Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: On Ideas

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  • Ian MacKay,

    My contact with Australians has been great, but I do not see them or Australia as being ideals to aspire to. There are plenty of places and people in NZ to do that for me. So why keep telling me that I need to be more productive and "catch up" to Aussie? Go NZ!

    Bleheim • Since Nov 2006 • 498 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen,

    just fire this off before i exit for several hours - what about the income protection insurance idea?

    Auckland • Since Apr 2008 • 47 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen,

    ...you can't force people to take it, but it sounds good in principle...

    Auckland • Since Apr 2008 • 47 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    just fire this off before i exit for several hours - what about the income protection insurance idea?

    The unemployment benefit is conceived as exactly that. It's just that it was deliberately lowered to the poverty level in the early 1990s (see Alastair Barry's still relevant In a land of plenty ) and never raised since, so we don't think of it in that way.

    WLG • Since Nov 2006 • 2264 posts Report Reply

  • Kong,

    I'm sick of constantly being told I have to compare myself to Australians.

    I'm not.

    I am. I can't see any sense in picking some nation to beat. Surely our aim should be to 'improve', rather than cherry-pick some nation on the quite arbitrary ground of being culturally similar and geographically close, and politically aligned to whatever policy we are cherry-picking for.

    It's like randomly picking a neighbor in your street and making it your life's mission to be richer than them, by emulating them. Never mind that there are millions of other people you could have chosen who have found paths to success totally different to that neighbor. Never mind that you may be very dissimilar to that neighbor in skills and resources. Never mind their head start. Never mind that you may be totally unprepared to do what they did to get where they are, or you may have missed the opportunity altogether. It wouldn't matter what country was chosen as our guiding light, it would still be an extremely limited and unimaginative goal.

    Keeping up with the Joneses is a futile endeavour. Why let the Joneses dictate how you run your life? NZ has a lot more to offer to the world than becoming a small, weak, poor clone of Australia. Personally I think of Australia not as a competitor, but as family. It's a place where cultural ties and proximity enable us to deal with them in a way that is mutually beneficial, most of the time, and our difference from them makes the family stronger. Australians that I know are deeply inspired by NZ a lot of the time, despite loving to lord over us anything they excel in. This is why NZers fall into Australian company abroad with such ease, why NZers find it so easy to work in Australia (and vice versa).

    So making it our life's mission to be better than them just seems like the petty ambition of a spurned 'unsuccessful' sibling. I want my family to all excel, and if I'm never richer than my brother, I'll just be happy for him.

    Since Jul 2009 • 89 posts Report Reply

  • Idiot Savant,

    The unemployment benefit is conceived as exactly that. It's just that it was deliberately lowered to the poverty level in the early 1990s (see Alastair Barry's still relevant In a land of plenty )

    It wasn't lowered to the poverty level - it was lowered below it. Treasury worked out the minimum cost of surviving, and then cut that by IIRC 20%. It was monstrous, it was cruel, but they wanted a stronger "incentive" for the strucuturally unemployed kept redundant by Don Brash's interest rate manipulations to fight each other for work.

    (Labour, of course - the "party that cares" - then kept benefits at that sub-starvation level. Every so often someone makes noises about fixing it, but the Phil Goff wing of the party believes heartily in Treasury's policy of starvation as an incentive, and so it continues...)

    Palmerston North • Since Nov 2006 • 1716 posts Report Reply

  • Idiot Savant,

    Kong: I was more pointing out that the narrow focus on economic penis-size obscures our real strengths as a country. (And another one came out today, BTW - we're one of the most stable and peaceful countries in the world, and far better than any of those traditional yardsticks the right like to measure us against...)

    Palmerston North • Since Nov 2006 • 1716 posts Report Reply

  • Kong,

    I/S I wasn't ragging on you personally. I got that you were really saying much the same as me. But my slant is that ragging out Australia is not going to convince people, that's just more dick-measuring. It's the entire focus on competition with foreign nations that is at fault.

