Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Sun

I'm off! By the time you read this I'll be on a plane with some very good friends heading to some hot, hot sun for a good few days. Back Tuesday.

I will keep in touch ... probably ... but in the meantime, why not try to visit the sites that I enjoy trying to keep up with every day:

See ya!

The Govt will steal your home

A man's home is his castle? That hasn't been completely true for years, but a new law is finally nailing the coffin shut. As Owen McShane reports, after the softening up, the deluge:

I trust that no missed this story which reports that government or TLAs may get the right to seize people’s homes for whatever higher-density housing redevelopment is mandated by local planners. Private property rights are fundamental to our democracy and economy. I never believed that any government of New Zealand would even contemplate “stealing” people homes so that others should live in an urban planner’s high density utopia!
The idea that this solves unaffordable housing is laughable were it not so tragic.
I cannot believe this could be contemplated in NZ.
I have seen how this operates in the US, says Owen, and its a means of cleaning out Black and Hispanic neighbourhoods so that councils (who purchase the houses) can then sell at a cheap price to their developer mates.
The corruption around these schemes immense and inevitable.
Another reason to go to Australia!

America's Castle Coalition fights these "eminent domain" cases as they're called in the States, and their site documents the abuse about which Owen talks. And of course, there's much more here at NOT PC, including the tale of how Donald Trump used this means of corruption to put up a carpark at one of his casinos. Or just google "Susette Kelo."

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Freedom's just another word for what we've gone and lost

Back in 1964, Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater told his party's convention,

"We must, and we shall, set the tide running again in the cause of freedom. And this party, with its every action, every word, every breath, and every heartbeat, has but a single resolve, and that is freedom."

That was then.  In 2008, the Republicans had their Monday themed for "Serving a Cause Greater than Self." Tuesday was "Service," Wednesday was "Reform" and Thursday was "Peace."  But, as Steve Chapman points out in the Chicago Tribune, what was missing here?  It was "only what used to be held up as the central ideal of the party."

The heirs of Goldwater couldn't spare a day for freedom.

Neither, in the Land of the Free, could the Democrats.  While the Republicans preached "Sacrifice," "Service," and "Country First!"  (come on, you saw all those placards, right?) the Donks banged on about "One Nation," "Renewing America's Promise" and "Securing America's Future."

The party proclaimed "an agenda that emphasizes the security of our nation, strong economic growth, affordable health care for all Americans, retirement security, honest government, and civil rights." Expanding and upholding individual liberty? Not so much.

So what's happened to morning in America?  What's happened to its founding ideals, unique in human history, wonders Chapman?

    What has set this country apart since its inception is not the notion of obligations but the notion of rights.
    "All previous systems had regarded man as a sacrificial means to the ends of others, and society as an end in itself," wrote the novelist and philosopher
Ayn Rand. "The United States regarded man as an end in himself, and society as a means to the peaceful, orderly, voluntary co-existence of individuals."
    That idea got lost somewhere between
Thomas Jefferson and John McCain.

To be fair, it never even made it across the Pacific.  But in the nation that started out committed to honouring human rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of property and happiness, it's a hard fall from there to see its leading presidential candidates see who can outbid whom in extolling self-sacrifice to the collective.

The differences in fundamentals between the candidates is slim that as Burgess Laughlin said so insightfully over at Rule of Reason,

I think of the difference between McCain and Obama as the difference between "NATIONAL socialism" and "national SOCIALISM."

     not-so-different

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"Behold, What a wonder is man!"

LHC__top Stuff mediocrity worship, just look at the power of the human mind.

As Emerson put it, "Instead of being a mere machine of organic matter, we are the thoughtful, the intelligent beings; we are with all the possibilities and privileges of an immortal existence."

Animals at best build rudimentary contraptions. Beavers build dams. Termites build nests. Hookworms build homes in the human body, where they suck parasitically for a lifetime. Meanwhile, man builds skyscrapers, and cyclotrons -- and then with what he's learned goes on to build large hadron colliders.

"Behold, what a wonder is man."

