Wryside Economics Radio Segments (MP3 audio files)

Opinion pieces


The following opinion pieces (aka op-eds) were published in various Australian and US newspapers. Also, some tips for budding opinion piece writers (mine, Dalton Conley's).


Make Trade - Not War, Australian Financial Review, 3 August 2010


Good Schools, Less Crime, Australian Financial Review, 20 July 2010


Reasons to be Irrational, Australian Financial Review, 6 July 2010


At the Heart of Footy Fever, Australian Financial Review, 22 June 2010


Republicans Down Under, Australian Financial Review, 8 June 2010


Beware the Zac’s Siren Call, Australian Financial Review, 25 May 2010


The Budget in Perspective, Australian Financial Review, 11 May 2010


Teaching Becomes a Class Act, Australian Financial Review, 27 April 2010


The Economics of Sleep, Australian Financial Review, 13 April 2010


High Taxes Not Without Sin, Australian Financial Review, 30 March 2010


Abbott Tax Hits Workers, Australian Financial Review, 16 March 2010


Equality is a Just Cause, Australian Financial Review, 2 March 2010


Girls Need to be Pushed, Australian Financial Review, 16 February 2010


Breaking Up is Easy to Do, Australian Financial Review, 2 February 2010


What Makes Martyrs Tick, Australian Financial Review, 19 January 2010


Have a Go, It Can Bear Fruit, Australian Financial Review, 5 January 2010


Yes, You Can Buy Happiness, Australian Financial Review, 15 December 2009


Mixed Results for School Tests, Australian Financial Review, 1 December 2009


Prison Reform Hard Labour, Australian Financial Review, 17 November 2009


Give Reform a Bit of a Nudge, Australian Financial Review, 3 November 2009


A Lesson in Education’s ValueAustralian Financial Review, 20 October 2009


You’re Only as Old as they FeelAustralian Financial Review, 6 October 2009


Yours to (Hopefully) SpendAustralian Financial Review, 22 September 2009


Economics Rules the StreetAustralian Financial Review, 8 September 2009


Leadership is OverratedAustralian Financial Review, 25 August 2009


Cultures of CorruptionAustralian Financial Review, 11 August 2009


The Economics of ObesityAustralian Financial Review, 28 July 2009


In a Class of Their OwnAustralian Financial Review, 14 July 2009


Age No Bar to Brilliance, Australian Financial Review, 30 June 2009


Chasing Value for Money, Australian Financial Review, 16 June 2009


Culture Key to Share Plans, Australian Financial Review, 2 June 2009


Predictions on the Money, Australian Financial Review, 19 May 2009


A Home on the Scrapheap, Australian Financial Review, 5 May 2009


Make Taxpayers Literate, Australian Financial Review, 21 April 2009


A Downturn’s Silver Lining, Australian Financial Review, 7 April 2009


Execution Beats Teamwork, Australian Financial Review, 24 March 2009


Lucky miners can dig deep, Australian Financial Review, 24 June 2008


Keeping an Eye on the Ball, Australian Financial Review, 17 June 2008


Class in the Classroom, Australian Financial Review, 3 June 2008


Sorting Good Aid From Bad, Australian Financial Review, 20 May 2008


Putting a HECS on Life, Australian Financial Review, 6 May 2008


Some Nuggets in the Dross, Australian Financial Review, 22 April 2008


A Good Test of Public Policy, Australian Financial Review, 8 April 2008


Getting School Funding Right, Australian Financial Review, 25 March 2008


Shedding a Healing Light, Australian Financial Review, 11 March 2008


Give Peaceful a Chance, Australian Financial Review, 26 February 2008


Moving away from trouble, Australian Financial Review, 12 February 2008


Shares still beat roulette, Australian Financial Review, 24 January 2008


What turns the aid tap on, Australian Financial Review, 10 January 2008


Schools need a report card too, Australian Financial Review, 20 December 2007


Your Sex Can Drive the Way You Vote, Australian Financial Review, 21 November 2007
Three ways that gender affects election outcomes.


Help the Poor, and Cut Taxes, Australian Financial Review, 1 November 2007
Both left and right should be in favour of less middle-class welfare, and more targeted spending.


First, Find out What Works, Australian Financial Review, 4 October 2007
Randomised trials are proliferating in development economics. It's a pity we don't have more of them in Australian Indigenous policy.


Forget the Polls, Ask the Hard Questions, Australian Financial Review, 13 September 2007
Political journalists have more important things to do than report the latest move in the polls.


Interest Scares Shouldn't Rate, Australian Financial Review, 9 August 2007
The central bank sets interest rates, so let's let hear the politicians start talking about things they really can affect.


Intervention: Better Earlier, Australian Financial Review, 12 July 2007
High-impact early intervention programs are a promising way to break the poverty cycle.


Pay a Fee or Pay the Toll, Australian Financial Review, 14 June 2007
Can congestion fees help deal with the gridlock problem?


Economics of Media Bias, Australian Financial Review, 17 May 2007
Does the media affect the way you vote, or does the way you vote affect the media you consume?


Little House on the Contrary: A Stock Picking Tool, Australian Financial Review, 20 April 2007
When the CEO buys a mansion, what happens to the firm? And why has executive pay risen so fast anyway?


Breaking the Pay Deadlock, Australian Financial Review, 8 March 2007  
Might we be able to strike a 'grand bargain' over teacher merit pay?


The downside of difference, The Australian, 31 January 2007
An edited version of my Dialogue article on trust and diversity.


Led by Donkeys (with Amy King), New Matilda, 4 October 2006

A writeup of our paper on ballot order.


A failure to make the grade (with Chris Ryan), The Australian, 28 August 2006

A writeup of our paper on long-run trends in teacher aptitude.


There goes the neighbourhood (with Ian Davidoff), The Australian, 24 August 2006

A writeup of our paper on the relationship between school quality and house prices.


Lies and Statistics, Australian Financial Review, 8 July 2006

Public holidays play a valuable role in helping us coordinate our leisure time, thereby strengthening social ties. Should we have more of them?


Being dead on time can save taxes  (with Joshua Gans), The Age, 27 June 2006

A writeup of our paper on the effect that abolishing Australian inheritance taxes on 1 July 1979 had on deaths.


Don't miss out on the world library, The Australian, 21 June 2006 

All Australian academics should put their articles on their websites. Blogging can be fun too.


Birthing pain makes health system suffer (with Joshua Gans), The Australian, 20 June 2006

Discusses our paper on the "introduction effect" of the Baby Bonus.


Lies and Statistics, Australian Financial Review, 3 June 2006

Discusses my paper on the relationship between child gender and parents' marital status.


Lies and Statistics, Australian Financial Review, 6 May 2006

A discussion of my paper on top incomes in Australia, coauthored with Sir Tony Atkinson.


Paying indigenous teens to stay at school could break poverty cycle, Sydney Morning Herald, 7 April 2006


Only rich people want to lower the top tax rate, The Age, 3 March 2006

An edited extract from the first part of my policy paper, Three Ideas on Tax Reform.


Experiment now and save society a lot of trouble down the line, Sydney Morning Herald, 15 February 2006

Australian policymakers are too timid to embark on rigorous randomised trials of early childhood interventions - one of the most promising ways of breaking the intergenerational poverty cycle.


Internationalist rewrote Labor policy on unfettered trade, The Australian, 5 December 2005

Senator Peter Cook passed away on 3 December 2005, aged just 62. I had the privilege to serve as his trade adviser from 1998-2000, and this piece discusses his trade legacy.


Lies and Statistics, Australian Financial Review, 3 December 2005

This piece discussed my research paper on how union members vote.


Simple tax means many happy returns, Canberra Times, 31 October 2005

The federal government could exempt most Australians from the requirement to file a tax return.


It’s time to run the rule over federal advertising, Canberra Times, 27 October 2005

Most government advertising would probably fail a robust cost-benefit test.


