Friday, 23 September 2016

Friday Morning Ramble, 23.09.16



Remember when John Key promised his Government would reduce the number of grey ones? Nah, he doesn’t either.
In 2008, the number of “full-time equivalent” bureaucrats sucking off the taxpayer’s tit were 43,569. In 2015, that number had increased to 45,348. Roll on November, when this years increased numbers will be available.
Staff numbers in the Public Service, 2003-2008 - STATE SERVICES COMMISSION
Information about the number of people working in different occupations across the Public Service, 2015 - STATE SERVICES COMMISSION

Yes, when the Greens do get it, they really do get things right.
Greens would legalise euthanasia for terminally-ill adults – NEWSTALK ZB

The establishing of a literary establishment.
The Monday argument: New Zealand's literary establishment should be taken out and shot – SPINOFF
"The establishing of an establishment" - a different kind of censorship – NOT PC, 2006

The establishing of a race-based establishment.
Race appointees ammo for Winston – Mike Butler, BREAKING VIEWS

Nothing’s changed.
Self-harm threats soar for those who owe IRD – STUFF

“Fishermen’s self-interest shouldn't be viewed as just a risk, but rather as an asset in the recovery of the oceans.”
Fishermen: Our Best Hope for Abundant Oceans That Feed the World – Amanda Leland, HUFFINGTON POST


“Can a whole generation retire and live on speculation?
… In speculation, your profit comes from the savings
of someone else. You bought the asset, hoping the next
guy will buy it off you at a higher price. Well, that guy
buys in the hope that the next-next guy buys it at an
even-higher price. Speculation converts one
man's wealth into another man's income.”

~ Keith Weiner


“Kiwis continue to get into hock on their houses at record levels.”
Kiwis' debt pile now exceeds annual disposable income by nearly $100 billion – INTEREST.CO.NZ

“Quite simply, if helping the least well off in society is a priority, then fixing housing should be the focus.”
Help the poor by fixing housing – Jason Krupp, NZ INITIATIVE

“We hear constantly about record levels of immigration into New Zealand, and claims that this immigration drives the increasingly overpriced Auckland housing market.” But the only thing that is at record numbers is net migration. (“From 2013, New Zealand’s net migration has entirely comprised people identifying as New Zealand residents returning from short visits (less than a year) overseas, minus the same group of people embarking on short visits overseas.”)
And the movement of NZers is mainly “a reduction of people migrating to (mainly) Australia from provincial New Zealand.” Hmmm.
Keith Rankin’s Chart for this Month [below]: Immigration – EVENING REPORT
Immigration and Auckland Housing – why Unitary Plan is flawed and bubble burst prediction – Keith Rankin, DAILY BLOG



“After years of being in the ascendant, the centre-Left is being ruthlessly and methodically routed. Brexit is the most important incarnation of this revolution, of course, but Westminster is only just beginning to grasp the scope and scale of Britain’s coming transformation.”
Rejoice! The liberal Left that once ruled over Britain is now being destroyed – Allister Heath, TELEGRAPH

The man has a point.
Terence Crutcher's police shooting & racial bias in America – Trevor Noah, DAILY SHOW

This will be a fascinating story to follow ...
Libertarian Herman Mashaba elected mayor of Johannesburg – GLOBE & MAIL

“Americans’ trust and confidence in the mass media “to report the news fully, accurately and fairly” has dropped to its lowest level in Gallup polling history.”
Americans' Trust in Mass Media Sinks to New Low – GALLUP

No, idiots, he is not the freedom candidate.
Donald Trump is going all in on banning abortion – VOX

“Why don’t people like Hillary Clinton? Why do they always believe the worst? Why, when some supposed scandal breaks and someone says she’s hiding something, do people, including many of her supporters, assume it’s true?"
Travel Back to an Early Clinton Scandal – Peggy Noonan, WSJ

“As usual, Hollywood is pushing a narrow box of choices through celebrity blowhards. For all the lip service these blowhards pay to ‘democracy,’ when put to the test, it's only a great system when everybody votes the way they prefer.”
And Now, a Condescending Message from Hollywood - Sean Malone, FEE

PS: “The American system is not a democracy. It is a constitutional republic.”
America is NOT a Democracy (Leonard Peikoff) – Michael Hurd, LIVING RESOURCES CENTER




“When environmentalists tell you openly that they’re lying to you and they think that’s okay, then you would be a fool not to be a skeptic."
The Garbage Philosophy Behind The Great Pacific Garbage Patch Myth – Robert Tracinski, THE FEDERALIST

“Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle: they only make sense if the economics work out. Otherwise, it's just silly piety.”
What's Wrong with the Three Rs of Environmentalism – FEE

“Spoiler: by embracing modern technology.”
How Humans Spare Nature – PERC

“Bottom Line: The only thing worse than killing elephants is leaving elephants vulnerable to murder. We can save them just as we save dogs and cats -- by giving them owners who value them, sometimes as dead trophies but more often as a thriving, growing herd.”
Demand for elephants can save elephants – David Zetland, AGUANOMICS


“What is politically defined as economic
planning is the forcible superseding of
other people’s plans by government officials.”
~ Thomas Sowell


“The answer is yes.”
Are firms that discriminate more likely to go out of business? – Paul Walker, ANTI DISMAL

Capitalism places a cost on racial discrimination.
Gary Becker 1, Rational Choice haters 0 – ORGTHEORY.NET

“By the ‘benevolent nature of capitalism,’ I mean the fact that it promotes human life and well-being and does so for everyone.”
Some Fundamental Insights Into the Benevolent Nature of Capitalism – George Reisman, MISES DAILY

“"Two hundred years ago, before the advent of capitalism, a man’s social status was fixed from the beginning to the end of his life; he inherited it from his ancestors, and it never changed. If he was born poor, he always remained poor, and if he was born rich—a lord or a duke—he kept his dukedom and the property that went with it for the rest of his life.
    “As for manufacturing, the primitive processing industries of those days existed almost exclusively for the benefit of the wealthy. Most of the people (ninety percent or more of the European population) worked the land and did not come in contact with the city-oriented processing industries. This rigid system of feudal society prevailed in the most developed areas of Europe for many hundreds of years."
The History of Capitalism – Ludwig Von Mises, MISES WIRE

