Immigration: numbers and options

On the off chance that anyone thinking about negotiations with New Zealand First might also be considering immigration policy options, I thought it might be time for a refresher on the numbers (as well as yet another dig at MBIE for not making accessible data readily available on a timely basis).  Since much of the accessible data MBIE do release is for June years, for this post I’ll mostly use data for the year to June 2017.

Recall that the headline writers focus on net permanent and long-term migration, calculated from the declared intentions of those (New Zealanders and foreigners) crossing the border.  If you are leaving and expect to be away for at least 12 months, or are a non-resident arriving and expect to be here for at least 12 months, you are in the PLT statistics.   Plans do change, but the new 12/16 data I wrote about a few weeks ago suggests that during the current cycle the PLT numbers have been capturing pretty well not just declared intentions but what actually happened.    In the year to June 2017, a net 72,305 people arrived as PLT migrants.   Just slightly more than that number of non-New Zealand citizens arrived, and 1284 New Zealanders (net) left.

PLT sept 17

As people often stress, a lot of the variance in the net PLT series is typically accounted for by changes in the choices of New Zealanders (net outflows have fluctuated between around 0 and around 40000, and there have been quite big fluctuations –  hard to predict –  every few years).  The choices of New Zealanders are not a matter of immigration policy.

But policy has pretty full control over the number of non-citizens arriving (Australians are allowed in without advance specific approval, although the numbers typically aren’t large).   And sometimes you will see this chart, which uses PLT arrivals data (gross, not net) to show what sort of visa people were on when they crossed the border as PLT arrivals (the “not applicables” are New Zealand and Australian citizens).

PLT arrivals by visa

But this chart doesn’t tell us anything much about immigration policy.  In the year to June 2017, 16711 people arrived on residence visas.  But during that year, MBIE granted 47331 residence visas, the overwhelming proportion to people who were already here (and who typically will have entered first on a student or work visa).  Perhaps it is worth noting, for all the talk of the success of the export education sector, by far the biggest increase in arrivals in recent years (absolute and percentage) has been in people with various types of work visas: around 24000 in the year to June 2012, and around 45000 in the year to June 2017.

If we want to look at immigration itself, it is much better to turn to the administrative data on the numbers of people approved for various classes of visas.  Unfortunately, unless you like playing with spreadsheets with half a million lines, MBIE only produce data annually, for June years, and the data for the year to June 2017 hasn’t yet been released.   Having said that, it doesn’t look as though there will have been big changes when the data do finally emerge.

Here are the numbers for visas granted to new workers under various policies (ie excluding renewals etc).

Number of new workers by policy
2011/12 2012/13 2013/14 2014/15 2015/16
Study to work 9,319 9,131 6,259 9,610 16,097
Essential skills 6,197 6,247 7,885 7,709 8,334
Work to residence 1,653 1,558 1,426 1,483 1,717

and there has been a big increase in the numbers granted working holiday visas

2011/12 2012/13 2013/14 2014/15 2015/16
Working holidays 41,561 47,168 53,131 59,742 63,230

Fortunately, Education New Zealand don’t seem to mind the half million line spreadsheets, and produce a nice monthly product on student visas.   Here is the chart of outstanding valid student visas by class of institution for the last few years.

vsv

Numbers are growing, but in the last year or two there has been quite a switch from private training enterprises (which will have included some of the more questionable institutions/courses) towards universities in particular).

What of residence approvals?  I did download the huge spreadsheet for that subset of the data to get an overview of the 2016/17 numbers.  Here are residence approvals in the last few years.

Number of residence visas approved
2011/12 2012/13 2013/14 2014/15 2015/16 2016/17
40,448 38,961 44,008 43,085 52,052 47331

Recall that (a) there is a “planning range” (in effect, a target) for the number of residence approvals granted. That range was 45000 to 50000 per annum, but was cut to 42500 to 47500 late last year.  Actual approvals fluctuate around the target, rather than being mechanically managed to meet it month by month or year by year.  The 2015/16 approvals were high, but the numbers have been cut somewhat in the most recent year.

Recall that most of those getting residence visas were already living here (on work, study, or related visas).

In terms of nationality, in 2015/16 these were the top source countries

China 9,360
India 8,498
United Kingdom 4,934
Philippines 4,614
South Africa 2,970
Fiji 2,230
Samoa 2,156
United States 1,288
South Korea 1,125

I didn’t calculate all the numbers for 2016/17, but the patterns looked pretty similar.

I hadn’t seen this data in the published MBIE summaries, but I was a little surprised to find that among the residence approvals 1937 were for people in a category of

Uncapped Family Sponsored Stream Dependant Child

These aren’t the children of principal applicants who are themselves getting residence visas (as those children are approved with the parents).   Around half of all these “dependent children” were Samoan, and of them 242 were aged 20-29, not typically what one thinks of when one hears of “dependent children”.   I’m not sure how or why such a policy exists, but when I get time I might have a dig around.

So that is the numbers.  Perhaps the key thing to keep in mind is that the residence approvals planning range –  the centrepiece of the immigration programme –  has been pretty stable for a long time (modest cut last year).  Much of the variability in the headline PLT numbers is New Zealanders, and most of the variability in the non-NZ net inflow relates to policy streams other than the residence approvals programme.

Of course, variability is only part of the picture.  The striking thing about the residence approvals programme is its sheer size: equivalent to almost 1 per cent of the population each year, and in per capita terms three times the size of the US “green card” issuance (under both recent administrations).   We have a very large number of legal temporary foreign workers here by international standards, but most of them will eventually go home.  What really marks us out is the size of the residence approvals programme –  bigger per capita than in almost any OECD country, and far bigger than most.   I’ve argued for cutting programme back to, say, 10000 to 15000 per annum (a similar size, per capita, to the US programme.)

As I’ve noted here previously, if one looks at the New Zealand First website there isn’t much specific on immigration policy.   Winston Peters has sometimes talked of lowering the annual inflow to something like 10000 to 15000, but quite what is meant by that hasn’t been clear.  Most naturally he may have wished to suggest a net PLT inflow of around those numbers.  If so, it would have to be treated as an average over time, since annual PLT flows are almost wholly unpredictable (given the variability in the net flow of New Zealanders).

Having said that, one could make some estimates of a trend net outflow of New Zealanders, likely to resume as the Australian labour market improves.   Assume that outflow is 20000 on average over the cycle (a bit less than in the past), and you might lower the residence approvals target to 30000 to 35000 per annum (the net of the two flows on average producing something like a 10000 to 15000 inflow per annum).  That doesn’t sound terribly radical, and frankly there looks to be plenty of room to (a) drop off the lower-skilled portion of the current approvals, while (b) removing the sort of absurd bureaucratic hassles really skilled people (eg the teachers profiled in the Herald the other day) can face.

