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Insights 18: 28 May 2021
Newsroom: Eric Crampton on how a carbon dividend would help families pay power bills
Podcast: David Law discusses unemployment insurance for New Zealand
NZ Herald: Oliver Hartwich on re-politicising the Reserve Bank

History is more than a set of pre-defined answers
Dr Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director |
Where do we come from? What has shaped this country? How did our society and culture evolve?

These are big questions. To answer them requires an understanding of history. And even with that understanding of history, different people will come to different conclusions.

The Ministry of Education’s draft curriculum for ‘Aotearoa New Zealand’s Histories’ has a different take on historical inquiry. Instead of giving students the knowledge, materials and guidance to understand our history, it defines what conclusions students should have drawn by the end of their school career.

The gist of the proposed curriculum is that New Zealand history is a Māori power struggle in the context of colonisation.

This pre-determined narrowness is one of the major criticisms in a report prepared by the Royal Society.

The Royal Society convened an Expert Advisory Panel on the draft curriculum. The panel, comprising both distinguished Māori and Pākehā representatives, takes issue with the Ministry’s approach.

“The curriculum draft, as it currently stands, directs students to judge the past before allowing them to ask questions, explore, and find out what that past was,” the Royal Society’s experts write.

Perhaps such a prescriptive approach might be more justifiable if students at least received plenty of historical information and materials. However, as the Royal Society warns, that is not the case. On the contrary, “major topics are missing or very lightly covered.”

For example, the experts decry that “the current draft says relatively little about the twentieth century, women’s history, welfare history or economic history.

The curriculum’s selectivity is especially odd when it comes to Māori history. Supposedly Māori history is at the curriculum’s centre. But, as the Royal Society states, “there is a 600-year gap between the arrival of Māori and the arrival of Europeans. It is almost as if Māori arrive in New Zealand and become instantly the victims of colonialism.”

The draft curriculum  also presents New Zealand in isolation from the rest of the world. Yet, New Zealand has been in frequent exchange with the world on many levels. It just does not feature in the draft curriculum.

Thus, the Royal Society recommends acknowledging these links explicitly: “The course of Aotearoa New Zealand’s history has been shaped by the movement of peoples, ideas, technologies and institutions across national territories and boundaries,” the Society suggests to add.

Indeed, institutions are important. For example, the ‘rule of law’ concept and the courts, justice, police, and Parliament primarily derive from the British experience. They cannot be understood in isolation.

Thanks to submitters like the Royal Society, we can hope for an improved final curriculum. Future generations of students would benefit from it.

Submissions on the draft histories’ curriculum close on 31 May. You can find the Initiative’s submission here.

Is social insurance really a good idea?
Dr David Law | Senior Fellow |
When presenting Budget 2021 last week, Finance Minister Grant Robertson announced that work is underway to develop an unemployment insurance scheme.

Details are limited. Initial indications suggest the scheme might pay out 80% of an individual's previous wage if unemployed. The scheme would be time-limited and perhaps tied to education and training opportunities.

A two-tier unemployment benefit system would result. Unemployment insurance would be relatively generous, but at any given time only some unemployed would qualify – those who met past employment conditions and whose time on this benefit had not yet run out. The second tier would be less generous but more widely available, like Jobseeker Support is now.

Considering whether current policy settings support displaced workers adequately and exploring alternatives is understandable given the economic turmoil that Covid-19 has unleashed worldwide. But, determining whether an unemployment insurance scheme is a good fit for New Zealand is not straightforward.

In general, social insurance schemes can help protect people against negative economic shocks. But there are possible pitfalls as well.

Initial estimates put the potential annual cost of an unemployment insurance scheme in New Zealand at over $5b under some circumstances. However, social insurance schemes often grow to encompass a wider array of benefits than unemployment insurance, such as old-age pensions, sickness benefits, health care, and the like. The average level of social security contribution tax in the OECD is around 8 percent of GDP.

New Zealand’s labour market outcomes are generally good. We typically have relatively low levels of unemployment and high participation rates compared to other OECD countries. Social insurance schemes, however, can create perverse labour market incentives which could negatively affect these outcomes.

For instance, when at the OECD, one of the countries I worked on was Belgium. Their labour markets were not in the best shape, with limited mobility and low labour market participation, especially for older workers, and a very high proportion of unemployment was long-term.

Belgium has a very generous unemployment insurance scheme, and we were concerned that this was a contributing factor to their labour market woes. In some ways, the unemployment insurance scheme being envisaged for New Zealand would be even more generous.

Aside from the cost and labour market risks, social insurance schemes are difficult to design. For example, how should non-standard workers like the self-employed be dealt with? What is the best way to fund such schemes? How should different individual risk profiles be accounted for? Should benefits be redistributive or tied only to individual contributions?

The Initiative plans to take a closer look at social insurance schemes over the coming months. Stay tuned.

Spelling doesn't matter!
Steen Videbeck | Research Fellow |
“Soz, I meen spelng dozent mattr!”

For those who haven’t heard, a British university has instructed its lecturers to overlook incorrect spelling, punctuation and grammar. Why? They don’t want to be elitist.

I was outraged when I first read this. Why isn’t New Zealand following the University of Hull’s brave lead? Unleashing students’ creativity and smashing the limiting social construct that is proper English.

New Zealand used to lead the world in dismantling spelling. Back in the heydays of the mid-2000s, where text messages were limited to 160 characters and numeric keyboards ruled, NZQA allowed txt language in NCEA exams. TBH IMO our culture waz richer 4 it. Plus, acronyms and texting abbreviations are very innovative. UR, LOL, IDK, IRL, THX, TMI, GR8, have all survived long since the last Nokia 3301 was retired.

But instead of kicking on and finishing the job we have waited until 2020 to be beaten by the UK’s 50th best university. That’s not O for awesome.

Deep down we all know that spelling isn’t important.

An entirely trustworthy meme famously found “it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteers be at the rghit pclae.”

Plus, does it really matter if we write, ‘The cat sat on the mat’, or, ‘Da kat set un de matt’? It’s perfectly understandable. We could even change to our own Nu Ziled akcent English. Kiwis have shown that vowels are pretty interchangeable. Fush n Chops ne1?

Or why not target that essential 21st-century skill, problem-solving. ‘Yb gnitirw sdrow sdrawkcab’. Sorry, ‘by writing words backwards’. It’s a playful way to engage readers on a deeper level.

Oh, and grammar and punctuation aren’t important either.

What’s the deal with capital letters? Why should certain words have a capital letter? What’s so special about proper nouns? Auckland, Jacinda, English. That’s a bit elitist. I personally think all words should be equal. lower case for all!

Or why don’t we just follow Twitter users and use ALL CAPS. MOST COMIC BOOKS USE UPPERCASE AS IT IS A MORE EFFICIENT USE OF SPACE. Sorry, I didn’t mean to shout.

We need to remove all punctuation and just replace all full stops with ‘and then’ and then every primary school student will be happy.

This also allows readers to put in their own punctuation, which is a lot more ‘reader centred’. It is sort of like a choose-your-own adventure. “The panda eats shoots and leaves.” You get to decide if it is a homicidal panda.

If axing punctuation is a step too far, at least encourage students to use unconventional nonstandard punctuation marks. Like the Interrobang (‽), which indicates a question expressed in an exclamatory manner. Why wouldn’t we teach this‽ Plus, it has the coolest name ever. Or my personal favourite, the Snark Mark (~), which shows irony in writing. The written equivalent of a smirk or rolling your eyes.

So yeah, ~spelling definitely doesn’t matter. ;-)

On The Record

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