Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Urban myths about Kiwirail

Once again the Alliance Party and rail unions' views on Kiwirail are being touted by the Labour Party as truths.

They are not.  Don't believe me? Thought not.  However, you might believe the Institute for the Study of Competition and Regulation based at Victoria University.

I've blogged this before, but it is worth repeating.  The full presentation debunking the myths is in Powerpoint here.

Here's a good summary I wrote before...

1. Rail network shrinked due to privatisation. Wrong. Almost all line closures were under state ownership when rail had a statutory monopoly on long haul freight!  The track network length has barely changed in 20 years.

2. Rail stopped being viable after free market reforms. Wrong, it stopped being consistently financially viable by 1945. It had short pockets of profitability since then. The early 1970s saw it drift from profitability to losses, which weren't recovered until 1983 after debts had been written off and it started being paid by government to run commuter rail services in Auckland and Wellington under contract (and a host of unprofitable freight lines, such as the Otago Central Railway).

3. Track Maintenance was run down after privatisation. Wrong, it was already being run down in public ownership, track was run down more, but sleeper replacement under private ownership increased.

4. Rail is worth a lot as an asset. Wrong. The NZ$12 billion book value of rail that was on the Treasury accounts was a nonsense, equating it to all other SOEs combined (e.g. 3 power companies, Transpower, NZ Post) which all make profits. Most of the value is based on a replacement cost if it was built today, which of course would never be done. I'd argue it is probably worth 4% of that at best.   It's worth noting that this has only been partly fixed as of late.

5. Rail only needed rescuing after privatisation. Wrong. It has been rescued several times before. It has long had serious economic viability issues.   In recent history it was bailed out in 1982 (all debts cancelled, and the operation commercialised), 1990 (had the debt of the North Island Main Trunk line electrification written off as a "Think Big" debt, then NZ$350 million, and another $1 billion wiped off to pay for the restructuring to make it viable).

6. Rail is good to reduce accidents, congestion and environmental problems Wrong. "the optimal level of externalities is not zero – at some point it becomes more expensive to lower them than the welfare created by their further abatement" Rail related deaths are only slightly lower than truck related. No evidence that rail reduces congestion. Sea freight is twice as fuel efficient than rail, but little interest in that mode.  Indeed Greens actively oppose international ships carrying domestic freight along the coast to placate their unionist mates.

Like I said before, the presentation basically says that rail is not as fuel efficient as is quoted, and that only 30% of the current network handles 70% of the freight. It suggests concentrating on the main trunk, and lines to the Bay of Plenty and the West Coast

Point scoring not principle

The paucity of principle in modern politics is unsurprising, so let's just establish the Labour Party's view on state ownership.

1.  The State can buy whatever it likes, even large unprofitable businesses, without an electoral mandate.   Taxpayers are expected to cough up for whatever politicians think they should buy with their money. 
 
2. Successful privatisations have been erased from history.  Opus, the former Ministry of Works, is now a successful multinational consultancy firm taking New Zealand expertise to the world.  Auckland Airport is a shining success as an airport.  Hardly a peep is heard of Contact Energy, bringing private competition to a state owned market.  State Insurance hasn't been state for 20 years.  NZ Steel continues to be a competitive exporter and productive job creator years after it was sold.  

3. It was ok for Labour to try to sell 20% of a state owned asset to its largest foreign competitor.  Dr Cullen was salivating at the chance to sell part of Air New Zealand to Qantas, which would have ended competition on domestic routes, sewn up around 80% of the Trans Tasman market to one operator.  However, that was "ok".  Only the Commerce Commission stopped this cosely set up deal, although few remember how much effort Qantas made to lobby the Labour Government at the time to delay giving the consent to Singapore Airlines buying 49% of the then privately owned Air NZ/Ansett group, which was a key step in kneecapping the group - in Qantas's interest - as it knew the NZ government wouldn't bail out Qantas's biggest domestic competitor (Ansett), and scuppering the Singapore deal bought Qantas years of dominance on the Australian market.

Either you're upfront and believe the state should own businesses and acquire new ones under certain principles, or that it shouldn't and should divest itself of them over time.

The Greens believe the former, Labour and National believes in none of the above and all of the above, depending on who you ask, and what time of day it is.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Why Boris Johnson beat Ken Livingstone

For all of the many reasons to be critical of the Olympics, it being a waste of future taxpayers' money, it being an unjustified corporatist suppression of free speech, the celebration of the world's most centrally planned universal health care system and most recently, the inability to flexibly manage access to tickets, and the lost opportunity to fix London's inadequate transport infrastructure, there are things to be grateful for - besides the great individual achievements by thousands of athletes (which is the true reason to celebrate the Olympics), Boris Johnson is Mayor rather than Ken Livingstone.

Why?

Boris has written "20 jolly good reasons to be cheerful about the Olympics"...

Including:

As I write these words there are semi-naked women playing beach volleyball in the middle of the Horse Guards Parade immortalised by Canaletto. They are glistening like wet otters and the water is plashing off the brims of the spectators’ sou’westers. The whole thing is magnificent and bonkers. 

and

The Olympics are proving to be a boost to tattoo parlours. Plenty of people seem to want their thighs inscribed with “Oylimpics 2012” and other ineradicable mis-spellings. 

Who would ever expect Ken Livingstone to say such things....


Monday, July 23, 2012

London 2012 < that phrase breaks the law (or what's wrong with the Olympics Part Two)

As I wrote previously, the Olympics can be a great cause for celebration of personal achievement my people striving to achieve the very best in their chosen sport or athletic event. As an advocate of capitalism, I’m not a supporter of the anti-capitalist protestors objecting to specific sponsors at the games. 

