Book Review: Better Lives: Migration, Wellbeing and New Zealand

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_better_lives_migration_wellbeing_and_nzWith migration being an ongoing political topic, and a tricky policy area, this book would seem to be a timely one. Julie Fry and Peter Wilson are both independent economists, and the former has already co-written a 2016 text on migration, with Hamish Glass, for Bridget Williams Books. However, this version is a lot longer and becomes more of an academic text, rather than an extended essay on a specific topic.

Besides utilising their economics training, and referring to well-recognised academic economists, Fry and Wilson introduce the ‘Wellbeing’ framework, which introduces a range of qualitative aspects for policy-making, to complement the existing quantitative measures. But the authors also refer to the shortcomings of aggregated statistics such as Gross Domestic Product, before setting out all the categories of the Wellbeing approach. Since the so-called Wellbeing approach will apparently feature prominently in next year’s Budget documents, this is a useful way to think about nuances in policy.

However, the idea of Wellbeing is open to criticism for being somewhat subjective, or even nebulous, and introducing political criteria, such as considerations of the Treaty of Waitangi. One can perhaps expect right wing economists to find it all a bit too politically correct, and also lacking in econometric rigour. There is a conceptual problem that is rather obvious here, and migration exemplifies it for economists. While most economists want free movement of money, capital and goods across borders, there seems to be an exception with the mobility of people, at least for people who don’t have useful skills. Yet that mobility also aids in moving wages and prices.

The difficulty provided by this conceptual problem, of having free markets but not free movement in people, becomes clear in the chapter on applying the Wellbeing framework. This chapter is actually significant in itself, highlighting the current issues in tertiary education, and the health profession, caused by temporary and permanent migration. But, certainly with regard to tertiary ‘export’ education, especially in private training (with work visas), the authors revert to wearing their economic hats.

First there is a criticism of export education as a contributor to national income, given the free movement of capital, as a business decision. The point being that so-called export education is not necessarily good for the economy just because it provides an ‘export’ income. Then a few pages later the authors claim, while making a point set within parentheses, that ‘export’ education is not really an export at all, if those graduating from tertiary courses stay in New Zealand, and don’t actually return home.

The latter point is made in the context of an important discussion about the health sector workforce. Indeed, it seems that New Zealand has almost the highest number of foreign-born doctors in the world, apart from Israel, and has the most foreign-born nurses. It might have been better to focus on these migration issues within the tertiary sector, and the related question of training an indigenous based health profession, more directly.

Reviewed by Simon Boyce

Better Lives: Migration, Wellbeing and New Zealand
by Julie Fry & Peter Wilson
Published by Bridget Williams Books
ISBN 9781988533759

 

Book Review: Wild Journeys, by Bruce Ansley

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_wild_journeysThis book is a good read, and an example of excellent local publishing with New Zealand stories. But, somewhat frustratingly, it could have been an essential read in the tradition of Kiwi adventure stories, with its hard cover and illustrated dustjacket.

Bruce Ansley, the former writer for The Listener, turns out to be something of an adventurer and sailor. But, by his own admission, he is not an intrepid sailor, or much of an adventurer. His tales are mostly about following in other people’s footsteps, often forgotten men who came to an untimely demise on foolhardy missions. He is a more enthusiastic sailor, but one who knows the risks and his own limitations.

In a way the tales of the voyages are the more personal stories. Ansley ends up sailing around North Cape, and the South Cape (in Stewart Island), and as a Dunedin resident even worked on a crayfishing boat in Fiordland. As a young man the crayfishing went well, but getting back to a safe harbour did not, and he almost missed his own wedding in the process. Fortunately, he did marry Sally and they remain together, though she doesn’t appear to have accompanied Bruce on most of these journeys.

Ansley does, of course, meet up with some interesting characters. These include Rhys Buckingham, former wildlife ranger who has pursued elusive the ‘grey ghost’ of birdlife, the South Island Kokako, for 40 years. Then there is Colin Gavan, or ‘Wobbles’, the skipper of the boat that gets Ansley to the South Cape, and back again, despite the wild weather in Foveaux Strait that has claimed so many local mariners.

