Friday, March 04, 2011

GUEST POST: B-Schools and C-Students

Many students embarked this week on the grand adventure of their university years, many of them eagerly setting out on the adventure of business school. Not to bring them all down, but business school graduate Vedran Vuk (author of the Casey Daily Dispatch) explains in this Guest Post why the grand adventure of business school isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be.

In my daily missives here at the Casey Daily Dispatch, I’ve often demeaned students of political science, philosophy, and other less career-oriented majors, but to be fair, today I want to turn the tables on my own academic background, business.

In my opinion, business degrees aren’t necessarily a good choice. It really depends on what one does with them. Careers can range from CEO to assistant manager at the local McDonald’s. Business degrees don’t guarantee results like medicine or nursing; however, they should be applauded for their versatility. Many of my former classmates entered into companies that they never could have imagined.

But there are certainly negative aspects to both the standard business curriculum and the students who study it. So I’ve created a list of several common problems:

  1. Lack of Entrepreneurship – A business school education does little to prepare students for entrepreneurial activities, and very few students go on to become entrepreneurs. The dream job of most business students appears to be a comfortable position inside a major corporation with a salary of $100K. For a field that’s based on risk, creativity and entrepreneurship, there are surprisingly few willing to make the entrepreneurial leap.
  2. A Focus on Corporations – Not only are business students not particularly entrepreneurial, but they are also pushed toward large corporations during the whole education process. For example, accounting and financial valuation are always taught with gigantic corporations in mind. But in a way, this is pointless. Unless a student becomes a professional equity analyst, they will likely never find an undervalued company in their lifetimes.
    However, the chances of discovering an undervalued apartment building in your hometown are fairly good. Or the chance of finding an undervalued small business in need of venture capital is much more likely. Unfortunately, the curriculum is almost always geared toward evaluating ExxonMobil rather than evaluating Joe’s Bakery down the street. The latter would be much more useful for most students interested in profit opportunities.
  3. Lazy and Mediocre Students – You know the saying about companies being run by C students. Well, it really is true; one reason being that the best and brightest don’t end up in business schools. Essentially, most business students are interested in making money. So they clearly didn’t choose philosophy, art history or political science. But they also didn’t choose engineering, profitable science sectors, technology or the medical field. Hence, many want money, but don’t want to study anything difficult. Of course, some just really enjoy the business world. Nonetheless, business classrooms aren’t the place to find the brightest students on a college campus.
    Because of this factor, there is even a vast difference within a business school. The finance, economics and accounting majors are often noticeably different from the others. Many business students are scared to death of any intensive coursework. There’s always extra space in the accounting, econometrics and financial modeling electives.
  4. A Lack of Passion and the Hustle – As noted above, the vast majority of students aren’t interested in becoming experts in their field. Most focus their efforts on hustling and networking to find a corporate job. When a presentation from a prospective employer comes to campus, the same students who never ask a single question in class are suddenly the most curious students in the Q&A sessions. Furthermore, almost everyone wants the hot stock tip; few want to learn statistics to find market distortions. 
    Of course book smarts aren’t everything. But if you aren’t entrepreneurial, don’t know statistics, don’t know accounting, and don’t understand valuations, what business skills have you really acquired after four years of college? Other important business skills such as relationship building, good management and sales are more often than not learned on the job rather than in school.
  5. Bad Fits and Ethical Problems – I don’t mean ethical problems here in the regular meaning of the word. Instead, it’s an issue of career choices. There are many individuals out there who feel that the business world is full of greed and that the free market is evil. And strangely enough, many of these individuals are business students.
    Personally, I’ve never understood this. If you believe the business world is inherently evil, then what are you doing majoring in business? Perhaps it would be acceptable if you envisioned creating a better company. But most of these students plan to work for the same corporations that they despise. In my opinion, these are the most unethical students in business schools. They’re already engaging in activities that they feel are morally wrong.

When I was on the job hunt almost two years ago, I ran across an interesting opening at a major institutional player. The position was for a research associate who would spend two years training in different groups before settling for the ideal position. The groups included fixed income markets, equities and interest rate swaps. It was one of the best job openings that I’d seen during the recession.

But the opening didn’t ask for any business majors – not even finance and economics backgrounds. Rather, the position asked for biology, chemistry, engineering and math majors for the position. And given the quality of many business students, I’m not surprised by this choice.

Well, I hope that we’re even now on the degree-bashing. And don’t think that some of those criticisms don’t apply to me. I’m certainly not perfect. If I had to evaluate myself, I’d say that numbers 1 and 2 may point to my own flaws. As you can tell by now, I’m not exactly running my own business either, and my focus happens to be on large-scale corporate valuations.

Vedran Vuk is an analyst at Casey Research and the author of the ‘Casey Daily Report.’ He graduated with a BBA in Economics from Loyola University of New Orleans, and is currently pursuing a M.S. in Finance at Johns Hopkins University.

