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Monday Message Board

September 15th, 2003

It’s time again for your comments on any topic – civilised discussion and no coarse language please.

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  1. September 15th, 2003 at 12:24 | #1

    John can I have your two cents on what is going on with the failure of the latest rounds of the WTO negotiations collapsing?

  2. James Farrell
    September 15th, 2003 at 12:45 | #2

    I actually agreed with something Miranda Devine said for the first time ever. Based on my own limited experience with two boys born in May I think children should in general start school (in NSW) at nearly five rather than nearly six when that is the choice.

    Meanwhile, based on a broader experience teaching undergraduate students, I think university should be delayed until eighteen or even nineteen. I am always impressed by the relative sophistication and maturity of German exchange students, for example.

    The question: how to reconcile these two proposals. More years of school? National service (civil if not military?) A compulsory year or overseas travel?

  3. September 15th, 2003 at 19:50 | #3

    Cynic that I am, I don’t expect a letter of mine to the Australian Financial Review to be published. It’s addressing an article by Peter Saunders of the Centre for Independent Studies, on the 12.9.03. I cced it to him and I shall be considering his gracious and balanced – but I think incomplete – reply before replying to him directly, but I feel justified in placing the original material before a wider audience since it was clearly meant for a wider audience in the first place (and I hope to put it and a selection of any correspondence on my own site in due course). So here it is:-

    In his article of 12.9.03 Peter Saunders is solving a problem we haven’t got, how to get the long term unemployed looking for additional jobs – ones that they wouldn’t just be taking from someone else. He suggests that cutting payments to the long term unemployed will encourage them to find jobs rather than slumping into despair, but he supposes that this pressure will not be deadening itself and that it won’t itself eat into even the job vacancies we have now.

    We aren’t facing a situation with employers crying out for workers only to find the long term unemployed unwilling to become employable. At the moment the regular supply of new vacancies really is met by the oversupply of unemployed, and employers do fill all jobs.

    While the ratio of seven or eight unemployed for every job doesn’t mean there aren’t jobs along eventually, the preference of employers for fresh and skilled workers means opportunities get mopped up before the long term unemployed get a look in. Peter Saunders’ hope is to change this. But at best that could only make the long term unemployed more eager to take work than those not out of work so long – it would be a substitution effect, poaching jobs that would have gone to fresher people. It wouldn’t even work if the same pressures faced those fresh people, motivating them too.

    And what if new “jobs” people became willing to take under pressure were antisocial ones, from petty crime on down? Social Security was invented to head off problems like that.

    To see the absurdity, consider this improvement: what would happen if we forbade employers to hire people until they had been out of work for a long time? It would clearly be unjust, and it would mean less multiplier increase in GDP to draw in workers since the ones on offer would be staler. With less GDP there would be more unemployment all up. But it would have one thing going for it, at least employers would try to offer retraining they themselves valued instead of the present sort which they don’t.

    No, to be truly constructive we should try the “five economists’ plan” or Professor Kim Swales’ similar approach using GST that would actually increase employment and not just move it around. Peter Saunders’ idea can only move problems from one budget area to another, fooling people that there was an improvement without ever getting anybody a job that wouldn’t have gone to someone anyway.

  4. Greg
    September 16th, 2003 at 10:19 | #4

    Peter, were I a politician, I’m sure I would find a certain appeal, perhaps even an irresistible policy appeal, in your last sentence. Then I would wonder why you didn’t begin your piece with it and save me the trouble and tears of wading through all that messy ‘human interest’ stuff.

  5. September 16th, 2003 at 11:31 | #5

    Greg, you are thinking of an executive summary which should lead off with the punchline so interested but busy readers can get the point early. Letters etc. should end with punchlines, so if nothing else readers who came to it with something else on their minds come away with what they last read. Since they are not interested, that is the most likely to stick.

    And what “human interest” stuff? If you found it interesting at that level, well and good, but I was actually giving some specifics. E.g., if PS argues that timing out benefits is motivating, the fact that this is a psychological thing is irrelevant; we are concerned with the substantive question of whether this is or is not the case, since that is what would flow through to give the objective outcome Peter Saunders hopes for, less unemployment.

