Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Barack blogs! [update 3: The stimulus edition]

President Franklin Roosevelt used his “fireside chats” to sell his perfidy to the American public.  President Obama is using a new blog – and according to reports “the blogosphere is abuzz” about it.  Do the powers of the Obamessiah never end?  He heals the sick; he heals the planet; he stops the waters rising; he meets the media … and now in his spare time, he blogs! Phew.  Even his namesake rested on the seventh day.

But if you think that’s Barack on the blog and not just a panoply of press releases, then you probably also think he’s going to “lead” the US out of recession – in which case, I have a stimulus package right here that I see you’re already buying.

UPDATE 1:  Speaking of stimulus packages, it seems Obama's economic advisers have been reading The Onion, which has several "ideas" for stimulus packages to reignite the US's bubble economy...

"What America needs right now is not more talk and long-term strategy, but a concrete way to create more imaginary wealth in the very immediate future," said Thomas Jenkins, CFO of the Boston-area Jenkins Financial Group, a bubble-based investment firm. "We are in a crisis, and that crisis demands an unviable short-term solution."
    ...According to investment experts, now that the option of making millions of dollars in a short time with imaginary profits from bad real-estate deals has disappeared, the need for another spontaneous make-believe source of wealth has never been more urgent.
    "Perhaps the new bubble could have something to do with watching movies on cell phones," said investment banker Greg Carlisle of the New York firm Carlisle, Shaloe & Graves. "Or, say, medicine, or shipping. Or clouds. The manner of bubble isn't important—just as long as it creates a hugely overvalued market based on nothing more than whimsical fantasy and saddled with the potential for a long-term accrual of debts that will never be paid back, thereby unleashing a ripple effect that will take nearly a decade to correct."
    ... "The U.S. economy cannot survive on sound investments alone," Carlisle added.

Have the advisers been reading The Onion, or has The Onion just been reading Keynes?

UPDATE 2: Robert Barro and Robert Lucas might come from the same school of economics, but it looks at present like they're firing at different targets, and getting shot for it -- one deservedly, one not so.

Robert Murphy gives Lucas a well-earned going over for his strange faith in Ben Bernanke -- specifically Bernanke's flawed notion that too much paper isn't enough.

Meanwhile, Tyler Cowen takes on those who are dumping on Robert Barro for pointing out that any expectation of a positive multiple from government stimulus packages is wholly mistaken, and points out in passing that uber-Keynesian Paul Krugman appears to have finally admitted that WWII is not a good example of the success of Keynesian deficit spending.

UPDATE 3: In recent weeks Greg Mankiw [hat tip Anti Dismal] has documented many  skeptics about the efficacy of a spending stimulus,
a list that includes quite a few well-known economists, such as (in alphabetical order)Alberto AlesinaRobert BarroGary BeckerJohn Cochrane,Eugene FamaRobert LucasGreg MankiwKevin MurphyThomas SargentHarald Uhlig, and Luigi Zingales--and I am sure there many others as well. [Follow the links to see Mankiw's evidence.]
    Regardless of whether one agrees with them on the merits of the case, it is hard to dispute that this list is pretty impressive, as judged by the 
standard objective criteria by which economists evaluate one another. If any university managed to hire all of them, it would immediately have a top ranked economics department.

Essay entrant

Callum McPetrie submits his entry to this year’s Kennard Freedom Prize for young Australasians.  His subject: “What responsibility, if any, do governments have for the liberty, prosperity and security of individuals?" .

His answers to the substantive questions: everything, nothing and nothing respectively.

Reads like a winner to me.

Good to see organisations recognising the value of essay competitions in spreading ideas.

NB:  On a related note, the Ayn Rand Institute has announced its winners in the 11th annual essay competition on Atlas Shrugged (read the winning essay here), The Fountainhead (read the winning essay here) and Anthem (read the winning essay here).  521 prizes totalling US$81,000 has been awarded.

And local students might want to begin thinking about this for this year:  some colleagues will be offering prizes this year to NZ students for essays on either Atlas or The Fountainhead.  As soon as details are clarified, you’ll read them here first…

Several inches of global warming in the deserts … none in the Antarctic [updated]

Here’s one for Al Gore:   several inches of global warming have fallen in the deserts of the United Arab Emirates, just 25 kilometers from Ras al Khaimah City, one of the emirates in the UAE.

    The extreme cold spell brought the temperature on top of the Jebel Jais mountain cluster, situated at a height of 5,700 feet, to as low as -3 degree Celsius on Friday night, as the snow blanketed an area extending over 5kms.
    Major Saeed Rashid Al Yamahi, Manager of the Air Wing of RAK Police, who flew a helicopter to the top of the Jebel Jais mountain, said that the entire area was covered with 10 cm of snow…
    Aisha al Hebsy, a woman in her 50s who has lived in the mountains near Jebel Jais all her life, said snowfall in the area was so unheard of the local dialect does not even have a word for it. Hail is known as bared, which literally translates as cold. "Twenty years ago we had lots of hail," said Ms al Hebsy. "Last night was like this. At four in the morning we came out and the ground was white."

The first snowfall in living memory in the area was on December 28, 2004…. 

Naturally, the news has travelled widely.  This is another slap in the chops for global warming doomsayers, says The Australian.

UPDATE:  Yes, global warming doomsayers will say one shouldn’t rely on single events such as this to argue against their claims – despite the fact that single events are what constitute effective falsification, and that the doomsayers themselves are more than happy to use single events (even ones they’ve made up) to bolster their doomsaying.

Doomsayers have been happy, for example, to post pictures of calving ice shelves off Antarctica to bolster their flagging mantra that we’re all about to die – using the news of the warming Antarctic peninsula to frighten people into thinking the whole continent is beginning to melt, and all that ice is going to drown us.  “A recent study” by one Eric Steig had the whole litany of doomsayers cock-a-hoop.  “Antarctica getting warmer not cooler” said the ABC. “Scientists solve enigma of Antarctic 'cooling',” said The Guardian.  “Global warming hits Antarctica, study finds,” said CNN.

Puncturing their bubble however is the methodology of the new “study.”  As Christopher Booker expains in The Daily Telegraph, the Antarctic is not warming up. Steig has not been recording existing temperature measurements – instead he’s written a computer models to give him the temperature measurements he wants, and the world’s media have been only too happy to go along with the ruse.

Yet even the IPCC is askance at the perfidy.

One of the first to express astonishment was Dr Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist with the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and a convinced believer in global warming, who wryly observed "it is hard to make data where none exists". A disbelieving Ross Hayes, an atmospheric scientist who has often visited the Antarctic for Nasa, sent Professor Steig a caustic email ending: "with statistics you can make numbers go to any conclusion you want. It saddens me to see members of the scientific community do this for media coverage."

Yes.  Me too.

Planners still stitching up home-owners: NZ cities world’s second-most unaffordable [updated]

Despite the recession, houses in New Zealand cities are as unaffordable as they’ve ever been – that’s the conclusion of the fifth annual survey [pdf] by international organisation Demographia, who’ve found that the average price of houses in NZ’s eight major cities are still more than 5.7 times the average household income in that city.

