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Insights 4: 17 February 2023
The Australian: Oliver Hartwich on the government's reset
Newsroom: Eric Crampton on local zoning versus regionalised planning
NZ Herald: Roger Partridge on the horrors of Parker's RMA reform proposals

Dr Eric Crampton | Chief Economist |
It has been a terrible couple of weeks. Assessing and costing cyclone damage from Northland to Wairarapa, but especially in Hawke’s Bay, will take months. Tens of thousands of homes and businesses are likely to need substantial remediation or rebuilding. Critical infrastructure will need to be rebuilt and strengthened.
A fortnight ago, it was obvious that the incoming Prime Minister needed to focus government’s attention on reducing living costs.
Today, it is just as obvious that the government will need to spend much of the rest of the year focused on recovering and rebuilding.
A few policy moves might be worth considering.
Building materials will again be in short supply unless regulatory and consenting barriers to using quality imported materials are eased.
The government has asked the Australian government for help during the immediate disaster recovery. The net could yet be cast more broadly.
During the Christchurch rebuild, Irish accents almost outnumbered Kiwi accents among construction workers – at least on the University of Canterbury’s campus. The government had set a temporary Canterbury Skill Shortage List to let more skilled workers assist.
The Prime Minister should make clear that the doors are wide open to anyone who can help – and that Immigration New Zealand will rapidly approve visas.
The massive bill to be paid should mean that Budget 2023 will reorient away from what might otherwise have been election priorities.
Central government will have to cover the $1.5 billion difference between EQC’s depleted Disaster Recovery Fund and the excess on EQC’s reinsurance.

Rebuilding roads and bridges will be expensive. Road users should repay the debt that funds that rebuild, over time. But the holiday on road user charges will have to end.
It may also be worth rethinking how EQC premiums are set.
Currently, EQC premiums do not vary with the riskiness of different properties. If the government wants to avoid subsidising rebuilding on precarious but scenic Auckland clifftops, it could ask EQC to let premiums reflect risk – and let owners decide whether to cash-settle and rebuild elsewhere. Remember that 2018 work by Motu showed higher-income neighbourhoods tend to benefit most from EQC’s coverage for landslips, storms and floods.
We hope the weather clears, the floods subside, the missing persons are found well, and the recovery gets underway quickly.
And that the year ahead brings no more horrible surprises.

In Praise of William White (1824–1899), Provincial Pioneer
Dr Matthew Birchall | Research Fellow |
Getting things done in New Zealand can be a challenge. Even a simple deck extension can prove a hurdle.
But it was not always so difficult.
The story of William White of Kaiapoi shows what can be accomplished when Kiwis are able to simply get to work and build.
Even though he did not have a background in engineering, White took the initiative and erected the first bridge across the Waimakariri River. That is quite an achievement for a humble hotel owner in 19th century North Canterbury.
While you would not want the local manager of Quest to design you a bridge today, there is something appealing about a good project being able to progress without being bogged down by excessive rules and regulations.
And here is the kicker.
White personally paid for the construction of the bridge. As compensation, he was given permission to collect a toll fee for seven years.
If he failed to deliver, the people of Kaiapoi would not have been any worse off. But if he pulled through, everyone stood to gain.
As it transpired, the bridge was a rip-roaring success.
He certainly did not mess around.
White signed a contract with the provincial government in August 1862 and completed the project the following year.
Financial incentives have a way of concentrating the mind.
If nothing else, today’s planners could learn a thing or two from White about shepherding a project through to completion in a timely fashion.
Locals were enthralled. Before this, the only way to cross the great rivers of Canterbury was by ferry or by fording, which sometimes resulted in the tragic loss of life.
White’s timber construction was also a fillip to growth in a region that lacked basic transport infrastructure.
The bridge enabled local industry to thrive, such as the valuable timber trade. People and goods could now move efficiently between different parts of the town.
And it helped with flooding, too.
When the water level was high, the bridge could be raised to prevent water from flowing over it and into the town.
Despite his obscurity, White serves as a shining example of the determination and drive to create a brighter future. His bridge across the Waimakariri is an example we would do well to take inspiration from.

Towards eliminating femtoaggression
Dr Michael Johnston | Senior Fellow |
You may have heard the term ‘microaggression’. It means a very small act of aggression.
Despite being very small though, microaggressions are nonetheless very bad. So bad in fact, that if you commit one, you may be stood down from your job.
The Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Dominic Raab, has found this out the hard way. According to anonymous sources reported in the Telegraph, he’s been giving people grumpy stares. Worse still, he’s been asking his officials questions and expecting them to know the answers.
The leader of the FDA, the union representing senior civil servants in the UK, has called for Raab to be suspended while these serious allegations are investigated. Fair enough. If he’s willing to give people hard stares, who knows what he might do next? As Deputy PM, he really ought to have known better.
For the rest of us, though, the risk of microaggression can make social interaction difficult to navigate. It turns out that it’s all too easy to commit a microaggression without even knowing it.
Medical News Today informs us that even failing to be offended by others saying stereotypical or derogatory things can be a microaggression. Not taking offense, it seems, can itself be offensive.
We might wonder where all of this is going.
Aggression in general has been on the decline for a long time. Historically, war was a constant of life. Now, thankfully, it is a catastrophic anomaly. Violent crime has also been on a long-run trajectory of decline.
Perhaps the focus on microaggressions flows naturally from the progress we have made in reducing actual violence. If so, now that we’re starting to get on top of microaggressions, what’s next?
The prefix ‘micro’ literally means ‘one millionth’. For example, a micrometre is one millionth of a metre, which is not very far.
Moving even smaller on the scale we have ‘nano’, which means ‘one billionth’. Then there’s ‘pico’ (one trillionth) and ‘femto’ (one quadrillionth).
In the interests of world harmony, then, I propose that we now turn our attention to nanoaggressions. Examples might include comparing hamburger brands in the presence of a vegetarian or breathing freely around asthmatics.
After we’ve sorted nanoaggression, we can move on to eliminating picoaggressions and, finally, femtoaggressions.
Then, everything will be just great.

On The Record

Initiative Activities:   
All Things Considered
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  • Are we embracing that old-time religion?
  • AI is getting smarter. And it might not be altogether friendly
  • Making sure a smart artificial intelligence is friendly is important and very very hard
  • Make-good clauses, and salvaging a ski field
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