Monday, September 08, 2014

Phil Goff unlawfully delayed an OIA request

NoRightTurn notes that Phil Goff has admitted on oath to unlawfully delaying an OIA request. As NoRightTurn states this is a breach of his responsibilities and makes it clear that he is "unfit to hold office and should never be allowed to control an OIA process ever again." This fits in with my Dirty Politics theme - this is the sort of behavior that should see politicians regularly being sacked from parliament as examples to the rest that they need to be on their very best behavior whilst using our money and wielding the power of the state..

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Epsom voters

Interesting how people run around telling people what should or needs to happen as if they share the same objectives as the person they are talking to. National and its supporters are telling Epsom to vote for ACT.

 From the PM : "For the electorate vote, we will encourage National party supporters to give their electorate vote to the ACT candidate in Epsom" An Epsom voter can indeed strengthen the right block marginally by voting for ACT.

But that assumes two things that it will make a difference to the short term outcome and that outcome is the key thing that the voters care about. For an Epsom voter - these value judgements are quite likely to hold

conservative/national > act/national (where conservatives get over 5% and national needs an extra seat)

 national > national/ACT (where national gets enough to govern by itself) 

and long term no ACT > ACT (in order for the votes to go to national and for their socially liberal policies to be suppressed)

The scenario that voting ACT matters for who becomes prime minister is quite a marginal one where ACT probable 1 extra seat is the swing vote that either gets Nat.NZ1st/UF over the line (very unlikely) or gets Nat/UF/ACT over the line and NZ first refuses to deal with national (very unlikely).

An Epsom voter could well vote in order to keep NZ first out of that coalition and get ACT in - but it isn't clear that they would prefer liberal ACT over conservative NZ first.

The remaining possibility that the media and politicians like to emphasis (NZfirst/labour/green/IMP coalition) seems pretty unlikely as we need both a balance of seats such that the left block wins by 1 seat and also, NZfirst decide to support this unstable coalition as opposed to a stable one of the right with a single party to negotiate with. that would be very strange strategy by Winston Peters. Even beyond that he risks his party being punished in the next election for some fairly inevitable infighting.

So in the end I think an Epsom voter can quite rationally vote for goldsmith. As to what will actually happen - ACT has another problem - Epsom voters don't know Seymore's name and that is very bad for politicians. When they go into the voting booth quite a few will not see a name they recognize besides Goldsmith and will put down 2 ticks blue...

I'm not sure what else national is doing to cripple it's candidate in Epsom - But they will need to put in even more effort than last time to ensure a loss.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Obama recruits 9 useless allies to help in the battle against ISIS

Obama recruits 9 allies to help in the battle against ISIS But in the end there is no point having allies in far off countries who will only give you a bit of moral support and maybe a few weapons which aren't as good as yours anyway... There are two key additional allies* the USA needs if they want to beat ISIS. 1) Iran 2) Syria They may have crazy administrations - but not nearly as crazy as ISIS and not really dangerous to the USA. It is time to bite the bullet and accept they are the lesser evil. * aside from the Kurds and the remainder of the Iraqi administration.

Dirty Politics

First - is new Zealand Politics dirty? Well not by international standards. I've been in countries with dirty politics and by those standards our politics is clean as a whistle. Complaining about Judith Colins visiting a Milk company in china is nothing compared to billions of dollars of money being stolen via some sort of corrupt use of government contracts. But that does not mean we should not take action against it.

For all the posturing of politicians no one seems to seriously propose anything that could really put a dent in corrupt or dirty politics. Maybe that is just so that they can say they would do something and when they get into power they can abuse the system like everyone else did before them. But if there were to propose something that would help what would that be?

I know all these systems exist to an extent in NZ, but if we still don't trust our politicians (and we don't) that means we can go further.

What we would want to see would be 

1) Additional rules governing how politicians should act
For example that a member of parliament should not be able to engage in certain activities, or should have to give up certain information if requested.A politicians ethical standards need to be held to a much higher standard than any other job.

