Sunday, October 31, 2010

Is the US about to experience a minor revolution?

Janet Daley in the Sunday Telegraph thinks the mid-term elections might just mean that.

"It was widely known in Europe that the American Left hated George Bush (and even more, Dick Cheney) because of his military adventurism. What was less understood was that the Right disliked him almost as much for selling the pass over government spending, bailing out the banks, and failing to keep faith with the fundamental Republican principle of containing the power of central government. So the Republicans are, if anything, as much in revolt against the establishment within their own party as they are against the Democrats.

The sheer simple ignorance of many to think this is simply another swing away from the Democrats to the Republicans.  It is something rather different..

 
"One of the more electorally far-reaching effects of this is that Republicanism could become the home once again of a plausible political and economic programme, rather than simply an outpost for those who seem to reject many of the features of modern life. The gun-toters and gay-bashers and pro-lifers may have jumped aboard the bandwagon, and Sarah Palin may be frantically attaching herself to the parade, but this is not their show: the Tea Party protests began (as their name suggests) as a campaign against high taxation and the illegitimate intrusiveness of federal powers. That is what they are still about"

Quite right.  It is not something to fear, it will not match either Bush era, and could be far more useful than the Reagan Administration in shrinking the state.

Obama doesn't know what to do with it.  So he is playing the game of saying it is a repeat of the Bush years on offer.  He is so wrong.  The Tea Party is not about more government, it is about less.  It isn't about trusting politicians to effect change, but about getting politicians out of the way.  The problem Obama has (and most Democrats) is that this simply does not compute - their brains don't understand that they are the problem, their politics and their solutions are not what is wanted.   That what people want is government to stop picking winners, stop supporting losers, to stop increasing the Federal debt and to pay less tax.  They actually do believe people should reap the rewards of their efforts, and bear the consequences of their losses, and that people are inherently benevolent and will look after each other without the state.

If Obama faces both the House and the Senate, controlled by individuals who believe this, then his philosophy will face complete gridlock.   The big question that will remain is who can the Republicans pick to stand for the Presidency?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Charity for north Korea

Want a good charity to support the beleagured folk in North Korea?  You could do worse than "Love North Korean Children" a charity established by a British Korean man who is establishing bakeries to supply food directly to children in impoverished areas.   Not only is it feeding children who otherwise would struggle to get sufficient nutrition, but it is also giving them positive contacts with the outside world.  It is not food with state propaganda, and does not get diverted to the military or the party. 

The more of that positive foreign contact the better.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The left panic over the Tea Party

Daniel Hannan once again writes brilliantly in the Daily Telegraph summarising much of the media coverage of the Tea Party in the past year or so.   It went through the phases of:
- Ignoring the Tea Party as irrelevant;
- Smearing Tea Party members as uneducated redneck country hicks (don't ever say those on the left are liberal and treat everyone as equal);
- Laughing at how the Tea Party was going to make the Republicans extremist and unelectable; and now
- Warning that Tea Party members are stupid and are being conned by a "big corporation" (successful large businesses are evil) conspiracy to take over and run their lives.

He points out at today's Guardian article by leftwing armageddonist George Monbiot (remember him? The same man who preached self immolation saying "It is a campaign not for abundance but for austerity. It is a campaign not for more freedom but for less. Strangest of all, it is a campaign not just against other people, but against ourselves") who says the Tea Party is an exercise in "false consciousness".

Really George?  Yes, believe it or not, he believes that specific billionaires and major companies are driving the agenda, which includes "big government", and duping millions of Americans in the process.  Such stupid little people, don't know when they are being conned.  Good job there is an elite in the media and academia, as well as well intentioned and incorruptible leftwing politicians to look after their interests.
Quite why "billionaires and big business", which has been spending money on politics for a very long time is now suddenly being successful isn't clear, except that Monbiot treats the language of free markets, small government and fiscal austerity as being "the same" as what the Bush Administration and previous Republican Administrations did.   All of which is demonstrably false.

Monbiot's demon is that businesses seek to make money at the expense of their customers, employees and the places they locate.   That businesses destroy and that their wealth creation is a zero sum game, which also involves destruction and theft from others.  It is the scapegoat that Monbiot applies to the world, and so he links the corrupt and statist actions of some businesses (which continue in the form of constant pleadings for subsidies and protectionism by some), to the agenda of the Tea Party, and does so by dismissing freedom, free markets and less government as taking from the poor, and about power moving from government ("good") to companies ("bad).   

The implication goes further than that, as Hannan explains, because it embraces the idea that democracy is fundamentally flawed.  That the average person doesn't know what is good for them, and so votes against her interests because of "false consciousness".  This is where the term "Democratic People's Republic" has relevance.

The core philosophical basis for all of the Marxist-Leninist totalitarian dictatorships of the 20th century (and the few that remain) is that the interests of the people are served only by a single political party that ostensibly represents their interests and acts on their behalf.  That party is an expression of the "general will", and so any who go against the party are acting not only against the interests of the "people" and "society", but themselves.  This is why many in those regimes were treated, not as political prisoners, but psychiatric patients.   It was literally considered insane to go against a party that had everyone's best interests at heart.  In an environment where truth was manufactured and controlled (because of the risk that inconvenient truths would empower those who wish to exploit and manipulate the people, and so be against their interests), it turned everything upside down.

This is what Monbiot is claiming from the Tea Party, that millions of "ordinary people" (unlike he, who knows best) are being fooled and tricked against their best interests by evil people whose only intent is not to do what they say, but to use government to enrich themselves.  

Quite what he would want to do about it, when Tea Party members themselves agree with the objectives of the Tea Party, when they want fiscal responsibility, free markets and less government, and vote accordingly, is unclear.   

Following on from that, worshippers of big government, ever increasing public debt and higher taxes have formed the "Coffee Party" as a lame attempt to raise support for their side.  One only needs to read that the Coffee Party believes "that the federal government is not the enemy of the people, but the expression of our collective will" to notice that the connections between the Coffee Party's philosophy and that of Marxism are rather clear.  There is, of course, no such thing as a collective brain, and so what this really means is not that millions of people's wills are expressed through government (in fact the free market), but that a few hundred politicians vote for the policies they espouse and bind everyone else in the process.   If a majority want to take more money from a minority, or give more of someone else's money to a minority, or regulate a minority, then they can.  Without constitutional limits on this to protect fundamental individual rights, the risks are clear that government can become a tyranny of the majority.   

Clearly those who embrace tax and bigger government are panicking.  Panicking that their self-deluded belief that things can only get better if only they could spend other people's money where it would "do good", prohibit things that are "bad" and promote things that are "good", is no longer being supported.  Panicking that a lot of Americans are seeing the Federal deficit and debt and asking the reasonable question "when does this have to be paid, who pays it".

Panicking that Americans don't want corporate bailouts, don't want politicians using the government to pay minority interests other people's money, and that they actually truly do believe that the free market offers the best opportunities for economic growth, prosperity and the right to live one's life as one sees fit.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Why does the left peddle such vacuous hatred?


He asks why he finds that "high-minded causes attract adherents who are looking for a way to validate their sociopathic tendencies, to feel good about the fact that they dislike so many of their fellow human beings. "

He cites the language used in various articles by some from the left " this one by the Labour MP Tristram Hunt, in which he claims that the Conservatives want to return to Victorian workhouses; this one, in which Polly Toynbee talks about the Tories’ “final solution for the poor”; this one, in which Labour’s John Cruddas talks about a million people being driven from their homes “as a result of the Coalition’s savage attack on the poor”.

