Friday, 11 April 2008

Beer O’Clock – More Madness from the Beer Archives

Today’s column from Neil at Real Beer is his final dip into the famous Beer Archives (namely, an old orange folder of beer reviews clearly marked “reviews to write up”) to showcase some of the madder reviews. "These might be bizarre beers, some of the reviewers more eccentric comments or, frequently, both," he says. The folder is already back in the vault for another year.

I don’t think my informal test panel ever decided whether Good Bastards was a good name for a beer, but we did try Good Bastards Dark Ale (4%) from (where else) the West Coast. It was indeed dark, black even, with virtually no head. It had a malty nose with some chocolate, burnt toast but also some marmite. Despite that, it was surprisingly drinkable and refreshing. The long dry finish meant we could happily have a few. Our main concern was that a beer from the Coast should not be in little 330ml bottles – they should be quarts! It scored 6.5 out of 10 overall.

Big Mike bought us some beer from his native Australia including Geelong Bitter (4.9%) from (where else) Geelong [where many of these would have been downed last September when  the Geelong Cats became 2007 AFL premiers  - Ed.] The beer was a light gold with a thin head. Overall, it was pleasant crisp dry and clean. Shong (pictured here) suggested there was "not much to it" but it was "fair enough for what it was." Big Mike said “it was the taste of childhood” and “made for drinking.” He said that if you see an unmarked tap in Geelong, it’s probably this. Big Mike’s ludicrously high ranking dragged it up to 6.75.

We got the Italian beer from the supermarket – Peroni (4.7%). This is a slightly cloudy, golden beer with a wispy head. Pleasant nose of grass cuttings, light in the mouth with a little hop kick at the end. The flavour seems to change halfway -- which Flash likened to Italian war policies -- but he did concede it runs quickly down the throat. Went well with the mussels and prawns we were eating and ended up at 6.75 too.

Finally, a real rarity, all the way from New Caledonia – Number One Beer (5%). It looks a bit weak to start as it is a very light beer, almost transparent, with a wispy head. Quite flat but dry and some late bitterness. The advertising brochure made no sense in either English or French. This beer would certainly be very popular in warmer climate or in a very hot bar. Still, the Heineken influence at the brewery ensures that this is an interesting drop and miles better than Kronenbourg! It got 6.25.

Cheers, Neil


Housing ignorance

Despite every government on the planet failing in their every attempt to provide quality low-cost housing and thereby stave off the various housing crises they've created (here for example is a particularly attractive housing complex that the East German government once created as 'model housing'), Tweedledumb housing minister Maryan Street is still empowered by the idea of Nanny State: Landlord!  She's just announced she plans to sell off some of the bigger ticket homes 'owned' by the state, not so she can get Big Government the hell out of the tenancy business, but so government can buy some cheaper ones with the windfall.  "We expect to buy two or more state houses for the value of one," she said, "and buy them in areas where the need is greatest." Ms Street is clearly unaware of the effect of adding the aggregate figure of $12 million to the price of housing "in areas where the need is greatest."

Meanwhile Tweedledee housing spokesman Phil Heatley says "I don't know what Labour are going to do [well, why not read their press releases, Phil, that's supposed to be your job], but National would be reinvesting such massive sale proceeds straight back into the housing stock."

Yes, way to decrease housing costs, dumbarse.  Tweedledumb, and Tweedledumber -- and some people think the Blue Team are somehow the answer. Sheesh.

Just for the benefit of these two brainndead fruit-loops, the only way to seriously decrease the cost of new housing  is to seriously decrease the costs that new house-builders face in buying land and building houses -- damned obvious you would have thought -- which means decreasing the exploding regulatory burden upon them -- which means at minimum sacking the planners, burning their district plans, and taking the power away from councils to zone and levy and  regulate.  I doubt that either of the two Tweedledumbarses would countenance anything like that -- instead they'll just sit tight and hope a recession does the job of lowering the price of housing, while both blowing smoke out their arse.

Here's the sort of smoke and mirrors I mean: forcing developers to build low-cost houses on high-cost land (further raising costs for anyone brave enough to contemplate new development), which Maryan is continuing to promote despite the scheme's obvious destructiveness; and  then there's the vaunted "Welcome Home" home buying scheme.  This last is a 100% tax-payer funded loan for houses up to $200,000 for people who banks have decided are too risky for a real mortgage.  How many pontifications have there been regarding the stupidity of offering 100% finance to people who can't afford it?  Have any NZ politicians been listening?

No matter, Labour obviously figure the target market for this fatuous fiduciary scam -- ie, core Labour voters too ignorant to have understood the reasons for the collapse of the American mortgage market -- will like the idea of someone doing something (anything!) however fatuous, which is why Labour are now running taxpaid prime-time TV ads to trumpet themselves and this bullshit while taking an end run around the Electoral Finance Act.  So they're not just inept, but corrupt as well.

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No Kiwisaver, we're MPs!

MPs are voting with their own wallets on what they think of Kiwisaver: the just-released Register of Pecuniary Interests shows that "while all 121 MPs had some form of superannuation saving ... only five listed KiwiSaver. All were Labour MPs and only one - Pete Hodgson, 57 - is a Cabinet minister."

Obvious conclusions are invited.


Truth in advertising

                                                Ainsley Harriot Snags

Supercity? Bigger not better

As Auckland councils have got bigger and bigger, they've become more and more authoritarian, and less and less interested in helping rather than hindering.  So why do advocates of a 'Super City' for Auckland expect anything different to come from a 'Super Council' led by a Lord Bloody Mayor?  Sure beats the hell out of me.

When in 1989 Minister of Local Government Michael Bloody Bassett merged the 700 small, humble, ramshackle councils around the country into 93 bigger, beefier bureaucracies, he told us it would lead to greater service, increased "efficiencies," and "increase the rating base for councils."  It's certainly done the latter, and a whole swathe of minor power-lusters have been made very happy by the bigger bully pulpits they were given by Bassett's misguided reforms. 

