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Insights 27: 30 July 2021
NZ Herald: Bryce Wilkinson on our over-inflated housing market
Oliver Hartwich, Eric Crampton and Matt Burgess discuss the government's mistreatment of migrants
Newsroom: Oliver Hartwich - Liberté, égalité – and Covid

Apologise, then make it right
Dr Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director |
A few days ago, the Otaki Medical Centre posted about one of their doctors on Facebook: “We’re disappointed to have lost Dr Richards back to the UK after being unable to secure him and his family residency due to a Government freeze in place with COVID-19,” the GP practice wrote.

“Here is an amazing doctor, who cares about our community and wanted to make NZ home. Sadly - after months of fighting - we have had to close the practice to new patients.”

Dr Richards is one of many migrants affected by the government’s restrictive and inflexible residence policies. According to a Newshub report, there are at least 1,000 registered doctors and nurses waiting for a decision on their residence status. It is a nightmarish situation for them and their families.

While these migrants are waiting, they cannot open a KiwiSaver account, they cannot buy a house and, crucially, they cannot bring in their family.

It is not just medical professionals, either. The total queue of applications for residence from migrants already in the country exceeds 10,000 people.

It affects all walks of life, including many of those areas in which New Zealand desperately needs skilled workers.

Many of these workers have been with us since lockdown last year and have been treated terribly. Short term work visa extensions are issued at the last minute, leaving everyone on tenterhooks. Few employers are willing to take on staff whose visas could soon expire.

The government is effectively forcing skilled migrants to leave the country, while trying to find space in MIQ for other foreign workers to replace them. It is madness in a time of skill shortages and MIQ shortages.

There is a simple solution. It would ease some of the backlog difficulties at Immigration New Zealand. And it would go some way toward righting the wrongs suffered by those on temporary visas.

In the first instance, the Government should apologise to the thousands of migrants and their families for the distress caused. It was not the Kiwi way to treat people.

After that apology, the Government should fix the situation. Everyone who was legally here with us through last year’s lockdown, and who has stuck with us since then, could simply be given residence immediately.

If the migrants have dependent children and partners abroad from whom they have been separated for these past sixteen months, their family should be given residence as well, along with priority entry into the MIQ system.

It is that simple. The only question to the Government is: Why not?

Let’s have more focus on performance and less posturing about wellbeing
Dr Bryce Wilkinson | Senior Fellow |
We seem to be living in a time of shameless posturing about caring for ‘our’ wellbeing by the government, and too many government agencies to list.

The posturing reminds me of the saying - in the context of runs on a bank - that if a bank has to proclaim its virtue, it has already lost it. Are the declarations by political and bureaucratic institutions-- that they really care about people’s wellbeing – any more convincing?

Those who really care about the public’s wellbeing would first ascertain what is most conducive to human flourishing.

A scholarly, but very readable, book published last month by Australian economist Winton Bates usefully reviews the product of several thousands of years of inquiry into this matter.

The book comprises three parts. Part 1 is about human freedom – the freedom to act, while preserving the like freedoms of others. Part 2 explores the subtleties of human progress. Part 3 examines the sources and pre-requisites for human flourishing, including self-direction and self-development.

Bates’ main conclusion is that individual responsibility and self-direction are critical to human flourishing. The scope for self-direction depends on the scope for human freedom.

That ‘individual self-direction’ conclusion is not the ‘top down’ message emanating from those in government professing to care for our wellbeing.

One such contrary message is that forced redistribution to make more and more people dependent on state handouts and statutory privileges raises wellbeing. Yet each of those things reduces someone else’s options and creates resentment. And who flourishes when trapped on welfare?

Another contrary message is that your and my conception of our wellbeing is the problem. Left to ourselves, we will make the wrong choices. Paternalists know best, and they care. Public policy must change our behaviour.

Subsidies for electric vehicles are the latest example of this paternalistic elitism. They cost a lot and, under our Emissions Trading Scheme, make no difference to New Zealand’s net carbon emissions.

The best contribution most administrative government agencies can make to our wellbeing is to perform their assigned tasks efficiently and competently. We ask no know more from the local plumber or pizza parlour. We don’t want any of them professing to care about our overall wellbeing – for obvious reasons.

Public policy development is different. Here there needs to be a deep appreciation of the sources of human flourishing.

Clarke and Dawe in 2021
Leonard Hong | Research Assistant |
One of the finest shows on economic affairs was ‘Clarke and Dawe’. The two satirists collaborated from 1989 until John Clarke’s death 2017. If only this partnership were still around in the era of Covid-19 and quantitative easing. I miss their satire.

So how would Clarke and Dawe explain the current global economic recession today? I wonder…

BD: Thanks for joining, you’re a macroeconomist, correct?

JC: A pleasure to be here. Yes, I am indeed.

BD: As a response to Covid-19, quantitative easing (QE) was used by central banks. How does it work?

JC: Well, it starts at a desk in a central bank. You take the computer out of box, press buttons, click enter. You alert the banking sector and the Treasury, send both an email, and press copy. You buy bonds and send money.

BD: And why did central banks start QE? Isn’t that ‘counterfeit money’? You can’t just print money at will.  

JC: They print it digitally. You press buttons with more zeros on the computer – Boom! New dollars, just like that. It’s a free ATM machine, just bigger.

BD: But there is no free lunch, though? What are the financial implications?

JC: Potential inflation, consumer prices could go up. The more money you print like Zimbabwe, the poorer you become.

BD: What do macroeconomists do?

JC: We talk about economics without stories. It’s up, down, left, or right for unemployment, CPI, inflation, GDP etc. Straightforward, really.

BD: Correct, and what about government debt globally?

JC: They’re broke. Particularly the Europeans, the Japanese, and the Americans. Debt levels are above their entire annual economic output.

BD: Right… so what does that mean?

JC: No money. Broke economies were being lent money by other broke economies, but now they are all broke. The only lenders are central banks. It’s a last resort, so to speak.

BD: My goodness. The digital printer machine is out of control, and governments are broke. What’s the next step you think?

JC: Another bail out from central banks, probably. And then a bail-out of the central banks, most likely by themselves.

BD: Correct, an ongoing merry-go-round. Is this sustainable?

JC: Yeah, we might as well be entering clown world.

BD: Correct. That’s a grim end to that story. Thank you for your time.

JC: My pleasure. Oh, I better check the gold price. And where did I leave the key to my safe deposit box?

On The Record

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  • Podcast: Oliver Hartwich, Eric Crampton and Matt Burgess discuss the government's mistreatment of migrants
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