Friday, 15 February 2008

Beer O'Clock: Bad Beer! Bad Beer!

Where better to post Neil's first Beer O'Clock post of the year than from the Schnappa Rock bar here at Tutukaka. Here's Neil from Real Beer on some beers best avoided...

One of my favorite beer writers, the incomparable Stephen Beaumont, wrote “it is not ‘just beer,’ it is a noble and ancient beverage which, like wine, food and television advertising, can be extraordinarily good or unmercifully bad."

This edition of Beer O’Clock focuses on the “unmercifully bad.”

When I was just a fledgling beer scribe, an impish brewer said to me: “Yeah, well, you like every beer ever made.” That comment made me stop and think. It certainly wasn’t true. There were plenty of beers so bad I wouldn’t serve them to Al Gore if he was on fire, but at the time it was true that I didn't really write about them. I wanted to concentrate on the positives and talk about all the great beers out there.

Of course, I eventually learned the lesson that most journalists and columnists know – vitriol sells. Readers often like hearing how “unmercifully bad” something is. This tendency applies to everything from sports to politics, from celebrities to food. It certainly includes beer.

My most popular articles have been my most scathing – pummelling the MASH range of “beer” (now defunct) or slating the Loaded Hog in Wellington (just hanging on). So, I thought I would kick off Beer O’Clock for 2008 with a look at three pretty bad beers.

Trying a bottle of Desperados (5.9%) was a first for me. I had never had a French beer flavoured with Tequila before. It was different – but not in a good way. The beer throws up an unusual yet dodgy nose, like a shandy with some lime and even pineapple lurking in the background. The taste is fruity, sour and zesty with a light mouthfeel. It finishes with a sour lemon aftertaste which makes it hard to imagine drinking many of these. If confronted by a Desperados, the best advice is to surrender then run away.

A brand new arrival in New Zealand is Miller Chill (4.2%). It uses a little lime and salt in the brew and is unashamedly made to compete head to head with a Corona. Corona is the Lion Red of Mexico – I’m surely they are secretly (but rightly) laughing at the Gringos paying $10 a bottle for it. Miller Chill is light, soft and has a hint of lime cordial. I had very low expectations and this beer probably just exceeded them. However, there is no way to justify the astronomical price tag the beer carries here. Try a proper pilsner.

My review of Flame Beer (5.2%) prompted a number (two) of furious Letters to the Editor lasting year. My specially convened tasting panel concluded that Flame was “easy to carry, hard to drink”, “has a smell familiar to students who have set their couches on fire” and “I imagine this is what a jandal tastes like”. According to the angry correspondents, I was apparently unable to handle the “power” of Flame. I will let you know when I’ve stopped laughing.

Cheers, Neil

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Thursday, 14 February 2008

Another apology we'd like to hear

Seeing as it's Sorry Week, here's an apology some honest education department apparatchik might like to deliver.

Today I'd like to honour the New Zealand children who were delivered by government force into our care, and whom we rewarded by abusing their parents' trust and depriving them of the human potential with which they were born.

We reflect on your past mistreatment, and we have to say: we were responsible.

We reflect in particular on those New Zealanders who due to decades of our mismanagement have emerged from our factory schools functionally illiterate and wholly unemployable -- unable either to read or write or count, and who as a consequence now fill our prisons and the wastelands of our welfare facilities.  On behalf of all my colleagues with whom I share the responsibility of putting you  there, to you all we  say sorry.

To the nearly one-million New Zealanders who have emerged blinking into the modern world -- unable to function in it due to the failure of our teaching methods and good for nothing beyond stuffing a ballot box -- we say sorry.

I say to you that the time has now come to turn a new page in history by recognising the wrongs of the past, and by ensuring with the end of our dominion over this country's children that they never, ever happen again.

We apologise for the laws and policies of successive governments and curricula and educational regimes that have inflicted a profound emptiness, suffering and loss on you our young New Zealanders.  The public school system stole you away from your parents and turned your minds to mush.  From the very springtime of your youth We took your bright, eager young minds -- we took them, your normal minds, and replaced them with mental retardation.  To all of those whom we made unconscious for life by means of your own brain, we say sorry.

We apologise for teaching you that you do not belong to yourself, but that you are public property; that you must be taught not to amass wealth, but to seek instead your duty.  To you all who were taught that contributing to the wants and demands of the state is superior to learning the virtues of rationality, independence and productivity -- for enlisting you into the great organic vitality of society, whether you like it or not, for the greater good -- we say sorry.

For substituting "group discussions" for delivering knowledge and "class projects for genuine understanding, we say sorry.  For placing group hugs and socialisation over conceptual development and the acquiring of real skills, we say sorry.

For delivering you into the world as adults barely able to function, we really are desperately sorry.

And finally to parents who were forced to delivered up to us your children and your tax dollars and to whom we repaid by returning you burnt-out hulks coddled with therapy -- with dangerously inflated self-esteem and and an "appetite for destruction" -- we say sorry.

As you can see, we have a lot to apologise for.

We the former educational apparatchiks of New Zealand respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered.

For the future of those of you whose minds we have mangled we have no hope, but for the rest of you we take heart in knowing that we are now removing ourselves from the ability to do any more harm; resolving that this new page in the history of this great country can now be written.

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all New Zealanders still able to function.

A future where our parliament resolves that the children of New Zealand be kept free from our malign influence so that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again .

A future where you can embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where our old approaches have clearly failed.

We are really a very, very sorry lot, and we resolve hereby to never darken your lifetimes again.

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There ought to be a law against it!

David Farrar's inner authoritarian comes out again.  Consumers are being "forced" to buy multiple devices just to view all the free to air channels.  Thunders David (I'm a libertarian) Farrar,

"It shouldn’t be allowed..."  If a channel is free to air, one should be able to tune your device to receive it.

Jawohl, Herr Farrar! 

Sheesh.  At least when Jim Neanderton insists on a "right" to free-to-air TV he's honest enough to call himself a socialist.

Self-Help Tips to Living in a Free Society

Gen L Greca is the author of Noble Vision, an award-winning novel about liberty, and of “The Self-Help Guide to Living in a Free Society,” for which she appeared on CNN on Monday.  The host was Glenn Beck, who read tips from her article such as:

#1. If you don’t go to school and don’t work hard to get ahead, don’t expect the same rewards as those who do. You haven’t earned them.
#2. Don’t expect others to pay for your foolishness. If you spill hot coffee on yourself, be more careful next time. Don’t sue the restaurant that served you or push for a law to regulate the temperature of coffee. And if you’re on a jury, don’t award huge sums for being irresponsible.
#3. If you choose to live in a hurricane zone, then buy insurance or take your chances . . .
#9. If you default on a loan, accept the consequences, lick your wounds, and avoid making the same mistake again. Don’t expect the government to bail you out with money fleeced from the taxpayers who made more prudent lending and borrowing decisions.

You can read a transcript of the interview here [scroll down to last quarter of the show], and download a free copy of the magazine in which Gen's tips appeared here.