The most recent proposal to hit the table would put all of Auckland's 1.4 million people under the power of an egomaniac called a Lord Mayor.    That the proposal emerged from the office of Mayor John  Banks, who needs no further platforms on which to exercise his egomania is just another reason to be against such an idea.

Bigger councils have become more out of control since amalgamation, not less -- less responsive to the people who are their employers, bigger than ever bullies, and grasping consumers of ratepayers' wealth.   Far from giving more power to citizens, amalgamation has given us less, so why on earth an even bigger amalgamation would be A Good Thing for Aucklanders just leaves me bewildered. 

All the idea did for Londoners was to resuscitate the political career of Red Ken Livingston, and see them barred from driving in and out of their own city while picking up the tab for the city's spate of expensive monument building.  I don't think we want that happening here, do we?

Tell the commissioners currently considering the idea to bury it, forthwith.

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"Minor, trivial and inconsequential" harassment of parent

When Sue Bradford, John Key and Helen Clark introduced the Nationalisation of NZ Children (Anti-Smacking) Act last year, we were told that "minor, trivial or inconsequential" incidents would not be covered by the law.  Parents should have "confidence that they will not be criminalised for lightly smacking their children," said Key.  "Police will use their discretion," said Clark. Police will not be enforcing charges against minor force such as smacking, said Bradford.

All bullshit.

In the first court case taken under the Bradford/Key/Clark Anti-Smacking Act, a Glen Innes man was kept from his children for months, held in prison, and harassed by police for the alleged crime of disciplining his children, only to get to court yesterday to find the police had no evidence against him.  That's right, no evidence at all. The judge dismissed the case because the police had exercised their "discretion" under the law, harassed the father by means of the law, and when it came time to front up declared they had no evidence even of the minor discipline of his own children the man was alleged to have exercised.

The man's lawyer Tony Bouchier points out:

"When the whole issue was being discussed in Parliament and in public, they said that minor matters would not end up in court, it would only be the serious ones," he said.  "I am not condemning the police for protecting children, but the public were given assurances that the police would consider this law carefully, and in this case they have not."

It should be immediately obvious how much the assurances of a politician are worth. Bouchier says his client had pushed one of the girls to get her to hurry for school and threw the jeans at the other to get her attention.

Mr Bouchier said that the man was a good and loving father...  it was not the mother of the children who complained, but her sister.  He said there seemed to be some animosity between the father of the children and the sister who had interfered.

Remember when the nationalisers of children were told how their law would be used as a weapon by disgruntled family members against each other?  Remember how those claims were peremptorily dismissed?

We were fed bullshit by bullshitters, and New Zealand parents and families are suffering because of it -- and most of you reading this will go right out in November and vote for one of those three parties that introduced it.  That makes you exactly as bad as those busybodying bastards you're voting for

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Make it Auckland **Domestic** Airport, say Beagle Boys

Two ministers with nary a clue to rub between them have just declared victory on behalf of every xenophobe in the country who wants a say in other people's business: like a pair of malignant Beagle Boys, Commissar Cosgrove and El Presidente Parker gave voice to every ignorant fear that Canada Pensions plans to ship Auckland Airport off to Manitoba or Montreal, and refused permission for owners of their airport shares to do what they wish with their own property.

To pinch Leighton Smith's line, the place is no longer Auckland International Airport.

For a country almost completely reliant on international trade and international investment, and a people seemingly in love with international travel, New Zealanders (on whose behalf the two Commissars made this decision) are remarkably wary of foreigners, and remarkably interested in having a say in things that are none of their bloody business.

ACFZEAAfaqqg 318027 This was a deal worth 1.725 billion dollars.  A deal between owners and buyers.  It was nobody else's business.  Got that?  It was definitely not a decision for a lawyer known worldwide for lacking even the basic ability to file proper documents (that's the smug git on the right), and a sawdust caesar who has achieved no distinction outside the bullying of car drivers, builders and real estate agents (that's Comrade Cosgrove complete with punch 'n' grow hair hat on the left).  Take a good look at the two self-important swine who set themselves up as judge and jury of other people's business, and ask yourself what gives them the right to do so.

But these two ignorant pricks unable to see past their own noses "see no benefit" in the deal for New Zealand-- neither of them with a brain able to see past a hoped-for benefit to their own electoral hopes this year:  "No benefit" in the sum of $1.75 billion being invested in New Zealand -- "no benefit" in the right of airport shareholders to choose themselves what they do with their own property -- "no benefit" in letting investors overseas know New Zealand is open for business -- no, "no benefit" at all, say the blind and blinkered Beagle Boys.

The airport is a "strategic asset" whose ownership the "people of New Zealand" need to retain, declared the two numb nuts.  What the hell is a "strategic asset," and how the hell would Canadian ownership (not control, which Canada Pensions had already ruled out, just partial ownership) interfere with whatever bullshit definition of "strategic assets" these two clowns could dream up.  What the hell sort of decision is it that dramatically lowers the value of the very asset they deem worthy of their protection?  And just finally, let me point out that the only "people of New Zealand" whose decision on the deal matters are those New Zealanders who agreed to sell their shares.  It's not your decision, nor that of these two wankers; it's the owners' and the owners alone.

This decision is a disgrace.  Said investment analyst Simon Botherway last month, the grounds for this decision are not rational, they are wholly political.  The two are obviously mutually exclusive.  The decision is wholly irrational, utterly xenophobic, and sends a clear three-word message to overseas investors interested in taking an interest in this place: "Don't bloody bother."

NB: Don't you love this delightfully circuitous definition of "strategic asset" from the Local Bloody Government Act, 2002, s.90(2):

Strategic Asset, in relation to the assets held by a local authority, means an asset or group of assets that the local authority needs to retain if the local authority is to maintain the local authority’s capacity to achieve or promote any outcome that the local authority determines to be important ...

In other words, a "strategic asset" is anything we say it is.  Beautiful, huh?  Such is the quality of lawmaking we've come to expect from our lawmakers.

