Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Why Ardern? Ask Trotter.


For reasons of their own, on the back of her underwhelming rejection by 79% of the Mt Albert electorate on Saturday, the commentariat have chosen all week to talk up Jacinda Ardern to be deputy Labour leader,

Since Chris Trotter’s motives are generally among the most transparent of the commentariat, I’ve scoured his latest Ardern hagiography to discover reasons why the young woman who’s achieved nothing in her short existence so far but a mouthful of teeth and a handful of magazine covers should be bumped up on the basis only of a lacklustre by-election. What have I been missing. What signal achievements have I overlooked that make her the obvious Next Big Thing. Because according to Chris (and for many of his colleagues), Labour's Future Has A Single Name – and that name is Ardern.

But why Chris, why? These are his reasons, such as they are

  • Because her 21% result represents an “emphatic by-election victory”
  • Because the name “Jacinda” has already acquired a winning ring. (Yes, he seriously said that.)
  • Because if Andrew Little doesn’t promote her to deputy-leader, “then he’s a fool.” (Yes, he also said that. Seriously.)
  • Because if he doesn’t, he “will only fuel suspicions that he lacks the fortitude to shake-up the delicate factional balance of Labour’s caucus.” (Yes, I know, but he’s writing this shit not I.)
  • Because he quotes Oliver Cromwell. Twice. (Yes, really. It’s that important, apparently.)
  • Because “Little now needs to reassure Auckland’s young urban professionals … that there is plenty of space on Labour’s pews for them.” (I should remind you that Mr Trotter gets paid to write columns like this.)
  • Because “keeping Annette King where she is for fear of reactivating the ‘Anyone But Cunliffe’ brigade would not only flatter that waning faction’s significance, but also signal a serious loss of political momentum.”
  • Because “she has now moved past [Grant] Robertson.” (In what respect, one wonders.)
  • Because (in some dim way he never bothers to define) Ardern represents “the future,” and in choosing her Little “would also be moving decisively beyond Labour’s past.”

Seriously, this bathetic exercise in begging the question is Chris Trotter’s column for the week, distributed nationwide courtesy of the dying media that few people any more bother to read. (And they wonder why.)

I’m going back through Trotter’s list to discover anywhere, anywhere at all, where there is any reason to pick her for anything she has actually achieved or shown that she is capable of – apart from a lazy by-election victory in the country’s second-safest seat.

Because in the end his ‘reasons’ for promoting the young woman to Labour deputy amounts either to nothing more than “because I say so,” or the good old tried-and-true “bet the electorate would like a nice bit of skirt.”

The former is pretty much the only argument the rest of the media have raised to promote her; and the latter is probably what they’d like to say if their overwhelming political correctness hadn’t stopped them.

But is the electorate really that shallow? (Shall we stop here to debate how nice a piece of skirt we really think she is?)

Still, since the arguments in her favour are so slim, the Labour Party are bound to listen…


6 Non-“It’s Racism” Arguments to Reject Marine Le Pen


Reports suggest a chance that French nationalist Marine Le Pen stands a chance to take out the French presidency in the 2017 elections, starting April 23rd. But there is is more to Le Pen’s appeal than just populist xenophobia. Guest poster Bill Wirtz has 6 “non-racism reasons” to roundly reject her and the ideas for which she stands.

On the road to the French presidential elections, Marine Le Pen's presidential campaign is oddly similar to that of Donald Trump: confrontation with the media, nativism, and accusations of xenophobia. To avoid creating sympathy for the far-right candidate by throwing labels at her, let's give substantive reasons to oppose her. Here are six reasons to reject Marine Le Pen other than "because of racism."

1. Free Speech

Members of Le Pen's far-right political party, National Front, talk an awful lot about free speech, but only regarding their own free speech interests. For example, in October 2015, the party campaigned with the slogan “Je Suis Marine” (translation: I am Marine) after their leader was sued for comparing Muslims praying in the Parisian streets to the Nazi occupation.

It turns out that National Front’s love of free speech only goes so far. Le Pen recently called on the government to ban all protests against police brutality. Le Pen was quoted as saying that ultra-violent, far-left protestors need to be stopped, in order to restore respect in the public order.

As some protests have indeed sparked violent riots, one might suggest that Le Pen’s concerns are justified. However, please note that when labour law protests turned violent last June and the government decided to ban all new protests, the National Front leader tweeted:

_Quote_IdiotThe ban on demonstrations against the #LabourLaw is a resignation in the face of thugs and a serious breach of democracy. MLP

2. Freedom of Religion

The National Front is one of those political groups that interprets secularism as not only state neutrality towards religion, but also towards citizens. The party wants to ban "ostensible signs of religion" from public places, including hijabs and yamakas. During her visit to Israel, Marine Le Pen said that this ban is a necessary sacrifice for the best interests of France.

It is clear that Le Pen confuses secularism with the eradication of religion altogether. Some scholars say that the proposed ban will be rejected by the French Constitutional Council no matter what, believing that "the state cannot prescribe what you can and cannot wear." Yet, considering that the French ban on the burqa, introduced in 2010, was upheld by the European Court of Human Rights in 2014, nothing seems impossible. One thing is clear: the National Front is unwilling to uphold rights to freedom of religion.

3. Trade Policy

In Le Pen’s 144-point plan for her presidency, she calls for the defence of French jobs by something she calls “smart protectionism.” Whether or not Le Pen’s protectionism is “smart” or “targeted,” this idea has been in the vocabulary of France’s far-Right for a few years already – but there’s still no explanation for what it actually entails.

Presumably, it will involve leaving the EU’s Single Market and imposing import tariffs, but the question of how Le Pen will adjust when other countries respond, and how she will deal with the inevitable rises in consumer prices, remains unsettled. Potential supporters need to recognise what protectionism actually entails: fewer choices, higher prices, fewer jobs, and toxic diplomatic relations.

4. Immigration

Even if you don't approach immigration from a moral perspective, that of offering opportunities to those who want to improve living conditions for themselves and their families, there are numerous economic reasons to support immigration, including immigration to and from France.

In a 2015 study released by the Pantheon-Sorbonne University in Paris for example, entitled ‘Immigration Policy and Macroeconomic Performance in France,’ researchers found that immigration has a "significantly positive" impact on GDP growth and in some cases, overall employment:

Diverse places of birth is a positive factor for the economic performance of a country. In addition, the entry of immigrants reacts significantly to the macroeconomic performance: all immigrants react positively to GDP per capita and immigrants in search of work react negatively to the unemployment rate.

Meanwhile, Le Pen has promised to crackdown on immigration.

5. The War on Drugs

On marijuana, Marine Le Pen follows a “zero tolerance” drug policy. For her 2012 presidential run, she stated that she’d introduce anything but the legalization of drugs and that France is losing the Drug War “because it is not actually fighting it.” In 2016, Le Pen’s tone hasn’t changed:

The idea of legalisation is profoundly dangerous. In places where cannabis has been legalised, the results have been dramatic, with an explosion of drug consumption and public health problems.