The patronising and precious attitude of protestors that having sponsors like Coca Cola and McDonalds means people will associate those brands with health living is insulting the intelligence of spectators and those at home watching the games. There wont be ads of Gold Medal winning athletes saying they did it drinking coke or eating McDonalds, but even if there were, then so be it. The do-gooding health bullies who want to restrict free speech because they think they can regulate, tax and berate everyone into eating and drinking as they want should just shut up. The simple response to sponsors whose products you don’t like is to not buy them or organise a boycott. Funnily enough had the Olympics actually come within budget as originally proposed by the government when it bid for the games, then it may be that sponsorship and ticket sales would have meant it broke even. The original budget being £2.4 billion excluding the external costs to related agencies, such as the Police. Now it is £9.3 billion plus those costs at around £2 billion, it’s easy to be cynical about the games from an economic perspective, but also desperate to maximise sponsorship to cover the costs.

You’d think that from my point of view, whatever it takes to get sponsorship is good. Well no. There is nothing wrong with granting the rights to be official sponsors, to use the logos and slogans trademarked for the Olympics. This, of course, is like any other event and any other corporate sponsorship role. Sponsors pay for certain exclusivity related to that which those organising the event have the right to sell. However, it goes a lot further than that here. 

For a start, Lord (Sebastian) Coe, Chairman of the London Organising Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) has said that ticket holders to events wearing items of clothing carrying the brands of competitors to the sponsors could be prohibited from entering the events. He said it was “probably not” ok to wear a Pepsi T-shirt (Coca Cola is the competing sponsor), but “ok” to wear Nike trainers (Adidas is the competing sponsor). There has been some backtracking on that somewhat (only wanting to prohibit large groups engaging in “ambush marketing”), and frankly if all of that had been made clear when tickets were sold, then it would be fine. Yet it’s more insidious than this. 

You shouldn’t need to pass laws to host an event, but the Blair Government passed legislation, which explicitly prohibits unauthorised use of certain words. Typically, protection of sponsorship is about protecting trademarks and logos that you have registered or fraudulently passing yourself off as officially endorsed by an event. Existing laws are quite capable of doing that, but the Blair/Brown and Cameron Governments had been lobbied by the International Olympic Committee and sponsors to do more. So there are now officially banned words and phrases in relation to trade: 

“Using the words Games, Twenty-Twelve, 2012, or Two Thousand and Twelve, in conjunction with one of these words - London, medals, sponsors, summer, gold, silver or bronze - is also banned.” 

You can have a brief laugh at how this demonstrates that the quasi-authoritarian nanny-state approach to British politics, embraced by the Labour Party is now mainstream and uncontroversial among major parties. It is also illegal to take photos of the Olympics rings in public places to be used in publicity. This includes the taxpayer funded quarter million pound rings on Tower Bridge. 

To those who think the British constitutional monarchy system is a great guarantor of freedom, surely this shows it up for the emptiness that it is. The government has restricted free speech around the Olympics. Why? Well to protect the official sponsors, because they can’t possibly have a small local cafĂ© selling muffins under a sign not using the logo saying “Olympic Muffins”.   Conversely, no airline other than British Airways can advertise "fly to London for the Olympics", which is patently absurd.

This overbearing, corporatist nastiness is exactly the sort of bullying that anti-capitalist protestors rightfully condemn. It’s not free market capitalism to pass laws so that sponsors don’t just register trademarks, but prohibit the use of general phrases and descriptions. So on that I’m with the protestors. 
 
How can any politician in the House of Commons hold his or her head up high and say it’s ok to pass laws restricting public usage of words that are NOT brands. I can’t say “Summer 2012” without it being seen as some insidious attempt to undermine the sponsorship of the Olympics.  To his credit, Mayor Boris Johnson has called overzealous policing of sponsorship as “insanity”, which should hopefully take the sting off the tail of cops who see new laws as a chance to grab some new criminals. Hopefully it means that some local businesses who have contributed in taxes for this grand event wont face prosecution for using words from common usage. He has pointed out the suburb of west London called Olympia and how absurd it should be if businesses around there with that name might be forced to change. Sponsors who use such laws to beat up on smaller businesses who are not using their logos and who are not claiming to be official sponsors should themselves face the opprobrium of the public. It’s not your language, taxpayers are the biggest sponsors of these Olympics. Just because you have convinced a bunch of lilly-livered politicians and gutless bureaucrats to pass laws to restrict free speech, doesn’t mean it is right. For if the Olympics has a spell of petty bullying from bureaucrats, Police and lawyers from sponsors forcing people to not use verboten words, then it deserves to be accompanied by moaning. Britain should no more be beholden to rampant corporatism, than it should be to rampant statism. 

Ironically, there has been one freedom granted - Sunday opening hours, which are currently heavily restricted for shops over a certain size, have been abolished for the period of the Games.   However, Britain doesn't have a Government sufficiently committed to economic growth to allow this to continue, as City AM's Allister Heath bemoans.

Friday, July 20, 2012

What struck me this week....

Obama - slicing tall poppies down, you're not so smart... it's not your business, you didn't build that

This is likely to be as controversial as Hilary Clinton's famous "it takes a village to raise a child" statement, which many conservatives took as denying the primary role of families.  

Obama said thislook, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own.  You didn’t get there on your own.  I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart.  There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something—there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

So DON'T be proud, you're not an individual, success is always a collective effort.  Don't think you're clever, lots of people are.   You're success is because someone gave you help, you CAN'T be successful through your own hard work and intelligence.  Be grateful for the roads, because you wouldn't succeed without them (the fact others didn't do what you did is blanked out).

Presumably he thinks Olympic Gold Medals belong to lots of people, not the people winning the races.

Not PC wrote about it, and I concur.  I also like his post that includes satire about it.

Pure unadulterated anti-individualist, pro-collectivist drivel.  If Mitt Romney can't capitalise on this to grab the votes of most small business people, of indeed most Americans who strive and believe in recognising individual success when it happens, he doesn't deserve to be President.

