Saturday, May 28, 2011

New Zealand News Media - Complete Crap

When I first started blogging one of my favourite topics to rant about was the shabby New Zealand news media, but more recently I've left it alone. The reason for this is that I avoid the New Zealand news media these days - I don't subscribe to the newspapers, I don't watch television news and I don't listen to radio. I used to be a news junkie and I am still, but my primary source of news now is the Internet. I subscribe to four newspapers including the New York Times and The Telegraph, plus numerous mazagines, blogs and instant news services such as Breaking News on my iPad; I watch all the foreign news channels on Sky; and I listen to international news radio services on my computer and iPhone. I am better informed than ever before including about my own country. Ironically, the I find I get a better perspective about what is really going on in New Zealand through foreign news coverage than from any of the local sources I used to subscribe to.

This Saturday my wife bought The Dominion Post weekend edition and I read it cover-to-cover to see whether anything had changed. It hasn't. The Dominion Post is full of mind-bogglingly trivial local news, gossip about so-called "celebrities", and left-wing political propaganda masquerading as editorial commentary. There was only only one international story of note - the belated reporting of the arrest of Ratko Mladic - and little else that could be classified as real news.

I am very glad I no longer subscribe to, or watch, or listen to, the New Zealand news media. They remain complete and unadulterated crap.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Neither Government nor Opposition Will Solve NZ's Economic Problems

We have finally seen a response to New Zealand's economic problems in the National Government's Budget (problems that were clearly illustrated in the Budget document). But it is hardly a brave and decisive response, delivering only small changes to the state's subsidies for the KiwiSaver savings scheme, slightly less generous conditions on borrowing under the Student Loans scheme (but it is still interest free) and slight adjustments to the Working for Families welfare-for-all scheme that Prime Minister John Key called "Communism by stealth" when he was Leader of the Opposition. None of these things will go far in addressing the New Zealand Government's huge operating deficit. The Government claims it will go into surplus in 2014 but this is dependent on achieving 4% p.a. growth in GDP - an unlikely prospect if the country's recent economic performance is anything to go by.

And what of the Labour Party's policies? Since the Budget Phil Goff, Leader of the Opposition, has announced that Labour will:
1) Establish a Ministry of Children
2) Restore research and development tax credits that National abolished
3) Pay for the above by bringing agriculture into the comprehensive Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) two years earlier than planned.

Of these policies only the second is likely to have any beneficial economic effect. Establishing a Ministry of Children will be a cost with no benefits (not even to children's welfare, in my opinion) and extending the ETS earlier than planned will only increase the direct costs to the economy of this pernicious scheme, again with no benefits (given New Zealand produces just 0.2% of total global anthropogenic carbon emissions).

So neither party's policies are going to address New Zealand's slide into the sort of economic hardship of the type currently being suffered by the PIIGS countries (as discussed in this blog). This is because neither party contains any politicians with the intestinal fortitude to tackle the problem. Our politicians of all persuasions are pathetic, poll-driven, moral pygmies who would rather see our country become destitute than risk their popularity to implement the reforms that are necessary to generate economic growth.

I believe our politicians grossly underestimate New Zealanders' intelligence and integrity. I believe most New Zealanders understand our current economic plight, especially since the Christchurch earthquakes, and are willing to accept far greater austerity measures than this Government has introduced with its Budget. But it would take a leader with more courage than John Key or Phil Goff have ever shown to risk his or her political career to do what needs to be done.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

More Contortions Than Houdini

The New Zealand Government has backed down on its initial stance on its pet broadband fibre companies being subject to Commerce Commission (which is sort of a NZ equivalent of the US SEC and FTC combined) scrutiny for monopolistic practices. So, let's untangle the story so far...

The Government is getting back into the telecommunications business supposedly because the market won't deliver what New Zealanders want at the price they need it, so they subsidize companies to provide broadband, then exempt those companies from monopolistic price scrutiny from the regulatory agency, then decide to allow scrutiny after all by agreeing to subsidize the companies even more if the regulator makes them lower prices.

Wow, that's more contortions than Houdini!

I think it is another example of the Law of Unintended Consequences.

Perhaps the Government should stay the hell out of the telecommunications market.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Spending like there's no tomorrow

While New Zealand's Prime Minister has been telling us to prepare for an austere Budget 2011, these are the sort of pre-Budget announcements that have been coming out from ministers over the last month:

09 May 2011
Hon Nick Smith
Budget 2011: New fresh water clean-up fund
Environment Minister Nick Smith today announced the establishment of a new contestable fund to help councils and communities clean-up nationally significant water bodies polluted by poor historic management.

09 May 2011
Hon David Carter
Budget 2011: Lifting investment in irrigation
Agriculture Minister David Carter today announced an expanded irrigation fund to support the development of new water harvesting, storage and distribution infrastructure.

05 April 2011
Hon Tony Ryall
Budget 2011: $54.5m extra for mothers, babies
The Government today announced new initiatives for maternity services and to help new mothers and their babies.

04 April 2011
Hon Paula Bennett
Budget 2011: Helping young people into jobs
The Government is investing $55.2 million to get young people into jobs, Social Development and Employment Minister Paula Bennett says.

