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? 

Counting the cost of your car

As you stand at the petrol pump watching the dollars clickingover on the counter, think about what it’s really costing you to drive aroundin your car. It’s not the petrol. The big latent cost is depreciation – whatyou paid for your pride and joy will in many cases turn into a lot less whenyou come to sell it or trade it in. In very broad terms, fuel purchasesaccount for around 10% of the total annual cost of owning and running anear-new car.

Not as equal as we think

We are Australia’s poor cousins, that we all know. Even Tasmanians, the poorest Australians, earn on average more than 10% per week than we do. While we know we are poorer we like to think that sometimes we have other worthy attributes. We are less inclined to invade foreign countries alongside our traditional allies. We think we are greener – our per capita carbon dioxide emissions are less than half that of Australia’s. We also like to think that we have a more equal society. Greater equality is a popular perception but is incorrect if income distribution is our measure of equality.

Fat tax?

Researchers at Massey University suggestedthat the government should subsidise fruit and vegetables, in order to increasehousehold’s consumption of these ‘healthy’ foods.  However, if we are willingto accept this I would like to take it one step further and suggest that wealso place a tax on unhealthy foods (foods with a sufficiently low SSCg3d scorefor example), a concept economists tactfully term a ‘fat tax’.

A better personal income tax and benefit system

While tax cuts are a topical issue, in this article we take a step back and instead look at what a better tax-benefit benefit system could look like. Just as with the current system, the size of government could be as big or as small as society desires, but the debate around tax cuts would be much clearer than some of the vacuous comments we hear from politicians and the dubious findings of badly constructed opinion polls.