18 December 2022

Iran is on the brink of a revolution for freedom.. and the world's politicians should be loudly in support

The Islamic Republic of Iran is an abomination, it is a theocracy that demands absolute obeisance to a collective of men who claim to be channelling the will of God, applying a branch of Islamism that in practice is just a form of medieval barbarism.

Have no doubt, Iran is the centre of a courageous struggle, led by young women, against a system that is specifically designed to ensure they submit to an authority led by old men.

It is the most irrational and mindless of governments - for it is theocratic. Not only do the mullahs claim they are following the "will" of their Almighty - but they alone are the ones with the "inspiration" to pass laws and compel and prohibit peaceful individuals to do as they see fit.

Iran may have scrapped its utterly immoral "Morality Police", but it is still a regime characterised well as Taliban-lite.  It is a death cult, that worships and commemorates those who spill their own blood, and blood of others for their superstitions and they should be called out on it by all leaders of liberal democracies.

However you don't hear or see much. Notwithstanding Jacinda Ardern's logical efforts to ensure Christopher Richwhite and Bridget Thackwray (posh wealthy young folk who have that utterly inane occupation "social influencers" - that role whereby you produce videos in the hope countless other airheads are attracted by your clickbait) got out of Iran safely, it is telling that the great heroine of leftwing women has not said much about Iran at all.

Given Ardern's remaining star power internationally (notwithstanding how much it has waned domestically) this is disappointing.  She's big on getting an international stage for climate change, notwithstanding her government has had little influence on policy on it, whereas influencing regime change in Iran that would literally liberate women is something she chooses not to do.

No doubt MFAT has told Ardern and Mahuta (noting Mahuta is much more socially conservative than Ardern) that it isn't wise to say anything, because of trade.  

MFAT sees Iran as a "sleeping giant" noting on its website:

 It remains an untapped market with a lot of potential, although financial and banking sanctions, the difficulties of doing business in Iran, along with a stalled Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA or nuclear agreement) and Iran’s blacklisting by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) will continue to affect humanitarian sanctions-exempted trade for some time.

Exports with Iran have dropped dramatically in recent years, but no doubt there is ambition to have it grow again.  I know from experience that the default position of diplomats is always not to "disturb" relations in the hope that it will make future trade fruitful, but bearing in mind Ardern has claimed to never be afraid to "talk tough" it's odd there has been no pushback.

After all by far the main reason the Islamic Republic of Iran is not a big export market is BECAUSE it is the "Islamic Republic" led by a death cult of misogynistic terrorism sponsoring arms proliferators.  The regime in Tehran is, on the face of it, antithetical to the values of Ardern and the Labour Party, because it is antithetical to the values of any decent liberal democracy.

Yet Ardern is saying little, no doubt because diplomats think there are "opportunities" for trade.  Mahuta, having demonstrated next to no interest or history in international relations, is hardly likely to push back, since her interests are much more focused on Maori nationalism, and by and large as Foreign Minister she parrots the standard MFAT line on every topic (which is low risk, but also low reward).

Revolution in Iran would have profoundly positive effects not just for most Iranian people (not the thugs, rapists and murderers who are the hand maidens of the regime), but also the Middle East more generally.  For Iran to no longer sponsor Islamofascist attacks across the region, including backing Hezbollah.  

However it should be first and foremost about Iranians and Iranian women and girls in particular. Unlike the unhinged ravings of leftwing woke university professors, Iran is a literal patriarchy, it has a literal rape culture.  It is a culture that punishes women for "immodesty". As Hammed Shahidian wrote "Modesty in dress, especially women's hejab, secures society against chaos and individuals against self-incurred harmful thoughts and deeds".

In other words women better cover up because men are too weak to control what's in their trousers.

Religion in liberal democracies is about freedom to choose and worship as you see fit, and freedom to leave religion if you see fit, but in Iran you cannot leave Islam.  It is compulsory.  

So it should be that politicians across the free world should be supporting the women protesting and calling for freedom in Iran, because it is morally right, and because these women are human beings with the same rights to choose how they live their lives as anyone else.  

The fact that so many politicians choose to keep largely mute on this, whilst demanding private companies address an anti-concept called the "gender wage gap" shows the depths of their hypocritical privilege (which they finger-wag about constantly) and the turpitude of their cultural tunnel vision to not even recognise women who are oppressed on a grand scale and deserve to be supported.

Finally, I'll give a nod to Green MP Golriz Ghahraman, whom I disagree with 95% of the time, who has been consistent on this in the past year. 

Iran's revolution is one for humanity, and of course it is telling that the jackbooted blood spillers of Beijing and Moscow are backing the regime. 

05 December 2022

The horrors of water privatisation are largely imaginary hysterics in the heads of leftwing politicians

What has been the biggest farce of the attempt to entrench an anti-privatisation clause in Three Waters legislation? 

The attempt by the Greens to entrench their policies in Parliament is not necessarily surprising for a party that regards private property, enterprise and individuals with scepticism, but state property, state enterprise and public servants with benign intent.  Eugenie Sage is hardly the sharpest knife in the kitchen from the Green caucus either.

Jacinda Ardern's claim to be ignorant of the proposal is also farcical. On the one hand is seems difficult to believe that one of the country's most centralising governments doesn't have a handle on the detail of policy of one of its most controversial proposals. On the other hand, if she doesn't then why not?

What virtually NO-one in the media has asked (certainly not RNZ), is why the fear of privatising water? 

You see it is precisely because of hysteria about water privatisation that New Zealand's fresh and waste water infrastructure was not substantively reformed (outside Auckland with Watercare Services) in the 1990s, and that hysteria was largely fuelled by the likes of the Greens in the form of the Alliance. The Alliance, along with the then "Water Pressure Group" (led by the completely loopy, and now late, Penny Bright) that painted a picture of doom and gloom from supplying water with user fees, in a commercial structure, that saw Auckland being the beginning and end of water reform.

It is thanks to muddled-headed Marxists like Eugenie Sage that water remained the most unreformed infrastructure sector, leaving it in the idealised world of "local democracy", "local empowerment" and of course largely staying far away from people paying for what they use, but rather taxing everyone so the biggest users of water (typically businesses) get subsidised by the smallest users (typically people living on their own). That's socialism for you.

Yet what does privatisation of water look like?  DIA's own report called "Transforming the system for delivering three waters services - The case for change and summary of proposals - June 2021" has a handy chart depicting the relative performance of ten English water companies, with government owned water companies in Northern Ireland and Scotland, and New Zealand council owned water providers. 

All of the private water companies outperform the others across a range of measures regarding customer service, and the conclusion of the report is:

• New Zealand has a long way to go, to catch up with the performance of more mature systems overseas

• We are at a starting position similar to Scottish Water, before the Scottish reforms. In the last two decades, Scottish Water has been able to close the performance gap and is now among the top-performing water services providers in the United Kingdom.

In other words, not only are private water companies in England performing better than the New Zealand council owned examples, but they have been outperforming Scottish Water - which has been the pin-up case study for the Ardern Government.

So let's be very clear.

Privatisation of water is not something to be scared of, in fact had it happened 30 years ago (not that it was even on the agenda) then there wouldn't be an infrastructure deficit in the billions for water.  Rates would be lower, yes you'd be paying a bill for water, but if it had followed the English model, there would be a water sector regulator capping the rate at which water prices could be increased, and ensuring that the natural monopoly water and sewerage companies had to meet key service standards.

Even the Government's own report acknowledges that it is PRIVATE water companies that perform well.

So what's actually wrong with private companies providing water infrastructure and services?

Why wont any Opposition MPs say there are benefits from letting the private sector take over?

Why do hysterical leftwing lightweights dominate this narrative and why do journalists never challenge it? (I mean it can't be because two of the major broadcasters are state owned can it?)

21 November 2022

Voting age is about power

For all of the posing and posturing, most of the arguments to extend (or not extend) the size of the electorate to include 16 and 17yos come with a big tinge of self-interest around power.  It's been proclaimed that it is "discriminatory" that they don't get a chance to vote, but almost every argument extended to this can be applied to 15, 14 or even some 13 and 12yos.  Paying taxes doesn't give visitors or tourists a vote, and plenty who pay little to no taxes get to vote.

