Friday, February 22, 2019

Mike Hosking: Govt's wellbeing budget a looming disaster

So as part of the Prime Minister's ongoing dream of living in a land of lollipops, landholding and general kumbaya, we have the mechanism used by the Treasury to put a monetary value on everything, despite the common-sense fact you can't put a monetary value on everything.

That's why they have sayings like "money can't buy experience", or that was "priceless". According to the Treasury, none of that's possible.

This is, of course, for the so-called "wellbeing budget".

It is an idealist's fantasy, it's the workings of hand wringers who need to be consoled by the concept that as a result of any given action someone bursts into a smile, or song, or both.

But to do that, given you are actually handing out money, and money is real, and the outcome might not be tangible,you need to make the intangible tangible.

And that's what the spreadsheet does. It doesn't need to be a spreadsheet, it could have been a dartboard. What's a life worth? Double 20? What's making a friend worth? Triple 12? That's how stupid it is.

They've valued a life at $4.7 million. Now the key to this is that you're dealing with about 4.7 million lives, that's roughly the population of the country. So you can immediately see if you get the number wrong to start with, it very quickly gets hopelessly and expensively out of control. Say a life was $4.6m, not $4.7m. That's $100,000 a person times 4.7m, and that's a lot of money.

And that's before, of course, you get to the simple reality that a life isn't worth $4.7m, it's worth whatever you want it to be.

And even if we agreed this was a sensible way to measure anything, the $4.7m would merely be an average. I would value my life well beyond $4.7m, and averages aren't individual and because they're not individual, they don't directly affect you and I the way it should. It's like the mad debate around the gender pay gap, it's all done on averages. And averages don't reflect your individual set of circumstances, your reality, your wellbeing.

If you value your life at $27m, then you're missing out. And that's before you get to the argument as to why the Government's estimate of your life is more valuable than yours, and who knows your life better than you?

This is a theoretical madness, not unlike the carbon market to address climate change, which is an invented market, with an invented value, that trades in stuff that doesn't exist.

Meantime, back in the real world, it's your money being handed out to real projects for real outcomes. It's like the old computer argument, a computer is only as good as the stuff that's built into it in the first place. Build it with crap, it spews crap.

Putting numbers on lives, friendship and concepts is crap. It needs to be called for what it is.

Mike Hosking is a political broadcaster on Newstalk ZB, who has hosted his number one breakfast show since 2008 - see HERE.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Brilliantly written Mike Hosking.