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A name change for Simon Power? [update 3]

It seems I’ll have to stop calling retiring National cabinet minister Simon Power by the nickname of Simon Power-Lust. It doesn’t really fit now that he seems to have given up on being Prime Minister.

Why would a man touted by his own colleagues as the next National Party leader step down now, in his early forties, just when he’s entering the  best years of his working life?

I don’t buy the conventional wisdom of John Armstrong, who reckons it’s a simple political calculation based on National’s chances in 2014.  I reckon there’s a little more to it than that.

Here’s a man who, if he hadn’t joined the National Party as a young man, would have faced a future as a Palmerston North solicitor*. A man who missed out on getting offered a big legal partnership, and went into politics instead. A man who as Minister of Injustice has been changing the way those big legal partnerships will all be working; as Minister of Electoral Rorts has re-written Helen’s Electoral Finance Act so insubstantially it continues to help the ruling party; and who as Minister for Public-Private Partnerships has been busy blurring the boundaries of public and private—busy, in other words, putting the state’s resources behind the pursuit of private profit.

And now, coming into the most productive years of his professional life, I suspect he wants to sit on a few of those boards and help reap some of those private rewards for himself by parleying his political connections for profit.

This is more than just Jobs for the Boy.  Because as Minister for Public-Private Partnerships he’s made it possible for much political pull to make many profits—and he’s decided, you see, that he wants to be part of that New Aristocracy of Pull.

He wants to be this decade’s Mai Chen.

He wants a name change from Simon Power-Broker to Simon Power-Lust.

And, mind you, he might also want to come back into politics ten years from now (after making a small fortune from pull) to be a Prime Minister in his fifties.

So you still can’t altogether rule out power-lust.

* Not that I have anything against Palmerston North solicitors, you understand.  Some of my best friends are Palmerston North solicitors. But I reckon Simple Simon always had his sights set on something much more grand for himself.

UPDATE 1: Looks like at least one person agrees with me.

UPDATE 2:  Speaking of political pull, Deborah Hill-Cone lays into John Key’s “pet CEOs”—the “handpicked coterie of business leaders who have his ear and are well placed for government largesse.”  Tooth and claw competition is what businesses need, she says, not John Key's mothering.

_Quote After the Christchurch earthquake there was a headline saying Key had met with a group of his pet CEOs.
    The tone was all "good work fullas" with a hearty slap on the back. Fair enough, but I can't help thinking it would be wise to bring a soupcon of scepticism to this means-to-an-end attitude to getting things done.
    The justification is that being patriarchal is how you make things happen on a large scale - and that might be true in extreme cases. But the reaction to the Christchurch quake - bring in the big boys - is simply a more obvious example of Key's day-to-day approach to business and competition.

[Thanks Shirley R. for the link.]

UPDATE 3:  Slight editing done, and a correction made. [Thanks Chris D.]

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Thursday, March 03, 2011

Don’t get “tough” on Christchurch building standards. Get smart.

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard someone say we need “tighter” building standards, or that New Zealand’s “tight” building standards saved lives in Christchurch, I’d be, well, I’d be richer than I am now.

Many people seem to labour under the illusion that building standards are a gift of government. That all government needs to do is mandate tough standards for builders and designers to follow, and the world would be a happier place. 

This is really a child’s view of reality.  It’s as if there’s a bag of special tricks that everyone knows about, and nasty builders and designers hope to hoodwink the people who pay them by pretending not to know it’s there.

Off the top of my head, there’s at least three things wrong with this.

First of all, it’s not simply a matter of “tougher” or “softer” regulations. That’s a complete false dichotomy. Good ways to build are neither tough nor soft, they’re intelligent. They’re methods devised by smart people in every generation to do what needs to be done with the material at hand—and many of the smartest building methods use the least material: and the material that is used is used intelligently.

Second, it ignores most of human history. This might surprise some people, especially the paid lap-bloggers at the Sub-Standard, but for most of human history there were really no building codes at all. And the best of what was built over most of that history can be seen on my fridge, because every time friends go overseas they send me postcards to taunt me with where they’ve been. Bastards.

Now sure, the Code of Hammurabi certainly goes back to ancient times—and for those who don’t know this was a rule in ancient Babylon that said if your building falls on someone else’s head, then Hammurabi will cut off yours.  But while tough, this was hardly a prescriptive Building Code. It still relied on some smart person to work out how to build so everyone’s head (especially the smart person’s) was safe.

Which brings us to our third and most important point. The techniques for building so things don’t fall down don’t pre-exist; they have to be created.

Making buildings so they don’t fall down is a science. Some smart person had to look at the problems making other buildings fail, and devise a real-life solution to make sure his building doesn’t. (This is how we got everything from pointed arches to flying buttresses to hypar shells to K-braced frames to slotted concrete seismic shear walls—indeed, this is how we got everything that goes into making every modern building. They represent embodied intelligence. The techniques weren’t simply sitting around waiting for governments to make them compulsory.)