UPDATEREUTERS: Shares in NZ's Auckland Airport fall 10 pct on open.  Good news, huh?  The share price for NZ's Auckland Airport over the last year tells a story familiar to Telecom shareholders subsequent to the government's nationalisation of their copper network, and to Air New Zealand shareholders subsequent to their refusal to let Singapore Airlines invest, and to ... well, you can draw up a bloody list, can't you.  These are just the higher profile, more easily shown examples of what government meddling does to local businesses.


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Thursday, 10 April 2008

Testing liberty against slavery

What's liberty?  In a sentence, it's the absence of physical coercion.

So, what does it mean then when some of you argue that we can't have complete liberty?  That we need restraints on our freedom? Well, you do the maths: What you're really saying is you prefer to take your liberty with just a little bit of slavery.  And as F.A (Baldy) Harper used to say, "Strange is a concept of 'liberty' [where]…you enjoy the right to be forced to bow to the dictates of others."

Some of you will try to wriggle free of what's just been pointed out by declaring that you disagree with that simple sentence at the top of the post.  Harper was onto your ploy and, paraphrasing Lincoln, he pointed out what it gains you:

We all declare for liberty, but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men's labor. Here are two, not only different but incompatible things.

Harper sagely rebutted most of the bromides that are used to argue that a little bit of slavery does you good, which is what you're saying when you tell me the price of liberty for you is too high.  You know the sort of thing; you've head them all before:  "Our liberty is maintained because the government can only do what advances the general welfare" ... "Though our power to vote, infringements on our liberty are prevented" ... "Government does not violate our liberty because it just provides goods and services people want" ...  Taxation is the price we pay for civilization ...  To them all, Harper applied the simple yet rigorous test of 'examining the statement for slavery,' and then demolished them by pointing out that the statements are simply pleas by those who exercise them to wield coercion over others.

Read a summary of Harper's use of slavery to test liberty at the Mises Blog: Distinguishing Liberty from Slavery. It's good.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Why Aucklanders don't use public transport

I had a lunch meeting today; an old friend I hadn't seen for some time had a proposition, something involving talking to her graphics/drawing class about what technical drawing used to be like when it was still called that, and why drawing up houses and presenting them to clients is so much fun.  I look forward to it.

Anyway, the car being in for a clutch makeover, I figured I'd use the bus to get from here to my St Lukes meeting.  I checked the whizzbang Maxx website -- a fun website showing what to use to get from A to B, which even sometimes matches the transport you find in the field -- to find out how to get from here to there using Auckland's celebrated public transport.  You put in your location and your destination and your favoured time of arrival, press several buttons and then watch as it whizzes and whirrs and tells you the quickest way to be whisked across this city by public transport.  I plugged in my info and waited for my answer:  Walk, it said. 

True story.  The favoured method of public transport 4386m across Auckland (yes, the website even knows the distance to the nearest metre) was my own two feet.

You have to laugh.  I did.


Enter Winston

714667  The fact that Winston Peters has placed full-page taxpayer-funded ads across the country's newspapers today criticising New Zealand's freeish trade deal with China indicates one thing we've all known since the deal was announced: in an election year any deal like this will be electoral gold to any political party prepared to exploit the braindead bigotry and economic ignorance of a sizeable proportion of the population to its electoral advantage. 

Enter Winston.

Since NZ First's vote against the deal can do nothing to prevent the deal going through, all NZ First is doing with these ads is making NZ's rabid Stop-the-World-We-Want-to-Get-Off Club aware that the Winston First Party is still prepared to be the repository for their votes.  Meanwhile Helen Clark is prepared to accept all the bluster since it's better than a Winston Walkout (TM) just months before an election -- and she knows that if the Foreign Minister's ads opposing deals with foreigners and Peter Brown's pitch for the bigot vote pay off in votes as they hopes, the grandstanding exit won't be necessary

Despite his megaphone opposition to the deal however, close examination of Peters's criticism  shows there's very little if any cogent criticism to examine.  Not something of course that bothers the supporters to whom Peters is actually talking, whose criticism of this and much else proceeds along this one simple line: "Foreigners!"  (The truth of this is seen the fact that there's nothing in any of his comments about Tibet or human rights abuses or the like -- it's just xenophobia right down the line.)His criticisms are frankly just hollow noise.  See, here's all that the dickwhad is saying once you get past all the bluster:

Leader Rt Hon Winston Peters said there was simply not enough in the deal for this country for New Zealand First MPs to support it...  Under this FTA we will have to wait up to another 17 years to get the full benefits that have been promised.

And of course even longer if Peters's vote was to have any effect in killing the deal.  It's obviously not stated what more benefits he would like to have been agreed, since he fails to properly acknowledge even the benefits that have already been achieved -- another contradiction that he'll be confident his would-be supporters will be too braindead to notice.

Listed below are the explicit "areas of concern" that are supposedly causing the withholding of NZ First's support -- all of them rather surprising for a party of whom Winston First MP Brian Donnelly once told me they were mostly Adam Smith supporters, and all carefully stated to avoid the real reason, which (to repeat) is nothing more than pandering (he hopes) to a braindead xenophobic electoral base.  (Peters's criticisms are in italics; my own comments are in bold below):

* The stated return from the FTA is not worth the risk of exposing the few remaining elements of New Zealand’s manufacturing industry.
What "risk"?  As Paul Walker points out, "Trade will move jobs around an economy but has little effect on the total number of them." The only question for local labour is whether they work in low productivity areas in which we have little comparative advantage, or areas in which local businesses have a greater comparative advantage and achieve even higher productivity.  If the deal encourages industries to move labour to areas of higher productivity, that's a good thing.

* The timing of tariff reductions is weighted heavily in favour of China. What remains of New Zealand’s tariffs will be removed within seven to nine years whereas China has up to 12 years and possibly 17 years to reduce its tariffs.
And the sooner those local tariffs are removed, the better. They're not only a tax on consumers, but as a large part of imports to New Zealand come in the form of producer goods these local tariffs simply add another cost to local producers -- those for whom Peters claims to be talking.

