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The Productivity Commission has just released an "Inquiry" on disadvantage, poverty & inequality. Isn't that meant to be the job of the Ministry of Social Development? Anyhow, the Inquiry is called, "A fair chance for all - Breaking the cycle of persistent disadvantage". The word "productivity" barely rates a mention - about 12 times throughout the body of the 179 page report (aside from appearing in endless repetitions of the name, "Productivity Commission"). By contrast, the word "disadvantage" occurs 545 times.

The Inquiry describes "four barriers as underlying drivers of disadvantage" being power imbalances, discrimination, siloed government & short-termism by politicians. It argues these have hurt Māori & Pacific people's life satisfaction & well-being particularly badly, since "Any experience of disadvantage negatively affects life satisfaction and wellbeing .. As might be expected, we found that people with no temporary or persistent disadvantage have the highest life satisfaction scores of any group. Life satisfaction declines when disadvantage in any domain is experienced, and it decreases further if disadvantage is experienced in multiple domains or over longer time periods".

Raising well-being for disadvantaged groups & indigenous development are two of my fields in economics, so let's look at the assumed stark differences in life satisfaction, depending on ethnicity, that form the foundation of the entire Inquiry. Below are Stats NZ figures (that were never reported by the Commission):

Average life satisfaction across all ethnicities is the same, at 7.9 out of 10. A higher proportion of Māori & Pacific peoples report 10 out of 10 compared to any other ethnic group. Amazingly, 22% of Pacific peoples and 21% of Māori rate themselves as a perfect 10 score, compared to 16% of Europeans.

These findings are the opposite to those reported by the Commission. Why did it hide the incredible levels of life satisfaction experienced by most Māori & Pacific peoples? Does the Chair of the Productivity Commission not know about the well-being statistics and important academic articles that have been written in this field?

When we invited the founder of well-being economics, Professor Richard Easterlin, out for a visit he specifically referred to this finding. Why? Since he considers the most disadvantaged folks to be those trapped on the hedonic treadmill, which is the quest for more material goods & services in a never-ending struggle to "keep up with the Joneses".


Barely a week goes by when someone in NZ tries to sound knowledgeable & authoritative by saying something like, "Well, a Harvard Professor found A, B and C", which tells us we have to be doing "X, Y and Z in New Zealand". Well a barrage of "cluster-fake" allegations are currently being levelled at a leading Professor at Harvard Business School:

The authors detail "evidence of fraud in four academic papers co-authored by a [Harvard Business School Professor] .. because we had concerns that they contained fraudulent data .. We discovered evidence of fraud in papers spanning over a decade, including papers published quite recently (in 2020). In the Fall of 2021, we shared our concerns with Harvard Business School (HBS) .. We believe that many more (of the Harvard Professor's) papers contain fake data. Perhaps dozens .. As you can see on her Harvard home page [the Harvard Professor] has gone on "administrative leave", and the name of her chaired position at HBS is no longer listed".

= "We have learned (from knowledgeable sources outside of Harvard) that a few days ago Harvard requested that three of the four papers in our report be retracted. A fourth paper, discussed in today’s post, had already been retracted, but we understand that Harvard requested the retraction notice be amended to include mention of this (additional) fraud".

When Kiwis have been told to put faith in the "experts", particularly medical ones and modelers and such like these past pandemic years, and to trust their advice, this is perhaps a wake-up call to remain wary at all times. It's not just trust in media that is hitting rock bottom - maybe academics should take a look at themselves also.

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Robert MacCulloch

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