The residue of what these smart people do does might eventually end up in a building code somewhere—if the building code itself hasn’t been written to make these new techniques impossible. (You see one of the problems with a “tough” building code?)  But it sure as hell didn’t start there.

Now, one of the things seismic engineers do especially well is to devise new solutions to the problems that have made other buildings fail—because as most of you will by now have discovered by reading around, the way the earth acts on a building in an earthquake is not always easy to predict.

The Christchurch earthquake is a perfect case in point. 

Up to now, buildings have largely been designed to take gravity loads (which act downwards) and wind and earthquake loads  (which after decades of analysis have always been assumed to act sideways, as you can  see in these Shake Tables use to test building models.)

But this last big earthquake in Christchurch was different. The ground didn’t act that way—and not just because some it liquefied under some of the buildings.

Instead in Christchurch the ground exerted a big sideways force (about as big as the force of gravity, only sideways), and also a big upward force as well. Big enough to be twice as big as the downward gravity force.  Essentially the earthquake threw buildings up in the air (severing some piled foundations in the process) and then let the ground catch them.

And Christchurch’s buildings weren’t designed for that. Nor are any buildings anywhere anywhere else.

This is why a lot of seismic engineers like to keep a fully loaded suitcase by the bed.  Every time there’s an earthquake anywhere in the world, the world’s top seismic engineers head to the airports in droves to see what happened this time, and how the latest theories about seismic engineering have held up.  This is one reason that makes them top engineers.

In Christchurch what these engineers will  surely discover, despite the braying about modernbulding codes saving people’s lives, that both modern buildings and heritage buildings have failed alike. Provincial Chambers, CTV, Pyne Gould, Park Royal, Gallery Apartments, the new council building, Cashel St Bakery building, Old Arts Building, virtually every church in the Cathedral City … all now have either failed or have problems.  Some modern buildings collapsed in surprising ways. Many failed while still saving the folk within. And many heritage buildings lost their outer brick skins, while still keeping roofs, partitions and structural frames intact.

Many of these building were even built (or renovated)  to modern building codes.

They still failed.

Which tells us once again if we’re open about it that it’s not a case of simply being “tough” or “soft” about how people build. If it was that easy to know what to do we wouldn’t have seen over the last few months the government’s and council’s pendulum swinging from insisting before the last earthquake that no heritage building will be demolished (“You will not touch your heritage buildings,” an emotional councillor Sue Wells harangued building owners before the last earthquake) to insisting this week that every heritage building must go.(''What we've got in the CBD is 500-plus [heritage] buildings that will need to be demolished,'' Gerry Brownlee told those building’s owners through the media.)

This is the way governments act when they get “tough.” Without a clue.

The point is not to act tough, but smart.

The real point, perhaps, is to let those who know best do their best.  And people like Gerry Brownlee and Sue Wells are very much not those people.

It’s a matter of devising a method by which those who actually do know the field of risk and structures and construction between them, by voluntary agreement, produce smart intelligent ways to allow people to build in a smart and intelligent way---in a way that doesn’t require ratepayers and taxpayers to assume financial responsibility.

One thing Gerry Brownlee could do if he was smart enugh is to get started on enacting such a proposal that is already sitting around all ready to go in the Department of Building and Housing. The proposal would essentially allow standards to bet set voluntarily by those who benefit most from high standards, and requires risk to sit with insurers, who do that best.

_Quote The discussion document tucked away in the DBH – the Building Act Review – … hints … in short, [that] compliance and regulation would be taken off local government and handed to the building industry. Insurers would indemnify the builder and if a leaky home popped up, the insurer would deal with the homeowner and fix the problem.

Essentially it’s not Sue Wells and her employees that builders and designers would have to convince, with all the risk that implies for ratepayers, but their insurers. This should save everyone in time, lives .. and money.