* A huge imbalance already exists in trade between the two countries. China‘s exports to New Zealand in 2007 totalled $5.59b but New Zealand’s exports to China totalled only $1.95b for the same year.
Excellent!   We're getting more with less -- one of the huge benefits of trade.  Or does he think that when we give ten in order to receive fifteen that what we're doing is losing five?

* The projected benefit in dollar terms will make little impact on the trade imbalance. It should be noted that FTAs with both Thailand and Singapore resulted in a worse imbalance of trade.
Excellent!   We'll be getting even more with even less -- one of the huge benefits of trade.  Or does he think that when we give ten in order to receive twenty that what we're doing is losing ten?

* China has very low wages and fewer labour standards than New Zealand. What is left of our local manufacturing industry will simply not be able to compete on a level playing field.
See above under 'comparative advantage.'

* The movement of labour provisions should fall within existing immigration requirements – not FTAs.
So what? 

* The increasing levels of imported processed and non-processed foodstuffs from China threaten New Zealand's production of similar goods. New Zealanders should continue to have access to the quality food products of their own country.
See above under 'comparative advantage.'

* The clauses in the FTA relating to investment are of great concern.
Since none of those "concern"s are enumerated, one can only surmise they relate to the dastardly plans of those cunning yellow people to buy all of Manukau and ship it back to Quangdong.  Or something.

* Yellow people are not to be trusted, and the borders should be closed forthwith to them.
Okay, I made this one up. Can you tell?

Frankly, to even have to read this stuff is an insult to anyone's intelligence, since criticism of this sort of pseudo-mercantilist nonsense was something about which Donnelly's hero Adam Smith demolished all of two-hundred and thirty years ago.  Since old Adam's nine-hundred pages might be a bit much for politicians in their dotage, perhaps PJ O'Rourke's Smith-lite might be easier.  Since O'Rourke paraphrased from Smith, I've paraphrased to make it more even easier for Winston's acolytes:

The problem with Winston's China policy is not ideological. True, there is the difficulty of dealing with a dictatorial state where the entire  apparatus is under the control of a small, doctrinaire political elite. But Winston's MPs are used to that . The problem is that Winston is wrong about economic principles. And not fancy economic principles such as Income Velocity of Money, which caused some of us to get a D on our Econ 101 midterm. Winston is wrong about economic principles so basic that even a doddering old Commie with a high school education like Deng Xiaoping understood them.

Economic progress requires division of labor, freedom of trade, and pursuit of self-interest. One person produces one sort of thing--a sack of rice, perhaps. Another person produces another sort of thing--yoghurt, maybe.

Being self-interested, both people want both things, so they trade... But freedom of trade must be allowed. Taking the sack of rice by force destroys the pursuit of self-interest, which destroys the division of labor, which keeps anybody from doing anything about economic progress...

Trapped in the theater of Maoism, the Chinese finally noticed the emergency exit marked "Adam Smith." China's economy barged though Deng Xiaoping's Open Door. The door smacked economic ignoramuses around the world in the head and they've been wandering around in a daze mumbling nonsense about the unfairness of "our trade deficit" with China ever since.

But there is no such thing as a trade imbalance. Trade can't be out of balance because a balance is what a trade is. Buyers and sellers decide that one thing is equivalent to another. Free trade is balanced trade. You might as well have free love then claim your partner had sex but you didn't.

There is no such thing as a trade deficit. It doesn't matter if New Zealand imports all of its goods from China and exports little else but pieces of paper. We want the computer monitor, and the Chinese want more yoghurt and handsome portraits of Ernest Rutherford. No coercion is involved. Nobody is making New Zealanders buy Chinese goods. It's not like the Opium Wars when the British forced the Chinese to accept shipments of, shall we say, pharmaceutical imports. Maybe the Chinese will fight a war with the whole South Pacific--the Consumer Electronics War of 2009, with Chinese gunboats cruising the fountains in the world's malls. But it hasn't happened yet.

And isn't likely to.  As everybody knows, war is very bad for the consumer electronics market.  Read PJ's brief note on 'Trading with the Enemy' here -- or get the whole book:

On The Wealth of Nations: Books That Changed the World
by P. J. O'Rourke

Read more about this book...

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'The Wave' - Frank Lloyd Wright

It's said that an environmental protestor is someone who's already got their bush cabin, and just wants to stop the other guy having his.

Fiona Anderson's is a similar kind of dishonest rent-seeking.  The founder of a group set up to oppose Marc Ellis's proposed cafe at Piha --  "a cafe would make Piha less unique, less restful, and bring more traffic and noise" she said in her submission opposing Ellis's cafe -- she was there this morning on Piha's holy ground with a cafe of her own: a mobile cafe dubbed 'The Wave.'

Her excuse: "I'm just providing what people want." Story here.  I'd recommend if you're out at Piha that you order up a cup of mud from Fiona, fling it straight at her smug two-faced boat-race, and tell her what you want is less power for people like her to stop other people's enterprise.

What's this all got to do with Frank Lloyd Wright?  Well, nothing at all, really, except that he designed a gorgeous beachside complex in Carmel, California for a client called Stuart Halporn that he dubbed 'The Wave': in the words of Wright "an appropriate, luxurious, steel-and-masonry shelter on a completely exposed ocean front where heavy surf breaks over great rocks piled on the shore.  The steel fenestration opening only beneath on account of wind, the sunken garden (excavated earth transferred to the top of the house for insulation) and the terrace for recreation are its main features."

The views shown here are Wright's original sketches for the project.

UPDATE: Looks like Ms Anderson has got the bum's rush already from those she sought to enlist in Ellis's expulsion.  If you live by the sword ...

