“’Tough cases make bad law,’ it is often said. I suggest
a corollary: extreme events make bad legislation.”
- Gene Callahan, “A*** L****, the Perfect Cypher upon Whom We Can Project Our Agendas”
Monday, 17 December 2012
Which country has the biggest government debt-t0-GDP ratio in the world?
Which country went into recession two decades ago, and has never really emerged?
Which country’s leader has signalled he intends to print money, QE to infinity, to monetise that debt?
The answer to all of these questions is not Greece, Spain or Italy. Nor is it the U.S.
With interest rates at zero and government debt more than double its GDP—and rising—and an aging population who have virtually denuded their savings in patriotically buying govt bonds, it has little hope of ever reducing that debt honestly, and no hope at all if interest rates ever rise.
Japan is the world champions at kicking the can down the road—zero interest rates and piling up govt debt for two decades in a desperate but vain attempt to create the “stimulus” theorists say should have resulted in prosperity—consuming capital and chewing up the pool of real savings like a shark at a city beach—producing only more debt, more “deflation,” falling wages, falling production, falling demand, and two decades of stagnation.
And over the weekend, the Japanese election gave victory to the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, whose leader Shinzo Abe has for months been saying he will engage in quantitative easing beyond even the dreams of Bernard Hickey, printing paper money to monetise the debt and beyond—enough to turn “deflation” into raging inflation, and Japanese paper and government bonds into toilet paper.
‘He’s also on record as saying:
“he went into politics to help Japan ‘escape the postwar regime" and throw off the shackles of wartime guilt. In its place he has talked of creating a "beautiful Japan" defended by a strong military and guided by a new sense of national pride.
to change the constitution to allow Japan to "have a proper military and defend its own territory, including every inch of Japan's sacred land and sea - including the disputed Senkaku or Diaoyu Islands”… Mr Abe belongs to that part of Japanese society that does not really believe Japan's wartime aggression against China and South East Asia was a crime.
The world is carefully poised for catastrophe. Something profoundly bad is going to happen somewhere to set it off.
Will the catalyst be Japan?
Phil McDermott on “A Flawed Case? Auckland’s City Rail Link Project”
“One of the reasons as I understood it for creating a single Auckland Council was to reduce wasting money on uneconomic and unwarranted projects. Well, this obsession with the CRL simply demonstrates how a bigger council can make even bigger mistakes…”
I have still yet to hear a cogent reason for creating a super-sized bureaucracy in Auckland.
I don’t think one ever existed.
THAT’S THE FIRST question everyone asked after another idiot committed suicide by massacre, shooting twenty-six adults and youngsters in cold blood in a school in Connecticut before—well, who the hell cares what happened to him after that. Twenty-six human beings died, and something non-human.
Why did he do it? Why do any of these random shooters do it? An email doing the rounds attributed* to Morgan Freeman (the modern American “voice of God”) has one answer:
This may sound cynical, but here's why.
It's because of the way the media reports it. Flip on the news and watch how we treat the Batman theater shooter and the Oregon mall shooter like celebrities. [The Columbine murderers] are household names, but do you know the name of a single victim of Columbine? Disturbed people who would otherwise just off themselves in their basements see the news and want to top it by doing something worse, and going out in a memorable way. Why a grade school? Why children? Because he'll be remembered as a horrible monster, instead of a sad nobody.
CNN's article says that if the body count "holds up", this will rank as the second deadliest shooting behind Virginia Tech, as if statistics somehow make one shooting worse than another. Then they post a video interview of third-graders for all the details of what they saw and heard while the shootings were happening. Fox News has plastered the killer's face on all their reports for hours. Any articles or news stories yet that focus on the victims and ignore the killer's identity? None that I've seen yet. Because they don't sell. So congratulations, sensationalist media, you've just lit the fire for someone to top this and knock off a day-care center or a maternity ward next.
You can help by forgetting you ever read this man's name, and remembering the name of at least one victim. You can help by donating to mental health research instead of pointing to gun control as the problem. You can help by turning off the news.
Sound comments. As a news consumer myself, I’ve never found it hard to turn of the news at times like this.
And at this blog, I’ve always followed the policy of never naming murderers. Why give them the oxygen of publicity.
THE NEXT QUESTION EVERYONE was asking was How?
How can this be stopped from happening again? Answers were rolling in even before the mourning started, and well before facts started to come in. President Obama said “meaningful reform” must be enacted so it won’t happen again. Rep. Dianne Feinstein has a bill all ready to put to Congress in the first week of the next session, banning … something. And talking heads and talkback callers everywhere are calling for guns to be made harder to obtain, semi-automatic weapons to be banned, gun licensing to be made harder the “gun culture” and gun ownership to be throttled by lawmakers bringing a clipboard to a gunfight.
Throttling gun cultures with more laws. Prohibition. This surely ignores that only the law-abiding listen to such laws.
And what have all the laws against guns in schools done but disarm everyone there—leaving defenceless the people who run them and all the youngsters they should be protecting, and telling murderers they get at least thirty minutes of safe shooting before any threat to their life is likely to arrive.
It is said that as the armed idiot roamed the corridors bravely killing unarmed six- and seven-year-olds, a very brave school principal Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung (right) charged him in a desperate attempt to stop him. She died in the attempt.
Imagine yourself in that position, desperate to save the children in your care and utterly powerless to do anything about it.
I wonder what you would have wanted in your hand when you confronted the gunman: a small handgun? or a clipboard?
* * *
*Probably incorrectly. But since Morgan Freeman is the name most Americans would come up with if asked to name the man to play the voice of God, he’s the obvious choice for the actual author(s) to pick.
UPDATE 1: Lenore Skenazy from Free Range Kids comments:
It’s impossible not to feel afraid, sad, sickened and deeply pessimistic when something like this occurs. However, “something like this” — well, there aren’t a lot of somethings like this, and that’s a truth I am desperately trying to remind my heavy soul. It may feel like “school shootings happen all the time,” but they don’t. They are rarer than rare. They are as unpredictable as anything can be. And if today we find ourselves making a mental list, “Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook,” that’s because they are few enough, in a country of 300 million, that we know their names.
This does not mitigate our sorrow, but it can — with some effort — mitigate our fear. It is not to dismiss the parents’ pain that I encourage you to turn off the TV. It is to keep some perspective…
UPDATE 2: Foregoing the knee-jerk, Australian Tim Blair takes the wide perspective, observing there are both more guns in the US, and fewer deaths…
There is always a bigger picture. In the case of the latest horrific US mass shooting, the bigger picture is this:
There are around 310 million non-military firearms in the US, basically enough to equip every man, woman and child with a deadly weapon. Close to 5.5 million new firearms are produced within the US every single year – two million more than the entire amount of firearms owned by Australians. Another three million firearms are imported to the US annually. Nearly 50 per cent of Americans have at least one firearm in their house. The market for firearms has increased constantly since the election of Barack Obama in 2008, with Smith & Wesson expecting almost $400 million in gun sales during 2012.
And the rate of firearm-related murders keeps falling.
You read that correctly. As the number of guns in the US increases, the deaths keep going the other way. “The rate of gun-related murder and manslaughter fell 11 per cent from 2008 to 2010, the most recent year for which comparable statistics are available,” Businessweek reported in October. Moreover, “the gun-killing rate has fallen a total of 51.5 per cent since 1993.”
UPDATE 3: Fred Rogers talks about discussing tragic events in the news with kids, which at the moment encompasses everything from Newtown Connecticut to Apia, Samoa. It includes this piece of advice for all of us:
[Hat tip Noodle Food]
Friday, 14 December 2012
It should have been over years ago, and if police hadn’t buggered it up so badly it’s impossible to know whodunnit, it could have been.
