Wednesday 23 December 2015

A public health failure

The NZ Drug Foundation points to an excellent write-up on e-cigs at Rolling Stone. A snippet:
While the e-cig industry was jumpstarted by entrepreneurs like Walsh, big tobacco companies have since waded into the fray — which might be part of the problem. They don't want to be shut out of a growing business that some predict may eventually overtake their own, but given that cigarette sales still generate a staggering $35 billion in annual profits for the world's six largest tobacco companies, they remain incentivized to keep smokers drawn to their bedrock product. With electronic offerings like MarkTen — made by Altria, manufacturers of Marlboro — now among the most visible brands, it's understandable that some view e-cigs as the latest ploy of an industry with a well-documented history of manipulation and subterfuge. Whereas 84 percent of smokers believed e-cigs to be safer than ordinary cigarettes in 2010, by 2013 that figure had dropped to 63 percent. A study last year found that a third of people who had abandoned e-cigs and resumed smoking tobacco did so out of concern for the health effects of vaping.
The crux of the British report is that such misconceptions represent a public health failure, one that could be reversed by highlighting the comparative safety of e-cigs for current smokers, while making it clear that nonsmokers should steer clear of vaping. But the biggest hurdle for e-cigs in the U.S. is the very thing that makes them so appealing: by mimicking the hand-to-mouth ritual of smoking and delivering the same drug — nicotine — found in tobacco, they look and feel a whole lot like smoking. As a result, concerns about e-cigs center on whether encouraging people with a deadly habit to switch will rollback a decades-long trend of historically low smoking rates. Are e-cigs used by smokers to augment their habit rather than abstain? Could they prove to be a gateway toward "re-normalizing" tobacco smoking, especially among impressionable teens? Legitimate as such questions are, at this point they may be eclipsing the most pressing one of all: Is the United States, in applying the same tactics used to demonize smoking on a safer substitute, missing out on a chance to save the lives of millions of its citizens?
New Zealand's public health community might ask itself the same question.

The piece also shows how FDA regulations could wind up killing the industry in the US: if they deem each new flavour cartridge as a new product needing approval, and each approval costing about $5 million....

Tuesday 22 December 2015

AML Costs

New Zealand's Anti Money Laundering regulations sure do increase the fixed costs of being in business. Here's Josh Daniell in the NBR:
I’m one of the founders of Snowball Effect, a marketplace for curated private equity investment opportunities. We’re subject to AML regulations, and were recently spot reviewed by FMA (our AML “sector supervisor”) regarding our compliance with the rules. The review was thorough and competent. But it reminded us of how familiar the processes have become, yet how disconnected they are from any genuine risk.  We cannot think of a single genuine risk that has been averted from thousands of hours of process.
I'm pretty sure that the kinds of early-stage investments that Snowball Effect facilitates wind up being really rather illiquid. If you wanted to launder funds there, it would take rather a while to offload any sizeable investment. The absence of any sizeable risk didn't stop the Vogons from killing iPredict though.

Lance Wiggs shows up in the NBR's comments:
This is an excellent piece from Josh, and mirrors what we have also experienced with Punakaiki Fund and what I see across the early stage ecosystem. The chilling effect of the AML requirements lowers the appetite for investors to place funds with early stage companies (and investment funds), which is terrible for New Zealand.Meanwhile the compliance requirements for buying a house are ridiculously easy in comparison.
The big players will figure out how to navigate the AML mess. But it's going to kill potential new entry. Here's Mercatus on the effects of regulation more generally:
Regulation may be particularly detrimental to economic prosperity to the extent that it deters entrepreneurship. If larger existing firms can overcome the costs of complying with regulations more easily than new, small firms, such smaller entrants may never start their businesses in the first place. In a new empirical study for the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, economists James Bailey and Diana Thomas show that more regulated industries experienced fewer new firm births and slower employment growth between 1998 and 2011, and that regulations inhibited employment growth primarily in small firms rather than large firms. These results call into question the value of new federal regulations, because increased regulation seems to contribute to the declining number of new businesses and to slowing job growth. 

Monday 21 December 2015


Ben Moore's received a response to his OIA request asking the government why they killed iPredict. Reading it is a bit surreal
  • In September 2013, Chapman Tripp applied for exemption from the AML regulations. At page 12 of their submission, paragraphs 52-53, they rightly note that iPredict is tiny and that compliance burdens for the tiny accounts set up at iPredict would dissuade trader entry. 
  • In October 2013, the Financial Markets Authority worried that because iPredict doesn't verify trader identities, there is risk that a single person could avoid the deposit limits by establishing multiple accounts. 
    • FMA is there correct: it would be possible for somebody to set up multiple accounts if they were sneaky about it. But the current combined portfolio value of the top 100 traders at iPredict is just under $200,000. Fifty-four accounts have value in excess of $1000. I don't see any hovering under the $10k limit. And while there would have been substantial withdrawals since Simon Bridges's decision, the net worth rankings have been around this kind of order for a while. You need to add up the portfolios of 100 traders to get to about a quarter of the median Auckland house price. 
  • In December 2014, an anonymous Policy Advisor in the Criminal Law Team at MoJ made a big deal of that the trader earning the highest ROI at iPredict had very very high returns, and that that analyst believed that this raised specific money laundering / terrorism financing risk. 
    • It's worth noting too, though, that that high ROI trader doesn't show up in the top 100 ranking by net worth. Maybe the trader's just really great and keeps withdrawing, but the trader's account is worth less than $430 currently. Scary.
    • MoJ also asks FMA whether iPredict should have to report whenever it becomes aware of any insider trading or "other forms of market manipulation", with requirements to submit STRs. 
  • In June 2015, FMA said iPredict should be pretty much compliant were they to identify traders so traders couldn't open multiple accounts, and that they should do that rather than be granted an exemption. 
  • 15 June 2015 MoJ asks iPredict a few clarifying questions, but provides zero signal to iPredict that they might need to identify traders. 
    • 26 June, iPredict notes that there have been 3 instances of traders having more than one user accounts. Two of these were errors, and the third was deliberate. In the latter case, the account was shut down and the person was prohibited from iPredict.
    • iPredict also notes that their systems only do automated withdrawals into NZ bank accounts, and that they have had one instance in the prior 6 months of an account's closure requiring an international bank transfer. 
  • 12 August 2015 MoJ and FMA note that iPredict "has been designated to the DIA as the FMA has reached a view that it should not be within our supervision". This rather confuses me as iPredict's trading status is an exempt futures exchange. That they came under those regs rather than DIA's gambling purview was of some consternation to DIA when iPredict was set up as I understand things. 
  • 1 September 2015: they decline the exemption
  • Bridges then sends a letter to English's office, among others, notifying them that Predictions Clearing Limited had been denied an exemption. It is interesting that he did not let his Cabinet colleagues know that PCL is the clearinghouse for deposits to iPredict. I wonder whether his Cabinet colleagues were surprised that he wound up killing iPredict. He also sends a letter to iPredict's lawyers, denying the exemption, and suggesting they talk with the FMA about what they need to come into AML/CFT compliance.
  • On 26 November, an anonymous boffin notes surprise that iPredict decided to shut down "without discussing this with anyone", noting that "the normal process after a declined application is for the applicant to contact the supervisor (FMA) to confirm what the obligations are under the Act." Perhaps true of for-profit entities. But that this surprised them suggests they never had any real clue about iPredict in the first place.
If iPredict could open new contracts, an interesting one would be:
"Pays $1 if the total value of bureaucracy staff time spent assessing iPredict's AML compliance exceeded the total combined value of all iPredict accounts."
I'd be buying at $0.65.

