Do employees work only for their own benefit?

The latest ABS data on ‘working time arrangements’ received a tendentious report yesterday in the SMH:

ALMOST a third of Australian employees work unsocial hours – between 7pm and 7am – and even more complain they have no say about when they start or finish. ….Thirty per cent said their shifts regularly overlapped the hours between 7pm and 7am as part of their main job. Three in five said they had no say about when they started or finished.

As for weekends, 16 per cent said they were required to work on Saturdays, and 8.5 per cent on Sundays. One in four were not always allowed to choose when to take their holidays. (emphasis added)

Note the SMH interpretations I bolded. Working after 7pm isn’t necessarily ‘unsocial’ – a lot of people like their colleagues. The ABS report doesn’t anywhere suggest that people were complaining about having no say about when they start or finish; that simply goes with many jobs where predictable opening or operational times are necessary. The ABS doesn’t say that 16% of people are ‘required’ to work Saturdays; it just says that 16% do work Saturdays. As I noted earlier in the month, weekends and evenings are the only time some people with other commitments can work. And workers in particular industries can’t take holidays whenever they choose for good reasons, eg school teachers can’t take holidays during term.

What’s missing in this reporting is the sense that an employment arrangement is one of mutual advantage between employer and employee to provide goods and services from which other people benefit – rather than just something to benefit the employee, regardless of its effects on others.
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Can business students do their sums?

This morning’s Higher Education Supplement in The Australian gave the lead story to various interest groups complaining about the Budget decision to reduce Commonwealth subsidies to commerce students by about $1,000, with universities being allowed to increase student contribution amounts by about $1,200.

“It is hard for us to see how this is going to attract more people into doing those courses. In fact, it might turn them away.”

… said Geoff Rankin, chief executive of CPA Australia, which represents 112,000 finance, accounting and business professionals. …

It is a great worry to us,” University of Western Sydney vice-chancellor Janice Reid said.

“It will be a significant disincentive for students who might have seen a bachelor of business or bachelor of commerce as a viable alternative to a bachelor of arts or a general degree in the humanities.

As usual, these arguments assume that prices have a big impact on which courses students choose. Yet a study (pdf) released a couple of years ago put the average income premium from a business undergraduate degree, compared to a Year 12 qualification, at $542,000. The maximum extra cost that could be imposed on a student would be 0.66% of that. Prospective business students who can’t work out that the course is still a good deal have no aptitude for financial reasoning and – as Janice Reid suggests – should perhaps do Arts instead.
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Liberalism and discrimination

The Peel is a Melbourne gay bar that, according to its owner Tom McFeely, isn’t gay enough. He applied for an exemption to the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act, legislation that would otherwise forbid him from keeping out women and straight men. And yesterday in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Appeals Tribunal he was granted that exemption.

According to The Age, the decision was not met with universal support:

WHEN Collingwood hotelier Tom McFeely decided to fight for the right to refuse entry to heterosexuals, he braced himself for a backlash. And a barrage of angry talkback callers proved him right yesterday.

But should McFeely even have had to apply for such an exemption? Anti-discrimination law is an issue that has divided liberals. There is a version of liberalism which holds that the way the state should treat its citizens – as impartially as possible – is a model for all institutions in civil society as well. Liberal states create space for people to live according to their own assessment of what makes for a good life, whether or not other people approve of it. But in a liberal society, the state may be the most powerful single institution, but private power has a large impact as well. To create space for the liberal individual, private as well as public power needs to be regulated. In alliance with egalitarian philosophies, this liberal idea helps explain why we have legislation prohibiting discrimination based on a wide variety of attributes.

Another version of liberalism holds that anti-discrimination law undermines freedom of association, the right to choose who we associate with and on what terms. Continue reading “Liberalism and discrimination”

The 1967 Constitutional referendum

Today is the fortieth anniversary of the biggest ever yes vote in an Australian Constitutional referendum. But what exactly were people voting for? One interesting argument of two recent books, a revised edition of The 1967 Referendum: Race, Power and the Australian Constitution by Bain Attwood and Andrew Markus, and Divided Nation? Indigenous Affairs and the Imagined Public by Murray Goot and Tim Rowse, is that confusion was as common then as it is now.

