Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Graham Crawshaw, 1931-2012

I’ve just received the very sad news that inspirational literacy campaigner and friend Graham Crawshaw died on Sunday at his home.


Graham Crawshaw’s greatest passion was teaching young boys to read. In around two weeks on what he called his Reading Adventure Camps, he gave un-reading and troubled young boys “alternatives to angry behaviour, offering them activities involving the three key elements boys love – mud, fire and water. After awhile, they forget to be angry.” And they were taught to read.

Graham’s  two criteria for choosing boys for his camps were 1) they couldn't read, and 2) they were considered unmanageable. From this unpromising material he changed young lives.

Graham began his life’s work in 1962 on a small scale, starting camps for boys on his farm. He always loved working with the “hard cases”—the kids forgotten or ejected by the factory school system; the misfits, the rebels, the rejects, the ones who didn’t fit in. The first camps were held in his woolshed, where a loft was constructed for the sleeping quarters.

The boys loved it [he remembered a few years ago]. Later on, they helped us build 10 rough cabins – it was this hands-on approach, as well as our focus on activities designed particularly with boys in mind, that made us different from the many other camps that were around.
The boys came to us from the Auckland Baptist Tabernacle – some were very hard cases. We could see the camps were making some radical changes in them. You could see the delight in their faces when they were doing things they enjoyed. Camps were held regularly from 1962 through to 1991.

Over time he identified a common theme with his troublemakers, and the troublemakers he met elsewhere.  Following his intuition he began to haunt the courts, astonished at what he found: the troublemakers at both the courts and his camps had all been through the mainstream schools system, yet nearly all of them had never learned to read.  Victims of Dame Marie Clay.

The year 1991 was a key time, he says. We had 42 boys at a camp and I decided to test their reading ability. We were appalled at some of the results. The problem cut right across wealth and ethnic boundaries. Although I knew nothing about teaching reading, except my memories of the good primers we had had at school which taught phonics, I decided to try to do something to help the boys who had such low reading ability. It was a case of trial and error.
    We started with the poorest readers. Then, in 1995, we held our first reading adventure camp in Titirangi, which was attended by about 30 boys. Girls didn’t seem to need the camps as much as boys - they seem to have been better at surviving the whole language (look and guess) methods used by schools. I realised that conversation is an integral part of literacy learning and there is a marked absence of conversation in many boys’ lives. We hear of boys disrupting the school, but I sometimes wonder if it is the school system disrupting the boys’ learning style. Since then we have held 70 reading camps, now called Farmstays. I still believe the level of illiteracy in our nation is a national scandal. No boy should pass his seventh birthday without being able to read. If there is a problem, such as dyslexia, Irhlen or Asperger syndrome, then they need to be diagnosed early so teaching can be adjusted accordingly.

Graham adjusted his teaching.


Many kids find reading hard. They don't need to. Poor reading is mostly a result of teaching reading poorly—especially teaching based on the failed 'Whole Language' method. Using phonics, Graham taught kids who’d given up on reading that it's really not hard once you "break the code” -- that reading is fun, and far less difficult than they thought. (Try reading that hieroglyph above by “whole language” and it will be difficult. Decode it syllable by syllable however and you’ll crack it.)

The elephant in the literacy room is the failed ‘whole word’ – or ‘look and guess’ – method of scaring children away from learning to read, a non-method of non-teaching made up out of whole cloth by wholly ignorant academics. Yet the fight to rid schools of the ‘look-and-guess’ nonsense has been interminable, internecine, and still on-going.

It was a fight that set many school teachers against a man who only wanted to give schools’ inmates the learning they never received.

Since 1995, Graham held 69 six-day Reading Adventure Camps up at his Phonics Farm near Dargaville, teaching over 1400 children the joy and skills of reading there, and many more at his Windy Ridge Boy’s Farm, south of Warkworth, that he opened 12 years ago.

He was a legend.

Said one parent after one of Graham's reading camps,

My son wasn't that keen on going to a reading camp. But the difference towards reading was amazing. He read his first novel in one week and couldn't put it down... It has been evident to me this camp is essential for all children with reading difficulties...

And so they were.

You can read more about Graham and his reading camps at page 11 of the digital edition of Free Radical 73 [pdf], and an interview with him in Free Radical 74, page 12 [pdf]. And of course, feel free to enjoy the rest of each magazine.

To help you laugh, here’s one of Graham’s favourite funny phonics stories. A story about a frickin’ elephant . . .

Five-year old students are learning to read.

Yesterday one of them pointed at a picture in a zoo book and said,

"Look at this! It's a frickin' elephant!"

I took a deep breath, then asked..."What did you call it?"

"It's a frickin' elephant!

It says so on the picture!"

And so it does...

" African Elephant "

Hooked on phonics! Ain't it wonderful?

Graham talked to Lindsay Perigo last year:

I will miss him. 

Since this has turned into an obituary for my old friend, let me post the obituary that he wrote for The Free Radical magazine in 2007 on the death of Dame Marie Clay, the person he held more responsible than any other for NZ’s disgraceful legacy of illiteracy being passed down the generations.

The Look & Guess Lady”
Marie Clay (January 3, 1926 – April 13, 2007)
By Graham Crawshaw

Reading advocate Graham Crawshaw has for many years “picked up the casualties of the present system of reading instruction” at his reading camps for boys and girls. He challenges here the many glowing tributes to her that have appeared since her death in April.

A NZ Herald obituary to Marie Clay – I refuse to recognise her grand title of “Dame” – concluded that “her influence on literacy in New Zealand is unparalleled.” With that judgement I wholeheartedly agree – except perhaps for the equally disastrous influence of her mentor, Clarence Beeby.

Marie Clay [her first name is pronounced MAH-ree, but hey, just go right ahead and guess; it’s what she used to encourage] has certainly earned for herself a place in literacy history that is unchallenged. She is credited with changing the face of primary school literacy in New Zealand, and she did: largely by discarding the teaching of phonics as the very foundation of learning to read, leaving several generations of New Zealanders adrift in a world of words, and without any means by which to decode them.

The results can be seen in literacy surveys such as the 1996 world survey on adult literacy, which demonstrated all too clearly -- and it's worth reminding ourselves of this fact frequently – that too many New Zealanders emerge from school without two of the basic skills that were once (pre-Clay) taught there: they can neither read nor write at a skill sufficient to function in the modern world.