CYA and drug testing

Suppose that, as a company director, you were potentially personally liable if you did not exercise due diligence in ensuring that the company was meeting its health and safety obligations.

Suppose further that one of the ways you could demonstrate that you have exercised due diligence is by making sure that you get processes in place and that they're followed.

If there's any risk from worker impairment, then putting in place drug testing policies could be one way of demonstrating your due diligence. Heck, the Department of Labour even recommends putting in drug testing clauses where there is risk.

So we shouldn't be surprised if more companies are now requiring drug testing. It's a relatively cheap way for directors to show that they're being all diligent.
I don't like the equilibrium either. But if you want different outcomes, you do better in changing the underlying incentives. I don't see those changing any time soon.

The ODT quotes Kirk Hardy, Chief Exec of a company running drug tests for firms:
Mr Hardy knows full well drug testing for cannabis cannot establish whether a person was high at the time of testing.

And companies know that too, he says.

‘‘Most companies are using it for risk mitigation; not many companies are looking for impairment,'' he says.

‘‘Personal time doesn't really come into it.''

Mr Hardy says employees who work in safety-sensitive industries have no excuse for using drugs.
"Companies are using it for risk mitigation" - entirely in line with my CYA expectations.

I wonder how many of those who lobbied for getting tough on companies for health & safety issues really thought through the likely effects. This was entirely predictable.

For a bigger Khandallah

My submission from earlier this month on the proposed Khandallah medium-density zoning.

1.     Please accept this email as my personal submission on the proposed Khandallah medium-density zoning proposal.

2.     I am an economist who has read extensively on the economics of land-use planning. I received my doctorate in economics in 2003 and lectured at the University of Canterbury from 2003 through 2014, when I moved to Khandallah to take up a position in Wellington. I submit today in my personal capacity.

3.     I support allowing medium-density housing not only in Khandallah but also more broadly throughout the Wellington region. Zoning rules preventing densification within town and preventing expansion in the suburbs have driven New Zealand’s housing unaffordability problems. While that has primarily been an Auckland phenomenon, Wellington remains fairly unaffordable, with median house prices more than five times median income, according to the latest Demographia survey.

4.     It is rather unlikely that medium density housing in Khandallah, on its own, would substantially alleviate New Zealand’s housing affordability problem. But if existing residents in places like Khandallah continue to be able to block new development, housing affordability will continue to worsen – with the worst costs felt by the poor.

5.     I attended the November town hall meeting in Khandallah. Some residents there in attendance raised legitimate concerns about developments that had adversely affected them as neighbours. But the preponderance of criticisms focused on the character of the neighbourhood, the design characteristics of denser developments, and the consultation process.

6.     It would be rather unlikely that a developer would find Khandallah well-suited to low-end units as land prices are too high. Many in attendance at the meeting seemed to fear that very substandard units would be placed next door to them. And the fliers handed out by the anti-development residents’ group emphasised that developers would be likely to use cheap materials and cheap design. But a developer buying land here to subdivide, and who expects to earn a return on investment, would tie up too much capital in the underlying land for that to really make sense – higher-end smaller units are rather more likely.

7.     The residents’ association also worries that more people will worsen road congestion. While it seems unlikely that development would put any substantial burden on Onslow Road or the Ngaio Gorge Road, one can imagine localised issues with on-street parking were a developer to provide only limited off-street parking.

8.    However, the solution to parking congestion is not to block development, nor is it to require developers to put expensive parking in place for future residents who might not want it. Rather, we could learn from other parts of town that have limited parking to those with residents’ passes.

9.     If a new development would be likely to park up a street that is already heavily used for on-street parking, a better solution would restrict parking on that street to those with residents’ passes. Existing resident households could be issued with resident’s parking passes, and the incoming developer could buy some of those passes from the existing residents for use by future residents of the new development. The prospect of selling surplus parking passes to developers might also encourage a friendlier attitude towards neighbouring developments.

10.  Were traffic to increase substantially on Jubilee Road and Izard Road when children are going to or leaving school, Council may wish to provide a footpath on the southern side of Jubilee Road that children would not need to cross a busy road to find a footpath.

11.  The residents’ association also notes their belief that older people do not wish to live in the townhouse-style developments that could be allowed under the new zoning. I am curious why a developer would build such units if there were no demand for them. The developers have their money on the line; I have more confidence in developers’ ability to gauge market demand than I have in the residents’ association’s ability to forecast who might wish to live in which kinds of places.

12.  The residents’ association points to potential crowding at the local school. Cashmere Avenue School has a lovely and large school ground; an extra building or two on the site should not prove a massive hindrance. Many other schools have less ability to expand.

13.  Council asks where medium-density housing development should happen in our suburb. I believe it should happen wherever the owner of a property is able to undertake it without substantial adverse effect on their neighbours’ views or sunlight.

14.  Council asks what standards should be used to manage site design. It would be difficult to specify that without knowing things specific to the location of any proposed development. A four or five-story development built into a steep hillside could be entirely appropriate in some places as it would not impose shade on others nor would it block others’ views. But, in other locations, even a three-story development would block views or restrict sun. Maximum height should be determined by effects on existing neighbours. And, any maxima established to protect neighbours’ sun or views should be waivable by the affected neighbour to allow for bargaining between existing residents and new developments.

15.  Council asks for our views on the town centre. I note that a few of the shops there seem to be languishing for want of foot traffic. Increased density and more people would make shops more viable and make for a more vibrant village environment. Another few hundred people would hardly be to the community's detriment. It is a bit of a shame that these kinds of consultations only are ever able to draw the ire of existing residents who hate change; the views of residents yet to have the chance to be my neighbours are hard to canvass.

