14 May 2023

Considering transgenderism from a libertarian perspective

I've spent a lot of time thinking about what is simplistically called "trans" issues, but given transgender activists (and their challengers) see it as being a collective of issues, I'll happily deal with them together.  I am writing it bearing in mind I have a trans-relative, and so I have some appreciation of how sensitive it is as an issue. It's hardly trivial for most people who assert a change in gender

Transgender adults should be considered as having the same individual rights as other adults.  Live and let live, as in most cases, it is nobody else's concern whether or not you want to claim to be a different sex.  

The non-initiation of force principle indicates that if you want to live your life identifying differently from your sex, then you should be able to without it being subject to other initiating force against your body or property.  Unlike sexual behaviour, which involves another person, if you want to be assert that you are now a different sex, then whose business is it other than your own? If you want to pay for surgery or other medical treatments to reinforce it, then similarly, as long as you are an adult (so able to consent to the procedure) you should be able to choose. Indeed I'd go so far to support the recent move by the ACT Government (Australia) to prohibit unnecessary medical procedures on those born intersex. Letting people choose what to do with their own bodies, when they have the capacity and capability of fully understanding the consequences of those decisions.

But what about the issues that get most publicity?

  • Trans-women using female only spaces
  • Trans-women competing as female in sport
  • Use of language to describe trans-people
  • Gender self-identification on demand
  • Trans-gender treatment for children
  • Drag queen story time
There are principles for all of these, and it wont please everyone.

Property rights should govern questions about spaces and any organisations.  If you provide toilets, changing rooms, then it is up to you how you handle this issue.  If someone doesn't like it, then that person is not compelled to use your establishment.  This includes womens' refuges, or indeed any property owner that wants to restrict access based on sex or gender.  Lobby whatever you wish to property owners, but you have no right to decide what businesses, voluntary organisations or any private entities do around rules about access.

That is, of course, for privately owned property that doesn't have a statutory monopoly (those with a statutory monopoly do, effectively, use the state to force consumers wanting their goods or services to use their property). 

 However, for government owned property the issue becomes more complex, in that there is an expectation that it should treat everyone with similar levels of respect.  It becomes more important when this government property has sex segregation for sound public policy purposes. It might be healthcare (where the body you objectively have is likely to be important), or the criminal justice system (whereby it can rather matter a lot what prison someone gets sent to, for their own sake and that of fellow inmates).  These cases need to be dealt with based on a framework that protects individual rights, which when properly defined allow someone to be who they want to be, but not to threaten or violate the rights of others to control their own body or property. 

Sport is also a property rights issue. World Athletics Council has made a decision on this issue, which it is fully entitled to do.  In most countries sports is led and managed by private entities, so let them do as they see fit.  Likewise those women (and realistically this is only about women) who regard the policies around transgender athletes to be unfair, should be able to freely boycott and leave organisations they think do not do their sport justice (and vice versa with transgender athletes).  For some sports it wont be an issue (e.g., does it really matter with archery?), but for others it is.  This goes to freedom of association.  You are free to join whatever organisation you wish, including employer, and they are free to adopt whatever policies they want around sex and gender identity.  

Freedom of association:  This is the extension of property rights. Nobody has a "right" to demand that others associate, contract, socialise or engage at all with them. It is your body, your life and any organisation you belong to, or associate with, is both your choice to associate with and their choices to let you do so. You cannot force anyone to be your friend, just as they cannot force you. 

Freedom of speech governs questions about what people are called and what language is used.  Use whatever pronouns you like, say "trans-women are women" or say "trans-women are trans-women not women".  Use the term "cis" or don't, or TERF or whatever.  However the state should not force anyone to use any terms or any definitions.  There is quite some culture war going on about this, notably regarding women, largely because women and girls DO have specific health needs separate from men and boys.  As long as language isn't being used to threaten, then the person has the right to say what they wish, and you don't have a right to not be offended. Someone may say you're "CIS" you can object to that, but that's it, you don't have a right to insist someone calls you anything except that if someone does go out to deliberately antagonise you, you can then choose to ignore them, not trade with, employ, engage with or otherwise.  No one is required to please you by the use of terms you dictate, but obviously if someone deliberately fails to do so, presumably to antagonise, then why bother engaging if it means so much to you?

Again, what government does matters here, in relation to goods and/or services supplied by the government.  The state should never be ambiguous, it should be clear what it means by terms like "woman" and if it needs to differentiate between people, it ought to be absolutely neutral on this and use terminology that is clear. Sometimes "woman" will include "trans-woman", sometimes not.  

