31 January 2009

Steven Joyce gets it right

He’s seen the light and has called for a review of the Greenplated Waterview extension project for SH20. Understandably so, as the previous PM pushed for it to be underground as a bored tunnel, the most expensive option, and only for four lanes. It would save hundreds of millions to make it a cut and cover tunnel, and save hundreds of millions more to make it a trenched route – and start recognising that it is not WORTH saving the local environment there. It is more important for people to be able to move freely around Auckland.

Meanwhile, the NZ Herald has called lobbyist Stephen Selwood, from the NZ Council for Infrastructure Development (NZCID), an infrastructure expert. Well yes, but what is the NZCID? It is a lobby group for road builders. He is there to promote more spending on roads, and that means more expensive options for them. He doesn’t want this “crucial” project delayed for rather obvious reasons, which the NZ Herald negligently forgot to note.

Well it isn’t “crucial”, it is desirable. Last time I saw a benefit/cost ratio for it, it was 1:1 and that was after some massaging and before the cost blowout. One way of looking at it is whether you’d rather have $2 billion spend on this single road, or on improving and widening other roads around Auckland (such as four laning SH1 from Puhoi to Warkworth), or you’d rather just pay less fuel tax and put up with delays. You see investigations on tolling indicated that if the road was tolled to try to recover a significant part of the costs, hardly anyone would pay it – which kind of proves how “crucial” Aucklanders think the road is. In short, they aren’t prepared to pay to use it to save 10 or so minutes, so perhaps it’s fine to have a motorway from Manukau to Mt Roskill.

Before you ask, no the private sector wont build it through its own accord. It’s far too expensive for the amount of likely users.

My expectation is that National can’t easily delay the project excessively, for political reasons, unless it could show transparently that it would be better spending the money elsewhere. Clarity may come when the Mt Roskill extension opens later this year, as we will see if queues develop between that stretch of motorway and the North Western Motorway at Waterview. That should then determine the priority for this project. However, in the big scheme of Auckland, I’d rather priority be given to upgrading Victoria Park Viaduct and the Newmarket Viaducts. They are choked parts of the motorway network that need addressing, but doesn’t this just show how poor politicians are at setting priorities?

28 January 2009

Recycling questioned

The Daily Telegraph today reports that Peter Jones, former director of Biffa, a waste disposal company and now environmental advisor to London Mayor Boris Johnson, claims that much recycling contributes to "greenhouse gases" and it would be better burning the waste to generate electricity.

This comes on top of the collapse of the market for recycled commodities (hardly surprising). Jones suggests that kerbside recycling, which inevitably mixes different materials, effectively contaminates them making much useless for recycling.

Quite simply, recycling is a good idea when it is viable to do it. Planes and cars have always been recycled because the materials they are made of are in sufficient abundance that scrapping made sense, much like ripping up unused railway lines has often been worth it. However, your taxes shouldn't be taken to subsidise the supply of commodities to producers. Similarly you shouldn't be subsidising waste disposal. If landfills and kerbside rubbish collection were all privatised, then they would be user pays activities, required to make a profit. As a result, recycling as an alternative for some waste would be viable for those commodities that are worthwhile recycling.

THAT you see is the problem of rubbish disposal. Sadly in the UK, recycling has become a religion, because it is one in Brussels. Like many Green fads, it isn't driven by rational analysis, but a fervent belief that recycling is always good. However, when it costs more to recycle a bottle than it does to make one from scratch, you might ask yourself whether that difference is due to government interference (taxes or subsidies), or simply reflects that your premises of recycling are wrong.

WTO Director General warns of protectionism

It's hardly surprising, all of the "bailouts" funded by stealing from future taxpayers are raising alarm bells in the mind of WTO Director General Pascal Lamy.

According to Reuters, Lamy said that "it was critical to keep commerce flowing at a time when overall economic growth slows. "It has become more urgent for the WTO to strengthen multilateral disciplines that will reduce the scope for increased trade restriction," he said, repeating his call for countries to finalise the Doha round, a global free trade accord that has been under negotiation since 2001".

The WTO has noted a growing list of countries whose response to the recession is to further hinder trade - when the last time this was done, in the 1930s, the result was disastrous.

Some of those measures include:

-- India raised tariffs on some imported steel products

-- Ecuador raised tariffs on 940 products including butter, turkey, crackers, caramels, blenders, cell phones, eyeglasses, sailboats, building materials and transport equipment

-- Indonesia limited the number of ports and airports serving as entry points for certain imports, such as electronics, garments, toys, footwear, and food and beverages

-- Argentina imposed licensing requirements on products such as auto parts, textiles, TVs, toys, shoes, and leather goods

-- The European Commission said it would re-introduce export subsidies for butter, cheese, and whole and skim milk powder.

The Greens call this "economic sovereignty" when it is only sovereignty for the state, not for those producing or consuming - they get no choice.

It is critical that John Key fight hard to push for a renewed Doha Round, and for the Obama Administration to listen. Sadly, it has precious few credentials from any who believe in free trade, unlike the Bush Administration. Not that the Obamaphiles noticed or cared.

27 January 2009

Roads under National

So the excitement in Auckland has been with the opening of the “Northern Gateway” toll road, previously known as ALPURT B2 (Albany Puhoi Realignment) which basically means State Highway 1 bypasses Orewa. All good stuff, although we will soon see whether the financials as a toll road stack up. You see, oddly, the motorists using the toll road wont actually pay a cent to pay for the systems installed to charge them. Fuel tax and road user charges paid for the tolling system, because (shhh) the finances behind tolling under the last government didn’t exactly stack up. Nevertheless, it is good to see a road where users actually will pay directly, as well as indirectly. Don’t worry, half the cost of the new motorway has been paid for by fuel tax and road user charges, like all the others.

However, the opening was marred slightly by the chronic congestion on the highway NORTH of the new motorway. So what will National Minister Steven Joyce do? Well, as you’d expect, I have a hoard of advice for him, far too much to put on this blog (thank god! You all say), so just about roads and just about now, here are some thoughts. No it’s not libertarian, but within the confines of what’s likely under this government.