Saturday 19 December 2015

Boardroom benefits

Renee Adams summarises the empirics on boardroom diversity.

I'd worried when the Secretary of the Treasury was citing work that relied on studies by Catalyst and McKinsey on the benefits of boardroom diversity. Adams walks slowly through just why those kinds of studies really are not up to the task. Even better, she reproduces Catalyst's results before showing how they disappear when you account for endogeneity. In other words, the kinds of firms with more diverse boards are different from the kinds of firms with less diverse boards, and those non-board differences explain the performance differences.

Adams warns that business-case approaches to diversity mandates, in which firms expect strong improvements in performance with a change in the board's gender composition, risk creating unrealistic expectations for newly appointed female directors. 

If you care about the evidence on the topic, it's worth reading the Adams summary. The literature survey is comprehensive. I've no dog in this fight. But I get worried when folks seem convinced of things that ain't so - and especially when the things that ain't so get endorsed by the Secretary of the Treasury. 

Here's the final table from the Adams piece, showing what happens to the Catalyst study when you add in very standard controls. Column I shows firms with a greater fraction of female directors have stronger ROE. But column II shows that's mostly because larger firms have greater fractions of female directors. Column III shows that industry controls roughly halve the statistically insignificant effect found in Column II, and Column IV shows that putting in firm-level fixed effects reverses the sign of the effect in Column I. 

When the upper echelons of government become convinced that things that are nice are also profitable for firms, we risk poor policy.

When everybody thinks they know that some particular measure is profitable, and not all firms seem to be doing it, you start seeing Regulatory Impact Statements or Cabinet Papers claiming that forcing firms to do something would be in those firms' best interest and would increase profits. Treasury used to bat that kind of thing back.

HT: Glenn Boyle

Friday 18 December 2015

Chinese data

Everybody knows there are problems in Chinese official statistics. But John Gibson and Chao Li have found what I think is a new one. Anything that's using regional per capita figures is a bit suspect.

Here's their abstract:
Hundreds of studies in economics misinterpret China’s sub-national population and per capita data. The most widely used population counts are of hukou registrations from each province, prefecture, county, or city rather than of the people living in each place and generating local GDP. Over 220 million people have left their place of registration, while almost none had when reforms began, creating time-varying errors in estimates of per capita income of sub-national units. We survey empirical articles in blue ribbon journals, in development journals, and in regional and urban economics journals that use China’s sub-national data. Over 80 percent of articles use these data erroneously; most commonly the wrong population or employment counts are used to measure the size of sub-national units, and per capita data are calculated with the wrong denominator for the interpretation placed on variables. We provide examples of errors from each group of journals, and a critical test of one highly-cited study. Specifically, we show that if hukou registrations are erroneously used to measure the local population, following existing practice, conclusions about driving forces for urban area expansion are reversed. We give recommendations for more careful use of China’s sub-national population and per capita data.
Time varying errors are... not good. They don't wash out in fixed effects.

Careful out there...

Surveying heavy drinkers

The latest NZMJ has a couple of pieces on alcohol minimum pricing.

The editorial from BC's Tim Stockwell lauds minimum pricing's successes in BC, though I think he there overstates the case - especially where some of his own work in British Columbia makes a hash of things by using regional CPI within B.C. to get differences in the real value of the province-wide minimum alcohol price. I'm pretty sure that you can't induce panel variation in your main regressor of interest by just dividing that constant by the varying regional CPI. That's probably one of those things that ,robust won't fix.

The new New Zealand evidence comes from a survey of just over a hundred heavy drinkers. The Science Media Centre asked me for comment on that part; my comments are copied below.
“Minimum alcohol pricing has the potential to mitigate harms from heavy drinking at lower cost than across-the-board excise increases. However, we need to be cautious about the potential effects.
“The Falkner et al study surveys heavy drinkers to ask them what they might do were they faced with higher alcohol prices. Thirty percent of those drinkers who have previously faced situations in which they could not afford alcohol reported having turned to illicit or prescription drugs when they could not afford alcohol; the authors note this may be an underestimate since their survey excluded drinkers who had reported co-morbid drug use. Pricing heavy alcohol users out of alcohol, for some users, will result in shifting to other substances. Net effects on harms are then less clear.
Byrnes et al (2013), in Australian data, reported that heavy drinkers did respond to price hikes by curbing consumption, but that they did so by cutting back consumption on their lower drinking days. Heavy drinking was not affected. This will have health benefits, but smaller benefits than you might expect if you had expected that drinking on heavy drinking days would be as strongly affected. In this case, the health benefits of minimum alcohol prices may be overestimated if heavy drinkers respond to price increases by saving up to maintain binge days.
“Minimum alcohol pricing at $1 per unit would require that, for example, no standard bottle of wine be priced at less than $8 to $9 dollars. While this would affect heavier drinkers who may otherwise downshift in quality in response to excise changes, it would also affect lower income moderate drinkers. Benefits in reducing harmful drinking among harmful drinkers need be weighed against the costs imposed on moderate lower income drinkers – and especially where moderate drinkers are far more responsive to price hikes than are heavier drinkers (Wagenaar et al, 2009). We also need to note that while the survey asked heavy drinkers, who were predominantly lower income, how much they paid on average per standard drink, the survey did not ask moderate or light drinkers of lower income what they pay for their preferred product.
“While survey respondents indicated that they had not turned to informal alcohol supply, or home brewing, in response to previous instances of not being able to afford alcohol, sustained alcohol unaffordability might induce different behavioural responses. For example, one person setting up a distillation unit could easily informally supply neighbours at far less cost than either minimum prices or current alcohol cost. When alcohol prices are high enough, the investment in distillation kit, or even simpler fermentation, can become worthwhile. Were minimum pricing implemented, the government might wish to undertake better tracking of informal alcohol supply.”
“Policy in this area needs to weigh carefully the potential benefits of some drinking reduction among heavy drinkers against the harms imposed on poorer lighter drinkers.”
Declared conflicts of interest: The Initiative is a member-funded think tank. Its members include many of New Zealand’s leading corporations, including one in the alcohol industry and a retail grocery chain. While in the Department of Economics and Finance at the University of Canterbury, Dr Crampton's work was partially funded by the Brewers Association of Australia and New Zealand. He maintains his academic independence. He also is a moderate consumer of alcohol.
I might also note that if there's a case for minimum alcohol pricing, it's also a case for reducing the existing excise levy.


