Tuesday, 22 May 2018

QotD: The importance of "I don't know"

We need to teach how doubt is not to be feared but welcomed. It's OK to say, 'I don't know.'"
~ Richard Feynman
[Hat tip Lisa Van Damme]

Monday, 21 May 2018

Qotd: The motive of egalitarianism

"The motive [of egalitarianism]... is not the desire to help the poor, but to destroy the competent."
~ Ayn Rand
. [Hat tip Ayn Rand Bot]

Friday, 18 May 2018

QotD: "I think the blind passion of political discussions makes it very clear how desperately uninformed and uneducated most of us are today

"But also, one of my phrases to capture the problem in education today is that children are being taught to look around them and think, 'This is all here, and now our job is just to form opinions about it,' rather than, 'This is all here -- and here is how we got here, and here is where it comes from, and here is what it depends on.' Even just understanding that this world that they know hasn't existed forever is important...    "I think the [blind passion of political discussions] makes it very clear how desperately uninformed and uneducated most of us are today, because we should be bringing to bear on our opinions of politics a vast knowledge of everything that has been tried in the past and whether it succeeded or failed. And most children today are coming into such discussions blind, but also having been told that it's very important to have strong opinions. So they've maybe memorised some floating, disconnected facts and they've been taught to have impassioned convictions about things -- which means their impassioned convictions are based on nothing, ultimately on substance. So, we are trying to give them meaningful, systematic, real knowledge on which to ground judgements in every realm of their life."~ Lisa Van Damme, founder/director of VanDamme Academy

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Bonus Quote of the Day: "...the most important weapon in Hamas's arsenal."

"Hamas understood early that the civilian death toll was driving international outrage not at Hamas but at Israel, and that this, not I.E.D.s or ambushes, was the most important weapon in its arsenal."
~ Matti Friedman, from his New York Times op-ed 'Falling for Hamas's Split-Screen Fallacy'

QotD: "A viler evil than to murder a man, is to sell him suicide as an act of virtue."

"A viler evil than to murder a man, is 
to sell him suicide as an act of virtue."

~ Ayn Rand

QotD: Budget-Day Edition

An election is an advance auction of stolen goods. Budget Day is the auction itself, when the formal announcement is made of which goods and their owners are to be parted.  So here, especially for Budget Day, are some thoughts on the nature of taxation by both taxers and tax-victims:
“The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest possible amount of feathers with the smallest possible amount of hissing.”
~ Jean Baptiste Colbert

"To steal from one person is theft. To steal from many is taxation."
~ Jeff Daiell

“Taxation is just a sophisticated way of demanding money with menaces.”
~ Terry Pratchett

"I think coercive taxation is theft, and government has a moral duty to keep it to a minimum."
~ former Massachusetts Governor William Weld

“For every benefit you receive a tax is levied.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

"It's sad to realise that most citizens do not even notice the irony of being bribed with their own money."
~ Anon.

"[There are dangers in] the disposition to hunt down rich men as if they were noxious beasts."
~ Winston Churchill

"No matter what anyone may say about making the rich and the corporations pay the taxes, in the end they come out of the people who toil. It is your fellow workers who are ordered to work for the Government, every time an appropriation bill is passed. The people pay the expense of government, often many times over, in the increased cost of living. I want taxes to be less, that the people may have more."
~ Calvin Coolidge

"See, when the Government spends money, it creates jobs; whereas when the money is left in the hands of Taxpayers, God only knows what they do with it. Bake it into pies, probably. Anything to avoid creating jobs."
~ Dave Barry

"The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money."
~ Alexis De Tocqueville

"A society of sheep must in time beget a government of wolves."
~ Bertrand de Jouvenel

"We shall tax and tax, spend and spend, elect and elect."
~ 'New Deal' luminary Harry Hopkins

"Most of the presidential candidates' economic packages involve 'tax breaks,' which is when the government, amid great fanfare, generously decides not to take quite so much of your income. In other words, these candidates are trying to buy your votes with your own money."
~ Dave Barry

"When Barbary Pirates demand a fee for allowing you to do business, it's called 'tribute money.' When the Mafia demands a fee for allowing you to do business, it's called 'the protection racket.' When the state demands a fee for allowing you to do business, it's called 'sales tax.'"
~ Jeff Daiell

"Taxation is far greater an evil than theft. It is a form of slavery. If you cannot choose the disposition of your property, you are a slave. If you must ask permission to work, and/or pay involuntary tribute to anyone from your wages, you are a slave. If you are not allowed to dispose of your life (another way of defining money, since it represents portions of your time and effort, which is what your life is composed of) in the time, manner and amount of your choosing, you are a slave."
~ Rick Tompkins

"The man who produces while others dispose of his product is a slave."
~ Ayn Rand

“We contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle.”
~ Winston Churchill

"Taxation without representation is tyranny."
~ James Otis

"Taxation WITH representation ain't so hot either."
~ Gerald Barzan

"[America's] forefathers made one mistake. What they should have fought for was representation without taxation."
~ Fletcher Knebel

"When a new source of taxation is found it never means, in practice, that the old source is abandoned. It merely means that the politicians have two ways of milking the taxpayer where they had one before."
~ HL Mencken

"What is the difference between a taxidermist and a tax collector?
The taxidermist takes only your skin."