No, it's an exercise in emotionally laden performance from those in politics who get an advantage from having more fungible brains to convince to give them power. It's hardly a surprise that there is strong leftwing support for the idea, because it is widely perceived that most younger people (certainly the more politically active ones) are leftwing, because they are lured by the idea of more government, which can make good stuff compulsory, cheaper or free, and bad stuff banned or more expensive. This is, after all, the predominant philosophical bent pushed through state education and much of the media. 

Plenty on the right oppose it because they fear it threatens their ability to exercise power, because the ways they want to exercise power are not as marketable to young people when the prevalent culture scorns the values of conservatives and libertarians.

For me, it's rather simple. If there were to be an age when an individual is an adult, in terms of powers to contract, to be treated as an adult in the justice system, and to not have age based restrictions on what you can and can't do with your body, then that should be the age of adulthood.  At present it is a mix of 16 and 18, but few on the left think 16yos should face the same judicial treatment as 18yos, and almost none think they should be able to buy alcohol, be prostitutes and even buy tobacco. 

There is a curious cultural disjunction between those who want younger teenagers to vote, and demand they be given "a voice" for their often ill-informed, inconsistent views (and they have no monopoly on that), but also think they need "protection" from the consequences of their actions.  They aren't old enough to handle being intoxicated, to face adult court and prison if they initiate force against others,  and although it is often cited that they can "have sex", it's a serious criminal offence if anyone takes photos of them doing so or even possesses them, even with their consent.  So many who want to give them the vote also deem them vulnerable.  So which is it?

Consider that almost all of the same Parliamentarians who are supportive of letting 16yos vote, think they need protection from advertising of alcohol on TV (that so few of them watch), but also don't think they should be permitted to buy cigarettes (because they aren't deemed fit to make decisions about their own health).  They do think they should be able to apply for a firearms licence and drive though, so work out the philosophical basis for that (clue - there is none). 

So let's not pretend this is about young people having a "stake in their future" because the politicians eager for their votes don't think young people can make competent decisions on what they ingest or what photos are taken of them.  

If politicians want to argue that 16 should be the age of being an adult, then all well and good, let it be and let them accept the consequences for what this means, and they can vote.

Otherwise it's just a call for "more votes for my side, to help me do what I want to you all"

After all, if you don't trust young people to make decisions about themselves, or take the full legal consequences of their actions, why do you trust them to make incremental decisions on who should have power over others (politicians)?

14 November 2022

Who cares about one-person one-vote, when you can have one vested interest, one-vote

The so-called "Review into the Future of Local Government"was quite a review.

It didn't review whether local government is needed, and if so, what it should and should not do.  No, you see the philosophy of the Labour Government is that local government is essential, and should be empowered to do whatever "The Community" (Councillors) think it should do.

The review sees the problems in local government not a lack of confidence that local government is competent in providing services (e.g., to not provide a basic service without making the public sick) so that government routinely takes it off them, nor that it has played a major hand in creating the housing crisis (by making it difficult and expensive to build new housing), nor that is has played a major hand in limiting competition in supermarkets (by consulting with incumbents about whether a new one should be built in an area, in competition with it), not even how often local government chases totemic projects that are unnecessary.

No, you see the Ardern Government is concerned about:

  • Low levels of voter turnout (which largely reflects that the public thinks local government is boring and their votes make little difference)
  • There is limited representation and undervaluing of Hapu/Iwi and Maori as a critical partner (heaven knows why unlimited representation would be a good idea, and how is the undervaluing calculated objectively? Is it just a feeling?
That literally is what the executive summary says is the "problem" (page 08) (PDF) as beyond that is a statement of the solution. 

There are nine (!) sections of recommendations, which is apt for a government keen on bureaucratic bloat.  They are separated into the following sections, which I'll summarise:
  • Revitalising citizen-led democracy:  This is mostly about consulting more, with more community engagement.  However, it also includes "chief executives to be required to promote the incorporation of tikanga in organisational systems".  This is cultural reform of local government, it isn't just using tikanga as part of the consultative process, but it is including it in how local government runs. Quite what this is meant to achieve is unclear, but given the problem definition is so narrow, it appears to address the second problem.  What actually matters though is that the problem with local government is NOT consulting with the public, indeed nothing stops homes being built, supermarkets being built, transport infrastructure being built and anything been done in a city more than consultation.
  • Tiriti-based partnership between Maori and local government:  This is a fundamental, quasi-constitutional view that sees local government as not simply representing local residents and responding to their needs, demands and issues, but introducing co-governance so Hapu/Iwi get equal say in what happens in local government, compared to mere voters/residents.  It goes beyond consultation and engagement, to include "genuine partnership in the exercise of kāwanatanga and rangatiratanga in a local context and explicitly recognises te ao Māori values and conceptions of wellbeing". Genuine partnership, after all, means sharing power and this in relationship to government and self-determination.  It seems unlikely that local government could go against Hapu/Iwi in any decisions in this context.  It also seems unlikely that this could see local government taking a perspective that values more individual freedom, choice, competition and property rights, rather than one that values the exercise of power of numbers over individuals and their property and businesses.
  • Allocating roles and functions in a way that enhances wellbeing:  This is a serious level of waffle, largely because the term "wellbeing" is now the catch-all term from socialists to prioritise people's feelings over property (particularly other people's), freedom, economic efficiency and individual rights.  The main recommendation here is that central and local government review the functions of each level of government based on the concept of subsidiarity (a concept that would support individual freedom and choice if bureaucrats and politicians didn't think they knew best), local government capacity to "influence the conditions for wellbeing" and for te ao Maori values to underpin decision-making.  Frankly, given its record, the less allocated to local government the better.
  • Local government as champion and activator of wellbeing:  This is basically a recommendation to grow local government to spend more of your taxes (of which there would have to be more), making you feel better. It is a thoroughly statist view that claims local government can be some sort of innovator and experimenter in enabling "social, economic and cultural and environmental wellbeing".  This is so completely ludicrous that is deserves to be laughed at. Local government ran electricity distribution for decades and hardly innovated at all.  Local government can't even contract bus services to pay by EFTPOS, unlike the entire retail sector has done so for over 20 years, nor can some of them even manage to penalise bus operators for cancelling services.  The greatest innovations have come from technology and processes introduced by the private sector, and the idea that the great fist of local government can slam down on a city and innovate across all aspects of people's lives is the fantasyland of hardened socialists in the local government sector.  The main innovation local government can engage in is to get out of providing much of what it does, and get out of the way of people and businesses to build homes, businesses and voluntary organisations, and grow their communities through their own initiatives.
  • A stronger relationship between central and local government: This is code for "give us more money we are not accountable for raising from taxpayers", but the recommendations are basically a need to study more on "building on the current strengths and resources" and to "support genuine partnership" with "opportunities to trial and innovate". Well for over 30 years central government has been taxing motor vehicles using local authority roads and raising enough money to pay on average half the cost of maintaining and improving those roads.  That partnership exists because central government told local government it had to stop running its own works department monopolies and run professional asset management over its road network.  There is no need for a "stronger relationship", as local government doesn't need to do more!
  • Replenishing and building on representative democracy:  The one recommendation that may make sense is to make the Electoral Commission run local elections, but the rest is a wishlist of activism around local elections. Introducing STV as a voting system for local government doesn't get me excited one way or the other, but let's note that with low voter turnout, a more complex electoral system doesn't actually deliver much.  Lowering the voting age to 16 is a standard leftwing policy primarily because they know they are more likely to benefit from persuading young minds of the sort of wellbeing nonsense seen in this report, although by no means are there recommendations to give 16yos the legal status of adults across the board (e.g., criminal law, alcohol consumption), and why not 14yos or 12yos? A four year electoral term in the absence of one for central government is simply bizarre.  Why does being able to change local government LESS frequently, BUILD on representative democracy?  No, it's about giving councillors more time to do stuff without being challenged.  
  • Equitable funding and finance: As with all terms with an Orwellian element to them, you should always run a mile from the word "equitable", because it always means anything but.  There is some merit here, in that central government should taken into account with all of its decisions, its impact on local government (which should actually be ratepayers and residents). However the rest is just putting the hand out for more money.  It wants "co-investment" by central and local government to meet "community wellbeing priorities" (!).  It wants central government to tax people more to create a slush fund called the "intergenerational fund for climate change" which would no doubt be tapped to waste on pet projects for local government to virtue signal about (given that almost all sectors local government is involved in are already covered by the Emissions Trading System).  The perennial desire for local government to get new means to tax, while retaining rates are there.  This is a manifesto to take more money from you, and isn't remotely "equitable", but reflects desires from local government to do more without being able to convince ratepayers to let them force them to pay more. 
  • System design: Central and local government are apparently meant to work together to create a Tiriti-consistent structural design for local government (whatever that means) to give effect to a bunch of design principles.  It wants more "shared services" and a "digital transformation roadmap" for local government, again none of this is based on achieving actual outcomes based on performance.
  • System stewardship and support:  The recommendation here is that government decide on the best form of stewardship, being the way by which local government is responsible for what it does and does the best that it can do. However, why is this a problem? Is it because local democracy is a very poor incentive on local politicians to make wise decisions when it is about spending other people's money (especially money borrowed from people who can't vote yet) and about other people's property? Could it be that the best way to manage this is to keep local government to a minimum of "public good" elements that cannot be efficiently or effectively provided by other entities? Isn't this just an admission that local government is bad at making important decisions on long-term issues?
Of course the key issue of this report is that it recommends that mana whenua sit on local councils, with full voting rights.  These representatives would have the same power as elected councillors, except of course, residents/ratepayers would have no power to remove them (except for those few that may be involved in mana whenua processes to select their councillors).

