Saturday, December 06, 2008

Celebrating acquisition of other people's money

What an overt bludger the mayor of Palmerston North is. For years various community groups have wanted to set up a one-stop shop but couldn't raise the money. Obviously the local council didn't consider the idea worthwhile enough to put the money up. Now the money has been acquired through (mainly) the Department of Internal Affairs.

"That's not ratepayers' money, which is the best part about it," Mr Naylor said.

The "best part" even.

Yes, let the NZ taxpayer cough up for some questionable scheme that the locals don't want to pay for themselves. Socialism in a microchosm. And to think so many of our so-called best and brightest get their education and lessons in life there.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Talking about 'curses'...

On espying this headline I thought someone was going to blow the whistle on the superstitious nonsense some (I stress 'some') Maori believe and propagate.

"General curse" claimed Nia's life

But no. It's actually some egghead's misrepresentation of a family violence expert's description of Nia's death being the result of a "generational curse". We already knew that.

Perhaps copy writers suffer from a 'curse'. Here's another recent example I came across yesterday. From the NZ Herald;

Europeans (50 per cent) were twice as likely as Maori (23 per cent) to drown and the most at-risk age groups were people aged 15 to 24 or 65 and above.

This displays a complete misunderstanding of statistics. Of all the drownings in 2007 50 percent were European and 23 percent were Maori. In order to express that in terms of likelihood one would need to work out the drowning rate per capita of each ethnic group. It would work out about 0.16 drownings per 10,000 European and 0.44 per 10,000 Maori.

In fact Maori are almost three times more likely to drown than Europeans.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Legalising drugs and absurd arguments

Lucyna Maria has posted this argument by Theodore Dalrymple at her site as the final and definitive word against legalising drugs. Ordinarily a fan of Dalrymple's work, I find this argument incredibly weak and disappointing;

In claiming that prohibition, not the drugs themselves, is the problem, Nadelmann and many others—even policemen—have said that “the war on drugs is lost.” But to demand a yes or no answer to the question “Is the war against drugs being won?” is like demanding a yes or no answer to the question “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?” Never can an unimaginative and fundamentally stupid metaphor have exerted a more baleful effect upon proper thought.

Let us ask whether medicine is winning the war against death. The answer is obviously no, it isn’t winning: the one fundamental rule of human existence remains, unfortunately, one man one death. And this is despite the fact that 14 percent of the gross domestic product of the United States (to say nothing of the efforts of other countries) goes into the fight against death. Was ever a war more expensively lost? Let us then abolish medical schools, hospitals, and departments of public health. If every man has to die, it doesn’t matter very much when he does so.

If the war against drugs is lost, then so are the wars against theft, speeding, incest, fraud, rape, murder, arson, and illegal parking. Few, if any, such wars are winnable. So let us all do anything we choose.

Taking drugs is not comparable to fraud, rape, murder, arson and theft because there is no force or violence visited on another individual or their property. I accept that harm may be visited upon others indirectly but that may also be the case with adultery, gambling, drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco and viewing pornography, none of which is illegal.

The war on death is an absurd line. Death is inevitable. Medicine is a war against premature death. And guess what? We are winning it.

If Dalrymple wants to use medicine in his argument he might recall the idea expressed in the hippocratic oath; First, do no harm...

The war on drugs is creating more harm than it is preventing.

Sign me up for that

I hadn't seen Helen Clark (I've even momentarily forgotten whether her surname has an 'e' on the end or not) on telly since election night.

Then yesterday I flicked on Trackside to watch the Avondale Cup and there she was. Resplendent in red, looking very relaxed and happy. Where can I get a job that pays me to go to the races?

Oh, I've already tried that......

Not a great advertisement for the teaching profession

What is there to say about this story beyond it representing a fine example of somebody telling lies.

Have a read and tell me, even with your knowledge limited to the report, which version you believe. Because you will have a gut instinct.

A 15-year-old girl at Waitara High School has been suspended after a violent altercation with a female teacher on Wednesday.

Read on ...

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Psychiatric disorders among children whose parents have never worked

In scanning the report I referred to below, prompted by a post at The Welfare State We Are In, I found this statement;

Furthermore, the prevalence of psychiatric disorders among children aged 5 - 15 in families whose parents have never worked is almost double that of children whose parents are in low skilled jobs.

As it wasn't referenced the claim took some finding. It comes from an Office of National Statics (UK) report about the health of children over the period 1990 to 2001.

