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Real Issues No. 281 - Happiness, Public Servants

Real Issues No. 281 - Happiness, Public Servants, Charity
Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 281
29 November 2007
www.maxim.org.nz

In pursuit of happiness
Public servants increase
Water, horses, and giving to charity

IN THE NEWS
Just because you can doesn't mean you should
A long road to peace

IN PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS

Two reports have been released recently, measuring 'social wellbeing' and 'quality of life' in New Zealand. The two reports-the 2007 Social Report by the Ministry of Social Development, and the Quality of Life '07 report by the Quality of Life Project-show what we already know, that New Zealand is a great place to live. However, while the reports can measure the quality of our lifestyle and of our physical environment, there is difficulty in accurately measuring the happiness and emotional wellbeing of people.

The 2007 Social Report covers a wide range of areas, comparing our 'social wellbeing' against that of both previous years and other countries in the OECD. This wellbeing is measured by broad categories such as 'health,' 'paid work,' 'cultural identity' and 'physical environment.' The report shows that in many areas, such as employment and education, we are doing well compared with other countries, but on other issues like suicide and obesity we are performing badly. Overall though, the report suggests that in terms of social wellbeing New Zealand is doing a lot better now than it was in the mid-1990s.

The Quality of Life '07 report includes data from twelve cities around New Zealand, and measures this quality by a range of criteria including the crime rate, curbside recycling, public transport, early childhood education and pollution levels. The report shows that residents in these cities 'rate their quality of life positively,' but also highlights increasing diversity, which can be challenging in its propensity to increase isolation and distrust between members of a community.

Both of these reports spotlight a very interesting and encouraging aspect of our country. Where the reports fail, however, is in their ability to accurately identify actual levels of happiness and wellbeing. As individuals, much of our happiness is reliant on family, community, and a sense of worth and belonging. True measures of wellbeing would need to consider social connectedness-not via measuring access to the phone or internet, but by looking at relationship stability or breakdown, the togetherness and belonging that is felt within neighbourhoods and communities, and the value we place on others.

Read the 2007 Social Report http://www.socialreport.msd.govt.nz/

Read the Quality of Life '07 report http://media.apn.co.nz/webcontent/document/pdf/Quality_of_Life_2007.pdf

PUBLIC SERVANTS INCREASE

The State Services Commissioner has just released a new report showing that the number of public servants continues to rise. While some of the increase can be justified with plausible reasons, the scale of it demands greater explanation to the public who ultimately foot the bill.

The report indicates that there is now a headcount of 44,335 staff employed by the public service, an increase of 5 percent between June 2006 and June 2007. Since 2002 the number of public servants has ballooned by 35 percent, with 'Professionals, and Clerical and Administration workers' now making up the largest group, at 75 percent of the public service. 'Professionals' includes occupations such as social workers and some teacher aides, but also policy analysts, PR people, and a plethora of managers, officers, clerks and inspectors.

The largest culprits in staff increases in the past year are the Department of Corrections, which has opened a number of new prisons, and the IRD, which is administering KiwiSaver. 'The Public Service' basically means employees of government departments, and does not include 'education services' (teachers) or 'health services' (doctors and nurses), which have charted a more modest 8 percent increase since 2002. Neither does it include 'local government' which is doing its best to keep up with the Joneses, increasing by 31 percent over the same time period. The public service 'has grown more rapidly than other parts of the [public] sector over the last five years.'

The fact that we have a public service larger than the population of the entire Timaru District (roughly 42,000) is one fact worth noting. While there is obvious value to prison guards and probation services, social workers and teacher aides, the report brings home to us another important point. That is, for every area of service delegated to government, there must spring up a bureaucracy, and a bureaucrat, pen sharp. We can all agree that service to the public is a noble vocation, and we can see cases for individual policies. But, the continuing increase in the public service opens up the question of whether we are really putting the emphasis where it should be, and how many more servants the tax-paying public really needs. The ballooning number of staff in the public service cannot help but lead to a bigger and more expensive government, a government concerned with more and more, and willing to leave alone less and less. That is, to put it mildly, not an unmixed blessing.