What gets many agitated is the banal use of so-called "inclusive" language which is largely in relation to medical issues affecting women and girls such as pregnancy, menstruation and the like. I don't think there is an orchestrated attempt to eliminate women anymore than there are plans for genocide of trans-gender people, but there are issues where there should be some clarity and certainty as to the boundaries of people's rights, and how to treat people's identity such as...

State record of identity: Birth Certificates are generated to identify the birth of a human, by date, name and sex. Sex is identified at birth (not "assigned", like children being told which sports team they are allocated to). It is a statement of record, it should not be amended subsequently unless there is an obvious mistake. If you change your name, you may want a separate record of your change of name, and likewise if you wish a gender change, then there should be a record of the date of that change, but it should not  change the birth certificate, which is an objective declaration of fact on a specific date.  

If you want to change your gender and get that formalised in some government authorised documentation, then that should require some threshold to enable it. It should not be undertaken by a minor, because children are not entitled to contract or to consent to many procedures or activities, but as an adult it should be possible to have a record as to your gender (and indeed if you engage in surgical activity to do so, you may have a change of sex recorded). However, this should not be a procedure able to be undertaken in order to obtain any sort of advantage. 

There are sound reasons to separate sexes in the criminal justice system, specifically because men generally have more physical strength and aggression than women, and have the capability to harm women in ways they cannot harm men because of physiology. So for a man to identify as a woman in order to be treated differently in the criminal justice system, particularly following being charged for an offence (particularly a sexual offence) is irrational and unjust. This is patently opportunistic. 

However, why does it matter if people can switch their gender identity, as long as other people can exercise their individual rights of freedom of association (including non-association), property rights and freedom of speech? i.e. if you want to change anything about you, don't expect the force of the law to force people to associate with you, allow you into spaces set up for people of a different sex or gender exclusively, or for people to call you what you want (even though they ought to be polite, it is not a crime to misname or misgender someone, for a good reason -  it isn't actually a violation of any rights). 

A is A but so what?: I read an article published by objectivist economist George Reisman on 11 April after I started writing this post, where he makes a case to completely reject transgenderism as irrational.  In short, he challenges the idea that you should be able to self-identify as anything you want, as being a complete rejection of objective reality.  I understand his point, that simply proclaiming that because of subjective emotions you can declare you are something you are biologically and objectively not, does not make your feelings actually a reflection of objective reality. Yet more fundamentally, if everyone else simply has rights to property, freedom of association and freedom of speech, who cares if a person identifies as another gender, another age or another thing?  Nobody is seriously going to expect a 50 year old man to be treated as a 5 year old girl and be admitted to a primary school because he says he identifies as the latter.  Indeed that should be called out, with people applying their rights to ignore, block and reject anyone who does so. However, if a 25 year old woman says she is now a man, then whose rights is it infringing upon? You may think it is absurd, illogical and denying reality, but you need not associate with that person, invite him/her into your property or call him/her by whatever name or pronoun wanted.

This is why Reisman is completely wrong that someone who seeks to be another gender should be given hormones of their biological sex as therapy, because this simply isn't a medical answer to what might be a psychological condition or issue.  Of course if someone wants to do that, then good luck to them, but neither he nor I is qualified to make such a judgment as to its effectiveness or its secondary consequences.

This is also why it is critically important that in the cultural sphere, there should be unlimited space for people to live, dress, act, talk and exist peacefully without being bound by any historic or culture-bound stereotypes about what it means to be a woman or a man.  Nobody knows what it feels like to be a boy or a girl by any logical reference point, because the alternative is unknowable - and the responses of other people to how you look and act are a reference to your behaviour and appearance. Indeed girls should be anything, as should boys, they should strive to follow their own passions, interests and aesthetic, and not feel bound by what others say they must be, as long as they live a life of peaceful fulfilment.  This leads onto perhaps the most difficult issue...

What to do about transgender youth?  My basic position on childhood vs. adulthood is that until someone is an adult, there is no ability to make decisions that the child is unable to fully understand the nature and consequences of, especially if it is irreversible. This is why I believe that puberty blockers and surgery for anyone below the age of 18 is wrong.  The use of such drugs interferes with and can harm fertility, and since there is widespread public consensus that below a certain age nobody should be able to make decisions that create irreversible impact on the body of a minor for non-medical reasons.  Certainly they should be given all of the counselling support and encouragement to be themselves until they reach full adult age, after which if they wish to medically change their bodies, it is their choice to do so.

