Sunday, March 22, 2009

How accountable is government?

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One of the blatant contradictions that arises with government is their utter lack of public accountability. Private citizens and business people are required to act with a great deal of prudence in the way they conduct themselves, yet government officers ('bureaucrats') can act with impunity. Under the worst possible conditions they are likely to just lose their jobs. Many of them with just resign before that occurs so they can keep their generous lifetime pension.

We all know that there are laws which require the government to act in a certain way. The problem is that there are no substantive consequences if the government does not act the right way. The public organisations that execute or are enforce the laws are mostly not accountable for their actions. This means that the government is treated differently from companies or private individuals. The implication is that the government faces little deterrence other than bad publicity for non-compliance or poor execution. The reason is that voters have come to expect ineptitude from both sides of politics. Why? Because competition is GOOD right? Oh except for politicians. In politics there is no law preventing parties from forming cozy duopolies. Have you ever noticed that there is a cozy duopoly in every democratic country. Have you ever wondered why that exists? Let's extrapolate a little. Have you ever wondered why politicians are so inept and unethical?
Let's consider NZ - which is a pretty typical Western democracy. Probably freer than most. It was only from 2002 that public organisations were able to be prosecuted for a limited range of offences under the Crown Organisations (Criminal Liability) Act 2002. However, the application of this Act is currently limited only to offences under the Building Act 2004 and the Health and Safety and Employment Act 1992. What is more poignant here is that fact that taxpayers are going to pay any damages. I frankly don't know of any scam that beats that! Why should anyone be free of accountability?
Don't expect the media to do anything about this disparity in political values.
Andrew Sheldon

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Libertarianism - what's in a word?

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I have not had much to do with libertarianism, though on some level I might be considered one. Certainly I am a fan of small government. I might even be a fan of competing governments depending on what grab bag of functions you think government should be taking care of. I tend to think it matters little who administers anything as the responsible party is responsible or accountable and that reason is the standard. This need not just apply to the law......and this is where I depart from a great many libertarians.
I have this problem with them. They are advocates of freedom on the premise that freedom is restraint from initiating force. On this point I am in agreement with them. But this strikes me as law, and not morality. This philosophy of libertarianism has no theory of values. It defines what you can't do, and offers no moral guidance for what you should do. You might argue that you should do anything up until the point at which you start hurting others.
The problem of course is - what constitutes hurt or injurious behaviour? Certainly we can see the impact of stealing something of value, or the hurt or injury of a gun shot wound. But what about more intangible actions like:
1. Giving a child, or even selling their adult parents alcohol
2. Selling pornography to anyone who pleases
3. Selling drugs to kids or adults

Now, depending on your country's attitudes to these things, these actions might be either legal or not. Legality really comes down to repressed religious oppression or self-indulgence on such issues because I have yet to see a rational explanation or a 'theory of values' to explain why these actions are right or wrong.....apart from the general 'consensus' that its impractical to break the law. Clearly people do, and they are tolerated, or they get away with it.

I would argue that these actions are unethical, or immoral, and I make no distinction between these words. Someone might want to waste their time? Just give the job to a bureaucrat. I am only interested in words to the extent that they denote something in reality, and not words that fit into some arbitrary construction, detached from reality. Conclusion...because its the law!

I would argue that pornography, drugs and alcohol are not ethical practices if they detract from your quality of life, and if they medicate rather than solve problems. They detract because they don't resolve issues, and nor are they a stepping stone to finding solutions. They are an act of evasion. Do they hurt other people? No. That is why they are not often illegal. But herein lies the problem, they are not going to help you solve problems, and given a proper theory of values, they are going to just medicate people. This is not an inappropriate thing to do when you live in a police state. The worst police states in the world like Soviet Russia have the worst problems.

So in conclusion I find libertarian valueless - but then its the law - its not supposed to be based on a theory of values. It is the role of the law to provide the context in which the law is applied. Another problem is, after spending all that money on libraries, the government leaves nothing for justice, and that to me is the essence of liberty. Instead we get CEOs, bankers doing all sorts of damage, and the government is too underfunded to do anything about these issues.
Andrew Sheldon

Thursday, March 05, 2009

NSW government to squander privaitsation funds

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According to the SMH, the NSW taxpayers are about to lose $3 billion in public funds. You might be asking why? Well there are several reasons:
1. The NSW government is selling state assets at a time when public assets are at their lowest value in 20 years, and confidence is low
2. The way previous privatisations have been performed is that the government commits the utilities to long term vested contracts which lock in future revenues in order to get a higher price from the sale. The implication is that taxpayers are effectively being taxed
3. The broking industry is paid huge sums to coordinate a privatisation process which would be far cheaper if the government just tendered the sale of each power station, yet made a commitment to sell all of them.
4. The taxpayer would have been better off if the government had reformed the sector prior to sale
5. The taxpayer would have been better off if the industry was structured in a way which delivered competitive electricity services
6. The taxpayer would be better off if

