Category Archives: Distributional Economics

The Whimpering Of the State: Policy After MMP

Auckland University Press, 1999. 269pp.

The policy process has changed dramatically following the introduction of MMP. Fascinated by the theatre of politics, we too easily ignore the major changes in policy approaches and outcomes. Today, without an assured parliamentary majority the government has to consult over its policies rather than impose them. Along with the increasing recognition that the policies of the past have failed, the policy blitzkrieg has almost ceased and commercialisation is being shelved.

The Whimpering of the State looks at the first three MMP years with the same lively, broad -ranging and informed approach as Easton’s successful The Commercialisation of New Zealand, which described the winner-takes-all regime before 1996. Again there are case studies: health, education, science, the arts, taxation. retirement policy, and infrastructure. Policy possibilities are explored. Yet, as the title of the book suggests, any releif from the ending of Rogernomics is offset be a realistic pessimism arising from a shrewd analysis of the continuing deficiencies in New Zealand’s political and social structure. Although written for the general public, this book will also be read by politicians, policy analysts and students, and will shape policy thinking in the MMP era. Publisher’s Blurb

Chapter11: the Growth Of Inequality

A chapter of Globalisation and Welfare State

Keywords: Distributional Economics;

Note that this Chapter currently lacks the figures and tables which it discusses

In the 1980s, the objective of reducing inequality was given an increasingly low priority in policy implementation. Why this happened is in some ways a puzzle, because nominally the party in power was at first Labour who had once had a strong commitment to social justice and reducing inequality. Yet as we shall see, they steadily abandoned that commitment, although they did not go the distance of the succeeding National government.

Chapter 7: Assessing a Poverty Line

A chapter of Globalisation and Welfare State

Keywords: Distributional Economics; Social Policy;

As Chapter 3 reported, poverty has long been a phenomenon in New Zealand life. Yet in the 1970s poverty research expanded. A poverty income line was established, numbers of people below the line were calculated, some behavioral investigations were undertaken, ethnographic studies increased, and some policy measures were undertaken to reduce the incidence of poverty.

Chapter 6: Gender in the Welfare State

A chapter of Globalisation and Welfare State

Keywords: Distributional Economics; Labour Studies; Social Policy;

The issue of gender excites a passion which makes dispassionate observation and analysis nigh on impossible. We all have views about how gender relations should be organized, so that any changes are welcomed or a challenged according to those views. The debate is so dominated by judgements of proper relations, it has no understanding of what is happening.

Chapter 3: the Progress Of Poverty

A chapter of Globalisation and Welfare State

Keywords: Distributional Economics; Social Policy;

Bill Sutch characterized the progress of nineteenth and early twentieth century New Zealand in a book title of Poverty and Progress (and also The Quest for Security).(1) Certainly there was poverty in that period, which was a major driving force for social and institutional change. It would be foolish to compare the hardships of those times with those of today. As we shall see in Interregnum 1, a major development in the 1970s was recognition that poverty was simply an absolute notion of hardship but a relative one, so that rising affluence did not automatically eliminate it. Yet there is much to be learned from the earlier poverty and policy debates.

Globalization and a Welfare State

Keywords: Distributional Economics; Globalisation & Trade; Labour Studies; Regulation & Taxation; Social Policy;

In 1997 I commenced writing a book Globalization and a Welfare State. I finished about three fifths of the first draft and stopped. This was partly because other matters were using my energies, but also because I felt that the book was too technical and would not find a commercial market in New Zealand. I am putting the book on the website for those people who might be interested in some aspects of its contents.

Measuring Poverty: Some Problems

Social Policy Journal of New Zealand, November 1997 (9), p.171-179. (1)

Keywords: Distributional Economics; Social Policy;

While it is easy to be compassionate over the magnitude and situation of the poor, it is not in their interest for researchers to be as equally sentimental in the analysis and measurement of poverty. Estimates which are not developed rigorously may be misleading, and may be so in a way which could be used against the interests of the poor. Where an estimate of the numbers of the poor is overly generous, the resolution of reducing poverty appear excessively expensive, and may delay the facing up to the issues. Wrong assessments of the composition of the poor may result in policy targeting the wrong groups. Thus policies based on faulty data are likely to be inefficient and wasteful, and in the end to be manipulated against the interests of the poor.

Thus it is incumbent on social scientists to scrutinize the work on poverty, to ensure that it is seeking high standards of analytical rigor. A recent paper by Stephens, Waldegrave and Frater (Stephens et al, 1995 – henceforth SWF) provides a useful basis to do this, albeit some of the problems it raises appear elsewhere.

