Meanwhile in an echo-chamber near you …

Image result for treasury fan charts forcast site:au

It twigged with me a few years ago just how biased economic discussion is towards things economists or their audience would like to know, rather than what economists can or do know. As with those interminable pre-match footy commentaries, economists can add very little value to simple rules of thumb when it comes to macro-economic forecasts, especially when it matters most – at important turning points in the economic cycle. But everyone takes out their notebook the moment a senior figure from Treasury or the Reserve Bank starts opining about “how we see the future”. On the other hand, to their great credit, both the Treasury and the RBA publish fan charts which illustrate how rapidly their forecasts’ capacity for foresight decays – as illustrated. (I’ve not come across private sector forecasts that do this – but then I don’t spend my time reading much of that so I’d be grateful if someone who does could correct or affirm this claim.)

Still things are getting a little better. Philip Tetlock’s early work on Expert Political Judgement now being followed up by the Good Judgement Project has shown that people can be trained to do quite a bit better. In any event, participating in Burgmann College’s mentoring program, I was speaking with an economics grad who had been active on the Good Judgement Project which prompted me to send his CV to a couple of Melbourne based projects that are at the cutting edge of forecasting.

Thinking I might recommend this person’s CV also to the main economic forecasting houses inside government, I searched both of their websites for the words “Tetlock” and/or “Good Judgement Project”. Perhaps Google is not indexing well enough but I got a single hit from 2011 referencing Tetlock’s 2006 book “Expert Political Judgement”, though the link  was no longer on the Treasury’s site or cached. Woeful really. John Quiggin reminds us of something similar with his tragicomic story of how the Australian Signals Directorate – an institution one might hope had some expertise in digital security –require government websites to adopt security practices from a few decades ago which ensure that, in the words of the xkcd cartoon, everyone is forced to use passwords that are “hard for humans to remember, but difficult for computers to guess”.

All of which reminded me of Tom Burton’s excoriating editorial on the monoculture of the Federal bureaucracy:

DNA replicates and so this week did Canberra’s mandarin class. Half the existing federal departments will get new secretaries in a major shuffle of the bureaucratic deck, including two new appointments. One of those, new Infrastructure and Regional Development boss Steven Kennedy, has rightly had “secretary” stamped on his personal file for several years. He is a real loss to PM&C where he has led much of that department’s new work around cities.

But an eyeball of the bios of the 18 portfolio secretaries, reveals a sameness, that says much about the 155,000 strong Australian Public Service.

Without exception, the secretaries are bureaucratic lifers, almost all having spent their career in Canberra, promoted through the senior executive service as high performance individuals. No plumbers or small business owners, nor big corporate, industrial, or NGO experience to be seen. …

Image result for treasury fan charts forcast site:au1 dalliances aside, every secretary is very much a product of the Canberra system  …. All have worked in plenty of gigs … the federal government spans, but the complete lack of outside blood is startling. Compare this with NSW, where over a third of the top bureaucracy is now from the non-government world, a five year change program that has injected much needed new thinking and experience into that government. …

All the secretaries are products of the post-Whitlam higher education system. All have been products of the top-tier G8 university system, liberal arts alumni mixed with post grad law and economics qualifications. Economics is by far the dominant pedigree. …

There are no dumb-dumbs in this latest secretarial cohort, with lots of first-class honours, masters degrees and PhDs, but other than new Social Services boss Kathryn Campbell, I could not find any technical, engineering, marketing, financial or science credentials. …

To avoid being a complete party spoiler, it should be noted that unlike the corporate world we are near gender balance at the top of the APS …. Long overdue. And for the record the APS leadership culture is now thankfully a long way from the some times totalitarian habits of its previous mandarins.

And, like Tom, I’m extremely pleased to see Steven Kennedy get promoted, even if the day before I was singing his praises to another minister suggesting he nab him. He seemed interested, but was presumably playing along. Alas, someone else nabbed him :(


  1. Temporary mid-career[]
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