Thursday, April 05, 2012

FRIDAY MORNING RAMBLE: The ‘Friday on a Thursday’ edition

Yes, it’s a Friday Ramble on a Thursday. It’s a Friday Ramble on a Thursday because Thursday is the end of the week this week, and tomorrow zealots will infest the country either demanding sacrifice or celebrating it.

Here’s something to celebrate for the first group, those demanding the sacrifice of retailers to their beliefs:

Easter_Trading[3]

Here’s something to contemplate about this first lot:

And here’s something to contemplate for the second:

  • It's Easter! – N O T   P C
    It’s Easter. Almost. Time for a day off. A day out. Time to get nailed up and talk about torture…

image

By contrast here’s something just to celebrate, i.e., life on earth, and those “exalted moments” that give it meaning

In a letter to a fan, Ayn Rand spoke of exalted moments and her novel Atlas Shrugged:

image

There’s a decent thought for Easter, don’t you think—Easter, which in its original pagan  Northern Hemisphere form was a soaring celebration of Spring, fertility and new life!

And now, on with the rest of the show—a short one, as befitting the length of this working week.

  • Spain is the poster child for the ‘Green Jobs’ promoted by Russel Norman, with billions of "Green Jobs" subsidies.  Spain also has a jobless rate 23.6%, with over 50% of youths unemployed. You think it’s possible these things are connected?
    Youth unemployment passes 50pc in Spain and Greece – T H E   T E L E G R A P H
  • Russell Brown, Cameron Brewer and sundry xenophobes ponder the present dismal state of Queen St and ask “should something be done?” I argue , as I argued years ago, that the present dismal state of Queen St is the sad result of “too much being done.” That is, too much is being done by planners. Queen St is a living example of the collision of planners’ plans and the Law of Unintended Consequences.
    The Golden Mile – P U B L I C   A D D R E S S
    Helping to kill the city – N O T   P C
  • Recorded crime figures are down.  Is it due to better policing? Or to earthquakes.
    Crime statistics -  L I N D S A Y    M I T C H E L L
  • Govt making it easier for international students? “Good move,” says Eric Crampton. “Granting permanent residence on degree completion would be even better.”
    Health screening changed to entice more international students  - N . B . R .
  • The Greens and their friends in the regulation factory are working to make Home Energy Rating Sytems another hurdle home-builders have to cross before making a home.  Apart from the iniquity of the imposition, news from Australia says the Rating System is junk, with many houses with low ratings and high performance, and vice versa. “No prizes for guessing that architect-designed green homes suffered in the ratings department for not under-glazing, and not air-conditioning. The system encourages a conformity of design that suits boxes, and punishes thought-built buildings. So perhaps it’s the “thought” part they’re against?
    Shades of green -  B U T T E R P A P E R
  • It would be premature to celebrate, but it looks like ObamaCare is in serious trouble. (This, folks, is what constitutional courts are for.)
    Friday Four – G U S  V A N  H O R N
  • Ben Bernanke’s Federal Reserve invited several high-profile critics to give them a piece of their mind. Jim Grant’s piece is a must-read. For example…
    • In the not quite 100 years since the founding of your institution, America has exchanged central banking for a kind of central planning and the gold standard for what I will call the Ph.D. standard. I regret the changes and will propose reforms, or, I suppose, re-reforms, as my program is very much in accord with that of the founders of this institution. Have you ever read the Federal Reserve Act? The authorizing legislation projected a body “to provide for the establishment of the Federal Reserve banks, to furnish an elastic currency, to afford means of rediscounting commercial paper and to establish a more effective supervision of banking in the United States, and for other purposes.” By now can we identify the operative phrase? Of course: “for other purposes.”
      Piece of my mind – G R A N T ’ S   I N T E R E S T   R A T E   O B S E R V E R
  • It’s worth reminding ourselves that "Regulators who are required to forecast have had a woeful record of chronic failure.” And it’s worth remembering who said that.
    Greenspan's 'No Housing Bubble' Prediction, 7 Years Later – R E A L   E S T A T E . A O L
  • Here’s what a dialogue between an Austrian economist and an unreconstructed Keynesian looks like when both are British MPs—one of whom, Austin Mitchell, has a long-standing NZ connection. Fascinating.
    Dialogue: Quantitative Easing  - P O L I T I C S    H O M E
  • Why is British PM saying he’s cutting debt when he’s not. And what does his friendship with ‘Black Swan’ author Nasim Taleb have to do with it?
    Cameron, Nasim Taleb and cutting debt - C O B D E N   C E N T R E
  • Now, here’s a question to ponder: Do Taxes Inhibit or Inspire Hard Work?


