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Insights 10: 24 March 2016
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Letting them help
Dr Eric Crampton | Head of Research |
It is hard to put a number on some things – like how many refugees the government should admit.

If you asked how many software engineers the government should let into the country per year, I would have a hard time coming up with an answer. There is no ‘right’ number without context: how many people want to come here, how many firms want to hire software engineers, and how many would start up their own firms, for example. The government guesses at all these things when setting skilled migrant categories, but nobody really knows.

A lot of economic numbers, like the correct price for oranges or the right number of accountants, are not really known in the way that the atomic weight of carbon is known. Instead, the figures emerge as people interact with each other through markets, revealing how different people value different things.

So is there a right number of refugees? It will depend, among other things, on how much help New Zealanders can provide. The current system couples financial support from the government with strong community support for those refugees the government does accept, with the Red Cross and others doing fantastic work in helping refugees learn their way around their new homes.

But how much people are willing to help can depend on whether they think that their help really matters. When there is need, and a crowd of people already around who could help, the bystander effect can kick in: somebody else will help. But suppose your pledge to help were what opened the door to let somebody come to New Zealand and enjoy a far better life?

The Canadian government lets civil society help decide how many refugees Canada accepts. Whenever sponsors pledge to support another refugee through that refugee’s first year in the country, Canada admits one more refugee. Private sponsors have helped bring almost 9,000 Syrian refugees to Canada since last November.

This Canadian initiative has merit. And so, on April 5th, The New Zealand Initiative is proud to host Dean Barry, Immigration Counsellor with the Canadian High Commission in Canberra. He will explain how the Canadian system works.

You should join us. I do not know what the right number of refugees is. But when civil society groups are prepared to help more refugees than the government will admit, the country can do better.

Night mayor on Cuba Street
Jason Krupp | Research Fellow |
It would take a world champion wowser to declare last weekend’s CubaDupa festival anything but an outstanding success, replete with two days of street food, live music, street artists, and throngs of happy attendees.

If such a po-faced complaint were to be made it would probably focus on the number of drunk people wandering the streets late at night, and the menace they represent (noise, fights, minor crime and so on).

It is a familiar argument, one recently trotted out when Wellington City Council sought to keep bar closing times at 5.00am. Under pressure from police, community interest groups, and residents, the city’s leadership caved, and set the closing time for bars to the national default of 4.00am.

Whether this reduces or simply shifts the incidence of crime and nuisance associated with late night drinking is debateable (UK evidence suggests the latter). However, it is interesting to note that other jurisdictions are embracing their late night revellers instead of harrowing them out of nightlife districts.

Amsterdam is a prime example. The city has appointed a night mayor whose role it is to ensure that the city’s economy keeps pumping long after the sun has set. The job of the night mayor is also to smooth over tensions with residents and day time businesses who may be affected by the less than desirable (*ahem*) spill overs from those who may have imbibed too much.

Amsterdam’s bar licensing is an example of how the scheme works in practice. By allowing establishments in a specific area to stay open around the clock, noise is concentrated in parts of the city. And since there are set closing times, patrons leave clubs and bars in dribs and drabs, which is much quieter and less troublesome than disgorging a mass of inebriated patrons onto the streets all at once.

It is an idea that is also catching elsewhere. Night mayors have been appointed in Paris, Toulouse, and Zurich, and is being considered in London and Berlin.

As CubaDupa demonstrated, a vibrant nightlife is a vital part of what makes Wellington a great place to live, and Amsterdam shows there are clever ways to manage the negative spill over effects. With local government elections just around the corner, if someone ran for night mayor they would certainly get my vote.

Stuck in the Stone Age
Khyaati Acharya | Research Assistant |
Lamenting your loneliness? Forget taking advice from Dale Carnegie’s How to win friends and influence people, and carry on listening to Eric Carmen’s All by myself. Because, according to British psychologists, your solitude might just be a sign of intellectual brilliance!
Last month, the British Journal of Psychology published a study looking into evolutionary perspectives on happiness and intelligence. Researchers found that the lifestyles of our ancient ancestors could hold the key to what makes us happy today.
It turns out the human brain is actually evolutionarily hardwired for the demands of ancient nomadic life on the great plains of Africa.
The savanna theory of happiness holds that based on the lifestyles of our Palaeolithic ancestors, human happiness is negatively associated with population density, but positively associated with frequent get-togethers with friends (cyber interactions probably don’t count).
Archaeological remains from the Upper Palaeolithic age (around 50,000 years ago) are the earliest pieces of evidence of organized human settlements. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived within small tight-knit groups of around 150 people. Maintaining close contact with friends and allies in that ancient setting was essential for the survival and reproduction of the human species.
Despite 50 millennia having passed, researchers speculate that perhaps human brains still haven’t caught up to the rapidly changing world around us.
Our brains are literally stuck in the Stone Age.
However, the picture is a little different for the Einsteins among us.
The researchers posit that smarter people might be better equipped for dealing with the challenges of modern life. An ability to adapt quickly and square evolutionary traits with fast-paced 21st century life may lessen the negative effects associated with population density.
But, apparently super intelligent people tend to be focused on longer-term objectives, which might shrink the positive benefits of socialising with friends. Like a writer with their eye on the Pulitzer Prize, putting effort into social interactions might detract from the pursuit of long-term goals.
Of course, the size of a person’s friendship circle is probably not the most reliable measure of an individual’s intellect. Such binary classifications are rarely infallible.
Sure, that you have few friends might be because you’re selflessly committed to curing cancer.
Then again, it could just be a sign that you’re a bit of a know-it-all.

On The Record
All Things Considered
  • When going hiking in China, don't forget to purchase your bagged...air?!
  • 50 years ago: A look back at 1966.
  • It's nice to see what members of the public think about important issues. The British public nailed it by suggesting 'Boaty McBoatface' as the name of a new £200 million ship.
  • 27 very sad apartment listings that speak the bleak truth about real estate.
  • Most of us probably find our minds wandering several times per day. But how does it affect our happiness?
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