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Insights 5: 17 February 2017
The New New Zealanders: Why migrants make good Kiwis
 
Guy Williams asks Wellingtonians about immigration
 
Jenesa Jeram: Time to question costing of unhealthy habits

Democracy with fewer elections
Dr Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director | oliver.hartwich@nzinitiative.org.nz
As a German living in New Zealand, I have the rare privilege of following not one but two election campaigns this year. Both of them are fought under the obscure MMP electoral system, and both of them are culminating on the same weekend.

New Zealand will go to the polls on Saturday 23 September, Germany a day later. And I am still wondering how to survive the next half a year in perma-election mode.

Democracy would be great were it not for election years.

Every three (New Zealand) or four years (Germany) serious policy-making comes to halt. Instead, we enter a time when politicians need to tell us about their upbringings, start kissing babies and demonstrate that they can shear sheep. Well, at least in New Zealand they do.

Now, personally I do not have a problem with any of that. Except that this is not what I care about. Nor is it what I expect our political system to deliver.

The worst aspect, however, is that election years tend to emphasise the ugly side of politics. Instead of talking about ways in which to tackle our country’s problems, politicians rather tackle each other.

As a parent, you would tell your kids off for some of the behaviour on display in election years. Shouting, foul language and bullying are not acceptable in the kindergarten or the school yard. But they are commonplace during election campaigns.

Alas, I am a member of a strange kind of species: a democrat who does not like election campaigns, if only for aesthetic reasons and their detrimental effect on good government.

Well, I have to qualify this. I am with Winston Churchill in his assessment that democracy is the “worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

There is no point in elevating democracy to a moral pedestal. There is no magic in numbers, and you cannot determine the truth by majority rule.

But given all the alternatives, democracy with its chance of peacefully removing one government by electing another and keeping rulers accountable to the people has a lot going for it.

My only quibble is whether it really takes elections every three years to achieve that outcome.

An electoral term of four or even five years might well deliver what democracy is meant to achieve. And it would spare us those ghastly election years.

And wouldn’t that be a relief?


Learning from failure
Martine Udahemuka | Research Fellow | martine.udahemuka@nzinitiative.org.nz
Last week The Herald premiered Under the Bridge, a three-part documentary about life in Papakura High School: a low decile school plagued with a reputation for persistent poor performance.

Despite increasing government support, the school’s achievement statistics remained among the lowest in the country and its student roll continued to decline as students and teachers lost hope.

The Herald followed the journey of the new principal brought in to fix the school in 2016.

Papakura’s story is not unique. The Initiative’s 2015 analysis of school performance reviews found that for many schools, failure had become business as usual. Even more concerning, we found that the majority of persistently underperforming schools disproportionately affected students from poorer homes.

But New Zealand does not have a monopoly on these challenges. We thus looked abroad to see how other education systems are managing these issues.

I was keen to learn of the outcomes of the reforms recently implemented in the UK and the US.

In 14 days, I visited five jurisdictions across both countries, went to six schools, and interviewed more than forty people.

I spoke to those affected by school failure and met with those charged with fixing it. I met with students, educators and their unions, bureaucrats and politicians, and academics to learn about how strategies to reform schools had panned out. 

The jurisdictions took different paths to tackle the challenges. What became clear quickly was that it took willing communities, committed school leaders and pragmatic politicians to spearhead the reforms in both countries.

Success was evident where politicians and school leaders were willing to talk about school failure and take action to correct it. And crucially, the reforms put the students at the centre of all changes.

Findings from my journey are documented in Fair and Frank: Global Insights for Managing School Performance, to be released on Monday.

Students typically stuck in failing schools are the very students for whom a high quality education may be their key out of the poverty trap. Papakura’s new principal agrees that many students there come from tough backgrounds but fairly asserts: “Those deficit factors in themselves can’t be used as an excuse for young people failing to achieve at school.”

Fair and Frank showcases how innovative approaches have transformed the lives of similar students in the US and the UK.

Insights from these countries will inform our recommendations in the final report in the series to address New Zealand’s own schooling challenges.


Productivity costs of reading news
Jenesa Jeram | Policy Analyst | jenesa.jeram@nzinitiative.org.nz
You probably shouldn’t tell your boss you are reading this.

If the Initiative’s newsletter regularly gets you worked up, agitated or argumentative then you might be better off comforting yourself by looking at cat pictures.

You see, it turns out that the regular consumption of political news might be leading to reduced productivity in the workplace. Full disclosure: I read the article while at work. The point of the piece is that in these turbulent political times, we’re all reading a lot more news during work hours. And some of it is making us angry.

While reading multiple takes on Bill English’s sheep shearing skills will cost your employer, it turns out some are trying to make this a government problem too.

A public health expert recently cited the productivity costs of smoking as an appeal to government to introduce more aggressive anti-smoking measures. But if experts lament the productivity costs of smoking and obesity, it is anyone’s guess of what will be next in the firing line. Today they’ll come for the cigarettes and doughnuts, tomorrow it will be The Economist and cat videos.

But productivity costs are not direct costs to government. The public purse might suffer forgone income tax if a person drops out of the workforce early due to illness. But it is no more a cost to government than a person who chooses to retire early and live off their savings.

The real costs are borne by employers, which is why they have mechanisms to manage productivity. Annual reviews and remuneration processes are part of this. An awareness of workplace wellness has also led savvy employers to offer incentives encouraging a healthier lifestyle.

If employers are worried about how they can address the problem of copious news consumption, I have some ideas.  

To ease workplace tension, I suggest organising desks based on the political spectrum. Labour voters can sit with their fellow comrades, National voters can giggle over Andrew Little memes and New Zealand First voters can share cross-stitch patterns.

Or maybe employers can start dishing out political news as a reward? Rather than paying a bonus, wouldn’t it be awesome to receive the Initiative’s newsletter subscription instead?

Then again, it could be the case that consuming political news makes one a better employee. With any activity, you need to consider the benefits as well as the costs. Well, that’s the story I’ll be telling at my annual review, anyway.
 
 
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