The survey found that a staggering 66.4 percent of Mäori are below the minimum level of “ability to understand and use information from text,” and an equally tragic 41.6 percent of non-Mäori. 40 percent of employed New Zealanders and 75 percent of the unemployed are below the minimum level of literacy competence for everyday life and work. Universities organising remedial reading and writing courses for first-year students report that "University students can't read, write or spell," and that "Students fail basic skills," and the Labour Department estimates that up to 530,000 New Zealand adults have inadequate literacy and numeracy skills.

530,000 New Zealand adults! You’d have to think that levels of functional illiteracy that dire did not happen by accident, and you’d be right. They happened after Marie Clay’s “look and guess” method of reading was substituted for the teaching of phonics.

Phonics teaches children to match the sounds of letters and groups of letters that make up words, a skill that once mastered allows the student to match letters to sounds and vice versa – in short, to learn to read. Eighty-seven per cent of the English language can be easily learned using phonics, and the remaining thirteen per cent by rote and memory -- not a difficult task once the groundwork has been laid. It is a tried and true method by which the mystery is removed from those mysterious marks that appear on the page.

Marie Clay rejected this thinking altogether. In her book Becoming Literate (given me by a training college student for whom it was required reading), she writes,

Teachers may feel that the critical thing for the child to learn is his sounds, and they may provide an elaborate scheme for teaching that overrated aspect of reading known as phonics… Current thinking suggests that we may have to revise our thinking about the value of phonics…

Perhaps instead, given the tragic results of lost generations before us, we might find more value if we “revise our thinking” about the work of this woman, who threw out the baby of phonics without even leaving any bathwater behind. I suggest a more appropriate name for her book is Remaining Illiterate, which sums up the situation for several generations of functionally illiterate New Zealanders who have her own overrated system to thank for their minds having been turned to mush.

Although some schools and even some of Clay’s own protégées claim to teach phonics as part of a “mixture of methods,” in reality this teaching is mostly confined in the early stages to teaching the ‘names’ of the letters (rather than their sounds) so that children may identify the first letter in words, at which point children are encouraged to guess what words say by using “the context of the story,” or “picture clues,” and then to commit them to memory by “shape.” Other approaches bizarrely introduce children to whole words first, only then getting them to sound out letter combinations within words. Where more structured phonics is taught it is usually later on, and then chiefly for spelling purposes.

However research evidence shows that pupils do not learn to distinguish between the different sounds of words simply by guessing, or by being exposed to books by a process of osmosis. They need to be taught the connection between letters and sounds, rather than an over-reliance on guessing.

Supporters of Clay will point to her much-vaunted Reading Recovery programme, initiated by Clay to pick up the casualties caused largely by her own implementation in NZ schools of the wholesale rejection of phonics, and which earned for her a Damehood. It was adopted by NZ schools in 1983, and for a time even bought overseas in both the UK and the US, and in Australia.

However research in the US and by James Chapman and Bill Tunmer at Massey University in NZ show that the true results for this programme have been grossly overrated. Reading Recovery programmes often resulted in lower self-esteem, they found, and no long-term improvement in reading ability. US education writer Martha C. Brown summarises the reasons that made California and Texas drop Reading Recovery and Whole Language and begin again to embrace phonics. Reading Recovery's stated goal, notes Brown, is to bring “the bottom 20 percent of readers up to the average reading level in their classroom.”

The Reading Recovery programme claims an 83 percent success rate, promising to cut other remedial costs. However, Timothy Shanahan, professor and Literacy Center director at the University of Illinois, and Rebecca Barr, professor of reading at the National-Louis University in Evanston, Ill., found Reading Recovery rejects some eligible children and drops others who progress slowly. Reading Recovery omits these children in figuring its success. With this data included, the researchers found the short-term success rate was 51 percent, not the 84 percent Reading Recovery claimed with one group of children…

A New Zealand Ministry of Education study blames Reading Recovery's failure on lack of "systematic instruction in word-level strategies" (phonics). Reading Recovery uses "principles and practices very similar to those of whole language," says Patrick Groff, emeritus professor at San Diego State University. Reading Recovery books, like Whole Language books, contain repetitive sentences and pictures to help children guess.

"The Whole Language approach to reading simply does not work for children with reading disabilities. A structured, phonics-based approach is more likely to help them," concludes a 13-year study by 100 researchers in medicine, education and psychology.

Despite flawed methods and high cost, Reading Recovery 's average annual enrollment increase between 1986 and 1998 was 47 percent, based on figures from Reading Recovery Council of North America. Nearly 11,000 U.S. schools use Reading Recovery, and 560,000 children have participated.

A Battelle Institute study shows the average annual cost of a Reading Recovery tutor is 30 percent more than the cost of a teacher for other remedial programs…

The scandalous problem of rampant illiteracy has for too long been denied, disguised and explained away by insiders in the training colleges and the elite clique of educationalists who have followed along behind Clarence Beeby and Marie Clay. Their confusing ‘look and guess’ system of illiteracy is increasingly discredited, and continues to consign the young people who can’t cope with it to the scrap heap. Her influence on New Zealand literacy has indeed been unparalleled – and I do not intend that as a compliment.

And his 15-point cure for the malaise:

Putting a Rocket Under Reading

Here are fifteen things governments could do immediately to stem the rampant and almost unchecked illiteracy in our very beautiful country:

  1. Restore the teaching of phonics at training college level to equip teachers to teach literacy properly. This will mean replacing most training college principals and staff.
  2. Utilise existing qualified and able literacy experts such as Cathy Aplin, Janet Barnaby, Brian Botting, Miriam Holloway, James Chapman, Doris Ferry, John Lewis, Tom Nicholson, Bill Tunmer, Anita Bagrie, Ann Emery, Lindsay Middleton, Soraya Landell, Pam Rogers and others.
  3. Retrain existing teachers.
  4. Recognise support and utilise existing programmes that help.
  5. Make reading more ‘boy friendly’ and ‘girl friendly,’ recognising their unique learning needs.
  6. Make the phonics teaching a compulsory part of the curriculum, as it is in Texas, UK and elsewhere.
  7. Reorganise primary schools’ schedules to focus more on literacy, as is being done in Abercanaid in Wales.
  8. Re-establish the responsibility and authority of parents in training and building up their children and empower them to select suitable sub-contractors eg., teachers who will efficiently perform their tasks, focusing on teaching the basic skills (weren’t they once called the three R’s?).
  9. Reimburse and finance parents for payment of outside tutors, camps, etc.
  10. Reprint suitable books, such as the Progressive Primers. Use existing proven materials, such as the Bannatyne Programme, Australian Language Foundation. Dump superficial material now used in schools. Curtail or cancel over-rated and over-expensive programmes such as Reading Recovery.
  11. Clip the wings of the NZEI and make teachers and educationalists accountable.
  12. Test teachers’ own literacy levels.
  13. Revamp the selection process for teachers entering training colleges, ensuring that each prospective teacher genuinely respects children and will show them respect, compassion and understanding.
  14. As children enter school it is very important that their literacy level is clearly established, and that they keep moving up from there in an environment where they can flourish.
  15. Visit prisons, identify the illiterates, test their reading levels and apologise to them for not being taught to read. Implement suitable top quality phonics-based reading programmes. When anyone is arrested, test their reading when their fingerprints are taken.

