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Insights 29: 10 August 2018
Read: Dr Oliver Hartwich in the NBR on New Zealand's widespread economic illiteracy
Listen: Dr Eric Crampton discusses localism and subsidarity on Radio NZ
Watch: Phillipe Legrain on The AM Show discusses how hiring refugees can help businesses

Freely speaking
Dr Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director |
Since New Zealand just had to discuss the meaning of free speech, perhaps it is worth defining what free speech is. And what it is not.

Absent a written constitution, let us turn to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for guidance. It states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

As strong as this sounds, this provision only confers an individual right to hold and express opinions. It compels no one else to share, promote or publish them. And this, more than anything else, is the fundamental misunderstanding in our recent debates.

It is one thing for two hitherto unknown Canadian activists to hold strong (and objectionable) views. That is their right. It is another thing to force anyone to provide them with a venue. The activists’ individual right is not infringed by their being denied a platform.

To illustrate the difference, let’s imagine me writing a glowing essay on capitalism and submitting it to the left-of-centre website The Standard. I suspect they would reject it because it does not fit their worldview. But that would not make it any more censorship than my editorial control over what we publish at the Initiative.

Even Massey University’s banning of Don Brash’s speech is, strictly speaking, not a case of restricting free speech. Within hours of being uninvited, Dr Brash’s manuscript was published on the Herald’s website, and he could explain himself on radio and TV. That is hardly a case of effective censorship. And universities, too, can lawfully determine how their resources are used.

The real scandal of banning Dr Brash lies elsewhere. By uninviting Dr Brash, Massey University has not been true to its own values. Massey’s Charter commits it to promoting “free and rational inquiry”. That is what the very idea of the university is all about.

If universities cannot tolerate dissent and the free exchange of heterodox views, they cease to be universities. It would make them indoctrination camps.

In short: Freedom of speech is important. Not every restriction of expression is objectionable. And universities must remain true to ideals of academic inquiry.

I just wanted to say that. And in this little column I could.

The other French revolution
Roger Partridge | Chairman |
Last month France celebrated the storming of the Bastille, an assault that became a flashpoint for the French Revolution. As a fortress and prison, the Bastille was emblematic of the French monarchy. Its fall triggered the events that would lead to the formation of the First French Republic.

Coinciding with the Revolution’s bicentenary, in 1989 a second French revolution took place. Rather than in the streets of Paris, this one occurred in classrooms across the country. Though it involved no bloodshed, a study by the French Ministry of Education reveals it has more victims than the Revolution’s reign of terror. This time, though, the victims were not entitled aristocrats, but French school children.

Up until 1989, the French education system was self-avowedly egalitarian. Every French school child, rich or poor, was subjected to the rigours of the same national curriculum. The curriculum had its origins in the Revolution. A pamphlet by revolutionary politician Nicolas de Condorcet advocated teaching every French child “that knowledge which is common…and indispensable to all”.

Roll forward to the Revolution’s bicentenary and all this changed. In 1989 France passed new education laws – the loi Jospin. This required primary schools to stop teaching the national curriculum and instead tailor their teaching to the abilities, interests and cultures of each individual child. 

In this, teaching in France began following the educational pedagogy prevalent in America and Britain - and of course in New Zealand. Instead of knowledge, the focus of education became general skills such as “critical thinking” and “lifelong learning”.

Two decades later, it became apparent that this second French revolution was a disaster. Crise de l’ecole, a report from France’s Ministry of Education, reported drastic declines in educational achievement by French ten-year-olds across all demographic groups. The French education system had declined from being among the best and most equitable school systems to being one of the worst and least. 

Helpfully, the results are discussed in English in the latest book from celebrated American educationalist, Professor E. D. Hirsch, Why Knowledge Matters, Rescuing our Children From Failed Education Theories. With parents, teachers and politicians in New Zealand struggling to arrest a decade-and-a-half of decline in the levels of educational achievement among our own children, we can learn from France’s educational failure. 

Perhaps it’s time for a counter-revolution.

Chief Burger Officer
Joel Hernandez | Policy Analyst |
It’s that time of year again where foodies like me can indulge in Wellington’s best burgers, beer, and if you’re lucky, a degustation or two.

That’s right, it’s August already and it’s the first day of Wellington on a Plate (WOAP). This year is a special one, with WOAP celebrating its 10-year anniversary.

As a burger connoisseur and WOAP veteran, the Initiative has appropriately named me Chief Burger Officer (CBO).

My role as CBO will be to help guide you and the Initiative through the multitude of burger and beer options so you can maximize your burger utility over the next two weeks.

Here are a few of my top tips and insights to help you on your burger adventure.

1.    Plan ahead: previous winners of Burger Wellington including Mr Go’s, Apache and Egmont St. Eatery are often filled to the brim over WOAP. High burger demand and a limited supply at these places can often create burger shortages, and at times burger crises. If you don’t want to be left out in the cold, call a few days ahead and make a booking.

2.    Economists always like to say, ‘there is no such thing as a free lunch’, at $30 for a burger and a beer that’s obvious. But what economists really mean here is, if you spend your Friday lunch break eating at Egmont St. Eatery then you are giving up the opportunity to eat at Apache. With 180 burgers this year the opportunity cost of eating at one restaurant has never been so high. Make the most of your time and choose carefully. 

3.    If you're unlucky enough to miss out on your restaurant of choice, do not go to McDonalds. A Big Mac is not a substitute good for a WOAP burger, don’t even think about it! Try your luck at one of the other 179 options out there. 

4.    Over the last five years, WOAP has grown dramatically in popularity and in size. After five years of growth you might have thought that the burger market had reached saturation. But after looking at the prices this year, I suspect there is burger collusion and burger inflation at play.

5.    Lastly, if there is one important lesson I’ve learnt over the years, it’s that burgers are not exempt to the rule of diminishing marginal returns. Unfortunately, burger fatigue is a real and unavoidable outcome of going on an epic burger adventure.

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