Ideological role reversal on the will of the people

Leftist critics of the right like Norman Abjorensen see them as opponents of popular sovereignty. Certainly, in the past conservatives have sometimes supported quasi-democratic upper houses as a way of keeping a restraint on popularly elected Labor governments. Labor responded by planning to abolish upper houses, successfully in Queensland, and didn’t get rid of its pledge to abolish the Senate until 1979.

But over the last 15 or so years there has been something of a role reversal. Conservatism developed a strong populist strain, while Labor governments and their left-wing supporters started thinking of ways to frustrate the will of the lower houses of parliament. This is most advanced in Victoria, where Labor changed the Legislative Council’s voting system to make it difficult for either major party to secure a majority, and introduced a charter of rights, handing substantial power to the judiciary, while reserving the parliament’s power to ultimately over-ride ‘rights’.

The political identity survey suggests that conservatives (combining self-categorised ‘conservatives’ and ‘social conservatives and economic liberals’) are now quite distinctive in their opposition to further ceding power to the judiciary and preserving the democratic system’s role in protecting individual freedoms, though a slim majority of the classical liberals in the survey also prefer the democratic system.
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Civility policy reminder

Over the last few days, some new commenters have been adding personal abuse to their remarks. As it was directed at me, I have not edited or deleted it in line with my comments policy. But one of the reasons I set up my own blog was to try to create a comments culture where people could offer their views without being insulted. I have a pretty thick skin, but I don’t want my comments threads going the way of the threads at some other blogs, so I am going to start enforcing my civility rules from now on.

So commenters are welcome to expose errors, find fault with logic, criticise ideological assumptions etc, but personal insults will result in the comment being edited or deleted. Repeat offenders will be put in moderation or banned.

Does Turnbull’s strategy make sense?

Scott Steel at Pollytics blog does lots of good work crunching the pollsters’ numbers, and there is another interesting post today on the relationship between PM and Opposition Leader satisfaction and support for their respective parties. It’s worth reading in full, but the key findings include:

* the PM’s satisfaction rating has a much stronger relationship to the PM’s vote than does the Leader of the Oppositions satisfaction rating to their primary vote;
* PM satisfaction historically explains just over 50% of the variation of the Opposition’s primary vote – as the PM gains higher levels of satisfaction, the Oppositions primary vote starts dropping;
* the satisfaction rating of the Opposition [leader] has a pretty weak relationship to the government primary vote, explaining only 8% of the variation in the last 23 years worth of data.

On polling history,

Turnbull – like nearly all Opposition Leaders before him – is effectively a slave to the Prime Ministers own personal standing with the electorate.

This analysis seems right to me. But I am not at all sure that his conclusion about Turnbull’s leadership is the right one:
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Orwell’s great reach

For all the differences between ideological groups in the political identity survey, they had one thing in common: for all of them, George Orwell was the most read writer.


Perhaps this is partly because he was one of only two writers on the survey list who is most famous as a novelist (though he was a very fine essayist as well), and not even the greatest treatise writers can absorb readers in the way novelists can. But clearly it is not simply the fact of being a novelist – the other novelist, Ayn Rand, came fifth even among libertarians.

Orwell’s cross-ideological appeal is presumably some mix of his skills as a stylist and observer of life, and the capacity of people from all political backgrounds to find something that appeals to their beliefs. Continue reading “Orwell’s great reach”

Commentators and ‘conflict of interest’

The idea that decision-makers have conflicts of interest is well established in law and the governance of private organisations. Those who have a direct or indirect (say, through a relative) financial interest in a decision usually have to excuse themselves from the decision-making process or at least declare their interest.

Though formal rules are less common than for decision-makers, the idea of a conflict of interest has spread into public debate and commentary. Two recent examples of a potential ‘conflict of interest’:

In a recent episode of The Gruen Transfer, an ABC TV panel show that discusses advertising, regular panel member Todd Sampson expressed strong views against an ad from a child abuse charity. Last Monday, the Fairfax press ran a story reporting that Sampson’s agency had done work for that child abuse charity, until they had a falling out in 2003. The reported claim was that this was a conflict of interest that Sampson should have disclosed.

Today, The Age ran a story about the departure of Monthly editor Sally Warhaft, reportedly over excessive meddling by editorial board chair Robert Manne. The report contains these paragraphs, emphasis added:

Monthly contributors contacted by The Age, most of whom declined to be identified, expressed shock at Dr Warhaft’s departure and praised her abilities as an editor.