Do those on the left really believe their vacuous rhetoric that those who are not on the left hate the poor, want them to suffer and (in the case of Toynbee's vile but carefully chosen words) want them exterminated?
As much as I oppose the welfare state it is not motivated by hatred or disinterest in those who are worse off than myself.   Even the trimming of the welfare state being implemented in the UK (largely about those who are on higher incomes claiming benefits and those claiming more than the average wage in total benefits) are seen as being a "savage attack" on the poor.

The left does not have a monopoly on compassion, indeed the speed and voracity at which it turns on those who dare to disagree with its solutions shows how shallow that "compassion" actually is.  How many on the left talk of dancing on Margaret Thatcher's grave, how many on the right talk the same about Tony Benn, George Galloway or Arthur Scargill?

The assumption of evil intent on the behalf of those not part of the left, and those who do not share the "correct line" is malignant and destructive.  It is used by media with a leftwing tendency such as the BBC to create a basic binary debate that puts the leftwing statist solutions against those who simply water those solutions down, rather than those who say the statist solutions are morally and practically wrong.  However, most of all it is a tool to provoke vapid emotional responses, particularly to spread fear among the less educated.   

Far easier to tell those on low incomes how much the government is hurting them, how much they are ignored, neglected and going to be harmed by a heartless government, than to engage on how the budget deficit should be cut.   Leftist tacticians know very well that playing to emotions, simple slogans about the right being "for the rich" and about "enriching their rich mates" provoke an instant response of hatred and disdain.   They also know that they can dismiss and ignore talk about real economic issues (which most people know little about) by using the language of "caring".

It's simply sad that far too many let them get away with this.   The simple question any journalist could ask leftwing activists who seek more government spending is "why don't you spend more of your own money or raise your own money from donations?".   This question exposes the point that the interest is not in outcomes, but means. 

UPDATE 1:  Deputy PM Nick Clegg has taken the vile Labour MP Chris Bryant on for saying that the new housing policy means the poor are "socially engineered and sociologically cleansed out of London". Shades of Bosnia when the Serb nationalist thugs rounded up Bosnian Muslim men and boys, took them out of towns and executed them.   Clegg pointed out that the new policy is about no longer subsidising people with housing benefit to live in areas where employed people on average incomes couldn't afford to live.   Again, leftwing politicians use the language of genocide (not unlike the use of the term "climate deniers") to criticise those who they disagree with.

What is the motive of Julian Assange?

Not too long ago the words "Wikileaks" and the name "Julian Assange" were not that widely known.  Wikileaks was a curious website, where unofficial information would be posted, and governments would be upset about what was posted.   However, the publicity generated in the past week has dwarfed all of that.

What has apparently been revealed is allied forces complicity in ignoring acts of torture by Iraqi government forces.   The implication being that the US Administration is uninterested in the fate of Iraqi civilians.  Now in and of itself it is disconcerting.  If you genuinely wish Iraq to become a country that is a bastion of liberal open civil society and secular transparent accountable (and small) government it is unacceptable to tolerate an Iraqi government that acts with impunity against suspected insurgents.  It is reasonable, always, for questions to be asked of governments engaged in military action when that action includes wilful blindness and tolerance of grievous acts of abuse.  

Yet does Julian Assange actually want Iraq to become a liberal open civil society with a secular transparent accountable liberal democratic government?  Who knows.  What is fairly clear is that his actions are designed primarily not to expose shameful acts by the Iraqi authorities, but rather to damn the entire allied military presence in Iraq.  The simple view of the Iraqi conflict, as spread by the leftwing peace movement (as distinguished by those who questioned the wisdom of the intervention rather than the motives) goes like this:
-  Bush wanted to overthrow the Iraqi regime (probably true);
-  It was all about oil (not true, but having a friendly regime in charge of Iraqi oil was helpful);
- A threat was fabricated  regarding weapons of mass destruction (false) and terrorism (exaggerated yes, but not empty);
- The US and it allies invaded Iraq with no concern for civilian casualties or the fate of the Iraqi people (false); and last but far from least..
- The US and its allies are responsible for the deaths and killings since the overthrow of the Saddam regime.

Christopher Hitchens in Slate writes about the imbalance in the reporting on Iraq.  You see the "anti-war" left want to portray all killing as being consequential of the invasion.  No consideration of how many Saddam's regime of thugs would have killed (but you can ignore that because the US did in the 80s, so Saddam deserved protection from ever being overthrown by the US because of that). 

He said "The continuing bloodbath is chiefly the result of an obscene alliance between the goons of the previous dictatorship and the goons of a would-be-future theocratic one. From the very first day after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, without ever issuing so much as a manifesto or a bill of grievances, this criminal gang awarded itself permission to use high explosives, assassination, torture, and rape against a population that was given no moment of breathing space after three decades of war and fascism."

Yet, those who opposed the US invasion in the West treated those who sought the Islamification of Iraq as heroes.  Ignoring there suicide bombings, random executions and Taliban like suppression of speech (including music) in areas they would control.

He continues "Not long ago, I read an interview with Julian Assange in which he declared his ostensibly journalistic objective to be that of "ending" the war. Most edifying. The easiest way of ending it would be for one side to cease fighting it. (That almost happened in Iraq before the surge, when Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and al-Qaida claimed control of a province or two.) I have an intuition that I know which side Assange wishes would capitulate."

Quite.

You see it is one thing to rightfully want to ensure that the Iraqi government acts with respect for individual rights and freedoms.   It is another to be willfully blind towards the chief cause of the violence and killings in Iraq, and to be less than interested in the defeat of those who see the overthrow of Saddam an opportunity to create a brutal Islamist theocracy.

So yes, damn those allied soldiers who have acted with impunity, damn those in the Iraqi government who also do so.   However, if one's primary concern is the people of Iraq, is it not equally appropriate to be damning the Iranian backed insurgents who wish to convert Iraq back into a brutal totalitarian tyranny, but with a new (and imperialist) master?  

Monday, October 25, 2010

How can we cycle without a quango?

One of the numerous QUANGOs to be abolished by the Con-Dem government as part of its programme to cut government spending to the levels of around 4 years ago is "Cycling England".  This entity had a budget of £5 million in 2005 which has now ballooned elephant like to £60 million this year ("oh but the deficit is due to bankers" cry the wilfully blind on the left).   Quite why it needed a 1200% budget increase at a time of deficits is astonishing, and even with its abolition this funding wont disappear.

What is the response of the Green Party of England and Wales?  Hysteria

"A big question mark now hangs over the future of cycling" says Green Party representative Ian Davey (a city councillor in Brighton, not an MP).

Really Ian?  Does cycling need a government agency spending vast amounts of other people's money?  Do people not buy bicycles unless bureaucrats are paid to promote it?  Will people stop biking because Cycling England no longer exists?

What sort of hysterical hyperbole is this?  The type that states that if anything good exists, it can't survive without the government spending other people's money on it.

Now I am not saying that cycling isn't good, in fact the measure about whether it is good is up to the individual.   Some find it a lot of fun, it keeps them fit etc.  Others are uninterested.  That's ok. 
However there IS a solution for those who promote cycling.   They can keep Cycling England or reconstitute it through (take a deep breath, the concept I am about to describe bamboozles statists) their own efforts and their own money.

Yes, remarkable though it may be to those on the left, but you don't need the government to make things happen in your community.

I'll try it another way - "take the energy you put into placards, marching and generally being a nuisance to peaceful citizens going about their business, and use it to help do what you like Cycling England doing".

You see the government doesn't get enough money, from already high taxes, to pay for everything you want.  Which means you're going to have to pay for some things you like yourself.  

