Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Job Growth Doesn’t Mean We’re Getting Richer


Guest post by Ryan McMaken

worker2_0In response to recent claims by the Obama administration and others that “millions of jobs” have recently been created, I examined the data here to see if the claims were true. It turns out that job growth since the 2008 recession has actually been quite weak, and hardly something to boast about.

Nevertheless, our conclusions from these analyses tend to rest on the idea that job growth is synonymous with gains in wealth and economic prosperity.

But is that a good assumption?

In an unhampered market, the answer would be no, for several reasons.

First of all, as worker productivity increases, workers would need to work fewer hours to maintain their standard of living.

Second, as goods become less expensive (as a result of rising productivity) it would also be necessary to work fewer hours to maintain the same standard of living.

This need for fewer man-hours could translate into shorter work weeks and shorter days, but it could also manifest itself at the household level in the form of changes from two-income households to one-income households. Or, people may retire earlier, thus leaving the work force.

In other words, in a well-functioning economy over time, less human labour will be necessary to maintain standards of living, all things being equal. (If consumers wish to constantly increase their standard of living of course, they will choose more labour over more leisure for the sake of more consumption.)

Historical Trends in Work Hours

Even in our hampered and un-free economy, we can still see this basic trend at work. The number of work hours necessary to maintain the standard of living our grandparents enjoyed, for example, is less today than it was in 1950.

If middle-class consumers were satisfied with a two-bedroom residence in an unstylish neighborhood, one car, a single phone line, no air conditioning, and no internet access, many of them would require far fewer work hours than is necessary to maintain a common middle-class standard of living today. [Well, in some cities, anyway – Ed.]

In the 1950s for example, my mother shared a bedroom with three brothers in a two bedroom house in central Los Angeles. She went to a private Catholic school where there were 50 students to a classroom. For her family, there were certainly no European holidays or airline travel to seaside resorts.

And yet, no one then would have described this lifestyle as “impoverished” or “lower class.” It was a middle-class lifestyle, but this lifestyle could only be maintained by far more than 40 hours of work at the family business each week, where both parents laboured regularly.

This experience was not atypical.

In spite of increases in the standard of living since then, working hours have actually decreased. Indeed, according to Robert Fogel in The Fourth Great Awakening and the Future of Egalitarianism, from 1880 to 1995 the number of hours spent on work during an average day for a male head of household decreased from 8.5 hours to 4.7 hours. Meanwhile, leisure time increased from 1.8 hours to 5.8 hours.

In a separate study by Thomas Juster and Frank Stafford, it was found that from 1965 to 1981 in the United States, “market work” hours per week fell from 51.6 hours to 44 hours for men. For women, market work rose from 18.9 hours to 23.9 hours. We would expect an increase for women over this period as women began to take on “market work” at higher rates than before. This was for wage work only, though, and if we include “housework” we find that “total work” for women during this time period fell from 60.9 hours to 54.4 hours. Women exchanged some housework for market work over this period, but overall, the work hours decreased. Total work for men decreased also, from 63.1 hours to 57.8 hours. (Housework increased for men over this period.)

In yet another study by Mary Coleman and John Pencavel, average weekly hours worked fell for white men from 44.1 hours in 1940 to 42.9 hours in 1988. It fell for white women from 40.6 hours to 35.5 hours over the same period.

The typical standard of living increased over these periods, as the square footage of housing units increased, automobiles became more common, and amenities like telephones, washing machines, personal computers, and climate control became more common. The work itself also became less hazardous over this time period.

The Invention of “Retirement”

Even as work hours were falling, productivity was rising enough to allow large numbers of workers to leave the work force early in the form of a new-fangled concept known as “retirement.” As explained by W. Andrew Achenbaum in The Wilson Quarterly, working well into one’s so-called golden years was common in the 19th century and before. Prosperous farmers who owned land could afford to significantly cut back hours as they aged, but common labourers generally needed to work as long as possible or face penury.

It was only during the late 19th century, as worker productivity rapidly accelerated, that workers could withdraw from the workforce at an increasing rate. Many became obsolete whether they liked it or not, however. Achenbaum writes:

The obsolescence of the older worker is one reason the period around 1890 marks the beginning of the long-term trend toward the withdrawal of the elderly from the work force. In that year, about two-thirds of men aged 65 and older were still in the labor force — roughly the same proportion found today in developing countries such as Brazil and Mexico. By 1920, that number had dropped to 56 percent, and by 1940 it was down to 42 percent. Today it is 27 percent.

In the bad old days of subsistence wages, workers could labour for decades without many opportunities to accumulate capital, and thus “retirement” was just another word for poverty. As worker productivity and capital accumulation rose, however, private firms could afford to create a new thing called “pension funds” that accelerated the retirement trend.

The advent of government pensions accelerated the trend as well, with large transfers of wealth from current workers to past workers. The fact that these wealth transfers did not reduce the current workers to subsistence levels themselves was also due to the productivity gains of the new industrialised and mechanised workplace. Essentially, workers were now supporting both themselves and current pensioners, while still experiencing perceptible increases in the standard of living. Such a situation would never have been either economically or politically feasible in an earlier age when workers would likely have revolted against a new tax that would have impoverished them for the sake of retired workers. This new world in which workers could support their families, plus some strangers they never met, was a triumph of markets that ironically allowed governments to get away with higher taxes.

So, Is Job Growth Progress?

Once upon a time, we measured economic progress in terms of the ability of households to feed themselves and sleep in a warm bed. We still do this in the developing world where “extreme poverty” is a real problem.

In the industrialized world, however, “extreme poverty” does not exist, and 78 percent of “the poor” have air conditioning, and a majority have cell phones. The lifestyle enjoyed by my mother in the 1940s would today be deemed “overcrowded” and “substandard” by federal agencies. At the time, such conditions were considered to be quite middle class. But, as Ludwig von Mises once remarked, “the luxury of today is the necessity of tomorrow.”

Apparently, if we were to measure necessary work in terms of the need to fund basic food and shelter, the number of work hours needed today would hardly constitute a full-time work schedule.

This is why over decades, we find that the amount of labour done by human beings has declined over time. Machines now do the work that many people once did, and more economically.

This is why the US now has more industrial production today than in the past, even though fewer people are employed in manufacturing. This is why our grandparents worked more hours than our parents, even though standards of living are higher now than they were in the 1960s.

So, over the long term, we cannot say that more jobs equals more prosperity. In fact, one could just as easily argue that fewer jobs, fewer work hours, and fewer workers illustrates gains in prosperity. Child labourers, for example, are no longer essential to maintaining a family’s standard of living—the need for child labour being driven out by increased prosperity. All those jobs are long gone.

So, how should we respond when politicians claim to have “created millions of jobs”? Should we assume this is a measure of economic improvement?

Over the short term, this may yet be a useful metric.

But we must still ask ourselves if the economy changed fundamentally over the past ten years that would lead far fewer people to need employment.

More importantly, we must consider if the price of goods and services has decreased significantly.

Are more people voluntarily electing to adopt a lower standard of living for the sake of more leisure? Or to pursue non-market work?

These are all questions that should be considered when we speak of jobs and economic improvements. Really, the only measure that matters is real household wages and wealth, and what can be acquired with it. Anything else is groping for answers with tangential data, and the whole endeavuor illustrates the limits of aggregated economic data.

Nevertheless, there’s nothing wrong with skeptically picking apart government claims about economic successes.