“I wish there were a trillion humans in the solar system. Think how cool that would be. You’d have a thousand Einsteins at any given moment—and more. There would be so much dynamism with all of that human intelligence. But you can’t do that with the resources on Earth or the energy on earth. So if you really want to see that kind of dynamic civilization as we expand through the solar system, you have to figure out how to safely move around and use resources that you get in space.”
Jeff Bezos on nuclear reactors in space, the lack of bacon on Mars and humanity’s destiny in the solar system – WASHINGTON POST

“In Equal Is Unfair, Yaron Brook and I argue that one of the problems with the concept of “economic inequality” is that it lumps together two fundamentally different things: inequality that reflects differences in productive achievement and inequality that reflects some people’s ability to gain unearned wealth. Package-deals like this lay the groundwork for injustice.”
The Trouble With “Rent Seeking” – Don Watkins, VOICES FOR REASON

Socialism_bookstoreThe richest family in America is the one that best serves the poor.
More Silly Arguments Against Walmart – Don Boudreax + commenters, CAFE HAYEK

“The meltdown in Venezuela now taking place was predicted 80 years ago by the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises.”
‘We stand on the brink of a precipice which threatens our civilisation’ – Kevin Baldeosingh, GUARDIAN

A must-read – and free!
”I know only too well how hopeless it seems to convince impassioned supporters of the Socialist Idea by logical demonstration that their views are preposterous and absurd. I know too well that they do not want to hear, to see, or above all to think, and that they are open to no argument. But new generations grow up with clear eyes and open minds. And they will approach things from a disinterested, unprejudiced standpoint, they will weigh and examine, will think and act with forethought. It is for them that this book is written.”
Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis – Ludwig Von Mises, MISES LIBRARY

“The nationalisation of everything held back history, impoverished workers, and built an oppressive state.”
Communist Economics in One Page: A Refresher CourseFEE


"Instead of prosperity, socialism has brought economic
paralysis and/or collapse to every country that tried it. The
degree of socialisation has been the degree of disaster."

~ Ayn Rand.


“The morality of surge pricing at Uber.”
The Morality of Surge Pricing – Rudd Roberts, MEDIUM.COM

“Enesto Sirolli began his career working for an Italian non-profit … teaching Zambians how to grow food… “Sirolli’s colourful message: ‘If you arrive in a community with arrogance, and you don't listen to the local people ... you are going to have your pride chewed off by the local hippos.’”
The Pretense of "Thinking Globally" – Barry Brownstein, FEE

Central banks continue to navigate uncharted territory.
No, the Fed Doesn't Have a Plan. Yes, the Fed Really is Monetising Government Debt – Jeff Deist, MISES WIRE
US Federal Debt Is Expanding At The Fastest Rate Since The Crisis – ZERO HEDGE

Peter Schiff: “I said there was no exit from this policy when it was first implemented in 2009. That is why I said the Federal Reserve checked us into a monetary Roach Motel.”
The Federal Reserve confronts a possibility it never expected: No exit. – WASHINGTON POST

“Listening to Janet Yellen splitting hairs and blathering in circles about the state of the economy yesterday was enough to put you in mind of a paint-by-the-numbers robot built in the labs at MIT and programed by its Keynesian economics department.”
Duck And Run—-The Robot Doth Blather – David Stockman, CONTRA CORNER

Is a US$15 minimum wage a good idea? The always insightful and entertaining Don Boudreaux debates Mike Konczal.



“Austrian Economics is the most powerful explanation of why governments, no matter how well-intentioned, lack the knowledge, wisdom and ability to direct the lives of multitudes of people better than those people can do for themselves if left sufficiently at liberty to do so.”
Book Excerpt: Austrian Economics & Public Policy: Restoring Freedom and Prosperity by Richard Ebeling – CAPITALISM MAGAZINE

China my China: Another day older and deeper in debt.
China facing full-blown banking crisis, world's top financial watchdog warns - Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, TELEGRAPH

“China is using the patent system as a club to stop any production outside of China. It seems to be working.”
China's Patent Strategy Isn't About Innovation; It's An Economic Weapon Against Foreign Companies – TECHDIRT

“While all economic views of productivity growth may have a grain of truth, I argue that all of these theories of productivity growth are fundamentally wrong. The economic evidence shows clear relationships between the trend of decline in productivity growth and the trend in declines of the U.S. patent system.”
Causes and Consequences of Productivity Growth Declines – Neal Solomon, IP WATCHDOG

More regulation => more barriers to entry => more monopolies. How to reduce monopolies? Reduce regulation:



Land of the Free update.
Police Accidentally Record Themselves Conspiring to Fabricate Criminal Charges Against Protester – ACLU

“While Edward Snowden has done heroic things to expose our government's unjust mass surveillance programs, he's unfortunately promoting the same theory of privacy that gave rise to those programs.” ~ Amy Peikoff



“This woman has quite obviously penetrated the [popular] consciousness in a way that few, if any, modern philosophers have. So, why do we not study her?”
Objectivist philosophy should be taught in the classroom – Ethan Davis, THE DM ONLINE

“Through the lens of David Kelley’s polemical work, A Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand, a few critical issues in Objectivism get revealed.”
On David Kelley’s Idea of The Legacy of Ayn Rand – Anoop Verma, VERMA POST

“In my judgment, Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead is the greatest novel on the themes of independence and integrity.”
The Fountainhead — contrasting Roark and Keating – STEPHEN HICKS

“Here’s something you probably didn’t do this morning: Look in the mirror and ask, am I a jerk?
How to Tell If You're a Jerk – Eric Schwitzgebel, SPLINTERED MIND

Is religion essential to ethics?
On Natural Morality and Religious Amoralism – STEPHEN HICKS

New book; new website.
Creating Christ – JAMES VALLIANT

“The well-intentioned, yet harmful way members of the left prioritise tolerance over reform within Islam.”
Liberals Are Wrong to Tolerate Religion All the Time – Maajid Nawaz, BIG THINK

“Sorry, but no. Islam needs reforming but definitely not a Reformation.”
No Reformation for Islam, Please – Stephen Hicks, EVERY JOE

Rather cool.
Google’s Clever Plan to Stop Aspiring ISIS Recruits – WIRED

The best ever opening paragraph on Wikipedia ?



