Thursday 20 June 2024

Only a decade left to save the planet ...

 ... they said in 2006.

Only twenty years left to save the planet, said the Pentagon ...

... back in 2004.

No, no, we only have five years left Greta Thunberg and friends told us...

...  six  years ago.

Sadly (happily), doomism isn't what it was.

Here's David Bowie.

[Hat tips to Alex Epstein, Tony Heller and DawnTJ90]

Wednesday 19 June 2024


"Certainly economists build and test theories with models, often quite simplistic ones. But they do not [all] believe that the model is real. Only politicians do that.
    "So what we see in the various 'social investment' analyses being presented and will see in the many which will proliferate as this becomes the slogan du jour, is an endless set of dodgy arithmetic calculations all of which will show positive returns. Much like we see in the many past stadium or motorway or entertainment event proposals which inevitably show a major positive return to the suburb/city/country concerned. If you added all these up from the past we would live in a utopia. We do not live in a utopia."
~ Rob Campbell from his post 'Don’t be fooled by what ‘social investment’ slogan means' [addition mine]

Tuesday 18 June 2024

Climate: Revealed preference

"[A] very large number of voters have a great deal in common with those raised-in-the-faith Catholics who genuflect reflexively before the holy imagery of their religion without giving the gesture much, if any, thought. Like conservatives the world over, New Zealand’s Coalition Government is of the view that although, if asked, most ordinary voters will happily mouth environmental slogans, considerably fewer are willing to freeze in the dark for them.
    "Minister Jones’s wager is that if it’s a choice between watching Netflix, powering-up their cellphones, and snuggling-up in front of the heater, or, keeping the fossil fuels that power our extraordinary civilisation 'in the ground,' so that Freddie the Frog’s habitat can remain pristine and unmolested, then their response will be the same as the Minister’s: 'Bye, bye Freddie!' No matter what people may say; no matter how superficially sincere their genuflections to the 'crisis' of Climate Change; when the lights go out, all they really want is for them to come back on again. Crises far away, and crises in the future, cannot compete with crises at home – right here, right now.
   "The Transport Minister, Simeon Brown, knows how this works. Everyone supports public transport and cycle-ways, right up until the moment their holiday journey slows to a snail’s pace among endless lines of road cones, or a huge pothole wrecks their new car’s suspension.
    "Idealism versus realism: that’s the way the [parties of Luxon's Government] frame this issue; and they are betting their electoral future on the assumption that the realists outnumber the idealists. There may well have been 50,000 pairs of feet “Marching For Nature” down Auckland’s Queen Street [the previous] Saturday afternoon, but the figure that impresses the Coalition Government is the 1,450,000 pairs of Auckland feet that were somewhere else."

~ Chris Trotter from his post 'Numbers Game'

Monday 17 June 2024

"Relations between journalist media and government should always be bad and never on any account should be allowed to get better."

What is the ideal relationship between government and media? Editor, interviewer and media owner Andrew Neil tells the UK Parliamentary Inquiry that "Relations between journalist media and government should always be bad and never on any account should be allowed to get better." How should government help struggling media organisations? "You should stay the hell out," he tells them.
Q: Looking forward over the next few years, how interventionist do you think government should be in supporting the news sector, if at all, and what do you think would constitute government overreach?

Andrew Neil: You should stay the hell out of it. You do not know anything about it. You are only trouble. We are not on your side; you are not on our side. We are different. Relations between journalist media and government should always be bad and never on any account should be allowed to get better. I do not want any of your help. I have rebuilt the Spectator without any help from anybody here or any Government or any tax incentives or any intervention. You cannot even keep the streets safe at night. The Scottish Government cannot build two bog-standard ferries. This Parliament cannot build a single high-speed line, so stay out of news. You are just trouble. We do not want any help. I just do not want you to interfere. I do not want your tax subsidies; I do not want your help. I want you just to concentrate. I am a Jeffersonian. The Government should concentrate on doing what only government can do and do it well. We have government that concentrates on doing far too much, all of which it does badly. Please. We have gone through a major industrial upheaval, a major technological revolution, and we have come through the other side. We have lost people by the wayside. At times it has seemed like the Bataan Death March, but we have come through and we now know what we are doing and we just want to be allowed to get on with it. ...

Q: Should there be any support, public sector support, for local journalism, for local news?]

Andrew Neil: ... I would not overdo how great local news was. ... All these local newspapers depended on local government for advertising. They were not fearless seekers of truth, uncovering local government corruption and wrongdoing. That was done by the national papers which were not beholden to them, so I would not romanticise that. I think there are alternative forms growing up. Quite a lot of concerned citizens now produce blogs that are excellent commentaries and insights into what is happening in local government and they have big followings. Almost a kind of citizen journalism is the way for local journalism to go. I am more worried about regional newspapers ... I think that is a bigger problem but how you resolve that I have no idea. Sometimes things just change and you cannot replicate what happened before. The idea that government should subsidise local journalism fills me with horror because he who pays the piper in the end always calls the tune.
A Halfling has commentary and a lengthier excerpt.

"Envy was once considered to be one of the Seven Deadly Sins..."

"Envy was once considered to be one of the Seven Deadly Sins, before it became one of the most admired under its new name, 'Social Justice'."
~ Thomas Sowell, from his book The Quest for Cosmic Justice


Friday 14 June 2024

"There is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success nor more dangerous to manage than the creation of a new system."

"It must be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success nor more dangerous to manage than the creation of a new system. For the initiator has the enmity of all who profit by the preservation of the old institution and merely the lukewarm defenders in those who could gain in the new one."
~ Niccolo Machiavelli, from his guide to rulers The Prince. Hat tip Briar Lipson from her post on 'Charter school's second chapter'

"Their wealth is not at the expense of others – it is by providing things of value"

"One-hundred years ago almost all the wealthy inherited their wealth. Today most billionaires become one through being entrepreneurs. They create something of value. ...
    "I don’t begrudge [the Mowbray family] that they are worth $20 billion. Their wealth is not at the expense of others – it is by providing things of value.
    "The left parties want to introduce an asset or wealth tax on anyone who gets too successful. Not content with taxing income, they want to redistribute assets also. But what do you think will happen if they ever succeed in NZ? I can tell you what – the Mowbrays will probably relocate somewhere and take all the income tax, company tax etc. they pay with them."
~ David Farrar, from his post 'A Kiwi success story'
UPDATE: Isn't it funny what massive success brings out of the woodwork. David Farrar's praise above for the Mowbray's non-sacrificial entrepreneurial success is in stark contrast to an envy-ridden screed about their success by failed former Labour minister Michael Wood, who skips quickly from suggesting their success shows New Zealand is "a little out of balance" [?] to calling for the government to tax the bastards.