I don't think much of liberal democracy, as it is not very effective at protecting individual rights, but it does have one useful function, in that it provides an effective process to remove politicians if enough people are fed up with them.  This proposal destroys this for mana whenua representative.  It institutes the principle that you can be taxed, regulated and governed by people you have NO say in being selected or being removed.

Sure you probably think you have little say in who is in local government, but you certainly do have a say, even if those you voted for did not get elected.  You will not do so in Ardern's "new democracy" as described by Willie Jackson.

And if this is good enough for local government why is it not good enough for central government? After all, the nationalist MP for Waiariki Rawiri Waititi has already commented on his opposition to liberal democracy.  Now this is a sentiment I have some sympathy for, because majority rule does NOT protect individual rights.  If Waititi and indeed the Labour Party simply wanted to set Maori free to live their lives as they see fit, and largely govern themselves (within a framework of rule of law that protected individual rights including property rights), I would be in favour of that.

However there is no possible way that the New Zealand Labour Party wants to let people live their own lives as they see fit in such a way.  The review of local government is about growing local government, it is the idea that wellbeing comes not from what individuals, families, colleagues, friends, communities, businesses and societies do, but from what government does - and the main tools of government are ones of coercion by taxation (and dishing out financial favours to preferred individuals and groups) and regulation.

The Government should, of course, throw this report in the bin, and hopefully if there is a change in government that is exactly what will happen.

There is a desperate need for a review of local government that will decide what roles and responsibilities it should have and what ones should be taken away from it, and that would do much more to enhance wellbeing, by enabling more housing to be built, more businesses to be developed, more competition in retail and the economy, the environment and society to grow with local government being barely visible.  It may manage some parks, have a fast, efficient planning permitting function, deal with neighbourhood noise and pollution complaints, and ensure rubbish is collected.

In the meantime though, the idea that elected politicians should be replaced by mana whenua representatives with MORE power to increase rates, establish new taxes and pass bylaws (and ban property development) is just a form of petty nationalist authoritarianism eating away at an already flawed system.

23 October 2022

Christopher Snowdon: Liz Truss didn't break the economy, it was like that when she found it.

Christopher Snowdon writes how the market response to the Truss/Kwarteng emergency budget showed that the emperor has no clothes, and it is a sign that the era of big borrowing is at an end.

Some choice quotes:

Long before the pandemic began, I was troubled by emergency economic policies - ultra-low interest rates and money printing - being in place for a decade without any emergency to justify them. This led to a great deal of inflation, but since the inflation had mainly affected the housing market and stock exchange and had made the rich richer, it didn’t seem to count. Then, in 2020, we had an actual emergency which seemed likely to push us over the edge.

The so-called "libertarian" budget included massive subsidies to cap the price of energy.  The cut in income tax and reversal of a rise in national insurance were hardly enormous measures, and freezing corporation tax (rather than implementing a rise that was indicated under Boris Johnson) is also hardly libertarian, but the word has stuck. 

Of course there should have been measures to liberalise the economy, and none eventuating except a removal of the ban on fracking - a measure that wouldn't achieve much for some time. 

Some saw the mini-budget as an invitation to the Bank of England to raise interest rates. If so, it was an invitation that was declined. Some thought the mini-budget implied that there would be spending cuts, but Liz Truss insisted that there would be none. Instead, Kwasi Kwarteng took to the airwaves to announce that he intended to make more unfunded tax cuts.

Previous governments had at least paid lip service to balancing the books. The Truss administration didn’t even bother pretending. The bond markets, seeing no plan for growth and no sign of an interest rate rise, naturally demanded a greater return on their investment. 30 year yields nudged toward 5 per cent. The pound fell to a low of $1.07. Pension funds that had been making what the Economist describes as ‘obscure derivatives bets’ found themselves short of liquidity thanks to higher gilt yields - although they insisted that they were not short of capital - and so the Bank of England stepped in to lower yields by buying gilts....

Liz Truss was dealt a bad hand and played it badly, but despite the broadcast media spending a fortnight treating every day as if it were Black Wednesday, she did not ‘crash the economy’, as the Labour Party has claimed. The economy was already in pieces and there is much worse to come. Goldman Sachs has already taken 0.6 per cent off the UK’s GDP forecast for 2023, partly because of the rise in Corporation Tax.
Interest rates have existed for thousands of years for good reason. They are, to quote the title of Edward Chancellor’s excellent book, the price of time. Or, if you prefer, the cost of impatience. They should provide an acceptable return to lenders and should certainly be above the rate of inflation. The international experiment with very low interest rates has, unsurprisingly, led to governments, businesses and individuals becoming heavily indebted. As people take on more debt, they become increasingly vulnerable to interest rate rises. This leads to a doom loop in which central bankers are reluctant to tackle inflation because interest rate hikes will make people poorer and so inflation persists, making people poorer.

Even in the absence of inflation, interest rates couldn’t be raised because it would ‘wreck the recovery’. An economic recovery so feeble that it cannot withstand an interest rate of one or two per cent barely deserves the name. The economy had become like an alcoholic. Every drop in interest rates and every bout of money-printing made it feel better in the short-term, but they made the addiction worse and was slowly killing it. It was hair of the dog economics.

The left have already started wailing about ‘Austerity Mark 2’, but they are now going to have start telling us which taxes they want to increase to pay for their spending priorities. They may find that they get a rough reception. It is notable that almost the only thing left from the mini-budget is the scrapping of the Health and Social Care Levy. Even Labour didn’t want to keep it. It’s unpopular. Fine. But if you can’t get the public to support a tax specifically earmarked for the NHS - the one thing that normies say they are happy to pay more tax for! - good luck raising taxes for Net Zero and foreign aid.

The MMT loonies will say that the recession could have been avoided if the Bank hosed us down with one more burst of QE. Everything looks like a ‘political choice’ if you ignore trade-offs and consequences, but the number of practical options available have narrowed considerably. As Janan Ganesh says in the FT today, Labour are not going to enjoy governing without a magic money tree to shake.

Hair of the dog economics has had its day. The era of big borrowing has come to an end. We have run out of road. It would be unfortunate if Liz Truss has given economic growth a bad name because it really is our only way out of the woods....

