The curse of getting what you wish for

Dr Eric Crampton
Insights Newsletter
12 July, 2019

Parables, biblical or otherwise, are excellent instruction. They warn of the dangers of getting what you wish for. Local Government New Zealand might wish to take heed.

Midas had regrets.

The 1001 Arabian Nights tells of the blind beggar of Baghdad. In that story, a dervish had a magic cream that, if anointed on one eye, would reveal hidden treasures – but would give only blindness if applied to both eyes. The blind beggar earned his name when, not trusting the dervish’s wise counsel and thinking further riches were at stake, pleaded to be anointed in both eyes.

Even Homer Simpson regretted his wish, granted by an evil magic monkey’s paw, for a turkey sandwich: the sandwich was a little dry. Homer cursed the monkey’s paw before passing it over to Ned Flanders, hoping similar ills might befall his neighbour.

So we come to LGNZ’s similarly cursed wish. At the LGNZ conference this past week, member councils begged that central government change the Resource Management Act. The RMA does need to be changed. It is far too hard for councils to change their district plans, and standing for objections is far too broad. When it is too easy to object, it is too hard for anything to get done.

Changing those aspects of the RMA could help improve things. And there are other changes that could speed up consenting processes.

But that isn’t what councils asked for.

Councils instead pleaded that central government force them to consider the effects of consenting decisions on greenhouse gas emissions.

If you thought consenting decisions were glacially slow already, just wait to see what happens when new subdivision applications need come with expert reports on the effects of commuters on greenhouse gas emissions. Those reports will inevitably be contested by activists, sometimes quietly bankrolled by competitor developments. Councils which, in every other case, rightly balk at unfunded mandates imposed on them by central government will have to hire experts on greenhouse gas emissions.

All this is entirely and utterly pointless where consented activities already fall under the Emissions Trading Scheme. Under a binding ETS cap, every blocked development will just provide room for someone else’s emissions.

“May you get what you wish for” is a curse. I hope we can rather forgive councils for not knowing what they’re asking for – and refrain from indulging them.

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