“I’m deeply disappointed by what has transpired,” said regular contributor Gideon Haigh. “It does change my attitude to the magazine. Sally was a very good editor, as good an editor as I’ve worked with in 25 years as a journalist.”

What isn’t mentioned in the report is that Haigh is was Warhaft’s partner. Continue reading “Commentators and ‘conflict of interest’”

Hayek vs Friedman on school choice

Commenter Robert suggests, regarding my post suggesting Milton Friedman influenced views in favour of competitive curricula on government not delivering school education, that

It could just be that better read classical liberals tend to favour freedom in education (and perhaps freedom in other areas) and it’s not Friedman specific. Is it worth testing whether the effect from Friedman is greater than having read other liberal thinkers?

I’m sorry to report it, as I like and admire Friedman rather than just admire Hayek, but a test comparing Friedman readers and Hayek readers (Hayek being the second most popular classical liberal writer among classical liberals, after Friedman) suggests that Robert is right. Hayek readers are slightly more likely to give the ‘correct’ classical liberal responses to questions on school curriculum setting and funding.

image0021 Continue reading “Hayek vs Friedman on school choice”

A Friedman effect on school opinion?

One of the surprising features of the Australian political identity survey results for classical liberals was the large proportion with statist views on education. From a purely ideological perspective, it seems unlikely that a classical liberal could conclude that any monopoly control of curriculum was a good idea, and especially not a government monopoly. And from a purely practical perspective, the public education system isn’t exactly the greatest advertisement for the state as a service provider.

No 20th century classical liberal did more to argue the case for decentralising control of school education than Milton Friedman. So I wondered if the classical liberals in the survey who said that they had read Milton Friedman would have different views on education issues compared to those who had not. It turns out that they do.

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Views on refugee totals, by boat or plane

It’s not quite the question on refugees as such that I was looking for, but if I had not been behind in Pollytics blog reading I would have seen this post reporting an Essential Research poll last year on the size of the refugee program. The table below, taken from Pollytics, shows that a small majority in late July and early August 2008 were opposed to the program at its current size.


The same poll found that 62% of respondents thought that previous tough policies on asylum seekers were about right or not tough enough.

Overall, it does look like voters have issues with the refugee program as such, though some of those who are happy with the size of the program seem also to favour tough action against self-selecting refugees.

Conflicting Ernie awards?

Last night’s post on the economics of higher education included this (deliberately provocative) comment:

The efficient level of investment for a bright, hardworking young man (men being more likely to work full-time throughout their careers) is likely to be massively higher than for a middle-aged women of average intelligence filling in time after the kids have left home…

Kim at LP and most though not all the following commenters rise to the bait, demonstrating not my sexism but how their normative assumptions (men and women should be treated equally, with which I agree) over-ride their analytical abilities.

I was not passing any judgment on the relative ability of men and women. Indeed, women now significantly out-perform men at school. Nor was I commenting on appropriate gender roles. Men and women can make up their own minds on work and family activities and the split between them.

Rather, I was writing about a paper on the economic benefits of higher education, which for a given graduate are the hourly additional value they produce in the workplace compared to if they had not attended university multiplied by the number of hours they spend at work.

This issue cannot be anlaysed via my actual or supposed gender attitudes. For all the changes in social attitudes over the last 30 years, men are still significantly more likely to work full-time than women. This is true of graduates as well as non-graduates (there’s a graph from 2003 on p.9 of my FEE-HELP paper).
Continue reading “Conflicting Ernie awards?”

When a conclusion appears as an assumption (or more dubious arguments for university funding)

Funded by Universities Australia, KPMG have produced a report modelling the economic effects of increased investment in higher education. As an exercise in persuading Treasury, it is almost certain to fail.

Perhaps because of the way Universities Australia specified the project, the report assumes that this increased investment comes from the government. But this is not an assumption that can simply be built into an economic model. It is a highly contentious conclusion that never receives the arguments it needs.

The obvious alternative assumption is that students pay some or all of the increased investment. Under current HELP loan scheme arrangements this would still cost taxpayers, because of bad debts and interest subsidies, but not as much as direct subsidies.

Indeed, even setting aside the interests of taxpayers, it is highly likely that there would be more efficient investment and higher return if investment is determined privately rather than publicly.
Continue reading “When a conclusion appears as an assumption (or more dubious arguments for university funding)”