Friday 1 March 2024

RE-POST: “Sprawl” versus “intensification”

It's been nearly twelve years since I first posted this piece, and sadly the question of "sprawl" versus "intensification" is still bloody topical. The most high-profile pillock promoting "out not up" is Chris Bloody Bishop, the housing minister, talking up the benefits of "greenfield" development over intensification.  The latest high-profile pillock to promote building "up not out" is Ockham's Mark Todd, talking up Ockham's book of highly-marketed apartment building (and blithely unaware that increasing supply anywhere lowers prices everywhere).  Like the little Mexican girl in the ad I ask, yet again, why not both?

The debate over affordable housing is already being framed as a facile debate between “sprawl” and “intensification”—a debate between those who wish to release (just a little) the planners’ ring-fences around NZ’s major cities to allow new homes on “greenfield” sections, versus those who insist we build with more intensity within the ring fence on so called “brownfield” sites.

The latter group characterise the former as being in favour of “sprawl”; the former characterise the latter as promoting the construction of the slums of tomorrow. 

Both are right, and both are wrong.

What’s missing here is choice.  In talking about about development on either “greenfield” or “brownfield” sites, both advocates insist that folk do things their way. They completely ignore the fact that people have the right to choose where and how they live, particularly if they own the place on which they choose to settle down.

Let people live where they wish to, as long as they bear the costs. And let those choices themselves—choices based on people’s own values for which they are prepared to pay the cost—organically reflect the way the city develops.

Ironically, it’s the very promoters of intensification, the planners themselves, who have done the most to make decent intensification more difficult.  Here are just some examples of a few urban housing types that are enormously popular overseas, but could barely be even contemplated here…...

  • Linked home units (e.g. 'sausage' blocks) 
  • Semi-detached housing units 
  • Four-storey walk-up apartments 
  • Multi-storey apartments with elevators 
  • Community housing, with shared courtyards, shared kitchen areas and the like 
  • Two, three, and four-storey terrace housing 
  • Courtyard housing, and courtyard clusters 
  • Mews housing 
  • Mixed-use four storey walk-ups 
  • innovative medium-density housing (such as Rotterdam's 'pole houses,' Frank Lloyd Wright's Suntop Homesand Crystal Heights apartments, San Francisco's Fulton Grove 'alley housing,' and Moshe Safdie's Habitat
  • Single family home on an eighth-of-an-acre section 

These are only some of the many, many housing types possible that may grace a city (some pictured below), and that’s not to mention some of the other innovative types that might be dreamed up (like Moshe Safdie’s ‘Habitat’ project at left, or Rotterdam’s ‘pole houses.’) 

Now, with all these types of urban housing available, most of them enormously popular overseas (and some of them once very popular here), ask yourself how many of them a land-owner would be allowed to build on his typical bit of land in a typical NZ city...

If you guessed "not many," you'd be dead right.

The answer (with rare exceptions) is that for most bits of land in most NZ suburbs, all of the housing types listed above that make the least use of scarce urban land are allowed, and all those that help increase the number of housing units that can comfortably work in a city -- and that are enormously popular overseas -- almost all of these urban housing types are disallowed.

Is this smart, do you think? People who complain about the number of single family homes that are built on eighth-of-an-acre sections right across NZ cities (which is mostly what NZ District Plans are written to protect) should direct their ire at those who ensure this is the only thing people are allowed to build: at the planners and the Resource Management Act that gives the planners their power.

District Plans drawn up by planners place enormous restrictions on what one can do one one's own land, restricting choice and trampling over property rights -- but it's been going on for so long and with so little protest that most of these restrictions and the "right" of planners to impose them are simply taken for granted.  

Planners have placed restrictions on the height of what you can build, on the setbacks of new buildings from the street and from boundaries, and most importantly restrictions are place on the density of new building -- on the number of housing units one may build on one's own land.

It is the restrictions on density that exert the biggest stranglehold on our cities. At a density similar to some of the better parts of London for example, with which many NZers are familiar, the population of Auckland could be easily fitted on the ishthmus, with plenty of land left over for parks, and plenty of land left over outside the isthmus for decreased densities if people so wish.

Instead, the planners have ensured the city spreads slowly out into the country-side one relaxation of the ring-fence after another, creating the very "carpet sprawl" that so many supporters of the Resource Management Act claim they dislike, and removing the chance of genuine country living for those who do really desire it.  

In some parts of some NZ cities, even further restrictions have been placed on land, protecting the cold and archaic early twentieth-century housing that still disgraces so much of the early urban landscape.  By which I mean those dark, damp, disgusting villas which need all the villa-ness removed in order to make them liveable, but which planners have made virtually  impossible to touch.

Taking the power they’ve been given  under the Resource Management Act and coupling it with the Utopian dreams handed down to them in Planning School, planners have almost single-handedly stuffed up our cities and restricted the supply of urban land, making building land even scarcer than it needs to be, and restricting the housing choices that New Zealanders are allowed to make to a one-size-fits-all bland-and-blander straitjacket, making urban space duller and even scarcer still.

