Wednesday 21 February 2024

MSM looking for a new handout

"I consider that [the so-called Fair Digital News Bargaining Bill] Bill is ill-conceived. It is a means of subsidising mainstream media which is having difficulty in adapting its business model to the Digital Paradigm. ...
    "The various initiatives and subsidies undertaken by the State - primarily in the form of the Public Interest Journalism Fund - have provided artificial support for mainstream media. Those subsidies have provided a disincentive for mainstream media to adapt to the Digitalk Information Paradigm in a more agile manner.
    "What the Bill proposes is a substitution of one subsidisation scheme for another. ...
"Because the problem is the free riding of mainstream media content by platforms like Google and Facebook the solution lies in the area of copyright and intellectual property. What is proposed by the Bill – which was introduced by Labour ... – is a bureaucracy to determine by what means and by how much the large digital platforms will subsidise mainstream media.
    "Reading the mainstream media submissions and listening to some of the oral presentations was somewhat depressing. But then, of course mainstream media would paint a gloomy picture. Who would not when there is a pot of gold at the end of the legislative rainbow.
    "Perhaps mainstream media should address the issue of why it is that public confidence in the news media is at an all time low rather than seeking yet another hand-out."
~ David Harvey from his post (and submission to) 'The Fair Digital News Bargaining Bill'

"Holders of political power, both past and present, form a 'very exclusive club' in which membership is not easily relinquished"

Here's a short excerpt from a longer piece I wrote describing a constitutional convention way back in 2000 – a room full of political sweepings from all sides discussing political power. The piece can serve to mark Grant Robertson's retirement from one trough and transfer to another:

"David Caygill [1] admits that political power — once gained — is very hard to give up. Jim Bolger [2] said last night that holders of such power, both past and present, form a 'very exclusive club' in which membership is not easily relinquished. Both gentlemen are living examples that what they say is true!
    "A certain kind of person is attracted to this 'club,' and there is no need to wonder at its effect on them since it can be seen clearly enough in the room today. I am surprised no one here ... has quoted Lord Acton yet, who memorably reminds us that 'power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.' Since that was said, we have a further century of evidence, and many people in this room, to demonstrate his acuity."
1. David Caygill was a former Labour Cabinet Minister, and since "retirement" never out of the government trough. He was chair of ACC, chair of the Electricity Commission, commissioner and deputy chair at Environment Canterbury, and is still a board member of the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) and chair of the Education New Zealand Trust.
2. Jim Bolger was a National Party Prime Minister, and since "retirement" never out of the government trough. Post-PM he enjoyed an Ambassadorship to Washington; chancellorship of Waikato University (with even fewer qualifications for the role than Grant Robertson); chairmanship of NZ Post, NZ Rail and Kiwibank; was head of Labour's "fair-pay agreement working group"; and still pops up regularly to bore at talks and interviews around the country to tell us all how capitalism has failed us.

Tuesday 20 February 2024

"The cash-for-kids scheme has to stop"

"Christopher Luxon talked repeatedly about getting young people off welfare. ... consider that the link between a child's early entry into the benefit system and later benefit dependence in their own right, is strong ... Nearly three quarters (74%) of all beneficiaries up to age 25 had a parent on benefit while they were a child, and just over a third (35%) had a parent on benefit throughout their teenage years.  ...

    "It's laudable to talk about getting 18 year-olds off welfare. Better still though to discourage their entry into the welfare system in the first place. ...
    "[M]ore broadly, the cash-for-kids scheme has to stop. ... Until cash incentives ... are removed, the inter-generational problem will continue to plague New Zealand. Yes, there will be downsides to [welfare reform]. But will they be any worse than the devastating social outcomes that come from unconditional welfare?"
~ Lindsay Mitchell from her post 'National needs to go further'

China's history "presents some interesting and broader lessons for us, even in New Zealand"

"Frank Dikotter ... has written a number of books on the modern history of China. Of particular note are three titles which form 'The People’s Trilogy' and which cover the history of China under Mao Zedong. ...
    "Dikotter’s books present some interesting and broader lessons for us, even in New Zealand. The lessons are considerable but as I read the following matters occurred to me.
    "Communist rule thrives in an authoritarian atmosphere where a single line of thought and expression prevails. There is no room for contrary opinions. There is no tolerance of dissent. ...
    "Communist rule cannot tolerate any expression of individualism. Everything and everyone must be subordinated to the interests of the State. Individual initiative, individual betterment, individual ambition cannot be tolerated. Individual economic improvement is unacceptable. ...
    "The sort of levelling that is anticipated by a wealth tax – proposed by the Greens and by some element of the Labour Party - is typical of the type of levelling that took place in Mao’s China. The motives and the methods may be different as may be the context within a supposedly democratic environment — but the outcome is the same — the subordination of the individual to the interests of the State.
    "Finally there is the casual attitude towards human life — indeed the lives of the citizens which, under a civilised State, the State is duty bound to preserve and protect. Lives became numbers to the Communist bureaucrats and those numbers became quotas for the widely scattered cadres who not only tried to fulfil but at times endeavoured to exceed the death quotas dictated from Beijing. The message is clear. Under Communism even the life of the citizen is subordinated to the State.
    "These are but three of the lessons that come out of Dikotter’s study. Clearly he is no friend of Mao or his methods and how could he be. Indeed, how could anyone be."
~ David Harvey, from his post 'The Tragedy of Liberation'

Monday 19 February 2024

"New Zealand was born free without having to become so"

"Self-government and the rule of law came to New Zealand from above. These great principles were ordained by imperial authority. The result, to paraphrase de Tocqueville, was that New Zealand was born free without having to become so. It never had to fight for self-government, or win its rights by armed struggle."
~ Historian David Hackett Fischer, from his book Fairness and Freedom: A History of Two Open Societies: New Zealand and the United States


Sunday 18 February 2024

Artificial Intelligence (AI) "is an imitation of human thinking, not a substitute for it"