~ Mark Twain

"Government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidise it."
~ Ronald Reagan

"Death and taxes are inevitable; at least death doesn't get worse every year."
~ Unknown

"When more of the people's sustenance is exacted through the form of taxation than is necessary to meet the just obligations of government and expenses of its economical administration, such exaction becomes ruthless extortion and a violation of the fundamental principles of free government."
~ former US President Grover Cleveland

"Rulers do not reduce taxes to be kind. Expediency and greed create high taxation, and normally it takes an impending catastrophe to bring it down."
~ Charles Adams

"The mounting burden of taxation not only undermines individual incentives to increased work and earnings, but in a score of ways discourages capital accumulation and distorts, unbalances, and shrinks production. Total real wealth and income is made smaller than it would otherwise be. On net balance there is more poverty rather than less."
~ Henry Hazlitt

"The poor of the world cannot be made rich by redistribution of wealth. Poverty can't be eliminated by punishing people who've escaped poverty, taking their money and giving it as a reward to people who have failed to escape."
~ PJ O'Rourke

"A government with the policy to rob Peter to pay Paul can be assured of the support of Paul."
~ George Bernard Shaw

"Freedom is the quality of being free from the control of regulators and tax collectors. If I want to be free their control, I must not impose controls on others."
~ Hans F. Sennholz

"Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys."
~ PJ O'Rourke

"The power to tax involves the power to destroy."
~ former US Supreme Court Justice John Marshall

"Taxes are not levied for the benefit of the taxed."
~ Robert Heinlein

"Taxes are the sinews of the state."
~ Cicero

"The way to crush the bourgeoisie is to grind them between the millstones of taxation and inflation."
~ Vladimir Lenin

"There's only one way to kill capitalism--by taxes, taxes, and more taxes."
~ Karl Marx

And finally, and most importantly ...
"Be wary of strong drink. It can make you shoot at tax collectors, and miss."
~ Robert Heinlein

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Some background to Hamas's riots

Elan Journo, author of the upcoming book What Justice Demands: America & the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, offers some relevant background to understand what you see in the news from the Gaza border.

Israeli citizens, he argues, have a legitimate right to self-defence, which the Israeli Defence force is protecting. Just like us, acknowledges Journo, "Israel has flaws and shortcomings. Yet, also like our society, it protects the freedom of individuals."  So on the one side you have this semi-free society trying to protect itself and its citizens, on the other an Iranian-backed organisation calling for martyrdom of its own people in yet another bid to throw Jews into the sea and, as Hamas leader Yahya Shinwar said recently, to "swarm across the border and tear out their hearts."
Fundamentally, regional hostility toward Israel reflects the ideological currents of the Middle East. Now at the vanguard of that hostility are the jihadists, who Iran has long inspired and funded; Iran also has backed Hamas and Hezbollah, both notorious for suicide attacks, in several wars on Israel. The Tehran regime, which has sought nuclear capability, has long glorified martyrdom in the path of Allah.
This is whom, imperfectly perhaps, the Israeli Defence force is protecting Israeli citizens.

This conflict has been going on for decades, even centuries. But like most things in the Middle East, this ongoing conflict was radically altered in 1979. [Quick quiz question: what happened in 1979?] Prior to this, the opposition was more secular than religious:
For decades, Israel's regional adversaries were neighbouring regimes — mainly Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq — and the Palestinian movement, which those regimes sponsored. Ideologically, these adversaries often justified their desire to liquidate Israel in terms of Arab nationalism or Palestinian nationalism. Leading the charge against Israel initially was Egypt's military dictator, Gamal Abdel Nasser, a self-styled prophet of Arab nationalism; that ideology was a nominally secular blend of socialism, fascism and brute authoritarianism, infused with Islamic tropes and allusions. By the close of the 1960s, however, the spearhead became the Palestine Liberation Organisation (which Nasser instigated and funded) led by Yasser Arafat.
    Then, in 1979, the Islamic revolution toppled the government in Iran. It galvanised the Islamist movement across the world, while the appeal of Arab nationalism waned. The new Iranian regime embodied the ideal of a totalitarian society shaped by Islamic religious law. Iran eagerly proclaimed itself the leader of a global jihadist cause; it made that ideal appear realisable, and the path of jihad as practical.
    The Islamists had a different, more compelling justification for reviling Israel: They sought to liquidate that free society, not in the name of realising an exhausted dream of Arab "unity" or an authoritarian Palestinian homeland, but in the name of the sacred duty to serve Allah. They denounced Israel as an infidel regime on land that must belong to the pious.
    The aftershocks of Iran’s revolution energised Islamist groups, and notably so within the Palestinian movement. The best known of these is Hamas (the Islamic Resistance Movement), whose founding document explains that, "There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad."
     While Arab regimes inched back somewhat from the anti-Israel vanguard, the Islamists marched forward. In Lebanon, Iran helped create an Islamist force called Hezbollah, which has attacked and waged war against Israel. Within the Palestinian community, Hamas eclipsed the nationalist factions that had led the Palestinian movement for decades, winning a 2006 landslide election and then seizing control of Gaza. Hamas and other Islamist Palestinian groups received Iranian funding and military hardware, enabling them to wage war against Israel from within Gaza in 2008-09, 2012 and 2014.
That said, both today's Iranian proxies and the nationalists before them have more zero interest in maintaining Palestinians' problems than than they do in in seeing them remedied. For them, Palestinians' grievances are on an ongoing casus belli justifying every outrage they instigate, while Palestinians and their children, for them, are almost literally public-relations cannon fodder.
The Islamists, like their nationalist predecessors, invoke Palestinians’ grievances related to Israel's founding and ongoing policies in defense of their cause. But that’s a dishonest ploy. Properly defined, there are some actual wrongs to be addressed, but these cannot explain the longstanding hostility toward Israel, nor justify the violence against it.
    The larger truth is that Arab regimes, the Palestinian movement and the Islamists do not care about the lives of Palestinian individuals who they claim to be avenging; they have exploited that community, indoctrinated many of them and exacerbated their suffering. Neither the Islamist "solution" — a theocratic Iran-backed Palestinian regime — nor the dictatorial regime of their rival factions could solve any actual problems.
Thus, for them, seeing Palestinians martyred with Israeli bullets is a victory, a media triumph, and the very public deaths almost an end in themselves.

That said, however, while its defensive options are admittedly very few, the Israeli response seems from this distance to play into their hands:
With Netanyahu & Likud in power, there’s very little Iran needs to do aside from sit back & watch. "

Tweet of the day: "Seeing Jews & Muslims fighting over the shittiest piece of land on Earth makes me realize how privileged I am here in Canada."