France’s public health agency reports that 700,000 French consume cannabis daily while 1.4 million citizens smoke at least ten joints per month. The République is one of the strictest European countries when it comes to drug prohibition, with penalties of €3,750 and up to one full year in jail for mere possession.

Paris officials should consider a policy similar to that of Portugal, where the decriminalisation of all drugs has been in effect – with measurable success -- since 2001.

6. No Reforms

Most notably, Marine Le Pen is no change from the big government system that has brought France to its knees over the past decades: she is part of it. The National Front is not planning on reforming entitlements or the overblown public sector. To the contrary, the party suggests lowering the retirement age to 60, forcing banks to lend money to small and medium-sized French enterprises, and employing more public sector workers while also increasing their wages.

The economic and institutional reforms that required for economic growth and subsequent prosperity, which are needed to foster social cohesion, are being ignored by the French nationalists. Their obsession with social conservatism and left-wing economic policies would be disastrous for France; so disastrous that the question of whether or not Marine Le Pen is personally racist is not even politically irrelevant.


From Luxembourg, Bill Wirtz studies French Law at the University of Lorraine in Nancy, France, and writes about the virtues of a free society at his blog.
His post previously appeared there, and at FEE.


Quote of the day: On curing poverty


“If concern with poverty and human suffering were the collectivists’ motive, they would have become champions of capitalism long ago; they would have discovered that it is the only political system capable of producing abundance. But they evaded the evidence as long as they could. When the issue became overwhelmingly clear to the whole world, the collectivists were faced with a choice: either turn to the right, in the name of humanity — or to the left, in the name of dictatorial power. They turned to the left — the New Left.
    “Instead of their old promises that collectivism would create universal abundance and their denunciations of capitalism for creating poverty, they are now denouncing capitalism for creating abundance. Instead of promising comfort and security for everyone, they are now denouncing people for being comfortable and secure.”
~ Ayn Rand on the New Left

[Hat tip For The New Intellectuals]


‘Victory’ in the trade war


Never understanding how all trade is a win-win, here’s how you’ll know the economic ignoramuses economic nationalists have achieved ‘victory’ in their trade war:


[Hat tip Learn Liberty]


The great story of our era: Human progress


The great story of our era? Underneath all the bad news that makes headlines, it’s been the steady and increasingly rapid increase around the globe of human flourishing, of human progress.

Despite what we hear on the news and from many authorities, the great story of our era is that we are witnessing the greatest improvement in global living standards ever to take place. Poverty, malnutrition, illiteracy, child labour and infant mortality are falling faster than at any other time in human history. Life expectancy at birth has increased more than twice as much in the last century as it did in the previous 200,000 years. The risk that any individual will be exposed to war, die in a natural disaster, or be subject to dictatorship has become smaller than in any other epoch. A child born today is more likely to reach retirement age than his forbears were to live to their fifth birthday.

Indeed, in industrialised South Korea now the life expectancy for women is soon expected to be approaching ninety. Ninety! This was simply unimaginable even just half a century ago; yet now, this sort of news barely makes a ripple against the tidal wave of news telling us what industrialisation and global free trade is allegedly doing to the planet, ignoring what it is doing for human beings.

jon1 (1)

In his latest book, Progress, Johan Norberg suggests “three reasons for the massive improvements in global standards of living.”

 First, he credits the intellectual Enlightenment, which replaced traditions and superstitions with reason and empiricism. Second, he points to the ideas of classical liberalism, which replaced serfdom and authoritarianism with individual liberty and liberal democracy. Third, he notes the role played by the Industrial Revolution in replacing hunger and poverty with prosperity and abundance.

To paraphrase economist George Reisman, it should be no more surprising that a good economist should promote all three than that a good surgeon would promote scientific research and a sterile surgery.

You’ll notice however that all three related sets of ideas are under attack. This might tell you that continued human progress is not inevitable, but does rely on the defending the ideas that make it possible.

Ideas are not a parlour game. In the end, it is ideas that move the world, for good and bad.


“The 50 greatest live jazz albums”


A good list.

Live jazz is often where music is being  invented on the spot. But as we all know, a lot of live jazz -- post-war jazz especially -- is just several hundred minutes long of reed chewing and meandering bollocks. But for the most part this list is sound, very sound: The 50 Greatest Live Jazz Albums.

These would be my own top favourites from the fifty:

  • The Koln Concert - Keith Jarrett (1975)
  • Benny Goodman Live at Carnegie Hall (1938)
  • Satchmo at Symphony Hall - Louis Armstrong (1947)
  • Stephane Grappelli at Tivoli Gardens (1979)
  • Billie Holiday at Carnegie Hall (1956)
  • The Drum Battle: Gene Krupa & Buddy Rich at JATP (1952)
  • Bird & Pres at JATP (1946)
  • Miles Davis & Thelonious Monk Live at Newport (1958/1963)
  • Jazz at Massey Hall – The Quintet (Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, Bud Powell and Max Roach) (1953)
  • Ella in Berlin – Mack The Knife (1960)
  • Duke Ellington at Newport (1956)

What are yours?


Monday, 27 February 2017

Quote of the Day: On groups


“A proper association is united by ideas, not by men, and its members are loyal to the ideas, not to the group.”
~ Ayn Rand in her essay “The Missing Link,” collected in her book Philosophy: Who Needs It


Brexit in Mt Eden


This Wednesday night over a beer is your opportunity to quiz a Brexit campaigner and ask them face to face: “Just what the hell were you thinking?!” Join the regular Liberty on the Rocks crew to hear from Andrew Bates, who many of you know, talking about the election that kicked off an unbelievable political year – and the ideas that fired up the Brexiteers.

Here’s the write-up from our friends at Auckland Liberty on the Rocks:

Liberty on the Rocks is a regular monthly happy hour for liberty-minded folks to meet others and build their knowledge and friendships over beers, food and great conversation.
    This month, fresh from Europe, Andrew Bates will speak on the recent Brexit referendum, the lead up and aftermath, and the ideas that were and are at stake.
    Come along and hear about Brexit from a liberty-loving Europhile who was campaigning to make it happen!
Andrew is a New Zealander who joined the Libertarianz party in 1998 and became a list candidate and Tertiary Education Deregulation Spokesman for the next two electoral cycles. He lead the campaign to make membership of the Auckland University Students' Association voluntary in1999, winning the referendum against the Students' Association funded campaign by 98 votes out of 12,000. The following year he increased the philosophical focus of the campaign and increased the margin to around 75%.Andrew moved to the UK in 2007 and became a naturalised British citizen in 2014. He has been learning Dutch and Polish, travels throughout Europe, works in the Netherlands, and flew back on weekends to campaign for the UK leaving the EU. Come along and find out why this Europe-lover hates the EU.
    Join us anytime between 6-9 PM at De Post in Mount Eden. Anyone is welcome! This is a very informal happy hour although we do bring in speakers for about 30-minutes each night and sometimes host activities/games. We are always welcoming to newcomers and anyone interested in the ideas of liberty, peace and voluntary interaction.

WHEN: This Wednesday evening, 1 March
TIME: From 6pm, speaker starts 6:30pm
WHERE: De Post Belgian Beer Cafe , Mt Eden Rd, Mt Eden Village

Why not join us?

