Tuesday, 21 February 2012

DOWN TO THE DOCTOR'S: A Book Worth Buying

imageLibz leader Dr Richard McGrath returns with fire in his belly, his regular column, and a book you just have to buy…

Nanny State has had it good recently, what with the censorship of “disgusting” images of Piri Weepu bottle feeding his infant daughter; the blanking out of “horrific” footage of signage advertising Coca-Cola and fried chicken; and the hysterically defensive reaction following revelations fewer people have been out cycling, and more of them are suffering injury, since cycle helmets (i.e., knob hats) were made compulsory. 

Thank goodness for people like James Bartholomew, who documents the far-reaching and almost unerringly negative consequences of state interference in our lives. Along with commentator Lindsay Mitchell, I had the pleasure of dining with James in Wellington a few weeks back during his brief visit conducting research for a new book he is writing. His pet topic is the welfare state in all its forms, and to prepare for James' visit I ordered a copy of his chronicle of Britain's decline from a once great nation to the 'sick man of Europe', entitled The Welfare State We're In.

It was a great, if sobering read.

Published in 2004, the volume traces the origins of the welfare state to the time of Henry VIII and his seizure of monasteries previously functioning as charity hospitals and emergency welfare providers. Bartholomew reveals the increasingly coercive nature of the State in funding and providing health care, unemployment and disability compensation, education, housing and social support.

Unfortunately, as is plainly evident to anyone who cares to look, in each and every area in which the government has intervened - albeit often with compassion and a desire to work side by side with private providers and charities - the result has been the crowding out of the voluntary sector, and an increase in death and misery for the intended beneficiaries.

In other worlds, state welfare is not welfare.

Neither is state education education. After decades of state-funded 'education' in the UK and more than a hundred years of compulsory education, one in four adult Britons is functionally illiterate (sound familiar?). Yet before the advent of government welfare and state education, about 85% of industrial workers in the UK were already members of friendly societies providing welfare and support for members and their families. Since that time, the working class has been taxed into poverty, with many of them unable to make provision for a pension and purchase unemployment insurance.

A pervasive and recurrent theme throughout the book is that the welfare state was not needed in the first place! Where people had the means and the necessity to provide for down times, they did so, and gave huge amounts of their disposable income to the less well-off.

Bartholomew likens the avoidable deaths in Britain's National 'Health' Service to 'a train crash every day,' estimating over more 15,000 souls dying annually than the mortality that would occur under a system of non-government hospitals and primary care.  (Sound familiar?)

He documents the terrible results of laws that encourage broken families, and the often horrific consequences when the offspring of solo parents are placed in the care of non-biologically-related males. Most telling are the examples that highlight a general decline in public morality ('the falling off of decency') as a result of intergenerational unemployment and a breakdown in the passing down of values such as hard work, thrift and personal responsibility.

The author relates low levels of taxation to high rates of growth, using the example among others of the World's Greatest Ever Bureaucrat and his hand in creating the world's freest country. James' description of Britain's underperformance in every facet of human advancement - including medical research - since the rise of the welfare state, makes sad reading.

I recommend this book to all readers. It is packed with facts, memorable anecdotes and killer quotes, and is a valuable historical reference. One comes away with a much greater appreciation of the root causes of the United Kingdom's current malaise. In many senses, the origins date back centuries. But it was David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill (who would have guessed?) that really got the ball rolling in the early twentieth century. Once Labour took power in 1945 Britain's fate was sealed, but the die was already cast.

Couldn't happen here, could it? 

Dr Richard McGrath is a Masterton GP and the leader of NZ’s Libertarianz Party. When threatened with extreme violence he can sometimes be made to write a column.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Unaffordable housing? No wonder!

_HickeyONCE AGAIN BERNARD HICKEY offers the insalubrious example of a commentator who knows something is wrong, yet knows nothing about how to fix it. Nothing that is beyond yelling “Something Must be Done!” And by “something he means “someone.” And by someone, he means the government.

First, the problem:

Auckland and Christchurch now have massive shortages of waterproof and undamaged homes that regular families can afford to own…
    The Department of Building and Housing forecast this month that New Zealand needs to build around 20,000 to 23,000 housing units a year over the next five years to keep pace with population growth. Meanwhile New Zealand has been building at a rate below 15,000 a year for the last three years…
    The crisis has intensified since 1999 with the introduction of the Metropolitan Urban Limit and the revelations that an entire generation of homes is leaky and will have to be either reclad or rebuilt…
    This crisis is playing out in a variety of ways.
    There is, of course, a rise in homeless numbers. But the more obvious increase is simply in the price of homes and rents. Both are rising quicker than the wider inflation rate and price rises outside of Auckland and Christchurch. There is an inevitable reaction to this, which is for young Auckland and Christchurch workers and families, those who are not property owners, to simply give up.

He is right that rents are rocketing and new homes are becoming less and less affordable.  The annual Demographia study has shown for years that even during this Great Recession house prices as a proportion of income in New Zealand’s cities are among the highest in the developed world—and increasing*. And the Productivity Commission (from whom Hickey got his figures) point out that “for younger people and those on lower incomes there is a missing step on the property ladder, particularly in Auckland. The chances of them ever purchasing their first home are decreasing.”