One of the other, rather general, strands of New Zealand First’s immigration policy is

Ensure that there is effective labour market testing to ensure New Zealanders have first call on New Zealand jobs.

I’m sceptical of the practical means to do this, even if I’m somewhat sympathetic to the concerns that motivate it.  I don’t think bureaucrats should be trying to decide which job is really in excess demand, let alone try to reach Soviet-type judgements on which regions should be favoured, or whether wages for those particular skills should just be left to rise.  But in various recent presentations, I have included an option for reforming the work visas system (in addition to substantially tightening up on student work visas and post-study visas, for those with lower level qualifications)

Institute work visa provisions that are:

a) Capped in length of time (a single maximum term of three years, with at least a year overseas before any return on a subsequent work visa), and

b) Subject to a fee, of perhaps $20000 per annum or 20 per cent of the employee’s annual income (whichever is greater).   [To limit risks of exploitation, require the employer to prove that the employee has been paid at least $10000 above the mimimum wage, with no “fees”  allowed to be paid back to the employer or related entities.]

The key element is the second one.  If your firm really needs a highly-skilled person (surgeon, lawyer, CEO or whatever, earning say $200000 or more), and can’t find one on market in New Zealand, the annual fee is unlikely to be prohibitive given the key short-term such a person is like to be playing.   But, equally, there aren’t many of those sorts of people/roles, and many won’t want to stay here forever.  So I’d make it easy to recruit them, but with a strong emphasis (because the visa is non-renewable) on the need to identify a local permanent person.   At the bottom end of the labour market, if the business your firm is doing is really so valuable you can afford the $20000 annual fee on top of the annual salary, that might be a reasonable pointer to serious scarcity.  But it seems unlikely that we’d be granting many visas to lower-end chefs, or dairy workers, or aides in rest homes.  And that would, over time, be a good outcome for New Zealanders.

 

(And MBIE could you please please make the monthly data more easily available in an accessible format, as Statistics New Zealand and other agencies do.)

 

 

Fossicking in election statistics

Well, that was a fascinating election outcome.

Listening to the coverage on Saturday night, I was interested in comments about how strong National’s performance was vying for a fourth term in government.  There didn’t seem to be many statistics behind the talk.

But it is worth bearing in mind that since 1935 –  when the domination of New Zealand politics by our  current two main parties really began – we’ve had 10 governments.  Two have lasted a single term, one two terms, four completed governments last three terms, and two governments lasted four terms. It seems to be an open question whether National will now be able to lead a fourth term government.  That means there really isn’t much data.  And, to some extent, MMP changes things –  minor parties are more important, and MMP governments have so far always involved multiple parties.

There has been talk that National’s (provisional) vote share this time (46.0 per cent) is higher than it was when they first took office in 2008 (44.93 per cent).   But ACT has never had anywhere to go but National, and never had any desire to go elsewhere anyway.  So at very least one should aggregate the National and ACT votes to look at the centre-right performance.

But I’d argue one should really go a bit beyond that.  The Conservative Party has come, came close in 2014 to entering Parliament, and then has largely gone again.  Not only did the Conservative Party campaign in 2014 as another potential support party for National, but realistically most of their voters in 2011 and 2014 are people (in many case conservative Christians) who would have otherwise, naturally or reluctantly, have voted for one of the other centre-right parties.

In this chart, I’ve shown three different ways of looking at how the centre-right vote has changed:

  • National + ACT party votes as a share of the total vote,
  • National+ ACT party votes as a share of the “used” vote (ie excluding the “wasted” party votes for parties that didn’t get into Parliament), and
  • National + ACT + Conservative party votes as a share of the total vote.

centre right 2

On each of those lines, the centre-right vote share has fallen quite a bit.  If anything, what the chart highlights is how well the centre-right did (and, I guess, how disastrously the left did) at the 2014 election.  In this election, the centre-right vote share –  the grey line –  has (on the provisional results) fallen by a full 5 percentage points.

And then I wondered how it had been in the 1960s.  The 1969 election was the last time a a party secured a fourth term.

national 60s

Now that looks more like a genuinely impressive performance – the governing party lifting its vote share in the election in which it gained a fourth term.   There had been industrial action at the time of the election which had hurt the Labour Party, but the previous three years had been a very tough time to govern.   Wool prices had collapsed (and with them the overall terms of trade), the New Zealand government had been forced into a devaluation in late 1967, and had borrowed from the IMF under a pretty stringent domestic austerity programme.  Things here had been tough enough that over the three calendar years 1967 to 1969 there was a small overall net migration outflow (the first such outflows since the end of World War Two). People can counter that the third party – Social Credit –  saw its vote share fall away, and both National and Labour gained. But in a sense that is the point: tough times like that are often when third parties, and main Opposition parties do well.  But National increased its vote share.

The other fourth term victory since 1935 was in 1946, when Labour secured a fourth term.  And here is how Labour’s vote share changed over its time in government.

Labour 1946

Again, going for a fourth term Labour managed to increase its vote share.   They’d seen off John A Lee’s rebel party in the 1943 election, and no doubt won back most of that vote, but again…that is the point.  Going for a fourth term after crises, war, and post-war controls and inflation, Labour increased it vote share (to 51.3 per cent).

I was also playing around with some other of the provisional results.  For all that the Greens have done pretty badly nationwide, it was striking how strongly they poll in the neighbourhoods I live and move in.    In (booths in) Island Bay itself 16 per cent, and in next door Berhampore 26 per cent (no wonder the new local Labour MP, and current Wellington deputy mayor, avoided answering questions about his approach to the cycleway).   In the whole Rongotai electorate  the Greens scored 17 per cent, and in next door Wellington Central (where James Shaw ran) 20.8 per cent.    Both those percentages are lower than in 2014 ( 26.2 in Rongotai and 29.5 in Wellington Central) but are still huge –  and conventional wisdom seems to be that the Green vote share will rise on special votes.  No wonder that, despite the fact that 70-80 per cent of submissions from residents favour scrapping the dreaded Island Bay cycleway (and certainly don’t want to spend millions more on it), the Wellington City Council seems set to pursue its green agenda anyway.

Finally, I was interested in whether there were any material differences in the party vote shares between advanced votes and those on the day.  I only looked at two electorates (again, Rongotai and Wellington Central) but this is what I found.