_RyanMcMakenRyan W. McMaken is the editor of Mises Daily and The Austrian.  He has degrees in economics and political science from the University of Colorado, and was the economist for the Colorado Division of Housing from 2009 to 2014. He is the author of Commie Cowboys: The Bourgeoisie and the Nation-State in the Western Genre.
This article first appeared at the Mises Daily


Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Quote of the Day: How to study history


Today’s quote comes from a brilliant new novel just out this week by the author of The Frankenstein Candidate. I won’t spoil the story for you, but this astute observation on studying history comes near the climax (and gives you just a taste of the novel’s quality):

“History isn’t an Arts subject. It’s an analytical one.
    “History, said Aristotle, is less interesting than fiction, because fiction tells you what might be, what could be, while history tells us what was. Was he right? Maybe.
    “But we can ask why. And asking why makes history interesting. Why did it happen that way and not any other way? What might have been if only one thing had been different?
    “That paradigm changes history into one large experiment, as in physics. The history of the world is littered with airplane crashes, of an airborne society that suddenly loses perspective. It loses balance, because it has never been readied for the storm it encounters.
    “But the crashes were always preventable, with the benefit of hindsight. Whatever the cause—mechanical, weather, electrical problems, terrorism—no air crash has ever been inevitable….
    “You’re the aeronautical engineers appointed as the crash investigators. Clue by painstaking clue, you must understand every event, every little detail at a certain time in history, and from that infer a picture of humankind.
    “What makes some men leaders? Some men tyrants? Some of us, men and women … some of us follow leaders, some follow tyrants, some are their own people.
    “The epochal moments of a society’s history arise from a clash of values so intense that no politically correct dialogue can even begin to touch it, let alone resolve it…
    “In the long narrative of human history, these are the turning points, the twists and turns of the story as it unfolds. Identify these epochal moments … remember, they are always caused by an intense value clash … study these pivotal moments, and you understand humanity itself.
    “No society has ever not crashed. So it behooves us to understand, to comprehend fully, the bends in the time and space continuum of values. Western society has been airborne from the time of the Industrial Revolution, a time of more than two hundred years.
    “Two hundred years is a long time. We’re still flying, but flying blind. Flying on auto pilot. The faults are already there. The new instruction manuals are telling the auto pilots to put the nose down. Just slightly. But the gauges don’t give the right readings—the gauges have been tampered with. It takes a long time for an aircraft at thirty-five thousand feet on a half-a-degree tilt to come down to the ground, but physics tells us it eventually will.
“Find the clues about how we lived and how we changed … by relentlessly asking why. That’s how to study history.” [Emphasis mine.]
~ from the brilliant new novel A Sharia London by Vinay Kolhatkar. Grab your copy now!


Leicester must be everyone’s new second team


I don’t follow the no-hands game at all, but this story of one of sport’s greatest all-time upsets almost transcends sport: the story of one of soccer’s greatest-ever underdog clubs knocked off some of the highest-paid teams in the highest-paid league in the world – not just over one weekend, but 38!

The Guardian calls it “The feel good sports story of the millennium.” They could be right. A team from nowhere who started the season as 5000 to 1 outsiders –whose preferred starting line-up this season cost an estimated £22m, more than 10 times cheaper than Manchester City's starting XI -- winning what some call the hardest trophy in all sport!

Here’s the story for those who haven’t followed it up ‘til now:

 Leicester City and the greatest underdog story ever told: a primer for Americans

The story was written when “the little team from the East Midlands” had “found themselves” just “one win from the biggest miracle in sports history.”

This morning, they had that miracle.

Great to see that one of the most enjoyable things about sport, its unpredictability, is still alive.

Capitalism versus the Philosophers


Philosopher Stephen Hicks discusses how philosophers confront, or avoid, the issue of economic freedom.
    Stephen Hicks is a Canadian-American philosopher who teaches at Rockford University, Illinois, where he also directs the Center for Ethics and Entrepreneurship.
    Hicks is the author of Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, which argues that postmodernism is best understood as a rhetorical strategy of far-left intellectuals and academics in response to the failure of socialism and communism.
    French intellectual entrepreneur Grégoire Canlorbe sat down with Professor Hicks to talk.

* * * *

Grégoire Canlorbe: Following a certain interpretation of Marxian economics, postmodern intellectuals sometimes criticise “free-market doctrine” for relying on the law of supply and demand, which they claim is grossly unrealistic. How would you reply?

Stephen Hicks: Remember that the “law” of supply and demand is an aggregate of many individuals’ judgments and actions. It’s important not to reify it into some sort of Platonic or Hegelian abstract force that operates of generic necessity. The best way to model free markets is from the bottom up, by starting with real human beings, each of whom has individualised values, knowledge, and options.

Hicks01I agree with those who criticize the methodology of some versions of free-market economics that utilise only idealised and abstract models of markets in which everyone is perfectly rational and has instant access to all information. But I disagree with the standard postmodernist move of taking the failure of such idealised models to mean that only messy chaos and crisis rule the world. In philosopher’s labels, Nietzsche is not the only alternative to Plato.

Grégoire Canlorbe: Was Ayn Rand fundamentally in continuity or in a break with the classical liberal tradition — and authors such as David Hume, Adam Smith, or Jean-Baptiste Say?

Stephen Hicks: Rand’s distinctive thesis on political economy is her insistence that the best defense of liberalism is philosophical — that is, that it turns on getting the metaphysics, the epistemology, and especially the ethics right. Wrong views in ethics and epistemology undercut the case for a free society. And on those issues, her views frequently conflict with those of Smith, especially in moral psychology, and they consistently conflict with those of Hume, especially in epistemology.

Interestingly, Rand has less in common philosophically with the liberals of the Scottish Enlightenment, like Hume and Smith, and more in common with the liberals of the English Enlightenment, such as Locke and Mill. But even more forcefully than one finds in Locke and Mill, Rand’s liberalism is based on a rational egoism, and that is distinctive in the tradition of classical liberalism.

Grégoire Canlorbe: It is not uncommon to hear postmodernist scholars say that modern capitalism, with its impersonal marketplace, leads to a disenchantment and an impoverishment of human relations, contrasting with all the magic, moral, and sentimental resonance of “reciprocal gifts” among hunter-gatherer societies. What is your opinion on this commonly held view?

Stephen Hicks: Postmodernists share that sentiment with many conservatives, feudalists, and tribalists.

Of course, a huge amount of the elimination of magical and sentimentalist thinking has occurred due to modern science and engineering, which have arisen in symbiotic relation with modern liberal economics.

The significance of free market capitalism [in this context] is that it gives people a wider range of possible exchanges. One is still free to ritualise one’s shopping experience — as many people do, for example, by going to the local farmers market on Saturday mornings, where they socialise and sample and barter face-to-face and enjoy the particularities of one’s local people and their customs. And one is free to utilise an efficient and impersonal chain store. It’s your choice. But having that choice is empowering for two reasons.

If the wider range of options that free markets make possible are in fact efficient, then they save time and money. One can invest that time and money in other values that are to you more significant. Suppose the impersonal supermarket saves you an hour’s time and $30, and you use that time and money to experience a musical concert. Then your life is more enriched, not less.

It’s also empowering because if you choose instead the localised and personalised market, then it becomes more significant because you chose it. You didn’t just happen to be born into it or be conditioned to it by the happenstance of your upbringing.

I’ve long had a suspicion that the discomfort the critics have with classical liberalism is really a deep discomfort with the full responsibility for your life that liberalism requires. Tribal, feudal, and collectivised societies make your choices for you — sometimes by explicit conditioning and restrictions, and sometimes simply by not being able to generate the range of possibilities that liberal societies can.

Grégoire Canlorbe: According to French philosopher Michel Foucault, the rise of economic freedom after the 18th century coincides with the deployment of new techniques of control operating at local level through prisons, factories, schools, and hospitals. Economic policy, then, is the product of a new practice of power, present at all levels of society, whose aim is to “rationalise the problems posed to [society] by phenomena characteristic of a set of living beings forming a population: health, hygiene, birthrate, life expectancy, race.”
Hicks2    How would you sum up the main strengths and weaknesses of Foucault’s analysis?

Stephen Hicks: There’s a libertarian streak in Foucault that sometimes appeals to me, and of course he’s right that the rise of centralized and controlling bureaucracy is one feature of the modern world. I think Foucault can often be good psychologically and insightful philosophically, but ultimately he’s weak as a historian.