What's wrong with choice? 

Why do we give these people such power? 

We let them ring-fence the city and stop people heading out and building away from the city when they want to -- "sprawl!" is the all-too hysterical cry -- and then we let them stop other people building higher density urban housing when they want to. Instead of leaving people free to choose, we have these boring "halfway houses" that some people like, but that many simply accept because that's all that's available, and they don't know any better.

When there's just so much available, so many great housing types  from which to choose, it just doesn't make any sense.

“Sprawl” or “intensification”? That’s a false dichotomy. I say let people be free to choose.

That’s the path to genuinely liveable cities, and to affordability.

"Very little driving is frivolous."

"Residents of U.S. urban areas can reach far more jobs in a 20-minute auto drive than a 60-minute trip [by public transport]. The latest data for 2021 reveal that the number of jobs reachable by [public transport] or bicycle was about 9 percent greater in 2021 than 2019, but the number reachable by a 20-minute auto drive was 66 percent greater. ... Of course, jobs are only one possible set of destinations that became more accessible; other social and economic opportunities also became equally more accessible
    "Very little driving is frivolous. Instead, most of it is people trying to get to work, school, shopping, health care, friends and relatives, or recreation activities. Then there are trucks moving freight, bringing construction materials and services to work sites, and so forth. Anything that results in more such travel is a good thing because it means more economic activity, more income for people, and more access to better housing, lower-cost consumer goods, and other benefits. The sign of failure is if the new road capacity isn’t used, not if it is."

~ The Antiplanner, from his post 'The Benefits of Congestion Relief'


Thursday 29 February 2024


"One does not get a jet engine by improving the propeller. One does not breed horses until they give birth to a car. Telephones did not come from research on mail. Where on earth did the inspiration for the transistor and these other 'leaps' of innovation come from to begin with?"
~ Robert Rinehart, from his otherwise un-recommendable article 'Paradigm Shifts'

Wednesday 28 February 2024

"This is logically why confirmation of tino rangatiratanga is paired with advice on how to go about selling the land."

"[T]he Maori language of the Treaty is now routinely referenced to a world in which it did not exist. [For example] what [translator Henry] Williams might have meant in Article 2, which confirmed Maori in the tino rangatiratanga of everything they possessed. 
    "The aim of the Treaty was not to protect Maori culture; on the contrary, Williams believed that the processes of modernisation were active and sufficient agents of its transformation. It strains belief that, having transferred sovereignty to the Crown in the first article, Williams would posit a principle of omni-applicable Maori authority in the second, yet recent analysis is dependent on this being the case. The British did, of course, care about securing the colony’s land base. This is logically why confirmation of tino rangatiratanga is paired with advice on how to go about selling the land. The logic, and the crudeness of the pairing, point to tino rangatiratanga’s referring not to culture in the sense of Māoriness itself, but specifically to land and resource ownership.
    "Linguistic evidence offers support for this view. As we have seen, translators bent rangatiratanga to the expression of a variety of aspects of western ideas of authority, for which there were no existing Maori terms. Authority over land therefore fits easily in this category. As for evidence offered by context, one example must suffice here. It cannot be overstressed that anxiety about their future authority over the land was the most common theme of chiefs’ speeches at the Treaty hui. There was, therefore, good reason for the Pakeha to make a strong affirming statement not only of Maori ownership of the land, but of their continuing power of decision over its alienation.
    "It needs to be said that confining rangatiratanga to land ownership does not diminish the contemporary importance of Article 2. Land was the Maori stake in the colony. First, it was the commodity with which modernity was purchased. Second, by owning the land, Maori also controlled the most important bound­ary to state power. Nothing, therefore, was of greater importance than the confirmation of ownership. However, a crucial difference between current and historical meanings remains. In 1840 tino rangatiratanga did not distance Maori from the state, but fulfilled the logic of the Treaty’s concern with land.
    "In sum, Henry Williams translated the Treaty of Waitangi for his day, not for posterity. If the task was too lightly and amateurishly approached, this does not seem to require a paranoiac analysis. Within the narrow confines of the trans­lators’ perceptions, word choices in the Maori texts of both the ‘Declaration’ and the Treaty suggest only a striving for precision."
~ Lyndsay Head, from her article 'The Pursuit of Modernity in Māori Society', pp. 107-108

Again, why did chiefs sign?