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Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Even free-ish trade is a good thing [update 1]

Clark_ChineseTrade Free trade?  Free trade doesn't come with tariffs, employment restrictions and other protectionist restraints on trade.  It doesn't come with pages and pages of agreements on duties, tariffs and quotas, and the continued entanglement of the state with economics.  Free trade is what it says it is: trade that's free of all government restrictions on sellers and buyers.

Genuinely free trade doesn't need pages and pages of lofty documents to protect them -- all that capitalist acts between consenting adults need to flourish is the disentanglement of the state from the loading docks and business houses of importers and exporters.  It's said that the US Declaration of Independence was written on one piece of parchment, and the ten commandments on two pieces of stone, but the European Union regulations on trade in bananas fill four hefty volumes that are less readable than a your average book of Chinese algebra. That's not how genuine free trade looks.

On that basis, the agreement the New Zealand government has just signed is not a free trade deal, but merely a freeish trade deal.

But that's still a good thing.   And it's damned exciting  to see two countries letting the breath of freeish air blow through their trade relations .. and damned refreshing to see politicians from all persuasions celebrating the opening up of trade and to announcing the slow abandonment of protectionism.  What we have today is better than we had yesterday -- even if it's not as good as we'll have in 2019 when the last of the tariffs is supposed to run out -- and more than you'd expect from two governments both on the reddish end of the political spectrum.

For those opposed, let's just remind ourselves of the chief benefits of trade:

  • There's the "double thank you moment." When you and I engage in trade -- let's say I pay you ten-thousand dollars for a container-load of iPods -- what we've both decided is that I value the iPods more than the ten-thousand dollars, whereas you value the money more than the noise-making equipment. We both win -- and the economy is the richer because both my money and your goods have moved to people who value them the most, and who can put them to the most productive ends -- and we all get to fill our homes and our counting houses with the stuff that we most want.

    This is a good thing, and it's proof again there's nothing "invisible" about Adam Smith's invisible hand. Trade benefits everyone.  "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest." The butcher, the brewer and the iPod-maker "direct [their] industry in such a manner as [their] produce may be of the greatest value," and we are the beneficiaries of their labours and their trade -- each intends only his own gain, but by the blessing of trade he is, said old Adam, "led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention."
  • International trade is a prime example of the virtue of comparative advantage, from which we all benefit.  Land-locked Switzerland for example produces watches and banking services in order to buy food and sailors, whereas we produce wool, beef, dairy products and sailors in order to buy the world's manufactured goods (and since most of these are now being manufactured in China, it's easy to see why trade with China is a good thing).  We all produce in order to trade, and the end result of all this industry is that the whole world is made better by the fact that we all specialise in doing what we do best: there are more watches, more food, more dairy products, more manufactured goods (and better and richer sailors) than there would be in the world if we all closed our borders and tried to do everything ourselves.

And let's remind ourselves that this is the reason we go to work every day: to be able to buy stuff that keeps us and our families alive and flourishing.  All that those remaining tariffs are going to do is make it more expensive for Ma and Pa Home-Owner to buy the stuff they need to make their homes better. Free trade makes everyone more prosperous (just look at that graph to the right for example to see what lowering tariffs, decreasing protectionism and increasing trade did for the US.)

Not everyone can see these benefits however, or if they do recognise them they raise other issues.

  • There are people who will argue that free trade kills local jobs. Just think for a moment about that. It certainly closes down jobs in industries and companies that don't perform well, and are doing things we don't do best -- but what it does by opening up trade is making goods cheaper for everybody who is working, leaving money in their pockets to buy from industries making use of that newly available labour to enter production in areas in which we're more productive.  In other words, trade allows us to move labour from less productive to more productive areas of industry, which will probably involve greater specialisation and increased comparative advantage.

    Everybody kicks a goal, and we're all made wealthier by it.  (And that's the case whatever China or anyone else does with regard to tariffs on our own exports.)
  • There are people who argue that trade with China encourages a government that persists in human rights abuses.  It's true: it does.  Recent events in Burma and Tibet and the ongoing human rights abuses and continuing existence of slave labour gulags suggest that with the Olympics just months away, Chinese politics now looks little different to Chinese politics at the time of the Tiananmen Square massacre

    But as we read news of Buddhist monks being shot on the streets of Lhasa, the chief question to consider is, "What can we do?"  The main thing to ask yourself whether free trade will 'open up' China more effectively than the Olympics, and the answer is "Of course.

    No one should ignore the liberating force that is free trade. Blockades and embargoes haven't made either Cuba or North Korea more free.  Imagine for example if trade with Cuba had been left as free as trade with Vietnam -- instead of fifty years of blockade and oppression and Old Busy Whiskers, Cubans would instead have been rewarded with the benefits of trade and the fruits of industry, and Old Busy Whiskers would be a long forgotten footnote in history.  Think about the example of trade and liberalisation provided by Hong Kong -- a beacon to all of us, let alone China -- and a prime example of how trade makes even the residents of a resource-free rock richer than Croesus could even dream about, and gives them all greater freedom.  Think about that when you oppose free trade on this basis.
  • There are people too who argue that trade with China will empower its military.  This is an argument that on the face of it has more legs, but on closer inspection is seen as just as illusory.  As Frederic Bastiat used to point out (and there's still no one better to read on the subject of free trade), "where goods don't cross borders, then armies will."  "Countries that trade," points out Bastiat commentator Lew Rockwell, "have a mutual stake in the preservation of open, friendly relations. This is one reason that free commercial activities promote peace, and why protectionism and trade sanctions generate war tensions...  Our lives – by which I mean the lives of regular people in [NZ] and in China – are made immeasurably better because of the freedom to trade. Our networks of exchange build private-sector prosperity in both countries."  This is a lesson learned by Japan and Japan's enemies in the death and destruction of the Second World War -- and if they'd read Bastiat instead of Clausewitz they would have learned it long before -- that when it comes to gaining a world full of resources, production and trade beats blockades and conquest every time.

    So we have to conclude again that as long as trade with China excludes trade in weapons (and Raykon aside, we hardly have any sort of comparative advantage in this area), then this is another argument that fails.

