The Dim-Post

July 31, 2012

On smartphones and distraction

Filed under: technology — danylmc @ 2:40 pm

A couple of months ago I bought myself a cheap Huawei smart-phone from Bond & Bond. It was my first smart-phone (I’m a late adopter) and I was impressed by the sophistication of such a low cost device.

I was impressed when the phone suddenly stopped working. I took it back to Bond & Bond, who charged me a $55 ‘repair bond’ and then called me a few days later to say that the phone somehow ‘had water in it’, was not repairable and they’d be keeping the $55.

So the lesson I’ve learned from this is that Bond & Bond see the name of their store as deeply ironic, and you shouldn’t shop there. But I also have a deeper point which is that in the three weeks since my phone died (I can’t afford to buy a new one) I’ve done more creative writing than I did during the three months I had the smart-phone. The ability to distract yourself on the internet whenever you’re bored is a fine thing, but my imagination seems to require a certain level of daily boredom to function properly.

Which is not to say I won’t replace my phone when I can afford it. They’re just too damn useful. But I will regulate its use to enforce a mandated amount of drudgery inspired daydreaming. So feel free to recommend good entry-price Android smart phones in the comments section.

And they’re also very musical

Filed under: media — danylmc @ 6:13 am

The lead story on the Herald’s web site this morning:

You can overthink these things, but I’m not sure that headlines composed to depict Maori as an autonomous, militant and violent collective are all that great for race relations.

July 30, 2012

Sort of standing up for the Conservative Party on their opposition to gay marriage

Filed under: policy,Politics — danylmc @ 12:46 pm

The essence of conservative philosophy goes something like this:

Human civilisation is a complex web of customs and traditions representing the accumulated wisdom of thousands of generations of our ancestors on how to live well in a harmonious society. Whenever liberals and/or reformers want to change those customs they contend they’re acting from good intentions for the betterment of all, but often they’re acting from selfish motives, and even if they’re not their changes can lead to disastrous unforeseen outcomes. Social change – especially to core institutions like marriage – should be gradual and organic, not imposed by politicians.

I don’t agree with that philosophy in general, and I totally disagree with it as applied to marriage equality – but it’s not an invalid argument and I think there’s a large constituency who would agree with it. So I do hope that the Conservative Party make it into Parliament next term. (Even if I spend the subsequent three years mocking them.)

If they do make it, it might be off the back of Louisa Wall’s Members Bill, which – now that the PM has backed it – is basically a done deal. This is a huge stroke of luck for Labour. Next time they’re in government there would have been huge pressure from many MPs and the party rank and file to pass this into law, and serious push-back from the factions of Labour reluctant to live through another version of the anti-smacking debate. Now they get to deliver to their base without wearing much backlash.

 

July 28, 2012

There’s an ordinary New Zealander born every minute

Filed under: finance — danylmc @ 7:38 am

According to John Armstrong, National’s asset sales program is about encouraging hundreds of thousands of ‘ordinary New Zealanders’ into the sharemarket, thus transforming New Zealand into a capital owning democracy.

I wonder if National – or Armstrong – know that several million New Zealanders now own shares via their investment into KiwiSaver funds?

(My guesses to that question: absolutely yes, and absolutely not.)

It’s not quite the same, of course. If you put your money into KiwiSaver it gets spread across a range of different asset classes according to your risk profile. If you sink all your money into buying shares in four different power companies then you could lose almost all of it in the event of, oh, say, a Waitangi tribunal finding and High Court decision that has a huge impact on the value of companies in that sector.

July 27, 2012

From the vaults

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 10:46 am

Recent events reminded me of the cruelly suspended MaggieBarryMP parody(?) account on Twitter:

A post on national poetry day in which I do not post any poetry

Filed under: poetry — danylmc @ 9:43 am

Firstly, an update on this poetry day post from last year about Dennis Glover’s Threnody, which celebrates Plimmerton’s seabird haunted caves, and I pointed out that there are no such caves in Plimmerton. Well, a couple of months ago I walked along the coastline from Plimmerton to Pukerua Bay – it was a nostalgia thing, I did that walk a lot when I was a kid – and I noticed that there were, in fact, caves along the remote stretches of the walk that could plausibly be haunted by seabirds. So that’s alright.

Also, I’ve been reading illustrated poetry books to Sadie, as one does (she particularly likes Wynken, Blynken and Nod), and I’ve also found myself thinking a lot about Larkin’s Aubade, following the death of a close friend who was fond of Larkin, and I’ve been thinking it would be brilliant to do a child’s illustrated version of Aubade and post it on the blog (this probably violates all sorts of copyright – lucky bloggers like myself are above the law). If anyone has any illustration skills and a bit of spare time, let me know and I’ll tell you my ideas for the images.

Cui bono

Filed under: policy — danylmc @ 5:37 am

Public health researchers use incident rates of sexually transmitted disease as a proxy for what they term ‘risky sexual behavior’ – unprotected sex with multiple partners. Reviewing some of the literature on same sex marriage, it looks as if legalising same sex marriage leads to a reduction in risky sexual behavior amongst gays and lesbians.

One can only speculate as to why various politicians and organisations (Family First, etc) opposing same sex marriage have such a vested interest in maximising the rate of promiscuous gay sex in our society

July 24, 2012

More Calvinball

Filed under: finance — danylmc @ 12:37 pm

Before the election Key insisted that the energy companies and Air New Zealand would be sold to ‘Kiwi mums and dads’, and said:

. . . given New Zealanders have $300 billion worth of investments, they will buy and keep the shares.

