The latest defender of public education

The defenders of public education often portray themselves as high-minded supporters of social cohesion, against ‘divisive’ people like Christians who actually believe in God.

Except for their notion of who counts as ‘divisive’, this is a conservative argument – that social unity is more important that freedom for minority cultures. This is why I have argued that ‘social cohesion’ is often a euphemism for intolerance.

This point was highlighted by the week’s events in Camden, with a proposed Islamic school that had been the subject of heated opposition for locals being rejected by the council on planning grounds (or at least so they said).

Much of the publicity has gone to Camden resident Kate McCulloch, who appeared at the Council meeting in a fashion-statement Australian flag hat (video here). And here is her case for public education:

“I want Muslims in Australia to attend our schools so their children can grow up with our values and, more importantly, so that their mothers can meet Australian mums and see how they don’t have to put up with the sort of treatment they sometimes endure.”

Sometimes you just can’t choose your allies.

Does religion make you happy?

I recently read Arthur Brooks’ new book, Gross National Happiness. It’s a liberal-conservative version of Richard Layard’s social democratic Happiness: Lessons from a New Science a few years back. Two economists reading the happiness literature and finding it (mostly) supports what they already thought about the world.

One of Brooks’ arguments is that religion is good for happiness (he calls this chapter ‘Happiness is a gift from above’). Certainly the reported statistics are striking, with 43% of those who attend church regularly describing themselves as ‘very happy’, compared to 23% of those who attend church never or rarely.

I had a look at a similar question in the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes 2005, and there is a smaller but still large gap between the proportion of people who go to church one a week or more who are ‘very happy’ (defined as 9-10 on a 0 to 10 happiness scale) and those who never go, 33% to 23%.

Will Wilkinson is, however, critical
of Brooks’ attempts to generalise this beyond the US experience. He points out that very secular European countries have very high happiness scores, and unlike the US they have been getting happier as they secularised.
Continue reading “Does religion make you happy?”

Another left-wing think-tank

After my post noting that ‘progressive’ think-tank Per Capita hadn’t published any research in their first year, they did put out this paper on employment services. But their output is still modest, and I wondered whether with so many other job opportunities for left-leaning people Per Capita was having trouble recruiting staff to do their work.

Despite Per Capita’s slow start, the idea that think-tanks might be a useful vehicle for the left persists (rather than an alternative theory that the right uses them because they don’t have other institutional backing like universities and unions). According to a report in The Age

LEFT-wing unions are funding a new think tank, Catalyst Australia, as they aim to counter the influence of such right-wing rivals as the Institute of Public Affairs.

Catalyst Australia’s executive director, Jo-anne Schofield, said the group aimed to engage in the work-life balance debate and to challenge current thinking on economics.

With financial backing from cave-dwelling unions like the CFMEU and the MUA we can be confident there will be little of the fresh thinking promised by Per Capita. Their name has already been taken by a corporate teambuilding outfit. And I think think-tanks can generally make their most useful contribution early in the issue cycle, rather than issues that have already been around for years like work-life balance. But we will see.

24/7 not enough

Today I received a letter from the Prime Minister thanking me for my less-than-enthusiastic participation in the 2020 summit.

The most interesting part of the letter was the date. It says ‘April 2008′, with a hand-written ’30’ in front of it. If this is when the letter was actually prepared, it has taken Rudd’s office the best part of a month just to post a letter.

As I was saying, a 30% cut in Ministerial staff cannot be done without consequences.

The views of Liberal defectors

The SMH had a report yesterday on the results of the 2007 Australian Election Survey. It comes up with the following unsurprising findings:

? Industrial relations and global warming were the biggest vote-changing issues.

? Rising interest rates did not cost the Coalition as dearly as thought.

? Voters respected Mr Howard but were virtually in love with Mr Rudd, giving him the highest “likeability” rating in the survey’s 20-year history.

? Low-income battlers moved decisively back to Labor.

? The Coalition would have struggled under Mr Costello.

But the article doesn’t make use of a useful question in the AES, on which party the respondent voted for in 2004 (with a caveat, of course, on the reliability of 2004 memories). This question can be used to sort the views of people who defected to Labor in 2007 from those who were Labor voters anyway.

When we compare people who switched from Liberal to Labor between 2004 and 2007 with those who remained with the Liberals we can see that the former group was more anti-WorkChoices. Of the 19% of 2004 Liberal voters who voted Labor in 2007, 80% disapproved of WorkChoices. Only 23% of those who stayed with the Liberals disapproved of WorkChoices.
Continue reading “The views of Liberal defectors”

Self-interest and the Budget

A small postcript to my post on self-interest and public opinion. All three polls on the Budget – Galaxy yesterday, and ACNielsen and Newspoll today, find very similar proportions of people saying the Budget will make them worse off (33%/30%/32%) or make no difference/uncommitted (44%/39%/39%).

