Friday, 27 November 2015

A visit to a Special Housing Area

A while back, I saw that a Special Housing Area (SHA) had been set up quite close to us, in Browns Bay. So I went and had a nosey, as you do.

It wasn't what I'd expected, from a number of perspectives. I'd had at the back of my mind that SHAs would be reasonably substantial sites - it's rather implicit in the term 'area', you'd think - so I was somewhat surprised that the SHA consisted of a single, small to medium sized commercial building at 4 Bute Road (pictured below).

To be fair to Auckland Council, this must be an unusually small SHA. Their guidelines for approving SHAs say (at point 5) that "The council has a preference for SHAs with a yield of at least 50 dwellings", and this one just scrapes in. The Council's SHA web page says that "The site at 4 Bute Road, Browns Bay will be developed for retail at ground level with four levels of apartments above, comprising 54 residential units plus accompanying car parking".

And if you're wondering how you get 54 apartments onto the former site of a not very large New World supermarket, the answer is that they'll be - I don't know the best real-estatese to use here, but "snug" might do. As the webpage says, "The residential units are a mix of one-bedroom (77m2) inclusive of balconies and two-bedrooms (88m2) inclusive of balconies".

I've got no problem with any of this. If people want to buy fairly small apartments, why not? And as the Council web page says, apparently people do: "The proposed scheme has been developed in close liaison with local real estate agents who have identified significant demand, particularly from older residents seeking to downsize and remain in the suburb". While I still think "area" is pushing the ordinary meaning of words a bit, let's park that.

But it also got me thinking about the meaning of "Special". From a land use point of view, there's nothing in the least bit "special" about 4 Bute Road. The area around it has already got lots of multi-storey mixed retail/residential apartment blocks. Here are two of them, also on Bute Road.

I'd have thought the planning approval discussion at the Council would have gone something along the following lines.

Trev: "Hey, Kev - you know Bute Road?"
Kev:  "Yep".
Trev: "Is that the one with all them apartment blocks?"
Kev:  "Yep".
Trev (picks up rubber stamp): [Thunk]

So I don't know whether this site was ever going to be a goer under the SHA regime, where developers get faster-track approval in exchange (in particular) for including a component of "affordable" housing (section 6 of the guidelines has the definitions of "affordable"). Personally, if the social objective was solely a faster build, I think I'd have preferred a simple, "accelerated consent" process without side conditions, but I can also see the planners' wanting to get a social quid pro quo. But I'm not sure any of this applies to 4 Bute Road: the developer, I'd imagine, would have figured on getting planning approval fairly readily, given the past approval of several projects just like it, and without giving up any potentially expensive concessions.

Not that its being an SHA, or not being an SHA, seems to have made any material difference either way. The site's been vacant for some considerable time, and (I drove past a few moments ago) is still vacant, with no signs of imminent activity. Don't know why: if I had to guess, I'd say it's because the Auckland construction market is at or beyond full capacity, and projects are just going to have to take their turn in the development queue. But in any event, I don't think I'd be proposing 4 Bute Road as a poster child for the SHA initiative.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Good progress by the Aussies

Sometimes you have to admire the Aussies.

First they had the gumption to realise that competitive markets are part of the answer to an economy working better, and to do something about it. As their Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison said this week, "Competition policy is one of the surest ways to lift long-term productivity growth and generate economic benefits that can be shared by everyone". And they set up a competition policy review - the 'Harper' review- that delivered good results in short order with modest resources. Now, this week, the Aussie government has said it's going to run with the majority of the Harper recommendations - 44 out of the 56 - and has 'an open mind on' or has 'noted' the rest of them. Nothing's been rejected out of hand, or at least that's the official line, though I suspect the odd one here or there will be quietly left to expire. There's an item-by-item list of responses here.

It's not the most important of the Harper recommendations, but I was particularly interested in how they would react to the one on allowing 'market studies', proactive inquiries into the state of competition in markets. As I posted this week, I think this is an open and shut case: they're an obviously useful - maybe even necessary - part of the competition toolkit. The Aussies have come to the same conclusion. It's not entirely clear (to me at least) whether the Aussies will be running market studies solely through the ACCC (which the response to Recommendation 45 suggests) or whether they will also be done by a new body, the Harper-recommended Australian Council for Competition Policy, which will shepherd the general competition reform agenda. Either way, market studies are a goer. We don't (I reckon) have the scale to set up an entirely new body ourselves, but the sooner we get to the commonsense position of the Commerce Commission doing market studies in New Zealand, the better off we'll be.

