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Which is the waste of money?

Written By: - Date published: 10:33 am, June 10th, 2008 - 35 comments
Categories: Media, spin - Tags:

Every now and then a ‘commentator’ pops up who is so hilariously incompetent you don’t know whether to ignore them or mock them. In Bernard Hickey‘s case, it’s been the former because the man’s work is so bad – his numbers don’t add up half the time, his understanding of economics would have had my high school econ teacher reaching for his red pen, and his arguments show no consistency (one day he was mocking a government website for not being up to his expectations, next day he was attacking the Government for advertising to hire web designers). But seeing as Hickey announced two weeks ago that we would be chronicling an example of government waste every day, I thought it might be interesting to pop in and see how far he’s got.

Not very far. He’s managed just five posts on government waste, most of which are repetitive, and none of which offer any evidence (no, Bernard, bald assertion is not evidence) that the spending he has identified is wasteful. Even then, he claims only $450 million (0.75%) of government spending is ‘wasteful’. Cutting this ‘waste’ would come at the cost of destroying all the government’s policy development capability, never hiring any staff, not having any websites, not having any staff to communicate government policies and activities to the public, and breaking the collective agreement with the PSA, through which government workers won a fifth week’s annual leave after five years’ service. Bernard’s worked out a $2.70 a week tax cut for us, and it will only set us back one functioning public sector. That’s not a tax cut; that’s us being paid a couple of bucks to shoot ourselves in the foot.

On June 1, Hickey promised us one post per working day post on government waste until the election. That was his last post on the topic. I guess that, like National with it’s â€˜wastewatch‘ website, Hickey has found that empty bluster is easier than substance.

35 comments on “Which is the waste of money?”

  1. I think that the answer to your question is that it is Bernard Hickey who is the waste of money. Hope they’re not paying too much for him.

  2. Maybe he’s ill. I mean I’ve got no respect for the man but you could cut him some slack on this one because for all we know he’s had some kinda of personal crisis. Judging from the d4j tone of his last posts I’m picking some kind of breakdown…

  3. Joker 3

    Last time I looked at his blog I noticed that he gave you a bit of a schooling in the comments section Steve.

    I hope you are not just being bitter.

  4. andy 4

    I also noticed that Hickey said the markets did not like the budget (as bank interest rates went up), but did not use the same claim a week later when banks dropped the same interest rates.

    Sorry Bernard, you can’t have it both ways..

    BTW look at his blogroll on interest.co.nz, whale oil, WTF! That is brave or stupid.

  5. Daveo 5

    I like this one here where he screams that govt spending is up 83% since 1999. It’s based largely off ‘analysis’ on Kiwiblog which betrays the fact Hickey is a national party cheerleader and not a serious economics commentator.


    It’s such a flawed piece of work that his whole comments section is filled with people ripping him to pieces. It turns out he used nominal rather than real growth, failed to factor in population growth and failed to actually demonstrate any waste (which was surely the point of the article).

    The kicker for me was that a post claiming the government was spending too much on public services not only failed to demonstrate any real waste but also used a baseline of 1999 when public services were so degraded that systemic poverty and third world diseases were becoming rife and our own electoral commission was so underfunded it couldn’t even manage the 99 election on its own.

    The guy’s a partisan and an amateur. Not to worry though, the great leveller of the blogosphere (mostly through his comments section) is gradually revealing him for the charlatan he is.

  6. ‘sod. If that’s the case I would certinaly retract the last part.

    Joker. no, his responses to my two comments are economically illiterate. And his obesession with me is pathetic, an attempt to distract from substance.

  7. Daveo 7

    Steve I have to agree. Hickey’s O’Shillivanesque descent into the “WHO ARE YOU?? WHAT DO YOU DO??? WHO IS YOUR EMPLOYER???” routine did him no credit. Hardly a man in command of his subject matter when he loses the plot and starts abusing people in his own comments section.

    I note he also failed to answer Ferdinand’s excellent questions and even started deleting his (very polite) comments when the going got too tough.

  8. I just checked his blog and I take back my call for cutting him slack. He’s posted a lot of articles over there since his June 3 stuff post and his analysis appears to have got no better. In fact he’s put up a series of National party propaganda pieces disguised as “interviews” with Bill English – hilarious!

    Perhaps Fairfax have quietly dropped him.

  9. ants 9

    Have any of you guys worked in a government department in the last 6 years though?