Read the State Services Commission report http://www.ssc.govt.nz/display/document.asp?DocID=6254

WATER, HORSES, AND GIVING TO CHARITY

Government efforts to support the charitable sector are continuing with the release this week of a discussion document on introducing a new mechanism for charitable giving. Payroll giving: providing a real-time benefit for charitable giving pursues the goal, highlighted in the 2007 Budget, of 'fostering a culture of charitable giving.' Such a scheme could potentially make a big difference, but it still relies on people's willingness to give.

Earlier this year, caps on the rebate for charitable donations were removed in the Budget, a move also intended to significantly increase the amount of private giving to charitable organisations. The focus of this latest discussion document is the introduction of 'payroll giving.' This would allow employees to donate a portion of their wages directly from their pay packet to their chosen charity. Employees would receive immediate tax rebates and would not be required to fill in rebate forms at the end of the financial year.

This is likely to be attractive to many who would like to give, and the discussion document states its hope that this will 'increase donation levels and establish genuine partnerships between businesses and the community.' However, the exact mechanism of the 'payroll giving' is still to be fleshed out and two options are put forward in the discussion document. The first option is that the amount being given is 'deducted from a donor's gross pay.' This, however, could affect the assessment of means tested benefits (such as Working for Families), as a deduction would lower the donor's income. The other option is to provide a simple tax credit of thirty-three and a third percent to the donor, though this option may be more time-consuming to administer.

These changes encourage giving and recognise the important work done by the charitable sector, work that is worthy of support. However, if we truly want a culture of giving, we should not lose sight of the fact that such a culture is formed by people sharing a common vision and being willing to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve that vision. In other words, if people want to give to charitable organisations they still have to be willing to take money out of their own pocket and put it into someone else's. We can and should make this easier, but we should also recognise the importance of intangibles such as people's willingness to sacrifice time or money and to support community organisations-things that it is very difficult to legislate for.

Submissions on the discussion document are required by 25 January 2008.

Read the discussion document Payroll giving: providing a real-time benefit for charitable giving and find out more information about how to make a submission. http://www.taxpolicy.ird.govt.nz/publications/files/payrollgivingdd.pdf

JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN DOESN'T MEAN YOU SHOULD

Oxford University this week held a forum on free speech involving the controversial writer David Irving, and the leader of the British National Party, Nick Griffin. Both have previously been convicted of denying the Holocaust. The event drew 500 student demonstrators, who protested against their involvement in the forum. The Oxford Union Debating Society president justified his decision for inviting them by claiming that this forum would provide a platform for these extremist views to be defeated intellectually.

The debate over whether these men should be given a public platform to propagate their views mirrors the debate which surrounded the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, speaking at Columbia University in New York in September. While freedom of speech is a bedrock principle of Western society, it is only possible because of the civilised nature of a society; this in turn only exists because of sound judgment exercised by people. It may be legally permissible for the Oxford Union to be giving Holocaust deniers a platform to speak, but Universities are looked to as authorities and by doing so they are giving credence to these views.

A LONG ROAD TO PEACE

This week's Annapolis Conference in Maryland, initiated by the Bush administration, was the first international conference to take place on the Arab-Israeli conflict since 1991. Last Tuesday, President Bush, Israel's Prime Minister, the Palestinian President and delegates from 46 countries and international organisations met with the intention of signalling international support for a commencement of negotiations on the establishment of a Palestinian state. President Bush has been criticised for his general reluctance to become engaged on the issue and many view this conference as a last-minute attempt to build a positive legacy of his presidency. Nonetheless, despite the endemic cynicism of attitudes toward US involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the capacity of the President to effect change is great, and while Bush remains personally committed to the two-state solution, his actions beyond Annapolis have the potential to make a lasting difference.

TALKING POINT

'Responsibility is the price of freedom.'

Elbert Hubbard (1856 - 1915)

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Maxim Institute's regular email publication, Real Issues, provides thought-provoking analysis of developments in policy and culture in New Zealand and around the world. You can express you views on any of the articles featured in Real Issues by writing a letter to the editor. A selection of the best letters will be posted each week on Maxim Institute's website http://www.maxim.org.nz/ .

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