Lies and Statistics, Australian Financial Review, 22 October 2005 

New research suggests that for children aged 2 and up, child safety seats may be no safer than seatbelts.

This piece discussed NBER Working Paper 11591


Memo to Kim: Oppositions Need to Provide Propositions, Canberra Times, 12 October 2005

Federal Labor should be offering a deluge of positive policy proposals if it hopes to win government at the next election.


Wise Hedgehogs and Clever Foxes (with Macgregor Duncan and David Madden), Canberra Times, 16 September 2005

The Lucky Country, Donald Horne's greatest work, still has resonance for Australia today.


Time to look beyond the unemployment statistics, Canberra Times, 9 September 2005

A summary of my policy paper on providing wage subsidies to boost the employment of low-skilled workers.


Canberra Times letter, 13 September 2005

AAP, 10 September 2005

Canberra Times, 9 September 2005


Early school leavers still have a lot to learn, Sydney Morning Herald, 22 August 2005

A discussion of my research paper with Dr Chris Ryan, showing that raising the minimum school leaving age could substantially boost the lifetime earnings of those on the margin of dropping out.


Lies and Statistics (with Justin Wolfers), Australian Financial Review, 13 August 2005 

A discussion of our research paper on Australian happiness.


Lies and Statistics, Australian Financial Review, 23 July 2005 

A discussion of my research paper on trust, inequality and ethnic diversity.


A pat on the back is better than a kick in the behind, Sydney Morning Herald, 11 July 2005

The welfare reforms proposed by the Howard Government contain more punitive measures than positive inducements. Yet overseas research has shown that the best policies to boost employment combine both sticks and carrots.


Unemployed finally get chance to work (with Justin Wolfers), Sydney Morning Herald, 16 June 2005
The proposed unfair dismissals reforms should be regarded as pretty modest. While they are unlikely to affect the headline unemployment rate, they may help get the long-term unemployed back into work faster.


Beware the Calends of July: The New Dynamics in Howard’s Senate (with Macgregor Duncan and David Madden), Canberra Times, 7 June 2005

Analyses how the Coalition's control of the Senate will affect its operation, and outlines some reforms to the Senate that might improve its performance.


Lies and Statistics, Australian Financial Review, 28 May 2005

A discussion of my economic analysis of the distributional impact of the tax cuts proposed in the May 2005 budget.


Policymakers must do their homework, Sydney Morning Herald, 16 May 2005

Despite increased school funding, literacy and numeracy scores have been stagnant for the past quarter-century. In this environment, educational policymakers should be more  open to new reforms to improve school performance.

Dr Sheldon Rothman had some concerns over my interpretation of his results. While my article was based on 14 year olds in grade 9 (for whom test scores declined), his view is that the preferable comparison group is 14 year olds (for whom test scores were flat). After we had exchanged several emails, he submitted a letter to the Herald. The text of the letter is here, and his full report is here.


A simple solution to those annoying water restrictions, Sydney Morning Herald, 23 March 2005

Rather than imposing increasingly stringent water restrictions, Australian states should charge a market-clearing price for water, and let consumers decide how to reduce demand.

Letters in response, 24 & 26 March 2005 


Program paved the road to re-election, Australian Financial Review, 10 March 2005

Who really benefited from the $2.7 billion Roads to Recovery program? The economic benefits appear to have been inflated, but the Coalition vote rose more in seats that received a larger road funding allocation.

Letter in response, 14 March 2005

Follow-up article, Sydney Morning Herald, 15 March 2005


P-plater training is useless, The Australian, 15 December 2004

A new randomised trial is being set up to test whether training for young drivers reduces the road toll. While it's good to see policies being rigorously trialled, the international studies on young driver training suggest that this one is unlikely to work.

Note: This article refers to several academic studies, which are referenced through hyperlinks.

Letters in response, 16 December 2004

Letters in response, 17 December 2004

Editorial, 16 December 2004


Betting experts know a slow horse, Sydney Morning Herald, 11 October 2004

How well did polls, punters and pundits predict the 2004 Australian election result?