2) strengthen an impartial body to investigate such rules
For example you could have a branch of the police given the role of investigating parliament and the power to do so and protections against political interference. Investigation of corruption of the political system needs to be absolutely independent and have great powers within it's scope.

3) Strengthen consequences for breaching such rules that are real deterants
For example in Thailand the courts have the power to disband political parties. You could have other sanctions - and I would like to see them being used regularly - regular use of such powers indicates the incentive is real not just imaginary.

4) Strengthen methods for gathering the information
for example strengthening the OIA act, making it harder for politicians to interfere and making it much harder to say information is private. I believe with great power comes great responsibility and the requirement for great supervision. We could also create a system where key media representatives are "trusted' to trawl through data and not reveal sensitive information.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Recipe for a Rock Star Economy.

Recipe for a Rock Star Economy.

In the private sector when you come in as a CEO there is a certain policy all good CEO's should follow. you find any reason you can to write off assets and blame the loss on others. Often this will take the form of realizing losses on an investment or a project that was started by your predecessor. But what if you could do even better - what if you could also borrow billions of dollars to spend on fixing all those problems and write that off too? What if you were also your own customer and you could make money off that extra activity and claim it as an increased profit?

So now we come to the NZ economy.
We write of billions of dollars of assets in an earthquake, and then write off billions of dollars in investment to repair that damage.
Now we pump that investment back into the economy as a stimulus.Under normal circumstances this would cause the economy to grow at quite a high rate (in fact overheat) in a particularly bad economy it might jsut stave off recession.

With this growth you get more taxes (all else being equal) and makes "surpluses" easier. But surplus needs to be put in quotation marks because it is a lie - in reality you are running massive deficits to prop up a stimulus program - it is just you are using an accounting trick to hide it.

I hate politicians trying to play me for a fool.


I thought I would write up some of my thoughts on Policies. Generally speaking I support fiscal conservatism.
I think that governments tend to spend too much on keeping interest groups happy because those that are interested in the issue care a lot and those that are not don't think about it. So it is an easy win for the government to 'bribe' that group and construct a weak argument for why it was required. HOWEVER this does not mean that I think that we should cut government spending just for the sake of it. I also believe the government can be good at providing some services with the appropriate systems in place.

 1) Tax
I think tax should be set to a rate that in the long term pays for all your spending. Being very careful with spending will help to keep those tax rates down.

In principle like taxes on capital and on spending instead of taxes on income because taxes are disincentives and I don't want to discourage income. So on the tax balance I support labour except in that I think the family home should not be exempted.

Simple taxes are better - and only the rich half of the country has a home anyway, so not taxing the family home created an odd tax structure where the wealthier people get to avoid tax. I think that there are perversions in the tax system that encourage forming of trusts, putting assets in the hands of businesses and so forth. I think this can be simplified to stop this by getting the IRD to proactively look for accountants advertising tax loopholes - and close those loopholes via legislation.

I am not sure exactly what all of this would result in but I suspect a tax cut. I would tend to take any tax cut off the bottom and add tax increases on the top as I thin that top tax rates are a less significant disincentive than lower ones due to the marginal value of money at those incomes.

2) Dirty Politics
I believe with great power comes great responsibility and beyond that I propose great supervision. Politicians rights to privacy are fundamentally less than our own and checks and balances should be in place. Fundamentally I trust professional bureaucrats who rise to their positions through the system more than elected politicians that just happen to get control of a portfolio. Politicians should face checks and balances so strict that they regularly get caught and expelled from government and where applicable face criminal sanctions. And this may include laws that are specific only to politicians (like possibly an obligation to share certain types of information with the leaders of opposition parties).

I suppose in this regard I might support NZfirst although I would want far more than I am sure Peters would ever support.

3) Defense spending / Spying
I think most defense spending is like our old air force and the tank army in the USA. They are not suited for any plausible useage. The NZ military should decide what are the likely uses (peacekeeping, self defense etc) and allocate resources just to doing these jobs well.

Even within these categories we should be careful, for example I would be reluctant to commit NZ forces overseas unless there was a compelling reason.