I am now prompted to speculate about how much this finding (which I have no reason to doubt wouldn't be replicated in NZ) might figure in the significant growth of invalid and sickness benefits for psychiatric and psychological conditions. Oh, the useful research that could be conducted.

In respect of Professor Gregg's report, the finding is used to build the case for getting sole parents into work. That the parent's unemployment is bad for the child.

I am less sure. The conditions may be hereditary. If the parent(s) also suffers from them, that may be why they have never worked and possibly will never work on a permanent basis. I see the finding as an argument for not financially incentivising people to have children in the first place (the current weekly payment to a lone parent is 210.47 UK pounds). Encouraging people to have children and then trying to get them into work is arse about face.

When will the people who are in a position to make or genuinely influence the rules start to acknowledge these realities?

Queen to talk welfare reform?

There is speculation that one of the items in the Queens Speech which is delivered at the state opening of Parliament, will contain news about further welfare reforms in the UK.

A Professor Gregg of Bristol University recently produced a paper on welfare and it is expected the government will adopt some suggestions. I cannot imagine any of our academies producing quite this sort of stuff. He believes everyone should be planning to return to work - sole mothers from the time their youngest is one. At the moment the age after which a mother is expected to work is 16. It is going to drop to 12 and to 7 by 2010.

As for the unemployed, which there are comparatively far more of than here;

Unemployed people who do not turn up to meetings [work focussed interviews] should get a written warning for the first one missed, and lose a week's Jobseeker's Allowance for every time after that they did not follow their conditions.

After a fourth offence, they would be told to carry out community-based work like street sweeping and digging gardens if they were "deemed to be playing the system" and lose four weeks' Jobseeker's Allowance if they refused.

Professor Gregg said they should do "work equal" activities, such as spending all day in an office looking for jobs: "It would involve doing an equivalent 9-to-5 job search with someone looking over your shoulder to make sure you were not just on Facebook."

And from the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions James Purnell,

...Mr Purnell welcomed them and said the "direction of travel" was right, although he said he would consult further on the issue of non-financial sanctions.

"The approach that virtually everyone should be doing something in return for benefits is the right one," he said.

But here's rub;

But his Conservative shadow Chris Grayling said: "I have lost count of the number of documents the government has published promising radical welfare reform in the past few years, but they never seem to get on with the job of delivering that reform."

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

ACC account $1 billion short

Just revealed on the Radio Live news (no link yet) that ACC's non-earner account is almost $1 billion short and they do not have enough money to operate beyond March 2009. What was Maryan Street doing? John Key claims the government was aware of the situation. The non-earner's account is covered by direct funding from government and used for injuries to non-workers like teenagers, beneficiaries and others not in the paid workforce.

Update; NBR explains

On resources and choice for mothers

Tapu Misa describes today what Minister of Social Development, Paula Bennett's priority should be;

The more important question for Bennett ought to be how public policy is contributing to a lack of choice for some mothers, and how it might support those who have neither the choice nor the resources.

This is code for Misa's desire to redistribute more resources from the 'rich' to the 'poor'.

Let's analyse what the current situation is.

There are essentially 4 types of mothers with dependent children. Partnered - working and not working - and single - working and not working.

Partnered women are heavily affected by public policies which apply to their other half. Those who don't work, to a large degree, and those who do, to a lesser degree. Taxation plays a big part in the resources they have and consequent choices. To service loans, a mortgage and raise children many women will find they have to return to work. But after paying for childcare, and the costs of going to work, often there isn't a lot left. Their future work prospects are however secured and enhanced. Low and flat tax would make a huge difference to the choices that were available to them. Indeed, with a partner's income increased, the mothers may not even have to work should they so choose.

Misa might argue that universal free childcare would have the same effect of increasing resources. But nothing is 'free'. That and other measures like extending Paid Parental Leave (and including fathers), has to be paid for through taxation which straight away prohibits moving to the low, flat tax that would actually do a lot more to increase choice.

Working For Families is a prime public policy intended to give mothers more choice. Instead it creates a ceiling. There is no incentive to work (or for the partner to increase his income) if the government is going to remove tax credits when that happens. Like benefits, WFF traps people, just at a higher rung on the income ladder.

Instead of taxing families only to hand it back, the money should be left in their bank accounts in the first place. This avoids all the dead-weight cost involved and removes disincentives to get ahead (which would also incidentally add to what NZ needs most - increased productivity.)

The above applies likewise to working single mums who, as part of the lowest income sector of society, would benefit from decent tax breaks more than any other group. A income free threshold would also serve this group well. That's another public policy that could be considered. Such a policy would boost their resources and choice dramatically.