Helen Clark gives an award to a tobacco entrepreneur

The warrior against smoking is hoisted by the petard of the profligate mega-bureaucracy she leads, not that she isn't a stranger to hypocrisy.  After all, few things are more hypocritical than a woman who has never created a business in her life getting US$500,000 a year, from global taxpayers, tax free, flying around the world flying first class (not just business class), staying in 5 star hotels, being chauffeured around telling the world that it should do more to address poverty.   Well done Helen, you cold, hypocritical, control freak.

Auckland's Mayor wants more taxes

Len Brown thinks that there is a "funding gap" of NZ$15 billion for Auckland transport.  Truth is that he can't convince users of government provided transport infrastructure or services to pay more to pay for his wishlist of totemic projects, especially the nearly NZ$3 billion Auckland CBD underground railway (given railway users already only pay a third of the cost of operating the existing trains, and not one cent towards the pending electrification and new trains).

He's arguing for a regional fuel tax (ignoring that it's unfair to those who don't use fuel on the roads, and those who wont use his totemic projects), tolls for new roads (all well and good, but there are few of those) and congestion charging (which Labour says is unfair, preferring regional fuel tax, and National rejects).

The real answer is to cut his spending plans to what fits within budget.  State highways are not Auckland Council's responsibility.  Maintain the local road network, pay out the existing public transport subsidy contracts and after that, bid to NZTA for new capital projects.  Understand that when ratepayers will throw you out for raising rates to pay for a railway, that means they don't want to pay for it so you shouldn't do it. 

Portugal's drug decriminalisation has worked

The number of drug addicts has halved since Portugal decriminalised all drugs in 2001.   Gutlessness prevails in mainstream politics in the English speaking world.

New Zealand continues the war on drugs
  
A report that 2573 people have been arrested en masse by the NZ Police for the victimless crime of consuming, selling and producing cannabis should have anyone with a liberal bent outraged.  The sheer scale of this is horrifying.  Of course it wont be the sons and daughters of MPs, lawyers, doctors, journalists, company directors and the like who are targeted, it will be largely lower class, brown skinned people and other reprobates who “deserve it” in the war on drugs.  Because, of course, the war on drugs doesn’t actually mean treating everyone who has drugs the same way – it means letting middle class successful people off the hook for dabbling in them whilst they wag their finger at the people who they don’t think are capable of making the same decision for themselves.

As Lindsay Perigo says, will the Police not stop until all 450,000 people who smoke cannabis are in prison?  

How Greece's government destroyed US$140 million of national wealth with one policy

You ban the government from selling surplus assets at less than 75% of their book value.  Meaning you're ultimately forced to sell them for 22% as the market collapses in the three years of prevaricating over the sale.

Romania's government slides towards authoritarianism

What do you call the EU's reaction to one of its newest Member States governing under emergency powers, politicising the entire public sector including the judiciary, making the state media an arm of the ruling party, overruled the Constitutional Court (so changing the constitution)?  Pathetic.  Why?  Apparently because so many MEPs are aligned to the socialists (successors of Ceausescu's communist party) who are annexing Romania's entire political system to suit themselves, and because the EU can't admit that it made a mistake in admitting Romania when it was subject to serious issues of corruption.  The EU COULD cut funding across many areas, immediately, such as agriculture and regional funding for infrastructure, but it wont.  The Party of European Socialists, including the British Labour Party, are keeping quiet. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

What's wrong with the Olympics? Part one - the economics


You’re going to see more and more hype in the next few weeks, as the world’s most political sporting event is held in London, and a vast wave of positive support will infiltrate the media, politicians and the event itself.

There is one good thing about the Olympics. It provides a showcase for the best in world athletics to compete and demonstrate the results of their hard work and training and be achievers. That is a good thing. The recurrence of this again and again, is a reason to smile. Opportunities to do this are special and remarkable.

Yet there is a lot wrong with it, so much I’m going to dedicate three articles about it.
  • The first is on the economic cost
  • The second is in the cost to individual freedom (and surrender to an authoritarian corporatist approach to sponsorship to fund the Games by "any means possible")
  • And thirdly is a lesser important point, it is how the transport infrastructure in London has not been upgraded to cope, despite seven years of warning.

No business case

From an economic point of view, there was no “business case” for the British government to support the Olympics being held in London. It comes with a direct financial cost to British taxpayers including future taxpayers, a direct economic cost imposed on much of London, a subsidised platform for sponsorship and the self-aggrandisement and glory claimed by politicians.

The Olympics are political, they are a statement to the world by a country seeking to show off. I need not go through the list of recent hosts to demonstrate that. The previous Labour government bid for this event to try to show off, it didn’t do it for the economy.

£11 billion is the total cost of the infrastructure, hosting and the “regeneration” work undertaken related to the London Olympics. £2 billion is expected to be recovered from sponsorship, ticket sales and broadcasting rights, the rest is a transfer from taxpayers to contractors. Nearly £2 billion of the expenditure is in “regeneration”, code for government subsidised property development. The goal being to make Stratford (the main games site) into a desirable place to live and for businesses to locate (it now has three railway, two underground and two light railway lines serving it).  With the exception of Canary Wharf/Docklands, the evidence of government sponsored regeneration actually providing a catalyst to economic growth and jobs in the UK, is scant.

So financially, it will lose money.

What about the economy? Some economists would claim that this money will be returned in bucketloads because of the increased tourism and investment it will bring, except that this doesn’t bear close scrutiny.

I heard a story of someone in UK Treasury who told then Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, that the Olympics would not create a net economic contribution to the UK economy. Gordon allegedly said “don’t worry, we wont win”.

London is already one of the most popular cities in the world for tourism. Indeed it bulges at the seams with tourists. There is evidence that the Olympics deter visitors who may otherwise have come. It brings athletes, who by and large, are not particularly high yielding tourists. It brings coaches, trainers, broadcasters and the like. It brings some spectators. However, it also scares off many others.

