Ten years of Initiative

Published in Insights, The New Zealand Initiative’s newsletter, 1 April 2022

Who would start a serious think tank on April Fools’ Day? Presumably someone with a good sense of humour.

Thus, the Initiative was established ten years ago today.

Perhaps the real reason for starting on 1 April had more to do with the beginning of the Financial Year. Since businesspeople were involved, that timing would make sense.

But whoever was responsible for that humorous start had a point. Both politics and think tanks benefit from a sense of humour, a healthy degree of irreverence, and a fair amount of self-deprecation.

Don’t get me wrong: The issues we are dealing with are no laughing matters. Some of them, such as the persistent inequities in our education system, are deeply depressing.

Nevertheless, sanctimonious talk does not help anyone. Nor does preaching to the converted or disguising one’s own doubts.

Much of our politics would be better if we accepted that even our friends can sometimes be wrong – and that our usual opponents may occasionally have good ideas. Both sides usually want to achieve similar things, just by different means.

And so, over the years, we have tried to reach out as much as we could. To disagree gently with those on our side when they deserved it. To find agreements with those opposite when they were right. And to do both in a good-humoured, friendly, and engaging way.

In the same spirit, we believe in clear and simple language. It is of no use to talk about policies to benefit everyone when hardly anyone understands them.

Worse still, thoughts will also become unclear when words are not clear.

As George Orwell said about the English language, it “becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.”

And so, after a decade at The New Zealand Initiative, I hope we have been clear without being boring. That we tried to make ourselves understood at least as much as we tried to understand others. That we write and speak in a language that connects thoughts and people.

Our goal is to add ideas, colour, and nuance to New Zealand’s debates in our often-polarised world.

And hopefully, the occasional dose of good humour, too. Not just on April Fools’ Day.

From all of us, thank you for your support over the past decade.

Dr Oliver Hartwich has been the Initiative’s Executive Director since 2012.

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