Just bring along your toughest questions.


Do we really need to know what Ali Williams does of an evening?


Sport itself is good for us, and the best sports are genuine metaphors for life – and many of the very best sportsman absorb their sport’s life lessons to become better human beings. But to be good at sports is no guarantee of being good at life. And the commentators who insist that sportsmen and women are “role models” do us all a disservice – and, if taken seriously, would require these heroes and heroines to live their lives for others instead of themselves, and to live them as if they were cardboard cut-outs and not the real flesh-and-blood human beings they are.

Real flesh and blood human beings don’t all go home after a big game to a nice currant bun and a dry sherry with the vicar. They go out sometimes and party, to enjoy themselves, to let off steam, to meet up with friends and teammates to carouse and debate and dance and argue and have fun (you remember fun, don’t you?); and sometimes – just sometimes -- like all of us --they do things they may regret in the morning – about which these people whom the media make into something they’re not are compelled to deliver mawkish apologies some time later that only their sponsors and small children generally believe.

Sometimes too these flesh-and-blood sportsmen will do things that are against the law. And some of those times it might be worth recognising that the media, on our behalf, are measuring these young men and women against a ridiculous standard – that we should insist the media commentators themselves should grow up -- and that it is the law itself that is an ass.

So good on Herald writer Chris Rattue (a line I’m sure I’ve never written before) for reminding readers that:

At this point, Ali Williams and James O'Connor, two former test rugby stars, are guilty of nothing having been arrested on cocaine charges in Paris. And guilty of nothing they are, whatever the outcome.
    Has there ever been a more futile, damaging legal line than the ridiculous war on drugs?
    It has created so many victims, in so many ways. Prohibition, as it inevitably does, has created a disaster it can't solve.

And so it has. And so we have documented here many times.[See posts on Prohibition and on the War on Drugs.]

Role models? Better for us all to grow up, and for commentators to explain to punters that admiring someone for one thing theyu they do doesn’t necessitate admiring every thing they do – and that these people are simply human beings like us who in their chosen trade can often so some super-human things. And those are the things we should, and do, admire them for.


Not a great win


So even with an overwhelming vote in her favour of 78%, the turnout of only 27% means only around 20% of the electorate bothered to vote for Jacinda Ardern in the weekend’s by-election.

Even a majority of Mt Albert don’t like her.


Friday, 24 February 2017

Friday Morning Ramble, 24 Feb


A few links here you’re invited to follow:

Did less intensive grazing and more gorse on Port Hills land (under Council control) a contributor to the recent fires? Seems so.
Prepare for more Port Hills fires unless we let grazing animals in – STUFF

Man invades private property and holds its owners to ransom. Makes him the ideal candidate for the Green Party, you’d think.
Kauri Tree Sitter to Stand for The Greens – MICHAEL TAVARES.NET

“Auckland Council is like the school bully who realises he has no friends. It is now using the lunch money it pinched from YOU to pay people to come to its party..”
Auckland Council offering $200 grants to host neighbourhood BBQs – STUFF

“Living wage campaigners have the best of intentions, but the experience in Wellington where 17 parking wardens lost their jobs suggests they often harm the very people they are meant to help. Read our report on the issue here…”
Living Wage Policies: The Best of Intentions, The Worst of Results – TAXPAYER’S UNION

Important work.
Finding Rosemary: In search of the unsung hero who invented Kiwi Onion Dip – THE SPINOFF



“Go rent in Malmo if you want to find out what its like.” Norberg: “Don’t need too because I live there.”
Trumpers getting owned by Johan Norberg – TWITTER

But isn’t Sweden the rape capital of the world (as members of the alt-right constantly point out)? Actually, no.
Trump's Fake News Attack on Sweden, Immigrants, and Crime – Johan Norberg, REASON
Analysis | Trump asked people to ‘look at what’s happening … in Sweden.’ Here’s what’s happening there. – WASHINGTON POST

There are so many reported rapes in Sweden because the Swedish legal definition of rape amounts to the feminist hippie definition of rape: "if” someone brushes against you and you don't feel like having given consent.”
Sweden’s rape crisis isn’t what it seems – Doug Saunders, GLOBE & MAIL


“The Trump administration is deliberately trying to cook the books on how economic variables are calculated in order to rationalise its policies to the American people.”
Economists outraged by Trump plan to 'cook the books' – Nancy Marshall-Genzer, MARKETPLACE

“Holocaust-mongering cheapens the memory of the Holocaust and it debases political life. Tragically, it also invites scepticism about the Holocaust and encourages the rewriting of history.”
‘Just like Hitler’: the diminishing of the Holocaust – Frank Furedi, SPIKED

James Valliant: “The table is set. I would just add: The same media that worshiped Obama as a Messiah have subjected themselves to being dismissed as partisans rather than objective reporters and reliable watchdogs. Leftist academics fostering self-discrediting violent protests have given Trump the very tool of distraction he could use most. Obama's executive orders, cover up for Hillary, and political use of the IRS all set the stage for much more to come. Now, the Republicans in Congress turn a blind eye to obvious conflicts of interest... What's next? It may be up to us.”
How to Build an Autocracy – THE ATLANTIC

“Where do we direct our outrage when this is the record of just three weeks? Where do we even begin? How do we even remember what to be outraged about? When there is a new scandal every six hours or so, it is hard to remember what happened four scandals ago (what we used to call “yesterday”).”
The Fog of Trump – FOREIGN POLICY

“At this point, we are not expecting Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address or King’s “I Have a Dream” speech to flow from the perennially-puckered mouth of Donald J. Trump. We’d settle for one fully-formed sentence with an ascertainable beginning, middle and end.
The Emperor Has No Vocabulary – HUFFINGTON POST

Slow him down and you have a closing-time pub conversation with a drunk guy who reckons it would be great if he were the president...


From the Good News Department: Falling extreme poverty and child mortality.
This interactive visualization can be found here:
Extreme Poverty and Child Mortality – OUR WORLD IN DATA

“A question: Most strong Christians have set aside those elements of their tradition’s writings and now prioritise family values. Can that happen more in Islam, or are their signs that it will/won’t happen?”
Muslims, Christians, and family — not so different? – STEPHEN HICKS

“Job opportunities are limitless. Indeed, as long as the robots produce at a lower cost than people they replace, their introduction increases the total size of the economic pie.”
Fear Not the Robots - Jobs Aren't Scarce – T. Norman Van Cott, FEE

“Deregulation can't have paved the way for the financial collapse--there wasn't much to speak of.”
The Myth of Banking Deregulation- Don Watkins, VOICES FOR REASON

“"Conservatism proper is a legitimate, probably necessary, and certainly widespread attitude of opposition to drastic change. But by its very nature it cannot offer an alternative to the direction in which we are moving."
Why I Am Not a Conservative – F.A. Hayek, FEE

Really discouraging too to see young British people at the bottom for being free to criticise minority groups. Britain used to understand what tolerance and free speech meant.
Daily chart: Young people and free speech – THE ECONOMIST


