Monday, March 25, 2013


An interesting study has been published that has analysed the lobbying activity of Enron.  I haven't read it in detail yet, but it is an interesting methodology based on textual analysis of e-mails.  The data is only available because of the collapse of Enron.

The interesting part of the conclusion is that the focus on effort is not on elections, but rule making.

In studying the attention Enron devoted to various political activities through its e-mails, we find very little evidence consistent with the transactional approach to political influence. Election-related e-mails make up only 1% of Enron's political e-mails—and even within that 1%, there is scant evidence that Enron's staffers considered themselves to be buying the support of candidates. Instead, we observe Enron's political attention to be focused primarily on monitoring and formal participation in rule making and other executive-branch proceedings.

This is unsurprising to a professional, but I gather it is to academics.

The second part is the revelation in all its glory of the regulatory information assymetry problem. 

Certainly, Enron had the capacity to make political contributions, and it did so. But perhaps its greater resource was its monopoly on policy-relevant information about electricity, natural gas, and communications markets, information that policy makers could not easily obtain elsewhere.

Interestingly one of the things that happened as a consequence of the greater faith in markets in the last quarter of the last century was that Government decided to outsource a lot of policy research activity. Also "red tape reduction" has been used to limit mandatory reporting. 

Together these increase the power of the industry lobbyist and their "monopoly on policy-relevant informnation."

Unfortunately this is a topic on which no one ever speaks.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

On being Prime Minister

In the SMH today Anne Summers relays the distressing state of political reporting.  It is another article about how the reporting is about who is leading in assessments of who people intend to vote for instead of spending any time in reporting on what the politicians stand for to help voters to decide who to vote for.

The articles in the same News Review section by Jacquekine Maley, Peter Hartcher and Lenore Taylor all fell into the category being critiqued by Summers.

But Summers concluding point is that John Howard faced similar poll results six months out from the 1998 and 2004 elections and yet won.

Now conventional wisdom is that John Howard was a "conviction politician" and this is what got him over the line.  However, Howard was also a poll driven politician.  The subtle difference may be that Howard used the polls to nuance how he sold his convictions whereas the perception is that Labor in the modern mold uses polls to tell it what its convictions should be.

Unfortunately when Julia Gillard does talk about her convictions - being the leader of a labour party - Hartcher for the second week in a row dresses this up as class warfare or politics of envy.  This time it is specifically describing Ms Gillard as a sectional rme Minister rather than a Prime Minister for all Australians.

And here really lies the rub.  The Prime Minister really is a conviction politician.  She is a firm believer in the "equality of opportunity" model of modern Labor as cast by Gough Whitlam.  She is talking to everyone when she says that - but the conservatives successfully frame it so that each individual voter thinks the PM is talking about everyone but them. 

There is a way for the PM to communicate the message.  But it would help if the editor of the SMH paid attention to what one of its columnists wrote.