Sunday, May 25, 2008

Agenda online

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.


conrad said...

I'm not sure why you mind journals going fully online (why not just get them to send out a .pdf each month? ). The main problem I see is for university underwear gnomes who insist on printed copies of things.

I agree that its good to have journals that allow you to publish stuff that is not mainstream -- I have exactly the same problem -- If I do a whole of boring stuff its easy to get published in decent journals. If I do really novel things, then i get rejected for not being boring enough and you end with pages of reviewers comments -- I think its a big problem with good journals without good editors. Once a few papers get published on a particularly dull topic, people start writing papers permuting that particularly dull topic, and you end with these huge chains of really dull papers. In some cases, the entire focus of the journal gets changed such that they expect new papers to conform to dull old methodologies.

Incidentally, completely off the topic, but looking at your first drug paper I have a different assumption for you to start at in terms of human behavior. Rather that start off with abstinence as your baseline, why not start off with the assumptions that people are predisposed to taking certain amounts of drugs (its common throughout human history), and see how the results differ.

Francis Xavier Holden said...

Thanks for the links Harry - always great to see some taxeaters work available to tax payers and those of us who actually have to work for a living.

A word in your shelllike if I may: I have noticed a slightly disturbing trend on this blog towards bolding for emphasis.

I have no real evidence but it is my firmly held beleif that the next step is USING CAPS to make a point. Then USING CAPS AND DIFFERENT FONTS IN WHOLE POSTS.

Next before you know it you are either wearing a tinfoil hat or in ex-lecturer Unibomber territory.

Yours etc
One who cares.
Ever since I heard you were off the slops I felt I had to keep an eye on you.

hc said...

OK FXH I have substituted italics for most of the bold.

Do you have suggestions for reversing the human aging process?

Any good receipes?

Spiros said...

Harry, I'll bet when you were young you were disdainful of the old blokes who published in policy journals, 'cos they couldn't hack it trying to write real papers for the serious academic publications.

hc said...

I was Spiros but I am wiser now. Disdain for the value of being interested in the world does not necessarily signal deep understanding. It often signifies a lack of confidence and disbelief in the value of economic theory to offer practical insight.

BTW I am still doing some theoretical work - of course with an applied emphasis - partly to discourage comments to the effect that I have become an old fart.