In the parlance of the study, this makes the New Zealand housing market seriously unaffordable – just as it has been for the last decade. The survey of English-speaking countries finds that UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand have no affordable major urban markets, while Canada has 10 (of 34) and the United States 77 (of 175). There are no moderately unaffordable urban markets (at and below 4 times household income) in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and the United Kingdom.  Reports NBR:

    The 2009 Demographia study of international housing affordability found Australia has the most unaffordable housing at 6.3 times annual household earnings.
    New Zealand was second on 5.7. Ireland registered 5.4, the United Kingdom 5.3, Canada 3.5 and US 3.2.
    None of the eight urban markets in New Zealand covered by the survey are considered to be affordable. Seven were severely unaffordable and Palmerston North was considered seriously unaffordable.
    A figure above five is regarded as severely unaffordable.
    Auckland is the least affordable larger market, with a median multiple of 6.4, while Christchurch (6.1) and Wellington (5.9) are also severely unaffordable.
    Tauranga-Bay of Plenty was the least affordable market, with a median multiple of 6.6. Out of the eight New Zealand markets only Palmerston North is not severely unaffordable on 4.9.

Just to clarify what this degree of unaffordability means, this is unprecedented both historically and geographically – so simply saying that young couples need to hunker down and save like their grand-parents did is not even the beginning of the whole story.   Outside the current period, at no other time in NZ’s history has this price-income multiplier been so high.  And outside New Zealand, only Australia has a higher price-income multiplier.

The reasons for contemporary NZ cities being so seriously unaffordable compared to other cities (and to other times in NZ’s history) can be deduced, if you’re smart enough, from the policies of those cities at the upper end of the Demographia survey. 

The reason for some cities being more unafforable than others is not just the excessive demand created by loose credit in recent years, since that loose credit operated across all markets; it’s not just the increased cost of construction in recent years (although that hasn’t helped the level unaffordability), since (especially across the US) those increased costs have been imposed across all markets; it’s not just the increasing attractiveness of these unaffordable cities, since domestic migration figures for most of these cities are showing either strong outflows or decreasing inflows from (and to) these cities; and it’s not like some of the world’s most unaffordable cities are running out of land: there’s no shortage of land in the likes of British Columbia, California, Victoria, or the deserts of Western Australia (and nor is there in NZ).

No, to see why some cities are more unaffordable than others you have to look at the differences between those cities, and the biggest difference is in how the cities regulate land. 

In Tauranga, for example, 'planners' have enthusiastically embraced the anti-development 'sustainable' philosophy of so called 'Smart Growth'. At a multiplier of 6.6, Tauranga has the country's most unaffordable houses. At a multiplier of 6.4, Auckland has the second most unaffordable housing – and for years Auckland’s planners have rationed the land supply, ring-fenced the city, and restricted the range of urban housing.  No wonder.  If you ration supply while demand stays the same (or increases), then you’re going to ensure prices go through the roof.

And in the most unaffordable places land is being rationed.  Ring-fencing cities to slap down “sprawl” is squeezing the supply of land in those cities; heavily regulating land-use and subdivision in cities is squeezing the supply of land in those cities.  The fact is, as I’ve pointed out before, that the world’s most unaffordable cities are almost without exception those cities who cite themselves as being the most “sustainable” –- another example of the price of fashion.

But in this case the fashion victims are us.  And even as the followers of fashion defend their advocacy of land-rationing – an imposition that all of us get to feel --  the evidence from around the English-speaking world is clear: that "smart growth" cities are unaffordable cities.

Graph from Demographia 2009 survey, pg . 26

Frankly, both ring-fencing around cities and enforcing lower densities within them are the twin causes of the problems (and it’s the state giving planners power to do both that needs to be expunged).  

There's no problem with “sprawl” if the ring-fencing were relaxed: New Zealand's urban areas account for less than 1 percent of the total country, one quarter of that in the Auckland region. If all of NZ's 1,471,476 existing households were to be rebuilt on an acre of land -- which was the sort of thing proposed by Frank Lloyd Wright in his Broadacre project-- we'd all fit in an area less than one-quarter the size of the Waikato , and just think how easy it'd be to thumb a lift out to Raglan!. 

And there's really no problem with higher densities within cities if the planners are muzzled, if the private sector gets to offer buyers what they want, and if the state is barred from building the sort of thing the state always likes to build -- which is building the slums of tomorrow.

What it comes down to is choice.  If people were only left free to live in the way they wanted -- however apoplectic that made all the many enemies of choice -- the problems of housing unaffordability would disappear overnight.

For further information, read all PC’s posts on …

Friday, 23 January 2009

Popular NOT PC so far this year

After a long, hot, relaxed summer holiday, a long, slow start back would be ideal.  If only.  And to make matters worse, my first full week back blogging also turned out to be Obama Week.  Phew.  At least the visit of  the legendary Mr Cohen last night made things delightfully better.

Anyway, here’s what you, dear readers, seemed to like most out of what was posted here at NOT PC since Christmas:

  1. Kerfuffle in a falafel food hall
    Who would have thought that the biggest local story of the year so far was the bigotry of an Invercargill falafel shop owner, or that the most popular post of the year so far would be one defending  his right to be a bigot on his own property – or that so few readers would apparently understand the difference between persuasion and force.
  2. Patrick McGoohan (1928-2009)
    "I will not make any deals with you,” he declared in his most famous role. “I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered! My life is my own."  Sadly, his life is now no longer.  Farewell Patrick.
  3. DOWN TO THE DOCTOR’S: Hail to the Chief!
    On the eve of this week’s coronation of the Obamessiah, Doc McGrath watches a movie about a populist demagogue who promises job creation, public works redistribution of wealth and redemption for everyone except the wealthy.  And waddya know, it’s not about the Messiah …
  4. Not PJ: Pharmacy Floppy Flip Flop
    It’s time for a change. Change we can be flabbergasted at. And when the Ministry of Health does change, says Bernard Darnton, it really is something to be flabbergasted about.
  5. First-of-the-New-Year Ramble
    A bunch o’ links y’all seemed to like to what appeared around the traps while I was away sunning myself in the Bay of Plenty.
  6. NOT PJ: Smoke and MRIs
    Bernard Darnton scientifically calculates the amount of bullshit in the newspaper -- and finds it’s increased by 76.29% since records began!
  7. The crowning of the Messiah
    A few jokes here at this post, and then something a bit more reflective in the next post:
    Rhetoric, hope, hysteria … it's all in a day's coronation.

Not a bad haul for a slow January, I think you’ll have to admit.  And the good folk at the Objectivism O-Bloggers network have been busy too. Okay, busier.  Check out this week’s O-Bloggers’ round-up for lots more good stuff.

Cheers, PC.

Beer O’Clock: Behold, the widget!

guinness_draught_bottleThe beer find of the summer was not a summer beer.  In fact it wasn’t even a new beer, and it certainly wasn’t local. 

