Saturday , September 25 2021
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Articles by Eric Crampton

The cost of xenophobia

22 days ago

Radio New Zealand has been tallying the numbers on health workers stuck in our immigration system. New Zealand relies heavily on foreign medical specialists.Expressions of interest from skilled migrants for residence visas have been paused since March last year.Hundreds of doctors and nurses are among those waiting for news.The association said the current approach created frustration and angst. It raised concerns about the residence delays in June, writing to the Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi.But its executive director, Sarah Dalton, said there had been "zero response"."Overseas doctors caught up in this delay say the uncertainty makes it difficult," she said "They feel they can’t buy a house, settle their families, or put down roots, and are being forced to reconsider their futures

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Test test test

23 days ago

This week’s Newsroom column made the case for freeing up rapid antigen testing for use at essential workplaces during outbreaks and Level 3/4 restrictions. There’s something like half a million essential workers and perhaps a hundred thousand in Auckland. The government maintains no register of them, and it would be impossible to run daily testing of a hundred thousand essential workers during Level 4 through current testing systems anyway. The PCR swab regime has been buckling under demand and is providing very slow results. Saliva-based PCR testing is far better and far more scalable, but may not be able to get to a hundred thousand tests a day – and may not be cost-effective for broad surveillance testing in lower-risk essential workplaces.Rapid antigen tests give results in about

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Afternoon roundup

29 days ago

It’s been a busy week of lockdown. On Monday, we released my report looking at cap-and-trade solutions for freshwater quality. Yesterday, Matt and I sent in our submission on the Commerce Commission’s inquiry into supermarket competition. Don’t think the computer’s shut down this week. The browser tabs….It’s a shame that rapid antigen tests are illegal in NZ. They aren’t nearly as accurate as PCR. But when people are waiting six days for a test result and, in some cases, trying to run at-home isolation from the rest of the family during that period, having rapid antigen testing as a complement would be really good. RNZ reported on nurses living with close contacts being told to turn up for work even where those contacts’ results hadn’t come in yet. We could have had rapid antigen tests

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Lockdown accountability

August 22, 2021

Newsroom provides an excellent we-told-you-so this morning. Here’s Jo Moir:While the source of the Delta outbreak that plummeted New Zealand into a Level 4 lockdown is all but confirmed, how it got into the community is a work in progress.Investigations are now homing in on a public walkway that shares the same airspace as the exercise area at the Crowne Plaza managed isolation facility.In July Newsroom raised the issue of the public thoroughfare, which is the only access to a busy office block in downtown Auckland and requires passing directly beside the exercise yard via an un-roofed walkway.The photo shows the obvious problem. The ‘outdoor’ area is anything but. It’s enclosed on so many sides that you’d probably not be able to run it as an outdoor smoking area if you were a pub:

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Police safety

August 19, 2021

The police union regularly asks to be armed. A few years ago, I included a chapter on our unarmed constabulary in a piece arguing that New Zealand really is the Outside of the Asylum. Policing in New Zealand is, all things considered, safe – even without firearms. Auckland University of Technology criminologist John Buttle tallied the figures for 2008–09, a high point in assaults against police. He found police reported being assaulted 2,481 times that year – out of 1,221,823 incidents attended by police. In the 123 years from 1886 to 2009, 29 officers were killed by a criminal act in the line of duty.If loss of life at work is a measure of how dangerous an occupation is, then policing comes quite far down the list of hazardous jobs. This raises the distinct possibility that it is more

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Vaccines for children

August 19, 2021

Good news! Cabinet has decided to end its prohibition on vaccinating children aged twelve and up. From 1 September, parents will no longer be banned from protecting their children against Covid. At least if their children are at least 12 years old. The Prime Minister framed it at the press conference as a difficult decision, because they’re talking about other people’s children.But they’ve shown absolutely no similar concern about banning parents from vaccinating their children. I could understand her framing it as she did if she were talking about mandating vaccination for children. And I can see a very good case for mandating vaccination. But that isn’t what she was talking about. She was talking about removing a prohibition that currently prevents parents from getting their kids