As a start on this huge topic, I’ll just say two things here. One is that the modern era is characterized by at least three types of social philosophy. The great debate between free-market liberalism and socialism highlights two of the three types. The third type is bureaucratic centralisation, and that social philosophy cuts across the free-market/socialist debate.

The idea that society can be organized centrally with concentrated power used in all of the ways that Foucault diagnoses — that paradigm of technocratic efficiency is often committed to neutrally and can then be applied in either market or governmental contexts. One can envision and find examples of private factories, corporations, and government bureaucracies applying those techniques.

So the question of both history and philosophy is whether the hegemonic-controlling-power model best fits with the theory and practice of modern free-market capitalism or with the theory and practice of modern collectivism-socialism.

Hicks3The other point I’ll make quickly is that Foucault consistently embraces a Nietzschean understanding of power as fixed and zero-sum. In that model, power may be constantly evolving, but it is also constantly agonistic and antagonistic. Hence the consistent undercurrent of cynicism in any Foucauldian discussion of power.

That contrasts to those understandings of power that recognize some forms of it — cognitive, economic, personal-relational, for example — as potentially generative and increasing, resulting in a net growth.

Grégoire Canlorbe: Finally, Professor Hicks, I’m wondering if you’d like to respond to something Christian Grey, the young business magnate in E.L. James’s bestselling Fifty Shades of Grey, has to say on the subject of economic power:

Business is all about people … and I’m very good at judging people. I know how they tick, what makes them flourish, what doesn’t, what inspires them, and how to incentivise them.… I have a natural gut instinct that can spot and nurture a good solid idea and good people.… I don’t subscribe to luck or chance. The harder I work the more luck I seem to have. It really is all about having the right people on your team and directing their energies accordingly. I think it was Harvey Firestone who said the growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.

Stephen Hicks: I’m charmed that a character in an erotic novel can be such an articulate spokesman for entrepreneurism.


  • “What economics can teach philosophers is that other human beings need neither be a burden nor a threat, neither a hell nor a horror but a blessing.
        “This is the greatest lesson economics can teach: that in a society making peaceful cooperation possible we each gain from the existence of others.
        “What a great story to tell!”
    CUE CARD ECONOMICS: Economic Harmonies, and The Miracle of Breakfast – NOT PC
    • “Gitlin [says the reviewer] is surefooted in identifying the problem. The left, he argues, took a wrong turn when it abandoned knowledge as its guiding light on the grounds that knowledge, as argued by theorists like Michael Foucault and Edward Said, was merely a masked form of power...”
      How postmodermism gutted the left – NOT PC
    • “So how does something as intellectually lame as Keynesian apparatus get traction? Why were Keynes’s nonsensical nostrums accepted so readily in the mid-twentieth century by neoclassical economists when they’d been thoroughly exploded decades before by British classical economists?
          The answer given by Austroclassical economist George Reisman is: ‘intellectual decay.’ Not just in those (like Hayek and the ineffectual Pigou) who attempted to answer Keynes in the 1930s, or later on post-war when the Keynesian technocrats took control of the academies and their centres of economic ‘planning’ -- because the decay had started several generations earlier.”
      Greece, Keynes & intellectual decay: What made it possible? – NOT PC
    • “I remember as a kid growing up with liberal members of my family. I could tell even as a small child that I would grow up and probably not agree with them on many things. However their general advocacy for legitimate tolerance and a generally peaceniky disposition appealed to me on a basic level. Indeed these folks informed my political evolution in a large way and it is these relationships (with lefty family and friends) which gave me many of the the insights I needed to come to my small government philosophy.
          “Sadly this breed of lefty has been overwhelmed by what I consider a small minded and potentially dangerous political animal, the ‘progressive’.”
      A Very Important Distinction: The Trouble Isn’t Liberals. It’s Progressives. – Nick Sorrentino, NOT PC
    • “’What is missing in … Africa …  is “exchange and specialisation and the division of labour [that enables people to] get wealthy by figuring out ways to create products and services that have value to other people.’…
          “He’s certainly right that you can’t start from the top down, or by reversing cause and effect. And any prosperity at all is difficult when you have governments continually plundering both their people and each other, which describes so much of the African continent.
          “But it’s not true to say that people getting wealthy by creating products and services that have value to other people are totally absent. One inspiring story is Africa’s Export Trading Group, the winner of the 2013 African Agribusiness of the Year, and a company strongly focussed on growth from the bottom up. Tagline: ‘Linking Africa’s smallholder farmers to global consumers’…”
      How do you create lasting prosperity? – NOT PC
    • “The other day one of this blog’s regular trolls expressed amazement that I’d linked to a post on poverty in good faith. Surely, reasoned the troll, the only reason a blog promoting ‘capitalist acts’ would link to the story of a woman living in poverty would be to point and laugh.
          “The troll doesn’t get it.
          “Because it is capitalist acts that are lifting people out of poverty all the time. And that’s one of the things this blog was created to celebrate.
          “Consider this: capitalism inherited millennia of poverty, and (despite battling statism all the way) delivered two centuries of prosperity unimaginable  at any other time in history. That’s a great thing.”
      On poverty – NOT PC
    • “Capitalism and entrepreneurship make the difference in the world. Whether a country is rich or poor depends on both. The evidence is all around us, and the explanations are a click away.”
      When Trade is Not Enough – Jeffrey Tucker, NOT PC
    • .

Monday, 2 May 2016

“University students are struggling to read entire books”


George Reisman argues that to truly grasp their chosen discipline, by the time they graduate they should have read, mastered and integrated the context of at least one-hundred books representing the pith, core and related flora of their subject area.

Properly, by the time a student has completed a college education, his brain should hold the essential content of well over a hundred major books on mathematics, science, history, literature, and philosophy, and do so in a form that is well organised and integrated, so that he can apply this internalised body of knowledge to his perception of everything in the world around him. He should be in a position to enlarge his knowledge of any subject and to express his thoughts on any subject clearly and logically, both verbally and in writing. Yet, as the result of the miseducation provided today, it is now much more often the case that college graduates fulfill the Romantic ideal of being “simple, uneducated men.”

Did he say one-hundred books? Students today are struggling to read even one book,  say the university academics who teach them.

University academics caused a furore this week by claiming many students found the thought of reading books all the way to the end “daunting”, due to shorter attention spans and an inability to focus on complex philosophies.
    Jenny Pickerill, a professor in environmental geography at the University of Sheffield, told Times Higher Education magazine: “Students struggle with set texts, saying the language or concepts are too hard.”
    "I recently had a student suggest an alternative book for a module I am teaching which they found easier to engage with. It was a good book, but it was not really academic enough and I am still unsure if that matters or whether I should be recommending more readable books. There is currently a disjuncture between the types of reading we want students to engage with and the types students feel able or willing to do.”
    Jo Brewis, professor of organisation and consumption at Leicester University, weighed in saying "graduates and postgraduate students seem mainly not to be avid readers”. Recommending whole books would overwhelm them, she added, and she tended not to do so.

The irony is that it is precisely what university acadeamics have been teaching themselves, filtered down to youngsters through the teachers colleges and curricula, that is them simple, uneducated and functionally illiterate.

Now, properly [outlines Reisman], education is a process by means of which students internalise knowledge: they mentally absorb it through observation and proof, and repeated application. Memorization, deduction, and problem solving must constantly be involved. The purpose is to develop the student’s mind – to provide him with an instantaneously available storehouse of knowledge and thus an increasingly powerful mental apparatus that he will be able to use and further expand throughout his life. Such education, of course, requires hard work from the student. Seen from a physiological perspective, it may be that what the process of education requires of the student through his exercises is an actual imprinting of his brain.
    Yet, under the influence of the philosophy of Romanticism, contemporary education is fundamentally opposed to these essentials of education...
     With little exaggeration, the whole of contemporary education can be described as a process of encumbering the student’s mind with as little knowledge as possible. The place for knowledge, it seems to believe, is in external sources – books and libraries – which the student knows how to use when necessary. Its job, its proponents believe, is not to teach the students knowledge but “how to acquire knowledge” – not to teach them facts and principles, which, it holds, quickly become “obsolete,” but to teach them “how to learn.” Its job, its proponents openly declare, is not to teach geography, history, mathematics, science, or any other subject, including reading and writing, but to teach “Johnny” – to teach Johnny how he can allegedly go about learning the facts and principles it declares are not important enough to teach and which it thus gives no incentive to learn and provides the student with no means of learning.

