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Insights 1: 26 January 2018
Dr Eric Crampton talks to 1News about Recipe for disaster
Upcoming event: Dinner lecture with Katharine Birbalsingh
Latest report: Recipe for disaster

New Zealand needs more than baby steps
Roger Partridge | Chairman |
I am delighted for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. There is surely no more enriching experience than parenthood. And the joy it can bring unites us, cutting across social and cultural divides.

But following an election year that saw our politicians take a sabbatical from meaningful policy reform, the last thing the country needs now is a year dominated by the Prime Minister’s pregnancy. 

We have much more serious issues to deal with.

At the top of the list are the failings of our education system. After nine years in government, National’s incremental reforms failed to arrest the decline in the performance of New Zealand school students.

NCEA results may have improved, but this tells us more about NCEA’s lack of rigour than it does about improvements in student performance. The international league tables reveal we are continuing to slide backwards.

The latest Progress in International Reading Literacy Study published just before Christmas ranked New Zealand’s Year Five students 33rd out of 50 countries.  We came last among English-speaking countries. And the rate of illiteracy among school leavers is a national scandal.

Why has our national literacy strategy failed?  Is our focus on teaching so-called “21st-century skills” obstructing school students from gaining the basic literacy and numeracy they need for meaningful work?

What is the proper role of assessment in learning? And is the new Education Minister right to insist we dial it back?

Is the way we remunerate teachers attracting the teachers our children deserve? Does Tomorrow’s Schools provide the necessary incentives to share best practice across schools – and to turn around our failing schools? And what role should the private sector play in delivering the solutions we need?

At the New Zealand Initiative, we will be working on the answers to many of these questions during 2018. We will start the year with an in-depth report on NCEA’s failings - and the changes needed to address them. Other reports will focus on the school curriculum, how to measure school performance, and on Switzerland’s successful vocational education system.

As a new parent, the Prime Minister will have an added incentive to reform New Zealand’s second-rate education system. But we need informed debate, not dogma, to find the answers. Unfortunately, with the edicts on partnership schools and national standards, so far we have seen more of the latter from Minister Hipkins, and less of the former.

With 2018 promising a new beginning for the Prime Minister, let’s hope it delivers a new start for education reform too.

Governments still under-prepared for the next big one
Dr Bryce Wilkinson | Senior Fellow |
Earthquake-prone New Zealand is still under-prepared for the next earthquake or major disaster. That is the central finding of The New Zealand Initiative’s research report, Recipe for disaster: Building policy on shaky ground.

While much of what the government did needed to be done, post-earthquake recovery was hindered by avoidable policy mistakes, some of which have still not been adequately addressed.

The initial blueprint recovery plan was too broad brush to give the business community the certainty it needed about future infrastructure provision and freedom of action.  It was also too ‘blue sky’ and too divorced from funding realities to be affordable. Yet the subsequent central government imposed plan aggravated some uncertainties and lacked community ‘buy-in’.

Many home owners had dreadful insurance experiences, from which much has been learnt. One test will be how well the promising revised insurance arrangements for responding to the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake work in practice.

An overarching lesson from the Christchurch earthquakes is that undue policy and regulatory uncertainty is terrible for recovery. Homeowners and business owners need to know quickly what the rules are for rebuilding their homes, lives and businesses.

In any future disaster, the government needs to do a better job in establishing early certainty about policies, plans, funding and regulation. Anchor projects and precinct designations should be avoided unless they were pre-planned for in Council’s long-term disaster contingencies.

The report also identifies weaknesses in recovery agency, CERA’s, governance arrangements.

It argues that government could and should better pre-plan for future disasters by:
  • establishing an off-the-shelf framework for a recovery agency;
  • including disaster contingencies in Council long-term plans;
  • progressing the changes to Earthquake Commission cover and insurance processes that were proposed by the last government and trialled in Kaikoura.
The report’s foreword was written by current Christchurch City Council mayor, Lianne Dalziel. She concurs with the need for more public debate about the lessons to be learned from the mistakes made in Christchurch.

Wellington is a particular concern being earthquake prone, a high population area and the seat of central government. CBD rebuild paralysis would be very disruptive. Government needs to progress work to make sure that the next community to be hit is given much greater regime certainty than was achieved in Christchurch.

You can download Recipe for disaster: Building policy on shaky ground on our website.

Desperately seeking someone
Richard Baker | Research Director |
What’s the difference between Oxfam and the Tinder dating app?  One concerns itself with issues of equality and fairness across swathes of the world’s population; the other is a charitable organisation set up in Oxford by the Quakers in 1942.

While Oxfam has just released a report on global inequality, I found my attention this week drawn ineluctably to another study highlighting gross unfairness and inequality in our world.

It is a study analysing the socio-economic prospects of males using Tinder based on the percentage of females who “like” them. For the uninitiated, Tinder is a dating app (so I am told) whereby users select possible partners by scrolling through a series of photos and selecting the one or ones they prefer.

To “like” someone on Tinder you swipe right on their photo. Swiping left would appear to be the equivalent of excusing yourself during a date on a bathroom pretext and then running, screaming, for the door.

In the Tinder economy where the currency is “likes” and the sole commodity is the degree of empirical physical attractiveness that one possesses, the news is depressingly familiar for most men. The study found that the bottom 80% of men are competing for the bottom 22% of women. The top 20% of men are sought by the top 78% of women.

The study reported that a man of average attractiveness would be liked by only 1 in 115 women. The Gini coefficient measuring inequality showed Tinder to have more inequality than is present in 95% of the world’s economies.

There are several possible messages here:

First, the Tinder economy is a cruel and unforgiving place for men. Don’t go there. Better to go to a bar with at least 115 women and walk around a lot.

Secondly, women are more discriminating than men, have wider interests and higher interest thresholds. Who knew!

Thirdly, a tip for the desperately dateless average guy. Use someone else’s photo (Google “ridiculously good looking guy” and copy an image from the fifth page of search results so as not to be too obvious, just don’t be Ben Stiller) and then agree to meet only in dimly lit bars, or even better, pitch black restaurants.

Finally, perhaps, some economists have too much spare time. They should get out more.

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