Rongotai

Rongotai

And Wellington Central

wgtn central

The differences aren’t huge, but they are there – at least in these two electorates, and in particular between the Greens and National shares. Given that advanced votes of those who enrolled at the same time as they voted still haven’t been counted, it would presumably offer some encouragement to the Greens.

A story of two Attorneys-General

On Wednesday evening I wrote about the despicable conduct of our Attorney-General, senior National Party Cabinet minister, and minister for various intelligence agencies, Chris Finlayson.

Asked why it was appropriate for a (past and –  experts say –  probably present) member of the Chinese Communist Party and former member of the Chinese intelligence services (both acknowledged facts, neither of which was disclosed to voters when he was elected) to be a member of Parliament in New Zealand, Finlayson simply refused to engage or answer, other than to suggest the journalists raising the issue –  journalists from serious outlets including the Financial Times – were simply attempting to destroy the man’s political career and in the process were engaged in singling out a whole class of people for “racial abuse”.

Asked about the claims in an important new paper by Professor Anne-Marie Brady (of Canterbury University and the Woodrow Wilson Centre in Washington DC) on the efforts of the People’s Republic of China (state and party) to influence politics in New Zealand and about the close ties of various past and present National Party members to interests of the People’s Republic of China, our Attorney-General’s only response was to simply make stuff up.  He asserted that Professor Brady didn’t like any foreigners, only to have an audience member –  a former student of the professor’s –  point out that not only was Brady fluent in Mandarin, but that her husband was Chinese.

That account has received a bit of coverage –  although not, of course, that there was any sign of the New Zealand media following the issue up with, say, Mr  Finlayson, or his boss the Prime Minister, let alone with the Leader of the Opposition.  It might have been awkward all round I guess.

My own readership numbers yesterday were more than twice the normal level.

Senior Wellington lawyer and former MP, Stephen Franks wrote about the story on his blog,   He’d predicted this sort of response only a week or so earlier on Radio New Zealand.

Rarely, if ever in politics, does one get explicit, irrefutable proof of a risky and unpopular hypothesis within a week of venturing it.

But Attorney General Hon Christopher Francis Finlayson provided such proof last night.

Last week, after discussing on Radio NZ the Newsroom suspicions that NZ MP Jian Yang may be a spy for mainland China I blogged my explanation that time did not permit with Jim Mora. I predicted that the Communist government could expect their spies who have penetrated New Zealand leading circles to be sheltered by our  elite’s PC terror of being accused of racism.

Last night at an election candidate’s meeting Finlayson showed just how the accusing is done. The other  candidates then showed how effective it is in cowing them.

Others tweeted the story.  There was Rodney Jones, for example: Beijing-based New Zealand economist, who had himself last week called for Jian Yang’s resignation.

Numerous commentators offshore focused on China have been drawing attention to, and stressing the importance of, Professor’s Brady’s paper –  the one New Zealand’s Attorney-General could deal with only be attempting to smear the author.

Professor Brady herself tweeted a link to Stephen Franks’ post.

And then flicking round the web over lunch, I stumbled on a new story on the Sydney Morning Herald website.  The authors begin thus

Attorney General George Brandis is planning a once-in-a-generation shake-up of the legal framework governing who can lawfully influence Australian politicians, amid fears of clandestine Chinese Communist Party influence over politics in this country.

Having seen Professor Brady’s tweet drawing attention to Finlayson’s despicable comments, Fairfax’s Asia-Pacific editor, John Garnaut,  a former lawyer who had previously spent many years in Beijing as the Fairfax China correspondent was moved to tweet thus:

What a disgrace. How have things in New Zealand been allowed to sink this low so quickly?

For those interested in reading in more depth about the sorts of issues Professor Brady has raised, I would recommend an article on the Brady paper by an independent researcher on China who blogs at a site called Jichang Lulu (and who has also tweeted a link to the Franks account).  It is a substantial post on the issues in the (quite long) Brady paper.  The author knows China, but comes fresh to New Zealand.   As the author notes

New Zealand provides an example of successful United Front domination of a diaspora community. As of this election, the top ethnic Chinese candidates are linked to CCP organisations and support PRC policies. In New Zealand, the Chinese community can only realistically aspire to political representation by its own members through individuals approved by Beijing. This situation, enabled by the leaders of the top parties, effectively allows the extraterritorial implementation of PRC policy.

(This incidentally makes a nonsense of Chris Finlayson’s absurd allegation that anyone raising these issues is “racist”.   The alleged PRC interference in New Zealand affairs directly affects the freedoms in New Zealand of the many Chinese-origin New Zealand citizens – whether recent migrants or descendants  of those who came generations ago – who abhor the Beijing regime and its repression. State-sponsored actors are the focus of the story, and the paper.)

As he notes of Jian Yang

In the same Chinese-language interview quoted above, Yang says he used to be a Communist Party member, but he isn’t one any more. That presumably means ‘not an active member’; as Brady notes, you don’t just ‘leave’ the CCP. You are considered a member unless expelled. Considering Yang’s excellent relations with Chinese state entities and the praise state media award him, it would be ridiculous to assume he was expelled. In all likelihood, Yang is in fact a CCP member. Chen Yonglin 陈用林, a former PRC diplomat who defected to Australia in 2005, cast further doubt on Yang’s claims he was a PLA ‘civilian officer’. Based on his knowledge of military institutions before reforms in the late aughts, Chen estimates Yang was in fact a ‘soldier’ and probably reached the rank of  captain.

And

Perhaps even more remarkably, despite what an external observer would see as devastating evidence compromising a candidate before a tight election, his direct political adversaries in the Labour party produced absolutely no criticism of Yang. I’m not terribly knowledgeable about NZ politics, so perhaps I’m being naive, but is it normal to have such a major security revelation on a senior political figure days before an election and hear nothing from his rivals?

Noting that these are issues for the Labour Party as well.

In theory, Yang Jian’s direct adversary should be Raymond Huo (Huo Jianqiang 霍建强), a Labour Party MP. Yang and Huo compete for the Chinese-community electorate; Yang has been found to have a background in military intelligence, which he had declined to disclose in the past; Huo, whatever his sympathies, isn’t tainted by work for a foreign military. Recent polls have put Huo’s party a few points short of unseating the Nationals, or even able to lead a coalition. How can he not use this?

The only explanation that makes sense (and that is consistent with reactions from other senior politicians) is that he wouldn’t like to speak up against United Front interests.

Again it, as well as the original paper, is an analysis well worth reading.

We seem to have come to an extraordinary, and shameful, pass.  The very fact of the silence of most of the local media (the Herald’s recent article a welcome exception) and the refusal to engage seriously of any of our senior political figures (and responses by people like Jenny Shipley and Don Brash that could be seen to trivialise the issue) is surely worth a story in itself.

Fairfax’s local media have been very quiet on both the Yang story and on the arguments and evidence at the heart of the Brady paper – in the very week of a general election. Perhaps John Garnaut – recall, he is Fairfax’s Asia-Pacfic editor – would consider writing such an article? Perhaps the local papers might even publish it?   As he notes, the episode is  “a case study on how important it is to repel foreign interference before it gets to the political centre”.

But the primary responsibility for dealing with these issues can’t rest with foreign journalists, but with our own leaders.    I’m not sure that leaves me with much (any) reason for optimism.

(Due to New Zealand’s somewhat absurd electoral laws, I will remove any comments put up between midnight tonight and 7pm tomorrow that have any sort of party political tinge, so please refrain from making them.)

Immigration, the election, and shelf-stackers

Back in February I had coffee with a senior journalist, who was convinced that immigration was going to be a central issue in this year’s election campaign.  The journalist cited the Trump and Brexit phenomena, and I suppose at the time Geert Wilders and Marine le Pen were in the wind.   I was a bit sceptical.  I’d, mostly, have welcomed such a central place in the election campaign for what I regard as one of the key long-term failings in our economic policy settings.   But I didn’t really see any sign of a Trumpian insurgent – or a mood that was just waiting for such a person – or of the fascinating mix of motivations (immigration was only one) that had driven the Brexit vote.  But my interlocutor told me that political party focus groups were picking immigration up as a key issue, and suggested that the media need to attract readers would help fuel an intense focus on immigration.  I think there was a sense back then that National was in such a strong position in the polls that an issue like immigration would, as much as anything, be hyped to help keep things interesting.

As I say, I was sceptical –  although interested in the focus group snippet (which I later had confirmed by one MP).   We had dreadfully high house prices, and a dismal productivity (and exports) performance. High immigration has played a part in both those outcomes.  But those weren’t, it seemed to me, the sort of visceral dimensions that seemed to have played such a part in other countries: our last experience of terrorism was state-sponsored, by France; we don’t have problems with illegal immigration (some upsides to being a remote island), and we haven’t had problems with substantial Muslim immigration.  And for all my concerns about the mediocre quality of the skills of the median migrant, we’ve done less badly on that count that many other OECD countries (again, land borders and an explicit economic focus to the programme both help).

But now we are two days out from the election, and it is clear that immigration hasn’t played a particularly important role in the campaign at all.  New Zealand First –  which might have been a natural recipient of votes if there had been an upsurge in serious concerns –  looks as if it might end up with a smaller vote share than it had in 2014.   The government made some minor tweaks to immigration policy this year, on top of some other minor tweaks last year.   And Labour’s immigration policy didn’t involve much change –  outside the overseas student sector –  and hasn’t (at least that I’ve seen) had any pro-active place in their campaigning.   Oh, and the Greens’ leader ended up abjectly apologising to his base, casting slurs all round, for even having suggested last year a rational debate on the appropriate rate of immigration.

It is interesting to ponder why immigration hasn’t been a key issue.  After all, if one focuses (inappropriately, but as the headline writers do) on the PLT numbers there has been no abatement in the net inflow (whether of non-citizens –  the bit policy bears on –  or the reduced outflow of citizens).  And the “true” net inflow is almost as high, as a per cent of the population, as the previous peak 15 years ago, and it has run on for longer.

One reason is, presumably, the change in the political personalities.  At the start of the year, many thought the campaign might see Labour at or below the vote share it got in 2014, and New Zealand First and Greens perhaps both polling in the teens, and scrapping for second place in a possible left-led government.  Perhaps that might have been a climate in which Labour and New Zealand First in particular might have more prominently battled to capture those who were concerned about immigration-related issues.  But the “Jacinda effect” transformed that outlook and the campaign has mostly been like something from the old days: two big parties, with some minor players struggling for attention and coverage.    And although Labour has stuck with the immigration policy announced under Andrew Little, it is clear that Ardern has made a conscious choice to de-emphasise that policy, even though the focus of the proposed changes was on the deeply-flawed student market.

But I wonder whether some other factors aren’t at least as relevant among voters (and for all the talk of “leadership” a great deal of what politicians do is “followership”).   For one, house price inflation has abated in much of the country, and although house prices in Auckland remain sky-high they’ve gone roughly sideways for a year or so.    Quite why that has happened is still debated, but it isn’t because (a) the rate of growth of the number of people needing a roof over their head has slowed, or (b) because housebuilding in Auckland is now proceeding so rapidly that it has got ahead of population growth, or (c) because regulatory reforms have freed up land use sufficiently that peripheral section prices are now plummeting.     More plausibly, it is some mix of (a) rising domestic interest rates, (b) the tighter LVR controls the Reserve Bank put on last year, (c) tighter credit standards the banks themselves have established, under the influence of parents and of APRA, and (d) reduced capital outflows from China as the regime has tightened-up its controls.  But whatever the precise reason, it has taken much of intense heat out of the house price issue –  imagine if the opposition has still been able to repeat endlessly “house prices in Auckland are up another [x] per cent in just the last six months.   And with it, much of the heat around the immigration issue?

And the other reason –  one of the reasons I was sceptical of the political salience of the issue at present –  is the point I have been arguing for (and that previous generations of NZ economists recognised ) for years.  In the short-term, high and unexpected immigration adds more to demand in the economy than it does to supply.  In other words, it tends to boost economic activity –  measured or headline GDP for example –  and put more pressure on scarce resources.  Migrants don’t take jobs from locals, or add to unemployment; if anything, in the short to medium term, they add more to the demand for labour (all that capital stock that needs to be built) than to supply, and thus migration inflows tend to reduce unemployment.   The sugar-high is a real thing.  The effects might not last long, but when the dose is repeated each year for several in a row, it does have an effect.

There might have been no productivity growth at all for five years, but that sort of concept or measure doesn’t easily get much public resonance.  Exports might be shrinking as a share of GDP, as the need to build to cope with a rapidly-rising population crowds out the tradables sector……but it is a geeky macro statistic, and not one that anyone has successfully built a narrative around.  And perhaps people aren’t feeling good about their wages, but as I’ve noted recently, real wages have been rising consistently faster than productivity for some years now.  It is an unsustainable, unbalanced, mix, but it isn’t one that was ever going to capture the public imagination in any sort of “build a wall” way.  In the short-term, for those (most) with jobs things don’t seem too bad.  And even the Leader of Opposition has repeated on numerous occasions that the economy is doing fine.

