Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Taxing To The Hilt: The Failed Socialist Experiment

The great mistake that Socialists make about the world is that individuals behaviour does not change by altering the tax system. This is their justification for not cutting taxes when tax cuts are affordable: that they refuse to acknowledge the overwhelming evidence that tax changes influence individual economic activities, which have a massive cumulative effect on the overall economy.

The most startling case in point is the current state of the property market. The principal reason that that the Auckland residential property market has been running so hot over the last few years has nothing to do with sound macroeconomics; even the most basic economist will tell you that housing is not a productive investment. It does not, of itself, create wealth. But it is a sensible individual choice, based in large part to the peculiarities of the tax system that Michael Cullen governs.

The reality is that while it is nonsensical that investment property attracts so much individual investment, compared to productive assets, it is very sensible at the individual level. The reason it makes sense is that for small, individual investors, capital gains on investment properties are not taxed.

Personal income is taxed. At sixty thousand dollars, an investor is paying twice the marginal tax than somebody earning thirty-eight thousand dollars a year. The Socialist mantra claims, for some reason, that this is a fair arrangement. The individual taxpayer, who is by no means wealthy, but is striving hard to earn sixty thousand a year, does not feel that same degree of fairness. Unfairness soon leads to resentment. And resentment leads to people looking at ways of behaving differently.

There are various, widely-known mechanisms and financial products in the market to deliver tax-free capital gains to off-set personal income tax. And there are many individual investors—principally those who are earning over $60,000 per year—who are taking advantage of their legal entitlements.

Gone are the days when investment in residential property was a time-consuming affair, associated with the pitfalls of finding a good tenant to a property. There are several companies in the market that provide an end-to-end property investment service, from development of the property, financing, provision of legal advice, valuation of the property, tenancy and maintenance management, and guarantees of rental returns. An ordinary investor can enter the residential property market, having expended no greater energy than he would if he had simply gone down to the bank and made a deposit.

These are not the rich fat cats of society. This is not a scandal of winebox proportions. This is not a story of a handful of high net-worth individuals exploiting cunningly-devised, and little-known tax legislation, to rip the tax base of a few million dollars here and there. Rather, it is a matter of ordinary, mum-and-dad investors making the use of basic investment vehicles to reduce their tax liabilities, to the tune of hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars a year. They are not even small business owners who can take advantage of this situation, but ordinary, average, middle-income salary and wage earners.

The average income for a university-educated, full-time worker in paid employment is morme than $60,000 per year. In Auckland, that person earns more. Consequently, there is a massive market for property-based financial products that are designed to reduce tax.

The property market in New Zealand is effectively a state-sanctioned, and profitable grand pyramid scheme. Demand for residential property investment, propelled by high marginal tax rates, is largely immune to incremental interest rate rises, as the higher the finance cost of a property, the greater that property losses can be attributed against personal income tax. High marginal tax rates at low threshholds, through the property market, have created a degree of structural inflation.

Michael Cullen argues that reducing tax across the board has inflationary effects. Roger Kerr has written extensively on this, pointing out that in an open, competitive, trading economy, the effect of increasing the money supply is less inflationary than in a protected market. The reason for this is that the price of most goods and services in New Zealand is directly related to international commodity prices: New Zealand is too small a market to effect an increase in international commodity prices.

And what Cullen's argument doesn't address is that high marginal tax rates are a key component in both structural inflation, and high interest rates: housing investment is normally financed by fixed-term interest rates that are immune to increases in the Reserve Bank's OCR. House price inflation, driven by increased demand for investment property, to off-set personal income tax, is the key player in the structural inflationary mix.

This, of course, constitutes on its own, a massive potential threat to the tax base. It is guided, for no other reason, than that individual investors feel resentful towards the Government for the amount of money they are paying in tax, for little service.

The result is four-fold: that the Socialists’ attempt to punish the well-off doesn’t actually work, that the tax base is reduced, and that economic activity is distorted: that individuals will cumulatively invest in non-productive assets, rather than productive businesses. Further, low-income New Zealanders are priced out of owning their own homes, as structural inflation locks them out.

That is entirely the situation in the New Zealand economy today.

The Reserve Bank has responded that it is looking at the arrangements of Loss Attributing Qualifying Companies. Again, these are not intricate devices reserved only for the very wealthy who can afford complex legal advice; they can be set up by any one of many mortgage-brokers in New Zealand. They are the prime instrument for reducing an individual’s tax liability. These products are easily accessible, and inexpensive to set up.

