You are subscribed as | Unsubscribe | View online version | Forward to a friend

Insights 5: 25 February 2022
Newsroom: Oliver Hartwich on the actual existential threats facing the West
Podcast: Oliver Hartwich on who's to blame for high Inflation
NZ Herald: Eric Crampton says public debate on economic questions is a mess

Our generation’s historic challenge
Dr Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director |
‘Historic’ is a word we tend to use too much, but there is no doubt the 24th of February 2022 is a turning point in European and world history. With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the post-1989 era has come to an end.

Up until yesterday, I had thought a full Russian invasion was unlikely. This was not because I had any sympathies for Vladimir Putin - I do not. But because we had seen so far a Russian President equally ruthless and calculating. The price of making Russia a pariah and crippling its economy under sanctions seemed deterrent enough.

But Putin has left any such rationality behind - as indeed he has left any semblance of legality, integrity or humanity.

An unprovoked attack on a peaceful, democratic neighbour has not happened in Europe since World War II. It is a barbaric act that could take us into a dark age. It shakes the foundations of the international order and the world economy.

With the fall of Communism, there was hope for a new, liberal world order. Globalisation was spreading, as was democracy. There was a peace dividend in the form of reduced military spending and less need for autarky, especially in energy. It was the supposed ‘end of history’.

But history restarted with 9/11, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Global Financial Crisis, the annexation of Crimea, and China’s new authoritarian posturing. Putin’s war on Ukraine is the awful culmination of this development.

If the West needed a final wake-up call, this is it. If those who believe in liberal democracy, civil liberties, free markets and the rule of law still care about their values, this is the time to defend them.

Talk of solidarity with Ukraine is good, but it can only be hollow. There is no way to come to Ukraine’s military defence without provoking an even bigger war.

What the free and democratic world must do urgently is to reconnect with its own fundamental values. That requires a reality check.

As Ukrainians seek refuge in underground stations, it makes the concept of ‘safe spaces’ appear decadent. Similarly, with Ukrainians under artillery fire concerns about ‘microaggressions’ are dwarfed by the spectre of battlefield aggressions. More important matters need our attention.

We must rediscover the cultural and political foundations of our civilisation. It is the Enlightenment values of freedom and peace that we must defend against illiberalism, both at home and abroad.

It is a historic moment. But it is our choice how to respond to it.

Getting ourselves through
Dr Eric Crampton | Chief Economist |
The coming weeks of Covid are going to be very grim.

Kiwis became far too accustomed to waiting for Government guidance rather than weighing risks ourselves.

Universities abroad pioneered innovative ways of mitigating Covid risks on campus. Our universities generally looked to Ministry advice rather than proven overseas examples.

Any time businesses tried to take a leading role in protecting their staff, our government harangued or punished them for their efforts.

And too often people asked not what is safe, but what is required.

The country has learned an awful lot of helplessness since March 2020.

With the move to Phase Three, that must change. The rules have largely loosened, and we will all need to think for ourselves.

Asymptomatic staff will spread Covid to co-workers. Getting reliable tests will not be simple. Regardless of mandates, employers need to weigh up whether to require masks in offices. A lot of staff may wind up sick at home at the same time. Rostering staff to work from home could help.

Parents will have to decide when it is safe enough to send kids to activities. The decision will not just be about Covid-risk. A rugby injury can be far more consequential if emergency departments are swamped.

People will have to decide for themselves whether it is safe to go out. Venue owners will have to figure out whether to improve ventilation and air filtration to attract more risk-averse patrons, or whether to aim for a younger clientele.

Better information would help.

The public Covid testing system has fallen apart, in exactly the way that we predicted, because of the government’s failed approach to saliva-based PCR testing. Rako Science’s private surveillance testing suggested that about 3% of the country may have been infected as of Wednesday. Regional wastewater testing data will be about the only way of tracking how risky different places are, but those measures are not yet available.

Ambulance services, emergency departments, and hospitals will be face impossible challenges. Knowing just how bad things are will matter. Ambulance call-out times and emergency department wait times for cases of different severity would be good to know. Is the local hospital at 95% of usual capacity or 140%? Is an ambulance 10 minutes away, or hours behind?

Ministries and DHBs may be tempted to hold back this kind of data until they’ve built attractive websites. Waiting would be a serious mistake. Quickly releasing data in an open format would let the country’s techies build the dashboards that are relevant to their communities.

For two years, Kiwis haven’t had to think much about these sorts of things. Now, we all must. A bit of better data could help us weigh up the risks.