And, of course, few of us want to be nasty about individual migrants (and of course, as I argue, the issue is New Zealand policy, not the rational choices of individuals), and no one wants to be subject to the dread “r-word” slur.

In many respects, I’ve long thought that the best environment for a serious public pushback against the out-of-step, failing, immigration policy we have run for a long time, is in the next severe downturn.  I wouldn’t welcome recessions – and remain concerned that the government and the Reserve Bank aren’t doing enough to prepare for the next one – but in a sense it is in periods when things are manifestly not going well that one is perhaps more likely to find a willingness to contemplate serious change in policy.  That’s a shame –  the best time (easiest adjustment) to make changes would be now, when the economic environment globally isn’t too bad –  but perhaps it is unavoidable, especially when (as above) we –  fortunately – don’t have the visceral issues around immigration that some other countries do.

Immigration policy did come up at the local candidates’ meeting last night.   The minor party representatives were predictable –  the Greens candidate was adamant that we “knew” that migrants benefited us economically, while on the other side the most entertaining TOP candidate –  whose opening speech was done in iambic pentameter – made the case for easier access for really skilled migrants, but for fewer migrants overall to ease the (claimed) downward pressure on wages.

Chris Finlayson repeated some of the serious misrepresentations that seem to characterise his party’s view.  We were told of the lots of New Zealanders who were coming back from Australia (when in the year to June 2017, a net 4678 New Zealanders left for Australia) and about how the immigration policy was bringing in the tradespeople wiuth the skills needed for, for example, the housebuilding.  I heard the PM repeat that line –  who will build the houses if we cut immigration – on Radio New Zealand yesterday: I would draw his attention, and that of his minister and local candidate to the data suggesting that the net immigration of building trades people is very small relative to (a) the actual increase in the construction workforce in recent years, and (b) to the total increase in the need for new housebuilding occasioned by the rapid increase in the population.   High immigration is worsening, not easing, those pressures.

But it was Labour candidate –  and near-certain winner –  Deputy Mayor, Paul Eagle whose comments on immigration really caught my attention.  He was obviously feeling on the defensive about the issue, and thus even though Labour’s actual policy proposals focus (numerically) mostly on fixing up some of the rorts around the student visa sector, he never mentioned that issue at all.  Instead, he wanted to stress that Labour welcomed immigration, and that we need immigration in some sectors.  It sounded fine, more or less, until he went on:  “Island Bay New World needs people”.   So can we take it that official Labour policy, enunciated by a candidate likely to be an MP for many years to come, is that we need immigration –  perhaps even more immigration –  so that the supermarket shelves get stacked?  What, I wondered, had we come to?  Once –  in MBIE”s words – a “critical economic enabler”, and now shelf stackers?

(And for anyone interested in some more observations from our Attorney-General, someone asked from the floor about Jim Bolger’s recent denunciation of “neo-liberalism”.  This senior minister got up and indicated he had talked to Bolger about what he had said, clarifying that he had meant the policies adopted by Labour and National governments between 1984 and 1993.  Finlayson himself went on to characterise that period as one of “extremist economic policies” concluding that “that ideology does not work, and we are not that sort of party”.  One brave member of the audience –  Island Bay is a pretty left-liberal sort of place –  called out “but none of it has been repealed has it?”        Was it floating the exchange rate, removing farm subsidies, removing trade protection, making credit available to ordinary people, lowering maximum marginal tax rates, ending fiscal deficits as a norm, putting in place a good GST, removing union monopolies, privatising state-owned business operating in competitive markets, or what……that the Attorney-General of an allegedly centre-right pro-market government regarded as “extremist”? )

The political cone of silence, with slurs

I’m furious.

Local democracy came to Island Bay this evening, and I –  an undecided voter – joined the crowd at the local candidates’ meeting, in the Rongotai electorate.   Candidates congratulated themselves on a well-fought campaign –  as the National Party’s candidate put it, not a cross word had been spoken between any of them through all the various meetings they’ve attended together.  Most of tonight’s meeting was like that.  Most.

Over the years, I’ve heard nothing to suggest that the National Party’s candidate was other than an honourable and decent man.  The Hon. Chris Finlayson is the 8th ranked Cabinet minister, minister responsible for the intelligence services, and Attorney-General.  He appoints our judges.  And as he described himself tonight, he is “the first law officer in the land”.  You’d imagine he’d be at the forefront of defending the integrity of our democratic system and its institutions.  But not based on his performance tonight.

The format of the meeting allowed questions from the floor.  Each question had to be addressed to one particular candidate, but each other candidate also had a chance to answer.  On almost all the questions, almost all the candidates took the opportunity to answer.  But not on one question.

I got up and asked a question of Chris Finlayson, explicitly noting that I was not asking him as a minister responsible for the intelligence services (where I would have expected a fob-off) but as a senior National Party figure.   My question ran roughly as follows:

“Mr Finlayson, last week one of the world’s leading newspapers, the Financial Times gave considerable prominence to a story about a New Zealand MP.  That MP had been a member of the Chinese communist party, and part of the Chinese intelligence services.  He never disclosed that past to the public when he stood for Parliament, and has never taken the opportunity to denounce the evils of the Chinese regime.  Can you comment on why it is appropriate for such a person to be in our Parliament?  And could you also comment on the new paper by Professor Anne-Marie Brady raising concerns about the extent of China’s attempts to exert political influence in New Zealand, and about the close ties of various senior National Party figures with Chinese interests?”

The question was greeted not with embarrassed silence, but with pretty vigorous applause from the floor.

Finlayson –  our Attorney-General, first law officer of the land, senior National Party minister  – got up, briefly.   His answer ran roughly as follows:

“That was a Newsroom article, timed to damage the man politically.  I’m not going to respond to any of the allegations that have been made about/against him. I think it is disgraceful that a whole class of people have been singled out for racial abuse.  As for Professor Brady, I don’t think she likes any foreigners at all.”

And as I shouted back “the claim was about one man”, our Attorney-General sat down.  He’d simply refused to answer, or even address, the question, at any level other than suggesting that anyone raising these quite serious issues was a racist or a xenophobe.  Starting, presumably, with the Asia editor of the Financial Times, Jamil Anderlini a Kuwaiti-born Italian-American New Zealander who has spent almost 20 years in China, including more than a decade reporting from Beijing (and now is based in Hong Kong) through to Professor Brady, with all the other serious media outlets and China-focused commentators overseas who have reported the concerns somewhere in-between?   It was preposterous.  Plus, one couldn’t help thinking that he knew he was on weak ground.  After all, if there was a clear, simple, authoritative and compelling explanation, presumably he’d have given it.