It was Guinness.

From a bottle.

43711 Anyone who’s ever drunk a draught Guinness in Europe can tell you it sure shits all over the local draught product – and if you’ve ever drunk a draught Guinness in Dublin, you’ll know that it’s about the best Guinness you can get.  And the best Guinness you can get is something very, very good indeed.  If the sight of those glasses lined up at Temple Bar doesn’t make you salivate, then know that there’s something very important in your life that you haven’t done yet, and need to.

Sadly however, it seems that the further you get from the shores of the Liffey, the worse the Guinness gets. 

43716 Guinness, it’s said, just doesn’t travel well.  And it’s said that the problem with the local product in particular is that the water here in Enzed is too clean, but who knows. Whatever the reason, local Guinness lovers have until now either drunk draught Murphy’s, which tastes as good here as it does in Cork; or they’ve tried to endure the imported cans or bottles, which have their own problems; or even the locally brewed substitute, which at a pinch (on St Paddy’s Day for example) just has to do.

Still, none of these have been ideal. 

Murphy’s is a fine drop, but sure and it’s still not Guinness.

And sure, the Guinness cans and bottles did come from Dublin, but without a widget the bottles didn’t pour draught, and while the widget in the cans (which is a nitrogen-filled ping pong ball with a hymen that ruptured when the can opened) certainly works well for Kilkenny, it was never really satisfactory to bring out all the colour of its more beautiful darker sister.

43713 What’s changed is a new widget in a new Guinness bottle – a “rocket widget” that comes with promises you can even drink straight from the bottle and still get the full Guinness hit, a promise that certainly delivers the goods when you pour it into a glass and drink it as you should.

The widget promise is no idle promise.  What it pours is nectar.

There were some glorious days over the last summer when myself and my companions were getting to know these dark, well-chilled lovelies a little better, days when you could almost close your eyes and think you were in Dublin – if that is there weren’t the sounds of summer and it weren’t about twenty degrees warmer.

And as it happened this dark beer born in a brewery by the Liffey proved, with its new rocket widget, to accompany the sounds of a New Zealand summer extraordinarily well.  And it has the added advantage of being on sale in most every bottle store in the country (and in the Dargaville Woolworths at least it’s on special at the bargain bottle price of just $14.99 for a six-pack).

I commend it to your well-deserved attention.


* * Check back in next week when your two regular beer correspondents Stu and Neil will return in this regular Friday slot to keep your thirst quenched and you taste buds tapping.  * *

Bush: Five out of ten.

You don’t have to agree with everything George W. Bush ever did to agree with Karl Rove, writing in the Wall Street Journal, that Bush did get it right more often than his detractors would like to admit.

Of the points Karl Rove mentions, I give Bush five out of ten – although since this is Karl Rove who’s making the points, we have to give due allowance for the spin, and for the fact that his own place in history is tied inexorably to his former boss’s.  So there is no way in hell, for example, you can ever accuse Bush II of exercising spending restraint.  Where was Rove when this was happening, huh?

What’s your score for GWB?

FAQ: Can fiscal stimulus save us?

Q: Can all this fiscal stimulus save the US economy?
A: No. It can’t.

Q:Why’s that?
A: Because the fundamental problem is not lack of money to shore up demand, but lack of goods to pay for real demand –- that is, lack of the sort of goods that are being demanded -- and no amount of “stimulus” can fix that.  All it can do is make the production of those goods more difficult.

Read Can Fiscal Stimulus Revive the US Economy? for the details.  As Frank Shostak points out there, “not only does the increase in government outlays not raise overall output by a positive multiple; but, on the contrary, this leads to the weakening in the process of wealth generation in general.”

This is the case not just for the US, but for anyone who tries the same “stimulus” shenanigans.  Can someone please explain all this to Little Billy English, the Pink Tory Pump-Primer.

UPDATE: Further on Shostak's point quoted above, Economist Robert Barro (highly rated by the likes of Richard Salsman) points out that the idea of a positive mutiplier from government spending (i.e., the result predicted by the simple Keynesian macroeconomic model) "implicitly assumes that the government is better than the private market at marshaling idle resources to produce useful stuff. Unemployed labor and capital can be utilized at essentially zero social cost, but the private market is somehow unable to figure any of this out. In other words, there is something wrong with the price system."

In other words, any notion of a positive multiple is mistaken. As Barro argues, 

"A much more plausible starting point is a multiplier of zero. In this case, the GDP is given, and a rise in government purchases requires an equal fall in the total of other parts of GDP -- consumption, investment and net exports. In other words, the social cost of one unit of additional government purchases is one."

Read Barro's argument over at Paul Walker's Anti Dismal: Government Spending is No Free Lunch.

Barackistas’ bilge

How do Obamafiles think they’re going to save the planet, fix the economy, or even sort out their own damn neighbourhoods, when they can’t even clean up after themselves.  Check out the post-Barakalyptic wasteland in the Washington Mall after the Barackistas headed home, leaving their detritus behind them.

It’s not a pretty sight.  They have seen the enemy, and it really is themselves.

No wonder they need a big government to tell them what to do.

Even the Obamessiah can’t kill old hatreds

I’m interested in the strong parallels between two apparently unrelated events: the shutting down of the Guantanamo Bay prison, and the birth of Israel.

What’s the common factor?  Let me explain. 

For years, countries opposed to America’s war against Islamic totalitarianism used the prisoners of war at Guantanamo  (which is what they are) as a metaphorical club with which to beat up ‘imperialistic America.’  Yet now the anti-Americans are offered those same captives as a means by which to shut down the facility, they’re all suddenly finding they’ve got more important plans for the weekend – that there’s no room at their particular European inns.

Turns out ninety-five percent of European leaders are in favour of other European leaders taking the prisoners.

This is hypocrisy is of a kind that only European politicians looking down their patrician noses can pull off.  Yet it’s the same sort of hypocrisy that explains why Palestinians have been largely homeless for the last sixty years. 

You see, when Britain and the US promised the same bit of land to three different bunches of people after the last world war, the UN resolved the problem they’d created by partitioning Palestine into one home for the Jews who’d fled there after Hitler’s holocaust, and another for the Palestinians they’d partly supplanted  -– and the Arab countries who surrounded Israel (the new name given to the new, tiny and seemingly defenceless Jewish homeland) figured this was their opportunity to incite the Palestinians into perpetrating their own portion of the holocaust, and helped them to try to drive the dirty Jews into the sea.

When they failed spectacularly –- as they have done every time they’ve tried -– the Palestinians found that all the Arab doors in the area were closed to them.  They discovered they were merely the spent refuse of Arab hatred who’d now been used up, and were no longer needed -– except as a means by which to keep the simmering anti-Semitism going.

So just as the Arabs need hundreds of thousands of homeless Palestinians to maintain their violent anti-Seminism, so too do the Europeans need hundreds of Guantanamo captives to keep their nasty anti-Americanism alive.  The last thing they want is to have the spent refuse of their own irrational hatreds delivered to their door step.