It should have been over this year and, but for Judith Collins’s decision to promote competing reports, it would have been.
Welcome to another year of discussing a case that started in 1994.
You want the idiot’s summary of the idiotic extra-judicial stoush about the Bain reports? Here it is.
Fisher Binnie Idiot’s Summary (I am the idiot) – DIM POST
Collins’s real problem with the Binnie report? Here’s a clue: “anger and simple upset over the conduct of the police force. [Jurors] had always considered the police above reproach. They found they were wrong.
David Fisher: Bain report shines spotlight on police mistakes – NZ HERALD
Word of the Year? Word of the Decade?
Public Address Word of the Year and Word of the Decade - the Vote! – HARD NEWS
“If the two parties fail to come to a deal by Jan. 1, taxes on the average middle-income family would rise about $2,000 over the next year. That would follow a 12-year period in which median inflation-adjusted income dropped 8.9 percent, from $54,932 in 1999 to $50,054 in 2011.”
And that’s if you don’t believe official inflation figures understate how much value dollars lost over those 12 years.
U.S. politics in two sentences – MARGINAL REVOLUTION
Fresh from his eponymous inquiry, Lord Leveson visits Australia to talk about cracking down on blogs and tweets. “Lawlessness in one area may infect other areas,” says Leveson. “The bottom line is this: Leveson is an enemy of free speech as these clips makes clear” …
Leveson is in Australia – Sinclair Davidson, CATALAXY FILES
Seems the loony Lord just copies and pastes from Wikipedia.
Lord Leveson copies out Wikipedia – LISTENER
The global warming game has changed, admits the UN’s IPCC in their next alarmist report on global warming—leaked this week one year ahead of its scheduled release. Leaked, because it admits that the sun’s activity in recent decades has had more effect on warming that previously allowed, or understood—and the leaker thought you should know taht. “The admission of strong evidence for enhanced solar forcing changes everything [says the leaker]. The climate alarmists can’t continue to claim that warming was almost entirely due to human activity over a period when solar warming effects, now acknowledged to be important, were at a maximum. The final draft of AR5 WG1 is not scheduled to be released for another year but the public needs to know now how the main premises and conclusions of the IPCC story line have been undercut by the IPCC itself.”
IPCC AR5 draft leaked, contains game-changing admission of enhanced solar forcing – WATTS UP WITH THAT
The big profits of Australian banks is not all good. “Australia has an oversized banking sector for its economy and the banks remain over-leveraged and heavily invested in residential and commercial real estate.”
The Australian Banking Behemoth – Dan Denning, DAILY RECKONING
“Politics has become a big game for the amusement of those involved, which considering the scale of the challenges facing this country it really shouldn’t be.” All too true.
Unwittingly, Maria Miller's Spad has done her country a favour – Iain Martin, TELEGRAPH
More evidence "Don't be evil" means "Be capitalist": Google chairman says "We are proudly capitalistic. I'm not confused about this."
Google's tax avoidance is called capitalism, says chairman Eric Schmidt – TELEGRAPH
How anti-vaxxers see the world:
“We now have the announcement that Ben Bernanke’s US Federal Reserve will buy $45 billion a month in treasuries, QE4, until unemployment reaches 6.5% or his version of inflation exceeds 2.5%… The next announcement may well remove the $45 billion monthly limit. Then he will be able to finance the government with as much fairy dust money as he likes.”
There He Goes Again – Hunter Lewis, CIRCLE BASTIAT
“Counterfeiting is a crime. There is an act of Congress that allows the Fed to get away with it. Still, a banker from an earlier era would have only done it in the dark of night. In the time of Edward II, a banker who clipped his coins would have his balls cut off…
“The gist of the Fed's new plan is to print up US$85bn per month and use it to buy mortgage-backed securities and US government debt. This is supposed to increase 'demand', and thereby get the economy moving faster. The important thing is that the Fed has no money with which to buy these things. It has to create it out of thin air. A lot of it.
“At that rate, the Fed will be adding to the nation's monetary base - the Fed's assets - three times faster than the US economy creates new goods and services…”
The Outrageous Behaviour of the US Fed – Bill Bonner, DAILY RECKONING
This throws the US dollar over the currency cliff, says Peter Schiff:
“So between this and QE 3 which was announced just two and a half months ago, the Fed will be printing $85 billion per month,” just as Treasuries look like they’re starting to crumble. “If Treasuries begin to collapse at a time when the Fed is buying up over 70% of debt issuance, then the Great Treasury Bubble is finally about to burst… Take out Fed support … and interest rates will be soaring.” And no government anywhere can afford that, not to mention every over-extended borrower. “We’ll have to wait to see how this plays out, but we’re getting dangerously close to a US debt crisis that will make 2008 look small in comparison.”
And That's Checkmate Bernanke – Graham Summers, ZERO HEDGE
The reaction of Treasury bond buyers “demonstrates that although the Fed may be capable of managing inflation expectations, its ability do so is no longer to be reckoned in months or weeks, but in minutes.”
Fed Losing Its Grip on Our Expectations – Rick Ackerman, ZERO HEDGE
Even central bankers were concerned, Reserve Bank of Australia head Glenn Stevens describing quantitative easing as potentially harmful and Bernanke’s approach as "ultimately inimical to financial stability and hence macroeconomic stability."
The Central Bank Backlash: First Hong Kong, Now Australia Gets Ugly Case Of Truthiness – Tyler Durden, ZERO HEDGE
Meanwhile, back in Japan…
Japan in recession – MACROBUSINESS.COM.AU
Fortunately, making money from central-bank money printing has become increasingly difficult. “The fact is the world has been turned on its head for the past four years. People and investors have forgotten the real driver of prosperity and wealth. It’s not central bankers or governments that create wealth, it’s entrepreneurs, business people, and individuals…each acting in their own selfish interest.” Which is why each round of money printing has received an increasingly cold shoulder.
Central Bank Prints More Money — No One Cares – Kris Sayce, MONEY MORNING AUSTRALIA
"The Fed is now forthright that it is targeting the unemployment
rate. The problem is that it doesn't control the unemployment rate."
- Gerard O’Driscoll
So, what’s the difference between altruism and benevolence?
Attractive little nooks for reading and sleeping. (Because ‘“reading" often means falling asleep, and drooling heavily, after the first five pages. A bright shade of paint can keep you awake for at least the first chapter.’)
Create Lovely Little Nooks for Reading & Sleeping – APARTMENT THERAPY
Ravi Shankar, who died this week, called hippy fans of his sitar playing at Woodstock and elsewhere “strange young weirdos… shrieking, shouting, smoking, masturbating and copulating – all in a drug-crazed state…” He was right, you know. Interesting that he and Ayn Rand would agree on that.
In truth, Ravi Shankar couldn’t stand the hippies – TELEGRAPH
ARC’s Yaron Brook revisits “Apollo and Dionysus” – ARC
Help is at hand for Apple Users who want to know where the f**k they are.
Google Maps Returns To iOS, Now With Voice Guided Turn-by-Turn Navigation – FORBES
Alleged architect Frank Gehry can’t handle a real artist.
What Happened with Frank Gehry on the Eisenhower Memorial – SABIN HOWARD SCULPTURE
I’m pretty sure this news of “an Objectivist XXX Porn Parody” is satire, but you never can tell. After all, Alan Greenspan might well have said, “This is the first porn parody that celebrates Rand’s ideals of objectivism and rational egoism.”
Aynal Architecture: “This Ain’t The Fountainhead” – GRAM PONANTE [Very NSFW]
Joe Maurone is right. Dedicate 2013 to the best within you:
Here’s Charles Mingus…
…and Mario Lanza …
…and Freddy Kempf, who I’ll wager you foolishly missed at the Town Hall last week:
Have a great weekend!
