Monday, 6 December 2010

‘Wanderer above the Sea of Fog,’ by Caspar David Friedrich


I’ve just hung a print of this inspirational 1818 German Romantic piece above my desk. As you can imagine, I’m thrilled to have it there.

It has that feeling you get when you’ve just conquered a piece of work, a line of thought, something with which you’ve been struggling—you’ve reached a new plateau and you see how all your previous work and thinking fits together—and you’re at that moment of rest, savouring the moment before conquering the next peak.

Like I say, thrilling.

And the piece didn’t cost an arm or a leg. It came at a very reasonable price from Inspirationz, with the words inscribed in the clouds,

“Happy are those who dream dreams, and
are ready to pay the price to make them come true.”

It’s made me a very happy man.

Phil goofs

This morning Phil Goff gave his last set-piece speech for this year, and his first for next year’s election campaign.

Allow me to summarise:

Hi there, my name is Phil Goff.

NZ’s middle classes need my help…

…but if we get elected next year, I’m not going to cut their taxes.

New Zealanders need relief from rising prices…

…so we will “reform” Reserve Bank and monetary policy to allow price inflation to go higher.

It’s essential that “we get crown debt down…”

…so I give you my solemn promise we won’t cut spending.

An “active government with vision and a plan is needed…”

…but I give you my solemn promise we won’t raise spending.

National has been picking winners who weren’t, by  cutting taxes in “the wrong areas”…

…so instead we’re going to “actively manage the economy” by picking different winners, and throwing huge subsidies at them…

…and I give you my solemn promise we won’t raise spending.

In short, I’m going to give everyone a pony…

…but I give you my solemn promise we won’t raise spending.

And finally, I know people are tired of the politicking of MMP…

…so I’m not going to rule out going into coalition with Winston Peters.

My name is Phil Goff. You’ve been a great audience…

…and if you hear of any good barbecues over the summer…

NZ Govt living beyond its means. No immediate plans for change. [Updated]

News out today confirms news from yesterday, last month and all the months before that this government is living beyond its means—to the tune of $4.4 billion this last quarter.

_Quote The Financial Statements of the Government of New Zealand for the four months ended 31 October 2010 were released by the Treasury today…
    The October results are consistent with the general picture outlined in the recently published financial statements for the first three months of the fiscal year.
    Tax revenue in the four months to 31 October was $1.1 billion (6.3%) lower than forecast … the deficit in the operating balance before gains and losses was $1.9 billion higher than expected at $4.4 billion.

In other words, you’re spending too much, and the figures have been telling you that all year.  The net result of this government’s inability to take responsibility for its actions is this…

_QuoteNew Zealand’s gross sovereign debt as of Oct. 31 was NZ$58.55 billion, or 30.9 percent of gross domestic product, more than a forecast of 30.5 percent.

Yes. Really.

In response to this “surprising” news. Billy Bob English responded instantly. He said “we’ll take a look at it after we’ve had a summer holiday.”

The words “deer” and “headlights” should probably occur to you right about now.

UPDATE: It gets “better.” It’s not deer and headlights, it really is blind leading blind. “Accounts show govt has been fiscally responsible so far this year, Prime Minister Key says…”

FIFA’s stadiums

Yes, it’s turning into a video Monday here at your third-favourite blog, but I figured you’d like to see the stadiums that Qatar is going to build so the Soccer World Cup in 2022 can be played in 45-50 degree heat.

Yes, these are the Stadiums that broke American hearts.

Slick presentation, but there’s clearly something else that persuaded the heads of the FIFA fiefdom to grant Qatar the boon.

Speaking of which, here’s what Russia is going to build for 2018.

And in entirely unrelated news, Vladimir Putin is now flying to Zurich to thank Sepp Blatter in person and return his daughter to him safe and unharmed.

(Hat tip Andrew B. Higher Definition video here.)

The best advertisement ever made?

I’ve been looking at this for ages, and I can’t for the life of me work out why it’s the most popular ad in Denmark.

In fact, some people are calling it “the best advertisement ever made.”

I still can’t work out why. It’s simply an ad to lure Danes to a cross-border superstore in Germany. So what’s the big deal?

Here’s a link to the high-definition video. See if you can spot a detail I might have missed.

(Hat tip Graham C. NSFW)


Phil Ossifer talks to a worried Jane Q about inflation, prices, credit expansion, fiat money, booms, busts … and Ben Bernanke’s role in all of them.

Apparently there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Friday Morning Ramble #365: It’s a WikiLeaks Week!

A serious week in many respects, but not one that can’t be looked back on with humour.

