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Getting a handle on the levers of growth

Now that Steven Joyce has his hands on all of the levers of the government's growth agencies he might be able to tackle the huge waste of money and effort in tertiary education institutions.

Thu, 15 Dec 2011

Now that Steven Joyce has his hands on all of the levers of the government’s growth agencies he might be able to tackle the huge waste of money and effort in tertiary education institutions.

The universities trumpet themselves as engine rooms for progress but with a few notable exceptions none take seriously their role to create greater prosperity.

In some instances, academic life is strenuously opposed to such ideas and is aimed at resisting change rather than generating it.

If Mr Joyce has a few moments to spare, he could look at the Marsden Fund, which spends around $50 million a year of public money on largely indulgent forms of research – money that could easily go toward funding a decent think tank for useful researchers and scientists.

University of Waikato senior lecturer Ron Smith asks the right question: why should staff employed full-time at a university, who anyway have an obligation to spend a significant proportion of their time in research, be awarded $790,000 to do it?

A non-mining future
You do not need to look far for other examples pointless research. A news release from Waikato this week revealed two US academics, who were visiting scholars there last year, have “outed” New Zealand in an international journal “as not so clean and green.”

Drs Kenton Bird and Gundars Rudzitis from the University of Idaho, have published an article in Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development that examines the New Zealand government’s rationale for mining, identifies risk areas, assesses public reaction and political implications, and suggests alternative strategies.

The article is titled "Myth and Reality of Sustainable New Zealand: Mining in a Pristine Land." The authors say that while we have magnificent natural wonders, the clean, green image is not always consistent with government policies – such as the proposed mining of national parks and Schedule 4 lands.

They advocate New Zealand adopt a quality-of-life model, where people choose to live in a place because of its scenic beauty and other amenities, and the jobs follow, not the other way around. Rudzitis and Bird quote a study of 100 US towns and found towns those that relied on 20% of their labour income from mining did less well than other rural communities.

Obviously, a large proportion of the population is opposed to mining because of such articles, though you would be hard-pressed to find anything new. Even so, the case in favour of mining – and its contribution to the standard of living – deserves to be put with as much fervour and analysis.

Year of the protester
Time magazine’s annual accolade for the person, group or thing that "for better or for worse...has done the most to influence the events of the year" has gone to the “protester.”

In 2002 it was “the whistleblowers” and in 2006 “you” – referring to everyone who contributes to the World Wide Web.

The global protest movement certainly wows the world’s media; 24-hour television news would be pretty boring without seeing rioters and looters.

But it’s another matter whether these protests lead to anything of lasting value. Last week, I wrote about the unedifying profiles of the British rioters. This week, we learn the Arab Spring is likely to turn into a full-scale winter.

Many leftists love to embrace Islam because of its anti-western nature. But more realistic assessments are emerging of democracy’s chances under the onslaught of religious political groups, particularly in countries where Arab nationalist dictatorships have been overthrown.

Israeli commentator Barry Rubin, writing in the Jerusalem Post, is forthright about Islam’s incompatibility with western democratic ideals:

By the end of 2012 the overwhelming majority of Muslims in the Middle East – in Egypt, the Gaza Strip, Iran, Lebanon, Libya, Tunisia and Turkey, about a quarter-billion people in all – will be governed by radical Islamist regimes that believe in waging jihad on Israel and America, wiping Israel off the map, suppressing Christians, reducing the status of women to even lower than it is now, and in their right as the true interpreters of God’s will to govern as dictators.

Rubin has been joined by a growing band of others, including correspondents such as Spiegel Online’s Daniel Steinvorth, who has profiled the Egyptian Salafists that came second in the elections to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Christians, liberals and secularists aren't the only ones tormented by the fear that Egypt could become an undemocratic country through democratic means. When Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan traveled to Cairo in September, two months before the election began, the Muslim Brotherhood cheered his arrival. Then he gave a speech and said: "A secular nation respects all religions. Do not fear secularism."

Warming to adaptation
At least Time magazine was clever enough to pick a topic that is likely to excite public, even if it is more in the category of something that arouses public interest rather than contributes to it.

The media’s sole interest in climate change is to blame it for natural catastrophes. The recent Durban summit was another yawn, judging by the coverage, and even those who attended, such as Climate Change Minister Tim Groser, was hard-pushed to explain what happened.

Still, Mr Groser is wearing his cabinet demotion gracefully, considering his other portfolio, of trade, is also worthy but boring.

I will spare you further on both, except for the conclusions of the Danish environmentalist, Bjorn Lomborg, whose enthusiasm and clear headedness contrasts with the professional summiteers.

In his latest piece, Lonborg says the politicians have put off all decisions until the next decade, having achieved nothing in the past two.

In any case, he says, reducing global carbon emissions, even if possible, would make little difference to temperatures – or to any other destructive weather phenomena.

Lomborg goes on to say the focus on carbon emissions does nothing to help the third world’s major problems, some of which – such as increased malaria and lower food production – are exacerbated by global warming.

Even if we halted global warming by the end of the century, we could expect to avoid only about 3% of worldwide malaria cases by 2100. What the billions afflicted by malaria in the world today need is access to treatment and better prevention through bed-nets and indoor spraying. And:

Do we better help the developing world by making drastic carbon cuts today that might – in an ideal world – avoid a 7% yield drop [in food production], or by making higher-yielding varieties of crops available that could potentially generate drastic yield increases?

More on adaptation to global warming is found at the Global Adaptation Institute, <>which shows how vulnerable countries are to global warming and how prepared they are to tackle it.

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Getting a handle on the levers of growth