Saturday, November 06, 2010

Smoking - the sensible and the stupid

The Dutch are sensible people. Their blanket ban on smoking in bars has been amended. Now if the bar is owner-operated with no other staff and no bigger than 70 sqm then people can once more enjoy their cigarettes. And whatever else they legally buy I assume.

So nobody is unwillingly exposed to second hand smoke. And the private property rights of the bar owner are restored.

Interesting that the fight isn't over after all. I imagine it is quite on the cards that other European countries will follow suit.

Yet here, a country with an abysmal over-abundance of neurotic numbskulls, the insane campaign to make NZ smoke-free rolls on. A thought on that for the anti-tobacco zealots. If smoking tobacco was outlawed we will all pay more tax to a/ compensate for the $1 billion plus the government currently takes on tobacco and b/ through the increased mortality and extra ageing costs of newly complying non-smokers and c/ through policing the crime that the tobacco black market will create.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Can America change direction?

Readers of this blog know that I am not given to writing about 'warm fuzzies'. But I have got the warm fuzzies a couple of times in the last two days over the really big stuff. The whole- world- changing stuff. Not just nearest and dearest.

They have occurred over what is happening in the US. Listening to some victorious guy speaking earnestly and genuinely about America having spoken and America having said it wants smaller government. I mean, can you even begin to imagine a similar expression in this country?

And it happened again when I read the Cato Institute's David Boaz advice for the incomers. I will paraphrase it. No. On second thoughts here's the whole thing. It's not long;

GOP Won on Economy, So Focus on It

by David Boaz

David Boaz is executive vice president of the Cato Institute. He is a co-author, with David Kirby, of the study "The Libertarian Vote in the Age of Obama".

It always feels great to win an election. But the real job for fiscal conservatives and smaller-government advocates starts now.

The usual pattern is that after the election, voters and the activists go back to their normal lives, but organized interests redouble their efforts to influence policymakers. The people who want something from government hire lobbyists, make political contributions and otherwise do all they can to get their hands on taxpayers' money. Meanwhile, the average taxpayer cannot be expected to exert influence on each particular spending bill.

Tea partiers must change that pattern. They must keep up the pressure on Congress and state legislators. They must demand actual performance, not just promises. To keep momentum going, tea partiers should also insist that Republicans stay focused on the economic agenda that created their winning coalition, and not get bogged down in divisive social issues, which will split the movement and alienate independents.

Meanwhile, victorious Republicans must demonstrate to voters that they're serious — finally — about more freedom and less government. They destroyed the Reaganite Republican brand during the Bush years. It's harder to rebuild a brand than to destroy it. But the backlash against the Barack Obama- Harry Reid- Nancy Pelosi big-government agenda has given them another chance.

House Republicans should:

Get serious about spending cuts. Annual federal spending rose by a trillion dollars under President George W. Bush — before the gusher of spending when the financial crisis hit. Bush became the biggest spender since President Lyndon B. Johnson funded the Great Society and the Vietnam War.

But Bush didn't hold that title long. Spending is now twice as large as when Bush became president, and annual deficits are more than a trillion dollars. This is Greek-style fiscal policy. All the Republicans have been promising to get spending under control, but they have adamantly avoided specifics. Now the rubber meets the road. The House must find real cuts that can reduce overall spending and lead to a balanced budget.

Start rolling back the health care overhaul. The voters didn't like Obamacare when it passed. Contrary to lots of predictions, they still don't like it. Republicans pledged to repeal it, and should keep their promise to voters. But, of course, the Senate and the president aren't likely to go along with a repeal bill. So the House should refuse to appropriate money to implement the bill's provisions, and prohibit the Department of Health and Human Services from spending any money to implement the bill's worst provisions — especially the individual mandate.

Prevent the looming tax increase. Under current law, taxes on capital gains, dividends and everyone's income will rise on Jan. 1, 2011. Congress needs to block this looming tax increase, preferably in any lame duck session, otherwise in early January. The prospect of higher taxes is likely to discourage spending and especially investment.

Take a hard look at the war on drugs. To drug warriors, nine years is a blink of an eye. They've been at it since 1914. Thanks to their efforts, only 119 million Americans have used illegal drugs, and only 22 million Americans use them at least once a month. Meanwhile, the violence generated by prohibition is tearing Mexico apart and spilling over the border to the U.S. Southwest. Legalizing drugs, according to a new Cato study, would save roughly $41.3 billion per year in government expenditure on prohibition enforcement. If it can't just end this failed policy, Congress should appoint a blue-ribbon commission to study alternatives to prohibition.