  • Animated Taiwanese newscasters wade through 250,000 WikiLeaks documents so you don’t have to… [hat tip Geek Press]
  • And a quick satirical summary of what was revealed about American “thinking” about the Middle East… “In some quarters of the U.S. foreign policy establishment, it’s an article of faith that the central problem in the Middle East is Israel’s (alleged) injustices against the Palestinians. That premise has shaped American policy for decades. But it’s wrong, in many ways. Iran is the key problem. It has been for years. Some of the documents in the Wikileak cache are confirming that fact.”
     Wikileaks, U.S. peace-making dramatized  - V O I C E S  O F  R E A S O N


  • Plans at the UN’s ClimateFest in Cancun to shackle “rich” nations with ration books and new emissions restrictions were dealt a death blow by Japan. “Japan will not inscribe its target under the Kyoto protocol on any conditions or under any circumstances,” said the Japanese representative. The Guardian were still wondering what that means.
    Canned in Cancun  - T I M   B L A I R
    Bring on the ration books! – N O T   P C
  • That’s rationing for you and me, but party harder for the warmist bureaucrats at Cancun.
    It’s Alarmists Gone Wild! says Kate.
  • But who’s “rich” anyway? Here’s what decades of Keynesian excess have done for America’s manufacturing base. As Amit says at Thrutch, it’s been “the wrong kind of growth.”
Red Taping
  • Similar story in New Zealand, unfortunately, as this graph shows. Roger Kerr explains “it pinpoints a major economic weakness – the fact that the tradable sector of the economy (industries that export or compete with imports) has been largely stagnant over the past decade, while the non-tradable sector, of which the public sector is a large part, expanded.”
    whitehead-macroeconomic-policy-slides-101118_page_1 The story of an unbalanced economy – R O G E R  K E R R
  • And what made Ireland collapse? Similar story again.  “Naysayers try to tell you that the Celtic Tiger was a myth and that free-market policies brought the Irish economy down. The truth is exactly the opposite.  Liberalisation caused the Irish economy to surge until a return to big government crushed it.”
    Why Ireland is broke – R O G E R  K E R R
  • Here’s a short summary of a coastal contretemps:
    • The Coastal Coalition is an ACT-aligned protest group that wants the foreshore and seabed nationalised. No irony there at all.
    • Chris Finlayson is an Attorney-General who wants to partially-privatise foreshore and seabed. But only for Maori tribes. Only if they don’t have to go to court to prove ownership in common law. And only if they can’t sell it on, or individualise the title.
    • Conclusion: Both of them are wrong in different ways, and both are busy talking past each other. Latest example: Finlayson calling the Coalition “clowns,” and responding to a Coastal Coalition Q+A.
      Finlayson ready to forgo holiday to battle 'clowns' – N Z   H E R A L D
      Chris Finlayson's response to the Coastal Coalition's Q and A – N Z   H E R A L D
  • Cameron Slater has a new target: the duplicitous slimeballs at local website Get Frank who’ve been paying themselves well for stealing content they don’t pay for. The NZ Bloggers Union is not happy.
    Getting Frank with Rich – W H A L E  O I L
  • Blogger Adam Smith takes on Simon Power-Lust’s Search and Surveillance Bill, which “gives the police, [menacing, dangerous and wholly inappropriate powers] to compel people to produce information on pain of draconian penalties… Power’s legacy will be undemocratic electoral law and the ability for big brother to control the populace through the police.”
    NZ – A police state? – I N Q U I R I N G  M I N D
  • Is this why Tory gossip sheet Trans Tasman likes Power-Lust so?
    Simon Power named politician of the year – T V N Z
  • Not just a police state; we’re heading back quick-smart to one that smacks of medieval guild socialism. To professional protectionism. After architects, early childhood teachers, builders, plumbers, designers and real estate agents (and many others whom I’ve probably forgotten), the next group in line for having legal barriers created to entering their profession are financial advisors. Bring on the registration Nazis!
    The new Authorised Financial Advisors (AFA) regulations, or whatever – Mark Hubbard, S O L O
  • Stephen Hicks recommends Hans Rosling’s newest, saying “Simply wonderful, both in content and presentation”:
  • Yaron Brook of Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights comments on the culture clash over Christmas.
    Is There a War on Christmas? [VIDEO] – P J T V
  • Luc Travers at website Touching the Art wants to make visiting a gallery or viewing an artwork as exciting as reading a novel or watching a movie. Does he pull it off?  You decide.
    Touching the Art: A New Approach to Art Appreciation

  • Denis Dutton explains his theory of how beauty is an “evolved instinct,” accompanied by an animation that Eric Crampton calls “the best I’ve seen for such things.”
  • And architect Frederick Gibson discusses the “12 core items” Dutton finds in both art and art experiences.
    What is Art? from Denis Dutton’s “Art Instinct” – L I F E S T Y L E  D I M E N S I O N S
  • It’s about time we had some improvisational Frippertronics around here…
  • Here’s the final movement from Beethoven’s drama-filled Seventh Symphony.  If your speakers can manage it, try to keep your ear on those cellos and double-basses as they start to do the sort of insane things you weren’t supposed to do in 1813.
  • Art. Music. These are a few of my favourite things…

Thursday, 2 December 2010

House – Aldo Loris Rossi?

149512_172111982814719_172083709484213_594216_201284_n I”m pretty sure this is a house. And I’m pretty sure it’s by Italian organic architect Aldo Loris Rossi (not to be confused with architect of death, Aldo Rossi). And I know it was, in some way, inspired by the great Italian theorist of organic architecture, Bruno Zevi.  And I like it.

But outside that, and the few details than can be deduced from the picture itself, I know nothing. Anyone able to help?

Busted Hyman [updated]

There is some good news today, and that good news is coming out of Wellington.

And it it this: The utterly irrelevant “Gender Studies” Faculty at Victoria University of Wellington is to close for lack of interest.

Which means that the seven (yes, just seven) students and the likes of Prue Hyman and friends (yes, that his her real name) can now go out respectively and do some real study, and get a real job.

Let us hope this is the start of a trend. A healthy one.

UPDATE: That said, who now will be able to comment appropriately on research suggesting semen is an effective an anti-depressant? [Hat tip Geek Press]

Bring on the ration books!

Consideration is being given at the Cancun Climate Chinwag to a proposal by one Professor Kevin Andersen of the UK’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research (the crowd at the centre of the ClimateGate scandal) that the only way to save us all from the evils of global warming is for

  1. the world’s “rich” countries to stop all economic growth for the next 20 years so that the likes  of China and India can catch up; and
  2. politicians to introduce a rationing system like the one people endured during World War II..

No, he’s not insane. He’s a climate scientist with power lust.

If that’s not too much of a tautological description.

The Vodafone carrier-pigeon network

I apologise for this interruption to your regular viewing.

I’m very happy to inform you that, as of this moment, I’m just starting to receive emails that were sent to me from 8am this morning, and I’d like to thank Vodaphone once again for this excellent service.

I trust no-one has sent me anything which needed an urgent response between now and then, but I can advise in future that should such be the case, a more rapid response may be obtained by sending your message by carrier pigeon.

Thank you. Your normal programme will now resume.

AC/DC cannabis bust should be signal for more sense

No matter what they’ve got on, no matter what real crimes they should be investigating, or what real villains they should be tracking down, it seems the New Zealand constabulary are never too busy to execute a search warrant and bring a prosecution for possession of a thimbleful of cannabis.

What brave cops, says Lindsay Perigo of their arrest and conviction of AC/DC drummer Phil Rudd for having 25 grams of cannabis on his boat in Tauranga.

Couldn't this farce be a catalyst for something more sensible? 

Even the police state of California has begun to see the light, Gov Schwarzenegger signing into law in September a measure allowing possession of up to one ounce of cannabis (about the amount found on Mr Rudd’s boat) to be treated as a misdemeanour with no more seriousness than a parking ticket.

That’s a sensible start.

And in Europe, they still attribute the unusual peacefulness of the 2004 European Soccer Championships to the decision by the Portuguese hosts to openly allow cannabis use.

Branded as 'hooligans', 50,000 fans - notorious for their drunken antics and ability to instigate all-out riots - descended upon Lisbon. Rather than ban alcohol, the authorities decided instead to sanction cannabis use by English and French fans before the game. The police priority was alcohol. As a result, the match took place without incident, even in the immediate aftermath of England's 2-1 defeat.

A lesson that shouldn’t be lost on Rugby World Cup organisers—and a more peaceful message to the world than going through the possessions of someone on the off-chance they might have a bit of leaf.

NOT PJ: Maths and Swearing

_BernardDarnton This week Bernard Darnton uses the power of made-up numbers to answer the age-old question: is infant formula worse than the Holocaust?

Red Nose Day is back. From wherever it is that Telethon and other such institutions go to rest, Red Nose Day has been resurrected. Like the new Telethon it was naff, but then the original wasn’t that great either.

Last week’s Red Nose Day was to raise money for various childhood illnesses, presumably because cot death, the old cause, has gone thoroughly out of fashion. Having changed its name to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome no one knew what it was anymore, and we all promptly forgot that we cared.

Like any expired fashion, it still has a handful of holdouts. Breastfeeding zealots continue to use the fear of cot death to shove their agenda.

Before my daughter was born we went to an ante-natal class. We were informed by the ‘facilitator,’ whose enthusiasm outweighed her knowledge, that babies who were fed infant formula and whose parents smoked had a 75% risk of death.

“But that’s basically murder,” gasped one of my classmates.

“Yes,” said the facilitator seriously.

I was less credulous: “Are you completely fucking insane? Are you sure it’s not 0.75%? Or 75% higher than the base risk - as in the risk goes from five-eighths of bugger all to bugger all?”

“No, not at all,” she said seriously.

“Where did that number come from?” I asked incredulously.

“The Ministry of Health,” she said seriously.

“Did you read it right?” I asked incredulously.

“Of course,” she said seriously.

“Don’t you think the number’s a bit high? Come on - I mean, when Hiroshima was bombed 160,000 people were killed out of a population of 300,000. That’s a 55% death rate. Do you honestly believe that being fed infant formula is more dangerous than being attacked with nuclear weapons?

“The death rate amongst European Jews during the Holocaust was 70%. Do you really believe that being a baby who lives with smokers is more dangerous than being a Jew who lives with Nazis?”

Even those without my shining ability to combine maths and swearing knew that something wasn’t right. Most of us had grown up in the seventies and if the smoking and infant formula data was right, 75% of us shouldn’t have been there. The real number is less than a thousandth of that figure. But it does have a five in it.

The problem goes much further than gross innumeracy. Lots of new mothers are made to feel terrible for not breastfeeding. Some babies won’t latch on properly. For some mothers it’s too painful. Some breasts only serve up green-label milk when babies really want gold top.

