Show host Gene Tunny speaks with students from the University of Queensland Politics, Philosophy and Economics Society. They discuss topics such as private versus public sector jobs, the future of consulting, and the risks of outsourcing for government officials. Gene takes an historical perspective and goes back to the time of convict transportation to Australia. He also talks about, among other things, his time working in Treasury during the Rudd Government, and how psychology is relevant to economics. The students express concerns about the consulting sector in light of a recent scandal involving PwC partners misusing confidential government information.
What’s covered in EP209
- Economics career paths and differences between public service and consulting. (3:04)
- Consulting industry challenges and scandals. (15:39)
- Outsourcing in government and potential mitigation of risks. (17:50)
- Greedflation. (28:30)
- Limits of economics as a discipline. (33:59)
- Public vs private sector work experiences. (38:22)
- Government consulting and ethics. (43:48)
Links relevant to the conversation
On how badly designed outsourcing of convict transportation created the ‘death fleet’, see:
Transcript: Private vs public sector jobs, consulting scandals & economics as an ‘imperialist discipline’ w/ UQPPES – EP209
N.B. This is a lightly edited version of a transcript originally created using the AI application otter.ai. It may not be 100 percent accurate, but should be pretty close. If you’d like to quote from it, please check the quoted segment in the recording.
Gene Tunny 00:03
I mean, I think economics is an incredibly powerful tool where it gets difficult is trying to predict behaviour and, and in in cases where people don’t act fully rationally, and that’s what you need to bring the psychology in. Right. So, I think any idea that economics is the imperialist discipline and we’ve got all the answers, I think that was destroyed by the financial crisis. Welcome to the economics explored podcast, a frank and fearless exploration of important economic issues. I’m your host, Gene Tunny. I’m a professional economist and former Australian Treasury official. The aim of this show is to help you better understand the big economic issues affecting all our lives. We do this by considering the theory evidence and by hearing a wide range of views. I’m delighted that you can join me for this episode, please check out the show notes for relevant information. Now on to the show. Hello, thanks for tuning into the show. If you’ve listened to my recent episode on degrowth, you would have heard a little bit of the recent event that I spoke at. The event was hosted by the University of Queensland PPE society where PPE stands for politics, philosophy and economics. This episode features the rest of the conversation that I had with the students. We talked about private versus public sector jobs, the future of consulting and the risks that government officials need to watch out for and outsourcing. In the conversation I picked up there many of the students appear especially concerned about the future of the consulting sector, which is a major employer of graduates. The context is that we’ve had this big scandal in Australia over some PwC partners allegedly misusing confidential information they received from the government. They allegedly used it for private gain. As you’ll hear the students were super interested in the differences between working in the private and public sector, and which was the better option for economics students, I gave the best advice that I could on this question among many others. As with many questions, there’s no easy answer. It says good things and bad things about private and public sector jobs. And a lot will depend on people’s individual preferences and personalities. As you’ll hear, I think that the public sector provides a better training ground for young economists. The work environment and training opportunities are generally much better. But there are challenges in the public sector. As the higher up you get, the more you get exposed to the political side of government, which brings new challenges. That said, there are some people who thrive on that. So it depends on just what you’re looking for. If you have your own thoughts on working in the private versus the public sector, or any of the other issues that we talked about this episode, then please reach out and share your thoughts. My contact details are in the show notes. Okay, let’s get into the episode. I hope you enjoy it.
Welcome, everybody. Thank you very much for coming. My name is Joseph. I’ll be your emcee for this evening. And I’d like to say a very, very warm welcome to esteemed economist gene Tunny. He is here with us tonight. He’s the Director of Adult economics, and a 1997 CIS liberty and society alumnus. He is a former Australian Treasury official, and has worked on a range of domestic and international consulting projects. So we’re very lucky to have someone with such expertise. Joining us tonight to answer some of our questions about economics. So I guess to start off with Jean, could you maybe tell us a little bit more about yourself about the work you’ve done and how you maybe came to work in consulting?
Gene Tunny 03:50
Yeah, so I’m an economist, done a broad range of things are taught at this university in the past. So in this very room, subjects such as cost benefit analysis, there’s probably macroeconomic policy that I taught in 2015 in this room here. So I’ve got a background in macro policy budget policy when I was in the Treasury in Canberra, so worked on a lot of issues there, industry policy issues to do with the car industry, the budget debt, so we had to borrow a lot of money again, during the financial crisis. So I was heavily involved in that. And yeah, around probably around 2009, I started thinking I’d be good to for a bit of a change. And a friend of mine, Tony, Hans, was heading Mars and Jacob up here, the consulting office, and he was doing a lot of good stuff, cost benefit studies of all the new water infrastructure we needed because we’re in a drought. And I thought I’d be great to come back to Queensland I think it might have been a wedding that was up at nursery or went up to a wedding, a friend’s wedding. And you know how magical nurseries and the reception was at sales and a probably had a couple of glasses of champagne and thought, what on earth? Why would I want to go back to Canberra when you’re on the beach here and beautiful? That was partly why I wanted to come, I came back. So I worked here at uni, I worked in state government, as a public servant do different analytical roles, workers compensation, industrial relations, then treasury. And since 2009, I’ve been doing consulting since 2014, my own firm and yeah, work for a huge different range of clients, agribusiness companies, some government agencies, industry bodies, major corporations, ANZ Bank, for example, say all sorts of clients,
you know, you said in, you know, you were thinking of wanting for a bit of a change up coming back up here and working in consulting what, because for us, consulting and public service are too so the main employment pathways, could you maybe give us some sort of insights into the differences between the two, the, you know, the positive sides of both, and perhaps some, some negative sides or things you didn’t like, as much from either?
