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Insights 1: 24 January 2020
Eric Crampton comments in Newsroom about the success of the family tendering scheme for kids household chores.
 
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Research Note - Ignorance is not bliss: Why knowledge matters.

New Zealandís biggest social scandal
Dr Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director | oliver.hartwich@nzinitiative.org.nz
The greatest social scandal of our time barely raises eyebrows anymore.

Every year for the past 16 years, urban consultancy Demographia releases their international ‘Housing Affordability Survey’.

In New Zealand’s case, it should be called an ‘Un-Affordability Survey’. It documents our ridiculous house price-to-income ratio.

Each of New Zealand’s eight surveyed local areas is now classified as ‘severely unaffordable’. This means median households need more than five times their annual income to buy a median house.

Consider this: At a ratio of 9.3, Tauranga is now the fifth most expensive of 305 analysed global housing markets. Even San Francisco (8.3), London (8.2) and Singapore (4.6) are more affordable.

Given these figures, a public outcry would be appropriate. However, there was little media coverage for the Demographia report. And what there was sounded like a well-rehearsed routine.

Yet there is nothing in our housing affordability data we should ever get used to. They are and remain outrageous.

In a country that barely uses 1 percent of its land for development, house prices should never be as high as ours. As recently as the early 1990s, New Zealand price-to-income ratio was below 3.0 – a level Demographia rates as ‘affordable’.

What has happened since is a political scandal, an economic disaster and a social tragedy. The loss of affordability has driven two generations of Kiwis deep into debt. It is the main driver behind poverty, inequality and deprivation. It has locked young people out of the housing market. It has exposed our economy to the volatility of the property sector.

The Initiative’s research has revealed the factors responsible for this disaster. They include our restrictive land-use planning regime, lack of alternative infrastructure finance and insufficient fiscal incentives for councils.

Other researchers and organisations have come to similar findings. After decades of research, there are no doubts as to the roots of our housing crisis.

The housing market spun out of control under both National- and Labour-led Governments. Neither party could honestly blame the other without getting into pots and kettles territory.

Because they are jointly responsible for the current mess, it is time for joint, bipartisan action to fix it.

The Government and the Opposition worked together on the Zero Carbon Bill last year. What is stopping them from finding consensus on the biggest domestic policy challenge of our time: restoring housing affordability?

It should not take another dozen Demographia reports until we get real political action on housing.

Teach subject knowledge, not activism
Briar Lipson | Research Fellow | briar.lipson@nzinitiative.org.nz
Last week, an educational resource unveiled by Ministers Shaw and Hipkins was praised by The Guardian newspaper for putting New Zealand “at the forefront of climate change education worldwide”. ACT MP David Seymour judged differently, describing the same resource as “state-organised bullying”.

Readers can appraise the optional ministry resource for themselves via the link below. However, what matters is not its content (important though it is). What matters is how we have reached a point where a ministry resource can so liberally mix science and political activism, and expect to be well received.

The answer lies in New Zealand’s retreat from subjects.

Most people agree that schooling should teach children to think, be creative and solve problems for themselves. Subject knowledge is fundamental to these skills, so in most other countries schools teach it - selected and sequenced by their nations’ leading subject professionals.

However, during the 1990s and 2000s, influential educators in New Zealand became convinced that instead of carefully and cumulatively teaching subject knowledge, schools should instead teach skills, cross-curricularly. This is why, nowadays, instead of listing the basic concepts and content students should study in each subject, our national curriculum focuses on cross-curricular competencies.

It is a seductive idea, that if we just teach children the right skills, like teamwork and problem solving, and the right values, like equity and sustainability, then they will find the cures for cancer and injustice. Indeed, it is ideas like these that encouraged some politicians and teachers to think that a unit of lessons mixing climate science with political activism is what our children and planet need.

It is not.

If New Zealand is serious about equipping children to fight climate change, lessons spent pledging action and tracking emotions on ‘Feeling Thermometers’ are wasteful. Instead, children need coherent courses in history, economics and chemistry.

Already, scientists are discovering new ways to capture carbon and generate clean energy. Innovation would accelerate if governments, encouraged by activists, priced carbon high enough to reduce its emission into our atmosphere.

If Kiwi kids are to fight climate change, our national curriculum must support every school to teach a coherent, subject-based, knowledge-rich curriculum. Climate would be covered in geography, atmosphere and why it is changing in science, politics and incentives in social studies. 

Curricula would be set by subject experts: politicians could no longer interfere.

The link to the new climate change resources can be found here.

New Year, New Me
Joel Hernandez | Policy Analyst | joel.hernandez@nzinitiative.org.nz
When was the last time you made a New Year’s resolution? Maybe 25 days ago.

And how long did you manage to keep it? I would say a week if you were lucky.

The evidence is in the idle treadmills and lacklustre spin class attendance. Admittedly, I haven’t been to the gym either. But judging from the line at the KFC drive-through last night, I figured out one from the other.

While many people might not like to admit they have set themselves New Year’s resolutions, one survey by the American Physiological Association (APA) suggests otherwise.

Researchers have found that 93% of people made some sort of resolution to make lifestyle changes at the beginning of every year.

APA’s survey showed the usual suspects: 57% resolved to lose weight, 40% resolved to eat a healthier diet, 41% resolved to exercise more regularly, while 52% resolved to save more money.

Other surveys yielded similar results, albeit with resolutions framed in slightly different ways.

For the religious among us, resolutions may involve more praying – but not necessarily for spiritual guidance. As one Twitter user tweeted, “Dear God, my prayer for 2020 is a FAT bank account and a THIN body. Please don’t mix it up like you did last year”.

Others like to increase their chance of meeting their resolutions by making a large sacrifice to the resolution Gods. A case in point is the annual gym membership fee: an irrefutable act of faith.

In all fairness, some of us do commit to resolutions for more than a week.

University of Scranton researchers found 77% of us keep our resolutions after one week, 55% after one month, 40% after six months, and 19% after two years.

Optimists, or at least those of us resolving to be more optimistic, may deduce that nearly one-fifth of us kept their resolutions long term.

Conversely, pessimists may wonder what percentage of that 19% met their resolutions due to technicalities.

While many people resolve to read more every year, I am not sure turning on the subtitles on your TV counts as reading.

Resolving to stop lying to yourself about making lifestyle changes does not count, either.

Regardless of how long your resolutions lasted, spending half a year or even half a month on good habits is better than spending no time at all, right?

Happy new year!
 
On The Record
 
All Things Considered
  • Graph of the week: Middle-income housing affordability, New Zealand.
     
  • The 16th Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey 2020.
     
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  • NZ politics in 2020: The big issues on which this year’s election will hinge.
     
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