Friday, May 01, 2009

PJ O’Rourke in Auckland

A great night was had by all at PJ O'Rourke's night out in Auckland - certainly all at the two tables of libertarians at any rate, which at two out of twenty-two was a reasonable summation of our position in NZ’s body politic. (And judging by Deborah Hill-Cone’s questioning, some had too much of a good thing.)
Many great quips by the Great O'Rourke to recount, all of which you can see for yourself in a day or two when the Centre for Independent Studies' website has the speech online. (And feel free to post your own favourites in the comments.)
But there were two other lines that stood out on the night that I want to mention now, both from Ruth Richardson who spoke in thanks to PJ. She took the opportunity to send a fairly pointed message from a former finance minister who famously wrote a budget in the teeth of a deep recession to a new one in a similar position, but with mush instead of stainless for a backbone.
She spoke about seeing her ‘successor,’ Bill English, speaking in Canterbury about his forthcoming Budget. He seemed to be "manfully resisting" the urge to stimulus, she said, but looked like he might be unable to resist the urge to "fiscal child abuse."
And she talked about how uncomfortable she felt seeing "a politician who talks Adam Smith abroad and John Maynard Keynes at home." Everyone in the room knew to what she was referring, and that it was to Bill English’s boss that the barb was directed.
Let us hope her words reach their intended target(s)
PIC: Annie Fox meets the Peej; Julian looks on:

Thought for the day

pig flu

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Thursday, April 30, 2009

“Interest rates” are going in the wrong direction

Q: What should “interest rates” do in the face of a recession?

A: Not what you’ve been hearing from the chatterati.  Pardon me for quoting The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Great Depression and the New Deal author Bob Murphy two days in a row, but . . .

    Even though it flies in the face of everything you will hear from Nobel laureates, Harvard professors, and CNBC commentators, in the onset of a financial panic — where liquidity is at a premium — short-term interest rates need to rise dramatically. It is analogous to the prices of flashlights and canned food during a hurricane that knocks down power lines. The price needs to shoot up in order to ration the available units to those who need them the most.
    By the very same token, when investment banks realize that their assets aren't worth nearly as much as they had thought, and the supply of "loanable funds" shifts way to the left, then market interest rates need to rise. The price of renting a generator goes up during a hurricane, and the price of renting cash ought to go up during a financial panic.

If you follow the link where Murphy says, “short-term interest rates need to rise dramatically,” you’ll find a historical comparison: that “smack dab in the middle of the 1920–1921 depression” US interest rates were around 7 percent.  Following the crash of 1929, The Fed cut US rates down to a record low of 1½ percent by May 1931 to try to fix their crisis.

Guess which one worked?  Guess which method kicked off a recovery? 

The fact you don’t hear much about the Great 1920–1921 Depression gives you a clue which one.

So, why do higher interest rates work in a recession?  Simply put, it’s because the economic boom we’ve just enjoyed was (in the final analysis) paid for  out of a pool of real savings – out of saved capital – and too much of it has now gone.  It’s been squandered.  Consumed.  Used up.  It’s been squandered on profligate living. It’s been consumed in malinvestments.  It’s been and it’s still being used up.  As “Mish” says, “We are in this mess because the pool of real savings has been depleted and it is time to stop spending and replenish savings.” 

How do we do that? Come on, you know this one. Anyone familiar with supply and demand should know what happens to prices when supply is drastically diminished, and what would happen now to interest rates if we didn’t have a government flunky tampering with them. 

What needs to happen now therefore is that the pool of real savings needs to be built up, not further diminished in cheap loans.  What needs to happen now is that zombie firms and malinvestments are liquidated so that their assets can be reallocated and recovery can begin.  What needs to happen now, as Murphy says, is what would happen quite naturally in the absence of our all-powerful central banks.

    It's actually easier to see if you forget about a central bank, and just pretend that we were living in the good old days when banks would compete with each other and there was no cartelizing overseer. Now in this environment, when a panic hits and most people realize that they haven't been saving enough — that they wish they were holding more liquid funds right this moment than their earlier plans had provided them — what should the sellers of liquid funds do?
   
The answer is obvious: they should raise their prices. The scarcity of liquid funds really has increased after the bubble pops, and its price ought to reflect that new information.

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What Michael Cullen forgot to say was . . .

There’s an awful lot that Michael Cullen forgot to say in the valedictory speech over which every bullfrog and his legrope was fawning yesterday. 

Fortunately, we have Liberty Scott to say it all for him.  Read What Dr Cullen's valedictory ignored.

NOT PJ: Avian Swine Flew

This week Bernard Darnton has a headache and feels nauseous. . .

Load up the Land Rover with the 12-gauge and three months worth of baked beans. Bird flu is here. No – mad pig disease. Wait – the Y2K09 bug.

One thing there has been a serious outbreak of is word games. The U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is upset that this week’s fashionable worry has been called “swine flu” because of the possible effect on pork sales. Israeli Deputy Health Minister has suggested “Mexican flu” because he finds the reference to pigs offensive. The Mexican ambassador to Israeli got all huffy because he found the reference to Mexicans offensive. If this really is a serious health threat it’s good to see that world’s governments are suitably focused.

pigfluHere in New Zealand, all those people who’ve toiled away for years on pandemic preparedness plans are suddenly feeling important and putting on reflective jackets and hanging out in command centres with giant plasma screens, presumably watching CNN on the big plasmas to find out what happens next.