  6. James Farrell
    September 16th, 2003 at 11:35 | #6

    Irony, PML. Greg’s on your side.

  7. Greg
    September 16th, 2003 at 14:49 | #7

    Hi James, and thank-you; and yes I am, Peter, very much on your side. I’m aware of how pressing an issue it is and following the discussion with interest, though haven’t felt to date that I have anything much to offer, whether on the rigorous side or the creative. So I thought I’d just add a diverting touch of cynical humour to help the discussion along a bit. Frankly, having reached the end of your post I was amused and inspired by a vision of John Howard, apparently conscientiously looking through your pragmatic and humane reasoning and then just running off and doing what he planned to do anyway: “Yes, Amanda I like that last sentence. It’s a sensible idea. We’ll run with that”.

    I’m probably way off beam here but I see the real challenge as being to make the structural unemployment pool somehow a national asset, to turn adversity into advantage. It can always be done, with sufficient intellectual attention to the problem and subsequent resourcing of the results of that investment. I’m not aware of the “five economists’ plan” or of Kim Swales’s writings, but if the arguments in Peter’s comment lead us away from the CIS’s brilliant and creative imit… sorry, adaptation of US social policy and towards them then that is surely the direction in which any red-blooded Australian should be heading. My own instincts are that, as a long term problem, the starting point for turning it to our advantage is to consider long term responses.

    For example, the way to deal with the tragedy of poor s robertson‘s sister is obviously not tough love (to purloin a phrase from James Farrell). She’s a well-educated woman with a fund of knowledge and experience. It’s hard to say how she is now after such a long series of blows and let-downs. However, early in the piece, perhaps the presence of a sensitive, kind, supportive, confidential counsellor might have helped enormously. A counsellor who wasn’t there to cut benefits, but was equipped with access to a range of substantial (ie, not cheap) personal development tools such as small business seed funding or full undergraduate or postgraduate training/re-training. Then appropriate, personally-oriented tool selection could have saved this unfortunate woman and ultimately have produced a substantial nett GDP contribution.

    Another issue that is always of interest to me is the relative strength and reach of the ‘incentive effect’* of blanket and continuous unemployment welfare in Australia, set off against its compensatory intention and wider social benefits. I’m not aware of its status in the policy debate, but I had always thought the incentive effect quite a significant problem. (Not a problem to be solved by the philistine approach of dismantling our highly-enlightened welfare system, but perhaps through harder work by economists and other thinkers.) However, derrida derider startled me with quite a different view when commenting at PrQ’s Manifestation post (first comment, last paragraph thereof). Is there anyone out there kind enough to please point me towards some reading on the current evidence/consensus, if any, regarding this effect?

    I’d like to apologize in advance if anything here appears patronizing and assure everyone that in this comment I’ve written things, to the best of my ability, exactly as I believe or have perceived them to be. A range of readers looks at blogs, so I try to model what appears to be the standard ettiquette. Which is, to make what I write as accessible as possible to everyone. Albeit, during my less lucid moments, with the opposite result – as some of you have experienced but, if things go as intended, hopefully less so in the future.

    * The ability of an unemployment welfare programme to attract a subset of people away from employment, resulting in the programme being self-undermining to some extent.

  8. wmb
    September 17th, 2003 at 17:56 | #8

    Consider the following as a mere diversion in the ãany topicä category, and an oblique comment if anything on soft power, resilience of languages, the diffusion of ideas, and linguistic fashion.

    A report last week in the SMH suggested some Germans were concerned about the number of imported English words and phrases that had gained currency in their language. “Call Centre” was one example among others. I am not suggesting that such defensiveness by native speakers of any language confronting the present pervasive influence of English is without justification.

    Yet, the burgeoning English vocabulary has mostly incorporated word imports and inventions with effortless ease. Nor, do not find English speakers getting into a twist about such imports as “schadenfreude” – except perhaps when it comes to spelling. I noticed in Anne Summerâs article in the SMH on Monday, “Schadenfreude” was always capitalized as it perhaps might be in German.

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