I have been a long-standing supporter of the ANU-published applied economics and social commentary journal Agenda. It provides a clearly-written account of many contemporary Australian economic problems without a lot of irrelevant technical clutter. In the early days it was edited by the very capable Michael James and subsequently by colleagues Robert Albon and Franco Papandrea. These days it is edited by well-known ANU economists William Coleman and Alex Robson.
Recently the journal has become a completely online affair – hard copies must be purchased from the ANU publisher individually. I am a bit unhappy with this – though still a strong fan of Agenda – I can’t for the life of me see why it is so difficult to provide the option of a paid annual subscription rather than having to buy each issue separately.
However a side benefit of publishing the journal online is that everything ever published in the journal can now be viewed at an ANU website. In particular all of the papers I have ever published in Agenda are there. Access to the entire contents of Agenda is also now free.
In 1999 I wrote one of my first efforts on addictive drugs Public Provision of Heroin for Addicts where I debunked proposals to provide heroin free to those addicted to it. In 2000 I wrote what I thought was an interesting, if to some an idiosyncratic piece, Aesthetics, Economics and Conservation of the Endangered Orange-bellied Parrot which provided a case study of species-specific biodiversity conservation efforts. In 2001 I wrote Prioritising University Research: A Critique of the Kemp Reforms which provided a sustained polemic against proposals for commercialising and prioritizing research effort in the universities. I think it has stood the test of time quite well and have not shifted an inch from my earlier position that succeeding Labor and Liberal Governments have forced a foolish research policy on Australian universities. In 2002 I wrote what I thought was an interesting piece, Institutional Design for Biodiversity Conservation, which tried to apply agency theory ideas to biodiversity conservation policy. It has generated much less interest than I had hoped. In 2006 I wrote (with former student Andrew Hawkins) one of my most widely-cited papers in recent years an Economic Framework for Melbourne Traffic Planning. It is still bearing fruit – on Friday I was interviewed by the Today Tonight television show and asked to provide views that stemmed from work leading up to this paper. Finally, in 2007, a piece that I first previewed on this blog, Conserving Biodiversity in the Face of Climate Change, appeared.
I have written four book reviews over the past decade on ‘Drugs and Democracy’, on the Gans-King book ‘Finishing the Job’ and two reviews of books on Australian immigration policy (here and here).
I have always enjoyed the freedom to get away from the strict model building methodologies insisted on in other journals that often amount to little more than symbolic window dressing for what are typically straightforward ideas. I always feel that I have the freedom to exercise more than 5% of my brain when writing for Agenda. I do not always get that feeling when seeking to publish in more conventional economics publications. Nor do I feel that some of the editors of these publications always exercise more than about 5% of their intelligence when refereeing contributions.
These last two sentences doubtless reflect unsavoury attitudes on my part. I’ll happily confirm more evidence of such attitudes. I recently gave away my complete sets of Econometrica, International Economic Review and the Review of Economic Studies from 1975. They were clogging up my office bookshelves and I realised that I’d rather chew on funnel web spiders than take a serious interest in much of their content. I am interested in the world these days and in models which illuminate the world. The exercise of building models - as an end in itself - I’ll leave to the next generation. Life is too short.