We can BYOD for you wholesale

Our intermediate school introduced Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) two years ago, at the same time our oldest daughter arrived in year 7 (what people my age recall as form 1). At that point, the first ipad ever released was just 4 years and 10 months old: not even primary school age. Now, something like half the kids in our decile 8 school have one.

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Total Recall, Dir. Paul Verhoeven. Based on the novel We Can Remember It For You Wholesale by Philip K Dick.

The teachers talked us through it at a pre-term meeting. It came down to three lines:

  • Computers are here and more are coming and everyone needs to get used to it pronto
  • Computers help iterative learning by increasing parents’ and teachers’ visibility of student work
  • Computers let kids learn more flexibly in their own mode (textual, visual, audio etc.)

I doubted the veracity of all these statements. Nobody (save for a few) knows how their car works, and that never has the slightest impact on our use of them, nor our ability to profit from that use. Same with computers. I can use a computer ok, and none of my clients have ever doubted it or queried it any more than whether I know how to spell (actually, not that well). Knowing how they work is for other people, who I’m happy to pay for their expertise.

I was also surprised to hear a teacher imply that iterative learning was dependent on computers. I work iteratively all the time. As a design researcher, I sort of specialise in it. It doesn’t require any further knowledge of the internet or computers than it does to write this blog. Usually, considerably less. What it requires is knowledge of people.

As for multi modal learning, well, maybe. But hasn’t the Steiner model been doing that for the thick end of a century?

But I also hold the teaching profession in high regard, so I let them have it without any quarrel. They gave us assurances: not everything would be done on devices. And it’s not really about the device, they said. It’s about the pedagogy. How I love that word. Truly, I was a pushover, offering no more resistance than a curious kitten. And besides, why resist? I asked, they answered. I was actually looking forward to it.

Not long afterwards I learned that whatever iterative pedagogies were going on in the classroom, they were invisible to me. The cloud platform they’d told us about in the pre-term meeting never really eventuated: my log on – when it finally got working – showed me a scroll of school-wide chit chat on endless trivia: the location of today’s netball practice, homework for room such-and-such is due in the box outside Ms Thingumie’s office, etc.

Eventually, the teacher just emailed a few of us keen parents a bit of a list of weekly homework expectations. That worked pretty well. Not exactly iterative, but simple, informative and effective.

But because the homework was still being done on the ipad, it was effectively invisible. We couldn’t see a thing, far less than we would had it been done on paper. Besides, if a teacher wants to teach iteratively, why do they have to do it online? Why not just look at the work? What’s the difference?

As for preparing students for the tsunami of pixels heading their way, I’d seriously doubt that many-if-any kids are better off as a result of BYOD. Actually, they’re worse off. The only outcome, the only thing I can see, as a parent, that it’s doing for my kids is this: Technology is Cool emoji!

BYOD is a big, green light, an endorsement of the highest order from the people with whom she spends the most time, and who carry untold influence on her current and future life choices.

It’s probably the thing we spend the most time arguing about in the house. We declared Sundays screen free (with the exception of night time movies: usually a family event), and I’d rather have the seismic arguments about that, than see my kids lulled into stupefaction by the swampy, highly calorific cultural diet of internet meme after meme after meme.

Then there was the decision over what device to get. School specified either an ipad, a Samsung, or a Chromebook. The ipad seemed the most robust option, so that’s what we got. Great. Only, now the girl’s in high school. It’s the nearest one to us, and even in the same cluster as her intermediate, and they specified a Chromebook. When’s it going to stop?

Again, if there’s any negative outcome from our ignoring this spec, we certainly haven’t been told about it.

Then, one night, since nobody at the intermediate school could or would furnish any research into the pedagogical efficacy of BYOD, I thought I’d try and find some myself. It’s been a long time since I did academic research and I know that a lot of articles get locked up on subscription data bases, but I found nothing. Not one thing, not one article claiming – even vaguely, let alone categorically – any positive learning outcomes from BYOD.