    Since Jul 2009 • 89 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    Says Mr Key:

    "there's no point coming up with policies unless they're implementable".

    And that, I think, is the crux of the matter, as Russell has identified. There are plenty of things that are implementable, in the technical sense. But whether they're implementable for people sitting round the Cabinet table is another matter.

    I was also going to echo Oram's point about utilisation of labour and capital, made here again by another commenter. When wages are low, the choice between making widgets with a $25k/pa worker (with associated costs) and a $500k machine over the next ten years isn't a hard one. When the minimum wage is $30k, so you have to pay $35, the balance tips further the other way.

    Of course, the economist heading an enquiry might say that increased labour costs make products more expensive and thus less competitive. But labour costs typically make up only a part of the total cost of an item, and increased productivity offsets against costs.

    WLG • Since Nov 2006 • 2264 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    (Labour, of course - the "party that cares" - then kept benefits at that sub-starvation level. Every so often someone makes noises about fixing it, but the Phil Goff wing of the party believes heartily in Treasury's policy of starvation as an incentive, and so it continues...)

    Which is why I was rather surprised nobody asked Goff why, if he thinks the status quo is so damn unfair, he didn't do something about it during the nine years he was a very senior Cabinet minister. :)

    I've also got to admit I'm rather creeped out by the idea that there's a deserving (middle) class who need help how, but I guess everyone before who lost their job and was ineligible for benefit because of their spouse's income wasn't.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Angus Robertson,

    In other words, you're still talking bullshit.

    Seriously, you think the Danish People Party have not produced a regressive immigration policy? They have made what NZFirst could only dream of.

    The EU recently ruled against their immigration laws and the commissioner is trying to get them ammended, but you say they're fine. The UNHCR ranks them 27th of 28 in Europe for integration of foreigners, but you say the UNHCR is obviously spreading BS.

    The Migration Policy Institute sums it up perfectly: "Both the 24-year rule and reduced welfare benefits have been roundly criticized by the UN, the EU, and the Council of Europe for being discriminatory and making life more difficult for people who are already in a marginalized and vulnerable social position."

    Auckland • Since May 2007 • 984 posts Report Reply

  • Kong,

    Funny thing about innovation, it almost never comes from the top. In the workplace, the number one source of innovation seems to be between customers and designers, where necessity meets invention. In politics innovation is anathema, because it involves taking extreme positions. I can't think of the last time I heard a new political idea. Just new words for old ideas. That's what political and management innovation always seems to be, some new metaphor to justify some ancient practice. Some new name for some shade of policy as different from the last as one sheep is to another.

    Actual innovators are seldom welcome in the company of politicians, they are too likely to say something whack. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure I'd want them pulling strings either. Politics is slow moving and uninspired for a reason - when things move fast it's usually at immense risk and/or cost. Radical ideas seizing power can just as easily be bad radical ideas as good ones. The downside risk usually outweighs the upside, except in times of the direst need. I don't think things have got that bad, nor are they likely to.

    The Nats would be far better off being honest about this. They are not expected to solve the recession for NZ, just to make the best they can of bad times. They could be honest about the antiquity of their approach, it's hardly like the alternatives that we've been living with under Labour are ground breaking, just good old fashioned socialism-flavored capitalism. If the Nats want to try good old fashioned capitalist-flavored socialism instead then they probably have a mandate for it. Does anyone really expect anything different?

    Since Jul 2009 • 89 posts Report Reply

  • Idiot Savant,

    Seriously, you think the Danish People Party have not produced a regressive immigration policy? They have made what NZFirst could only dream of.

    No, I said its regressive. But that policy affects only a small proportion of overall Danish immigration, and is not any sort of check on the ability of citizens of other Schengen countries to move and work there.

    Palmerston North • Since Nov 2006 • 1716 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Meanwhile, it looks like Phil Goff needs to start working on his Peter Capaldi impersonation.