Envy and irrationalism

In one easy lesson Michael Shermer explains both the appeal of socialism, and why contrarian investors are so often right. [Hat tip SubStandard]

Would you rather earn $50,000 a year while other people make $25,000, or would you rather earn $100,000 a year while other people get $250,000? Assume for the moment that prices of goods and services will stay the same.
Surprisingly -- stunningly, in fact -- research shows that the majority of people select the first option; they would rather make twice as much as others even if that meant earning half as much as they could otherwise have. How irrational is that?

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Katherine Rich - no loss

Vacuous.  That's the word that occurred to me as I listened to the retiring Katherine Rich MP tell Catherine Ryan why she's leaving parliament.  "It's all about the choooldren," she all but dribbled.

But if it's all about her choooldren, wouldn't she want to stay on and be education minister to sort out the bloody system in which her brats are going to be chewed up and processed?  Does she know she'd be unable to do that job; or doesn't the state of their home for fifteen years bother her at all?

And does anyone really think she won't be taking up a new job which will have equal pressures to this one, which will keep her from her children about as much as the one she was going to have ?

Frankly, I've never had time for the woman.  She's a politician without a point.  An MP with nothingto say.  Listening to her tell Ryan why she's leaving reminded me how much of how little she really stands for, and how few reasons she ever had for being there in the first place.  Cactus Kate sums up the most telling point against her:

I am a firm believer that it is important how your enemies see you when you are no longer in competition with them. If they say nothing then it is a good sign, if they continue to criticize you then it is a great sign. But run out plaudits about how great you are and what a loss you will be, then chances are your time has not been well spent.
Katherine Rich is no exception.

As Cactus say, she's not rich pickings, and

I am not buying the “spend more time with children” line.
She should have just announced she didn’t want to be an MP anymore.
I would have understood and wished her the best, because not many sane people want to be an MP either.

Which is true -- which is why if you're sane and an MP you need to have a purpose.  To her credit the pursuit of power isn't enough, but without a purpose the likes of Katherine Rich are just vacuous empty vessels.

No wonder her enemies like her.  If David Cunliffe is the Minister of Useless Journeys, then Rich would probably have been Minister of No Journeys at All.

UPDATE: David Slack offers another plausible position:

Perhaps she was hoping to be a part of a Velvet Revolution and she has dejectedly concluded that it's not worth hanging around for something as slight as a Beige Makeover.

The Expensive Box

p251645-Wellington-Te_Papa When I first visit a building I always like to see where it leads me.  When I first visited Te Papa Tongarewa, the Museum of New Zealand which is ten years old today, it led me straight back out the door again. 

The "lowbrow theme park" sits there on Wellington's waterfront like a Soviet submarine pen, and is just about as welcoming.  It's original name was Te Papa Tongarewa, which a friend versed in Maori scholarship loosely translates as 'Expensive Box.'  It's an accurate description.

It's an ugly and unattractive box -- unsympathetic to its wonderful site, and completely without the capacity to display the treasures its curators likes to keep in storage.  And it is expensive -- a box for which each and every taxpayer paid over $300 to build, and we've kept paying for it every year since.

That first visit there  led me through the front door, up the stairs to the top and then straight back out the front door again. It took two minutes.  Subsequent visits haven't shown me I've missed anything. As a museum it fails in the very first point of a museum: exhibiting its wares. There are too few real exhibits, and those that are there are displayed just too randomly and unsympathetically to be attractive. It's not just the 'gee-whiz' approach taken by the curators -- who all too evidently fear that anything other than flashing lights and dumbed-down displays will scare off the peasants -- the very building itself is designed to support this. 

The building barely even performs the most basic role of a museum. Most of the stuff for which the museum is responsible is not displayed, it's in storage, and when it is displayed it's very poorly supported  - the previous home of the Wellington museum had more better display space, as does the far superior Auckland museum, and most city art galleries are able to display their wares better, and more cheaply.

As a  'national' museum' it's no more than a symbol, and neither a good looking nor a cheap one.

As just one example  of how it fails, have a look at the museum's Treaty of Waitangi section.  The museum was intended to symbolise New Zealand's "bicultural heritage"; in the design that was finally built the responsibility for conveying that notion falls almost entirely on this exhibit, hence its location at the atrium centre and the size of the display itself.  By the standards of the building this is intended to be the centre-piece, yet  just note how little the exhibit itself really explains, and how much space is taken up not to say it.  It's a symbol, and it's a very empty one.

Curiously, when I've heard Te Papa's primary design architect Pete Bossley discuss his biggest project, he's always seemed rather apologetic about how the thing turned out.  And he should be.

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Minister of Useless Journeys

David-Cunliffe_small Minister for Arrogance, Nationalisation and Health David Cunliffe is starting to sound like he's channeling former All Black coach John Mitchell.

"In our short history, we [New Zealanders have been on a journey." We are "journeying together towards maturity as a nation."  We're  "on a journey" to "shape a knowledge society" he told UNESCO.  Young people are "on a journey of reflection"; the economy is "on a journey"; and Telecom's copper network is on a journey.  He's even "on a bit of a journey" himself.  As a Dad.

It all smells like bullshit to me.

This morning, he told Radio NZ that the state health system which is in a shambles and for which he's responsible -- he's running the show, remember -- is also "on a journey."  Presumably he thinks that  explains  the recent high profle deaths?

Looks like we're all "on a journey."

It's a curious phrase to describe the state's unsafe die-while-you-wait health system, but if you examine the direction of that journey for the last ten years you'd have to say it's one of costing more, delivering less, and having people die because of it

Not really a "journey" anyone should want to buy into, really.  It's looking about as successful as the "journey" on which Mitch took the All Blacks four years ago.

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Edgewood Cottages - John Rattenbury

                                  lookout-thumb                 fllwright_rttnbry

    The ideal Valentine's Day retreat for the romantic-souled American midwesterner is one of these cottages at Canoe Bay, Wisconsin. "

   Being cooped up never felt so good" says the Chicago Sun-Times.


Wednesday, 13 February 2008


stoleycorey I have to confess, my own knowledge of the history behind today's apology by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is sketchy, but as Tim Blair suggests, I have to suspect "the effect of the apology on those it’s aimed at is a secondary concern. This is more about smug white folks feeling nice about themselves. That’s why, despite it being an apology for allegedly terrible events, everybody is smiling."  Whatever the truth of historical claims, this is people apologising for things they didn't do to people to whom those things weren't done.  That always makes me suspicious.

On the face of it the whole act is backward looking, and likely to engender the same backward-looking sense of entitlement engendered here in New Zealand by our own indigenous grievance industry.  Tim quotes John Howard's favourite aboriginal Noel Pearson, who makes good sense when he says,

One of my misgivings about the apology has been my belief that nothing good will come from viewing ourselves, and making our case on the basis of our status, as victims.

We have been—and the people who lost their families certainly were—victimised in history, but we must stop the politics of victimhood. We lose power when we adopt this psychology. Whatever moral power we might gain over white Australia from presenting ourselves as victims, we lose in ourselves.

My worry is this apology will sanction a view of history that cements a detrimental psychology of victimhood, rather than a stronger one of defiance, survival and agency.