Farewell, Graham. There will be none like you again.

Why be a taxpayer when you can be a tax spender?

Children used to dream bug dreams about their future. They aspired to greatness. Now…

[Hat tip Gareth V.]

Monday, 27 August 2012

Artist Moving Forward

Started five years ago, artist Michael Newberry signed off last week on his latest painting, Man Moving Forward.

Watch it change and develop over those years:

Moral panic ‘du jour’: drugged driving [updated]

Today’s “moral panic” is drugged driving, on the back of stories like this one in the Tabloid Herald titled “Tests reveal most crash drivers had taken drugs,” to which there is a whole lot less than meets the eye.

First, the sample size is just 453--being the number of crashed drivers for whom the Ministry of Transport had blood samples. One presumes, but is not told, that a blood sample is generally only taken if the police on the scene consider it possible the drivers involved were under the influence of something more than just euphoria. Meaning many crashed drivers (i.e., some number not determined by the study, or the journalists who (mis)reported it) had not taken anything more stimulating before crashing their vehicle than their evening or morning meal.

So the headline might more accurately read:

“Tests reveal most crash drivers from whom police collected and saved blood samples had taken drugs.”

But that’s not the only problem here. The Tabloid headline screams DRUGS!!! (cue: moral panic) but buried in the story itself is news that:

Drugs were detected in the systems of 258 drivers… Of that group, 156 were found to be on drugs not administered by a medical professional.

Meaning nearly one-quarter of those who were supposed to be terrifyingly out of control were driving not having taken DRUGS!!! (cue: moral panic), but having taken the sort of drugs prescribed by your local family doctor. Maybe they’re just bad drivers on aspirin?  Who knows, the details are completely unreported.

So the connotations so carefully suggested by the Tabloid’s headline don’t fly. It might have been more accurate, for “most” readers who rely on reading headlines for their news, to report,

“Tests reveal some crash drivers from whom police collected and saved blood samples had taken drugs.”

But that’s not exactly news.

But there are further problems for those who do read further on. We are also told by the Tabloid that “drivers with more than the legal limit of alcohol in their system made up just over half of the 453 samples analysed.” With “more than half” meaning “most” to most people, you might have thought (as Stats Chat noted) that the headline might have involved alcohol rather than drugs.

So the headline might even more accurately read:

“Tests reveal most crash drivers from whom police collected and saved blood samples were drunk.”

But since there’s already a continuing and grossly out-of-control moral panic about that particular problem, the story would neither have made page one nor been re-(mis)reported with all the associated moral panic on talkback, blogs and Twitter. Which would not have given the alleged journalists the bonus they were obviously seeking in writing their story.

Yet even with this headline we have a problem. Because we’re also told “fifty-three per cent of the alcohol group had drugs in their system” -- i.e., 53% of “more than half” of the 453 whose blood featured in the study. So that’s perhaps a full third of that 453, with (we’re also told) “90 crashes caused by people with both alcohol and cannabis.”

So which had the most causal influence? The alcohol, the cannabis, or just being shite drivers?

Because the presence of a drug or some alcohol in a person's blood does not mean that they were impaired by that drug or alcohol. Correlation is not causation. To draw the conclusion desired by the authors of this latest moral panic, the study would seek to need to show the causal link between the crashes and impairment caused by the recreational pharmaceutical or the alcohol. Which hasn’t even been attempted here.

So perhaps our headline should just say:

“Crashes caused by lots of things.”

But that’s never going to sell a newspaper, is it.

Still, the more you look at it, this study and the story about it looks increasingly less worthy of being re-reported, and more use to statistics and journalism students as an example of what not to do.

To be fair, the politicians, talkback hosts and Tabloid journalists are not the only ones playing fast and loose with the story’s too few relevant figures.  David Farrar, that well-known self-described Stats Guru, weighs in as well, opining that “the data above indicates a much much higher presence of drugs in drivers who have crashed than in the normal population.” But of course it does nothing of the sort—even if the sample size itself was truly representative of drivers causing crashes, which is presumed by the Tabloid staff but not shown, there is no comparison whatsoever performed on the “normal population” with which to compare this selective statistic.

And not could there be.  Because few if any survey respondents in the “normal population” are going to accurately report to a person carrying a clipboard the presence of drugs in their system.

It’s all just so much total bollocks.

UPDATE: 8-page report on the “research” here.  The study targeted drug use by drivers from three groups.

1. Drivers hospitalised following a crash (a section of the driving population not previously studied).
2. Drivers who were found to be impaired by the Police Compulsory Impairment Test and had used methadone.
3. Drivers whose blood samples were sent to ESR under the drug-driving legislation but no drugs were detected in their blood.

The sample of 453 drivers reported in The Tabloid was group 1 drivers only: i.e., drivers hospitalised following a crash who were “deemed” (not necessarily by the courts, but by the MoT) to be at fault for the crash. Blood samples were not received from all hospitalised drivers, or even from all drivers, but only those deemed responsible from whom a blood sample had been taken to test for alcohol…

The number of “drug drivers” reported by The Tabloid has been further enhanced by the alleged journalists responsible for writing the story failing to notice that a very large large proportion of the drugs detected (around 210)  were “very likely” to have been administered in the course of hospitalisation.

'Which rather makes a mockery of the whole moral panic, doesn’t it.

And as the report itself notes,

The presence of a drug in a person’s blood does not mean that they were impaired by that drug.


Students are on holiday this week, so there is no session tonight for the Auckland Uni Economics Group.

To keep your economic thinking machines warm, however, you might like to watch this short film on the financial crisis by Johan Norberg.

It looks into the causes of the meltdown and argues that government policies since are simply re-inflating another bubble to burst sometime in the near future. Includes interviews with former comptroller general of the GAO David Walker, as well as predictors of the financial crisis, Peter Schiff and Gerald Celente.

“…a giant leap for mankind.”