I am wary of the NZ spy agency becoming to active in things that are not actually national security concerns. I believe the terrorist threat in NZ is low. I think the statistics support that. I also think that pedophiles are not a national security issue - they are a police issue. I suspect that the SIS actual does almost nothing that is really a national security matter and thus is probably vastly over funded.

4)Superannuation I would raise the superannuation rate quite rapidly - simply in the long run it is unaffordable and if there is a problem with policy it should be fixed as soon as possible. I would also be tempted to simply replace it with a sort of unemployment/sickness benefit.

5) Drugs and other substances
Generally I am in support of legalizing and taxing things rather than making them illegal. I could support taxes on things like sugar and additional taxes on alcohol if they can be shown to clearly be a net benefit.

6) Canterbury Earthquake
I think private insurance is proving to be an inefficient way to deal with a crisis like this. It seems like the system would work better if everything was more proactively and collectively managed.

7)Referendum to change the flag A useless waste of money

8) Maori language in schools It can be an option, but I put it on a similar level to having a class on the northern Scottish accent. In regard to how learning new languages helps the brain - I would far prefer Chinese in schools. In regard to the argument that it supports our national identity I think that is to emulate an undesirable part of the USA. We should not try to teach Nationalism in school for the sake of Nationalism, if NZ is good we should see it as being good for good reasons (like our human rights) not just any reason.

9) Housing/Insurance
The labour plan for having a state agency for building housing sounds like it might work or it could flop if it gets too politically influenced. Building houses in NZ appears to be very inefficient. the Labour plan for a state insurance company might also work in the same way kiwi bank appears to have worked.

10) Education
I suppose I would redesign the education system but in the first instance I prefer Nationals policies of national standards and charter schools and larger classes with better teachers. I see a huge gap between the best and the worst teachers. I would tend to want to increase education funding - as the primary level I would want to encourage more dynamic learning strategies. But I would also want to focus university spending on courses like engineering which pay for them selves when the graduates enter the economy.

11) Energy
I would be tempted to quite severely curtail the retail energy market which seems to be a lot of people spending a lot of time not actually providing anything. The labour policy of a single buyer could be a good start.

12) Asset sales
Generally I oppose selling profitable assets, profits are generally better than taxes. And of course unprofitable assets are hard to sell. 

13) Unemployment
I would simplify how the unemployment system works to cut bureaucracy costs. The current system seem to be relatively easy for those that abuse it and too hard for some that are honestly trying to use it for the purpose for which it is intended. This is because we are working so hard to create threats to cut off benefits to get people into work - but still want to protect everyone's rights to not be without the necessities. I think the real gains are to be achieve in the other side of the equation "employment".

14) Employment
I think the private employment agencies are deeply inefficient - I suggest that the state get seriously into employment, keeping reliable and detailed records of employment history for its clients, matching that data to census records drivers licenses, IRD returns and other resources and working to match the individuals efficiently with employers. I acknowledge there are certain privacy issues with this model but there will be a huge gain in efficiency. you could for example now trust your employment agent to give you candidates where the agency knows their detailed work history and can verify the CV. You can also get a fair picture of if that person is seriously seeking work and if they are fit for work at all. Currently some of this work is done by Work and Income - but my model would be like a full fledged employment agency.

15) Immigration Immigrants should generally speaking add to the GDP per capita of the country. If they don't (for example a person coming in to work for a low income job) then I would be reluctant to allow them in even if the industry indicates there is a job shortage. I know that for example the fruit picking industry always says they have a shortage of fruit pickers. But it overs our average GDP per capita for a foreign worker to come to NZ to work and then to settle here just like it raises our GDP per capita for a billionaire to come here and start a business.

16)Foreign land ownership
I don't mind this in principle but I also like the idea of leases. Selling NZ land on a 99 year lease like they have in China (I think) sounds like a reasonable option. What this does is allows the government to play the 'long game' vs the general economy that doesn't think in terms of 99 year plans.

