Tuesday, 17 April 2012

The earthquake was a natural disaster. Everything since has been man-made. [updated]

The Grey Ones have done everything wrong since the Christchurch earthquake.

They barred people from their city.1

They evicted people from their homes.2

They slowed down their repairs and insurance pay-outs.3

They slowed down reconstruction.4

They first banned the demolition of any heritage building (killing many people during the second big earthquake) then carried out themselves, by order, the demolition of all heritage buildings!5

They made a lottery of which home-owners would be paid out, and how much.6

They talked about “rebuilding” but have made it virtually impossible.7

They have barred for months the building of new commercial buildings 0n existing central-city land.8

They have barred the building of new commercial buildings on new land around the fringes.9

They have barred the building of new homes on new land at all.10

They handed monopoly status to Fletcher Building et al, locking out local contractors from work they know well.11

They encouraged the demolition of the Cathedral instead of leaving the ruin as a memorial.12

At a time when financial pain could not be worse they hiked rates instead of lowering them. 13

At a time when financial pain could not be worse they hiked their own salaries instead of lowering them. 14

Instead of allowing innovative prefabricated housing to be installed around the city, they have insisted on conformity and encourage “a tsunami” of construction workers to head to the city.15

Instead of allowing enterprise to flourish in a city on its knees, the Government instead appointed a central-planning Czar to kneecap whatever enterprise did emerge. 16

Instead of dismissing the dysfunctional Christchurch bureaucracy the Czar instead compounded the  problem by adding a new bureaucracy on top. 17

Instead of giving entrepreneurs certainty about all the decision-making being done—decision-making that should have been left in the hands of those entrepreneurs—businessmen have instead been left in the position of supplicants to whom information is doled out only when the Czars and their courtiers deem it necessary-even now being required to “hurry up and wait” for months while the Czar decides what they will be told to do.18

Every single thing they could have got wrong, they’ve got wrong.19

The job the earthquake started, the Grey Ones have been doing their best since 2010 to complete. The have virtually destroyed the place as a functioning city—with only the heroics of local businessmen keeping it running at all.

And now?

Now the Grey Ones are arguing amongst themselves about who should implement their “plan.” Their top-down plan.  Their centrally-planned plan. Their “vision” for the city formed in a void—without any cognisance whatsoever of the hopes, dreams, ambitions, plans and investments of the property-owners, entrepreneurs and citizens of Christchurch whose lives, plans and property they wish to control.

And arguing too about who should wield the “coercive power”20 they deem necessary to bludgeon unwilling property-owners, entrepreneurs and citizens to follow the Grey Ones’ plan(s) instead of their own.

The grey ones really do need a simple message:

Get the hell out of the way!

Let people make the most of what they do have now by minimising the difficulties they face in doing something with it, not giving them more burdens to slow them down.

Let them be free and unencumbered to move to where they need to, and build what needs to be built.

In short, abandon your top-down “plans” and centrally-imposed “vision” and allow the visions of entrepreneurs to connect the needs of one person after another with their own capacity to meet it.

In other words, declare an Enterprise Zone and get the hell out of the way. Make Christchurch an Enterprise Zone, not a Ward of the State.

And if, you must, re-emerge from your holes in two years time to take credit for the success.

But for Galt’s sake allow some success to happen in what was once New Zealand’s second-largest city.

Before it’s too late.

* * * * *


  1. In those first crucial hours they barred rescuers from rescuing. And in the following days they then tried to shut down student volunteers from helping out, and tried to ban volunteers’ “unauthorised” importation of food, supplies and port-a-loos into desperate parts of the city. And in all the months since the earthquake they have barred owners from their own buildings using military power, eventually giving owners access only after repeated protests, and only for a very, very brief time.
  2. Conceding only belatedly that the likes of Joe Bennett could take responsibility for his own life, thank you very much.
  3. By EQC’s inept duplication of what the insurance industry was already doing, and incompetent and long-delayed signing off of what they should never have been involved in, for which everybody needed to wait.
  4. Builders have ben sitting on their hands for over a year while they wait for council and government to allow folk to do what they already know needs to be done.
  5. Neither time with even any consultation with the owners of these buildings—even before demolition of their buildings was carried out!
  6. To this day, few can find any logic to the “system” used.
  7. Yes, they talk well.  This is, for example, Bob Parker’s only skill. Talking. But what rebuilders need is not polished words from politicians who are TV presenters but the certainty that comes with recognition of the rights they have in their own properties.
  8. Property owners in the central city have been treated exactly like mushrooms: kept in the dark and fed bullshit. Not one could make a sensible decision regarding their own property—not because of the earthquake but because of council and government intransigence. And all will very soon be liquid by virtue of the insurance payouts that should soon be arriving. How many do you think will want to reinvest that liquidity in a place from which it’s been made clear they’re not wanted? All that might keep them there is loyalty.
  9. Chch businessmen have done wonders working out of whatever space they can find, much of which was commercial space on the fringes empty before the earthquake; but council “planners” have done all they can to resist any new commercial space going up anywhere else than in the places designated in their “plans”—which is for the most part in places either not wanted by by businessmen as commercial space or not capable of being built on as commercial space.
  10. With demand going through the roof and the supply of housing around the city having been hobbled by planners even before the quake, rents and house prices around Christchurch are going through the roof.  The response of planners has not been to realise their cherished “zones” for new housing (which are misguided fantasies at the best of times) are now as obsolete as the dodo, but instead to instead ever more firmly that “no new land will be released for housing.” So instead of new land at $50,000 around the fringes being available for rebuilding, there  is little land and what there is remains unaffordable for most.
    UPDATE: Eric Crampton: “It is criminally insane that Council barred developers from building new houses on the outskirts of town after the quakes. More than a year on, how many new houses do we have compared to the number destroyed?” Answers on the finger of one foot.
  11. The mantra of this Government has been “letting business work”: by which they mean “doing deals with businesses they choose.” This is now known as “picking winners.” In Mussolini’s day it was called something starting with an ‘F.’
  12. Leaving a ruined cathedral as a memorial worked as a real catharsis for cities like Berlin, Liverpool and Coventry. So why not try it here?
  13. A massive 7.5% rates rise, on top of huge projected increases in “development levies.”
  14. Only a massive protest put off some of these rises, which may have only delayed some of the highest-profile rises until protestors have other things to worry about.
  15. Using prefabricated building technology to supply the housing shortage, building workers can be anywhere in the country--or even anywhere in the world. But using traditional labour-intensive techniques, that tsunami of workers will all have to come to Christchurch—exacerbating the already dire housing shortage. (This is just what govts do. When the Australian government wanted to fix housing problems in the Northern Territory the first thing they did was send thousands of bureaucrats to the Northern Territory to fix them—whose arrival in the form of all that new housing demand immediately made the already dire problem worse!)
  16. Former woodwork teacher and now Senior Gauleiter for for Earthquake Recovery Gerry Brownlee has done nothing at all with his extraordinarily extensive powers to remove bureaucracy, and instead has just added his immense weight to enlarge the existing bureaucratic stew and increase the meddlesomeness of all the bureaucracy that previously existed. While adding more. And not one of the people added or involved realises that for a city to thrive and cope with adversity, it must be resilient, affordable and flexible.
  17. Christchurch was already “a bureaucratically buggered city" before the earthquake, and now with several new layers either added or mooted it’s more so, not less so. And it’s not like this Government hasn’t got a record of dismissing councils it doesn’t like.
  18. Even in recent days we witnessed Deputy-Czar Sutton telling a strangely docile business audience their job was not to get on and do things, but to counsel patience in others.
  19. And believe me, I’ve only scratched the surface here with these examples!  Feel free to add your own in the comments.
  20. Listen to Chch East Labour MP Lianne Dalziel relish the phrase “coercive power” in this interview this morning—her only objection being that she thinks it should be her chums wielding the power instead of Gerry’s.