1. Do some reading. Ask your officials for a copy of the Roading Advisory Group reports, and a report called the Land Transport Pricing Study. It will explain to you why, fundamentally, running roads and funding roads in a bureaucratic, tax and spend model, will ALWAYS mean significant inefficiencies, including congestion, overspending in some areas and underspending in others. It also foretold of many of the problems of the last ten years. Quietly talk to Maurice Williamson about it. In 1998 the Economist said “If roads continue to be operated as one of the last relics of a Soviet-style command economy, then the consequence will be worsening traffic jams and eventual Bangkok-style gridlock.” New Zealand is experiencing that.

2. Cut back on greenplating. Some of the big road projects that are in the pipeline have been grossly overdesigned, and are gold plated (or green plated) solutions to bottlenecks. The big ones that need your attention are:
a. Waterview extension of SH20. It no longer goes through the Prime Minister’s electorate. It doesn’t need to be a bored tunnel, you could save hundreds of millions by delaying this another 6 months to get it scaled back to something sensible.
b. Victoria Park Tunnel (SH1 central Auckland). This was once going to be simply a duplication of the Victoria Park Viaduct, but the ARC demanded it be a tunnel (local government again!). Diving into a tunnel before rising at quite an incline to spaghetti junction is madness. You can save a good hundred million or so by getting rid of the tunnel. An Auckland Harbour Bridge toll could pay for this of course.
c. Transmission Gully. You already know this one. The problem has largely gone with much cheaper improvements, the bigger problem north of Wellington is through Kapiti and north to Levin. You need an independent review of this as it is one thing that gets Peter Dunne’s knickers in a twist, but basically you’ll save around NZ$400 million by developing the current route. However, more kudos by looking to Kapiti and the north, it needs attention that has been neglected.

3. Think local. One of the biggest areas of neglect is local roads. Local authorities are often tight on spending ratepayers’ money on roads. It needs care as your problem is making councils accountable for spending road taxes central government collects. So longer term you need reform of the Local Government Act and for local roads to be run by commercial entities, partly funded by property access fees (instead of rates), but in the meantime you need to increase the Financial Assistance Rate for local road improvements with a high benefit cost ratio (over 3:1). 75% would make a big difference. Don’t forget, most congestion in Auckland is on local roads.

4. Cut subsidising slow modes. Your easiest tool to change spending are the priorities you can set for the National Land Transport Programme. There are lots of pet diversions Labour introduced into it that should go. This includes regional development, community focused activities, domestic sea freight and the way passenger transport is subsidised. Look at how you can slash much of this, and consider a more fundamental review of the role of government in public transport. The subsidy per passenger carried has been soaring under Labour, you might want to cap this in real terms at least.

5. Bring back efficiency. You know you don’t know what road projects should come first, local government doesn’t know much better. Get the NZ Transport Agency to change its funding allocation criteria to more strictly apply economic cost-benefit analysis. Projects with a cost-benefit ratio less than 2:1 shouldn’t go ahead. You’ll find that the best new road spending is on small projects to straighten bends, passing lanes, widen existing roads and fix bad intersections or bridges. You’ll find some big new roads you CAN advance that are worthwhile. In Auckland that means Newmarket Viaduct, in Waikato it means Te Rapa Bypass, etc.

6. Be creative with the private sector. Don’t get tied down to the acronym PPP. You’d be better off leasing off a stretch of state highway to the private sector for a very long period, such as the Northern Motorway from Spaghetti Junction to Constellation Drive, with the ability to toll, and let it finance improvements and a second crossing. In other words it will happen when it is worth doing, not when politicians think it is worth doing. Beyond that, simply tell the private sector it can build a new road and toll it as it sees fit, and government will allow its roads to interconnect with them. It works in the US, and in France, yes France, most highways are built and financed by commercial road companies.

7. Let priorities be set nationally not locally. Get rid of R and C funding for future NLTPs and reallocate future funds on a national priority basis. Local government shouldn’t be setting priorities with centrally collected taxes. Consultation is enough, and Labour used R and C funding to vote buy. A good funding system allocates funds where they are best spent.

8. Consider ways of letting motorists contract out of road taxes to pay directly. The trucking sector wants it replaced with diesel tax, but that’s because government doesn’t enforce it well and charges could be applied more fairly by weight and location. However, to address this properly you need more private sector involvement, and for highways to be run more on commercial lines. You should let local authorities approve heavier trucks than currently allowed, as long as they charge them for it and use the money to offset maintenance costs.

9. Funder and provider shouldn’t be the same. Start planning to split up the NZ Transport Agency back into a Highways Authority and a Funding Agency. It makes it easier to hold the Highways part accountable, and then make sure the Highways part seeks funds, and doesn’t expect funds. You can also allow it to borrow, toll and enable truck operators to opt out of paying road user charges to government, and pay them directly to road operators.

Finally, most of all, consider almost everything the Greens say about transport and remember almost always the opposite is true. Labour did, to be fair, boost spending on roads enormously in the last nine years. Now you can go open some of the roads funded under that regime and people will think things have improved. This is the part of the transport sector needing the most attention, and one which Labour spent not enough time on.

Oh and the other modes? Here's a quick and dirty guide:

Rail? A disaster ready to suck money from the state. Once you've got a few more months under the belt, then worry about this bottomless pit for money. Some hard decisions are going to have to be made about this one. Auckland will be first in line begging for a fortune to gold plate its system, you might want to get some independent review of its business case figures, just to see how bad it really is. Wellington's rail is already funded, you needn't worry about it.

Air? It's pretty much ok, maybe the big challenge is that Air NZ could do with some capital longer term, but at the moment it wont be coming from anywhere. Don't worry too much about this mode.

Sea? Ports and shipping will tick over nicely, Labour spent too long trying to placate protectionist moves from unions and shipping firms over foreign competition. Throw anything about that in the bin.

26 January 2009

Davos Economic Forum? Why bother

There is not inconsiderable hype in the business world and among some in governments about the annual exercise in mutual onanism called the Davos Economic Forum in Switzerland. Like many conferences of high profile people, one of the key objectives is to get people to agree and put out nice sounding statements that will offend no one and look like some enormous intellectual capital has been applied to the economic issues of the world.

