At the end of last month in Socrates, questions, management & public policy my focus was on the importance of questions in testing approaches in both management and public policy. As it happened, the examples I used were productivity, microeconomic reform and Aboriginal policy.
Today's Australian newspapers contain some interesting stories that bear upon my discussion.
Start with this editorial in the Australian, Open-ended questions as new world order emerges. This quote sets the tone:
Any pundit, however, who seizes on the development to predict the long-term, ongoing decline of the US, or to advise a move away from market-based economics towards centralism and bigger government, is deluded. To the contrary, the downgrade underlines the importance of fundamental economic principles and demands that Barack Obama, and both sides of American politics, as well as other debt-ridden nations, respond with unflinching resolve to rebuild their budgets and restore prosperity.
Now compare the editorial with this piece by economics writer Ross Gittins in the Sydney Morning Herald, What economists don't know about productivity. This quote sets the tone:
Economists are trained to believe in the need for ''more micro reform''. They'd want it even if our productivity performance was fine. You get the feeling the physician is prescribing his favourite medicine without bothering to think much about the patent's symptoms.
The contrast is striking. The Australian editorial is based on one set of assumptions, Mr Gittins sets out an alternative view. While Mr Gittins position is closer to mine, both pieces can be tested by asking simple questions, and that was part of my point.
Now go to this story by Phillip Coorey in the Sydney Morning Herald, Billions spent but Aborigines little better off, says report. The story begins:
THE circumstances of most indigenous Australians are hardly any better today than they were 40 years ago, despite governments having spent tens of billions of dollars, a scathing internal report to federal cabinet says.
The Strategic Review of Indigenous Expenditure, prepared by the federal Department of Finance, finds that despite efforts by successive Commonwealth, state and territory governments, progress against Aboriginal disadvantage has been ''mixed at best''. Outcomes have varied between ''disappointing'' and ''appalling''.
Matthew Franklin in The Australian has a longer report. Now here the two papers' reports are similar; my focus is on the failure in Aboriginal policy, the example used in my earlier post.
It's not just that Government policy has failed to achieve the objectives set. To a degree, Government policies over a very long period have actually created the problems, including the creation of a statistical construct "Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people" that lacks meaning. By this, I mean simply that the diversity of Australia's Aboriginal peoples is such that the use of universals, statistical averages, is bound to mislead. Again, this is something that you can test by simple questioning.