Many of these agreed recommendations have the potential to make important improvements to Australian productivity. The big ones include getting more choice and competition into social services; making sure that regulation doesn't unnecessarily restrain competition (taxis/Uber look like getting dealt to, as well as mandatory product standards); ensuring that local authorities' zoning and planning doesn't have anticompetitive outcomes; and improving and simplifying competition law ("a prohibition on concerted practices, refining exclusionary conduct provisions, simplifying cartel laws, streamlining merger clearances, introducing a class authorisation process and establishing more flexible collective bargaining provisions"). And there's a long tail of smaller good ideas which will cumulatively add to the positive impact.

Not all of them are signed, sealed and delivered. A lot of the recommendations will still have to be worked through with the Australian states. And some of the more difficult ones have been kicked for touch - pharmacy reform, second-hand car imports, and, especially, reform of s46 of the Aussie competition law, the equivalent of our s36 of the Commerce Act, which deals with the abuse of market power. It hasn't gone dead - "the Government will consult further on options to reform the provision and release a discussion paper on this topic" - but there's clearly a major political bunfight on the way between Big and Small Business, complicated by political flak (the Aussie Labor Party isn't behind the Harper s46 approach). Here's a good article from the Sydney Morning Herald that gives a feel for who's backing what.

Even so, it's obvious that over the next wee while Australia will be building up quite a head of competition reform momentum. And it puts our limited exercise - the recent 'Targeted review of the Commerce Act' - in the tuppenny ha'penny place by comparison. We've already got a bit of an issue in trying to close the productivity gap with Australia: we're going to have to do a lot more in the competition arena if the Aussies aren't going to pull even further ahead.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

The case for market studies - again

Imagine this: the police view their role as solely responding to complaints.

There won't be any patrols to keep areas safe: the police cars will only arrive if someone rings up and says there's something bad going down locally. There won't be booze bus checkpoints: drivers will be breathalysed only if they've already crashed into someone. There won't be undercover operations: the meth factory won't be found unless it gets dobbed in. You get the picture.

Or consider fisheries protection. Will  there be a ranger out on the beat checking that nobody is netting everything out of your favourite trout river? Nope. Anyone checking the health of species stocks? Sorry. Giant trawler scooping up everything in Golden Bay? "What a shame. If only someone had rung in and told us"....

But that, folks, is pretty much where we are when it comes to policing the state of competition in New Zealand. As MBIE's recent 'Targeted review of the Commerce Act' reminded us (p55)
there is no single, broad power to investigate any market from a competition perspective and make recommendations on how improvements can be made, as is found in comparable jurisdictions
The review was looking at the case for 'market studies' - a loose term, but one which essentially means that competition authorities can go out and proactively look at markets and see if they are working competitively. This is how the review summarised matters as it saw them (pp6-7):
Three interconnected approaches to market studies, as seen in the international experience, are identified: 
• diagnosing market problems;
• removing regulatory barriers to competition; and
• building an evidence base as a precursor to enforcement.
The Ministry considers that the question of whether New Zealand needs a formal market studies power is dependent on whether there is a definable gap in its competition framework that aligns with one or more of these approaches.
The last sentence is one only a policy analyst could love, but in plainer English, and I'm reading a bit between the lines here, where the review got to was that it could see some value from market studies in diagnosing market problems, seemed a bit ambivalent about using them to remove regulatory barriers (possibly because it's got its own programme of work in the same area?), and ruled out the third use ("this kind of extension to the Commerce Commission’s powers is unlikely to be helpful").

As it happens, I don't mind ruling out the third, precursor-to-enforcement, use either. But from every other perspective I'm strongly in favour of the Commerce Commission getting market studies powers, primarily on police-patrol  and fishery-protection first principles but also from a variety of other perspectives. In my opinion the review did not do the pro-studies case full justice. As one example, it didn't canvass the idea that market studies could be used as an accountability device, to see if the Commerce Commission had actually made a difference to the state of competition in a market.