But it is really the ghosts of pioneering men, or their own mythology, that Ansley seems to be pursuing here. He begins with the adventures of the folk hero prison escapee, George Wilder, and his habit of staying in baches around Lake Taupo. Other adventurers are less well known, such as John Whitcombe, a Canterbury road surveyor. His journey through the Southern Alps ended badly, but he did find the Whitcombe Pass first, even if those that came later could mostly not follow in his unfortunate footsteps. Ansley also finds a lost adventurer of sorts in the German sea captain, Count Felix von Luckner, who was captured in the Pacific during the First World War. After several escapes he ended up on Motuihe Island in the Hauraki Gulf.

All of this is entertaining and fun, with some useful turns of phrase: sailing up the North Island’s west coast, Taranaki’s ‘graceful shape’ appears, and Cape Egmont ‘turned into its cracked and crenellated self.’ But Ansley’s writing about the South Island comes across as the more convincing and soulful. And a couple of times his North Island geography lets him down, such as when the Tangiwai railway bridge is described as a little way east of Waiouru, when surely it is to the west of the village.

There is in fact a complete absence of any kind of map in the whole book. Moreover, some of the chapters could have been enhanced by a photo or two which display the landmark that Ansley is trying to reach. This is certainly the case for the lost mining settlement of Serpentine, somewhere in central Otago, and for which it takes Ansley two attempts to find the little church (which is apparently at the highest altitude of any churchin New Zealand). Another example would be the pillar at Tuturau, in Southland, erected on the centennial of the battle between the northern chief Te Puoho and Ngai Tahu.

Reviewed by Simon Boyce

Wild Journeys
by Bruce Ansley
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN 9781775541202

Book Review: Social Science Research in New Zealand: An Introduction, edited by Martin Tolich and Carl Davidson

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_social_science_research_in_NZThis is a very useful multi-authored collection that covers many aspects of social science research, but mostly from an academic perspective. The editors are both sociologists, and they appear to have already written a number of other books on the subject. However, Davidson has worked in the public sector and there is also an emphasis on applied social science research and policy analysis.

The focus is both very specific on methods for qualitative and quantitative analysis of empirical data, but also includes examples of research from academics and writers who are not, strictly speaking, social scientists. Indeed, apart from the study of Sociology there remains a small question of what exactly is ‘social science’. Students from across the humanities disciplines will gain from reading the book, but only some post-graduates will actually get to create their own empirical research projects.

Another way of putting the problem is that, if social science is defined broadly, it is rather obvious that most graduates will not get jobs as social scientists. The only positions as researchers appear to be in some government departments, unless one includes the type of public surveys that one of the authors is involved in for the private sector. Early in the introductory chapter the editors include a position statement from a former departmental official (now deceased) about what is required to be a policy analyst. In this she effectively states that social science methodology is only for academics.

The particular point about policy analysis was that it mixed up qualitative and quantitative methodology as required, depending on the policy problems to be solved, but also that the methodological distinction has no particular meaning. Yet, the authors maintain that there is a distinction which aligns with significant logics, based on inductive or deductive approaches. The deductive logic is aligned with quantitative analysis; and inductive logic involved the qualitative analysis of empirical material. The idea seems to be that the latter allows for theories to be tested once a qualitative assessment has been made; whereas deductive research begins from a strict form of research design in which a statistically significant sample of evidence is deemed to be important.

It is rather difficult to maintain this distinction between inductive and deductive research, especially given that so few academics really get their students to create formal empirical research projects. Most postgraduate research involves the student beginning with a literature review, based on international theories, and then adding some empirical material from published sources to buttress a preferred theoretical position. In other words, most academic research is deductive in logic, but based on pre-determined theoretical positions that academic supervisors expect students to follow.

