Partisan pessimism

Newspoll regularly asks voters whether, in the next six months, their standard of living will improve, stay the same, or get worse. Their results always show that supporters of the political party in opposition federally are more pessimistic than supporters of the governing party.

As I noted a couple of years ago, at most times the causes of this are hard to disentangle. Some of it is probably real. Living standards of opposition supporters may genuinely be negatively affected by the government’s policies – eg Labor supporters relying on handouts that may not be so readily available under the Coalition; Liberal supporters suffering from increased tax and regulation under Labor. And people whose living standards have declined may blame the government, and therefore appear as supporters of the opposition in the polls.

These factors are least likely to apply as a new government begins; voters cannot blame its past policies for their current problems, and the inevitably slow-moving machinery of government means that few objective changes are likely to occur within six months. But as a Newspoll conducted in mid-December, and reported in the Australian this morning, shows this doesn’t stop reversals in who feels optimistic about their future living standards and who feels pessimistic.
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Pick the odd name out

Alasdair Macintyre, Colin McGinn, Andrew Norton, Martha Nussbaum, … John Searle, Peter Singer

– from the contributors list in the 1st quarter 2008 issue of The Philosophers’ Magazine

Philosophically-inclined readers will realise that this is a case of a peasant mixing with the intellectual aristocracy, thanks to the egalitarian institution of alphabetical listing. I’m there at all because of my exchange of letters with Alan Soble over The Peel’s door policy, which in turn came about because someone at The Philosophers’ Magazine found this post from May. As I said earlier this month, I don’t think that debate went as well the public school debate with Andrew Leigh, but both seemed to have picked up audiences I would not normally get.

Would blind trusts solve the privacy vs. improper influence donations dilemma?

Andrew Leigh asks if I have a view on his suggestion that Australia should create blind trusts for political donations.

There are several pages on this in Andrew L’s co-authored 2004 book Imagining Australia, with the idea also summarised in this SMH op-ed. Instead of giving money directly to political parties, as now, donors would give anonymously to trusts that would then pass on the money to the donor’s selected party or candidate.

The argument is that the parties would have no way of knowing for sure who their donors were, and therefore would have less of an incentive to improperly favour their financial supporters. The anonymity of donations would also get around the problem, which I have discussed in the past, of people being reluctant to get involved in politics because they fear negative consequences if they back the losing side.

Blind trusts are, I think, a more persuasive solution to the latter problem than the former. Given it would be near-impossible to prevent donors telling parties about their donations (in the book, it is acknowledged that donors could provide a receipt), as a method of limiting corruption it’s hard to see that this is much more than the pre-disclosure system with some added bureaucracy. Some donors would prefer to remain anonymous – if only to save themselves future pestering by party fundraisers – but those hoping for something in return for their money are likely to make sure that the relevant people know about their donation.
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What does GetUp! achieve?

Commenter Matt Marks says that:

The Liberal High Command has totally underestimated GetUp! and I think you are doing the same, albeit to a lesser degree.

A low-level political statement [what I had claimed of GetUp!] does not involve TV ad campaigns, over 200,000 members on their email list and dedicated fundraising.

I think GetUp! is an innovative organisation and that clearly there is demand for the services it provides. I’ve never seen a three-party election ad before. It runs media-friendly stunts like putting political messages in fortune cookies. It’s using new technology to update old political tactics like petitions and letter-writing campaigns.

But unlike Matt (and commenter Spiros) I’m not yet convinced that GetUp! is a model well-adapted to shifting votes or influencing policies in Australia.
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Should political activity be further regulated?

In his speech to the National Press Club yesterday, Liberal Party federal director Brian Loughnane said this about the role of the ACTU and GetUp! in the campaign:

The ACTU spent over $14 million on television advertising in the twelve months before election day. This was more than either of the two major parties spent on television in the campaign…

For the first time in our history, a third external force has intervened in our political process with resources greater than either of the major political parties. I believe this is an extremely unhealthy development. If disclosure of campaign spending is to mean anything in this country, the ACTU should be required to publish a report setting out details of how the $30 million it allocated to the campaign was spent.

…The intervention of GetUp! in the campaign is another example of this phenomenon. GetUp! was well resourced and has strong international connections. It is perfectly entitled to play in the game, but it should also be subject to proper levels of scrutiny.

Actually, direct election campaign spending by the ACTU and GetUp! will have to be disclosed, and GetUp! also warns donors that their identities may be disclosed. Loughnane seems to be suggesting that these rules go even further and apply to spending outside of election campaigns.

This would be a highly undesirable development. Continue reading “Should political activity be further regulated?”

A happily wrong prediction

On Thursday 22 November, when explaining how I was going to vote, I said:

In the Senate, I am going to put my friend Scott Ryan first, though as he is third on the Liberal ticket I don’t like his chances of becoming Senator Ryan this time around.

