Friday, December 31, 2010

Violent crime continues to fall in the US

Some good news.

We don't hear much about US crime here in NZ but I have tracked it in keeping with my interest in their welfare reforms. There is a strong connection between lifestyle welfare and crime primarily working through the disenfranchisement of young men, especially minority groups, the subsequent breakdown of the family unit and the reinforcement of dysfunctional living.

Opponents to the 1996 reforms warned that crime would increase. Some even resigned to demonstrate their deep concerns.

Across the nation, homicide rates have dropped to their lowest levels in nearly a generation. And overall violent crime has sunk to its lowest level since 1973, Justice Department statistics show.

The long-term trend is particularly striking in the nation's three largest cities:

* In New York, homicides have dropped 79 percent during the past two decades - from 2,245 in 1990 to 471 in 2009.
* Chicago is down 46 percent during that period, from 850 to 458.
* Los Angeles is down 68 percent, from 983 to 312.

On the downside however;

But the prospect of prolonged economic woes raise troubling questions about whether violent crime could rise again, and some recent trends that affect residents' quality of life have been unsettling:

* In New York, city crime reports though November of 2010 indicate that homicides have jumped 14.4 percent and rape is up 15.6 percent this year, compared with the same period last year. Those numbers don't compare to the 1990s, but are notable in a city that has been a model for reducing crime.
* In Chicago, Police Superintendent Jody Weis says the city has struggled to break an unusual cycle of slaying involving child victims.
* In Los Angeles, authorities have tamped down persistent gang violence, but police acknowledge that the successes are fragile in a never-ending effort to maintain local public safety, even as gang membership has risen slightly, from 43,000 in 2008 to 45,000 this year.

When crime control relies heavily on intensive policing, public service cuts of the kind being made in the US will no doubt be having an impact.

As an afterthought what would it look like if NZ could return to 1973 levels of offending?

Best I can do quickly is these two graphs.

The first is from Statistics NZ and shows all recorded offending per 1,000 until 2000. I have added a rough line extending to 2010.

The next is the FBI Crime Index per 100,000 graph.

Two very different pictures.

Government intervention makes matters worse

Here is a vivid description of the law of unintended consequences. The Australian government is waging war against alcohol abuse amongst some Aboriginals but their interventions are only moving the problem elsewhere and worsening the conditions in which alcoholics are living. They have also become more dangerous to themselves, each other and the public (alcoholics and politicians).

A CRACKDOWN on ''rivers of grog'' in remote Aboriginal communities under the federal intervention has pushed drinkers into camps with no shelter, toilets, water, food or police patrols, the Northern Territory government has been told.

The territory's co-ordinator general for remote services, Bob Beadman, says at the isolated camps ''feuds are fuelled by alcohol, tribal resentments flare, the social order of kinship and avoidance is abandoned, and self-respect soaks into the soil with the blood and excrement of the vomit''.

He also says the declaration of dry prescribed areas under the multibillion-dollar intervention has pushed drinkers from remote communities into major towns where they have no shelter and are away from the care of their families.

One savvy observer notes;

Mr Beadman, a senior administrator of Aboriginal policy since 1973, said bush families were worried that ''not even the governments which make the laws that inadvertently create these places have any duty of care about the consequences of their actions''.

So what have the authorities learned and what will they do next?

The NT government recently announced plans to introduce laws in 2011 to give police unprecedented powers to ban people from buying and drinking takeaway alcohol for up to a year. Problem drinkers will be put on a register of banned drinkers and refused service.

From July, anyone buying takeaway liquor in the NT will have to produce identification.

This will only create more mayhem.

Back however to our more considered player;

But Mr Beadman recommended the government also talk with remote communities and indigenous support agencies about whether dry areas or licensed drinking premises would be enduring solutions, then develop alcohol management plans for specific areas.

It seems to me that there is a greater chance people will be 'redeemed' if there are at least drinking in a reasonably civilised setting and given help and care as needed. Minimise the harm because it will never be eradicated.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Disgraceful crowd behaviour at Alexandra Trotting Park

Newspapers from 100 years ago are more interesting than the present offerings.

The PM Joseph Ward explains how existing public debt will be repaid in 75 years. Very ambitious.

The Colonist patronisingly describes how Maori are "just like Pakeha" when it comes to keeping up with technology. And why wouldn't they be?

Then, in the Marlborough Express, a "frank discussion" with the Chinese Consul, Mr Hwang, about the question of Asiatics entering and working in NZ, and the indignity of "finger printing" labourers because authorities could not tell them apart by looks alone. Thank God most have moved on from this sort of racial prejudice, although I see NZ First is still polling well above other minor parties.

In the Ashburton Guardian, the Secretary of the Howard Association writes about prison reform in England and how they hope to cut next year's prison population by 40,000 through deferring incarceration. Not sure how that improves ultimate numbers.

And finally, the Wanganui Chronicle reports on the disgraceful crowd behaviour at Alexandra Trotting Park causing the postponement of racing. Sergeant Dale was forced to close the bar and post mounted guards over it. I wonder if there was a Alexandra Trotting Park residents association falling over themselves to remonstrate at the lack of police action in the surrounding environs?

If you just feel like a laugh this morning read the last one. Genuinely funny, even if not necessarily intended to be so.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Next year's census

The Ashburton Guardian, December 28, 1910

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Real art

This painting had me hovering for ages yesterday at the European Masters exhibition currently showing at Te Papa. The chance to see an original Renoir and NOT under glass was quite special. This reproduction sadly does nothing for it. But the reason why students need to copy the masters on-the-spot was brought home to me forcibly. Without seeing the relief, the brushwork, the actual colours (allowing for fading over time of course) one hasn't a hope in hell of understanding or emulating his techniques, of which there were very many. Possibly too many over his prodigious career.

The elements of the painting - the glassware and china teacups - are so beautifully crafted with bright colours that aren't apparent in this photo. The luminous nature of fabrics is hard to believe when so much white is used. The building up of the highlights is utterly precise. But the whooshing of background washes, and the feathering of hard edges creates an atmosphere hard to describe and I would imagine, almost impossible to imitate.

His paintings are truly inspirational for me. They provide new ideas about colour. For instance since getting more immersed in pastel I have been using violet or purple increasingly. It's a very useful colour for expressing dark or shadow because it isn't cold and brown/black is sometimes quite unpleasant - at least to my eye. So I was fascinated to see, in the only other Renoir in the exhibition, the beginnings were seemingly a warm purple grounding or wash. That is the entire canvas is pre-coated in that shade or variations of it.

Seeing this first-hand I was able to discern or guess that the blouse was initially painted over a already depicted form. The stripes would have been laid down quite carefully. But then, while the paint is still wet, a feathering brush dragged very lightly and rhythmically over the area to create the mistiness that reads so well. Like putting a soft focus on a photographic subject. Whether I am right doesn't matter. It's the idea that matters. I had forgotten how useful a skill it can be, especially with flower and landscapes.