The sale of NSW power assets is expected to raise $10 billion for the government. The decision is being taken because the NSW Labor government has placed the state’s finances in a parlous state. It is now under pressure to sell assets to buy its way out of the political dumpster. This is a political backflip by a government that has long campaigned for public utility ownership. Now it finds itself in a bind, it wants to sell off the family jewels for a song. This is just further evidence of the short-range thinking of politicians. Whilst I agree these assets should be sold, this approach is nothing more than a short term grab-for-cash. The notion that these assets needed to be sold, according to Finance Minister Joe Tripodi, was because “private sector investment was needed to ensure power supplies in NSW into the future”. This is nonsense. There is no reason why the government cannot tender for a build-own-operate power station. There is no reason why these assets need to be sold. This is political party cash raising prior to the next election to find future election bribes. This is a power-hungry party placing its own interests ahead of taxpayers.
Joe Tripodi’s other reason for privatising power assets was to “return proceeds from the sale to NSW taxpayers”. Of course there will be a return because these assets have been held by the government for decades. The question is why now? Why sell when the stock market has fallen through the floor. There is a very good reason and its totally political. They want access to the cash, at a time when they will not get a good price for an asset which is a cash cow.
There are many examples around the world where taxpayers experienced a deterioration of service and a huge increase in costs after privatising power supplies. NZ has amongst the lowest cost power plants in the world, but its power costs have blown out since these businesses were privatised. Why? Because assets which were previously political instruments (and thus not open to service price increases) are now ‘market instruments’ upon which the government has poorly conceived the ‘competitive market model’ such that these utilities can collude to charge what they like. Prices are at the end of the day going to be charged
The problem is that by selling these assets in such bad times most investors will steer away from these ‘cash assets’. The bulk of shares will go to foreign investors who will be using their cheap $A to buy up these assets. The profits will go to foreign utilities and brokers for doing nothing. For cutting staff to trim costs which the government was too scared to do for political reasons. There will also be higher consumer prices after the next election because the utilities will not have the same compelling ‘political’ reasons for keeping prices low.
This is not good policy, this is not goo leadership. This is political expediency from the NSW. We saw the same with the railways in Sydney. Talking up a non-commercial railway then dropping the project after the election. This is typical political electioneering and VERY CYNICAL POLITICS. Taxpayers might superficially think that the state is making money from this deal, but it’s getting a fraction of what it should because the government will squander the benefits. This should be considered as taxation (for the high prices you will pay), higher surcharges (for all the commissions paid to brokers) and kickbacks (for all the money they will spend on marginal seats prior to the next election).
Andrew Sheldon

Brown and rhetorical thinking

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Well I just read the speech by Gordon Brown to the US Congress. I would have to say it was the most boringly predictable, uninteresting speech I have read of late. It talks of course of his love of America, shared values, fighting terrorism, climate change and the perils of economic crisis. The reality is that you can no longer learn the mark of a man from his speeches because they no longer write them. They are fluff pre-conceived to be safe and uninteresting. Its not a platform to influence people but to be magnanimous in the most shallow of ways - with words rather than deeds. The reason I say this is because:
1. The reaction of Arab terrorists is partly in answer to the lack of principle exhibited by the US and Britain in the Arab world. These countries did not care about Arab people, only that they got their oil revenues, and after nationalisation of oil assets, only that they got cheap oil supplies. The price they paid was Sept 11th. Was blowing up the trade towers justification for 9/11? Yeh, if you magnanimously talk about friends and crap without dealing with the levels of disenchantment in the Arab world on the issue of US foreign policy.
2. Greenhouse gas policy - the US has been far from a supporter of 'good oil' policy. It has artificially over-stimulated the US economy, to the point of precipitating a sustained recession/depression. It continues to have among the cheapJustify Fullest petrol in the world. If it was opposed to greenhouse theory, let us here its arguments.
3. Western alliance - how can you talk up an alliance with Britain, Australia, NZ and ignore the absence of other Western countries.
4. Economic crisis - How can you talk about being defenders of economic prosperity when your government is complicit in the unravelling of the global economy.

I personally love crises because that is when I make a lot of money. Crises are followed by commodity booms. In crises people think short term. That is when I do my long term planning. But that does not change the fact that I would happily do something else rather than destroy people's lives - that is those people who depend on economic activity. So such speeches really do speak words of shallow rhetoric. Talk and deeds are transparently different. But no, he is a fitting addition to the US Congressional bench.
Andrew Sheldon

ConvinceMe.Net - Anyone up for a debate?