Weekend Reads; Rod Oram's first column; Big data and elections

Rod Oram is joining Newsroom as a weekly columnist.

In today's email we welcome Rod Oram to the Newsroom team.

1. Rod Oram joins Newsroom as a columnist

I'm thrilled this morning to welcome Rod Oram as a new weekly columnist to Newsroom Pro and Newsroom.

Rod's column in the Sunday Star Times has been a must read for years and the recent end of that column left a gap in New Zealand's business and economic landscape. We're delighted to have Rod back and publishing his insights and analysis on Newsroom.

In his first column, he sets out a kind of manifesto on the things that matter and how he'll cover them in his weekly column for us. He'll have more space and be able to touch on areas that no one else in New Zealand is looking at in depth.

Rod's columns will be published on Newsroom Pro every Friday morning and linked to in this newsletter, before being published on the public Newsroom site on a Sunday morning.

Here's his first column, which lays out how to look at economic development in the 21st Century. It's a new lens for debates.

2. Big data and our election

This week I've attended a couple of the Democracy Week events at Victoria University. They've given me some fascinating insights into the problems around youth participation and some potential solutions.

I wrote about how falling rates of home ownership are helping to drive election turnout rates down among the young. That is creating a type of 'doom loop' for democracy as older property owners vote for policies that drive house prices ever higher, and youth turnout rates ever lower.

Here's the full article, including comments from Victoria's Jack Vowles citing research from the New Zealand Electoral Survey.

But the most topical event was yesterday on the role of big data in campaigning, and whether we're going down the same track used to help Donald Trump and Brexit win last year.

There was a panel discussion that included party strategists and pollsters Danyl Mclauchlan (Green), David Farrar (National) and Rob Salmond (Labour), along with political scientists Kate McMillan from Victoria University and Jennifer Lees-Marshment from Auckland University.

They were wary of saying New Zealand campaigners would be able to successful use big data and Facebook to win the election, but there is increasing use of these techniques, which were used to powerful effect to shock the established view in Britain and America.

Here's my piece on the use of big data in politics here on Newsroom Pro.

3. Where's the report?

The big news around Parliament yesterday was the resignation of Martin Matthews as Auditor General just hours before a damning report was set to be released.

He resigned before the report by Sir Maarten Wevers came out and Parliament's Officers Committee decided not to release it. That is proving controversial given Matthews was in charge when Joanne Harrison's fraud was not uncovered for years and whistleblowers were hounded out on his watch.

Newsroom's Sam Sachdeva covered this for us yesterday and here's his full report published first on Newsroom Pro.

4. What would Steven do?

In the wake of this week's election of Jacinda Ardern as Labour Party leader and an outbreak of 'Jacindamania', Newsroom's Tim Murphy has taken a deeper look at what National' Campaign Manager Steven Joyce might do next.

Tim writes that Joyce's priority now, if Labour regains some polling legitimacy, is to more explicitly, rat-swallowingly, signal to Winston Peters that National can offer as much or more than a recalibrated Labour-Green bloc.

There's no need to change their own policies or make public concessions right now, just to drive the wedge in advance of the election, he writes.

Tim suggests a range of policy concessions National could make in coalition negotiations to get Peters on board, including:

  • ditch its long-term plan to lift the age people receive superannuation from 65 to 67.

  • agree to a binding referendum on the future of the Maori seats in Parliament.

  • agree to a review of sorts of the Reserve Bank Act and the factors the bank must take into account in conducting monetary policy.

  • tighten its annual net migration targets from the 73,000 a year now to somewhere nearer Labour's 40-50,000 - with an 'elegant solution' on the unskilled and foreign student categories long hated by Peters

  • rule out more state asset sales. None are planned. But also tighten the sale of land to foreigners and give Peters his register of foreign-owned land.

  • make Kiwisaver compulsory and agree to a state-backed fund - Kiwifund, in NZ First terminology.

  • consider the lower tax rate (20 percent) NZ First proposes for exporter businesses.

Here's Tim's piece in full on Newsroom.

5. Quotes of the day:

Metiria Turei admitted in a statement overnight that she had also misled authorities about where she was enrolled to vote (she was enrolled at the same address as the father of her child) and who she lived with (she flatted with her mother).

"That was a mistake, one of many I, like many other people, made as a young person."

Martin Matthews in announcing his resignation as Auditor General:

"I deeply regret and am sorry that I did not detect earlier her fraudulent actions. I feel as angry and aggrieved as anyone about her stealing and breaches of trust."

6. Numbers of the day:

1,173 - The number of properties reported as listed by Barfoot and Thompson in July, which was the lowest number for a July in seven years and an indicator that sellers are reluctant to sell into a soft market.

Down 1.0 percent - The fall in job advertisements in July from June in seasonally adjusted terms, as measured by ANZ.

7. Weekend Reads

For the benefit of subscribers, here's a few longer reads on economic, political and social matters for the weekend.

One of the great themes of our age is the change in how we work, who we work for and whether it will give us enough money to live. One feature is the rise of the gig economy and there hasn't been much reporting yet on what that means for now in New Zealand. RNZ's The Wireless has taken a useful look at how people are using the gig economy here and what it means for them. It's well worth a read. There are pluses and minuses...

The big news in the world of science, technology and ethics this week was the first use of CRISPR to edit the genes in a human embryo. The MIT Technology Review reported it first.

This weekend Labour and the Government are expected to make big transport spending announcements for Auckland. The big debate is around road vs rail. Local transport campaigner Ben Ross writes in the Spinoff about a report showing that building a third main rail line for passenger services for just $65 million would help bring freight and cars off roads. So why didn't the Government want it? Ben has a view.

Another theme in the debate over the future of work and welfare is why it's so hard to employ many people who have been unemployed for a long time, have never worked or are on the margins of society. Drug testing is turning into quite an issue on that topic, with this New York Times piece explaining how big an effect it has had in the United States.

One thing I keep a wary eye on overseas is China's heavily indebted companies and the shadowy and apparently shaky piles of debt woven between these companies and state-run banks. The New York Times goes into some depth on the 'grey rhinos' (as opposed to black swans) that are proliferating inside the Chinese economy.

"The rhinos are a herd of Chinese tycoons who have used a combination of political connections and raw ambition to create sprawling global conglomerates. Companies like Anbang Insurance Group, Fosun International, HNA Group and Dalian Wanda Group have feasted on cheap debt provided by state banks, spending lavishly to build their empires," Keith Bradsher writes.

By the way, HNA Group is buying New Zealand's biggest finance company, UDC, from ANZ.

How do certain interest groups influence public debate? Think tanks? Funding politicians? Media campaigns or just buying media? There is another way, which David Sessions writes about in The New Republic.

It is to fund a thought leader to seed ideas into the political debate. He explains how the super-rich have funded a new class of intellectual. Sessions has a view:

"Whereas public intellectuals like Noam Chomsky or Martha Nussbaum are skeptical and analytical, thought leaders like Thomas Friedman and Sheryl Sandberg “develop their own singular lens to explain the world, and then proselytize that worldview to anyone within earshot.” While public intellectuals traffic in complexity and criticism, thought leaders burst with the evangelist’s desire to “change the world.”

8. One fun thing

Metiria Turei's revelations overnight have sparked calls for her resignation.

Finlay Macdonald's tweet this morning captured the mood:

"She's opened a can of Winz."