Item the first. In a couple of op-eds and a piece for Policy, I used a reductio on where the nanny state might next turn: that the "social costs" of skiing, including costs to the health system and emergency rescue services but also lost wages and so on, would be found prohibitive and skiing consequently ought to be banned.
And now we're seeing emergency room doctors calling for mandatory helmet laws for skiers.
Christchurch Hospital head neurosurgeon Martin Macfarlane said he saw "more than several" people a year with brain injuries from skiing or snowboarding.I'm sure some shonky outfit could come up with a great big number showing the social costs of skiing, were somebody willing to fund such a study.
One or two would die each season, he said.
Macfarlane campaigned to make cycle helmets compulsory in the early 1990s, and he wanted helmets to become mandatory on ski-fields. Making helmets compulsory could save lives and prevent long-term disabilities such as memory loss and paralysis, he said.
Oh: and National Radio's now shilling for mandatory helmets too. They interview the guy who runs Mount Hutt, who favours a national regulation. Quick tip: if you're running a ski field, and you want helmets to be mandatory, you don't need a law to do it. Just make it a requirement at your field. If you won't do it because you think folks will switch to other ski fields, doesn't that tell you something about your customers' preferences and about the loss of utility if we have a blanket regulation? Or do you just think people are really stupid?
Item the second: continued pushes to remove GST from healthy foods.
What's most disappointing on this one? It's the "Science Media Centre" that's sponsored a panel discussion on a tax change, but they've not bothered having an economist on the panel: just public health folks. I think that next year's New Zealand Economics Association meetings should have a panel discussion on the Higgs Bosun where only economists show up to give comment. It'd be great. Then we can have a forum of engineers talking about nutrition and the nutritionists commenting on bridge building. [Update: SMC reports having cast about for an economist but weren't able to find one!]
The Herald's online poll has more than 60% support for the tax change, 24% saying it's too hard to define "healthy", and 14% opposing. iPredict says it has an 8% chance of happening. I do hope National stands firm on this one. We have the cleanest GST in the world. National can't be daft enough to wreck it, can they? At least Peter Dunne, Revenue Minister, reckons the policy to be unworkable.
Yesterday's "Nine to Noon" on National Radio included a lengthy interview with a healthist about the evils of McDonald's Happy Meals and how "marketing" is used to make products sneakily more "attractive to customers". Terrible stuff that, making products that people like. It ought to be banned. Worse, they're on about it again today. Folks need to watch more Penn & Teller....
Item the third: confusing costs and benefits. The case for building more prisons has to be based on that incarceration prevents costs of crime that outweigh the costs of imprisonment, including the costs to the incarcerated of being incarcerated. I don't know which way that study would go were it here to be run: we're on the high end of imprisonment rates when compared to other countries, but we do seem to have problems with repeat offenders. But the case can't be built on the job creation benefits of building prisons. Unless you're Judith Collins:
A new prison to be built in South Auckland will bring $1.2 billion in economic benefits over 30 years, Corrections Minister Judith Collins says.A helpful reminder for the Corrections Minister - here's Treasury's view, from its excellent primer on cost-benefit analysis (p.43):
But she has been criticised for announcing the gains to be had from higher crime and more prisoners.
Ms Collins told the Rotary Club in Auckland yesterday that the 960-bed prison at Wiri was expected to bring 1900 jobs to the region in the next five years.
An economic impact report, commissioned by the Department of Corrections, expected the prison to bring $1.2 billion to the region over its 30-year lifespan.
5.4 Tips and TrapsI wonder whether the commissioned report meets Treasury's standards. I wonder who did the report for them. I wonder whether the terms of reference for the report make it clear that the Government just wanted some big number to justify their preexisting policy. And I wonder, given both National and Labour's strong desire for shonky studies backing up their existing policy views, whether Hide's regulatory responsibility bill has any hope of passing in a form that could constrain government against commissioning such reports.
The following tips and traps are useful to consider before presenting the analysis to decision-makers:
Have you miscounted the use of real economic resources as a benefit? For example, the costs of building a stadium (materials, labour etc) is not a benefit to the economy. Often the jobs created by such projects are just a transfer from elsewhere in the region or country.
Lindsay Mitchell and DimPost also comment. [added: And No Right Turn]
But, one piece of good news: Roger Beattie's interview on National Radio yesterday.