So it appears that I was one of the first tranche of invitees to the 2020 Summit.

A bunch of journalists then called me to ask me what I thought of getting an invitation and I resorted quickly to a tired cliche: “I’m honoured obviously, I think it will be a good opportunity to discuss some of the issues facing the future.” I then noted the cliche but no-one printed that introspection. Truth be told what I was actually feeling was that this made up for all those times in high school that I was picked last for the team! (Eat that you people).

But then the journalists asked me what I was going to bring to the Summit in terms of ideas and things got a little more tricky. As regular readers of my blog know, I am into all sorts of issues: what I happen to think is most important is what I am thinking about that day. I wasn’t even sure which section of the Summit I had been invited to (and the media is assuming productivity but I figured it could equally be infrastructure or the environment). So I was left in a situation of bumbling out ideas in a very Summit-un-worthy way.

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So let me list some things that I would like to talk about but am not sure whether the opportunity will arise.

First off the shelf is our health insurance system. As Stephen King and I wrote in our 2004 book Finishing the Job we think that our health insurance system is in need of reform and will face key challenges between now and 2020. We rely on people taking out private health coverage to save the public money but at the same time, when we want to improve the public system, are faced with a double cost — the cost of improvements themselves and the extra cost of people coming back to the public system that is now looking more attractive. We need to break the ‘opt out’ nature of the system that causes this if we are to ensure efficient investment in the quality of the public system. (You can read more about that here). Of course, the problem with putting forward this idea — as I did in The Australian recently — is that there is a ‘Health’ stream in the Summit and it is highly unlikely that I will be attending that.

Then came a raft of other policy areas. The problems we face in education are not too dissimilar to health and I have a plan to deal with that (click here). But there are many others thinking in the same way; including my many-time co-author Andrew Leigh, and they know more of the details. (That said, on early childhood education and parenting I have some more ‘out there’ ideas; e.g., here on maths teaching). The same is true of environmental policy and things like congestion pricing (including our Finishing the Job suggestion of getting eTag credits when you use public transport). In the past I have also had a keen interest in housing but I am not sure where that fits in into the Summit.

There is a community out there who would have expected me to play a big role in the infrastructure section. My work on broadband is out there and I have years of research and practical experience on infrastructure regulation. This is not to mention that all things digital appeals to me technological bent.

In the end, it will be innovation that probably is my focus in this Summit. My views on that began with my submission to the Productivity Commission a few years back but more importantly, it is the area of economics that I am internationally known for. So it would appear to be my comparative advantage in this type of forum. I am working on those issues again right at the moment so this could all be quite timely.

When it comes down to it, I suspect that being an economist at this Summit is not the ‘cool’ area. The cool section will be the creative arts one with all the A-list celebrities and the rest of us will look on wistfully at that crowd. However, it will likely also be the least practical and most in need of some grumbling academic input from people like myself. And we will disparage them just as we do whenever we are out of the in-crowd. The productivity stream will be the least cool and most in need of more wishful thinking than the brutal practical thinking that it will likely have. My hope is that the sections in between on communities, governance and indigenous get the right mix of people who can balance the dream and the practice.

The original post appeared here.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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