Wednesday 16 December 2015

Uber Uber

Well, the Ministry of Transport proposals around Uber could have been worse.

This week's white paper produced two preferred options. The first would place requirements on drivers; the second, on transport operators. The National Business Review asked me for comment on the proposals; here's what I told them.
“The government’s approach to taxicab regulation intends to avoid risks where new services, like ridesharing or carpooling apps, work outside of existing regulations, and to modernize the existing regulations so services like Uber are a better fit. But are those risks really large enough to compel regulation?” “The Transport discussion document advances two options it views as preferable to the status quo. The first of these would place the burden of compliance on approved drivers; the second, on approved operators. But both options would require that drivers have a P endorsement, that drivers work within limited time periods, that vehicles have a certificate of fitness, that drivers pass health tests, and that vehicles have mandatory security cameras – albeit subject to potential exemption by application.” “While the proposed regimes would be more open than the status quo, they could be substantially more liberal. If Uber were ever to decide, for example, that some other test were more effective in determining driver suitability than the P endorsement, as a passenger, I’d trust Uber’s judgement. It’s their reputation on the line if drivers prove unfit, and they have an international reputation to maintain. Regulations requiring that drivers undertake extra training, or that cars used in new services carry more than the standard Warrant of Fitness, make it just that much harder for new drivers to come into the market and pick up a few shifts. It makes things like Uber work less well. There are potentially many people who would be willing to take the family car out during a period of surge demand, but who would never find it worth the bother of getting a P endorsement (which requires taking a course and waiting 6-8 weeks for processing), and keeping the car under a Certificate of Fitness rather than just the WoF, and getting a doctor’s certificate, and putting in a camera. These regulatory rigidities make it harder for surge pricing to bring more drivers into the market at times when people really need rides. And, really, what’s the point?” “I would have liked to have seen a sixth, less regulated option. In a world in which I can immediately complain about the vehicle’s quality through an app-based feedback mechanism, and where we already have warrants of fitness for cars, it is hard to see the case for certificates of fitness. Where drivers can be chosen based on their reputation and where customers can leave immediate feedback, it is hard to see the case for P endorsements over regular driver’s licences. If I can pick up a hitchhiker without a P-endorsement and without a certificate of fitness, or a doctor’s exam, why should that be illegal just because the hitchhiker finds me with an app and pays me?”

 The story's here. Campbell Gibson does a great job of excerpting from my excess verbiage. 

Tuesday 15 December 2015

No parking

While central government works to wreck Christchurch's downtown through endless uncertainty about whether anchor projects will proceed, Christchurch Council is doing a number on its suburbs.

Council's having at a neighbourhood cafe and bar in Cashmere. Why? They want it to have 62 more car parks than it currently has. It seems one neighbour's been complaining - perhaps there's parking overflow on side streets.

Mike Yardley's been checking into things:
Hospitality New Zealand's regional manager, Amy McLellan-Minty, tells me "a council employee who lives nearby" triggered the storm. She considers the council's treatment of the Vaughans as the worst she's seen.
Since the council's Kaizuka swoop last August, Hospitality New Zealand notes the district licensing committee pointedly requires licence applicants to produce a far more prescriptive floor plan, to avoid any confusion. So is this heavy-handed treatment of Kaizuka by the power-trippers primarily a butt-covering exercise?
Local councillor, Tim Scandrett, has previously failed to make any headway. Crs Phil Clearwater and Scandrett notified me they'd be meeting council staff, in a bid to resolve the fiasco.
Living in Huntsbury, I know how cherished this venue is. The social media response from the local residents' groups has been emphatically supportive of Kaizuka.
The ludicrous council dictum for 62 more car parks has been roundly pilloried, particularly given the overwhelming number of patrons walk or bike there for a meal or drink. The Vaughans have clearly had a gutsful trying to strike a pragmatic resolution.
With 18 jobs on the line, a Christmas miracle is needed.
Flow-on effects to side streets are real potential adverse consequences for some local residents, but you could equally ask why those households didn't bother with sufficient onsite parking.

In either case, isn't the better solution to put one side of the affected street to residents' passes, so the locals know they'll have a place to park? It isn't that hard. And it makes more sense than killing a business.

Monday 14 December 2015


It's possible, in theory, that a preference ballot like that used in the NZ flag referendum could fail to select a Condorcet winner. In that case, a flag that's the strong second choice of many but the first choice of few is killed in the early rounds and so is not able to pick up the second-choice transfers as other options are eliminated.

But I doubt that's happened this time around. Here's the final tally, graphic courtesy of the NBR.

For a non-Lockwood (the top two) designs to have won, you'd need... well, there's no path from here to there. There is no way that you can get to anything but a showdown between those two options since the total for each of them exceeds the total first-preferences of all of the three other options.

I've put in my OIA request for all the ballot preference data anyway, expecting it to be shot down, because I'm interested in whether the Electoral Commission actually has the law right on this one. They think it's illegal to provide the number of ballots that conform to the different potential preference orderings; I'm interested in whether the Ombudsman will agree.

It's also interesting that spoiled ballots beat Red Peak.

Update: Note too that iPredict has the current flag as 75% likely to win in the next referendum. How long those prices remain accurate will be interesting: they're not accepting new deposits, so trading is limited to those currently with liquid accounts.

Friday 11 December 2015

Regulatory report cards

Ah, the things that bigger think tanks can do. The Mercatus Centre at George Mason University runs long-term projects on regulatory quality. Here's Mercatus Senior Research Fellow Jerry Ellig's testimony at the Senate Committee on the Budget:
The Mercatus Center at George Mason University has undertaken two long-term research projects that directly assess the quality of federal agencies’ information about the prospective and actual results of government programs and regulations. One is the Performance Report Scorecard, which evaluated the quality of federal agencies’ annual performance reports required under the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA). The other is the Regulatory Report Card, which evaluated the quality of economic analysis produced by executive branch agencies for prescriptive, economically significant regulations proposed from 2008 through 2013. 
From both of these projects, I have learned that telling agencies to conduct prospective analysis before they act (or retrospective analysis of the results of their actions) is no more than a useful first step. Regulations don’t enforce themselves, nor do analytical requirements. Stronger incentives are necessary to: 1) focus regulatory agencies on results rather than outputs; 2) produce high-quality analysis that assesses results; and 3) explain how agencies used their analysis in decisions. To ensure that legislative and budget decisions focus on regulatory results, Congress also needs to commit itself to obtaining and using high-quality analysis when it authorizes regulation by statute and funds agencies to promulgate and enforce regulations. 
Mercatus has, since 2008, produced an online report card scoring the quality of regulatory analyses and whether they meet the requirements set out by the Office of Management and Budget and the Executive Order. Performance has been terrible, but regulations reviewed by OIRA have fared better.

