Surprise, surprise

Moral decay, drug-addicted, violent, drug-taking – just a few of the terms frequently thrown around about today’s youth.

Peter Costello, our former Treasurer, told us “we do not have to look far to see evidence of moral decay all around us.” We don’t think he was talking about the Howard Government and Tampa nor the dodgy data which got us into the Iraq War and its ‘embarrassing’ failure to find weapons of mass destruction. Nor the wanton budgetary policies which squandered the benefits of Australia’s best yet terms of trade and the massive income from the resources boom. Instead he was talking about our young and their musical preferences.

Parents also sometimes have dire views of the children’s behaviour and, despite the protestations of the awful positive psychology mob, regard their kinder as a bit like the father in Tracey Moffatt’s wonderful 1974 art work Useless (Sub title is Her father’s name for her was ‘useless’.

Yet – surprise, surprise – when you look at the data the young are not that irredeemable at all. The ever impressive ALP MP, Andrew Leigh, gave a speech recently to the National Youth Conference in Canberra. He called it Reckless beyond words? A data-driven look at Australian young people today. Now Leigh is a very unusual MP whose professional career has been data-driven and whose subsequent career as author and parliamentarian has maintained the approach. The blog has reviewed some of his books over the last few years which can be found through the blog search function. The speech text can be found at

Leigh looked at ABS data on things like school attainment, drug and alcohol use, crime and teenage pregnancy. He found that:

• In the past decade 18-24 year olds drinking every day has halved. While young Australians are still more likely to binge drink than other Australians there has been an overall decrease in excessive drinking among the young.
• In 2001 about 28% of 14 to 19 year olds had ever used an illicit drug. By 2013 this had fallen to well under 20%. People in their 20s have also cut back from about 33% to about 25%. The use of our most dangerous addictive drug – nicotine – has falled in the past decade from 5% to 3% for 12 to 17 year olds and from 25% to 15% for 18 to 24 year olds.
• In 1970 there were 51 births for every woman aged 15-19 and by 2013 it had fallen to 15 per 1000.
• In 1989 just 60% of young Australians completed year 12 – today it is 73%.
• And with crime – although the data is a bit more complex – young people committed 29% of all crimes in 2008 but only 22% in 2014.

Leigh looks at the so-called ‘youth problem’ in some historical context from Hesiod onwards to today’s shock jocks and columnists and once again demonstrates just how much Australia today needs more such politicians who draw on the data rather than ideology and are not frightened by the bad name Kevin Rudd gave the term ‘evidence-based’.

But this was not the blog’s only surprise in the past week. A few cynics scoffed at News Corp CEO Robert Thomson’s bleat, as News halved its profit, that big corporations are spending too much on “meaningless placements on frivolous sites.” Well the surprise, at least to social media evangelists, is that he is absolutely right. The FT (2/3 May 2015) reported that the US Advertising Bureau had found that digital advertising had risen 16% in 2014 to a new record (well that’s not hard is it) but behind the figures it is clear that the market is shaking out and LinkedIn, Twitter and others are getting less and less advertising while Google and Facebook are doing much better. What is obscured by the figures is that some online ad forms are losing effectiveness and agencies are frantically trying to develop new, more effective, forms. Within the industry people are whispering concern but currently there is too much money being made for anyone to make any comments about emperor’s and their clothes. Nevertheless any reader can do a quick check on ad effectiveness by searching for something on the web. The blog realised this after a search for small ship touring in British Columbia. Whenever a search was made the obvious ads popped up but what was interesting was that they kept popping up for ages after the blog had stopped searching the subject. Some media placement agencies had billed a client for these new ads even though, as Thomson said, the advertising spend was ‘meaningless’.

And while on the subject of News Corp the Wall Street Journal got a delightful serve from former Federal Reserve Governor, Ben Bernanke. On his blog Bernanke picked up a WSJ editorial which commented that ‘economic forecasting isn’t easy’ and wrote: “They should know, since the Journal has been forecasting a breakout in inflation and a collapse in the dollar at least since 2006.” See