But, after about an hour, I did find a few articles. Few if any of them were interested in the educational impacts of computers. Nearly all of them took the form of advice to teachers looking to integrate BYOD in their school: barriers you can expect to find to BYOD, and how to overcome them.

In the thick of all this I went to a barbecue at our primary school. I casually asked an associate principal what she thought of my prediction: that before our youngest daughter left primary school, that it too would have a compulsory BYOD platform. “No” she said. “This school will never have compulsory BYOD.”

That was reassuring, but only because I misinterpreted her answer. Because, of course, now the primary school has optional BYOD. We opted out, thanks.

I was having a little bleat about that to our year 4 teacher on about day 2 of term. She was interested and sympathetic in the few ideas I had time to share with her. And she said one thing she liked was that having a few devices in the classroom makes it much easier to set up different students with different tasks, and thereby to provide more focused, individualised programmes.

But overall, it feels like the only ones who are really benefitting are the hardware and software companies pedalling all the kit.

It’s all very frustrating. The schools ask us parents to spend more money on our kids computing hardware than on any other single item: not even the “voluntary donation” comes anywhere close to the thousand dollar IT set-up budget per student. And yet the schools appear to have no interest in the impact that school computing has on home life, nor any notion that those who are around when the computer is most often within reach might have something to contribute to how they’re used in school.

Quite simply, I feel like a revenue unit for the Apple corporation.

Where to from here? Now that we’ve come this far, I’m wondering if the worst step the schools have made has been to embrace computers for their pedagogical value. But why not just face up to the fact that the best thing computers can teach is computers? 

Every kid has to bring their PE gear, so they can learn PE. Why not be the same way with computers? If every kid brings a computer, why not teach them to look after themselves properly, not by the digital equivalent of stranger danger mitigation, but by the stuff that matters: code. How to encrypt stuff. How to clean a browser of its history, and its cookies, and why that’s important. What hackers and governments both do with your data. That is where empowerment lies. And, for some, that’s where jobs lie, too.

 

 

Creative risk at Corban Estate

Ok so following on from yesterday’s plug there’s something else worth voting for in The Trusts’ Million Dollar Mission: the Corban Estate Arts Centre (CEAC). A few years ago the wine company Corbans moved on from their premises at the corner of Great North Rd and Swanson Rd. Waitakere City Council purchased the old winery, left almost all of it intact and installed a vast range of artists and art projects into its numerous nooks and crannies.

CEAC has produced a bunch of well known and cool emerging artists across diverse media. Anton Parsons, Lemi Ponifasio, Peter Lange have all been closely associated at some stage; Katie Smith (ok so I’m biased), Numa McKenzie, Jermaine Reihana and Red Leap Theatre are some of my current new favourites, and there’s a huge range of culturally targeted things like Mixit, Pasifika Arts Centre, and the Kakano Youth Arts Collective*, which are as important as they are innovative. There are many, many more.

To put it simply: CEAC simply gets tons of people making tons of art. They hold numerous open days when any one can wander in, talk to the artists, check out the work and buy it if they like, and their kids’ art day is a joyous, multitudinous, thronging mass of – you guessed it – ART. For free.

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Kakano is a programme at CEAC which gets vulnerable young people into art, who might not otherwise have the access, and which has had some great successes. As well as helping people find a voice and make strong cultural connections, they’ve also managed to get some graduates into tertiary art programmes.

So that’s kids off the street, making art; more art overall; positive vocational outcomes; and, oh yeah, it’s also reduced the amount of what some squares call “unwanted” graffiti.

There’s something very powerful about this kind of programme. Sure, it’s good for the young people who take part. But it also has a directly positive impact on our wider culture, because it benefits directly from their artistic contribution to it, such as through the gallery exhibitions, or the public murals (on walls often donated by local businesses) all of which open a window on the young people’s perspectives of West Auckland. And that’s a window which – frankly – we can’t afford to close.

*Actually it’s got a macron over the “a” – making it twice as long i.e. Kaakano – which I have yet to figure out in WordPress.