_QuoteCouncils would not be collecting building permit and inspection fees – the average $15,000 per new house spent in this way would more than cover the cost of indemnity.
    If the developer or builder went bust, the insurer would find another they could trust and fix the problem. The insurer would decide which builders – and developers – to trust. All the council would do would be to identify where the house would go, how high and wide it would be, and what services would hook up to it.
    Looking at the case of [the failed subdivision of] Bexley [for example, where the council allowed the subdivision and home building to proceed on the assumption that designed engineering solutions could compensate for the instability and lack of support of the ground], the indemnifier might want something better than the assurance of an ‘engineering solution’ for the ground problems.
    If the insurer refused to cover the subdivision, the houses wouldn’t be built there.
    This approach would oblige the industry to get out of nappies. It would take licensing builders away from the DBH and cut many of the DBH tentacles gripping and, in some cases, choking the industry. The DBH [or, indeed, whomever the various insurers chose to specify as their variously chosen authorities] would deliver a building code everyone could use and which would ensure safe and functional buildings. That would be the end of its responsibility on behalf of the taxpayer.
    This approach would also require the building industry to face its skill issues. This could be as simple as having labourers capable of following manufacturers’ directions properly when fitting windows, flashings, cladding systems and so on. This was a key factor in the leaky home scenario.
    Insurers would also bring architects in line, with design constraints and manufacturers guidelines. If a homeowner wanted the architect to move beyond certain parameters, it would be the insurer the architect would have to convince, because that’s who would carry the cost if the design ran into problems.
    The phased changes in the Building Amendment Act 2009 are a watered-down version of the changes needed – changes that, ultimately, would take the taxpayer out of the picture if something went pear-shaped, or, as at Bexley [and now the rest of Christchurch], turned to custard.

This makes infinitely more sense than anything I’ve heard in recent days from people talking about “tougher” building standards.

Don’t get tough. Get smart.

And if you need to, get started on getting smart in an Enterprise Zone in Christchurch.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: How to cut govt spending

_Quote That’s the kind of debate we need to have … not the superficial ones about cutting ten million here or ten million there,  but [asking questions] like  “What Should Government Do?” and  “What Should Government Not Do?” and once we get that right the cutting is easy.
   - Yaron Brook,
                              ‘Rand ‘Ol Party: The Intellectual Foundations of the Tea Party,’ 
                              P J T V

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DOWN TO THE DOCTOR’S: National – More Government, Less Freedom

_McGRath Libertarianz leader Dr Richard McGrath invites you down to his clinic for an inoculation against this week’s stories and headlines on issues affecting our freedom.
This week: National – More Government, Less Freedom

THE DOCTOR SAYS: This is a bit surprising, as Power was thought to be future National Party leadership material. What disappoints me was his comment:
             “I had a three-year plan which we'd decided to execute once we came into
               Government and it had always been my plan to do that and then to exit.”
    Whaaaat?! Is three years the extent of National’s grand plan?
    This government has barely skimmed the surface of the spending cuts that are needed if New Zealand is to stop its crazy borrowing (a billion dollars every three weeks). There are dozens of government departments that could be sold off, opened to competition or simply shut down.
    Has National done this? No.
    Has it done anything consistent with its values of individual freedom, limited government and personal responsibility? Well, let’s see. We have a higher rate of GST (an election promise broken), the RMA still clobbers anyone wanting to improve their land, and we have an Emissions Trading Scheme to further tax industrial productivity.
    That doesn’t sound like freedom to me.
    The good news is that voters don’t have to vote this directionless administration back into office in November. There is a political party that represents the very ideals that the National Party has soiled by association—that genuinely wants lower taxes, greater freedom for New Zealanders to improve their lives by their own effort, and an end to the parasitic welfare state that threatens to consume those productive people who haven’t yet headed overseas. 

  • DOMPOST: ‘Lost taxes dig deeper hole for financesBureaucrats are concerned that the tax take will drop by $5 billion as a result of jobs lost and capital destroyed by the Christchurch earthquake…

THE DOCTOR SAYS: I can’t hear a single voice rejoicing in the employment opportunities created by the devastation of last week. Thank goodness.
    And that’s because the broken window fallacy is just that. A fallacy.
    When there is destruction on this sort of scale, any benefits to those employed to rebuild homes and infrastructure are enormously outweighed by the loss of plant and capital, real wealth,which had it not been for an accident of nature would have produced goods and services of far more value than the benefits to the rebuilders.
    The broken window fallacy only has legs because the benefits are seen, but the lost savings and production are not.
     What the statists do see however is that the tax take drops sharply when people can’t work. This leaves the government with less stolen money to redistribute and thus less ability to buy votes. Bad news indeed for state-worshippers. Hence, after this February 22nd earthquake there has been a blessed lack of people peddling the broken window bullshit (unlike the situation after the September 22 quake when dozens of alleged economists leapt into print to talk up the earthquakle's "stimulus" effect).
    As for the suggestion that taxpayers put thousands of beer-sodden boofheads into luxury accommodation aboard a cruise liner during an international rugby tournament later in the year, the bureaucrat who came up with this Great Ideas should be released from his current job and made to raise the money needed privately.