I think that's true whatever the actual history is-- and while I do take note of historians I admire like Keith Windschuttle, who suggests much of the 'stolen generation' history is fabricated, I note too that despite the many gaps in my knowledge I am aware that the history of European settlement in Australia is far less benign than it has been in New Zealand -- for all sorts of reasons, many of which remain to this day.  Despite that, to paraphrase Thomas Bowden, "today's Aboriginals, to whom this apology is directed, enjoy a capacity for generating health, wealth, and happiness that their Stone Age ancestors could never have conceived.  From a historical perspective, the proper response to such a gift is not resentment but gratitude."

That the apology offered today was brought about by resentment and likely only to engender victimhood is telling.  As Ayn Rand liked to say, don't bother to examine an obvious folly, ask only what it is designed to bring about.  In this case, expect visions of taxpayer dollar bills to begin floating in front of those apologised to very soon, and the rumble of "compensation" to begin.

UPDATE: I like this comment on Leighton Smith's show:

Who would be saying sorry now if someone in New Zealand had stolen the Kahui twins from their parents.  Or Nia Glassie.  Or Lillybing.

Makes you think, huh.

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A drop in the world's oceans

Greenland is melting -- "melting faster than ever, according to researchers." 

Frightening?  Depends how fast.  Depends how much.  According to Konrad Steffen of the University of Colorado at Boulder, melting this year was ten percent higher than in 2005, the previous record year.   According to Steffen: 'The amount of ice lost by Greenland over the last year is the equivalent of two times all the ice in the Alps." Twice the ice in the Alps! Crikey.  Surely that's "alarming."

Actually, not. Explains Rob Lyons at Sp!ked Online [hat tip HW], "in truth, this amount of water isn't much more than a drop in the ocean." 

Spread that melted ice over the whole watery surface of the Earth [which is 361million km2] and it amounts to about 0.5mm per year, or one-fiftieth of an inch.

At the current "record" rate of melting, to raise sea levels to the alarming level predicted by Al Gore, this would take about 12,800 years.

A more sober estimate of the effect of global melting is given by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its Working Group
I report earlier this year. 'Global average sea level rose at an average rate of 1.8 mm per year over 1961 to 2003. The rate was faster over 1993 to 2003: about 3.1 mm per year.'  The IPCC estimates that total sea level rise over the twenty-first century will be between 18cm and 59cm - and the highest figure is based on a degree of warming (6.4 degrees) that is rather unlikely.

As Lyons says, if the world every does get that warm, and there's really no evidence that it will, then we will have much bigger problems than rising seas. So in the meantime, can we now have our beachfront properties back from the planners who are pinching them in the name of alarmist rubbish?

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Love Songs for Valentines Day

It's nearly Valentine's Day so I'm reposting my own list of twenty-nine favourite love songs. Songs that make you weep. Songs that say it all. (Songs that might even some sort of 'guilt by association.') And yes, I've added a few, and I've kept all the original comments -- feel free to add your own choice for the thirtieth.
  • Are You the One That I've Been Waiting For - Nick Cave
  • You (Bring Out the Worst in Me) - Legionnaires
  • Hallelujah - John Cale (after Leonard Cohen)
  • Je T'Aime (Moi Non Plus) - Serge Gainsbourg
  • Into You Like a Train - Psychedelic Furs
  • Dance Me to the End of Love - Leonard Cohen
  • Wintersturme/Du bist der Lenz - Wagner (Die Walkure)
  • Coney Island Baby - Lou Reed
  • Pale Blue Eyes - VU
  • Summer Song - Louis Armstrong/Dave Brubeck
  • Black - Pearl Jam
  • Dein ist mein Ganzes Herze - Frank Lehar (Land of Smiles)
  • Che gelida manina - Puccini (Boheme)
  • You Can Put Your Shoes Under My Bed - Paul Kelly
  • Constant Craving- KD Lang
  • Flower Song - Bizet (Carmen)
  • European Female - Stranglers
  • Un Bel Di (One Fine Day)- Puccini (Butterfly)
  • Transfiguration - Wagner (Tristan & Isolde)
  • Bailero - Canteloube (Songs of the Auvergne)
  • Hooky Wooky - Lou Reed
  • Surabaya Jonny - Dagmar Krause (Kurt Weill)
  • Business Time - Flight of the Conchords
  • Creole Love Call - Duke Ellington
  • Stardust - Louis Armstrong (Hoagy Carmichael)
  • A Love Supreme - John Coltrane
  • I'm Sticking With You - Velvet Underground
  • Another Girl, Another Planet - Only Ones
    and, finally,
  • Love Song - The Damned
(Painting at head of the page, by the way, is Denouement, by Michael Newberry, depicting, as Newberry says "a story about what I think is the most sublime moment that one can experience in life: love" -- in other words, saying in paint what love songs should say in music.

Pictures above, by the way, show two composers who feature twice in the list of songs: Puccini (in a painting also by Newberry); and Leonard Cohen, photographed out and about in LA recently.)

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More meddling while houses turn (updated)

Attention is finally being paid to the problem of housing unaffordability just as the housing market itself shows signs of turning, and there's naturally a lot of talk this morning about the policies announced to combat the problem of housing unaffordability -- specifically the problems of over-regulation and consequent undersupply which have been compounded by the massive amounts of credit pouring out of government printing presses.  (You can see what I said yesterday about the policy announcements here and here.)

Affordable homes in the world's cities cost about three times the average incomes in those cities.  In New Zealand's main cities that factor is now closer to seven.  (See studies here.) There is an affordability problem, and even a thirty percent market correction won't fix that.

Despite taking at least half-a-dozen years for politicians to even notice the problem that they themselves created, there's nothing new in the unaffordability problem.  Let me make it simple.  Over-regulation of land and construction has pushed up land prices and strangled construction on the little land the planners have left available.  What we now call housing unaffordability we used to call a housing shortage.   The main difference now is that for at least a decade the printing presses of the world's central banks have been pouring credit into people's pockets, which in NZ has mostly found its way into the under-supplied housing market -- a market that's about twelve-thousand houses a year short. 

Too much credit chasing an artificially restricted supply of houses and, 'bingo!' you have an unaffordability problem. 

If those huge price rises happened in the market for any other product -- if petrol, food or phone services rose by the huge amounts that houses have -- there'd have been an outcry before now.  That there hasn't been is first of all because middle class NZers have been able to borrow on the back of their house price rises, making them feel richer than they really are; and, second, because incumbent governments generally like middle class voters to feel richer than they are, which tends to come back to incumbent governments in the voting booths.  (It's also because a spineless opposition has never had a clue what's been going on, just as they haven't now.)

Naturally, nothing from either main party is proposed to combat the rampant credit expansion, which Alan Bollard and his fellow central bankers continue to ramp up (the latest name for the expansion of counterfeit capital is a 'stimulus package').  And very little of what's been proposed by either main party will 'fix' the problem of housing unaffordability, since the only two things that can have a substantial effect are the immediate removal of the planning profession's grip on our cities, and a bonfire of the growing mass of building regulations strangling innovation and supply.

In other words, get the hell out of the way.

Despite some little talk, that's never seriously on the agenda of either major party.  Both parties are blowing hard in election year to try and look good, and they're mostly blowing in tune, but neither are willing to perform in the only manner that's seriously needed.  instead we have more meddling.  Let's look at how Clark proposes to meddle again in housing, since in most respects her plans are the same as those of John Key (you can read what I've said before about U-Turn Boy's similar offerings here).

* Clark wants to force developers to produce so called affordable housing on land made unaffordable by earlier regulatory force

   The first refuge of the political scoundrel is always force.  The second refuge is scapegoating.  There is no better scapegoat in existence for the failures of a socialist government than someone who looks wealthy.  A developer is perfect.  Clark clearly hopes that forcing developers to act against good sense will play well in the voting booths, and that no-one will notice how poorly it plays out in reality.  
   The result of forcing developers to build low-cost housing will be to build the slums of tomorrow, and at a cost much greater than building affordable houses would be without the force.  Developers already hamstrung by rising costs will simply be forced to build cheaper houses on land worth far more than the houses they'll be forced to build, and to pass on the cost of the new slums to the buyers of other houses on that same land which will lose value immediately by their proximity to the slums.
   King Canute could have done no better in trying to turn back the tides.
   The bill purports to foster a method by which more affordable housing can be built: it does so by making life impossible for the builders and developers who will deliver them.  In Ireland, builders have been walking away from being forced in this manner.  Over a ten year period, in US markets where mandated affordable housing mandates have been implemented, they have reduced supply, on average, by ten percent, and increased house prices, on average, by twenty percent. [Hat tip Owen McShane]. In San Francisco, the scheme has added up to one-hundred thousand dollars to the cost of new homes in new developments.  The Prime Minister told Morning Report this morning that these programmes are "working" in Australia and elsewhere, but as Owen McShane points out, while they may be "operating" they are certainly not "working" -- if by "working" we mean generating genuine public benefits. Governments everywhere are prone to confuse a pledge to spend taxpayers' money with delivering tangible results.
   The fact is that forcing the construction of 'affordable' houses makes housing affordability worse, and has done so everywhere it's been forced on homebuilders.  I suspect that unlike the illiterate Chris Carter who first announced the scheme, Clark and Maryan Street both know that.  The thing is, they just don't care.

* She wants to force land-owners to build even when they're unwilling to build.

   Clark has signalled she intends to strip land-owners of their property if in the view of state goons and council planners their land isn't being used as the goons and the planners would like, and give that land to other developers to use.  As he announced at last year's National Party conference, John Key agrees.  We knew that property rights were almost dead in New Zealand; we didn't know we'd be slapped in the face with that fact from both sides so soon. If you want a simple image of why this is wrong, think of Daryl Kerrigan in The Castle.  
   As is the case with the growing abuse of 'eminent domain' in the U.S., this is a signal for the government to play favourites with large private partners, giving them the power to steal from smaller property owners.  Donald Trump used it to have the New Jersey legislature try and throw people out of their houses in Atlantic City, so that he could build a new parking lot for his casino. It was in the 'public interest' he argued. General Motors had Detroit City authorities condemn a whole neighbourhood to make way for a new auto plant.  This too was in the 'public interest,' they argued.  70 families in Fort Trumbull, New Connecticut were targetted by the City of New London to make way for a 90 acre private development -- 'public interest' was once again misquoted, and once again private interests used the government's gun to steal what they couldn't have acquired otherwise.

* She wants to use spare crown land to contribute to new urban housing projects.

   This is an unsuccessful 'Army Surplus' approach to housing pinched from British Labour in which the bottom of the Crown land barrel is scraped to provide spare land, in a way and at a rate that will have no impact at all on housing prices, while providing plenty of scope for election-year photos of ministers in hard hats.  Like much of New Labour, it's another victory for spin over substance.
   The announcement pretends that using the spare half-percent or so of unwanted Crown land around the country to build new government slums will somehow have more impact than would be achieved by removing the planning controls that keep ninety-nine percent of the country's land locked up, and the remaining one-percent that is urban New Zealand enmired in planning restrictions. 

* Clark promises to "tackle issues in the building consent process which were adding unreasonably to the costs of building a house, beginning with simplifying the design and building consent processes for first homes."

   Good luck.  Anyone who thinks this is anything more than the empty electioneering we hear every three years from every major party should give me a call about a bridge I have for sale.

* The Department of Building & Housing is also looking at "a proposal by Building Minister Shane Jones to design a standard simple 'starter house' which could be fast-tracked through the building consent process, to cut the price of getting a consent."

   What makes Shane Jones think he's so special? 
   There are already literally hundreds of designs for simple starter homes around the country, any or all of which could be 'fast-tracked' -- just as every single housing project in the country could be fast-tracked if the growing mass of building regulations strangling innovation and supply were put to the blowtorch, and the number of people on the 'dark side' administering the regulations went back to their jobs of producing houses rather than getting in the way of house production. 
   This is nothing more empty attention-seeking that makes about as much sense as a former Labour housing minister's plan to have all the country's state houses lifted up and rotated so they all face the sun.

* The Clark Government is working on a shared-equity housing scheme where the taxpayer puts up part of the capital of a house and takes a share of the gain (or loss) when the house is sold. This could cut the amount first home buyers themselves have to put up by as much as half.

   This plan to make the taxpayer a sub-prime lender is in the end as empty an electioneering policy as Labour's 'Welcome Home' Loans, which have been taken up with all the enthusiasm people have for flat beer the morning after, and are just as flatulent.    
How empty it is can be seen in the fact that the scheme already been announced fourteen times before, and the many problems associated with its introduction have still yet to be ironed out so it can be introduced.
   And in a market in which the problem is under-supply, even the likes of Michael Cullen, Bill English and any other random observer of U.S. sub-prime lending should be able to work out what happens if you try and supercharge demand with another subsidy for high-risk buyers. 
   Put simply, to the extent the scheme is picked up to any great extent, the greatest effect of it will be to fuel price rises of the very 'starter houses' it's supposed to help people into.

So there you have it.  Another winning combination of flatulence and force.  And if you think you've heard much of my analysis before, then it's very possible you have.  Most of it has already appeared before in my swathe of posts on housing, building and urban design.  Help yourself if you want to know more.

Cheers, PC

UPDATE 1: Now here are three genuinely creative solutions to making housing less unaffordable that don't rely on smacking builders, developers and land-owners around the head: three simple solutions that can be effected tomorrow to bring about cheaper rural, urban and suburban housing.  See 'Three Simple Remedies for Housing Affordability.'

UPDATE 2:  Owen McShane points out that "land-banking," which is blamed by planners, politicians and all assorted busybodies for the problems they themselves have created, is actually a symptom of the problem -- it is not the cause of it.  "'Speculation' only takes place when prices rise faster than holding costs," and it is planners, politicians and sundry assorted busybodies whose meddling has driven prices up.

There is nothing to be gained from holding on to land unless the increase in value of the land is greater than the total holding costs over the same period... if annual holding costs are higher than the annual increases in value then the landowner has every incentive to bring the land to market.  So we should not blame the landowners. We should blame those whose rules and regulations strangle the supply of land and inflate prices.

The real offenders are not the landowners, but are the regional and local councils who administer the Resource Management Act and the Central Government for endorsing and encouraging these policies of Growth Management or Smart Growth.

The solution is release land for market and reduce compliance costs.

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Lykes House - Frank Lloyd Wright

The Lykes House was the last to come from Frank Lloyd Wright's hand: he died in April 1959 just two weeks after sketching out the basic form of this desert house wrapped around a mountain . He was ninety-two.
The drawings and the 1994 renovations were completed by Wright apprentice John Rattenbury.

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Tuesday, 12 February 2008

I love it when he talks Austrian

Ron Paul.  "I love it when he talks Austrian," says Dale Amon.
Hayek? .... Check!
Hazlitt? .... Check!
Von Mises? .... Check!

Ron Paul gave an extremely cogent economics talk to Seattle Business leaders which you can watch here.  He even wants to dump Sarbanes-Oxley. What more could you ask?
Well, as a commenter suggests, how about a candidate who doesn't wear a tinfoil hat and who will finish the job in Iraq.  That said, when he takes off the tinfoil and talks Austrian he is damn good.  Given Alan Bollard's regular departures from reality and Don Brash's own venture into tinfoil-hat territory in the middle of last week, it's a speech they urgently need to listen to themselves.
UPDATE: By the way, if you're in or near Auckland and you too want to talk Austrian economics, then my colleague Julian is about to start delivering a comprehensive year-long course based on George Reisman's textbook Capitalism, which will involve one lecture a week and deliver the goods like nothing else will [course details here].  There are still a couple of places left, so email me if you're interested:

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The welcome of the west

Discussing multiculturalism and western individualism with Tariana Turia one evening a couple of years ago, I pointed out that the real joy and great strength of western individualism is that it's open to everybody, and has nothing to do with race.  Unlike the tribal culture she promotes, Western culture is a culture of welcome -- it doesn't say "Go away," it says "Come in."  Naturally she demurred politely ("I've never heard anything so unintelligent," she sniffed), but I explained that I couldn't stay to finish the discussion as I had to go to concert in the Town Hall that rather demonstrated my point: a concert of Russian classical music performed in Auckland, conducted by a Peruvian, with a young Chinese soloist on piano and played by an orchestra containing people hailing from at least a dozen different countries.

I thought of that again when I saw this piece promoted on the Samizdat blog under the heading 'The Plus Side of Multiculturalism': its Deep Purple's Smoke on the Water, performed by a Japanese kabuki orchestra...

Not even a Grammy award for New Zealand's fourth-most popular folk-comedy duo could be as unlikely.

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Tree huggers versus solar lover

Irony abounds in California.

California's Solar Shade Control Act protects solar panels from obstructions from sunlight, and in January, Santa Clara County officials sought to enforce the law against homeowners who themselves are staunch environmentalists.  Since the back yard of Prius-owners Richard Treanor and Carolynn Bissett contains lush redwood trees that block their neighbor's panels, the county ordered that the trees be cut down... [SOURCE: Houston Chronicle]

WARNING: White noise on housing (updated)

HLA-NZ-2yr Fascinating to see that in today's speech to parliament outlining her election-year programme, Helen Clark has signalled that her government will be making crown land available for new housing.  This is Clark's first genuine salvo in the battle with increasing housing unaffordability, and a bid to outflank John Key's platititudinous four-point plan for housing affordability announced at last year's National party conference. 

If the Clark scheme does manage to spike one of U-Turn Boy's key 2008 campaign guns, it will only be like spiking a pop gun -- even if the powder of Clark's own scheme is as wet as I expect.  On its face the idea is a good one and I look forward to the details, but I expect that we'll be looking at a similar sort of scheme proposed by the British Labour government last year -- one that that British writer James Woudhuysen called "a kind of Army Surplus approach to housing."

‘Public sector land use’ ... turns out to be barracks, canals, railway sidings, and turf owned by the National Health Service (NHS) or by local councils. Here we are asked to scrape the bottom of a very small barrel. In effect, the [government] searches for the public sector bits of the 5.5 per cent of England’s surface that is brownfield land.

In effect, as Woudhuysen says, this amounts to little more than a little massaging of existing "ultra-restrictive land provisions" in the addled expectation it will have some effect.  It won't. 

The hope is that a tiny relaxation of planning constraints will encourage the private sector ... and numerous hybrid housing vehicles, state monoliths and quangos to build more homes, especially homes that are ‘affordable.’

That approach won’t work. It will mean some extra homes are built, but it will not make proper home ownership cheap. It will provide jobs for – and protracted quarrels amongst – many happy middle-class people: planners, architects, building employers and environmentalists. Yet precisely because what it is proposing amounts to a job-creating exercise in changing jurisdictions and diffusing authority, the government will find that all its eye-catching, bullet-pointed initiatives will not lower the sale price, the rent, the maintenance costs or the buildings insurance attached to a real home.

houseprices1 It's impossible to say without seeing Clark's own eye-catching, bullet-pointed initiatives, but I suspect her proposal is little more than election-year white noise.  Even if Bernard Hickey is right that house prices will drop by up to thirty percent over the coming year, something more radical is needed.  Woudhuysen has such a proposal, one on which both Clark and U-Turn boy should sit up and take note.  I paraphrase his proposal for a New Zealand audience:

Real homes will only become affordable if, in principle, everyone can go to a farmer, buy a hectare of land for $30,000, and freely build a house there at a cost, perhaps, of just $100,000. That kind of transaction would lead to significantly lower prices than the $390,636 average asked for a home in NZ today. The state should stop preventing deals like this from being done. It should step back, and instead provide the infrastructure to let that house-on-a-freely-bought-hectare thrive.

That such deals can't be done, and won't be done as a result of either Clark's or Key's announcements is a measure of the overbearing powers of the state in relation to the land.

Ever since the Town and Country Planning Act of 1927, to buy that $30,000 hectare of land and build on it has been illegal. The nanny state, not the popular will, determines who may build where. The state essentially retains a complete monopoly over what land can be developed for housing and what cannot. To end house price inflation therefore, Britain must end its state-imposed scarcity of land.

The lack of affordability that characterises Britain’s housing market is not about too many people – single-person households, divorced families, immigrants and their children – chasing too few homes. It is not simply an economic question of supply and demand. The housing market is profoundly distorted by the political intervention of the state, which imposes drastic limits on land that can be developed upon. Only a similarly drastic counter-attack on state controls, amounting to a veritable bonfire of National's Resource Management Act and the country's forty-odd District Plans will allow housing in NZ to acquire a semblance of either rationality or efficiency.

What's needed in other words is not massage or spin, but a planning revolution -- one that sees the country's planners joining the shortened queues of the unemployed.