PS: Make mine an Epic Message in a Bottle please:
Carter Eskew finds inspiration for our troubled times in Franklin Roosevelt’s 1932 call for “bold, persistent experimentation” (“A country where millions feel stuck, or worse,” Dec. 13). Mr. Eskew falls for rousing words used to peddle regrettable policies.
Amity Shlaes argues persuasively in her 2007 book, The Forgotten Man, that “Roosevelt’s commitment to experimentation itself created fear”* – fear that, as economic historian Robert Higgs documents, greatly prolonged the depression.**
A chief reason for this sad result is that experimentation in the style of the New Deal actually chokes off the real deal. Substituting serially a handful of grandiose, one-size-fits-all schemes dreamed up by politicians – where no such scheme competes simultaneously with any other – forcibly eradicates hundreds, even thousands, of individual private experiments undertaken simultaneously, each launched and guided by someone with his or her own money at stake and prohibited from forcing unwilling others to play along with any particular experiment. Experimentation, therefore, of the sort that Franklin Roosevelt championed was really neither so “bold” (as it was done with other people’s money and lives) nor “persistent” (as, at any time, it displaced countless individual and simultaneous experiments with one gargantuan ‘experiment.’)
New Deal centralization put “Great” in the Great Depression. The last thing we need today is a repeat of that failed experiment.
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030
* Amity Shlaes, The Forgotten Man (New York: Harper, 2007), p. 9.
** Robert Higgs, “Regime Uncertainty: Why the Great Depression Lasted So Long and Why Prosperity Resumed after the War,” The Independent Review, Spring 1997, vol. 1, pp. 561-590.
Thursday, 13 December 2012
This week, Bernard Darnton is taking his chances. But not on shopping for handbags.
If we’ve only got one chance to get it right, the plan needs to be perfect. No person, mayor, or czar, no committee, council, or cabinet can possibly know enough to synthesize the needs and hopes of hundred of thousands of citizens into the perfect city plan. Therefore, the plan won’t be perfect. Therefore, we’re fucked.
A city isn’t a set of drawing, or a spreadsheet. It is an organism. It can’t be planned from the top down; it has to be built from the bottom up, evolving as the result of a million experiments. Much like the robust and varied natural world, a city is the result of generations of trial and error, of failure and improvement. One problem with grand plans is that planners double down on bad bets whereas evolution clears them away and tries something else.
The idea that we’ve only got one chance to get this right is a self-fulfilling prophecy. CERA, the City Council, the Central City Development Unit, don’t have the ability to get it right in one go—no one does. But the plan must be conformed to and if we can’t get it right then, damn it, we’ll just have to get it wrong.
To get an idea of how wrong, you just have to listen to the cheerleaders. Apparently the key to Christchurch’s future economic success is “high-end retail”. Someone has gone round the great cities of the world and decided that what they all have in common are traffic problems and fancy handbag shops, perhaps failing to notice that these are symptoms of economic success, not causes. So Christchurch is going to get narrow, 30 km/h streets and shops selling shiny, brand-named tat.
The plan is to grass over half the city and build small amounts of expensive office space on the rest. The theory is that Christchurch was failing economically before the earthquakes and so if we triple the cost of office space, that will attract “high end tenants.”
For the record, “high end tenants” means outfits like Inland Revenue, which gives you a good idea of where the planners think that money comes from. Never mind, also, that Inland Revenue has signed a nine-year lease on an office out near the airport.
The ground floors of these expensive office buildings will be filled with “high end retail.” Louis Vuitton has been name-dropped. I have no idea if Louis Vuitton has been informed of their critical role in the rebuild. So the fool-proof “one chance” plan for Christchurch’s economic success revolves around Inland Revenue call centre staff spending their lunchtimes buying Louis Vuitton handbags.
Artist’s impression of central Christchurch. (Inland Revenue employees on their lunch hour not shown.)
The citizens of Christchurch would like to thank, in advance, New Zealand’s taxpayers for their unstinting support.
A rare insight into the planner’s mind came to me at a recent party. I suggested that Christchurch’s rebuilding would be clipping along much better if people were allowed to build whatever they liked on their own land. This was unacceptable said the planner because so much time has been put into the planning. If people just did what they wanted to, they might not conform to the plan (!) and then all that effort would be wasted!!
Even armies, who can shoot people who get in the way, understand that no plan survives contact with the enemy.
When I suggested that maybe they could save all that effort by not doing the unwanted planning in the first place, all I got was sputtering. Many good arguments evoke sputtering. “B … B … But … but … then everyone would die of typhoid!!!”
I bowed to my audience and took the win. To be fair, that response probably owed more to excessive alcohol consumption that to departmental policy, but it provides insight. It’s not that far from in vino veritas to in vino dumb-ass.
The planners know that planning is valuable. What they don’t understand is that the plans themselves are useless. The value comes from thinking about the possibilities, not from the mindless execution of the plans (and those who get in the way).
If Christchurch is only given one chance to get to get it right, the city will die.
If the plan is to build a “high-end” cargo cult and hope that wealth appears magically over the horizon, we will be miserably disappointed.
Christchurch doesn’t need one chance, it needs a thousand chances. It needs CERA and the CCDU, who have suffocated the city for two years, to make way for the thousands of individuals who will experiment, and iterate, and evolve the city into something marvellous.
* * * * *
Bernard Darnton is Not PJ O’Rourke, but you can’t blame him for that.
Read his other posts here.
Wednesday, 12 December 2012
We hear a lot from the likes of Gareth Hughes—the energy spokesman opposed to energy—about so called “sustainable energy.” As if one particular form of energy could be used and generated perpetually, like the ancients’ dream of a perpetual motion machine.
This is about as sensible as a belief in alchemy, but is one of two primary reasons the likes of young Gareth is so violently opposed to oil. Alex Epstein from the Center for Industrial Progress points out the very concept of “sustainability”
is a relic of centuries when human beings repeated the same lifestyle over and over–instead of finding better and better ways to do things.
Progressive energy: The ideal source of energy is not some “sustainable”–i.e., endlessly repeatable–form, but the best, cheapest, ever-improving form human ingenuity can devise. As long as human beings are free, they will continue to develop new resources from previously useless raw materials (such as shale oil). An oil industry is ideal in the same way the iPhone is an ideal for so many. It may not be the best forever, but it is the best for now and we should be grateful to have it.
Can I get an amen?
Guest post by Mark Thornton
Business scandals often lead to calls for greater regulation. Yet, as economist Mark Thornton discusses, and as we’ve discovered ourselves in so many recent scandals—Enron, BP oil spill, Bernie Madoff—leaky homes, Pike River, CTV Building, Ross Asset Management—regulators have been among the chief culprits in providing for everyone an organised way of going wrong with confidence.
by Mark Thornton on December 11, 2012
The Democratic Party had its message on the economy well-prepared for the recent U.S. elections. From President Obama to his campaign directors to campaign advisor-hacks, all the way down to the local party patsies, the message was uniform and well rehearsed. “We do not want to return to the failed economic policies of four years ago. Those policies caused the economic crisis that almost put the country back in a great depression. We cannot return to the naïve policy that deregulation is good for the economy.” [We heard this same mantra in every year of Helen Clark’s government, didn’t we, and now every week from Russel Norman. ]
The Romney campaign essentially left this crucial talking point unchallenged. When confronted with this charge from the Obama campaign, Romney’s response was to concede that capitalism requires regulation to work, but to insist that the regulation cannot be excessive and burdensome, or ultimately the consumer will be hurt.
