A vacancy at Quadrant

This month’s Quadrant announces that Paddy McGuinness is stepping down as editor at the end of the year. Blogging on Quadrant‘s 50th birthday last year I thought the magazine’s best years were behind it, but I still think there can be good years ahead.

So far as I can tell, as an occasional contributor and mixing with others who contribute to it, editors have rarely done much to shape its content. With the luxury of a steady flow of OK articles coming in, they haven’t had to cultivate authors or put a lot of effort into deciding what topics should be covered. Doing so could achieve articles of more even quality (though as with all essentially voluntary publications, things will always be a bit patchy).

There are some obvious things that can be done to make the magazine more attractive, such as improving its design and website. Writers are attracted to an audience, and the larger the audience the more willing people will be to write for you.

If I was 25 years older I’d think of applying myself, but from what I hear about the salary it would be a hard job to take unless you were already financially secure.

20 thoughts on “A vacancy at Quadrant

  1. Wouldn’t an editor write “If I were 25 years older …”?

    “editors have rarely done much to shape its content” – Wasn’t Robert Manne editor? I always thought Quadrant was rubbish, then, when he was editing it, it became something to look forward to. After Manne, back to rubbish – I hardly ever need to look at more than the cover.


  2. I agree, Quadrant could be a much more interesting magazine.

    After Pauline Hanson, 10+ years of Howard and a steady stream of ‘elite’ bashing from the Australian, some ideas are no longer iconclastic or daring — they’re just boring.

    I’d love to see a Quadrant packed with surprising and intellectually challenging articles from a conservative perspective. I’d love to read all the way through and not see anything about post-modernism, elites, the culture wars or ABC bias.


  3. Russell – My two favourite style authorities are divided on the subjunctive. Bryan Garner would agree with you, Pam Peters is not so keen, describing it as ‘formal’. She quotes Fowler as far back as 1926 saying that it could sound pretentious. In conversation – except perhaps with an elderly pedant – I would not use ‘were’. In an official letter I probably would (particularly if drafting for a university colleague, who likes the formal style). In a blog post, I think I will leave it as is.

    As for Manne, I’m sure you’d have liked his views on economics. I didn’t mind Manne’s time as editor. Indeed, as Quadrant editor he was the first person to publish me outside of student newspapers and magazines. And the covers were better than they are now.


  4. I hope the Quadrant board reads this blog – they have found their man, it’s now just a matter of incentives.


  5. “In conversation – except perhaps with an elderly pedant – I would not use ‘were’.”

    “If I were you … ”

    Or have you stopped using this phrase, having realised that giving advice to people usually does little more than pass the time? 🙂

    How about this:

    Andrew, were I Clyde Packer, I’d pay you a healthy editorial surcharge.


  6. Jeremy – I would say ‘If I were you’, but as Pam Peters (who has an answer for everything) notes, the subjunctive survives in various formulaic phrases like ‘If I were you’.


  7. Andrew, on my experience, the editor and Board of Quadrant are too blinkered in their views to provide balance of perspectives (the Chairman is different but no doubt powerless). I speak from some personal experience but you need only look at the names to see how difficult it is for someone with even center-left views like like me to get an article accepted (I regard myself as a social liberal – an economic liberal with sensitivity to distribution and quality of life effects).

    Good luck to Quadrant if they want a monolothic philosophy but a less ideologically committed Board and editor would surely attract more readers.


  8. “I regard myself as a social liberal – an economic liberal with sensitivity to distribution and quality of life effects:

    So, in other words Fred, you’re really just an economist.


  9. Fred – Quadrant does have a history of being fairly eclectic in what it publishes, and if I was editor I would stick to that, though with an emphasis on issues, topics and perspectives that I thought were under-represented elsewhere. Whether that is what the board will go for I can’t say.


  10. Tom N, I think there is an important distinction I am trying to make between dry economic liberals and libertarians on the one hand and social liberals on the other.

    Libertarians like more freedom of choice per se. They are not necessarily good economists.

    “Dry” economic liberals, who make up a good proportion of the profession, have more claims to be economists. They tend to focus only on GDP outcomes (which are taken to approximate aggregate utility). They are happy to endorse a prospective reform if winners are potentially able to compensate losers and still remain themselves better off. With winners and losers presumed to have similar marginal utilities, there is no need for actual compensation or some social investment strategy to neutralise distribution effects.

    However social liberals start with the assumption that an extra dollar is worth more to a poor person than a rich person, so the distribution effects are important in their own right and need to be considered in the evaluation process even when there are aggregate benefits for GDP.