Stand up to special interests. As noted, the moment the polls close, the organized interest groups descend on the new members of Congress. From pharma to farmers, from oil companies to the Social Security/Medicare lobbyists, everybody wants to pay off a campaign debt and take a senator to a game at the Verizon Center. Republicans — and Democrats — need to show some virtue and resist these organized interest groups. The country's overriding interest is to reduce spending, the deficit and the national debt. That means keeping a comfortable distance between lobbyists and the public trough. One tactic might be for the House to pass a continuing resolution to fund agencies at 90 percent of current spending, bypassing the notoriously porcine appropriations subcommittees.

Avoid social issues. When the Bush Republicans spent too much time on issues like the gay marriage ban and the Terri Schiavo intervention, they alienated suburban and professional women, college graduates, young people, libertarians and independents — overlapping groups, of course. And they lost two elections. After 2008, they seem to have learned their lesson. Even in the face of several states instituting marriage equality, Republicans kept their focus squarely on overspending, health care and big-government overreach — issues that united opponents of the Obama agenda.

They shouldn't blow it now. They should stick to the economic issues that won them this election and avoid the divisive social issues that cost them 2006 and 2008.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Differing measures of unemployment

The Household Labourforce Survey has unemployment for September at 6.4 percent, down from 6.8 percent (revised figure) in June 2010.

The number on the unemployment benefit however was 65,281 in September, up from 62,085 in June 2010.

Which reminds me, another unemployment measurement, the Census will occur next March so there will be a chance to see how closely the HLFS data and Census match.

Last Census (2006) said 3.4 percent whereas the HLFS said 3.9 percent. Considering the HLFS is a survey of only 15,000 households versus a survey of probably one hundred times that number the results are fairly close.

(People tend not to lie to census takers about being unemployed. Some do however lie about being or having been on the DPB.)

2025 Taskforce - illustrations of decline

Two graphs from the latest Taskforce 2025 Report.

Figure 1: GDP per capita relative to the OECD, 1970 - 2008

Figure 1.2: Net emigration to Australia and the income gap

An the NZ Herald reports;

New Zealand will lose another 400,000 people to Australia over the next 15 years, based on current projections of the income gap between the two countries, the 2025 taskforce says.

Dr Brash says that we can catch Australia, but.....

The 'but' is government.

Finance Minister Bill English said the Government would consider some of the taskforce's ideas, but disagreed with the report's authors on the ideal speed of the reform.

"History shows that reforms done at breakneck speed tend to be fairly counterproductive," he said.

"If you don't take the time to convince people of the benefits of change there's a good chance the next government will simply reverse them."

But while governments continue to procrastinate, those who would support reforms are buggering off. I just can't see an economically bright future for the country.

National has to put up reforms as policy next year and get a mandate to make them. If they won't there is no point to the party as a government.

Hell. I have never voted National in my life but if they put up some decent policy based on the report recommendations, I would. Honestly.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

I don't do Facebook

I don't do Facebook. Yes, it is a failure on my part to make the most of modern communication but I already spend too much time in front of the computer screen. During the 2008 election campaign a page was made for me so I have a presence there but have no idea how it all works. But I wanted to say thank you to those people who left happy birthday messages yesterday. I really appreciate it. I had a great day with dinner prepared (and only the oven needing turning on) by 9am, then some time in the sun with my daughter and other school kids learning how to hit a golf ball, and the rest with my rear end parked in front of the tele, my laptop on my knee and tuned into the TAB website. Bliss.

Back to work this morning.

The Social Report 2010

The latest Social Report has just been released by the Ministry of Social Development. It is full of data about incomes, health, social connectedness etc.

The following graph summarises trends by comparing 1995/97 to 2007/09. If the marker has moved towards the centre that particular indicator has worsened eg obesity has worsened, voter turnout has dropped and housing affordability has decreased. On the positive side, with the marker moving away from the centre, road deaths have improved (declined), suicide has declined as has cigarette smoking. Some indicators that show as positive are somewhat debatable I think. Higher participation in tertiary education and local content of TV for instance. Is more of either necessarily an improvement?