This is an entirely unsatisfactory response. The problem is that Romney and his campaign do not really know how capitalism works. They do have some idea of how the actual interventionist economy works. That is the economy where Romney made all his money. However, it is not a platform from which you can see how an economy works without interventions, regulations, and “favorable” injections from the Federal Reserve. Romney made his money during a time of “easy money” under Alan Greenspan.
What the Democratic spin boils down to is that a lack of regulation allows greed and irrational behavior to destroy the economy and hurt consumers.
This simply is not true. When you look at the cases where this was supposed to exist, you find the Democratic party spin is wrong. Regulations do not make markets safer, more efficient, or work better for consumers in anything but a superficial sense. Regulation only provides “confidence” and assurance that only leads to crisis. Regulation does not produce harmonization of markets or insurance for consumers.
Regulation simply does not work. It is designed with hopes of success, but with no mechanism to achieve this success. We hope for efficiency, but what we get is bureaucracy. We hope for effectiveness, but what we get is rules and red tape that serves neither producer nor consumer. We hope for safety, but what we eventually get is chaos. Let us take a look at the prominent cases where regulation was supposedly lacking and examine the real cause of chaos.
The Bernie Madoff scandal involved Madoff’s tightly controlled firm taking client money and supposedly generating spectacular and consistent investment returns. However, Madoff was not really a great investor; he was running a Ponzi scheme where he used investors’ money to pay for redemptions by his clients. Most of the money apparently went into his own pockets.
First, how did he get away with this scheme for so long? It was not because he was unregulated. He was officially under the scrutiny of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, and probably other government regulatory agencies. Despite ever-increasing budgets and staff, and even warnings from outsiders, the SEC failed to act.
Second, how did he finally get caught? He was only caught after the stock market crashed and investors sought to redeem large amounts of their funds. He confessed to his sons that he was operating a Ponzi scheme and his sons turned him into authorities.
If the stock market had not crashed, Madoff might still be celebrated as a genius investor. Many said that Madoff’s investment returns were too good to be true. Experts agreed that they could not be true, and still the SEC failed to act. The fact that he was licensed and regulated by the government gave investors in his firm “confidence” that Madoff’s investment strategy was truly the work of a genius.
The housing bubble and the financial crisis that followed are considered a classic case of a lack of sufficient regulation, which in turn permitted unmitigated greed and irrational behavior to cause a massive amount of manic speculation.
The idea that banking and finance are unregulated is just plain laughable. There are various regulatory agencies at the state, federal, and international level. Thomas Woods reports that there are over 12,000 bureaucrats devoted to financial regulation in Washington DC alone and that inflation-adjusted spending on it has tripled since “deregulation” began in 1980. There are at least 115 agencies that regulate the financial industry at the state and federal levels alone.
Three regulatory factors that contributed importantly to the crisis and its magnitude were as follows:
- Regulation of credit rating agencies resulted in toxic assets being labeled AAA trustworthy.
- The regulations and requirements imposed on banks forced them to make bad loans under the Community Reinvestment Act.
- The squabble between competing federal regulatory agencies prevented credit default swaps (CDS) from operating in a transparent and liquid market place.
The housing bubble is a classic case of how regulation cannot prevent such problems, but can only help increase their magnitude. The biggest regulator of money, banking, and housing is the Federal Reserve. It are the dominant umbrella regulator, and it caused the housing bubble with its long policy of easy credit from 2001 to 2006. Chairman Alan Greenspan denied a bubble could exist and about the same time, his Vice Chairman Ben Bernanke even provided words of encouragement for an audience of independent community bankers:
Our examiners tell us that lending standards are generally sound and are not comparable to the standards that contributed to broad problems in the banking industry two decades ago. In particular, real estate appraisal practices have improved.
Other officials at the Federal Reserve would continue to laud Federal Reserve policies and the new financial innovations such as mortgage back securities and credit default swaps well into 2007. They were the cheerleaders for the housing bubble, providing confidence for both leaders and speculators.
Another example: the BP Gulf oil spill was certainly a tragedy, especially for the company. Being so far off shore and drilling for oil in such deep waters made it seem that there was absolutely no government regulation. The government had no assets to stop the oil spill or to prevent it from spreading. We all had to just sit, watch, and wait for the company itself to fix the problem.
The irony is that the reason that BP was drilling in such an inhospitable environment was precisely because of government intervention. The Federal government prohibits drilling in the relatively safe and shallow eastern Gulf of Mexico and permits it in the deeper; more storm prone western Gulf of Mexico. Federal regulators also administer a tax and fee structure that encourages oil companies to drill primarily in the deepest, riskiest regions of the Gulf.
Federal regulation of oil drilling rigs is conducted by the Mineral Management Service (MMS). They are supposed to conduct monthly inspections of these massive rigs, publish reports and issue safety citations when necessary, and put rigs on a regulatory “watch list” for any rig with repeated safety violations.
Well that simply did not happen. The inspections were not held on a monthly basis. Inspectors spent little time on the rigs during inspections; they often relied on the company itself for safety information, and issued very few safety citations. Sadly, regulators actually designated the Deepwater Horizon rig's safety record as exemplary and based on that track record the agency named the rig a model for industry safety in the year prior to the disaster.
In fact, the MMS never required compliance with regulations related to inspecting the blowout preventer devise, which ultimately caused the spill to spiral out of control. The reason MMS was lax in its duties and even allowed company officials to write up its reports is probably because MMS employees were accepting all sorts of kickbacks, bribes, and other benefits. Officials in charge have expressed regret, and promised it won’t happen again: at least for the next couple of years, for sure.
As these examples illustrate, when examining this type of scandal, you do not find unregulated firms fleecing their customers. What you do find are highly regulated firms that are being pushed and pulled by regulations into unstable and unethical activities. Enron is another good example. It was probably regulated by more agencies than any company in existence and yet it created a gigantic mess that was never noticed by regulators, but had to be uncovered by a single independent financial analyst.
The regulator is portrayed as a public-spirited specialist. They know the public good. They know the results that are expected. They know how to bring about those results. It is as simple for them to regulate their corner of the economy as it is for Emeril Lagasse to make crab cakes or for Martha Stewart to make a simple doily. [But as we’ve discovered with seismic standards here in NZ, knowing what regulations or standards to impose, and what the result of following them will be, cannot be known in advance.]
The public is told that regulators do not cause problems; they prevent them. They police the economy. They are the watchmen that have been endowed with the wisdom, ability, and selfless devotion to the public good.
There are indeed many people who work as government regulators that are very smart and well-trained that have public spirit and the public good in their hearts. There are also plenty of cads and knuckleheads that work as regulators.
The problem with government regulation is that you cannot fine-tune the regulations: nor can you perfect the regulatory work force in such a way to make regulation work in anything but a superficial way. The truth is that regulation instills confidence in the public so that they let down their guard and makes them less cautious while at the same time distorting the competitive nature of firms in the marketplace.
After every economic crisis there are calls for new regulations, more funding, and more controls. Economic wisdom dictates that we be ready to contest those calls when the next crisis of the interventionist state occurs.
* * * * *
Mark Thornton is a senior resident fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama, and is the book review editor for the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics. He is the author of The Economics of Prohibition and the editor of The Quotable Mises, The Bastiat Collection, and An Essay on Economic Theory.
 Thomas E. Woods, Jr., Rollback: Repealing Big Government Before the Coming Fiscal Collapse, Regnery Publishing Inc., p. 60
 According to my sources, it is common for company officials in many industries to actually fill out forms that are supposed to be fill out by regulators.
It’s reported that former local tax lawyer Judith Collins reckons the internationally-respected former Canadian Supreme Court judge’s report on compensation for David Bain is wrong on law, contains assumptions based on incorrect facts, and "lacked a robustness of reasoning used to justify its conclusions.”