"AI can offer a lot of value. But it is an imitation of human thinking, not a substitute for it. AI depends on human-generated material, and even if it not legally required to do, it will have to find a way to direct a portion of its revenues to renew the basic resource it depends on: human writers, artists, and other creators."
~ Robert Tracinski, from his post 'Piano Rolls, Betamax, and ChatGPT'

Saturday 17 February 2024

The Individual and Society

Mises: "...society is nothing but the combination of individuals for cooperative effort."
[Pic: Jan te Horst, Market Traders]

"Society is cooperation; it is community in action.
    "To say that Society is an organism, means that society is division of labour. To do justice to this idea we must take into account all the aims which men set themselves and the means by which these are to be attained. It includes every interrelation of thinking and willing man. Modern man is a social being, not only as one whose material needs could not be supplied in isolation, but also as one who has achieved a development of reason and of the perceptive faculty that would have been impossible except within society. ...
    "Historically division of labour originates in two facts of nature: the inequality of human abilities and the variety of the external conditions of human life on the earth. ...


Bastiat: "In the state of isolation, our wants
exceed our productive capacities. In society,
by virtue of exchange, our productive
capacities exceed our wants."

"Once labour has been divided, the division itself exercises a differentiating influence. The fact that labor is divided makes possible further cultivation of individual talent and thus cooperation becomes more and more productive. Through cooperation men are able to achieve what would have been beyond them as individuals, and even the work which individuals are capable of doing alone is made more productive. ...
    "The greater productivity of work under the division of labour is a unifying influence. It leads men to regard each other as comrades in a joint struggle for welfare, rather than as competitors in a struggle for existence. It makes friends out of enemies, peace out of war, society out of individuals. ...
"Society is not mere reciprocity. There is reciprocity amongst animals, for example when the wolf eats the lamb or when the wolf and she-wolf mate. Yet we do not speak of animal societies or of a society of wolves. ... Society exists only where willing becomes a co-willing and action co-action. To strive jointly towards aims which alone individuals could not reach at all, or not with equal effectiveness — that is society.
    "Therefore, Society is not an end but a means, the means by which each individual member seeks to attain his own ends. That society is possible at all is due to the fact that the will of one person and the will of another find themselves linked in a joint endeavour. Community of work springs from community of will. Because I can get what I want only if my fellow citizen gets what he wants, his will and action become the means by which I can attain my own end. Because my willing necessarily includes his willing, my intention cannot be to frustrate his will. On this fundamental fact all social life is built up.

"The principle of the division of labour revealed the nature of the growth of society. Once the significance of the division of labor had been grasped, social knowledge developed at an extraordinary pace ... The doctrine of the division of labour as put forward by eighteenth-century economists ... But the Doctrine of the Harmony of Interests had already anticipated its far-reaching application to social theory. ...
    "Once it has been perceived that the division of labour is the essence of society, nothing remains of the antithesis between individual and society. The contradiction between individual principle and social principle disappears."
~ Ludwig Von Mises, from the essay 'What is Society?' excerpted from his book Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis

Friday 16 February 2024

Independence for Teenagers!!

"As the twenty-first century progresses, more and more teens are 'failing to launch,' to reach the classic milestones of independence that we used to take for granted.

"In 1998, close to half of American 16-year-olds had a driver’s license; by 2018, it was only a quarter.

"In 2006, the average [university] student communicated with a parent around 10 times per week; by 2013, this had climbed to 22 times, with students often initiating the contact.

"In 1985, 45 percent of 20 to 22-year-olds were living with their parents; by 2003, it was 57 percent.

"And in 1982, just under half of young adults aged 23 to 24 were receiving financial assistance from their parents; by 2011, this figure had climbed to two thirds.

"In the words of one expert, '18-year-olds now act like 15-year-olds used to, and 13-year-olds like 10-year-olds. Teens are physically safer than ever, yet they are more mentally vulnerable.'

"One theory offered up by pundits for why teens and young adults are less mature than they used to be is that parents are simply enabling their offspring to remain immature by failing to allocate them real-world responsibilities sooner. ... by depriving them of responsibility, we’re doing our adolescents a disservice.

"Some studies have even suggested a relationship between [household] chores as a child and effectiveness as an adult. For example, one study followed ~450 underprivileged boys from age 14 through to middle age and found that the best predictor of success as an adult was their capacity to work in childhood. ...

"Teens are perfectly capable of making the occasional dinner, and doing their own laundry if they want to have clean clothes; at the very least, they’ll know how to cook for themselves and operate the washing machine as and when they leave the nest."

Swarbrick & the currents of Green unreason

"The weakness [interviewer Jack] Tame homed in on was Swarbrick’s political inflexibility – a flaw which has only grown as her time in Parliament has lengthened. ...
    "While, on paper, the Greens’ determination to arm their politics with the weaponry of reason and science [makes] it a perfect fit for the serious, almost scholarly, Swarbrick, there were risks [with her choosing to join them]. The currents of unreason that were flowing with ever-increasing force beneath the surface of Green Party politics were bound to end up battering her core intellectual and political principles. ...
    "Her six years in Parliament appear to have diminished her faith in democracy as the most effective political system. .it appears to have hardened her and made her brittle. ... 
    "Swarbrick’s declining faith in representative democracy is reflected in her conviction that “the people” possess a power that overmatches the tawdry compromises of professional politicians. In her pitch to Green members Swarbrick hints that this power may be sufficient to bring the whole rotten, planet-destroying system crashing down. That, with the masses at their back, the Greens can build a new and better Aotearoa.
    "How many times has revolutionary zealotry offered this millenarian mirage to an angry and despairing world? How many times has it all gone horribly wrong? And how sad is it that a politician as talented as Chloe Swarbrick now finds herself wandering this arid trail?"
~ Chris Trotter, from his post 'Iron in Her Soul'

Thursday 15 February 2024

"This is the first fact to remember about New Zealanders ..."

