Teach the children cost-benefit analysis

Insights Newsletter
24 August, 2018

Whoever added Whitney Houston to this government’s Spotify playlist has a lot to answer for.

“I believe the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way.” These are perfectly fine song lyrics. They are not meant to guide government policy.

Yet it seems to be the overriding logic behind the government’s recent announcement of a plastic bag ban.

When announcing the policy, Prime Minister Ardern spoke of the multitude of letters she has received from school children advocating for a plastic bag ban. The scourge of plastic bags was purportedly the most talked about issue on the campaign trail last year. Many of those concerns came from – you guessed it – kids.

Now, there is nothing wrong with encouraging children to think about the social and environmental issues of the day. It might even be encouraged.

The problem is when the government then implements policy based on concern rather than proper evidence and analysis. And worse, when those policies greatly affect and diminish the lives of the people the policy is aimed at.

The Ministry for the Environment’s consultative document acknowledges that plastic bags only account for 0.01 percent of total waste in levied landfills.

‘Unclassified packaging’ – including but not limited to plastic bags – makes up 10.8 percent of ‘visible litter’, while takeaway food and drink packaging makes up an estimated 40.2 percent, and non-packaging litter makes up 42.4 per cent. Where is the assessment that banning plastic bags will entail more benefits than costs, compared to the options of banning other products?

The plastic bag flag must be flown. But advocacy for poorly evidenced lifestyle regulations does not stop there.

Sugar taxes are another idea that has captured the imaginations of many, despite little real-world evidence to suggest they will be effective.

A government minister wants New Zealanders’ access to online adult entertainment to be regulated.

And there are renewed calls for raising alcohol excise, despite the lack of evidence that taxes will deter heavy drinkers.

You are as likely to hear the term ‘cost-benefit analysis’ from these advocates as you are to hear ‘market-based solution’.

Unfortunately, there are already too many adults advocating for intrusive policies based on feelings rather than facts.

I do believe the children are our future. So let’s start by teaching them the importance of evidence-based policy, and not needlessly interfering in the lives of others.

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