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Insights 12: 7 April 2017
Manifesto 2017: What the next New Zealand government should do
Pattrick Smellie: Why councils want to keep a lid on their population growth - Stuff
What issues need to be tackled in the 2017 election?

Manifesto 2017
Dr Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director |
There are election campaigns, there are weird election campaigns, and there are New Zealand election campaigns.

I arrived in this beautiful country five years ago, having previously lived in Germany, the UK and Australia. And though I fell in love with New Zealand immediately, I am still puzzled by our election campaigns.

You see, in most other countries elections are fought on the big issues – or at least by big personalities.

New Zealand elections, on the other hand, seem to be determined by sideshows rather than big ideas or big personalities.

In the 2011 election, there was the tea tape scandal (rather a storm in a teacup). In 2014, we talked about Kim Dotcom and his “Moment of Truth” (which was truly insignificant). And in every election year, there seems to be a new Nicky Hager book (which Hager would claim is purely coincidental).

I cannot recall a New Zealand election campaign ever dominated by ideas. As friends tell me, such elections used to happen in New Zealand – but that was more than a quarter century ago.

And yet, if you are a democrat you would wish elections to be about the country’s future.

To help the public refocus on the things that matter in this election, we at the Initiative have compiled our very own election manifesto.

We believe that this country deserves a proper debate about our housing market. We are using less than one percent of our land for development and yet we have one of the most unaffordable housing markets in the world. It need not be this way.

We believe that every New Zealand child deserves a great education. Sadly, our education results have declined by international measures and a child’s education chances still depends too much on the socio-economic status of the parents.

We believe that New Zealand does not reap the benefits of globalisation because we make it too hard for potential investors to set up shop in our country. We do not see a need for the Overseas Investment Act.

These are some of the issues we believe deserve to be debated.

Election years should be festivals of democracy. They should be about debating novel ways of tackling our country’s most pressing problems.

Let’s demand that our media and politicians put them at the heart of the election campaign.

To find out more, read Manifesto 2017 and make this election campaign a contest of ideas.

E-cigarettes a ground-up policy
Jenesa Jeram | Policy Analyst |
What do you think is more harmful: Smoking a cigarette and inhaling the hundreds of toxic chemical by-products? Or inhaling a nicotine vapour without them?

If you think the latter option is safer then not only do you display common sense. You are also on the side of science and overwhelming evidence.

Practically all credible health experts are convinced that so-called e-cigarettes are safer than smoking. One can only wonder why it took so long to allow the domestic sale of nicotine e-cigarettes.

The government’s announcement of legalisation last week was as welcome as it was overdue.

When The New Zealand Initiative first started talking about e-cigarettes, the debate was mainly around safety. But as we argued in The Health of State, many of the claims about riskiness were overblown or completely misrepresented. 

Besides, as long as conventional cigarettes are available at any corner dairy, it was nonsensical that e-cigarettes – as a much less harmful alternative – remained restricted.

Even when there was near universal agreement about the relative safety of e-cigarettes some public health experts still believed access should be restricted to pharmacies as they were worried that they could be a gateway to smoking.

Again, there is no good evidence to believe that. On the contrary, if you make the purchase of e-cigarettes more difficult, you may well render them useless as a cessation or harm reduction tool. In our submission to the Ministry of Health, we successfully warned that overregulation could undo all the good that legalisation would otherwise achieve.

Finally, despite strong demand for e-cigarettes from smokers who are motivated to quit, some public health experts remain sceptical about the effectiveness of e-cigarettes as a cessation tool.

However, traditional cessation methods replace the nicotine from smoking, but not the behaviour. E-cigarettes are a game-changer. They provide the user with nicotine, combined with a physical act similar to smoking, without the harmful toxins that are released with combustible cigarettes.

How do we know that e-cigarettes could be more successful than other quit smoking devices? Well, the most resounding endorsement comes from users themselves. Through word of mouth and personal experience, the demand for e-cigarettes has grown in New Zealand despite there being heavy restrictions on availability and little advertising.

E-cigarettes are an example of on-the-ground experience, quality evidence, and pragmatism prevailing over elite opinion on how best to reduce the harm from smoking.

Legalisation is a win for smokers, and a win for ground-up policy-making.

Method or Madness?
Martine Udahemuka | Research Fellow |
Two months ago, the world witnessed something of a horror, well, at least in my mind: The moment the Donald Trump became the new leader of the free world.

When I contemplate on the moments before and after that day, I can’t help but think of Shakespeare’s quip: “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t”.

Could it be that the president is making a fool of himself on purpose?

After all, Trump’s faux-pas moments clearly made him more likeable in the eyes of voters, which propelled him all the way to the White House.

And his ludicrous acts have only intensified once got into the Oval Office. From his ban on refugees and Muslims, to his Twitter antics, and attacks on the media, Trump leaves us wondering what his next crazy will be.

But could these moments be socially-engineered strategies to fool onlookers into liking him more?

Indeed psychologists would have us believe that there is a method to tricking people whose approval we need into liking us. They call it the Pratfall Effect.

Accordingly, all we have to do is make ourselves look silly in front of others, so as to appear more like them, and so more likeable. Like ‘missing’ a step as you walk through the door of a job interview room.

In this way, Trump’s stumbling into presidency may have a lot to do with stumbling at a job interview.

Ordinary voters will conclude he is one of theirs and will like him even more every time he fails and does something stupid.

Which means, of course, that there is no hope for enlightened democracy because the most successful politicians will be the ones appearing least enlightened.

Trump may in fact be the disciple of modern psychology where he is smart and voters are mad, and that’s a scary thought. What a pity for our just published Manifesto.
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