In the 1960s, many people argued that Constitutional change was necessary to give Aboriginal Australians citizenship, and that’s the interpretation still being put on it today. On ABC TV’s Insiders this morning we were told:

As hard as it is to believe in retrospect, just four decades ago, Aborigines were not counted as citizens.

Hard to believe, indeed, as all Aborigines had been citizens since 1948, and many (the ‘half-castes’) much earlier. Yet the citizenship claim was also made in the opening few minutes of tonight’s SBS documentary Vote Yes for Aborigines (though contradicted later in the programme). The common belief that Aborigines were given the vote in the referendum isn’t right either, and even the idea that they weren’t counted in the census isn’t strictly correct – the Bureau of Statistics did count them, but the number was ignored for certain purposes.
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Political shopping

A few weeks ago, the ACCC action Sinclair Davidson and Tim Wilson are taking against Fairtrade coffee sparked the lengthiest-ever debate at this blog. But how many people might be interested in getting some social justice with their coffee?

The ABS General Social Survey 2006, the first results from which were released this week, provides some answers. It found that, over the last twelve months, a quarter of those surveyed had ‘boycotted or deliberately bought products for political, ethical or environmental reasons’. The fashion-prone young were not the most likely to buy or not buy for these reasons; on all measures of activism including this one they were below average. It was the middle-aged 45-54 year olds who were the most socially aware consumers, with 30% taking political, ethical or environmental considerations into account.

The 2005 Australia Survey of Social Attitudes asked a very similar question, except that their time period was 2 years rather than 12 months. Doubling the time period also doubled the proportion taking these factors into account, suggesting that for some consumers political purchasing is a very occasional event, rather than an everyday one like coffee (or perhaps the Fairtrade coffee is so bad that once is enough).
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Do more people feel better off now than when Howard was elected?

According to an article in this week’s Bulletin, more people (36.5%) feel that they are not better off than before John Howard was elected PM than feel that they are better off (32.6%). The question seems to have been badly worded, with the apparent options being ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘the same’ – the magazine interpreted ‘no’ as ‘worse off’, but without spelling this out clearly some people who think things haven’t changed much could have answered ‘no’.

Even so, only a third thinking they are better off seems low. Income distribution analysis suggests that the benefits of prosperity have been spread through all socio-economic groups. And it’s been a good eleven years for technology-driven improvements: the internet and mobile phones particularly, but also home entertainment. Unemployment is at a 30-year low, and workforce participation at an all-time high.

There are theories that explain why perceptions lag objective statistics on issues like this, particularly when the question asks the respondent whether he or she feels better off. The happiness research has made much of the process of adaptation. When our objective standard of living improves we feel better for a while, but after a while we get used to it. Psychologists such as Danny Gilbert argue that we are not very good at recalling past emotional states. But Gilbert’s theory also suggests that because we can’t remember how we felt, we use theories of how we would have felt instead. Do people’s ‘theories’ of 1996 suggest that things were better then than now?
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Do government school kids learn tolerance and community?

In my joint paper with Jennifer Buckingham comparing people who went to government schools with people who went to non-government schools, she draw the research short straw – collecting what the public school lobby has had to say on the subject. The op-ed by Catherine Deveny in today’s Age – an evidence-free rant – is the kind of stuff she has to trawl through.

Take this passage:

The lessons kids learn in government schools — resilience, motivation, community and tolerance — hold them in much better stead than hand-holding, spoon-feeding, mollycoddling and segregation.

I’m not sure that any of the surveys I plan to use can tell me much about resilience or motivation – though clearly private school students have enough of each to do much better educationally on average than those who went to government schools – but there are questions that help us understand any differences on community and tolerance.