Thomas Cranmer takes the oily former minister to task, making an excellent recommendation to remedy his thinking:
Mr Wood, of course, is a former Labour MP and Cabinet Minister who lost his seat – a relatively safe Labour one at that. Now as a union organiser – what a surprise – he carries on the collectivist messaging that characterises the Left. To understand the fundamental importance of individual effort and, as Ayn Rand put it "to show how desperately the world needs prime movers and how viciously it treats them" and "what happens to the world without them" Mr Wood might like to try reading Atlas Shrugged.
    I applaud the Mowbrays. I admire their initiative. I extol their entrepreneurship. I could not take the business risks that they obviously have to get to the position that they now are in. But that is not common for New Zealand nor is it common for the media to express unqualified praise for those who have done well. There is always a “Good on them, but….” And it is the “but” that evidences the Groupthink of the tall poppy syndrome which is an aspect of New Zealand culture that we could well do without and that Atlas Shrugged condemns.

 Damned right.

Thursday 13 June 2024

Giving it the gas [updated]


NZ Electricity Generation, 8:10am to 11:20am, 13 June 2024.
Source: NZ Interactive Electricity Grid by @morganfrnchstgg

Today's a normal kind of cloudy, breezy winter day around the motu (as they say).

As you were enjoying your breakfast toast and coffee this morning, at today's first peak-power time, the electricity grid was supplied with 82% renewable power. Good stuff, right! 

As you can see above (and I've enlarged it for you just below), the bulk of that renewable power came from hydro — almost two-thirds — with a decent amount (17%) from geothermal. Good stuff. Thank you. But can you see the anaemic offering from the other two renewable contributors, solar and wind? Just 129MW from the country's wind farms — contributing just 2% to your breakfast toaster — and from solar just a risible 1.3MW. Virtually zero percent.

And that's a normal morning.  (As we were reminded by Transpower on May 10th, we're so close to being underpowered here that the gap between peak production and consumption on still, cloudy days is dangerously small.) If we zoom out to see the contribution of New Zealand's largest solar "farm" up in Kaitaia over the last seven days, even it's useful-but-insubstantial peak of 20MW is only achieved momentarily in the middle of the day, offering little help for morning or evening peak.  Sure, more solar "farms" are planned, but they all have that same problem. And they all take time to get going. Lots of time.

But what about wind? Sure, this morning it only gave the grid a measly 2%. But on other mornings (Monday for example, see below) wind "farms" put in around 17% of the power that made your shower hot and your kettle boil.

But — and here's the big but — that wind doesn't blow all the time. If we zoom out again to the last seven days (below) we see that the contribution of New Zealand's largest wind farm, just outside Palmerston North, is literally up and down. from zero to 150MW (and back again, see that drop-off on Monday afternoon) in the time it takes to yell "turn that bloody heater on!"

In fairly simple terms, that's why we need gas. Even when the wind does blow and the sun still shines, it's gas that helps make up that sizeable difference. Just one plant, Todd Generation's Junction Road plant running on Taranaki gas produces almost as much peak power as the windmills do on the Tararuas, and at times that the windmills don't, and can't. It's almost like the two are symbiotic. (Just for fun, compare the two graphs above and below, and with the peak morning and evening times at which we need to cook.

Maybe that's why we say, "now we're cooking with gas!"

Even at Huntly — which uses both gas (light brown below) and Indonesian coal(because we're no longer able to produce our own) — and which  produces up to a massive peak of 850MW, you can see it keeping your kettle on the boil even when the wind isn't blowing.

This is why commentators like Alex Epstein describe unreliable wind and solar as "parasitic" on reliable power. And not cheap. Essentially to rely on wind and solar, we need generators to build enough capacity — in the form of power that's easily turned on and off — so that when wind don't blow and sun don't shine the lights can still be kept on. Which essentially means that the more wind and solar are built, exactly the same capacity of reliable power needs to be built to double that, so it can come on the field as a reserve.

But we can't build dams any more — too expensive, takes too damn long under the RMA, and too many objections. And batteries, while promising, still only contribute a maximum of 13MW here, and take oodles of new mining to produce. (And the more unreliables you have, the more expensive battery power would be necessary, one reason this is still is not being tried anywhere.)

So what does that leave? Answer: gas. If you want your breakfast sausages, you need this place to be be cooking – or at least producing power — with gas.

Sure, good old Chloe Swarbrick told the nation on Monday that Australia does all this with domestic solar panels. She didn't tell you however that the price of power in Australia has gone through the roof those solar panels are on. Or how often Victoria, say, suffers brownouts. Or how small a proportion of the grid those panels produce even at peak time. (All of Australia's solar panels, domestic and commercial, contribute just 12% of the grid's power and, like here, need still non-existent battery power and reliable backup generation of the same capacity when they're not producing.) But in any case, New Zealand is not that sunburnt land — not even as sunburnt as Victoria.. And no amount of solar panels can fill the gap when the sun don't shine.

For that, and for some time to come, we still need gas.

(NB: These graphs come from the really neat interactive electricity grid charts made possible by Morgan French-Stagg. Thank you sir.)

