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Insights 15: 3 May 2024
Newsroom: Dr Oliver Hartwich on Europe considering military conscription
New Report: The hidden risks of China's Belt and Road Initiative
NZ Herald: Dr Bryce Wilkinson on what future generations need from us

Defending speech
Dr Eric Crampton | Chief Economist |
History often helps put current controversies in context.

In 1968, the American Civil Liberties Union’s Ira Glasser defended racist Alabama Governor George Wallace’s right to speak at a city-owned stadium in New York. It most certainly was not because he agreed with Wallace.

Indeed, Glasser later said, “there was, at that time, no one whose speech I despised more than Wallace’s.”

But letting New York stifle Wallace would mean cities in Alabama could silence civil rights activists.

Glasser went on to head the ACLU. Objecting to his inclusion in a panel discussion on free speech because of his “support” for Wallace would have been absurd.

Had students been sufficiently misguided to make such an objection, it would have been embarrassing for the university. The university would obviously have failed to provide a fundamental element of liberal education.

Last week, student groups at Victoria University of Wellington objected to Jonathan Ayling’s presence at an upcoming University free-speech panel discussion – because Ayling’s Free Speech Union has defended speech that many find repugnant.

Student Association President Parkinson said students “freaked out” on seeing a panel lineup that included purportedly “right wing voices” like Ayling and the Initiative’s Dr Michael Johnston (formerly Victoria University Associate Dean of Education).

The University postponed and restructured the event. A panel of advocates will be followed by a panel of academics. In both cases, participant(s) favouring free speech will be balanced by others with, shall we say, more nuanced views. Ayling will participate in the first panel and Johnston in the second.

Universities are meant to be places where students encounter challenging ideas rather than affirmations of their pre-existing beliefs.

It is easy to assume that one’s intellectual opponents have only weak arguments if you only ever hear those arguments portrayed by uncharitable critics. Hearing the best arguments in favour of views you oppose helps to test your own thinking. It can even change your mind – whether about your own views, or about your opponents’ rigour.

Being unable to distinguish principled support for freedom of speech from support for the content of that speech seems a serious intellectual failing. And it would take remarkable ignorance of the spectrum of political beliefs to consider Michael Johnston a beyond-the-pale right-winger.

Universities should remedy youthful ignorance rather than cater to it.

It is good that the discussion will go ahead. But perhaps Ira Glasser’s work should form part of universities’ first year core curriculum.

Navigating the Belt and Road
Nick Clark | Senior Fellow, Economics and Advocacy |
New Zealand has an infrastructure deficit of at least $100 billion, a significant drag on productivity and economic growth. Not all this deficit can be financed from within New Zealand, meaning we will need overseas investment.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has been touted as a potential source of overseas investment. The BRI aims to increase trade volumes between participating countries by improving infrastructure and lowering trade costs.

The New Zealand Initiative’s latest research note makes a case for a cautious approach, given China’s increasingly assertive foreign policy stance and recent changes in the BRI’s focus.
The BRI aims to promote economic cooperation, infrastructure development, and cultural exchange among participating countries. It seeks to create a vast network of trade routes and economic corridors spanning Asia, Europe, and Africa. Potential benefits of engaging with it, including infrastructure development and increased trade, are superficially attractive.

However, the BRI has recently shifted away from large infrastructure projects towards "small but beautiful" endeavours. This raises questions about its value proposition for New Zealand’s infrastructure needs, given the high cost of construction in this country.
Furthermore, deeper engagement could compromise New Zealand's independent foreign policy. As a small nation heavily reliant on international trade and multilateralism, New Zealand must carefully navigate any participation. We must avoid being unduly influenced by China's economic and strategic priorities, which have become much more assertive since 2017.
Italy, the only G7 country to join the BRI, withdrew last year. Meanwhile. the experiences of countries like Pakistan, Laos, and Sri Lanka serve as cautionary tales. BRI participation has contributed to unsustainable debt, reduced sovereignty, and economic policies favouring Chinese interests in these countries. Their experiences underscore the potential pitfalls of high-stakes engagement with the BRI, notwithstanding the allure of infrastructure development.
For New Zealand, the prudent path is one of caution and measured engagement. Addressing domestic barriers to investment would foster a more conducive environment for infrastructure development without incurring risks associated with the BRI. This approach should include reforming our restrictive overseas investment screening regime and streamlining resource management laws.
Ultimately, the risks associated with BRI participation, including potentially compromising our foreign policy independence, may outweigh its benefits. As a small, open economy dependent on global stability, New Zealand's interests are best served by defending the liberal order. That means working with like-minded countries to strengthen the rules-based international system.

Nick Clark and Dr Oliver Hartwich's report, Belt and Road Initiative: Implications for New Zealand, was published on 2 May.

An email from the V-C
Dr James Kierstead | Research Fellow |
As your Vice-Chancellor here at He Waka Kore Hoe (once known as Elizabeth University), I’m excited to announce the 17th consultation period (Round 3A) for our public panel on free speech, which will kick off next Monday, November 12th, 2031.

I am grateful to all the groups who made submissions during the last round, including Anti-Racists for Climate Justice, Students Against Education, Queers for Palestine, Vegans Anonymous, Anonymous, the Philistine Society, Debating Debate Club, and More Mao Now! However, the submission from Tory Whanau (the student conservative association) was deemed potentially problematic by Student Safety and has been ethically destroyed.

I am also grateful to Procrastinators United, who indicated that they would be putting in a submission next week.

At least three students have said that the last iteration of the panel (iteration 473H) did not have enough representation of Canadians over two meters tall, Palauans, Muslim atheists, chartered accountants, Bulgars, ginger historians, and non-binary Manichaeans. This was a significant failing and I thank those who pointed it out.

I would also like to point out, in response to disinformation spread by a few thousand online agitators, that I have once again shown a willingness to face down complaints that only have the backing of one or two students. Not three students, obviously - $368,750 a year is hardly enough for me to be expected to take that kind of risk!

My vision for our own He Waka Kore Hoe free speech panel is now a truly inspiring one. The 14,806 panellists will be representative of all of Wellington, all of New Zealand, central Europe, Southeast Asia, Nichiren Buddhism, and 86% of Reformed Masonic Lodges worldwide. Panellists will be empowered to cover a wide range of topics and to support students by avoiding saying anything that might offend them or run against their priors. (Note to self: re-write this bit.)

With every further draft iteration of our free speech panel, I become ever more confident that we will be able to put free speech at the heart of what we do here at Elizabeth (Note from the Office of Language: you are required by rule 411C.iii to change this to ‘He Waka Kore Hoe.’ Please comply).

I am confident that the way we have gone about this exercise will send a clear message to the outside world that we are serious about free speech.

Jac Jones

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