Moody’s produced a report saying it was unlikely that the Olympics will boost the UK’s economy. It claims the main sector to benefit will be hoteliers, with 90% occupancy estimated, although at this time of year London typically achieves 80% anyway. Given it was Diamond Jubilee year anyway it seems difficult to imagine that the extra numbers, if they turn up, will actually compensate for the for the taxpayer subsidy. In fact there is some anecdotal evidence that the numbers expected are NOT turning up. A quick look at Wotif.com for London in the next two weeks shows ample availability for hotel rooms with considerable discounts.


This is despite rather weak analysis from Lloyd's regarding the multiplier effect of spending, ignoring what people would have invested or spent the money on had they had it in their own pockets - (it isn't relevant that Lloyd's is a bank that was bailed out by the state and is now majority state owned).   Goldman Sachs says:

Goldman expects the Olympics will boost UK economic output in the third quarter of 2013 by around 0.3 - 0.4 ppt quarter-over-quarter (QoQ) (+1.2-1.6%qoq annualized), but this will be largely reversed in the fourth quarter.

Noting that the economic impacts of the Sydney Olympics were negative compared to the forecasts.

Economic impacts of the Sydney Olympics


The effect is more serious than that when you consider that London hardly has any spare capacity in its transport infrastructure to cope with the deluge of people for major events. The result is that thousands of businesses are telling staff to take leave or to work from home during the Olympics. The reason being that significant parts of the public transport and road networks will be close to gridlock. Business trips are being deferred because of anticipated queues at immigration entering Heathrow. With business likely to be deferred over this period, and those undertaking business facing real increases in cost due to overcrowding on roads and public transport, it’s notable none of this was taken into account in the glowing self-justifying “business case” for the Olympics from the previous government.

The so-called “legacy” is also grossly exaggerated. The Olympic stadium is likely to be offered to a football team (yet to be selected) to be used at a price less than the cost it took to build it, effectively destroying some taxpayers’ wealth. The regeneration of the Stratford area will be seen in property values, but this remains a fraction of the total cost to taxpayers.

Unfortunately, what’s insidious is that it is completely politically incorrect for the media to talk about this now – in the run up to the Olympics. Any major newspaper publishing articles about it would be seen as churlish and spoiling something great. No major politician dare say that which millions of people are saying – how can a country with public debt expected to reach 92% of GDP, which is overspending to the tune of 8.3% of GDP, with a PM who talks about a decade of austerity, justify pouring billions of pounds into a two week celebratory event.

Yes most people will watch some of it, and enjoy that. However, they would’ve done so anyway. Yes, there will be a sense of national pride (except from some Scots and Ulster nationalists) about the event, and some London pride as well, but didn’t the Diamond Jubilee provide that too? Wouldn’t there have been pride if the British Olympic team competed and won elsewhere?

So I’m not celebrating. My money has gone into this event (more than the average, given my income). I am betting the net GDP effect, in the long term, will be negative, as it has taken money out of taxpayers’ hands. People who would otherwise have invested or spent it better, and will have deterred almost as many visitors as it will have attracted. It will have imposed significant costs on London businesses unrelated to the games, by almost gridlocking the transport network.

In short, a colossal waste of taxpayers’ money.  It is a massive vanity project, and who really believes it will result in more than a short term boost to participation in athletics? Wishful thinking.

The Olympics should be left to profligate semi-authoritarian developing countries, willing to squander their national wealth on showing off, or by seriously commercially minded bids from cities that can demonstrate they can make money out of it, financially, without taking from taxpayers.

Let’s stop pretending the Olympics is an investment, it’s a legacy from a profligate, image obsessed former Labour Government, that is a commitment now. All that can be hoped for is that it goes off without a hitch, shows London in a positive light and that the property developed can be sold for the best possible price – and a lesson learnt to never ever do this again.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Identity politics lays down a path of Orwellian thought control


Terry isn't exactly a great thinker, and given that one of his contract conditions is not behave in such a manner, he certainly deserved to be reprimanded if guilty and be subject to whatever punishment is appropriate in that context.

However, now he faces criminal charges, essentially for hurting someone else's feelings.

In New Zealand, Dr Cat Pause (yes, imagine the university thesis on the psychology behind that name) not only embraces this, but wants a similar approach to be taken to discrimination on the basis of mass.  She is a taxpayer funded university lecturer at Massey (yes, agriculture clearly isn't enough), and her belief in criminalising make fun of obesity, in opposing businesses selling diets, exercise and in her hatred of the fashion industry.  She even hates the airline industry for not having wide enough seats for the obese.

She is hosting a conference on "fatism" and of course she has been the subject of the obvious jokes from Whaleoil.  It is easy to poke fun at someone with an amusing name who is seeking to normalise a condition that health professionals regard as dangerous and a key contributor to a vast range of chronic diseases, particularly a condition that is largely a matter of personal choice.  

However, I'm not laughing that much, because the wedge that has opened up the chance for taxpayers to fund discussion, debate and study into this perspective was created many years ago.  It's the embrace of identity politics, and its neo-Marxist, ultra-collectivised, power stereotyping that pigeon holes absolutely everyone into categories, whilst claiming it is actually about empowering people.

The conference Pause is leading demonstrates this:

Fat bodies politic: Neoliberalism, biopower, and the ‘obesity epidemic’ by Jackie Wykes
This paper will argue that the discursive construction of the ‘obesity epidemic’ mobilises neoliberal concepts of risk and responsibility to produce fat people as failed subjects across various sites of power, including capitalist production, profitability, and reproductive (hetero)sexuality.

In other words, "fatists" blames capitalism for creating a subjective "myth" around obesity as showing people as failures as productive individuals and as being fit to breed.   The existence of plenty of successful overweight people, men and women, is blanked out, because it doesn't fit the story being manufactured.   

