Can you run an ironman and run a country?

I’m not generally a fan of political scandals: at worst, they are spurious, at best, they involve random exposure and punishment of misdeeds that usually go unchecked. But there’s one big exception for me, and that’s when political scandals intersect my sporting interests.

Last year, the high-profile case was that of Republican VP nominee, Paul Ryan, who claimed to have run marathons in his younger days, with times in the 2:50s, an impressive achievement at any age. It turned out that he had run a single marathon, in 4:01:25. As all runners know, no one who has put the effort to run a marathon makes that kind of mistake. Ryan’s time is better than either of mine (4:37 and 4:24), but I’m aiming to break four hours in the next year or two, and I have a good few decades on him.

Now there’s Tony Abbott, who seems to have claimed expenses for everything from weddings to music festivals. But the only one that really interests me is the $2100 he claimed when he went in the 2011 Port Macquarie Ironman. I couldn’t find a time for 2011, but he did the 2010 event (3.8 km swim, 180 km cycle 42.2 k run) in 14 hours, whereas I took 8 hours to do half as much in the Cairns 70.3 in June.

What strikes me about this is not so only the expenses issue (although that obviously irks me) as the training time that must be involved, and the implications for the rest of Abbott’s commitments. Preparing for a marathon or a 70.3 while working full time, even in a flexible job like mine, requires putting most other things, like social engagements, on hold. If he’s training for a full ironman and managing the commitments inherent in being a politician, it’s hard to believe he can have any significant amount of time free to study policy issues and consider the best responses (as I know, you can’t think about these things while you’re running an endurance event – there’s not enough blood flow to the brain to think about much more than keeping your legs moving).

Looking at Abbott’s actual approach to policy, the three-word slogan approach is unsurprising. He can’t have had the spare time or energy for anything better. That worked fine in Opposition, but it hasn’t been great preparation for government.

150 thoughts on “Can you run an ironman and run a country?

  1. Ronald, very astute observation. I was actually talking about Chinese demand for our resources and the flow on effect this has on our economy. I believe the Australian stimulus was full of good political point scoring, however largely ineffectual. The cost far outweighed the benefit. I believe in government stimulus, however $9 billion dollars in hand outs, massively overpriced school halls, insulation schemes that kill people (another good idea poorly implemented) does not warrant good policy in my opinion. Let’s hope we don’t need another lot of stimulus. I hope I never see government spending like that again in my lifetime. Build roads, hospitals, affordable housing, ports, invest in better public transport. These are assets that provide stimulus and real returns on investment. I think we are going to have to agree to disagree on opinions of the previous government.

  2. @Fran Barlow fee and dividend is necessary because federal taxes are so progressive. 47% of the US population pay no federal incomes taxes, as I recall. compensating tax cuts are a challenge for people who do not pay taxes.

  3. @Jim Rose

    The 47% figure is misleading, because it overlooks the payment of other state income taxes and levies. It also covers people serving in the military who don’t pay taxes and of course there are various taxes on goods in various states too.

    Moreover, the very low wages available to unskilled and semi-skilled workers and the low levels of minimum wage mean there really isn’t a lot of scope for imposing taxes on them.

    If you did go the carbon tax route you’d probably need, at a minimum, to find a way of compensating those for whom a tax cut wouldn’t be a lot of value. The 47% figure is a net figure (tax v rebates) so cutting taxes might help those who are net non-payers but those below the threholds would need payments or some other benefits.

  4. There’s a handy article on the 47% claim here

    Note here:

    Firstly, some of those people who did not pay income tax still paid payroll taxes, for social security and Medicare, so that it was only 18.1% of households that did not pay any income or payroll taxes. Given that there are sales taxes, state property taxes and state income taxes these people are still paying some tax – at what point you are deemed to be taking personal responsibility is subjective.

    Of the 18.1% paying no income or payroll taxes, more than half (10.3% of all households) were elderly, so retired people who may well have paid income and payroll taxes, as well as others, during their working lives. Of the remainder, 6.9% of all households did not pay income or payroll taxes, essentially because they were poor, leaving 1% of “others” who did not pay either of these two types of taxes. Presumably, within the “others” category would fall the likes of six of the 400 US tax filers in 2009 with the highest adjusted gross income (at least $77m), who, according to Internal Revenue Service studies, paid no US income tax, and the 19,551 US households with income above $200,000 who owed no US or foreign income tax.

  5. NSW RFS Commissioner is quietly saying that this is the worst brushfire scenario ever. Normally fires are in Dec/Jan with rain to follow, here we are in October with possibly months of hot dry winds. RFS are saying the fire front has potential to spread north and south threatening Southern Highands, Sydney basin and Hunter district.

  6. David S, why do you believe that Chinese demand for resources had more to do with Australia’s good economy than events here? The mining sector contracted more than the rest of the economy after the Global Financial Crisis so it wasn’t Chinese demand that kept Australia out of recession.

  7. Ronald, there is a wealth of reading out there on the Australian economy post gfc. The strong banking sector and mining always rate highly. Try these

    Even the parliamentary library rate these 2 factors higher than the stimulus package

    I will bite though and ask. What did keep our economy strong?