“Immigration and the ability to travel freely turns a lot of people into useful
idiots. We do not become freer by pushing anti-freedom positions. Like all
real problems the answer lies in more freedom., of course this means that i
mmigration is not the problem. - it is scapegoat. This should be the prefect
excuse to crush the welfare state, attack the drug laws, and tax system.”
~ Dale B. Halling


“It is a contradiction in terms to ask: “On what principle should we act if we are not going to act on the principle by which we should act?”
    “But philosophy deals in principles.That’s why there are continuing arguments about immigration among those who accept the Objectivist philosophy.
    “Deprived of the guidance of principles, the issue then becomes one of concrete facts…”
Why Objectivists disagree on immigration – Harry Binswanger, HBL

“With the naming of Brown, the institute has deviated from its two previous leaders, who were academics. In a statement, ARI referred to his 30-year finance career and military service in the U.S. Air Force”
Jim Brown, new Ayn Rand Institute CEO: 'Culture and society out there can look pretty irrational. Just look at the last election' – L.A. TIMES

It’s a regular four-year thing: Governments spend billions on facilities and infrastructure for the Olympics. Afterwards, taxpayers wonder what it was all for.
Billions Gone: 2016 Olympics Venues in Brazil Are Now in Ruins – Alice Salles, MISES WIRE

“People need to know history. And here's what passes for "history" in most schools.”
The Poverty of Political Discussion Explained, In One Lesson – Lisa Van Damme, PYGMALION OF THE SOUL

FREE-RANGE KIDS: Here's Why Aren’t Kids Playing Outside on Their Own:


“A very good article on the significance to the owners of living in Wright designed homes.”
The Last Original Frank Lloyd Wright Owners – WSJ

Only five Wright homes are still in the hands of the original owners.
Original Frank Lloyd Wright home owners on living with design history – CURBED

“’I came to realise after some years living here that there’d not been a day in my life when I didn’t see something beautiful. Even on the terrible days that occur in every life,’ says one Usonian resident who still lives in the house Wright designed for him.”
Usonia the Beautiful – 99 PERCENT INVISIBLE

You couldn’t let him in all conscience, could you.
Frank Gehry No Longer Allowed To Make Sandwiches For Grandkids – THE ONION

Important info.
What to drink at 30,000 feet – THE ECONOMIST

“A little look inside the NZ beer industry... including some Yeastie Boys and a lot of breweries you've never heard of.”
2016 in Review – THE BEER PROJECT





[Hat tips to and quips and snark borrowed from Auckland Ratepayers' Alliance, Mark Tammett, Stuart Hayashi, Stephen Berry ACT, The Cato Institute, Felix Mueller, Cesar Arias, The Bastiat Society, David Prichard, David Doyle, Citizens' Alliance for Property Rights, The Mendenhall, Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation]

Housing: Variety through repetition


1_ VIEW-web

Designing a house form that works and that can be replicated to produce variety is fun, and economical, but not straightforward.

7_VIEW I-web

This project, by Organon Architecture, has 36 houses of two types; two types whose lower floors are identical and whose upper floors differ only in their orientation – and in that difference lies the difference that produces the difference: two house types in which the way they come together creates the structure of the composition, produces the interest, creates (with the simple form becoming complex by repetition and the relationship to the other repeated units) creating the relationship of composition to landscape.


Repetition means ease of assembly. Repetition means making use of industrialisation to reduce costs and waste. Repetition, here, producing variety instead of conformity.

That’s they way nature does it. That’s the way to make it work.

I think it does.

Could you live here?


[Cross-posted to the Organon Architecture Blog].

Thursday, 23 February 2017

The Commerce Commission must go


So Vodafone and Sky want to merge with each other. And so do Fairfax and NZME.  But the Commerce Commission has ruled the former two may not, and has already declared the latter two should not.

Who is this Communist Commission when it’s at home, and what gives it the right to tell shareholders of major businesses what they should do with their property? I went to their website to find out:

The Commerce Commission [they say] enforces legislation that promotes competition in New Zealand markets and prohibits misleading and deceptive conduct by traders. The Commission also enforces a number of pieces of legislation specific to the telecommunications, dairy and electricity industries. In ensuring compliance with the legislation it enforces, the Commission undertakes investigation and where appropriate takes court action; considers applications for authorisation in relation to anti-competitive behaviour and mergers; and makes regulatory decisions relating to access to telecommunications networks and assessing compliance with performance thresholds by electricity lines businesses.

So we have a Quango that allegedly “promotes competition,” as if it were possible for bureaucracy to do that, or a bureaucrat to understand it –  -- as if “competition” itself were a primary (“enforcing” competition frequently meaning prosecuting for price gouging when prices are too high, for predatory pricing when they’re too low, and for collusion when they’re the same). And in their random decision-making all business activity becomes less certain, so by that amount already decreasing the range of options open to consumers.

The idiocy leads to more idiocy. The Communist Commission's draft decision to discourage the Fairfax NZME merger on the basis it creates a monopoly saw analysts tell Fairfax it must withdraw from NZ if it doesn’t merge, creating the same alleged monopoly.

Meanwhile the Commissars’ determination that that Vodafone and Sky must not merge leaves shareholders in both already poorer, and consumers less able to access the sport the Commissars have decided -- and gives existing telcos less competition than would have otherwise been the case, the reason these vultures are crowing today.

  We should prosecute the Commissars themselves for false advertising:

  • They say they act to prevent monopoly but their actions often encourage it;
  • They say they act to prevent monopoly yet fail to break up government monopolies or call for their divestiture (where they would face the same capital costs as their competitors);
  • They say they enforce competition yet they fail to recommend the abolition of legislation that prevents small companies being able to compete with big companies (the RMA, the OSHA, corporate taxes);
  • They say they enforce competition yet in telecommunications especially they penalise the most competitive company and keep less competitive companies alive through advocating corporate pork policies;
  • They allege to have consumers’ interests at heart yet they delay mergers from which operational synergies can be gained, thereby raising costs, lowering wages and profits and thus further reducing capital accumulation and real wages; and
  • They allege to have consumers’ interests at heart yet they raise investment uncertainty and thus capital costs and investment hurdle rates, such that new services that might benefit consumers are still born, never to see the light of day.

Quite simply, they are the legislative manifestation of the tall-poppy-syndrome - they attack any big private business and do nothing meaningful to the protected positions of bloated, wasteful, bullying government organisations.

The idea that a bureaucrat could command competition sounds like it would be a product of a central planning mindset, yet the Communist Commission was not even a product of Muldoon’s command economy – it was a creation of Roger Douglas, a product of the flawed floating abstraction of 'pure and perfect competition' held by mainstream economics, a floating, 'Platonic,' idea of competition bearing so little relation to the real world that it needs a bureaucracy with government power to issue decrees trying unsuccessfully to make it happen, damaging all and sundry in the process.

They should prosecute themselves as a predatory monopoly.


