Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
"Money for Nothing: Inside the Federal Reserve”
“I view one of the big myths of the [2007-08 financial] crisis as that it was purely the effect of free markets, that this is what happens when you have free markets," says Jim Bruce, filmmaker behind the new documentary "Money for Nothing: Inside the Federal Reserve."
Bruce predicted the meltdown, invested accordingly, and used the money he made from the collapse to fund his movie, which features interviews with economists who predicted the crisis, as well as former and current Federal Reserve officials such as Paul Volcker and future Fed Chair Janet Yellen.
12 couples that should know better
#SurveillanceState: Big Tech says no!
Good news this morning that big online technology companies, including Google, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, AOL and LinkedIn, are joining together in opposition to the worldwide government surveillance revealed by Edward Snowden.
The political push by the technology companies opens a third front in their battle against government surveillance, which has escalated with recent revelations about government spying without the companies’ knowledge. The companies have also been making technical changes to try to thwart spying and have been waging a public-relations campaign to convince users that they are protecting their privacy.
“People won’t use technology they don’t trust,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel, said in a statement. “Governments have put this trust at risk, and governments need to help restore it.”
Apple, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, AOL and LinkedIn joined Google and Microsoft in saying that they believed in governments’ right to protect their citizens. But, they said, the spying revelations that began last summer with leaks of National Security Agency materials by Edward J. Snowden showed that “the balance in many countries has tipped too far in favour of the state and away from the rights of the individual.”
The companies advocate “new surveillance principles…includ[ing] limiting governments’ authority to collect users’ information, setting up a legal system of oversight and accountability for that authority, allowing the companies to publish the number and nature of the demands for data, ensuring that users’ online data can be stored in different countries and establishing a framework to govern data requests between countries.” Most notably, notes Amy Peikoff, “the companies urge that indiscriminate bulk data collection be forbidden.”
As Amy recognises, this represents the industry most affected refusing to apply the sanction of the victim, whicb si great news.
The technology for surveillance is still only in its infancy. Lose the battle now against state surveillance, before the technology matures, and it will be far, far too late.
Labels: Surveillance State
What American tennis failure can teach all of us
Driven out of New Zealand tennis by a “high performance” strategy adopted by tennis bureaucrats that was anything but, former Wimbledon finalist Chris Lewis is now appalled that the strategy of encouraging mediocrity is not only still in place, but being doubled down.
The National body presents its blueprint to associations this week, with a targeted junior athlete programme focusing on elite players aged between 12 to 18 the focus.
The new strategy is based on similar programmes run by Tennis Canada, Australia the British LTA and the US college system.
But 1983 Wimbledon finalist Chris Lewis says the Australian, British and US systems have failed.
"The only value I can see in Tennis New Zealand taking a closer
look at these programmes is to pay careful attention to what's
been done and do the exact opposite. Instead, they're copying it."
Lewis says what worries him is that a move to a more centralised, regimented and bureaucratic approach to player development won't work.
Those programmes are all failing, he says. Earlier this year he wrote at length about the reasons for this failure, just after Americans had discovered that for the first time in 101 years not one of their countrymen had managed to reach the third round of the men’s singles at Wimbledon. Chris, now coaching in the States, attributed the “the appalling 15+ year decline in US tennis since the days of Sampras, Agassi, Courier and Chang” most fundamentally to
the framework upon which national development systems are built. Let’s examine the typical national model. The hallmarks of all such bureaucracies include: a top-down approach, centralization and conformity. A person (or committee) at the top determines how things are going to be done, and then everybody in the organization must conform to his decisions. Inevitably, the director of the national coaching program determines that young tennis players nation-wide must develop a certain style of playing, a blueprint is drawn up, and, in fear of losing their jobs, all of the coaches within the organization “agree” that players should play the way the director wants.
The bureaucracy, in short, tries to exclude the entrepreneurial coaches, and change the game of the unique player.
Would John McEnroe have been a champion if, as a 12 year old, a Borg-like game had been imposed on him? Would it have suited his temperament to be moulded into a patient, heavy-hitting baseliner? When you nationalize a particular playing style, you exclude the possibilities of innovation and creativity. By necessity, uniformity only looks backwards…
Like players, coaches also have their own unique methods and personalities. The best ones are independent thinkers who wouldn’t survive for a second in a regimented environment, where they would be expected to ignore their own knowledge and conform to the dictates of a “one size fits all” approach.
There are lessons there for more than just tennis. Lessons about bureaucracy, about those embraced by it, and about those who are excluded—and why.
Read Chris’s piece here: How to Develop New American Tennis Stars [and enjoy the many intelligent comments at tfrom Chris’s colleagues].
Monday, December 09, 2013
Mandela was no saint [update 2]
Nelson Mandela was no saint.
Not even Bishop Desmond Tutu thought of him that way, “guffawing at the idea that Mandela was anything so dry, hollow and uninteresting.”
