Income and Consumption Inequality (crossposted at CT)

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to work out what’s been going on with income and consumption inequality in the United States. Partly that’s because the subject is of interest in itself and partly because social and economic developments in Australia often (not always) follow the lead of the US.

However, there seem to be lots of contradictions in the data, and between data and popular perceptions, for example regarding social mobility and consumption inequality. I’ve finally managed to sort out what seems (to me, at any rate) to be a coherent account of what’s going on. A list of the main points follows, with supporting links, some of which may require registration/subscription. I’ve tried to indicate which bits of the story reflect my judgements, and which are drawn from the literature.

Comments and criticism on this are most welcome.
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Last weekend, I went to a seminar organised by the Ngiya National Institute of Indigenous Law, Policy and Practice to discuss various issues relating to economic policy affecting indigenous communities. In doing some background research, one point (familiar to those who’ve followed the debate closely, but not to most others) cam through very clearly, particularly in this paper by John Taylor and Owen Stanley

Contrary to claims that the problems of indigenous communities have had buckets of money thrown at them with nothing to show for it, expenditure on services for indigenous communities is typically less (or no more than) what would be spent on comparable non-indigenous communities. In discussion over dinner, the case of Jigalong in WA was mentioned. This community has been trying for some time to set itself up a town council so that it can get funding comparable to nearby, mainly white, communities, notably Mt Newman. Today’s Oz has a prominent report on this.

A nice feature of the weekend was that quite a few participants turned out to be readers of this blog. Since my site counter broke a few months ago, I have no idea how many readers there are at present, but these days I seem to meet them wherever I go.

Contests and departures

It’s the time of year for blog contests, and the inevitable sore losers are a lot sorer given that one of the contests involved real money. Hosting service Smartyblog put up $10k, for a contest won by a site about Singing Bridges. Kinda strange, but that’s the magic of the internets. Not having got off onto my bottom to put in an entry*, I’m not going to second-guess the judges. Gianna shares the pain of her defeat here

While I’m at it, I should note the departure of Margo Kingston’s departure from Webdiary (apparently to continue as a group blog). Margo was one of the first mainstream journalists to realise the significance of blogging, but her efforts to make a living at it have not worked out.

More personally significant to me is the closure of Robert Corr’s Red Rag, as Rob is now “Another Suit on the Terraceâ„¢”. Insofar as this blog has a blogfather it’s Rob. Not only did his blog encourage me to start, but he provided support and hosting during my move away from the training wheels of Blogger. Good luck with your new career, Rob!

* Being officially ranked the best blog in Queensland, at least until next Australia Day, I can afford to be complacent.

HTML tags in comments

HTML tags haven’t been working in comments for a while. Prompted by Andrew Reynolds, I checked and found the problem was a plugin, which I’ve disabled. So you can all go back to including hyperlinks, as well as bold and italic tags. Just part of the friendly service.

I’ve also switched the RSS feed to provide the entire article rather than just the summary. Some people wanted this, and it seems like the way of the future, but feel free to discuss.

Another milestone

A big statistical milestone, and a well-earned standing ovation, for Lanard Copeland, who racked up his 10 000th point in the NBL in the course of a nailbiting 110-107 win for the Bullets over the Cairns Taipans. Most of those were scored in his long and illustrious career with the Melbourne Tigers, but he’s still averaging 10 points per game coming off the bench for Brisbane.

Thirty thousand comments

The 30 000th comment on this blog[1] has just been posted. I was going to award a prize but, rather embarrassingly, the comment was one of mine. So I’ll announce a shared award between comment #29999 (Andrew Bartlett) and #30001 (still working it out).

More seriously, thanks to everyone who’s helped to make the comments threads on this blog some of the best on the web.

fn1. That’s in the Movable Type and WordPress incarnations, not counting comments made in earlier systems such as Haloscan, and those lost in the great database disaster. of 2003. Including these lost contributions, the total number is probably close to 50 000. WordPress numbers comments at about 38500 suggesting a loss of 8000 or so in the database disaste.

The Gerard affair

I’m not a huge fan of political scandals, but I’ve seen enough of them unfold to have a pretty good feel for the process. The vast majority can be put into one of three categories: beatups, stonewallers and one-hit wonders.