“A new book eviscerates the West's neo-racialism.”
The principled, left-wing case against multiculturalism – Teri Murray, SPIKED

“If you believe everything you read, you are probably quite worried about the prospect of a superintelligent, killer AI.” Experts, not so much.
Are the Experts Worried About the Existential Risk of Artificial Intelligence? – MIT TECHNOLOGY REVIEW

“A common argument you see with regard to computers and employment is that computer automation leads to major job losses. A modern version of the Luddite story.”
How computer automation affects occupations: technology, jobs, and skills – ANTI DISMAL

“Poor research design and data analysis encourage false-positive findings… The persistence of poor methods results partly from incentives that favour them, leading to the natural selection of bad science.”
The natural selection of bad science - Paul Smaldino, Richard McElreath, ROYAL SOCIETY OPEN SCIENCE

“Do you know what’s happening in this picture [below]? Literally one of the most important events in human history… But here’s the most amazing part of the story: Hardly anyone paid attention at the time.”
When You Change the World and No One Notices – COLLABORATIVE FUND


“A heartwarming family recipe that isn't fucking gross! I’m gonna eat the fuck out of this.”


Every man’s dream: ‘Barnfind Jaguar E-type sees the light of day for the first time in 40 years


To the Big 3 Tenors add the name of saxophonist Ben Webster.
The Big 3 Tenors – uDISCOVER MUSIC


Especially for those for whom the words “new King Crimson” makes your heart beat faster! (“A taster from the new King Crimson album – Radical Action to Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind.")


And new, very solemn, Cave.


"Incomparable and bewildering,” said Debussy.”Parsifal is one of the most beautiful monuments of sound ever raised to the serene glory of music." Sibelius reckoned "Nothing in the world has made so overwhelming an impression on me.” Debussy and Sibelius were smart men.


[Hat tips, quips and thank yous to, from and back and forth including Jim Rose, Amanda, Michael F Ozaki MD, Monica Beth, Andrew Sheldon, Michael Earley, Adam Mossoff, Judith Curry ‏]


Thursday, 22 September 2016

In Auckland, we’re still making affordable housing impossible


The authors of Auckland’s Unitary Plan took on the issue of how the city should be allowed to grow by the planners. Disallowing people’s freedom to choose themselves how the fuck they live, they characterised it as a choice between up versus out.

The best choice within this perverted planning framework would have been to say both-and.

The worst choice if you want to cure Auckland’s rampant housing affordability problem (for which, I remind you, we have the world’s gold medal) would be to largely prohibit building out in favour of building up. (“They don’t want people to have choice – they want everyone in an inner-city apartment.”)

The very worst choice of all would have been to largely prohibit building out while severly limiting where people will be allowed to build up – which is what the city has ended up with.Housingx

So we get the worst of both worlds.

The outcome reaffirms research conclusions that

Cities that have curbed their expansion have – with limited exception – failed to compensate with densification. As a result they have produced far less housing than they would otherwise, with severe national implications for housing affordability, geographic mobility and access to opportunity, all of which are keenly felt today as we approach the top of housing cycle.

Part of the reason is that, as urban-research economist Issi Romem finds, cities do fail to compensate for not building out by making it far too difficult to build up either.

But the other reason is that simple urban land economics means that because the planners’ ring-fence around the city “destroys the competitive market for land on the urban fringe,” the jolt in prices there feeds through to every single home in the city.


Discussing this disaster, Wendell Cox points out that this should hardly be news to anyone willing to remove their blinkers.

Near 50 years ago, legendary urbanologist Sir Peter Hall suggested that “soaring land prices …. certainly represent the biggest single failure of the system of planning introduced with the UK’s 1947 [Town and Country Planning] Act” (see: The Costs of Smart Growth Revisited: A 40 Year Perspective). Urban containment policy, the principal strategy of forced densification, cannot repeal the law of supply and demand. Seventy years of experience prove that.

The writers of Auckland’s Unitary Plan could not care less about that proof.

Now about Auckland’s would-be home-buyers locked out of the housing market by their strangling of it.

[Hat tip Hugh Pavletich]


Quote of the Day: On what underpins our modern system of government


"When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorises it and a moral code that glorifies it."
~ Frederic Bastiat in Economic Sophisms


No, unions don't increase everyone's wages


Where would all workers be without unions? Probably much better off says Gary Galles in this guest post.

There is a well-established tradition in which unions claim credit for every worker gain. Among their most common assertions, often incorporated in attributing negative wage trends to eroding union power, is that unions raise all workers’ wages. Unfortunately, while sometimes raising those of their own members, unions retard rather than raise the real earning power of all workers in general.

Unions leverage special government-granted powers (e.g., unique exemptions from antitrust laws) allowing current employees to prevent competition from others willing to do the same work for less. This is a form of collusion that, done by any business, would be legally prosecuted.

The higher union wages that result are then credited for raising all workers’ wages because they supposedly force up other employers’ wages to keep their workers from leaving for those better-paying alternatives. However, their claim cannot be true without violating the law of demand.

Higher Wages, Fewer Jobs 

UNionsHigher wages from unions’ government-imposed monopoly power would push up others’ wages only if it increased the number of such high-paying jobs. The reason is that employers need only outbid employees’ actual options to retain them. But by artificially forcing up the cost of hiring their workers, unions reduce rather than increase the number of such jobs offered by employers, reflecting the reduced output consumers will buy at the higher costs and prices that result. Instead of improving the alternatives available to non-union workers, they are worsened, as the displaced workers are forced into competition with others for non-union jobs.

Those displaced workers increase the labour supply for non-union employment. That pushes wages for all workers in those jobs down, not up. Consequently, union wage premiums do not benefit all workers; benefits come primarily from other workers’ pockets.

With only about 18% of America’s private sector workforce remaining unionised, union power therefore cuts the real incomes of more than 4 out of 5 workers. And since unions also hike government service costs directly, as well as through other cost-increasing policies (e.g., the “Living Wage” nonsense and project labour agreements) which big labour’s political clout has pushed through, all other workers are also harmed as taxpayers.

