Clarifying human capital

Human Capital line 400-2The popular use of the term ‘human capital’ is too narrow and will soon become redundant. It needs an overhaul. Here’s how to fix it.

If you’ve ever heard an economist talking about ‘human capital’, it’s more than likely they defined the term as the ‘skills and knowledge’ embodied in people, the result of ‘education and training.’

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Thank you!

A fond hello and thanks to those people who have recently subscribed to follow my blog. I am honoured you have found useful and interesting!

However, I should let you know that I’m not actively posting new items at the moment – I have too many competing imperatives and simply don’t have the time. Perhaps one day I will get the chance to write again – it would be great to share ideas with you.

Thanks again.


Save the Frogs Day 2012

Congratulations to Dr Kerry Kriger and all at Save the Frogs for coordinating another amazing international Save the Frogs Day.

Amphibian populations have been rapidly disappearing worldwide. Nearly one-third of the world’s amphibian species are on the verge of extinction.

Events are taking place all around the world – including in Australia and New Zealand, where we have some amazing and highly threatened amphibians. Read more about them at my previous post, Save the Frogs Day.

An Australian Great Barred frog with a leech. Photo from

The merciless rise of cruelty in Australian research

The number of animals killed or physically ‘challenged’ in Australian research has continued its merciless rise.

Animal use in research and teaching, Australia, 2005 to 2009

Click to view data

In 2009, 1.46 million animals were subjected to either death or physical challenge through research procedures in Australia – this equates to nearly a third of all animals used in Australian research.

When 2009 figures are compared to 2005, the number of animals made ‘unconscious without recovery’ has doubled; the number experiencing ‘major physiological challenge’ has more than quadrupled.

Australian research seems to be on an unrelenting, merciless march toward greater animal cruelty.

The table below shows the number of animals used in Australian research and teaching by severity of procedure, and the percent increase from 2005.

The data come from Humane Research Australia (HRA), gathered from a variety of sources. HRA points out that there are serious gaps in the data, not least because data are not available for Queensland, Western Australia or the Northern Territory, and data from the ACT do not provide a breakdown by type of procedure.

Another interesting trend is a rise in the production of genetically modified animals. From 2005 to 2007, the number of genetically modified animals produced under Australian research ranged between 4 and 5 thousand animals. In 2008 this number rose dramatically to over 40,000 animals. And in 2009 it rose even more dramatically – more than doubling to over 100,000 animals. It is difficult to determine the level degree of cruelty or suffering experienced by these animals, but the sharp rise will add to the fears for those concerned for the welfare of animals.

View the full data here>

Animal use in research and teaching, Australia, 2009
Severity of procedure Number Percent change from 2005
Observational studies involving minor interference 2,047,891 -5
Minor conscious intervention 1,303,266 9
Minor operative procedures with recovery 214,964 -18
Surgery with recovery 46,644 -3
Minor physiological challenge * 254,361 55
Major physiological challenge * 590,533 389
Animal unconscious without recovery * 583,253 108
Death as an end point * 31,789 -17
Production of genetically modified animals 104,339 1,957
Unspecified 134,281 -78
TOTAL 5,311,321 9
* Combined:Killed or physically ‘challenged’ 1,459,936 142

Data source: Humane Research Australia,

Save the frogs day

Red eyed tree frog

Photo: Françoise Rodriguez

Frogs are in trouble. Around the world their numbers are dropping. Many of Australia’s and New Zealand’s amazing frogs species are under threat. Let’s work together to keep them from disappearing. April 28th is international Save the Frogs Day.

Earth is witnessing an amphibian extinction crisis, with at least half of the world’s 6,600  amphibian species under threat. This is an extinction crisis to dwarf all others: 12 percent of bird species are threatened, and 23 percent of mammal species are threatened.

We need to take action to save our frogs from extinction. Save the Frogs Day is the world’s largest day of amphibian education and conservation action. Now in its third year, the day aims to encourage the appreciation and celebration of amphibians by people from all walks of life.

Addressing the amphibian extinction crisis
represents the greatest species conservation
challenge in the history of humanity.[1]

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Australian research becoming crueller to animals

The number of animals in Australia killed or physically ‘challenged’ by research procedures nearly doubled in three years.

Data from Humane Research Australia

Click to view data

In 2005, just over 600,000 animals were killed or physically ‘challenged’ by research and teaching procedures. By 2008 this had grown to nearly 1.16 million animals: a 92 percent increase, or nearly 555,000 more animals.

The data come from Humane Research Australia, gathered from a variety of sources. HRA points out that there are serious gaps in the data, not least because reporting is patchy – a sign perhaps of the shame some States feel about being honest and transparent about these practices? Taken at face value, they show trends that will shock some and cause concern to many.

The proportion of animals subjected to death or physical ‘challenge’ by procedures increased from about one in six to one in every four animals (from 14 percent in 2005, to 23 percent in 2008).

