Charton. 42. is a centrist, evidence-based, data-driven economist with an entrepreneurial flair.
Many modern Labor politicians want to be associated with the economic reform credentials of Hawke-Keating governments in the 1980s and 1990s. Very few, if any, have seriously imitated Labor heroes.
Charlton’s experience suggests he has the potential to be a modern Hawke-Keating reformer – if he manages to win the Parramatta seat held by incumbent Labor MP Julie Owens by 3.5 per cent.
Unlike many other top academic and political economists, Charlton has a knack for communicating complex economic issues in an easily digestible way.
Charlton won the University Medal in Economics at the University of Sydney in 2000. A Rhodes Scholar, he earned a PhD in Economics from the University of Oxford.
He wrote an entertaining book, Ozonomic, arguing that much of the political rhetoric about the economy is misleading and that the most important issues are workers’ rights, immigration, protectionism, and investing in technology and education. He also co-wrote Fair trade for all with Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz.
By the age of 27, Charlton had returned from the UK to work as an economic adviser to Prime Minister Rudd, helping the Labor government deal with the global financial crisis of 2008.
Rudd trusted Charlton, naming him Australia’s “sherpa” for the G20 summit which Rudd helped elevate to world leader status. The role of Sherpa is traditionally filled by career civil servants.
Rudd, who was not immediately available for comment, said last month that Australia should “harness the talents of people” such as Charlton.
“He is a very talented person, a brilliant economist, he helped me navigate Australia’s path through the global financial crisis, and remember we saved a quarter of a million jobs in this way. families in Australia,” Rudd told ABC. 730.
“And he helped me, by the way, get Australia a permanent seat at the G20.”
Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers, who worked for Treasurer Wayne Swan, also supported his friend Charlton.
The “child prodigy” of the economy
More than a decade ago, in the media, Charlton was known as the economic “wunderkind” with the youthful face.
Among senior economic officials, Charlton was considered brilliant, but inexperienced.
Since then, Charlton – now a father of three young children – has gained more experience.
After a stint as an adviser at Wesfarmers, he founded the Australian business of economic consultancy AlphaBeta in 2015, working with governments, businesses, investors and other institutions to better use data to meet economic and social challenges.
Charlton had a business association with former McKinsey consultant Fraser Thompson, who was based in Singapore. Thompson is now the co-founder and chief strategy officer of Sun Cable, the $30 billion solar power grid project in the Northern Territory to send clean energy to Singapore via a supported undersea cable by billionaire investors Mike Cannon-Brookes and Andrew Forrest.
AlphaBeta has the reputation of having the polish of consultants, but the rigor of trained economists.
Not always compliant with labor policy
Charlton’s analysis has not always agreed with the political mantra of Labor or the unions.
Charlton concluded in 2015 that dividend-obsessed pension funds and overly cautious corporate executives suppress corporate investment.
Reducing the corporate tax rate by 30% increased business investment and hiring, AlphaBeta found in research that boosted the Coalition’s efforts to lower corporate taxes.
He found in 2017 that technological changes such as robotics and artificial intelligence, which have been a source of anxiety for workers and unions, would not cause mass unemployment, and that better investment in the automation could add $2.2 trillion to Australia’s annual income by 2030.
Last July, Charlton wrote in The Sydney Morning Herald that Scott Morrison was committed to the National Disability Insurance scheme and blamed the Gillard government in part for design flaws resulting in massive cost overruns.
Research co-authored by Charlton in 2018 found that Uber drivers preferred their flexibility over a minimum wage, contrary to Labor party criticism of the gig economy and the push to set minimum wages and conditions.
The Coalition was not immune to criticism either. AlphaBeta found that 38% of people who gained early access to about $33 billion in pensions during the pandemic saw no drop in income.
During the pandemic, the innovator Charlton obtained small business revenue data from accounting software platform Xero to glean real-time insights into the rapidly changing economy for government and businesses.
The new approach helped companies and policymakers understand how the pandemic was affecting productivity through the reallocation of companies and workers.
More recently, Charlton co-founded the non-partisan think tank e61, which seeks to combine data with tools from economics, data science and statistics to answer important economic questions facing Australia. It is conducting a review of Australia’s response to COVID-19.
Parramatta will be the center of Albanese
Charlton left e61 to maintain his non-partisan stance.
Dan Andrews, a former senior Treasury and OECD official who is now at e61, says Charlton is a “modern Australian economist”.
“He collaborates to create new datasets, advance research, and strengthen our understanding of the economy and how the world works,” says Andrews, who first met Charlton in 1999 as a fellow cadet at the Reserve Bank of Australia.
“In the 1980s, politics could be guided by textbooks because there were massive distortions in the economy.”
“Now the world is more complicated and you need data and research to identify opportunities for reform.”
Charlton’s big payday came in February 2020 when AlphaBeta’s 35-person Australian business was acquired by global consultancy Accenture. Within months, he and his lawyer wife, Phoebe Arcus, had purchased a Bellevue Hill mansion.
They have since reportedly bought a more modest red-brick home for $1.95million in North Parramatta, in the electorate where he is aiming to win.
Parramatta will be instrumental in determining whether Albanese or Morrison wins the election, with both parties acknowledging that the race between Charlton and Liberal candidate Maria Kovacic is very tight.