Friday, July 16, 2004

Whingers and moaners

More evidence that our business leaders are simply whingers and moaners: New Zealand has maintained its third place ranking in the annual Economic Freedom of the World report. We share that equal ranking with such notably anti-business nations as Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States, and are ahead of both Australia and Canada.

Now, the report is little more than an index of what rich people need in order to enjoy their money, but it is the sort of thing our business leaders (as opposed to the rest of us) usually care about. Yet are they happy? No. This time round, they're complaining that our score is lower than it was in 1995 - a rather curious criticism given that a) fairly obviously, so is everybody else's; and b) they're usually whining about relative rankings rather than absolute ones - for example in their constant complaints that New Zealand is "less competititve" than Australia (in compiling the data for this report, the Business Round Table fairly clearly didn't think so), or the oft-quoted OECD "league tables".

But putting that aside, lets look at what the problem actually is. New Zealand scores particularly badly in one area: "regulation of labour markets". We score badly because

  • we have a minimum wage;
  • we have a welfare system;
  • we don't allow employers to hire and fire at will, or impose grossly one-sided contracts;
  • despite National's best efforts, we still have unions.

These are all "freedom for the pike" issues; regulation in these areas indeed detracts from the freedom of employers and business owners - but by doing so, it greatly enhances the actual freedom of everybody else. This is because we want a society where everybody is free, not just the rich, and where economic serfdom is outlawed.

I think that most of us would be quite happy with that. It's a testament to the moral bankruptcy of our business leaders that they are not.