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Insights 37: 2 October 2020
Newsroom: Wellington housing on an unsustainable path, says Eric Crampton
Podcast: Briar Lipson unpacks the harmful ideology inside NZ education
Cannabis reform in USA: how the 50 states dealt with cannabis and the overall trends

New Zealand won
Dr Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director |
For political tragics, Wednesday was a feast day.

First, the US Presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. Then New Zealand’s own leaders’ debate between Jacinda Ardern and Judith Collins. However, the contrast between these two televised bouts could not have been greater.

To start with the moderators, Newshub’s Patrick Gower did a much better job than his Fox News counterpart Chris Wallace. Gower’s questions were concrete and pointed. He showed a sense of humour and kept the combatants under control.

Meanwhile, Wallace looked like an overwhelmed kindergarten teacher. He tried to ask questions, did not insist on having them answered and spent much of his time trying to stop the candidates from shouting at each other.

Then again, it was not Wallace’s fault. No journalist, not even Patrick Gower, could have controlled the nastiness.

Strong views, heated arguments and occasional attacks are important ingredients in any good debate. One should not expect the opponents to fight each other with silk gloves, nor should one put their every word on the gold scale.

Politics may not be a blood sport, but it is a game. These days, it has also become part of the entertainment industry. Yet what the combatants delivered in the US Presidential debate had little to do with a normal political contest.

The candidates did not play by the agreed rules. They cut into each other’s allocated slots. They did not answer questions. They lied and called each other names. Trump did not even refrain from making references to Biden’s deceased son Beau.

Watching the US debate felt like a scene from a dystopian movie. If anyone had produced such a movie only twenty years ago, it would have got a chuckle. The US could never sink that low, we would have thought. But here we are in 2020.

By contrast, New Zealand’s debate was spirited, energetic and punchy – but it was largely fair. Ardern and Collins sure disagreed, and often. But there was no name-calling. They did not even shy away from agreeing on issues such as parliamentary terms, Pharmac or not renaming the country (yet). There was even the occasional bit of laughter. Ardern and Collins are on opposite sides, but they do not hate each other.

The majority view after both debates was that Biden won in the US, while Collins won here. Still, the final election outcome may be the opposite.

But regardless of the election outcomes, the winner of these two debates was New Zealand. New Zealand’s political system is not perfect. But, unlike the US,  we need not be ashamed of our democratic culture.

Equitable and excellent education?
Chelsy Killick | Operations Director |
“We shape an education system that delivers equitable and excellent outcomes.” That is how the Ministry of Education describes its purpose.

If only that lofty statement had anything to do with the on-the-ground experience of schooling in New Zealand.

I am not an education academic or professional. I am a mother of two children, one in primary school and the other now at college. I get to observe the education system daily. “Equitable and excellent” is not how I would describe it.

For all of us, 2020 has been a weird year. It was especially challenging for school children.

Despite efforts at remote learning, the closures during lockdown meant children missed out on six weeks of school.

As a parent, I would have liked to see efforts by our schools to make up for the lost time. I have been disappointed.

By the time my daughter starts an eight-week summer break on 8 December, her college will have had four teacher-only days since the end of lockdown. Teacher-only days are often on the Friday before a long weekend and/or the Tuesday after. It’s the same at my son’s school.

I do not need economists to tell me that children will pay a price for missing out on education. The weeks and months without formal education will come back to bite them. Yet it seems the costs of lockdown will be paid by children, not teachers.

Then again, perhaps attending school makes little difference anyway.

I am dismayed at my children’s poor spelling, so I raised it with their teachers at the latest parent-teacher events.

By all accounts, my children’s teachers are lovely people. They are in their mid-20s. They enjoy their jobs and are enthusiastic.

However, when challenged on my children’s spelling, both of my children’s teachers told me that they themselves could not spell either. They did so in such a relaxed way it made me wonder if my expectations were too high.

I thought schoolteachers are there to pass on knowledge to their students. How old-fashioned of me.

And that was when I remembered the Ministry’s “equitable and excellent” value statement.

I see nothing equitable or excellent about a school system that puts underqualified teachers in front of my children, and where schools feel no pressure to even try to make up for time lost to lockdowns.

The way schools are run, I sometimes wonder about priorities. Are schools there to keep teachers happy and employed or to teach our children?

A flummoxed economist
Dr Bryce Wilkinson | Senior Fellow |
I had the misfortune recently to lunch with an economist. Economists are generally despondent about government stupidity, ineptitude and profligacy. But this chap was in utter misery.

He arrived at our gloomy lunch straight after interviewing a leading politician about public policy. The interview went something like this:

Economist: So, the 2017 election was about spending the fiscal surplus. Job done. Only deficits in sight now. What is 2020 about?

Politician:  It’s about “put it on the tab” spending. We were watching Donald Trump explain his road to success – OPM – spending Other People’s Money. He’s wrong about nearly everything, but not that. We can’t trump OPM.

Economist: But how are you going to pay it back?

Politician: Silly boy. We won’t pay it back. You or your children will. But not while we are in office. Keep spending and voting for us in the meantime.

Economist: But who will keep lending to us at such low interest rates?

Politician: You! Along with everyone else with a bank account. The government outspends its revenue by a $1 billion each week. The extra goes into people’s bank accounts electronically. The banks get the $1b and deposit it with the Reserve Bank. The Reserve Bank pays the banks a lousy rate of return on the deposit, so your bank pays you a lousy return on your deposit. It’s all good.

Economist: Wait a minute. You left something out. Why are people buying stock in government bond tenders at such lousy yields?

Politician: For heaven’s sake. Don’t you economists understand anything? The buyers of the billion-dollar bonds expect the RBNZ to take them off their hands in short order for, say, $1.05b. 

Economist: But won’t the RBNZ lose more money when interest rates go back up?

Politician: Absolutely not. The government has indemnified it. Only the taxpayers will lose money. Think of the Reserve Bank as an inexhaustible ATM.

Economist: Does the quality of all this government spending matter?

Politician: Of course not. We have shovel ready projects to dig holes and fill them up again. It’s all about jobs. We must subsidise spending just like we must subsidise KiwiSaver.

Economist: Why not give them spoons instead of shovels then? To hell with it, I need a stiff drink.

Politician: Good idea; keep at it until after polling day.

On The Record
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