The 2005 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes asked about voluntary association involvement. 22% of those who went to government schools were actively involved in a voluntary assocation, compared to 25% of those who went to Catholic schools and 31% who went to other private schools. Another question asked about, in the last 2 years, working together with others who shared the same concerns to express views or represent interests. 43% of those who had been to government schools had done so, 48% of people who went to Catholic schools, and 52% of those who went to other non-government schools. On the question of trust, 53% of those who had been to government schools thought that other people could always or usually be trusted, compared to 59% of those who went to Catholic schools and 63% of those who went to other non-government schools.
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More pointless mixing of polling issues

A Newspoll reported in The Australian today asked another of its ‘does X make you more likely to vote for Y’ questions, and like its Budget version last week really only showed what little value these results have.

In a question about the government’s change to WorkChoices (or whatever it is called these days) to introduce a fairness test for AWAs, 12% said that it was more likely to make them vote for the Coalition and 15% less likely. The people most likely to be aggrieved by this change are small-business owning Liberal voters, but only 2% of Coalition voters said that it made them less likely to vote Liberal or National. By contrast 26% of Labor voters declared themselves less likely to vote for the Coalition. As Labor voters are the group most opposed to WorkChoices this backdown by the government should go some way to easing their concerns, but a quarter of them claim that it has made them even less inclined to vote Coalition.

Given that in net terms Newspoll would have us believe that both the Budget and the WorkChoices have made a Coalition vote less likely, we should be seeing the Liberal primary vote falling even more. Yet according to these same Newspolls, that is not happening. Since mid-April, Liberal primary support in the Newspoll series has been 35%, 37%, 36%, and 39%, the last two polls being conducted after the WorkChoices backdown and the Budget. Genuine vote changers, if any, are so mixed in with poll respondents playing the pollster that we cannot identify them and so the question is pointless.

It would have been far more interesting to directly ask people what they thought of the WorkChoices changes. As it is, we learn nothing at all about attitudes towards fairness tests and nothing about partisan preferences that isn’t more accurately recorded in the question about which party the respondent plans to support.

Coalition Senators under a Rudd government

A long succession of very bad polls – with another reported today – has Liberals starting to talk about Opposition (I’m a pessimist; I started in January). One Liberal-supporting blog reader emailed me last week wondering about how the party would operate in the Senate under a Rudd government.

He was right that the good 2004 result would see the Coalition in less trouble in the Senate than the House of Representatives, but very optimistic that it would be in a position, on its own, to stop Labor legislation over its first term.

To do that, it would need 38 of the 76 Senators. Assuming that the 2 Senate places in each of the ACT and the NT will as usual go equally to the ALP and the Liberals/Country Liberal Party (in the NT), it will have the 21 seats it won in 2004. With half the seats in the six states going up for re-election, the Coalition would need to pick up 17 of the 36 seats up for grabs.

The one poll specifically on the Senate published so far suggests that the Coalition is assured of only 12, with perhaps another from Queensland – still four short. On some issues, Family First’s Steve Fielding will vote with the Coalition, but he still leaves them three short. With the Democrats due to disappear, the balance of power will be held by the Greens, who are well to the left of the ALP.
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Do private schools make people religious?

Surely question 15 [on the ‘Judaeo-Christian tradition’] is just looking ahead a little – with an ever increasing proportion of the country’s children being funneled into Christian schools (as applauded by Andrew) Australia may yet become a Christian nation.

commenter Russell today.

With my CIS colleague Jennifer Buckingham I am working on a paper which looks at differences between people who went to government and non-government schools. I have a fair bit more work to do for my part of the project, which is examining surveys that ask respondents what kind of school they attended and then seeing if I can find any interesting differences between them. But some initial results from the 2005 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes might be of interest.

One pattern that does seem reasonably consistent is those who went to non-Catholic private schools are closer to people who went to government schools than those who went to Catholic schools (suggesting the difference may be Catholic/Protestant rather than public/private; an hypothesis I will need to explore).

This starts with the basic question of whether the respondent has a religion. 69% of people who went to government schools and 71% who went to non-Catholic private schools say they have a religion, compared to 86% of those who went to a Catholic school.
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