Oh and if you don't, cycling isn't going to end.  For the same reason that there isn't an organisation called Blogging England to help fund this activity.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

French strikes a triumph of emotion over reason

The ongoing strikes in France, led by left wing unions and student groups, are opposing the raising of the minimum retirement age in France from 60 to 62.  If you read Idiot Savant you'd think the Sarkozy administration plans are about funding tax cuts for the rich.  If you take off your economically illiterate red coloured glasses you'd learn that it is actually about starting to confront the economic reality that the French Government cannot perpetually run budget deficits, like it has for several decades.  

If nothing was to be done, by 2050 two working age French people would be paying the retirement income of one.  With public debt set to hit 337% of GDP by then (it is 80% now), France will make Greece look like a mild defaulter.  
Of course in the world of the "see no fiscal reality" left, you simply put up taxes.  The legions of young people protesting in favour of protecting pensions shows the ignorance that can so easily be spread, few realising that they will have to pay far more taxes than those who are currently at retirement age, to pay for those who will retire when THEY are in their 50s.   

The reason why this is happening is the ponzi scheme madness of government funded pay as you go (PAYGO) pensions.  The same crisis would exist in the UK, if the retirement age was not to be increased.  In New Zealand the same crisis will occur as well, only partly covered by Dr. Cullen's socialised "fund" designed to invest tax revenue for retirement rather than just operate a PAYGO system.  The United States has this crisis writ large as well.  

The only way these schemes can be sustained is by reducing what is paid, increasing the eligibility age and increasing the tax contributions of those who might not get anything out of it.   A better way would be to simply freeze schemes at their current nominal level so that the total amount paid out erodes over time, but it also enables tax cuts to be implemented over time as well.   If people invest their own money in retirement income rather than the state spending it (or "investing" it), there is a greater pool of savings, more capital for private sector growth and a sustainable basis for retirement income.  

However in France, socialism is ingrained in "being French" say some.  It is an attitude that also infects the European Union, but one that cannot deft reality forever.   People in France might observe that GDP per capita in real terms for that country is now drifting towards that of Greece and Spain, not the UK and Germany.   I suspect the French appetite to do anything substantive to stop that relative decline remains low.

Where did the Liberal part go?

In the midst of the announcements of slender cuts to public spending in the UK, came the news that the government is to proceed with Labour's plan for data on every phone call, website visit, text message and email in the UK to be stored for one year.   Unlike Labour, which wanted the government collecting it on its own database, the Con-Dem coalition will impose the obligation on internet service providers and telecommunications providers.  The emails and text message details wont include the content, but it is still a big brother state seeking to have the capacity to engage in surveillance of anyone it wishes.   It is one thing to get a warrant to monitor the communications of a suspect, another to make private providers keep such records.  After all, what does a website visit tell anyone other than what someone may be curious about (does visiting an Islamist website make someone a sympathiser?).

The Liberal Democrats claimed that they would bring a commitment to individual freedom and a belief in a smaller state to this coalition.   It would appear that this has been stomped on by the jackboot of the Home Office and the obsessive paranoia of the law enforcement sector which always errs on the side of less freedom.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

British government cuts modest and unimpressive

Finally it's out.  The Report of the comprehensive Spending Review was released by Chancellor George Osborne, and the result?  Well it's a bit mixed.

The real effect is to cut government spending to levels seen in 2007.  Hardly radical.

The cuts are spread over the next five years and are a £83 billion reduction compared to the Gordon Brown budget.  What does that mean?  Well it is actually only a £28 billion reduction in real terms (taking into account inflation).  From a total budget of £697 billion, it is a reduction of only 4%!  In nominal terms it is a £41 billion increase in spending.  In effect the increase in nominal spending has been cut by two-third.   Brutal cut?  I think not.

So the wailing and gnashing of teeth by the statists of the left is unjustified.   In this period, spending on interest on debt (in other words the price of the past decade of overspending by Gordon Brown) climbs 46% (nominally) to £63 billion per annum by 2015.   9% of all government spending in 2015 being just the interest on servicing debt.  That's more than the total education budget (but deficit spending is caring didn't you know?).

The welfare state isn't being decimated either.  The estimate is that total spending will be increasing in nominal terms from £194 billion today to £214 billion by 2015.  That's over £3,500 for every adult and child in the UK! 

The lie is that it is about hitting the poor.  It is actually mostly about hitting civil service bureaucracy, with 500,000 "jobs" being scrapped over 5 years.

So what is good?

- The appalling "Department of Business, Innovation and Skills" gets a 30% cut in real terms over 5 years, primarily by ending its funding for universities (universities being free to set fees from students to make up the difference).  It also loses £400 million in administration.  Its government science funding is frozen.   Government university funding is not solely from this source, but this is a wholesale shift from predominantly state funding to predominantly student funding.   This is a worthwhile step.

What is tolerable?

- Welfare spending only gets a slowing of growth.  A single benefit is to be created, means tested, staggered to encourage work over welfare and to be cut for those with savings over £16,000.   Already announced cuts to abolish child benefits for those on the top 15% of incomes, and capping total welfare anyone can claim to the average wage.  The pension age drips up to 66 by 2020, hardly radical.  Yet child benefit will still be spent on children until age 19.  Increases in winter fuel allowances will be made permanent and remain for people on all incomes.  Free bus passes and TV licences for the elderly remain.  Pension increases will be linked to the highest of inflation, wages or 2.5%!  In short, welfare is being tinkered with, but the welfare state remains big and strong.  

- The Department for Communities and Local Government gets a 7% cut in real terms over 5 years.  The big saving is in council housing.  New council housing tenants will face rents of up to 80% of market levels, but existing council housing tenants face no change in rental conditions.   It will stem demand for council housing, but is intended to subsidise construction of 150,000 more state owned homes over four years.  So the role in housing isn't being cut back much  Council tax is frozen for a year, because the state will be subsidising it! Funding for "social care" (essentially care homes and support for the elderly) gets a £1 billion increase over 4 years.  Not much excitement here.

- The Department of Education and Skills gets a 11% cut in real terms over 5 years.   This involves a one-third cut in administration, 60% cut in capital budget and abolition of quangos.  The £30 a week bribe to teenagers to stay at college after 16 is being scrapped in favour of targeted bribes.  However a "pupil premium" will be increased to subsidise poor children to go to better schools.  Teaching salaries and expenditure wont be seriously affected.  Education largely holds its own outside the tertiary sector.

- The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs gets a £700 million cut over 5 years, from a one third cut in administration, two thirds of its quangos are to be abolished, with cuts in funding for nature reserves, flood defences and biosecurity (all of which will have to fund themselves more).  

- The Home Office gets a 27% cut in real terms over 5 years.  This means a 20% cut in funding of local police forces from central government (although the locally funded share means the effect is less dramatic).  The UK Border Agency gets a 20% cut in real terms (which either means more efficiency, longer queues at Heathrow or less control of illegal immigrants or all of the above!).  Home Office civil servants spending are cut by one third.   The capital budget is cut by 49%.  Why tolerable?  Because it continues to fail to confront real crime to tackle the social disaster of parts of the country that are controlled by yobs.   The Home Office is a bloated centre of ever increasing control

What is disappointing?

