Inequality is natural

The moot in a debate organised and run by VILP (Victoria International Leadership Programme) students on 15 October 2013 was: “Is inequality natural?”

I was on the affirmative team with Harry Berger and Even Bain, two smart and articulate Victoria students.

We won the debate 49-43. Once you adjust for the home ground advantage to the negative side (organised following the inequality symposium in Victoria earlier in the year, and debate opened by Max Rashbrooke, author of Inequality: A NZ Crisis - link to book here!), I reckon that pretty much counts as a land-slide victory ;)

Natural versus equitable

Our argument was very simple. Inequality is natural – as in it is in nature. We appealed to biology, evolution and human behaviour. But that it does not make it fair or equitable. We have to appeal to our humanity and empathy to deal with negatives of inequality – but those are defined in many cases by normative judgements that society has to agree on.  Read more

NZ isn’t the US: Employment rates

So often we hear that, even though the unemployment rate is falling in the US, employment is low.  It is the low level of employment, and the lack of integration in the community that entails, that is causing so much anger over there.  The lack of opportunity illustrated through the low employment rate is one of the key pieces of information pulled out to suggest something must be done.

Often people in New Zealand talk as if whatever is happening in the US is happening here, therefore something must be done.  However, lets be a bit more careful – especially as in the case of the employment rate that is untrue.


remprSource:  Stats NZ.  Quandl.

Yes, the story is more complicated (Working for families increased the number of second earners in the labour market, a factor that will in of itself have pushed up the participation and employment rates).  But if anything that suggests we need to be a lot more careful applying “lessons” from the US situation to New Zealand.  We are not the United States – a point we’ve noted when looking at median income comparisons in the past ;)



Low productivity isn’t lazy

Good post on the Productivity Commission blog, Prod Blog.

When it comes to labour productivity, or productivity more generally many people in society assume that an economist saying “productivity is low” is the same as saying “people are lazy”.  But this is far from the case.  Lisa Meehan clears that up for us:

Poor labour productivity doesn’t mean that Kiwi workers are lazy.  Labour productivity measures how much output is produced per hour worked; it doesn’t tell us anything about how hard we’re working.  In fact, as we discuss in our paper, New Zealanders work long hours compared with the OECD average.  The problem is that despite these long hours, NZ has low GDP per capita – that is, the problem stems from poor labour productivity.

Put another way, ‘labour productivity’ is a convenient (and useful) metric to think keep tabs on our wider productivity performance.  But, by itself, the catch-all labour productivity measure tells us little about the performance of workers alone.

Read more

LVR speed limits are here

RBNZ restrictions on high loan to value ratio (LVR) mortgages came into effect on 1 October 2013. They are already biting – with ASB pulling its high LVR approvals. By definition, the new rules will reduce high LVR borrowing growth, but not necessarily total borrowing (because banks are now incentivised to lend ‘traditional’ mortgages). The international evidence on impact on house prices is mixed at best and the RBNZ’s regulatory impact assessment is pretty up front about it.

Where I disagree

The purpose of the new rules is to reduce the amount of risk accumulating in the banking sector. The RBNZ’s aim should not be to reduce credit growth or house price growth per se, rather systemic risk arising from high risk debt that may have implications for financial stability, and in turn, economic stability. But it feels like the RBNZ is really targeting house prices.

The RBNZ should keep the financial stability tools as separate from monetary policy as possible. Focussing on risk in the financial system in a consistent manner would keep monetary policy independent/free of political interference. Politicians will be running interference with this policy – as we have already seen from National, Labour and Greens. This political interference should be a good reason to ask if the RBNZ should be doing both monetary policy and financial stability.

Read more

“Why LVR’s were introduced”

Graeme Wheeler has written an op-ed on “Why Loan-to-Value Ratios were introduced“.  Good, communication is an important part of what a central bank needs to do – especially when introducing new things!

I’ll leave the comments on this to someone else, I’ll just note: