Tag Archives: new zealand

What do tourists want?

If you’re from New Zealand, you’re probably used to viewing tourists with mild distain.  I’m not sure why, it seems silly, but we do.

I think people should treat tourists in the same way that you would treat intelligent and curious children, rather than the way we do treat them, which is as if they were dairy cattle with credit cards.  After all, not even dairy cattle should be treated like dairy cattle.

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New Zealand isn’t a cheap country to travel in.  The currency is expensive, and we’re an expensive place to live even for us.  Our cheese costs more than cheese anywhere, and despite the fact that it’s not very good we export it and pride ourselves on it.

Our attitude to such things seems much like our attitude to our 100% Pure branding.  “If that’s what we say we are, then we must be that” we cry.  And then we walk around with our chests puffed out feeling quite proud of ourselves.

It’s a kind of arrogance to assume that anyone would be interested in the sorts of things that we try and foist on tourists.  These are often people no wealthier than us, who have travelled a long way to meet us on our own terms, because they’re curious about us.  And yet we seem to assume that anything they do here will exceed their wildest expectations.

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Let’s say that I’m a hypothetical Chilean web-designer called Rodrigo.

I’m thirty-three.  My girlfriend and I broke up, and so I’ve taken a month off while she moves out of our apartment in Valparaiso and moves in with the banker she started sleeping with.  I’ve come to New Zealand because the landscape looks amazing in half a dozen films I’ve seen, and my girlfriend was hooked on Flight of the Conchords, so she’ll feel she’s missing out.

But I don’t want to fly across the world to be given the chance to pat a sheep.  I know what wool is.  I wear wool everyday.  Even if it’s brought from Gap, even if it’s bought from Zara.  I’m not wowed by paua-shells.  Elsewhere they’re called abalone.  And kiwifruit are from South America, as are Fejoas.

It was expensive to fly here.  I could have bought a new Macbook Pro for what it cost me to get here.  So I’m prepared to rough it a little, but I’m not prepared to live off Weetbix in 8-bed hostel dorms full of teenaged European males.  Nevertheless, this is probably what’s going to happen to me, as I can’t afford the hundred-plus dollars a night for any sort of hotel room.  Airbnb only has shoeboxes and strange things called “farmstays” listed, and the couchsurfers here only seem to want to host teenaged European females.

The train I catch down the country costs twice what flying would have, but moves at about walking pace, and there are such constant heavily accented announcements about unintelligible local trivia and some sort of spiral that I stop listening, and so miss my stop.  I just want to walk in the forests and eat local cuisine and listen to local music, but you seem to need a car to get to any of the forests, the local music is mostly murky garage bands, and there’s no identifiable local cuisine at all.

I pay a lot of money for a package tour as I’m not meeting anyone and feeling pretty lonely, which just means that I continue feeling lonely, but in Hobbiton, and while patting a sheep.

Sigh.

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I’m not Rodrigo any more.  I’m me again now.

And some of my best times when wandering have been when people like Rodrigo have shown me round, and let me see their world for a moment.  Watching stars while drinking wine with students on a fifteenth century rooftop in in Coimbra, ruining a shirt while trying to help fix the engine on a stalled launch that then took me for free to Isla do Mel, in Brazil.  (A roadless island where people move everything by wheelbarrow)  Singing badly in a gospel choir in Du Pont, South Georgia.  My singing was terrible, but they still fed me.

I don’t mind being embarrassed when I’m a tourist, or even being uncomfortable, but I do want something real.  Because I’m real.  Where I live is real.  Where everyone lives is real.  So what’s the point in unreal places?  We have the Internet so we don’t have to actually try and create them in the real world.

Perhaps this my horror of theme parks coming out, but I really don’t think many people cross oceans to get strapped onto a flying fox that lands in a field of sheep, or to ride a horse that was used in lord of the rings.  You can do both of these things in Motueka.  But I think most people want to do something more real, even in Motueka.

The sort of encounter you have with Goofy or Cinderella in Disneyworld is what I would call unreal.  I know people who have worked in both these roles, and it’s been a pretty strange experience for them.  The Goofy I know quit after a concerted attack of eight-year-olds pushed her into a pool and she couldn’t get her giant plastic head off and was only rescued from drowning by one of the parents.

Would children do this to a real person?

Disneyesque myths are not myths of humanity, they’re myths of inanity.  Let’s steer away from these.  They’re at best awful re-interpretations of what were once meaningful stories.  In Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid the protagonist finds that every step after she gains her legs is like stepping on knives.  There’s no mention of this in the Disney version.  How has this been forgotten?  It’s a tale about the cost of changing the world you live in, and I know which version makes more sense to me.

Most of the culture we offer tourists in New Zealand is down near the level of Disney.  I don’t think Disney makes for intelligent and well rounded children any more than our tourist industry encourages intelligent and well-rounded tourists.   And being snobby towards tourists is about as fair as being snobby towards children.

I know that trying to cater to the tastes of people with totally different backgrounds to you is always going to be difficult.  It’s like being a chef with no taste buds, a perfumer with no sense of smell, a deaf musician.  But not much of the tourism on offer in New Zealand seems to include the possibility that a tourist is just like you, but from somewhere else.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Art of War – An Introduction to Austere Governance.