    I had to do a stint in IT at one a while back (2004) and there was a phenomenal amount of waste going on. Over the 6 months I was there at best, there was about 8 hours of work a week for me and the dozens of other contractors in there. Bernard’s approach was fairly poor, and seemed to be pretty angry, but there is a lot of stuff that could be tidied up in the various departments.

  10. Benodic 10

    ants – I have no doubt there will always be areas where there is waste just as there are areas that are underresourced. My partner regularly works past eight o’clock at night in her public service job as does most her team.

    I’ve also worked in private sector jobs where I could have done the work in ten hours a week. Hickey’s objection isn’t to waste in the public service, it’s an ideological opposition to the public service in general. This becomes clear the more you read his misinformed but idelogically loaded posts.

  11. I don’t doubt government department’s IT divisions have had waste in them and probably still do. But that’s an issue about them responding to a new environment. I know that there is very little waste in policy and communications operations. Perhaps over time the IT ops will have to sharpen up as department hierarchy develops a better understanding of the processes involved and, with that shift toward information equilibrium, the price point shifts down.

  12. leftrightout 12

    The most frustrating thing is retards like this get a voice on a news website like stuff, while intelligent informed debate gets thrown to the side because sesationalist bullshit is what sells.

  13. higherstandard 13

    There is very little waste in policy and communications operations ….. got a link for that sod?

    Last I heard communications was one of the fastest growth sectors in Wellington.

  14. “When Dr Cullen in 2005 announced he would adjust tax thresholds, his plans were derided as the “chewing gum” tax cuts when it was revealed some people would only get an extra 67c a week.” Chewing Gum Tax Cuts

    So $2.70 is four times what Cullen failed to deliver in 2005 and 20% of what he managed to deliver by cleaning out the cupboard in 2008 ?

  15. Policy Parrot 15

    “So $2.70 is four times what Cullen failed to deliver in 2005 and 20% of what he managed to deliver by cleaning out the cupboard in 2008 ?”

    Ok, then Bryan. Tell us what type of tax cuts you would deliver if Finance Minister, and then, how you’d pay for them. If you don’t teach, we can’t learn.

    Taking into account that, as you asserted, that the cupboard is bare.

    Or are you simply not going to release your policies until closer to the election, i.e. “I’ll do it in my own time, not in your etc. etc.”

  16. mike 16

    “And his obesession with me is pathetic”

    From where I sit it is you with the obsessions Steve.

    [got me there, mike. great comment. SP]

  17. Phil 17

    “while intelligent informed debate gets thrown to the side ”

    Are you suggesting ‘The Standard’ is intelligent informed debate (or maybe just the stuff ‘sod decides not to comment on?)

  18. Bryan. $2.70 a week at the cost of a functioning public service – that’s not a tax cut. That’s taking a piece of gold as the piece for shooting yourself in the foot.

    consider the economic losses (waste, even) of having no policy development, and the additional costs to people of haivng to source privately the resources formerly provided pubicly.

  19. got a link for that sod?

    HS – I’ve got personal experience of dealing with departments. The “communications” growth you are talking about is almost completely due to an increase in staff working on websites which is not surprising considering the huge growth in the number of people using the web as their first port of call for information.

    or maybe just the stuff ‘sod decides not to comment on?)

    Phil – are you calling me stupid? It’s just you write so badly I can’t quite tell for sure.

  20. higherstandard 20


    I’ve also got personal experience of dealing with departments such as MOH, PHARMAC etc.

    I swear it is like an episode of Yes Minister, most of the time I don’t know whether to cry or laugh.

  21. PolicyParrot: sure, I appreciate your invitation. If i was in charge I would immediately delete these items from the Treasury budget:

    Ministry for Culture and Heritage $361,620,000
    Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs $7,953,000
    Ministry of Women’s Affairs $5,114,000
    Te Puni Kokiri $189,600,000

    Then I would work line by line through the rest of the Treasury budget.

  22. leftrightout 22

    Phil: I wasnt saying the Standard is ‘intelligent informed debate’, even though it is. Im just pointing out how one sided sites like stuff.co.nz are, and they give a voice to people like Bernard Hickey, whos quite happy to quote figures from David Farrar. Its frustrating as hell that the media is trying to decide the next government.

  23. Ruth 23

    Propellor-head economists love telling us all what we should be doing…so how come those who usually object to be told how to live or whatever are suddenly kissing their feet?

    You just about can’t read a blog these days without some crystal ball gazer being quoted. And they are usually proven to be totally, hilariously wrong.

    In fact they are good contrarian indicators.

  24. Tane 24

    leftrightout, just wondering, why do you have thestandard.org.nz linked from your username?