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MIQ’s Aristocracy of Pull

August 18, 2021

This week’s column at Newsroom went through the problems in allocating MIQ spaces by political pull. Unfortunately, Newsroom’s version strips out the links; the version on our site has them. A snippet:The surest way to a space in MIQ, for the past sixteen months, has been political influence. Those with political influence get spaces. Those without it are forced into a broken room booking system. Getting a room through that broken system seems to be a full-time job all on its own: some would-be travellers have even hired people to sit at a computer and hit the refresh button, all day long, on their behalf.But for those with political pull, things are a bit easier.Last August, in the leadup to an election, the Provincial Growth Fund considered horse racing tracks to be vitally important

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Dunedin lessons for the Christchurch Stadium

August 17, 2021

Newsroom put up a superb piece last week on all of the messes that Dunedin got itself into by spending stupid amounts of money on a stadium. I knew it was bad but hadn’t known it was this bad. It was "Let’s divert money from the CCO that runs the local lines company, deferring maintenance and leading to outages" bad. The judgment reads: “Aurora accepts it failed to exercise the skill, diligence, prudence and foresight to be reasonably expected.”Between 2010 and 2016, Aurora failed, “without adequate justication”, to spend $37 million of forecast expenditure replacing and renewing assets. This led to a significant proportion of network assets “being at or near the end of their lives”, the judgment said.The timing of this scandalous neglect was no coincidence, says whistleblower Richard

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Lunches

August 17, 2021

Well, we’re very likely to be heading into another lockdown on the basis of a community case in Auckland.Back in July, we found that the government had blown a pile of the emergency Covid money on the free school lunch programme. The free school lunches programme draws on special Covid recovery funds for another two and a half years, despite Treasury’s misgivings about depleting the emergency money reserved against a resurgence of the virus.The Covid-19 Relief and Recovery fund (CRRF) is a $50 billion pot of money that was established in the early days of the pandemic to respond to the health emergency and its economic fallout.It’s been tapped for a wide range of Covid-19 related expenses, but the Government has also used it for a range of increasingly tangential "Covid recovery"

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Dosed

August 15, 2021

Driving home from Palmerston North last night around 6pm, a man was waiving a Covid-19 Vaccination Centre banner on the median of the road outside of the Onslow Medical Centre. We rolled down the window. They had end-day extra doses and wanted to get them into arms.So the cats had to wait an extra half-hour for their dinners, and we got dosed. All went very smoothly. On checking in, I offered my NHI number but they didn’t need it – they pulled it from name and date of birth.About five minutes later Susan and I got jabbed. They wouldn’t jab the kids, unfortunately. While MedSafe has approved the vaccine for those aged 12+, there is currently no way in New Zealand for a 13-year-old to be vaccinated. And the 11-year-old certainly isn’t allowed, though I’d have very happily given her my

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Covid costs and quarantine costs

August 13, 2021

I don’t like New Zealand’s film subsidy regime and generally view it to be a good thing when an international film company chooses someone else’s subsidy regime instead.But it looks like Amazon’s shifting Lord of the Rings production to the UK isn’t just about the subsidy war. However, a crew member, who asked to remain anonymous, told Stuff they understood New Zealand’s Covid-19 border restrictions and the requirement that international cast and crew spend 14 days in managed isolation upon arrival was part of the problem….The crew member told Stuff that while there was “a general feeling of surprise” over the decision, some saw the Amazon project leaving New Zealand as an opportunity, because Amazon was holding up some of Auckland’s prime studio space for a year before season two was

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Vaccination class

August 11, 2021

If, as the Skegg report suggests:A Delta outbreak is not unlikely before the vaccine rollout completes;Border restrictions will start easing when the adult vaccination programme reaches completion, but under an aggressive containment model that will push hard to knock out any outbreaks that we do get; and,"The
degree of community protection will be increased if eligibility for vaccination is
extended to people between 12 and 16 years of age"then why aren’t we aggressively pushing vaccination for 12-16 year olds before the end of the school year? MedSafe approved it for that group back in June. Government’s said nothing about where those kids sit in the rollout. Right now, kids are in classrooms. They will be until December. Classrooms are risky: tightly packed enclosed spaces with poor