- The Ministry of Defence faces a 5% cut in real terms in five years, but its story is deserving of the cliche "travesty".   Reconnaissance aircraft (Nimrods) will not be replaced, the Harrier and Tornado fleets will be scrapped early.  All three forces will lose soldiers, sailors and aircrew, but more welcome is the cut in 25,000 civilian personnel.  Tanks, ships and artillery are being scrapped.  The Ark Royal aircraft carrier is scrapped, and one of the two new aircraft carriers (being built which are more expensive to cancel than build) will be mothballed within three years.   Aircraft carriers wont have any British aircraft to operate on them after the Harriers are scrapped, until 2020 if the Joint Strike Fighters proceed.  The replacement for the Trident submarine based nuclear deterrent is deferred until after the next election.  The short of it is that the UK could not repeat the Falklands conflict if it needed to, and could not match the commitment it had originally for Iraq or Afghanistan.   The UK is stepping back from its ability to project military power.   What is particularly frustrating is to have unfunded aircraft carriers ordered without aircraft able to use them.  The MoD screwed up, the Brown government didn't spot it, and so one reaps the rewards of a state focused not on its core, but on too many issues at once.

- The Department of Energy and Climate Change (which frankly could be closed) will have a 5% per annum cut over 5 years.  Why disappointing?  Well it includes a "Green Investment Bank" worth £1 billion to fund gold-plated energy projects like offshore wind farms, £1 billion to fund carbon capture and storage, £200 million to fund low carbon electricity.  The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority gets an increase in budget, to support the policy of allowing new nuclear power plants.  People will get subsidies for generating their own electricity in environmentally friendly ways.  Grants for insulating homes get cut 63%.  

- Health was always not to be really affected.  Given estimates of inflation, it will face a 1% cut in real terms, but the NHS itself gets a 0.5% real increase.  As it had a 50% increase in funding in real terms over the period of the last government, this is hardly going to hurt.   More is to be spent on social care, cancer drugs, three new hospitals are to be built.  Administration is to be cut by a third, with eight health quangos abolished.  10 health authorities and 150 primary care trusts are to be abolished. With £109.4 billion spending this year, this is an area where scope for efficiencies would be enormous, and to ration demand for a system that is "free at the point of use" (generating waste from appointments not kept and the worried well).  One curiosity is abolition of a £75 million programme to promote healthy eating and drinking.   The world's biggest health bureaucracy continues.

- The Department for International Development means foreign aid. It is being increased by 43% in nominal terms over five years.  Administration cost are to be cut by 50% and foreign aid to Russia and China terminated, but this increase helps fund bilateral aid, the UN, the EU and other multilateral agencies.   By 2013 0.7% of the UK's GNP will be spent on state foreign aid, a UN target.  A transfer from the middle class of the UK to the upper classes of the third world.  

- Ministry of Justice is cut by 26% in real terms over 5 years.  Why disappointing? Because it effectively means cutting spending on prisons without a commensurate abolition of victimless crimes.  Less prison places, court closures and reductions in legal aid.  Without a comprehensive strategy to focus law and order on real crime, there is every risk that this results in the public being less safe.  Again, a core role of the state being distracted by everything else.  The potential is there for this to be positive, but there is little sign of this.

- Department for Transport is cut by 13%, but spending on grand rail projects like Crossrail remains, and the road budget is being used for some high value projects (but still remains hopefully inadequate compared to the revenue collected from road users).  Rail remains addicted to the state tit, and there are few signs of moving roads to the private sector.  

So let's not get excited.   Government spending is being sent in the right direction, but not by much.  The welfare state, health and education largely get unaffected (with university spending being hit the most), everything else is more about tweaking spending and cutting much bureaucracy.  On the downside, the core roles of defence, police and justice are hit significantly, but it is unclear whether this has long run effects on Britain's military capability and whether law and order will be seriously affected.

So no, it isn't the catastrophe the state addicted left will claim, and it is hardly enough to get a libertarian excited.  Keep calm and carry on.

What can undo the Tea Party in the US?

When the positive push for less government gets tainted and polluted by idiots like this.

Let's be clear, the Tea Party movement has core values and principles that are undoubtedly libertarian and pro-freedom.  In and of itself it promotes small government, free markets and fiscal responsibility.    The fact that some Republicans have actually taken it upon themselves to embrace what are the core values and principles of the United States of America is positive.   It is frightening the silver spoon socialists like Nancy Pelosi, who hasn't seen a problem she didn't want the government to fix.

It has perplexed President Obama who is astonished that only two years after he won off the back of a euphoria of incredibly vacuousness ("change" I'll give you "change") he isn't getting "credit" for introducing compulsory health insurance, bailing out failed banks and automotive manufacturers and spending billions of dollars that are not being raised in taxes.

The Democrats are lost between being amazed that so many Americans are embracing the small government message, disappointed that Barack Obama has not parted the sea, healed the sick, rebuilt the economy and "changed" everything for the better, so have resorted to accusing the Tea Party Movement of racism (the cheap instant slur thrown about with such abandon that it demeans those who fought true racism).

So it is an opportunity, yet it is one that is so readily squandered in the hands of Christian conservatives who seek to use the state to promote or enforce their own beliefs.

There is no majority in the United States of Christians who want the Federal Government to promote religion in schools, to regulate behaviour between consenting adults or restrict freedom of speech.   Indeed those like O'Connell who dare to question whether the United States is a secular liberal democracy will do far more damage to the Tea Party Movement than anything else.

For the "wingnut" religious right in the US will vote Republican in any case, but by associating the Tea Party Movement with religion it alienates swinging voters who find religious fundamentalism distasteful, but who agree with small government, free markets and fiscal responsibility.

Yes some imbecilic parents want their children to be taught that the pseudo-science of creationism is "as valid" scientifically as evolution.  The appropriate answer to that is to privatise education, so that schools can set themselves up as they wish and teach as they wish, so the state is not involved.   The answer is not to confuse beliefs in the supernatural with the state.

It is why the likes of Sarah Palin can not be the Presidential candidate for the Republicans in 2012.  She does not consistently believe in small government (she believes in the war on drugs for starters,and she has lobbied for earmarked pork funding from the Federal Government for Alaska) and she cannot help but get tied up in linking religion to public policy (by claiming war in Iraq was part of "god's plan").  

The Tea Party can be a great force for good, but it will be undone only by two types of people, the religious right who want it to be a proxy for an agenda that is anything BUT about reducing the size the government, (and so frightening off moderate Christians, and non-Christians to the Democrats or not voting at all) and (more likely) the sleazy, pork barrel carrying, power hungry statists who have dominated the Republican Party for decades.

Sarah Palin is in both camps, she finds it difficult to separate her religion from her publicly expressed political views and has also shown herself to be part of the establishment (as well as being far from bright).

I am wishing the Tea Party the very best in the mid-terms, if only because it will send a message to the Republican Party, and because the Democrats will have no way of confronting it other than attack (how can they embrace a movement that runs contrary to all they say and do).  However, it cannot and should not be a hostage to imbecility or those for whom the phrase "Christian theocracy" doesn't send chills down their spines.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Spending cuts do not take money out of the economy

It's so abundantly simple that it shouldn't need explaining, but the Adam Smith Institute hasn't done a bad job:

"The error is in seeing the government as being external to the economy, with spending coming as manna from heaven. In fact, government money does not come from nowhere – barring simply printing money to pay for spending (which obviously does not increase actual wealth), government spending money can either come from taxes or borrowing."

Anyone can see that taking it from taxes is a transfer from the private sector to the state, and simple redistribution.  If this generated wealth, then North Korea would be beating South Korea.

How about borrowing though? Surely that's bringing money in?

"Government borrowing comes from private savings, crowding out private borrowers like entrepreneurs and investors. By diverting money away from businesses and entrepreneurs, who can use it to create commercially-valuable projects, wealth is squandered on projects that are unproductive such that only a government. If they were productive, why would it be necessary to tax people to pay for them in the first place?"
 
Now some make the argument that governments can make productive investment, in certain infrastructure where the private sector is prohibited or crowded out.  This can be true if the projects selected are high value, but this is only a second best option and only reflects the failure to allow market signals to incentivise the private sector to enter such markets (the best example is with roads).   