    So, you not only issue the press release before you've done the policy work, but you go out and try to sell it with a human interest story that's a little economical on the veritas? God, he must be thankful the Weatherston verdict came back today.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Ashby,

    @IS

    The benefit cut in the early '90s was 7%. This is engraved on my mind. When I was a married with children PhD student and my stipend ended before I was quite finished we took a pay rise when we went on the dole (very helpful staff in the benefit office, they got a sort of mention in my thesis). This was true even after they cut it.

    Despite coming from a lower income than the dole they still made us stand down for 2 weeks. We ate a lot of lentils and basically bought milk, cheese and potatoes only.

    As for productivity in Health and Science, you do this with 'capital deepening too'. If I am a phlebotomist and I must take 8 separate tubes of blood from a patient (had that done) then I can do fewer patients than if I only have to take 1 or 2. You achieve this by investing in better/smarter blood analysis tech. Or you invest in equipment such as scanners so people get diagnosed faster and more accurately so are on the lists for a shorter time.

    In science you can automate too, my last lab bought a desktop robot that would grid out samples in tubes into 96 or 384 well plates with or without reaction mixture and seal them. It read barcodes too so you had a record of what was where. Around the same time we bought a water bath pcr robot and took great stacks of those 384 well plates and ran them through and analysed the result real time for you. That was on the people side supporting a large population based clinical study. I used it for my mouse samples both because it was faster and because it was more accurate. Real time pcr has been a boon too, no more running gels and then trying to manually quantitate bands (always a dodgy method) and no radioactivity (forces you to go slower for safety and you have waste to dispose of).

    Biology has seen an exponential increase in productivity to the point where we hit a computing problem, in terms of storing, cross linking and mining all that data.

    In the NZ situation it means that rather than doing a study on the small area around one hospital you can do it nationally because you can now handle the samples and the data with just a couple of people. Back in the day you would have needed a small army.

    Dundee, Scotland • Since May 2007 • 425 posts Report Reply

  • stephen walker,

    ooh, i just finished translating the annual report of a japanese company that makes real-time polymerase chain reaction systems...as you were.

    (so, has our dirty dairy industry led nz into a biotech nirvana yet? because the japanese company to which i refer started out pretty low-tech. sake brewing and spirits distilling)

    nagano • Since Nov 2006 • 645 posts Report Reply

  • Logan O'Callahan,

    Productivity in healthcare should be measured on health output per dollar input.

    Increasing operations per dollar is one aspect, but the big gains should be made by improving nutrition, lifestyle, attitudes and picking up problems early when the solutions are cheaper.

    This is the equivalent of improving productivity by redesigning your product to be easier to make and more reliable.

    On this measure National needs a new compass. They've essentially gutted Pharmac and removed several core health targets from DHBs.

    Since Apr 2008 • 70 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    Which is why I was rather surprised nobody asked Goff why, if he thinks the status quo is so damn unfair, he didn't do something about it during the nine years he was a very senior Cabinet minister. :)

    I've also got to admit I'm rather creeped out by the idea that there's a deserving (middle) class who need help how, but I guess everyone before who lost their job and was ineligible for benefit because of their spouse's income wasn't.

    Aye to both of those.

    I'm sure it wouldn't make stimulus or political sense, but I'd be quite happy with a bit of benefit cut reversal in these tough times (five years ago would have been good, now will also be OK).

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    Increasing operations per dollar is one aspect, but the big gains should be made by improving nutrition, lifestyle, attitudes and picking up problems early when the solutions are cheaper.

    That's my "if I had a billion dollars" plan! Careful, some people will find it a bit controversial.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • Rongotai,

    last year i worked for a company making something purely for export 1 part of the manufacturing took about 6 hours for tradesmen to do but there was a machine which could do the job in 3 hours by a non tradesmen. 1st problem, machine cost $40K, 2nd problem,short sighted directors of this large world leading company you can't legistrate for this stupidity and they beat a Sri lanrkin company for the contract

    Wellington Region • Since Nov 2006 • 4 posts Report Reply

  • Carlos,

    As someone living and working in Denmark over many years I would like to clear up a couple of points.

