Gordon Campbell on red tape and Nicky Hager’s regal reward

f0b4eeff703cf215d7e6Not for the first time, David Seymour looks like an answer to a non-existent problem. Reportedly, ACT is promising to establish a Ministry of Regulations to cut through all that bureaucracy and red tape.

Yep. To cut down on bureaucracy. Seymour is promising to create a whole new bureaucracy, presumably one blessed with its own secretariat, office space and highly paid Minister. Plus, this new Ministry will somehow re-scrutinise the regulations that other departments have decided to be necessary, but which the Regulations Ministry will attempt to second guess, and be empowered to over-rule. That looks like a recipe for chaos. It is an idiotic proposal, even by Seymour’s standards.

It gets worse. There is no credible red tape problem in this country. For years, New Zealand has been voted as the easiest place in the world to set up a business.

For the fourth year in a row, New Zealand is the economy with the most business-friendly environment. The country earned top scores for “starting a business,” the indicator that looks at the number of steps entrepreneurs can expect to go through to start up and formally operate a business, plus the time and cost it takes to complete those steps. It also ranked first for the indicator on “getting credit,” which measures the strength of the country’s legal rights and depth of credit information.

New Zealand has also regularly been ranked within the top five easiest places in the world to do business. Partly because… Thanks to its lenient anti-trust laws, New Zealand poses very few barriers to the formation of near monopolies or neo-cartels. Yet Seymour is now promising to remove what few regulatory safeguards that consumers currently have against predatory pricing.

All for no valid reason. Here’s what Investopedia, the global investment guide, has to say about the New Zealand regulatory environment:

New Zealand, which ranks fourth at 80.6% free, also has low tariffs and strong private property rights. The government provides businesses with lots of flexibility and does not constrict them with overly complicated regulations [my emphasis] or licensing procedures.

Seymour knows this. But as with so many ACT Party initiatives, he is relying on the ignorance of his supporters.

Footnote: Let the record also show that some of the sectors that continue to complain the loudest about the compliance costs and red tape to do with climate change mitigation, have also been the first to line up with their hands out when climate change caused damage to their farms and orchards. Just saying.

Honours Due

The King’s Birthday Honours List is ridiculous. Under prompting, someone sitting on the other side of the world ticks off a list of who among us is worthy of distinction. At best, the regal endorsement gives us a glimpse into what the view from the top of the social food chain looks like. Seen from that height, there is evidently such a thing as a life well spent in providing “services” to business.

Long ago, most of us would have come to the opposite conclusion: That business success has nothing to do with altruism. By and large, the people who do well at it have had ample access to a whole smorgasbord of material rewards and delights. Thanking these old boardroom barons for their self-helpings of “service” to commerce… Well, it seems a bit excessive.

In a similar vein, the fact that we throw knighthoods around like confetti at All Black coaches for their “services” to rugby most look very weird to most of the outside world. For the record, these people coach teams of grown men and women on how to kick and pass a ball around, in a game. But arise, Sir Wayne, and stand over there with Sir Steve and Sir Graham.

Mind you, it helps to have provided one’s services to a winning All Black team. Ian Foster’s knighthood – or a regal trinket of any sort- will probably hinge on him bringing home the World Cup.

In my kingdom, things would change. No former business tycoons, politicians, and judges would qualify. Modesty should be encouraged in all those who rise to prominence in such professions.

Instead, the Honours List would/should be reserved solely for people who (a) do voluntary work and/or who (b) work in the service professions and thereby keep the wheels of society turning – i.e. nurses, teachers, airline pilots, truckers, rubbish collectors, food bank workers, social workers, bus drivers and supermarket shelf stackers. These are the people who deserve to be honoured for their services. Preferably with a wage increase on the King’s Birthday.

Footnote: That said, one welcome selection in last weekend’s honours list was the Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit gong awarded to investigative journalist Nicky Hager. Official recognition has been overdue. In the European Parliament, the quality of Hager’s work has long been recognised. Yet for nearly 30 years here, Hager has been widely disparaged as a conspiracy theorist, usually by people who don’t like what his work has brought to light.

What Hager’s seven books and numerous articles have shared in common is a commitment to open government, and to a related belief that if people get access to the truth, they will act well, in each other’s best interests. Negativity, despair and polarisation are in his view, largely the product of mis-information. With chapter and verse, Hager has shown how society’s mis-information tends to be manufactured, and disseminated.

Hager isn’t naïve. He has seen plenty of evidence of human duplicity up close. Yet over the course of several decades he has also refused to let the existence of bad faith players lure him into responding in kind. The quality of his research has been its first line of defence. Beyond that point, Hager has always invited public debate over the conclusions he has reached.

No doubt, some of this overt respect for his readers has been a tactical decision. But it has also been one reason why informants have continued to come to him, in the knowledge that any information they bring with them will be handled with integrity. Ultimately, this faith in our better natures seems to be a genuine part of his core personality.

Hager’s capacity for work and for being stubborn has been of service to New Zealand. Even the lacklustre Operation Burnham report said that the Hit & Run book performed a valuable public service thanks to the revelations that it contained, and those that it set in train.

This service has now been officially recognised. Good. Even if it is within the musty context of a regal honours system.

Pence For President

So Mike Pence is running for President. Truly, Americans are spoiled for choice. But who is Mike Pence’s natural constituency…? I mean, besides his wife, allegedly better known in the Pence household as “Mother.” In the Midwest, they do that, apparently.

Like most of us, Pence also seems to have been watching too much of the Succession TV series, and has plainly settled upon a Connor Roy campaign strategy. Pence is out to nail down the one per cent in the polls that would enable him to later throw his small band of “Pencil-Heads” behind Ron DeSantis, in return for being made the US ambassador to Slovakia.

Will Pence reign? Here’s an obvious campaign song, from a TMBG album called