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Afternoon roundup

August 9, 2021

The afternoon’s closing of the browser tabs:Tons of port workers have been avoiding getting vaccinated. In principle this should have been simple: have public health nurses drive out to the sites and administer it. But it’s not been compulsory, antivax stuff has been influential among those workers, and they’re probably (and rightly) pissed off with the regular nasal swab test requirements that could have been replaced by saliva testing over seven months ago – which would feed into a strong ‘not gonna do whatcha told me’ attitude. More results are out on the effectiveness of the Illinois protocol saliva tests – the one that the government doesn’t want to use. And, just for fun, a plague ship berthed at Taranaki, where port worker vaccination rates are low. Let’s hope we keep getting

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Reader mailbag: electricity edition

August 8, 2021

An informed reader provided a heads-up about problems in a recent daft Dom Post piece on power markets. Our reader writes:What
a great idea! Let’s set up a government agency to pay existing suppliers of
electricity what the agency believes to be their SRMC plus depreciated historic
construction costs and to sell power to all retailers at what it pays. It’s
such a good idea, why not apply this in other markets and have government
agencies determine all prices? What could go wrong?Max
Bradford’s main role was to force the separation of retailing electricity and
generation from owning lines. He had nothing to do with designing the market in
the 1990s. The Ministers during the time the market was designed were John
Luxton and Doug Kidd. The market started operating on 1 October 1996.

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Something always allocates

August 4, 2021

Scarcity is a fact of the world. When demand for something scarce exceeds the supply of it, something has to allocate scarce resources across competing uses. The nice thing about using the price system to allocate scarce resources is that it provides incentives on all sides. On the demand side, it encourages those whose effective demand is relatively low to find other ways of meeting their needs. On the supply side, it encourages more production of scarce things that are highly valued. If your main objection to all of that is that poorer people can be outbid for those resources, the main way we have of handling that in modern liberal democratic states is by taking money from richer people and giving it to poorer people.  New Zealand’s MIQ system does not work that way. Capacity in the

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Economists on immigration

August 2, 2021

What would help boost wages in Australia? An Australian panel of economists evaluated some options. Boosting productivity growth and business investment are supported. The rest of the options are not. And less than 10% of surveyed economists support cutting immigration as a way to increase wages. Michael Keane of The University of NSW said the idea that population growth and increased labour supply were constraining wage growth was “so naive as to not really be worthy of comment”.Consultant Rana Roy said only a “cultivated amnesia” could ignore the near-uninterrupted growth in real wages in US, industrialised Europe and Australia amid record inbound immigration in the decades after the second world war.Gabriela D’Souza of the Committee for Economic Development of Australia said the idea

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Broken bookings

August 1, 2021

Cameron Conradie has been keeping a close eye on how the MIQ booking system works, or doesn’t. MIQ doesn’t have nearly enough spaces to meet demand, and has been running well below capacity because the booking system doesn’t work. Despite the reduction in operational capacity by 500 rooms, based on available data, the average occupancy for April was 67.4% (note a number of day’s data were not published), 57.1% for May, 67.1% for June and 71.1% for the first half (1-15) of July. This is taking occupied rooms against the advertised operational capacity.By taking rooms actually occupied against full advertised operational capacity, and assuming a 14 day turn-around, I calculate that more than 13000 vouchers were not used/not issued since the beginning of this year. Each of those unused rooms

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Give them residence

July 30, 2021

Apologise, then make it right.Oliver Hartwich makes the case for granting residence to those non-residents who have been in New Zealand through last March’s lockdown and who have stuck with us since then. A few days ago, the Otaki Medical Centre posted about one of their doctors on Facebook: “We’re disappointed to have lost Dr Richards back to the UK after being unable to secure him and his family residency due to a Government freeze in place with COVID-19,” the GP practice wrote.“Here is an amazing doctor, who cares about our community and wanted to make NZ home. Sadly – after months of fighting – we have had to close the practice to new patients.”Dr Richards is one of many migrants affected by the government’s restrictive and inflexible residence policies. According to a Newshub report,

