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Insights 20: 8 June 2018
Latest interview: Dr Oliver Hartwich speaks to Mike Hosking about Fair Pay Agreements
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Latest report: Smoke & Vapour, the changing world of tobacco harm reduction

Labour newspeak
Dr Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director |
George Orwell would have had fun with the terms of reference of the Government’s Fair Pay Agreement Working Group. Practically none of these terms can be taken at their literal value, starting with the stated purpose.

According to the document, the working group is meant to “make independent recommendations to the Government on the scope and design of a system of bargaining to set minimum terms and conditions of employment across industries or occupations.”

So this is not an exercise to determine whether such a new system of bargaining is required in the first place. The working group’s only purpose is to determine how to design it.

But the rest of the terms of reference make a bit of a mockery of the “independent” nature of the working group. That is because the terms are set so clearly that they leave little room for manoeuvre.

For instance, the group is bound to ensure that none of its recommendations could undermine union membership.

They should also mitigate risks like “unreasonable price rises for some goods and services if increased labour costs are not offset by productivity gains and profit margins are held at existing levels.” It makes you wonder what “unreasonable” might mean in this context – and whether decreased profits are always preferable to price increases.

The Government’s strange understanding of economics also shines through in the following gem: “When we lift the conditions of New Zealand workers, businesses benefit through improved worker engagement, productivity and better workplaces.”

Hooray, one might think, the Government has found the key to higher productivity! And it is, drum rolls, paying workers more!

Of course, employers would love to see higher worker engagement, increased productivity and better workplaces. And now the Government tells them that it is simple: Just pay your staff more and everything will miraculously improve. If that is not enough of an argument to make it happen, the new fair pay agreements will force unenlightened employers to do so.

The outcome of this working group exercise is predetermined in the terms of reference – and specifically in their background paragraphs. The new Fair Pay Agreements are all about lifting wages, increasing union power and restricting the ability of individual employers and employees to negotiate for themselves.

It has little to do with “fair” or “agreement”. But that is the newspeak of labour market re-regulation, appropriately chaired by a nominally conservative ex-politician.

Raging at researchED
Briar Lipson | Research Fellow |
Last year Prince Harry interviewed Obama. The former president told the Prince that to improve things you have to find common ground between people. And that this requires them to encounter each other – not just online but in person.

I know that debate in education can be polarising. Perhaps because of this, and because Kiwis are so polite and friendly, there has been limited debate about educational ideas in New Zealand for some years – regardless the flavour of government. This has its advantages, particularly for the group who dominate the academy (in this case our teacher training institutions). However, it can also create fertile space for sloppy, unevidenced thinking.

Unless we are careful, I believe much of the modern, 21st century learning movement falls into this category.

And so the Initiative partnered with researchED to reignite evidence-based education in New Zealand. On Saturday, over 240 passionate educators, parents, researchers and school trustees gathered at Auckland Grammar School to discuss the evidence on effective education.
Speakers covered (amongst other things) early literacy instruction, the findings from John Hattie’s meta-analyses of education methods, how to improve University Entrance of Maori students in low decile schools, cognitive automaticity in maths, the meaning of knowledge, and the NZ history curriculum.
The festival created a buzz, and excitingly several attendees have since started blogs on which to continue the discussions. One theme that came up time and time again was the New Zealand Curriculum (NZC) – a topic we will cover in a future publication.
In the words of the PPTA’s Tom Haig, “there were a lot of people attracted to researchED who probably wouldn’t find themselves at home in the mainstream educational establishment, and as a result there was a bit of (tidily dressed and well enunciated) ‘raging against the machine’."
What greater compliment than to have created a safe space for minority raging. Some speakers and attendees even referred to Saturday’s conference as like finding their spiritual home.
So now, having created a home, the challenge is to continue the open conversations. That way we can hope to build an evidence-based consensus from which to finally debate our values. And I suspect that where values are concerned Obama is right, people must continue to meet and exchange perspectives.
So thank you to everyone who came, from whichever position you favour; and we look forward to seeing you again.

Naming names
Dr Eric Crampton | Chief Economist |
In a classic Simpsons episode, Homer teaches a night course on having a successful marriage. Egged on by students wanting ever more details of their private life, Homer errs on the side of pleasing the students but irritating Marge – who kicks him out of the house.

A couple of weeks ago, I told you one of the econo-parenting secrets of the Crampton household: sealed-bid tendering for the kids’ chores.

Response to the column, including strangers stopping to tell me they’re implementing my little scheme, has suggested I might provide more of these.

In this week’s episode, a bit of help for those soon to be having kids.

Picking the right name is important. You need to choose a name that is right for the child. A name that can improve the child’s chances in life rather than prove a hindrance. And a name on which both parents can agree.

It’s not an easy problem to solve. Everybody manages to find some name, but many choices are obviously poor.

Here’s how we solved it.

America’s Social Security Administration lists the top-1000 baby names for each year since 1879. Take all the top names from 1880 through 1930. Strike out any names that are too anachronistic. Then strike out any names that made the top 100 in any year since 1970.

You should have about a hundred great names with historic relevance that excludes anything currently too trendy.

We didn’t know about the New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs’ name list that goes back to 1954 – use that too.

Then, take turns vetoing your ten least favourite names. Keep doing that until you have a list of 20 rather decent names.

Bring those names into the delivery room.

On meeting your child, narrow things down with a Borda Count. If you have 20 names, give 19 points to your favourite name, 18 points to your second favourite, and so on – and have your partner do the same. Add up the points awarded to each name and keep the top 5. Then choose the one that fits best. With both our kids, it was obvious and easy.

And even if your partner behaves strategically along the way to ensure your daughter winds up with the name of her childhood teddy bear, the name will still be excellent.

As I, unlike Homer, know where my long-run interests lie, this week’s episode ends here. Stay tuned.

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