  • Here’s some words I bet you’ never thought you’d hear in this order: “Former Al Gore press secretary slams Irish plans to honour Che Guevara.”
    Former Al Gore press secretary slams plans to honour Che Guevara – I R I S H  C E N T R A L
  • When it comes to lying lefties, Robert Fisk is the world leader. But Michael Moore and Johanne Hari aren’t far behind.
    Lying Lefties…
    –  Damian, Thompson, T E L E G R A P H
  • Today’s history lesson: The fall of the Roman empire and the rise of Islam.
    The fall of the Roman empire and the rise of Islam  - G U A R D I A N
  • imageAnd a related movie…
    A New Short Worth Watching –  S C O T  T    H O L L E R A N ’ S   B L O G
  • Interesting question to ponder…
    Can Liberalism Tolerate Islam? – S E A N   G A B B
  • …because among other vices:
    Islam Makes Women Invisible –  N O O D L E   F O O D
  • The argument that immigration must be limited due to the burdens that illegal immigrants impose via the welfare state is just a rationalization for conservative opposition to immigration. Kelly and Santiago Valenzuela offer the perfect reductio ad absurdem of the argument. Jonathan Swift would surely approve.
    More Blaming of Immigrants for the Welfare State 
    – M O T H E R   O F   E X I L E S
  • Rand Simberg discusses benefits and possible approaches to securing private property rights in outer space: - Homesteading the Final Frontier – C . E . I .
  • Top ten signs a social media expert is nothing of the sort. My fave: He sends you an email saying “email is dead.”
    Top Ten Signs a Social Media Expert Isn’t – E . P O L I T I C S
  • Wow! View art works in breath-taking detail from gallery collections all around the world via the Google Art Project, including works from our own Auckland Gallery. This is seriously exciting!
    Google Art Project 
  • Building the Pink Tower is a new documentary film project re-imagining schools and learning through the lens of Montessori education, shining a light on what we want in education: eager learning, creative thinking, and collaborative work.  Says neuro-psychologist Stephen Hughes: “The task of education must change!”
    Help out at Building the Pink Tower—and find out “What’s a pink tower, anyway?”

  • Yes, Virginia, you can do Montessori at home. You can do it beautifully.
    Montessori at Home – A P A R T M E N T   T H E R A P Y
  • By the way, if you’re going to learn about education from anyone other than Maria Montessori, you could do a lot worse than learn from the French!  Turns out putting adults first is better for everyone—kids included
    No bowing down before Bébé – S P I K E D   R E V I E W   O F   B O O K S
  • The NY Post asked America's best comedians for their favourite jokes from the past year. These being American comedians, some of them are even funny.
    Comics' favorite jokes –  N E W   Y O R K   P O S T
  • And now, some thoughts on the architecture of casinos. Apparently newer casinos are less like soulless factories that grab you by the heels and shake your pockets until they’re empty, and more like “adult’s playgrounds.”
    The new casinos and how they induce you to spend money -  M A R G I N A L   R E V O L U T I O N
  • “A former researcher at Amgen Inc has found that many basic studies on cancer — a high proportion of them from university labs — are unreliable, with grim consequences for producing new medicines in the future.”  Confirmation bias and incentives play a big role in all parts of human life, responds Russ Roberts.
    Fake science everywhere  - C A FE   H A Y E K
  • More cool new technology on the way, courtesy of genuine nano-science: Smart windows that keep heat out - but let light in.
    Smart windows keep heat out – but let light in -  N E W   S C I E N T I S T
  • No. Please, please no!
    Here come the sons: the return of the Beatles? – T E L E G R A P H

