Saturday, August 08, 2015

Treasury releasing OIA request responses - all govt depts should follow suit

Announced yesterday:

The Treasury is trialling the publication of its responses to selected Official Information Act (OIA) requests.
Responses to selected OIA requests received by the Treasury are published here soon after the requestor has received their response from the Treasury. The reply letter from the Treasury to the requestor explains what information, if any, has been withheld under the OIA and under which grounds. The requestor's name and address have been removed.

This is a great idea. It is so good it should be compulsory for all departments.

Here is an example of a released request made in April 2015 for:

Any information or modelling regarding the burden of GST on households by income quintile; and • Any information or modelling regarding the burden of excise taxes on households by income quintile.

Interesting. The GST burden on the lowest decile is considerably higher (especially compared to the next two bands) than I'd have thought given their limited incomes. Their expenditure on tobacco must be a big factor. A breakdown between tobacco, alcohol and fuel duties would be even more interesting.

The richest decile pays 214% more in GST than the poorest, but only 55% more on tobacco, alcohol and fuel duties.

Many poverty scholars believe income is not the best way to measure it; that expenditure should also feature. David Green dedicated a lengthy section to this subject in "Poverty in New Zealand" writing

"It is widely known that the preferred measure of poverty throughout Europe is household expenditure not income. Initially it sounds odd that measures of expenditure and income would produce radically different results, but this has been the consistent finding of surveys conducted since the 1950s throughout Europe." Green finds that debt isn't the reason, but under-reporting of income is.

(My reflection) The lowest income decile may be significant players in the black market.

Green continues, " New Zealand, only 45.6% of households in the lowest income decile are also in the lowest expenditure decile, and that 10 percent of household's in NZ's lowest income decile are in the top three expenditure deciles," Quite believable based on the above table.

If poverty was measured by expenditure rather than income, the gaps would close up or even disappear. For instance the expenditure (before housing costs) of the third lowest income decile would make them the poorest.

Back to the point of the post. I wonder what the thinking is by Treasury. That by making request responses public they will generate fewer or more? Perhaps I should request any information relating to this decision:-)

Update: Eric Crampton has made further comments about the lowest decile incomes at his blog Offsetting Behaviour

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Bob Jones makes my fantasy come half-true

When he had his notorious fracas with Air NZ I commented somewhere, might have been Whale Oil, that Sir Bob should buy his own private jet, and to rub salt into the wound, offer flights to other Air NZ passengers who'd prefer to fly hassle free. Well, he's done the first part.

Not much in the newspaper makes me feel happy these days but the photo of Bob's newly arrived Cessna Citation Mustang put a huge smile on my dial.

Imagine how lovely it would be to vent one's frustration in such a manner

Sir Bob Jones has taken delivery of his own jet, less than three months after being ejected from an Air New Zealand flight.
Jones' new Cessna Citation Mustang, which has an estimated price tag of between $2 million and $2.5million,  touched down in the capital last week, after a long-haul flight from the United States.
And it seems its arrival has come not a moment too soon.
Sir Bob Jones has bought himself a multimillion-dollar private jet, after being ejected from an Air NZ flight in May.
Sir Bob Jones has bought himself a multimillion-dollar private jet, after being ejected from an Air NZ flight in May.
"I should have done this years ago," he wrote in his latest National Business Review column.

My suggestion for the first high profile passenger to poach - Sean Plunket, who regularly rants about queues and airport security on his radio show. And regularly flys between Wellington and Auckland.

Unfortunately the bureaucracy involved in operating his own 'airline' might just be too much for Bob. But he loves a scrap.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

"The mindlessness of Donald Trump"

From, an entertaining read this morning,

The Mindlessness of Donald Trump—and What It Reveals About the GOP

The candidate's lack of a traditional political agenda is key to his anti-political appeal.