"For New Zealand is a good country. It has the feeling of being a very old country, though not at all in the European sense where countries are old with the marks of humanity...
    "New Zealand is very old, much older than any of this, and quite untouched by men. Its rocks and mountains are worn smooth by south Pacific winds. They are very cold to touch and very clean. The country, with its sharp hills, gives you the same feeling as the clear salt of the sea. The country is, in fact, so old in itself that none of us have dared to touch it; we have only just begun to live there. The Maoris who came before us moved among the dark heavy trees like ghosts and could have sailed away at any time and never left a mark. We could leave it ourselves now: in a few years the red-roofed wooden bungalows would rot with borer and crumble into the earth. Fern would cover the grassland and, after fern, small trees would come and in time the dark, rich, matted bush again. Other men might come in a hundred years and nothing that we had left would worry them, but they could draw strength as we have done from the sharp, fierce lines of the hills and the streams always running and the wide sea on every side. 
    "This has been another cause of conflict to New Zealanders, that there have never been enough of them nor have they had sufficient confidence in themselves to take over the country, so that they live there like strangers or as men might in a dream which will one day wake and destroy them. 
    "There is nothing soft about New Zealand, the country. It is very hard and sinewy, and will outlast many of those who try to alter it. 
    "This is one reason why New Zealanders, a young people but already with a place in history, are often wanderers and restless and unhappy men. They come from the most beautiful country in the world, but it is a small country and very remote. After a while this isolation oppresses them and they go abroad. They roam the world looking not for adventure but for satisfaction. They run service cars in Iraq, or goldmines in Nevada, or newspapers in Fleet St. They are a queer, lost, eccentric, pervading people who will seldom admit to the deep desire that is in all of them to go home and live quietly in New Zealand again.
    "Those who do not go abroad and do not travel are afflicted with the same sad restlessness. They are all the time wanting to set out across the wide seas that surround them in order to find the rest of the world... New Zealanders are all the time standing on the edge of these seas. They spend their lives wanting to set out across the wide oceans that surround them in order to find the rest of the world. 
    "One way and another, those who are going and those who are staying have all the time within them this sad inner conflict and frustration. This is the first fact to remember about New Zealanders, who live in the most beautiful country of the world."

          ~ John Mulgan, from his 1947 Report on Experience 


""The whole gospel of Karl Marx can be summed up in a single sentence ... "

"The whole gospel of Karl Marx can be summed up in a single sentence: Hate the man who is better off than you are. 
    "Never under any circumstances admit that his success may be due to his own efforts, to the productive contribution he has made to the whole community. 
    "Always attribute his success to the exploitation, the cheating, the more or less open robbery of others. 
    "Never under any circumstances admit that your own failure may be owing to your own weakness, or that the failure of anyone else may be due to his own defects — his laziness, incompetence, improvidence or stupidity. 
    "Never believe in the honesty or disinterestedness of anyone who disagrees with you. 
    "This basic hatred is the heart of Marxism. This is its animating force. You can throw away the dialectical materialism, the Hegelian framework, the technical jargon, the 'scientific' analysis, and millions of pretentious words, and you still have the core: The implacable hatred and envy that are the raison d’etre for all the rest."
~ Henry Hazlitt, from his 1966 article 'Marxism in One Minute' [PDF, page 9]


Wednesday 14 February 2024

Fletcher Building: "NZ's most useless company"

"Is [Fletcher Building] the only Private Monopoly in the World that can't make a buck? It is time to break up NZ's most useless company. ... 
    "It is time to break up Fletcher Building & end the dubious Fletcher legacy on this country. ... My grandfather ... joked how there was a time when Sir James Fletcher was a National Party supporter but then 'tore his pants climbing through the fence' when Labour came to power and he wanted building contracts from that government. The company has always enjoyed huge monopoly powers. These days, it has shown a special skill at wielding those powers but struggling to make a buck. ...
    "It's not the low paid workers in this country who are responsible for our appalling productivity growth. It is the bosses - the management - the CEOs and the Directors of many of the our largest companies - who are failing us due to their ineptitude. When the boss is the wrong person, nothing else works no matter how good the workers on the ground. The Empire State building took just over one year to build - starting in 1930 and opening for business in 1931 (that includes the digging of the foundations). Nearly a century later, how long has it taken Fletcher Building to build the piddly-little Convention Centre? Nearly 10 years and counting."

~ Robert MacCulloch, from his post 'Fletcher Building: is it the only Private Monopoly in the World that can't make a buck? It is time to break up NZ's most useless company.'

Robin Cooke's Treaty Principles

Some readers and the odd hyperventilating blogger may need to breathe gently while receiving another wee reminder that the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi  were not written in stone on an ancient tablet brought down from the mountains. They were instead written in 1987 on yellow legal pad by one Robin Cooke, then president of NZ's Court of Appeal, and later to be canonised as a justice, gonged as a Lord, and then again as a Baron.

In the absence of any parliamentary guidance, for which we can blame Geoffrey Palmer, it was he who was asked to define what Geoffrey might have meant when he imported from Labour's 1972 manifesto the phrase "have regard to the principles of the treaty" — and he, therefore who, out of whole cloth, was led to declare that the Treaty "created an enduring relationship" between the parties that is "akin to a partnership."

The standing professional evaluation of Cooke's greatness ("a great judge; the finest we have produced") comes from Sian Elias. "His impact on New Zealand law," she said at his funeral, "has been immense." This is true. Not necessarily for the better. "His particular vision of New Zealand law was not without its critics," began one carefully phrased respectful tribute to his passing, "and at times those critics could be savage." And at times the criticism was much deserved." [1]

It's true, for example, that he "mapped out" the ultimate limits to parliamentary power. "I do not think," he said in 1986, "that literal compulsion, by torture for instance, would be within the lawful powers of Parliament. Some common law rights presumably lie so deep that even Parliament could not override them." [2]

This is good. This is very good. The problem with activist judges however, observed Damien Grant recently, "is that they rarely know where the line is. Cooke was so brilliant he was able to see what others couldn’t. Possibly, he was able to see what was never there in the first place."