Enjoy your long weekend!
PS: Here’s the real thing:


[Hat tips to Cobden CentreRighteous Bren, Jonathan Hoenig, Cary Yates, Auckland Art Gallery, Eric Crampton, Joe Swam, The Commentator, Lyndsi Stevens, Gus Van Horn, Whale Oil, Noodle Food, Geek Press]

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Sky City is not the limit when it comes to govt’s favours

Q: What do Sky City, Air New Zealand, Mediaworks, South Canterbury Finance and Fletcher Building have in common?
A: They’re all big enough to pull favours out of the Prime Minister’s arse.

After four years This National Government’s policy on encouraging business is now clear: it’s policy is not to encourage an environment in which business in general can grow.  It’s policy is to grant favours to specific businesses so they can grow, while all about  them struggle.

This is what’s behind behind the quasi-governmental monopoly powers granted Fletcher Building in Christchurch. It was behind the govt’s decision to bailout out South Canterbury Finance investors and Mediaworks.  It’s what’s behind the public/private partnerships Key and English favour—as it happens, precisely the crony corporatist model followed in Mussolini’s Italy.

And it’s what’s behind the Government’s plan now to pass special legislation allowing SkyCity to pack the halls of its fusty casino with as many pokie machines as it can manage while maintaining the prohibition on every small operator in the country against overstepping the government’s chosen number.

In the National Government lexicon, this sort of thing is what it means to grow business: it simply means to grow those businesses who can get an appointment with the Prime Minister.

It’s little not large where business life is difficult.  But it’s large to whom this National Government sells its favours.

This is what this government thinks it means to do business. Which shows how little they understand about how business really works.

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Government profligacy comes back to bite an irresponsible govt

An announcement this week shows this government’s alleged economic management is even more irresponsible than we thought.

When the recession hit the decision facing everyone in the country, from politician to businessman, from borrower to creditor, was this: whether to hunker down, look at your bottom lines and reduce every overhead you can to meet falling revenues, or to keep spending like a drunken sailor and borrow heavily to cover the ever-increasing gap between incomings and outgoings.

It is now a matter of record that governments both central and local, both here and overseas, almost to a man and woman chose the latter course.  Lacking both the courage and the conviction to do what had to be done, even what the Prime Minister himself told the world needed to be done (“you can’t spend your way out of a crisis,” John Key told the March, 2009 Wall Street Journal*) the National Government in particular chose to pursue the opposite course: raising spending year after year with borrowing of around $300 million per week to keep the government’s spending spree on the road.

So much for responsible government. Their pledge to the public, supposedly justifying this golden shower of government profligacy, rested solely on the imaginative—not to say heroic—assumptions by Treasury that the government’s Budget would somehow go from red and bleeding over the last few years of National’s management to black and bonny in 2014/15.

_RecoveryHow would the National Government achieve this wondrous state of affairs without cutting any spending? “Somehow” came the answer from both Treasury and the Blue Team’s alleged economic managers.  Even at the time the “plan” appeared to be little more than borrow and hope—borrow to keep the bread and circuses coming, and hope the economic situation picks up.

How? Somehow.

Even at the time this looked stupid. Now, it’s just pure fantasy.

When this assumption of balanced budgets by 2014 were first announced they were roundly rubbished, but after enough people kept repeating the same thing over and over again then “serious” economic commentators who should have known better began repeating the inanity themselves.

But it’s not true and never could have been. Those who downgraded the government’s credit knew it, even if Bill English didn’t.