Gene Tunny 06:06
Yeah, so the public service is a good training grounds, and there are a lot of a lot of opportunities. They look up to you. So I think if you’re beginning in particular, you’re studying PPE, places like treasury, productivity commission, Reserve Bank, de fat, foreign affairs, and trade, I think they’re excellent places to go to learn about the issues and potentially get training opportunities or international postings that they can be really great opportunities. And public sector. Yeah, it’s different. I mean, the different The obvious difference is that, in one, there’s a mission that set by the government of the day and there’s a, you know, there’s a bureaucratic national, you’ve got to achieve some tasks. So that could be improving the health of the population, running the health system, or the education system, educating people, or could be Treasury where it’s this broad concept of well being, and you’re overseeing a whole range of agencies, you got to make sure that the budget is in good shape. So that’s, that’s a bit more of a, like, every agency has got a different mission. And that’s, that’s what determines that. In the private sector. It’s about profit. So profit. I mean, that’s, that’s what Yep, you need to make money to be able to keep the operation going. So there’s a clear goal, and that ends up driving a lot of things and forcing efficiency. So when I think one of the challenges in the public sector is because you don’t have that, there’s not that focus on profit, things can become a little bit inefficient. Yeah, there’s not the same sort of laser focus on, on doing things efficiently. And going after profitable opportunities. Your mission is set by politicians. And that can be problematic, because sometimes they can change their mind. Sometimes the politicians, I mean, maybe some of the things that they that they’re aiming for aren’t necessarily sensible. But yeah, as a public servant, you do have to try and achieve the objectives of the government of the day. To me, those would be the major differences. But if you want to explore that any more feel free either. Because because I’m not sure about answer that question very well. But that’s just what occurred to me. And with the private sector, I mean, you’ve got like, I work for a whole range of clients. And it can be a different project, like one day, it can be looking at lb farms. So there’s a client of mine, who’s built a big lb farm out at Dundee windy, and he’s trying to extract Omega three rich oil from the the algae. So now he can make some money out of that. And so I’ve helped him get a grant from the state government to do the r&d. And that’s fascinating. But then another day, I might be looking at parcels and issues to do with freight transport. So there are a whole range of things that you study, whereas if you’re in a public service agency, one of the risks is you could what you want to avoid is staying in the one spot and just doing the day to day because there is a lot of day to day responding to emails or letters from the public and writing Minister replies writing speeches, writing question time briefs, you want to get into an area where you you’re not. You’re not doing that day to day public service stuff, but there are a lot of good places like treasuries, terrific. Reserve Bank, doing rigorous analysis trying to inform the monetary policy decision that that’d be a great place. Yeah.
Super interesting. Yeah. I mean, I would never have even sort of imagined that consulting firm would be working out in Gander windy.
Gene Tunny 09:40
Oh, well, I mean, I mean, in Queensland, Australia is huge in agriculture, okay. And you’d be blown away if you if you go out there and just see how advanced a lot of these operations are. Here. There’s a lot of work for consultants. I mean, economists are probably I mean, we would have only a very small part of the work I mean, this has worked for Engineers is work for agronomist experts in agriculture. Yeah, there’s all sorts of all sorts of work and in a lot of things are automated. Yeah, they’re increasingly used. I think they’re even using AI now to work out, you know, optimal irrigation and optimal spraying of pesticides and things like that. Yeah, right. Yeah.
Very cool. That’s a good point. I think that you said that, you know, economist consultants would be doing a small part of it. And I guess, for your firm, or just for consultants, in general, as you say that the jump between lots of very different projects from different clients? How do you sort of go about preparing for a new client or, you know, perhaps in an area that is not necessarily somebody that you’ve worked before, but still have to deliver services or help your your client in some way? Well, you’ve
Gene Tunny 10:54
got to be a quick study, you have to get across the issues as best you can. And it’s like, if you’re doing an assignment at uni, you want to start early, you want to get all the resources, do the reading, learn as much as you can ask questions. So I mean, when you’re doing consulting projects, the the client is they’re motivated to help you to assist and to provide all the information they can see, it’s about being a detective or a journalist, and asking questions, to get all the information you need. But you do have to be a quick study. Ultimately, the, the Principles of Economics are the same. And I guess you learn a process of gathering the information, you sort of get an idea of what they might have on hand, what you might, sometimes you might need someone else to help out, you might need an engineer to come in and, and help work out how to solve a particular problem like in, in on their farm or in their factory, and they might have an estimate of what that will cost. You might need an architect or a quantity surveyor to do lifecycle cost estimates for a building that you’re doing a cost benefit analysis on. So there are the experts that you might have to bring in. But yeah, you need to have a, you need to plan you need to think think with the end in mind, begin with the end in mind, which is one of the seven habits that Stephen Covey talks about, it’s so true, you got to think about what’s the ultimate thing I need? And where am I now? What needs to happen to get there, you got to figure out the most efficient route to get there. So a lot of problem solving.
