Motu research analysts on Auckland NIMBYs, the uneven US recovery, driverless cars, the Robin Hood of science, the cheating economy & more

Motu research analysts on Auckland NIMBYs, the uneven US recovery, driverless cars, the Robin Hood of science, the cheating economy & more

Today's Top 10 is a guest post from Motu research analysts Corey Allan and Nathan Chappell and intern Tom Carver. Motu is an economic and public policy research institute.

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

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See all previous Top 10s here.

1) The dark secret of social science.

Some of the most exciting findings in social science may be nothing but noise. The pressure to find novel results, along with a narrow focus on statistical significance, may encourage researchers to oversell their work. Case in point: a 2010 paper found that adopting expansive and open poses can change your hormone levels and behaviour, making one seem more powerful. A recent paper tried to replicate the findings, with five times the sample size, and failed. The first study led to a TED talk with nearly 32 million views, and a book. The second paper? Not so much. 

2) Nimbysim rules in Auckland.

Why is Auckland Council limiting the number of houses being built, when there is already a shortage that is only going to get worse? Bernard Hickey argues a core group of well-organised home owners caused the Council’s recent reversion, at the expense of the poor and young. He believes it shows how a small, vocal group with strong interests can dominate the political process. 

3) How data is revolutionising the sporting world.

The movie ‘Moneyball’ introduced many of us to the impact of data on baseball. Cricinfo, in their article ‘Databall’, detail how cricket is undergoing a similar transformation, especially with the advent of big-money international T20 leagues. At present, this change is confined to player selection and tactics. The article, however, poses far-reaching questions about how data could change the fundamental nature of the game – will cricket have coaches giving players instructions before each ball as sometimes occurs in baseball?

Others are employing data to help expose the more nefarious elements of the sporting world. A BBC-BuzzFeed investigation uncovered potential match fixing in elite male tennis that broke just before the Australian Open this year. A key piece of evidence was analysis done on 26,000 matches, which found that 15 players “lost matches with unusual betting patterns ‘startlingly often.’”. The team at Fivethirtyeight explore the limitations of using betting data to uncover match fixing. This was noted by the BBC and BuzzFeed at the time, but often overlooked in the coverage of the story that followed. 

4) Poorest areas have missed out on boons of recovery in the US.

The US economy has grown every year since 2010, and yet many Americans think the country is still in a recession. Some blame the misunderstanding on the lack of wage growth for many workers, but recent research gives another possible answer: many Americans live in distressed areas with no growth. The researchers, looking at zip-code-level detail, find employment in the richest areas increased by a fifth from 2010 to 2013, while jobs fell sharply in the poorest areas. 

5) Will self-driving cars be better for the environment?

When conditions change, people can react in ways that are unexpected. This article looks at a recent research into the possible carbon consequences of moving to an automated private transport system. There would be less congestion, cars could become smaller, lighter, safer, and more fuel efficient, which should decrease transport emissions. This may be true, but it is a ‘technical’ truth that ignores how people might react to the change in the transportation system. 

6) Technical vs. people skills in the job market.

Increasing automation in the workplace is causing professions to disappear. Machines and computers don’t make the same demands as workers, and make fewer mistakes. There is, however, one crucial advantage people have over computers - social skills. Recent research has shown the increasing value of social skills in the labour market. This trend is likely to benefit women more than men; it’s no longer enough to be a maths or computer whiz, you’ve got to be able to work a room as well. 

7) Outcome switching in medical research.

Randomised controlled trials are the gold standard of evidence. They have been used in medicine for a very long time and are becoming increasingly popular in the policy world. However, RCTs are not without problems. This article is about the attempt to stamp out cherry picking results in medical trials, where the researchers select and report outcomes where there is a positive result. This means doctors and patients don’t have the full picture of how the drug, device, or procedure actually work. For those interested in the use of RCTs in the policy world, check out this piece by Ricardo Hausmann. 

8) Meet the Robin Hood of science.