The death toll in Mexico, the “epicenter” of the “pandemic” is claimed to be 160. The population of Mexico City is 28 million. If a disease of the same virulence swept through a city the size of Christchurch the death toll would be two. Surely sad for the families of those two but I wouldn’t go as far as crossing live to a rain-soaked reporter for an exclusive update.

I’m no virologist, or biologist, or anything-else-ologist for that matter. I don’t even have a beard. I’ll leave it to the lab-coated ones to work out what’s actually going on. But my biggest worry isn’t that some previously unknown disease is coming to wipe us out; it’s that a previously well-known parasite will grow and spread because of this.

In its most virulent form this parasite strikes millions of people dead in short periods. In its modern form in the first world it suffocates and strangles. And there’s nothing it likes more than a crisis.

In his thriller State of Fear author Michael Crichton suggested that it wasn’t the emergence of a military-industrial complex that we should worry about but the emergence of a media-political complex.

His story was far-fetched but the point is valid. At no time in history have we been richer or healthier than we are now but we still worry just as much. We worry about aircraft – noise from aircraft, exhaust gases from aircraft, people with stubble and olive skin on aircraft, people sneezing on aircraft – and there’s a whole lot of other stuff starting the letters B through Z to worry about as well.

The media dishes out fear because it captivates audiences. Those audiences then demand that the government “does something” to address the fear.

The government has sweeping emergency powers that might not be out of place during a Black Death outbreak. The real problem is that the law is so vaguely worded that those same powers could be used during an outbreak of obesity, or anything else that some Sue Kedgley-type dreams up as a health risk.

I don’t feel the need to run out and buy a face mask but if anyone has the antidote to big government I’ll take it. If governments around the world don’t take advantage of avian/swine flu to increase their powers, pigs will fly.

* * Bernard Darnton writes every Thursday here at NOT PC * *

PS: Bernard Darnton, otherwise known as NOT PJ, will be in Auckland tonight seeing the guy who really is PJ, i.e., PJ O’Rourke’s gig at Sky City. If you’d like to catch up with us, Bernard and I and Annie Fox will be in the London Bar beforehand from about 5:30 on – and before that in the garden at The Castle. Maybe we’ll catch up with you?

PPS: And thanks to Crusader Rabbit for the cartoon.

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Global warming already affecting us

As more than a few of us have been pointing out, the destructive effects of global warming are already upon us.  That is to say, the destructive effects of global warming policies are already upon us. Alex Epstein makes the point again at the Voices for Reason blog:

    What is the biggest danger to Americans’ health and welfare? No, it’s not global warming — but it may well be global warming policy. In the name of fighting off hypothetical rises in average global temperature, our government has given itself draconian power to throttle energy sources that emits CO2 — which means, well over 80% of American production. . .  The power that this decision gives the EPA is enormous. . .  [And] the Obama EPA has announced that it plans to use its newfound power to the fullest.

This is not grounds for excitement.  Quite the reverse.  In a purported “press release release from the future” that is hard to tell from the real thing, George Reisman points out that now carbon dioxide has been declared a pollutant, numerous local jurisdictions around the US, whose finances have been badly hammered by the current recession, are considering the imposition of “Exhalation Taxes.”

    New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg and California’s Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger are reportedly preparing a joint statement citing the legitimacy and inevitability of taxes on CO2 emissions in general and on human exhalations of CO2 in particular. . .
    Support for . . . exhalation taxes and/or more stringent cap-and-trade limitations is indicated by the reported brisk sale of bumper stickers urging “polluters” to stop exhaling altogether. The stickers say, “Stop Exhaling, You God-Damned Polluting Bastards.” It is unclear whether the drivers of the vehicles which carry the stickers count themselves as polluters too.
    In contrast to the extremist position expressed in such bumper stickers, key Obama Administration officials and Congressional leaders are reportedly prepared to guarantee that “no American will ever be allowed to be in a position in which he cannot afford to pay for all of his reasonably necessary exhalations.” The Federal Government, they say, will provide whatever financial subsidies as may be necessary to assure everyone’s right to exhale on terms that he can afford.

I’d hate to think Professor Reisman would be giving anyone ideas . . .  the existing political reactions to a non-problem are already bad enough.

MONCKTON-carbon dixode emission control authority

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Coromandel Bach – Melling Morse Architects

This small Coromandel bach by Wellington’s Melling Morse Architects is significantly more sunlit than my 'art and ethics' post of last night

Two mezzanine rooms looking over a double-height living space – and an outside toilet.

Simple, yet effective.

The Modern Residential Design blog calls it “seaside loft style living.”

 Check out their thorough post on the house for more .

