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True colours

Published in The Listener (Auckland), 19 October 2012
http://www.listener.co.nz/commentary/diary/oliver-hartwich-true-colours/

It’s hard for supporters when salaries trump team loyalties.

  • As I was watching Wellington Phoenix beat Sydney FC 2-0, I wasn’t sure which was stranger: seeing legendary Italian striker Alessandro Del Piero play football in New Zealand, or supporting a team dressed in black and yellow? I grew up supporting my local team, FC Schalke 04, the legendary “Royal Blues” from the West German mining town of Gelsenkirchen. To us Schalkers, the yellow-black colours of arch-rivals Borussia Dortmund are a worse provocation than a red rag to a bull. Not that we are colour-blind. But Del Piero in the A-League is even harder to get used to. It’s probably easier for the ex-Juventus star: his salary is higher than that of all of his Sydney FC teammates put together.
  • There are many definitions of the rule of law, but they usually include legal certainty, transparency and simplicity. I’m not sure the Government’s plans for a car-park tax would stand this test. Although we may all agree a car park is a perk and should be taxed, the devil is in the detail: is the car park set aside for you specifically or is it a pooled car park? Is it provided by the employer as part of an overall employment package? Should it only apply to CBD parking, and if so, where does the CBD end? You may wonder whether it is worth a whole legion of lawyers and bureaucrats to draw up rules for a tax that, in all likelihood, will yield insignificant revenue.
  • At a recent conference in Prague, I met Christian Sandström, a Swedish economist from Stockholm. As it turned out, we had more than a few European friends in common. Christian loves New Zealand. Little wonder: his girlfriend lives here. It didn’t take long to convince him to give a speech to the New Zealand Initiative in Wellington on October 24. And he has some interesting things to say. Both the political left and the political right regard Sweden as a social democratic state with a cradle-to grave welfare system. As Christian will show, they are both wrong: Sweden has moved on from such clichés. Perhaps left and right-wing commentators should do the same?
  • I am irritated by TSB Bank advertising its top two reasons for banking with it. They are both the same, namely that it is not Australian owned. Funny me. When I’m searching for a bank to do business with, I look for excellent customer service, low account fees, a good credit rating, a large network of branches and ATMs, secure and user-friendly online banking and, of course, competitive interest and mortgage rates. There must be people out there who don’t really care about any of the above. Otherwise, why would the marketing geniuses at TSB have decided the best thing they could say about their bank was that it isn’t Australian owned? There must be a niche in the Kiwi banking market for parochial jingoism. Good luck to TSB for serving it.
  • Lawyers and economists seldom have much to say to each other; prejudices rule their relationships. Economists are just unworldly utility maximisers, the lawyers are convinced. Meanwhile, economists believe the only people to study law are those not numerate enough to become economists or at least accountants. It seems the best way to establish a dialogue between the disciplines is to make them join the same club – clubs like the Law and Economics Association of New Zealand (Leanz). I just addressed one of its seminars on the law and economics of the euro crisis. To everyone’s surprise, it was a good evening with fruitful discussions. Not that we managed to solve the crisis, but at least we found some common ground: the euro is both a legal and an economic nightmare.
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