Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Arbitrary Justice in New Zealand

An article on the Fairfax Media website yesterday reported that the New Zealand Police had seized over a million dollars of assets from a gang leader that were allegedly the proceeds of crimes for which the Police had not been able to gain a conviction. This struck me as an example of how far our legal system had departed from the principles on which our law was founded.

The Police investigated and prosecuted a gang leader for money laundering, presumably (although the article does not specifically say) in relation to the proceeds of illegal drug sales. They failed to gain a conviction in two trials - the first ended in a hung jury, the second a not guilty verdict - and yet obtained a court order under the so-called Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act to seize the offender's assets. They justified this on the grounds that the gang leader could not produce evidence of a legitimate source of income to account for having the assets. The Police claim to have seized $390 million in assets since 2009 in similar cases.

This law is wrong on so many levels. Firstly, it reverses the presumption of innocence, requiring the accused to prove his assets are not the proceeds of a criminal act. Secondly, it is double jeopardy - having been unable to prove their case against the accused, the Police get a second (or in this case, a third) bite of the apple in bringing criminal sanctions. Thirdly, it is a form of arbitrary justice in which the Police are hardly a neutral party in determining the penalty. These things are all contrary to the principles of natural justice and the rule of law that underlie our legal system and that derive from the English liberal traditions and hard-won constitutional protections dating back to the Magna Carta.

I don't have any personal sympathy for the gang leader in question, who belongs to the notoriously violent Mongrel Mob, but I believe we should judge all laws by the standard of whether they adhere to principles by which we ourselves would want to be judged. There is a very good reason why civilised societies have held to the principles of natural justice and the rule of law and in their absence we would be entirely at the mercy of the whims of politicians, bureaucrats, and their armed enforcers in the Police.

Those who support such powers should ask themselves if they would be able to prove that all their assets came from legitimate sources if the onus was on them to do so.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Olympic Tedium

What has happened to the Olympics? There was a time when I would be glued to the television screen for two weeks, hanging onto the words of the commentators as I watched New Zealand olympians in what seemed like titanic struggles for medal glory. But this time the Olympics are just tedious to me, and going by the number of similar comments I have had from others both in New Zealand and internationally, it seems that the ennui isn't confined to me. I think the culprits are the Olympics themselves and the mainstream media that covers them.

It all started with the opening ceremony. Almost as soon as I had turned on the television, I realised it was a mistake. The opening ceremonies have always been a little kitsch but they seem to be getting whackier and tackier with each successive olympiad. Worst of all, they are becoming a platform for political propaganda. The London Olympics were the nadir for this with their awful celebration of the appalling National Health Service (which produces far worse survival rates of all common forms of cancer compared with the US or Europe) and Rio followed suit by heavily laying on an environmental propaganda theme. I thought it was more than a little hypocritical for a country that is known as the biggest destroyer of rain forest on Earth, and a city that is so polluted that many athletes are worried for their health, to be lecturing us about protecting the environment.

The events themselves are part of the problem. The Olympic organisers, not happy with hosting the world's biggest sporting event, seem intent on becoming the pinnacle event of all sports. Thus we see sports that have their own major international championship events, such as tennis, golf and soccer, being incorporated into an already crowded programme. The number of withdrawals of prominent players prior to the Olympics, and the lacklustre performance of some of the leading names in these sports, indicates that the players themselves do not regard the Olympics as the premier competition in their sport. If an Olympic gold medal doesn't mean as much as winning a grand slam, major championship or World Cup, why would you have those sports in the Olympics?

Finally, there was the media coverage. Here in New Zealand, pay TV operator Sky Television has the exclusive rights to screen the Rio Olympics. Sky has provided a minimal amount of coverage on its free-to-air channel, Prime, but that coverage is so appalling I have given up trying to watch it. A typical segment of the Olympics on Prime is 30 seconds of the sporting event followed by five minutes of interviews with the athletes, followed by four minutes of advertisements. Athletes are not the most interesting people when interviewed (they are clearly not selected for their eloquence) and subjecting us to much more of them yabbering to the camera than doing their running or swimming or riding is, for a sports lover, a mild form of torture. I can only imagine that it is a cunning strategy by Sky to get more subscribers for their subscription-based coverage.

