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Insights 30: 17 August 2018
Read: Jenesa Jeram in the Sunday Star Times on vaping regulation
Blog: Intern Jack on the four-day working week
Watch: Video of our Public Forum with British economist Phillipe Legrain

Bridges’ right to travel
Dr Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director |
At the risk of making myself unpopular, I have absolutely no problem with Simon Bridges’ expenses bill. Except that it was leaked and that some other politicians are trying to turn it into a scandal.

The opposition leader spent too much money on travel, mainly on Crown cars. But that is just another way of saying he was doing his job.

Over the past months, Bridges did what we would expect new opposition leaders to do. He visited communities up and down the country, attended countless functions and delivered numerous speeches. Good on him.

The job of Leader of the Opposition should not be performed behind a desk in Wellington. It requires travel, and lots of it. Especially in a country as large and sparsely populated as New Zealand.

Maybe it would have been justified to criticise a politician’s travel bill had he chosen to visit London, Washington, Hong Kong and Paris. Meanwhile, for Mr Bridges the itinerary was Lower Hutt, Waipukarau, Hokitika and Pakuranga. It does not sound quite as glamorous, and I am sure it was not.

And that is the other thing about Bridges’ travel expenses: There can be no suggestion he travelled as much as he did for the fun of it. It was all part of the hard yards of being opposition leader.

Most people who have never been in a job requiring frequent travelling can imagine how draining it is. You are away from both your family and your office. It sucks an enormous amount of your hours. And no matter how nice the hotel room, you still sleep best in your own bed. I am speaking from experience.

That we, as taxpayers, grant our politicians the relative luxury of using a Crown car to perform their duties is a reasonable deal, too. The limousine extends their office where they can think, talk and telephone in privacy. It enables them, the politicians, to work for us, the taxpayers.

And so it is unfair to criticise one of our leading politicians for legally using those services available to him. There is not even a hint of wrong-doing about Bridges’ expenses bill. He did what was right and what he was entitled to.

I would be the first to criticise politicians for actual waste. But a hard-working politician must be defended against sanctimonious accusations.

And Simon Bridges should not hesitate to continue his engagement with New Zealand.

Suffering from the Dagg Effect?
Natanael Rother | Research Fellow at Swiss think tank Avenir Suisse |
Travelling to New Zealand will be a tremendous shock to the system, a couple of my peers tried to convince me before I left home in Zurich. It was - but not for the reasons everyone told me.
The travelling was super smooth. Changing planes in one of the eastern hubs was a piece of cake and and for the first time in years, I read a book straight from beginning to end (The have and the have nots by Branko Milanovic, for those looking for a page-turner).

The shock I got, however, hit me a lot more than a jetlag, boredom or any other travelling inconveniences ever could. What was challenged was my view on Swiss federalism – something close to my heart.
For years now I have been trying to explain at home, why voters, politicians, and even members of local government don’t appreciate Swiss federalism enough. Back home having at least some sort of views of how our federal system should get ready for the future is rare. And yet, here I am on the other side of the world hearing stories of how great Switzerland’s federal system is and that others would be far better off if only they had what we have.
It’s only recently that I read The Outside of the Asylum by my now-colleague Eric Crampton who described the state of mind of Kiwis who don’t know how lucky they are as the Dagg Effect. That clearly got me thinking.
(For the non-kiwi readers: The story is linked to a song of NZ Comedian John Clarke’s most famous character Fred Dagg. So technically it only works for New Zealand, but the deeper meaning of being unhappy with how things stand matches for Switzerland as well).
Have I ended up being one of those doom and glooms that never tire of pointing out the negative things in life? I guess only time will tell.
As for now, I am convinced I have not. People here in New Zealand don’t just say they like Swiss federalism, but they also ask what specific tasks local authorities should be in charge of and how I think it is possible to decentralise not only public expenditure but also public income.
These, of course, are the questions we are struggling with back home. Not because our system wasn’t neatly implemented but because it’s essential to rethink how we do things from time to time.

Natanael Rother is a Research Fellow at Swiss think tank Avenir Suisse and has joined the Initiative team for six weeks.

In praise of tax as love (with apologies to William Shakespeare)
Dr Bryce Wilkinson | Senior Fellow |
My Insights article, Low Tax Fantasy, on 27 July rebutted the claims that New Zealand was a low-tax country by global standards and that tax is love.

The article struck a chord with a number of readers, one of whom said it reminded her of one of Shakespeare’s sonnets about love.

With apologies to that most sage of bards, here is an unfaithful rendition of the sonnet she had in mind.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments. Tax is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds, 

Or bends with the remover to remove.

O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,

That looks on tempests and is never shaken,

It is the star to every wandering bark,

Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.

Tax is not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

Within his bending sickle’s compass come;

Tax alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

If this be error, and upon me prov’d,

I never writ, and no man was ever taxed.
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