The fact is that this freeish trade deal is something to celebrate, just as it's something to celebrate that so many commentators are prepared to celebrate it.  That' real cause for a double celebration.  Cheers!

UPDATE: Not all commentators are prepared to celebrate. John Minto, as you may have guessed, isn't prepared to celebrate. He had an anti-trade piece in the Christchurch Press yesterday. Paul Walker makes a few comments on his article here, and good ones they are too. He concludes, not unreasonably, "Mr Minto should enrol in a first year economics course, he would learn much. But he would then have to buy the textbook ... and that is most likely to be imported."

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'House on the Mesa' - Frank Lloyd Wright


Frank Lloyd Wright's 'House on the Mesa', designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for phony Philip Johnson's International Style exhibition of 1932, and shown here in the form of a student's model of the project.

Johnson had bought the exhibition by his parents to introduce "modern architecture" to a New York audience.  When asked by a colleague why Frank Lloyd Wright had not been invited to contribute a piece to the exhibition, co-curated with Henry Russell Hitchcock, Johnson replied, "I thought he was dead." "That was interpreted as the insult it was meant to be," admitted Johnson later, after Wright had contributed this design, which frankly blew away every one of the other, derivative, designs in the display.  As Wright said of the style so breathlessly promoted by Johnson and his coterie, "The 'International Style' is nothing but the architecture of the box with its face lifted."

Wright had not only inspired the generation of architects that the Hitchcock-Johnson exhibition helped to make famous, but pale knock-offs of this house and many others of this era - rendered mostly with very little understanding of what's been borrowed -- still litter the pages of architecture magazines over seventy-five years later.


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Monday, 7 April 2008

'The Toxicity of Environmentalism'

I first read George Reisman's article 'The Toxicity of Environmentalism' back in the early nineties, and over the weekend I heard it for the first time, recorded at a its delivery at the University of Minnesota in 1991.

Galt it's good.

It could have been delivered yesterday.  Seventeen years after he told a stunned audience they were part of a "so-called intellectual mainstream of the Western world [that] has been fouled with a whole array of intellectual toxins resulting from the undermining of reason and the status of man" -- intellectual toxins that "can be seen bobbing up and down in the 'intellectual mainstream,' just as raw sewage can be seen floating in a dirty river" -- his analysis of why the scaremongering predictions of environmentalists would be proved wrong has proved correct; his dissection of the environmental movement's toxicity (toxic not just at the level of parts per million, but "at the level of parts per ten") is still accurate; and his analysis of the fundamental premise of environmentalism -- ie., the intrinsic value of nature -- as fundamentally anti-human is still right on the money.

Yes, this post describing his talk is long, and the article and talk are even longer, but the seventeen years that have passed since its inception have only proved its veracity.

That the scaremongering predictions of environmentalists have and are being proved wrong gives Reisman no claim to any power to predict the future.  As he says:

    The reason that one after another of the environmentalists' claims turn out to be proven wrong is that they are made without any regard for truth in the first place. In making their claims, the environmentalists reach for whatever is at hand that will serve to frighten people, make them lose confidence in science and technology, and, ultimately, lead them to deliver themselves up to the environmentalists' tender mercies. The claims rest on unsupported conjectures and wild leaps of imagination from scintillas of fact to arbitrary conclusions, by means of evasion and the drawing of invalid inferences. It is out and out evasion and invalid inference to leap from findings about the effects of feeding rats or mice dosages the equivalent of a hundred or more times what any human being would ever ingest, and then draw inferences about the effects on people of consuming normal quantities. Fears of parts per billion of this or that chemical causing single-digit deaths per million do not rest on science, but on imagination. Such claims have nothing to do either with actual experimentation or with the concept of causality.

Causality is the all-too frequently overlooked key to rejecting the majority of the scaremongering science in advance.

When, for example, genuine causes of death, such as arsenic, strychnine, or bullets, attack vital organs of the human body, death is absolutely certain to result in all but a handful of cases per million. When something is in fact the cause of some effect, it is so in each and every case in which specified conditions prevail, and fails to be so only in cases in which the specified conditions are not present, such as a person's having built up a tolerance to poison or wearing a bulletproof vest. Such claims as a thousand different things each causing cancer in a handful of cases are proof of nothing but that the actual causes are not yet known--and, beyond that, an indication of the breakdown of the epistemology of contemporary science. (This epistemological breakdown, I might add, radically accelerated starting practically on the very day in the 1960s when the government took over most of the scientific research ... and began the large scale financing of statistical studies as a substitute for the discovery of causes.)

Reisman is particularly scathing on the subject of global warming, and remind yourself when you read this that he was saying this in 1991:

    The environmental movement maintains that science and technology cannot be relied upon to build a safe atomic power plant, to produce a pesticide that is safe, or even to bake a loaf of bread that is safe, if that loaf of bread contains chemical preservatives. When it comes to global warming, however, it turns out that there is one area in which the environmental movement displays the most breathtaking confidence in the reliability of science and technology, an area in which, until recently, no one--not even the staunchest supporters of science and technology--had ever thought to assert very much confidence at all. The one thing, the environmental movement holds, that science and technology can do so well that we are entitled to have unlimited confidence in them is forecast the weather--for the next one hundred years!
It is, after all, supposedly on the basis of a weather forecast that we are being asked to abandon the Industrial Revolution...

This is not the act of "prudence and caution" so often cited as exemplifying the so called 'precautionary principle'; it would be neither prudent nor cautious to throw away the almost unlimited boon that past generations bestowed on us by virtue of the Industrial Revolution.  To abandon industrial civilization, and the enormous increase in wealth, health and life expectancy it brought, simply to avoid predictions of bad weather -- predictions that we now know were flawed from the outset -- would be quite simply insane.