Optimism at French Bay Yacht Club

My local yacht club is not the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, or anything like it, thank God! No, it’s the French Bay Yacht Club, which sits on poles over the Manukau mudflats. You can sail there within maybe 2 hours of high tide. Outside of that, and you’re walking, knee deep in slime.
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Still there’s a keen young crew there and a happy vibe of nice folks who punch above their weight at national and regional comps. By clicking on this link – today and every day in March – you’re giving them a $5 vote in The Trusts “Million Dollar Mission”. If they hit target, then they can buy some Optimist sailing dinghies to pass on some sailing tricks to the youngsters. How awesome is that? It’s totally awesome. 
But it needs your vote! That’ll be the only donation you make all year that won’t cost you a cent. This is why us westies don’t mind keeping the booze out of the supermarkets: so folks like you – anyone – can then tell The Trusts (who sell the booze) what to do with the proceeds.
Cheers!

Solar eclipse

There was this time when I was a kid and I was riding my bike off to my piano lesson. Riding along, I noticed something weird. I had two shadows, kind of like a 3D movie image without the glasses. I looked again. Still there. I got off my bike, feeling like Peter Pan, with this extra shadow stuck to me. What the hell!

Well, nothing I could do about it. I carried on, slightly spooked, sat through my lesson, slightly distracted, and rode home, weirdly, with the mystifying effect vanished.

Later than night, there was a news item, some kind of eclipse.

There’s one happening now, as I type this, you can watch it here, and right now (9.50 am, NZDT) it looks like this:

eclipse

ETNZ update: pedal power

Grant Dalton copped various blames for Emirates Team New Zealand’s loss to Oracle in the 2014 Americas Cup: in particular, his agreement to the lay day and his on-board role drew flak. There’s little chance we’ll see him crewing on the new boat, the lay day is no-doubt a learning experience. And one other thing is noticeably different in this edition: ETNZ’s media output.

In 2014, they crowed about their quantum developments in foiling. Armchair sailors like me watched avidly as ETNZ made thrilling breakthroughs that reinvented sailing almost as much as Russell Coutts’s new multi-hull formula.

In fact, Coutts’s contribution – to ditch slow, heavy monohulls for light, fast catamarans – was only half the story. ETNZ did the work to get foiling happening, and also, to prove that the losses in directional stability were more than compensated for by overall speed. I wouldn’t be surprised if – lacking a resident billionaire – ETNZ told an open-media story for the benefit of existing and potential sponsors.

But of course, it also gave ETNZ’s opposition an open window to gaze through. Months ahead of their own build commitments, the defender and the other challengers could all see which way ETNZ was heading.

This time round, there’s less crowing about breakthroughs and more general backstory: team member profiles, sponsor plugs, and time lapse videos of the bits in between: rigging, crew briefings, people in hi vis and rocking their multi-tools. Occasionally, there’s a bit of sailing, but usually only a few frames, and often in the distance.

So it was a cool surprise to see learn something tangible about the new boat just three months out from AC racing proper: they’ve replaced the coffee grinder winches with foot pedals. Ok!

cycling-etnz

It’s hard not to imagine their feet driving little propellors when you see them lined up like The Goodies. So what are they about, really?

Things are different these days. It’s not just a matter of a sheet to control the sail angle, and a few lines to control sail shape. Much of the critical configuration from moment to moment is adjusted through hydraulic pressure. Racing yachts have used hydraulics for decades, which is fine by the rules as long as the hydraulic pressure is human generated.

But in these new catamarans, with wing sails and hydrofoils, hydraulics are bigger than ever. For example, ETNZ’s near capsize in San Francisco was a direct result of failed hydraulic pressure. In the middle of a tack, the wing ran out of hydraulic pressure and back-winded on the new tack, causing the massive stall-out.

And hydraulics are critical for fast, efficient foiling. This is – all competitors agree – the name of the game. The one who foils best will probably sail fastest. The primary speed goal for all crews is to sail an entire race without anything but foils in the water. Once they achieve that, they’ll have a big speed advantage over anyone who can’t.