He is right, too, that while would-be home-owners burn, governments in Auckland and Wellington continue to fiddle—with train sets in Auckland, and with a pathetic, partial, poorly-done privatisation programme in Wellington.

The problem then is this: what is to be done? And the problem with Hickey is, he has no bloody idea.

So like every simple statist who Wants Something Done, he simply cries that Gummint Should Do Something!

“Government-owned land would need to be opened up and town planners overruled,” says Hickey, getting it half right, before heading down the route of statists immemorial in calling for “taxpayer money … to be invested and lots of it.” Presumably building those affordable houses that the government has made it unprofitable for private builders to build, using resources that will cost more than the sale price.

imageIt’s the same “solution” put forward by Fran O’Sullivan (left) a few months back when she called for private land to be nationalised—expropriated outright by the grey ones—newly stolen land on which the Gummint Should Do Something.

Like O’Sullivan, Hickey is a business columnist. Yet just like her he has no idea how business works.

And they both write and talk about politics. But neither apparently have any conception of how politicians have caused the very “market failure” they describe. Because while calling for government to fix the problem by doing more, they never even bothered to ask themselves this fundamental question: whether it is government activity itself that has largely caused the problem.

And it has.

IN A NUTSHELL, THE big problem is that government has gone beyond right: it has passed laws giving the Reserve Bank the power to print money, bureaucrats the power to prescribe the methods and materials by which houses are built, and  planners the power to control and restrict people’s land.

Let’s look at these one at a time.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Creating a job is easy. Creating a remunerative job is not.”


The 'Consumptionist' Dead End
Jonathan Hoenig:  Why the persistent belief that the economy will grow as a result of government spending is flawed.
If you keep repeating a lie long enough, people eventually start to accept it as truth. So even as government debt hit new record highs and bankrupt entitlement states like Greece collapse, how else to explain the persistent belief among many politicians and policymakers that … the economy grows as a result of government spending….

Friday, 17 February 2012

FRIDAY MORNING RAMBLE: Take a look at these!

Another short ramble around a few things that caught my eye this week…

  • A new report suggests an earthquake in Wellington would  dwarf the economic damage of the Canterbury earthquake .  The report, however, takes no account of the enormous economic benefit to the country of the complete destruction of Wellington’s government departments. (We can dream, can’t we?)
    Cost of a major Wellington quake? $40b – N Z  H E R A L D
  • Stolen memos and fabricated documents from the climate sceptic Heartland Institute reveals that private individuals who agree with the aims of the Institute gave them money (shock, horror!). Meanwhile, the Institute advanced funds to fellow skeptics like Anthony Watts and NZer Bob  Carter to the tune of $88,000 and $1600 respectively, giving such scientists an unfair advantage in over the $1,2 million sucked from the taxpayer by James Hansen and the $300 million warmist campaign of Al Gore.
    In other words, “What the Heartland document show is how badly warmists have been beaten by those with a fraction of the resources they’ve enjoyed.”
    Hippies hate Heartland -  D A I L Y   B A Y O N E T
    The Anatomy of a Global Warming Smear – Anthony Watts, W A T T S   U P   W I T H   T H A T
  • If the philosophical father of America was John Locke, then that of New Zealand was utilitarian Jeremy Bentham.  Murray Rothbard examines the thought, economics and failings of the man whose corpse now entertains students at University College, London.
    The case of Jeremy Bentham, should be instructive both to historians of this funny little country, and to “that host of economists that attempt to weld utilitarian philosophy with free market economics.”
    Jeremy Bentham: From Laissez-Faire to Statism – Murray Rothbard, M I S E S  DA I L Y
  • The Ayn Rand Institute is thrilled to announce two new ARI ventures “that we believe have the potential to make a huge impact on the fight for capitalism”: a new book, and a new blog.
    Free Market Revolution: How Ayn Rand’s Ideas Can End Big Government 
    by Yaron Brook and Don Watkins
    Laissez-Faire: The Uncompromised Case for Capitalism – A R I

Yaron Answers: What is Capitalism and Why Do You Say It’s Moral?

  • We’re near the endgame. But when will the tipping point into currency collapse begin? Author of the Paper Money Collapse Detlev Schlicter reckons the EuroZone crisis is just the beginning. “The tipping point comes either when concern about inflation or concern about sovereign solvency (in major countries) reaches a certain point. When people sell bonds and demand higher yields we are in the endgame.” Watch him and his interviewer here:

  • Steve Coogan used to be a comedian. Now? Not so much.
    What the Dickens has Coogan become? – Tim Black, S P I K E D
  • You want music with a joyful sense of life? You want musical fluency? Then the Hot Club of France are your men.  Here’s some rare film of the genii doing one of their quieter numbers (filmed, unfortunately, by a cameraman eager not to show Django’s unique fretwork dexterity).

Check back soon for more…

Thursday, 16 February 2012

DOWN TO THE DOCTOR’S: Seagull? No, it’s a duck.

_McGrath001Don’t look now. Dr Richard McGrath is back with his formerly regular column. This week: Is that a bird, or a plane? No, it’s a duck!

Assuming Trevor Mallard still possesses any shred of integrity after a lifetime in the public trough, then his exposure this week as a 'ticket-scalper' will only move forward its inevitable extinction. 