Tens of thousands of LAQCs function to fuel and maintain the value of the property market. The effect of any changes to the tax system relating to LAQCs would have an immediate and catastrophic effect on the Auckland housing market, in particular. The consequence of that is a potential threat to the banking system as a whole. But before the Socialists suggest that such a correction would be a good thing, consider this: the working capital of most small businesses in New Zealand is financed by equity in residential property. Start pinging the housing market, and small companies--and therefore jobs--go down the drain.

The only means to safely amend this situation is not to look at a capital gains tax on property. Capital gains have come about because of the distortionary nature of the tax system, which is driving investors into property ahead of other asset classes.

A far more practical approach to encourage investors to move into productive assets is to reduce high marginal tax rates. It’s not something Michael Cullen would like to tell his voters—who believe that middle-income New Zealanders are actually being punished for working hard and earning more. The reality for many of them is that the punishment doesn’t exist. Instead, the tax system fuels higher housing prices, making it unaffordable for low-income New Zealanders to live in places like Auckland and Wellington. Yet again, the Socialist formula cheats low-income New Zealanders who aren’t paying sufficient tax to benefit from tax write-offs in order to leverage them into the property market.

By reducing marginal tax rates and increasing the threshholds to which those rates apply, the Government would remove this perverse incentive to over-invest in the property market. Residential property would still be a viable investment option, but it would no longer be the only investment option for many New Zealanders. House prices would rise at a slower rate, and the structural inflation, and higher interest rates to attempt to counter those price rises, would disappear.

This morning I was having breakfast with a mate, who earns around a hundred grand a year. He’s not wealthy, except in the eyes of the non-working poor, but he is comfortable. I asked him about his property investments. He responded that he had none. I said to him: “Are you fucking mad? Why not?”

He answers: “Because I’m not sure about where the market’s at, right now.”

So I give him a three-minute spiel around the fact the Auckland property market has doubled in value, every seven years, for the last hundred years. That a very simply-devised mechanism would provide him with an additional income stream of twenty thousand dollars a year, plus capital gains over the medium-term.

By the time we got to our second coffee, I had made a call to another mate to see him at lunchtime. By dinner this evening, my breakfast companion was the proud investor in two residential properties, and Dr Cullen was some twenty thousand dollars a year poorer.

New Zealanders don’t have to go off-shore to pay lower taxes. They can do that right here. Of course, it doesn’t make our economy as a whole more robust, and low-income New Zealanders don’t share in that wealth—but that is the necessary consequence of Socialism and rampant taxation.

The Labour Government has slowly, but surely, created this situation due to their dogmatic insistence that it is right and fair to punish middle-income New Zealanders. Over the last six years wage rises have pushed middle New Zealand into high marginal tax brackets. This has encouraged New Zealanders to seek alternative investment options to reduce that tax liability.

Comments Policy

I take a fairly liberal approach to comments on this blog. Consistent with my basic philosophy that I don’t care what others think, nor do I particularly care how others express themselves here. Readers of the comments section will often see something from a pinko commie, who, through their own volition, has decided to both read what I have written here, and be offended by it. That’s their choice.

Of all the comments this blog has received, I have only ever deleted one comment, due to the defamatory content about another right-wing blogger. Mere criticism, or opposing debate, no matter how shoddy, is not, in my view, a reason to delete a comment. I’ll even take insults directed at me, straight on the chin: generally they are so weak and pathetic that it’s less trouble to ignore them than go through the process of deleting a comment.

(As an aside, I have also deleted spam, but that is no longer a problem since I installed the word verification feature here.)

Some blogs do not have comments features. Russell Brown is notorious for this: he actively writes a tirade of socialist nonsense, yet doesn’t give his readers the opportunity to respond. That’s his choice. It’s a hypocritical choice when he then spends half his days filling up the comments sections of other right-wing bloggers. I might have thought that it would be more sensible for him to grow some testicles and install a comments feature on his blog, if he wanted to have public discussion of his stupid thinking, but again, that’s his choice.

It does perplex me, however, when a left-winger sets up a blog, makes up an inflammatory post about a right-winger, and then deletes the comment that the right-winger makes in response. Such is the case with About Town this morning.

This morning, Xavier did a post disputing the appropriateness of my blog title. It was reasonably well-written and witty. I commented along the lines of: “Don’t you commie fuckers realize that I’m not actually offended by the idea that you’ve got nothing better to do than sling shit?”

And what do you know? Xavier deleted his original post, disabling that comment. He then reposted the same article. As if my response didn't exist, which is relatively deceitful in the general scheme of debate.