Have they not got the message? The New Zealand Government is expecting a $16B spending deficit this year - that's $4,000 overspent for every man, woman and child in the country in this year alone - and all they do is announce how they're going to spend more money? What needs to happen before they will get the message that New Zealand cannot afford to keep on spending more from the public purse - national bankruptcy of the type faced by Ireland and Greece?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Atlas Shrugged

I have just finished reading Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged, the enormous (approx. 1,100 pages) novel that outlines her philosophy through the fictitious characters of scientist John Galt, industrialist Hank Rearden and railroad executive Dagny Taggart. This was the second time I have read the novel, the first being when I was at university. It had a more profound effect on me this time.

Firstly, a criticism - it is not a literary masterpiece. It is long-winded, particularly the nearly 100 page monologue by Galt near the end, and her writing style is overwrought.

But Ayn Rand did not set out to write a literary masterpiece, she set out to espouse her philosophy, and Atlas Shrugged does this brilliantly. There can be no doubt in the reader's mind by the end of the book what Ayn Rand believed in and why she considered her philosophy the only truly moral means by which men should conduct their lives (and incidentally, in the book she continually uses the noun "man" to include all of mankind - almost as if she was anticipating and defying the feminist political correctness of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries).

The reason why Atlas Shrugged had a more profound effect on me this time is two-fold. Being older and more experienced, Atlas Shrugged resonated more with my life experience. I have seen the "moochers" and bludgers, the anti-humanist collectivists, the dishonest politicians and the businessmen who apologise for making money, and all the other tawdry characters she parades before the reader. Even the titles of the fictitious laws and government agencies that are created in the name of social good are recognizable from the perspective of the contemporary political and economic environment.

The second reason is that I am more confident that my own philosophical viewpoint is right and moral. This viewpoint has not changed since I read the novel the first time - what has changed is that I am no longer prepared to feel guilty for holding these beliefs.

I believe that every man (and woman) has the right to pursue his own interests so long as that pursuit does not directly impinge upon the rights of others to pursue their interests. I believe that no man owes any other a living. I believe that no man (or government) may morally initiate force against another and that the only moral basis for the use of force is self-defence. I believe that the vast majority of people have the ability to take care of themselves and that those who do not should be assisted by the voluntary actions of those who have an interest in caring for them (such as parents for children), not by compelling others to do so.

I do not believe that anyone should be forced to give up his life, his liberty, his work (including the rewards of his work) or his value as a human being for anyone else. This means I believe that the legitimate role of government is solely to prevent the use of force by any man or group against another. I believe that governments should be funded solely by the voluntary contributions of those they serve. I believe that governments have no place in economics - not even to issue currency, let alone to interfere in the running of legitimate businesses.

I believe these things because I believe human beings are inherently rational. In this respect, I am a humanist - I believe the only truly "human" way to live is without compulsion or compunction. My heaven is a society on earth in which free men deal with each other in a rational, voluntary manner with the only resort to force being that needed to defend against the initiation of force.

I won't apologise for believing these things. Ayn Rand got it right.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

What Next Will They Be Asking Taxpayers to Pay For?

In this day, when almost any need by any person is considered worthy enough to demand the taxpayer pays for it, it takes a act of bludging of particular gall to shock me. The New Zealand Government willingly pays for people to travel overseas to study hip hop dancing and for wealthy yachties to indulge in their sport. But the demands of the family of Sharon Armstrong, who was arrested for trafficking cocaine in Argentina, for the taxpayer to pay for two of them to visit her, takes the cake.

This women had five kilogrammes of cocaine in a false-bottomed suitcase, which shows a premeditation of her crime that makes Shapelle Corby's profession of innocence look worthy by comparison. Now, I don't have an issue with informed adults taking drugs and, consistent with this, I don't see too much wrong with informed adults buying and selling the stuff. However, this does not translate into the slightest sympathy for people who knowingly break the anti-drug-trafficking laws of so many countries. If they take the risk, they have only themselves to blame if they are caught.

This woman and her family now expect the New Zealand taxpayer to bail her out. I think the NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has absolutely made the right call in rejecting the family's demand from the taxpayer. If Sharon Armstrong is guilty, she can rot in an Argentinian jail for the rest of her life as far as I am concerned. If she is not, her family can put the facts before the public (as Arthur Thomas, David Bain, Peter Ellis and many others have over the years) and let the public decide whether to voluntarily contribute to her defence.

Monday, May 2, 2011

A New Form of Proportional Representation

New Zealand, like many countries, has been living beyond its means in recent years. Our government is borrowing $300m per week to make ends meet and we are headed for an economic oblivion similar to that currently being experienced by the "PIGS" countries - Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain (a very appropriate acronym).

The problem is our form of democracy and in particular our Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) electoral system that gives every minor political grievance party an inordinate influence in our House of Representatives.

Benjamin Franklin said democracy was "two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch" and this is perhaps truer of 21st Century Western democracy than it was of 18th Century America. In our democracy a diminishing minority of the populace are held to ransom through the tax system by an increasing, unproductive majority.

We need to introduce fiscal responsibility to our system of government and I believe the only way to do this is to give greater political power to those who pay the bills.

I would like to see a revision to our electoral system, call it a new form of proportional representation if you like, where you get to vote in proportion to the taxes you pay. Under this system, taxation could become voluntary but if you wanted to influence the political system you would have to pay taxes to, in effect, buy votes. Each $1000 you paid in taxes would buy you one electoral vote. The average of your tax contribution over the three years prior to the election would be taken to avoid stacking the votes in the last year of an electoral cycle. If you paid no taxes, you would get no votes. I see no reason why corporations shouldn't be given votes in proportion to the taxes they pay as well.

This system would solve our nation's fiscal problems in short order and would ensure policies that promoted the economic well-being of the country.