Ideas@TheCentre – The Centre for Independent Studies


Ideas@TheCentre brings you ammunition for conversations around the table.  3 short articles from CIS researchers emailed every Friday on the issues of the week.

Are non-government schools really on the way out?

Blaise Joseph

27 April 2018 | Ideas@TheCentre

Federal government modelling suggests demand for non-government schools is going to fall substantially in the next 10 years, according to news reports this week. Only 21% of new students between now and 2027 are projected to enrol at non-government schools,  down from 35% of all students today.

As with most projections of this kind, there are inherent uncertainties, modelling is based on imperfect assumptions, and at best they represent an educated guess.

Last year the proportion of students in government schools rose slightly, from 65.4% in 2016 to 65.6% in 2017, the independent school share rose from 14.4% to 14.5%, while the Catholic system proportion fell from 20.2% to 19.9%.

The past two years have seen a small increase in the proportion of government school enrolments, which bucks the general trend of the past 50 years, where the government school share of all students has declined steadily from 77% in 1966 to 65% today. It is unlikely  this 50-year trend will be reversed in the next 10 years.

But many parents are not satisfied with either non-government or government schools, and so are turning to homeschooling. The number of children being taught at home has increased by more than 80% in the past six years, which indicates school systems have to do more to cater for parental expectations.

One possible reason for this is the transparency of the MySchool website, where parents are able to examine the literacy and numeracy results of local schools, and often are not satisfied. For example, even though some non-government schools charge significant fees, parents can see that frequently the local government school can provide just as good academic outcomes. That is, putting more money into a school doesn’t necessarily lead to better student results.

This shows the prevailing narrative around government schooling is contradictory. Advocates of the government school system, such as teacher unions, consistently make three statements:

  1. Government schools are just as good as non-government schools.
  2. Government schools currently get much less money than non-government schools.
  3. Government schools need much more money.

At least one of these statements has to be false…

Market dominance might be good for consumers

Charles Jacobs

27 April 2018 | Ideas@TheCentre

The phrases monopoly, duopoly and oligopoly typically rouse fear in the hearts of the public. They imply big, self-interested companies, with a purportedly unhealthy dominance of the market. Consumers will get ripped off, critics say. The barriers to entry are too high for new competitors to have a chance.

Such imagery is typical of the suspicion of big business, and the superlatives have been flowing in recent weeks as the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission continues its investigation into the dominance of Google and Facebook in Australia’s digital advertising market.

However, outside of price fixing and state supported market dominance, aren’t these major players just providing consumers with a superior product?

One of the greatest strengths of the private market is that companies are judged solely on how consumers value their goods and services. Offer something good and customers will come flocking. Offer something bad and bankruptcy beckons.

If a company has established market dominance, that suggests it is offering a product so good that the vast majority of shoppers prefer it to the competitors’ alternatives.

Google has certainly accomplished this. Who remembers Ask Jeeves? Who still searches the internet with Yahoo? Not many, is the answer. Back in the early 2000s Yahoo and Google were neck and neck. However, with its comprehensive search engine and wide range of complimentary products, Google won the battle for consumers’ hearts and minds.

Facebook has achieved similar feats. MySpace, Bebo and Google Hangouts were usurped for a reason — because people like Facebook’s offerings more.

As a result, the two companies have come to dominate the digital advertising market. They offer an advertiser’s dream: detailed information on billions of users, which can see promotions customised down to the individual level.

Even in the more congested US market, inferior competitors have lost their share (see graph). As an advertiser, why would you want to work with a secondary player when these two companies offer so much?

Market dominance is a good thing if it means that consumers get a superior, reasonably-priced product.


Laughing at communism

Eugenie Joseph

27 April 2018 | Ideas@TheCentre

Ronald Reagan once quipped that a communist is someone who reads Marx and Lenin, while an anti-communist is someone who understands Marx and Lenin.

Sadly, the truth is that many young people today neither read about nor understand communism — or its ignoble record of spawning brutal dictators like Joseph Stalin.

According to a recent US survey, Millennials have the least negative attitudes towards communism and even struggle to correctly define it. Younger people are also more likely to underestimate the number of victims of communist regimes.

And in a 2016 UK survey, 11% of young people failed to associate Joseph Stalin with crimes against humanity, while 28% had not even heard of him.

This ignorance reflects the lasting legacy of western apologists for communism. As Martin Amis notes in his book, Koba the Dread, western intellectuals used to blithely joke about communists — like using the term ‘comrade’ — indicating their reluctance to confront the truth of Soviet totalitarianism.

Is it too late to atone for this shameful legacy of denial? A recent viewing of Armando Iannucci’s film, The Death of Stalin, convinced me that, in fact, it is never too late. Popular entertainment can be a powerful educational tool.

The Death of Stalin is a black satire that recounts the internal power struggles in Soviet Russia following Stalin’s death in 1953. However, the film unfolds through a bizarre mix of slapstick comedy and highly crude humour.

Importantly, the film depicts Stalin’s regime as totalitarian and barbaric. But it also delightfully parodies Stalin’s cronies, who spout brainwashed and patently absurd platitudes about communism, while surreptitiously plotting their own rise to power.

Following in the footsteps of Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful, the film suggests that we should condemn evil regimes by laughing at them — at least, from the safe distance of time.

Following release in 2017, The Death of Stalin has demonstrated remarkable staying power in cinemas. It has all the ingredients to appeal to a younger demographic — clever parody, witty one-liners and thoroughly offensive jokes.

And helpfully, Russia has provided free publicity by banning the film.

But if it succeeds in teaching Millennials some hard facts about communism — more effectively than a multi-volume history book — it shows that even crude humour can serve a worthy purpose.