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On this site you'll find posts and pages from recent years. The site began as part of my public law practice after leaving Parliament in 2005. Accordingly it records my opinions, not necessarily those of Franks & Ogilvie of which I am a principal, or any client, or the National Party for which I contested the Wellington Central electorate in November 2008.

From the Wellington Writers’ Walk:

“It’s true you can’t live here by chance, you have to do and be, not simply watch or even describe. This is the city of action,the world headquarters of the verb”

– Lauris Edmond, from The Active Voice

A fair account of the expropriation effort at Hawea

  • July 27th, 2018

What a pleasure to come across this informative report on what’s going on with Matt Lauer and Hunter Valley station. Makes me ashamed of the years of subs that indirectly funded  the opportunists of the Federated Mountain Council.

Thanks David Williams and Newsroom for exemplary journalism.

Auckland freedom of speech court case will get world attention

  • July 22nd, 2018

The court hearing on 30 July of the Free Speech Coalition’s application to reverse Mayor Goff’s ban on “divisive” speakers in Auckland’s public halls will get world-wide interest. The application is supported by the top US civil liberties law professor, who was the president of the American Civil Liberties Union for more than 16 years.

Mayors who’ve decided they are above the law get international attention for their cities. Most of us heard of Toronto’s cocaine-using Mayor and of Red Ken Livingstone, former Lord Mayor of London who fawned on anti-semitic and homophobic Islamic clerics. Duterte, the the Philippines President who urges his police to murder suspects, came to notoriety as Mayor of Davao.

They say all attention is good attention, for a politician. But what happens to a city that wants to be all about “diversity” but has a mayor who insists that speakers in “his” meeting venues promote only “unity”. World-wide mockery of Auckland’s pretensions to sophistication may be on the way.

The Free Speech Coalition’s challenge to the Diversity Mayor who hates diversity of opinion has caught the attention of Nadine Strossen. She has just published with Oxford University Press a definitive book on so called “Hate Speech”.?HATE: Why We Should Resist it With Free Speech, Not Censorship.?Her Wikipedia entry says she “has been called one of the most influential business leaders, women, or lawyers in National Law Journal and Vanity Fair.”

The ACLU she led is at the heart of the US liberal establishment. Wikipedia says its annual budget is over US$100m. Prof Strossen’s support may direct international derision to the Councillors who have been too scared to stand up for the fundamental right of Aucklanders to attend meetings where people might say things that offend Councillors.

Current positions of the ACLU include: opposing the death penalty; supporting same-sex marriage and the right of LGBT people to adopt; supporting birth control and abortion rights; eliminating discrimination against women, minorities, and LGBT people; supporting the rights of prisoners and opposing torture; and opposing government preference for religion over non-religion, or for particular faiths over others

Here is the email I received two days ago:

Dear Free Speech Coalition New Zealand,

I am sending this to the Members who signed the July 17 letter to Auckland Mayor Phil Goff, and also to the three attorneys whose names were on the July 18 Statement of Claim, which I read yesterday with concern about the government’s censorship, but enthusiasm about your resistance.

I am so grateful for your staunch support of neutral principles of freedom of speech and due process, which I am convinced are essential not only for individual liberty and democracy, but also for meaningful equality and dignity, as well as societal harmony. I have staunchly defended these principles for many years, and am more convinced than ever that censorship of hated and even hateful ideas, no matter how well intended, will do more harm than good for all of these vital goals.

I say ‘more convinced than ever’ in light of the research and analysis I have done recently, including about the experiences in many countries, which are reflected in my new book that Oxford University Press published in the US in May and in the UK last month: “HATE: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship.” Although it describes US law on point, it makes the anti-censorship case based on universal principles as well as strategic/practical/policy concerns; it also quotes many human rights advocates and other experts from around the world who also support the non-censorial approach to “the idea that we hate”. In a future edition, I will be delighted to add quotes from your impressive group!

All best wishes in your important efforts.

Yours truly, Nadine

Nadine Strossen

John Marshall Harlan II Professor of Law, New York Law School

Immediate Past President, American Civil Liberties Union (1991-2008)

Author of HATE: Why We Should Resist it With Free Speech, Not Censorship (Oxford University Press, May 2018);

“Hope is more the consequence of action than its cause.You have two choices in this life: you can be a fatalistic spectator, or you can engage and produce hope.” David Cole, ACLU Legal Director (paraphrasing Harvard Professors Roberto Unger and Cornel West)


Minister Lees-Galloway shows Rule of Law in action

  • July 20th, 2018

The Minister of Immigration has issued an exemplary statement explaining why in a free society he can not like some people and their views, but not try to ban them from New Zealand.

He’s granted 10 day work visas to Molyneux and Southern, the two controversial Canadian speakers banned by the Mayor of Auckland from public meeting halls in “his” city.

The statement is also a great example of the Rule of Law in action:

a) it shows a Minister applying and working under the law;

b) it shows how the law protects unpopular views and the right of people to express them;

c) it protects the rights of people in New Zealand who:

  • want to hear these speakers and make up their own minds whether they are repugnant;
  • want to see and hear them unfiltered by the distortions of social media;
  • want to question or challenge them in person, where others can see and hear, and where they can’t block the questioner;
  • don’t want politicians to decide who and what they can hear.

c) it shows how the law protects the Minister from unfair and dangerous pressure to abuse power to exclude political speech that is unwelcome to the establishment.

But most clearly it shows the Mayor what he should be doing.

Theodore Dalrymple profiles a notable NZ murderer

  • July 11th, 2018

Theodore Dalrymple in City Journal concentrates on a New Zealand born murderer in his reflection on the evolution in our criminal justice system, discerned from a quiet evening’s reading of Notable British Trials.

He observes that for roughly 200 years, trial transcripts were popular, if not the favorite, reading material in the English-speaking world?especially in Britain. He describes them “as complete an inventory of human depravity as has ever been assembled.”

John Donald Merrett’s brilliant defense counsel, Craigie Aitchison got a Scottish jury to declare the charge of murder “not proven” after Merrett shot his mother in the head when she discovered he had been forging cheques on her account.

Dalrymple quotes from Aitchison’s final address to the jury: ?I will say only this to you, as one who has been much and intimately in contact with him in these last few days. . . . Send him out from the Court-room this afternoon a free man with a clean bill, and, as far as I can judge, he will never dishonour your verdict.?

Twenty eight years later Merrett killed his estranged and fearful wife, and his mother-in-law, after a life of typically psychopathic financial crime, indifference to danger ( he became a war hero, including to the men he lead) and risk taking with others’ money.

Not the first or the last time that brilliant counsel have fallen for the evil genius of psychopathic criminal clients.

Goff: freedom of speech – partisan abuse of political power

  • July 9th, 2018

I have agreed to be named on a website promoting a court challenge to Auckland Mayor Phil Goff. He has claimed the power to decide which political views can be discussed in Auckland public halls.

If the Mayor of Auckland has that power it is no local matter. With it he could deny nearly half the population of New Zealand a practical chance to see and to assess for themselves any speaker the Mayor decided they should not be free to judge. He may claim he has that power to ban things he sees as inimical to the “social” or “cultural” health of his subjects.

The law deliberately gave the Auckland Mayor presidential authority plus a Council with limited power to control him. But even if the Councillors had normal council powers over Council officers and the Mayor, a Council should not have the power to stop people from meeting in public halls to hear and judge unpopular speakers.

The long established legal boundaries on freedom of expression are all the “protection” Councillors should be allowed to assert. Public authorities at both central and local government level should now be scrupulously secular and politically neutral in their stewardship of public assets.

The bitter struggle to win freedom of religion, thought and expression was marked by majority tyranny.

Local oppression can be the most insidious, because local power is pervasive. “You can’t beat City hall”. Coercive local governments can make it costly in daily life and business to dissent from dominant beliefs. Local oligarchs can ignore fundamental rights and freedoms when common law protections are too expensive to enforce. And they can often ignore the intentions of law. Consider, for example, how helpless central government has been against Christchurch and Auckland planners who have the backing of elderly voters who like the status quo in their leafy suburbs. They’ve blocked densification to shut young families off the housing ladder.