UPDATE: The UK has noticed the results of Jacinda Ardern's 'energy suicide note' of banning gas exploration, and warns its politicians not to contemplate the same there. The Telegraph writes:

[UK Labour leader] Keir Starmer is standing by a pledge to ban new drilling in the North Sea, despite New Zealand abandoning a similar policy amid blackout fears. [UK] Labour’s manifesto, due out on Thursday, will feature a pledge to block all new licensing for oil and gas as one of its key energy policies. It follows last weekend’s announcement that New Zealand’s government was lifting a ban on new oil and gas exploration.
    The ban was announced by former prime minister Jacinda Ardern in 2018. “The world has moved on from fossil fuels,” Ardern proclaimed at the time. New Zealand’s trailblazing policy, which was the first of its kind, became a key inspiration for [the UK] Labour Party’s own plan. However, some in the party are now questioning the commitment after New Zealand resources minister Shane Jones last weekend denounced its own ban as a disaster – and revoked it. It followed three years of rising energy prices that have left 110,000 households unable to warm their homes, 19pc of households struggling with bills and 40,000 of them having their power cut off due to unpaid bills, according to Consumer NZ.
    Since April the situation has further deteriorated: Transpower, the equivalent of our National Grid, warned that the nation was at high risk of blackouts. New Zealand’s shift to renewables meant it no longer had the generating power to keep the lights on during the cold spells that mark the Antipodean winter, said Transpower, as it begged consumers to cut their electricity consumption.
    The threat to New Zealand’s energy security comes despite the fact that geologists have discovered billions of cubic metres of natural gas in the seabeds around the country.
    Sean Rush, a leading New Zealand barrister specialising in petroleum licensing law and climate litigation, called the oil and gas ban “economic vandalism at its worst in exchange for virtue signalling at its finest”.... [Shane] Jones said last week: “Natural gas is critical to keeping our lights on and our economy running, especially during peak electricity demand and when generation dips because of more intermittent sources like wind, solar and hydro.” ...
Jenny Stanning, director of external affairs at OEUK, says exploration is essential to simply slowing the decline in output. “The New Zealand experience shows how important it is for countries to carefully manage energy transition and energy security. We will need oil and gas for decades to come so it makes sense to back our own industry rather than ramping up imports from abroad.” ... Russell Borthwick, chief executive of Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce – the region that lies at the heart of the UK offshore industry – says the UK needs a managed and nuanced transition to low carbon energy. ... New Zealand’s experience suggests much of the UK industry would not survive a ban on new drilling.
    “Back in 2018, at the time of the ban, there were 20 international and five local companies engaged in exploration and production in New Zealand,” says John Carnegie, chief executive of Energy Resources Aotearoa, the local industry trade body. “Since then, exploration has fallen dramatically. We only have nine remaining investors, seven international and two local. The rest have left.” ...

Robin Allan, chairman of Brindex, which represents the UK’s independent offshore companies, says: “New Zealand’s ban was a politically motivated decision which ignored data on oil and gas demand, the advantages of domestic production and a realistic pace of decarbonisation. The [UK] Labour Party should see what is happening in front of their eyes in another island nation which has already implemented a poorly reasoned policy – and think again.” [Hat tip Ele Ludemann]

"Increased opposition to vaccines is a partial measure of how high a percentage this is."

"I’m going to have to write something in the near future about the big paradox of the pandemic years, which is that we produced a vaccine in record time that saved many millions of lives—the biggest demonstration in decades of the value of vaccines. Yet the result is that anti-vaccine sentiment has increased.
    "I think it’s a combination of three things. First, we are more culturally primed for anti-technology sentiment than we were when the polio vaccine was introduced in the 1950s. Second, thanks to vaccines, we are more culturally removed from the point at which infectious disease was a leading cause of death and a threat that continually loomed over human life, so we no longer appreciate what vaccines have saved us from. Third, a long period between major pandemics meant that nobody had to think about vaccines. They accepted them as a matter of course. But the pandemic suddenly required people to form an opinion about a new vaccine, and when people are required to think, a certain percentage of them will quite frankly be bad at it. Increased opposition to vaccines is a partial measure of how high a percentage this is.
    "At any rate, misplaced skepticism about vaccines has centred especially around the new technology of mRNA vaccines. But again, the paradox is that this targets a new technology that works. Specifically, mRNA vaccines offer tremendous speed and flexibility in creating new vaccines that shows enormous promise for treating things that could never be treated before.
    "In this case, it’s a vaccine for brain cancer...."
~ Robert Tracinski, from his post 'A Roundup of Good News: The Paradox of mRNA'

Wednesday 12 June 2024

Thieving scum


Twenty-three parasites. (Back pockets not pictured.) [PIC: Dom Post]

Go on, when you read the headline you already had a fair idea about whom this would be.

Yes, readers: politicians.

A person with a smile painted on at the front and a bulging back pocket in behind.

Thieving scum.

A fair proportion of whom are taking your money to stay in their own Wellington home:

DOM POST: Twenty-three MPs are claiming an allowance [sic] of between $34,000 and $52,000 [per annum] to stay in their own Wellington homes, a perk that sees the taxpayer help politicians pay off their mortgages.

Nice. I'm sure to most of these entities that kind of money is the sort of chump change that fills up the back of the couch; but there's many a taxpayer who would that like that kind of money back to pay their own goddamned mortgage. 

Dom Post reports the scum includes "six National Party ministers, the Speaker Gerry Brownlee and deputy speaker Barbara Kuriger [who] claim the capped allowance to [supposedly] cover living costs in the city," poor lambs. "They then use it," says the Dom Post, "to pay rent on property they already own. Seven Labour MPs and two from ACT are also receiving up to $34,000 a year, the maximum paid to backbenchers." 

Yes folks, the entitle-itis is parliament-wide. The Dom Post names the roll call of thieving scum to be these:

Simon Court
Todd Stephenson
Mark Mitchell
Melissa Lee
Louise Upston
Stuart Smith
Barbara Kuriger
David MacLeod
Tim Costley
Paul Goldsmith
Judith Collins
Catherine Wedd
Andrew Bayley
Vanessa Weenink
Paul Garcia
Gerry Brownlee
Keiran McAnulty
Willie Jackson
Duncan Webb
Arena Williams
Jan Tinetti
Jenny Salesa
Deborah Russell
As the Post wryly notes, "Many of these MPs have extensive property portfolios."