There can only ever be one first-man to walk on the moon.

imageNeil Armstrong, 1930-2012

In centuries to come, when man has slipped the surly bonds of earth and begun to colonise the moons and planets, the name of Neil Armstrong might be the only one from the last century still remembered.

To the Conquerors of Space, “Bravo!”

But has their enormous achievement conquered the culture? Like hell, said American literary critic George Steiner in 1994:

Nothing is more symptomatic of the enervation, of the decompression of the Western imagination, than our incapacity to respond to the landings on the Moon. Not a single great poem, picture, metaphor has come of this breath-taking act, of Prometheus' rescue of Icarus or of Phaeton in flight towards the stars.

Apollo 11 enacted the story of an audacious purpose, its execution, its triumph, and the means that achieved it—the story and the demonstration of man’s highest potential.” As the number of men still with us who have touched another celestial body rapidly diminish, the demonstration has still failed to find a commensurate cultural response.

Cartoon by xkcd

Sunday, 26 August 2012

On Atheism and absolutes

It’s not enough just to reject the existence of gods if one ends up embracing nihilism.

“Atheism means only that one does not believe in god; it does not mean that one embraces reason… Far more important than whether someone rejects religion, is whether someone embraces reason—thinking grounded in observation of reality.”
  - Ari Armstrong, “Atheism Rises in U.S.—But What About Reason?

Ayn Rand makes the case that reason, rather than faith, should be one's moral absolute:

Yet the irreligious left are now attacking Rand for for her atheism (something the right typically does). Odd, reckons Ari Armstrong--“but Rand's positive philosophy of evidence-based reason and this-world values deserves a closer look,” he says.

Friday, 24 August 2012

FRIDAY MORNING RAMBLE: “An Explosion of interest in Ayn Rand”

imageYes, the nomination of Paul Ryan for US VP has caused an explosion of interest in Ayn Rand—if not an explosion of knowledge about what she actually stood for—an explosion such that even the BBC (the BBC!) the New York Times (the Times!!) and The Guardian (The Bloody Guardian FFS!!!!) are running stories sympathetic to her thinking.

Can’t be a bad thing. Especially when you see the New York Times in the position of defending Ayn Rand in order to burn Paul Ryan at the stake of inconsistency!

Even Paul Krugman has to have a go.

As Harry Binswanger told his email list, “The bad news is that I can no longer keep up with all the articles on Ayn Rand on the web and in the media. The good news is that I can longer keep up with all the articles on Ayn Rand on the web and in the media. Things are changing. “

Yes, they are.

imageAtlas Spurned – Jennifer Burns, NEW YORK TIMES
Randier Than Thou – James Taranto, WALL STREET JOURNAL [comments]
Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged: a paean to American liberty – Don Watkins, THE GUARDIAN [comments]
Does America Need Ayn Rand or Jesus? – Onkar Ghate, FOX NEWS
Ryan, Rand and rights – Don Watkins, DAILY CALLER
Ayn Rand: Why is she so popular? – BBC MAGAZINE
BBC’s Rand Misquote – Roberto Sarriondia
Woman's Hour: Ayn Rand, author & philosopher – BBC RADIO 4
Paul Ryan's Ayn Rand Reader: Lesson One – David Weigel, SLATE
Krugman Konfusion (Paul Ryan Edition) – Robert Wenzel, ECONOMIC POLICY JOURNAL
An Interview with Don Watkins: Where Do Ryan and Rand Agree and Disagree? – EDUCATION NEWS
Ayn Rand And The 2012 Presidential Campaign – NPR RADIO [Audio]
Why Paul Ryan is no Ayn Rand on Social Security – Don Watkins, CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR
Who Is Paul Ryan? – John Stossel, REAL CLEAR POLITICS
Ayn Rand's appeal – Onkar Ghate, FOX NEWS

Still, if the mainstream  media are getting her partially wrong, that’s nothing compared to what philosophy textbook writers think they know about her!
Carlin Romano’s 'America the Philosophical'STEPHEN HICKS

“All Ayn Rand did was to give the OK for pricks all over the world to tell selfish assholes that it’s OK to be selfish.” Really?
Self-Lovers and Self-Loathers – Per Olof Samueslson, HOUSE AT POS CORNER

The ideal website for journalists to check before they write.

And the $64 trillion question:
Can Paul Ryan Make the Moral Case for Capitalism? – Paul Hsieh, OBJECTIVE STANDARD

“Reason is man’s only means of grasping reality and of acquiring
knowledge—and, therefore, the rejection of reason means that men
should act regardless of and/or in contradiction to the facts of reality.”

       - Ayn Rand

Highly relevant argument to Maori claims to property rights in water.  “Property means autonomy. Authentic owners of private property are in it for the long run.”
Respect Indigenous Property Rights – Mike Reid, MISES DAILY

A High Court ruling last week means Australians, and probably us, will be guinea pigs for an illiberal policy based on junk science.
The plain lies of plain-packs advocates – Benjamin Lazarus, SPIKED

Canterbury Uni economist Eric Crampton has been fighting off both alcohol and tobacco wowsers.
Tobacco excise incidence – OFFSETTING BEHAVIOUR
A symposium, of sorts– OFFSETTING BEHAVIOUR

Turns out the NZ parliament has a fellow who believes the universe was created in six days 6,000 years ago by a lonely Goblin. That parliamentarian is John Banks.
Banks: I believe Bible's account of how life began – NZ HERALD
The Story of the Lonely Goblin – Lindsay Perigo, SOLO

I don’t know about you, but when leading Labour Party MPs like Trevor Mallard start posting things like this on their Facebook page, then I for one see it as progress.


imageObama’s gotta go, says Harvard historian Niall Ferguson in Newsweek’s latest controversy-provoking cover story.
Hit the road, Barack – Niall Ferguson, DAILY BEAST

“So abysmal is the president's job-creation record that, according to a new study, he'd have to create 280,000 every month just to get out of the cellar among modern presidents. Where are the jobs?”
Obama Is The Dr. Kevorkian Of Job Creation – INVESTOR’S BUSINESS DAILY

This piece utterly destroys any notion of “green jobs” as being anything other than fatuous make-work schemes. “If the industry was fundamentally unproductive, so were my colleagues and I. We were wasting a tragic amount of time, talent--and other people's money--making a far inferior form of power when we could have been creating real advances in other, legitimate kinds of energy.
Just as disturbing was what these ‘jobs’ did to people’s spirits. Every high-ranking person in solar or wind must eventually figure out, as I did, that he cannot compete in the market, that his competitive advantages are government subsidies and forced limitations on competitors.”
I had a green job – Deborah Sloan, FOX NEWS

"We could use up all of the proven reserves of oil
in the entire world by the end of the next decade."

