Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Iranian heroes

I found this image on the Huffington Post attached to this story and I've been mesmerised by it for a couple of minutes now. It almost seems like one of the paintings from NotPC celebrating defiance. Fantastic stuff.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Infamous the world over

Apparently Coca Cola wants to trademark the phrase "World Famous in New Zealand", a phrase closely associated with Coca Cola's 'L&P' brand of soft drink.

Someone actually from the town the soft drink is named after has decided to stand up on behalf of all of us and fight this attempt to appropriate a kiwism, and he deserves a bit of recognition. After all, its not often someone takes a positive stand against a global mega brand for little personal gain. It is the kind of action we need to celebrate more.

So we here at this blog pledge that should we ever find ourselves in Paeroa in the company of Mr Tony Coombes, we'll shout him a beer.

Until then, we wish him the best in his courageous endeavour.

"Read My Lips : No New Taxes"

The above quote does, of course come from George HW Bush's 1988 address to the Republican National Convention; however this post isn't about National's peculiar brand of tax "reform". Rather, I thought I'd check up on John Key's committment to avoiding privatisations in his first term; another shallow rightist electoral promise.

Mister Key's words are not necessarily a prima facie prediction of privatisation by themselves, however they take on a worrying implication when read in context with recent remarks by Bill English. English recently declared in what can only have been an exceptional slip of the tongue that "one of the benefits of not having asset sales this term is that it's given us the time and the space to focus on all of the Government's assets and some of them are in good shape and some of them aren't in such good shape."

I may be guilty of a sin of interpretation, but I'm choosing to read that as a declaration of intent for the rest of this term - 'rationalising' state assets to make them more enticing for easy (part) privatisation from 2011 onward. This fits quite well with the pattern of events to date, ranging from recent moves on TVNZ to (more especially) Nick Smith's attempt to fully pre-fund ACC, and of course the succession of Taskforce reports urging exactly this.

In short, my attitude to the Key insistance upon a lack of privatisation plans can be summed up with another HW Bush quote from the same speach:"My opponent now says he'll raise them as a last resort, or a third resort. But when a politician talks like that, you know that's one resort he'll be checking into."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Taskforce, Taskforce everywhere; but not a drop of sense

It was with considerable bemusement that I saw a "Capital Markets Development Taskforce" had issued its final report this morning, calling for (you guessed it) further privatisations.

This prompted three questions in my mind:

i) Why do we have such a profusion of task-forces (especially when they seem to generate suspiciously similar recommendations)?

ii) What has the cost to the taxpayer been to employ these ivory tower crystal ball-gazers for the last eighteen months?

iii) If we were serious about generating *good* ideas for developing our economy, might we not be better off asking *small* business owners, workers, students etc. (in other words, the very-real New Zealanders that'll be most effected by any taskforce's recommendations) what they reckon?

Call me cynical, but I believe that this succession of "reports" has two purposes. First, to provide a coterie of "expert" oppinion to draw upon as justification for the 2011 revelation of National's privatisation agenda. This is fairly obvious; the panels having obviously been set up to generate a pre-determined oppinion (one only needs to look at the chairman of the 2025 taskforce for compelling evidence).

However, it is their more insidious second aspect that causes me more concern. The idea here is to have numerous different voices saying broadly the same thing - that a particular neoliberal development path (featuring privatisations) is the *inevitable* way forward; and to construe any dissent to this as being promulgated solely by a *minority* of backward traditionalists. Suffice to say that this is a well-worn tactic in the circles of modern economics which we've already witnessed in action several times over the last quater century during both previous rounds of neo-liberalisation and the irrational exuberance that surrounded Globalisation (for a more elucidated discussion of this, check out John Ralston Saul's "The Collapse of Globalism and the Reinvention of the World").

The easy provision of Government sinecures for Business Round Table associates is probably also a factor in this profusion of politicised pestilents.

Friday, December 11, 2009


To clarify, I believe the climate is changing, and I'm not denying that humans may have a role in that. In fact, I don't think it would be fair to say that the climate only appears to be static on the human scale; take any great length of time, such as a million years, in earth's history and the climate has always changed There are an enormous number of things we have done to change the world - city scapes and deforestation change the way the world absorbs heat from the sun, we alter the contents of the atmosphere which changes how the atmosphere retains heat and we pump out heat itself in the form of mechanical activity - that trying to deny we have any impact on the world's climate seems to me far-fetched. Despite this, I also think it stretches credibility to deny some other explanations for climate change such as changes in the energy coming from the sun, or natural cyclical variations such as changing ocean currents may have impacts as great or even greater than human impacts on the climate. I'd say my position is that of a rational sceptic.

What I've seen from the Copenhagen conference however leaves me less than impressed. The parade of third world officials and guests decrying the "Rich countries" for "creating the pollution in the first place" and demanding "they must pay". Between the BBC and al-Jazeera news I've heard the same thesis advanced half a dozen times: 'the West' got rich by polluting the world, at a time when other countries didn't. This pollution is bound to imminently destroy the lives of billions of people in the poorer countries, leaving the West with a moral legacy to support those people in developing first world lives without adding even more to greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere.

