Monday , May 17 2021
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Articles by Eric Crampton

Border tech

5 days ago

Marc Daalder tallies a few of the failures in getting better tech rolled out at the border.On Sunday, National Party Covid-19 Response spokesperson Chris Bishop revealed that a voluntary rollout of saliva-based testing of border workers had seen just 339 saliva tests performed since it began in January."Public health experts have recommended introducing regular saliva testing across our border workforce, but the Government has been very slow to act," Bishop said.Now, the Ministry of Health has confirmed to Newsroom that a trial of another technology to detect Covid-19, the ëlarm app, has similarly foundered. Health officials dodged questions about how many border workers had signed up to the voluntary trial, but said it wasn’t enough to gain any useful data."There has been a low initial

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Vaccine patents

5 days ago

This week’s Newsroom column covered some of the arguments around increasing vaccination rates in poor countries by voiding patents. It won’t work. A snippet:Fundamentally, voiding patents is an unserious way of dealing with a serious problem. The world needs substantial expansions in vaccine manufacturing capabilities as quickly as possible. Replicating the processes used by successful manufacturers is not simple, and constraints against expanding capacity need to be solved by investment.New Zealand’s contribution to the COVAX effort is laudable. But we remain pound-foolish. Spending a lot more on vaccines by contracting for greater capacity would help New Zealand become vaccinated more quickly, protecting us and providing some hope of normal international travel.Contracting for capacity

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Priority groups

11 days ago

If you live in New Zealand and need a vaccine for travel, the process doesn’t look simple unless you’re on the government’s radar as a person of national significance. There are two further categories we are still looking at: one for people who may need to get a vaccine on compassionate grounds; and a national significance category, which could include groups who need a vaccine in order to represent New Zealand overseas.There will be plenty of folks who will need to travel for business reasons and won’t be able to access vaccines easily. The framing has generally been around the unfairness of queue-jumping, but where there’s no community transmission in New Zealand, it perhaps matters less if an at-risk person in a remote spot is vaccinated in June or in September. There’s now an option

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The shovels weren’t shovel-ready

11 days ago

There’s opportunity here.Less than half of the Government’s ‘’shovel-ready’’ infrastructure projects have begun by its first self-imposed deadline, with just 44 per cent of the 150 projects under construction by the end of February.These things were set up as stimulus when everyone was worried about double-digit unemployment. Unemployment rates instead are below 5%. The projects never received any adequate CBA; the Infrastructure Commission just threw together a list of things that they might be able to get out the door in a hurry.I was kinda sceptical that these things could wind up being delivered in a hurry; here’s what I’d written on them a year ago. Why not just pause to reconsider all the ones that haven’t started yet? Maybe they make sense, or maybe the money is better spent

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Hard to rouse a moral panic about coffee

11 days ago

Swap "coffee" and "caffeine" in this piece for "vaping" and "nicotine", and imagine the outraged calls for tougher regulation.

A nationwide survey of hundreds of New Zealand tertiary students found almost every single one of them consume some level of caffeine daily, with a quarter experiencing "distressing" side effects.But researchers found most of those students who suffered negative effects associated with caffeine such as a fast heartbeat, upset stomach or an inability to sleep had no plans to stop consuming caffeine any time soon.The results of the Massey University study were published in the journal Nutrients this week and measured the caffeine intake of more than 300 university students. Chocolate, coffee, tea and energy drinks contributed most to the total caffeine intake of 99

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Afternoon roundup

12 days ago

An overdue closing of the browser tabs brings these worthies:Justin Giovannetti on New Zealand diplomacy and China.The New Zealand Principals Federation suggests merging the teacher colleges into the universities might have something to do with declining teacher competence. I was on faculty at Canterbury when the College of Education merged in in 2006. It never made much sense to me on academic grounds. Teacher training was vocational training. Experts in vocational training, of the kind provided at a College of Education, are not necessarily great fits at a university where research expectations matter more than teaching ability. It seemed likely to result in great teacher trainers being exited in favour of those able to get papers into low-grade education journals.A Wellington taxicab

