‘Sister Europe’ -and Brexit

Can’t muster much m0re than bewilderment and concern on this. I could see the appeal of the vote to leave – in fact I thought the Brits would vote to leave, and was rash enough to post this on the Twitter before the vote. 

It seemed to me that if the polls were that close the Brexit-eers would get over the line – that there would be a similar ‘shy Tory’ effect seen in the UK polls at their last general election. 

I don’t like the appeal to naked racism the Brexiteers engaged in.  I think you could make an economic and political argument for exit without going there – in fact I think the case for leaving, if this were a more normal time globally, is stronger than Remain, without raising the flag of xenophobia or racism.. 

But the timing of this is all wrong.  This is going to be destabilising at a time not just the UK but the world economy doesn’t need any more destabilising influences. 

If I’d been in the UK, I’d have voted remain for that reason. It would have been a reluctant vote, a very reluctant one. 

Anyway, here’s the Psychedelic Furs’ “Sister Europe”.  Seems apt. 

Buy a car and watch it rust

Sister see them fall to dust

They fall around

In another crowded room

Paint me like the shirt I’m in


Slap Bang numbers

Three months ago, as I was walking into Statistics New Zealand, I ran into a bloke from Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce’s office.

What do you think today’s figure will be like, I asked him. None of the economists were forecasting any major change – they all had it sticking at around 6.5-6.8% of the workforce, where it had been for some time.

Certainly none of them expected it to go above 7%.

He grimaced.

“I don’t know about this one – we’ve got a feeling it might not be that good,” he said. This was interesting, as my own gut feeling was similar – in fact at that stage I was starting to wonder if the economy might have even gone backwards in the third quarter of last year.

None of us, though, thought it was going to be 7.3% of the workforce.

In the event, I didn’t write much about unemployment that day: running out of the Statistics NZ lock up to get a Vodafone mobile connection I stumbled into the sliding doors and wound up headbutting the gravel with extreme prejudice. Ended up in hospital with wires attached to me.

The consensus market forecast for today is I’ll stay upright, and there’s a lot less margin for upside/downside surprises on this forecast than there are to most economic outlooks right now.

Today’s figure could go either way, I think: for NBR Online subscribers, I’ve done a preview here.

The impression I get is the economy picked up again in the last six to eight weeks of the year, and when you look at the other economic data the 7.3% figure seems an outlier: the surprise is not that it rose, but that it rose by quite that much.

Things to Worry About

  1. North Korea.  These people have just lost their beloved Leader, one of only about three people north of the 38th Parallel with a weight problem.  These people are crazed with hunger and now with a weird collective grief.  Sort of like the Princess Diana thing, only instead of Elton John they have nukes. 
  2. Europe. These people are crazed with debt problems and with, in the jargon of the financial markets, ‘kicking the can down the road’.  They’ve now got the fiscal equivalent of stubbed toes and they’re running out of road. The thing about debt and deficits is that at some point you have to start the long slow paying back.  New Zealand learned this 25years ago – slowly and painfully, and our political discourse is still scarred by the decisions made at that time.  The EU can only get worse, and it will be worse for a long time. And they also have the baby boomers tipping over into retirement – at least NZ didn’t have that imminent problem in the 1984-92 period.  
  3.  Ditto the US. They’re now going into presidential election year which means the chances of anyone saying or doing anything sensible for the next 12 months is pretty minimal.
Cheerful sod, aren’t I?  Well, as far as New Zealand’s prospects are concerned, I am quite optimistic – over the medium term, anyway.  I’ve written about this here and here will be a third installment in the New Year. 

I’m not convinced 2012 is going to be all that great.  But the combination of diversification of markets, with New Zealand now being geared to the part of the world that is just beginning to grow; New Zealanders’ newfound interest in savings – for the first time in a very long time;  a political system which is not gridlocked and which is, however imperfectly, dealing with the country’s problems instead of ignoring them and/or just blaming them on ‘the 1990s’; and a very transparent set of government finances, means the medium term outlook for New Zealand is quite positive.

