Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Richard Epstein: Curing the Unemployment Blues

One of the enduring faiths of modern progressive thought is that omniscient policy makers can cancel out the errors of one form of economic intervention by implementing a second. That lesson was brought home to me when I was a third year student at Yale Law School, whenever discussion turned to the perennial debate over the minimum wage.

The charge against the minimum wage was that it had to introduce some measure of unemployment into labor markets by raising wages above the market-clearing price. “Not to worry,” came the confident reply. The way to handle that imperfection is to raise the level of welfare benefits in order to remove the dislocations created by the minimum wage. If one government program had its rough edges, a second government program could ride to the rescue. 
Implicit in this argument was the tantalizing, but fatal, assumption of economic abundance: The government has the power to tax, and with that power, has access to a cornucopia of public funds that never runs empty—at least until it does.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Ron Smith: Pornography and the public interest

Media stories during the last week, about proposed Auckland University research into the place of pornography in society, raise much wider issues than the deliberate deception involved in the Marsden Fund reporting of this issue. Apart from the obvious questions about the importance of this particular investigation and others in the recently issued Marsden list, there is a general question about the desirability of awarding more than fifty million dollars to public institutions (largely universities), that are already in receipt of public funds, and about how the decisions to allocate these funds are made.

Clearly, there are areas of research where specialised equipment and technical expertise that are not already available may be required before investigations can be made, but this does not seem to apply in many of the cases, including the case in point: ‘Public engagement towards a more inclusive and equitable society’, which is the code for the proposed pornography investigation. It seems perfectly appropriate for social scientists in one of our universities to research the place of pornography in our society, without the need of an anodyne title. What is not clear is why staff employed full-time at a university, who anyway have an obligation to spend a significant proportion of their time in research, should be awarded $790,000 to do it. Of course, in general terms, we do know what Marsden money is awarded for in this sort of case. It is to free a particular researcher (or researchers) by employing someone else to do their teaching, and/or, to appoint others persons to contribute to the research. In the specific case, it seems that an ‘interactive website’ and an ‘art exhibition’ are also envisaged.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Karl du Fresne: Whats going on at TV3

I am reluctant to accuse media organisations of political bias. I have seen those allegations hurled about far too often and far too loosely, invariably by politically aligned people frustrated that their side wasn’t the only one getting newspaper space or air time. But in the past couple of weeks I have begun to wonder seriously whether TV3 is running some sort of political agenda.

My suspicions were aroused by political coverage that in recent weeks has too often seemed slanted to discredit National. An example was Patrick Gower’s report last week about a supposedly hush-hush meeting between John Key and the head of the international oil exploration firm Anadarko. As only he can, Gower reported this in such a way as to suggest that there was something underhand going on. (“TV3 can reveal that Prime Minister John Key made time in his diary this week for a secretive meeting with the boss of an oil company that wants to undertake deep sea drilling off New Zealand’s coast.”) Never mind that prime ministers probably have meetings with international businessmen all the time without necessarily alerting the media. If there was something dodgy going on, it certainly wasn’t substantiated by the TV3 report. But never mind: Gower nonetheless raised dark connections with the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster in 2010 (Anadarko had a 25 percent share in the Deepwater Horizon rig) and generously gave Greens co-leader Metiria Turei an opportunity to link Key with “catastrophic oil spills”.  In other words, the story was spun to put the worst possible complexion on what may have been an entirely innocent and legitimate meeting.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Lindsay Mitchell: 1200 children born today might well be dead if born in the 1960s

I am watching the Bryan Bruce documentary about child poverty and am completely exasperated. So much is left unsaid. He blames Rogernomics for everything that is wrong with children's health. His slant is thoroughly political despite contrary pleading that child welfare is an ethical and moral problem.

New Zealand apparently used to be a socialist Utopia. That is stated baldly. Bryan Bruce, who looks of a similar age to me, grew up in a country where children got a free bottle of milk everyday and so we lived in paradise. Putting aside non-fatal preventable disease, as I pointed out earlier, in 1960 the infant mortality rate was 23 per 1,000 infants. Today the figure is 4.8.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Steve Baron: Direct Democracy: Some Major Objections and Responses

Even though direct democracy has been successfully used in Switzerland for over 140 years, it still has its critics. Many see it as a threat to representative democracy and something to be avoided at any cost. There have often been calls for the Citizens Initiated Referenda Act 1993 to be repealed. Former Prime Minister and law professor, Sir Geoffrey Palmer, when discussing the CIR Act in his book Bridled Power said:

The Act should be repealed. It appears to offer a chance for citizens to influence policy but in substance that opportunity is like a mirage in the desert. Referenda should be reserved for those few and important issues of constitution and conscience that should be bound by the people's voice.

Steve Baron: What would you tell Afghanistan about democracy?

What do you think of when I say the word 'democracy' and what do you even expect from your political system? It's an important subject, especially when New Zealand is about to go to the polls, yet something most people often take for granted, especially given that over 20% of New Zealanders don't even bother to vote each election—and that number is growing.