Yeah. And that’s, I think, a really big, exciting thing about economics and about, like studying policy and things like that is that a lot of it is problem solving? Would you have any advice for any students studying economics, or PPE, or any sort of related discipline in sort of getting into the consulting world, post
Gene Tunny 12:46
graduation, I mean, I wouldn’t get into consulting unless you are super passionate about it. Or, I mean, there are some good places that are working to death. I mean, if you get a, if you get a really good GPA, I don’t know what you need to get now that if you can get into some or like McKinsey, or BCG or aubaine, they’re really good training grounds for getting into C suite or, or getting into a, you know, really top job. So I think if you if you could get into one of those coming out as a grad, that’d be great. Other places where signing, you’re probably better off going, you want somewhere that will give you I mean, it sounds silly. It sounds terrible. What’s the word I’m trying to think of the word, but you want something that looks good on your CV, right. And so you want something that is recognisable, and that’s why Treasury or productivity commission or RBA works so well. So I’d be applying for somewhere like that and get good training and, and learn how to and what’s good about those biases is that they have high standards, and they teach you how to write well and communicate. And I think that’s very important. And they can also give you international opportunities. So one of the things that I that blew me away when I went into treasury was just all the international opportunities there. You work on issues with OECD or G 20, or IMF, World Bank, and Treasury people get postings all over the place. Beijing, Tokyo, London, Jakarta, Washington, DC. So that’s, yeah, that’s, that’s a good way to get a national experience and D fat too, of course. But that’s what I’d be doing. I’d be trying to get into, you know, as you probably all know, this, you got to work hard, study hard, try and do extracurricular things that will impress people have a reasonably good interview performance. And yeah, that’s, that’s all I can recommend is just work hard. You’re probably doing all that already.
Some of us maybe not awesome. Thanks for the advice. Like it’s really helpful, especially from someone who’s working in the industry. Yeah.
Gene Tunny 14:49
I mean, why I’d say that I mean, I mean, I enjoy consulting but I always see it as something that I’ve sort of fallen into. I mean, it’s good for me because it allows me to do a lot of interesting things and work with different people. And you know, potentially develop a business and grow the business. So what you ultimately want to do is specialise create products. So that’s the path I’m on now. So you probably don’t want to be doing lots of different things. I mean, I’ve been opportunistic, I’ve been trying to, you know, get the contracts in. And to do that I need to work on a lot of different things. Because partly, it’s because I’ve got a wide range of experience. So I’ve dabbled in different areas, and I can do those for a wide range of things. But ultimately, I’d like to sort of niche down and develop products that, that provide that recurrent revenue, that’s what you ultimately want, I think. And I think consulting can be difficult when you’re at the beginning, I wouldn’t say the bottom. But you know, the Finder mind their grinder model? Have you heard of that? But they talk about it, like Deloitte and PwC. The big four? Well, the finders, the partners, they’re the ones who have the connections, they’ll have, they’ll know the CEOs, they’ll go cycling with him, or they’ll play golf with them. And the CEO will ring them up, and can you do this analysis for us? Can you crunch the numbers for us on this project, and then there’ll be no partner or go, Okay, that’s great. Well brought that in the Finder, they don’t want to do the work, they just want to go to the, you know, the soirees, they just want to do the networking, and bringing the projects ever mind who’s a senior person, and not necessarily that senior, just there a few years or five, five or 10 years, they’re the managers. And so they’ll manage the projects being done. And the people who are doing the projects are the grinders. And today, the analysts, and that’s where the grades come in. And they could just work ridiculous hours. And partly because it’s a tournament because everyone wants to get up to the next level and prove themselves. And to get into one of those firms, you have to be really good generally. And so you’ve got young, ambitious people, they’re all competing against each other. But it can be very difficult that people work ridiculous hours. So that’s why I wouldn’t necessarily recommend consulting to start off with you better coming in later on when you’ve got some experience. So you can come in as a manager, or you could come in or you can do freelance on your own or set up your own business. I think it’s much more enjoyable then.
And then you get to work on your golf skills as well.
Gene Tunny 17:20
Yeah, although cycling, I know, golf used to be the big thing. I think it’s more cycling now. Yeah, yeah.