  8. Hi Ronald. I do not dispute that mining exports decreased immeadiately following the gfc. It is also important to note that the position dropped rapidly, then picked up equally rapidly. What caused this reversal?

    This graph also does not show the value of committed capital investment in mining / oil and gas that helped keep the economy ticking over.

    The Parliamentary Library research paper in my second link above states

    China is in the course of urbanisation and rapid infrastructure reconstruction and its demand for energy and minerals, especially for these products from Australia, expanded in 2009. The value of energy and mineral exports to China accounted for the bulk of Australia’s merchandise exports (80 per cent) in 2009. In 2007, the value of these exports was only 57 per cent of exports. While China’s manufacturing production fell the most on record during the global recession, its energy and mineral needs from Australia increased more rapidly than its economy.

    I understand this to mean that following the gfc (when to so called stimulus was supposed to kick in) China was powering ahead in its use of resources from Australia. This point is evident in the graph with the sharp increase in whatever the units are on the y axis dollars or quantities of resources.

  9. David S, the graph is supposed to be quarterly ore exports in millions of Australian dollars. Sorry that’s not very clear.

    So do you agree with me that mining was not responsible for Australia not entering a recession in 2008 and 2009?

  10. Hi Ronald, it is a very one dimensional view on mining total sales. As per my previous post although total sales went down, over the post gfc period the proportion of exports categorised as energy and mineral exports went up (from 57% in 2007 to 80% in 2009). This illustrates the importance of mining to our economy and the fact that we avoided the bulk of the gfc. Our strong financial sector, not laden with the same degree of toxic debt also kept us in a stronger position. The government stimulus would have also had an impact, I would just argue not as strong as the mining / finance sector. I just cannot reconcile the previous government claiming responsibility for avoiding the recession.

  11. David S, the mining sector contracted after the GFC. How did a contracting sector of the economy keep Australia out of recession? Please explain in very simple words so I can understand how an industry losing over a quarter of its revenue stimulates an economy. I’m quite curious as to how that works.

  12. @Ronald Brak

    Even accepting, arguendo.that Chinese demand for Australian minerals kept us out of the GFC, where did that demand come from? China also pursued stimulatory polices during the GFC, so David S is actually arguing that Chinese stimulus is effective but Australian stimulus is ineffective. Personally I suspect it has something to do with the direction the water swirls when you flush.

  13. Alan, good point we are all guilty of bias. However, your argument suggests that any kind of stimulus is as effective as any other kind of stimulus. I don’t know any of the details of the Chinese stimulus package. I know Chinese manufacturing took a hit (reduced demand from US and Europe). However energy and resource imports went up. That may well have been a result of some kind of Chinese stimulus. I think the Australian stimulus was a knee jerk reaction cash handout vote buying exercise. Was it $9bn on cash handouts? What a fantastic use of our money investing in now and the future!

    Ronald, my same point remains, mining grew as a portion of our exports over that time period.

    Kind of funny how this started with a question of ironman training! I have enjoyed the to and fro all the same. However the water in my toilet still flushes clockwise! Or is it counter clockwise??

  14. Alan, yes, it’s the old, “Stimulus doesn’t work because it wasn’t stimlus that kept Australia out of recession it was actually stimulus,” arguement. But I don’t think grasshopper is ready for that. One must first learn to walk before one can fall over. But I am completely sure that David S will realize that he was wrong to think that the mining industry kept Australia from having a recession and even now is coming to the conclusion that it’s not possible for a contracting mining sector to stimulate an economy and he will change his belief. After all, that is how things work on the internet.

  15. @Ronald Brak

    I expect David S to change his position at any moment. Sadly it will probably be to argue that mining did not contract or even if it did contract that it could still keep the economy afloat or that the wind was north northwest and very like a camel, a weasel, a whale and therefore…

  16. Gents, do you understand mining can contract (total dollars) and still represent a larger proportion of our exports? That is my whole point which neither of you have addressed. If I contribute $100 dollars of an overall total of $200. My $100 contracts to $80 (the decrease you are fixated on Ronald) but the overall decreased to $100 then the proportion has increased. Very simple I know, but you have not responded to my point at all. I am open to contradiction, but you are not responding to my point at all. The condascending tones in your posts belittle your argument if you cannot respond to the points I have raised.


  17. More to the point, mining exports contracted relative to GDP, and therefore acted as a contractionary shock, additional to any shock arising from other export industries

  18. Hi John Q. Very good point. Comparison relative to GDP is a more effective measure than that of relative export sales. Although mining exports contracted, mining investment as a share of GDP grew.

    This can be seen in this RBA produced graph

    I am not against government stimulus and believe it has its place. I think the combined effect of mining and our strong financial insitutions had far more to do with Australia’s very quick recovery from the GFC than the government stimulus.

    Ronald, yes $80 is less than $100.

    Alan, yes even a contracting export industry can be important in keping an economy afloat, as the increasing share of investment of GDP shows.

  19. David, are you saying that while mining exports contracted investment in mining increased by more than the amount that exports contracted and so the mining industry was actually expanding after the GFC and so and helped Australia avoid a recession? If so, did you check to see if there was an increase in investment in mining after the GFC that more than offset its decrease in revenue? Personally I find that if you look things up now and then it can save you the trouble of believing in things and you can actually know instead.

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