"Seeing Jews & Muslims fighting over the shittiest piece of land on Earth makes me realize how privileged I am here in Canada. When you don’t have a hard-on for divinely sanctioned real estate allotment, the world is so much more beautiful. Burn your holy books & open your eyes."
Ali A. Rizvi, author of The Atheist Muslim: A Journey From Religion to Reason

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

QotD: “When the State owns everything, it also owns you."

“When the State owns everything, it also owns you. Funny how people can’t just leave Communist countries, isn’t it? They always have to escape.”
Keith O'Neil

Monday, 14 May 2018

QotD: Conspicuous consumption =/= capitalism

“It is an ironic sign of the depth of modern-day economic ignorance fomented by Keynesian economics that capitalism — an economic system based on capital accumulation from saving — is blamed for unleashing conspicuous consumption — the exact opposite of capital accumulation.
    “Capitalism is what happens when people drop their time preference, defer immediate gratification, and invest in the future. Debt-fuelled mass consumption is as much a normal part of capitalism as asphyxiation is a normal part of respiration.”

~ Saifedean Ammous.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

QotD: The poverty of poor education

"If you want to see the poor remain poor, generation after generation, just keep the standards low in their schools and make excuses for their academic shortcomings and personal misbehaviour. But please don't congratulate yourself on your compassion."
~ Thomas Sowell

Friday, 11 May 2018

QotD: On the value of obedience to compulsion

"The great danger of politics is its use of compulsion. The great danger of religion is its rationalisation of compulsion. Any belief system that prizes obedience to commands as a priority, is a natural fit with a politics of compulsion."
~ philosopher Stephen Hicks, from his article 'Is the Politico-Religious Complex Dead?'.
[Hat tip Vinay Kolhatkar]

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

QotD: The world's great fortunes ...

"Because of the neglect of history in our educational system, most people have no idea how many of the [the world's] great fortunes were created by people who were born and raised in worse poverty than the average welfare-recipient today."
~ Thomas Sowell

Monday, 7 May 2018

The problem is not dirty dairying; it's still dirty government

Environment Minister David Parker is all set to tell dairy farmers how many cows he's going to be let them have on their own farms.  This is, he claims, to fix "dirty dairying."

But turns out you neither need nor want central planning to fix the alleged problem. What you do need is property rights -- and common law.

Here's a repost from 2008 that's sadly topical again, explaining what that means...

Enforced downsizing and limits on herd sizes! Talk about shooting your prosperity right in the foot.
Never underestimate the ability of politicians (and appeasement of them) to destroy your livelihood, while making a problem worse.
The problem they're mostly attempting to address is water -- how it's regulated, how dirty it is, and the role of agricultural intensification in the declining environmental standards. Said Parliamentary Commissioner Jan Wright at the report's release, the report finds water quality is "declining" in areas used for farming, and "the Resource Management Act is causing fundamental problems for water management." In response, Murray Rogers of Canterbury's Water Rights Trust campaign group says "agricultural development needs to slow down while research and regulatory structures are put in place to manage water."

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

Since it looks like farmers could have their future prosperity limited on the back of what this report says about water, let's see first what it actually says. (you can read the whole report here.) On inspection it turns out that the body of the report which contains the actual data is less frightening than what the headlines and the deleted 'summary' chapter say about it. (No surprise there -- it's on a par with the various summaries of the IPCC's global warming science.) About water the body of the report says:
  • By international standards, freshwater in New Zealand is both abundant and clean.
  • Because New Zealand has a low population and high average rainfall, it has more total freshwater per person than more than 90 per cent of almost 200 other countries around the world. However, not all of this water is in the right place at the right time...
  • With land-use practices becoming more intensive, particularly in farming, there is greater demand for water now than ever before, and evidence is building that its quality is declining in many water bodies.
  • As the dominant land use in New Zealand, agriculture has the most widespread impact on water quality.
  • Rivers in catchments that have little or no farming or urban development make up about half of the total length of New Zealand’s rivers and have good water quality. Water quality is generally poorest in rivers and streams in urban and farmed catchments. This reflects the impact of non-point-sources of pollution in these catchments... The proportion of the total river length that is in farmed catchments is more than 40 times the proportion that is in urban catchments.
  • In recent years, the impact of agricultural land use on water quality has grown as a result of increased stocking rates and use of nitrogen fertilisers. Within the agricultural sector, there has also been a move away from low-intensity to high-intensity land use (for example, converting from sheep farming to dairy or deer farming). The net effect of most intensified land use is to increase the amount of nutrients, sediment, and animal effluent dispersed into water bodies.
  • The median levels of nitrogen and phosphorus have increased in rivers within the national monitoring network over the past two decades. More specifically, over 1989–2003, there was an average annual increase in levels of total nitrogen and dissolved reactive phosphorus of 0.5 per cent to 1 per cent. While this increase may seem small, and is difficult to detect from the slope of the median (dark blue) lines in Figure 10.3, it signals a long-term trend towards nutrient-enriched conditions that are likely to trigger undesirable changes to river ecosystems. Furthermore, New Zealand rivers with relatively high levels of nitrogen are deteriorating – becoming more enriched – more rapidly than rivers with low levels of nitrogen. This is illustrated most clearly in Figure 10.3.