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Special Purpose Authorities

14 days ago

This week’s column with the Dom Post takes a look back to prior local government reform, given that the government’s launched a new local government inquiry. In 1988, the Committee on Local Government released a discussion document, Reform of Local and Regional Government. It paved the way toward council amalgamations and disestablishing the special purpose authorities that once enabled infrastructure delivery.A snippet:The list of authorities to be reviewed was not small. At the time, New Zealand had 27 city councils, 89 borough councils, 80 county councils, a town council and 20 district councils. It also had 121 community councils, 15 district community councils, an Auckland regional authority, two regional councils and 20 united councils.It was a lot of local councils for what was

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Complex needs

15 days ago

Closed borders ended tourism and left motel rooms empty. The government’s booked out a fair few of those spaces as emergency social housing. But the whole thing seems a mess. Vulnerable people fleeing bad family situations are placed near rather dangerous types who also use social housing. Jane Patterson at RNZ has been tallying it up.Demand just keeps escalating, under a system where motels and other providers get paid on a weekly basis, or sometimes slightly longer, to house people in urgent need of somewhere to stay.Hair-raising stories continue to roll in to RNZ about what life is like for some tenants and moteliers, who’re recounting stories of constant crime and gang harassment being confronted with knives and in one case a room burnt to the ground.One of the government’s own

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Regional naming rights

16 days ago

Appellation d’origine contrôlée rules make some kind of sense when they prevent what might otherwise amount to false advertising because the geographic name is so intertwined with the product. It does seem to be getting a bit out of hand.The European Commission recently granted exclusive use of the term ‘halloumi’ within Europe to cheesemakers from Cyprus, using the intellectual property rights system called "geographical indications".The move to register halloumi follows behind the recent registrations of cheeses like havarti…. In its Free Trade Agreement negotations with New Zealand, the EU is looking protect 2200 of its food and beverage GI’s, including well known cheeses such as feta, gruyere and gorgonzola.What other name are you supposed to give those cheese styles? Will somebody

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Streisand effect – Newsroom and Scott Morrison edition

18 days ago

This morning’s news roundup from Newsroom editor Jonathan Milne included a warning about a speech by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Milne writes:One traveller we’d rather didn’t cross the Tasman is the dismissive and disparaging populism expressed in a speech last night by Scott Morrison. At the United Israel Appeal NSW donor dinner in Sydney, the Australian Prime Minister said identity politics and the moral corrosion caused by the misuse of social media were forces seeking to undermine society.“You are more than the things others try to identify you by in this age of identity politics," he said. "You are more than your gender, your sexuality, your race, your ethnicity, your religion, your language group, your age.”Morrison said people who focused on those attributes, or

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24/7 Sobriety

19 days ago

A few stories this week reminded me of South Dakota’s 24/7 Sobriety programme.There’s concern about fewer offenders attending rehab programmes while in prison;Repeat drink driving remains a problem; even on-duty police seem to have the occasional problem. At least some very vulnerable people are being placed in emergency housing alongside "gang members, and people with drug and alcohol issues", with predicable negative outcomes. I’ve previously talked about South Dakota’s 24/7 programme. RAND’s research on it is here. Bottom line: no-alcohol conditions as part of probation or parole, monitored, with certainty of a short sentence for violation, results in reduced alcohol consumption among those with demonstrated abuse problems, and consequent reductions in offending.I don’t know how many

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Pandemic priorities

20 days ago

Prior to Covid, successive governments’ approaches to public health meant that we had central government ready and able to command District Health Boards to stop the sale of soda at hospital cafeterias, but unable to tell whether hospital staff were vaccinated during a measles outbreak caused by failure to make sure everyone was getting their measles shots.I worry that a new Public Health Agency will find itself tempted to shift back to those kinds of priorities once Covid is eventually in our rearview mirrors – and potentially even before then. This week’s column at Newsroom argues that the proposed Public Health Agency should be split into two parts, with one party focused on contagious disease.A snippet:The problem was not a fragmented DHB system. Rather the problem was that public

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In praise of Big Agriculture, and global trade

22 days ago

Foreign Policy walks us through the merits of Big Ag:In the popular bourgeois imagination, the idealized farm looks something like the ones that sell produce at local farmers markets. But while small farms like these account for close to half of all U.S. farms, they produce less than 10 percent of total output. The largest farms, by contrast, account for about 50 percent of output, relying on simplified production systems and economies of scale to feed a nation of 330 million people, vanishingly few of whom live anywhere near a farm or want to work in agriculture. It is this central role of large, corporate, and industrial-style farms that critics point to as evidence that the food system needs to be transformed.But U.S. dependence on large farms is not a conspiracy by big corporations.

