-disciplinary approach in peer review to assess the true value of novel research.

Posted in Education, Science | 10 Comments

For he that hath … Education edition

 The Long-term Consequences of Teacher Discretion in Grading of High-stakes Tests by Rebecca Diamond, Petra Persson

This paper analyzes the long-term consequences of teacher discretion in grading of high-stakes tests.  Evidence is currently lacking, both on which students receive test score manipulation and on whether such manipulation has any real, long-term consequences.  We document extensive test score manipulation of Swedish nationwide math tests taken in the last year before high school, by showing significant bunching in the distribution of test scores above discrete grade cutoffs.

We find that teachers use their discretion to adjust the test scores of students who have “a bad test day,” but that they do not discriminate based on gender or immigration status.  We then develop a Wald estimator that allows us to harness quasi-experimental variation in whether a student receives test score manipulation to identify its effect on students’ longer-term outcomes.

Despite the fact that test score manipulation does not, per se, raise human capital, it has far-reaching consequences for the beneficiaries, raising their grades in future classes, high school graduation rates, and college initiation rates; lowering teen birth rates; and raising earnings at age 23.  The mechanism at play suggests important dynamic complementarities:  Getting a higher grade on the test serves as an immediate signaling mechanism within the educational system, motivating students and potentially teachers; this, in turn, raises human capital; and the combination of higher effort and higher human capital ultimately generates substantial labor market gains.  This highlights that a higher grade may not primarily have a signaling value in the labor market, but within the educational system itself.

Posted in Economics and public policy, Education | Leave a comment

Social Value Capture: an idea whose time has come

Building social value

Following innovations in the UK and New Zealand, some of Australia’s more forward looking State governments are looking at two related innovations. The first is ‘social investment’ with social impact bonds leading the vanguard.

Social impact bonds

As Wikipedia tells us, a social impact bond “also known as a Pay for Success Bond or a Social Benefit Bond is a contract with the public sector in which a commitment is made to pay for improved social outcomes that result in public sector savings”. Thus philanthropic knowhow and funding together with some commercial funding might invest in a program that can be expected to achieve some socially beneficial outcome like reducing recidivism of some cohort of prisoners exiting a prison.

The idea is that this can help underwrite innovative social investment. At least as a novice it all looked pretty dodgy to me. And there is plenty to cavil at. For instance:

  • As with PPPs, the announcement of a political intention to proceed with social impact bond financed projects creates political incentives for such deals to be done even if there are lower cost means of achieving the outcome. This circumstance can lead to makeshifts in contracts whereby ultimate risks are underwritten by government, even where the apparent and immediate risk is with the private financier. The experience with PPPs offers many cases in which risk transfer to the private sector was inadequate, producing the worst of all worlds – higher costs to the public sector without the effective transfer of risk.
  • The scope to generate a new political economy of rent seeking, both in the immediate term in delivering the project, and over time as politicians and officials retire to take on lucrative jobs with the financial institutions that benefited from the financial innovations.
  • Also, just as there are many causes of social dysfunction, there are many causes of social healing, but this is all simplified in the accounting for social impact bonds. There will often be problems of attribution. To what extent did the SIB fund the observed benefit, and to what extent was it some other initiative? Not only can this muddy the accountability trail, but it does so in a pointedly invidious way. Most successful social endeavours tap into the good will and actions of many in the community and they may well think twice if they envisage some merchant banker making off with the dividends of their good deeds.

Still, I was more censorious of this before I understood just how poor the situation is at the moment. Continue reading

Posted in Economics and public policy, Innovation, Social Policy | 6 Comments

We’re All Free Riders. Get over It! The public goods of the twenty-first century (Part One)

Below is a link to my first article on a new alternative economics website – Evonomics – which has only been going fror a short period of time. It’s pretty nicely set out and emerged out of the evolution institute. The guy who started it – Robert Kadar – is intellectually gregarious guy who also knows a lot about web-marketing which he’s doing with a vengeance on the site. It’s generating a lot of interest and enthusiasm from many quarters. I got talking to the founder by tweeting the site and tweeting my surprise that it only had a few hundred followers on Twitter. It’s now got ten times that, but needs plenty more. It’s main target is Facebook however, so what would I know?

Anyway, I decided to write up properly my ideas on the public goods of the 21st Century. Working with Robert we worked up some headings which might help entice people to take a look. At one stage I had three headings for the three pieces – which were to be called “Why Thomas Jefferson wants YOU to free ride”, “Why Adam Smith wants YOU to free ride, “Why Friedrich Hayek wants YOU to free ride”. All very upworthy. Anyway, we settled on the heading above. Americans in my experience on this subject are reflexively moralistic about the question of free riding.

In an email discussion with Robyn Chase, who’d seen me present at Harvard and was writing Peers Inc, someone else in the email chain offered this comment on my expression “free rider opportunity” which Robyn was taking up in her book.

Your attempt to spin the term “free rider” into a positive thing puzzles me …. Free rider carries the connotation of “really bad”, independent of its normal context. Only slightly better than “con man”.

Even progressives who support sharing eschew the term free rider…

Anyway Robyn did take it up in her book, but the same impasse arose when I discussed with Robert for this piece. So we made it the feature, though I’m hoping we can move a little further away from an obsessive focus on it. Anyway, the article is here. I also reproduce it over the fold.  Continue reading

Posted in Economics and public policy, Philosophy, Political theory | Leave a comment