Tuesday, 20 September 2022

Even more innovative than I'd thought

In last week's Insights newsletter, I celebrated public sector innovation and entrepreneurship. But I'd underappreciated just how innovative folks have been!

I'd written:

Entrepreneurship is highly rated. My son’s school even renamed their NCEA Level 1 economics paper “Entrepreneurial economics” and their accounting paper “Entrepreneurial finance.”

But entrepreneurship remains underrated. Entrepreneurs’ alertness to opportunity, and determination to see it through, are a fundamental source of rising living standards. 

Public sector entrepreneurialism often goes unnoticed. Results may not always be as desirable as in the private sector, but who are we to judge?

So let us recognise some remarkable public sector entrepreneurship.

Public sector bodies traditionally did not get involved in electioneering. But that missed an opportunity! Supporting a candidate who supports the agency’s views could make both better off.

Local government candidates extolling the merits of new cycleways feature in NZTA advertisements. The ads will have to stop running during the regulated period, but name and face recognition count for a lot. Voter memories might be short, but they aren’t that short.

It’s an innovative move that, somehow, seems allowed by law. So why shouldn’t they?

Public funding of sympathetic documentaries about Members of Parliament who are sympathetic to public funding of documentaries? It’s obvious win-win in hindsight, but it took entrepreneurial alertness to spot the opportunity. Kudos to New Zealand On Air.

And let’s not forget EECA’s exceptional achievement earlier this year. Deeming a consultant’s presentation as mere opinion, and out-of-scope of my OIA request, rather than in-scope advice? A masterstroke!

The Wiri alcohol licensing trust has been promoting candidates for local body elections – including election to their own board.

Unlike some other licensing trusts, Wiri has no monopoly on local alcohol sales. But friendly councillors would be helpful when central government considers tighter alcohol restrictions.

Local campaigner Nick Smale complained Wiri’s actions were unethical. But should we blame the Trust? They discovered an opportunity. That kind of gumption should be celebrated rather than discouraged.

Monopoly licensing trusts able to earn cartel-like rents could follow Wiri’s entrepreneurial example. In 2014, the Auditor General said they were “probably the least scrutinised part of the public sector.”

Lack of oversight provides tremendous opportunity for entrepreneurial innovation. Why not recycle trust cartel profits directly into billboard and radio campaigns for friendly candidates? It’s an entrepreneurial opportunity ready to be taken up.

So stop complaining about a moribund public sector. Innovation is all around us. You need only be alert to see it.

If New Zealand’s high schools taught civics, they could even rename it “Entrepreneurial politics”.

That bit about NZTA not running ads featuring candidates during the regulated period? They've been more innovative than that. And why shouldn't they? Nobody will tell them that they shouldn't, not even the Public Service Commissioner who's presumably perfectly pleased with their conduct. [Important update below!]

Jem Traylen over at BusinessDesk has been all over this file, most recently on Monday. Jem writes:

Such are the slow machinations of the state at these lofty levels, particularly when it seems the public service has embarrassed its political masters for the third time on the same issue of political neutrality in government advertising. 

Meanwhile, we’ve had ads featuring local body politicians running as early as January in a local government election year, with some as recently as Sept 2. 

The formal election period commenced on July 8 – nearly three months after Hughes was first notified of the situation by the NZ Taxpayers’ Union's April 12 complaint.

And I'd left out all of the wonderful innovations by the Mahuta-Ormsby family, and by the bureaus very happy to accommodate New Zealand's shift away from the rule of law, and from impartial and impersonal institutions, back toward kin-based contracting norms that do wonders for development

Raise a toast to all of these spectacular innovators. They will lead the country into a new age. 

Update: The Public Service Commissioner has weighed in!

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