I’ve been concerned about the risks to our democracy at local level for many years, long before Auckland lost its genuinely local government into the UberCity. In 2002 the Local Government Act removed centuries-old constraints on the power of local politicians. They were given the incredibly vague freedom to pursue the four “well beings”. They can claim to be advancing their community’s cultural or social well being, to boss their neighbours around in ways that even central government would not dare to do.

I was concerned they would abuse their new power to enforce dominant orthodoxies. So, with Nandor Tanczos (Green) support, I moved the insertion of s 155 (3) of the Local Government Act 2002. Unexpectedly we succeeded. It reads:

(3) No bylaw may be made which is inconsistent with the?New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, notwithstanding?section 4 of that Act.

That was as far as we could get then in subordinating local government to NZBORA (though NZBORA is expressly not binding on central government). It is limited but I am proud of it. And now we must ask a court to make it clear that the principles recorded in NZBORA are fundamental elements of our rule of law, as a constraint on the non-bylaw decrees of local lords.

I mentioned in the Parliamentary debate in 2002 some historical attempts by local councils to suppress the Salvation Army in its early years. At the urging of publicans and established churches they passed bylaws against band music in public places and noisy gatherings in streets. Among other reasons the Salvation Army had to attract support in the streets was that they were banned from hiring public halls.

I am inspired by the American Civil Liberties Union. Over the years after the McCarthy hysteria they went to court to stop local authorities from banning speakers and gatherings of Communists and Nazis and apartheid era sports teams, from public property. They argued consistently that it was too dangerous to freedom of communication to give those in power the right to decide what was desirable or undesirable. Because it would end up being used by the powerful (and majorities) to block challenging ideas. But also because it would prevent ordinary citizens hearing wrong talk for themselves and learning how bad or ugly it was.

Freedom of assembly and speech may be even more important now, in the era of social media echo-chambers and bubbles. Most political and religious discourse is now in soundbite abbreviations. Many political debates never reach the public, except as a species of comedy, lampooned by ignorant scoffers in media programmes that specialise in mockery. There is little chance for people to get the kind of sustained sequential argument and discussion that happens at public meetings.

Mr Goff, somewhat ludicrously, said he will not allow divisive speech. He wants speech for unity. What about diversity Mr Goff. Have you turned your back on that? What do you seek from it? All thinking and speaking in unison? If our society has become so fragile it can’t handle awkward or unsettling speech or challenge, then it may be because young people have had too little practice.

Barack Obama is not too busy with golf and Sir John Key to write to me

  • March 22nd, 2018

Today Obama emailed me personally despite his busy schedule in Auckland. He asked me to get active for the Democrats. I?m sharing his message with you, at the end of this post.

Former NZ PMs often regard it as bad form to stay active in partisan politics after retirement. There is a feeling they should give their successors a reasonable shot at maturing into office and effective leadership without a predecessor?s sniping.

That was also a convention in the US.
But not now. Not in the Montagu v Capulet acidity of the USA?s tribal democracy.

Since Trump?s victory the legendary Democrat internet comms machine has been running hot. It was created by Obama to win the Presidency.

A Democrat supporter can expect a personalised email almost every day over the signature of some Democrat notable, including Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton. Sometimes there are two in a single day.
Most ask for money. They often refer to events in the recipient?s locality.

I signed up all those years ago out of curiousity. I?ve never sent money because it is unlawful for US politicians to receive foreign funds, though some of the pitches have been compelling. Hillary?s campaign sent some great messages, though the hindsight slagging of it is not entirely unfair. Contempt for the values of ordinary Americans seeped through in many repulsively partisan messages.

But Obama?s message today matches his dignity.

?From: Barack Obama
Date: 22 March 2018 at 4:24:26 AM NZDT
Subject: 2018:

Organizing for Action

A little over a year ago, at my farewell address in Chicago, I asked you to believe. Not in a candidate, or a politician, or a party — in yourself.

In your own ability to make a difference in your community and your country.

For eight years in the White House — and long before that — I’d seen it happen time and time again: ordinary people who got involved, stayed involved, and pushed for a better future for this country we love.

That’s how change happens.