Some of these parasites have form already, claiming large "expenses" and the accommodation allowance, including ACT's big-spending Todd Stephenson and National's Judith Collins and Louise Upston; and Labour's Willy Jackson, Jan Tinetti, Deborah Russell, Jenny Salesa, Arena Williams and Duncan Webb are all there again, treating the taxpayer as an ATM machine. (This attitude is truly everywhere, isn't it.)



Tuesday 11 June 2024

Te Pāti Māori's electioneering shenanigans at Manurewa Marae are small beer


Te Pāti Māori's electioneering shenanigans at Manurewa Marae are small beer compared to their pāti president's  financial shenanigans at the Waipareira Trust, which looks increasingly like he regards it as his personal and pāti ATM.

That's where the real enquiry needs to be focussed — on the slush fund known as Whanau Ora. And the deals done by several parties to create it. 

It was predictable. When there's this much money and power sloshing around unaccountably, there's always someone who will make it his job to take advantage ...


"If stimulus and bailouts are welfare for bankers-who’ve-failed, and Kiwisaver is welfare for suits-with-nothing-in-them, then surely the new politically-correct Whānau Ora scheme is just welfare for 'welfare providers,' isn’t it? Welfare that is primarily to keep the likes of John Tamihere and Rongo Wetere in the manner to which they’ve become accustomed. Welfare for a Browntable of well-heeled ambulance chasers. Welfare that will end up costing us all more in the long run than the current welfare bill."
'Welfare for Everyone' - NOT PC, April, 2010


"Whanau Ora is ... simply welfare for separatist welfare providers.
    "In short, a scam.
    "That much is fairly clear even from the Auditor General’s findings on funding, to whit: 'During the first four years, total spending on Whānau Ora was $137.6 million…. Nearly a third of the total spending was on administration…' 
    "You see? A very well-paying scam …  if you’re inside that tent clipping the ticket.
    "What Whanau Ora is primarily, is welfare for separatist welfare providers....
    "So what has the scam achieved?
    "It has achieved a great deal indeed … for all those inside the tent.
    "What it achieved for the Maori Party was to buy them the backing of welfare providers – and as you can see I mean 'buy' in the very literal sense. Sure, it’s been hard to keep the backers inside the tent as bigger game seemed to appear elsewhere, but for a while at least it bought support for the new party.
    "And what it achieved for the Key Government was to buy the backing of the Maori Party – 'buy' here being used in the very political sense of buying the Maori Party’s votes, with which it was able to stay in power.  
    "So quite a great deal indeed was achieved, if you’re one of the ones in power." 

'The Whānau Ora Scam' - NOT PC, May 2015


How the Enlightenment solved all of our problems

I love it when historical/philosophical eras are trending.  

Fortuitously, philosopher Stephen Hicks (author of the essential text Explaining Postmodernism) has posted this chart, conveniently summarising 'how the Enlightenment solved all of our problems.'

For reference, for the easily confused, the items in the third column are the desirable ones ...

NB: Check out all of Hicks's posts and lectures on the Enlightenment here.

Monday 10 June 2024

Reason v Force


“If men uphold reason, they will be led, ultimately, to conclude that men should deal with one another as free agents, settling their disputes by an appeal to the mind, i.e., by a process of voluntary, rational persuasion. If men reject reason, they will be led, ultimately, to conclude the opposite: that men have no way to deal with one another at all—no way except physical force, wielded by an elite endowed with an allegedly superior, mystic means of cognition.”
~ philosopher Leonard Peikoff from his book The Ominous Parallels


Sunday 9 June 2024

"You don’t see advocates of reason and science clogging a street in the belief that using their bodies to stop traffic, will solve any problem."

"The common denominator of all such gangs is the belief in motion (mass demonstrations), not action—in chanting, not arguing—in demanding, not achieving—in feeling, not thinking—in denouncing 'outsiders,' not in pursuing values ... in seeking to return to 'nature,' to 'the earth,' to the mud, to physical labour, i.e., to all the things which a perceptual mentality is able to handle. You don’t see advocates of reason and science clogging a street in the belief that using their bodies to stop traffic, will solve any problem."
~ Ayn Rand, from her article 'The Missing Link'

Saturday 8 June 2024

"To repeat, inflation is a purely monetary phenomenon."

"Unfortunately, the entire edifice of the government’s theories [on the causes of inflation] — the assumption of discretionary power, the administered-price theory, the wage-price spiral, the exogenous shocks, the self-sustaining expectations, the idea of 'cost-push' — all of it is the rankest nonsense as an explanation of inflation....

"Inflation occurs, by definition, when the economy’s aggregate volume of money expenditure grows faster than its aggregate real output. The excessive growth of money expenditures can have, again by definition, only two sources: either the velocity of monetary circulation grows excessively or the money stock itself grows excessively (or both). Our current inflation is attributable almost entirely to excessive growth of the money stock.
    "Because the excessive growth of the money stock and the inflation it causes do not happen simultaneously, some people always fail to perceive the relationship. Increases in the money stock take some time before their effect on the volume of expenditure becomes significant. But once the actual lag is recognised, the relationship is seen to be very close....
    "In short, inflation is not caused by cost-pushes, wage-price spirals, depreciation of the dollar on foreign exchange markets, regulatory constraints, minimum wage laws, or lagging productivity growth. Inflation is a purely monetary phenomenon: when the purchasing power of the dollar falls steadily and persistently over many years, it is because dollars have steadily and persistently become more abundant in relation to the total quantity of real goods and services for which they exchange. Inflation, in sum, is caused by excessive growth of the money stock. Period.

"As the [central bank] authorities can control the rate of growth of the money stock, they clearly are to blame for its excessive expansion....
    "[Government] deficits, in the absence of excessive monetary expansion, can not cause inflation. Clearly, the deficits, working through the political process as it influences the [central bank], encourage a loose monetary policy. But it is essential to recognise that it is the excessive growth of the money supply, whether to finance deficits or for some other reason, that causes inflation. Conversely, with a sufficiently slow growth of the money stock, there can be no inflation, no matter what is happening to the [government] budget, labour costs, regulatory standards, minimum wages, and so forth. To repeat, inflation is a purely monetary phenomenon.