Then there was the inevitable dross which I will not even describe. Wouldn't even look at. Yes I am narrow-minded when it comes to art. Why give pretentious daubs any attention at all?

Even Renoir's paintings, I think, declined as he aged (generalising). Boredom seeps in. There is a parallel in composing too. Often the greatest work of composers - of all genres - is created within a certain time frame. The discovery period. Probably the same happens in personal relationships too. That's why they need work. But art shouldn't be work.

It can take a certain amount of rationalisation or compromise but the more it requires, the less it is by definition 'art'.

Interestingly Renoir had a number of mistresses so his romances obviously grew stale. He would gift a portrait to them on parting. His portraits of his lovers were, shall we say, somewhat generous. Larger breasts, softer eyes, taller statures. But he was never a tortured soul. There was no great angst, no tragedy, no twisted psyche. He painted beauty. Or, perhaps more correctly, he created beauty. Which is what art should be in my book. There is enough ugliness in the world. I don't need art to remind me of it.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Readership increases by a factor of ten thousand

To my surprise the NZ Herald published my latest submission. Not that they never publish me, but it was fairly hard-hitting. The comments facility will no doubt produce some stern detraction.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Why child abuse continues

Here is the problem - or part of it. These are the words of the former Children's Commissioner, Ian Hassall, on the subject of abused children;

A mantra I learnt as a young doctor from older colleagues was, "There but for the grace of God go I". It was a reminder when faced with something shocking or upsetting to be aware of my own shortcomings and try to place myself in the shoes of the people who came my way and not condemn them. From such a position we hope to be able to consider carefully the injured children who come to our attention and offer them and their families the best service we can, whatever that might entail.

Ideally this 'Christian' approach should offer the best results.

However, when it is widely adopted beyond the sphere of the medical profession, it does not.

When social workers, court staff, lawyers, teachers, clergy, and various other volunteers don the self-satisfying cloak of non-judgmentalism those being mentored to, the abusers, actually start believing that their actions are justifiable, understandable and even admissible. They start believing in themselves as the victims of circumstances beyond their control - for instance their own upbringing, or in the case of Maori, their cultural oppression.

While it is true that these factors have bearing on what transpires - acts of domestic violence - they are not excuses.

But the perpetrators are probably quite shocked when they go too far and end up convicted and imprisoned. Quite a rare response from society in the scheme of things.

What is lacking is the broad stigmatisation of child abuse. It is strange that cigarette smoking has been transformed into a detestable, filthy habit by the Health Ministry, other paid zealots and politicians, yet influential people like Ian Hassall are still making excuses and preaching tolerance for child abusers.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Odd. Most odd.

The Ministry of Social Development, on behalf of CYF, are acting as a collection agency for the unnamed 9 year-old abuse victim. They have set up a trust fund (inferred) and are advising people who want to give gifts, to drop them at their local CYF office.

Am I churlish or cynical or just plain curious about this exercise?

It is a first in my experience.

The appraisals of CYF'S role in what occurred have ranged from slightly critical to thoroughly damning. Personally I prefer to sheet the blame back to the culprits. If we didn't have so many poor excuses for parents there would, after all, be no CYF.

But is this initiative a face-saving effort? Is it 'appropriate' for an agency that has arguably failed this child already, to assume the public will want to entrust to it gifts and money that will supposedly make her once again feel "special and cared for"?

Perhaps it is entirely consistent for the primary public agency tasked with protecting the safety of children to channel the inevitable public expression of sympathy when it has been unable to fulfil that charge.

In which case, what about all the other victims of abuse?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Price tag on children leads to abuse and neglect

Responding to the most recent high profile child abuse case, the Minister for Social Development and Employment, Paula Bennett (NZ Herald, December 21) says she will "... do anything in her power to protect children." We must take her at her word. I do not doubt her sincerity.

Why does child abuse and neglect occur? Because the child is 'wanted' at one level, but not at another. Sometimes they are wanted for the benefits that dependent children bring; priority for housing, extra income, and parental amnesty from being self-supporting. They are not wanted in the usual sense; loved more than can be expressed or explained. The way children should be loved by their parents and grandparents.

Sometimes the parent's own mental or physical health problems get in the way of unqualified care, but that is another issue. One that, from a government point of view, needs addressing through the Ministry of Health. But the issue identified here - children as meal-tickets - is a matter for the Minister who assures us she will do anything in her power to prevent the sort of abuse that makes grown-ups cry, if they allow the grim reality to break through their own defence mechanisms.

Meal-ticket children are hostages to their parent's or caregiver's life styles. Politicians on the left of the political spectrum will remonstrate that funding cannot be withdrawn from these parents because the child will suffer. As if the child isn't suffering anyway. Living in environments characterised by gang associations that bring a culture of threats and counter-threats; alcohol and drug abuse; sexual and incestuous abuse. These children exist in their hundreds, if not in their thousands.

Children have been a source of income in New Zealand for eighty years or more. Unlike the Old Age Pension, Maori were easily able to access the Family Benefit which, with their typically large families, accrued a tidy sum by the 1940s. Enough in some rural communities for the menfolk to knock off work and spend their days drinking and gambling. Which in turn set up the right conditions for domestic disharmony and childhood misery.

Child abuse was 'discovered' in the 1950s and 60s but certainly pre-existed that era. While by no stretch of the imagination wholly explaining the incidence of abuse, the more that 'poor' families are paid to look after their children, the more abuse has occurred or, at least, has been notified and substantiated. More money certainly isn't curing the problem. So perhaps it is time to ask if more money is exacerbating it?

The incidence of Maori child abuse is disproportionately high. Conversely, the statistics for Asian child abuse are very low. Yet Asians have the lowest median incomes in New Zealand. Even more telling, they have the lowest proportion of income from government transfers. They are not heavily benefit-dependent. They are busy earning a living and expecting as much from their children in the present and future. In a recent conversation with an ex-plunket nurse I was told how, even in poor neighbourhoods and cramped living conditions, extended Asian families doted on their offspring. The same nurse had eventually abandoned her career because working with families who cared for neither themselves nor their children became too demoralising to deal with.

Grandparents raising grandchildren will tell of bitter custody battles with their own offspring (frequently drug or alcohol addicted) intent on keeping children in their care merely to advance their chosen lifestyle - receiving a state income with no obligation to do anything for it.

Between a third and a half of people receiving the DPB became a parent in their teens when a benefit income guarantees more than an unskilled job. This group has been shown to have the longest duration of stay on welfare often adding more children, and more income, to their benefit. The incidence of abuse amongst non-working families is around four times higher than among working families.

While there is good and genuine cause for the state to temporarily assist parents experiencing a crisis or losing the support of a partner it should rarely bestow an open-ended income. That is a recipe for children to be exploited.