Yet neither in the UK, nor in the US (nor New Zealand) is such deficit spending about roads, it is about consumption.

This is why eliminating deficit spending is positive for economies.   It gets the government out of competing with private businesses for borrowing (of all sizes), so it reduces the cost of borrowing.  As government debt is typically seen as one of the safest "investments" (nothing like lending to someone who can extract repayment by force from its subjects), reducing the supply of such debt will induce financial institutions to look elsewhere for returns.

After all, Japan has been deficit spending now for over a decade, and the results have remained lacklustre. 

Monday, October 18, 2010

Keep calm, the cuts are going to be pitiful


The full details will be announced in two days time, but we already know how much the total value will be as the Emergency Budget foreshadowed the amount earlier this year.

The Adam Smith Institute has analysed what was forecast, although it has forecast inflation being 2-3% (when it is closer to 5%) and the overall cuts will be only 4.2% over five years.

Even the Guardian's handy public spending guide demonstrates that after the forecast cuts, the size of the British state as a proportion of GDP will be about the same as when the Atlee Labour Government lost power (after creating the NHS). It will not be the lowest since WW2, which was shared by the mid 1950s under Eden and the late 90s under Blair (the first term of which was characterised by fiscal restraint). 

So let's not get excited.  Schools wont close down, hospitals wont close, nobody is going to starve, the only people who will get less welfare are those on middle to higher incomes and precious little of the state sector is getting cut back.    

The only reason noise is being made is because so many have been enjoying the growth of the state tit in the past decade that they find it hard to accept that the money to keep this up simply does not exist.

Labour's land policy can be extended

Labour Leader Phil Goff today announced that given the warm reception of his policy against foreign own land and businesses that he would apply the principle more generally.

Given that foreign investors can often have a pernicious, non-Kiwi way of looking at land and infrastructure operations, we understand that only the Tangata Whenua, meaning not only Maori but non-Maori Kiwi blokes and blokesses know how to treat land as more than an investment, but a link to the nation and the people. This link isn’t just across Aotearoa but is local too, so I have decided to announce that Labour will restrict sales of South Island land to South Islanders only.

For many years now more and more farms, businesses and infrastructure in the South Island has been owned predominantly or exclusively by North Island companies and individuals. These people do not have a direct link with the land, and are less likely to appreciate the cultural, economic, social and environmental sensitivities involved. The Queen Street Farmer with properties in Otago must come to an end.

The inflation in prices that this allows has been rampant, so I will institute a policy that such sales will only be allowed if they are in the interests of South Islanders.

Given the wisdom of this approach, I intend to empower local authorities to institute similar such rules, so that the people of Hamilton do not face Aucklanders buying up properties and shutting them out of the market. Similarly, the overpriced Kapiti housing market will be set free by keeping Wellingtonians out
.”

He continued:

“There are big North Island buyers with money to burn who want to control and own the supply chain for food production. Instead of adding value to production in the South Island, they could decide to do it in the North Island.

That would cost the South Island jobs.

They’re going from the North to the South Island to buy what’s currently South Islanders’ and they will be doing it more often.

South Islanders are more vulnerable as land values fall.

We are at risk of our land being priced on a national market beyond the reach of South Islanders.

When South Islanders have to compete against North Island buyers, we have to ask ourselves - what will happen if the prices paid lock us out of owning our own land?
Where does it end up if we say to ambitious young South Islanders that you can only buy into our best and productive assets if you come from the North Island or you are born into a wealthy family.

That is not the South Island I want.

No North Islander has the right to buy South Island land - it is a privilege.
It is a privilege we have granted too easily.

Today you have my commitment that Labour will turn the rules on selling land to across Cook Strait on their head.

We’ll guarantee that South Islanders’ interests are put first.

We will reverse the presumption that any North Island purchase of South Island rural land is good for South Islanders.”

He continued to explain that he would be consulting on whether to first restrict inter-electorate sales of land ("can't have those Cantabrians buying West Coast land willy nilly can we?") or inter local authority sales ("Carterton for Cartertonians"!), noting that local authorities themselves may decide to impose more local restrictions if need be.

"Parnell for Parnellians, Miramar for Miramaranians, Taradale for Taradalians" he could be heard banally crying out.

He noted finally that this policy was in alignment with the great philosophy of self-reliance of Juche, adopted from Pyongyang.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Where and when will North Korea's future new leader be born?

Why ask such a question?  Wasn't he seen recently in public with his dad Kim Jong Il?

Well yes.  However, when and where was he born? 

Daily NK explains that none of this is new.

Confused?

Well there is NO official birthday, birth year or birth place for Kim Jong Un, yet.   However, some sources in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) claim that this is being manufactured at present.  

It goes like this:

Kim Song Ju (Kim Il Sung after 1935) was born 15 April 1912 at Mangyongdae near Pyongyang.  His birthplace is a national shrine, although the authenticity of almost all of it is questionable, debate about his birthday, birth year and birth place is largely closed.

Kim Jong Il was born 16 February 1941 at Vyatskoye Russia.  This is where it gets interesting.   The official story is he was born 16 February 1942 at Mt. Paektu in Japanese occupied Korea. The earlier date and location are proven by Soviet records and other historical accounts.  Even the DPRK once published his birth year as 1941 well before Kim Jong Il had any political role. 

Why change it?
Firstly the change in location is the most important point.  The official history of Kim Il Sung is that he was an anti-Japanese revolutionary fighter (true on the face of it) who helped lead the Korean people to remove the Japanese Imperial Army from the Korean Peninsula (far from the truth).  To support this myth it can't be said that Kim Il Sung in 1941 (or 1942) was actually in the USSR leading the 1st Battalion of the Soviet 88th Brigade of exiled Koreans (and Chinese) learning about Marxism-Leninism.   Kim Il Sung fought in the Red Army, a fact that would not support his nationalistic Korean anti-Japanese credentials.  Those credentials have been critical to gaining support for him among north Koreans - who better to lead you than a man who single-handedly saved Korea from the (truly) brutal and barbaric Japanese occupation.

So Kim Jong Il HAD to be born in Korea to support the myth of his father.   Given that was the case, where better than Mt. Paektu, the highest mountain in Korea (although half of it is in China) and so it carries "sacred" qualities.  It is where Kim Il Sung was supposed to have had his base to fight the Japanese, so how better to assert anti-Japanese credentials for Kim Jong Il than to claim he was born amongst soldiers.

What about the year?  Well Kim Il Sung was born in 1912, which meant 1962 was the year of his 50th birthday celebrations.   It was decided if Kim Jong Il was said to be born in 1942 not 1941, then 1982 could be a year of 70th birthday celebrations for Kim Il Sung and 40th birthday for Kim Jong Il (he was publicly announced effectively as successor by name in 1980).   Nothing more than that.

So Kim Jong Un?  He needs a suitable birthplace, something to do with his grandfather I would think.  There are conflicting accounts as to whether this is being constructed (and residents relocated as a result).   The birth year is accepted in South Korea as being 1983 because of the testimony of Kim Jong Il's former chef who defected.   Shifting it to 1982 would align it with his father.

What does all of this prove beyond being a quaint curiosity? That a state that owns its people so comprehensively as the DPRK is so egregiously willing to lie to them on such a grand scale about the most trivial of things. 

On a more optimistic note, the Korea Times reports that North Koreans are laughing off the propaganda they are being fed about the new leader and his immortal exploits.   Given even his older half brother opposes the succession (and is being protected by the Chinese government), it seems unlikely that a second hereditary succession can be undertaken smoothly.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Happy Birthday Maggie

Almost forgotten, today was the 85th birthday of Baroness Thatcher, the woman who dragged the Conservative Party kicking and screaming back to its principles and stopped the party from just being a comma to the Labour Party's implementation of socialism.