"It hardly needs to be added that once excessive monetary expansion has been halted, inflation cannot be kept alive merely by expectations of inflation. People will find that, in the absence of continuing monetary stimulation of aggregate expenditures, the inflation they expected just doesn’t happen. If they are obstinate and continue to act as if inflation is not abating, they will simply price themselves out of their markets in the same manner as the conspiring firm in the example above. It is far more likely, however, that they will adjust their expectations as the rate of inflation falls.
"Expectations cannot sustain an inflationary process unless they are validated by the actual course of inflation; and that validation can occur only so long as the growth of the money stock remains excessive."

~ Robert Higgs, from his article 'Blaming the Victims: The Government’s Theory of Inflation'

Friday 7 June 2024

The Martyrdom of Jimmy Lai [updated]

Jimmy Lai, Hong Kong's greatest freedom advocate is the political hero whose plight you didn't know about. As Jon Miltmore explains in this Guest Post, in his quest to save Hong Kong’s rapidly fading freedom, Jimmy Lai has sacrificed his own. The entrepreneur and media mogul currently sits in a Chinese prison, charged with “conspiracy to collude with foreign forces” and “conspiracy to publish seditious publications.”

Jimmy Lai addresses the camera in a still from the documentary: “Anything I have is this place.” 2023.

The Martyrdom of Jimmy Lai

by Jon Miltimore

When Jimmy Lai was a child working the streets of Canton (Guangzhou), China, in the 1950s, he received a bar of chocolate as a tip for carrying a man’s bags at a train station.

Poor and hungry, he immediately bit into the treat. He had never tasted anything like it, and he asked the traveller where he was from.

“Hong Kong,” the man replied.

Lai had never heard of Hong Kong, but he knew it was a place he wanted to be. So a few years later, at age 12, he stowed away on a fishing vessel and escaped mainland China for Hong Kong.

Lai immediately realised there was something different about the territory. He had never seen so much food or wealth before, and he quickly found work at a factory. Over several years, he worked, saved, and invested, and eventually as a young man Lai scraped up enough money to purchase a bankrupt clothing company and started manufacturing sweaters.

Lai’s entrepreneurship paid off. He prospered and diversified. He bought properties in Canada, and in the early 1980s launched the popular clothing brand Giordano (a name he picked up from a napkin from a New York City pizza joint). He later started newspapers, including the popular Next Magazine, which he founded in 1990, and the Apple Daily, which for years was the only pro-democracy daily newspaper printed in Chinese.

By 2008, Lai had become a billionaire and was on Forbes’s list of the wealthiest entrepreneurs. But at some point in his rags-to-riches story, Lai realised that wealth was not his ultimate goal.

Preserving the freedom of Hong Kong had become his life’s mission. “Without freedom, we have nothing,” Lai has often said.

In his quest to save Hong Kong’s rapidly fading freedom, however, Lai has sacrificed his own. The entrepreneur and media mogul currently sits in a Chinese prison, charged with “conspiracy to collude with foreign forces” and “conspiracy to publish seditious publications.”

Lai’s story was the subject of a 2023 documentary produced by the Acton Institute. How it will end remains unclear.

A Brief History of Hong Kong

To understand the political persecution of Jimmy Lai, one must first understand the history of Hong Kong.

In 1898, following years of colonial rule under the British Empire that began after the First Opium War (1839–1842), China leased Hong Kong to Great Britain for 99 years. For the next century, the small peninsula and islands that jutted into the South China Sea operated under British rule.

This changed in 1997, when the United Kingdom’s claim on the territory came to an end. But during its 156 years under British rule, Hong Kong developed a distinctly Western character. Property rights, free speech, and free markets helped turn Hong Kong into one of the most prosperous places on earth, a land far wealthier than neighbouring Communist China.

“In 1987, Hong Kong…had a per capita income of $8,260,” author Robert A. Peterson observed prior to the handover. “Just a few miles away, across the Sham Chun River — in Communist China — people of the same racial stock, living in the same subtropical climate on shores washed by the same South China Sea, were able to produce a per capita income of only $300.”

As Jimmy Lai would say, the British didn’t give Hong Kong democracy. But they did give Hong Kongers valuable institutions of freedom: free markets, the rule of law, free speech, and other human rights. And much like West Germany became a destination for immigrants seeking to flee the yoke of socialism following World War II, Hong Kong became a destination for Chinese immigrants following Mao’s takeover of China in 1949.

From Freedom to Authoritarianism

Because of how diametrically different these two systems were, there was always some uncertainty about what would happen to Hong Kong when the British handed it back over to China. Technically, the agreement made Hong Kong a special administrative region (SAR) of China, which came with certain guarantees, including a democratically-elected legislative system, constitutional rights, and the promise of Hong Kong autonomy for the next 50 years.

The idea was “One country, two systems,” a concept that stretched back to the 1980s, that granted Hong Kong would its own economic and administrative system separate from Communist China. But even as the ink on the handover agreement dried, China began to encroach on Hong Kong’s autonomy. And in 2012, following the rise of Xi Jinping, Communist officials began to secretly circulate a policy known as Document No. 9 (the Communiqué on the Current State of the Ideological Sphere), which said the Chinese government must wage war against “Western values,” including free speech, media freedom, and judicial independence.

This did not bode well for Hong Kongers.

“Hong Kong’s bad luck was that it exemplifies all those Western values in a Chinese form,” said Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong.

As if to demonstrate its commitment to this war on “Western values,” the government in Beijing soon arrested Gao Yu, a female journalist who was accused of publishing Document No. 9. She was found guilty in a secret trial and sentenced to seven years in prison for “leaking state secrets” to a Hong Kong media organization.

The crackdown on freedom in Hong Kong continued, eventually prompting the Umbrella Protests of 2014. Further protests in 2019–2020 were sparked by a bill that would allow Beijing to extradite to mainland China Hong Kongers accused of crimes.

The state’s violent crackdown on the 2019 protests garnered international attention and spawned the National Security Law that criminalized what the Chinese government defined as secession, subversion, and collusion. This included “subversive” messages suggesting that Hong Kong is a separate system from China that should be ruled democratically.