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The case of Californian tomatoes

23 days ago

It’s a weird way to cite Clemens et al 2018.NZIER’s latest report for ProdComm on immigration has a box inset titled "The case of Californian tomatoes." The inset, pasted below, notes the American ‘bracero’ agreements between the US and Mexico which allowed Mexican manual labourers to work in American fields. The inset goes through a 2010 piece by  Ed Taylor looking at the substitutes that emerged for imported workers, after the end of the restrictions. It notes mechanisation, and describes rising wages over the subsequent period alongside unionisation and other changes.It’s a bit hard to establish causality in any of that discussion. The Taylor 2010 piece is a bit of a narrative literature survey. But the impression left by the inset was that the substitution away from bracero workers,

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IRD OIA denouement

24 days ago

It looks like I’d failed to blog the denouement to the IRD data OIA mess last year. Let’s fix that now.Loyal readers will recall the history:It’s been a long saga, and it isn’t over yet. But the end is in sight. On 12 February, 2019, I put in an OIA request for the data from the polling that IRD had commissioned from Colmar Brunton on tax attitudes. On 12 March, 2019, IRD declined the request on grounds that it would be considered sensitive tax data. I brought the matter to the Ombudsman the next day. But it later turned out that they had ordered the data destroyed. On 1 November, 2019, IRD gave me revised grounds for having refused the request: that the data had been destroyed. I had a chat with the Archivist’s Office about what’s required for that kind of destruction of public records,

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In praise of parametric insurance

26 days ago

It’s not quite the kind of parametric insurance offering I’ve been after, but it’s getting closer to it. Bounce Insurance now provides a quasi-parametric earthquake insurance product. Individuals can get $10k or $20k coverage; businesses get up to $50k. If ground force acceleration in your neighbourhood exceeds the trigger value, then you get paid out. You have to attest to that you’ve incurred losses at least as large in value as the amount you’ve insured against; there’s potential for spot audit later to confirm. But they pay out within days.I wrote about it in this week’s column for the Stuff newspapers.Parametric products are much simpler. They are common in North America for crop insurance. Rather than forcing anyone to try to estimate the cost of a heavy frost for an orchard, the

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Afternoon roundup

29 days ago

The afternoon’s worthies:Rowan Simpson on venture capital in NZ. In a world awash in capital, is it even plausible that capital is the main constraint preventing successful NZ startups?Fiji goes into lockdown. When I advocate for Green Zones with the Covid-free Islands, I’ll often get correspondence from folks wishing that Fiji be included in such considerations. On the other side, I hear a lot of worries about porous borders for those with private jets. How well the Fijian government gets this outbreak under control could provide useful information. Anyone who writes about problems at the border will get a lot of correspondence from people stuck in desperate situations. Folks here who haven’t seen their wife and kids for over a year and who’ve had no hope at all that they’d be able to

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The cost of a rolling omnishambles

April 14, 2021

The travel bubble with Australia has not brought room for others to come into the MIQ system from overseas. Instead, spaces are being decommissioned. Why? The system is leaky. The government cannot afford to let riskier people into those spaces, because the system can’t handle them. My column in Insights last week went through the problem.Maintaining quarantine-free travel with Australia is important. Expanding the bubble to include other Covid-free places like Taiwan and the Pacific Islands should be next. Both require keeping Covid out. Localised outbreaks would cause travel headaches, but broader outbreaks could break the bubble.New Zealand’s MIQ system has barely held together over the past year. Otago public health researchers tallied thirteen border failures since July, and at least

