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Insights 44: 25 November 2022
Podcast: Oliver Hartwich and Eric Crampton discuss NZ's immigration woes with June Ranson of Woburn International
Newsroom: Eric Crampton on RMA changes needed to enable councils to share in the benefits of urban growth
The Platform: Eric Crampton discusses New Zealand's Official Cash Rate increase with Sean Plunket

It’s cruel only to sound kind
Dr Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director |
Is it enough to have good intentions? Or is it better to focus on the outcomes of one’s actions?
A century ago, Max Weber, the founder of modern sociology, made this distinction.
I thought of Weber as Newshub broke an outrageous story on Tuesday. There are still the same number of mental health beds as there were in 2019.
Despite numerous speeches and pledges. Despite billions of dollars spent. And despite years of government activism.
Mental health patients sleep on mattresses on the floors of our hospitals. Those in the greatest need and desperation have not even the dignity of a bed.
These stories are hard to bear. They contrast sharply with New Zealand’s self-image as a kinder country.
But what makes all this even more galling is the blatant discrepancy between sad reality and lofty promises.
In early 2019, the Prime Minister penned a much-celebrated opinion piece for the Financial Times. She scolded past generations of New Zealand politicians for their economic reforms. And she promoted her own vision of a "wellbeing budget", singling out mental health.
"From a purely economic perspective, there are clear benefits to supporting positive mental wellbeing, including enhanced productivity," she wrote. "From a kindness perspective, the modern age places huge stresses on young people, which affects their ability to live full, meaningful lives. Confronting this will make us a better country."
A few months later, the Ardern Government delivered the first wellbeing budget. Its signature programme: a $1.9 billion investment in mental health. Mental health showed up 73 times in the Health budget – but with no mention of outcomes or evaluation.
The Prime Minister concluded her 2019 FT article: "We in New Zealand hope to, once again, punch above our weight by forging a new economic system based on this powerful concept — one that is successful, but one that is also kind."
And mental health patients now sleep on the floor.
Which brings us straight back to Max Weber.
There is Weber’s ethics of conviction, and the Prime Minister shows much of that. And then there is Weber’s ethics of responsibility, which is measured in outcomes. The Government’s record on that front is abysmal.
Before I hear one more grand vision from this Government, I would love to see them tackle at least one problem satisfactorily.
The way the Government is going, I will probably wait a long time.

You can read Eric Crampton's 2019 article warning about this here.

Free speech and the decline of religious war
Dr Michael Johnston | Senior Fellow |
History is replete with war motivated by religious disagreement. One example is the centuries-long clash between the Catholic and Protestant variants of Christianity.
Religion remains a significant driver of conflict in some parts of the world today. But it seems that Catholics and Protestants, at least, have finally learned to live with one another.
Arguably, most westerners just don’t take religion seriously enough to kill and die for it anymore. But free speech may also have contributed to the truce.
Over several centuries, growing acceptance of free speech made it more and more possible for Catholics and Protestants to talk through their differences. Over the same time period, the incidence of armed conflict between them diminished.
Unfortunately, our ability to speak freely on religious matters may be at risk.
In the wake of the Christchurch Massacre, the government sought to extend our hate speech laws. The initial plan was to add a variety of identity characteristics – sex, sexuality and religion – to existing legislation. Threatening, abusive or insulting speech targeted at ethnic, racial and nationality groups has been banned since 1993.
That legislation was withdrawn following concerted opposition. Recently, however, Justice Minister Kiri Allen announced the return of hate speech legislation, albeit in a reduced form. Now, the government seeks only to add religion to the list of protected characteristics.
As hurtful as it is to be a target of hateful comments, there are sound reasons not to criminalise those who make them.
For one thing, ridiculing religious ideas themselves arguably insults those who believe them too. So scornful remarks about religious beliefs could easily run afoul of Allen’s new laws.
For another, the new legislation, if passed, might actually increase the likelihood of violence motivated by or against religion. People who don’t feel free to voice their hateful thoughts may be more likely to act on them.
But there is an even better reason to maintain the ability to freely express ideas, even awful ones. Untrammelled expression, as bruising as it can sometimes be, tends to bring people together in the long run.
Protestants and Catholics once regarded one another as heretics. They sought to censor one another on pain of death. Now, following a long period during which peaceful dialogue has been possible, it is not unknown for them to worship together.
Our legislators would do well to reflect on that.

Bill of Rights contortions
Roger Partridge | Senior Fellow & Chairman |
A funny thing happened in the Supreme Court this week. The Court found that the Bill of Rights breached… the Bill of Rights. Only Justice Kos dissented.
The majority decision did not quite put it that way. But perhaps the judges were blind to the implications of their views.
The perplexing case concerned arguments that 16-year-olds should have the right to vote.
The Court’s decision to hear the case was controversial enough.
But its finding that 16-year-olds suffer unjustified discrimination breaching the Bill of Rights has been met with widespread disbelief.
And for good reason.
The Bill of Rights permits justified limits on the freedoms it protects. Few parents would disagree that preventing their 16-year-olds from having a say in controls over the sale of liquor (to take an obvious example) is justified.
But not a majority of the Supreme Court – despite the statute books being jam-packed with restrictions on the freedoms of 16-year-olds. Buying cigarettes, entering binding contracts, enlisting in the armed forces, the list goes on and on. And that’s not to mention parents’ guardianship rights over their children until age 18.
And why voting rights at 16, you might ask? Why not 15 or younger?
The answer to this, at least, is clear. The Human Rights Act prohibits certain types of discriminatory conduct – such as in employment – on grounds including sex, religious belief, race and “age.” The HRA defines age as “any age over 16.” So, 15-year-olds are plum out of luck.
Section 19 of the Bill of Rights extends the HRA by creating a general right to freedom from discrimination.
That raised the principal question facing the Court: Does the Electoral Act discriminate against 16-year-olds by setting the voting age at 18?
At first blush, it does. If 16-year-olds cannot vote when 18-year-olds can, they are being discriminated against, right? 
Well, yes, but not in a way protected by the Bill of Rights.
That is because another section of the Bill of Rights, s12(a), guarantees that every New Zealand citizen aged 18 years or more has the right to vote in Parliamentary elections.
If the judges giving the majority decision are right, then by not guaranteeing the voting rights of 16-year-olds, s12(a) is itself discriminatory.
Of course, the Bill of Rights Act cannot breach itself.
And indeed, it doesn’t. By explicitly referring only to the rights of voters aged over 18, the Bill of Rights makes clear those under 18 do not have voting rights protected by the Bill of Rights.
You don’t need to be a Supreme Court judge to see that.
Indeed, it seems that being a Supreme Court judge is a handicap. Unless you are Justice Kos.

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