- Jimmy Carter, 1977

The Republican memo to candidates: Never say what you stand for. And never stand for anything.
GOP memo: ‘Don’t say entitlement reform’ – POLITICO

The gold standard has returned to mainstream U.S. politics for the first time in 30 years. Mind you, 30 years ago politicians brought it up only to damn it for shackling their spending.
Republicans Eye Return to Gold Standard – CNBC

It used to be an ugly trait to be envious. Now politicians encourage it.
The Era of Procrustes – Tibor Machan, TIBOR’S SPACE

The inequality myth.
The mismeasure of inequality – THE GRUMPY ECONOMIST

“The “trickle-down” theory is a ludicrous attempt to justify economic inequality on the grounds that the poor can live of the crumbs that are falling from the rich man’s table – and the richer the man, the more crumbs will fall to the poor.”
Is the Wealth of the Rich Merely Trickling Down to Us?? - Per Olof Samueslson, HOUSE AT POS CORNER

“2 years in prison for Pussy Riot? At worst they're guilty of minor trespassing. Shame on Russia.” – Ari Armstrong
Russian court imprisons Pussy Riot band members on hooliganism charges - CNN

It’s common to hear Marxism excused on the basis that the communist dictatorships that killed 100 million people “weren’t real Marxists.” Karl Marx however embraced the violence, portraying a horrifying but allegedly necessary stage of society immediately after the necessary violent world revolution of the proletariat.
Karl Marx portrayed a horrifying but allegedly necessary stage of society immediately after the necessary violent world revolution of the proletariat.
Raw Communism – Murray Rothbard, MISES DAILY

Is slow economic recovery ineevitable?
Inevitable slow recoveries? – John Cochrane, THE GRUMPY ECONOMIST

“Politicians are willing to do anything to restore
the economy... except give up power.”
- Cary Yates

Mind you, what if politicians were capable of honour?  I’ve recently been enjoying re-reading Allen Drury’s “Washington novels,” and I’d highly recommend them.
Allen Drury & the Washington novel – Roger Kaplan, HOOVER INSTITUTION

The importance of making a moral defence of those who have earned wealth honestly, not just an economic defence.
If You Want Human Progress To Stop, Institute A Maximum Income – Paul Hsieh, FORBES

Why do Britons like their die-while-you-wait health system so much, despite its documented failure?
Universal Mediocrity – Theodore Dalrymple, CITY JOURNAL

So here’s the relevant question:
Can Markets Work in Medicine? – Chris Conover, FORBES

Bad news for anti-nuclear advocates. Great news for everyone else.
Record haul of uranium harvested from seawater – NEW SCIENTIST

Ride down to the surface of Mars! No, really!!

Olympic medal success is prompting a few Americans to realise immigration is good.
Immigration and the Olympics – THRUTCH

Any writer who channels Frédéric Bastiat is my kind of writer.
How Yglesias Channels Bastiat – Bryan Caplan, ECON LOG

“The plans differ; the planners are all alike...
- Frédéric Bastiat

Yes, there is a govt debt crisis coming up. So how come so few people are getting frightened?
Film-Maker Alfred Hitchcock Could Teach Politicians About Dangers of ‘Fiscal Cliff’ – REAL TIME ECONOMICS

The discovery of a winning strategy for Prisoner's Dilemma is forcing game theorists to rethink their discipline. Their conclusion? Winning isn't everything.
The Emerging Revolution in Game Theory – TECHNOLOGY REVIEW

Here, below, looks like a  great way to make money.  (I bet there’s a copy of this, or something like it, hanging on the wall up at Fletcher Building.)
Seems Like a Pretty Good Business Plan – Pete Suderman, HIT & RUN


It’s amazing who you meet at the local coffee shop!
An Unexpected Ass Kicking – Joel Runyon, A BLOG OF IMPOSSIBLE THINGS

How does your body react when it overheats? Here’s how.
Body Heat Infographic: What Happens When It's Hot Outside – HUFFPOST HEALTHY LIVING

This is very cool.
US government experiments on the best way to derail trains – LIVE LEAK

Now here’s a real Olympic champion.
U.S. Olympic Runner Runs 5-Minute Mile ... While Chugging Beers - TMZ

Now, this is a question some of us ask often.
Is There a Limit to How Tall Buildings Can Get? – Nate Berg, ATLANTIC CITIES

Wow! There are cameras now able to film the path of light … and to see around corners.

"The once-dignified portrait now resembles a crayon sketch of a very hairy monkey in an ill-fitting tunic."
What Happens When Grandma Tries to Restore Art – Daniel Wahl, THE NEARBY PEN

Crikey, these were places where I grew up!
Auckland Rock City – Jonathan Ganley, PUBLIC ADDRESS

Ignore feminists’ shrill attempts to demonise critics – we need an honest adult debate about the meaning of rape.
On rape, George Galloway has a point – SPIKED ONLINE

Woah! LA’s porn industry has a syphilis outbreak. Worse, there’s a consequent outbreak of nanny statism.  But a good opportunity to talk about art!
Syphilis Cases Lead to Outbreak of Nanny-Statism – BASTIAT INSTITUTE
Porn Industry Syphilis Scare A Good Opportunity To Talk About This STI – BLISSTREE

What are rights? Where do they come from? And how do we know it? Ayn Rand's answers to these questions form the indispensable foundation of a fully free, fully civilized society.

You can enjoy a whole evening with the 1962 Count Basie orchestra!

[Hat tips Riko S., Jazz on the Tube, Noodle Food, Don Watkins, Geek Press, Thrutch, Keep Food Legal, Boaz Arad, Adam Savage, Ari Armstrong, Yaron Brook]

Thanks for reading.
Have a great weekend.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

When currency wars turn into the real thing, what will happen next?

What happens when economic recession depression turns into a crisis which can’t be kicked down the road—when the short-term “solutions” of bailouts, debt and money printing meet the medium-term consequences of this irresponsibility.

There will come a time when the debts can’t be paid, when paper money collapses, when real panic begins to stalk the corridors of economic impotence.

And then what happens?

imageThere will be a flashpoint. There will be a flashpoint somewhere that will sooner or later—but eventually—transform the crisis from economic to geopolitical; a deeper, much more frightening stage of crisis. And it will happen quickly and apparently unexpectedly, as all such crises do.

Will it be set off by US govt default, where the ratio of Federal govt debt to revenue has leapt upward from 165 percent in 2008 to 262 percent this year (among developed economies, only Ireland and Spain have seen a bigger deterioration)?