“The law was really about ensuring Beijing’s authority over Hong Kong and making sure it wasn’t subject to the same threats it was during the 2019 protests,” Michael Cunningham, a Research Fellow in the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center who lived in mainland China when the 2019 protests erupted, told me.

‘Hong Kong Is Dying’

As Hong Kong slipped slowly into authoritarianism, Jimmy Lai did something extraordinary: he continued to resist Beijing.

Wealthy and politically connected, Lai could have continued to speak out against Communist tyranny from London or New York or some other city with strong free speech protections. But he refused to abandon his fellow Hong Kongers, and remained committed to peaceful resistance.

“If we use violence, we’ll lose the moral authority we have,” Lai said.

While many Hong Kongers were scrubbing their online profiles of pro-democracy sentiments, Lai and journalists at the Chinese-language Apple Daily continued to publish and speak out against the Chinese government’s encroachments.

“He did all this knowing he was in the crosshairs,” said Cunningham.

Amid the global chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chinese Communist Party saw its opportunity to take down the face of Hong Kong’s freedom movement.

On August 10, 2020, Hong Kong Police raided the headquarters of the Apple Daily. Some 200 officers wearing masks searched the offices of the popular pro-democracy tabloid, collecting journalists’ documents, and arresting several people, including Lai.

Lai, whose arrest was live-streamed, was frog-marched out of the office by police in plain clothes. He was charged with colluding with a foreign country and then released on bail. Several months later, he was arrested again.

Even with Lai behind bars, the Apple Daily continued to print, and the newspapers flew off newsstands. In response, Beijing seized the newspaper’s funds (and Lai’s), and on June 23, 2021, the Apple Dailyprinted its last newspaper.

There’s no question that Lai’s imprisonment and the collapse of a free press in Hong Kong mark a turning point in a territory once noteworthy for its prosperity and commitment to classical liberalism.

“It feels like Hong Kong is dying,” one anonymous Hong Kong resident says in the documentary.

To make matters worse, many of the leaders who might help lead resistance against Beijing have fled, since they are now targets of the state.

“I was wanted by the Hong Kong court for joining the June 4 candlelight vigil,” said Sunny Cheung, a Hong Kong activist now in exile.

Cheung has no intention of returning. If found guilty, he would face a maximum sentence of life in prison for attending that vigil.

“This isn’t a legal system in any sense that we understand,” said David Alton, a member of the British House of Lords and human rights advocate, “because it’s a foregone conclusion you’re going to be convicted.”

‘The Rest of His Life in Prison’?

Jimmy Lai’s future is unknown.

The 76-year-old freedom fighter remains in solitary confinement in a Chinese prison after receiving a nearly 6-year sentence in December 2022 on various charges. But he is still awaiting trial on charges related to China’s National Security Law, and a Hong Kong appellate court recently upheld a ban that prevents his British counsel from participating in the trial.

As I watched the Acton Institute’s incredible documentary on Lai — first once and then a second time — I felt a wave of emotions. And the same thought kept hitting me. How hadn’t I heard about this before?

Lai’s life and dedication to freedom is one of the most powerful stories I’ve watched in years, yet somehow it was a story I knew nothing about. The lack of international outcry over Lai’s political persecution is something I can’t get my mind around, and I’m not the only one. Many of Lai’s supporters expressed similar sentiments.

“Why haven’t the United Kingdom and the United States tabled resolutions in the United Nations?” asked Alton.

George Weigel, a senior fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, was also perplexed.

“It’s a great puzzle to me why the Vatican [for example], which is constantly emphasising the rule of law in international affairs, is not more vocally concerned,” said Weigel.

The lack of attention Lai’s imprisonment is receiving is troubling. Lai’s words make it clear that he is risking his life to save Hong Kong based at least in part on his belief that others care as much about liberty as he does, and they would be spurred to action by his persecution.

“[Hong Kong] gave me freedom. I owe freedom my life,” says Lai. “The more pressure I have, the greater the voice I should have so the world will pay notice.”

Lai has done his part. After suffering years of intimidation, state spies, and attacks that included a Molotov cocktail thrown at his home, he is currently a political prisoner in a Chinese cell. But the world is not doing its part. We are not doing our part.

No groundswell movement demanding freedom for Jimmy has managed to take hold. No social media campaign has gone viral. As someone who follows the news and works for an organisation dedicated to economic freedom, I feel embarrassed and convicted that I knew so little of Lai, who in 2021 received the Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom from the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.

Cunningham told me that Lai’s imprisonment is receiving more international attention than it is in the US, but there are some doubts about what exactly the international community can do regarding China’s Lai’s imprisonment and encroachment on the rule of law in Hong Kong.

“They need to be held to account for violating the British sign-over agreement,” he said.

Whatever political leverage or groundswell movement that can bemustered to influence China must be found quickly. If not, Jimmy Lai could end up paying the ultimate price for the West’s ambivalence.

“He may very well spend the rest of his life in prison,” says Benedict Rogers, the founder of Hong Kong Watch.

‘The Book Changed My Life’

Anyone who watches the documentary on Lai’s life is likely to find himself asking a question: Would I have the courage to do what Jimmy Lai is doing?

The answer is likely no, if we’re being honest. This is not so much an indictment of our own courage, but the recognition that the world is witnessing martyr-like bravery from Lai, who became a Christian in 1997.

The Bible was not the only book that shaped Lai, however. He credits another: F. A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom.

“The book changed my life,” Lai says of the Nobel Prize-winning author’s magnum opus.

This should perhaps come as no surprise. In a sense, Lai didn’t just read The Road to Serfdom. He lived it.

As a child, Lai saw the poverty and cruelty of the Communist system that took everything from his once-wealthy father after Mao claimed power in October 1949. Lai was able to flee that system and prosper in a free-market economy, only to watch, in a cruel twist, the CCP usher in its policies of serfdom into his adopted land.

This, I think, is what fortified Lai with such rare courage. He isn’t just fighting for freedom in an abstract sense. He’s fighting for freedom in the most practical of senses, the freedom that allows a poor child in China to reach a nearby land of opportunity — just like Lai did when he escaped to Hong Kong aboard a fishing boat after tasting a bar of chocolate.