The article below is a very indepth response to a freerange post from last year, written by Beale Stainton on his site The Bealian.   Beale has kindly given us permission to re-post his article here.     To quickly summarise: I wrote an article about  the philosophical/economic difference between the ‘left’ and ‘right’ where the left sees full employment and its consequences as the desirable goal, and the right sees low inflation and its consequences as the desirable goal.   I suggest that the right accepts that a certain amount of unemployment is good for the country, in that it keeps inflation down, but then it becomes nasty when it attacks the unemployed for being lazy, a drain on the country, etc, when in fact they are, in this model, making a sacrifice that we all gain from.    Beale has responded with a very informative description of the economic demands on government and what they are and aren’t able to control, suggesting that employment is largely outside of the scope of the government to control.

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The following analysis is in response to an article published by the good folk over at Project Freerange entitled “The nastiness of the mainstream right politics”, which you can read by clicking on the link here.

http://www.projectfreerange.com/the-nastiness-of-the-mainstream-right-politics/

This article argues that there is a fundamental difference between economic policy of the left and that of the right in New Zealand politics.  A press release of Michael Cullen’s policy back in 2002 aimed at, among other things, the creation of full employment.  The 2008 press release given by Bill English on the other hand does not make a mention to employment at all.  This is a very salient observation that has been made.  The Freerange article goes on to then link the employment negligent economic policy of the right with inflation.  It is argued that right wing policy aims to keep unemployment high for the purposes of controlling inflation.  Now we all know that Government policy is conducted with the purposes of engineering some greater master plan.  The question that this raises is how far would a particular government be willing to go in order to control inflation?  Would they purposefully keep employment rates down?

Now, I have written this article for two reasons.  The first reason is, because I wanted to return a constructive and critical response to Barnaby at Freerange.  The second reason is to show the world what the insides of a governments books look like.  In regard to the first reason I will attempt to build upon Barnaby’s valiant attempt at an economic argument.  It does indeed appear as if employment levels could be engineered in order to control inflation.

The current National Government has been, for the most part, conducting itself in a fashion, which it can be argued, goes completely against the unwritten rules of civilized public relations.  They have, through their overly assertive reforms, taken very few prisoners, if any.  They have, time and again, come up against mass public opposition to their policies.  They have expressed a certain culture of authoritarian disregard so to speak, perhaps an arrogance even.  In the opinion of many in our country they have quite simply been rubbing people up the wrong way.  They perhaps have contributed to further backlash by the mere fact that their leader gained the nick name “Smiling Assassin” while employed as head of foreign exchange dealings at international banking powerhouse Merrill Lynch.  He earned this nick name, because he continued to smile while making some hundreds of redundancies in the wake of the 1998 Russian Financial Crisis.  It is no wonder that there is a certain air of mistrust and disillusionment coming from various parts of New Zealand society.

For this reason I hope I can lay down a few reasons as to why such policy has been implemented.  I would like to start off by saying that, in my opinion, this is not so much a matter of left or right wing.  For example, the former Minister of Finance under the Helen Clark Government, Michael Cullen has a past life and so does Helen Clark herself for that matter.  If you go back in history to the Labour Government of 1984-1990.  You will find an up and coming Cullen in the position of Associate Finance Minister plotting away in the shadow of Roger Douglas, the prophet of the New Right.  So it can be argued that Michael Cullen himself contributed to the genesis of the policies of the New Right in this country.  In my opinion Government policy is, for the most part, reactive rather than proactive.  Muldoon’s National Government was forced into extreme national protectionism and regulation by way of reaction.  Lange’s Labour Government was then forced to go extremely open and in pursuit of the free market by way of reaction.  Helen Clark’s Labour Government, post 2001, was the lucky one, because it got to react to good economic times.  It was lucky, because as a result of the success generated on the international free market it was able to oversee a speculative rise in property, financing and construction, which like Spain and Ireland brought a lot of money and jobs into the economy.  2001 was also the defining year for New Zealand in that China joined the WTO and Fonterra was established.  If you want to get a grip on why things are so in New Zealand at the moment then we only need to take a look at Spain, Ireland and many other parts of the world that too heavily depended on property, finance and construction to fuel their economies.

Anyway let’s move on.

The next point I would like to make is that there is not much a Government can do to keep unemployment low.  It can, to a certain degree, in the case where a Government employs a lot of people.  The Government would only need to lay off a required number of civil servants in order to meet a certain measure for the purpose of meeting a particular target percentage of unemployment.  The National Government has in deed been doing this, however this has been done for other reasons, which I will get to later.  In the private sector, demand for labour is unregulated.  When the private sector needs labour it simply takes it.  This is what happens when an economy is picking up.  When it is slower then the private sector doesn’t so much demand labour and so unemployment increases.  As I’ve stated.  This is an unregulated market Government cannot interfere with.