I hold the Attorney-General –  first law officer of the land –  to a considerably higher standard than other local candidates.   And the specific question was actually about a National Party MP, National Party selection choices, and the ties of National Party figures to Chinese business and political interests.

And, as I said, on every other question this evening, all the other candidates rushed to the microphone to have their say, on everything from apprentices to housing to guidance counsellors.  But not one of the others said a word on the Chinese government’s politicial influence seeking in New Zealand, or specifically on Jian Yang’s position.   Not the Labour candidate –  deputy mayor of Wellington, and sure to become a member of Parliament on Saturday.  Not the quite highly ranked, and apparently very able, Greens candidate.  Not the TOP candidate, or the Conservative candidate.  Strangely, not even the New Zealand First candidate, who was presumably unaware that his party had taken a stand, both on Yang, and on the more general issues Professor Brady has raised about the activities in New Zealand of the Chinese government.     Not a word, from a single one of them.  It left me wondering about what our democracy was coming to.

As it happens, there was someone in the room who knew Professor Brady; in fact, this woman had done her masters thesis under Brady’s guidance.    Noting that Finlayson had tried to claim that Professor Brady didn’t like any foreigners, she proceeded to point out that not only was Brady fluent in Mandarin, but that her husband was Chinese.    Cue to guffaws and applause, and a rather grudging apology by the Attorney-General for his specific claims about one of our leading experts on China and its international activities.

It was a shameful performance all round.  The candidates can congratulate themselves all they like on the bonhomie of the campaign, but when not one of them will even address a serious question, raising concerns themselves raised by serious international publications and respected experts –  and Brady’s paper has been linked to and report quite widely –  it rather gives the game away.   As Professor Brady put it in her paper, the fear of giving any offence to the government of the People’s Republic of China –  a brutal  and aggressive dictatorship –  seems to have been raised to a defining feature of New Zealand politics, and not just by National.

We saw it on display tonight, nowhere more so than in the despicable performance by our Attorney-General and first law officer.   How safe is our democracy, our values and freedoms, our laws, in such hands?

 

A near-complete cone of silence

I’d been planning to write a post today about the near-complete cone of silence that seems to have descended over elite New Zealand around the Jian Yang scandal.   That a former member of the Chinese intelligence service, former (perhaps present, if passive) member of the Chinese Communist Party, still in the very good graces of the Chinese authorities –  never, for example, having denounced the oppressive expansionist regime he served –  sits in New Zealand’s Parliament, nominated to again win a seat in Parliament on Saturday, is both astonishing –  at least to those like me who haven’t been close observers of such things –  and reprehensible.   That it seems not to bother anyone in, or close to, power (at least enough to do or say anything) is perhaps even more alarming.  There was a wave of stories in the first 24 hours after the Financial Times/Newsroom stories broke, and then……well, almost nothing.

There has been a lame excuse offered up:  Jane Bowron in the Dominion-Post noted that it was election time and there is lots else to write about.  And actually I more or less buy the line that there aren’t the journalistic resources to do much new digging right now.  But (a) it is election week, when we make choices about the sort of people and parties we want governing us, and (b) how hard can it be to ask, and keep on asking, political leaders of whatever stripe about this story, on the basis of what has already been published, and on what Yang has already acknowledged (years later)?     Report, again and again if necessary, that a key political figure refused to comment, but don’t simply ignore the story.

But then Newsroom this morning had another important story, putting the Yang story in the much wider context of the systematic efforts of the Chinese authorities (state and party), and drawing on a new paper by University of Canterbury politics professor, and expert on China and its ambitions, Anne-Marie Brady.   Her paper Magic Weapons: China’s political influence activities under Xi Jinping  was presented at a conference in the United States a few days ago: the conference title “The corrosion of democracy under China’s global influence”.    What makes it so compelling is that it is a detailed case study of China’s efforts in New Zealand.  It isn’t heavy analysis, but simply nugget after nugget that builds a deeply disquieting picture, and perhaps makes disturbing sense of the cone of silence around Jian Yang.   Every thinking New Zealand should read Brady’s paper.

As she notes early in the paper

New Zealand’s relationship with China is of interest, because the Chinese government regards New Zealand as an exemplar of how it would like its relations to be with other states. In 2013, China’s New Zealand ambassador described the two countries’ relationship as “a model to other Western countries”.

With, one hopes, a degree of hyperbole, she goes on to note (quoting an anonymous source)

And after Premier Li Keqiang visited New Zealand in 2017, a Chinese diplomat favourably compared New Zealand-China relations to the level of closeness China had with Albania in the early 1960s.

She goes on to outline the huge effort China puts in to attempting to manage the Chinese diaspora, whether in New Zealand or other countries.

After more than 30 years of this work, there are few overseas Chinese associations able to completely evade “guidance”—other than those affiliated with the religious group Falungong, Taiwan independence, pro-independence Tibetans and Uighurs, independent Chinese religious groups outside party-state controlled religions, and the democracy movement—and even these are subject to being infiltrated by informers and a target for united front work.

She records that these efforts have greatly intensified under Xi Jinping – as internal repression in China has as well.

Even more than his predecessors, Xi Jinping has led a massive expansion of efforts to shape foreign public opinion in order to influence the decision-making of foreign governments and societies

This includes seeking, largely successfully, to gain effective control over Chinese-language media (with exceptions as above) and encouraging political involvement of overseas Chinese.

This policy encourages overseas Chinese who are acceptable to the PRC government to become involved in politics in their host countries as candidates who, if elected, will be able to act to promote China’s interests abroad; and encourages China’s allies to build relations with non-Chinese pro-CCP government foreign political figures, to offer donations to foreign political parties, and to mobilize public opinion via Chinese language social media; so as to promote the PRC’s economic and political agenda abroad.42 Of course it is completely normal and to be encouraged that the ethnic Chinese communities in each country seek political representation; however this initiative is separate from that spontaneous and natural development.

And neutralising, or even coopting,  members of local media and academe.

Coopt foreign academics, entrepreneurs, and politicians to promote China’s perspective in the media and academia. Build up positive relations with susceptible individuals via shows of generous political hospitality in China. The explosion in numbers of all-expenses-paid quasi-scholarly and quasi-official conferences in China (and some which are held overseas) is a notable feature of the Xi era, on an unprecedented scale.