Happily, I was too pessimistic. This morning, the Australian Electoral Commission confirmed that Scott had been elected to the Senate.

Another advantage of this is that I had been disqualifying Scott, who lives in Carlton, from any claim to be a second Carlton classical liberal on the grounds that as a Liberal Party candidate he was bound to support its big government policies (as a mere Liberal Party branch member I can say what I like). So the wisdom of Victorian voters in making Scott Senator Ryan has also allowed me to keep my blog title. Somehow ‘Observations from one of Carlton’s classical liberals’ doesn’t sound right.

The end of WorkChoices

Today the Coalition’s Shadow Cabinet officially declared WorkChoices dead. With coincidental but good timing, my Policy article on the ugly WorkChoices polling went online this morning.

Polling published since I wrote the article confirms the findings I report. In the Weekend Australian last Saturday, George Megalogenis cited surveys by left-leaning pollster Essential Media Communications that anti-WorkChoices opinion was stable across 2006 and 2007. The huge sums of money spent by both sides on WorkChoices propaganda had little if any net effect on the basic yes/no question.

My reading is that the anti-WorkChoices campaign was able to tap into set public opinion that labour market institutions should protect low-paid and vulnerable workers, and so it all it had to do was convince people that WorkChoices was contrary to their beliefs. That was accomplished by the time polling started in mid-2005.

What we still can’t be entirely clear on is whether the Coalition’s backdown on AWAs and the introduction of a ‘fairness’ test – a major watering down of WorkChoices on a key aspect of public concern, rather than just an advertising campaign – made any difference to the basic yes/no question (Megalogenis’s article doesn’t say when in 2007 Essential Media polled).
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Over-educated graduates, again

The annual ABS Education and Work report is out today, and so another round in the Birrell vs Norton dispute as to whether we have too few, or too many, graduates for labour force needs.

This is the first Education and Work survey using the ABS’s new occupational classifications. This mucks up my time series, but by abolishing the ‘associate professional’ classification ends my indecision as to whether these occupations should be counted as ‘graduate’ or not. Some of the occupations formerly classified as ‘associate professional’ have been transferred to the ‘professional’ or ‘managerial’ classifications that graduates typically aspire to, while others are now in the new categories of ‘technicians and trade workers’, ‘clerical and administrative service workers’, and ‘community and personal service workers’. (It was the mixed nature of the ‘associate professional’ category that made be inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to the Birrell case, and count these as ‘graduate’ jobs.)

With this sharper definition of which jobs are graduate jobs, I arrive at a higher estimate of the proportion of employed graduates in ‘non-graduate’ occupations – up from 19.2% to 26.5%. That’s 644,000 persons. There are another 400,000 graduates who are not working, giving us more than a million graduates not using their qualifications. By contrast, there are about 1.8 million graduates who are using their qualifications.

This new data supports my argument earlier this year (pdf) that labour market shortages in graduate occupations are more due to a misallocation of places between disciplines than to a shortage of places overall.

Ad hoc arguments against civil unions

My friend John Heard is always quick to jump on any suggestion of gay marriage or civil unions; so much so that two op-eds on the subject this year have had to be qualified by subsequent blog posts (here and here).

Labor is not, as John now concedes but claimed in his Australian op-ed this morning, about to introduce civil unions in breach of an election promise. What it is planning to do is move towards relationship registers and remove various forms of discrimination against gay couples, as set out in the ALP platform.

The problem with John’s anti-civil union/gay marriage stance is that though his position on this issue is essentially the Catholic one, that’s a hard argument to make in a minority Catholic country with a strong tradition of secular politics.

So he is forced to adopt various ad hoc arguments that provide no solid basis for an anti-civil union/gay marriage argument. The problems of ad hocery are well-summarised in this passage from today’s op-ed:
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Does FEE-HELP inflate fees?

In this week’s Higher Education Supplement in The Australian, higher education commentator Gavin Moodie offers the Liberal Opposition some policy advice. Some of it, such as introducing vouchers, unsurprisingly I think is sound. However there is also this:

There would have to be a cap on fees because the whole point of an income-contingent loan is to insulate students from the immediate cost of student fees, thus removing any price discipline on tuition fees as the US has found much to its cost.

This was an issue discussed at a workshop on the FEE-HELP loan scheme in Canberra this week. The idea behind a student loans scheme is, of course, to help students pay more than they would if tuition fees had to be paid upfront. To the extent that there is historic underinvestment in education, we would expect price increases when a loans scheme is introduced.

In the not-for-profit private non-university higher education sector this is what seems to have happened, with substantial fee increases observed in most of the institutions for which I have data in the year they received access to FEE-HELP, or the following year. But is this removing ‘any price discipline’? I doubt this. Their fees are still below what a public university would receive for a Commonwealth-supported place in the same discipline.
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