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Insights 26: 17 July 2020
NZ Herald: Roger Partridge on how emissions trading can solve climate change
Newstalk ZB: Oliver Hartwich talks to Leighton Smith about NZ's economics, politics and history
Dominion Post: David Law says a wealth tax would bring "Poverty to all"

The salt in the soup of democracy
Dr Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director |
Perhaps the election of Judith Collins to the National leadership does not change her party’s immediate electoral prospects. National is still fighting an uphill battle to unseat an extremely popular Prime Minister.

But Collins’ election makes a huge difference to the political climate. It feels as if robust democracy is awakening from a 53-day slumber.

From every interaction and by all accounts, previous leader Todd Muller is a nice guy. That was a big part of his problem.

The Prime Minister has made niceness a core part of her brand. Jacinda Ardern has written opinion pieces on a new “economics of kindness.” She introduced a Wellbeing Budget. “Be kind” has been her Government’s mantra during the Covid-19 crisis.

In the eyes of the public, niceness and brand Jacinda have almost become interchangeable. For the opposition, this means it was a futile task to outdo the Prime Minister in this territory. Yet that is precisely what Muller tried.

In his long, programmatic speech at Te Puna, Muller talked about having been “born in a town called love”: Te Aroha. Indeed, the word ‘love’ appeared 17 times in his speech.

Meanwhile, a few other words seemed to elude Muller’s dictionary. Among them were ‘Jacinda,’ ‘Ardern’ and ‘Prime Minister.’

No matter how solid the content of the rest of the speech may have been, there was no cut and thrust to it.

Enter Judith Collins. People who love her would not simply call her nice. And even if Collins may be kind, this is far from her unique selling proposition.

Collins is Ardern’s antithesis. Collins is the “crusher,” not an evangelist of kindness. She is witty and plain-speaking, where the Prime Minister prefers effusive rhetoric. No wonder Collins’ autobiography is titled Pull no Punches.

Collins’ short statement after her election lived up to her established public persona. She talked about her desire to “crush the Government,” to “take back our country” and kick out “the current lot.”

Regardless of whether one likes or agrees with Collins, her leadership appointment immediately added spice to New Zealand’s politics. And how refreshing that was.

The Prime Minister’s approval ratings are so stratospheric that opposition politicians had shied from personal criticism, let alone attacks. Yet such quarrels are the salt in the soup of democracy. Without them, political debates are bland and boring.

Love her or loathe her, Collins guarantees the election campaign will be anything but boring. And for the sake of a vibrant democracy, that can only be a good thing.

Cannabis use in ‘these’ United States
Nathan Smith | Chief Editor |
It is a pity Kiwis cannot build a mirror image “New Zealand v2” somewhere in the Pacific to test controversial policies like cannabis legalisation.

Actually, that’s why the US is such a great political system. It was only last century that Americans began calling their country “the” United States. For a long time, it was “these” United States, referring to the country as a kind of real-world, live laboratory experiment running 50 different hypotheses concurrently to see which regulatory settings might be best.

For this reason, the US is arguably the best place to assess whether cannabis legalisation is a good idea. So, as Kiwi voters prepare to decide on this issue in September’s referendum, what can be learned from the data coming out of the US?

Well, the results are mixed.

On the one hand, the apocalypse hasn’t arrived on a slippery slope. But letting the legitimate commercial sector absorb this once-illegal substance to produce tons of FDA-regulated cannabis hasn’t created hundreds of new billionaires or buckets of government tax revenue either.

Nevertheless, cannabis legalisation is growing in popularity.

As of December 2019, 11 states and the District of Columbia (DC) have legalised cannabis for adult nonmedical use while 33 states and DC have legalised cannabis for medical purposes. Further, a 2018 Gallup poll found two out of every three Americans support legalising cannabis.

Yet the industry isn’t huge yet – even in the country best known for glorifying casual drug use. In 2018, the US cannabis market was valued at $US11.3 billion and a study by Grand View Research expects it to follow a compound annual growth rate of 14.5% out to at least 2025.

To put this market size into perspective, total alcoholic beverage sales in the US in 2018 reached over $US240 billion.

Intriguingly, youth usage rates surprisingly dropped in most states which have legalised the drug. The National Academy of Sciences says this may be due to the “forbidden fruit” effect whereby a previously illicit activity no longer represents youthful rebellion.

What about crime? Multiple studies found no statistical correlation – so far – between legalisation and property or violent crime. However, two Kiwi researchers showed that California’s medical marijuana law may have reduced levels of both types of crime by perhaps 20%.

The team at New Zealand Initiative has gathered all the relevant data about the effects of cannabis legalisation from the 50, real-time experiments called “these” United States and created an interactive research map which can be found here

Australia’s new normal
Joel Hernandez | Policy Analyst |
This year has created a “new normal,” at least outside of Fortress New Zealand.

Handshakes are likely a thing of the past; hugging is no longer kosher; masks are now mandatory in many places; and concerts, conferences or café catch-ups could become a distant memory.

Tourism advertising has changed too. But not in the way you might think.

In a bold move, two entrepreneurial Melbourne residents launched a tongue-in-cheek: ‘Do Not Visit Victoria’ campaign to persuade Victorians to stay home following the latest lockdown order in the Australian state.

Images of Victorian tourist attractions have appeared across a range of postcards, mugs, hoodies and t-shirts with phrases such as:

Apollo Bay, "Stay the Absolute F... Away."

"Enjoy picturesque Phillip Island – on Google Street view, you sh.. head."

"It will be literally breath-taking if you a...holes don’t keep your distance from Mansfield."

Chances are other Australian states will deploy similar vulgar phrases in the unfortunate scenario Covid-19 spreads further across the Land Down Under.

Kangaroo Island: “eat marsupials in your own damn state.”

“Pee in your backyard swimming pool – stay away from the Great Barrier Reef.”

“Make yourself dizzy and barf in your sink, the Gold Coast is closed.”

Maybe Australians just do it differently. Not long ago Tourism Australia ran the “So where the bloody hell are you?” campaign which was banned in the UK and eventually pulled only two-years after the promotion began.

In fairness to the creators of this “new normal” crude merchandise, it was designed out of frustration and fear generated from seeing people leave the city as Covid-19 cases skyrocketed in the formally under-control Garden State.

You can’t blame them feeling this way. Just last week a large party in Dandenong lead to $26,000 in fines after a large KFC order brought police to a townhouse of partygoers at 1:30 am. Today, Victoria has more than 1800 active cases which authorities suspect was due to several mass gatherings.

Australia's plight is a warning that it only takes one selfish a..hole escaping quarantine to start a second wave and second round of lockdowns.

But rather than protesting on the streets while not wearing masks or hosting Covid house-parties, some Australians instead made some funny t-shirts to vent their frustrations.

If this is the new normal, I’d prefer rudeness over stupidity any day.
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