Much of the info is a rehash from earlier reports awaiting updating through other surveys or the next census. Overall it paints a fairly positive picture of New Zealand which seems somewhat at odds with the way life is portrayed in the media or by various groups. For example hazardous drinking is unchanged yet we are constantly bombarded by claims that it has worsened markedly. And the road toll has become an obsession yet it is improving. This happens because hysteria sells and thousands of people have livelihoods that rely on the preservation of industries that revolve around 'poverty' or 'obesity' or being 'anti-alcohol' or 'anti-tobacco'.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Melbourne Cup - Have you made your choice yet?

This is my pick for the Cup. Descarado.

And I have boxed him with So You Think, Americaine and Shocking in trifectas.

Then I might put a sentimental dollar on the Matamata trained roughie Red Ruler whose name I wrote in my blackbook a couple of years ago but has unsuccessfully soaked up too many of my 'investment' dollars since.

Gambling tracked by Australia's Work and Income equivalent

On a day when I wake up thinking about gambling - what is the state of the Flemington track like today - I was initially nonplussed by the following story:

HUNDREDS of thousands of elderly Australians playing poker machines could see their pensions cut after wins as smartcards are introduced to track gambling habits.

Centrelink has already used data tracked from pensioners using swipe cards at major casinos to count wins - and losses - as earnings, and demanded repayment.

Notwithstanding that anything the Aussies do could soon come to a store near you, the difference is that the Australian state pension is means-tested. Centrelink treats money spent on gambling as 'income'. But they also treat winnings as income. Which is patently stupid. Because most gamblers will re-invest winnings hoping to make more. That's how they get into deep schtuck. A gambler could have enormous 'income' yet have lost the lot.

Now their IRD equivalent wants the information from Centrelink as well. Very big brotherish.

Means-testing has it's merits if you support the welfare state because it allows so-called genuine need to be targeted. New Zealand adopts the universality approach as being fairer. But I refer to retirement pensions only.

Working age benefits are means-tested. Will Work and Income eventually introduce smartcards which can track the use of benefit money to gamble? Wouldn't be surprised.

I would oppose such a regime. The welfare reform I want would involve making the eligibility for state support much tighter. But where cash is provided (which could be reduced considerably if NZ did more in-kind assistance) there should be privacy about how it is used.

Monday, November 01, 2010

"All these foreigners"

Winston Smith has found the perfect candidate to head up the NZ First youth wing:

“See that Polish Pizza guy it’s the likes of him that’s stealing all the jobs of young British workers like me. I don’t agree with all these foreigners coming over here taking our jobs. It’s just not right. What do you think of it Winston?”

What I really think is that the Eastern European should be allowed to stay and that Mike should be stripped of his rights as a citizen and deported to an uninhabitated rock in the outer Hebrides. However, I don't say this as I have been trained to view Mike as a vulnerable victim who is at risk of becoming homeless.


Judith Collins calls WINZ loans "PC nonsense"

Work and Income make loans to people to get limited licences for the purpose of work.

Acting Social Development minister, Judith Collins, calls it "PC nonsense".

But if the practice ends the taxpayer will be expected to provide a benefit, which is not repayable, to support these people while they are out of work.

I think I prefer the "PC nonsense".

Of course the real issue is paying people benefits when they have actively caused their own inability to work.

That might better fit under the heading of PC nonsense.

In the past people who had broken laws, or who had drunk themselves into an unemployable state for instance, would have been ruled ineligible for social security payments. Perhaps that's the direction Crusher Collins thinks society should head in.

Should, for example, people who have committed an imprisonable offence be automatically disqualified from receiving benefits? Parliament has been consumed by the idea that prisoners should lose the right to vote. But the first question, whether they should lose their right to welfare, is far more important. It is also far more difficult.

If such restrictions were imposed, those who had no entitlement would be reliant on charities and churches (or wouldn't put themselves in that position in the first place). I like to think the latter would be the case but history tells us otherwise.

And one gets the impression that people like Judith Collins would have no truck with charities that practised "PC nonsense". That would go for many New Zealanders.

How I wish I could see things in such black and white terms.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Saving the wildlife

Some Einstein made the following comment on yesterday's post;

Skinks, geckos, birds and more. For crying out loud get rid of your cat and give the wildlife a fair go.

But if I "get rid" of Tom there are three more. And 2 more next door and 2 more just up the road from them. And two more directly across the road....

Yet our "wildlife", especially the birds, seems to thrive. Perhaps that is because the cats keep the rats, the bigger threat, in check.