No wonder so many students are unable, or unwilling, to read one. One student however had what she considered a telling rejoinder.

Lizzy Kelly, a history student at Sheffield added: “Students might be more inclined to read what academics want them to if our curricula weren’t overwhelmingly white, male and indicative of a society and structures we fundamentally disagree with because they don't work for us.”

Lizzy clearly hasn’t been encumbered with learning, She is right there with the programme.

In a few years time, she willl probably be an academic herslf.


Interview with a climate scientist


Give yourself the pleasure of watching an interview with climate scientist Dr. Judith Curry, who my friend Michael Strong calls “the most important paragon of courage and integrity active in the intellectual world today.”

There are many courageous people out there, but Curry has maintained a steadfast commitment to inquiry, intellectual honesty, and clear public communication despite the harshest rebukes from those who not long ago celebrated her. It is incredibly exhausting to the spirit to withstand such attacks, and unless one is firmly committed to a principle it is always easier to avoid confrontation and do one's work quietly behind the scenes.



You can follow her at her website Climate etc. at  JudithCurry.Com.


Friday, 29 April 2016

Bidinotto on Trump & Hillary, & America


Author Robert Bidinotto explains that Trump and Hillary truly do represent who, and what, Americans now are…

AS I WITNESS the slow, gradual, resigned acceptance within the Republican Party of Donald Trump (and within the Democrat Party of criminal Hillary Clinton and socialist Bernie Sanders) by more and more people -- people who, during a more civilised moment just months ago, would NEVER have tolerated the likes of such creatures -- I am reminded how a culture becomes corrupted, then lost.

The late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan -- a thoughtful, pre-Clintonian Democrat and champion of Western civilization -- memorably described the process he called "defining deviancy down." It amounted to slowly lowering the bar of moral and intellectual standards, of social and cultural expectations, inch by inch. Pretty soon, what was unthinkable in January and intolerable in March becomes tolerated in June, then accepted in August -- and finally celebrated by November.

Why celebrated?

Because in order to accommodate and accept the once-intolerable, a person must surrender his standards, piecemeal...but then rationalise his self-corruption in his own mind. How better to rationalize the despicable -- and one's own acceptance of it -- than to turn it into virtue, and the despicable person into a non-conforming hero? (More on this in the comments section, below.)

I want my friends, some of whom are Trump or Hillary supporters, to understand how seriously I take this corruption.

I am not a bandwagon-joiner. I am not one to stick ‪#‎NeverTrump‬ hashtags everywhere. But neither can I tolerate this crude, ignorant, unprincipled narcissist simply because the alternative would be to vote for a criminal like Hillary. Trump represents the culmination of a process of corruption within the Republican Party, just as Hillary Clinton represents the same within the Democrat Party. To my great sadness, they have come to symbolise and accurately reflect the character of an American people who have, for decades, been defining deviancy down in their own lives and institutions.

I realise that an election is merely a tactical decision, almost always between less-than-ideal options. Oftentimes it is a choice for the lesser harm. But -- and I'm being stone-cold serious -- in a choice between Trump and Clinton, I have no clue who would cause the greater long-term harm to America or to my own values and interests. An unprincipled populist demagogue, whose answer to all problems, foreign and domestic, is an international trade war (see Robert Tracinski's cogent column if you still don't get this) -- or a pathological criminal with a progressive agenda? We're not talking about two characters who would continue the status quo of steady American decline. We're talking about two human wrecking balls. Each, in his or her own way, would accelerate American decline in a host of political, economic, AND CULTURAL ways.

The latter is what concerns me most, because it affects the character of America. As they say, "character is destiny." While these two bottom-feeders sadly reflect the country's slide into decadence, a national leader of character might decelerate that decline. These two would both hasten it.

It might be argued that Trump at least represents what Ayn Rand would have called "the American sense of life," which Hillary Clinton and the left despise and hate. Perhaps. But he has hitched that pro-American spirit to an ANTI-American policy agenda, foreign and domestic. He does not stand for constitutionally limited government, free markets, private property, or individual rights. He is trying to wed "Americanism" to populist statism, and call it "conservatism." That's bad enough on the level of political philosophy, and it would be disastrous on the policy level. But on the more-important level of personal character, Trump would bring into the Oval Office a gutter mentality and behavior, power-hungry narcissism, crude anti-intellectualism, and a mindless personality cult. Yes, America has elected and endured presidents who exhibited one or more of these various ugly traits; however, I cannot recall any single president who embodied them all.

Meanwhile, a vote for Hillary Clinton would be a vote for a pathological liar and crook, and a statist proponent of unlimited government power. And it would be a moral ratification of her despicable betrayal of four brave dead American patriots in Benghazi. That is intolerable.

Because of these considerations (and barring any last-minute, utterly unexpected, radical changes of circumstances in an already insane year), should the electoral alternatives sink to a choice between Trump or Clinton, I shall not vote for either.

I care too much for America's founders, for those who fought and bled and died for this special nation, to dishonor their memory and legacy with such a vote. If our nation has come to this, I believe the November 2016 election will be remembered as America's Jonestown -- and I for one shall refuse to participate in moral self-poisoning and political mass suicide.

[Hat tip Mark V. Kormes. Post originally appeared on Facebook]


  • “But even before the speech began, Trump’s campaign was telling us that there would be no policy details in it, and they weren’t lying…
        So Trump will hire really great people. He won’t tell you anything about them, but he can tell you what losers the other guys are…
        “The majority of the speech was Trump criticising everyone else for being a loser while telling us almost nothing about what he would do differently. In other words, it was exactly like the rest of his campaign.
        “Except that one policy issue was consistent: Trump’s desire for a trade war.”
    Trade War Is Donald Trump’s Only Real Foreign Policy – Robert Tracinski, THE FEDERALIST
  • ““America First” soon became associated with isolationism, antisemitism — and short-sightedness: Just three months after Lindbergh’s speech, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and Germany declared war on the U.S., making Lindbergh’s stance obsolete.
        “Trump certainly knows the legacy of “America First.” And just as he seems unafraid of politically correct taboos on other subjects, Trump seems prepared to risk the backlash “America First” will certainly bring.”
    Trump risks Charles Lindbergh label with 'America First' foreign policy speech – Joel Pollak, BREITBART
  • “Defining Deviancy Down (DDD) was an expression coined by the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1993. Moynihan based his phrase on the theory of Emile Durkheim that there is a limit to the bad behavior that a society can tolerate before it has to start lowering its standards…
        “That same year columnist Charles Krauthammer expanded Moynihan's point by proposing the reverse -- that not only were we ‘normalising what was once considered deviant,’ but we were also’"finding deviant what was once considered normal.’"
    Defending Deviancy Down – Manon McKinnon, SPECTATOR
  • In fascism ever coming to the United States, Ayn Rand recommended “you read or re-read Sinclair Lewis’s t Can’t Happen Here with speccial reference to the character, style and ideology of the fascist leader Berzelius Windrip.” Now’s the time.
    It really can happen here: The novel that foreshadowed Donald Trump’s authoritarian appeal – SALON
    Q: How would Donald Trump be rated in the DIM Hypothesis? [audio] – Yaron Brook, LEONARD PEIKOFF.COM
  • .

Thursday, 28 April 2016

On patriotism and putting “country first”


I came across this quote on patriotism that seems relevant this afternoon.

He was by nature a gentleman … A refined humanity constitutes the character of a gentleman. He was the true friend of his country, as far as it is possible for a statesman to be so.  But his love of his country did not consist in his hatred of the rest of mankind. [Emphasis mine.]