It is within the power of Paula Bennett to consider this ugly aspect of social security and work to change it. It will not be an easy problem to resolve but she should start by at least acknowledging it.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Run up to Xmas

The work continues to come in. I had a lull and produced the following sketch, framed it and hung it ready for sale. Sold another painting yesterday. Some photos of the shop follow the sketch. I have an order for two replicate oil portraits which I am going to begin today. Using turps and oils on the spot will require a great deal of discipline. Not only to avoid a mess but to achieve a result as quickly as possible.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Turning five

If my blog was a child it would be starting school tomorrow - except there is no school tomorrow. Yeh for school holidays.

The five years it takes for a child to progress from birth to school seem very significant with so much mental and physical development taking place. In the last five years my blog has certainly grown physically (content quantity) but I don't think it has growth much mentally (content quality). If anything it has gone backwards with too much repetition of ideas.

But I don't plan to abandon it even if I am moving into a different phase - more art, more people contact and less virtual communication. Not one for dramatic gestures or decisions, I actually mirror my political conviction. Gradualism. Incremental change led by radical ideas that take seed and grow. Slowly. Mind numbingly slowly sometimes.

Some say politics is a numbers game. I say it is a game of patience. Mine has not run out. Yet. But the welfare stuff isn't going to take precedence any more.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Scary stories about the state gone mad

Here is a very scary story that details the potential for new government taxes (levies or fines) through compulsory, tracked, recycling.

Citing the British model, Cleveland, Ohio, is taking a giant step toward a similar scheme of compulsory recycling, says Wendy McElroy, a research fellow at the Independent Institute.

* In 2011 some 25,000 households will be required to use recycling bins fitted with radio-frequency identification tags (RFIDs) -- tiny computer chips that can remotely provide information such as the weight of the bin's contents and that allow passing garbage trucks to verify their presence.
* If a household does not put its recycle bin out on the curb, an inspector could check its garbage for improperly discarded recyclables and fine the scofflaws $100.
* Moreover, if a bin is put out in a tardy manner or left out too long, the household could be fined.
* Cleveland plans to implement the system citywide within six years.

Although you would be shocked to read about legislation forcing pubs to sell only low alcohol beer, you wouldn't be surprised. But this story is even stranger. In 2011 bars and restaurants in Colorado will be banned from the sales of such products.

As the happy-hour crowd began trickling into The Celtic Tavern on Tuesday night, bar owner Patrick Schaetzle — flanked by placards and mirrors touting Murphy's Irish Stout — got some unsettling news.

Sometime next year bars will have to stop selling his Lower Downtown pub's signature stout along with an array of other beers that are lower alcohol.

A bit of both

I deliberated over whether to title this post "It's a bit late now" or "It's never too late".

Ex UK minister in charge of narcotics policy has decided that all drugs should be legalised. Shame he didn't come to this conclusion - or at least act on it - while he was in charge. But from someone in his position and with residual influence on public opinion, his revelation is better late than ever.

"The war on drugs does not work. We need to be bold, we need some fresh thinking," Ainsworth, who was also Defence Secretary in the former Labour government, told BBC radio.

"This has been going on for 50 years now and it isn't getting better. The drugs trade is as big and as powerful as it ever was across the world."

Ainsworth said each drug should be examined on its own terms and there should be different regimes for each one. Heroin should be legally available, but only on prescription, he suggested, while cocaine could be available from legal sources such as doctors.

"I'm not proposing the liberalisation and legalisation of heroin so we can all get zonked out on the street corner," he said.

"What I'm saying is heroin needs to be taken out of the hands of the dealers, put into the hands of the medical profession, done in a mass way to the extent that's necessary."

There was a time when I kept my views about decriminalisation quiet. People think you are mad when you suggest legalisation of all drugs. But over time it becomes clearer and clearer that the madness is in the status quo.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Unsigned threat

Yesterday this was left in my letterbox;

The first thing I note is that the complaint is unsigned. Which immediately raises my hackles - like bloggers and commentors who hide behind anonymity to carp and criticise.

The next is the pedantic detailing of times. The aggrieved writer must be writing them down. They seem a little early as I usually only wake Sam at 7 but they are thereabouts. However, to describe after 7am as "very early hours" is silly. On a week day - the only time I walk Girl at that time - anyone working or attending school is up and about.

Then the "continual barking". Girl, a trained heading dog, gets very excited about her walk and yes, she does bark "madly" from the door to the gate when she quietens down as she goes on the leash. So she barks for a few seconds.

She is not out of control.

But as the writer is threatening a complaint to the council, I wonder what "continual barking in the very early hours" will infer? A dog left alone to bark constantly at one or two in the morning? That would probably provoke an unnecessary and unwarranted investigation.

Then I consider the line about having some consideration for others in the neighbourhood. Having put an anonymous note in my letterbox I am now wondering who I have upset. Is it a newcomer or a neighbour I usually get along with? The writer has cast suspicion over the other neighbours by refusing to sign their name or talking to me personally. In my book that is a more anti-social action than my neglecting to shut my occasionally barking dog up.

I will endeavour to do so by putting her on the leash before she exits the house. But I now face the unpleasant experience of setting off on our walk wondering who is disapprovingly watching us from behind twitching curtains.

Perhaps I will set off today loudly singing "Joy to the World...."

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Core Crown expenses and welfare spending

Welfare, including Super, accounts for one third of expenditure.

In 2006 Treasury forecast welfare expenses in 2010 would be $18.975 billion. They under-forecast welfare by over $2 billion.

The 2010 welfare expenditure breakdown:

If all of the expenditure that relates to working age welfare is totalled the sum is $9.379 billion. Divide that by the number of working age beneficiaries at June 2010 - 333,000 - to get an average sum of $28,165. That figure will be slightly high as a small percentage of the accommodation supplement and other allowances are received by Super annuitants or non-beneficiaries, so let's conservatively call it $27,000.

Now I know I am labouring a point here but an average income of $519 per week does not describe abject poverty. The Sue Bradford group wants New Zealanders to believe that current benefits of $194 a week for a single adult or $366 for a sole parent with one child are "simply too low to live on". Her numbers do not reflect reality. Some individuals may be living on basic benefits but the resulting call is for all beneficiaries to receive an increase. If the problem is inaccurately described, so is the solution.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Poor children and what should be done about them

Now Tapu Misa is beating the give-the-In-Work-tax-credit-to-beneficiary-families drum.

And more generally, reducing child poverty requires more robbing Peter to pay Paul.

The first demand will not be met. It wasn't met under Labour. And it sure as heck isn't going to be met under National.

Lifting the income of families with children can be addressed through work, or through benefits. If it is done through the benefit system then the result is large numbers of workless households.

If it is addressed through paid work, the goal of the Welfare Working Group, the result is a better economy and the re-establishing of personal responsibility as a common value.

Children in families with work do better than children with families on benefits despite both being on low incomes.

Children in families that work suffer the least abuse or neglect.

Children in families that work grow up with similar expectations for themselves.

But I have said it all before.

Question that Tapu Misa might like to address in some future column. Asian children are the poorest in New Zealand. They must be because their parents have the lowest incomes. Why aren't they beset with educational failure, poor physical and mental health and headed for drug and alcohol problems?

