I’ve disabled comments on the site for a while. Which is a shame, because they’re one of my favourite things about the blog. But they were just getting too stupid. I’ll turn them back on in a while and hopefully the break will have reset things a bit.
April 29, 2016
April 28, 2016
John Key’s personal lawyer cited a conversation with the Prime Minister when lobbying a Minister about a potential crackdown on the lucrative foreign trust industry.
Ken Whitney, the executive director of boutique trust specialist Antipodes, wrote to then-Minister for Revenue Todd McClay on December 3, 2014, over concerns Inland Revenue were sizing up the sector.
“We are concerned that there appears to be a sudden change of view by the IRD in respect of their previous support for the industry. I have spoken to the Prime Minister about this and he advised that the Government has no plans to change the status of the foreign trust regime,” Mr Whitney wrote in an email.
“The PM asked me to contact you to arrange a meeting at your convenience with a small group of industry leaders who are keen to engage to explain how the regime works and the benefits to NZ of an industry which has been painstakingly built up over the last 25 years or so.”
New Zealand’s trust regime recently made international headlines with the leak of the Panama Papers revealing the abuse of trust structures internationally by those seeking to launder money or avoiding tax.
If Key was a normal Minister there would be intense pressure on the PM to stand him down. Obviously he’s not, so we’ll go through a period of National loyalists and beltway types doing exaggerated eyerolling. ‘Of course the Prime Minister’s personal lawyer is a lobbyist for the offshore trust industry and used his influence to protect his highly unethical industry that provides no benefit to New Zealand. What’s wrong with that? That’s how politics works, dummies. Duh!’
Which, okay, that is how politics works here nowadays, but it doesn’t have to be, and voters have options for venting their displeasure. The story was broken by the Greens but the most likely beneficiary is going to be New Zealand First. Peters’ whole brand is ‘Winston will keep them honest.’ National believes there aren’t any consequences to their actions because Labour is dying, but all of this glib, corrupt buffoonery are locking them into a fourth term trying to run the country with Winston Peters.
The housing market is going insaner than usual, and every time this happens there’s a flurry of stories about how kids today can still get on the property market if they do it tough and give up on the lattes.
There are almost always problematic gaps in these stories: something about young people who have advanced degrees but no student loans, or who saved their entire salary for a deposit, sans rent and food but ‘did it all themselves’ don’t seem quite right to me. But the broader point is that having a tiny number of individuals making extraordinary sacrifices to enter the housing market is still a huge departure from historical norms. Previously most people bought houses, because most people could. But prices are currently at an historical high relative to incomes. The fact that young people buying houses in Auckland is such a singular event that it is newsworthy is a signifier of the problem in of itself.
There’s no continuous data series that lets you track house prices back to the 60s, so here’s two merged together: average individual incomes and then median household incomes. Houses are twice as expensive relative to income as they were in the early 1980s. Couples on two incomes find it harder to service a mortgage than single income earners did then! (And don’t get me started on the high interest rates in the 80s, that were part of an inflationary cycle that reduced the value of those mortgages dramatically, while my mortgage is still there after four years of the Reserve Bank undershooting its inflation bound.)
April 27, 2016
The Government is considering a land tax on offshore purchases of residential property.
Prime Minister John Key said the tax could be introduced if new data showed offshore buyers were pushing up New Zealand’s house prices. It would be the most effective response because it could be adjusted for conditions, he said.
The tax would capture New Zealanders living overseas, though expats could possibly get an exemption for three years.
A tax working group recommended a land tax in 2009, but it was not adopted at the time. The working group wanted the tax to apply to all property owners, not just offshore buyers. It estimated that a 1 per cent tax on the value of land would lead to an immediate fall in land value of 17 per cent, making housing more affordable.
A land tax huh? Very 19th century. It sometimes feels to me like Key and English realise they’ve done a pretty shitty job at modernising our economy so they’ve set up freebie policies for the subsequent left-wing government. There’s the capital gains tax on property sales within two years, which can be kicked up to ten years, and now it looks like there will be a land tax for foreign owners, which can easily be adapted to a land tax on undeveloped properties in urban areas (land banks), or even single owner occupier properties in suburbs like, say, Remuera, to encourage the development of apartment buildings.