An expensive Ministry of Health advertising campaign is currently nagging mothers as they wander round shopping malls and watch crap television. Of course, it’s not the first government department ad campaign encouraging more people to get on the tit. Advertising and media companies must be awed by Nanny’s bounty.

The Ministry’s propaganda team are backed up by legions of do-gooders who put on their pretending-to-help voices and persecute women who can’t, or - the horror - choose not to breastfeed.

Sadly, many women have a cognitive affliction that makes them take notice of other people’s opinions. There’s really no need. The only parenting advice I would ever give is: Run as fast as you can away from anyone who gives parenting advice.

Oh, except one thing: I’m no epidemiologist but if you happen to be grossly fat don’t put your baby in your own bed and then get so drunk you can’t tell if you’re rolling on top of him. Just saying.

* * Bernard Darnton’s NOT PJ column appears every Thursday here at NOT PC * *

“Memories” – Daniel Chester French

dcfrench_memory_03 [Hat tip Lynne B]

FRENCH_Daniel_Chester_Memory_1886_this_version_1919_Met_source_LS_d100_j FRENCH_Daniel_Chester_Memory_1886_this_version_1919_Met_source_LS_d100_b Pics by Lee Sanstead

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

DOWN TO THE DOCTOR’S: Clueless Nats needed Brash’s dressing down

_richardmcgrath Libertarianz leader Dr Richard McGrath says he enjoyed watching Don Brash take the stick to his former party…

Last weekend Don Brash outlined the necessary path National needs to take if Ne Zealand is ever to be extracted from the mire into which successive governments have dug it.  His dressing down was necessary, because the current poll-driven government lacks any clear direction of its own.

Brash delivered a list of inconvenient truths that John Key must now address:

  • National’s failure to reinstate the Youth Minimum Wage, the abandonment of which has disastrously increased unemployment among young people
  • National’s failure to abolish zoning laws, which has kept housing unaffordable for many New Zealanders
  • National’s failure to narrow the income gap with Australia
  • National’s failure to cut government spending
  • National’s failure to get rid of Labour election bribes such as subsidised student loans and child care
  • National’s failure to do anything beyond window-dressing to the Resource Management Act
  • National’s xenophobia about foreigners investing money in New Zealand
  • National’s illusionary cut in company tax, which was wiped out by changes in rules regarding depreciation
  • National’s destructive imposition of carbon taxes on industries who dare to produce something 
  • National’s embrace of tribalism and racism in its choice of coalition partner

This is a summary judgement that any responsible government would already have seen to.

While my party would take issue with any minimum wage laws at all, I think his list is a useful – though by no means exhaustive – indication of just how comprehensively this government has failed those who voted for it.

This is a government is utterly devoid of any vision. Like the Labour one that came before it, the dominant priority is retaining power at all costs.

There is no secret agenda. There are no secret plans to privatize anything. They have no intention at all of liberating New Zealanders from excessive taxation and regulation.

What a complete waste of time these last two years have been.

What a vacuous waste of space this Key-led Government has been.

Even though he must surely know Dr Brash’s prescription is correct, I hold no expectation that John Key will have listened to anything that was said to him.

Unless serious moves are made to stop the government living beyond its means, however—which will not happen as long as Bill English retains a ministerial house—the  standard of living for Kiwis will only continue to drop further.

What a waste. What a complete bloody disgrace.

* * Read Dr McGrath’s column here ever Wednesday at NOT PC * *

“It all depends whether or not we agree with them…”

Tim Blair wonders why the New York Times—and, by extension, most of the mainstream media—are so excited by the WikiLeaks documents. After all, they didn’t publish the ClimateGate emails because, they said,

_Quote_Idiot the documents appear to have been acquired illegally and contain all
manner of private information and statements that were never
intended for the public eye, so they won’t be posted here.

That was then. Now, by contrast, when faced with a torrent of documents which appear to have been acquired illegally and contain all manner of private information, the New York Times has decided

_Quote_Idiotthe documents serve an important public interest, illuminating the goals, successes, compromises and frustrations of American diplomacy in a way that other accounts cannot match…

Oh. Of course. That will be the difference.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Te Rewa Rewa Bridge

4867173515_92260b5219_z I saw this bridge in a recent copy of Walking New Zealand magazine, and she’s a beauty.


An 80m long pedestrian/cycle crossing over the Waiwhakaiho River--part of the New Plymouth Coastal Walkway—it’s only really let down by those aesthetically pedestrian railings. And just look at the way it focuses walkers on the mountain.4831948265_14bd849673_z

It was designed and built by a consortium led by local company Whitaker Civil Engineering Limited, and including Novare Design, CPG and Fitzroy Engineering. Paid for by taxpayers and New Plymouth’s long-suffering ratepayers, for sure, but so much better value for money than their bloody Wind Wand.

[Top two shots by Margret Brands. Lower shot by Kimbzcam.]

