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Eric Crampton on a homage to Canadiana, refugees, red tape, the dairy cartel, corruption, artificial intelligence, Dilbert & more

Eric Crampton on a homage to Canadiana, refugees, red tape, the dairy cartel, corruption, artificial intelligence, Dilbert & more

Today's Top 10 is a guest post from Eric Crampton, head of research at the New Zealand Initiative.

As always, we welcome your additions in the comments below or via email to

And if you're interested in contributing the occasional Top 10 yourself, contact

See all previous Top 10s here.

Most of the time, I look at policy in Canada and despair at how much worse things are back home. But the past few months have reminded me that Canada gets a couple of things right that New Zealand simply hasn’t managed to figure out yet.

And so today’s Top 10 begins with an homage to Canadiana, with a policy twist. Here’s some of the recent best, and worst, from the Great White North. And then the other interesting bits from the accumulating browser tabs.

1. Refugee Policy.

Canada gets this one very very right. When the Syrian refugee crisis hit its peak a few months ago, New Zealand’s civil society yearned to help. Churches rallied to demand that the country increase its refugee quota. People promised that they could help by taking in a refugee family for a while. But, it was all rather useless. The government’s cap on refugees is the government’s cap on refugees, and it doesn’t matter whether you or anyone else wants to help – the most you can do is give money to the charities helping refugees in camps in Lebanon and elsewhere. That kind of charitable contribution is truly worthy and is one of the best things you can do, if you’re charitably minded. But New Zealand could learn from Canada’s example.

In Canada, the response to the crisis was rather different – because Canada’s institutions for dealing with refugees are that much better. In Canada, groups of five individuals, or churches, or other organisations, can pledge to support an incoming refugee for a year. When they do that, one more refugee is allowed into the country. Instead of running campaigns to lift an arbitrary cap on numbers, civil society organisations could work to build the resources to let more refugees come.

By letting communities put their money where their hearts are, Canada simply is able to do more to help. We could learn a lot from that here. Here’s the Government of Canada website welcoming the 25,000 Syrian refugees Canada is hoping to help.

Here’s the Ottawa Citizen’s explanation on how Canadians can help refugees.  It’s also worth noting that privately sponsored refugees do far better both in integrating into the community and in securing employment. 

Why not trial this kind of compassionate policy in one of our regions that would be happy to have more people? Trying this kind of policy seems a lot more productive than shouting at the government, or other voters, about morals and the like. It would let those who want to help go ahead and get on with doing so. And Canada’s Michael Ignatieff explains why fixing refugee policy makes good strategic sense too.

2. Red Tape.

Overall, Canada’s regulatory red tape seems much worse than New Zealand’s. Just try milking a cow without buying quota from the dairy cartel. But, Canada’s also started working to make things better. In April, they passed the Red Tape Reduction Act. Every new regulation introduced has to see one old regulation repealed. Where did they get the idea? Canada has provinces, and British Columbia came up with the idea first. They started down this road in the 2000s. And now it’s federal government policy. The Mercatus Centre explains how it’s worked.

There are two big lessons for New Zealand.

First, if you don’t put a cap on red tape or some other regulatory budget, bureaus will just keep producing more regulation. Why? If they want to do something, it’s cheaper for the government to load the costs onto business through regulatory fiat than to run it as an on-budget expenditure. With no Fiscal Responsibility Act to keep things in check on the regulatory side, well, we get what we’ve got. Canada shows one way of turning that around.

Second, trying things out in one region to see if it works can help us in figuring out which policies make sense. It could have been that British Columbia’s project would have been unworkable – and a disaster if rolled out nationally all at one go. But they tried it at smaller scale, within a province, then rolled it out more broadly when it showed results. We at the Initiative really want this kind of approach adopted in New Zealand as well.

3. And now for the dark side: corruption.

Canada’s provincial structure allows policy innovation. But, on the other side, something is rotten in the Province of Quebec. The Charbonneau Inquiry found that the rumours of corruption there were, well, rather worse than a lot of people might have expected. I grew up in Manitoba, closer to Western Canada. We’d hear rumours of corruption in Quebec, but Quebec politicians, both at the provincial and federal level, always told us that those were just nasty things promulgated by Quebec-hating Anglos. They hid corruption behind culture. Well, no more hiding.

4. Craft Brewing?

Things vary a lot province-to-province, and things are improving in Manitoba, but what a disaster overall. When I left the province of one million people, there was one craft brewery in operation: Fort Garry. Things are improving a little bit: you can buy a growler (refillable container) of beer from either of the two Winnipeg-based craft brewers at the government monopoly liquor vending outlets. And, for the first time, those breweries are being allowed to have taprooms in which up to no more than 50 patrons are permitted to sample beer. Meanwhile, New Zealand’s far more open brewing scene encourages fantastic innovation. And yet another study finds that light drinking is good for you.

5. The Dairy Cartel.

TPP or no, Canada’s dairy sector remains ridiculously protected. The Canadian Dairy Cartel moaned that imports equivalent to 3.25% of Canada’s 2016 milk production will be allowed into the country, but drew some comfort from that the Canadian government would provide them substantial compensation for even that small concession. The Toronto Globe and Mail painted it as a missed opportunity. They’re right. They could have bought out the dairy farmers’ quota entirely, abolished supply management, and still left consumers and farmers better off. But it would have required somehow explaining to Canadian voters that the package made sense. And it is hard to explain complicated things to voters sometimes.