We’re not going to boom – and it would not be a good thing if we were – and a country of 4.5 million people, spread over a comparatively large and difficult land mass, will always be vulnerable.

But for the first time in my lifetime – and I’m 47 – I’m looking a decade ahead and seeing solid reasons for optimism.

25 Days In November

Will be spending much of the next four weeks writing about the election, along with covering whatever form the global economy’s ongoing impersonation of a hormonal emotionally incontinent 14-year-old takes this particular cycle.

Oh, and tax.  There’s bound to be some tax stuff in there. Yummy yummy tax.

The twitter feed is probably the best short form way to keep up with things, as the entire news industry is now being twatted.

I may not be making much sense by the end of the month. Wibble.

Vengeance with a Back

The osteopath has been doing an Eddy Izzard on the spinal column  – yeah I know that’s chiropracty…chiropractory…chiropractism…whatever they call it – and yeah I know osteopaths and chiropractors view each other with the kind of warm regard normally associated with relations between Black Power and Mongrel Mob, or maybe between the local Playcentre Committee and the local Kindergartetn Committee….but the general approach, when you’re on the slab, seems awfully similar.

They both sort of try to turn you into a gibbering, breathing pretzel.

A few things I have been reading – stuff about NZ’s economic imbalances, mostly, and I really want to get away from it right now, because I think we’re going to have to have someone turn our economy into a gibbering pretzel.  Which would be an improvement, I suppose, and at least our economy only needs a ‘crack yer bones’ treatment rather than the economic equivalent of chemotherapy, although we’re going to need it for about a generation.

We’re not quite Greece, although another recession or another earthquake and we will be.

I’d planned to get away from all this stuff, and I now shall do so.  Elsewhere on the web, Dr Yobbo has been visiting hotels in Auckland and working out what he can nick:

 ‘Vanity kit’, consisting of three cotton buds in a small cardboard box. I stuck one in each nostril and still didn’t look like Prince’s ex. It’s possible I was doing it wrong, but I reserve the right to sue.

Dirk Flinthart has been sleeping badly:

 …when I heard a stentorian electronic monotone blaring out from somewhere downstairs at 0300, I groaned and pulled the pillow over my head. But Natalie got up and investigated, and didn’t come back, and that kind of meant I had to do something manly and tough, so I got up and grabbed my robe.

A bit closer to home, and a bit more seriously,  Chris Trotter – and others – are saying the polls understate Hone Harawira’s support because a lot of his supporters use cellphones, and/or are young.

It is now an article of faith among some sections of the Left that the methodology of New Zealand pollsters is irredeemably flawed. They argue that since more and more young, brown and/or poor Kiwis no longer use landlines, polling agencies that continue to rely on interviews with landline subscribers are bound to produce results significantly skewed towards the opinions of old, white and rich voters.

Ah, yeah.  Parties doing badly in the polls always seem to argue that for some reason their supporters aren’t getting polled.  I heard Labour and, particularly, Alliance people run it in 1996, (and Labour people again in 2008)   on the grounds that a statistically significant chunk of their supporters couldn’t afford phones at all. 

In 1996, just under 1996 of NZ households had a landline: in 2008 it was around 98%.

I’ve heard National and Act people run  the same argument, in 1999 and 2002, on the grounds that a disproportionate number of their supporters are self employed, and too busy to answer polls.

It was almost  all self-deluding, whistling-in-the-dark stuff, although from memory Act did do a bit better than the polls suggested in 2002 (National did worse).

There might be a bit more variation in tomorrow’s byelection, because it is for the country’s northern-most Maori electorate, and if the stereotypes are true, there is a disproportionate number of the country’s drug dealers in that electorate – people who famously buy cheap prepaid cellphones on Trademe rather than have a landline. 

  But I’m always dubious about stereotypes, especially self-serving ones, and this one is a bit too pat. I’m also not too sure if drug dealers are particularly conscientious about voting.

