Friday, 22 January 2016

The Greens and science

The Greens have launched a campaign to ban the use of glyphosate weed killers in public parks and streets, probably as a precursor to a total ban. While often claiming to be the party of science, more often than not the Greens are suckered into advocating policies I would politely describe as junk science.

On glyphosate, the scientific community has reacted strongly. Experts on weed science (it exists) state that the carcinogenic risks are "...the same level of warning as burning wood in the fireplace at home, upsetting circadian rhythms by doing shift work, or being a hairdresser." Sciblogs has a further refutation of the Greens' claims on glyphosate.

This policy is being driven by Steffan Browning, the MP previously famous for signing a petition calling for the testing of homeopathy to cure ebola. When questioned on this, Steffan said that he was "not opposed" to homeopathy. Steffan is free to be "not opposed" to whatever unscientific nonsense he likes - but trying to solve serious health issues (such as the excessive use of weed killers or the ebola virus) with what appear to be internet-meme inspired nonsense is embarrassing. Greens co-leader, James Shaw, seems to have let this one get past the keeper.

But it isn't just Steffan Browning. The Greens have a continually confused for and against stance on smart meters as well. Smart meters are essential for a smart grid to enable wider use of renewable energy sources. However now former Green MP Sue Kedgely was dead against them, claiming electro-magnetic field (EMF) radiation poses a serious health risk. This stance was later modified (once Sue had left parliament) to oppose smart meters for privacy reasons. Yet Dave Clendon was, about the same time, pushing a members' bill that would essentially make smart meters compulsory.

This appears to be a more fundamental issue within the Green movement between those who accept scientific orthodoxy and those who don't. As usual in politics, this appears to be a broad split between the party's MPs and its members. Take the issue of genetic modification. In Australia recently the leader of the Federal Greens, a former medical doctor, said he "does not believe genetically modified crops pose a significant risk to human health." This sent a number of Green members into conniptions.

I suspect there will be more of this sort of confusion as the Greens try to position themselves as a serious coalition partner for Labour. James Shaw certainly has his work cut out for him.

Monday, 18 January 2016

NZ First wrong again

NZ First MPs are shopping around this article from a former Reserve Bank economist, claiming it proves they're right about immigration slowing down the economy. Except this former Reserve Bank economist can't get basic facts right. He claims:
"We've brought in tens of thousands of people a year for the last 25 years and we've just continued to slowly drift behind the rest of the world."
This is wrong. A quick search of the GDP per capita statistics from the OECD shows this isn't even slightly correct:

While we did fall behind the OECD average (the black line) in the mid 1980s, we've been rapidly catching up - something we've managed to do very well recently (also notice that dip from 2007-2010 in the black line? That's the recession. Notice how New Zealand's line stays flat.)

Friday, 15 January 2016

A Kiwi civic nationalism

Elsewhere on the internet I've been accused of advocating "cultural Marxism" when it comes to my views on changing the New Zealand flag or a republic, all the usual nonsense. I'm not going to link to the blog in question, and I wouldn't normally dignify anonymous diatribes with a response, but it's worthwhile in this instance to set the record straight.

I'm for civic nationalism, that is nationalism that advocates freedom, tolerance, equality and rights of the individual. Civic nationalism contrasts with ethnic or cultural nationalism. Civic nationalism pre-dates Marxism, and goes back to the Enlightenment. The accusation is puerile and irrelevant.

I'm for changing New Zealand's flag because our flag ought to be made up of symbols that include all New Zealanders. It should be inclusive. Our current flag clearly is the product of ethnic, if not cultural nationalism - a nationalism for Britain and its Empire. That may have once been the basis of the New Zealand state, and the instigator of it. But states, like societies and humans themselves evolve.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Everyone is wrong about poverty

...well maybe not. But that's the feeling I got reading the recent opinion articles back and forth in the past weeks - first from former ACT leader Jamie Whyte and columnist Dave Armstrong.

Whyte argued that there is no poverty in New Zealand, and that the definition of poverty often quoted (leading to the claim one in three kids live in poverty) is useless for measuring poverty, being a relative one based on an arbitrary yardstick (i.e. a household which earns 50% of the national median income after tax and housing costs). I disagree on the first point but agree on the second.

There is poverty in New Zealand, which Armstrong helpfully goes to the Oxford English Dictionary to define. The definition of the venerable OED of poverty - being material deprivation - is, funnily enough, more useful. And the Ministry of Social Development has been monitoring material deprivation rates across the entire population. Here's an interesting graph:

Figure E.1
Trends in material hardship rates for the whole population, using five different thresholds
The MSD research shows the economic recession of 2007-2010 increased hardship. To my mind, debate about poverty should be focused on this measure, and not a relative income measure. The services that Jamie Whyte mentions in his article need to be held against this standard, especially where they're falling short, and how they can be targeted to reduce hardship. The MSD's research has been used for the policy design of the government's 2015 child hardship package, for example.

Right at the end of his article, Armstrong adds that Jamie Whyte must remember the days when there were hardly any foodbanks or homeless because he would "...remember those "dark" days because you couldn't move money quickly offshore, it took months to import an espresso machine and foreign boutique beers cost more than local."

This is an odd comment in the context of poverty, but I guess Dave thinks its related. In a way it is. The "dark days" he mentions were when New Zealand ranked highly in OECD rankings for per capita income - you know, before Britain joined the EEC and the oil crisis' of the 70s struck. The absurd import regime he mentions was part and parcel of Fortress New Zealand. The prosperity paid for a massive, inefficient state which employed thousands and acted as an extension of the welfare state.

Increases in hardship were the inevitable result of the inevitable end of Fortress New Zealand. Getting back to that sort of prosperity to help our most vulnerable ought to be our policy focus.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

New Year

It's 2016! I've not kept my blog as up to date as I would've liked. I'm looking to do a rebuild of my website in the coming months, watch this space!