Just recently I have been forced to think even harder about our democracy because amongst the many emails I receive (most of which include offers to enlarge certain parts of my anatomy and Russian beauties offering me their undying love if I agree to marry them) was an email from Democracy International. This US based organization helps provide technical assistance and implements democracy and governance programs worldwide. It is financially supported by a grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). They are bringing a delegation of civic leaders from Afghanistan to New Zealand to look at our political system, observe our elections and meet with various people with a background in elections.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Owen McShane: Unwinding the Sustainable Development Mindset


I am frequently reminded of Richard Prebble's commentary on the wonderful TV Show “Yes Minister” (still running on SKY). He said “The public thinks that “Yes Minister” is a comedy, the civil service knows that it's a documentary, and the Cabinet Ministers know that it’s a tragedy.”

I last quoted Prebble’s comment in an essay “Can a New Government Actually Change Anything?” written just before the last change in government. Maybe it is time to re-visit it.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Ron Smith: Spying and the public interest

It is widely understood that, as a general principle, ‘eaves-dropping’ on the activities or conversations of others without their knowledge or permission, is an invasion of privacy and is to be deplored. This is reflected in our law.

On the other hand, it is accepted that covertly observing the activities of drug-dealers, or terrorists, or listening-in to their conversations may be justified. We override their normal rights to privacy in the wider public interest. This is different from a public interest in the doings of the rich and famous. Here, though the interest may be acknowledged, we do not usually accept that it is sufficient to outweigh the right to privacy of the persons concerned. In a similar way, we do not accept that a public interest in knowing the detail of crimes that may have been committed, justifies hacking into the communications of victims or other third parties, by media agents wishing to gain an advantage on their competitors. The reason for the distinction is that, in these latter two cases, there are generally no grounds for presuming the persons who are the subject of this surveillance are engaged in serious antisocial activities. It is also worth noting that even in the first category (drug dealers, or terrorists) there are frequently administrative processes to test the justification for what is a serious breach of human rights.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Mike Butler: Deluded Greens and Nat billboards

How squeaky clean is Green Party co-leader Russel Norman over the billboard stickering, and where are the reporters asking all the questions to find out how it all happened? Compare the media reaction to the "Green delusion" pamphlets in 2005 with the current billboard stickering.

In 2005, which anti-Green pamphlets were connected to the Exclusive Brethren, and then to National Party leader Don Brash, reporters kept asking the questions until they chased the story down. In 2011, when the Green Party is under the spotlight, reporters seem quite happy to accept Russel Norman's apology and assertion that he had nothing to do with it and leave it at that.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Lindsay Mitchell: The sham that is Labour's welfare policy

In an effort to differentiate themselves from National, Labour is promising to extend the In Work Tax Credit (IWTC) to beneficiary parents and scrap any work-testing of the domestic purposes benefit (DPB). The first can only be a cynical vote catcher because the IWTC was a Labour creation after all. Or are we to accept that it was a good idea in government but not in opposition?

Promoting the second promise Annette King says that there shouldn't be an 'arbitrary' youngest child age for requiring a sole parent to find a job. Yet, in the same breath, she is also promising an extension of paid parental leave to 26 weeks. Isn't that an 'arbitrary' figure? In any case Australia and the United Kingdom, the two countries we generally compare ourselves to, have welfare rules based upon a work requirement set against the age of the youngest dependent child.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Martin Durkin: The Green Superstate - what the global warmers really want

Who poses the greater threat to freedom?   Colonel Gaddafi?  The Taliban?  Or let’s look closer to home, at a sinister group with far, far greater influence on the future of Western civilization.

The Green zealots, with their bicycles and wispy dresses and organic fruit juice, should have us quaking in our boots.  With terrifying single-mindedness, the Green movement is waging war against freedom, for more State control.   And they’ve been at it from the start. 

In his Population Bomb (written in the 60s) Paul Ehrlich says, ‘The policeman against environmental deterioration must be the powerful Department of Population and the Environment.’   Sounds scary, but when the future of the planet hangs in the balance, there’s no room for half measures. 

Ron Smith: Sounds of the election

Whilst we listen to Messrs Key and Goff and, occasionally, Mr Peters and Mr Brash (and duets from the Greens and Maori), there is also to be heard the distant sound of chickens coming home to roost in Greece and Italy (and, potentially, in sundry other places). Although all the New Zealand parties are, to a greater or lesser extent, in denial about present public expenditure trends, it may well be, that this election will be determined by an inclination to favour the most cautious.

Clearly, what is happening in Greece and Italy has the potential to be a social catastrophe in those countries and the triggering factor is escalating public debt. Apart from the implications for pensions and public amenities (as well as continuing social disorder), it may be worth noting that in both these prominent cases, public confidence in politicians has sunk to such a level, that administrative power has been handed over to non-elected officials. This, in itself, has the potential to become part of a wider problem, and it is a problem that both countries have experienced within the lifetimes of persons still living.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Mike Butler: Property investors squeezed

Property investors are between a rock and a hard place in the coming election with the Labour Party, Greens, and Hone Harawira calling for a range of measures against rental property and the National Party silent about further moves after a number of dramatic changes imposed without warning. Those who expected change under a National-led government did not expect more tax and more compliance issues that came with the Residential Tenancies Amendment Act 2010, since the National Party went into the 2008 election promising to retain existing tax rules and deduction provisions for rental property owners, and since the party perceived no need to cool down the housing market.

