Friday, January 18, 2008

Hutt Valley High and 'rights'

Cindy Kiro says the offenders at Hutt Valley High are entitled to an education and is supporting the Principal's position.

That has upset some talkback callers. I contributed the following;

As long as we blindly cling to the prevalent culture of 'rights' that has developed over the past 40 years, more disruption and dysfunction will develop.

The system of legally enshrined rights to things like social welfare benefits, electricity, education etc is ultimately troublesome because there is nowhere to draw a line. The only genuine rights that should be upheld are the rights to be free from things like violence, theft and the imposition of force.

The Hutt Valley High situation highlights this very well. The offender's right to an education is trumping the victim's right to be free from violence. That is wrong. There is no 'right' to an education. It is a privilege. And privileges can be withdrawn.

Tax cuts versus tax rebates

Here is a nice, simple commentary from the Washington Times about why tax cuts are preferable to tax rebates. That's an issue which will be integral to this year's election as National offers its alternative to Working For Families.

Remember too that whatever is economically preferable is also, in the long run, socially preferable. The Left seem to think that the goal of 'social justice' through redistribution, can be wrung out of the economy by force and the process isn't damaging.

The current government has two major aims. One is to lift economic growth. They don't like tax cuts so they need to increase the size of the workforce.

But the second aim is to put more money into young families with children with no commensurate work effort on the parent's part. Hence they naturally work less.

These two goals are antithetical through the present method of redistribution. The obvious way to achieve both is to let people keep more of their money in the first place.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A 'game'

This is part of a post from Stephen Frank's blog. I tried to make a comment but the anti-spam thingy told me I had the wrong word and the comment disappeared.

Politicians can not assume an interest in their messages. They must work at the emotional level, even on complex issues that should not be simplified, but must.

Sure it feels like ‘insincerity’. I hated dumbing down my speeches and letters. But if without it you will not be heard at all, where’s the choice? There are boundaries of course. The key thing for me was to ensure the communication did not become false.

People who can’t stand the fact that the floating voters in a democracy may be ignorant and uninterested should play another game. Sadly those voters may be the major important audience in an MMP election.

If Stephen hated dumbing down his speeches and letters campaigning for ACT, I would suggest worse is to come campaigning for National.

But he seems to justify this self-censorship as a "game" worth playing to attract the all-important floating voter.

I wonder if he calculated the risk of losing previously loyal followers who want more than mush? I guess no one has more than one vote and the quality of that vote is irrelevant.

Myths about 'pioneering traditions'

This is today's Dominion Post editorial. My response follows;

Editorial: Labour's lesson in innovation
The Dominion Post | Thursday, 17 January 2008

When Christchurch musician Jimmy Mason "flicked" his three-year-old son on the ear he thought he was giving him a lesson about road safety. Don't ride your bike near the road when you're told not to. What he was actually getting was a firsthand look at the Government's anti-smacking legislation in operation.

A nearby teacher took umbrage at his actions, an off-duty policewoman rang the office and, minutes later, Mr Mason found himself surrounded by six police officers.

"They were going to arrest me and were trying to ascertain whether it was safe for the kids to go home with me," he said. "It was pretty bizarre."

In time Mr Mason may discover, like many parents before him, that there are other, more effective ways to discipline his children and keep them safe.

If the anti-smacking legislation, championed by Green MP Sue Bradford, hastens that process it will have served a useful purpose.

But just as there is no such thing as a perfect child, there is no such thing as a perfect parent. Like children, parents get tired and irritable. Like children, parents occasionally do things they later regret.

But nothing that Mr Mason did appears to warrant the attention of six police officers, at least five more than the ordinary citizen can expect to show an interest when reporting a theft, burglary or assault.

Nor do his actions appear to warrant the warning that has now been placed on his record, though that could change as a result of a police review of discrepancies between Mr Mason's story and those of witnesses.

When the anti-smacking legislation was steered through Parliament last year, Ms Bradford and her Labour allies assured the public that the law change would not criminalise parents who administered a light smack to their children.

Technically they are correct in Mr Mason's case. He has not been charged. But he has been stigmatised, something that is likely to be of almost as much concern to the Government as it is to Mr Mason.

Labour believes the initial furore over the anti-smacking legislation has died down now that it has been in place for more than six months.

But publicity about such cases revives the damaging spectre of a nanny state interfering in the private affairs of citizens.