He took up “armed struggle” against the South African state that denied him rights based on his race—becoming the leader of the armed faction of the ANC that emerged after the Sharpville massacre to carry out indiscriminate bombings against innocent South Africans. The Church Street bombing alone, carried out under his successor in the role Oliver Tambo, killed 19 people, and injured many more.
Mandela himself was not in prison for giving out too many hugs. He started a guerrilla army, and to the end of his days he never renounced the violence he started, and then inspired.
In power he remained a member of the South African communist party. He declared the Cuban revolution “a source of inspiration to all freedom-loving people.” He opposed moves against the likes of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who was a longtime ANC donor (“It is our duty to give support to the brother leader” he said). It took years of Mugabe’s murderous mayhem to finally earn Mandela’s mild condemnation. He closed his eyes to the AIDs/HIV pandemic that killed millions of his citizens, to the crime spree that made South Africa the murder capital of the world, and to the corruption that littered his administration
Mandela was no saint.
There was one thing however for which he should always be revered: Instead of taking revenge when he took the presidency, he took up restraint. And that wholly unexpected move became the balm thrown over the iniquities of the past that allowed the new rainbow nation to avoid the thunder clouds that could have destroyed it.
In comparison with other politicians, in Africa and beyond, he stands out for his self-restraint. As free South Africa’s first president, he volunteered for only a single term in office. Look just next door, to Zimbabwe, for a striking contrast: Its near-despotic leader, Robert Mugabe, is now in his fourth, disastrous, decade as ruler.
South Africa when Mandela left prison was scarred by apartheid, and thoughts of revenge were rife. Every other African country had collapsed after independence, and expectations were little different over this new regime. An African bloodletting as savage as the Balkan slaughter looked possible—with all the generations of further hatred at which the Balkan adversaries themselves proved so adept at nursing.
Instead, he began his rule very differently. Persuaded by China’s leaders to change the Soviet-style economics he still embraced when leaving prison, he allowed “South Africa’s state-run economy to open up and flourish.” Or at least to have that chance.
Virtually on election day, he began by inviting buy-in over a new constitution from his new opponents. And he cemented this far-seeing wisdom with a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which simply sought out the truth instead of seeking retribution, thereby inviting those who should be embittered by the tyranny and outright atrocities of the past to put it all behind them and live in peace. It worked.
So instead of bloodshed, there was a peaceful handover and handshakes between former adversaries. This astonishing result began with and was made possible by Mandela’s own exercise of restraint.
His Truth and Reconciliation Commission was both a masterstroke, and a model. What it made possible was in its own way as symbolic as the day Ulysses S. Grant shook hands with Robert E. Lee on the steps of Appomattox Courthouse after Lee had fought for five years in defence of black slavery; or the Queen shaking hands with former IRA Commander Martin McGuinness in Belfast; as the desire for peaceful coexistence in Chile after the fall of Pinochet, instead of the bloody retribution that might have happened there (well portrayed in Ariel Dorfman’s 1990 play Death & the Maiden; as the end of conflict we can only hope one day inspires those nursing grievances in Palestine. Inspiring it was the understanding, or the hope, that as long as right is finally recognised and both sides can agree, then in the long term peace and prosperity is far better all round for everyone than years, decades, generations of war and conflict and further horror—and that even shaking hands with murderers, on both sides, might be worth it for the sake of what peace can achieve.
Without Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s apartheid nightmare eventually would have come to an end… But, without Mandela’s towering moral and political leadership, the transition would have been long, ugly, and bloody beyond measure…
When it comes to national leadership at a time of fragility and transition, so much seems to depend on the luck of the draw. Will a country find itself with a Milošević or a Mugabe; an Atatürk or an Arafat; a Rabin who can see and seize the moment, and change course, or someone who never will?
South Africa was lucky – almost miraculously so – to have had Nelson Mandela. His memory will be cherished for as long as history continues to be written…
That’s probably a far better epitaph than sainthood.
PS: And the kerfuffle about Minto going to Nelson Mandela’s state funeral? You might not like John Minto any more than I do but, for goodness’ sake, it’s Mandela’s funeral, and he did. When told in prison of Minto’s mob closing down the Springboks’’s match against Waikate, he reportedly said it “felt like the sun had come out.” So undoubtedly Nelson would have wanted him there. And even Trevor Richards, if he can be found. It’s not like there won’t be room for them in a stadium that seats 100,000.
If the taxpayer is going to send other assorted numpties on our behalf, then why not them. If Minto going bothers you that much, write to the Parliamentary Travel Office and ask them to make the ticket one way.
UPDATE 1: More from around the traps:
* A local leftwinger with a history in the anti-apartheid movement bewails all the wailing here at home: “I haven’t seen such an outpouring of mush since the death of Princess Diana. While Mandela’s prison sentence made him a personage of rather more gravitas than the royal airhead, the level of grief over the death of someone hardly anyone in New Zealand ever even met is as apparently strange. In both cases, it seems that much of the public has become extremely emotionally invested. Indeed, it seems that people unwilling or unprepared to fight for anything themselves, have invested in these folks qualities and achievements which they admire and perhaps feel run counter to a more market-driven way of life (compassion, kindness, fairness, principle). But this kind of emotional investment tells us more about the investors, and contemporary New Zealand society, than it does about Mandela (or Diana Spencer).”