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Supermarkets and land use planning

July 29, 2021

If you’re going to read the Commerce Commission’s market study on supermarkets in New Zealand, I’d suggest starting with the first half of Chapter 6. There, they go through the effective difficulties in entering the New Zealand market. As far as I’m concerned, evidence on margins and such really don’t mean much unless there are substantial restrictions against new entry. High profits should motivate entry, if they’re real. If they’re not motivating entry, what’s stopping entry?ComCom’s presentation of the issues in Chapter 6 reverses the sequencing of how I’d think about it, but gets to the same spot. I’ll put it in the way that makes sense to me.They note that opening a new supermarket retail chain requires having a lot of sites near potential customers.At 6.102, the study starts in with

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The post-vaccination future

July 28, 2021

This week’s column in the Stuff papers got me angry letters from the anti-vax people. I mostly look out to the US and Canada, and what things they’re up to now that vaccination rates are high. There’s a lot of support for vaccine passports in helping people avoid venues that have a lot of riskier people in them. Majorities of Canadians surveyed in late May,
when only 54% of Canadians had had at least a first vaccination dose, and again in July,
supported proof-of-vaccination requirements to board commercial airline
flights; to travel internationally; to attend public events or large gatherings;
to visit public places like restaurants, movie theatres and churches; and, to
attend one’s own place of work.

Quebec will be requiring proof of vaccination for entry into high-risk places like

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Afternoon roundup

July 22, 2021

If I’m lucky, this will close a third of the browser tabs.A damning indictment of the state of medical research, in the British Med J, from its former editor. "We have now reached a point where those doing systematic reviews must start by assuming that a study is fraudulent until they can have some evidence to the contrary."Jon Brewer is trying to make the MIQ booking system work. It is deeply broken. I hope he gets somewhere. It needs to be fixed. It is difficult to take a hard line on covid testing results being a few minutes past the deadline when they aren’t even bothering to check most folks’ records. Chalk this one up as part of the problem in efficient punishment. Even if it weren’t the case that the probability of being caught matters more than the fine if caught for otherwise

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Not a systems problem?

July 20, 2021

Were you aware that all the queues outside the old Soviet shops weren’t a systems problem, but a problem of demand just being too high?Here’s the head of MIQ, last week, on the MIQ booking system. The joint head of MIQ has responded to allegations the booking system is broken, saying a current high demand for rooms explains the difficulties travellers have had trying to lock down a spot.Speaking from Parliament on Wednesday, joint head of MIQ Megan Main said high demand had put pressure on the room allocation system for the 31 MIQ facilities across New Zealand – although the Government was looking for a solution.“This isn’t a systems problem so much as a demand versus supply problem. Right now, the demand is high.”Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health finally admitted that its vaccine

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Treating migrants badly

July 18, 2021

When we moved to New Zealand in 2003, the contrast between the US Immigration system and New Zealand’s was stark. They were near opposite, really. The US system seemed designed to discourage entry. New Zealand’s was far better. I had received the job offer from Canterbury by March 2003. I accepted and put in for a skilled migrant visa. There was no need for an immigration lawyer because everything was simple. The only complication happened when the Canadians took forever to run my police background check. The FBI ran my prints and took about 3 weeks to say I wasn’t known to be a criminal. The Canadians got my prints at the same time and took 4 or 5 months. They took so long that my medical certificates from the US expired while I was waiting. So I had to redo the medical check while on a

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Bomb the city to save it?