As she notes, New Zealand hasn’t been immune to that strand of influence.   In part we do it to ourselves –  there are, for example, the New Zealand government sponsored New Zealand China Council media awards.  Or sponsored trips for selected journalists to China, paid for the New Zealand China Friendship Society (didn’t the Soviets used to sponsor such bodies?).    It becomes harder to ask awkward questions when awards and sponsored travel opportunities might depend on not doing so.   I don’t suppose the New Zealand China Council  –  chaired by Don McKinnon, including the chief executive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade – would be at all pleased by open scrutiny and debate about Jian Yang’s background, his ongoing relationship with the Chinese authorities, and his presence in our Parliament.   It might –  no doubt would –  upset China, not a country known for its tolerance of robust scrutiny and challenge.  These days, one has to wonder whether we still are, at least when it comes to China.

One of the most interesting bits of the paper is Brady’s discussion of why New Zealand interests China.    Here is some of her text

But New Zealand is of interest to China for a number of significant reasons. First of all, the New Zealand government is responsible for the defence and foreign affairs of three other territories in the South Pacific: the Cook Islands, Niue, and Tokelau—which potentially means four votes for China at international organisations. New Zealand is a claimant state in Antarctica and one of the closest access points there; China has a long-term strategic agenda in Antarctica that will require the cooperation of established Antarctic states such as New Zealand. New Zealand has cheap arable land and a sparse population and China is seeking to access foreign arable land to improve its food safety.  ……

New Zealand is also a member of the UKUSA intelligence agreement, the Five Power Defense Arrangement, and the unofficial ABCA grouping of militaries, as well as a NATO partner state. Breaking New Zealand out of these military groupings and away from its traditional partners, or at the very least, getting New Zealand to agree to stop spying on China for the Five Eyes, would be a major coup for China’s strategic goal of becoming a global great power. New Zealand’s ever closer economic, political, and military relationship with China, is seen by Beijing as an exemplar to Australia, the small island nations in the South Pacific, as well as more broadly, other Western states.

Not all of it is wholly compelling –  Tokelau isn’t independent, and the Cooks and Niue aren’t members of many international organisations. But the overall story makes a lot of sense.   If you wonder about the Antarctic bit, Brady is an expert on China’s Antarctic policies and aspirations.

On the other hand, you have to wonder quite why New Zealand governments should pay so much court to China.  Exports from New Zealand firms to China account directly for only about 5 per cent of our GDP (exports from Canadian firms to the US are, by contrast, 23 per cent of Canada’s GDP). And many of those exports –  notably dairy products and lamb –  are for relatively homogeneous products that would end up sold elsewhere, perhaps at lower prices, if somehow China restricted the ability of New Zealand firms to export.    There is, of course, the Chinese student market –  almost half the total student visas issued last year were to Chinese students –  but, as is now well-recognised the export education industry is a pretty troubled and distorted one, often as much about immigration aspirations as about the quality of the education product on offer.   So university vice-chancellors, and their colleagues in lesser institutions, might have a strong private interest in not upsetting China but it isn’t obvious that the citizenry of New Zealand share that interest, when it comes to defending our values and our system.

Brady argues that the emphasis on the China relationship appears to have greatly intensified under the current government

the current prominence afforded the China relationship has accelerated dramatically under the government that won the election in 2008, the New Zealand National Party. The National Party government (2008-), follows two main principles on China: 1. The “no surprises” policy,72 which appears to mean avoiding the New Zealand government or its officials or anyone affiliated with government activities saying or doing anything that might offend the PRC government; and 2. a long-standing emphasis on “getting the political relationship right”, which under this National government has come to mean developing extensive and intimate political links with CCP local and national leaders and their representatives and affiliated actors in New Zealand.

She provides a concrete example of this desperate desire not to offend.

This cautiousness to not rock the boat over New Zealand-China relations lay behind New Zealand’s reluctance to join the USA and Australia to criticize China’s military base building activities in the South China Sea. Following massive pressure from Australia and the US, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key (2008-2016) and other ministers made a series of muted remarks in 2015 and 2016, but it was far from what  New Zealand’s allies had hoped for, who have frequently accused the National government of being soft on China. The New Zealand National government’s reticence to speak out on this issue, despite the fact New Zealand has the fourth largest maritime territory in the world and relies on respect for international norms for the protection of its rights, is one telling example of the effectiveness of China’s soft power efforts in New Zealand in recent years.

Brady highlights concerns around a number of local Chinese politicians –  not just Yang, but also Labour’s Raymond Huo and former ACT MP (and until recently, deputy leader) Kenneth Wang.   You can read some of those concerns, and apparently serious questions, for yourself.

Through much of the rest of her article, Brady writes in some detail about the various webs of connection that help create an economic interest among many leading New Zealand figures in not rocking the boat.  As I’ve noted previously, the Chinese banks operating in New Zealand have four former senior National Party figures on their various boards (Jenny Shipley, Ruth Richardson, Don Brash and former minister Chirs Tremain).  Jenny Shipley served for a number of years on the main parent board of one of the Chinese banks (all effectively still controlled by the Party) and has a number of senior appointments on boards sponsored by the Chinese government.    Senior National figures are closely tied into companies exporting dairy products to China.

As Brady notes, for the time being the issue is mostly around National Party figures, but surely only because their party is currently in government.  It seems unlikely that the Chinese would not be similarly keen on aligning Labour figures should the government change here.   She repeats the story of the fundraising for Phil Goff’s mayoral campaign: at a charity auction in Auckland, a bidder from China paid $150000 for the Selected Works of Xi Jinping.

Brady concludes with a big picture

SELRES_424b093c-5aa4-4648-8116-11850f67a020New Zealand’s needs to face up to some of the political differences and challenges in the New Zealand-China relationship and to investigate the extent and impact of Chinese political influence activities on our democracy. This study is a preliminary one, highlighting representative concerns. New Zealand would be wise to follow Australia’s example and take seriously the issue of China’s big push to increase its political influence activities, whether it be through a Special Commission or a closeddoor investigation. It may be time to seek a re-adjustment in the relationship, one which ensures New Zealand’s interests are foremost. Like Australia, we may also need to pass new legislation which better reflects the heightened scale of foreign influence attempts in our times. New Zealand can find a way to better manage its economic and political relationship with China, and thereby, truly be an exemplar to other Western states in their relations with China.SELRES_424b093c-5aa4-4648-8116-11850f67a020

That rings true to me. But for now, my interest is in the specifics of the Yang case.   It is extraordinary that a man with such a past –  and no interest in denouncing the tyrants he worked for –  is in our Parliament, and seems likely to be in it again next week.   But more alarming is the total silence of our elites.