I say that’s bullshit.
I say the reason she won’t make Justice Binnie’s report public is because it will be patently obvious everything she says about it is bullshit.
I say the reason she’s not taken the report's recommendation to grant compensation—the only reason—is nothing to do with Justice Binney’s alleged errors in law, and everything to do with the public’s overwhelmingly negative reaction to David Bain getting compensation.
She’s a politician. She couldn’t care less about the law. But she does care about the public.
But the public should get over themselves. The public, who overwhelmingly mistrust David Bain, should realise nonetheless that a jury in our highest court of law found him not guilty after thirteen years in prison for a(nother) case the police bungled, and he’s entitled to compensation for wrongful imprisonment.
And she should say that.
And she should stop impugning someone who I have no doubt knows the law vastly better than she does.
Tuesday, 11 December 2012
Liberty Scott picks apart the power-group’s report on poverty, a Trojan Horse issue to get more nanny into your children:
If ever there was a reason to close down the Office of the Children's Commissioner, it should be this report on child poverty (pdf). It is the classic socialist/statist treatise on taking more money from some people to spend money on others. Philosophically it takes the view that the people primarily responsible for children are not those who created them or have taken responsibility (typically by default) to care for them, but the state. It's hardly surprising given that the Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty consists almost entirely of those who embrace a philosophical position of statism.
Let's take some of its key points…
Read on to see the report and its premises dismantled, point by point.
Libz’ Peter Osborne reckons the report just proves the worthlessness of the Children’s Commissioner and his department, “which has siphoned away millions of taxpayer dollars and come no closer to understanding the nature of poverty.”
Instead, their ideas maintain and increase poverty levels via government interference. We must surely realise by now that government can never stop poverty and in fact is the greatest single cause of it today.
Regardless of how it is dressed up we should understand that government regulation is a systematic method of removing opportunity and replacing it with restriction. It is a price we pay for the illusion of safety and security. When we couple this with the sheer drain of financial resources that our government extracts from each of us, we can begin to see the suffocation of life that most of us feel but cannot articulate.
Our lives are being engineered for us from the day we enter a government factory school until the day we die. It is hardly any wonder we continue to vote the way we do. And still we want our government to tackle the child poverty issue. But remember: by doing so, we are giving government what it wants; an opportunity to reach further into our pockets and into our lives.
Contrary to the Children’s Commissioner’s world view, there is a silver bullet for child poverty but it would prove fatal to his job and his ministry:
- Replace the culture of need with one of greed—greed for success, achievement, prosperity.
- Reduce government to 3 core areas (police, defence, justice) allowing the removal of GST, and remove all other excuses to interfere in the lives of New Zealanders and further impoverish them with high taxes.
- Understand that the world of finance is not a system but a free-wheeling vehicle of trade and free interaction that can make us all prosperous it it’s allowed to work. To attempt to control its flow and value is to quietly and slowly poison your own citizenry.
The fact that this is not widely understood is testament to our factory schools.
In fact, poverty itself is not understood. As seventy years of giving people money has now demonstrated, the solution to poverty is not giving people more money. Seventy years of just giving people more money has not made things better, it's made them worse.
In the last ten years alone around $200 billion has been taken from taxpayers and spent in a “war on poverty”—that's one-hundred and fifty billion dollars on a war that no one is winning; not the government, not the taxpayer, and as even “poverty advocates” concede, not the 200-300,000 or so who've been the targets of this war.
That's $150,000,000,000 -- enough to have given every beneficiary in the country a massive $500,000 each to start their own war on poverty, and it still hasn't worked. And it won't. It never will. To paraphrase PJ O'Rourke,
the spending of this truly vast amount of money -- an amount nearly twice the nation's entire gross national product in 1995 -- has left everybody just sitting around slack-jawed and dumbstruck, staring into the maw of that most extraordinary paradox: You can't get rid of poverty by giving people money.
We're all worse off except the politicians, for whom this massive sum amounts to very cheap and very efficient vote-buying.
When do we realise that government welfare doesn't work -- not for anyone -- and least of all for those who it is supposed to help.
Let's try something else.
Let's try to stop stealing.
Let's give people back their future and the money stolen from them, and let them get on with fighting their own goddamn war on poverty.
If these reports tell us anything at all, they tell us it's becoming urgent. Accordingly, here's a simple suggestion to help the poor: stop stealing from them.
- You could remove GST in its entirety and still leave the government's accounts in the black, and at a stroke you will leave money in the pockets of the poor to pay for food and housing and heath care.
But it won't happen.
It won't happen because the poor are such good lobby fodder for a certain kind of politician: Those who put politics before people.
- You could relax restrictions on land use so that people can build wherever and whatever they wish on their own land, at a stroke promoting choice and reducing housing and rental costs, allowing the poor a crucial foot up on the housing ladder.
But it won't happen.
It won't happen because environmentalists put the environment before people -- and politicians let them.
None of it will happen, because we have a culture of entitle-itis in which putting your hand in someone else’s pocket is considered moral. And because you keep voting for more of it.
The Doha Round of climate chinwags ended with Christopher Monckton expelled for telling the truth, the gravy train riders telling themselves they’d live to trough another day, and green activists “close to despair” over the non-results of the non-agreements of yet another non-event. Benny Peiser rounds up some of the coverage:
A couple of weeks ago the great global warming bandwagon coughed and spluttered to a halt in Doha, the latest stop on its never-ending world tour. The annual UN climate conference COP18 is no small affair. This is a bandwagon whose riders number in the thousands: motorcades of politicians, buses full of technocrats and policy wonks and jumbo-jets full of hippies travelling half way round the world, (ostensibly) to save the planet from the (allegedly) pressing problem of climate change
— Andrew Montford, The Spectator 9 December 2012
At the end of another lavishly-funded U.N. conference that yielded no progress on curbing greenhouse emissions, many of those most concerned about climate change are close to despair.
–Barbara Lewis and Alister Doyle, Reuters, 9 December 2012
The United Nations climate talks in Doha went a full extra 24 hours and ended without increased cuts in fossil fuel emissions and without financial commitments between 2013 and 2015. However, this is a “historic” agreement, insisted Qatar’s Abdullah bin Hamad Al-Attiyah, the COP18 president.
–Inter Press Service, 10 December 2012
The conference held in Qatar agreed to extend the emissions-limiting Kyoto Protocol, which would have run out within weeks. But Canada, Russia and Japan – where the protocol was signed 15 years ago – all abandoned the agreement. The United States never ratified it in the first place, and it excludes developing countries where emissions are growing most quickly. Delegates flew home from Doha without securing a single new pledge to cut pollution from a major emitter.
–Barbara Lewis and Alister Doyle, Reuters, 9 December 2012
Climate negotiators at the most recent conference on global warming were unable to reduce expectations fast enough to match the collapse of their agenda. The only real winners here were the bureaucrats in the diplomacy industry for whom endless rounds of carbon spewing conferences with no agreement year after year mean jobs, jobs, jobs. The inexorable decline of the climate movement from its Pickett’s Charge at the Copenhagen summit continues.
–Walter Russell Mead, The American Interest, 9 December 2012
The UN climate conferences have descended into ritual farce, as naked money-grabbing on behalf of poor countries contrasts with finagling impossible solutions to what is likely a much-exaggerated problem. One leading question is how dubious science, shoddy economics and tried-and-failed socialist policies have come to dominate the democratic process in so many countries for so long. The answer appears to be the skill with which a radical minority — centred in and promoted by the UN, and funded by national governments and, even more bizarrely, corporations — has skilfully manipulated the political process at every level.