Mandela and New Zealand: our ‘Diana moment?’ - Philip Ferguson, LIBERATION
* “Much will be written about Mandela in the coming days, but little of it will deal directly with the Apartheid system, particularly its economic aspects. Apartheid is widely misunderstood as a system based purely on racial prejudice, while it was actually a more complex mix of economic controls (primarily, restrictions on capital ownership and movements of labour) and racial separatism — what Tom Hazlett calls “socialism with a racist face.” Apartheid’s political support came primarily from working-class (white) Afrikaners and their labour unions eager to suppress competition from unskilled black labour. As Hazlett notes: ”The conventional view is that apartheid was devised by affluent whites to suppress poor blacks. In fact, the system sprang from class warfare and was largely the creation of white workers struggling against both the black majority and white capitalists.”
Mandela and the Economics of Apartheid – Peter Klein, CIRCLE BASTIAT
"One of Mandela’s greatest achievements was to wean [the ANC] away from the ruthless hard‑line Marxism that had long been such an influential part of its ideology..."TELEGRAPH
UPDATE 2: Useful idiots John Pilger and John Minto were not opposed to racism, they were opposed to capitalism—and used (and still use) Marxist wedge tactics against it. What were the anti-tour protests about for Minto? A chance to drive a wedge into the system using race.
John Minto was one of the heroes of my formative years says the Poneke blog's author in 2008 [hat tip David Farrar].
At the time, I thought Minto was driven by the same kind of repugnance of the racist apartheid system that motivated the opposition of many other New Zealanders. Apartheid was a stain on humanity.
In 1995, Mandela visited New Zealand for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting being held in Auckland. He was mobbed in the streets everywhere he went. He was a hero of almost everyone of my generation and of almost everyone who had marched against the Springboks 14 years before. The one anti-tour protester to whom he was not a hero was a profound surprise. I went to a meeting Mandela attended at the St Matthews in the City church in Auckland. To my astonishment, and dismay, John Minto, who was there, hectored the great man for not kicking private enterprise and transnational companies out of South Africa after apartheid ended. A bewildered Mandela asked Minto how he expected people to find work if their employers were banished. It was at that moment I realised Minto was not driven by opposition to racism but by opposition to the entire capitalist system. [Emphasis in the original.]
Pilger was equally outraged at Comrade Mandela’s backsliding. Writing in the Marxist Counterpunch, he recounts asking Mandela in a 1995 interview
why the pledges he and the ANC had given on his release from prison in 1990 had not been kept. The liberation government, Mandela had promised, would take over the apartheid economy, including the banks – and “a change or modification of our views in this regard is inconceivable”. Once in power, the party’s official policy to end the impoverishment of most South Africans, the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), was abandoned, with one of his ministers boasting that the ANC’s politics were Thatcherite.
“You can put any label on it if you like,” he replied. “ …but, for this country, privatisation is the fundamental policy.”
“That’s the opposite of what you said in 1994.”
“You have to appreciate that every process incorporates a change.”
You have to divide by ten to account for Pilger’s inveterate lying, but asked that same question on another occasion, Mandela replied that he failed to see how he could help his people by banishing all their employers.
If the story is true that it was Chinese leaders who turned around Mandela’s anti-Soviet economics, they clearly did a good job.
You can't get rid of poverty by giving people money [update 2]
Poverty campaigners have released a report this morning suggesting one in four NZ children are living in poverty. The poverty measured today is not poverty measured in absolute terms--that is, it is not the grinding poverty someone from before the industrial age would recognise as having existed for most of human history up to that point.
Prior to the advent of industrial capitalism (in roughly the 1760s) the lot of the English working class was generally miserable. Utter destitution was rampant, literal starvation not uncommon and the country was overrun with paupers.
There was, in point of fact, widespread poverty of the most abject kind in England and other countries of 18th century Europe.
It is difficult for men in the industrial West today to conceive of the kind of poverty that was widespread in pre-capitalist Europe. By a test employed in Lyons, France, in the 17th century, poverty was reached when daily income was less than the daily cost of minimum bread requirement- in other words, when a person could not make enough money to buy a crust of bread. A quarter to half the population of 17th century England subsisted near or below this line of destitution.
Nobody truly wants to see those days return. (Except perhaps for the anti-technology rump of the Green Party.) But to put things in perspective, if poverty advocates were to employ a similar standard of poverty today, i.e., the pre-industrial poverty from which industrial capitalism rescued the poor, New Zealand families below the poverty line would be those making less than $18 a month, or $216 a year.
But this is not how poverty is measured.