  • Seventy-five of the 134 lakes in New Zealand for which nutrient data are available have high to very high levels of nutrients (see Figure 10.5, right). Thirteen per cent of these lakes are known as ‘hypertrophic’, meaning they are ‘saturated’ with nutrients and their water quality is extremely degraded. In such lakes, algal blooms are common and the health of aquatic animals is often at risk.
  • Levels of nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) and algae are between two and six times higher in lakes in pastoral catchments than in lakes that are in natural catchments (see Figure 10.6).
  • A large majority of the 3,820 lakes greater than 1 hectare in area in New Zealand are not monitored. By extrapolating the results for monitored lakes, it is estimated that the majority (about two-thirds) of all lakes are likely to have relatively low concentrations of nutrients and good to excellent water quality because they lie in natural, or only partially developed, catchments (Ministry for the Environment). The remaining third of lakes are likely to have high levels of nutrients and poor water quality.
  • Pollution from organic waste in rivers has reduced since the late 1980s. This indicates improved management of point-source discharges of organic waste, that is, pollution from a single facility at a known location, such as discharges from wastewater treatment plants, meatworks, and farm effluent ponds.
  • Two-thirds of New Zealand’s lakes are in natural or partially developed catchments, such as native bush, and are likely to have good to excellent water quality. Small, shallow lakes surrounded by farmland have the poorest water quality of all our lakes.
  • Sixty-one per cent of the groundwaters in New Zealand that are monitored have normal nitrate levels; the remainder have nitrate levels that are higher than the natural background levels, and 5 per cent have nitrate levels that make the water unsafe for infants to drink.
  • Fertilisers and stock effluent are major sources of the nitrogen and phosphorus in water bodies in agricultural catchments. The erosion of soil also contributes significant amounts of soil-bound phosphorus to waterways.
Now I don't know about you, but overall that looks like a pretty credible pass mark to me [and since this 2008 report, things have been getting cleaner rather than the reverse]. Says the report: "By international standards, freshwater in New Zealand is both abundant and clean."
So much for the blowhards.
But there do appear to be two main issues:
  1. increased draw-offs for irrigation and resulting 'competition' for water in Canterbury and Southland, and
  1. the effect of farming on water quality in lakes and rivers.
You won't be surprised to hear I've got something to say about both, nor that both things that need to be said involve property rights.
Competition for water presently is complicated by bureaucratic systems of allocation. Protection of water quality is stymied by bureaucratic systems of protection: which means there are no effective legal remedies against pollution, and no effective agent to argue on behalf of that which is being polluted. Both problems are the direct result of what's known as the Tragedy of the Commons problem. As long as a resource is either unowned or held in common ownership (which is the case with water in NZ), then the incentive for each resource user is to take as much now as they can, and whenever they can, no matter the consequences for the quality of that resource, and no matter the long-term effect on the quantity of that resource. That's the tragedy: common ownership provides no incentive for genuine 'stewardship.'
The answer is clearer property rights, and greater common law protection of those rights.
As Jan Wright almost inadvertently pointed out in interviews yesterday, "the Resource Management Act is causing fundamental problems for water management." She's right, but not in the manner she thinks she is. The fundamental problem caused by the RMA is insufficiently secure property rights. The cure for both problems is more secure property rights. Let's me tell you how.
1. Competition for water
As water users realise every summer, competition exists for existing water resources. Bureaucratic distribution of access to water does nothing to secure the resource, and nothing to give water users long-term security of supply. By contrast, recognising secure property rights in water means that water users have a long-term interest in maintaining security of supply, and that rights to use water end up in the hands of those who are going to value it most.

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

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

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

As the Canadian Environment Probe organisation has said for a long time, a system of clear property rights and common law protections of property rights offers the best long-term security for water and those who rely on it. My colleague Craig Milmine has a dissertation from 2000 discussing the theory in detail, and showing how a water rights regime could function in the South Island's Kakanui district. 
2. Water Quality
We're told by all the usual suspects that dirty dairying is destroying our clean green reputation, and that agricultural intensification is destroying water quality. I suggest the answer to that is not more bureaucratic intensification, which is what has produced the problem, but less.
Property rights under a common law regime provides superior environmental protection -- that is, a system of clear property rights as a means by which water can be protected in common law. No question about that ( I invite you to follow those three preceding links to check that claim). When the costs of one's own actions are one's responsibility, a change of behaviour is greatly encouraged. When producers themselves have to pay for their own pollution, a change in methodology of production has to be considered. When water users themselves have clear rights in common law to protect the water in which they have property, then looking at it as a long-term resource that merits looking after is going to happen. And when neighbours' actions start to destroy that resource, then with their property rights secured rights' owners have the motivation to act in protection of that resource, and under common law they have simple and effective remedies with which to take action -- remedies that simply don't exist under the bureaucratically intense RMA.

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

What common law does in other words is give effective legal power to recognised resource users to protect their resource long-term. If we genuinely want to rehabilitate NZ's clean green credentials, then I maintain the solution is better protection of property rights and the rehabilitation of common law remedies for environmental protection. Simple.
But there’s a problem. In fact, there's two problems -- caused not by dirty dairying, but by dirty government:
  1. The Resource Management Act (RMA) has successfully buried almost all avenues for common law environmental protection. Despite common law's proven effectiveness over eight-hundred years, common law measures to protect against pollution are buried under the statutory framework of bureaucratic control set up by the RMA. To bring back common law environmental protection requires the RMA to be scrapped, and replaced by a 'codification' of rational common law principles of environmental protection.
  1. Even with the codification of common law, without clear ownership there is still no protection. To work effectively, property rights-based environmental protection needs an owner to stand up for his property, yet nearly half of this beautiful country and most of the seabed, foreshore and waterways still have no property rights attached. Most of it is essentially un-owned, leaving a government department as the conservator of record of much of the country's waterways. The Environment Report should be regarded as a report card of how well they've carried out the role.

Whatever the real news about the release, non-release or pseudo-release of the last chapter of the five-yearly Environment Report, the report suggests that water quality in some places is going to get worse, and that it will be "non-point sources" such as agricultural runoff (those that command-and-control resource management can't so easily control) that will play a large part in that diminution.
The answer is to give greater power to those who value the resources under threat, and there is no greater power in law than the protection of property rights and the legacy of common law -- if only these were allowed to function as they should.

Quote of the Day: Marx

"The less you understand the phenomena Marx purported to explain, the more you admire him."
~ economist Peter Klein

Why Marxism?

Karl Marx was born two-hundred years ago this week, and since then many millions have been murdered in the name of his disastrous creed, and many millions more were tortured and starved in the slave states he inspired.

His economic credo, that “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer” is a myth unsupported by empirical evidence.