Her victory was one that changed British politics somewhat, but changed the British economy dramatically.   Not only did she set it free, pulling back the state from areas ranging from telecommunications to buses to railways to coal mines to airlines, but she so shook up the political establishment the Labour party had to abandon hard-core socialism (which meant nationalising industries ever time it got elected) and embrace a mixed-market economy to be elected.   Most of us she confronted a communist (no exaggeration) union movement that was sustained by bullying, monopolies and intimidation, and won.

Let's not be deluded though.  Despite the rabid vile rantings of so many on the left, Thatcher didn't dismantle the welfare state, she didn't dismantle the NHS or state education, she didn't even shrink state spending as a proportion of GDP.  She did take on local government, abolishing the ridiculous Greater London Council, she did believe passionately in private enterprise and choice, but most notably she looked socialism in the eye and didn't blink.  She did it in the Falklands, she did it against Moscow and did it in Brussels.  She showed that she had more courage than any of the "born to rule" testicularly challenged bores who typically infest the Conservative Party.

Sadly, New Labour took her legacy and after its first term got intoxicated again on keeping much of Britain in dependency, with ever growing grants, subsidies, middle class welfare and feeding the gobbling behemoth of the NHS.   This bubble popped when the recession killed off tax revenue to sustain the borrowing.  In short, Gordon Brown squandered Mrs Thatcher's legacy.

What Britain has now is a pale weak unprincipled imitation of Thatcher, and a Labour Party led by a man who is cheered on by a man Thatcher defeated twice.   Thatcher rescued Britain from its Post War stagnation, but she didn't dismantle Britain's welfare state.  The fact that all too many today in Britain sustain a myth of Thatcher as devil shows how much she rattled the socialist consensus.   She wasn't perfect by a long way, she supped with the likes of Pinochet, she mistakenly proposed a new tax for local government and had a streak of social conservatism around some issues that kept many from even considering the Conservatives (e.g.  playing up to bigotry around immigrants and homosexuals).

However, for turning the tide back, temporarily, for putting the wind up a Marxist Labour Party that nearly (had it listened to Tony Benn) nationalised the 20 biggest companies in Britain in the 1970s, for being part of the Western alliance that stared down the murderous anti-human dictatorships of Marxism-Leninism (and won) and for showing Britain that there can be a better way than always turning to the state, she deserves to be congratulated for reaching 85.

Thank you to the Adam Smith Institute for this video reminder of what was:

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Len's boondoggle

If you want an example of why politics should be taken out of the sphere of transport then Len Brown’s policies provide some pretty clear guidance.  A lot of attention has been paid to his policies focused on building expensive electric rail lines to the North Shore, Auckland Airport and an underground CBD rail loop. These lines that would cost billions of dollars, would lose money year after year to operate and hence couldn’t be sold for even one twentieth of what it will cost to build them.  However, Len Brown is a politician – he has visions, visions of how to spend other people’s money and he doesn’t care whether this spending is worth it financially, economically or environmentally.  No, he’s joined one of the religions of recent times - Railevangelism – driven by faith, passion and a belief that trains are good, and a little thing like money shouldn’t get in the way of Auckland having more.





The cost of his plans approach NZ$5 billion.  To put that in context that is around two years total spending on land transport by government on roads and public transport, across the country.  It is double the total annual national take of fuel tax, road user charges and motor vehicle licensing fees.   So if you like Think Big, you’ll love Lenin’s Think Biggest. 





Ahh, but wont people use it?  Well sure they will, but you wont be charging fares that even cover the costs of running the trains (which need to be bought too, the $5 billion doesn’t include those).   You see the whole urban rail strategy is based on the trains not making a financial return.   So not only will the capital expenditure be a deadweight loss, but it will bleed money continuously unless the fares are increased to change that.  Funnily enough if the fares were increased the trains would be empty, which tells you exactly how much those who would ride the trains truly value them.





Ahh, but wont their be economic benefits from reduced traffic congestion?  You’d hope so for that sort of money, and a year on year subsidy, but this is where things break down a little.  Yes, the NZTA estimates that removing one car from peak time roads in Auckland and shifting the users to rail is a $17 benefit in reduced congestion.   However, will everyone on those trains have been people who would have driven cars?  Hardly.   Many will be existing bus users,  for the CBD loop some will have otherwise walked, some will have been car passengers (so the car is still being driven but the train offers a convenient option for the passenger) and yes some will be drivers of cars.  On top of that some will be new trips, trips that otherwise wouldn’t have been done,  but which you will have been forced to pay for.   Funnily enough the railevangelists treat everyone on a train as if it is someone who is doing good for everyone else by not driving a car, ignoring that many of them would not have driven in the first place.





Oh but wont congestion be reduced?  Really?  What new world city has made any impression on traffic congestion by building a new electric rail network?  Los Angeles? No.  Portland?  No.  Atlanta?  No.  In all cases the impact on traffic has been minuscule, and is more than made up by the continued growth in road traffic.  A large amount of money spent for next to no gain.   In Auckland only 12% of commuters terminate their trips in the CBD because most jobs are not downtown.  Len Brown wants to build a railway focused on servicing downtown Auckland where over 30% of commuter trips are already by public transport (mostly buses, which get ignored by many railevangelists because they aren’t politically sexy).  The simple truth is that his ideas will benefit a tiny percentage of commuters at a cost of thousands of dollars for every Aucklander.





Surely a rail line to the airport is a good idea and will take lots of people out of their cars?  Well it might take some businesspeople (they always need a subsidy) from taking taxis to the CBD, but the catchment area for airport trips is across all of Auckland.  Who will take the train to west Auckland or Penrose or Pakuranga or Long Bay or Point Chevalier?   Auckland does not and will never have the kind of high frequency metro service seen in London, Paris or New York,  so it will remain highly inferior to take any connecting trips by rail.   An airport line wont ever stack up.





Let’s be clear, the last and the current government have committed to wasting your money on a heinously expensive rail electrification scheme that is already costing a fortune.  Before that has even been built or proven by any measure, Len Brown wants to build the next few stages at around 3x the cost of what is committed already.   He isn’t even saying “let’s wait and see how it goes” in case it proves to be a financial failure or simply doesn’t reduce congestion, he’s calling for more money to be poured down this tunnel of faith.





The economically rational response to the rail programme is to treat it as a sunk cost, let the current contracts be concluded and eventually sell the whole thing off to whoever wants to run it.  The economically rational response to Auckland’s traffic congestion is to commercialise and privatise the road network so it can be priced and invested in according to demand, rather than political whim, and finally for Len Brown to get his pilfering hands out of the wallets and purses of ratepayers.   He is no better at planning how Aucklanders should move than he would be if he wanted to plan how Aucklanders should eat, dress or be housed!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Hwang Jang Yop's passing deserves more coverage

If you watched or read most of the media in the last day or so you'd think the key news about North Korea was the appearance of Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un at the 65th Anniversary celebrations of the founding of the Workers' Party of Korea in Pyongyang.  After all, the authorities in Pyongyang invited foreign journalists and TV crews to cover it.

Sadly on the same day a man died in South Korea who sheds more light on the regime than the spectacle of military parades in the (surprisingly small) Kim Il Sung Square and pictures of an ailing autocrat and his youngest son (with a face allegedly reshapen by plastic surgery to look like his grandfather).  