Drag queen story-time? I literally don't care about this issue, as it should be up to parents to decide whether their children attend, and should be up to property owners to decide whether they host such an event.  Judgments can be made about whether people around children should dress provocatively or act such, and parents will know what they think of that, but that is up to them, and the freedom to support or reject it should be clear.

In conclusion... the rise of post-modernist identitarianism has seen the rise of trans-genderism as a new "frontier" in collectivising people based on perceptions of oppression and power.  There is a three-way culture war underway on this issue between:
  • Post-modernist identitarians
  • Traditional identitarians
  • Feminist identitarians (who may be a mix of modernist and post-modernist).
The post-modernist identitarians believe everything is subjective, so if someone says "she" is a "woman", then not only is that "real", but that if you do not recognise it, you are part of the traditional power structure that has "always" oppressed trans-people, like it oppresses (insert list of oppressed collectives).  They want the power of the state to initiate force against those who refuse to accept their demands around eroding property rights, freedom of speech and freedom of association.

Traditional identitarians regard trans-genderism as an illness or perversion and seeks at best to discourage it, and at worse to prohibit it. 

Feminist identitarians see trans-women (they are not so concerned about trans-men) as men pretending to be women to enter women's spaces and organisations, and so are not able to really reflect the reasons why women set up such spaces and organisations in the first place.  They see being a woman as being distinct, and as a group of humanity historically denied basic individual rights, that having men claiming that identity, undermines women's progress for such rights. Some may also say that trans-men reflect backwards thinking around feminism, that girls do not think they can be full individuals without changing gender to be boys/men which undermines feminist objectives for girls to not have to pander to stereotypes about what gender is.

While all may have some legitimate concerns at some level, rejecting identitarianism completely sees a position based on individual rights. That position is that whatever an adult does is nobody else's business a long as it does not interfere with the same rights of another adult, including control over one's body, property and who you associate with. For children those rights are held in trust by parents until they are adults, and cannot be abused by parents to deliberately or recklessly undermine the ability of a child to become a fully functioning adult. 

So let people be, but also respect others when they say they only want women on their property, and they choose not to include trans-women. They exclude men, so they can exclude others. It is polite to call people by the name they want and refer to them by the pronoun they prefer, if you ever do that in front of them, but the state and the law should not exist to police rudeness which does not constitute a threat.  Finally, there should be robust discussion and debate about medicine, especially psychology and trans-genderism, and it should not be hindered by fear of causing offence, regardless of what position someone takes. There should be caution about medicalising any mental health condition for minors, as a matter of course, and care given around people's feelings, because in most cases this whole issue arises because people are not feeling good about themselves. Having individual dignity, self-esteem and feeling able to pursue life and happiness are core to being human.  The quest to belong to a group, to have support from others and to collectivise also happens to be human, but the latter (the desire to collectivise and "belong") should never be used to undermine the former (the need for self-esteem and to be an individual). 

12 May 2023

What is "fair" tax?

There's been quite a lot of commentary about whether the "rich" are paying their "fair share" of tax, with an inferred moral and philosophical position that what is "fair" is "a lot" and is not just tax on income from employment or businesses, or tax on consumer goods, but tax on property acquired after both earning income and paying tax on the purchase of that property.  This is the concept of a "wealth tax", so let's consider both what this actually means, and whether a different conception of what "fairness" is might see the debate going in a different way.

Let's say you have land, or shares in a business, or an expensive asset (motor vehicle, boat, aeroplane, art work), and a socialist government (which is what it would be) decides you should pay it some proportion of whatever value it deems appropriate, in tax.  This is likely to follow you having already paid the following taxes:

  • Income tax on your employment, or dividends from a business, interest from investments.  After all, to acquire an asset, you need to acquire income to get it.  Yes some people inherit wealth, some people are gifted wealth, but many earn it from employers or their own business.  Government already taxes that, and if you are wealthy the marginal rate of tax on most of that is 39%, so if you earned say $1 million, $370,000 in income tax is already paid on it.
  • GST on your purchase. Yes this doesn't apply to land and buildings, unless you actually build something, or refurbish it. It also doesn't apply to buying shares in a business, but it does apply to cars, boats, aeroplanes, art works, jewellery and the like. 15% of the price is added on and taken by the government assuming it is bought through a business beyond a certain threshold. It doesn't apply to private sales of course.
So after paying tax to earn money, paying tax to buy the asset, the money-grabbing socialists want MORE, and of course if your cashflow is poor (you may have retired), then you will need to liquidate assets to pay a tax on wealth.  Yet who asks the question, why should you pay tax on owning property?