And, once achieved, those who crack the holy grail of continuous, non-stop foiling will then move on to new areas: initiating foiling in lower wind conditions; foiling safely in much higher wind conditions; optimising their course-made-good (because these boats are so fast, they never sail straight downwind, but across the wind, making for complex geometry).

In San Francisco, Oracle’s ultimate speed edge was achieved through the installation of flight controllers which could adjust the pitch, angle and cant of the foils in the same way they do on a commercial jet: frequently, constantly, and super-accurately. And that takes power.

So, the hope for ETNZ will be that by delivering more power to the foil controllers, they’ll be able to control the foils faster and more accurately. Not only that, but the foils themselves may be faster too. It could be that with more power, the crew can get more lift out of a smaller foil with less drag than a bigger foil.

Someone always comes up with some radical innovation in the America’s Cup. Australia II revolutionised keel design. Another Australian boat had a super bendy mast that created a few square feet of extra (stretchy) sail area. New Zealand’s first attempt in 1987 made use of new construction materials. And in 2014 New Zealand pioneered hydrofoils.

Some critics have said they’ve looked at pedals, and discarded them due to ergonomic loss. I think what they meant was, these boats are fiddly enough at the best of times, so the last thing you want to do as you run for your life from one side to the other is to insert yourself into some kind of bike-like contraption. Maybe there is a cost in power-generation coming out of the tacks and gybes. Well, if nothing else, that could make the start sequences interesting.

At any rate, one thing is clear. At the end of ETNZ’s own video for the launch of the new boat, there’s a single, uninterrupted shot of the boat sailing. It’s foiling along nicely. Then it bears away a few degrees, picks up speed and goes through a perfect, foiling tack. It feels like a little statement to fans and competitors.

I wish we could see more. But it looks as though that’s going to require a Sky subscription, which I really can’t be bothered with. So those of you who have one can expect some visits from me in three months time.

 

 

 

 

2016, it was a very good year.

It got off to a great start with a push from the United Nations, who declared it International Year of Pulses. From the Wikipedia page dedicated to the cause:

  1. Pulses provide a vital source of plant-based proteins and amino acids for people around the globe, ensuring food security.
  2. As part of a healthy diet high in fiber, pulses fight obesity.
  3. Pulses also prevent and help manage chronic diseases such as diabetes, coronary conditions, and cancer.
  4. Pulses are an important source of plant-based protein for livestock.
  5. Pulses pull nitrogen from the air into the soil, increasing soil fertility.
  6. Pulses use less water than most other protein crops, making them a sustainable agricultural choice.
eight_col_02-flaming-2016

From Toby Morrison and Toby Manhire at Radio New Zealand. Used without permission but with maximum respect!

In other food news, it was a great moment for livestock when heavy hitting environment writer George Monbiot came out as a part time vegan, not out of taste, or any sense of animal welfare, but because – as every environmentalist knows – the planet simply can’t afford to keep dishing up animal protein to humans any longer. So, actually, it was a good day for everyone when he did that, including all the non humans who will benefit from his reduced footprint.

In February, North Korea launched a long range rocket into space. Awesome! They incurred the wrath of the United Nations, but then, they were already out the back door with that lot, so who cares. OK, it sucked for the rest of the world to see North Korea kick its nuclear programme along, but I never said this was going to be all about everyone-except-the-North-Koreans, did I? Anyway, we’ve got our own Rocket Lab, so there.

In March, Congolese Vice President Jean Pierre Bemba was found guilty of war crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court. The war crimes were hideous. But the case outcome was described by a director at Physicians for Human Rights (via the Guardian) as “a critical turning point for the thousands of men, women and children who were victims of Bemba’s orchestrated campaign of rape and murder.” Significantly, it was the fist verdict within the ICC to “recognise rape as a weapon of war.” Which also meant it recognised the act of rape within the command structure with front line assailants acting under Bemba’s authority.

Bemba got 18 years. The same month, former Serbian leader Radovan Karadjic copped 40 years for his part in the Bosnian war.

