Friday, September 19, 2014

2014 New Zealand voting guide for lovers of liberty (IN PROGRESS)

1. Is there a positive candidate to endorse?
2. Is there a likely winner worthy of tactically voting to eject because he or she is so odious??
3. Is there a tolerable "least worst" candidate?

So I list by electorate, the status of the electorate and who I am endorsing, then if you care, an explanation why.  Just search for the name unless you want to have a very long read...  and of course I am happy to see contrary views expressed.  I am updating this as I am on a series of flights in the next couple of days, and it is dependent on the gap between flights, wifi access and access to laptop power...

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Why Scotland should vote No

Today is the day that most of the Scottish electorate get to decide whether they want Scotland to break away from the UK and be an independent country.  

Well independent notwithstanding the passionate desire by its First Minister to tie it to the Pound Sterling, meaning that its monetary policy and by default fiscal policy (as it will affect public borrowing) will be driven by the Bank of England.  

Now that isn't a bad thing in itself, for if Scotland were to be truly independent, you can imagine the Scottish Pound being worth much less than the already devalued Pound Sterling, primarily because virtually all of the advocates for independence are socialists, committed primarily not to the earning of wealth, but the taking of it and "redistributing it" to those they deem worthy.   Such a vision isn't one that inspires confidence in money created out of nothing.

Furthermore, "independent" Scotland aspires to be a member of the EU, as it will lose EU membership the day it breaks away from it, and seeks to be a member so it can "earn" its cut of subsidies etc, although curiously the "Yes" campaign seems to think Scotland could be like Norway - except, of course, Norway has its own relatively solid currency and is not a member of the EU, because it doesn't want to share its wealth with Bulgaria or Greece, or its fisheries with anyone else.

"Independent" Scotland of course is happy to share its fisheries with the subsidised fleets of the rest of the EU.

"Independent" Scotland will still have the Windsors as head of state.

All of that is just political posturing by a campaign led by a megalomaniacal habitual liar.

There are solid reasons to not vote for independence, but there are also arguments in favour of the union.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Comparing parties' transport policies (in progress)

Given the blogosphere in NZ in terms of transport policy debate is dominated by one (well-meaning) blog that is almost entirely focused on one dimension of transport (how people move about in cities, specifically one city), and with one philosophical perspective (central planning, state funded, as opposed to market driven, user funded), I thought I'd do a quick review of parties' transport policies for this election.

My test for them all is:

1. Understanding of the transport sector:  Most politicians don't know who owns what, who is responsible for what and what exists and doesn't exist.  Those that do deserve some credit.

2. Support for competition, innovation and entrepreneurship:  New entry both of operators and vehicle types, and new modes of transport should generally be encouraged.  This includes those who wish to do what the government fails to do.

3. User pays:  Taxpayers generally shouldn't be subsidising users of transport services or infrastructure, but it does allow cross-subsidisation of marginal users of networks that are inefficient to charge for (e.g. footpaths).  Infrastructure costs should generally be recovered by users of those networks, not by other network users.

4. Economic rationalism:  Where the state does intervene, the net economic benefits should exceed costs, demonstrably.  This includes spending and reducing compliance costs for unnecessary regulations.

5. Wider impacts:  Make this safety, environmental and social impacts, and say I'm being soft.  What this basically means is, will the policy help or hinder reductions in accidents, noxious pollution, and improve people's ability to access what they want (bearing in mind the impacts on others who may have to bear the costs of the measures).

I'll give each a score out of 5, giving a total possible score of 25.  Bear in mind I am looking at land, air and sea transport.  Any party that says nothing about any mode is presumed to agree with the status quo, which is generous I believe.  I am guided only by the parties' expressed policies online, unless there is a statement by a leader or leading spokesperson that gives cause to vary this.

National: 5, 3, 3, 2, 3 = 16 out of 25.  It's about big roads, some of which aren't good value for money, some of which are.  There's a lot for public transport, not enough for the fundamentalists, and spending on Kiwirail is likely to be the best last chance it gets to show it is worth anything.

NZ First: 2, 2, 2, 1, 1 = 8 out of 25.  Suddenly an obsession about public transport, especially reviving long distance passenger trains. Remember the Northerner, the Southerner? They'd be back. Get rid of road user charges, replace them with fuel tax, then replace fuel tax with tolls like road user charges.  Usually silliness you'd expect from a cult that gets one member to write policy.

ACT: 3, 4, 4, 4, 3 = 18 out of 25.  It's all about roads, and having them run like businesses, with user pays for public transport and allowing the private sector to build competing roads as well.  It's light in terms of content, with nothing on other modes, but given air and sea largely look after themselves, that's not a bad thing.  It's a start, and it would mean some of the Nats' pet road projects would come under closer scrutiny.