And, as Clemson University professor Bradley Thompson explains, Marx's moral credo -- "from each according to his ability; to each according to his need" -- is no less than a call to enslave the able while starving the able and needy equally (the only way in which Marx's slaves are ever made equal). A credo of abject immorality such as this deserves nothing more than to be wiped off the face of the intellectual earth.

So why has Marx's siren song been, and still is, so popular, and not least in today's universities? That's where Thompson begins this commemoration of the millions that credo murdered, asking "Why Marxism? (Evil Laid Bare)"

PS: For those like me who prefer reading to watching videos, a lightly-edited transcript of his talk is here. [Paywall, but worth it.]

PPS: Here's the perfect metaphor ...


Sunday, 6 May 2018

“Finding Morality and Happiness Without God” [updated]

This morning's Sunday School reading comes from Onkar Ghate's article “Finding Morality and Happiness Without God”:
The basic reason religion remains such an esteemed aspect of ... society is that it is considered important, even indispensable, to morality. The strongest form this idea takes is that morality depends on religion—that without God, the distinction between good and evil loses meaning, and anything goes.
What most differentiates religion from philosophy, however, is how religion arrives at its answers. A philosophy seeks evidence and logical arguments for its conclusions. A religion, no matter how much theologians may argue back and forth about points of dogma, remains just that: dogma. A religion advocates its basic tenets on faith, which means in the absence of evidence and logical argument, and even in the face of counter-evidence and counter-arguments. This is why a synonym for a religion is a faith: we speak for instance interchangeably of the Jewish religion and the Jewish faith.

A religion is a worldview that espouses some version of the supernatural on faith. To claim that morality requires religion, therefore, is to claim that morality requires faith in the supernatural.
What makes murder wrong, then, according to religious morality, is only the fact that [a supernatural being] currently forbids the act. If He commands murder, murder becomes good. In philosophy, this is called the Divine Command theory of ethics. This—and only this—is what the distinctively religious approach to morality means.

The true champions of religious morality understand this—and to drive the point home they offer the story of [God telling Abraham to kill his son]  ... [A] s a disciple of religious morality, Abraham must not demand reasons. He must believe and act on faith—that is, in defiance of his reason. His rational mind must scream out at him—“It’s monstrous to murder my own son!”—and yet he must nevertheless obediently perform the action.
    It is far from an accident that Abraham has for centuries—in Judaism, in Christianity, and in Islam—been revered as the great exemplar of the man of faith, of the moral man, of the religious man. This is exactly what he is. He reveals the essence of what it means to accept the idea that God is the source of morality.
    For all those who accept this approach, to quote Tennyson’s haunting words: “Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die.”
    Observe how incredibly non-absolutist this approach to morality is. Theists like Prager decry moral relativism and subjectivism. Moral values, they correctly say, are not determined by personal or social opinion, that is, by whim. For example, if a person thinks it’s okay to have sex with children, his opinion doesn’t make the action right. And if a society disapproves of a woman working outside the home, that doesn’t make her action wrong. But what is the religious alternative to personal or social whim?
    Supernatural whim.
[An] indictment of the distinctively religious approach to morality should not be read as an indictment of religious individuals. There are good people who are religious. But they are good despite the religious approach, not because of it. Authoritarianism, even in small doses, never produces positive results.
    Indeed, there exists here a tragedy. Religious ethics undermines our understanding of and dedication to a proper morality. And it does this by means of something good within us: a desire to be moral and to live up to moral principles and standards.
    There is no doubt that ... some of us are attracted to religious teachings because they offer some valuable guidance. We sense that we should comport our lives by reference, not to our internal feelings, but to external fact. When we hear a religious teacher say that we should not murder, or that we should be honest and keep our promises, or that we should live with integrity, the advice makes sense and is welcomed because there are factual reasons to live this way. In today’s non-judgmental, morally agnostic age, religion is one of the few places we can find explicit, sustained discussion of good and evil.
    But by telling us that we must accept such moral advice on faith, our desire to be moral is used against us. The result, in the field of morality, is to slowly incapacitate our rational judgment.
But what about those of us who still desire to be moral?
    We want moral principles that prohibit murder and require honesty and integrity because we sense that these things make sense. But religious morality places these principles into one conceptual package with genuinely irrational rules like: don’t have sex without the possibility of procreation, and love your enemy. According to religion, these all rest on the same thing, faith, and therefore we must accept all of them or none of them.
    So in the name of our desire to be moral, we close our eyes and swallow everything. To be sure, we may cheat on the more irrational of the rules. If someone deliberately injures our friend, for instance, we may demand justice, not mercy. Or, in the bedroom, we may choose to use contraception. But as a result of such cheating and to the extent we take our own moral views seriously, we will experience as a persistent feature of our lives one of the blackest of emotions: moral guilt. And we will be feeling guilty for doing what is in fact reasonable.
    Now you might wonder, why don’t more followers of religious morality try to break apart the package? Why don’t we openly accept the principles of religious morality for which we see reasons, and openly reject the ones for which we don’t? Because, we’re taught, that would be immoral.
    “Who are you to judge?”—religious teachers declare. The field of morality is not the province of reasons, evidence and arguments, it’s the province of faith. In morality, you don’t think or ask questions—like Abraham, you obey.
    The number of intelligent people who believe,... that but for a supernatural stone tablet which happens to say “Don’t murder,” there would be no reason to refrain from killing the innocent, is shocking. But this is what religious morality does to a mind. By blending the rational and the faith-based into one conceptual package, religious morality makes every moral principle a matter of faith

As followers of religious morality, we don’t reason about the matter, gather facts, and carefully apply a principle to decide whether aborting an embryo is murder. We simply await further orders.
There must be a better way. And fortunately, there is. 
A secular morality.
Read on to discover more, and therefore to rediscover morality.

UPDATE: Time to grow up ...

[Cartoon by Paul Kinsella. Hat tip Atheist Republic]


Friday, 4 May 2018

Megan Woods is a thief and a liar

No-Energy Minister Megan Woods claims "the petrol market is not working for motorists" and remains convinced "that people are quite possibly paying over the odds for their petrol when they go to the pump."

