Envying Sisyphus

Dr Eric Crampton
Insights Newsletter
10 June, 2022

Hades, God of the Greek underworld, decreed that Sisyphus, for trying to cheat death, must forever push a heavy boulder up a hill. It would roll back down again every time. And Sisyphus would start the task anew.

Lucky bugger.

Sisyphus only had one rock to deal with. Nobody stood at the top of the hill, releasing more rocks for juggling while Sisyphus tried to keep pushing that boulder up the hill.

A lot of policy rocks are currently rolling down the hill. We’ve put in submissions on some of them.

We explained to the Commerce Commission that real supermarket competition requires getting rid of regulatory barriers to new entrants.

They listened.

The rock was up the hill.

Now Minister Clark wants forced access into supermarkets’ warehouses, which is more likely to increase grocery costs than to reduce them. It will require an army of regulators to police. And MBIE’s getting $11 million over four years just to fund responses to this kind of market study.

At the same time, a proposed container deposit scheme would load cost and inconvenience on every single household buying beverages in containers, largely to the benefit of the owners of reverse vending machines.

ACC’s been funded to start work on an income insurance scheme that’s never been democratically tested and has no good rationale.

Everything around Fair Pay Agreements is a mess.

The Emissions Reduction Plan largely ignores how the ETS works and will give Councils a new tool for frustrating urban growth. Rather than use ETS revenues for a carbon dividend that would let the government cut the ETS cap faster, the funds will instead provide favours to the government’s carbon favourites. And Cash for Clunkers.

The government’s consulting on Working for Families. Few ways of improving that scheme, but lots of ways to make things far worse.

Every day’s Inbox brings pleas about new and surprising regulatory and policy abominations. The combined efforts of Hercules and Sisyphus would not clear it.

In graduate school, my professor of regulation told the class that even if the most an economist might ever achieve is the delaying of a bad regulation by a few months, the value of that breathing space would easily exceed our lifetime salaries many times over. He also reminded us that we’re all part of the equilibrium – things would be far worse without our labours.

He didn’t warn us that we’d wind up envying Sisyphus.

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