Poverty instead is measured today in relative terms, being defined by advocates as living in a family with less than 60% of the median household income. The median, of course, is the middle figure in any list of numbers. So by the definition chosen by poverty advocates, these poor will always be with us.
As of June, 2013, the median monthly household income from all sources increased by 4.1 percent since the previous year, to $5,884, or $70,616. So the line of “relative poverty” is set by advocates at a household income from all sources of less than $3,530 per month, or $814 per week.
To be brutally frank, this is not poverty, and the advocates for this cause do themselves no favours by adopting this ruse.
The absurdity of the figure can be seen by realising that a rise in household income tends to increase the level of poverty, suggesting prosperity itself generates poverty.
This is not to discount the difficulty many NZers do have making ends meet. But it does make it difficult to trust that poverty advocates are more serious about reducing actual poverty than they are about using whatever poverty they can find to promote their agenda of bigger government and more state intrusion in people’s lives.
Because in truth, what constitutes poverty today is not even what poverty was when these anti-poverty campaigners began their project. The poorest 20% of the New Zealand population now have expenditures that equal, in inflation-adjusted terms, what median incomes were in the 1960s. Things are not easy, but they own—or many do—houses, cars, colour televisions, Sky subscriptions, DVD players, stereos, automatic washing machines and automatic dishwashers. (And fully 96% of households have just managed to afford to switch over to digital television with seemingly very little reported distress.)
For those who do enjoy these comforts, while they may be relatively poor compared to folk on higher household incomes, they “live lives of unimaginable luxury compared to the industrial tycoons of the 19th century or the royalty class of the 18th, who didn’t have electrification, indoor plumbing, automobiles, etc.”*
And instead of growing malnutrition—aside from famine, which one of the biggest problems in pre-industrial societies—the biggest health problem today, according even to advocates, is obesity.
And if we drill down into today’s stats, including both the latest Household Economic Survey and those figures presented by poverty advocates themselves, we find that 76 percent of respondents reported themselves as “satisfied or very satisfied with their lives, and only 9 percent reported being “dissatisfied or very dissatisfied.” Suggesting perhaps that raw household income is not everyone’s measure of success.
And even of those whose household income is in the lowest 20% of NZers, only 64% would say “their income was not enough or only just enough to meet their everyday needs.”
So perhaps this is the number of families we’re really talking about. Around two-thirds of those NZers are in families with the lowest one-fifth of household income. Or one in eight. And of these, maybe a half are perhaps “in transition”—young people, young couples or young families just beginning their careers; new immigrants just starting out in their new home and ready, like so many before them, to make a go of it.
And as Lindsay Mitchell points out, one of the advocates’ own graphics shows that 51% of the children in poverty live in single parent families. And the number of these families have grown markedly from 1977, when the number of single-parent families was one in ten, to today when it is more than one in four.
This corresponds, notes Lindsay, to the period in which the state subsidisation of single parent families has grown apace. So “the best answer the Children's Commissioner can come up with [should not be more subsidisation.]
Now I agree with poverty advocates stated ambition of reducing poverty. I agree that it's time to put people before politics. So here’s a simple suggestion: Stop paying people to breed. Stop forcing them into factory schools that only teach illiteracy. Stop stealing from them. Just get the hell out of their way.
As welfare researcher Lindsay Mitchell concludes,
The government should STOP doing whatever it is they do. They just manage to make matters worse.
Seventy years of just giving people more money has not made things better, it's made them worse. In the last ten years alone a sum of more than $200 billion has been taken from taxpayers and spent in a war on poverty, that's two-hundred billion dollars on a war that no one is winning; not the government, not the taxpayer, and as advocates’ studies themselves suggest, not the 200-300,000 or so who've been the targets of this war over the last ten years: we're all worse off except for the politicians, for whom this massive sum amounts to very cheap and efficient vote-buying.
That's $200,000,000,000 -- enough to have given every beneficiary in the country a massive $650,000 each to start their own war on poverty. And it still hasn't worked. It won't. It never will. To paraphrase PJ O'Rourke,
the spending of this truly vast amount of money -- an amount nearly half again the nation's entire gross national product in 1995 -- has left everybody just sitting around slack-jawed and dumbstruck, staring into the maw of that most extraordinary paradox: You can't get rid of poverty by giving people money.
When do we realise that government welfare doesn't work -- not for anyone -- and least of all for those who it is supposed to help. Let's try something else. Let's try to stop stealing. let's give people back their future and the money stolen from them, and let them get on with fighting their own goddamn war on poverty.
If these reports tell us anything at all, they tell us it's becoming urgent. Accordingly, here's the very simplest suggestions to help the poor: stop stealing from them.
You could remove GST in its entirety, and at a stroke you will leave money in the pockets of the poor to pay for food and housing and heath care.
But it won't happen.
It won't happen because the poor are such good lobby fodder for a certain kind of politician: Those who put politics before people.
You could reduce income taxes, which are so high at present that even in two-income households, one partner is going out to work everyday just to pay their tax bill.
But it won’t happen.