Pollsters at odds with simple probabilities (with Justin Wolfers), Australian Financial Review, 7 October 2004

Using straightforward statistical techniques, we can read any poll as the probability that one party or the other will win. We argue that this is a more sensible way for pollsters to present their results.

For more details of the methodology, including a table showing how to convert any poll into a probability, click here.


Blind trusts for political gifts are a surer bet than trusting blindly, Sydney Morning Herald, 7 October 2004

How intertwined are money and politics in the US and Australia? Do donations buy favours? And how might we reform the system?

This piece discusses Seema Jayachandran, The Jeffords Effect and Brian Knight, Are Policy Platforms Capitalized into Equity Prices? Evidence from the Bush/Gore 2000 Presidential Election (NBER WP 10333).


Where have all the optimists gone? New Matilda, 29 September 2004

Does the scope of the current election campaign really span the gamut of what matters for the future of our nation? Is there nothing more to the once great Australian project than Medicare reform, tax breaks for the middle class, payments for mature aged workers, and reallocation of private school funding?


Matched on mojo, powers to persuade, Sydney Morning Herald, 16 September 2004 (Blueprint Article) PDF

Leadership comes in three distinct forms: influencing others to follow you (classic CEO-type leadership), adaptive leadership (creating the conditions for people to tackle their own problems), and policy entrepreneurship. On these three standards, who is the better leader: Howard or Latham?

Most people find adaptive leadership the most unusual of these three forms of leadership. For a discussion of what adaptive leadership means in the Australian context, have a look at the background information for the Sydney Leadership 2005 course.


Politicians have us thinking 'used car salesman' again, Sydney Morning Herald, 16 September 2004 PDF

A brief upward blip in trust in politicians seems to have come to an end, with new figures showing that the proportion regarding politicians as ethical and honesty is again falling.

Roy Morgan poll data (pdf html)


Bookies are a better bet than pollsters, Sydney Morning Herald, 1 September 2004

When interpreting opinion polls, we should remember that the sampling error is frequently bigger than the measured difference between the parties.

A simple calculator for margins of sampling error

Examples of how to ignore the margin of sampling error are here, here and here

For a rare use of the margin of error in Australian journalism, see here


Our Games heroes owe something, The Age, 30 August 2004 (with Bruce Chapman)

The Australian Institute of Sport, home to a majority of our Olympic athletes, could offer more places if those athletes who make it big were required to repay their scholarships.

Letter in response, 31 August 2004

Follow-up article by Larry Schwartz, The Age, 4 September 2004


Nelson takes a leaf out of Bush reform plan, The Australian, 28 June 2004

Better understanding recent US education reforms can help Australia decide how to respond to Education Minister Brendan Nelson's ideas on improving schools.

Responses (Letters section)


More police mean fewer mean streets, The Australian, 11 May 2004

Why is crime dropping in the US, but rising in Australia? A new study argues that the reasons may not be what you think, and suggests that Australia might be able to learn a few lessons from our neighbour across the Pacific.

This piece draws statistics from the 2000 International Crime Victim Survey, and discusses Understanding Why Crime Fell in the 1990s: Four Factors that Explain the Decline and Six that Do Not, Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol 18, No 1, 2004 (working paper version)


Add a year abroad, for a richer education, Sydney Morning Herald, 11 May 2004

An international study component should be a more common part of Australian undergraduate programs. Here are a few ways we might encourage overseas educational exchanges.

Discussed in Andrew Norton's blog, 11 May 2004 (this points out that one of my three proposals has already been implemented)


Assistance to industry needs new strategies, Australian Financial Review, 3 March 2004 (with Richard Holden) PDF  

State governments can create more jobs by rethinking their current industry assistance programs.


Count the cost of higher minimum wage, Australian Financial Review, 14 January 2004 PDF  

An outline of my Australian Economic Review study on the employment effects of minimum wages, discussing the context of the research and its policy implications.