   If we destroy the energy base needed to produce and operate the construction equipment required to build strong, well-made, comfortable houses for hundreds of millions of people, we shall be safer from the wind and rain, the environmental movement alleges, than if we retain and enlarge that energy base. If we destroy our capacity to produce and operate refrigerators and air conditioners, we shall be better protected from hot weather than if we retain and enlarge that capacity, the environmental movement claims. If we destroy our capacity to produce and operate tractors and harvesters, to can and freeze food, to build and operate hospitals and produce medicines, we shall secure our food supply and our health better than if we retain and enlarge that capacity, the environmental movement asserts.
There is actually a remarkable new principle implied here, concerning how man can cope with his environment. Instead of our taking action upon nature, as we have always believed we must do, we shall henceforth control the forces of nature more to our advantage by means of our inaction. Indeed, if we do not act, no significant threatening forces of nature will arise! The threatening forces of nature are not the product of nature, but of us! Thus speaks the environmental movement.
All of the insanities of the environmental movement become intelligible when one grasps the nature of the destructive motivation behind them. They are not uttered in the interest of man's life and well-being, but for the purpose of leading him to self-destruction.

That's the key to his argument.  Here's the kernel:

    Such statements [as these from David Graber & Steve McKibben et al hoping for "the extinction of the human species"] represent pure, unadulterated poison. They express ideas and wishes which, if acted upon, would mean terror and death for enormous numbers of human beings.
   These statements, and others like them, are made by prominent members of the environmental movement. The significance of such statements cannot be diminished by ascribing them only to a small fringe of the environmental movement. Indeed, even if such views were indicative of the thinking of only 5 or 10 percent of the members of the environmental movement - the "deep ecology," Earth First! wing - they would represent toxicity in the environmental movement as a whole not at the level of parts per billion or even parts per million, but at the level of parts per hundred, which, of course, is an enormously higher level of toxicity than is deemed to constitute a danger to human life in virtually every other case in which deadly poison is present.
    But the toxicity level of the environmental movement as a whole is substantially greater even than parts per hundred. It is certainly at least at the level of several parts per ten. This is obvious from the fact that the mainstream of the environmental movement makes no fundamental or significant criticisms of the likes of Messrs. Graber and McKibben.

The point is analogous to the one made frequently about the silence of so-called 'moderate Muslims' in the face of atrocities committed in Allah's name: if they truly opposed the extremists, then why the silence?  But this only explains Reisman's title - his talk goes much further. In order to survive, man either exploits the earth or dies.  In doing so, what we actually do is improve the environment, not destroy it:

    It is important to realize that when the environmentalists talk about destruction of the "environment" as the result of economic activity, their claims are permeated by the doctrine of intrinsic value. Thus, what they actually mean to a very great extent is merely the destruction of alleged intrinsic values in nature such as jungles, deserts, rock formations, and animal species which are either of no value to man or hostile to man. That is their concept of the "environment." If, in contrast to the environmentalists, one means by "environment" the surroundings of man--the external material conditions of human life--then it becomes clear that all of man's productive activities have the inherent tendency to improve his environment--indeed, that that is their essential purpose...
    Thus, all of economic activity has as its sole purpose the improvement of the environment--it aims exclusively at the improvement of the external, material conditions of human life. Production and economic activity are precisely the means by which man adapts his environment to himself and thereby improves it.
    So much for the environmentalists' claims about man's destruction of the environment. Only from the perspective of the alleged intrinsic value of nature and the nonvalue of man, can man's improvement of his environment be termed destruction of the environment.

Consider in this context the implications of environmental restrictions on producing energy and (here in NZ) the more-than-decade-long stranglehold on the construction of new power plants, which amount to a full-scale manifesto for anti-industrialism:

    The essential feature of the Industrial Revolution is the use of man-made power. To the relatively feeble muscles of draft animals and the still more feeble muscles of human beings, and to the relatively small amounts of useable power available from nature in the form of wind and falling water, the Industrial Revolution added man-made power....
    This man-made power is the essential basis of all of the economic improvements achieved over the last two hundred years. Its application is what enables us human beings to accomplish with our arms and hands the amazing productive results we do accomplish. To the feeble powers of our arms and hands is added the enormously greater power released by these sources of energy. Energy use, the productivity of labor, and the standard of living are inseparably connected, with the two last entirely dependent on the first...
    In total opposition to the Industrial Revolution and all the marvelous results it has accomplished, the essential goal of environmentalism is to block the increase in one source of man-made power after another and ultimately to roll back the production of man-made power to the point of virtual nonexistence, thereby undoing the Industrial Revolution and returning the world to the economic Dark Ages. There is to be no atomic power. According to the environmentalists, it represents the death ray. There is also to be no power based on fossil fuels. According to the environmentalists, it causes "pollution," and now global warming, and must therefore be given up. There is not even to be significant hydro-power. According to the environmentalists, the building of the necessary dams destroys intrinsically valuable wildlife habitat.
    Only three things are to be permitted as sources of energy, according to the environmentalists. Two of them, "solar power" and power from windmills, are, as far as can be seen, utterly impracticable as significant sources of energy. If somehow, they became practicable, the environmentalists would undoubtedly find grounds for attacking them. The third allowable source of energy, "conservation," is a contradiction in terms. "Conservation" is not a source of energy. Its actual meaning is simply using less. Conservation is a source of energy for one use only at the price of deprivation of energy use somewhere else.
    The environmentalists' campaign against energy calls to mind the image of a boa constrictor entwining itself about the body of its victim and slowly squeezing the life out of him. There can be no other result for the economic system of the industrialized world but enfeeblement and ultimately death if its supplies of energy are progressively choked off.

