Friday, October 07, 2011

FRIDAY MORNING RAMBLE: The ‘Winning & Losing’ Edition

It was a week that started with the Geelong Cats winning their Premiership and ended with news of Steve Jobs losing his battle for his health.  And it’s not finished yet: here’s still some other important things happening in the next two days at the Cake Tin and at Eden Park—and off Tauranga.
Since I’ve been a little busy this week (for which, I hope, my clients will thank me, if not my readers) there’s not much of a Ramble to offer you. Nonetheless, since some of you have been asking for it, here’s your chance for a wee ramble round some of the things that caught my eye online this week:

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To quote Hayek v Keynes Rap II: ‘The economy's
not a car. There's no engine to stall. No
expert can fix it. There's no ‘it’ at all.’"
- Russ Roberts & John Papola

  • “Keith Ng rightly won an award for this one.”
    CPI visualizerO F F S E T T I N G    B E H A V I O U R
  • “Paul Callaghan cites 20 top technology companies, not one of which is remotely a Clean Tech company, except in as much as they are all environmentally benign. ‘That latter, in my view, is all that matters, that and being the best in the world at what they do and hence viable and profitable. The evidence suggests what we are actually good at is not at all what the Green Party would like us to be good at. What we are good at is a result of brilliant entrepreneurship and business expertise. Such genius does not follow politicians’ prescriptions.’”
    Genius does not follow politicians’ prescriptions -   H O M E  P A D D O C K
  • image“Like most Keynesians, in the end, Paul Krugman is a one-trick pony who always recommends inflation as the answer to economic problems… So, I see that Krugman now is giving the "Vietnam Strategy" to the Europeans: in order to "save" the euro, you must destroy it -- via inflation.”
    Krugman: "Save" the euro by inflating it to death
    – K R U G M A N   I N   W O N D E R L A N D
  • Don’t think it’s just the addle-pated Keynesians either. The followers of Milton Friedman are equally eager to pour inflationary fuel on their fire.
     Inflationists in Wolves' Clothing 
    - Robert Murphy,  M I S E S   E C O N O M I C S    B L O G
  • “One reason that some government agencies may be failing is that their attention is directed to the wrong things. High on that list is policing against high prices during emergencies. Basic economic analysis finds that price gouging laws end up wasting state government resources and wasting consumers’ time during emergencies.”
    ‘Price Gouging’ Law: Why Waste State and Consumer Resources during Emergencies?
    - M A S T E R     R E S O U R C E
  • “It was recently pointed out to me that certain free market orientated friends dislike policies that fail to restore immediate growth: Basic economic theory posits that as households and businesses...”
    Do nothing: a positive proposal for recovery – C O B D E N C E N T R E

“If there's a way to solve this environmental disaster
[off Tauranga] by giving away public money to
private companies, Steven Joyce will find it.”
- Tweet from Dim Post

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  • “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men, women, and transgendered—and any other human who is able to elude the tyranny of work for a couple of weeks—are created equal…”
    Occupy Wall Street: A Manifesto – R E A S O N
  • “Until recently, I haven’t been paying much mind to the Occupy Wall Street protests. They’re a lot like Tea Party protesters. They’re upset with the status quo, and are being quite vocal about it. ...”
    Occupy Wall Street Protesters Make Demands – O P E N  M A R K E T . O R G
  • “Quantitative Easing just forcibly redistributes wealth from the poorest in society to the richest. It's immoral….
    Inequality will widen until banking is reformed – Oliver Cooper,
    C O N S E R V A T I V E H O M E B L O G S ( U K )
  • “Governor Rick Perry likes to say Texas is experiencing an economic miracle because of small government and low taxes. Another take: [S]mall government still doesn't mean scant government in Texas. It means lots and lots of small government and accompanying taxes...”
    Texas is another word for 'taxes' – M A D D O W   B L O G
  • Milestone alert: just one month left to see the Julian and Josie Robertson Promised Gift at the Auckland Art Gallery before it jets back to the US:
    Julian and Josie Robertson Promised Gift – A U C K L A N D   A R T    G A L L E R Y

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Image: Paul Cézanne, La route (Le mur d'enceinte) The Road (The Old Wall), 1875-1876,
From the Julian and Josie Robertson Promised Gift

  • In my mind, I can play the ukelele too…


  • This is pretty much the highlight of Placido Domingo’s performance you missed in Christchurch last night, filmed in Tokyo on the same tour: the thrilling E Lucevan le Stelle from Tosca, sung beautifully, even at seventy years of age.


  • Compare with the same piece sung in his prime and filmed on location in Rome: a young man about to have his life ended by firing squad knowing that at this moment he has never loved life so much!