Another point of criticism I would like to make is in regard to the correlation between employment and inflation.  The man who officially argued the connection was the New Zealand born economist William Phillips.  He has, as a result, left to the world the “Phillips curve”, which states that when unemployment is high then inflation is low and vice versa.  This is evidently so, because as unemployment increases the supply of money decreases and therefore producers will be forced to put their prices down.  However Phillips argument was based only on research done in the United Kingdom between 1861-1957.  It has been apparently disproved by the many economies which have both high inflation and high employment.  However I would only take the rebuttal theories with a grain of salt, simply because they are argued first and foremost by Milton Friedman.  I’ve looked at Friedman’sstagflation theory and to be honest with you all, it stinks.  It stinks of the modern financial system and perspective engineering.

Friedman’s stagnation theory argues that when unemployment lowers this triggers a rise in wages and a rise in wages eventually means that unemployment will return to its previously higher level, so far correct, but then he goes onto say that inflation will remain high.  This is how the Phillips curve was disproved and forced to give way to Friedman’s theory ofstagflation.  Philips argued that inflation would eventually reduce too.  Now in pure theory, I’m going to go with Philips on this one, because in a self-regulating market, producers would bring their prices down to match the reduced supply of money in a high unemployment economy.  However we no longer live in a self-regulating market.  We now live in a market regulated by financial systems and the domination of credit.  If cross border credit didn’t exist then the pure theory of Phillips would prevail, but in a world where cross border credit is the main regulating force behind an economy then it is sadly Friedman’s version of events that will prevail.  What I have just discovered is actually quite brilliant and deserves to be written into a doctorate.  Anyway, I’ll come back to that in my own time.  We need to move on.

So there we have it Barnaby and others.  I have successfully altered the direction I was sending this article.  Friedman, being the worshiped economist that he is, was meant to be right and then I was going to proceed to make my final points.  However I’ve just proven him wrong and as a consequence, my further points wrong.  Or have I?  Perhaps I am still on the right track.

Let me just state that the reason unemployment is high at the moment is not so much due to a political engineering campaign by the National Government to keep inflation steady.  Employment is high, because there is a whole bunch of debt to pay off.  This situation has in effect squeezed the life blood out of the economy.  The situation is complicated, but I will try my best to explain it.

Government is not something that renews itself every three years.  It is an ongoing entity.  All that changes is the party or the leadership voted in to manage and direct it.  Debts and surpluses incurred by one government will be inherited by the next and so on.  In the same way, long term debts incurred now, let’s say in the form of a 10 or 30-year bond issuance, will be paid off by future tax payers in 10 or 30 years time and not the current ones.  The current taxpayers reap the benefits, so to speak, for what their children will be forced to pay off.

Now let’s look closer at Government.  It is such a beautiful monstrosity.  Government has revenues and costs just like any enterprise, whether that be yourself, the corner dairy, Telecom or whatever.  As such, just like most other enterprises, it needs to prepare a number of statements and plans.  Let’s start with the statements.  The first statement is the “Statement of Financial Performance”.  This statement records its revenue against its expenses.  The next statement is the “Statement of Financial Position”.  This one records what it owns against what it owes.  The third is the “Cash Flow Statement”.  Now this one is fairly self evident.  Now the important thing to note is that what appears in these statements, generally becomes the basis for preparing the next very important document.  That next document is the “Budget”.

It is likely that bad news in the 3 above statements over a period of previous years will most likely contribute to the publication of a bad news “Budget” for subsequent years.  The “Budget” then gets translated into policy and policy gets translated into execution, which is the responsibility of the party in power.  So hopefully the chain is now obvious.  Bad news in the statements, will lead to bad news in the budget and subsequent bad news in policy and as a result, in execution.

Now, as a result of the sudden contraction in the global economy, the private sector took one hell of a hit.  Let’s not go into too much detail.  It was a bust.  A bust is a cataclysmic event and everyone gets hurt.  Even Berkshire Hathaway stocks went from $150,000 a pop down to $60,000.  A raging private sector is fueled by a need for two things.  It needs labour and capital, the two main inputs of business.  The banks provide the capital and the people the labour.  As such, capital and debt markets boom and unemployment drops.  As a result Governments will receive more taxes and spend less and Reserve Banks will lift interest rates to keep inflation steady.  Up until 2008 the NZ Reserve Bank had the OCR, the primary interest rate of the economy, set at above 8%.  At the moment it is down at 2.5%.

When the private sector is booming there is money left, right and centre, which means prices will go up causing inflation.  Reserve Banks react by lifting interest rates so that people get enticed by the returns to be made simply by putting their money into Government securities.  This takes money out of the economy and keeps inflation steady. When economies are stagnant like now then Reserve Banks react by lowering interest rates making it cheaper to borrow and thus causing an inflationary effect of sorts.  However this gets countered by the lack of economic activity and therefore money.  What I want to describe to you in the boom picture, which lasted from 2001-2008 is how easy the Labour Government had it for that time period.  There was absolutely no need for austere measures.  Their Reserve Bank needed to do the opposite and reduce the amount of money. They were lucky the private sector was booming, takes the weight off their shoulders.

