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POSSUM COMITATUS | December 08, 2011 | GENERAL ECONOMICS | 135 |

Australian Exceptionalism

Australian Exceptionalism”…. let that phrase roll off your tongue.

Now stop laughing for a moment if you can!

There’s something about that phrase that just doesn’t sit right with us. We’re not only unaccustomed to thinking about ourselves that way, but for many it’s a concept that is one part distasteful to three parts utterly ridiculous – try mentioning it in polite company sometime. Bring a helmet.

We’ll often laugh at the cognitive dissonance displayed by our American cousins when they start banging on about American Exceptionalism – waxing lyrical about  the assumed ascendancy of their national exploits while they’re forced to take out a second mortgage to pay for a run of the mill medical procedure. That talk of exceptionalism has become little more than an exceptional disregard for the truth of their own comparative circumstances.

But in truth, we both share that common ignorance  – we share a common state of denial about the hard realities of our own accomplishments compared to those of the rest of the world. While the Americans so often manifest it as a belief that they and they alone are the global benchmark for all human achievement,  we simply refuse to acknowledge our own affluence and privilege – denialists of own hard won triumphs, often hysterically so.

Never before has there been a nation so completely oblivious to not just their own successes, but the sheer enormity of them, than Australia today.

In some respects, we have a long standing cultural disposition towards playing down any national accomplishment not achieved on a sporting field – one of the more bizarre national psychopathologies in the global pantheon of odd cultural behaviours – but to such an extreme have we taken this, we are no longer capable of seeing an honest reflection of ourselves in the mirror.

We see instead a distorted, self absorbed cliché of ourselves bordering on parody – struggling victims of tough social and economic circumstances that are not just entirely fictional, but comically separated from the reality of the world around us.

So preoccupied have we become with our own imagined hardships, so oblivious are we to the reality of our privileged circumstances, that when households earning  over $150,000 a year complain about having government welfare payments scaled back, many of us treat it as a legitimate grievance.

Somewhere along the highway to prosperity – and an eight lane highway it has been – far too many of us somehow managed to confuse Cost Of Lifestyle with Cost Of Living. We managed to confuse government assistance as a means to enable the less well off to achieve a better standard of living and greater opportunity, with government assistance being a god given right to fund the self indulgences of an aspirational lifestyle choice beyond our income means. Too many of us have demanded our dreams be handed to us on a plate, and if our income couldn’t provide for them, we demanded that government should give us handouts to make up the difference.

So let us take a hard look at our economic reality.

Over the medium term, our broader economic performance has been nothing short of astonishing. Before the resources boom was even a twinkle in the eye of Chinese poverty alleviation, our performance was world beating – that is worth keeping in your thought orbit. Big Dirt has a bad habit of propagandising about their own contributions and the Australian public has a bad habit of believing them when it comes to our own national development of late.

Imagine if, in 1985, all OECD economies had exactly 100 units of GDP each. If we then tracked the growth of that GDP (using OECD data) over time with the actual growth rates achieved during that period (creating a basic index) – this is how economies changed (click to expand the charts)

Only Turkey, Israel, Ireland and Korea have experienced more growth – with Turkey and Korea pursuing the change from developing to developed status, Israel partially so as well and Ireland recovering from the economic lethargy of civil war, we are the highest growing country that can be remotely called a developed country with no unusual circumstances. Putting this into context, let’s trace that growth over the last 25 odd years with some of the countries we are often compared to.

It’s kind of mind blowing – we grew faster, significantly faster, than all of the countries we are usually compared to, including over the period before the resources boom. But you ain’t seen nothing yet.

What about the distribution of that growth”, I hear you ask. “The poor missed out” you might also be tempted to add.

Using data from the freshly minted OECD report on international comparisons of income distribution and inequality, where the average income growth per year was measured among countries between the mid 1980’s and the late 2000’s, what we find is that Australia left just about everyone else for dead. Not just at the average, or total household income level, but also with the size of the income growth among the poorest  10% of our households *and* the richest 10% of our households.

First up, total population income growth in blue, bottom decile income growth (the poorest 10% of households) in red and the top decile income growth (the wealthiest 10%) in green for all OECD countries.


 It’s interesting to note that the only countries where the poorest  10% of households experienced faster income growth than Australia was 4 of the five PIIGS countries – the current basket cases of Europe. Something might be said there about false growth and swings and roundabouts.

Looking at how our growth here compared to the usual suspects:

And for direct comparison:

It is true that the income of the wealthiest 10% of households in Australia grew faster than the income of the poorest 10% of households – the income of Australia’s wealthiest 10% of households grew faster than any other cohort in the OECD. But it’s also true that our poorest 10% of households experienced faster income growth than any country other than Spain and Ireland (who are now quickly reversing that growth with their economic woes) , and faster income growth than the top 10% of wealthiest households in *every other country*.