  • And one of my other favourites from last night (filmed, as before, in Tokyo), from Frank Lehar’s operetta ‘Land of Smiles’

  • Have a great weekend.
    And let’s hope Colin Slade does too.

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    C.E.R.A = red tape

    DSC_0061

    I spent a day in Christchurch yesterday that was both marvellous (thank you to friends and Maestro Domingo for making it so) and depressing.

    The former commercial heart of New Zealand’s second-largest city still lies in ruins.  The place where business used to be done. And instead of allowing business to do what business does—i.e., to get on with reshaping and improving everyone’s situation one trade, one improvement, one productive innovation at a time—the government’s “solution” has been to bar businessmen from doing business while pretending to do themselves what businesses were set up to do.

    The result: More than a year after the first earthquake, the government still has wire fences and soldiers surrounding the city to keep out business owners, while their sites inside are now slowly, very slowly, being turned into tarmac.  The recovery plan in summary appears to be to ban business activity while hoping that the rescue fairy will somehow or other arrive on her own.

    No wonder there is anger. Very justified and, as yet, very ill-directed anger.

    These are just a few of the examples of “street art” decorating the barricades.

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    DSC_0057

    DSC_0058

    And while it’s nothing to do with the anger directed towards the government and its creature C.E.R.A. (Cancel All Recovery Anyway), I thought this addition to the police’s “street art” was rather good:

    DSC_0069

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    Thursday, October 06, 2011

    Steve Jobs, 1955-2011

    Steve Jobs has died.

    In his honour, I've reposted what I said about him just a few weeks ago.


    SORKIN-tmagSFGenius has often been described as the ability to enter an existing field and, by your contribution alone, change it utterly.

    Louis Armstrong did that for jazz. Newton and Einstein did it for physics. And Steve Jobs of Apple? Virtually single-handedly he revolutionised telecommunications, personal computing, the music business, publishing and Hollywood. Not to mention what he did to the computer itself.

    Most geniuses only revolutionise one field. Jobs has revolutionised at least three.

    But it’s not enough for some folk that his genius has improved the lives of millions. That he’s a genius who’s earned his money. He’ll only get respect at places like the New York Times if he gives it all away.

    Never mind that the focus of his wealth and productive genius on production does more for every single person on the planet than if he spent his time and energy giving his money away. He understands this:

    Mr. Jobs [told friends] he could do more good focusing his energy on continuing to expand Apple than on philanthropy, especially since his illness. “He has been focused on two things — building the team at Apple and his family,” another friend said. “That’s his legacy. Everything else is a distraction.”

    In an interview with the Wall Street Journal in 1993 , Jobs said, “Going  to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful … that’s what matters to me.”

    Good for him.

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    Power to pillage, but not to surveil

    For all the kerfuffle about the changing of the laws recently controlling over the police's powers of surveillance (about which I've commented here) a front page story in the Herald this morning reveals something both surprising, and disgusting.

    A High Court decision has confirmed that while the powers of the police are (quite properly) circumscribed by law and legal precedent, those of the IRD to do over honest New Zealanders is not.

    "While the Inland Revenue's right to search is not new, Deloitte partner Greg Haddon said the decision showed the tax commissioner's search and seizure powers are likely to be broader than any other branch of the Crown.

    "[The ruling] identified a number of situations where perhaps in a criminal case, the search and seizure right wouldn't have existed but under a tax case it does," Haddon said.

    "The rules around what that warrant looks like is a lot looser [in a tax case] than what would be required under a criminal case. Under a criminal case the warrant's required to be specific about who is entitled to [enter a premise] plus what things they're allowed to look at," he said.

    The IRD does not need a warrant to search a business and copy documents found there and only requires one when it wants to search a private dwelling or take documents away, he said. Any information deemed necessary or relevant to a tax investigation can be copied or seized."

    Contemplate that fact for a moment. It means, to repeat, that the government continues to give complete and unlimited power to IRD to do over productive businessmen, while retaining the restraint of law only on those investigating criminals and alleged terrorists.

    And with all his much boasted tinkering with the (In)Justice system, this is one thing Simon Power-Lust has elected to leave resolutely untouched. Of course.

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    Tuesday, October 04, 2011

    What if the All Blacks played by teachers' rules? [updated]

    Fran Tarkenton (Former NY Giants and Minnesota Vikings quaRterback) makes an observation in today's Wall Street Journal that I’ve translated into New Zealandese for you:

    carterImagine NZ Rugby in an alternate reality. Each player's salary is based on how long he's been playing in the Super 15 or the All Blacks. It's about tenure, not talent. The same scale is used for every player, no matter whether he's a three-time winner of the IRB’s Rugby Player of the Year or the man who regularly never makes it off the bench until the seventieth minute. But for every year a player's been in the Super 15 or ABs, he gets a bump in pay. The only difference between Dan Carter and Stephen Donald is a few years of step increases. And if a player makes it through his third season, he can never be cut from the roster until he chooses to retire, except in the most extreme cases of misconduct.