–Peter Foster, Financial Post, 7 December 2012
It’s green, it’s cheap and it’s plentiful! So why are opponents of shale gas making such a fuss? If it were not so serious there would be something ludicrous about the reaction of the green lobby to the discovery of big shale gas reserves in [Britain]. Here we are in the fifth year of a downturn. We have pensioners battling fuel poverty. We have energy firms jacking up their prices. We have real worries about security of energy supply … In their mad denunciations of fracking, the Greens and the eco-warriors betray the mindset of people who cannot bear a piece of unadulterated good news.
–Boris Johnson, The Daily Telegraph, 10 December 2012
[Hat tip Watts Up With That]
Most of the English-speaking world’s planners have embraced the strangulation of cities by planning—and virtually all the English-speaking world’s politicians have let them.
Men are born free but are everywhere in zones—zones drawn up by planners to fit us into their dreams. Everywhere, that is, but Houston.
The good citizens of Houston have resisted zoning, voting it down every time it has been offered to them. Consequently, while housing in much of the western world has become seriously unaffordable, the city of Houston remains unzoned, and its housing among the most affordable anywhere.
How affordable? Simon White has done a wee comparison for you, comparing houses in middle-level Houston with houses in the more affordable parts of Auckland and Christchurch. As he says, this was “a very sobering exercise - particularly in Auckland where there are very few new standalone 3 bedroom/2 bath rm houses available for less than $500,000”:
Comparison: New Zealand to Houston new house prices
Houston has a population of more than 6million, and was the fastest growing large city in the USA in the last decade.
Its ‘supply responsive’ land use and infrastructure policies have ensured that housing remains affordable (around half the cost of Christchurch and Auckland relative to income). Because of this, Houston households have a much lower total cost of living than other cities, and household debt levels are significantly lower (less than half that of NZ, relative to income). All as a result of lower house prices.
Want some examples? Here goes:
A new family home in Cave Creek Drive, Humble, Houston: US$182,950. That’s just $223,000 in New Zealand dollars.
It is 30km from centre of Houston; 3bedroom; 208m2 floor area ; 511m2 section. Home with 2 car attached garage, 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, dining room, family room. Upgrades include: porch elevation, stone accent exterior, 42'' maple kitchen and bath cabinets, 3/4'' granite kitchen countertops, 8'' stainless steel undermount sink, tile backsplash on diagonal, double vanity in master bath, alarm trim with strobe light. Tile flooring at: entry, master bath, kitchen, breakfast. Wall tile at all baths.
The NZ dollar price of this house in Houston is $223,000 – similar houses in the Christchurch area cost $420,000 or more. In Auckland these houses are generally in excess of $500,000.
Comparison: 3 bed room, 2 bathroom houses that at 20 to 30km from city centre (in NZ dollars, taken from realty.co.nz):
( Typical example)
Section size (m2)
House size (m2)
Distance from city centre (km) approx
Total price(NZD) per m2 of floor area (note1)
1. The Houston price per m2 is overstated and house size understated relative to NZ examples - because in the USA the garage is excluded from the floor measurement. Add around 40 square metres to the Houston houses to match them up.
2. There is very little available new housing (standalone 3 bedroom/2 bath room) for less than $500,000 within 40km of Auckland city centre.
Here are some other examples of newly constructed homes recently listed on the Houston market :
A new two story family home in Skyview point Houston:
15km from centre of Houston
3bedroom; 2 bathroom; 189m2 floor area
A New basic single family home in Peyton Stone Houston:
20km from centre of Houston
3bedroom; 2 bathroom; 139m2 floor area and 470m2 section
Specs: floors of lino and carpet, and laminate bench.
A new Condo in a seaside village - Houston:
30km from centre of Houston
3bedroom; 2 bathroom; 145m2 floor area
A quality new family home – Ponte Serra Drive, near the seaside, Houston:
$209,000 (NZD $255,000)
35km from centre of Houston; 3bedroom; 191m2 floor area ; 607m2 section.
Home with 2 car attached garage, 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, granite kitchen countertops.
Tile, wood and carpet flooring .
Posterity will ne’er survey
A nobler grave than this:
Here lie the bones of Castlereagh:
Stop, traveller, and piss
Author Paul Reid has just finished the third and final part of William Manchester’s magisterial Churchill biography [interview here with RadionNZ’s Jim Mora], which has helped make Churchill relevant yet again.
Churchill is everywhere. In poll after poll he is voted as Britain’s Greatest Briton, the Greatest Man of the Greatest Generation, the Man of the Century. In the words of the Reid/Manchester biography he’s “a lion,” “the defender of the realm.”
Is this fair? Is it a good thing?
I say “no.”
The first half of the twentieth-century was one of the most blood-drenched in history. It was the age of total war, totalitarian torture, and the collectivisation of much of the globe—and it was followed by a Cold War and the slow economic strangulation of the West. Despite the mythology, Churchill helped it all happen. Much as Mr Churchill is lionised, it’s a simple fact he was a prime mover on the wrong side of every issue in which he was involved in all but one moment in history. The only argument I can see worth having is whether that one moment of right makes up for all those of being egregiously wrong.
Let’s make a list, then examine it:
AGAINST CHURCHILL: Tonypandy; Ireland; Antwerp; Gallipoli; Lusitania; Great Depression; Mussolini; Yalta; NHS; Iron Curtain; the Welfare State and “No Future”.
FOR CHURCHILL: Oratory; non-appeasement; pugnacity; inspiring Britons in their darkest hour; Chartwell.
I’ll start with the praise, it will be shorter. And mixed.
Oratory: Churchill was an undeniably brilliant speaker, one of history’s most quotable. As his own son observed, his father had “spent the best years of his life writing his extemporaneous speeches.” It was time well spent. That many of them were delivered drunk only heightens one’s admiration.
The resistance against Hitler that Churchill galvanised was done almost single-handedly from his pen, over the despatch boxes at the Commons and out—by radio—around the world. From Dunkirk to the final days of the Battle of Britain, when Britain stood virtually alone, he was immense.
Like many an orator however he had no compunction about letting facts cloud his good stories. As Robert Menzies, the Prime Minister of Australia, noted of Churchill: "His real tyrant is the glittering phrase so attractive to his mind that awkward facts have to give way."
So it was too with his military strategy, as we shall see.
Non-Appeasement: All through the thirties, British Prime Ministers gave Hitler everything he wanted—given in the hope, against all the lessons of history, that in giving an aggressor everything he wanted he wouldn’t keep coming back for more. Churchill told the country that it wouldn’t stop another world war, and would only make Hitler stronger when it started. He was right.
But Churchill never opposed the appeasement of either Japan or Italy--in fact, he encouraged it. It wasn’t a policy he himself followed on any principle then (indeed, he never held a principle he didn’t later betray), but only to achieve prominence.
Churchill himself was only occasionally even opposed to Hitler. In 1937 he wrote, "Three or four years ago I was myself a loud alarmist. . . . In spite of the risks which wait on prophecy, I declare my belief that a major war is not imminent, and I still believe that there is a good chance of no major war taking place in our lifetime. . . . I will not pretend that, if I had to choose between Communism and Nazism, I would choose Communism. . .one may dislike Hitler's system and yet admire his patriotic achievement. If our country were defeated, I hope we should find a champion as indomitable to restore our courage and lead us back to our place among the nations.”
Indeed, if he was eventually “right” on Hitler at all in 1939, it was only because at that moment his compass had swung around again, and because in these “wilderness years” he was predicting disaster everywhere simply to attract attention, crying wolf about everything from the abdication crisis the General Strike to Indian independence.
If there had been a winebox around, then like his namesake he would have managed to build a new career on the back of it.
Churchill was right about non-appeasement, but only by accident.