This is proof that it is possible to get a true conclusion from wildly idiotic premises.

Because motorists are paying well over the odds for their petrol -- but it's not because the oil companies are gouging. Not a chance. No, it's because this ignorant woman and her colleagues are complete and utter thieves.

Here below is the price breakdown for a litre of petrol as at February this year, showing where the money for every litre goes. The local oil company gets just 21% of that. The government: they take a full 47%!  Forty-seven percent! -- and for doing nothing more than putting the handbrakes on!

And this is before their new 'regional' petrol taxes are whacked right on top.

This does not stop her however for calling for "more power to the Commerce Commission" to make it even harder for petrol companies to make a dollar.

It's quite incredible.

That this ignorant woman can stand up in public and blithely whinge about "people paying over the odds for their petrol when they go to the pump" while knowing (or should know) that she and her colleagues are the very ones with their grubby hands out is ... well, you see if you can put a name to it.

And where are the opposition to call her out? Well clearly they can't, because they've always been part of this rort themselves.

But what about the journalists who allow her to spout this trash unchallenged? Why don't the journalists who ask Woods simpering questions stop passing on her lies, and ask her instead about this double dealing?

About the new petrol taxes to come on top of the taxes they already take?

And about the GST levied on all those taxes, making that particular tax a tax on many other taxes?

There certainly is someone taking us all for fools.

But it's not BP.

She looks like this:

[Prices pic from AA's post 'How petrol prices are calculated']


QotD: The modern regulatory state vs the rule of law

"If the rule of law is defined by the restraint of discretionary power, the modern regulatory system is defined by the exercise of discretionary power."
~ Kennerly Davis, from his article 'May Day? Celebrate Law Day instead'

Thursday, 3 May 2018

QotD: On the Fallacy of Good Intentions

“One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programmes by their intentions rather than their results.”
~ Milton Friedman, from 'Milton Friedman and the Fallacy of Good Intentions'
If there is any lesson in the history of ideas, it is that good intentions tell you nothing about the actual consequences. But intellectuals who generate ideas don’t have to pay the consequences."
~ Thomas Sowell, from his article 'Good intentions, bad results and intellectuals'

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

"What does one do in politics if one has discarded the whole realm of ideas? One fights men." [Repost, with only the names changed]

The #DirtyPolitics saga has begun again, the scotching of rumours by the Police Commissioner this morning serving only to magnify their spread.

But as one twitterer asked: the government has numerous policy failures already. Why not go after those instead of the Prime Minister's partner? Perhaps, I answered (and as I've suggested before), because the policies of this government and the last are so similar, and their loudest critics have so little in the way of ideas, they have little else left to go after.

So, because all that's changed since is a change of the people in government, here's a repost from 2014 with only a few names and tenses changed: The #1 reason for #DirtyPolitics: The Intellectual Aridity of the Centre-Right.

Q: What's the real story here?
The real story here is ideology – or, to be precise, the lack of one.
If there is something that linked Jason Ede, Cactus Kate, Cameron Slater, Carrick Graham and all the others exposed in those emails stolen by Nicky Hager, it was the idea that ideas don’t matter. The same is now true with those spreading baseless political rumours: for them, politics is not about ideas; it is about people.  Our own versus theirs. Ideas don’t matter because, very simply, they don't have any.  
It’s not a battle for ideas, but a battle for scalps. They don’t attack the ideas of their opponents, they attack their opponents' character -- or partners. Thus they are led not to attacking, say, outrages against individual rights committed right out in the open, but to looking for dirt, however risible, that may be found somewhere in the shadows. The triviality of so many of the rumours reveals the level of the horizons of these folk trying to make the world safe for something they call the “centre-right.”
Part of the reason is that there is so little ideologically that divides the so-called “centre-left” and “centre-right” – certainly not at the last election, where either the two major parties as easily signed up to their opponents’ policies as their own, and when the ruling party has done precisely nothing in six years to overturn the flagship policies previously implemented by its opponents.
So when there is no battle of ideologies, all that's left is a battle of attack dogs. Oblivious to the process by which people form ideas, the dogs instead attack individual's scalps – ignoring that such attacks have no power except with those who already share their intellectually barren worldview.
If there is anything at all that links these people to Nixon and his White House Plumbers, it is this disinterest in ideas, and the consequent obsession with dirty tricks. 
Both the President and all the President’s Men who fell with him were ideologically vacant – guided not by ideas but by range of the moment reactions. This was a President who called for polls to decide whether or not to bomb Haiphong harbour, and then waited for the results while his minions worked to skew those very polls. A President whose chief domestic adviser confessed at the Watergate hearings that he should never be considered an “ideas man.” Whose adviser’s lieutenant, John Haldeman, “looked upon himself not as an 'issues' man but as a technician and organiser." 
For what use would ‘issues’ or ideas be to such people? For them, politics wasn’t a battle of ideas at all: it was a battle of warring political tribes. 
Ayn Rand explained these people and these other entities some years ago 
    As a rule, it is an accident whether the smart young intellectual wheeler-dealers .. turn to the Left or to the Right [as they enter politics]… 
It is not a matter of political principles. What principles? Pragmatism has taught them that there are no such things.
But the big dilemma for all the pragmatists of the Right, is: what are they to fight and by what means, if principles are inoperative? Politics is a field in which one deals with ideas and it requires the ability to argue, to discuss, to persuade. 
What does one do in politics if one has discarded the whole realm of ideas? One fights men. 
"One fights men." Just as Team Key’s bloggers did then, and Team Bridges's rumour-mongers do now -- just as Nixon’s young pragmatists did who bungled the burglary that exposed them all. All of them were all too happy to sign up to such a battle. 
Such ‘technicians’ [observed Ayn Rand] would know that one is supposed to fight, at election time. What would be a pragmatist's idea of a fight? Ideas—he has been taught—are impractical, it is only immediate events that count; what is true today, may not be true tomorrow; rigid values are childish, cynical ‘flexibility is mature. People—he has concluded—don't think; people are not interested in ideas, only in scandal, they do not care about the good, only about some sensational exposé of somebody's evil.  
“Thus the younger, more impatient pragmatists would come to believe that bugging, spying, burglary, in pursuit of somebody's scandalous personal secrets, are more effective than years of speechmaking about ‘issues.’ Pragmatism is a philosophy of action, of the ‘now. The mentality of the activists of the Left, becomes, on the Right, the mentality of the Watergate conspirators.”
And of today's rumour-mongers. For them, politics isn’t a battle of ideas; it is a battle of warring political tribes.
And tribalism, as an idea, is busted in every realm except this most odious. 