Slightly less great, from the point of view of most people, was the Brussels bombings in March by what I think is called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. But of course, it was great for them. I never said this would be all about everyone-except-Daesh. I wonder how many Daesh guys will ever end up in front of the ICC. Hopefully, lots.

In April, Nicky Hager and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists broke out the foreign trusts documents. Again, it was one of those good things (knowledge, awareness and the impetus for change) that came out of a bad thing (places like New Zealand creating laws especially designed to facilitate the laundering of improperly secured moneys).

That may become a bit of a theme for 2016. Dark clouds and silver linings. Prevailing justice.

In June, Britain voted to leave the EU. That’s “great” in the sense of being “huge”. But not in any other way as far as anyone can tell. In fact it might not even be legal, or even possible. So, not that great at all, really.

Speaking of Rockets, NASA put a space craft into orbit around Jupiter. That’s cool, and we’ll need a bit of cool stuff, because Trump’s just announced he’s closing down NASA’s climate research. Fuckin’ eh!

Then, in August Peter Burling and Blair Tuke took the gold medal in the 49er class at the summer Olympics. I rather love these two. They’ve won every event in their class since the last Olympics, in which they got silver. In 2012, gold went to Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen. The win matters, because Outteridge and Jensen sail in key positions in team Artemis, who compete against Burling and Tuke in the America’s Cup, so it’s nice to have them squared away firmly in second place.

I know, there were some other good wins in the Olympics too. Fiji. Yay. So much for sport. I hate boxing. But that’s another song.

In September, there was quite a bit of clapping due to COP 21 climate accord in Paris, which even got the US and China onside. That was great. But now it appears that America is going to shit-weasel the whole thing. But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.

On September 28, CO2 levels exceeded 400 ppm, a suspected new all time high.

November 8, Donald Trump. Like Brexit, Trump is the wrong solution to the right problem. His protestations about a corrupt political industrial complex were bang on, even if he is part of them, as such brain boxes as Noam Chomsky have discussed (but not in reference to Trump). Chomsky’s contributions, both in his writing and in his recent film, are along the lines that we’re now witnessing a sort of endgame of civilisation, or, as Jello Biafra once put it, “bedtime for democracy.”

Oh, this just in. “I wouldn’t compare [Trump America] with Weimar Germany. Hitler was a sincere, dedicated ideologue.”

I’m not going to tell you what’s wrong with Trump or Brexit. You know what’s wrong with them both. What’s right with them is that millions of disaffected people felt a surge of power and kicked the shit. Sure, it’s a lousy outcome. But it felt good to those people.

Trump’s victory of course was also a bad day for democracy. New Zealand went through all that years ago, when Muldoon won more than one election with – like Trump – less than the majority of votes. Good luck taking that message to them.

America needs electoral reform, and so do lots of countries, including England (or whatever that place is called). But the only reform America is likely to get right now is a constitutional amendment abolishing the two-term presidential limit.

And then, just over a week ago, something really great really did happen. A Prime Minister who did enjoy a strong public vote resigned for no apparent reason. John Key was nothing but bad for New Zealand. Under his watch, public assets got flogged, eradicating debt but reducing income by more, costing the country a net $94m a year.

Womens refuge centres and support services for family violence were closed down or forced to shut under budget cuts.

Farmers have polluted and been allowed to continue doing so. Although Labour were the first to get that ball rolling.

Inquality has flourished under John Key. Then he shit-weaselled his own party!

His resignation is a good thing. On the few occasions when John let Bill English off the leash, I’ve thought he doesn’t always sound like he’s talking complete tosh (of which John Key was the master). But then, he is apparently the economic architect of the current economy, so, so much for him.

I’m glad John Key’s gone, I think Bill will provide a stable pair of hands until whenever the election is. I think most people will see through him and his repulsive deputy (I mean, politically repulsive, like, she repulses anyone from taking the same career trajectory she did).

And I look forward to a change of government sometime in 2017. That’s a really great year.