Responding to recommendations from the anti-property Tax Working Group, the 2010 Budget:

1. Ended landlords' and businesses' ability to claim depreciation on buildings with an estimated useful life of 50 years or more.
2. Tightened the definition of income for Working for Families eligibility to exclude investment and rental losses.
3. Changed the rules on loss attributing qualifying companies so that tax losses of those companies could be attributed to shareholders. (1)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Steve Baron: The Wisdom of Solomon Needed?

On top of voting for your local Member of Parliament (MP) and casting your Party vote this election, you also get to cast two other votes in the Electoral Referendum. It's not a difficult decision and you don't need to have the wisdom of Solomon, or be a Political Scientist to make a sensible decision but it does require a bit of time and effort to understand the various options. In this article I hope to make these options more clear. It must also be kept in mind that this referendum has extremely important ramifications for New Zealand, perhaps even more important than who we elect as the government, because choosing an electoral system makes an enormous difference to the eventual make-up of future governments/parliaments.

The first decision you need to make in the referendum is whether or not you want to keep the current Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system or switch to another electoral system. The second decision you need to make is whether you want First-Past-the-Post (FPP), Preferential Voting (PV), Single Transferable Voting (STV) or Supplementary Member Voting (SM), should the majority of New Zealanders decide to switch from the current MMP system. All very technical names and enough to turn any reader off right now, but stick with me as I explain each of them in due course.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Steve Baron: Direct democracy in New Zealand

Direct democracy in New Zealand continues to be a work in progress. In 1893 New Zealand debated having a constitutional framework similar to Switzerland. Although never enacted, a Referendum Bill was introduced to parliament. However, the Bill only provided for non-binding, government-controlled referendums—in other words, plebiscites. This Bill was also re-introduced again in 1918 but failed. A statutory provision for constitutional referendums is also provided for under the Electoral Act 1993, section 268. This statutory provision is singularly entrenched which means that it can only be amended or repealed if passed by a 75% majority of all MPs, or by a majority in a referendum. Then, in 1984, Social Credit MP Garry Knapp introduced the Popular Initiatives Bill which would have enabled 100,000 voters to trigger a non-binding referendum. The Bill was deferred pending a Royal Commission on the Electoral System.

The Citizens' Initiated Referenda Act 1993 came about mostly due to broken election promises by the 1984 Labour government. These radical policies for the times caused immense frustration and anger amongst New Zealanders. People at that time felt they had been deceived. According to a number of academic surveys, MPs were less respected than ever before. As a nation we had lost confidence in our political representatives.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Gerry Eckhoff: The Hot Issue of Fresh Water

The debate over the use of fresh water, as is a tradition in this country, is controlled by those who generally speaking have never left their desk but read copious quantities of reports by others whose hands on knowledge of this subject is determined by their proximately to the office water cooler.

A case in point was a recent article by Rod Oram in the Sunday Star Times. Orams article thundered that we must show courage if –quote “we are to stand chance of using this precious resource sustainably.” As most of the “precious” fresh water currently flows out to sea, it is difficult to understand Orams assertion of our need for “sustainable” use. It would seem that he and others of his race believe in “sustainable waste” of this “precious” resource called fresh water by insisting that sustainable flows reach the coastal water to be totally lost for productive use.

Michael Coote: Liar, liar, pants on fire!

This sort of accusation summed up the initial general election debates between our leading political Pinocchios, prime minister John Key and opposition leader Phil Goff.

Mr Key had indeed been caught out in telling “porKeys” when earlier on he had tried to use the Standard & Poor’s downgrade of New Zealand’s long term sovereign debt to suggest in Parliament that the election of a Labour-led government would lead to further downgrades.

Bryce Wilkinson: Controller and Auditor-Generals Report Misses the Point

The rushed Crown Retail Deposit Scheme introduced by the previous government at the onset of the 2008 general election campaign has cost taxpayers about $2 billion to date of which about $0.9 billion may yet be recovered according to a report this month by the Controller and Auditor General.

Since the fee income for the Crown to 30 June 2010 was only $237 million, it looks like taxpayers have been taken to the cleaners (yet again) for of the order of $0.9 billion.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Mike Butler: Rich pricks vs bludgers

The current New Zealand election campaign is increasingly looking like a showdown between what are colloquially referred to as “rich pricks” and “bludgers”. The term “rich prick” was widely circulated when former deputy prime minister Michael Cullen used the term in a heated debate in Parliament in December of 2007, in reference to National Party leader John Key. Cullen later claimed that he did not mean the outburst to be heard.

Economist Gareth Morgan coined the term “nation of bludgers” in a 2005 commentary on the Working For Families policy. According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, a “bludger” is a loafer who avoids work.