Unsanctioned trespass breeds lawlessness
Dr Bryce Wilkinson | Senior Fellow |
Tolerance for legitimate protest is one thing. The current illegal occupation of public and private property around Parliament is another.

The police depend on public support. The public undermines respect for the law when it does not support police actions to enforce the law. Governments can similarly undermine the rule of law.

The police got hung out to dry for trying to enforce the Terrorism Suppression Act in 2007. In 2020, the government rewarded the illegal occupation of private land at Ihumātao.

Much is at stake. Without good, well-enforced laws, some will take whatever they can get away with. In the extreme, as 17th century UK philosopher Thomas Hobbes put it, life would be “nasty, brutish and short”.

So what are good laws? Good laws protect individual life and liberty, and the public peace.

Laws against trespassing are as important for human dignity as are laws ensuring we keep our unwanted hands to ourselves.

Security in one’s property is also essential for prosperity. Why work if you cannot own what you earn?

English 19th century philosopher and jurist Jeremy Bentham was not out of line with history when he wrote that the law that gives security to property is “the noblest triumph of humanity over itself”.

Governments that enforce good laws and eschew bad ones are the ideal. We are not seeing enough of either aspect. Many complaints are valid, and should be heard.

Governments must also be subject to the law. Only an independent judiciary can properly assess this. Only an independent Police Commissioner can decide to prosecute a prime minister, should the need arise. (As is in prospect now in the UK.)

One deeply undemocratic and uncivil aspect of the current New Zealand situation is the “we will occupy until our demands are met” mindset. The current occupations at Parliament and Shelly Bay follow the Ihumātao success. Tolerance for illegal road closures similarly encourages more of the same.

The more the public tolerates illegal trespassing, and governments reward it, the more of it we will see and the harder it becomes for the police to enforce the law of the land.

In this weakened situation, any Police Commissioner must hesitate over enforcement options. Yet hesitancy fosters lawlessness.

We, the public, reap what we sow. To tolerate trespass in the small is to invite it at large.

Ministry of Health to block retail sale of thermometers
Roger Partridge | Chairman |
Flushed with success from restricting the distribution of Rapid Antigen Tests, the Ministry of Health is considering regulating other 'at home' medical testing devices.
"The household thermometer is an obvious candidate," Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said. "But other devices could include blood pressure kits, oximeters and pregnancy tests." All these devices would benefit from the same Ministry of Health supervision adopted for RATs, he claimed.
"Given the choice, evidence from overseas suggests people would regularly test for Covid at home," Bloomfield said. In the UK, Europe, and Australia, people routinely do this before going to work, visiting elderly or sick relatives, or meeting friends. By restricting the supply of RATs, the Director-General said, the Ministry has avoided the risk of people taking things into their own hands.
Bloomfield acknowledged the Ministry's approach has led to fewer tests being carried out and more infected people circulating in the community. But he said it was more important that the Ministry was able to supervise tests than have them freely available in the hands of untrained consumers.
"The same logic applies to other devices like thermometers. Anyone can make a mistake using a thermometer," Bloomfield said. Ministry guidelines would ensure temperature-taking and similar procedures are supervised by a participating community pharmacy listed on Healthpoint. "This means the Ministry be certain that patients place the thermometer correctly under their tongues or in their armpits, and so on," he said.
To control supply, Bloomfield said the Ministry could ban private importation. But he said the Ministry wouldn't use its requisitioning powers. "Instead, we'll simply make importers give us their stocks."
Anyone wanting to have their temperature taken would be able to queue at Ministry of Health community testing centres, Bloomfield said. They would be triaged and either tested by Ministry staff or given a thermometer to use at home. Patients would still be permitted to ask their GPs to take their temperatures.
The Ministry would also reduce the proliferation of different types of thermometers and other devices in the community. Pointing to Australia, where 26 different RAT tests are available to consumers, Bloomfield said things were "much less confusing for New Zealand consumers," with only 11 brands of tests approved here.
Even that is more than the Ministry would like. Bloomfield said his preference is to have just one Ministry of Health-procured brand for each device. "Just as we have with PCR saliva testing."

On The Record

Initiative Activities:
  • Presentation: 2022 New Zealand Economics Forum - Matt Burgess   
  • Podcast: What do economic experts agree on?
  • Podcast: Oliver Hartwich on who’s to blame for high inflation?
All Things Considered
  • Graph of the week:  Key facts about Ukraine
  • Rako Science offers extra Covid tests to government
  • Why the poor suffer most from inflation, even though their wages have risen a lot
  • What type of contact are you?
Copyright © 2024 The New Zealand Initiative, All Rights Reserved

Unsubscribe me please

Brought to you by outreachcrm