Quote of the Day: On Milo


“Going by the public discourse, Milo is a Nazi and we should all punch him, or he's a hero and we should all buy his book. Why is everything a replay of [American] election 2016 over and over and over again? I thought the election was over. As then, I pick none of the above. But you all enjoy yourselves as you degrade our ability to engage in civil discourse. I'll be over here weeping for the fate of the republic.”
~ Mark V. Kormes


Lying Phil Goff


Remember when Auckland mayor Phil Goff pledge to hold rates to 2.5%? As far back as 2015 he told Morning Report, "There is a limit to rate increases, and I think we've reached that limit.” That was just before Lying Len Brown and his cronies hiked them by 9.9%.

But far from acknowledging we are now well beyond the limit, Goff instead is following in the footsteps of his predecessor. We’re going to limit rates increases to 2.5%? No, stuff that. That was then. That was when he was campaigning for the mayor’s job. Now he has it, he doesn’t want to hold rates or cap rates or limit them. Quite the contrary. Just four months after being elected the lying piece of shit now wants to raise your rates by 16%. The council, he says, “is running out of alternatives to increasing rates by 16 percent next year.”

Here’s one very sound alternative, you toerag, and I can give it to you for nothing: Stop Spending So Goddamn Much.

Goff is a trough-dweller wholly ignorant even of how his trough gets filled.

People who vote for entities like this deserve them. The rest of us: we get punished.

Feel free to message the lying turd and tell him how you feel about his deception.


Wednesday, 22 February 2017

We have to talk about Sweden


There have been more modern fairy tales peddled about Sweden than even Hans Christian Andersen could dream up – and I don’t just mean whatever the American president thought he was talking about the other night.

The far-off place has become a convenient political talisman for the misinformed of both sides of the statist coin: both left and alt-right. The former insist that Sweden is that exception, a welfare state that doesn’t eat itself. The latter tell stories about “no-go zones” and “rapefugees.” Neither has much basis in fact.

The first myth is intended to tell the story that welfare-state socialism works better than markets. But, as Johan Norberg thoroughly and repeatedly demonstrates, Sweden's history in fact points to the opposite conclusion: that it was laissez-faire that delivered the riches, on which the looters are now feeding.

The second myth is supposed to tell us that immigrants and refugees are bad news, and Sweden’s crime statistics are supposed to show that. Politicians, commentators and internet trolls of the alt-right variety tell stories of crime exploding under a refugees engulf the country’s towns and cities, citing alleged crime statistics from fake think tanks showing, they say, that Sweden’s once-lovely places are now so teeming with these nasty people that rape has rocketed and violent crime has exploded.

Trouble is, that’s that not what actual Swedish criminologists citing actual Swedish crime statistics actually tell us. Is “the country's welcoming approach to refugees and its alleged effects on crime rates a warning sign”?

“Absolutely not,” said Felipe Estrada, a criminology professor at Stockholm University. His response was echoed Monday by multiple other experts who are familiar with Swedish crime statistics.
    Overall, Sweden's average crime rate has fallen in recent years, Estrada said. That drop has been observed for cases of lethal violence and for assaults, two of the most serious categories of crime.
    Moreover, an analysis by Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter, conducted between October 2015 and January 2016, came to the conclusion that refugees were responsible for only 1 percent of all incidents.



Clear enough.

Support also comes from “Germany, the other European country that took in similar numbers of refugees per capita in 2015.” Here also claims that the influx led to an increase in crime are unsupported by actual evidence.

“Immigrants are not more criminal than Germans,” an interior ministry spokesman said in June. Overall, crime levels in Germany declined over the first quarter of 2016, officials said last year.

So why, apart from the obvious reasons that rabid anti-immigration types might dream up rabid claims, does the myth persist? Say criminologists:

Reports about alleged police coverups of refugee crimes might have contributed to distrust in official statistics. Criminologists also say that a handful of cases have received disproportionate public attention, creating a distorted perception among Swedes.
    “What we’re hearing is a very, very extreme exaggeration based on a few isolated events,” Jerzy Sarnecki, a criminologist at Stockholm University, told the ‘Globe and Mail’ newspaper in
May, when coverage of refugee-related crimes reached a peak.

Read that line again: “Very extreme exaggeration based on a few isolated events.” Just part of the logical fallacy subsumed under the principle understood by the phrase “a picture is not an argument.”

There is however “one statistic in which Sweden does indeed lead international crime statistics, though: reported cases of rape.” So does this support the alt-right myth, then? No, say criminologists, only if you don’t understand (or don’t care to understand) how the statistics are gathered.

“The [definitions] of rape differ between countries,” Estrada said. “In Sweden, several changes in legislation have been made to include more cases of sexual crimes as rape cases.” Sweden's definition of what constitutes rape is now one of the world's most expansive. Varying figures, as well as other Swedish measures to facilitate rape complaints, might have affected statistics, as well.

This has been pointed out several times in the comments to my regular alt-rights trolls, so I have no expectation of any increase in understanding this time. But just understand when you do hear the claim that this would be just another form of the fake news the alt-right keyboard warriors claim to revile.

So what about these alleged no-go zones like Malmo? What about that then? Sorry, say criminologists, that too is another fairy tale.

Swedish crime experts also do not agree that immigrants have created so-called no-go areas in Sweden — areas that allegedly are too dangerous for native Swedes to enter and are effectively run by criminals. “This perception is fabricated,” Estrada said. But he and others pointed out that the refugee influx poses challenges to Sweden, just not in the way it is being portrayed by some.
    “Even [though] there are no 'no-go zones' as alleged in the propaganda, there are problems around crimes and disturbances in several suburbs of Swedish cities, where immigrant groups tend to be over-represented,” said Henrik Selin, director of intercultural dialogue at the Swedish Institute.

Just as you’d expect. We’re not talking utopias here, we’re talking about real places with real human problems – problems made harder, not better, by gross exaggeration.

Fascinatingly, an Alt-right editor has challenges journalists to visit Sweden to discover for themselves the facts he alleges about the place. Paul Joseph Watson (he’s the alt-right Brit conspiracy theorist who isn’t an apologist for paedophilia) has offered to personally stump up the fare for them to Malmo– an offer already taken up by one enthusiastic punter, and responded to by Malmo’s deputy mayor, who promises any and all visiting journalists a warm welcome and to go with them on any jaunts to the zones to which Mr Watson alleges they can’t go.


Sure, all is not well in Malmo, but neither is it the war zone alleged by the fetid fringe. “Seeing Scandinavia’s largest country, with its reputation for high living standards, good governance, and low crime, thrust into a sort of police line-up of multicultural Europe’s failures felt,” says Irishman Feargus O’Sullivan who’s already visited and researched the place for himself, “a bit like seeing your neighbour’s lovable pet guinea pig being ducked as a witch.”