Then there is this paper:

The role of diagnosis in marginalising corpulence by Annemarie Jutel
In this presentation, using overweight as a heuristic, I will describe the social model of diagnosis and how it assists us to understand contemporary attitudes to health, illness and disease.  At the same time I will explain how the ascendance of diagnosis and the paradigm of evidence based practice have forced the emergence of overweight as a disease category.

In other words because evidence is used to inform medicine, being overweight is seen as a disease.  Now I think it isn't a disease, because it can't be caught and it doesn't spontaneously emerge, but it is a "state of being".  People aren't born that way (unlike race and sex).  However, is it seriously being argued that medicine should not be evidence based?

It is easy to go on, but Cat Pause claims she is "promoting the idea that fat people deserve the same rights and dignity as non-fat people".

Yet there is no objective assessment of not having the same rights.  The rights she appears to want are demands upon the persons and property of others to make special provision for obese people.  Of course she has a precedent in this, in the "disabled rights" movement demanding accessibility and people to be made to pay for their private property to be accessible to people they don't know.  She claims airlines kick fat people off planes, and then demands that economy class have wider seats (although she pays for premium classes herself - which is the same point with better food anyway).

Of course she goes further.  She wants to criminalise "fat hatred"  Why?   "fat phobia, or fat stigma, or fat hatred, is harmful. It stigmatises fat people, which is harmful for both physical and mental health. It also affects non-fat people – making many of them terrified of becoming fat. Being shamed, or bullied, is never good for anyone"

It's Orwellian thought control, she wants it to be wrong for people to think it is wrong to be overweight, wrong to seek to change their bodies, wrong to sell goods or services to facilitate that.  She wants to criminalise people being hurt by what others say. 
 
Yet people don't have a right to not be insulted or hurt.  It is a fact of life.  A person throwing an insult because of how you look isn't nice, and isn't fun, but is it a matter for the criminal law?

Should the state be there to protect people from stigma, hatred, fear or shame?  

What is next?  The obvious next characteristic to pursue is hair colour.  Red headed people are probably sick of being called gingas, or being thought of as angry.  Blondes are probably sick of being presume to be ditsy, stupid or even slutty.  Should short and tall people demand "rights"?  How about people who wear glasses being thought of as being smart or geeky?  How about commenting about what people wear?

Those of us who embrace individualism and the treatment of people as individuals have no problem with the moral dimension of being open to who people are, what they think and what they do, but it does not mean surrendering the personal right to not have to surrender to what others want to claim from you.

If you own a business, should you not have the right to decide who you trade with, who you buy and sell from and who you employ?  Indeed, similarly as a consumer you should also be able to assert the right to buy from whomever you wish, and refuse to trade with those you don't wish to. 

Moreover, you do have a right to not like people.  There is a right to not be polite, to not be considerate and accommodating.  That doesn't mean using force or fraud, but it does mean you can blank out people, ignore them and yes, laugh at them. 

Sterilising expression and discourse by criminalising it is disturbing.  

It can be seen in the thin line between actions that insult Islam and Muslims who claim they are being "discriminated against" because they have beliefs that I, and billions of others, regard as peculiar or even evil.

It can be seen in the way that some people can throw around racist insults, promote racist policies without shame because the identity politics touters claim people of some races "can't be racist" - even Members of Parliament can be "oppressed".

Meanwhile, hatred of wealth creation, entrepreneurs and Christians is all allowed.

Human rights legislation banning discrimination should itself be struck off the books.  The proper response to racist and sexist activity by businesses is to boycott and shame them.  Indeed, if the fat women (and it is women) have a problem with how others treat them, then they can boycott, protest and the like.  That is entirely appropriate and the only way to really change behaviour, and to isolate those who are bigoted, rude or simply intolerant.

However, they and others should not claim a right to be treated a certain way by law by private businesses or individuals.  For those who do are as intolerant as those they seek to bully and force to treat them the way they demand.

In a free society we all have freedom of thought and freedom of expression, and that includes the right to say things other people don't like and to act on that basis as private individuals.  

Dr. Cat Pause and her gang of reality evading subjectivist post-modernists can create all of the fictional fantasy conspiracies, can proclaim victimhood and demand that people be forced to accommodate their demands, but for all of that they shouldn't be allowed to make people do what they want.

Her philosophy portrays itself as being about acceptance and tolerance, where it is about hatred and intolerance.  It is about reality denial and a grand claim upon the minds, mouths, pens, keyboards and deeds of everyone else.

It takes the right to be an individual and to live you life as you see fit, and morphs it into an artificially constructed "identity" with "oppression", "victimhood", an "interpretation of history" and as a result endless demands for taxpayers to be forced to pay for her studies and to investigate accommodating this self styled identity group, at the same time as taxpayers are being cajoled to deal with obesity as a key factor contributing to multiple chronic diseases (with children who are obese being a specific concern).

If it continues to get government support, then I propose that someone invent a "blonde studies" course and start doctoring up some post modernist snakeoil that would be easy for any half smart person to manufacture.   Then the "dim witted", "low IQ" and "not very smart" can claim the same, how they are insulted by being expected to know stuff.

The rest of us will be getting on with our lives.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Farewell Wim

I'm saddened today at the news I read this morning, having just come back from Rome, that Wim Verhoeven has passed away.

Peter Cresswell and Lindsay Perigo, and various commenters have said most of what I wanted to say, but I wanted to pay my respects in the best way I can from this distance.

I knew Wim as a stalwart of Libertarianz in Wellington for the whole time I was a member living there, and as others have said he was a kind, gentle, softly spoken, well mannered and generous gentleman.  He wrote submissions on bills, wrote letters to the editor of the Dominion Post (and predecessor newspapers).  He gave generously, including sharing his home for meetings and gave me lifts a couple of times.  I remember fondly his intelligent conversation, how keenly he liked to talk about a range of topics, current events, politics and philosophy, and how for all of his gentle mannerisms and kindness, he had a firm grasp on his beliefs, ideas and conviction in the value of individual freedom and opposition to government getting in the way of people living their lives as they see fit.