Asians have the lowest median incomes from all sources yet also the lowest incomes from government transfers. What is that telling us?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Understanding 'being on a benefit' versus 'being on a benefit package'

Yesterday I was being interviewed by Larry Williams when I came out with 'benefit package'. We shouldn't talk about people being on a benefit - but a benefit package. That is because only a minority receive just the basic benefit. And if they do, it is because they have other means or fewer outgoings.

This is not about attacking beneficiaries. It's about properly understanding why some are reluctant to give up what they perceive as a/ an income comparable to what they would receive through working and b/ greater security than a job.

The following tables are from the latest (2009 financial year) MSD statistical report and show what other assistance beneficiaries get;

Accommodation Supplement

Temporary additional support or special benefit

Rates of payment (in here is the biggie that all carers on a benefit receive for dependent children - family tax credit.)

There are other tables available for supplementary assistance for child or adult disability, special needs grants etc. Assistance that people who are not on benefits do not receive, unless they meet the means-tested requirements.

I take you back to a comment made to Simon Collins of the NZ Herald earlier this year.

Connie Raiwhara, who runs the Pikorua community house where Ms Heremaia attends a sewing class, said many sole parents had no qualifications and would not give up the benefit for a minimum-wage job.

A sole parent with three young children paying the $332 average rent for a three-bedroom house in Papakura would get $206 in family support and $165 in accommodation supplement on top of the $278 DPB, a total of $649 a week.

"A lot of our solo parents get well in the $700s. They are not going to go from $700 to $400," Ms Raiwhara said.

"Even if you're in a fulltime job on $400-$500 a week [after tax], childcare is $240 a week. You're working to pay for someone else to look after your child.

"Maybe they should put the wages up and maybe that would give people the incentive to go back to work."

Now let's recall what Sue Bradford et al are saying;

"The alternative group, chaired by Massey University social policy expert Mike O'Brien and including former Green MP Sue Bradford, says current benefits of $194 a week for a single adult or $366 for a sole parent with one child are "simply too low to live on"."

The whole thrust of the Alternative Welfare Group's approach is to misrepresent the situation to garner public support for 'poverty-stricken' beneficiaries which then turns into political opposition to reform.

No, it is not easy being on a benefit. It is not easy being on a low income full stop. Neither is it easy working 5,6 or 7 days a week only to lose a good part of your earnings to someone who refuses to make similar efforts.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Reminder of why welfare is in such a mess

The NZ Herald reports;

"The alternative group, chaired by Massey University social policy expert Mike O'Brien and including former Green MP Sue Bradford, says current benefits of $194 a week for a single adult or $366 for a sole parent with one child are "simply too low to live on"."

But most beneficiaries are not living on just the basic benefit. The following illustrates the additional support someone on the DPB might typically be receiving and why that disincentivises work;

TAS = temporary additional support
DA = disability allowance
AS = accommodation supplement
FTC = family tax credit


"... the alternative group says there is actually "no immediate crisis". It says beneficiaries fell from 15 per cent of the working-age population in 2000 to only 10 per cent in 2008 when jobs were available, and have risen to only 12 per cent in the current recession."

12.5 percent is a crisis when compared with the 30 years that followed the creation of social security when the total number of working age people receiving a benefit never exceeded 2 percent.

Also ignored is that those making up the current 12.5 percent are on typically much longer term benefits than the dole which made up half of all benefit uptake in the early 90s.

It says the $60 a week "in-work tax credit" for families with at least one fulltime worker should be paid to all low-income families.

This claim has been made ad nauseam. The Child Poverty Action Group took their case to the Human Rights Tribunal and lost. The Tribunal found the government had the right to discriminate in order to encourage people to work. And remember it was a Labour government they were fighting.

There is no way any of the stuff in this report is going to fly. It merely serves to remind us of the type of sentiment that got us into such a mess with welfare.

(Graphs from the Treasury Report to the [official] Welfare Working Group)

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Pro-welfare activists gear up

The Alternative Working Welfare Group presents its final report today. I can't find an associated media release but just heard Sue Bradford on the radio network news talking about recommending raising benefit levels, 'full' living wages, recognition of caring and the inclusion of beneficiary wants for the system. They have an event planned in Wellington today.

Fortunately, as it stands, they have no political power to implement their desire for ever more wealth redistribution.

(Still find the Catholics and Sue Bradford an odd mix.)

The English Pointer

Still sketching every day in Eastbourne. Painting sales leave a lot to be desired but the pastel commissions are steady. Here's one picked up yesterday by the delighted owner of an English Setter.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Social Development Minister playing statistical sophistry

The Minister for Social Development released (some) November benefit numbers yesterday. The total number of people on benefits has risen from 338,000 in September to 342,000. She said this;

“We now have 342,076 people on benefits - that’s ten percent of the working age population – we’ve a long way to go to improve this picture,” says Ms Bennett.

Yet in September the Ministry benefit fact sheets showed that between 12 and 13 percent of the working age population was reliant on a benefit.

So the Minister is saying that 1 in 10 working-age people is on a benefit but the Ministry is saying 1 in 8.

In her defence the Minister will probably say she is employing the working-age definition of 15-64 years-old. Yet the Ministry officially uses the 18-64 definition for the purposes of collating and distributing statistics;

This fact sheet defines the working-age population as aged 18–64 years to reflect the minimum age of entitlement to most benefits and the age of eligibility for New Zealand Superannuation. All information in this fact sheet refers to working-age recipients of main benefits.

I note too that the increase in absolute numbers is being largely blamed on students going on benefits.

As usual with universities finishing for summer, an influx of students (5,802) going onto benefits pushed overall benefit numbers up....The biggest contributor to the rise in overall benefits in November was due to the influx of students onto benefits.

But when the students go off the benefits next year the associated decrease will be trumpeted as an improving economy or good government performance as per her statement earlier this year;

"It's really pleasing to see 5,595 young people came off a benefit in just the last month," says Ms Bennett.

"Young people have been among the hardest hit by the recession and initiatives like Job Ops and Community Max have proven vital in keeping young New Zealanders in work," says Ms Bennett.

In reality all that happens is students move between student allowance and the unemployment benefit.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Whose cost, caring?

Tapu Misa's latest column is a criticism of the Welfare Working Group's focus on paid work to reduce dependency on the state.

She "whines" (her word) that stay at home mums feel worthless and undervalued. She presumes to speak for all at home mums. Collectivists have to do that in order to find collectivist solutions. Personally I never, ever felt undervalued as an at-home mother but what I and my family think is more important to me than the views of any other faceless community.

But the picture Misa concocts is of a society increasingly ganging up on all stay at home parents.

These days the idea of staying at home to look after young children seems increasingly old-fashioned and indulgent.

Yet, strangely, more and more men are doing it. Any 'indulgence' arises from the fact that many parents are using public money to stay home. Not money their partner has earned.

