Sunday, October 30, 2011

Matt Ridley: From quantity to quality

This Halloween, the United Nations declared over the summer, a baby will be born somewhere on Earth who will tip the world's population over seven billion for the first time. Truly do international bureaucrats have the power of prophecy!

The precision is bunk, of course, or rather a public-relations gimmick. According to demographers, nobody knows the exact population of the world to within 100 million. (Incidentally, the record-setting baby will not be the seven billionth human being to have existed, as some press reports have implied—more like the 108 billionth.)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Richard Epstein: Going Red on Property Rights

Earlier this month, I attended a Chinese-American Conference in Beijing on property rights co-sponsored by the William and Mary Law School and the Tsinghua University Law School. One purpose of the conference was to award in absentia the Brigham-Kanner Prize to retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor for her contributions to understanding the law of property. The intensive two-day discussions on property rights were open, animated, and cordial. They also revealed deep ironies in both the Chinese and American approaches to property rights.

On the Chinese side, much grand rhetoric spoke of the power and wisdom of the socialist state, which until 1988 had doggedly held that private property was illegal. Even today, Chinese property law does not grant outright ownerships to any of its citizens. Instead, it draws a basic distinction between urban and rural lands. The former are owned by the state on behalf of the people. The latter are owned by collectives that parcel out use rights to its various members. In both of these situations, the individual person in possession of a particular parcel of land has a set of precarious use rights that are respected in any dispute between private individuals, but can be overridden by the action of the state or the collectives (which are themselves under government control).

Owen McShane: The Best News this Year.

The fault in the Maui Gas Line is the best news we have had this year. I am confident that most people in New Zealand had no idea how dependent we all are on natural gas as a fuel and energy source and how much benefit the Maui Gas Field provides.

The only long term answer to this problem, caused by a leak in a single pipeline, is to have several gas wells distributed around the country (some of which will be off-shore) all supplying gas into a "gas grid" like the electric grid, which would mean every location would have alternative sources of gas should one link in the network fail.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Steve Baron: What is direct democracy?

Direct democracy is a concept that a growing number of citizens and states around the world are exploring and embracing. There are 190 million people in Switzerland, Italy, Liechtenstein and 24 States in the USA who now embrace the referendum system. 70% of the US population now live in a state that gives them the right to vote on initiatives and referendums.

To many people, direct democracy can mean different things. Some picture the classical/pre-modern (Athens) style of direct democracy where citizens meet in the town square and decide on important issues. Others see it as an opportunity to rid the world of devious self-serving politicians, where we can all sit at home and make all necessary political decisions via our laptops. Whatever it means to you, direct democracy has certainly become a much discussed topic over the last twenty or so years even though it has had numerous critics.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Phil McDermott: Getting past the words

The Draft Auckland Plan is a daunting document – both in ambition and in presentation.  It covers a range of fields.  In what started out as a spatial planning exercise, Auckland Council boldly sets thirty year priorities for central government in areas like transport, health, and education; spells out what industry might do and how it might perform;  and promulgates its own long-term agenda in the areas of land use, urban design, and infrastructure.

So when we get past the vision, the photos, the charts, the the strategies, the principles, and directives, what does it all boil down to?

Roger Kerr: Anyone for Another Vote?

New Zealanders don't get to vote very often about parliamentary matters.  On 26 November we get to vote in the general election and on the future of MMP.  We can be thankful that we live in a country with such firmly rooted democratic freedoms.

Yet some countries, such as Switzerland and the United States, provide greater opportunities for voters to participate directly in democracy than occurs in New Zealand.  Might New Zealanders be better off with more of a direct say in key parliamentary decisions?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Lindsay Mitchell: Poverty excuse a cop-out

The NZ Council of Christian Social Services publishes a quarterly Vulnerability Report. The most recent issue contained the following graph which shows the correlation between children being poor and risk of maltreatment or neglect.

Children in the poorest decile (10 in the case because it uses the Health scale - not Education) are ten times more likely than the children in wealthiest to be admitted to hospital for reasons of maltreatment or neglect. Below the graph is the angle the NZ Council of Christian Social Services takes on it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Ron Smith: Talking about war

A hundred years ago, the government department responsible for the use of armed force, was called the ‘War Ministry’. Now it is called the ‘Ministry of Defence’ and we like it to engage in ‘peace-keeping’ and not ‘war’. Most citizens are not in, in a strict-sense, ‘pacifist’ (they do not repudiate the use of violent means in all circumstances) but they regret the all too evident human consequences of war, which makes them lukewarm supporters of ‘defence’, as an abstract proposition.

One consequence of this is a perpetual failure, by societies like ours, to make adequate provision for likely defence contingencies. Thus the period up to the New Zealand humanitarian intervention into East Timor (now Timor Leste) in 1999, was characterised by vociferous criticism of defence expenditure (‘toys for the boys’) by people who were then enthusiastic advocates of the operation. The consequence, of course, was to deploy forces that were inadequately trained and inadequately equipped.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Karl du Fresne: A Rugby World Cup of two halves

First published in the Nelson Mail,  October 12...
I am in two minds, almost literally, about the Rugby World Cup, and I suspect I’m not the only one. On the one hand, you can look at the event as purely a sporting contest in which teams from around the world compete, in theory, to find out who’s best. (I say “in theory” because the RWC really only determines which team performs best “on the day”. There are probably half a dozen teams capable of winning if the ball bounces their way.)

