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Insights 38: 6 October 2017
Roger Partridge writes in the NBR - who likes MMP now?
New Zealand's road toll is climbing, writes Sam Warburton for
Read Eric Crampton's essay on why New Zealand is an island of sanity in a mad world

A briefing for the incoming government
Dr Eric Crampton | Chief Economist |
We do not know what government will form after party negotiations move past the Phoney War stage.

But we do know the problems facing any incoming government.

And so here is our very brief Briefing for the Incoming Government.

Fixing housing must be the incoming government’s highest priority as the housing crisis underlies many other problems, from hardship and inequality to difficulties in hiring teachers in Auckland.

Sustainably improving housing supply requires aligning local government incentives with the national interest. Options that do not change incentives do not change the game – they only encourage councils to invent new ways of imposing old restrictions.

In the meantime, infrastructure funding, easier immigration for construction workers, and easier import of building materials from trusted countries could help.

We also need better comprehensive freshwater management.

The system must ensure that draw rates from aquifers are sustainable and that the rivers flow. It must also ensure that emissions from urban areas, from agriculture, and from industry do not overburden lakes, rivers, and bays. And it must find the least costly way of achieving those goals.

We think the most promising approach is a Cap and Trade system, administered at the catchment level, that recognises the property rights inherent in existing consents.

In education, higher teacher salaries should come through an improved teacher appraisal system so that high calibre candidates will know their efforts will be rewarded. And parents deserve better information about the quality of their children’s schools.

Finally, the incoming government should be bolder in implementing the Social Investment Approach advocated by the prior National government, but that began in different form years earlier.

The government must harness the power of civil society and non-governmental organisations to deliver better outcomes for those in need. Those organisations often know what will work in their communities, but are hamstrung by procedural compliance paperwork. There is untapped opportunity in giving NGOs flexibility to deliver while holding them accountable for outcomes.

Oliver Hartwich’s Manifesto 2017 compiled policy solutions from the Initiative’s research in areas like housing, education, and local government. Our next three-year research plan takes on further work in areas such as education, transport infrastructure, water management, and health policy.

We are lucky to live in a country where every party is driven by their vision of what is best for New Zealand. We look forward to helping the next government find policy solutions that work.

Thinking critically about New Zealand's latest prize
Briar Lipson | Research Fellow |
According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, New Zealand leads the world in ‘educating for the future’.

Their latest index, compiled in London, evaluates the extent to which the inputs to education systems prioritise ‘future skills’. New Zealand came out top, followed closely by Canada and Finland.

But is this a prize we should be proud of?

The Economist’s intelligentsia tells us that ‘workers of the future will need to master a suite of adaptable interpersonal, problem-solving and critical-thinking skills’.

The language of future-focused skills is pervasive in New Zealand. But what does it actually take for a student to be an adaptable, problem-solving, critical-thinker?

Benjamin Bloom's ‘Taxonomy of Educational Objectives’, a founding text for trainee teachers, might be helpful.

Bloom devised his taxonomy in 1956, a time when rote learning of facts and little more was widespread. Presented as a pyramid, ‘higher order’ skills like analysing and evaluating are at the top. Knowledge, or remembering, is down at the bottom.

Bloom was clear that knowledge is a necessary precondition for all other learning. But ironically, due to its presentation, his taxonomy is often interpreted as communicating disdain for ‘lower level’ skills like remembering.

Of course, employers care more about what employees can do with what they know, than simply what they remember. But the appropriate balance between when to teach knowledge and when to develop 'higher order' skills is not something anyone can generalise. Not even the Economist Intelligence Unit in London.

Sometimes postgraduates spend time reading and learning new information. Sometimes 5-year-olds have enough background knowledge to be able to evaluate and solve problems.

This reality is expressed through acknowledging a ‘novice-expert continuum’. Depending on where students are on the continuum, they may either benefit from more opportunities to commit knowledge to long-term memory, or from applying what they know to problems and critical thinking.

At a time when the OECD’s international PISA tests tell us that the performance of our 15-year-olds has been in almost perpetual decline for more than ten years, New Zealand should be on the lookout for dubious prizes.

After all, critical thinking is an essential component of demonstrating our 'skills for the future'.

Me, myself, and you
Richard Baker | Research Director |
A solipsist is a person who believes that only they exist. For a solipsist, the external world only exists through their perception of it. When two solipsists meet, there is always silence. They wonder which one of them is a figment of the other’s imagination. Solipsists are self-centred. The external world exists only to serve their purposes.

A remarkable example of New Zealand political solipsism occurred last week. Winston Peters and the news media contemplated each other at a press conference in the Beehive theatrette.

In solipsistic terms, Winston sought to have the external world align with his perceptions. Winston’s world is a vast guano continent. Primeval bacteria inhabit it. These bacteria include journalists, Australians, and the Dominion Post. Older variants have been bankers, lawyers, and Parliament's Speaker. Winston's quest is to lead his people through this desert to the promised land while avoiding the bacteria, and the drivel in which that bacteria thrives. This drivel, according to Winston, comes in five sub-species being speculative, tripe, malicious, malignant and vicious. Only he can see the rarer and higher life forms of truth and journalistic integrity.

Accordingly, he excoriated the assembled media for asking hackneyed questions, gave nothing away in answer to meaningful questions on policies and priorities, shifted any blame for delays elsewhere and to make sure that the Australians felt included, he threw in a verbal face slap.

For its part, the news media relies on Winston for what it perceives to be good copy. It likes nothing better than to go where he does not want to go. It then feigns outrage or derision at his colourful and punchy ripostes to its otiose queries. The media followed this script. It asked questions about the moral authority of the largest vote catcher, delays in decisions, party preferences and some questionable policies of New Zealand First. Winston threw them back ritually in disgust.

The only problem with aligning reality to self-belief is that sometimes the external world has a mind and reality all its own. In the end, Winston Peters and the media are side-bar stories to the main event. The next three years will prove that running New Zealand is more than a figment of anyone’s imagination.
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