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NZ is getting riskier

April 13, 2021

This week’s column on regime uncertainty at Newsroom is now ungated. A couple snippets:Last week, Finance Minister Grant Robertson provided a letter to Air New Zealand outlining the Government’s expectations as the majority shareholder. These expectations include maintaining a comprehensive domestic route network; engaging with the development of new aviation fuels and enhancing its role as a leader for best-practice workplace relations.Robertson noted that because the Government expects meeting the objectives is “aligned to the creation of long-term value for Air New Zealand”, there is no conflict between meeting the Government’s objectives and fulfilling duties to act in the company’s best interest.Each of the objectives might individually sound innocuous. But each brings a distinct

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The Heart of Let’s Get Wellington Moving

April 12, 2021

After a couple of decades of Wellington transport issues not really being dealt with, you might think that transport would be at the heart of the newest iteration of the thing, Let’s Get Wellington Moving.You’d have to not really know Wellington to expect that though. They had another big long meeting on it, and they could only agree on one thing, according to Councilor Diane Calvert.City councillor Diane Calvert​ spent about three hours at the meeting.She said a “mixture of opinions” were aired, but no consensus had been reached, apart from the parties agreeing that reducing carbon emissions was at the heart of LGWM.Transport is in the Emissions Trading Scheme. Suppose that Wellington declared cars illegal and shifted to a bus fleet powered solely by the concentrated smugness of its

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Three headlines

April 12, 2021

Maybe RNZ has a CMS with a short headline character limit and subeditors under time pressure. Or maybe this is RNZ doing its usual RNZ thing. Compare the three headlines on this excellent piece by Prof Norman Gemmell, former Chief Economist at Treasury, on the tax mess that Labour announced on housing. When he wrote it for The Conversation, the headline was "New Zealand’s new housing policy is really just a new tax package – and it’s a shambles".Now I don’t know if Norman wrote the headline – sometimes the outlets do that. But that was the original. When The Herald syndicated it, they changed the headline a little. For The Herald, it was "New Zealand’s new housing policy is really just a new tax package – and it’s a mess". This version’s gated. Mess is a bit shorter than shambles, but

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Getting to Net Zero

April 11, 2021

We have not been fans of the Climate Change Commission’s draft report.New Zealand has an Emissions Trading Scheme with a binding cap, and a declining path for net emissions in the covered sector. Measures taken within the covered sector cannot reduce net emissions. NZU not purchased by one sector get purchased and used by another. Regulatory measures around coal boilers or electric cars can affect the price of NZU, and will affect which sectors move earlier or later in reducing emissions, but they cannot affect the quantum of emissions. Like, imagine you have a crate of 12 beers and 12 thirsty people, each of whom would be pretty happy to drink 2 or 3. They run an auction to decide who gets the scarce beers. The thirstiest folks drink two, others cut back to a half or none. The money goes

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In praise of paper roads

April 9, 2021

My column in the Stuff papers this week went through the merits of unformed legal roads – the paper roads that sit, waiting to be used.We may need a few more of them.New Zealand, like Canada, has road allowances, or “unformed legal roads”. But remaining unformed roads are not part of any systematic grid. They rather were set to ensure access to pieces of land that might otherwise be landlocked, to provide access along waterways, and to provide access to the coast.Designating corridors for urban growth here has consequently been more difficult.Manitoba’s land survey, 150 years ago, preserved space for roading. Here and now, it requires designating a corridor on top of land already owned and already in use. If the corridor comes to be used, the owner will be compensated under the Public

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Morning roundup

April 8, 2021

The morning’s worthies, from the accumulated browser tabs:A Manhattan Institute roundup, from last January, on the problems with rent control. What would be a fair price on iPredict for a contract paying $1 if Labour brings in rent controls. $0.60? Higher?
Otago’s tallying of the border system failures as at 30 March. Add to it this week’s case of a border worker who caught it, and had somehow managed to miss vaccination appointments due to personal reasons. Minister Hipkins could issue a Public Health Order prohibiting unvaccinated workers from being at the front lines. DG Health Bloomfield could issue the same order, covering workers in Auckland. Neither has done it. They don’t know which border workers are unvaccinated. The data systems are still being developed (they had to have