Since 2008 and the arrival of National, Government experienced a reversal.  Their revenues decreased and their expenses increased.  This was a direct result of the bust, not the arrival of National in and of itself.  Remember this is the same Government as always, just under new management.  Not only did tax revenue fall, but the taxpayer had to bail out the broken economy putting further pressure on spending.  As a result the weight got put on the shoulders of Government.  In the performance statement of 2009 there was a surplus between revenue and expenditure, but an overall decrease from 2008.  In the performance statement of 2010 there was a deficit of 2.1%, by 2011 a deficit of 3.3% and this year a deficit of 8.4%.  The large deficit recorded this year was mostly a result of an increase in the “insurance expense” column between 2010 and 2011 of some $8 billion.  It’s all recorded in the books.

Now what these widening deficits do is they force Governments to draw up budgets and policies which will cause a good deal of pain and frustration when they are executed.  Think about it.  If you record a 2.1% deficit this means that the budget for next year is going to come down to either one or two options.  The first is to adjust income or expenses.  The second is to put down a bond issuance and borrow in order to cover your costs for the next year.  The second move means that you need to borrow now, but as a result, future tax payers will be hit with the bill.  Not only that but your credit rating could be effected, which means that the cost of borrowing money next year will go up.  This means that you will hit the pockets of future tax payers even more.  Borrowing more also means that you are creating more expenses.  These expenses get recorded in the books as “interest expenses”.  The more debt you take on the higher this expense column climbs.  This will likely increase your deficit even more.  As a result it is best to resort to the first option than to resort to the second one.  There is a third option.  You can sell some assets, but we go into that.

So the first option is what governments will resort to.  They can increase revenue by hiking tax rates.  However this move is further bad news for the economy.  What they should do is increase taxes on mega profits, however this move causes big business to kick up a fuss and threaten the government with relocation to another part of the world or some other form of rebellion.  This eventuates into further bad news for the economy.  What the current government is doing is they are looking at other sources of national income such as the taxes and royalties generated by mining operations and other economic operations in the long run.  On the other side there needs to be a reduction in spending.  This is evident by the reduction in staff in the public services, a lowering of the teacher to student ratio and a tightening up of welfare services.  For the record, social security and welfare currently costs the Government $2 billion a month.  Education and Healthcare both come in at $1 billion a month, only half that of welfare, but in times like this the welfare is needed.  These three cost centres out shadow all others.  It’s all there in the books.

So I hope I have explained how increasing deficits and spiraling debt forces reactive governance.  It is usually the Finance Minister, who is also the automatic Treasurer, who holds the purse strings.  It is their responsibility, in their role, to create a long term plan, in this case a three year or five year one, to get the books back into surplus.  In order to do this the Treasurer needs to sit in his office, study the statements and a whole host of other reported information from his departments and as a result draw up, to begin with, a budget. The budget will most likely be produced, in a time of deficit, so as to reduce expenses and suggest increases in revenue sources, without needing to borrow too much.  The budget is then communicated through to ministers.  They will be told that they need to cut spending by such an amount.  The minister will then set about turning the expenditure reductions into policy.  The policy will be communicated to the public and, in a time of forced fiscal austerity, they will not react too kindly to it.  The appropriate ministries will then set about executing policy.

Budgets are limited, but relatively precise in that they only look upon the next financial year.  The next level of planning is what is known as the strategy.  Strategies look over periods of three to five to ten years.  They cannot be as precise in their financial estimations and therefore provide only rough projections of future Government revenues and expenditures over, let’s say, a five or ten year period.  They provide direction more than anything.  For example, the Petroleum Action Strategy of 2009 estimated that the mining of New Zealand’s minerals reserves could turn a $3 billion per annum industry into a $30 billion per annum industry by the year 2025.  As such Government would be set to earn from both taxes and royalties and the economy will be boosted.  Now we know that these figures are such an extreme estimation, but they at least provide guidelines to get the ball rolling, develop policy and debate the costs.

The sale of state assets is also set out in a strategy as opposed to budget.  The financial return on the assets will be estimated from, for the most part, an uncertain future.  The estimated return for example might come to $10 billion over four years.  This $10 billion will then be calculated into an estimated budget and performance scenario of Government four years into the future.  The Treasurer will then make a rough estimation and let’s say he concludes that Government will be back in surplus in four years time provided all policies and strategies have been successfully executed.  He will no doubt in include margins of risk to strengthen the estimations.  If the figures add up then Government will go about putting plans into action and when the chain is a result of bad news inputs, like they are at the moment, then there will be bad news outputs.

So there we go everyone.  This is how austere governance works.  Perhaps, after writing this, I now feel quite austere myself.  My main argument is that austere measurements, just like liberal ones are a result of reaction to a given economic environment.  It does not matter if you have a Labour or National party in power.  The boom of 2001-2008 allowed Labour to be liberal, but the dire economic situation of 1984 forced the then Labour Government to be austere and same with Muldoon.  My other argument is that keeping unemployment low is not so much a tool Governments use to control inflation.  If the private sector needs labour then there is nothing Government can do to stop this.  Labour is controlled by the market.  High unemployment usually means that the private sector is not demanding so much or that Government itself is forced to cut back on spending to reduce its deficits.  On the other hand there is a correlation between unemployment and inflation, which Friedman denied, but as I showed you guys I suspect Friedman’s theory of being subject to a regulating factor and that is cross border credit.  Therefore his theory of stagflation should not qualify as pure economics and the Phillips curve should be given its rightful position at the top again.  My final argument is that austere and unpopular policies and executive consequence are the result of bad finances caused by external economic conditions.  This is evident by the way continuing deficits, as a result of a bust, causes certain reactive policies to bring the books back into the black without having to borrow too much.