Awesome. Well, I guess speaking about the Big Four, as someone who’s working in the consultancy industry at the moment, what’s your take on the ongoing scandals that have been happening involving PWC and other consulting firms at the moment? Do you think this may be raises questions or concerns about the efficacy of outsourcing public policy?
Gene Tunny 17:50
Oh, look, I think there’s always been concerns about the efficacy of outsourcing. And if you look at the history of contracting out, I forget which fleet it was, but was it the Third Fleet, there was one of some of the convicts ships are all put out to tender right by the by HM Treasury, or the Admiralty in in the UK, and the Admiralty or the the Treasury they want, they want the most people to get out, they want people to come to Australia, they don’t want to people to die on the ship. Right? They actually want people to survive the voyage. But the ship owners, the ones who are who when the contract, they want to fulfil the contract to just to the letter so they can get the payment from the Treasury. But they don’t really care much about the people who were the people survive unless you make that explicit in the contract. So and there was a scandal with one of the convict ships, if I remember correctly, I can look it up, and we can put it in the show notes. So yeah, there’s always been issues with government contracting, there’s always been concerns. And so I’m a great believer in outsourcing, because I think it does save money. But you’ve got to do it for specific things for specific jobs that you can keep a close eye on and where you trust the people to deliver those jobs. So I think the problem with PwC is you have too much trust was placed in people that they shouldn’t replace that trustee and given the incentives on their end their ability to make money out of it. Right. And so the, arguably the people in the government should have seen that as a risk and pay closer attention to it. At the same time, what the partners in PwC did, what they allegedly did for the lawyers appears unethical. And you know, just just terrible. I mean, I’d like to think that if I was in the same situation, I wouldn’t do the same thing because I’ve been on the I’ve been on the other side of that in the treasury, in government. And I know just, yeah, there are opportunities all the time to profit off information that the government has, and I don’t know if you’re aware There’s an insider trading scandal with the lad who was working in ABS and he had a maid in Melbourne, and he was leaking the inflation data to him. So yeah, you’ve guessed that’s the problem in the public sector, you’ve got to there’s what I’m trying to say is there’s information in the public sector has is valuable. If you’re giving outsiders access to that, you’re going to make sure that there’s controls on it, you keep an eye on it, at the same time, what the PwC partners allegedly did was unethical, really bad form. Will it stop outsourcing? No, because there’s a lot of benefits to it. There’s a lot of expertise out there, that people who can help government from time to time they’ll take on things that are really big, and they need the outside advice and the outside labour outside assistance. So I think we’ll still need it. But there are lessons. And but that’s outside, as I was saying those lessons, we’ve been learning them for 200 years, and we keep forgetting them.
Do you think I remember reading a few months ago, there was quite a bit of talk about this new in house consulting section of the Department of Premier Prime Minister and Cabinet that they were bringing in? Do you think that that might be sort of a potential solution to that sort of issue, or
Gene Tunny 21:14
I think it will, it’s worth trying, I just don’t know how well it will perform partly because of the role of the profit motive in motivating consultants. So consultants to get jobs done, because they know that if they don’t get the job done, the client won’t pay the money. And then that looks bad for them. And if they’re, if they’re the actual proprietor or if their partner, then their compensation is gonna directly depend on that. And even if they’re, they’re an employee, then that can affect their progression, or they could even get the sack if they really stuffed something up super badly. There’s a lot of incentive to get the job done and get it done efficiently work weekends work long hours. I mean, there are some times I’ve stayed up till God, yeah, I’ve done at least one or two all nighters. Some people will do multiple all nighters to get jobs done, but you will really push yourself. Is there the same incentive? And in that government body? I don’t know. And, and I don’t know to what extent they’re going to be constrained by the the APS pay structure, and to what extent bonuses can be paid. So I think that’ll be the test of that. Look, it’s worth trying out. Yeah, I’m a bit sceptical about whether it’ll work or not. Yeah, that you got to make sure you get the best people in there. And if I was in government, I’m not sure I’d want to go to that team. I’d probably rather be in PMC or Treasury if I was federal, yeah, yeah. Yeah. So the idea that it was in PMS? Yes. I think it’s supposed to be a subsection of, of the PMC, portfolio or whatever. But yeah, you’d want to, I’d be concerned, if I was in the public service, I’d want to be in one of the core areas where I was working on the really juicy policy issues. And yeah, where you got the potential to advise the ministers, often directly, some will sometimes directly up at Parliament House, that’s that they’re the really interesting things to do. Okay, we’ll take a short break here for a word from our sponsor.
Female speaker 23:16
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Gene Tunny 23:46
Now back to the show.
I guess another sort of perspective that I was thinking about is having independent public institutions like the Productivity Commission, for example, or the RBA, that you mentioned before, that are not necessarily beholden to a particular department, but still part of the public service. How do you see the role for those sorts of institutions evolving?