"...the Trump crowd has thoroughly tired of conventional politics and conventional politicians. The draw of Trump’s candidacy is that he is so very obviously not bound by these conventions—that he is not a conventional politician, nor even really a politician at all. He doesn’t have policy ideas or governing plans to speak of? So what? Those are for politicians. Trump’s politics are a kind of anti-politics, and his lack of a traditional political agenda only adds to his anti-political appeal.... most of Trump’s supporters, rather like Trump himself, have put very little effort into imagining a Trump presidency, except to idly fantasize about all the ways that it would be different and awesome and better. He would be an exciting, deal-making, ass-kicker who would strike fear into the hearts of America’s enemies, and he would do this simply by virtue of being Donald Trump, in all his glorious, exciting Trumpiness.
What Trump offers is a fantasy of governance without negotiation, of economic success without policy detail, of a president who does not particularly feel the need to act presidential. It’s a fantasy of politics without politics, for people who just don’t want to think about it too much."


Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Minister's suggestion "inflammatory and misleading"

Thank God for that. Somebody with credentials has set the record straight over Anne Tolley's labeling of a proposed study treating children as if they were "lab rats".

He is professor Tim Dare who produced some earlier ethical analysis on predictive modelling for MSD.

His column, published today in the DomPost is totally scathing of the minister and the political process.

A minister sees a briefing paper with a proposal to test a computer model designed to identify children at risk of maltreatment.  She reacts strongly.
"Not on my watch!" she writes in the margin, "these children are not lab-rats". The study is shelved.
The media obtain the briefing paper, complete with the marginalia, and publicise it.
The Opposition seize on the lab-rats cry and use it in the House against the Minister of Social Development and the ministry.
Should we feel relieved? Have we averted another unfortunate experiment? No.
The minister's reaction, and the media and Opposition response to it should make us feel uneasy.
The problem is not the shelving of the study – though that was a mistake too – rather it is the chilling effect of the knee-jerk and political response to an attempt to produce evidence for important social policy.
Science collided with politics, and politics won.
My letter on the subject was also published on the opposite page. I had asked the DomPost to amend Cabinet paper to briefing paper shortly after submitting but it didn't happen.

Monday, August 03, 2015

"3 (wrong) attitudes towards ageing"

Here's an editorial from the Australian think tank, the Centre for Independent Studies. Not all of it fits into the NZ paradigm but it's useful in some respects:

3 (wrong) attitudes towards ageing

Our population is ageing. This will bring profound economic and fiscal challenges that will require significant changes in government spending. But it will also require us to change our attitudes towards ageing and the aged.

There are three specific attitudes that, if changed, would go far in combating the coming challenge.

Older workers are less valuable

A recent report found more than 50,000 people involuntarily retired in 2011 for job-related reasons. A 2015 survey showed a quarter of Australians over 50 reported experiencing age related discrimination, and one third of managers factored age into their decision making.

The government has responded by introducing incentive payments for hiring older Australians but government incentives aren't always effective in changing people's attitudes, only their behaviour.

It is in everyone's interest for older Australians to stay in the workforce longer. Someone aged 50 today could work for 20 more years, much longer than someone aged 25 is likely to stay in one job.

Retirees are poor, vulnerable and need protecting by government

The stereotypical image of a pensioner is someone struggling to get by in public housing who may occasionally have to eat pet food. However retirees are a very diverse cohort. Some are indeed struggling to get by, marginalised by high costs of living (especially rent) or health concerns.
But this is not all (or even most) pensioners. 75%-80% of pensioners own their home without a mortgage, while around 30% of single pensioners and 50% of couple pensioners have more than $900,000 in net worth.

It is condescending to think of older Australians as helpless. Just because someone has reached retirement age does not automatically mean they need government funding. If retirees can support themselves they should do so before asking for taxpayer help.

I've worked hard and saved, I deserve a pension

Perhaps one of the more pernicious myths in retirement income policy is that the pension is a reward for working hard and paying taxes or part of some grand intergenerational bargain.
It's not. The pension is a safety net for those who can't support themselves.

If taxpayers end up having to pay for your retirement anyway, they don't care if you were careful with your money while others blew theirs. The pension should not be a taxpayer-funded reward for looking after yourself.

Changing attitudes is every bit as important as fiscal reform in combating the challenges of an ageing population

Sunday, August 02, 2015


This is why we have a mislead, resentment-fueled populace - or segment of. Lies.

From Paul Little in the HOS: we have long known the tax burden falls disproportionately on those of limited means, who are also likelier to be poor, as the gap between richest and poorest widens, partly due to measures such as the TPP.

Many poor and even middle income people effectively pay no tax.

and the gap between rich and poor is not widening