Lies and Statistics, Australian Financial Review, 20 December 2003 (with Justin Wolfers) PDF  

When forecasting Australian elections, betting odds tend to be more accurate than opinion polls.


Nelson effort needs more creative grip, Canberra Times, 26 November 2003

The Federal Education Minister should consider bolder reforms to boost school quality. It is time we moved on from class-size cuts to consider raising the school leaving age, rigorously testing new policies, and implementing performance-based teacher pay.

This piece discussed "Taking Schools to the Next Level", a speech delivered by Brendan Nelson on 13 November 2003, as well as research in Dee & Keys (2003), and NBER Working Papers 6051, 6869 and 10155.


Costello's call on social capital, Canberra Times, 24 July 2003

Four practical ways in which the government could help build social capital in Australia.

This piece discussed Trust, Inequality, and Ethnic Heterogeneity and Reviving Community: What policy-makers can do to build social capital in Britain and America.


Safer for owners, not for others, Canberra Times, 4 July 2003 (also published as "Beware the arms race on our roads", The Age, 9 July 2003)

Analyzing the crash statistics of four wheel drives (aka SUVs) shows us what's fuelling the arms race on Australian roads.

This piece discussed Monash Accident Research Center Report 196 and NBER Working Paper 9302

Response from Jean Hayden in the Canberra Times

Three other responses (Age letters section)


Slim hopes for a culture that lacks self-control, Sydney Morning Herald, 15 May 2003

New research suggests that advances in food technology are the main reason why obesity has risen sharply over the past two decades.

This piece discussed NBER Working Paper 9446

Response (Letters section)


Health's price must be right, Sydney Morning Herald, 14 April 2003 (with Richard Holden) PDF  

The Howard government is right to establish a Medicare co-payment, but setting it too high could have adverse effects on preventive care.

Response (Letters section)


Policy Improves by Putting Rhetoric on Trial, Sydney Morning Herald, 5 March 2003 (with Justin Wolfers) PDF  

More experiments and better data could greatly improve policymaking in Australia.

A response from the Australian Bureau of Statistics


Bushfire toll shows need for compulsory home cover, Sydney Morning Herald, 4 February 2003 (with Richard Holden) PDF  

Market failure in the home insurance market makes it timely to implement a system of mandatory insurance against catastrophic loss.


US model for policy academy, The Australian, 15 January 2003 (with Allan Fels) PDF  

How the new Australia and New Zealand Graduate School of Government can help improve public policymaking and encourage talented young people to become involved in public life.


Oil prices may make US voters swing, Canberra Times, 5 November 2002  (with Justin Wolfers) PDF  

Research on US gubernatorial elections since WWII suggests that oil prices may have a significant effect in tight races.  

This piece discussed Stanford GSB Working Papers 1723 and 1730


To banish hatred, we must understand it, Australian Financial Review, 1 November 2002 (with Justin Wolfers) PDF  

A new paper on the political economy of hatred should challenge Australians to carefully analyze the processes that affect the supply of and demand for hate in Indonesia.

This piece discussed NBER Working Paper 9171


Coverage of Bali tragedy shows how Australia misses the bus in America, Sydney Morning Herald, 1 November 2002 (with Justin Wolfers) PDF

The limited coverage that Bali received in the US press are indicative of how little coverage Australia generally gets, and suggest that there may be more space for a more independent foreign policy. 

Response (Letters section)


Train the Politicians First, Canberra Times, 10 September 2002 (with Justin Wolfers) PDF

Proponents of parenting education should spend a bit more time looking at the research, instead of talking about political gimmicks like "parenting videos".   


Baseball Could Learn a Few Things From Australia, The New York Times, 1 September 2002 (with Justin Wolfers) PDF

The events that followed the Bulldogs' punishment for breaching Rugby League's salary cap provide an interesting contrast with the narrowly-averted baseball strike. 