So here's my go at redressing the balance. Earlier this year I presented a paper at the NZ Association of Economists conference, 'Is the competition toolkit missing its torch? The case for market studies'. It's a full-blooded, pro-studies piece: the original version is here but I've updated it a bit since, and you can find the new, improved version here. If life's too short, here's the conclusion:
Market studies have become a standard tool for competition authorities in many overseas jurisdictions, but have not been made available to New Zealand's. Current arrangements have become increasingly incongruous in the light of overseas adoption, the recommendations of two official inquiries (in New Zealand and Australia), academic assessment, and practical experience with Commerce Commission and other investigations which, while not strictly 'market studies', served the same function and shared the 'look and feel' of formal studies. It is time to allow, and require, the Commission to conduct studies in order  to realise the range of pro-competitive benefits typically associated with them, as well as to prevent mistaken policy responses to non-existent or misdiagnosed competition 'problems', and to provide an additional accountability measure of the Commission's outcomes.

Monday, 23 November 2015

When network effects go bad

"Final Mail Newsletter", says the December 2015 issue from a chap I buy stuff from. "Due to the increased costs of postage and decreased service from NZ Post this will be the final newsletter that you will receive via post. From 2016 the Monthly Newsletter will be sent out by email".

Nothing new there, you might think: that's how it is these days. And yet it says some important things about monopolies and network industries.

One is that we tend to assume that monopolies, and especially those 'natural' monopolies, are a fixture that we're lumbered with. There's only ever going to be one national grid for electricity transmission, only one network of letterboxes and post offices. And with that mindset comes at least some disposition towards regulation - if nothing's going to relieve us any time soon from our vulnerability at the feet of these monopolists, at least we can (say) give them a dose of price regulation and put some limits on their profiteering.

But as NZ Post shows, monopolies aren't always - I'm tempted to say, aren't often - the impregnable fortresses they look like. New tastes, new technologies, new substitutes undermine them, particularly as there is the very strong market incentive (relief from the monopoly's high prices) to find alternatives. Regulators shouldn't be naive or blasé about monopolies, and shouldn't automatically assume, Micawber-like, that some innovation will come along and get rid of the problems the monopoly is currently creating. But they shouldn't automatically assume that monopolies are forever, either, and particularly in the more technologically dynamic parts of the economy.

Another thing NZ Post's problems show is the underbelly of network effects. When they're working for you, everything gets exponentially better. When they turn against you - take your pick of 'vicious circle', 'vortex', 'vanishing up the orifice of your own infrastructure'.

In NZ Post's case, e-mail has led to "the ongoing decline in the core letters business", as it said when announcing its latest annual results: "Letter volumes declined by 10% last year and are expected to keep falling by at least that amount annually. Falling letter volumes is a reality worldwide". For any network operator, like Post, the cost of the expensive infrastructure built for peak historical volume gets spread across less and less, and either prices go up (and customers desert even faster), or you try to wind back the infrastructure, which, even if feasible, won't be costless, and may degrade service quality (even more customers head for the exits).

NZ Post's fighting back best it can, but sometimes the unwinding of network effects is spectacularly terminal. MySpace (as originally called) is my favourite example: according to its Wikipedia entry, it was valued at US$1.5 billion at its peak and in mid-2006 was the most visited website in the US. In 2011 it changed hands reportedly for US$35 million, and this year came in at #1296 in US website traffic. So when I see the EU competition authorities having a go at Google's "market power", my inclination is to say, "Is that right?"

In an unwind, it doesn't help a monopoly - and I'm not pointing fingers at NZ Post here, it's a general comment - if it's pigged it in the days of its pomp. If it's pillaged the pool of consumer surplus when the going was good - price discriminated,  bundled, manipulated service quality and product design, the whole toolkit - it's got little or no customer loyalty to brake or halt its decline. It's not just the regulators who are liable to think, mistakenly, that monopolies are forever: so do the monopolies themselves.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Black hats - or grey?

Yesterday I posted about how I liked where MBIE's review of the Commerce Act had got to with its conclusion that section 36 of the Act - the bit that aims to curb firms with market power from nobbling the competitive process - wasn't working as intended.

But there was one comment in the review that jarred with me at the time, and after thinking about it for a while, I've figured out why.

It came in the bit on p29 where MBIE was talking about how the way s36 works in the courts stacks up against the criterion of 'simplicity'. They were right to say, not well, in particular from the point of view of a plaintiff (typically the Commerce Commission, but firms can also have a go at private prosecutions). When the courts decamp into the alternative universe of the 'counterfactual' - what would firms have done in a hypothetical world where they didn't have market power - the possibilities for rabbits to run in every direction are endless. MBIE was right to call the process "defendant friendly".