April 26, 2016
Yesterday we walked the new track along the hilltop between Pukerua Bay and Paekakariki. It’s really beautiful: easily one of the best walks in the Wellington region. It’s also harder than most of the other popular Wellington tracks. Someone died just ahead of us on the trail, and several miserable-looking people walking the opposite direction from us stopped us to demand if there were any more uphill bits to come. There were a number of crying kids sitting on stairs half-way up cliff-sides being hectored by exasperated parents. (On the other end of the spectrum, some god-like looking shirtless dude ran past us and he wasn’t even breathing hard or sweating.)
It took us two hours, and I am moderately unfit. There are loads of good picnic spots. As we came out at about 4PM a group of people were just entering to do the walk as the sun went down, which would be awesome, although you wouldn’t want to get stuck up there when it got dark.
April 20, 2016
As everyone on the left never tires of pointing out, we had thirty years of neo-liberalism in New Zealand. But we don’t seem to have an abundance of capitalism. On the contrary:
Oravida is exporting millions of litres of New Zealand water to China, and the Green Party says it is wrong that they are paying practically nothing for it, while potentially making hundreds of millions of dollars.
Oravida pays about $500 a year to draw up to 400,000 litres of water a day from the Otakiri Aquifer in Bay of Plenty.
This will allow the company to take up to 146 million litres a year from the aquifer until 2026.
An Environment Bay of Plenty spokesperson said Oravida had paid a total $1503 for the consents since 1992, and last year paid $526 dollars in compliance costs.
Oravida managing director Julia Xu has been quoted in media reports saying that the company sells its water in China for $1.60 a litre. If it sold all 146 million litres of water at that price, it would make sales of $233 million a year.
We have endless crackdowns on benefit fraudsters to make sure they’re not scamming a few extra dollars from the state, and at the same time we’re literally giving away almost a quarter of a billion dollars a year in commodities to a company with close links to the National government. Tell me more about what a business genius Key is, and how fiscal and dour and prudent and sensible Bill English is while they hemorrhage valuable resources away for nothing.
If there’s a gap in the political spectrum anywhere in New Zealand its here. You could start a political party that stands for what the National Party pretends to stand for – markets, individual freedom, democracy, equal opportunity – and its manifesto would be to do the exact opposite of everything Key, English, Joyce and McCully have done in the past eight years.
April 19, 2016
- Warning: contains spoilers for much of the novel’s big reveals. Just like this NYRB review, only they don’t have a spoiler warning and just blurt out all of the huge plot twists, out of malice presumably, because their reviewer didn’t like it. Here’s a positive review at The Atlantic, which reckons it is the ‘great gay American novel’. I’m not an expert on gay American literature, but I’m also pretty confident that reviewer is wrong.
- I loved the first third of the book and actually went around recommending it to people based on the beginning, and then finished it and decided I didn’t actually like it that much.
- Here’s my problem. Yanighara wants to Say Something with this book. She’s making a statement about physical and sexual child abuse, and how in a lot of memoirs and literature it is often depicted as a traumatic obstacle in people’s lives for them to recover from, or overcome and then find happiness and fulfilment. But that isn’t how it works, she argues. The evil of abuse is that many victims never recover. Their lives and their ability to find happiness can be forever diminished, and the damage inflicted upon them goes on to contaminate the lives of those who love them.
- I think that’s an awesome premise for a book. I don’t hold with the idea that good literature should be complex and mysterious and nuanced. More novelists should call it like they see it.
- The obvious problem with writing a book like that is that it would be unrelentingly grim and unreadable. And Yanigahara’s solution to this is to go for high gothic melodrama. The abuse suffered by Jude, the main character is appalling. And then it gets worse. And then it gets even worse. And then it gets worse still in an incident which, if it happened in the real world would be a global news story but in the world of A Little Life in which everyone is, seemingly either a paedophile rapist or a doting saint, is unremarkable.
- And then Jude and his friends have to live successful lives, both to dazzle and uplift the reader – for a while – and also make the point that no level of wealth or success can heal Jude. So the four friends become super wealthy lawyers and artists and architects and actors, all beloved and famous and celebrated, and live in fabulous apartments surrounded by beautiful art and cook lavish meals for brilliant dinner parties and travel the world and build dream homes and do virtuous things with their vast wealth. For such a serious and celebrated literary novel there’s an awful lot of Sex and the City to the book.