But Misa never makes any distinction between the two.

Some mothers (I imagine most) work because of economic necessity, but I've had more than a few women confess to me that they needed to work for their own sanity.

The mothers I know who are resisting that trend, despite the personal and economic costs, find themselves swimming against a tide that is increasingly unsympathetic, even dismissive of the role they play in raising and supporting their children.

There it is again. A 'tide' of collective opinion.

This leads to the predictable assertion that society puts no value on 'caring', or not enough anyway.

What she really means is that the state puts no value on caring because she observes the state getting increasingly reluctant to pay for it.

That is because when the state takes on responsibility for the upkeep of individuals they do less and less for themselves and each other. Families have fewer reasons to stay together and rely on one another. I am sure that the members of the WWG do value individuals caring for one another but understand that the welfare system has undermined this.

With its narrow focus on paid work rather than care, it continues to miss the bigger picture.

No. I think it is Tapu Misa who misses the big picture.

And one more thing. She alludes to a situation developing in the US;

As the New York Times reported last week, budget cuts in schools, for example, have heightened the need for more volunteer help just as parents have less and less time to give.

The unpaid work that would have been done by stay-at-home mothers is now falling on over-burdened working mothers, who are starting to "say NO to volunteering".

High unemployment has meant more people have more time on their hands. People are stepping forward to fill roles in schools that were previously paid positions and perversely, the unions are fighting them. Out of necessity the state is shrinking and the left do not like it.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Useless information for you

The only use for the following navel-gazing information is to idly compare it to your own circumstances. My household would rank below Italy. I do almost all the gardening and housework. That is because when himself is at home he is usually doing paid work. It just continues from one computer screen to the next. And that's fine by me. He might also point out that as he puts a reasonable dollop of money into my bank account each month my work is not in fact unpaid.


Friday, December 03, 2010

Children's Commissioner on the DPB

Reading the Children's Commissioner objecting to proposals from the Welfare Working Group Options paper I wondered how the reporter could make such a major statistical error;

With 183,000 single parents receiving the domestic purposes benefit, it was important to pay attention to how changes to the benefit system would affect them.


So I searched the paper by 183,000. Here is the result.

Approximately 183,000 children are being raised in a family on a Domestic Purposes Benefit.

Then I checked the Commissioner's release but it wasn't his mistake. Very poor reporting on the part of the journalist who shows they are completely unfamiliar with the subject or wouldn't have made such a glaring mistake.

But back to the Commissioner's objections.

He wants single parents to be able to stay on the DPB for longer than two years and doesn't want any measures introduced that prevent more children being added to the benefit. Result? Long-term dependence. Back to the drawing board.

Yet when he presented to the Welfare Working Group earlier this year he said;

“living in a benefit-dependent home has serious impacts on child wellbeing.”

So the Children's Commissioner can be added to the long list of people who know there is a problem but don't know what to do about it. Their constant refrain is "what about the children?"

Quite. What about the children if we require no more from their parents? What about the children if parents are allowed to continue to treat the benefit as a lifestyle entitlement?

I am fully behind the documented option to reduce the DPB to one year only (with a lifetime limit on welfare). This allows time for the mother and child to bond in the case of a new birth, or time for a recovery after a relationship breakdown in the case of a separation. But one year's availability (in the majority of cases) would change the way people think about welfare and require them to start taking responsibility for their own lives. It is also in line with most working parents expectations. One year off work.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Sketching still


From a photo by Carrick.

Susan picked him up at the weekend and has framed him already. Gorgeous dog.

On my 15th straight day of 'public' pastelling and I have work coming in steadily.

Key looking to move on welfare

All the usual accusations of 'beneficiary bashing' have surfaced on the back of the Welfare Working Group's options report. Tapu Misa, Gordon Campbell, Sue Bradford, the Alternative Welfare Working Group, the Greens etc.

Even Steve Maharey emerged yesterday to add his criticism to the carping cacophony.

We have heard all of this before, along with the willingness to distort everything we know about the welfare system to win the argument.

Priceless. He would know about distortion. For years he painted a misleading picture of people on the DPB as typically separated, in their thirties and highly motivated to work.

And his big idea?

What we need is an approach that will harmonise social policy with economic development and identify social programmes that make a contribution to economic growth.

If this can be done, the case for social welfare holding back growth is weakened and arguments in favour of social welfare become compelling.

I call this alternative social development because it provides a justification for redistribution by advocating resources be put into social investments that will impact positively on the economy.

Oh groan. Social 'development' was practised for years under his watch. That's what the Ministry is named after. There is, however, an economic theory called 'broken windows' that explains why redistribution of resources on the back of calamity does not add to overall economic growth.

Anyway, one theme they all keep hammering is, there is no crisis, there is no 'dependency'. For instance Tapu Misa writes;

Mike O'Brien, an associate professor of social policy at Massey University, questions the focus on dependency. He writes that other than anecdotal stories and "prejudicial assertion", no evidence is presented to support the claim about benefit "dependence".

The Group offered numerous statistics to flesh out dependence in terms of both numbers and duration of stay. But here is a quote from recent MSD research if they want it from the horse's mouth so to speak;

On average, sole parents receiving main benefits had more disadvantaged backgrounds than might have been expected:

• just over half had spent at least 80% of the history period observed (the previous 10 years in most cases) supported by main benefits
• a third appeared to have become parents in their teenage years

I have, by the way, argued frequently that the last statement is an undercount and explained why. But if this state of affairs isn't 'dependence' then it is hard to envisage what is.

So I was buoyed to read this morning that John Key will be looking for next year's welfare policy in the final recommendations the Welfare Working Group make in February.

He [Key] signalled that he also wanted final proposals from the welfare working group, due to report in February, translated into policy by the next election.

Good man. Put up some real welfare reform policy and I will vote for you. It'll be a first.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Silly name calling

NewstalkZB political commentator, Barry Soper, never worries about disguising his dislike for Rodney Hide and ACT. Here he refers to him as "Rodney Thick Hide" .

Which ever way you read it neither interpretation works. He is not thick. And he is not impervious to criticism and hostility. I made the reacquaintance of an old (but young) ACT supporter by chance the other day. We reflected on Rodney's unfailing, and often unfounded, optimism. And his sheer doggedness. The second trait is reinforced by John Boscawen's uncanny ability to never falter when he has a goal. Neither are out for the count yet.

I commented to my husband when Rodney became engaged to Louise Crome that she would want children. Not that I know her or anything about her. But I was a similar age, and newly married, when I had my first child and if it is there to out, the desire to mother is very strong by that stage. So I also wonder what that will mean for the future of ACT. Rodney becoming a father again. He is a character predisposed to sea changes. Perhaps he will draw the curtain on politics. At least he would no longer have to tolerate silly name-calling.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Don Brash delivers National a few home truths

Predictably the NZ Herald is sensationalising another Don Brash Orewa speech delivered last night with the headline, "Brash attacks Maori - again. "

The section about Maori and equal citizenship is only a small part of a speech which lays out plainly what is wrong with the way National is managing the country and what needs to happen if the economic decline is to be arrested.