Gene Tunny 24:15
Yeah, I think they’re terrific. I think that’s, that’s a good idea. I think the PC has done a lot of good stuff. But we’ll have to see how it goes under the new commission head. So Danielle wood, who’s an old friend of mine, we’ll see how it goes. And I think she should be she should be great. She might have a different focus, she might be more focused on social policy issues than than some of the previous Productivity Commission heads. But yeah, I think Productivity Commission is a great idea a lot depends on the terms of reference. It’s given by the government though. So it can be it can be effective if the government uses it right. But a lot depends on what the government gets us to do. Yeah. The other one that’s interesting is the parliamentary Budget Office, which is really good. So I’m not too familiar with that. So that’s That’s in, that’s based in the parliament itself on the hill, rather than in a public service agency. And what it is, is it’s an independent costing agency, and it estimates the cost of policies. So if you’re from the opposition or the grains, or your tail, you can go to the parliamentary budget office and say, Hey, I’ve got this policy idea. Can you produce a costing for us and tell us, you know, what, what do you think this would cost? And so that, that provides a service to the whole parliament. And it provides a service to the public, because we’re not just relying upon the Treasury, which works for the government of the day. And potentially, I mean, I’d like to think they wouldn’t be influenced by the government the day but there’s that perception that maybe they’re not independent? Well, they’d certainly not independent, but maybe they’re not. Yeah, there’s a perception that they could be influenced to extent by the government. So therefore, it is good to have something like parliamentary budget office. And it’s really, it’d be a really good place to work. They’ve got an amazing data set, they’ve got a 20% extract of the ATO is taxation data, right. So all data on all the taxpayers out there, the the PBO has got a 20% extract of that, and that helps them work out, you know, the impacts of policies is pretty impressive.
Yeah, very interesting. I’m surprised that it doesn’t come up more as sort of a, an option.
Gene Tunny 26:30
Yeah, it’s either that I think it’s a textbook tax, the tax database, or the census that’s linked to the tax database, I’ll have to, might look that up as well. But it’s impressive data set that they’ve got. And that enables them to do really detailed, precise estimates of the cost of policies, because there’s policy at the Commonwealth level is so complex, because of all of the rules around social security payments, superannuation and taxation. It’s everything so complicated. And so therefore, you need really fine, detailed data to be able to cause some of these policies.
Yes. super interesting. And I guess really, like sort of a dream for an economist or quantitative economist to have access to all that data? Yeah, yeah. Well, I
Gene Tunny 27:15
guess I mean, that’s one of the things that’s really changed. And just the the amount of data that is available now. All these big longitudinal or panel data sets, blade, the business longitudinal data set Hildur, household incomes, Labour dynamics, Australia. And you can do all really neat statistical methods with them lots of good econometrics. So if you’re into econometrics, and yet see if you can get somewhere like PbO, or there are some think tanks that are really good like Grattan Institute, or II 61, you would have heard of those places. So yeah, I’d, I’d highly recommend either of those. II 61, the research director, there is an old UK boy, Dan Andrews, who worked at Treasury OECD, he’s good value,
no relation to the Victorian
Gene Tunny 28:06
though he’s not a dictator, that’s a good guy. Wasn’t a political COVID.
Also, thank you for that sort of tour of the landscape of policy and consulting that was super interesting and hopefully informative for all of us going out there into the world. Moving sort of to another topic, I guess, there’s been obviously over the last year or so inflation has been one of the main policy points or issues, pretty much any sort of discussion about the economy is related to inflation. And a lot of there’s been a lot of media coverage talking about wage growth, particularly over the last six months and and how that might be contributing to inflation or might potentially contribute to inflation. So we have a question here asking, is it misleading for the media to highlight wage growth as a contributor to inflation? Given that, in Australia, we are experiencing negative real wage growth at the moment?
Gene Tunny 29:18
I don’t know to what extent the media has been blaming wages, I mean, that what we’ve seen is that the central banks that reserve bank is concerned about this concept of a wage price spiral that if wages take off, then that’ll feed into prices, and that’ll force up wages again. Now, we haven’t really seen that yet. Okay, so look, some of those concerns may be misplaced. There’s a bit of a debate about that. At the moment. The Australia Institute’s got a lot of press, arguing that it’s all because of greedy corporations. This greed inflation. I’m a bit sceptical of that I’m not sure whether to what extent corporations are any more greedy than they were previously and whether the markets more concentrated than it has been in the past. So I’m sceptical about about that story too. But essentially, we had, it’s the classic story of too much money chasing too few goods, right? We had this big COVID stimulus, additional hundreds of billions of dollars more in bank accounts, and, therefore, extra money, not enough supply prices a bit up the whole wage price spiral thing that central banks have been worried about. Yeah, that that actually hasn’t happened. So maybe you could say it’s misleading, but I’m not sure that’s been I think that’s been what some of the economists and central bank governors have been talking about. I don’t know, to what extent the media have been blaming them or talking about that. I think, if anything, it’s that great inflation story that that’s been dominant. Yeah, I think there’s problems with that, too. I mean, essentially, it’s just prices have been rising, because there’s been a lot more money, and there’s been the shortages and your businesses have, yeah, they’ve put up their prices. And that’s helped them, you know, that’s encouraged them to expand, supply where they can. Yeah,
I agree that it definitely has sort of picked up pace in the media over the last few months, this idea of, and often you see it linked to earnings calls or record profit margins. Oh, yeah. Do you think that profit margins should sort of receive more scrutiny from economists as a sort of concept, especially when we’re thinking about inflation?