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Auditorium Building - Louis Sullivan

auditorium

There was a time back when the world was still young and fresh and vigorous, and everything human seemed possible -- at least that's how it must have seemed to those alive at the time. A very different time. Back when progress wasn't a dirty word, and people showed up to celebrate the opening of a new canal that spanned two oceans, bridges that spanned great canyons, or a new railway that linked a continent -- or of inventions like that of the incandescent lightbulb, which forever changed a world that was for so long lit only by fire.

Reefton, New Zealand, was one of the first places to celebrate the invention -- it was the first town in the world to boast electric reticulated lighting, ahead of Thomas Edison's Menlo Park! Architect Louis Sullivan was one of the first to celebrate the new invention in architecture: the golden arches of his auditorium, so gaily lit with the bright bulbs of the new age, its surfaces painted ivory "in subtly graded tones overlaid by three-karat gold leaf" to enhance the effect, brought ravishment to an audience ravening for the stuff. [Story here from the Wall St Journal.]

Alas for the age of the incandescent; killed by more than just a few luddites and their enforcement of 'eco-bulbs' on all of us, like it or not.

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

It's up to you, Helen

It's been a long time since the words "honourable" and "Helen Clark" have been used anywhere outside Parliament in anything other than jest, but after Owen Glenn's appearance before the privileges committee this afternoon, there is now only one honourable thing for her to do, and she must know it.
Owen Glenn's documented evidence that Winston Peters' paw prints were all over every part of NZ First's donation deal; that Labour President Mike Williams sought and gave his express consent to the donation; that Williams was informed of progress every step of the way ... taken together these all explicitly contradict crucial claims made by Peters that he never even knew about the money, and make it unlikely in the extreme that Helen Clark didn't know every important detail of the deal -- despite what she herself has said in talking around the affair.
There's only one honourable thing to do now, and Helen Clark must know: to go to the country and call an election.
It's up to you, Helen.

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State Police

I confess I haven't followed the topic at all -- it seems to slipped under everyone's radar but Tim Selwyn's, who points out that the Police Bill which is about to be signed into law with near unanimous parliamentary support will make the independence of the police from the politicians something we will only be able to remember.  Notes Tim's co-blogger, it gives the Prime Minister of the day unregulated power to appoint the Police Commissioner and the Deputy Commissioners, while relegating the Police Minister under the Prime Minister.

    Meaning the Police are answerable to the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister hires and fires those who run the policy, it is a closed relationship that does as my co-blogger points out “invites political manipulation, under-performance and ultimately corruption”.
    The exacerbating factor is that we are realigning accountability right when the Police are about to execute and mug the Serious Fraud Office of it’s existence and it’s 'no-right-to-silence' powers...

Ominous indeed.

There are of course those who are happy when their own team takes over the reins of power that powers like this are available to them, but even party supporters might like to reflect on some of the reasons we have restraints on executive power.  Perhaps they could condition their support by imagining it's their opponents who have all the reins in one hand.

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Infrastructure infra dig

New Zealand's two big parties would both like to make infrastructure an election issue this year.  The socialist party wants to tax and borrow and spend to build infrastructure; by contrast, the socialist party promises to borrow and tax and spend to build infrastructure. 

It's always good to have a real choice at an election.

Naturally, with the subject becoming a political football -- with nationalisation being the new black, and privatisation becoming the new 'p' --  it's an area from which investors are wisely steering well clear, and so far this election cycle most intelligent commentators have too.

Thank goodness then for a large helping of common sense from Roger Kerr, who opens a piece in the Dominion thus:

    Much discussion about infrastructure is confused. What is infrastructure and how is it best provided?
    Infrastructure is a loose term covering a collection of industries and assets. The government does not have a major role to play in many of them...
    Thus is it not possible to talk sensibly about any general infrastructure problem in New Zealand...

Paul Walker summarises one of the only rational commentaries on NZ's 'infrastructure problem' to emerge in recent months: 'Kerr on Infrastructure.'

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Hurricane Glenn

After Hurricanes Gustav and Ike hit Louisiana and the Caribbean, the long-anticipated Hurricane Glenn is now bearing down on Helengrad from Monaco this afternoon, with extensive political damage almost certain in its wake.

