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Insights 8: 15 March 2019
Eric Crampton takes a closer look on Newsroom at the tax and policy implications around safer alternatives to tobacco
Latest report: #localismNZ: Bringing power to the people
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When superstition beats science
Dr Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director |
“A regional outbreak of an infectious disease requires emergency mass vaccinations of about 125,000 people.” What sounds like a report from the distant past or a developing country happened only this week, in New Zealand. Measles is back.

Over the past few days, the Canterbury District Health Board confirmed 27 cases of measles. Considering that measles takes about two weeks to incubate, the disease is likely to further spread. It could take several weeks until the outbreak is under control.

Health Minister David Clark did the only responsible thing. He urged Cantabrians who have no or insufficient immunisation against the disease to get vaccinated. “Vaccines work,” the Minister said. “There is no credible science that supports the claims of anti-vaccinators that I have seen.”

It is sad it has come to that. Vaccinations against measles have been available for decades, and in 2017 the World Health Organization (WHO) even congratulated New Zealand on eliminating both measles and rubella.

As we now see, the plaudits were premature.

Though nine in 10 young children in New Zealand have received the required jabs, older groups lack in vaccinations. In any case, neither young children nor young adults reach the level of 95 percent vaccinated. This percentage marks the so-called herd immunity required to prevent sustained outbreaks.

These are the effects of a years-long campaign against vaccinations. It started with claims that some vaccines were causing serious development disorders such as autism. Though such claims have long been refuted, their effect has been to spread fear among parents, leading to fewer vaccinations.

Science is clear about vaccines. In a 2008 bulletin, the WHO said, “… vaccination has greatly reduced the burden of infectious diseases. Only clean water, also considered to be a basic human right, performs better.”

Thanks to vaccines, fatal diseases like smallpox have been eradicated and millions of lives saved worldwide. It is one of the great triumphs of modern science.

And yet, even in a developed country like New Zealand, a significant number of parents are voluntarily keeping their children from vaccinations. With each rejection, parents are not only increasing the risks for their own family but also for others in the community.

This is not to argue for mandatory vaccinations. But we should worry that science still has such a hard time against popular superstitions – with deadly consequences.

Should we give Fair Pay Agreements a fair go?
Roger Partridge | Chairman |
There is a lot to like about New Zealand’s labour laws. At 80.9%, our labour market participation rate is among the highest in the world. This rate compares extremely well with Australia at 77.4% and the OECD average of only 72.1%. Our unemployment rate is also commendably low. At 4.3%, unemployment in New Zealand undercuts Australia’s 5.2% and the European Union’s laggardly 6.8%.

Regardless, the coalition government is eager to re-write our industrial relations rule-book by introducing so-called “Fair Pay Agreements”. Despite advice from Treasury that more work was needed to justify the policy initiative, Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Iain Lees-Galloway set the Jim Bolger-led Fair Pay Agreement Working Group underway last June.

Of course, Fair Pay Agreements do not sound like a bad idea. No employee wants to work for unfair pay. Nor is it sustainable for an employer to offer unfair pay – especially in a tight labour market.

However, the working group’s recommendations delivered in January go far beyond creating a framework for an employer and its employees to reach agreement on a fair level of remuneration. Instead, the working group proposes a compulsory, highly prescriptive system for determining wages and other terms and conditions of employment.

The recommendations would allow the lower of 1,000 workers, or 10% of the workers in an occupation or industry, to require all employers – and all other workers (including contractors) – to submit to a compulsory collective bargaining process. Prescribed outcomes of that process include industry- or occupation-wide minimum rates of pay, criteria for pay rises, overtime rates, and redundancy provisions.

The government is considering the working group’s recommendations. It needs to do so carefully. If implemented, the changes will mark a return to the system of industrial awards that dominated labour market regulation in New Zealand in the 1960s and ’70s – a period overshadowed by widespread industrial strife.

And it is just this type of industrial awards system that many hold responsible for the current low levels of labour market participation and high levels of unemployment in both Australia and across Europe.

While the government is digesting its working group’s recommendations, at the Initiative we are doing our own research on whether the case for Fair Pay Agreements stacks up. And like Treasury, we have our doubts.

Expect to hear more from us in the coming months.

Hipsters need nametags
Dr Eric Crampton | Chief Economist |
Wellington is a small place. Everybody complains they’re always running into people they know, that it’s hard for young people to date people who haven’t been dated by their friends already, and that it’s impossible to have an impromptu coffee at Astoria without being recognised by some journalist.

Maybe that’s what’s behind the hipster drive for anonymity through identical non-conformity.

Two weeks ago, MIT Technology Review wrote a piece explaining an older research article claiming to show why non-conformists, hipsters included, all wind up looking like each other. The article was accompanied by a stock photo of the typical young bearded man wearing a beanie.

I’ve never been great with names. But two broad classes of men aged up to about 50 are certainly not helping. The younger cohort combines short-cropped hair with beards and well-tended moustaches; the older cohort hides hair loss by shaving their heads while sporting a closer-cropped beard and moustache.

When a good quarter of men in public service have identical beards and hipster attire, you lose a lot of the visual cues people otherwise use to tell faces apart. And when so many have also gone in for the waxed-skull look – there’s just no hope.

I’m not the only one too often flummoxed. They can’t even tell each other apart. 

Technology Review’s Gideon Lichfield reported last week of receiving a “furious email” in response to their article on how hipsters all look alike. The man was upset that the article had used his picture without permission. Technology Review followed up with Getty Images, only to discover that the model in the picture was not the man complaining.

Lichfield concluded, “In other words, the guy who’d threatened to sue us for misusing his image wasn’t the one in the photo. He’d misidentified himself. All of which just proves the story we ran: Hipsters look so much alike that they can’t even tell themselves apart from each other.”

So now I feel a little less bad about sometimes getting confused about just which bearded man I’ve met on Lambton Quay.

But there is a solution: name tags. Bespoke retro name tags – the old white cloth oval type with an embroidered name in cursive script sewn onto the shirt or jacket. Small enough to maintain at-a-glance anonymity at Astoria, big enough to help the person you’re talking with if you’re hiding behind a beard.

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