But along the way MBIE said this (I've added the bit in brackets to make MBIE's point clearer):
The problem here is not so much one of predictability for powerful firms – businesses will generally know if they are acting in a way that they would not in a competitive market. The problem seems instead to be the cost and delay involved in [the plaintiff] making a case under the counterfactual test
Frankly, the first sentence is just plain wrong (the second is mostly right).

Businesses very often won't know if they are acting in a way that they would not in a competitive market. That's precisely why we, and the Aussies, and competition authorities globally, have been having these rethinks about defining abuse of market power and policing it: it's a grey area, where reasonable people can come to different conclusions. What is vigorous but fair competition by a big company can be very hard to tell from tactics that exploit the company's bigness to skew the competitive playing field. In fact, that's exactly what the (in)famous Pink Batts case (which MBIE cites) demonstrated: courts took different views, with the House of Lords, who had the last bite of the cherry, taking the vigorous but fair line.

The biggest current example is Google's bunfight with the EU competition police. Is it really abundantly clear that Google's giving higher rankings in search results to companies that advertise with it is "anti-competitive"?  If you, um, google it, you'll readily find experts on both sides.

I wasn't born yesterday: of course, there will be instances where there are guys in black hats who know they are wearing them. There have been clear cases where competition authorities have spotted and pinged egregious behaviour that would have been found anti-competitive on pretty much any reasonable definition of abuse of market power.

But it's not the right way to typify where many companies are likely to find themselves - in the real, greyer world.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Good outcome - but now what?

Earlier this week MBIE came out with its 'Targeted Commerce Act review', which contained its long-awaited revisit of s36 of the Commerce Act - the bit that deals with anti-competitive use of a position of market power. It also included a review of non-litigation remedies available to the Commerce Commission (such as settlements, and cease and desist orders), which I hadn't known it was looking at, and the case for market studies, which I did. I'll come back to the remedies and market studies in another post.

The big news - and it's good news - is that MBIE has got to the same place that many others have got to with s36: it's broken and effectively unworkable. That's essentially what the Commerce Commission has been saying, in more diplomatic language, in (for example) its latest Statement of Intent (p16):
There is still uncertainty about the application of section 36 of the Commerce Act, which deals with monopolistic conduct. The way New Zealand’s courts have interpreted section 36 has created difficulties in applying the law. Given the complexity and cost of these types of cases, we choose very carefully which potential monopolisation cases to investigate. We would like to see a review undertaken of section 36 and will contribute to any potential reform in this important area
MBIE has got there as well, for two main reasons. One is that it felt that the current law, and its interpretation by the courts, risked letting companies get away with anti-competitive behaviour because it is too easy to claim that it's what any company, with market power or not, would have done. It gave this example (p28):
Exclusive dealing, for instance, frequently occurs in competitive markets as businesses seek to control the distribution of their products. However, the same conduct when carried out by a business with substantial market power can result in significant competition detriments, at worst eliminating all competitors from the market.
MBIE also cited (p28) a statement by the chair of the Aussie ACCC stating that it had been unable to ping a range of anti-competitive behaviour under the equivalent provision of the Aussies' legislation.

The other main leg of the argument is that the legal hoops a plaintiff has to jump through to make out a s36 case fail the criterion of having simple, comprehensible competition legislation. This is the key bit (p29), and I couldn't agree more:
The evidential burden for the plaintiff of proving a hypothetical counterfactual is simply too heavy in many cases. In particular, a mandatory requirement to construct a hypothetical competitive market of at least two participants requires difficult assumptions to be made. These difficulties are compounded by the courts’ observation that the analysis need not depend on realistic or practical assumptions, so that unrealistic scenarios are permitted. Such an evidential burden for the plaintiff has increased the complexity of the section 36 process. The prohibition has ultimately become defendant-friendly.
MBIE also looked at s36 and the courts' interpretation of how to apply it against the criterion of consistency - internal consistency with other parts of the Commerce Act, and consistency with what other countries do - and found that our current approach fluffs it on both counts. For example, "section 36 is significantly different from equivalent provisions in the US, the European Union and Canada" (p30).

MBIE couldn't decide how another criterion might be applied - whether some allowance ought to be made for our being a small, remote economy. Should we ease up on policing behaviour, on some kind of 'national champion' grounds, or be especially vigilant when we've got more than our fair share of large fish in small ponds? Can't say I've got the same difficulty deciding - 'No national champions, please'.

The review was a problem-definition issues paper, so it didn't march smartly on to proposed policy solutions, but it indicated a whole range of possibilities, including, I'm pleased to say, the route the 'Harper review' of Australian competition policy took.