And this November, we have a chance to make that change happen in local and federal elections across the country. We cannot squander it.

Commit to vote in November 2018. Say you’ll fulfill your duty as a citizen, and that you’ll keep pushing for progress.

That faith I placed all those years ago in the power of ordinary Americans to bring about change — that faith has been rewarded in ways I couldn’t possibly have imagined.

In the past year, I saw people like Kim, an OFA volunteer in Virginia, bravely share her story during the health care fight — of how, before Obamacare, her 13-month-old son Isaac was on the verge of being kicked off insurance as he went through surgery after surgery. She spoke up, and helped save health care for Isaac and millions of Americans.

I saw folks in South Carolina identify a problem with their town’s outdated, dangerous school buses — then roll up their sleeves, do some organizing, and get the statehouse to fund new buses for Charleston’s kids.

And I saw a new generation of young leaders grab clipboards, collect signatures, and decide to run for office themselves.

Throughout 2017, I saw Americans all over the country step up, have the tough conversations, and speak out about the issues affecting us all. We have to keep it up in 2018 — because every ballot measure, every election, every conversation on an issue we care about — it all matters.

There are no do-overs.

So right now, I’m asking you to make a commitment: Seize the power you have. Speak up. Make this democracy work. Do not succumb to cynicism. And say you’ll vote in 2018 — there’s too much at stake this year to sit this out.

I’m in

Thank you,

Barack Obama

Contributions or gifts to Organizing for Action are not tax deductible.
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Surprise that Chris Bishop not contending

  • February 14th, 2018

I’m surprised that none of the speculation on National Party leadership has extended the field to Chris Bishop. He is the stand-out MP of his intake. PM Ardern, and before that David Lange showed that being far down the seniority list is no bar to early elevation to Deputy Leadership or to electoral appeal

He should muscle into contention even if none of his colleagues step up to draft him and whether or not success is likely this time.

Voters may say they do not like naked ambition, and it is more graceful to look as if one is being dragged unwilling to leadership, but subconsciously we don’t want to be led by someone who does not have enough confidence to tussle for it. Ambition is a necessary but not sufficient condition.

Richard Prebble used to attribute to Napoleon the claim that he did not appoint generals unless they’d been carrying a hidden field marshal’s baton since being young officers.

Chris should be impudent enough to step forward now. He may think there is time to wait, but there is no knowing how soon the need to lead could arise. He should be impatient, and not only because there is no clear inspirational leader in the generation that has their hands up now.

Sure – the attention if he seeks the deputy position will be positive and negative. The non-story will re-emerge from the snowflakes who want teenage females walled off in social media convents. But he does not need to respond to that. His colleagues might slap him down. That’s a risk a confident leader does not worry about. And if he runs now, irrespective of the outcome, he not them will be front of mind if and when the current aspirants lose their gloss and eventually their mandate.


My dog supports anthropomorphism

  • November 20th, 2017

A report (linked through Flipboard) on research into brain activity associated with breath control asserts:
“Humans’ ability to control and regulate their brain is unique: e.g., controlling emotions, deciding to stay awake despite being tired, or suppressing thoughts. These abilities are not trivial, nor do humans share them with many animals. Breathing is similar: animals do not alter their breathing speed volitionally; their breathing normally only changes in response to running, resting, etc.

It is said that one negation disproves a theory. My current hunting companion, Lottie-dog aged 10 years, proves that at least one animal can and does alter her breathing volitionally.

When we hunt, panting is a default routine whenever we stop moving. Sometimes it is because she has been working hard (she has only three legs so climbing can be tough for her) but generally it appears to be to lose heat, not for oxygen. So panting is normal after movement on any warm day. Panting can be noisy. It can seem overwhelmingly loud deep in the windless bush.

But if we are both listening hard, trying to hear whether  a deer we’ve disturbed is sneaking away, she closes her mouth and stops panting. She will do that if I ask her to even if she hot or has just run back to me (often when she has scouted the vicinity and is satisfied there is nothing of interest close in).

I say “shush”, and show I am listening deliberately. She will stop panting for up to 10 second periods with quick catch up panting in between. She can try to suppress the noise even in the unavoidable panting phases, dropping her head near the ground and licking her lips.