But for the record: no, I’m not offended by those pinko tantrums. Nor am I surprised that the About Towners are sufficiently dishonest as to delete a post they’ve made, simply to disable a comment I’ve made in response.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Hager: The Right Killed Rod Donald

I haven’t blogged at all on Rod Donald’s death. I have said to some that I detested everything that he stood for, and to suddenly claim some sudden grief at his passing would be hypocritical and self-centred.

I have said before that the most dangerous movement in New Zealand right now is the Green Party, and their duplicitous, envious approach to prosperity and wealth-creation in this country. They are not an environmental movement: they are a socialist brand that tries to hide its real agenda behind the caring, sharing, friendly face of conservation and protection of resources. To that end, I had no respect for what Rod Donald stood for.

Green Party members are the absolute dregs of society: anarchists, Marxists, and greedy little pinkos who want the State to capture yet more of the prosperity that individuals create. They will not be content until they have turned New Zealand back to a nirvanic ice age. When Rod Donald died, they were quite happy to manipulate the occasion so that everybody would feel a little happier about a key member of the Green movement.

But now some of them have come back out of their cages, and unhappy with the amount of glory they received, want just a little more, by politicising Donald’s death even further.

In this morning’s Herald, Nicky Hager is reported as criticizing the hypocrisy of Donald’s lifetime enemies, who praised Donald’s achievements in death. Here I don’t expect to have it both ways—people are free to mourn whomever one chooses, but I didn’t feel comfortable mourning him. I didn’t know Donald well, and didn’t have much to do with him personally. Nor did I want to. Yet Hager would have been the first to cry foul if Helen Clark, Don Brash, or Winston Peters had remained silent on Donald’s death.

But here is the clincher. At the memorial service for Donald in Wellington yesterday, Hager lands another new conspiracy: that the Right were responsible for Donald’s death. At the service, Hager said:

“He said Mr Donald had to endure taunts of "nutty" and "loony" designed to marginalise him and what he stood for. "I'm sure those years of personal attacks and put-downs were a constant strain that took their toll."
Wrong, Nicky. Rod Donald was a nut. People who told him so were just stating facts. You too are a loon. If you’re going to jump into the political arena and throw smear at others because of their ideas—as Rod Donald did, and you have always done, then you can expect people to bite back.

The reality is that the Green movement in New Zealand has not received anything like the exposure it deserves. The soft image of the Green Party—led by Jeanette and Rod—masked the fringe lunacy of ending all further electricity generation, doubling petrol taxes, having Nandor promoting cannabis use outside secondary schools, releasing violent offenders from prisons, make roading construction prohibitive, slashing defence expenditure, and the minimization of private property rights. In short, the very claims that the Exclusive Brethren made during the election campaign, which, despite the Greens’ ire and rage, were largely accurate. Yet did the media focus on the actual claims the EB’s made? No. They focused on the messenger.

That was a classic Rod Donald tactic. To shift attention away from the shoddiness and undesirability of its own policy platforms, and instead create a culture of envy against those who work to create economic prosperity. They are inherently manipulators of truth. They fight the game hard. And for all the contempt I had for Rod Donald, he was pretty good at withstanding the attacks that he got. But he didn’t get attacked nearly as often as he deserved.

But it’s a nice try, Nicky. You should write a book about it. There’s definitely a conspiracy story in there somewhere.

It is, of course, part of an attempt to lionise Rod Donald: he is no longer able to actively strategise for them, but those who are left behind can use his memory to manipulate and carry on the sordid Green agenda. It is a disgraceful claim from Hager, but somehow one that Donald probably would have approved, if only because he, more than anybody else of the Left, lived by the principle that the end justifies the means.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Public Sector Excess Award: MSD

This morning I went looking for the Ministry of Social Development's briefing to the Incoming Government, following media reports that the MSD has now taken upon itself to be the Government's principal adviser--not on welfare issues--but on public health issues as well. I was curious as to how it came about that the MSD had taken on such a role.

So I visit the site. I look at media releases. And what do I find?

Nothing about the Ministry's briefing to the incoming government, I'm afraid. Well, it is there, but it's not displayed through the normal information channels. I might have thought that as a key policy adviser, that their PR person might have made it a high priority.

But apparently the MSD's public relations person has other priorities.

Or should I say, the MSD's PR machine. Because it is a frigging huge machine.

That is The Ministry of Social Development has three Wellington-based public relations advisers. Fair enough, I think. It's a big Government department. Three people is precisely triple as existed in 1999, even under the self-promoting extremes of Christine Rankin.

But I hadn't quite hit the mark, chaps and chapettes. Because in addition to the three media advisers based in Wellington, the Ministry of Social Development has ELEVEN regional public relations lackeys on their payroll. Fourteen spin-nurses lactating from the public breast. This is supposedly part of the high-value government expenditure that is more important than your tax cut.