18 October 2022

Does Winston really care about the constitution or is it baubles as usual?

So Winston Peters is doing what he usually does, after spending two years in the political wilderness he times a revival to tap the issue of the season, that the other parties aren't doing well at tapping, so he can ride his way back to Parliament with a bevy of people nobody has ever heard of before.

This time it is to tackle co-governance with Iwi, and the embracing of the Treaty of Waitangi in ALL aspects of central and local government.  Now I have some sympathy for that position, as important as it is to consult with Iwi and for Maori to be adequately represented in Government, New Zealand clearly achieves that, with Maori represented in both Parliament and local government on the basis of one-person, one-vote and a general consensus among the two major parties about the importance of including Iwi in consultation on issues affecting them. Winston is trying to do much more than address overreach of that.

He wants to tackle non-Maori fear of Maori cultural and linguistic growth, and dominance, whether it is seen in Maori phrases inserted into the ever declining audiences for television news (which frankly is a market decision, you can just switch it off), or the inclusion of references to Te Tiriti in more and more laws and government programmes.

Winston can tackle this because he is much more obviously accepted as being Maori (David Seymour is not so seen). He also knows he can guarantee that TVNZ, Newshub, RNZ and Stuff at least will seek to paint  HIM as being divisive, even racist and he can run rings around the fact he's spent his political career saying the media is unfair to him.

Winston has a couple of problems though:

1.  There is little evidence Winston did ANYTHING when in power, the three times he was a Minister, to slow down Maori nationalism. There was little of it to respond to when he supported National from 1996-1998, but from 2005-2008 and 2017-2020 under Labour, what evidence was there that Winston Peters ever did anything to push this back?

2.  He put Jacinda Ardern into power, notwithstanding that National clearly had the plurality of support as the major party in the 2017 election. It is disingenuous for him to be able to credibly claim that he knew NOTHING of the Maori nationalist aspirations of the Labour Maori caucus (or indeed the Greens, who were part of that coalition and are even more adamant of claims of Maori nationalist/statist based self-determination). However it is entirely possible Winston just took his portfolio, advocated for his pork-barrel Provincial Growth Fund, and the let the two parties on the left get on with it all. 

It might be welcoming to some to have Winston talk in a way that so much of the media would deem politically incorrect, but as he was with immigration, most of what he says reflects little about what he does. 

His other problem is that ACT not only polls but has multiple MPs to occupy this space. It might be notable that Winston talks mostly about the artifacts of the Maori cultural renaissance and the media expressions of it, rather than the more disturbing undermining of liberal democracy, such as granting Ngai Tahu a seat on Environment Canterbury, to sit alongside elected members with the same powers, or the efforts of Rotorua District Council to gerrymander Maori local authority seats that would represent a fraction of the number of non-Maori voters.  

There is a profound awkwardness of politicians, especially non-Maori ones, talking about these issues, because of a lack of philosophical conviction around what constitutional arrangements should exist for a free liberal democracy, and a lack of willingness to engage with views that claim that the underlying cause of poor socio-economic outcomes for Maori is not simply a legacy of colonialism and subsequent non-Maori settlement. The willingness of some Maori nationalists (especially now in Te Pati Maori) to go down the path of "it's us vs. them" should frighten most people, and if Winston Peters is more effective in having that debate that David Seymour (which I think he is), then so be it.

But don't expect a vote for NZ First to deliver anything transformational.  From 1996-1998 NZ First was a brake on a National Government continuing with free market liberal reforms, but not a stop. Similarly, from 2005-2008 and from 2017-2020 it was a brake on Labour Governments continuing with growth of the welfare state, but put a foot on the accelerator of economic nationalist interventions.  It was not a brake on Maori nationalism, because the policies now being advanced by the Government had their genesis in 2017-2020 (or earlier in the case of He Puapua).

There are reasons to be sceptical about ACT achieving much in this space, or National, but these pale in comparison to the reasons to be sceptical about Winston Peters. 

14 October 2022

"Restore Passenger Rail" is a pathetic facsimile of Extinction Rebellion misanthropy

So for several mornings a group calling itself "Restore Passenger Rail" has shut down the southbound lanes of the Wellington Urban Motorway approaching the Terrace Tunnel.  This is completely bizarre stuff.

The disruption caused is enormous, not least because this is State Highway 1/2, the key route bypassing central Wellington, connecting the Hutt, Porirua and Wellington's northern suburbs to the southern and eastern suburbs, including Wellington Hospital and Airport.  Most recently they blocked State Highway 2 near Melling, making it impossible for some people to get to Melling Railway Station by car or bus.

The group is calling for passenger rail services to be returned to the extent they were in 2000, presumably excluding commuter services in Wellington and Auckland, both of which have expanded since then (Auckland has been electrified, with much more frequent services, and Wellington services extended to Waikanae, also with improved frequencies).

When asked on RNZ National, one of the spokespeople called for services to be restored as follows:

So they don't actually know what services are running.  They claim this is all about climate change and essential to save the planet.  This is completely unhinged, and if it wasn't a cause close to the heart of the Green Party and many on the left, a rational assessment of them would call their arguments misinformation and call them extremists - but no.

So let's make it clear:
  1. Even if all of the intercity passenger train services that existed in 2000 were restored, the idea it would make a difference to emissions that was discernible in terms of climate impacts is absurd. Some people would take a trip they wouldn't have done before, some would have gone by bus, very few would have flown and a few would have driven.
  2. Unless the trains carry several bus loads on average, every trip, they will generate more emissions than travel by bus.
  3. It's all irrelevant because unlike agriculture, transport emissions are part of the Emissions Trading Scheme, within which a finite amount of emissions are available and sold as part of the price of fuel. Any shift will simply result in more emissions being available for other uses.
However I don't think any of the protestors know much about passenger trains and in fact they are just a NZ version of the Extinction Rebellion misanthropes.  They don't even know the train to the West Coast goes to Greymouth not Westport, any train enthusiast knows what trains used to run.  Of course they don't care that stopping traffic generates a LOT of additional emissions.

For all of their talk about saving the planet and humanity, one of the Extinction Rebellion founders, Roger Hallam, explicitly said he would block a road that had an ambulance with a dying person on board.

This isn't just environmentalism and it isn't really railway enthusiasm (which I have some sympathy for, because I like trains), but is hatred of human beings.  Hatred not only of their freedom of choice, but also their lives. 

What's particularly nuts is that Parliament is calling for submissions on the future of inter-regional passenger rail. (deadline next Friday 21st October).  The claim by the protestors that they have "tried everything" is vacuous empty nonsense.  This is undoubtedly the most rail friendly government for some time, and billions of dollars have been poured into Kiwirail to upgrade tracks and expand services, albeit the passenger focus has been on Auckland and Wellington, not least because most of the demand for intercity services was lost during travel restrictions under the pandemic.  

I'm not a fan of subsidising intercity passenger rail, because there are unsubsidised other modes that exist, and one of them (buses) will take some time to recover after the loss of international travel. However, I like intercity passenger rail, and if Kiwirail can develop a business case for new services, then good for them.  I was involved in reviewing intercity passenger rail viability in 2001, and the figures seen then were poor, but a lot has happened since then. The population has increased, overseas travel increased (although it may take another year or two for numbers to recover) and there may be more interest in travel  by rail, so I think there are merits in Kiwirail assessing opportunities or if it is not interested, in it being required to treat any potential private providers in a non-discriminatory manner.

but these protestors aren't REALLY interested in passenger rail. Do you really think they would stop disruptive protests if five new passenger train services were announced by the government? Of course not.

Of course not, they want attention, they want to promote catastrophism and they don't care for either the trappings of a free society to communicate their views like everyone else, or even a government that is sympathetic to their cause.

It's notable that the Government has said little about them, neither has the Green Party or Wellington's new Green Mayor, Tory Whanau. National's Chris Bishop called them "idiots" and rightly so, but maybe the Labour and Greens politicians LIKE measures that make driving more difficult, and don't want to abuse them?