What does "fair" even mean?

From the socialist mindset, which is that of David Parker, the Greens and Te Pati Maori, and indeed appears to be that of multiple journalists, it's only fair if the state gets to take a share of everything you earn and own, including any increase in value in assets you may happen to own.  However, this idea of fairness is rooted in several concepts:
  1. There is something immoral about owning property and it increasing in value without being forced to share that with the state (and enable politicians to spend that money).
  2. People only obtain a lot of property because the state enabled them to do so, and so (despite them already having paid other taxes in the process of earning income and buying goods and services) the owners of such property should keep "rewarding" the state (and by extension "the community") for letting them succeed.
  3. The actual amount of taxes confiscated from people should bear no relationship to the extent to which they avail themselves of what the taxes are spent on.
  4. The state can spend your money better than you can, and in ways that are virtuous and benevolent to society, whereas you only spend money to benefit yourself and your family, and what you value.  Your values as a taxpayer are subordinate to the altruistic values of politicians who know how to spend your money to be kind.
This is largely nonsense. There is nothing immoral about owning anything and having its value rise without other people sharing in it, any different from it being somehow moral to own property and see its value fall, and require other people to help you out because of your losses.  Of course the socialist wealth tax advocates are never too keen on people getting big tax breaks or subsidies if their wealth collapses due to bad investment or simply the market for their assets evaporating.  

There is a kernel of an argument that a stable government with rule-of-law and property rights enables people to thrive, but the amount of state that does that is a fraction of its current size. The GST paid by the consumption of wealthy people could pay for all of that (indeed Roger Douglas proposed in the 1990s that GST could not only pay for the core functions of the state, but the welfare functions as well).  However, even if this is extended further, is it really a rational argument that the wealthier you are, the more the state has done to enable it (except for those who own businesses granted effective statutory monopolies through regulation or import tariffs/controls), and even if you pay more and more in income tax (even if it was a flat tax, a high income generates more tax than a lower one), it can never be enough?

The third point should be the centre of fairness. Treasury estimates around half of all taxpayers are net receipients of taxpayer funds through the welfare and tax credit system.  Why is that fair?  Let's assume those taxpayers occasionally consume the health system, many have children that consume taxpayer funded education and some will have taxpayer subsidised housing. An argument can be made for public goods to be funded collectively, but there are precious few of these. Why should people who have generated considerable income and acquired assets legally be expected to pay for the costs of services other people consume, many many times over themselves?  What is the fairness in being forced to pay for someone else's private goods and services? If taxes are to exist at all, they should only exist to pay for public goods.

The fourth point is clearly nonsense, the state is not a more moral actor than you are, and on average it isn't either.  This is a philosophical point of difference. Statists and socialists think governments are better placed to spend money (because it can "help" people) than you are, whereas libertarians and free-market liberals are sceptical of this. After all, a government may raise salaries for teachers, but this typically rewards both the best and the worst ones, which is a distinction that a government supported by teachers' unions does not recognise.

The real truth about tax is that it is theft and it isn't "fair" at all, it is at best a necessary evil to fund a substantial state, and the amount people pay is based on no moral basis whatsoever. Unless you believe people who have a lot of money have got it through immoral ends or are beneficiaries of a large state (regardless of how this has little evidence), then tax is simply a means to an end - the end being politicians spending money on what gets them re-elected.  The only way to make tax fairer is to have it lower and flatter, and simpler, so people get to keep more of what is theirs, and those who want you to spend it on other things, have to persuade you to give them your money

Be wary of anyone wanting to make tax "fairer" because the bottom-line is that they just think that they (or people they support) are better placed to spend your money than you are.  Oh and the spin-merchants of so-called "wealthy" people who say they "want" to pay more tax (but wont actually do it unless others are forced to) are a bizarre breed who actually think politicians and bureaucrats can spend their money better than they can, for benevolent purposes.  

09 May 2023

What's wrong with Kiwirail?

