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Insights 46: 2 December 2016
The Local Manifesto: Restoring Local Government Accountability
Dr Oliver Hartwich on the housing crisis and what it means for first home buyers
Julian Morris: Lessons from the sharing economy and the vapour revolution

Does Castro trump Trump?
Dr Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director |
Following the death of former Cuban President Fidel Castro, US public opinion guru Frank Luntz provided some good advice on Twitter: “If you praise Fidel Castro, don’t expect anyone to take your criticism of Donald Trump seriously.” 

If only Frank Luntz had more Twitter followers.

Though proverbs remind us not to speak ill of the dead, there is no need to wax lyrical about them either. And certainly not when the person in question has an abhorrent human rights record.

By conservative estimates, Castro’s regime is responsible for the deaths of at least 15,000 dissidents. It sent homosexuals and priests to re-education camps. It caused more than a million of its people to flee via the dangerous sea passage to Florida.

Cuba’s abysmal record is well-documented in international rankings. Reporters without Borders rank Cuba 171st out 180 countries for press freedom. The Economist Intelligence Unit lists Cuba as 129th out of 167 countries in its Democracy Index. The Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom sees the country as 177th for economic freedom (only North Korea fares worse).

Under Castro, Cuba failed miserably. Its economy is a shambles, and living standards have not improved for five decades. The only prosperous and flourishing Cuban community Castro created is in Miami.

None of this seems to deter admirers of Castro. They do not tire of praising Cuba’s education and health system. As the Sunday Times wryly put it, “Free healthcare and education were of little comfort when food rationing and poverty were all around.”

In fact, I would go further: There are plenty of other countries offering decent education and healthcare to their people. Yet most of them don’t impoverish, incarcerate or harass them.

Let’s be blunt. Fidel Castro was an abject failure as a political leader – and we are not even talking about his role in the Cuban missile crisis, which almost led to a nuclear war.

This makes it even more astonishing how much praise he is receiving after his death. Pope Francis was “very sad” to hear the news of Castro’s death. EU Commission President Juncker talked of a “hero”. Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau spoke of a “larger than life leader who served his people".

The same people who were (rightly) outraged by Donald Trump’s verbal offensiveness, showed themselves willing to overlook Castro’s actual bloody deeds. 

Frank Luntz is right. Those who do not condemn the evil tyranny of Castro, should spare us their moral judgements on others.

PS: If you are still inclined to shed a tear for Castro, shed a tear for his victims instead. Watch this video.

Tobacco and taxi regs are so old school
Jenesa Jeram | Policy Analyst |
Anyone who has tried to teach their parents how to use a new technology must have empathised with Uber New Zealand general manager Richard Menzies last week.

Appearing before Parliament’s Transport Committee, Menzies was trying to make the case that outdated taxi regulations need not apply to Uber. It soon became apparent that the politicians responsible for regulating Uber had no idea how Uber works. 

Reports of the event read like a pantomime, though it is less comical when there are very real policy consequences on the line.

Uber cars might transport passengers like a taxi, and the app might facilitate services like a taxi…but Uber is not a taxi. Uber cars do not use taxi stands, they cannot be hailed from the street, and the technology collects more information to ensure safety and accountability than most taxi services. Uber offers a more convenient service, and is often more reliable. And cheaper.

Old school taxi regulations are simply inappropriate for a technology that is operationally different to taxi companies. 

A similar regulatory predicament is happening with e-cigarettes. Some e-cigarettes might look like cigarettes, and contain nicotine like cigarettes…but they are not cigarettes. Crucially, e-cigarettes (and the array of other nicotine delivery devices emerging) do not involve combustion or the cocktail of other poisons that cigarettes contain.

If the product is safer than cigarette smoking, and the product is used by most people to give up or reduce smoking, then does it really make sense to regulate it like traditional cigarettes?

In its consultation paper, the Ministry of Health invited feedback on which tobacco regulations should apply to e-cigarettes. One could rightly question what graphic health warnings e-cigarettes would be decorated with, considering one of the benefits of e-cigarettes is that it avoids harmful smoking-related diseases.

For both e-cigarettes and Uber, the existing regulations aren’t fit for purpose. Scrambling to tweak the old framework to fit the new technology will not address the need to accommodate future improvements and changes. 

As the Initiative argued in our submission on e-cigarettes, regulations designed to protect consumers can do more harm than good. That rule applies even in the optimistic scenario of regulators actually grasping how these technologies work.

In any case, it’s important to remember: even if it looks like Fawlty Towers and sounds like Fawlty Towers…it might just be another Transport Committee hearing.

The New Zealand Initiative recently hosted Julian Morris from US think tank the Reason Foundation. His presentation on these topics can be found here.

Time to work on my karma
Jason Krupp | Research Fellow |
Reincarnation is a tricky concept, not least because it requires we accept the idea that those experiencing terrible ordeals must have committed even more horrid deeds to deserve their fate. 

But, if this logic is accepted, then the people working in local government must have done some truly awful, terrible, horrendous things in a previous life. How else do you explain the damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t existence that councils find themselves in?

Consider the evidence.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff recently launched a plan to cap general rates increases at 2.5% partly by using a targeted rate to get the city’s hotels to pay for the costs of tourist promotion.

That’s what targeted rates are supposed to do - recoup the costs of providing a service from the party that benefits from it. Easy win, right? Afraid not.

Wellington Mayor Justin Lester also found himself in a similar bind, when he declared the inner city open just one day after the 7.8 Kaikoura quake. That drew criticism from Acting Civil Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee, and other commentators suggested his call was premature. Brownlee subsequently backed down from his initial call, but it made for an awkward few days for the new mayor, who was merely acting on technical advice from engineers.

Then there’s fluoridation. That government decided to pass the decision whether to fluoridate or not to local authorities is welcome. Work by the Productivity Commission shows just how little consideration central agencies give to the costs they impose on ratepayers when legislating because they don’t have to pay them. 

But government handed the decision to DHBs, who won’t have to put a cent towards water plant upgrades. In places like Christchurch, which draws drinking water from multiple sources, the decision to fluoridate could hit residents hard and where it hurts most – the pocket.

As I said, the people currently working in local government must surely have been pretty vile in previous incarnations. Well, not Fidel Castro bad, but infomercial actor or telemarketer bad.

While you ponder this heavy thought, I’m off to mow my elderly neighbour’s grass. Perhaps, I’ll even go pick up some litter on the beach after. Given local government’s current bind and the prospects of another major earthquake to contend with, it is probably wise to work on my karma.

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