She may join in listening,  flicking her ears up or swivelling her head to concentrate, if she knows I am concentrating on sound, stopping her panting to do so. She will do that even if she has not been been showing interest in the surroundings. But when it is to humour me it is for more brief intervals. She lets me know when she thinks I am displaying my frequent abysmal (to her) understanding of whose scent is in the air, and what is going on around us. By lying down and looking in the opposite direction.

I did not try to teach her to silence her breathing. I did not teach her to listen while I was overtly listening. Many years ago she just started showing that understanding of what we were doing together.

But now she is getting tired. Her back has stiffened after years of asymetric thrust from one rear leg. She will still come out for hours of walking and watching. Her eager eyes follow every move in preparation. But once it is clear that I have running shoes instead of boots, or if I look to be heading for a motor-bike not a quad she can ride on with me, or if I grab my mountain bike, the head turns away in embarrassment. She pretends to have not noticed I’m heading out, just in case I call her to come as a command. She does not want to exhaust herself running the 10-20 km that was once so exciting and that she could still do, but only at the cost of days of pain to follow.

So now she is showing me how many emotions and capacities we share, and  what lies in store for me. I too will give up the full days of hunting. She knows I’m compromising now. She seems to be no longer surprised or frustrated that I leave a deer we can both see too far away across a deep gully.

I’ve already stopped trying to carry a carcase. I may have another dog life left, so she will not be the last. But she may be the next to last. But perhaps my next dog will not get enough shared hunting time to learn to listen with me, and to control her breathing. Perhaps it will not be as smart as Lottie. But it will be far more agile than me. I will not have the energy to hide from the next dog the way I could from Lottie in our bamboozle game. I’d get away by climbing a cliff she would have to find a way around. While she was working out how to catch up I’d make a confusing scent trail, then hide.

The next dog will not have to learn to trust me to lift her safely down cliff drops. But the next dog will have to make more allowances for me.  It will do that, uncomplainingly.

This post has become unapologetically anthropomorphic.  We share so  much more than  scientists allow.


Why does the left hate Israel – it seems counterintuitive?

  • November 8th, 2017

A Quora answer to that question was so crisp I wanted to record it somewhere I would remember.

I don’t know anything about Tostig Godwinesson who answered, but it chimed with what I recall from being a young leftie, and when alongside them in Parliament.

You will undoubtedly get lots of complex and detailed, thoughtful answers to this question, but in my mind it boils down to a very basic situation.

The left defines the human condition as a struggle between “oppressor” vs. “oppressed”. Every situation, country, conflict, and political or social issue can be and is seen through that lens.

The left sides with the oppressed, for many reasons: genuine heartfelt belief that the oppressed of the world need support, virtue signaling, etc.

Perceptive, though it still does not explain why they take that approach and not another.

The thing to grasp is that theirs is a 100 %  coherent world view. It makes total sense to the left. It has the intellectual rigor and coherence of applied Marxism, in a way that has tremendous power for people who view the world that way. The Marxian world of oppressed vs oppressor is taught and reinforced at universities, and then reinforced through peer pressure, social shaming, and clique formation.

If you don’t question the premises, including that humans are perfectible under enough coercion from moral and intellectual superiors.

It has given us everything from “white privilege” to “intersectionality” to just about every other cause of the modern left. EVERY leftist cause has oppressor vs oppressed at the core. Black lives matter, rights of illegal immigrants, you name it, and oppressor vs oppressed is what it’s about.

Israel has been defined by the left as the oppressor, and Palestinians the oppressed. Absolutely nothing can ever shake the left loose from this characterization of the problem. If, tomorrow, a Palestinian lobs a missile onto a school bus full of 3rd grade girls, the western left will see it as another example of how the oppressor (Israel) forced the oppressed (Palestinians) to take extreme, and sadly regrettable – but necessary action, for one must fight oppression, and the oppressor bears the brunt of responsibility. The more Palestinian rockets that fall on elementary schools in Israel, the more evident it is that the oppressors must change their ways in order to end the violence. The oppressed cannot really be blamed for their actions, and never are by the western left, because their actions are borne of desperation.

