Day: May 17, 2018

Astronauts Didn’t Sleep So Well on the Moon


‘Of unsound mind’? MPs, mental health and the 1886 Lunacy (Vacating of Seats) Act

The History of Parliament

Today, during Mental Health Awareness Week, we hear from Dr Kathryn Rix, Assistant Editor of the Commons 1832-1886 Section and the Victorian Commons blog. She explains the legislation that bound MPs suffering with prolonged periods of mental illness from 1886 until legislative reform in 2013…

In 1886 Parliament passed the first piece of legislation dealing directly with the mental health of its members, the Lunacy (Vacating of Seats) Act, which received Royal Assent on 10 May. This measure, which passed with very little debate, laid out the procedure to be followed in cases where an MP was ‘received, or committed into, or detained in any asylum, house, or other place as a lunatic’. After being informed that an MP was in this position, the Speaker would send two commissioners of lunacy (or the equivalent Irish or Scottish officials) to visit and examine the MP. They would report to…

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Milton Friedman’s 1968 lecture and RBNZ adding employment to mandate: Monetary policy comes full circle in 2018..

Mostly Economics

Here is my recent Mint piece where I argue how the year 2018 is significant for two developments in monetary economics.  First is the 50th anniversary of much celebrated Milton Friedman’s lecture titled “The role of monetary policy”. Second is the Reserve Bank of NZ adding employment to its price stability mandate.

Both the events are obviously connected as I explain in the piece. How RBNZ adding employment to its price stability objective is against Friedman’s advice given in 1968. Friedman argued a central bank should only focus on price stability and leave other objectives to polity.  So just like life, monetary policy and central banking also keeps going in circles…

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Greenland’s ice provides a detailed account of the Roman empire’s economy

Mostly Economics

Fascinating to read this account by Jason Daley.

Researchers are analysing icecaps to figure minting activity in Roman empire:

e know a lot about the Roman Empire. Not only did famous Romans like Julius Caesar write about their own accomplishments and plaster their names and works on public buildings, historians also chronicled the rise and fall of the powerful civilization. But sometimes it’s hard to know how the average person in the Empire was doing—while Caesar was off conquering Gaul, was the economy good? During the Year of the Four Emperors, when intrigue and infighting rocked the empire, was the government still minting money? As Katie Langin at Science reports, researchers recently found some insight locked in Greenland’s ice cap.

Besides the power of the legions, Rome’s might lay in its wealth, the cornerstone of which was a silver coin known as a denarius. Producing the silver needed to mint…

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Book review: “The Intellectuals” by Paul Johnson

Emperor's Notepad

Amazon Link

Published in 1988, “The Intellectuals” by Paul Johnson (born 1928) is a unique book. Not only for its quality but because there aren’t many like it. There is “The Betrayal of the Intellectuals” (1927) by Julien Benda, “The intellectuals and the masses (1990)” by John Carey, “Intellectuals and Society” (2010) by Thoma Sowell, and I guess “Fire in the Minds of Men: Origins of the Revolutionary Faith” (1980) by James H. Billington, which also deals with a somewhat similar subject. But, acknowledging these exceptions, one has to admit that there aren’t many books about the “intellectual class”, its origins, impact, and so on. That seems to be changing, but studying the intellectuals is still taboo. Not surprising if one realizes they have become a new kind of priesthood.

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Still chasing @PeterGluckman @ChiefSciAdvisor justice report references under OIA @sst_nz

“Thanks for your email.

It is unfortunate that you dressed up email exchanges and office conversations as something more than they were. You were attempting to glean credibility from watercooler conversations.

The Gluckman report refers to a briefing which implies that it is a document, but as you now advise, it refers to iterative communication between analysts. I have already asked for those emails.

If this briefing by the justice sector were conversations, you must say that the information I asked for is not available because it is impractical to recall those conversations. It would have helped if you said in the report that you are referencing conversations at work as a credible backup for a controversial policy claim.

I chat to people all the time but do not reference those conversations in anything I have ever written. If I plan to reference a conversation, I write a note for file.

People reference presentations and public lectures, but they reference them precisely as that giving the date and location and a URL whenever possible.

You must say that your briefing does not exist or cannot be found. That is the requirement when I ask for official information and you cannot find it.

It is basic to good scientific practice if you reference something you must be prepared to show it to someone when they ask for it. It is clear you cannot do that.

This official information request is well past its due date and should have been actioned and finalised a long time ago.

I asked for those emails that were part of the iterative communication between analysts repeatedly and they have not been supplied. Supply them.

If the iterative communication between our analysts were just office conversations around the so-called water cooler, own up and say the information cannot be found because they were office conversations that were not documented. I suggest you check archives and official records laws about keeping proper notes of important information.

You are perfectly aware that anything cited in the footnotes of an official document can be sought under the Act. More so if you are attempting to add credibility to a controversial social policy area.

A key purpose of the Official Information Act is to catch bureaucrats with their pants down. Saying things they cannot back up at all or exaggerating the credibility of what they are saying.”


MPs should be paid more if only to hear #TPPA select committee submissions (mostly by conspiracy theorists)

Submission to Select Committee: International treaty examination of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership


Jim Rose

This submission is in my personal capacity. I am an economic consultant in Wellington who has worked in the past for the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, the Department of Labour, the Ministry of Social Development, Child, Youth and Families Department and the New Zealand Treasury, and in Canberra for the Productivity Commission, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and the Department of Finance. I have Masters degrees in economics and in public policy from the Australian National University and from the now National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo respectively. I have written op-eds on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement and other topics for the New Zealand Herald, Dominion Post and National Business Review. I blog at

Free trade agreements are at best suspect. That is not me saying this. That is Paul Krugman, his generation’s leading trade theorist.

