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Insights 7: 12 March 2021
2021 NZ Economics Forum: Matt Burgess on "Economic policy and the environment - challenges and opportunities"
Podcast: Oliver Hartwich discusses who will succeed Angela Merkel as the next German Chancellor?
2021 NZ Economics Forum: Eric Crampton on "Getting the mix right - monetary policy, fiscal policy and the nation's wellbeing"

A nation talking to itself
Dr Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director |
Once upon a time, Arthur Miller said, “A good newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself.” These days, many media outlets are talking only to segments of the population.

For the New Zealand media, 2021 has been a year of cancellations.

Finance minister Grant Robertson cancelled his weekly MagicTalk interview slot with Peter Williams. Presenter Sean Plunket left the station before there was a chance to cancel him.

Last week, the Herald cancelled historian and former Labour cabinet minister Michael Bassett after publishing (and unpublishing) a column of his. And finally, the Prime Minister cancelled her weekly interview slot with Newstalk’s Mike Hosking.

Each incident is different, yet they all point to ongoing political polarisation.

You do not have to agree with Williams, Plunket, Bassett or Hosking to know that many New Zealanders do. That is why Mike Hosking reaches a large segment of society with his morning show.

Hosking’s audience will now miss out on the weekly interview with the Prime Minister. That is a pity for them and for Hosking.

But the greater damage is that this cancellitis creates more echo chambers in our media.

Where politicians only speak to audiences close to them, there will be no tough questions, no hard talk and little to learn. And where journalists only interview politicians they like, they are in danger of becoming acolytes.

It gets worse. As a growing segment of online and print news is now serving left-of-centre audiences, this leaves a diverse group to their right homeless.

Yes, these groups could still listen to Hosking. They could also resort to reading international newspapers like The Times, The Australian or the Wall Street Journal. But they would struggle to find similar written content here.

According to the research project, all mainstream media outlets in New Zealand show a left-wing bias. Though their sentiment analysis tracks partisanship more than ideology, this suggests there is a media vacuum to the right of the centre-left.

There is a danger that, eventually, such a vacuum would be filled: not from the centre but by publications or social media channels on the fringe. So instead of a new Times, we should worry about a Kiwi version of Breitbart News.

That is not the end of the story, either. Fringe media promote fringe views. And fringe views create fringe politicians. Thus, the polarisation will jump from the media into politics.

It does not have to happen this way. But to prevent this dystopian and polarised future, we must stop cancelling each other.

As a nation, through and in our media, we should be talking to ourselves.

More false arguments against our Emissions Trading Scheme
Dr Bryce Wilkinson | Senior Fellow |
The Climate Change Response Act 2000, the Climate Change response (Zero carbon) Amendment Act and the Climate Change Commission’s draft advice have two things in common.

First, their purported primary goal is to reduce global net greenhouse gas emissions.

Second, their proposed means depart from that goal.

The Paris Accord permits international trade in carbon credits. The amended Climate Change Response Act largely prevents it. The Commission’s draft advice necessarily aligns with the Act.

Preventing New Zealanders from trading in overseas credits prevents them from maximising their contribution to reducing net global emissions. Doing that is inconsistent with the primary goal.

Even so, the government’s Emissions Trading System (ETS) still provides the least-cost means of achieving the government’s more costly goal. The Commission itself has assessed that the ETS alone will achieve the government’s zero carbon target for 2050 - at a carbon dioxide price of $50 a tonne. There is no need for radical economic transformation.

Why then does the Commission recommend imposing high cost ‘radical transformation’? It provides no supporting wellbeing analysis for this approach. It is as if New Zealanders need to be whipped to atone for their sins of past emissions.

The Commission and the Ministry for the Environment have adopted the mantra that the ETS is good, but ‘not enough’. Not enough for what purpose?

One non-argument is equity. Of course, when rich and poor pay the same price for anything, whether a TV, a bundle of groceries, or the ETS, the burden on the poor is greater. That is not a case for price intervention. Instead, the government can use its ETS revenue to redistribute income, as it does with tax proceeds in general.

Another non-argument is that to rely on the ETS is ‘purist’. That is akin to arguing that it is purist to spend $30,000 making a car instead of $50,000. Waste not, want not.

A third non-argument prejudges New Zealanders’ preferences in order to justify suppressing them. The Commission worries the ETS would encourage ‘too much’ tree-planting. In that view, the government must stop New Zealanders from planting too many trees.

Who is sovereign here, the public or transient politicians? One of the beauties of the ETS is that it respectfully allows New Zealanders to choose, individual by individual, between emissions reduction and absorption. If only governments were folly-free.

That umbrella, we employed it – by August we were an indoor area subject to a vaping ban
Dr Eric Crampton | Chief Economist |
It’s a good thing I don’t vape. If I did, I’d be depressed about the Ministry of Health’s proposed vaping regulations. Instead, I get to see the dark humour in the rules rather than suffer under them.

For a brief shining period, vapers had freedom. The courts said vaping had never been illegal in the first place, and the abruptly-legalised sector organised itself rather well. Retailers didn’t sell to kids, and Action on Smoking and Health consistently reported that very few kids ever took up vaping.

Lots of smokers shifted. Tobacco excise revenues for the last half of 2020 were a third lower than forecast. It seems unlikely that the drop in tourist numbers can take credit.

But fear not, regulation is coming.

The Ministry wants to ban indoor vaping in bars and restaurants.

It is nonsense. Bars and restaurants should be able to set the rules that work for them and their patrons. But it gets rather more absurd.

If an area is even partially enclosed by a roof or overhead structure of any kind, whether temporary or permanent, the Ministry thinks that place should count as part of the Great Indoors.

A large umbrella could turn a picnic table into an indoor area subject to the ban.

If the point of Kiwibuild was to put roofs over people’s heads, the Ministry could have solved the government’s delivery problem pretty easily. Hand out large shade umbrellas, declare that everyone is now indoors, and the job’s done.

The fun continues.

Before the government stepped in to help, ex-smoking vapers helped other smokers shift to vaping. The Ministry proposes banning anyone without an NZQA qualification from providing that assistance. And it proposes banning dairies selling vapes from telling their customers anything at all about the products.

Finally, while parts of government try to ban plastic bottles, the Ministry proposes nicotine content limits guaranteed to result in a proliferation of tiny, more expensive vape bottles that are hard to dispose of safely. If a company runs a recycling scheme for waste vape cartridges or bottles, the Ministry – and I really wish I were kidding here – will ban them from listing the scheme on the product packaging.

Submissions on the proposed regulations close on Monday 15 March. If you’re as darkly amused by it all as I am, let the Ministry know what you think about it.

Read our submission to the Ministry of Health on the Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products Act 1990 here

On The Record

Other Initiative activity:
  • Submission: Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products Act 1990: Proposals for Regulations
  • 2021 NZ Economics Forum: Matt Burgess presents on Economic policy and the environment - challenges and opportunities
  • 2021 NZ Economics Forum: Dr Eric Crampton presents on Getting the mix right - monetary policy, fiscal policy and the wellbeing of the nation
  • Podcast: Who will succeed Angela Merkel?
If you would like to listen to our latest podcasts, please subscribe to The New Zealand Initiative podcast on iTunesSpotify or The Podcast App.
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