Climbing the summit

For better or worse, here are my answers to the two compulsory questions for those wishing to make it to the summit. No surprises for regular Troppo readers – I’ve learned the art of repetition.  But they could have had any number of other ideas. A few ideas promised for Troppo readers in the next few weeks if I can get a moment.

If you want to get stuck into these ideas in comments, feel free, but remember I had to squeeze them into 100 words.

1. If you could do one thing in your stream area what would it be? What is it that you think would make the most difference?

To provide what people want from them, markets must be well informed. But many markets are poorly informed the market for surgeons, and teachers for instance. And how much do employees know about workplaces before they start work there? Information is generated about all these things but we do little with it. Just as we did with National Competition Policy we should systematically trawl through our markets and indeed other social institutions, asking how well informed they are, and what can be done to improve information flows. The economic and human benefits could be immense. The costs minimal.

2. You need to think and write about one issue over which youve changed your mind in the past 10 years. What is it? What changed your mind?

I once thought that we should regulate to improve information flows in markets. Now I think suasion can start a race to the top. The best market performers have an incentive to publish auditable information on their own (superior) performance. Why dont they? Because comparative information between firms is only useful when reported against a standard. And each firm has an incentive to undermine a standard to put their own results in a more favourable light. Standards are public goods. Governments (or other social leaders) can help them emerge voluntarily by using their considerable powers of suasion.

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Mark Cully
Mark Cully
16 years ago


I’m a strong supporter of your idea. Can I give you two very practical examples from education that could be readily implemented at no cost, they require only political courage.

The first is data in the vocational training sector that NCVER holds on student satisfaction and destinations. Every two years, around 100,000 exiting students complete a questionnaire where they rate the quality of the training they received and detail their current employment circumstances. The sample size is this large so as to provide each TAFE institute in the country with statistically reliable estimates of their “performance”. This information is not put into the public domain, due to “data protocols” determined by officials, where it might inform prospective students about course choice.

The second example comes from schooling. Australia, as far as I’m aware, is the only OECD member state which participates in PISA – a triennial assessment of literacy and numeracy levels of 15 year olds – that does not allow the results to be disaggregated by public and private schools. This is something that, to their shame, Ministers agreed to (MCEETYA).

Both are examples of where producer interests have been given primacy over consumer interests.


[…] are Nicholas Gruen’s 2020 answers (you can discuss them here too if you prefer). 1. If you could do one thing in your stream area what would it be? What is it that […]