Union Opposition to International Trade

Unions2Unions have also used the same “big lie” technique of constantly repeating the opposite of the truth as fact in other areas. For example, aware that their monopoly power to exclude competing workers stops at the border, unions have long been the core backers of protectionism. They focus their attention on those getting special protection, then assert that their benefits will also spread throughout the economy to benefit others.

But they ignore protectionism’s much larger harms — to all other workers who would have gained from expanded exports; to all other workers who, as consumers, have their access to lower cost and superior imports (and domestic production forced to compete with it) restricted; and to all other workers adversely affected by the reduction in real wealth and income produced by domestic protectionism and induced foreign protectionist responses.

Given that Labor Day in the US has been considered the traditional start of “serious” presidential campaigning, it is an appropriate time to remember just how damaging unions’ “big lie” strategy is. Its illogical twist can derail accurate understanding of the harm unions impose on almost all Americans, offering a sobering reminder that “It ain’t ignorance that does the most damage; its knowing so derned much that ain’t so.” After all, when people know they are ignorant of important variables that bear on their decisions, they usually don’t bet the house on them, but when they think they know what is false to be true, they often lose the house.

garygalles_0Gary M. Galles is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University. He is the author of The Apostle of Peace: The Radical Mind of Leonard Read.
A version of this post appeared at the Mises Wire.



The case for (& against) voting


Libertarian Bryan Caplan is a non-voter. Libertarian David Henderson votes. They both reckon they’ve got killing arguments for their position.

“My honest answer [against voting] begins with extreme disgust,” says Bryan Caplan. And when you have to choose between Grotesque or Corrupt, who wouldn’t be disgusted with the choice? But Caplan’s not even talking about  the candidates, he’s talking about the voters as well:

When I look at voters, I see human beings at their hysterical, innumerate worst.  When I look at politicians, I see mendacious, callous bullies.  Yes, some hysterical, innumerate people are more hysterical and innumerate than others.  Yes, some mendacious, callous bullies are more mendacious, callous, and bully-like than others.  But even a bare hint of any of these traits appalls me.  When someone gloats, "Politifact says Trump is pants-on-fire lying 18% of the time, versus just 2% for Hillary," I don't want to cheer Hillary.  I want to retreat into my Bubble, where people dutifully speak the truth or stay silent.

But he does recognise that politicians do listen to votes, especially protest votes; and he would vote, were the odds sufficient:

If I had a 5% chance of tipping an electoral outcome, I might hold my nose, scrupulously compare the leading candidates, and vote for the Lesser Evil.  Indeed, if, like von Stauffenberg, I had a 50/50 shot of saving millions of innocent lives by putting my own in grave danger, I'd consider it.  But I refuse to traumatize myself for a one-in-a-million chance of moderately improving the quality of [domestic] governance.  And one-in-a-million is grossly optimistic.

David Henderson finds this underwhelming, pointing out that “he wasn't saying that other people shouldn't vote; rather, he was saying that he found voting ‘traumatising’" and would prefer the “inner peace” of abstinence. He quotes a commenter who expresses his own view, that of someone who writes to influence people’s opinions :

If you're an influential opinion leader, voting isn't just about your single vote. It's about setting an example.

For myself, it’s generally always simple: Don’t vote, it only encourages them. So I only vote when I want to do that.

Which means, in the current council elections, staying at home and using the ballot paper for kindling. Because who would want to encourage any of the big-spending monument-building options on offer in Auckland.

And for some people, bless ‘em, the options are even worse:



Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Quote of the Day: On the Nanny State


“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be "cured" against one's will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.”


A wooden spoon for the Fraser Institute’s “economic freedom” medal


Another survey suggests New Zealand is right up there when it comes to “economic freedom.” Third in the world according to the “libertarian” Fraser Insitute’s latest. which awards little old us a bronze model with a score of 8.35 out of 10 for economic freedom, which they define as:

An index of economic freedom should measure the extent to which rightly acquired property is protected and individuals are engaged in voluntary transactions.

Fair enough. That’s a reasonable definition. Not so reasonable however is giving any country anywhere in today’s world anywhere colse to 10 on any reaonably objective scale. Or even more than 5.

Or to bestow on us anything like an 8.35. (Are we really 83.5% free? Really?)

Indeed, when property in land is “protected” by law like the Resource Management Act and its use is as regulated as it is now (being one of the leading contributors to New Zealand earning a gold medal for for unaffordable housing), you have to wonder how we can possibly score an 8.49 for property rights.

So since most of these surveys are garbage in garbage out, I figured I’d track this one metric as a measure of how reliable all the others are.

Bear in mind that this survey, like all such surveys, aren’t carried out by folks in the field fully endowed with local knnowledge. They’re pulled together by people at desks very far away from the places they write about (these guys, in this case, are in Canada) with facility mainly in handling a spread sheet and a bunch of somebody else’s data.

The source of data for the Fraser Insitute’s score on property rights is, their appendix tells me, something called the Global Competitiveness Report put out by a group called the World Economic Forum. (Heard of them? No? Transpires they’re “a Swiss nonprofit foundation, based in Cologny, Geneva… The Forum is best known for its annual winter meeting for five days in Davos.” Remember Davos? A meeting of men famously described by Daniel Hannan as deriving most of their income, directly or indirectly, from state patronage.)

So where did Davos Man get his figures from for his Global Competitiveness Report? I went to the report to check:

_Quote5The GCI uses the World Economic Forum’s annual Executive Opinion Survey to capture concepts that require a more qualitative assessment, or for which comprehensive and internationally comparable statistical data are not available. For this year’s GCI, more than 14,000 business leaders in 140 economies were surveyed on topics related to national competitiveness. It also uses statistical data from internationally recognised agencies, notably the International Monetary Fund; the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization; and the World Health Organisation.

What proportion is opinion, and what proportion is this other data?

_Quote2The exact share of Executive Opinion Survey data in the 113 indicators used to calculate the index varies slightly by country, depending on its stage of development. In general, approximately two-thirds of the data used in the GCI 2015-2016 are derived from the Executive Opinion Survey and one-third is derived from international sources’ statistics.

