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Insights 20: 7 June 2019
Treasury's budget leaks were just the tip of the iceberg for a department in crisis, writes Eric Crampton on The Spinoff
Matt Burgess and Oliver Hartwich discuss New Zealand's 100% renewable energy policy
Auckland event (supported by the Initiative): Jonathan Haidt - Moral Psychology in an Age of Outrage (tickets for purchase)

Kudos to Winston Peters
Dr Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director |
Winston Peters’ comments on the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre were candid. Where Western politicians have turned not upsetting China over its human rights record into an art form, the Foreign Minister left diplomatic niceties behind.

In an interview with Magic Talk radio on Tuesday, the Foreign Minister was blunt. “Thirty years ago, about 10,000 people – we don’t know how many – lost their lives when Chinese army’s guns were turned on them, which is very, very unforgettable," he said.

He then went on to explain that the students who protested in 1989 were striving for freedom which was “a very hard thing to repel”.

Peters expressed his disappointment that three decades since Tiananmen Square, “there hasn’t been progress [in China] one would have hoped in respect to freedom itself.”

That was not what the Western world had hoped for, as Peters readily acknowledged: “The theory was that economic freedom or economic liberty would lead to political liberty. And in the case of China it has not,” only to add “I can’t say much more as Foreign Minister than that.”

We wonder what else Peters would have liked to say which his position did not allow him. Because what he said was blunt enough.

In China, any reference to the Tiananmen Square massacre has been eradicated. It is an event removed from history as if it had never happened.

The Chinese leadership’s panic is understandable. In the year of the massacre, a peaceful revolution had brought down the Berlin Wall. It demonstrated to Beijing how pro-freedom and pro-democracy protests can overthrow a police and surveillance regime.

The Chinese leadership drew its conclusions from both these events. They believed that their brutal oppression of dissidents was necessary for stability. And they set out to strengthen their grip on every aspect of life to prevent a repeat of the Berlin Wall experience in their country.

In this way, the end of communism in Europe had an anti-freedom effect in China. It made the Chinese leadership more suspicious of any activity that might call the Communist Party’s rule into question. This included purging the memory of the Tiananmen Square massacre and embedding strict controls in all media and communication channels.

Beijing’s repressive policies have an internal logic of their own. But that should not stop Western politicians from speaking out freely against them. Kudos to Winston Peters for daring to.

Buckle up for the speed-limit debate
Dr Patrick Carvalho | Research Fellow |
New Zealand has to slow down. At least, that was the overall message from the NZ Transport Agency’s Mega Maps data released this week.

According to the online interactive tool assessing road trip risks, 95 percent of the country's 100 km/h roads should have a lower speed limit – with two-thirds of them slowing down to 60 km/h.

“We need to hit speed hard”, said Niclas Johansson, NZTA's acting director of safety and environment.

But without a proper cost-benefit analysis, that would be a fast decision heading for a crash.

Lower travel speeds mean higher costs for road freight, which covers 84 percent of land-based transport of goods. That means lower business productivity, penalising jobs and income creation.

Similarly, lower travel speeds mean prolonged household trips, of which 93 percent are made by private cars. That would unnecessarily hamper community mobility, damaging social and cultural connections within and between our regions, towns and cities.

Any political decision to lower speed limits should weigh the benefits of safety improvements against the costs on commerce and community. And that includes the costs and benefits of other options – particularly when three out of four road accidents are not related to speed limits.

For instance, more police enforcement of already existing road rules combined with public education campaigns are an effective – but often neglected – option.

Another option is to tackle traffic congestion, which significantly increases the likelihood of road crashes despite lower speed flows.

Additionally, a better road infrastructure would reduce road fatalities without putting a break on speed limits. (Our state highways are practically a misnomer, with only 2 percent of the network made up of dual-carriageway roads.)

A longer historical perspective too could avoid hasty – and costly – decisions. Notwithstanding the recent uptick in car crashes in the past five years, road fatalities per capita are currently a third of 30 years ago. Commendable progress has been achieved without tampering with speed limits during this period.

In short, New Zealand does not need to slow down to speed up an all-around road safety programme. As Johansson notes, “the information provided by Mega Maps is a starting point, not an end point.”

Rethinking speed limits may be part of the solution, but we should not ignore the other options on the table.

Meanwhile, better buckle up for a heated debate – but well worth it.

More inspiration from barmy Britain
Roger Partridge | Chairman |
Readers of the NBR may have seen my column last week, “The great Brexit delusion”. For reasons that may not appear obvious, I comment in the column on proposals from the British government to curb the number of calories in restaurant meals and takeaway food. Apparently, Britain’s bureaucrats seized on the idea of regulating ready-to-go meals as a weapon in the battle against obesity.
The proposals provoked such a backlash they have had to be scrapped. But it got me thinking. What could our own government helpfully police to improve the quality of our lives?
Here is my attempt at a top 10.
  1. Banning parents from encouraging their children to support the Auckland Blues. It only ends in anguish. Well-being would be vastly improved by ensuring everyone supported teams that do not perennially dash their fans’ hopes.
  2. Ditto for the Warriors.
  3. Watching reality TV. It invariably leads to self-loathing. And we now know it can cause serious mental health issues for the participants.
  4. The sale of white chocolate (and other forms of confectionary, like Licorice Allsorts, that are irresistible even to otherwise strong-willed people).
  5. Eating cake. There are other, healthier forms of nutrition. Let us eat bread.
  6. Selling convertible cars. They promote resentment. And they pose an unacceptable risk of skin cancer for the (invariably bald) men who drive them.
  7. Mountain-climbing – among the riskiest of outdoor pursuits and surely one of the most self-indulgent. It is not just the risk of personal harm but also the cost to rescue services, ACC and, ultimately, the taxpayer. And we already regulate all other ways of getting high.
  8. Wearing budgie smugglers. Enough said.
  9. Attending the gym. We all know we should exercise at least three times a week. Yet many of us have gym memberships that sit idle all year. The Ministry of Health could easily develop a GPS-enabled app that monitors weekly gym-going. The Ministry could enforce attendance by fining us if we don’t meet our weekly targets.
  10. Tall, fit and especially good-looking people who pose an unfair reminder to the rest of us about our physical shortcomings.
Or perhaps there’s a better way to improve our well-being: ban bureaucrats who spend too much of their time – and our money – concocting ways to make decisions we can make for ourselves.

On The Record
All Things Considered
  • Graph of the week: A World of Languages.
  • How central banks should prepare for the next recession.
  • Why crowded meetings and conference rooms make you so, so tired.
  • One captain’s plan to bring drinking water to 4 million people.
  • Escape to New Zealand with its new visa program (if you don’t mind a week in a yurt).
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