- So Yanigahara is trying to make a point about the reality of abuse, but doing so in a book in which almost none of the plot is remotely realistic.
- And she’s also structured it like a mystery novel. What happened to Jude? How did he get those mysterious scars? Keep reading to find out! This means that a lot of the payoffs – the satisfaction – in reading the novel is reading about child abuse. She’s very careful not to exploit or sensationalise this: there’s nothing graphic. What she does do is give the reader enough detail to create a negative space in which we can imagine it all ourselves. I don’t know if even the very worthy theme of the book quite justifies that.
- The book is an experience though. The plot is not realistic, but it does take you deep into the life and mind of a very damaged soul and it (mostly) seems compelling and real.
- I am usually an advocate of populist, accessible literature but in this case it feels like the author undermined what could have been a great book in order to make it more popular and accessible.
April 18, 2016
Via Wikipedia: Jonathon Keats, experimental philosopher:
In 2006 Keats undertook several new projects, including two collaborations with other species: In rural Georgia, he gave fifty Leyland cypress trees the opportunity to make art by providing them with easels. In Chico, California, he choreographed a ballet forhoneybees by selectively planting flowers on the Chico State University farm, reverse engineering honeybee communication to suggest dance arrangements inside hives. Keats also turned to himself as the subject of a lifelong thought experiment, undertaken through the act of living. To make the experiment scientifically rigorous, he established a scientific control in the form of a high-density carbon graphite block precisely calibrated to match the carbon weight of his own body. The block was placed on display under abell jar at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. And at Modernism Gallery in San Francisco, he applied string theory to real estate development, enlisting the legal framework of air rights to buy and sell properties in the extra dimensions of space theorized by physics. To encourage speculation, the artist created blueprints for a four-dimensional tesseract house that purchasers might use as a vacation home. One hundred and seventy-two lots on six Bay Area properties were bought on the first day of sales.
There is much, much through the link.
April 15, 2016
Lawyers have been called in over an article on the pop culture website The Spinoff, which reports allegations about a man said to be well-known in the music industry.
The website recounts sexual harassment claims against the man, based on interviews with women who said they had dealings with him.
The allegations have been made at a time of intense concern about society’s attitude to abuse of females, and the way such claims are sometimes treated.
But ignoring for a minute the substantive issues, in my opinion the coverage raises issues over the growing trend towards trial by social media.
At this stage, police have only begun to look at the claims, but there is a risk that people might form conclusions based only on the allegations in the article.
Spinoff owner Duncan Greive says the website took a lot of time considering the issues involved in running the article, which he says was clearly displayed as the women’s view of events. Several journalists have since held up the report as an example of good journalism.
I asked Greive whether the coverage was a case of trial by internet. He said that been happening for a long time, and he was comfortable with the way the claims had been dealt with.
The man’s lawyer says he is considering his options.
The Spinoff article is here.
Firstly, as the opening scene of The Godfather points out, if the criminal justice system is broken then people route around it. These workarounds are always less optimal than having an effective criminal justice system. The solution to that, in this case, is to fix the justice system’s demonstrable inability to punish or deter the majority of sexual offenders, not to question the work-arounds. The government is always quick with ingenuous fixes and compromises to the justice system and its principles when, say, the revenue streams of copyright holders or the powers of the security services are threatened, so it would be nice to see that ingenuity put to use to protect actual living humans from sexual assault.
Secondly, I intend to start using the phrase ‘But ignoring the substantive issues . . .’ until it stops being funny and becomes annoying, and then for quite a long time after that.
April 13, 2016
Generous Wellingtonians are inadvertently funding criminals by giving to beggars, police say.
Inspector Terry van Dillen, of Wellington police, delivered that message to Wellington City councillors on Wednesday ahead of a debate on what to do about the city’s begging problem.
“Wellingtonians are very, very generous with their money. I’ve seen it myself on Friday and Saturday nights on Courtenay [Place] and Blair [St].
“People are throwing a lot of spare cash at the beggars,” van Dillen said.
It was unclear just how many Wellingtonians were aware that when they put money into a beggar’s bowl, someone else was often taking a cut, van Dillen said.
“What are we going to do about that?”
If only we had a large body of trained professionals granted extraordinary powers to capture and imprison criminals who steal people’s money.