Don't believe me? Then have a look here. Count them. Better still, if you, like me, run out of fingers at ten, I've listed them here.

Bronwyn Saunders Chief Media Advisor

Jane Mortlock Media Advisor

Northland Clare Blackburn

Auckland Aidan Richards

Auckland Amelia Cairns

Waikato Irving Young

Bay Of Plenty Julie Hill

Taranaki Gail Bennett

East Coast Calvin Robinson

Central Jacqui Ferrel

Wellington Mel Collier

Nelson Jill Harris

Canterbury Amanda Cook

Southern Juliet Smith

Yes. That makes fourteen of them. To give you an insight, that is three times larger than the DominionPost's entire full-time political contingent in the Press Gallery. From one government department.

And what kind of self-congratulatory trash do they put out? Apart from the grand total of fifteen press releases that the entire PR team has issued in the last year, have a look at this Pulitzer-winning piece: a newsletter about how some people were hired through Work and Income to station the tills in a supermarket, and a particularly scintillating gem about a Work and Income Case Manager who "teaches paper-making and card-making and how to make photo frames."

This is what your taxes are paying for. Oh, and if you were looking for the MSD's briefing, it's here. They do mention that the Government needs to "consider new pricing and tax initiatives around tobacco and alcohol". The numbers they use to justify it--that eighteen percent of all deaths in New Zealand are caused by tobacco smoking--aren't supported by the Ministry of Health--the Government's delegated principal public health adviser. MoH puts the same death rate at seventeen percent. A minor quibble, but MoH doesn't mention tax changes to reduce tobacco or alcohol consumption. Nor does Treasury or the IRD--the Government's principal tax policy advisers.

So what precisely is the MSD playing at? It really does sound rather like a stalking-horse for filling Government coffers even higher, presumably because the MSD needs the funds to ensure that some currently unemployed people in Northland get jobs working as PR advisers for the Ministry.

Fuck You, John O'Neill!

Yes, the ultimate comeback.

Despite the bleary-eyed cranks who thought we couldn't pull it off, and with Auntie Helen competing against Nelson Mandela in the first round, we've won the hosting rights for the Cup in 2011!

I never thought that the Cup was unaffordable to New Zealand in future years--but despite the vast odds, and all the depressive cocksuckers who thought we couldn't bring it here, it's ours.

All we have to do is win the frigging thing in 2007, and keep it here in 2011.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Albino Affair

Not so long ago, I was passing through Wellington for a weekend. While there, Adam*, an old university mate, suggested that I make an appearance for his cricket team.

Being the obliging guy that I am, I agreed. After all, I was free, single, and enjoyed the lads’ reputation for consuming copious quantities of alcohol before, during, and after a cricket match. To make it all the more worthwhile, there was an All Black game on that night, which was Adam’s ideal excuse for holding a gathering at his place.

The cricket was not memorable. It was the kind of blustery, arse-awful late-Summer day that only Wellington can turn on, leaving the players cranky, wind-burnt and with no result. Ideal for drinking beer.

I had not played for Adam’s team before. We were playing against a Sri Lankan eleven. The Sri Lankan players had learned their sense of sportsmanship from the Sri Lankan national side. Unfortunately for them, they had learned their cricketing prowess from the pre-Aravinda days of the Sri Lankan game.

The Sri Lankans were woeful that day. Being a competitive young whippersnapper, while they were batting and I was standing in the outfield, I broached the subject of their talent.

“How is it that you guys are so keen about cricket, yet you’re so fucking useless?”

At first, they reacted with the light, dulcet tones of the sort of performers who are used to sledging at high-level, cut-throat sport. They laughed.

I was in an obnoxious mood. There were six of them, and one of me. I wasn’t about to be laughed off. Still, I remained diplomatic and calm, while I devised my next strategy.

The Sri Lankans lost three wickets in seven balls. I had observed that the new batsmen were taking an inordinate amount of time to come out to the crease. The previous batsman had taken six minutes to go out to bat, after the previous batsman had left the field.

“Are you guys just completely fucking disorganized, or are you deliberately taking your fucking time?” I asked again, providing two conciliatory answers for them to choose.

From that point, a considerable argument resulted, in which I accused them of deliberately prolonging their padding-up in the hope that it would rain, and the match would be called off. I subtly advised them that they were a bunch of cheating, objectionable, pathetic duck eggs who didn’t deserve being on the same field as me.