I can’t believe that most of them –  media, politicians, past politicians –  are really comfortable with the situation.  But if they put their personal economic interests ahead of the interests, and values, of the people of our nation, by just keeping quiet, it makes no difference that they might be a little uncomfortable.  They have, in effect, sold their own country, and its values, for a mess of potage.

The media, and the academic community (the ones who still want to get to China anyway) are just as culpable –  most of the media not even now doing their most basic job and asking the questions – but I jotted down a list of senior politicians –  past and present –  that we should be able to look to for leadership.

We could look to current and past National Party leaders.   But Key and English have led the charge to strengthen the “vassal” relationship with the Chinese (and Brady reports that Key is now working for Comcast on its projects in China), and were the National Party leaders when Yang was recruited.    What about their predecessors?   Well, Brash chairs a Chinese bank , and Shipley has multiple Chinese directorships etc.  It would be costly to speak out.  But what about Jim Bolger –  certainly willing to speak out recently about “neoliberalism”, but what about submission to China’s interests?

What about former National ministers of finance.   Well, there is English, and Ruth Richardson (various Chinese directorships) –  and Bill Birch, but he is now quite elderly.   Or former Foreign Ministers?   Well, McCully should probably be asked about Saudi sheep deals…..and led the strategy to cosy up to China.  And Don McKinnon, but then he chairs the government’s China Council.    Any of these people could speak up –  sometimes principles cost –  but, sad as it is, perhaps it is no surprise they don’t.

And normally, a week out from an election you might expect strident comment from the Opposition.  But this time? Nothing?    And if it would disrupt the “relentlessly positive” narrative, what about former eminent Labour figures –  Cullen, Moore, Palmer, Goff, Clark?  Not a word though.

What of ACT’s leader?  Is this the sort of standard he accepts in the party he depends on?  What of the leaders of the Greens or the Maori Party?   Not a word from any of them.

The pattern of silence should leave us wondering just whose interests our leaders have been serving.     There is something to be said for politicians leaving office late in life and settling quietly into a dignified retirement.   It would be quite deeply disturbing if any of them are shaping their in-office approach to (eg) China with a view to their after-office economic opportunities –  consciously or otherwise.   A submssive approach to the Chinese government and party isn’t in our interests –  even if it might be in the personal interests of some present and former politicians and some business owners.

There are other people the media could –  if they were so minded –  seek comment from.  Mai Chen, for example, chairs something called New Zealand Asian Leaders.  Surely Jian Yang-  with such a disturbing past, so much hidden from the public, and a quite disturbing alignement with Xi Jinping’s Beijing now –  can’t be the sort of Antipodean Asian leadership they envisaged?

We aren’t, of course, a 1960s Albania to China.    But what the Yang episode highlights, as one example of the more general pattern Brady draws our attention to, is that we seem to have gone some considerable way down a slippery slope and need to pull back.  Some hard questions from the media, and some honest answers from politicians, would be a start.  And perhaps some courage on behalf of at least one of those decent people who has got too close to Chinese interests –  initially with the best will in the world – to say “enough”?

Before we (well, the rest of us) vote perhaps?

UPDATE (Wednesday pm).  This Herald article is at least in start in terms of the mainstream media addressing the issues and approaching some of the people concerned.

Employment growth: simply not that spectacular

There was another post on Kiwiblog this morning, attempting to cast New Zealand’s recent economic performance in a particularly good light.   Here was the bit that really caught my eye:

this is not just exceptional job growth locally, but internationally. Here’s the percentage increase in in major OECD countries in 2016:

  1. NZ 5.7%
  2. Germany 2.9%
  3. Ireland 2.9%
  4. US 1.8%
  5. OECD 1.6%
  6. Australia 1.6%
  7. Sweden 1.5%
  8. UK 1.4%
  9. Canada 0.7%
  10. France 0.6%
  11. Finland 0.5%

Now there are at least three problems with this comparison:

  • it makes no allowance for the much more rapid rate of population growth in New Zealand than in almost any other OECD country,
  • it cherry-picks the OECD countries it compares us with (I’m not sure when Ireland and Finland became “major” OECD countries), and
  • it ignores the break in the HLFS hours worked and employment series in 2016q2.  In fairness, the author might not have been aware of the break, but serious economic analysts (including the Treasury) are.

I illustrated the break in the series in a post several months ago.

What about the rate of job growth.  Fortunately, we have two measures: the (currently hard-to-read) HLFS household survey measure of numbers of people employed, and the QES (partial) survey of employers asking how many jobs are filled.   Unsurprisingly, the trend in the two series are usually pretty similar, even if there is a fair bit of quarter to quarter volatility.

employment

Since we know there are problems in the HLFS, and the QES doesn’t look to be doing something odd, perhaps we are safest in assuming that the number of jobs has been growing at an annual rate of around 2.5 to 3 per cent.   That isn’t bad at all. But SNZ also estimates that the working age population has been growing at around 2.7 per cent per annum.  No wonder the unemployment rate is only inching down.

Now that we have 2017q2 data, so a full year on the new HLFS questions, the annual percentage growth rates of the two employment series have indeed converged again.

hlfs and qes E

In other words, one can’t take as meaningful any annual percentage growth in the HLFS employment (or hours) numbers for calendar 2016.

A better way to deal with all three issues is to look at the percentage point change in the employment to population ratio for the whole OECD group.   The most recent period for which we have full data for all countries is 2017q1.  For New Zealand, using growth in employment over the year to 2017q1 would still be distorted by the break in the series, so for New Zealand only I’ve shown the change in the employment to population ratio from 2016q2 to 2017q2.

E to popn last year

And on this – much more useful – comparison, New Zealand ends up as a middling performer, the median country.   There is no stellar New Zealand “job creating machine”, just a huge increase in working age population.     Job growth isn’t to be gainsaid, but it is productivity growth (or the absence of it) that is the key determinant of gains in medium-term living standards.  And did I mention that there had been no productivity growth, at all, for the last five years now?

(To be clear, I would not put much –  if any –  weight on a single year comparison.  After all, all labour force surveys have some sampling error.  But if people want to make sense of employment growth, in international comparison, over just the most recent year, this is really the only sensible way to do it.  As it happens, over that year, our change in the employment to population ratio was the same as that for the OECD as a whole.  It was just a bit less than that for the EU as a whole and for the euro-area –  who, of course, generally had a deeper unemployment hole to climb out of.)