I wonder how NZ's Regulatory Impact Statements would score.

Thursday 10 December 2015

Which side of the asylum wall...?

In Country A, a company launches a "delivers beer in one hour" service in a major city. There are lots of other delivery services around, but this one has one-hour service (which some other delivery companies have) and it's from a large company. It attracts some notice but noticeable objection.

In Country B, a company tries to launch a "delivers beer in one hour" service in a major city. There are other delivery services around, but this one has one-hour service. The medical profession, who seems to reckon that you shouldn't be able to do anything without their say-so, scream about increased availability of alcohol. You start to suspect that, had pizza delivery not been invented yet, they'd try to ban it if it were a new thing: faster access to fatty foods, and who really needs pizza in a hurry anyway? Outcome: the service gets pulled.

I'm starting to think I'm on the wrong side of the asylum wall.

Meanwhile, while New Zealand's rules for commercial drone operators seem to make more sense than those in the US, it's basically impossible to mess around with a drone anywhere near a city unless you file a flight path with air traffic control or unless you stay below the nearest tallest thing that is less than 100 meters away from where you are. Here's AirShare's excellent user resource.
I'd previously posted on drones, worrying that it wouldn't be allowed in any parks. AirShare helpfully lists where it is allowed, and Wellington Council is fine with your using a drone in a park, so long as you aren't bothering anyone else. But if there isn't something tall within 100 meters of your drone, then you need to get Air Traffic Control permission. Possibly days in advance. In a city where the winds are unpredictable. [Update: you need days to get pre-approval. But it looks like you can phone in for an up/down before going out to fly.]

Simon Bridges likely reckons that he's developed top-notch regulations around commercial drone use. But the rules around personal use have put drones off my Christmas list this year. We'd have to drive about an hour to muck around properly with a toy that has maybe a 15 minute battery life - that's close enough to a ban to make little difference. If I'm out with the kids and playing drones with them, how can I guarantee they don't go a bit higher than whatever handy tree happens to be nearby, or stray more than 100 meters away from it?

One wonders where the commercial drone operators enabled by the regime will ever find pilots if The Rules have killed off the hobbyists.

Apologies for the light posting. Two days out-of-office on work stuff combined with having to do the rest of the work stuff in the remaining three days have been constraining.

Monday 7 December 2015

Things we know that ain't so

Today's Herald highlights public ignorance of basic policy facts.

Before you read any farther, go and take the Herald's quiz to see how well you do.

Here are the main errors (but don't read this part 'till you've gone and done the quiz yourself) where those choosing the wrong answer were in the majority.

  • Overestimating Kiwis' average age (66% chose the answer that was 7 years too old).
  • Underestimating the percentage of MPs who are female (70% chose the answer that was 7 percentage points too low).
  • Underestimating female labour force participation rates (55% chose the answer that was 12 percentage points too low).
But there were other interesting failures. 41% of respondents believed that New Zealand's wealthiest 1% own 50% of the country's wealth - that's a figure that's roughly right for the top 10%, but not the top 1%. And it also ignores that those with a lot of student debt (and consequently negative wealth) have huge human capital that offsets things.

Update: Ipsos summarises this one nicely:
Looking across the 33 countries included, many are even more wrong ...
  1. The top 1%: most developed countries greatly overestimate the proportion of adult wealth the wealthiest 1% in their country own. Britain is the most inaccurate (estimating it to be 59%, over twice the real figure of 23%), but France, Australia, Belgium, New Zealand and Canada are all at least 30 percentage points out of line. A few countries, though, underestimate how much of their country’s wealth is concentrated in the hands of the top 1% - Peru, India, Israel, Brazil and Russia (where the top 1% actually own an incredible 70% of all wealth). There is a lot of variation between the countries on what they think the figure should be, though most of them think it should be lower than it really is – with Russia again standing out as having the highest gap between the amount of wealth they think the top 1% should acceptably own (23%) and the true figure (70%).
Wow. You'd almost think there were some kind of coordinated international effort in OECD countries to fuel overestimation of the amount of wealth held by the richest.  

Wednesday 2 December 2015

NGDP Targeting and NGDP Futures

NZIER's Kirdan Lees has called for the RBNZ to shift to NGDP (nominal GDP) targeting.

Recall that, currently, the RBNZ is supposed to target CPI inflation, over the medium term. The last part is important as it lets RBNZ look through temporary shocks. So if there's some silly blip from oil prices or commodity prices, they can just keep look at what things will be like over some undefined future period. While that lets them get away with persistent outcomes well in excess of target (Bollard) or well under target (Wheeler), it also means that targeting isn't as inflexible as it might otherwise be. And inflation expectations have remained reasonably anchored, though they're now drifting down.

Currently, RBNZ can target future inflation rates in a few ways. There are plenty of surveys of future inflation expectations. There's also the price difference between inflation-indexed and standard bonds. For a while, RBNZ used iPredict inflation forecasts, or at least cited them in a Monetary Policy Statement, but those forecasts largely mirrored ones you could get out of the rather more thickly traded bond markets.

How would you target NGDP? You'd need some mechanism for forecasting future NGDP. Sure, RBNZ has the big DSGE models for it, the latest version of which has an acronym nowhere near as memorable as the Kiwi Inflation Targeting Technology (KITT). But there aren't market prices out there on NGDP.

This was the problem Scott Sumner was trying to solve when I chatted with him at a conference in Hong Kong last year. He needed a way of getting NGDP forecasts to prove that NGDP targeting could be done. If you can get accurate forecasts, then you can use that in your targeting. I told him about how great NZ's regulatory structures are and that he should get in touch with the good people at iPredict. And so he did, and so there's now a US-facing version of iPredict that has a US no-action letter letting Americans trade on NGDP futures contracts.

But Simon Bridges just killed the New Zealand version of iPredict. So we can't have NGDP futures. So if we want NGDP targeting, it's going to be a lot harder. Thanks, Simon.

Well, unless we can convince the Americans to let foreign New Zealanders trade on the US-facing side of the NZ-based prediction market.

What a stupid stupid state of affairs.

The New Zealand National Party. Underestimating the compliance costs their regulations impose on small firms since at least Muldoon, and still going strong.

Update: I've been having issues in which Disqus is not synching comments made via the mobile version of the site and I have not had a chance to figure out how to fix it. And I cannot easily answer comments left that way. Belisarius asks what I make of the NZIER proposal. I'd hit that question in 2011 when NZPA asked RBNZ for comment on NGDP targeting. Basically, NGDP targeting beats inflation targeting when there are supply shocks, but RBNZ's inflation targeting lets them look through a lot of supply shocks already. And Sumner's noted that it works best in large diversified economies as well. Does New Zealand count?

