Policy analysis presentations

No Right Turn points to a “does inequality matter” workshop thing.

Very good, I would be keen to go except – it is over a work day.  It takes up an entire Tuesday, from 8.30am to 5pm.  It is set up so that it is on at a time when lots of people have to work.

This brings me to my point – why are these workshops never on weekends, or after work.  I generally can’t manage to take time off – I’m working on weekends enough as it is [Note:  Although I am going to the sustainability conference on Friday November 12, as I wanted to keep abreast of potential policy movements here].

Anyway, that is enough of me whining – just wanted to illustrate my disappointment that I can’t get to so many of these things 🙁

13 replies
  1. Kimble
    Kimble says:

    My money would be on the general theme of the workshop that NRT is pimping will be, “Yes, inequality matters, more than anything in fact, you guys should buy The Spirit Level.”

    Holy SHt! I typed that before seeing that the keynote speaker is the author of The Spirit Level!

    Save your time and brain cells (I have little doubt the workshop would make you dumber for having attended) and read Chris Snowdens demolition of Wilkinsons book, in The Spirit Level Delusion.

    Wilkinson has been pursuing this “inequality causes everything bad” line for ages. Far too much of his recent book relies on “corroborating” evidence from his own history of work and cherry-picked data sets. He constantly chose his sample to generate the desired slope on a chart to then make the massive leap of logic that this correlation is causation.

    Inequality economics is a bunk and Wilkinsons book is horrible junk science. His workshop is for the acolytes and the unthinking. Green economics at its worst.

  2. Matt Nolan
    Matt Nolan says:


    I just wanted to go to see whether he tackles the main issues I have with the data analysis:

    1) Unobserved differences between nations (unobserved heterogeniety),
    2) Unobserved cross-sectional variables, that are correlated with both inequality and the independent variables,
    3) An actual causal mechanism.

    I realise that there is also an issue of cherry-picking, but even in the absence of that the data analysis seems atrocious.

  3. Kimble
    Kimble says:

    I certainly didnt intend my rant to be a comprehensive dismantling of his argument; i will leave that to the paid professionals.

    Here is how I expect the workshop would go. He would not address the issues with his analysis, except in vague, single sentence, dismissive references to previous studies (which he wont mention are his own). If anyone does ask those questions, he will bluster, and many in the audience will jump to his defense making the questioner the issue. They will roll their eyes and sigh everytime one of those “right-wing, think tank drones” reads out one of the talking points provided by their corporate masters.

  4. Matt Nolan
    Matt Nolan says:


    I didn’t think you were dismantling him per see – just telling me that such things had occurred, which I appreciate. And I was just pointing out the specific issues I want to see touched on – but even after exploring for information I have not been able to find anything.

    Ahhh, our corporate masters – I see. I always forget that name calling is a great way to avoid relevant criticism 😉

    Also, I always find it interesting how much people are willing to ignore the quality of analysis if it supports their own priors …

  5. Kimble
    Kimble says:

    My current corporate masters dont beat as badly as my previous one do. Does that mean they love me?

    The causal mechanism is the most interesting thing, I reckon. If he had something solid to contribute there, I expect we would have heard about it by now. Maybe you can ask NRT to describe that mechanism? I think it would be an interesting cross-blog debate.

  6. Matt Nolan
    Matt Nolan says:


    No, the best corporate masters beat you harder – as it shows a passion that only said beating can represent.

    “I think it would be an interesting cross-blog debate.”

    I would love to have a cross blog debate regarding a specific policy issue. But I severely doubt that anyone would want to 🙁

  7. Kimble
    Kimble says:

    All you have to do is throw down the internet gauntlet. Say something that is so totally offensive to their ideology that they feel the compulsion to respond.

    I think if you read The Spirit Level, and decried it publicly as the worst piece of populist econo-poop since Silent Spring, and that nowhere in the entire book is there a single worthwhile casual link, NRT might have to respond. Call for a boycott of the workshop and accuse NRT of intellectual dishonesty. Say something that is wildly wrong and offensive to gain attention, then when you have their attention quickly concede the error, but say that the general sense of the book and workshops wrongness lives on in your other criticisms.

    Something like “Wilkinson once used inequality to excuse his kicking of a guide-dog” ought to do the trick.

    If you really wanted traction, get DPF to commit one post to it on a rainy morning.

  8. Matt Nolan
    Matt Nolan says:


    I would have to read the book – which I intend to do, but for some reason can not find a copy in town.

    I have written my concerns from reading up about the book, but I couldn’t post till I have read it:


    I’ll think about it – I still believe I will just be ignored. I am after all an “economist” (sort of).

    It is sort of like the fact that they haven’t invited a single economist from VUW to speak at the “sustainable economics” thing on Friday – this confuses me. Their economics reading list is also 5 first year text books – and they say that neo-classical economics is static and ignores resource constraints. Sort of like they have never read any economics …

  9. Kimble
    Kimble says:

    “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.”

    Maybe they think that “sustainable economics” is best discussed in a group without people who insist on using bad words like “scarcity”, “price”, and “rationing”?

  10. Matt Nolan
    Matt Nolan says:



    From reading the documents they are also insulted by the fact that we seem to believe that private agents can allocate resources better then they can – sort of missing the point methinks.

    Some people blame us for using the word allocation – because it makes it sound like something amiable to central design and control. Personally, I blame people for saying they want to derive the “best allocation of resources” without asking the experts of allocation – economists 😀

  11. Kimble
    Kimble says:

    To be fair, economists have stuffed up the allocation of resources this last century. You only have to look at the stats and science around inequality of incomes and wealth to see that.

    Why do economists insist on giving rich people more money? Why can’t economists realise that if poor people got more money they would be healthier, happier and live longer?

    Trickle down economics doesnt work, and its the fault of the economists that invented it.

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