Or Europe, where Germany is on the slide, stagnation is becoming contraction and governments now pretend to pay back debt and  other governments pretend to believe them?

Or China, with inventory piling up and still talking up an inflationary boom with growth figures only the Chinese government bureaucrats who write them could possibly believe.

Or Japan, the biggest nation that is deepest in the pooh, that “bug in search of a windshield” where very soon the Japanese govt could be spending almost 80% of tax revenues on just the interest on its bonds.

None of these situations is sustainable. None of them can last. And when they explode, as they will, with currency wars turning into the real thing —as it undoubtedly will when nationalism is on the rise and politicians respond to crises as they’ve always done by making them worse—the fallout could go anywhere.

Here’s the sort of place you need to look: places like the Senkaku Islands in the South China Sea, where historical enemies Japan and China have been sabre rattling for decades, and in the last few days starting to pull the sabres from their scabbards.

imageChina’s increasingly aggressive posture towards the South China Sea and the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea is less important in itself than as a sign of things to come,” says historian Graham Allison. And only a historical perspective on China and Japan can inform you of how, and how dangerously, increasingly common situations like this might play out.

With an economically collapsing Japan unable any longer to trade for the resources it needs, and a China increasingly willing to project its power into the world, there’s every chance the flashpoint will be in Asia. And the only good signpost to what will happen next is to understand how things happened in the past.’

Time to enrol in a good course on Asian History—and as you’ll have read here before, I can highly recommend this one.


What Should Governments Have Done During the 2008 Financial Crisis?

Yaron Brook’s answer:

Police car

A 40-year-old woman died when the vehicle she was in was hit by a speeding police car on Ormiston Road about 9am on Wednesday.

Residents in the South Auckland suburb of Otara say it was only a matter of time before a police car was involved in a fatal crash on a stretch of road notorious for serious accidents…

This is not unusual.

Ormiston Road resident Ian Vaeteru says the street is a dangerous place for a motorist.
"The cops are renowned for speeding round here on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. There's always emergencies up and down the street.”

Yes, the cops. The authorities who are so big on others’ speeding.

Tania Tamanui, who lives in the area, says she often sees police cars driving at high speed along the street, which is near a police station.
Another neighbour, Daryl, says it's not the first time a police car has been involved in an accident on that road.
"People drive too fast down there, especially the police ... they just go flat out down here. We had one on Friday over here, someone ran into our fence, and the police were chasing them as well."

Yes, there are always emergencies.  Always a reason to get somewhere fast.  But as anyone who’s lived there knows, speeding police cars criss-cross South Auckland all the time, driven—you can easily be forgiven for thinking—by drivers who are high on power but would rather be exercising it somewhere else.   Who don’t want to be there, and have little concern for the people they’re speeding past. 

Or into.

Here are The Members.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

No taste at the Arts Council

In 1963 Colin McCahon’s painting “Landscape Theme and Variations (Series B),” below, was rejected for inclusion in the collection of the National Art Gallery.

This afternoon, however, the painting entered the collection as a gift of the (taxpayer-funded) Arts Council of New Zealand.


I think they made the better decision in 1963.

[Hat tip Lyndon Hood]

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Beer pr1zes!

I’ve been extremely remiss in not passing on to you the results of NZ’s beer awards, announced last week in Wellington. So without further ado…


The Full Details of the Trophy Winners are below:

New Zealand Champion Brewery
Harrington's Breweries

Champion International Brewery
Boston Beer Co

European Lager Styles
Wigram Brewing Company: Munchner Dunkel

International Lager Styles
Tuatara Brewing Company: Tuatara Pilsner

British Ale Styles
Emerson's Brewery: Regional Best Bitter

Other European Ale Styles
Golden Bear Brewing: Pirate Peach Saison

US Ale Styles
Liberty Brewing Co: Yakima Monster

International Ale Styles
ParrotDog: BitterBitch

Stout & Porter Styles
Wigram Brewing Company; The Czar

Wheat & Other Grain Styles
Tuatara Brewing Co Ltd: Tuatara Hefe

Flavoured & Aged Styles (incl. Fruit/Spice/Herb/ Honey/Smoke)
Garage Project: Dark Arts

New Zealand Specific Styles
Boundary Road Brewery: NZ Pure

Specialty, Experimental, Aged, Barrel & Wood-Aged Styles
8 Wired Brewing: Grand Cru 2011

Cider & Perry Styles
Bulmer Harvest: Harvest Pear Cider

Cask Conditioned
Townshend Brewery: HM’s Black Strap Porter

Tuatara Brewing Company: Tuatara Range

Festive Brew
Garage Project: Ziggy’s Carrot Cake

Morton Coutts Trophy for Innovation*
James (Jim) Pollitt

Brewers Guild New Zealand Beer Writer of the Year 2012
Phil Cook**

Congratulations to all the prize winners.

Time to get out and sample them all.


* * * * *

*Not sure why the trophy for innovation is named after the fellow who invented the continuous brewing  method, by which hops, malt, water and yeast are turned into bottles full of tasteless pap by mainstream brewers. But there you go.

**And Phil Cook’s beer writing can be found here, along with his trophy.

When Trade is Not Enough

_Jeffrey TuckerGuest post by Jeffrey Tucker

Capitalism and entrepreneurship make the difference in the world. Whether a country is rich or poor depends on both. The evidence is all around us, and the explanations are a click away.

An example is the video below.

Anthony Bourdain is a fascinating person, a great chef and also world traveller. He has his own show called No Reservations, and one of my favorite episodes is the one he did on Haiti. He draws attention to some remarkable realities of the poverty in this country. It does not result from lack of imagination, from lack of trade, from lack of work. The problem is more fundamental.
Here is the video followed by my commentary:

A Travel Channel episode of No Reservations, a cooking-focused show narrated by Anthony Bourdain, took viewers to Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I had heard that the show offered unique insight into the country and its troubles. I couldn't imagine how. But it turns out to be true. Through the lens of food, we can gain an insight into culture, and from culture to economy, and from economy to politics and finally to what's wrong in this country and what can be done about it.

Through this micro lens, we gain more insight than we would have if the program were entirely focused on economic issues. Such an episode on economics would have featured dull interviews with treasury officials and IMF experts and lots of talk about trade balances and other macroeconomic aggregates that miss the point entirely.

Instead, with the focus on food and cooking, we can see what it is that drives daily life among the Haitian multitudes. And what we find is surprising in so many ways.