“Screwed?” asks Eric Crampton:

While Council's made some (*) great efforts in getting the sewers and water supply working again, onanistic light rail visions and new stadium plans seem more important to our Mayor and Council than things fundamentally more important to anybody on the East side of town, to commercial property owners downtown, and increasingly to the West-side folks now inconvenienced by rental price increases from East-side refugees.
Wellington ought to be awfully worried about getting EQC fixed before they get their earthquake. And, adopting the Productivity Commission's recommendations about easing up the regs around land use policy isn't just sound policy for housing affordability, it also makes the whole country less fragile in case of earthquake.

Christchurch is so screwed,” says Bill Kaye-Blake:

The government is doing what bureaucracies do. It is creating processes. It is making sure that everything is correct, that all the boxes are ticked, and, above all, that their asses are covered. So it moves slowly, carefully. Safer to keep people from doing something than allow them do the wrong thing.
Insurance companies are doing what they do. They are minimising their expenses and protecting their bottom lines.

Even dear old Chris Trotter recognises Cantabrians are being screwed—but he disregards entirely that those who will actually rebuild the city (if they are not restrained from ever doing so) are not the Grey Ones but the very entrepreneurial “class” who built it in the first place; he still deems a centrally-planned paradise possible; and he doesn’t realise how govt has been encouraging insurance companies’ intransigence. Still…

If politics is mostly about perception, then, looking at Christchurch, this Government’s in big trouble. Because, perception-wise, this Government’s handling of the rebuilding of New Zealand’s second city hasn’t just gone from Bad to Worse; Worse is sending Gerry Brownlee post-cards.
    The “reality” of the situation may be very different from people’s perceptions – it usually is. But the very fact that Cantabrians are having immense difficulty translating the reality of their everyday lives into anything remotely resembling the Government’s spin is a problem in itself. If disaster management isn’t grounded in telling disaster victims the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, then it isn’t management – it’s mismanagement.
    And that’s the problem this Government’s faces: an awful lot of people living in Christchurch appear to have stopped believing that they’re being told even a fraction of the whole truth….


  1. Here's a great by Willian Anderson on the different approaches (and results) to natural disasters (tornadoes in this case) between those who believe, like Krugman, only Government can fix such big problems, compared to just getting rid of regulation, and letting individuals, hence, the market, get on with it.

    I needn't say which works best: we already knew it.

  2. That's ... here's a great piece by ...

  3. It is difficult for those outside to NZ to see how the destruction of a country's 2nd largest city (even if 2nd equal) cannot have a significant drag on GDP, and that given the events of the past year or so, how it can EVER recover.

    The over-inflated Kiwi dollar is shielding NZers from the massive destruction in wealth, the drag on investment and the flight of entrepreneurs from Christchurch to go further afield, and I don't mean Wellington or Auckland.

    Solipsistic onanists, from National to Labour, with the toxic "Smart growth" Greens sharing the belief in killing off development at the periphery.

  4. It was even worse after Hurricane Katrina.

    After the September 2010 'quake Christchurch was placed under dictatorship: caucus could pass any law they liked for the "recovery" of Christchurch, with only the token constraint of the Bill of Rights and one or two other laws. The laws that caucus passed couldn't be challenged in court.

    The state's response to any crisis, real, imagined, or manufactured (eg 11 Sep 2001, 1933 Reichstag fire) is taking brutal and total control based on the delusion that the state is capable of fixing problems and must be left alone to get on with the job.

    Politics and bureaucracy attract sociopathic control freaks who thrive on other people's frailty and misery, which is most evident after a disaster.


  5. That fat cunt Gerry Brownlee should be sacked


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