UPDATE 1:  The bureaucrats have obviously been given their talking points this morning ahead of the Prime Minister's speech this afternoon

Government  building 'experts' BRANZ (the chaps who okayed the cheap Tuscan claddings on nineties housing) for example have two chaps talking up Clark's bullet points in advance.  Ian Page is an economist with BRANZ, and if you find yourself wondering what sort of economist would want to work for this sort of organisation, then you only need to read his analysis to find out it's a very poor one.  Burgeoning land prices are affecting housing affordability, says a 'report' co-authored by Page, while developers are controlling ample supply.  Says 'research strategy manager' Chris Kane of BRANZ, the problem is not the state's restrictions on land development but greedy developers who are keeping their land off the market. Wellington City Council urban planning director Ernst Zollner followed on the talking points by "confirming" there were "huge tracts of land in Wellington zoned for housing ... but that doesn't mean it's available. In Wellington the land is tightly held by a few men," he said.

All this is a miasma of bureaucratic bullshit, as just a moment of thought and a sprinkling of real fact is enough to show. 

First of all, New Zealand's cities are among the least dense in the world, and land in them amongst the most expensive compared to income -- it's the planning restrictions put on land by councils themselves that makes them so.  And as with Auckland's planning gurus boasting about "releasing" land (ie., taking some rules off land owned by you and me), the amount 'released' is nowhere near the amount of land that's needed under current planning rules.

Second, and with all New Zealand's major cities ring-fenced by zoning, there's a rent-seeking bonus for any land-owner who owns land just outside the ring-fence or in a lower density area if he can sit tight until the zoning changes (or if he can wine and dine the planners and councillors and encourage them to change it). With the holding costs of empty land, you're only going to keep it empty if there's a huge windfall profit at the end of it -- such profits only come when plan changes rezone land from higher densities, which is what those developers are waiting for, and one reason they have such good budgets for wining and dining*.

Frankly, both ring-fencing around cities and enforcing lower densities within them are the twin causes of the problems (and its the state giving planners power to do both that needs to be expunged).   There's no problem with sprawl if the ring-fencing were relaxed (New Zealand's urban areas account for less than 1 percent of the total country, one quarter of that in the Auckland region. If all of NZ's 1,471,476 existing households were to be rebuilt on an acre of land -- which was the sort of thing proposed by Frank Lloyd Wright in his Broadacre project, right-- we'd all fit in an area less than one-quarter the size of the Waikato , and just think how easy it'd be to thumb a lift out to Raglan!).  And there's really no problem with higher densities within cities if the planners are muzzled, if the private sector gets to offer buyers what they want, and if the state is barred from building the sort of thing the state always likes to build -- which is building the slums of tomorrow.

What it comes down to is choice.  If people were only left free to live in the way they wanted -- however apoplectic that made all the many enemies of choice -- the problems of housing unaffordability would disappear overnight.
                                                                                        * * * * *

* As James Woudhuysen explains the point,

A housebuilder once typically took out an option with farmers so that he could buy their greenfield land at an agreed price in the event that he secured planning permission. However, once state policy shifted decisively toward high density, brownfield development, housebuilders found options on urban land much more expensive than the old sort. That made them build up their own stocks of land, whose price they could rightly expect to appreciate very nicely over just a few years. Land banking is a symptom of the inability of the housebuilder to deal with farmers through options, [and] because the state has decreed that low-density suburbia can no longer be his core business.

UPDATE 2:  Owen McShane told Leighton Smith the BRANZ report itself is one of the best he's seen, and says nothing like what's been reported -- which if true means it's the reporters who are following the Prime Minister's talking points, and those like me who relied on the reporters' integrity have again been misled.

What the report does show, says McShane, is that in Auckland for example it's the ring-fencing of the city by Auckland Regional Council planners that is causing land prices to explode.

UPDATE 3:  McShane also warns that Clark's speech and the talking points foreshadowing it are likely to see the announcement of a new policy from Team Red allowing the taking of private land by the state, to be given to other developers who suck up to nanny.   If true, this  presages the worst violation of property rights ever in this country, and shows what happens once respect for property rights is dead.

And there'll be no opposition at all from the blue corner, since it's a policy already announced by John Key in his point 2a of his "four-point plan" announced last year.

UPDATE 4:  Regarding that speculation about new laws to be introduced by the Clark Government allowing the involuntary acquisition of private property by the state, I could have said its introduction would effect the worst property rights violation proposed since National's U-Turn Boy proposed it himself last year ... or I could have said it will be the worst legislative attack on property rights since the National Party introduced the Resource Management Act in 1991 ... or I could have said that it presages the worst property rights violations since those empowered under the Public Works Act, which was introduced by the National Party in 1981...  Do any supporters of the National Socialists see a pattern here?

As it is, Helen Clark and the Red Team will simply be completing the path of property rights destruction begun by the Blue Team.  Remind me again why anyone would think the National Socialists are the answer?

UPDATE 5:  Helen Clark's speech is here.

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Art & Entrepreneurship: The Michael Newberry Interview

Stephen Hicks' Center for Ethics and Entrepreneurship has published the second issue of its newsletter, Kaizen, featuring an extensive interview with New York City artist Michael Newberry, no stranger to this blog.

A free PDF copy of the magazine can be downloaded here.  And above is my favourite Newberry: Icaarus Landing (36"x55," acrylic on board, 2000) which as Michael says is very simple, and very powerful -- a memorable image portraying an important virtue: the simple joy of success over great odds.  Hicks calls this Michael's most important symbolic work.   It simultaneously references both the Greek Icarus and the Christian crucifixion, while conquering both tragic tales, and triumphantly affirming man's place on earth.

This is what art can do.  (And below, by the way, is the painting 'on location' in Rhodes, Greece.)


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Monday, 11 February 2008

Number five!

NZ's unofficial blogosphere rankings for January were released Saturday by Tim Selwyn and his co-blogger, and I'm happy to report that despite some movement around the rankings and still being incorrectly classified as "right," your loyal correspondent retains his place at number five.

  • Big mover is Whale Oil, who moves from sixth to fourth at the expense of the declining Idiot/Savant at No Right Turn;
  • The Sub-Standard, which moves up two places to seven on the back of some fairly negative publicity, and its companion-in-Labour KiwiBlogBog (the David Farrar attack blog), which leaps into the top ten.
  • Other big risers include Dave Gee, who leaps into both the top ten and my notice; NZ Conservative (up six to sixteen); Poneke, NewzBlog and The Hive (who gallop from nowhere to seventeen, nineteen and twenty-two respectively); and politicians Tony Milne and Aaron Bhatnagar, (who canter from lowly rankings to sit close together at twenty-four and twenty-five).
  • Other decliners include Cactus Kate (down four to fourteen); Jordan Carter (down three to fifteen); and Rodney Hide (down nine to twenty-three).
  • And if Messrs Selwyn and Bradbury deigned to be honest about it, Lindsay Perigo's SOLO 'team blog' would certainly appear at somewhere in the top six, if not higher. (SOLO figures:
    nz1361 * 261,136: 1000 (Google Analytics) + 45 + na + 60 = 1105)

A sea of classic cars


I had a great weekend, I really did, and thanks very much for asking.  Friday we barbecued, Saturday we plotted, and Sunday I had a fantastic time at the Ellerslie Classic Car show.