In 2006 The Mallard stated quite baldly: "When there is bulk buying of tickets to [major] events simply for the purpose of profiteering, scalping is a rip-off that could deny many people the opportunity to see [the] event."

It’s now revealed he made a tidy TradeMe profit on a major Wellington event happening this weekend.

In 2011 his party went to the polls demanding those accruing profit on their assets be his hard by the grey ones.

And despite him "struggling to see the difference in principle between tickets and houses,” he sees no problem now with either the sale or his price-gouging.

If any integrity is left him after his playing away from home and his court appearance for assault, his lies about “bag men” and cash for policies and his attack on Brethren church-goers as “chinless scarf wearers, then to retain whagt little is left he should at least hand over the dirty profits to the ticket issuer, or perhaps pay a contribution to the government based on capital gain—a voluntary proposition the IRD website helpfully makes possible.

Not that I se any problem myself, mind you, in either ticket scalpers or profit-takers. Unlike the daily labours of politicians, both help the market.

In my view, and against the previously stated views of The Duck, all laws that impede a free, uncoerced market in goods should be scrapped—including any that prohibit the reselling of concert tickets. Ironically, under a government 'led by my Libertarianz party, Scalper' Mallard would be able to sell as many concert tickets to unsuspecting teenagers as he liked. But not a government headed by his own party.

It is difficult however to see how an unapologetic Mallard will possibly be able to explain his way out of this latest disaster, unless of course he truly believes there should be one law for politicians and another law for the rest of us.

Perhaps now the Hutt South Scalper has realised the virtues of the market first-hand he could do the decent thing for a change: "So how about a ticket to the Lady Gaga concert for my daughter?"

Dr Richard McGrath is a Masterton GP and the leader of New Zealand’s Libertarianz Party.
When prodded hard, he writes a regular semi-regular very occasional column for NOT PC.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012


A man has just been deported from one country to another to face the death penalty for a crime that is the ultimate in victimless crimes, i.e., a crime that has no victim.

The man has been deported from Malaysia to Saudi Arabia to face a charge that he blasphemed, i.e., that he defamed Allah in a tweet, i.e., that he “insulted” a non-existent being.

Which means he defamed a victim that doesn’t exist, in a medium few if any in Saudi Arabia are allowed to read, from a jurisdiction that has nothing to with them.

And Islam is still a religion of peace.


Much discussion this morning about the MP with the coolest name in Parliament, Mojo Mathers, and whether you or I should pay for an electronic note-taking system so the new Green MP can do her job.

She’s deaf, you see, and can’t do the job properly without one. It will cost us around $30,000, apparently—about the size of Bellamy’s bar bill on a slow afternoon.

So fair enough, surely. It’s a small enough sum; it can be taken out of the existing Parliamentary Budget without any problems; and this is supposed to be a representative democracy, surely, and when folk from all walks of life are in Parliament their democracy should provide whatever’s need to do their job, no?

No. Not really. Not exactly.

Because Speaker Lockwood Smith is reportedly examining whether to impose a new  obligation on taxpayers, rather than spending less elsewhere. Like subsiding Bellamy’s, for instance.  (Bad Lockwood.)

And yes, it’s a small sum.  But even a small sum has to be authorised; has to be taken from someone.  And there is nothing in law to justify a new imposition like this. (Laws about subsidising the trough at Bellamy’s on the other hand…)

And fundamentally, small though the sum involved is, the argument about spending it goes back to the nature of government and of parliament ,and and what they’re there for. 

Government’s job is not to raise the self-esteem of its participants—its job is to protect individual rights. That’s their only justifiable job.

So Parliament’s job, in this sense, is not simply to be a club wherein participants are made to feel better about themselves. It’s not a place where you go to raise your self-esteem. It is instead an arm of government (at least in principle if not in practice) that helps keep the other arms somewhat in check—to ensure they are protecting individual rights.

And frankly, then as long as taxpayers continue to vote people in to do that job (at least in theory) it doesn’t matter whether you’re deaf, dumb, blind or transgender. If you’ve been voted in to do the job by taxpayers (and even some Green voters do pay taxes)  then you should have the tools to do that job.

After all, there’s extra reinforcing needed for Parekura Horomia’s seat. And we’re obliged to pay for that, aren’t we?

Aren’t we?

* * * * *

* Paid for by those taxpayers who voted for them, ideally.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Come on baby, be my econo-Valentine

It’s not quite “come on sucker, lick my battery” stuff, but economists are warming up for Valentine’s Day with the #FedValentines tag on Twitter [hat tip Offsetting Behaviour]. My favourites, from the SanFrancisco Fed:

I'm going to extraordinary measures to increase your stimulus.

My love is elastic, my commitment too big to fail.

And from NPR’s Planet Money:

But, soft! What light through yonder discount window breaks? It is the East, and Ben is the sun.

I'll be your lover of last resort.

And the Marvin Gayesque:

When I get that feeling I want quantitative easing.