So how much of the data is simply opinion? Answer: About two-thirds, emanating from this”Executive Opinion Survey.”

And where do we find this Executive Opinion Survey data?  Answer: We don’t. It’s not publicly available.

It is however possible to discover that New Zealand’s Executive Opinion Survey data comes from a survey completed by just 46 people (see the Survey’s Table 2, page 81.). Names and addresses of this select group of cronies are unfortunately not supplied, however the report does list Phil O’Reilly’s Business NZ as their local “partner insitutute” (the “unique strength” of Business NZ being, according to the Business NZ website, their “capability to engage with government officials, community groups, MPs and Ministers on a daily basis”). So I’m guessing the cronies are his.

None of the survey data of this infamous forty-six appears on the Business NZ website, but the NZ Initiative website at least does offer this cautionary note:

Note the information in the opinion survey can be skewed by perception and by small samples (e.g. New Zealand has a sample size less than 50) and therefore can have substantial error ranges, so analysis should be confirmed with supporting logic and evidence.

None of which either the Fraser Insitute nor Davos Men have apparently bothered to do.

Meaning that a subujective worldwide survey of cronies and business cheerleaders gets trumpeted every year as bestowing upon this small authoritarian backwater some colour of medal for freedom – and people who shoud know better like Daniel J MItchell post pieces praising “reform” in which the government ended up bigger, the total tax take ended larger, and Big Brother became “bigger and more ominous then ever.”

I’d give them a 10 out of 10 for chutzpah.


  • “But have you ever wondered from where exactly all these folk derive their data?  I pressed one fellow once whose “freedom index” showed New Zealand at the time to be the world’s freest (earning us their “gold medal for freedom”) earning scores like 9.6 out of 10 for property rights only a few years after the Resource Management Act had taken most of them away.
        “After a whole riot of wriggling to try to avoid the questioning, he eventually conceded that much of their data is based on subjective surveys sent out to selected “leaders” in each country. And from that news it didn’t take much more to learn that most of those surveys were completed by local cheerleaders desperately keen to trumpet the virtues of their hometown. (Q: Is your place a hell of place to do business? A: [Big tick] Hell, yes!! You’re darn tootin’!)
        “So, garbage in, and garbage out.”
    NZ: Prosperous? – Peter Cresswell, NOT PC
  • “With reason and wit, Perigo summarises New Zealand's decade of market reforms, while countering some U.S. libertarians who believe these reforms represented a veritable revolution. Indeed, Perigo explains how the various reforms have ultimately failed — and describes the philosophical revolution it will take for liberty to succeed.”
    In the Revolution's Twilight – Lindsay Perigo, FREE RADICAL



The alcohol “watchdog” needs a watchdog


Radio New Zealand reports with a straight face that

_Quote_IdiotAn alcohol watchdog hopes a survey that shows more than one in four teens aged between 15 and 17 often drink a risky amount of alcohol serves as a sharp wake-up call.

The “watchdog” is making “a call,” tweets RNZ mis-reporter Brent Edwards irresponsibly, “to curb alcohol marketing, cost, availability.”

Irresponsible because, as one follower corrected him,

The ‘sharp wake up call’ is that alcohol consumption among youth is actually falling.

Truth being the first casualty of the way modern journalism is done.

Eric Crampton has the stats, the story and the quick summary, which is:

Whatever the survey, Alcohol Healthwatch is going to say it shows that the government needs to crack down on booze… So [in this case] Alcohol Healthwatch takes what looks to be a substantial decline in kids reporting drinking as reason for more controls on alcohol.

The taxpayer-funded “watchdog” needs a watchdog.

Maybe the “neutral” state broadcaster does too.


The climate has changed before

The cool cartoonists at xkcd posted a world history of global temperatures that was graphically unimpeachable but flawed in the data it relied on. So great idea, and great graphics, but they produced another hockey stick.

Cartoonist Josh fixed it for them:


I think I’d call this “context.”

[Hat tip Watts Up With That, where there’s a thriving debate down in the comments section.]

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Snowden’s muse was Ayn Rand’s John Galt



Ayn Rand’s inspiration is still making the world a freer place, says Jeffrey Tucker in this guest post.

Something has always bugged me about the case of Edward Snowden. He worked in a massive professional machinery of enormous power, prestige, and money. His world was the pinnacle of achievement for his skill set. Everything about the massive surveillance state broadcast that there was no escape. Everything about his environment demanded compliance, service, and submission. His job was to check at the door his individualism, integrity, and character -- and to become a faithful cog in a machinery of superiors.

Everyone else went along. They didn’t question it. If they did question the goings on, it was purely abstract. Surely there was no real escape. You could only adapt, enjoy the power, take the money, and die someday.

SnowdenSnowden, for whatever reason, decided to take a different direction. Alone, and without consulting even those closest to him, he struck out on his own. He took the unfathomable risk of copying all the most pertinent files. He put them on a tiny disk and embedded it in the Rubik's cube he often carried. He plotted his escape. He walked calmly out of the National Security Agency and boarded a flight to Hong Kong, where he met two reporters he had contacted through encrypted email. What he revealed rocked the world.

Throughout it all, he was scared but never indecisive. Unimpressed by the machinery all around him, he saw it not as his master and not even his equal. He saw it all as beatable. He knew that what he was doing was right, and he did it all because – against all odds – he thought he could make a difference. He literally risked his life in the service of human freedom.


What would drive a man to do such a thing? Many may have thought about it. That running a global and indiscriminate dragnet was both illegal and immoral was not unknown to his colleagues. But only Snowden stepped up to do something about it. It’s actually remarkable that such a man exists in our time.

Having followed the Snowden case carefully, this always puzzled me. It’s fine to say he has character, that he acted on principle, that he showed courage. That’s all great, but where did this come from? He is not particularly religious. He seems to have a libertarian streak. But he doesn’t seem particularly ideological in his politics. So I’ve always wondered: what is the moral guide that led Snowden to do the unthinkable in the service of truth?

Here is where I’m deeply grateful for the new movie by Oliver Stone [a phrase I never thought I would see on this blog – Ed.]: Snowden.