Monday 30 November 2015

iPredict and the reign of the Vogons

The NBR asked me for comment on the iPredict decision. Here's what I sent through; much of it showed up in Campbell Gibson's piece.
In the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, only one species had the bureaucratic bloodymindedness necessary for seeing things through, no matter how stupid it was to apply the rules in particular cases, or how horrible the consequences: the Vogons.
iPredict is one of New Zealand’s beautiful things. Established at the University of Victoria at Wellington shortly before the 2008 election, it allows real-money trading on political event futures. If you wanted to know the odds that National would win the next election, that Winston Peters would be in the next coalition, or that Wellington might amalgamate, iPredict was the place to go. If you thought the prices were wrong, you could put your dollar vote in and turn a profit by adding your information into the mix.
While other countries never really managed to get these right, New Zealand’s pragmatism saw us through. The Gazetted iPredict regulation let the tiny non-profit operate under rules that were fit for purpose. In America, an unholy coalition of casino gambling interests and anti-gambling Senators worked to ensure that Americans couldn’t easily trade real-money contracts on political events. New Zealand knew better. I considered it an important part of our “Outside of the Asylum” status. While regulations in the rest of the world were dumb enough to prevent beautiful things, New Zealand knew better.
And oh but it was beautiful. Its prices were the best fair-odds around on political events. There was never a ton of money in it – the volume was too low. But because enough politics insiders enjoyed it for its own sake, the listed prices were sharp. At Canterbury, I had fun setting Honours projects based on its data.
New Zealand yesterday took a sharp jump out of the Outside of the Asylum when Simon Bridges decided that a tiny shoestring-budget outfit like iPredict had to comply with anti-money laundering regs that even the big banks found a really tough slog. I don’t know how much he tried to ease things in recognition of iPredict’s smaller scale, but regulatory costs that seem small to a Minister can be impossible for an outfit that was always on the edge of financial viability. And as for the odds that it could have been used for any kind of money laundering? Well, I'd have been shorting the relevant contract even at 5% odds.
In short, the decision is regulatory murder: Vogons crushing beautiful jewelled crabs, just because. I hope the decision can be rescinded.
I visited similar themes in a piece I wrote for the Dominion Post.
That all ended yesterday. On advice from the Ministry of Justice that it was possible that somebody might some day decide to launder money through iPredict, Simon Bridges killed it. iPredict always ran on the smell of an oily rag, subsidised by Victoria University at Wellington. It would never have been able to afford big-bank style Anti-Money Laundering regulations – or even slightly toned down versions. While Ministers and Ministries can glibly reckon that regulatory compliance costs won't be too high, banks have found the anti-money laundering regulations to be incredibly costly. iPredict did not stand a chance.

When iPredict was established, they deemed the money laundering risk so low that there would not be regulatory compliance issues unless either the Americans invaded, or communists were elected. They did not count on the current National government.

The Government has killed a thing of beauty to guard against a risk that would have been implausible as movie scenario. In doing so, they've ruined our best, and one of the world's best, sources of accurate information on the chances of events happening. Colleagues who attended the British High Commission's election night party for the UK election reported that they had iPredict up on the big screen as a way of keeping track of who was winning.

Simon Bridges's decision is incredibly disappointing. I hope he reconsiders it. And, perhaps, it is time to rethink the anti-money laundering regulations as a whole.
I know that the Americans have forced us into the AML regime under threat to basically make financial transactions impossible with American firms. But only Vogon bloody-mindedness can explain hitting iPredict as part of it.

And here's Scott Sumner lamenting what we've lost.

I doubt either the Ministry of Justice or Bridges knew, or cared, about what they were destroying.

When John Key gets around to forcing a referendum on changing the National Anthem, one of the four five options should be "Oh Freddled Gruntbuggly", set to an appropriate tune.

Manitoba envy

Despite massive need for flat-pack furniture following the earthquake, Christchurch didn't manage to get an Ikea.* And there's yet no Ikea anywhere in New Zealand.

Last month, Christchurch people got mad that a Wendy's wanted to serve beer.

Meanwhile, Winnipeg's Ikea serves beer and wine.

* Trading on the iPredict market on whether there would be a Christchurch Ikea went as high as 18%. But Simon Bridges said we can't have iPredict any more, so I suppose there can't be a contract on whether we'll ever get an Ikea. So we're as bad as Manitoba on the predictions-market front now.

Friday 27 November 2015

Unless the Americans invade or we elect communists

Glenn Boyle, who helped set up iPredict, emails:

When we were setting iPredict up between 2005 and 2008, all the holdups were technological and financial, not regulatory.  Liam Mason and others at the Securities Commission were generally helpful and tried to eliminate roadblocks rather than put them in our way, and there certainly didn't seem to be any impediments thrown at us by ministers.

I recall the money laundering bogeyman coming up only once, and then only in jest.  I don't remember the exact wording, but it was something along the lines of "you'll probably get hit with money laundering charges if the Americans invade or we ever elect a communist government."  Ouch…

This wasn't taken seriously at the time though.  Looking back through all the various memos etc I prepared during the 3+ years iPredict was being set up, I can't find any reference to money laundering regulation at all.  I guess we were naive!
There seem to be more than a few people who reckon Lianne Dalziel did a far better job on this stuff under the prior Labour government than we've seen under National.

Thursday 26 November 2015

Inside The Asylum

I'd cited iPredict as an example of New Zealand's cherished "Outside of the Asylum" status. While other countries did stupid things banning socially useful prediction markets, either at behest of gambling interests or because of anti-gambling politicians, or the bootleggers-and-baptists combination of the two, New Zealand was sane.

Simon Bridges just killed iPredict. The because is potential money laundering. But that's just the proximate cause. The ultimate cause is absolute Vogon-scale bloody-minded bureaucratic idiocy. Applying bank-style money laundering regs to a tiny non-profit with minuscule financial turnover -and that was always a dubious proposition for the University in the first place - that could never do anything but kill the thing. And it takes absolute Vogon-level bloody-mindedness to do that.

Idealog has the best write-up on it.

Can somebody set "Oh Freddled Gruntbuggly" to music? We might need a new national anthem.

Wednesday 25 November 2015

Police muzzles?

There's a strong academic freedom case against the kinds of restrictions that the New Zealand Police, and other government agencies, put on the use of data. But it's not quite as clear-cut as it might seem.

