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Insights 32: 30 August 2019
New Research Note - Hands-on: New suggestions to reform the vocational sector in New Zealand
Dr Bryce Wilkinson discusses in the NBR the disturbing signals to savers from the Reserve Bank
Latest Report - Living After Midnight: For a better night-time environment

Speak your mind
Dr Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director |
Before last Wednesday, I had no idea I was “brave”. Until I was told so by a delegate who had heard me speak at a large infrastructure conference.

Receiving positive feedback is always flattering. Apparently, it was refreshing to hear someone speak one’s mind. It was unusual for a speaker not to hold back. And it was novel to be around the “brave”. Nonetheless, I was irritated and somewhat shocked by the distinction awarded to me.

Frankly, I was hardly daring, valiant or heroic in my speech.

Yes, I criticised both our major parties for their stubborn centralism. I disagreed with the Local Government Minister, who had spoken before me. I also snuck in an unrelated criticism of the Reserve Bank for good measure.

Still, I had said nothing illegal or slanderous, called no one names, or solicited a revolution.

It was simply the kind of speech one expects to hear in an open, democratic society. Yet judging by the audience feedback, it was not just unusual but “brave”.

It made me wonder, “How free are we to say what we think?”

In a formalistic way, we are free. No instructions were given to me before my speech (other than to stick to time). No police lurked in the auditorium on standby. No media were barred. New Zealand is not North Korea.

However, veiled restrictions can silently coerce citizens not to speak their mind – and ultimately devalue a formal freedom of speech.

US psychologist Jonathan Haidt, whom we hosted recently, says people often pretend to agree with the established mindset even if they resent it deep down: “Whoever has cultural power in an institution can use it to intimidate others into submission”.

Such cultural power exists. And it stifles free and frank discourse on, let us say, energy, migration or international relations if one’s view diverges from what is considered acceptable in polite society.

But then, my comments were not even on sensitive matters.

So is the suppression of straight-talk a general problem in New Zealand? Are we just too nice to put our disagreements on display? Or is it a result of our smallish two-degrees-of-separation society?

Whatever it is, we need less nice and more candour.

It is pointless holding conferences where delegates censor their own presentations without being told to.

Which is why I pledge to henceforth make a more conscious and wise use of my “brave” new moniker and freedom of speech.

Hands-on: New suggestions to reform the vocational sector in New Zealand
Nataneal Rother | Research Fellow |
We at the Initiative share Education Minister Hipkins’s desire for a stronger vocational sector. But we are less convinced that centralising the sector will solve the problem.

New Zealand’s 11 Industry Training Organisations (ITOs) and 16 Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (ITPs) are well established and dispersed all around the country. Yet, our vocational pathways are not nearly as well-embedded in the education landscape as options for university study. And they are too often dismissed by parents seeking the prestige of a university degree.

The government’s proposals give us the opportunity to reconsider how vocational training is organised. That reconsideration suggests that centralisation of vocational training solves none of the sector’s problems. Indeed, the Regulatory Impact Assessment classifies the proposals as highly risky and cost-intensive.

Instead, we think we need reforms making industry training more attractive for both students and employers, with it being seen as the route to a successful career.

To get there, we need to properly define the roles of different educational institutions in the vocational sector. Vocational training schools need to be truly independent and self-reliant, building successful partnerships with industry rather than coming cap-in-hand to government for support when their business models fail.

Our latest research note, Hands-on: New suggestions to reform the vocational sector in New Zealand, recommends implementing aspects of the dual education model used in places like Switzerland, Austria and Germany. There, many young people choose vocational pathways outside of university not because of a lack of alternatives, but because they see it as the best option for kickstarting their professional career.

A well-functioning vocational training system does not just provide great training, it also builds esteem for its graduates. In countries where dual-education is prevalent, the graduate of an apprenticeship enjoys the same respect a university graduate. The master-builder can be just as proud as the MBA graduate. And there are established pathways across the two education streams as well.

While our research note does not aim to solve all of the country’s vocational pathways problems, we hope to provide a bit of inspiration from overseas to show New Zealand what is possible. We can think bigger than centralisation.

Read Hands-on: New suggestions to reform the vocational sector in New Zealand here

Drinking freedom
Dr Eric Crampton | Chief Economist |
The very best part of grad school was the drinking. Well, not so much the drinking. Too often, the beer was stuff that would make an Export Gold taste like Export Gold had taste. It was the arguing about economics, over beer, until close to sunrise, with other people who cared deeply about ideas. That was heaven – despite the bad beer.

Professor Ben Powell was a year behind me in grad school at George Mason University, and a fantastic drinking companion. But Ben was, and is, a lot smarter than I am. He persuaded people to cover the costs of an interesting book project with the creator of the Economic Freedom of the World indices, Professor Robert Lawson.

The project’s genius is obvious in the book’s title: Socialism Sucks: Two Economists Drink Their Way Through the Unfree World (2019).

Ben and Bob went on a tour of some of the world’s less-free places in search of a decent beer. As they put it, “We wrote this book because too many people seem to be dangerously ignorant of what socialism is, how it functions, and its historical track record. We also wanted to get drunk in Cuba, and this was a great way to write off our expenses.”

The tour starts in Sweden, mostly to explain the country is definitely not socialist. It has a lot of redistribution, but the government mostly leaves the rest of the economy alone. From there, they head over to Venezuela – or at least a few feet over the border. Then on to Cuba’s subsistence socialism, China’s fake socialism, a peek across the Chinese border into North Korea’s dark socialism, the hungover socialism of Russia and Ukraine, Georgia’s new capitalism, and back to the USA for drinks at the Democratic Socialists of America’s annual convention.

Just like those late-night sessions in grad school, the drinking mostly isn’t the point – despite the title. It’s the ideas. The book takes us to parts of the world you might not otherwise visit to teach us history lessons that are quite relevant today. We’re right to lament how many Kiwis haven’t the faintest clue about the Holocaust, but how many Kiwis know that Mao’s Great Leap Forward starved 45 million people to death?

If you like reading P.J. O’Rourke, you’ll want to pick up a copy. It’s ridiculously fun, especially when paired with a bad beer for authenticity.

Socialism Sucks: Two Economists Drink Their Way Through the Unfree World is available at Amazon

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