The assumption was laughable in 2009. And now in 2012 when those who made it now concede it is not possible—and sober economic commentators understand it was never possible—it’s no longer laughable, it’s tragic.

* * * * *

* Key told the Journal his idea for New Zealand was to “grow it out of recession by improving productivity,” “putting Mr. Key National Party at odds with Washington, Tokyo and Canberra” noted the Journal.

“Those capitals are rolling out billions of dollars in stimulus packages -- with taxpayers' money -- to try to prop up growth. That's ‘risky,’ Mr. Key says. ‘You've saddled future generations with an enormous amount of debt that then they have to repay,’ he explains. ‘There is actually a limit to what governments can do’.”

There is. This is true. But somewhere between Wall Street and Wellington Mr Key appears either to have visited Damascus or to have thought he could tell one group of people what they wanted to hear and another what they wanted to hear—with both messages at total odds with each other. Or in other words, to place deception above doing the right thing.
Which of the two choices do you think he made?

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Tuesday, April 03, 2012

DOWN TO THE DOCTOR’S: Well Said, Councillor Morrison!

This week, Doc McGrath is driving freely around Wellington

Good news this week in the form of some welcome respite for Wellington drivers, whose protests about a city council revenue spy-car led to it being taken off the road.

But isn't it horrendous that a city council, funded by ratepayers, set up a spy car in the first place to persecute many of those self-same ratepayers—those with the audacity to shun inconvenient and unreliable public transport?

And doesn't it raise the question of what exactly the role of local government is

Because over the last 18 months, a council-owned Toyota Yaris, equipped with camera, has generated nearly a million dollars in fines for the grey ones on council, levied on car owners for sins as egregious as stopping at an intersection with indicator flashing (driver then charged with "double parking"), and dropping kids off at school ("dangerous stop-and-drop practices").

Obviously, this vehicle clearly had, as its primary aim, not safety but the extraction of yet more money from Wellington motorists. The cynic in me suggests that it was all part of a Green-inspired anti-car (read: anti-freedom) crusade to boost the numbers using public transport. It was certainly profitable: with running costs of $250k a year, and revenue generation of $900k a year, operating these vehicles is a veritable licence to print money (Ben Bernanke and Alan Bollard would almost be envious!).

Effectively, this was a selective motoring tax with private motorists as its victims - a nasty, spiteful and vicious way of robbing Wellingtonians.

Good riddance to it, and if such a move is tried again I recommend the citizenry take matters into their own hands and disable the vehicle concerned. And the driver.

At least councillor John Morrison had the honesty to call this spy car "sneaky and surreptitious" and admitted: "The ratepayers are our friend and customer, not our enemy. The spy car treated them like the enemy."

Well done, John. If only more bureaucrats would adopt such a respectful attitude toward their masters.

See ya next week!
Doc McGrath.

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Monday, April 02, 2012

Ineptocracy: Are we there yet?

Guest post by Phil Scott of Wellington’s Foundation for Economic Growth 

Ineptocracy [in-ep-toc'-ra-cy] - a system of government where the least capable of leading are elected by the least capable of producing, and where the members of society least likely to sustain themselves or succeed, are rewarded with goods and services paid for by the confiscated wealth of a diminishing number of producers.
Greece springs to mind.

We are not an ineptocracy yet, but we have spent many decades moving in that direction. It seems that nations are either becoming wealthier or poorer. The fact that we are running our economy with paper money makes it very difficult to even tell whether or not we are getting wealthier as a nation. I know that when a nation doubles the unit of money the price of everything doubles and the wages double and everything remains stable as we saw when New Zealand changed from using pounds to using dollars, overnight.

It therefore seems reasonable that if we are increasing our paper money supply by 10% each year then, by and large over a period of time the cost of things will increase by 10% each year as well. Increasing productivity by 1% or 2% may keep costs down but when we look at REAL Estate which is the one REAL asset that we can all recognize we notice that over a period of four decades properties have been going up in price by around 9% or 10% each year, on average.