Rand Was His Muse

There is a moment early on in Stone’s movie when Snowden is being interviewed for his first national security position. He is asked what books have influenced him. He mentions Joseph Campbell. (The influence on Snowden of Campbell’s notion of the “Hero’s Journey” would itself be a fascinating topic to pursue.). And then, crucially, Ayn Rand. The interviewer quotes a line from Atlas Shrugged: “one man can stop the motor of the world.”

Snowden agrees, and the movie proceeds.

Snowden2This is it! This makes sense of so much. In Rand’s novel, everyone faces a gigantic and oppressive state apparatus that is gradually pillaging the producers and driving society into poverty. Each person who confronts this machine must make a decision: join it, defend it, ignore it, or fight it through some means. Those who take the courageous route know better than to take up arms. Instead, they do something more devastating. They walk away and deny the regime their own services. They decline to partake in their own destruction. In so doing, they are doing society a great service of refusing to have their talents contribute to further oppressing society.

There we have it. Edward Snowden must have had this riveting story in his mind. As any reader of Atlas can attest, the book creates in your mind a huge and dramatic world filled with epic moral decisions. People are tested by their willingness to stand up for what is right:  to stand as individuals confronting gigantic systems against which they otherwise appear to be powerless. Her message is that one human mind, inspired to action by moral principle, can in fact change the world.

Here is where Rand’s book is decidedly different from all the other postwar literature in defense of freedom against the state. She was emphatic about the individual moral choice. She created a fictional world, a tactile and unforgettable world, in which history turns on doing what is right, regardless of the personal risk and even in the face of material deprivation. (The silliest rap on Rand is that she favoured material acquisition above everything else; the truth is that she favoured moral courage more than security, power, or even a steady income.)

Why Is This in the Movie?

Snowden3This movie was made in close cooperation with Edward Snowden himself, and he actually appears in the final moments of the film. He surely signed off on all the biographical elements of the film, including this one.

Why would Oliver Stone – a famously left-wing, conspiracy-driven producer – want to include this bit of biographical detail? Part of the drama of the film chronicles Snowden’s own ideological enlightenment, from being an uncritically pro-American patriot type to becoming a deep skeptic of the military-industrial complex. In order to see the truth, he had to gradually shed his conservatism and embrace a broader point of view.

It is possible that Stone included this vignette about Rand as a way of illustrating his right-wing biases and how they gradually became something else in the face of evidence. I don’t have evidence for this, so it is pure speculation on my part. But it makes sense given the popular impression of Rand as some kind of goddess of right-wing thinking.

Moral Courage

But the truth of Rand’s influence is very different. One way to understand her books is as entirely autobiographical. She was born in Russia and fated to live under communist despotism. Had she acquiesced to the systems around her, she might have lived and died in poverty and obscurity. But she wanted a different life. She wanted her life to matter. So she plotted her own escape from Russia. She came to the US and lived briefly in Chicago.

Snowden4Alone she moved again, this time to Hollywood and built a career as scriptwriter, before writing her own plays and becoming a novelist. This ‘peasant’ born in Russia made a brilliant career for herself, becoming one of the 20th century’s most influential minds – all without an academic career or any champions at all in the centres of power.

Rand’s greatest characters follow a similar path of refusing to go along just because powerful and rich people are in charge. Her message is that one person with a mind and moral stamina can stand up to even the most powerful machinery of oppression. It takes cunning, daring, and a single-minded focus on doing what is right by one’s own lights.

This is precisely what Snowden did. He followed the example of John Galt. Instead of shutting off the motor of the world that he invented, Snowden sought to shut down the motor of the state that he was helping to build. And he did it because it was the right thing to do.

If Stone included this passage to show Snowden’s evolution, he is deeply mistaken. It makes far more sense to me that Rand was actually Snowden’s muse throughout. And this makes me personally very proud of the mighty contribution she made in this world. Though she died in 1982, her influence is still being felt in our times. In fact, her influence is usually underestimated.

If I’m right about this, Rand’s influence is still making the world a freer place.

And consider whether he made the right choice. He is now one of the world's most in-demand speakers. He can pack in a crowd anywhere in the world. He is a leading spokesperson for human dignity, privacy, and freedom. Thanks to technology, he now reaches billions and billions. He has a lifetime of good work ahead of him – all because of the choices he made. 

Ayn, you have done it again.

TuckerJeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) and CLO of the startup Author of five books, and many thousands of articles, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the WorldFollow on Twitter and Like on Facebook.
This post first appeared at FEE.


Colin Craig v Jordan Williams


Occasionally, just occasionally, the ebb and flow of human affairs throws a case into the courts that shines a bright light into events that reveal the very nature of what it is to be human.

The three-week trial (and counting) between Colin Craig and Jordan Williams is not however one of those cases. It looks instead more like the sordid tale of a dork getting his come-uppance. Which is no doubt why so many are embracing the news coming from the courtroom so enthusiastically.

Me? It’s among those things very high up on my “Couldn’t Care Less List.” Which is why you’re unlikely to read anything about it here.

Just so you know.


The benefits from geniuses


Other people—wherever they are—give us benefits even if we never meet them.  Even if we don’t even know they exist. Even if they’re from the other side of the planet—or from centuries before we were born.

It’s all part of the social cooperation of the market, in which we can all enjoy the many benefits of genius wherever we are.

One of the many blessings of the division-of-labour society that the market makes possible is how it allows us all to benefit from the existence of these geniuses (genii?). “It makes it possible” explains economist George Reisman, “for geniuses to specialise in science, invention, and the organisation and direction of the productive activity of others, thereby further and progressively increasing the knowledge used in production.” From which we all get the benefits, even centuries later.

I was thinking of this when I saw this clickbait list of the Top 20+ Smartest People Who Ever Lived – the sort of thing you and I like to click on during breakfast. Based on the web writers’ own spurious estimates of a spurious measurement (IQ) and interspersed with chess heroes and a failed stateswoman (Cleopatra) we see a number of people without whom our own lives would be a much lesser existence. List the ways in which each of them moved the world, and you’re well on your way to writing a 100 Greatest Reasons to Be Alive listicle for the next piece of clickbait.

And the funny thing is, as one commenter pointed out, there is no way if knowing that these are even the greatest genii who ever lived (geniuses?), because it’s perfectly possible, and even highly likely, that many other would-be geniuses simply withered on the vine without any opportunity to exercise their genius or benefit the world.