  • STUFF: ‘Super regulator to get extra powers A new “super regulator” will be able to force anyone making unsolicited approaches to buy shares from investors to reveal how much the shares are on the open market…

THE DOCTOR SAYS: Oh dear. Seems investors are too dumb to look at share prices and calculate the net worth of their shares, so Nanny has to ensure that anyone who wants to buy those shares tells them.
    What next? All vendors on TradeMe having to state a market value on the items they are selling?
    This is another embarrassing demonstration of National’s failure to grasp the fundamentals of market economics.
    Information held by buyer and seller is always asymmetric in every transaction. Understanding that this is a feature not a flaw is one of the starting points for understanding real world economics.
    A free market does not mean perfect information and equal knowledge. It does mean freedom of speech and expression. It means the absence of coercion. It means buyer (and seller) beware. It means willing buyer, willing seller and the government minding its own business and staying out of people’s private affairs.
       For goodness sake readers, chuck out these blue-rinse-socialist Tory tossers this coming November. Don’t give these wankers the sanction of your vote and the opportunity to run your life for you with your own money.
    Vote instead for a party that acts according to principle, or don’t vote at all. It only encourages the two-faced lying bastards.

Liberty means responsibility.
That is why most men dread it.”
- George Bernard Shaw

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Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Temporary accommodation

Some of the best minds in New Zealand are now turning their minds to how to accommodate several thousand homeless Cantabrians.
The first thought, of course, is to throw up temporary accommodation around Christchurch as fast as possible. 
But as we know, “temporary” has a strange way of becoming permanent (such as the post-war prefabs build in South England to house the post-war homeless, some of which are still being enjoyed now as the equivalent of NZ’s beach baches), so the better minds are already realising that it is no point simply building in haste today the slums of tomorrow.
Better instead that whatever is put up swiftly today be future-proofed to be part of something better tomorrow.
Future-proofing this temporary accommodation means more than just thinking about making provision now for the new cabling and computer-driven systems that boffins will be inventing over coming decades.
It means thinking now about things like
  • the durability of materials and componentry (so what is built will last);
  • making these temporary units easily expandable into something greater (and building in now the capacity and flexibility to make this happen);
  • how the accommodation units are laid out (layouts that support the building of communities, with space between them for units to expand);
  • incentive schemes to encourage occupants of these units to eventually become owners;
  • making the units as simple to build as possible (which requires quite a bit of ingenuity in design) so that almost anyone can build and expand them (the more people capable of assembling them the more labour will be available to contribute to their rapid construction);
  • using as many “off-the-shelf” systems and components as possible to avoid delays in developing new prototypes;
  • and about designing the units as attractively as possible so that the good folk living in them will want to buy theirs.
The more future-proofed these units can be, the more permanent these “temporary” units can be made—which means the more “capital” in the form of air conditioning and security systems and the like can be installed; and the more infrastructure around them can be built—in the full knowledge that this investment of resources won’t be wasted down the track.
1101500703_400 Do it right, and it will be like building Levittown all over again (for which builder Bill Levitt earned that Time cover).
Or better.
Or at least as ingenious.
With that in mind, here’s just a few opening thoughts on the matter.

Designing in staged improvements

However these units are built, the more flexible their planning the better for the future.  Consider as an example of the sort of flexibility these simple cabins, which have been designed so that, come the time, something much grander may be made of them. (Coincidentally, the pictures below come from an old remaindered book I bought second-hand from the Canterbury Public Library some years ago.)

Click here to read more ... >>

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Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The business of Christchurch was business [update 2]

The Christchurch we knew has gone. It is no more. It disappeared and went away seven days ago, and it won’t be coming back.

What will re-emerge in Christchurch we still don’t know, but it will be unlikely to look or be like the city that disappeared last week.

And it will be weeks, nay months, before Christchurch is back in business.

Even longer, if Christchurch's businessmen themselves are kept from recovering by the agencies of government goodness who now rule the city.

Earthquake & Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee is a minister out of his depth. A minister with actual dictatorial powers, who’s not afraid to use them to scare the very people the city needs if it is ever to rebuild: the very businessmen who built it.

Yesterday property owners learned through the media that Minister Brownlee and Mayor Parker intend to demolish the property owners’ buildings.

_Quote ''What we've got in the CBD is 500-plus buildings that will need to be demolished,'' declared Brownlee… 

Christchurch property owners are beginning to ask why they have to learn about this in the media. Why they are not being talked to. Why they are not even being given the courtesy of consultation about the fate of their own bloody buildings.

They’re not even allowed to visit their own property to have their own engineers make their own assessment before it is done (eventually) for them.  Police, soldiers and tanks guard the cordon, and arrest and public opprobrium confront anyone bold enough to breach it.

This is a situation that might, says Mayor Parker, last for months. Months! And in that time …

Business owners are not even allowed to visit to extract the important tools of their business. No, says Minister Brownlee, holding up a fat hand. Just sit tight and do as you’re told.

_QuoteMr Brownlee acknowledged that it would be ''a huge challenge to a lot of businesses'' because they had not only hardware but also software they wanted to retrieve.

But the answer is still no. No, no, no.

Sure, businesses with political pull have been allowed to creep into the central city accompanied by police  to extract hardware and software. Inland Revenue officers for example, extracting records with which to do businessmen over; and lawyers in offices right next to the destroyed Pyne Gould building. They’ve managed to pull a favour.