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Mankiw turns illiterate [updated]

Shit-WhereAreMyNumbers Former economist Greg Mankiw has taken up the job of arguing for the benefits of a negative real interest rate – meaning, essentially, that I pay you to borrow my money.  This should be brought about, he suggests, by lighting the blue touch-paper of gargantuan monetary inflation. Peter Schiff was polite enough yesterday to call such an analysis “foolish,” which rather understates the economic illiteracy of what Mankiw is proposing here – not to mention the immorality. And as Robert Murphy pointed out a few weeks back in The Nuttiness of Negative Interest Rates

It is no coincidence that Mankiw's worldview leads him to literally propose destroying the currency in order to fix the economy. That alone should have set off warning bells. As a general rule, if your economic model pops out the result "Randomly burn a tenth of the cash every year," then you should think some more about the model rather than fire off an article to the New York Times.

And it’s not just economically illiterate, which is supposed to be Mankiw’s field, it’s historically dyslexic. After painting himself into a corner economically, Mankiw now compounds the problems by maintaining that history is also on the side of such a position: that “a commitment to producing a moderate amount of inflation would be the modern equivalent” of the abandonment of the Gold Standard at the front end of the Great Depression, something he callsthe most useful thing that the federal government did to get the country out of the Great Depression.”

But that’s just not true at all. Did abandoning the Gold Standard get the country of the Great Depression? Answer: no, it didn’t. As Robert Murphy points out in his new book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Great Depression and the New Deal,

this hostility to the gold standard is misplaced. Before we delve into the economic theory, just consider the brute historical facts: In prior US depressions (or "panics"), when the US dollar was tied to gold, the country began to recover typically within about two years. In contrast, it wasn't until the governments of the world all abandoned gold, that the entire world was mired in the worst downturn in history, and for a decade to boot!

Murphy cites some more brute historical facts in this post:

If it were really true that it was the gold standard holding the US in Depression, then surely, say, five years after FDR severed the link, the economy should have been humming, right? But the official unemployment statistics (and note these BLS figures don't count people receiving WPA checks as having a real job) record that in 1938--five years into the New Deal--the unemployment rate averaged 19%. So when people tout how great things were for the US economy once we ditched gold, keep that in mind. Yes, 19% is lower than 25% (the rate in 1933), but to repeat, in all prior US history, a depression would have been long gone five years after the trough.

Mankiw used to be an economist.  He used to be a scholar.  He‘s now become a hack.  As Murphy explains if you read on, “the high unemployment of the early 1930s [was not] the fault of the gold standard. No, the blame rests squarely on government policies (and support for unions) that kept wage rates above their free market levels.”  Remember, if you will, what Professor Mankiw has apparently forgotten: that amongst other meddling Herbert Hoover did all he could to keep wages and prices up, ensuring that recovery was all but impossible.  It wasn’t being tied to gold that strangled recovery – among other things, it was tying prices and wages to economic unreality.

By contrast, do you remember the ‘Great Depression’ of 1920-21?  No?  The reason is there wasn’t one, because when employment dropped to 11%, wages and prices were allowed to fall, and recovery kicked off again.  And this, Professor Mankiw, was under a gold standard.  It didn’t take massive monetary inflation to escape the slump – just fiscal discipline and letting the markets work.

UPDATE: Several people who still believe in tying theory to reality have commented on Mankiw’s “negative interest rate” baloney:

  • Charles Anthony says : “This is effectively proposing that the Fed steals your money. Great policy proposal. Sounds like a bad joke to me… I have a feeling that Greg Mankiw also has a secret formula for turning lead into gold”
  • Mike Shedlock (aka Mish) says it’s Time for Mankiw to Resign: “Both Mankiw and [Paul] Krugman have their economic models and they stick with them no matter how silly those models look in the real world… I am wondering how long it will be before the words ‘since the great depression are replaced by the single word ‘ever’… Such is the sad state of economic teaching at our universities.”
  • Says Greg Ransom in Bob Murphy on Greg Mankiw’s Macro: “It’s rather telling that Greg Mankiw has no answer to the main substance of Robert Murphy’s takedown of Mankiw’s overall macreconomic vision.   Instead, Mankiw fires his giant Harvard guns on an issue that was recognized long ago by economists without need of the unreal mathematical machinery of ‘new Keynesian analysis’. . . Murphy challenges Mankiw on the empirical facts here and here.  Note also that Mankiw gets Murphy’s position wrong.”
  • David Kendall reckons “even a careful thinker like Greg Mankiw shouldn't be left alone to think too long all by himself. . . When will Mankiw, Bernanke, Geithner, and all the rest of the really, really smart economists figure out that interest rates are prices and that meddling with prices has consequences? Some of us dumber economists already know that.”
  • Save Capitalism awards Mankiw The Red Badge of Stupidity.
  • Rajesh at the Objective Extrospection blog, in a point I very much enjoyed, says Mankiw’s proposal is A Union of Keynes and Kant “It is not surprising that the proposal of literally destroying currency comes from an American professor of one of the leading universities. An economics professor is the ultimate union of Kant and Keynes. Kant laid the foundation for the destruction of human mind and Keynes followed closely with his own recipe for the destruction of the capitalism.”
  • Says The Liberal Order, “Mankiw fails to address Murphy’s argument. The gist of what Murphy is arguing is not the classical paradigm purporting perfectly efficient markets and instantaneous market clearing. Instead, Murphy is arguing that
    1) the FED policies of the past, which Mankiw professes will bring the U.S. economy out of the current recession, were at least partly responsible for getting us into this mess in the first place;
    2) that markets need to recover from the sectoral imbalances caused (at least largely) by FED policies in addition to other poor investment decisions;
    3) that this recovery is effectuated through changes in prices and interest rates;
    4) that markets do this naturally and manipulation of either prices or interest rates by the FED or the government undermine this process; and
    5) that the Keynesian AD theory fails to understand and/or appreciate the complex nature of markets. Consequently, Mankiw's prescription is not only bad policy, it is according to Murphy, bad economics.
    The way I read Murphy is not that markets rapidly clear, but that the sectoral imbalances take time to run their course. . . “
  • And finally, the Saver Dollar blog says simply, “I don’t know what other evidence people need to realize that the US dollar is doomed.”

