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Insights 31: 25 August 2023
New Report: Prescription for Prosperity - briefing for the incoming government
Podcast: Michael Johnston interviews Oliver Hartwich on our latest report
Public Event: Who teaches the teachers? 5.30 pm, Thurs 14 September, Auckland

The future we envision: Prosperity for all New Zealanders
Dr Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director |
New Zealand is standing at a historic crossroads. The 2023 election is not just another election; it is a turning point, a watershed moment for our nation’s future.

Six years have passed since the Sixth Labour Government was elected, and three years since the unprecedented Covid election of 2020.

Now, the people of New Zealand are about to express their verdict and their hopes for the future.

The mood is sombre. About two-thirds of us feel we are headed in the wrong direction. Business and consumer confidence have dipped to levels sometimes worse than the grim days of the Global Financial Crisis.

Yet, the election hangs in balance.

Why? Perhaps because New Zealanders are waiting. Waiting for something more than just promises. Waiting for a clear, well-researched plan that addresses our problems and offers solutions based on international best practices.

And as we wait for our mainstream parties to develop this plan, we at The New Zealand Initiative have taken the step.

This week we released Prescription for Prosperity, our blueprint for a flourishing New Zealand.

In this document, we offer an ambitious vision across 21 policy areas. From fiscal strategy to climate change, from education to health, you will find dozens of ideas for reform.

Built on over a decade of research, supported by more than a hundred reports and worked up by some of the best minds in New Zealand policy, this is not a patchwork of ideas. It is a holistic approach.

Unlike the typical election campaign promises, Prescription for Prosperity offers a realistic path to positive change.

Imagine a New Zealand where housing is affordable, where local governments have robust funding options, and where students are equipped with the skills to thrive. Imagine a country where public finances are strong, inflation is controlled, carbon emissions are reduced efficiently, and our resources are managed wisely. Imagine a country that works for all its people.

That is the New Zealand we envision.

Prescription for Prosperity is not just another document but an invitation to reshape our nation.

We know this country deserves better than we have seen in recent years. Better than fragmented proposals and unfulfilled promises. Better than slogans and clever marketing.
If you share our vision for a better New Zealand, Prescription for Prosperity will spark ideas.

And to our political parties, we say: Take these ideas. Embrace them. Make them yours.

Because, together, we can write a new chapter in our nation’s history. A chapter of growth, of renewal, of hope.

Read Prescription for Prosperity here.

Thinking locally to tackle national challenges
Dr Michael Johnston | Research Fellow |
One of the key themes that echoes through the 21 areas of public policy we cover in Prescription for Prosperity, is localism.

We need to get central bureaucracy out of the way, so that local innovation can thrive. We recommend measures to make the public service more focussed on its core business and more accountable to Ministers and the public.

In education, we would like to see capable principals and expert teachers lead the way in curriculum and teacher education reform. This will not be a quick fix but, if we enable experimentation, measure the results, and replicate success, we will get much more durable reform in the medium term.

In health, we favour local solutions to local needs, with funding for primary and community care. Central agencies should support community-embedded medical programmes rather than trying to run everything from the centre.

In housing, we should abolish much of the current regulation. The Resource Management Act should presume a freedom to build, rather than bogging down urgently needed development. New fiscal tools should be provided to local governments, giving them incentives to build infrastructure.

We should enable employers to grow their businesses by making it easier for them to recruit the best people internationally. That means transforming Immigration New Zealand into a customer-focussed agency, rather than erecting a great wall of red tape that seems designed to keep prospective immigrants out.

Localism, in one form or another, underpins just about all successful innovation. When it comes to solving difficult social, economic and technological problems, central control simply doesn’t work very well. Even when it does, it’s very expensive.

Centrally planned solutions suffer from two related problems.

One is insufficient information. Central planners can’t possibly know enough to design solutions that work in complex and dynamic environments. Local solutions can be much more agile and adaptive.

The other is that, almost by definition, a centrally planned solution assumes that one size fits all. But what works in one place is not necessarily what will work in another.

Localism doesn’t get it right every time – far from it. Any truly innovative process entails trial and error – with plenty of the latter. But, over time, locally developed solutions are more robust.

That is why a big dose of localism is such an important ingredient in our Prescription for Prosperity.

Is that Polonium on your breath?
Dr Eric Crampton | Chief Economist |
I’m a fan of prizes for rewarding innovation. Prizes motivate. They recognise and certify achievement so others can provide due approbation.

But you can also use them the other way round.

I think we need a prize for the most absurd public health argument.

Because I’ve found a potential award-winner.

Associate Professor Alexander Larcombe penned a piece in The Conversation warning that vapes might contain radioactive Polonium-210.

He reminds readers that the Russians used polonium to assassinate Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 – they poisoned his tea with it. And it just might be in your vape! Maybe.

It isn’t that a vape manufacturer put polonium into the vape fluid so that their customers can gamble on whether they get radioactive superpowers, or whether they die from it.

No. There’s a longer bow being drawn.

The good Professor reasons thusly.

Tobacco plants can absorb polonium from the soil, air, and high-phosphate fertiliser.

“Whether polonium-210 is found in aerosols produced by e-cigarettes remains to be seen. Although it is feasible if the glycerine in e-liquids comes from plants and similar fertilisers are used to grow them.”

So, the Monty Python-esque chain of reasoning.

Plants can absorb polonium. Glycerine is made from plants. And vape fluid is made using glycerine. Therefore, vape fluid could be like Litvinenko’s tea.

On further worrying investigation, I’ve found that foods generally ultimately comes from plants.

The GST-free fruit and vegetables that Labour would encourage you to eat? They're plants! Fertiliser might have been used on those fields. Can I smell the polonium on your breath, Mr Hipkins?

A strictly carnivorous diet will hardly save you. Meat is made from animals. But animals eat plants, potentially concentrating dangerous polonium.

And what about Litvinenko’s tea?

On our summer holiday, we stopped in at the Zealong Tea Estate outside Hamilton. It’s a lovely spot. But would you believe that tea is just the dried leaves from trees? You might not have known that. But we saw actual tea trees there. And trees are plants.

Sure enough, I found a 2016 article in Radiochemistry that found 1.1 to 25 Bq kg-1 concentration of Polonium-210 in dry tea.

Why does tea not have warning labels? Or at least weird warning articles in The Conversation?

More seriously, I think we have a strong contender for the worst public health argument of 2023.

On The Record
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