But despite my misgivings about the content of the early chapters, there are still some significant approaches that are examined, and things to consider when any new empirical research is being considered. One of the most interesting is the chapter on research ethics by Lindsay McDonald, which refers to the study of the Canterbury earthquakes. Any participants in a research project, and particularly those who have experienced trauma, need to be clearly consenting to be in the project and especially if they can be identified in any way. Of course, there are many examples of health related research that has not had participants who have even been informed, let alone consented to being involved. Another aspect of research ethics can be seen via Jarrod Gilbert’s ethnographic fieldwork on gangs. It’s rather hard to see how to get ethical approval to participate in certain gang activities, just to maintain their trust: especially when it involves brawling with Russian sailors.

Reviewed by Simon Boyce

Social Science Research in New Zealand: An Introduction
Edited by Martin Tolich and Carl Davidson
Published by AUP
ISBN 9781869408848

Book Review: Government for the Public Good: The Surprising Science of Large-Scale Action, by Max Rashbrooke

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_government_fo_the_public_goodMax Rashbrooke’s book is an analysis of what good government would like if it was essentially based on policy analysis, rather than being determined by an overriding ideology. Governing in the ‘public good’ and utilising ‘large-scale action’ could be seen as the same old 20th Century formula for imposing big government. So it obviously goes against the prevailing economic ideology labelled as ‘neo-liberalism’.

Of course, ‘neo-liberalism’ was a term adopted by the academic critics, so what Rashbrooke has done is distil the views of mostly academic writers who have been analysing why right wing policy prescriptions have failed, with regard to what they discern as the ‘public good’. However, it is not clear why the book is subtitled the ‘surprising science’ of large-scale policy action: it is not really surprising that there has been a lot of analysis of activist government policy by other social scientists, if not economists; and also not surprising that the evidence supports collective action.

If it were just a matter of ‘bring the State back in’, then this has already been done, with a well known American academic using the exact phrase for a book title long ago. Rashbrooke proceeds by looking at the evidence about the ‘strange half-death of government’ in the Western world. He is mainly concerned with what he calls the Anglosphere, or English-speaking countries, which are apparently the key examples of the neoliberal philosophy and market-based solutions. Rashbrooke then suggests a new model of government of policy action based on ‘ten habits of highly successful governments’, and compares this to the market-based model. From there he examines very specific policy areas: urban planning and infrastructure, health and education, economic management and income distribution, and law & order. He finally proposes more public participation in policy-making, a concept he calls ‘liquid government’.

For those familiar with academic writing about policy-making, and social science approaches, this will no doubt be a triumph. It is certainly readable, and Rashbrooke explains complex ideas very well, being able to simplify things down to the essential points. However, this is very much a compendium of writing by overseas professors and a few New Zealand academics, with some authors outside of the academy. So there are a lot of quotes from international experts, but I’m not sure it is much more than a useful synthesis of the overseas literature. Some of the local experience doesn’t fit that well with the European examples, such as in urban planning where our ‘State Housing’ is barely mentioned, and he seems to favour a new social housing tenure.

There is a more significant problem with the term Anglosphere and its key feature, which involves international finance. Rashbrooke acknowledges that the Anglosphere countries control the tax havens, or secrecy states, which allow the large corporations and richest individuals to hide their money. Besides not examining New Zealand’s role in the ‘offshore world’, it seems rather naïve to think that the Anglosphere is going to lead the way in policing the tax havens or re-imposing financial regulation. Rashbrooke quotes from an IMF report, which apparently recognises that the State should be able to control the flow of international funds and thus prevent speculators destabilising national currencies. However, these are very policy tools that have been systematically removed by the right wing parties in government, and this has been mostly accepted by social democratic parties, due to the power of offshore finance.

Reviewed by Simon Boyce

Government for the Public Good: The Surprising Science of Large-Scale Action
by Max Rashbrooke
Published by Bridget Williams Books
ISBN 9781988545080

Book Review: The World’s Din: Listening to Records, Radio, and Films in New Zealand, 1880-1940, by Peter Hoar

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_worlds_dinPeter Hoar provides us with a very worthwhile insight into the world of sound that emerged for New Zealanders as radio, musical record, and film sound was imported and adapted to local needs. This is nonetheless a partial insight, as it tries to convey in text, and illustrations, mostly a lost world of sound and entertainment forms. While it may only be a glimpse of what our forebears listened to, it remains a fascinating one.