And police have found time to take “dignitaries” and journalists on tours through the central city, and even into some threatened buildings to take photographs.  

But business owners with businesses in the central city are not only not allowed anywhere near their businesses at all—the soldiers and tanks and the Brownlee Diktat will see to that—but if they were found emerging from the cordon with an armful of their own stuff  they’d probably be arrested for looting and placed in the public stocks.

Christchurch businessmen and property owners are the very people who will rebuild this city—if they chose to. If they choose to stay and re-invest. Yet they haven't even had the basic courtesy of a phone call from the junta now running Christchurch to discuss what the junta plans to do with their property.

And their supposed ally, Christchurch Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend, instead of fighting their corner is in abject forelock tugging mode, echoing the views of his political masters in telling businessmen (i.e., his members) that

_Quotepeople wanted to get into their businesses to get out things such as intellectual property and systems so they could continue business…

… but that is basically their tough luck. There was ''no prospect'' of that, he reiterated.  (Time for businessmen who know how to read a message to move elsewhere and start again, I guess). Yet just four days ago Townsend was telling the media:

_Quote“One of my biggest fears at the moment is flight. Not just of businesses but people too.”

See how much difference four days and a few lunches with Gerry Brownlee make.

Meanwhile, Brownlee’s junta has had a vision. The fat man has been telling journalists

_Quote“He hoped to have a certain idea of what shape the central city would take within
12 months.”

12 months!

12 months while businessmen and property owners could put their own property and their impatient energy to work rebuilding their property with their vision—creating an organically revivified city in the image of those who actually own it.

12 months while businessmen will have to wake up every morning and read this pap while being barred by bureaucrats from getting on and doing what they do best—making the most of their existing resources and putting them to productive use—while listening to “visions” from others about what they would like to do with their property.

To wake to up and discover that a fat fool plans to give their buildings the chop (or not) without even the courtesy of a phone call. “Let them read it in the media” implies the fat fuck.

To be given no chance at all to check or collect stock, or important papers—even out of the rubble once their building is bowled.

To be told that “radical solutions for the city’s business heart have already emerged” involving their buildings, their sites and their property, without even being consulted as to what is being planned for their own property, or what solutions they themselves have.

To be told by failed and former mayors that they would like to see the city’s buildings rebuilt in timber—without any thought by these pontificating jackasses whose building’s these are.

They have to listen to all this, and then be told that in order to recover everyone in Christchurch must “pull together.”

No wonder so many are so angry.

They must listen to this while hearing well-meaning fluff from Parker and oafish pronouncements from Brownlee and others that simply ignore them and puff the protagonists.

Christchurch should properly be a dynamic competitor to Auckland. It won't be and will never
be as long as Christchurch bureaucracy stands in the way of Christchurch businessmen doing what they do best.

Already thousands of Cantabrians have left the city—maybe a quarter of its population—many of them perhaps never to return. People are saying, "I don't want to live here any more," upping whatever sticks they have that remain unbroken, and they're heading to the airport or taking to the roads, taking with them their savings, their insurance payouts and their lifetimes of future enterprise and production with them.

They’ve seen the pathetic “reconstruction” since September’s much smaller quake—no repair work, just the unleashing of clipboards on the city and suburbs and a chorus of grey ones shouting “No.” They know what’s coming this time, and they’re leaving.

The volunteer efforts of those who remain are inspiring – the Student Volunteer Army, the Rangiora Earthquake Express, the Farmy Army, eq.org.nz, the many beds offered, tonnes of food and water transported, shovelfuls of work done. 

But even these voluntary efforts are being hamstrung by “the authorities.” 

Right in the first hours of the quake volunteers around the CBD were rescuing people from the rubble and pulling out strangers from ruined buildings. But within twenty-four hours the soldiers had cleared the central city to make way for “officials,” and thereafter only two souls were saved.

And even just a few hours ago, we heard that a volunteer food programme from Rangiora that has delivered more than 30,00kg of food by helicopter to folk whose roads are impassable is being shut down by the grey ones because the hot food preparation area doesn’t have a license.

What a shame the wrong people died in the quake.

These volunteer efforts in the face of a dying city are just a snapshot in microcosm of what might be unleashed in the name of recovery, if the central planners would just get out of the way.

But why would they?

Because what they have now is their authoritarian wet dream.

The tragedy of a city continues.

UPDATE 1: A few Christchurch shop owners have contacted me with their frustrations at being so cavalierly excluded from their own property, and even from consideration of what is being contemplated with it.

One owner, Deric Blackler of Portobello Antiques, tells of his frustration and heartbreak at the prospect his shop will be demolished without any opportunity to salvage any of the important items that remain intact inside.