Much easier just to keep on hating.

Old hatreds die hard, you see, even in the new world washed clean by the Obamessiah.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Translating from the overblown

Further to yesterday's scout around the commentators on their reactions to the Obamessiah's coronation, The Times has a translation of what his inauguration speech was saying -- what he was trying to say, or not to say.

Book-length baloney from a flat-out fool

NBR editor Nevil Gibson’s list of the “best business books of 2008” includes just two that might help understand the crisis that in future histories will define 2008 –- The Great Crash: How the Stock Market Crash of 1929 Plunged the World into Depression (“a fresh look back at world’s most serious financial crisis – what caused it and what can be learned from it”) and Currency Wars: How Forged Money is the New Weapon of Mass Destruction a “fascinating history of counterfeiting” and how it has been used to destabilise enemies’ economies in time of war -- which pretty much describes the Fed’s role in the current crisis, except that its abuse of the monetary printing presses destroyed in a time of domestic peace the economy it was supposed to be defending.

These two books only make nine and ten on Gibson’s list.  At three, for some reason only Gibson could explain, is a green paean by NY Times neocon Thomas Friedman – an anti-consumerist tract called Hot, Flat and Crowded -- a synthesis of the worst of neo-conservatism and green Gaia worship by a writer the Financial Times labels a “zeitgeist thermometer” (“even Friedman, one of the original cheerleaders for the spread of liberal, western democracy, is having authoritarian day-dreams” says the FT, apparently unaware that the neocon’s support for liberal, western democracy is only a thin veneer over their actual authoritarianism) and who the NY Press calls more colourfully a “porn-stached resident of a positively obscene 11,400 square foot suburban Maryland mega-monstro-mansion and husband to the heir of one of the largest shopping-mall chains in the world, reinventing himself as an oracle of anti-consumerist conservationism.”  In other words, an idiot with an M.O. not dissimilar to Al Gore.

    Many people [says Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi in his review in the Press] have rightly seen this new greenish pseudo-progressive tract as an ideological departure from Friedman’s previous works... Approach-and-rhetoric wise, however, it’s the same old Friedman, a tireless social scientist whose research methods mainly include lunching, reading road signs, and watching people board airplanes.
    Like The World is Flat, a book borne of Friedman’s stirring experience of seeing IBM sign in the distance while golfing in Bangalore, Hot,Flat and Crowded is a book whose great insights come when Friedman golfs (on global warming allowing him more winter golf days:“I will still take advantage of it—but I no longer think of it as something I got for free”), looks at Burger King signs (upon seeing a “nightmarish neon blur” of KFC, BK and McDonald’s signs in Texas, he realizes: “We’re on a fool’s errand”), and reads bumper stickers (the “Osama Loves your SUV” sticker he read turns into the thesis of his “Fill ‘er up with Dictators” chapter). This is Friedman’s life: He flies around the world, eats pricey lunches with other rich people and draws conclusions about the future of humanity by looking out his hotel window and counting the Applebee’s signs. 

Christ only knows what Gibson sees in this apologist blather, described by Iain Murray in The American Spectator as

a grand unifying theory for combating existential threats. The left worries about global warming and 14 inches of sea level rise extinguishing modern civilization and the right to choose. Neocons worry about evil Muslims lurking behind the bushes ready to set off one of their millions of dirty bombs in suburban malls… Friedman has a solution to both, which he calls Code Green. In Hot, Flat, and Crowded, he suggests that by the one simple, affordable step of, err, completely re-engineering the way we power America, we will stop global warming, destroy Islamic fundamentalism, and reinvigorate America’s position in the world at a stroke. Oh, and he can completely reform China too. This is, in short, the biggest conflation of wishful thinking, confused priorities, and megalomania that I have ever seen.

americagdFriedman’s brand of Green scaremongering no doubt appeals intensely to the inner authoritarian as well as to the wistful Military-Keynesian*, but I’d thought much better of Gibson.

So by all means take the rest of NBR’s book list seriously (though if you want to understand the causes of the crash of 1929 and everything that was done to deepen the depression thereafter Murray Rothbard’s America’s Great Depression might be a better read than his recommendation) but don’t waste your money on Friedman’s book-length baloney.

He’s just another demonstration of the ongoing demise of American conservatism.

UPDATE: "Zeitgeist thermometer" he may have been, but as the global economy collapses the born-again Gaian zeitgeist might just be moving under Mr Friedman.  Victor Davis Hanson for example says: 

I'm very puzzled by the nexus between the current downturn and concern about global warming. Given that we were told we had to immediately cut back on carbon emissions (even before sustainable alternative energies are in place), largely by curbing our lavish energy-dependent lifestyles, why then all the concern about stimuli and global depression? Surely, the world right now is sort of what the radical Gorists wanted to see, since the current cutback in gasoline usage, and general economic slowdown are radically restricting the burning of fossil fuels in a manner that even the most optimistic green utopian could hardly have envisioned just few years ago? In other words, in the booming 2004-6 years, radical suggested scale-backs would have probably led to something akin to what we are experiencing now? So why the gloom instead of headlines blaring—"The Planet Continues to Green—as Archaic Consumption Practices Erode Further!"

And Tim Blair quotes Kathleen O’Brien asking "Are we done with green?”: 

Now that money is tight, will environmentalism turn out to have been just a passing trend—the political equivalent of the pet rock?

Now that the counterfeiters have inadvertently done to the global economy what the likes of Ralph Nader and Russel Norman wanted the politicians to do on purpose, it'd sure be nice to think so, wouldn't it?

NOT PJ: Smoke and MRIs

BernardDarnton This week in his regular column, Bernard Darnton has scientifically calculated the amount of bullshit in the newspaper -- and finds it’s increased by 76.29% since records began!

EVERY MORNING I ASK MYSELF how much crap there is in the newspaper.

Readers of yesterday’s Press and Dominion Post were greeted with a Clockwork Orange image from a cigarette package to illustrate a Ministry of Health press release dressed up as reporting. The headline said, “Warnings credited with smoking fall,” which was good sense on the part of the newspaper because it left the logical fallacy in the hands of the author of the press release rather than in those of the newspaper that was regurgitating it.

National Director of Tobacco Control – a job title that no doubt comes with a spiffing uniform – Ashley Bloomfield was noting that a “dramatic drop” in smoking rates has occurred since the introduction of compulsory gory photographs on cigarette packets.

The idea that because one event follows another the relationship must be causal is known to philosophers as the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. That’s Latin for “we just make this shit up.”

Bloomfield admits that it’s “hard to attribute specific drops … to specific interventions” but is confident, even without evidence, that the gory photographs are effective. Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), a branch of the Ministry of Health, agrees with the Ministry of Health. They apparently have “anecdotal evidence” that the new warnings work.

I have anecdotal evidence that people think the warnings are a joke. I know a single male in his forties who regards children the way most people regard termites, who always asks for the “Smoking may harm your baby” packs. More tobacco-advertising-related wishful thinking.