With those out of the way, Craig Biddle identifies a more serious point: the connection between Say’s Law and Romantic Love (and you were going to say you’d just been thinking along those lines, huh?):

The realm of romance, like that of economics, is governed by Say’s Law. Supply constitutes demand. What you produce (supply) is what you have to trade in the marketplace (demand.
    Say’s law does not mean that if you create something people will want it—or “if you build it they will come.” It means that if you want to trade with others, you have to produce something with which to trade—something of value. The values you create—whether computers or works of art or educational services—constitute your demand on the goods and services created by others. What you create is what you have to offer in trade for what others create.
    The same is true in romance. If you want a relationship of mutual love, you have to produce something with which to trade—something that a good person will want and be able to love. The one and only demand you can exert in the realm of romance is what you have made of yourself. That is your “supply”; it’s what you bring to the table.
    This is not an analogy; it is the literal truth. And it applies to both mind and body…
    If we want a wonderful, lasting romantic relationship—if we want to fall in love and stay in love with a great girl or guy—then we have to make ourselves of value to such a person.
Supply constitutes demand. “Take what you want and pay for it”….

* But maybe if Flight of the Conchords were to try econo-ditties as well as Robo-boogie?

Peace activists?


Yes, folks, the trial of the Urewera 18, 16, 15, 4 has finally got under way this morning in Auckland’s High Court.

So we may finally hear some facts about what this motley lot are accused of, rather than the self-serving soft-soaping they and their chums have been peddling on their behalf.

It has now been four and a half years since the 18 were arrested. Four and a half years! Four and a half years in which the crown muddled while defendants and their lawyers and their friends in the media churned out press releases, interviews and media events in their defence. In the absence of a real trial we had instead a trial by media—a “trial” in which defendants were feted while all the substantive evidence against them was suppressed at the behest of their own lawyers!

Law has been very much the loser in this case.

But let’s not accept any crocodile tears about how long it’s taken for this crew to finally get before the court—like the crocodile tears John Minto et al were crying this morning about how tough it’s been for them to be on bail for so long.  Because right from day one of this whole debacle, the Urewera 18, 16, 15, 4 and their lawyers have been using every delaying tactic in the book. (That their requests for suppression only delayed proceedings even longer puts their crocodile tears now over the delays into damning perspective.) But if a justice system cannot pull together a case in four years, while fending off the shysters out looking for a loophole, that’s a pretty serious indictment of the system’s failure.

And while out on bail Tame Iti was allowed to dance his way around Europe on the taxpayer.

Only in New Zealand, one suspects, would a man facing charges of participating in an organised criminal group, unlawful possession of firearms and possession of restricted weapons be allowed to swan off around Europe on a dance tour while taxpayers sit here at home picking up his tab.

So let’s hope we finally do hear some facts in coming days. Or else we’ll be left to conclude only that our “justice” system is little more than a laughing stock.

That’s a hell of a price for a train set


“Socialist governments traditionally make a financial
mess.  They always run out of other people’s money.”

- Margaret Thatcher

His ambition, he said, was to make Auckland the world’s most liveable city.

It seems, however, that after dreaming up a new train set, a fancy new bridge and various other fantasies, mayor Len Brown is instead intent on making Auckland among the world’s most expensive cities in which to live—with petrol, tax and rate hikes mooted to make up the $10-15 billion shortfall between reality and his fantasies.

And this is on top of the general rates rise he and his minions agreed last year to impose on us this year.

Nice, huh.

We’re in a deep and worsening recession, and all this clown can think about is means by which to extract even more of the hard-earned from those who earned it.

Thank goodness for the “Super” City, eh.

Glendowie Montessori

I’ve written many times about the benefits of Montessori education for your youngsters, not just through their early years but right on through primary and high school. If you can find them in your neighbourhood, and if they’re not just Montesomething schools instead of the real thing. 

Well, lucky old Glendowie. If you’re lucky enough to live in Glendowie, Glen Innes or anywhere in that area, I can tell you that a new Montessori classroom has just opened for your two-and-a-half to six year olds—and this is very much the real thing. It’s called the Glendowie Montessori Preschool, and it opens for business today at 227 West Tamaki Rd!

What’s more, there’s also an excellent Montessori primary classroom that can take your children at six.  So if you have young children and this is your stamping ground, then you’ve just fallen on your feet.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I am beginning to think that Christianity has a lot in common with Marxist-Leninism..."

"I am beginning to think that Christianity has a lot in common with Marxist-Leninism... God is dialectical materialism; Christ is Karl Marx; the Church is the Party, the elect is the proletariat, and the Second Coming is the Revolution."
"How do heaven and hell fit into that?" I asked.
"Heaven is the socialist millennium, of course. I think hell must be the punishment of the capitalists."


"The medieval Church and the Communist state share four basic dictums. Firts and foremost comes the instruction to seek the life of the spirit: seek pure Marxism. Don't waste your efforts on other trivial things. Gain is avarice, love is lust, beauty is vanity.
"Two: Communists are urged to give service to the state, as Christians must give it to the Church--in a spirit of humility and devotion, not in order to  serve themselves  or to become a success. Ambition is bad; it is the result of sinful pride...
"Three: both Church and Marx renounce money. Investment and interest payments are singled out as the worst of evils.
"Four, and this is the most iportant similarity, there is the way in which the Christian faithful are urged to deny themselves all the pleasures of this world to get their reward in paradise after they die."
"And Communists?" she asked.
"If they work hard and deny themselves the pleasures of this world, then after they die their children will grow up in paradise..."
"You missed out number five," I said... "Victory over the flesh. Both Church and Communist state preach that."

