Nau mai haere mai.

When the Green Party recently proposed a wealth tax to help end poverty, the reactions that it amounted to being an “envy tax” were as quick as they were predictable. No doubt we can expect more of this level of searing economic insight as the election draws nearer.

Yet the fact remains that New Zealand has a serious problem with entrenched poverty, an over-concentration of wealth at the top, and an economy hamstrung by under-investment in productive enterprise. The common denominator? Housing.

The Greens’ policy offers one possible remedy, but as Susan St John writes today, it also risks being bogged down in endless argument about how we define “wealth” and what might be included or excluded in the detail of administering such a tax. On the other hand, she argues, a straight-out tax on houses – not a capital gains tax – would be relatively simple, efficient and fair.

If that makes ordinary homeowners nervous, they needn’t be. With the right thresholds and exemptions, a house tax would not affect most people – but “it would start to give the right price signals to reduce the over-investment in luxury housing and real estate held for capital gain”.

In the meantime, hello to all our new subscribers – this newsletter has been growing steadily this year and we’re very grateful for your interest. There are also nine days left in our fundraising campaign, so there’s still time to support our public interest journalism here. Until next week, mā te wā.

Finlay Macdonald

New Zealand Editor

NZ’s housing market drives inequality – why not just tax houses like any other income?

Susan St John, University of Auckland

Forget wealth or capital gains taxes, a straight tax on housing equity – exempting most homeowners – would be a simple and efficient way to break the circuit of inequality.

Starved of funds and vision, struggling universities put NZ’s entire research strategy at risk

Nicola Gaston, University of Auckland

The crisis in New Zealand universities is directly traceable to years of sustained underfunding and means they now lack vital research and development capacity.

Know thyself, know thy finances: which of the 5 money personalities are you?

Ayesha Scott, Auckland University of Technology; Aaron Gilbert, Auckland University of Technology

A new study by the Retirement Commission has identified the different personality characteristics that influence how we manage our money – you can test your own with their online quiz.

Seismology at light speed: how fibre-optic telecommunications cables deliver a close-up view of NZ’s Alpine Fault

Meghan S. Miller, Australian National University; John Townend, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington; Voon Hui Lai, Australian National University

Fibre-optic cables act as densely-spaced ground-motion sensors to give earthquake scientists a close look at New Zealand’s Alpine Fault, in anticipation of its next big rupture.

Bad break-up in warm waters: why marine sponges suffer with rising temperatures

Emmanuelle Botté, UNSW Sydney; Heidi M. Luter, Australian Institute of Marine Science; James Bell, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington

New research has unravelled the mystery of why sea sponges die when the water gets too warm. The cause of death appears to be the sudden loss of microbes that usually act to detoxify sponge tissue.

Cutting GST on fresh produce won’t help those most in need – a targeted approach works better

Ranjana Gupta, Auckland University of Technology

Overseas experiences suggests a targeted system using smart cards for buying fruit and vegetables would be more effective than broad-brush changes to the tax system.

Indigenous knowledge is increasingly valued, but to fully respect it we need to decolonise science – here’s how

Te Kahuratai Moko-Painting, University of Auckland; Tara McAllister, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington

The concept of pūtaiao envisions a way of conducting science led by Māori and firmly embedded in the values of a Māori worldview. It offers a way towards decolonising the research system in general.

From our foreign editions

The world’s fish are shrinking as the climate warms. We’re trying to figure out why

Timothy Clark, Deakin University

As the world gets hotter, fish are getting smaller. The future of aquatic ecosystems – and fisheries – could depend on understanding how and why it’s happening.

Famine: the award-winning documentary banned by Russia for its reminder of a cruel past

Jeremy Hicks, Queen Mary University of London

While the filmmakers never received any explanation for the ban, they believe the film’s positive depiction of the west undermined the Russian media.

‘Courage is contagious’: Daniel Ellsberg’s decision to release the Pentagon Papers didn’t happen in a vacuum

Christian Appy, UMass Amherst

The Vietnam War whistleblower, who died on June 16, 2023, wrestled with his decision to leak thousands of pages of government documents.

Conspiracy theories aren’t on the rise – we need to stop panicking

Magda Osman, Cambridge Judge Business School

Fewer and fewer people believe man-made climate change is a hoax.

The Australian remake of The Office has the potential to be great - if the writers remember how unique our humour is

Philippa Burne, The University of Melbourne

The Office Australia launches in 2024. It will be interesting to see whether we understand ourselves well enough to make a compelling new version of this popular show.

How do spices get their flavor?

Beronda L. Montgomery, Grinnell College

Humans have figured out how to season their food with virtually every part of plants.

Gordon Lightfoot’s musical legacy extended beyond Canada to reflect universal themes

Alexander Carpenter, University of Alberta

After Gordon Lightfoot’s death, the musician was celebrated for his Canadian-ness. But his legacy is more complex than that, and his influence extends beyond Canada.

African cities and climate change: the real debate is who should pay to fix the problem

Astrid R.N. Haas, University of Toronto

African cities contribute the least to but bear the highest impact of climate change in terms of frequency and severity of weather events.