Numbers crunch salary cap's logic, Sydney Morning Herald, 26 August 2002 (with Justin Wolfers) PDF

A breach of the NSW rugby league salary cap has seen the Canterbury Bulldogs relegated from competition leaders to wooden spooners. But since it was introduced in 1988, has the salary cap achieved its purpose?  


Hardly family friendly, The West Australian, 20 June 2002 (with Justin Wolfers) PDF

The Australian federal government's recent proposal to provide mothers with a tax rebate has at least three important flaws.

(This article was significantly truncated by The West Australian. Here's the full version.)


Smaller classes become big issue, The Australian, 1 June 2002 (with Justin Wolfers) PDF

Do across-the-board reductions in class sizes improve educational outcomes? With the issue looming large on the NSW political scene, we discuss the latest findings from US research.

This piece discussed NBER Working Paper 6869


If that's the city where the boys are, then it has to be fabulous, Sydney Morning Herald, 13 May 2002 (with Justin Wolfers) PDF

Recent research from the American urban economics literature suggests a novel way of measuring the quality of a city's amenities. We take the theory from San Francisco to Sydney.

This piece discussed Maxwell School Economics Working Paper 2001-03

A response from the ever-stylish Paul Loftus.

Another response from Herald journalist Jon Casimir.

Letters from Herald readers.

A discussion board dialogue about the article


A crisis of trust that bodes ill for society, Canberra Times, 12 March 2002 PDF

Amidst controversy over John Howard's handling of the "children overboard" affair, and the scandals surrounding the Governor-General, Labor should take active measures to raise the public standing of politicians, which has fallen substantially over the past quarter-century.


Political vision required to spur a new kind of public spirit, Sydney Morning Herald, 15 February 2002 PDF

President Bush has just called for a dramatic expansion of the youth volunteering program, AmeriCorps. What might the Australian federal government learn from the success of this scheme?


Winner Takes All, Sydney Morning Herald, 29 September 2001 (with Justin Wolfers) PDF

How might we predict the result of the 2001 Australian federal election? We consider three possible tools - opinion polls, economic indicators, and gambling odds. A longer version of this article appeared in Online Opinion. We subsequently developed the ideas into an article for the Australian Journal of Political Science.


Social Policy Requires a Fresh Focus, Canberra Times, 3 July 2001 PDF

Advocates the creation of a federal Social Exclusion Unit, to develop better solutions for helping the most disadvantaged in Australian society.


Take the Money and Run... or Wrestle, Sydney Morning Herald, 15 May 2001 (with Justin Wolfers) PDF

Looks at how we might use economic tools to identify corruption in sport, based on a fascinating study of sumo wrestling in Japan.

This piece discussed NBER Working Paper 7798


A jobs miracle that has baffled the experts, Canberra Times, 5 March 2001 (with Justin Wolfers) PDF

Examines research on the high-pressure US labor market of the 1990s, and what policy implications it might have for Australia.

This piece discussed Princeton IRS Working Paper 416


Vote Buying in America, Online Opinion, November 2000 

Outlines the unusual practices of vote-buying and vote-swapping that took place in the months prior to the 2000 Presidential Election (also available on the OLO site


Howard Dumbs Down Policy Debate, Australian Financial Review, July 6 2000 (with Justin Wolfers) PDF
Argues that more economic data in Australia should be made publicly available, to free up the policymaking process.


Unfair Admissions Index, Sydney Morning Herald, December 13 1999 (with Justin Wolfers) PDF
Looks at possible reforms to make admission into Australian universities more equitable.


Abortion's Secret Legacy, Melbourne Age, November 11 1999 (with Justin Wolfers) PDF
In mid-1999, two US academics wrote a paper arguing that there was a causal link between the legalization of abortion in the early-1970s and the drop in crime in the late-1980s. We look at the evidence in Australia.

This piece discussed NBER Working Paper 8004


Most of these op-eds were subsequently reprinted in an excellent Australian politics e-zine, Online Opinion.


* Small piece of trivia for Australians wondering why Americans call them "op-eds" instead of "opinion pieces". The term is an abbreviation for "opposite the editorial page".