I’m surprised there hasn’t been a huge increase in smoking amongst teenage boys – just so they can get the warning labels. “I’ll swap you a clogged artery and a gangrenous toe for the eye operation and the bleeding brain.” Kewwwl.

Given the Ministry’s statistics, the warnings may well have increased smoking; we just don’t know. Jamie Whyte, author of Crimes Against Logic, calls statistics “the chemical weapons of persuasion.” “Just release a few statistics into the discussion and the effects will soon be visible within moments: eyes glaze over, jaws slacken, and soon everyone will be nodding in agreement.”

Dr Bloomfield isn’t so much nodding in agreement as babbling in confusion. The same man who noted the “dramatic drop” in smoking over the last two years also notes, in a part of the press release not copied into the newspaper, that the drop in adult smoking, from 24.3% to 23.9%, is “not statistically significant”. I.e. it may not even be a drop – it may be so small it’s just a measurement error.

Indeed, if some recent research proves valid he should be exhibiting another symptom of chemical weapons poisoning: namely, crapping himself. Recent brain imaging research has suggested that seeing the warnings stimulates the desire to smoke rather than puts people off, presumably because the emotional brain lights up in desire for more nicotine far faster than the rational brain plods to the conclusion that it’s a bad idea because you might get a gammy toe in a few decades.

The brain imaging research is new and has plenty of critics but at least doing an experiment is a better approach than wishful thinking. Assuming that whatever you do is brilliant and guaranteed to work isn’t what scientists call “scientific”.

The hard science of cause and effect is slowly creeping into territory currently occupied by the social “science” of coincidence and reportage. The question is not how much crap is there in the newspaper, but when will they finally get too embarrassed to print it?

* * Read Bernard Darnton’s regular column ‘NOT PJ’ every week here at NOT PC * *

Bernard Shwartz House – Frank Lloyd Wright [updated]


1938fp02[4]1938fp01[4] Images of this 1930s Wright house courtesy Prairie Mod

Visit the Schwartz House’s website for more, much more information about this little  restored Usonian beauty -- a design based on the 1938 “dream house” Wright produced for Life magazine, from which these floor plans come.

Wright himself said that the Schwartz House was "a house designed for utility and fecund living....in which there is no predominating feature, but in which the entire is so coordinated as to achieve a thing of beauty."

Check out this neat photo of current owners Michael Ditmer & Lisa Proeche with Wright apprentice Edgar Tafel, who supervised construction of the house around 1939, and an interview here with Michael and Lisa.


Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Two sentences that sum up the Israeli-Gaza conflict

If two sentences could sum up the Israeli-Gaza conflict, it would be these from Thomas Sowell:
"Since everybody seems to be criticizing Israel for its military response to the rockets being fired into their country from the Gaza strip, let me add my criticisms as well. The Israelis traded land for peace, but they have never gotten the peace, so they should take back the land....
Those who think 'negotiations' are a magic answer seem not to understand that when A wants to annihilate B, this is not an 'issue' that can be resolved amicably around a conference table."
Read Israel vs. Hamas: Pretty Talk and Ugly Realities.

NEW BLOG: Heroes of Capitalism

On a day when near everyone you encounter seems to think that politicians can save the world, it gives me great pleasure to recommend to you a newish blog promoting the Heroes of Capitalism, which each day features a businessman whose work improved our lives, and theirs – the people, in other words, who really do move the world.

Add it to your daily reading.

Rhetoric, hope, hysteria … [updated]

Obama Oath, by John Cox

Take away the hope, the expectation, the wall to wall and coast-to-coast hysteria  (from sea to shining sea) ... on substance I heard just this: Sacrifice, Duty, Responsibility to Others.

Did you hear that too?

He didn't actually say "Ask not what you can do for your country, ask only what your government can do for you" -- he didn't say those actual words, but that was the text at the top of his page.

He didn’t actually say “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” but every sign says that Roosevelt’s incantation and that same idea that he could talk the world out of disaster in the same disastrous way were in the back of his mind.

This is the Year of the Depression. It will take more than fine words to fix it, and on substance we heard only this: rhetoric with only one message:  Give Up, Do What You're Told, Don't Be Selfish.

And if anyone thinks that is going to fix what ails the American economy, or bring hope, or rescue the American Dream (or protect the goddamn Constitution, which is what the Oath of Office required him to promise)... then I have a bridge to nowhere I can sell them.

Are you buying?

Obama's World, by John Cox

Obama's World, by John Cox. With thanks to Andrew Wyeth., and hat tip The Egoist

UPDATE:  Over the day I’ll be adding comments from some of the people I like offering some of what they think:

  • Myrhaf:  “Ever notice how Barack and Michelle Obama love telling the American people how much they will have to work?   In a free country a president does not tell people they must work hard. In a free country a president does not lecture people on their responsibilities…
        Barack Obama assumes power over a nation that he loves to remind us is suffering a dire crisis. He fails to understand that the crisis is due to massive intervention in the economy by the state. His solution to the crisis is much more massive intervention in the economy.
        Obama speaks grimly of the work we must do and the responsibilities we must bear because he hopes Americans will sacrifice for the collective good. It is his only conception of how to deal with the crisis: lead the collective in sacrifice.”
  • Edward Cline: “What do pirates, outgoing president George W. Bush, president-elect Barack Obama, and Congress all have in common?
        President-elect Obama, when he takes the oath of office on January 20th, will swear to protect the United States and uphold the Constitution. But as he made clear throughout his campaign, and has made clear in a number of television interviews and at press conferences since winning the election, he promises to do no such thing.
        Instead, he has promised to continue the federal government’s policy of “saving” the country by looting the productive private sector of wealth and manpower in a program that will make his hero, Franklin D. Roosevelt, look like a rank amateur. He will, with Congress’s help, add over a trillion dollars to the over trillion dollars rung up by the Bush administration.   
        Hypothetically, this represents a mortgage on the lives of two or three unborn generations. Hypothetically, because the economy and the country will collapse long before our elective oligarchy and its bureaucratic minions present impoverished Americans with the tax bill.”
  • Ari Armstrong: “I disliked quite a lot about Rick Warren's prayer at Barack Obama's inauguration. But he did have one excellent line, that we are united not by race and not by religion, but by our commitment to freedom. To the degree that the religious right -- and the religious left -- takes that insight seriously, we can all get along fine in the political arena.”
  • Edward Cline again: “Watching news media coverage of Barack Obama’s journey to the White House was much like watching the broadcast propaganda of a dystopian fantasy in films like V, or the Richard Burton’s1984, or Fahrenheit 451 -- except that the news media is not a vast government department spewing out lies and disinformation, haranguing and brow-beating the public, but a nominally independent entity reporting Obama’s triumph with deliriously mindless happy talk…
        Having written extensively on America’s Revolutionary period in fiction and nonfiction, I took special and personal offense to Obama’s Philadelphia speech on January 17th, in which he appropriated the Revolution without once mentioning the ideas that made it possible. In that speech, he turned those unnamed ideas inside out, pronouncing the words “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” but meaning entirely different things by them. Your “life,” he said or implied, is not entirely your own, but your neighbor’s or the nation’s; your “liberty,” he suggested, exists as long it is regulated if not otherwise prohibited; your “pursuit of happiness,” he insisted, is possible but not before you serve and sacrifice for the good and happiness of all.
        Lest it be thought that I am putting words into his mouth or twisting his meaning, read the transcripts of all of Obama’s campaign and acceptance speeches, and it will be seen that he is no friend of life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness -- qua individual rights. Obama’s speeches have always been a broth of rhetorical ambiguities and populist language addressed to the worst in men, concealing an intention to rule, to decree, to govern like a prince with the unqualified leave of his subjects.
        Obama’s admirers and supporters constitute a people who do not want to be free, and who do not want anyone else to be free. Allowing their emotions to govern their minimal thought and their actions, they have endorsed his notion that everyone must be tied in servitude and sacrifice to everyone else to “work together” for a “more perfect union.”
  • Lindsay Perigo: “President Barack Obama's inaugural address offered some grounds for cautious reassurance…
        The scary semi-Marxist and terrorist-appeaser of the campaign trail was barely to be glimpsed. A more mature Obama, clearly sobered by his daily reality-briefings and his reported reading of Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson, extolled 'the ideals of our forebears.' The candidate who had once said the Constitution should be overturned to allow for un-American 'positive rights' became the President who spoke of 'remaining true to our founding documents' …
        He became perhaps the first President to acknowledge that freedom of religion also means freedom from religion for those who so choose, as he listed 'non-believers' among those who make up the diversity of belief systems in America…
        Above all we must remember that he remains in thrall to the sacrifice of the individual to the collective, the very antithesis of the founding ideals of which he spoke so glowingly. Until America has a President who understands and upholds a person's right to live for his own sake, liberty-lovers can never sit back and relax.
        It is to be hoped that President Obama will continue his study of Thomas Jefferson and Adam Smith ... and even more crucially, that he will add Ayn Rand to his reading list."
  • Glenn Reynolds: “It was a big deal when JFK became the first Catholic President, but now it seems quaint that that was ever an issue. It will be nice to see the same thing come true regarding the first black President.” [Hat tip Tim Blair].
  • Edward Hudgins on the new era of race in America. David Boaz offers these dissident notes on the "coronation." And Johan Norberg chooses the three best excerpts from the inauguration. [Hat tip Stephen Hicks]
  • Michael C. Moynihan at Hit & Run: "To Theodor Adorno, the writing of poetry after Auschwitz was barbarism. After 9/11, Graydon Carter, former editor of Spy magazine, declared an end to "the age of irony." As of noon today, after the inauguration of President Barack Obama—the "world's inauguration," according to the awful David Gergen—we have apparently entered the post-political humor era. Because there ain't nothing funny about Hope and Change."
  • From Samizdat: "Here is something very topical for today, Inaugaration Speech Generator."
  • Tibor Machan: "The man looks like he walked off the cover of GQ but, as with
    many who adorn the covers of that and other magazines featuring beautiful
    people, there is no evidence of any in depth political wisdom coming from
    him. All that talk about change was bunk--no change of any importance is
    likely to come from the Obama administration apart from what is expected
    from any liberal democratic presidency. And that kind of change I find
    nothing but repugnant--a nostalgic throwback to the New Deal, for example,
    and an open embrace of the idea of wealth redistribution."
  • To be continued ...

The crowning of the Messiah

Some humour on Coronation Day from ToThePoint News…

Q: Why are there so few real Barack Obama jokes?
A: Most of them are true stories.
Q. Why won't Obama laugh at himself?
A. Because it would be racist.
Q. Candidate Obama told us, "Yes We Can." What will President Obama tell us?
A. "Yes You Will."
Q. Why is the Secret Service doubling security on Michelle Obama immediately after the inauguration? 
A. If something happened to her, then Barack would be in charge. 
Have you ever noticed how Obama thinks nothing is impossible as long as somebody else has to pay for it? 
Giving money and power to Barack Obama is like giving liquor and car keys to a teenage boy.
Why does Barack Obama want change so bad? Because he wants every cent of it.
The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average Obama voter.
Q. What does the Obama Messiah say when someone sneezes?
A. I bless you.

And Rush Limbaugh was asked to join together with hundreds of others in taking 400 words to express his “hopes” for the Obama presidency.  I don’t need 400, he replied, I only need 4.  “I hope he fails.”

Ideas You Need to Know #27: Marginal Utility

From the Ideas-You-Need-To-Know file comes this beauty.  The Philosophical Mortician explains brilliantly the important economic notion of Marginal Utility, which explains among other things why diamonds are worth more than water (even though we’ll never die for lack of diamonds) and why CEOs of large companies, even bad ones, calculate their salaries by the number of zeroes at the end -- while teachers, even good ones, spend their spare time checking behind the cushions for spare coins.

History Through Art

Only a nation ignorant of its own history could buy the comparison of the empty vessel with the silver tongue that is Barack Obama and Abraham Lincoln, the president who won the Civil war and signed into law the Emancipation Proclamation.

Historian Scott Powell teaches History Through Art as part of his History at our House programme for high school-age children – or adults keen to learn history in a new way.


Think about taking History Through Art to put you ahead of the pack. To explore the options you have in integrating History Through Art into your history program, see Scott Powell’s Implementation and Product Tiers pages.

And in the meantime, see what art might be able to tell you about Abraham Lincoln.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009



Sometimes even a flawed argument contains a kernel of truth – and when I say that, I don’t mean the destructive idea of government “stimulus” so beautifully pilloried above.  As Bernard Hickey said in the Herald,

Governments around the world are gearing up to borrow and spend unprecedented amounts on infrastructure, tax cuts and social spending in Keynesian-style attempts to boost their flagging economies. But the question rarely asked so far is: who is going to pay for it all?

The answer, of course, is us.  You and me. The money borrowed now to pay for the world’s stimulus packages will be lent by savers, or printed by central bankers, but it will eventually be paid back by us -– by taxpayers – and it will be spent by governments at the expense of real productive spending.  (And at roughly 3% of GDP, NZ’s stimulus package puts us third most profligate in the world’s “stimulus” stakes, right behind Iceland and Denmark.)

This is a bill doesn’t just have to be paid later; we have to pay for it now.  As Ludwig von Mises used to say, it’s the current generation that has to pay for huge deficits.  The reason is that there’s only so many pre-existing resources that all that stimulus can flush out, and in the absence of the government’s stimulus their owners had other plans for them.  To set them to work at the government’s behest means those resources are bid away from those other more productive uses.

Which means that, thanks to these stimulus packages, any recovery is going be delayed – and to compound the error the delay will have to be paid for.

