Evidence and economic reform

An article in the latest issue of federal Treasury’s Economic Roundup publication argues for the importance of evidence in ‘creating a broad base of community support for reform’. The authors, Joann Wilkie and Angelia Grant, use the economic reforms since 1983 as their case study.

I’ve no doubt that evidence and analysis was important in shaping elite views on economic reform. I’m not sure, however, that they make a convincing case on public support for the reform process. The main reason for saying this is that the polling we have suggests that the public opposed most of the specific economic reforms, with mixed survey results on their attitudes towards the whole reform process.

The problem is evident in contradictions within the article. The authors say that influential experts and commentators were important in ‘convincing the public to support tariff reform’. But their own data a couple of pages on clearly shows that most people continue to support tariffs. Wilkie and Grant note, as I did in a 2004 article, that polling does show understanding of the argument that free trade benefits consumers. However, on my analysis concern about jobs is the over-riding consideration.

Similarly, privatisation almost always polls poorly, and while there were some mixed results in early industrial relations polling, opinion was strongly against WorkChoices.
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Liberty and Society, 1-3 May 2009

For university students and recent graduates, applications are open for the next CIS Liberty and Society seminar. It starts with a dinner on Friday 1 May, with sessions over the next two days on liberal political philosophy, liberal economics, liberal law and a final policy-oriented session. If you are interested in classical liberal ideas, you’ll get lot from this weekend.

You don’t have to be a classical liberal to attend; we always select a few conservatives and social democrats to keep the debate lively. But everyone has to express their disagreements in a reasoned and polite way, so all who attend can participate in the discussion without being intimidated.

If you are selected, the CIS will cover all the costs of the weekend itself, and there are also air fare subsidies available for those who need help getting to Sydney.

Applications close on 3 April.