QotD: On giving 'offence'

“Those who are determined to be ‘offended’ will discover a provocation somewhere. We cannot possibly adjust enough to please the fanatics, and it is degrading to make the attempt.”
~ Christopher Hitchens

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Quote for Mayday: "#Socialism is the opiate of the intellectuals"

"Socialism is the opiate of the intellectuals, apologists for mass murder.
    "Unfortunately, these hallucinating apologists for mass murderers do not suffer their vices alone. They spend their days and years pushing false history and evil ideas on university students, who, by virtue of their youth, have insufficient knowledge with which to counter the lies."

~ Andrew Bernstein, from his article 'The Socialist Holocaust and its American Deniers'

Monday, 30 April 2018

REPOST: "Let them eat monuments!"

Following recent announcement of the multi-billion kind I'm reposting this blog from 2013. Only names and numbers need changing -- the latter drastically upward.

With grand announcements coming thick and fast about bridges, tunnels, stadiums, trams, trains and motorways this Government looks like the family who's just found a bag full of money under the couch. 

And with Christchurch and Auckland Council leaders sitting around nodding as the grand announcements are made, they look very much like the poverty-stricken second cousins who now want to form a closer relationship.

Isn’t that nice for them all.

It’s obviously a big bag –a bag chock full with more than $25 billion—enough to buy $4.8 billion dollars worth of monuments in Christchurch, and $2.86 billion (plus cockups) to buy Len Brown’s train set. That’s on top of the $4 billion already being spent to complete the Western Ring Route, and around $3 to $4 billion for a second harbour crossing.   And on top of the $4.1 billion in debt the Auckland Council already holds on our behalf.

So that’s nearly$20 billion altogether on new monuments, adding to an existing $5 billion of Auckland and Christchurch council debt. (Not to mention the massive $58 billion the government already owes on our behalf.)

And of course, they won’t be paid for with a bag full of money they found under the couch.  They will be paid for with bags full of money they’re going to extract from your pocket. (Probably with a petrol tax and a higher rates bill.)

And with just 1 million taxpayers in the country (virtually all of them outside Wellington) at current estimates that’s a tab of around $20,000 each.

What could you have done with your $20,000? 

Or with all the engorgement of construction materials that this monumental spend-up is going to suck out of building other things—like houses?

You might think all the monuments are worth it. You might think they will make the cities more liveable (which is the argument being made about the Auckland Monuments). You might think it will add to cities’ prestige (which is virtually all the argument that exists about the build-them-and-they-will-come Christchurch monuments). But whatever you think, for or against, you’re going to be paying for them anyway. And the “prestige” of the projects will fall like manna from heaven on the head and shoulders of your autocratic leaders.

So it has always been.
One may see in certain biblical movies [writes Ayn Rand] a graphic image of the meaning of public monument building: the building of the pyramids. Hordes of starved, ragged, emaciated men straining the last effort of their inadequate muscles at the inhuman task of pulling the ropes that drag large chunks of stone, straining like tortured beasts of burden under the whips of overseers, collapsing on the job and dying in the desert sands—that a dead Pharaoh might lie in an imposingly senseless structure and thus gain eternal "prestige" in the eyes of the unborn of future generations. 
    Temples and palaces are the only monuments left of mankind's early civilisations. They were created by the same means and at the same price—a price not justified by the fact that primitive peoples undoubtedly believed, while dying of starvation and exhaustion, that the "prestige" of their tribe, their rulers or their gods was of value to them somehow. 
    Rome fell, bankrupted by statist controls and taxation, while its emperors were building coliseums [ to deliver bread and circuses]. Louis XIV of France taxed his people into a state of indigence, while he built the palace of Versailles for his contemporary monarchs to envy and for modern tourists to visit. [Meanwhile, as the bread in the kingdom dwindled, his queen Antoinette was advising her subjects’ rulers to “Let them eat cake.”]
And now, in a New Zealand already mired in debt, we’re going to tax ourselves further into penury to make ourselves believe we’re making our cities liveable.

Do any of these political leaders really believe anything they say about making cities affordable? Or are they just privately saying about us proles: "Let them eat monuments."

QotD: "Democracy is ... "

"Democracy is the theory that the common people know 
what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard."

~ H. L. Mencken

Friday, 27 April 2018

On the death of silence

“…the greatest menace to our capacity for contemplation is the incessant fabrication of tawdry empty stimuli which kill the receptivity of the soul.”
~ Josef Pieper
"Man is not even aware of the loss of silence: so much is the space formerly occupied by the silence so full of things that nothing seems to be missing. But where formerly the silence lay on a thing, now one thing lies on another. Where formerly an idea was covered by the silence, now a thousand associations speed along to it and bury it. In this world of today in which everything is reckoned in terms of immediate profit, there is no place for silence. Silence was expelled because it was unproductive, because it merely existed and seemed to have no purpose. Almost the only kind of silence that there is today is due to the loss of the faculty of speech. It is purely negative: the absence of speech. It is merely like a technical hitch in the continuous flow of noise."
~ Max Picard

Thursday, 26 April 2018

"'Jumping through hoops' is pushing up building costs" [updated]

I was heartened this morning to hear Radio NZ report that "'jumping through hoops' is pushing up building costs" -- not about the hoops, and certainly not about the costs they're imposing, but because this is finally being reported as a headline item.
Fire engineers are accusing councils of making illegal demands on them that are inflating building costs by thousands of dollars... "I've become totally used to how bad it is, I'm sort of numb to it, it's just a bureaucratic nightmare right now," Wellington fire engineer Kenneth Crawford of Pacific Consultants said. "We've got so many demands coming from council ... it's pushed up costs, it's creating months and months of delays in obtaining a building consent, and none of this is actually really improving safety." A fire design on a small warehouse in 2013 that might have cost $1200 to $1500 was now costing at least $4000, and up to $20,000, he said.
Sadly, as anyone who's recently endured the consent process could tell you, it's not confined to fire engineers.