    Firstly the immigration effect on unemployment. Yes Denmark has very strict immigration laws but these do not apply to most of Europe - I dont think a country of 5 million having open borders with about 400 million others is restrictive. (Possibly the unique language and high tax/cost of living are factors however.)

    With respect to the 80% of salary unemployment benefit encouraging 'bludgers' - it should be pointed out that this entails making contributions (a form of insurance, ableit subsidised) and a one year qualifying period. Denmark also has a regular less generous safety net benefit for people not covered, with no other resources similar to NZ.

    CPH.DK • Since Mar 2009 • 27 posts Report Reply

  • Kong,

    Every day I write software that takes tasks away from human beings. Every minute I spend working amounts to hours that other people don't have to spend, or even makes possible what there simply wasn't time for previously. All of that work goes to making other people more productive. As a measure for myself, it's mostly useless. My own productivity is very hard to measure. Sometimes one minute's work produces thousands of hours of savings. Other times, I can work for hours and make no progress whatsoever, indeed I've sometimes gone backwards and made the software less stable. Even worse, sometimes I've made changes that have actually wasted a lot of other people's time. Innovation itself, as an output, is hard to measure, and yet it is the source of most other improvements in productivity. I find it extremely hard to believe any grand system can reliably improve productivity. It's a hit and miss affair. All I know is that if we're not working at it, then it certainly won't happen, and then we fall back on the age-old ideas of productivity improvement, the whip, starving people, tying productivity to their own well-being, etc. Which works only within a narrow band, there's only so much you can squeeze out of people. There is, however, no limit to what can be squeezed out of innovation, it's just very unpredictable.

    Since Jul 2009 • 89 posts Report Reply

  • Idiot Savant,

    Increasing operations per dollar is one aspect, but the big gains should be made by improving nutrition, lifestyle, attitudes and picking up problems early when the solutions are cheaper.

    That's my "if I had a billion dollars" plan! Careful, some people will find it a bit controversial.

    We had that billion dollars, and the government was spending it on exactly that. Then national cut it. The reason? It didn't immediately impact on their chosen headline metrics (e.g. waiting lists), and so was considered "waste".

    It's a perfect example of how "managing to the targets" causes problems.

    Palmerston North • Since Nov 2006 • 1716 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole,

    Productivity in healthcare should be measured on health output per dollar input.

    Increasing operations per dollar is one aspect, but the big gains should be made by improving nutrition, lifestyle, attitudes and picking up problems early when the solutions are cheaper.

    Precisely. When you're running around flat-tack at the bottom of the cliff picking up bodies, it's time to start thinking about spending money on the fence up the top. Primary healthcare is where you get productivity gains, because keeping people from needing higher-level services frees up those services to deal with patients who can't be kept away. It's preventing type 2 diabetes through nutritional and lifestyle education, and helping little old ladies understand how to minimise the risks associated with their osteoporosis so that they don't end up occupying orthopaedic beds for weeks when they break their arm stopping themselves from falling over.
    The long-term way to deal to waiting lists is to keep people from needing (as opposed to registering for) them in the first place. Attack the causes of heart disease and you reduce the need for heart valve replacements, to pick an easy example.

    Some things need real investment in order to increase output. Cancer treatment, for example, is something that must receive money because there's only so much that can be done to reduce the numbers of people requiring it. Skin cancer, yes, but many other cancers are still somewhat unknown quantities in terms of what can be done to reduce their incidence. Screening helps, by catching early and thus making it easier to treat, but that's still not a preventative measure.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    I'm sure it wouldn't make stimulus or political sense, but I'd be quite happy with a bit of benefit cut reversal in these tough times (five years ago would have been good, now will also be OK).

    Kyle: As Russell said, there's an argument that the income thresholds are too tight, and there's probably no better time for it to get a sympathetic hearing. But, to mix my martial metaphors for a moment, its a little rich to cry "Tory spin" when Goff handed Key a half-cocked rife and a clear shot at his own foot.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

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