Who gives a tweet about MIQ misery

The government’s choice of a randomised electronic queue for the distribution of 3,000 MIQ rooms yesterday had one surprising benefit.  It showed just how many New Zealanders were desperate enough to stand in e-line – more than 26,000 according to Stuff.

It also reminds us that while ministers and their officials can sometimes do one thing well – occasionally even two or three – the system is not designed to meet your personal needs. The fatal conceit, as Friedrich Hayek pointed out, is that the bureaucracy thinks it knows what they are.

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Boris keeps on gambling

Boris Johnson has done a great service for politicians everywhere by testing the political waters for tax increases.  He and his Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, are ratcheting up Britain’s taxes to pay for care homes.  And Covid of course.  Pretty much everything it seems.

The new tax is not really that new: a levy on labour incomes (i.e., salaries, wages and self-employment) of 2.5 percentage points, with an increase in dividend taxes of half that. Boris – with flagrant disregard for Econ 101 – claims that business will share this burden. Sorry Boris and Rishi – labour taxes fall on labour.

Meanwhile, the Financial Times gloomily opines that the move will raise the UK’s tax burden to the highest level since 1950 – about the time when Boris’s hero, Winston Churchill, was heading for a second term as PM.

Boris has a reputation for being better on the strategic than the tactical decisions.  So, will the tax increase work?

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Many Alexanders but only one Boris

The flaws of Boris Johnson, Britain’s jokey PM, have been highlighted through the Brexit saga, and he has many haters.  Fine material you might think for Tom Bower, the UK’s pre-eminent investigative muckraker, notorious for coruscating biographies of Richard Branson, Robert Maxwell and Jeremy Corbyn.

But funnily enough he hasn’t made that much of a splash with Boris Johnson The Gambler published in the midst of the UK’s Covid epidemic at the end of last year.

It’s not that Bower shuns the negative.  He scrupulously documents the driving ambition, rhetorical evasion, monumental self-centeredness, serial infidelity and inability to buy a round.

But these traits are not entirely absent from many leading politicians.  And Johnson managed to emerge through the pages as a ferociously intelligent and curiously likeable character, who pulls off these stunts more colourfully and successfully than most.

Indeed, Boris’s enemies tend to suffer in the comparison.  Former PM, Theresa May is portrayed as an over-promoted machiavel; while the head of the Foreign Office, Simon Macdonald, comes across as unctuous and incompetent. The next-door neighbours who snitched to the press on Boris’s domestic rows appear as uptight ideologues, determined to expose “the ugly edifice of capitalist heteropatriachy’”.

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A NZ-UK trade agreement will be another – albeit small – step in the re-ordering of global trade

There is increasing chatter in London that the NZ-UK trade deal will be announced in days, with invitations to briefings being diaried for Tuesday.

But it’s worth noting that the UK commentators seem to be excising the prefix ‘free’ from the ‘trade agreement’, perhaps reflecting better understanding that these days there is no free trade without a substantial regulatory component.

While NZ’s producers will no doubt be grateful if they get an Australian-style phased reduction of tariffs and quotas as has been briefed, the non-tariff/quota regulatory barriers will be just as important in the long run.

That at least would seem to be the view of the eminent organ, the Irish Farmers Journal, in its assessment of the currently-fraught implementation of free trade arrangements between the EU, Ireland, Northern Ireland and Great Britain (ie, the UK minus Northern Ireland).

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NZ does better than Australia at Covid messaging but signals a different approach

Jacinda Ardern’s government got better press than Scott Morrison’s when it announced details of its ‘reopening’ strategy earlier this week.

This may seem a surprise given that both governments have no immediate plans to actually reopen – rather the contrary in fact.

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So how does the housing boom end?

It’s an old adage that a speculative market collapses not when prices get crazy but when the last person who insists prices are crazy gives up in despair.  

Worth bearing in mind when London’s Financial Times tells us that the pandemic has fuelled “the broadest global house price boom in two decades”, even bigger than the one which preceded and helped trigger the 2008 global financial crisis, and which is understandably reviving concerns about financial stability.

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The problem with Australia’s opening plan is that it closes things

Australian PM Scott Morrison is under pressure from a Delta Covid outbreak that just won’t go away and a vaccination programme which – what shall we say – lacks urgency.  

So it’s the right time to bring out a bold long-term plan for re-integrating Australia into the modern world.

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Will China’s communist party complete a second century?

The Economist has marked the 100th birthday of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) with one of its context-rich historical essays.  It puts its money on the side of the party’s continuing adaptability and resilience.  This is probably the orthodox position.  But, as the Economist’s editorial staff themselves say when hedging their bets, only time will tell.

The more optimistic among us might look beyond the party’s seemingly-monolithic strength and see it – in pleasingly Marxist terms – as a prisoner of its own fundamental contradictions.

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Climate change just got cheaper – or maybe not …

Britain’s fiscal watchdog – the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) – has some good news.  It thinks the cost for the UK of getting to zero carbon could be much less than anticipated:  

While unmitigated climate change would spell disaster, the net fiscal costs of moving to net zero emissions by 2050 could be comparatively modest.”

Under its ‘early action scenario’ government net debt would rise by a mere 20% of GDP in the years to 2050 from the current 105%.  That almost seems encouraging when compared with the near-30% of GDP increase responding to the Covid pandemic , and the roughly 50% surge which followed the global financial crisis.

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NZ public service reform for the UK?

It’s not unusual for governments to decide the solution to their frustrations is to tweak the machinery of government.  Nor for senior public servants to channel those ambitions to safety.

But things look more serious in the UK.  A sequence of reports from high-powered ‘independent’ commissions and well-connected think tanks are floating proposals which bear more than a resemblance to the state sector reforms implemented in New Zealand at the end of last century.

For one of the key players, the seeds of change were planted back in 2010. Back then, Michael Gove (now the Minister for the Cabinet Office) was put in charge of education.  He coined the term ‘the Blob’ to describe the coalition of resistant civil servants and external ideologists who opposed his proposals to change the school system.  And helping him on the Blob job was Dominic Cummings – PM Boris Johnson’s erstwhile chief strategist.

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