Consider in this context this article excerpted by Jeff Perren, which amid a sea of error contains this nugget of truth:

    The very first step in every “stimulus” program is for the government to go out into the market and sell bonds.
    When the government sells bonds, it takes money … out of the economy. Then, some time later, the government puts the money back into the economy in the form of spending or tax rebates or whatever. Later, when the data becomes available, economists are shocked, shocked to find that “consumers saved their rebates” or “business investment fell by an unexpected amount”, or “imports increased”, thus completely negating the “stimulus”. Their hopes dashed, but their belief in “stimulus” unshaken, the stimulunatics then call for more “stimulus”.
    The fact is that for the government to be able to sell the bonds in the first place, consumers have to save, or businesses have reduce their investments, or foreigners have to sell more in the U.S. Otherwise, where would the dollars to buy the bonds come from?

The fact is, the government has no way at all to “stimulate” demand and nothing to do it with -– all it can do is either redirect demand to unproductive areas (by bidding up the price of resources), or else stifle demand by not allowing prices to drop when they need to.

The popular notion that governments can stimulate demand is a function of the idea that the printing press is a substitute for real capital goods, and the flawed measurement of GDP which leads to the ridiculous notion that it is consumers that drive the economy.  But they don’t, and as George Reisman points out the notion that they do is a relic both of the Keynesian mythology and the flawed GDP calculations, which fails for the most part to measure real productive spending (i.e., spending for subsequent sales).  What the GDP calculation does instead is to artificially inflate the importance of consumer spending, (even as it denudes the productive of the money they need to be productive) leaving governments to think that sending out this money as shopping subsidies and “stimulus” packages will work.

It’s also a function of another flawed idea: the idea that (in the words of Fed chairman Ben Bernanke, “Our economic system is critically dependent on the free flow of credit.”  But as Peter Schiff explains, healthy economies aren’t so critically dependent on credit, only bubble economies:

    In truth, not all economies run on credit… In a legitimate economy, it is not credit that fuels spending and investment, but simply income and savings. It’s too bad our Fed chairman does not understand the difference…
    Credit is indeed vital to an economy, but it does not constitute an economy within itself. The important thing to remember is that credit is scarce, and is limited by the stock of savings. Savings loaned to one individual is not available to be loaned to another until it is repaid. If it is never repaid, the savings are lost. Loans to consumers not only crowd out more productive loans that might have been made to business, but they have a far greater likelihood of ending in default. In addition, while business loans increase our capital stock and lead to greater productivity, loans made to consumers are merely spent, and do not create conditions that will make repayment easier. When businesses borrow to fund capital investments, the extra cash flows that result are used to repay the loans. When individuals borrow to spend, loans can only be repaid out of reduced future consumption.
    One of the reasons we are in such dire straits is that consumers have already borrowed and spent too much. Many did so based on the false belief that ever-appreciating real estate would ultimately provide the means to repay their debts and finance their lifestyles. Now that reality has finally set in, why should the spending spree continue? The fact that a GDP comprised of 70 percent of consumption is currently contracting should not surprise anyone. In fact, such a contraction is long overdue and the government should not do anything to interfere.
    In trying to perpetuate the illusion, the government wants to revive the spending spree that has led us to this disaster. But how can such actions possibly help? How will more debt improve the economy? Wouldn’t our circumstances be vastly improved if we paid off some of our debts and replenished our savings? Wouldn’t we be in better shape if instead of buying more stuff we concentrated on producing it?

Wouldn’t we be better of if governments foreswore all the “stimulus” packages, and the deficit spending used to finance them, and instead got the hell out of the say so markets can correct?

Anything else will only delay what needs to be done: to flush out the malinvestments  so that genuinely productive businesses can adjust to new price levels and the new capital structure, and start producing again.  That’s what real recovery looks like.

If only the stimulunatics would get out of the way so that could happen.


The Herald is running this headline:

Plane crash victims to arrive home to Dobbyn song

Jeez! Haven’t their families already suffered enough?

Greatest living New Zealander?

Hands up all those who think Helen Clark is the greatest living New Zealander?  Well, frighteningly, 23% of Herald website readers do. 

And apparently Don Brash thinks the greatest living New Zealander is Roger Douglas!  Now, that’s sad, isn’t it, when your greatest living NZer is a politician?

Who’s the greatest living NZer in your assessment?

A victory for … [updated]

captionchallengeThe canonisation tomorrow of the Obamessiah is a victory alright -– a victory for Airhead America over the America created by its founders.

Read this piece that’s been circulating on the internet to concretise who wins tomorrow, and what loses: ‘A victory for Obama-worshippers.’

The Obamessiah has ridden to the inauguration following in the footsteps of Abraham Lincoln, visiting the Lincoln Memorial with the entire press corps in tow, and will be sworn in tomorrow on the Lincoln Bible –- which means among other ironies a man known for using a lot of verbiage to say very little is thus invoking a president (Lincoln) renowned for using very little to say a whole lot.

UPDATEThe Onion reports that Congress are debating a suitable addition to the inauguration [hat tip No Minister].  And note that Comedy Central will be live blogging the event, perhaps the best way to experience it while keeping your food down.

Justice still not being seen to be done

The institutional cowardice of the Manukau police was revealed nationwide last year when they spent half-an-hour outside Navtej Singh's shop "securing the scene" while he bled to death inside.

Their cowardice was unforgiveable, and Mr Singh died of it.

And as we now hear news that every important detail of the case against Mr Singh's alleged killers has been suppressed by the judge, Justice Semi Epati, one can only conclude that in Manukau institutional cowardice is endemic.

Unfortunately the cowardice is nationwide.  In recent years New Zealand's courts have admitted TV cameras, for which our justices have patted themselves on the back for their “openness,” but at the same time they’ve more and more frequently enforced orders suppressing information about what's going on inside those courts.  Justice may be being done inside our courts (though reports suggests serious doubts on that score) but we can’t see that it’s being done.  We can see pictures, but we're frequently not allowed to know who's on trial, and what the evidence against them is.

Like a patronising parent protecting innocent children we’re given picture but no sound. We're being treated like children, with no justification for it.

Are we really that imature?  Name suppression, evidence suppression – in recent years the media has been gagged from reporting important details that would help we the people  to judge for ourselves whether justice is being done in the courts assembled in our names.

I've argued before that "It's unfortunate that our courts seem to have forgotten the crucial principle that underpins their work: that justice must not only be done must must be seen to be done. When justice is kept under wraps, all sorts of nonsense appears in the vacuum instead ... Why do the courts consider us so immature that we can't handle hearing the evidence for ourselves in media reports, instead of hearing only the nonsense that its absence has generated?"

Talking about suppression orders issued over the Emma Agnew murder back in 2007, Stephen Franks slammed this "recent fad to elevate privacy and possible embarrassment over substantive justice":

    The law around pre-trial contempt of court (and sub judice) is based on the theory that the risk of biasing judges and juries outweighs freedom of speech, including open disclosure of what is known and obtainable by insiders, or those determined to find out.
    I am not aware of any balance of evidence to support [this] fear... Indeed the attempt to treat juries like computers, cleansed of any pre-knowledge, and sheltered by evidence exclusion rules from anything a judge patronisingly considers prejudicial, turns upside down the original justification for a jury of your peers.