His profile is on the Libertarianz website, as he was a list candidate in the 2005 and 2008 general elections.

I know Wellington Libz will help give him a good send off (details on Not PC's website) and my deep condolences for Terry, the rest of his family and loved ones.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Buying something from the government is stealing?


He describes anyone buying shares from the government in SOEs as buying "stolen assets".

Fascinating.

For he does not think of taxes - money taken by force by government - as stolen, regardless of whether or not it is to buy any assets.

Yet he thinks of the government, having bought assets by taxes, selling them, as "stealing".

You see he calls SOEs "public assets", "owned" by everyone.  Yet you are no more able to exercise the rights of ownership over a dam, road, school or hospital owned by the state than you are a privately owned one.   

However, he regards it as "public ownership" because the public, through its elected representatives (MPs), can "exercise control".  Let's just stick with that for now.

Using the electoral system he broadly supports, National got elected on a platform of part-privatisation. It is supported by parties which have either included or consented to that part of its manifesto.

So voters effectively chose a Parliament that has, through its elected representatives, chosen to "exercise control" on behalf of the public.

It's just he doesn't like it, because he voted for the Greens.  Yet he claims to support democracy.

He says "these goods were stolen from us by the government".  Well funnily enough they were, in the form of taxes.  In which case would he support selling them and giving everyone some money in return for the sale?  Of course not.

Instead he suggests "opponents of asset sales should boycott stolen assets".  I couldn't care less if they don't buy shares, and feel free to boycott buying their goods and services.  Don't forget all of the other companies privatised before, such as Air New Zealand (still 22% private), Telecom, Bank of New Zealand, State Insurance, former THC hotels, Intercity Coachlines.

However, you should also boycott EVERYTHING sold by the state.  The shops that now own former post offices and railway stations, the ex. Air NZ planes sold offshore, any closed schools, in fact any land at all that the state once owned.  After all, selling assets is "stealing".  Presumably buying state assets is "gifting".

This amusing view of property rights concludes with a sure fire approach to send New Zealand's sharemarket, property market and currency down to Zimbabwean levels "they should support calls for those assets to be forcibly renationalised at less than the sale price. Asset-thieves should not be allowed to profit from their crime."

That's right, the Soviet Union is back.  Buying shares offered for sale by a democratically elected government is a "crime".  Some belief in elected democracy he has.  No belief in property rights at all.  No interest, care or thought of what that does to both foreigners and New Zealanders seeking to invest their savings.  From big foreign companies to retirees, students or small business people, if they buy shares they are criminals - because they don't embrace his venal Marxist view of the role of the state.  After all, people from many backgrounds and income levels will buy shares, but to him they are all kulaks, the sellouts, the class and nation traitors.

I look forward to the Greens embracing this policy for the next election, for as somewhat socialistic many New Zealanders are, the idea the state can take back property you bought from it by force with a penalty, will frighten the bejesus of most.

He can live in his solipsistic south Pacific USSR if he likes, but all the aspiring successful wealthy people he despises wont be there paying taxes, opening businesses and employing people with him.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Labour's part privatisation would have been ok, but not National's

Meanwhile, the Labour Party can't reconcile its opposition to part privatisation of SOEs with its own attempt to part privatise Air New Zealand to its biggest foreign competitor.  Apparently because it was once renationalised, this is ok.  However, almost all SOEs are the result of previous nationalisations, and by that measure the Nats selling part of Kiwirail to whoever wanted it, would be fine.

It all started with Sue Moroney insinuating that John Key visiting Australia is all about a sales pitch for the partial privatisation of SOEs, as seen by this Twitter from Sue Moroney

Sue Moroney @suemoroney -Really interesting that the trolling Nats won't deny that John Key is over in Aus flogging off our assets.
Sue Moroney @suemoroney - John Key is in Australia flogging our assets off to them. Dumped Oz PM John Howard says its a great idea. #whatAsuprise!
Of course Labour had no problem with that in its last term, when it sought to sell 22.5% of its renationalised Air New Zealand to the airline's biggest competitor - Qantas.   

I said:

libertyscott @libertyscott @suemoroney Yet Dr Cullen positively favoured selling 20% of Air New Zealand to Qantas, what's changed?

She said:

Sue Moroney @suemoroney @libertyscott Labour bought AirNZ back - that's the difference. It was privatised and we got 80% of it back. Nats selling what we own.

Hold on, but when the state buys something doesn't that mean "we own it"??  

So I confronted that and made the point again.  Labour was ok with selling part of a state asset to a foreign company (and indeed competitor).

libertyscott @libertyscott @suemoroney Wrong you got 86.5% back and sought to sell 22.5% to Qantas, its main competitor. Cullen press release here

She said:

Sue Moroney @suemoroney @libertyscott So you see the difference now?

 I said:

libertyscott @libertyscott @suemoroney You'd support National selling down 22.5% of Air NZ to a foreign competing airline? But not power companies or a coal mining co?

No response.  The contradictions of the Labour Party remain astonishing.  At least the Greens have always had a one way view of state ownership - the more the state owns = good, the less it owns = bad.

Conservative MP admits to having used drugs, so shouldn't she be in prison?

On  BBC Question Time last night, Conservative MP Louise Mensch, admitted she had used Class A drugs (she didn't specify what they were, and "A" is the "most dangerous" category including cocaine, MDMA, etc) and that they had had a "lasting effect" on her brain.   I'm not one to deny that, and I'm certainly not condemning her for it.

Yet I will criticise her hypocrisy.

See she thinks drugs should remain illegal and criminal, and supports the "war on drugs".

In which case should she now not hand herself into the Police and face charges, trial, conviction and sentencing?  Should she not also forward names of all of her family and friends who have done the same?

