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Insights 2: 3 February 2023
Newsroom: Eric Crampton on the mess that is the Grocery Industry Competition Bill
The Common Room: Oliver Hartwich on West Germany's economic miracle
The Australian: James Kierstead on the Government's defense of the revised 'hate speech' bill

Why Hipkins should call time on RMA reforms
Roger Partridge | Senior Fellow & Chairman |
At 11:59pm on Sunday, submissions close on Environment Minister David Parker’s Natural and Built Environment Bill.
One minute to midnight on the Sunday of Waitangi weekend is a strange deadline for submissions on a once-in-a-generation proposal to reform the Resource Management Act.
Yet Sunday is the extended deadline for submissions on the Bill. The extension followed howls of protest as submitters scrambled to respond to an 810-page Bill introduced into Parliament only shortly before the summer holiday recess.
But undue haste is not the main problem with Parker’s Bill. The more fundamental issue is incoherence.
The Bill is the first of a trio of statutes intended to replace the deservedly discredited RMA. Yet there are many reasons to believe the reforms will make those processes worse rather than better.
At their heart, planning laws should help discover the best use of scarce resources. They do this by helping with two problems markets can struggle with: the provision of public goods (like parks and transport infrastructure) and controlling externalities (like pollution).
However, like the RMA, Parker’s new statues have far grander goals. Unfortunately, they also have greater flaws.
In place of the RMA’s ill-defined objective of “sustainable development”, the new regime proposes strict environmental “bottom lines.” But hard-and-fast bottom lines are a fantasy. All resource use decisions involve trade-offs. And whereas the RMA permitted assessments of costs and benefits of these trade-offs, Parker’s reforms offer no such safety-net. Instead, Parliament and central planners will cast decisions in stone.
There are also problems with the new Bill’s two other resource allocation principles. “Efficiency” and “equity” sound like reasonable ideas.
But the Bill omits any reference to property rights and price mechanisms necessary for economically efficient outcomes. And it leaves equity to the whims of planners. Minister Parker may have confidence in planners, but does anyone else?
Overlaying these principles is a Te Ao Māori concept incorporating the relationship between iwi and individual hapū and the natural environment. Called Te Oranga o te Taiao, this principle will place undefined race-based considerations at the heart of the planning framework.
In combination, these principles promise a worse quagmire than the RMA they are intended to replace. 
Chris Hipkins has committed to cutting back the Government’s reform agenda to focus on bread-and-butter issues.
He should start by axing Parker’s misguided RMA reforms.

Shiny new things
Dr Michael Johnston | Senior Fellow |
A logical fallacy is an invalid element in an argument. There are many kinds of fallacies. For some reason, logicians like to give them Latin names.
One example is cum hoc ergo propter hoc (‘with this, therefore because of this’). This fallacy involves arguing for a causal relationship between two things, simply because they are correlated.
Logicians and politicians have different attitudes towards fallacies. Logicians try hard to avoid them and love to point them out. Politicians often use them, probably because they can be very persuasive. If a fallacy didn’t have intuitive appeal, it wouldn’t be committed often enough to acquire a Latin name.
Journalists also often commit fallacies, usually out of ignorance. Confusing correlation with causation seems to be a favourite of theirs.
A fallacy that may have relevance this week is argumentum ad novitatem (‘appeal to novelty’). This fallacy is committed when a claim is made that a new thing is better than an old one, simply because it’s new.
Like other fallacies, the appeal to novelty has intuitive appeal. People like shiny new things and are biased towards thinking they’re better than old ones.
Two political polls were released last Monday evening. They were the first out since Chris Hipkins’ elevation to the Premiership. In both, the Labour government enjoyed increases in support of about five percentage points.
On Kiwiblog, pollster David Farrar listed the change in support for both major parties in the first poll following each leadership change since 1974. Following 17 of the 20 changes, the relevant party’s support rose. Yet only three of those new leaders went on to win the following election.
Hipkins is smart and affable. Those characteristics have, no doubt, helped win back support for Labour. Hipkins has also promised to wind back some of the government’s less popular policy initiatives.
Whether or not appeal-to-novelty has anything to do with this week’s poll results, Farrar’s data suggest that it often influences voters’ views of new leaders.
Democratic elections work most effectively if people cast their votes rationally. But the pattern of new leaders enjoying an initial rise in support only to go on to lose, is just one of many phenomena that challenge that assumption.
Even so, free elections entail the freedom to vote irrationally. And despite our all-too-human flaws, democracy has yielded the most prosperous societies in history.

On the spectrum
Dr James Kierstead | Research Fellow |
For all those who were hoping that the state would finally get tough on hate, the government’s dialling down of its ambitious hate speech reforms must have come as a crushing disappointment.
All is not lost, though. Justice Minister Kiri Allan recently issued a legislative statement for a new bill that would still limit Kiwis’ speech, if less comprehensively than the original proposals.
What’s more, Allan’s statement also spelled out some important principles that make clear (if it wasn’t clear already) how important it is that we clamp down on New Zealanders expressing themselves.
First, we should bear in mind that contemptuous words can cause ‘significant harm’ to those targeted by them and to ‘society as a whole.’ Censorship, on the other hand, has never caused any harm to society, as history shows.
Second, the victims of hate speech can experience ‘the loss of their right to feel safe, freedom of movement and expression, and, at the right extreme end of the spectrum, the right to life, if someone is killed as a result of incitement or hostility.’
The reminder that we all have a right to feel safe is particularly salutary, since this right appears to be missing, for some reason, from important documents like the New Zealand Bill of Rights and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Equally salutary is the clarification that words can deprive people of their freedom of movement (a belief that might not come naturally to most people), and that framing laws against free expression can sometimes be needed to protect people’s right to free expression.
It is also important to remember, as the bill does, that when someone is killed by bombs or guns, one of the things we should most be concerned about are words, especially the words of people who don’t seem to have had anything to do with the violence.
Most important of all, though, is that the bill has made clear that deadly violence of this sort and words are all on the same spectrum. Making a joke about someone’s God, saying that there are only two sexes – there’s little, of course, to distinguish such things from terrorist atrocities.
This is crucial, since our society has previously been acting on the assumption that speech and violence are significantly different, and that it’s precisely our ability to discuss things that allows us to avoid ghastly violence.
What fools we were!

On The Record

Initiative Activities:   
All Things Considered
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  • A capital-intensive, high-risk way to revolutionize global commerce
  • This billion-dollar-selling toy was inspired by heat pumps
  • Let’s stop governments from making the same mistake twice
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