UPDATE 2:  Things can move quickly when people start taking a poke. Gratifying to see this sort of news now coming out of Christchurch:

_QuoteOwners may soon return to cordoned off businesses
    Paul Lonsdale, manager of Christchurch's Central City Business Association, has talked with Civil Defence about reducing the cordon area [and the cordoned-off area of central Christchurch may be cut back within the next four days] …
    Lonsdale said initial access to newly opened areas would be strictly controlled, as businesses had been left unsecured last week, when the quake struck.
    Business owners would be allowed into the area first, in order to secure their buildings…
    John Walley, chief executive of the Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said the Government's support package for Christchurch workers and businesses, announced on Monday night, would be a "bridge to nowhere" if Canterbury's economy was not swiftly resurrected….
    Key to the economic recovery would be allowing businesspeople to access their buildings located behind the cordons and retrieve vital equipment, such as computer hard-drives.
    Walley said a specific protocol around how businesspeople could gain access to those buildings was required.
    "Clearly that means some sort of queuing system, some sort of priority system and then some sort of accompanied supervision," Walley said.
    "Civil Defence told me yesterday [Monday] that some kind of protocol was under development."

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Don’t listen to the lunatic

Moon Man Ken Ring has made a lot of noise by saying he predicted the big Christchurch earthquake.

Technically, he’s right.  He did. But…

calSource: David Winter,  S C I   B L O G S

… and he can’t even get his magnitudes right.

This man is now telling people there will be another serious earthquake on March 22, scaring already scared people so much that some are even talking about leaving.

Ken Ring is a shroud-waving disgrace.

Not only is the charlatan scaring people so he can help himself to a headline, but when the inevitable aftershock occurs on March 20 (hopefully a minor one), Ring and his lunatics will jump and down and say “see!”—forgetting that even a monkey on a typewriter will eventually make a word, especially when there’s  so many words you can make.  Because since September 4 Christchurch has endured over four thousand aftershocks.

GeoNet Source: EQ.org.nz

And “the embarrassing fact is that Ring himself did NOT expect there to be another major earthquake in Christchurch.” [SCROLL DOWN to comment 147]

And while correlation is not causality, and Ring says the moon causes earthquakes,  no correlation is really nothing at all, is it. See below. (The grey line at the top of the graph below shows the moon illumination percentage …  the blue line shows the distance between Earth and the moon … the red line shows the total energy released each day … the orange line shows the total number of quakes each day.)

Fullscreen capture 1032011 122024 a.m.
Source: Paul Nichols’ Christchurch Quake Map

Ken Ring is a man who predicts the weather, while telling people he doesn’t make predictions.

He says he has opinions but no proof. On that we can certainly believe him.

He can’t predict the weather.

He can’t predict earthquakes.

Ken Ring is a charlatan.  Catabrians, if any are reading this, please don’t change your lives on the basis of a man who’s selling you snake oil.

You can have an open mind, but not so open that you allow anything to crawl in.

PS: No, I didn’t see the interview with John Campbell on Socialism at Seven last night. I don’t watch him. (You can see it here if you like.)
    If it’s true that Campbell bullied Ring, the greatest damage done by the bullying is not that it was the worst piece of egotistical, self-important, out of control, closed-minded, biased, unprofessional  non-interviewing Brian Edwards has seen in more than 40 years of New Zealand television (because that pretty much describes every interview Campbell does, which is why I don’t bother watching him), but that it didn’t give Ring a chance to bury himself in his own words. That’s surely the point of good interviewing. To let your audience see for themselves when a flake is being interviewed.

And in bullying rather than burying his interviewee, Campbell would have allowed Ring to gain his viewers’ sympathy instead of their contempt. Surely not at all what he intended.

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Monday, February 28, 2011

GUEST POST: Make Christchurch an Enterprise Zone not a Ward of the State.

In this timely Guest Post, Peter Osborne questions the conventional wisdom that “the gummint” must rebuild Christchurch, and suggests instead it remove its shackles that restrain New Zealanders rebuilding themselves.  It involves something sometimes called an Enterprise Zone . . .

Thought is already being given to the recovery of Christchurch, and the repercussions that this disaster will have on the New Zealand economy.

The direction taken now will set the tone for generations to come. Rather than proceed with the standard taxpayer bailout for Christchurch, we should pause and question whether this is efficient or even effective.

Rather than provide an adrenalin shot, bailouts have proven to be expensive placebos.

The situation with Christchurch has thrown us all into a higher level of vulnerability. Even before the earthquake, New Zealand industry had slowed and looked to be settling into stagnation. We were already feeling the pressure of higher costs across the board, and with events in the Middle East rising fuel prices will compound our problems.

New Zealanders can ill afford increasing taxes or forced levies to help its second biggest city back on its feet, as if it were just another welfare case. Such a drain of individual resources would finish us off as a first world nation, and deny the industry and expertise contained and presently lying shackled within the city itself.