Gene Tunny 31:32
Well, I guess, what you’re seeing is you’re seeing a correlation, right? Because we’ve had, we did have a very, very strong rebound, after the pandemic, okay, when we came out of lockdown. And so you’re going to expect high profits, okay, because the economy was really performing strong, it’s slowing down. Now, as we all know, and we’ve got this per capita recession that they’re talking about. So yeah, it was natural that profits would increase, because we had such strong economic conditions, that’s just the business cycle. And at the same time, we had inflation because we had all of this extra money chasing only so many goods that could be produced profits, I mean, we do want companies to be profitable, I think you should be looking at what’s causing the profits, if there is market power, or if there is concentration, if they’re abusing it, then we should be looking at that. And that’s what the a triple sees. Therefore, now you could argue that may be the a triple C isn’t as effective as it should be the a triple C’s, it’s looked at groceries in the past, it’s looked at all sorts of sectors in the past, and now we’ve got a competition policy review. And I think it’s looking at the airlines, that’s where we should get. So maybe there is a case for there’s possibly some restriction of competition, or in the airline sector, maybe weak that could be more competitive, it’s a lot better than it used to be when it was super regulated back in the 80s. And it was really expensive to fly around. But no one be jetting around to different cities, it was a certain it was very expensive. It’s because we deregulated it back in the 80s. And we allowed in a lot more competition. Now, this is why this whole issue of the Qatar decision not letting them in on those international routes. That’s why that’s become so politically difficult for this government, because that was something that could have helped reduce the cost of flights, particularly to Europe. And so so you could argue cornices was getting some protection from the government. And so we shouldn’t be thinking about what are their barriers? Are there? Is there a problem with an issue with the market structure? Is there too much oligopoly or monopolistic power? And are there levers that the government can can use to stop that? In cases where it’s where they’re clearly doing something anti competitive? Can we prosecute them under the age of the consumer and competition policy? I can remember the exact name off the top of my head. But yeah, we should. It’s definitely something we should be concerned about. And it is something that, that economists do study. Yeah.
Awesome. Thank you for that. Yeah. I mean, as a personal anecdote, I remember I wanted to catch a flight to Europe a little while ago, and I had to go fly with cuantas to first before I could even get a Qatar flight and it was so much better, that I’m going from Perth, Qatar Airways. I will. I think they’re really good. So yeah, it was an interesting decision. We’ve got another question here. Again, sort of taking another step. Russ Roberts, who is the host of econ talk a podcast. He refers to economics as an imperialistic discipline. This idea that, you know, being like, you know, economists often try to apply economics and economic thinking too broadly, to domains where the assumptions may no longer hold and its utility is questionable. I guess, someone that might come to mind is someone like Gary Becker, you know, bringing the idea of economics and supply and demand to the family and areas that typically it hadn’t been applied to before. And for you personally, what do you think the limits are of economics as a discipline? And are there things that economics can’t explain? And we might need other sort of perspectives to understand?
Gene Tunny 35:15
I think certainly, I mean, even economics requires other perspectives. So I think economics is an incredibly powerful tool. And, you know, it’s a science of the economy and studying the economy there. There’s some core economics, you need to know, where it gets difficult is trying to predict behaviour and, and in in cases where people don’t act fully rationally. And that’s what you need to bring the psychology and right. So I think any idea that a court economics is the imperialist discipline, and we’ve got all the answers, I think, that was destroyed by the financial crisis. I mean, maybe up until 2008, people could have believed that. But after 2008, I think there was a recognition that, okay, we haven’t really solved the business cycle, we thought we’ve solved the business cycle as this Great Moderation. markets aren’t always rational, you can’t, there are periods of irrationality in economics is not going to help you there. That’s where you need psychology to bring psychology. And that’s why behavioural economics is trying to bring in psychology with economics. So yeah, I think there are clearly limits to economics. And one of the one of the important limits or considerations, is that economics to the extent Well, if it’s, you could say it’s a science or it’s a study a field of study, it can answer questions of fact, or we can make predictions. Or we could argue, analyse what might be the most efficient course of action from a the perspective of consumers consumer welfare, from economic welfare, broadly construed. What we can’t necessarily answer is what’s the best thing to do for society? Because then you’ve got ethical issues, value judgments, how do we look if something is affecting the environment, for example, and that affects future generations? How do we, how do we analyse that, that those can be difficult issues? Or how do we make choices regarding health policy measures? So it’s not always they’re not always issues where economic considerations are the final determinant, you may need to bring in value judgments? Yeah, the whole distinction that thing was David Hume between isn’t board? Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Could
all Hume who I guess himself was sort of an economist when he talked about Yeah, money and things like that? Yeah. Well,
Gene Tunny 37:42
anyway, he wrote a famous essay on the gold standard on price, the seaflo mechanism? I think it was, yeah, yeah. I
think the argument was that, yeah, it doesn’t matter if you if you have the money supply, and prices have as well, like, every, the welfare of everyone is the same, essentially, I think I only remember that because Polanyi then talked about it. Yeah. He was a pride our economist. Yeah, for sure. Yeah. So that’s all the pre prepared questions that we’ve got. I’m gonna go over to the lectern mic, and then we’ll be handing the handheld around to the members of the audience, if they want to ask gene any questions.