Tim Watkin, meanwhile, was on the panel with Winston Peters last weekend and wonders if it is all over for the guy.  I had a similar response, watching the same interview, especially Peters’ ‘We’re still relevant’ at the end:  it had the same slightly desperate  and defeated tone as Muldoon’s ‘I love you too, Mr Lange,’ in the last debate in the 1984 election.

Watkin also notes something I think is being under-estimated by most of the opposition parties – especially Labour: that there is a very different mood in the country.

 The earthquakes in particular have changed the mood of the country in ways we still don’t entirely comprehend. There’s a wariness abroad in the land; a sense that things have changed.

He’s right, although I’d say the change started before the earthquakes – Canterbury’s tragedy has, however, made the mood deeper and stronger. I’d say the origin is in the global financial crisis and the realisation that the country can’t go on running up debt.  The earthquakes have given this an even sharper focus:  they’re a reminder that we are very vulnerable on a number of fronts and we need to be a lot more prudent if we’re going to deal with these. 

Rich Bastards, Poor Bastards

It looks like we’re in for another round of that tedious old debate about whether the rich in New Zealand are heroes or whether they are crooks.
This invariably turns into a moralistic whine-fest. 
Deborah Coddington kicks it off, ably assisted by David Farrar.   Danyl at the DimPost puts the contra view here. 
Where to start?  Well, I think Deborah makes some good points but she loses me when she talks of “championing” the well off. 
Successful people, by definition, don’t sit around whining no-one is championing them.
Danyl’s arguments, on the other hand, hinge on that sour, four-letter reductivist word, “just”.  It is always a good idea, whenever you see the word deployed in this way, to think very carefully about what is actually being said. 
This approach involves focusing on just one aspect of what went into someone’s success and implying its presence somehow invalidates the whole thing.
John Key and Sam Morgan were successful because they were just lucky, apparently. 
Well, no.  Other New Zealanders also set up web sites which copied eBay.  The fact you probably can’t name any tells its own story. 
John Key was part of a relatively lucky generation but unless he was a generation of one, which doesn’t seem very likely,  so too were a hell of a lot of other people.
(I’m not out to “champion” either of those two, btw – I’m citing them because others have. )
But I think we need to get a bit less prone to label all our more financially blessed fellow Kiwis as charlatans or silver-spooners. 

It seems odd to bewail our poor economic performance over the past 40 years and then in the next breath badmouth everyone who does do well for themselves.  

Doing well as a country, earning enough to pay for the lifestyle we think we deserve (and as a country we do have very high expectations) means learning to get a lot more comfortable with the fact some people are going to be better off than others. 
I don’t think we need a culture which “champions” wealth.  
But we do need one which does not automatically seek to pull down those who have wealth-generating abilities.  At present this is the default setting of all too many New Zealanders and, apart from being nasty and envious,  it is quite destructive. 

Budgets past…

Both Ele at Home Paddock and Inventory2 at Keeping Stock 

have memories of Budgets past, listening to the radio in the evening.
The first I remember was Bill Rowling’s second, and last, Budget as finance minister in 1974.  I was just starting to take an interest in what was in the newspaper and there was a Minhinnick cartoon, the morning of the Budget, of Rowling on the phone and saying ‘Good morning, Nordy…’
It was, of course, the first Budget after the First Oil Shock and it was expected to be a tough one. (it wasn’t). ‘Nordy’ was Arnold Nordmeyer, architect of the 1958 ‘Black Budget’.
It was either that Budget or the next one I was at a dance at the local hall on Budget night, and all the dads – farmers, all – were out the back in the kitchen, listening to the radio as it was being read. 
What hit me at the time was the atmosphere of … not quite dread, but disquiet.  The economic ground was shifting under our feet and things would never be the same again.  People knew this, even if they weren’t up on the detail of economics. A great part of Muldoon’s appeal was he seemed so certain – he provided assurance in what was becoming a very uncertain world. 
Whenever I think of Budgets now, I think of that country hall, and that room of worried farmers.