Before a full-on rumble could commence, it started to rain. As I wandered back to my team-mates, I harangued them for not giving the Sri Lankans the same kind of grief that I had given them. One of them quietly, and quite feebly, informed me that they didn’t have anybody on their team who spoke to the opposition like that.

“Then you’re a pack of limp-wristed cocksuckers too!” I notified him.

Slightly annoyed, and moderately wind-burnt, I consoled myself by drinking more beer. I returned to Adam’s house, and drank more beer, and assisted him and his flatmates in preparing for the party. By “assisted”, I mean that I shouted at him a few more times about the state of his cricket team, and reported to him that I would discount him as a friend if he had not ensured that any hot chicks turned up to please me.

The party began civilly. It was a particularly genteel affair. I was assigned to the barbecue. Adam astonished and amazed several guests by pouring methylated spirits directly onto the burning coals, and by not setting fire to himself. I was quite liberal with the bourbon and continued to make what I thought were amusing references to other people about swapping one of my shots of bourbon for one of their shots of coke. To emphasise just how drunk I was becoming, my punchline would invariably be: “Hmmm. That sounds like a fair trade to me!”

Adam’s large deck was the perfect venue for a wrestle. For some reason, nobody else was particularly keen on wrestling. So I picked the biggest, strongest, and most athletic guy at the party and tackled him. Reluctantly, he started wrestling back. Gasps and cries shot out into the night, when I annoyed the biggest, strongest, and most athletic guy so much that he inevitably picked me up and threw me some distance off the deck, and down on top of a small tree.

I agreed that that was a satisfactory riposte to my behaviour, and decided not to continue wrestling. Instead, I wandered inside, and spotted another old friend, Nick, on the other side of the room. I drank a couple of drinks that didn’t belong to me, and shouted out: “Hey, Nick!”

Nick turned. So did everybody else.

“What?” Nick asked.

“Catch this!” I replied.

Now, I should tell you, dear reader, that I am an avid reader of the Bible. And that moment, I understood just how Moses felt when the Red Sea parted through Moses’ faith, and faith alone. And like the Red Sea, the entire gathering separated in two, leaving a perfect corridor between myself and Nick.

So I started to run. I gathered some speed before, having finished the running stage of my challenge, I started to jump.

That evening, Nick, who has never been particularly keen to catch a cricket ball, did take the catch. He caught me. He had no choice but to catch me. At first he was stunned. Then, having taken my weight in his arms, his legs told him that his body was not designed to withstand such a force. So he teetered. And he began to fall.

But before he fell, I jumped off him. Nick crashed through a wooden chair, shattering it to pieces. Nick accused me of breaking the chair. I answered that I hadn’t touched the fucking chair, and that he was to blame. Before a fist-fight broke out, we agreed that it was best to settle the dispute by drinking more alcohol.

At this juncture, given that I had made myself persona non grata among at least one of Adam’s flatmates, for no other reason than that I was close to Nick when he smashed through her favourite chair, I opted to retire to the deck with my bottle of bourbon.

When I reached my spot, I made a point of pissing on the lemon tree that I had fallen through during my wrestle, telling anybody who happened to be near me that urine, being very acidic, is highly “nutrientious to citrus trees”. Some wag claimed that there was no such word as “nutrientious”. I told him he was a fucking dick.

I have found that some of clearest thoughts that I have ever had have occurred during urination. Perhaps it is the lack of concentration involved once I have unzipped my pants and flopped it out; I go into auto-pilot, and reach a zen-like state. This cleansing of the bladder and mind revealed to me that on the other corner of the deck were a very blond, pale guy, and a very hot chick.

Having completed my ablutions, I asked Adam who the chick was “with the Albino”. Adam answered that he didn’t know who the chick was, but that she had come with Daniel, who was a friend and work colleague of one of Adam’s flatmates. The same flatmate who was already dark at me because Nick had broken her favourite chair.

“It’s okay, mate. I’ll be polite,” I slur.

So off I wander, and by the time I reached the end of the deck, Daniel had gone off to use the actual toilet, and I was left alone with the hot chick. I started chatting her up. Delicately. Subtly. “So you came here with the Albino, did you?”

She giggles. I offer her bourbon. Classy-like. From the bottle. She obliges. We talk more, I get her laughing. The Albino returns, but being the socially inept drop-kick that he is, he’s too scared to join the conversation, despite my loud references to “Albinos” that everybody else on the deck hears, but he ignores.

Now, I’ve never understood this about Albinos. I’ve found that if I mention “Germany” loudly, among groups of Germans, that they pick up the cue to come and talk to me. If I say “America” near some Americans, they see it as an invitation to chat about America. But I can report that in my experience, saying the word “Albino” at volume, near a guy with very blond hair, does not provoke the same degree of hospitality.