But getting anywhere with them  is going to be tortuous. For me, the next steps look glacially slow. People have till next February to get their views in to MBIE on this review, at which point there may or may not be an Options Paper, which in the grand fullness of time will have its own submissions and countersubmissions, and may or may not lead to proposed legislation (possibly with another round of submissions), and which will finally struggle to get a slot on the already overcrowded Parliamentary calendar (have you seen what it looks like? It's horrendous). And all this on a topic that (as some media comment has already said) may not be popular with Big Business.

It's too late now: the lumbering siege machine has started to trundle into the far distance, and it can't be called back. And it's good that it's probably going to arrive at a better place. And yes, there's a case for thorough policy preparation and legislative design.

But if we'd had more sense, and urgency, we could have moved straight to the Harper review endpoint. Free ride on the Aussies' expertise? Check. Good outcome? Check. Faster result? Check. Consistency with our trans-Tasman mates? Check. As I've argued before, 'Australia's got the competition gospel. Have we?'

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Interesting details from the OECD

Last night the OECD came out with the latest update to its Economic Outlook - you can read the whole thing here (the chapter on New Zealand starts on p189) and access the statistics behind it here.

There were no huge dramas in the commentary: keep fiscal policy on a conservative course, loosen monetary policy some more (the OECD expects the official cash rate to drop to 2.25%), watch out for the Auckland housing market, do something about easing Auckland housing supply.

But the detailed numbers were nonetheless interesting. Here's a selection.

On the GDP front, 2016 could be tricky: forecast 1.9% growth doesn't leave much room for error if, say, China or El Niño spring an unpleasant surprise. And you do wonder about where longer-term growth is going to come from if (as the OECD thinks) the housebuilding boom loses its oomph. Investment in non-housing capital goods growing at only 2.0-3.0% a year isn't doing much to increase our productive capabilities.

And that's where we get to the more interesting numbers. The OECD's got an estimate of how fast our economy can grow (the 'potential output' line). Sure, these potential output 'speed limit' calculations can be flakey, but that said, on its face the news is not good. Our current potential growth rate of 2.5% is not flash, and is likely to fall a bit over the next couple of years. One or more of labour force growth, capital investment, or productivity has got to start picking up if we're not going to be lumbered with growth rates a lot lower than we'd like.

You can also see how the OECD gets to its case for easing monetary policy. Forecast inflation is below the RBNZ's target mid-point, the economy is operating below full capacity (that's the 'output gap' line), and the forecast unemployment rate is above the 'NAIRU' level where (in theory) a tight labour market would start to generate wage pressures. NAIRU estimates are just as iffy as potential output, and on nothing more than hunch I'd say the NAIRU could be lower than the OECD thinks, but either way there's clear room for monetary policy ease.

I've put up the financial markets forecasts for reference. Recent history, home and away, of forecasting interest rates and exchange rates has not been, um, a complete success, but in any event short term rates are headed down as the RBNZ cuts, and the dollar eases a little, but longer term rates are heading north: the driver is the US bond market, where the OECD expects the long term bond yield to rise from 2.1% this year to 3.2% in 2017.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

What's behind those jobs numbers?

Yesterday's labour market figures, and particularly the employment outcome and the participation rate, came as an unwelcome surprise to everyone. The consensus expectation amongst economic forecasters had been that employment would rise by 0.4%, whereas it actually fell by 0.4%, and the participation rate (the proportion of the population in the labour force), which had been expected to hold up at its historically high 69.3%, dropped back to 68.6%. Given that a falling participation rate is usually taken as a sign of a weaker labour market, since people tend to leave the labour force when they become less confident that jobs are available,  the employment and participation numbers taken together showed an unexpectedly soft jobs market in the September quarter.

On the other hand, though, there were some oddities in the numbers. Employment certainly went down, but the number of filled jobs, and the total number of hours worked, both rose during the quarter, and those increases would tend to suggest that the labour market was a bit better than previously.

The different outcomes got me wondering about how these three measures - employment, filled jobs, hours worked - have behaved over time. Here's the answer, since the start of 2000.

Generally they move together, as you'd expect. There is the odd occasion, as in this latest September quarter, when employment falls but the number of jobs and the hours worked rise (March 2000, September 2006, September 2012). There is even the odd occasion where the opposite happens - employment rises but jobs and hours fall (June 2005, March 2008, June 2009, June 2015). But as a rule they tell the same story, and quarters like this June (employment up, the others down) and this September (employment down, the others up) are the exceptions.