July 16, 2021

The ongoing difficulties with heritage restrictions in Wellington are a bit of a problem. Can’t build houses where people want to live. Can’t bowl earthquake-prone defunct old buildings. And can’t even get decent ticketing systems at the rail station because somehow the turnstiles would impede the heritage stuff. When you get this level of institutional ossification, well, the bombers may be the only solution.This week’s third column in the Initiative’s newsletter. The third column is meant to be satire. Or despair. Japan’s post Second World War economic growth was astonishing. Despite widespread devastation, Japan produced an economic miracle.Economist Mancur Olson provides the most compelling explanation.I wonder whether his lessons might apply to continued difficulties in

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Another day, another J-curve

July 15, 2021

From the Mayo clinic:During a median follow-up of 8.9 years, we documented 8652 incident cases of all-cause death, including 1702 cases of cardiovascular disease death, 4960 cases of cancer death, and 1990 cases of other-cause death. After adjustment confounders and amount of alcohol consumed, higher DHS was significantly associated with a lower risk of all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease mortality, cancer mortality, or other-cause mortality (Ptrend

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For a better price cap

July 14, 2021

New Zealand’s ETS has a price cap. It needs a better one.When the carbon price hits $50, the government releases more units into the system. Some of those units are ones that are already within the cap. The government reduces the number of units auctioned each year within the cap to account for stockpiled older units it expects to be redeemed that year. If those stockpiled units fail to be redeemed and are instead held, there will be price pressure. So the government then auctions more units. And again – this is still within the cap. If the stockpile isn’t run down this year, there will be more stockpile left next year, and we’d then expect fewer units auctioned by the Crown to account for that. After that runs out, the government can release more units – units that are over the cap.

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Morning roundup

July 13, 2021

The morning’s browser tabs:Newsroom picks up on BusinessDesk’s prior reporting on MIQ ghost rooms. Much credit goes to Cameron Conradie’s constant reporting on the numbers. BusinessDesk pointed out that the MIQ system is constantly overwriting its own data so that it is impossible to get, from them, the prior track. I wonder what the Archivist would make of this because it sounds like deliberate destruction of Official Information which may have to have been backed up by a Disposal Authority. Anyway we’re losing skilled migrants who rightly view there as being no chance that the government will fix the system, because the government starts by hating migrants and viewing allowing any of their families in as actually being a bad thing. While it is still good to live in NZ as a permanent

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The Grand Deal

July 13, 2021

Josh Gans explains how getting vaccines developed and delivered is supposed to work, and how Australia (and NZ, though he doesn’t mention us) have failed. I worry that NZ is set to repeat this particular kind of failure. We need to be getting orders in right now for the delta-variant shot that Pfizer’s developing. Pay a pile for it up front. Order twice as much as we need, for rush delivery at the actual front of the queue. Give the doses we don’t need to whichever other country looks like they most need it. It’s still a bargain, and it’s the right thing to do. Here’s Josh:Let me explain the grand deal because I don’t think it is commonly thought about and it is certainly not explicitly written down. But it goes like this. If we were to think purely ethically, we would want every person

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Afternoon roundup

July 12, 2021

The browser tabs…The Internet Archive will help improve access to a lot of books currently held by the National Library. Naturally, this upsets some people. Mike Joy wins a battle over what "natural levels" of nitrate in aquifers might mean.Places where the local schools are funded by higher levels of government wind up trying to privatize the public schools through zoning. Everything’s tradeoffs though, eh? If schools are funded by the local communities, poor places get really bad schools. It’s instead a good argument against even greater anti-NIMBY vigilance.Potential nudges to improve compliance with scanning-in for Covid tracing. I’d add one more: put the QR codes in lots of places. Make it easy. At the entrance is great, but if your phone isn’t ready and you’d be holding up a

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Holes in the MIQ bucket

July 11, 2021

Thomas Coughlin reports that the reason the government cannot expand MIQ capacity is that they can’t source enough nurses and haven’t enough testing capacity. Now documents released to the Herald under the Official Information Act show officials have been considering long-term purpose-built MIQs since July last year.But each time a new idea was floated, it hit a brick wall: the country does not have the health or security staff to sustain more MIQ places and building new purpose-built MIQ spots could create as many problems as it would solve….Ironically, MIQ, which is often held responsible for restricting the flow of labour into the country, was itself a victim of the labour shortage.A "key constraint for increasing capacity for MIQ is the availability of workforce to provide

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