    While I think I know what you’re getting at, Fred, I’m not sure that your use of “social” and “economic” – as in your distinction between social and economic liberals – is one that would or should be widely accepted. In particular, you seem to be using “social” to refer to liberals who worry about distributive issues, in contrast to those with economic.
    I would have thought that a social liberal was one who favoured little government intervention in the social realm, whereas an economic liberal was one who favoured little intervention in the economic realm.
    Further, one can be worried about social phenomena without any concern for distribution. For instance, one might advocate subsidies for volunteerism so as to build social capital, without any particular concern as to whether the social capital thus built benefits mainly the well-off rather than the poorly-off. Likewise, one might advocate funding for counselling bodies to improve the quality of people’s relationships, again on its own merits – ie without any distributional concerns underpinning the policy. Equally, as I’m sure you recognise, one can be concerned about economic phenomena alone and be concerned about distribution.
    It seems to me that terms like “social”, “economic” and “environmental” are best used to describe domains of activity, where distributive concerns can arise and/or be addressed in any of those domains. I would thus reject any attempt to suggest that distributive concerns are soley or especially a “social” matter.

    PS: On another point, I should say that I do not know of any economist who thinks that GDP approximates aggregate utility. You’ve clearly been reading too much Gittins!


  12. Andrew, a cynic might think that you were trying to start a bidding war between a current employer and a prospective employer. Are you due to renegotiate a contract?


  13. Tom, you make some valid points about terminology. I used to call myself a socially progressive liberal but I was told that this was presumptuous. So I tried “wet economic liberal” but was told this made me seem like a silly old fool.

    My point is this: dry economists (and they are everywhere in the profession) believe it is legitimate to ignore distribution effects of reform (they say it is “a matter for politicians not us”). They also take the high ground – claiming that they are not making value judgments – when in fact they are interposing their values just like I am.

    I like to distinguyish mytself from these economists – take explicit account of the incremental distribution effects of a proposed reform in the evaluation process and to consider alternative reforms which can achieve a more distribution-neutral outcome. This issue arises most starkly with labour market deregulation where often trade-offs are involved.

    Yet I share with dry economists their belief in competitive product and financial markets.

    So what am I? No rude remarks please.


  14. Fred, leaving aside wet and dry for a moment, I think most mainstream economists would subscribe to a distinction between ends and means. In other words, distributional impacts alone are not a reason to avoid undertaking market-orientated reforms (that said, the debate over EMTRs and incentives has highlighted a flaw with the notion that distribution is something that can just be managed through ex post transfers). More strict welfare economists might have trouble supporting reforms that did not produce Pareto improvements (ie where no one is made worse off) and real killjoys would even have difficulties with the concept of Pareto optimality as a normative criterion.

    Maybe you’re just a killjoy?


  15. Fred, I used to describe myself as “an economic rationalist with a concave social welfare function and a pan-dimensional comprehension of market failure”. Girls still wouldn’t sleep with me though.*

    Whatever the correct terminology, I take issue with your depiction of “dry economists”, who you say are everywhere in the profession. I am considered by many of my colleagues to be a somewhat wet economist^, yet for analytical purposes I often assume that a dollar is a dollar. This does not mean that I am “insensitive” to distributional impacts or would not want to much more vigorously enforce the Robin Hood principle were I King: it simply means that I think that distributional concerns are often better handled through mechanisms other than the ones I am examining; and/or that I believe that over a suite of efficiency-enhancing reforms, there will be little net effect on equity (as losers from one reform will win from others); and/or that I believe that existing welfare mechanisms are appropriate to deal with any losers that a reform I am recommending might generate; and/or that I feel that I canot effectively incorporate distributional considerations into an analysis (perhaps due to imperfect information), leaving dollar-is-a-dollar efficiency criteria as the only basis for making a recommendation; or – yes – that the government has effectively said that I (or the organisation I work for) should go out there and recommend efficiency-enhancing policies and leave distributional issues for it – the government – to deal with.

    Now, I know I’m not saying anything here that you don’t already know about, but my concern is that lay people reading your stuff may not appreciate the reasons that economists like me sometimes “ignore” distributional concerns (actually, we are really assuming them away, rather than ignoring them), and thus see such economists as heartless bastards who are, indeed, “insensitive” to such concerns.


    * After substantial market testing, I found that the best appelation to get girls interested was to describe myself as “a fully reconstructed, gender sensitive, ecologically sustainable, anti-nuclear gay whale new age male”, but that was back in the 1980s: I’m not sure that such a marketing stategy would necessarily be successful in reducing barriers to entry to GenZ.

    ^ Or, if not wet, then at least enigmatic.


  16. Rajat, I do not seek Pareto optimality (no losers). That WOULD make me a killjoy and kill any hopes of serious reform. That’s not what I am about. Read my article in the latest issue of AGENDA (vol 14 no. 2, 2007).

    I look at each efficiency/equity trade-off on its merit. If a proposal offers high efficiency gains and potentially low social costs (small impact on the earnings and quality of life of the poor or an impact which is manageable in other ways e.g. through small adjustments in the tax structure), I support the proposal. If the proposal threatens to generate high social costs while the potential economic efficiency or employment gains are small (as is the case with much labour market deregulation once we have reached the high level of labour market freedom we now enjoy), I reject the proposal and look for an alternative way of achieving the same ends, even if it means higher taxes.

    That’s not killjoy but sound public policy in my books.


  17. I agree that the design is atrocious (it’s very faux aristocracy, and Times New Roman is possibly the crappiest choice of a serif possible).
    Another thing I always funny – especially compared with The Monthly – is that they’re government supported.


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