Quite simply if you look at the 2008 World Economic Forum it will speak to you in abundance about how little intellectual capital is applied - after all, that Forum hardly predicted the worst recession since WW2. You can get the Summit report yourself here (pdf) and read it.

The most it said was "the unfolding financial crisis should be viewed as a chapter in a much larger, more profound story – the rebalancing of global wealth away from the West and toward the emerging economies of Asia and the Middle East" except, of course, that the recession is global. Oops didn't see that coming, that export led economies can't grow without anyone buying their goods.

If you don't like buzzword cliche phrases, then don't read this with a meal. This statement should be enough to provoke cynicism:

"Fourteen global CEOs and company chairmen representing a range of industries and regions
issued a call to their peers to join collaborative efforts to strengthen public governanceframeworks and institutions as a core element of their approach to corporate citizenship."

However, what's most telling are the "achievements" of the forum, which, barring one initiative, would do next to nothing for the global economy. These are:

- Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda unveiled a five-year, US$ 10 billion fund to support efforts in developing countries to combat global warming (apparently forgetting this is an economic forum);
- Agility, TNT and UPS, three leading logistics and transport companies, are joining forces to help the humanitarian sector with emergency response to large-scale natural disasters (nice, but this isn't economic is it);
- The World Economic Forum launched a landmark report on the interfaith dialogue between Muslim and Western societies. Islam and the West: Annual Report on the State of Dialogue (oh nice, a book);
- The World Economic Forum released the first part of the most comprehensive investigation into private equity: "The Globalization of Alternative Investments Working Papers Volume 1: The Global Economic Impact of Private Equity Report 2008" (nice another book);
- Mayors, regional governors and the private sector launched the World Economic Forum’s SlimCity Initiative, an exchange programme between cities and companies to support action on resource efficiency in urban areas, focusing on energy, water, waste, mobility, planning, health and climate change (yes noticed how well cities run anything they touch? Yep congested roads, undermaintained water supplies, first class health care systems);
- British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, Irish musician Bono et al issued a joint statement vowing to make 2008 a turning point in the fight against poverty. (well it certainly turned out to be a turning point. Just as politicians, businesspeople and musicians get together, economies start folding inwards);

Ok enough. Besides a few privately led development initiatives, it was onanism on a grand scale.

What the forum COULD do is be a platform to actually point the finger at some of the most appalling actions by government globally. So while the Davos Forum gets ready to be held, here are a few tips for those who are going- if they can put away their onanistic business consultant speak for a few days:

1. For many developing countries it is corruption, rank, explicit, corruption that destroys the ability of citizens to produce and retain wealth. War needs to be declared on this, as this IS unfair distribution of wealth, because it is governments granting privilege to those who pay them off. Failing to note this corruption, which also exists in wealthy countries, is ignoring one enormous elephant in the room.

2. It is property rights that need defending and protecting, but the World Economic Forum says nothing about that, as so many countries either have little notion of it (as in African kleptocracies) or sacrifice it for expediency (US concept of eminent domain). Without property rights, creating and producing wealth becomes a momentary exercise for immediate consumption. The lack of property rights, protected by a free, open and uncorrupt government, is the number one reason so many countries stagnate.

3. It is free trade that needs advancing and yes, protection. The damnable procrastination of the EU and Japan, and to a lesser extent the USA, in protecting agricultural markets, subsidising farmers and dumping their subsidised goods on world markets helped exacerbate the crisis in food prices in 2008. If governments could push for a multilateral liberalisation of trade in primary products and services, then it could spark off some recovery - like the GATT did in liberalising trade in manufactured goods in the 1950s and 1960s. Forget collaboration, businesses need to tell governments to get the hell out of the way - let those inefficient French farms fail.

4. Finally, it is the wealth shredding obsession with unpriced environmentalism, that is sucking productivity out of economies in developed countries. Recycling commodities that are worth little, taxing car parks to discourage car ownership, in essence spending more directly or indirectly for the environment than the benefits people get from that spending. It is an abominable trend in policy that the evangelism of environmentalism has hardly been challenged by objective analysis.

However, that would require confronting the countless vested interests, NGOs, businesses, governments and labour leaders who wouldn't like it. So instead Davos will be a lot of nice words, and talk about collaboration, working together, synthesis, co-operation, understanding, investing, refocuses, refreshing, rebuilding, blah blah. You see it is explicitly politically neutral, which of course can only take you so far when politicians and their lackeys are the problem.

UK weekend papers highlights

Well despite the doom and gloom, the major UK weekend papers remain first class, so here are some of the highlights as I have found them this weekend:

David Aaronovitch in The Times questions the moral tut tutting of the churches against spending by the working classes, which he sees as language showing concern about the corrupting effects of "luxury", which in the past was used to damn department stores, hire purchase, mail order and credit cards.

Presumably those who damned consumerism of the past should be basking in the joy of the recession with "I told you so". Buy Nothing Day this year should be a breeze for far too many.

Hugo Rifkind delightfully pokes fun at Malia and Sasha Obama in the Times (hmmm how many will find this offensive then) with "Our Week" (hey last week he did George Bush). Wonderful stuff like:

"We’ve been unpacking, and watching the video from last week’s Children’s Inaugural Ball. We met the Jonas Brothers, who are our favourite pop group. They promised that they would dedicate a song to both of us.“You’d better,” we said, “or else we’ll have you sent to Guantánamo Bay.” The Jonas Brothers started laughing at this, but we kept staring at them until they stopped laughing again. We need a bit of practice at this, but Mom told us that she was very proud. Friday Daddy has closed Guantánamo Bay. Mom said he had to, so we’re trying not to be cross."

Mark Henderson in The Times reports on trials of stem cell therapy to treat age related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness. It looks most likely that this can be carried out by President Barack Obama laying his palm on the forehead of the afflicted (yes ok maybe not).

Patrick Hosking in The Times reports "The Case Against Brown" arguing that the British PM is far innocent from blame for the current recession (which this week saw a 1.8% annualised decline in the UK economy to December 2008). As he points at bankers constantly, blame can be attributed towards Labour's monetary policy fueling the housing bubble, the almost constant budget deficits through the "good years" and how he made hiring people more difficult and less attractive.