It won’t happen, because every single mainstream political party wants the welfare state to continue, and it is the welfare state itself—that political process by which Peter steals from Paul with politicians clipping the ticket and gaining votes from the electoral fodder produced—that jacks up taxes both on people who can’t afford to pay, and on those whose investments would have (if they hadn’t been used instead to float the welfare boat) been used to grow the businesses that actually do help people out of real poverty.
You could remove or reduce excise taxes on alcohol and tobacco, both of which are enjoyed at a much higher rate in lower-income households, both of which are at usurious levels, and which at a stroke would give many households tens of dollars a week, if not hundreds of dollars, more than they have now.
But it won’t happen.
It won’t happen, because advocates do not want the poor enjoying the things many of them actually like to enjoy.
You could relax restrictions on occupational licensing, so the poor could find and enjoy inexpensive dental, nursing and medical care, lawyering, builders and housing, financial advice, home-schooling etc.
But it won’t happen.
It won’t happen, because every single professional trade union has their hooks into every political party raising the bar for barriers to entry into their own little boys’ and girls’ clubs—denying the poor the likes of innovative medical care led by nurses instead of requiring all care to be delivered by registered doctors—or denying immigrant doctors and dental technicians the means whereby they could practice their profession for those who want their services, instead of being forced (by the barriers put up by professional associations to protect their members) to drive taxis. (If they can afford the barriers to entry put up to protect against entry into this means of employment.)
You could relax restrictions on land use so that people can build wherever and whatever they wish on their own land, at a stroke promoting choice and reducing housing and rental costs, allowing the poor a crucial foot up on the housing ladder.
But it won't happen.
It won't happen because environmentalists put the environment before people -- and politicians let them.
Realising that real prosperity is generated by industry—that since the industrial revolution began it has lifted more people out of real poverty than have been alive before it—you could remove barriers to entry for new businesses, and get off the backs of existing businesses, so they could continue the production and innovation that puts food, healthcare and big-screen TVs into people’s houses.
But it won’t happen.
It would happen if anti-poverty advocates really did want to end poverty, and were prepared to study history to discover that a rising tide of industrial capitalism is the only thing historically that has lifted the poor out of their misery.
But it won’t happen because poverty advocates actually do want the poor to be always with us.
And they want that, because they want them as fodder for their own agendas, which has little if anything to do with helping the poor.
UPDATE 1: Some figures updated.
UPDATE 2: Welfare campaigner Lindsay Mitchell spoke to Newstalk ZB’s Tim Dower last night about the Child Poverty Report.
I didn't support the line that there is no poverty [says Lindsay]. I've seen kids in houses where they get sick because of crowding and unhealthy, unhygienic surroundings. Probably the same house has Sky. But the chronic poverty of benefit dependence exists. It's spirit and soul sapping.
Sunday, December 08, 2013
Live Blogging: Beer O'Clock Pilsener Taste-Off
Beer O'Clock has arrived, the Auckland sun has come out momentarily to greet it and (despite appearances) I have before me two bottles of Pilsner to try. So I'm going to try an experiment: I'll live-blog a taste test comparing the two, one from eatablished award-winning Tutara brewery from Paraparaumu, the other from Auckland's newest craft brewers, the Black Sands Brewing Co from Kelston--who boats about being the only Westie craft brewers.
You aren't allowed to mention oxymorons.
First up, the Tuatara Bohemian Pilsner...
Looks great in the glass. Light coloured with a substantial and head. Earthy smell of malts and fruit. Grapefruit, lime, even grass... (and visitors here are saying they like the bottle, whose neck has been given the texture of a tuatara's skin)...
Tastes good. Less fruit and more hops. The hops stay around in the mouth. Less clean than your 'standard' pilsener, more oily than crisp, but not at all bad for that. Carbonation disappears quickly from the glass, taste continues...
Overall, a very quaffable, decently hoppy summer pils, that's maybe just a little simple, a tad unexciting. If I were adjusting my stereo to play it, I'd say it lacked midrange and some decent musical arrangements.
So on to the Black Sands...
Lion Rock on the label, and it pours with a head like the foam off the Piha surf.
Good colour, very slight cloudiness. Aroma less punchy initially, and more of fruit than malt, sort of a grassy passionfruit. So let's taste it...
Aroma increasing substantially, and beautifully, as it sits in the glass while I piss around taking bloody pictures. Starting to smell now like it's a full-on citrus garden!
So, to taste...
Hell's bells! That's a Pils with flavour. A full mouth-feel, and flavour that delivers all the way down. It starts with the fruits, in smell and in taste, gets increasingly malty in the mouth, and has a great lingering aftertaste of fruit and malt and hops and a well-blended suggestion of general gorgeousness.
Beer this good should be chained up and made to only come out on weekends. Excuse me now while I concentrate...
This is more than just a Pilsener. It's a Pilsener with a Pale Ale uncle, that just gets better as it sits in the glass. (I'm getting feijoa now, and banana...) Which is not as hard to do as it sounds, because those delicious flavours linger delightfully in the mouth.
