Friday, 17 February 2017

Work-in-progress: "Restructuring Protected Industries: The efficacy of policy responses to disruption in the sugar, automotive manufacturing and taxi sectors"

Institutional funding for conference attendance is now a distant memory, and I have sorely missed the opportunity to present my work in progress and receive frank and honest feedback, to the point where I have been self-funding my conference attendances. This article covers my most recent presentation at the Australia and New Zealand Public Policy Network (PPN) 2017 Annual Conference at Flinders University in Adelaide. It still fills me with a sense of wonder when I have the opportunity to have my work critiqued by some of the greats in political science whose names were familiar from my undergraduate textbooks some 23 or so years ago. So when I write about my journey here, it is in the spirit of memories past which I present my work in progress.

So I've decided to write about my research work in progress. It is likely filled with factual errors and poorly articulated ideas, but that is the nature of the process. Since starting this blog I have found that my writing somehow "gets going" if I blog regularly. I recall, too, that regular blogging opened up numerous opportunities for me in the early stages of my career, including the first of a series of paid gigs for ABC Unleashed (which would later become The Drum). This was an important time for me as I observed many others, who were also writing regularly for Unleashed, who went on to change careers and become journalists or freelance writers. But my heart was never in it; certainly not as a journalist, and I am glad I didn't go there. Indeed, if I were writing about the new president in another country for a living today, I would not be glad at all.

But what writing for the media did for me was to create an area of specialisation and to gain the support of my colleagues. It was an interesting phenomenon, amid immaturity, life crises, career change, returning to full time study, and being broke-arse poor, but it has proven a useful vignette for my leadership classes.

I would run around seeking validation for my work. I wanted to be accepted by my colleagues. But it didn't happen. It was all critique and no joy, and, strangely enough, exactly the type of critique I now deliberately seek out! But the point is that my colleagues would not validate my expertise. That is, until my work was validated externally by the media. Then when speaking of me, my colleagues would routinely say "Oh you should speak to Michael. He is an expert in..." Bizarre.

I do not mean to flatter myself. Indeed, one of the comments I received while writing for Unleashed was something like: "Expert! Ha! This guy doesn't have a PhD. He is lucky to have a job!" Besides, my favourite definition of "expert" is: "X being the unknown quantity and spurt being a drip under high pressure". But I do have a spot on, so for the point of what I am trying to say, there it is.

So by looking for validation within the organisation, I found nothing and came across as a needy freak. But by obtaining validation outside of the organisation, my colleagues just went with it. It is so strange to think back to these times, and the recent PPN conference was attended by some of the very same people. Nothing much has changed, and their feedback and criticism is as frank as ever. And God love them for it. If anything, their feedback is probably better, because I have grown up just a tad and I suspect they aren't so worried about hurting my delicate little ego!

Why we aren't taught such things, I think, is a function of class. Silvertails won't talk about such things because they might lose some of their silvertailed mystique. I played that game as an army officer and they can have it. Now, rather than asking "Why aren't we taught such things?" - I just get on and teach them.

Of course it takes age and experience, and for some, like me, age and experience are probably not the best ways to gain wisdom. Fools learn from their mistakes and I am a fool. But Rousseau (1782/1995: 11) says it best:
No doubt adversity is a great teacher, but its lessons are dearly bought, and often the profit we gain from them are not worth the cost.
While I am visiting Rousseau (1782/1995: 2), I am reminded of why I do things as I do, and while not so very good at it, I am less inclined to fight against my nature:
For a long time I put up a resistance as violent as it was fruitless. Being without guile, without skill, without cunning, without prudence, frank, open, impatient and impulsive, I only enmeshed myself further in my efforts to be free, and constantly gave them new holds on me which they took good care not to neglect. But realizing eventually that all my efforts were in vain and my self-torment to no avail, I took the only course left to me, that of submitting to my fate and ceasing to fight against the inevitable. This resignation has made up for my trials by the peace of mind it brings me, a peace of mind incompatible with the unceasing exertions of a struggle as painful as it was unavailing.
Interestingly, Rousseau's words echo Stoicism. But again I digress. Below is the work in progress so far.
Disruption created by globalisation and emerging technologies has resulted in various policy responses to manage the decline of long-standing, protected industries in Australia. The Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement, cheaper labour rates overseas, and challenges to existing regulated monopolies have affected the sugar, automotive manufacturing and taxi sectors respectively. In the first two cases, the Commonwealth introduced policy responses to manage the decline of the sugar and automotive manufacturing industries, whereas state governments have responded to the emerging ride-sharing providers by lowering the barriers to new market entrants. In each case, different approaches to compensating existing industry players for the impact of market restructuring have produced various policy approaches. This paper, then, compares the rationale for the respective policy responses to disruption in the sugar, automotive manufacturing, and taxi sectors. While the Commonwealth managed industry restructuring with deliberate, well-organised policy responses, the states ignored the need for reform until a disruptive business model had garnered such support from consumers that the states, politically, had little choice but to rush through policy responses that do not augur well for approaches to managing future disruptions. Indeed, the states created a high level of sovereign risk that has had a significant financial impact on small business investors in the taxi industry that may set a precedent for policy responses to the sharing economy in other state-governed industries such as hospitality. The paper argues that the states’ protracted policy responses to disruption, compounded by limited resources for policy-making, have resulted in inefficacious outcomes compared to the industries governed by the Commonwealth. Based on the experience of the three cases, the paper concludes with recommendations for governing future industry disruptions to ensure that small businesses do not bear the financial brunt of poorly implemented anticipatory industry policies.
There are a number of issues with my abstract. The most important feedback I received was not for me, but another. Much like the military appreciation process, where one must constantly ask oneself, "So what?". It is not uncommon in political science research to address some form of injustice, with an aim of improvement, as I discussed previously via Charles Merriam and Gabriel Almond. But to present little more than a series of moral judgements of political happenings, leaving the audience to state "So what!" rather than the researcher to point out clearly the answer to the question "So what?" is not political science, but a form of political journalism. I need to tidy up that part of the story.


The introduction of ride-sharing in Australia presents a number of issues that are of concern for the future. For example, if the state governments did not have the power to reform the regulated taxi monopolies, and then did not have the power to enforce their (or more appropriately "our") own laws, then does this not represent a level of sovereign risk that should be of concern? Again, so what? The word "should" immediately brings in a normative element. While normative questions are fine, does it fit with my understanding of the purpose of political science? I don't think so.

When comparing telecommunications policy in Canada and Australia, I accepted that nation-states wanted to increase the penetration of communications technologies. I did not consider whether broadband, for example, was a "good thing". What I wanted to do was to understand questions like: Why has Canada consistently outperformed Australia in the penetration of new communications technologies? How do governments enable, coordinate, and regulate new communications technologies? And so on. Out of this I hoped to develop a meso- or industry-level theory to explain the interaction of the institutions of the state and new communications technology inventions over time.

When I look back to my abstract and my presentation, I can see that I need to remove the over- and under-tones of moral judgement and focus on explaining the process. To ask "Why?" But also to ask questions such as: How do governments respond to disruption? How does timing influence the policy options available to governments?  And so forth. But I need to be clear and focus on one element of the issue. I need to avoid that great academic disease: conflation.

I will write more on this project later, but in the meantime, it was recommended to me that the temporal aspect might be useful, hence my reading of the following article:
Newman, J. and Howlett, M. (2014). Regulation and time: temporal patterns in regulatory development. International Review of Administrative Sciences, 80(3), 493–511.
I hope to have a write-up on this paper in a future post.

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