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Insights 40: 28 October 2022
Newsroom: Eric Crampton on the latest in a long line of dodgy Oxfam reports on inequality
Newstalk ZB: Roger Partridge on the Fair Pay Act’s harmful inflexibility
The Australian: Oliver Hartwich reviews the last five years and the PM's on the ground record

Save our cities
Dr Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director |
One of the megatrends of the past decades has been urbanisation. Globally, city dwellers have surpassed rural dwellers since 2007. 

This is what makes Statistics New Zealand’s latest data so remarkable. Because New Zealand now bucks that trend. 

In the past two years, New Zealand’s cities have lost population while the country as a whole has grown. 

Since 2020, Auckland has lost 1.11 percent of its population. Wellington’s population shrank by 1.57 percent, and Dunedin is 1.87 percent smaller than it used to be. 

Among the major cities, only Christchurch was able to limit its losses. Nevertheless, Christchurch was down 0.59 percent as well. 

The pandemic can explain some of these falls in population. Not least, international students unable to come to New Zealand or returning to their home countries will have been a factor. 

However, the decline of our cities is attributable to more than international movements. As the case of Auckland demonstrates, internal migration is an even bigger factor. 

Auckland lost a net 13,500 people to emigration, but more than twice that number to internal migration. A net 30,400 people left Auckland for other places in New Zealand. 

Had it not been for a natural increase of 24,900 people (i.e., more births than deaths), Auckland’s decline would have been even more dramatic. 

There is no way to know why people are leaving Auckland and other major cities. Did New Zealanders discover working from home during Covid? Gazing at beaches or mountains is undoubtedly more pleasant than facing a cityscape while stuck in a Zoom meeting. 

The loss of amenities in big cities may be the better explanation. House prices are exorbitant, congestion is endemic, and crime is perceived to be on the rise. 

Given these unpleasant elements of life in the big smoke, no wonder the countryside looks more appealing to many. 

Rural house prices have risen, but not to the ridiculous levels seen in Auckland or Wellington. Congestion and crime may be less of a problem there, too. 

What makes sense from an individual perspective should nevertheless ring alarm bells. Economic development has historically been dependent on cities. 

Harvard economist Edward Glaeser said a decade ago that cities are humanity’s greatest invention. They make us “richer, smarter, greener, healthier and happier”, as Glaeser explained in The Triumph of the City

Economic recovery from Covid will be harder if cities lose their attractiveness.

The definition of insanity…
Dr Michael Johnston | Senior Fellow |
One of the few things more irritating than someone saying, “I told you so”, is someone sticking their fingers in their ears when you’re trying to tell them something important.

In July of this year, the New Zealand Initiative published a Policy Note titled, A Way Ahead for Literacy and Numeracy. We reported on a 2021 trial of new assessments for literacy and numeracy, scheduled to become corequisites for NCEA in 2024. The results of a new pilot of these assessments have now been published.

The results of the earlier trial were dismal. Just 67% of candidates met the standard in reading and 65% in numeracy. Only 35% met the standard for writing.

These are not standards certifying that students are ready for university. Rather, they specify the literacy and numeracy skills people need to function at a basic level in modern society.

We recommended urgent reform to the teaching of literacy and numeracy, using an approach based on scientific evidence. We further recommended that the new standards not be implemented as a corequisite for NCEA in 2024. These new teaching approaches will take time to flow through to improvement in children’s abilities. In the meantime, we argued, the standards should contribute to a stand-alone certificate of literacy and numeracy.

The response of the education establishment to our report was to stick their fingers in their ears.

Pip Tinning, vice-president of the Association of Teachers of English, said that, while the results were “confronting”, when they’re introduced as an NCEA corequisite, “the results won't be so horrific."

The Ministry of Education tried to explain the results away by saying that the sample wasn’t representative. Vaughan Couillault, president of the Secondary Principals Association, said that the trial was about the assessment rather than the students. He said we should wait for the 2022 pilot results. Well Vaughan, the 2022 results are now in, and guess what? – they’re even worse.

To be fair, the writing result couldn’t have got much worse. It was down just one percentage point from 2021. Reading achievement was down three points, with 64% of candidates meeting the standard in the 2022 pilot. Numeracy has tumbled nine points, to just 56% of candidates meeting the standard this year.

These results were entirely predictable. The Ministry was right that the 2021 sample wasn’t representative. The trouble is that it over-represented students in demographics that normally do well.

But it’s irritating to say, “I told you so”. So, I won’t.

Out of Office
Dr Matthew Birchall | Research Fellow |
Another week, another British Prime Minister.

Just 44 days into the job, Liz Truss was forced into a humiliating resignation. After the markets balked at her not-so-mini budget, the Economist quipped that her authority had enjoyed “roughly the shelf-life of a lettuce.”

The good people at the Daily Star took the jibe a step further by launching a competition to see if she could survive longer than a 60p iceberg lettuce from Tesco. A webcam streamed the action to all and sundry. The lettuce won.

Such is the state of British politics.

Some pundits have suggested leaving the lectern outside 10 Downing Street to make the next resignation more efficient.

Others have brushed up on their graphic design skills, artfully creating fake Airbnb advertisements for the PM’s residence. The perfect place for a short-term stay has a nice ring to it. The ideal venue for the office Christmas party would be a fitting throwback to the halcyon days of Boris Johnson.

A personal favourite is a tweet by Alan McGuiness, assistant editor of digital politics at Sky News: “My son has lived through four chancellors, three home secretaries, two prime ministers and two monarchs. He’s four months old.”

And this from the mother of parliaments. Say what you will about the British, but they sure have a good sense of humour.

All of the pandemonium at Westminster prompted me to take a look at where this fits into the grand sweep of British history.

Remarkably, Truss can now lay claim to the title of shortest-serving PM in British history, supplanting the brilliant Tory statesman and orator George Canning (1770-1827). Canning didn’t have much choice in the matter, though, as he died from tuberculosis 119 days after assuming office.

Nor did another contender, the Canadian-born Andrew Bonar Law (1858-1923). He died of throat cancer after 211 days in the office.

This is not really the sort of company that you want to be keeping.

What about New Zealand?

Francis Henry Dillon Bell (1851-1926) takes the gong for his sixteen-day stint at the helm in 1925. Yet Bell was only ever a stop-gap PM following the death of William Massey, and he duly stood aside for Joseph Gordon Coates (1878-1943).

Sometimes lettuce is less frail than human fortune.

On The Record

Initiative Activities:   
All Things Considered
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  • How a lack of state capacity doomed pandemic results
  • An Engine of Improvement for the Social Processes of Science
  • We can't even trust the Mongrel Mob any more
  • The end of the system of the world
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