I'm declaring a winner already here, and unlike the First Test it's not even close. Victory by an innings and several dozen runs goes to the new brewer...
I'm told that distribution of Black Sands in in its early days, but you can fill your own at Hopscotch in Mt Eden, and at Jervois Rd Cellars. You can find it on draught at Grand Central Ponsonby. And you can find it around the place in bottles, but Galt knows where.
(Full disclosure: the Black Sands brewers tried to bribe me with one free bottle of the stuff to review. One bottle! As if I'm that easily bought...)
Labels: Beer and Elsewhere
Friday, December 06, 2013
Friday Morning Ramble: The ‘Demeaning Power of PISA’ edition [updated]
UPDATE: “When it comes to national leadership at a time of fragility and transition, so much seems to depend on the luck of the draw. Will a country find itself with a Milošević or a Mugabe; an Atatürk or an Arafat; a Rabin who can see and seize the moment, and change course, or someone who never will?
“South Africa was lucky – almost miraculously so – to have had Nelson Mandela. His memory will be cherished for as long as history continues to be written…”
Mandela for the Ages – former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans, PROJECT SYNDICATE
This week’s 2012 PISA results should, and did, send shockwaves around the country.
New Zealand’s PISA shock – Rose Patterson, NZ INITIATIVE
“But Pisa is not really about raising the standards of education; it is about raising the standards of training… To question the role of Pisa [however] is not to call for complacency about the challenges facing schools in Anglo-American societies. There are some very important problems facing educationalists.”
Pisa: Top of the Class for Dumbing Down – SPIKED
Cue Card Libertarianism: Education – NOT PC
Nick Smith hands over a further $31 million simply to “bring 500 houses to the market earlier.” That’s $62,000 taxpayers’ money per house to make them “affordable” for buyers. Call it the “Holden solution.” Because that worked so well for affordable cars.
Housing Minister announces further $31 mln to allow faster progress on 3000-house Auckland development – INTEREST.CO.NZ
"The Shape of Affordability in the Modern City" – NOT PC
Holden reveals billions in subsidies – ABC, April 2013
Holden delivers subsidy ultimatum – BUSINESS SPECTATOR
“The Constitutional Review Panel has delivered its final report to the Government and its main recommendation is that the "conversation" about New Zealand's constitutional arrangements continue.”
Support for republic weak: report – Audrey Young, NZ HERALD
Constitutional Recommendations – David Farrar, KIWIBLOG
“The report of the government’s Constitutional Advisory Panel, released yesterday, merely replaces instant execution with death by a thousand cuts…”
Constitution report death by a thousand cuts – David Round, SCOOP
ACT is in search of a new leader. The “liberal right” may also be in search of a new party. Eric Crampton has a theory.
Party time – Eric Crampton, OFFSETTING BEHAVIOUR
So, good news then.
Kiwi women drinking more heavily, more often – NEWSTALK ZB
Really? So where’s Quiet Earth then?
The best New Zealand movies ever made – NZ On Screen, STUFF
You really want government managing your stuff? Not even with PPPs. “People often lament the waste, corruption, and downright absurdities of government enterprises, wondering why they can’t be ‘run like a business.’ Yet economic theory shows that this is no mere accident.” Take the roads, for example…
Why Government Doesn't—and Can't—Manage Resources Like a Private Business – Robert Murphy, ECON LOG
“We have the best government that money can buy.”
– Mark Twain
Amazon Drone. Possible or not?
A Drone Delivery Expert Answers the Big Questions About Amazon's Plans – ATLANTIC
Amazon Promises Package Delivery By Drone: Is It for Real? - IEEE SPECTRUM
So there’s growth in one part of America, anyway.
Washington’s Battle of the Skyline – Ethan Epstein, CITY JOURNAL
This is what Cronyism looks like, Example #345,6768,956.
General Electric’s Crony Capitalism – Hunter Lewis, MISES DAILY
“One of the men that won the Nobel Prize for economics this year says that "bubbles look like this" … But you don't have to be a Nobel Prize winner to see what is happening. It should be glaringly apparent to anyone with half a brain.”
15 Signs That We Are Near The Peak Of An Absolutely Massive Stock Market Bubble – Michael Snyder, ECONOMIC COLLAPSE
It is ruinously difficult to start new industrial projects because of anti-industrial, “green” policies. So why do so few industrialists, and those who industry keeps alive, bother to speak up for themselves?
The Industrial Manifesto - Alex Epstein, CENTER FOR INDUSTRIAL PROGRESS
“Within a recent discussion of the superior ability of capitalism to improve the general welfare, John Stossel describes an amusing encounter…”
Altruism vs. Philanthropy – GUS VAN HORN
“A lot of people don’t think about the connection from liberty to experimentation to thriving, and default to expecting ‘the government’ to solve collective problems. In general, people pay too much attention to politics.”
