Latham Revisionism

I’ve been surprised to see how simplistic the journalistic discussion has been about the ALP’s choice of Latham in December 2003. The assumption has been that:

  1. Beazley would probably have gotten a similar result to 1998 and 2001 (ie a narrow loss).
  2. Latham oversaw a much bigger loss.
  3. Therefore the ALP were wrong to choose Latham, and the pundits and punters who thought otherwise are misguided.

Just talking about expected outcomes misses the the fact that candidates also differ in their variance. As my friend Justin Wolfers has pointed out, Latham was the ALP’s catch-up football candidate – who might have won big, but actually lost badly. But if you’re behind at half-time, choose to play catch-up football, and lose by an even bigger margin, it doesn’t necessarily mean you opted for the wrong strategy. (Or to put it another way, when you’re ahead, you want the safe guy. When you’re behind, you want the risky guy.)

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6 Responses to Latham Revisionism

  1. Guy says:

    That’s a good way of looking at it, I think.

    It’s always easy to pick decisions apart in retrospect.

  2. mike says:

    God : Barry…(pause in time)
    God : Barry yes you Jones

    Barry: Yes God

    God:I need a Sacrafice

    Barry : Again

    God: Dont piss me off again Barry remember what happen with Gough you dont want that again.

    Barry : Does it have to be Kim again…

    God : Ok what have you got.

    Barry: Well not a lot really How about Mark Latham

    God : OK but boy do you get the better end of that deal.

    Anita : Paul yes you Paul are you playing God again, Dont you remember what happened last time you did that.

  3. Steve Edney says:

    Andrew you are right if the pay of is the same for all losses. However, to extend the analogy, when there is bonus points on the line for a big win (control of the senate), the small loss may be preferable and a better expectation outcome.

    I don’t really think anyone took that too seriously at the time but it should have been. There is also the point that the choice you’ve outlined is just Latham/Beazley, when in fact we have no idea whether a better decision may have been to say go with Rudd or one of the others.

  4. DrShrink says:

    Enough post-justification.

    Making Latham leader was a justifiable risk at the time.

    That it didnt turn out, doesnt mean the initial decision was wrong. Not unless you believe those who made the decision could have adequatly predicted the result on the evidence they had at the time.

    (Conservative columists have wished to claim they could see the signs, but its rather implausible)

  5. Geoff Robinson says:

    Hypothetical history is fairly pointless but there were the AES available on the 1998 and 2001 elections which pointed to Beazley’s popularity as a leader, he also had a solid track record as a minister.

  6. Benno says:

    I think I will send your blog straight to the pool room. Be prepared to be blog stalked by me now.

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