When voters go to the polls later this year they will not recall that National voted for the legislation alongside Labour, the Greens and the Maori Party as a result of a last-minute deal with its leader John Key, but that it was Labour and its allies who pushed the bill through, just as it was Labour that took the lead in legalising prostitution, establishing civil unions, banning unhealthy food from school tuckshops and outlawing smoking in bars and restaurants.

All are initiatives that fit with New Zealand's tradition of pioneering social legislation, a tradition that began when New Zealand became the first country to give women the vote.

But politicians with long careers in mind know there is only so much innovation the public is prepared to put up with.

Labour could yet pay a price for going too far too fast.


Your editorial about the effect of Sue Bradford's anti-smacking legislation claimed the law change was one of many, "initiatives that fit with New Zealand's tradition of pioneering social legislation..."

New Zealand was by no means first to ban corporal punishment in the home. Just as it wasn't first to introduce civil unions, ban smoking in bars or legalise prostitution. Neither were we first with an old-age or widow's pension and other social security benefits that followed.

This mixed bag you describe as "innovation" is happening throughout the developed world, much of it at the behest of the United Nations and other champions of 'the state knows best.'

If New Zealanders wanted to legitimately lay claim to being pioneering front-runners, they would start by rejecting governments that regard their major role as controlling the social and financial lives of citizens. That really would be revolutionary.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

"Ending unconditional entitlement"

Chris Grayling is a Conservative MP in the UK. Here is his plan for their incapacity benefit ( which has proportionately more recipients than our sickness and invalid benefits);

120,000 more people claim incapacity benefit than 10 years ago and 52 per cent more under-24s are claiming than in 1997. Half a million people under 35 are now claiming the benefit. More than half of the people now claiming incapacity benefit have been receiving it for more than five years.

The majority of people signed on to this benefit by filling in a form and sending in a note from their doctor. Most claimants are then simply left to their own devices. We will change that. We will contact every single one of those 2.6 million people as quickly as possible. We will carry out face-to-face interviews with all of them, to assess what they can do, and how we can help them back into work. It's a big task, and it won't be done overnight, but it has to be done, and as rapidly as possible.

Our initial aim will be to offer most people a place on a structured programme of support to find them a job. We know that as many as a million people claiming incapacity benefit say that they hope to get back into the workplace. We will offer them the help they need to achieve that.

Those who don't want to accept that offer will be expected to undergo a full medical check to confirm what they can and can't do now, and what they might, with the right support, be able to do in the future. It will be done by someone independent, so the relationship with a family doctor doesn't affect the outcome.

Those found to be perfectly capable of working will lose their entitlement to incapacity benefit immediately. Many have been abusing the system. They will be transferred into the normal process for Jobseekers and will be expected to start looking for work straight away. Based on the experience of other countries, we expect at least 200,000 people to be affected.

Those who have the potential to get back into work - even if it's a different kind of job - but still have mental or physical hurdles to overcome will be required to join a return-to-work programme. Only those whose incapacity makes it impossible or unrealistic for them to work will be able to continue to claim the benefit without conditions.

For Britain such an approach marks a revolution in our welfare state. It marks an end to a situation where the receipt of incapacity benefit is an unconditional entitlement. In the future it will carry with it the responsibility to do everything that you can to get back into work and help lift yourself out of the poverty trap that incapacity benefit represents for so many people. It's already happening in places like New York. It's something we should aspire to in Britain.

A country where a young man and his family regard it as an achievement to get onto the "sick" is one that desperately needs reform. A country that brings in millions of workers but can't help people out of the trap that incapacity benefit has become, is one that desperately needs change.

Ending unconditional entitlement is the most important phrase here. The principle of discretionary granting must replace universality with some sort of appeals authority backing up the system. That's a start but I think that the Tories may have to change laws first. Ultimately incapacity benefits should be part of health funding and, as such, covered by insurance and even operated by competing private sector companies to prevent abuse.

Only a small group would have no means to contribute. Treat them separately. I have said it before. We (and the Uk and Australia) have our entire social security system designed around the worst case scenario with everyone lumped in together. Hence it is out of control.

Until the individual is responsible for insuring himself for adverse outcomes (with a commensurate tax cut) the distortionary and corrupting incentives will continue to make systems more damaging than useful.

Fake legs faster

What a peculiar story this is. An athlete has been banned from competing at the Olympics because his prosthetic limbs give him an unfair advantage.

He can hardly compete at the disabled Olympics.