No, this is not Fox News praising Donald Trump today for putting “America First” by means of trade bans and building border walls. This is William Hazlitt praising statesman Charles James Fox two centuries ago, a man with “an innate love of truth, of justice, of probity” said to have been “without one drop of gall in his constitution.”

It is not only the difference in time that constitutes the big difference.



Quote of the Day: On young people buying houses in Auckland–or trying to


“…the broader point is that having a tiny number of individuals making extraordinary sacrifices to enter the housing market is still a huge departure from historical norms.  Previously most people bought houses, because most people could.  But prices are currently at an historical high relative to incomes.  The fact that young people buying houses in Auckland is such a singular event that it is newsworthy is a signifier of the problem in of itself.”
~ Danyl McLauchlan, from his post 'Chart of the day, kids are too busy watching plasma TVs over Skype to make charts edition'

Fisking a land-tax looney


I argued Tuesday that any land tax introduced however presently circumscribed will see the shackles come off bit by bit until it there willl be no escape from the grey ones for any land-owner (When they came for foreign land-owners …”).

Already, not less than twenty-four hours after the trial balloon was afloat Gareth Bloody Morgan had already started blowing his own trumpet for the across-the-bloody-board imposition of the ten percent (or more) land tax on every single land owner in the country. (Not caring what this would do to cash-flow poors land-owners; or what it would do to the valuation of land if its entire income stream were ripped away.)

And not just land – Bloody Morgan wants the tax on land, on houses, on every bit of capital than anyone owns anywhere the government can get its hands on.

Just another reason for someone to slit that insuferrable bastard’s throat.

Few supporters of the tax care either for the economics or the morality. They have their own reasons for wanting land owners cut down. Here below is an ilustration of just how the land tax idea ia already being embraced by those who’d lke to widen the scope immiediately to give “the rich” a good kicking. Not to pick on this particular author per se, (but his intials are SP, and if he’s in for a penny…).

Just to make it easy, I’ve fisked it for you [his comments are in italics, my own are preceded by the ‘|’]:

Land tax is something I've loved for a long time…

| Loved! What sort of person “loves” a tax!

… and although a half assed one won't be enough it would be an amazing start that could be improved in future.

| By “won’t be enough” he means it’s not just foreign home owners he blames for high house prices, and by “improved” he he means “used to smack more people around.”

It doesn't sound sexy but it is awesome.

| “Awesome”?! I don’t know about you, but all this enthusiasm for a new form of legalised theft is already making me ill.

The point of a land tax is that it encourages investment in productive assets, like businesses that export goods, rather than houses, and makes people change their housing choices.

| Well, one sure and very immediate point will be that it will certainly discourage folk owning rental properties (especially if virtually all their rents are stripped from them) so that almost-affordable house renting, virtually the only almost-affordable thing about NZ’s big cities at the moment, will at a stroke be made as unaffordable as house buying. (How else would rental investors make any yield at all, or try to?)

By nature it has to be disruptive. It would make elderly people in big houses in leafy suburbs have to downsize. In theory they would move to nice smaller apartments nearby, but seeing they have fought against any kind of sensible density they will be out of luck.
So that'll be a shit-fight.

| You can almost see his hands rubbing togther as he looks forward to seeing old folk have to leave their family homes because they don’t have the incomes to sustain the level of tax that would be viciously levied upon them.

If universally applied it would halt land-banking, and spur efficient land use, it'd free up capital for productive industries, it'd mean being born asset-rich didn't just compound wealth and lock others out. It won't be that for a while, but there is some hope.

| Would it halt so-called “land-banking”? Well, no it wouldn’t: the predominant “land-banks” lie just outside the planners’ artificial ring-fences around our cities, where land can be bought for around one-tenth of the price of the same land just inside the ring-fence, and owners of this land could still wait just as patiently (and affordably) for the planners to rezone – whereupon they either sell or develop. There is no new “spur” in the newl-floated new tax just as there is no class in NZ born so “asset-rich” that it simply sits on bare land for generations simply for the sake of it. It’s just a class warrior’s pipe dream.
    If our envy-ridden commentator could remove his green-eyed lenses for a moment he might realise that even with the existing holding costs of empty land, you're only going to keep it empty if there's a huge windfall profit at the end of it – and with all New Zealand's major cities ring-fenced by zoning there's an assured bonus if he can just sit tight until the zoning changes (or if he can wine and dine the planners and councillors and encourage them to change it).
    He might understand that the biggest spur to freeing up these “land banks” and ridding us of this cronyism would not be the introduction of another form of legalised theft, but a simple removal of the planners’ ring-fence.

There's the saying only Nixon can go to China. In that same way only the party of landowners can introduce Capital Gains Taxes or land taxes. If National does manage to get a land tax in, in addition to the piss-weak CGT it introduced, then future governments can extend them until properly useful.
Fingers crossed.

And, sadly, what is described is both the modus operandi of this nutless National Government (ably described in yesterday's Herald by the otherwise loathsome Bryan Gould, who this time is almost wholly on the money)), and the certain long-term consequence of the land tax. There is nothing surer than that the inevitable consequence of this circumscribed tax is its extension by either this or subsequent government.

Danyl at The Dim Post is already talking up the opportunity”"::

It sometimes feels to me like Key and English realise they’ve done a pretty shitty job at modernising our economy so they’ve set up freebie policies for the subsequent left-wing government. There’s the capital gains tax on property sales within two years, which can be kicked up to ten years, and now it looks like there will be a land tax for foreign owners, which can easily be adapted to a land tax on undeveloped properties in urban areas (land banks), or even single owner-occupier properties in suburbs like, say, Remuera, to encourage the development of apartment buildings.

Could anything be more certain?

Could anything be more wrong.


  • Spare a thought for Queensland property owners, who were hit with a retrospective land tax going back to June 30, 2002 – along with a redefinition of "unimproved" to include “the hard work of property owners, including (among other things) the buildings they have erected, the leases they have in place, business goodwill and infrastructure charges.” Would you rule out any of that happening here?
    `Retrospective land tax to hit Queensland property investors – PROPERTY TALK
  • “The best solution to our housing affordability woes and associated unintended consequences, such as an epidemic of ultra-long commutes from rural towns to jobs in the unaffordable city, would involve a few new towns like “The Woodlands” springing up in the superabundant stretches of undeveloped land with which NZ (one of the world’s most lightly populated countries) is blessed. The existence of these highly competitive alternatives – for both home buyers and businesses (hence the excellent jobs-housing balance) – would soon take the pressure off the market in the existing cities, strangled as they are by NIMBYism as well as misguided planning.
        “Planned ‘releases of land’ however for a specific 10,000+ new homes per year in highly specific locations, could be a failure as a “housing affordability” policy per se. When we analyse previous housing bubbles and crashes around the world, we find that the most volatile ones are those in which the price inflation was accompanied by frantic amounts of building. This seemingly contradictory combination is the result of insufficient market freedom to convert cheap rural land to urban use without its original owners holding out for ‘planning gain’.”
    Will the Housing Accord cure the land banks? – Phil Hayward, NOT PC, 2013
  • “Which means in order to make a purchase, developers will have to offer land owners an amount greater than the
    "present value" of what the land owner thinks the value might reach if he holds the land. And every developer has to out-bid every other developer for the parcels that might go on the market.  Meanwhile, the rising prices paid by developers feed heightened expectations on the part of the remaining land owners. And so it goes on like a nuclear chain reaction, blowing up this time in the face of would-be affordable-home owners.
        “And as with a nuclear chain reaction, it is impossible to have "just a little, harmless explosion." Urban planners need to understand that an Urban Growth Boundary does not cause a little, harmless explosion in greenfields land values.”
    How do you stop land banking? – Phil Hayward, NOT PC, 2013
  • “Most of the planners in New Zealand's major cities have imposed what's called a Metropolitan Urban Limit around the cities. This is sometimes called an 'urban fence,' inside which development proceeds (in theory) according to the planners' whims, and (in reality) to the extent that developers and builders can get around these whims and get something done.
        “Outside the urban fence, development only proceeds to the extent that land-owners outside the fence can dodge the planners' desire to make a rural museum of the area surrounding the cities, and to the extent that developers who have built up land banks around the city can encourage their chums on council to relax the zoning, or to release the urban fence just a little. You might call this a sort of 'informal' public-private partnership. (Ask around, for instance, about how the car yards of Henderson were re-zoned from rural and who benefited most from the re-zoning; and -- more recently -- ask yourself who the major beneficiaries were of the recent relaxation of controls around Botany, Flat Bush and Albany.)…”
    Message to planners: "Don't fence me in!" - NOT PC, 2007

Yeah, he's right

At a panel to mark this year's Intellectual Property Day, the founder of hitREC●rd, Jospeh Gordon Levitt, said

I think the way that we figure out how intellectual property is going to work today — and especially how it’s going to work moving into the future — will be a huge part of us succeeding as a human race. I’m glad we’re dedicating a day re: intellectual property — I think it’s well worth talking about.