They wont stop protesting until it becomes too hard for them to do so, they will block more roads and demand "action" from whatever government is in power, regardless of the action being carried out for their cause.  Because what they want is applause and approval from the like-minded, their own little network of misanthropes, and most of all, media attention so they can be interviewed, endlessly.  

This raises their social standing to have disrupted "evil" car "fascists" and drawn attention to a "righteous" cause (diverting taxpayers' money to some train services). They'll feel special and privileged, and hopefully get selected to go on the Green Party's list.

I doubt ANY of them have ridden on the Northern Explorer, Coastal Pacific or TranzAlpine trains, ever! Because it's not about trains.

It is, after all, performative, status-seeking, social misanthropy. 

12 October 2022

Climate change and agriculture

I accept there is anthropogenic climate change, and there is going to be an ongoing process of reductions in emissions due to improvements in efficiency and technology.  Because New Zealand has such a low population relative to its production of agricultural commodities, emissions from agriculture are high per capita, compared to virtually all of its trading partners.

As a result, the agricultural sector will have to be a part of that, and New Zealand should be expected to cut emissions along with the rest of the world. 

However, most of New Zealand's agricultural production is exported, and export markets for agricultural commodities are heavily distorted by a mix of high subsidies, tariffs and other import barriers from major economies, specifically the European Union and the United States (Japan as well, but that affects the rice market).  As New Zealand's market is both open to imports and there are few subsidies, New Zealand exports effectively because it is an efficient producer, which also happens to have some of the lowest emissions per tonne of production in the world.  One study indicated that for lamb, New Zealand emitted 688kg of CO2 per tonne produced and imported to the UK, compared to 2849kg of CO2 for UK produced lamb. 

So let's paint the picture. New Zealand farmers, located further away from most markets than any other producers, compete on a global market, a market heavily distorted by import quotas (restricting how much New Zealand farmers can sell), tariffs (taxing their products but not taxing domestic producers) and subsidies (undercutting the higher cost of production). If there were largely a free market for agriculture, similar to many manufactured goods, then inefficient producers (that use more energy and emit more CO2) would be out of business or would need to improve efficiency.  

However there is not. There were some tender attempts by the Bush Administration to get rid of export subsidies for agriculture, if the EU also agreed, but this all faltered, and since the Obama Administration there has been little to no interest from the US in multilateral trade liberalisation (and the EU has never been keen on liberalising agricultural trade). 

For New Zealand farmers to face payments for emissions on a scale or in a manner that undermines their export competitiveness is likely to have several effects:

  • Reducing the scale of New Zealand agricultural production 
  • Increasing the price of commodities New Zealand exports
  • Increasing the production of LESS efficient and HIGHER emitting producers that are heavily protected and not required to pay for emissions.
In short it risks exporting emissions, by shifting production to other economies.

The most generous view of this is it is futile. It buys virtue signalling from unproductive multi-national lobbyists like Greenpeace and enables Jacinda Ardern and James Shaw to claim they are "world leading", but the savings in emissions get replaced by higher emissions from elsewhere. When New Zealand reduces production, others will sell to those markets instead, at a slightly higher price, but with higher emissions and less economic efficiency.  The least generous view of it is that it is economic treachery.  It harms a local industry to ineffectively achieve a policy objective.

It would be quite different if Ardern and Shaw went to Brussels, Washington, Canberra et al and argued that New Zealand will charge for methane emissions if THEY will, and if THEY will introduce measures to reduce emissions in agriculture that at the very least do not distort international trade in agricultural commodities any more than their existing protectionist arrangements.  It presents options that show New Zealand is willing to move if they are as well.

Sure, whatever New Zealand does on emissions will make ~0 impact on climate change, but if there is going to be action on emissions New Zealand has to join in, or it faces the likelihood of sanctions from several major economies. What matters though is this small economy does not kneecap its most productive and competitive sectors in order to virtue signal.  

Of course there are plenty who hate the farming sector, either because of what they produce and who they vote for, and the Green Party thinks agriculture should go all organic, produce LESS at HIGHER prices, and you can imagine the impact of this on the poor (but the Greens think they can tax the rich to pay for everyone).  They are very happy to spend the tax revenue collected, but treat it as a sunset industry.

So sure, agriculture needs to be included, but there needs to be a Government that doesn't want to shrink the sector in which New Zealand has the greatest comparative advantage. 

01 October 2022

Free public transport is not an environmentally friendly policy

Auckland's leading leftwing Mayoral candidate, Efeso Collins, has as one of his key platforms making public transport "free" at the point of use, by which he means he'll force everyone else (ratepayers and he's hoping taxpayers, as well as car and truck drivers) to pay for it.

The Greens, who want everything to be free, except your property rights, speech, powers to buy and sell and contract generally, support this.

Given how much publicity has been given to this idea, it's worth giving it a review.  You'll say, quite rightly, that a libertarian could never countenance forcing people to pay for others to get around, and you're right. Philosophically, the idea that if you want to travel somewhere, for whatever reason, that other people should be forced to pay for your choice of travel, is an anathema to individual liberty.  

However, let me put that to one side.  Does the idea that public transport should be fully taxpayer funded, has some merits? Could it actually result in less traffic, less pollution?

Tallinn, Estonia implemented free tram and bus travel for local residents in 2013. The National Audit Office of Estonia reviewed the impacts of the policy and came to the following conclusions:
  • It did not reach its goal of reducing car journeys
  • Public transport use increased, but not significantly
  • Bus network doesn't meet the need of car users
A more detailed study of the impacts was more damning and it was based on a large scale survey in the city.  Note Tallinn previously had a fare-box cost recovery level of around one-third, so one-third of operating costs were recovered from fares, so fares were not high before. 
  • Trips by public transport increased by 14%
  • Trips by car decreased by 10%
  • Trips by walking decreased by 40%
  • Average distance travelled by car increased by 13%, resulting in total vehicle kms driven increased by 31%
Much of the public transport trip increase was for 15-19yos, 60-74yos, those on very low incomes, the unemployed/not in education.  However public transport trips for those on higher incomes decreased due to crowding. Higher income people preferred to drive. 

In short, free public transport saw more trips, most of them came from active modes, meanwhile the reduced car trips were more than offset by the remaining car trips being longer distances.  

This shouldn't be a surprise, Hasselt, Belgium (78,000 people) introduced free public transport in 1996.  The experience of that city was mixed:
  • Public transport trips went up ten-fold
  • 63% of additional public transport trips were existing users travelling more frequently
  • 37% of additional public transport trips were new users, but only 16% came from car trips, the remainder were from bicycle and walking.  So the majority of mode shift was from active modes.
  • There was also a five-fold increase in the bus fleet, doubling in bus routes and significant increase in frequencies at the same time as abolition of fares
  • There was no noticeable impact on car ownership or change in trip mode share
  • Free fares were dropped in 2014 because of the cost, with fare concessions applying only to only a small minority of passengers.
In short, free public transport saw people who already used it, used it a lot more often, and the majority of new users switched from walking and cycling to riding public transport.  

Templin, Germany (15,000 people) also introduced free public transport, in 1997.  The result were:
  • 12 fold increase in patronage, with the majority being young people and children
  • 35-50% of the modal shift came from walking, 30-40% from cycling, with only 10-20% coming from car trips
  • Vandalism increased attributed to the higher numbers of younger passengers.
Once again, the main impact of free public transport is to attract people from active modes, so people ride buses instead of walking and cycling.  This costs more for taxpayers, costs more for the environment and so is a negative net impact overall. 

In NONE of the case studies of free public transport was there a meaningful impact on traffic congestion.  

In ALL of the case studies the two main impacts were:
  • to encourage people who already use public transport to travel a lot more often
  • Reduce walking and cycling (because people who walked and cycled found it quicker and easier to just hop on a bus)
Free public transport has a small impact on driving, but it is hardly worth the cost. It has a big impact on walking and cycling, which is a transfer from zero emissions transport to transport that generates emissions, both directly (fuel and electricity) and indirectly (production of buses/trams/trains, road/rail wear and tear).  