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Afternoon roundup

April 1, 2021

The browser tabs, there are so many.I’m quoted in the Dom on the 1 April minimum wage increases. I hadn’t gone through MBIE’s advice before. MBIE’s review has a decent summary of the literature, provides the necessary warnings about substantial real minimum wage increases in the current environment. Alas. The analyst would had to have known that the advice would be ignored, but be darned if the advice wasn’t going to be provided anyway.If iPredict still existed, what would be the fair price on a contract paying $1 if NZ had US-style rent controls before 2022? $0.60? It feels like Robertson’s set up a self-fulfilling prophecy. The changes to the tax deductibility of interest for debt on property investments are terrible policy. Bryce and I put out a short research note on it last week.

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You Had One Job

March 29, 2021

The Economist questions the expansion of central bank remits to cover rather more than price stability and prudential bank regulation. As all this has occurred, both governments and central bankers have also taken a more expansive view of the latter’s mission. Many central banks were handed new financial-stability responsibilities after the financial crisis. Now another rethink seems to be under way. Last month the Reserve Bank of New Zealand was instructed by the government to take account of house prices when setting monetary policy. Some monetary officials are paying more attention to inequality and the welfare of marginal workers. The Fed recently revised its policy framework, partly in recognition of the fact that premature tightening tends to impose disproportionate harm on black

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User fees and park access

March 22, 2021

I attended Otago University’s tourism policy conference held in Queenstown last week, giving a brief keynote opening to a panel session on covering the costs. New Zealand’s policy has generally been to charge a price of zero for access to congestible resources, then to get really mad about tourists overwhelming those places. Charging access fees, where possible, makes rather more sense. I wrote it up for the Stuff papers; it was in this morning’s Dom Post and is online as well. A snippet:Last week, Otago University’s Tourism Policy School held its annual conference in Queenstown. I attended, ready to make the case for charging for access to places that suffer from overcrowding. But I found I was hardly the only one arguing for it.The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s report

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And to the Ombudsman again

March 12, 2021

Ages back, MoT came out with some ridiculous work on the merits of subsidising electric vehicles. Treasury provided some rather decent advice about it, released under OIA at the time, but with some substantial bits excised because it was still under active policy consideration. Treasury were not fans of these measures, recognising that transport is already covered by the ETS and that petrol emissions are consequently already accounted for. In January, I emailed the section manager who was responsible for the advice asking whether I could now see the redacted bits. I got an email bounceback because it had shifted to a different manager, so I immediately emailed him.He replied 12 February saying it would have to be an OIA request and asking whether I wanted to go ahead with it. I replied

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Important vaccination stats to keep in mind

March 12, 2021

Thomas Lumley runs the numbers on herd immunity and vaccination:Cutting transmission by 90% would need nearly everyone to be vaccinated. What if only 50% were vaccinated? Well, suppose someone with the virus would have passed it on to two people, but one of them is vaccinated. Instead of two new cases, we get one new case. Or, in a super-spreader event, suppose they would have passed it on to 10 people, but half of them of them are vaccinated. Instead of 10 cases, we get maybe four or five or six cases.If infected and vaccinated people were spread evenly throughout the country, 50% vaccination would reduce transmission by 50%x90%=45%. For every 100 cases before vaccination we would average only 55 cases after vaccination. Is that enough? Unfortunately not. Under the same approximation

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Vaccination priorities

March 10, 2021

Chris Hipkins announced some of the government’s prioritisation for the coming vaccination campaign. I don’t quite get it, given the situation here differs considerably from the situation abroad.Here and abroad, there’s been priority on those at most risk.But who’s at most risk differs.Here, it’s people working in the border system, and the government has been entirely correct to prioritise those workers and their families. That absolutely makes sense. They’re also prioritising South Auckland, where we have had outbreaks because that’s where leakages from the border system turns up.But the rest of it is sounding way too much like prioritisation for MIQ.They’re looking at having a national significance category which will let them vaccinate anyone who the government wants to be able to

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