Andrew Porter in the Daily Telegraph reports on proposals for the UK government to impose a tax on broadband users to compensate the film and music industry for breach of copyright. In other words, the entertainment sector can't be arsed taking its own steps against thieves.

James Kirkup in the Daily Telegraph reports
, disapprovingly of course, that in the UK only 53% of convicted illegal drug sellers get custodial sentences, the remainder get fined or a caution. Now that's not legalisation, but it is hardly surprising that for most in this retail sector the legal risks are low compared to the financial benefits.

Charles Moore in the Daily Telegraph reports
on the filthy collusion between the banks and the government, crony capitalism as he calls it, and the nightmare of the creeping bank nationalisation in the UK.

24 January 2009

Reason to smile

When a Kennedy bows out of trying to bludge off US taxpayers and follow the family's line of deceit, statism and undeserved celebrity status, it is a reason to take a drink and be glad.

So good for Caroline Kennedy for bowing out from a bid to be a Senator for NY to replace the devil Hillary Clinton. She campaigned appallingly, it should have been as well known as Sarah Palin's incompetence, "you know".

Caroline I know you can't help the accident of birth (and you may well have half siblings elsewhere in the country you know not of), but really the world is no worse off by missing yet another staid old statist pork barrel loving Democrat.

23 January 2009

North Korea not caught up in Obamania

Obama's nomination was reported, and clearly North Korea's state and party apparatus didn't think there was any substance worth reporting. Read here the full text of the report.

22 January 2009

A new president

For a moment I’ll let the cynicism wash over me, I’ll set aside how much hype has been generated about someone who has said so little of substance, but says it so well. There are reasons to be optimistic, yet the first reason will be dramatically eroded if the second one fails to pass.

The first is the symbolism. One of the recurring messages of the election of Barack Obama, and one that perhaps those of us not of African-American identity notice, is that it says to that community, and most importantly to young black boys that yes, they too can aspire to be President. Setting aside why that should be seen to be the epitome of achievement, compared to being an entrepreneur, inventor, scientist or the like is another issue. However it is important to remember how recent the racist past of the USA is – a past that was legally enforced by many states. The 1960s are too recent and too many African Americans today remember what that era was like, and that is what makes Obama’s election significant for optimism for them. Indeed, no longer can the excuse be easily made that the odds are stacked against African Americans because of race, whereas it is far more important to look at family, education, ambition and determination.

However, once one goes beyond that, what basis is there for optimism?

Only one, that a man who is not born of a political dynasty, unlike his Secretary of State or the last President, may be able, with such a ringing endorsement of support, to undertake reforms and changes that hitherto would have been too hard. That he may, just, take the best people he can and listen to advice, and not follow his past of voting almost always with the Democrats, almost always for more government, and never challenging leftwing Democrat orthodoxy. Taking on Hilary Clinton showed he can do that, yet he has taken her on board his team, despite her abysmal lack of experience or knowledge of international affairs.

The almost frenzied adulation of Obama is a sad testament to an age where style and symbolism matter more than substance. He has been made a superstar by a media largely supportive of him, and the expectations people have of him are remarkably vague. Sadly those expectations show a ridiculously strong belief that government can make people’s lives better, and even more that one man can do it.

History is littered with examples of men who have cultivated such adulation and not only failed, but have left rivers of blood in their wake and contempt. Barack Obama wont do that, but he will, in due course, prove that he is only human, that he is not the saviour and that, once again, government is not the solution to most of the problems of a country or the world.

However, it is a new chapter. I will watch and hope that he doesn’t increase taxes, doesn’t increase protectionism in trade, doesn’t withdraw from Iraq in the short term, doesn’t pander to Islamists, dictators or kleptocrats, and isn’t going to worship at the altar of envirovangelists without reason.

It will be interesting to see how the left, which has relentlessly attacked the Bush Administration, acts when Obama doesn’t radically change as much as they may hope. I can only hope the optimism of so many Americans, an optimism born perhaps of little more than blind hope, can spur more than just adulation, but a desire to motivate themselves. If Obama can simply stir the spirit of would be entrepreneurs, inventors and creators to live life and pursue their dreams, then it may be more good than any of the state programmes he endorses.

Perhaps though, the main recollection four years from now will be this - that Barack Obama, was just a politician. His election was historic because of race, but what he does will be judged regardless of it.

21 January 2009

US imperialism OK says Greens

According to the NZ Herald Green MP Russel Norman it is now time for New Zealand to follow the United States.

"After the dark years of the Bush administration, the United States and other big nations are starting to lead the way - all National has to do is follow" he says.

Yes!! That's it, follow the USA. Forget rhetoric about imperialism or being independent and going your own way, it's fine to bow down to the USA now that the messiah of the left is in power.

Of course following the Bush Administration would have been seen as being a satellite of a nuclear superpower. After all, don't forget the hoards of insults that Tony Blair was Bush's lapdog because he agreed with overthrowing both the Taliban and the Saddam Hussein dictatorships. It couldn't have been because Blair truly believed that it was morally justified and right to overthrow murderous authoritarian dictatorships that wage war against neighbours and their own people - no, because the Greens believe in "peace". The Greens would have preferred that the Taliban still be running Kabul, and Saddam Hussein in Baghdad to the price paid in blood and destruction to remove them - as if there would not have been as much blood spilt by either.

No, it's ok to follow the USA - as long as the US President talks the talk of the envirovangelists, if he rejects the WTO and free trade (damaging the NZ economy) and applies appeasement to the enemies of Western civilisation, the Greens will want New Zealand to be his lapdog. Yes, the idea that New Zealanders might have voted for something different than that is really not the point, given the Greens forgot that they didn't win the 2008 election.

20 January 2009

What do you want Obama to do first?

Daniel Finkelstein at The Times wants to know.

The leader at the moment is the "economic rescue plan", which of course means print money to give to those who haven't earned it. However, I ticked "Sign up to Doha and forge a world trade deal". For New Zealand that must come first, and by removing trade barriers it could help stimulate recovery just by getting the hell out of the way.