The reason for the anti-industrial thrust of environmentalism is the anti-human principle of so-called "intrinsic values" -- the idea that condemns a man for example for the crime of cutting a path through his farm down to the local beach, a home-builder for the crime of seeking to build in and enjoy a pristine landscape, and a power company for the crime of seeking to produce more power from an already existing power plant -- "something which provides an explanation in terms of basic principle of why the mainstream of the ecology movement does not attack what might be thought to be merely its fringe":

    [The idea of 'intrinsic value' of nature] is a fundamental philosophical premise which the mainstream of the movement shares with the alleged fringe and which logically implies hatred for man and his achievements. Namely, the premise that nature possesses intrinsic value--i.e., that nature is valuable in and of itself, apart from all contribution to human life and well-being...
    The premise of nature's intrinsic value extends to an alleged intrinsic value of forests, rivers, canyons, and hillsides--to everything and anything that is not man...
    The idea of nature's intrinsic value ... implies a perception of man as the systematic destroyer of the good, and thus as the systematic doer of evil. Just as man perceives coyotes, wolves, and rattlesnakes as evil because they regularly destroy the cattle and sheep he values as sources of food and clothing, so on the premise of nature's intrinsic value, the environmentalists view man as evil, because, in the pursuit of his well-being, man systematically destroys the wildlife, jungles, and rock formations that the environmentalists hold to be intrinsically valuable. Indeed, from the perspective of such alleged intrinsic values of nature, the degree of man's alleged destructiveness and evil is directly in proportion to his loyalty to his essential nature. Man is the rational being. It is his application of his reason in the form of science, technology, and an industrial civilization that enables him to act on nature on the enormous scale on which he now does. Thus, it is his possession and use of reason--manifested in his technology and industry--for which he is hated....
    When does the doctrine of intrinsic value serve as a guide to what man should do? Only when man comes to attach value to something. Then it is invoked to deny him the value he seeks. For example, the intrinsic value of the vegetation et al. is invoked as a guide to man's action only when there is something man wants, such as oil, and then, as in the case of Northern Alaska, its invocation serves to stop him from having it. In other words, the doctrine of intrinsic value is nothing but a doctrine of the negation of human values. It is pure nihilism.

That, dear reader, is the essential reason that anti-capitalism and anti-reason are linked; it is the chief reason the local Green Party's MPs appear far less concerned with "a wild and healthy planet" than they are with nannying, nationalism, nihilists and the nationalisation of NZ's children; and in point of fact it's the primary reason that yesterday's reds are now reincarnated as today's greens.  The link is clear enough, and was confirmed for me by a self-described communist who eagerly abandoned the Alliance to hop aboard the Greens when their new political vehicle looked ripe for takeover.  Says Reisman on this point:

    In my judgment, the "green" movement of the environmentalists is merely the old "red" movement of the communists and socialists shorn of its veneer of science. The only difference I see between the greens and the reds is the superficial one of the specific reasons for which they want to violate individual liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The reds claimed that the individual could not be left free because the result would be such things as "exploitation" and "monopoly." The greens claim that the individual cannot be left free because the result will be such things as destruction of the ozone layer and global warming. Both claim that centralized government control over economic activity is essential. The reds wanted it for the alleged sake of achieving human prosperity. The greens want it for the alleged sake of avoiding environmental damage. In my view, environmentalism and ecology are nothing but the intellectual death rattle of socialism in the West, the final convulsion of a movement that only a few decades ago eagerly looked forward to the results of paralyzing the actions of individuals by means of "social engineering" and now seeks to paralyze the actions of individuals by means of prohibiting engineering of any kind.

If you've never read Reisman's essay 'The Toxicity of Environmentalism' -- and even if you have -- then now's the time to download and print it out and read or re-read it.  Print out a copy and share it around [here's a PDF version to make it easy; and here's a pre-printed pamphlet]. It could have been written yesterday; understanding his main point will help determine tomorrow.

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Maoists are as Maoists do.

When you he that Green MPs are protesting New Zealand's historic free trade deal with China, don't you find it strange to reflect that when Mao was murdering Chinese by the millions these same people wore Mao's portrait proudly on their badges and T-shirts, but now that China wants to take over the world's cheap T-shirt market they're protesting any deals being done.

Really strange.  When the Chinese were up their eyes in death and destruction the likes of Sue Bradford and Keith Locke had Mao's portrait on their bedroom walls and sent their murderers only praise, but now that the winds of freedom are beginning to blow away the violence, they themselves are now violently opposed to NZ sending the Chinese anything apart from protests.

Odd, don't you think. And instructive.

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"Cutting carbon emissions is a futile exercise."

Cutting carbon emissions is a futile exercise.  Yes, it is.  But I didn't expect to be reading that headline on the Herald's 'Green Pages.'

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Some NOT PC stats for March

Some stats for you from last month: 

NZ Political Blog Rank for NOT PC: TBA (last month #6)
Alexa Ranking, world: 313,902 (last month 277,663)
Avge. Monday to Friday readership: 1,023/day
Alexa Ranking, NZ: 1021 (last month 994)
Unique visits [from Statcounter] 28,016
Page views [from Statcounter] 42,769

Top posts:
    **"Nature Not Human Activity Rules Climate" - NIPCC
    ** SHOCK NEWS: Humans Don't Act as Economists Say They Do
    **Pathetic Authoritarian Backwater
    **It's Easter, Which Means ...
    **Where's Jesus?
    **Pure Perigo
    **When Economists Make Predictions, Walk Away

Top referring sites:
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Top searches:
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They're reading NOT PC here:

Top countries (Statcounter):
   NZ, 31.6%; USA, 24.5%;UK, 7.8%; Canada, 4.0%; Australia, 3.0%; Germany, 2.2%; France, 2.2%;
    Netherlands, 2.0%; India, 1.35%; Italy, 1.3%; Indonesia, 1.1%; Turkey, 1.0%; China, 0.94%.
Top countries (Alexa):
   NZ 70%; USA, 17.6%; Venezuela, 3.7%; Belgium, 1.5%; UK, 1.5%; Argentina, 0.7%; Iran, 0.7%
Top cities (Statcounter):  
   Auckland, 9.4%; Wellington, 1.7%; London, 1.3%; New York, 1.2%; Sydney, 1.2%; Montreal, 0.7%;

Cheers, and thanks for reading and linking to NOT PC, 
Peter Cresswell

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