Levers and Switches

You certainly don’t escape the upcoming US election by traveling halfway around the world… It’s a daily topic on the news here, and every local person we talk to asks us about it. All we can do is shrug our shoulders self-deprecatingly… What’s to say?

Seeing this seemingly prosperous, harmonious little island function does make you think about the right and the wrong way to govern. Mostly people can get a lot of things done without the government being involved, but for all the rest, there are as many choices about how we should govern ourselves as there are things that need to be governed.

My first experience of doing things differently here came at my very first meal, on New Zealand Labour Day. When I went in the restaurant, I was told there was a 15% surcharge in effect. OK, I said, too tired to really care one way or the other. It turns out there is mandated overtime pay on state holidays, but restaurant owners are allowed to recoup the extra costs with a surcharge. Some people decide that it’s just not worth it to open up on holidays and so they don’t.

Is that a good policy, or not? Employees get extra pay for working an unusual shift, a common practice in hospitals back home, but not necessarily in restaurants. If some businesses stay closed, does that mean more people spend more time with the family, improving national cohesiveness? Is economic growth helped or hindered by this policy? Who can say? It’s how things work here. They’ve turned a certain set of switches and dials to achieve a certain set of ends.

On our tour of Parliament, we learned about how people vote here: you get two votes, one for the party, and one for your favorite candidate. There is proportional representation in the legislature, meaning it is possible for an unpopular party to seat a popular candidate… and vice versa. Seems to work well for the Green Party, who never win any districts out right, but consistently poll at between 10 and 15%, so they get a few seats.

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