Accessing academic articles is expensive. If you are not associated with a paid up institution it’s often around $40 to download an article, and the money typically goes to for-profit publishers rather than the researcher. Even rich universities, like Harvard and Cornell, struggle to afford all the subscriptions. Researchers are pushing back with open-access journals that make their articles available for free. Alexandra Elbakyan, a researcher from Kazakhstan, is going even further. This article describes how and why she set up sci-hub, “a pirate bay for science”, which makes every journal article (illegally) available free to anyone. 

9) Disrupting the classroom – The ‘cheating economy’.

The ‘Sharing Economy’ has transformed the global marketplace. Many of these businesses are now household names with sky-high valuations. This revolution has not been without controversy, however, as governments and incumbent firms often struggle to keep up with the pace of change. In this article, the author looks at how the sharing economy is transforming education. Online marketplaces for tuition have led to the widespread proliferation of students paying for the competition of assignments, essays and quizzes. The article explores the potential ramifications of this new trend and how education institutions are attempting to respond. 

10) Fifty intellectual jokes. A fun one to finish off.

Our favourite is #34: An engineer, a chemist, and an economist are marooned on a desert island. They start to brainstorm a way off the island. The engineer says, “we can lash together some branches and make a crude raft and try to make our way back to land somehow.” The chemist says, “with the right materials we could build a really smoky fire and try to signal a plane.” The economist says, “okay let’s assume we have a boat…”

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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Will multi story apartments built in the Eastern Bays ever be affordable to the young and the poor? I very much doubt it. Property there is already very expensive and in most cases the result of relatively recent in-fill housing on quite small sections. To get a piece of land large enough to build an apartment block while complying with even the relaxed conditions, you would have to buy a lot of 1 to 2 million dollar properties on say 400 square meter sections. I cannot see this translating to affordable apartments and the only proposal that I can see working in this area would be for very high value luxury apartments. The developers will do what they do everywhere else in Auckland; that is aim as far up the price chain as they can. In the Eastern Bays that will be very high. (I would not be surprised if this whole push for densification of the Eastern bays is some how being pushed by developers who are more interested building high value luxury apartments that anything affordable to the young and the poor)
To deal with the very pressing problems of the poor and the young we need to stop wasting our time obsessing about a solution that will never help them and is a long way off in the distance before it will ever be resolved.
Would it not make more sense to direct these thoughts of multi-story densification to Otahuhu, Otara and Papatoetoe, where there is less infill housing and property is far more affordable. The houses here are older and getting to the point where replacement makes sense.
Thinking more broadly about scheme changes to the Eastern Bays, would it make sense to zone some land adjacent to the beaches at Mission Bay and Koimarama beach for multi story tourism accommodation. In many other cities around the world this would have happened some time ago. This would certainly add a lot more to our economy than just apartments.

Chris-M - I agree that Eastern Bays apartments would be expensive, but just imagine how many more people could live in that area if there were, say, 10 storey apartments everywhere......
To provide housing for the young and the poor we need to get real and provide fit for purpose dwellings/apartments that have good design, robust finishes and are small by todays 200m2 average. And they heed to be no more than 1km (walkable) from key transport routes.

I think that the target market for these developments will be extremely wealth NZ'rs and the Chinese, Russian, Arab etc investors who are going mad all around the world with these sorts of developments. I suspect that even the moderately wealthy NZ'rs will be priced out of these developments.

What if the consent is given only for moderate sized apartments, 2 bed rooms, abt 60/80 Sq metres only and to be sold only to NZ citizens or PR holders renting/living in Auckland for the last 3 years or so ?
That would be kind of a social housing at reasonable prices for the first home buyers.

Good piece ChrisM.....but Otahuhu and Papatoetoe are now considered positively Central and prices reflect that.The concept of social herding has been acted on nervously by numerous Administrations since Savage's pepper pot policy proved a failure as time went on. As you say ,there is no easy way to solve the crisis for the young and poor without a geographical plan that financially makes sense. That said ,if this were acted on like a large scale Otara you would probably see the sleeping vote awaken to Little's shouts of Elitism.......Fletchers are doing a huge build at the Three Kings Quarry with apartments going at 800k...a small amount of housing there will be reserved for first home buyers with conditions of sale in the pardon my cynicism but that I've gotta see as in who qualifies and when is the lottery announced.