The blog Keeping Stock is offering a Guess the Diversion contest:

    Obviously the PM isn't going to want the attention of the nation focused on Owen Glenn's step into the corridors of power tomorrow. She's already being quoted on Newstalk ZB as saying that New Zealanders are "over" the NZ First funding row, and it makes sense that someone from Labour will pull a rabbit out of a hat in the next 24 hours to divert the eyes and ears of the nation.
    So what's it going to be? A waterfront stadium for Auckland? No, they've already done that. Buying the railways? No, too late.

Home Paddock is keeping the theme fresh today, with a game to guess what Peters' excuse will be today.

So what's your pick?  What's it going to be?  You have to be in to win.

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Bazett House - Frank Lloyd Wright


    My favourite Wright houses as a 'group' are the Usonians -- small, for the most part, but perfectly formed, and conceealing a wealth of ingenuity.    
    The Bazett house of 1940 was laid out on a hexagon grid -- it is essentially 'hexagonised' version of the earlier Jacobs plan, which was the 'classic Usonian.'  
    More beautiful pictures and stories abut the Bazett house here and here, including a few notes on its construction.

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Monday, September 08, 2008

Can't fail, won't fail, must fail

The world woke up Monday to what's being billed as one of the biggest nationalisations ever: the bailout by taxpayers of US behemoths Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. These two bloated government-created panjandrums, something like NZ's SOEs, are repositories of around fifty percent of America's "secondary" mortgage market -- of the cheap credit that 'The Fed' printed and Fannie and Freddie then doled out so would-be home-owners could make up the difference between what they wanted to pay, and what they could really afford.

Someone had to pay the bill eventually for the decade-long bubble this created. That someone is us.

The chickens represented by this middle class welfare for house-buyers have now come home firmly to roost. The delusion of inflationism -- the process by which prosperity is 'assured' by expanding the money supply while strangling production -- which allowed everyone to believe this was sustainable, has been demonstrated by this collapse (and be every previous bust) that pumping up an economy with the government's counterfeit capital never can be sustainable, but in paying for the bailout with more of the counterfeit capital that caused the problem it's clear the chickens haven't yet landed in the homes of those who most need the lesson.

It's as if they still think that the magic salve of printed money will still be able to turn stones into bread, and snatch miracles out of disaster.

This is not good sense; it's throwing good money (yours and mine) after bad.

And let's get something straight here: creating these behemoths in the first place was not an example of capitalism at work -- that was the ' New Deal.' And bailing out these behemoths now is not capitalism at work either-- it's just more middle class welfare whose bill will eventually have to be paid. But letting them fall would be capitalism at work -- a long-overdue and urgently necessary creative destruction that will do more to stabilise the situation than any amount of dollar bills dropped on the world's economy by Fed chairman Ben Bernanke and US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

Or else let it be said as it was said some generations ago: "They saved the banks, but destroyed the economy."

UPDATE 1: The Financial Times summarises the 'deal':

The US government’s decision to place Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into “conservatorship” came without a specific cause ...
The government is using a belt and braces to hold up the show ... It will recapitalise the government-sponsored enterprises by gradually buying preferred stock – a plan that will also massively dilute existing shareholders. It will lend the GSEs what they need to continue, before slowly reducing their operations from 2010. And it will buy their mortgage-backed securities directly itself. All this is bullish for credit markets. As for the future structure of the US mortgage market – that is a problem for the next guy. [In other words, it will be a drain on everybody's future productivity.]
How much might it cost taxpayers? The Treasury can inject as much as $100bn into each GSE to help support their combined $5,400bn portfolio of bonds – although it is unlikely to need to do so. It may even make a profit from the GSE mortgage-backed debt that it buys directly and then holds to maturity.
Even so, the bailout is potentially huge, although it will probably not be the US’s biggest: the cost to the taxpayer from the savings and loan crisis was $300bn in today’s money... drastically extending the role of the state cannot be what Paulson imagined he would be doing when he joined the Treasury from Goldman Sachs in 2006. But perhaps he is simply behaving like any good banker – he is expanding his balance sheet. The US government’s, after all, is pretty much the last one left in town.

UPDATE 2: "This is just socialism for the rich," says Jim Rogers. America is now more communist than China." See him here on YouTube.

UPDATE 3: Paul Walker rounds up some reactions around the economics blogs.