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More bad news

More bad news today with the announcement that Cash Handling Systems – the organisation who makes, installs and manages parking meters around the country – which had only recently gone into liquidation, has now been part-purchased by an Australian company, and expects therefore to continue putting its hand into the pockets of the country’s motorists for some years to come.  (News here.)

Bugger.

Wine flu update

A correspondent writes in:

I had a dinner party last night, where I and other guests enjoyed copious alcohol. I awoke this morning not feeling well, with what could be described as flu-like symptoms; headache, nausea, chills, sore eyes etc.
    From the results of some initial testing, I have unfortunately tested positive for what experts are now calling Wine Flu. This debilitating condition is very serious—and it appears this is not an isolated case. Reports are flooding in from all around the neighbourhood of others diagnosed with Wine Flu.
To anyone that starts to exhibit the aforementioned tell-tale signs, experts are recommending a cup of tea and a bit of a lie down. However, should your condition worsen, you should immediately hire a DVD and take some Nurofen [Nurofen seems to be the only drug available that has been proven to help combat this unusual type of flu].  
    Others are reporting a McDonald’s Happy Meal can also help in some cases.
    Wine Flu does not need to be life threatening, and if treated early can be irradiated within a 24-48 hour period.  If not, then further application of the original liquid in similar quantities to the original dose has been shown to do the trick.

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Questions on Auckland not answered

Rodney Hide answers questions on the proposed Auckland super-city.  At least, that’s what the Herald promises.  Sadly, he doesn’t.

As Liberty Scott points out, he gets at least one question wrong and, more importantly, he evades the absolute, fundamental core issue -- what should be the role of local government in Auckland? – and doesn’t even bother answering two simple questions that honest ACT supporters should be asking:

  1. Why are you not following ACT party policy, which promises to abolish the local government power of general competency, and require councils to focus on their core functions?
  2. If an ACT Minister of Local Government is just going to maintain the Labour/Alliance/Green policy, then what was the point?

Answers on a postcard, please.

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DOWN TO THE DOCTORS: Pirates (Again), Protests, Property Rights and the President

An irreverent look at some of the past week’s headlines by Libertarianz leader Dr Richard McGrath

1. Kiwis Safe After Cruise Ship Fights Off Pirates – That Israeli security team dealt swiftly and effectively to a boatload of Somalis attempting to board a cruise liner in the Indian ocean, thereby saving the lives and property of 990 passengers. Good on them! The owners of other luxury liners would do well to follow the example of the MSC Melody by arming themselves appropriately, and employing people capable of utilising this weaponry to maximum effect.
I would love to see Somali pirates blown into small pieces by cannon fire, torpedoes, rockets or other appropriate tools of self-defence. Piracy is a serious matter, and those contemplating it as a career option need to persuaded otherwise.
More importantly, Somalia urgently needs restoration of the rule of law, so that a government can be formed and action taken to intercept and detain potential pirates before they become seaborne.

2. Marchers Casting Net Wide – A hikoi is planned to protest against the government’s decision not to provide special  seats on the proposed Super City council for indigenous brown-skinned people. The ‘Super City’ concept sucks, and the spectre of race-based seats is an insult to the people it is meant to help. I would hate to be stripped of my individuality, lumped in with others who had similar skin colour, eye colour or ancestral origin, and essentially told that I was so useless and incapable of fending for myself that I could never be elected to a council seat on my own merits. The whole concept of herding people into a group and then telling them they are useless and thus in need of special reserved places for them at the table is insulting and degrading.
This planned hikoi is a disgrace, and its supporters nothing but apologists for apartheid.

NickTheDick3. City’s Tree Lovers To Press MPs For Rethink On Controversial Law Changes – Let’s get this clear from the get-go: anyone who loves trees more than people is a truly twisted sick piece of work. That includes Nick Smith, who likes to hug trees with his tongue.
Anyone who thinks trees have rights -- especially those who think trees have more rights than the people who own them and the land on which they stand -- has a distorted sense of value and a rather dim view of the worth of humanity.
Forget the Local Government and Environment Select Committee bullshit about ‘tweaking’ rules so that people will be ‘allowed’ to prune, cut down or burn down trees they own. Look at the bigger picture. All around New Zealand, people own land on which sit trees, some of them old, some of them native to these shores, some of which would make good firewood or furniture, and many of which are blocking human enjoyment of life.
The important thing is that the land is owned by somebody. The owners have a right enshrined in common law to do what they like with this land provided they don’t cause objective harm to others in the process. If you feel that because someone has cut down a tree that somehow makes you a victim, then seek redress by proving you have been harmed. Otherwise shut the fuck up and mind your own god-damned business.