The income of our poor grew faster than the income of everyone else’s rich. Just chew on that reality for a bit. Let it roll around in your head.

While you’re chewing on that, let’s take a quick squiz at minimum wages. Again, using OECD data, if we turn hourly minimum wages into US dollar equivalents using purchasing power parity adjustments (so we can compare like with like), we can see how the real hourly minimum wage has operated in Australia compared to the nations we’re usually put in the same bucket with.

We have the highest minimum wages in the OECD.  Worth noting too that despite the incessant whinging from the usual business lobbies in Australia, it hasn’t done our economic activity any harm. Now if we compare the ratio of these minimum wages to the average wage for each country, giving us a simple glance at the distribution of wages for each country (which the OECD also fortuitously provides, saving us time), what we find is that Australia, again, sits on top.

Our minimum wage is a lot closer to our average wage than comparable nations.

So our economy has grown faster than nearly all others, our household income has grown faster than nearly all others (including our poor having income growth higher than everyone else’s rich) and we have the highest minimum wages in the world. But wait, there’s more!

POSSUM COMITATUS | November 08, 2011 | ESSENTIAL REPORT | 14 |

How Australian Pollsters lean

Comparing Australian pollsters and their relative partisan leans

POSSUM COMITATUS | November 08, 2011 | POLLING | 7 |

Trend Updates for November

Latest Australian political polling trends for October

POSSUM COMITATUS | September 28, 2011 | LEADERSHIP | 35 |


Australian federal election simulations and polling trends

POSSUM COMITATUS | August 16, 2011 | POLLYTREND | 19 |

Polling trends – Spring Session Edition

Australian polling trends for Labor, the Coalition and the Greens

POSSUM COMITATUS | July 02, 2011 | POLLYTREND | 24 |

Pollytrend, Election Sims and Labor’s worst month in government

Being the end of June, it’s time to crank up the stats and run our quarterly election simulations based on polling aggregates of the last 3 months from all the pollsters that provide state level breakdowns. However, before we do, it’s worth updating our Pollytrend measures as the month of June turned out to be quite the mover and shaker – delivering the ALP its largest voter alienation in the history of the Rudd/Gillard government.

First up, the primary vote trends for the majors (the Greens are pretty flat – you can see them in the sidebar on the right)

While the ALP primary didn’t quite fall off a cliff, it certainly stumbled without grace or poise down a rather steep hill. The June period saw the Gillard government drop 4 points of primary vote – from 33% down to 29% (give or take a couple of tenths of a percent) in around 30 days. This flowed through into the two party preferred estimates as a slightly smaller loss of 3%. The two party preferred chart is starting to look a little horrific for the Labor side.

Again we see the same pattern emerge where the ALP vote flattens off at some level for a while before taking a hit and flattening off at a new, lower level of support – rinse and repeat.

The simulations don’t look much better – especially considering that a full two thirds of the sample period we’re using here – April through June – had the government in a much better position than they face right now. First up, the broad results where we look at the probability of the ALP winning at least X number of seats.

And a close up of the threshold 50% area:

The most likely result were an election held over the last three months and where the outcomes of the election matched the polling, would have had the ALP winning 53 seats. To give an idea of how far the government has slipped over the last 3 months, it’s worth comparing this election simulation to the last set we ran for the first quarter of 2011. If we look at the same cumulative probability distribution above with last quarter’s, we get:

POSSUM COMITATUS | June 05, 2011 | POLLYTREND | 15 |

New Trends and Gender Shifts

Plugging all the new polling data of late into our trend system, we find that the medium term deterioration in the Labor government’s two party preferred vote has stabilised out around the 46% mark over the last 6 weeks. A lot of day to day stuff came and went, from budgets to boat people, from […]

POSSUM COMITATUS | April 24, 2011 | POLICY | 155 |

The CSIRO gets HIP to debunking media hysteria

The CSIRO last week released what was effectively a statistical analysis of the reality surrounding large parts of the infamous Home Insulation Program – or for those of you not familiar with this particular policy, you may have heard about it via it’s common alternative name in the mainstream media, the “OMG, PETER GARRETT IS BURNING DOWN OUR FUCKING HOUSES!” policy.

As we here have long known and talked about, the reality of the Home Insulation Program was always vastly different to its hysterical media portrayal – driven as it was by naive and innumerate journalists looking for easy sensational headlines, and partisan hacks prostituting their cheap wares before a gullible public. Having a cowardly government lacking the plums to tell them all where to stick it was another unfortunate sub-plot in this tale of public deception about the reality of a substantial piece of public policy.