Is there any truth in the accusations? The short answer is no. Malmö is actually a likable, easy-going kind of place. Facing Denmark and Copenhagen across the Oresund Strait (a distance spanned by a bridge since 2000), it’s a historic, faintly gruff port city of 342,000 residents—think Liverpool to Copenhagen’s Paris. Or to make an American comparison, an Oakland to the Danish capital’s San Francisco. By Scandinavian standards, it’s ethnically diverse, bustling, and ever so slightly unkempt. By the standards of just about anywhere lying southwards, however, its streets come across as trim, orderly, and, peaceful.
    Certainly, Malmö is a city whose urban (but not greater metropolitan) population has been substantially reshaped by immigration. A third of its population was born outside Sweden, with the largest groups coming from (in order) Iraq, Serbia, Denmark, and Poland. Rates of arrival have gone up in recent years. What hasn’t risen, however, is crime.
    In fact, Malmö’s violent crime figures would make the mayor of an average American big city weep with longing. With 12 murders in 2015 among a population of 342,000, Malmö’s murder rate is two thirds that of Western Europe’s real murder capital of Glasgow, and half that of Los Angeles. By contrast, Washington, D.C., has a murder rate almost seven times higher, while the rate in St. Louis, Missouri is just under 17 times higher. In relatively safe Sweden, those 12 murders are still cause for rightful alarm, but as
this piece makes clear, Malmö’s crime figures aren’t just low compared to most American cities—they’re not even the highest in Sweden.

Read that sentence again, please: “Malmö’s crime figures aren’t just low compared to most American cities—they’re not even the highest in Sweden.”

So all is not utopic in the Scandinavian paradise, and journalists and the commentariat will continue to use its occasional incidents to cherrypick, but if this really is the best place anti-immigrationists can dredge up to support their argument, then they ain’t got one. And as far as intelligent debate about immigration goes, let’s (please) look at actual evidence, not the manufactured stuff of Machiavellian commentators and think tanks.

“Sweden definitely, like other countries, [faces] challenges when it comes to integration of immigrants into Swedish society, with lower levels of employment, tendencies of exclusion and also crime-related problems,” [Henrik Selin at the Swedish Institute concluded]. There is little evidence, however, that Sweden has turned into the lawless country it is at times being described as abroad.

[Quotes and pics from Washington Post, BBC News and City Lab]


Tuesday, 21 February 2017

In New Zealand it is not illegal to steal the fruit of other people's labour


Yesterday we discovered that in New Zealand it is not illegal to steal the fruit of other people's labour.

I learned that from reading the Herald this morning, who on page three quoted the High Court judgement against Kim DotCom, which said, and I quote: “online communication of copyright protected works to the public is not a criminal offence in New Zealand under s131 of the Copyright Act."

This is passing strange for many reasons, not least because this was the very section of the law that led to the fat German’s arrest. But also because s131 of New Zealand’s 1994 Copyright Act (written a few years before the internet was really a thing) says quite clearly that

Every person commits an offence against this section who, other than pursuant to a copyright licence … in the course of a business or otherwise, sells or lets for hire; or distributes otherwise than in the course of a business … an object that is, and that the person knows is, an infringing copy of a copyright work.

It is without question that the internet pirate and his business cronies did knowingly and with aforethought organise, arrange and seek out the job of distributing (but not selling, letting or hiring out) a great many “objects” that they know were infringing copies of copyright work. That was this fat slug’s very business model, aiding and abetting outright theft, as demonstrated in emails sent by his other slugs saying: "We're not pirates, we're just providing shipping services to pirates." The loophole that by all accounts brought these counterfeit businessmen to New Zealand and which the High Court confirmed yesterday is unplugged is those few words “otherwise than in the course of a business.”

Those few words, it seems, mean that online communication of copyright protected works to the public is not a criminal offence in New Zealand just as long as you have those people paying these people to help them steal other people’s work. Which means that in New Zealand it is not illegal to steal the fruit of other people's labour.

We have this fat slug to thank for showing us that.


Flying: A memoir


I used to cycle a lot back in the day. We all did. That day was sometime back last century. Young, carefree, wind still legally allowed in the hair. It was fun, cycling, and necessary: as a kid there was no other way to get around. We delivered papers on them, cycled to sports on them, carried too many library books on them - or tried to, and had to walk them all home instead.

And we showed off on them. Wheelies, skids, jumps. That’s how I went over the handlebars the first time, discovering in mid-air that the first wheel to hit the ground should probably not be the front one, and probably not into thick mud. At least it was a soft landing.

We started out on the no-gear no-frills models bought by our parents, replaced every time they were stolen. Hills on these were a bastard. Then we saw the fancy new thing called a ten-speed sitting gleaming in the bike-shop window opposite the school, and we knew we had to have one. The new cheap models by Healing. (I seem to remember a price of $237, but I could be wrong on that.) To pay them off, we discovered the Lost Land of Layby, and every week we took our paper-round money over the road to pay off another few dollars on our dream bikes until that very special day when we could take them home.

That was the second day I went over the handlebars. First trip with the new bikes was up to the supermarket carpark to see how these new-fangled “gears” worked. “Swish” went the bike along the asphalt as I pedalled it up to top speed. “Clunk” went my clumsy hand whacking it up to top gear. “Clank” went the sound of the chain wrapping itself around and jamming the gear cogs .. and as I cleared the handlebars I just had time to wonder how that happened before I hit the deck. Not such a soft landing this time.

The next time I sailed over them was coming down the Kaimais. After that ten-speed was stolen I bought a newer and shinier one, complete with lights and mudguard. It was light and it was bright, and it was that damned mudguard that caused the damage. Coming down the Kaimais fully rested after lunch at the top enjoying the views, having launched ourselves down the mountains at top speed – overtaking the occasional Sunday driver with less interest in speed than us – a clip on the mudguard came loose and the loose guard whipped around the speeding tyre to become my only rear contact with the road. Going full-tit downhill with fully-laden saddlebags, what happened next wasn’t so much over the handlebars as rolling over and over the bike several times as it hit the death wobble and cartwheeled away down the road with me tangled up in the frame.

At least the beer in the saddlebags wasn’t broken in the fall.

If you don’t count the lady coming through the stop sign and knocking me off my motorbike a year or two after that – I can confirm that the bonnet of a Holden Kingswood certainly does make for a softer landing than the hard tarmac of State Highway 29 -- the closest I came to flying over the handlebars again was just last week in Mt Eden.

You see, the biggest change between now and when I used to cycle a lot back then isn’t just all the bike lanes, all the lycra, or even the bloody knob-hats the clipboard carriers try to force you to wear. It’s what’s happened to bloody cars to make them so-called “safe.”

“Safe,” according to the regulations, means a cushioned cocoon for a car’s occupants and high bonnets to save pedestrians when they get hit. “Safe,” in this era of wall-to-wall nannying therefore means fully-padded headrests, enormous pillars at all corners, and very high window sills all round. It’s all to do with the regulations, wouldn’t you know, to make people “safe.” “Safe” meaning ugly.  “Safe” meaning cars that are bland, boring and identically dull. Safe” meaning (just another unintended consequence here of all this ill-thought safety regulation), that visibility out of the car for drivers and door-openers is dire, and visibility into the car for cyclists wary of door opening is almost impossible. How can you see if there’s a head about to move in the car parked ahead when you can barely even see into the bloody car? Add the tinted windows that fashion and heavily sloped windows has made the thing, and it’s a recipe for driver’s-door disaster, especially when impatient drivers behind the cyclist are all-but insisting he pull over.

This is the biggest change I’ve noticed since I’ve started cycling again.