  25. Phil 25


    I was going to leave the comment as;

    “Are you suggesting ‘The Standard’ is intelligent informed debate?”

    But, when I thought about the obvious come-back, my suspicion was that you would be the most likely candidate to make it – so I took a more pro-active position.

    I don’t think you’re stupid – it’s just you write with your head so far up your arse I can’t quite tell for sure.

  26. Felix 26

    Then I would work line by line through the rest of the Treasury budget

    And what? Presumably just “delete” everything, as you give no reason for “deleting” the four you mentioned.

    It’s a good thing that only a tiny percentage of Kiwis actually subscribe to your brand of extreme right-wing claptrap. And I suspect even less come election day.

  27. Quoth the Raven 27

    I just posted a satirical comment about how doctors, teachers etc are a waste of my tax dollar in response to Hickey’s latest post and it was removed immediately. Ah the right’s love of censorship. I may try to post it again.

  28. K1 28

    I’ve given up on Hickey, and am really tired of the continual censorship – comments showing a dissenting view often “disappear”, making the comment stream harder to read than usual.

  29. Rodel 29

    Interesting that Paul Henry (TV1) is being rested for a few months. Is it just coincidental or is it because the executives at TV one want higher journalist ethics during the election campaign period? Between Henry and Espiner the standard at TV1 is about the same level as Fox News. Well, nearly! Occasionally they appear to overcome indolence and take the trouble to find a fact or two to at least give an impression of substance within the prattle.

    Perhaps Mr Henry is going to pursue his obvious love of fantasy and write the definitive New Zealand novel, or is he going to stand for parliament again.Don’t be embarrassed Paul. Georgina is just an ordinary person. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Have another go!

    The Espiners, Colin and Guyen who seem to believe that the news should be about their egos rather than the deeds of others, always give us a laugh or two with their earnest boyish figments. Their stories are woven quite well sometimes though usually spoiled by delusional aspects. Is there a gene for fabrication or do they teach it at journalism school?

    It’s going to be hard for the Clark government to overcome the partiality of journalists this year.

    [when I read ‘love of fantasy’ there I thought you were talking about Diane Foreman. Not sure what it is about married tories and her. First Brash, now Henry. SP]

  30. Matthew Pilott 30

    I dropped a few comments in that thread that Hickey (or stuff) did not publish.

    Their own call, but if it was Hickey then he is a disgrace, an amateur and a coward.

    He quotes other people verbatim as examples of waste, and seemingly refuses to allow some dissenting voices – I questioned him on this.

    Ah well, he was a laugh for a few days. Waste of time trying to comment when he’s censoring dissent though (I said nothing too rude – the worse was calling him an embarrasment to Stuff for attacking hte holder of an opposing view (Steve Pierson) while quoting supporting views as gospel. My comment was harsh but TRUE!).

    P.S. just read a few comments above here – I think a few emails to Stuff management are appropriate – I suggest everyone who has experienced Hickey’s censorship do the same. I’m not sure how they would react to knowing their site was being abused in such a partisan fashion by one of their bloggers.

    Perhaps we can comment further here if any responses are recieved from Stuff.

  31. Felix: “as you give no reason for “deleting’ the four you mentioned.” the four ministries I suggested initially deleting are those that stand out on the summary page of the Treasury budget forecast for 2009 (available as an Excel spreadsheet from the treasury website) as existing for purely ideological reasons without any contribution to a sound public infrastructure.

  32. Steve:”at the cost of a functioning public service” we had fifteen thousand fewer bodies in the core public service in 1999 than we do now. I am not sure how we were worse off ?

  33. Draco TB 33

    we had fifteen thousand fewer bodies in the core public service in 1999 than we do now.

    Yep, and the core functions of government weren’t working too well. Needed reports weren’t being done (environmental comes to mind), Roading wasn’t getting the attention it needed, crime was up probably somewhat due to the fact that police numbers were down etc. Amazing what happens when you actually have enough people to do the work isn’t it?

  34. hickey is an embarassment,

    it’s a disgrace stuff’s economics blog reads like
    john key’s internal newsletter.

    i have placed over ten comments and numerous questions and
    he hasn’t replied to a single one. some of my comments
    have been deleted,too.

    cheers, skubrick.

    has anyone seen hickey and redbaiter in the same place?
    his attack on steve sounded like pure RB.

  35. Tane 35

    has anyone seen hickey and redbaiter in the same place?


    [captcha – Yesterday’s Views]

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