Hwang Jang Yop was President of the Committee for the Democratisation of North Korea, and the highest ranking defector ever from North Korea.  He was International Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea and Chairman of the Supreme People's Assembly from 1972 to 1983 when he was removed and "softly" purged (criticised and demoted rather than incarcerated and condemned).  He subsequently defected in 1997 by walking into the South Korean Embassy in Beijing whilst on an official trip, after which he spent his remaining years in South Korea, writing books and memoirs of the regime in North Korea.

He passed away at his home in Seoul due to a heart attack on 10 October 2010, the day North Korea commemorates the 65th anniversary of the founding of the Workers' Party of Korea.   Thankfully his passing does not appear to be suspicious, as it was well known that he was a leading target for North Korean agents  to assassinate.

His defection was bitter for the regime, and he was aware of this, as he fully expected his wife and children would suffer enormously as a result.  North Korea imprisons entire families for the political crimes of one, including children and the elderly with no limits on age.  His letter to his wife expressed his belief that he had to defect for the people of North Korea and could not go on with things remaining as they are.
He wrote 20 books after his defection, about the regime, the Kims and strategies to bring its downfall and reform.  In his memoirs he claims to have written the Juche Idea (the national ideology associated with Kim Il Sung), he tells about the long history he lived through from Japan's brutal colonialism, the Korean War, the rise and fall of socialism, the death of Kim Il Sung and the so-called "Arduous March" when mass starvation saw Kim Jong Il prepare for war whilst millions died.

His excellent regular column in the Daily NK website was one of the most incisive commentaries on the regime and its nature.  His final column mentioned the annointing of Kim Jong Un as Kim Jong Il's successor:

Kim Jong Il has turned his entire country into a huge prison; a place where a few million people starve and he enslaves the rest...Kim Jong Il is the worst kind of thief; a man who stole a whole country...Now he is making fun of and humiliating the North Korean people, making them shout ‘Hurrah!’ and ignoring the world after conferring a boy with the title, 'general'."

He is being commemorated in South Korea now as a great man whose defection helped challenge the views of many who supported North Korea, and highlighted much about the reality of the regime in Pyongyang. 

The Daily NK visual tribute is here.  His memoirs were published, in serial form, on Daily NK here.

Sadly his passing is likely to get only a brief mention in Western media, compared to the military display and show of Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang yesterday, for which the BBC, CNN and other major TV broadcasters were invited.   I note none of Stuff, TVNZ and RNZ websites are carrying this news (NZ Herald carries an AP report), but all carry the story, video and pictures of North Korea the regime want to show.  Even CNN doesn't have the story on its Asia page.  While the BBC does, it puts greater headlines on Michael Law's being an attention-seeking airhead.

Journalism? Ha!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Nobel Peace Prize winner makes a timely point

The Nobel Peace Prize has been devalued so many times over the years that one could be excused for ignoring it.   From its regular glorification of the UN, to the celebration of fraudsters (Rigoberta Menchu), vacuous self promoters and appeasers (Jimmy Carter, Al Gore), accomplices to mass murder (Henry Kissinger, Yasser Arafat) and celebrators of dictators (Agnes Bojaxhiu), it has occasionally got it right  in more recent years- with Mikhail Gorbachev, Lech Walesa, Aung San Suu Kyi and Martin Luther King Jr. 

Granting it to President Barack Obama when he had demonstrably done nothing in the cause of peace (and whose record to this day remains bountifully barren in this field) even disgusted many who would have tended to be supportive of him.  An award for achievement which is designed to encourage someone who had only achieved rhetoric as substantial as that which lies between Pluto and Neptune is meaningless.

Clearly the Nobel Peace Prize Committee intended to encourage with the granting of the prize to Liu Xiaobo a timely debate within and with China about human rights and freedoms in what is now the world's second biggest economy.  

Xiaobo helped draft Charter 08, China's version of Charter 77 which in socialist Czechoslovakia helped to solidify calls to erode the Marxist-Leninist dictatorship in Prague.  His fundamental call is for China to no longer suppress political speech, a separation of powers between state and party, an independent judiciary, protection of private property rights and liberal democracy.

In that he is calling for that which now exists in Taiwan, which largely exist in Hong Kong and which are taken for granted in the West, and indeed in increasing numbers of Asian states.   Taiwan, South Korea, Indonesia have all transformed themselves from dictatorships of one form of another into liberal open societies, where political debate is vigorous and free speech guaranteed.   China need not fear this.   Indeed, its future prosperity not only relies on it, but will demand it.

Much has been achieved in China in the last twenty years.  There is debate about issues, the gap is questioning the role of the Communist Party, and there is considerable risk if one criticises politicians.   Chinese people can live their lives without much political interference, and the amount of non-political/civil and private space for citizens has grown enormously.   However, without the ability to criticise ones political leaders, China remains a country where the state treats its citizens as children.

China's greatest weakness today is the rule of law.  Without an independent judiciary, without the ability of the judicial system to hold politicians, laws and officials to account - consistently - China retains a system where corruption is built in to the state, party, judiciary and all of the instruments of state violence.

The reaction of the authorities in Beijing is not unexpected, trying to shut down discussion, treating the Prize as "blasphemy" and threatening trade relations with Norway.   This is not how a modern 21st century power behaves, it is how the poor paranoid and blinkered Maoist China of the 1980s would behave.  

Indeed, it is likely that this will cause more harm than good, as the clumsy efforts to censor this news from the Chinese people will fail.  The internet, even as censored as is attempted in China, is too porous for this news not to now be widely known among tens of millions of Chinese citizens.   The attempt at treating these people as children who can't know news about their own country is counter-productive, and will undo the enormous efforts at national loyalty that were promoted by the Olympics and the ongoing national prosperity.   Following this failure, Xinhua News Agency (China's monopoly state news agency) will no doubt try to shape public opinion in the clumsy manner that was its full time job from 1948 till the 1980s, and this will be seen for what it is.

I like China, it is a country of immense diversity, energy, entrepreneurship and good nature.  I want it to succeed, but it is not a bad time to remind it to look at the two models of governance on its doorstep (indeed one shining example at the back door) that allows its citizens the dignity to speak freely about those who govern them and how they behave.   For the past 30 years China has been moving closer to how both Taiwan and Hong Kong operate - Mr Xiaobo reminds us of the great leap forward (!) needed to lift it up to the shining heights of a modern state and society that exist in that province and region.

National-ACT fails Auckland

Clap - clap - clap.

Margaret Thatcher once commented about how horrified she was in the 1970s when a senior Conservative MP expressed the view that socialism was "inevitable" and the Conservatives existed to slow it down and moderate it. In other words, when the Tories would get elected, it was to tinker, but by and large whatever Labour did in government would not be overturned.

One wonders if the current National minority government in New Zealand has the same profound inspiration - to preserve the legacy of Helengrad and tinker.

When I now see the results of the local government policy of that government then all i can say is well done. Because it passes the test of the Tories before Thatcher - maintain and continue with the policies of your opponents.

Auckland, all of Auckland, now has a Mayor - more empowered than ever before, to lead a council with the wide ranging powers granted to it by Sandra Lee and Judith Tizard in the height of the Labour-Alliance government that was Helen Clark's first term.

Why? Because Rodney Hide and ACT, cheered on and fully supported by John Key and the Nats, facilitated it.

In 2008 when Labour was kicked out, there was hope from some that it would mean that the local government policy of Labour, that National and ACT opposed, would be rejected.  The hope being that local government would no longer have a "power of general competence" - which Labour and the Alliance (supported by the Greens) gave councils, allowing them to enter into ANY activity they wish, which of course means they can grow (what councils will shrink?).  Even with a change of government, local authorities could subsidise anything, enter into any business activity, enter into any form of social activity (schools, healthcare, housing and welfare even) and government could not stop them, without a change in the law.