Here are a few lines towards the conclusion of a 9 page speech; a recognition that particularly resonated with me;

One of the problems in any democratic society is that when left-of-centre parties are in power they tax heavily the high-income minority to win votes from the majority. For at least a time, they can be almost guaranteed of winning if they take $1,000 off one voter and give $200 to each of five voters (after clipping the ticket on the way through of course!). Right-of-centre governments feel obliged to continue that policy, even where it violates their constitution and destroys the country’s future.

The problem is that, unless those policies are reversed from time to time, we get a steady increase in the size of government, and a steady increase in the tax burden carried by the most productive members of our community. It takes courage, vision and moral purpose to reverse that trend.

Entire speech here

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Liquor ban in Day's Bay

Some locals, led by one councillor Ross Jamieson, are pushing for a permanent liquor ban in Day's Bay, a traditional day-out picnicking destination for Wellingtonians, especially the young. My letter to the local rag:

Dear Editor

Law that relies on police discretion to administer it is bad law. The policing of a permanent liquor ban in Days Bay would apparently permit "a decent family" to break it. This is a recipe for harassment of the 'wrong' people, whoever the wrong people are. Probably young, brown and loud.

Councillor Jamieson has discounted "personal freedoms" in favour of preventing "loutish behaviour". He might reflect on the slippery slope he is embarking on.

Young people have been coming to Days Bay, enjoying themselves and, God forbid, drinking, for generations. Most stay out of trouble. If they break some existing law protecting person and property, police and prosecute by all means. But introducing 'discretionary' law to target one sector of society sets a very bad precedent.

Friday, November 26, 2010

A snapshot of children born in NZ today

Some useful information will come out of this long-term study launched yesterday. 7,000 children in and around Auckland will be followed from birth. This will probably be a similar exercise to the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Study into children born in the 1970s. Some key facts were released yesterday. TV3 highlighted that 45 percent of the mothers in "high deprivation areas" were not aware of Working For Families. That is probably because they have no connection with the tax system through work. They will be well aware of the benefit system and using it.


* 40 percent of children were unplanned
* 90 percent of mothers made changes to their diet during pregnancy.
* 16 percent of all mothers did not take folate at any time before or during their pregnancy.
* More than one in 10 mothers continued to smoke through their pregnancies (with an over-representation of those identifying as Maori and living in the most deprived areas.)
* Many mothers consumed alcohol during pregnancy.


* Forty nine percent of mothers identify as NZ European, 18 percent as Maori, 15 percent as Pacific and 15 percent as Asian.
* One in three of the Growing Up children have at least one parent born overseas.
* There are a multiple number of languages spoken by parents with one in three children being born into families where parents speak more than one language competently. One in five children will grow up in homes where English is not the main language (although 97 percent of mothers and partners are able to converse in everyday English). The most common languages spoken in the home after English are Samoan, Hindi, Tongan and Mandarin. Maori as the main language is spoken in less than one percent of homes.
* Twenty-eight percent of mothers live either on their own or with extended family (sometimes including their partner).
* Five percent of mothers are teenagers.
* Ten percent of mothers needed fertility assistance to get pregnant.
* Half of the children are born into families living in rental accommodation (public and private).
* Forty percent of children are born into families living in the most deprived areas of New Zealand (according to NZDep 2006 indices).
* Nearly half (45 percent) of mothers in high deprivation areas were unaware of Working for Families.
* Children are born into families which are highly mobile with more than half having moved more than twice in the last five years. This is often within a neighbourhood.


* The mothers of the Growing Up children were recruited during their pregnancies during 2008, 2009 and 2010.
* The mothers lived in the Auckland, Counties Manukau and Waikato District Health Boards at that time.
* Many have left these areas but remain in the study.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Welfare Working Group Options Report

The WWG report is very long and laced with tens and tens of options. Some sound and some silly. But they seem resigned to putting up everything bar the kitchen sink. There are various media reports which attempt to pick out what each author considers the main options.


The NZ Herald.

Otago Daily Times.

The mistruths from the left start.

Sue Bradford:

By using figures that assume people on the DPB and Invalid's Benefit, will stay on them for the rest of their lives, assumptions are made about welfare costs that are completely biased and unrealistic.

The assumptions are based on the actual average time that DPB and IB recipients stay on a benefit.

This is what the report says;

For someone currently on a benefit, it is estimated that the total cost of all future benefit payments will be $192,000 for a person on the Invalid’s Benefit and $161,000 for someone on the Domestic Purposes Benefit, compared to $65,000 for a person on the Unemployment Benefit.

I only had time to read the executive summary yesterday. There are options covering time limits, work-testing the DPB much earlier than is currently the case, investing up front based on what a beneficiary is likely to cost if left to their own devices, a far more paternalistic approach to teenagers, changing abatement rates, supplementary assistance regimes etc. Responses are invited if you feel inclined to. (Try this link later)

The alternative group's report is due out December 9.

Must read about the mine and minds

Superb post by Stephen Franks regarding the mining disaster.

Provoked by it I have two thoughts. There are families who want to be at the site, camping out, whatever. They want to be as near as they can to their loved ones, an understandable human impulse. According to an interview with a father yesterday they are being prevented from doing so. Until something as devastating as this event occurs you will not know how unfree you are in this country.

Two. There are fathers and brothers and others who want to go in, even against the odds. Perhaps they feel that they would prefer to lose their own life trying, than live it in the knowledge they did nothing - or were forced to do nothing. That is how I would be feeling if my son was down there.

I do not know how much longer the coasters are going to stand for this.

Trying to keep up

My shop is going well. I am sketching from 8.30 to 4 daily and the time flies. What was going to be 2 weeks is now 4. We have the Eastbourne Carnival on Sunday and Xmas market December 12. Trying to keep up with my other stuff - welfare, blogging and my other part-time pharmaceutical stock take business - is tricky.

The Welfare Working Group options paper is being released today. I don't have an internet or wireless connection at the shop so I am going to be behind the eight ball. An offer of an embargoed copy late last week hasn't materialised. Neither is it up at the website.

Nevertheless it is good to see Rebstock focussing on young people in her pre-release comments. My presentation to the WWG had the same focus. I was asked to present on , Should NZ adopt the sole parent policies of other countries? My aim was to persuade that teenage birth - Maori in particular - was driving the long-term reliance on the DPB and all of the attendant problems. The teenage birth(s) is usually just the first of more that will produce children dependent on welfare.

My fear is that the paper will recommend more support for teenage parents as opposed to changing the system so as to not encourage them in the first place. After all, NZ does have one of the highest teenage birth rates in the developed world.