And you know what? He's right.

[Hat tip.Adam Mossoff]


Wednesday, 27 April 2016

“A tax on the value of a site is really a tax on productive potential”


John Key’s proposed land tax would take money out of the hands of would-be home builders at precisely the time when more homes need to be built. The godfather of land taxes was a fellow called Henry George, who it’s fair to say was single-minded on the topic. (Ahem.)  In his bio of Henry George in The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics, economist Charles Hooper makes this very criticism of the idea:

George was right that other taxes may have stronger disincentives, but economists now recognise that the single land tax is not innocent, either. Site values are created, not intrinsic. Why else would land in Tokyo be worth so much more than land in Mississippi? A tax on the value of a site is really a tax on productive potential, which is a result of improvements to land in the area. Henry George's proposed tax on one piece of land is, in effect, based on the improvements made to the neighboring land.
    And what if you are your "neighbour"? What if you buy a large expanse of land and raise the value of one portion of it by improving the surrounding land. Then you are taxed based on your improvements. This is not far-fetched. It is precisely what the Disney Corporation did in Florida. Disney bought up large amounts of land around the area where it planned to build Disney World, and then made this surrounding land more valuable by building Disney World. Had George's single tax on land been in existence, Disney might never have made the investment. So, contrary to George's reasoning, even a tax on unimproved land reduces incentives. [Emphasis mine.]

I’ll let you work out for yourself the incentives for large, staged subdivision developments…of precisely the sort the Productivity Commission argues is necessary to help bring down the cost of producing new houses.

[Hat tip David R. Henderson]


  • The Land Tax “suffers from a much more fundamental flaw.  Namely: A tax on the unimproved value of land distorts the incentive to search for new land and better uses of existing land.  If we actually imposed a 100% tax on the unimproved value of land, any incentive to search would disappear…
        “Take a real estate developer.  One of his main functions is to find valuable new ways to use existing land.  ‘This would be a great place for a new housing development.’  ‘This would be a perfect location for a Chinese restaurant.  And so on… ‘Information about the land can be considered an improvement in its own right. Some of the land's qualities have very low search costs to discover: is it arable, will it support any type of building, is it in the middle of a city or rural area, etc. Discovery of other potential uses may require significant search and/or investment in other technologies. An entrepreneur brings these qualities to market - they do not bring themselves. Until he does so, the value of the land is undefined.’”
    A Search-Theoretic Critique of [Land Tax] – Bryan Caplan, ECON LOG
  • “He’s now suggesting another way to put the grey ones’s hands in your pockets: a land tax on non-NZers and NZers living overseas. A land tax said to be around ten percent of the land’s value, payable every year. A land tax payable by owners out of their income on the value of their asset. A tax that will undoubtedly require a whole new army of assessors to value these ever-rising assets. A tax imposed on land owners as a xenophobic political sop instead of acknowledging the government policies that have made land in NZ far, far too expensive.”
    John Key finds another new tax – NOT PC
  • “[Land] taxers claim that the tax could not possibly have any ill effects; that it could not hamper production because the site is already God-given, and man does not have to produce it; that, therefore, taxing the earnings from a site could not restrict production, as do all other taxes. This claim rests on a fundamental assumption — the hard core of [land]-tax doctrine: Since the site-owner performs no productive service he is, therefore, a parasite and an exploiter, and so taxing 100 percent of his income could not hamper production.
        “But this assumption is totally false. The owner of land does perform a very valuable productive service, a service completely separate from that of the man who builds on, and improves, the land. The site owner brings sites into use and allocates them to the most productive user. He can only earn the highest ground rents from his land by allocating the site to those users and uses that will satisfy the consumers in the best possible way. We have seen already that the site owner must decide whether or not to work a plot of land or keep it idle. He must also decide which use the land will best satisfy. In doing so, he also ensures that each use is situated on its most productive location. A single tax would utterly destroy the market's important job of supplying efficient locations for all man's productive activities, and the efficient use of available land.”
    The [Land] Tax: Economic and Moral Implications – Murray Rothbard, MISES DAILY, 2011


How copyright helped make Shakespeare popular


Title page of First Folio, 1623. Copper engraving by Martin Droeshout.

A little-known fact: Nearly half-a-century after his death, Shakespeare was hardly a thing at all. His plays were hardly given; his popularity, if any, on a par with playwrights now barely known, and deservedly so. What changed things, you’ll be surprised to hear, was the very thing needed to underpin investment in his works. In a word: copyright.

Shakespeare scholar Jonathan Bate explains:

The crucial historical moment for the development of the editing of Shakespeare’s texts was the passing of the first proper Copyright Act in 1709 (coming into force in 1710). For the first time, copyright became vested in the author. If I am a publisher and I know that Shakespeare is good box office and people are going to read him, I’m going to want an edition of him on my list. But my problem, of course, is that Shakespeare is not around to assign me his copyright. So what I do is commission someone to produce an edition of Shakespeare, and I get the copyright of that edition. This is exactly what happened in the early eighteenth century – and is still happening today. The entrepreneurial publisher Jacob Tonson saw that the old folios of Shakespeare’s collected works were looking outdated, making the time propitious for a modern edition with the printing errors corrected, the act and scene numbers regularized, the spelling modernized, some explanatory notes inserted, and a lively introduction provided. He commissioned the poet and dramatist Nicholas Rowe to undertake this work, but kept the copyright vested in the publishing house. If anybody else wanted to do a Shakespeare, they would have to find a different way of editing him. The initial term of copyright was quite a short period: twenty-one years for all works already in print at the time of the statute’s enactment and fourteen years for all works published subsequently. So throughout the eighteenth century, every twenty years or so, Tonson and his successors – it was a family publishing firm – would commission someone else to do a new edition of Shakespeare, and in particular put in a new introduction, thus allowing them to update their copyright. By assigning contracts to successive leading figures in the literary world, such as Alexander Pope and Samuel Johnson, the house of Tonson kept their control of the mainstream text of Shakespeare.
   However, other people began to edit Shakespeare, in order to win a slice of the market, so decade by decade there was an ever-greater proliferation of editions, each presenting Shakespeare in subtly different ways and choosing different textual variants. Adding together ‘Complete Works’ and ‘Individual Plays’, there have been thousands of editions of Shakespeare. And, roughly speaking, every twenty years or so since Rowe’s of 1709, there has been a new Collected Works that embodies, to a greater or lesser extent, a rethinking of the principles and practices of Shakespearean editing. This is the feedback loop taken to an extreme: whereas fine dramatists such as Thomas Heywood and John Marston have had collected editions just once apiece, in the late nineteenth century, the market has demanded (or at least withstood) multiple recyclings of Shakespeare’s text. In publishing, as in the theatre, availability is one of the things that keeps him going. Because of that availability and that capacity for adaptability, there are a huge number of Shakespeares circulating and competing in the culture of Britain, the United States and (to a slightly lesser but still highly significant degree) the rest of the world. [My book] ‘The Genius of Shakespeare’ tells the story of how this has been the case for a very long time.