The value of a house to its owner does not change over time. It is still the same more or less comfortable and secure place to live. But the increase in paper money deludes us into thinking that since our house is now worth a million dollars we must be rich. Not at all. Our wealth has remained stable. It just takes more government supplied paper money to buy things.

Owning a property maintains our wealth. It does not increase it. How then do the Green Party members of parliament justify calling this a "capital" gain and then taxing us if we sell it?

This is just another means of taking wealth from the savers and giving it to the voters for socialism. The net effect is to destroy the middle class and have a society of a few very wealthy people and a vast array of peasants.
We see this problem overseas with the protests in Wall street demanding help for the "99%".

The question is, "How do we solve this problem?"

A study of REAL Economics will provide the answer. Have a read here.

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Earth Day vs human ingenuity

_Korea

Apparently some folk turned their lights off voluntarily on Saturday night in an attempt to emulate the plight of the dirt-poor North Koreans.

North Koreans endure the darkness due to their devotion to Marxism and to the death-worshipping dictatoriat  of the Kim family.  Which means, for most North Koreans, they have no direct choice about living in darkness.

But the fools turning their lights off on Saturday night were doing it by choice. They were doing it in the name of “sustainability.” Which as Craig Biddle points out, is fatuous nonsense.

The idea behind so-called sustainability is that if we humans consume too many raw materials (or “natural resources”) we will reach a point of unsustainability, where there is not enough left for us or for future generations and thus we or they will die. Accordingly, the argument goes, we must stop people from using so many “natural resources”; we must curb our predilection to consume; we must embrace a policy of “sustainability.” Hence the various drives: We must periodically “turn out the lights” or “use less gas” or in some other way make do with less.
    This notion, however, is nonsense, and we can see that it is if we identify the context that the environmentalists drop in order to get people to buy in to their nonsense.
    The notion that we need a policy of “sustainability” assumes that man is merely a consumer and that raw materials are “limited.” But neither of these assumptions is true.
    Man is not merely a consumer; he is also, and more fundamentally, a thinker and a producer who can take raw materials from nature—whether dirt, berries, petroleum, or atoms—and transform them into the requirements of his life—bricks, food, energy, and weapons. And when man is free to act on his judgment, he can continually discover and implement new ways to use raw materials for his benefit.
    Nor are raw materials “limited”—at least not in any meaningful sense of the term. Of course there is a finite amount of aluminium, petroleum, and the like in the earth. But Earth is nothing but raw materials—of which we’ve tapped only a minuscule fraction of a infinitesimal portion—and the rest of the universe is nothing but a whole lot more. Petroleum used to be just goo you didn’t want to get on your feet or crops; now man uses it to fuel industrial civilization, to make heart valves, to manufacture Kindles, and so on. Sand used to be good for nothing but sunbathing and sandcastles; now man uses it to make eyeglasses and fiber-optic cables. Uranium used to be just a toxic metal you’d want nothing to do with; now man uses it to create inexpensive electricity... And on and on. There is no telling what uses man will discover for other raw materials in the future
.

The point to grasp here is that resources are not so much found as they are discovered; and not so much discovered as they are created—created by human ingenuity applied to human needs: identifying stuff within the infinity of the universe that can be made to meet that need and to be gainfully brought into a causal connection with that need.   So as long as we remain free to create and produce new resources, the only limit to “our” resources is our ingenuity.

As long as we do remain free to produce. Which is precisely what the Luddites wish to shut down.

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More economic ignorance

image

This government again confirms its economic ignorance: in the midst of high unemployment, economic stagnation and with the sovereign debt time-bomb about to explode across the world, it elected to appease ignorant leftists raise  the minimum wage, starting today—raising costs for marginal producers at precisely the time neither they nor their employees need it.