It was he, for example, who decided that our courts should move away from following the common law of the Commonwealth, founded largely on precedent and the protection of property rights, and move instead towards creating new rights based on United Nations declarations and on judge's subjective and oft unpredictable notions of "fairness." He who declared, without the guidance of a constitutional foundation here, that it would nonetheless be the courts who would decide whether or not give effect to parliament's written law. He who decided that it is "the duty of the courts ... to ascertain the democratic will of the people." [3] He who can be considered "the instigator of judicial activism on the Treaty." [4] He who so interspersed decisions with political statements that parties had to page through carefully in case one missed the actual judgement. He who so merged the common laws with that of equity that it attracted the ire of Australian legal commentators for his "unprincipled decisions."

"The blame," for the destruction this caused in law,  even over the Tasman is, said some of Australia's leading judges, "largely attributable to Lord Cooke’s misguided endeavours." [5] Slating his disregard of “learning and principle,”[6] they deplored "that one man could, in a few years, cause such destruction exposes the fragility of contemporary legal systems and the need for vigilant exposure and rooting out of error.” [7] 

They could have been writing about Cooke's Treaty Principles.

[1] Geoff Mclay, 'Sir Robin Cooke,' NZ Law Institute
[2] Taylor v New Zealand Poultry Board, above n 39, 398 Cooke J. See also Keenan v Attorney-General [1986] BCL 1505 (CA)
[3] (Fundamentals, [1988] NZLJ 158)
[4] David Round, 'Judicial Activism and the Treaty: The Pendulum Returns,' Otago Law Review, (2000) Vol 9 No. 4, p. 654
[5] Preface – Fourth Edition, Meagher, Gummow and Lehane’s Equity, Doctrines and Remedies, p xi.
[6] Fourth Edition, Meagher, Gummow and Lehane’s Equity, Doctrines and Remedies, p. 839
[7]  ibid, p xi.

Tuesday 13 February 2024

"Getting post-Covid spending back to what Prime Minister Ardern had promised in the first Wellbeing Budget is hardly austerity."

"When Labour took office in 2017, Core Crown tax revenue was 27.5% of GDP. It is forecast to hit 29.1% of GDP in 2024 and 30% by 2028...
"Covid did not just increase government spending to deal with the pandemic. It also seems to have ratcheted in a very substantial increase in the overall size of government. In December, Treasury forecasted [the National-led] government's spending, as a fraction of overall economic activity, to be more than two-and-a half percentage points above Labour’s longer-term promise in 2019. ...  even though Ardern’s budget [then] was hardly austere. ...
    "Getting government spending back down to the longer-term proportions of GDP that Prime Minister Ardern’s wellbeing agenda had promised in 2019 hardly seems radical or austere. It would simply be a getting-back-to-normal after a crisis.
    "Getting core government spending down from Ardern’s promised 28.8% of GDP to the 27.7% of GDP that Bill English’s National-led government bequeathed to the incoming Labour government would not be radical either. It would be the normal partisan shifts in the relative size of government that come with changes in government.
    "Keeping these things straight matters....

"[D]ecades ago, economist Robert Higgs warned that post-crisis retrenchments may be wishful thinking.
    "Professor Higgs looked at American government spending over the Twentieth Century and found a worrying pattern. Every crisis brought a sharp increase in government spending to deal with the crisis. But, after the crisis, spending would only partially retrench before expanding even further during the next crisis.
    "And so, a one-way ratchet effect meant a continued increase in the size of government. A lot of ground can be covered over decades of two steps forward and one step back. ...
    "Getting post-Covid spending back to what Prime Minister Ardern had promised in the first Wellbeing Budget is hardly austerity. It should be the least that fiscal conservatives should expect."
~ Eric Crampton, from his op-ed 'Ratcheting up govt in a crisis goes just one way'

"Getting green energy to work, if this is even possible, is a different order of problem to the moon landing."

"Has Britain truly wasted hundreds of billions of dollars on useless green projects, because a bunch of British politicians wanted to feel like JFK?
    "Getting green energy to work, if this is even possible, is a different order of problem to the moon landing... a remarkable feat, decades ahead of its time, which to date only one great nation has achieved. 
    "But from the outset of the moon landing project, there was a plausible technological path to success. There were huge engineering challenges to be overcome along the way ... But in a very real sense, the Saturn V rocket which carried men to the moon was a massively scaled up version of genius American inventor Robert Goddard’s original Liquid Fuel Rocket. ... even in 1920, Goddard knew his remarkable technological breakthrough provided a clear path to spaceflight.
    "No similar technological path to success exists for creating a renewable energy powered economy.
    "How do we store energy for months, or years, to stabilise an expensive, intermittent source of energy which collapses in Winter, just when we need it most? Nobody knows how to affordably stabilise renewable supplies. There isn’t even an affordable answer to time shifting renewable energy into the evening demand peak, without burning lots of fossil fuel in the 'backup' generators.
    "How will future historians make sense of this blunder?
    "I wish future historians luck, I can barely make sense of it. Trillions of taxpayer dollars and pounds have been committed to the green energy dead end. The politicians who committed that taxpayer cash are only now starting to wake up to the scale of their blunder."

Monday 12 February 2024

Growth, Progress, and the Physical Fallacy


I keep hearing ignorant stuff from environmental folk about how economic progress (or "growth" as some economists insist on calling it) is somehow finite because he planet is. That we need "degrowth." That we can't just keep on producing more stuff — and there's be a tipping point some time if we do.

This is an example of what Thomas Sowell used to call "the physical fallacy" —i.e., "the view that a given physical object always has a given value, regardless of its time, location, or even to whom you are asking" — a very good example of how too many folk misunderstand that economic progress consists essentially, not in producing stuff,  but in producing more value. (Just another reason that measuring economic progress by measuring GDP leads to error*.)