The others are:
Close Guantanamo Bay (the prison not the base I assume, and there isn't great reason to close the prison).
Engage with Iran (hardly a priority).
Endorse childhood vaccinations (well if this means spend money on them, it goes against "responsibility")
Disengagement from Iran and Afghanistan (would be a disaster).
Lift sanctions on Cuba (because Cuba has changed what?).
Reform Congress and protect whistle blowers (wont happen anyway).
Take action against African dictators (nice yes, by why just African?).
Sign up to Kyoto Agreement (wont happen either, fortunately.)

My first choice would be to send Hilary Clinton to Kabul, one way. Sadly that wont happen.

Sacrifice or responsibility?

In your life you probably work quite hard for yourself, so you can not only survive, but can afford things you like, time for leisure, and enjoy life. You may spend time and money on people you love, it's not sacrifice though. You may have children you love and support, but it's not sacrifice.

All of that is following your values, pursuing what you value for your life. Remember much of what you do benefits others, but you don't do it primarily because it is for them, but because it gives you a sense of achievement, satisfaction, you get something back - even if it is enjoying the smile on the face of your child.

Of course while you do that the government takes a third or more of your money, that's a sacrifice. Some of that money pays for things you wouldn't disagree with, like law and order, some is taken to pay for government services you are forced to pay for - like health and education - regardless of how much you like it.

Beyond that you choose to do as you wish with others, you may belong to clubs, a church, you may volunteer for a charity, you may coach a sports team, or tutor music, or whatever. Those things you do are because you enjoy it, it is an affirmation of your values and life.

So when Barack Obama calls for "sacrifice" ask yourself whether that is an affirmation of your values and life, ask whether the world would be a better place if Bill Gates had spent his life sacrificing his time and energy to volunteer in soup kitchens, or perhaps the Wright Brothers should have.

Or does he mean individual responsibility? That is something that SHOULD be affirmed - that you own your life and you are responsible for your living, and that of your offspring, and for what you do.

THAT would be a truly revolutionary positive change, not nonsense about sacrifice, not "what you can do for your country", but simply owning your life.

It's hard though, because the Democratic Party has spent decades arguing for government doing things for people.

While Obamaniacs party

Zimbabwe, which has had the same black leader since 1980 weeps. 2000 dead from cholera.

and Robert Mugabe's wife shops in Hong Kong, and beats up a Times photographer.

Could we even hope to hear a peep from Barack Obama this week about the land with the trillion dollar notes, the lowest life expectancy in the world and a murderous kleptocracy?

Helen Clark the greatest living New Zealander?

Thought that would upset you...

then you might go here and vote differently since 23% of those who clicked think she is.

All those sheeple like someone to tell them what to do.

17 January 2009

EU to continue wrecking global dairy trade

It's hardly surprising, but that great wrecker of efficient agriculture, the European Union, has decided to restart subsidising dairy product exports. It also is refusing to reform subsidies in agriculture until 2013.

Not only does this mean ripping off European taxpayers to benefit the inefficient inferior producers of dairy products in the EU (ones that have a higher carbon footprint that those in New Zealand), but also dumping taxpayer subsidised products in other markets the EU has access to - when it restricts its competitors to the local market.

Don't expect leftwing activists to talk about European economic imperialism, don't expect them to call for an end to export subsidies in agriculture. No. The Bush Administration did call for this, made it the deal it was willing to strike with Europe at the WTO, but the wealth destroying French said no. You see you can talk about poverty and how sad it is that poorer countries find it difficult to trade out of poverty, but what the EU actually does is shit over the world in terms of agricultural trade.

A better move would be to slash subsidies and open markets, to help stimulate trade and use the recession as a chance to send a signal that inefficient farmers that don't produce what people are prepared to pay for should go to the wall.

No - other businesses and individuals struggling in the EU can go to hell, efficient farmers elsewhere in the world can go to hell - the politicians and mandarins in Brussels have said so.

Sadly the MEP elections later this year will only provide a small outlet to vent my anger at these scum - after all, with Bush almost gone, the likelihood that the Obama Administration - given the man's explicit support for higher agricultural subsidies - will pressure the world on trade - is not great.

16 January 2009

No, surely not a little sense?

Could Transport Minister Stephen Joyce have bothered to read this blog on Transmission Gully when it is reported "he had a "mixed view" on whether the $1.025 billion Gully project was the right option for improving Wellington's northern transport corridor" according to the Dominion Post.

Let's be clear now, the last government didn't "approve the project", it just approved millions to investigate and design it.

Perhaps it is time for a cold hard look at the economics. Unfortunately, Labour also merged the agency responsible for highways with the agency responsible for funding decisions on highways, so you might ask yourself how the NZ Transport Agency can realistically carry out this task.

Anyway Stephen, in case you haven't read it, here's a link to most of my thoughts.

Oh by the way, you might have noticed the accident rate on the current road isn't an issue anymore, and the congestion at Paremata has gone - the worst congestion is through Kapiti, north of where Transmission Gully would be. Oh and Pukerua Bay? A bypass could rather quickly fix that issue.

UPDATE: Oops forgot the link, now it's there.

3rd runway at Heathrow and watch the luddites crow

The announcement by UK Transport Secretary (Minister) Geoff Hoon that the government supports a third runway at London’s Heathrow Airport is bizarre on a couple of levels. Firstly, it is quite bizarre that government should have anything to do with it. Heathrow is privately owned, its owner – BAA – is not seeking taxpayer funds to pay for the runway. If property rights are properly defined it should be a matter of negotiation between BAA and relevant property owners. However, that is by the by – and a symptom of a bigger problem, that the UK is strangled by process and consultation over matters that shouldn’t be the business of those who are not directly affected.

It is luddite Britain on a grand scale, a culture that worships stagnation, that rides on the religious fervour of the eco-evangelists, and is an orgiastic frenzy of “do as we say” crowd, eager to impose their planning fetish on everyone else. It’s frightening, and shows how hard it is to make real progress in the UK, when half the country is obsessed with standing still and telling others what to do.

The logic to a third runway at Heathrow is straightforward. It makes commercial sense, because Heathrow has virtually no spare runway capacity, is the only major hub airport in the UK, has the highest number of international passengers of any airport in the world, and is by far the most preferred airport for business traffic. In short, it is a profitable, highly desirable operation with scope for significant growth. If you've spent half an hour in the air circling in a stack waiting to land at Heathrow (great for the environment that), or on the ground in a take off queue, you might appreciate how constrained Heathrow is, especially since Terminal 5 has relieved the overcrowding at Terminals 1 and 4, and is (finally) a world class airport terminal experience.

