Richard Freeman, WorkChoices and the dead hand of government

Richard Freeman is continuing his assault on WorkChoices:

[T]he new Australian labour code is such a massive break with Western labour traditions that it merits [global] attention. It was enacted in the midst of prosperity, without union or management excesses that endangered the economy, or public support. From the perspective of social science, we cannot get much closer to the ideal random assignment experiment at the national level than WorkChoices – an extreme change in law with no economic rationale or cause.

… Downloading the Workchoices legislation, I found a 687-page law with 565 pages of accompanying memorandum, all amending [i.e. not replacing] the government’s previous 861-page labour act …

… Parts of the law made so little economic sense that it seemed as if the Howard government had found a new band of whigged judges and labour lawyers to write it, on behalf of management. Which, in fact, I learned, was more or less how the law was developed. Writing the law was outsourced to the major Australian law firms that represented management …

… If re-elected this fall, the government will stay the course with Workchoices and we will see the results of this extraordinary effort to destroy collective action by workers. For the sake of social science, it would be great to see the experiment carried through to completion. For the sake of Australia, it would be great to see the election end the experiment.

He has managed to attract the attention of Justin Wolfers, guest-blogging on Marginal Revolution:

This is what happens when conservative governments confuse decentralization and deregulation.

Professor Freeman visited Australia back in September, speaking at the University of Sydney (I can’t seem to find a transcript online; only the event details and the press release) and on the ABC. He is not without his critics on the topic, but I think his points are valid. Even if you hate the unions, you’ve got to oppose Workchoices for the sheer weight of it. Where are the small-government Liberals in Australia?

Cam Riley wrote on this a while back:

When I read through the Workchoices legislation a while ago it was a brain dulling experience. The bill was long, boring and complex. It recently received a one hundred and eleven page amendment to add to the Workplace Relations Amendment Act, the Workplace Relations Amendment Bill, the Explanatory Memorandum, the Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum and the Second Reading Speech. Human Resources just got job security in the same way accountants do with the complex tax system.

Have a look at the graphs on Cam’s page. Make sure you take note of the scale on the vertical axes.

Meanwhile, John Quiggin has a suggestion for the Labor party in their campaign:

If I were running Labor’s campaign, I’d take the government’s total ad spending this term (around $750 million, IIRC) and convert that into around $5 million per electorate. Then find, for each electorate, $5 million of spending effectively foregone (two extra teachers at X High School, a local road project etc). Finally, promise to create a fund for worthwhile local projects like these, to be funded by a cessation of large-scale government propaganda.

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