- Excerpted from Len Deighton's novel 'London Match.'
Views are expressed by a defecting Communist.

Friday, 10 February 2012

FRIDAY MORNING RAMBLE: The bewigged edition

WinstonParliament is back in session, so by Mark Twain’s standards neither life, liberty nor proper should be safe. But apart from questions about Maori Party integrity and Winston Peter’s wig, it’s been a quiet political week.
Thanks goodness.

On with the show…

  • Steven Joyce talks unusual sense for a politician. He says “Each time we say ‘you can’t’ it carries a cost.” And so it does.  But what’s with the “we,” minister?
    ‘We’ Are a Little Confused - P O L I C Y   M A T T E R S
  • “You’ve heard that America is enjoying a “jobs-led recovery”? Don’t be so sure.
      No Evidence of a Jobs Recovery
    - O B J E C T I V I S T  I N D I V I D U A L I S T
  • And you thought Bill Clinton was the president who couldn’t keep it in his trousers…
    The Truth About President Kennedy – S C O T T  H O L L E R A N ’ S   B L O G
  • How to choose from a bad bunch.
    Ayn Rand on Selecting a Presidential Candidate? – Burgess Laughlin, M A K I N G  P R O G R E S S

“Central bankers are the arsonists of [the present economic] 
crisis who now pose as fire fighters quickly labelling
further monetary debasement ‘stimulus’.”
            - Detlev Schlicter, “There will be no end to ‘quantitative easing’

“What is the difference between animal spirits and the confidence
fairy? Why do Keynesians embrace one but not the other?”
            - Russ Roberts

  • The Europeans have a plan, and like all political plans…
    Why Europe’s Plan to End the Debt Crisis Can’t and Won’t Work -  D A I L Y  R E C K O N I N G
  • Dept. of Yikes: "In effect the EFSF is being used to recapitalize the ECB."
  • Do government-engineered "soft landings" ever work out as planned?
    Are "Soft Landings" really softer? – Darius Cooper,  P R A C T I C E   G O O D   T H E O R Y
  • Alleged economists suggest printing more to devalue your currency is a good thing and not a disaster. That the job in times of economic disaster is to “boost demand.” The biggest disaster is the economic theory on which such “thinking” is based.
    Will Currency Devaluation Fix the Eurozone? – Frank Shostak, M I S E S  D A I L Y
  • You know about gold and how it can protect you when the times become those about which historians like to write.  And how bonds can provide a return when they aren’t. But where do gold bonds fit in?
    Gold Bonds – Keith Weiner,   K E I T H   W E I N E R ‘ S   P O S T E R O U S
  • What politicians, economists and environmentalists need to learn from the billion-dollar collapse of Obama’s “green jobs” flagship, but won’t.
    Lessons From Solyndra – Robert Murphy,  E C O N L I B

“There are few branches of learning as devoid of history’s
light as economics. Economists are rarely informed by it.”

            - Jonathan R. T. Hughes’s in his book
The Government Habit,
quoted by Don Boudreaux


[Thanks and hat tips to Geek Press, Marginal Revolution, Watts Up With That, Rational Jenn, Cafe Hayek, The Playful Spirit]

Earthquake engineering is not an exact science


AFTER THE REPORT ON the collapse of the CTV building, everyone now wants to hang the builder and designers.

“Someone is incompetent!” Is the cry. “Someone must be to blame!” “There's criminal negligence going on there somewhere…."

No. Not necessarily. None of that follows necessarily from the report.

It seems on the face of it that people are not so much blaming people for not being competent, but for not being omniscient.

Because I think the problem is not one of negligence but one of the nature of knowledge.

COMPARING THE POOR STATE of Christchurch’s heritage buildings after the earthquake with most of its modern buildings is enough to tell you that earthquake engineering has improved rapidly over the last century. That knowledge has increased and will continue to increase.

It is a heroic tale. From a position of almost complete ignorance one-hundred years ago, engineers acquired increasing understanding and ingenuity in protecting buildings and the people in them--with new and revolutionary systems introduced in recent decades such as K-Braced Frames, Base Isolation and Ductile Design—saving literally millions of lives around the world, and hundreds of thousands in Christchurch.

Where just seventy years ago in First World countries like ours people still died en masse in earthquakes like the Napier disaster, today the earth can shake well beyond what even modern building were designed to handle—as it did in Christchurch on February 22nd—and ninety-nine per cent are still able to survive heroically and allow people to get out safely.

That we are talking about just two that didn’t (this one and Pyne Gould) is a tragedy on a massive scale. Let’s not downplay that. But that we are talking about just one that didn’t is a testament to the engineering in all the buildings that did. The engineers responsible used all the the knowledge acquired in recent years to design them; knowledge that will increase in future years.  But as the knowledge continues to increase, some of the methods used today will also shown to be wrong and less than adequate by engineers fifty years from now (as they undoubtedly will).

That  will not make today’s engineers negligent. They will simply be revealed as less than omniscient.

Just like every other human being.

SO EARTHQUAKE ENGINEERING IS still an inexact science, with new understanding emerging  after every earthquake that helps engineers understand more for the next one. After this one, for example, we’ve learned that the ground can move in very different ways than buildings have been designed for. It’s not necessarily a matter of criminal negligence, then—it’s more the nature of knowledge and how it improves, is tested and expands.