4. CEO Sacking Hallmark Of A Hands-On Presidency – That’s what the headline says.  I would phrase it another way: Obama is an interfering Big Government statist control freak with an agenda of nationalization and micromanagement that will make Helen Clark look like a libertarian. Rick Wagoner, CEO of General Motors, is told that the President would like him to resign. Rick Wagoner falls on his sword (as should any CEO after losing billions of taxpayer dollars). But he didn’t fall, he was pushed – by a busybody, micro-managing President.  (No wonder GM is now being called Government Motors.)
The mainstream media see this gross disregard for property rights as “symbolic of US having crossed from an era of laissez-faire capitalism to a new kind of managed economy.”  Sadly, the truth is that the US hasn’t had anything remotely approaching a laissez-faire capitalist economy since the early twentieth century. This “new kind of managed economy” is just the same as the old kind, and with the same consequences: a slide in living standards and loss of essential liberties and rights for all who choose to remain part of it.
Rescue packages, stimuli – whatever you want to call them – they are simply socialism with a fancy name. And socialism not only doesn’t work, it kills.

See y’all next week!
Doc McGrath

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Who’s paying for Helen’s welcome? You are.

Is there anyone who can offer a compelling reason why the NZ taxpayer should be picking up the tab for the Maori welcome that new UN bureaucrat Helen Clark enjoyed this morning to welcome her into her new job?

Anyone at all?

‘Christ After Crucifixion’ - Hans Holbein

03deadch

This is not a pretty painting, as this detail makes plain:

1o-holbein-christ

It’s not a painting one would use to argue that good art must be good looking; that it must conform to some kind of classical canons of beauty; that it should “look good” on your wall.  It helps to demonstrate instead that good art must have something to say, and it must say it as powerfully as it knows how.  The more fundamental the theme, and the more powerfully that theme is conveyed, then so much the better for the artwork.

By that standard, Holbein succeeds admirably.  Let me explain how.

A good subtitle for this 1521 painting might be ‘A Christian Confronts Reality.’  That, at least, was how the Russian novelist Dostoyevsky felt when confronted with this naturalistic depiction of the battered Christian corpse in 1867: confronted with the horrific reality of crucifixion and its results, Dostoyevsky was struck by the importance of this confrontation for his faith, and inspired to dramatise in his next novel what that confrontation meant. Said his wife, “The figure of Christ taken from the cross, whose body already showed signs of decomposition, haunted him like a horrible nightmare.  In his notes to [his novel] The Idiot and in the novel itself he returns again and again to his theme.”

The figure and its challenge became the thematic ‘pivot’ around which the whole novel revolves, in the same way (as Santi Tafarella describes it at his blog) that “Dostoevsky saw what the painting depicted as the as the ‘pivot’ on which faith or unbelief must rest.” Holbein confronts the Christian viewer with a powerful choice: One must either believe that God raised this ravaged body from the dead, and that the Christian myth, therefore, “offers hope for humanity beyond this life”; or else accept that the dead stay dead, that such an event did not and could not occur, that reality is what it is – with all that follows therefrom.

What follows may lead you either to hope, or to despair. For Dostoyevsky (and for existentialists), what follows is the despair of being “trapped” inside a “mechanistic universe.”  As a character in The Idiot puts that position,

    His body on the cross was therefore fully and entirely subject to the laws of nature. In the picture the face is terribly smashed with blows, swollen, covered with terrible, swollen, and bloodstained bruises, the eyes open and squinting; the large, open whites of the eyes have a sort of dead and glassy glint. . . .
   Looking at that picture, you get the impression of nature as some enormous, implacable, and dumb beast, or, to put it more correctly, much more correctly, though it may seem strange, as some huge engine of the latest design, which has senselessly seized, cut to pieces, and swallowed up–impassively and unfeelingly–a great and priceless Being, a Being worth the whole of nature and all its laws, worth the entire earth, which was perhaps created solely for the coming of that Being! The picture seems to give expression to the idea of a dark, insolent, and senselessly eternal power, to which everything is subordinated, and this idea is suggested to you unconsciously. . .

Ayn Rand readers will recognise this as an eloquent description of what Rand called the utterly mistaken “malevolent universe premise” --

    the theory that man, by his very nature, is helpless and doomed—that success, happiness, achievement are impossible to him—that emergencies, disasters, catastrophes are the norm of his life and that his primary goal is to combat them.
   
As  . . . evidence of the fact that the material universe is not inimical to man and that catastrophes are the exception, not the rule of his existence, observe the fortunes made by insurance companies.

Good art need not be a thing of beauty, but it must have something to say (the more fundamental the message the better) and say what it says powerfully.  This does that.  You might call it an example of the power of good (but philosophically mistaken) art.

RELATED POSTS:

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Swine flu update [updated]

STUFF: The Director of Public Health tonight announced that three of the Rangitoto College party have tested positive for swine flu H1N1. . .  Health officials are investigating 66 cases of possible swine flu [including the ten Rangitoto College patients]. . . The [other] 56 "suspected" cases are scattered nationwide. Patients have been given Tamiflu and are in home-based isolation, officials said.