Pugnacity: Churchill was always right, even when he was wrong. His pugnacity, much admired when he was in the right (rarely), was nonetheless a massive liability when he was not (which was much more often). He could hold his mind to anything, until he changed it.
Inspiring Britons in their finest hour: After half a century of being wrong, Churchill’s one moment of undisputed greatness was in steeling British resistance against Hitler during the Battle of Britain, in the darkest days of the war when Britain stood virtually alone against the Nazi machine. It was his finest hour too.
Chartwell: His house in Kent—much of it built with his own hands, with its study looking across the Downs and out across the English Channel—was to die for. If you ever get a chance to visit, head to his study and savour it. A man who could build that couldn’t be all bad, could he? Could he?
Boer War: An enthusiastic self-promoter, Churchill first achieved real prominence as a journalist in the Boer War, where he quickly learned he had a taste both for for being under fire and talking himself up. His despatches from the conflict quickly became more about him than about the war. In retrospect, this was good training for his later Histories, especially those of the Second World War in which he featured again as both author and leading protagonist. Those protagonists who write history are able to benefit thereby, as he well knew.
That said, he did find time to express his “irritation that kaffirs should be allowed to fire on white men,” and to write about the world’s first concentration camps, built by the British to house Boer prisoners. Observing these camps in which 115,000 people were housed and 14,000 died he said they produced “the minimum of suffering” possible.
Having by his despatches achieved the prominence he always craved, he left South Africa to enter parliament.
Tonypandy and beyond: Churchill joined the Tory Party when they were in power, then switched to the Liberal Party when they were, then reverted back to the Tories when they took power back. He was his country’s early-century Peter Dunne except much more militant. He was a gunboat diplomat even in internal affairs.
As a Tory Home Secretary in 1910, he infamously sent soldiers in to break the miners’ strike in the Welsh coal fields. In a riot at Tonypandy, following Churchill’s order, the soldiers fired into the crowd, injuring hundreds. Later in Llanelli however, several miners were shot dead when soldiers fired on them for blocking a rail crossing. He sent gunboats up the Mersey as a persuader to recalcitrant strikers there. And he backed police who charged and brutalised suffragette protestors in Parliament Square in November of the same year.
He never lost his love of firepower in defence of “public order.” During the 1926 General Strike, he was reported to have argued, unsuccessfully, for machine guns to be used on strikers.
Despite this, Churchill was among those who pushed (as a Liberal MP) for pro-Union legislation, especially the Trades Disputes Act of 1906 that exempted unions from the charge of common assault for violence on picket lines, from charges of racketeering for threatening non-union labour during strikes, and from responsibility for property damage by their wrecking crews—putting them in effect above the law.
Churchill was wrong on everything in his Internal Affairs portfolio, and helped set up the pro-union legislation that helped make post-war Britain the sick man of Europe.
First World War: In 1925, he wrote, "The story of the human race is war." It is not. The great story of the human race, especially evident in the enormous prosperity produced in the world since the Industrial Revolution, is increasing peaceful cooperation and the efforts by some to stop it through war. However, for Churchill, periods without war offered nothing but "the bland skies of peace and platitude."
Asquith, his own Prime Minister, wrote on the eve of World War One, the most pointless war of bloody destruction in all of human history, and fought for no good reason other than that Europe was bored with peace: "Winston very bellicose and demanding immediate mobilization . . . has got all his war paint on." Churchill backed war from the start, and when the final crisis came, Churchill was all smiles and the only cabinet member to harbour no qualms at all about entering the conflict—a war that destroyed European culture and released the nihilism, relativism and collectivism that poisoned the whole century.
Historian Niall Ferguson said of the First World War it "was nothing less than the greatest error in modern history.”
Winston Churchill was wrong on the First World War.
Antwerp: Virtually his first action as a War Lord—which as First Lord of the Admiralty he was quite literally—was to promote a pointless defence of an Antwerp the Belgians themselves had already abandoned, and the rest of the British High Command refused to countenance, a personally-driven action that cost 2500 lives in defence of a pointless position the Germans would have been unable to hold even if it had been lost to them.
Lusitania: Wanting America in the First War, and enticing them by every means at his disposal (just as he did in the Second) Churchill did everything he could to get innocent Americans killed, telling the President of the UK Board of Trade a week before a German U-Boat torpedoed the American passenger liner Lusitania that it was "most important to attract neutral shipping to our shores, in the hopes especially of embroiling the United States with Germany."
He encouraged neutral liners to bring armaments, as the Lusitania did, and ordered merchant ships to ram German U-Boats when they could—which, primitive as they were in this first Battle of the Atlantic, was easier than it sounds.
Gallipoli: New Zealanders should not need reminding of the debacle that was the Gallipoli campaign—that ill-fated debacle dreamed up to attack Imperial Germany through the “soft underbelly” of Europe. What they might need reminding of however is the man whose brainchild this debacle was, springing as it did entirely from the head of Winston Spencer Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty at the time—an entirely political appointment.
He was sacked, and dispatched to the Western Front.
Churchill was wrong on Gallipoli—and 130,000 soldiers died to prove it.
Socialism: Rather than being an opponent of socialism, Churchill as a Liberal member was a student of the Fabians, Visiting Germany before the First War, he was in awe of Bismarck’s system whereby he enlisted souls in the German state. "My heart was filled with admiration of the patient genius which had added these social bulwarks to the many glories of the German race." He set out, in his words, to "thrust a big slice of Bismarckianism over the whole underside of our industrial system."
In 1908, Churchill announced in a speech in Dundee: "I am on the side of those who think that a greater collective sentiment should be introduced into the State and the municipalities. I should like to see the State undertaking new functions." Churchill even said: "I go farther; I should like to see the State embark on various novel and adventurous experiments." During the 1914-18 war he declared, "Our whole nation must be organized, must be socialized if you like the word." And despite Churchill describing during the 1945 election his partners in the national unity government, the Labour Party, as totalitarians, it was Churchill himself who had accepted the infamous Beveridge Report that laid the foundations for the post-war welfare state and Keynesian (mis)management of the economy.
As Ludwig Von Mises wrote in 1950, "It is noteworthy to remember that British socialism was not an achievement of Mr. Attlee's Labor Government, but of the war cabinet of Mr. Winston Churchill."
Churchill was wrong on socialism, and helped to deliver it to the whole English-speaking world—and we are all still paying for that.
Great Depression: Churchill found political power again after the First World War ended. Britain entered the war as the wealthiest country on the planet. After the slaughter and the borrowing and money-printing to pay for it, it found itself after the war as an economic loser.
As Chancellor of the Exchequer however, Churchill faced the choice in the mid-twenties of how to go back on the gold standard after the financial losses and the war’s massive monetary inflation. Never one to let his complete ignorance of a subject affect his decision-making, he decided (based on no economic knowledge whatsoever) that his patriotism dictated that the British pound must go back onto the dollar at precisely the same rate as it was before the great calamity. “The pound must look the dollar in the face,” he said.
The effect of his decision was to promote a massive devaluation of the pound (causing such economic gloom that Britain missed out on most of the twenties boom enjoyed in the rest of the developed world), and a massive gold loss to the States that the newly created Federal Reserve countered with historically unprecedented low interest rates and massive infusions of printed paper, pumping up the American boom and spreading the bubble into the stock market, where it burst in the Great Crash of 1929.
Churchill was wrong on money. And the whole world suffered because of it.
Fascism: During Britain’s 1926 General Strike Churchill praised Mussolini’s labour policies. In showing the world "a way to combat subversive forces,” he said, the Fascism of Benito Mussolini had "rendered a service to the whole world." Writing to Mussolini, Churchill told him, “If I had been an Italian I am sure I should have been whole-heartedly with you in your triumphant struggle.