After all - if it's so bad, and criminalising drug users is the "right thing to do" by implication, why shouldn't upper class English catholic Tory MPs and their associates face the same legal sanction as young poor Afro-Caribbean or white working class boys?

You see it is very easy for those living in relatively cozy middle and upper class communities to support a "war on drugs", until you confront them with "how many people do you know have taken drugs" and then "shouldn't they be in prison too"?

Because of course it isn't those people that are allowed to "make a mistake".  Louise Mensch is smart, successful, married to a wealthy husband, herself a successful writer. She "knows better".  She wants to protect the ignorant, stupid, vulnerable poor folk who aren't capable of making such decisions.

She wants the war on drugs fought in Tottenham, Newham, Mossside, Brixton, Toxteth etc, not Kensington, Highgate, Hampstead and Tunbridge Wells.

So why don't the Conservative, Labour and "Liberal" Democrat MPs who believe in this simply say that the "war on drugs" is about poor people having drugs.  Rich people, the middle classes and the like often "make mistakes" when young but they shouldn't be condemned for it, because it only hurts themselves.   Louise Mensch has been allowed to get away with ingesting what she chose without prosecution, why does she deny that right to others, or why doesn't she insist the law she supports gets applied equally?

Just to be clear.  I wouldn't throw her in prison.  I think it would be absurd and unjust for her to be in prison for possession and ingestion of Class A drugs.  However, unlike her, I also think that everyone else in prison for such offences should also be set free and have their convictions expunged.  Had she been convicted, she could not have pursued the career choice she now has.  Why subject others to the same because the Police happen to more readily patrol their neighbourhoods and communities?

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Judge says "society to blame" for sexcrime


That, according to the Daily Telegraph, is the conclusion of Judge Gareth Hawkesworth of Cambridge Crown Court (UK). It is also the logical conclusion of many decades of the embrace of the post-modernist philosophical morass of determinism and denial of the causality principle.

What happened?

A 14 year old boy tied an apron around the face of a girl of 4 and performed a sex act with her. The boy got a three year community order with supervision as a sentence.  The girl's parents are upset, but I don't want to dwell on what is an appropriate sentence, needless to say the boy needs both help and punishment.  What matters is how the judge got to his sentence.

The judge said of the offender:

"I'm satisfied it was impulsive and I believe you have become sexualised by your exposure to and the corruption of pornography. Your exposure at such a young age has ended in tragedy. It was the fault of the world and society.”

Actus reus and mens rea are the two key tests to secure a criminal conviction in most cases. Actus reus is the “guilty act” meaning the accused did the deed. Mens rea is the “guilty mind” meaning the accused intended to commit the crime. Prove both beyond reasonable doubt, and the accused is considered guilty of the crime.

Judge Hawkesworth has contradicted himself. For the boy has been found guilty and been sentenced, yet he effectively claims the boy did not have mens rea.  The boy was not "at fault".

For that to be true, there could have been a number of defences, such as acting under duress, or insanity. The age of criminal responsibility is 10, so he can’t legally claim that he is not responsible for his actions.  Yet the statement by the Judge implies just that.

He wasn’t under duress nor insane, but rather under “undue influence”, not by one person, but by “the world and society”. We are ALL to blame. He didn’t really have a choice. He was corrupted. Yet the murderers of James Bulger, who were younger when convicted, were not subjected to such an excuse (and their backgrounds did explain, but did not excuse their actions).

This is the philosophical reef upon which Western society has been wrecking reason, objectivity and justice against for many years. It is the underlying foundation of so much taught in the humanities departments of universities. It is the fundamental dimunition and denial of free will and conscious volition.

It is, in fact, the argument put forward both by the post-modernist believers in a large state sector and many religious conservatives. The Muslim women who are told to wear the niqab do so because otherwise men “can’t help themselves” but molest them. Christian campaigners for censorship argue that erotica, pornography and violence in the media “makes” people commit those crimes, indeed the current censorship laws are in part predicated on this. That’s why you can (in New Zealand, Australia and the UK, but not the USA) be prosecuted for writing or owning erotic stories about certain sexual acts ( a woman was prosecuted for writing such letters). David Cunliffe supported this strongly in select committee when challenged about it. The idea is that such stories “make people do them”, so it is better to take away a bit of freedom than to risk “making people do crimes”.

In this case, “society” or rather EVERYBODY made the boy commit the crime, so EVERYONE should feel shame and contrition. Not only the little girl, but the perpetrator is a victim.  Consider what effect that will have on the girl, to think that the offender is somehow less responsible.  If "society" and the "world" are responsible, isn't she a tiny part of that?

In which case, the judge is effectively saying who is he to blame the boy? Society must do more to shield people from such corrupt influences. It is deterministic. Because the boy was exposed to pornography (although it appears he looked for it, watched it and kept doing so), it was inevitable that he would commit this crime.  He wasn't just corrupted (probably true), but he was incapable of reconciling fantasy and desires with reality.  He could not control himself.   Yet he is not insane.

I don’t need to explain the consequences of extending that principle. For indeed we see them today:

Excusing people who steal, vandalise and commit arson against the property of innocent people because they were “upset” at their own lives. Yet vast numbers of people can claim the same or worse, but do not commit such crimes.

Excusing those who beat up their children because they don’t have enough money. Yet millions are in poverty and do not mistreat their children.

Excusing the woeful life choices of this generation, because of what happened to past generations. Yet many make different life choices having inherited next to nothing from past generations.

I don’t doubt Judge Hawkesworth is, in part, politicking. He wants politicians to restrict the access of young people to pornography. You see, he could have blamed the boy’s parents, for allowing him such unfettered access to the internet. He didn’t. He blamed us all, implying the solution is going to come from government or at least from people listening to his preaching.  We all raise all children, we are all responsible for everyone else's children (and of course we must pay for them and have our behaviour regulated, as if we are children too).