p. 62, Michael Belgrave's Historical Frictions

"[Historian Michael] Belgrave argued* that a study of the debates that took place at the Treaty meetings revealed that they were mostly about land and religion, rather than sovereignty, indeed that these matters overshadowed everything else. ...
     "[O]ne of the most important messages the chiefs would have taken away from what the British or Pākehā advocates of the Treaty had declared was that Māori would be protected in their lands, and that this was a vital consideration for those who agreed to sign ...
    "Belgrave argued that while the Treaty was made in a world in which Māori remained dominant, the chiefs were acutely aware that times were changing and they felt vulnerable, and that in these circumstances they believed it made sense to sign the Treaty and hoped that the British Crown would uphold the promises it had given ...
    "He held that a properly historical account revealed ... [that] by the time the Treaty was made, Māori had adopted, adapted and adjusted [to] the European ideas they had encountered ...
    "[T]he ‘modern’ interpretation of the Treaty [however] — which he attributed to those he called ‘non-historians’, thereby obscuring the role that academic historians, most of all Claudia Orange, had played in its creation — ... had become so preoccupied with the texts that it had become blind to matters of context. ...
    "[T]he worldview that informed [chiefs'] understanding of it in 1840 had become opaque to contemporary readers because of an undue focus on the written texts. In and of themselves, he held, the texts were extremely limited sources on which to base any historical interpretation ... [and so] the story the Tribunal had been telling was more or less a fiction or an invented history ..."

~ Bain Attwood, from his 2023 book A Bloody Difficult Subject
* In his 2005 book Historical Frictions: Maori Claims & Reinvented Histories, esp. pp. 46-66

You won't have time to read this ...

... because who has time for reading when there's a new Tik Tok to upload!

Sure, some of us still read things longer than a text. But the "hot trend" these days, observes culture critic and "Honest Broker" Ted Gioia, is compulsive activity. Distraction.

Or call it scrolling or swiping or wasting time or whatever you want. But it’s not art or entertainment, just ceaseless activity.
    The key is that each stimulus only lasts a few seconds, and must be repeated.
    It’s a huge business, and will soon be larger than arts and entertainment combined. Everything is getting turned into TikTok—an aptly named platform for a business based on stimuli that must be repeated after only a few ticks of the clock.
    TikTok made a fortune with fast-paced scrolling video. And now Facebook—once a place to connect with family and friends—is imitating it. 'So long, Granny, hello Reels.' Twitter has done the same. And, of course, Instagram, YouTube, and everybody else trying to get rich on social media. ...
And you thought artists had it tough back in the day?
    Even the dumbest entertainment looks like Shakespeare compared to dopamine culture. You don’t need 'Hamlet,' a photo of a hamburger will suffice. Or a video of somebody twerking, or a pet looking goofy.
    Instead of movies, users get served up an endless sequence of 15-second videos. Instead of symphonies, listeners hear bite-sized melodies, usually accompanied by one of these tiny videos—just enough for a dopamine hit, and no more.
    This is the new culture. And its most striking feature is the absence of Culture (with a capital C) or even mindless entertainment—both get replaced by compulsive activity. 

His answer to this is surprising. It's ritual. Being there.

Genuine ritual is always embedded in a time and place, and cannot be uploaded or downloaded. Go ahead, get married online, [attend a funeral online], or conduct your graduation ceremony via Zoom, but these experiences will feel hollow. The virtual world creates a hunger for real ritual in an actual physical community of human beings. No website or app can satisfy this hunger on its own.What can you do about it? Gioia's answer? Ritual.

'Cos there's nothing like being there, is there ...

Tuesday 27 February 2024

"Why, when they were so strong, did Maori invite the British in?"

Sources here.

"The view that the Treaty has become the straitjacket of Maori history is the starting point for the present study. ...
    "When Europeans stepped into the southern dawn, the people who had thought of themselves as constituting the whole human world found that they were one of its fringes. ... Assertive and risk-taking in cultural personality, Māori fought to eradicate their fringe status by pursuing modernisation, including the political modernisation that would create a path to the Treaty ground. .... The question then becomes why, when they were so strong, did 
Māori invite the British in? ...
Māori society [had been] organised around the chance of war, the initial effect of the introduction of muskets was indeed the expansion of tradition. Serial wars followed from the idea of their possibilities. Soon enough, however, war became an agent for its own collapse. Nga Puhi’s raids were predatory larks, fought for neither territory nor strategic advantage. ...
    "[T]he terror of the gun [had] caused social disruption analogous in principle to that of current world ethnic strife. From Auckland to Whangarei was empty. The Hauraki tribes fled inland, and Ngati Kahungunu to the tiny edge of their vast territory. Modern Taranaki was deserted, and some of its displaced people virtually exterminated the Chatham Island Moriori. Ngati Toa, forced into pre-emptive migration, ravaged the south — the list is representative but not exhaustive. Similar things had occurred in the history of most tribes, but there is no previous evidence of near-total war. A detached modern historiography lists battles, but makes the musket wars events without real effects. Yet the wars were a modern catastrophe for 
Māori, not a traditional one. ...
    "In the 1830s northern 
Māori sought meaning in their post-contact experience through understanding how the foreigners ordered their world. This was a period of rational and intellectual response to European culture in which Christian teaching became a political primer for change. Consciously replaying the conversion of the barbarians, the missionaries taught that peace was the condition of political and social modernity — that is, of a European-style society.
    "This impacted heavily on culture, because tribal histories were almost exclusively histories of war. Fighting was central to the social identity of 
Māori. [It set] up peace as the condition of modernity ...
    "Their attention to the missionaries, and subsequent support for a treaty with the British, was not without history, but a response to lived change. By this reading, then, a possible basis of 
Māori citizenship was rational choice.
    "The rationality of the chiefs has been obscured by the rationality of the British side of the Treaty, which entirely dominates the literature."
~ Lyndsay Head, from her article 'The Pursuit of Modernity in Māori Society'

"...they lost the debate on economic issues within the economics profession. So they moved over into the English department and other humanities..."