Kiwirail has been in the news a lot recently, many due to disappointed about it failing.  It includes the breakdown of the single track evaluation car in Wellington (and scheduling of track inspections as well), the programmed closure of Auckland's rail network to enable significant reconstruction, and the simple answer given to this is that it is a failure either of rail privatisation (which was reversed partly in 2001, 2003 and ultimately 2008.

In 2001, the Clark Government bought the Auckland rail network for $81 million, in 2003 it bought the rest of the rail network for $1, but with a $44 million investment in TranzRail (and the buy back of the network then included a monopoly being retained by TranzRail). Finally in 2008 the entire business was bought for $690 million, which was well above the market price at the time.

So there have been 15 years of state owned enterprise Kiwirail, which is exactly how long the privatised NZ Rail/TranzRail existed for, but some pundits still claim that all of the problems stem from privatisation. Surely government ownership is meant to fix everything, after all the country had government owned railways for well over a century beforehand, weren't they wonderful?

To some extent there is some bad luck with a few incidents regarding Kiwirail, but it is pretty clear the incentives around the company are very mixed indeed.  

For example, Auckland the commuter trains are owned by Auckland Transport, although they are operated by Auckland One Rail, a train operating company contracted by Auckland Transport to operate the trains for eight years (starting 2022).  The rail infrastructure is owned by the Crown through Kiwirail, but the stations are owned either by Auckland Transport (Waitemata, Newmarket and New Lynn), or a mix of Auckland Transport (for the buildings) and Kiwirail (for the platforms). Of course the train services themselves are subsidised by Auckland Transport as the contractor, which gets 40% of its funding from Auckland ratepayers with the remainder from Waka Kotahi (i.e. taxes paid by road users).  Fare revenue only recovers around 30% of the costs of operation in normal times (whereas at present taxpayers are halving that to 15%).

In Wellington, it is similar, with the commuter trains owned by Greater Wellington Regional Council, operated by TransDev, with infrastructure owned by a mix of the Crown through Kiwirail and the regional council (Kiwirail owns the track and the main railway station, the regional council owns the other stations). 

The railfreight system is all owned by the Crown through Kiwirail, as is the long distance passenger rail system.

However, what isn't widely known is that whether it is Kiwirail's freight trains, or the commuter trains operated in Auckland and Wellington, that the Track User Charges paid for trains to operate on the tracks don't go to Kiwirail, they go to Waka Kotahi.  This bizarre situation is the brainchild of the current Labour Government.

Instead of Kiwirail getting its day-to-day operating revenue, for maintaining the track and related infrastructure from the trains operating on the network (whether its own trains, or in Auckland and Wellington the commuter trains contracted by the relevant authorities), the Track User Charges, set by politicians, go to a central government bureaucracy - Waka Kotahi - which then gives Kiwirail money to maintain the tracks, based on the Rail Network Investment Programme.

So Kiwirail's infrastructure business is not paid based on trains operating, but paid on whether it can convince a bureaucracy, guided by Ministers, to give it the money it requests for its network. Michael Wood and Grant Robertson have broken the link between use of the track and being paid for the track.

Of course this replicates the road network, but road funding has always had that separation and the separation is an artifact of how motor vehicles are charged to use the road network. Because all petrol-powered light vehicles pay petrol tax, it is impossible to reliably link your car to what roads you drive on, so the revenue from petrol tax is all collected by Customs, and handed over to Waka Kotahi to fund road maintenance and improvements.  Road controlling authorities (Waka Kotahi for the State Highways and territorial authorities for local roads) have to bid for funding from Waka Kotahi (yes you noticed that?) for road maintenance.

However Kiwirail's network isn't like that.  It is effectively a controlled private network as Kiwirail knows exactly what railway vehicles are on its tracks at any time, and charges them Track User Charges, which could be based on whatever it needs to charge to maintain and develop its network. Indeed if the track infrastructure was run as a separate business, setting its own Track User Charges, then it would expect to not get paid if it didn't enable trains to operate.

That's not what the Government has done, it has disconnected payment to use the tracks from the provider of the tracks, which is a retrograde step.  Every other piece of effective infrastructure operates with user pays. Airlines pay airports fees for landing, taking off and parking aircraft at terminals and on their tarmac. Shipping companies pay port companies fees for docking and other services. Indeed if structured appropriately, as in some other countries like Austria, Czechia, Japan and Slovenia, there is no reason why trucking companies and motorists couldn't be paying to use the roads directly to road companies.

