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Insights 30: 19 August 2022
Newsroom: Eric Crampton explains the government's art of ‘hiding the cheese'
The Australian: Oliver Hartwich draws up a reading list for the next Prime Minister
Podcast: Professor David Rozado on the rise of polarisation in the global media

The curious Dr Wilkinson
Dr Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director |
There is an old tradition in academia to publish a Festschrift to honour significant birthdays of eminent scholars.

It is not something we do in think tank land, so we should at least celebrate Bryce Wilkinson’s 75th birthday in Insights.

Among Bryce’s many talents are his incisive economic analysis, his hard-hitting commentary and, at times, his poignant satire (see below).

Though all true, that misses some more important traits.

One of them is Bryce’s insatiable curiosity. For most people, a job is a job. For Bryce, it is his passion.

Over the years, there have been countless quick conversations at the coffee machine, which ended up in Bryce following them up with research. Hours or days later, we would then receive a collection of Excel spreadsheets regarding a question that came up that way. Not that it mattered for any current project, but simply because Bryce wanted to know.

Perhaps that is why Bryce loves his work. For him, it is all a learning experience.

That is why, even after a decade on the SuperGold Card, Bryce still comes to the office every day. He often arrives first and leaves last.

Bryce’s passion for learning and economics is infectious. And it is because Bryce makes it infectious.

Especially for his younger colleagues – so, relatively speaking, for all of us – he is always ready to lend a hand, provide advice, peer-review your writing, or connect you with one of his many mates.

That is yet another of Bryce’s qualities. Having worked in policy for many years, he has established a vast network of contacts. So even if he does not know the answer to a question, he sure knows the person who does.

During New Zealand’s great reforms of the 1980s, Bryce was a key figure in Treasury. As an official, he shaped what would become known as ‘Rogernomics’. During that time, highly motivated and exceptionally qualified public servants like Bryce developed public policy.

With this extensive experience of New Zealand policymaking, Bryce has become a walking encyclopaedia of economic and social history. His publication record with the Initiative is testament to that.

Over ten years at the Initiative, Bryce has covered foreign direct investment, fiscal policy, monetary policy, social policy, economic history, Pharmac, Fair Pay Agreements, climate policy – even scaffolding regulation.

We are lucky to have Bryce at the Initiative. As he celebrates his special day, we wish him many more years of economic curiosity.

A pretence of learning
Dr Michael Johnston | Senior Fellow |
Everyone knows the expression, ‘you have to be cruel to be kind’.

A suggestion to shorten the school holidays might well be perceived as cruel. But the Ministry of Education’s notion of kindness is crueller still. For the third year in a row, the Ministry has announced a discount on the number of credits required to get NCEA certificates and University Entrance (UE).

Their justification in 2020 and 2021 was the loss of school time due to COVID lockdowns. In 2022, it is that students and teachers have missed school when they, or one of their household members, has had COVID.

For every five credits gained in assessments, students will gain a bonus one, up to a maximum of eight. In typically Orwellian fashion, the Ministry is calling these learning recognition credits. Unfortunately, the learning they are purportedly recognising hasn’t actually occurred.

From a political perspective, it’s easy to understand why the Ministry is doing this. It appears to be kind.

Educationally though, fake credits make no sense. The Ministry is pretending that students have completed more learning than they have.

Lowering educational standards to allow more students to pass a requirement is always false kindness. UE is set for a reason – to ensure that students who gain it are prepared for university study. Many students who relied on learning recognition credits to enter university over the last two years did not fare well. A large proportion failed all their courses.

The Ministry allowed them to undertake study for which they were not prepared. Many wasted their time and had a demoralising experience. They also wasted much of their ‘fees free’ allowance for tertiary study. Not so kind after all.

A student without UE can enrol in a provisional entry programme. There, they would learn the academic writing, logical thinking and life skills they need to succeed at university. But a student with UE cannot be required to undertake provisional entry.

Extending this year’s third school term by a week might have been a better approach than learning recognition credits. Teachers would have to be paid generously, but the investment in young people would be worth it. Students not struggling to meet UE requirements could opt out.

That way the Ministry could have recognised actual learning rather than pretend learning. Not much fun for students, but undoubtedly better than failing at university.

Sometimes, to be kind, we have to risk at least appearing to be cruel.

A Prime Minster congratulates Ian Forsty in the Koru Club
Dr Bryce Wilkinson | Senior Fellow |
“The ownership of these [water] entities sits with local bodies and government. … Local government retains ownership.  For most people power sits with ownership.”
Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern Interview 31 July 2022.

Prime Minister (brightly): Good morning, Ian.

Ian Forsty (guardedly): Good morning, Prime Minister.

Prime Minister: I was delighted to see that your coaching contract remains fully intact.

Ian Forsty (more positively): Thank you Prime Minister. I was worried. A contract is a contract, but the lads lost a few games, and it was looking dicey.

Prime Minister: I know the feeling.

I even had to explain to an interviewer recently that I am never going to apologise for high aspirations relative to performance.

Those with low aspirations might congratulate themselves on delivering a poor performance, but not you and me.

You aspire to win the World Cup. I aspire to end poverty, fix crime, clean up our rivers, end the housing crisis, end inequality, and much else.

I reject the premise that performance matters as much as aspiration.

Ian Forsty (dryly): Perhaps so, but may I suggest you do not take a leadership role in professional sport when you retire from politics?

Frankly, I was worried that they might remove my contractual rights and powers.

Prime Minister (puzzled): But they were not going to that were they? They were just going to give the coaching job to someone else and stop paying you.

Ian Forsty (puzzled):  But that is what I meant by taking my contractual rights.

Prime Minister: Dear me no. Your rights in anything do not extend beyond titular ownership. Your ownership of your copy of the contract is power enough.

You are not alone in this misunderstanding. You would be amazed how hard it is to explain the point to local authorities over three waters.

I say to them: “Look at state schools. Government owns them but the teachers’ union controls the system. That is why we had to end partnership schools.” They still don’t get it.

Even landlords seem to think they have a right to the portion of rental income that we have not taxed away from them ­ yet.

Ian Forsty (exiting): Prime Minister, you have made me realise how lucky I am. Thank you. Do carry an aqualung when sparring with local authorities over three waters.

On The Record

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