Krugman argues that you should start as a mild opponent of any free trade agreement. Closely inspect the baggage they carry; environment and labour chapters, intellectual property, investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) and government procurement such as Pharmac. Start with a sceptical eye.

These add-on chapters are the costs of free trade agreements that are relatively obvious to the untrained eye. No technical economics is yet required to suspect that any trade agreement will be an opportunity for special interests on the right and the left, both unions and big corporations, to feather their own nest. Longer patent lives, more stringent enforcement of overseas copyrights, Pharmac buying more expensive drugs, and so on in return for tariff cuts in export markets.

But let us start with what is claimed as the benefits by the government. In a TPPA without the USA, in about 30-years’ time, as little as 0.3% extra GDP and at most 1% more GDP in sum will be generated. Less than one quarter of these modest gains over 30 years come from tariff cuts.

The rest of the gains are from behind the border changes from streamlining customs to investor state dispute settlement. Never easy to quantify because even the most impartial spectators can disagree amongst themselves on whether these regulations are a plus or minus to begin with, so they cannot agree on whether reducing or increasing them are a plus or not. The 20 odd carve-outs and side letters negotiated by the new government was all about prying back this baggage. This suggests that most of this baggage should not have been loaded up to begin with.

The only time tariff cuts are suspect is when they are part of a free trade agreement. The reason is trade diversion. A technical concept which MFAT does not know about because I received a nil response to an Official Information Act request about their TPPA advice to ministers about the costs and benefits including any reference to trade diversion.

We have been of the rough end of trade diversion in the two biggest trade agreements to affect us. When Britain entered the Common Market in 1973, they stop buying cheap New Zealand lamb in favour of expensive French lamb. The tariff revenue collected by the British on our lamb exports was converted into payments to prop up hopelessly inefficient French farmers. British consumers paid the same or more for lamb and there was no tariff revenue to collect.

New Zealand car buyers then got screwed by Closer Economic Relations. Instead of buying cheap Japanese imports and collecting a tariff, Holdens and Fords became cheap because they did not pay this tariff. Cars were not cheaper for New Zealand buyers; the tariff revenue went off to Australian car manufacturers as higher import prices to keep their hopelessly inefficient car plants open.

With the USA out of the TPPA, the tariff cuts are less even if there was no trade diversion and we still have all the baggage in the agreement from environment and labour chapters, intellectual property, threats to Pharmac, and ISDS. The costs have not gone down but the benefits have because of the loss of the single biggest market planning to join the agreement.

Investor state dispute settlement has no place in trade agreements between democracies. They have the rule of law where investors can take their chances in domestic politics just like the rest of us. Yes, there will be breathless populism from the left or right from time to time, such as recently over foreign land sales, but by and large foreign investment is welcome and gets a fair deal.

Developing countries offered to sign on to investor state dispute settlement because their own courts are corrupt. Maybe investor state dispute settlement worked 50 years ago when investment in developing countries was tiny and handled by a few big players who might get picked on by politicians looking for a few cheap votes or more likely, a backhander to the Swiss bank account.

Now there is broad-based trade and investment in developing countries despite their corrupt courts and dodgy politicians. Many exporters and investors are willing to take their chances. When the local politicians and bureaucrats get rough, investors have already factored that in by backing investments with high enough returns to compensate for these risks. Tourists buy travel insurance and keep their eyes open; investors know the rules abroad are different and must be just as watchful.

Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the other Asian Tigers and now India too managed to have development miracles without investor state dispute settlement. Extreme poverty dropped by about 1/3rd around the globe over the decade or so course of the TPPA negotiations and far more than that in China so I think they are getting on pretty well without it.

Most of these points are lost in the debate on the TPPA because too many of its opponents are motivated by anti-capitalist or anti-foreign sentiments rather than cost benefit analysis. They would oppose a trade agreement solely about tariffs that lowered prices to New Zealand consumers.

Not every trade negotiation is successful. For some, you reach the point where you must walk away. More so because of all the baggage loaded up into trade agreements in the last few decades.

There should be a hard-nosed benefit cost analysis and when the USA was in, the TPPA might have been worth the risk, just. More access to the US market may have made up for all the other baggage. The price has gone up on signing the TPPA, so much so we probably should give it a miss.

Gender Specific Listening

Music Machinery

One of the challenges faced by a music streaming service is to figure out what music to play for the brand-new listener.  The first listening experience of a new listener can be critical to gaining that listener as a long time subscriber. However, figuring out what to play for that new listener is very difficult because often there’s absolutely no data available about what kind of music that listener likes. Some music services will interview the new listener to get an idea of their music tastes.

beats-enrollment Selecting your favorite genres is part of the nifty user interview for Beat’s music

However, we’ve seen that for many listeners, especially the casual and indifferent listeners, this type of enrollment may be too complicated. Some listeners don’t know or care about the differences between Blues, R&B and Americana and thus won’t be able to tell you which they prefer. A listener whose only experience…

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Monkey selfie case: another example that litigation-driven environmentalism is inferior to market-based conservation


In 2011, Naruto, a seven-year-old crested macaque played with a cameraman’s equipment, taking several selfies that have since gone viral. It’s the sort of feel-good animal story that anyone would love.

Unfortunately, the story took a dark turn when PETA filed a lawsuit “on the monkey’s behalf” alleging the photographer was violating the monkey’s copyright in the selfies. Over the next two years, the litigation would nearly bankrupt the photographer.

The case was a high profile test of the rights-of-nature theory—the idea that activists can file lawsuits in the name of animals, trees, rivers, etc. to protect environmental interests. Most efforts have failed, and for good reason.

As I recently explained when an activist group brought a lawsuit in the name of the Colorado River,

Courts have no way of deciding who represents the true interests of an inanimate object. A river has no preferences, at least none that…

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