The Building Act requires council to process Building Consent applications within twenty working days of being lodged. Council have two dodges to get around this. The first is to set up a process to decide when the application has been successfully lodged. This can easily take two weeks, with no work at all done n processing. And the second -- based on he principle that "the clock stops" when questions about the project are asked -- is to ask as many silly questions as council processors can think of, all of them calculated to show down the processing and frustrate client, consultants and designers. [This 2013 table from Christchurch will give you some idea of the time 'saved' in this way.]

In recent months, for example, and like every regular applicant for building consents, I've spent many, many hours replying to council's Requests for Further Information (RFIs). These days it's often less about being a designer than it is about being a lawyer, explaining the building code clauses to the processor at the other end of an email.

The simplest RFI responses are to tell the questioner where precisely in the document set they can find the answer to their question, already addressed. But in recent months it's been getting worse. Among other things, in order to keep things moving I've been required to tell council the make and model of a shower and the finish of a bathroom cabinet; the colour of bedroom carpets (accompanied by a calculation to show they're bright enough); the normal process by which to pour a concrete footing in engineered soil, to abandon approved details because the territorial authority has decided they don't like them, and to replace them with those they've now decided they do; to discuss the acoustics of polystyrene sheets (that are not being used for acoustic purposes); to resupply calculations and statements that the processor has already received, but lost; to explain why handrails are not required on steps with fewer than two treads, and how an opening window into an open lightwell allows light and air into a room; to draw up a list of a project's "construction and demolition hazards"; to provide mechanical ventilation rates for areas we've shown will use natural ventilation; to draw up simple diagrams because processors are unable to read fairly standard plans; to confirm the use of smoke detectors (when they've already been clearly placed and labelled on drawings); and (in the absence of council finding anything else to ask about) to draw a detail of a bathroom splashback -- just some examples of recent Requests from processors, all of which have wasted my time and theirs, unnecessarily dragging out the consenting process, and all at the time and expense of clients who were once very eager to build.

I'm sure you can all add your own list of examples. (And please do!)

This process is often worse when councils sublet the processing to a consultant, whose motivation is then to spin out the questions in order to pad the bill. This can work out very nicely for the very average consultant, but very poorly for clients who have budgets and builders trying to programme in their work.

And all this of course is in addition to the truckload of documentation, in triplicate, that has to be supplied just to 'get in the door' to make that original application, the sheer volume of which in itself delays the processing and all but guarantees inconsistencies will appear in the document set. By way of illustration, I may be renovating a house built in the 1920s, of a style that is still very popular, the original drawings of which are on one A4 page with another smaller page containing what might be called the specification -- which might say little more than 'use nails.' And this 'document set' was probably drawn up by either the builder or owner. Yet to renovate that house now I will need documentation of around 24 A1 pages, and A4 specifications and accompanying documentation of around a thousand. And neither builder nor owner will be allowed to prepare those documents unless they have been previously Licensed by a government department to do so.

Every year it's been getting worse, without making the houses any better. In 2007, for instance -- aware that things were becoming more complicated in this new age of Licensing, Producer Statements and Memoranda/Certificates of Design Work-- the Department of Building and Housing produced a Guide to Applying for a Building Consent. It was a 44 pages long. The second edition appeared just three years later. It was already 62 pages long. None has appeared since: perhaps because no-one would have the time to read a document as long as it would now need to be. Crikey, these days it takes well over a day just to complete the application forms and processes to apply for a consent, and more than a day for every response thereafter.  All of it time wasted.

Every consultant will tell you similar stories, and not just fire engineers.

Yes, 'jumping through hoops' is pushing up building costs, and has been for some time.

Until or unless the Building Act is amended to remove risk from council -- and their ratepayers -- the hoops (and costs) are going to get worse, not better.


From Radio NZ the morning after:
The impact of everyone trying to pass all the risk on, was it was getting harder to build anything at a time of housing shortages, the Property Council's chief executive Connal Townsend said.

"The overall public policy setting of how the heck we manage risk, is completely out of whack," he said.

"We've just got people passing the ticking timebomb from one hand to another and blaming each other. It's pointless.

"We have to tackle the way risk is allocated and the fact that councils are left carrying the liability is just hopeless, absolutely hopeless."

The previous government tried hard to fix the problem [cough, cough - Ed.] but couldn't, and it was urgent this government confront it, he said.

The risk issue was a perverse result of building laws being overhauled in 2004 to combat the leaky building crisis.

Lawyers, including the Law Commission in a 2014 report, have since then resisted changing the way liability is doled out.

"The net effect of our joint-and-several system is that councils are left carrying the can," Mr Townsend said.

"This story with the fire engineers, all they've done is blown the whistle on a ridiculous problem that has to be solved."


"Man, too, is no less a feature of the landscape than the nature to which he owes his being.”

“Man takes a positive hand in creation whenever he puts a building upon the earth beneath the sun. If he has any birthright at all, it must consist in this, that he, too, is no less a feature of the landscape than the rocks, trees, bears or bees of that nature to which he owes his being.”
~ Frank Lloyd Wright, 1937

[Top pic of Frank Lloyd Wright's 'Fallingwater,' by photographer Andrew Pielage; bottom pic of Frank Lloyd Wright's 'Tirranna' House, by Houlihan Lawrence via Cottage and Garden]