UPDATEJack Wheeler has a few prophylactic measures you might like to think about to protect yourself from Swine Flu.  They look a little extreme unless you live in one of the seriously affected areas, like Wheeler does (see this Google map for the spread), but they’re something to keep in mind.

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Tribute to Obama’s first 100 days [updated]

Today marks the occasion of the ObaMessiah’s first one-hundred days in office, and perhaps the biggest ‘tribute’ I can pay to his presidency is this:

In just one-hundred days, he’s made Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged essential reading for anyone who wants to know just what the fuck is going on in America.

There endeth my tribute.

UPDATE:  “Atlas is selling more copies now than at any other time in history,” confirms the Ayn Rand Institute’s Yaron Brook in this video interview.

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NZ political blog rankings [updated]

NZ_Rankings Tim Selwyn has finally produced his rankings for the NZ political blogosphere for March.

NOT PC maintains its position as the country’s third most popular political blog (for which I’m very grateful to all you lot who regularly visit) just behind David Farrar’s Kiwiblog and the Labour Party’s Double Standard.

Not bad, I reckon, for a blog that doesn’t pull too many punches.

There are big jumps for The Visible Hand in Economics, Barnsley Bill and MacDoctor.

And big errors (still) in both my name and the political allegiances of myself and my blog companions.

Head to Tumeke’s sidebar for the top twenty. Don’t forget to check out any you haven’t seen before – and don’t forget to ask Tim why both SOLO and Bernard Hickey’s sites are excluded.

And here are the corrections to Not PC’s details:

#3 (-) Not PC : www.pc.blogspot.com
04/2005+ "Promoting capitalist acts between consenting adults"
Peter Cresswell : Libertarian – Libertarianz : Auckland
Susan Ryder : Libertarian – Libertarianz : Auckland
Dr Richard McGrath : Libertarian – Libertarianz : Masterton
Bernard Darnton : Libertarian – Libertarianz : Christchurch

UPDATE:  Speaking of The Double Standard, Paul Walker at Anti Dismal makes a strong case for renaming them The Non-Standard.  Even by their non-standards, he says, this has got to be seriously bizarre.

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Schiff and WSJ talk abolition

In his latest video blog (or ‘vlog’ if you prefer), Peter Schiff attacks the risibly destructive idea floated by the US Federal Reserve of the “benefits” of interest rates at minus five percent.  “That the Fed would even employ economists capable of coming up with such a foolish analysis,” says Schiff, “is reason enough to abolish the entire organisation.”

And while we’re talking abolition of destructive financial institutions (and since the Fed has been at the centre of the two largest financial disasters in the last hundred years, it should at least be considered, right?), what about the International Monetary Fund(IMF)?  Set up to anchor the international Bretton Woods monetary system with gold, it lost its only reason to exist way back in 1971 when Richard Nixon abandoned gold’s fiscal discipline for good, yet it has somehow ensured its own survival by transforming itself into a world class meddler.

And how artfully did it engineer the recent G20 meeting to give itself a new lease of life – but at the expense of financial common sense.  Judy Shelton in the Wall Street Journal looks at how cleverly the IMF manipulated the financial troubles of emerging and low-income nations to procure a fresh infusion of capital for itself; what it’s doing with all its gold (and how it got it in the first place); and what real money really looks like.

Read The IMF's Gold Gambit.

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Which pic? [updated]

Some folk have been disappointed to see my MG photo disappear from the sidebar. They reckon the new pic is too frightening -- and some others reckon no amount of airbrushing could avoid a picture of me being frightening.

So which picture should I have on my sidebar? This one?


Or this one?


Or none at all?



Vote now:

Which picture should I have on my blog sidebar?
The cool one with the MG
The shouty one one with the John Galt T shirt
None at all - you're too frightening to be out in public
Free polls from Pollhost.com
UPDATE: Here's a late entrant in the competition. For those confused, I'm the one on the right. :-)

Talk soon

Having a few computer problems here at Not PC Towers.

Talk soon. Hopefully.

Feel free to talk amongst yourselves in the meantime.

What's on your mind?

Bring out your dead?

You don’t find much truth in journalism, particularly not when there’s some disaster porn to talk up, so let’s see if we can find any truth in film – or humour in disaster.

Here’s Monty Python:

And here’s a children’s story.

How are we doing?

NB: If you want more serious insight, visit MacDoctor.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Bad banks [updated]

Keynesians look at the big picture – the “aggregates.” They don’t do details.  They don’t like small and informed – instead they prefer sweeping. Such is the sweep of the TARP programme and related “stress tests” that, by lumping good banks with bad,  induces undue speculation about all of them.

In reviewing Keynes’s 1931 Treatise of Money, Hayek observed that “Mr Keynes’s aggregates conceal the most fundamental mechanisms of change.”  And Henry Hazlitt pointed out that Keynes’s focus on macroeconomic “aggregates” concealed the microeconomic relationships among a multitude of individual prices and wages. (“The” price level, wage level, total output, aggregate demand, and aggregate supply were all statistical fictions, said Hazlitt, that had no reality in the actual market.)

