Articles – The Centre for Independent Studies

Good news seen as sign of problem

Michael Potter

13 January 2017 | Ideas@TheCentre

MP beach picnicFormer Labor Treasurer Wayne Swan found the publication of the 2016 OECD Better Life Index late last year to be a great disappointment, saying that it ‘shows why we must fight harder to defeat Liberal/One Nation trickle-down agenda‘ and to focus more on ‘#inclusivegrowth’. The focus of his ire? Australia placed second — a rise of two places over last year, but a fall from first in 2013.

I think I might be missing something here. If Australia had rated poorly, or fallen significantly from last year, you may be able to argue that our approach is wrong and fundamental change is needed. However typically when we compare well to other countries it means our policy settings are right!

This is just one example of a troubling trend in politics and public debate — confirmation bias. All facts are filtered through an ideological lens until they provide evidence for your preferred position, no matter what those facts are.

Australia has plenty of policy problems, but to say the evidence for these problems is our high rating on a quality of living index seems a perverse argument.

I guess this shouldn’t surprise. Last year, we were told that the extraordinary growth in Ireland’s GDP is an argument against their low corporate tax rate.

The common factor here is that you can’t win. Good news is bad news, and bad news is bad news. All evidence, whether good, bad or mediocre is an argument against a disliked policy.

Maybe we would be better off with an index of politicians’ consistency, where we pay more attention to coherent and consistent pronouncements. One index where an improvement truly would be an improvement.

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