Many countries and cities would love to have an infrastructure asset so sought after, profitable and capable of growth as Heathrow. However, no. In the UK, such opportunities are to be stamped on by various crowds. One group I can understand, the NIMBYs who are affected because they live nearby or in the flightpath. They are likely to experience more noise due to more flights, although with a landing and a takeoff on average every 2 minutes from 7am to 11pm, you wonder how they would notice (especially as airliner engine noise has dropped significantly in the last 20 years)/

The rest have jumped on an environmental bandwagon. The idea that if Heathrow gets a third runway it will accelerate climate change, rather than mean transit traffic shifts to airports at Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Dubai (which of course makes no difference to the environment). All those airports have between three and five runways and plenty of capacity, but apparently it’s ok if continental Europeans or Arabs have airports that can grow, the British want to deny it to themselves. It’s madness, and if Heathrow is constrained it constrains jobs for the airport, but also the three airlines that hub there – BA, BMI and Virgin Atlantic.

Moreso, those opposing it make petty fascist comments like “people should catch trains anyway”, ignoring that less than 5% of trips from Heathrow are those travelling within the UK or to locations in Europe quickly accessible by train. With New York by far the most popular international destination from Heathrow, it is a bit far fetched to imagine how those travellers should go by rail. Oh and Dublin is second, but the luddites probably think a train and a ferry ride is justified.

You see the other line they take is that so many flights aren’t “necessary”, because, of course, they know best for others. How dare people be tourists or business people travelling when they see advantage in doing so, when the armchair planners have decided that there should be no more flying.

One suggestion is that flights should be “redistributed” to Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, presumably because if you can’t change mode, you should change destination. If you live in London and want to fly to New York, why not get a train to Leeds first.

The same people who make these suggestions no doubt come from a range of walks of life. There are the idle rich like Zac Goldsmith, who couldn’t care less if rationing air travel puts up prices so those poorer than he can take holidays less frequently. There are the retired planners and bureaucrats who miss the days of large government bureaucracies planning everything. All in all busybodies who think they know best how to spend other people’s money, use their businesses and how they should move about.

They treat aviation as some sort of bringer of doom and destruction. The same doom merchants who killed success for Concorde by getting the US Federal Government to ban supersonic overflight of the USA, which India followed. If these people were alive a century ago, you can expect them warning that aviation should be banned because planes will occasionally crash on the ground, risking lives.

If the 3rd runway is stopped (and assuming Boris Johnson’s idea of a super airport island built in the Thames Estuary is not commercially viable), then it will increase the reputation of the UK as a community of stagnation worshipping school prefects, that don’t like change, that worship the latest altar of “don’t build anything because it wont be the same when it’s done” and see the jobs, businesses and investment of others as something they have to have some sort of quasi-fascist interest in. Hopefully the Conservative Party opposition is just grandstanding to get elected, as I am sure the public service will see them right, because not growing Heathrow means not growing BA, Virgin Atlantic or BMI, and it increases the costs for freight and passengers not only into London but all of the UK. No other UK airport (besides the small London City), has a smidgeon of the high value premium traffic that Heathrow does – only a coalition of the envirovangelists, luddite left and rich idiots who have no interest in economic growth can halt this.

So next time you see a Tory or Conservative MP, or indeed any self-proclaimed environmentalist at Heathrow catching a flight, you might care to ask them about their hypocrisy, or why they aren’t catching a train to fly out of Amsterdam or Paris instead!

An unpopular view of Bush

As President Bush passes his final days before his term ends, the sighs of relief from all too many are heard, and the flippant throwing of the "worst President ever" title is tossed about.

You see it's all too cool and de riguer to slam Bush as a bad President. Who do you know who thinks otherwise? After all, he's an evangelical Christian, the aftermath of the war against the Saddam Hussein regime was a disaster, Hurricane Katrina was mishandled, the US started using torture against terrorism suspects and the economy is in freefall.

There is an alternative view, one I don't entirely support. It says history will be kinder to Bush given:
- No terrorist attacks on US soil since 9/11;
- The overthrow of the Taliban regime helped liberate Afghanistan from one of the worst theocratic tyrannies in modern history;
- Saddam Hussein was a brutal warmongering genocidal dictator whose removal has given the chance for Iraq to develop as a peaceful, moderate ally of the Western world;
- The recipe for the current economic recession was baked well before Bush.

Andrew Roberts helps dismiss a wide range of Bush myths in today's Daily Telegraph.

While I don't excuse waterboarding, the failure to control the growth in government, the absurd lack of planning after overthrowing Saddam and the willingness of the Federal government to engage on grand scale surveillance of communications in the US, the truth is not as simple as the leftwing Bush bashers make it out to be.

Almost none of them point a finger at Bill Clinton for his years of appeasement of Iraq, the vaccilation between limp wristed passivity and bumbling airstrikes in the Balkans, the disaster that was intervention in Somalia, the laughable appeasement of North Korea that saw it develop nuclear weapons while being paid to not do so, the neglect of Iran, the failure to respond to Islamist terrorist attacks on several sites, the neglect of Russia as it bumbled from near bankruptcy as a free friendly power to a next generation wealthy corrupt authoritarian bully.

Even moreso, what would the world have been like had Al Gore won in 2000? Would the recession not be happening? Would we be happy that Saddam Hussein continued to sabre rattle and defy international sanctions? Would Islamists feel they had a soft touch as President? Would the Taliban still control Kabul? or would it not matter because a lot more people would have hybrid cars?

15 January 2009

Greenpeace uses property rights to protest

Luddites they may be, and driven by an irrational desire to strangle British airports (which will simply transfer business to continental European ones), but Greenpeace is at least taking a rational approach to protesting the plans to build a third runway at London's Heathrow airport - buying up some of the land needed.

