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  • rmacculloch

Today one of New Zealand's best ever mathematicians, Vaughan Jones, has died. I met up with him several years ago and he turned up in bare feet. I was much impressed. For a brief summary of his life and outstanding contributions to the subject, see:

How is this news relevant to NZ's future? Well, our politicians are presently debating, as part of the election campaign, whether the country can develop more of a green, knowledge-based economy the next few decades. A key subject required to achieve such a goal is mathematics.

Yet schools are struggling greatly to recruit specialized maths teachers. Some of our countries leading mathematicians tell me that the problem is the pay structure. Gifted maths teachers can command high earnings in professions outside teaching, so need to be especially well remunerated compared to most other teachers to stay at a school. However teacher pay structures do not typically allow for such flexibility. What's the result of not sorting out this problem? New Zealand’s international test scores in maths have been on a decade-long downward trend, as measured by the OECD.

It's not a small problem. Without sorting out the maths teacher crisis, we're unlikely to ever become a "knowledge based", high wage economy. Not a single one of our politicians has addressed this issue on the campaign trail.

  • rmacculloch

Today the Labour Party announced a rise in the top tax rate, from 33% to 39% for those earning over $180,000, should it win the upcoming election. Of course, few people in that income category are likely to be Labour supporters anyhow.

What to make of it? Looks like a shrewd political calculation. The amount of revenue raised will not make a significant dent to NZ's ballooning levels of public debt. However the policy sends a powerful signal. Labour is mapping out its territory for being fiscally responsible. It's biggest weakness - up until yesterday - had been that it was happy to continue on a spending and borrowing spree, arguing debt was no big deal since interest rates are so low. Now Labour is signalling that is prepared to address, even in a limited way, how that debt is going to be repaid.

Crucially, Labour has put the ball firmly in National's court. Since the Nats must respond by arguing that they are the more fiscally conservative party. After all, fiscal responsibility is their territory. But how? Having promised not to increase taxes, National will be forced to say they will make spending cuts. But cuts to what? The heat is on.

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Robert MacCulloch

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