The Prime Minister has already hinted how “the government” is going to inject some financial life into Christchurch’s recovery. However, in actuality, this makes it a taxpayer-sponsored injection—taking money from one group trying to build their own economic recovery to sacrifice to another trying to build an earthquake recovery.

It is a recipe for long-term and possibly permanent stagnation. It is also quite possible that many New Zealanders will regret having being so generous in voluntarily donating money and resources in the last few days, when the government will force them to pay again further down the road.

If we factor in the reality that Christchurch is already experiencing an exodus, be it more from trauma than economic strife, the struggle for recovery is compounded.

It is my opinion that for the good of Christchurch and New Zealand, our government must readdress their thinking on state-mandated economic “stimulus.” It has already failed everywhere it has been tried, and with the unique problems that Christchurch faces not only will it fail again there but it will take the rest of New Zealand with it.

If we are to make the best of a bad situation I can only see that government take a massive rethink and consider that neither rebuilding nor recovery requires any sacrifices from anybody. What that requires is that government reconfigure itself more into a moral boosting and motivating force only.

As we have already seen, when put to the test, New Zealanders are very resourceful and are very quick to help when others are suffering. In the long term, this is our chance to shine. We do not need our government to shine at our expense.

Rather than simply expanding the machinery of wealth redistribution to another round of “soak the rich,” and rather than expanding and raising again all the existing hurdles to growth and economic progress, I say it would be far better to remove hurdles altogether, and allow wealth to transfer freely and voluntarily.

What I’m talking about is making Christchurch an Enterprise Zone instead of a ward of the state.

  • Christchurch must attract resources. Grant Christchurch a complete 3-year tax-free status, to be extended at discretion. Do this and the problem of attracting resources will disappear. The object is to change our view away from a coercive patch job to a freewheeling environment of entrepreneurial opportunity.
  • Christchurch must have thousands of new and rebuilt homes. Our government should make immediate steps to remove  the bureaucratic hurdles that have stifled growth and rebuilding, and made building affordable houses completely unaffordable. This includes the existing regulatory system of permits and inspections.
    Let those who own their own property determine between them and their insurance company what they wish their building standards to be. Such a system can be set up very quickly as it already exists in reports.
    Building is productive. Letting things lie idle while waiting for permission from people who have no genuine interest is not.
  • Cantabrians don’t needs the grey ones breathing down their backs. Make Christchurch an ETS and RMA free zone.
  • Cantabrians don’t need to be told where and how they will rebuild their city—they don’t need another centrally-planed “worker’s paradise.” Bus town planners out of Christchurch permanently and allow the city to reinvent itself spontaneously. This would be a wonder to see.
  • Cantabrians don’t need barriers to employment. Remove the minimum wage. In a situation like Christchurch’s it is better to be earning something than nothing at all. And it is better to be achieving something with the diminished resources available than achieving nothing at all.
    We must trust that consenting adults can come to their own voluntary financial agreements.

We have two polar directions in which to take things from here: either central planning, or the unleashing of “spontaneous order.” I fear however that vested interests will instead prevail and take us down a road to third world status. For all concerned this would be a grievous mistake for which all New Zealanders will pay dearly now, as will generations that follow.

After every tragedy our preconceptions about human nature are re-evaluated. We realise the benevolence and strength of the average human being—and we’ve seen the power of voluntary cooperation even in the face of disaster, and of overbearing authority.

If the disaster experienced by Christchurch has bought out the reality of the average Kiwi, then we have already begun moving forward.

PS: What Peter is talking about in essence is this: Instead of impoverishing New Zealanders by rebuilding Christchurch from the top down in the image of the central planners (Galt forbid!), let’s unleash the power of spontaneous order and produce a new city the likes of which no-one presently thinks possible. The sort of spontaneous order John Stossel talks about here:

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Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

During the Blitz, when Germany was trying to bomb Britain into surrender, the survival of St Paul’s Cathedral became a symbol of British resistance.

st-pauls-blitzThe survival of the Christchurch Cathedral after the first quake similarly lifted spirits—just as its wounding in this last, more destructive, shake, has dashed them.

Talk has already turned reflexively to rebuilding the cathedral as it was before, as a symbol of Christchurch’s own hoped for regeneration after the disaster.

But building as before would not acknowledge one of the most painful periods in the city’s life.  It would efface the memory of the tragedy.

Berlin, too had the its landmark Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche damaged during the war, yet instead of rebuilding as before the otherwise uninspiring church was left damaged as a memorial, and a new contemporary tower constructed alongside. The damaged tower that remained was itself “a symbol of Berlin's resolve to rebuild the city after the war and a constant reminder of the destruction of war.”

3040242823_ee047673a8 ts Assuming it is to be rebuilt using donations and insurance, and not by the government sticking its hand in everyone’s pocket for them, something similar in Christchurch must surely be contemplated. It would be a much more meaningful restoration than simple emulation of what was there before?

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