Welcome to the Ministry for Does It Fucking Work: a budget dream sequence

Budget 2017: I had a dream of an evidence-based budget for a thriving New Zealand, writes Jess Berentson-Shaw, head of research at policy think tank The Morgan Foundation.


Read all out Budget 2017 coverage here.


In my dream it was budget day. Pre-empting the finance minister, joint prime ministers Chlöe Swarbrick and Nikki Kaye leapt energetically to the podium. They were surrounded by an excitable group of beaming ministers. These ministers were from across the political spectrum because we had also done away with the party political and adopted a grand coalition approach to governance. Legislation had been enacted to ensure all policy reported on the 50 and 100-year impact on citizens and environmental wellbeing (GDP was a hitherto little considered metric). It was the first budget in the new order; much was expected.

First up was a budget for a brand new department called “Does It Fucking Work?” The job of DIFW was to run all new policy ideas as proper experiments. No longer would politicians be allowed to pull some policy they heard “was a bit awesome’’’ out of their backside and roll it out across the population. No, it would need to be set up and run as a proper trial, comparing it with existing policy and other likely policies. Citizens who wanted to participate would be randomised where appropriate to each intervention, and data only collected with their express permission (just like real science).

Next was the announcement of unconditional parental payment for two years for all families on the birth of their child. “It will enable all families to support their children to thrive and we are calling it ‘socially aware investment,'” said Bill English, the minister for children’s wellbeing. The many ministers who had their children with them grabbed their small people and ran round the room shouting in delight. The Minister of Finance Steven Joyce, who looked positively thrilled by the scene, noted that the money would be found from increased taxes on those still working after age 65, who were earning over $80,000 and had significant assets. Also high wealth immigrants would be required to invest in the newly created “children’s fund” to show their “commitment to New Zealand’s future”.

Next, the prime ministers announced a “you have accumulated a bit too much wealth” tax. It would help pay for a large investment in the not for profit housing sector. Capital investment would be provided to help the sector develop high quality rental housing in sufficient numbers to compete with private rental. Tenancies protections would be significantly improved with a new unit called “Renters are Choice”. The accommodation supplement would be turned into a housing benefit to ensure the NFP sector could rent their houses at cost until the sector became self sustaining and could attract private investors. The building code it was announced would undergo a massive overhaul to ensure it met highest energy efficiency standards. The building industry would of course be “consulted’’, the PMs smirked.

Early childhood education was made free for all sole parents and those on low incomes because “parents are just ace” said PM Swarbrick. Free tertiary education with income support was also made available to sole parents. Income support for students would be parental wealth tested and the level raised to more than cover the over inflated rental of a damp Aro Valley flat (refer to earlier announcements on housing for fixing that).

Primary school would be modelled on play based learning until aged seven, tests were out and we are going to adopt the Finnish approach to education, because “it is just way more fun for kids and teachers isn’t it?” said Willie Jackson.

Climate change was, said the newly created minister for saving the world from itself, in need of leadership. “I believe in leadership, leading and doing the right thing, so we are going to lead,” said Jenny Shipley (who was undergoing a political renaissance after realising the country was in fact not doing so well). She proceeded to announce a zero carbon goal for 2050 (with emission reductions enshrined in law). A strong emissions price would be set and the creation of a new massive green infrastructure and research fund called “We believe the children are the future”.

Public transport was ‘’royally screwed by people who did not get how awesome spending tax was,” said the minister for lots of central government investment, David Seymour, so it was the going to take a while to fix that one. But he would be looking ‘’very closely’’ at the analysis done in the economic case for light rail in Auckland.

Finally, the “I’m sorry we underfunded you and then blamed you for failing’’ compensation fund was announced by Winston Peters. The fund was set up particularly for those providers who, he said, after carefully setting out what they needed for their programme to work (based on the evidence from studies and their community trials), had been given about half of that for a two year “pilot” before it was cancelled for showing no gains. Māori providers down the back of the room broke out in spontaneous cheering, and with that the PMs lead a rumba line out of the room laughing gaily.

(Note these are all policies in action in other successful thriving countries around the world. Apart from that last one.)


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