So no surprise the other day then when in the narrow streets at the shops of Mt Eden Village a car driver and my bike and I met at speed in the close quarters of his door opening. He was very apologetic, and I was very lucky. My brakes gripped better than I’d ever thought they could. I had to accept his apology, what else could I do: I’d had no chance of seeing him inside the car before he opened his door; and he had very little chance of seeing me with all that cushioned plastic obscuring his view. (And what Auckland driver has ever used any mirror, let alone the side ones.) So we shook hands and we went on our way, and I had time to think.

I thought that it wasn’t him I blamed. It was the grey ones, who over the last four decades have turned cars from things of occasional beauty to ugly beige and grey blobs that are indistinguishable from each other, with cameras on the back because it’s the only way anyone can see out in that direction.

They’re a great symbol of the Age we live in, the Age of the All-Enveloping State Nanny.

And for cyclists in built-up areas and around shops, they are definitely not safe. The next time I fly I’d like it to be in something with wings. But I’m not altogether optimistic.


Monday, 20 February 2017

Quote of the Day: On saving the world


"Anyone serious about saving the world today must first discard the dominant philosophy of the culture. Stand on your own as much as if you moved to a separate valley, like in Atlas Shrugged. Check your premises; define your convictions rationally. Do not take anything on faith; do not believe that your elders know what they're doing; because they don't."
~ Ayn Rand, from the Q&A at the Ford Hall Forum during the 1970s, appearing in the recent book Ayn Rand Answers

[Hat tip Anoop Verma]

Fake news v fake news [updated]


Sometimes it's had to know whether to laugh or cry.  At Donald Trump's latest rally he took aim at what he (often correctly) calls fake news, before going on to talk about approval polls showing “different facts” to those in the actual polls; a “Swedish incident” he had made up – provoking much mirth on Twitter – and using a quote from Thomas Jefferson about this very thing, fake news, that Trump appeared to pinch from the Washington Post (who he has regularly lambasted as “fake media”) and singularly failed to understand.

It’s true that when president, under scurrilous attack by the media, Thomas Jefferson did write, answering a question about “the manner in which a newspaper should be conducted,”  that “[n]othing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper.” But the fuller context is that Jefferson was talking about contemporary newspapers, those of 1807, which had become blatant scandal sheets, unashamedly partisan, and a world away from those he had envisioned in arguing for the freedom of the press decades earlier.  “As for what is not true you will always find abundance in the newspapers,” he told a friend of the 1806 newspapers teeming both with valid criticism of his Administration and made-up stories of the corruption of the Jefferson White House.

It as as Mark Twain was to say much later, that not to read a newspaper is to be uninformed, but to read a newspaper at all is to be misinformed.

So how are we to proceed? As it happens, if Trump had read Jefferson’s letter entire instead of just the section of it he ripped from a Washington newspaper, he may have himself found an answer. Here is the letter entire:

'To your request of my opinion of the manner in which a newspaper should be conducted, so as to be most useful, I should answer, 'by restraining it to true facts & sound principles only.' Yet I fear such a paper would find few subscribers. It is a melancholy truth, that a suppression of the press could not more compleatly deprive the nation of it's benefits, than is done by it's abandoned prostitution to falsehood.
    'Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. The real extent of this state of misinformation is known only to those who are in situations to confront facts within their knowledge with the lies of the day. I really look with commiseration over the great body of my fellow citizens, who, reading newspapers, live & die in the belief, that they have known something of what has been passing in the world in their time; whereas the accounts they have read in newspapers are just as true a history of any other period of the world as of the present, except that the real names of the day are affixed to their fables.
    'General facts may indeed be collected from them, such as that Europe is now at war, that Bonaparte has been a successful warrior, that he has subjected a great portion of Europe to his will, &c., &c.; but no details can be relied on. I will add, that the man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them; inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods & errors. He who reads nothing will still learn the great facts, and the details are all false.
    'Perhaps an editor might begin a reformation in some such way as this. Divide his paper into 4 chapters, heading the 1st, Truths. 2d, Probabilities. 3d, Possibilities. 4th, Lies. The first chapter would be very short, as it would contain little more than authentic papers, and information from such sources as the editor would be willing to risk his own reputation for their truth. The 2d would contain what, from a mature consideration of all circumstances, his judgment should conclude to be probably true. This, however, should rather contain too little than too much. The 3d & 4th should be professedly for those readers who would rather have lies for their money than the blank paper they would occupy.'

In other words, we would be better served if news organisations would follow as a simple policy the edict of the good detective: “Just the facts, ma’am.”

UPDATE: Trump has now claimed his fake news about a terror attack in Sweden – a claim that baffled the current Swedish Prime Minister and promoted a former one to ask what Trump is smoking – was based on his mis-viewing of a Fox News story. “It ... seems to be new that a US president bases commentary of foreign issues in Fox News coverage.”


Thursday, 16 February 2017

25 reasons why economic protectionism is taken seriously when it's actually a form of economic suicide


Guest poster Mark Perry takes on the idiotic movement worldwide to make people poorer by ‘protecting’ them from foreign goods.

It’s a scientifically and mathematically provable fact that all tariffs, at any time and in any country, will harm economic growth, eliminate net jobs, destroy prosperity, and lower the standard of living of the protectionist country because tariffs are guaranteed by the ironclad laws of economics to generate costs to consumers that outweigh the benefits to producers, i.e. tariffs will always impose deadweight losses on the protectionist country (see the diagram here, and “An economic analysis of protectionism clearly shows that Trump’s tariffs would make us poorer, not greater”). That is, the reality that tariffs always inflict great economic damage and leave society worse off is not a debatable outcome, rather it’s a provable fact, like the law of gravity.

Protectionism2But there’s more! There is also no shortage at all of empirical evidence showing that protectionism and tariffs always generate costs to consumers that are far in excess of the benefits to producers (i.e. deadweight costs) see my blog posts here, here and here.

The Justification

So why is protectionism being taken so seriously, and given so much credibility, when it’s actually a job-destroying, prosperity-destroying form of economic suicide and an economic death wish? Protectionism will not make America great again, or anywhere at all great.

