The decline of marijuana

The latest drug statistics from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show that illicit drug use is becoming less common. In the last six years (the survey goes back to 1993, but only since 2001 have huge 20,000+ samples been used) the proportion of Australians using any illicit drug in the last twelve months has declined from 16.9% to 13.4%.

What’s particularly interesting is the way it is falling away in the teen group, aged 14-19. While this is still an age of experimentation (the overall statistics are helped a lot by all us sober 40 plus people), the proportion of young men using illicit drugs in the last 12 months is getting close to having halved in just six years, from 28.8% to 15.6%. Among young women it is down from 26.6% to 17.7% (making this the only age group in which females are more likely to use drugs than males).

The main driver seems to be declining use of marijiuana/cannabis, which has more than halved among young men (26.6%/13.1%) and is significantly down among young women (22.6%/12.7%). The girls use party drugs more than the guys, accounting for their higher overall figure.

There is debate at Harry Clarke’s blog and Andrew Leigh’s blog about what might be causing these changes.
Continue reading “The decline of marijuana”

Can business students do their sums?, #2

Last year, after the federal government let universities increase annual student contribution amounts for commerce and economics students by $1,200, I predicted:

Applications for business degrees will not move outside the normal +/- <1% market share we see for most disciplines each year.

The basis of my prediction was that applications are primarily driven by interests, and that while financial factors can influence course choices within the range of a person’s interests, these financial factors will not just include course costs, but the anticipated long-term costs and benefits of a particular course choice. Business and economics students, even more than other students, are likely to be able to do their sums and realise that $3,600 in additional course costs is trivial compared to the long-term earnings gains they can reasonably expect.

Damien Eldridge wasn’t so keen on my analysis, pointing out (correctly) that what mattered here was the marginal economics and commerce student, and that a shift in relative prices could see some move to other disciplines that interest them. He suggested that they might go to geography or sociology.

The applications data for 2008 was released today, which shows that my prediction was correct but also reports numbers consistent with Damien’s analysis. Management and commerce did lose market share, by 0.31% of all applications. As usual, no discipline gained or lost by more than 1% market share, demonstrating the high year-to-year stability observed in this data, despite occasional shifts in relative prices. The broad discipline cluster that includes geography and sociology gained 0.43%. Engineering draws on similar quantitative skills to commerce, and many engineers end up as managers, so I think this would be another (and perhaps more likely) alternative course, and it gained 0.53% of market share. Continue reading “Can business students do their sums?, #2”

Fellow-student funded overseas holidays: the latest anti-VSU argument

As we saw in the case of Joy Kyriacou a couple of weeks ago, there are people whose sense of entitlement to the earnings of others is completely shameless. Ms Kyriacou, as readers may recall, thinks that her fellow Australians shoud pay higher taxes so that she does not have to postpone her first overseas holiday while repaying her HECS debt.

This morning The Age brings us La Trobe University sports manager John Dumaresq, who in a criticism of voluntary student unionism that looks more like a defence to me, explains why it is harder than before VSU to get members of the women’s football team to go to interstate matches:

“Students think, well, I can spend a week on the Gold Coast or I can work and at the end of the year with $700 [the cost of the Gold Coast footy trip] I can go to Thailand or Vietnam for an overseas trip.

They have to weigh it up, but in the past they might have done both because it was subsidised,” Mr Dumaresq said.

So on Mr Dumaresq’s view, other students – who if we believe NUS are poverty-stricken – should pay higher charges so that women footballers can go to the Gold Coast and on an Asian holiday.

I do not support price control, and therefore I cannot support that aspect of the VSU legislation. But as I have always conceded, the previous system was riddled with inequities and inefficiencies. The forced unbundling was useful shock therapy in clearing these away.

When the system is deregulated, universities will presumably think carefully before including the cost of too many student junkets in their price structure.

A reborn Bulletin?

My Bulletin obituary may have been premature. Reports in several papers over the last few days – the most detailed was in the Weekend Australian – reveal that businessman Peter Hall is considering buying the masthead and turning it

into a weekly magazine of comment and analysis, like The Spectator or the New Yorker. “I believe Australia needs an intelligent weekly magazine of comment and analysis.”

But surely we have more than enough ‘comment and analysis’ already, at least of party politics. While The New Yorker comes out weekly, the articles that make it worth buying have nothing to do with the previous week. Often they are the results of months of research, and written and edited so well that they could not have been rushed to meet a weekly schedule. A magazine with a circulation of over a million can sustain the expenditure needed to reach such excellence. The Australian market cannot. Continue reading “A reborn Bulletin?”

Vote for your favourite public intellectuals

Back in 2005, the British magazine Prospect, in a joint project with Foreign Policy, asked its readers to vote on the top 100 public intellectuals. It set off a wave of local public intellectual lists. Now Prospect is seeing how our public intellectual tastes have changed with another vote. (At least one change the editors have decided on already – Naomi Klein who came 11th last time isn’t even on the 100 person short list.) Anyone can vote for up to five of their favourite intellectuals, plus offer a suggestion as to who the short list misses, with the poll closing on 15 May.