Just going back, I guess, to your discussion about public and private. And I guess, us as university students entering into the workforce, I just wrote a question down. So as university students, we are involved in Dubai, developing a variety of skills that, I guess were not explicitly taught in university, but that we hope to apply when we get into the workforce, from your experience, or what schools have surprised you from the recent generation of you know, incoming university graduates, and what do you think, you know, is missing from you know, they’re the skills that they’ve developed that they might not have been taught explicitly? Throughout University?
Gene Tunny 39:00
Okay. What’s most surprised me is just how savvy or how brilliant uni students are at producing PowerPoints, like slide deck, Oculus nowadays, we’re all competing in these case study competitions. I’ve been blown away. So yeah, that’s really impressive. Otherwise, yeah, just, I guess maybe I’ve been lucky. But yeah, I found the slide decks. The students type employed generally have good presentation skills, very good at research, good at getting across data and information. I think the skills you need to learn, like everyone needs to learn them, it’s it’s about writing as clearly as you can. Being proactive. It’s hard once you get out of uni because uni, you’ve got the targets to hit, you know, when the you’ve got to lodge your, your papers or when the exam is on, you got to turn up to it. It’s more structured work can be a bit unstructured at times. And so you got to, you’ve got to learn how to manage yourself, manage others get others to help you out a lot of those interpersonal skills, it’s just about building those up, you’ve probably been developed in developing them here at UNI. Anyway, that’s what I, I’d say, the I’ve been really impressed with UQ students in particular.
G’day, Gene, thanks for the talk. And for your time, I just want to go back to, again, back when you were talking about the distinctions between working in public and private sectors you mentioned as a downside, or a potential downside of working in the public sector was perhaps changing ministries disagreement with, I guess, the government of the day and, you know, a general sense of inefficiency about projects that you’re doing as a possibility. Did you find that your experience in the private sector was a bit more alleviated of those concerns? Or did you also have times where you disagreed with the direction of your projects,
Gene Tunny 40:54
I guess, you’ve got choices in the private sector. So you could actually refuse to do a job. But then you want to try and do a job if you can, if the client is going to pay you, that you have so many clients, you can move on and you can you can sack clients in a way and go okay, I’m not working with you again, if there if, if you didn’t enjoy it, or if it was just hard work. So that’s, that’s what I was getting out there. Whereas with, with government, if the government’s in for several years, and like, I think you’ve got to work for the government of the day, this isn’t a matter of politics. I’ve worked for both labour and coalition governments. And, and I don’t think the quality of the work, I actually think it’s more related to the people in charge at top, I think it relates a lot to their personal characteristics rather than their politics. So I don’t think there’s any correlation between the political strife of government and how good it is to work for, but yeah, you’ve got to be you’ve got to be flexible and realise, I mean, some people enjoy it. I can be challenging. Yes, Minister might be too old. But there was a show for two years, you know, yes, Minister, from the 70s and 80s with Nigel Hawthorne, and, and Jim Hakka. Do you remember he played Chewbacca, too? Anyway, it was a great show. But there’s a line in it where Bernard who was the principal Private Secretary to the Minister was talking to Humphrey says, I don’t understand why the minister wants to do this. How do we how do you cope with all of these changes in in policy direction and sound free says look, if I actually cared about what the policy direction the government was, I’d be stark raving mad because one minute, I’d be pro nationalism, nationalising steel, I’d be then Pro D nationalising steel, and then I’d be pro renationalising steel, because those things change. You’ve got to be flexible in government, that maybe that’s not for everyone. And politicians, I think can be difficult too. Because, you know, working for the government is can be challenging, because there’s a lot of media, there’s a lot of light on the government, and there are a lot of crises. And you can be called in at odd hours, particularly, like, the craziest time in Australian politics in the last 20 years was the Rudd Government. And I mean, it was just completely different from the previous government. But you know, a lot to his credit. I mean, Kevin Rudd wanted to do things, he he saw urgency, he had a great sense of urgency, he was an incredible hard worker himself. But that meant that there were requests coming in at odd hours, he’d he’d be flying back from a meeting a DC, he’d be there for the first time g 20. Meeting, and then he is playing with land in Hawaii. And then we get a call that the wants a paper on. So it’s such it’s such an issue by the time he lands in, in Canberra. And so this is might be on a Sunday or something. So it can be a bit crazy. But that’s what you get, if you want to be in that sort of environment, because there’s that political aspect to working in government. Some people really enjoy that they thrive on it. Others find that find it difficult. So yeah, that’s just Yeah, who knows? I mean, my experience could be a bit idiosyncratic. So that’s one thing to bear in mind to