Reading summaries of the report with that in mind, when you boil it down it seems that in the early eighties we knew less about designing buildings to resist earthquakes than we do now.  Which is nothing to blame anyone for. And (perhaps) that too little was done to upgrade buildings like CTV’s that were designed before the modern era of seismic design.  Which is where any blame, if it’s deserved, probably lies.

This building for example was designed with its bracing walls disposed asymmetrically. But, for whatever reason, the importance of symmetrical bracing was less well understood then.

The building’s floors appear to have “pancaked,” which is what happens when columns collapse and one “soft storey” after another collapses on the one beneath. But back in the early eighties, engineering wisdom was still dictating that beams be designed stronger than columns—a situation eventually recognised as causing columns to fail before beams, leading inexorably to the pancake problem.

The columns are described as “brittle”—which is say they were not ductile—on which were imposed extra loadings from the increased twisting of the building. But the building was designed before the importance of Ductile Design was fully understood. 

As the engineers responsible for designing CTV, Alan Reay Consultants, said in a prepared statement yesterday:

We need to remember that the [design methods] of the day, when the building was designed and constructed, were not intended to withstand the magnitude and type of earthquake ... experienced on February 22.

They’re quite right.

Things have changed since then—but to call the engineers of the time negligent because they knew less than they we do now, and will know in the future, is to blame human beings for not being omniscient.

Which is not anything you can blame engineers for.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

This is cool

Workers on BHP Billiton’s new building in Perth, West Australia, replicated the famous ‘Lunch Atop a Skyscaper’ photo from the thirties of workers having their lunch on a steel beam high above Manhattan.


Colding kills


Several inches of global warming have now covered Europe for eleven days. Here’s the tragedy in a  headline:

Europe death toll now 400 from icy weather.

Can we now, please, begin to recognise the dangers to human beings of cold weather—which far, far outweigh the dangers of warming.

Can you own water? [update 2]


That’s become the question of this political term, hasn’t it, the answering of which is going to hold up the government’s flagship sell-a-little-bit programme for its power companies: Can you own water?

Simple answer: Yes, of course you can.

The ownership of water is not only possible, it’s often highly desirable.

It de-politicises arguments about resources.

It solves the Tragedy of the Commons in water.

It solves the increasing problem of dirty dairying.

It solves the problems involved in the South Island river systems, where there are many competing uses for the limited water available.

Recognising ownership in a water resource is not only moral, it’s practical. The answer to the problems cited and many more besides is to recognise there is no greater protection for both environment and water users than the protection of property rights and the legacy of common law -- if only these were allowed to function as they should, by placing the power of law behind those who truly value the specific resource under threat.

Ownership of water not only could happen, it should happen.

If the way to open those floodgates is by recognising specific claims to ownership, however flawed initially, then so be it.

Better it begins some way than never to begin at all.

* * * * *

* I make no comment at all here on the veracity of claims now hitting the headlines, nor on the anachronistic argument asserting property rights were recognised in New Zealand before 1840.
But as Ronald Coase points out, once a property right is finally recognised in law then (as long as transaction costs are kept low) it will end up in the hands of those who value it the most. And that would be a good result, right?

UPDATE 1: The collectivisation of water has failed New Zealanders.

So in addition to the excellent links I’ve provided above, I’d like to highly recommend a Canadian organisation called Environment Probe who have written many excellent things on The Role of Property Rights in Protecting Water Quality, including these many wonderful publications.

UPDATE 2: Yes, I do own water says Liberty Scott.

If I have land, and collect water on that property, it is mine.
Just because the state treats the sea, rivers and lakes as owned by it and local authorities, doesn't mean that water can't be owned.
It is ludicrous to claim otherwise.
Reticulated water costs money. It requires people to work, people to construct, lay, maintain and replace pipelines, dams, pumps and the electricity required to operate them. That isn't free.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Clint: “Keep buying our shitty cars” [update 2]


Americans stopped buying American cars several years ago. Mostly because they were rubbish.

That didn’t bother American car makers. They kept making the shitty cars anyway and just went cap in hand to the government for a bailout.

"We shouldn't be bailing out the banks and car companies," actor, director and Academy Award winner Eastwood told the Los Angeles Times in November 2011.

That was November 2011. Now, however, in February 2012? He’s delivered an ad for half-time at the US Superbowl over the weekend about job growth, about “the spirit of America,” and how Americans should join together again and buy American cars.

Carefully, however, they show very little of the American cars they want Americans to buy.

Because they’re still shitty.

And the only “roar” is the roar of bullshit, and the sucking sound of money disappearing down a black hole.

UPDATE 1: Speaking of shitty cars … it’s half-time in the Lincoln Tunnel.

UPDATE 2: Here’s how a halftime ad by Clint Eastwood should have sounded …

[Hat tip Small Dead Animals]

QUOTE OF THE DAY: Printing money is not sustainable [updated]

Morons like Bernard Hickey have been beating the drum for our Reserve Bank to do what every other Reserve Bank in the world has been doing: to cross their fingers and print money like there’s no tomorrow.

_Quote_Idiot[Other governments’] print and hope strategies look set to leave anyone who doesn't print and hope sprawling in the dust [says Hickey]. 
The last one to print and devalue is the loser.

