The Outside of the Asylum

Dr Eric Crampton
Insights Newsletter
8 September, 2017

We just don’t know how lucky we are to live in New Zealand.

In Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, John Watson decided that the world had gone mad when he found instructions on the side of a packet of toothpicks. So Watson built a wall around his property, decorated the outside of it for the inmates, and declared his home to be the Outside of the Asylum.

When I first came to New Zealand in 2003, it felt like stepping into the Outside of the Asylum.

It hit home again during the Initiative’s Next Generation debate Grand Final last month. After the Wellington and Auckland teams made their cases for and against the government prioritising paying down debt, Labour’s Grant Robertson and National’s Nicola Willis gave their takes.

And the main difference between New Zealand’s centre-left and centre-right parties was that Labour would take a couple more years than National to get debt down to 20% of GDP. Whatever other silliness this election season brings, the main parties agree on something rather important.

Over the past couple of weeks, The Spinoff has been serialising our take on just how lucky we are to live here.

There are big and important things that New Zealand gets right, that the rest of the world gets wrong, and that Kiwis take utterly for granted. Our airports are sane, our police are generally unarmed, and distilling your own gin in the garage will not get you arrested.

And marvel at the simple functionality of our tax system. Many wage earners do not even need to file a tax return, because the income tax system is simple enough that they do not need to. Our GST is probably the world’s cleanest and best value-added tax. Because it is clean, it is simple. There are no fights like those in Australia about whether some mini-ciabatta counts as untaxed bread or a taxable cracker for GST purposes – everything counts.

But because voters simply expect taxes to work and to be simple, they underestimate the mess that exemptions cause. Calls for exempting healthy food and the like from GST are politically tasty, but would create administrative indigestion for no real benefit.

The Asylum’s wall will not defend itself. We live in the sanest part of the world, but we all need to work to help keep it that way.

Dr Crampton’s Essay, The Outside of the Asylum, is available on the Initiative’s website. It is also available as audio podcast through Soundcloud. 

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