Art Carden explains:

A popular and pernicious fallacy that Thomas Sowell calls “the physical fallacy” holds that you’re not creating value if you’re not turning material stuff into another kind of material stuff. In this view, you take some stuff, hit it with something enough times that it becomes other stuff, and presto! You have created wealth. And industrial policy doesn’t seem to account for any other kind of creative value, leading to the all-too-common, and clearly fallacious, claim that “Americans don’t make things anymore.”

The statement that we only create wealth by creating physical objects is wrong in both tenets. Just because you’re making something doesn’t mean you’re creating value. You could very well be destroying it, as someone does when he raises cattle on land that would be more profitably used for housing and office space. And conversely, someone creates wealth when they move assets from a lower-valued use to a higher-valued use. Everyone selling things on eBay is creating wealth — or trying to — by matching things with people who want them at prices that make the sale worthwhile to both parties. I’ve been buying a bunch of junk on eBay recently that I find very meaningful. Other people might disagree.
Or as George Carlin used to say, "my shit is stuff; your stuff is shit."

Alasdair Macleod: "Economists confuse growth in gross domestic product with progress. Growth is the expansion of a balance sheet total, reflecting an increase in the amount of money spent in the economy between two dates. Progress, on the other hand, is the improvement in living standards we get from more efficient production and technology."

A thought from the US


"Letting a man with dementia run our federal government 
just proves how little we need a federal government."
~ DJ Freedom Rockets

Sunday 11 February 2024

Since we've been invited to talk about ancient Russian history ...

... then let's go back to Russia in 862AD:

"They could neither read nor write, were totally ignorant of astronomy and mathematics, medicine and engineering, were familiar neither with philosophical, moral, nor religious teachings, had never seen a casting of iron — if fact they stepped upon the stage of history with empty hands. As Herder, after many years of study of the Slav people wrote ... 'They take up more space on the map than they do in history'....

    "Incapable of solving [their endless and bloody] quarrels themselves, the Slavs called for foreign help. 'We must get ourselves a king,' they said, 'who can rule over us, and lead us properly.' ... So the Slavs sent messengers across the Baltic to the Varangians [i.e., the Vikings who travelled though these undeveloped eastern lands] ... in Roslagen, Sweden ... [This] new empire of the Swedish rulers was rapidly extended towards the alluring south ...

    "Scarcely had the Slavs acquired the status of a major power ... before they embarked, quite characteristically, upon the first of a long series of aggressions against the West...."

~ from Werner Keller's East Minus West = Zero, p. 18-20

Friday 9 February 2024

3 questions for a regulatory reform minister


So let's say you're a minister in a reforming government, a rare enough beast. And that you're someone who has both the job and the intention of reforming regulations. (An even rarer animal in any political environment!)

Economist Jon Murphy offers 3 simple questions to guide your work. And they start with Ronald Coase ...

As many economists have been pointing out since at least Ronald Coase’s famous 1960 paper 'The Problem of Social Costs,' we exist in a complex world of pre-existing social, economic, legal, and legislative arrangements. These arrangements influence our actions. Like Chesterton’s Fence, we cannot pretend they do not exist, nor discard them because we do not understand their purpose.
    And yet, many interventionists do ignore current arrangements.
Many interventionists simply load new intervention upon old intervention, assuming either the new intervention will fix the unintended consequences of the old intervention — or, worse, ignoring altogether that the old interventions exist!

But let's assume our political reformer is honest as well (an even rarer beast in politics!) Then your first question would be:
Question 1: What is the current state of affairs?

... Of course, it is impossible to articulate every single aspect of the current state of affairs. Rather, one should focus on the most salient (eg, direct laws, institutions, etc). ... There are all sorts of preexisting arrangements that influence [affairs]. These preexisting arrangements, as Coase pointed out, are crucial. If they are misunderstood, then interventions can make the situation worse.
    Answering this question also helps understand why existing patterns are what they are.
As Hernando de Soto liked to point out, if you see people doing insane things, then that's your clue there are some bad laws against which people are trying to just do their best. Talking about the developing world's shanty towns, for example, he pointed out it's no surprise that folk there tend to build their furniture before their roof: the reason being that the laws give them no chance to get secure land title, so their lounge suite will always be more secure than their shelter. People respond to incentives, even if bad law only encourages shitty ones.

Which leads us to the next question.
Question 2: Why have pre-existing arrangements failed?

If the answer to Question 1 leads one to conclude that there is indeed a failure, now we need to understand why that failure has occurred. Is there something about the current state of affairs that triggers that failure? What are the actual causes of the failure? What are the incentives people face?
Understanding those shitty incentives is the key here. And Do Soto's example is still on point: we should assume that people making apparently bad decisions are acting rationally. It's not they are irrational; it's the incentives they face that are irrational. So, in our example, our reforming political animal should examine  how poor property rights protection encourages these poor property decisions.

Here at home, he could do worse than start with the bad outcomes of the RMA and the Building Act.

And then consider ...
Question 3: Is your proposed solution the best method achievable?

Hopefully, by this point, [our enlightened political beast] has a pretty good understanding of the current state of affairs. Now is the time to start considering proper interventions. Note that this question actually has two elements to meet: 
  1. the intervention is the best method to achieve the goal, and
  2. the intervention is achievable.
... What is "best" may not be a positive intervention (meaning that one takes a new action) at all. Indeed, while investigating Questions 1 and 2, one may discover that the best thing to do is remove an existing intervention! 
Given the encrustation of existing legislation and regulation, that would be an enlightened first option.  
The second element relates back to our first question. Whether or not some intervention is achievable will depend on the current institutions. ...
And more crucially, will depend on the principles and political agility of the reformer, and the support they can garner for their goals.

My own suggestion would be to always head in the direction of more freedom, however small the increment, just as long as there is no new impediment to freedom imposed. That would be a principled, practical approach to reform. More white with no new black.

Or set off one or two small steps that would self-initiate many more, such that the liberating process might be unstoppable. (This was Hernando De Soto's approach with title registration in South America.)

We've seen more than one pinstriped "reformer" end up preening their ego rather than doing the work. But if the reformer's motivation were to remain sound, great things could be achieved even in small steps.