Beatups are bogus scandals where claims that look damaging turn out to have an innocent explanation, or at least a plausible rationalisation. Mostly these do the government concerned no harm.

Stonewallers are cases where the government’s response is to brazen the whole thing out, on the principle “never apologise, never explain, never resign”. Some governments are more given to stonewalling than others, and (after a brief and costly period of upholding high standards) this has been the Howard government’s response in nearly all cases.

Finally, there are one-hit wonders. In these cases, the pressure is severe enough to force the resignation of the person most directly concerned, usually an expendable junior minister or public servant. Once the resignation has taken place, attempts to push the issue further, and look at the involvement of more senior figures go nowhere.
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Some more recent presentations

Here are some more presentations from the last couple of years. I’ll be putting them all up here as I get time.

  • Quiggin, J. (2005), ‘Consumers Attitude to Risk’, Presentation at the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Roundtable on Consumers and Competition, Melbourne, 18th March.
  • Quiggin, J. (2005), ‘Government, Market and Citizen: From Adam Smith to Peter Beattie’, Presentation to the Institute of Public Administration (Qld Division) 2005 IPAA Four Seasons Seminar Series, Brisbane, 9th March.
  • Quiggin, J. (2004), ‘Discount Rates’, Presentation to a symposium on Cost–Benefit Analysis sponsored jointly by the ACT Branch of the Economic Society of Australia and the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC), Canberra, 3 September.
  • Quiggin, J. (2004), ‘How Should We Pay for Pharmaceuticals?’, Presentation to the ACT Branch of the Economics Society of Australia, Canberra, 2 September.
  • Quiggin, J. (2004), ‘Infrastructure Financing: Options and Reality’, Presentation to the Property Council, Smart Transport and Property 2004: Leveraging Transport Infrastructure for Property and Land Use Development, hosted by the UQ Centre for Transport Strategy and Transport Roundtable Australasia Pty Ltd, Customs House, Brisbane.
  • Quiggin, J. (2004), ‘Innovative Taxation Arrangements’, Presentation to the Financing Development Colloquium sponsored by the Foundation for Development Cooperation, Gold Coast, 14 August.
  • Quiggin, J. (2004), ‘Research Funding and Commercialisation’, Presentation to a public forum on ‘The future of University Research in Australia’, hosted by the UQ Research Staff Committee of the National Tertiary Education Union, University of Queensland, Brisbane, 5 August.
  • Quiggin, J. (2004), ‘The Australia–Us Free Trade Agreement’, Presentation to a Forum on ‘Evaluating free trade, and beyond: assessing trade prospects, impacts and practicalities in a time of free trade agreements’ hosted by the School of International Business, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, 23 February.
  • Quiggin, J. (2004), ‘The Equity Premium: Explanations and Implications’, Presentation to the NSW Branch of the Economics Society of Australia,Sydney, 8 September.
  • Another attack on academic freedom

    James Farrell advises me that Professor Tom Valentine[1] has been dismissed from the University of Western Sydney for “misconduct”, which apparently consists of criticising the (mis)management of the University in relation to matters such as the creation of a new medical school.

    I’ve rarely agreed with Valentine about anything, but I’m unreservedly opposed to the University’s action in this matter. Obviously, it violates everything a university is supposed to stand for. Unfortunately, that consideration doesn’t weigh much with the managerialist hacks who’ve been pushed into positions of power by the reforms of the past 15 years.

    A more general problem is that, with the scrapping of the collegial role of faculties and academic boards, universities have some of the least accountable governance structures of any institutions in Australia. There are no shareholders as there would be in a private company. The universities derive most of their funding from the Commonwealth but operate under state acts of Parliament. Although DEST imposes all manner of burdensome reporting requirements, it lacks any effective power to constrain rogue vice-chancellors, of whom we have seen quite a few. On the other hand, state governments have the legal responsibility and power, but no budgetary control or interest.

    For an institution so unaccountable to victimise and suppress internal critics and whistleblowers is deeply concerning. This affair should be investigated by ICAC.

    fn1. I’ve had several disputes with Valentine over a variety of issues, but I’d be the last to deny that he has played a significant role in Australian economics, notably in his work with the Campbell Committee.