However, the Ardern and Hipkins Government has chosen to weaken the link between providing rail infrastructure and getting paid for doing so by customers, by Kiwirail getting paid by Waka Kotahi instead.  $1.2 billion is being spent by Waka Kotahi to Kiwirail to maintain and develop the rail  freight infrastructure, of which $834.4 million comes from general taxpayers (the remainder from the National Land Transport Fund, which Track User Charges are paid into).  Not only that, unlike the National Land Transport Programme (which outlines the road and public transport projects funded from the National Land Transport Fund), the Minister has to approve the Rail Network Investment Programme.  It's a highly politicised funding system. Kiwirail has to respond to what the Minister wants, not what its customers want, in relation to the infrastructure.

It's worse than that of course. Because Kiwirail runs two businesses, an "above rail" business (hauling freight, carrying long-distance passengers and running rail ferries), and a "rail infrastructure" business (providing the tracks, signals, etc so trains can operate on them), it will prefer the "above rail" business which it directly gets revenue from. Consigners of containers on freight trains pay Kiwirail directly, which it then includes its accounts (even if it has to pay Track User Charges to Waka Kotahi).  Whereas the train operating companies running Auckland and Wellington commuter trains don't pay Kiwirail directly at all for the tracks, but pay Waka Kotahi.

Bear in mind also that Kiwirail, as track provider, has a literal iron grip on access to its network for competitors. Now there may be a low chance of a rail freight competitor emerging, because of the high cost of acquiring rolling stock, but likewise if another business wanted to operate say a passenger train from Christchurch to Dunedin, then Kiwirail could effectively decide whether it would let it do it.  Kiwirail's "rail infrastructure" business is not incentivised to try to find a way to let a new customer use its network because it wont get paid for it, but it's incentivised to do what works for its staff and contractors, and for its own trains.

One can argue about whether enough taxpayers' money was put into the rail network since it was renationalised, or whether it is good value for money at all. After all, why should the rail freight network not pay its own way, given trucking companies pay road user charges, which fully fund the state highway network?  However, if the government is going to keep owning the railways then maybe it should follow a model seen in some European countries.

Split it up.

Have a Kiwirail holding company for oversight of the assets (including the land held by NZ Railways Corporation), but have three separate companies underneath it:
  1. A railway infrastructure company. Have it receive Track User Charge revenue directly and let it charge what it needs to do to maintain its network.  If the government wants to upgrade tracks, then it can put taxpayers' money into it transparently and have arguments in the public sphere about whether new cancer treatments are better to pay for than a faster railway line somewhere.  Ensure that company has open access, and seeks to encourage new entrants into the rail industry.  It may also include stations and freight terminals not held by local government, but also be willing to enable competing operators with access to those facilities.
  2. A freight company.  Have it own the locomotives and rolling stock Kiwirail currently has to run and operate freight trains.  Arguably it should also have the Interislander as it is core to that operation, and it makes more sense than it being in the railway infrastructure company or the next company.
  3. A passenger company.  It may only be four passenger trains at present, but let it be willing to expand on a commercial basis. It might even run the commuter trains in Wellington and/or Auckland if it  wins contracts to do so.  It should own the locomotives and rolling stock for passenger rail, or it might seek to lease locomotives from the freight company. 
There is an argument that there isn't really enough business for rail to have competition in New Zealand, and it may be right, but given the government owns the network, it ought to at least enable the possibility of competition. 

A hard-nosed look at railways in New Zealand would confirm that the rail freight business is the core, followed by commuter rail services (which require subsidy as long as pricing of roads at peak times in Auckland and Wellington does not target congestion).  Rail freight is about containers, logs, milk and coal, and a handful of other commodities.  

It should have nothing to do with Waka Kotahi (except its role as safety regulator), nor should Michael Wood or any other Transport Minister be deciding how much money the railways get to maintain their tracks (after all, what would they know?). If more money is going to be poured down the black hole of railways in New Zealand, it should at least be incentivised to operate trains reliably.  At present it has poor incentives, is costing taxpayers a fortune in money that will never be recovered, and has been set up into a bizarre funding structure that has no parallels elsewhere in the world.

Oh and for all of the calls to "restore" intercity passenger rail services, there isn't a business case for it, but at least if the rail business is structurally separated, those who think there is a business case for a lot more long-distance passenger rail can put their money where their mouths are (not their glued hands though). Intercity bus services and airline services are not subsidised in New Zealand, so it is appropriate that intercity passenger rail isn't either.