Thursday 8 February 2024

The Coming of the "Principles"

Matiu Rata: "... the most effective NZ
politician of the last half-century?"

As 1975 began, neither Treaty nor Tiriti were part of New Zealand law. By years end, the Treaty's legal status was transformed, and "it's place in the new Zealand polity and the country's history and culture were assured." [1]

This is when the "Treaty Principles" were born. "Treaty" was the English text (and was only ever a draft). "Tiriti" was in missionary Māori, and was the document that was signed. Arguably the actual treaty. Something called the "Treaty Principles" was supposed to moderate between these two allegedly irreconcilable documents, with the priesthood of the Waitangi Tribunal empowered to "interpret" the space between. Under Eddie Durie's stewardship, that space was gently but firmly prised open to reveal an ever-flowing vein of political privilege and alluring economic wealth.

It all began with a Labour Party manifesto. Historian Bain Attwood explains:

What transpired amounts to a case of unintended — and thus unforeseen — consequences.... The Labour Party, led by Norman Kirk, had been returned to power just two months earlier for only the second time in twenty-two years; [Matiu] Rata had become both the Minister of Maori Affairs and the Minister of Lands; ...

The Labour Party had been elected on the basis of a manifesto (in both English and Māori) that included a promise to examine a ‘practical means acknowledging legally what it called ‘the principles set out in the Treaty’. After introducing legislation about Waitangi Day shortly after winning office, it belatedly turned its attention to this commitment, directing its caucus committee on Māori affairs to provide a report on the matter. In undertaking this work the committee largely conceived of its task in terms of this question: whether any legislative action could be legally taken regarding the Treaty? Answering in the affirmative required it to demonstrate that the Treaty was a valid legal agreement and a binding one....

The committee was struck by [a recent academic] argument that whereas the English version had long been regarded as the authoritative version, the Māori version should have primacy because it had been widely circulated and signed by most of the 540 Māori chiefs and it was the one that was first signed (at Waitangi). ... Moreover, it held that ‘the question of versions’ was primarily important only in respect of the first part of the Treaty’s second article, and this was because Ross had noted that the English version was more specific about the kinds of Māori property the Queen had guaranteed to protect than was the Māori text.

[T]he committee was determined to demonstrate that Parliament could give some legal effect to the Treaty. Consequently, it asserted that the central issue was not whether the Treaty was in Māori or English but that it was a binding agreement that had been made by the Crown and the Māori chiefs. This was in keeping with its insistence that the Treaty could become ‘an instrument of mutuality.’... that, as far as Māori were concerned, ‘no amount of legalistic argument’ could detract from the fact that their forebears had entered into a binding agreement with the British in good faith and that the Crown had a responsibility to uphold the Treaty’s principles. Clearly, the committee regarded the Treaty in the same way that Māori and some Pākehā ... had long conceived of it — as a moral agreement rather than a legal contract — and so it emphasised the spirit it believed the Treaty symbolised rather than any strict rights it might be said to contain.
In short, the actual words of the Treaty/Tiriti became less important than the spiritual importance of this binding agreement, this "instrument of mutuality," this beginning of a "relationship" —or of something said to be "akin" to it. 

Observe here that Parliament itself never bothered to define the principles, leaving it open to the Waitangi Tribunal and later the courts to do so. And nor does the Treaty, in either language, state principles. As Gary Judd KC explains
It is an agreement recording an exchange of values, including future obligations. Parliament created the fiction that there are principles, which produced the opportunity for creativity in their formulation. The Ministry of Māori Development’s 2001 summary shows how this can be done. If one is able to search for, “underlying meanings, intention and spirit,” the scope becomes very wide, and open to adoption of subjective viewpoint.
So as the words lost importance in a legalistic sense, at this very same time a new organisation was established, a tribunal, that was empowered to fill that vacuum themselves. Their pronouncements became known as the Treaty Principles, which would encompass some of those more "mystical" interpretations of meaning. This is how it happened:
The committee ... recommended the establishment of a tribunal ‘for the purpose of maintaining, upholding, advising and hearing of any matters related to the treaty to which existing laws offer no redress’. However, once the Cabinet agreed to endorse this proposal, an unexpected question arose, and the way it was answered would, inadvertently, enable the Waitangi Tribunal to do the transformative work that it eventually undertook.... 
[But] the Secretary of the Department of Maori Affairs, J. McEwen, realised that an important question had to be addressed because the committee had recommended that both the English and Māori texts of the Treaty be considered in any legislative enactment. ‘As the two versions differ, it will be necessary to state clearly which version is to be authoritative’, McEwen pointed out to Rata. ‘It can be either the English version or the Maori version, or both, but if the latter alternative is chosen, there will have to be a specific provision which empowers somebody to decide the true meaning of the words. I would suggest that the way around the difficulty would be to make both versions authoritative and expressly empower the Tribunal to decide any issues arising from the differences in wording.’ Consequently, he drafted a clause that stated: ‘In exercising any of its functions under this section the Tribunal shall have regard to the two texts of the Treaty set out in the First Schedule to this Act and, for the purposes of this Act, shall have exclusive authority to determine the meaning and effect of the Treaty as embodied in the two texts and to decide issues raised by the differences between them.’  
In time, this clause would see the matter of the two texts become central to the Tribunal’s work and allow it to bestow a degree of authority on the Māori text that McEwen could never have imagined and which he had actually tried to prevent in his drafting. Nor did anyone in government anticipate that McEwen’s adoption of the Labour Party manifesto’s mention of ‘the principles’ of the Treaty would prove similarly vital to the work the Tribunal did.
And lo, 'the principles' were to take on a life of their own.

He might have only read comics, but there's a strong case to be made that the most effective political reformer of the last half century isn't Roger Douglas; it's Mat Rata.