There was a time when Israel was seen as oppressed by western liberal elites – back in the kibbutz days, through the ’67 war, and maybe to ’73. The western left kinda liked Jews when they were powerless and at the mercy of others; not so much when they have a powerful military and control of a thriving state. Why? Because then they are no longer ‘oppressed’, and in the Marxian worldview, the only other thing you can ever be is an oppressor. It is binary.

The Palestinians and their media enablers have done a superior job of framing the conflict in simple, Marxian terms for a western audience. How well has it worked?

Well, we have “gays for Palestine” marches in San Francisco, rooting for the side that would just love to blindfold all gays and throw them off tall buildings, rather than the side that is one of the most LGBT tolerant societies on the planet. That kind of puzzling behavior is easily understandable once you process it through the oppressor vs oppressed lens. The LGBTQ folks feel they are sticking up for a fellow oppressed group, when what they are really doing is supporting the people who want to slaughter them. It sounds like a paradox, but it isn’t, once you evaluate it in classic Marxian oppressor-vs-oppressed terms.”

To the question – “why?” I’d try some psychological stereotyping. Whether it is backed by research, I do not know.

Crudely simplifying the world into goodies and baddies has always been a comfort to those deeply threatened by the paradoxes, compromises and complexity of reality. Manichaean duality appeals to teenagers and zealots. They get an excuse for cruelty and indifference that is not available to those who can’t divide the world into good and evil, sinners and angels.

Or perhaps it is that many sense that they cannot compete on their usefulness to others, on their ability to create, to build and to nurture. Too many of those may instead turn left, where they will find comrades who define themselves by what they hate, by who they oppose, and by constant fine-tuning of the categories of those who are by definition outside their tribe.

NZ’s productivity mystery not mysterious to me

  • October 31st, 2017

I’ve been musing on the official puzzlement about our country’s woeful lack of productivity improvement. It turns out that for years our productivity has barely improved. In other words we are generating too little more per head than 20 years ago. Our GDP has grown, but disappointingly little more than population growth.

We have a whole Productivity Commission to agonise over the issue.

Croaking Cassandra (Michael Reddell) offered a shockingly non PC theory last year, that it could be because of excessive low quality immigration. If I correctly distil what I’ve taken from his writing it is that our natural competitive advantage has been in our high productivity rural base. Our urban lack of competitiveness (distance, inefficiency, whatever)  has been subsidised by rural efficiency enabled by having few people using large areas of land.

It’s a puzzle to economists because we’ve seemed to do so many things  right:

  • our economic reforms have been lauded;
  • we rank high in the ease-of-doing-business ratings;
  • we are low on corruption – a handicap that undermines even the best resourced people;
  • we’ve bought lots of gee whizz capital equipment that should make us more productive;
  • we’ve invested in fast internet and lots of computing power;
  • we’re keeping kids studying for much longer;
  • we work long hours – 6th highest in the OECD for average hours worked;
  • we have one of the highest engagement rates in the OECD (proportion choosing to work);
  • we have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the OECD;
  • we’ve had 8 years of stellar performance compared with the countries that panicked after the GFC.

One can think of things that could have negated the benefits. For example:

  • we’ve been buying capital equipment with foreigner’s savings – the same kit is available everywhere and the goods it produces have been dropping in price accordingly;
  • while we are not yet corrupt, our lawyers and courts have become constipated. It is too expensive  to enforce simple contracts and a massively bigger legal establishment feeds off the uncertainties that come with its self-asserted discretions;
  • instead of upgrading tertiary staff quality and resources our “investment” in education has been diverted through free student loans to bribing more kids to eat and drink more while studying, teaching them that debt does not matter and then exporting many of the brightest and best;
  • many now going into tertiary education might be just extending their time of juvenile irresponsibility and dependency. They’d have learnt more on the job from people who do;
  • the international measures of ease to start a company etc do not pick up changes in the time wasted on fruitless compliance and virtue signalling that has never had proper cost-benefit assessment;
  • many health n safety measures require new supervision, and plainly pointless costs that induce worker cynicism about efficiency, and deprive ordinary workers of  autonomy, initiative and personal satisfaction;
  • a low jobless rate means marginal engagement of many of our most useless workers. The feral marginal workers may be nobbling the productivity of both employers and their fellow employees;
  • the burden of dealing with “work unready” people is magnified across the economy by the steps all employers must now take to minimise exposure to our most stupid lawyers and judges. They’ve  created deadweight employment costs for no benefit, even to those they claim to protect;

