Daily Archives: February 22, 2017


Venial behaviour in the New Zealand public sector @JordNZ

One of the things I noticed after coming to New Zealand was the petty veniality in government departments.

I noticed it in the first week when I discovered employers pay for farewells. No chance in Australia. We take them out for lunch, and we have a wipe round to pay for their lunch. If it was a retirement function, such as for a long serving employee, the senior staff would pay for it out of their own pocket. The taxpayer never ever paid.

Then I noticed that public servants would charge lunches with each other to their government credit card. They would buy wine.

It got worse when I noticed who went on overseas trips. When it was a more exotic location, a much more senior manager felt the need to represent his country. I thought most overseas travel was a waste of time so we actively avoided it and never proposed a trip.

Enthusiasm in the minister’s office for going to a rather boring International meeting picked up no end when they discovered it was in Istanbul.

Then to my astonishment, I found that government employees would take holidays at the end of their business travel. If you tried that in Australia, you would be fired. It would never be considered.

If you were on an interstate secondment, you are entitled to take leave equal to the amount of time you accrued while on that secondment.

Clearly, it would give an appearance of bias when you are writing the business case if you could get it business class air ticket to the other side of the world and then take a long holiday on the way back.

New Zealand seems to employ a lot of contractors as policy analysts. I have never heard of such things in Australia. If you could not recruit and retain enough analysts to work through peaks and troughs in the workload, you were not a very good manager. If it was a real crisis, you found someone who was not busy from within the organisation and had them seconded to your team.

In more than a few places, these contractors seemed to be good friends of the manager. These contractors can be hired so quickly and in such number that a new manager has no time to talk to his existing staff about what they do, what they might do or what skill sets they might have.

I was talking to a British colleague once about how he would always refuse any attempts by people to buy him lunch or a beer. Like me, he would be up the back eating his own sandwiches while the senior executives tucked into 3 course lunches provided by various lobby groups.

Until I came to New Zealand, the taxpayer had never bought me lunch, a beer, or an air ticket. I was very careful to refusal offers of hospitality from outsiders. If an offer was made, I thought they were up to something.

Teachers Under A Morality Microscope


Below is my column this morning in The Los Angeles Times on the increasing number of cases where teachers are punished for comments or activities in their private lives — often under nebulous disruption or moral turpitude grounds. While the recent case of a teacher moonlighting as a porn star in California raises understandable concerns for school officials, most of these cases involve either past conduct or clearly protected speech. This is part of a broader number of cases that we have been following dealing with public employees ranging from city managers to police officers to firefighters. The question is how much our public employees must confirm their political and social activities to satisfy members of the public.

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Te Reo Maori as a core subject will put more struggling kids off school @maori_party

The Green’s new policy of making Te Reo Māori a core subject forgets that not everyone is good at languages.

I got a lower pass in High School English. I never scored a single mark in a phonetics test – zip every time. I was hopeless at learning Japanese.

I was wise enough to resist the encouragement for my dear departed mother to enrol in high school French. I had no wish to be the class dunce in French too.

The only reason I went to university was Mr. Carney in the first week of grade 7 noticed that I was in the level II classes for English and social science. As my six brothers and three sisters topped the school or near enough, he suspected that I was hiding my light under a bushel. He promoted me to the level III classes, which put me in the stream to matriculation college and therefore university.

Imagine how much I would have hated study if I was required to learn a 2nd language when I was struggling terribly with English. I am still a bad speller. I leave it to the reader to judge my grammar.

Learning another language is not a priority when you consider the poor literacy rates among Māori, Pasifika and some Pākehā. 60% of Pākehā are above the minimum level of competence to meet the prose literacy requirements of a knowledge society. This contrasts with the majority of Māori and Pasifika who are below the minimum level of prose literacy competence.

Requiring children who do not have an aptitude for language or school in general to learn a 2nd language will reinforce in those who are not doing well that they are not very smart. This will give them more reasons to hate school and leave as soon as possible and never go back.

The key to helping children who do not have an aptitude to succeed at school is to find subjects where they do well so they can get a good start to life. If students are not good at academic subjects, requiring them to do more academic studies such as study a 2nd language is fool-hardy.

Learning Te Reo Māori will not help children in their other subjects. The psychology of the transfer of learning was founded 100 years ago to explore the hypothesis that learning Latin gave the student muscle to learn other subjects, both other languages and generally learn faster.

Educational psychologists found that Latin does not help much at all in studying other languages and other subjects. No significant differences were found in deductive and inductive reasoning or text comprehension among students with 4 years of Latin, 2 years of Latin or no Latin at all.

Precious school resources and class time is better spent learning the basics needed to get a good start in life.

PS. I am good at maths so I do not understand why people are not. People who are good at languages are even more arrogant about how easy it is to learn a language and even more lacking in insight about the difficulties in language acquisition.

