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Insights 29: 13 August 2021
Podcast: Prof Des Gorman on NZ's response to Covid-19 and what could be done differently
NZ Herald: Matt Burgess on RMA reforms and the real issues affecting NZ's housing market
Podcast: Eric Crampton and Matt Burgess on the government's response to blackouts

A day to reflect on the meaning of freedom
Dr Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director |

Today is a special anniversary. On this day, 60 years ago, the Berlin Wall was built.

For younger generations, the Berlin Wall means little. It is a piece of remote history.

But it is worth knowing about and remembering. Not least for what it tells us about the deep human urge to be free – and the vigilance needed to preserve this freedom.

After World War 2, the allied forces divided Germany between themselves. The Americans, the British and the French jointly controlled West Germany; the Soviets controlled the East of the country.

Berlin was a special case. Though located in East Germany, it was divided into four parts as well. And just as in the whole of Germany, the Soviets took the Eastern part, while the Western allies held onto West Berlin.

From 1945 to 1961, two different states and two different cities developed. West Germany and West Berlin were free, democratic, and free-market. East Germany and East Berlin, meanwhile, were unfree, undemocratic, and socialist.

This real-life experiment of capitalism vs. socialism did not work out well for the latter.

On 17 June 1953, there was a first major uprising of East German workers triggered by working and living conditions. The Soviet Red Army and the East German military police crushed it, killing at least 55 protestors.

In the following years, millions of East Germans and East Berliners fled oppression. They had enough of life under socialism and yearned for freedom. By 1961, one in five East Germans had escaped to the West – about 3.8 million people in total.

To stop this exodus, the East German regime suddenly closed the border in the early hours of Sunday, 13 August 1961. That was the beginning of the Berlin Wall. It became the world’s most guarded and impenetrable border.

The Wall did not only separate freedom and oppression. It tore families apart. It split lovers. It divided friends.

It was an inhumane regime that prevented people from leaving their country—all for the execution of a phony ideology.

Whoever tried to cross the border risked their lives. Still, many did. East German border guards murdered hundreds of people who tried to escape from East to West. And when fugitives were caught alive, they ended up in jail for years.

On this day, we remember those victims.

And we take the opportunity to reflect on the fundamental value of liberty, which they held so dear.

Today, once again, we need to treasure our freedom to protect it.

The End of the Beginning
Dr Eric Crampton | Chief Economist |
There is a lot of distance yet to cover from here to December’s completion of the adult vaccine roll-out – and far more distance still until the pandemic ends. But the government’s announcement this week of the intended path forward was welcome. The announced measures seem largely sensible and balanced.

The government announced that it will prioritise first vaccine doses while increasing the interval between doses.

There are credible health benefits to a wider interval between doses in places where the virus is not prevalent. A first-doses-first strategy will get more people partially vaccinated far more quickly while maintaining the option to rush the delivery of second doses to places where an outbreak might happen.

So far, so good.

But MedSafe approved the vaccine for those aged 12 and up back in June, and no roll-out plan for youths is in sight. Delta, compared to earlier variants, seems riskier for children. Delivering the vaccine at school seems straightforward, as is done for Gardasil. But that requires starting soon as the school term ends 20 December and two doses must be delivered before then with appropriate spacing between doses, working around school breaks. The clock is ticking.

The government will be trialling home-based isolation for vaccinated Kiwi business travellers going on trips abroad.

Throughout the pandemic, political influence has seemed to have mattered in ensuring access to spaces in Managed Isolation facilities. It has bordered on corrupt – not bribery, obviously, but an inordinate role for political influence. This trial risks being perceived in similar ways.

But the trial’s structure makes an incredible amount of sense. Business travellers, whose companies will be named as part of the trial, will have strong incentives to be on their best behaviour: both the government and their employers will be watching. It provides a small-scale and lower risk way of ironing out the kinks for any broader roll-out later for other groups while easing border pressure directly.

The government also noted the obvious need to improve contact tracing and testing systems in preparation for more travel yet to come. It has promised improvements in both before, to little outcome. The Opposition should and will be watching closely to ensure delivery this time; the Minister may need to take a very direct role rather than trusting in assurances from officials. Whether Rako Science’s accurate, proven, and rapid saliva test is rolled out in our border systems in the near term may be a signal of whether the government is taking this seriously.

Most disappointingly, the government announced it has no plans to soon order vaccine booster shots. They will be needed by next year's second and third quarters as immunity wanes, and other countries like the UK are already ahead of us in that queue. Oliver and I talked with Auckland University’s Professor Des Gorman on Thursday about measures necessary for improving New Zealand’s Covid response.

This week’s announcements are promising. But there is still much ground to travel.

Vegan Wagen
Dr Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director |
What is the most successful Volkswagen (VW) model? No, it is not the Golf, not the Tiguan and not the all-electric ID.3.

No, the German car manufacturer’s biggest seller is a sausage, the famous Volkswagen Currywurst. It even has its own Wikipedia entry.

But times are changing, and Volkswagen is changing with them.

The company’s CEO Herbert Diess just announced that when workers return to the factory after the European summer, they would no longer find the wildly popular sausage on the menu.

Indeed, they would no longer see any meat-based products at all. In their stead, Volkswagen has developed 400 new recipes for vegan and vegetarian dishes – including vegetarian currywurst.

In a post on LinkedIn, Diess explained his priorities: “This topic is really a concern for me personally: The food in our VW canteens. It’s getting better and healthier all the time!” In a VW memo to staff, the company explained that vegan canteen food was better for the environment, too.

It must be a relief for Diess to be taking a personal interest in canteen food. For the past years, he was busy with the fallout of a scandal in which Volkswagen had manipulated its car’s emissions. Last year, a court trial against Diess for deceiving investors was narrowly averted by accepting a €4.5 million fine.

Freed from such legal concerns, Diess can now turn his mind to other challenges. Not content with electrifying Volkswagen’s entire fleet by the early 2030s, it is his new mission to change the diets of his employees, too.

Still, for Volkswagen, this meat-free revolution is a culture shock. The automobile manufacturer produces more sausages than cars: 18,000 sausages a day.

So popular is the sausage, it even has its own VW part number: 199 398 500 A. That makes it go along with Volkswagen’s own ketchup (199 398 500 B), all to be served on a Volkswagen original plate (33D 069 602). Try ordering these extras next time you see your local VW dealer.

The VW sausage revolution has created a political backlash. Former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder felt compelled to issue a statement: “If I were still on the supervisory board of VW, there would have been no such thing,” the Social Democrat blustered. “Currywurst with fries is one of the power bars of the skilled production worker.”

But what do Social Democrats know about factory workers’ needs?

The real progressives these days are business leaders like Diess: producing electric cars for which they can no longer manipulate emissions – and sausages that no longer contain meat.

They should rename their company Vegan Wagen.

On The Record
Initiative Activities:
  • Podcast: Prof Des Gorman on NZ's response to Covid-19 and what could be done differently
  • Podcast: Eric Crampton and Matt Burgess discuss the government’s response to blackouts
  • Podcast: Matt Burgess on why New Zealanders should be worried about the government’s RMA reforms
All Things Considered
  • Graph of the week: Emissions vs key global climate policy
  • How the pandemic now ends
  • We need to build our way out of this mess
  • Trainee teachers get 90 minutes to learn how to teach children to read, graduate says
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