17) Roads /Rail
If a project pays for itself - you should do it. So this is a matter of getting an appropriately independent expert to determine which projects do this.

18) Resource Management Act
Generally I would weaken this as it seems to stand in the way of public goods and also in the way of some private freedoms.

19) Local government
I would severely weaken the local governments ability to prevent people from building on their properties. Local areas always have an incentive to prevent development in order to prop up the prices of their property by keeping supply low. But in reality many modern NZders are fine with high density living. Also over the years Local government expenditure has greatly increased and it is probably time to bring some services back to government and to rein in inefficiencies.

20) Foreign Policy I think aid often ends up funding corruption so I would want to re-evaluate everything. Those pacific islands that we used to control and are now independent should not have any special status regarding access to NZ or regarding aid from NZ and their applications can be dealt with on their merit. I don't think buying the support of island nations for their vote in the UN is of much real value to NZ even if our politicians might find it useful so I don't think we need to be part of that game.

21) Law and order I understand the police are currently a little underfunded, so they should receive a funding boost. I think the costs can be easily saved in the legal side by using a more inquisitorial approach and also simplifying a lot of laws and truncation the amount of time spent in court per case as a lot of time appears to be wasted.

In general I would look to simplify laws - laws should be designed to achieve the best possible outcomes but should also be as simple and as understandable as possible.

22) Health Assess health policies like pharmac assesses medicine. If they provide good cost benefit ratios then implement them. I am also in favor of spending more early on to prevent costs later but everything should be run efficiently. Ideally a Health system should consider the policies that will create the greatest number of healthy living years to the population. So for example one might de-prioritise an operation to save a 90 year old from cancer in favor of one to save a 2 year old from cancer and the system should do this without any shame. Similarly the government should not spend 1 million saving 1 life if it is unwilling to spend 800,000 saving a life. It is no excuse to just "not consider" the second person and pretend you are making the optimum choice by denying yourself the choice as the system might do.

The ambulance system for example appears to need more funding.

23) Environment
wherever possible internalize externalities. So if a company pollutes a river make sure they pay the amount required to offset the full costs.However I don't like hard and fast rules about protecting things - it is always a matter of balancing costs and advantages.
I don't think that we can save the world by ourselves in terms of global warming and while i am confident it exists - I think that some of the arguments about it are a bit alarmist.

24) Charities
I think charities tax exempted status should be removed. Being tax exempt implies that it is a way you can spend the governments tax dollars as if you can do that better than the state. that is possible but not necessarily true. For example donating to the Scientology church might not be considered a good use of money by anyone who is not a Scientologist.

The charity could ask for that tax back (and maybe more) if it can prove it is really doing a useful service.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

NZ election

A New Election is coming up. So first things first - predictions. National to win with NZfirst supporting them.

 Same prediction I have had for the last year or two.

 It will be very interesting to see what Dotcom comes up with in his presentation - but in the end (unless it is incredible) - there are some basic principles underlying what is going on here.

1) The key (potential) swing voters can't stand the Greens and dislike the idea of a complex coalition. These voters are the type of person that (in their male incarnation) quite like Shane Jones (although he would have been a bit of a loose cannon). They believe in common sense and they want Jobs over protecting the environment and they want policies that are firm with the unemployed and the criminal to provide the right incentives. they also want their government to be careful with their money and they may not particularly like unions.

2) Further to the above the Key swing party (NZfirst) also doesn't like the greens. This makes forming a left leaning mega coalition rather difficult. It would be far easier to just negotiate with the largest party.

3) Labour can't do the things they should know they need to do to win. First labour has a lot of activists who are on the left of the party in many respects, or are on the left in regard to their own section of labour policy. In particular they have to stay onside with unions and they can't distance themselves from the greens. Even if the political advisors knows that this is what it would take to win they cant turn their ship as easily as national can. And now - in making their party more democratic, labor finds it has made itself even less able to win elections than they already were.

4) Regardless, the national political machine is much more professional and talented at the game. Of course the Dirty politics scandal shows that they can sometimes get a little impressed by their own abilities - but in the end National is still well in control.