“That—that—is what we are for: voluntary associations, in all their richness and bewildering complexity” – Lynne Kiesling, KNOWLEDGE PROBLEM
The genius cog in the system – STEPHEN HICKS
“Want to see: a Christmas episode where someone learns
the true meaning of Christmas episodes.”
- Jaime J. Weinman
Hayek on Keynes: “brilliant and creative, but ignorant of economics literature.”
Hayek on Keynes’s ignorance of economics – Steve Kates, CATALLAXY FILES
What’s the key function of banks? Money creation.
Fractional Reserve Banking: How to Create and Destroy Money – Matthew Kerkhoff, FINANCIAL SENSE
The Welfare State couldn’t live without it. But the Welfare State is a "new road to serfdom" from which escape will be increasingly difficult if we do not do all that we can to stop it.
The Menace and Immorality of the Welfare State – Richard Ebeling, EPIC TIMES
If wealth is being destroyed, how come we’re not seeing it?
Today’s wealth destruction is hidden by government debt – Philip Bagus, COBDEN CENTRE
You say you want a revolution? You first, says Simon Cowell.
Simon Cowell tells Russell Brand to give up his pay – NEWSTALK ZB
Challenge yourself this weekend…
Topics in Intellectual Property: The Computer and Biotech Revolutions (MP3 download) – Adam Mossoff, ARI E-STORE
Why Should Business Leaders Care about Intellectual Property?—Ayn Rand’s Radical Argument – Adam Mossoff,
From the creative minds of those who produced the Hayek v Keynes rap. Are you ready to Deck the Halls With Macro Follies? (“To help appreciate the video, here are a few bits of background to catch the full flavour of just how beautifully done it is.”
Great news. “The CDM is one of the only truly global carbon markets.” Bad news. “Each CDM was worth 20 euros in 2008. Now they are selling for 50c.” Tell Nick Smith.
UN $315 billion CDM carbon market comatose after Warsaw. It may last years – JO NOVA
You say we should embrace the theory of global warming because of scientific “consensus”? Then this could be awkward.
Scientists increasingly moving to global cooling consensus – Jack Minor, U.S. FINANCE POST
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is about to destroy 6 tons of confiscated ivory. Upping the price for ivory, and incentivising ivory hunters to hunt for more. [I just said “incentivising.” Ouch!]
Does destroying ivory really save elephants? - Michael ‘t Sas-Rolfes, PERC
“Dear NASA, President Kennedy just wasn't that into you.”
JFK space race myth – AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE
Great buildings made some great movies, now commemorated in great poster art… [a point to the first reader to identify this house. No cheating now]
“Researchers say the average woman speaks 20,000 words a day, and the average man speaks 7,000.” I just pass on the news without comment.
The talkative sex – STEPHEN HICKS
Meanwhile, “the American English speech variant known as uptalk, or ‘Valley Girl speak’ – marked by a rise in pitch at the ends of sentences – is typically associated with young southern Californian females.” Until now. Thank you Frank Zappa.
'Valley girl speak' extending to males – SCIENCE DAILY
I’m starting to wonder now how mine looked when I was a kid. ( I did ask for a trumpet once, I recall.)
My Kid's Insane Christmas Wish List, Annotated – Drew Magary, DEADSPIN
If you’re anything like me, this will just the job for your Xmas stocking.
Introducing The Organic Architecture + Design Archives – PRAIRIE MOD
Don’t run. Life’s worth it. (Remember what happened to the world’s first marathon runner!)
Why You Should Think Twice About Running That Marathon: A Cardiologist Explains – Dr Joel Kahn, MIND BODY GREEN
What tattoos might look like if they were honest
If Tattoos Actually Told the Truth – CRACKED
How technology helps everybody. Example #1,657, 356.
Sign-Language Ring, Bracelet Translates Hand Movements Into Spoken Language – ECOUTERRE
No-one does snark like a music reviewer reviewing the book he was denied the invitation to write.
Cape Reinha with ice axes – William Dart, LANDFALL REVIEW
Like Irish yachting commentary…
There’s too much liking going on at Facebook. Let’s remedy that.
How To Find Out If Your Facebook Friends Hate You
More from the FFS Files.
NYC Health Commissioner Says E-Cigarettes Must Be Banned Because They Look Like the Real Thing – Jacob Sullum, HIT & RUN
Your cat recognises your voice. It just doesn’t give a shit.
Cats recognise their owners' voices but never evolved to care, says study – INDEPENDENT
Just in time for Christmas.
10 Always Entertaining Party Games – APARTMENT THERAPY
The law every student should learn.
Benford's Law And The Art of Succeeding in Multiple Choice Tests – M.I.T. TECHNOLOGY REVIEW
Nagging, insistent, and now stuck in my head. Thank you Messrs Shelley & Devoto.
Robert Fripp and Barry Andrews do disco.
Thanks for reading,
And have a great weekend!