The day at the car show started far too early (dropping off my car at 7am with matchsticks under my eyelids), and ended in style later in the afternoon driving home in the clouds of delightfully scented exhaust smoke belched out behind this classic 1932 MG 'M' Type 'whale-tail' Midget -- the first true MG Midget, and the first of a long line of MG sports cars!


The J2's owner epitomises the day.  Here were people delighting in the technology of pleasure and the sea of beautiful cars designed with fun in mind, and pictured here are some of my own favourite machines on display.

Ferrari212Ferraris and more Ferrari 212 amid a small sea of lesser Ferraris.

AC CobraAston Martin and AC Cobra.AstonDB5 

Formula Fiat FiatSpider Colin Waite's Formula 1 Fiat, and a Fiat Spider like the one I once owned (in every way, that is, but for colour and condition).

AlfaTwo beautiful Alfa Spiders. Alfa-Red

Here Moggy A Healey or Two A small wave of Morgans and a tidal flow of 'Big Healeys.'

Lotus EliteA Lotus Elite ... and a Mercedes Sport waiting for its rebirth. MercedesSportOneDay

A Carman's KarmannSting in a Karmann's tail A Karmann Ghia with the '1500' badge on the boot, but the full-throated sting of a Chevrolet Corvair in the tail...

J2 Porsche Speedster, MGA and another J2.Porsche Speedster MGA and driverr

A sea of MGs in front of the main stand, including amongst them my own 1967 Midget, and dozens of MGBs, MGAs, Ts, and pre-1956 lovelies.  Just beautiful.

T_and_AMG's_a_crowd As_and_Ys_and Midgets As

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Dirty dairying and dodgy drafting

newtechsample New Zealand's present and future prosperity is still based largely on agriculture, yet on the back of the recent report on the NZ environment by Parliamentary Commissioner of the Environment Jan Wright we're heard various fevered calls from water campaigners for a "moratorium" on agricultural development, from the Greens' Russel Norman for farmers to require resource consents for improving their productivy, and -- from this month's environment minister (the punch-drunk Trevor Mallard) -- a call for enforced "downsizing" of dairy farms and "limits on herd sizes." 

Enforced downsizing and limits on herd sizes!  Talk about shooting your prosperity right in the foot.

And following the weekend's fiasco over the alleged "deletion of a chapter critical of dairy farming"  the rhetoric has ramped up again, with the Greens' Russel Norman declaring  New Zealand's "clean green" image has been tweaked, that "industrial dairying" needs to pull its head in -- and this morning Federated Farmers president Charlie Pedersen appeared to concede the point, and National Party appeaser Nick Smith to embrace it.

Never underestimate the ability of politicians (and appeasement of them) to destroy your livelihood, while making a problem worse.

The problem they're mostly attempting to address is water -- how it's regulated, how dirty it is, and the role of agricultural intensification in the declining environmental standards.  Said Parliamentary Commissioner Jan Wright at the report's release, the report finds water quality is "declining" in areas used for farming, and "the Resource Management Act is causing fundamental problems for water management." In response, Murray Rogers of Canterbury's Water Rights Trust campaign group says "agricultural development needs to slow down while research and regulatory structures are put in place to manage water." 

Both Wright and Rogers are right, although not in the way they think they are. 

Since it looks like farmers could have their future prosperity limited on the back of what this report says about water, let's see first what it actually says.  (you can read the whole report here.) On inspection it turns out that the body of the report which contains the actual data  is less frightening than what the headlines and the deleted 'summary' chapter say about it.  (No surprise there -- it's on a par with the various summaries of the IPCC's global warming science.)  About water the body of the report says:

  • By international standards, freshwater in New Zealand is both abundant and clean.
  • Because New Zealand has a low population and high average rainfall, it has more total freshwater per person than more than 90 per cent of almost 200 other countries around the world. However, not all of this water is in the right place at the right time...
  • With land-use practices becoming more intensive, particularly in farming, there is greater demand for water now than ever before, and evidence is building that its quality is declining in many water bodies.
  • As the dominant land use in New Zealand, agriculture has the most widespread impact on water quality.
  • Rivers in catchments that have little or no farming or urban development make up about half of the total length of New Zealand’s rivers and have good water quality. Water quality is generally poorest in rivers and streams in urban and farmed catchments. This reflects the impact of non-point-sources of pollution in these catchments...  The proportion of the total river length that is in farmed catchments is more than 40 times the proportion that is in urban catchments.
  • In recent years, the impact of agricultural land use on water quality has grown as a result of increased stocking rates and use of nitrogen fertilisers. Within the agricultural sector, there has also been a move away from low-intensity to high-intensity land use (for example, converting from sheep farming to dairy or deer farming). The net effect of most intensified land use is to increase the amount of nutrients, sediment, and animal effluent dispersed into water bodies.
  • The median levels of nitrogen and phosphorus have increased in rivers within the national monitoring network over the past two decades. More specifically, over 1989–2003, there was an average annual increase in levels of total nitrogen and dissolved reactive phosphorus of 0.5 per cent to 1 per cent. While this increase may seem small, and is difficult to detect from the slope of the median (dark blue) lines in Figure 10.3, it signals a long-term trend towards nutrient-enriched conditions that are likely to trigger undesirable changes to river ecosystems.  Furthermore, New Zealand rivers with relatively high levels of nitrogen are deteriorating – becoming more enriched – more rapidly than rivers with low levels of nitrogen. This is illustrated most clearly in Figure 10.3.
  • 10.5.1Seventy-five of the 134 lakes in New Zealand for which nutrient data are available have high to very high levels of nutrients (see Figure 10.5, right). Thirteen per cent of these lakes are known as ‘hypertrophic’, meaning they are ‘saturated’ with nutrients and their water quality is extremely degraded. In such lakes, algal blooms are common and the health of aquatic animals is often at risk.
  • Levels of nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) and algae are between two and six times higher in lakes in pastoral catchments than in lakes that are in natural catchments (see Figure 10.6).
  • A large majority of the 3,820 lakes greater than 1 hectare in area in New Zealand are not monitored. By extrapolating the results for monitored lakes, it is estimated that the majority (about two-thirds) of all lakes are likely to have relatively low concentrations of nutrients and good to excellent water quality because they lie in natural, or only partially developed, catchments (Ministry for the Environment). The remaining third of lakes are likely to have high levels of nutrients and poor water quality.
  • Pollution from organic waste in rivers has reduced since the late 1980s. This indicates improved management of point-source discharges of organic waste, that is, pollution from a single facility at a known location, such as discharges from wastewater treatment plants, meatworks, and farm effluent ponds.
  • Two-thirds of New Zealand’s lakes are in natural or partially developed catchments, such as native bush, and are likely to have good to excellent water quality. Small, shallow lakes surrounded by farmland have the poorest water quality of all our lakes.
  • Sixty-one per cent of the groundwaters in New Zealand that are monitored have normal nitrate levels; the remainder have nitrate levels that are higher than the natural background levels, and 5 per cent have nitrate levels that make the water unsafe for infants to drink.
  • Fertilisers and stock effluent are major sources of the nitrogen and phosphorus in water bodies in agricultural catchments. The erosion of soil also contributes significant amounts of soil-bound phosphorus to waterways.