In a scene early in the show set in this giant city after the earthquake, Bourdain and his crew stop to eat some local food from a vendor. He discusses its ingredients and samples some items. Crowds of hungry people begin to gather. They are doing more than gawking at the camera crews. They are waiting in the hope of getting something to eat.

Bourdain thinks of a way to do something nice for everyone. Realizing that in this one sitting, he is eating a quantity of food that would last most Haitians three days, he buys out the remaining food from the vendor and gives it away to locals.

Nice gesture! Except that something goes wrong. Once the word spreads about the free food -- word-of-mouth in Haiti is faster than Facebook chat -- people start pouring in. Lines form and get long. Disorder ensues. Some people step forward to keep order. They bring belts and start hitting. The entire scene becomes very unpleasant for everyone -- and the viewer gets the sense that it is worse than we are shown.

Bourdain correctly draws the lesson that the solutions to the problem of poverty here are more complex than it would appear at first glance. Good intentions go awry. They were thinking with their hearts instead of their heads, and ended up causing more pain than was originally there in the first place. From this event forward, he begins to approach the problems of this country with a bit more sophistication.

The rest of the show takes us through shanty towns, markets, art shows, festivals, and parades -- and interviews all kinds of people who know the lay of the land. This is not a show designed to tug at your heart strings in the conventional sort of way. Yes, there is obvious human suffering, but the overall impression I got was not that. Instead, I came away with a sense that Haiti is a very normal place not unlike all places we know from experience, but with one major difference: it is very poor.

By the time the show was made, the glamour of the post-earthquake onslaught of American visitors seeking to help had vanished. One who remains is actor Sean Penn. Although he's known as a Hollywood lefty, he's actually living there, chugging up and down the hills of a shanty town, unshaven and disheveled, being what he calls a "functionary" and getting stuff for people who need it. He had no easy answers, and he had sharp words for American donors who think that dumping money into new projects is going to help anyone.

The people of Haiti in the documentary conform to what every visitor says about them. They are wonderfully friendly, talented, enterprising, happy, and full of hope. Like most people, they hate their government. Actually, they hate their government more than most Americans hate theirs. Truly, this is a precondition of liberty. There is a real sense of us-versus-them alive in Haiti, so much so that when the presidential palace collapsed in the recent earthquake, crowds gathered outside to cheer and cheer!
It was the one saving grace of an otherwise terrible storm.

With all these enterprising, hard-working, and creative people, millions of them, what could possibly be wrong with the place? Well, for one thing, the earthquake destroyed most homes. If this had been the United States, this earthquake would not have caused the same level of damage. This led many outsiders to think that somehow the absence of building codes was the core of the problem, and hence the solution is more imposition of government control.

But the reality shows that this building-code notion is some sort of joke. The very idea that a government could somehow go around beating up people who provide shelter for themselves while failing to obey the central plan is simply laughable. Coercion of this sort would bring about no positive results and lead only to vast corruption, violence, and homelessness.

The core of the problem has nothing to do with a lack of regulations. The problem is the absence of wealth. It is obviously true that people prefer safer places to live, but the question is: what is the cost, and is this economically viable? The answer is that it is not viable, not in Haiti, not with this population that is barely getting by at all.

Where is the wealth? There is plenty of trade, plenty of doing, plenty of exchange and money changing hands. Why does the place remain desperately poor? If the market economists are correct that trade and commerce are the key to wealth, and there is plenty of both here, why is wealth not happening?

One can easily see how people can get confused, because the answer is not obvious until you have some economic understanding. A random visitor might easily conclude that Haiti is poor because somehow the wealth is being hogged by its northern neighbor, the United States. If we weren't devouring so much of the world's stock of wealth, it could be distributed more evenly and encompass Haiti too. Or another theory might be that the handful of international companies, or even aid workers, are somehow stealing all the money and denying it to the people.
These are not stupid theories.  They are only shown to be wrong once you realize a central insight of economics. It is this: trade and commerce are necessary conditions for the accumulation of wealth, but they are not sufficient conditions. Also necessary is that precious institution of capital.

What is capital? Capital is a thing (or service) that is produced not for consumption but for further production. The existence of capital industries implies several stages of production, or up to thousands upon thousands of steps in a long structure of production. Capital is the institution that gives rise to business-to-business trading, an extended workforce, firms, factories, ever more specialization, and generally the production of all kinds of things that by themselves cannot be useful in final consumption but rather are useful for the production of other things.

Capital is not so much defined as a particular good -- most things have many varieties of uses -- but rather a purpose of a good. Its purpose is extended over a long period of time with the goal of providing for final consumption. Capital is employed in a long structure of production that can last a month, a year, 10 years, or 50 years. The investment at the earliest (highest) stages has to take place long before the payoff circles around following final consumption.

In a developed economy, the vast majority of productive activities consist in participation in these capital-goods sectors and not in final-consumption-goods sectors.

Many people (I've been among them) rail against the term capitalism because it implies that freedom is all about privileging the owners of capital.
But there is a sense in which capitalism is the perfect term for a developed economy: the development, accumulation, and sophistication of the capital-goods sector is the characteristic feature that makes it different from an undeveloped economy.

The thriving of the capital-goods sector was the great contribution of the Industrial Revolution to the world.

Capitalism did in fact arise at a specific time in history, as Mises said, and this was the beginning of the mass democratization of wealth.

Rising wealth is always characterized by such extended orders of production. These are nearly absent in Haiti. Most all people are engaged in day-to-day commercial activities. They live for the day. They trade for the day. They plan for the day. Their time horizons are necessarily short, and their economic structures reflect that. It is for this reason that all the toil and trading and busy-ness in Haiti feels like peddling a stationary bicycle. You are working very hard and getting better and better at what you are doing, but you are not actually moving forward.

Now, this is interesting to me because anyone can easily miss this point just by looking around Haiti where you see people working and producing like crazy, and yet the people never seem to get their footing. Without an understanding of economics, it is nearly impossible to see the unseen: the capital that is absent that would otherwise permit economic growth. And this is the very reason for the persistence of poverty, which, after all, is the natural condition of mankind. It takes something heroic, something special, something historically unique, to dig out of it.

Now to the question of why the absence of capital.

The answer has to do with the regime. It is a well-known fact that any accumulation of wealth in Haiti makes you a target, if not of the population in general (which has grown suspicious of wealth, and probably for good reason), then certainly of the government. The regime, no matter who is in charge, is like a voracious dog on the loose, seeking to devour any private wealth that happens to emerge.