That is where I will finish.  Barnaby I certainly enjoyed reading your article and, as has been obviously displayed, it did make me think a great deal in order to give you a response you can seriously consider, warts and all, not the pretty picture anyone wants.  Monetary and fiscal policy, when the going gets tough, is not a place for the faint of heart.  However I will leave with a final thought.  What I have given you is my honest description as a result of my education and research.  Austere governance is austere governance.  There are no two ways about that.  It has its place and its time.  The power and influence of fiat money or credit creation on the other hand is a whole completely different set of bad news.  This system likes to pretend that it acts in the interests of deregulating economies, but the truth of the matter is that it has itself and is fast becoming, the ultimate and central power of regulation.  In this sense it is now the state being regulated.  There has been a fundamental shift in power and dominance.  Think about that for a second and the consequences it spells for the future of economy and government.  They will both be locked into cycles of boom, fueled by credit creation and cycles of bust, fueled by credit crunches, which Governments will be forced into taking the rap for.  It is the simple system of credit, which is what we need to look out for.  This is a game John Key and the rest of us are all pawns in.  It is a system people like Friedman have argued into the academic literature as being the way it is.  This is something I can’t quite grasp without speculating and making up conspiracy theories.  So for the moment it is best we keep silent about it and only think on it.

Ten Rules on Being an Architecture Student

In 2007, Dr Peter Wood (aka P-Dubs), Senior Lecturer at the Victoria University of Wellington School of Architecture, gave a cutting and hilarious assessment of student culture to open the first formal day of Ctrl Shift 07, the Biennial Pacific Student Congress of Architecture.  A few of the Freerangers who put the Congress on recently revisited his lecture, and had to share his Ten Rules on Being an Architecture Student, transcribed here to capture Peter’s deliciously acerbic critique.

1. Dress right.  Cheap clothes should look expensive, and expensive clothes should look cheap. Under no circumstances should cheap clothes look cheap, or expensive clothes look expensive, except at crits.

2. Always work at least one all-nighter for every studio. Two is better as it suggests that you’re not doing the first one to follow the rules. Never do more then three in a row as this suggests genuine psychological problems, or it will lead to genuine psychological problems.

3. Meet the right people. This is a tough one because architecture students, architectural academics, academics, and in fact anyone from your immediate cultural grouping, is not the right people. The right people should meet three criteria: they should have money, they should want to give you their money, and they should not be interested in telling you how you should spend their money. Your parents are a good place to start.

4. Show dismissive scorn toward successful architects. After all, they are just cynical old fuddy-duddies who sold their creative integrity to developers because their bums like leather car seats, and anyway, you’ll never be like them.

5. Attend all openings. Art exhibitions, public lectures, new buildings, roof shouts, car doors, the only thing that matters is how disdainful you look, and the amount of free food and drinks.

6. Be I.T. savvy. It’s a digital world, and the more digital you look, the easier it will be to pass architecture off as a modern activity. Fortunately this has never been easier, it doesn’t matter what you listen to, whether its Burt Bacherach or anything else on your MP3 player, or that your laptop contains pictures of dairy cows, or that you only pretend to text-message due to the inability of bovine hooves to operate cellphones. The only real point is how shiny, expensive and visible your gadgets are.

7. Become moderately proficient at espousing the views of a continental philosopher.  Avoid the big names as its most likely that someone will know more about them than you. Choose instead a minor player from some Marxist circle and pick out the bits of their writing that might possibly have something to do with architecture. Liberally sprinkle these through your comments at openings.

8. Learn the lingo. Every attempt must be made to speak in architectural jargon. People might live in houses, but architects design responsive environments that challenge domestic paradoxes which combine atavistic references with new post-post-modern epistemologies.

9. Avoid student counseling. Conventional wisdom has it that student counseling is the quickest way to arrange a medical certificate for an assignment deadline extension. But once they have you on the couch describing your childhood, who knows what might happen. Instead, go to Student Health, tell them it hurts to tinkle, and save the antibiotic prescription for the bronchial condition your all-nighters will give you.

10. Organise an international congress. If only because it makes achieving the other criteria much easier.

 

Peter Wood, on Ctrl Shift 07: Biennial Pacific Student Congress of Architecture. [DVD] is available in most architecture Libraries across Australia & New Zealand.

Why I’m voting Green in the New Zealand Election.

(Disclaimer: I’ve been doing a small amount of unpaid volunteer work for the Green Party this election.)

In less than one week in New Zealand us citizens get the chance to share in the once-every-three-year opportunity to action on democratic right to vote. This is important. Representational democracy has lots of problems and is far from perfect, but if nothing else it plays a critical rule in ensuring we don’t ever have to live in a dictatorship.