The World’s Din is organised into three parts, based on: recorded technology and musical recordings; then radio technology, and the emergence of radio stations in between the wars; and finally a look at the musical accompaniment to the booming film and cinema industry. Hoar provides some context where necessary, and most of the text is placed within New Zealand social history, the key point being the way locals received the new technology from overseas, and adapted it in a cultural sense. This raises other cultural questions, such as with early commercial recordings of Maori singers. This was helpful to the performers, but they remained very much ‘cover’ versions.

Perhaps it is the chapters on the development of radio which include the most obvious evidence of local expertise, and perhaps of an enduring legacy. Interestingly, Hoar includes a chapter on ‘military radio’ and its influence on the later development of commercial radio after World War One. Not only does he remind us of characters such as Eric Battershill and Clive Drummond, who went from ham radio enthusiasts through the military, and then became commercial radio figures. But he also examines in detail how the early radio operators found life in remote places, whether that be on top of Tinakori Hill (in Wellington), or in the garrison captured from Germans in Samoa, in 1914. These chapters also have interesting archival photographs, including the raising of a large aerial radio mast on the Chatham Islands, and the operator of a radio set in the desert of Mesopotamia, who was enduring over 40 degrees of heat.

Back home, and after the war, there were also forgotten female pioneers in radio, such as Gwen Shepherd in Wellington. Her wedding was apparently broadcast live on 2YA in 1930, with a large crowd also in attendance at Old St. Pauls. Aunty Gwen, as she was known, was just as popular as the avuncular men who got into broadcasting between the wars, though none may have been as well known as Maud Basham (Aunt Daisy) in the post-war era. Hoar not only looks at the content ‘on’ the radio, and debates over musical styles, but also the role of the actual radio in interior design.

Towards the end there is more consideration of the broader cultural context. Although films became very popular over time, there is a sense in which some of the local flavour was lost, as accompanying music was supplanted by the ‘talkies’. And with the talkies came a particularly American form of entertainment, in a period in which the British influence was officially still predominant. It is always difficult to gauge the role of popular culture in historical events, in general, but this book indicates how the local and indigenous cultural forms are present and then perhaps quickly forgotten.

Reviewed by Simon Boyce

The World’s Din: Listening to Records, Radio, and Films in New Zealand, 1880-1940 by Peter Hoar
Published by Otago University Press
ISBN 9781988531199

Book Review: Towards Democratic Renewal – Ideas for Constitutional Change in New Zealand, Geoffrey Palmer & Andrew Butler

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_towards_democratic_renewal.jpgAt the time of reviewing this particular instalment on constitutional change from Professor Palmer, freedom of speech as a principle was being debated in New Zealand. This was caused primarily by some visiting Canadians, whose provocative views had resulted in them being declined a public venue in Auckland.

Freedom of speech and assembly are not really part of this book on constitutional change in New Zealand. Not just because we all take these basic freedoms for granted, and there is actually an existing Bill of Rights, but because the book is essentially about changing the institutions of political decision-making in New Zealand, especially with regard to how Parliament operates. This seems to be based on the somewhat surprising notion that Parliamentary sovereignty is too broad, and the authors refer to the apparent ‘untrammelled’ or ‘uncontrolled’ rule of Parliament.

This is in fact the second instalment of this academic exercise in constitutional change. The first book by the authors laid out their new constitution and now, having sought submissions from the public and the legal experts, they are offering their amendments to the original proposal. So most of the chapters reflect on the issues that have been raised in this ongoing process of constitutional reflection. Indeed there is even a chapter full of quotes from a variety of people who made public submissions. These include a long quote from someone using very offensive language that should never have been accepted, especially because the person was given anonymity. There are also a number of photos of the authors with groups of students in self-congratulatory poses.

That is not to say that there aren’t some very substantial proposals being put forward here. These include replacing the Governor-General with a new head of state, and therefore a form of republicanism. The removal of the term ‘the Crown’ from the New Zealand constitution, and thus from the legal system, could have profound implications for the Treaty of Waitangi and claims related to it. Then there are aspects of the political process that the authors don’t like relating to elections and the role of Parliament. Changes here include having a fixed four year term for Parliament, and giving the right to vote to 16-year-olds, if not making voting compulsory as well. Perhaps most significant would be the idea of giving the judiciary the power to review legislation, and, if deemed unconstitutional, to declare it invalid.