The Abandoning Of Equity

Chapter 3 of ‘The Commercialisation of New Zealand’   Keywords: Distributional Economics;   Between 1984 and 1991 the public policy objective of equity, in any of its meanings of the 1970s, was increasingly abandoned. There was no single moment when this occurred, as happened with employment policy when the Labour government downgraded the priority of…
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Children Of the Poor: How Poverty Could Destroy New Zealand’s Future

New Zealand Books March 1997, p.14-16.

Keywords: Distributional Economics; Social Policy;

In 1980 the National Government withdrew the government subsidy to CORSO, nominally because it had produced a film which said that there was poverty in New Zealand. Sixteen years later a National Prime Minister was arguing what kind of poverty and how extensive it is, while the Treasury Briefing to the Incoming Government 1996 even tried to measure the extent of poverty (they called it “hardship”) although, as we shall see, not very well.

Psst, Have You Heard?

The Rich: A New Zealand History by Stevan Eldred-Grigg (Penguin, $34.95)
Listener: 25 May, 1996.

Keywords: Distributional Economics; Political Economy & History;

Is this book anything more than tattle-tale? Significantly it ends with the words”What, above all, would I have done with Felicity Ferret?” Admittedly The Rich does not descend to assisting the semi-literate by putting names in bold: the better schooled may dip into the index of around one thousand names.

Income Distribution: Part I

A Study of Economic Reform: The Case of New Zealand,, edited Brian Silverstone, Alan Bollard, and Ralph Lattimore, (North Holland Books: 1996) pp.101-138.
Note: This item was so big it is in two parts. Income Distribution: Part II

Keywords: Distributional Economics;


There is a widespread belief that a major consequence of the economic reforms of the 1980s and 1990s was increased economic inequality. As will become evident, this overall conclusion is correct, even if the mechanisms which generate the inequality are somewhat more complex than popular views articulate. We can trace these mechanisms in theory using Diagram 1. The rest of the paper assesses their strength and direction.

Poverty in New Zealand – 1981 to 1993

New Zealand Sociology November 1995, Vol 10, No 2, pp.182-214.
Note This version has yet to have the graphs added.

Keywords: Distributional Economics; Statistics;


After around two decades of modern poverty research in New Zealand which has focused on poverty at a point in time, it is now possible to provide estimates of the changing numbers of poor over time.

Working with the Maori: Consultancy, Research, Friendship.

Seminar presentation at the NZIER, 2 August, 1995.

Keywords: Distributional Economics; Maori; Political Economy & History; Social Policy;

The seminar is the result of an invitation by the director of the NZIER, John Yeabsley, to describe some of my work with the Maori, especially in terms of the challenges I have experienced as a research economist and social statistician. The material presented here is primarily that which is on public record. Some confidential work is omitted. However while it is of interest and has been challenging, the work broadly covers the same areas as are in my public record. Some very small projects are also omitted.

Properly Assessing Income Adequacy in New Zealand

New Zealand Economic Papers, August 1995, p.89-101.(1)

Kewords: Distributional Economics;

Abstract: This paper is a response to “Assessing Income Adequacy in New Zealand”, by Edith Brashares. Despite the paper’s claim to involve “empirical” assessment, her methods rely primarily on not very plausible assumptions. This paper reviews them, reaffirms the main New Zealand development of the assessment of income adequacy which the original paper all but ignored, and concludes with a brief discussion on the role of introspective analysis in economic science and social policy.

The Fallacy Of the Equity Vs Efficiency Tradeoff.

This is an elaboration of a note I prepared in February 1995.

Keywords: History of Ideas, Methodology & Philosophy; Social Policy;

It is much easier to claim there is an equity-efficiency tradeoff, than to demonstrate that there is not, since the terms being used may have a meanings different from conventional usage, so the critic is reduced to chasing ill defined chameleon like ideas.

Approaching Family Economic Issues: Holistically or Pathologically?

Revised version of the prepared paper for the International Year of the Family, Family Rights and Responsibilities Symposium, 14-16 October, 1994 Wellington.

Keywords Distributional Economics; Social Policy

This is a paper about families with dependent children. (1) It ignores those which only adults, including independent children, and the broader issue of extended families, including whanau and hapu. The paper is further confined to only the economic aspects of the family with dependent children.

Suffer the Children

Listener 27 November, 1993.

Keywords Distributional Economics; Social Policy;

Some months ago I was invited to speak to a seminar on ‘Family Issues’ – I willingly accepted (the seminar, held last month, was a joint effort by Barnardo’ s and Birthright,reflecting the increasing co-operation between the two organisations concerned about different aspects of child needs). Although there has been a lot of amateurish work on quantitative aspects of family poverty in recent years, there are important things to be said, When I prepared my paper I found that the conclusions I had reached warranted my triple-checking the double check. Two of them were spectacular.