Reflecting further on the subject of yesterday's post, the kicking to death of a two year-old child by a gang associate, whose mother was also jailed for assaulting the child, criminals have always had children and always will. That's just the way it is. But if you were going to design a system where they were encouraged to have even more, paying them to is surely it.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Never, ever kick a baby

Reading about the death of a toddler after being kicked by some guy screwing (I was going to say 'in a relationship with' but that seems overly generous) the mother I wonder if it isn't time for a campaign telling young men (again 'men' seems inaccurate) to never, ever kick a baby. Obviously telling them to never, ever shake a baby hasn't sunk in in this instance. Or maybe as babies can't be shaken, and babies can't be smacked, only kicking is left.

I hope he is found guilty of murder and goes away for a lot longer than he will if his defence team successfully argues for manslaughter. In all likelihood he was probably wretchedly abused himself as a child but that has made him a danger to any other children of women he hooks up with (if they aren't already at risk from their own mothers). He needs detaining until age takes its inevitable ameliorating effect on his innate violence.

For God's sake, "a poor parenting decision?" What kind of twisted disinfecting crap is that? Whoever dreamed up that description insults the memory of the dead child and somehow mitigates what was a brutal killing.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Testing the Spirit Level thesis in NZ

Unbeknownst to me last week Victoria University hosted a conference about wealth inequality. They invited academics to address the findings of the Spirit Level (already widely criticised and exposed for some dodgy representation of statistics). According to the NZ Herald;

The greater the gap between rich and poor, the more likely people will grow up a drug user, a criminal, less educated, obese, pregnant while a teenager, even less trusting of others.

The New Zealand poor comprise non-wealthy welfare recipients and the non-wealthy workers. The problems that are attributed to wealth inequality are more prevalent among beneficiaries than among the working poor. That is amply illustrated by the difference in the incidence of these problems (bar obesity which has its roots in traditional diet/lifestyle change) between Maori and Pacific people. Teenage pregnancies, criminality, and substance abuse are more prevalent among Maori. Maori are far more likely to be on benefits than Pacific people.

What is even more striking is that Asians are the least wealthy group yet, thus far, do not under-achieve, abuse drugs or offend in disproportionate rates. Their various cultures are not beset with social problems. I don't suppose any academic raised these flies in the ointment.

The two things that work against the problems identified are strong families and work. Both are eroded by unconditional welfare. Not by income inequality.

Blaming income inequality is too easy. It also means the wrong solutions are identified. Those solutions are however very seductive to people who frame any and every problem as a lack of money.

Forum chair Jonathan Boston, the director of Victoria University's Institute of Policy Studies, said there was enough evidence to support the general thesis in The Spirit Level.

"My personal view is that we can have some confidence that more equal societies - other things being equal - have better social outcomes across a range of measures. It may not be absolutely conclusive, but I think it's reasonably persuasive."

Great. If the academics don't get it you can be sure the politicians won't. What concerns me is the host institute is also the home for the Welfare Working Group, providing advice and research etc. That they embrace the Spirit Level thesis doesn't bode well for that exercise.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Pointless position

Another pointless position National could axe rather than re-fill.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Trevor Mallard hysterical

Red Alert has just put up a post entitled

Anne Tolley doesn’t care about sex criminals looking after children

Without even clicking on the link I knew it would be Trevor Mallard.

I am assuming this is because police checks will no longer be needed for someone to oversee a highly visible play pen in a gym or shopping mall if new legislation is passed. I have commented that if no-one can be trusted then everyone is suspect. That is exactly the climate that Labour fostered with its excessive intervention. Remember how they also tried to change these sorts of babysitting services into early childhood education which required trained teachers, thereby rendering them prohibitive in cost?

More reasons to go to Aussie

Libs bid to trump Labor on tax cuts

November 19, 2010

STAMP duty on home purchases would be cut and thousands of small businesses could become exempt from payroll tax under a Coalition plan to trump John Brumby's economic credentials.

As the state election campaign enters its final days, the Coalition will also announce a budget savings package that will target hundreds of millions of dollars of ''wasted'' government spending on advertising and consultancies.

Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu is looking at options to lift payroll tax thresholds to free up small businesses from what he calls a ''tax on jobs''. But The Age understands no final decision has been on made on whether such a move can be afforded.

Read more

Unlike our opposition the Liberals understand that if job creation is important (when isn't it?) cutting taxes is the best way to do it.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

ACT MPs - a bob each way

Earlier I suggested the Women's Affairs Ministry should go and with no current Minister, now is the ideal time. The 2 female ACT MPs are now apparently saying the same - but with a caveat;

The MPs suggested the Women's Affairs Ministry could be absorbed into the research unit of the Social Development Ministry, and said they suspected some of the work was already replicated there.

This is just obfuscating. The result then is an even bigger MSD.

Why can't ACT take a clear cut position? Perhaps it is the political bob-each-way, ever mindful of hankering after the 'women's vote'.

They said all departments should seriously consider issues of gender equality, just as the private sector did, without relying on a gender-based body to abrogate any responsibility.

'Gender equality' is a collectivist notion. ACT is supposed to be a proponent of individualism. So for that matter is National, though it is less disappointing when they don't get it. Individual rights should trump gender rights. My rights as an individual supersede any rights based on my gender, my ethnicity, my sexual preferences etc.

The whole problem with contemporary society is that collectivist rights are trampling over individual rights. It is evidenced in the environment via the RMA and local government edicts; and in the vast amount of wealth redistribution with the taxpayer having no power to refuse to cede the product of his work to any favoured group: and through legal institutions like the Family Court. Collectivist rights strip people of individual and private property rights.

The ACT MPs might argue they were advocating voluntary adhesion to gender equality. But exhorting "serious consideration" of gender equality gives it weight and veracity, whereas any employer should be free to choose staff based on merit or whatever other priority they put on the make-up of their workplace.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


I wonder how compromised Don Brash would have been as Prime Minister? From his column in today's NZ Herald;

Markets don't work perfectly, but they are the best wealth-creating mechanism yet discovered. New Zealanders, and the New Zealand Government, need to embrace them, not bet on the ability of smart officials or ministers to outperform them.

There is a gaping hole in NZ politics presently for a party focussed solely on the economy, one that embraces the above sentiment. There is no doubt Key is personally popular but I think National's support is very soft. Labour poses little danger to it but a new entity could.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Something about the money earned by the highest paid chief executive in NZ bugged me.

The figure nagged me. Was there some particular significance about $4.386 million?

I got it.

The NZ population clock shows 4.387 million.

I have great memory for numbers and make idle connections between them.

I wonder which number will rise faster? Mr Frazis' remuneration or the population?

Bits and pieces

A beautifully written editorial from the Washington Times warns about moves towards global taxes in the game of social justice and global warming but identifies a silver lining in the economic crisis cloud;

Unfortunately for the global taxers, their views are not likely to have much traction in the middle of a worldwide economic downturn. It is easier to send people on guilt trips when they are not worried about simply surviving.

Isn't Simon Power getting just a tad too powerful? Removing the right to be judged by one's peers is wrong. And I see my gut response to this is in line with a mind much better equipped to judge legal reforms than mine. Stephen Franks:

I regret the loss of the right to elect trial by jury for small but important charges on matters of principle, where judges cannot be trusted to reflect the common conscience.

