By Eric Crampton*
New Zealand has had a pretty decent eight years under John Key. The rest of the world’s descent into madness accelerated sharply, and New Zealand’s has looked better by comparison.
But Festivus is almost upon us. And the Festivus tradition is not the giving of thanks but the airing of grievances. I have a few.
John Key’s National Party provided superb opposition to Helen Clark. It is not hard to imagine what the John Key of 2006 would say about the past eight years – if they had happened under a Labour government.
Auckland’s housing affordability problems exploded into a housing crisis. Central government refused to amend the RMA to allow easier urban expansion, failed to improve council incentives to pursue growth, and pursued a supercity agenda that did nothing to get more houses built.
While Key blamed coalition politics for blocking RMA reform, National had the numbers to do it after the 2008 election. And National failed to provide any substantive support for a return to First Past the Post, which would also have allowed it to get the job done.
Blaming coalition partners let National have its cake and eat it too. Home-owning voters got rich off the back of National’s failure to fix the planning apparatus, and National got to jawbone about reform without ever doing anything about it. The renting victims are poorer, less likely to vote, and are more likely to vote Labour anyway.
Auckland’s housing crisis was a sin of omission. Post-quake Christchurch was a sin of commission.
The government allowed Gerry Brownlee to play SimCity with CERA and the CCDU, ignoring the property rights of downtown owners, causing destructive regime uncertainty in which owners simply could not tell what they were allowed to do, and failing to deal with substantial emerging problems in EQC assessments that kept costs to government down but ignored the terms of homeowners’ insurance agreements. We are lucky that Christchurch, Waimakiriri and Selwyn were not forced into a supercity before the earthquakes.
Think back to National’s campaign of 2008. They railed against Clark’s nanny-state. But can we see the massive increase in health and safety compliance costs as anything but a continuation of that regime? And what of the anti-money laundering regulations that had no reasonable cost-benefit assessment? Because of those rules, I could not even bet on iPredict that English would succeed Key.
Meanwhile, productivity continues to stagnate and superannuation’s long-term costs loom.
Failing to follow the rest of the world’s descent into madness is good. The bar should be set higher for a country that has bigger aspirations than that.
For a slightly different perspective, see Roger Partridge's piece here.
Eric Crampton is head of research at the New Zealand Initiative. This article is used here with permission.