Jarrod Gilbert is New Zealand's leading expert in crime and gangs. Between him and  Greg Newbold, there's not much the Canterbury sociology team don't know about crime. Gilbert's having trouble getting access to police data on crime that he needs for his research, though, because his research has meant he's spent a lot of time with gangs.

This part seemed especially concerning:
The degree of control the police sought over research findings and publications was more than trifling. The research contracts demand that a draft report be provided to police. If the results are deemed to be "negative" then the police will seek to "improve its outcomes". Both the intent and the language would have impressed George Orwell.
Researchers unprepared to yield and make changes face a clause stating the police "retain the sole right to veto any findings from release". In other words, if an academic study said something the police didn't like - or heaven forbid was in any way critical of the police - then the police could stop it being published.
These demands were supported by threats. The contracts state that police will "blacklist" the researchers and "any organisations connected to the project ... from access to any further police resources" if they don't abide by police wishes.
I worried about this kind of thing in Ministry of Health RFPs a while back.

But we have to balance it too against the following kind of scenario. Suppose that you're a government agency who's contracted with some researchers to do some work for you. Somewhere along the way, things go off the rails. The researchers' drafts don't look good, the statistical analysis doesn't line up, and it's starting to look like they're trying to grind an axe rather than provide you with a down-the-line assessment of results.

Worse, they've started shopping around their working draft at conferences [legit!] and putting out press releases about their working draft [uh-oh], touting their initial results, using the Ministry's funding as imprimatur, and calling for policy change based on it. You know they've missed a pile of important stuff in their analysis and that the results really aren't sound. What do you do?

In an ideal world, academic freedom prevails. The researcher presents their results, but the Ministry puts out contextual information noting what the researchers have missed and why the results are only tentative and preliminary. But there's a lot of risk that's then come in. The opposition might have latched onto the preliminary work and called the government cowards for not having changed policy, or, worse, bought out by "Big Industry Interests". Or, even worse, the preliminary wrong results conform to the Minister's priors and the Minister won't even let you put out a contradictory note because they've already tasked you with formulating policy based on it.

I'm not saying muzzle clauses are justifiable, but rather that this can be where Ministries are coming from.

It is interesting, though, that the University of Canterbury in general is happy to sign contracts for government funding that put strong muzzles on its researchers. I suppose the presumption is that government contracts are always wonderful and that the restrictions are always for the best in this the best of all possible worlds. On the other side, it doesn't seem to matter how rock-solid the academic freedom provisions are in an external funding arrangement if industry's involved - somebody's going to object to it. Again, the one-sided scepticism problem.

Tuesday 24 November 2015

Consenting and rocket science

Looks like Christchurch has lost its shot at a space-port.

Rocket Lab is moving its proposed launch facility from Birdlings Flat out to the Mahia Peninsula. They've cited slow Christchurch resource consenting as one of the reasons.
Auckland-based Rocket Lab said its decision was partly due to the time it was taking to get the necessary resource consent from Christchurch City Council.
When the company announced the Canterbury site, it said it was also considering moving its rocket manufacturing operation to Christchurch - creating up to 200 jobs.
It has now decided on a location on the Mahia Peninsula, for which it already has the necessary consents, as the site where it aims to launch rockets from 2017.
Does that make getting a consent harder than rocket science?*

As of June, they had over 30 launches booked.  
Beck said preparations were under way to submit resource consent applications to Christchurch City Council for the launch site.

The proposal has attracted concern about the potential impact on the environment from the Green Party.

Spokeswoman for conservation, Eugenie Sage said the Kaitorete Spit was a nationally significant ecosystem and natural landscape feature containing habitat for threatened lizards, rare invertebrates and threatened plants such as Muehlenbechia astonii .

"The launch activities potentially disturb wildlife."

Sage said local residents were concerned about the potential impact of a launch on access to conservation reserves and other public land during the launches.

Applications for three consents from Rocket Lab were lodged with Environment Canterbury on June 15.
I'd started getting worried when I'd seen these kinds of conditions a few months ago:
Rocket Lab was restricted to four test firings, lasting no more than 30 seconds and, when operational, would have to provide 10 days' notice before launches. It would be restricted to 12 launches a year.
They'd want to give plenty of notice due to the exclusion zone they'd have to run around a launch site. But 12 launches a year? And wouldn't they need a few options around any potential launch in case of weather issues?

I'm rather glad that if Christchurch couldn't see fit to give them clearance for lift-off, others could.

What does it say about Councils' incentives to get their consenting offices straightened out if they can manage to chase away a potential space port?

 * Jason Krupp takes credit for this quip.

Cinderella men

I think this is the first time I've seen evolutionary biology featured in a Press piece on crime. The piece notes the disproportionate number of children in New Zealand killed by step-fathers.
Why stepfathers kill their lovers' small children but spare their own has troubled Canadian evolutionary psychologist Martin Daly for decades.

He and his late wife Margo Wilson founded the Cinderella theory in the 1980s, researching the deaths of 700 Canadian children.

What they found suggested the unconditional love a parent feels for a screaming child who has soiled their nappy, is not innate for a stepparent - and makes them more likely to lash out.

... Building on Darwin's theory of evolution, the relationship between the new man on the scene and his lover's child is forged by biological altruism, Daly and Wilson found.

That means humans, like other animals, are programmed to investing their time into reproducing their own genes - not someone else's - and sometimes that resentment becomes deadly.

..."My argument, in psychology - and it's the same with those other animals who engage in step-parenting - is the step-parent is doing it as a courting step.

"People love their own children more than they love someone else's child. That's not to say they don't love them... [but] generally, they're not going to throw themselves in front of a truck for them."

In the Canadian research, birth parents overwhelmingly smothered or shot their children, and a third of fathers committed murder-suicide.

Stepfathers usually beat children to death and just 1 in 67 killed themselves too, Daly and Wilson found.
They note that the New Zealand data for a proper test would be hard to come by (as is all NZ data about everything because of because).