There was almost a tripling in the number of animals subjected to ‘major physiological challenge’ by research procedures.

It is also interesting also to note the rise in the production of genetically modified animals from around 5,000 in 2005 to 41,000 in 2008. This is a 700 percent rise in three years! A sign of things to come?

The summary table below shows the number of animals used in Australian research and teaching by severity of procedure, and the percent increase from 2005. View the full data here>

Animal use in research and teaching, Australia, 2008
Severity of procedure Number Percent change from 2005
Observational studies involving minor interference 2,288,358 7
Minor conscious intervention 1,389,057 16
Minor operative procedures with recovery 82,904 -68
Surgery with recovery 36,539 -24
Minor physiological challenge * 265,138 62
Major physiological challenge * 320,862 166
Animal unconscious without recovery * 545,463 95
Death as an end point * 26,198 -31
Production of genetically modified animals 41,314 715
Unspecified 120,954 -80
TOTAL 5,116,787 5
* Combined:Killed or physically ‘challenged’ 1,157,661 92

Data source: Humane Research Australia,
Text and data analysis: Animal Rights Hub Australasia

Peter Singer on animal ethics, cannibalism and other tasty morsels

There is a great interview on YouTube in which Richard Dawkins interviews Peter Singer on the ethics of how humans perceive and act toward other species.

An excellent way to spend 45 minutes if you have time, the interview is part of a Channel 4 (UK) TV program The Genius of Darwin, which won Best Documentary Series in the 2008 British Broadcasting Awards.

Many of the issues discussed will be familiar to anyone who has read Singer. But it’s always good to hear him talk, as he has a talent for explaining highly abstract ideas in clear and simple language.

The interview covers a lot of ground and requires the brain to do a bit of exercise. But it’s worth it. A brief description of the things they talk about is below.

Dawkins and Singer start out discussing Darwin’s revolutionary view that human beings are animals and not as ‘special’ as pre-Darwinian thinking held. Interestingly, as Dawkins explains, Darwin consciously tried to break the received idea that humans are special, arguing that animals displayed emotions and even spirituality.

The two go on to range across all sorts of issues. They have an interesting discussion about animals suffering for human benefit – where should we draw the line and how should we decide when animal suffering is justifiable? Singer wheels out some frightening statistics: in the USA alone, over 10 billion animals are raised and killed for food each year, while 40 million animals are used for research.

The discussion dwells for a time on Dawkins’ carnivorism, and his self-confessed lack of awareness about the treatment of the animals he eats. Singer argues that meat eaters have a responsibility to know about how animals are reared and slaughtered, because their consumption is likely to be supporting a system that causes pain and suffering. He draws a parallel between meat eaters who turn a blind eye to the suffering of the animals they eat and those who turn a blind eye to human suffering.

Singer’s case is built on two main pillars. First, that animals feel pain. Second, that we should care for others, what he calls his ‘golden rule’ of moral and ethical action: put yourself in the position of others and consider what it is like for them. To not care about how others feel, he says, is ‘cutting yourself off from a part of reality’.

Dawkins considers his continued meat eating to be the result of conformity and lack of social stigma. He draws interesting parallels between animal welfare and slavery.

Singer expresses optimism that the animal movement is making a difference. He suggests we are moving toward a ‘tipping point’ that will see the pressure to eat meat diminish and meat alternatives become more socially acceptable.

They have some pretty way-out discussions about cannibalism, and about whether or not they would eat steak grown in a laboratory. This moral dilemma may be closer than many think, with reports that scientists are trying to develop edible laboratory-grown tissue (see some news items on this rather bizarre development).

Singer and Dawkins also toss around an interesting hypothetical about creating an animal that is a hybrid of human and other species – an animal that would make people think about where and how they draw the line between humans and other animals. It’s good to see these two great minds playing, and even struggling, with the implications of such a concept, rather than going over familiar ground.

Animal Rights Hub Australasia, 12 December 2009

Taking a break


Pelicans, Lennox HeadDear friends and followers
I am taking a break from cultural policy to pursue an entirely unrelated adventure – as website editor at Caritas Australia.

I will be adding a couple of non-cultural policy related posts over the next couple of weeks. I have brought these over from an animal rights blog I used to produce. If you don’t want to see them (there’s only three) you can always unsubscribe from my blog feed. But of course you are more than welcome to read them!

Thanks for following my work, and for all the valuable input, comments and advice. I wish you all the best in your endeavours, and hope the pending Australian cultural policy is kind to those affected.

All the best.


Cultural policies Australasia

Cabbage tree Tongariro by Christopher MaddenThrough 2010 and 2011 I wrote a number of essays for ArtsHub and Culture360 on cultural policy issues in Australia and New Zealand. I have put these essays, plus a couple of others, together in one collection and organised them around four broad themes:

  1. Australasian cultural policies (ie in general);
  2. Analyses of the cultural sector and cultural policy issues;
  3. Arts councils, arts funding; and
  4. The cultural policy system.