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Don't ban force

It became obvious over the last few years to anyone with a brain that a vast number of people in positions of political power were absolutely unable to discriminate between smacking and beating

For the likes of Sue Bradford and Children's Commissioner Cindy Kiro, a firm open-handed smack on a child's bottom is no different than a beating delivered with a vacuum cleaner pipe or a piece of 4"x2".

So much for Ms Bradford's and Ms Kiro's ability to discriminate.

They provided further evidence of this mote in both eyes over the weekend, showing themselves utterly unable to determine any difference between a child initiating force against another child, and a teacher using force in defence of of that child -- ie., between violence, which is never justified, and retaliatory force, which is our right. [For more on the difference, see my 'Cue Card' on Force.]

When "top youth aid cop" Inspector Chris Graveson quite properly -- and in the current cultural climate, courageously -- pointed out that  "Teachers should not be afraid to 'man-handle' violent children if they pose immediate risks [to others], even if it means leaving bruising,"  Bradford and her confreres were ready to pounce.

    "You hear people saying, `You can't touch children. You can't do this, you can't do that'.  (But) if a child's being attacked, you're duty-bound to intervene," Graveson said at a New Zealand Educational Institute seminar in Wellington on Friday...

To which Bradford responded: "Teachers can use force to stop a child from causing harm to themselves and others [and I'm sure they're grateful for the Bradford/Key/Clark Act limiting that force] ... But what concerns me with the comments from the police officer is you can use force up to the level of bruising the child.  That might lead to some teachers using what I would consider unreasonable force."

And education minister Chris Carter responded: "There are policies to deal with disruptive and violent children... The problem with what the officer has said is he's taken a broad-brush approach to what is actually very specific and rare cases."

And the Office of the Children's Commissioner  responded that "it was never appropriate to bruise a child."

Never?  As the Timaru Herald asks, are they in the real world, these people? How will a "policy" help Hemi when Hone's beating him over the head with a chair?  How can it be "never appropriate" to drag Johnny off Jemima with peremptory force when he's beating her to a pulp (and as Graveson points out, "Serious sexual offenders as young as 12, who would be labelled paedophiles if they were adults, [for] preying on young victims")? 

How could one ever think it "unreasonable" to protect young victims from the classroom bullies and thugs who would take them over if the "sense" that Kiro and Carter and Bradford exhibit ever became too common.

The point is this: it's not just desirable to discriminate between force and defensive force -- between coercion and self-defence -- it's essential. Indeed, as Ayn Rand points out, it's the very basis of a rational politics:

Men have the right to use physical force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use. The ethical principle involved is simple and clear-cut: it is the difference between murder and self-defense. A holdup man seeks to gain a value, wealth, by killing his victim; the victim does not grow richer by killing a holdup man. The principle is: no man may obtain any values from others by resorting to physical force.

Don't ban force, ban the initiation of force -- because by making retaliatory force illegal, all you do is increase the violence.

See the history of pacifism for countless examples -- like this one.

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National environmental nonsense

A POPULAR PIECE OF schoolboy doggerel when I was a youngster went as follows: "If you notice this notice, you will notice there is no notice to notice."

That was pretty much everyone's reaction when Trevor Mallard revealed National's Environment Policy had turned up on his cafe table between the baked beans and the toast last week, and then again when the Policy itself was confirmed over the weekend by National's senior liability, Nick Smith.

Fact is, there's pretty much nothing noticeable to notice. The environmental ‘vision’ outlined within is nothing of the sort. It essentially amounts to the same old state interference via continued disrespect, if not complete ignorance, of private property rights -- in other words, the same old "me too" environmentalism Smith has been peddling now for a decade-and-a-half.

  • Neither abolition nor change nor even mention of National's Resource Management Act.
  • No commitment to reinstating the protection of New Zealanders' property rights that the Resource Management expunged.
  • No recognition that it is property rights and common law that provide the most secure environmental protection possible, and did so for most of seven-hundred years.
  • A new Environmental Protection Agency to continue the job of doing over New Zealanders' property rights that the Resource Management began.
  • The already announced promise to strangle the economy by 50% to half-meet the Kyoto Protocol targets National signed up to on Smith's previous watch.
  • National's own Emissions Tax Scam.