Put like this, we can see just another reason why the promoters of the TARP programme are so keen to have all banks treated the same, whether the banks are liquid or illiquid: so keen that they forced all banks, both good and bad, to sign up to the TARP programme – twisting the arms of those who wanted to refuse – and so eager they’re now refusing to let liquid banks pay back their TARP largesse.

The ruse is obvious: they want the imprimatur of the successful banks to prop up the reputations of failing banks.  (That this might just work the other way doesn’t seem to have occurred to them.)  But it’s also possible that their habit of “thinking in aggregates” has blinded them now to those “fundamental mechanisms of change” that the economy now needs to undertake.

And one of the most fundamental is the liquidation of bad banks.

Has to happen.

UPDATE: From today’s Wall Street Journal, Busting Bank of America: A case study in how to spread systemic financial risk.

    The cavalier use of brute government force has become routine, but the emerging story of how Hank Paulson and Ben Bernanke forced CEO Ken Lewis to blow up Bank of America is still shocking. It's a case study in the ways that panicky regulators have so often botched the bailout and made the financial crisis worse.
    In the name of containing "systemic risk," [US] regulators spread it . . .

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Swinish flu reporting

When he’s not blogging and catching buses, blogger Poneke has a day job as one of the country’s few remaining responsible journalists.  He writes this morning about the Swine Flu epidemic erupting in the MSM:

PANIC IN THE SKIES!! WE’RE ALL DOOMED!! PIGS FLY!!
    The swine flu scare is déjà vu all over again. The media internationally and in New Zealand is beating this up the same way it did the Y2K bug, SARS and Bird Flu. . .
    Swine flu is actually one of the mildest strains of flu and has spread fairly innocuously around the world a couple of times in my own lifetime. . .  
    New flu strains go round the world every year. Thousands of New Zealanders catch the virus annually without it becoming front page news. Some of them even die of it, especially the frail elderly.
    Folks, there is nothing to see here but a media and political beat-up. Time to move on.

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PJ cometh, soon [updated]

home_banner_new Four interviews here prior to PJ O’Rourke’s Auckland appearance this Thursday. 

  • “Mr Right” talks to the Herald’s Karyn Scherer.
        Contrary to some reports, capitalism and free markets aren't dead, says P.J. O'Rourke. “It's like damning the air to say that capitalism has finished.”
  • David Cohen catches up with PJ in the National Business Review.
        In terms of his own social commentary, O’Rourke said the economic crisis was proving to be a fabulous time. . .  “when it comes to human folly it’s a target-rich environment right now for sure.” [Hat tip Roar Prawn]
  • Watch PJ O'Rourke being interviewed on Australia’s ABC News Breakfast
  • And interviewed in The Australian, with a journalist not apparently a fan of free markets.
        Adam Smith, though, remains as relevant as ever, says O’Rourke. The market is now doing its job, despite the best efforts of government to stop it. In O'Rourke's view, channelling Smith, throwing trillions in taxpayers' money at the problem is folly.
        "How, then, would Adam Smith fix the present mess?" O'Rourke wrote in the Financial Times recently. "Sorry, but it is fixed already. The answer to a decline in the value of speculative assets is to pay less for them. Job done."

Can’t wait.  Here’s just some of what PJ had to say in Sydney last week:

America has wound up with a charming leftist as a president. And this scares me. This scares me not because I hate leftists. I don’t. I have many charming leftist friends. They’re lovely people - as long as they keep their nose out of things they don’t understand. Such as making a living.

Don’t miss out. Talk to the Center for Independent Studies about remaining tickets for Auckland and/or Perth.

UPDATE: Another great audio interview here at the ABC's Philosopher's Zone [hat tip Anti Dismal]

Put it on the Messiah?

barack_obama_race_card From the ‘when-you-wish-upon-a-star’ file comes news that Americans’ next credit card could be backed by the ObaMessiah – a triumph, perhaps, of hope over irresponsibility. “Since apparently everything in America is going into the toilet except the public's faith in Barack Obama,” says the Atlantic Business Channel, “it seems that the way to fix everything in America is to entrust it to Barack Obama.”

The issues on the table for greater government involvement include: student lending, the car companies, car warranties, pensions, health care, banks, etc -- the list goes on. I mean, really, what's the White House going to back next, your credit card?

Um, maybe . . . which would be specially ironic given the dodgy credit-card “money laundering” by which his election campaign drew large sums.

Rumours that Obama will soon be organising dates for single Americans are as yet unconfirmed.

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Nannying: Still annoying, still not working

Lindsay Mitchell has some impressive statistics here and here suggesting the effect of the government’s nannying campaigns to get you to “behave” are having about as much effect as your mother’s exhortations to “be careful” used to.

  • A study published in the NZ medical journal says sales of cigarettes are rising, even with (some might say despite) constant hectoring from the nannies.
  • In the face of nightly horror-show car-crash advertising and the like, the percentage of fatal crashes with alcohol/drugs as a factor has shown no measurable change over the ten years to 2007.
  • In fact, the percentage of drivers driving over the legal limit appears to be increasing.
  • And while figures indicate that that lots of people “remember” the “It’s not Okay” hectoring (the figures do not record with what level of affection), there are no figures conclusively showing that people have stopped hitting each other because of it all.