"One of the great untold stories of the 20th century political left is how they lost the debate on economic issues within the economics profession. So they moved over into the English department (and other humanities) instead, and resumed teaching discredited economics there.
    "Note that this also explains why many of the humanities adopt an explicitly conspiracist epistemology when they talk about economics as a discipline. See also the neoliberalism studies' literature ... and similar.
    "Corollary: this also applies to the protectionists of the NatCon right ... They lost the economic debate on trade over a century ago ... "

Monday 26 February 2024

"The dismal science ... "

"In my interview with economist David Henderson, I asked him how economics came to be called the 'dismal science.' The source, he explained, was Thomas Carlyle, the nineteenth-century historian and essayist. The surprising reason for his coining the phrase? Carlyle was attacking free-market liberals for advocating the end of slavery.
    "Free-market liberals argued that all men were equally deserving of freedom, so the slaves should be emancipated. Carlyle counter-argued — with strong agreement from Charles Dickens and John Ruskin, two other strong critics of free-market capitalism — that blacks were unequal to whites and so undeserving and incapable of freedom. Giving slaves freedom, they believed, would lead to dismal social consequences.

    "Here is a fine essay by David Levy and Sandra Peart with the sorry details: “The Secret History of the Dismal Science. Part I. Economics, Religion and Race in the 19th Century.”
    "The image, as Levy and Peart explain, shows Ruskin as a white knight slaying a black man dressed in gentlemen’s finery and holding a book entitled 'Wealth of Nations,' Adam Smith’s treatise being a major work in the free-market capitalist tradition."

PS: Notable, I think, that Carlyle has also been called one of the founding fathers of fascism, and was also a major influence on New Zealand's Governor Grey, who would frequently “quote Carlyle’s theory of despotism as the best of all systems of colonial government.”[1]

[1] Kennedy, A. New Zealand (1873), 143, 147; cited in Rutherford, Sir George Grey (1961), p.283 

Saturday 24 February 2024

"Why doesn’t Hamas surrender?"

"Some naïve questions are clarifying in their naïvete. As an example of the latter: Why doesn’t Hamas surrender?
    "And, relatedly, why aren’t more people demanding that Hamas surrender? ...
    "Its war aim is not democracy or civil rights for Palestinians but to destroy Israel and establish an Islamist state — an objective as patently illegitimate as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s bid to erase and Russify Ukraine, another recognized member of the United Nations.
    "At this point, Hamas’s war is not only unjust but also pretty clearly doomed. ...
    "There is legitimate debate, of course, regarding the lawfulness and proportionality of Israel’s military operation, notwithstanding the dilemmas that Hamas’s use of human shields imposes on Israeli forces. ... Even those who deny the sincerity or efficacy of [Israeli efforts to minimise harm to civilians] must acknowledge that Hamas doesn’t try at all.
    "To put the burden on Israel to end the war is to forget that there was an agreed-upon cease-fire between the Jewish state and Hamas before Oct. 7. ... Having started this war, Hamas should end it. ...
    "The essence of the matter is: Hamas does not surrender because it believes, fervently, that Israel has no right to exist and that armed “resistance” to it, even at the terrible human cost currently being paid by both Israelis and Palestinians, is justified.
    "That belief is accepted, or at least not fundamentally challenged, by many on college campuses, social media and elsewhere who are demanding, in effect, that Israel surrender. Talk about na
~ Charles Lane, from his column 'If Hamas really cared about Palestinian lives, it would surrender'

Friday 23 February 2024

"'Every leader kills people' ..."

"Tucker Carlson’s visit to Moscow ... servile interview with Putin ... [and] pretended naïveté made it hard to regard him as the journalist he once might have been. Instead, he appeared as a blind cheerleader for the Russian government.
    "His next engagement at the World Government Summit in Dubai about Russia confirmed this impression. 'Every leader kills people, some kill more than others,' Carlson told the crowd. 'Leadership requires killing people, sorry, that’s why I wouldn’t want to be a leader.'
    "Four days after Carlson’s conference appearance, Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny died in prison. Perhaps Putin wanted to prove Carlson right at least once."
~ Oliver Hartwich, from his op-ed 'How to explain the right's Putin mania'

The world is doubling down on New Zealand's stupidity

"There was a time when you could count on the left to defend science with the sort of zeal that would make a religious fundamentalist blush. However, this staunch commitment to scientific empiricism ... is now increasingly coming into conflict with the new tenets of the ‘diversity, equity and inclusion’ (DEI) agenda.
    "You can see this clearly in the Biden administration’s proposed new guidelines for ... staff working in public-health agencies ... [who] could soon be instructed to consider ‘multiple forms of evidence, such as indigenous knowledge’ when going about their duties.
    "Put simply, advocates of ‘indigenous knowledge’ argue that various cultures throughout history have their own ways of understanding the world. And these alternative, indigenous ‘ways of knowing’, they say, should be utilised alongside more established scientific methods in research and in policymaking. ...

