The purpose of this blog

This blog contains an archive of my blog posts from 2004-2010, written while working as an academic economist at the Australian National University. They have been moved here because I wanted to use the URL as a political site (at this stage, my plan is to keep all my economics research at

The transition has also preserved all comments. However, because the blog is an archive, I have now closed it to further comments.

At some point in the future, I’m hoping to resume blogging at

Posted in Uncategorized

Turning Points

I’m fortunate to have been preselected as the ALP candidate for the federal seat of Fraser (AAP report here). I haven’t been discussing the preselection much on this blog, but it’s been the main thing occupying my attention over the past three months, as I’ve spent my nights and weekends speaking with the 240 Labor Party members who eventually voted yesterday. Thanks to a great campaign team, I’m slowly making the evolution from the academic style of hard facts and sharp differences to the political style of storytelling and common ground, but it’s been one heck of a learning experience.

The other candidates – Christina Ryan, Jim Jones, Michael Pilbrow, Mike Hettinger, Chris Bourke, Nick Martin and George Williams – are people for whom I have great respect. I was friends with most of them before the campaign began, and my admiration for them has only grown over past months.

I’m hoping to keep blogging, but have to think about the right way to evolve the blog (or whether to draw a line by starting a new blog in my capacity as an ALP candidate). So please forgive me while I try to sort that out.

In the meantime, I’m about to head to the US for what might be my last academic conference – the NBER economics of education meetings in Cambridge MA. I’ll be overseas from 26 April to 5 May. I haven’t seen Gweneth and my two little boys for nearly a month, and am missing them like crazy. Skype helps, but since the boys are aged 10 months and 3 years respectively, they don’t exactly want to talk to a computer screen for long.

For my wife Gweneth, this is going to be a particularly unusual experience. She passed her citizenship test last month, and becomes a dual Australian/US citizen on 4 June. So she’ll cast her first Australian ballot for her husband (if I’m lucky, that is..).

(a similar post was posted at Core Economics)

Posted in Australian Politics | 29 Comments

France Wins Clark Medal Again

Congratulations to Esther Duflo, French-born development economist extraordinaire and winner of this year’s John Bates Clark medal for the best US economist under 40. If you’ve never heard of Esther, check out her academic website or the Poverty Action Lab at MIT – which is reshaping the face of development economics.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Of Becker and Mills, Picasso and Friedman

I was interviewed recently for the newsletter of the Economic Sociology Australia society.

Posted in Economics Generally

Did the Tampa Stop Beazley Becoming PM?

Writing on InsideStory, Peter Brent argues:

But it is not clear that boat people really had much effect on the election result. When the Tampa arrived, the Howard government had already been steadily improving its opinion poll position from the early 2001 nadir. Tampa and, later, “children overboard” melted the talkback lines, but so do lots of issues that don’t change votes.

It was September 11, two weeks later, that sent Howard’s voting-intentions figure skywards, but by polling day they had subsided, and the result of fifty-one to forty-nine, while respectable for a government in good economic times asking for a third term, was no landslide.

To answer the question, we need regular and precise estimates of who is likely to win the election. Unfortunately, polls are pretty irregular, and very imprecise (evidence here, anecdote here). But betting markets provide a stable, daily estimate. Here’s the time series for 2001, with the Tampa incident and September 11 attacks marked on the chart.


The chart is from this paper. To my mind, it doesn’t support Brent’s argument that the Howard government were sailing to victory before the Tampa incident. But it does accord with his view that the September 11 attacks were pretty important.

Posted in Australian Politics | 1 Comment

Slow degrees, school vs jail, and cash 4 class

Three new economics papers offer interesting findings on important facets of education policy.

Increasing Time to Baccalaureate Degree in the United States by John Bound, Michael Lovenheim, Sarah Turner
Time to completion of the baccalaureate degree has increased markedly in the United States over the last three decades, even as the wage premium for college graduates has continued to rise. Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of the High School Class of 1972 and the National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988, we show that the increase in time to degree is localized among those who begin their postsecondary education at public colleges outside the most selective universities. In addition, we find evidence that the increases in time to degree were more marked amongst low income students. We consider several potential explanations for these trends. First, we find no evidence that changes in the college preparedness or the demographic composition of degree recipients can account for the observed increases. Instead, our results suggest that declines in collegiate resources in the less-selective public sector increased time to degree. Furthermore, we present evidence of increased hours of employment among students, which is consistent with students working more to meet rising college costs and likely increases time to degree by crowding out time spent on academic pursuits.

Education Policy and Crime by Lance Lochner
This paper discusses the relationship between education and crime from an economic perspective, developing a human capital-based model that sheds light on key ways in which early childhood programs and policies that encourage schooling may affect both juvenile and adult crime. The paper first discusses evidence on the effects of educational attainment, school quality, and school enrollment on crime. Next, the paper discusses evidence on the crime reduction effects of preschool programs like Perry Preschool and Head Start, school-age programs that emphasize social and emotional development, and job training programs for low-skill adolescents and young adults. Finally, the paper concludes with a broad discussion of education policy and its potential role as a crime-fighting strategy.

Financial Incentives and Student Achievement: Evidence from Randomized Trials by Roland G. Fryer
This paper describes a series of school-based randomized trials in over 250 urban schools designed to test the impact of financial incentives on student achievement. In stark contrast to simple economic models, our results suggest that student incentives increase achievement when the rewards are given for inputs to the educational production function, but incentives tied to output are not effective. Relative to popular education reforms of the past few decades, student incentives based on inputs produce similar gains in achievement at lower costs. Qualitative data suggest that incentives for inputs may be more effective because students do not know the educational production function, and thus have little clue how to turn their excitement about rewards into achievement. Several other models, including lack of self-control, complementary inputs in production, or the unpredictability of outputs, are also consistent with the experimental data.

I’m a tad distracted by other things at present, so apologies in advance for the fact that all three links are to the (gated) NBER website. Perhaps some kind soul will post ungated links in comments. The Fryer research is also in the latest issue of Time Magazine.

And if you still want more to read, Paul Krugman’s two new pieces on global warming and economic geography are masterful.

Posted in Economics of Education | 3 Comments

Talking Sin

My Wryside Economics segment on ABC Radio National’s Life Matters program yesterday was on sin taxes. If you’re curious to catch up on it, you can listen to it here.

Posted in Health economics, Tax