Some may say there is utility in people doing more trips by public transport, but if they were trips that weren't going to happen anyway, then the question is why should taxpayers/ratepayers pay for people to do joyrides, to visit friends, visit places they never thought of going before, just because it's free? Why is that a good use of taxpayer/ratepayer money?  

The simple truth is that free public transport is a political bribe that sounds nice, and gets a lot of support from some on the Green-left despite the evidence being that it is anti-environmental.  It might make a small difference to car trips, but it makes a big difference to reducing walking and cycling - and it generates a lot of arguably unnecessary trips.

So maybe consider that when voting in the local elections.

23 September 2022

Do the Greens really back the demands of #schoolstrike4climate?

So on Friday the #schoolstrike4climate was held, whereby a bunch of hysterical school children demand that a Government, which is literally obsessed with mitigating climate change (even though the impacts of its measures are infinitesimal), should do MORE, NOW!

I don't want to bother with critiquing a bunch of kids, backed by environmentalist/leftist teachers (and the poor quality teacher protectionist racket), demanding public policy changes without the faintest clue of the consequences, but I do care about the Green Party - the main future coalition partner of the Labour Party, agreeing to all of its demands.  The kids aren't to blame, because the kids are being used by politicians and their supporters, because of the assumption that they'll get entirely positive media coverage and not be subject to criticism because... well... kids being political is meant to be a GOOD thing (imagine if kids were organised to go on a protest for something the Greens opposed though...)

#schoolstrike4climate put out a press release, published on Scoop of their rambling demands: 

  • banning the use of synthetic nitrogen fertilisers, 
  • halving the herd of cows
(Taxpayers should apparently be forced to "invest in a just transition" to compensate farmers for this)

Then there is this 

"agriculture isn’t the only thing we want to see changes in"  (I bet, you little meddlers)

 In the words of one of our organisers, Charlotte Hoffman: 

‘We need to start making big changes to transport, too. If the New Zealand Government is really serious about committing to a sustainable future, then they need to completely cut our transport emissions. Compared to other things, these changes are simple to make. Ban unnecessary air travel, invest in better public transport. If the Government wanted to, they would.’

So add:
  • Ban unnecessary air travel and
  • Invest in better public transport
So what of it?

The last demand is just silly, because this government is pouring unprecedented amounts of road user tax and general tax income into public transport. The latest National Land Transport Programme is spending $2.3 billion on public transport infrastructure, $2.6 billion on subsidising public transport services.  Sure it's NEVER enough for the kids, but this is the most benign of the demands.

The rest are absolutely destructive.
  • Synthetic fertilisers literally help sustain 3.5 billion people on the planet. This is a demand that will kill people. Without synthetic fertilisers food production would drop significantly, prices would rise, and although you can be sure the kids and the Greens wont suffer, it would mean hundreds of millions of people would starve, and billions would be undernourished.  Sure, if farmers can find alternatives good for them, let them do as they see fit, but let's remember New Zealand does NOT subsidise fertiliser (and hasn't done so since the late 1980s when the free-market liberal reforms the likes of the Greens opposed, got rid of agricultural subsidies).
  • Halving the dairy farm herd would cut the country's export earnings by around 5% and GDP by 1.5%. That's about a quarter of the education budget. This will make the country poorer, especially rural areas. Sure the kids want to "invest in a just transition" (spend more taxpayers' money on people not producing anything to compensate them for banning their business), but it's just more money coming from nowhere.  This would also put up dairy prices and modestly increase global food prices. For some reason the Greens think it is "just" for the world's least subsidised dairy sector to kneecap itself by half, but the Greens don't care very much about production of anything.  If dairy drops because it is no longer commercially viable, then that's one thing, but this is just a demand of destruction.
  • Banning "unnecessary" air travel is the real authoritarian scold streak coming out.  What's "unnecessary"? I am fairly sure foreigners taking a holiday in NZ is "unnecessary" so maybe kneecap international air travel (except, of course, for politicians going to climate change conferences). That's around $17.5 billion a year of revenue, which IS the total education budget.  Imagine the mentality that would want a law and a bureaucracy judging if your travel is "necessary".
So the Greens want an end to synthetic fertiliser, want to halve the dairy industry and stop you flying on holiday, or to go to a conference (except perhaps a Green approved one).

This will make people poorer, make them less free and will make next to no difference to the impacts of climate change, except by making them LESS able to respond to it, LESS able to afford to adapt.

The posh kids don't know or understand any of this, but the Green Party which uses them, which facilitates them as tools to advance its agenda should know better.  It's an agenda of misanthropy, of degrowth and authoritarianism.

What epitomised it was an interview on Newstalk ZB on Friday between Heather du-Plessis-Allan (HDPA) and Izzy Cook, one of the organisers of the #schoolstrike4climate.  She's under 18, so let's be clear here, she is being put forward to represent this movement, with the support of the Greens, environmentalist groups, some of her teachers and presumably her parents, but the kitchen of politics can get hot - and she has learnt a humiliating lesson is what being an adult, engaging in political debate, is all about.

The peak was HDPA asking how the ban on unnecessary flights would be implemented.  HDPA asked if it was ok if she flew to a conference, Cook said no, it should be done by video.  Then HDPA asked about travel, paraphrased as follows:

HDPA: I'm planning to fly to Fiji on holiday should I be allowed to do that?
IC: No, you shouldn't.
HDPA: When did you last fly anywhere?
IC: A few months ago
HDPA: Where did you go?
IC: Fiji...

I can't imagine how awful Izzy Cook is feeling after that, but she will be buttressed by adults who will call HDPA a "fascist" and play on Cook's youth as being a shield that should defend her from being cross examined on a political issue.

However, this is so profoundly dishonest and cruel.  The Greens want 16 and 17yos to have the vote, ostensibly because the decisions made in Parliament affect them too, and they can have jobs, pay taxes etc. Many of these arguments could go down to 12yos etc etc. but of course the Greens wouldn't want them to have votes if they didn't think they could harvest power from it.  Have no doubt, the Greens think that its brand of dishing out other people's money with no conditions and solving the world through banning "what's bad", making compulsory "what's good" and endlessly trotting out and abusing words like "fairness" and "sharing power", will bamboozle plenty of kids brought up in an education system that is tilted towards promoting their ideological view of the world.

Furthermore the utter intolerance of this ideological view is what the kids are brought up on.  Greta Thunberg's "How Dare You", is THE response to simply questioning the effectiveness and impact of poorly thought out extreme ideas about destroying parts of the economy.  The kids are taught themselves to humiliate those who disagree with them with hyperbole like "why do you want the planet to die?".  After all, they're being taught that extinction is coming, armageddon is near, and that the people getting in the way just want to  "make profits at their expense".  This simplistic binary, us (good) vs. them (bad) is what fuels this hysteria, and it is largely invented in the minds of Green activists.  

However they DON'T want the kids to be subject to the same scrutiny.  They want a mob of kids to be immune from criticism, advancing the policies THEY want.  Because it's a lot easier to risk one or two kids being cannon fodder to a critical journalist than to actually have James Shaw, Marama Davidson and the Green caucus confront voters with "you'll need a permit to book a flight somewhere".

The Greens are grooming a new generation of hypocritical climate scolds who want to destroy people's livelihoods, regulate how they live their lives and make food much much more expensive harming the poor.

So bear a moment of sympathy for Izzy Cook, she didn't expect to get scrutinised, to have her own personal hypocrisy highlighted on radio across the country, and she wasn't prepared. Nothing the activists who have groomed her mind prepared her for an alternative point of view, and the Green Party itself, eager to be a much more influential force on the next Government, used her and the other school kids to advance policies that, if subject to proper media scrutiny, would shrink the party's support close to the 5% threshold.

If you're going to advance political ideas that impose enormous costs on people, then you actually need to front up and propose them openly yourself James Shaw, Marama Davidson, Chloe Swarbrick et al.

20 September 2022

Which wannabe busybodies do you want on your council?