War & WikiLeaks

"A universal peace, it is to be feared, is in the catalogue of events which will
never exist but in the imaginations of visionary philosophers, or in the
breasts of benevolent enthusiasts."
-- James Madison

It’s impossible to easily summarise all that flood of WikiLeaked paper, although people have been trying, but at this early stage I tend to agree with Andrew Bolt’s summary, that

_Quote the overall tenor of these leaks is like the last, which confirmed just how wildly Lancet and other activist-captured bodies had exaggerated the death toll in Iraq. They tend to confirm that the perils the US confronts are real, and the claims made by its enemies tend to be false.
    In this case we get further evidence that the Saudis indeed are financing al Qaeda; that Iran and North Korea are indeed are in an axis of evil,
trading missiles; that Iran really is using Red Crescent ambulances to ferry arms to Hezbollah, as Israel has long claimed; that Iran is seen as not only a threat by the West, but the Arab world; that China was a conduit for the arming of Iran; that Russia is in a new authoritarian phase, and that China is sabotaging computer systems in the West and hacked into Google’s.

Like it or not, the world is still a dangerous place. Even Rachel Maddow agrees.

_QuoteStrip out the gossip and the diplomats-as-spies and the please-attack-Iran parts, and what you get from Wikileaks's latest is the very scary news that the Iran probably has the weaponry it needs to attack European cities.

Which is why the non-response of of the U.S. president to cross-border murder by North Korea is so dangerous, since it says to the world’s many potential aggressors of today that they will meet no serious opposition from this occupant of the White House.

We can recall how Neville Chamberlain’s agreement to back down over Czechoslovakia famously emboldened Hitler and led to world war.  We might recall how (not quite to famously) US ambassadorial assent to turn a blind eye to  Saddam Hussein’s view that Kuwait was really a province of Iraq emboldened that aggressor, and led to the First Gulf War. So how to take Obama’s response to North Korea’s unprovoked attacks on the U.S.’s military ally, which barely amounts to a stiffly-worded memo.

_QuoteHow did the White House respond to North Korea's shelling of South Korea [asks columnist Paul Greenberg]? Our president is said to be 'outraged' -- according to his spokesmen. That'd be a first. For has Barack Obama ever shown more than Thoughtful Concern on any matter, foreign (Iran's nuclear program) or domestic (the national debt)?
    Early on Tuesday morning, as the Koreans were collecting their dead, the president's press secretary, Robert Gibbs, issued a statement calling on North Korea 'to halt its belligerent action and to fully abide by the terms of the armistice agreement' signed in 1953. ...
    Dispatches from Washington Tuesday evening said President Obama wasn't planning to speak publicly about the shelling on the peninsula, preferring to issue a written statement later on.
    Why rush? It'll doubtless be neatly typed.
    Can you imagine a Harry Truman, or, for that matter a Reagan or Kennedy or Eisenhower or either Roosevelt just having an aide issue a press release when an ally comes under fire? Isn't it time for the current occupant of the White House, officially acclaimed a great statesman by the Nobel committee, to say something to both enemies and friends to assure the peace? Or do we have to sit through another yawner from his soporific press aide? ...
    As I write these lines, the current occupant of the White House remains silent, as in Silence Gives Consent. In this case, to war…

[Hat tip for James Madison quote to the Patriot Post]

Cancun, not Copenhagen

Several thousand people opposed to jet travel and profligate spending have flown to this Mexican resort to talk about how to make jet travel and any spending at all more difficult for everyone else.

320628-main_Full Their hope, if not ours, is that they can get the whole global warming gravy train back on the track from which it was derailed by an icy blast of reality and RealPolitik at Copenhagen.

The reality is that the Climategate emails, the questionable behaviour of IPCC officials, the collapse of any market for carbon "offsets", and the climate’s failure to live up to the scariest IPCC predictions (not to mention a world in which economic reality has suddenly become far more important than climate fantasy) have between them conspired to make even confirmed warmists pessimistic about their chances of resurrecting their favourite scare stories.

Still, as Anthony Watts observes,

_Quote One benefit of meeting in Mexico is that the conference will avoid the embarrassment last year when the Copenhagen meeting ended in an unexpected blizzard. It’s harder to sell global warming to world leaders who have to flee the city before their flights are grounded by an ice storm. The worst the Cancun conferees will have to deal with is the threat of being kidnapped by heavily armed gangs of drug dealers.

So why are we bailing out the Spencer family? [update 3]

News that taxpayers could be are on the hook for the failure of yet another finance company (another finance company whose business model was to stand in line for newly created counterfeit capital and use it as fertiliser to inflate borrowers’ asset values) has the added barb for struggling taxpayers that this failure will see them stumping up $178million to help out the Rich Lister Spencer family the family of the late Peter Spencer and all their depositors.

Thanks John. Thanks Bill. Way to help phony, “crony capitalists” privatise profits and socialise their losses.

This, along with the $1.8billion of good money already thrown after bad, really should call into question the acumen of these two numb nuts (John and Bill), and the haste with which they agreed to sign their government up to guarantee finance company deposits simply to keep up already overinflated asset prices.

With U.S.“quantitative easing” already set to throw more good money after bad, and give our exporters even more problems as American degraded dollar sinks against our volatile one, we can see it’s no wonder that talk of double-dip recessions is back again.