Compared to going out and ‘doing good things’ in the world around you, voting probably isn’t the most important democratic thing we do. But it is the most symbolic, and like the occupy protests occurring around the world, you somewhat lose your moral right to have an opinion if you don’t participate.

There is a bunch of freedom’s that we have and often forget about, one of these is the freedom to express political views. I think in New Zealand political discussion is treated a bit like religion, something we avoid so as not to accidentally offend. Today, I’d like to use this freedom to write about why I am voting Green.

I’m deeply suspicious of branding, and the green brand is like any other in that one needs to scratch beneath the nice posters, smiling politicians, and nice niceness that branding creates. The Greens are a made of people whose reason for getting into politics is because they give a fuck about certain issues and since these issues are the volition, the reason for them acting, they continue to take precedent. A journey with the Green Party has never been a journey to the seats of power so the lure of ‘being-on-the-end-of-the-phone’ is a lot less powerful. So, yes the Green brand is a brand, but fortunately when this is brand is examined there is a healthy depth of knowledge and policy below the surface.

There are three policy that important for me at the moment, and the Green’s Position on these that is deciding my vote.

1. Urbanism.

Design literacy in this country is sadly lacking. It’s the curse of being a frontier country without thousands of years of built precedent and trial and error of built form. As the Green party is part of an international movement, it understands that public transport and well designed public space are integral parts of the good citiy, healthy society, and an innovative economy. The often cited need to choose between cars and public transport is a false one. We will always need and use cars, however the last 40 years of international research and precedent (London, Copenhagen, New York) show us that planning cities around cars instead of public transport is a failed idea. We fail to recognise this because we alway view the problem from the viewpoint of the individual rather than the city. There is an idiotic article in the NZ Herald today arguing that rail will always fail in New Zealand. What this fails to appreciate is transport decisions don’t just respond to the present needs of a city, they powerfully alter the behaviour of a city in a future and how it grows and changes.   Increasing roads, esp to marginal areas of land leads to low density of housing, which leads to inefficient infrastructure, high rates, destruction of important agricultural land, and an unsustainable reliance on cheap oil to move around the city.   Improving public transport, through all means, bike, bus, rail leads to increased density, this is better for business, and more diverse business, more efficient service delivery, protection of agriculture and natural systems.   All the cities in the world need to re-invent themselves in the next 50 years, and the battle for Auckland and Christchurch is very much on at the moment.

2. Child Poverty.

That a country as rich as New Zealand has a significant poverty problem is an outrage.  That this problem is allowed to affect thousands of children is even more outrageous. That the large majority of these children are Maori and yet we claim to be a healthy post-colonial country is outrageous.  That the solutions to the problems of child poverty exist and are evidenced based and affordable and not enacted is even more outrageous.  This isn’t a political issue, it’s a moral one.   A curse on the houses of both Labour and National for allowing this to happen, and good on the Greens for having the most comprehensive strategy to work with this issue.  For more in depth information about this topic please visit the Every Child Counts website. 

3.    Other

I was going to discuss that I like the Green movement because, popular to contrary belief, it basis it’s humanist policy on evidence and research not by fulfilling the wishes of cashed up lobby groups like the truck, farmer, and alcohol lobbys which write most of the current governments policy.  But actually, I’d be happy if a government could just fix the first two no-brainers on this list.   If we can get agreement on things like 21st Century transport and Child poverty issues, then after that perhaps we can start talking about the more difficult areas of governance, until action is taken on the easy and important issue the Government is a farce.

The fact that the Green’s consistently and patiently argue for these sensible solutions to  long term problems is why I am voting for them on Saturday.

 

 

 

There’s nothing plain about the rail in Spain

Autovia 8, west of Bilbao, where it finishes

Spanish rail is a delight.

It’s cheap, about as difficult as getting on a bus, and more or less on time, and you can travel locally at our train speeds (for about two euro an hour) or at 300km an hour if you’re going cross country and want to spend a little more. It’s a goddam pleasure at that speed to just have a glass of wine, lie back, and watch the train unzipping the countryside. Barcelona to Madrid is roughly the same distance as Auckland to Wellington. In Spain that’s less than three hours, from the moment that you dive into one underground until the moment that you emerge out of another.

It’s a similar distance to travelling, say, between Queen Street in Auckland and Lambton Quay in Wellington. With our check-in times and the quality of our transport to and from each airport here in New Zealand you’re lucky to make that sort of time if you fly. And we easily the have the population density to support just one train line between our two main north island cities.

For years our transport policies have focussed on getting more land under tarmac and more vehicles in and out of cities faster while refusing to invest in any reasonable alternative. The revolution in communications seems to be happening, but surely our bodies need to keep pace with our minds?

Grumble mumble mumble.

Continue reading There’s nothing plain about the rail in Spain

Journalism?

New Zealand Herald Columnist Deborah Hill Cone triumphed US billionaire Julian Roberston and the Teach for America programme he backs through one of his charitable foundations in her recent column. Hill Cone says that Robertson is set to bring the re-named American programme Teach for All to New Zealand. This is not the case and misinformation may have come from New Zealand Herald reporter Audrey Young’s interview with Robertson while she was in New York trailing Prime Minister John Key.