'Presumed consent'

'Presumed consent' means, in the event of your death, you would be assumed to be an organ donor unless you have opted out. UK PM Gordon Brown is in favour and the subject received some coverage on TV3 yesterday. Andy Tookey, who petitioned parliament for the establishment of an organ donor register, is also for the idea. Apparently it operates in Spain and France.

But look at Brown's actual position;

Mr Brown voiced his sympathy for the plan and is urging a national debate on the change, although he believes that the families of dead relatives should have the right to block the use of organs.

But that is the crux of the existing problem. People expressly put 'donor' on their driver's licences and then their families override their wishes.

So even under 'presumed consent' Brown says the family can still block the donation.

Personally I think presumed consent would improve the situation for those on waiting lists for organs and I would enjoy watching people having to get off their backsides and do something about their beliefs. Nobody would be forced to donate - just forced to opt out.

Ultimately, however, if I had to vote on it, I would vote against. With my head and not my heart. I couldn't accord the state that much power, even over dead bodies.

What needs to be dealt with in law is what putting donor on your licence (or a specific donor card) means. My family are under strict instructions not to disregard my wishes - that if I died and anything is of use to someone else, they are most welcome to it.

I think we can increase New Zealand's donation rate without presumed consent. I see the US rate is more than double ours. A register would have been a good start.

Monday, January 14, 2008

"Are you a workaholic?"

An Auckland telephone technician is taking a stand against workaholism - with his own life as his prime exhibit.

This guy is behaving just like a reformed smoker. He is the Mark Peck of workaholism. Having 'saved' himself he's coming to save you.

Have a look through these questions. Apparently if you answer 'yes' to three or more you might be .....shush..... a workaholic.

1. Do you get more excited about your work than about family or anything else? SOMETIMES
2. Are there times when you can charge through your work and other times when you can't get anything done? YES
3. Do you take work with you to bed? On weekends? On holidays? YES
4. Is work the activity you like to do best and talk about most? SOMETIMES
5. Do you work more than 40 hours a week? SOMETIMES
6. Do you turn your hobbies into moneymaking ventures? YES
7. Do you take complete responsibility for the outcome of your work efforts? YES
8. Have your family or friends given up expecting you on time? NO
9. Do you take on extra work because you are concerned that it won't otherwise get done? YES
10. Do you underestimate how long a project will take and then rush to complete it? NO
11. Do you believe it's okay to work long hours if you love what you're doing? YES
12. Do you get impatient with people who have other priorities besides work? NO
13. Are you afraid that if you don't work hard you will lose your job or be a failure? NO
14. Is the future a constant worry for you even when things are going very well? NO
15. Do you do things energetically and competitively, including play? SOMETIMES
16. Do you get irritated when people ask you to stop doing your work in order to do something else? YES
17. Have your long hours hurt your family or other relationships? NO
18. Do you think about your work while driving, falling asleep or when others are talking? YES
19. Do you work or read during meals? YES
20. Do you believe more money will solve the other problems in your life? NO

9! I'm definitely in the running.

But look. For a change an academic is making more sense.

... psychologist Dr Lynley McMillan, who surveyed 421 employees and their partners for her doctoral thesis at Waikato University, found that those with "workaholic" symptoms, such as finding it hard to stop work and thinking about work outside work hours, did not meet key tests for an addiction.

Unlike alcoholics or drug addicts, the workers' ratings of themselves on measures of workaholism closely matched their partners' assessments of them, and both they and their partners reported relationships that were just as good as those of workers without any "workaholic" symptoms.

Dr McMillan concluded relationships could thrive as long as both partners had "matching working styles".

So what we need is more 'workaholics' producing lots of potential partners. If I needed one I'd be looking for a 9. But more importantly I'd be looking for one that knew how to mind their own business, understood the meaning of freedom and choice and didn't lecture me about how to run my life. Rare as hen's teeth. Fortunately I've already got one.

Please Mr Price leave us alone. It's bad enough with nanny incessantly hectoring us about work life balance. Enough.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Holiday job

I've decided to try my hand at growing veges. A small patch was required. Where to put it? Out of the way. Vege gardens aren't the most aesthetic things. Putting in a few more steps is no big deal. Here it is.

You wouldn't want to suffer from vertigo but the view is fantastic. Hope my carrots and broccoli appreciate it (if they survive the possums.)

On the way up to the skyline vege patch is this resting spot. The cabbage trees are from the 2005 ACT conference. My contribution to the stage decoration. They have grown rather well, unlike our parliamentary representation. But 2008 is another year. And I am ever the optimist.