What's happened, I reckon, is that there was clearly some general slowing of the economy earlier this year, with an impact on the labour market, but  we're also seeing the impact of quite a lot of noise in the data. Over the long run (back to early 1989, when the jobs and hours series start), all three measures have almost exactly the same average growth rate: employment, jobs and hours have each grown, on average over the long haul, by 0.4% a quarter. But there's a lot of volatility in the three numbers: if you look at the standard deviation of each one, for employment it is 0.6%, for jobs 0.8%, and for hours worked it's 1.0%. As a rough rule of thumb, even if the underlying 0.4% hasn't changed at all, two thirds of the time you're going to see employment numbers between -0.2% and +1.0%, jobs numbers between -0.4% and +1.2%, and hours numbers between -0.6% and +1.4%.

The overall lesson is that you're probably best advised not to get fixated on any one of the three measures: employment is somewhat less volatile than the others, and to that extent it's more of a reliable pointer than the other two, but they're best considered (a) in the round and (b) on timeframes longer than a single, possibly unrepresentative, quarter.

If, for example, you look at 2014 as a whole, the average quarterly increase in employment was +0.89%, the average increase in filled jobs was +0.61% and the average increase in hours was +0.74%. In the first three quarters of this year, the same averages were +0.12% (employment), +0.56% (jobs) and +0.77% (hours). So you'd conclude, overall, that there has been some modest slowdown: employment on its own would point towards a reasonable slowdown, but the other two point to little or none. That's not at all surprising, given the effect that falling dairy prices were having at the time. A modest slowdown, but still ongoing growth in employment, is also exactly what you see in the employment component of the ANZ's business survey, so it all fits together nicely.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

How's life? Pretty good

A day when we got news that employment fell, and the unemployment rate rose, may not be the best time to argue that New Zealand is in pretty good shape when compared with the rest of the world.

But that's the case nonetheless, as the latest How's Life 2015: Measuring Well-being report from the OECD shows. The report is part of a growing - and welcome - global focus by various agencies (including our own Treasury with its 'Higher Living Standards' framework) on a wider range of societal outcomes than just GDP.

Here's how New Zealand stacks up against the rest of the OECD on a broad range of economic, social and environmental criteria. The scores are standard deviations above or below the OECD average, and anything bigger than +1 or lower than -1 is pretty unusual. Hat tip, by the way, to Timothy Taylor's excellent Conversable Economist blog, which is where I came across the news that the OECD had done this latest exercise.

Sometimes when organisations do these comparisons, the results don't always resemble the country you know, but this looks about right to me. By international standards, we're on the right side of the ledger for most things - and very much so on the size of our houses, our perceived state of health, the cleanliness of the air and our ability to get people into employment. You can see - if you use the "life satisfaction" measure at the bottom as an overall summary - that we are travelling well by international standards.

Where do we lag? There's nothing outrageously bad, but the one drawback that sticks out, housing affordability, will surprise no-one (here defined as "Percentage of household gross adjusted disposable income spent on housing and hosue maintenance", but we'd have shown up badly no matter which precise measure you used). We also work too much and don't take enough time off, and have a slight issue with educational attainment (and, I'd say, if you peeled back the overall educational showing, a particularly knotty issue with the bottom tail of the educational attainment distribution). And everyone would prefer if we were above the OECD average for household income rather than slightly below. But overall this is a good score-card.

I'm a little surprised we don't have data on all the criteria (if you're interested in the definitions, they're on p26 of the print edition or p28 of the e-book, and these country graphs start on p47/p49). 'Financial wealth' is defined as 'net household financial wealth', and something very much like that is available on the Reserve Bank's website (here). I'd have thought we had the data on earnings and basic sanitation, too. The 'adult skills' measure is the only one where I can see a good reason for missing data: we aren't apparently part of the OECD's Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIACC). Don't know why - the rest of the OECD seems to have signed up (33 of them) - but there you are. But even if you filled in the blanks, it wouldn't (at a guesstimate) have changed the overall picture.

There's much more in this report than just country league tables, and I'd recommend it to anyone with an interest in social welfare broadly defined,  but I suspect people will still want to do the usual comparisons, so here's how Australia looks.

Very similar, but richer, in sum. And if you ever wanted a simple graphic showing the need for structural reforms in some economies, here's Spain.