“By saving Hong Kong, you are saving the value of the free world,” Lai says.

Lai doesn’t just believe these words are true. He knows them to be true. This is why he’s risking his life for freedom. And his remarkable life shows that heroes still walk among us.

The world right now isn’t paying attention to his sacrifice. But I believe it will. And CCP officials who think they can lock Jimmy Lai up and throw away the key would do well to remember a bit of wisdom the Apple Daily shared in its final printing:

“When an apple is buried beneath the soil, its seeds will 
become a tree filled with bigger and more beautiful apples.”

* * * * * 

Jonathan Miltimore is the Managing Editor of and a Senior Writer at the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER). 
His writing/reporting has been the subject of articles in TIME magazine, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, Forbes, Fox News, and the Star Tribune.
His article first appeared at the AIER blog.

UPDATE: For updates on Jimmy Lai's plight you can follow the Support Jimmy Lai website and the Support Jimmy Lai #FreeJimmyLai account on Twitter, run by his son Sebastian, who has not seen his father for over 3 years. Asked by interviewer Christian Amanpour  Sebastien Lai , 
what he would say if he could see him tomorrow, Sebastien replies: "That I'm immensely proud of him." 

Thursday 6 June 2024

"Never argue with stupid people..."

"Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience."
~ old Proverb (often attrib. Mark Twain)


Wednesday 5 June 2024

NZ housing still severely unaffordable

Demographia's annual study on housing affordability around the world has just been released for 2024.

The good news is that Auckland has become marginally more affordable. 


The bad news is that still doesn't mean it's anywhere near affordable. And one major reason for that good news has been in abeyance since the last election campaign.

A city's Affordability Index is generally measured as the city's median house price divided by its median annual salary.  Increased densification allowed under the new Unitary Plan and then the Labour-National bipartisan agreement on house-building (essentially  relaxing rules to allow 3 story 3-unit developments "as of right"), allowed a brief period in which more building was allowed to be done, and was. The effect was to reduce Auckland's Index Number from the severely affordable  8.6 (i..e, median house price was 8.6 times median annual salary) to the still frightening 8.3 (the number should be much closer to 3.0).

That puts Auckland squarely in the top rank of the world's unaffordable cities, edging out more affordable cities such as Miami and Greater London (8.1), New York, NY-NJ-PA (7.0), and Brisbane and Perth (8.1, 6.8).

The graph showing building consents up to mid-2022 tells the increased-supply part of the good story. Research reinforces it: "Five years after zoning regulations were relaxed across more than three-quarters of Auckland, Dr Greenaway-McGrevy's research has found the changes have resulted in more than 20,000 additional homes across the city."

The even more bad news however is that building has almost slowed to a halt since National backtracked on that bipartisan agreement — "figures from Statistics NZ show building consents were issued for 2931 new dwellings throughout the country in March. That's down 26.2% compared to the 3971 consents issued in March last year." In Auckland, the number of consents issued dropped by 30.6%! Housing researcher Dr Greenaway-McGrevy now says "any future benefit from the up-zoning change now had a 'question mark over it'."

You can blame the big mouth of Christopher Luxon and his housing minister for much of that.

"Our entire system of government lives on the basis of a dying industry."

"Our entire system of government lives on the basis of a dying industry. A system of representative government depends on an informed citizenry, and this in turn depends on institutions that bring them reliable information. When those institutions collapse and radically shrink, we can’t expect our system of government to just go on functioning, and this is behind some of the current dysfunction you see in our system....
    "You can say that the old 'mainstream media' was biased and deserves whatever happens to it. I wouldn’t, because for all its bias, I have always depended on the real reporting that is done by that media. The world is a big place, and a lot of things are happening in it. We need large institutions capable of reliably gathering and disseminating that information.
    "Moreover, the factors causing the collapse of the news media had nothing to do with its bias ... and they are making partisan bias worse. ...
    "People are increasingly getting their news from social media platforms such as Facebook or the platform formerly known as Twitter. But social media tends to be segmented by preexisting partisan loyalties; the algorithms feed us what fits our biases. Social media also tends to be dominated by political obsessives and fanatics, who post far more content than regular people.
    "So instead of news presented in a balanced way to a wide audience, social media feeds us whatever entrenches and exaggerates our existing loyalties....
    "...[T]his has been one of the big disappointments of the past few decades... Criticising 'the media' was a large and lively genre on the right, to which I have made my own contributions over the years. But when the right got the chance to build its own media institutions, it started out proclaiming itself 'fair and balanced' and ended up building a system of crude partisan propaganda. ... The complaint [from the right] that the mainstream media is biased turned out just to be a complaint that it’s not biased towards [their team]."

Tuesday 4 June 2024

Sowell on "income distribution"

Income 'distribution': "The cold fact is most income is not distributed. It is earned.”
~ Thomas Sowell, from his book Wealth, Poverty & Politics