Emma Thompson, Alistair McGowan and Tory nitwit brat Zac Goldsmith have all put up money to buy a field north of Heathrow, which BAA wants as part of its proposed third runway, according to the Daily Telegraph. The intent, of course, is to stop BAA being able to buy all the relevant land, and frankly - from a libertarian point of view - they should be perfectly entitled to do so.

You see ultimately they can make a rational choice. BAA can offer a price which is as much as it is willing to do so to buy the land, and if Greenpeace can take the money (which could fund countless other campaigns) or sit on the land and let BAA try something different.

Of course BAA can ultimately undertake compulsory purchase because it is legally allowed to, and like most businesses today, will use the law to the extent it can to make money. Greenpeace of course doesn't give a damn about property rights, it happily supports those breaking and entering private property to engage in protests - like a recent bunch of fools at Stansted Airport.

So all in all, it's not something significant - an organisation that has scant regard for private property rights is using it to delay a rational commercial project by a private company. I've always said that if BAA can finance a third runway at Heathrow commercially, and buy the land to build it, it shouldn't be prevented from doing so. There may be issues around noise, but unless flights comprise a nuisance over and above that accepted by property owners on flightpaths, it shouldn't be an issue. Yes, I have lived under the flightpath myself.

Of course, if someone can put forward a private business case for a new airport for London at Thames, like Boris Johnson supports, let them do so. However, I wont be holding my breath, sadly.

One big council - one big bureaucracy

Governance in Auckland has been seen as a problem by many, mostly councils and central government, for some time. Mainly by those who think councils should be doing certain things, rather than considering whether such things should be done at all, and if so, by whom. I've not seen a major problem. Transport is often cited as an issue, but in the last few years umpteen major motorway improvements have progressed in Auckland (I can think of eight) and the major hold up has been the ridiculously expensive boondoggle called rail. Just because neither users nor ratepayers are willing to pay for this, doesn't mean there is a problem in governance - it is a problem with the idea.

So the report in the NZ Herald today of what the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance will recommend should send shivers up the spines of Auckland ratepayers - and by that I mean ratepayers of any one of the seven Auckland territorial local authorities. One big council, without restricting what it should do, will be a behemoth of a bureaucracy looking for a job. On top of that a Mayor, with powers to dictate, should also scare Aucklanders - as such Mayors will look for totem poles to build, at the expense of everyone else.

A libertarian view of local government would be that it is hardly needed at all. After all, as long as private property rights are well defined (which at present they are not), then planning becomes simply the delineation between those rights (which could include airspace, sight lines and factors for air and noise). Most of what else local government does is to meddle in utilities or supply facilities that could be provided privately, assuming that local government didn't pilfer money from everyone to pay for them.

So what is really needed in Auckland is not the creation of a mega council, but a serious debate about what the role of local government should be.

Labour, with the Alliance (before it divorced Jim Anderton) and the Greens changed this radically with the Local Government Act 2002, by repealing rather unwieldy legislation that defined what local government was allowed to do, and granting a "power of general competence" (yes the joke from that phrase is too obvious). This effectively gave councils the power to build, buy, sell or engage in any activity that a natural person could do. Councils could set up schools, restaurants, trucking firms, radio stations, dry cleaners, banks or service stations, as long as they went through due processes of consultation. This was a view that local government could effectively be a mini-version of central government, although Labour resisted granting local authorities new taxation or regulatory powers.

National and ACT voted against this legislation, quite rightly so. It is time to take a different approach.

Look at what councils do that could simply be privatised, whether by sale or by transferring to trusts run by interested people. All commercial activities could clearly be sold, or shares transferred to ratepayers. Non commercial activities, like recreational centres, pools, libraries and parks could be transferred to interested parties to run, accept sponsorship, donations or charge for usage. The regulatory activities of councils could then be reviewed on a case by case basis, to consider how private property rights could be used to address the relevant issues.

In short, there is a grand opportunity to rethink local government, so that it shrinks considerably in the next three years. The more difficult examples, like local streets and footpaths may be last on the list, but in the meantime rates should be capped - permanently at current nominal levels, to force councils to trim, and if need be, merge. In other words, the scope for local government to be perpetual busybodies would decline over time, freeing up ratepayers funds, land and the public to decide whether what is done "for the public good" is actually what they are prepared to pay for. Commercial property owners in areas for "regeneration" may foot the bill for upgrading the street scape, instead of expecting all ratepayers to chip in.

The grand council idea is a recipe for local government to do more, much much more. I believe Owen McShane once wrote that the ideal size of a council was one that served between 10,000 and 40,000 people - not so small that it couldn't have enough capacity to carry out its functions, but not so big that it could charge ratepayers enough surplus to dabble in new areas of activity.

The appropriate response of the new government to this forthcoming report is thanks, but no thanks - there needs to be a more fundamental review of the role of local government. Local government has resisted year in year out the drive for lower taxes, and rode on the back of property price increases to increase rates beyond inflation. It is time to say no to a big Auckland council, and consider instead something else as a first step. Why does Auckland need two layers of local government?

Oh and if you think I'm wrong, note this part of the report "the commission will almost certainly recommend the mayor and new council become more involved in the social needs of the region, such as affordable housing".

Get it? You vote out a leftwing central government and you can watch one get elected locally - and you know who will be forced to pay for it.

I can only hope the Minister for Local Government can see this for what it is - a report commissioned by the last government which should be destined as a door stop.

13 January 2009

10 wishes for the UK

1. The national obsession with climate change ends with robust debate that decimates the evangelism of the ecofascists.

2. Channel 4 is sold, and the BBC told the TV licence fee will be abolished from a certain date - after which it will need to ask viewers to pay by their own volition.

3. Chavs wake up one morning, take a look in the mirror and either find a conscience or find god or whatsoever, and change into civilised human beings, instead of obnoxious parasitical breeding entities who are oxygen thieves.

4. The general public starts realising that the answer to what they want is to do something themselves, not rely on the "guvmint". The Tories actively encourage pulling the state back from providing support to people who should be providing for themselves.

5. The Scots get totally fed up with the rather stupid Alex Salmond and realise that the UK is better for them than independence.

6. Heathrow's 3rd runway is approved, along with a 2nd runway at Stansted, and the great British knocking machine starts realising that with Terminal 5, Heathrow no longer has any really overcrowded terminals.