"The Biden administration is not even the first Western government to sacrifice science to the DEI agenda. Last year, the government of New Zealand decided that science classes in schools should teach that Maori ‘ways of knowing’ have equal standing to ‘Western science’. Scientists who objected to this found themselves under investigation by the Royal Society of New Zealand. Three of them, including one of Maori descent, resigned from the society in protest.
    "The claim that science is ‘Western’ is absurd, of course. One of the many wonderful things about science is that it does not discriminate. Science is a universal, cross-cultural concept. It invites anyone and everyone to participate and contribute to our growing understanding of reality. ... This is why there aren’t any ‘indigenous’ ways of flying an airplane that supersede our scientific understanding of aerodynamics. Or why the NHS doesn’t offer exorcisms as part of its mental-health services. A blood test administered in a clinical setting will yield the same results whether it’s carried out in London or Nairobi – because science actually works anywhere you do it. It’s about the ‘how’, not the ‘who.’ ...
    "Science often gets things wrong, of course. But unlike indigenous ways of knowing, science rewards you for catching errors. It incentivises the pursuit of truth over accepting received wisdom. There are no religious commandments or cultural dogmas dictating the scope of scientific investigation. Science simply finds out ‘what is’ – and to hell with any sacred cows that are slaughtered along the way.
    "Standards of objectivity are essential when it comes to science and public health. We should make no apologies for defending them from the encroachment of pseudoscience, whatever form it comes in. ...
"We all know that treating indigenous knowledge as akin to scientific evidence is a bit silly. But I suspect that is probably the point. ... We are all essentially being dared to say that relying on indigenous knowledge is a terrible idea. Of course, if you do say this in the wrong circles, you will be accused of racism and you will be silenced.
    "With modern-day anti-racism, the goal is not to address actual inequalities or to improve the material wellbeing of oppressed minorities. The real aim is to tear down anything that is perceived to be ‘white’ or ‘Western’. And the fact that science is now being placed in the firing line, thanks to racial identity politics, should worry us all."
~ Stephen Knight from his op-ed 'The nonsense of ‘indigenous ways of knowing’'

Thursday 22 February 2024

A question for libertarians in plague times

Here’s a simple hypothetical question I’ve yet to see libertarians address properly, and now's as good a time as any to ask it: What is the role of government in a time of actual plague?

Now, if you’re an anarchist, you can leave the chat now, since you don’t think there’s a role for government at all. That things will all just magically work out for the best when there’s a market for force. (Good luck to you on that one.)

No, I'm talking here to principled libertarians who aren’t primarily anti-government but pro-liberty. So I’m asking this of principled pro-liberty libertarians who support the idea that the proper role of government is the protection of citizens’ individual rights, that governments should be tied up constitutionally, and that such governments derive their authority from the consent of the governed. Let’s call it one such administration Government X. And I'm asking: What should our Government X do in a time of actual plague? 

Argue here if you like that a carrier of an infectious disease can in no way violate anyone else’s individual rights, in which case you’re either making a damn good argument for that position (and could apply it for example to HIV/AIDs as well), or you’re probably also leaving the chat at this point to join the anarchists.

But (to concretise the question for you), imagine Government X were in power when a plague slowly took over the country. To keep it somewhat concrete, imagine if you like that we’re in Elizabethan times, in London, when plagues would regularly ravage the place, and the Master of the Rolls would shut down the London theatres so the plague wouldn’t spread that way. Now you can say, as I would, that there shouldn't be a Master of Rolls. And you can argue, as historians have done, that his decision helped spread the plague even more widely because the theatre companies went on tour, taking plague rats with them. But do you say that our Elizabethan Government X wouldn’t at least have a conversation about theatre attendance, and make some decision about it? Perhaps, at least, to devise some objective rules by which if they're followed theatres and other places may stay open (remembering that the Elizabethans didn’t even know rats’ fleas were plague’s cause, and that those wanting to attend the theatres might themselves be eager to see evidence of some kind of protection; and that Elizabethan theatre insurance probably didn't cover damages from killing your audience.)

Let’s make the decision even more difficult for you. Imagine that it’s a serious plague; that it's often (but not always) fatal within a certain period of time; and that a patient infected with our plague generally doesn’t even know they have it for several days, during which time they are already terribly infectious to others. So, it’s a new plague about which even those whose advice you value know little yet (that’s ‘cos it’s new, and Elizabethan science advice wasn't always that great — they still recommended leeches, if you recall). But those two deadly observations about this new plague seem to be the emerging facts. 