Assuming that Daniel the Albino is not a very cheerful, happy-go-lucky bloke, and that the hot chick doesn’t know anybody else at the party, the last thing I want is for her to be left on her own and bored. So I keep her talking. She seems to be entertained. We’re getting along well. And she’s very hot.

So, pretty rapidly, events tend to collide with each other, and we are in somebody’s car, while I give instructions that we are heading into town. The Albino is not traveling in the same vehicle. We arrive on Courtenay Place, and in that dare-devil way that lads do when it’s not such a dare-devil thing to do, we jump out of the moving vehicle. I say this is hardly dare-devil, as traffic moves very slowly late on a Saturday night.

And there we are in a karaoke bar. I go and gate-crash somebody else’s song, get the bartender to pour some more drinks, and start dancing with the hot chick. All simultaneously. We’re dancing pretty close, and she’s enjoying herself, and a few of the others from the party start arriving.

The Albino walks in, dead sober, and cranky that his girlfriend has her tongue in my mouth. And what does he do? Yes indeed. He gives her the stare.

The stare might work on a chick who is sober, or who when drunk has a conscience. This chick didn’t have sobriety, or a sense that she cared about the Albino.

But it was at this stage that I made my one fatal mistake of the evening. Until that time, I had survived an attempt to brawl with the Sri Lankan Cricket Team, wrestled a much larger person, imbibed far more alcohol than was humanly safe, broken furniture, sung ridiculously loud songs without destroying my voice, and had not yet been stabbed by the Albino, whose girlfriend, while not having technically stolen her, was certainly borrowing her without his permission.

Because what I did then was turn my back on him. Later, when I digested the events that I remembered of the previous evening, I reflected that I had learned a crucial lesson about animal behaviour: humankind has evolved to a state of culture and civilization such that we often forget just how vicious animals can get when they have the opportunity. They don’t think of pride, of humiliation, or even their own extinction when cornered. Such animals will throw everything, no matter how dirty, into a fight. It is their instinct.

And Albinos possess that same animal instinct.

I am not saying that a fight ensued, because it didn’t. Nor am I alleging that anything specifically untoward occurred at that point. What I will say is that when we returned to our table, the hot chick took a few swigs of her drink, and promptly rested her head on the table to sleep. Albino did not look surprised in the least.

If I had known as much as I do now, about the fine art of criminal forensics—since accidentally viewing an episode of CSI Miami recently—then I might have had evidential cause to suspect that the Albino had deliberately spiked his girlfriend’s drink in order to drag her away. In fact, I did not see him spike the drink. I did not keep a sample of it for testing.

I just suspected that was the case.

Which is why I am always suspicious of Albinos. They can never be trusted not to fight really really dirty when the crucial moment arrives.

*Not his real name.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Spare A Thought For These Impoverished Pinkos...

There’s been some comment on Russell Brown’s new union, The Association Of Talentless Herald Columnists, and some of the tactics they have used to address their pay dispute. Cathy Odgers has blogged on it--but from now on I am making no further reference to Cathy on my blog. Except for this.

My dispute with Cathy goes back some time. The essence of it is that she is an ideas-stealing bitch. She plagiarises my writing subject constantly. Her writing style is merely a slightly chickified version of my own.

Case in point: this morning I was being taxied to the airport. It was 4:30am, and I had nothing else to do for the hour-long journey. So I was browsing the internet on my cellphone.

My phone is not a particularly sophisticated creature. I use it merely to send and receive calls. But I’d worked out how to browse the interwebby thing, and caught up with Cathy’s blog. That’s when I read this story.

Now, the thing is with my phone is that only a limited number of characters can appear on the screen. So Cathy’s blog takes up 178 pages on the phone. Her Gang Of 14 piece extends to fourteen pages, excluding comments--a nice display of collaboration between herself and Nokia, if there ever were one. The upshot of it was that I could only read a paragraph of her writing at a time, and then wait a few seconds before the next page came up.

So I worked my way down, and had time to think between pages. At one point, I am thinking: “Ah, but there’s no excuse for Colin James to be a party of that bunch of whingeing, socialist losers.” And what is Cathy’s next line, once it finally comes up on my phone? Yes, folks: “I expected more from Colin James but there you go.”


That irritates me because as one strives to be original in this world, it often feels like I have uncovered the proverbial barrel of monkeys that are throwing random letters around, and somehow composing the entire works of William Shakespeare. In this case, I am the bard, and Cathy is the barrel. But I digress. It means that being the literary type, and having uncovered somebody who is revealing my thoughts before I get to express them, I have to outsmart those frigging monkeys.