Franco, meanwhile, was a “great man” who had “united his country.”
Italy: In Word War II Churchill repeated his mistake of the First World War, repeatedly insisting that the Allies waste precious resources attacking Europe through what he again insisted was the “soft underbelly if Europe.” 60,000 Allied soldiers died proving him wrong—no campaign in Western Europe cost more than the Italian campaign in terms of lives lost and wounds suffered by infantry forces—a campaign that proved to have no strategic importance whatsoever to victory in Europe; fought in the end only to prove to Stalin that his Allies were “doing something” while the Soviets bore the brunt of Nazi aggression.
India: In 1943, India endured a terrible famine. As a War Prime Minister, Churchill was ultimately in charge of the Empire’s food rationing—he had made it so—and was directly involved in denying food shipments to India, berating the population for "breeding like rabbits and being paid a million a day by us for doing nothing by us about the war."
When Churchill requisitioned the Bengalis boats, essential for the distribution of rice, Earl Mountbatten made arrangements for 10% of the space on his battleships to be put aside for rice distribution. Churchill promptly withdrew 10% of Mountbatten's battleships.
Between three and four million people died in the Bengali famine, four times the number who perished in the Irish famine.
Churchill was wrong on India.
Stalin: Churchill brought Stalin on board as an ally in the world’s fight to the death against totalitarianism. If that sounds absurd, it gets worse.
Britain was at war because Nazi Germany had invaded Poland; on the same day, Stalin’s Russia invaded Poland from the other side—yet war was declared against one totalitarian invader, and two years later when the dictators finally fell out Britain became an ally of the other.
When challenged over befriending a dictator he had previously opposed, Churchill told Parliament his single-minded aim was to defeat Hitler, and "If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons."
He did much more than that.
Despite starting the war over Poland, under Churchill’s leadership Britain helped deliver into the hands of the Russian devil the British intelligence service, Poland (over which Britain’s war began), German industry and the German rocket programme, and the entire population of Eastern Europe—delivering over 40 million human beings into inhuman bondage behind what he himself later identified as an “Iron Curtain.”
Churchill was dead wrong on Joseph Stalin.
Yalta: Churchill’s great capitulation to the man he called “Uncle Joe” was at Yalta, the meeting of Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill in which Churchill presented the murderer of Christians, Jews and Muslims alike with a crusader’s sword, declaring him to be a defender of the Christian West. Stalin just smiled, and proceeded to let Churchill and Roosevelt help him fleece and dismember conquered Europe, and deliver it to the Soviet Union—along with the unconquered populations and escapees from Stalin’s brutality FDR and the champion of the free west delivered up to him on a plate to murder—around to million souls who were the Victims of Yalta, “repatriated” to Soviet Russia at the point of western guns to face Stalin’s firing squads when they got there. Not to mention the half-million German workers he and Roosevelt agreed could be sent to Stalin as slave labourers as part of the “reparations” for a war fought in part against totalitarian slave labour.
The Welfare State: Some of you might recall that the title of George Orwell’s 1984 was a numerical anagram. It wasn’t set decades in the future, it was set in the Britain of 1948 when it was written—the grey, poverty-stricken post-war Britain of ration cards, import restrictions and nearly complete collectivisation that Churchill had done so much to create.
Modern mythology insists that the British Labour Party created the post-war British welfare state. Yet as a war-time Prime Minister it was Winston Spencer Churchill that accepted and began implementing the Beveridge report that became the Labour Party template for wall-to-wall nationalisation, borrow-and-hope Keynesianism, die-while-you-wait healthcare and the cradle-to-grave Welfare State.
No surprise really, when we recall his pre-WWI time in the Liberal cabinet when he sponsored the National Insurance Act, the first minimum-wages legislation, and a budget including the introduction of new taxes on the wealthy to allow for the creation of new social welfare programmes—helping transform liberalism from the classical laissez-faire liberalism of the nineteenth century to the progressive big-government liberalism of the twentieth.
And how easily it is forgotten that as Conservative Prime Minister again from 1951, taking over a country that had just thrown out in disgust the Attlee Labour Government they held responsible for the transformation of their formerly green and pleasant land, Churchill did precisely nothing to reverse their experiment—essentially making a cross-party consensus thereby that cemented in place the Welfare State from that time to this, and (by virtue of the influence that it still retained in the world) for most parts of the post-war world.
And when Margaret Thatcher attempted to pick up the dregs of Britain from where this consensus had left it (before being knifed by her party for betraying the consensus)—the nadir it had reached when John Lydon looked at the Britain his elders had made and sang about ‘No Future—it was ironically the Britain, and the world, her own hero had done so much to create.
Because it was he that helped transform both conservatism and liberalism from forces for freedom and small-government to the virtually identical Tweedledum and Tweedlumber of big government they are today.
Is there any part of the globe or of politics his multiple errors of judgement have not touched?
Not the British Empire, which during the war he declared it was his solemn mission to protect and preserve , the same Empire that over the course of that war he helped to bankrupt and denude, and which ten years later as post-war Prime Minister he helped to dismantle.
No, not even Ireland. After the First World War, when Irishmen and women were debating their country’s future—should it be with or without Britain?—Winston Churchill made up their minds for many of them by sending over the soldiers known as the Black and Tans, emptying the slums and prisons of Britain so it was said to send armed hooligans over to Ireland to burn homes, shoot civilians, and so persuade all Ireland they were right that all Englishmen were murderers.
In the rightful abhorrence against these scum felt by virtually all of Ireland, Winston Churchill helped create the IRA.
Not Yugoslavia or Greece. More interested in military action itself than what the action was for, he promoted communist partisan leaders in both places, utterly disinterested in the consequences. (In post-war Greece it was a communist interregnum and a bloody civil war. In Yugoslavia it was communist rule until the bloodletting of the 90s following the death of former partisan leader Tito.)
When an aide pointed out that Tito intended to transform Yugoslavia into a Communist dictatorship on the Stalinist model, Churchill retorted: "Do you intend to live there?"
Not the Middle East either. He set up Transjordan and Iraq simply by drawing lines on a map, solely to ensure secure oil supplies for the British navy—which he as First Lord had converted from coal.
After the First World War, it was discovered that Britain had promised the Palestine it had removed from the Ottomans to everyone—to Jews, to Arabs, to an “international zone” of Palestinian Arabs. As Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1922 he issued a white paper fudging the issue, effectively kicking the can down the road for later generations to handle.
That can has exploded every decade since.
So how, with that litany of disaster behind him, can Winston Churchill feasibly be considered among the greatest men of the twentieth century? How has history been so kind to him?
Because he had no principles, Churchill leaves no message and no vision for the future. All he left behind was a vision of the past he ill-defended, and a legacy for the future of a compromised conservatism and socialised liberalism. Does this deserve any credit?
Churchill himself told his secretary Robert Boothby some years after the war that the final verdict of history on him should take into account the political results of his actions during the war and added, "Judged by this standard, I am not sure that I shall be held to have done very well."
Perhaps the answer lies in his own finest hour, inspired by everything that made him, that was by a fluke of history important to all of us. American civil rights leader Richard B. Moore, observed it was “a most rare and fortunate coincidence” that at that moment “the vital interests of the British Empire” coincided “with those of the great overwhelming majority of mankind.”
Another reason perhaps is because he represents that century so well—in part because he helped make it, and us, the way it was and is.
Another is because whatever else he was, he remained a consummate politician. And as psychologist Michael Hurd recently observed, “politics is not based on actual accomplishments nor even reality at all. It’s all about perception and manipulation.”
And maybe in the end history has been so kind to Winston for reasons he himself expected. "History will be kind to me,” he said, “for I intend to write it."