But when we realise the powerful impact just one genuine genius can have – that of an Aristotle, a Shakespeare, a Newton – we should understand the crucial life-giving importance of the specialisation that the division-of-labour society makes possible:

In the absence of a division-of-labour society, geniuses alonng with everyone else, must pass their lives in producing their own food, clothing and shelter—assuming they are fortunate enough to have survived in the first place. Perhaps their high intelligence enables them to produce somewhat more efficiently than do other people. But their real potential is obviously lost—both to themselves and to the rest of society.
    In contrast, in a division-of-labour society … instead of being lost in obscurity, they [are able to] become the Newtons, the Edisons, the Fords of the world, thereby incalculably raising the productivity of every member of the division-of-labour society.

The effect is not just expanded wealth and productivity – it’s virtually an exponential multiplication of brain power.

The effect of a division-of-labour society is thus not only to increase the total of the knowledge that the same amount of brain power can store and  use, but also to bring that knowedge up to a standard set by the most intelligent members of the society. The average and below-average member of society is enabled to produce on the strength of the intelligence of the most intelligent…

So even if we have never heard of Philip Emeagwali, Srinivasa Ramanujan or Aryabhata, the fact they existed and their genius was able to flourish and be shared has made our own lives incalculably better and more productive.

… And in each succeeding generation, geniuses are able to begin with the knowledge acquired by all the preceding generations, and then make their own fresh contributions to knowledge. In this way, the knowledge and productive power of a division-of-labour society are able progressively to increase, reaching greater and greater heights as time goes on.

It’s a great story.

Exactly the sort of story I like to think about over breakfast.


Jump for Joy




A Duke Ellington group I’m in posted this (unattributed)  photo of the great man in his prime motoring through Harlem in a sports car. That infectious look of joy you see on his face? That’s the very feeling we fans enjoy in his music.

Here’s a story about the man and the post’s title:



Monday, 19 September 2016

How a bureaucracy fixes things


Housing New Zealand is a government department supposed to house New Zealanders who can’t or won’t house themselves. At least that’s what it says on the label:

Housing New Zealand has bought a South Auckland motel to help meet the area’s housing shortage – but ironically the existing residents will have to move out to make room for the homeless.
    A spokesman said the agency bought the 10-unit Cimarron Motel in Waterview Rd, Takanini, as “part of our work to make more housing available in Auckland for those who require it urgently.”
    But the motel was already being used for long-stay accommodation, and former resident Roland Stehlin said he was worried about what would happen to the remaining residents.
    “There’s an elderly couple there who have been there 11 years, they have nowhere to go,” he said.
    “We’ve got a family that’s in the house [formerly the manager’s house]. Their kids are all going to the school there. The last I heard was apparently they are going out to Pukekohe, now they have to find some way of getting their kids into school there.”

HNZ also reports it

has reduced the numbers on the social housing waiting list in the Manukau and Manurewa-Papakura wards from 584 in June 2014 to 254 in June this year.

You may surmise there is some connection between these people who were already housed and the way HNZ reduces its “list.”

This is how bureaucracies roll.

[Hat tip Dim Post]


Micro-housing v modern zoning


Laman Luther Tiny House, interior

Over the past almost one hundred years, the unintended consequences of well-meaning zoning regulations have destroyed housing opportunities for thousands. Attempts to “fix” the problems with more regulation often make matters worse – Seattle’s story of the killing of micro-housing – small cunningly crafted spaces that young folk can afford – is just another in the long and lengthening case file.

Beginning in 2009, developers in Seattle became leaders in micro-housing [“a niche option in cities with expensive housing”]. As the name suggests, micro-housing consists of tiny studio apartments or small rooms in dorm-like living quarters. These diminutive homes come in at around 15–22 square metres, each and usually aren’t accompanied by a lot of frills. Precisely because of their size and modesty, this option provides a cost-effective alternative to the conventional, expensive, downtown Seattle apartment model.
    Unfortunately, in the years following its creation, micro-housing development has all but disappeared. It isn’t that Seattle prohibited micro-housing outright. Instead, micro-housing’s gradual demise was death by a thousand cuts, with a mushroom cloud of incremental zoning regulation finally doing it in for good. Design review requirements, floor space requirements, amenity requirements, and location prohibitions constitute just a few of the Seattle Planning Commission’s assorted weapons of choice.

It began so optimistically as a way for young folk especially to get their own albeit small space in the city and embrace the urban lifestyle economically from their own place.

The story begins in 2009, when micro-housing appeared in Seattle’s interior neighborhoods, spurred on by the renowned late local developer Jim Potter. Production ramped up in the next few years, and by 2013 micro-units accounted for nearly a quarter of Seattle’s housing growth, with 1,800 units produced that year. By 2015, the ‘Seattle Times’ claimed that, with another 1,600 units in the pipeline, Seattle was by far the national leader in the trend.

So what happened? Seattle architect David Neiman takes up the story. Outlawing “a smart, affordable housing option for thousands of its residents,” Seattle’s grey ones killed micro-housing “one bad policy at a time.”

There’s no one single moment when we lost the war. Rather, it’s been a process of accumulated bad decisions. In short, rule changes made by the city mandate larger and therefore costlier units, drastically limit the areas in which they can be built, require the extra process and expense of formal design review, and discourage participation in the city’s multi-family tax exemption, a program that lowers rents substantially for working-class households.

His article ‘How Seattle Killed Micro Housing’ is “a case study in how regulations can metastasize indirectly”

It’s not that any one Seattle law states, point-blank, that micro-housing can’t exist. But the units have become so burdened by design reviews, parking mandates, micromanagement of layout, and location limits, that they make little economic sense for developers, and few are built. In this respect, they have become de facto “illegal.”

Neiman’s chronological sketch plans for Seattle micro-housing tell the story in pictures (dimensions are in feet):


As a result of the exacting new regulations placed on tiny homes, explains Vanessa Brown Calder, Seattle lost an estimated 800 units of low-cost housing per year.

While this free market (and free to the taxpayer) solution faltered, Seattle poured millions into various housing initiatives that subsidise housing supply or housing demand, all on the taxpayer’s dole.