On this level – as a showcase of skill, athleticism, tactics, brute force and dogged determination – the Cup so far has been a great success. Rugby fans have been treated to some sensational contests and, in the very best sporting tradition, a couple of monumental upsets.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Lindsay Mitchell: ACT policy priorities - welfare missing again

The Nelson Mail reports on a meeting held by Don Brash:

"If National needs a scapegoat, if you like, we could be that scapegoat," he said. The main priorities were to cut government spending, reform the Resource Management Act, restore a youth minimum wage and raise the age of eligibility for superannuation.

No problem with those but it's so disappointing to again see ACT failing to prioritise welfare.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Ron Smith: Afghanistan and the SAS

It was entirely predictable that news of the death on active service in Afghanistan of L/Cpl Leon Smith of the NZ SAS detachment would be greeted by an almost unanimous media chorus of questions about bringing the troops home. It was predictable because that was what had happened on the previous occasion (the death of Cpl Grant in late August), and, with variations, on occasions before that.

Almost as sadly predictable was the response of New Zealand politicians, with the exception of those who are actually politically responsible for the deployment at the present time. All the rest, including those who had been politically responsible at earlier times, and who ought to have known better (for example, Phil Goff) dutifully answered in the affirmative, ‘Yes, the SAS detachment should be brought home’. So what are we to make of this?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Steve Baron: Governments & Governance - Where is the power?

The world is changing — political power is changing. Sovereign governments around the world are persistently signing their countries up to international agreements, laws and conventions, usually with the intention to strengthen human rights, improve free trade due to the increase in global trade, quell armed conflict and to address environmental concerns.

The question for New Zealanders to consider though — is the government (and therefore New Zealanders) handing over power to an unknown group of outsiders who then control our destinies? Is there cause for concern or is this just the way the world is going and we simply need to jump on for the ride as this international governance is simply a new process or new method of governing?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Roger Kerr: Does Workfare Work?

Work-for-the-dole or ‘workfare’ schemes frequently appear on the menu of measures considered by welfare reformers. Indeed the Welfare Working Group proposed one in its final report, currently being considered by the government as part of its election manifesto. Do such schemes work, and what are they intended to achieve?

Work-for-the-dole usually entails continuation of a benefit payment in return for undertaking some community service activity. The idea often finds favour with taxpayers who want both a return for their money and a moral, mutual obligation enforced.

Owen McShane: Let’s Get Close to the Water.

In his seminal work of 1996 “The Mythical Conception of Rail Transit in Los Angeles”, Jonathan Richmond explained that the powerful myths and symbols surrounding rail allow convictions to displace rational analysis. Once rail is adopted as a solution to urban problems any proposal that appears to promote the viability of rail will also be adopted. Unfortunately, these downstream policies are almost always destructive to the general urban economy.

 Randal O’Toole’s 2004 book “Great Rail Disasters – the Impact of Rail Transit on Urban Liveability” argues that such rail-supportive policies have damaged the larger urban economies and that contrary to the mythology, recent heavy investments in rail have reduced the urban “liveability” of New World Cities.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Mike Butler: Rongowhakaata deal reveals fanatical cults, warfare, murder, land wrangles at Gisborne

A settlement signed last week involving Gisborne tribe Rongowhakaata harks back to a tangled history of two fanatical religious cults, warfare, murder, and perpetual land wrangles. The government and Rongowhakaata tribe members signed the deal on September 30, 2011, at Whakato Marae, Manutuke, Gisborne, which includes financial redress of $22.24-million plus interest since 2008, and the transfer of five Crown-owned properties in the Gisborne region. I became interested in the history of the area while researching my book The First Colonist: Samuel Deighton 1821-1900.

A statement from Treaty Negotiations Minister Christopher Finlayson said that “the settlement addresses all of Rongowhakaata’s historical claims, and the Crown will apologise for a number of grievous treaty breaches. These include the unjustified use of military force in Turanga (the Gisborne area), the detention without trial of Rongowhakaata prisoners on the Chatham Islands, the summary executions of prisoners at Ngatapa in 1869, and the effective confiscation of a large area of Rongowhakaata land as well as Te Hau ki Tūranga” (a meeting house taken from Gisborne and on display at Te Papa).

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Mike Butler: Summoning ghosts from the past as Tuhoe negotiator talks up Urewera self-governance

Tuhoe's lead negotiator is talking up his tribe's chances of a settlement including self-government of Te Urewera National Park and Lake Waikaremoana as early as next year, according to a report in the New Zealand Herald last Saturday, October 1, 2011.

Tuhoe, with 19 other tribes, are in the negotiations stage of their bid to win a treaty settlement. According to an explanation on the Office of Treaty Settlements website, these claimant groups have signed terms of negotiation and are negotiating with the Crown the basic elements of a settlement such as the nature of the historical account and cultural and commercial redress. The culmination of this stage is the signing of an agreement in principle, which will include a proposed financial quantum of the settlement. Tuhoe's lead negotiator Tamati Kruger apparently wants to garner extra support by putting his case to the mainstream media.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Richard Epstein: Obama’s Jobs Bill - Read It and Weep

The dim news about the current economic situation has prompted the Obama administration to put forward its latest, desperate effort to reverse the tide by urging passage of The American Jobs Act (AJA), a turgid 155-page bill. The AJA’s only certain effect is to make everything worse than it already is by asking Congress to tighten the stranglehold that government regulation has already placed on the economy.

That sad fact would certainly elude anyone who accepted the president’s justification for the AJA when he sent the bill to Congress. This bill, he said, will "put more people back to work and put more money in the pockets of working Americans. And it will do so without adding a dime to the deficit." How? Why, by closing "corporate tax loopholes" and insisting that the wealthiest American’s pay their "fair share" of taxes.