See you tonight at One Man Bannister (and watch out for live blogging on Sunday of two bold new beers from a brash new craft brewery…)
Thursday, December 05, 2013
Houses have changed
Over the last decade, new New Zealand houses have gone from considering walk-in and fitted wardrobes and en-suites a luxury to a nice-to-have to a must-have.
What changes have American houses seen in that time? Short summary: “Open floor plans and lots of storage.” And bigger.
Pic by Steph Davidson from Bloomberg Businessweek .
I support Rodney Hide for Epsom
Speculation all over the place this morning that Rodney Hide might be the man to lead ACT back from the toxic wilderness to which he dragged it.
There's talk of Rodney Hide coming back as leader of the party.
Former ACT candidate Don Nicolson says Mr Hide could be the man to turn ACT's fortunes around…
“Don Brash said there are four members who would be able to step into the role. He said Jamie Whyte, Catherine Isaac, David Seymour and Rodney Hide have all been mentioned as strong candidates.
“"I would welcome as many people as possible putting their names forward [said this year’s ACT party president], and if Rodney Hide wanted to put his name forward for that nomination, I know he'd be very welcome, and a number of members at our party no doubt would support that.”
Speaking personally, I really hope Hide does step up to the plate and stand again for Epsom. I wholeheartedly support his candidacy, and for one very simple reason: because it would be the first chance Aucklanders have had to tell him what they think of him for the complete fricking super-shitty disaster he made of Auckland.
Be thankful for “diminished productivity”
For once, there might be good news coming from Washington, writes Daniel Mitchell in this Guest Post
Let’s do a simple thought experiment and answer the following question: Do you think that additional laws from Washington will give you more freedom and more prosperity?
I don’t know how you will answer, but I strongly suspect most Americans will say “no.” Indeed, they’ll probably augment their “no” answers with a few words that wouldn’t be appropriate to repeat in polite company.
That’s because taxpayers instinctively understand that more activity in Washington usually translates into bigger and more expensive government. And big government isn’t so fun for those who pay the bills and incur the costs.
So what’s the purpose of our thought experiment? Well, new numbers have been released showing that the current Congress is going to set a modern-era record for imposing the fewest new laws.
But while most of us think this is probably good news, Washington insiders are whining and complaining about “diminished productivity” in Congress. The Washington Post is very disappointed that lawmakers aren’t enacting more taxes, more spending, and more regulation.
…this Congress — which is set to adjourn for the year later this month — has enacted 52 public laws. By comparison, …90 laws were enacted during the first year of the 113th Congress and 137 were put in place during the first year of the 111th Congress.
Just in case you don’t have a “beltway” mindset, another Washington Post report also tells you that fewer laws is a bad thing.
…whatever gets done in December will still be part of a year with record-low congressional accomplishment. …According to congressional records, there have been fewer than 60 public laws enacted in the first 11 months of this year, so below the previous low in legislative output that officials have already declared this first session of the 113th Congress the least productive ever.
Let’s actually look at some evidence. The first session of the current Congress may have been the “least productive” in history when it comes to imposing new laws, but what’s the actual result?
Well, there are probably many ways this could be measured, but one of the most obvious benchmarks is the federal budget.
And it appears that “record-low congressional accomplishment” translates into a smaller burden of government spending.
Indeed, government spending actually has declined for two consecutive years. That hasn’t happened since the 1950s.
And it’s worth reminding people that you begin to solve the symptom of red ink when you address the underlying disease of too much spending. That’s why the deficit has fallen by almost 50 percent in the past two years.
Interestingly, the Washington Post accidentally confirms that you get better policy when you have fewer news laws.
In 1995, when the newly empowered GOP congressional majority confronted the Clinton administration, 88 laws were enacted, the record low in the post-World War II era.
Needless to say, the author isn’t saying that we got good policy because there were a “record low” number of laws in 1995. But if we look at fiscal policy during that period, that’s when we began a multi-year period of spending restraint that led to budget surpluses.
Now for some caveats.
It’s obviously a gross over-simplification to assert that the number of laws is correlated with good policy or bad policy. Sometimes politicians impose laws that increase the burden of government (with Obamacare being an obvious example).
But sometimes they enact laws that increase economic liberty and reduce government (with the sequester being a good example, even though very few politicians actually wanted that result).
To conclude, the message of this post is that we shouldn’t worry about “diminished productivity” in Washington if it means fewer bad laws.
P.S. Since we’re talking about low productivity in Washington, there’s good evidence that bureaucrats don’t work very hard compared to workers in the economy’s productive sector. But that’s probably a good thing. After all, do we want bureaucrats (like this one) being more diligent? That’s why we should focus on reducing their excessive compensation rather than encouraging them to put in a full day’s work.
* * * *
Daniel Mitchell is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, and a former economist for the Senate Finance Committee and the 1988 Bush/Quayle transition team, and was Director of Tax and Budget Policy for Citizens for a Sound Economy.
His articles can be found in such publications as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Investor’s Business Daily, and Washington Times.
This article first appeared at Cato at Liberty.