Good economic news this week: a $7.5 billion budget surplus, unemployment is down and meth has never been cheaper. The median price is $500 a gram, although nationally there's a big variation in what you'll pay, with prices ranging from $400 a gram in Auckland to $650 a gram in Tasman, Nelson and Marlborough. With any other product a 37.5 per cent difference in price between one part of the country and another would be seen as criminal, but meth seems to be a special case. And there are clearly still bargains to be had if you shop around.
Is $7.5b actually a lot of money these days? It sounds like a lot, but it is getting harder and harder to tell. After all, that's the amount Amazon's Jeff Bezos makes every three weeks. It certainly means there is a lot more in the pot than anticipated in Stephen Joyce's $11.7b fiscal hole – in fact, we are $19.2b ahead of that miscalculation.
And all this in a climate of what we are told is permanent business pessimism and doom and gloom. Imagine what the surplus might have been if business folk were looking on the sunny side.
To put the figure in the context of what we are already spending: Corrections will cost $2.1b this year; Vote Health is nudging $20b. So $7.5b should be able to fund a reasonable amount of wellbeing. For instance, some of it could be returned to the beneficiaries who have been suffering since the 1991 cuts to their allowances. It would be a nice way to thank them for their help in making the surplus happen.
Which brings us back to meth and why it is still causing terrible harm around 20 years after it first became a serious problem.
People don't use meth because they are happy in themselves, holding down secure jobs and looking forward to the future. They use it to obliterate reality. Unemployment is not down everywhere and the drug's use is especially prevalent in economically depressed areas. So investing in job creation, for instance, and giving people a sense of purpose would go a long way to removing the drive to pick up a pipe.
The call to treat drug use as a medical problem rather than a criminal problem is often made. But it might be better to treat is as a social and economic problem.
For that we would need to get past the hysteria that infects every discussion of drug use. We need to remind ourselves that we already accept widespread drug use in the community. We just quibble over which drugs should be legal, and so far it is just alcohol, supported by the very powerful and influential alcohol industry.
If we genuinely want to stop the harm caused by meth, we can, but we need to take away people's reasons for using it. $7.5b could go a long way to doing that.
Paul Little: I'm as mad as hell about Greta Thunberg
Prince Harry and his wife, the former actress Meghan Markle, are going into battle against the might of the British tabloid media over what they see as unfair treatment. Many observers, as well as the young prince himself, have been invoking the memory of his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, in connection with his wife and drawing parallels between the two. Such comparisons are superficially appealing, but it's worth remembering that there is one important difference between the pair: unlike Diana, Markle has a demonstrable skill.
Anyone reading about events surrounding the Trump presidency and the possibility of impeachment this week will have noticed that the word "unhinged" has come into its own. It is used most often to describe Donald Trump's tweets and public statements and has clearly been settled on as a safely non-defamatory euphemism for "Caligula-level insane".