When justice comes with gagging orders then justice is neither being done, nor seen to be done.  It's time to urgently reconsider their popularity.

Anti Dismal more than promised

Just a quiet note to let you know that Paul Walker is blogging again at Anti Dismal.  Let him know you care.  :-)

DOWN TO THE DOCTOR’S: Hail to the Chief!

Libertarianz leader Dr Richard McGrath looks at the coronation of the Messiah …

I write this on the eve of the inauguration of the 44th president of the United States, having earlier this weekend watched a movie based on the life of another American politician, populist demagogue Huey Pierce Long, whose ride could have taken him, as it has with Barack Obama, all the way to the White House.

The movie, All the King’s Men, follows the rise and fall of fictional politician Willie Stark, who becomes governor of Louisiana and narrowly survives impeachment before being gunned down by a medical doctor. Huey Long was governor of Louisiana (and then its U.S. Senator), who narrowly survived impeachment in the state legislature before being gunned down by a medical doctor.

The character of Willie Stark is played by Sean Penn who, as far as I can ascertain is no relation to Robert Penn Warren, the author of the novel on which the film is based. Sean Penn is well known as a left-wing activist who has cuddled up to despots such as Hugo Chavez and Raul Castro. In hindsight, Sean Penn would probably have admired much of what Huey Long stood for and achieved.  

The saga of Huey Long bears fuller examination in the light of the change about to occur at the top of U.S. politics. Barack Obama is possibly the most left-leaning American president ever, and appears eager to deliver his own version of the New Deal – which was the programme of economic mismanagement perpetrated by Franklin Roosevelt that prolonged the 1930s depression, and was the cause of a second one in 1937. President-elect Obama, like Huey Long, promises job creation and redistribution of wealth. Eventually, of course, the socialist house of cards will fall over and there will be spectacular collapse. (The collapse is already underway, reflecting the failed fiscal management and profligate spending of the Bush administration and continued interference in the banking system by the Federal Reserve. )

Huey Long, like Willie Stark and Sean Penn both, was essentially socialist in outlook, even though he couldn’t see it. One of nine children, and too poor to buy text books at university despite winning a scholarship, Long started as a salesman, then went to law school for a year before passing the bar exam at age 22. Most of his legal career was spent in conflict with large businesses such as oil companies and utilities. After several years in elected roles on the Louisiana Public Service Commission, he won on the second attempt, at age 35, governership of the state. His slogan for the campaign was “Every Man A King”, and he depicted the wealthy as parasites who grabbed more than their “fair share” of the wealth pie. He is said to have replaced the traditional north-south division within Louisiana based on religion with class-based differences he could continue to exploit.

Huey Long advocated taxing and redistributing wealth and assets, without regard for how the wealth was created or who actually owned it. He proposed federal money be spent on public works programmes, education and roading, whether or not this spending was authorized in the U.S. Constitution. As governor, he ruled the state of Louisiana as a dictator, ruthlessly persecuting political opponents, often using his political influence to ensure that his enemies and their families lost their jobs and businesses.

Corruption ensured that Huey Long maintained an iron grip on power. The governor’s office continued, under his leadership, to fill vacancies in the state bureaucracy with his favoured appointees. And of course all state employees were expected to pay a tithe into Long’s political war fund.

Long’s legislative programme met some opposition from Americans who had some inkling of what their Constitution actually meant. One school attempted to block the receipt of taxpayer funded textbooks, saying they would not accept charity from the state. The governor, in turn, blocked authorization for development of an air base near the town in question until the school aceepted the books. When things were not going well for Long in the state legislature, it is alleged he would cut the power supply to the building so that alterations could be made in Long’s favour, under cover of darkness, to the official record of representatives’ votes. After winning a U.S. Senate seat, Long installed his puppet in the governor’s mansion and actually used his old office to direct operations when the Senate was in recess.

Despite his public opposition to the commercial activities of big oil companies, Huey Long and an independent oilman formed a company that obtained leases on state-owned land and then secretly subleased the mineral rights to – you guessed it – the major oil companies. He also authorised a plain clothes police force answerable only to him. Little wonder that an armed insurrection backed by two former state governors reared its head in January 1935 – Long’s response was to declare martial law, ban gatherings of more than one person(!) and outlaw criticism of state officials. Eight months later he was shot dead by the son of a judge who had been gerrymandered out of his job after coming out against Long when he was governor.

Huey Long was a complex and rather inconsistent man. There were a few things to admire about his political legacy. He opposed unemployment and welfare payments. He slashed property taxes, and repealed the poll tax. He proposed making the first million dollars of income (1930s dollars, remember) tax-free. The first five million dollars of income would have only attracted $150,000 in tax – makes the Libertarianz Party’s ‘First $50k tax-free’ pledge in the 2008 election campaign seem a bit wimpish, doesn’t it! And he opposed the Federal Reserve Bank on the quite legitimate grounds that it exercised monopoly powers over the monetary system for the benefit of a few private stockholders.

But the very occasional bright spots in Huey Long’s political career were eclipsed by the monstrous erosions in civil liberties and corruption that were a hallmark of his tenure in office, and his support for statism on a massive scale. He opposed Franklin Roosevelt after initially supporting his rise to the presidency, on the grounds that the New Deal did not go far enough and was a sellout to Big Business(!). Yet Long denied that his political programme was socialistic, declared his inspiration came not from Karl Marx but from the Bible and the Declaration of Independence, and saw his policies as a bulwark against communism. Roosevelt, in turn, regarded Long as a political threat (rightly so, as Long planned to oust Roosevelt by running against him in 1936 and splitting the Democrat vote), and had him investigated by America’s legalized bloodsuckers, the Daywalkers known as the Internal Revenue Service. Unsuccessfully, as it turned out.

Barack Obama’s background has been extensively researched by investigators such as Trevor Loudon. His dealings in the past with extremist organizations such as the Weather Underground, and with various fronts for Marxist communism, are now a matter of public record. Obama has said and done very little to dispel fears that the political barometer United States will shortly undergo a violent shift to the left, with inevitable economic destitution and equal poverty for all. Like Huey Long, Obama is a charismatic demagogue with plans to seize the assets of the haves and hand them to the have-nots, notwithstanding the Bill of Rights and other constitutional measures which the founding fathers of America set up to protect individuals from this sort of predation by their own government.

The next U.S. president has been described as the most “loyal Democrat” by one source, and “most liberal” Senator by another. Scary stuff. I foresee hard times ahead for the vast majority of Americans, even those Obama claims he wants to help. How long will it take before the benign smiling face of Obama becomes tense and drawn, when his policies fail to deliver prosperity to Americans? How soon will “change you can believe in” become “change you will accept – or else”?

* * Read Dr McGrath’s column every week here at NOT PC * *