* * * * 

1. Bain Attwood, A Bloody Difficult Subject: Ruth Ross, te Tiriti o Waitangi and the Making of History. 101 
2. ibid, pp 101-3
3. ibid, p. 103

"It's good to hear the story from both sides"


"These are the most common arguments that pop up ... when people criticise the upcoming interview: 1) 'It's good to hear the story from both sides'. 
    "In this case, the 'other side' is a genocidal warmonger who even killed hundreds of his own people to justify a war in Chechnya. Putin can provide his perspective at the Hague. "

Wednesday 7 February 2024

When was sovereignty established here?


So here's a quiz question for you: When did Britain legally acquire sovereignty over the New Zealand isles? (Supplementary questions: What IS sovereignty? And was it EVER ceded by the locals?)

  • Was it when Cook first planted his flag in 1760 and 1770?
  • Or in 1787, when Captain Phillips was installed as governor of NSW "and adjacent isles"?
  • Perhaps in 1813, when NSW Governor Macquarie issued his General Order "purporting to bring the natives of certain Pacific islands, including New Zealand, under the protection of His Majesty" — followed by the appointment here of magistrates in 1814 and 1819?
  • Maybe in 1823, when the jurisdiction of Australian courts was extended here to deal with miscreant British subjects?

All this activity reveals there was already a great deal of legalistic British engagement with the place loooong before Hobson landed here for the first time in 1837. (No, not a typo.) But none really convey sovereignty as we understand it, i..e, the exercise of legitimate power by a recognised state. 

In that respect, some argue that 14 January 1840 is the important date, marking the day when NSW Governor Gipps proclaimed the extension of NSW's boundaries to NZ,  English laws applying here for the first time. Or 30 January of that year when Hobson landed and proclaimed himself Lieutenant-Governor.

Even after Hobson re-landed here in January 1840, he and his ship's captain reckoned on the one hand that sovereignty was acquired peacemeal -- the northern parts after the northern signings (Hobson issued a proclamation on 17 Feb 1840 on that basis), and thence from Auckland north after a signing there on 4 March, 1840 ("thus confirming to Her Majesty the Sovereignty of this Island to this Parallel," wrote his ship's captain.)

On the other hand, Hobson also reckoned that "the Treaty which forms the base of all my proceedings was signed at Waitangi on the 6th February 1840 ... This instrument I consider to be de facto the Treaty, and all  the signatures that are subsequently obtained are merely testimonials of adherence to the terms of the original document." 

This looks contradictory. Yet the two views can be easily reconciled: in Hobson's mind, it was not the Treaty that confirmed sovereignty, but his proclamations largely on the basis of those signatures-- the most important being on 21 May 1840 when he proclaimed sovereignty over the whole place (and clumsily claimed the Treaty's signing date to be 5 February).

It's all a bit of a mess.

Many years ago, Auckland University's senior history professor James Rutherford had a crack at answering that question: When exactly did Britain acquire sovereignty over the New Zealand isles?

Turns out there's not exactly a straightforward answer.

Rutherford dismisses all those early dates with ease.

  • Cook's flag-planting was never ratified by the British Parliament, and not followed up by occupation.
  • Both Phillip and Macquarie probably overstepped themselves here, and once again their declarations were not followed up by immediate occupation.
  • The 1823 ordnances only applied to British subjects (and only if caught)
  • Gipps himself said his 1840 Proclamation was "only intended to give warning" that Hobson and pens and parchment were on their way to New Zealand, not to suggest he was already ruling here. It was "anticipatory" of sovereignty; it did not establish it.
So when Hobson arrived here in January 1840 to "treat with the Aborigines of New Zealand for the recognition of Her Majesty's Sovereign authority" he arrived only as Consul, no matter what he read out when he landed. 

He would only legally become Lieutenant-Governor when or if sovereignty could be properly established.

And when was that?

Well, it's complicated because of the confused legal status of the Treaty/Tiriti. As of 1949, when Rutherford was giving his opinion, even the date of 6 February 1840 could not be admitted:

Thus we come to Hobson's proclamations of 21 May 1840. He issued two:

The first proclamation (a) recites that Hobson was authorised to proclaim sovereignty over the South Island on the grounds of Discovery [although Hobson did not know, on 21 May, that a number of South Island chiefs had signed the Treaty. Their signatures imply that the Treaty applies to the South Island as well as the North Island], and that the North Island had been ceded in sovereignty to Her Majesty. The second (b) recites more fully that by the Treaty of Waitangi the chiefs have ceded all rights and powers of sovereignty to the Queen absolutely and without reservation.
    Hobson's action in issuing these proclamations is clearly one of the important definitive acts of State for which we are looking. For the first time during the period of transactions under review, an accredited government agent, acting, it may be said, reasonably in accordance with instructions received, proclaims British sovereignty over the whole of New Zealand.
    His action is still subject to the approval of the Crown.
    In event of such approval being given, it will be reasonable and, I think, correct to date back the acquisition of British sovereignty over the whole of New Zealand to this date. ...
    Whereas the first proclamation clearly implies that sovereignty is asserted over the South Island on and as from 21 May 1840, sovereignty over the North Island is specifically asserted 'from and after the Date of the above-mentioned Treaty.' ... 
Hobson regarded the treaty proper as that which was signed at Waitangi on 6 February, the later signatures being merely supplementary. It is doubtful how far such a view can be taken as correct. If accepted, however, it has the effect of dating back the assertion of British sovereignty over the North Island to 6 February 1840.
Alternatively, it is possibly correct to consider that, as the chiefs signed the Treaty, they were recognising the sovereignty of the Queen over their tribal lands and were thereby fulfilling that political condition which H.M. Government had laid down to their consul, Hobson, as a prerequisite to his assertion of British sovereignty, which he could then proclaim at his convenience.
Which he did.

However, we're still not there yet. (Did I say it was complicated?)

By 21 May around 400 chiefly signatures had been acquired on Hobson's various sheets of parchment, although not all had signed, and not all those signatures were yet in his kitbag. (The mail was awfully slow back then.) He acted quickly, before he was truly ready, because Wakefield's settlers at Port Nicholson were starting to make noises about republicanism.