There were about 20 names on the short list I’d consider voting for, but for quite different reasons so it is hard to rank them. But here are my choices and why: Continue reading “Vote for your favourite public intellectuals”

The community corps and student debt, #2

I expanded on my arguments against reducing HECS-HELP debt in exchange for community service for the Higher Education Supplement on Wednesday, but I am yet to convince everyone I have spoken to about the idea.

My main objection is to the link between community service and student debt, since I disputed the synergies between the two. If taxapayers are going to support community service, they should try to recruit the best candidates for the available work, whether or not they have student debt.

Against this view, I was pointed to Andrew Leigh’s comments in his AFR column:

Each year, approximately 75,000 young Americans participate in AmeriCorps, and many continue to work with the community after their service year ends. Implemented here, a similar program might have practical benefits for underprivileged communities. But its ‘eye-opening’ benefits could be greater still – giving affluent suburban youth a chance to spend a year facing disadvantage in all its complexity. Continue reading “The community corps and student debt, #2”


The move has not been successful; or at least, not very smooth.

The original plan was to fold into the parent installation, but two days of fighting like cats and dogs with WordPress has taken about a year off my life.

Anyway, I’ve put Andrew’s site on a standalone installation for the moment. At least it’s nice and quick and the URLs look nicer.

Social cohesion survives Howard, multiculturalism etc etc

The Age tried hard to find negatives in the Mapping Social Cohesion report released today, but

…while [co-author] Professor Andrew Markus said the study had “highlighted some issues which can be taken up”, he said the overall picture was a “very positive one”.

Despite all the fuss about ‘dog whistles’ and ‘divisiveness’ during the Howard years, and from the other side about the supposedly dire consequences of ‘multiculturalism’ during the Hawke and Keating years, attitudinal research suggests that ‘social cohesion’ remains high. Australians overwhelmingly have a ‘sense of belonging’, whether born here (96.9%) or overseas (94.4%). Pride in the Australian way of life is high whether the respondent was born here (94.4%) or overseas (90.4%). Migrants are slightly more likely (81.4%) than those born here (79.6%) to think that Australia is a land of economic opportunity and that their life will be improved in three or four years (55.6%/46%).

This isn’t to say, of course, that things go smoothly all the time. A quarter of respondents had experienced discrimination at some time in their lives because of their ethnic or national background, and 8% on the basis of their religion. 6% say they experience discrimination on a regular basis of once a month or more. This is broadly consistent with previous research.
Continue reading “Social cohesion survives Howard, multiculturalism etc etc”


As Andrew’s longtime webhost I thought I should let you all know I’ll be moving this site to a new server in the coming week.

Andrew has been volunteered by yours truly to be the first guinea pig for a blogging service I am putting together aimed at Australian bloggers. This is not quite an official announcement as I am still ironing out various tedious kinks, but in the coming weeks and months I hope to bring some more ozbloggers on board before opening it up to the public.

You will almost certainly experience disruption as a consequence. Probably the biggest change you’ll see is that the /blog/ hanging off the URL will get dropped, as it’s vestigial. Existing links should continue to work as I will be putting a redirection script in place to handle the required black magic.

Another thing that will probably happen is that I will have to disable comments while dumping and reloading the database, to ensure nobody’s gems go missing in the transition.

That’s it for now. See you all on the other side.

My 2020 weekend

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has been given a standing ovation by the 1002 delegates to the Australia 2020 Summit in Parliament House.

The Age, 20 April 2008.

Make that 1001 delegates, at most. While I was in the room, needless to say I was not among those giving the PM a standing ovation. In the latest issue of Policy, I have reprinted an article by Owen Harries on intellectuals, in which he – following George Orwell – notes the propensity to power-worship among intellectuals. This was on embarrassing display yesterday afternoon. For nearly twelve years, this psychological need has gone unmet as the dreaded Howard occupied the Prime Ministerial suite. And now Australia’s progressive intelligentsia has someone as PM who, while carefully not signing up to immediate implementation of their ideas, takes them seriously and flatters their egos.

I was in the productivity stream. At that 100 person level – as opposed to the collective behaviour in the 1,000 person plenary sessions – there wasn’t a smothering consensus. But nor was there much debate. It was more a case of people trying to put their pet topics into the stream statement that was to be included in the summit initial report. By Sunday morning I was bored and disengaged.

What of the actual ideas? From my stream, the one that has received most attention was to let people reduce their HECS-HELP debt by doing community service. That one mysteriously appeared in our stream summary document on Sunday morning, despite never having been mentioned in the group the day before. Nobody I spoke to from other sub-streams within the major productivity stream had heard it before either (I was in the post-secondary sub-stream). Perhaps it came from community submissions.
Continue reading “My 2020 weekend”