No wonder folk are quietly rejecting monetary activism. No wonder we’re now seeing the likes of Newsweek magazine asking if we’re all Austrian economists now? Folk are gradually realising  “that government spending [has, at best] reached the point of diminishing returns, and was producing an anemic recovery that mainly benefited special-interest groups.”

_Quote Monetary activism suffers form the same fundamental flaw as Keynesianism, in that it protects inefficient players instead of injecting renewed vigor into the economy. In a telling statement of the Fed’s thinking, New York Fed member Brian Slack recently said that, with luck, quantitative easing will work by keeping “asset prices higher than they should be,” as that adds to household wealth. This is why stimulus can be so unpopular: it often benefits the rich (who own a disproportionate share of inflating assets such as stocks) at the cost of the poor (who are hurt most by the related rise in food and energy prices).

Which succinctly describes both the reasons for the failure of stimulus to achieve lift-off, and the relationship between the Spencer family and the taxpayers who will now be bailing out their big mistake.

NB: So what is Austrian economics?  Steve Horwitz explains what it is, and what it is not.

UPDATE 1: Horvitz recommends Pete Boettke’s entry on “Austrian Economics” at the Concise Encyclopedia of Economics, which offers these 10 propositions defining Austrian economics.  They’re as good a summary as you’ll see anywhere—and, I would argue, as sound a foundation as you could have to any economics that purports to understand and describe the real world:

  1. Only individuals choose.
  2. The study of the market order is fundamentally about exchange behavior and the institutions within which exchanges take place.
  3. The “facts” of the social sciences are what people believe and think.
  4. Utility and costs are subjective.
  5. The price system economizes on the information that people need to process in making their decisions.
  6. Private property in the means of production is a necessary condition for rational economic calculation.
  7. The competitive market is a process of entrepreneurial discovery.
  8. Money is non-neutral.
  9. The capital structure consists of heterogeneous goods that have multispecific uses that must be aligned.
  10. Social institutions often are the result of human action, but not of human design.

UPDATE 2: By the way, for those of you (like the NZIER) predicating talk of recession by focussing on the necessary slowdown in consumer spending (a slowdown that all the monetary activism is designed to discourage) understand that your Keynesian economics is wrong: economic growth caused consumer spending, not the other way around

UPDATE 3: As Owen points out in the comments, the Royal NZ Herald made a mistake with their front-page story, and have now quietly corrected it. Turns out it isn’t the Rich-Lister Spencer family who were the backers of Equitable Mortgages, which went into receivership on Friday, but the family of the late Peter Spencer.

Quality journalism, that.

The night the pope went partying like it’s 1492

Pope Alexander VI sure as hell knew how to give people that old time religion... c. 1492.

_Quote Once he became Pope Alexander VI, Vatican parties, already wild, grew wilder. They were costly, but he could afford the lifestyle of a Renaissance prince…  One, known to Romans as the Ballet of the Chestnuts, was held on October 30, 1501…
    “Candelabra were set up on the floor; scattered among them were chestnuts, which … the courtesans had to pick up, crawling between the candles. Then the serious sex started. Guests stripped and ran out on the floor, where they mounted, or were mounted by, the prostitutes. The coupling took place … in front of everyone present. Servants kept score of each man’s orgasms, for the pope greatly admired virility and measured a man’s machismo by his ejaculative capacity.

This surely sheds new light on the popes’ antagonism to condoms.

Read more about “the rampant pope” at Stephen Hicks’ place.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Brash on the Key Government -- “deeply worried”

Former National Party leader Don Brash has finally broken his silence over the lacklustre  performance of his successor.

Delivering his speech at Orewa, the place at which he famously delivered the speeches that turned around the fortunes of the National Party after Bill English's dismal leadership, Brash described himself as "deeply worried" by the direction, or lack thereof, being taken by this National-led Government—especially over its economic management, and its pandering to a racist political party.

The National Party’s “constitution emphasises some fundamental values” that this National-led Government has lose sight of – “respect for individual freedom and choice, personal responsibility, equal citizenship and equal opportunity, and limited government.” In losing sight of them, he is worried it is simply occupying office rather than reversing the country’s decline.

_Quote Some of my worries are quite specific.
    I worry that, despite knowing that the Labour Government’s abolition of the youth minimum wage has very substantially increased youth unemployment – by 12,000 according to Canterbury University economics professor
Eric Crampton – we have taken no action..
    I worry that, despite knowing that New Zealanders face house prices which are higher, relative to our incomes, than in most other countries, and despite our being one of the least densely populated countries in the world, we have allowed that situation to continue because we’ve not been willing to put a stop to zoning laws which drive up the cost of urban land to ridiculous levels…
    I worry that, despite telling New Zealanders before the election that we should be fast followers and not leaders in the race to reduce carbon emissions, we have introduced an all-sectors Emissions Trading Scheme in a situation where none of our three largest trading partners – Australia, China, and the United States – has yet done so, nor in two of those cases seems likely to do so.
    I worry that, despite being a party which believes in allowing people the maximum freedom to make choices for themselves, we have to date done nothing to allow more freedom for parents to choose the school their children attend.

Rather than freedom for parents, Anne Tolley’s only thrust as minister is to increase the control of the ministry over schools.