7. One of the two major parties talks about reducing tax for those on the 40% top income tax rate - which cuts in at only £34,800. (No kiwis, don't just convert that to NZ$, multiply your living expenses by around half the difference as well).

8. Someone in the media celebrates how the fall in property prices is making housing more affordable, and stops being sycophantic to the millions who invested in the "property ladder" insted of productive investment. Cheer what's cheap and a lot is in the UK.

9. The London Olympics are cancelled because of money, the savings given to taxpayers directly in a one off dividend. Let the profligate IOC find a replacement, if it dares.

10. May Brits stay at home, en masse this year, it will make travelling in Europe so much more pleasant.

10 wishes for New Zealand

1. The Families Commission is abolished, Transmission Gully isn't funded and Peter Dunne withdraws support from the government, and nobody really gives a shit. A by-election is held in Ohariu.

2. The ecological agenda is seriously challenged by the new government, with ACT demanding a review of the RMA that causes Nick Smith to be shifted to another portfolio (or ambassador to Pyongyang). The Greens wail and moan, but see support dwindle as the appetite to be taxed more for their pet projects is low.

3. Jim Anderton, Peter Dunne and Michael Cullen all resign, cleaning out Parliament of some 80s flotsam and jetsam.

4. The WTO round is rescued - it matters a fair bit.

5. The Nats fail to get a majority to reverse the burden of proof, set up a DNA database that include the innocent, and focus on sentencing of repeat offenders.

6. The Electoral Finance Act is repealed and not replaced.

7. Nicky Hager's name is no longer mentioned in the media without the suffix, "leftwing activist and Green Party supporter).

8. TVNZ is closed down and its assets sold off in a fire sale. Its pernicious braindead influence on the national culture and psyche is difficult to overestimate. It is like having an 11yo school prefect perpetually telling you what's good for you.

9. National confronts education choice, and finds a way to let parents opt out - completely - of the state school system (and get their taxes back). The measure of success of this will be the degree to which the teachers' unions get upset - the more they get upset, the better the measure is likely to be.

10. The welfare dependency of the underclass is tackled head on and hard. The measure of success of this will be how much the middle class left get upset, and how much is saved in the budget for tax cuts.

Happy New Year then

Yes, took a while I know. Finally starting to feel like the need to vent.

There is so much too.

The empty headed "end of capitalism" nonsense touted by oh too many, as you see how contemptuously braindead the media is, attributing state central bank profligacy and the irrational exuberance of lenders to this subsidy to lend backfiring.

The doom and gloom merchants who thrive at this time, who don't focus on how damned cheap so many things are, how bargains can be snapped up, how housing is affordable for the prudent.

The tragic war in Gaza, and the vile appeasers of Hamas, a group that needs obliterating, eviscerating or to capitulate if there is to be peace in the Middle East. Noticed the protests at Iranian Embassies about Hamas, its disgusting worship of martyrdom and most appallingly how it sells this to children daily as their life goal. Notice Hamas couldn't run Gaza as a haven of peace and prosperity of free people trading and making lives for themselves, preferring to keep it as a land to be under siege, shooting rockets at Israel proper (no occupied territories here) from the midst of residential locations.

The Obamania surrounding the chosen one's inauguration, how everything is going to be better, with the change patently obvious from the likes of Hilary Clinton, who has no qualifications in foreign policy whatsoever. However, don't expect the Democrat felching mainstream media to hold it to account any more than it held the Clinton Administration to account for abysmal failure in Somalia, the Balkans and Sudan.

The National led government in New Zealand which, from my visit recently, seems mainly to have made people feel better that "she" isn't in power anymore. However that's it. I have heard enough from friends to tell that it will fall incredibly short of expectations to dump politics at the altar and implement good policy, as it will be spending lots of your money on a new generation of Think Big projects. Some in telecoms, some in roads. Few will fight the telecoms ones, only the Greens will fight the roads, because they are roads - the Greens like roads only as long as they are made of ribbons of steel with concrete or wood holding them together.

So where will 2009 take me? I don't know, the way the UK economy is going there is a reasonable chance I might not be hanging around to earn New British Won by the end of the year, though I would rather stay. Meanwhile, I hope to visit a bunch of countries I haven't seen before.

What are my hopes? Well here is are ten hopes for the world:

1. Barack Obama astonishes the world by showing a stunning lack of belief in the ability of government to solve problems, and pushes to reopen the Doha Round so that the WTO can form the catalyst to a new era in global free trade. That means slashing primary sector subsidies, staring Europe in the eye and demanding it do the same, and ask the developing world to give enough in return.

2. Iraq does not see a suicide bombing.

3. The broad mass of the British people get fed up expecting government to solve their problems, and both Labour and the Liberal Democrats suffer.

4. Robert Mugabe is dead, I don't care by what means, and the Zanu-PF regime is overthrown, whether domestically or by internationally backed forces.

5. Russia grows up, gets over this adolescent post communist phase of "I wont sell you gas" and faces reality that it is a power in long term, nearly terminal decline. There is next to no hope of Russia's population growth coming close to replacement in the near future.

6. The enviro-evangelists get some serious scrutiny over the various forms of snakeoil they have successfully peddled to governments and the mindless media. Recycling anything and everything, will be proven to be hardly a good use of money, but more importantly the religious approach to global warming will be watered down with some sense, even if it is someone calculating the net loss to humanity of all the follies of the ecological movement.

7. China's government sets its people a bit more free, with the establishment of an independent judiciary, and separation of party and state. No it's not liberal democracy, but the most important steps for China will be rule of law and a state that enforces against its own.

8. The Czech Presidency of the EU will send a few fireworks around Brussels, and the EU bureaucratic project is hamstrung by the unwillingness of enough Europeans to endorse the growing power of the new "top tier" of government in Europe. This capped off by European elections that see sceptics defeat the Eurosocialists.

9. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is defeated in Iran, and there are mass protest in Tehran calling for an end to the Islamic Republic, which results in major reforms and the end to theocratic Iran.

10. Peace in Israel takes a leap forward, with the crushing of Hamas and Syria engaging in serious negotiations over Lebanon/Hizbollah and the Golan Heights