Now I don't know about you, but overall that looks like a pretty credible pass mark to me.  Says the report:  "By international standards, freshwater in New Zealand is both abundant and clean." So much for the blowhards.

But there do appear to be two main issues:

  1. increased draw-offs for irrigation and resulting 'competition' for water in Canterbury and Southland, and
  2. the effect of farming on water quality in lakes and rivers. 

You won't be surprised to hear I've got something to say about both, nor that what I've got to say involves property rights.

Competition for water is complicated by bureaucratic systems of allocation. Protection of water quality is stymied by bureaucratic systems of protection: which means there are no effective legal remedies against pollution, and no effective agent to argue on behalf of that which is being polluted.  Both problems are the direct result of what's known as the Tragedy of the Commons problem.  As long as a resource is either unowned or held in common ownership (which is the case with water in NZ), then the incentive for each resource user is to take as much now as they can, and whenever they can, no matter the consequences for the quality of that resource, and no matter the long-term effect on the quantity of that resource.  That's the tragedy: common ownership provides no incentive for genuine 'stewardship.'

The answer is clearer property rights, and greater common law protection of those rights.

As Jan Wright almost inadvertently pointed out in interviews yesterday, "the Resource Management Act is causing fundamental problems for water management."   She's right, but not in the manner she thinks she is. The fundamental problem caused by the RMA is insufficiently secure property rights. The cure for both problems is more secure property rights.  Let's me tell you how.

1. Competition for water
As water users realise every summer, competition exists for existing water resources.  Bureaucratic distribution of access to water does nothing to secure the resource, and nothing to give water users long-term security of supply.  By contrast, recognising secure property rights in water means that water users have a long-term interest in maintaining security of supply, and that rights to use water end up in the hands of those who are going to value it most. 

Instead of a bureaucratic system of allocating water use, a system of secure tradeable water rights give users of water the benefit of long-term time horizons to plan their use (discouraging the short-termism that generally stymies 'sustainable' resource use), and establishes for all users the real value of those rights.  With tradeable water rights, where and when water is in short supply price signals will communicate that information to users, indicating that more care should be taken with the valuable resource, and more attention paid to expanding the resource (by construction of greater collection capacity for example). 

There's nothing complicated about any of that: that's how the markets for all other resources function, and the long-term effect of such markets is that for all sorts of reasons -- including greater incentives for increased efficiencies -- resources become less and and less scarce, and of better and better quality. 

The key to swiftly effecting such a scheme is to immediately secure the rights of existing users, ensuring that such rights are tradeable so that they can be transferred to others who might value them more. A heavily politicised scheme for tradeable water rights was being discussed in 2006, but like all politicised schema the feet are still being dragged.  What's needed quickly to avert moratoria and meddling is a system of clear property rights by which water can be traded.  

As the Canadian Environment Probe organisation has said for a long time, a system of clear property rights and common law protections of property rights offers the best long-term security for water and those who rely on it. My colleague Craig Milmine has a dissertation from 2000 discussing the theory in detail, and showing how a water rights regime could function in the South Island's Kakanui district.

2. Water Quality
We're told by all the usual suspects that dirty dairying is destroying our clean green reputation, and that agricultural intensification is destroying water quality.  I suggest the answer to that is not more bureaucratic intensification, which is what has produced the problem, but less.

 Property rights under a common law regime provides superior environmental protection -- that is, a system of clear property rights as a means by which water can be protected in common law.  No question about that ( I invite you to follow those three preceding links to check that claim).    When the costs of one's own actions are one's responsibility, a change of behaviour is greatly encouraged.  When producers themselves have to pay for their own pollution, a change in methodology of production has to be considered.  When water users themselves have clear rights in common law to protect the water in which they have property, then looking at it as a long-term resource that merits looking after is going to happen.  And when neighbours' actions start to destroy that resource, then with their property rights secured rights' owners have the motivation to act in protection of that resource, and under common law they have simple and effective remedies with which to take action -- remedies that simply don't exist under the bureaucratically intense RMA. 

Under common law for example, those with recreational or water rights along the Waikato or with rights to fish the lakes of Rotorua or the headwaters of the Tarawera River would have recourse against farmers or pulp and paper mills who polluted the fishery -- whereas with the RMA the polluters get a license to pollute and the affected parties find they have no particular legal standing, and no particular protection in law to protect their resource, common law grants them solutions, standing, and the means by which to protect their resource long-term. 

What common law does in other words is give effective legal power to recognised resource users to protect their resource long-term.  If we genuinely want to rehabilitate NZ's clean green credentials, then I maintain the solution is better protection of property rights and the rehabilitation of common law remedies for environmental protection.  Simple.

But there’s a problem.  In fact, there's two problems -- and it's not dirty dairying, but dirty government . 

  1. The Resource Management Act (RMA) has successfully buried almost all avenues for common law environmental protection.  Despite their proven effectiveness over eight-hundred years, common law measures to protect against pollution are buried under the statutory framework of bureaucratic control set up  by the RMA.  To bring back common law environmental protection requires the RMA to be scrapped, and replaced by a 'codification' of rational common law principles of environmental protection.
  2. Even with the codification of common law, without clear ownership there is still no protection. To work effectively, property rights-based environmental protection needs an owner to stand up for his property, yet nearly half of this beautiful country and most of the seabed, foreshore and waterways still have no property rights attached. Most of it is essentially un-owned, leaving a government department as the conservator of record of much of the country's waterways.  The Environment Report should be regarded as a report card of how well they've carried out the role.

"Chapter 13 "
Whatever the real news about the release, non-release or pseudo-release of the last chapter of the five-yearly Environment Report, the fact remains that water quality in some places is going to get worse, and that it will be "non-point sources" such as agricultural runoff (those that command and control resource management can't so easily control) that will play a large part in that diminution.

The answer is to give greater power to those who value the resources under threat, and there is no greater power in law than the protection of property rights and the legacy of common law -- if only these were allowed to function as they should.

UPDATE:  Professor of  pastoral agriculture at Massey University Jacqueline Rowarth shows that there are no decent voices ranged on the side of farmers in this latest attack, (and, also, that the science side of Massey University is as infected with political correctness as the humanities side of the campus), and that top-down solutions are likely to be the only ones countenanced in the latest round for the dirty dairying debates.  

In this audio excerpt from Radio New Zealand she challenges none of the conclusions of either the actual or the bootleg report, and appears to implicitly regard any possible solution to necessarily involve more of the top down central-planning solutions that have led to the problems reported.  "We" need to stop pointing the finger; instead she says "we" clearly need to be "redesigning New Zealand's agricultural systems" -- on which the country's smartest brains need to be working -- and that playing the blame game will put off the smart brains.

Note both the brazen collectivism, the refusal to countenance evidence and -- instead of any suggestion of bottom-up solutions -- the overt reliance on central planning to solve the reported ills. 

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