Debating Judith Sloan on labor markets

Yesterday I took part in a debate with Judith Sloan, organised by the Economic Society of Australia, on the topic of labor market regulation. Before commencing, Judith paid me the backhanded compliment of saying that debating me was “like wrestling an eel”. I’ll take the complimentary part of the implication as “very difficult to beat”, while rejecting the suggestion that I’m prone to slipping from one position from another. I admit that I haven’t maintained the exact consistency of those market liberals (like Sloan) whose views appear to have remained unchanged since abotu 1980, but there has been a lot of data since then, some of it supporting the case for market liberalism but a lot going the other way.

My slides for the debate are online in PDF format and also Keynote for Mac.

The Dark Lord of Queensland politics is …

Me! At least according to Shadow Treasurer, Curtis Pitt, who observes, of Queensland Treasurer, Tim Nicholls:

there is one name the Treasurer won’t dare speak—the Treasurer’s own Lord Voldemort Professor John Quiggin. He does not want to draw attention to the analysis by the Federation Fellow, because it is a truly independent analysis—one which puts a sword to the Costello audit.

Seriously, I do seem to have this effect on Treasurers. Nicholls’ predecessor, Andrew Fraser was equally unwilling to speak my name or face me in debate. And Peter Costello, admittedly an ex-Treasurer, but one who held the position for twelve years, declined to respond to my critique.

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Some unsolicited advice for Campbell Newman

If I had just won an overwhelming election victory by defeating a government that had
(i) dumped its election commitments in an effort to reduce public debt and restore a AAA rating
(ii) made a mess of the public hospital system

I could think of lots of things I might do after taking office. But there are two things I definitely wouldn’t do …

Big Brother kills literary awards: the Newman government in a nutshell

The sum of money isn’t huge[1], but if you want to sum up the Newman government in a single policy decision, it’s this: to save $200k, they could either scrap the Premier’s Literary Awards or withdraw a promised grant to fund the next series of Big Brother. Of course, they went for Big Brother, and boasted about it.

Update Although the funding is gone, the Premier-free Queensland Literary Awards have gone ahead, with a win for Frank Moorhouse, who has just brought out the final volume in the trilogy that began with Grand Days. I’m very keen to read this – the first two books were superb.

fn1. Compared, for example, to the $100 million they splashed on vanity projects for the racing industry which could have saved the jobs of of 1000 or so nurses.

Queensland budget – profligacy for everyone except the PS

Queensland Treasurer Tim Nicholls has just brought down his first budget, following the announcement by Premier Campbell Newman of massive public service job cuts justified by apocalyptic rhetoric. Yet apart from those job cuts, the budget (in combination with measures announced previously) doesn’t show much in the way of fiscal discipline. Among the most glaring examples

* An $80 handout to all households, with no targeting, nominally to offset water bills
* A previously announced freeze on electricity prices for households, paid for out of general revenue
* The replacement of the $7000 first home buyers grant with a $15 000 grant for buyers of new homes
* Handouts to tourism, racing and other sectors

Measures like this are par for the course for state budgets, but not what you’d expect from a government faced with a fiscal crisis, comparable to Greece or Spain.

The government has fiddled at the edges on revenue, but is doing nothing (or even adding to the distortionary concessions) on payroll tax and land tax.

In essence, the government is relying almost entirely on cuts to the public service, focused on the health sector. This is a high-risk strategy to put it mildly. It may well be that the health bureaucracy is bloated and inefficient, but that doesn’t mean that creating a new layer of regional management is going to improve things, especially when their first task is to implement arbitary cuts in the number of nurses and other employees. Campbell Newman says his promise that “frontline jobs are safe” now means “frontline services won’t be affected by job cuts” but this is just wishful thinking. There hasn’t been any analysis of how to improve efficiency, just an edict that numbers need to be cut.

In these circumstances, it’s virtually inevitable that waiting lists will blow out. And inevitably, when you have long waiting lists, people will die waiting. At that point, the question will be whether the government can hold its nerve and admit that it was lying about the frontline services, or whether we’ll see expensive panic measures to fix the problem.


Last night the Ozblogistan network slowed down and then began to “yo-yo” — stop working and then reappear cyclically.

I have been becoming increasingly dissatisfied with WPEngine’s reliability and service. Tis was the straw that broke the camel’s back. So I began a crash move of the network to a new hosting service,

That is why the site was unavailable last night and this morning, and why you first saw kittens and then a little moving truck.’s service has already shown itself to be much better than WPEngine’s; however they have reported back that migration is going slowly because the WPEngine servers periodically drop the connection they’re using to download files.

Their advice was to switch back to WPEngine’s servers for today. Any posts or comments from today could then be migrated using the WXR import/export facility built into WordPress.

So here we are, temporarily back at WPEngine. Tonight I and the staff will try the move again.

A few hours ago WPEngine finally traced the problem back the recent comments widget on Skepticlawyer and Catallaxy Files. I’ve disabled those for now. (Amazing how much their service has improved, now that I’m leaving).