There are a number of problems I have with this. First, there is a moral difference between the industrial development of 18th Century Britain and modern China: no one in Britain can have been expected to know that developing a steam engine that runs on coal would lead to the industrial civilization it would and have such drastic impacts on the surface of the world. The Chinese and other developing nations that are polluting like crazy can not claim the same. This is the difference between someone accidentally hitting a child that runs out in front of them on the road and someone intentionally running over the same toddler. In the first instance, if the person in no way could have prevented the event but was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time by random chance, we do not hold them responsible for anything. In the second instance, we hold the person responsible for murder. To put it another way, we consider Marie Curie a great scientist for her work on radioactivity, and mourn that she could not have known how dangerous it was as it most likely lead to her death. We would consider that anyone who, knowing the dangers, replicated her work without taking precautions to shield themselves and others from the effects of radiation a maniac.

Secondly, to say "The West got rich by polluting while the rest of the world wasn't" is a flawed point to score. The obvious place to start is by asking why the rest of the world wasn't taking advantage of these wonderful new technologies: and the answer was that by and large only Europe could develop them. It had gone through the enlightenment and thrown off the tyrannical shackles of superstition, and developed a culture that not only tolerated but gloried in the intellectual development of man. It was unique in this regard, aside from the classical Athenians, and the rest of the world has been raised from the depths of poverty by it. The other side of the enlightenment is that it lead to British subjects in the American colonies deciding to challenge the authority of the British King and committing to living in a country based on freedom. It is this element of personal freedom which has made America and Europe the wealthy, pleasant countries they are today, more than a measurement of pollution output. After all, if pollution output had a direct correlation to material wealth, the Soviet Union would have been the richest country on earth. The key point to make however is that if Western polities can be said to have responsibility for their actions in creating pollution, so other polities can be said to have responsibility for their citizens poverty; for example Haiti is not poorer than almost any other country in the America's because it as an entity faced a lack of opportunity compared to other countries in the Caribbean and South America. It is poor because it has had a succession of brutal dictatorships that have robbed the citizens of that country of the opportunity to work and build up wealth for themselves. If the West must pay Haitians and other developing nations off for the simple fact of their poverty, then we have ceded the role that effort plays in life. All nations must have the same relative outcomes per capita; regardless of the responsibility their Governments have in the inputs which determine those outcomes.

Thirdly, if the effect of Copenhagen is to limit human activity and transfer wealth from producers and innovators to those who are not productive but wish to enjoy the living standards and lifestyles of westerners, there is the very real danger of limiting the whole world's ability to fight climate change and its effects on human life by means of innovating, developing and producing new technologies. After all, it is the same freedoms that produced the wealth and intellectual muscle that have produced the very science that allows us to identify not only climate change but all manner of environmental deficiencies our lifestyles and industries produce, and regulate those accordingly.

In sum, the aims of the Copenhagen summit and the values that underpin are flawed and deeply troubling. They rely upon a reading of history that places Western achievement at the centre of everything that is wrong and sees countries as blocks that should have equal outcomes regardless of their merit. This is in effect a new international mantra of communism. There is a very real risk that the outcome of the Copenhagen summit will be to limit human development, not only reducing the living standards of those in the west but reducing our collective ability to identify and respond to new challenges in the future. Worst of all, there is no reason to expect that if its measures are followed it will do enough to stop climate change or even that it can, as the planet may heat or cool due to factors completely beyond human intervention, such as changes in the amount of solar energy reaching earth.

So what should be the alternative? Western Governments should invest in potential new green energy resources, such as the recently featured experimental tidal harness in the Orkneys, as well as researching projects that may solve climate change, from carbon capturing towers to a giant soletta that can reduce/increase the amount of energy reaching the planet from the sun and every other plausible idea in between. Globally, the effects of climate change should be monitored and where humanitarian disasters arise, such as drastically altered weather patterns or rising sea levels making Islands uninhabitable, assistance should be offered - as nations should in any case, regardless of cause. By following this course, we can maintain our civilization with its freedoms intact, and also provide help to those who have become victims of natural forces outside of their control.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Can We Fix It?

Yes We Can!

No, that wasn't an Obamaism. Rather, I thought I'd open by quoting Winston Peters - a leader with a far better track-record in Public Healthcare.

This posting isn't just about healthcare however, although that will be touched on eventually.
Rather, I thought I'd start a small series outlining what we think is wrong with New Zealand at present (chiefly the economic and social snarlups brought on by our flirtation with Neoliberalism); and how we envisiage them fixed (Big-Thinking government economic programmes including import substitution, government job-creation as an alternative to the dole; and vitally needed education reform).

At first glance, it might look like I'm simply re-hashing the development policies of the so-called Asian Tiger/Dragon economies. This has been avoided for two reasons.

First, their strategy hinged upon a competitive advantage of cheap well-skilled labour - specifically the "cheap" bit. New Zealand trying to compete on this basis is impractical and ill-advised; not only because we'd be up against the sweatshop labour of the modern economic giants, but also because we should be fostering increased wages in order to boost our standard of living.

Second, I'm a great believer in having domestically developed solutions to our problems. It is a truism to say that foreign-built solutions are almost always tailor-made to fix problems in their own country of origin; problems which will most likely be quite distinct from those we face here, rendering such plans inappropriate for our domestic circumstances. Besides which, the Asian Tigers were effectively newly developing economies who had a good deal of the shelter of the Bretton-Woods system; New Zealand by contrast is an already well-developed country seeking to reverse its decline against a global economic backdrop wholly lacking in such stability (and with the added shackle of our immense distance from some of our main trading partners).

However, there are some definite similarities in intent and imposition; such as a need to nurture naescent domestic industries, ensure domestic capital retention (and thus re-investment), improve the post-secondary education system, and improve our export-lead growth.

I think we'll call it Taniwha Economics.