Gotcha!

Like most people, I don’t like being suckered. But I was well and truly suckered by Aaron Patrick of the Australian Financial Review today. Patrick wrote to me saying he was doing a feature article on penalty rates and I gave him a long interview setting out my position. In particular, I made the point that, if (say) a 10 per cent reduction in wages produced only a 1 per cent increase in hours of work demanded by employers, the average worker would end up doing more work for less money. This is a standard point in the analysis of minimum wages.

As it turned out, I was wasting my breath. All Patrick wanted was the concession that lower wages might produce some increase in employment, thereby justifying the Gotcha! headline ‘Even union economists accept cutting penalty rates creates jobs’.

Given my history with the Fin, I shouldn’t have been surprised, I guess. But my general experience, even since Michael Stutchbury became editor, has been that most AFR journalists are straightforward professionals.

Also, most journalists these days understand that the game has changed with the rise of blogs and social media. Twenty years ago, the only response to a shoddy smear like Patrick’s would be a letter to the editor, which might or might not get published long after the event. Now, I can respond here and on Twitter, Facebook and so on. My readership might not be as big as the measured circulation of the AFR, but, after you deduct all the people who only look at the business pages, it’s not that different.

In any case, Patrick and the Fin are on a hiding to nothing with this one. Most people work for a living, and most have worked out by now that when the bosses talk about flexibility and productivity, they mean “work more for less”.

40 thoughts on “Gotcha!

  1. Aaron Patrick was a Labor Party organizer when I was at university, and in the Fabians IIRC.

    I assumed he’d jumped ship to the Liberals long ago, but about five years ago was told he was still in the ALP. It’s not just the post parliamentary mob who like to hang out with the IPA.

  2. @chrisl

    The fact that some allegations of misrepresentation are spurious does not mean that all allegations of misrepresentation are spurious. You cannot determine the validity of an accusation by its content, but only by further inquiry.

  3. There’s another round of journalist redundancies happening at that extinct volcano, Fairfax, though the journos at the AFR seem to be protected on this occasion. But in a few years time they will all be gone, with the old hands spending their days in the pub, wistfully telling stories about the glory days when Paddy McGuinness was editor.

  4. This is O/T, but apparently the US has just launched a large scale missile attack on Syria.

  5. Hold on, there could be a petition we could sign to help AFR get its facts straight? All the best. Cheers. Shobha

  6. @Tim Macknay

    CNN:” Hillary Clinton called on the United States to take out Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s Air Force”

    And then it happened. She might as well be President.

  7. @Smith

    Certainly those on the left who supported Trump on the grounds that Clinton was an irresponsible warmonger have some rethinking to do. Not that this excuses Clinton of course, but it ought to have been obvious that Trump was both irresponsible and unpredictable.

  8. @John Quiggin

    You could swap the proper nouns Trump and Clinton wherever they appear in your comment and it would be just as true.

    The lessons is this: whenever the President – any President – is advised by the generals that you’ve gotta this and you’ve gotta do that, the President always agrees. The uniforms and the gravity of the situation gets them every time. Presidents come and go, but the generals are always there. It’s a brave President who tells the generals “nah, I’m not going to do what you recommend”. After all, war is what they’ve been doing all their adult lives. They know what they’re talking about, and generals can be very persuasive.

    I know this is how it happens because I saw it on The West Wing.

  9. Economics aside, on which there are respectable arguments on both sides, I’ve never understood how pushing labour market flexibility could ever make political sense even for the tories.

    There are about half a million employers in Oz, who will indeed lap this stuff up. But there are well over ten million employees. Even older employees who are not in “flexible” work tend to learn from their young adult kids just what such work can mean for employees.

    You’d think the Libs would have learnt from Workchoices – those union ads against it rang true to millions of conservative voters.

  10. @derrida derider

    In my experience, it’s fairly common (although far from universal) for employees to be surprised when employers treat them badly. What does this tell me? It tells me that a lot of employees expect their employers to treat them well. That’s not a completely irrational expectation; there are plenty of examples of employers treating employees well. The thing — the point that lots of employees miss — is that you can’t rely on this. There are plenty of examples of employers treating employees well, but there are also plenty of examples of employers treating employees badly — sometimes shockingly, appallingly, outrageously badly. When that happens, I feel shocked, appalled, outraged — but not surprised. But the people who do feel surprised — they are people who up to the moment when it happens to them have assumed that it can’t happen to them, that their employers will just naturally continue to treat them well. For people who operate on that assumption, the idea of allowing more flexibility to employers probably seems unobjectionable; and perhaps there are a lot of those people.

  11. @J-D

    Yes this is true and there is also the tendency that people have to ‘blame the victim’

    People want to believe that the world is a safe and fair place, where good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people so if someone has been lucky enough to have never been treated badly by an employer they are likely to blame the employee who has been treated badly for what has happened to them rather than acknowledge that employers are not necessarily ‘superior’ people.

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