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Insights 14: 26 April 2024
The Post: Dr Eric Crampton on improving housing affordability through competitive consents
NZ Herald: Nick Clark on the opportunity for city deals to boost economic growth
The Australian: Dr Oliver Hartwich on NZ's revolutionary back-to-basics education reforms

A birthday toast to a long-dead philosopher
Dr Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director |
I may have been the only New Zealander to raise a glass on Monday to the 300th birthday of Immanuel Kant.

In our age of unreason, conspiracy theories and disinformation, we would do well to rediscover this Enlightenment philosopher. He developed ideas that were radically novel in his time, and that remain relevant and insightful today.

Kant’s emphasis on reason is more important than ever. When conspiracy theories spread like wildfire on social media, we need the tools of critical thinking to separate truth from fiction and propaganda.

As Putin’s war on Ukraine enters its third year, Kant’s vision for a peaceful world order based on international law and cooperation is equally relevant.

Meanwhile, authoritarian ideas are challenging liberal democracy worldwide. Kant’s emphasis on the rule of law, separation of powers and equal rights remind us of the foundations of freedom.

Kant’s philosophy is not just abstract theory. It has practical implications for politics in New Zealand today.

As the new Government seeks to reform education, housing and regulation, a Kantian lens would ask how these policies expand freedom and opportunity for New Zealanders.

Debates over the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi remain heated. Kant’s insistence on the state securing equal rights for all citizens could also inform those debates.

Of course, applying 18th century ideas from East Prussia to 21st century New Zealand is not straightforward. Kant cannot solve our problems for us. But the power of reason, in which he put much faith, can help us navigate our uncertain world.

Yet Kant, for all his genius, was not a saint. Despite his wonderful ideas about freedom and the universality of human rights, he failed to fully live by them. Recent research has revealed a highly problematic, racist side to Kant’s thought. In that, sadly, he was a product of his time.

This should be a humbling thought for us. If even an intellectual giant like Kant could not see how he violated his own principles, we should pause to examine our own views. None of us are immune to the biases of our era.

Still, the enduring relevance of Kant’s philosophy is to challenge us: “Dare to know!”. Have the courage to use reason.

So here in New Zealand and around the globe, let us toast to Kant, flaws and all. Not just for his historical significance, but for his lasting challenge to think freely and act rightly.

Modifying a failing regulatory system
Max Salmon | Research Fellow |
It is time we liberalised our Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) regulations.

Benefits to New Zealand would include pest-resistant crops, more productive crops and fruit, sterile pines for forestry, reduced carbon emissions, reduced agricultural methane, better healthcare products, cheaper medication, and pest control.  

Yet these are only a few of the benefits that could be realised with existing technology. More are sure to follow as other countries continue to liberalise their regulations and invest in further research.

New Zealand's productivity is stalling, and the nation needs revitalisation. An injection of economic vigour is crucial, and outdated and restrictive legislation is holding us back.

The Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act of 1996, which governs genetically modified organisms (GMO), has become an obstacle to national progress.

Without change, New Zealand risks playing an eternal game of catch-up as other nations use this technology to become increasingly more competitive, particularly in agriculture.

The current system, in practice, applies one-size-fits-all restrictions to creating new organisms. The number of field tests (outside of containment) for GMOs in New Zealand substantially declined after the introduction of the HSNO Act, and virtually ceased following a later amendment.

Regulation is so restrictive that GMO research in New Zealand is often conducted overseas. Obtaining approvals for field tests has become more cumbersome and costly than conducting the experiments themselves.

Regulation has also failed to stay abreast of technological developments. Genetic engineering involves editing genetic information already present in an organism's cells. It is often indistinguishable from selective breeding practices but is significantly faster and more accurate. Yet engineered organisms are currently treated identically to modified organisms, which involves introducing foreign genetic material.

Fortunately, there is a growing political appetite for change. Judith Collins, the current Minister for Science, Innovation, and Technology, has been vocal in her support for reform. Her ministerial colleagues Shane Jones and Andrew Hoggard, who hold relevant portfolios, also agree.

Support also comes from influential bodies, such as the Royal Society Te Apārangi, the former New Zealand Productivity Commission, and the wider scientific community.

A new regulatory environment could include a stable risk framework to evaluate applications, recognition of the difference between engineering and modification, and the provision of certainty to investors and researchers on application processing times.

New Zealand stands to reap benefits from GMO, all we need do is reform and harvest the benefits.

Epitaph for a dumb idea
Dr Michael Johnston | Senior Fellow |
Shortly after the turn of the millennium, the gurus of progressive education coined the term twenty-first century learning. After all, what is the point of a new millennium if we don’t take the opportunity to try something new? Who cares if there’s no evidence? If it sounds good, do it!

The sages of twenty-first century learning resisted defining their term. They preferred wise sayings. One remnant of ancient wisdom in their creed was Aristotle’s emphasis on critical thinking. His penchant for knowledge, though, not so much.

The Ministry of Education disseminated the sages’ wisdom on the Te Kete Ipurangi (TKI) website. “We need to understand the changes in the meaning of terms such as knowledge”, they intoned. As it turned out, this meant that knowledge was to be abolished.

In 2007, the Ministry’s twenty-first century learning illuminati graced us with a new curriculum. True to their doctrine, the document was long on inspiring slogans and very short on knowledge.

Another thing to be abolished, along with knowledge, was teaching. TKI quoted one teacher as saying, with the air of a repentant sinner, “I am no longer a teacher; I am a facilitator. I help students on their journey. I do not create their journey; I guide them on their path.”

One can almost smell the incense.

Students became ‘learners’ and were encouraged to forge their own paths, provisioned with a cornucopia of digital devices. It was brave. It was inspiring. The sages were motivated by the best of intentions.

But you know what they say about the road to hell.

Many learners became hopelessly lost. Their paths all too often ran in circles. They took to the technology with enthusiasm, though.

The result is a generation of young people that is all over social media but not so great at reading, writing, or knowing things.

So, knowledge has been evacuated from the curriculum, teachers have been sidelined, and students must find their own paths. Yet critical thinking remains essential.

In other words, students must teach themselves to think critically about nothing.

Unhappily for the priests of twenty-first century learning, it looks as if they will soon be defrocked. The counter-reformation is underway.

Minister of Education, Erica Stanford, has vowed to bring knowledge back into the curriculum. She wants expert teachers to take charge in their classrooms.

It comes as no surprise that the Minister completed her education during the twentieth century.

On The Record

Initiative Activities:
  • Podcast: Evaluating global policies on safer nicotine, Dr Eric Crampton talks to Frederico Fernández, Founder and CEO of We Are Innovation, about their recent global index ranking countries' policies on safer nicotine alternatives, 25 April 2024

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