 

 

National 08-16: economics

Someone reckoned I was being a bit partial in my previous post about John Key. Whatever. Who isn’t? Anyway here’s a slightly more detailed analysis of the last 8 years. We’ll start with the economy.

The government reaped about $4.7b from the partial sales of Mighty River, Genesis, Meridian and Air NZ . Just two side notes on all that. First, I was surprised to see Air NZ in the list. I thought that was taken off the table. Seems not. Second, total revenue from all asset sales since Labour came up with the idea in 1988 is about $23b.

The lost revenue (from dividends and retained profits) from this government’s asset sales is conservatively estimated at $360m per year. The reduced interest on debt enabled by that revenue is about $266m per year. Asset sales therefore cost us $94m per year, based on current pricing (as of 2014) etc.

The current surplus is about $1.8b. Clearly, asset sales have something to do with that. But as the Greens were keen to point out, assets earned more than the cost of servicing the government’s debt: we made money out of them. Reducing the debt also reduced our income.

Unemployment has reduced from 6.5% to just under 5% since 2010. Under Labour it came down to an all time low of just over 3%. But we can’t take away from National the fact that – since the GFC – unemployment has trended downwards.

unemployment-10yr

Over the same period (2008 – 16) employment participation grew about 2%, which equates to about 50,000 jobs (as a % of 2.5m working kiwis).

And the economy is growing. The Reserve Bank recently identified growth to be higher than the 20 year average, going steady at about 3.5%, while inflation, unemployment and current account deficit as a share of GDP are all lower than the 20 year average. In the same document linked above, Governor Graham Wheeler describes the growth as ‘longer but weaker’ than previous growth cycles. Maybe that’s a god thing. At what rate of growth do economists get jumpy?

On the other hand, some people say any growth is bad: a finite economic resource (e.g. planet Earth) and infinite economic goals (aka continuous growth) are indeed hard to reconcile. But that’s another song.

Wheeler (and plenty of others) identify construction, tourism and migration as the main drivers. Dairy is nowhere. The 2.5% rise in job numbers may look even more impressive against a 5% rise in the total workforce. But it’s not. In fact, there’s a gaping problem.

Productivity is ‘particularly week’, says Wheeler. Historically, productivity has tended to correlate with investment. But capital investment has trended upwards in the last 5 years, and productivity has not increased in proportion to that. It would appear that lower value jobs are increasing while higher value jobs are retrenching.

I’ve spent quite a while looking at this, and discussing with my friend and economist Russell Lerew.

productivity

Since 2011, labour has made an enormous contribution to GDP which is still growing. Capital has made a modest contribution to GDP and is level. And total factor productivity is slowly but steadily disappearing. That means more people are working harder for less reward.

Wheeler’s explanation for this seems a bit glib. To summarise: we’re small and far away. But that’s no different now than ever (and wasn’t the internet supposed to cure all that?). What’s different is that the current upswing doesn’t have anywhere near the same amount of capital behind it. It’s being driven by labour, not investment.

I believe this also means there are more low value jobs , and fewer high value jobs. Which is where immigration comes in. Increasingly, New Zealanders can not afford to take the kinds of jobs which the economy is providing. Employers need to bring people in from lower wage economies to do them for us.

According to last week’s Herald, the Skilled Migrant Category has allowed roughly 15,000 chefs, cafe managers and retail managers into the country in the last 10 years (in addition to more skilled types such as tradies, medics etc.). Migration makes it easier for employers to employ more people for lower wages, and increases New Zealand workers’ exposure to competition from low-wage, low-value economies.  It’s hard to see how that’s of any long term value.

Under National, record net migration was at a record high every month for two years from October 2014 to October 2016. Immigration is one of the big cogs in what some call ‘the two speed economy.’

The other big cog is housing. If you own a house, and can afford to keep it, and – better yet – use it as collateral to buy another one, you’re probably doing ok. Home ownership has reduced steadily through all governments. A quick search gave me a chart going back to 1972 when home ownership was at 73%. It’s currently at 64%.