The CSIRO report covers three large areas – analysis of fire related incidents, broader safety risk issues relating to the insulation program and the development of a risk profiling tool. Today, we’ll just focus on the fire related incidents component, as we’ve long been following this particular issue in depth and it’s nice to be able to bring it to a close, flip the bird at our detractors and exit the battlefield under a big banner saying “We told you so”

The first thing that needs to be done is explain what the CSIRO *didn’t* do. They *didn’t* answer the elephant in the room question: “In the 12 month period after having insulation installed, was there a difference between pre-program and in-program probability of having an insulation related fire incident?”. They provided all the data we need to get an estimate of it, they made a sort of assumption about it, but didn’t actually attempt to tackle that important question head on.

We will.

This question is important because it tells us whether the Home Insulation Program was safer or more dangerous in terms of fires than what existed before it over the short term – over the first 12 months of having insulation installed.

The second thing the CSIRO didn’t do was provide long term background fire rates (the number of fires we should expect to see every year from all houses that have had insulation installed for longer than 12 months) that allow us to answer the questions *we’ve* been asking. They’ve provided background rates that answer a lot of different questions, that answer a lot of questions other people may have been asking, but not the ones we have. This is a simple methodology issue which we can easily deal with since the CSIRO kindly provided in the report all the data we need.

To get a feel for what actually happened, it’s worth looking at the strong relationship between when the fire incidents under the program occurred (defined as houses which had the fire services called out to them over what turned out to be an insulation related fire) and when insulations were actually installed. This data comes from Table 5.1 on page 30 of the report (click to expand)

As the number of installations increased during the program, the number of fire incidents increased with it, before those fire incidents trailed off on an 8 to 12 month tail after the installations had ceased. This is important because it shows us straight away that most fires happened relatively quickly after insulation was installed. To really highlight this relationship further, if we change this data from a chronological month by month representation into one where we measure how many days insulation had been installed, for every fire incident under the program, this is what we get:

POSSUM COMITATUS | April 01, 2011 | POLLYTREND | 21 |

First Election Simulation for 2011

With the Newspoll quarterly release this week, we now have enough data to aggregate the pollsters together, break the aggregated sample down into state based components and run our first election simulation for 2011.

Before we start though, it’s worth running though an updated Pollytrend to show how the polls have moved over the January to March period.

As we can see, things were pretty calm over the first 6 to 7 weeks of the year in terms of the two party preferred national results. Over the last 5 weeks however, a fairly large chunk of us went a bit berko over the carbon tax, boat people and other topical favourites of the hyperventilating classes.

What this means in practical terms is that the Labor party are today sitting a little above their aggregate support level of the last 3 months that we use for the simulations – by about half a percentage point of two party preferred thereabouts. Not a massive difference, but worth noting since someone would have in comments anyway.

At the state level breakdown, this is what the last 3 months of aggregated polling suggested in terms of the swings operating since the last election.

The government has boosted its stocks in WA, but have lost ground to the Coalition in NSW, Vic and SA – where most of that lost ground is occurring in the capital cities.

As always, we’re running our quasi-dependency Monte Carlo based simulation method which treats individual seat results as neither dependent nor independent events, imitating the real world effects we see operating in elections  where seats “move together” at the state level of aggregation. After 20,000 iterations, the simulation stabilised giving us the following results in terms of the number of seats the ALP would have been likely to win (click to expand).

POSSUM COMITATUS | March 22, 2011 | POLLYTREND | 18 |

Crashes and Rebounds

Time for a polling trends update.

First up, the broad sweep. Plugging all the latest polling data fit to print into our system, this is how the two party preferred Pollytrend has changed.

We see a relatively sharp downturn for the government starting in late February, bottoming out around the second week of March, before recovering even more sharply over the last few weeks to end up within half a point of where they were before this rollercoaster began. Beware noisy commentators declaring that Event X was responsible – this upturn has been in the making for two weeks now.

In fact, here’s an image I posted a while back on Twitter that traced the polling up until mid March – you can see what looks to be the turning point happening at the time. We’ll run it next to the current chart to highlight the change:

BTW – you can follow me on Twitter here if you’re silly enough. I publish a fair bit of politics stuff through Twitter that isn’t large enough to turn into articles.

No one particular poll was responsible for the trends, as all the pollsters we use (Newspoll, Nielsen, Essential Report, Morgan Phone Poll and Galaxy when they publish) have generally moved together over the last 6 weeks or so.

If we take a deeper squiz at just the recovery period, Abbott peaked the vote for the Coalition between the