However, ACNielsen finds 61% of people declaring themselves satisfied with the Budget and 57% saying it was ‘fair’. At least some voters who don’t think they will get anything from the Budget or perhaps even think they will be worse off are nevertheless not unhappy with it.

The public warms to tax cuts

The odd desire of Australian voters to fight inflation with their tax dollars might be coming to an end.

A poll reported this morning in the News Ltd tabloids found, for the first time in recent polling, more for respondents for the tax cuts than against even after they had been alerted to the possible interest rate consequences.

The Galaxy Poll question read:

Do you think the government was right or wrong to introduce tax cuts, given the risk they may pose to inflation and interest rates on home loans?

49% thought it was right, and 31% said it was wrong. Only last week, The Australian reported a Newspoll that found 53% against the tax cut when told that it might increase interest rates.

The poll also asked a budget better off/worse off question. 23% say they will be better off, which is likely to under-state the real figure, and 33% say they will be worse off, which is unlikely unless they are very heavy alocopop drinkers, a luxury car buyer, or a pensioner about to be hit with hefty private health insurance fund premium increases.

There is a pattern of budget benefits being understated and losses overstated. Even with last year’s budget, which so far as I could tell had no losers beyond new commerce students paying higher HECS, Newspoll managed to find 14% of people who thought that they were worse off, and only 36% who thought that they would be better off.

These polls read the politics of the budget more than its reality. But with pensioner protests in the streets, Labor may now start to realise that by relentlessly droning on about ‘working families’ other households may start to feel like losers. Continue reading “The public warms to tax cuts”

Who reads political blogs?

According to the Australia Election Survey, the proportion of people looking at political blogs during the election campaign increased nearly fourfold between 2004 and 2007. But large growth from a miniscule base still leaves us with a tiny audience of just 2.7% of the AES sample. YouTube had attracted twice as many people in search of campaign material.

With only 50 political blog readers captured in the AES, it’s too small a sample to analyse blog readers with any confidence. But looking at the characteristics of that 50 there are few surprises.

30% of our 50 had done some work for a party or candidate. Only 25% voted Liberal in 2007 (slightly below the proportion who gave their party ID as Liberal). Many of the others were serious Howard haters, with more than half the sample rating their feelings about John Howard at 1 or 2 on a scale that ran from 1 ‘Strongly dislike’ to 10 ‘Strongly like’. They were more than twice as likely to feel that way about the former PM than the sample as a whole. By contrast, no readers of political blogs seriously disliked Rudd, compared to about 8% of the sample as a whole.

As we would expect, younger AES respondents were well represented among blog readers, with about a quarter born in the 1980s. However, the rest were fairly evenly spread among the decades going back to the 1940s. They were slightly more likely than the general population to have attended a private school.

The only result that did surprise me was that there was gender balance. The political blogosphere, both among bloggers and commenters, seems to me to be a very male place – perhaps even more male dominated than mainstream politics. Maybe there are many female lurkers out there. It would be good to get a large enough survey that we could find out.

Petty savings

For all the tough talk before the Budget, the cuts announced on Tuesday night were small scale and posed no risk to Wayne Swan taking the title ‘ Australia’s highest taxing and spending Treasurer’, which has traditionally gone with the job. As Tim Colebatch says in The Age this morning:

IF LABOR made no policy decisions this year and put the budget on automatic pilot, federal spending next year would have been $287,828 million. Instead, after months of work by the razor gang, federal spending estimates have been cut to $287,764 million.

Spot the difference? In net terms, Labor cut federal spending by 0.02%. Its net cuts totalled $64 million — $1 for every $4500 the Government spends.

As Treasury’s historical data shows, there have been eight budgets since the fall of the Whitlam government with lower increases in real spending, four of them under Labor.

Though I am pleased that the FTB B and the baby bonus are to be means tested, this is more a symbolic change than a big saving, with only $173 million less spending in 2008-09 as a result. Those two programs between them will still increase their spending by $707 million, of the nearly $2 billion in total increases to official family payments. The Education Tax Refund, which is effectively an extension of FTB A, adds another billion.
Continue reading “Petty savings”

Higher education in the Budget

My quick analysis of the higher education aspects of the budget is online at The Australian. I had a 9pm deadline, so not much time to read the relevant parts of the budget papers and write the article (Wayne Swan’s voice droning in the background did not help either). Unlike last year, though, there wasn’t too much to absorb.

Labor’s estimated spending for 2008-09 is less than what the Coalition had in its forward estimates. There seems to be a small cut in the Institutional Grant Scheme, which is the block grant for research, but I think the main cause is that the first distribution from the investment fund that Costello set up last year has been postponed. It will be the leanest year for universities in a long time.