Here are my top 25 reasons that explain why protectionism is taken so seriously, despite the fact that it’s guaranteed to impoverish people and destroy jobs. It’s very much a case of the seen and the unseen:

  1. The false belief that trade is a zero-sum game (win-lose), when in fact it’s win-win.
  2. The costs of protectionism to consumers are mostly hidden.
  3. The benefits of protectionism to producers are easily identifiable and visible.
  4. The jobs saved by protectionism are observable and visible.
  5. The jobs lost from protectionism are not easily observable or visible.
  6. The benefits of protectionism to individual producers are very high (e.g. $300,000 annual increase in revenues per sugar farm from trade barriers for foreign sugar).
  7. The costs of protectionism to individual consumers is very low (e.g. $5-10 per year in higher sugar prices per person due to sugar tariffs), although the costs in the aggregate of protectionism are very high.
  8. The costs of protectionism to consumers are delayed over many years.
  9. The benefits of protectionism to producers are immediate.
  10. Producers seeking the benefits of protectionism are concentrated and well-organized.
  11. Consumers paying the costs of protectionism are dispersed and disorganized.
  12. There is a huge political payoff to politicians from protectionism in the form of votes, political support, and financial contributions from protected domestic firms and industries.
  13. There is a huge political cost to politicians who attempt to remove or lower trade barriers in the form of lost votes, support and financial contributions from previously protected domestic producers.
  14. The pathological, but false obsession that exports are good.
  15. The pathological, but false obsession that imports are bad.
  16. The fact that most workers work for a company producing a single product or group of similar products (e.g. cars, steel, textiles, appliances) and are therefore favourably disposed to supporting protectionist trade policies that benefit their employer and industry.
  17. The fact that consumers purchase hundreds, if not thousands of individual products, goods and services, and are therefore unlikely to be fully aware of the negative effects of protectionism or be motivated to fight protectionism.
  18. Many people think that exporting their country’s products is patriotic.
  19. Many people think that importing foreign products is unpatriotic.
  20. The false belief that trade deficits are a sign of economic weakness.
  21. The false belief that trade surpluses are a sign of economic strength.
  22. The fact that protectionism is guaranteed to create economic deadweight losses is not easily understood, nor are those losses easily observable or measurable.
  23. The general lack of economic literacy among the general public.
  24. The general lack of economic literacy among politicians, or their intentional disregard for the economics of protectionism in favour of enacting public policies that help them get re-elected.
  25. The failure to recognise that most imports are inputs purchased by local firms that allow them to be as competitive as possible when selling their outputs in global markets.

Bottom Line

Protectionism1Taken together, the 25 reasons above help us understand the popularity of protectionism, despite the fact that it’s guaranteed to inflict great economic harm. Protectionism is popular primarily not for economic reasons, but for political reasons. To paraphrase Thomas Sowell, the first lesson of international economics is that free trade makes us better off and protectionism makes us worse off.

The first lesson of politics when it comes to international trade however is to ignore the first lesson of international economics, and impose protectionist trade policies when they further the political interests of short-sighted elected officials. When politicians can count on the economic illiteracy of the general public and their blind patriotism to “Buy American,” the political payoffs from protectionism are too tempting to ignore despite the reality that it’s a form of economic suicide.

And because the benefits of tariffs to producers (and jobs created or saved) are concentrated, immediate and visible, while the costs to consumers (and jobs lost) are diffused, delayed and invisible, it’s pretty easy to understand why protectionism is popular, even though the economic costs far outweigh the economic benefits (i.e. deadweight losses result) and it’s therefore ultimately a form of self-inflicted economic poison.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Quote of the Day: Summing up Marxism



“The whole gospel of Karl Marx can be summed up in a single sentence: Hate the man who is better off than you are. Never under any circumstances admit that his success may be due to his own efforts, to the productive contribution he has made to the whole community. Always attribute his success to the exploitation, the cheating, the more or less open robbery of others. Never under any circumstances admit that your own failure may be owing to your own weakness, or that the failure of anyone else may be due to his own defects - his laziness, incompetence, improvidence, or stupidity.”

Henry Hazlitt

Don’t do it America! New Zealand has already tried it.


Don’t do it America! New Zealand has already tried it. Feisty, Protectionist Populism, that is, and as Tyler Cowen tells Bloomberg, it ended really badly.

We’re talking about a chap called Robert Muldoon, prime minister of New Zealand from 1975 to 1984 --

a  Western democratic leader who was populist, obsessed with the balance of trade, especially effective on television, feisty and combative with the press, and able to take over his country’s right-wing party and swing it in a more interventionist direction.

Cowen wants his reader to compare him to You Know Who.

Some of the similarities are striking. Muldoon often made rude or unusually frank comments about foreign leaders (including U.S. President Jimmy Carter and the Australian prime minister), and his diplomats worked hard to undo them.

Mind you, he wasn’t always wrong. He once told an assembled audience of Commonwealth leaders that Robert Mugabe should be ignored because he was only famous for running around the jungle shooting people.

His most significant initiative was called “Think Big,” and, yes, it was designed to make New Zealand great again. It was based on a lot of infrastructure and fossil fuels investment, including natural gas, and it was intended to stimulate the country’s exports and remedy the trade deficit. Because New Zealand’s parliamentary system of government has fewer checks and balances than the American system, Muldoon got more done than Trump likely will.
    Yet this bout of industrial policy worsened the already precarious fiscal position of the government, and Muldoon’s public-sector investments did not impress. Muldoon’s
biographer, Barry Gustafson, noted that the prime minister ended up being criticized for his “apparently dogmatic arrogance of executive power”; Gustafson also tells us Muldoon “was often reluctant to take expert advice.”
    Like Trump, Muldoon was at first skeptical about his country’s NAFTA deal -- yes, it was called exactly that, the
New Zealand Australia Free Trade Agreement. Muldoon did renegotiate the treaty, although his ministers persuaded him to accept a free-trade-friendly update, called CER (Closer Economic Relations). Trump may or may not follow through with the second part of that parallel.
    Australia aside, Muldoon preferred protectionism and had little patience for the academic arguments against it. He was no friend of free-market thinking, and when Milton and Rose Friedman visited New Zealand, the prime minister refused to meet with them.

He was undoubtedly scared of what he might be told.

Like Trump, Muldoon faced some controversial race issues. The all-white South African rugby team was scheduled to tour New Zealand in 1981, and even after extensive protests Muldoon refused to ban the team. Muldoon’s critics called him a racist, and charged that his intentions in the matter were not entirely benign. Muldoon also continued his predecessor’s policy of arresting and deporting Pacific Islanders who had overstayed their visas.
    It was his philosophy not to bother to appeal to his opponents. The more critics he generated, the more his supporters -- known as “Rob’s Mob” -- loved him…
    Arguably, Muldoon was not as outrageous as Trump. Still, he once punched demonstrators, and stripped naked at a cocktail party. Twitter remained beyond his grasp.

Which would have been no less entertaining.   

Anyway, if you don’t know how the story ends, you can guess. Import quotas and double-digit price inflation, licensing, regulation and taxes on everything from home boat-building to needing a doctor’s prescription for butter, bans on trucks taking goods more than 100 miles – this was an economy that functioned less like an economic system and more like a Polish shipyard under the Soviets, until finally a wage and price freeze put a bullet in the economy’s head and Muldoon was thrown out for something much better: which at the time was the left-wing Labour Party.

Cowen concludes with “one lesson from the comparison:

that a leader like Muldoon can be fairly popular, as he stayed in power from 1975 to 1984, winning three terms despite mistakes, antagonisms and policy failures. He was a plain-speaker who related well to many Kiwi voters, and he was masterful at defusing or rechanneling opposition within his own party.
    After Muldoon was voted out of office, he started a popular radio talk show, ‘Lilies and Other Things,’ which dealt with gardening, politics and the economy, all the while maintaining his fiery tone. He also played a vampire -- Count Robula -- on a late-night TV horror show, and he narrated ‘The Rocky Horror Show.’ Not exactly ‘The Apprentice,’ but with this we have come full circle.