“We could say one hundred percent of shares to New Zealanders, obviously we could say less, but we are targeting that eighty five to ninety percent and I’m confident we’ll reach it,” Key said.

Here’s Key today on the possible cost of the loyalty scheme:

“If you think about the entire float that could be in the order of $5 billion to $7 billion. Let’s argue that it’s $5 billion for a moment if you then turned around and said about 20 per cent of that could be for mum and dad, it could be more it could be less – but just for the purposes of maths that’s a billion.

Key also adds:

These numbers that the Labour Party are coming up with and the Greens are farcical.

July 23, 2012

Now with 1.1% more CEO-style visionary leadership

Filed under: finance — danylmc @ 7:56 am

I’d quite like to live in the reality in which hundreds of thousands of ‘mum and dad’ New Zealanders email their financial advisors this morning to find out how much cash they can liquidate from their investment portfolios to buy $1000 Mighty River Power shares and thus qualify for the loyalty bonus.

But guess who isn’t eligible for the loyalty bonus? KiwiSaver and other institutional investors. So the two million New Zealanders who invest in KiwiSaver schemes miss out, unless they have an extra few grand floating around which they can invest in the stock-market, instead of say, paying off their mortgage.

And, as usual, Key and English are such amazing businessmen they haven’t bothered to figure out how much this will cost, or where the money will come from.

July 21, 2012

Which ‘Economist Party’ policies would I vote for?

Filed under: economics,Politics — danylmc @ 8:24 am

This came up on twitter yesterday. Various economists were linking to this post from NPR, which presents:

the common-sense, no-nonsense Planet Money economic plan — backed by economists of all stripes, but probably toxic to any candidate that might endorse it.

The first two policies are US based. The rest are:

  • Three: Eliminate the corporate income tax. Completely. If companies reinvest the money into their businesses, that’s good. Don’t tax companies in an effort to tax rich people.
  • Four: Eliminate all income and payroll taxes. All of them. For everyone. Taxes discourage whatever you’re taxing, but we like income, so why tax it? Payroll taxes discourage creating jobs. Not such a good idea. Instead, impose a consumption tax, designed to be progressive to protect lower-income households.
  • Five: Tax carbon emissions. Yes, that means higher gasoline prices. It’s a kind of consumption tax, and can be structured to make sure it doesn’t disproportionately harm lower-income Americans. More, it’s taxing something that’s bad, which gives people an incentive to stop polluting.
  • Six: Legalize marijuana. Stop spending so much trying to put pot users and dealers in jail — it costs a lot of money to catch them, prosecute them, and then put them up in jail. Criminalizing drugs also drives drug prices up, making gang leaders rich.

And there were various comments to the effect that these were obvious, very sensible things to do, but politicians were too stupid, afraid, venal etc to do them. Eric Crampton insisted that there should be an Economist Party in every country, and I, snide jerk that I am, replied:

Economist Party motto: ‘We provide the flawless theories; you provide the horrible consequences.’

To which Eric replied:

So, you oppose specific policies on that list then, Danyl? Marijuana legalization? Carbon tax? Please advise.

So here’s my answer. Like many economists – and all who would endorse that list – I’m a liberal. I’m ideologically in favor of things like marijuana legislation, especially since the status quo on prohibition is such a disaster.

But when it comes to public policy I’m pretty conservative. This isn’t an ideology so much as just a gut feeling that you shouldn’t make radical changes to highly complex systems that will effect millions of people unless you know what you’re doing and can be confident things are going to work out.

Take marijuana reform. Matthew Yglesias had an interesting piece on this just yesterday, in which he pointed out that if growing marijuana was legal, economies of scale and industrial farming techniques would transform the market for this commodity:

One potential data point is Canada’s industrial hemp industry, where production costs are about $500 per acre. If the kind of mid-grade commercial weed that accounts for about 80 percent of the U.S. market could be grown that cheaply, it implies costs of about 20 cents per pound of smokable material: Enough pot to fill more than 800 modest-sized half-gram joints for less than a quarter!

So cafes could afford to give away joints the same way they give away packets of sugar. The implications of this are staggering. What would the social and economic consequences of nearly-free marijuana look like? What’s the impact on the healthcare system? Safe to say that economists recommending this policy have no idea whatsoever, because no country has ever implemented it – they’re not making this recommendation based on any empirical evidence, but on ideological grounds. Which is fine – people with strong political ideologies should agitate for their beliefs – but economists don’t see themselves as ideological activists, and they certainly don’t portray themselves in that light; on the contrary they present themselves as very serious scientists proposing ‘common-sense, no-nonsense plans.’

(Which is not to say I don’t think we should stick with prohibition, just that the change needs to be gradual and incremental.)

Let’s take two more of them items on the ‘Economist Party’ list. Eliminate all corporate and income taxes and replace them with a consumption tax. The theory behind this is that taxing something disincentivises people, but work is a good thing so we don’t want to tax it. If you tax consumption (like we do with GST) then this encourages saving and reinvestment, which is good for the economy.

So I get the theory. But the big downside of such a policy is that it might not raise as much revenue as you think, which means that the government would have to cut spending. And what if these policies weren’t actually that great for the economy, and didn’t lead to growth?

Impossible, right? These are ‘common-sense, no-nonsense plans’ that all economists agree will work! The reason I raise such an impossible outcome is that when National reduced corporate and  income taxes and increased consumption taxes back in 2010, it led to reduced revenue, which led to spending cuts, and didn’t actually lead to economic growth.

So the very serious, very sensible Economist Party would look at that policy failure and think, ‘Huh! Well, let’s just assume that a much more extreme version of that policy would work perfectly.’ That’s why I wouldn’t vote for any Economist Party policies.

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