I have paid so little attention to these Olympics as a result of all of the above that I couldn't tell you how many gold medals New Zealand has at this time, or who won them. And sadly, I don't care. Roll on the US Open Tennis Championship, a sporting event I can get excited about.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Another Good Man Falls to the Feminazis

So, another good man has fallen to the Feminazis. Kevin Roberts, the chairman of advertising company Saatchi and Saatchi, has been forced to resign for the terrible sin of saying that gender diversity was not a problem in his company (which, incidentally, has a 50/50 gender split) and that not all creative types, men or women, aspire to be chief executives. For these supposedly horrible, discriminatory views, he has been hounded out of his job.

This incident parallels that of scientist Sir Tim Hunt, who committed the equally terrible crime of telling a conference audience in Korea that he had a problem with women in the laboratory because he tended to fall in love with them and vice versa. The fact that Sir Tim in fact met his own wife in the laboratory, where they fell in love with each other, is all the proof that anyone would need that it was a personal joke that he was sharing with the audience, not a commentary on women scientists in general. Unfortunately none of this mattered to the Feminazis and Hunt's spineless employers who destroyed his career while he was on a flight back to the United Kingdom.

The obsession with achieving complete gender equality in the workplace is unfair to both women and men. The reports of large gaps between what men and women earn are very misleading, as this report by Pew Research states. The reality is that women on average are paid less than men for some quite legitimate reasons - they may work less hours than men, take more holidays, take significant breaks from their careers to have children, and aspire less to the most senior (and most stressful) jobs in an organisation. In other words, many women (and men) make lifestyle choices that compromise their earning ability.

The issue is illustrated well in grand slam tennis competitions, which now have equal prize money for men and women. But is that really fair? Men play for the best of five sets in grand slams whereas women play for best of three sets. This actually means that on average men are on the court for twice as long as women during a tournament. Men's games also get more spectators and television viewing audiences, and therefore earn more revenue for the tournament, so in relation to hours played and tournament revenue earned, the men are actually paid much less than the women.

I am a father of daughters and I want to see them get the best opportunities in life, but I think knee-capping men, and pushing women into roles they may not aspire to, is not the way to achieve that. As someone who has worked in senior management for a large multi-national company, I know that such roles are not for everyone. There are many capable women at the top levels of private and public sector organisations, but that does not mean that every female candidate is as capable to fill every role as every male candidate. Individuals should be promoted on their merits, not according to some ill-conceived quota that does not take into account the multitude of personal factors that determine each candidates suitability for the role.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Paying MPs less would improve their calibre

An unhealthy characteristic of many politicians today is that they have spent their entire lives in government. In the past a political career was something successful people embarked on later in life as a service to the community in which they had attained their wealth and position, and this model had the advantage of ensuring politicians had experience of the real world outside politics. I was reminded of this the other day when I read an article on the Stuff website reporting that veteran Member of Parliament Trevor Mallard has his eye on the position of Speaker of the House should his Labour Party be elected in next year's election.

Mallard is 62 years old and has been in politics all of his working life. He has been an MP for thirty years and prior to that was a Labour Party official, and he has never had any sort of career outside politics. I have nothing in particular against Mallard and he seems a decent fellow, but he is a good example of his type. Former prime minister Helen Clark is the same and is now attempting to cap off her career with the world's top bureaucratic sinecure, the job of Secretary-General of the United Nations.

The problem with this lack of real-world experience is that politicians come to believe that they have the capability of solving any problem better than people left to their own devices. They believe they are smarter than the rest of the population and that we all need their interference to be able to manage our lives. They think they can make better decisions than all of the rest of us and they arrogantly assume they have better judgement than the market - better than millions of people working in free association with each other to test ideas and to come up with ingenious solutions that no single person could conceive of on his or her own. Such delusions are unsurprising in people who have never had to work in a real job where their income depends on their ability to collaborate with others to produce something of real value to customers.

I think we need to return to the old model of drawing our parliamentary representatives from the ranks of the most successful in society and discouraging them from making long careers in politics. The obvious way to do this is to reduce or eliminate MP's remuneration. I would propose paying them only a small stipend, say around $20,000 per year plus expenses. That would ensure only those who genuinely wished to serve the country and who had a track record of success in other fields were likely to stand for election. It is probably the only job where paying the office-holder less would raise the calibre of the applicant.

The other change that would be needed to make this work is a significant reduction in the amount of time Parliament meets. I think Texas has a model for this - the Texan legislature meets for just 90 days every two years. Not only would this allow for MPs to continue to work in other jobs, it would have the benefit of considerably reducing the amount of legislation that Parliament could pass in the time available. It is no coincidence that Texas is also the most prosperous state in America.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

If the answer is Trump, what is the question?