sort of on that with the PwC scandal, they ended up selling all of their public sector work company, do you there’s been talk about whether all the big four companies are gonna end up having to do that. Do you think that that will happen and also just sort of see that as a good path forward
Gene Tunny 44:27
in terms of preventing corruption or in front of the think? Yeah, I think I mean, PwC has been forced to do it. The other firms, I think, would rather not do it. I’m trying to remember if v y looked at it and try remember where EY was trying to split its audit from its the rest of its business. And I don’t think it went ahead. I’ll have to look at the details of that. There are probably other ways to stop that, that conflict. I don’t know if that’s going to happen with the other firms, or not close enough to the people in those firms too. Uh, to make that judgement, but yeah, I don’t know to what extent it would look, if you got a job at one of those big four firms, then, you know, that’s, that’s going to be good, it’ll be good experience, even still at PwC is probably still good experience, despite the scandal, they’ll bounce back, they’ve got so many connections, they had a good reputation for a while, I’m sure they’ll be able to turn around eventually. Now, I’d have to wonder, like, as if you want to do consulting work, I’m not sure whether you’d want to go to a company just focused on public sector work. Because then why not just go into the public sector itself, if you like, if public sector is your thing, I’d go into government itself, because one of the things with consulting, I enjoy it, because I actually get to do a wide variety of things. I found personally, I found government difficult because I’m reasonably opinionated. And like, I wasn’t the Sir Humphrey cat character who could been just changed, not not care about the political, you know, the actual policy direction or, yeah, I thought I’d find that very difficult to do. So I actually quite enjoy being on my own or having freedom to, to write to comment. Whereas you can’t do that in government, you can’t say anything critical of the government. It’s difficult. There are advantages, because you can then get involved in, you know, in the policymaking and the decision making. You can work with the minister’s office, even the ministers. But if that’s what you want to do, you’re more likely to get that to do that in the public service, than if you did a public sector, in a public sector consulting organisation that consults to the to the government just depends on what you’re after.
This is kind of flowing on from that question a bit. Do you see any other consequences coming out of the PwC? Scandal? And I guess now, the KPMG scandal with defence contracts, I think, that kind of flow onto other consulting firms outside of the big fall? Or do you think that I guess, kind of trust in interpersonal relationships that might already exist? Kind of, I guess, being more important than that? Maybe?
Gene Tunny 47:09
Yeah, I think government public servants will be more conscious of the risks. And it may be harder as a consultant to work for, to work for government clients, because they may not automatically trust you. It may be harder to get access to information, you may have to sign more documents. It can be difficult, it’s difficult already working for the government agency. So projects I’ve done, Nicholas grown and I and another colleague did a job for services in Australia recently, looking at my gov and looking at the the investment in that and the benefits of of improving the Margao functionality. And I mean, we had to sign all’s we had to sign those documents that said we wouldn’t share this information. Of course, we wouldn’t. And you know, then PwC, they I think they probably their person who allegedly breached the trust signed documents to and they should have, they should have taken it seriously. And it looks like they didn’t. But what Services Australia did was they wouldn’t let us take documents away. We could only see some documents physically, in a Services Australia offers, because they’re highly confidential information relevant to the budget process. So they had the right controls in place. I think you’ll see more of that there. There’ll be less trusting. I think they’ll still be consulting opportunities. I think I think that they need the expertise from outside so much. They’re not going to cut back on that. But it’ll be more difficult. There’ll be more constraints in terms of access to information, they won’t automatically trust you. But I think they’ll still be, they’ll still be jobs that consolidate if you want to do that. Yeah.
Awesome. Well, if there’s no more questions, we just want to say thank you so much gene for coming along. And we’d like to offer you this gift. This is the statecraft which is our PPE society, student magazine. So lots of different articles from all sorts of students. Yeah, so thank you so much for coming and sharing your knowledge with us. It’s been really great and really appreciate you and hope to see you again in the future.
Gene Tunny 49:15
Righto, thanks for listening to this episode of Economics Explored. If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please get in touch. I’d love to hear from you. You can send me an email via firstname.lastname@example.org Or a voicemail via SpeakPipe. You can find the link in the show notes. If you’ve enjoyed the show, I’d be grateful if you could tell anyone you think would be interested about it. Word of mouth is one of the main ways that people learn about the show. Finally, if your podcasting app lets you then please write a review and leave a rating. Thanks for listening. I hope you can join me again next week.
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