Catallaxy Files

polymathic pontification, bleeding heart economic rationalism and liberal secularist contrarianism

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  • Jason Soon
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    Friday, November 21, 2003
    Music Industry Divided

    The music industry’s digital copyright battle has taken an interesting turn in Australia this week, with key players divided over a new proposal.

    The Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) and the Australian Music Publishers Association Ltd (AMPAL) have both come out in support of the idea that the Copyright Act 1968 should be changed to give consumers the right to copy legally-purchased CDs for their private purposes, and to institute a levy on blank CDs that would be distributed back to music creators and copyright owners as compensation. The Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) opposes the move.

    For my two cents worth…

    A levy on all blank CD is going to impact a lot of people and businesses who don’t copy music. For example, I’m a big digital photographer and the vast bulk of my use of blank CD media is for backup of digital photos and of my web site and work. Having to pay a levy to support someone elses music copying habits isn’t going to appeal to all those people or businesses whose use of CD media doesn’t involve breaches of copyright.

    Secondly, the levy probably won’t do much to stop music piracy. Your typical hard drive these days has all the storage capacity you need, and the availability of portable media players using the .mp3 (and similar) format, means many people who copy CD’s will never re-write to a CD. Add to that, the proposal really does nothing to address Internet related music downloads and file sharing,

    This latest proposal is really nothing but (another) blatant money grab from an industry that is only now starting to embrace digital distribution of music.

    Wednesday, November 19, 2003
    Baby boomlet

    With perfect timing, the Australian Bureau of Statistics yesterday released the 2002 birth statistics. While the total increase in fertility was small and within the normal range of the last few years, the interesting point was the strong upward trend in births to women in their 30s, and even early 40s.

    When researching the fertility issue earlier this year I came across a few of those sad stories about women who had pursued careers, but now regretted not having kids. If I can engage in some speculative sociology, I think these stories may affect younger women, who might be less inclined than the first large cohort of independent, educated women to put career above all else. If so, the fertility of educated women, contrary to the HECS thesis, will at least stablise and probably increase in future.

    Tuesday, November 18, 2003
    Gen X, Boomers and Babies

    It is sometimes claimed that the Baby Boomers are the most self-indulgent generation in Australia's history, having it all, and often at someone else's expense, especially Generation X (born 1962-1976) and Generation Y (born 1977-1991), who will pay for the Boomers' retirement.

    It suspect that Boomer Ann Harding, head of NATSEM, will have enough superannuation not to rely on tax from later generations, but she is trying to have it all argument-wise. Last week at the Pursuing Opportunity and Prosperity conference, she was giving her now familiar presentation on income inequality, and that slowly but steadily increasing gini coefficient. It's pretty clear that she thinks this is a bad thing (if it is not important, why all the effort to produce these statistics?).

    This week, in releasing a report on how Gen X is hard done by compared to the Boomers she repeated the old argument that HECS is driving down Gen X birthrates. She watered down her original radio comments, but the point still appears in The Australian and The Sydney Morning Herald (along with a rather tactless comment on male marital habits from me).

    I have argued that there is, yet at least, no link between HECS and fertility, as educated women with HECS debts are so far reproducing at the same rate as educated women without them. But the suggestion that is implicit in Harding's comments, and explicit in the arguments of many others who make the HECS-fertility link, that HECS should be reduced would only (if marginally) increase the inequality that Harding thinks is a negative trend. It was quite clear from the conference last week that much of the increase in inequality is being driven by changes in household structures, with the two professional income households pushing the top 20% ahead of the rest and increasing income inequality. Cutting HECS would merely add to the wealth of this group, and I would suggest make no discernible difference to the number of babies born.

    Harding is trying to have it both ways, but she cannot consistently complain about inequality and HECS; it is one or the other.

    Monday, November 17, 2003
    Christianity and the Market

    In a sign of just how post-Christian at least my friendship network is I know very few practising Christians I can invite to Ian Harper's CIS Acton Lecture Christian Morality and Market Capitalism: Friends or Foes?, which is on in Melbourne on Wednesday. Perhaps more Christians read blogs, though I doubt it. Anyway, if you want to know why all those muddle-headed clerics are wrong about the market this is the lecture for you.

    Sunday, November 16, 2003
    Blogging Improves Worker Productivity!
    Ok - we can't quite make that claim yet. But CNN is reporting on a new book that claimsweb surfing can benefit workers. According to the researchers involved:

    "doing personal Web surfing while on the job can lead to better time management, stress reduction, improvement of skill sets and helping to achieve a balance between work and personal life."

    Selling an Arts degree

    Some years ago I excited a lot of controversy by (pdf) pointing to the relatively poor employment prospects of Arts graduates. Admittedly, I partly wrote the paper because I knew the Arts lobby was very sensitive about the value of an Arts degree to students. I had several serious points to make, though, one of which being that I believe prospective students ought to be much better informed about courses and universities than they often are in practice.

    This cause won't be helped by an article (subscription required) in the weekend issue of The Australian Financial Review. Its opening paragraph asserts that 'employers are increasingly seeking out arts graduates for their broader skills...'. Funny, that's not what the latest Graduate Destination Survey says. It confirms that yet again Arts graduates have among the lowest employment rates a few months after completion. Worse still, employment rates for humanities graduates fell much more than the graduate employment rates generally, down 7% compared to a 1.7% overall decrease. For the humanities graduates who did get jobs, their salaries relative to average weekly earnings dropped slightly more than for graduates generally. For whatever reason, employers are increasingly not seeking out Arts graduates.

    The claims by various people quoted in the article that an Arts degrees gives graduates the broadest range of transferable skills should not be taken seriously either. There is no Australian evidence to support this claim, and the very negative attitude universities have taken toward the Graduate Skills Assessment test suggests that they are none too keen to find out whether or not it is true. However, by comparing two rounds of the GSA, one using mostly first year university students, and the other mostly later year students, we can get a rough idea of local differences (I stress rough, for reasons explained in my book The Unchained University, but better than anecdotes).

    On some of the attributes people say Arts graduates are likely to have, such as writing and critical thinking, Arts students did in fact do relatively well. But the interesting thing the GSA showed was that they were already relatively good in first year, before their study can have had much impact. So while an Arts degree may correctly signal to employers that a job applicant has the desired skills, it is as much because people with those skills are attracted to Arts degrees as anything done during the degree.

    The supposed skills value adding in the Arts degree (as opposed to its signalling value) compared to other degrees doesn't show in the GSA results. For example, later year Arts students did on average 6.75% better on writing than the first years. But Commerce students did 14.75% better and Science students 8.65% better. On critical thinking the later year Arts students were 14.25% better than the first years, but again Commerce and Science students showed larger improvements.

    To compare degrees properly we need a panel study which looks at the same people over several years and can control for other variables which may affect the results. But none of the available evidence supports the contention that Arts degrees are better at enhancing generic skills. They are not systematically taught, and if anything Arts students improve at a slower rate than other students (this may be because they are on average less intelligent to begin with, which is why we need to control for other factors).

    There is one point in the article I agree with. This is that Arts students need to sell the skills they have. Some excellent writers and thinkers have Arts degrees, but because the degree itself is no guarantee of any writing or thinking talent it is up to Arts graduates to show what they can do.




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