_QuoteThose are some of my specific worries. But I have two more pervasive worries.

They are the economy, and race relations.

On the economy, he says “New Zealand’s relative economic decline over the last half century is one of the steepest on record anywhere. Reversing that decline won’t be easy.” Particularly if, as he says, there is no sign the Key Government even wants to.

_QuoteThere are six broad policy areas where major change is needed if we’re to get faster and more sustainable growth.
    First, it is absolutely imperative that Government gets its fiscal deficit under control quickly… But it’s important to state that this process has barely begun…

… which is to state  things mildly indeed.

_QuoteSecond, we urgently need to get the tax on business income down…
    Third, … “privatisation” has become a dirty word in New Zealand, thanks to Helen Clark’s propaganda … But the New Zealand paranoia about privatisation is entirely unhelpful if we’re to increase our growth rate…

There is no serious argument against privatisation, and as the Labour Party quietly announced last week while the media were looking elsewhere, even their paranoia against it is being reconsidered. But Brash maintains it’s up to the National Party to roll pack the paranoia, and to

_Quoteto be at the forefront of challenging why the state should be:

    • The biggest owner of dairy farms in New Zealand;
    • The biggest fund managers in New Zealand;
    • The 50% owner of a large chain of petrol stations;
    • By far the biggest owner of rental properties;
    • The dominant generator of electricity;
    • The dominant owner of our trains and planes;
    • The owner of our most aggressively growing bank.

And reason why it should be? Because listed like that, you realise just how pervasive are government-run “businesses” in what is reverting to the Polish shipyard we gave up twenty-five years ago.

_Quote“The assets owned by central and local government are now some six times the value of all the shares on the New Zealand stock exchange,”

notes Brash, with more to come when taxpayers are forced to fund government broadband—and the decisions on the use of those assets are no better now than they were when Muldoon was squandering enormous sums on “Think Big,” and Michael Cullen was spending money we couldn’t afford to buy a railway that barely exists.

_QuoteFifth, we need to reduce the huge burden of regulation which still encumbers the business sector – and indeed, encumbers us all as individuals. Why should it take months and months to get a simple building consent to build a modest home in a residential area? Why should it take two years to gain approval to set up a 30-child childcare centre? …  The Resource Management Act and the way in which local councils interpret it have a lot to answer for.
    People need to be much freer to use their own property as they see fit. Yes, there are public interest issues – pollution, effects on neighbours, and so on – but they don’t include some council’s judgement about “sustainability”, or fit with a bureaucratically imposed “spatial plan.”

But instead of freeing up New Zealanders from the control imposed by the Resource Management Act,  all the Key Government has done is to free up the government  from its constraints, and to give those bureaucrats more power in Auckland.

_QuoteAnd sixth, we must explain to the public why foreign direct investment in New Zealand is almost always beneficial to New Zealand.

Xenophobia must be expunged from decision-making, just as racism must be expunged from politics. This was Brash’s second substantial point.

_QuoteNational campaigned in at least the last three elections on the principle that all New Zealanders are equal before the law.

Now, however, it has reversed that—supporting special treatment for one race in law, and supporting a racist political party in Parliament.

Brash makes good points on every one of these issues, but it’s at this stage that he now missteps, giving tacit support to the ACT Party’s bizarre campaign to effect the permanent nationalisation of foreshore and seabed.

Unfortunately, this shows he’s learned nothing in the five years since he campaigned himself to nationalise foreshore and seabed. And unfortunately, this is what will be most reported about his speech, and in that reporting will undercut every good thing he did have to say. Because he is right to conclude that

_Quoteour great country is perhaps more at risk today than at any time since the Second World War. I believe it’s safe to say that our relative decline – both in terms of our economy and in terms of racial harmony – will never be reversed if our political leaders allow themselves to be driven entirely by political polls…
    Winston Churchill once recalled the time he heard a speaker say that leaders ought to “keep their ears to the ground”. Churchill’s response was typical and as relevant in New Zealand today as it was in the United Kingdom 60 years ago. “All I can say,” he responded, “is that the British nation will find it hard to look up to leaders who are detected in that somewhat ungainly posture.”

Friday, 26 November 2010

A Thanksgiving Day lesson in political philosophy

_jeffrey-perren Guest Post by Jeff Perren.

Possibly you've read the story of how the Jamestown pilgrims nearly starved their first two years in America, and what saved them. In 1620, half the population of the Plymouth Colony died during its first harsh winter. The second half was close do doing so but...
_Quote the fall of 1623 marked the end of Plymouth’s debilitating food shortages.
For the last two planting seasons, the Pilgrims had grown crops communally – the approach first used at Jamestown and other English settlements. But as the disastrous harvest of the previous fall had shown, something drastic needed to be done to increase the annual yield.
In April, [William] Bradford [leader of the colony] had decided that each household should be assigned its own plot to cultivate, with the understanding that each family kept whatever it grew. The change in attitude was stunning. Families were now willing to work much harder than they had ever worked before.
In previous years, the men had tended the fields while the women tended the children at home. “The women now went willingly into the field,” Bradford wrote, “and took their little ones with them to set corn.” The Pilgrims had stumbled on the power of capitalism. Although the fortunes of the colony still teetered precariously in the years ahead, the inhabitants never again starved.
It's only one data point, but a characteristic one. The pattern has been repeated countless times in dozens of countries over centuries now. Yet, almost 400 years later, we're still debating Progressives about the practicality of Capitalism vs [Communism/Socialism/Social Democracy/You-name-it-ism].