An economist might be able to say whether any of the above are readily testable.  It interests me that the Productivity Commission has shown no apparent interest in the vast increase in the proportion of our intelligent and anxious people doing ruler/lawyer/judge/police/security type work – essentially bossing other people around without any skin in the game (rulers who bear none of the costs they impose from over or under enforcing).

Ordinary workers have been emasculated, to use an old term deliberately. They must  work under managers terrified into generating back-covering records of close supervision. Much of it has been developed without any proven safety gain, and certainly no cost benefit evidence. For example, a recent study  suggests that scaffolding costs are adding appreciably to housing costs, to stop workers falling from single story buildings, when:

  • figures show that was a very rare risk;
  • the cost per life saved may be $180m, over 50 times what we consider the proper test for spending to make roads safer;
  • no account has been taken at all of the extra death and injury flowing from householders doing their own roof and wall painting work, because they can’t afford the scaffolding cost.

But there may be an even more simple contributor to our sorry productivity figures. I’d be interested to know if my impression chimes with what others are experiencing.

Last Christmas I concluded that we were in the midst of a serious culture shift when tradesmen friends sent details of when they would be back to finish a project. I’ve seen more this year from the roads on Fridays before a long weekend. I’ve never seen such full mid-week carparks at Mt Ruapehu, and many of the vehicles have work logos. I saw it last Christmas in the the emailed out-of-office responses to my messages. And this year in August, and again recently during the school holidays, my inbox had numerous out-of office responses.

I’m convinced that many more of us are informally taking much more time off. Many tradies seemed to close a week before Christmas, and come back only for the full  fourth week of January. Families that would have previously taken time away, now expect both parents to go during the year, when in the past it might have been only over Christmas.

I do not think it is just my age group. Friends with school age kids report that class-rooms are often noticeably emptier on days attached to long weekends. It is easier to pick their kids up, because so many families have gone before 3 pm. In Auckland they may have become accustomed to that, because of the terrible traffic delays before long weekends. But I hear that schools in other cities are not immune.

Young friends, and German and French work visa woofers we’ve hosted just love what they call NZ’s “laid-back” approach to work. They think it is remote from what they will return to.

Are only our self-employed taking more time off? Are other employees insisting on the same, without pay? Or accepting that employers who allow more leave will probably not offer pay increases. Is the trade-off overt? My impression is that it is not confined just to my baby boomer friends still working but taking much more time off.

Perhaps employees in a tight labour market are taking more unauthorised advantage of “glide time” or other twilight allowance time. Will they see that as compensation for lower pay increases? Perhaps what were once disguised as “sickies” have become mainstream and regularised.

Maybe most of us are not as materialistic as the Greens feared.  There has always been a worry that NZ business don’t grow big because the founder’s  ambition is beach, bach and BMW. Once they get comfortable, they take things easy.

It is pretty tax efficient for individuals. The current system can’t tax income we haven’t generated. If we’ve subconsiously  decided to take more leisure instead of increased income it may be very hard for any government to stop us.

If this is a collective move, I applaud it – as long as those who have been depending on an ever increasing pie understand that it might not come. Other countries have suffered similar experiences. The Scissors Crisis occurred when Lenin freed Russian peasants from their landlords. The young Soviet government was shocked when production dropped sharply as peasants decided on some leisure instead of the backbreaking work needed to grow enough to pay the rents.

History has accounts of taxes imposed on populations solely to force them to earn money, because they were too happy with subsistence and preferred it to working. Will wealth taxes be imposed to force us to work our assets?

Can the Productivity Commission measure whether we have quietly decided to forgo income increases? Is it widespread? Is it a response to less work satisfaction? Or just a privilege in a society that genuinely does not place high value on being rich?


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