So Donald J Trump is now the nominated candidate of the Republican Party for this year's US presidential election. I seem to be a lot less surprised by this outcome than many other New Zealanders, probably because I have spent more time in the United States in recent years and have regular contact with a lot more people living in America than the average New Zealander. I don't think you need to be very politically astute to understand why Trump has secured the Republican Party's nomination.

Firstly, there is the fact that America continues to languish in the economic doldrums it has been in since 2008. Despite endless pump-priming by the Federal Reserve, and talking up of the anaemic recovery by President Obama and his bureaucrats, many Americans cannot find work (the unemployment rate for men between the ages of 25 and 54 is 16%) and many are still 'underwater' in terms of wealth, having not regained the equity they lost in property and pension funds during the global financial crisis.

Secondly, there is disillusionment with the existing political institutions to deal with America's problems. Many Americans bought Obama's message of 'hope and change' but after eight years there has been no real change except for a much more expensive compulsory health insurance system, and no hope left. The Republicans are seen as equally hopeless, having been in control of both houses of Congress for the last two years with seemingly nothing to show for it.

Thirdly, there was the uninspiring line-up of alternative candidates in the presidential primaries. As National Review columnist Jonah Goldberg puts it, "the prospect of watching a Bush-Clinton race was so disgusting" that many people decided they would rather have a billionaire buffoon or a dyed-in-the-wool Socialist than either of the candidates from the two dynasties that account for three of the last four presidents.

Trump is a consummate populist, even more so than that other populist, Barack Obama. He doesn't have any discernible political philosophy - his position on any issue, whether it is immigration, trade or terrorism, is whatever will make him popular. Perhaps the only political label you could justifiably put on him is that he is a nationalist. He certainly does not have any credible solutions to America's problems. The Republican Party has decided he is the answer, but no one seems to know what is the question.

How will Trump perform as president? No one knows that either, but I expect that we are going to find out because (as I have written before) I believe he will beat Hillary Clinton to become the next President of the United States.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Britain replaces the Weasel with Big Sister

David Cameron has stepped down and Britain has a new prime minister in Theresa May. If there was any doubt about Cameron's character before, he removed all doubt with his petulant resignation when the Brexit referendum didn't go his way. This is the man who promised the referendum and set the date, so his response shows the most callous disregard for the democratic process that he put in place and for the interests of his country. He is reported as saying, "Why should I do all the hard shit?" to implement the decision of the electorate. Clearly, it has never occurred to him that being prime minister might involve some "hard shit". The only positive thing to come out of all this is that Cameron has ensured he will be regarded for posterity as the monumental fuck-up he really is.

I wrote before the referendum that I didn't delude myself that Britain is suddenly going to become a paragon of individual liberty if a majority votes for Brexit and unfortunately I've already been proved right by the Conservative Party's choice for the new prime minister. Theresa May is no friend of liberty, having introduced as Home Secretary the notorious Investigatory Powers Bill, known as the 'Snoopers' Charter', which is described in this article in The Independent as "the most intrusive surveillance legislation of any democratic country". May wants to force all technology companies to install 'backdoors' to enable spying on mobile phones and supports draconian enforcement of 'cyberbullying'. The Independent article points out that European Union law has more protections for individual privacy and use of data than the UK and raises the risk that May could oppose any equivalent legislation in the UK, leaving Britain without even its current privacy and civil liberties protections.

So, Britain has replaced the Weasel of Westminster with Big Sister, and as a sign of the post-referendum future of Britain, it is very ominous.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Ridiculous and dishonest excuses for housing bubble

Today we have the extraordinary spectacle of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand blaming immigrants for this country's housing price bubble and calling on the government to review immigration policy. This comes after the Prime Minister criticised the Reserve Bank for not acting to restrict the access of property investors to bank loans.

I am not sure which of these two calls is the more ridiculous but both are equally dishonest. The inflation in the property market in is due in large part to the massive expansion in the money supply, which the Reserve Bank manages, fueling demand in the property market, but it is also due to supply-side restrictions driven by an onerous regulatory environment. The latter is mostly due to the byzantine Resource Management Act, which allows territorial authorities to tightly restrict the supply of new land and which imposes huge compliance costs on builders and developers, but also to the increasing burden of a myriad of other laws such as new Health and Safety at Work Act.

It seems that John Key and his officials will do anything but admit the true causes of the housing bubble. Whether you look at demand-side or supply-side issues they are all of the government's making and the fact that two arms of government are blaming each other for the problem makes it clear where the blame lies - and it isn't with immigrants. Instead of looking to scapegoats, the government should be looking at themselves and their policies.