Past event: 2015 Public Finance Debates

An overview of the 2015 Public Finance Debates.

The Government Economics Network and Chair in Public Finance present the 2015 Public Finance Debate Series.

Each debate was structured in a similar way to previous years – 20 minutes from each speaker, and 10 minutes from the commentator, followed by a show of hands to decide the winner. Each positions (proponent or opponent) was selected by the debate organisers, not the speakers themselves. Each speaker was been asked to make the case strongly either for or against each of the propositions - to inform, identify the strengths of the arguments/evidence used to support particular views and to enhance the debate ‘atmosphere’. The views and arguments expressed by the speakers did not necessarily reflect either their personal views or the official policy or position of their employer

Debate 1: Today’s policy settings unfairly favour the baby boomer generation, 20 April 2015

Professor Bob Buckle, Ms Becky Prebble, Professor Norman Gemmell and Dr Simon Chapple

Recent debates around government impacts on economic inequality have had relatively little to say about age-related inequality. But government decisions impact on different age groups in different ways. For example, income taxes play a large role in shaping the tax burden of people of working age while consumption taxes are more important for retired people. More generally, in a pay-as-you-go system, the people who directly benefit from spending promises in areas like pensions and health are often not the same people who pay the taxes that fund them. There is a risk that when this latter group of people reach the age of eligibility these spending promises will no longer be sustainable. Conversely, younger cohorts not only inherit spending commitments but also the fruits of innovation and capital build-up of earlier generations.

Debate organisers allocated positions for the two speakers in advance of the debate. Ms. Becky Prebble was charged with arguing for the motion. Ms. Prebble touched on housing, tax and education leading to entry in the labour market as key policy areas which definitely favoured Baby-Boomers, compared to the conditions faced by generations X and Y.
Dr Simon Chapple countered this, noting that the Baby-boomers were not unfairly favoured, as they too had to take care of the generation before them, as well as the generations after them. Dr Chapple highlighted the idea that this was essentially related to well-being outcomes, and touched on the various advantages and disadvantages across the generations.
Both Ms. Prebble and Dr Chapple, answered a number of insightful questions from the audience. Both arguments were strong, as was evident in the tie at the end of the debate.

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Debate 2: Economic evidence should play a greater role in health policy evaluation, 20 May 2015

Geoff Simmons, Bronqyn Croxson and Jackie Cumming.

Should health interventions be assessed on evidence of clinical or economic success? One view is that economic evidence should play a greater role in health policy evaluation. Such evidence could, for example, help decide which interventions should be prioritised for funding within limited budgets. An alternative view, however, argues that the difficulties in measuring the outputs, let alone outcomes, of the health system mean that economic measures are limited. Rather than economic evaluation, health policy should place greater weight on clinical measures and judgements. At this debate speakers will outline the arguments for and against each of these views. The debate organisers allocated the postions for the debate Professor Jackie Cumming, Director, Health Services Research Centre, Victoria University of Wellington argued for the motion and Mr Geoff Simmons, General Manager of the Morgan Foundation, argued against it. Dr Bronwyn Croxson, Chief Economist from the Ministry of Health commentated the debate. There was some lively interaction with the audience and the debate was voted a tie.

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Debate 3: The ‘investment approach’ provides a helpful new tool for public spending policy and evaluation

Derek Gill, Fiona Ross, Bill Rosenberg, Patrick Nolan

The ‘investment approach to welfare,’ advocated and implemented by the National government as a basis for redesigning social welfare policy, has been the subject of various economic critiques. Most notably, that traditional social cost-benefit analysis provides a superior approach to evaluating policy outcomes or making policy choices. So, is the widening of the investment approach to a broader range of public spending and policies flawed for the same reasons? Or does an investment approach provide a better basis for future Budget spending decisions?Click for GEN homepage

The final debate of the 2015 series was held on 22 June at MBIE on Stout Street. As in previous debates, positions were randomly allocated by organisaers, with Mr. Derek Gill (Principal Economist, NZIER) speaking for the motion and Dr Bill Rosenberg (Economist and Director of Policy, NZCTU), Ms Fiona Ross (Deputy Secretary, Budget and Public Services, The Treasury) commentated the debate. There were a number of questions fielded from the large audience. Both speakers presented strong cases, and much of the audience found the case against the motion slightly more compelling.

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