Our confused response to market power

The size of profits generated by banks, power companies and telecommunication firms are a frequent source of public outrage. When those profits arise from market manipulation, this outrage is justifiable. Yet the analogous application of market power by labour unions to raise wages is widely accepted and often applauded. How consistent is this?

Can we do better preventing child maltreatment?

The cost of child maltreatment is staggering, yet our willingness to live with the consequences suggests that we remain in a state of denial. Translating overseas estimates of the costs of child abuse and neglect to the New Zealand context suggests that it imposes long term costs in the vicinity of $2 bn per year, ie in excess of 1% of GDP every year.

How low can you go?

My mate Pete is building a house. He is a talented builder and property developer, but the recent change in the market has left him needing to complete and sell his current project this year. He works every hour that the inclement Wellington weather allows, and practically sleeps with his drill clasped in his calloused hand. Pete dances a little jig every time Alan Bollard drops interest rates. He has a floating mortgage, and every little fall gives him precious extra time or money to finish up the house and get it sold or rented.

Honesty is the best policy

Life throws up many surprises. Increases in our taxes or cuts in our public services are not surprises we particularly welcome. We like to have a reasonable idea about what we can expect from the government so we know how much to put on our credit card or mortgage, how much to put into our retirement fund, when to retire, and how much insurance to take out. Of course no government can give guarantees about what it and its successors will and won’t provide in the future. But it can set realistic hopes about what we might get and what we have to give up getting it. This helps us plan for expected and unexpected events in our lives.

Live and let live

Sir David Attenborough brings a distinctive style to his documentaries, and Iwould count myself as a fan. But I was a little surprised to hear of hisrecent appointment to head the Optimum Population Trust (OPT). The OPT is anorganisation whose members generally believe that the earth has reached orexceeded the level of population it can sustain long-term. But the problem isthat these views have been around for a long time, and disaster has not yetbefallen the human race. Somewhere in the midst of the hype andmisinformation, sound policy decisions need to be made that will affect all ofus.

Beware those bearing gifts of productivity growth

In a recent report the OECD praised the government’s aim to "increase productivity" in the New Zealand economy. Ever since National came into power, the catch phrase productivity has been thrown around with reckless abandon – treated as both our saviour in the current crisis and the destitute child that was abandoned by the previous Labour government.

Driving slowly to economic death

Once again the country seems to be going through a period characterised by a high number of road accident deaths. And as usual we hear the same sorts of calls for action – lower speed limits, higher fines and demerit points, more police officers on the road and so on. For anyone going over the speed limit an accident is surely imminent.

Tourism: Facing the challenges of the future

John Key is so passionate about tourism that he made himself Minister of Tourism. The reason for his passion is obvious. It is an industry that builds on our uniqueness. Our magnificent landscapes, safe environment and low population density offer a unique experience to the tourist. But despite its obvious positives it is not clear that tourism sits comfortably in our vision of becoming a high-wage, high-skilled economy.