This power was apparently already there, but now needs to be broadened. The authors make the point that the international trade agreement (TTPA) would have allowed for corporations to challenge legislation that offended them. However, the authors do not address the loss of economic sovereignty at all, especially during the late 1980s when Palmer was a key legislator. But they do assess the role of certain legal cases that help make their case. One being that High Court review undertaken on behalf of the anti-TPPA campaigner, Professor Kelsey, which highlighted how the Official Information Act was not being complied with. The authors are all in favour of more transparency in government, and enhanced roles for Parliamentary officers (such as the Auditor-General and the Ombudsman). Just as long as Parliament itself is not allowed to pass its Acts under urgency anymore, and thus ruin certain landmark pieces of legislation.

Reviewed by Simon Boyce

Towards Democratic Renewal – Ideas for Constitutional Change in New Zealand
by Geoffrey Palmer & Andrew Butler
Published by VUP
ISBN 9781776561834

Book Review: Sport and the New Zealanders: A History, by Greg Ryan & Geoff Watson

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_sport_and_the_new_zealandersThis book traces the history of sport in New Zealand, and it covers most of the recorded history of the country, including an initial chapter for the pre-1840 era. It is also a book written by two academics, rather than sports journalists or fans. This does not really affect how it reads, but there are 40 pages of endnotes at the back. And it seems that sport has been the topic of significant scholarship within the universities.

It is certainly well-written and will be of interest to any sports enthusiasts in New Zealand that want a long read. However, the authors do place their story within an academic context, and the historiography of the wider society, which results in an emphasis on the early years. So anyone expecting a lot of detail on recent professional sportspeople will actually find the balance tipped back towards the amateur era. The book is very much a social history of sport, followed by an assessment of the effects of the commercialism of sport, and societal change on the mass participation in sport.

It has to be said that much of the focus of the authors is upon the development of rugby union, even though many sports are weaved into the narrative. This can be justified on the idea that rugby is the ‘national game’, and has the broadest range of participants in terms of town and country. It certainly has the most popular depth, and therefore commercial appeal. And it has developed over time, as we witness the increased participation of urban Pasifika players, and the rise of the women’s game. But inevitably the sporting links with South Africa have to be covered, and the 1981 Springbok Tour examined, especially as other sports had a temporary moment in the limelight. Questions remain over whether one dominant sport is helpful to the others.

While the text moves into the emphasis on commercialised sport and the elite level, there is another perspective provided by the photographic plates. All of these are presented well in black and white, and the most recent is from the 1980s (apart from two cartoons). The research for these photos in the archives has provided an emphasis on the participation of ordinary folk, with a few elite national representatives from yesteryear. The only downside is that the participants are mostly unknown, and the places are sometimes vague as well. The photo for the cover is also a curious choice: an unknown weightlifter at the Petone Recreation Ground, circa 1956. There seems to be no weightlifter mentioned in the text, even for the 1974 Commonwealth Games.

The captions can also be misleading: e.g. the one of the ‘football supporters’ holding a banner at the national team’s triumphant win over China in 1982. The supporters are obviously two of the actual players, sans their shirts, namely Adrian Elrick and the especially hirsute Bobby Almond. Almond, like many of the other immigrant team members (and coaches), still retained the broad regional accents of their home country. And with this came a different sporting culture, one that was still foreign.

Indeed, the comments of the authors on the development of football in New Zealand are tentative, and somewhat inaccurate. They point to the lack of an effective national administration, and middle class participation, as well as an emphasis on the clubs. When referring to the club known as ‘Stop Out’, they misleadingly state that it was created in Te Aro (Wellington), when it has always been based out in Lower Hutt. It is possible to quibble with such details, but the book is still a very good overview.

Reviewed by Simon Boyce

Sport and the New Zealanders: A History
by Greg Ryan & Geoff Watson
Published by AUP
ISBN 9781869408831