Small countries at the far end of the world cannot afford to lag in technological adaptation, which requires flexible and enabling regulatory environments.
In some areas, New Zealand’s approach is laudable. When Rocket Lab, an aerospace corporation that launches lightweight, cost-effective commercial rockets, presented the possibility of taking New Zealand into the space age, the government made it happen by quickly changing the regulations. Wellington also refused to follow risible approaches like the European Union’s ‘right to be forgotten’.
In other areas, New Zealand’s regulatory apparatus could heed two key lessons of the online world. First, environments allowing permission-less innovation drive more innovation than precautionary approaches. Second, user experience matters.
Cumbersome permissions tend to send innovators seeking greener fields. New Zealand’s size and location necessitate good regulatory frameworks. For example, regulations around driverless cars may seem highly permissive, but uptake has been relatively slow. So good regulatory practice is not enough. But bad regulatory practice will certainly obstruct innovation.
Good regulation comes more naturally when it is user-centric. Analog-age regulation was often designed to protect consumers from market failures. Rather than shoehorning new services into old regulatory models, we should ask whether the problems regulation was meant to solve still apply – or whether technological change has already solved them and we need to focus on new problems.