Satoshi Kanazawa explained it this way:
In retrospect, this makes perfect sense. Parental love for children is evolutionarily conditional on the children’s ability to increase the parents’ reproductive success. Stepchildren do not carry any of the genes of the stepparents, so there is absolutely no evolutionary reason for stepparents to love, care for and invest in their stepchildren. Worse yet, any resources invested in stepchildren take away from investment that the stepparents could make in their own genetic children. So, in the cold, heartless calculus of evolutionary logic, it makes perfect sense for the stepfather to kill his stepchildren, so that his mate (the mother of the stepchildren) will only invest in their joint children, children whom the stepfather has had with the mother and who carry his genes. Only they can increase the stepfather’s reproductive success.
But he also cites some contrary evidence from Sweden suggesting that the background characteristics of stepdads do a lot of the work.
In their paper, Temrin et al. do not question that stepchildren are more likely to be killed and maimed by their stepfathers; they only question discriminative parental solicitude as the explanation for it. They point out, and empirically demonstrate with a small Swedish sample, that men who become stepfathers, by marrying women who already have children from previous unions with other men, are more likely to be criminal and violent to begin with. And Temrin et al. argue that their greater tendency toward criminality and violence, not their genetic unrelatedness, is the reason they are more likely to kill and injure their stepchildren.

Once again, in retrospect, this makes perfect sense. Divorced women with children are on average older, so they have lower mate value than younger women without children. Given choice, and all else equal, all men would prefer to marry younger women without children rather than older women with children with other men. The logic of assortative mating would suggest that women with lower mate value are more likely to mate with men with lower mate value. And, as I explain in an earlier post, men with lower mate value are more likely to be criminal and violent.
So a proper New Zealand study would want to correct for the stepfathers' ex ante characteristics. It would also then partially answer Jan Pryor's question of the theory, raised in the original Press piece:
The theory also did not explain whether solo-mothers living financially strained lifestyles were targeted by men who preyed upon them and their children, Pryor said.
I'm curious how much of the effect here works through the biological Cinderella story and how much works through the assortative mating dynamics at the lower tail of the distribution.

Add to the list of "open questions that could be answered by somebody with time to muck around in IDI applications and the Stats Data Lab", or "Masters theses waiting to be written".

Monday 23 November 2015

Wishful Treasury thinking?

Here's Treasury Secretary Gabriel Makhlouf in The NBR:
The business case for diversity in the workplace is clear. In the case of gender diversity, international research shows companies that have a balanced representation of women and men on their boards perform better.
I was curious what Makhlouf was citing when he referred to international research, so I asked. Treasury says Gabs was citing a Deloitte piece; the Deloitte piece cites work by Catalyst (2011 and 2007). The 2007 piece is a one-page infographic. The 2011 version splits firms up by quartiles of gender diversity and compares returns across quartiles as comparisons of means in what's basically a cross-tab and t-test. And it also cites a McKinsey piece, which is also just comparisons of returns across quartiles of firms sorted by gender diversity without any correction for other firm-level differences.

Now if there's any endogeneity in selection of board members, there could be problems. And there could also be problems if there are other things that correlate with both board choices and with performance. That's why the more standard method will run a pile of other stuff we know predicts firm performance then add the new variable, like gender diversity, in a multivariate regression. And it might try to find an instrument to get around the endogeneity issue.

Here's Adams and Ferreira in the Journal of Financial Economics, who do things properly and correct for all the other firm-specific bits:
We show that female directors have a significant impact on board inputs and firm outcomes. In a sample of US firms, we find that female directors have better attendance records than male directors, male directors have fewer attendance problems the more gender-diverse the board is, and women are more likely to join monitoring committees. These results suggest that gender-diverse boards allocate more effort to monitoring. Accordingly, we find that chief executive officer turnover is more sensitive to stock performance and directors receive more equity-based compensation in firms with more gender-diverse boards. However, the average effect of gender diversity on firm performance is negative. This negative effect is driven by companies with fewer takeover defenses. Our results suggest that mandating gender quotas for directors can reduce firm value for well-governed firms.
I'd quoted from their conclusion last year, emphasis added here:
Our results highlight the importance of trying to address the endogeneity of gender diversity in performance regressions. Although a positive relation between gender diversity in the boardroom and firm performance is often cited in the popular press, it is not robust to any of our methods of addressing the endogeneity of gender diversity. The true relation between gender diversity and firm performance appears to be more complex. We find that diversity has a positive impact on performance in firms that otherwise have weak governance, as measured by their abilities to resist takeovers. In firms with strong governance, however, enforcing gender quotas in the boardroom could ultimately decrease shareholder value. One possible explanation is that greater gender diversity could lead to overmonitoring in those firms.

More generally, our results show that female directors have a substantial and value-relevant impact on board structure. But this evidence does not provide support for quota-based policy initiatives. No evidence suggests that such policies would improve firm performance on average. Proposals for regulations enforcing quotas for women on boards must then be motivated by reasons other than improvements in governance and firm performance.
It is interesting that the Secretary of the Treasury missed this piece in the Journal of Financial Economics on a question of financial economics. Surely he has a research staff that can point him to these things.

There are other pieces out there in reputable journals, but this seems the one that has to be answered. Infographics or comparisons of means where firms are sorted by gender representation* aren't a great place to start.

I agree with Makhlouf's ultimate conclusion that providing flexible arrangements** is an important part of enabling greater female representation in senior leadership. But we shouldn't necessarily expect it to yield great dividends on the dividends front.

* Treasury's Living Standards Framework likely has a weighting in which it's ok to rank infographics ahead of the Journal of Financial Economics on matters of Financial Economics.

** On a related Wellington-specific whinge, think about how many offices put on after-work work events in the 5:30 - 7 pm time slot. Things held during office hours that are work-related, well, you balance it against other work stuff and make a call. Things held after kid bedtime that are work-related - if you're a two-parent family, it isn't hard to work something out. But the 5:30-7 pm slot is the absolute worst. If you have two working parents, somebody is then stuck on after-school duty if the other has to be at a post-work-but-still-work thing. And sole-parent households would have to sort sitters.

It's hard to find a day when there isn't an invite for some 5:30pm event that would be worthwhile, is great networking, and that would matter for work one way or another. They're great for the not-yet-kidded, and for those with adult children. But it's a reasonable hindrance on everybody else. We have those events too. Would that there were a better equilibrium.

Nights trouble

Radio New Zealand's proposed substantial changes to Bryan Crump's Nights programme.

Currently, Nights offers long-form interviews with a rather diverse array of locally based researchers and pundits, along with radio documentaries from overseas and excellent musical selections.

The change would scrap Crump's interviews in favour of a newsreader linking together externally sourced content. RNZ is shifting resources over to the digital/multimedia side, like the newer John Campbell checkpoint offering.

It would be rather a shame. There aren't really other slots out there that offer the longer form conversations that Crump hosts. Kim Hill's Saturday morning interviews are great, but lean more to the international guests and are rather a different style. Crump's style works well in the evening slot, and I don't think there's anything else like it out there.

Self-interest watch: I'm one of the pundits in Crump's stable, and I'd miss our regular chats.

Update: I've been pointed to a Facebook page for supporters.