This puts an even more complex complexion on things, doesn't it. If this were so, don’t you think our whole population would would be having a chat about it, not least our Elizabethan Government X? About how to deal with apparently uninfected folk infecting uninfected others, without infringing the rights of either? (And if you’re saying at this point that we should all be left "free" to be infected, then you’re probably about ready to leave the chat and buy a straitjacket.) 

It’s no good just saying about our Elizabethan Government X that “they have no role,” since clearly they do: if I have an infection that can prove fatal to you, and I insist on still visiting the theatres, there’s as much a role for government as there would be if I went to one wearing a suicide vest. (And you need to leave more than just the chat if you think there isn’t.) And Government X would have as much of a legitimate interest in this plague being spread from theatres as in a bareback brothel boasting a harem with full-blown HIV/AIDs. 

Now, you can insist (as I expect on past evidence many libertarians might) that “this isn’t really a plague” — except here we’ve already stipulated that it is. Or that our Elizabethan experts are wrong (which we’ve already agreed they might be). Or that the government is full of power-lusters who are just using the plague to advance their power — as many probably would, as they do in times of war as well, but this doesn’t devalue the very threat of this special plague we’ve imagined, and ignores that we’ve already agreed that we’re talking here of a principled Government X.

So, I ask you again: what is the proper role in such times of our principled Government X?

You tell me. 

Here's Monty Python:

National's low education expectations

"Given Erica Stanford's performance in opposition as spokesperson for Education, I was stunned and dismayed by this answer she gave recently in the House to former minister Jan Tinetti.
“As schools start back for 2024, there will be a relentless focus on lifting student achievement. This Government's ambitious target of getting 80 per cent of our tamariki to curriculum by the time they finish intermediate by 2030 is our North Star.”
    "What the minister has clearly stated is that she and the new National-led government only believe they are capable of improving education in New Zealand over six years to still have one in five Year 8 students failing at basic literacy and numeracy. That is despite each New Zealand child receiving 9600 hours of funded education in eight years of schooling. Her answer is dripping with pessimism and lack of ambition.
    "If we are truly aiming at a 'world class' teaching profession and education system, why do we have a self-imposed limit that we can only get 80 per cent of students even to a moderate level of ability and achievement?"

"The State has two hands: a soft one to give and a hard one to remove. The softer the hand that gives, the harder the hand that removes."

"The State is not and cannot be one-handed. It has two hands, one to receive and the other to give; in other words, the rough hand and the gentle hand. The activity of the second is of necessity subordinate to the activity of the first....
    "You see that the gentle hand of The State, that sweet hand that gives and spreads benefits widely, will be fully occupied ... Might you perhaps be disposed to believe that this will be just as true of the rough hand that goes rummaging and rifling in our pockets?
Don’t you believe it! The courtiers of popularity would not be masters of their trade if they did not have the art of hiding an iron fist in a velvet glove."

~ Frederic Bastiat, from his essay 'The State' [the headline for this post is a popular paraphrase]

Wednesday 21 February 2024

MSM looking for a new handout

"I consider that [the so-called Fair Digital News Bargaining Bill] Bill is ill-conceived. It is a means of subsidising mainstream media which is having difficulty in adapting its business model to the Digital Paradigm. ...
    "The various initiatives and subsidies undertaken by the State - primarily in the form of the Public Interest Journalism Fund - have provided artificial support for mainstream media. Those subsidies have provided a disincentive for mainstream media to adapt to the Digitalk Information Paradigm in a more agile manner.
    "What the Bill proposes is a substitution of one subsidisation scheme for another. ...
"Because the problem is the free riding of mainstream media content by platforms like Google and Facebook the solution lies in the area of copyright and intellectual property. What is proposed by the Bill – which was introduced by Labour ... – is a bureaucracy to determine by what means and by how much the large digital platforms will subsidise mainstream media.
    "Reading the mainstream media submissions and listening to some of the oral presentations was somewhat depressing. But then, of course mainstream media would paint a gloomy picture. Who would not when there is a pot of gold at the end of the legislative rainbow.
    "Perhaps mainstream media should address the issue of why it is that public confidence in the news media is at an all time low rather than seeking yet another hand-out."
~ David Harvey from his post (and submission to) 'The Fair Digital News Bargaining Bill'

"Holders of political power, both past and present, form a 'very exclusive club' in which membership is not easily relinquished"

Here's a short excerpt from a longer piece I wrote describing a constitutional convention way back in 2000 – a room full of political sweepings from all sides discussing political power. The piece can serve to mark Grant Robertson's retirement from one trough and transfer to another:

"David Caygill [1] admits that political power — once gained — is very hard to give up. Jim Bolger [2] said last night that holders of such power, both past and present, form a 'very exclusive club' in which membership is not easily relinquished. Both gentlemen are living examples that what they say is true!
    "A certain kind of person is attracted to this 'club,' and there is no need to wonder at its effect on them since it can be seen clearly enough in the room today. I am surprised no one here ... has quoted Lord Acton yet, who memorably reminds us that 'power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.' Since that was said, we have a further century of evidence, and many people in this room, to demonstrate his acuity."
1. David Caygill was a former Labour Cabinet Minister, and since "retirement" never out of the government trough. He was chair of ACC, chair of the Electricity Commission, commissioner and deputy chair at Environment Canterbury, and is still a board member of the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) and chair of the Education New Zealand Trust.
2. Jim Bolger was a National Party Prime Minister, and since "retirement" never out of the government trough. Post-PM he enjoyed an Ambassadorship to Washington; chancellorship of Waikato University (with even fewer qualifications for the role than Grant Robertson); chairmanship of NZ Post, NZ Rail and Kiwibank; was head of Labour's "fair-pay agreement working group"; and still pops up regularly to bore at talks and interviews around the country to tell us all how capitalism has failed us.

Tuesday 20 February 2024

"The cash-for-kids scheme has to stop"

"Christopher Luxon talked repeatedly about getting young people off welfare. ... consider that the link between a child's early entry into the benefit system and later benefit dependence in their own right, is strong ... Nearly three quarters (74%) of all beneficiaries up to age 25 had a parent on benefit while they were a child, and just over a third (35%) had a parent on benefit throughout their teenage years.  ...

    "It's laudable to talk about getting 18 year-olds off welfare. Better still though to discourage their entry into the welfare system in the first place. ...
    "[M]ore broadly, the cash-for-kids scheme has to stop. ... Until cash incentives ... are removed, the inter-generational problem will continue to plague New Zealand. Yes, there will be downsides to [welfare reform]. But will they be any worse than the devastating social outcomes that come from unconditional welfare?"
~ Lindsay Mitchell from her post 'National needs to go further'

China's history "presents some interesting and broader lessons for us, even in New Zealand"

"Frank Dikotter ... has written a number of books on the modern history of China. Of particular note are three titles which form 'The People’s Trilogy' and which cover the history of China under Mao Zedong. ...
    "Dikotter’s books present some interesting and broader lessons for us, even in New Zealand. The lessons are considerable but as I read the following matters occurred to me.
    "Communist rule thrives in an authoritarian atmosphere where a single line of thought and expression prevails. There is no room for contrary opinions. There is no tolerance of dissent. ...
    "Communist rule cannot tolerate any expression of individualism. Everything and everyone must be subordinated to the interests of the State. Individual initiative, individual betterment, individual ambition cannot be tolerated. Individual economic improvement is unacceptable. ...
    "The sort of levelling that is anticipated by a wealth tax – proposed by the Greens and by some element of the Labour Party - is typical of the type of levelling that took place in Mao’s China. The motives and the methods may be different as may be the context within a supposedly democratic environment — but the outcome is the same — the subordination of the individual to the interests of the State.
    "Finally there is the casual attitude towards human life — indeed the lives of the citizens which, under a civilised State, the State is duty bound to preserve and protect. Lives became numbers to the Communist bureaucrats and those numbers became quotas for the widely scattered cadres who not only tried to fulfil but at times endeavoured to exceed the death quotas dictated from Beijing. The message is clear. Under Communism even the life of the citizen is subordinated to the State.
    "These are but three of the lessons that come out of Dikotter’s study. Clearly he is no friend of Mao or his methods and how could he be. Indeed, how could anyone be."
~ David Harvey, from his post 'The Tragedy of Liberation'

Monday 19 February 2024

"New Zealand was born free without having to become so"

"Self-government and the rule of law came to New Zealand from above. These great principles were ordained by imperial authority. The result, to paraphrase de Tocqueville, was that New Zealand was born free without having to become so. It never had to fight for self-government, or win its rights by armed struggle."
~ Historian David Hackett Fischer, from his book Fairness and Freedom: A History of Two Open Societies: New Zealand and the United States


Sunday 18 February 2024

Artificial Intelligence (AI) "is an imitation of human thinking, not a substitute for it"

"AI can offer a lot of value. But it is an imitation of human thinking, not a substitute for it. AI depends on human-generated material, and even if it not legally required to do, it will have to find a way to direct a portion of its revenues to renew the basic resource it depends on: human writers, artists, and other creators."
~ Robert Tracinski, from his post 'Piano Rolls, Betamax, and ChatGPT'

Saturday 17 February 2024

The Individual and Society

Mises: "...society is nothing but the combination of individuals for cooperative effort."
[Pic: Jan te Horst, Market Traders]

"Society is cooperation; it is community in action.
    "To say that Society is an organism, means that society is division of labour. To do justice to this idea we must take into account all the aims which men set themselves and the means by which these are to be attained. It includes every interrelation of thinking and willing man. Modern man is a social being, not only as one whose material needs could not be supplied in isolation, but also as one who has achieved a development of reason and of the perceptive faculty that would have been impossible except within society. ...
    "Historically division of labour originates in two facts of nature: the inequality of human abilities and the variety of the external conditions of human life on the earth. ...