With Rodney Hide appointed as Minister of Local Government, there was some hope that this would be wound back - that rates might not be increased unhindered, and councils could not engage in ever more new activities, crowding out private business, private non-commercial activities, and ever imposing higher financial and regulatory demands on the people they claim to serve.

To be fair he briefly tried in 2009 to change the powers of local government, but failed because National decided to keep the Local Government Act 2002.  

However more importantly he failed to answer the question "What should be the role of local government"?  

The answer implicitly given is the same as Sandra Lee, except she answered with conviction:

"Whatever elected local politicians want to do".

In parallel he inherited the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance commissioned by the Clark, Peters, Dunne regime.   He could have, rightly, decided to treat it as curious but out of step with the objectives of the new government.

No.  He embraced it.  With the exception of the blatantly racist pandering of the proposed Maori only seats (as New Zealand remains increasingly alone in ascribing credibility to the patronising fiction of democracy being racist), it was as if the government had not changed at all.  Same policies, different people implementing them.
So the "super city council" (let's not pretend Auckland as a city changes because the petty control freaks who seek to govern it have only one place to rule it from) was created.  Not only was one council created out of eight, but the role of Mayor shifted from being cheerleader and chairman of the council, to having power over money and private property.   

So the biggest local authority in Australasia has been formed, by parties ostensibly committed to free enterprise.

Some ACT supporters thought it was a cunning plan, believing that a bigger council would be dominated by the "centre-right" (which you should be glad for. "Better than the socialists" right?).  

The victory of Len Brown does not exactly demonstrate that.   He has already stated his priority is joining the railevangelists in making ratepayers (and the government) pay for three rail lines.  Projects that are not economically viable in their own right, none of which will generate enough in fare revenue to pay for their operating costs let alone the capital that will be destroyed in building them.

So John Key and Rodney Hide have created a powerful local government entity and Mayoral position that is unfettered, and now a cargo cult loving, "think big" socialist has been elected as Mayor.   Not only that, but this Mayor is talking about a referendum on having apartheid Maori seats. 

Well done.  I don't know quite what Labour can say to this - as I can't imagine it would have been substantively different if it was still in power.

Hide says it is "good for Auckland".   Well given he let it all happen, and endorsed letting voters choose a council that can do what it wants to Aucklanders, he can hardly complain.

It's politics not values after all.

So, if you're unhappy about all of this, will you be voting National and ACT next year?

UPDATE:  It is telling that Idiot Savant thinks this is an epic fail for Rodney Hide.  He's right you know.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

So what would you do?

Whenever any government announces spending cuts, there are always those who are recipients of the money (that isn't their's) who claim it isn't fair that the state isn't taking quite so much money off of other people to give them some, and those who are on their side, constantly sniping about anytime the state does less.

Few governments cut spending while running surpluses, as it is only when years of past profligacy catch up that reality has to be faced, as it is in the UK.

However, "journalists" (I put inverted commas in place because so few of them understand making intelligent queries about what goes on or are capable of comparing current with historical events) rarely ask the two most important questions of such naysayers:

1. How would YOU cut spending or increase taxes? Who would lose out in your world? For example, if child benefit is to remain universal in the UK, what spending should be cut instead, or should the very people who currently receive child benefit pay more tax instead??

2. How much of your own money will you be using to compensate those who are losing out on the spending cut?

The typical answer to the first question is "I don't know". In other words, a mindless opposition to politicians who, to be fair, are simply trying to balance the books and reduce the rate of borrowing. The more philosophical ones of a leftwards bent would make a flippant comment about "the rich should pay more tax" (or bankers), or that defence spending (the left hates defence) should be cut.

The second question invariably draws a blank. Spend your own money helping the poor, or schools, or hospitals? Actually do something rather than call on government to force everyone else to do so?

No - it is the moral vacuum of too many of the left who have never really thought of voluntarily raising money or spending their own money to relieve poverty or keep open a school, hospital, library, art gallery or whatever it is they are so stouchly defending.

Whereas I simply think that if you can't be bothered contributing something substantial yourself then your advocacy for forcing others to do so, through the state, is morally bankrupt.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Destroying the welfare state

"There will only be schools for the rich"
"We wont have any hospitals for the poor"
"Families will struggle"
"It's so unfair"

Such are the ridiculous hyperboles thrown about because the British Government is proposing to cap the welfare state by (get ready for the poor bashing moment):

1. Eliminating child benefit for anyone earning over roughly £44,000 p.a. (where the second highest income tax rate cuts in);
2. No one will be able to receive more in benefits (including housing, council tax etc) than the average wage.

So the top 15% of incomes in the UK (yes apparently £44,000 p.a. is rich!!) wont get welfare. "An attack on the principle of universality"! Oh what a tragedy. Families that WONT get welfare.

It really has come to this. Britain is overspending at a rate of £2 billion a week, but a cut in welfare for the comparatively RICH, sends the left into apoplexy. A saving of £1 billion a year, and it is portrayed absurdly as an attack on the poor.

The British welfare state is not under threat.

British taxpayers still pay for everyone's children to have compulsory education.
British taxpayers still pay for the most centrally planned and socialist universal health care system in the world (and funding for it isn't to be touched).
British taxpayers still pay for benefits for those out of work, unable to work and to reward breeding up to the average wage.
British taxpayers still pay for much of the population to be housed.

All the government is doing is cutting back on welfare for the middle classes. It is a start, but it is NOT destroying or even challenging the welfare state.

The opponents of these cuts do NOT have an alternative to reduce the deficit, they like to pretend continually borrowing to pay these benefits is better (none ever propose other cuts, few propose more taxes on the rich who will lose from these cuts anyway).

However, most disconcerting is the belief that families are "entitled" to help from the government. No notion that it is their own taxes they are getting back, no notion that when one breeds you should look after your kids yourself. A culture of being "entitled" to someone else's money or more absurdly, to get your own taxes recycled through the state.

The Conservative-Lib Dem government isn't challenging this revoltingly corrosive dependence on the state. What it is doing is abolishing welfare for wealthier families and capping welfare so that nobody gets more in welfare than the average person takes home from working.

For this to be controversial to anyone other than hardened Marxists who believe money grows on trees and that people should ideally get paid money for no reason at all, is tragic.

Oh and if you think New Zealand is less silly, then take the OECD figures from the Daily Telegraph, which claims payments per child per annum are on average US$3,133 per annum in NZ.

What is wrong with people paying for the consequences of their own breeding?

Sell it and change the channel

Yes Paul Henry was a dick for his comment about the Governor General.

However, doesn't it show once again why you shouldn't be forced to have an ownership interest in TVNZ?

TVNZ should be privatised. The last National government was confidentially investigating exactly that at the time, but time wasn't on its side before the rise of Helengrad.

The rise of digital TV (first by Sky via satellite and Telstra-Clear via cable, some time before terrestrial broadcasting) will mean much more radio spectrum will be available for TV channels. There is no need for the state to own four of them.

TVNZ has long been a laughable excuse for a public broadcaster, caught between trying to be the lowest common denominator folksy, once over lightly, reduce everything to parochial or sporting analogies, asinine banality, with the ernest attempt to try to be the repositary of kiwi kulcha and the need to produce news and documentaries for adolescents.

Selling it would mean Paul Henry would be with an employer who would respond completely to what its customers (advertisers or subscribers) wanted.

At that point (and right now) you can simply abstain. Don't watch. If enough of you do that then the democracy of the market will remove him from the airwaves, but you can remove him from your screens now - just don't put that channel on when he is on.