Gee have you just awoken from a coma Count?

God, I hope not - everyone will be begging for it, given the return of his much welcomed lucidity.

A voice, and a mind, that is sadly missed around here for sure. Certainly in my top ten addicts of all time :-)

It doesn't really matter if they are expensive or not, the fact that there would be more properties on the market will bring down prices. If someone built ten million mansions in Auckland, how much do you think a 2 bedroom house in Otara would then be worth?

True. I have thought that myself before, and theoretically it would raise the housing standard rather than building cheap boxes. However in the case of Eastern Bays, they would be destroying generally very up market houses to make extremely up market apartments. The market for these may be mostly from very wealthy off shore investors who might otherwise be less inclined to buy in NZ. In other words it may attract even more off shore purchasers/investors, so the nett contribution to house the young and the poor may be less than you think.
If the need is for housing the young and the poor, the most direct way to fill that is to build houses suitable for them.

#2 - I think it is debatable that this vocal group with strong interests, is small. The article by BH this piece links to, has graphs which shows exactly why this vocal group have such power: they are in the majority, they own nearly all real estate, and they vote.
That's the thing about the BBrs - they've always been such a large group, compared to the generations before and after them, that they've simply always had the numbers to alter the present to what suits them.
Never mind.
in about 30 years time we'll have ghost towns made up of retirement villages dotting the landscape. We won't have housing shortage, then.

# 8 FANTASTIC - I have been looking at paywalled papers at $40 there is a freee solution. Thank you!

You're right James, it is fantastic. These scientific paywalls do hold the future development of science back.
And the originator of the article doesn't get paid, it salt into the wound.
These guys have got you by the short and curlies!
You either pay for an article to get published, or you're a nobody.

Here some more info:

I wonder whether the TPPA will put a stop to that??

It's especially galling when when the abstract bears little resemblance to the actual paper just forked out for. Expensive click bait.

No 2.....So would Bernard Hickey have a preference for condensed housing to be enforced upon suburbs that have no wish for this in their local area? There is "Communities of Difference and fair representation to consider....does BH think it is acceptable to ride rough shod over process?

One needs to be very careful when having preferences to help or assist one group of people that they don't mistreat another group in the process......justifying the mistreatment for a point of good needs to be seen for what it is....instead of all this sacrificing nonsense BH should concentrate on ways to achieve a good outcome for his preference group while treating all players equally within the constitutional framework of NZ.

Enforced? No one is enforcing anything. Allowing is the correct term.
The Auckland council should do what is best for Auckland as a whole, not what is best for individual suburbs.

On Nymbysim rules "He believes it shows how a small, vocal group with strong interests can dominate the political process.".um er...............?
Does he really...?the stuff of genius given what a small vocal group with strong interests have done to curry the favor of politics both local and National.......ha ha ha only a matter of time before the BB's themselves are marginalised and downgraded from average to trailer trash...deary me .

On 4." Some blame the misunderstanding on the lack of wage growth for many workers,"
Just brilliant..........the fiscal version of ......It's not you it's me..!
Meanwhile there's a whole lot a people in South Carolina who stopped looking for work /growth a long long time ago

Number 2: The reason that this small vocal group could dominate was a lack of a coordinated counter group. Untill FHB's turn up in vocal numbers and push the counter-position, NIMBYs win by default

For those affected by the housing issues in AKL they also need to turn up to vote for parliamentary elections

There are groups like Generation Zero that have submitted. Unfortunately though the council considered their submission as out of scope because they asked for more density everywhere instead of listing individual properties. If they could go back in time I'm sure they would write a script to make a web submission on every property in Auckland - but the council would find another way to ignore that too.

#5 would you ride in a car that has a choice between killing you in an accident to save two people that might have been killed if you had manuel control.
interesting arguement going on at the moment as to what the boundries will be set at for survivabilty in the event of an accident involving other persons

2) Biggest Chequebook wins.