Young stated the Robertson Foundation, his charitable vehicle, were planning to set up a version of Teach for America in New Zealand – Teach for All. This is not the case Teach First New Zealand have confirmed with the PPTA that Teach for All will not be coming to New Zealand. The charitable vehicle Aotearoa Foundation is one of Julian Robertson’s many foundations. Robertson has little direct involvement with it and the foundation did not know he had an interview with Audrey Young, thus the information he gave about Teach for All coming to New Zealand was incorrect. Teach First New Zealand have also confirmed that the woman who established Teach for America and developed a “rock star-type reputation”, Wendy Kopp would not be coming to New Zealand.

The proposed Teach First New Zealand is a collaboration with Auckland University’s Faculty of Education. If approved it would recruit a new group of teachers to work in hard-to-staff low decile secondary schools for two years. Graeme Aitken, Dean of Education at the University of Education told the PPTA the scheme proposes an initial six-week residential summer intensive for top graduates. The scheme is not closely modeled on Teach for America but draws closely from the Teach First Britain scheme which has the backing of a university.

When the PPTA were asked by Deborah Hill Cone about its position on her volunteering in her daughter’s school we replied that we had no issue with this as a qualified teacher would be supervising. Hill Cone claimed the PPTA were against members of the community “chipping in” to help schools. This is simply incorrect. PPTA president Robin Duff said it was problematic when unqualified members of the community started teaching in a core capacity, full-time as this would see a return to the 1960s and 70s when there was no policy to have trained and qualified teachers.

Hill Cone misquoted and stripped the context out of PPTA’s response with little regard to the consequences, she revealed a blatant disinterest in understanding the factual details that lie behind Teach First New Zealand and failed to make contact with them to clarify how they intend to operate their programme if approved.
She dismissed the PPTA’s attempt to help her understand and clarify that Teach for All is not coming to New Zealand.
She failed to mention that PPTA work alongside Teach First New Zealand and that we’ve commissioned a literature review to find out what is working well nationwide with similar schemes and what is failing countries.

The New Zealand Herald have conceded that they made a mistake and have agreed to publish a correction and give the PPTA space in the paper to state its position accurately.

The Nastiness of the Mainstream Right Politics

I’ve been meaning to write this post for sometime, but have put it off because it takes some small bits of research. Here goes.

While the political division between right and left is overly simplified, in New Zealand there is at least one fundamental difference in policy between the two which for me marks a clear distinction.  It also reveals the deep cynicism of right wing politics.

In recent New Zealand history the left  made it a political and economic goal to have full employment.  The labour government of 9 years from 1999-2008 was lucky enough to have strong local and international growth during this period which enabled them to get very close to the target, in 2007 unemployment fell to historically low levels in 3.4%.

A change of government in 2008 to a right-wing government coincided with the Grand Financial Crises and this of course led a surge in umemployment numbers.  The blame for increased unemployment, at least initially, can not be put on the right wing party.  However it is very interesting to note a change that occurred to the reserve bank soon after National took power.

There is a policy targets agreement between the governor of the reserve bank and the minister of finance.  The 2002 Michael Cullen version is first, and the 2008 Bill English version is second.

Left Version 2002

The objective of the Government’s economic policy is to promote sustainable and balanced economic development in order to create full employment, higher real incomes and a more equitable distribution of incomes. Price stability plays an important part in supporting the achievement of wider economic and social objectives.

Right Version 2008

The Government’s economic objective is to promote a growing, open and competitive economy as the best means of delivering permanently higher incomes and living standards for New Zealanders.  Price stability plays an important part in supporting this objective.

Read them carefully and a clear difference emerges between the left and the right, and how they use the instruments of government to affect the country.  This is one small passage that influences the way the reserve bank acts, which potentially effects thousands if not hundreds of thousands of lives.

From these passages we understand that the left is using the reserve bank to get as many people as employed as possible.  It does this knowing that this may well put pressure on inflation, because as it become harder to find workers they can charge more for their work which if this happens widely enough makes things more expensive which pushes up inflation.  Inflation is bad because it devalues peoples investments and savings.  But the left understands there are vast social, health, and economic gains to be had from having full employment. The least of which is that the states doesn’t have to support as many people.  The strange and misunderstood aspect of this is that there is likely to be less people on welfare under this approach than the right’s, which I will explain now.

The right uses the reserve bank to encourage a strong economy as a means to delivering higher incomes and living standards.  It prioritizes price stability so as to avoid the corrosive effects of inflation.  However the removal of the mention of employment gives us a sense of what this means. If price stability is the priority, then keeping wages down is also a priority, and one of the most effective ways to keep wages down is to keep a level of unemployment.  The employment pool acts as a reserve to put pressure on wages and salaries so that inflation is kept low, so that peoples and companies saving and investments are protected.

Now at this point, it is a largely healthy disagreement on how to deal with the economy.  We have different political parties so that we can have different views and discuss the merits of those views and have discussions and discourse around them.  All fine and good.