But enough about Canada. On to other matters.

6. Obesity isn’t always as bad as you think.

Being grossly obese isn’t good for your life expectancy. But being a bit overweight seems to help. Some of our health messaging around obesity perhaps could be a bit more nuanced.

7. On the promise of A.I.

The New Yorker piece on artificial intelligence and Nick Bostrom is excellent. They do not warn of the dangers of Roko’s Basilisk, but it’s best not to speak of those. I won’t even link it. Don’t search for it either. It was probably stupid of me even to mention it.

8. Europa: Oh, but I’m keen to find out what they’ll find when they send out the Europa lander.

9. It’s rather ridiculous the hoops through which researcher Jarrod Gilbert has to jump to do his work: the New Zealand Police do not make it easy to access public data that they hold. But that is true across the New Zealand Government. We need better access to open data across the board.

10. Finally, a fun way to save a bit of money in your Christmas shopping – if the kids aren’t sharp enough to pick up on it.

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#9 a little concerning that the Police are trying to control the information that may influence the public perception of them. Do they not consider that just the act of trying to control that information, rather than being keen to be fully transparent can only have a negative response? Personal experience has rather harshly reinforced that if one is looking for fair treatment and justice, then the Police are one of the last organisations to be trusted! We need to reinforce that NZ is a democracy and that the Police serve the public, and full transparency is crucial to this.


Eric, I know you're very keen on the idea of a regulatory cap but can I invite you to consider the comments of the UK's New Economics Foundation on the inherent illogicality of it:…


Science tells us that the Universe is expanding. As it expands all of the planets, solar systems, galaxies and so on move further apart. Eventually they will move so far away they will no longer be visible.

Maybe science, or more probably economists, should look for this phenomena on planet Earth.

As a kid, I would go to the local shop on the corner for some lollies. Everyone new the owner and their family.
Eventually this little shop closed and we would go to the big local store. Then the big local store closed and became part of a national retail chain. Then the retail chain was bought by some international company.
This little shop has expanded so much it has vanished as have the owners. The owners now are so out of sight I will never ever see them again.

The same thing happened at my first job. I worked in a small factory which, just like the shop, eventually became part of a big corporation that moved the factory overseas. Now that has moved so far away it has become invisible.

We can see the same thing happening everywhere we look. We used to be governed by our national government. But as government expanded and became global the rules that govern us are made by world organisations like the UN, European union, world bank, IMF, and so on. Our real rulers are invisible to us. Now they wish to introduce the TPP with its own court system in which we have no say.
Even our Councils are merging and expanding.

Anyway, my bottom line is.

Maybe we will welcome a robot with AI as it will be our only friend in the world. People will be locked in their virtual reality worlds.


Red Tape or government involvement.

My friend tells me that if my business had some cars I could expand and create more jobs.

Everyone keeps reminding me how useless my friend is with cars. They say that every car he has owned has cost him more than it is worth and always breaking down.

My friend tells me he has been in negotiations with a number of car sales and can get me a really good deal on some cars.

Should I trust him?

Well those who are informed will realise what I am referring to.

I have been repeatedly reminded, over many years, that the government is useless at being in business. Absolutely awful at it.

Despite this the government is negotiating business (Trade - TPP) deals

Should we trust them?

How can economists, the business community and others be happy with governments getting together to negotiate business deals like the TPP and at the same time tell us they don’t know the first thing about business?

Or have we been lied to all these years?


You have that completely wrong. The TPPA does not deal with business. It deals instead with restrictions which Governments place on business - tariff barriers, regulations - and places some constraints on Governments' ability to do that. If you think Government interfering in business matters is a bad idea you should welcome such constraints.


What, constraints dictated by corporate attorneys as judges in a secret tribunal binding with no appeal possible (ISDS)? No thank you


No, constraints agreed by Governments themselves in a negotiation and ratified by their individual national processes. ISDS decides whether Governments have abided by their own commitments, but it's Governments themselves who undertake those commitments.

How would you propose to arbitrate where there is a dispute over whether a Government has fulfilled its commitments? Suppose a New Zealand firm felt that the US Government had treated it in a way that was contrary to the obligations which the US Government had signed up to under a trade agreement. What do you think should happen?


If as you say the commitments are written into domestic law, is there a reason to have an unaccountable second court system to arbitrate that on top of the usual legal structure? Doesn't ISDS put a class of companies into a priveleged position compared with domestic comanies which just have to put up with whatever their governments decide to do?


I think that corporates should not dictate obligations to elected governments.


I do b'live that there needs to be a Comment Filter wot detects the Friday Beer-and-pizza fuelled content and marks it as such.

Wipes greasy fingers, swallows last of the bottle....


The madness of Green policy. Evil prevails when good men do nothing.

"“We didn’t go after oil wells — actually hitting oil wells that ISIS controls because we didn’t want to do environmental damage, and we didn’t want to destroy that infrastructure,” said former spy chief Michael Morell, using an acronym for the Islamic State."…


It appears that Turkey is getting cheap oil from IS, and I wonder who else is buying it??


#1. Wonderful. "Instead of running campaigns to lift an arbitrary cap on numbers, civil society organisations could work to build the resources to let more refugees come."
But it could not happen here. Much of the advocacy for publicly funded programmes (including for refugees) comes from organisations who want a government contract. These 'advocates' would not want to see individuals and groups undermine them by providing real charitable help and personal commitment.