Off track with rail

The cost of propping up rail over the past fifty years can probably be totted up but it would be a disheartening job. Whatever the result the message is likely to be that rail, in its present form, is not a viable business in New Zealand. There may well be a case for subsidising urban passenger rail services and it’s not the focus of this article. But it’s well past time to take a hard-nosed look at the rail freight business in this country.

No “right” response to global warming

The mainstream acceptance of both the scientific consensus on global warming and the need for a globally binding cap on carbon emissions does not by itself indicate that we are close to reaching a satisfactory solution to climate change. The optimal policy response is still subject to massive uncertainty from three sources: risk around our central forecast of climate change costs, uncertainty about the cost of reducing emissions, and uncertainty about how we should share the cost burden.

Measures of allocative efficiency

In the last few weeks my colleagues, Gareth Kiernan and Adolf Stroombergen, have discussed the importance of what economists call allocative efficiency – ensuring that the nation’s resources flow into those activities where they are most valued. I continue with that theme. My aim is to present a measure of how big a deal allocative efficiency is for the New Zealand economy.

An array of carbon prices

Last week my colleague Gareth Kiernan discussed the importance of what economists call allocative efficiency – ensuring that the nation’s resources can flow into those activities where they are most valued. A pre-requisite to achieving such an outcome is clear and consistent price signals. An area where pricing is rapidly becoming neither clear nor consistent is carbon pricing.

User pays would help alleviate water shortages

The recent hot summer has not only been bad for my skin, but for famers as well. A drought has reduced production of agricultural goods, undermining a major source of New Zealand export income. Furthermore, growth in both the number of people and cows has begun to stretch the water infrastructure in some regions, suggesting that a longer-term problem of water shortages beckons. When an economist hears the word shortage there is one thing we think – put the price up. So it is about time we set a price for water, by establishing a market.

Rugby, poverty, Apartheid, and Minto

John Minto’s decision to reject an award nomination from the South African government is hardly surprising. He is a doctrinaire socialist and is fundamentally at odds with the market-friendly policies pursued by the ruling African National Congress. Minto has sought to portray South Africa as an example of the failure of market-based policies to address poverty. To support his stance he has made some extraordinary claims about economic and social conditions in South Africa, some of which are quite simply wrong.

Why sound economics loses out to politics

A quote in a recent article in TheEconomist magazine caught my eye: "politics has a habit of underminingeconomics".  It was just a throw-away line in an article about the Bali conference on climate change.  As an economist my initial reaction was "so true".  Butit leads you to ask why is this statement so true?  Economics is, at heart,about maximising the welfare of a society.  One would, naively, expect that attemptingto achieve that goal would be a vote winner for politicians.  In countrieswithout democracy, or seriously flawed versions of democracy, one might havesome understanding about why policies might not be designed to benefit themajority.  But why do political decisions in democracies, like our own, sooften fly in the face of orthodox economics?