    Because if Dan Carter were injured, you’d always be able to select his equivalent off the bench, wouldn’t you. And you’d always want Stephen Donald around to fall back on.

    Let's face the truth about this alternate reality: The on-field product would steadily decline. Why bother playing harder or better and risk getting hurt?
        No matter how much money was poured into the NPC, the Super 15 or the All Blacks, it wouldn't get better. In fact, in many ways the disincentive to play harder or to try to stand out would be even stronger with more money.
        Of course, a few wild-eyed reformers might suggest the whole system was broken and needed revamping to reward better results, but the players union would refuse to budge and then demonize the reform advocates: "They hate rugby. They hate the players. They hate the fans." The only thing that might get done would be building bigger, more expensive stadiums and installing more state-of-the-art technology. But that just wouldn't help.
        If you haven't figured it out yet, NZ Rugby in this alternate reality is the real-life public education system. Teachers' salaries have no relation to whether teachers are actually good at their job—excellence isn't rewarded, and neither is extra effort. Pay is almost solely determined by how many years they've been teaching. That's it. After a teacher earns tenure, which is often essentially automatic, firing him or her becomes almost impossible, no matter how bad the performance might be. And if you criticize the system, you're demonized for hating teachers and not believing in our nation's children.

    As Tarkenton says, “Our rigid, top-down, union-dictated system isn't working. If results are the objective, then we need to loosen the reins, giving teachers the ability to fulfill their responsibilities to students to the best of their abilities” rather than the dictates of the Ministry and of central government.

    Robert Wenzel observes that the blame is not all with the teacher unions; “the problem is really government involvement in the education system.”

    The answer is to get government out of the education business so it can grow and thrive,  just like the All Blacks …

    UPDATE:  Legendary quarterback Fran Tarkenton was interviewed on Fox News on this issue:

    Should NFL Rules Apply to Teachers?.

    [Thanks to commenter “School Principal” for the link.]

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    Think the European government debt crisis is over because of the latest fancy “rescue plan”? Think again. [updated]

    Think the European government debt crisis is over because of the latest fancy “rescue plan”? Think again.

    The Eurozone is already in depression, the PIIGS’ governments continue not to pay their way, banks who’ve already lent to the PIIGS’ governments continue drowning, and the solution is not for governments to stop their overspending (despite its so-called “austerity measures,” the Greek govt for example  will continue spending billions more than it has, ditto the Poms and all the fiscally malfeasant Eurozone), nor to take the pressure off the banks whose over-lending made the over-spending possible. Instead, it’s to demand that over-lent banks already overloaded with bad Greek paper get more of it, in a plan so indecipherably complex that the “plan” really amounts to a hope that no-one could possibly understand either the plan the full extent of what this makes inevitable.

    This is intended to be the model for every country facing its own Greek moment. 

    It takes faking reality to a new extreme: it demands not just that progenitors of the plan keep their blinkers on, but that the bankers themselves put their heads in the noose while pretending they’re simply being fitted out with new clothes.

    Or in the words, of the Financial Times’ Wolfgang Münchau, it’s not just like kicking the can down the road, it’s “the equivalent of putting explosives into a can, before kicking it down the road.”

    [Hat tip Economic Policy Journal]

    UPDATED: Links added; commentary sharpened.

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    Monday, October 03, 2011

    ECONOMICS FOR REAL PEOPLE: Property rights and more! [updated]

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    Here’s the update on tomorrow’s session with the UoA Economics Group:
    Good evening all,
    Ask yourself:
    • Why do people in shanty towns build their furniture before their roofs?
    • Why did the Industrial Revolution happen first in England?
    • Why do some places produce factories and enormous wealth, while in others all they have are pushcarts and penury?
    • How did problems with goats and chickens seven-hundred years ago lead to an enormous humanitarian advance we still enjoy?
    • And why might your neighbour want to invoice you for his new flower bed?
    Join us tomorrow night to discuss the answers to these questions and much more--and find out what they all have to do with our subject: property rights.
            Time: 6:00pm
            Date: Tuesday, 4 October    
            Location: Case Room 1, Level 0, University of Auckland Business School
    See you there!

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    Sunday, October 02, 2011

    Quote of the Day: AFL edition

    "[With] yesterday's stunning victory by Geelong over
    Collingwood ... the club's ninth premiership and
    its third in five years ... [the Geelong Cats] can now
    rightfully claim to be the greatest of the modern era."
              - Caroline Wilson, writing in 'TheAge'

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