It is now obvious this is a government that will do anything to remain popular, anything that it except to take the hard decisions that might actually take “the sharp edges” of the recession.

They are an economic disaster.*

As Murray Rothbard once observed,

It is no crime to be ignorant of economics, which is, after all, a specialized discipline and one that most people consider to be a "dismal science." But it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance.

It is even worse to be a minister and put your economic ignorance into practice.

* Nobel Prize winner James Buchanan: “Just as no physicist would claim that "water runs uphill," no self-respecting economist would claim that increases in the minimum wage increase employment. Such a claim, if seriously advanced, becomes equivalent to a denial that there is even minimal scientific content in economics, and that, in consequence, economists can do nothing but write as advocates for ideological interests. Fortunately, only a
handful of economists are willing to throw over the teaching of two centuries; we have not yet become a bevy of camp-following whores.”
                          -

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Sunday, April 01, 2012

SUNDAY MORNING MYTHOLOGY: Theseus & the Minotaur: Destroying the dark past

imageOur story this morning comes originally from the pre-historical kingdom of Crete, ruled by King Minos and said to be the birthplace of Zeus, with many, many later Greek additions as it was told and retold.

imageNow, after having sex in the Mediterranean surf with a bull* Minos’ wife Pasiphae (immortal daughter of the sun-god Helios) gave birth to the Minotaur—a half-man, half-bull creature symbolising, quite naturally, the bestial in man.

And as you probably know, King Minos of Crete imprisoned the Minotaur  in a vast Labyrinth (arguably, according to archaeologist Arthur Evans who excavated it, the vast Labyrinth of  Knossos which to this day bears marks of the bull motif)  a a conflicting maze of various wandering paths and innumerable paths of deception (just like the human psyche), to house the bull-man, the Minotaur, the beast that his wife Pasiphae bore after having intercourse with a bull—in other words, his step son.

Isn’t there some fabulous symbolism right there already?

image

Now, after his son Androgeus was assassinated in Athens after the Pan-Athenian Games, Minos demanded tribute from the city in the form of their 7 most courageous young men and 7 most beautiful young women to be sent every seventh year to be sacrificed to the Minotaur. (Yes, folks, this is where the leading motif of The Hunger Games comes from.)

imageEnter, stage left, the hero Theseus, already famous from his Six Labours.

Determined to put a stop to the barbarity, Theseus, an Athenian, contrived to get himself nominated as one of the “volunteers.”And upon arriving in Crete to be thrown into the Labyrinth to be devoured by the Minotaur, as the flower of Athenian youth had for many decades, naturally Theseus fell in love with Minos’ daughter Ariadne, and he with her.  (It has everything, doesn’t it—deep, dark secrets; labyrinthine human psychology; and now star-crossed lovers!)

Confiding in her his plans to slay the beast, gave him directions by which to find the heart of the Labyrinth (“always down and forward, never to left or right”) and a thread to unravel by which he could find his way out again after ridding human history of its dark past. (Yes folks, this is what the legend primarily symbolises.)which he let unwind through the Labyrinth so that he was able to kill the Minotaur and find his way back out again—after which, quite naturally, he left with the girl whereupon they both lived happily ever after,** secure in the knowledge that, symbolically at least, the Hero had put an end to man’s savage past.image

* See, already this is better than your average Bible story, right? The story goes that Minos had refused to sacrifice a bull to Poseidon, so the god took revenge by causing his wife to desire the bull—in the words of the poet Ovid, “"Pasiphaë took pleasure in becoming an adulteress with a bull." But that's definitely another story.

** Well, no, not exactly. Theseus’ father jumped to his death on presuming Theseus to be dead—the sails of his returning ship having failed to be changed for the prescribed livery signalling victory. And Theseus himself abandoned Ariadne and her sister Phaedra on the journey home on the island of Naxos, reportedly because the goddess Athena requested it. And you don’t say no to Athena, do you.

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