Nothing new at all then, just the same authoritarian approach to "the environment" from the dripping wet Nick Smith now as he exhibited when he was a minister administering the Resource Management Act back in the nineties -- the same wet green wet dream as every other politician -- unless of course you count yet another bureaucracy that National would like to join the horde huddled around Wellington's downtown in search of ever more expensive office space: an "Environmental Protection Agency" that will no doubt emulate the expensive disaster that its American progenitor is widely recognised as being, while hoovering up over-earnest young graduates from the inexorably increasing number of environmental psuedo-science courses that are slowly taking over the educational sector, for an agency that will be inexorably doing the same to the economy.

doctors_nurses250 Quite how another bureaucracy to add to Wellington's already replete list is going to lead to fewer bureaucrats rather than more (and a note to National's billboard incompetents: if you're going to lie for your living, then at least try to be grammatically correct), only either a politician or a liar would know. But I fear, dear reader, you've already spotted the repetition there. And quite how another agency with all-encompassing powers second-guessing every single productive person in the country is going to help either prosperity or freedom, only a politician would try to explain.

And they do try. Prosperity? Growth? "Environmentalism and a commitment to economic growth must go hand in hand," said Key's speech writers. "We should be wary of anyone who claims that one can or should come without the other," he read. "Let me be clear that I don't think environmental and economic objectives need always be traded off one against the other," he clarified. "Increasingly, New Zealand's environmental credentials will underpin our prosperity," he insisted. One wonders who he was trying to convince since, as this blog has made a fetish of arguing since its birth, when environmentalism by diktat is the chosen route, freedom and prosperity are the first things to disappear.

Freedom? Prosperity? Environmental values? If those three together are to mean anything, then firm clear property rights under a regime of common law were and are and always have been the only possible way to harmonise the three, and in face the only way they ever have been. Private property rights in a common law system provide the strongest possible protection for the environment and for property owners -- clear property reflect back to owners the consequences of their own actions; common law gives standing to those whose ownership rights are violated by environmental degradation.

If you really wish to improve the environment, with the additional bonus of achieving massive economic growth within a relatively short space of time, just have the guts to abolish the Resource Management Act outright. Don’t tinker; just trash it. That appalling piece of fascism allows others to control the use of one’s property. Further, it is the single biggest impediment to progress within New Zealand. When somebody owns something, they look after it to maintain its value. When the law upholds them in that protection, we all get to kick an environmental goal. In other words, if you wish to maintain the quality of the environment while giving wings to prosperity, which surely even Nick Smith must agree is urgently necessary, you can start by implementing full private property rights -- instead of promising to do them over further.

DESPITE KEY"S LIMP ATTEMPTS to link environment and economics simply by raw insistence, the link between the two fields is clear enough.

After all, economics has been defined as the science that studies infinite wants in a world of scarce resources. That must surely have something to say about things? And effective property rights under a system of common law is demonstrably the most effective method yet devised of 'internalising externalities' -- of reflecting back to owners the real environmental consequences of their activities. (See for example: "The Invisible Hand of the Market Doesn't Deliver a Sustainable Nation": True or False?)

Between them, strong property rights and real price signals are far more efficient at telling us all the real consequences of our own activities and of our own choices-- and they offer the added benefit that they're not just real rather than made-up; they're not just efficient; they're not just moral, but they're good for freedom as well.

That's not something one can say for any the silly statist schemes Smith takes to be 'green.' The biggest long-term cost of all of them is not just for the environment, it's in their cost to the human environment -- the cost to us all of shackling industry and productivity; of the time wasted in fruitless feel-good stupidity; of the larger state needed to administer all these programmes (with the various threats that implies) and in the loss of freedom to live our own lives in our own way.

As Fred L. Smith says, "The threat posed by humans to the natural environment is nothing compared to the threat to humans posed by global environmental policy."

As I've said before, when they come for you they'll be carrying a clipboard, not a gun -- and the person carrying it will probably be called Jeremy.

FURTHER READING:
If you've got this far, you probably want to know more. Since The Free Radical devoted part of an issue to Nick Smith's authoritarian greenwash two years ago, readers may download a PDF copy of that issue here, or by clicking on the cover above. And for more on the inimitable connection between environmental values and property rights, feel free to investigate some of NOT PC's writing on the subject:

And here's a more sane, sober and serious set of environmental policies that could be adopted by any party committed to rolling back statism, instead of advancing it:

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