Academics, journalists and politicians bemoan every three years how little interest there is in the local body elections in New Zealand.  The narrative being that if more people voted, then local government would be "better" and people being more "engaged" would result in bette Councillors, better decisions, better cities, towns and districts.

It's utter nonsense. There's a reason why most people aren't engaged with local government, because by and large, the things it tends to do adequately are taken for granted (local roads, footpaths, rubbish collection), and people have busy lives getting on with making a living, looking after their families, their homes, and living their lives.  

Local government has little to do with many issues, such as healthcare, education, justice, policing, but it DOES have a lot to do with areas that are in crisis, such as:

  • Water, fresh, waste and storm.  You may not agree with the Three Waters prescription of the Ardern Government, but local government in most of the country has mismanaged water infrastructure for decades.  Why? Because local government is dominated by socialists who don't believe in user pays, don't believe in running ANYTHING like a business and don't get excited about infrastructure that is largely out of sight.  It's no wonder central government is, essentially, taking water off them.
  • Housing. Councils stop housing being built, whether low, medium or high density. When it gets approved, it adds costs to that approval, because it is dominated by central planning types who think they know what's best for other people's land.  Councillors think they "build communities", when in fact it is they, facilitated by the Resource Management Act, that mean housing is scarcer and more expensive than it should be.  Central Government may have been monetarily incontinent, but the clot on housing supply lies squarely with local government.
  • Supermarket competition. Councils stop supermarkets being built. Again they are dominated by socialists who think supermarkets are awfully vulgar places where big companies serve common people who dreadfully arrive by car.  As with housing, Councils use the Resource Management Act to constrain supply and even listen to incumbent supermarkets that don't want competition, facilitating higher grocery prices for everyone.

Local government also attracts a particular type of person.  More often than not it attracts busybodies, planners, pushy finger-wagging types who think they know what's best, over what people actually indicate according to their willingness to pay. It particularly attracts socialists who see local government as a stepping stone to central government for Labour and Green Party members.  They all have a set of principles and views in common, being:

  • Rates should go up, beyond inflation, because Councils can always spend your money better than you can.
  • Economic development occurs because Councils write plans and set up bureaucracies to enable it, not because people choose to set up businesses in their districts
  • Councils should prioritise fighting climate change, because if they don't, then the consequences will be catastrophic
  • Recycling of as much as possible is a good thing, regardless of cost and regardless of whether the collected recycling actually gets used
  • Driving is a malign, public transport is good, cycling is divine, freight doesn't exist or isn't important
Take Auckland's leftwing contender for Mayor, Efeso Collins, who is promising to make public transport fully subsidised ("free" in socialist marketing parlance). Who is going to pay? Blank out.  What's the impact going to be?  Well if it is anything following the experience of Tallinn, Estonia, it wont be much (as it barely reduced car traffic, but cost a lot of money and significantly reduced the amount of walking).

However, look at the other side, the so-called "rightwing" Wayne Brown, who wants to move the Port of Auckland.  The Port of Auckland should be privatised, but no, Mr Brown knows best how to use the land and doesn't care about the location of New Zealand's number one import port. 

Look at Wellington where the choice is between the former NZ First aligned encumbent Andy Foster (who has been on Council 20 or so years), the existing Labour MP for Rongotai Paul Eagle (who was once a Councillor, but whom Labour isn't willing to rank on its party list, so little do they think of him) and the hard-left former Green Party chief of staff and spin merchant Tory Whanau. Do you want encumbent, a bit left or far left leading Wellington?  As Karl du Fresne pointed out, in reference to GWRC Councillor Thomas Nash, some of these people are "troughers", who think that the city and the world would be a better place if only there were more and more central planning, more taxes to spend on grand plans, more regulation of people and businesses doing what's "wrong", and endlessly bigger local government. 

So vote if you must, but the real problem is that local government has too much power.  It has stuffed up water, the only unreformed network utility (except in Auckland).  Local government used to manage local electricity distribution, but that was taken off it in the 1990s.  At one time it was responsible for milk distribution, which is why until the late 1980s buying milk OTHER than by kerbside bottles was unusual, and indeed there was no plastic or cartoned milk.

So pick candidates who want to get out of the way, of new housing, of new supermarkets, of enterprise and don't want to promise grand totemic projects that you have to pay for.  Don't pick those who think that local government can "do so much good" by spending your money and pushing people around.  Maybe pick those who actually have some understanding of the limits of the ability of local government.

If you get to ask them any questions then ask them this....
  1. How much do you want me to pay for (insert expensive promise)?
  2. Given how poorly Councils have performed in delivering water infrastructure why do you think it is competent in delivering (insert expensive promise)?
  3. Why wont people pay voluntarily for (insert expensive promise)?  
  4. Do you think Council has hindered the supply of housing and if so, what will you do about it? (if the answer is no, then, if you're in a major city, you know you're talking to an idiot). 
  5. What do you think Council is not good at and shouldn't be involved in?
  6. What have you learned from your own life and career that causes you are able to make a judgment on how to spend other people's money and regulate use of their land and businesses?
  7. Do you think your Council should have members on it that are not elected but appointed by local Iwi, because this is the "new democracy"?
As a footnote, the Taxpayers' Union has launched a guide on which it asks a bunch of useful questions of candidates, only some of whom have responded.  It infuriatingly asks for your postcode (who knows that?) to find a council name, not just the council names. However, some pertinent questions on rates, spending and curiously discouraging car use are answered, so make of that as you will.  I'm no fan of Three Waters as a solution, but the status quo in MOST districts is not good either, so make of that what you will either.

The Free Speech Union also has a guide to candidates which is more accessible. It asks various free speech questions and you may be surprised on its stance (it IS libertarian), on matters like transgenderism, abortion and drag-queen story time.  

Much more well publicised in the media has been FACT Aotearoa, which publishes its own list of candidates that it claims promote conspiracy theories and misinformation, again make of that as you will. 

Other lobby groups have their own perspectives,  I find them all mildly useful, if only because it can flag people having opinions I both like and don't like, and it may not be the view expressed by the lobby group. 

However, I'm largely quite pessimistic. People wildly enthusiastic about local government are generally the opposite of people I want in local government, because local government attracts far too many meddlers, regulators and planners.  

Try to pick the least worst and hope for the best, at least until there is a central government that keeps them on the leash.  You'll have to make some compromises.

When I get my voting forms, I might do a review of the candidates where I'm voting, and I might do a splattergun of identifying those who I have found who are good sorts and worth a tick, and those you should run a mile from..

17 September 2022

Gorbachev dies, the Queen dies

I'm no monarchist, but I appreciate that Queen Elizabeth II was handed quite a job, to preside over the dismantling of the British Empire, to reconcile with the new Commonwealth and to be the symbol of the United Kingdom as it, and its former Empire transform itself.  I have little time for the vulgarians who wish to damn her as some sort of party to crimes against humanity, but equally I find the entire British Royal Family almost endlessly tedious. These are very ordinary people, of average intelligence, ability and below average achievement. It is perhaps because of this that they remain primarily because the people of Britain at the same time are rather fond of having a Head of State that is essentially benign, and because they can't be arsed to get rid of it (and look on at horror at the idea of it being someone who actually WANTS the job).

Because let's be clear, Queen Elizabeth II did the job because she felt a duty to do it, it seems unlikely that even Charles III and William really WANT to be Head of State. In many ways that's much more preferable to those who want power.

I'd be supportive of a republic, if it could guarantee a Head of State that exercised next to no power, that could guarantee a Constitution that would protect the right of the individual to control his or her body, property and life, subject only to respecting the same rights in others, and a state that did not violate those rights. Sadly I fear that many (notwithstanding Lewis Holden), wanting a republic want one that would guarantee the political future they want, and for that, I'd prefer the status quo thank you...

Mikhail Gorbachev didn't pursue a political career advancing the supremacy of the human individual, but rather a vision of Marxism-Leninism with glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). He thought he could reform a system of central command and control, by allowing people to criticise what was wrong, and through freedom enable people to centrally plan an economy and society based on the competition of ideas of how best to centrally plan. What he didn't figure was that freedom and central planning are fundamentally incompatible.