To a politician or bureaucrat, that is how you “fix” a problem. Any problem.

Sadly, Seattle’s story is anything but unusual. Over the past almost one hundred years, the unintended consequences of well-meaning zoning regulations have played out in counterproductive ways time and time again. Curiously, in government circles zoning’s myriad failures are met with calls for more regulations and more restrictions—no doubt with more unintended consequences—to patch over the failures of past regulations gone wrong.
    In pursuit of the next great fix, cities try desperately to mend the damage that they’ve already done.  
    Euphemistically-titled initiatives like “inclusionary zoning” (because who doesn’t want to be included?) force housing developers to produce low-cost apartments in luxury apartment buildings, thereby
increasing the price of rent for everyone else.
    Meanwhile, “housing stabilisation policies” (because who doesn’t want housing stabilised?) prohibit landlords from evicting tenants that don’t pay their rent, thereby increasing the difficulty low-income individuals face in getting approved for an apartment in the first place.
    The thought seems to be that even though zoning regulations of the past have systematically
jacked up housing prices, intentionally and unintentionally produced racial and class segregation, and simultaneously reduced economic opportunities and limited private property rights, what else could go wrong?
    Perhaps government planners could also determine how to restrict children’s access to good schools or safe neighbourhoods. Actually, zoning regulations already do that, too.

Just ask all the non-residents of Double-Grammar Zone properties in Auckland.

Given the recent failures of zoning policies, it seems prudent for government planners to begin exercising a bit of humility, rather than simply proposing the same old schtick with a contemporary twist.

But as they say, never expect a bureaucrate to reconsider.

.[Plans by architect David Neiman. Pic by Inhabitat]


Saturday, 17 September 2016

Quote of the Day: On the enormity of the smallness of the enemy


"He was seeing the enormity of the smallness of the enemy who was destroying the world. He felt as if, after a journey of years through a landscape of devastation, past the ruins of great factories, the wrecks of powerful engines, the bodies of invincible men, he had come upon the despoiler, expecting to find a giant—and had found a rat eager to scurry for cover at the first sound of a human step. If this is what has beaten us, he thought, the guilt is ours.”
~ Hank Rearden’s thoughts in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged

[Hat tip The Verma Post]


Friday, 16 September 2016

Quote of the Day: On welfare, parenting and the 30-million word gap


“Ironically one of the reasons the DPB was introduced was to allow sole mothers more time with their children. To reduce their stress and enable better parenting. Today it is known that maternal depression, welfare dependence and low literacy are all associated.”
~ Lindsay Mitchell on The genesis of the DPB and "The 30-million word gap"


Trump: Make America mercantilist again


Politicians choose words carefully. Even Trump, when his speechwriters write then down for him.

So what does he mean in yesterday’s economics speech by what he chose to call his “American System”?

The words echo, no doubt intentionally, Henry Clay’s “American System” promoted at a time when laissez-faire was king, Clay’s programme promoting instead a three-legged statist mongrel:

This envisioned a protective tariff, a national bank jointly owned by private stockholders and the federal government, and federal subsidies for transportation projects ('internal improvements').

More government and more protectionism. This gives you a starting point to understand what Trump means when he declares he would “replace the present policy of globalism … and replace it with a new policy of Americanism.”

This is “America First” meant in precisely the same sense as Winston‘s “NZ First,” with no understanding of that single essential ingredient that did make America great: liberty, and an understanding of what made it and what it meant.

Sure, he talks (this week) about removing destructive regulations and lowering taxes – complete with supply-side voodoo avoiding the need to mention what commensurate spending cuts he would make – something no serious candidate could do when debt is at the moon and back -- and all in the same breath as he talks about “renegotiating” trade deals, which means in Trump-speak precisely what the less mealy-mouthed Henry Clay was pleased to simply call protectionism.

And you can tell by the time spent in the speech about tariffs and walls, about NAFTA and Mexico, about China and the WTO, and about trade deficits and “jobs going offshore” that this is where is heart truly lies: He would make America mercantilist again.

Just as he’s always said he would. That much, you can believe.


  • “Oxford Economics found that if fully implemented, Trump's economic, tax and immigration policies would cost 4 million U.S. jobs, weigh down global growth and U.S. consumer spending, and could spark a trade war with other nations. "Combining these policies together, the impact could be significantly negative for the U.S. economy," says Jamie Thompson, head of macro scenarios at Oxford Economics.…
        “Thompson argues that Trump could hurt the very workers he says he'll help in America's manufacturing sector. In Oxford's ‘adverse case scenario’ Trump slaps a 35% tariff on goods coming from Mexico, like cars and air conditioners. But the problem is that almost half of the parts in those cars and ACs originate from U.S. suppliers. In other words, U.S. manufacturers who ship to Mexico stand to lose customers if the U.S. imposes a tariff on the products they contribute to.”
    'President Trump' would cost U.S. economy $1 trillion - CNN
  • “Trump never mentions the $10 trillion hit to the economy from his deportation plan.” ~ Adam Khan
  • “Once again demonstrating that he has no understanding of the concept of comparative advantage, Donald Trump slammed Ford Motor Company for announcing that it would move all its small-car production to Mexico.”
  • Lawrence Reed: “The very best response Ford could make to Trump would be this: "It's none of your damn business where we want to build or move a plant. There's nothing in the Constitution that says the President gets to decide where a company puts its manufacturing facilities. We are not your slaves. This is America, not North Korea, and you're just a Mussolini wannabe. Buzz off."
    Ford fact checks Trump: We will be here foreverCNN
  • “There is no such thing as the Infrastructure Fairy that takes government spending and magically turns it into economic growth.”
    Infrastructure Spending Does not "Grow the Economy" – Patrick Trombly, MISES WIRE
  • “The economy is currently expected to grow by roughly 2 percent a year, and economists say Trump's proposed restrictions on immigration would be among the many things hampering his ability to double that rate of expansion. If growth remains around a more realistic 2 percent, Goldwein said, Trump's plan would add roughly $5 trillion to the nation's debt.”
    Economists: Trump's economic plans depend on unlikely growth – CHICAGO TRIBUNE