So I’m coming up here with a few perspectives that Cathy missed out. As I write this, it is 2:30am in Hong Kong, and there’s no way she can amend her post in time to throw me the banana skins on this one.

I agree with Cathy that the Herald has the commercial right to do whatever it likes with its columnists’ work. I concur that this is essentially a pay dispute. But I go further with these points.

For a group of professional writers who compose valid arguments for a living, their complaint is really pretty shoddy. They throw in a range of inconsistent issues: concern about readers’ access to their work, concern that the Herald will lose out commercially in advertising revenue; concern that they weren’t consulted on a commercial decision made by the Herald; concern that readers will not buy the print edition anymore. They way the open letter is pitched, these are the chief gripes that the columnists have.

But that is patently dishonest on their part. If their problems were about readers’ access to their work, how does paying them more mitigate that concern? Are they actually saying that their views can be bought for a price? And if so, doesn’t that make an absolute sham of them expressing their opinions, if those opinions are a tradeable commodity (i.e. if they will shut up about the Herald‘s charging mechanism in exchange for more money, doesn‘t that suggest that every other view they express up for sale as well?).

Next the columnists crank about the cost of the on-line premium access. On the one hand they complain that the on-line readership has fallen off, and that their much-vaunted reader “feedback” has disappeared. Then they argue later that they see that the premium content strategy is likely to “cannibalise the print edition”, due to the substantial savings that readers will have by purchasing an annual on-line subscription. Well, dear columnists, which of the two is it? Those two points are entirely inconsistent with each other. If anything, what you have established is that you are incapable of making judgements on commercial decisions by media companies. While some of your arguments are coherent of their own, put together, they don’t make sense. If you were all running the Herald, you would never be able to form an opinion on anything!

Next we get to the substance of the complaint. That they’re not being paid enough. This is a curious mechanism for a bunch of Socialists: what they have done here is attempt to enter into collective pay negotiations. One of the features of the Employment Relations Act is that only registered unions are permitted to bargain collectively. And correct me if I’m wrong here, but the last time I looked, Russell Brown is not a registered union. He's not even an incorporated society.

The EMPU does have a large cabal of journalists among its membership, but they are clearly not a party to this pay dispute. For one, the columnists’ open letter slags off journalists and reveals to the public that the middle-class, liberal moralising that comes from the socialist media is not based on any degree of poverty on the journalists’ part.

So what we are seeing is a group of pinkos slagging off other pinkos, and in doing so undermining the purpose of the pinko Employment Relations Act by attempting to bargain collectively without the authority to do so.

Next we see the columnists attempt a comparison of what they earn versus feature writers. As Cathy has pointed out, a lot more effort goes into writing a feature than an opinion piece--feature writers interview subjects, get a range of views on a subject, and seek to report the whole story based on a range of facts. Columnists have no requirement to be objective. They don’t interview; they just write what is in their heads. So too did John Manukia--but that‘s a different subject.

But the main difference between a columnist and a feature writer is that one is a full-time employee, while the other is a person of standing or interest in the community who has a range of opinions on different issues. They have full-time employment elsewhere. Kerre Woodham, for example, is a well-paid talkback host. Bryan Gaynor is an economist. Tapu Misa is a freelance journalist--by choice, she does not wish to be tied to a single media company. So too is music writer Graham Reid. Through the Herald, they are given an additional forum to express the points of view that they form in their daily lives.

It is not a primary occupation. It is a bonus, which all the columnists involved benefit from in their non-columnist lives through the extra profile they receive from the Herald.

Finally, the complaint seeks to blame the Herald for the columnists’ own naivety. They confess their ignorance of copyright law, by signing it away to the Herald. Well, boo-friggity-hoo. You ignorant tossers entered into a commercial agreement with a company, and you want public sympathy for your stupidity? Cry me a frigging river!

As the monkey-barrel has pointed out, these are not star columnists. People do not read the Herald so that they can catch up on a Kerre Woodham column. They might read her column because it happens to appear in the Herald, but she doesn’t have any commercial pull of her own. And there is no shortage of interesting and qualified freelance writers who could replace them.

Compare the gang of 14--who are so individually insignificant that they feel their only means of addressing their pay dispute is to act collectively, with this guy. The Sun and the Daily Mail are currently in a legal wrangle over the employment of star columnist Richard Littlejohn, who was poached by the Mail for £ 1.2 million.