The bit that makes it nasty is when we follow the behavior of the right. If we accept the need for a certain level of necessary unemployment, (which I don’t) but seems like a logical economic policy in some regards, then we are in reality asking a certain amount of the population to sacrifice jobs they might otherwise have for the good of the country.   What I find disgusting is the same party that creates this condition then spends vast amounts of energy denigrating and attacking those very people that could otherwise be employed as been lazy and bludging of the state.

In New Zealand around 2008 long term unemployed (as a percentage of total unemployed) was 3.2%. This means for every 100 people on the dole only 3 or 4 of them had been on the dole for more than a year.  From a total of 72,000 unemployed people, 49,000 of them were on the dole for less than 26 weeks; the churn of people losing jobs and quickly gaining new ones. Of the total only 1300 people in the entire country had been on unemployment benefit for more than two years.  Read that again.  It clearly illustrates that the myth of dependency on the dole and preference to want to live off $200 a week rather than work an honest job is a fallacy.  If the jobs are there people take them.

The thing about full employment is that everyone starts to benefit and social, class, ethnic and gender divisions are lessoned by the participatory nature of the work force, and the increased social mobility that employment provides.

The dumb thing about requiring a certain level of unemployment is that inevitably its certain groups, for various geographic, historic, and soci0-economic reasons, that end up without work.  In New Zealand this is the young, some elderly, and Pacific Island and Maori people.  These people end up unemployed because of a way the government chooses to run the economy and then turns around and specifically stereotypes these populations and been deficient for some reason.  Its foul and immoral.

There is obviously some economic incentive to denigrating the unemployed because it makes people even more desperate to work in low-wage jobs, and keep inflation down, and a nice conveyor belt of cheap workers.  The crushing of the unemployed is also managed through giving them less than is needed to survive with any dignity in New Zealand.  A specific policy that was established in 1991 by Ruth Richardson.

I’ll leave the conclusion to the superb idiot/savant of norightturn, who I have sourced most of the links from in this article.

There is an underlying problem of benefit adequacy, dating back to the 1991 benefit cuts. As explained in Alister Barry’s In a Land of Plenty [part 5, from 10 mins, to part 6] experts worked out minimum food budgets for beneficiaries based on nutritional needs and different expectations of diet. Treasury took the lowest level – which was inadequate to meet basic nutritional needs – and cut it by 20% to provide an “incentive”. And while benefits have been inflation adjusted, that basic gap between benefit levels and minimum nutritional needs has remained ever since. And now we’re back in an era of mass unemployment and longer durations on benefits, it is again coming back to haunt us.

This is indecent. No-one should starve in our country, and a government system which guarantees starvation is simply immoral. But it is also stupid. Kids who grow up malnourished and starving have higher health costs and do not reach their full potential. In other words, the short-term “saving” of benefit cuts in fact produces long-term costs. But it won’t be the present government paying those costs – they’ll be well out of office when the bill finally comes due, and cleaning up the mess will be someone else’s problem.

http://norightturn.blogspot.com/2010/08/starvation-benefits.html

As a society, we have chosen to have a certain level of unemployment in exchange for low inflation. Therefore, as a society, we have an obligation to care for those whose lives and prospects we are sacrificing. Policywise, this means trying to ensure that unemployment is not too great a burden and easy to escape from (or at least, not a trap). This suggests both decent benefit levels, and policies centered around improving “churn”: training, education, active job finding, and an array of grants, loans, housing and transport assistance to help people move or travel to work.

http://norightturn.blogspot.com/2005/07/failed-policies.html

 

http://norightturn.blogspot.com/2009/11/eroding-neoliberalism.html

 

 

London Zoo speaks up to protect living fossils from mining in NZ

Looks like New Zealanders are not the only ones who want to protect our conservation land from proposed mining projects. London zoo conservationists are calling for people to make submissions to the Ministry of Economic Development’s Schedule 4 Stocktake.

They are concerned about the threat that mining would pose to the survival of two native frog species. They call the Archey’s frog and Hochstetter’s frog living fossils:

“Archey’s frog is currently ranked top of ZSL’s EDGE of Existence amphibian list, making it the most evolutionarily distinct and globally endangered amphibian on the planet. Described as a “living fossil”, Archey’s frog is almost indistinguishable from the fossilised remains of frogs that walked amongst the dinosaurs 150 million years ago.

“In the year when reducing biodiversity loss is high on the political agenda, it is inconceivable to think that we’d put the nail in the coffin of some of our rarest and most extraordinary frog species,” say Helen Meredith, EDGE of Existence amphibian conservation projects coordinator at ZSL.”

Read more here

Mining on conservation land seems to me to be an easy option for the government, they are looking for land to mine and using conservation land is easier than private land. They don’t have to buy it, no pesky landowners to convince or bully off it. They have no issue bullying their own staff however. Department of Conservation staff have been asked not to talk to non-govt organisation Forest & Bird because of recent leaks of information about mining proposals. So much for transparency in the development of policy. I suppose that never really happens does it…?

So if you care about this issue, you have until Thursday 26th of May to make a submission. Let make a fuss!