Non-working single mums, reliant on welfare, while often having the least resources have, in some ways, the most choice. Their days are theirs to fill as they choose unimpeded by having to work. Unfortunately this short-term advantage too frequently translates into long-term disadvantage. Up to half of these mums find, as children become less dependent, their own lack of educational qualifications and work experience present real barriers to paid work. Their choice is then limited to staying on a benefit and staying relatively poor. There are currently 42,000 single parents reliant totally on welfare, whose youngest child is 5 or older.

The choices of the last group are paid for wholly by the taxpayer. They are choices - to leave a relationship or have children without a supportive partner - that often yield negative consequences. In general, these aren't choices that public policy should be encouraging.

The choices that public policy should be encouraging are those that see people making decisions about having and raising children when they are emotionally and financially ready and not before. Becoming mothers at the right time for themselves and their children. That kind of policy should be as neutral as possible eg low, flat tax enabling people to make their own decisions about how to combine family and work. Policy that simply redistributes resources from one sector to another will always come with both destructive incentives and disincentives.

As a broad prescription then government should be looking to removing the incentives to single parenthood (ensure welfare for mothers is strictly emergency assistance only) and reducing taxes on all working mothers (as part of universal low rates.) The first enables the second. This would maximise resources and choice for as many as possible.

Above all public policy should take account of the following; the choice to work or stay home is actually a personal one. It is for the parent(s) to make. It is not for society to make or fund.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Saving us from socio-economic harm

Police operations to destroy cannabis production and distribution are being described as the most successful in 5 years. The police claim they have saved us, the community, $336 million in socio-economic harm.

But how do they arrive at that figure?

They destroyed 124,000 plants - or a yield of 992,000 oz - or 62,000 lbs - or 28,180 kg.

Then they multiply that figure (28,180) by the BERL Drug Harm Index figure of $11,800 per kilo.

Opioids and stimulants, such as P/methamphetamine and cocaine, were two of the most harmful illicit drug types causing $1.1 million and $403,000 harm per kilogram. Cannabis is estimated to cause harm of $11,800 per kilogram. LSD has the potential to cause over $1 billion of harm per kilogram, but it is used in very small amounts per occasion.

So the Police are not talking here about the selling value of the cannabis. They are basing their success on an estimate of the harm prevented.

Notice that the higher the estimate is (the more damage that is apparently done per kilo) the more success the cops can claim. That's handy.

Now I am wondering how many plants the police have failed to seize. Another ten for each destroyed? Another 20?

People keep on growing year on year so the chances of getting caught can't be very significant. Yet the total harm cost of cannabis use was put at $431 million just earlier this year. That would indicate the police are destroying 3 out of four cannabis plants.

Yes. I find that very hard to believe.

We have every reason to be skeptical about the sorts of numbers bandied about by the police and those contracted by them.

Australia doesn't want to 'lead the world' either

Delaying the ETS will damage New Zealand's image, I keep hearing. It will seriously threaten trade, I keep hearing. Today the NZ Herald carries an opinion piece urging to government to press on with the ETS. It claims;

This opinion piece reflects concurrence across business, the environment and forestry on the way ahead: Abandon the proposed legislative freeze.

I see 'consensus' has been rightly dropped in favour of "concurrence".

So what news from our largest trading partner, Australia?

Are they getting agitated with New Zealand's position?

As with most NZ mountains (Australian molehills) they have problems of their own consuming them. It appears the Australian government is also taking a cautious approach to the climate change response having just announced it will not set a carbon emissions reduction target until it sees where the rest of the world is going.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Wildly divergent results

Using two different approaches, the difference in literacy-testing scores for prisoners is astonishing. According to Radio New Zealand;

A new test shows the literacy and numeracy problems of prisoners to be much worse than previously thought.

The Burt Word Recognition Test found 2% of prisoners need literacy help and 17% need numeracy help.

A new screening tool, developed by the Ministry of Education, was also trialed recently on 197 new prisoners.

It found 90% needed literacy help and 80% were not functionally numerate.

I had to read this twice, myself, thinking perhaps there was a mistake in the first figures. The first test finds 2 in 100 prisoners need help and the second test finds 90 in 100 need help. A few people should be scratching their heads over this and asking themselves how much time and money is being wasted administering tests which produce such wildly divergent results.

(The Burt test is used to assess the needs of offenders on release or serving community sentences, so it isn't just 'nice-to-know' stuff.)

(And yes, Adolf, the copy-writer needs help.)