Putting them together like this gives them a coherence lacking in their chronologically ordered online counterparts. If you do download the full document I hope you find them interesting and useful. Online versions of all the essays appear on this website.

The collection is downloadable as a single document: Cultural Policies Australasia (PDF 1.8MB). A full list of contents is below. Continue reading

Measuring the economic impact of cultural policies

Sydney Opera House impactIs there a way to measure the impact of a country’s cultural policies overall, at a general, or ‘macro’, level?

Economic theory predicts that cultural policies will have an expansionary impact on the cultural sector (see Modelling the economic impacts of cultural policies). This article uses data from Australia and New Zealand to show the theory in action.

The article, published in Culture360 Magazine, uses data from Australia and New Zealand to compare trends in government cultural expenditure and cultural employment. The data reveal a remarkably strong correlation between cultural expenditure and employment in both countries: on both sides of the Tasman, as governments increased their financial commitment to culture, cultural employment grew.

The data are not only consistent with the predictions of Economic theory, they allude to a degree of cultural policy success in both countries.

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An introduction to New Zealand cultural policy

Cabbage tree Otago peninsulaIn recent years New Zealand’s employment in creative cultural occupations has grown faster than total employment. This is in stark contrast with Australia, where creative arts occupations have taken a dramatic plunge.

Could the difference simply be due to a ‘lag’ in New Zealand data, or does it signal something more substantial? Have New Zealand’s cultural policies been more successful in promoting cultural sector sustainability? Or has New Zealand benefited from its special citizen-in-residence, film-maker Peter Jackson?

If the strong growth in cultural employment is due to the ‘Jackson effect’, then New Zealand cultural policymakers face an unusual succession planning problem: what to do when Jackson’s run ends.

In An introduction to New Zealand cultural policy I look at New Zealand’s cultural policy system and take a quick scan of recent policy developments and issues.

The online version of the article is in two parts: Part 1 and Part 2. Or alternativly you can read the whole thing in one lump in my collection of essays Cultural Policies Australasia (PDF 1.8 MB).

This is the third in a series of article I have written for the Culture360 magazine. The others are An introduction to Australian cultural policy and Policies for boosting arts demand (see also the supplemental post Modelling the economic impacts of cultural policies).

The article follows up on some of the issues raised in my editorials for the special Australasian edition of cultural trends.

Policies for boosting arts demand

Demand expansion hand drawnPolicies that encourage arts demand can return balance to an oversupplied Australian arts sector and fix many of the ills of Australian cultural policy.

Policies for boosting arts demand, the second of my articles for Culture360[1], expands on my ideas for rebalancing an Australian arts sector that is showing the classic signs of oversupply.

As evidence of oversupply, I present data showing increasing levels of creative arts practice and declining relative incomes of professional artists. The policies that dominate Australia’s cultural policy system tend to work to boost supply, so they are likely to aggravate problems associated with oversupply, such as declining relative incomes. Policies aimed at boosting arts demand – ‘demand-side policies’ – can work to alleviate the problems. Continue reading

An introduction to Australian cultural policy

John Howard an the Cronulla riotsConstantly in flux, passing between portfolios and ministers, and rarely featuring high on government agendas, cultural policy in Australia has been a constant battle against disorganisation and disinterest. But all that could change if the current government follows through on its commitment to develop a national cultural policy. We may be at a rare turning point in Australian cultural policy – a point as critical as the birth of cultural policy in 1908, the establishment of the Australia Council in 1975, and the release of Creative Nation in 1994.

An introduction to Australian cultural policy is a potted history and a cursory survey of Australian cultural policy. The first of three articles I have written for Culture360, it aims to introduce Australian cultural policy to readers in Europe and Asia. Continue reading

Modelling the economic impacts of cultural policies

Supply and demand curvesIn Policies for boosting arts demand I build on my argument that Australian cultural policy needs more demand-side policies. The case is based on the observation of recent data on the Australian cultural sector and some simple economic supply and demand modelling. This post supplements these articles by explaining the modelling process and reasoning that underpin them. This is a rough draft – I welcome comments or suggestions.

Recent data suggests that the Australian arts sector is grossly ‘oversupplied’. In the first decade of the century, Australian participation in creative arts work increased dramatically – in some arts activities it more than doubled or tripled! At the same time, artists’ relative incomes have declined. The Census, for example, shows that the full time incomes of artists dropped by $4,000 relative to other professionals. The figure below puts the two trends together to illustrate how dramatic the inverse relationship has been between involvement in creative arts practice and artists’ incomes.[1]

These are classic signs of a sector straining under the weight of labour supply: increases in labour supply tend to reduce wage rates, which is likely to be reflected in declining incomes. Australia’s cultural policies predominantly work on stimulating supply, and so are likely to have made matters worse. Continue reading