Bet Richard Littlejohn didn’t think of acting collectively for better pay.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Stuart Boag For Rakaia!

Come on out from under that bushel, Stu, and make a stand for the Rakaia seat.

Now is your time!

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Why I Blog...

An esteemed historian I used to know well, and for whom I had great respect, once told me about his philosophy on writing. To him, the written word has the power to condemn, to sanctify, to define and refine, to illuminate and obfuscate, to make light of the most tragic, or to sadden the most fantastic. Writing immortalises what the spoken tongue often forgets. But that is only part of it; the same can be said of any professional writer’s philosophy. What was most important to him was not the power of writing itself, but the connection that the writer had with his intended audience. For this particular scribe, he didn’t care for literary criticism. He didn’t concern himself with pundits or reviews. He never sought fame or acclaim for his work. Because he knew his audience.

To him, his text was the one tangible asset that he could transfer to his future generations, in the knowledge that none of his children could squander his legacy. He wrote for his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, about an age that he lived, and through his words, even if never published, his afterbears would have that perpetual knowledge that printed matter possessed. They were the only readers he cared about.

When Joe Stein published his first novel, Primary Colors, he also had an audience in mind. The sensation his work created, based on Bill Clinton’s campaign to win the Democratic Party nomination for the presidency in 1992, was as much based around the fact that he wrote under the pseudonym Anonymous, than for the quality of the novel or the subject matter. Of course, it was a passable novel, nicely written, witty, clever, but not brilliant. It sold well because readers wanted to know who Anonymous was. Joe Klein, a Time political correspondent who had followed Clinton’s up-and-down campaign, knew this readership well. It was the perfect gimmick.

It was an equally intriguing gimmick that Simon Carr played out when he authored The Spin: A Novel Of New Zealand Politics, in 1996. The novel didn’t have quite the scale of Klein’s effort, but Carr knew his mischief would create a mini-storm in the Capital. Knowing his readership, it didn’t actually matter that the events and interludes that Carr described occurred three years earlier, when he was part of Jim Bolger’s campaign. What mattered was that he had successfully started a fury in Wellington as to the authorship of the book. At the time, various pundits were pointing the finger at Michael Wall, Bill Ralston, Richard Griffin, and Barry Soper. Some of them didn’t even deny it—so keen were they to be part of the mystery. Even Linda Clark associated herself with the novel by threatening to sue the publisher for defamation. It was heady stuff, and Simon mostly got away with it.

Which brings me to myself. I write under a pseudonym for the precise reason that I know my intended audience intimately. My audience knows me. That intended readership is amused, frustrated, delighted, annoyed, irritated, angered, and charmed by what I write. Not always completely satisfied with what I come up with, but sometimes surprised, and even when my audience knows if I have composed in a state of inebriation, that audience forgives me. After all, both Dylan Thomas and Byron did their best work in that state.

My “dear reader”, to whom I am writing, is myself. This is, after all, an online journal. I do not write to piss off others or annoy them, or to seek glory or retribution. Frankly, I couldn’t care less if nobody visited my blog. As my by-line states, I don’t actually care what you think. This writing is about me, and my thoughts, and my immortality.

That aside, there has been some discussion about the identity of Insolent Prick. That conjecture tends to come from pinko liberals who are offended by what I write, yet still come and visit in order to be offended. That amuses me. And still I don’t care.

Visitors to my blog do have a function. I have been writing opinions for clients, and providing professional advice, for several years. Writing is a discipline. My blog is my principal means of maintaining that discipline. If I’m absent for a couple of weeks, comments from readers for me to get back to writing something are helpful. But they’re not the reason I write.

The events I describe in my blog are not fictional accounts. They are my interpretations on actual events to which I am a party. Often events I describe possess an element of symbolism. I will occasionally exaggerate to make a point, or change the series of events, or alter slightly immaterial facts. But the substance of what I write, and the opinions I express, are strictly correct. If I do make changes at any point, that is to protect the other people involved. I don't use my own real name here, and unless I'm discussing a political viewpoint on a public figure, it isn't appropriate for me to disclose the actual names of others in my stories.

So, having explained that I am the subject of this blog, and the sole intended audience of it, other readers are still welcome to browse and make comments. But those people are merely bystanders. I do not set out to offend those bystanders, but they should realise that they are reading what is, for all intents and purposes, my journal. These are my inner thoughts. I don't have access to other readers' journals--and realistically, I don't care to read them. They don't interest me. And I'm too vain to stay interested more than even momentarily.

So the bystanders have a choice to be here. I would not ask others to censor their thoughts or ideas in their own journals, and those who are offended are free to censor themselves out of my blog.