This creates something even worse than the Higgsian problem of "regime uncertainty." The regime is certain: it is certain to steal anything it can, whenever it can, always and forever. So why don't people vote out the bad guys and vote in the good guys? Well, those of us in the United States who have a bit of experience with democracy know the answer: there are no good guys. The system itself is owned by the state and rooted in evil. Change is always illusory, a fiction designed for public consumption.

This is an interesting case of a peculiar way in which government is keeping prosperity at bay. It is not wrecking the country through an intense enforcement of taxation and regulation or nationalization.
One gets the sense that most people never have any face time with a government official and never deal with paperwork or bureaucracy really. The state strikes only when there is something to loot. And loot it does: predictably and consistently. And that alone is enough to guarantee a permanent state of poverty.

Now, to be sure, there are plenty of Americans who are firmly convinced that we would all be better off if we grew our own food, bought only locally, kept firms small, eschewed modern conveniences like home appliances, went back to using only natural products, expropriated wealthy savers, harassed the capitalistic class until it felt itself unwelcome and vanished. This paradise has a name, and it is Haiti.

* * * * 

Jeffrey Tucker is the publisher and executive editor of Laissez-Faire Books, the Primus inter pares of the Laissez Faire Club, and the author of Bourbon for Breakfast: Living Outside the Statist Quo and It's a Jetsons World: Private Miracles and Public Crimes, among thousands of articles. Click to sign up for his free daily letter. Email him: tucker@lfb.org | Facebook | Twitter

Monday, 20 August 2012


Here’s this weeks’ not from our friends at the Auckland University Economics Group:

Hi All,

This week we offer you a case study giving you the chance to put your economic understanding to work: how, in this case we put before you, would you fix what you see?

We will examine a small country recovering from an earthquake—a place the size of New Zealand strewn with rubble and tragedy, that still nonetheless has busy vibrant streets full of colour and life, and bustling with trade and traders.

But it’s not enough. The place is still mired in poverty.

  • So what’s missing?
  • What’s different?
  • Why aren’t the trade and traders enough?

Tonight we ask questions about why some places prosper and thrive while other places don't. And we’ll invite you to answer those questions for our case study—and to explain, if you can, what’s missing.

        Date: Today, 20 August
        Time: 6pm
        Place: Room 215, Level 2, Business School Building

All welcome.

Look forward to seeing you there.

Time to question the Afghan mission

If you’re not there to win then what are you there for? That’s the question we have to ask ourselves and the Commander-in-Chief after three more New Zealand soldiers were killed—killed in Bamiyan Province when their Humvee was hit by a remote-controlled explosive device. Killed while fighting for …

No, I can’t finish that last sentence either. Fighting for what?

For the last few years, it looks like they’ve been fighting for the right to build infrastructure and encourage tourism (tourism?) in Bamiyan Province; in other words, altruism by force—not a good reason to go to war.

There was a good reason once. New Zealand soldiers joined an international coalition in Afghanistan ten years ago in response to 9/11, sent there on a mission to search out and destroy the perpetrators and those who supported them: to hunt down Osama Bin Laden, and to destroy the Taleban who had supported him and the training of his Al Qaeda vermin.

Sent there by Helen Clark’s government, the mission began with almost unanimous parliamentary and public support.

As we now know however, both of those missions have failed. Bin Laden escaped to Pakistan relatively early while everyone was still pretending Pakistan was our ally; and while the corrupt theocracy of the Taleban capitulated early, leaving Afghanistan in the titular control of the corrupt theocracy of Mohammed Karzai, on the ground the Taleban have been out and about ever since—free to destroy hope, mutilate and slaughter innocents, and plant explosive devices under New Zealand-driven military vehicles.

There was a mission, which has not been allowed to succeed, in a barbaric place, which our soldiers’ sacrifice has done nothing to change.

Instead of helping to hunt down Taleban bases and destroy them, our soldiers have been “rebuilding” the country while leaving themselves in the open to be shot at.

This is neither good tactics not good strategy. Soldiers are soft targets—their weapons don’t protect them against incoming ordnance. The only use for their weapons is to hunt down and destroy these aggressors.

But this stopped being their mission some years ago.  Their job instead has been to “rebuild” the infrastructure in a country that has never had any, for a populace showing no sign of appreciating the gesture.

It’s quite literally a sacrifice of the good to the uncaring.

These are soldiers taken away from their real mission and placed in the field of fire for reasons that no longer hold up. They’re not allowed to win, and they’re not allowed to admit the cause is lost. Instead they’re just there getting shot at.

It’s not an unwinnable war; it’s only unwinnable because those in charge have no idea what winning would mean—which is the situation  in which the war’s leaders have left the soldiers prosecuting the war.

Time to bring them home.

Yes, that would be another signal in a half-century of such signals that that the West is not willing to defend its own interests. But there’s little we in NZ can do about that, except to recognise that a morality dedicated to goals other than overwhelming victory is achieving its aim. 

PS: Now, you can say with some legitimacy that it’s too soon to be asking questions; too soon on the morning we’ve had the news about the weekend’s deaths. And you’re right. It is. But I had planned last week to to write this, after  Lance Corporals Rory Malone and Pralli Durrer were killed in in a village near Do Abe, in north-east Bamiyan province.


Saturday, 18 August 2012

The problems with the Mises Institute

Let me take a moment to give you a brief public notice.  Since I regularly recommend that readers head to the Mises Institute for rational writing in economics, I need to also let you know that I have serious reservations about their non-economic writing.

That is to say that when the economists of the Mises Institute write about economics, using the insights of the Austrian tradition of economics, there are few better – as last year’s much-needed Bailout Reader should demonstrate. When the Institute’s economists write outside their field however, they are universally awful. Specifically, they are awful on intellectual property, on foreign policy, on religion, on anarchy, and on how the South will rise again.  (On morning drinking, of course, they’re fundamentally sound.)

And they’re not just awful: their writings on these subjects are in opposition to Ludwig von Mises’s own writings on these subjects – on the first four subjects, anyway.  So as a “Mises Institute” it’s only on economics (and morning drinking) they can be taken seriously on “what Mises would have said.”

Just thought you should know. In my view, for all their heroic work in resuscitating the economic thoughts and writing of Ludwig von Mises and his colleagues in the Austrian tradition, the Mises Institute should more accurately be re-named the Rothbard Institute, with all that implies.

And for those still confused about Mises’s own views on intellectual property (which includes his followers at the Mises Institute), Mises’s translator, editor, and bibliographer Bettina Bien Greaves summarises here. Short story: “Without copyright protection, musicians, authors, and composers are in the position of having to bear all the costs of production while the benefits go to others.”