Many politicians have regarded home ownership as a vital component of healthy communities. That’s easy enough to grasp. But I also wonder if it’s hopelessly unrealistic. There must be plenty of healthy neighbourhoods around the world where none of the residents can afford to own their own home. If not, we probably  need to figure out how to do that, now.

Immigration can only put more pressure on housing, as does the extraordinary policy to allow anyone, anywhere, to buy anything in the land. Supporters of National say ‘people want to come and live here, because the economy is strong, so that’s a good problem.’ But it’s completely disingenuous. The ‘good problem’ is that New Zealand residents and citizens are being undercut by foreign workers, while – at the same time – being out-bid by foreign investors. Where’s the good part in all that?

More jobs? But increasingly, those jobs don’t pay enough to pay the rent. High employment is not the sunshine. It’s the silver lining.

Both Key and Andrew Little have used the phrase ‘blunt instrument’ to describe capital gains tax. I don’t know why they’re so fussy. It’s not keyhole surgery. We know that most New Zealanders’ capital is tied up in non-productive housing, and we can see (above) that however capital is being used, it’s not in a way that is stimulating productivity.

Capital urgently needs to be diverted into more productive economic activity. It’s not the workers’ fault. It’s the investors, who are simply doing what government policy is telling them to: trying to make money out of nothing (aka a second hand rental house).

Meanwhile, National fiddled with the minimum Kiwisaver contributions of both employees and employers. The contribution levels have changed, but have remained lower under National than at any time under Labour. National’s argument was initially that this gave more flexibility to both workers and bosses at a time when it was most needed: the 08 – 09 credit crunch. But since then, we’ve heard time and again about the rock star economy. So when do the benefits flow directly to the people?

Now that the housing market is spiralling ever upward, there are signs that household debt is doing likewise. It’s currently at about 90% of GDP. That might or might not be a problem, depending on who owns it, and what their chances of defaulting are. Wealthy Switzerland’s ratio is up at about 125%, and Norway, Australia, Canada, Denmark and the Netherlands are all higher than us on this factor.

But the enforced savings of KiwiSaver might at least provide some options for a few of those people who get caught out (either through turning 65 or by appealing under hardship to access their KiwiSaver). Having reduced their KiwiSaver contributions will not have helped them in any way. It will simply have given them more money to spend, and less to help them now.

So we can thank John Key for at least keeping the economy intact while many others (Australia, Canada, UK) are still bogged down with lag factors, most of which sheet back to the GFC. But it’s wrong to say that New Zealand has triumphed where others have failed. Key’s strategy was to keep employment high by driving down wages. More people are working harder for lower returns.

It’s not that the average wage is going down. It’s not. It’s that everything else is going up, especially accommodation. I don’t have very recent data on this, but there’s a beauty from 2014 over at Transport Blog.

Key – or more specifically, Bill English – also increased GST from 12.5% to 15%. So not only are people’s earnings reduced, but at the same time, the cost of living is going up. No wonder the government’s now in surplus (two years later than Key and English promised). And GST is regressive, because the 15% on a loaf of bread is harder to afford if you’re poor than if you’re rich. The higher your GST, the harder you hit your workers.

Indeed, many rich people don’t pay much GST at all, because much of what they buy, they buy through their companies, for whom much of the GST is rebated.

There is a very clear list of outcomes that the government needs to prioritise:

  • Investors need to be motivated into something more productive than second hand housing
  • Employers need to be motivated to find more high value employment opportunities

Some of the specific levers to achieve this could include

  • Reducing immigration
  • Raising the bar on the Skilled Migrant Category (which is starting to happen)
  • Restricting property sales to New Zealand citizens and residents
  • Incentivising high value adding activity (such as the R&D tax break, scrapped by National)

The last of those needn’t be all that abstract. The growing appetite for sustainable solutions to our lifestyle problems is emerging as one of the zeitgeists of our age. You only have to look at Elon Musk and the Tesla car marque to see one example of that. That’s potentially one of the biggest losses of the sale of state energy companies: the motivation to exploit the green energy revolution.

Let’s look at that, next up.