Friday 31 May 2024

Budget 2024: The Mother of All Disappointments

"'Nicola Willis’s first Budget is the 'The Mother of All Disappointments',' says the Taxpayers’ Union, failing all three tests the National Party were elected to deliver on: 
  • The tax reductions amount to just half the costs to the average worker of 14 years of inflation pushing them into higher marginal tax brackets. Instead of delivering the required $49 per week for the average earner, Willis has delivered just half – at $24.89 for the average worker on $66,196 a year. This amounts to a reversal of just the last three years of fiscal drag. 
  • Reducing the size of Government back to pre-Covid levels after an 84 percent increase in spending and hiring an extra 18,000 bureaucrats. 
  • Instead of cutting spending, Budget 2024 spends $12.7 billion more than Grant Robertson’s largesse last year. 
"Nicola Willis has totally failed to balance books with the date for surplus pushed back a year. This is a breach of the first 'fiscal principle' listed in National’s pre-election Fiscal Plan. The deficit for the year ahead is even larger than the current year. Instead of stopping the Debt Clock, Nicola Willis is making it tick faster, and for longer. 
    "Taxpayers’ Union Executive Director, Jordan Williams, said: 'The Budget delivered by Nicola Willis today is The Mother of All Disappointments.' Each of the three coalition partners were elected to cut wasteful government spending. While there’s a little reprioritisation, this Budget spends more than Grant Robertson ever did. 
    “'Both Nicola Willis and Christopher Luxon have repeatedly made the point that personal income tax brackets have not been adjusted for inflation since 2010. But rather than deliver the $49 a week less tax to put this right, the Government has opted for just half that, and unwound just three years’ worth of inflation pushing workers into higher tax brackets. That isn’t tax relief, it’s shortchanging Kiwis who are continuing to do it tough. 
    “'Nicola Willis can only reduce tax by a tiny amount as she won’t take the steps needed to right-size the Public Service. Even by 2038, Nicola Willis will have higher Government spending as a share of our economy than Grant Robertson proposed in his 2019 Wellbeing Budget lolly scramble. 
    “If Nicola Willis is a fiscal conservative, she’s certainly not showing it – in fact, this Budget will be known for effectively ‘locking-in’ the new super-sized state created by Ardern and Robertson. 
    “All in all, this Budget means New Zealand goes further into the red. Debt servicing costs for the coming year will be $9.2 billion. That’s the same as we are forecast to spend on primary schools, secondary schools, and justice combined. This level of ongoing borrowing simply means we will be paying higher taxes for years to come.”

Thursday 30 May 2024

“From ignorance of these truths of political economy arise many of the worst social evils … “


There can be no doubt that it is most desirable to disseminate knowledge of the truths of political economy through all classes of the population by any means which may be available. From ignorance of these truths arise many of the worst social evils — disastrous strikes and lockouts, opposition to improvements, improvidence, misguided charity, and discouraging failure in many well-intentioned measures.”

~ William Stanley Jevons, from his 1880 book Political Economy

Wednesday 29 May 2024

REMINDER: The Four Ways to Spend Money

There are four ways you can spend money:
1) “You can spend your own money on yourself. When you do that, you really watch out what you’re doing, and you try to get the most for your money.” (This is the way middle-aged men haggle with Porsche dealers.)

2) “Then you can spend your own money on somebody else. For example, I buy a birthday present for someone. Well, then I’m not so careful about the content of the present, but I’m very careful about the cost.” (This is why children get underwear at Christmas.)

3) “Then, I can spend somebody else’s money on myself. And if I spend somebody else’s money on myself, then I’m sure going to have a good lunch!” (The second wives who ride around with the middle-aged men in the Porsches do this kind of spending at Gucci and Louis Vuitton stores.)

4) “Finally, I can spend somebody else’s money on somebody else. And if I spend somebody else’s money on somebody else, I’m not concerned about how much it is, and I’m not concerned about what I get. And that’s government. And that’s close to 40 percent of our national income.”
    ~ Milton Friedman (as expanded upon by PJ O'Rourke)

Tuesday 28 May 2024

Paying back heartland rugby for making 'Big Rugby' possible.

Yet again, NZ rugby is finding ways to shoot itself in the foot.

To fix the multiple and growing problems it has made for itself —  increasing fan disconnection with the game; decreasing interest in "franchise rugby"; the disconnections between the amateur and professional games; the withering of heartland rugby and the slow death of the NPC and provincial rugby —different groups are arguing over different ways to rearrange the deck chairs in the back office, which is going to change very little of what's been happening out front.

Here's an idea. A simple one. A simple idea to directly and organically link the money-making areas of the game with the grassroots, and to reward the makers of the homegrown player: How about when a player "goes to the show," those who helped make that player successful are rewarded. 

That is to say (based on the current set-up), if a player is selected from his/her club to go to provincial level, money is directed back to the club, perhaps in proportion to the player's playing fee. They're rewarded for growing and nurturing that talent. And even though they lose the player for some of the season, the club and its coaches and support folk will still see reward for their effort. And will be motivated to do more in future.

Take that principle to the next level.

Let's say a player is then selected for higher honours, even to a Super "franchise" to which the club is not linked. Then a portion of that higher fee will then be directed down to the province, and also down to their club. Once again, everyone who played a part in growing and nurturing that player is rewarded, and all of them retain on ongoing interest in their success, even if (as happens too often now) they never see the player again except on the telly.

But see them on the telly now and club/province/region is just as happy, 'cos they know they're going to be rewarded for the player's success. Everybody's smiling.

The same principle would apply to national honours, and even to a player's Japanese or Euro sabbatical. In the professional era, that means a professional payment. And a portion of that too should head back to the heartland, keeping the whole rugby community tied together, instead of squabbling over the doling out of ever-decreasing spoils. 

There are about 280 full-time players across the men’s and women’s games in New Zealand, and more overseas - not to mention the many receiving payments of some kind. Imagine of some portion from all of them were directed back very visibly to those who helped make their success possible.

So instead of withering away as the higher levels of rugby grow fat, as they are now, heartland rugby instead gets a chance to grow fat with them, most especially the clubs, coaches and provinces who are most successful at selecting, nurturing and producing the best talent.

The system used to work in Australian football until the marketing bunnies took over there too. It can work just as well here.

I'm not simply saying "go back go the good old days," but there were things that worked then that can still be encouraged to work now — most particularly the strong links between clubs and the upper levels, with fans showing loyalty to their regional reps because they'd been elevated from their own clubs, and the players themselves retaining that connection — club first — coming back and playing and supporting and helping out around the club.  Not as a matter of charity, but because that's just what you did. Just like the famous ethic of "cleaning the sheds."

Fan loyalty is key, 'cos in the end that's where the money comes from (either from fans themselves, or from sponsors who want to be in front of fans' eyes). And also key is to keep directing large amounts of that money back into producing the players who make the game possible, especially to the clubs who make it all possible.

So clubs are still the place where it needs to all happen. At the moment when players arrive at the big time it's like they've landed from the moon. Clubs lose their players and live off crumbs while administrators ignore them, and commentators rarely talk about them. Change the way that money flows, however, and commentators might start talking up the players' clubs, provinces and their previous coaches and mentors, and all of them might receive both more respect and a regular payday. 

This would be a way to begin paying back those in heartland rugby who make Big Rugby possible.