Replying to Julie Anne Genter on sugar taxes

The Sand Pit

This week the Green Party’s Julie Anne Genter and I wrote for the Spinoff on sugar taxes, presenting the ‘for’ and ‘against’ cases. Julie Anne’s was published first presenting the ‘for’ case, followed by my piece. Here’s a taster of mine, but do read both pieces:

You wouldn’t trust an economist to give you a smear test. So is it reasonable to expect those working in health to grasp economics? But still we listen to sugar tax proponents who don’t understand how consumer taxes work, says the NZ Initiative’s Jenesa Jeram.

I’d like to thank Julie Anne for her time. I’m aware she’s fighting an arguably a bigger battle at the moment in the form of the Mt Albert by-election, so I really appreciate her willingness to still engage in policy debate.

Now, I wrote my piece blind, filing it before seeing Julie Anne’s argument. Nevertheless, I think I…

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Labour on monetary policy

croaking cassandra

Alex Tarrant of interest.co.nz had an interesting article earlier this week on the approach the Labour Party plans to take on monetary policy and Reserve Bank issues.    It seems that we should take it as a reasonably authoritative description, even though the formal policy has yet to be released. Labour’s finance spokesman Grant Robertson  described it thus

Useful write up from Alex Tarrant on monetary policy in NZ, including some thinking from yours truly.

From the article

Labour’s stance that the Reserve Bank of New Zealand’s (RBNZ) price stability goal should be accompanied by a focus on employment will not see it propose a specific, nominal employment or unemployment figure for the central bank to target, finance spokesman Grant Robertson told interest.co.nz.

Meanwhile, Labour is set to follow the US example of not outlining which of price stability or employment the central bank should prioritise if the two goals were to clash…

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Anti-fluoridationists go to Supreme Court – who is paying for this?

Open Parachute

trekearth05-patea-egmont-stMain street, Patea. Photo credit: TrekEarth

The costly battle to prevent fluoridating the water supply of two small Taranaki towns has gone on for four years – and it looks like continuing.

Last October the South Taranaki District Council won a costly four-year court battle for the right to fluoridate the water supplies of Patea and Waverley. New Health NZ, which took High Court action to prevent fluoridation,  appealed several times against the decisions that went against them. Now the Supreme Court of New Zealand has granted New Health NZ the right to appeal those decisions (see Supreme court grant right for another appeal for New Zealand’s fluoride “test case”).

Hopefully, a Supreme Court rejection of their appeals will put an end to the matter. But it has been an expensive process. South Taranaki District Council’s corporate services group manager Phillippa Wilson said: “The costs to date are in excess…

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Crony Capitalism: Shifting fortunes of Indonesia and Malaysia

Mostly Economics

Interesting piece on how tides have turned for the two countries.

Earlier Indonesia was a hotbed of cronyism but now it is Malaysia:

With populists emulating autocrats from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe, free markets are being forced to confront crony capitalism.

One response is visible in the reversal of fortunes of Malaysia and Indonesia. The two nations still wrestle with the politics of ethnicity and religion at odds with the capitalism of market competition. In Indonesia, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Chinese Christian who is the governor of Jakarta, is running for office while defending himself against charges of blasphemy against Islam in a country of predominantly Muslim voters. Malaysia’s embrace of an ideology of Malay supremacy and the low interest rates that invite a debt bubble are impediments to a dynamic economy.

But the historic advantage that Malaysia, with just 30 million people, has enjoyed over its Southeast Asian neighbor of 250…

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I Want to Believe: UFO Sightings Around the World

Visualize This

Do Aliens walk among us?

The National UFO Reporting Center (NUFORC) is “dedicated to the collection and dissemination of objective UFO data,” and keeps careful logs of all UFO sightings worldwide. This post is restricted to 20th century encounters: a total of 104,947 events since 1905.

Sightings are at an all-time high!

One of the first recorded UFO sightings comes from Portland in 1905 (of course, seeing UFOs before it was cool), where a “buzzing,” sphere-shaped UFO descended from the clouds. Other shapes began cropping up later, with Saucers dominating the scene until the 1990s, when mysterious lights became the most popular.


The plurality of post-Internet sightings take the form of strange lights in the sky. Why lights instead of tangible shapes? Maybe claiming to see “lights” is less likely to make your friends and family react skeptically than claiming you saw an actual UFO up-close, especially now that everyone walks around with…

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Which scientists saved the most lives?

Why Evolution Is True

Scientists are the unrecognized benefactors of humanity. How many laypeople will recognize the name of Fritz Haber or Karl Bosch? Togetether they’re estimated to have saved over a billion lives. What about Norman Borlaug? He saved over 259 million lives. Ann Holloway, Samuel Katz, Kevin McCarthy, Milan Milovanovic, Anna Mitus, and Thomas Peebles? Together—over 100 million lives. Andreas Gruetzig? 15,400,000 lives. These people invented synthetic fertilizers, new breeds of wheat, measles vaccines, angioplasty, and so on.

The average person might recognize the name of Edward Jenner, who popularized (but perhaps didn’t invent) smallpox vaccination, thereby saving an estimated 530,000,000 lives; and they’d probably recognize Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin, whose polio vaccines saved the lives of over a million people, but I bet you could stop a college student, give them those three names, and none would be recognized.

You can see their stories, and read about (or question) the numbers…

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