Critics of Gorbachev come from two sides. Russian nationalists criticise him for breaking up the USSR and the Soviet empire, but they are simply rebranded totalitarians that have succeeded the Communist Party old guard.  Libertarians who criticise him for being a commie miss the point, his mistake was to think the system he had spent his life defending and advancing was reformable. The tyrants in Beijing will say you can, if you let capitalism flourish under a jackboot of zero political freedom. Gorbachev did it the other way round, he let freedom emerge before setting capitalism free, but he also faced a country that had had 70 years of trauma of Marxism-Leninism (China had had 30) and had little tradition of trading and entrepreneurship (nor enough of a diaspora to support it).

Gorbachev was the great Russian anti-imperialist, because he decided that the Red Army would NOT stop the people of Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Bulgaria and the German Democratic Republic rising up against their putrid, jackbooted, sclerotic regimes. The "Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart" (Berlin Wall) was to be no more because feeble little excrescences like Erich Honecker were dependent on Moscow to do their dirty work. Most of the eastern half of Europe became free because Gorbachev let Stalin's satellite countries go. Even Romania, which had notably no Red Army presence, would turn against perhaps* the most despicable of eastern Europe's dictators - the Ceausescus.  

He tried to hang onto the USSR, and briefly used force to keep the Baltic States within Moscow's grasp, but it didn't last. Ultimately the system and philosophy that put the USSR at odds with the Western allies brought it down, because it didn't deliver a standard of living remotely commensurate with the west and because inherent to the system was evasion of reality. It was built on lying, because freedom of expression weakened a system that not only didn't deliver on what it promised, but which was so fundamentally antithetical to humanity, that it couldn't stand up to criticism or any inference of error on behalf of the single authority that led it - the Party.

Beyond the USSR (most of which reverted to totalitarianism and authoritarianism after independence, especially in Central Asia, but also in the Caucasus and Belarus), Gorbachev oversaw the end of the Cold War, as it became clear that neither side wanted to invade the other. The collapse of the risk of communism was a prime reason why the National Party of South Africa started to dismantle apartheid, legalise the ANC and hold a referendum on apartheid, before ultimately allowing South Africa to become a full-fledged liberal democracy. Peace talks between Israel and, ultimately, the PLO arose because the collapse of the USSR effectively forced the Palestinians to seek concessions, and resulted in Israel withdrawing from Gaza and permitting Palestinian self-governance, as fraught as that has been.  Dictatorships across Africa fell to liberal democracy, as flawed as many were, with some political plurality that had never been tolerated when Moscow was the paymaster. Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Tanzania among others, and on the other side of the ledger, it saw the West totally abandon the likes of Mobutu.

Ending the Cold War, and the 40 years of the risk of global thermonuclear conflict, because Gorbachev not only knew he could not compete with the West militarily or economically, and he wanted his people to have a better life, was no small achievement. It is perhaps difficult for current generations to grasp what it was like growing up with the fear generated that, at some point, the nuclear deterrent would not work.

but it did, Gorbachev backed down and to this day almost all of Europe is now free. Much more freedom and liberal democracy exists in the world because of what he did and didn't do, than otherwise. He brought to an end one of history's most despotic, destructive, murderous and imperialist regimes, that itself spawned multiple mini-versions of itself. We also shouldn't forget those who shilled for that regime.

Sure, Putin's Russia is also despotic, murderous and imperialist, but Gorbachev took the jackboots out of eastern Europe. Millions of people are safer, healthier, wealthier and happier as a result.

For all of the pomp and circumstance around remembering Queen Elizabeth II, it is Gorbachev I would give the pomp for, because he was the great liberator.

* Enver Hoxha is the rival for Europe's worst post-war tyrant.

24 August 2022

Supermarket competition - the morons are trying to fix a problem their friends create

I'm fairly convinced that the Cabinet of the Ardern Government is dominated by complete morons when it comes to economics.  It is akin to a selection of the candidates that Jim Anderton's New Labour Party/Alliance put forward in the 1990s, a team of well-meaning, earnest, but limited people who had supreme confidence in their ability to play the public and businesses as pieces on a chessboard, without much of a clue as to unintended consequences.  The key being they "mean-well", they think they are doing good for "ordinary" people (for they are not far removed from being ordinary themselves), by their wielding of heavy handed control over businesses and people who put their money and time on the line to be productive.

The announcement that the two dominant supermarket chains will have to provide access to their wholesale supplies is exactly of that ilk. To those who don't invest their own money or are directly responsible for investing other people's money (in that they lose money if they fail), this seems like a great idea to enable new supermarkets to be able to access supply chains, but it smacks of naive student politicians who have no sense of the consequences of their clunking fist.

The barriers to competition in supermarkets are not in accessing groceries from suppliers, but in obtaining sites where supermarkets could be built and resource consent to actually build them.  However, the ideological allies of the Ardern Government, in the form of the majority of local politicians across the country, have done all they could to make this difficult.

The Resource Management Act has enabled the supermarket duopoly by empowering local government to not enable zoning of more supermarket sites, and to require local government to pay regard to the supermarket duopoly when any business wants to build another supermarket.

It's got so silly that in Havelock North, with a new New World supermarket being built to replace the existing one on a constrained site, that Hastings District Council thinks it is optimum value for the community to buy the old supermarket so that it can demolish it and expand the local car park.  This is ridiculous.  Hastings ratepayers shouldn't be destroying a supermarket building so that a surface car park can be expanded, it should be up to investors to decide whether another supermarket might be opened, or a different large retail outlet.

Dr Eric Crampton of the New Zealand Initiative amply described the restrictions that well-meaning, earnest, but limited people with supreme confidence in their abilities impose on supermarket development in local government:

very little land is zoned for larger footprint grocery. And land with the right zoning is often tied up by restrictive land covenants forbidding their use in grocery retail...

If the would-be entrant managed to find the right set of sites, there’s another problem. Council consenting can take anywhere from months to years – or even a decade in some cases. And councils too often decide that a new retailer should be blocked if it would hurt the amenity provided by other retail centres

Then there is the Overseas Investment Office, applying its xenophobic approach to investment from foreign supermarket chains, with the full consent of the Ardern Government, along with liquor licensing laws (which are highly restrictive, and still absurdly prohibit sales of spirits in supermarkets). 

Instead of liberalising foreign investment rules on supermarkets, liberalising liquor licensing for supermarkets and forcing local government to remove barriers to building supermarkets, the morons have decided to take the approach that any anti-capitalist, socialist student politician would prefer - forcing supermarkets (retail outlets) to WHOLESALE the goods they buy from other wholesalers and suppliers, to rivals.

How would that work? (The morons in Cabinet would just assume some public servants can work that out, because they are clever people, like them)

Where on the planet do ANY supermarkets acquire their goods from their rivals on any meaningful scale? (Aotearoa's "special" so don't ask such a ridiculous question)

What incentives are there on an encumbent to not provide goods near expiry, or not supply only the goods that sell the worst to rivals? (Oh more public servants can fix that right?)

What's the deadweight cost of employing an army of inspectors to check whether each supermarket is appropriately supplying the right goods at the right price and quality to rivals? (JOBS JOBS JOBS.. with a fair pay agreement underlying them, WHY DO YOU NOT WANT WELL PAID JOBS THAT HELP THE POOR?)

Who is going to pay for the cost of administration of supermarkets wholesaling goods to rivals and who is going to pay for the regulators? (You, but you'll be grateful for how much less you're paying, eventually).

It's mind numbingly stupid. If you think the Greens are the dominant provider of stupid hard-left economics, then don't worry, they wholesale ideas to Labour, and Labour is now Labour of old. 

Labour that absolutely disowns the lessons it learned in 1984-1990, that even disowns how much Labour of 1999-2008 was aware that it couldn't turn its back on those lessons.

We can only hope that National WILL disown 1975-1984, because Jacinda Muldoon and her Cabinet of Muldoons are hell bent on policies driven by short-term populism and an overinflated sense of their own ability to change the world to fit what they want.