Bastiat: "In the state of isolation, our wants
exceed our productive capacities. In society,
by virtue of exchange, our productive
capacities exceed our wants."

"Once labour has been divided, the division itself exercises a differentiating influence. The fact that labor is divided makes possible further cultivation of individual talent and thus cooperation becomes more and more productive. Through cooperation men are able to achieve what would have been beyond them as individuals, and even the work which individuals are capable of doing alone is made more productive. ...
    "The greater productivity of work under the division of labour is a unifying influence. It leads men to regard each other as comrades in a joint struggle for welfare, rather than as competitors in a struggle for existence. It makes friends out of enemies, peace out of war, society out of individuals. ...
"Society is not mere reciprocity. There is reciprocity amongst animals, for example when the wolf eats the lamb or when the wolf and she-wolf mate. Yet we do not speak of animal societies or of a society of wolves. ... Society exists only where willing becomes a co-willing and action co-action. To strive jointly towards aims which alone individuals could not reach at all, or not with equal effectiveness — that is society.
    "Therefore, Society is not an end but a means, the means by which each individual member seeks to attain his own ends. That society is possible at all is due to the fact that the will of one person and the will of another find themselves linked in a joint endeavour. Community of work springs from community of will. Because I can get what I want only if my fellow citizen gets what he wants, his will and action become the means by which I can attain my own end. Because my willing necessarily includes his willing, my intention cannot be to frustrate his will. On this fundamental fact all social life is built up.

"The principle of the division of labour revealed the nature of the growth of society. Once the significance of the division of labor had been grasped, social knowledge developed at an extraordinary pace ... The doctrine of the division of labour as put forward by eighteenth-century economists ... But the Doctrine of the Harmony of Interests had already anticipated its far-reaching application to social theory. ...
    "Once it has been perceived that the division of labour is the essence of society, nothing remains of the antithesis between individual and society. The contradiction between individual principle and social principle disappears."
~ Ludwig Von Mises, from the essay 'What is Society?' excerpted from his book Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis

Friday 16 February 2024

Independence for Teenagers!!

"As the twenty-first century progresses, more and more teens are 'failing to launch,' to reach the classic milestones of independence that we used to take for granted.

"In 1998, close to half of American 16-year-olds had a driver’s license; by 2018, it was only a quarter.

"In 2006, the average [university] student communicated with a parent around 10 times per week; by 2013, this had climbed to 22 times, with students often initiating the contact.

"In 1985, 45 percent of 20 to 22-year-olds were living with their parents; by 2003, it was 57 percent.

"And in 1982, just under half of young adults aged 23 to 24 were receiving financial assistance from their parents; by 2011, this figure had climbed to two thirds.

"In the words of one expert, '18-year-olds now act like 15-year-olds used to, and 13-year-olds like 10-year-olds. Teens are physically safer than ever, yet they are more mentally vulnerable.'

"One theory offered up by pundits for why teens and young adults are less mature than they used to be is that parents are simply enabling their offspring to remain immature by failing to allocate them real-world responsibilities sooner. ... by depriving them of responsibility, we’re doing our adolescents a disservice.

"Some studies have even suggested a relationship between [household] chores as a child and effectiveness as an adult. For example, one study followed ~450 underprivileged boys from age 14 through to middle age and found that the best predictor of success as an adult was their capacity to work in childhood. ...

"Teens are perfectly capable of making the occasional dinner, and doing their own laundry if they want to have clean clothes; at the very least, they’ll know how to cook for themselves and operate the washing machine as and when they leave the nest."

Swarbrick & the currents of Green unreason

"The weakness [interviewer Jack] Tame homed in on was Swarbrick’s political inflexibility – a flaw which has only grown as her time in Parliament has lengthened. ...
    "While, on paper, the Greens’ determination to arm their politics with the weaponry of reason and science [makes] it a perfect fit for the serious, almost scholarly, Swarbrick, there were risks [with her choosing to join them]. The currents of unreason that were flowing with ever-increasing force beneath the surface of Green Party politics were bound to end up battering her core intellectual and political principles. ...
    "Her six years in Parliament appear to have diminished her faith in democracy as the most effective political system. .it appears to have hardened her and made her brittle. ... 
    "Swarbrick’s declining faith in representative democracy is reflected in her conviction that “the people” possess a power that overmatches the tawdry compromises of professional politicians. In her pitch to Green members Swarbrick hints that this power may be sufficient to bring the whole rotten, planet-destroying system crashing down. That, with the masses at their back, the Greens can build a new and better Aotearoa.
    "How many times has revolutionary zealotry offered this millenarian mirage to an angry and despairing world? How many times has it all gone horribly wrong? And how sad is it that a politician as talented as Chloe Swarbrick now finds herself wandering this arid trail?"
~ Chris Trotter, from his post 'Iron in Her Soul'