As I’ve said before, Bernard Hickey is a moron.  If anyone in authority listens to him, we will be the losers.

As if we should put our heads in the oven just because everyone else is! As if propping up share markets and bankers’ profits by faking reality is somehow a sound policy. As if  the printing of more coloured pieces of paper can somehow bring new resources into existence.  As if printing these new bits of paper doesn’t destroy your savings and devalue every existing piece of paper in your pocket. As if printing ever increasing tranches of this bailout crack (just another hit, please Doc!) isn’t like taking a tiger by the tail. As if the creation of new credit “out of the ether” is all it takes to create a sustainable boom…

“The boom can last only as long as the credit expansion progresses at an ever-accelerated pace. The boom comes to an end as soon as additional quantities of fiduciary media are no longer thrown upon the loan market. But it could not last forever even if inflation and credit expansion were to go on endlessly. It would then encounter the barriers which prevent the boundless expansion of circulation credit. It would lead to the crack-up boom and the breakdown of the whole monetary system.”
            - Ludwig von Mises, “Interest, Credit Expansion & the Trade Cycle,” Chapter 20 of Human Action

[Hat tip Foundation for Economic Growth]

UPDATE: From Detlev Schlicter’s Paper Money Collapse blog:

    …the public believes it was greedy bankers and ‘unfettered capitalism’ that brought us down. But cheap credit through state fiat money and the systematic subsidization of the housing market are not features of the free market but of politics. The present mess is the result of decades of institutionalized monetary debasement and the accumulation of public debt. These policies have left us with bankrupt welfare states and overstretched banks, yet none of this has diminished the enthusiasm of politicians and bureaucrats to give us more of their medicine…
Prosperity through money printing?
The persistent debasement of money in the modern state fiat money system is an obstacle to the smooth operation of the market, the production of wealth and the growth in prosperity. It keeps the middle class in bondage as its efforts to save and gain financial independence are constantly undermined by the official policy of inflationism.
   But the central planners and central bankers and their apologists among journalists and economists tell us that it is exactly the other way round: “Prosperity through monetary debasement” is Big Brother’s slogan, and he has spokespeople with outstanding academic credentials to explain this absurdity to the masses. In November 2010, MIT and Princeton man Ben Bernanke, the U.S. government’s money-printer-in-chief, wrote this in the Washington Post when explaining to the less educated why creating $600 billion out of thin air and messaging yields on government debt down was a clever policy:

_Quote_IdiotEasier financial conditions will promote economic growth. For example, lower mortgage rates will make housing more affordable and allow more homeowners to refinance. Lower corporate bond rates will encourage investment. And higher stock prices will boost consumer wealth and help increase confidence, which can also spur spending. Increased spending will lead to higher incomes and profits that, in a virtuous circle, will further support economic expansion.”

Well, that was 14 months ago. As it turns out, manipulating the economy by artificially lowering rates (lowering rates not by saving but by simply printing money) has not started a virtuous circle. Such manipulations come with nasty unintended consequences, and after a few decades of such a policy the accumulated unintended consequences far outweigh whatever short –lived growth blip money debasement may have manufactured otherwise. None of this has anything to do with healthy growth and a functioning free market economy.
    But it is important that those in positions of authority do not admit that they are clueless. They never make mistakes. Their policy is never wrong. They simply need to do more of the same – and then even more. As I write this, the Fed is, of course, preparing another round of quantitative easing, and so is the Bank of England. And the ‘economists’ on Wall Street and the City of London cheer them on.
    The debasement of paper money certainly continues.

And the morons (and those who get first use of the new printing) stand by and cheer.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Friday Morning Ramble: The ‘Waitangi/Rand’s Day’ edition

Yesterday was Rand’s Day: Ayn Rand’s birthday. Not everyone wants to celebrate that, but I do.
Not every country has a reason to celebrate its birth. We are one of those happy few, yet we don’t.
So how about more Rand and less Waitangi today. Deal?

“A new report says that Facebook has created over 450,000 jobs. Unfortunately
photos posted on Facebook have ended 550,000 jobs.”

- Fallon

  • This is the guy who says we have to live with less?
    Cameron buying 2,600 acres of land in NewZealand – A P
  • Ministerial briefings to new ministers are being censored. This incenses the political opposition. These briefings, says Eddie at The Standard, “give the public (via the media) an insight into on coming challenges in portfolios, elaborate on how election promises will be converted into real policies, and—most importantly—reveal things the government is planning. So, it's disturbing that the Nats are censoring them,” says Eddie.
    “Arrogant and unresponsive,” says Labour’s Clare Curran.
    “Cult of secrecy”! says Idiot/Savant. “We should not tolerate it.”!
    So down with censorship; and all power to transparency!
    On the other hand, information about school performance (or lack thereof) must be kept from prying eyes, says Trevor Mallard, who wants to make school level assessment information more secretive than security information held by the SIS.
    So down with transparency; and all power to censorship!
    Don’t bother to examine such a blatant contradiction. Ask yourself only what it achieves.
    For your eyes only – Eddie,  T H E   S T A N D A R D
    Is Amy Adams’ work programme a state secret? – Clare Curran,  R E D   A L E R T
    No right to know – Idiot/Savant,  N O   R I G H T   T U R N
    The hypocrisy of Robin Duff -  W H A L E   O I L
    More on Education and OIA-  K I W I B L O G
  • Eric Crampton finds much to celebrate in Treasury’s briefing paper.
    Treasury! O F F S E T T I N G  B E H A V I O U R

Good advice from Imperator Fish:
“With all these folk swearing off the booze for February, it is important
that the balance of the universe be maintained. Time to up my game.”