Which causes Lindsay to wonder

    if all these hugely expensive tax-payer funded media campaigns are just glorified make-work schemes. I also wonder if they don't sometimes provoke an emotional backlash.
    One thing is clear - getting the message is not the same thing as acting it on.

And is it just me, or didn’t the National Party promise before the last election that they were going to shut down the cavalcade of nannying that fills the TV screens, and the coffers of compliant advertising agencies?  Notice any diminution in the avalanche?

As Susan the Libertarian says, “It’s not the Advertising, It’s how we’re Advertising”:

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Soapbox Salinger sacked [updated]

NIWA has sacked Jim Salinger. Described by some as “New Zealand's most prominent climate scientist,” by others as "New Zealand's most prominent climate alarmist," and still more as “the voice of global warming in New Zealand,” his sacking does not unfortunately presage any sort of change of direction for New Zealand’s most prominent global warming promoters. NIWA is still wall-to-wall warmist – but when both Greenpeace and Jeanette Fitzsimplesimons are upset at his sacking, it’s reason enough to celebrate.

As Anthony Watts does:

Now if NASA could just get the stones to do this for Jim Hansen . . .

Said Salinger himself in response to the sacking: “As scientists we’re all a bit eccentric and we all might slightly break protocol, but it’s not going to destroy NIWA.” For “break protocol,” read “use his job as a political soapbox.”

For your interest, here is some of the “wisdom” Salinger has dispensed on behalf of his former employer:

  • At a convention of the Institute of Brewing and Distilling in New Zealand, Jim Salinger told the crowd that climate change will likely cause a decline in the production of malting barley in New Zealand and particularly Australia, and that, "It will mean either there will be pubs without beer or the cost of beer will go up."
  • "Regional warming" is killing NZ’s glaciers, said Salinger in November 2007. Yet according to Salinger's own organisation, New Zealand's average temperate the previous month was 0.5 degrees Celsius below average, New Zealand experienced no warming over the last century, and the “regional” warming over the Southern Hemisphere for the last 30 years showed "a warming trend" of around 0.00 °C per decade.
  • In April 2007, comments from Salinger over over Northland's flooding showed that the Government's National Institute of Water and Atmosphere (NIWA) should be shut down, said Augie Auer. "So simplistic, it's silly" was how Dr Auer described the statement.
    "As an explanation of the cause and consequences of last week's Northland rains," said Dr Auer, "Dr Salinger's statement ... is as unscientific as it is incorrect. "
  • In February this year, Salinger was quoted in the Herald on Auckland’s so called “hottest day ever” -- “the highest since official NIWA records began in September 1868” said the Herald – a remarkable judgement based on one outlying reading in Whenuapai, a station which only existed from 1945 to 1993 and from 2005 to now. (See discussion here at NZ’S Weather Forum.) This interview was among those cited as a reason for Salinger’s sacking.

Anyway, here is a YouTube grilling of warmist messiah Al Gore by a Republican Congresswoman on cap-and-trade system to curb greenhouse gases during a congressional hearing recently which just been posted at TechCrunch. Watch Al Gore being frustrated by the questions put forward to him the the Congresswoman.

This was yet another occasion when the Goracle -- who has a policy of never debate, only obfuscate --  managed to once again sidestep the challenge of former Thatcher Science Advisor and Free Radical contributor Christopher Monckton, Gore’s Democrats refusing to allow  Monckton to testify alongside Gore. [Michael Savage interviews Monckton here.]

And even CNN has taken to mocking Gore these days, pointing out the irony in Gore trying to draw parallels with global warming activism now and civil righs activism in the 60s – there was some irony in that remark, being that Gore's father was a longtime senator from Tennessee that voted against civil rights legislation, said Dobbs – who “also noted during the segment prior Earth Day prognostications, all of which didn't quite come true.” Newsbusters reports:

    "Well, Earth Day, this week, and here are some words of doom and gloom from leading scientists, academics and authors on our climate and environment associated with Earth Day," Dobbs said. "Journalists Peter Collier wrote, ‘One to two million people per year will be starving to death during the next 10 years.' Biologist Paul Ehrlich claimed that most people are going to die in ‘the greatest cataclysm of mankind.' Harvard biologist George Wall said, ‘If we don't take act now, civilization will end between 15 or 30 years.' And ecologist Kenneth Watt claiming that in 15 years, ‘Air pollution will reduce the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one- half.' I want to point out if I may that each and every one of those quotes were from the first Earth Day in 1970, nearly 40 years ago."
   
The CNN segment highlighted a ClimateDepot.com report that global warming skeptic Lord Christopher Monckton was denied the opportunity to testify before the House Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment.
   
"The House Democrats don't want Gore humiliated, so they slammed the door of the Capitol in my face," Monckton told the online magazine Climate Depot," CNN correspondent Lisa Sylvester said.
   
And as Climate Depot's Marc Morano explained - most Gore's doom-and-gloom forecasts are to occur in the distant future.
   
"If you look at Gore's testimony today, he was talking about what could, might and may happen 50 to 100 years from now," Morano said to CNN. "He was not talking about reality."

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