PS: The story comes from Bates’s excellent book The Genius of Shakespeare, which I was put onto by Marsha Enright. (Thanks Marsha.)

[Pic by Wikimedia Commons]


Time to re-assess on anniversary of nuclear disasters: “Our very future depends upon it”


This week marks the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, and this year the 5th of the Fukushima disaster – “the two greatest nuclear accidents the world has ever seen.” And it turns out what you don’t know about both can kill you.

Easy ones first, so let’s start with Fukushima, where “following a major earthquake, a 15-metre tsunami disabled the power supply and cooling of three Fukushima Daiichi reactors, causing a nuclear accident on 11 March 2011. All three cores largely melted in the first three days.

So let’s start by having you guess how many people died of radiation since the accident. Any ideas? The answer is: none. Zero. Not one. “There have been no deaths or cases of radiation sickness from the nuclear accident…” That’s the good news.

Astonishingly however,

Official figures show that there have been well over 1000 deaths from maintaining the evacuation, in contrast to little risk from radiation if early return had been allowed…
   About 90% of deaths were for persons above 66 years of age. Of these, about 70% occurred within the first three months of the evacuations…
    The premature deaths reported in 2012 were mainly related to the following: (1) somatic effects and spiritual fatigue brought on by having to reside in shelters; (2) Transfer trauma – the mental or physical burden of the forced move from their homes for fragile individuals; and (3) delays in obtaining needed medical support because of the enormous destruction caused by the earthquake and tsunami. However, the radiation levels in most of the evacuated areas were not greater than the natural radiation levels in high background areas elsewhere in the world where no adverse health effect is evident, so maintaining the evacuation beyond a precautionary few days was evidently the main disaster in relation to human fatalities.

Turns out that what officials didn’t know about radiation helped to kill over 1,000 people. But that’s not the worst effect of not knowing. Across Japan and around the world, construction and operation of nuclear power plants either slowed, paused or ceased altogether, prompting a turn to “renewables” like wind and hydro. This despite rocketing European power prices making electricity a luxury good in a continent in which thousands of folk die every for lack of heat through winter; despite the deaths of around 100 people since 1990 due to wind turbines; and despite the hydro dam in Fukushima province burst by the quake flooding 1800 homes and causing an unkown number of deaths.

So the wider reaction to Fukushima has killed people too—many more than the number (zero) who died in the initial nuclear disaster.

Writing in the Guardian this week, David Robert Grimes argues "it's time to dispel the myths about nuclear power. We need more than ever to have a reasoned discussion on the issues.”

Even now, widespread confusion over these disasters still blights rational discussion on energy production [which is necessary for human survival and flourishing]; too often the debate becomes needlessly acrimonious, reliant on rhetoric in lieu of facts. Yet as climate change becomes an ever-encroaching factor, we need more than ever to have a reasoned discussion on nuclear power. To this end, it’s worth dispelling some persistent myths.
    The events in the Ukrainian town of Pripyat on the morning of 26 April 1986 have permanently etched the name Chernobyl, and all its connotations, into the public mind. With a dark irony, it was a poorly conducted safety experiment that was the catalyst for the worst nuclear disaster in history. The full
odious sequence of events that led to the accident would constitute an entire article. In essence, however, the mixture of flawed design, disabled redundancies and a tragic disregard for experimental protocol all feature heavily in the blueprint of the disaster. The net result of this errant test was a massive steam explosion, replete with enough kick to blow the 2,000 ton reactor casting clean through the roof of the reactor building….

Soviet construction and thire response helped both cause the disaster and exacerbate it.

Chernobyl was a perfect storm, a damning tale of ineptitude leading to needless loss of life. It was also unequivocally the world’s worst nuclear accident. To many, it is also heralded as proof-positive that nuclear energy was inherently unsafe, a narrative adopted by many anti-nuclear groups. The word Chernobyl became synonymous with death on a massive scale. But perception and reality do not always neatly align; in the wake of the disaster, the UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) and others undertook a co-ordinated effort to follow up on health effects. In 2006, after two decades of monitoring they outlined the health effects; of the firefighters exposed to the huge core doses and incredibly toxic smoke, 28 died from acute radiation sickness. A further 15 perished from thyroid cancer. Despite aggressive monitoring for three decades, there has been no significant increase in solid tumours or delayed health effects, even in the hundreds of thousands of minimally protected cleanup workers who helped purge the site after the accident. In the words of the 2008 UNSCEAR report: “There is no scientific evidence of increases in overall cancer incidence or mortality rates or in rates of non-malignant disorders that could be related to radiation exposure.”
    It added: “The incidence of leukaemia in the general population, one of the main concerns owing to the shorter time expected between exposure and its occurrence compared with solid cancers, does not appear to be elevated. Although most highly exposed individuals are at an increased risk of radiation-associated effects, the great majority of the population is not likely to experience serious health consequences as a result of radiation from the Chernobyl accident. Many other health problems have been noted in the populations that are not related to radiation exposure.”

Astonishing, no, that sentence I’ve highlighted, coming from the 2008 UN follow-up report on the disaster: “There is no scientific evidence of increases in overall cancer incidence or mortality rates or in rates of non-malignant disorders that could be related to radiation exposure.” I bet you’ve never heard that before. Yet …

To this day, a 30km exclusion zone around the reactor has been maintained for precaution, despite the radiation level in this boundary being far below that which would cause damage. Unmolested by human hands, the Chernobyl exclusion zone has become an incredible natural wildlife habit and a growing tourist attraction.
    But for ideological opponents of nuclear power, this reality is largely ignored…

The truth is too inconvenient. Yet if safety and clean air is what you’re after (and, if you’re of that disposition, lower carbon dioxide emissions) then nuclear has to be a viable option.

Yet as I have expanded upon previously for this paper, ideological opposition is hard to overcome and nuclear is no exception. In the wake of Fukushima, Germany acquiesced to demands from lobby groups to shut down its nuclear sector, building heavily polluting fossil-fuel plants in their stead. Japan too suspended its nuclear grid, becoming the second-largest net importer of fossil fuels in the world. Some ostensible environmental campaigners lauded this, oblivious to the fact these decisions condemned the environmental to further damage. If this is “victory” for the environment, it is a resoundingly pyrrhic kind. Shutdown of the plants in Japan has led to not only increased pollution, butrolling blackouts and protests. By contrast, France has for decades produced 75% of its energy through nuclear, and enjoys the cleanest air and among the lowest carbon emissions of any industrialised nature.
    The IPCC stress that nuclear power must be considered if we are to halt climate change, with some estimates suggested
nuclear capacity needs to double if we are to stave off the worst ravages of climate change. Even so, resistance to nuclear remains, and scare-stories about Chernobyl and Fukushima are too often employed as an empty rebuttal by those unwilling to countenance the situation we face.
    Nuclear energy is complicated, has drawbacks, and like any form of energy production it has risks. But it is also clean, safe and hugely efficient. If we truly want to have a rational discussion on how best to power our world, we need to confine ourselves to facts rather than fictions and weigh up the advantages and disadvantages without recourse to ill-founded ideological radiophobia. Our very future depends upon it.

NB: While warmists talk about a carbon “footprint,” it’s appropriate to understand that every form of energy production has its own “deathprint” – “the number of people killed by one kind of energy or another per kWhr produced..” Forbes has done the research:



Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Let’s not forget the Armenian genocide ‘midst the warm glow #AnzacDay


In recent years it has become routine to praise Turkey’s participation and assistance in Anzac ceremonies at Gallipoli Cove, to write glowing editorials about these erstwhile enemies having formed a “friendship under arms,” and (just occasionally) to wonder at Turkey’s apparently genuine eagerness to help raise the Anzac legend into some prominence.

