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.

Let them build solar panels

Glenn Fahey

05 February 2021 | IDEAS@THECENTRE

While politically inconvenient, and sometimes imparting short-term pain for workers, labour market churn is crucial to productivity growth.

Yet, too often there’s a mistaken preference for guaranteeing job security over facilitating job mobility. An unyielding commitment to save all today’s jobs ultimately holds workers and the economy back.

A case in point is the angry reaction to John Kerry’s recent comments that displaced Keystone gas workers “can go make solar panels.”

But in the race to denounce the Keystone decision on any available basis, it’s disingenuous to neglect that today’s oil and gas workers can in fact become solar technicians. And even if you disagree with the environmental rationale for the decision, that transition is likely a good thing.

Individuals can and do shift work all the time — in response to incentives, price signals, and intrinsic motivations to try something new. Ultimately, that’s good for workers and makes for a more productive labour market.

Treasury research shows that slow wage growth over the past decade can be blamed on stalling mobility. Markets reward workers with transferrable skills and those that make smart — sometimes risky — transitions responsive to the economy’s needs. If that means making solar panels, then so be it.

The task for policymakers is to help more workers reap the benefits of job mobility rather than insulating them from it.

But reflexive politicisation of job losses means the wider merits of policy decisions are too readily dismissed and the options available to policymakers unreasonably constrained.

Job-saving missions typically have nakedly political purposes — shielding a political constituency or sectional interest. Possible job losses are cynically weaponised by partisans on either side of the fence as evidence of their opposition’s alleged malign intent.

Facilitating more mobility can unlock productivity gains, but requires bringing policymakers out of the political comfort zone.

However, for more workers to benefit from labour market transitions, the training sector — among others — must also be more supportive, transparent, and flexible.

It may be politically convenient — even cathartic — to castigate opponents as job-destroyers while elevating allies as job-guardians.

But weighing policy options through this vector isn’t pro-worker, it’s pro-sectional interests.

Soundbites vs. long-form

Monica Wilkie

05 February 2021 | IDEAS@THECENTRE

Long-form writers and podcasters are reversing the last few decades of the ‘soundbite’ media trend that assumes the shorter the content the better.

This creates enormous potential, but also tension, and no one personifies this gulf more than Jordan Peterson — a leading proponent of  long form discussions.

After a lengthy absence because of health issues, Peterson has been slowly returning to the public eye, and agreed to an interview with The Sunday Times.

However, the piece, published late January, was so unflattering Peterson subsequently wrote a blog post entitled “Why I (stupidly(?)) agreed to an interview request from the Sunday Times.”

Since his rise to fame, Peterson’s views have often been maligned and caricatured. Unlike much public discourse, he has a very discursive style which can be easily misrepresented.

If you have watched his personality lectures or his ‘Maps of Meaning’ course (as this nerdy writer has done) he weaves issues together over many hours.

Plucking something out of context, such as his discussion on the personality differences between men and women, the ideas can seem peculiar.

But Peterson plaits many different ideas together brilliantly. For example, his discussion of the differences between men and women includes references to psychology biology, art, religion, history — and even The Lion King.

On their own, quotes such as “enforced misogyny” or “witchy women” do not make sense; because they are not supposed to.

Peterson invites people into his thought process and explains, in unbelievable detail, how and why he has come to his conclusions.

Peterson attracts such a loyal, and large, fan base because he explains things at a level most are not used to.

Many contemporary public debates and discussions take place in highly compressed formats. A one-hour television show will often cover numerous topics and there is only so much you can say in the time allowed.

There is certainly a skill, and utility, to this compressed format. But as the popularity of long-form podcasts like Peterson’s shows, there is an appetite for more.

And, as the compressed world of debate continually meets with the never-ending potential of the long-form world, it will be interesting to see who wins out.

Follow NSW on virus response

Simon Cowan

05 February 2021 | IDEAS@THECENTRE

NSW has now recorded 18 straight days of zero local COVID transmissions and announced further relaxation of restrictions implemented prior to Christmas. It now looks certain that NSW has beaten the Avalon cluster, and its offshoot, the Berala cluster.

Some had predicted that the outbreak, which began in mid-December, could spiral to over 3,000 cases by early January. This led to calls to shut all the borders, lock down greater Sydney, and even cancel Christmas.

Yet by Christmas week, new cases had basically stabilised at under 10 a day and NSW saw its first day of zero new cases on January 4.

NSW beat these clusters without a state-wide — or even city-wide — lockdown, without the imposition of a curfew, and in spite of lockdown-happy commentators on social media.

With recent outbreaks in Western Australia and Victoria, it might be time for other states to learn from NSW.

The NSW approach stands in contrast to the draconian methods favoured in Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia in particular; where border closures and city-wide lockdowns were implemented after just a handful of cases.

Indeed, each time NSW deals with an outbreak, the case gets stronger that the more flexible, less authoritarian approach of the NSW government is the best method of controlling the pandemic.

It is important to understand that this approach has nothing to do with denying the potential health risks of the pandemic, but a recognition that the choice is not between letting the virus run rampant or sacrificing all our freedoms.

A responsible middle path exists: one that encompasses all interests — including economic and social — not just minimising COVID transmission at any and all cost.

Lockdowns may be an effective tool at suppressing cases, but their social and economic costs are immense. Shutting the border to a state is an extreme measure — or at least, it used to be; back when we considered ourselves Australians first and residents of our state second.

In some states lockdowns appear to be the only policy in the toolkit.

Learning from the successful approach in other states is a key benefit of federalism: maybe it’s time we remembered it.

This is an edited extract of an opinion piece published in the Canberra Times as
It’s time for states to learn from pandemic management successes