  • It’s a slam dunk. New Labour MP Raymond Huo takes aim at the Chicago School of Economics: it’s all their fault, he says, “that particular school of thought … is one of the main reasons the western world is in the doldrums.” From the financial crisis, to growing income inequality in Europe and the United States, to leaky buildings … it’s all their fault for promoting unfettered free market and deregulation!
    Naturally, since he’s writing on a blog, numerous more intelligent commentators leap to their keyboards to put him right—both politely and succinctly.
    It’s a slam dunk.
    Everybody loves Raymond – W H A L E   O I L
  • Auckland welcomed its 1.5millionth citizen this week. But how will the city accommodate its growing population with the grey ones so firmly in the way?
    Are we there yet? Auckland welcomes 1.5 millionth citizen –  Phil McDermott, C I T I E S  M A T T E R
  • “Once again I am shocked at how easily and automatically so many intellectuals are willing to use compulsion to solve problems.”
    Another anti-freedom conservative: David Brooks – S T E P H E N   H I C K S

"Achieving life is not the equivalent of avoiding death."
- Ayn Rand. Atlas Shrugged 

  • With the coming to these shores of Charter Schools, it’s time to take up the catchphrase “Separation of School and State!”
    Restore the Separation of State and School – T H E   U N D E R C U R R E N T
  • You’ve all heard the Keynesian litany from every alleged economist from Krugman to Hickey to Morgan: the world’s economies are collapsing and there’s a worldwide shortage of demand; governments are deeply in debt and can’t provide the necessary investment to make up the shortfall.
    What a shame they’re talking crap.
    Is government spending really "investment"? – K R U G M A N  I N  W O N D E R L A N D
  • Oh, for those of you wishing to gain some insight into our genius overlords' thinking, these four “classes” by Ben Bernanke (Central Planner in Chief) might be of interest.
    You could call them a “Master Class,” i.e., lessons the Class of your Overlords.
    Make sure you pack some difficult questions.
    Bernanke to teach class on Fed at GW in March – M A R K E T   W A T C H
  • Antarctica is melting! says Al Gore, Richard Branson, James Hansen and Kevin Trenberth.
    Um, no it’s not, points out Steven Milloy.
    Al Gore’s ‘melting’ Antarctic claims refuted by reality – J U N K   S C I E N C E
  • Some people buy gold. Others buy cheese. Here’s how to make your fancy cheeses last.
    How to make your expensive wedge of cheese last for weeks – F O R B E S
  • World-Wide Factory Activity, by Country.
    World-Wide Factory Activity, by Country. -  W A L L  S T R E E T   J O U R N A L
  • You know what’s holding us all back here? Don’t worry, the Ministry of Economic Development has all the answers.
    Most notably, they’ve determined that what ails us economically is not their fault. Got that? It’s not taxes, regulations, public sector idiots or bureaucracies getting in our way. No, says the Ministry, it’s not that at all.
    No, it’s all our fault.
    Ministry suggests poor management holding economy back -  R A D I O   N Z

"The man who lets a leader prescribe his course
is a wreck being towed to the scrap heap."

Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead

"A creative man is motivated by the desire to
achieve, not by the desire to beat others."

- Ayn Rand

  • imageGuess what? Yesterday was Ayn Rand’s Birthday—and some folk had a great idea to make February 2nd, Rand’s Day,  a day worth celebrating!
    Randsday is Justice Day. Give YOURSELF a present.
    Rand'sDay -  A Y N   R A N D  M Y T H S
  • And why is a philosopher who died thirty years ago still have Tea Partiers, political commentators, and politicians still taking (and arguing) about her now?
     ppy Birthday, Ayn Rand -- Why are you still so misunderstood? 
    – Don Watkins,  F O X   N E W S
  • Ayn Rand: 10 more great quotes on her birthday
    Ayn Rand: 10 great quotes on her birthday 
    -  C . S.    M O N I T O R

"The smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny
individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities."
- Ayn Rand

  • From our environmental page … there is hope for the weka, but only if the grey ones get out of the way.
    Hope for the weka? -  O F F S E T T I N G   B E H A V I O U R
  • And on Waitangi Weekend, it’s appropriate that environmentalists ask themselves: “Were Maori environmentalists?” Most NZ environmental law assumes they were.  So if they weren’t…
    Were Maori environmentalists? -  N O T   P C ,  2 0 0 6
  • Some environmentalists don’t like oil drilling because of oil spills. But what if you could fight oil spills with cool technology like this?
    Magnetic soap made for oil spills -  F U T U R E   O F   T E C H N O L O G Y

"Money demands that you sell, not your weakness
to men's stupidity, but your talent to their reason."
- Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead  





[Thanks to readers Shaun H, Julian D., Paul van D. and hat tips to Thrutch, Anne McElhinney, Stephen Hicks, Bosch Fawston, Noodle Food, Geek Press, ]

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