One reason today's Turkey participates so willingly in all the modern myth-making around the invasion of their country is this: because 'tis better for their modern nation to be thought to have been born in bravery midst the furnace of arms at Anzac Cove than in their genocide of one million in Armenia that happened almost contemporaneously, and is today all but forgotten.

It should not be.

Modern Turkey was born just before the War, when the men who became known as the Young Turks ousted the fading lights of the failing Ottoman Empire, the “Sick Man of Europe,” leaving the Empire to splinter. (It is splintering still.)

When the Ottoman Empire splintered, explains Andrew Bernstein in a new article, “the loss of the European provinces, in effect, destroyed the multinational and multireligious character of the Ottoman Empire,” and encouraged in Turkey (as it did in the equally splintering Austro-Hungarian Empire) a rising Nationalism.

By the early decades of the 20th century, leading Turkish intellectuals and politicians condemned the old multicultural, multireligious empire, regarding it as a severe handicap. They held that the country’s strength lay in its “Turkishness,” in a purity of race and culture—and that such strength had been diluted and vitiated by establishment of a polyglot empire composed of mongrel elements. For them, the great restrengthening of the Turks consisted in excising the discordant components. Now, the nationalists held, the country could become truly and fully Turkish.

That new Nationalism very quickly had two hooks on which it could hang its hats.

One was the heroic defence of the Homeland by the man who became Kemal Ataturk, the first modern leader of the new Turkey. The other was the decision of these new Nationalists to send Armenians into a mass grave – the Young Turks frankly admitting to their new German allies “that the ultimate objective of the actions against the Armenians is complete annihilation.”

Is it any wonder then that Turkey would rather commemorate the heroic defence by the man who became their modern nation’s first leader, than the mass genocide carried out by his colleagues?


  •                             armenian-genocide
    NB: I can thoroughly recommend Andrew Bernstein’s new article on the genocide, which “examines the history and motive behind this underreported atrocity, finding its cause to be a combination of mysticism (i.e., Islam) and collectivism (i.e., racism).” He concludes:

        To take the declaration “Never Again” seriously, we must remember the innocent victims of the Armenian genocide—and learn its grisly lesson. The Turks held a caveman’s view that human society is composed of warring ethnic groups or tribes, that moral value or disvalue is bestowed by ethnic membership, that individual members of a rival or disfavoured tribe hold no value regardless of their intellectual achievement or moral stature, and that such “ethnic inferiors” or “tribal enemies” may be mercilessly and ceaselessly massacred.
        What human beings around the globe can do to honour both the innocent Armenian dead and other guiltless victims of such barbarism is to repudiate the collectivist premise inherent in all forms of racism and tribalism; to recognize that human beings are individuals, unique and unrepeatable—that ethnic membership is morally irrelevant; and to advocate the individual’s unqualified and inalienable right to his own life, regardless of the ethnic group, nation, or tribe into which he happens to be born. If—and only if—we recognise this fundamental human right can we ensure that such atrocities as the Armenian genocide are never repeated.
    Lessons of the Armenian Genocide – Andrew Bernstein, OBJECTIVE STANDARD

[Pic by Wikimedia Commons]


John Key finds another new tax - #LandTax


"Some experts have declared that it is necessary to tax
the people until it hurts. I disagree with these sadists."

~ Ludwig Von Mises, from his essay ‘Defense, Controls, and Inflation

For a Prime Minisister elected on a platform of “no new taxes,” your ever-popular leader has been very good at discovering new ways to steal from you:

    • GST increase from 12.5% to 15%
    • GST on items purchased online from overseas
    • Capital gains tax on houses sold after owning for less than two years
    • Increased taxes on KiwiSaver
    • The 2012 ‘Paperboy’ tax
    • Civil Aviation Authority fees increase
    • Additional fuel tax increase of 9 cents with annual CPI increases locked in for perpetuity
    • Road User Charges increased
    • Massive ACC levy increases
    • New online company filing fees
    • Creeping expansion of the scope of Fringe Benefit Taxes; and, most recently
    • the so-called "Netflix tax" on services, media or software purchased from an overseas online retailer.

He’s now suggesting another way to put the grey ones’s hands in your pockets: a land tax on non-NZers and NZers living overseas. A land tax said to be around ten percent of the land’s value, payable every year. A land tax payable by owners out of their income on the value of their asset. A tax that will undoubtedly require a whole new army of assessors to value these ever-rising assets. A tax imposed on land owners as a xenophobic political sop instead of acknowledging the government policies that have made land in NZ far, far too expensive.

A land tax that would see many folk having to find around $100,000 every year or face the consequences -- to pay for the consequences of the very government policies that made their purchase more expensive!.

The argument for it? There may be “evidence,” says Mr Flip Flop that foreigners are “pushing up” New Zealand house prices.

First thing to say: not one land tax anywhere in the world has stopped house-price inflation or any of the housing bubbles in any foreign jurisdiction anywhere. Not in Britain, not in Ireland, not in Australia, not in Singapore, and certainly not in the US. So there’s that, i.e., no empirical evidence whatsoever.

Second: this is a highly progressive tax, in that the heaviest burden would tend to fall on the wealthiest. Yet progressive taxes are something Key’s Blue Team are supposed to be against. Key’s reason for suggesting it however is simply his same old tactic of requiring his supporters to swallow dead rats to ‘head off’ the Red Team, the tactic meaning the Blue Team instead implements everything the Red Team would do anyway. So much for reasons to support Key’s Blue Team.

Third, this must of necessity be a tax on land both productive and unproductive ( to make too many exclusions simply invites loopholes), so much of the cost will fall on land that is agricultural, or industrial, or  that is maybe being prepared for subdivision or waiting for rezoning or consent so it may be prepared for subdivision. Adding more cost simply adds another cost to the already rocketing costs of producing sellable land.

Fourth, a tax of ten percent on land value is (in round figures) represents esentially a 100 percent tax on rent that land might be earning. or even more in some cases. This would make the real capital value to the owners fall to approximately zero – so this new Key Tax would not just be a discouragement to these owners to own rental land, but a complete and total disincentive.

Fifth, it is argued that the tax would discourage foreign “speculators.” Yet what is a speculator but someone waiting for a profitable opportunity that has not yet arisen. Speculation itself does not raise land prices—speculators simply take advantage of the dislocations in the market that are causing those price rises. It would be better to remove those dislocations – such as the Metropolitan Urban Limit that arbitrarily makes some land inside the Limit worth up to ten times more than the equivalent land just outside—if their were a Government with the courage to do so. But there is not.

Sixth, the reasons for rapidly-rising house prices are hardly a mystery, and hardly the fault of foreigners – and the money they do bring in to pay for their houses and their upkeep is real money that local tradesmen live on and local vendors can and do invest productively.

As we recited here the other day, the reasons for rapicly-rising house-price inflation are easily put. There are three::

  • money became too cheap
  • planning rules became too numerous, and
  • it’s in the interests of the political elite to keep them that way.

Much has been written about the second and third. But just consider how cheap is the first.

The money used to buy houses is mostly borrowed. The way our system of money is organised, it is essentially debt organised into currency. Your Reserve Bank oversees the creation of this new money (new debt) that is being borrowed into existence – currently at the rate of around $3.8 billion of new debt/money every year – that’s a rate of money/detb creation of  between 8-13% per year.

And you’ll never guess where most of that new borrowing/new money goes: more than two-thirds of it ploughed directly into the already over-inflated housing market. Every year.

It’s a bit f’ing weak to blame foreigners for that.

Because to blame them for anything is frankly just a political sop. A bit of xeonophobic misdirection to get a new tax on the books.

But rest assured that like rust, the taxman never sleeps.  Every new tax starts with a single foot slipped quietly in the door like this one would be. First it’s one size ten inside your door, then two, and next thing you have a whole freaking home invasion. If this first step comes off, expect land taxes on everybody within this decade, and a fully-fledged wealth tax on everything soon thereafter.

Which will help no-one at all except the grey ones themselves.

This is precisely the sort of thing those parasites feed off.