Let me be clear, I believe there is an issue about unfettered access by young people to extreme content online, and that there are potentially serious consequences that can arise from this. Whether the state acts or not is a political question. However, when sane individuals commit crimes, including teenagers (who are between being children and adults), it is quite simply incorrect to claim that others are to blame.

To attribute blame to an amorphous collective such as “the world” or “society” is meaningless and even corrosive. There is no such thing as a collective brain or consciousness (unless you subscribe to the malignant class or race theories that ultimately justified mass murder on hitherto unknown scales). For a judge to even think it appropriate to “blame” in this way is not just unprofessional, but dangerous.

Who will turn up in his court next week to claim “it is society’s fault that I…” (insert crime)? How can he disagree when he believes this is a perfectly credible defence to grant someone leniency?

After all, if this boy isn’t to blame for his actions, why should others be to blame for theirs? Is not every criminal a product of their experiences, influences and history? Can everyone with rotten parents, or who was bullied, or who saw a violent or sexually explicit film, image or read a story, or had no friends, or grieved their dead pet or whatever – now say they are not to blame, but society is?

Similarly, does it not mean that everyone who does well at school, who wins a sports match, starts up a very successful business, becomes wealthy, becomes popular, invents, creates or discovers something of note, is not actually responsible for that? Are not those who succeed therefore “because of society”? Should not everyone who does well then be made to share the fruits of their endeavours? Think how often you hear that trotted out by those on the left who fondly believe in increasing taxes for those on higher incomes, who say that successful people are only successful because of “everyone else”. That if the state hadn’t provided a hospital, school or roads, these people would have been “nothing”.  Even though the number of tall poppies that grow from this very same field are always few and far between.

Think what that means for how the state treats individuals. You’re not to blame when you do bad, and you’re not to get all the credit when you do good. It was all going to happen anyway, and we’re here to soften the punishment and to share the proceeds. Individual choice? Not so important now.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is at the core of so many of the political debates that are engaged in today.

Is the individual to be treated as a thinking, conscious, choosing human being, who whilst carrying a vast array of influences from family, peers, media, community, school, religion, business, can decide whether or not to act in a certain way, including whether or not to act with objectivity, reason, benevolence and respect for others? Or is the individual already pre-determined, with his ancestors, sex, race, religion, sexuality and class effectively programming him to think, act, succeed or fail in certain ways?

If the former, shouldn't people be free to live as they wish, as long as they respect the right of others to do so?  If the latter, is there any point to anything people do at all, unless it is a constant battle of power between those pre-determined to succeed and those pre-determined to fail, until everyone is ironed flat so we are all pre-determined to be in the same way?

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Who will bail out Germany?


This is the question economist Detlev Schlichter has asked in today’s City AM.

Seems ridiculous right? After all, Germany is bailing out the rest of the Eurozone. Its economy is growing, its budget deficit is low. Greece is the basket case of the Eurozone, with Portugal, Italy, Spain, Cyprus and Ireland not far behind. If you were look at who would be next, both Belgium and France appear on the scene, because both have high public debt, budget deficits and are structurally sclerotic economies (imagine Belgium without the massive EU bureaucracy sucking in money from across Europe and consuming in Brussels).

Germany though? Well yes. It is, once again, wilful blindness to reality. Germany’s public debt is 81% of GDP, this having risen from 61% in 1999. That should indicate that there is a day of reckoning to come. Yes the budget deficit is low, but in an environment of steady growth, low unemployment and very low interest rates (meaning public debt can very cheaply be refinanced), Germany isn’t able to run a surplus. Remember how the Keynesians say that in good times you can run a surplus and pay down the debt you incur in the bad times. Well this is the good times for Germany, and it can’t run a surplus. Why?

Quite simply, the German state is lumbered with the same burgeoning welfare state and social policies that have already been bankrupting its southern neighbours. The difference is that the economic growth Germany is experiencing for now, and the low interest rates are slowing the inevitable slide towards that day of reckoning.

Schlichter points out that in the past four decades “Germany extended considerable, unfunded promises to the populace, mainly in the areas of public health insurance, state pensions and the public care insurance”. He blames this as an inheritance from the Helmut Kohl administration, an ostensibly “right wing pro-business” government. He says it implies effective government debt in excess of 200% of GDP. It is Germany’s ticking time bomb.

The difference with France and the south of Europe is that Germany has a more liberal labour market than all of them, but that isn’t hard. Germany’s state may be more efficient in tax collection and operation than the southern states, with much less corruption, but again that isn’t hard. It was the centre-left government of Gerhard Schroeder that implemented modest reforms (Agenda 2010). He liberalised labour laws, reduced the size of the welfare state and reduced regulation. Merkel has been unable to continue this further, even though she started her administration in a grand coalition with the leftwing SPD opposition, after he resigned as leader as his party had lost badly in the 2005 election. The message was clear. You don’t get re-elected in Germany after implementing radical reforms.

You can now see why Angela Merkel doesn’t want Germany to be the saviour of the rest of the Eurozone anymore – Germany cannot afford it. German voters are as attached to their big generous welfare state as other Europeans, but they have been immune to actually paying for the full costs. The legacy has been rising debt.

So when the protestors in the rest of the Eurozone think Germany will write them cheques to bailout their own bankrupt welfare states, they are deluded. For not only can Germans not afford that, they can’t afford their own. The difference is that German politicians are hoping that no one notices for now, and that the problem becomes someone else’s. On top of that, German taxpayers are carrying, still, the burden of the deeds of their ancestors as guilt that makes them at least partly amenable to helping the rest of the Eurozone.

The problem is that if German taxpayers/voters and politicians don’t confront their own bubble of debt and overspending, they too will face a crisis. That will indeed be a Eurozone crisis, a European crisis and a global one. That’s if Japan and the United States haven’t dealt with their similar looming crises in the meantime.