It is always interesting to compare headlines generated by the same event.

The DomPost says, Cost of sick staff could be $13b - report

The NZ Herald says, Sickness costs country $5b a year, says Treasury

The second is written by Simon Collins who, while I may not always agree with him, is a reliable journalist if you want facts and detail over scary headlines.

And an Australian Social Policy Research Centre report complains that their dole is losing ground against the pension;

The OECD says a single unemployed Australian on NewStart now receives only 68 per cent of the pension.

Their unemployed should consider themselves lucky. In NZ the dole is only 52 percent of Super (based on the over 25 single unemployment benefit versus NZ Super for a single person living alone.) It would be even lower if the dole rates were averaged out.

Monday, November 15, 2010

21st Century Welfare - disappointing

The following are statements from the UK government's 21st Century Welfare paper on welfare reform;

Work and personal responsibility must be at the heart of the new benefits system.

The benefits system has evolved with good intentions but with flawed results.

The welfare state is now a vast, sprawling bureaucracy that can act to entrench, rather than solve, the problems of poverty and social exclusion.

Sounds promising. But don't get excited.

The bulk of the paper is about doing exactly what the authors accuse earlier governments of doing. Tinkering. Changing delivery systems, abatement rates, incentives and the interface between the benefit and tax systems.

I was asked at the weekend conference if I put any store by what the Brits are doing and I had to say, no. I will start believing they are serious when they start using the words;

life-time limits
mandatory work participation

(I searched the word 'temporary' and the only time it appeared outside of public comments was as a description of work)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Advice for National - turn a problem into an opportunity

Use Pansy Wong's demise as an opportunity to get rid of the Minister and Ministry of Women's Affairs. It is a ridiculous and redundant outfit. You can justify it in fiscal terms if you don't have the fortitude or ability to explain it within the framework of individual freedom and choice, and limited government.

A first class communicator

Yesterday I travelled to Auckland to talk to the Libertarianz conference about welfare reform. I am glad I did as I was fortunate enough to listen to the address of one Professor Antal Fekete.

Currency, banking systems, etc are not over my head but neither are they accessible enough for me to have previously taken an enormous interest in them. A matter of some negligence. Professor Fekete has changed that however. At 78, with many years of communicating his ideas, he very successfully stripped back the complexity and made the subject of the gold standard and the spectrum across a system of application come alive.

I was left with a sense of unease. According to Fekete there is deep economic hardship ahead. He felt NZ was rich enough in resources that our problems might not be bad as those of other countries. But he has pressed an alert button in my mind and I will henceforth be attuned to what is happening in this arena and trying to understand the developments.

That is the best outcome a communicator can hope for.

At this moment, when the world’s monetary system appears increasingly shaky, Prof Fekete details why the current paradigm is flawed and how the problems must be dealt with. This is almost taboo in the main stream financial media. Prof Fekete explains it as a gold crisis, not a dollar crisis. Those who doubt it would do well to recall that every fiat* money system ever tried – and history is littered with examples – failed.

* Money that is not backed by, or convertible to, any specific commodity and whose only value is that determined by government.

Update; So when I saw this today I read it in full; The Gold Standard Never Dies by Llew Rockwell. Rockwell makes references to Zoellick in the same vane as did Fekete.)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Friday, November 12, 2010

Succinct and spot on

This says it all.

And it was said over one hundred years ago but people still don't get it.

I'd rather that England should be free than that England should be compulsorily sober. With freedom we might in the end attain sobriety, but in the other alternative we should eventually lose both freedom and sobriety.

— W.C. Magee, Archbishop of York, Sermon to Peterborough [1868]

(HT Future of Freedom Foundation)

Cannabis, alcohol, the ALCP and ACT

I said aloud to the TV coverage of the pro-cannabis brigade celebrating marijuana on the grounds of parliament, and later in the Police headquarters foyer where they planned to 'smoke police out' with a cannabis bomb, "Sometimes they do their cause no good." When they flout the law, albeit bad law, flagrantly, it hardens the opposition. When they take the position that cannabis is great, they lose support from people who know from experience that it isn't.

I would take the position that too much cannabis is bad for a person. But so is too much alcohol yet it isn't illegal. If it was, people would still drink to excess and the illegality of their actions, whether imbibing a little or a lot, would only add harm to harm.

Their cause would be better progressed by the use of logic, by appealing to people's innate sense of justice and highlighting the more effective approaches taken towards cannabis use and cultivation in other regimes.

And while on the subject of drugs and alcohol, should we applaud ACT MPs Heather Roy, Hillary Calvert and Sir Roger Douglas for voting against the tightening of liquor laws? As the DomPost points out their opposition could open the door to worse restrictions than what are already on the table. But then this is the story of democracy and parliament. Frequently a party finds itself at a 'damned-if-we-do-and-damned-if-we-don't' impasse. These three have stood on principle; the upholding of freedom for the responsible. I would have done the same knowing there are plenty of people who wouldn't thank me for it.

If their opposition results in less freedom, less freedom is what New Zealanders voted for. ACT can't save the public from themselves. But at least they can hold their heads up and say, we didn't vote for it.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Hunting, cricket and controlling the barbecue are all part of being a manly man – and so is driving slowly.

A new advertising campaign by the New Zealand Transport Agency is hoping to convince young men who like to drive fast that slowing down is part of being a man in control.

The ad, which screens for the first time tonight after a series of "teasers" that have been playing since Sunday, encourages men to exercise "mantrol" by driving to the road and weather conditions.

Were the creators of the new 'mantrol' TV ads designed to make young men slow down when driving aware that 'mantrol' is a sexual performance enhancer?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Public/private partnerships are not a silver bullet

The National government wears public/private partnerships (or at least talk of them) like a badge of honour. These are supposed to indicate that they are supporters of the free market. Supporters of the efficiencies of profit and competition.

Unfortunately public/private partnerships promote corporate welfare.

The Problem with Public/Private Partnerships summarised by the NCPA puts it concisely;

Unforeseen consequences of public-private partnerships often include:

* Log-rolling and pork-barrel politics -- I'll vote for your PPP if you vote for my PPP.
* Weakened market tests -- resources are devoted to a project not because it benefits the citizenry but rather because it benefits a powerful interest group.
* Weaker Management -- absent market tests, managers are less motivated to find that mix of services and creative array of financing tools to ensure that it proves "profitable."
* Lack of innovation.
* Corruption.
* Crowding Out -- government already seizes a disproportionate amount of our wealth and the PPP concept allows it to further distort the allocation by market forces.

In New Zealand it is the left that argues against public/ private partnerships.

Small government advocates get caught in between and generally end up supporting them as preferable to full public funding and ownership.

Classical liberals probably ought to make a bigger fuss about their downsides. Too often small government proponents are viewed and portrayed as opposed only to state social welfare. But corporate welfare is just as damaging.