So two things must at once be admitted, says Rutherford, about Hobson's assertion of sovereignty over the North Island in May 1840: 
(1) that it was premature, in the sense that the process of treaty-making was still incomplete; and (2) that in extending sovereignty over the whole of the North Island, as well as the South, Hobson was probably exceeding both what the strict letter of his instructions authorised, and what the Treaty, even in its finished state in October, warranted.
And then on June 5 Hobson’s assistant Bunbury, having successfully acquired several chiefly signatures in the South Island, but spying many foreign vessels sunning themselves in Port Underwood, claimed the South Island on the basis of cession, and Stewart Island (being empty) on the basis of discovery. (Adding nothing to what Hobson had already claimed on 21 May but at least bolstering it, even if Hobson didn’t know that at the time.)

But as Rutherford points out, "Sovereignty could, in the last resort, be established only by the sanction of the Crown, and the form that Crown sanction took was approval of the terms of Hobson's May proclamations. ... The essential political condition of the assertion of British sovereignty was the 'free and intelligent' consent thereto of the Maori chiefs of the North Island. This was obtained in a considerable measure by means of the Treaty of Waitangi (February-October 1840)."

And thus by October 1840 the British Government could be sufficiently satisfied that its instructions to Hobson had been successfully carried out, and was able to give official approval. And so, Rutherford concludes, 
Not until they were satisfied that there was a general measure of native consent to British sovereignty did the British Government take any definitive legal step to assert or confirm sovereignty. Prior to the formal approval of 2 October of Hobson's May proclamations, all their actions were of a  preparatory sort.
    The decision to assert sovereignty was based (i) upon the political facts that Hobson had secured a considerable measure of native consent by the Treaty; (il) in respect of the South Island and Stewart Island, partly upon native consent, partly upon rights of discovery, and partly on the fact of settlement; and (iii) in the North Island, in so far as native consent was withheld, upon rights of settlement or occupation.
.   The Treaty of Waitangi is not recognisable as a treaty in international law, and is not part of municipal law; therefore the legal position is that New Zealand was acquired by an act of State, and falls in the category of colonies acquired by occupation. The definitive acts of State are Hobson's proclamations of 21 May 1840, and H.M. Government's approval of 2 October 1840.
Maybe we should make 2 October the National Day?

"What kind of mind must the child have in order to accomplish this?"

"For millennia, people have been observing children learn to walk, talk, and build an independent life for themselves.
    "Adults have always assumed that it was their work, their efforts, and their control that produced these changes in the child.
    "Not Maria Montessori.
    "She took the approach of a scientist and observed the child with fresh eyes.
    "She cast aside any preconceived notions about what the child could or couldn't do, what capabilities he did or didn't have, and just looked
    "And what did she see?
    "She saw that, contrary to the uncontroversial opinion of the entire world, the child is his own motor.
    "The child creates himself. Every developed capacity, every understanding in the mind, every connection made, it was the child who built it.
    "What kind of mind must the child have in order to accomplish this?
    "It must be a mind different in kind not just in degree from the mind of the adult.
    "It must have powers and modes of functioning completely unalike those of the adult.
    "Read about these unique powers and modes of functioning in my piece this week on Montessorium..."

~ Samantha Blaisdell, introducing her post on 'The Child's Self-Created Mind'

Tuesday 6 February 2024

My Waitangi piece is # 2 at Newsroom.


I'm happy to say that Part One of my abridged review of Ned Fletcher's book became the second-most popular piece yesterday at the Newsroom site.

Check that out here: Ned's 'Slippery' Treaty. Some snippets:

**"Fletcher’s will quickly become the favoured mainstream interpretation of the Treaty. But this doesn’t mean it’s correct."
**" It was in Chapter 19 that I began making notations under the heading “Slippery.” 
**" Pumuka, chief of the Roroa Tribe, says: 'I wish to have two fathers – thou and Busby, and the missionaries.' From the latter two he and his colleagues have already learned 'Christianity and the Law'…It’s this that these smart fellows, eager for modern learning, are asking for more of. For the protection of law, not for a bag of sweets and a paternalistic pat on the head. 
**"Fletcher has his work cut out for him in making words seem what they’re not. He admits himself on page 526, as he nears his work’s end, that '[t]he English draft of the Treaty contains no explicit recognition of Maori self-government and custom.' Which is true, but it’s the opposite of the conclusion he has been labouring for the previous 525 pages to prove."

And now, on Waitangi Day, Newsroom has just posted Part Two of the abridged review: Ned's 'Puzzling' Treaty. Let's see if we can get this one to Number One! Some snippets from Part 2:

** "Ned argues the Treaty, the English version, promises eternal self-government to Maori... The entire scaffolding of Fletcher’s argument for separate Māori jurisdiction or law as a permanent thing falls to the ground however when one realises that Stephen, and the Colonial Office, did not intend such a state of affairs to be permanent. They expected continual progress towards their end goal of full equality."

** "In the Treaty’s only written references to protection, it never appears without the word 'rights.'... So what does the written word tell us then about the nature of the protection being offered in the Treaty?"

** "If the Treaty is about 'protection' of Māori, as Fletcher concludes, then as the Preamble makes very plain that was to manifest as 'Protect[ion of] their just Rights and Property.' Which seems vastly different to Fletcher’s conclusion that it must lead to inter-tribal self-government."

** That said, if there is a right to permanent self-government in the Treaty, then it is that of which John Locke spoke: which is the individual right to govern oneself free of let or hindrance by others – this self-governance being the source of all freedom. In libertarian terms, all one requires from a legal authority for this self-governance to function is to be protected in one’s genuine rights, for coercion to be outlawed and to be otherwise left alone by that authority. Thereafter, all human interaction becomes voluntary.
    "Would that this were the meaning one could draw from either Treaty, or Tiriti. Or from today’s lawmakers."
PS: If you'd like the full review of Ned Fletcher's book, The English Text of the Treaty of Waitangi, you can download it here.