Labour: 1, 2, 1, 1, 2 = 7 out of 25. "The current government has been obsessed with a handful of hugely expensive projects that it selected for political reasons" then Labour selects the ones it agrees with, for political reasons, including the big Auckland underground rail loop, building a new line to Marsden Point and reopening the Napier-Gisborne railway, so it can carry the 12 truckloads a week it once carried.   Lots of spending, lots of utter drivel, and it supports the so-called "congestion free network" promoted by leftwing/greenie/central planner ginger group "Generation Zero" (which will do next to nothing for congestion on the network people are prepared to pay for).  It's Green Party policy-lite and just as intellectually robust, with silliness on motorhomes and trucks not being allowed in fast lanes on motorways to give NZ First something to admire.

Democrats for Social Credit: 2, 1, 1, 1, 1 = 6 out of 25.  Central planning obsessives with weird statements like "Air New Zealand as an important means of transporting perishable goods to overseas markets".  The mental contortions required to give credibility to the funny money men adds to it (but then funny money is more common than we think).

Greens: 3,1,0,1,2 = 7 out of 25.  So much money wasted on road projects with poor economic returns, stop them and build railways with even worse ones.  Well that's not what they say, but it is the truth. The Green mantra is that walking, biking and riding rail based transport puts you into the promised land, but driving is a curse.  Those who drive are "auto-dependent" and are "forced" to use your car, and you're just aching to walk to a tram stop to wait to ride a tram with lots of other people to go to the place you want to go.  If only everyone could get about this way it would be smart. Except its not. It's a tired, old-fashioned obsession with building your way out of problems, except this is with railways and busways, not roads.  What's got to be most stupid is that unlike green parties in other countries, the Greens have ignored congestion charging as a way of reducing traffic congestion and pollution.  Politics over evidence.  

ALCP: no policy

Maori: no policy

Internet Mana: 2, 0, 0, 0, 1 = 3.  Well you didn't exactly expect much did you?  Rhetoric on nationalising parts of the transport sector that are already government owned, but the big deal is free public transport. Everywhere.  It's an old-fashioned tired old leftwing proposal that claims it would free up the roads, but what it would do is shift a lot of air by rail and bus.   It wont ease congestion, it will cost a fortune (uncosted), and don't expect any innovation or competition, but a large union dominated set of monopolies.

Conservative: no policy


United Future:

Focus NZ:


Independent Coalition:

More detail..

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Why Scotland should vote "No" on independence

Scotland matters to me.  My family came from there, hell I'm named after the place.  I have never lived there, but it is part of my heritage.  I feel warm towards it, I enjoy visiting Scotland and I grew up surrounded by Scottish accents, by elements of Scottish culture and language, and so I have an emotional attachment to the land from whence both my parents were born and raised.

From them and much of my family, I gained a keen belief in the ethic of working for a living, of reaping the rewards of that work, and in not seeking to cheat or live like a host off of the back of others who had achieved.  Call it Protestant work ethic, call it old fashioned self esteem and values, but the impression I got was a cultural background of deep respect for those who put in the effort to better themselves and their family, indeed the stories of my grandparents are of those who strived, against some family members who sneered.

So next Thursday when all Scottish residents 16+ (not people of Scottish descent elsewhere) get to vote on whether Scotland  becomes independent, has become interesting, not least because recent polling showed the strong lead for the "No" side has narrowed to being neck-and-neck.

For a libertarian who believes in a smaller state living in England, there are two compelling arguments for Scotland to say "Yes".  

Scottish voters overwhelming back statist politicians and political parties.  Take away the Scottish MPs from the House of Commons and the Conservatives would have clearly won the 2010 election.  

Scotland's economy is, despite the rhetoric from nationalists, dependent on English taxpayers to sustain a higher level of state spending than the rest of the UK, on average.  For whilst a geographic proportion of tax revenue from Scotland has meant that in some years Scotland contributes a higher proportion of UK tax revenue than it receives in spending from tax revenue, it is still not enough to balance the books.   Scotland overspends by over £12 billion per annum, so remove Scotland and the net impact is positive for UK public spending, but it doesn't mean the public finances in Scotland would be buoyant. 

I wrote in 2007 about the childishness behind calls for independence, and it still stands.

So while there is probably a bigger chance the rest of the UK would have a smaller state without Scotland, I'm asking Scotland to vote No - because that is in Scotland's interests.

I don't want to see my ancestral homeland become a new Venezuela, but moreover I don't want the UK to become smaller, weaker and less important in Europe and the world, and that is exactly what will happen.

An independent Scotland will be a minnow and far from "independent".  

It wont be independent because the intention is not to establish its own fiat currency (which would deservedly be treated with contempt), but to be in a currency union with the rump UK.  Yet all major UK political parties say they would not agree to this, and it is difficult to see how that could be in the interests of the rest of the UK, without imposing strict fiscal rules on Scotland that would limit or eliminate budget deficits for the new country and getting Bank of England approval for any sovereign borrowing by Scotland.  Getting your budget approved in London, and getting London approval for borrowing is not "independence".