Clearly, economic facts alone are not going to decide the issue. Progressives are immune. Time to ramp up the moral crusade. Time to declare that even if, contrary to all history, Paul PoorGuy winds up much poorer than Peter Privileged, it's still wrong to force Peter to support Paul.

When we start to make progress on that front, I'll be truly thankful.

[Hat tip: Daniel Griswold of Cato for the selection from "Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathanial Philbrick."]

“..a producer’s holiday.”

No, it’s not Thanksgiving in New Zealand, but since America is on holiday most of the internet is quiet.

It’s a holiday with a decent message:

[Thanksgiving] is a producers’ holiday. The lavish meal is a symbol of the fact that abundant consumption is the result and reward of production.

A useful reminder in an age when virtually every country of former producers is now drowning in debt it can’t pay for to fund  consumption it can’t afford.

The whole world has to re-learn the lesson America’s first pilgrims on the shores of New England had to either learn or die—a lesson that took them From "Starving Time" to Cornucopia.

And in a week that proved to be one of New Zealand’s most tragic, it might be a good time—today—to pause and just quietly give thanks ourselves to the existence of everything human beings have produced that makes  our lives worth living. We do have much to be thankful for, not least that we live in a time when the death of 29 people is a tragedy, the result of a terrible accident, when for most of human history such an event was almost a regular occurrence.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Nimrod – Edward Elgar

We went to a great concert by the APO tonight. Brilliant orchestra. They dedicated their performance of this piece to the fallen miners of Pike River.

NOT PJ: Snake Oil

_BernardDarnton This week, Bernard Darnton cuddles an orangutan.

In 2002 the hills of South Wales were redolent with the fragrant vapours of something … chippy. Farmers had discovered that their Land Rovers worked perfectly well on throwaway vegetable oil. They’d also discovered that Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise weren’t collecting fuel tax at the local fish and chip shop. They were just a few years ahead of their time.

Christchurch is currently suffering a plague of rickety old buses plastered with advertisements explaining that we were supposed to get new buses but there was a an earthquake and blah, blah, but the new ones are coming and they’ll be all shiny and run on biodiesel.

Biodiesel is now big business - if by “business” you mean “heavily subsidised fad”. Whereas inventive Welsh motorists saved a small fortune in excise duty with their do-it-yourself tax cuts, in the government’s hands biodiesel had become an expensive boondoggle.

The 2009 budget contained a $36 million subsidy for manufacturing biodiesel, most of which the government will give back to itself in the form of payments to state owned Solid Energy’s Biodiesel NZ division.

Luckily this is outweighed by Solid Energy’s $68 million annual profit from its real business. As a state owned enterprise, the company is required to behave like a proper business and so it can’t invest its own profits in biodiesel because that would be a reckless waste of money. Hence the money-go-round.

New Zealand already has some experience with biodiesel powered vehicles. Earthrace was built in Auckland to showcase eco-friendly technologies and claim a world record for circumnavigating the globe.

After many mechanical difficulties and the killing of a Guatemalan fisherman, Earthrace managed the round trip in sixty-one days, a day slower than the fastest circumnavigation by a nuclear submarine (with no carbon emissions) and ten days slower than the fastest trip by a sailing ship (with no carbon emissions).

Physicist David MacKay (incidentally chief scientific advisor to the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change) has noted that Earthrace consumed four times as much fuel per passenger-mile as the QE2, that paragon of environmental ascetism.

With the ignoble exception of Earthrace, which was briefly powered on Pete Bethune’s liposucked arse fat, New Zealand biodiesel is made from canola. Around the world biodiesel is made from many kinds of vegetable oils but they all amount to one thing: burning food.

Between biodiesel and ethanol production for fuel, five percent of the world’s food is now burnt for fuel. In 2008, diversion of food into fuel programmes combined with an Australian drought to push prices up to the point where there were riots in several countries.

In general, however, food production is keeping pace with the world’s population. While environmentalists whined about overpopulation and mass starvation, technology and capitalism got on with the job of feeding everyone. Only the meddlers and do-gooders can bugger it up. Making a bet that we’re all going to starve and then passing laws requiring us to set fire to the grain reserves is just not cricket.

If we want to feed everyone - and it would be unkind not to - then land for growing biofuels has to come from somewhere else. And the only other places that are really good at growing stuff and that aren’t already covered in food are forests.

Conversion of tropical forests into palm oil plantations for biodiesel is already happening in Malaysia and Indonesia. And, in a tragic greenie-on-greenie scrap, that “sustainable” fuel production can only occur by destroying the habitat of orangutans.

So here’s the question: if you’re going to drive an empty bus round and round in circles from one shopping mall to an identical other, should it be powered by burning the remains of animals that died 300 million years ago ,or by burning orangutans today?

* * Bernard Darnton ‘s NOT PJ column appears here at NOT PC every Thursday. * *