If the UK government rejects a formal currency union, the Scottish National Party (SNP) says Scotland will use the Pound Sterling anyway.  That is true, but it would be limited to borrowing only the amounts it could raise at commercial rates.  That would be good for Scotland, but only if it meant shrinking the state, rather than raising taxes.   However, the socialist paradise being sold to Scottish folk can't happen.  For if taxes are raised significantly then the better off will simply leave, it isn't far to move to the UK.  Spending cuts would hit health, education, welfare and pensions, and would be a complete betrayal of what has been offered.

There is no golden egg of independence.

As a small state, Scotland wont be important or influential, or part of an influential state (which it is now).  It wants to join the EU, where its MEPs will be 2% of the European Parliament.  Yet the EU's law will bind much of Scotland's economic policies.  Scotland will have as much influence over those as Slovakia does.

The SNP says it can join the EU but not the Euro, but Euro membership is a condition of EU membership, and has been since the Euro was created.  The UK and Denmark have explicit treaty exclusions to this obligation, and only Sweden remains as the other EU Member State that has not joined the Euro and was an EU Member State at the time the Euro was created.

So Scotland joining the EU and not being required to be on the path to the Euro, would be unprecedented.  Consider also that Scotland will want exclusion from the Schengen agreement that eliminates border control between EU member states, because the rest of the UK excludes itself from it (and if Scotland did join Schengen, the UK would put up border control with Scotland).

The SNP says Scotland will join NATO, but it wants to eject the British nuclear deterrent from the Clyde naval base because it opposes nuclear weapons on Scottish soil.  It wants to be part of a nuclear weapons based military alliance, but its great contribution to that is to weaken it.  How is that credible for NATO members to support?  How can you oppose nuclear weapons, but support them protecting you, as long as you don't have to have any on your territory?

In short, Scottish independence is actually false.  What the "Yes" campaign seeks is independence, whilst using another country's currency and letting that other country veto your public borrowing and budgets.  It is independence, but joining a customs union that will write part of your laws.

However, it is more than that.  Scotland will be financially poorer, but also poorer in terms of influence in the world, and the UK itself will be poorer for that.   The UK has been a successful union, bringing together four nations (notwithstanding conflict and bigotry that plagued one of them), and growing a land of rule of law, relative freedom, prosperity and which had one of its proudest moments holding back the greatest fascist evil the world has ever seen.

I don't want Scotland to leave that, I don't want it to be poorer, I don't want it to drift off to become some northern hemispheric Venezuela, pursuing insane socialist policies on the back of declining oil revenues - because it will bankrupt itself.

Scots may be angry and upset at the recession.  Who isn't?  They may despise politicians for their gutlessness, for their failures, for their lies.  Who doesn't?  However, that is who is exactly keen for them to vote "Yes".

An independent Scotland makes politicians in Holyrood more powerful, makes Alex Salmond a bigger cheese than he is, it feeds their egos and they are willing to lie and deceive to get there.

Most of all, a vote for an independent Scotland is irreversible.

It isn't like a general election which gives a chance to boot out the bastards and reverse what has happened.

Independence is for life.

Virtually every country that has voted for independence in recent years did so largely with a massive mandate in favour, and few regrets or doubts expressed about the wisdom of independence.  These independence movements were almost always due to war or obvious history of ethnic rivalry or previous dictatorship (e.g. Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia).

Scotland's independence campaign has none of this.

I'm going to write in the next day or so about this, it's an optimistic campaign, but it is trying to sell independence on complete fiction and fear, more than that optimism.  It deserves to be consigned to history.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Forgotten Posts from 2009 : Christopher Hitches on Iran

Why wait to disarm Iran?

Iran is as much a pistachio-and-rug-exporting country as it was when the sadistic medievalists first seized power. So it wouldn't be surprising in the least if a regime that has no genuine respect for science and no internal self-critical feedback had screwed up its rogue acquisition of modern weaponry. A system in which nothing really works except the military and the police will, like North Korea, end up producing somewhat spastic missiles and low-yield nukes, as well.

If there's no saber in the scabbard, then at least don't make the vulgar mistake of rattling it.  Against this, we are at least entitled to consider the idea that a decaying regime that is bluffing and buying (or rather stealing) time on weapons of mass destruction is in a condition that makes this the best moment to do at least something to raise the cost of the lawlessness and to slow down and sabotage the preparations. Or might it be better to wait and to fight later on more equal terms? Just asking.

Maybe, just maybe, Iran has moved back from the brink.  It now appear to be with us in fighting the Islamic State, but let's not forget that the Iraqi Shi'a sectarian regime was backed by Iran.

Iran may have moved one step away from the brink, but it still sponsors Hamas, Hezbollah and so intervenes egregiously in Iraq, Syria and Palestine.  It still maintains a system that glorifies death and enslaves the population to Islamism.

Iran's case for having nuclear weapons for defensive purposes can only be if it considers itself at risk from neighbours, and Iraq under the Islamic State would be the most obvious risk.  If the West and Iran together work on nullifying that threat in Iraq, could there be a path for Iran to open up its nuclear facilities?  Or is Iran actually remaining on the path of having an option to take on Israel?